Sunday, 23 March 2014

Reflecting on work for Portfolios

Most recently my students have been working on building their electronic portfolios. The excitement around building portfolios on a web site has made the whole idea very engaging.  The difference between engagement in creating web portfolios as opposed to creating their paper based portfolio binders is not even comparable. 

Students began the task by downloading a portfolio template that I created in Google sites. Once downloaded we walked through the different customizations that they were able to play with and what parts of the template needed to remain the same. Not surprisingly, I found my grade 6 students infatuated by the backgrounds and fonts. Once we got past the "trinkets and junk" and down to the business of choosing work to be put into the portfolios the engagement did wain somewhat, but not completely. 

This was the real eye opener for me. While many of my students blythely chose work for their portfolio binders, most, if not all of my students were very carefully considering what to place on their website. Not only were they demonstrating careful consideration, but they were even contemplating the presention format as well. Brilliant! 

This caused a new host of problems. A few students became distraught as to what they should choose and how it should be displayed. These same students had dumped everything into their paper portfolios with lock step reflective statements. Now they were fretting over their choices and becoming somewhat paralyzed when trying to create their reflective statements. 

My stronger students quickly jumped at the tasks and shared their knowledge and learning with each other as they quickly discovered new and better ways to display their work. Some wanted their iBooks available, but quickly realized that the .epub files would not be viewable by all consumers of their portfolios. These students played wih saving the iBook to .pdf files which could be viewed by all viewers and only lost some of the interactive qualities in the transition. I will have to introduce them to the idea of offering multiple versions later. 

This first experience wih creating website portfolios with 11 yr old students has been anything but easy. Nonetheless, the excitement and pride that is emminating from the students as they work on this makes it all worthwhile. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Sharing Uses of Apps in the Classroom

Although it has been a few weeks since my last blog there has been no shortage of learning going on in our project. The students are learning, and so am I. This week brought about some pretty special sharing moments between my students and educators from outside of our room.

First of all, we had our Superintendent visit the classroom this week. My students were very keen to share their learning with Mrs. Moynihan. When told that we would have her visiting our room, the students wanted to brainstorm some of the things that they would talk about. It was for me an amazing process. I scribed their conversation which began as a list of useful apps that they wanted to let her know that they were using with a level of proficiency. However, once we had 10+ apps listed, the conversation took an unexpected turn. I asked one simple question. If you could only choose three of these apps to talk about, which three would you say were the most important or most useful? The students chose three, then decided they must have a fourth. It was at this point that the conversation took an interesting turn. They began to debate which ones and they gave compelling evidence for their choices. They found different reasons for their choices. Then they began to mind map the list, connecting apps that they had been using. One student pointed out that the Google mail was necessary to have the Google Drive. While Evernote has great note taking capabilities with audio, pictures and more the students felt that it did not have the same sharing capabilities of Google Drive for sharing files in order to peer revise and edit. Dropbox was voted best storage for photos and Book Creator was found to be one of the top presentation tools for the students. The students carried on the conversation past the recess bell. I told them they could head out for recess, but many of them remained and began to reflect on their experiences with the apps.

The mind map below demonstrates their thinking:

Eventually they began to talk about which apps were literacy based and which were numeracy based and which would be able to support both. Then the discussion turned to which apps allowed for showing their thinking, reflections and problem solving skills. This was the most amazing conversation. The most wonderful part of this was listening to them use the vocabulary and thinking that we have been working with for the past two months. Seeing them choose creation and curation apps over consumption apps was extremely enlightening.

This conversation and the picture of the mind map helped them to articulate their ideas clearly to Mrs. Moynihan the next day. When she asked questions about the apps and the uses, every student felt they could answer and share their own understanding of the uses.

A second opportunity to share their experiences came during a Skype call with the Edutech Teacher iPad Conference in Boston, MA.. Ms. Cordy, my partner in this project, was presenting to teachers from all over the world in a session called, Electronic Portfolios and Making Thinking Visible. She shared a few of the class blogs as examples of student reflections on learning. She connected with the class on Skype during her session and asked a small group of students to tell her educator audience how they used the Google Apps for Education Suite. My students seized the opportunity to share their ideas as to how these apps were making their learning so much more engaging and making their thinking so much more visible.

