Thursday, November 12, 2015

Code.org: Computer Science Fundamentals

Hello readers! I apologize that I haven't blogged in awhile. It has been one crazy summer and semester! Today, I have returned to my blog to post about a fantastic website that all teachers should utilize in their classrooms. It is called Code.org. (Follow the link to go to the site!)

*Please note that all of the images featured in this post are my personal screenshots!

What is it?
Code.org is a website that aspires to expose people, particularly students, to computer science through coding. The website provides users with online tutorials and courses that not only teach the participants to program through coding, but also explains the basics behind computer science and what professions in that field may look like. Code.org supports its statement that “anyone can learn” by providing materials for users of all ages, from early readers to adults, as well as resources for educators who would like to bring coding into their classrooms.


The website has hosted events and initiatives in order to bring computer science to every school (particularly in the United States, though other countries access the website as well). It is worth mentioning that one of their 2013 initiatives, called the “Hour of Code Challenge,” was endorsed by many major technology companies (such as Apple, Facebook, and Twitter) and its founders, as well as United States President Barack Obama. To participate in the campaign, teachers were asked to show their students the Hour of Code tutorial on Code.org’s website in order to increase participation in, and awareness of, STEM education. Within five days, the Hour of Code reached 15 million users across 170 countries. This initiative began two years ago, so think about all of the students who have learned about computer science today through simple programs like the activities on Code.org!

Though the Code.org website offers many different resources and activities, I would like to focus my blog post on the Computer Science Fundamentals courses. There are four parts to the Fundamentals courses: Course 1 for 4- to 8-year-olds, Course 2 for 6-year-olds and older, Course 3 for 8-year-olds and older, and Course 4 for 10-year-olds and older. (There is also an accelerated course that covers the content from Courses 2 through 4 in a shorter timeframe.) The courses include “Unplugged Activities;” some of these expose students to the ways that programming is used by various people in their careers or daily lives, while others teach students about Internet safety and their online presence. These activities are followed by assessments that evaluate students’ understanding. Lastly, the large majority of the Fundamentals courses is the series of puzzles that teach the student various aspects of programming in Blockly. (Blockly is a “programming language” that allows users to put strings of blocks together to create commands as opposed to typing out the instructions for the computer to follow.) The time that it will take each student to complete the Code.org course will depend on the student’s understanding of the content and his or her ability to express that in code.

Why should we use it?
There are plenty of articles that support the use of coding in the classroom. One post that clearly lists reasons to introduce coding is Merle Huerta's Coding in the Classroom: A Long-Overdue Inclusion on Edutopia. (You can read the article yourself by clicking the link!) Huerta writes that coding is a new type of literacy, improves educational equity, offers inclusion, increases neuroplasticity, and improves STEM proficiencies.

The nature of the activities on Code.org is student-centered. Students should each be provided with an Internet-capable device upon which he or she can complete the courses individually. There is no direct instruction from the educator at all in these activities; he or she should walk around the classroom and answer questions as needed, but the tutorials actually teach the students the skills they need to complete the puzzles. The student should not be encouraged to skip ahead in the course when he or she has not completed previous puzzles; the course is designed to be completed in sequential order so that the students master skills that build off of each other. Therefore, the activity progresses at each child’s own pace.

In addition to the assertions that the Code.org Fundamental courses are student-centered and research-supported, below are some other reasons why I believe teachers should introduce their students to programming through Code.org:
  • Code.org is free and easily accessible (as long as the Internet is reliable), which allows more students to learn from the site.
  • The code.org courses are suitable for most students, no matter their race, age, gender, etc. (The only students I anticipate could have issues with the Code.org courses are students with special needs that limit their ability to use a computer.)
  • The tasks start very simply and get increasingly more complex, which supports learners of all abilities.
  • The Code.org courses teach the user a variety of life skills, such as logic, critical thinking, problem solving, and how to be safe on the Internet.
  • Code.org helps make programming and computer science authentic to the learner. 

How can we use this app, software, or application?
The website allows any user to try coding without signing up. Someone without an account could participate in the Hour of Code or the Accelerated Course. An unregistered user could also run the user-created games and programs in the Code Studio. However, in order to get the most comprehensive experience in coding (including utilizing the Computer Science Fundamental courses), the participant needs a free account.

In order to get a free account:

1) Go to http://www.code.org.



2) In the top right-hand corner, click the orange “Sign in” box



3) On the right, click the hyperlinked, purple text that says “Sign up.”



4) Click “Student Sign Up” to create accounts for your students. Click “Teacher Sign Up” to create a teacher account. Please note that if you sign up as a teacher, your account will include additional resources for coding in the classroom. However, teachers still have access to the courses.



5) Fill out the appropriate information in the boxes provided, and click the orange “Sign Up” box. By signing up for an account, the user agrees to the terms and conditions. Please note that for users under thirteen years old, a parent’s or guardian’s permission is required. Also, for these users, email addresses are not used to contact the students.



Next, the instructor needs to choose the course appropriate for the students to complete. I am going to click on Course 2 for this explanation.



From here, the tutorials run themselves! Students will be guided through unplugged activities, assessments, and puzzles to teach them about computer science and programming. If you would like to see exactly what the students are doing, complete the courses for yourself! (Unfortunately, there is no way I could comprehensively cover all of the things that your students will learn through the Code.org courses. There is simply too much!)

How can we adopt it with appropriate pedagogy?
As discussed above, the courses on Code.org provide a student-centered approach to learning. The teacher takes the backseat as the students guide their own learning through the Code.org courses. Additionally, Code.org paces well: students should not move forward through the lessons until they have completed the previous ones. This builds students' understanding and ability, one lesson at a time. Lastly, the courses on Code.org transform teaching. Without the proper technology, these tools could never have been utilized in the classroom. As teachers, we are always trying to provide our students with authentic learning opportunities; because computer science and the skills developed through programming are essential to today's careers, we are only benefitting our students by giving them practice earlier in their lives.

What are the challenges for adopting it and how can we turn these challenges into opportunities?
I do not think that teachers would struggle to get students engaged and on board with coding in the classroom; it is fun and age-appropriate. However, I think teachers could face challenges when trying to convince their school administrators that computer programming has a place in the classroom. However, talking to your school administrator about including computer programming in your curriculum gives you an opportunity to approach your supervisor about topics that are important in education. Not only will you practice negotiation techniques and strategies, but you will also act as an advocate for your students. Hopefully, using the resources and reasons I have provided above to convince YOU to adopt Code.org, you will also be able to convince your supervisor that this tool will truly benefit your students.

