Teaching to Half a Class - and coming out feeling like a state politician...

Today I lost half of my classroom to a school-wide incentive party for good attendance - a wonderful celebration that left me with a confounding problem. In preparing for instruction, I thought to myself... what on Earth can I do with half a class that will keep them cognitively engaged without leaving the rest of my class behind? It turns out that the answer could be found (as usual these days) in our iPads... but this time (also as usual these days), the answer brought with it more questions.

We were able to go about "business as usual" for the first half of class. I taught a mini-lesson on the life cycles of stars and we did a short investigation. In the second half, we addressed the issue of our missing comrades. The students became the teachers. They were to create lesson plans and prepare to instruct their classmates on today's content. To do this, my students did some "backwards mapping" -- ie, they used the Backwards Design method of looking at our goals from today, then the assessment before creating their lessons.

We first discussed as a class what possible learning goals our classmates should take away from their lessons based what we had learned today. We then collaborated to create a Google Form assessment to be administered tomorrow. Finally, the students began to design "lessons" based on these goals and assessment for their absent classmates, using the iPad's Keynote App. (Each present student was to teach a specific absent classmate. Some were in triads, but the majority was a one-to-one student-teacher partnership. I had created these partnerships prior to today's lesson based on student learning styles, needs, IEPs, etc. Some had templates with which to begin, others had checklists, a few started with nothing but their notes from the lesson.) As the children lesson planned, they determined what their classmates need to know, how to formatively assess them throughout the lesson and the best way to convey the needed information.

Next came the difficult part: Assessing my newly hatched "teachers."
I explained to the class that their final grades would be a combination of two scores:
  • 67% of their final grade would come from their Keynote presentation. 
  • The remaining 33% contributing to their final grade would be whatever score their "student" earned on tomorrow's test. 
As I said this aloud to my students - and watched as some grew elated by the challenge and others frustrated by it - I realized that in molding my students into mini-teachers, and trying to figure out how to incent them to "perform," I'd become a state politician. Just as our state grapples with the conundrum of teacher evaluation, I had created a microcosm of this within my own classroom. As I finished explaining the project, I began to falter. Was this fair? Did it even make sense? I looked out at my half-class and saw that many seemed excited by the project. A few had even gotten started without my all-powerful "You May Begin." I had thoughtfully created the pairings of students... I had considered how IEP accommodations and modifications would fall into play - both on the student and the teacher side - and addressed both... I felt like I had all the angles pretty worked out... yet something still didn't feel right about the whole thing. For the time being, I decided to let it go and let it become another "trial" in my constantly evolving classroom.

Only tomorrow will tell if it turns out to be a "trial & error" or something else....

I welcome any ideas or suggestions for assessing future iterations of this lesson!

NOTE: A follow up to this post can be found here (posted June 3, 2011)
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Speaking Loudly with Virtual Voices: Using Social Networking in School

One summer I attended a series of workshops on reading workshop and literacy group strategies. The most interesting technique I took away from the series was the "silent discussion." Students had a high level question designed to create a discussion - but instead of talking about it in a small group or Socratic Seminar, the students wrote out their answers on a chart paper lying on a table. They silently discussed the question, disagreeing, agreeing questioning, etc. -- all in the form of notes on a large sheet of paper. I loved this concept and have used it many times throughout the years.

Thanks to the technology in my room I am able to take this concept to the next level. Enter Edmodo. In a previous post I wrote about this social networking website that has been specially designed for schools. In addition to using it for turning in assignments, creating differentiated assignments and communicating with students and families about progress, I have also found that it makes an excellent mini-blog. Students are able to have real-time conversations regarding a specific math challenge, or science question before turning in their answers.

For example, this afternoon I had students take a look at one of three differentiated math challenges. Instead of having them move around the room to get into their differentiated groups, I had them remain in their heterogeneous seating arrangement. They logged onto Edmodo, then each saw the challenge posed to their specific group.

Normally, this is when they would work as a team to discuss and problem solve to find the solution. Instead, this time they clicked "reply" under the assignment. They then wrote initial reactions to the problem, discussed misconceptions and supported one another's thinking - all in an instant messenger-style chat format! When they finished, they were able to click "turn-in" and submit their individual responses for a grade.

