Monday, February 29, 2016

Moving Forward With Digital Citizenship

Happy Leap Day! To celebrate this extra day we have a special blog post from the Office of eLearning's Michelle Green.

Today concludes a full month of celebrating Digital Learning in Indiana classrooms. It also marks the fifth year this blog has featured posts from educators around the state sharing the ways they are integrating technology into their instruction. Over the years, our shared learning has moved away from the how to do it aspect of technology integration and delved into addressing why we are embracing digital learning. It is exciting to see the growth and development of educators--especially since our bloggers exemplify what it means to be lifelong learners. And as a reader, you are no different.

This year’s bloggers have shared such a vast array of lessons, and as I read over the posts again, it strikes me how many ways Indiana students are digital learners. A couple of weeks ago, eLearning coaches from around the state came together for Coach Edcamp. As part of that day’s self-directed learning, Sara Hunter offered a forum on the ISTE Standards for Students Refresh. In the draft, the standards are identified as Empowered Learner, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer/Maker, Computational Thinker, Creator and Communicator, Global Collaborator, and Digital Citizen. It occurs to me that they are not so much describing what students will be doing, so much as who students will be.

What does this mean for our students who are essentially digital citizens by default given the access they have in the classroom and at home on personal devices? Take for example, Amy Murch’s students. They are computational thinkers and empowered learners as they work through the process of directing their Spheros on a path. Not only are her students individually learning computer programming in an engaging way, when they work in groups they are practicing brainstorming and problem-solving. The same could be said for Katie McLaughlin’s students. I loved how McLaughlin pointed out the importance of giving students “time for play” when introducing these types of learning experiences. Given the nature of the Makey-Makey kits, it seems this would be a given. But are we open to that mindset when we introduce our students to tools like online discussion forums or virtual communication tools like Skype and Google Hangouts?

Valarie Anglemyer’s post detailed how she extends her students’ learning using a variety of tools. The Verso app caught my attention because it provides a means for students to post anonymously while the teacher can view authorship in a format that emulates social media. Envision scaffolding for the development of ethical and valuable contributions in a public forum. For the same reason, Therese Drista’s post on Today’s Meet made me consider the number of opportunities we have on a daily basis to help our students navigate their digital world.

I began to look at the last month’s worth of posts and think about the various ways that these lessons are avenues to teaching digital citizenship. I encourage everyone to make the leap. In the same way that educators have always prepared their students to be effective citizens and contributors to society, let’s parallel how our students can be safe and responsible citizens in the connected world.

Perhaps you want to learn more about what it means to be a digital citizen yourself. Common Sense Education provides a comprehensive curriculum on all the different aspects associated with being safe and responsible online. Would you like to connect with others and have a place to raise questions and share lessons on a regular basis? Consider yourself invited to join the Office of eLearning’s Digital Citizenship community of practice. No matter how small a step you take, it is a big step in the right direction! In order to capitalize on the real potential of technology for learning, we need to invest ourselves in this work. In fact, save the date for the first Indiana Digital Citizenship Week: September 12-16, 2016. It will be a week devoted to beginning a new school year with an emphasis on developing digital citizens.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Indiana Students Walk on the Moon

Today's blogger, Katie Reel, teaches 6th and 7th grade digital learning at Clay Middle School. You can find her on Twitter @ReelMission.

Scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea. Climbing to the Mount Everest summit. Walking on the moon. These one-in-a-million experiences that we all dream about became a reality for my 7th Graders within the walls of our own building. What was to be a normal day in dreary January proved to be a thriller through Google Expeditions.

Google Expeditions is a virtual reality platform built specifically and effectively for the classroom. GoogleEx takes students on journeys to places they may never encounter in real life and explore geographies and experience history in ways we only hope to cover in our lessons.

As a teacher, goal one is to provide my students with relevant activities that enrich lessons, engage learners, and align with standards. While the use of technology has consistently helped, finding the right digital resources among the vast available is difficult. The implementation may be time intensive or sometimes cost prohibitive. However, this one is a game changer.

I work to engage my students in every lesson. Technology is the content and I believe I reach most of them daily, but I work to reach all of these students, not most. I want my students to come away excited to share their explorations with a student in the hallway or at a dinner table how the class impacted them. I want students ready to learn to enter and inquire about what’s on queue for the day.

That happened January 27th. There was a buzz in the hallway as students entered the classroom after seeing a snapshot of what the daily lesson encompassed. The anticipation grew as each student was handed a viewer. Then, amazement took place, with the click of a button I took them half way across the world. Immediately they stood trying to touch what was in front of them, prompting others to look left and right. I had lost them in the depths of their own learning. This was true engagement. I had every student asking for more, inquiring about the locations in front of them, disappointed when the lesson was over. I can definitely credit the tech that they held in their hand as one point of engagement. It was new and the wow factor was prevalent, however at my core I believe the relevance of this lesson was what hooked students. Technology remains the tool, while the lesson and delivery captivates.

Google Expeditions for the classroom exceeded our expectations. The program has approximately 100 journeys ready to explore with more in development. Google’s partnerships with teachers and content providers have allowed them to detail each journey so that teachers can share intricate details with the students as they explore. I urge you to check this out as a resource for your classroom!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Canvas - Using Modules for Engaging, Independent Practice

Today's blogger, Carissa Holloway, is a 2nd Grade teacher in a 1:1 iPad classroom at Pleasant View Elementary, Yorktown Community Schools. You can find her on Twitter @HollowayKids.

Canvas, a learning management system, provides one of my most favorite tools for engaging, meaningful, independent practice. Modules within Canvas allow you to compile resources, instruction, and activities for student access. This open-ended tool for compiling digital content can be extremely powerful to you and your students.

Using Canvas modules in a 1:1 classroom provides various opportunities for independent practice. I love using Canvas to create a module that guides students in review and practice of reading skills. I’ve also found it beneficial to create multiple modules for focused, digital literacy centers. There are benefits to both. For young students, like my second graders, one module is ideal at first. This minimizes the time spent navigating and increases time spent on task. If you have a lot of content to present, breaking up the content into separate modules/centers is less daunting for students. With practice and consistency in where you place the resources, students quickly get the hang of navigating the LMS. Eventually, it’s no longer a time-consuming event. Instead, it becomes second nature and part of everyday learning.

Most recently, I created 5 modules to serve as literacy stations. There was a need for reviewing a few reading skills from previous weeks. I also wanted to provide resources for students to review and practice our current phonics and language skills.