Another challenge you may face while adopting Code.org is that you may not know how to code yourself. Thankfully, this challenge is very easy to translate into an opportunity: you have the ability to complete the courses before your students have access to them, so you will be one step ahead of them in your understanding of the website. I believe that this simple type of computer programming will come naturally to some teachers, but for others, coding is going to be a completely new skill. I hope that you take the opportunity to learn computer programming for yourself alongside your students through the courses offered on Code.org.

How can I help you with the adoption?
If you are a teacher trying to introduce computer science into your classroom, please contact me via my blog if you need assistance with where to start or how to proceed. I would be happy to help you find additional resources to use in convincing administrators that computer science is beneficial and important to students and their future aspirations. I have also taken the Code.org courses myself, and would be willing to walk you through puzzles or activities if you need assistance. Lastly, I am aware of some hands-on instructional activities for the classroom that connect to programming and the coding that the students will be doing through the courses. Please contact me, and I will share those activities with you.

I hope that I have convinced you that computer science and programming are worthwhile, if not necessary, to bring into the classroom. Code.org is a simple yet effective way to do so, especially for teachers who are not familiar with programming themselves. Thanks for reading, and please reach out to me with questions or comments!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Guided Access

Last week in CTELE, we had a session of Geek Academy. ("Geek Academy" is a term our professor has coined for days when each of us students shares a technology tip to the rest of the class.) The resource I shared for Geek Academy was Google News; you can read about this in my post "2015 Elementary Literacy Conference" from April 18. However, Erin Keiser (one of my classmates) shared a really cool feature for Apple products called Guided Access.

Guided Access limits your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to a single app. You can even control which app features are available within that app through Guided Access. Here are the steps for setting up Guided Access:

  1. Press "Settings" on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
  2. Tap "General."
  3. Hit "Accessibility."
  4. Scroll down to "Guided Access" and click it. From here you can toggle Guided Access on or off.
  5. When you turn Guided Access on, you will see the following menu (pictured below). Clicking "Passcode Settings" allows you to set your Guided Access passcode. (This passcode may be a four-digit number or your Touch ID on newer devices.) Clicking "Time Limits" allows you to set alarms for the amount of time the user is in Guided Access. Toggling "Accessibility Shortcut" on will allow the user to see your Accessibility Shortcut settings by triple-clicking the home button while Guided Access is enabled.
  6. Once you have your settings determined and Guided Access on, open the app you want to run.
  7. Within the app, triple-click the home button.
  8. Adjust your settings for the session, and click Start.
    • If you want to disable app controls or areas of the app screen, click the parts of the app you want to disable. A gray box should appear over those areas; drag the boxes to disable those portions of the app. (Unfortunately, attempting to screenshot myself doing this keeps closing Guided Access. Try it out for yourself on your device though, it is very user-friendly!)
  9. To end Guided Access, triple-click the home button and type in the passcode.
Overall, I think Guided Access is a wonderful feature on iDevices. It is quite suitable to the classroom setting; if teachers want students to remain in one app, they can set the Guided Access in that matter. Teachers can also reduce accessibility to certain portions of apps by shading out these sections in Guided Access. This would be useful on apps that have options for downloads or purchases, for example. I think this feature has its uses, and would definitely be suitable for teachers who want students to remain in a certain app for long periods of time. However, Guided Access does have its limitations.

The first problem is that your device can get stuck in Guided Access. This might happen if the device has a bug or freezes, or if the person who set Guided Access does not remember the passcode or is unavailable to give the passcode. After researching online, I found a post called "HELP - I Have a Guided Access Problem" by iteachappsfortheclassroom. This post details directions for completing a force reboot on your device or using Find my iPhone/iCloud to shut down Guided Access. When using Guided Access, you always run the risk that you may not be able to exit out of it; however, you run this risk whenever you use any sort of feature on your device. I do not think that this risk is enough to prevent me from using Guided Access (unless I knew I had a device that does not function properly).

Another issue with Guided Access is that it has to be set on every device, one at a time. If a teacher wanted to use a certain app on each iPad in a one-to-one classroom, he or she would need to go through the steps to turn on Guided Access on each iPad. That is why I mentioned above that this would be great for using a certain app for long periods of time; I personally don't think it's worth it to set up Guided Access on each device in the room if the app will only be used periodically and is not crucial to the activity.

One last issue with Guided Access that is particularly problematic for the classroom is that it can only be set on one app. There isn't a way to allow the user to access multiple apps at a time. If I wanted my students to be able to switch back and forth between a measuring tool and a calculator in different apps, I couldn't set my iPad to only allow access to these two applications. This is an issue that appears to plague many educators (according to my quick Google search). As the push to use technology in the classroom is so prevalent now, I hope Apple fixes this problem and figures out a way to allow the administrator to use multiple devices in Guided Access.

Overall, I think Guided Access is a great feature, and despite its limitations, there are definitely some benefits to using it in the classroom. I think I will wait to pass judgment on this feature until I figure out what I need my technology to do for my future classroom, as well as whether or not Apple adds the capability of using multiple apps within Guided Access. For now, I expect that the next time my mother wants to look through my pictures on my phone, I will set up Guided Access so she can't peek through my text messages too!

Designing Project-Based Learning

Throughout this semester, my friend Becca Holzrichter and I have been working on a project-based learning unit. We have spent hours brainstorming, creating documents, experimenting with technology, and designing a website to display our culminating project. We have come a long way since we first sat down to create our PBL in January. Through this project for our Creating Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments class, I now better understand the elements of a good PBL and the amount of effort it takes to create a useful PBL.

First, I feel that it may be important to give you a brief overview of our project. This PBL is about the human body systems. Its intended grade level is fifth grade, and it targets literacy, science, and 21st century skills standards. The driving question is, "How can we, as students, promote health awareness and healthy habits in our school?" Throughout the course of this project-based learning unit, students will work in teams to (1) learn about a human body system, (2) create an implementation plan for a health-initiative to target the health of that body system within the school's population, and (3) present their findings and implementation plans at a health fair. (Please feel free to view, or even use, our PBL. It can be found here, in case you would like to learn more about it or refer to our website as I discuss it later in this post. An image of the introductory page to our PBL is shown below!)


