I learned a new game today…

I learned a new game today, well I heard of it Saturday at EdCampPGH, but I tried it out with my students in class today.  The game is QuizletLive.  Students are broken into random teams and must communicate and collaborate to answer questions correctly.  My students loved it and I was able to use my existing Quizlet flashcards as the basis of the game.  There was no need to build new material, which a a HUGE time saver.  QuizletLive motivated my students, the vocabulary review grew into a repeated competition for class supremacy.

There is a brief tutorial video embedded in the site so there is no need to repeat instructions here.  You see live tracking of student progress while the students are playing.

In my not so humble opinion, the random grouping of students is probably one of the biggest benefits of this tool, along with using pre-existing resources.  Having students step out of their comfort zone to work with new group members is important.  They can no longer become complacent and work with their usual band of cohorts.

If you get the chance check it out…SOON.

Collaborative Assignments

So, my students are winding up their collaborative projects that I have posted about previously, click here to view.  The last couple of days students have made a a concerted effort to finish up the projects.  Students have been staying after school, using my open door policy by coming in during their study halls, lunch periods, or any other free time, and asking questions after hours via Edmodo.  While I admire their efforts, I believe that if they started out this focused on the project, there would be no need for as much effort now.  I do realize that the dreaded, state mandated, standardized tests were last week which created a different atmosphere for the start of the project.  Being entrenched in the holiday season and weekly threat of “SNOWMAGEDDON X” from the local weather forecasters has added to the ongoing list of distractions for this project.

What to do during New State Standardized Testing Window…Expand Project Week

Well, we in Pennsylvania we have new(er) standardized tests, the Keystone Exams.  It was my distinct pleasure to be permitted to proctor them this year, sarcasm is intended.  I hate standardized tests, but that is a rant for another post.  The state window for testing started after Thanksgiving break and ended a week or so after we got back, sorry, but I do not pay attention to such details, I just focus on when we HAVE to take them in our school.  Our district took the tests right out of the gate  following break; if you have to do it, just jump right in and start. With the majority of my students testing at least one of the three scheduled days I knew I would not be able to accomplish much.  My students would either be testing and out of my class, or coming into class after testing and have their brains fried to a mush-like substance.  All students who missed class would need filled in, and students who had their brains curdled would need remediated…what a world, what a world.

I chose to jump into collaborative project week and expand the assignment by a week.  Each of my subject classes had a different project focus of topic, but similar style projects to create.  Podcasts, websites, videos, to combinations of such things were highly encouraged.  Students were to use the new iPads or their own personal mobile devices to work on the projects.  With a week of near empty classes, or classes filled with zombified students I rolled out the projects.

We started slow, students used Google Docs to sign up for groups, topics of research/presentation, and methods of presenting.  We brainstormed ideas of research together as group, discussing why topics were of interest and should they be accepted.  As usual, Edmodo was used as the mothership platform for communication and organization of the classes.  This first week went well, students were able to accomplish work and decompress from the testing.  The opportunity to collaborate, socialize, and have others to lean on was a major benefit for the students.  Those students who did not have to test benefited from not having to do extra assignments, or busy work as they call it.  As you will see in my next post, students who missed for testing even started the projects while away from class.

While I still thoroughly despise such tests, I now have a worthwhile concept to get my students involved in while we grind out these mandatory requirements.


My IFTTT recipe experiment worked…I posted earlier today about combining IFTTT with Edmodo. The post was hashtagged with #IFTTT, which my recipe was to automatically push into my Instapaper account.

The recipe worked as directed. Once the post was published, I received an email from IFTTT that the recipe was activated.
I added another step, but not through IFTTT, I set up my Instapaper account to automatically push out to my Tumblr account. This was set up for strictly educational purposes, so I can direct my students to the account. It still does not meet the goal I am trying to achieve; information posted directly to an Edmodo group using a recipe, but it is a step in that direction.

For now I can use IFTTT to push out recipes and then send an Edmodo alert to students who are participating to the various sites via supplied links to perform the tasks. It is not as fluid as I would like, but it will work for now.

Class Expectations 2012

Hello, my name is Mr. Salvucci, most students call me Mr. Sal. I teach high school social studies, specifically Honors Civics, World Cultures, and Econ/POD. I am looking forward to a productive year with all of my classes. I have a number of expectations for my classes and students this year. My main academic focus is to be able to engage the students in the learning process and motivate them to participate beyond basic levels. The students will hopefully be able to go out and apply what they learn in class in the real world and contribute to society in a positive way. As for expectations with technology, the goal is for the students to be comfortable and confident with the tools we use. I am hoping they can become student leaders in the effort to create a wider usage of the tools throughout the district. These actions would also tie into the curriculum expectations.