Our theme that week had been groundhogs and the skills for the modules were as follows:
  • Reading #1: Character, Setting, Plot
  • Reading #2: Fact and Opinion
  • Word Work: -tion and -sion
  • Language: Suffixes
  • Writing: Support Response with Reasons 
In a typical module for independent practice, you’d want to consider including the following:
  • A reteaching piece 
    • Authentic teacher-created video created using various tools, like Explain Everything, PowToons, screen capturing software, etc. 
    • Embedded resource from YouTube 
    • Directions for accessing video on outside sites, like BrainPop Jr. 
  • Content & practice activity ○ Directions/Pictures for accessing content on other sites, like myOn, Pebble Go, Epic, Raz-Kids 
    • Include choice as often as possible - students as creators 
    • Differentiate resources/tasks as needed 
    • Add voice/video directions as needed 
  • Teacher example 
  • Directions for sharing finished creations 
    • Twitter 
    • Seesaw 
    • Padlet 
    • Upload to Canvas 
Using modules provides you with the opportunity to “clone” yourself onto each device available in your classroom. It prevents the need for repeating directions and allows students to listen to your reteaching piece as many times as necessary. Students who tend to work at a slower pace can do so. Students who work at a faster pace have the ability to go on as well. As a teacher, you have the opportunity to meet with individual students or groups and progress monitor knowing your students are engaged in meaningful, independent work. My students know not to interrupt for help when working on a module. They know I will say, “Have you looked back in the module or problem-solved with your friends?” ;-) Modules have taught my students so much more than the content presented. My students have been provided with opportunities to be problem-solvers (and finders!), collaborators, and communicators - all while facing challenges and developing a growth mindset.

Within your modules, you can also provide opportunities for choice and voice. Meet students where they’re at, allow them to show their creativity, and let them share their knowledge in the way they feel most comfortable. You may even start to realize that some of your quiet ones actually have quite a bit to share. Incorporating this type of learning can give your quietest students a voice. Students who are often overshadowed by their louder peers and tend to shut down during in-class group activities suddenly become the most vocal and involved. How empowering!

Even primary students, like my second graders, can fully utilize and benefit from an LMS. This type of tool provides opportunities for learning to happen anytime and anywhere. Your resources can be differentiated. Student pace and product-creation can be as well. An LMS is not too advanced for your younger students. It may very well seem like chaos at first. Logging in and navigating can be tricky. Taking the time to allow students to log in and explore is key. Provide guidance when necessary, but be sure to give them the challenge of figuring things out for themselves (even if it interferes with some of your other plans for that day). Primary students can and will figure it out. Like I mentioned previously, it will become second nature...even for your young learners. Just like anything else, it takes time. You will be thankful that you took this time and embraced it.

Whether you are 1:1, 2:1, or have few devices available to you, modules can be designed to meet the needs of your unique classroom. Though difficult to do, it is crucial to accept that not everyone will be doing the same thing at the same time. They may not be using the same apps or resources. At times, some may not even be on a device if you’re not 1:1. To be honest, some may not completely finish the tasks you’ve provided. As long as they are on task, it’s all about the process and the journey. An LMS is an amazing tool, but the outcome of using one is even more incredible. It may seem like chaos at times, but a tremendous amount of learning is happening!. Whether you’re using Canvas or a similar LMS, the concept of modules is transferable, and it is powerful!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Power of Making

Today's blogger is Leslie Preddy, library media specialist at Perry Meridian Middle School, Perry Township School. She is the 2015-2016 President of the American Association of School Librarians and a Past President for the Association of Indiana School Library Educators (AISLE). You can reach Leslie at or find her on Twitter @lesliepreddy.

School libraries are powerful places of thinking and learning. It is the place where curricular needs and personal interests are expanded and cultivated. It is where students can think, share, and grow knowledge. With the expansion and incorporation of makerspace thinking, along with equipment, tools, technology, supplies, and resources, the learning also expands to creating and doing. This is when scholarship is taken to the deeper and more personally invested level of learning we educators are always seeking for our students. Making takes the traditional learning and mental thinking into real-world application with hands-on development and action. As Dr. David Sosby of the Northwest Invention Center stated, “Research and experience consistently show that learners stay engaged, exhibit more curiosity, and learn more effectively when they are addressing challenges that they meet with kinetic action.” This is the power of making.

Building understanding as a maker is intellectual flexibility while learning from experts by reading, seeing, and consulting before doing, contributing and sharing. So the question becomes, how do we do this in a school setting? How do we grow a maker environment? How do we teach the next generation to not just be consumers of information, but contributors as well? This can be done by developing intentional levels of learning and support through makerspace opportunities: guided, independent challenges, and self-directed.

Guided: Learning and Building Knowledge
I often say, “Students don’t know what they don’t know.” A young person needs to know something exists, something is possible, so I start by exposing them to tools, ideas, and resources. Before student makers can become independent, they need guidance, direction, and training. Often, students need developmental, lower level, basic skills experiences to broaden their horizons, develop a core base of skills and understanding, and learn about things they otherwise may not even know exist. This is where there is a very specific activity. Everyone does the same thing with a predesignated outcome. Students sample skills and experiences while basic skills for the concept are introduced. There are step-by-step instructions with personal guidance and training throughout. For example, to introduce electronics, all participants make a greeting card with LED lights and while doing so learn the basics about electrical polarity and conducting electricity.

Independent Challenges: Deepening Knowledge and Advancing Skills
Once a student has established basic skills through a guided project, she is ready for an independent challenge. In a challenge task, a student takes what has already been learned to further develop related skills and deepen knowledge on the subject through research and completing another make presented by the makerspace coordinator. The challenge is phrased as a task with a final goal in mind, as well as some recommended, preliminary resources. For example, digital learning pathfinders to facilitate personal growth can be made through digital tools like Symbaloo. From there, it is up to the student to research how and what to do, work out necessary steps, plan for tools and supplies required, and experiment with thinking and making. Taking learning to the next level, the student may successfully complete the make, or may fail, but learn from that failure in order to try again. To see examples of makerspace pathfinders for a variety of topics, click here).

Self-Directed: Experimentation and Personal Inquiry

Key to the evolution of successful learning and development as a maker is a self-directed make. At this phase, the student is ready to generate their own ideas and set an independent project goal. Learning continues through personal inquiry, designing and creating a product of personal choosing, and creating through creativity, inventiveness, experimentation, further development and improvement of skills, and trial and error. The student has grown completely autonomous throughout the development of the concept, goal setting, learning and research, and making. He still needs mentoring and guidance but is making many personal choices independently, including setting a personal plan of inquiry. Thinking like a scientist or researcher, this personal plan includes a timeline, budget, resources, and hoped-for learning outcomes and make construct. The student will problem-solve, troubleshoot, and stretch creatively. He will build on previous make and learning experiences as he expands his knowledge base to make new thinking and knowledge. He may even share his new expertise and mentor other students.

According to a 2013 Gallup study, “Nearly half of America's students say they want to start their own business or invent something that changes the world” and yet students say they have very few opportunities “to develop their entrepreneurial energy.” Through the prospects of learning a school library makerspace affords, students can actually think, learn and practice by doing, which increase the brain’s ability for that specific thing, task, and skill. Check out the uTEC Maker Model here to better understand how students begin by using, but with the right resources, guidance, and mentoring, can progress toward tinkering and experimenting. With a lot of hard work, passion, and support, some students may even achieve the level of creating and contribute something new and purposeful to the world.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Making Learning Fun with PicCollage

Brittany Banister is a kindergarten teacher at Vienna-Finley Elementary School in Scottsburg, IN. Brittany’s classroom has been 1:1 for two years with iPad minis. You can follow her on Twitter @KindergartenVF, Instagram @mrsbanisterskindergartenkids, or on her blog at

Integrating technology in the kindergarten classroom can seem daunting on the surface, but in reality, even the youngest of students can use technology in effective and meaningful ways using simple apps.