There were a lot of steps Becca and I went through in order to create a genuinely feasible and useful PBL. First, as you will see on our website, our PBL is aligned to the 8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning as defined by the Buck Institute for Education. According to these essentials, every good project needs significant content, a need to know, a driving question, student voice and choice, 21st century competencies, in-depth inquiry, critique and revision, and a public audience. In addition to these elements, Becca and I made a three-week project agenda, evaluated our use of technology within the project, and created a slew of teacher resources that educators could use if they actually wanted to incorporate our PBL into their curriculum. These teacher resources include a Google Form to use for assigning teams, group roles that could be implemented within each team, assessment tools for the project (including a presentation rubric, a content rubric, a 21st century skills checklist, and a group conference anecdotal records sheet), and resources to use with the students (including a daily goal worksheet, a list of local and national health professionals that students could connect with, a list of suggested technologies for the students to use to present, etc.). I am very satisfied with our final product and believe this is something that a teacher could genuinely implement in his or her classroom with success.

The most difficult aspect of this project was coming up with the need to know and the driving question; basically, we had to decide what we wanted the final outcome of the PBL to look like. We knew we wanted to address the fifth grade science standards we had chosen, but the supplemental standards were decided based upon the project idea we created. Becca and I trashed a lot of ideas throughout the semester, and it took us quite awhile to brainstorm the health fair idea. (If you'd like to see the very first document we created as an outline for our original PBL, click here. It is amazing to see the transformation our project has taken over the semester!) However, once we figured out exactly what we wanted the outcome of our PBL to be, the rest of it was very easy to piece together. 

Generally, I shy away from working in groups, even just partnerships with another person. I hate having to rely on another person to do their share of the work, and I like working on projects in my own time. However, Becca and I worked really well together. She and I have similar academic tendencies (such as liking things organized, being willing to delegate tasks and work on them later, and even preferring to meet many days a week for shorter lengths of time), which made working with her much easier than I initially expected. Though group work has never been my favorite form of assessment in the past, I definitely benefitted by having Becca on my team: we were able to bounce ideas off of each other, collaborate while simultaneously splitting the amount of work we needed to do between us, and even have fun while working on a project. We shared many groans of anguish, sighs of relief, and laughing attacks while working on our PBL, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to work with another educator who takes her passion for teaching kids as seriously as I do.

As a result of this PBL, I definitely think I will be more open to group work (especially partner work) in the future. Additionally, because I have worked on a PBL from start to finish, the idea of implementing them in my future classroom is not nearly as daunting. I have learned that creating the framework for what you want your students to know and be able to do is key to a PBL, and after that, the rest of the pieces basically fall into place. Through working on our PBL, as well as listening to the stories and reflections of other groups in our CTELE class, I have also learned about a lot of technologies that I wasn't even aware of before this semester. I hope that I work in a school district that allows me to bring all of my PBL and technology ideas into my future classroom!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 Elementary Literacy Conference: Part 2

I wanted to share information about another session I was able to attend on Friday. Again, I am appreciative of these speakers taking their time to help us educators make our classrooms more technologically-enhanced!

"Transcending Your Classroom Library to the 21st Century"
The second technology-related session I attended at the conference was "Transcending Your Classroom Library to the 21st Century" by Kelli Westmoreland. As we were talking about the technology she uses in her classroom, my aunt Rachael (see earlier post) sent me an email with the flyer for this session! Rachael said that she uses Classroom Organizer, the technology Kelli would be presenting, in her class. Therefore, this session was already on my radar when I entered the conference!

Kelli works at Booksource and was at the literacy conference to primarily talk about Classroom Organizer, a feature of Booksource. Classroom Organizer is a tool used by teachers to organize their classroom libraries. When teachers set up a Classroom Organizer account, they can begin filling their inventory. After downloading an app, teachers can scan the books from their classroom library into their account, or they can manually add the ISBN of each book they have. Once all of the books have been inventoried, the teacher now has an online list of all of the books in the classroom library. Once the teacher creates accounts for each of the students, he or she now has an efficient, easy way for students to check out books.

There are a lot of interesting features of Classroom Organizer that Kelli presented to us. The first is the student checkout system. When the teacher creates the Classroom Organizer account for the class, he or she identifies the settings that will apply to the class. (For example, the teacher can vary how long students will be able to check out books for, how many books can be checked out at once, whether or not the students receive email reminders of when the books are due, etc.) The students can check out books easily once all of these procedures are in place. Say, for example, the classroom has an iPad that is used for the library. Once a student finds a book to check out, all he or she has to do is click his or her name, scan the book, and bam! The Classroom Organizer account now recognizes that this book has been checked out. The Classroom Organizer can be used to search for books (by genre, lexile level, content, etc.). Once a student has checked out books, the Classroom Organizer can also make recommendations for each student based on what he or she has previously checked out. The really nice things about this expedited checkout process are (1) the teacher does not have to take time out of their day to check out books for the students, (2) the electronic checkout system is more organized and faster than writing the information out on paper, (3) the students are kept accountable for the books they have checked out through email reminders, and (4) the checkout process is really easy and user-friendly.

Though Classroom Organizer is very simple from the student perspective, the teacher has many more features through his or her account. First, the teacher can run assessment reports on the library or each individual student. The teacher can find out which books have been checked out the most, which books haven't been checked out at all, the average lexile level of the books checked out, etc. He or she can see which books are checked out and by which student; if a book is needed for a lesson, the teacher can contact that student and ask him or her to bring it back right away. In addition, the teacher can keep track of the reading of each individual student. If kids are taking too long to get through books, the teacher can ask if the book is too difficult or why the student isn't taking time to read. The teacher can also see the levels of the books the students check out, and even print out progress reports of each student to show to parents during conferences.

Teachers who use Classroom Organizer also have access to information about all of the classrooms using it. For example, teachers can see what the library of the average teacher in each grade contains. They can see at which lexile level most students in each grade are checking out books, as well as the most frequently checked out books are across the Classroom Organizer users. A really neat thing about Classroom Organizer is that, since it is run through Booksource, teachers can even order these frequently-read books through the application. This connection to Booksource also allows teacher an additional resource: lesson plans. There are many previously-created lesson plans in the Booksource database, and for a limited time, teachers can access these for free. All they have to do is look up a book; if it has lesson plans associated with it, an icon will appear, and teachers can be redirected to the lesson plan options for that book.

