Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Task Cards and Evernote

I've been wanting to use task cards with the texts we are reading, but I knew I didn't want to use paper.  I thought about all the apps we have on the iPads and I knew I needed one that would allow the students to include the task card and their response, as well as somehow turn it in to me.  I finally landed on Evernote. This is the process we followed:

  1. I wrote out the topics/questions on index cards.  I didn't have card stock available and I knew I wanted to use them multiple times, so I thought it worth my time. Plus, I wanted multiple colors to help facilitate the switching of cards between students. This example is using Lord of the Flies, which my AP literature class read during the winter break. They had 3 1/2 weeks of break, so plenty of time to finish the novel. These task cards from Juggling ELA's shop on TeachersPayTeachers.com. You can find them here: http://goo.gl/ZEuqry 
  2. I passed out the task cards and had students create a new note in Evernote.  They added a picture of their card and wrote their response underneath. I gave them 10 minutes to respond and had them switch cards with a classmate. I classified the cards using the different colors: plot events, characterization, figurative language, theme, key quotes, etc. As long as their cards were different colors, I knew they were analyzing different elements. After ten minutes, they switched again so they ended up with three different task cards analyzing three different elements of the novel. 
  3. Student Submission
  4. After responding to three cards, I had them discuss their cards with their groups. Then to submit, they clicked "share", then "copy link" and they submitted the link to me. We use the Canvas LMS, which has an option for students to submit a URL for an assignment, but you could also have them email it to you or put it in a Google Form.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Whiteboard Desks: The Beginning

When I found out all my students would have iPads, I was ecstatic because I thought I would be able to foster my student's creativity and engage them easily.  Naive, I know.  My freshmen this year have tried me to no end.  They are, for the most part, academically capable.  They are not, however, capable of following basic instructions to complete a multi-part task, or creating a plan of their own to complete a project.  They have actually said, "Miss, iPads make things so hard, can't you just give us a worksheet?"  I could not figure out what else I could do to engage students who have struggled so long many have shut down, or who just came in 7th period after running a mile in PE.

Then I ran across this post by Nicholas Provenzano (aka The Nerdy Teacher) about his use of Ideapaint to create whiteboards out of his student desks.  I had heard about it before, but only from science and math teachers.  Since Nicholas is also a high school English teacher, I was interested to see how he used the strategy with his students. I sold my principal on the idea and got 2 kits ordered, which was enough to cover all my desks.  I spent weeks staring at this:  

I had to wait for spring break because it takes 4 days for the paint to cure.  So I spent Monday of spring break sanding, priming, and painting 36 desks (and my principal's office doors with the leftovers).

This Monday was the test.  I wanted my students to use them on day one, so using the lesson from Nicholas as inspiration, I had my students draw scenes from the novels we are reading. Once they had drawn a scene, they all had to find a new seat and write about the scene they found on their classmates' desk.  My honors class had finished To Kill a Mockingbird just before spring break, so I had them draw a scene they felt was important to the story.  They had to include 3 things in their write-ups:

  • A description of the drawing on the desk
  • Any information they knew about the scene
  • An explanation of the importance of the scene to the novel
I also had my regular classes do this with The Hunger Games the rest of the day.  I was worried about them abusing the privilege or complaining about having to do something creative as they had all year, but I was pleasantly surprised.  My observations from the day: 
  • Students loved the idea of writing on their desks
  • Not one student complained about having to draw once I explained that it wasn't about artistic ability, but about being able to recognize an important scene and convey it through a picture
  • Every single student was engaged the whole time
  • Not one student drew anything inappropriate or messed with a classmate's drawing

Students completing write-ups of classmate scenes  in their iPads.

Students taking pictures of their drawings to submit in Canvas (the LMS I use)

On day 2, my freshmen were grumbling that we still hadn't finished The Hunger Games, and they expressed interest in using their desks again somehow, so I decided to have them write questions as we read.  I read a portion of a chapter and stopped at pivotal moments and told them to write a question.  The first day I noticed more engagement, but many struggled with forming questions.  By the end of the chapter, they had three questions written on their desks.  They took a picture of their desk and submitted it in Canvas (the LMS I use).  

This is an example of what I see in Canvas once the students have submitted their image. 

The next day when they came in, I displayed some of their pictures so we could discuss their questions.  This served two purposes: 
  1. Basic questions they had about the reading were clarified through class discussion.
  2. Students who didn't take it seriously now knew their desks may be displayed for the whole class to see. 
They actually asked if they could write questions while we read again because it helped them pay attention and it made them really think about the reading as we went.  

This is already making a huge difference in my classroom, both for me and my students.  Students who have trouble thinking outside the box feel more free to be creative, students who are naturally creative feel like there's less structure confining them, and I feel pressure to creative more interactive and engaging lessons to utilize this new tool.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why do we assume the worst?

Although I usually avoid the teacher's lounge at all costs, I found myself in there today and I had to jump into a conversation I overheard.  Our administration is strongly supporting online testing and we have shown teachers many options for doing so.  We have also shown them how quickly and easily these tests can be graded, but most are still fighting it.  Today a teacher said she was not going to give her final on iPads because it's too easy for the kids to cheat; all they have to do is take a screenshot and send it to everyone.

