Thursday, January 30, 2014

Student Led Technology Family Learning Night

For the past several years Triggs ES has hosted a Technology Family Learning Night where parents and students could have hands-on time with the school technology. We've tried to make it a learning experience, but it usually turned out to just be a teacher facilitated play time with technology. This year we decided to approach it differently and model the night after a traditional hands-on technology conference - with students leading the sessions instead of the teachers!

We have a teacher from each grade level (K-5) on our technology team, and each one agreed to help their students master a particular iPad app or computer program. We settled on Toontastic, Haiku Deck, Educreations, and Book Creator on the iPads, and Prezi and Comic Life on the computers. Students spent time from the beginning of the school year working with these programs for classroom projects and really got to know them. Certain students were then asked to be the presenters during the sessions of our Technology Family Learning Night.

Our goals for the night were: give students the opportunity to be leaders in their sessions, showcase school technology and how it's used in the classroom, and give parents hands-on opportunities with apps and programs they can use with their own devices at home.

As families arrived for the night they were assigned a group and given a schedule to follow. Sessions were 15 minutes long with 5 minutes to rotate. Each room had 10-12 iPads, and the student-presenter's iPad was connected to the projector so they could display the app they were teaching about. Parents were also notified that they could bring in personal devices with the apps already loaded if they wanted. Student-presenters then demoed how to use the apps while families followed along on their iPads. We also gave parents a one page tutorial on each of the apps.

Here are the student presenters in action:

Kindergarten students led a session on using Toontastic for narrative writing.
1st Graders taught families how to use Book Creator to write a story about Jack and Jill.
2nd Grade students demoed Haiku Deck for sharing info on apples.
3rd Grade students led sessions on teaching math with Educreations.

4th graders used the computer lab to teach Comic Life and extreme sports.
5th graders showed off their mastery of Prezi.

Our GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) teacher also set up a STARLAB where students could explore the solar system. She had her students record information about the solar system and played the audio as part of the experience. Families were able to use this as one of their sessions.
The STARLab set up on our stage.
I don't think there's any better way of showing off technology than to have the students teaching what they know!

I'd love to hear how other schools have organized student led workshops. Sound off in the comments if I didn't give enough details!
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

iPad Tip: Lock the orientation

When rotating your iPad from portrait to landscape, the image will rotate in order to stay right side up. This is useful when you are looking at different types of media, for example, looking at photos or surfing the web. However, when you are presenting using your iPad screen, you don't want the screen to constantly change as you move around. Luckily, there is an easy way to lock the screen so that it stays in one orientation.

Locking the orientation can be done either through the side switch or through the Control Center in iOS7. Which method you use is determined by how you have the side switch configured. Enter Settings and tap General.

If Use Side Switch To is set to Lock Rotation then you can use the side switch to lock the orientation. If Mute is selected then you can use the Control Center to lock the orientation.

To use Control Center, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. You'll see the Screen Rotation Lock button to the right. Simply tap that and now your iPad screen is locked.
The Screen Rotation Lock button
Keep in mind that on an iPad the Screen Rotation Lock button becomes whatever the side switch isn’t. In other words, if you set your iPad’s side switch to control screen orientation, this Control Center button becomes a Mute toggle; if you set the switch to mute or unmute, the button controls your orientation lock. On an iPhone or iPod, the button always locks orientation.
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iPad Tip: Lock the screen to a single app

Restricting an iPad to one app can be very useful in a classroom environment where you want to make sure students stay on task. With so many cool and useful apps, it can be easy for students to tap from one app to another. In addition, sometimes students accidentally quit an app by pushing the Home button with their thumb when holding the iPad in landscape mode.

Thankfully Apple has built in a very useful feature that allows you, the teacher, to lock the iPad so students cannot close out of the app that you want them to spend time in. This feature is called Guided Access, and it's very easy to setup and use.

To set it up you need to first go into Settings. In the General section select Accessiblity.
In the General settings select Accessibility.

Once in Accessibility tap on Guided Access.

Once in Guided Acces you'll need to slide the switch to turn it on. Tap Set Passcode and enter a 4 digit number. This is the passcode you'll use every time you  start Guided Access and exit out of it. Obviously you wouldn't share this Passcode with your students.
Be sure to set a passcode!
Now you're ready to use Guided Access! Open the app you want your students to use. Triple tap the Home button really fast. Controls for Guided Access will appear. Guided Access always disables the Home button, but the Volume or Sleep buttons are also disabled by default. If you want students to have access to them, then tap Hardware Button and change the slider for those options. The slider in the on position means the student can use that feature.
Select what options students can use

Tap Start in the upper right corner and you will be prompted to enter your Passcode. Students are now locked into that app. If they try to quit the app by using the Home button it simply will not work.

To exit out of Guided Access mode, triple tap the Home Button really fast. You will be prompted to enter the Passcode. You will be brought to the Guided Access controls screen where you can either tap End to exit Guided Access or Resume to go back into that app in Guided Access mode.
Passcode keeps students from exiting Guided Access

Guided Access has one draw back. If you are in an app that needs access to another app, you won't be able to use that feature. For example, Book Creator allows you to export your books to Dropbox. When it does that it launches Dropbox so you can choose what folder to export to. However, Guided Access prevents Dropbox from launching.

Even with this one drawback, Guided Access can be a very useful tool for making sure students stay on task!
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Working with the pros

I've written about the student run broadcasts our school does here and here. It's been a really fun experience. This group of students is a blast to work with!

Recently I made contact with the Kevin Janison, the weatherman from our local Channel 3 news station. I invited him to visit our school to see what these students were doing and to answer questions about his job. He agreed and also set up the opportunity for us to tour the Channel 3 news station and watch a live broadcast. When I announced this to my TBN crew they became so excited and that was all they would talk about for days!