Many of the student blogs in the past few weeks are beginning to reflect ideas about the learning taking place and the ways in which the technology and the apps are making the thinking visible.

Although there has been a lot of work surrounding the set up of these devices and the teaching of the basics to use the devices as efficient and effective tools for learning, I am feeling very confident that it is worth every second. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Evernote Dilemma

I found a great app last year called Evernote. I have been using it myself for about a year. It allows users to set up notebooks and name them to keep notes. It hasn't got quite the same feeling as that moleskin journal I have come to love or that fancy coil bound notebook I carried as a Literacy Coach, but it certainly has a lot of features that neither of those two could give me. 

Evernote allows me to have my notebooks with me at all times. It is cloud based and can be set up on multiple devices whether Apple or PC, desktop or mobile. The application allows me to organize the content within the notebooks by date of creation, date last updated, or as one would expect, by title. These are two other ingenious ways to find that little note you wrote yourself, when you can't remember what you called it. I can view my notes in "Cards" or "Snippets" which allows at least two different ways to appeal to one's visual preferences. But best of all, I can tag my notes! By adding tags, I can search all of my notebooks for a certain topic, or I could tag notes with a location, I could choose any tag I wish and apply it to any note that applies to that tag. When searching that tag, all note show up with that tag, regardless of which notebook they are in. Notes can be favourited, or have a reminder set to bring your attention to something within the note. I can even search for a word or a phrase within a note. I wish I could do that with my old journals!

Evernote is a great note keeping app, but that's only the beginning. I can save photos, audio and we links into my notes. My notes can become multimedia compilations of my learning. It was this feature that me me want to bring Evernote into my classroom for my students. The fact that they could record their learning, add pictures of their learning or products, add audio to the notes perhaps reflecting on the learning and then save it all in a safe and highly retrievable format, made this app quite appealing. 

I downoaded this app to the classroom iPads and signed up my students and began to teach them how to use the app. They started out keeping notes for the read aloud we were doing in class. They found they could title each chapter of the book in a separate note and share a note via email with a classmate how was absent. They liked the format and so far, the organization that the app provided for them. 

We suffered through the changes of an app update, which was a painful change for some. Some students embraced the changes right away and others lamented that they liked the old interface. This too was a valuable lesson for my students. Change is inevitable and you need to adapt or risk falling by the wayside. A few accounts were locked out upon the update. This too was a valuable lesson. These students had made a spelling error in their email upon their original sign in. The Evernote app developer help me rescue the accounts within 4 days via email support. My students came to understand in a very authentic lesson that spelling counts! 

Despite the changes and issues, my students were thrilled with this technological tool and wanted to know if they could keep other notes in this app as well, such as science. "One step at a time, we still have to do paper and pencil tasks too," I replied, "We still have to be able to write and deal with papers for EQAO in May." It was then that I once again reflected on the pedagogical conundrum that I regularly face. How do we move into 21st century teaching and learning when our Education system has our students completing a 20th century assessment, for which teachers are responsible to prepare them? 

Evernote is the type of tool that they will need to use in the real world. Yet I am feeling the need to limit their use of this tool, in order to have them divide their time between new style learning and old style learning. One which is engaging, meaningful and creative; the other which is disengaging, useless and unimaginative, not to mention a poor choice for the environment. 

At what point will education systems realize that we need to move forward in unison? We cannot expect teachers to adopt new technologies, teaching styles, resources and pegogical values while still holding old style assessments as the standard to measure teaching and learning. What my students are learning is so valuable and cannot possibly be measured by a paper and pencil test with multiple choice questions, five lines for open responses and cold, unrevised and unedited writing. Is it possible for the system to measure 21st century, differentiated teaching and learning, en masse? I wonder. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

A Trailblazer's Pitfall

My iPad journey has been full of issues the last two weeks. As an early adopter of the new iOS, I ran into problems with the a software conflict in iOS7 and Apple Configurator. I felt like such a "newbie" and felt this had been a terrible rookie mistake, until a teacher colleague pointed out that there are no "newbies", only early adopters and trailblazers (Thanks Chris). So I shall share my anguish in hopes that others will know how to live through these growing pains and maintain composure and hope.

