What an stressful time it is to be a teacher! This is especially a stressful time for those of us who have been teaching for a long time. Those of us who know our routine and have figured out how to do this thing called teaching have just been thrown a serious monkey wrench in the form of distance learning expectations during this pandemic.
Personally, I teach in New Mexico. All schools here have been closed for the rest of the school year. This means that I will be teaching from home for the next 6 weeks, while managing the education of my own 3 kids (high school, middle school and elementary). Add this to the stress of the unknown that we are all suffering right now, and I know that I'm feeling the stress. I am sure you are too, so I created today's blog post to help all of us reduce our stress load at this challenging time.
Here are 10 tips to help teachers reduce the stress of this time:
1.) Build a routine/schedule: Routine is so important to reducing stress because routines give our body and brain a start and finish time. Additionally, having a routine or a schedule helps us to get more done and feel more successful, which is a definite stress reliever.
Your schedule doesn't have to be complex, but it should give you an overall breakdown of your day so that you can stay on task, remember to do things like eat lunch, and feel accomplished at the end of the day. Make sure that when you make your schedule, you give yourself a time for lunch, a time for connecting with other teachers, and a time to turn it all off at the end of the day.
2.) Take time to exercise and move - I'm a big fan of yoga, but honestly any time of movement is important right now. Exercise release endorphins which reduce stress. Our bodies normally get some stress relief by moving around our classrooms, walking the hallways of the school, talking with our colleagues, etc. Many of us additionally go to the gym. So right now we are missing a lot of movement and this is NOT the time to skip the exercise. Personally, I build my time right into my schedule. I need it in the morning to get me going. My husband prefers it at the end of the day, to wind him down. Wherever it works for you, be sure to take time to move.
3.) Make a plan for your own kiddos - One of the most challenging things about our current situation is that many of us are trying to work full time AND parent full time. As someone who used to home school and run a business, I'm here to tell you that this is challenging! But it's not impossible. The best thing to do is have a plan ready ahead of time (and then be prepared to tweak that plan each and every day).
My kiddos are bigger these days. My baby is 9 now, but when I was home schooling, he was 3 and I planned my life and work around nap times and Little Einstein videos. I would not allow any television before my online meetings, and then when I needed to be on the computer, he was more engaged in his show. I set up times where he and his brothers played together, and I would save certain toys that he really enjoyed for the times when I needed to be the most focused.
Now that my boys are bigger, they have a schedule that they have to follow (with a paper checklist for them to complete) and then they have expectations that have been clearly communicated for when mom is needing focused time. Having a plan ahead of time means we have less arguments and less of the "Mom, when are you going to be done?" conversation.
4.) Use tools your students are familiar with - Whenever we try a new technology tool, there is a certain learning curve that goes with it, so I always try to find the familiar for my kiddos. Most district are requiring new tools already, so try not to add to that too much. Instead, try to do what you've already done as much as possible. My kiddos were already using: Zearn, XtraMath, Prodigy, Freckle, Clever and Google Classroom (with Google Drive products). So as much as possible, I come back to these programs. I may use them in a new way, but by coming back to the familiar, I am reducing the stress level for the kids, which in turn reduces my stress level because they are more likely to be able to figure it all out. Also, I'm not having to stress out about finding all these new things to use.
If your kiddos weren't using a lot of technology before, think of ways that you can do what you were already doing with a tech tool. Were you using my paper tiling puzzles before? Then try using the digital format now. This way students will understand the biggest part of what you are asking them to do, and all they have to figure out is the digital component. Remember that new tasks cause stress, so stay with the familiar as much as possible.
5.) Use what other people have made - This is not the time to recreate the wheel. There's already so much to learn and to do. Take this opportunity lean on people like me who have tons of things available for you to download and use in your Google Classroom or other distance learning platforms. Here are some of the items I have ready for distance learning include:
- Digital Tiling Puzzles
- Internet Scavenger Hunts
- Teaching Power Points
This also includes working with other teachers in your school. This is the most important time to collaborate and use what your teammates have made. Share videos you have made, share resources you have found, share technology tricks you have figured out, and work together!
