Virtual Field Trips

Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks.  Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly.  Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.

One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students.  PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers.  The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication.  The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks.  The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.

Some of the PORTS topic include:

To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website.  All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.  

To get started, go to the PORTS website  and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study).  Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference.  The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.

Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips.  It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences.  You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.

Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker.  They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website.  This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.

I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.

Improving Literacy with Fluency Tutor

Fluency Tutor logo.Hi everybody! So, I’ve recently been using a fantastic reading app called Fluency Tutor. The app is meant to take the place of traditional timed fluency tests and running records, both of which are extremely time consuming. The app has several tools/functions that make it a breeze to use. First, it is completely Google compatible. You can import classes from Google Classroom and create Google Classroom assignments from within the Fluency Tutor app. You can also assign to individual students or the whole class, all from with the app. It is also very easy to update your class if you’ve had new students join your Google Classroom.

Fluency Tutor also comes with Fluency Passages that are leveled. You can search passages by lexile level or AR level. This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve found the passages to be of high quality. Many are non-fiction and contain interesting topics like the process in which diamonds are created or how your tongue works. I also really like that some of the early-reader passages don’t look like early-reader passages. But the thing that I really like about this app is the digital tools it contains for students and teachers. Students can record and listen to themselves or even save their recording directly to their Google Drive. They can also have the text read to them and there’s even the option to have it read back in a different language! I’m not sure if every language works for every passage but I’ve seen a HUGE list of languages to select. Students can also click any word in the text and get a definition or a picture definition.

The teacher can create a vocabulary list for all of the words a students has clicked. The list features definitions and is created in a Google Doc. Once passages have been graded, students can see their scores  on a graph- there is a words correct per minute score and a ‘fluency score’ which grades them on phrasing, expression, etc.

For teachers the tools make grading a breeze! Once a student has finished their recording you can listen to it (or any past recordings) while looking at a copy of the text. If you click on any word in the text you can mark it as an error. You can also select the type of error, omission, insertion, substitution, etc. Also, when you click a word to select an error, the recording pauses. After you select the error-type the recording resumes. Awesome! You then mark the last word read in the text and fluency tutor calculates the words correct per minute for you. Once you’ve graded all the recordings for a particular passage you can download a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) with all the scores.

My very favorite tool allows the creation of fluency passages. This can be accomplished by the teacher or the student! Once the Chrome extension is installed a page can be turned into a fluency passage with the click of a button. Now, this doesn’t work with every page and will not work with pdf’s but when it works it is amazing. The resulting page typically looks very clean and pictures that were on the page are often embedded within the passage without errors. For older students, this is really fun and puts them in control of what they are reading. I really love this app because of how easy and useful it is. If you’ve ever hated trying to find time to do 20+ fluency tests then I would highly suggest this app. It does cost 99$ a year, but for me it was totally worth and this will be a tool that stays in my toolbox.

Thoughts From a New Coach

Those who get the best results are the ones who ask the most questions and aren’t afraid to try new things.

In my first year as an instructional coach, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own teaching.  After 15 years in the classroom, it was a scary move to attempt something new. If you had asked me what I thought about this new role earlier in the year, I may not have had such a positive response.  I missed working with “my own” students and I missed the comfort and predictability of my role as a teacher. In the past two months, the Instructional Coaches have been required to attend a substantial amount of training.  The teachers are not unwarranted in their concerns and comments of “I haven’t seen you in so long” or “do you still work here?”

While it bothered me that I was unable to support the teachers I work with as much as I would have liked to, this heavy dose of information rekindled my love of learning.  While sitting through each presentation, I caught myself thinking “I wish I had known that when I was in the classroom” or “that would have helped so much.” There were quite a few moments where we learned the research behind one strategy or another that reinforced some procedure that I had always felt in my gut to be best for students.

Long story short, I wish I could go back and be the coach that I never had.  Of course, I learned to do some things well, but I know so much more now that could make me a better teacher, I almost feel guilty for not providing my students with more than I was able to give them at the time.  I always worked very hard as a teacher, but all I could do for my students was the best I knew how to do.

The harsh reality is that we (as teachers) aren’t getting the job done.  According to the California School Dashboard Website, only 21.2% of our students were College/Career Ready in 2018. (Source: https://www.caschooldashboard.org/reports/39686760000000/2018)

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here.  Teachers are working very hard. Many have more on their plate than ever before and they are doing the absolute best they know how in order to serve their students.  No good teacher, however, will ever tell you that they have no room to improve. I personally believe that 21.2% is not good enough. What we are doing is not working.  My suggestion is to try something new.

So where does technology fit into all of this?  The State of California actually has Standards for Career Ready Practice.  (Source: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/ctescrpflyer.pdf)  The fourth of those standards is

Apply technology to enhance productivity.  Career-ready individuals find and maximize the productive value of existing and new technology to accomplish workplace tasks and solve workplace problems. They are flexible and adaptive in acquiring and using new technology. They understand the inherent risks—personal and organizational—of technology applications, and they take actions to prevent or mitigate these risks.

