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.

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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.

Week Two Reflection – Tools Used to Provide Insight into Students

Who, Why, What, When, Where, How?

Essential question for the week:

What tools might provide me with insight into the learners in my classroom and how might I use this information?

There are many ways one could answer the question above, as there are more tools at the disposal of teachers than there are teachers, or so it would seem. With each year come new tools, gadgets, gizmos, theories, ideas, mandates, and of course, “proven research.” But as one veteran teacher once advised me, begin with the student and build upwards. What this teacher was advising me to do was to get to know my students first, build a relationship with each, and find the appropriate tools to measure their growth throughout the course of the school year. This advice, though simple, is a great first step to building a comfortable learning environment for students.

The greatest tool that I have found in my teaching career up to this point are attached to my body and happen to help me navigate through life: my eyes. Observation of my students on tasks, content, crafts, and the like has provided me with valuable information on the strengths and weaknesses of each student in my class. For instance, observing a student trying to do an activity where she is to complete three patterns, all varying in type, gives insight into the both student understanding and presentation of the work. If the work is presented in a manner that is confusing to the student and this is noted in the observation it can then be altered and reintroduced to enhance the student’s learning. It is through such informal assessments that instruction can be altered on the fly to meet the diverse needs of students within the classroom.

As one might have already guessed, observation isn’t the only tool used in my classroom that provides me with insight into my learners in my classroom. We have tools such as PALS, DIBELS, MAP, Reading Eggs, Touch Math, and many teacher-created assessments to gauge where students are in all academic areas. The beauty of having a plethora of assessments and data is that it can then be shared with students, parents, and fellow staff members. Goals can then be set, a course of action can be taken for each individual student, progress can be monitored and celebrations can begin. The assessments used with students throughout the year serves as tools to enhance their learning and to empower each of them with ownership for his/her learning. Yes, even in kindergarten students can begin to take ownership for their learning and celebrate their progress!

Another well-known fact in teaching is the fact that not all celebrations in the classroom are academic. Some are emotional, some are social, some are behavioral, and some are life celebrations. Educators today are tasked with being more than merely teachers of one subject, content area, or grade level for that matter. They are tasked with being counselors at times, nurses at others, sturdy role models every day, and caring friends to each student. The lives of students have an impact upon their learning as do their social, behavioral, or emotional needs. Teachers use this information as well to plan for instruction that is teetered to meet the unique needs of students, big and small alike.

The tools and knowledge that I have discussed above are only fractions of what is included within the teaching realm. As we strive to strengthen our own teaching we often have to branch out to others to take in advice, guidance, or feedback. It is how we continue to grow in our profession. We collaborate. With that said I have found it rather enjoyable and encouraging seeing the thoughts and reflections of peers as they pertain to education in this course. The blogs for instance have provided me with varied insight into the thoughts and reflections of others that I might not have previously considered. Being a learner does mean being flexible at times and yes, seeing another person’s perspective on a matter.

In my own classroom setting I have tried to emphasize the above mentioned point that differences in thoughts, feelings, and opinions is okay. As a matter of fact, it is something to be valued. As I push my students to become more competent, confident learners I in turn have learned more about what I still need as an educator to continue to better my instruction. This course has challenged my thinking and created a stir within my imagination of the far-reaching impacts technology can have upon a classroom, regardless of age. I now have begun to look more into the idea of creating a class wiki page where I can create blogs, upload images, post calendars, and the like. It is an exciting thought that I am still entertaining and as soon as next year may move on it. As for survey monkey, I am trying to create a kindergarten-appropriate survey that can be given to my students during a choice time. These two ideas are only the first two steps of many that I plan to incorporate into my classroom in the near future. The possibilities, as they say, are endless!

Week One Reflections

For the past week or so I have been introduced to a whirlwind of new technology, well, new to me anyhow. To the rest of those that keep pace with technology, this stuff is newish at best. I have been logging in, signing up, watching intro videos, researching, posting, responding, creating, editing, tweeting, bookmarking, following, and linking. It has been whirlwind that has at times been confusing, frustrating, or downright overwhelming. In order to make sense of it all, I first had to breathe and remind myself that I would in the end be “okay.” Secondly, I had to take a step back to list out all the things I needed to keep track of, which in its own ways was another dizzying headache at first. Thirdly, I had to ask myself the question how I would make sense of all this and further my own learning while keeping track of all the sites, log-ins, and topics. The answer to this could be found in the very sites I had recently begun to use. Up to this point in the course I have found that I furthered my own learning by becoming engaged in it all and by reading/responding to the posts made by others in the class, whether it was twitter, our Google group, or what have you. Fourth, I then had to ask myself how I have or will contribute to the learning of others in the class. Up to this point, I haven’t provided many resources to my peers. I do plan to increase my resources, advice, feedback, and interaction with peers once I have more of a firm grasp on the sites and their various uses.

Now for the question we have all been waiting for: What are the characteristics I will need to be successful in this MOOC?  Below is a list of what I feel will be essential for me to be successful in this MOOC.

1.      Remember to breathe and to focus

It is easy to get lost in the plethora of information, sites, responses, and unknowns.  Take a step back every now and then, breathe, and refocus, even if it means focusing on one thing at a time.

2.      Be open-minded

There are a lot of new technologies out there and things that will make us uncomfortable throughout this course. For example, sitting in front of a screen to create an intro video. Though uncomfortable for many, it is a valuable learning experience that allows us to step out of our comfort zone. Change isn’t always easy, but it is often necessary.

3.      Orient

Become familiar with the materials needed for the class, links that will be essential for communication as well as posting of assignments, and finally, be aware of the time needed for the assignments in the class.

4.      Network

Unless I plan on this class being a flop I need to connect with others. This means following people on twitter and responding to their tweets, posting in my Google group and responding in the appropriate group, following and posting on other people’s blogs, attending twitter chats, sending emails, and the like. The learning I can attain through networking will be tremendous this semester I am sure.

5.      Last but not least, have fun!

In order to survive and be successful in any course I must always remember to have fun through it all and know that regardless of the frustrations or confusions that I am learning along the way, which in the end betters me as a person.  This course will consist of meeting new people, sharing of ideas, stepping out of comfort zones, taking on new risks, researching until our eyes hurt, tweeting until our fingers go numb, and laughing at how little we knew when we first began. It never hurts to remember to smile now and then.

This is how I plan to survive and succeed this course and this MOOC. I hope that my short list is helpful to your success in this MOOC as well! Until next time!

Resources Used:
All About MOOCs
What is a MOOC? – Video
Success in a MOOC – Video