6.) Don't be afraid to video tape yourself - Synchronous learning activities like Zoom meetings are one of the leading causes of inequity in distance education. However, creating video lessons is a great way to teach because it allows us to truly talk to our students and model things the way we would do in our classrooms.
Many teachers are scared to video tape themselves, but this is a fear we will need to get over during this time. Your kiddos want to see you. Turn on your video camera and then forget it is there. Talk like you would to your kids. Show them what you would show them in class. And then post it. Don't go back and re-watch it if you don't need to edit it. It'll just add to your stress. But I promise you, once you post that video and your kids see that you are still with them, their stress will go down. And so will yours.
7.) Over communicate with your parents - It's always been important to communicate clearly with our parents. But now it's even more important because they are the ones having the actual face to face communication with the kiddos. They are the ones setting the routine and schedule at home. They are the first ones to help when the kids get stuck. So part of our job now is to make sure that the parents understand how to log in, how to help kiddos, how to turn in assignments, how to get questions to us, etc. etc. etc. If we are clear in communicating our expectations with our parents, they will be able to support the kiddos, which will decrease the stress of the the kids, the parents, and US.
8.) Don't try to overdo it - There are so many amazing technology tools out there, that it's really easy to want to try it all at once. You can't. You'll stress out your students. You'll stress out their parents, and you'll stress out yourself. Give yourself some grace and don't overdo it.
9.) Allow yourself to use your phone and other portable devices - I have heard many of my teacher friends say "I've sat in front of my computer for hours!" Teachers don't normally sit for that long, so this causes stress for many of us. One of the ways that I reduce my hours in front of the computer is to download the apps to my phone. Google Classroom, Google Drive, Remind, they all have apps and using them on my phone means that I can stay up on what my kids are doing or what questions my parents have, and still go out for a walk or check with my personal kiddos on their school work. Not being tied to my seat relieves a lot of my stress, and back pain too!
10.) Turn it all off at a reasonable hour - Just like you shouldn't stay at work all night, you shouldn't be at your computer all hours. When you would leave your classroom, close your computer, stop answering emails and turn the work mode off. Go outside. Check in with your spouse. Call a friend. Have a glass of wine. Watch your shows. Working from home requires us to be responsible for saying "My hours are up." and not letting work take over our entire life. It is okay to turn your computer off and step away, just like it's okay to go home from school at a normal time. We need to use this opportunity to force ourselves to find a work/life balance.
Do you have something you're doing to relieve your stress level? Share that here so we can all help each other during this unprecedented time in education.
Stop Teaching Students that their Holiday is the Only Holiday! Christmas Around the World is Harmful to Students
It's that time of the year again - Christmas Around the World is popping up on lesson plans everywhere. As a teacher, I understand the draw of Christmas Around the World. It is exciting to have a topic that the kids are excited to learn about. It is exciting to get to teach Social Studies without trying to squeeze it in to the 15 minutes allotted. In a world of scripted curriculum, it seems like a dream come true to be creative and still connect to curriculum. And it gives us an opportunity to teach students about "the world" which increases their background knowledge and understanding of people different than them. If you've been a reader for awhile, you know that my background is in ESL and Multicultural education, so why then would I say that we should NOT be teaching Christmas Around the World?
Christmas Around the World is well-intentioned, but it is also very centered around Christian, European countries. Think about the activities normally done during Christmas Around the World: caroling in the United Kingdom, the yule log of France, the advent calendar in Germany, putting shoes on the windowsill in Iceland, the pinata of Mexico, lanterns in the Philippines and barbecuing in South Africa. All of the countries that are researched are either European or were colonized by European nations, with traditional customs being pushed out and replaced by European customs.
By teaching Christmas Around the World, we are telling students that Christmas is the only important holiday in the world. We are telling them it is so important that it is celebrated in every country, all over the world. This isn't true, but remember that to kiddos if they aren't hearing about countries where Christmas isn't celebrated, then those countries must be celebrating Christmas and we're just not telling them.
I'm not saying that Christmas isn't important, but the idea that it is so important that everyone celebrates it, just in different ways, is very harmful to our students. This idea leads to:
1.) Students who don't see the importance of other people's holidays.