In the two years of being 1:1 with iPad minis, my kindergarteners have a favorite digital tool even at five and six years old: The camera! Not only is it easy for kindergarten kids to use, it is also free. The camera is a tool that many may not consider when first thinking of purposeful ways to use technology, however, using the camera can be a great way for pre-readers and writers to express their thinking.

In our kindergarten classroom, we use the free app PicCollage to organize our thinking by using photographs. While PicCollage wasn’t created to be used in an academic setting, the possibilities are endless.
Yellow day
Blue day

PicCollage can be used in any subject. In math, students could use PicCollage to show their thinking. One of my favorite lessons using PicCollage is a measurement lesson where students sort and order objects from their art boxes from longest to shortest.

Measurement Activity
We love to get moving during lessons by going on scavenger hunts! PicCollage makes organizing materials simple.

States of matter sort
Students can also use drawings that are saved to their camera roll in PicCollage. Text can also be added to collages, making graphic organizers more appealing to students.

With PicCollage the possibilities are endless. Whether you teach kindergarten or high school, I am positive you will find this digital tool useful!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Sphero: Using Robots to Code, Problem Solve, and Create

Amy Murch is a 4th grade teacher at Brooks School Elementary in Hamilton Southeastern Schools. She is a HSE 21 Technology Coach and teaches in a 1:1 ipad pilot classroom. You an connect with her on Twitter @TeamMurch4 and on Skype at Mrs.Murch4.

My students have been using Sphero robots this year for math, science, art, social studies and coding. Sphero, an innovative company out of Boulder, Colorado, has created a robotic ball that is not only fun but also facilitates learning in multi-curricular areas. Students control these robots with their devices, using several apps and a web platform for intentional instruction. Last summer at the Hamilton Southeastern Learning Fair, the company sent representative and presented on this new inventive and creative tool that can be used in classrooms. Teachers from all over the district were ignited with new ideas for incorporating this device into their classrooms for the upcoming school year.

This fall, I had the opportunity to collaborate with our art teacher, Mrs. Flynn, on a painting project with these robots. We decided to investigate the capability of the Sphero being waterproof and virtually indestructible. Students learned about Jackson Polluck, an abstract expressionism artist who is known for his drip paintings. We set up large pieces of wood that served as barriers for the paper canvases; students designed their color schemes and explored two different apps (Sphero Draw N' Drive and Sphero) that would control the robot while they painted. It was magical. We were hooked on the possibilities of this device.

Sphero Macrolab offers students the opportunity to learn to code. Students decide what commands they want the robot to perform; they have to test the speed and direction in Macrolab in order to drive the Sphero. In math, students were learning about area and perimeter. Student groups were given the area of different rectangles and had to find the perimeters for each one. Students were given two essential questions: Can 2 rectangles have the same area but different perimeters? Can you design a program that will make the Sphero drive the perimeter of your rectangle? Once groups found all the ways they could calculate the area, they had to pick one length and width to program for the Sphero. Students then had to decide the speed, distance, and degree of turns for their shapes. Each group had several “jobs” to help keep the group on task. These jobs included a programmer, a student who used Macrolab to program the rectangle’s sides. An architect, a student who created rectangles on the floor using masking tape and yard sticks and lastly the instructor, a student who created a Show Me to document the progress during the project. Show Me is a whiteboard app that allows students to take pictures, videos and articulate their thinking via an audio recording.

It was incredible watching their hard work and problem solving strategies for these rectangles. Most groups were successful in programming their Sphero to drive their rectangles’ dimensions. You can visit the Sphero Sprk Lightning Lab at for other activities and projects created by educators from around the country. Both of these projects are featured on the website with photos, videos and step-by-step instructions for implementation into your classroom.

Friday, February 19, 2016

3 Simple-but-Meaningful Ways to Augment Your Students' Reality with Aurasma

Tiffany Copple teaches sixth grade Social Studies and Digital Literacy at Scottsburg Middle School, an Apple Distinguished School for Scott County School District 2. Tiffany’s classroom has been a 1:1 iPad environment for two years, but technology has been a large part of her classroom for much longer. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MrsCoppleSES or check out more learning via her blog

With Digital Learning Day upon us, you may be searching for something new to engage your students. If you're looking for a way to quite literally bring your students' learning to life, augmented reality is a quick and easy way to achieve engaging results. The Aurasma app makes application a snap, pairs well with numerous creation apps for some serious app-smashing, and provides an outlet for creativity unlike anything many students have seen before. The only limit to its use is the imagination of the user.

For those unaware of what augmented reality is, it's basically the ability to overlay video content on top of a still image, or "trigger." When "scanned" by a device with an app such as Aurasma, the trigger will appear to come to life and show the video content tied to the image. For example, a poster of Michael Jordan may serve as a trigger that when scanned by a device loaded with Aurasma, will suddenly begin showing a video highlight of a monster dunk. Sorry for the basketball imagery, but it is almost March in Indiana!

There are a number of worthy YouTube tutorials on how this app works, so let's focus instead on how to make Aurasma really work for your students. Quite possibly the greatest feature of augmented reality is its ability to transcend content and grade level. Simple enough for kindergarten students but complex enough for secondary, Aurasma fits the bill for teachers K-12.

Here are 3 simple-but-meaningful ways you can use this app RIGHT NOW in your classroom:

Student Work Galleries - Recently my students completed a multi-step project that required them to create a hands-on Medieval heraldry shield. Their shields served as a “trigger” for a Gami created by the Tellagami app. In the Gami (a brief, animated video), students had to describe their shield’s symbols and motto. These shields will now hang above their lockers for the remainder of the year and other students can scan them with the Aurasma app to learn more about their friends’ shields. Apply this in your own classroom when your students create any sort of video project! All they need to do is create a visual trigger that their audience can scan. This is similar to QR code galleries, but with a much cleaner (and way cooler) effect. My first grade daughter recently created an iMovie trailer for her favorite book as well as a persuasive poster enticing others to read it. Her poster would make a GREAT trigger for her iMovie trailer!

Scavenger Hunts - For an upcoming activity, my social studies students will learn about some really important Medieval kings...straight from their mouths. Well maybe not exactly, but it will sure seem that way! Using the ChatterPix app, you can take any image and make it “talk.” For this project, I will be using the images of famous Medieval kings who will be reciting a brief bio about themselves. These short, 30 second video clips can now serve as your augmented reality overlays. Place augmented posters around the school building and watch as your students can’t wait to find out what information they will learn next!

Flipped Learning Assistant - Whether you’re a big-time flipper or not, augmented reality can open a whole new world of assistance for your students at school or at home. Math can always be a tricky subject for parents and students alike. A math activity sheet can very easily become a trigger for helpful math, how-to videos created by you for your students. For example, if you’re working on elapsed time, create an image on your activity sheet that when scanned will show students and parents how to solve an example elapsed time problem. This takes flipped learning to a new level as students will WANT to scan those images for your videos. This eliminates the student excuse of having extra steps to access flipped video content. You’re welcome.