Through virtual discussions, I am able to assess so much more: 
(scroll down below to see examples of student group chat)

- Collaboration
- Math metacognition
- Written expression
- Math strategy
- Participation (how often a student contributes to the group chat)
- Resilience in challenging situations
- Student answer
- Student explanation for their answer

I've found that by having students problem solve collaboratively in a silent discussion yields much "louder" thinking. By this I mean that the students feel more comfortable to question one another, and be questioned by each other. There is less anger and frustration. The children are more open and generous with one another. The wall flowers come to life, typing their thoughts instead of being shouted over by more dominant students. Somehow when they aren't asked to speak their thinking aloud, and instead type it into a cyberspace forum, my students are suddenly braver and their math vocabulary richer.

And why should I be so surprised? I know - despite the fact that none of my students are old enough to Facebook, Tweet or have MySpace pages - social networking is precisely what they are doing as soon as they get out of school. It's no wonder that they all have such well developed virtual voices.

I will be using virtual discussions for many of my current routines. In addition to using it for math collaborative problem solving, I will begin using it for my Socratic Seminars when reading texts, science discussions, writing share-out, and more! Today I even experimented using blogging sites and Edmodo combined to virtually conference with my students during Writer's Workshop. It was a-ma-zing... more on this in a future post. I will also continue my exploration of different student-friendly blog sites beyond Edmodo: EduBlog and kidblog (both sites to be written about soon on this blog). 

Below are some excerpts of student "silent discussions" we've had via Edmodo. Note that when it says "Me" that this is me - Ms. Magiera - responding or participating in the group chat. Each group chat was around 5-10 minutes in length (what you see below was only a portion of the total discussion). Students clicked on the "Turned in" box under the challenge title after finishing the group chat to submit their answers. Please forgive my students' misspelled words and grammatical errors... the focus of this activity was not writing prowess.. more communication of mathematical ideas in a timed setting.

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You can YouTube at school

Yes, there is a lot of content on YouTube completely inappropriate or unrelated to a classroom setting. However, there are a lot of videos on this site that could be a great opening hook to a lesson, an enhancement to an experiment or a fun way to help students learn Pi. However, most school districts block this site on their internal internet. Not to fear! With sites such as SaveVid and KeepVid, you can download the videos as a QuickTime or Windows Media Player file at home, then bring it to school on a flash drive or your laptop to show in your classroom! All you need to do is paste the URL into the url box on these websites and they offer you a myriad of downloading options. Check it out :)!
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ICE Grant

Illinois Computing Educators is offering $500 grants!

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iDon't have iPads: Writing iPad/Technology Grants

Many people have asked me how I ended up with 32 iPads in my classroom. Simple Answer: I wrote a grant (with the help of my good friend Amy Jarrett-Clancy!). So then you may ask - where can I get a grant to purchase iPads or other technology for my classroom? Hopefully this post will aid you in your quest to tech-nify your classrooms.

First, try contacting your district's technology education department. In my travels and work, I have heard that many school districts are allocating funding for technology - some specifically for iPads. If your district is not doing this, then consider these fundraising and grant opportunities:

- DonorsChoose.org
- Chicago teachers: Chicago Foundation for Education small grant
- Fundraisers in your school
- Appealing to your principal (showing him/her the benefits of technology integration, perhaps even visiting a school implementing iPad or other technology of interest)
- Michigan Teachers: You could apply for MACUL grants!
- Check out this site with an index of technology grants: Technology Grants News
- Also take a look at this other site with technology grant info
- Google "technology grants" and see what comes up!

Once you have chosen a grant source, begin to consider how you can integrate the technology into your daily instruction. Grant readers often want to know that the technology being provided will be used long-term - not simply for a one-quarter or even one-year unit. Take a step outside of the box and consider how the specific technology can support each subject in an effective way. Understand that this may mean a complete change in the way you teach - and it will be quite an adjustment for you and your colleagues. Expect a period of long nights, trial and error, more error, more trial, interspersed with moments of "Oh wow! That makes so much more sense!"