If multiple teachers in a school set up Classroom Organizers for their own libraries, the information can be consolidated through the book room. This feature allows any teacher to see all of the books available throughout the school. That way, if a teacher needs a specific book for a lesson, he or she can search for it in the book room and see which classrooms have it available in the school. Additionally, accounts can be made for literacy coaches and other curriculum specialists so that they can see the information from all of the classrooms' Classroom Organizers. These accounts allow the user to run assessment reports on the whole school or just specific classrooms, see how individual students who need additional help are doing, etc. Through these accounts, most of the teacher features can simply be applied to the entire school instead of one specific classroom.

There are a couple of additional things I should mention that Kelli said about Classroom Organizer. First, it can be used for school libraries as well; though it would take much longer to upload all of those books into the database, it can be done. There is no limit to the number of books that can be contained in one Classroom Organizer. Second, Classroom Organizer does not have to be used for books. Though it is easy to scan books into the database and this is the way the app is used most frequently, teachers can manually log whatever materials they would like into their Classroom Organizers. An art teacher could log all of the art materials he or she has and ask the students to check them out when they use them. A PE teacher could log all of the equipment he or she has in a closet and have a faster way of looking through the materials on the database than through searching that inventory. Math manipulatives in a resource room can be logged in Classroom Organizer. The possibilities are endless. Though the inventory and checkout processes would take longer, and some of the features (such as the lexile level of the books checked out) would no longer apply, this ability makes Classroom Organizer a useful tool for any educator. Lastly, all of this is free! Everything that Kelli talked about can be used by anyone; it is just most used by teachers for the classroom library purpose. It is always exciting to find out that teacher resources are free!

After hearing Rachael talk about the ease of using the Classroom Organizer, as well as learning more about it through Kelli's presentation, I am convinced that I will want to somehow incorporate this into my classroom someday. I think it would be very useful for logging the books in my classroom, especially if I have a classroom library through which students can check out books. I can also log the additional materials in my possession and have a quick way to check whether or not I have pipe cleaners or unit square manipulatives, for example. I believe that how much I allow the students to interact with it will depend on their age; we did not see the students' side of the checkout process, so if it is much more elaborate than clicking your name and scanning the book, I may not use it with kindergarteners or first graders. However, overall I think Classroom Organizer is a fantastic tool for any teacher, and this presentation made me very excited to start a classroom library of my own.

(If you want to learn more about Classroom Organizer, or set up an account of your own, click here!)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 Elementary Literacy Conference

Yesterday I was able to attend the 47th Annual Elementary Literacy Conference at UNI. I wanted to give a brief update on the technology-related sessions I was able to see!

"Google Apps and Literature Circles"
The first technology-related session I attended at the conference was Matthew Switzer's "Google Apps and Literature Circles." Mr. Switzer is a sixth grade teacher and a director of curriculum and innovation in his area. His presentation described how he uses Google Docs, Slides, Search, Forms, Sites, Mail, Drive, and YouTube with the literature circles in his sixth grade classroom. He specifically talked about his nonfiction unit in his presentation. Below are some summarizing statements about what I learned from each of these Google apps:

Google Docs: Mr. Switzer uses Google Docs throughout his literature circle activities. The students share documents between members of their group to work on projects throughout the unit. The students can each work on the document at the same time and collaborate more efficiently in this way. Mr. Switzer said that one nice thing about this is that, because the students share everything with him, the students can be working on something from across the room and he can make a suggestion for them without having to leave his seat. He likes the instant feedback ability of Google Docs.

Google Slides: Mr. Switzer made presentations and shared them with his students. When Mr. Switzer revealed the nonfiction books his students would be able to choose from, he used the slides to make the reveal fun and engaging to get the students excited about reading nonfiction. He also asked his students to turn the four square vocabulary technique (define the word, use it in a sentence, identify some synonyms, and draw a picture to illustrate the word) into a slide for each word. The students could then share their slides with other book groups. One thing that Mr. Switzer showed us was the research tab in Google. Clicking "Research" under the "Tools" heading in Slides will pop open a search bar on the right side of the screen. That way, students can search the web through Google without ever leaving their Slides tab. I have included some screenshots of this process from my computer below. (Note: I also found that this feature is available in Docs!)

Click "Research" under the "Tools" heading in Slides to pop open the search bar. 
In the research bar, you can search Google without ever leaving your Slides tab.
Google Search: Mr. Switzer showed his students how to do effective searches using operators. (If you've never heard of search operators, check out this site.) He also held a discussion about how to determine if sources are reliable. Mr. Switzer allowed the students to research what the literature circle books would be about before the sixth graders ranked which books they would like to read. The students also used Google Search throughout the unit to research people, events, topics, etc. related to their books. A neat feature Mr. Switzer showed us was Google News. (Check it out here!) This site allows the user to search through a number of archived newspapers and find primary source documents related to his or her topic. I have never seen this before, but I will definitely use it the next time I am writing a research paper!

Google Forms: Mr. Switzer used a form to find out which books each of his students was interested in reading. The students had to rank their first, second, and third choices of books, as well as answer questions such as "Why does this topic interest you?" and "Is this novel within your lexile goal?" Then, Mr. Switzer showed us how he analyzed the responses of his sixth graders using pie charts and other tools.

Google Sites: A couple of literature circle groups used Sites to chronicle how they felt about the portion of the book they read each night. For example, Mr. Switzer showed us a website that two of his female students used to discuss their feelings about each chapter of a book. They would write journal entries reflecting on how they thought each character felt in response to various events that happened in the story. It appeared that Mr. Switzer did not use Sites for the entire class, rather students that he felt could handle posting content to a website appropriately.

Google Mail: As time was becoming short, Mr. Switzer showed us just a few key points of the last couple of Google apps. In Mail, he showed us an example of one student who had reached out to the author of his book. The student became excited and more engaged in the activities when the author of the book replied to his email. As Mr. Switzer told us, you never know if an author will reply to your email unless you try sending one first!

