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.

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 is the new group text notification tool that I will be using this year.  I will discuss 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 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 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, 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.