Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the category “Ed Tech”

5 lessons from my paperless class failure

I finally had all of my notes and plans finished, but I had been compiling them in my mind for months.

My class was going paperless. Totally paperless.

I am very blessed to have 26 desktop computers in my classroom. I’ve utilized them in various capacities for the year and a half I’ve been there.

But I was ready to take it to the next level. Bell-ringer activities done in discussion boards. Individual student blogs. Digital homework activities and online assessments.

I stepped into class the first day of school and laid out my plans to my classes. We jumped right in that week with bell ringers, and then it hit.

Log-in issues. Slow computer start-up times. Blocked websites. Our starter activities that usually took 5 to 10 minutes on paper were taking almost half the class on some days.

Boom. My paperless class had blown up in my face.

And I was bummed out. I had all of these ideas. The thought of less paper and more digital was the right move, if you asked me.

Here are a couple of things I learned from my “paperless class” bust:

1. Technology for technology’s sake isn’t good enough. That old educational technology maxim was right. Technology has to help the cause. I had digital activities that actually took longer than simply using paper and pencil. Kind of the opposite of what I was looking for.

2. Your technology must be up to the task. My bell-ringer activities are good for getting students engaged at the beginning of class. But they had to wait for slow computers to load up, wasting valuable instructional time. If we were a 1:1 iPad school, the load time wouldn’t be an issue; they would be online and working instantly. If I’m to have my paperless class, I need a better solution to the slow technology factor.

3. Your tech tools must be up to the task. I decided to use the MBC Documents feature on My Big Campus to submit these bell-ringer activities. My Big Campus’s version of Google Docs is servicable, but when students shared their documents with me, there was no way for me to unshare or erase those documents, and they collected in my documents folder. I needed to find a better tool for what I wanted to do.

4. Persevere through frustration and failure. My bust initially made me want to — gasp — give up on teaching with technology all together. I knew I was jumping to conclusions, and I knew I wouldn’t follow through with it. But since then, I’ve found some solutions to my problems and am making strides toward the digital class I envision.

5. Take it a step at a time. In hindsight, it was a mistake to launch all of these paperless initiatives at the same time. I really should have phased new parts of the plan in little by little.

I think I’ve licked all of my wounds and moved on from my earlier mistakes. My classes are more tech-savvy than they were last year, and I’m still trying to integrate new digital activities each week.

But my students are still doing bell-ringer activities on paper. Don’t worry … I’ll get there one day.

Use Facebook while studying, get lower grades (Mashable)

Technology can revolutionize how we teach. But like anything else, it has its ugly side.

The effects of texting and Facebook won’t surprise many of us, but it is interesting to see a direct correlation in a study connecting them to lower GPAs.

(Does this mean I should probably leave Facebook alone when I write tests?)

Use Facebook while studying, get lower grades

By Sarah Kessler, Mashable

Students should think twice before logging into Facebook or sending text messages during study time, suggests a study to be published in the journal Computers & Education.

The study — which controlled for demographics, high school GPA, internet skills and amount of study time — asked 1,624 students at a four-year university about their multitasking habits.

The study included questions about how often students IM, email, search and talk during study time, but only Facebook and texting ultimately correlated with a lower GPA. There was no relationship between grades and using other technologies while studying.

Scientists already know that the brain isn’t capable of successful multitasking. “Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks,” write the study’s authors Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotton.

Previous studies have determined, for instance, that driving while talking on a cell phone can have more of an impact on driving performance than alcohol does. Even simply walking and talking on the phone at the same time can throw our brain off of its game.

In other words, one would think that any multitasking during study time — not just using Facebook and texting — would have a negative impact on grades.

Junco suggests the difference might have something to do with how students are using different technologies. Students may be more likely to email professors and search out of academic curiosity than to socialize through email or search, while they’re unlikely to text message their teaching assistants for homework help.

“It could be that students with lower grades just happen to do more Facebook and texting,” Junco tells Mashable. “But I think this study in the context of other research does seem to show that it is about what they’re doing while they study and not the other way around.”

On average, students in the study sent 97 text messages and spent 101 minutes on Facebook every day. Junco doesn’t think that they’ll leave either technology behind, but in his own classes at Lock Haven University he encourages students to think about how they use them.

“What I tell them is, ‘look, you’re going to sit down to study anyway,” he says. “You might as well make it the most efficient use of your time.’”

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7 classroom uses for forums and discussion boards

These days, discussion boards and forums are pretty ubiquitous.

You can find discussions on almost any kind of website — about products to buy, music to listen to, food to eat, other websites to visit. There are probably discussion boards about discussion boards somewhere.

They really do highlight what we know and love about the modern Internet. They’re instant. Anyone can join the discussion (most of the time). We create and interact with content instead of just consuming it.

That’s why they’re perfect for classroom use. They hit many of our students’ strengths. Many of our students have never known of information sources where they couldn’t interact. (Except maybe those pesky textbooks.)

