Monday, July 15, 2013

Be the Change

Posted by Beautiful Engineering via  Facebook
Last week a teacher I know posted this picture on Facebook with the comment, "Clever" then another teacher stated, and I quote, "The best part of my job is confiscating cell-phones from 6th graders." I asked the 6th grade teacher why not give students thinking questions instead and the responses back were always that cell-phones and other mobile devices are too distracting. 

This conversation has been bothering me ever since as I ask myself, "How do we change the mindset of teachers when it comes to technology?" There is no easy answer to this question. 

For too many teachers, administrators and school districts technology has become the added burden in the classroom.  There is the cost of the devices themselves and then the increase of use upon the often outdated wireless infrastructure. Mobile devices also demand a change in traditional teaching and learning for both the teacher and the students. No more Sage-on-the-Stage.

Yes! These are valid concerns. Yes! Change can be scary. Yes! There is a possibility of failure. Yes! There is the chance of success, too. 

We, the educators of the future, need to embrace technology and learn to use this amazing tool to teach our students how to think and solve problems. If you don't know the answer to the question, Google it. Then take the information and collaborate with others to create a solution. As Adam Bellow said in his closing keynote at ISTE 2013, "In the real world cheating is called collaboration." I want my students to be able to use and process the information they find on Google not just to find the answer, but to be innovative and solve problems. 

I plan on being the change I want to see happen. Will you join me?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

ISTE 2013: Is This Your First ISTE?

ISTE 2013 

This year, the International Society of Technology and Education (ISTE) conference was held in San Antonio, Texas. This was my third time attending this amazing conference. As I joined 20,000 of my closest educator friends I began to notice a distinct type of attendee.

Is this your first ISTE?....How many ISTEs have you attended?

This is often the opening line when you meet someone and as this was my third ISTE  I began to notice a trend in people when they responded. 

First time ISTE attendees have a distinct glazed-eye look that starts early on the first official day of the conference. They usually spend all or most of their time at the sessions absorbing as much information as is humanly possible, but will also skip all or some of the keynote presentations. Newbies are less likely to attend the evening social events and often have a limited presence on Twitter. As a newbie, it is hard to pace yourself and you don't make a lot of connections with others because your brain is on constant overload. 

Second time attendees are ready to reach beyond just the sessions and begin to take in one or two of the additional learning experiences presented such as the posters, Birds-of-a-Feather or networking areas. The second years are beginning to focus their attention on topics of interest and their presence on Twitter is emerging enough that other educators are beginning to follow them. The brain of the second year hits overload on day two. Second years have a better understanding of the importance of attending the keynote presentations and may enjoy an evening event or two.

Third(+) time attendees are more purposeful in their conference goals. They have learned that this conference is not just about attending sessions, but is really about building your personal learning network (PLN) and meeting fellow educators from around the world. Third+ years have learned that if you weren't able to sign up for a session prior to the beginning of the conference you can stand in line for a pre-registration session and usually get in. The third+ years attend fewer sessions, but lots more posters and networking groups. These are the people who are on Twitter throughout the conference and who you want to add your Twitter PLN. Third+ brains are on overload before the conference begins on Monday because they have learned that there are amazing learning opportunities happening on Saturday and Sunday such as HackEd, Mobile MegaShare and networking, that can not be missed. They also pack in as many, if not more, evening social events as they do daytime events and really wish the digital ISTE conference planner included the after hour events so they don't have to use more than one calendar at a time.

More than five years...I hope to someday be this type of attendee, but one thing about this conference is that no matter what type of ISTE attendee you are this conference is about being with like-minded educators and is one of the best around.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Students Learn How to Coach

I never thought that a single app could teach my students so much before What's that Word? by Itch Mania became the app of choice in my classroom.

What's That Word?

What's that Word? app is very similar to 4 Pics 1 Word in that it shows four pictures, blank spaces for letters, several letters in random order and several levels to choose from. What's that Word is better for students than 4 Pics 1 Word because students can select a new/different puzzle if they get stuck.

