Getting Connected – A Reflection on a Year of Ed Tech Adventures

SMART_Board_640I recently participated in the last techie challenge for this year, which was a Smart Board training session presented by my district’s software specialist. While I have had the board hanging in my room for a few years, I felt like it had lost some of its initial luster, and I really had not thought much lately about finding new ways to use it. During the session I learned a few time saving tips and tricks that will certainly make my workflow more efficient. Some of these were simple things that make it easier to import documents or images from the web into the Smart Notebook program that acts as the board’s main interface application (this was something I was already doing, but in a more cumbersome and time-consuming way), while some others were features I had never really used or considered using, such as the Smart Exchange server that provides a searchable database of thousands of user-created Smart Notebook-based lessons that are able to be both downloaded and customized.

Aside from the tangible benefits I gleaned from the session it also set me to thinking (again) about the role of technology in our lives as educators. This latest reflection has solidified for me to two important conclusions regarding educational technology. First, there are experts all around us and technology can help us both harness the expertise of the collective group for the benefit of our students as well as greatly increase the size of that group (more on this below). Second, that almost any bit of technology can be used in creative and innovative ways to enhance our workflow, communication, instruction, or assessment. Throughout this year I have been exposed to what seems like a limitless variety of technological options that all have potential educational uses. At times this choice can be overwhelming. I have found that the key to successfully navigating the sea of ed tech integration is to remember that technology is the means to an end, not the end itself. As tempting as it is to use a flashy bit of tech, it is important to ensure that it enhances and ideally, transforms student learning. The SAMR model provides a useful framework for thinking about integrating technology in such a way while friendly local experts and a personal learning network (PLN) can provide helpful guidance in selecting and using appropriate tech.

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Technology now provides us with the means to expand our ability to learn and collaborate by eliminating the limits of geography and proximity, connecting us in a truly global network of shared educational wisdom and practice.

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As so many have reflected before me, sometimes it seems like teaching is a solitary task. Throughout my experiences this year I have realized that this notion is entirely an artificial and self-imposed construct. There is real value in breaking out of our perceived solitary confinement and becoming connected educators. When I first began looking to flip my classroom, use applications to automate tasks such as assigning and scoring quizzes, or design flipped video-based lessons, I relied largely on myself and a few members of my school community. To these I can now add the collected knowledge of my PLN, accessed largely through Twitter (@MrVigliotti) and blogs, to expand my knowledge as I seek out changes and new ideas to improve my instructional practice. And for this, I have the 10 Things Techie challenge to thank, as it prompted me to take the Twitter plunge and access the collective educational knowledge of no less than the entire planet! Without developing my PLN through Twitter, I would not have discovered the excellent resources of Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1), the cool and inspirational ideas of Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) and Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd), or the shared wisdom of Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Alec Couros (@courosa), and David Culberhouse (@DCulberhouse)…and these are just the tip of the collective iceberg that Twitter has to offer. If utilized effectively, technology now provides us with the means to expand our ability to learn and collaborate by eliminating the limits of geography and proximity, connecting us in a truly global network of shared educational wisdom and practice.

Going forward I am inspired to continue to connect, learn, discover, and innovate new ways to integrate technology and adjust my instructional practice. Emboldened and empowered by my recent forays into the ever-expanding world of my PLN, I look forward to future collaborations and the ongoing exposure to the limitless stream of new ideas and wisdom which prompts me to continually reflect and examine my own thinking about what it means to be an educator in the 21st century.

 

 

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Using QR Codes in School

QR (Quick Response) codes are symbols that can be scanned with app-enabled smart phone cameras that can link to almost any form of digital content. I have had QR codes that point to my class website, as well as to my email, posted in my classroom for some time.

IMG_2499In order to create these I used QR code generator on qrstuff.com. At this point I haven’t used them for much else, but can definitely see how they would become increasingly useful as more and more students begin bringing devices to school that have adopted BYOD policies. Scavenger hunts, content and video links on handouts and projects, various types of enrichment…the limit is pretty much the imagination of the teacher. QR codes give schools the opportunity to use the technology that students are interested in (namely their phones and tablets) to create a more immersive and engaging learning environment.

Using Flubaroo to Give Students Feedback on Google Form Questions

In a previous post I described how I have been using Google Forms to create flipped video-based lessons and scoring them using the Flubaroo script, but lamented the fact that there was no way to give students feedback. I have since discovered that Flubaroo does allow you to give feedback via email, and although it is not instantaneous, it has still been working well for my classes. All you need to do is create a question in your form that allows students to input their email address. After you score the form using Flubaroo, you can then email the scores, questions, students answers and correct answers, to any students who has submitted a valid email address (please see screencast below).

If additional students submit the form after you have already graded it and sent out the results, Flubaroo will allow you to email the grades a second (or third…) time and exclude all the students who have previously received their results, which is convenient. Using Google Forms along with Flubaroo is a great way for teachers to create flipped classroom assignments and give students feedback.