Once I decided to upgrade to the new iOS, I had all 30 iPads hooked to the cart and pressed update. What I didn't know wad the new increased security in iOS7 conflicted with the supervision profile in Configurator and sent all 30 devices into a recovery loop. This meant that the devices needed to be plugged in and restored. When Configurator tried to do this en mass, they would restore with an error and go back into recovery mode. This meant they had to be restored through iTunes one at a time from my laptop on a clean account. They were apparently "bricked", a new term I learned this week. 

It became apparent that I was not going to have 30 IPads ready to go in less than an hour, so I quickly amended lessons to more paper and pencil tasks and continued, albeit slowly, working through curriculum expectations without the assistance of our digital tools. I assured the students that we would not stop working if our pens were out of ink; it just meant a change of tools. Naturally they were disappointed, but managed to get on with the lessons regardless.  

These things are inevitable regardless of the operating system, the company or the hardware or software manufacturer. It is frustrating, time consuming and quite irritating when it occurs, but in the end we have to keep sight of the gains that are made. Not unlike myself, these Companies are forging new territory and blazing new trails. There will be failures, bumps in the road, turn arounds and ultimately successes. 

While reading several hours worth of forum discussions regarding these issues with iOS7 and Configurator I reflected on the comments. Some were happy to find that they were not alone in this experience. Others were busily trying to figure out how to work around the problems, while still others complained that it should not have been released until all of the bugs had been fixed. It is a very good thing there were trailblazers willing to take risks traveling through uncharted waters and land some 400 years ago. If the early explorers waited until everything was mapped out perfectly, would this continent be where it is today? 

The issues were time consuming, but the iPads were up and running and back in the hands of the students this week. Although I am using one image run from iTunes as I wait patiently for a fix for Configurator, my students forged ahead with their learning adapting easily to the changes. Their delight to be using the digital tools once again, made every minute spent, well worth my time. I will continue on this path of discovery despite the difficulties, because my class and I are 21st century learners. 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Moving Forward with Learning

My second week into the project, I came down with a brutal cold and found it difficult to keep up with the normal routine let alone with the increased demands of time from the iPad Project. I survived, but the week 2 blog never materialized. So this week, I'll include events from both weeks. 

In week 2, my students were able to familiarize themselves with the iPad as a learning tool. Although app introduction has been slow, we were able to sign up for our Google mail account and begin to use the Google drive. This has been an excellent choice so far as the Google Drive app works quite well and the students are able to access their documents from home as well. We set up share folders in Google Drive to facilitate file sharing. The students share a "Hand in" folder labelled with their last name with me and I share a "6M class folder" with them to allow me to share files with the class.  

Another app, that has been an excellent choice for the class so far is Evernote. We have used Evernote for our reading response journals. The students created a notebook with the title of our read aloud. Each day they take notes during the read aloud on character, plot and/ or setting. They add vocabulary that is interesting or new and they write a response to the excerpt that day. They have found Evernote to be easy to use, easy to organize and retrieve information and fun to use. 

Other apps that we looked at in the second week included Mathletics, Math Academy and Cursive Writing. These apps are ones that the student are able to go to for practice after work is finished. These apps are rote practice type games that the kids have been thrilled to play once they have finished their other work.

The Camera and the Adobe Reader app were useful in week 2 in science class. We took the iPads outside and photographed different trees in our yard. The students were instructed to take pictures only and leave all leaves and bark intact. Then once the specimens were captured on film we came back inside to begin to classify them to help determine what species they were. A .pdf file that contained 56 pages of classification characteristics was opened in Adobe and the students began to work in groups to identify the trees in their yard. No trees were harmed in the the process, no paper was used and the students gained proficiency with the art of classification. 