This Digital Learning Day (and beyond), how will you augment your students’ reality?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

“The Flight of Icarus”: Greek Mythology Meets Technology

Valerie Anglemyer is a 7th Grade Language Arts teacher and instructional coach at North Wood Middle School, Wa-Nee Community Schools. She has a computer cart in her classroom. You can connect with her on Twitter @valanglemyer70 and on her blog at

For me, technology in the classroom has always been about extending learning and providing opportunities that wouldn’t (or couldn’t) happen in the traditional classroom. If the tech tool isn’t doing something more efficiently and effectively than I can by using a traditional teaching strategy, I keep looking. There are a few tools that have fundamentally changed my 7th grade Language Arts classroom. A lesson I taught recently over the myth of Icarus incorporates some of my favorite tech tools.

“The Flight of Icarus” is a story in our 7th grade Language Arts textbook. The topic is always appealing to students (they tend to love Greek mythology), and the responses that I garner from the reading and activities are truly exceptional. This lesson occurs toward the end of a unit on myths, legends, and folktales and precedes the writing of a piece of folk literature that represents/mirrors a civilization that is studied in Social Studies (the Eastern Hemisphere).

The tools:
OneNote - I have been experimenting with OneNote for over a year and absolutely love the flexibility that it gives me in the classroom. Paired with Office 365, my students have access to their class work through any mobile device. OneNote Class Notebook allows me to “deliver” documents to students, create comprehensive lessons, and allow students to collaborate in a dedicated space. I, as the teacher, can see all of my students work, but they can only see work shared in the collaboration space.

Office Mix - Office Mix is a PowerPoint add-in that I installed a year ago. It allows you to take your traditional PowerPoint presentation to an entirely new level by adding opportunities for response questions (and analytics), audio recording, inking, and incorporating screencasting. This is truly a valuable tool that allows you to “flip” parts of your lesson so that students can work at their own pace and replay any information within the lesson. The added bonus of being a simple add in to PowerPoint makes this my go-to tool for creating tutorials and quick lessons.

Verso App - Verso is an AMAZING online tool that allows students to have online discussions with one another in a safe and engaging environment. The key aspect that makes Verso stand out among many other tools like it is that student names are hidden in the program. The teacher has access to all names, but students don’t know exactly who they are having an online discussion with in the program. This creates an environment that encourages authentic discussions (not just discussions among close friends). Students can give comments a “thumbs up” and can reply to other students. They don’t ever know who they are responding to because all students are called “respondent” in the program.

The lesson:
“The Flight of Icarus” lesson began with students visiting their OneNote Notebook. They saw directions that asked them to plug in their headphones and click a link to the class Office Mix. After viewing a video clip of the myth “Theseus and the Minotaur,” students entered responses to constructed response questions about theme and created predictions.

The lesson continued in Office Mix and instructed students to read the selection out of the textbook, looking for key points and concepts. About half way through the reading (and after a few guiding questions), students were asked to complete a section of the reading by using dyad reading partners. At the end of the selection, the Office Mix directed them to log in to Verso and complete a discussion question. Students were asked to respond to the question and reply to two classmates.

Finally, students were asked to combine the two myths (“Theseus and the Minotaur” and “The Flight of Icarus”) into a comic that would illustrate the central ideas and themes present in the paired set of myths.

Things I love about this lesson:
  1. Students get to work at their own pace. 
  2. Not all work is independent. 
  3. Students discuss their thoughts with some ambiguity so they are free to truly express their ideas. 
  4. The product/assessment is a fusion of their understanding of the central concepts from two texts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Makey Makey for authentic STE(A)M Learning

Today's blogger is Katie McLaughlin, a K-4 Visual Arts Teacher at Sycamore and Pine Tree Elementary Schools in Avon Community School Corporation. You can connect with Katie on Twitter @k8tmclaughlin and on Instagram @missmacsartclass. Her classroom has five desktop computers and 4 tablets, as well as access to a COW cart and various fun tech toys.

Makey-Makey is one of those tech toys that is so fun that kids of all ages are naturally drawn to it. It links the physical world with the digital world and challenges students to interact creatively with technology. This makes it the perfect tool for integrating STEM and art-making, which we art teachers affectionately call STEAM.

In a nutshell, the Makey Makey is a circuit board which allows you to connect everyday conductive materials to a computer and have the objects act as keyboard keys, controlling web games and sounds. In my art class, students use it to create interactive artworks. I typically do this with 4th grade students because it pairs nicely with their science curriculum. Younger ages certainly enjoy it but tend to think it is magic, since they have no background in electricity or circuits. This unit also supports Math Process Standards as we use and discuss perseverance and appropriate tool selection.

When you introduce the Makey Makey to a class, be sure to give ample time for play. I usually start with a banana piano, which always has wow factor for the kids, and then start making a human piano until all students are part of the circuit (see diagram). Beyond the group introduction, it is important to provide time to test out different materials in order to see which are conductors and which are insulators. After this day of exploration lays a solid foundation, they can apply their knowledge by creating an interactive invention.

Invention Studio:
What You’ll Need:
  • Makey Makey 
  • Computer with internet access 
  • Art supplies (paint, glue, scissors, paper, graphite sticks, yarn, masking tape) 
  • Found objects (tissue boxes, paper towel tubes, aluminum foil) 
When you allow students to have control over their inventions, you will be pleased with the creative ways they demonstrate their knowledge. Some may make things like a new kind of musical instrument while others design their own custom game controller. I have seen buzzers for quizzes, dance games, and DJ turn-tables. Makey Makey has a library of different games with various functions which support many creative ideas. The experimental fervor in the room will be intense as students work through the design process creating, testing, and reworking designs as necessary. Allow time for students to take responsible risks and make mistakes.

I like to individually record student demonstrations of their artwork hooked up to the Makey Makey, since most don’t have one at home. We use digital learning journals to store and share them. Students also supplement the videos with captions to reflect on their experience with the design process. The digital learning journal is accessible to parents so they can see the recording and get the full experience.

For those students who really enjoy new media, expose them to Scratch to create a new game with which their artwork can interact. They will be very excited to show off their extra-curricular projects during class and others will like to try them out with their artworks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Adding Movement and Social Interaction to a 1:1 Classroom

Today’s blog post was shared by Kara Pickens. Kara teaches 10th grade English, AP Language, and AP Literature at West Washington Jr./Sr. High School in Campbellsburg, IN. Her school is 1:1 using Chromebooks. Follow her on Twitter @PickensEnglish and subscribe to her newly started blog at

Despite my excitement about using technology in the classroom (and I truly am excited!), I’ve recently become more aware of some of the possible shortcomings of constant technology use. Spurred on by an interview I heard this fall with psychologist, and MIT professor Sherry Turkle who proposes that an overabundance of technology can reduce the amount of empathy individuals have toward others (interview here) or even my own experience of needing physical therapy after years of sitting in front of a computer working on my doctorate, I’ve been challenging myself this year to add more face-to-face collaboration and movement into the classroom while still utilizing all the benefits that technology in the classroom offers.

Today I’m sharing a few ways to promote activities that incorporate the use of technology with physical interaction. I have found that these activities work best as pre-reading exercises in my high school English classroom, but I think they could easily be adaptable for other subject areas and different purposes.

The first is creating an anticipation guide for students through Google Forms. I create a series of statements that connect with our reading (often thematically) which students decide to agree or disagree with.

When students submit, they can view a summary of responses or I can put a summary of student responses up on my SmartBoard. My students like that the summary is anonymous, but I can still go back and see names connected to student responses which keeps them accountable for their work.

