Sunday, December 4, 2016

12/4: Tech Review #1: Kiddom

Description from site: “We just connected your favorite resources to the gradebook you love. Search from a comprehensive library of free resources provided by our content partners. Assign them directly to your students and our gradebook automatically updates with their achievement data.”

Charge or free: free to register.

Notes on first messing around (and trying not to have to enroll an entire class. . . ): They seem to draw content from a list of reputable on-line partners: CK12, IXL, Khan Academy, and Commonlit. I can “assign content with one click,” but I’m not yet sure if I can assign original content/tasks of my own. I searched for E/LA content, and when I input “English grammar” I got one hit on “using prepositions,” and then “no results” for grade 10 content. Switching gears, I input “Shakespeare,” and found a range of lessons on a variety of topics, not all related to Shakespeare specifically. Some dealt with poetry or poetic language: on Commonlit, everything seems to be classic lit., probably because it has to be out of copyright to allow its free use. I followed a link on Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody” and was impressed by the related media links (a variety of videos and lectures from Youtube); there was also a “parent link” that I could access which provided a (very general) overview of the topics “we” were studying.

As far as gradebook alignment goes, the site says, “Attempts and scores sync to your gradebook so you can easily and accurately analyze achievement with Kiddom’s analytics.” However, I am not sure if this requires that all my reporting be done through Kiddom’s “analytics”: my district requires that we use MasteryConnect and report out through Powerteacher, so if Kiddom requires wholesale adoption of their “suite,” then marketing to an individual teacher is not very realistic, as I’d still have to do a great deal of clerical work to report out on individual student achievement.   

Big and thorough review on Cult of Pedagogy, which is over-the-top positive about it: and answers a lot of my questions. I am most excited about its ability to link to (and simplify aspects of) Google classroom complexity. Reports are also pretty accessible for printing or sharing. Thanks to this further info, Kiddom is moving up my list of ideal communication tools.

However, (without requesting info and allowing two weeks for its arrival as suggested), the Kiddom teacher page suggests that the platform’s goal is to “Sync with many learning management and student information systems you already use. Set-up is super simple to help you save valuable time.” The system also, interestingly enough, allows me to import and use a variety of standards, including customized ones and/or behavioral/social development standards like habits of work.

While Kiddom is still “young” (founded in 2012) and thus developing, it seems a potentially interesting suite that draws from some of the early, bumpy experiences of early PBE classroom software. Keeping an eye on its growth would be wise.

12/4 Tech Review #2: Classloom

Classloom Invented ‎August 12, 2014
Published on Jun 5, 2015
Description from site: “Classloom is a 100% free social platform dedicated to help parents and teachers to have better and more qualified communication. In Classloom, parents and teachers can open classroom-specific groups and share events, homework, exams, pictures and documents and easily communicate with others.”

Charge or free: free to register. Many mentions of it emphasize “100% free.”

Edshelf says 19 people are using it, but there are no reviews. The Classloom site mentions that it won a “Stevie” Award (designed to recognize American businesses) in 2015 for “Women in Business.”

In my research, Classloom looks like a Facebook-knockoff designed to help very involved parents be even more involved in their children’s classrooms. A “class parent” can be designated to approve members and posts; there’s considerable emphasis on parents being able to share pictures of class activities and information on trips, etc. The scale of the communication--it does look like a Facebook page!--and the marketing tone of “keeping parents in the loop and in communication with each other as well as the teacher,” but with no mention of the students as a key participant,  all suggest that it is aimed towards elementary schools and parents, especially schools that have populations of involved parents who either are self-employed or don’t work outside their homes for pay.  

As a teacher, and as a past parent who worked fulltime and whose children didn’t relish my complete involvement in their education, I see Classloom as meaning well but as missing the mark for clear, simple, targeted information. My sense is that a working parent would be frustrated by the many layers of general information presented to him/her before being able to access his/her invidivual student’s work; as my rubric indicates, a tool that can draw a parent’s attention to what needs to be noted is hugely valuable when time is in short supply. I would say that for schools with populations of working families and/or classes of above grade 5 or 6, when students begin to desire a bit more distance from Mummy and Daddy, Classloom would be another underutilized communication tool that looks lovely but doesn’t fill the bill.

12/4 Tech Review #3: NoRedInk

NoRedInk is an on-line, personalizable program that provides grammar lessons and encourages differentiation based on student readiness and skill. I have used it for several years, and my entire department piloted it last year with the idea of adopting its Premium package last semester.

