Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!


Mobile Devices: A Teachers Responsibility

Getting closer to the school year is dangerous for me.  I tend to have thought after thought going through my head and I get all of these ideas to do things in the classroom and I never make the conscious effort to write them down anywhere.  Well, today, I am.  Those that follow me and others who know me understand and know my passion for using cell phones and other mobile devices in the classroom.  Today, I started examining and thinking about using these devices from a different angle. An angle where I honestly feel it is my responsibility to help my students use these devices in the classroom and to teach them how to use them responsibly.

I can hear teachers screaming now saying, “Not me, it isn’t my responsibility!”  Yes, there are many skeptical teachers out there who believe these types of devices have no place in the classroom.  Others, already feel overwhelmed with the Common Core Standards and don’t want to add one more thing to their plate.  Though teaching students how to use mobile devices may have its challenges, it doesn’t add to my existing curriculum, it enhances it.   My passion for using mobile devices goes deeper than just being excited about the latest and greatest flashy items that can be used in the classroom.

1. Students Learn Differently – I have mentioned before how students grow up with technology in their hands.  From cell phones, Ipads, Kindles, and Nooks, it is easily accessible to students.  Think for a moment if a middle schooler has a question about anything in general.  Where do you think they look for that answer?  You got it, the internet!  In addition, according to Pew Internet Studies about 75% of students ages 12-17 possess cell phones. Those cell phones are used for texting (hmm, I smell writing opportunities here), emailing, surfing the internet and accessing social media outlets.  Our language arts department adopted Schoology for the upcoming school year ( a social media site for teachers and their students).  The bottom line is we can’t shove text books in front of our kids day after day or even have them do drill and kill exercises.  The best teachers I ever had from elementary to college were the ones that kept the class or students engaged.  Mobile devices can help me as a teacher to keep my students engaged.

2. Collaboration – One of the biggest reasons I love using mobile devices in my classroom is for collaboration. Literature circles are an easy way for teachers to expose their students to numerous novels and at the same time teach the students responsibility by assigning roles to each group member.  Keeping the spirit of the Common Core in mind, I add cell phones into the mix and my students not only collaborating with technology, but now the conversation can take place beyond the walls of the classroom and students start discussing the book without any prompting by me the teacher. Social media sites like Schoology also allows the students who don’t have mobile devices, to still interact via desktop computer.  In another instance, my students can collaborate on their writing via Google Docs.  For the past two years my students have been amazed at how Google Docs works and what it can provide.  Students instantly become connected learners when they collaborate on a piece of writing by their peers.  Google Docs was awesome for the writing group my colleague and I put together this past school year.  Watching students’ writing transform and go through the entire writing process is amazing.  The finished product is no doubt better with Google Docs because of the collaboration amongst students.

3. Digital Citizenship – To me this one term brings everything into focus for me. Part of me almost thinks as teachers we all have a duty to discuss and model this for our students. Again, some teachers may give the proverbial eye roll and bark out, “What about the parents?”  I know it may sound funny, but the parents are in just as much need to learn about digital citizenship.  Last week I proposed to my principal an “Ed Tech night” where parents get to engage themselves in what their child may do during a school day with technology.  In addition, I want to discuss with parents digital citizenship and what that means.  I want to talk to them about how students are using their cell phones in inappropriate and why it is inappropriate. Furthermore, discussing with parents what cyber bullying looks like and what affects it can have on another student.  Hopefully by engaging the parent as well as the student, some issues can be eliminated and parents will have a better grasp on why I use mobile devices in my classroom.  Needless to say, my principal is embracing the idea and we are meeting about it next week.

I am not sure if my reasoning is reasonable or even understandable, but I do know I am passionate about my job, my students, and the reasons it is important to implement mobile devices into my classroom.  When I hear in the hallway how much my students love my class because of how I use cell phones, I get pumped. After all, you don’t hear students say they enjoy language arts class.

Cheers!


Unconnected Learners

I just finished listening in on Teachers Teaching Teachers tonight.  It was the kick-off for Connected Educators Month.  Check out the link here. Through many different topics and conversations that took place in the session, I decided to write my blog post tonight about connected learners and the unconnected learners that are reluctant to be connected.

Since going through the Summer Institute in 2010, I consider myself a connected learner.  What does this mean?  Well, it means I stay connected with other professionals through various social media sites, or other web platforms where ideas can be shared and essentially we become better teachers because we learn what is working in each other’s classroom and go forward with more learning tools in our belts.  For example, I find Twitter to be a phenomenal place to get unscripted professional development.  I find new websites, digital tools, and have conversations with other educators that help enrich my teaching. In addition, I may attend webinars, online book talks, or participate in subscribing to a blog.  There is a cornucopia of ways to be a connected learner.