Kevin came out on a Wednesday afternoon. My crew gave him a short tour of our studio, describing each of their jobs. We even did a "live" broadcast so he could see us in action. We then met with another group of students. These students belong to two clubs on campus, the Roving Reporters and Concept of the Week, that provide content for our broadcasts. He spent a good 30 minutes answering a bunch of questions about his career and what it's like to work at the news studio. He also gave the TBN crew some really useful tips to make our broadcast even better.
Kevin Janison answering some hard questions
He videotaped a short segment and aired it during his weather forecast that night on TV. Here's the clip, taken from the Channel 3 website.

The next Friday students and their parents met at the station. Kevin gave us a tour of the station, including the control room. He allowed the students time to play with the green screen pretending to tell the weather.
It's hard to know where to point!

We got to watch a live broadcast of the 6 o'clock news. Kevin surprised us by having all of the students come on air at the end of his weather segment.
Squeezing in for the camera

After the broadcast he took us to the control room where we got to see all of the equipment and ask questions about how everything worked. It was amazing to see all of their professional equipment!

Do you think my principal will let us upgrade our equipment?

We then went back to the studio and students were able to take pictures with Kevin at the anchor desk. The whole night was an amazing experience! Everyone was so polite and patient with all of the students - it was probably the largest turn out they've had of any group.
The TBN crew

All of the students and teachers

Here is the video from the news broadcast. The anchor first mentions the students at about the 6:12 mark (that's 6:12 towards the end of the video). The students are at the end of the weather segment and appear at about 3:22 saying, "Back to you, Marie!"

We wish to extend a big thank you to Channel 3, especially to Kevin Janison, for allowing us to visit and learn about professional broadcasting!
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Monday, January 13, 2014

Admitting we're wrong

Image via Flikr
The Las Vegas-Review Journal reported today that high school students in Clark County School District would no longer be required to pass proficiency exams in order to receive a high school diploma. I welcome this decision, but am disappointed with one item that was reported in the article.

The high school proficiency exams have been derided ever since their inception. They forced hundreds, if not thousands, of high school students to receive a certificate of attendance rather than a high school diploma. Teachers and students complained that the exams were not aligned with the curriculum students were actually taught. In other words, the exams tested them on items they were never taught. In addition, students already proved they mastered the concepts when they passed the class.

The exams created a host of problems for students. Many students and parents, including myself, dreaded the exams. Students became stressed and over anxious because of the pressure brought on by these exams. Parents would have to pay for tutors just so their child could have extra help to pass the exams.

The section of the article that bothered me the most:
The Nevada State Board of Education decided in June that students who were freshmen, sophomores and juniors in 2012-13 must still take and pass the existing proficiency exams to graduate.
The rationale: It’s bad policy, perhaps illegal, to change students’ graduation requirements midway through high school.
“You have to maintain the rules for them,” Jhone Ebert, the district’s chief innovation and productivity officer, told the School Board on Thursday.
So if we know something is wrong, that it's ineffective, and that it harms students more than it helps, we can't just admit that it's wrong and immediately stop it? We have to phase it out, thus harming even more students?

How many times do we do this in the classroom? How many times do we trudge through a program, technique, policy or philosophy because it's the newest thing to try? Or we keep at it because the school spent a lot of money on it? Or it was paid with a federal grant and the feds want some accountability? Maybe we keep reading a novel with the class because we started it, so we need to finish it? Maybe that worksheet or test wasn't well designed.

I'm all for trying new things. But when we get into them and realize it was a mistake, why can't we just say that? It was a mistake! Stop using that teaching technique or that program, stop following that philosophy. If the proficiency exams are wrong, why do we have to keep them around for another 3 years? Do what's best for the students!
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Monday, January 6, 2014

It's The Relationships

I recently went to a job interview and one of the questions I was asked went along the lines of "How would you use technology to communicate with and encourage teachers to integrate technology more in their classrooms." Taking the question at face value, it sounded like the questioner wanted to hear about some innovative way of using email, Twitter, or podcasting to get teachers really psyched about the latest trend in educational technology. In my mind I kept picturing every teacher with a pager on at their waist that I could buzz every time an opportunity for technology use came up in their daily lessons.

I don't remember what my answer was, but that question has been bothering me ever since that interview. I decided that the question is flat out wrong. It's not about the technology. I'm not going to get teachers excited about blogging, Edmodo, iPads, the latest app or website by telling them about it through an email, Twitter, or a snazzy podcast. It's about the personal relationships I have with the teachers - knowing what their students are already doing in the classroom, what projects and standards they are currently working on, and what their comfort level with technology is. It's about the relationships I develop with the teachers.

I can develop those relationships by working with teachers one-on-one. I can help them with whatever problems they bring to me - because that's what's important to them at the moment. I can help them feel comfortable with their skill level. I can see what they are currently doing and suggest ways of enhancing it through technology. I need to listen to what they have to say and support them in what they are trying to do. It's about the relationships I can develop with the teachers.

image from
I think the same thing holds true with our students. Too often I see schools pushing the latest reading/writing/math intervention program in an effort to boost student test scores. As a digital cheerleader I cringe when I hear about the latest website where students can play games or watch videos and improve their reading skills or math skills! Too often we're taking the teacher out of the equation. Instead, it should be about the personal touch the teacher can use to encourage learning in the students.

If I know what a student likes to do for fun,  I can recommend books along those interests and get them reading more (and talking about their reading). If I know what they like to do with their families I can encourage them to write about it. If I listen to them explain how to find the area of a rectangle, I can find out what foundational skills they might be missing. It's the one-on-one time, the personal time. It's all about getting to know the student. And then I can know what they want and need to learn.

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