Monday, November 23, 2015

iPad Apps for Elementary Coding

The Hour of Code is Coming! I help facilitate the Hour of Code event at my school, and have been researching iPad apps for teachers to use for their students. More and more "coding" apps are appearing in the app store.

I love coding apps because they make students think, reason and problem solve. Obviously it is a big jump from playing a coding game to creating an app or a website, but the thinking process is the same.

Here is a list of a few I have tried--linked to iTunes. Some of these require no reading at all, and some get quite challenging for older elementary students. (And all of these are FREE!)

Early Elementary (no reading)
The Foos (all ages)

Middle elementary (limited reading)
The Foos (all ages)

Upper elementary 
The Foos (all ages)

Code.org has fun tutorials for use on a computer, Last year Frozen and Flappy Code were very popular. New this year is a Minecraft tutorial and Star Wars! You can choose any of the activities here.

Are there any apps that you've used that aren't on my list? Comment below!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Easy Voice Assessment Portfolio

I have written before about ways for students to create voice recordings for assessments. The three methods I mention in this post are still my favorites and are practical for every type of device/technology/capability.

Vocaroo is web-based, all tablets and smart phones have free recording apps, and Google Voice is great for a low-tech way, using a regular phone.

All of these methods give you various ways to share or "turn in" the recording to the teacher. In this post I'll talk about how students can save or organize their recordings into a portfolio.

The first method I'd recommend, and the easiest, is Google Drive. If your school already uses Google Apps for Education, students (and you!) have Google accounts. Google Drive can work like a "flash drive in the sky", as one of my co-workers routinely says.

Once students create their recording with Vocaroo or a personal device, they download the sound file (such as an MP3 or WMA file) and then upload that to their drive. This can most likely be done right on the device. Once uploaded, this file can be shared as any other Google Drive file. Students can store all of their recordings in one folder in Drive.

If you wanted to get a bit fancier, students could use a blog format. I'd recommend Blogger or the very user-friendly Weebly. Each post can include an intro or possibly the topic/assignment and the recording. The teacher could assess the blogs periodically to listen to the recordings.

An audio portfolio for foreign language classes is a great way for students to see growth over time!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Peso Rewards in Spanish Class

A few months ago I wrote about student reward systems and my experiment to try it out in my Spanish classes. I decided to go "low-tech" and gave out paper tickets, called Pesos, for each reward.

Students earned rewards for
  • a perfect quiz or test
  • winning a game or activity
  • extra practice outside of class, such as the Duolingo app, or activities on my textbook's website
  • extra practice worksheets
  • homework completed and turned in on time, and with name on it
Students saved up their pesos and use them to buy things at the Peso Store. They could purchase candy, small toys/supplies (the maraca pens were a big hit), stickers, etc. Also they could buy out 1 quiz per quarter or 2 homework assignments per quarter. 

When I began the program, I had not included homework completion as a way to earn a peso. I give homework about 3 times a week...and I feel it should be completed, reward or not. I also had a very good grout of students who generally did complete their homework. But then I realized that completing homework would be an achievable goal for all students. Some students will rarely get a perfect test, but they can complete their homework on time. 

As I reflect on my program, I do plan to raise the prices in my peso store. Some of the high achievers in my classroom had pesos coming out of their ears, but rightly so--they worked hard. Candy was by far the best seller, but several students were happy to buy out that one quiz that they bombed or a homework assignment that they missed. Overall though, I was extremely pleased with my peso program and plan to keep it. The students really liked it, too!

This program went against every fiber of my being. Students should be intrinsically motivated, they should want to do well, homework completion is a requirement, not an option. (You get my drift.) But my classes are electives, so I am competing for students, in a sense...and a foreign language class can be difficult. As much as I try to make my classes fun and engaging, there is a fair amount of work involved--learning vocabulary does not always come easily. My beliefs are starting to evolve...is there harm in rewarding a job well done?

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do you use student rewards? Do you love them? Hate them? 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Easy Websites with Weebly

I have used Weebly a few times with students. At the end of this school year, as part of a digital literacy unit, I asked students to make a "fake" website. We had been learning, again, how you can't believe everything you see on the internet. How true! Students created endangered species websites. They were hilarious-- with flying turtles, the elusive "water wallaby" and an Amazonian silver tiger that curiously resembled a house cat. A few even had "stores" where you could donate money or purchase merchandise to help the cause. Kids really enjoyed being over the top creative and it was surprising, even being in the joke, how realistic these websites looked!

