We grow at one rate and technology grows a thousand times faster!

I have to be honest. Lately, I feel like I’m the teacher that is afraid to turn on the computer. OK, it’s not that bad but I do feel like I can’t process one more thing. Since I need to know and I truly want to know it stresses me not being able to keep up. If I’m feeling that way, I can’t imagine how some teachers feel.

Keeping up with technology can be a challenge for many teachers especially teachers who only use technology in the classroom. Even more so if the teacher only uses it to take attendance or give MAP testing. Although I must say that by now we’ve been testing with MAP for over 8 years and you should at least know how to log-in! Sorry, I digress.

Considering everyone learns at different paces, and taking into account the less you use it the more you are likely to forget, it has been brought to my attention that it would make my life easier if I made “cheat sheets.” The cheat sheets should be printed on bright colored paper, laminated, and made in double quantity. My goal for this summer is to take some of the programs, reports, assessment, and anything else that I get called to help with and create the sheets. If anyone already has a few sheets to share, please do. The first one will be “What to check if nothing turns on” (Yes, there are times when I get called and all I do is plug something in).

The teachers that are new coming straight from college, for the most part, seem to have a handle on most of the basic technology needs. It is great when they help other teachers. One of the things, as we build our PLC community, is getting everyone comfortable with helping each other. I don’t always have time to help teachers when they need it which sometimes causes them more stress. But as they work with each other and they grow as professionals they all become more comfortable with at least clicking on the blue link.

Death by PowerPoint

Let’s start with what Google Slides is generally known for – presentations. Similar to Microsoft PowerPoint, Slides is a visual aid that can be projected onto a large screen when a person presents to a large group. Many times, the presenters will create endless slides incorrectly. Those slides will be filled with information that audience members can read for themselves. Because, let’s be honest, do we really need someone to waste our precious time reading a paragraph from a slide that we can read for ourselves? However, one benefit of Slides is that multiple users can work in the same presentation at the same time, which is why many teachers encourage the use of slides for collaborative group projects.

A few months ago I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and came across  Matt Miller’s article, “10 Google Slides activities to add awesome to classes” from his Ditch That Textbook blog site. One of those activities included the third one on his list: animation. I am not referring to the animations that can be added to the slides by clicking on “Transitions” in the toolbar. I am talking about animations as in cartoons, stop-motion films, and Walt Disney! I watched the embedded link and was in total awe. A 450-page presentation that didn’t bore me, or as I like to call it: Death by Powerpoint. (I know you know what I’m talking about.) See it for yourself:

All it took to inspire me to encourage teachers to change the way they used Google Slides was watching that video. But first, I needed an innovative teacher who used technology frequently and would let me experiment with their class. That was easy since several teachers on my campus fit that criterion. One teacher, in particular, had already been using Slides to have students create posters (see examples below) so she was the obvious choice.

1.5: the number of “minutes” it took for me to captivate them. I showed them the 450-page presentation. It took another 15 minutes for me to show them step-by-step how to create their own animation. That’s it. Students started talking. Teachers started talking. A fifth-grade student taught a fourth-grade class how to create their slides. The same fifth-grade student trained teachers at an after-school tech workshop. (You can see her work below.) The result? Four grade levels, and hundreds of students who do not dread logging on to Google Slides. Many lives saved from “death by PowerPoint.”

One More Thing

Do you ever feel like you have to give your students one more thing? Whether it be
a survey, an assessment, etc.? Do you ever feel like there is one more computer
program that the students just “have” to use for them to see their test scores
soar? Imagine Learning? Mobymax? ST Math? Khan Academy? No Red Ink? Quizlet? Kahoots? The list seems to be never-ending and continues to grow. I know with my students the last thing they need is #onemorething. They, just like us, will become overwhelmed (and just maybe frustrated) with #onemorething.

Image of a quote in the textI understand that we are trying to move away from paper and more towards being paperless, but I think Alice Keeler said it best when she said that “paperless is not a pedagogy.” Alice Keeler! Thee Alice Keeler said that ‘paperless is not a pedagogy.’ For me, I think what I need to focus on the most is finding what works for each of my students and make those accommodations and/or modifications necessary for them to be successful and not just #onemorething. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that we can’t explore other, or even more educational programs, but I think we need to know when to say enough is enough and when to follow the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


Image of a tweet from Alice Keeler

If you don’t follow @alicekeeler on Twitter, you should.

I am writing this just in case there are others out there, who like me, are feeling a
tiny bit overwhelmed and are feeling as though you’re being pulled in every direction when it comes to #onemorething. You’re not alone, and we can get through this together. We need to do whatever it takes for our students to be successful. If one student sees success on Imagine Learning but not in Mobymax, then we need to find out why that is and tweak it. Make it work for your students and you. Not every kid learns the same nor do we. If we keep that in mind then we might be able to get through the rest of this year and all the other years more than just by the skin of our teeth.

Now if this post isn’t relatable to you or you need someone to blame, you are more
then welcome to #blameitonprescott, I’m fine with that.

A Research Graphic Organizer That Will Save You a Lot of Headache

At the beginning of the school year, my 5th graders were asked to do a research paper- a task the students and I both dread for different reasons. To put it simply, they didn’t like doing it because it was a lot of work. I, on the other hand, worried about them using online sources and plagiarizing from them. To solve our problems, I created a graphic organizer on Google Docs that saved us all a lot of time, stress, and even managed to make the whole learning process much easier.

image of graphic organizerStarting off, the graphic organizer doesn’t look that impressive, but as I tell my students the boxes will expand based on how much information they input in there. Also, I did notice that they didn’t feel overwhelmed starting this project because the graphic organizer just looks like a small worksheet that they needed to fill out. Them feeling that way is already a good starting point to this whole research process.

