From Techless to Techie

by Katie Martin

So this is my journey of a “techless” teacher to a techie teacher. For the past four years I have taught in a 1st grade self-contained special education class. Prior to that, I was an Interrelated Resource Teacher. As an IRR teacher, I never really had a classroom “home” if you will. I was constantly popping in and out of classrooms all day long. When I became a self-contained teacher and got my own classroom “home,” I was super excited … and then my excitement died. I literally had a projector, a Mimeo that didn’t even stay attached to my white board, and one desktop computer for the students. WHAT!!!?  This KILLED my technology-loving heart. I had officially become Techless. One thing I knew about my students was that I was going to need a lot of different ways to engage them in my instruction, and a broken Mimeo and a desktop computer were not going to do it.

SmartBoardPix

 

The first piece of technology I added to my classroom was a SMARTBoard. I LOVE SMART products, and the SMARTBoard was exactly where I needed to start. I was able to involve all my students in interactive tasks all day long. In order to get a SMARTBoard for my classroom however, I had to write a grant. Seriously, a grant? I had never written a grant in my life. Luckily, technology is my passion, so when I wrote my grant, that passion shined through. I was awarded a grant for full funding for the latest and greatest (at that point in time at least) SMARTBoard for my classroom.

As the year progressed, I really wanted to give my students the technology they could use independently. For that I chose the Barnes and Nobel Nooks . . .the big ones that were color, WIFI compatible, and touch screen.   I was able to purchase six Nooks for my students.  Why Nooks? A traditional Listen to Reading center didn’t work for my students. They struggled with understanding when to turn the page,  and because they came to me as non-readers they weren’t able to track the words in the book. The Nook was excellent for transitioning my students to a technology integrated listening center. Since the Nook has “read to me” books, my students were now able to see the words as they heard the words. They could make the connection with how reading should sound and increase their word knowledge. The Nooks were capable of having Apps, which enabled me to create a math and word work profile so my students were then able to use the Nooks during word work and math center times.

Funding for technology that didn’t come out of my own pocket came in the form of completed Donors Choose projects. Among the many things generous donors have funded for my classroom are  Leap Readers, Samsung digital cameras, and an Apple iPod. My students absolutely love the Leap Readers, and so do I. They are interactive and have built-in games for the students to check their skills as they go through the book. The cameras were great for documenting the new things we were doing in our classroom, and the iPod gave us a chance to have music, take videos, and snap pictures.

My Nooks have held up AMAZINGLY for the past four years, but technology gets old FAST. Bless the Nooks’ hearts but we needed some technology that had more efficient apps we could start using to produce projects. This is where the iPads came in. For the longest time I tried to avoid needing iPads in the classroom. They were just too expensive. I tried alternative tablets like the Nook and Insignia, but when it came down to quality, performance, ease of use for teacher and students and the abundance of apps and tools available, the iPad won out by far. My students and I have grown SO MUCH with the use of iPads in the classroom. We have made movies, completed PBLs, conducted research, made collages, and shared our learning with others.

Now, I know you’re wondering how I got iPads for my classroom, and I know if you’re a teacher you’re going to hate my answer. I bought the first iPad for my classroom myself. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t see any other way and investing in an iPad for my classroom was investing in my students’ learning and futures. The next iPads I got were older versions that were donated to my class. Old or new iPads hold their quality excellently. Although I would love to be a 1 to 1 classroom with iPads, I am currently holding steady at 4 and will slowly build on that on my own. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take too long.

I hope you enjoyed my journey from Techless to Techie.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Techless to Techie when I will share how I implemented these pieces of technology into my classroom and our daily routine as well as different ideas for what you can do with various technology in the classroom.

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Differentiation with Technology in the Resource Classroom

Ready! Get Set! Go!…That was the feeling I had when our learning management system (eCLASS C&I) was first introduced to me five years ago. Over the years, I began to explore the system and find ways to implement the technology in my classroom. In the beginning, I worried of how my students would access the technology outside of the classroom with no devices at home. pathAfter a while, promoting it to parents daily but seeing little to no usage online got frustrating. Therefore, I decided to bring deeper implementation into my instructional planning. This is how I chose to use technology in my classroom for differentiation…

>I record myself teaching using document cameras and video cameras.  I record mini lessons as well as interactive problem solving with me, the teacher. Students are able to move at their own pace, use manipulatives seen in the video, respond to the teacher, and record in their journal for accountability. Whether it is a preview, current, or spiral skill-students are able to access help through videos at any time.

>My course page is my plan book and a HOME for my students in the classroom. For stations, lessons, homework, and upcoming events, my page serves as a one-stop shop with easy accessible links. Utilizing my page for mini lessons and activating strategies limits transition times. The page is not only for students, but also for parents to learn along with their students filling in the educational gap.