Week 3 concluded with a few issues. Some students on rotary were found to be "playing" in other apps during their science lesson. Upon being warned that I could check their whereabouts on the iPad, I fully figured this would not be an issue again, especially when they were reminded of the contract they signed and the fact that they could lose their price ledge of using the iPad if they were not using it properly. However, after the rotary class today, three students had once again been playing in other apps and not working on the science. This will be an issue that will need to be solved next week. 

Week 3 also brought about a new iOS. This was the first time I was able to use the new Bretford Powersync Cart for its truly intended use. I spent an evening at home playing with settings, app arrangement and the new iOS. After an appropriate image was created, a back up was created. The next morning I was able to refresh all 30 devices with the new iOS and the back up image. All iPads were updated and set up each to go in 30 minutes. The cart had charged them the night before and now they were all updated. Although very expensive, the Powersync cart is seemingly worth it's weight in gold. 

Next week we will be introducing a few more apps and working with some possible apps for IEP students. Stay tuned as we journey into week four of the project. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Getting the iPads up and Running

Well it is day seven and we finally have lift off! Our entire grade 6 class was able to use the iPads in Science today and our cohort grade 6 class had an opportunity to use them as well. It has been a bit of a struggle to get things up and running. So for those of you who are thinking about trying this with your students, keep these things in mind before you begin your journey. 

The first issue I encountered was the new wireless system installed by our board throughout the summer. For the first four days, the wireless was not up and running yet. So, Week 1 was spent going over use and care of the iPads, the user agreements, and simply trying to keep a total of 56 eleven year olds from losing it with the sheer excitement of thinking about using the devices. This part took patience, as I was bombarded with questions such as, "Mrs. M., do we get to use them today?" "When are they going to fix the wireless?" "Why can't we take them home and set them up, if they don't work here?" "Can we just keep them at our desks anyway?" It was a veritable symphony of comments resembling the infamous, "Are we there yet?" question.

The second issue encountered made things even more unbearable for my enthusiastic students. The wireless got set up on Thursday and I was able to log in using the teacher log in on Friday. I spent Friday and several hours over the weekend getting them ready to go for Monday. When Monday arrived, students eagerly received their assigned devices and began to try to connect to the wireless network. What had not been communicated was that the new wireless network also came with a completely new log in procedure and students had to log in using new passwords. Those were to be given to us after the staff meeting on Monday night. We chose to learn how to organize apps into folders and name and rename folders to ward off further disappointment. It worked. 

Tuesday arrived and I had a list of user names and passwords and the instructions to create new passwords at first log in. Ready to go with all the needed information, we opened up the settings and began to connect to the student wireless access. Students were busily typing in user names and passwords. The room was filled with anticipation, then the screens began popping up everywhere. User log-in failed. Once again I began to try to troubleshoot the problem, but we were wasting time that is so precious to the grade 6 program. We decided to move a few more apps, look at what was loaded and return to the more routine learning style for our literacy and math lessons. Later, it became apparent that the first log in for the new system had to be completed on board equipment on the authorized network. Sigh. One more glitch keeping us from getting this project off the ground. 

Today we booked the lab and had everyone log in, change their passwords...record them as we all know 11 year olds will never remember them over a break...and log back out. Back to the classroom we skipped and began the task of logging into the iPads. Fingers were crossed, tongues between teeth and the room was filled with nothing but sounds of fingers touching touch screens, until the first student proclaimed, "I'm in!" The buzz increased as more students found success. Some began to coach others, who were experiencing delays, while others explained that the way to ensure success was to look for the wireless icon in the top left corner. Within a few minutes everyone was connected and ready to learn. We surfed a science website for information on classification and researched whether or not there were five or six kingdoms in Carolus Linneaus's classification system. In the end, the students were engaged in the use of the iPad as a tool for learning, on day 1. This was impressive. 

There were a few bumps in the road this past 7 days. However, these are just the first few that I am sure we will face over our year long journey. I am certain there will be days when I wonder why I have embarked on this journey, but there will always be days like today, where students work together to be successful and engage in their learning, using a style to which they are growing very accustomed.