Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Surprise Visitor

I didn't even know it, but the same day I was writing my first e-textbook, President Obama was telling the world he wants an ebook reader in the hands of every child by 2017. I was so involved in my lesson planning, that I was unaware of the current events of the week until Steffani Nolte, Multi-Media Journalist from the local news station WXOW called during third hour to ask if I would do an interview.

Only four days into my iPad pilot, and I already had a reporter wanting to do a story? I wasn't ready to go public with my project! I wasn't even sure what I was doing yet! I am no expert!! “Okay. I am available later today,” I heard myself saying,

As I watched the report on the 10:00 news (view here), what impacted me the most was how excited all of us were. It is a little hard to decipher this since the video clip has been taken down and all that is left is the transcript, but just imagine adolescents smiling and enthusiastic as they explain what we are learning in reading class. A struggling reader volunteers to read aloud for a news reporter! The teacher oozing with sappiness (and meaning it) about how exciting it is to teach like this. People often ask me how I can spend so many years teaching 13 year old kids, and this is one of the main reasons. Seventh graders are old enough to think critically at higher levels, and they still squirm in their seats like a first grader when they are excited about learning.

I don't think I am going out on a limb when I say that most of the viewership in La Crosse did not understand all that was going on in my classroom that day, but I do think they can infer that this is a class where something great is happening.  I believe it helped to set up a schema about how iPads can be used to further learning, and the next time we are in the media the public will have a better understanding.  I am delighted to provide positive press for public schools in Wisconsin and the awesome learning going on at Longfellow Middle School! We are moving toward the future, and our students are true, 21st century learners!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons Learned - iPad Implementation Week One

I spent more hours than I would like to admit on my lesson plans for week one of my iPad pilot project. It was a little overwhelming with all that needed to be done, because I wanted to present the perfect strategies for my first go at this new venture. I knew I was going to flip my classroom, and my focus was on comprehension and fluency at the seventh grade level. I would create one lesson for each time my students and I met. They would listen to me teach the lesson at home, do a short fluency activity, and email me a recording of themselves reading. Then, they would come to class the next day ready to discuss the more difficult comprehension piece together.

I briefly considered using iBooks Author to create my lessons but decided instead of taking on another new learning curve, I would stick with what I already knew. I used Pages to create three beautifully designed ePub books for my students to use in the free app iBooks. I spent hours getting everything in the right place. My inline objects were perfect, and I recorded and re-recorded my voice for my ebooks till everything was impeccable.  I strategically placed photos of the students throughout my document so they would feel a sense of ownership in what we were doing.
Everything was grounded in research, and I even cited all my sources!  I had created a masterpiece and was confident I was ready for my first day of class!
I arrived at school early. My iPad group would meet first thing in the morning during a 30 minute resource period. We had already gone through all the rules and procedures the week before, so I handed out the iPads. I began the process of helping everyone get their Gmail set up in their Mail App so they could send me their first in class assignment. I was as EXCITED as the kids! 30 minutes later... “What was my password again?” “I need my cell phone to validate my Gmail.” “I forgot my password...” “Me too.” “My email doesn't work.” You get the picture. I never got to my lesson. It was all about the technology!
I arrived at school early. I was excited. On Tuesday I had worked out all our email problems, and I was ready to start my beautifully designed lessons. “I want you to use iTalk Recorder to record yourself reading this short segment, and email it to me.” - - Oh no! Not again! -- “I forgot my password.” “It says I have to re-enter my password.” “Me Too.” Sigh... 

Sometimes I forget I teach 7th grade, and this is so age appropriate! This was a “teachable moment.” We used the always reliable, often used by adults, sticky note method of remembering our passwords. This isn't the White House, so for now we are going to keep our sticky notes right in our iPad cases. (Yes, I reminded students about password safety. At this point, what choice did I have but to stick it to the device, and it was a better option than their foreheads!) Once we have them memorized, we will transfer the sticky note to our locker... in case we forget again.  Remember, I teach 7th grade. 

We moved on to learning how to use iTalk Recorder, and all the kids were successful in emailing the first reading activity to me. I assigned the students the first ePub book and asked them to view it and do a fluency assignment before Friday
The short fluency assignments were due on Friday, but my "In Box" started filling up on Wednesday after school. It was actually quite exciting. I got emails after school, before dinner, after dinner, at bedtime, and even one at 1:00 a.m. (What was that kid doing up so late?) Seventh graders doing homework before the deadline? These assignments weren't due until Friday! What was happening to my students?