Charge/free: free enrollment allows limited access to certain lessons, but in order to gain access to the entire suite and the complete, comprehensive lessons (ie., all lessons on apostrophe use from most basic right up to the advanced level, each building on the other), the district must buy a license for each student. Last year, the price of a license for 200 students was about $15/student.  Premium is *not* cheap! However, it does provide one of the best approaches to teaching sizeable groups of students grammar in a differentiated way that I’ve seen!

NoRedInk uses information that students enter to provide sentences that mix silly situations with students’ favorite musicians or characters. A teacher can set up an area of study--say, apostrophe use. Students take a pretest, and then will start doing activities keyed toward their current level of knowledge. As they complete quizzes, the difficulty of their lessons and quizzes will increase until they have mastered the subject as whole. I can check their progress easily, and they are aware of it as well.

Drawbacks: 1. Cost: if you don’t enroll your class and pay for Premium, only certain lessons are available, which leaves gaps in the spiral of skills.
2. The personalization is a bit rough (or was, last year!): students frequently got the same sentence, simply with different mistakes in it, so Justin Bieber’s appearance in that sentence became less interesting to them.
3. The “you got it wrong so here’s a lesson”  aspect is pretty cognitively demanding: wordy and quite detailed. Many of my students didn’t interact with the whole lesson and simply re-guessed on their retest. As usual, excellent teaching is required around this material to make it functional and valuable!

NoRedInk is a different kind of classroom tool from many of the others I’ve evaluated, and it will be interesting to see how my rubric deals with it. Like Google Classroom, it makes no pretensions to being a gradebook or to communicating  to an outside audience, but it does have value, and the staff was extremely interested in my questions and suggestions, offering an on-line training (which was great fun) and personal contact.

12/4 Tech Review #4: Remind

Cost: free.

A few weeks ago, I started getting emails from a student (who’s not in any of my classes), asking me to join “Remind.” When this assignment came up, I decided to investigate and see why I might want to!

It looks to me that Remind might be very useful for me and for my Freshman English team. Here’s what Edsurge says about it: ‘Remind (formerly Remind101) is a communications tool that lets teachers text-message students (and their parents) without exchanging actual telephone numbers. The texting is only one-way: Messages go directly from the teacher to classes of students or parents; teachers cannot message individual students.”  It offers updated options that include voice messages as well as email or texting. Since I don’t have a smartphone, the variety of platforms is key.

It seems that Remind, though very much a single function tool, could be useful because it is very directed and also very secure. Without the inherent risk of Twitter, Remind can contact both students and parents to . .  . remind (sorry) them of key dates, expectations, and assignments. I also think it would be useful for other student groups such as the Readers&Writers Group I lead at MDIHS.

Although my district does not have a large ELL population (yet), there is pressure for Remind and a similar program, ClassDojo, to develop the ability to send messages in other languages for students whose parents aren’t fluent in English. Remind Translate, backed by Google Translate, provides six language options. What a great way to reach out to ELL families!

12/4 Tech Review #5: Google Sites/Teacher Webpage

Google Sites: my personal teacher webpage

Cost: free. Hosted by Google.

Back in the day (four years ago), the teachers in my district were expected to have an updated, informative webpage that offered syllabi, our contact information, and other key announcements.  My school webpage used to be my prime method of communicating with my students. We still have a link on our Staff page to all our teachers’ webpages; when I click on many of them, they are no longer “live” or have not been updated for quite a while, probably due to our switch to Google Classroom. I think we’re supposed to have pages still, but they are clearly no longer in the forefront of our communication.

Benefits: my page is very personal: I chose the banner, font, arrangement, etc. Any vistor--parent, student, or support staff--can access the links to my syllabus or various assignments. Thanks to the interface with Google, when I update my syllabus document in my classroom, it automatically updates in all the other places it’s linked (thank you, inserted google docs!). The general information about my class is there. I’m also able to share considerable personal detail: I can load up the page with silly cat videos or great poems. In the past, I’ve linked “flipped” videos to remind students how to structure an essay or about the importance of reading.

Drawbacks: The page is not personalized to a student (“Damien has not turned in X or Y”) and a visitor has to have the skill to access the various links--sidebar vs. main page, etc. If someone is not “webpage savvy,” s/he might feel overwhelmed and not be able to find anything applicable to the question of what a student’s homework is, let alone if s/he has completed it yet!
The page is passive. Unless it’s on a visitor’s RSS feed, no one knows if I’ve updated. The link to what parents or support staff (or even, really, students) want to know is probably quite faint, so the likelihood of their using it is pretty weak. It’s a communication tool, but it’s not an active communication tool, really--it’s more like a story of my identity as a teacher for people who are interested!

