Collaboration

Today I asked the kids why they thought we would be creating a document using Google Docs rather than Word. Right away they came of with a variety of ways to say it was because they could work together at the same time. However, when I asked if they knew what collaborate meant, they all looked at me like I had grown a third eye.

So I gave them a task. On their own time they were to look up COLLABORATE and share the definition with me on their first Google Doc, which they had shared with me. This was not meant to be a big deal and, for the most part, it wasn’t. But the few kids that took the challenge did so with gusto.

Here is what they shared.

(I love it when something as unplanned as “Do you know what collaborate means?” turns into a learning and assessing opportunity.)

 Sweet talker!

When Xuan Fan found her GD to be in Hebrew, she posted her thoughts on the class blog instead. Brilliant!
These two created a new document to share their findings.

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Google Doc Preparation

Using Google Docs is not something that came intuitively to me. I’m capable but not confident, and that’s saying a lot considering where I was in August.

In order to use Google Docs with my students, I have had to carefully think through the skills the kids would need and introduce them systematically so they can successfully share their reading (comprehension) and writing (synthesis and communication) skills.

Here are the steps I have taken to prepare third graders to collaborate using Google Docs:

  1. Activating Gmail accounts: All ISB students have Gmail accounts established, but my students had never had reason to use theirs. With the help of Chrissy Hellyier, our amazing elementary tech goddess, we helped the kids log into their accounts via Panthernet, customize the settings, and locate the Google Docs link.
  2. Create a new Google Doc: Once the kids were logged in this was pretty easy. They have worked enough with Word to understand creating a new document. They each wrote me a short message about their upcoming spring break. A couple of students created additional google docs. They will be my experts during the project work.
  3. Share a document: This seemed fairly straightforward. Each student was to share his or her new document with me (and only me).  However, when I checked my documents, only about 13 kids had successfully shared their document. I met with those students in small groups this week to help them get started. I will say that one student was exceptionally skilled at sharing and managed to share the document with 14 people.
  4. Collaborate on a document at the same time: Also something that seems normal to me know, but seeing the kids’ reactions brought me back to when this was a new and wondrous tool. One student’s reaction to me working on the same document as him was to have a mini-freakout and delete my typing. That helped me realize a little practice was in order.  I created a Google Doc and copied it 6 times, one for each reading group. I shared the documents to the groups the students would be working with for their project. Their task was to decide on a color of font each student would write with and share a joke using that color. Some students were more natural at this than others, but overall I think it was a good experience to prep the kids for the project.

Tomorrow we will begin work on the final Google Doc project. This will be a culmination of our reading and writing units. The students read to become experts in a non-fiction subject area and used the notes they took to write expert paragraphs they then combined into an article. For the project, they will publish their article and find a creative commons photo to accompany it.

To begin work on the newspaper, students will have team meetings to decide who will be responsible for each space on the newspaper and they will propose ideas for a newspaper name. At that point they will be ready to log into their documents and begin working. I anticipate this project taking about one week.

Wish me luck!           

PS. I found this via Twitter today. Timely, no?

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Course 5 Project Proposal

Over the last two years my use technology in my classroom has skyrocketed. This has to do with increased awareness on my part through my participation in COETAIL, with increase access to computers thanks to my school putting 10 computers in each grade 3 classroom, and I also have to thank an increased freedom to try new things when teaching.

As my own understanding has grown and my students’ access to computers has improved, our use of technology has been the “try anything, anytime method.”  For me this means trying a new tool as soon as I find out about it and before I can forget about it. As a result, not a lot of my technology use has been the result of long term planning, but rather the spontaneity of inspiration on the fly.

The challenge of planning a project far enough ahead that I can schedule time with Jeff has led to me not planning at all.  Since January, we’ve implemented technology almost daily, but no specific use has inspired me to invite Jeff in for a look-see. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been doing great stuff.  Our class and student blogs are evidence that we are becoming a more connected, collaborative class daily.

