Saturday, April 13, 2013

How Common Core Will Propel Schools into the 21st Century

I have always believed that my job as an educator is to prepare my students to be successful in the world beyond high school.  To me, that meant developing critical thinkers, teaching career-transferable skills, and nurturing an appreciation for humanity in my students.

I believe that some of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects emphasize the same goals I envisioned for students when I first started teaching almost 20 years ago.  I also believe that technology is the gateway through which these goals will be met.

Here are some CCSS that recognizes the importance of technology in the classroom.

1.  "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting."

These standard could easily be met through the use of Google Docs.  To publish their writing, students could write blogs, create websites, and collaborate on wikis.

2.  "Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration."

Teach students how to Google Search properly and how to discern valid sources would be perfect here.

3.  "
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a  standard format for citation."

Students need to learn how to use the Internet for more than just social networking and gaming.  Exposing them to quality journalism, online news and other similar media are crucial in their development as critical thinkers and well-informed, responsible citizens.  Learning how to properly give attribution to not just the written text found on the Internet, but also the plethora of images published online, is just as important.

4.  "Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest."

Teaching students how to use presentation software like Google Slides, Keynote, or PowerPoint not only meets Common Core Standards but is also an important career skill.  Here, they can build upon the skills gained in #3 above and incorporate that information into their presentations.

5.  "Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech."

Many online dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com can easily serve this purpose.  Chances are your students already use them so this standard is easy to meet.

6.  More informational text is expected to be taught across all disciplines now which "includes the subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience."

What better way to prepare students for life in the real world than to expose them to more nonfiction writing, which includes the various media outlets that adults access on a regular basis like CNN, The Wall Street Journal, or National Geographic?

7.  "Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table)."

By practicing #6 above, students will naturally come across the various forms of infographics that are used in the world today.

8.  "Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic."

Need an excuse to use YouTube in the classroom?  Here it is.

9.  "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and
efficiently."

Since my students blog with the world, this one is one of my favorites.  Blogging has truly motivated my students to explore their written creativity.  Read my post "For the Love of Blogging" to learn more.

I'm excited about what Common Core will bring.  I think the standards truly reflect what it means to be a 21st century learner.  Let me know what you think below.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Skyping with a State Senator

Today my students had the privilege and honor of Skyping with Senator Kimberly Yee from Arizona.

We just recently finished a persuasive speech unit. During the unit we read "The Gettysburg Address" and "I Have a Dream." I also add a third speech, and it's usually something very recent, like President Obama's inauguration speech. It obviously varies depending on the year we're in. As we studied the speeches, my students learned about the rhetorical strategies used by these dynamic orators - allusion, simile, metaphor, symbolism, and so on. Then, students were instructed to write a speech that would enact positive change in the world. They spend a couple of weeks researching facts that will support their idea (a great opportunity here to teach how to discern valid sources). Afterwards, they write a speech incorporating three facts and numerous rhetorical strategies.

In line with this idea of changing the world, I thought, "What better way for students to understand this than to video conference with an elected official?"

Fortunately for me, I met Senator Yee last summer at the Partner's in Learning U.S. Forum in Redmond, Washington -- an all-expense paid trip, courtesy of Microsoft. Each year, Microsoft selects educators from all over the country to showcase the innovative ways we are using technology in our classroom. It was a wonderful experience, and all the participants shared their projects in a science fair setting. On the second day, Microsoft hosted professional development sessions and gave us the opportunity to also network and collaborate with other educators.

Senator Yee was one of the judges at the event and the only elected official. Immediately, I realized that she'd be a great guest to have in my classroom, considering the speech unit that I usually taught in the spring.

As my class got ready for our video conference session this morning, my students were excited and awed at the idea of being able to speak to a state senator. We had a list of questions ready, and no shortages of students who volunteered to read them. In fact, many students were arguing over who will get to ask the questions. They had to battle for this role, rock-paper-scissors style.

When the call came through, the whole room was silent and attentive. My students were polite and respectful, and they came up eagerly to the camera when it was their turn to ask a question. I was especially impressed by one student who prefaced his question with a "Good morning, Senator Yee," something I had not prompted him to say.

Here are the list of the questions we had.
1. How did you get started in public service?
2. What is the campaign process like?
3. What is the lawmaking process like?
4. What does a typical day look like for you?
5. What is the best part of your job?
6. What are some fun things you get to do?
7. What are some challenges of your job?
8. Do you travel a lot?
9. Do you get to meet famous people?
10. What advice do you have for us?

Senator Yee did a fabulous job of praising my students for their thoughtful questions, and she answered them with energy and enthusiasm. One especially memorable part was when she shared that as a high school senior, she introduced a bill, which eventually passed into law. I thought that was such a great message for my students to hear - that we do have the power to affect our futures, regardless of age.