>I have virtual conversations with my students for formal and informal assessments – in eCLASS C&I, I use the activity feed and discussion tools. In both applications, I am able to see each students’ individual needs through their response and engagement with a specific skill. Students are able to receive immediate feedback and are given the next steps to further their learning. This application also allows the students to interact with one another and assist each other in misunderstandings or unknown skills.

        pencilAs I learn more about the technology our county offers, I add it on my list of areas for continuous growth. Reaching mastery in my use of technology  is my priority to maximize instruction and differentiation with my students. Understanding the great uses for eCLASS C&I and other devices will open space for implementation of new things in the future. So, jump right in with me…Ready! Get Set! Go!

–Lauren Edwards, Baldwin Elementary School, IRR

Differentiation + Technology = POWERFUL

Differentiation – a word with which every educator is quite familiar.  However, the execution of effectively differentiated instruction for students is where the struggle can be for many. Technology can be a huge benefit to teachers as they customize learning activities for their students.  Directing students to specific group activities, choice of resources, and dynamic activities are a few examples of how technology can be a benefit to reach all learners where ever they are in the learning process.

Many teachers have used the strategy of moving students in techpowertheir classroom to do a certain activity (i.e., stations).  While this works fine, it has potential for unintended negative effects, for instance, if a student labels him/herself based on the group he/she is assigned.   Releasing and/or restricting particular learning activities through technology to groups of students can direct their focus on the learning task and at their pace, all the while other groups of students are working on their task at their pace.  Students are none-the-wiser as to who is in the remediation or extra-time group and who is accelerated.

Another benefit of technology is the ability to publish different parts of a lesson in a sequence that the teacher deems appropriate.  For instance, a teacher has four parts to her lesson (A, B, C, D) and wants to ensure that part A is completed or mastered before part B, part B is completed or mastered before part C, etc.  In a traditional classroom, the teacher would have complete control over the timing of each portion of the learning, probably, by delivering to a whole group. But . . . where’s the differentiation in that? Using applications like our eCLASS C&I course pages, the teacher can conditionally release portions of a lesson contingent on a previous portion being  completed or receiving a set score (i.e., Part B is only available after part A has been viewed).  Thus, students control the pace of the lesson to match their learning needs, supporting a deeper understanding before moving on to the next section of the lesson.

        Providing choice to students in the learning process is another way to differentiate.  Students have so many different learning preferences and it is nearly impossible for any one teacher to effectively, let alone efficiently, deliver a topic to meet every learning style in the room.  When a teacher can give his or her students a choice in the learning resources through the vehicle of technology, it allows the teacher to have clarifying, extension, and remediation conversations with the learners.  One could create a choice board including a reading passage, a video, an audio file, an interactive activity, a physical creation, etc.   Teachers also can have students select more than one option on the choice board, thereby activating the different styles and potentially increasing learning. When students have a choice in the product that they present to the teacher to show their understanding, that meets the students where they are, to help them communicate their level of learning.  For example, if a student has a high level of anxiety presenting a report in front of a class, he/she instead could create a visual product with a web 2.0 tool.

        Finally, when students have dynamic content with which to interact and get immediate feedback, students and teachers alike can experience the strength behind differentiation.  There are so many interactive websites available now for students to experience learning in such a powerful way.  Virtual lab experiments, number input/output games, and word sorts are all examples of the practice activities that can be leveraged as a component of a lesson and supporting students’ learning on their level.  Many of these include dynamic features that provide immediate feedback to the “player” about whether or not they are correct.  Further, including the teacher in the conversation immediately, whether virtual (on a discussion, blog, etc.) or physical, lets the student know what adjustments they need to make as they are learning.

In summary, differentiation is a best practice and therefore an everyday expectation for the instruction in our classroom(s).  Guiding learning paths for students can lessen the load and provide structure for students by restricting activities or parts of a lesson until the learner is ready.  Students are able to “control” their learning when they can choose the type(s) of learning activities in which they will participate, all the while receiving the same content.  And, when a choice is given in the type of product they can present to the teacher, students can produce something within their scope of comfort and expertise.  The ability to interact with content and be provided with immediate feedback from the material and the teacher provides an unmatched degree of support for an individual learner. When educators can harness the power of technology to support this vital component of teaching, teachers can better reach their students and students can have a more positive learning experience for their learning abilities.

Student Creation with Book Creator

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by Laura Girard, GCPS eCLASS Instructional Specialist

Teachers are constantly looking for new and exciting ways to keep students engaged while learning. Students love to make their own creations-no matter the topic. Creation-based tasks promote higher-order thinking, encourage collaboration, and connect students to real-world learning. Students who are “making” to demonstrate their learning can produce content that is shareable and valuable. Their creations can be geared toward a specific audience and viewed outside of the classroom. The sense of purpose that students have as creators can be leveraged to increase engagement and get learners of all ages excited about content (Monica Burns – 7 Apps for Student Creators-Edutopia).

Book Creator

Looking for an easy way to engage students in creation activities? Check out Book Creator! Students can use Book Creator to show what they know about pretty much anything!

Here are a few student created examples:

GCPS World Class Schools