I arrived on time bracing myself for the “password issue.” Would I ever get to my wonderful, hand-crafted lessons? Good news; the sticky notes worked! Everyone was able to use email, and we moved on to discuss the take home lesson. I had flipped my first class! The kids were motivated, and I had 100% participation and homework completion!

I often use my only quiet moments of the day (driving home) to think about the success and failures of my teaching. My personal lessons for the week would not be forgotten. 

- First, do a nice job, but don't go for the Academy Award on your flipped classroom ePub lessons. Give yourself permission not to be perfect! Flipping a classroom is a lot of work. On a normal weekend, I wouldn't have 12 hours to plan for the week, and it is okay for kids to hear you make a mistake when you are talking or reading! Take away the perfectionism and allow the kids to see you as human. As long as nobody is flushing the toilet in the background as you speak (I re-recorded this take.), you sound fabulous the first time!

- Second, I didn't really need to learn this, more likely be reminded as it has happened so many times before. The first time you do something technology related, it really is all about the technology. You always hear people saying kids know more than what adults do about technology, but I am not convinced. I think they are more intuitive and catch on faster once they get started, but as far as knowing the technology when they walk in my door – not!
Week one was over! We had all learned, and besides... None of our iPads were broken this week!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Time For Questions

This is definitely the questions phase. Everyone had questions, and I often learned the answers as I went along.

The big question everyone seemed to ask was, “You want to send iPads home with your students? What happens if one gets broken?” The funny thing is, it was something my teaching partner and I had discussed ourselves. We had worked diligently on fund raising, and I had been doing presentations to earn money for the iPads.  In other words, they didn't just arrive at our classroom door, and we didn't want one to get lost or broken either. It was a question worth pondering, and we decided the answer was, “What good are pristine iPads sitting in a cart? We trust our students. Yep, they could get broken.”

"Won't the students who don't get iPads (and their parents) react negatively and say this is unfair?" This was a question we definitely needed to think about as we proceeded forward! In order to prevent any misconceptions or rumors, we gathered the kids and told them we would be inviting 18 students to join us in a reading and math project and that those students would have an extra math or reading class twice a week. We also let them know this would free up our classroom COW (computer on wheels), so everyone else in our group would have access to their own MacBook to use all day at school.  It was a win win for everyone! The “MacBook kids" and the "iPad kids" were happy, and we haven't heard a single parent complaint.

"What apps do you want?" The IT Department graciously stepped in to help spend some money that had been set aside for apps. I got an app approval form and began the process of wading through all the apps that I thought would be needed to teach reading.  (Ha, nice try.) At this point, it just wasn't going to happen! I was way too busy doing everything else, so for the time being I just went with some standard apps that our district had already downloaded including GarageBand, iMovie, iTalk, and Dragon Dictation.  I am sure at some point I will want more apps, but for now this is a question I am just not ready to answer.

"How do I give a donation to this project?" SERIOUSLY, they want to give me MONEY?! The parents whose kids got iPads wanted to know how they could donate money for books and apps! That was a question I certainly wasn't expecting at our parent meeting where we gave out an old fashioned, color coded seven page packet full of information and forms that needed to be signed.  I have a hunch it was the the frenzied anticipation in our student's behavior or the excitement in their eyes and not the presentation or forms  that ignited the spark in our parents to give.  That being said, if it would  would be helpful to you, go ahead and make them yours.  They can be found on our class website. 

And now the most important question of all! "What am I going to do with the iPads and my students on Monday morning?" That is a totally different subject, and speaking of subjects, remedial reading is a class I have never taught before! I finally am going to have the opportunity to take advantage of my Master of Science Degree as a Reading Specialist! I have a lot of work ahead of me this weekend but am excited to get started on my classroom research project that could make a difference in the lives of my students who in the past might just have “fallen between the cracks.” 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Changing The Plan!

It has been an exciting 6 weeks, and our collection of 9 iPads has even grown to 20! I have experimented with different strategies to use the devices to actively engage my students in learning, and it has been an enjoyable process. I don't want to take anything away from my positive technology accomplishments, but I really don't feel all that revolutionary. After doing some thinking, I decided that in order to truly transform student use of this technology, I needed to send the iPads home with my kids! In the ideal situation, my classroom would have a 1:1, but there aren't enough for everyone, so how could I make this happen?