It was such a great experience, and I hope to invite more guests into my classroom. If you use video conferencing with your students, please share below.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Giving Up My iPads for Chromebooks

I teach in a 1:1 iPad classroom, and I asked to pilot 1:1 Chromebooks for the next school year.

Truthfully, it wasn't an easy choice to make.  Secretly, I tried to squelch my nagging desire to do more with my students.  After all, I loved teaching with iPads, and I'm proud of all the work, creativity, and fun that came out of using them.  Besides, iPads are cool.

But I had to be truthful.  I had to be creative to use the iPad as a creation tool, and I had to find workarounds.  And there were things my students just couldn't do on them.

I teach four classes of 8th grade ELA, and in my classroom, I heavily emphasize writing, analysis, and critical thinking.  A keyboard obviously would've been nice, especially since my students pounded out over 2,600 blog posts over the course of six months alone (in addition to the essays, responses, and online discussions they write for me).  Many of my students cite the lack of a keyboard as a shortcoming, but my school couldn't justify this additional expense, seeing that thousands of dollars have already been spent to build our iPad carts.

Also, I wanted my students to fully utilize all the features of Google Docs - annotating text, commenting, and all the social and collaborative aspect that makes Google Docs - Google Docs.  But these features weren't available on the iPad.  (Note: some months after the writing of this post, the Google Drive app has been updated to include the ability to add comments. However, this iPad version is still lacking when compared to its full web capability.)

Additionally, I'd like my students to create Google Slides, which isn't possible so I had to resort to using other apps.  Then, I had to teach them how to export their work in order to import it to a LMS or a Dropbox folder.  Export work just to import it again?  It seems silly to me...and an efficient use of instructional minutes.

I also wanted my students to create content on Glogster, Nanoogo, Storybird, GoAnimate, and many of the myriad of apps out there that don't work on the iPad.  (Read my blog post on "Using GoAnimate to Fight Bullying" on how we used this great video animation tool in the classroom.)
I can see iPads, with its learning apps, having a greater role in the elementary classroom, and though there are also some great apps for the secondary classroom, it's still a device designed to consume content rather than to create it.

For secondary students, this isn't enough - not for a rigorously, academic curriculum called for by the Common Core.  I've always believed that writing should be a shared, cross-curricular responsibility, and using Google Docs with its full potential is better suited to meet this essential need.

Can students fully utilize Google's core productivity apps with the iPad the way they can on a computer/laptop/netbook?  No.  That's why I wanted to bring Chromebooks into my classroom.  But will my students still use iPads?  Absolutely.

Luckily for me, my current iPad cart will become available for checkout, and I'll book it when I want my students to create digital media projects - on iMovie, Audioboo, Zoodle Comics, and J&C's PhotoStory to name a few.  (Read my blog post on "How to Use Zoodle Comics in the Classroom" for ideas.)  However, for every day use, I plan to fully utilize Google Apps for Education on the Chromebooks, the way it was meant to be used.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Using GoAnimate to Fight Bullying


"Student Working on a Project" / Copyright 2013 by Alice Chen
In the classroom, student engagement is essential to learning.  Without this component, students are merely going through the motions.  When I discovered GoAnimate, I realized immediately that it was a great product that my students and I would love.  In just under 10 minutes, I was able to quickly create a professional-looking video to jumpstart one of the many professional development trainings I provide to other teachers at my site.  Soon, I was also using it to teach new concepts in my classroom.  Naturally, the next step was to introduce it to my students.

In my classroom, we not only read stories, but we also analyze them and make connections between the world of literature and the world in which my students live.  For example, bullying is unfortunately a reality in schools today, and to address this issue, I challenged my students to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on what it means to take a stand against bullying.  They were to choose an upstander (someone who speaks up against bullying) from literature, history, or modern times.  It could be a literary character from many of the stories they analyzed throughout the semester, a political leader they studied during our speech unit, or even an acquaintance they knew.

For their PSA, my students first had to write a script that included the emotions, actions, and dialogue of their characters.  Then they had to bring their script alive through the use of multimedia.  At this point, I gave them a choice of creating a podcast, an iMovie, or a GoAnimate video.  Though my students had never tried GoAnimate before, many were immediately drawn to using it and the majority of them chose this as their vehicle of expression.  

As my students worked, I can hear the excitement in their voices as they argued (in a friendly fashion) which characters and settings to use.  In the past, when my students use a new technology tool for an assignment, I have to front-load the activity by creating my own tutorial, which is obviously very time-consuming.  Luckily, GoAnimate provided a quick and easy tutorial on their website that modeled how to create animation videos.  However, most students didn’t even have to watch the tutorial, and they went right to work, easily maneuvering GoAnimate’s site without any need for guidance.

After my students finished their GoAnimate PSA’s, they couldn’t wait for me to show them to the rest of the class.  Also, they were truly interested in viewing each other’s work as well.  In the end, I was pleased with the quality of work my students created, and they had so much fun using GoAnimate that they didn’t even realized that they were also learning along the way.