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.

Computer Room Chaos…or not

I rolled out the students’ blogs last week in three of my classes while my other three classes logged in today.  Overall the students were very productive, they began personalizing their blogs and writing their class expectation blog posts.  The three classes that started last week are almost done with the assignments and ready to move on.

I broke the assignment up for my classes up to keep me from dealing with the potential of six periods of chaos in one day.  Today, all six of my classes were in the computer lab, we all managed to survive the day.  Having half of the classes wrapping up the assignment while the others were starting allowed me to troubleshoot issues so much more effectively.

Speaking of troubleshooting, I did discover that for the most part, the students who had blogs from my class last year had a harder time remembering their log in information…which I anticipated.   Most could log in to Edublogs, a few needed their passwords reset via their Gaggle student email accounts.  A select few needed assistance to log in to both accounts, but this happens on occasion and the students were eager to help each other out while I helped with the administrative tasks.

The students who were new had an easier time, they were given their usernames and they all had a generic password to use.  There were a couple of hiccups with students who were added to my class in the last couple of days, and one or two that I missed when creating the blogs.  I am not sure of it was out school filter or an Edublogs issue, but several student accounts were rough to set up and once they were logged in, they had multiple blogs created from my various attempts to create accounts for them.

Their first task was to change their password to something they would remember.  The students then had to make their blog the primary blog.  This defaults the students to their personal blog instead of the class blog at sign in.  From there they began writing their expectation post and personalizing the space.  The processes were modeled the previous day in class, using the Interactive Whiteboard.  In a couple of classes I had the students gather around a computer while a student modeled how to turn in the assignments or complete a task that was confounding several students.

The assignments were posted in Edmodo along with my classroom expectation post.  I also created a couple of screencasts with Camtasia for Mac for students who may need reminded how to “Turn In” their blog posts and/or personalize their blogs.  The videos are posted on YouTube and SchoolTube for general access, they were also embedded in a folder within my Edmodo classes for easy access by my students. I could not resist name dropping tools so I can add the tags below…

All in all it was a very productive day, with many lessons learned and everyone playing different roles; students as teachers, teachers as learners.  It was what school and learning is supposed to be about.  And the chaos…it was nothing like I had feared.

 

IFTTT

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.

Edmodo and IFTTT

I recently came across a post about a concept called IFTTT, “If This Then That.” I believe I came across an initial post in Edmodo or Twitter and ran with it from there. My path took me to the following blog post by Laura Gilchrist. In a nutshell, you can preset some basic actions for your computer or smartphone called “recipes.” Recipes can be automatic actions where all you do is sit back and watch the presets play out, or they can be latent actions that need your prompting to begin. A more thorough explanation can be found on their website by clicking here.

I played around with the concept last night thinking how it can be incorporated into my classroom. There are many pre-made “recipes” on the IFTTT web site, I grabbed one to use for my personal use, with just a touch of my smartphone screen. The recipe automatically searches for free children’s Kindle eBooks and sends me an email when one is released by Amazon. I had two emails about free books within eight hours of setting up that recipe.

I also created my own recipe for classroom use in a matter of a couple of minutes. I clicked through the prompts on the IFTTT site to take any blog posted here on my Edublogs site with the hashtag #IFTTT to be fed to an Instapaper account I set up. This step is what made the process take several minutes instead of several seconds. My goal is to find a way to grab information that I either find or create and quickly push it out to my students to work with in my classrooms. This will be my first attempt to see if my recipe is a success.

At this juncture, I wish it bring Edmodo into the equation. Edmodo is not currently partnered with IFTTT, so I do not think information and actions can be pushed directly into my classes. I tweeted

@edmodo would love to see a way to work with @IFTTT for educational use.

My thinking behind this is…(drumroll please)…being able to create recipes to push information out to my students even more quickly and easily than I can currently. Yes, this is stated above, but… The goal would be to create spontaneous learning groups, to get the students to learn outside of the classroom. At first, maybe have the students post a comment about an article I find, or a picture that is posted…all assignments would be voluntary at first and count as enrichment assignments. The assignments could grow into the students posting more than written comments in response to my information. Podcasts, vodcasts, vokis, and other such multimedia presentations can become responses. The end goal would be for students to begin using IFTTT recipes on their own. They could be used for my class, other classes, or just personal use.

