At the beginning of the third marking period, my students began working on 20 time projects. Inspired by discussions online (thank you Twitter edu chats), I wanted to further engage my students in the classroom. Teaching in the resource room is difficult. The students often express feeling "below" (their words, not mine) their peers and by middle school, their self-esteem drops dramatically. While I try to keep my classes as close to the curriculum as possible, even reading the higher level novels, the students still feel like they are disconnected from the content and their learning.
Each student has individual interests. At some point or another, they've expressed desire to work on other projects than the ones produced in ELA. I found it hard to tell my student that we would not have time to actually write poetry in class this year. Seeing the look of dissatisfaction on their face crushed me. Here I am in language arts telling a student that we can't write. There had to be a better way.
On day one of the third marking period, I introduced my students to the concept of a 20 Time project, where 20% of their remaining time in class would be dedicated to working on a project of their choosing. Because choice is such a big part of my classroom, my students weren't immediately intrigued. They're accustomed to choice boards for assessments. But when I went through my presentation with them, they were more enthusiastic. Some of my students didn't need the slides with ideas; they automatically had a plan in motion. Others needed some ideas for inspiration before coming up with their own. Here's what they came up with:
Novels. Comic books/graphic novels. Thematic artwork. Informational pieces. Scripts. They were all things that I couldn't cover in my classes but really interested my students. So we got down to work. Each week the students received 20% of their class time to work on their project. Most of the time, that consisted of 10 minutes at the end of the period when their other work was finished. There were certain occasions where I dedicated a whole class period to the project.
At first, the students seemed confused because they were actually having fun working on an assignment. Then, the projects started to get more challenging. For some, writer's block was beginning to sink in or inspiration just wasn't striking. Either way, challenges were faced. But my students didn't give up. They continued to push through their projects because they wanted to see the final product at the end of the year. Students who would have put their head down in the desk in frustration at a difficult assignment were motivating themselves to keep going. Seeing the positive attitudes in my classroom and the peer-to-peer encouragement on these projects was awesome.
Biggest Successes of my 20 Time Trial
What I Need to do Better
Comments/Advice from my Students
I asked my students to list advice/comments at the end of their presentation to help my students next year (or in the future)
This blog was my 20 time project for my kids.
I ended the day of project celebrations by showing my students my project, which I promised them I would do. I told them I didn't post as much as I would have liked (and they jokingly criticized me for not working hard enough). I told them I made mistakes, readjusted my thinking, pushed outside my comfort zone but felt successful, just like them. Like I said in my introductory post, this is blog is something I always wanted to do. I just needed a push. For some of my students, these assignments were things they wanted to do but needed a little extra encouragement.
This project was a learning curve for me. I learned about it and decided to go for it. And, in the end, it was a great experience for my students (and me). Can't wait to try it out with my 6th graders next year!
With the year winding down to a close (only 3 full days and 3 half days left to go), I thought it would be nice to reflect on the top ed tech features I used in the classroom this year. Whether for the student's benefit or my own, these ten apps, add-ons, and extensions for Google earned MVP for my first year as a teacher.
1. Grammarly (Extension)
Even as a resource room ELA teacher, grammar is still important to me. However, when my students are on a roll with their writing, they often forget about the grammar rules. Even though their ideas are great, their subject-verb agreement, punctuation, and even capitalization can fall to the wayside. Even going back and rereading and editing can cause grammar mistakes to fall through the cracks. By October, as the students were completing their full-length narratives, I had them add the Grammarly extension. While it wasn't compatible in Docs, the students were able to copy and paste their work into Grammarly's "New Document" section and have their work checked. Once they fixed their mistakes they just copied and pasted their edited work back into Docs to turn in. Since my school has Gmail for the students, the students were able to sign up to Grammarly and got a weekly report about how many unique words they used, their biggest area of weakness, and what they need to work on.
Plus, for me, it's compatible in social media posts and other websites where spellcheck doesn't apply (including emails). It's really an awesome tool for anyone.
2. Google Dictionary (Extension)
I had my students in both resource and ICS settings use this extension. While in the chrome browser, double clicking on any word will cause a pop up to appear with the definition of the word. This extension eliminates the constant "What does this word mean?" instances and avoids the five to ten minutes wasted while kids thumb through the dictionary. I have several students in ICS settings that are more reserved and do not feel comfortable asking questions in front of their peers. If they ask the definition of a common word, they get embarrassed when everyone in the class looks at them and most of the time they don't want either teacher hovering around them for too long while they work on an assignment. This extension allows the student to have a resource at their fingertips to help them understand the text without having a spotlight on them for not knowing all of the words.