And they’re very accessible. Several course management programs such as Moodle, Edmodo and My Big Campus already feature them. They’re easy to set up. They’re easy to monitor. And the student collaboration possibilities are huge.

Discussion boards are even available for the less-than-tech-savvy educators. It’s called flip chart paper. Butcher paper. Chalkboards. The “graffiti on the wall” concept. Pose a question and let students discuss.

Here are some ideas for using discussion boards in the classroom:

1. Student opinions on content. After studying a concept, let students talk about it. There’s a lot we can learn from this collaboration — what they don’t understand, what stimulates them, what we left out of our teaching, etc. It may also encourage some peer teaching, which we know can often be more effective than teacher instruction.

2. Hypothesizing. Take an idea from your curriculum and turn it on its head. How would life be now if the Cuban Missile Crisis hadn’t been resolved? What how would the story be different if the main character hadn’t died that tragic death? This touches on some of the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3. Vocabulary practice. Let students create a story together using new vocabulary — one line at a time, adapting to each other’s posts. Post a picture and have students write creative sentences/thoughts about it using vocabulary. Play with language.

4. Quiz show. Have students develop their own questions for each other from material you’ve been covering. They pose them to each other and answer in the comments section.

5. Anticipating. Stop in the middle of a story or chapter and, before proceeding, have students anticipate what is coming next. History, literature and so many other things we examine in school have such strong ties to students’ lives. Let them (or help them) make those connections.

6. Solving problems. Students can tackle the problems of the world, big and small through discussion boards. Pose a question relevant to what you’re covering and have them present well developed solutions.

7. Support. Offering a discussion board for students to ask questions about homework, a reading or a topic from class discussion opens up a potentially 24-hour help desk. Students can help students, or the teacher can provide help, too.

Things to consider — The level of privacy is crucial here. Discussion boards, I believe, must be closed to anyone who isn’t involved with the class. They can be opened to a whole class or grade level,MIT never to the public. It is up to us to protect our students’ personal information and protect them from predators.

Also, keep a close eye on what students are saying in these discussion boards, either from your own computer or by watching over their shoulders. This helps to ensure the integrity of your activity (avoiding student talk about how the cheerleaders look in their new uniforms). It also protects you and your students from the repercussions of inappropriate posts.

How do you grade these discussion boards? Often, in my Spanish classes, I just require a number of posts or comments and type my own comments to point out grammatical mistakes or ideas they may have missed. A rubric could be developed to pinpoint your expectations for students. Or it could simply be a class discussion tool for no credit or extra credit.

When done well, discussion boards are meaningful, interesting activities that take little preparation time and engage students.

In fact, you might save enough time to read (and re-read) all of my posts at Ditch That Textbook!

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Google Voice: Connecting to the mobile student (Part 3)

Think teens love to send text messages?

The Pew Research Center in 2010 published results of a survey showing that 75 percent of teenagers own their own phones, and 87 percent of them use text messaging.

Half of texting teenagers send 50 or more texts a day, according to the survey. One third send 100 or more texts a day. The simple math tells us that’s 3,000 texts on an average month.

Can we harness that power for education?

Yes, but we have to be careful.

Communication is key, and it’s the first step. After weighing the possible consequences, be ready to have an honest conversation with administration. With the OK from leadership, parents need information on the situation and may need an alternative to educational texts if they’re uncomfortable. The ramifications of educational texting is a full topic of discussion for another day, but principals, students, parents and maybe even school boards need to be involved.

With that hurdle cleared, here are several ways Google Voice’s texting capabilities can help in the class:

1. Reminders: Remind students about assignments, projects, quizzes and tests. Parents may want to get these reminders, too.

2. Promos: Marketing professionals create hype for products by divulging details beforehand. Why not use that as a tool to get students interested and excited?

3. Review: Sending texts with questions or review information can give extra repetition with the material. In many cases, repetitions can equal increased achievement.

4. Primer: Get an in-class discussion started early. Give students a topic and something to think about before the arrive.

5. Extra learning opportunities: Offer the occasional extra credit question. Direct students to an interesting website relevant to class content. Some students won’t bite, but others are truly interested in going the extra mile.

Google Voice: Including student voices in class (Part 2)

Plenty of options exist for incorporating Google Voice, a free service from Google for voice and text messages, into many types of classrooms.

Yesterday, we reviewed what Google Voice can do. Today, we’ll cover some classroom applications for the voice message feature. By having students call a number provided by Google to leave voice messages, they can accomplish a lot of useful activities in a new environment.

1.  Traditional lesson questions: Haven’t ditched that textbook completely yet? Put a new twist on a common practice. Have students answer textbook lesson questions by voice instead of by pencil. Grading may take a bit longer, but the change of pace may inspire.

2. Audio essays: Give students a chance to make their case verbally. Audio essays – whether the 30-second or multiple-minute variety – let students inform and persuade verbally, a skill they will likely need in the workforce.

