teaching with the tools of a digital world

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Are you engaged?

Everyone who has ever stepped into a classroom (teacher, student, or otherwise) knows there is a difference between the amount of time that instruction is happening and learning is happening. This is very generally wrapped up into terms like “student engagement time.” In an earlier post I discussed my general goals to “increase student engagement through the use of technology.” I would like to add to that “both in and out of the classroom.”

Today, I am most interested in increasing student engagement in the classroom. I am currently reading Middle and Secondary Classroom Management: Lessons from Research and Practice by Carol Simon Weinstein and Ingrid Novodvorsky. Chapter 7, Making the Most of Classroom Time , discusses this topic and gives one suggestions I want to focus on, minimize transition time. There are a few ideas from this section that I would like to try and adapt for use with technology. Here they are…

The text discusses the four options students have when they are transitioning between activities 1) maintain interests and attentiveness, 2) become bored, 3) become distracted and 4) actively misbehave. Looks like some slim chances, huh?

How can technology help to keep students engaged as we switch between topics and/or activities? I am mostly looking for things that give me a little extra time to get done what I need to during the transition time and/or allow for students to complete activities at different times but still be engaged.

Here are my current ideas…

  • A lead-in or follow-up question on clickers or using Poll Everywhere.
  • Ask students to summarize the previous reading/assignment via Poll Everywhere or Twitter
  • Asking students watch a short video that highlights the next topic
  • Maybe part of this is just a time management issue and it could be helped with students being aware of the time schedule (maybe just a digital timer displayed to the whole class would be a big help?)

Maybe there are a lot of things here that can be completed without technology (I definitely think so..) but can technology make this easier in any places? Where and how? I am going to try out a few of these ideas and any that you might suggest and then reflect back here after a couple of weeks and see if there are any changes.

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No Cellphones in School!

My school currently has a policy of “no cellphones in class unless your teacher says you can use it for a learning activity.” I think that has basically meant no cellphones in class, period. I’ve been looking for a way for student to use their cellphones in my class in a meaningful way and I stumbled upon QR codes.
QR codes are two dimensional bar codes, similar to those on cans at the grocery store, yet they can hold more information. The biggest difference is they are starting to show up all over the place from business cards, to store fronts, to advertisements and even billboards. You can have a QR code made which says whatever you want it to and have it printed on just about anything you want. If you aren’t sure what one looks like do a quick Google search and I’ll give you a chance to decode your first a little later on in this post.
I decided to try and use QR codes as an instructional tool, but I was hung on not all of my students having smartphones that could allow them to download a free QR code reading app. That was when I miraculously stumbled upon stapmyinfo. This service was design to provide business men and women with a way to obtain QR codes for business cards and other materials and as a way for “non-smartphone” customers and colleagues to obtain their contact and business information. In short if you can send picture text messages you can decode the QR codes.

We have started using them pretty regularly in class. We’ve used them to check answer for our minerals and igneous rock lessons and at different stations for different minerals and rock characteristics where students describe and identify in their own words and then evaluate them based on what is in the decoded QR. The last two days students were asked to create their own QR codes based on a researched definition and observed characteristics of different igneous rocks.
One of the biggest challenges has been that students are automatically skipping to the part of the lesson of activity that has a QR code and skipping the instructions or other activities. I’ve had to do some careful monitoring and some creative QR codes and lesson planning. But I think it has been worth it to get the students more engaged and interested in the learning.
The students have really enjoyed the experience of using their phones in the classroom. The first day, however, was pretty comical. I had asked the students to all bring their cellphones to class. When I asked them to take them out of their pockets and use them they were quite cautious! I think they thought it was a big trick and I was secretly planning to single-handedly confiscate the phones of the entire freshmen class in one day! No one wanted to be the first to pull the phone out of their pocket out of fear that I would take it away! They have gotten used to the idea and a number of them have expressed an excitement for using their phones in class.Here is your chance to scan your first QR code if you haven’t before. Just take a picture of the QR code above and send it in a text message or email to (or you can download one of the many free QR code readers for your smartphone – this is a much more streamlined process).



On your mark!

Early in the school year I decided to adopt a motto for my teaching this year “do something new everyday.” I feel like I have stayed pretty true to this, even though it has more likely been “do something new every week.” A lot of this has centered on my technology use in the classroom. I am continually looking for new ideas and new resources that I can apply in my classroom.

I’ve decided to highlight some of the things I have been doing in my classes up to this point as a way of recapping and documenting basically the firstquarter of this school year. First up is iPod Touches. The school district has purchases a set of 20 iPod Touches for each building (HS, MS and Elementary). Early in the year an email went out notifying the staff of their availability. Well, I was the first to reply and requested to have an app added to them so I could use them in my Earth Science classes. Since I was the first (and only) teacher to request the iPods I was asked to manage them for the high school. This brought a little extra work but mostly extra benefits, namely, the case of iPods almost never leaves my room!

Here are a few of the ways that I have used the iPods so far this year:

I have a few more ideas/uses coming up in the next couple of weeks but I will save those for when they happen.

One of the best things that has come from having the iPods in my room and from managing the set for the  high school is it has allowed me to look for ways to encourage other teachers to use them in my classroom. After a lot of suggesting and discussing other teachers have begun to use the hordes of available content in their classrooms. I hope I can continue to help other instructors find ways to use this technology in their classrooms, it is what helps me to learn more and try new things.

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Show me the money!

I decided to “put down on paper” the tech supplies I am considering purchasing this year for my classroom. I will also throw in a little blurb about what I plan to use each item for so I get some of the reasoning down as well, for the record.