Using Student Response Systems to Enhance Instruction and Assessment

A powerful way to use devices in the classroom is with one of the many applications that allow teachers to pose questions which students can respond to via their device. This allows for real-time collection of data which can be used for virtually any type of assessment the teacher wishes. I have found that students tend to be more engaged when responding to questions this way, and I like that it also gives me the opportunity to hear from everybody in the class rather than just the few students that regularly raise their hands. When used as a formative assessment tool I am able to adjust my lessons on the fly based on the instant results, which allows me to use class time more efficiently and ultimately results in more meaningful instruction.

I have typically used sites like Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere when I want to generate discussion or get a sense for how an entire class is thinking on a subject. Both sites allow you to create a question (or questions) which are then displayed with directions for how students can respond. Both will display live results in graphical form as students respond.

Poll Everwhere

The Poll Everywhere real-time response screen

Mentimeter

The Mentimeter real-time response screen

There are a variety of question types to choose from, and in the case of Poll Everywhere, a variety of ways to have students respond, including a feature which allows you to push polls to a teacher created Poll Everywhere page (this requires account creation). Out of these two sites, I prefer the more streamlined presentation of Mentimeter. I have not made accounts for either Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere, so I’m not terribly familiar with the more advanced features that they offer. My use of both of these sites has been limited to getting a feel for how a whole class is thinking about a topic on either the way into or out of the classroom. For the basic services they offer, both sites are free and require no registration for teachers or students. The time it takes from conceiving a question to getting live results can be as short as one minute. All that is required is web access and a way to display the question.

socrative-logo

When I want to drill a bit deeper and get feedback on individual students, my application of choice is Socrative. With Socrative, you create a free teacher account and then choose from two main categories of activities – either single question activities (multiple choice, true/false, short answer) or quiz-based activities. Single question activities are quick to set up and can be used in much the same manner as Mentimeter and Poll Everywhere. Quiz-based activities can be longer sets of questions that can be named and saved for later use. Regardless of the type of activity selected, each teacher is assigned a unique “room number”. Once the activity is started, students can enter the room number by either going to the Socrative website or by downloading the app on their device. Similarly, teachers can run the activity via the website on a computer, or through the app on their own mobile device or tablet. Students will see the first question pop up, and away they go responding to whatever you have set up for them.

socrative

The Socrative teacher menu

The great thing about the quiz-based activities is that students can enter their name, and once the activity is complete you can generate a spreadsheet of the results which can be viewed immediately or emailed. This allows you to see how all students in the room are progressing. When students are finished with the quiz, Socrative asks them if somebody else wants to take it. In this way, you can pair up students with other students who might not have a device so that all students can participate. Another quiz feature that my students enjoy is the “Space Race” which puts a few colored rockets on the screen, each representing a team. You can allow students to select the color team they want to join or have them randomly assigned. As they answer questions their rocket moves across the screen, first one to the other side wins. Regardless of how quizzes are used, they are saved, can be used again and again, and can be easily modified or edited. Once a library of quizzes is built up, all you have to do is log in and begin the activity.

Socrative-Space-Race-ScreenshotStudent response systems are an excellent way to engage students and collect data which give teachers valuable information on how their students are progressing. Due to the fact that the applications do all the correcting, student results are available instantaneously, which allows them to get the quick feedback that enhances their learning. At the same time the instant nature of the data allows teachers to adjust their instruction as necessary. If your district has initiated any type of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, then using a student response system application is one of the most important ways that teachers can leverage devices to enhance and improve instruction.

 

Creating Flipped Video Lessons Take Two – Using Google Forms

For the last month I have been piloting the use of eduCanon with some of my classes. This has allowed me to create and assign content-based videos as homework and monitor student progress. Many students found the video lessons useful, and I certainly liked being able to see which students were completing the lessons as well as when. Unfortunately, about 40% of my students experienced some type of difficulty with eduCanon. Either the video would not load properly when they tried to complete a lesson, it would get to the first question and freeze, or any one of a number of other issues would crop up. Troubleshooting this became a bit of a hassle for me, as we are not a 1:1 school, and students were trying to access eduCanon on a variety of devices and computers using a variety of browsers. I think eduCanon is a great platform when it works, and the application is still in beta, so I have high hopes that they will get the kinks ironed out.

Not wanting to give up my quest to find a way to use out-of-class video in a more engaging manner as well as be able to assess student completion and performance of the assignments, I reached out to my friendly neighborhood librarian who provided me with this list of “8 Good Web Tools to Create Video Quizzes For Your Class” via Twitter. I decided to try using a Google form, which allows for embedding of videos from YouTube. All you need is a free Google account, and then you access all the Google Docs, including forms, in your Google Drive. The screencast below, created with Screencsast-O-Matic, shows how this is done.