3. Interviews: There are so many directions this can be taken. Students can interview their friends for their opinions about topics from class. They can delve into their own genealogy with family. They could even interview community experts on a research topic.

4. Debates: This takes interviews to the next level. Students get a topic from class and find one or more classmates. They grab a cell phone (or land line phone) and dig in for a discussion.

5. Poetry reading: Make poetry assignments come to life. Students can write their own poetry and recite it, or they can give their own interpretation of a poem the class is studying.

6. Speak for a character: Let students interpret what a character in history, in a story or in anything involved with your class would say. How would Juliet describe her sticky family situation? What would Adam Smith say about the state of our economy? How would a Haitian describe her daily life and struggles?

7. Directions: Give geography mapping activities a new look by having students give directions from one place to another. Include important cities or landmarks they should know. Creativity reigns!

8. Tour guide: This is similar to the directions activity. Students study an important place and take tourists on a verbal tour, identifying people, places and things and injecting information along the way.

9. Predicting the future: Based on what’s happened in the past and what students have learned in class, what do they think the future will be like?

10. Songs, raps, chants or cheers: These can be fun to write and even more fun to perform. Make sure they tie back to class content, of course.

11. How did you solve it?: When students hear their peers explain how they’ve reached a solution on a problem in math, science or any other class, they might be more receptive to hearing it. However, student explanations can have mistakes (sometimes serious mistakes), so checking answers before recording might be a good idea.

12. Talk show: Students take the role of talk show host, taking call-in questions, discussing issues with their co-hosts or talking to guests.

13. Game show: Hosts ask the questions and contestants answer them for fabulous prizes. Celebrity guests could make things interesting!

14. A call home to Mom: Students could leave a message for their parents or siblings, explaining an interesting place they’ve visited, an interesting event they’ve witnessed or talking about something that’s on their mind. Tie it into a theme from class and you get conversational, easy-to-understand explanations of your class content.

15. Surprise question: Leave a question that students must answer on the outgoing message. The catch: Students don’t know the question until they call! This can be a kind of pop quiz and an opportunity to think on their feet.

Some notes about using Google Voice voice messages: Student cell phone minutes or long distance charges can be an issue, so warn them ahead of time. A letter of explanation (cleared by school administration) to be signed by parents can get them on board with avoiding potential problems. If parents are opposed to using Google Voice or don’t want to call to your specific number (if it’s long distance), calling a school voicemail could be an alternative. Also, students make mistakes. I’ll often let them re-record their messages by hanging up on their mistake message and calling right back. I just grade the last one they submit.

Next, we’ll delve into the text messaging options for Google Voice.

Google Voice: Including student voices in class (Part 1)

Including student voices in lessons is an instant way to gain interest.

Google Voice, a pretty powerful tool in the wide world of Google apps, opens up a whole new dimension of learning opportunities for the classroom.

Teachers can create a Google Voice account for free, which includes a local phone number, a voicemail account and the ability to send and receive text messages. When someone leaves a voice message on a Google Voice account, he or she can play the audio message, read a text transcription of it or even download the audio to a file.

Once the account is created, the sky’s the limit for using Google Voice with students. A slew of verbal communication activities can ensue, even with introverted students that rarely speak up in class. Recording audio with no one watching or listening can limit these students’ inhibitions about speaking and give them motivation to speak.

These types of speaking activities really touch on desirable real-world skills. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited “verbal communication skills” as one of the top five personal qualities that employers want in new hires, according to its “Job Outlook 2012” survey.

So how do we use it in the classroom? Think about relevant applications in your classroom for now. Tomorrow, I’ll list 15 ways to classroom uses for Google Voice.

Digital teaching in 30 words

OK, so in our brief blog relationship, you’ve probably already figured out that I love incorporating technology into teaching. I love watching kids connect with the material and with each other in a medium that just didn’t exist when I was in school.
So, despite the possibility of casting myself as a total techno-teacher geek, I present to you a quick, fun “Ode to Ed Tech” — educational technology in 30 words. Not sure how this will go, but hopefully well.

Wireless. Online. Discussion boards.
Keyboards clicking. Minds humming.
“Did you really post that???”
Comments. Likes. Digital dialogue.
“Stupid autocorrect!”
Quiet classroom. Noisy conversations.
“Can we do this again?”
Submit.
Success.

A month of Web 2.0 apps

Digital Learning Day is upon us. For those of us that love to dabble or delve into technology in our classrooms, it gives us a chance to hone and refine our skills, add new tools to our arsenal. For the ed tech newbie, it’s a great opportunity to jump right in.

The Indiana Department of Education is offering 29 days of useful Web 2.0 apps with tutorials and tips for use — a new one each day of February. I’m a teacher in Indiana, so this applies directly to me, but teachers in any state of the US or in many countries around the world can join in this, too.

Even the most seasoned technology-using educator will likely find a new site or app that he/she can incorporate. Check it out — idoe29dayweb20challenge.blogspot.com.

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