Week 6 Reflection

What does it mean to differentiate the process (content, strategies for instruction) in the classroom?

Differentiating the process as I see it is to vary the content being presented, the teaching style, method, or manner in which the content is presented. It seems with each passing year the need to differentiate increases. Students today are entering our schools with greater needs, abilities, experiences, backgrounds, knowledge, and cultures than ever before. One way of doing things is no longer good enough. Neither is it appropriate. In order to meet the needs of all educators now have to have a plethora of tools in their “tool bag.”

The research I did this week on the topic above yielded many results on how to “best” differentiate in the classroom environment to provide increased student achievement.  There were many sites and articles that promised they had the best means of differentiation to provide students with multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas. Of the sites and articles I sifted through this week I walked at least one suggestion and technology that can better the way I differentiate in my own classroom. I’ll begin with the suggestions.

The one suggestion I walked away with after hours of research was one that we do not heed often enough. The suggestion is simple: play to the student’s strengths. We often adhere to the weaknesses of our students and differentiate according to these weaknesses. However, we tend to overlook the fact that our students, though diverse in their abilities, come in with an array of strengths. The strengths of our students may not be academic and for me, this is something I tend to overlook at times. We often have students who are amazing artists for example. If we have them work simply within our means, say writing a piece for us, it may not be within their comfort level or their strength. If we are to use their strength as an artist though and use software such as Comic Life it could very well be the medium needed to give meaning to the work being completed. What I am proposing here is a restructuring of the frame of mind to teach the same concepts.

The technology tool that I thought might be beneficial to my classroom for differentiation was a document camera. I have one in my classroom but haven’t used it as extensively as I could be. It could be used to present material, introduce topics, or for students to do presentations of their own. There are a lot more options for the use of a document camera for differentiation that I haven’t tapped into yet that I would like to. It could also be used for small group work, modeling, and sharing of work. I am yet to use the document camera for more than modeling and introducing new ideas and topics. With the ideas presented in the research I plan to increase my use of the document camera for more than my own presentation of content and materials.

This week’s question and research got me to thinking about the available technologies either in my building already or in my classroom. Technologies as simple as projectors could be utilized to differentiate instruction. What it all boils down to I realized this week is how the technologies are utilized. It isn’t a simple cut and dry process to differentiate. It takes creativity, deep thought, data collection, and careful, purposeful planning.

Resources Used

Differentiated Instruction

Reflection on Document Camera

Week 5 Reflection – My Take-Aways

Over the course of the past five weeks I feel as if I have grown much like the bacteria in a science experiment: exponentially! Technology has been oozing from my pores with all that I’ve taken in over the course of five weeks. It all began as a blur as I was thrown into creating, tweeting, blogging, chatting, interacting with peers, responding to work of others, emailing, posting, and researching. It was overwhelming in the beginning to be exposed to so many new technology tools to use for both personal and professional use. At best, I could describe it as being caught up in a tornado where I grabbed what I could while feeling like my mind was spinning out of control at Mach speed. As time progressed I became increasingly comfortable in the whirlwind we know as technology. It became less dizzying and daunting and became more “normal.”

The interactions with peers through Twitter and their blogs enlightened me on new methods and tools available to differentiate my classroom environment. I have often been heard making an audible “Wow!” as I learn from my peers. For example, I recently visited Anne Kurland’s WordPress and was amazed at her talent to create a video tutorial for all of us to enjoy. My peers have taught me about methods of organizations, ways to differentiate in the classroom, and various assessments they use in their classrooms. Furthermore, they have taught me about the various uses for tools such as Edmodo, Evernote, Moodle, Google Drive, Screen Cast O-Matic, Podcasts, Digital Storytelling, Vimeo, Wiggio, Dropbox, Voicethread, blogs, and wikis. I have learned more in these past five weeks about each than I would have on my own. Their insight gave me perspective on how these tools could be used within the classroom, even at the kindergarten level!

The interactions I have had up until this point on the twitter chats, though they in themselves can be at times daunting with all the tools presented by others that I am unfamiliar with, have enhanced my understanding of how I can do more than use tools for my own classroom. They have enlightened me on how to use my learning of new technologies to teach others within my building of the various uses of unused technologies within the classroom. Though some tools we have discussed in the twitter chats aren’t as applicable to my classroom it does not mean that it is not applicable to all classes within my elementary school. I was told recently that with increased knowledge comes increased responsibility (Dr. Fredenberg). With that said, I feel I could be more of a resource for my staff. Whether it was through presentations or simply sharing what I have or am doing in my class, others could benefit from my newly attained technological knowledge they might not be aware of.

