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.