Student-centered, technology, tools

What Do Teachers Want From Tech Tools?

image from icanread

Too often when we discuss technology and what to use in  our classrooms we get caught by the flashy gadgets, the promises of something new, or the latest tool to be sweeping the community  We think we need the newest thing to keep us current and connected.  We think we need more tools to have better tech integration.  And yet, I often find that it is not so much about getting more tech, but rather using the things I have better.  So what does this teacher really want from her tech tools?

  • User friendliness.  I am not afraid of technology, meaning I will gladly play around with something until I make it work, but sometimes even I throw in the towel.  If a new tool is not something I can figure out a little within a half an hour then I doubt it will find a permanent home in my classroom.
  • Global Collaboration.  I love integrating things that can connect my students to the world.  So whether it is a Kidblog account, a Chromebook, or a digital camera, the tech I use needs to serve a higher purpose of creating global citizens.
  • Ease of Integration.  I like to bring in a new tool or site and then see how easily my students gravitate towards it.  How easily do they find ways to integrate it into our every day learning.  That is not to say that it all has to be easy, but if my students never use it (like our Livescribe pen) then I know it is not the best fit for us.
  • Multi-people-functionality.  I have many gripes about SmartBoards, but a huge one is that only one child can use it at one time.  I have 26 students, they need to be engaged in their learning at all times.  Watching one kid (or one teacher) write on a fancy board does not equal engagement.
  • Reliability.  For a tool to truly find a permanent home in my classroom it has prove itself over and over.  It needs to work when we need it to work, and although we will excuse the occasional glitches, if a tool proves to be unreliable then I am not wasting my time on it anymore.
  • Security.  I am entrusted with 10 and 11 year old’s as they venture online and get connected so whatever we use in our classroom has to provide me with a level of safety for these kids.  That doesn’t mean filters to block out the world, but ways to keep these kids’ information and work safe while exploring the world.
  • Accessibility. The best tools live in the cloud or are portable, most of the time.
  • Purpose.  The tools we use need to have a deeper purpose of enhancing our curriculum, not just be a flashy tool to get my students’ attention.  So if we are investing our time using something, then there needs to be a deeper purpose behind it.
  • Fun.  Who can forget fun?  Tech tools should also be fun to use (most of the time) otherwise they just become one more thing to do.  We don’t need more things we have to do.

What things do you look for when picking a tool for your classroom?

 

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

global, global read aloud, tools

5 Reasons I Love Using Edmodo in the Classroom

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

I have long been a fan of Edmodo after it was introduced to me as tool in the Global Read Aloud.  This free social network specifically aimed at students and teachers is a fabulous way to integrate social media into your classroom, as well as setting up ways to collaborate with other classrooms.

While there are many great tutorials on how to use Edmodo such as this one by Jason Bedell, it is really one of those sites that needs very little how-to explanation, which makes it ideal for any techie newbie out there.  So here is my top 5 reasons for using this social network

  • Global collaboration made easy such as for the Global Read Aloud.  We have different groups set up for teachers and small student groups.  We love how easy it is for people to find each other, share resources, and even branch off on their own.  This is our fastest growing site used in the GRA and parents can even be invited in to see everything we do.
  • It is free!  Teachers love free things and particularly ones that are really well made.  Edmodo is easy to use, easy to facilitate, and does not charge us a dime.  
  • It is a great introduction to Facebook.  I know this may sound strange but I love how closely Edmodo resembles Facebook without it being Facebook.  Being a 5th grade teacher where students are legally not allowed to be on Facebook, Edmodo provides them with an opportunity to dabble in social media and getting used to using it well.
  • It is private!  I love the ability to set up different groups and the ability to add students to them.  I also love that this is something only teachers or administrators can do and not just anyone.  I also love how we have control over who joins the group, connects with us, and how we communicate.  You cannot find someone on Edmodo outside of it and yet it provides enough flexibility within its privacy that students can create meaningful collaboration.
  • It provides a direct pipeline to the teacher.  I love that students can use Edmodo for informal as well as formal classroom work.  My students often use it to ask for homework help, clarification, or just to boast of their latest achievement.  They also use it to reach out to me privately with questions or concerns and I love this capability.  Some students simply do not feel comfortable speaking to you about private things out in the open but this way they can contact me directly without anyone knowing.

Of course there are many more reasons, such as how easy it is to share resources, how it allows students to communicate with other classrooms and create polls, how parents can get a window into the classroom, and how I could use it to post and gather homework assignments.  So this top 5 is just that; my top 5.  Why do you love Edmodo?

being a teacher, Student-centered, technology, tools

Teachers Do More Than Teach – Why Technology Can Never Replace Them

I hate that technology and education seem to be at odds with each other as presented in some media.  This “either or” mentality is, in my opinion, detrimental to the future of education.  We should embrace technology when it serves its purpose, but not treat as a replacement for teachers.  Computerized tests may be better at accurately assessing which reading skills my student needs to focus on, but a computerized test will not know why that student has not mastered that skill.  It can dictate a learning program fit to fix that gap, or to propel them forward, but hitting rewind and watching it over and over will not always guarantee that a student masters a concept.   So when we let videos be the only teaching tool for a child, or a computer program, then we stop figuring out why that child is not understanding. We lose that human connection that teachers provide.

We need the human connection for that, we need some form of a teacher to sit down and figure out what is happening in that child’s mind.  To figure out how we keep them engaged and interested.  How we keep them invested.  A computer program will always analyze but forget about the human aspect.  It will assess the problem from a deficit standpoint whereas lack of understanding may be as easy as lack of vocabulary or lack of sleep.