3. Draftback (Docs Add-On)
Draftback is an add-on for Docs that goes ten steps beyond the traditional "See Revision History" option. Deemed the "archaeology of great writing", this add-on allows you to play back every keystroke, backspace, and letter typed on any Doc during its entire existence. Keep in mind, however, that you must have editing rights through Sharing in order to view the Draftback. I admit, I sometimes I have fun just watching my entire report or worksheet typed back in fast-paced time, but it's also a good tool for the classroom for a few reasons.
I often have students collaborate on the same Doc in a group project. This feature allows me to ensure that the students are all on task. While I cannot see who writes what words in the playback, I still can see every letter typed. I can see which groups were on task and focused and which were playing around and being silly. You can scan through the replay to watch the Doc down to each individual second. You can scroll through and see what times and days the Doc was active and what was being typed and erased. It's also great for those "copy and paste from the internet" situations. One second there's nothing and the next second there's a paragraph. It makes it easier for teachers to determine areas of plagiarism, because then they can just copy and paste that text into a google search surrounded by quotes to find where the words came from.
Have you ever watched one of those time lapse videos? The ones where a girl takes a picture of herself every day for a year and then mashes it into one minute long presentation where the pictures flip quickly so you can really see the progression? Or where someone photographs the daily growth of a plant and you can watch it grow in a few seconds? That's basically what Draftback does for students. After writing a really big essay, students can watch their writing process unfold in front of their eyes. It's interesting to see what they eliminated, where they struggled, and what parts were easier. They love watching their writing progress!
4. Kami (Extension)
This might be the the ELA teacher in me coming out again, but Kami is a such an amazing resource. Granted, it took my kids a little awhile to become better acquainted with the extension, but once they did, they loved it. It's technically a document viewer that opens with PDFs (but has capacity to open other files, as well). From there, you can edit, annotate information with text boxes, highlight, strike-through text, add comments, collaborate with others, and even draw images. There are additional awesome features that are only (sadly) available with the paid version, which I couldn't do with my students. However, the free version is just as useful. I'd throw up a poem on Google Classroom as a PDF and my students would open up their own individual file. They would add text boxes to make comments, highlight important words and information, and could even draw our annotation shapes. It was just like writing on a printed version of the poem. Then they could export their annotations and share them with me, or upload them to a Google Classroom post.
5. Voice Typing (Docs Add-On)
Voice Typing is a speech-to-text feature that is available within Docs. I had several of my students use it this year in my ICS ELA classes because they could verbalize their ideas eloquently but freeze when they were placed in front of the computer screen. But with this feature, we were able to just record their thoughts as they spoke aloud. Prior to the update, my students were frustrated that the only formatting capability they could do with their voice was adding periods, which meant they had to go back and add all of the punctuation themselves. However, the new update is seriously awesome. There are tons of new formatting voice commands that come within the add-on. This webpage provides access to every command you can complete on Docs using only your voice. They vary from adding tables to adding punctuation and even returning to places of error for correction. I've used this while the students were working in groups and the other voices didn't interfere too badly with my student's commands. After the update, my kids were a lot happier with their results (and so was I).
6. Boomerang for Gmail (Extension)
This one is just for the teachers. Although, if someone has a way that this would be useful for students, I'm totally all ears. I'm a person who likes to get everything done upfront. All emails and reminders are typically written in the morning for me. If I get word of a test approaching in an ICS class, I'll quickly draft up an email with resources and links to help students and reminders for the parents. But I hated leaving these emails in "Draft" mode. Boomerang fixes that. It allows me to schedule a later date for the email to be sent. It has other great features, too. For example, if I'm sending out a permission slip in Forms through Gmail, I can choose to Boomerang the email back to the recipients in a specific amount of time, on a certain date, or if they don't reply or open the email. Boomerang also senses dates received in the body of an email. It asks you if you want to "Boomerang" this message before that date and you can set the amount of time before (an hour, a day, etc). So, when I get IEP meeting notifications, I typically boomerang them so I'm notified the day before the meeting is scheduled to occur.
7. Readability (Extension)
If you've ever uttered the words "These ads on the side are so annoying" then this extension would be the one for you. Readability eliminates all the excess clutter from webpages and provides the user with a nice, clean and almost ebook-like format. Even when using popular news sites, the sidebars are filled with ads and other junk that the students with either be annoyed or distracted by. ("Oooh Toyota ads", "Old spice deodorant, yay!") With one click of the comfy couch, your webpage becomes almost like a Kindle reader. Gray screen, solid color text, and no background nonsense. It generally even keeps the photos associated with the article, which is great. You can export the format to a Kindle reader, but I've never tried it. Either way, it's less distraction and more focus for the students.
