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!