Google Drive: Drive is exceptionally familiar to me because I use it all the time to keep track of my documents and collaborate on multiple docs with others, but it was still interesting to see how Mr. Switzer used it. In his Drive, he had folders for each of the literature circle groups. The folders were personalized based on the students in each group and the activities that each of them needed to complete. A neat feature that Mr. Switzer showed us was the "View Details" button (the circle with the "i" inside of it on the right hand side of Drive). By clicking on this button, one can see all of the activity that has happened on each of the docs in the Drive. I thought this was really fascinating; I have used a similar feature in Docs and Slides before, but I did not know you could look at all of the activity in your Drive! Mr. Switzer also showed us how you can connect more apps to your Google account in this portion of his presentation.

YouTube: Mr. Switzer also talked about YouTube, which is owned by Google. He taught his sixth graders how to find appropriate videos related to the topics of their literature circle books to learn more content knowledge. Mr. Switzer emphasized how much more interested and engaged students are in news videos when they find them themselves as opposed to watching them when the teacher asks them to do so.

(If you would like to see Mr. Switzer's presentation, you may view it here!)

I definitely think I will be using Google Apps in my future classroom someday. Many schools are Google schools, simply because there are so many features that are available to use in the classroom. I am still exploring exactly which of these apps I will be using, and I probably won't have a good idea until I know exactly what age of students I will be teaching. I will feel a lot safer giving freedom to explore online to older students. Additionally, older students will be more likely to have the skills necessary (such as completing safe searches, and being able to type correctly-spelled words, for that matter) to use a wider variety of apps. Overall, I can't say I learned a lot from Mr. Switzer's presentation; however, I did learn a couple of nifty tricks that I hadn't seen before. Because we use Google here at UNI, I already knew how to use a lot of the apps he explained to us. It was still cool to see how he used the apps in his classroom, and it was great to hear that teachers are making their classroom environments more technology-enhanced.

Monday, April 6, 2015

ActiveInspire Project Reflection

While working with Mrs. Pisarik to learn more about the technology she uses in her sixth grade classroom, I have also been collaborating with Becca Holzrichter to complete a flipchart through ActiveInspire. This project has delayed my follow-up post about Mrs. Pisarik's technology; I apologize for the wait! In the meantime, please enjoy this post about our flipchart project.

Becca and I have been working on a project-based learning unit throughout the semester; it is still a work in progress. The driving question of our project right now is "How can we, as students, promote health awareness and healthy habits within our school?" This project will satisfy a variety of fifth grade standards, but in particular, we are targeting S.3-5.LS.3, "Understand and apply knowledge of basic human body systems and how they work together." (You may view this particular standard by clicking here or browse all of the standards in the Iowa Core here.) Students must understand the human body system in order to effectively promote awareness of how to keep that system healthy.

If we were to implement this project in a classroom, each group of students would focus on promoting the health of a different body system. To begin the project, we would give the students time as a group to work through a flipchart that gives some basic information about that body system. (It is expected that our students will have experience working with a Promethean board and will be able to navigate the technology on their own or with minimal assistance.) This flipchart is intended to be the starting point for students to begin their research and brainstorming about the project. As an example, Becca and I created a flipchart about the skeletal system.

In case you do not have the capability to experiment with the flipchart on your device, I have uploaded my own screenshots of each page of our flipchart and will explain each of them briefly. If you have ActiveInspire and are interested in using our flipchart, please comment on this post and I will send it to you as an attachment.


This is the title page! It gives a very succinct explanation of what the students will be doing through this flipchart.


One of our flipchart requirements was to include pages of information so that the students can learn more about the topic before working on activities. On the page shown above, we embedded a video of the Schoolhouse Rock song "Them Not So Dry Bones." You can watch this video on YouTube here.


The page above also includes an embedded video. This video is by a group called Make Me Genius. You can watch this video on YouTube here.


The page above is one that we created to provide additional information about the skeletal system. While the videos we included covered some of the functions of the skeletal system and briefly covered joints, the videos were mainly about which bones were located where on the body. We added this information slide to provide clarity to the topics that weren't covered as well in the videos.


The page above is a screenshot of our first activity in the flipchart. Students must use the selection tool to match the words of the functions of the skeletal system. If students drag a word to the correct container, the container will hold the word. If the students drag a word to the incorrect container, the word will bounce back to the word bank (indicating to the students that this attempt was wrong and that the word belongs in another place).


The screenshot above shows another activity, similar to the previous one. In this activity, students must use the selection tool to drag the definitions and examples to the appropriate joint box. If the students drag a definition or example to the correct container, the container will hold the word(s); but, if the students drag a definition or example to an incorrect container, the word will bounce back to the bottom of the screen. The students should work to sort all of the definitions and examples to the correct type of joint.


In the above activity, we got to use a fun feature of ActiveInspire called Magic Ink. We placed a silhouette figure of a man over an image of a skeleton (so that all the user sees is the silhouette). When the students drag the magnifying glass (equipped with Magic Ink) over the silhouette, the magnifying glass shows the skeleton below. We included this activity so that students would have a better understanding of how the skeleton matches up to the body we see on the outside.


The above screenshot shows another container activity. In this activity, students are asked to match the name of some more commonly-known bones to their location on the skeleton. The containers in this activity work the same as they did for the other container activities above.


We call the above page our "magic hat" activity. When students hover over the hat, their icon will change to indicate that they have found a word (one of the bones in the skeleton). The students are to drag the word out of the hat, place it to the side, and point to the location of that bone on their own bodies. The students can work with their group to make sure they have correctly identified the right place, and may ask for assistance from the teacher if they come to a disagreement. The students should continue this process until all of the bones have been pulled out of the magic hat.


Our culminating page combines all of the information the students have learned and worked with through the previous pages. In this activity, the students must use the pen and highlighter (as indicated in the directions) to mark or color in various bones and joints. The students must also identify the five correct functions of the skeletal system from a list. This slide allows us to ensure that the students have mastered the information we tried to teach them through the flipchart.


Above is the slide we included to identify our resources!

Becca and I collected inspiration for our flipchart from the projects posted on Promethean Planet. If you are interested in using flipcharts in your classroom, or just learning more about them in general, I would suggest that you start using the resources on that website. Click here to start gathering inspiration for yourself!

