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...

September 18, 2012

Calendar Awesomeness

I like blogs that get right down to business, so I'm going to go straight to the important stuff here and then if you feel like reading about why I wrote this blog you can keep going. 
If you do, I promise you a good laugh at me and my ridiculousness by the end (rolls eyes).  
Here goes: 

How to Get in The Google Calendar Game:
There is plenty written about this, so I'll just provide some links.

1. Get a Google Account if you don't have one. This will give you access to Gmail (though you don't have to use it), Google Docs (another amazing collaboration tool), Blogger (which is how I'm writing this blog right now), and tons more.

2. Go make some Calendars. This link is for a 9 minute video for those of you who like to walk through set-up with a video tutor. But Google Cal is pretty intuitive, and you'll get pretty far by just playing with it. If you need to know how to get to it...just go to a Google search page and look at that top black bar.

3. Share. Just like with our kiddos. Share your tools :)
4. Sync your Calendars with your laptop and other devices...if you want. This link is to a blog post that gives good details about how to do this. But know that this step is only a convenience. Even if you don't sync, your Google Cal is available everywhere just by going to it on the web. :)

Note: Yes, it will sync with Android as well, but I didn't put a link for that here. If you want a hand with that, leave me a comment and I'll find a good resource for that too!

Now here's the rest of the blog about why you should do Steps 1-4 above!

At school last week we started a Calendar conversation. 
I made promises of Awesomeness. 
I stand by those promises, because...i.LOVE. my Google Calendars. 
I have 17 of them (yes one of them isn't showing up in this picture if you're the type who just counted.  I'm positively fond of you, if you're the one who just counted. hee.)

But change is never easy and many of us have other calendars we already use and don't want (need?) one more system.

We should never add technology layers if they won't make things simpler, easier, more efficient, more collaborative, etc.

My litmus test for my teachers this year is this:
Will this technology save them time and effort while helping them do what they do (engage kids in meaningful learning) even more awesomely?   

If the answer is, "no but it's a neato technology...," then I won't bring it to them. That's my commitment to the Rockstars I work with.  In the case of Google Calendars though, there is so much potential for simplicity, time-saving and collaboration over any other tool available to them that it's well worth bringing to the table. (And it's free...what?!)
What are the benefits:
  • Google Calendars can be shared. This means that I can set up a Calendar for my team, share it with them and now we all can make changes to it, see each others schedule, etc. At school, our Principal can put important info (assemblies and recess duty) on a master calendar and the teachers can all see it in real time right up against their own personal calendars. That brings me to the next awesome feature...
  • Google Calendar can send you a Text or Email reminder. So in the case of my teachers, they can go into the Principal's Master Calendar on their recess duty entry and ask it to send a reminder to their phone the night before they are due on the playground. The beauty of this is they didn't have to remember to add their duty schedule to their personal calendar. It's already there on the shared one! They just ask for a reminder.
  • Everything is in one place and available wherever I have internet access. I can log on to any computer or internet device anywhere and have access to my calendar. I don't have to be on MY laptop. I can also have access to my boys schedule and my husband's work schedule
  • Everything can be Simplified. But I don't have to look at everyone's calendars most of the time. I can turn them on when I need to check and right back off. 

Now the part where you laugh at me.
Yeah. That's us the day I remembered to take him to 7th grade.
I believe in humor as much as I believe in leveraging technology. This is why I often do stupid things. Remember this blog post about my parental awesomeness?
I'm happy to report that we do have improvement since the first day of 6th grade, because we did in fact make it for the first day of 7th grade this year. 
We celebrated with cake.
Today I forgot him at Cross Country practice. Didn't even think about him until my phone buzzed at 17 minutes past. 
Ask me why I forgot him. 
I was writing a blog post about how awesome Google Calendar is because you can have it send you text reminders so you won't be late picking up your kids.
He laughs at me, this boy. I do too, thank goodness. (I've always said, "if your kids know you're really, really crazy about them you can make a lot of mistakes and they'll be ok." I've now added, "but start a therapy fund just in case...")

I just set a reminder that will buzz my phone 17 minutes before I'm late next time.
Did I mention that I love my Google Calendars?

September 06, 2012

Oh...There are Rules?

So, we had a few staff changes at school this year, and this is actually one of the things I LOVE about education. 

When they told me I would be in the cafeteria with Brad during Kindergarten lunch instead of outside, Brad and I high-fived and began making immediate plans for where we'd hang the disco ball. Brad's office is downstairs, and I make it a point to enter the building through his door, because it's like coming to work by way of a dance party. Why shouldn't lunch be a dance party then, right?