12/4 Tech Review #6: Facebook

Cost: free.

Facebook is the granddaddy of social-media platforms, especially since it has pretty much elbowed out MySpace and the like. I wasn’t going to review this, but then I read this Edutopia article on Twitter (which I’ve already written about a great deal!), and there, right at #6 of the “7 Easy Ways to Improve School Communication,” Folwell Dunbar calls keeping up his school’s Facebook page “one of the most important things [he does]”. Our school’s official Facebook page shares write-ups of Students of the Month, important deadlines, pictures from school events, links to our dean’s weekly Chalk Talks, and much more. Comments go to a moderator before being posted, and he (our tech guru) often ends up re-directing people who have specific questions to Guidance, the principal, or other individuals.
Many other groups affiliated with the school also have Facebook pages: I manage two, one for Student Council, and one for MDIHS Readers&Writers Group. Both are closed groups that only allow members (approved by me) to post; both have proven to be far, far, far more effective than our school email system or our intercom announcements at reminding students of commitments, meetings, and/or responsibilities. That said, I am trying “Remind,” which I reviewed in another post, to see if Readers&Writers works more effectively.
Pros: we have not had any trouble with privacy issues in our closed groups. That said, we aren’t particularly controversial, so no one *really* wants to infiltrate us and post scandalous comments! Many students and parents do have their phones set up to share updates; since many parents in particular are on Facebook, it can be a pretty open, “we are making an effort” way to share school information with parents and the adult community.
I do know that student at MDIHS also have various groups set up for class communication: some of the AP classes that require considerable outside review time create FB groups as an easy way to set up meeting times, clarify assignments, and/or simply complain about the work load. One of my students told me that that’s really the only way “kids today” use it, unless they’re posting annoucements about their school accomplishments so that their grandparents will send them money (does that count as a plus?).

Cons: Building on the point mentioned above: high school students are not spending a lot of time on Facebook. A student and I recently chuckled over this comment from an article she sent me: “Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can't really leave.” (Andrew Watts, Jan.3, 2015, that’s true. My college-age and adult sons both spend minimal time on FB, unless they are messaging me (I don’t have a smartphone) or just beginning contact with a group of other people in a new arena: a summer program, for example. Once they have the others’ contact information, they are off--to Snapchat or Twitter or Instagram or just texting.
In addition, Facebook has a dangerous vibe in certain circles, and if someone has made the choice not to participate, it can feel exclusive if used to communicate valuable information. It is certainly only a place to communicate general information. In the wonderful movie “Born Yesterday,” the character Billie Dawn says that her father gave her important advice: “He always used to say, "Never do nothing you wouldn't want printed on the front page of The New York Times." Double negative aside, that advice is even more applicable to Facebook: if you wouldn’t want the information shared beyond the closed group, don’t post it.

12/4: Tech Review #7: MasteryConnect

Charge or free: free to start, but Premium option is required for many features. Obviously, an adopting district would pay. The small print on the pricing page says, “ Minimum $2,100 + Professional Development for School/District purchases”. It’s $7/student but pd is “call for pricing.”

I have first-hand experience with MasteryConnect, having attended several trainings with their professional staff at my school, and having been one of the early adopters with the Freshman Team at MDIHS three years ago. At that point we were not sharing info publicly, as we were still showing results through Powerschool, so we had a good deal of time to adjust and experiment.

Identify levels of understanding, target students for intervention,
and improve learning and instruction.   

MasteryConnect is a platform designed to work with teachers to “ effectively assess core standards, monitor student performance, and report student mastery to parents and administrators,” according to their “About” page. Designed to create a community of educators sharing resources, the site urges adopting teachers to share their work, while allowing district-level only or even personal setting for assessments. There is a Pinterest-like visual set up for a teacher’s individual page, and page access is organized through a “hamburger” drop-down menu.

MC is trying to expand its functionality, and under its “goodies” page, offers several apps for teachers and students. Like Kiddom, they also have come out with a pdf about PBE and about the Common Core.

As a young company (founded in October of 2009) , MC has been very responsive to our district’s needs and concerns, even having our Dean of Curriculum fly out to consult for a weekend! However, they also overstepped their promises a bit, saying that they would be able to interface with Powerteacher, which they couldn’t do with in the promised time frame (and can’t now, in 2016).

Entering assessment results can be awkward, with lots of buttons to click in order to move through a class; editing data (changing assessments you’ve already entered, for example) is difficult: you’re often better off just deleting and re-starting--a real drawback in a field where tweaking an assessment is pretty standard!