Step-By-Step to Using the Graphic Organizer

Anytime I am doing a research paper, I find myself having the most trouble doing the introduction paragraph since it is the paragraph that grabs the readers’ attention. With that at stake, I told my students to save that paragraph for later and to work on their three supporting paragraphs, which according to the graphic organizer,  are the reason 1, 2, and 3 draft boxes. Once they understand the task, they come up with three reasons to build their supporting paragraphs. For example, one of their tasks required them to write an opinion piece on who they believe is an important figure. That important figure should get the honor of having a monument made of himself or herself. With that understanding of the task and after deciding who they will research about, the students then come up with their first reason.

Let’s examine Justine’s research process to better understand what I am talking about. Justine’s first reason about why Dr. Seuss deserves a monument was because he was a good writer. She simply writes “good writer” in the same line that says “Reason 1 draft”. After that, she researches online about what makes Dr. Seuss a good writer and would then copy and paste that information into the “Notes” box as well as copying the website’s address into her “Source” box. Next, she reads and underlines the part that provides the evidence showing how he’s a good writer. After the underlining, she makes three brief bulleted notes using short phrases all in the “Notes” box.Image of a completed graphic organizer

The next step is developing her first supporting paragraph which becomes a challenge because she has to paraphrase her research to avoid plagiarism. From a teacher’s perspective, this organizer helps me to better understand her progress because I can see right away how her sentences are constructed as compared to the original source. It saves me time from having to research where she got her information and whether she copied the source. She then goes through the same process for developing the other supporting paragraphs and after all the research, she has a clearer vision of how she will develop both the introduction and conclusion paragraph. Once the whole organizer gets filled and approved by me, she cuts and pastes her paragraphs and formats them to look like an essay or in this case, a letter.

Image of a completed graphic organizer

Image of a completed essay.

Doing a research essay can be a very daunting experience for many students but using this graphic organizer has been a much easier process for all of us. It was definitely less of a headache to track them through the whole process, and I liked that it made learning more engaging and smoother for them.


Technology Use is a Foundational Skill

This school year I decided to make a conscious effort to help students develop the foundational skills needed for using technology in a kindergarten classroom. I chose a specific classroom, one with a teacher whom by her own admission is technophobic. She states constantly that she doesn’t have the capacity to teach her students to become better users of technology. She also claims that her students are not ready, nor are they capable, of using the computers for more than just game-playing, test-taking machines. (I took this on as a personal challenge, because) My philosophy is that kindergarten is the perfect grade for students to begin learning how to access and use some of the educational applications that are available to them.  So I took it as a personal challenge to devise a plan and demonstrate how this could be done for our kindergarten team.

Picture of a student on task.Students in the upper grades are becoming increasingly dependent on the use of their computers to not only complete daily assignments, but to also collaborate on group projects, complete research, and connect with the world. With this increased utilization of computers for productivity and learning in the intermediate, middle, and secondary grades; it only makes sense to begin teaching students how to become effective users of technology in the primary grades. Of course, our expectations and instruction should be reasonable and grade appropriate. We don’t expect kinder students to write full five-paragraph essays, nor do we expect them to know their multiplication facts or be able to read Lord of the Rings. So it stands to reason that we should not expect a kinder student to be able to use a computer as efficiently as a high-schooler would be able to use one. Just like with reading and mathematics, there are foundational skills that must be learned so that students can harness the computer as an educational tool and resource, and not just a gaming device.

Picture of students working on ChromebooksWhen I began working with this Kindergarten class we started off very slowly. By the time I entered into this classroom to embark on my personal challenge, the students already knew how to open their computer, access the apps that are available to them, and use the mouse pad, as well as the touchscreen.  I wanted them to launch their Google Chrome account and begin using some of the basic educational Google tools. We started with Google Docs and sharing Docs with their teacher. The classroom teacher asked if I was going to bring in a few 8th graders to help her students with logging in. I laughed and explained to her that would defeat the purpose of this exercise. I wanted to prepare these kids to be independent but she wanted to prove me wrong. I was amazed at how quiet the students were, engaged and ready to type whatever I told them to type. I showed them what we were going to learn, and what they would be able to do on their own once they learned the skill I was going to teach them. I provided each student with an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with their Username and Password information typed in large letters, which made it easy for the students to read. I demonstrated how to log in to their Google Chrome account and with very little support, each student was able to successfully log into their own account. Students were then able to launch Google Docs and type a simple sentence.  Then with minimal assistance, they were able to share this document with their classroom teacher. When each student received a response from their teacher they became very excited about the new technology skills they had just acquired they wanted to write more so that they could share with their teacher. These kindergartners were engaged and enthusiastic learners when they were presented with the opportunity to explore their Chromebooks in a more meaningful way. They could see how this new found skill directly impacted their own school work.

Picture of students working.As technology use becomes a more integral part of a child’s learning, it is essential that we teach the foundations of tech use as early as possible. With increasing access to smartphones and tablets, the digital divide seems to be shrinking faster and faster. Students who might not have had access to desktop computers a few years back, now have access to the Internet through smart devices and even gaming devices. Students proficiency in technology is often greater than academic skills such as letter identification and basic counting when they enter Kindergarten. We, as educators, must the recognize the importance of teaching the foundations of effective technology use for academic purposes.