Overall, I am very pleased with the flipchart Becca and I created. I would genuinely say that I would use this flipchart in my classroom if it is appropriate for the age and content of my future students. As I think about my future classroom, I wonder what technology will be at my fingertips. Unfortunately, my experience with ActiveInspire has not convinced me of its necessity in the classroom. I think that I could create activities to teach and assess my students through other means that would take much less planning time than creating this flipchart. Neither Becca nor I found ActiveInspire to be particularly user-friendly; we easily spent six hours creating this flipchart. If we had to go through all of that effort to create a flipchart for each of the body systems, it would take a very long time to prepare for just one day of instruction. Though I think ActiveInspire has some cool features that are unique to the technology, the extremely long amount of time it takes to prepare these features for use in the classroom does not make it worth my effort. It was frustrating to work with, and the other preservice teachers in my CTELE class had similar experiences. I think that interactive whiteboards are definitely beneficial to the classroom, but it seems as though their technology has some catching up to do before they are truly efficient and useful for teaching. I look forward to seeing an update of this application, hopefully in the near future.

**UPDATE 4/18/15: My partner, Becca, was able to upload our flipchart to Promethean Planet. It can be viewed here. So far, the flipchart has been viewed 22 times and downloaded 2 times! How exciting!

**UPDATE 4/27/15: Our flipchart has now been viewed 39 times and downloaded 5 times! Here is a screenshot for proof!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mrs. Pisarik's Technology: Post 1

Today I had the amazing opportunity to pick the brain of one of my teacher role models, Mrs. Rachael Pisarik of Bohumil Shimek Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa. Mrs. Pisarik teaches sixth grade at Shimek, and today we talked about some of the technology she uses in her classroom. Mrs. Pisarik went through the many different ways she uses various technology, then gave me access to all of her resources. I plan to go through these links and files more thoroughly in the coming week, but for my CTELE class, I need to write a blog post specifically about three technological uses. I will complete the assignment as necessary below, but stay tuned to my blog for more about the cool things Mrs. Pisarik is doing with her class!

Technology Application 1: Edmodo
I have heard about Edmodo in my classes, but I had not been able to experience it myself before my conversation with Mrs. Pisarik. Edmodo is similar to Facebook, but is tailored to fit classroom needs. Mrs. Pisarik helped her students create accounts on Edmodo, then gave them a class signup code. The  students can upload profile pictures and alter their profile pages with information such as "how I like to learn" and "career goal" to express themselves. The students can see the profiles of other students in the class, but not other users on Edmodo; similarly, others cannot access the students' information without the class signup code, making the system a secure way for the students to experience social networking firsthand. The sixth graders can post messages to the entire group (such as "When is the extra credit for social studies due?") or send private messages specifically to the teacher (such as "What was my grade on the last math assignment?"), but the students cannot send private messages between themselves. This allows the teacher to see all of each student's activities on their classroom Edmodo and censor everything that is said on the class's site. Lastly, there are some other features to Edmodo that the student can utilize if he or she chooses, such as the Edmodo planner and backpack. It appears that Edmodo can even be connected to a student's Google Drive in order to upload documents.
It is evident that Mrs. Pisarik and her students use the Edmodo for a variety of content-related tasks; however, the students are also able to practice many 21st century skills through their profiles. Mrs. Pisarik told me that Edmodo opens up a lot of opportunities for talking with her students about having appropriate Internet presences, being smart online, etc. Mrs. Pisarik uses Edmodo primarily as a message board; the sixth graders can ask her and other students class-specific questions outside of class. As I have seen by scrolling through their feed, a lot of the questions they ask are related to homework assignments and school cancellations. However, Mrs. Pisarik also utilizes her Edmodo classroom for other purposes. The students use Edmodo for book journaling assignments; each week, the students must write Mrs. Pisarik a letter about the book he or she is reading, and Mrs. Pisarik replies. This is all done through a back-and-forth message between each student on Edmodo. Mrs. Pisarik is able to poll the students about various questions, ranging from how they would like to celebrate certain holidays to content-related questions over topics covered in class. The students are able to share links via Edmodo, so when one student asked for a complete class list, another student posted the link to the class list from Mrs. Pisarik's classroom website. I even saw a post from Mrs. Pisarik that included pictures of a messy cubby area with the comment, "What is wrong with this picture?"; the students commented back that the boots were not in the cubby holes, backpacks were not on their hooks, etc. These are just a few of the many ways Mrs. Pisarik utilizes Edmodo with her sixth graders.
If I were to categorize Mrs. Pisarik and her class's use of Edmodo according to these 5 stages of technology use, I think I would categorize it as stage 3, adaptation. Technically, the ways in which Edmodo is used by the students could be done in less innovative and less efficient ways: students could call each other or their teacher to ask questions, the teacher could poll the students by hand, the teacher could take a picture of the messy cubby area and ask the students the next day to identify what was wrong with the picture, etc. Edmodo simply expedites these processes. I think that, in some ways, it could be categorized as stage 4, appropriation, because Edmodo allows the students the experience of having an online presence and practicing how to be smart online. However, the technology doesn't necessarily transfer the focus from teacher to student; Mrs. Pisarik still decides which assignments she would like the students to complete through Edmodo, for example. For most of the purposes Mrs. Pisarik uses Edmodo for (primarily communicating between students), it classifies as adaptive use.
The use of this technology could definitely move into a stage 4 categorization if the ways Edmodo was used were more student-centered. For example, if the students were collaborating to complete assignments through Edmodo, the technology would be driven more by the students and less by Mrs. Pisarik. Also, the technology would be used in a way that couldn't be done without the technology itself: students can't collaborate within groups outside of class without technology, unless they were to physically meet to work on a project. As I said, the way Mrs. Pisarik uses Edmodo is somewhat stage 3 and somewhat stage 4; I think that if the students had more to do from an academic standpoint using the technology, it would push the use of Edmodo to a definite stage 4 categorization.
According to this article, Edmodo allows the students and teacher to do old things in new ways. As I stated before, most of the features of Edmodo simply allow the students and teacher to communicate more efficiently; they could communicate before, but Edmodo gives them expanded capabilities. For example, before, the teacher could send the students home with a physical copy of an article to read for class; now, the teacher can just post the information on Edmodo and expect the students to do it at home.
I would love to use Edmodo in my future class. I think whether or not I used it in my classroom would depend on the age of my students; kindergarten may be a little too young for Edmodo because they are just learning how to read and write. However, I think Edmodo would be great for upper elementary students. I would use the technology very similarly to how Mrs. Pisarik uses it in her classroom. Perhaps I would explore the apparent ability of Edmodo to link to Google Docs; if this allows students to collaborate better, I would definitely implement this feature. Also, in order to cut down on the paper wasted from students buying hard-copies of planners, I could ask my students to use their Edmodo planners. Overall, I think this technology is easy to understand and useful to the classroom environment, and I could definitely see myself implementing it in my future class.
I took this screenshot of Edmodo. This is what a student sees when he or she logs in.