Observing my colleagues’ experiences as well as my own, I would not rate MC highly for convenience or functionality; its personalization level is good, but it’s hard to print or send reports that make a lot of sense to people who have not been trained, which further lowers its convenience score. I feel it’s too far on the “single function” aspect right now to reward the amount of effort it takes for teachers to learn to use it or for students and parents to come to understand its information.

12/4: Tech Eval. #8: Google Classroom

The Google Help definition of Google classroom is as follows: “Classroom is a free web-based platform that integrates your G Suite for Education account with all your G Suite services, including Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar. Classroom saves time and paper, and makes it easy to create classes, distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organized.”

Cost: free.

Three years ago, the Freshman Team had just started its first year teaching PBE classes for the incoming ninth grade. In October, we were told to adopt Google classroom as our communication and classroom platform--”everyone” was going to use it. After a few crazy weeks, my co-teacher and I had our classes using it, and we have used it since them, to the point where we run a nearly paperless classroom. However, not all our colleagues use it--the math department in particular does not, so its function as a common platform for communication is in question, as is GC’s functionality for math-based work. GC works well for us, though, and this year, we have used the newly developed calendar interface and have also utilized the “invite parents” option to enable better, smoother, easier communication with our ninth graders’ parents and support staff.

Google Classroom has a lot of benefits: it provides a hosting site for assessments, an option to share grades/scores, a way to provide student feedback, a record of past tasks and individual students’ accomplishments--in short, it is the classroom around which our assessments and student work centers. It provides both general, classwide communication options as well as private contact and conversation with individual students, and, as of this past August, it allows parents some access to the classroom and some awareness of what work their student has not yet completed.

Drawbacks are that the teacher view and student view are different enough that my most distracted students can struggle to find key assessments,  and even I can “lose” a post when I’m working with a student on his/her laptop. In addition, although a “reuse post” has been added in the past six months, it is still impossible to add a “make a copy for each student” option to an existing post; you have to delete the post then re-attach all the tasks in order to get that individual option after posting. Once again, that is hugely frustrating.

In addition, anything I score or share on GC has to be recorded in a standards-recording program (like MasteryConnect) and/or a gradebook (like MasteryConnect or Powerteacher). It is not yet a gradebook or a platform for sharing students’ progress towards mastery per se. As far as I know (and it’s easy to miss new events in GC because of its sheer size!), Classroom has no pretensions towards that function, but it’s worth noting that it is not the end of the “reporting line,” so to speak.

Harnessing the power of Google as a whole (google docs, drive, add-ons, GAFE. . . . you name it), Google Classroom is a constantly-evolving powerhouse. As our students become more used to its occasional glitches, and as its engineers work to improve it, Google Classroom gets closer and closer to excellence.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday, Nov. 12: Measuring Classroom Communication Tools

For a variety of reasons, I've been relatively technologically advanced in my professional life (note all the qualifiers in that statement!). MDIHS is blessed with great funding and visionary leadership, a combo that resulted in an emphasis on technology from the get-go. We had a writing lab full of Macs when I started in 1989, and we were 1:1 laptops a few years before the program began. Teachers were expected to have websites quite early (Manila pages, anyone?),  we used Powerschool for grading, and then four three years ago the Freshman Team was encouraged to use Google Classroom and we adopted MasteryConnect. . . . At times I felt beleaguered, at times I felt cool, and at times I felt inept and overwhelmed, but I sure have developed a lot of opinions!

My task for this module of UMF EDU 568 is to make a rubric to evaluate classroom communication tools, which I've been investigating through that class. The tools that have been in my head as I made the rubric are blogs, webpages, Twitter, MasteryConnect, Powerschool/PowerteacherPro, and Google classroom.

And my opinion of all of them reminds me of a line from Much Ado about Nothing, Act II, scene iii: Benedick says, "One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace." There are lots of great classroom communication tools out there, but so far, it's been hard to find "all graces in one" tool!
        Google Classroom, which is great for classroom management, has been poor for parent and support staff communication, but it made a huge stride forward by adding communication with parents as an option. However,  I have heard that 1. parents get too much information, 2. the information is hard to understand, and I know for a fact that GC's student view is challengingly different than the teacher view, so it can be confusing on several levels.
      MasteryConnect gives lots of important formation, but it's not a classroom management platform like GC is. I could use Twitter to send out alerts, but right now I'm not sure how to connect Twitter to GC so missing work could trigger messages to parents. . .