In the spirit of indecisiveness and procrastination, here are my TWO project proposals (yeah, that’s right…in addition to being a non-planning procrastinator I’m also an overachiever).

PLAN A: Blogging Challenges

Beginning the first week of March my class blog and many of our student bloggers began participating in the Edublogs Blogging Challenges.  The intent of the Course 5 project is to show a strong use of technology in a way that enhances student learning, and I think participating in the Blogging Challenges lives up to this intent.

Blogging has been the catalyst for technology change in our classroom. The skills required to maintain a blog have taught us the little things we need to use other tools in a web based world.  Think creating links, embedding video, and using online tools. What has taken me years to learn is becoming instinctual for my third graders. Our blogs are the windows through which the world can see our learning. Putting our learning out there for others to find and comment on is motivating for students and motivating for me. It also opens me up to finding and learning to use new tools and strategies at my own pace while being inspired by the learning that occurs around the world.

The Blogging Challenge is ten weeks long with different tasks to accomplish each week. There are tasks for the class blogs and different tasks for student bloggers.  Tasks are posted every weekend for the upcoming week. Because of this ongoing schedule, it is difficult to plan ahead. Rather, I look at the tasks and decide which will fit our schedule for the week.  This is a self-motivated challenge and participants are encouraged to do those activities that will most help them.

Because I had never participated in the blogging challenges and wasn’t sure what to expect, I let the kids voluntarily sign up for the student challenge.  About half the class signed up initially, with a few more signing up after the challenge began. Even students who aren’t signed up participate since I take the time to explain to the whole class the week’s challenges.

In addition to helping my own students learn about blogging, I am also responsible for checking in and commenting on 20 student blogs around the world. This is a great project for me because it is teaching us about Web 2.0 concepts we might not think about (digital footprint), introducing us to knew tools, and helping us build Personal Learning Networks made up of teachers and students from around the world. Nothing is more motivating for students than knowing someone is reading their thoughts.

Week 1

Weeks 2-3

Students who have risen to the challenge: Xuan Fan, Sean, Megan, Rax, Jaemin, Sahana.

Because the blogging challenge is ongoing, it would be easy to schedule a visit. The last 40 minutes of any F day is a given blogging period and we have other chances to update blogs and comment on others’ blogs throughout the week.

OK.

PLAN B: Google Docs + Youblisher = Student Newspaper

We are currently in the midst of non-fiction reading and writing units. Students are reading to become experts on topics and, though the notes they take while reading, are learning to organize their information and turn it into paragraphs about those topics.

Last year, as a new teacher, I went along with the “we’ve always done it this way” common assessment. If I remember correctly, this was a poster. Nice, not innovative. However, this year many teachers are trying their own thing, giving me the freedom to think of how we can use technology to enhance student learning.

After a Cool Tool tech training with Chrissy, I was straining my brain to think of a way to use Youblisher in the classroom. I thought it would be cool to have the kids use Word as a team to create a magazine about their non-fiction topics. When I started thinking of logistics, though, the thought of 3 kids sitting around a computer to type something seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. Then I remembered Google Docs.

The idea of using Google Docs with students is a little scary, but I realized that is my hang-up, not theirs. Looking over a blank Google Doc, I realized requires the same skills as Word but allows for simultaneous collaboration.

I did a search and found a child-friendly news paper template.

Now we’re ready to begin. This week kids will get into groups to begin researching their Big Topic. Each student will choose a Small Topic within the Big Topic to read about and take notes on.  They will write paragraphs about their small topic, find a related picture, and link any websites they find that are related to their topic.

After the Google document is completed, students will save it/export it as a PDF which can then be uploaded to Youblisher to make something that looks like an actually newspaper. Youblisher provides an embedding code that the students will use to embed the final product on their personal learning blogs.