Some details that could be helpful to include in your technology grant:
  • Daily schedule including activities- How will the technology be used throughout your daily instruction? Be as detailed as possible - even including a rough lesson plan. Focus on sustainability of the activities - is this an activity that is a one-time deal, or can it be repeated throughout the year as a routine or an avenue to assess/learn/teach etc.?
    • Activities' alignment to standards - Both State/Common Core content standards as well as NETS technology standards 
    • Assessment of activity - How will you assess student progress in content objectives? Can you use the technology to assess? (Google Forms, E-Clicker, Edmodo, etc.)
    •  Apps / Programs you will use - Why are you using these apps / programs? How will they improve student progress?
  • Technology Assessments - How will you assess student progress in technology standards?
  • Collaboration - How will you share / disseminate your experience using iPads in your classroom with colleagues? (blog, school-wide PD, etc.)
  • Project evaluation - How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your grant? How will you track growth in student achievement with and without the iPads?
Here is a link to the iPad grant we wrote at my school: http://www.msmagiera.com/ipad-grant
Note that what we wrote and what has actually happened vary greatly. Since we were one of the first schools to try using iPads in the classroom, we didn't have a lot of resources from which to draw when researching how we would use this technology. As we learn from trial and error, and our colleagues at other iPad schools, we are evolving our practice and trying new and exciting teaching techniques, apps and technology applications.

Recently we wrote an expansion grant to acquire additional carts of iPads. This grant was even more detailed than the first (including NETS standards) and chronicled our progress thus far (much of which I've described on this blog). Happily, our expansion grant was approved and in the next month myself, our music teacher and middle school special education teacher will be receiving iPad carts - loaded with iPad2! Hopefully I can convince them to write a blog post here about their progress :)....
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Free App Websites

Hello Tech Friends!
Two websites to find free apps and receive free app updates. Happy free app shopping!


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Using Music to set the Mood

Recently I've been running my classroom through iTunes playlists. Transitions, worktime, tests, small groups - they all have their own playlist. I hook my computer up to the speakers, use the Remote App on my iPhone, iTouch or iPad and voila! - I am able to wirelessly change the mood and instruction using music.

I've found that this is a fun and low-stress way to cue students to different tasks, moods and periods of the day. It has added a sense of levity to our day that once it was characterized as... well... perhaps a bit militant (clapping to get students' attention, transitioning in lines with arms folded and marching single file... effective but no fun). It is amazing to see a student trudge up the stairs, grumble through getting breakfast, roll their eyes as they walk in to the classroom and then - bam - they are shaking their hips to Shakira and greeting classmates with a grin. Come time for the math challenge in the daily math message, my normally frustrated students are tapping their feet, and putting pencil to paper when I play the math message playlist. Talking has all but ceased during work time as students quiet down to listen to the instrumental work time playlist. It's been a great change in our classroom environment. Music really can lighten the mood and help soothe the souls of our weary students (and teachers)!

Some examples of tunes and times:
  • Morning Entry: I love to use popular, upbeat songs with a positive message. As kids enter the classroom, they dance in listening to "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa" by Shakira, "Firework" by Katy Perry, "Loser Like Me" by the Glee Cast, "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan, and "Born this Way" by Lady Gaga (I use the Glee version).
  • Math Message: This is the time for our kids to problem solve, and challenge themselves with difficult problems. Therefore this playlist is more mellow but still has a "you can do it" message. They work listening to either "The World's Greatest" by R. Kelly or "Wake Up Everybody" by John Legend. Both are about 4 minutes and so time our Math Message well.
  • Work Time: When it is time for kids to work, but lyrics would be distracting, I turn to Vitamin String Quartet. A fellow teacher told me about this group - as the name suggests they are a string quartet - who performs popular music (Queen! Michael Jackson! Lady Gaga!). Pretty funny the first time you hear it - but a great background soundtrack for worktime!
  • Transitions: We do an action-movie Slo-Mo transition. Kids know where to go and begin transitioning as soon as the music turns on. They make ridiculous Slo-Mo faces, over-exaggerated movements and have a total ball moving from their seats to centers, the bathroom line, etc. In this way, 25 kids can get from point A to point B safely, without pushing, yet while still smiling. The perfect song for this is from the Kill Bill soundtrack - "Battle without Honor or Humanity" by Tomoyasu Hotei. At the end of the transition we name an "Academy Award Winner" for best silent and slo-mo transition. 
 Note: See a follow-up to this post here (posted June 5, 2011).
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    Cracking Open Digital Textbooks