As a social studies teacher my ultimate goal is to ensure that my students have the tools and knowledge to be successful in life. This concept will hopefully help build solid citizens in both the physical world and the digital realm that we now live in. I want them to be positive contributors to society, and I believe that most of them are doing just that, however it is important to keep improving into the future.

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.

 

 

 

 

Class Orientation Day Five: Getting caught up

Today, the last day of week one, we headed back to the computer lab.  The plan was to have the students go into Edmodo and check their grades, then work on any assignments from this week that they had not yet completed.  I had graded everything that they had turned in so far and placed grades in the Edmodo gradebook.

We discussed why some of them had submitted assignments but not received grades.  This meant something was not right, they may have submitted the wrong assignment, a name was missing, or I may have missed the assignment.  This process of submitting work through Edmodo will keep all of us informed as to the status of work and what we need to to do keep EVERYONE successful.

The students worked well, many went back and “officially” turned in assignments through Edmodo that they had completed but not submitted through the online classroom.  I was able to work more one on one and with small groups on technical details for Edmodo and Edublogs.

We did encounter an issue with Edublogs where some students could not log in and their password resets to Gaggle were not working.  I submitted the issues through the Pro Support tab in my dashboard and before the period was out I had the issues resolved.  Sue W. and Ronnie B. were the specific helpers in Edublogs support.  They did inform me that Gaggle disables the password resets from their site, but they were working to resolve the issue.

I had one or two students who were new additions to my classes and they were once again added into everything.  I was able to sit down with a couple of students who were behind and assist them with tasks.  As more students asked for help we went to the mentor approach.  Some students who were asked to mentor others were a bit surprised; they did not think they knew enough to help.  They were wrong, they did an excellent job helping others which made the day a success.

There were a few parent concerns sent in on the signed information sheets.  I was able to zip off email replies to answer their questions.  The main concern was about a lack of home Internet access and if it would affect student grades.  I assured the parents that time is given in class to complete assignments, and my room is open during the day for students to come in and work.  A lack of home access should not be a problem unless students are wasting time in class and not utilizing time during the school day.

Overall, the day was very productive and the students cleared out most of their due assignments, which left me with a ton of work to grade.  The pace was much more relaxed, which I greatly appreciated.  It has been a bit tiring this week, but the groundwork is in place for the rest of the year.  There are a few more tools that need to be rolled out, but they can wait until they are needed for specific assignments.

Class Orientation: Day Four Computer Lab

Today, my students went to the computer lab around the corner from my room…they experienced working on the iPods, now they needed back in their comfort zone.  The assignments that needed to be completed could be done more efficiently on a larger interface than what the iPods could provide.

We met in my room to review the lesson for the day.  We ran a quick overview of what needs done by looking at the assignments in Edmodo.  They saw haw to use the “Grades” tab to see what they have turned in, received grades for, or owed.  The Blog Expectation Parent Sign-off sheets were handed out, and I showed them the Dashboard of their blogs on the Polyvision Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). The last lesson for Orientation was also rolled out.  After the students post to their blog, they are to personalize their blog to their liking.  It is their blog, hopefully they will use it beyond mandatory class assignments.  They should be allowed to place their stamp on it.  There is a rubric for basic minimums required, it is their blog to personalize, but there still needs to be some requirements in place.  I shared a folder with links to a few widgets for them to use in Edmodo.

Once in the computer lab the students jumped into the assignments.  Some caught on rather quickly and became student mentors to others.  This helped me out tremendously; since there were still a few new students in some classes that needed put into the class system, Edmodo, Edublogs, and all of the previous assignments.  Once again I could handle the administrative tasks and have my students mentor the new students and get them up to speed. Once those were completed, I floated about and worked one on one or with small groups answering technical questions.

Overall the day was rather fast paced and a bit hectic, but very productive.  Two more days in the computer room and we are jumping into the curriculum.

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.