Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Throw a Tablet into the Mix!

One of the amazing things that came out of my time at the Google Teacher Academy was the opportunity to pilot the use of a Nexus tablet with my students. Today was the first day with the tablet in the hands of my students. They showed great interest in using the device and they ended up having a lot of fun.

I started things off by showing them the tablet and giving them a brief introduction on how it works. I used our document camera to project the tablet screen to our white board. When I say brief, I mean it. I showed them the apps they could use, the ones they couldn't use, how to return to the home screen, how to close apps, the volume controls, and the power button.

For its inaugural use, I loaded three math apps - Math Duel: 2 Player Math Game, Math Maniac, and Math vs Undead: Math Workout. I chose to start with math because:

1) it has been my experience that young students require lots of practice when it comes to the basics of addition and subtraction;
2) there tends to be a lot of variety when it comes to basic facts/addition/subtraction regardless of the device/operating system being used.

Another factor that I considered when looking for apps was the fact that I have a lot of 'high energy' boys in my class. It is tough to keep them interested in anything for long periods of time (which tends to be true with many primary aged students) so I wanted to 'hook' them and really get them turned on to the fact that they would be having a lot of fun while working on math basics.

Mission accomplished! They enjoyed playing the games - boys and girls. The feedback they provided me with was quite helpful. Many of the students enjoyed the competitive nature of the games - one game allows you to go head to head with another classmate while the other two apps have time limits. They said that they really had to focus in order to answer questions correctly. They said they had fun and they wanted to continue to have fun. They even said that when they didn't answer questions correctly they would continue to try because they were enjoying themselves. This is key information for me as I continue to get to know my students and plan interesting and engaging activities and experiences for them.

Here is a quick video of two of the students playing Math Duel. They were playing on an easy setting and were quite focused. They played several games and told me after that they would make the math harder next time. You can hear them answering the questions out loud as they work to process the questions as fast as they can. It really is awesome to witness this first hand.

Another student decided he wanted to use the Math vs. UnDead app. I must admit, I wasn't sure about this app because the point of the game is to stop zombies from getting to you by correctly answering addition/subtraction questions. After playing it with my son before introducing it to my students I quickly realized that its cartoon form was harmless and that the students would not be offended by it. This student told me that he liked that he was given multiple choice in answering the questions. He admitted to making lots of errors but that he would improve by playing more often.


In this last video, the student is using the Math Maniac app. This one was voted the 'toughest' by the class. In the bottom left hand corner is a number - the player has to select numbers in the middle of the screen that add up to the number in the bottom left hand corner. There is a timer counting down at the bottom of the screen. The grid of numbers in the center of the screen allows students to get to the answer in a variety of ways.

They called it 'challenging' and said that you really had to think in order to answer the question and beat the timer. One student even said that it involved more than two-three steps to actually get to the answer! I was blown away by the way they were describing this app. Watch the video and pay attention to how the student talks her way through the problem and her reaction when she is wrong and when she is right.

We have had a great start with our Android tablet. The students and I are looking forward to having it mixed in with our Chromebooks. I can already see its positive potential in our classroom community and I look forward to using it to engage my students and meet their particular needs. This is not the first time I have integrated technology like this in my classroom but it is the first time that I am excited at the challenge and opportunities of having only one tablet for my students to use. 

I am excited to be part of this pilot project and can't wait to share our learning with you!  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Empowering Students One Step At A Time

With the new school year well underway, our classroom walls are decorated with charts that we have created together to support and guide our learning and success. The charts are wonderful artifacts of what we are talking about and our journey thus far. As I looked around the room I wondered how I could have used the digital tools available to me to construct the same artifacts while teaching my students about the tools that they, in due time, will be using to create, communicate, and collaborate.

My wondering and reflection was also sparked by the fantastic work that my son's teacher, +Barbara McCourt, is doing. She had recently shared a Google Presentation that she and her students had created to share their learning about how to engage in doing good research. As I looked through the presentation with my son, I noticed how engaged and excited he would become when talking about certain parts of the presentation. He was providing me with information about the process of the co-creation and the back stories to the learning that was discovered and then recorded.

As a teacher I see this excitement and engagement in my students, but as a father I had not yet seen this in my son with respect to the blended learning that my son is experiencing in his class. The presentation and his excitement and engagement flicked a switch in me and told me that the start of the school year is over - it's time to take the teaching/learning in my class to the next level and provide my students with some digital literacy and further their learning opportunities.

In Social Studies the unit we working on "Heritage and Identity: Changing Family and Community Traditions". We were looking at expectation A3.1 - identify and describe different types of
families. After some discussion and guidance we had created the following chart:

Now that we have identified and described different types of families I asked the students if they wanted to create a digital version of our chart - their response was unanimous yes (they LOVE using the computer and interactive whiteboard)! I told them that we would be using Google Slides/Presentation and that we could focus a little more on how the app works since we did such a good job with the content.

I started by logging into GAFE and going to my drive. The students have already seen me do this many times, but I believe that it is important to provide them with as many opportunities as I can to see me do what they will be doing soon enough. They have also been exposed to Google drive many times because that is where I keep a lot of the things we have been working on in class. They have a familiarity with it and I want to continue to expose them to it as much as I can (gradual release of responsibility).

As we worked together to create a digital version of our chart on different types of families, the students were formally taught how to
  • create a new Google Presentation
  • choose a particular theme for a presentation
  • change font/font size
  • add slides
  • add images
  • create text boxes
  • re-size and align text and images
  • share their work with others
  • the opportunity to create something using technology
As we worked together to create our presentation I could see the same excitement and engagement I witnessed with my son at home. The students love to use the interactive white board and the computer to learn. They assisted in creating the following presentation by physically entering the information and doing the things I mentioned above. This presentation was co-created and all the students that wanted to participate were given the opportunity. 

I look forward to watching their engagement and excitement move to empowerment as they are exposed to the endless possibilities that digital tools and the Internet provide them with. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Journey Begins

I formally introduced my students to GAFE today. They know about the Chromebooks in our classroom and for the last week they have been staring at the charging cart and approaching it as if it holds magical powers. Having experienced and seen the great things that happened last school year, I can't blame them.

They have been asking me everyday if today is the day that they will get their hands on a Chromebook. I am very pleased that they are eager and ready to jump in. They are great models for my colleagues who are still holding back. I am excited about their enthusiasm but I can't let that get me carried away. They require some basic instruction and time to practice in order to be competent and comfortable with what they know.

Today they practised logging in, opening the Chrome browser, doing quick and easy searches using the omnibox, closing tabs/windows, logging off, and then repeating that entire process all over again. I enjoyed watching them practice what I taught them. I collected a lot of data about who was comfortable using the technology, who required enrichment that would provide them with healthy challenges, and who required support to work through the basics that I provided them with.

The next steps will include teaching them how to access and navigate our D2L site. Last year we were 2:1 but this year we will be 1:1. We are still waiting to receive the Chromebooks that will bring us to a 1:1 ratio. Until they arrive the students will work 2:1 which I believe is a great way to start as they support each other as they experiment and play with the technology.

Stay tuned and journey with us as we grow into dynamic and empowered learners!