Thursday, May 1, 2014

The One Where I Notice Teachers are Miracle Workers

Every year it seems expectations increase as does the amount of content teachers have to cover. Like most teachers, I've shuffled things around to make it work. However, try as I might, there are some things that there never seems to be time for anymore.

Out of the things that I've had to push aside... the one I miss the most is talking with my students and getting to know them more personally. While I still know each one fairly well, it is not the same as it used to be.

With inspiration from +Sue Gorman  (@sjgorman on twitter), I decided to make a simple Google form each day so I could get an idea of how my students were feeling each morning. I've been doing this for about a month and the results I've gotten back each day have made me realize something about teachers.

We are miracle workers.

I'm not necessarily using that as hyperbole either. The very last graphic below shows a sampling of some of my students' responses in one day. Notice the roller coaster of emotions: "I'm tired because my parents let me play on the XBox until 11pm", "I'm angry because my brother beat me up on the way to school again", "I'm happy because we are taking a math benchmark test today", "I'm nervous because we are going on a field trip and the bus has no seat belts", "I'm excited because I'm seeing grandma this weekend", "I'm very sad because our dog is sick and at the vet. They might have to put him down"

Those are a sample of some very real responses I received on one of the days I've been doing this. The fact that teachers are able to get anything done with the wide range of emotions is, in my humble opinion, AMAZING! If you are a classroom teacher, pat yourself on the back for the miracles you work each and every day with the wonderful, beautiful, emotional children you have been assigned. Below is a step-by-step for how to get started making a simple Google Form to do the same thing. It literally takes about 2 minutes.

Go into Google Drive. your screen should look something like this:

Click on the red CREATE button and then select FORM from the list:

I usually title the form with the date, followed by a quick saying. For example, "April 30, 2014 - How Do You Feel This Morning?" and then I choose a random theme each day. Click OK after you have done this.

The main screen should appear and look something like this. On this particular form, I titled it "Monday, April 28, 2014"

If your screen shows choices similar to these at the top, I always select the top two choices. If you don't, you won't know which student is saying each comment (which sort of defeats the purpose).

I type in the question. In this case "How do you feel today?" In the help text, I usually add something like "Please answer with as much or as little as you want to say. No one will see your response except for me. I read every response each morning.". Make sure for QUESTION TYPE to change it to PARAGRAPH TEXT and check the box the reads REQUIRED QUESTION.

After you click DONE, your screen should look like this. Once here, click on SEND FORM.

Where it says "Send form via eMail" type in the eMail addresses for your class (I already have them in a group, so I just type the word 'class' in the box and all of their eMail addresses show up). Click DONE after that.

As students start to submit their answers, this is how they start to shape up on the RESPONSES spreadsheet that is automatically generated.

Back in Google Drive, the form shows up in my list of files along with an auto-generated spreadsheet that houses their responses.

If you click RESPONSES at the top and then select SUMMARY OF RESPONSES 

You will get a screen like this that will show you what your students are feeling like on that day. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The One Where We Switch to Front Row

Front Row Math

My 4th graders have been using the newly revamped Khan Academy website on our iPads since Mid-November. Things have been going great and I have seen a fantastic, better than average, increase in MAP Math scores from August to January.

I read a Tweet recently that mentioned an App called Front Row (or Front Row Ed Math). It is very similar to Khan in many ways but has some thing unique to it that I really like. Both Khan and Front Row are FREE and both give teachers access to "More Data About Their Students Than They Could Ever Use."

I have already written in length about the Khan Academy and it very positive effects in our classroom. Test scores have improved for all of my student (some dramatically). We are now using Front Row as a "Change of Pace" from Khan. Here are some of the "Data" highlights... To the left there are clickable areas like "Insights" (my favorite), Groups, Matrix, Common Core Standards, Class Roster, Report Card, and Printables (My 2nd Favorite). Clicking on the "Insights" tab brings up the screen below. Clicking on the arrows on the right will drop down each section revealing your students "Most ahead" and "Most behind" as well as who is improving the most and the least. The last section reads "What's the Most Important Standard I need to teach next? 

Clicking on that will bring up this screen and you can see what standards students are missing the most.

Clicking on the standard itself will show you examples of the types of questions they are missing.

My other favorite feature is the printables section.....

I've only used the "Individualized Practice". If you click on GENERATE PDF it will generate an individualized worksheet for EACH STUDENT based on their appropriate level of success in that area. Don't worry, it also generates a mini answer key for each child's worksheet. Pretty Slick! 

I don't know if Front Row Ed will ever replace Khan in my class, but ALL students like it right now as a great change of pace!

What do you think? Have you used Khan Academy? Do you use Front Row? If you have tried both, which do you prefer?

The One Where I Storybird on iPads!

I recently discovered that a website I used with my class several years ago has, at some point, rewritten their code to be compatible on iPads! This has been great news for my 1:1 iPad students! Storybird is a site where students write stories and collaborate with artists from around the world. Here is how it works...