This brings me back to Weebly. I wanted this to be a take-your-idea-and-run-with-it kind of thing and didn't want students to be caught up in the finer points of web design. Weebly was definitely the right tool for the job! Weebly is so easy to use and looks so professional. Earlier this quarter we had also made portfolio websites with Google Sites, and the difference in ease-of-use between these two platforms was very noticeable. I like that Google Sites is tied to their Google Apps for Education accounts accounts, but Weebly is definitely easier.

If you are looking for an easy, free website platform for you or your students, Weebly is a great choice. There is also Weebly for Education, specifically designed for teachers.

I want your feedback! What do you use for a website platform? Why do you like it? Share your thoughts!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Common Sense Media's Digital Bytes

Internet Safety. Digital Literacy. Online Ethics. Such heavy topics, but so important in today's world. As a technology teacher, I have often struggled with incorporating these lessons in an engaging, relevant way.

This semester with my sophomore class, I have been using Common Sense Media's Digital Bytes for some of my lessons. These are mini-units dealing with some of the major topics teens encounter while living online. Topics such as Internet Hoaxes, Copy and Paste Culture, and Haters and Trolls, seem to connect with students. All of the units have current, relevant videos that engage students. Check out the Copy and Paste Culture's Disney mash-up below. This sure got students thinking!

I don't always do the included activities as written, but I do find that having students complete a reflective project at the end of the mini-units is worthwhile, plus they are utilizing new tools and apps to create the projects...a win-win.

There is also a Facilitator's Guide for the Digital Bytes. I encourage you to check them out! What do you use for your Internet Safety/Digital Literacy lessons? Tell me below!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Como Escribir Los Acentos

How do I type accents in Spanish? This is an issue that has plagued Foreign Language teachers since the dawn of technology. Although it isn't that difficult...it can be a bit of a headache and every device is different.

On my iPhone or iPad, I touch and hold vowels, such as the /e/, and a pop up of various e's comes up and I can choose the accented one. 

When using my PC, I use ALT commands and have used them enough that I have them memorized and it goes pretty quickly for me. This also works while typing in web pages etc. on a PC. This is my preferred method.

ALT + 130 = é
ALT + 160 = á
ALT + 161 = í
ALT + 162 = ó
ALT + 163 = ú
ALT + 164 = ñ
ALT + 168 = ¿
ALT + 173 = ¡

My Chromebook turned out to be the biggest challenge. In a Google Document, you can choose "Insert Special Characters" and find what you need.  There is also a Google Add-on called "Easy Accents" that you can install. I found the add-on to be the easiest while working in Google Docs.

A web-based tool is that works on Chromebooks or other computers is http://spanish.typeit.org/, a webpage that allows you to type/select the characters you want and then copy and paste them into your document.

None of these is difficult to use, but as mentioned above, all are a bit different. Once you find a system that works for you, you'll be good to go! Do you have another way you insert foreign characters? Comment below and tell us about it!

Monday, April 27, 2015

LMS Showdown: Google Classroom vs. Moodle

In my computer classes, I try to teach paperless as much as I can. I first started this practice when my school made Moodle available to teachers several years ago. I vividly remember being completely unsure of how this would go, and wondering how I'd teach paperlessly. Now I can't imagine having done it any other way, and I really don't miss piles of paper on my desk, in my bag, in my car, on my kitchen table...you get the idea.

I used Moodle for several years, mostly for 9th grade Digital Literacy--a Microsoft Office class. Although several of our teachers use Moodle now, I am the teacher that introduces students to it in 9th grade. Moodle can be daunting, visually, and a little scary for both teachers and students. Moodle has so many options and features that it can be a little cumbersome to work with, but it has a lot of options and features. Moodle will always be my first LMS love.

Google Classroom is a new feature in Google Apps for Education and I have been using it for a semester. Visually, Classroom is much more streamlined and easy on the eyes. It reminds me of a Facebook page, only without the ads, of course! A consequence of simple and streamlined though, is not as many options as Moodle.