Often, though, I have students submit their responses and we have a class discussion over the responses. I post “Agree” and “Disagree” signs on opposing walls in my classroom and have the students treat the invisible line connecting them as a continuum. I read the statement and students move to the appropriate place on the “line” and then I call on students to explain their position. Not only are students physically moving, but I often hear bits and pieces of conversation between the students about the statements as they move.

For another type of pre-reading exercise, I use QR codes to create a “Gallery Walk” around the classroom. I use the Chrome extension QR Code Generator to create QR codes that connect students to videos, podcasts, pictures, and articles with background information about the what we are about to read. Students use ScanQR as they walk around the room and use a graphic organizer to track their learning. Again, the classroom is not quiet on days like this; students are walking around and discussing what they are learning in a way that wouldn’t happen if I just gave them a bunch of weblinks.

Just this past week I’ve been experimenting with a new type of pre-reading exercise that has the potential to include movement and conversation. Each student was assigned a different topic related to our unit and had to research what was on their slip using the interactive search website InstaGrok. They are currently creating digital timelines with that research on the Hstry website. After they finish, I am going to have the class create a physical timeline in my classroom by standing in chronological order before sharing about what they learned with the class.

My goals of physical movement and discussion in the classroom are most suited to pre-reading exercises--sometimes you just have to sit to read or write and that is okay too! But, I love that technology can be the starting point of these activities, even if the entire process isn’t limited to a digital device!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bytes from Jerlecki’s Tech Lab

Today's blogger is Matt Jerlecki,Technology Educator at Concord Junior High School. You can connect with Matt by email at or on Twitter @Jerleckitechlab.

Our students are already enamored by the animation and visual effects that are appearing in their everyday life. Virtual Reality, CGI, and 360-degree imaging are all the rage and will be completely taking over our viewing experiences--not in the near future, but immediately. This relationship is also evident in our students’ desire, and, more importantly, in their expectation to see video evidence of a concept we are teaching them. They would like any and all instructions to be provided with visual aids. In the very near future, they are going to want to see those in 360 degree/VR type format. With the prevalence of these videos being produced for YouTube, Google Cardboard, etc., we need to provide an opportunity to build upon this curiosity and allow students to create these types of 3-D drawings that could lead to some future creators of this content. We, as educators, can capitalize on this “cool” factor by introducing SketchUp Pro into our curriculum and by allowing our students to create this type of content.

First, let's discuss the principal of three-dimensional design from the student’s perspective. All of our students have had the experience of playing first person video games and viewing video animation in numerous situations; but the understanding of how this really works, and, more importantly for me as an educator, is how they can create these images themselves. This also relates directly to the fact the geometry is really the only universal language that we all can use, and this drawing process will further demonstrate this fact. More on this will come later; let's look at how I use it in the lab.

Teaching at the junior high level, my students have had the X and Y axis pounded into their lives through algebraic graphing for several years, but the simple idea of what the Z axis is has escaped them. To introduce this concept and before we would attempt to use the 3-D modeling software, we work through the “rules” of how to produce a professional drawing. We produce a multi-view [orthographic] drawing on standard 4x4 graph paper. The focus of this exercise is examining an object, looking for the best view--the view of any object that provides us the most detail of that object. An example of this is a mailbox; we may easily say that the front of this object is where we put the mail, but if I were to draw the mailbox from that particular perspective, would I be able to tell what it “really” is? Probably not, but if I use the “side” view as the front, it is much easier to draw and provide my “viewers” a more realistic perspective. Next, we discuss SCALE and how it relates to the size of the finished drawing. Lastly, we examine proportionality. As we draw the object we must keep all aspects of the item within a proportion that presents the object in a realistic and understandable view. We will use these same criteria to produce an isometric drawing of the same object. I use an 8-pin LEGO and a simple 5-piece LEGO structure to produce these sets of hand drawings. By using LEGO pieces, this also allows the students to manipulate the objects that they are drawing and compare it directly to their work. I also have the students construct a 13-piece LEGO structure using an actual multi-view drawing. This allows them to see that if the drawing is correct, anyone can and should be able to build their object. This further emphasises the universality of geometry, the importance in understanding these concepts, and that everyone needs the ability to read these types of drawings. Regardless of whether you are on the design side of the process or the actual production of the item, it will all be centered around these drawings. If you are going to be doing any construction on your home--installing a pool for example--at some point you are going to presented with a drawing of the finished product, and you must understand it enough to approve it before construction can begin. I strongly suggest providing several examples of how these drawings are used. Constructing 3-D realities in the movies, animations, the design and production of EVERYTHING we use EVERY DAY are and is done with these types of drawings.

Having this basic understanding, we will “draw” these same objects using the SketchUp Pro software. With my Level 1 students, I do not require the drawing to be in exact measurements of the LEGO pieces, but I do expect them to be proportionally correct. Then the real fun begins; I ask them to build a house with some very simple architectural features. They can have the freedom to design this house in any manner they choose. We then can add components such as furniture, vehicles and maybe even Justin Bieber to the model from the 3-D warehouse that is virtually limitless.

In Level 2, we produce an exact model of an 8-pin LEGO to the .01 of a millimeter. Upon completion of that project, we then create a unique LEGO piece that will meet the measurement criteria of a standard LEGO. They must produce a hand drawing of the object that includes all of the measurements needed to produce the model. At this point, we then construct the model in SketchUp Pro. Then, the entire design process comes together when we utilize our MakerBot 3-D printer and produce the unique part. They love holding onto something that they created and that “works” with other real LEGO structures.

Having used this software for the past eight years, I have continually found ways to use this by the students in other academic disciplines. In science, they can draw plant cells, diagrams of the solar system, and molecules. In math, they can draw a variety of shapes and use them to calculate perimeter measurements, volumes, and even demonstrate proportions. In social studies, by adding the Google Earth plugin, students can create virtual maps, draw realistic historical settings, and even add artifacts from the 3-D warehouse. Using the software in language arts, allows students to create “living” book reports or visual histories of the characters they are reading about. All of these examples allow for collaborative learning as students can work on components of the drawing and import them together to create one large tapestry for presentation.

Regardless of your computer literacy or “design” background, I strongly suggest giving SketchUp Pro a try on any project for which you are requiring students to produce an image, a model, or a representation of ANYTHING! SketchUp Pro offers an extensive training library and excellent video resources for your use. Put those colored pencils and erasers away and get your computers out and get going.

**Thanks to a grant from SketchUp, Indiana public schools can receive SketchUp Pro for free. If you are a public school teacher or tech director and would like SketchUp Pro for your classroom or school, please contact Meri Carnahan for more information. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Experimenting with Technology: My Real-Life Oregon Trail

Our blogger today is Jessica Moman. Jessica is a 7th grade Language Arts teacher at River Valley Middle School in Greater Clark County Schools, and a Teacher Consultant for the IUS Writing Project. GCCS is a 1:1 district using Chromebooks.

I remember 5th grade like it was yesterday. My family and I were in our cart. We had very little food. My sister had died of a broken arm. My brother had a snake bite and I had dysentery, yet my family persevered on to Williamette Valley. When we reached it, I felt like I had won.