       The task language for a related assessment encourages us to "let [our brains] daydream" and the "effective"category on my rubric (not to mention the "transformative!" one) is certainly in the daydream category, but making the rubric has certainly reminded me of why the ideal of constant communication and feedback can be overwhelming and frustrating to educators. We need the ability to be public and private, to plan long-term and adjust in the moment, to share a variety of information in a variety of venues with a variety of people who have a variety of needs and interests. So far, it takes a village of tools to communicate in a way that even comes close to meeting my needs, as the rubric drives home. Most communication tools at this time are scoring in the 1 or 2 category. Google developers, feel free to contact me for more suggestions!

And here's my rubric. . . .

Friday, October 28, 2016

Saturday, Oct. 29: The Educational Blog: Firehose or Drinking Fountain?

So: blogs. I'm a long-time reader of various blogs, usually about knitting, cooking, or books. About ten years ago, when blogs exploded into being, I spent way, way, way too much time reading them, and I had to limit my time on them, so now my Friday evening routine involves coming home, settling in, and reading the six or so blogs that remain my favorites, limiting my time spent (wasted?) blog-browsing, while still providing me with knitting inspiration, cooking ideas, and far more books on my to-be-read pile than I will probably ever read.

As an English teacher, the bulk of my time is spent reading student writing, and I firmly believe that's the way it should be. I'm proud to say that I have many students who credit me with "teaching them to write" or "teaching them they could write," and that doesn't happen through me standing in front of the classroom diagramming sentences. When I am teaching my usual course load, I spend at least two hours each school day evening/early morning providing feedback, with at least two hours on Saturday or Sunday afternoon thrown in there for good measure as well. Factor in prep/planning, my role as learning area leader, and a life, even one bounded by "school nights" (thank heaven I married a teacher!), and I don't have much free time.

I've also been teaching a long time, and I've done a lot of experimenting and changing of curriculum in that time. I'm practical, but I'm also open to change, and I've team taught, done PBL, taught remedial, honors, AP and untracked classes. . . . so my practice tends to be a blend of a lot of different approaches. It works pretty well, but I'm always open to new ways of doing things. For example: David Rickert's blog caught me right off with its post on how to make students hate annotation less. My learning area looooooooooves annotation: double-entry journals are bread and butter for many of us, but they haven't really worked well for me. I liked his suggestions, and I find a lot of his posts are specific, sometimes funny, and very applicable to something I (and my colleagues) do. His information offers a tune up to something we already do.

Edutopia offers a look into the larger issues and research percolating in education today, so it's something I might check when I'm wearing my learning area leader or teacher/leader hat. It is definitely on the firehose side of the scale, however, since each article leads to several other connected topics, and the side bar alone provides enough articles to keep me reading and thinking for a professional degree's worth of study time. The post I commented on was clearly a  hot topic, and the comments were pretty fierce; I took a long time in making my comment, because I felt like I was in the big city and had better watch my step!

Wicked Decent Learning could fall into the same category of large-focus blogs, but as it's based in Maine, I have a sense that if I have a burning subject I'd like to raise, I could contact the owners and they would either open the topic or even allow me to write a guest post. This is great, as it stimulates my professional ideas (and my writing skills); it's also energizing and helpful to connected to other involved educators outside my school/district/county/region but still in my state. The post I commented on dealt with professional development, a general educational concern, and with the issue of diversity in Maine, a location-specific topic; these two areas provide a great example of why I like following a Maine-based education blog!

The next two blogs are ones that instantly make me feel like a slacker when I visit them. Cult of Pedagogy and Innovative Educator both remind me of the lifestyle blogs that beat up so many women's self esteem in the early. . . . well, that STILL beat up so many women's self-esteem. How can these women teach, post, do tech stuff, go to conferences, and apparently have lives? Are they Martha-Stewart-like sleepers who need only 4 hours of sleep a night? Do they have time-turners? They have good points, hints, and inspiration, but, in all honesty, everything I read from them is shaded by my sheer jealousy and irrational self-hatred which limits my ability to access good information from them! I feel the same about certain cooking blogs I follow (Two Peas in Their Pod and Joy the Baker, I'm looking at you), but those people aren't effortlessly rocking my profession. It's interesting how it took me a while to get to that understanding!

Anyway: I've learned a lot from my blog following, and I've found it a bit more accessible and less overwhelming than my Twitter experience (again, I hope to blog about that difference). As I go along, I plan to trim my blog roll a bit, and I hope I will end up with a list of tried, true, and helpful resources that I can consult when I need general inspiration/information or specific support.

Ms. Leamon, after blog surfing. . .  

Friday, Oct. 28: Poised for Action!

