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.

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.

School Week Two: A change in plans

Week Two of the 2010-2011 school year is now in the books, fortunately, so here is my take on how things went…

by the end of Week One, the students were becoming a bit frazzled with getting hit with new tools everyday, even though they were not familiar with using the iPods and the tools.  I had the students log into the class blog site on Edublogs.  I upgraded to the pro account and set up student accounts.  I will not explain the process here, since I already have several posts explaining the process.  The students logged in and followed along watching what I was doing on my laptop.  I had my screen projected over the LCD projector onto my Polyvision Board.

Students were given the opportunity to sign up for an Animoto account using my all access teacher code which enables them to make longer videos and have all of the advanced account privileges for free.  They understood that we would not use it right away, but needed to sign up now so they could use it over the next six months.  They viewed an example of an Animoto video while they signed up.  We were able to create accounts using the Free Animoto App on the iPods.

We had a short week to begin with the Labor Day holiday on Monday, then we had Foresight Benchmark testing on Wednesday and Thursday.  The testing creates shorter classes, about 30 minutes each, so we used the time to have students work on their introductory blog posts and get caught up with any account sign ups and basic tasks.  Students were still coming and going on my class roster, so catch ups were necessary.

Students continued using the mini Eno Board and the LiveScribe pen throughout the week, but it was hard finding a rhythm in such an abnormal week.    I figured it best to hold off on the rest of the tools until they are needed, the kids were getting stressed and tired of practice.  Week Three starts the roll out of curriculum and projects that will receive more scrutiny in the assessment and grading departments.

I do need to roll Google Apps for Education out in the next week or so, but that is another story for a later date.

Student Blogs: So easy even a Social Studies Teacher can do it!

Okay, I paraphrased a popular tag line from a commercial as my title…bad cliche.  I just wanted to emphasize the fact that setting up blogs for my classes was not difficult, it just took some time.  If I was a better typist, I could have finished the set up process in half the time if not less.  Here is the process:

First, I have upgraded to an Edublogs Pro Account, this upgrade enabled me to add students to my account.  I clicked on the “Add New Users” tab on the left side of the screen.  I was able to type in batches of 15 students, creating usernames, and passwords.  I ran into trouble because my students do not have Gaggle email accounts set up as of yet through school.  At this point I made the first of several emails to Sue Waters…Sue is on Edublogs Support Team and Sue rocks!!!  She has helped me out several times with issues and is a great resource.

She had recommended that I create a generic class email account, in Gmail, which I did.  The next step is to insert a “+” then a unique ID between the main email name and the “@gmail” in the address.

It looks similar to this, “my class+student”  I created users in batches of 15 and gave each a generic password.  A verification email was sent to the new email account I created in Gmail.  I typed my way through my preliminary class lists in a couple of hours.  I set up each student as a “contributor.”  This setting allows students to create posts, however they cannot make a post public without my approval.  I like this added safety feature, you never know when a student may have a bad day, or get their account hacked, or forget to log out which could lead to bad things happening.  I will need to approve every post before they go out over the Internet.  I need to grade the posts anyway, so it is not really an issue.

I then copied all of the usernames and passwords onto a Google Doc for reference later.  I have found it best to keep all student usernames close by for reference, you never know when you will need them.  In hindsight, I should have given every student the same generic password.  That would have saved me from copying their log-in information from my email account.  My colleague Bryan Pasquale was going to do that with his students…but he did not upgrade to the Pro account.  I believe he is going to use the work around of having his students create accounts, but not blogs so he can add them to his blog as contributors…but that is a different post on a different blog….

I hope to roll out the first blog assignment next week across all six of my classes, it will be on student expectations for the year.  We will see what they come up with.

Student Blogging: A new perspective.

I presented at Laurel School District’s Tech Camp recently and an issue was brought to my attention…I was bashing writing, or at least my desire to grade student writing.  I didn’t mean to come across that way, but after further review…I was.  I do not push too many formal writing projects in my class.  Students use the writing process in my class and with all projects, I just do not have them turn term papers.

I need to make an adjustment, and it will happen now.  All of my students will now blog as part of their class grade for my courses.  Not all of my classes will have to blog on a regular basis, some may be once a nine weeks with the option to post more often for alternate assignments.  In the past, I encouraged students to blog for enrichment assignments, but I had few takers.  This new system should change the lack of participation, although educators know there are often students who do not turn in assignments or make up tests they miss.

The blogs will vary in length and purpose, but will be graded on a rubric that includes grammar, spelling, and other areas of literary importance, along with being on the topic of the assignment.  The most important aspect of the assignments, is that they will be posted publicly.  In retrospect, my issue with the writing assignments of yore was that students wrote for a specific length, based on words or pages, then discarded once graded.  Students would toss them out, toss them in the hallways or stairwells, lose them in their lockers, etc. There was no purpose outside of a grade, or practice for the PSSA, at least in the students’ minds.  No matter how much I emphasized the purpose of the assignment and the importance of learning the subject, the students were only concerned with the final grade.  Now, their work will have a purpose beyond a grade, it will be published for eternity on the Internet.  They are all set up as contributors, so I will have the ability to keep work private until approved.  I will write more about this reasoning shortly.

For now, all that counts is that I found a problem and I believe I have addressed it for the better.