Even back in 1995 in a rural community, my teachers recognized how the right technology can aide, engage, and inspire student learning. I was raised on the Oregon Trail. Well, not literally. I actually grew up in Small Town, Indiana, but my 5th grade world revolved around escaping to the high-ability room and knowing that if I had to die on the Oregon Trail, I needed to at least die by dysentery rather than a fever, because, let’s face it, dysentery was way cooler than an ordinary fever. As a 6th grader, I got to show 5th grade students which key was the spacebar so they could continue their journey on the Oregon Trail, and how to save medicine for a snake bite. I was allowed to teach them the things that I had learned while playing the game.

I live this same philosophy now with my 7th graders. We try new technology to aide in our learning of extremely challenging standards. As a teacher, I am trying to engage my students with technology in the same way that Oregon Trail engaged me, just with more relevant technology. Because I use technology with every student, every day, lots can go wrong.

Yes, lessons always turn out differently than planned, but when you add more moving parts to a lesson, there are more things that can go wrong. Wi-fi is down, the battery on a device won’t stay charged, kids show up without their device. The best thing we can do as teachers, though, is probably the most uncomfortable for us - do not solve the problems for them.

One of the classes I teach is our school newspaper. We recently added a poll to our paper to feature more students each week. We wanted to make this section visually appealing, so we searched and found, a website specializing in infographics. The two students working on this new feature were struggling with how to add pictures from their phones to the infographic on their Chromebook. Almost immediately, my instinct was to save them, to take the Chromebook and the phone from their hands and email the pictures to myself to open and save to the computer, and then import the images to their design. It would have taken a matter of minutes for me to finish the infographic. I knew exactly what steps needed to be completed, so it would have been easy for me to do it for them.

But, I didn’t. I didn’t learn how to survive the Oregon Trail because someone did it for. In fact, I learned because my teacher walked away, making me ask myself some important questions, so that’s what I did for my students. “Okay, so we have some issues. What should we do now?” By asking that simple question, I became the sounding-board for their discussion, not the leader of it. I put the learning, experimenting - and maybe even failing - experience back on them. After 5 minutes or so, they had a plan. I asked them, “Why do you think that’s the best way to do it?” Asking them to think about their thinking showed me how they eliminated other options. I know they were processing through information. Once they completed their assignment, I asked them to show the rest of the staff how to use this website for future issues. This assignment took much longer than needed to complete, but I know they learned not only how to use the website, but they also learned how to be persistent and problem-solve.

Technology is changing. A teacher’s desire for her students to be creative, analytical thinkers does not. Think about technology in the classroom as the Oregon Trail - lots of things will go wrong in the beginning, but don’t get discouraged. By asking the right questions, teachers will see how technology revolutionizes the type of thinking students will do and that will be like the teacher-version of making it to Willamette Valley.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mystery Skype -- Connect Your Students to the World

Today's blogger is Callie Hoppes. Callie is a second grade high ability teacher at Lakeside Elementary, MSD of Warren Township.

I am always on the search to bring imaginative ways of learning into my classroom. When I found Mystery Skype (Mystery Hangout) last year I was beyond excited and my kids were too! This year our goal is to virtually visit all 50 states and more! Today we were in Ar-Kansas, or as we now know...Arkansas.
Mystery Skype is a classroom geography game that helps create a global community of learners. It is played by two classrooms in two different states or countries. Mystery Skype involves problem solving, critical thinking and helps promote good speaking/listening skills.

During Mystery Skype students go through a process of yes or no questioning. The goal is to try and figure out where the other classroom is before they guess your location. After the game, it is fun to learn about each others school, town and state.

Students will quickly take pride in their jobs during the game. While it’s important to have a set of jobs for your first couple of Skypes, it is also important for the students to take ownership and tweak the jobs to fit your classroom environment. Here’s a list of possible jobs you might want to incorporate into your first Mystery Skypes:

Greeter ~ This student will greet the other classroom and start the game. We usually start with a hello and a version of rock, paper, scissors.

Questioners ~ These are students that have their technology notebooks out and have a set of questions they have written ready to go. (All students have questions written down, but we choose 5-10 to be ready with their questions).

Answerers ~ These students are fact checking with each other after the question comes in. They will come to a consensus on what our answer will be for the yes or no question asked.

Mappers ~ I have 15 dry erase maps. These have been a great tool to have! 10 or more students (they can partner up) have these to mark on during the game.

Thinker ~ This student holds up a white board in front of the camera that says “THINKING.” This is done after we have been asked a question and we are all working furiously to mark off states or countries.

Recorder ~ 2 or more students that stand at the board recording answers to our questions.

Computer Mappers ~ These students are on their computers referring to maps.

Supervisiors ~ 2 students that walk around and keep everyone on task and quiet during times we need to hear questions or answers. This job is very important and we have set in place non-negotiables.

Tweeters ~ These students have written facts about our state, city and school. They take turns reading them at the end to connect on a personal level. We always end our questions with “Tell us about your _________.”

Jobs are important in keeping everything organized and running smoothly in any operation. Mystery Skype is no different. Just remember the jobs need to fit the classroom. Over the last two years I have seen many different ways classrooms operate during Mystery Skype. Also, it can be messy at first, but it will start to run smoothly if you have the right jobs in place. You will be amazed at their teamwork and ability to solve problems while thinking critically!

I have set up a Google+ Community titled Mystery Skype 2016 to help educators find Mystery Skype partners. Please join us if you are interested in connecting your classroom to the world!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Adventures in eLearning

Our blogger today is Shannon Schiller. Shannon teaches Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition, Advanced Placement Language and Composition, Film Literature, and Newspaper at Mt. Vernon High School, Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation.

Eight years ago, my principal told my department that we had received a grant from the state for six classroom sets of desktop computers. Along with the grant came Moodle, a learning platform that at first confused and frustrated me. Thankfully, I am not easily daunted and I at least like to pretend that technology doesn’t scare me much, so I agreed to be one of the first teacher in my building to completely integrate Moodle into all of my classes.

It was scary, but after the first year, some training and some serious trials (and more than a few errors), I figured it out. I’d cut down paper usage, kids couldn’t claim they’d left their work at home and all my classroom resources were available for my kids 24/7, so that even when they did leave those in their lockers, they could do the work.

It was glorious!

And then we got Chromebooks.

And life changed...rather drastically.

We knew the Chromebooks were coming. When our new superintendent was hired, one of his promises was to immerse every student K-12 in a 1:1 environment. Working with our school board, Dr. Robbins had even laid out a two year plan for our district, part of which focused on integrating new technology to our buildings, starting with the high school. The plan was for teachers to have Chromebooks in August and then for students to get them in January. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?

On the teacher work day the day before classes started, we were all given Chromebooks. By the third day of school, all of our kids had them too. Not only that, but we’d been told Moodle was going the way of the dodo and we’d need to switch to Google Classroom. I had a brief moment of panic, which may have included a few tears of frustration, but I took a deep breath and started researching Google Classroom.

Turns out, it’s not very hard to use. While it doesn’t have everything I love about Moodle (you can’t organize your materials by topic, tests are harder to create and you can’t “hide” materials after you are done with them), I can still make every assignment work in Google Classroom.

Things were going mostly swimmingly and then we found out that we qualify to have eLearning days this year. In theory, we all thought this was tremendous. The idea of closing the school suddenly didn’t mean that learning had to stop for the day or that we’d be stuck inside taking finals in June. We had several PLC meetings and staff meetings where we discussed how to implement an eLearning day. We agreed on requirements for teachers and students. We polled our classes to find out who did not have access to internet at home.