Hey, guess what? It's been busy around here lately! Go figure! That said, I am extremely delighted to be facing a weekend that features only the usual commitments: a run on Saturday, a swim and church on Sunday, food shopping, a phone call to my mama, laundry, bread baking, leisurely coffee on Saturday morning, taking out the trash. . . . AND my Module three work (halfway done Sat.: I'm on a roll!), some of which will show up here.** I am still trying to figure out a few things, like how a blog is different from a web page (a square is to a parallelogram as a blog is to a webpage, maybe?) and whether I have actually created an RSS feed on my blog or just a blog roll. However, I'm ready to move forward! At the moment, I have a purring cat wedged between my knees and the laptop (her choice, not mine):

and I am going to try to write my Mod. 3 Discussion!

Here is the screenshot of what I am currently considering my "RSS feed." As I mentioned above, some apps have different names for the same thing, and Google/Blogger didn't offer much by way of "how to use an RSS feed to follow other blogs"--it got unclear whether I was offering to update other followers when I posted, or vice versa. So: here's what I've got right now:

True confessions: I have been adding to the blog roll as I've been finding tweets or articles that interest me. At one point, it *was* five blogs long, but then I ran into David Rickert's English-flavored tech posts, and of course I am interested in Maine-based stuff, so Matt Drewette-Card's blog appeals. . . . I will probably pare some down, as I don't think, for example, that Becca Redman posts much. But: here's a start. 

Here are my comments: 

AND on effective PD; on the same blog as the first one, different post: 

**Of course, I just remembered my school tasks, which include writing three recommendations, finalizing grades for Tuesday when the quarter closes, planning our learning area's CAI (Curriculum and Instruction) meeting for Monday, starting to put together the budget which is due (whoops!) on Tuesday, and various other bits and pieces. Ah well. At least the trash is out and my bread looks gorgeous!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday, Oct. 22: Mind Muddle

So: it's Saturday morning, and I have an hour or so before I need to get going on some "other life" issues like finding shoes for the wedding my beloved and I are attending this afternoon (though it's a wedding of two former students, one a current colleague, and the other the son of a past colleague, so is that still school-related? AHH!). . . .

I am reading blogs for my PBE class. Many have interesting ideas. Many offer links to other interesting ideas (the links on that link [sorry] weren't even the focus of the entry I was reading!). I also have read my chapters in Prensky's Teaching Digital Natives book, and he's got lots of ideas. I have a class of 10 extremely individualized students; I also act as a consultant to the teachers in my learning area and, specifically, some in the science department. All these ideas I bump into have connections to various students, classes, units, teachers, conversations, needs, and questions I've been mulling over in the past week, month, quarter, reform movement, and even my whole career. At the moment, I feel like one of those illustrated talks that ends up in a huge cartoon with arrows and exclamation points everywhere: it's all exciting, but it's also huge and overwhelming.

I think I need some exercise, a change in the weather, less coffee (!!), and a deep breath.

I'll be back in a bit. And I'm staying away from Twitter till the hysteria in my brain subsides a bit!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday, Oct. 21: Quick Morning Grumble. . .

Wow. Some of the people I have followed on Twitter seem to do nothing but post: it's like having a stand-up comedian in the family--constant suggestions, one-liners, demands for attention, memes, cute comments. Exhausting! I have the feeling that people who have a brand affiliated with them (Google, I'm looking at you) have more of a fire in their bellies as it's their job??? Maybe???

Also, I am finding Twitter to be the home of the "SUG" (sweeping, unsupported generality): Wed's Twitter chat devolved into a one-liner gripe fest about what extrinsic motivation was and how it was terrible and "good teachers never use" it. Frankly, I consider myself an effective, dedicated teacher, and I have used at least most of the "never use" techniques in my 30 years: sarcasm--some kids thrive on it!; threats--not all kids come to homework club because they want to!; even physical contact. . . . And there are all kinds of levels of extrinsic motivation and some of them, used with discretion, are highly effective, ethical, and even fun--but there's neither time nor characters to raise that point as we're swirling along, so the SUGs seem to rule the day.  I am not crazy about opening my Twitter account to find 57 new messages all lecturing, hectoring, and advertising (to) me.

Maybe I do need to follow more knitting posts!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Oct. 19, Wed: PSAT and Portfolio Make up Day

Enjoying the opportunity to work with students to catch up on their portfolio tasks; the class of 2017 is the last class who'll have this duty as we go standards-based after this! I will miss the chance to revisit senior students and the tasks they found too hard as ninth or tenth graders. Many times they say, "Why didn't I finish this then?" in tones of wonder as they crank through literary analysis or a personal narrative. Growth, my dears, growth. You aren't who you were then.

