September 09, 2014

3 Tips for Deciding if You Need a Class Website

Everyone is building these pretty class websites.
Do I need to have a class website too??? 

It's a valid question, because websites take time and your time is the MOST valuable thing you have as well as the thing you're most short on. This whole website business can go either way; it can be a drain on your time and psyche -OR- it can be an invaluable resource that actually saves you energy, effort and time in the bigger picture.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself BEFORE you expend the effort to build the dream!
And really, it's just this ONE question you need to ask.

 1. Will Parents use it:

  • To access important forms, information, and schedules
  • To get to know you and your classroom
  • To interact with one another through comments, etc

 2. Will Students use it:

  • To access homework links and/or worksheets
  • To find out schedule information
  • To showcase their work and interact with an authentic audience about that work (parent/student comments)

  3. Will YOU use it:

  • To post / store important documents and links that your families need
  • To organize class projects and links
  • To keep the class calendar updated and accessible
  • To showcase your student work and classroom activities. 
Look twice at this last one,  because the most important element is YOU.

If you will use your website as a central gathering place for information and interactions with families, then your parents and students will use it. But if you will not be updating and posting the important things regularly and reliably, then your website will NOT get used and you'll be wasting your precious time building it!

 So-- you've thought about it and decided that you really DO want to try having a website (or your school is requiring you to), but you really don't want it to be a wasted effort.

 Here are some ways to make sure your Website is worth your time: (ie. gets used by you and them)
  1. Don't email class news to your families. Post it to the website instead and email them a link to the post! -Keep a calendar on the website and ALWAYS keep the calendar up to date. Refer to the online calendar often in conversations with students and families.-Post your forms (permission slips, reading logs, etc) on the website. Refer to their location whenever you mention them and link to them in emails. Other things that will help:
  2. Parent Tech helper: have a parent whose job it is to keep an eye on your website and alert you if any of your information is outdated or links don't work. You can also give this parent permission to post updates, pictures, editorials about your class if you wish
  3. Student Tech helper: (either in place of or along with the parent helper) who writes weekly updates for your class and posts calendar items or links to homework, etc. when necessary. (This is not just another classroom job. It is a critical part of the writing/communicating skills you are teaching them. Taking the time to set student(s) up with this sort of responsibility and practice will pay dividends for you and them!)
  4. Post Pictures: It's like the music in your favorite movies...without the music, the scene is dead, but with it your emotions turn on and you're engaged. So it is with pics on your website (and the younger the student, the more important this is). People will come back again and again to see what their kids are up to in class. And while they're their, they'll probably glean some valuable information you've been trying to communicate. Use Pictures like they're candy!
The payoff on your classroom website will come gradually over time, but you will have moments of brilliant success that will make you wonder how you got by without it 
--like when you forget to send the permission slip home, but every student shows up with one anyway because it was on the website! 
--Or like when a struggling writer gets positive feedback on his classroom post and wants to write again next week!

December 14, 2012

Applaud Courage and Messes

We get pretty committed to fear in our culture.
I don't know if you've noticed this, but I did yesterday.
I was out on recess duty and one of my Kindergartners had climbed up the Superdome. (That's what we call this baby)

Photo Credit: Pacific Domes Int'l
It's awesome.
I've watched my little guy climb up almost every day and cling to that very top triangle calling out to all his friends to come help him down because he's too scared. Then I watch every day as Ella, Ryder, Romi, Holden, all of them come and give him pointers. They climb up next to him, stand under him, coaxing, directing, and encouraging until finally, he slides his feet through the hole and drops to the ground 3 feet below or slithers back down the way he came up. It happens almost every day. It's their thing, and I enjoy the empathy and problem solving I see in my kids. Then there was yesterday.

Yesterday the bars were a little icy and this time he couldn't overcome the way his shoes seemed to slip on the bars. The little friends kept running over to me to tell me he was stuck. I assured them he wasn't, reminded them he does this everyday. Well...the bell eventually rang and there he was still clinging, in tears now. The distance to the ground was his height plus about 6 inches so he could have simply hung himself down and made a tiny drop (like every other day), but yesterday, peering from that top bar, he had himself convinced it was the Empire State Building, that his doom was certain.

