I have had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Moveable Feast education technology conference in Bloomington, Illinois, this week. The Feast got its name from an Ernest Hemingway quote:
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
The idea here is that teachers who are trained to use educational technology well will have access to that training throughout their lives and will be able to integrate technology wherever they go. My interest in attending the conference this year was two-fold: one, I am the instructional technology cadre member for my school, so I am responsible for training other teachers in using the digital technology resources we have in the building and two, my school district is one of the 35 Race to the Top districts in Illinois and there was going to be special training for RttT teachers to learn about new online resources that the state is developing.
On Monday and Wednesday of the Feast, I attended training for the RttT schools. I learned about the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE), which is being developed to be an aggregator of the many assessment tools schools use to track student growth and progress, on Monday. This software is still in development but it has a lot of potential to make it easier for teachers to find student data and plan for differentiated instruction for students, either individually or in groups. True, great teachers are differentiating already; ISLE is intended to streamline the process and help teachers use their time more effectively. On Wednesday, I was introduced to the Thinkgate platform which serves to guide teachers in creating learning maps based on student assessment data. I am looking forward to having a way to easily track all of the skills that students are expected to learn throughout the year and to know how well my students are doing in achieving mastery while saving me time.
Tuesday and Thursday were both days for me to attend a wide variety of workshops throughout the day. I focused on learning about tools that I can use in my classroom. With my five Nook HD+ tablets and four iPads, I am in a unique position to integrate technology throughout the day. While many schools and districts have a 1:1 program that puts tablets in the hands of every student, I am content to have a 3:1 ratio. Some of the resources I learned about and look forward to using are:
- Edmodo – A way to communicate with students and parents online in a safe, secure environment, Edmodo creates an Internet platform for posting questions, polls, quizzes, communicating as a class, and networking with other teachers. I can have students work on different badges or just let them talk to one another about assignments. One thought for Edmodo is to use it for students to give short-answer responses to questions to check comprehension or to respond to exit slip queries.
- Keyword Challenge – Students almost always struggle with knowing how to perform Internet search queries. The Keyword Challenge guides students in learning what are keywords, what are intermediate words, what are words with little effect on the query, and what are words that search engines completely ignore.
- Big6 – The Big6 is not software; it is a research framework. Fourth graders are expected to conduct short, independent research projects throughout the year. The Big6 is a systematic approach to research that focuses on Task Definition, Information-Seeking Strategies, Location and Access, Use of Information, Synthesis, and Evaluation.
- S.O.S for Information Literacy – A free resource for thousands of lesson plans to guide student inquiry, S.O.S. for Information Literacy helps teachers guide students in processing information to increase understanding. One of the strengths that I discovered was that many of the lessons do not require specific texts, but rather give suggestions for how to ask meaningful questions with any text.
- instaGrok – One of the great challenges that students face is knowing where to start with their research. I consider my role to be one of guiding them to asking the right questions, rather than giving them the questions in the first place. Students are much more engaged with assignments and tasks when they are doing things of high interest to them. I may pick the topics, but I want my students to know how to ask. Using instaGrok, they will be able to select a specific topic and view a concept map that will lead them to relevant information, websites, videos, and other web-based resources.
- Kahoot! – I love games! We use games in my classroom, I play games at home and with friends, and I play games online. Kahoot! is a free site to create interactive quizzes that students can answer using computers, tablets, and other mobile devices. Similar to restaurant trivia games, Kahoot! has thousands of trivia games that I can use, along with an easy interface for creating my own. I am looking forward to using Kahoot! to quickly check students’ prior knowledge, to take brain breaks, to review material, and to seek out input from students in real time. I will also be using Kahoot! with family and friends!
- LiveBinders – Not all of the workshops I attended were for student sites. LiveBinders is a tool for storing information, websites, images, videos, and other content online. There are a lot of ways that they can be used. Teachers can upload lesson plans, schools can have handbooks and policies shared, or you can have a LiveBinder to bookmark a collection of websites for a specific unit. One of the ways I am hoping to use them, though, is to create digital ePortfolios for each of my students. I can easily upload copies of work and store online. Parents can be given an access code to their child’s binder and be able to view work samples. LiveBinders are not gradebooks but they are a great way to organise!
- Digedu – Similar to some of the other resources available for lesson plans and digital activities, Digedu was created by teachers for teachers to maximise the use of mobile technology in the classroom. Teachers can create lessons that integrate video, audio, images, and text and have students respond to multiple choice, short answer, or essay questions. Digedu will score responses immediately and give teachers real-time access to reports. Teachers can monitor what students are doing, control the mobile platform, and communicate with students via secure chats. Additionally, the software can communicate with Skyward, which is the student management system we use in our district, allowing assignments to be shared with our online gradebooks.