When I teach students that people in Morocco don't celebrate Christmas, they are completely shocked. They assume in their head that everyone celebrates what they celebrate, and that any other holidays are celebrated in addition. Because they see these other holidays as things that are celebrated in addition to the "real" holiday, they see them as less important. Why would any holiday be more important than theirs?
This is why people who travel to non-Christian countries are shocked when shops (and government offices and schools) are open on December 25th. Often these same people get frustrated when non-Christians ask for a day off of work to celebrate their own holidays. This intolerance is seen at the adult level, but can be helped by teaching students that other people have holidays of equal importance to ours. For example, we can never imagine working on Christmas day, but have no problem asking Muslim students and teachers to work on Eid al Adha, which is a holiday of equal importance.
2.) Students who don't see the importance of other people's religions and cultures.
When we teach them that everyone celebrates Christmas, we are unintentionally teaching them that everyone is Christian and therefore that Christianity is the only acceptable religion. Last year I had parents complain because I was teaching students the story behind Eid al Adha. This story is from the Koran, just like the story for Christmas comes from the Bible. The parents had no problem with the Christmas story being taught, but a story from another religious book was very controversial. Now, I'm not saying that we should be teaching religion of any kind in a public school. However, 99% of all important holidays come from one religious story or another. Teaching students about different holidays should include teaching them that other religions exist, and are practiced by people who are more similar to us than different from us. Not teaching students about other religions and cultures breeds intolerance.
3.) Students who aren't learning about countries that contain large population and large political presences like China, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Japan, etc.
These are places that don't celebrate Christmas, and therefore are not included in Christmas Around the World. The people from these countries often look and sound quite different from the average American. If it is our intent with this activity to expose students to "others" then these are the most important cultures to expose them to. However, because they don't celebrate Christmas, they get left out of what is often the only time that students learn about cultures outside of the United States.
4.) Students who are learning that everyone in the United States celebrates Christmas, which is a myth in itself.
In our multicultural country, there are plenty of students who celebrate Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, Solstice, Feast Days, Haunakah, Kwanza, and other holidays. These students are left out enough when we are all completing Christmas activities in our classroom and our school. Now we are telling them that their holidays aren't even important enough to be celebrated when we actually learn about "the others". In addition, we are telling their classmates that the holidays they celebrate are not important enough to learn about. This makes already conflicted students feel more conflicted and already entitled students feel more entitled.
Now, I am not saying we shouldn't be teaching students about holidays around the world, I'm just saying it needs to truly be HOLIDAYS Around the World, with representation from all continents and all cultures. Multiple holidays need to be represented, from multiple cultures and multiple countries around the world. This is how we teach students about the importance of understanding and including other people from around the world.
I feel so passionately about this that I have a forever FREE reader's theater script in my Teachers Pay Teachers store called Light up the World with Celebrations. This reader's theater is designed to help students understand that there are different holidays celebrated all around the world, but they all use light and have a common purpose: to bring people together. In addition, I have a FREE holiday packet for Muslim Holidays and a FREE vocabulary packet for the holidays of Christmas, Haunakah, Kwanza and Diwali.
If you are going to do a HOLIDAYS Around the World celebration this year, please consider including some non-European, non-Christian holidays to show students that Christmas is NOT the only holiday celebrated by people around the world.
At each school I have taught at there has been a need to use interventions with certain students, and to track the effectiveness of these interventions using data. This intervention process often has a different name depending on where you teach. The two most common that I have come across are: Response to Intervention (RTI) and Student Assistance Team (SAT). However, I've also seen it called (SST) Student Support Team, and even (Triple I) Immediate Intensive Intervention. Whatever it's called at your school, it means finding interventions that will close gaps for students to give them the best chance at success. And whatever you call it, in order to do it successfully, you must have a way of knowing if what you're doing is helping our students. This means you have to collect data.
Unfortunately, this often means more class time needed to collect that data, which we don't always have. So this year I have worked hard on using technology to help me collect some of that data. Saves class time, and teacher sanity! Here are the tech tools I've used:
1.) Google Forms - Using Google Forms is a great way to create a simple, pinpointed quiz for any topic that your students are struggling with. For reading, this could be a comprehension quiz. For phonics, you could insert a picture and ask students to choose the correctly written word. For math, it could be a few questions on a specific topic.