This is a short week leading up to Student Led Conferences, and I would like the kids to have some writing and peer editing time as part of the writing workshop process, so I anticipate we will be ready to begin using the Google Docs the week after spring break. Between now and then I will be working out the details of the task and how I will present it to kids.

So there you have it. Plan A and Plan B. I’m doing both no matter what, so pick the one that intrigues you most and come see us in action!

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What is the internet?

Wow, how times have changed.

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My Blackberry is Not Working

I’ve become somewhat oblivious to the tech jargon we nerds use on a daily basis. This video helps remind me how silly it can all sound. Enjoy!

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Laptop Management in a Third Grade Classroom

Q: Will kids misuse technology?

A: Duh! Of course they will! They’re kids.

Q: Is that a good reason to avoid using technology in the classroom?

A: Ummm…NO! Kids will misuse technology in the same ways that they “misuse” anything else (and you can tell by my somewhat questionable use of quotation marks that I’m not even sure misuse is the right word, but that debate is for another post).

Kids are masters of using tools for other than their intended use. Pencils? Excellent poking devices and fantastic for drawing and/or writing notes when they should be working. Paper? A must for paper airplanes, cootie catchers, and all other forms of classroom origami.

Would we ever consider taking pencils and paper away from kids en masse? Nope. Don’t be ridiculous. Technological tools should be treated in much the same way, as tools to facilitate learning. With well established rules, procedures, and expectations technology can be used just as efficiently as it’s paper/pencil counterparts.

I have to say I’m very lucky. I established very few rules when we started using computers this year. Looking back I can see the few rules I did use were effective because all kids were working on the same projects at the same time. That translates into very little independence. Good for me. Bad for student learning. Now that I am more comfortable using laptops with my third graders and they are becoming more independent (and especially now that we have a permanent cart of 12 computers) it is important to establish clear expectations of laptop use.

Here are things I currently expect:
• Memory sticks/Thumbdrives/USB flash drives
Call them what you will, every student needs one. We don’t save on the computer or the server. The upside? This allows all computers to be available to all students and makes each student as responsible for their memory stick as they would have to be for any other classroom tool. The downside? Student work is not backed up. Luckily for me, this is third grade and no student assignment is crucial. Lose your flash drive? Find a way to solve your problem. This may mean starting over or choosing another method to complete the assignment. This is a great learning opportunity for kids. We have all lost something important that we have forgotten to save. It’s a painful lesson but a valuable one.

• Cooperation (aka “Go find an expert”)
I very rarely help more than one student with a specific task. Once I help one child, they become an expert. Their job is to teach other students how to solve the problem. This both empowers students and frees me up to help students who may be struggling with content related issues.

• Focus
My kids are still so motivated by using computers that this is rarely a problem. They do know, however, that should they ever be on a website that isn’t directly related to their task, their laptop will immediately be given to someone else. That is the beauty of my current 1-2 situation…someone is always waiting for a computer.

• Attention
When I need to tell the kids something, I expect to say it once. To assist with listening I do three things. First, ask students to fold their arms. This is for short quick bursts of information. Next, if I need to speak longer, I ask kids lower their screen. Finally, if I need to share something crucial, I bring the class to the carpet. That’s about as close as you can get to guaranteeing attention from eight year olds.

Here are some things I am considering but have yet to implement:
• Assigning specific computers to specific students
I know some teachers find this useful but I will only do this if problems with my current system arise. I have 12 computers and 21 kids. Students are always at different points of an assignment and having 2 kids assigned to each computer means that a) someone could be kept waiting, or b) you tell the waiting child to take another computer which then becomes a problem for the two students that computer is assigned to. This works for some teachers but this is a last resort management option for me.

• Designating a cart caretaker.
Currently all of my students are responsible for getting and returning their own computers, including making sure they are plugged in. So far this hasn’t been a problem but I’m sure a day will come where a computer or two hasn’t been plugged in to charge. The first time I will allow for natural consequences (You didn’t plug it in? Guess you’ll have to find another way to finish your work.) This works now because my kids are so invested in using laptops. However, if this ever seems to become a strategy for work avoidance or if it becomes a major obstacle to work completion then the monitor solution will have to become adopted.