Here is where the money comes from…

  • $5,000 = Digital Educators Leadership Training (DELT) (Thanks again for the money everyone; it came from ARRA)

  • $1,800 = Digital Success Ladder (DSL) Top Tier
  • $500 = Left over from my Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship yearly materials grant ($1000/year… I’ll post sometime about what I spent the other $500 on)

This gives me a grand total of $7,300. Here are the things I am currently planning on purchasing…

$1222.95 – 13″ MacBook Pro

  • I am going to need a second computer (see “I need more space” below), I have an okay PC right now and I would LOVE to get back to a Mac (my personal Mac tanked during the first week of school… sad day… don’t want to talk about it). I chose the Pro because I am a little rough on laptops sometimes; maybe the aluminum body will help?
  • They are awesome! I like the mobility and the size, I would like to take it (and only it… well maybe a wireless keyboard too…) with me when I have to travel, but I really like to Skype when I am away. Hence, why I am holding out for version 2; my money is on there being a camera.
  • Frankly, I just need more space! One screen isn’t cutting it right now, I am trying to do things like collaborative GoogleDocs for notes, students texting in answers to questions, computer monitoring, back channel chats and I just don’t have the screen space to pull it off right now. I feel like this is the biggest thing really holding me back and making these attempts not as productive as they could be.

    $1730 – 28 Q2 Qwizdom controllers and a Q7 Presenter Tablet

    • I currently have a set of clickers in my room, but they are an infrared (IR) set. They work fine for the process of clicker questions and formative assessment mid-lesson, yet they don’t work when it comes to tracking student data. We are always switching remotes around from day-to-day because they are quite temperamental and have some connectivity issues. I really just need a radio frequency (RF) set.
    • The presenter tablet is so I can both control the questions and monitor student answers from anywhere in the room, but it also doubles as a tablet so I can write and control the screen from anywhere also. I currently have a Airliner, from the SmartBoard family, but I have been have some problems with that and have had very limited functionality. I decided to put two devices together and monitor student responses and control any presentations we have from the back of the room.
    • I had thought about going with the CPS clickers and tablet for quite a while because they offer student tablets as well. I really liked the idea of having students be in control of the classroom display and the flow of the lesson. It would give them an opportunity to interact with each other. However, the price difference was huge (nearly a $1,000 for a comparable set up).

      $1,000 – 4 Vernier Wireless Dynamics Sensor Systems (WDSS)

      • The school has a number of data collection units (LabQuests) from previous DELT teachers and other grants so I have access to them. These sensors are AMAZING! They allow for collection of data on position, velocity, acceleration, altitude, and force simultaneously and wirelessly! There are so many options available for these that I couldn’t pass them up. They could easily be used for nearly every lab for the entire first semester or more in a physics class. They pack a lot of punch!

      $717 – 3 PASCO PasCar Dynamic Systems

      • These are mostly materials necessary to use some of the digital tools I have access to. I currently have one personal set, but need to add a few more for a physics classroom.

      $100 – Jabra Bluetooth Headset and Adapter

      • I have been having trouble with microphones on my PC and I wanted to add this so I could wirelessly record audio for podcasts, student notes, etc etc.

      $95 – Flash Drives and a Tripod

      $300 – 4 FlipCameras from DigitalWish

      • Since I have been at the school I have had a library FlipCamera (or two) in my room probably 80-90% of the year. I figured I would get my own. I want to use it for student projects and for document my own progress and use of technology.

      That gives me a grand total of $6,315 out of the $7,300. I figured $1,000 was a good amount to hang on to and see what I feel is missing once I get these items and start to implement them. Maybe there is something I am just forgetting about. I am pretty excited about these items and have some ideas of how to use each of them, but I can’t end without asking…

      How would you spend it?

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      What are your plans?

      Today the district was videotaping classes and interviewing Digital Educator Leadership Training (DELT) teachers. DELT is the district’s program for adding tech in the classroom and helping to build technology leaders in the district. The district has received three separate grants which have been combined to create the DELT program (My money came from ARRA – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – yep stimulus money… I guess a thank you is in order). This allows the teachers to receive between $5000 and $6000 for technology purchases of their choice for their classrooms. I submitted my application for the third and final DELT cohort on Monday and (drumroll please…)  I was selected! Now I have to figure out how to spend it… Tough job huh?

      As I was saying, there was a film crew in the school today and I was added as a last minute interview as someone who was just starting out with DELT. Their main questions for me were about my goals for using technology in my classroom. So here is want I told them: 1) I want to increase and enhance student engagement through technology, 2) use technology that students and their parents are familiar and comfortable with more effectively, and 3) get my content in my student’s hands and onto their devices my often.

      This is my main starting point for my professional growth plan for my Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship (KSTF, see I am looking forward to how this changes and is adapted over the year.

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      And so it begins…

      Tech in the classroom. Where does it fit? What works? Is it worth it? Does it do any good?

      These are some of the questions I hope to be looking into through the rest of this first school year (at least).  I have set my professional growth goal as “Increase student engagement through technology

      .”  Part of this was motivated by receiving the highest tier award for my district’s Digital Success Ladder ($1800) and just this week a Digital Educator Leadership Training award ($5000+) and three years of commitment to the program. How in the world should I spend this money? And more importantly what will make the biggest impact on student learning?


      I will also use this forum as a way to track my successes and challenges and questions I have about which tech to use, how to improve what I’ve got and to brainstorm new ideas.