The expectations for the course curriculum are rooted in my hope to get students involved beyond the classroom. I hope to get them participating in such projects as the model United Nations and voter interviews at the polls. Other activities such as students learning about the community and government through primary resources and first person experiences. Hopefully these activities will allow then to remember and understand key concepts beyond the classroom assessments.

My technology expectations revolve around the students becoming comfortable with the classroom tools, so much so that they become mentors to both students and staff when it comes to technology. This level of competence also allows the students to not view the tools as novelties, but as objects as common as pencils once were. This is important so they can focus on the concepts to be learned instead of the technology we will be using to learn the curriculum.

Time will tell if these expectations can be met. Throughout the year I hope to reflect back and keep readers updated on the students’ progress.

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Orientation 2012/2013

Once again, school has started at NBHS and we are getting into the groove of the year.  This year I have 3 senior Econ/POD/Psych/Soc classes, 1 World Cultures Class, and 2 Honors Civics Classes.  The grades in order listed are 12th, 10th, and 9th.  I run a basic orientation every year to introduce the students to the tools we use in class, such as Edmodo, Edublogs, and the iPods and iPads.  Over the years I have scaled back what I introduce to the students, some of the items introduced were rarely used, or used so much later in the year students had to relearn how to use them, no need to mention them here.

This year is nice, orientation is moving much more quickly, almost all of my seniors already use the tools that were introduced, a few need to learn Edublogs, but have used Edmodo, my are similar.  All of them used Edmodo last year, but need to learn Edublogs.  A few of my freshmen have used Edmodo in the past, but none have seen Edublogs yet.  Almost all of my students, if not all, have read or written blog posts, so they understand the basic concepts, they just need to see the specifics of Edublogs.  Every one of my students has had experience with some sort of mobile device, specifically iPods or iPads, possibly just not in a learning situation.  The students familiarity with these tools makes my job so much easier. No longer do we need to start at square one and move forward, most students have some experience and they willingly mentor those students who may need assistance.  This frees me up to troubleshoot issues like resetting passwords, reconnecting devices to the Internet, or working with students who need a lot of assistance.

Three days into class and all but one of my classes have logged in to Edmodo and field tested the iPods with Edmodo, along with the new Edmodo interface that will soon be released to the public.  The only class that did not log in will do so on Tuesday, we hd abbreviated periods due to a pep rally schedule.  We had a few hiccups and bumps in the road, which is par for the course when using technology.  Fortunately we turned all of them into learning situations, with students helping each other out, mentoring others, and even helping me troubleshoot and test different workarounds to the issues.  The most important lesson students learned was patience and not to stress if things go awry, I emphasize the fact that if things don’t work as planned, we adjust and move on without penalty.

At the end of the day, only about 4 students had to use one of the laptop computers to access Edmodo and complete the assigned tasks.  if we would have had more time, or preferably block scheduling, I could have kept those students on the iPods and worked out a solution to the log in issues. If time was not short, I also could have had the students start on their blogs.  The biggest consumer of time today was the handing out and collecting the iPods from the students.  Most of my classes are 20+ in student numbers, it takes time to hand out the devices and collect them with the system in place, manually handing out the devices and students initially a sheet of paper.  The good news is that it took under 10 minutes to hand out and collect devices in each class, and history has proven that the time improves as the year goes on and we all become more familiar with the process.

Next week we jump into Edublogs and students start writing posts about course expectations, then we move into the course curriculum.  The students’ familiarity with 21st Century tools and skills as enabled us to move forward at a faster pace into the purpose of the courses, the actual curriculum.





Discovery Education and CoverIt Live: Two great tools that work well together

First off, sorry for the Reeses’ rip-off…now on to my post. I rolled out CoverIt Live with all seven of my classes today.  It went rather well…a few minor technical glitches, several stressed students, and a bit-o-scrambling on my part. I wanted to show a Discovery Education video to my classes, the topic was about 9/11.

This would be a perfect opportunity to also show the students CoverIt Live.  I wanted to make sure the students were focused on the video, not other things, so I thought of my options.   A worksheet full of questions to complete would probably only be done by a few and copied by many, so it was out of the mix.  Discussion is good, but pausing and discussing interesting sections fragments the video and waiting to pause may lessen discussion.  I went with an option many of the students have already experienced; texting while watching videos.  This would give us live discourse without totally disrupting the video.

The iPods were handed out as usual in class and one student in each class got to use the lone iPad my classes have at this time.  The students logged into the Edmodo online classroom, then jumped to the sub-groups.  I embedded a separate CIL for each class on a different wiki page…past experiences have shown that the sharing of pages causes issues with my students.  This is also why I posted the links in the sub-groups, there would be no chance of clicking on the wrong link.

The set up of CoverIt Live can be found here on a previous post.