Any multiple choice questions assigned through Google Forms will be graded for you, with only open ended questions left for you to grade. You also have the choice of students taking the quiz once, or multiple times. You can release the "correct answers" to your students, or choose not to. You can assign the test to one student or to your whole class. The options are so limitless!
For intervention students, I use Google Forms in 2 ways. First, I pull data from the weekly quizzes I give to all of my students in order to see if my kiddos are applying what they're learning in small group with me to their "mainstream" activities. Secondly, I have a few quizzes for common skills that I give only to my students working on those skills. I make a copy just for them and have them take the same quiz multiple times (every 2 weeks for so) so that I can track how they are achieving on that specific skill.
2.) XtraMath - Basic math fact fluency is often one of my student's intervention goals. Increasing understanding of how numbers go together and increasing speed of retrieving facts are also both vital for students working on more complex math standards - like problem solving. Working on math fact fluency in small group is easy, right? You work on patterns, songs, flash cards, games, etc. However, collecting the data can be more complex.
For a long time, I used my Math Fact Quizzes because I could easily have students date them and use them to keep track of fact fluency data. However, we are now restricted on the number of copies we can make because administration wants us using our Chromebooks to their full capacity. So now I use the website XtraMath. Students work on it for 10 - 15 minutes a day and I get a full report of what problems they attempted, what problems they mastered and what problems they maintained.
3.) Flipgrid - We all know that the best way to assess knowledge of a subject is to sit one on one with each child. However, time rarely allows for that in the classroom. Instead, I use the website Flipgrid for students to create videos on themselves discussing their thinking.
Math problem solving is a common skill I work on during intervention time. Obviously math word problems is your go-to assessment for if they are able to solve the problem correctly. However, to truly understand how my kiddos are getting to their answers, I need them to explain their thinking. So, I have my students record their thinking into Flipgrid and use those videos to assess their understanding and determine where I need to intervene.
Additionally, reading fluency is super easy to assess using Flipgrid because you can set the timer to create a 1 minute video. Students read their set passage for 1 minute, close the computer and move on. You can then go back and watch the videos, count the words and really get a picture of their fluency. In addition, you can play those videos for parents during their SAT meeting. How much more powerful is a video of their kiddo reading than you telling them "She currently reads 35 words per minute."
Collecting data on students is not my favorite part of the job, but these tech tools have made it so much more manageable. This type of data collection has also made the focus truly on getting better interventions, instead of just on having data to put on forms for meetings. Since our focus should be on kids instead of data, I'd say that is a win, win!
Techie teacher here! I am the teacher who, when we only had one projector for the team, housed the projector in my room so that I could use it whenever no one else wanted it. I am the teacher who figured out a center schedule based around each kid getting at least 20 minutes of computer time a day, when I only had 3 computers in my classroom. I am the teacher who has always been willing to take your computer lab time if you aren't using it. So this year when I found out I was to have a Chromebooks classroom set, I literally jumped for joy.
What I didn't realize was just having the Chromebooks wasn't the end of the story. Now I had to figure out how to best use Chromebooks in elementary. I had to learn how to do more than just engage my students, but have them using the technology independently in order to increase learning. It's taken some time, but we have developed a balance of using the Chromebooks for engagement and enhancing our learning experience. Here are some ideas on how to incorporate Chromebooks in the Classroom in order to make your life, and your students' lives better.
How Can You Engage Your Students?
Kids LOVE technology. It's their life, their every day, so the excuse to use it in the classroom increases their desire to do anything. I have kids who LOVE taking daily math quizzes in Google Forms. I could give them the same form as a printed version and they would groan and complain. Sometimes technology is worth it just for the engagement!
1.) Find websites that teach and entertain. - There are so many great websites out there, and many of them are free. The trick to appropriately using websites in the classroom is to find the ones that will be engaging, but also help students to work on the skill we need them to work on. (And it they're free, extra bonus!) My kiddos are always asking me "Why can't we play Cool Math Games for Kids? It's educational!" My answer is always "There are so many websites out there that are MORE educational, and just as much fun." Plus, I like websites where I can track their data and see what they've been working on. Here are a few websites I have found incredibly helpful and engaging this year:
- Khan Academy
- Whoose Reading
2.) Use videos - YouTube is an amazing resource for our students, as are videos available through websites like Khan Academy, Zearn and National Geographic. Videos can be used to give students the background knowledge they are lacking. This background knowledge helps children to understand what they read and make connections to what they are learning. Additionally, videos can be used as a second "teacher". Students can receive information from videos at a center and then come and apply that knowledge to the hands on lesson you are teaching.