As a teacher, I created a free account and was given a passcode for my students to sign up (no eMail needed). The passcode attached each student to my account and allows me access to their stories if needed.

When a student clicks on the CREATE button, they see a screen similar to this one. Each picture is from a different artist and they can scroll through hundreds of artists who have donated their artwork to be used on the site, royalty-free. So, from the pictures below - say a student really likes the "Haunted House" picture. They select it and then....

This screen will come up. On this screen, students get to see ALL of the artwork by this one artist. From here, they select the portfolio of art they want to use for their story. In this case, I selected the Haunted House portfolio but I could choose any thumbnail at the bottom to select a different portfolio of art from this person.

Next, students see their "Desktop" which has their empty Storybird in front of them and all of artwork tossed about on the left and right of there book. Controls are at the bottom for navigation and adding pages. Pictures are switched out simply by drag and drop. 

Hit the Plus sign in the bottom right to add pages. One simple font is used for all Storybirds. 

Another page is added.

This student clicked SAVE in the bottom left corner. As a teacher, this screen shows me my students and their Storybirds. I can share, favorite, comment on, or delete their Storybirds.

When I click on one of their Storybirds, it will enlarge on the screen along with this control panel that allows me to to see some basic data about their 'Bird as well as assign it a grade (viewed only by the student) and notes about their story.

One of the more intriguing features of Storybird is that their books can be purchased as a PDF, a softcover book, a hardcover, or a premium format book. Costs vary depending on how many pages are used. The site also offers fundraising for classrooms or schools. 

Storybird has been a great experience for all of my students. It helps both their writing AND reading skills. We have integrated it into our writing curriculum. I also have several highly motivated students that have been creating their own Storybirds at home.

We have all used it on our iPads using both Safari and Chrome as browsers to access the site

Please contact me if you have any questions or need help getting started

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The One Where I List What iPads Changed For Me

Last September I started using 1:1 iPads my classroom. Over the past few months I've had my share of successes and failures. To say this has been the largest growth of my teaching career would be a tremendous understatement. These are the Top Five ways "Our iPad Classroom" has changed my teaching:

1) Students as teachers! No teacher knows everything. Even me. As much as I like to pretend sometimes that I know the answer to everything, I simply don't. Using 1:1 iPads, I've had many students come up to me with App usage questions. As much as I am able to help them, just as often, I have no idea how to do what they are asking. 

This is where my students have grown into technology leaders. I will usually ask, "Who knows how to (for example) add text to a picture in edit mode in iMovie?". Usually 5-10 hands will go up and I direct the student to seek the answer with one of them. Students LOVE feeling helpful/useful/knowledgeable and "knowing more than the teacher does" is a BIG confidence booster for them! It is a win-win-win situation!

2) Creating Creative Creations! While my students still handle an occasional worksheet (usually digital), my class has definitely moved more towards CREATING products to show their knowledge of curriculum. Geometry in the Real World iMovies, Explain Everything Story Summaries, and Tellagami Vocabulary Videos are just a few examples of my students using multiple levels of intelligence to showcase their knowledge across the curriculum. Once these projects are created, that leads me to the next classroom transformation....

3) Breaking Down Classroom Walls! These projects are great and would be fine just sitting on their iPads. However - students almost always do better and put in more effort if they know more people are going to see the work than just their teacher and maybe their parent(s). Let's face it - the same goes for most adults. A lot of us will put in extra effort if we know a large audience will be seeing our work rather than just 1-2 people. YouTube, eMail, and Google Drive have allowed us to take these wonderful creations and easily share them with parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, and other educators. 

I have a student who is pretty good at Math. She created an iMovie to showcase her knowledge of geometry. She also created music to accompany it using Garageband. Her music was AMAZING and her video has been seen and commented on by her mom, aunt, grandma, classroom teacher (me), music teacher, as well as several other teachers from across America. Talk about enthusiastic! I share this with my class as an example of what can happen when you create something "Worthy of the Web".

4) 95% Paperless! Paper is at a premium and I'm proud to say that we have figured out ways to go almost completely paperless in our class. Google Drive, Notability, etc. have allowed my students to take tests, complete daily work, and display their knowledge of content all without using a single sheet of paper. 

5) From Teacher-Centered to Student-Centered! This is a move that I have been hesitant to make for a long time. It always felt to me like a student-centered classroom involved me giving up classroom control. The iPads have allowed my to act as more of a coach, letting the students work on their projects while moving around and guiding them when necessary. It also allows kiddos the ability to work ahead and move beyond grade level - truly differentiating their learning. Giving more Project-Based assignments allows each student the opportunity to work at the level they are at. With the integration of technology into these projects, it allows some students to shine who otherwise may not have had many chances in a traditional classroom.

So - Where do I go from here? There are several Apps I've had for awhile that I've never used with the students. The top of the list? Explain Everything. There is also a fairly new App called Stick Around (#StickAroundApp) created by Tech Guru Tony Vincent @tonyvincent ( that looks very promising to use with my students to assess what they know about certain content. 

I plan to use the same philosophy I had in the first semester: Slow and steady wins the race!