I had to step in at this point and I was glad another freshman teacher also spoke up.  I have given every test online this year using the Canvas LMS.  The first quiz was a short 10-question multiple choice test because I wasn't sure how my students would respond or how the test would work on the iPad.  I knew that my student's abilities overall went downhill throughout the day.  My first period is my honors class and my last period is extremely challenging with half a dozen resource students and a large number of struggling EL students.  I figured if there was cheating going on throughout the day, the scores would get better as the day progressed.  This did not happen.  I have now given both short quizzes and full exams that included multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions and every time I have felt confident that there was no cheating going on.  The other freshman teacher shared similar experiences.  

After leaving the lounge, I felt myself getting angry that teachers are assuming the worst about their students.  I am also wondering how much these negative assumptions or fears are holding teachers back from implementing the use of iPads in their classes.  What concerns me even more is that the students pick up on our feelings and expectations.  I believe they respond to us.  If we assume they are going to cheat and let them know we don't trust them, they will not respect us and will probably fulfill those negative expectations.  If they feel like we trust them and believe in their abilities, they will (usually) respect that trust and give their all. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Best Laid Plans. . .

My freshmen have been working on short stories for a few weeks, reading and analyzing a story and then writing their own fictional narratives.

Today I wanted to go back and review the short story elements and give a short quiz to assess how much my students had really learned the elements after discussing them in context rather than just as vocabulary terms. I created the quiz in Canvas and planned on using Socrative for whole-class review.  I quickly realized Socrative was not going to cooperate for some reason.  The room login page was black and half the students didn't get the response box when I opened a question.  After a couple minutes of trying to figure out the problem, I had to switch gears.

I told them to close Socrative and open Doodle Buddy or any other app that gave them a blank whiteboard to write on.  I then did the same review activity using the iPads like individual whiteboards.  As we reviewed, I overheard a student tell his neighbor, "This is fun. I'm glad she didn't just give up on reviewing when the app didn't work."

I think this part of why iPads are working so well for me and my students.  I am willing to try anything and I have realized that with technology, the best laid plans may not work in the middle of class.  I have to be willing to stop and say, "This is not working, let's try something else."

This doesn't just apply to the use of technology.  Too many teachers stick to their plans no matter what is happening in class.  Half the class can be asleep or completely lost and they just plow ahead because they "have too much material to cover."  I don't even know what that means.  What does "covering material" mean to a student?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Short Story Topics in Record Time

Fictional Narratives are a major writing standard in grades 9-10.  It is also the only genre my students are relatively adept at.  They spend a lot of time with this type of writing in the earlier grades.  Expository writing is a completely different story.  Although I have seen a huge improvement in my student's narrative writing in the last few years, there are still a few steps that trip them up.

The first obstacle is always coming up with a character and topic they can develop into a whole story with all the elements a short story needs to include.  I have tried a lot of different strategies for helping students come up with topics, but I've never been completely happy with any of them.  Then I stumbled upon this site when doing research on archetypes for my seniors:


I added this link to my daily agenda:

Archetype's Plot Scenario Generator

and showed my students how to click refresh to randomly generate a new topic.  I love that the topics give them a protagonist, a situation, and a secondary character who brings their own complications.  Each topic has plenty of information to give the students a good starting point.

I had 120 freshman decide on topics and start developing the details for their protagonist within 10 minutes.  I also heard a lot of really interesting conversations about where they could go with their stories, so I am excited to see how these stories turn out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reteaching with Student Screencasts

This idea came from Gini Pierce-Cummings and originated with the math teachers at Desmond Middle School in Madera,CA. She explained it to me at a CoffeeCUE meeting where we discussed lots of edtech goodness. As soon as she explained it I said, "I have to try that. I think I will tomorrow!" As I stated in a previous post, I am guilty of wanting to try everything I hear about. In this case, it was a brilliant idea.

The concept in a nutshell: students create a screen cast of a vocabulary term or concept, email the video link to me, I turn it into a QR code, post it on the wall, students scan the QR code and now have all their classmate's videos on their iPads.

I decided to try it with my honors freshman class to gauge the difficulty. My instruction included:

  • telling them to find a partner
  • having them choose one of the 8 parts of speech we had been working with
  • giving them 3 minutes to play with their screen casting app (at the time we used Screenchomp, but I like Educaeations better)
  • giving them 20 minutes to create their screen cast with the understanding that all freshmen would be using their videos to study
The next day I had the QR codes posted and they went around the room scanning them all. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing teenagers say, "Wow, this is cool!", especially in a classroom. . . My non-honors classes scanned them as well and we discussed which videos were most or least helpful in preparation for creating their own for the next unit.


The best thing about this idea is that it can be used in ANY subject, which is rare in high school.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Biggest Distractions

The great thing about building a good relationship with students (especially high school students) is that they'll usually tell you the truth if you ask them a question.  One good example was my end of year survey last year.  I asked about the biggest drawback to having iPads in class.  Almost every student said it was a distraction.  More specifically, games and chat apps were a distraction.

We went into the 1:1 program with the arguably naive notion that we would leave everything open and teach the kids how to use everything responsibly.  We greatly underestimated a teenager's ability to exercise self control.  The typical freshman is incapable of staying on task if their friend sends them an IM from another class saying, "HAHA, just beat your high score in Temple Run!" (This is an actual example, by the way.)  So by the end of the year I was spending lots of time reminding them what they were supposed to be doing and they spent lots of time trying not to get caught playing games.  They were very honest about their inability to ignore these distractions.

As a result, my one request for this year was locking the app store.  Period.  No access, no iTunes, no students adding anything.  So far it's made a huge difference in time on task, project completion, and grades.  Freshmen don't know what they're missing and sophomores and juniors can't say it's a bad idea since it came from them.