Videos are a way of life for our students. As a parent, I know that my sons watch YouTube more than they watch T.V. They are constantly watching people play video games, test out new foods, do tricks, etc. So introducing kids to using videos to learn is not a stretch for them. It's only natural. This year my students have used videos to experience Alaska in the 1940s, to review math concepts, to learn about Native Americans of the Southwest, to learn about parts of speech and to research animals.
Of course, now that my students have learned to use videos as a teaching tool, the next step is for them to share their learning! We use websites like Flipgrid or the built in video camera, for students to create their own videos!
3.) Use a variety of ways for kids to get info (hyperdocs, slides, scavenger hunts, smart lab, etc.) One of the coolest things about having Chromebooks is that I can give my kiddos ways to build their own learning while I pull small groups and do individual conferences. This means my kids are getting the same (and sometimes better) information as they would be if we were doing whole group instruction. Plus they are each getting some individualized attention EVERY DAY. Talk about a game changer, right!
So how do I get them those ways to build their own learning? I've tried a variety of ways this year, and I've found that a balance of these activities meets the needs of my classroom best:
Hyperdocs - a document with a list of activities to do and links to videos and/or websites that will guide them through.
Hyper Slides - this is similar to a hyperdoc, but each slide is a step and students work from the beginning to the end of the slide show. Additionally, instead of having links to videos, I can have them embedded. With this format, I can also build in activities like sorts where students need to move things around.
Collaborative Hyper Slides - I have also used collaborative slide shows to allow students to work together on research and problem solving tasks. (See this blog post on Collaborative Slide Shows.)
Internet Scavenger Hunts - a document with a list of research questions and a list of websites. Students use the websites to find answers to the research questions. I have more than 40 of these available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Smart Labs - using Smart Notebook, I have created interactive pages that include Smart Labs (games), videos, activities where students move around manipulatives and links out to presentation activities. Once uploaded into Smart Learning Suite, students can work on these at their own pace. Sometimes students are asked to take screenshots of their work and upload them into Google Classroom.
Insert Screenshots of hyperdocs and smart labs.
4.) Research can be fun! Most adults think of research as this boring activity where you read a million books. For kids today, internet research is the reality and it can be super fun! My students use a combination of videos, online encyclopedias and websites to research. They come up with a list of questions, and love knowing that they can find the answer to so many of their questions online. While they are researching, we are talking about: the validity of sources, how to paraphrase, how to read for meaning, how to properly use search tools, etc. These are all amazing lessons that my kids think are fun and games.
Let Kids Interact with Their Learning
Kids shouldn't be passive learners, just sitting and receiving knowledge. We don't want technology to just replace the lecture style, we want it to push kids further so that they are taking some ownership over their own learning and really building understanding, not just memorizing facts. Here's how I've been increasing student ownership so that I'm not just doing the same old thing, but now with a computer.
5.) If you can make it, so can the kids! My students just completed their Math Vocabulary Game Project. Most of my kids created board games, but one of my techie boys decided that if I could make Smart Lab games, so could he! He created a fabulous matching game that drew the kids' attention and kept his game as the most played game of the afternoon. Honestly the students are often better at creating because they have the time to fiddle with what they're doing, so challenge them to create slide shows, forms, online games, videos, etc. You'll be amazed at what they come up with. And all while they are creating they will be working with the content in new ways that build their own knowledge!
6.) Learning can happen anywhere! Bridging the home/school learning boundary can be difficult for kiddos. Technology is one way that they can take home what they are learning and work on it easily. Websites like Khan Academy, Prodigy, Whoose Reading, Storybird and more can be done at home. Google Classroom, with all of their assignments, can be accessed at home. Students can truly work from anywhere. Kids who are going on vacations or are absent for long periods of time can access the content from their locations. Students without a home computer can access most of their work on their phone (or their parents' phones), or can get on a free computer at the library and see exactly what they saw at school.