In May, I installed the What's that Word? app on the student iPads. It was not an app that I thought much about and didn't even mention it to the students. My thinking was that perhaps a few of the kids would enjoy the word game. The first week or two after the installation the app was hardly, if at all, used. Then I noticed a new stir in the room. During explore time in the mornings, students were talking and sharing as they worked on their iPads. What was different was that the talk was about words...vocabulary in particular. This definitely peaked my interest. What were the students working on?

Learning How to Coach

Suddenly, whenever students were given explore time all they wanted to play was What's that Word? This app became a sensation in my room. Every student in the room was using this app and they were working together to solve the vocabulary/picture connections. As a teacher, I was in awe that this one app was so engaging. Then of course, as a teacher, I began to listen to how students were helping each other and noticed that most of the time an answer was just given.

Here was an opportunity to teach how to coach rather than just give an answer. As a class we began developing strategies that could be used to help each other make connections to the four picture clues that were being provided. Some coaching tips students began using with each other were:

  • Can you think of another word for what is in the picture(s)?
  • What is the theme of the pictures?
  • Another word for _____ is.
  • It begins with the letter _____ (used as a last resort).

Coaching is a difficult skill to learn as a fourth grader (and an adult). This app was a great tool for building coaching skills and vocabulary. My students became quite good at coaching each other and continued to enjoy What's That Word for the remainder of the school year.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Physical Environment of Classroom

Friday, March 22, was the last day of two weeks of TCAP testing. While my students tested and I walked around giving sharp pencils, picking up dropped items and handing out lots of boxes of Kleenex I did a lot of thinking about the environmental layout of my classroom. 

So you might be thinking, why am I writing about this topic now at the end of March. The reason is one word: iPads. It has been one month since becoming an 1:1 classroom and I am noticing how differently my students are working. During the limited time we were not getting ready for testing, taking the test or moving desks to their original location after testing, the students were working together on researching Native American Indians of Colorado. Students worked in "tribes" to research specific topics such as food, shelter, clothing and art, music, and games. Students were given the choice of where they wanted to work around the room. 

The first thing I noticed was that out of the eight tribes only one tribe used tables to work at. Most students were sitting or stretched out on the floor the whole time they were working. As I don't allow students to work under the desks there wasn't a lot of space left with so many kids on the floor. Another observation I made was that most of the tribes were highly engaged in their work and were exchanging ideas and resources with similar tribes (Arapaho, Sioux and Cheyenne) who were also on the floor. This type of interaction has been very challenging for this particular group of students this year so I was delighted to see and hear the different discussions and interactions. 

During the last week of school prior to spring break, I let the students choose where and with whom they sat. After forming 5 teams, instead of the 7 teams I usually make, the kids noticed that they had created a large open area on the floor. I noticed that all the desks were squished to one side of the room and there was one super large group of squirrelly boys ; ) 

As the week progressed, this large open space was utilized for many different activities during the day and reinforced my belief that I need to change the physical environment of the classroom.

With only two months left of school, I am not sure how much modification I am going to implement, but with our upcoming units on Food Chains & Webs and Colorado Life Zones I will definitely begin experimenting with the furniture arrangement. I will also begin collecting containers, pillows and other items I find that can be used to create a new classroom environment for my current and future students.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

iPads, YouTube and QR Codes

Every other month my grade level displays student work on one of three hallway boards. March is our month and with all the craziness that has been going on in 4th grade lately we were having a difficult time deciding what to display. My teammate, Evan, suggested that we post students' leads to the Super Power stories they are currently working on. I liked the idea, but wanted to jazz it up a bit.

What about posting QR codes?

Last summer at the ISTE conference in San Diego, many of the presenters were displaying QR codes with links to additional information. It was so much fun to scan the QR code and access the additional resources that I wanted to use them with my students. 

As my team was discussing how we would share the students' work on the board, I thought it would be fun to have the kids record their lead and post a QR code so students, teachers and parents could listen. Now I had to figure out how to do this.