I didn't pull him off.

I've heard fear described as a monster 20 feet tall and paper thin. As soon as you get a side view of it, you realize you could totally rip that monster in two with your bare hands. I've crumpled and tossed out hundreds of fear monsters this way, and I guess I want my kids to know about this little "turn it sideways" trick. So I stood there, (close enough to intervene if I had to) and insisted he find a way down himself. For sure, I looked like the meanest teacher ever! He kept telling me to go get the other teacher to help him. I kept refusing and asking him to put his foot "there" and then "there". When it was all said and done, it took a grand total of 3 careful steps before we were face to face. I asked him to stop for a second and look where he was. He reached to wrap himself around me but I took his hands instead. "No, wait," I said. "Look where you are, and feel how you feel. Do you feel how brave you are? I didn't help you. That was all you! Do you feel the brave?"

His response? "No! I just feel really glad somebody helped me!"

Oh my.  Yes, you precious little soul! Courage is good, but so is helping each other.

At any rate, it all made me notice how we've ingrained fear into everything we say and do. We've made it our mantra and playground game. We don't have to, you know. I was in a very crowded coffee shop the other day and a gentleman came all the way across the large room, carrying about 4 full coffee cups. He stood there looking all awkward and waiting for me to pull out my little earbuds just so he could tell me, "that's a really nice coat." I thanked him just as awkwardly and then promptly posted to my facebook status that I was debating about whether to be flattered or totally creeped out.

Geez! Me--that was the response from the girl who knows ALL about the 20 foot fear monster he'd had to crumple up in order to extend kind words to a perfect stranger. Why didn't I bow to his courage? Only because my culture has taught me I'm supposed to be "creeped out" by such things.

I don't have to fit myself into that cultural paradigm. Just because other people are creeped out by brave things other people do doesn't mean I have to be.

What if we actually made it culturally appropriate to applaud courage? Oh don't get crazy there. Then so many people would try so many things and it would get all crazy up in here. Mistakes would be made, messes would be made, we wouldn't have control.

Yeah. I suppose this is why I love Kindergarten. In Kindergarten we're still allowed to expect bravery and messes.

December 10, 2012

Teaching Technology to Kindergartners

A while back I promised you I would be detailing our EdTech Scope and Sequence by grade level.

Below you'll find the overview of Kindergarten tech skills.  It has been a little slow in coming, because I wanted to get the full K-5 Sequence in ready-to-use format before jumping into the nitty gritty, and it's ready now (mostly), so... here goes!

Here is a pdf of the full K-5 Scope and Sequence.

Please feel free to use, copy, print and distribute these to your team. Our sequence is broken down by grade level to make it easier for you to know which chunk is yours. This work is based on the NETS standards for students (which are  National Educational Technology Standards ...which were developed by the ISTE Professional Standards committee, funded by NASA in consultation with the US Department of Education....blah, blah, blah. You get it. They're legit, that's all. :) )

This represents many hours of work by a group of awesome tech smarties, and we sure hope it can save you a similar expenditure of hours! If you have improvements, suggestions, we'd love to hear them!


Here's the nitty gritty.

As in any subject area, teaching tech skills to Kinders is about evening the playing field. They each come with a stunning range of tech experience. This year in particular, my Kindergartners are coming to me with absolutely no idea what a mouse is or how to use it. (This is very different from past years, thank you iPad). But these guys still need mouse skills...very much. So we start there.
If I sum up what Tech skills are required in Kindergarten it looks like this:

1. Teach them what a mouse and keyboard are and how to use them. 

2. Teach them what it means to "login" and "log out"

3. Let technology serve to make literacy and learning FUN for them! (This tool is kinesthetic, visual, auditory all at helps engage your struggling, disinterested kiddos. They'll make connections in front of the screen that you've been struggling for weeks with simply because it can hold their attention.)

