Monday, November 10, 2014

Grading is Not Easier This Way

As I get ready to open up my gradebook and Google Classroom, I find that getting grades back in a timely manner is actually more difficult for me than it was before.  Part of the problem is going back to school to get my Masters has limited my time, but also that many things that my TAs helped me with before they cannot do for me now.

Don't get me wrong, my TA is helping me a great deal, and I always have something for her to do, especially now that I've pulled back a little in my 11th grade CP class with what we use the Chromebooks for (we aren't so paperless anymore).  But, prior to moving towards blended-learning, my TAs helped me sort the completed work from the incomplete work, which sped up my grading.  I can't have them do that now unless (until?) Classroom comes up with a TA component.  I just might send feedback to them on that.

Hopefully, as I go through this adventure, I will find ways to make grading easier on myself.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Tools of the Trade...So Far

I'm excited.  The grant check came Wednesday night; I deposited it Thursday afternoon; it cleared yesterday morning, and I ordered 20 more Chromebooks, a cart, and a printer.  One leg of the journey is almost complete.  And...then came some issues in trying to order them that hopefully have been ironed out (fingers crossed).

I feel (hope?) that once every student has a Chromebook, it will be easier to integrate the technology as thoroughly as I would like.  I'm hoping it will help students get better with turning their digital work in more consistently.

But, on to the topic at hand:  What am I using?  In case you were wondering.  I hope you were wondering.

Let's start with the Chromebooks themselves.  I (will) have 4 different types of Chromebooks.  This isn't a big deal to me because they run the same way and off the same operating system (Chrome).  I simply got the cheapest I could get, when I was ordering them.

I have 2 HP Chromebooks  that have a great screen, but the battery life doesn't always stand up to the other brands I have.

I have 8 Samsung Chromebooks that are really great.  They have a nice screen, are the lightest in weight, have a great battery life, and are the easiest to get out of the cart I currently have (but that's about to change).  They were the most expensive (I got these through when I ordered them, but are currently the same price as the HPs and 9 of the Acers were when I purchased them.  I should have done this blog post before I ordered the books I did today. Or maybe not.  A friend forwarded some information about the trackpads essentially becoming useless and needing a mouse.  We'll see.

I have 11 black Acer Chromebooks not including the one I bought myself that I use for travel and my own Master's program.  These aren't as pretty to look at as the Samsung or HP books, but they are almost always affordable and have the best battery life of the three brands so far.  They are currently the biggest pain to get in and out of the current cart, but they will become the easiest to deal with in the new cart (I assume).

I will have 20 white Acer Chromebooks, hopefully, next week.  I was torn between the black Acer and these, but I decided that they were essentially the same price so why not go with the prettier ones.  They are supposed to have the same battery life as their older sibling, but we'll see.  I'll let you know what I discover about them.


Now onto the Learning Management Systems (LMS) I use.  

I used to use Edmodo, and I hope to one day go back.  But, after listening to Alice in Wondertech at the CUE conference last year, and doing some research, I switched to Schoology.  The things I like about Schoology that I can't get with Edmodo are:  the abiity to create discussion boards and the analytics that go with it, the ability to automatically push posts to my Twitter if I click the correct box, the ability to format text (As an English teacher, it would drive me crazy when I couldn't italicize book titles on Edmodo, I can with Schoology), and having Remind built in (though this is something new I'm trying out this year).

I never used and still don't use, the quiz features and gradebooks that are on both Edmodo and Schoology because our district has an online gradebook that we must use and assessment software built into another district-wide information system.

The other LMS I'm using this year is new from Google and it's called Classroom.  Your school has to be a part of Google Apps for Education (GAFE), but if they are it's free.  Your students and you also need to be on the same domain.  Classroom is in its infancy, so it's not as complete an LMS and doesn't compete if stacked up to older LMSs.  But you can send feedback on what you would like to see, and get ideas on GoogleProduct Forums.  

Where Classroom rocks my socks is in it's organizational aspects.  If you are going to have students do work digitally and collaborate with each other and you, you want Google Classroom.

When you sign up for Classroom, a folder appears in your Drive (with the obvious title of Classroom).  When you create a class, under the Classroom folder, subfolders for each class appears.

Then once you start creating assignments for each class, folders for those appear as well.

And finally, as students either create or add documents to their assignments, the folder for the assignment populates with the students' work.

That alone is worth using Classroom, but I don't think I'll be using Classroom on it's own unless it gets to a point where it's on par with Edmodo or Schoology.  Both Edmodo and Schoology also have a parent component that Classroom does not.