It took many minutes and Deb shaking her head at us before Brad and I realized neither of us knew if there were actually rules in the cafeteria. Are there rules?
It turns out there are.
It turns out I'm not super good at believing in them.

My hubs emailed me that picture yesterday not realizing I had just spent an entire day going over hallway rules, playground rules, cafeteria rules, library rules.
That's me. In the summertime. It's the first book I picked up after the last bell rang in June, actually. 

I wanted to post it, because I think Deb will get a kick out of it. And she'll shake her head at me and my ineptitude with rules.

Clearly, Mrs. Park's Kindergarten class is a good spot for me. Today we learned to Be safe. I'm sure I'll figure that one out one of these days (hopefully before the snowplows come and make fantastic hills to not play on). But Mrs. Park taught us another rule today, and it is probably the only rule I'll ever actually love.  
I do so love this one.
"Be Kind," she said. 

If you've never been in a kindergarten class when they are teaching this rule, you are missing one of the more beautiful things in life. This audience gets "be kind." Oh if you could only see them practice this. Some of them are scared and some are sad on the first day of Kindergarten. Others are confident and bold. No matter. Once they know that the rule is to Be Kind, they all turn...Kind. 
How do they do that? 
How do I get adult people to do that so well? 

I bet Mrs. Park knows...

I plan to get this sign for my little cubby. I think it's a really complete list as far as rules go...

Emailing Your Classroom Parents

Remember this little post from last year?

Well, here we are again making our class email lists. Here is how to make an email contact list... And how to send it to your team so that you don't all have to enter the same email addresses! It's quick and SO easy. These videos are like a minute long so you totally have time for this!
Ready: Go!

How to Create and Share an Email List in First Class

How to Add that List to your Contacts once you get it.

If you want the other fun tricks like how to set a signature in your email and how to make a cute little outgoing mail icon...check out last year's post. It's still the same.

On another note:
About email protocol... When you are sending an email to a large group (entire class), the best protocol is to send the email to yourself and Bcc: everyone else. That makes it blind so others can't see all the recipients and will help avoid some issues that the server will have when emailing large groups. In First Class you'll have to choose the "Show Bcc" button in order to get a Bcc field to use. Like this:

Happy Emailing!

September 05, 2012

SMARTBoard Software Download

If you've been upgraded to Lion, you'll definitely want to upgrade to the Smart Software Version 11 for your SMARTBoard. We hoped the older version would work on lion, but it won't.
Here is the link to for that Software.

If you didn't upgrade to lion and need to install the SMART software, use the link in this blog post from last year. The older versions of SMART are still available.
Highland teachers: Let me know if you need the Activation Code. I'll email it to you!

September 04, 2012

Setting Your Computer / Projector Display Options

Are you having trouble getting your Computer / Projector to project the way you want?

Everyone's Projector / Computer / Doc Camera combination is different so there isn't one easy solution, but here's what I've discovered works the best the most often...

Connect the Computer to your projector.
Open your Display Settings. You might have it up in your menu bar.

Or you might get there by going to Apple>System Preferences>Displays

First you want to make sure your Mirror Display is turned on. It looks like this:

And then go back to the Display tab and choose the setting that is 1024 x 768. There will be another window open titled Color LCD (or something similar) Set that one to 1024 x 768 (stretched).

It looks like this from the System Preferences window

and it looks like this from the Menu bar

If you set these and then disconnect, it should come back the way you left it the next time you turn it on...unless you click on the "Turn Off Mirroring". That sort of resets everything and you'll have to put them back again.

It's not perfect, but setting things this way has given me the best results so far. Let me know if you have a better system for making your display awesome!  And Good luck!

Update: I'm also having better luck on a few systems with the 1152x720 setting. Try both.

Wishing SMART was Smarter...

It's the start of a new year, and for many of us the start of Mac's new Lion operating system.

Here at Highland that also means many of us got switched to the new SMART Notebook version 11 which looks and acts different than it did last year. Here are two things we're noticing.

1. There is this little SMARTInk Layer button that seems to show up on everything now. Why?

Here is a short little video that explains what it is and how to use it.

It can be kind of handy, but if you don't like it you can turn it off when you disconnect your SMARTboard.  Just click that little down arrow and choose Erase and Hide. (This option only shows up when the board is disconnected).

2. The other thing we've noticed is this obnoxious display glitch when you try to go full screen!

Yes, this a ridiculous issue. Why don't we have the option of making "Entire Page" the default? Why wasn't that already the default?  Here's me wishing SMART had been a little smarter on this one...
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