Category Archives: Uncategorized

Every kid has a computer. Now what?

As the year starts, I have so many ideas of activities that I would like to do. The major project is to implement a modeling approach to teaching Chemistry. However, what happens when you are not able to be in the classroom?  Does this change the approach? How do you adapt?

Unfortunately, I was out of town and the activities that I had designed were discussion based. It brought me to a crossroads. Do I post assignments to keep them busy while I’m gone, or do I put in the extra time to build activities to help them develop a better picture of the content? (We all know the answer, but it doesn’t make it any easier.)  So where did I start?

Strategy #1: Open the lines of Communication

During my absence I knew that there would be times where confusion would arise. With new students, in a new class, with a new platform, it was inevitable. So, the first thing I did was create a short screencast video letting them know how to contact me. Will every student use it? No, but it provides an avenue for them, and their parents to voice concerns and ask questions.  The second idea was to provide explicit directions (Parental Advisory Warning. Sorry I couldn’t help myself). “What if they don’t read them?” I also added a video of me explaining my expectations and desires for the assignment. If it is a group assignment and the rubric assesses group dynamics, go through the rubric to know what is expected. Most importantly, tell them about the due dates. If you will or will not accept the assignment late, tell them. Make it super clear. This helps with parental calls and conferences with the admin team.

Tip #2: Foster discussion within the group

As previously stated, I was out of town. So, how can you have a discussion? If the platform that you are using has a discussion option, separate the classes into groups. You can do this based on classes, or cross between classes to get a different perspective. We are using Canvas and one of the options I have is to “Require the students to post before viewing replies.”  This helps with ensuring that students provide original thoughts before tainting their own ideas with other people’s ideas. Once they have submitted their response, have them respond to another student’s response. Most students want to just say things like “I agree or “That sounds Good.” I like to have them use the RISE method for meaningful feedback. This methods asks them to do one of the following:

  • Reflect on what they read
  • Inquire about something a person said
  • Suggest changes or edits
  • Elevate the ideas to expand on the ideas.

While this can be a difficult process to start, these skills will be used in years to come at any level beyond high school.  Now you may be asking, “What is the role of the teacher here? ”  My job is to grade the posts as they come in, using the rubric, and give direct and useful feedback so that the student can grow from it.  So this is not a situation where saying “Good job!” will be sufficient. This is where you ask questions or suggest resources. After a few, you will notice patterns in the student responses or needs. Shortcut tip: Create a word or Google doc with common feedback and copy and paste it into the feedback section. (That one was for free, you’re welcome)

Tip #3: Provide online tutorials

When you teach a subject like Chemistry, students look for opportunities to say that they don’t understand.  For the average teacher this can be hard to overcome, but one solution is to create short tutorial videos using a screencasting app. They are as simple as talking over the power point you would have done in class or a shortened version just going over the usual sticking points. This becomes an optional resource for the students to receive support when they are struggling or to review concepts that have already passed. 

One year Digital, My Thoughts So Far

I began this year very excited to have devices in every student’s hands. Expecting that once we got underway, the students would love the new found freedom to explore and learn at a deeper level than before. I was surprised to hear a large portion say, ” Can’t we go back to pencil and paper?” I thought it was a bad dream and maybe I missed something, and then I realized something and many of you may already know what is coming, If the change isn’t immediate and easy, teenagers do not like it. This is indeed a brave new world, that requires a lot of adjustments on both sides of the classroom.

One of the major adjustments that I have had to make is to explain how programs and websites work. I have seen what seem like tech savvy students struggle to send basic emails or remember how to edit files. Now while I believe that some are looking for an excuse to not complete their assignments on time, many are really having difficulty with these everyday tasks. What is the solution to this? What can we do to help students that transfer in midway through the year? What can be done ahead of time to ease the burden? I have found that procrastination does not work. I am including a few tips and tricks that you could use to help you in preparation for the coming year. (Side note: Using multiple strategies enhances possibilities for success.)

Strategies for Digital training and implementation

  1. Create tutorials- Use a screen casting tool to create short tutorial videos for basic tasks. (i.e. Accessing course materials, submitting assignments, opening downloaded files, editing files in specific programs, etc…) Do not look at a task as too simple, there will be at least one student who will thank you.  If you do not have a 1:1 classroom, but you have a Learning Management System (Edmodo, Google Classroom, Blackboard) for students to access assignments, short visual handouts will also be helpful. Suggested toolsScreencastify Lite, screencast-o-matic, Open Broadcasting Service, and VLC Media.
  2. Peer training- One method that I have found successful when applicable, is to have students train each other. Over my few years in education, I have learned that I do not always communicate at the student level.  I have then entrusted parts of the training to students who can translate my teacher language into more student friendly terms.  I have found that this method relieves some of the stress and anxiety that comes with a new learning environment and even a new school environment.  Disclaimer: Make sure to choose the right trainer for the trainee.  There are some personalities that do not mix as well as some that mix too well.  Be careful.
  3. Use the same programs– When all else fails, repetition works.  While this seems like the best way to approach this and I agree with you.  This is not always possible.  When at all possible, stick to the same programs.  I believe that this policy should be held by all teachers within a school.  If and when this is done with fidelity, the students gain more exposure to the available software and tools.  This makes it easier for all teachers and students. But again the key is this must be done with fidelity.  If three teachers are using three tools for the same task, the students become confused with what features are available in which program. Personal Picks: Word processing- Google Docs, Math-based/On-screen writing- SMART notebook(where available), Presentation- Google Slides. (Another post coming with reasons)

This is just a starting point to this issue, but this is only one year in and have many lessons to learn.  As time goes on, I will share my triumphs and challenges as I grow. I will end with one of my favorite quotes.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Tips for Grading in a Digital Classroom

It has been a few weeks since my last post and I have been fighting the battle at the start of the school year. This year my school started the first year of implementing a digital curriculum. I found myself going from excited to nervous as the work began to pile up and the grading lagged behind. After a few weeks, I have found some tips that might be helpful.  My hope is that the information is helpful and easy to understand.