The experiment begins

My students began by using AudioMemos Free to record their leads. Once a student made a recording they would then email the file to me. As my email began to fill I realized that none of the recordings had an URL that I could use to make a QR code. I also realized I really didn't want each of the almost 90 fourth graders emailing their files to me. I had to find a different solution. 

Let's make a video

Watching my students create their audio recordings made me stop and think, "Hey, they should be using the camera to record themselves! That would be much more interesting." Now I had to figure out how to get an URL attached to a video. After much trial and error, I finally realized that YouTube would be the easiest way to upload video since it will give each individual recording its own URL. 

First, I created a new channel on YouTube for our school at 
Having our own channel helps me organize the student videos and provides an email address that can be used to send individual videos; thus saving my inbox from exploding. Additionally, I am able to monitor, manage and edit information posted to the school channel. 

Next, I created a Google Form where the URL could be copied and complied into a spreadsheet. This helps me keep all the recordings organized by student name, URL and class. Once the information is in the spreadsheet I can copy the URL and paste it into a QR generator which gives me a QR code

Students as creators

My students have become adept at moving back-and-forth between apps and websites on their iPad Minis. They were able to work together to create quick videos of each other reading their Super Power leads then email the video to YouTube. My class then visited the two other fourth grade classes and used their minis to video every fourth grader in the school reading their lead. Personally, I think having my students conduct the recordings for the other classes was the highlight of the project. My students were so focused and engaged as they organized and directed the recordings of the other fourth grade students they didn't even realize they were learning how to be great leaders.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pictures of iPad Mini charging case

Here are a few pictures of the book display case I turned into a charging station. The case holds 30 Minis and each student is assigned a place. The iPads sit on the shelves best if the charging cord is placed towards the ceiling hence the cords being in sight. The back of the case is a mess but is working well.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Getting Ready for Students

Before placing the iPad Minis in the hands of my students there was a lot that I needed to do to get the Minis ready. Here are a few things I had to address.

Apple Configurator

I am now in charge of managing the school set of 30 iPad 2s, the 30 iPad Minis in my classroom and the eight 4th grade iPad/iTouches. Previously, without the new Minis it would take me up to 3 hours to install updates on all the machines. As you know, finding that kind of time is almost impossible so with the help of the district Information Technology and Library Services department and the district IT department together, a 13" MacBook Pro was purchased for my school. 

The MacBook Pro allowed the Apple Configurator program to be used to manage all the iDevices in addition to utilizing the Apple Volume Purchasing Program (VPP). I must say using Apple Configurator makes a huge difference in the amount of time needed to install apps--minutes instead of hours. Apple Configurator is not an easy program to figure out, but with the help of the IT department, the Apple website and information on the internet I am learning how to use it.

Lightning Connector

Our school has a lot of iPads for student use. We have a large locking cart where the school set is kept. Upon ordering the Minis my first thought was that we could use the big cart to sync both the iPad 2s and the Minis. All we needed was an adapter for the Lightning connection. Sounds simple, but in reality that just didn't work. Each adapter costs $30 and we needed 30 of them. That was just too much money. 

After weeks of researching alternative solutions, I finally decided on the Datamation Systems 8-Port Charge/Sync station from This charging system is very easy to use, lightweight, sits on a table top and can be used with any device with a USB connector. Syncing 8 Minis at a time is a fairly quick process. What I really like is that when one or two of the Minis needs a quick adjustment (some of the apps didn't install because I forgot to check them) I am able to reinstall quickly with little time lost by the student. If you are looking for a syncing solution for your school, I recommend checking out Datamation Systems.


My next question was where to put the Minis in order to charge them. I decided to use an oak book display case that I had in my classroom. This case was built years ago by a former teacher's father and given to me when she retired. I didn't want to destroy the case so I drilled holes in the bottom of each of the six shelves. The holes can not be seen so it can be used as a display case again someday if needed. I found two 16 outlet power strips on Amazon which I was able to hide in the back of the display case and run the charging cables up through the holes. Five iPad Minis sit on a shelf allowing for charging while students are not using them. So far this is working out well.