But also, I saw this blog post about "Unboxing videos"--they're a thing! People watch them! (This again makes me weep for the ridiculous ways we humans spend our short lives on this planet.) People make money from them! And/but. . . . could we make them into an option for a literary analysis task? Stacy Burt raises the question in her blog (linked above), and my students (as a break from their portfolio task revisions) helped shape the idea. We could have a book to "unbox," and the video could be a discussion of key aspects of the book in terms of its cover art, the blurb on the back, its length, even its font and heft. It could be a "before we read" unboxing as an intro, or a post-read summary/review. Another unboxing activity we thought of (this one my non-digital fan thought would be even more fun) would be to challenge students to create a book box that is inspired by the book, and features items that relate to the book in some way: for Of Mice and Men (anchor text/9th grade), a student might include a toy gun, some denim, some red cloth, a "work ticket," a stuffed mouse or dog. . . . ; another option might be to have students after an independent reading assignment make enticing unboxing videos that hint at the book's content, style, or topic as an advertisement. I am wondering if my students might be able to make some of these and post them on their blogs!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

10/12/16, Wednesday: Post First Twitter Chat; Updated Sat. 10/15/16!


It's hard to describe what my first education-based Twitter chat felt like: attending a conference in my own living room? A non-exhausting professional conversation? Meeting a bunch of smart, interested friends and colleagues and having a lively conversation but never saying a word?

I gained ideas, had some laughs, and enjoyed incredibly efficient professional development.

Whew. I need to go eat one of the toffee/chocolate/coconut bars I made on Monday and recover myself. What a blast!

Here are a few links I found to in my efforts to jump onto the Twitter train:

this one is interesting but has some false/outdated links.

This one is great, and led me to the #Edtechbridge chat that I participated in from 7 - 8 tonight.

I tried to find/join #currichat  as a chat, but all I found was a bunch of random posts. Ah well.

I will be back to Twitterland! This was a blast! Terrific PD--and a lot of rapidly-posted GIFs!

Sample shared below. . . .

Saturday, Oct. 15: To reflect a tad more. . . . and to fulfill Mod. 2, Communication Task #2!

1. Future participation: Yes, I think I will participate in Twitter chats again. As I said before, the edtechbridge chat was energizing and stimulating. I enjoyed the inspiration and hugely enjoyed the sense of being part of a community of educators, all with widely different experiences, educational settings, attitudes, etc. Even though our school has become more open and more of a PLN than in the "bad old days" of closed doors and "I teach X and I don't care what you do", we are isolated w/in our particular educational island. So: blasting the doors open via twitter was a huge rush of energy!

2. I can see using twitter chats as feedback for literary discussions based on individual responses or ideas (mostly around idea generation and/or viewpoint sharing; RL 1 or personal opinion); creating lists or records of favorites (songs, poems, stories, parts of a novel, characters, etc.). I don't see them as being so useful for thoughtful feedback or deep discussion of an issue that needs response and support. BECAUSE they are so rapid and multi-voiced, there is a loss (at least I felt there was one in my very humble experience in my very first chat!!!) of depth/grappling with key terms or ideas. For example, in #edtechbridge we were discussing the question of student portfolios as those those were a clearly defined "thing" like a standardized test or a multi-standard assessment. In fact, there is a huge variety of definitions of portfolios out there: they may be student chosen work, cumulative, designed to show student skills against a standard. . . . they could even be designed to show student growth over time for sentimental reasons! Though I posted my concern about that issue, because of the nature of the flow, we never came back and clarified exactly what we were talking about, so the sharing stayed, by default, hugely varied and general. I could follow up on individual questions w/ individual participants if I so chose, but the nature of the chat itself did not encourage or require that kind of deepening. So I would only use twitter in my classroom with general info collection/idea stimulation questions ("What's your favorite Hamlet quote? What's your favorite poem from this collection? What is one question you'd ask the author if. . . .") .

3. Questions I could answer:
Why do people use Twitter for pd? It is so much fun! It's so stimulating! I feel that I am beginning to define some contacts that I can use for resources (using the heart button helps pull out posts I want to return to) but also people that I could message and potentially set up deeper, more valuable connections with, like a pairing of classrooms when we start our blogs in CRW.
How do I get started? Easily! Once I found a twitter chat that was actually starting (lots of outdated info out there, which made it tricky at first) and worked up the nerve to join it, people were super friendly, funny, and engaging. I don't know as I'll ever be able to post gifs or links fast enough to add some of the glam that a lot of the participants did, but I think that's okay. It's also ridiculous to see how proud I felt when someone liked or retweeted one of my tweets. In the third Bridget Jones novel, she gets addicted to twitter, and now I can see why.