I think we'll leave it there.  The post is long enough and I don't want to bore you.  If you have any questions about what I'm doing or using, feel free to contact me or comment.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feeling like a Failure

Only my second post and it's already got the word 'failure' in the title.

Today is one of those days I feel like a failure as a teacher.  My three 11th grade classes took a test on Rhetorical Devices today.  Obviously, they didn't do too well, so that means that I didn't do too well. So, together: We suck.

I don't know if it's truly my fault they did poorly or if it's actually the fault of the test because I won't have other teachers to compare myself to until next week.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter because I feel I should have better prepared them regardless.

I've been questioning myself all day.  Should I have stood up and done a PowerPoint with the rhetorical devices on it and had the students take notes, or fill in a skeleton guide like many of the other teachers?  Or, was the fact that I put together the slides and titled them with the names of the different rhetorical devices and had the students find the definitions and examples to place on it the right way to go?

So the next step is to wonder.  Is it me as a teacher in general, or does this transition into blended-learning and inquiry-based/guided-question style of teaching the culprit?  Maybe it's a combination.

I've set up a form for the students to take a survey, so I can get some feedback from them.  I think I need to evaluate what and when I should allow students to discover answers on their own and through their own searching and when to get up and be a 'sage on the stage'.  Maybe we jumped off into the deep end when we should have used the steps in the shallows.

Trying to make this shift and beginning my Master's in Educational Technology is both a blessing and a curse as I am learning about things that definitely help in this transition, but I feel very overwhelmed and like I'm leaving friends and family behind.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Welcome to My World

Okay, I was trying to come up with a little ditty to tell my story to the melody of The Brady Bunch (because it popped into my head when I sat down to write), but that's just too...well, it's too corny.  So, I'll just tell it without the musical accompaniment.

For the past two years, I've attended the annual CUE Conference in Palm Springs, California.  I came back both times with many great ideas for using technology in the classroom, but I was always stymied by the limited technological resources I had to use with students.  I had started to utilize the students' smart phones in class for things like flashcards and dictionaries, but to do anything with any real substance or relevancy, I had to book computer lab time, and that is not always possible.

After my last visit to the CUE Conference, I started to feel compelled to do something.  There were so many great ideas from the conference, and other professional developments, that have encouraged the use of technology, but the problem was that my students and I didn't have ready access to the technology that was needed to really grab ahold of it.  Well, sitting on my rear and just waiting for the technology to appear was not going to happen.  I couldn't just transfigure computers or tablets into my classroom (I keep applying to Hogwarts, but my application keeps getting denied.  They keep saying something about it not actually existing.  They lie.  I've read the books; I've seen the movies).  I could, however, try my best to get the technology into my classroom myself.

I sat down one Saturday and did a little research on what would be the best and most cost effective technological tool for me to try and obtain for my classroom.  Ultimately, what would be best for an English classroom would be something that could word process and had access to the internet.  My students have district-bestowed Google Apps for Education accounts, so Microsoft Word is not a must for what we are going to do in class, so a full-fledged computer would not be needed.  But, we would be doing a lot of word processing (writing essays and such), so we did need something that had a keyboard.  After all my research, I decided that what would work best in my classroom would be Chromebooks.  Amazon had some as low as $199, at the time, which made it affordable to get at least a few to have in class.

So, in April, I posted a project to for 8 Chromebooks.  Why 8?  My seating in class is set up in 8 groups of 4-6 (see photos of the empty room when I get them up ).  8 Chromebooks would get me at least one per group.  I contributed to my project myself, and my friends and family, one student's parent, and complete strangers contributed as well and in June, my project was funded.  Then, one of my friends from work, who was trying to do the same thing for her class, was moving out of the classroom and would have no need for her project anymore.  So, I started another, smaller, project for 3 more Chromebooks and she sent what she could from her now defunct project my way, and with the help of mostly complete strangers this time, I got that funded in July.

That would get me 11 Chromebooks for my classroom.  But...during the time that I had been trying to get my DonorsChoose projects funded, I had been buying one to three Chromebooks a month myself.  So, shortly after the school year started this year, I had 20 Chromebooks in my classroom.  This was enough for every two students to have one.

While I was trying to do all this, I had applied for a few grants, trying to get funding to get these Chromebooks, my ultimate goal was to eventually have a full class set.  I had put the grants out of my mind when I got notice from the NEA Foundation that I was being given a grant that would get me the rest of my class set.  I'm anxiously awaiting the funds for that now.