Technology Application 2: Google Earth
One technological enhancement Mrs. Pisarik mentioned was Google Earth. She said her sixth graders have been very enthusiastic about this technology and enjoy looking at places on the virtual map. Google Earth is primarily used in Mrs. Pisarik's class for "book trips." When the students are reading a book from a different geographical setting, the students look at that place on Google Earth in order to get a better visual and understanding of the location. For example, Mrs. Pisarik said they used Google Earth when the sixth graders read Slave Dancer by Paula Fox. Google Earth can locate all of the places mentioned throughout the book, and even provides some descriptions of those places. As Mrs. Pisarik said, "Even the triangular trade is outlined... so cool!"
If I were to categorize the sixth graders' use of Google Earth according to the 5 Stages of Technology Use, I would place it under category 4, appropriation. In this case, the technology is used specifically because of its unique capabilities; the students would not be able to see the places that their books take place as they look today without the use of Google Earth. (Students could look up the locations on a map or globe, as well as research pictures of the location, but Google Earth gives a better and more accurate picture.) These capabilities simply aren't available without technology, which is what brings Google Earth into a category 4 stage of technology.
In order to bring this technology up a stage, it would have to be more student-centered. I have not exactly been able to brainstorm how this would be possible. Some ideas I have are to allow the students to look up other locations as they are relevant to their own projects, but I assume that this is already being done in Mrs. Pisarik's classroom. I am not sure if it is possible for individuals to upload their own images to Google Earth, but if it is, that would also allow the students to become more involved in the technology; unfortunately, the students probably would not do this without Mrs. Pisarik asking them to, which brings the focus from the students back to the teacher. If you can think of a way to use Google Earth in a more student-centered way, please post it in the comments!
To reiterate, this technology is allowing Mrs. Pisarik and her students to do old things in new ways. "Visiting" the locations of various important places across the curriculum is possible through the use of maps and pictures; however, Google Earth is definitely an improvement to this old method by making the experience virtual.
I do not see why I would not incorporate Google Earth into my own classroom someday. I would use it for the same purposes as Mrs. Pisarik's class does: to get a better visual of the places I am discussing in class across the curriculum. It sounds like the students really enjoy the experience and it is easy to use, so I don't see any drawbacks to using Google Earth at this point in time.
I took this screenshot of the login page to Google Earth.

Technology Application 3: YouTube
Another source Mrs. Pisarik said she uses in her classroom is YouTube. YouTube is a website that allows users to watch and upload videos. Mrs. Pisarik said that she uses YouTube videos to supplement her instruction. The students may watch a Khan Academy video for math assistance, or they may watch a video related to the current event they are talking about in class, for example. YouTube supports students' learning by giving them an alternative way to take in content knowledge in Mrs. Pisarik's class.
If I were to categorize the sixth graders' use of YouTube according to the 5 Stages of Technology Use, I would place it under category 2, adoption. Mrs. Pisarik is familiar with YouTube and knows how to find videos to supplement her instruction. This gives her a little flexibility in the way she teaches her lessons; instead of her students listening to her speak about a topic, they can watch a YouTube video related to the topic. The students are not asked to do anything on their own related to YouTube, so the technology is very teacher-oriented.
To move this technology up one stage of use, it has to be more student-centered. The sixth graders could have the option of searching YouTube to find videos related to their research topics. Another idea is that students could create a culminating video project and upload it to YouTube. I think that teachers who allow their students to explore YouTube on their own, however, must be very careful. There are a lot of videos out there that parents probably don't want their students to see; the teacher would have to be cautious about censoring content that the students could find. (I don't know if this is possible to do; I will have to investigate whether or not one could create a student account on YouTube.) Also, parents may not want their students to have a YouTube account, which would be required if the sixth graders were to upload their own videos to the site. I think a fairly safe option to make the use of YouTube more student-centered would be to link students to videos they should watch out of class (perhaps through a post on Edmodo). Then, students are locating the content on their own, but the teacher has asked them only to watch certain videos that he or she has deemed appropriate. Students could still find videos that they should not watch on the site if they explored YouTube on their own, but that would not be the teacher's fault if the students are outside of class.
I think that YouTube allows Mrs. Pisarik to do old things in new ways. For example, she could teach her students a lesson about dividing fractions, or she could allow them to watch a recorded lesson detailing the process (or better yet, a video that incorporates this information into a practical, everyday example of dividing fractions). They aren't doing new things with the technology, just taking part in new ways to do old things.
I would be happy to incorporate YouTube into my future classroom. YouTube has many videos that I could utilize, on topics ranging from the Civil War to songs about mitosis. It's user-friendly and well-understood; if I ever had any problems, my technology specialist would likely be able to help me troubleshoot. As I said previously, a teacher who uses YouTube has to be extremely cautious about censoring the material for her students and making sure that everything they are watching is appropriate. The age of my students would probably determine whether or not I gave them any room to explore the site on their own. However, I think that generally using videos to supplement a lesson is a good idea; it makes learning more enjoyable for the students.
I took this screenshot of what a student would see when watching a video on YouTube.

My impression of Mrs. Pisarik's sixth grade classroom has been overwhelmingly positive. I have yet to visit a classroom that regularly incorporates technology into so many of its classroom functions, and this was assuredly an eye-opening experience for me. It was encouraging for me to see that teachers are taking the necessary steps to incorporate technology into their classrooms; when I have my own classroom someday, it will not be so strange for me to bring into my classroom all of the educational technology knowledge I have gained from UNI. We definitely did not have any technology like this as I was going to school, especially in sixth grade. (I believe the extent of my technology use when I was in sixth grade was doing simple research through Google, playing computer games through disks and simple applications, and typing up papers.) If I had been in Mrs. Pisarik's class as a sixth grader, I would definitely be more knowledgeable about technology and its uses. I would have more experience using various forms of technology, as well as have instruction about safety online. There are some potential drawbacks to being in a classroom that is so technologically advanced, such as less handwriting practice due to typing being required for example, but I believe wholeheartedly that the benefits of incorporating technology in the classroom outweigh the drawbacks.