What I stated above is not meant to sound as If I am all knowledgeable or have mastered certain technology tools. I am at the very basic level of most of the above mentioned tools. At best I am a novice learning as I go. Of the tools that I have learned about during these past five weeks the ones I would like to take back to my classroom to use with my students include the following: Wikis, Evernote, Voicethread, Blogs (Kidblog), and Digital Storytelling. Now, this seems like a lot to carry back to the classroom, but tools such as Wikis, Evernote, and Blogs would likely be controlled by me for the most part with student feedback and assistance. I would love to set up a class wiki page with student sections they could edit. It would be done with teacher assistance, but it would be student centered, closed to the public, and open to our class and parents for viewing. The blogs would be teacher run as well with students giving their thoughts to me so that I could upload it to our class blog. As for the rest, it would be a learning process I would have to immerse myself in.

In the past five weeks I have learned more than I could have imagined. What is exciting about such learning is that there is more yet to come. There are more twitter chats to partake in, blogs to read and respond to, articles to research, methods to look into, tools to try, and sites to explore. There is much to explore and to hopefully try out in my own classroom in the near future. Technology now seems less like the monster under my bed or the boogey man hiding in the closet. Rather than fear technology for the unknowns I have learned to look forward to how it can enhance my classroom.

Week 4 Reflection – Tools used in the cloud to manage and deliver feedback to students

How can I use tools “in the cloud” to easily manage and deliver feedback to my students?

Once again, the word “can” jumped out at me to offer endless possibilities. Before I could begin to delve into these endless possibilities, however, I needed to be sure I truly understood what was meant by “the cloud.” It was all made crystal clear with a simple infographic found at the following site:

What is the Cloud?

The cloud as I learned is essentially a network of servers. When we use the cloud, our computer, ipad, kindle, or phone communicates with a network of servers. Some servers are used for storage whereas others are used for apps. When we get onto the cloud we are able to check our email, collaborate with others, store files, make notes, and create videos to name a few things. We more commonly think of “the cloud” as the internet. Whether we use it for business, communication, information, or a means of fighting off boredom, we are active participants in “the cloud.”

Now back to the question at hand. There are many answers, depending on what grade level is taught. I teach kindergarten, so the answer is a bit more complex. Funny to think that at kindergarten this answer could be complex. But teaching students how to have interactions with technology tools can be a task that is more daunting than most imagine. I have learned to never assume that kindergarten students already understand how to do a “simple” task. Rather, I have learned to act as if they know nothing and to teach things step by step. Teaching technology to them is no different. With two computers in my classroom we have learned to use the mouse, to navigate with the mouse, to open applications on the computer, and to log in to sites such as Reading Eggs. But beyond this we have not yet ventured out into other applications for creating, viewing, and meeting about student work.

As stated above, technology is a bit intimidating in kindergarten; at least it is to me at times. Up until last week’s twitter chat I wasn’t so sure of applications I could use for interaction with my students. The two applications suggested for use with kindergarten during this chat were Evernote and Voicethread. I had heard of the two prior to the chat, but had not considered their uses for my own classroom. Up until this point I had not considered many technologies to implement into my classroom for interactions with my students.

Evernote, as I found with further research, can be thought of as a binder without the bulge. When first becoming acquainted with Evernote it is helpful to learn the terminology. The first term to learn is notebook. A notebook in Evernote is a tabbed section. Within these tabbed sections can be other notebooks. This is called stacking. There are numerous ways to organize the notebooks. For example, they can be organized by student, school year, subject, etc. Included within these tabbed sections are notes. Notes are student papers, data, audio clips, forms, surveys, information, and anything else that the teacher might want to keep in the binder. This as I found could then be used in kindergarten as a form of e-portfolio for the students. A notebook could be set up for each student, keeping track of their portfolio of work throughout the school year. Their work could then be shared with them to show progress. Further than this, alongside students, their work could be shared at conferences with parents.

Voice thread was the other application that I researched this week.  Through Voicethread students can create, upload, share and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files, and videos. Not only can students upload files and documents, but they can also comment on such files and documents. The methods of commenting include the use of microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio file. Beyond commenting it can then be decided if the file will be shared or not. It can be shared with a select group of people or opened up to the public through various sites. There are so many possibilities for even a kindergarten class of students through Voicethread.

Once again, these two applications demonstrate what is possible even at the kindergarten level. It is something I plan to try out with my students this year and to refine next year. Through these applications I hope to increase and improve managing and providing feedback to students. It will be a learning curve for both students and me, but it is one that I feel could be beneficial to the learning environment.

Through communication with others in this course I have learned of the various uses for applications such as Evernote and Voicethread in the kindergarten classroom. The twitter chats, wiki groups, diigo resources, and blogs of others have kept me informed of the various resources, applications, and new trends in technology in the classroom. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning alongside others and discussing frustrations, successes, and “aha” moments.