- Blendspace – As digital mobile technology grows in the classroom, so does the need for teachers to effectively use these tools. Blendspace is a resource for creating multimedia lessons for students, incorporating video, images, and text. Teachers can import content from YouTube, open ed resource sites, general websites, Gooru (see below), Google Drive, Dropbox, Flickr, Educreations, even bookmarks. There is an option for teachers to create quizzes but, unlike other resources, it is limited to multiple choice only. However, there is a comments section on each Blendspace lesson that teachers can use to get short responses from students. For example, if I were to post a lesson on the Revolutionary War with a video that explains that major events leading up to it, I could leave a comment asking students to share something they learned from the video.
- Gooru – One of the workshops I had hoped to attend earlier in the week was on another digital lesson planning site, Gooru. Fortunately, the presenter for Gooru was also the presenter for Blendspace and he graciously allowed me to ask questions and walked me through the tutorial and setting up a classroom account. Gooru is, in many ways, similar to Blendspace. The biggest difference is that content from Gooru must come from Gooru itself. The benefit of this is that content is teacher-created and teacher-vetted. I can be sure that the material I will get via Gooru will be appropriate for the classroom. With Blendspace, all sorts of content can be imported, so teachers must be even more careful with verifying the relevance and appropriateness of the materials be added.
- Educreations – Speaking of Educreations, this is an easy-to-use tool for teachers to create original content for tablets or computers. There were not any actual workshops offered on using Educreations, but I took time to lean about them while I was learning about Blendspace and Gooru. Educreations allow teachers to turn their tablets into interactive whiteboards. I can record audio while demonstrating work or showing images. Students can create content and it is stored privately, with access granted only to teachers and those with a code. It is actually quite similar to another app I have, Ask3, but with more functionality. I include this in the list of things I learned about this week as a reference for other who may be looking for digital technology tools for the classroom.
After a week of being bombarded by a ton of information about a wide variety of digital technologies, we had time on Friday to work and apply. All of the trainers were available in different work rooms. The rooms were organised to general categories including developing a web presence (working on blogs or class websites), classroom management systems (developing accounts with Edmodo, Schoology, etc), multimedia (YouTube, Audacity, other video and/or audio technologies), presentation tools (Google Presentations, Prezi, etc), and a general “potpourri” room for anything else. I spent most of my morning working on creating a class page on Google Sites, but since it is still under construction, it won’t be going live for a while. There were also presentations at the end of the day by teachers who wanted to share what they had been working on or had developed in the past.
The day ended with raffle drawings for several prizes, such as accessories for tablets, gift cards, DVD/Blu-Ray, games, etc. Participants entered the raffles by using “Feast Bucks” which had been handed out all week long for attending sessions, participating, arriving on time, and just being here. (I earned over one hundred Feast Bucks this week!) I got the DVD/Blu-Ray bundle of Disney’s Frozen! And with that the week ended!
We are fortunate to have a large supply of iPads available in our building. I have four iPads and five Nook tablets in my room, but the Nooks do not have cameras on them, which only becomes an issue when I want my students to do something with pictures. This was the case today but, luckily, our first grade partner class was going to lunch when I wanted my students to use tablets, so we were able to increase our tablet count from four to nine. (It would have been ten but one of the tablets needed to be charged.)
The goal with the tablets was simple: go outside and find examples of patterns. They could be in nature or man-made. The students were able to work in groups of two or three and take pictures all around the school property. After twenty minutes we came in and talked about what we had seen. Then I showed the students numeric patterns and I asked them to try to figure out the rule.
I started with a simple one:
1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0
They easily identified the AB pattern, so I gave them another one:
2 4 6 8 10
Again, they quickly saw that the pattern was counting by twos. Then I gave a more challenging pattern:
1 4 9 16
It took a few minutes longer, but someone suggested the next number was 25, then 36, and then they recognised the pattern as square numbers. One student noticed that the numbers increased by sequential odd numbers, especially if you started the sequence with 0: 0+1=1, 1+3=4, 4+5=9, 9+7=16, 16+9=25, and so on. I thought that was a pretty cool observation. Then I gave them this one:
1 1 2 3 5 8 13
The students guessed several numbers, mostly random, then someone shouted out, “Oh! I know! It is 21!” Then I asked if anyone could name the next number and another student offered 34. A few recognised the pattern as adding the previous two numbers together. I explained that this is known as the Fibonacci sequence. The last pattern of the day was this:
2 3 5 7 11 13 17
After several minutes, a few students started offering other numbers, such as 19, 23, and 29. Then someone explained that they were all prime numbers.
It was a really fun way to wrap up an exploration of patterns in math and in the real world! And if you want to see the photos they took today, just visit the album I made here!