We watched about the first ten minutes or so of the videos and had the students post a few basic comments.  They introduced themselves and made one or two general comments.  They were urged to use first name and last initial as their post ID. There was one student who tried to use a pseudonym.  The comments were not published, though appropriate, and the students were once again asked to use their real names.  I did not try to figure out who the student was…no harm, no foul in my book.

My first period was a bit hesitant with the process, I had about five or six students adding most of the posts.  Once the others found out they would get participation points for the assignment, I had most of the class jump into CIL.  We actually had students turning in iPods after the dismissal bell in an attempt to get participation points. The timestamp shows when comments were submitted, so I can monitor the process.  Other classes were very interested in the processes, both video and CIL, and we almost ran late in several classes.

Later, several students had to log out earlier classes from Edmodo before they could log in, which happens on occasion with the iPods.  Running 24-25 iPods through one airport, along with several other machines can bog things down, especially when dealing with Cold War Era cement walls.  A few others had previous students names in the ID window…I am not sure how that happened since each class had its own CIL and its own wiki page, but it seems that CIL remembers ID names on each device. The students were focused, for the most part, on the assignment and since we did not have time to finish the video in class, I placed the session on “Standby” and we will continue the process tomorrow.

We did spend a few minutes to discuss etiquette on how to respond to others questions and comments.  I used the free CIL app on my Droid X to walk around the room and review any comments that might need “refined” before they hit the “public” Internet site.

There was an overwhelming preference by the students to use CIL when working with videos in class instead of using worksheets. They seemed genuinely interested in continuing the effort and even expanding it to working with other classes via Skype later in the year.  I hope to utilize Skype in the Classroom to achieve that goal soon.

The lesson can be completed with any type of mobile technology, or computer.  All you need is to be 1:1 students to computers, therein lies the problem for many…

Class Orientation: Day Three…Bring on the Blogs!

Today we slowed the pace down a bit during class orientation and let the ideas of this week soak in.

A student from each period logged into Edmodo and projected their view of Edmodo to the rest of the class.  It looks rather different on an IWB when compared to the screen on an iPod Touch.

We worked around the various functions as a review and the students were given instructions to finish up left over tasks from yesterday.  The students liked the notification feature in the top right of the screen, they saw how easy it was to keep informed of class information.

Next the new assignments were introduced; signing in to their individual blog,  changing their password, and if there was time they would start their Class Expectation Blog Post.  The first two assignments were short and sweet.  The third assignment made their faces drop at first…it seemed as if more than a few were expecting DOOM and GLOOM when the word BLOG was mentioned.

I then explained that instead of writing paragraphs and essay question answers on paper that would be possibly forgotten at home, in a locker, lost by one of us, and eventually thrown out or forgotten, we would complete most of our writing on the INTERNET.  Same writing they are used to completing, different platform for submission.  The mention of Digital Portfolio and Resume did not seem to resonate with them as I had hoped…I will explain that purpose again once they have more information posted online.

A student volunteer worked the Edmodo interface where the assignment, links, directions, and rubric are posted.  They pulled up the documents in a preview mode as we discussed the assignment.  They opened my example post on my Class Expectations for this year and saw what was expected of them.  Students who were in my classes last year added to the information.  Once they concretely saw what was expected of them they became more relaxed.  I suspect, and hope, the office will get less calls this year because, “Mr. Salvucci is making my child blog and I thought the class was about social studies.”

I know information being filtered through students to parents can become muddled or convoluted so I am sending parent information letters home to be signed.  This should help keep confusion to a minimum.  Unfortunately, I forgot to send them home with my earlier classes, so they will all be send home tomorrow.

A few students who were added to my class through schedule changes or being new to our school did not yet have accounts.  I jumped into Edublogs and used my Pro status to create blogs for them.  The entire process took about 30 seconds per student.  During Period 8, we had a slight “hiccup” and my students lost connection with Edublogs, but were still able to access other web sites.  I posted a quick tweet to @Edublogs asking about their status and received a timely reply.  The entire time of being unable to connect was only about five minutes and it was toward the end of class so we just wrapped up the lesson for the day.

In other events of the day, my two world cultures classes voted on dividing into sub-groups.  When the idea was brought up, I began to comment that I know what we can do…which was finished by one of my students from last year, “you are putting it to a vote with a poll.”  Some of my students know me and Edmodo rather well.  The results of the poll will appear later in this post.  Just as a note they were given the option of staying in one group or splitting since they are not an overwhelming number of students.

I have one class, a period 2 20th Century U.S. History class that is one day behind everyone else due to Junior class meetings on Monday.  They were almost caught up by the end of the period, with some students even to the point of logging into their blogs.  It was nice to see them jump right in and be comfortable with what we were doing.

All in all I believe we had a very productive day.