We even had two eLearning practice days. For the first one, each teacher had to choose one class period and practice a virtual learning environment. We were not allowed to answer student questions verbally. If kids had questions, they had to post them on our Classroom pages or email them to us using their school email address. All directions, handouts, videos, etc. had to be posted on our Classroom pages and we had to devise a way to take attendance, anticipating the day when we wouldn’t actually be able to see the students. After our class period test run, we discussed our results in a PLC meeting.

Our second practice run was a full day trial. Every teacher had to devote their entire day to digital learning. Spending an entire day with students, but not being able to talk to them was, well, awkward. I’m a highly social person and I struggled with this. I love talking to my students. I like hearing bits and pieces of their lives as they are filing in the room. I like their questions. I like their voices. The teacher in me had a hard time with this. I had to keep reminding myself that in a real eLearning situation they wouldn’t have a way to talk to me, so this was good practice.

And it’s a good thing we did practice because on December 12th, the temperature had dropped so low and the back country roads surrounding Mt. Vernon made it decidedly unsafe for students or teachers to make the trip to school. We got the call at 7:45 on Tuesday morning. Although our teaching day usually begins at 8:35, during our trial runs, our students were told that work for classes would be posted by 9:00 am on eLearning days and that all students were expected to check in with their teachers by 3:00 pm.

As teachers, we were given total control over what an eLearning day in our classroom looked like. Our only requirements were to take attendance (which we had to report by 3:30 pm) and provide the students with work that would be challenging and equivalent to what they would have done that day in our classrooms so that when we returned to school on Wednesday, everyone could move forward with their lessons and no time would be lost.

I got to work, starting on lessons for my AP students since I knew they would be the first ones to check in. My AP Literature and Composition class was supposed to start our study of poetry, which lasts through most of this semester. My plans for the day called for us to watch one of John Green’s Crash Course videos on Emily Dickinson’s poetry and then discuss not only the poem he briefly discusses in class, but also our observations about Dickinson’s life. Since these plans center on discussion that could not easily take place in my classroom, I had to do some quick thinking so they could still have the needed discussion and poetry analysis even if we weren’t physically together.

This is what I put together for my students to see:

Since we are on a block 4 schedule, our classes meet every day for 85 minutes. So, I had 85 minutes of instructional time available to me. When we were planning for eLearning days, our principal stressed that he did not expect any teacher or student to sit in front of a computer for 7 straight hours. He wanted kids to be able to work more at their own paces and for us to be available throughout the day to answer questions and to check on progress, so I gave my students a list of tasks, which could be completed on their time table.

My department has incorporated a new silent reading program this semester in an attempt to get kids to read more for pleasure. The first 30 minutes of my class were easy to plan. If the students were with me, they would have been reading and then completing their daily journal entry about their reading, so I told them to complete their silent reading and journal about it. Next, we would have been watching the Crash Course video. I provided them with the link:

After students watched the video, they got to participate in an online discussion over the video. Using the Question assignment in Classroom, I created this prompt: After watching the Crash Course about Emily Dickinson, explain what you learned about "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died" and how it relates to your understanding of the poem. Students were able to respond to the prompt. On the Question assignment, I clicked the button to allow them to respond to each other’s prompts. Even though they were not in class together, they were able to discuss the poem by reading their peer’s interpretations and then responding to them. The discussion they had helped clarify Green’s points as well as discuss their understandings of the poem. In order to make sure students weren’t waiting until late at night to discuss the poem, therefore leaving their fellow classmates out of the discussion, I used this assignment to take attendance. All students had to complete this portion of the work before 3 pm.

With this practice run at poetry under their belts, students used the link I provided for another Dickinson poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” They had to find a partner and create a shared Google Doc where they analyzed the poem using an AP poetry strategy I taught them earlier in the year (PSTOASTS= Purpose, Subject, Tone, Occasion, Audience, Style, Title and Speaker). They also had to dialogue with each other on the text, just like they would have discussed it in class, each student adding their comments and thoughts on the poem. This assignment could be done when they were available to work together. When they came into class the next day, we spent about 15 minutes discussing their analysis of the poem, which we could then apply to two more of Dickinson’s poems during class discussion.

Despite having quite a bit of 1:1 experience under my belt, eLearning was still something completely new for me. My day went off without much of a hitch. I thought I would get a lot more emails from students, but aside from some of my Film Lit students who had forgotten passwords for a skills based web program we use, most of my students were able to complete the work without aid. When we gathered again for classes the next day, we talked about their eLearning experiences. They felt I’d given them an appropriate amount of work for the day. In some of their other classes they felt overworked and in others they felt they had barely gotten any work. I reminded them that this was a learning experience for us all. It’s going to take some work for teachers and students to adjust to eLearning days, and that’s ok. Education should be a learning process. It may take us time, but eventually I think we’ll all get it right.

I know that the next snowfall or ice storm has me feeling less apprehensive now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

TodaysMeet: Repurposing from Whole Group to Small Group

Our blogger is Therese Dristas. Therese teaches 7th and 8th Grade Language Arts at Wilbur Wright Middle School, School Town of Munster. is traditionally used as a back channel for webinars, videos, and lectures. Today’s Meet has enabled me to manage students working in small groups on differentiated projects. It is easy to setup and to use. Students join a room that the teacher creates in advance. For a poetry project, I created a room for each group. Their digital discussions can be printed as a transcript and reviewed for misconceptions within a particular group. It can also be used to formatively assess the group members for the level of understanding of the topic. Re-teaching needs that might not have been caught by surveying the classroom or checking in with groups are easily identified.

Accountability through the transcript and assessment piece encourages participation from even those students who refrain from contributing, no matter the size of the group. The room can be set to be open for an hour or a year. Some student groups working on the poetry project checked in with each other during study hall and then again from home. It therefore extends their time to collaborate and enables them to continue working outside of school.

This approach to group work resulted in all students on task. They were focused on what their classmates were writing and in creating meaningful responses to each other. I was able to monitor all the groups in a class of 35 students, assess individual students, and reteach one group that struggled with one of the tasks.

Plan on giving students a time when they can acquaint themselves with the program in advance of any serious collaboration. Know that they are going to play and have fun with their introductions. Students enjoyed using TodaysMeet as part of their group projects and have asked to use it again. is free, but there is an available upgrade that costs while providing additional features.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Embed With Material: Using QR Codes in the Classroom

Today's blogger is Kevin M. Cline. Kevin is the social studies Department Chair and teaches US History, AP World History, US Government, and Dual Credit/AP US Government at Frankton High School. His school made the move to 1:1 this school year and the students use either Google Chromebooks or are allowed to bring their own device. 

When I was an Indiana public school student, the breadth of technology available to me was limited to one lab in the school, and a home computer that still used a floppy drive. Fortunately, as I worked through my post-secondary years, I was able to evolve with technology along with schools, and by the time I graduated, and was ready to helm a classroom of my own, I felt ready to meet the ever-changing needs of the tech-savvy student. I was wrong. Regardless of how prepared I felt, it has become increasingly clear that meeting those needs is a constant effort, and now that my school has made the move to 1:1, that growth has had to accelerate even more. Tech evidence in my classroom is obvious upon entry. Students are met each day with a projector screen of information for the period, work often through a class website, utilize their devices to complete everything from online journaling to shared assignments and projects. We even use Twitter in class, with each class having a hashtag, and use it as a communication, review, and information tool. One of the best transitions I have made, however, has been to the use of QR codes within the classroom.