As I said, this post only reflects a fraction of the ways Mrs. Pisarik uses technology with her class; I intend to discuss some other applications with her later this week, and I will post more about what I learn after these additional conversations.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reflection of Collaborative Research Project

In CTELE this week we have been working on a collaborative research project. The unique twist to this project was that the team members could not meet face to face. We had to work through online collaborative tools, such as Google Docs, Twitter, and Zoom, to work on our research project. We began by conversing on a Google Doc to share contact information and brainstorm what we wanted our research topic to be. We came up with questions, and one of my teammates created a Google Form for the survey. Each of us announced the survey by various means, including Facebook and Twitter. When we had collected enough survey responses, we analyzed the results using Google Sheets. As one of my team members created graphs to display our survey responses, I wrote short explanations describing our findings for each of the graphs. I also filled out our Google Doc with important information about our project, such as our research problem, resources, etc. Overall, I feel like I played an essential role on our team and was imperative to our completion of the project.

Our project was about required reading in classes. We were interested in the amounts and types of reading required by professors, as well as the strategies students employ to understanding the reading (such as note-taking and re-reading). We tried to encourage students to use metacognition by asking them to think about their strategies related to required reading. Through our research, we found that students are required to read a variety of materials for their classes. Unfortunately, those we surveyed do not consistently take notes or re-read to get a better understanding of the material. However, those who do take notes find them useful when studying for an assessment. 

Image used with permission by Moyan Brenn through flickr
The most frustrating thing about this assignment was not the research itself, but coordinating a time when all of the group members could work together. Each of us just ended up working on different sections when we were available, but I believe some team members ended up putting a lot more time and effort into the project than others. If I were to do this project again, I would clearly define each team member's role at the beginning and make sure each person is accountable for the same amount of work. This experience taught me about the importance of clear expectations and communication from the start of the project. I believe that, in the end, we accomplished our goal and submitted a completed project. However, there are definitely things I would change about the way our project proceeded.

I do not believe I would ever use this process in the future if I didn't have to. Being unable to meet face to face is frustrating; it can be difficult to clearly communicate one's ideas over the Internet. However, I see the benefits in these collaborative tools for people who are unable to meet face to face. For example, if I was working on any sort of project with experts from around the country or the world, it would be imperative that we communicate via the Internet. Otherwise, if meeting face to face is possible, I will make that happen because I prefer collaborating in person.

I think it would be interesting to see how my own future students would respond to this project. I could team up with a class in another country and pair up one student from each of the classes. Then, the other teacher and I could assign each pair a research project that they have to complete through collaborative tools. I hope that my students would be excited enough to work with a student from another country that they would be willing to work through collaborative tools (and possibly even enjoy the experience). 

If you are affiliated with the University of Northern Iowa, you can access our Google Doc explaining our project here and our Google Slides presenting our findings here

Monday, February 2, 2015

CTELE Introductory Presentation

In CTELE, each of my classmates and I had to give a personal presentation to the rest of the class. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my fellow classmates through our personal presentations. I believe I learned a lot more about each of them through this assignment than I ever would have if we had not given presentations. Interestingly, our presentation styles were pretty different; however, in the end I learned a lot about each of my classmates. I believe we will work well together, and I look forward to the semester ahead.

Besides simply giving the presentation, I have also been asked to review it using some type of media. I chose to use VoiceThread because I have never heard of it or used it before. In VoiceThread, the creator starts a conversation by uploading some sort of "slide" (whether that be a video, photo, document, etc.). Then, others can comment on that uploaded item and start a "conversation." These comments may be in different formats, such as videos, voiceovers, text bubbles, pictures drawn onto the slide, etc. It is incredibly easy to use, and it's accessible as long as the user has an Internet connection.

After experimenting with VoiceThread, it is clear how it could be used in an educational setting. An instructor could upload any sort of information for the students to comment on. For example, an English teacher could upload an essay with grammatical mistakes and ask the students to comment and fix the errors. Another example would be a Spanish teacher beginning a conversation with some sort of prompt and allowing the students to comment off of it. The teacher doesn't have to be the one to upload the slide either; students can also upload their own items and begin conversations that way. VoiceThread allows students to collaborate on their own time, and it allows teachers to provide unique, challenging experiences using technology in the classroom. I am glad that I had the opportunity to experiment with VoiceThread, and I hope that I am able to integrate it into my own classroom someday.

For this VoiceThread, I started the conversation with a slide of my personal presentation. I then commented on the presentation using my laptop's microphone. If you open my VoiceThread, the video of my personal presentation will appear first, and the comments will follow. On the left side, you will see vertical square icons. You may jump to the next comment by clicking on the next square icon, or by using the slider below my video. To watch my personal presentation and review comments, use the embedded VoiceThread below:


(If you cannot see the embedded VoiceThread, you can watch it here.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

CTELE - My Expectations

This semester, I am taking a course that I will continue to refer to as CTELE, short for Creating Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments. Through UNI, I have decided to pursue minors in literacy, mathematics, and educational technology. This course is part of my educational technology minor.

It is my understanding that CTELE is a continuation of the Educational Technology and Design class I took last year. That class was only an introduction to the many ways in which technology can be used by teachers, and to be honest, as I was taking that class I did not have enough experience in education to fully understand the importance of what I was learning. In this course, I expect that I will learn more about various technology that I can implement in my future classroom. By "implementing technology," I mean that I will be able to not only use technology in front of my students, but also give them the tools to effectively use technology in their academic and personal lives. I know that I am not a technologically savvy individual; therefore, I hope that this class provides me with a lot of practice working with different forms of technology. The educational technology professors are adamant that students learn best through doing; therefore, I expect to have many hands-on, collaborative experiences in this class.

I believe that our CTELE experiences will be somehow demonstrated through our class wiki. Follow the link to see what we've been up to in class! Of course, you can always check out my blog for updates on my experiences as well.

Used with permission from flikr by Intel Free Press