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.

CoverIt Live and Current Events: Students’ Choice

This post was started on May 3, 2011, however life got in the way and delayed its publication.

My classes have been observing the events of the last few days and commenting on them through their blogs.  Today my Honors Civics class was given a choice before viewing videos of the recent events.  The first option was to view the videos and respond via their Edublogs accounts; while the second option was to comment while watching the videos using CoverIt Live (CIL).

Their response was unanimous in favor of live dialog. I quickly created an event through my CoverIt Live account and embedded the code for the event in my class wiki. This enabled me to archive the event and keep it public. The link was pushed out to the students through our Edmodo classroom. By pushing the link out this way the students do not need to type in urls, they only have to go into our classroom and click on the link.  This makes it easier for them when using our class iPod set.

Once the students were on the CIL wiki page, they typed in a short greeting as prompted and we started watching the news videos. There was no need to post any starter or ice breaker questions, the students jumped right in with comments. Several of my most even-keeled students were set up for approved comments without moderation, while most of the others had to have their comments approved. This was just a safety precaution, students usually get approved to post once they show they are acting responsibly. I walked around the room using the CoverIt Live application on my Droid X to moderate the debate.

Most of the students were commenting appropriately, they a a great group of Freshmen. There were several comments that needed to be adjusted, there was nothing inappropriate or rude about the comments.  However, some of the wording could have been misconstrued, especially the tone or intent when read later on the Internet.  The students viewed the comments, and rewrote them to get rid of any ambiguity.  Most of the students agreed with the rewrites, and understood how the misconceptions could occur.

The debate was rather spirited on the topics of the day.  The students were very opinionated about the world events, but respectful of opposing opinions.  This was the third time the students have used CIL in class and they are becoming much better at working on the iPod platform and commenting appropriately.  The students were also getting better at using “@” to direct comments to specific authors in response to their initial comments.

While writing this I now realize that I forgot to hand out the class iPad, which rotates to students in lieu of an iPod who request to use it.

Student Math Projects

One of our high school math teachers, Kerri Heymann, @kheymann on Twitter, recently had her Algebra students create a neat project to help other students in the school.  The idea is not new, but it is useful; the students created screencasts of math problems and posted them on the Internet for other students to use as a review resource.  You can find the screencasts here.

The process was simple, students paired up, chose a topic, designed several problems and directions to solve them, then recorded their examples.  Kerri then posted the link to the videos on her school Edline page and her Edmodo classroom.  Now for some name dropping to explain the details…

The students set the problems up on the Polyvision Boards using RM Easiteach software, Kerri set up a free account and a channel on Screencast-o-matic, which the students used to record their explanations.  At this time I would like to thank fellow technology coaches, Jason Henry, John Deihl, and Carol Roth who helped with the recording ideas.  I could not find a way to record directly with RM Easiteach, and they helped clarify that you cannot do so at this time and suggested alternatives.  The students then came into several staff classrooms to record their presentations without distractions.

The students were comfortable with using the Polyvision Boards and Easiteach, we run both the Next Generation and older versions in our district.  Screencast-o-matic took them all of about 10 seconds to learn; the process went very well…the hardest obstacle the students had to overcome was giggling or shyness during their presentations.  The best part of the project was the independence of the students.  We sat back and waited to assist if necessary, but the students handled their issues well.

As a first step, the project went very well, we are already planning expanding and improving upon things for next year.  Hopefully the students can help pull other staff members into similar projects next year.  After all, students are the best at pulling hesitant staff into the realm of classroom technology use and making these tools a part of everyday life.

Better Late than Never: Student blogging ownership

Not being 1:1 in my classroom since October has really slowed down my plans for student projects this school year.  It may just be my own personal bias or train of thought that slowed things down, but things slowed down nonetheless. I felt it was too complex and cumbersome to require students to access and work regularly on projects without dedicated daily access to 1:1 technology.  The students still have completed group projects, but many of the mundane things I wanted them to do have fallen to the wayside.

At long last, my Freshmen are finally personalizing their individual blogs.  I made it an assignment for them to personalize their blogs’ theme, add widgets, pages, and other such things.  There are restrictions to the personalization process, everything must be appropriate for school and relevant in some way.  I want them to begin using the blogs outside of the classroom…I will still award points for bog posts, but I want them to start CREATING THEIR OWN IDEAS….and then publishing those ideas on the Internet.  My Freshmen are in my civics class and what is more civic than contributing positively to the social discourse.

I will still have final approval before posts go public, it is one safeguard I am not comfortable relinquishing at this time.  I do not know if many, or any students will blog on their own outside of class, but I hope they do.

Web 2.0: Putting All Together part II

Previously, I mentioned that I was trying to streamline my web presence and make my sites more effective for my classes.  This is another post in a series of how I am attempting to do that.  Earlier in February I attended the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference, PETE & C, in Hershey.  There were many great presentations, in fact, there were more presentations than could be attended in person, but through the power of the Internet, most of the sessions have information posted online.  One of the ideas that was discussed was using Netvibes.com to coordinate and post student blog feeds in a single area; I heard this in Joyce Valenza’s session on School Libraries and Web-based Practice: A Tour of Effective Practice.