8. Verity Spell (Docs Add-On)
For the spellers with extreme difficulty. Let's face it, there comes a time when everyone spells a word so incorrectly that even spell check has no clue what we're talking about. In special education, I deal with students with similar challenges. For most, spell check is sufficient, but for some, Verity Spell is needed. Verity Spell is an add-on specifically created for students with reading and writing difficulties, including dyslexia. It corrects words even as extremely different as "sositch" for "sausage" or "citon" for "kitten." For my students who really struggle with spelling, this add-on has been awesome. It also highlights all the "easily confused words" in a document, such as your homonyms. As students click on each one, it gives them sample sentences for the words to make sure they used the correct one. If I wrote the sentence: "I told them to go over they're" and incorrectly used the word, the add-on would give me sample sentences using "there", "their", and "they're" and "there" and ask which one I meant. I can either correct myself or determine that I was automatically correct the first time. It's good practice for students (especially because I'm so strict about using the correct versions of each word).
Every time a student uses a GIF in my classroom
It was around December when I started adding GIFs as the header image to my Google Form assessments. I can't remember if it was a deliberate thing or I was just bored with static, stock image banners. I think it was an image of a guy falling off of a hoverboard (we were doing nonfiction notice & note at the time and our article of the day had been about the dangers of hoverboards). I didn't think much of it until I saw the reactions of my students. They saw it, tilted their heads to the side in confusion, and then laughed. Then they immediately began talking about their own experiences with hoverboards before we dove into the article. From that moment on, I was hooked...and so were the kids. Every new concept, idea, and text introduced was accompanied by a teacher or student provided GIF and now these little moving pictures have become a staple of my instruction. I actually just finished an end-of-the-year reflection Slides presentation where, in addition to their written response, students provided a GIF to support what they had said. This fascination in my ELA classes really got me thinking about the benefits of using these pictures as tools in every classroom.
Get on their level
Love it or hate it, the way we take in the news is changing. Think about the popularity of sites like BuzzFeed, who post news pieces in short sentences accompanied by GIFs, videos, and pictures. People are getting their news from thumbing down a newsfeed and less and less families seem to maintain a relationship with print newspapers. This generation wants things quickly, instant gratification, which contributes to the popularity of these websites.
I have spoken to educators that are completely against GIFs in their classrooms. They become frustrated at students who insert them into presentations. And while I understand that there is a time where seriousness is mandatory, I don't think a student adding a (school appropriate) GIF in an informal presentation is going to end the world. It's a part of popular culture and it's almost better to embrace it than completely shun it.
Keep that engagement
Handing my special education students a two-page, single-spaced article would cause them to break down, give up, and put their heads down on their desk without even trying. Handing them the same article with content-related GIFs scattered throughout? Suddenly they care. My students could not care less about the beef production industry's impact on global warming (Yes, we did read an article on this for our compare/contrast nonfiction essays). When that same article was presented with cow GIFs interspersed throughout, all of a sudden they cared about the information. And while I thought throwing a GIF into direct instruction or an assessment header would be a distraction, it proved just the opposite. It drew them to the work instead of pushing them away from it. Boom. Instant interest in even the most boring subject.
(FYI- it is the unspoken law of the internet that you must try to use at least one cat GIF)
Stop all that repeating
It always happens. You've finished giving directions. Everyone seems to get it. Then you send them off to start working and a few students raise their hand and say "Wait...what?"
GIFs solved some of that problem...at least with step-by-step directions. Need my students to follow certain steps in a tech-based assignment? I use the program ScreenToGif to record the steps I want the students to accomplish. I put the GIFs in a presentation and use it to guide students through the process. There's no more "Wait...where do I click?" or "What am I supposed to be doing?" The students see an animated image on an infinite loop and can figure out what to do. Plus, the computer mouse moving around in a GIF is more interesting than hearing my voice.
Note: This idea is also amazing for training! When I give GAFE presentations and sessions for my coworkers; having GIFs that walk through each step instead of watching me simply do the steps quickly in front of them has been really beneficial!
Work those critical thinking skills
The other day I prompted my students to find a GIF that represented one character's reaction to another. Some students had an idea in mind and set out for their perfect GIF. Some had no idea at all. They started looking for general images, happy, sad, angry. Seeing the world of GIFs out there allowed them to make some connections to the text. "Well, she's giving side eye. I'd imagine the characters doing that because they hate each other." After further prompting, such as asking why they wouldn't be fist fighting or screaming if they hated each other, I got the student to dig deeper about the relationship. The student determined the internal motivations of each character, how their motivations impacted their relationship, and how their personality traits caused them to deal with difficult situations. All that from a GIF. If I had come outright and asked the student to identify character motivation, I would've heard crickets and seen blank stares. Granted, it isn't always a miracle worker, but GIFs do offer some inspiration and ideas for students.