Students in US History using QR codes.
QR codes are part of our everyday culture, simply code embedded with information that, when scanned, produces that information to the viewer, whether it be a price at the grocery store or a website. I began using the codes as part of bulletin boards within my classroom to link students in an easy way to additional information about the topics listed. Several QR reader apps are available for free on smartphones, and students often use their phones to scan the codes. Recently I have begun to use them for class assignments and research, and have loved the results.

The “work” of using QR codes comes in the research-- finding the resources that you want the student to use. I have used QR codes to take students to websites, images, works of art, songs, video clips, etc. Once you have the link to embed, teachers simply must access a QR code generator, of which several exist. I often use the online generator QR Code Scanner, where I simply have to paste the link, click “generate”, and the code shows up on the screen for download.

For use in bulletin boards, using phones is an easy way for the students to access the information. In a school such as ours, however, with access to 1:1, I wanted students to utilize the codes through their devices. Several scanners exist online, but the two I have found to be the easiest to use were the Google app QR Code Reader and the site QR Code Scanner. I posted the link on my class website, and students then bookmarked it for easy access.

Part of my US History board, with QR codes
to additional information on the women's suffrage movement.
QR codes are a tremendous tool in the social studies classroom. I teach US History, and recently we completed a short unit looking at the “Roaring Twenties.” I am a big believer in the use of pop culture to study history, and in this unit it was an absolute must. I challenged students to produce evidence to prove that the decade earned the nickname “roaring.” The challenge, however, was considering how to best expose students to the cultural explosion of the period, without resorting to old “tried and true” student presentation. Using a method such as this would only truly expose the student to the cultural evidence to which they were assigned; I wanted each student to interact the material. To that end, I set up stations around my classroom, each with a QR code which took students to jazz music, art of the Harlem Renaissance, excerpts from The Great Gatsby, images of flappers, videos of Americans dancing the Charleston, along with many other resources. Students were able to move throughout the room and scan the codes at their own speed, allowing them to spend more time with resources that really interested them. Using this station approach allowed me to expose the students to several different resources in a relatively short amount of time.

In the end, the student truly embraced the alternative approach to presenting the information, which is easily the best part of the ever-growing technology in schools. Teachers have to realize that their students come from a generation which expects to be taught, at least to some degree, through the language of technology. If our primary, perhaps only, mission as teachers is to best serve the students, then we must be prepared to evolve to best fulfill that mission. QR codes are simply one of countless tools teachers can use to speak that language.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Keeping Kids Connected: Using Video Conferencing as a Bridge for Homebound Students

Today's blog post was shared by Katherine Maras Haulter. Katie teaches 6th and 8th grade Honors English and co-teaches English/Language Arts in an ESL inclusion classroom at River Valley Middle School, Greater Clark School Corporation in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Follow her on Twitter at @Katie_Haulter and subscribe to her blog:

Teachers are constantly working to find new, innovative ways to engage our students in the classroom. From total participation techniques (as discussed by Pérsida Himmele and William Himmele [Himmele, Pérsida, and William Himmele. Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2011. Print.]) to the use of video games or coding in the classroom, we want students to have fun, to be involved in the learning, and to acquire and assimilate each day’s lessons. Yet some students are unable to participate in the exciting, interactive lessons that we’ve created because they are absent from school. Approximately 64,000 U.S. students were homebound or hospital bound last year due to a medical condition classified under IDEA. If schools are tasked with providing education for every student and are focused on consistent involvement in the classroom, then they are responsible for the use of resources for this purpose. One way to bridge learning gaps for some homebound students is through the use of video conferencing in the classroom.

Classroom video conferencing, or distance learning, has been used for well over a decade at the college/university level to promote diversity in learning across the country and around the world. This technique, which allows students to participate in classroom learning from home or another setting, has a place in our upper elementary, middle, and high schools as well. It can be an effective tool that allows participation for students who are unable to be with us in the classroom. Classroom video conferencing works especially well for students who are unable to attend class because of anxiety, social disorders, or other medical conditions which would still allow for students to participate at a particular time each day.

Recently, I had an eighth grade student, “Rory”, who was a member of my 8th grade Honors English class. Rory had a medical condition which precluded him from participating in our class for a good portion of a 9-week quarter. Rory was under medical care for this condition, but was still able to complete school work from home. In order to keep him involved, I consulted with his parents, and we decided to try video conferencing with Rory during our class time, whenever possible.

We set-up a video conference through Google Hangouts, since our school uses the Google Apps for education platform. Rory was able to log-in to the hangout from his home computer, and one of our district technology coaches set-up a web cam on my classroom desktop computer. Rory was ready and waiting to read along with us that day. He was able to interact with the other students, participate in our classroom discussion, and even get the homework for that night. We were able to keep him involved in our classroom without any kind of social awkwardness (in fact, the other students had been very concerned about Rory’s absences, and they were very excited to take turns sharing/working with him during class). 

What do you need to set-up classroom video conferencing for homebound students?

Classroom video conferencing can be set-up in a very short amount of time. After conferencing with the parents/guardians of your student for permission, you will need to have/do the following:
  • Put a camera on both ends. 
    • For the student: If your district has a 1:1 initiative in place, the student may already have a camera through their device. If not, your district may be able to provide the student with a loaned device, or the camera on a cell phone/iPod will also work. The student must have access to the internet for conferencing to happen. 
    • For the teacher: If teachers have laptops or tablets, the device’s camera can be used, or a webcam can be attached to a desktop computer as well. We had our interactive board/projector on during the conferences, so the whole class could see Rory, and he was able to see all of them as well. 
  • Choose a software system that works on both ends. 
    • For Apple devices: Facetime, Messaging, and Skype are the best. 
    • For Android/Windows devices: Google Hangouts and Skype work. 
    • If you have a webcam installed, there may be a proprietary software program that you have to use. Check with your district tech team for help with this. 

Special Considerations 
  1. Technology notoriously fails when we need it to work. Set-up a practice session with the student/family outside of class time, just to make sure everyone understands the hardware/software you are using. 
  2. Engage the homebound student as much as possible. Assign certain students to partner with the student during class. This can be as simple as asking “turn-and-talk” questions, where all students are talking to someone else, and an assigned classroom student moves to the camera to speak with the homebound student. 
  3. Give the homebound students whatever hard-copied materials the class will be using ahead of links/documents where these can be easily found. 
  4. Allow for questions afterward. It is important to check-in to make sure nothing from class time was lost in the transmissions. 
  5. Remember why the student is home in the first place. It is very likely that the student will have days when he/she is too ill to participate. Be mindful and patient with these, allowing alternatives for classroom participation. In these times, you could simply use the webcam to video the class discussions, sharing this with the student afterwards. 
In the end, classroom video conferencing should not make the situation more stressful for the student, the teacher, or the student’s family, but should offer a way to continue the student’s engaged learning in the classroom.