Easy peasy, right?
Wait, I'm about to make it easier. Here is a single card with all the resource tools and links we use to accomplish this in our Kinder classrooms. You can download it (all the links should stay with it and then you can use it later), or use just use the links below. Here's what's on it:
  • Teach them to login. I give them each a little card with their login info and the time to find their names on the keyboard. 
This is a slow (kind of painful) process at first, but remember, these keyboard and mouse skills are what they're there to learn so if they only end up with a minute or two on the actual game, it's ok. It motivates them to learn and login faster next time when they only get a little taste. 

  • For practice, I send home this keyboard worksheet and ask parents to have them practice finding their names. 

If you laminate them, they can be used for dinner placemats and kiddos get a little bit of practice every day. This gets them logging in really fast! You can also keep old keyboards or copies of this page in your classroom for practice during "choice time".
  • Then we take them to Oh my goodness.

If you've never put your kiddos on these games, you are going to love watching how they engage with the letters and sounds. This website also makes it so easy to differentiate. I can have one kiddo practicing letter sounds while the one right next to him is practicing onset and rime and reading books that challenge him. I love seeing them absorb the way they do when they're working on this website!

That's Kindergarten.
Next up: First grade!

Save URLs on your Desktop

Here's a Smart Kid trick I think you'll love.
Do you have websites you go to nearly everyday?
Did you know you can save links to them on your desktop so they're easy to get to?
Like this:

Now, with it on your desktop you can just double click to open the website.
But this trick gets better.
Maybe you have a bunch of links you want to save in a folder so you can use them again and again for a particular unit of study with your students.
Make a folder on your desktop by right clicking (Control-Click)

Now do the same thing as before, dragging your links into the folder

When you're finished you can file this folder away with everything else you store for that unit. Just drag the folder to where you want it using Finder.

Oh sure you go into the folder and give those links intelligent names or they won't mean anything to you later.

NOW it gets even better...
Maybe you go to 5 websites everyday (email, calendar, Jennie's blog. wink) and you'd like easy access to them from your Dock.
Yep. We can totally do that too.

Here we go:

Remember to go into that folder and rename those links or they will be a pain to decipher when you have to move fast in front of 35 kiddos later.

And there it is all happy! It's going to look like a Web icon, because that's what it's full of unless you change it. Change it by doing a Control-Click on it and you'll get this menu. Choose Folder to make it look like a folder.

Now ask me if you can change that little folder icon to something cool like Marvel Super heroes icons.

Oh. Yeah.
I'll totally show you how if you want me to. :)

Baah! How cool is that?!

September 28, 2012

EdTech: Breaking it Down by Grade Level

The thing about technology is there's too much to know. About the time you learn a new skill, the developers change it (Geh! Why do they do that?!)

I think sometimes teachers are daunted by the vastness and speed of change, and not knowing where to start or what's important, they hardly start at all. It's reasonable, I guess, but it's unfortunate.

Is this you, teacher friend? Take courage!

This penchant for change isn't so far from what we're used to in education. Take reading for instance.  Here's a stunning statistic:
"In December 2010 a joint Harvard/Google study found the [English] language to contain 1,022,000 words and to expand at the rate of 8,500 words per year.[90] The findings came from a computer analysis of 5,195,769 digitised books. Others have estimated a rate of growth of 25,000 words each year."

25,000 words per year is a ridiculous number of new words, and a neato factoid to quote at your next dinner party!

But if you're trying to teach a struggling 2nd grader to read (as I am), you don't care a hoot about those new words. You focus on what's important and give them tools to decipher the difference between things like where and were, because they're going to see those words 100 times every day. (Where's the "h"? It's in where! :) That's the one I use.)

We never let the unforgiving ambiguity of our language keep us from teaching kids to read. We simply work to find the best ways to break it down for each student.

Technology is the same. There are foundational tools that our students need and we can (must) begin providing those tools in Kindergarten just like everything else. The beauty of this subject area is it doesn't stand alone..ever. The technology basics we introduce always support and enhance the Math, Reading, Writing AND Critical Thinking we're already passionately teaching. It does, however, need to be broken down into scope and sequence chunks, just like the other subjects. So how do we do that?