My big takeaway from this standard is that students need to be fluent with the acquisition of new technology skills.  This fluency can only be perfected through exposure and instruction and it needs to begin as early as possible. Just as students learning a new language benefit from being immersed, so do our students who are developing their technological knowledge.

Many teachers are not digital natives.  This is not an excuse that we can accept to justify our lack of instruction with technology.  Our students depend on us to teach and guide them to digital fluency. When I started teaching, I was not an expert at anything.  I’d argue that I’m still not an expert at anything, but my skills are much better developed. I tried new things and I improved. I was fortunate to have others (both adults and students) who helped me improve.  I was able to ask questions and search for answers.

My observations as a new Instructional Coach have shown me that the teachers who are asking the most questions and trying new things are making the most growth (both as professionals and as measured through assessment of students).  Both veteran and brand new teachers are doing amazing things with students that are helping to prepare them for their futures because they aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know everything and they are willing to ask for help.

Those who’ve worked in Stockton Unified long enough have seen many failures in the past.  If you’ve been considering a new approach, thinking about implementing more technology in your classroom, making drastic changes to the way things are done, or even trying to carry out some small modification to your previous way of doing things that will incorporate technology, I’d like to quote Mark Hall from a recent conversation we had:

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

Digital Formative Assessment

Early in my career as an educator, I became a staunch proponent of utilizing technological resources to collect and analyze assessment data.  I’ve spent countless hours collaborating in the creation of digital assessments and providing training in how to use various platforms to evaluate assessments. All of this, ultimately, with the express purpose of giving kids the information needed to improve their learning.  With technology, the feedback could be instantaneous and that’s the beauty of it. My collaborative efforts, however, focused mostly on summative data.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I actually began to explore more tools for formative assessment.  To me, I could always rely on whiteboards, observation, and discussion to elicit data and monitor student progress.  A little circulation around the class to see what students are producing and well planned questions for understanding allow a quick idea of how a class is doing.  I knew that being able to make informed decisions in the moment and providing corrective feedback ongoing throughout the lesson was essential to success, I just wasn’t putting enough consideration in how digital resources could improve efficacy in this aspect of assessment.

As outlined in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, there are four attributes to Formative Assessment. They occur in a cycle involving clarifying intended learning, eliciting evidence, interpreting evidence, and acting on that evidence.  This process should be fluid and ongoing throughout instruction to enable students and teachers to give and receive actionable feedback to improve learning.

Timely and specific feedback right in the thick of learning is essential to student learning.

So how can teachers use digital resources to implement strategies that may help in this endeavor?  One possible method, I happened to discover while implementing the Netop student application used to monitor our chromebooks.  Besides using the software to communicate with and monitor students in their use of Google applications, it can also be used to engage students and allow them to demonstrate what they know.  For example, during a third grade opinion writing activity we used Netop to allow students to demonstrate their development of a well stated opinion on the classroom projector. Students were eager to have their screens shared on the big screen while they used tools on their chromebook to identify elements of their statement, receive corrective feedback from the class and teacher, and then revise/edit their writing – on the spot. (Editors note: Netop is available to all SUSD classes. For more information contact Mark or Viry in the curriculum dept.)  For fifth grade math, using Google Classroom, DocHub, and Netop; students demonstrated how to create a visual model representing addition of fractions with unlike denominators. All students completed the problem and random screens were selected for display. Students were asked to justify their thinking with partners before presenting their work on the big screen. While observing student work on the Netop monitoring interface, a common error was identified which multiple students made in the process.  Corrective feedback was given immediately to the class before they even completed the problem. The possibilities for formative assessment through the application in conjunction with other resources seems to be limitless.

Another method that can be used for on the spot formative assessment is the use of Plickers.  The application is free and easy to set up. After creating an account online, teachers can choose from a bank of questions, or create their own, for quick checking for understanding.  Student response cards are printed out using the program and teachers download the app on their phones to scan student responses to get immediate feedback. With the implementation of Plickers I have seen classes reach 80% proficiency for a targeted standard within 15-20 minutes after completing multiple problems through the app and receiving feedback.  Finding misconceptions is easy with the collection of the data and having open discussion. With the correct insight brought about in the immediate evaluation of results, students make adjustments and improve. The data also allows teachers to identify specifically which students will need more support or targeted small group intervention after the lesson.

A digital vehicle that some teachers seem to be familiar with that helps to promote collaboration and discussion are back channel platforms.  But those that have experimented with them or use them faithfully may have not considered using them for formative purposes. During lessons, teacher can have a backchannel running, from an application such as Padlet, where students are asked to post questions for clarification.  Some may feel more comfortable addressing some of their learning needs in this format and do not have to wait to address concerns. Teachers can also ask the class to make predictions while modeling a problem or document their metacognitive process while problem solving. Not only can students become more engaged, but the teacher can gain valuable insight as to what they are thinking and clues to their level of understanding.  When posing questions, the teacher may even ask the entire class to post their answers as opposed to randomly calling names for responses. This makes sure everyone has to give input and, again through an application like Netop, display student work for elaboration and feedback.