4. Questions I still have:
How does one deepen the interchange on Twitter?
How MIGHT I engage a class in a twitter chat, controlling the potential for misunderstanding and negative interactions? I have seen a few nasty exchanges sidebarred on people's twitter pages, and of course we've all seen the "How a Careless Tweet Ruined My Life" articles. That's something I'd really like to avoid!
I think that I might use Twitter with older students, maybe, for example, an AP English class. Hmmm.

So overall: I am feeling more positive about Twitter. At the same time, I do feel that it has a Pinterest-like potential to become a huge, distracting, alluring, stimulating time suck for me!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

10/11/16 Tuesday: Back at It!

Whew. Re-entry was tough for all of us today, and not just because the Sox lost their third playoff game. Lovely fall day, however, and I fit in a good walk around Duck Brook in Acadia with a good friend.

Poised to have my Critical Reading and Writing kids start blogs on Monday. Had our tech guy come in today to help be sure that everyone could access their Mastery Connect data so they can track their standards progress: sometimes it takes a small village to get everyone on the same (literal) page!

Now: gotta find a Twitter chat I want to participate in, and I'd like to line up a small, mellow class somewhere far away that my students could share blogs with. Anyone?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

10/9/16, Sunday: Joys of a Three Day Weekend!

Magaña, S.& Marzano, R. (2014). Enhancing the art & science of teaching with technology. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin.

Solomon, G., & Schrum, L. (2014).
Web 2.0 how-to for educators. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.

Well, entry #1 for my UMFEDU568 class, Communication Tools to Enhance Teaching and Learning in Proficiency-Based Education! The armload of books above have given me good food for thought (and my lucky husband much food for listening). Teaching Digital Natives gave me a kick in the pants, er. . .planning book, as it reminded me of a lot of work I'd tried and done earlier, before we got inundated by the challenges of changing to a PBE system. I did a whole flipped classroom initiative and had a class full of bloggers as well, and, in many ways, those risks were successful and a lot of fun. However, my colleagues and I have a joke about digital natives when that phrase is used to imply that students will be proficient at producing a professional product on line, or even be proficient at following directions. I was delighted to find that Prensky's points were about students' view of learning and information; he doesn't assume that students will automatically be able to follow instructions to post assignments with ease (or even find our google classroom page after six weeks, maybe?). 

I am less enamored of the Marzano book, Enhancing the Art & Science of Teaching with Technology. While Marzano's 41 classroom strategies provide a useful and extremely thorough framework, I've already found a few that don't seem particularly well-suited to technological enhancement, and I'd find the book much more useful if the authors simply admitted that fact right from the get-go.  Here's an excerpt: "Finally, ask students to share their learning goals with the class. Technology tools can be used to encourage every student to participate. Assign each student a number in your gradebook, and use a random number generator online or in your IWB [interactive white board] software to randomly select students to explain the learning goal. This tool allows you to select a range of numbers to match the number of students in your class (such as 1-30, if you  have thirty students) and push a button or spin a dial to randomly choose a student to restate the learning goals. Alternately, select students by name using a random name generator." (Marzano, 28).  I know this is a technology book, but that example screams to be prefaced with "While the old labeled-popsicle-stick technique still works well, it's possible to have some fun with technology and use random number generators. . . . ". The tech cart gets in a bit before the horse on a few occasions here. 

Last but not least, Web 2.0 How-to For Educators is clear, simple, and informative--not much philosophy yet.

So in a few moments I'll tweet this blog address and go live! I have more to say, more to share. . . . In closing, I'll share a favorite poem about most Sunday nights in a teacher's life to celebrate the fact that this is not a normal Sunday. Then I'll go read my current book (Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel, by CW Gortner)!

Homework--by Russell Hoban

Homework sits on top of Sunday, squashing Sunday flat.
Homework has the smell of Monday, homework's very fat.
Heavy books and piles of paper, answers I don't know.
Sunday evening's almost finished, now I'm going to go
Do my homework in the kitchen. Maybe just a snack,
Then I'll sit right down and start as soon as I run back
For some chocolate sandwich cookies. Then I'll really do
All that homework in a minute. First I'll see what new
Show they've got on television in the living room.
Everybody's laughing there, but misery and gloom
And a full refrigerator is where I am at.
I'll just have to have another sandwich. Homework's very fat.