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.

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