With all the new innovations and programs now available, the possibilities seem to be limitless.  It’s up to educators to imagine what new and creative ways they can be used to help students be passionate about learning.  I think we need reminders sometimes not to get too wrapped up in one aspect of teaching pedagogy, or in my case one aspect of assessment, and contemplate how various technological resources can serve multiple purposes in the learning environment.  Our willingness to explore these possibilities I believe can make a world of difference in impacting student outcomes.

Task Before Apps

Recently I was pitching an idea for a workshop on spreadsheets.  The an administrator gently shot down the idea. He had politely listened and then asked a couple of questions, “Are you going to do more than just show the basics of how to start a sheet file? What are you going have the teacher do?  What will be their takeaways? Will this help them in their classrooms?”

His words that impacted me the most were, “True, we are looking for classes that teach applications and programs, but we want classes that put “tasks before apps.”

I drew a blank.  I couldn’t remember hearing that phrase. What does he mean, “tasks before apps?”  My creation for a spreadsheet presentation got shelved.

A week later I attended a workshop by Martin Cisneros.  He presented some 40 plus or minus apps and tools for use in classrooms.  Repeatedly he told us to choose only two or three, and not try to master all of them. As I explored each app as he presented it,  I began to realize what “Task before App” means.  Some apps and extensions he presented were useful. Some were frivolous. Some had no use in my classes.

I understood:  If I don’t have assignments to use the app, then there is no need to teach the app.  Now I understood that administrator when he says, “task before app.”

Let me share just two apps that have become mainstays for me.

First, Keep.google.com;  

keepI use the Keep app to make notes that include lists, links, pictures, note taking, outlining and reminders.  I can even use them as a collaboration tool. The best function of all,  is that this one app will automatically sync across all my devices. I have an icon on my smartphone, an extension on my laptop and on my desktop.  It doesn’t matter where and when I add a note, it automatically syncs with all the other devices.   


Second, Mercury Reader offered by postlight.com.

mercury readerI use the Mercury Reader to get rid of all the clutter on web pages. It simplifies the looks of the page to make it easier to read. I can easily print hard copies or post to Google Documents or to a Google Classroom assignment.  All this make the pages become student friendly.

Other features allow me to toggle to a white on black screen or increase the font size.    I can highlight.  I can send it to a Keep note.  For Kindle owners, the touch of a button will send the file to a Kindle for on the go reading.  

I hope you can enjoy these two apps for the task that need apps.

Working Smart Not Hard Using Screencastify

Ever had the experience of explaining how to do something to students so many times that you abbreviate the steps to the point of ineffectiveness? I am a little ashamed to admit that in my 20 years of teaching, I have noticed I sometimes have grown to assume students already come in with certain skills. This leads to more work on my part in the long run because I find myself repeating and reteaching when I could work smarter, not harder. Let me introduce Screencastify.

Screencastify is an extension you can find in the Chrome Webstore and is used to create screencasts. A screen-cast is a digital recording of a computer screen’s output, which is also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration. The most common way I have used Screencastify in my classroom is to create instructional videos either made by me for my students or for my students made by my students. These videos enable students to learn at their own pace, whenever and wherever they prefer.

There are other uses for this extension. Follow this link to see the many ways you can use Screencastify in your classroom.

How to get Screencastify:

  • Make sure you are logged in to chrome (if you are on a chromebook, you are on chrome)
  • Chrome Web Store
  • Search for Screencastify (in the extensions area)
  • Enable extension
  • Allow camera access (it also allows the audio)
  • Choose to save to Drive
  • Choose last choice (with nothing written on it)

To begin recording:

  • Click the extension
  • Click Record Desktop
  • It will “count down” so you know when to start talking
  • Start moving the mouse and TALK
  • Click Stop Sharing
  • NAME THE SCREENCAST

Want your image on the screen as well?

  • Start Screencastify
  • Turn on “Embed Webcam” you CAN choose which corner your image belongs
  • The first few times you may WANT to have the preview on, for me it is distracting and I end up watching myself
  • Record Desktop
  • Talk and move mouse
  • Click Stop Sharing
  • Name the Screencast

Done Recording?

  • NAME IT!
  • It is saved in your Google Drive
  • Depending on the length of the video, it may take a few minutes
  • How do my students see it? Share it with them, put it in Google Classroom, download then upload to YouTube

Here are some example videos my students have made (Sorry but these are student work, so you must be logged into your Stockton Unified Google account to view these videos):

Student video (Yocelyn Chavez, 7th grade, “Using ST Math”)


Student video (Velencia Cromwell, 7th grade, “Using Prodigy”)


Student video (Jocelyn Arredondo, 8th grade, “How to Log Into Google Doc.”) (With an interesting interpretation of how to do a book report!)


Student video (Bryan Gonzalez and Kevontay Makinsey, 7th grade, “How to Log into Khan Academy)


 

Student video (Katia Martinez and Jazlyn Rios-Fox, 8th grade, “How to Build a Paper Box.”)

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps in some way in your classroom!