As a teacher, I already make a huge effort to make learning relevant, motivating, and fun for all kids, and technology is definitely a part of my plan for everyone! Unfortunately, every year, there are students who have great potential, but school, even in a differentiated classroom, just isn't maximizing their learning! Perhaps given some individualized instruction using an iPad device, I might be able to facilitate an increase their achievement.

With the introduction of RTI (Response To Intervention), and the true desire to meet students at every level, my teaching partner and I decided we should start by looking over the data to determine who our “ipad kids” would be. We divided out our students based on test scores and found that most students were getting the extra help they needed either in the regular classroom or with special school services. Unfortunately, we have a small group of kids that scored below district benchmark on their AIMSweb math or reading tests that didn't qualify for extra programming. We hypothesized that these kids had greater abilities that just haven't been tapped by school as usual, even in our classrooms that are sometimes considered - unusual!  These kids were your proverbial “falling between the cracks students.”

We developed a plan. We would give this group of students access to the iPads 24/7. My teaching partner would work with the math students, and I would work with the reading students. We would meet with the students twice a week during our 30 minute resource period, teach them virtually via the flipped classroom model, and give students access to educational resources currently unavailable to them. Finally! I feel like we were on the fast track to innovation!

When I started this blog, I set a goal to use the iPad as a cutting edge learning device to actively engage kids and to use it in such a way that was not an extension of what kids can already do with a pencil and paper. I believe that combined with the right philosophy of learning and teaching the iPad has the power to transform the way kids learn. As a teacher, I have been inspired to embark on something new, to become better at my craft, to move beyond my comfort zone to do something that could impact even more kids. It is a lofty goal, and we will measure our success in 14 weeks to determine if we have made a positive impact on the achievement of our students with this new and innovate method of teaching. If this project works, we can make the case for using ipads with even more students next year!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The iPads Arrive

 I have taught middle school my entire career, in the same school, in the same room, but with lots of changes. The technology I have available has evolved from an overhead projector and a boom box when I first started teaching to a cart of computers, iPod devices, various peripherals/equipment, and my newest addition, iPads!

After much anticipation, the box arrived last Wednesday. There were 10 iPads with 3 more on the way. This isn't an ideal 1:1, in fact it is technically a .25:1. I started my first COW (Computers on Wheels Cart) with just 9 computers, and now I have 29. I am pretty sure the iPads will multiply too!

Anyway, back to the story. The box of iPads arrived on Wednesday. After a brief “official district training,” my teaching partner and I were left to figure out what to do with them. I purchased my own iPad 2 last May and have been furiously downloading apps, reading websites and blogs, and contemplating how I would use the new iPad mini lab to teach the curriculum. Now that they were in my possession, my mind went blank. I sort of panicked. In an old plastic box, on my classroom floor, was a tool that could transform teaching and learning, revolutionize the way we do business, and now... I was expected to do it!

(Deep sigh) What do teachers do when they don't think they have the knowledge they need? They Google it! I had some great sites already bookmarked on my Diigo, but I felt like what I really needed to see was real teachers authoring blogs or websites about how iPads were used in their classrooms. I wanted examples of cutting edge, active engagement and not just using an iPad as an extension of what students can already do with a pencil and paper. I wanted to hear what the teachers had to say about the everyday realities of using the iPad!

Unless I was using the wrong search techniques, there just wasn't a lot out there written by the classroom teacher. I have read extensively about why to use iPads in the classroom, how an iPad works, apps for iPads, and how to deploy multiple iPads, but what I really was looking for was the voice of the teacher. The people “in the trenches” who seamlessly integrate the iPad into their every day lessons. That is when I realized the iPad, which has been in stores since March of 2010 is only a little more than a year and a half old. This little black device that has entwined itself into my personal life and that of my own children, is just an infant in the realm of technology use in the classroom!

The following teacher created links are the ones I found helpful in building my confidence that I too could transcend the boundaries of teaching and learning as I know it. 

That's all I found for every day “teacher stuff.” In a later post, I will share all of my favorite sites that review apps. For today, I have what I need to get going on my own classroom innovations! I am by no means an expert. “I am just a 7th grade teacher.” That being said, I figured my learning curve would be steep this year, and we might just learn something together. 

Innovation In A Box