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So Far, So Fast: Reflection and Proposal

This final post of course four is intended for personal reflection and a project proposal. I’ve put off writing this post not for lack of ideas but for abundance. The door to technology in teaching has been thrown open and there are so many places I want to go!

REFLECTION

Let’s start with the reflection. If you had asked me a year ago about my use of technology in the classroom I would have told you it was moderate. However, that would only have been true if moderate is a synonym for pathetic. I had a class blog but it was focused on parent communication rather than student use. We used computers for word processing and…that’s about it. What I love about looking back, though, is seeing how far I have come.

I started the COETAIL courses last January but didn’t pick up the pace of technology integration right away. Theoretically I agreed with everything the course presented. Practically, I was overwhelmed with my first year at a new school in a new country and the abundance of intimidating tools I knew nothing about. As teachers from the first cohort threw around terms like Voicethread, student blogging, and Wallwisher I realized just how much I didn’t know and crawled deeper into my paper and pencil comfort zone.

My personal turning point came in September at the Learning 2.010 conference in Shanghai. I participated in a Social Media cohort. The facilitators emphasized working within our comfort zone and coming away with something we could use immediately in the classroom. I had completely dropped my classroom blog so I decided to work on that. Having three days to focus on blog fiddling, classroom conversation, and technology exposure was the opportunity I needed to give technology my undivided attention. Cohort members shared ideas, presented online resources and, most importantly, I was able to do things I felt I didn’t have time for in my regular schedule. I didn’t actually learn HOW to do new things. Rather, I learned how to use skills I already had in new ways. This gave me the confidence to try small things in the classroom and, as we all know, small things often grow into big things before our fears have time to stop them.

And just look at me now. I’m one course and one project away from completing this certificate program AND I’m less than two weeks away from facilitating a technology workshop for teachers who have the same deadly mix of ambition/apprehension I had less than a year ago. Who would have thought?!
Well, actually I would have thought. I have always loved technology and really wanted to use it more in the classroom. But, as I have already mentioned, I like to know exactly what I am doing. I put off doing things with my kids because I didn’t feel like I was enough of an expert. As soon as I let go of that fear a little things took off and my comfort level grew exponentially.

PROPOSAL

So, in the spirit of jumping in blindly I propose a project involving the use of Voicethread in conjunction with scientific notebooking and photography (and hoping I’m not biting off more than I can chew).
This fall I took a photography course from this guy that emphasized using photography to enhance student work. I immediately put cameras in my students hands to document a science investigation and this is what happened. My grade level team has had discussions recently regarding the role of notebooking to document and develop student understanding in science. Finally, Voicethread is one tool I have yet to use at all. By putting two things I am working on together with something I’ve never touched I hope to develop all three and provide my students with an opportunity to synthesize and share their learning in a new and meaningful way.

Here are the general ideas of what I hope to do:

  • Follow the FOSS Stuctures of Life module investigations as stated.
  • Provide each group with a camera and assign the job of photographer for each investigation.
  • Students will choose photo(s) from each investigation they feel best represents the learning they want to share.
  • Students will narrate the photo(s) from each investigation to create a mini-digital portfolio of this unit.

Stay tuned for more details as investigation and technological planning progress. Hopefully this is going somewhere good. Suggestions are welcome!

The Outtakes (aka rejected project ideas that I reserve the right to use)

  • Enhanced student blogging: The thought behind this idea was to continue on the blogging path my class has already started, guiding the students through image searches and attribution, linking relevant sites, etc.
  • Tech Train 2011: Come on…planning for and facilitating a cohort of teachers who consider themselves beginners has to count for something! It’s not working with my third grade students but it does involve furthering the cause of technology as a classroom tool.

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