A couple years back I got to work with a team of brilliant tech-saavy teachers as we untangled the fluff from the foundations and came up with a skeleton curriculum framework for our district.

I love that sentence because it says, "a couple years back". Usually in technology that is code for "antique" but in this case it's code for "solid foundations." The big picture scope and sequence here is a solid place for Elementary teachers to start and measure their efforts against. We can't do everything, but we should at least be doing these things at these grade levels.

Here is the basic overview. In coming weeks, I'll share the details we identified at each grade level, and I'd love to hear from you if you have anything to add!

Here's the Sequence:

Kindergarten: Introduce Technology. 

At this stage we begin evening the field for our kiddos. Not all students have used a mouse or swiped an iPad screen. In Kindergarten we teach them the vocabulary like "cursor", "click & drag", "keyboard", "login", "password" and how to do those things. As with reading, it's so critical to let them believe technology is fun, so at this stage, we get them playing games that inadvertently teach them skills.

First Grade: Teacher Guided Use.

Students begin to understand keyboard basics such as space, return, delete, letters and numbers, across multiple platforms (laptop, iOS screen, etc). They also begin to learn about basic web link navigation and continue getting to play games that serve other learning objectives.

Second Grade: Exploring Operations and Applications

This is where students begin to recognize and open individual applications such as graphic organizers and become familiar with menus. They begin to type full sentences, use shift keys and punctuation and see how their pictures on screen can help them express their thoughts.

Third Grade: Navigating Operations and Applications

This is where we can expect students to become more independent with navigating their system, finding applications when directed and using the menus to save, print, open, etc. They can become familiar with filing organization, work with pictures, graphic organizers, even basic spreadsheets. This is also where keyboarding skills like using Home Row should begin. (Yes, middle school and high school are WAY too late to begin home row-ing! Most third graders have the hand size and coordination to begin solid keyboarding habits, and it should start here.)

Fourth Grade: Writing with Technology

In our district we hit writing hard in the fourth grade and the technology should go right along with this. Kids are given opportunities to practice writing on screen and turn out complete word processed paragraphs and documents. They also have opportunities to use collaboration tools such as network folders or Google docs to share ideas with one another or experts around the world.

Fifth Grade: Presenting with Technology

The writing skills learned in fourth grade are built upon in the fifth grade when students begin turning their writing into presentations that require them to work with photos, video, audio, etc. Students begin to learn solid web search skills and how to identify valid information. They are also introduced to the concept of web audiences, creating work that will be presented to real audiences beyond the classroom.

Sixth Grade: Multimedia Learning with Critical Thinking

Presentation skills continue to be developed, adding the use of charts and graphs. Critical thinking skills are deepened with the addition and evaluation of more web content.

Seventh Grade: Digital Citizenship and Collaboration

Collaboration opportunities increase in the form of skype, educational social networks, and wikis and students are taught how to present and protect themselves in a digital environment. They begin to identify appropriate levels of formality in their own communication and also to evaluate the validity of other people's expertise in the web environment.

Eighth Grade: Technology and Self Learning 

By this stage students are given opportunities to identify web tools that will serve their own learning. They have enough experience on devices to do basic troubleshooting and should begin using critical thinking skills to solve their own technology issues as well as find tools that will aid in their projects and learning. Guiding creative independence while requiring safe internet practices should be the instructor's role at this point.

heh. Yeah, it's an album cover, but he looks inspired, doesn't he!
Oh my!
When I get to that part about eighth graders having the critical thinking skills to find and identify THEIR tools and sources for communicating THEIR ideas, I get happy and inspired all over again about "educational technology".  We can unlock the doors to a great big world for our kiddos and they can make it so beautiful if we teach them to try.
This is awe-inspiring stuff we're doing here at Home-Row, my teacher friends! Don't ever let any scungey keyboard or slow boot-up convince you it's not. Your kids are about to be amazing...

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