Honestly, technology in the classroom is one of the easiest ways to keep learning happening after the school day is done. However, kids aren't likely to get online to watch a lecture or type an essay (unless their grade depends on it). They are likely to get on to play prodigy math games, to watch a quick Khan Academy video that makes their homework easier, or to type a story in Storybird. So keep in mind that home learning needs to be engaging too!
7.) Allow kids to remediate and extend! "This one is too hard!" is something you can often hear from students working on worksheets, while fast finishers will often be done with 4 sheets and have nothing else to do. With technology, we can easily assign those struggling students an easier activity, or give them a video to help guide them through. We can push fast finishers into extension activities that allow for deeper thinking and harder content.
I'm not saying you can't remediate and extend without technology, I know I sure did. I am saying that using differentiated hyperdocs or websites like Prodigy that automatically give easier or harder problems based on needs is a lot simpler and requires a lot less from me, the teacher. Additionally, extensions like Snap and Read and Co-Writer can be used to read websites to students without anyone noticing that they are getting support.
What Can You Do on a Chromebook that You CAN'T Do Without?
The other day a teacher friend looked at some of my "Smart Lab" lessons and told me, I have worksheets that look just like that, why bother with the technology? So we talked about some of the things they can do on the Chromebook that they CAN'T do on a worksheet. Here are a few ways to get to that transformation level:
8.) Video that learning! Whether you are using Flipgrid, Powtoon or just the Chromebook's own video camera, video taping student learning can be an amazing way to get kids to talk about their thinking. Kids these days idolize YouTubers, so getting them to talk to the camera doesn't take much work. However, as they are developing their videos, they are putting their knowledge together, and showing you what they know better than they could on any test.
Some ways I have used student created videos are:
- Recorded conversations between students about math problems
- Reporting out where in a book they found certain literary elements (exaggeration, conflict, etc.)
- Presenting written news reports on self selected topics
- Pretending to interview famous people for Social Studies
- Recording themselves reading for building fluency
9.) Gamify - Whether using Hyperdocs, Smart Labs, or Prodigy, using games builds interaction with the subject in ways that a paper pencil activity never does. Websites like Kahoot and Quizlet provide additional ways to turn learning into a game. Trick them into learning and you will be amazed at how much they will absorb. My kids will play Prodigy for recess (because they ask to) and then come to my math group and say "I just did this problem on Prodigy, so I understand now!"
10.) Learn about anything - Duolingo, Coding etc. Kids don't always want to learn what we're teaching them. So I often entice students with genius projects, where they can learn about anything they want to. This year I had kids learn Spanish, coding, how to make friendship bracelets, how to make slime, and how to build lamps. All of these are amazing activities on their own, but what they also learned was: research skills, taking notes, paraphrasing, finding the main idea, sequencing, vocabulary and self motivation. Learning is learning and technology in our classrooms increases the chances of learning by increasing the engagement level of each student.
It's happened! A Chromebook cart with a device for each and every student is now housed in my classroom! I'm so excited. I imagine all of the possibilities now that I have chromebooks for my students. It's better than a whole box of classroom supplies, because these little devices can connect us to so many options!
Then I think about how I'm going to manage 22 devices and 22 students. What if they break it? What if they go looking where they're not supposed to? What if, what if, what if...... Instead of thinking about what ifs, I used these chromebook classroom management strategies to keep us on track, and it's made for a great school year so far!
Chromebook Classroom Management
1.) Set up expectations and be prepared to repeat
At the beginning of the school year, I teach students how I expect them to use a notebook, how I want them to sharpen their pencil and how I want them to line up. It's obvious that I would also need to teach them how to use their Chromebooks.
The students rolled their eyes at me as I taught them where the power button was and how to plug in their headphones. But a few of them needed those instructions, and they weren't about to speak up and tell me that they didn't know. I also taught them how to hold the Chromebooks (screen closed, two hands, hugged to body) and how to plug their Chromebook only into the plug next to their number in our cart.