Enriching my teaching and my students as learners is what I crave and what I thrive for each and every day.  The idea of “not being in teacher mode” during the summer or any other time of year, never crosses my mind.  I am not cutting down educators that may have made that comment in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, we all need a break.  I can’t help but wonder why there are teachers out there who do not want be connected or help their students become connected learners.  I understand there are districts who prevent their teachers from using technology to enhance their student’s learning.  This does not mean the teacher themselves can’t become connected in some way to help their students.  Also, what actually holds teachers back from becoming a connected learner and discovering the possibilities that awaits them?  Is it fear of using something like Twitter, Facebook, or Google +?  Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge of such technological tools and what they offer.  I also wonder if there are still teachers out there who think technology is just another gimmick, bell, or whistle to bring in the classroom.  Wait,  it is less of a wonder and more of a “I know”; but there are teachers who believe using technology within their lessons is just an excuse to use it. Grasping and understanding the “why” has not been attained.

One specific topic that came about in the discussion tonight was “lurkers”.  Lurkers are those people who in reality are connected, but never participate in what is happening.  For instance, I have participated in webinars where individual participants don’t do anything to actively participate in the session.  They sit and watch and are just there.  What motivates these individuals to “lurk”?  Are they not confident, just being good listeners, or are they just there because they have to be there as a requirement by a principal?

Connected Learning month will hopefully answer some of the questions that were brought up tonight.  On the other hand, the answers may already exist.  Nevertheless, connected learning can be powerful for teachers and students.  Online book discussions, webinars, social media with students, Youth Voices, Digital Is, etc. are all great ways to be connected and become better teachers and help your students be better learners.  Check out more resources on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website for connected learning.

Cheers!


21st Century Classroom

The term 21st century classroom is utilized a lot now.  Teachers and Schools alike are making steps towards a 21st century classroom. The steps may be small, (perhaps a crawl) or big; nevertheless, classrooms are edging towards a change.  I think there can be some confusion on what that type of classroom looks like.  In a recent conversation with a fellow Tweeter we were both examining a graphic that I found through another tweet. Below is the graphic.  You can read it better here.

The idea behind the picture is to show all the ideas, activities, etc. that goes on in a 21st century classroom. Though I want my students to be a part of classroom where there is technology use, it doesn’t mean students are sitting in front of some sort of mobile device, desktop computer, or laptop and I, as the teacher, am sitting at my desk while they work.  The picture does a poor job of truly showing what technology can do to transform a classroom.  The picture would be more powerful if it showed students sitting in a group collaborating with a digital device. To the left of the picture where the two hands are joined it states, “Integrating life skills into education can improve student engagement and retention and prepare them for 21st century careers.”  Collaboration is a life skill and is more important then ever. And with social media (mentioned in the bottom right hand), collaboration is inevitable. So, why isn’t this life skill being displayed?  Also, with teachers getting such a bad rap these days, why isn’t the teacher interacting with the children in this chart?

I do realize it is simply displaying the components of a 21st century classroom, but the graphics and some of the statements don’t truly deliver the power behind a 21st century classroom.  For example, my classroom is without a doubt 21st century.  As I have mentioned before my students use Celly.  To me, a 21st century classroom goes beyond the walls of my room.  Though I use Celly within my classroom, I have had many thought provoking conversations with my students outside of class.  Just this evening, I was chatting with some students about Oxymoron in literature and real life.  Digital tools such as mobile devices and Celly make it possible to show how students are learning beyond the walls of the classroom and this one conversation I had, truly reflects the capability of a 21st century classroom.

The picture also gives the top three reasons for teachers using technology in the classroom and I do agree with each of them, but we also need to realize one of the biggest reasons technology should be used is because we are dealing with digital natives.  My five year old reads on my ipad and his kindle fire.  The internet wasn’t even a huge deal until I was a freshman in college.  If we want to get through to our students and motivate them, we need to adapt our lessons to our audience.  To teach a 21st century learner, we must become a 21st century teacher. The Common Core Standards even address technology. A 21st century classroom is much more than placing equipment in front of our students and saying, “Have at it!”  It requires us to be up-to-date on the latest tools and possibly attend professional development to make us the 21st century teachers we need to become.

Cheers!


Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!