Netvibes is a tool that allows you to collect feeds from various web sources and post them publicly or privately on your won web page.  I used the site for posting news feeds for my social studies classes since learning about it in 2009 at CAIU’s Web 2.0 Event.  It is a very effective tool for social studies, a one stop shop for current events and trending topics in the classroom.  It is not the only source of news but it provides a focused list as a starting point of information.

Anyway, I decided to add all of my classroom blog accounts to Netvibes; these include my professional blog and all student accounts.  My hope is to make the blog accessible from more Internet sites which will draw attention to them.  I have Netvibes linked to my class wiki, my professional homepage, and a complete listing of student blogs listed on my classroom blog.  My goal is to increase student usage of the blogs beyond assigned writings and to the improve the quality of their work.  I have previously found that student motivation increases when they see that people are viewing their work online.  My students’ blog feed page can be found here.

I will let you know later if my idea was successful…

Web 2.0: Putting it all together

Okay, I realized last year that I was too spread out on the Internet to be effective for my students. This year, my goal was to focus my efforts and make my web presence more effective. In an awkward way, I am doing so by using more Web 2.0 Tools…kinda ironic isn’t it.

The way my online presence was set up became ungainly and cumbersome. I outgrew the wiki I was using as my main site a couple of years ago and began looking for alternatives. I used BlackBoard which became too expensive, went to Moodle, which did not work out, then on to Edmodo, which rocks. I went with a “Two Way Street” model, I push out information via Edmodo, students would use the class wiki for their informational platform.  My students still use the wiki for posting their projects, but the everyday information has fallen off. We have a class blog where the students post their writing assignments for the world to see, warts and all, or as @bpasquale likes to say, “the unvarnished work of students.” My parents were directed to the various sites by either our school’s Edline page, or the class wiki. This set up just did not work, the reasons are plentiful.

Well, here is my game plan. I needed a one-stop shop to direct people around my many sites that was not cumbersome and did not require a log in.  I finally jumped on creating a website. This is now my main site, located at http://www.mrsalvucci.com, surprise, surprise.  From here you can, or will soon be able to, access everything that is necessary for success in my classes.  I will still use Edmodo as my online classroom, the blog for longer student writing pieces, and the wiki as a student publishing platform.  However, my website ties everything together and strengthens the connection between the existing sites.

My website will contain all of the information parents, students, and even my administrators need to keep current with my classes.  I will even use the site to showcase samples of student work, and hopefully spur interest in the main sites where student work is published.  I will explain not only the tools my students are using, but the reasons behind their uses.  This should clear up some of the confusion that occasionally arises throughout the year.  The site will also host ways to sign up for tools and services I use such as Textmarks, my new self-made Droid app, Netvibes, Google Docs, Evernote, and others.

I am hoping this tool streamlines the other sites and reinvigorates their usage by all parties involved in the educational process.  The potential is there for the sites to be powerful learning tools, but as I often like to say in my classes “potential and $4.95 gets you a small frappachino latte at the chain coffee store.”  These sites need to be more than potential tools, they need to be effective in the real world.

I Learned Something New Today: Well yesterday actually

I learned something new today, and I didn’t even get in trouble to learn the lesson, which was nice.  Well, now that I am actually finishing my post, I need to say I learned the following concept yesterday. Many people may already know how to do this, but we didn’t.  The fact that I was able to successfully accomplish this, in a a short time, with the stressful week I have been having, made the lesson worth writing about.

About two weeks ago one of the Middle School teachers approached me about learning how to incorporate our Quizdom Student Response Systems with Study Island, a program we use district-wide.  We are strictly a Polyvision District, but you can use a number of student response systems with Study Island.  I read a little bit into how to work out the situation, but CFF Boot Camp and grad school took up most of last week for me.  Yesterday was one of my scheduled days in the Middle School, so I worked with two 6th Grade teachers on the concept.

I printed up a small file of directions from Study Island and in under 10 minutes we had the system working rather smoothly.  The entire process works off of the Study Island site, and you can choose which brand of hardware you would like to use.  We worked on creating our own district specific set of directions’ figuring the booklet would be a bit much for most staff to work with.  I hope to run through the process again with another staff member to make sure they are clear and concise.  Once that occurs I will publish them on our school wiki.

In a nutshell, you open up your Study Island account and pull up which subject and lesson details you would like to work with.  Instead of creating documents to print, you choose the Student Response Option.  From there you follow the prompts and and make the decisions as to how you would like to run the presentation of material. We chose “Teacher Paced” presentation and the content teacher, Jason M., guided his students through a math lesson on triangles. It was going to be a guided review on the topic.

We had the class take their Quizdoms out and log in with their ID numbers, which was just the controller number on the device.  Jason presented the first question to the class and they collaborated on how to come up with the answer to the question posed.  The students worked through the problem, with Jason’s guidance and they answered the question using the devices.  As he was doing this, the special education co-teacher, Traci C. and I were helping students who were having questions about the devices.  Jason then showed them the correct answer and how he could see how the class answered the question as a whole and individually.