Each classroom's expectations will be different. This is what the expectations look like in my 3rd grade classroom:
2.) Develop procedures for dealing with food and water
Before Chromebooks I encouraged my students to have water bottles at their desks and to eat their snack while working. However, I have no desire to be the person who has to go to my edtech and explain that a Chromebook isn't working because a student spilled water all over it. So as soon as the Chromebooks arrived all water bottles were delegated to the students' supply caddies. Snack is now something that is eaten only when we are NOT at our desks, generally during silent reading or other non-technology reading centers.. And of course we talked about both of these changes and why they were happening. Now my students are the first to remind me if we have food or water near the Chromebooks.
3.) Set up your furniture where you can see MOST screens
I hate rows! Let me say that again, I hate having my desks in rows. They move constantly so that they're not a row and the kids have limited access to the students around them, which hampers those good educational discussions. (Yes, I'm a teacher who likes when my kids talk - mostly!) However, we started the year with rows simply so the kiddos know that I can sit at my table in the back teaching small group and see exactly what everyone is doing on their Chromebooks.
As time has passed, we've fiddled with the arrangement and now we have U shaped desks with the desks facing away from me belonging to my most trusted students. I still get up and move around as much as I can, but if I can't teach small group while students are on the Chromebook, then they are kind of pointless.
4.) Train your tech support helpers
One of my favorite classroom jobs is that of "tech support". These are the students whose job it is to go and help others who get stuck using their technology. In past years I had 2 students for the entire class. This year, each group has their own tech support. The students choose their own roles, and I approve them. So the kids with the most actual technology knowledge end up in this role.
One of the reason that I love having tech support is that they solve 90% of the questions that come up. Another reason is that when we are changing something small in our routine, I train only these 4 students. Then they are able to help their group. Now if we are starting a whole new website or program, I train the whole class. But if I moved the location of a link in Google Classroom, then I just show my tech supports and they pass on the news.
5.) Set up bookmark bars
The first technology skill I taught my students, after logging in, was how to bookmark websites. Then we bookmarked all of the sites we use regularly - Khan Academy, Pearson, Math Magician, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Storybird, etc. This way they can easily get to their websites WITHOUT retyping it incorrectly nine times. Saves time, saves frustration, and saves a teacher's sanity!
6.) Practice accessing challenging sites
Even with bookmarks, there are certain sites that take a thousand clicks in order to access what you're looking for. The website where we access our curriculum in e-book is like this. It takes, no lie, 9 clicks for my kiddos to get to their books. This takes a lot of practice for students to remember those clicks.
On the first day that we had our Chromebooks, I had took them through all 9 clicks. Then I had them close it all out and do it from scratch. And then I had them repeat the steps 4 more times. The kiddos were not happy with me by that fifth time, but they could all get through the steps on their own. We talked about the importance of practice. Then, we did it again. Now they know that every time we start a new, challenging website, we're going to practice a bunch of times.
7.) Have students log in as soon as they arrive
One of the biggest complaints I hear from my fellow teachers is how much of their lesson time they lose by waiting for kiddos to log into the system. I bypassed this by making logging in one of the steps of their morning routine. They come in, unpack, move their name on the attendance board, grab their Chromebook, log in, and place it in the corner of their desk. Then they go about their morning work routine.
At first it felt odd for them to have their Chromebooks out if they weren't working on them, but now they know we'll get to them later. And it's much easier to say "jump on this site real quick" if they already have their Chromebooks ready to just be opened and accessed.
8.) Practice a "safe store" situation
Even though we have Chromebooks, the students are not working on them every minute of the day. However, I do not like wasted time in my instructional day, which means that I don't want kids to get their Chromebooks, put them away, and then get them out again. So, once my students get their Chromebooks in the morning, they keep them on their desk for the rest of the day.
In order to have our Chromebooks out all day, we must talk about storing them safely. For my classroom, this means that the Chromebook goes in the upper right corner of your desk, turned to the right. They are closed, and nothing is allowed to be on top of them - not even your arm. This helps students practice protecting the screens of their Chromebooks, by not pressing on the tops. It also gives them plenty of room for other work.
9.) Don't use them just to use them
Just like every other tool we have in our arsenal, chromebooks should be used with a purpose. They should be used to make our lives or our students' lives better, easier and more rewarding. They should not be used just because we have a new toy.