If they create it, they will learn
I use ScreenToGif for my GIF creations (except for this post- which I stole from the internet. Bad model for my students). I've encouraged my kids to use the same program. Some examples of why we've created GIFs:
Blindly copying an image URL from a search into a presentation doesn't show understanding of the concept. It doesn't require much thought and effort from the student. Plus, after seeing 3 presentations in a row with the same exact picture (the first one from a Google search), everyone is bored. Creating GIFs requires students to identify exact moments that deal with a particular concept. John Wilkes Booth crossing the bridge from Washington DC on his escape route requires a specific moment. A random GIF of a pig dancing from a Google search will not suffice. Student creation shows knowledge and higher level understanding of a topic.
Let me know about any great ways you use GIFs in your classroom!
So, I'm a little late to the game but...
...I absolutely love using TodaysMeet in the Classroom. I know it has been around for years and is featured in many classrooms, but I decided to use it this week as a way to encourage discussion and participation during our viewing of The Outsiders (our last whole-class novel of the year). After reading about seven novels both at home and together in class this year, they were begging for a chance to finally watch the movie version.
(To be fair, the other movie versions of the books were either non-existent or were less than fabulous interpretations. I'm looking at you 1945 version of And Then There Were None and still hoping that the 2015 miniseries is a better companion). Either way, this was the first chance the students would be getting to compare book to movie.
For the next few days I went back and forth with determining an activity do complete alongside the movie. Do I just let them watch and discuss afterward? Do we do the infamous Venn Diagram comparison? (Even as a passionate English student, I hated those). I thought about making an interactive document or Slides presentation, but that seemed too cumbersome and distracting from the movie itself.
And that's when I remembered TodaysMeet, an online tool I had heard about at a conference as an undergrad student.
TodaysMeet is a backchannel website that opens an online chat room that falls into the background of whatever else is happening. It works for presentations at conferences by allowing the audience to interact with the presenter both during and after the presentation. Users create a unique URL and share it with their audience. Then, all participants add their nickname.
Like I said in an earlier post, I've got an interesting mixture of personalities in my resource room this year: some shy and self-reflective and some outgoing and communication-loving. If I paused the movie and asked questions aloud, I'd only be appealing to the students with strong interpersonal skills. If I formed a worksheet or digital assessment, I'd be appealing to the intrapersonal students. I needed a combination of both to engage all. TodaysMeet did that for me.
I grew up with the concept of the chat room. I remember spending middle school nights talking to my friends on AIM and leaving creative and witty Away messages. Today's students, while they are social media inclined, tend to miss that part of the experience. They were intrigued with the concept.
They Loved the Nickname Feature
While some students took the traditional route and used their first initial and last name, some took the creative approach. Thinking of it as their "Gamer Tag," the students formed their own unique name to add to their posts. For my shy students, this became their pseudonym. They informed me about their name choice, but to the rest of the class, they were anonymous. This allowed them the chance to be free to type their thoughts and ideas without their name being connected.
Give Them the Chance to Experiment
Before introducing the movie and discussion, I allowed the students the chance to play around with the comment feature. Some were ecstatic that they were limited to 140 characters. Other writers, who typically delve into paragraphs at a time, were frustrated with the concept and needed to figure out how to accommodate. In the end, they learned that sending multiple short messages worked just as effectively. I let my students play around with chatting, which turned into a virtual song session as they each shared one line of a song at a time (The name of the song, I don't know. I'm not good with modern lyrics). Either way, after about three minutes, they were comfortable and ready to move onto the next activity.
"You Mean, No Venn Diagrams?!"
I presented the assignment to my students: you will make comments and posts about the movie as you watch. The topics can be anything, ranging from a question you need answered to similarities and differences between the book and movie. The comments could even be opinion-based, expressing discontent at the way the movie portrayed a character or scene. One of my vocal students pumped his fist into the air with excitement, as he had feared we would be doing the dreaded Venn Diagram assignment. My quieter students looked pleased knowing they could share their comments without having the spotlight on them or having the whole class stare. They leaned into their laptops, fingers ready at the keys and were ready to begin.
Immediately after the opening credits, there was silence. The students looked back and forth between each other not knowing what to say or how to respond. I decided to open up with a discussion question from me so they knew where to get started. I asked a simple question about the director's depiction of Ponyboy writing the essay in the beginning of the movie. It was an opinion based question and everyone had something to say. That got the ball rolling.
Here's some of my student comments (from most recent to least recent) where they picked up on cultural allusions, discussed morals, and debated character choices: