Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: March 2015

PBL and Cross-Curricular Connections

A few weeks ago I interviewed Ms. Kass and Ms. Krickovic to highlight what was going on in their classrooms. Both teachers told me about projects that let students publish their work based on research using Schoology as a platform for discussion and collaboration among students.

There are many overlapping aspects to these two projects, and now that the teachers have had the opportunity to reflect upon the results, they are making plans to make this a cross-curricular project next year.

 

About the Author

Ms. Kass and her students are making books about plant and animal cells on their iPads. They are using SketchBook and Book Creator to gather everything they are learning through labs and research. The books are going to be great and after Spring Break, we are going to make them available for download.

To make these books more like books, the students will be working in Ms. Ray’s classes to write biographies to use on an “About the Author” page to append at the end of the cell information. Although we are close to the end of the year, during the course of our conversation about rubrics and peer editing, we realized this was a great year-long project, and even a great project to last the full three years of middle school. 

Next year, we will start early. Students will interview each other write each other’s biographies. This will help the kids get to know each other as they come together into a single middle school from three elementary schools. They can use this bio at the end of all their books. But, as the year goes on, kids will have newer accomplishments to mention in their biographies. They will also improve their writing and wish to make changes.

As the kids go on to seventh and eighth grades, they can continue to add accomplishments and revise their writing. Towards the end of their third year in middle school, the kids can compare versions and see how much they have grown, both in their writing and in their lives. These biographies could be used in applications to Governor Schools and for scholarships later on.

I wonder what the effect on the students will be.  Having all their accomplishments written out in front of them will show them how much they have done, and how much they can do when they set their minds to it.

Archie and Veronica Explore the Internet

For the past few minutes, I have been flipping through a copy of Exploring the Internet published in 1999. Surprisingly, I have found the Amazon link. The book is a very interesting stroll down memory lane.

Do you remember Archie and Veronica? How about Lycos, Atavista, and Infoseek? Did you know that Lycos is still in operation? Back in the day, I was a big fan of Infoseek, knew all about Telnet and IRC.

The book is full of names and acronyms that have come and gone over the past two decades. The statistics are hilariously quaint. Did you know that there were 35 million people accessing online content from home in 1998? Did you know they were posting as many as 250,000 articles to Usenet each day? Usenet posts were the nerdy precursors to tweets. How many tweets are tweeted each day?

Despite being hopelessly out of date on the tech front, the book has a lot to offer. The main focus is on finding and using information, a topic in which there is always something new to learn, no matter how much expertise you might have.

I am a firm believer in the mission of this book despite the goofy spider graphic.

Information literacy and digital citizenship must be a part of the recipe in every single learning activity involving any digital tool. They are not the exclusive domain of Language Arts teachers suffering through formal research projects with their students. I might hang on to this book to pull out ideas when I work with teachers.

Technology changes, and it changes teaching. The truth remains that good teaching always covers the most important concepts.

Parents in Schoology

For a few weeks now, I’ve been getting complaints about the Schoology logo on the GCPS homepage linking to the “wrong” Schoology website. The link is not wrong. We linked to the non-Goochland Schooloyg page on purpose.

When parents log in to Schoology, they do so from the non-Goochland page. We are hoping more parents will do more than dip their toes in Schoology and embrace the tool as a main avenue for information to flow between home and school.

If you have not already done so, please share access codes with your student’s parents. The codes are easily accessible from the Members section of any of your courses. Parents can learn all about registering and keeping up with their children on the Schoology help page. They can even sign up for email alerts any time their children have overdue assignments.

Active, Engaged Math

“Well, of course you can do that in (fill any subject). Math is different.”

“I can’t use that tool if it does not have a built-in equation editor.”

“I don’t have time for that. My students need to practice solving math problems.”

I can hear these things a million times. I still don’t believe them. Here’s proof that we can have relevant, real-world, engaging learning activities in math class. And these are just three examples.

Cathy Yenca’s blog

Robert Kaplinsky’s lesson ideas

Mr. Orr’s blog

 

Teacher Dashboard Update

At the end of the month, Teacher Dashboard will transition to a new and improved version of itself. You can switch to the new version now, or wait until the change is automatic.

Here are the most important changes to keep in mind. 

  1. Update your bookmarks. You will log into Teacher Dashboard at a new URL
  2. You can now rename your classes so they are easier to identify.
  3. You can group your students and students can belong to multiple groups. This group structure can mirror groups within classes in Schoology.
  4. You can now share multiple documents at one time using Smart Copy, which is now called Smart Share. This button is also found along the left side of the screen rather than at the top left corner.
  5. You can now share documents with multiple classes or groups at one time.
  6. Teacher Dashboard will now generate a random string when resetting passwords. If you do not want to assign a random string of characters as a password, you can still type your own. Please remember not to reset passwords unless the student is requesting this in person, and always check the “reset password on login” box to help us maintain a secure environment.

I’ve created a video highlighting some of the new features. b  (GHS and GMS faculty groups) rather than here since so many student user names and full names are visible in the video.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

As Captain Picard Might Say…

When I tweet, I feel like I’m talking to myself and my words will simply come back to me in perpetuity as Timehop entries. Yesterday, my name was mentioned in a tweet and I got notifications about it all afternoon.

 

Dr. Gretz picked up that quote when I was discussing Phillip Schlechty’s levels of engagement. What I was saying to my audience was that assuming students are engaged because the classroom is quiet and everyone looks busy is not a good idea. Until you see what the outcome of the work is, you can’t know whether the kids were engaged or not. It is not just about observing the behavior. When students are truly engaged, they care about doing the best they can, not just meeting the minimum requirements set forth in a rubric. If students are constantly asking if the paragraph they wrote is “long enough” and you keep sending them back to their desk, they might be busy, but they are not engaged.

I’ve been pointing to Schlechty’s work for a while when talking to teachers in Goochland because, while we might know what engagement is, he puts it into words that can help teachers reflect upon their practice.

I believe engagement is made up of two separate components.  The first is the relationship between the teacher and the students. If you want your students to be engaged, you have to know them and you have to get along with them. You don’t have to be their friend, but you cannot lead students in learning if you have an adversarial relationship with them. The relationship between the teacher and the students is the main ingredient in the mix that makes up the classroom environment, and a toxic environment discourages collegiality and collaboration, which are so important to learning.

The second component in engagement is thoughtful and carefully planned instruction that is accessible and relevant to all the learners in the group. If tasks are too difficult, students will be frustrated, and if tasks are too easy, students will be bored. Allowing for some choice and creative flexibility lets students find the right combination of their own skills and the challenge in the task to be successful. Notice that there are tasks for the students to carry out. Instruction should be an activity in which the students are doing something, not passively listening or watching.

So how do we get here? Stop lecturing. Embrace project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, plan student-centered activities. Need help? Remember I’m just an email away.

 

 

 

Writing Navigator

When a tool just works the way it should and students see their growth, we should share the story. I’m very happy to see Ms. Bay and her students embracing better writing with good digital scaffolding.

 

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