The ways that I have found to use my chromebooks that help enhance my curriculum are:
- having paperless assignments using Google forms and websites like Khan Academy and Math Magician that reduce the amount of grading I have to do. This also gives the students more instant feedback on many assignments.
- using the Chrome extension Snap and Read to allow my struggling readers to have assignments read to them. We've also used audio books on our reading program and voice recognition typing, so that our assignments are more accessible for struggling students. This means they can keep up better and avoid trigger behaviors like frustration.
- giving my students access to Genius projects, Storybird and Code.org during our intervention block. This engages my students actively, allowing me to pull small groups more successfully.
- posting video clips directly into Google Classroom instead of showing the video whole group. This allows students who might be out of the room for speech or gifted to not miss out on the video. Also, students listening on their own individual device with their own headphones tend to pay attention better than when they are watching on the big screen, sitting next to their friends.
- using direct links to activities that I want students to participate in, rather than general links to a website. This has been great for specific math games, but it has also been great for guided research, like in my Internet Scavenger Hunts.
10.) Be prepared for things to go wrong
I have a lovely new teacher on my team who told me she doesn't want anything to go wrong. I don't think I helped her when I said "Don't worry, they will." But, I spoke the truth. Things are going to go wrong. Computers will break. Logins won't work. Internet goes down. You mess up the way you assign an activity in Google Classroom (or forget to assign it at all). Just like everything else we do in the classroom things will go wrong. That's okay.
We need to be prepared to do our lesson in a completely different way, or to say "You know what guys, we'll try this again tomorrow." I often talk to my kiddos about what our plan was, how the plan is now going to change because of a technology failure, and what my thinking was behind the change. This helps our students to know that we need to have flexibility when dealing with technology. It also builds real life problem solving skills, which is something our kiddos need the most!
Touch typing : #EdTech :: handwriting : creative writing - why teaching the basics is still important
A few weeks ago, a teacher friend of mine shared a technology question on Facebook. She asked "Is it still important for us to teach touch typing in computer class?" She tagged me and a few other friends who are kind of "techy teachers", and the discussion that followed was interesting.
The majority of teacher said, "Yes learning touch typing benefits students." However, the overwhelming majority also said "No, it should not be ALL you learn in a computer class." So I got to thinking about it and realized that touch typing is to technology skills in the same way that handwriting is to creative writing. Important, but not the MOST important.
How is Touch Typing Similar to Handwriting?
Teaching touch typing basics helps students to use a computer more effectively. If students know where the keys are, they can type in anything faster and clearer - whether it's an essay or just their search criteria for YouTube.
Having clear and legible handwriting allows students to write a story more effectively. Not only can students proofread their own work better if their writing is clear, but they can receive help from others better. Also, when students are NOT publishing their work on technology (And let's remember student writing only began being published on computer in the 90's.), their neat handwriting allows them to get their ideas out to other people.
Why Do We Need To Teach the Basics?
I often hear "Is it really important to TEACH these touch typing skills? Won't students just pick them up?" Yes, my father can type on a keyboard in that hunt and peck fashion and he can get by. Yes, a students can often look at a letter and draw a similar one on their paper, even if they loop around the circle 3 times before giving the a a tail. Yes the basics can be picked up without direct instruction. But when they are picked up this way, students:
So it IS important for us to teach students touch typing basics, just like it is important for us to do some handwriting practice. If you're not sure where to start with touch typing - this blog post on Keyboarding Websites will give you some ideas.
Why Do We Need to Allow Time for Application?
Since touch typing is such an important skill, many teachers decide it is the ONLY technology skill needed. This is definitely not true either. Students who only work on touch typing exercises and touch typing speed tests are not truly learning to type, and they're DEFINITELY not truly learning to use the computer. Students need some time to work on touch typing - maybe 5 - 10 minutes a day, and then they need to move on to using that knowledge to do research, write papers, create presentations, make movies, etc.
If you're not sure what to do for application projects, you might consider:
What's happening in your classroom? Do you teach typing skills? Do you teach handwriting? If you're not teaching these basic skills, why not? I'd love to hear what's going on in classrooms around the world, so please leave us a comment.
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