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.