Once I created the form, I placed the link on my class blog and had students respond. No students reported any problems accessing the form, watching the video, or completing and submitting the form. Many students also preferred the Google form over eduCanon because of the ability to freely move forward or rewind when playing back the video in order to respond to the questions, which is not possible in eduCanon, as the video remains frozen at a predetermined point once a question is reached. Another advantage is that students do not need to make an account to access the form, but can do so by just by clicking the provided link.

One big disadvantage of Google forms is that the students do not get immediate feedback on whether or not they answered the questions correctly. In fact, Google forms does not actually have any way of indicating a correct answer when creating the form. Instead the student submissions must be graded by comparing each response to an answer key. Fortunately, there is a third-party script called Flubaroo, which can be freely installed within the response submission spreadsheet, that will do this automatically for you (see screencast below).

Another advantage of using a Google form is that you can use the response submission spreadsheet to create reports which automatically generate graphic analyses for each one of your questions. Overall I am pleased with the functionality that Google forms provides for creating video-based flipped lessons. Although there are a few minor shortcomings, these are overcome by Google’s robust platform which is extensively tested and supported.

Creating Interactive Flipped Video Lessons with eduCanon

Since the beginning of this school year I have been using my class website to post weekly assignments to be done outside of school in preparation for in-class learning. A few of the items I have included each week are links to content-specific videos intended to support textbook readings and minimize the amount of lecturing that I need to do during class, which frees up time for more engaging student-centered activities.  This strategy is the hallmark of the flipped classroom concept.  Unfortunately, there has been no way for me to know if and when students are actually accessing and watching these videos, or how much they are learning from them.  Furthermore, for those who do watch them on a regular basis, they are merely passively taking in the content rather than actively participating.

Enter eduCanon – a free site that allows teachers to take any video from YouTube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo and build “lessons” which include questions at set points throughout the video.  Up to eight unique classes can then be created, and the lessons assigned to each individual class.  Students can then create free accounts, add the class that their teacher has created specifically for them, and then complete lessons as they are assigned.  Once a student starts a lesson, they are not able to skip ahead in the video, they must watch the entire thing and only get credit for the lesson when they have completed viewing and have answered all the questions.  Students results are available for teachers to view upon completion.  For a modest yearly subscription fee ($48 right now), teachers are able to search through the public library of lessons which they can then assign as is or edit as necessary, download .csv files of student results, and access a wider range of question types to include in lessons.

Using eduCanon I will be able to assign videos and monitor my student’s progress as they complete the lessons.  The interface is sleek and user-friendly, making accounts and adding classes is simple and intuitive, and best of all the creation of the lessons does not take that much longer than it does to actually watch the video.  I intend to pilot this application in two of my classes during the second semester of this school year, and am excited about the possibilities it opens up for myself and my students.  More to come…

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Not sure what to make of eduCanon?  Give it a try from the student point of view: make a free student account, click “Add Class”, search “Mr. Vigliotti”, join the “Test Class”, complete the “DNA Replication” lesson.

Connecting Beyond the Classroom

It was all set.  School was running an exam schedule, so we were getting out at 12:25.  A group of students had arranged to meet with me around 1:00 to review a bit for their exam the following morning – we had it planned for over two weeks.  Then, a snowstorm dropped in seemingly out of nowhere.  The district dismissed early, all students had to leave the school building by 12:50 effectively ending our review session before it could even get started.  A few frantic students caught me on the way out asking if I was going to be able to stay, which of course none of us would be able to do.  I told them I would try to think of something, to email me any questions later that evening if they had them, and made my way home as the snow was beginning to fall.

On the way I thought of something that a professor had shown us in a technology class I had taken this past summer – a site called TodaysMeet which enables you to create a temporary online chat room which expires in a preset length of time (as short as a few hours up to one year).  I’d never used it before with students, but figured I’d give it a go.  I created a room, set it to expire in one week, and copied the unique URL to share with my students.  Fortunately, as I mentioned once before, many of my students are signed up for online texting through Remind101.com, so I was able to send out a quick text letting them know the web address of the room I had created and asking them to join me for a chat.  A few minutes later I had about eight students asking me questions, and over the course of an hour we actually covered quite a bit of material.  I was able to answer all their questions, share some links to items that provided more depth for review, and basically accomplish everything that we would have had we actually been able to meet in person.  One of the great features of TodaysMeet is the option for all users to access a transcript of the entire chat, which meant that students were able to take the information we discussed with them once the chat was finished.

One of the great advantages that technology provides is the ability to easily move learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting.  Being able to communicate and share information with one another is one of the most important skills that students need to develop throughout their schooling.  Online applications like Remind101 and TodaysMeet are excellent ways to facilitate this development.  In this particular case, a weather situation that traditionally would have been a barrier to communication was easily overcome.