In high school, I failed math and I repeatedly asked my teacher for help to explain the concepts to me.  She would explain it the same way she had explained it before and I finally stopped asking, it simply didn’t make sense to me no matter how many times she repeated it.  Mind you this was before YouTube and vast internet communities, before Google, and Twitter.  The only other place I could turn was the library.  And yet we let tools that do nothing but repeat take so much value away from the job that we do every day as teacher.  We have let the media portray it as the saviour of education.

A frightening future to me would be one where teachers are nonexistent or serve a secondary role to the almighty computer.  Where students are greeted by machines from their own private spaces and curriculum is served through a computer program.  Lunch is served by themselves and extracurricular activities are gone by the wayside.  Drastic sure, but scary nonetheless.  Teachers don’t just teach the curriculum; they process it, they analyze it knowing their students’ skills.  They invest their time in it so that students will want to invest their own.  They make it meaningful, relevant, and they make it fun.  Technology can help with that, but it shouldn’t replace.  Teachers do more than just teach; they shape, they mold, they model behavior, and they connect.  Often that connection is worth more than any curriculum.  Worth more than any computer program.

So the path of the future is our hands; we can show the way of how to use technology correctly as a tool to help propel us forward as practitioners or we can hide from it and lament its coming.  Technology was never meant to replace teachers, but it slowly is, it is up to us whether we let it.

assessment, goal, tools

Oh Wow – An Adventure with my Livescribe

Recently, thanks to a wonderful member of my PLN (I won’t name him so he doesn’t get inundated with requests) I was mailed a LiveScribe pen.  I have wanted one of these little wonders for a long time thinking it would help me assess my students, keep a record of their progress and also let them hear my thoughts about their work.  Having 25 students in my room means I simply do not get as much time to sit down one-on-one with them to give them all of their needed feedback.  The Livescribe pen allows me to record my thoughts and then have them listen to it so we can start a dialogue.

Life has gotten in the way a bit, though, so I haven’t had enough time to really get to know the tool and thus had not used in a professional sense yet.  The opportunity finally came Monday where  I was involved in an integration day for one of my students with special needs.  This is where the genius
of this little pen shone brightly; during the meeting I was able to take notes and record the goal discussion that was happening in the room. I, of course, informed the meeting participants that I was recording and then we started to work.  I now have notes and a recording of what we discussed should be this student’s main goals accessible to me at any time.  Sheer brilliance.

The recording has already been shared with other members involved in the child’s education and I am planning on referring to it throughout the year as we try to keep him engaged and involved in the learning. One click of the button and now my memory can fault me all i want, I have it all right there.

PS:  In a way you can say this is a sponsored post since I was given the pen for free to try out, but the enthusiasm is genuine.  I am already excited about the other possibilities of using the pen; hello post-observation conference!

learning, students, technology, tools

The Tools We Use (and Those We Don’t)

                    Photo courtesy of I Can Read

As I get ready to write my second set of report cards, I realize 2/3’s of the year has passed and I have some very technology savvy 4th graders.  And by savvy I mean critical, knowledgeable, and demanding tech users.  So what has stood the test of time in our classroom and what has died a silent death:

Some Favorites:

  • Kidblog – hands down the most useful tool we have integrated this year.  Through this blogging platform we have reached out to more than 20 countries around the world, have had an intimate view of the revolution in Egypt and created an ongoing writing portfolio.  I cannot believe something like this is free.
  • Animoto – a tool favored by my students to present video or still pictures as a way to give an inside view of our days and of our doings.
  • Flip Camera’s – Our fantastic PTO donated 8 new cameras to our school through the Digital Wish buy 1 get 1 fee program and we have one permanently on loan in our room.  Students have created grammar videos, learning snapshots and just documented really cool things.  
  • Glogster – some of my students have the glogster bug, begging to create projects using this medium, and one even created his own glog Christmas contest.  They have gotten more creative, and better at citing through this site.
  • Google Suite – well duh, most might say, but my students have become very savvy Google users, taking initiative to search for life cycle of the crayfish when our crayfish exhibited some peculiar behaviors, as well as creating Google maps of students they speak to, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  
  • Skype – oh yes, we skype and as the year progresses we do it more and more often.  From a quick check in with my husband (just to see what he is doing, they say) to classrooms around the world, we are bringing the world into our room.  Interested in skyping with us – let me know!
  • Wordle – ahh, yes we love our word cloud generator.  This tool has been used from everything to research, overused words, to poems about parents.  This free tool is pretty amazing.
  • Twitter – while my students are not on Twitter, this social phenomenon colors much of our every day learning.  From finding out about World Math Day to the Global Read Aloud Project, what I gain from Twitter is invaluable.
And some that seemed fun and then not so much:
  • Edmodo – this very cool social interaction site took off like wild fire and then died out with my students.  At first, they loved speaking to each other through the site from home and then they simply got bored.  Now, I think our last update was 2 weeks ago.
  • VoiceThread – I know of many educators that successfully implement this in their curriculum, but in my classroom, it wasn’t wort  it.  Perhaps it was because we didn’t have a paid for account and so it was rather limited usage or perhaps I didn’t give it enough of a chance, whatever the case, it has been months since we used it.
  • Voki – yes I know there is a Voki for education as well, and while my students loved creating avatars of their friends, saving and uploading them was cumbersome and time consuming.
  • ToonDoo – again, I do not have an educator account for this, which means I cannot provide the safe environment that I need for my students, however, students did do a test run and while some loved it, most found it ineffective and that they could do the same work by hand much easier.
What am I missing out on?  What do you love in your classroom?  What did you give up on?  Share, share, share.