Resources used:

A Virtual Evernote Tour

About Voicethread

 

Week Three Reflection – Technology Tools for Managing and Tracking Student Progress

Loaded Tool Bag

As this week narrows to a close I have to take a step back, remind myself to breathe, and give reassurance that I am fine ad that all will be okay at the end.  The week was going well and I was beginning to get the swing of commenting, tweeting, responding, adding to the wiki, contributing to various discussions, and keeping track of who was saying what and when. Then a wonderful life event happened two weeks ahead of schedule: my wife gave birth! And so, my journey took a wonderfully busy twist that has me regrouping to play catch up. With that said, in between caring for our newborn, I have tried to read through and comment on blogs, answer questions posed, offer advice when I can, read through resources that will soon be posted, and stay current with additional topics that are pertinent to this course. This now leads me to the essential question for the week.

Essential Question for the Week:

What technology tools can I use to manage and track differentiated student progress in my class?

At first glance I thought of the question in terms of what technology tools I use to manage and track differentiated student progress in my class. But after a second reading I realize the word “can.” This to me made the question read differently and after the research conducted for the week about this topic the possibilities soon seemingly became endless. So, in order to keep it short enough to read and hopefully enjoy, I shall first begin by reflecting upon what I use currently, as I had read it the first time, and then finish up by discussing what I “can” use for my kindergarten class.

The first technology tool that I have used recently to manage and track differentiated student progress in my class is the MAP test. The MAP test adjusts the questions according to how the students answer them, thereby yielding results that indicate where the student is in his/her reading, writing, or math. The benefit to this is it shows varying levels of ability within the classroom and what these students are ready for next in their instruction. For example, Johnny may score higher in algebra on the test than Sally and will have different feedback on where to take him next with instruction. Though many primary teachers feel MAP test is controversial due to issues of validity I have found the tools included within it to be a valuable resource to give me an idea of what students know, need, and where to plan for further instruction.

Though many may not consider this to be as valuable as I do, I find that Microsoft excel is a valuable resource for me to organize my data in my class to monitor student progress. With the various teacher-made assessments that I give throughout the year I have found Microsoft excel to be my way of keeping it organized so I can look at the data when needed and plan accordingly. With reflection on previous assessments I can then use the data created throughout the year and make graphs and charts to show the progress of the students as a whole or individually throughout the year.

In addition to MAP testing and the assistance of Microsoft excel, our school has a license to a program called Reading Eggs. Reading eggs is an online reading program that allows students to enhance their reading at home. Students simply log in on a computer at home using the log in information provided by their teacher and work through the program at their pace. Each lesson is provided in a consistent format where students are introduced to skills or concepts for reading before going into doing activities. To begin the experience, students first take a placement quiz to ensure they are at the right level. After 10 lessons students take a mastery quiz. If they are not where they ought to be or are in need of more in one specific area, they can always go back and redo lessons. Teachers can log in to reading eggs and see the progress of the class and where his/her students are as well as where their current reading needs may be. Yet another tool for the tool bag!

That was the piece that I have included in my own room, but now it is time for the “can” piece to this response. The “cans” are many and have opened Pandora’s Box for me. While researching what I can be using for technology tools I came across a few that gave me a sparkle in my eye and the good ole “what if?” question arose. The tools I found rather interesting included Formative Assessment Systems for Teachers (FAST), Kidblog, and Triptico.

FAST is as the site claims, “a suite of assessment tools designed for screening, progress monitoring, and program evaluation as a part of the Response to Intervention (RtI) model.” Through this tool teachers are able to collect their data, easily transfer the data, analyze the data, and report it to the necessary parties. It is a great tool for organizing, analyzing, and sharing with those who want to know.

Kidblog was of interest to me because it presents itself as a kid friendly blog site for students to use and to interact with one another and their teacher. Though it might not be a set up I would use in kindergarten for students to interact with one another, the site did seem as if it could be turned into a class page. Perhaps venturing into this area would provide students with the opportunity to see what a blog is and to give feedback throughout the year on what could go on the blog. In any sense, it could be a valuable learning experience for students of all ages.

Finally, there was Triptico. This resource is one teachers could use in conjunction with their interactive whiteboards, which could be bummer for some since not every teacher has an interactive whiteboard in his/her classroom. For those that do though, it could be a great addition to the classroom. There is a plethora of things that can be done through Triptico. The app has to be downloaded and from here the interactive activities are at the disposal of the teacher and the students! It is an app that can be used from pre-k through college, which gives it added applicability.

There is an increasing amount of knowledge about the applicability and benefits of technology within the classroom. As technology improves so too does the ease of use. Understanding how to use it to one’s advantage as it pertains to managing and tracking student progress is a valuable tool.  I have found this week that though there are a few technology tools I use to manage and track student progress, there are always others out there and there is always room for improvement. I look forward to reading more into this topic.