    I used to be anti-digital books. Then one day I broke down and bought a Kindle right before a trip to Europe. Walking through the Borghese Gallery in Rome with Rick Steve's travel guide in a searchable, digital form helped me see the benefits of digital texts. I returned to Chicago eager to try using digital books in my classroom. I found that not only was the medium totally approachable for my students, it created new opportunities for my kids to interact with the text. Suddenly they were able to write in their books! Unheard of practice with our aging textbooks  - even a punishable crime! Using the iBooks or Kindle App, the kids could highlight directly in the text, bookmark, write notes, comments or questions, search keywords, even hear the text read to them. Pictures could be zoomed in, and some newer books even offered integrated video! I thought to myself - that's it. I'm going all digital texts, all the time!

    The problem became acquiring these books. Penny poor and thus unable to purchase 30 digital copies of textbooks, I began creating all of my own digital textbooks: finding articles online, scanning photographs, etc. -- and compiling them all into a PDF file to sync to my iPads. Not fun.

    Then, I had the joy to sit in a room full of tech-loving teachers at Apple's offices in downtown Chicago. Leading the pack was the hilarious and sage Bruce Ahlborn. He shared - to my immense elation - great resources for FREE digital textbooks. I learned about libraries of free texts and how to make my own textbooks in less than 60 seconds. (I also learned the powerful lesson: When something isn't working well - ask for help!)

    First off, CK-12 FlexBooks. CK-12 is an amazing organization that offers free digital textbooks. Currently the iPad texts are mostly high school level math and middle/high school level science. However, it looks like they are slowly expanding their library. I downloaded the Earth Sciences text that - at first glance - seemed to be geared solely to middle / high school level students. However, upon further investigation, I saw that many of the topics and readability were ripe for my 5th graders! So go ahead - download a few to try. Why not? They're free!

    Oh no! CK-12 doesn't have the topic you're looking for? Or the reading level of the text is way too high? Not to fear! Wikibooks (and WikiJunior) is here! Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. Wikipedia is not always the most reliable source for educational texts. Well, thanks to many of Wikipedia's recent fact verification safeguards, it is becoming more and more so. Wikibooks offers open source textbooks and manuals for the public. Should you still not find the textbook of choice in the Wikibooks collection, you still have yet another option. Wikipedia also offers Book Creator - a create-your-own-textbook tool from Wikipedia's website which allows you to create PDF file books using Wikipedia's articles as chapters.

    To use Book Creator, simply find the article you'd like for your students to read, and click on "Create a book" in the left hand navigation bar. (You may have to open the "Print/export" window first by clicking on the arrow next to this tab.) Once you click on "Create a book", you will be asked to start Book Creator and will be taken through several steps. Eventually you will have a PDF file ready to go that can be easily opened on iBooks.
    Tip: If you do this all on your iPad, you will get an option to open the file directly in iBooks!

    WikiJunior is a sub-site on Wikibooks on which all of the articles are written at an elementary student readability level. Searching for articles here will yield shorter, more kid-friendly texts that can also be added to your Wikibook.

    Another great idea shared with me by Bruce: have students create their own textbooks. Give students a general topic, link them to Wikijunior and allow them to create their own resources. Then have them share these resources with one another or utilize them for a research project. What an amazing student-led learning opportunity!

    Armed with these new tools and sites, I have already created a rich new library for my students to explore. I know I'll be finding many more ways to access and acquire digital texts. Soon I'll be experimenting with "checking out" digital texts from the library using iBooks or Kindle. As I find viable methods and platforms, I'll be sure to write about them on this blog.

    AND, as always if any of you know of other sites or tools, please share in the comments below as well!

    Happy digital reading!
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