Class Orientation: Day Two

What a day…today was organized chaos with a very productive outcome.  It was also iPod Roll-out Day.

The students remembered the process we discussed yesterday.  I ran a brief discussion as to what we were trying to accomplish and the students seemed confident we would be successful.  The Polyvision interactive whiteboard (IWB) was used to model the steps to each of the following tasks.

They came back to my cart when called to sign out their iPods.  They double checked the numbers, initialed the sign-out sheet and jumped into Safari to go to our district Edmodo domain.  The web pages were open on the Polyvision IWB and the regular dry-erase board contained static text as to what was needed for the class today.

Many students already had accounts and could log in and join my classes, others had to create accounts to join my class groups.  For the most part the students at both levels were at ease with the interface.  Even students who were viewing Edmodo for the first time noticed how it was similar to Facebook in looks.

Once the students logged in they saw the assignments for the day.  Each of today’s three tasks were listed as assignments along with turning in the signed parental forms from yesterday.  The goal was to ingrain the concept of “I need to turn in assignments” on Edmodo and know how to do so.  Last year my students were a bit forgetful with this concept, but we did not use the assignment tool until late in the school year.

At this time the signed forms were collected by hand and the students used the Edmodo assignment interface to leave a digital note that they had their signed forms.  I later compared the turned in forms to the number of students who left digital notes…the numbers were close.

The students were then turned loose to go to their new Gaggle email accounts.  The link to Gaggle was embedded in the Edmodo assignment along with a pdf copy of directions.  I had the directions opened on the Polyvision board with links to the various pages open in multiple tabs.  This enabled the students to view what to expect on their screens with a larger interface.  Students volunteered to run the board during this exercise.

Once logged in to Gaggle, the students came back to my desk to change their passwords.  Administrator or teacher rights are needed to do this with Gaggle.  We had the process down and moved quickly to update passwords without holding up the class.

Students then sent an email to my school email account.  This had them actually complete a task they may need to do in the future and get my school email address in their contact list.  The plan is for them to use their Gaggle accounts when signing up for Web 2.0 tools or to email me when Edmodo is down.  They can access their Gaggle accounts to verify email addresses and retrieve passwords if needed.  Otherwise, we will be using the Edmodo classroom for communications.

Students were great at helping each other and mentoring others who were having technical difficulties.  Their ability and willingness to help out freed me up to handle issues that needed full administrative rights to fix.  These included changing passwords in Edmodo and Gaggle, looking up users in Gaggle, and reconnecting iPods to my dedicated classroom wireless network.

We adjusted on the fly with some students not in Gaggle’s system; they could not complete some of the assignments yet, but collected information so I can try and get them in soon.  This situation reinforced the concept of flexibility and the need to adjust as necessary in the classroom.

The day was not flawless by any means, but it was a great learning process for all involved.  What seemed the most impressive to me was that all of this was accomplished on an iPod interface.  Most of my students have used iPods for games and music, but few have used them in a classroom setting, with the exception of students who had me last year in other classes.

20011 School Year Day One: With Students

I titled this post accordingly, since I have been prepping for the 2011/2012 school year for awhile.  In general, I am always trying to build upon what I work on with my classes and improve as a teacher.  Specifically, I have been “game planning” specifics since I was told which courses I would probably be teaching in late May.

My plan was to scale back last year’s student class orientation from the two week monstrosity it became to a nice clean and concise three day roll out.  I am only introducing Edmodo, Gaggle email, and Edublogs as hands on tools right now.  Google Docs and possibly Evernote will be rolled out once we start working with books and documents.  Anything else will be dealt with on an as needed basis throughout the year.

Anyways…away we go…

Today was an intentionally slow day, handed out class rules for students to bring back signed, reviewed the rules, discussed how we use the iPods and iPad in class, talked about what topics we would be covering, and from my third class on introduced Cel.ly.  Cel.ly is the new group text notification tool that I will be using this year.  I will discuss Cel.ly in another post sometime soon.

One reason for starting slow is that the students are still fine tuning their schedules.  I have had several students added to my classes, and one entire class missed their class period due to a Junior Class meeting.  Most students SHOULD have their schedule changes completed by Wednesday at the latest.  Another reason is that I have many students for the first time this year.  It is important for them to be able to ask questions and get an idea what we will be doing before jumping in.  Admittedly, there were few questions from new students, but a good number of questions came from past students.  The most prevalent was whether or not I would be pulled out to be the district’s Technology Integrator again.  I do not know if they were hoping the answer would be “yes” or “no.”

By this evening, a small number of people have signed up for my Cel.ly groups, which is a good sign.  I have everything for tomorrow set up in Edmodo. I am hoping tomorrow’s iPod roll out goes smoothly, that is the key for moving into actual class work in the next few days.

I hope to post a review of tomorrow’s activities by Wednesday morning.