After modeling the first problem, Jason continued the guided review with the students solving the problems on their own. After all of the students answered, he showed how the class as a whole answered the questions, then the right answer.  This process built up student interest, especially when more than one answer had a number of responses.  A student who had the answer correct would then be asked to explain how they arrived at the the correct choice. The process worked well.

At the end of class, we ended the session and printed out the results.  We were also able to print out a detailed student response log that listed each student, their percentage of answers correct and how they rated on a scale of ‘Below Basic” to “Advanced.”  This was helpful since we use Study Island as another tool to prepare students for the state-mandated, high stakes, standardized tests that measure whether or not our students are being properly prepared for their future in the eyes of bureaucrats.  Sorry…I became a bit carried away…I just came back from an intense three day training on Project Based Learning, (PBL), and I am posting to my blog about standardized test preparation…kinda, sorta, I feel like I am in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Anyway, today I hope to follow up and see what other information we can pull from the reports and how we can use it to help the students.  I am also curious to see if any of the information carries over to the students individual accounts and how it affects the teachers’ class accounts.  I hope to have more to discuss on my blog soon.

Sal’s One Day on Earth Project

I came across the One Day on Earth project via my Twitter network. The One Day on Earth project is a world-wide collaboration where people documented various happenings on October 10,2010, or 10/10/10.

I turned it into a mandatory lesson for my 12th grade POD class and my 9th grade Honors Civics class. I left it as an optional assignment in my other classes, although I introduced the social media lesson to all of my classes. I believe the students need to understand the power of the social media sites they already use.

My own participation as a documentary filmmaker was to be recording my family’s day on Sunday, October 10, 2010. I needed to come up with something fun to do on that day, something that would show what goes on in Western Pennsylvania in October. The weather looked as if it would cooperate for outdoor activities. We decided to go to a childrens’ hayride and fall festival at the Triple B Farm inn Elizabeth, PA. They have many neat things for younger children.

I started the day by taking pictures of the sunrise and various stages of the morning. While we were getting ready to leave I quickly set up a Twitpic account and checked my Flickr account to make sure I could send pics from my cellphone to my Flickr account. I linked my Flickr account with my Facebook account, that way any pictures that were sent from my cellphone to Flickr would automatically post to my Facebook account. I wanted to expand my own use of social media to show the students what you could do with the various tools.

As we left for Triple B Farm, I asked my wife to take pictures en route. She ran the camera on the trip down to the farm. We tried to get a variety of shots that showed off the region. Once there, I took over only to find out that the camera battery was low from being on the entire way down to the farm. I used the camera until the battery died, then I switched to my cellphone camera. My wife also was snapping pictures of the day, I could pull some of them if needed. My daughter had our hand me down digital camera, which she used to take pictures during the trip. On the way back home we tried to take pictures close in location to were we did on the way down. This would give us a mirror image at a later time in the day to compare and contrast with earlier images. Throughout the day I posted notes in my phone or sent pictures to Twitpic to help me keep the pictures organized.

I did not upload the images to my computer until Tuesday in class. My goal was to work along with the students and model the process to complete the project. The pictures were organized within iPhoto on my Macbook, then uploaded to my Flickr account for online storage. My plan was to use my Animoto for Education account to turn the still pictures into a video journal.

Overall, I am happy with the process of the project. My topic and the capturing of images went well. I probably should have charged the camera battery to full power the night before, but it was recently charged. I also picked up on synchronizing my various social networking accounts, something I will continue to use well into the future.

As for the students, they picked up on the overall process quickly. I had tried to encourage them to use their existing sites such a Facebook and Twitter as a platform to communicate their efforts about the projects. That effort did not work as well as I had hoped for. I do not link to current students’ accounts, so I cannot check first hand if they posted their efforts, so I took them at their word. A number of them were honest about not wanting to post school, or academic items on their site, so be it. I believe their efforts showed them the power of social media and how it can be used for more than just saying “hi.”

Social Networking: Real-life example in the classroom.

Yesterday afternoon Edublogs.org went down for a brief period of time. Normally it would be no big deal, except my students had blog posts due by the end of yesterday’s classes. The outage created a panic among those who were trying to finish up at the last minute.

I decided to post a quick comment out on Twitter about the situation. I figured someone in my network would respond and I could judge if it was something to worry about or not. About seven minutes later a mention from @Edublogs verified that it was a server issue on their end, not a mistake on mine, and they are trying to fix it quickly. A second message went out to @Edublogs thanking them for the quick response.

In discussing the One Day on Earth project with my classes, the value of social networking was explained. The basic premise is that the network, group, or organization is only as strong as its membership. I believe that I have a fantastic PLN for support. I showed my remaining classes the Tweets from the incident and tied them together with the previous discussions. They understand the concept and saw it work in real-life. It is no longer just some comment my teacher made just to have something to say.

It was not anything Earth shattering, but it was a teachable moment that work. That just seems pretty cool to me, in my humble opinion.