Just recently Google Classroom added the ability to create posts/assignments and save them as a draft until you need them. A must for teachers who plan ahead. There are several features I still miss from Moodle such as the ability to group tasks and resources within a block/unit, and the ability to empty a course for a new year and/or copy a course to a new year. These features are not yet in Classroom.

Besides visually looking cleaner, Classroom has a really simple and easy-to-use interface. Both students and I find it easier to see what is assigned, when it is due, and what has been done. Giving students feedback is easier in Classroom. A huge advantage of Classroom is its seamless integration with Google Drive, if you use Drive for student assignments.

So what is my verdict? Well...it depends on what you want to do and how/what you teach. For my project-based 10th grade class, Google Classroom is my pick. But for classes with lots of assignments grouped by unit or chapter, I still prefer Moodle because of the way I can organize tasks and hide or show blocks at a time. If Google Classroom continues its improvements, however, I think it could become a powerhouse in the LMS arena.

I did not include in my review other popular LMS options such as Schoology and Edmodo because I have not actually used these with students. What LMS do you use? Do you like it? Why?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Podcast Book Reviews

My students have been making recordings for a few years now. In my Spanish classes, I use recordings for voice assessments. I recently heard of an example of students recording book reviews and putting QR codes for those recordings on books in the library for others to access. This semester I have a new technology class and decided to try this out!

First my students chose a book from a list I gave them--mostly young adult fiction. All of the books had some form of technology in them, and these books have been part of the curriculum in my computer classes for several years. Students read the book and completed the Accelerated Reader quiz, aligning with my school's reading goals. 

I wanted all of the reviews to be similar in form and length, so I gave students a planning sheet to complete and told them their recordings had to be less than one minute. (No one is going to stand in the library and listen to a 5 minute recording. These had to be short and to the point!) I approved their planning sheets, which became the recording script.

After approval of their scripts, they made their recordings. I talk about how students can make recordings in this blog post.

My students uploaded their recording files to Google Classroom, the LMS I am using this year. (One change for next quarter will be requiring students to name their podcast files the title of the book they read!) From there I had to get the recordings to a podcast host site. I used SoundCloud. This was new for me. I had never used SoundCloud or any podcast site. SoundCloud was easy to use and now all of these podcasts are in one place. The technical side is that I had to download the sounds from Google Drive to my computer, then upload (in this case just drag) to SoundCloud. It sounds a little cumbersome but actually went very quickly. I wanted all of the podcasts in one place so I really did have to do this part myself, and with my account. 

At SoundCloud, I titled each recording the name of the book, and edited the privacy settings. I copied the link from each podcast and pasted it in the comment of the assignment in Google Classroom so each student had his or her link, and then the students created their QR codes

Instead of putting the QR codes directly on the books, the librarian and I decided small posters would be better. Students used this template to make the poster, which I then printed for the library.

Of course I am a tech geek and think that QR codes are fun in and of themselves. This was one of the most engaging projects that I have ever done. Students didn't necessarily like hearing their voices on the recordings, but enjoyed choosing a book, and the final outcome of their QR posters. We will be repeating this project next quarter. I don't plan to change anything about it and it should move along more easily now that we've all worked through it the first time!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

End of Quarter Reflection

I have a new class this semester called Digital Literacy 2, with sophomores. Digital Literacy is the term my school uses for all skills digital--productivity, safety, ethics, etc. Since it is new, a few ideas have been experimental and many of the skills and assignments are new to the students. Two of the skills we have incorporated are blogging and creating a podcast.

Most of the teachers at my school try to incorporate reading in many ways. Computer classes already typically have a lot of technical reading...but I also assign a book report-type assignment, and this quarter, that was a podcast. Students chose from a list of books that had technology in them in some way. These ranged from The Hunger Games series, to computer geek novels, to sci-fi thrillers. After they read the book, they completed a podcast script and recording. The podcasts turned out great and the students, although not always crazy about hearing their own voices, enjoyed the project.

The other major skill is creating and maintaining a blog. Each student has their own and it functions like a journal. I give students a technology article, current event, video, etc., and some question prompts. They then compose a short writing based on the topic. Nearly all students have commented on how they enjoy blogging and sharing their thoughts on screen. I enjoy reading them as well! Besides learning about the topics themselves, the students are also practicing writing.

Next quarter will include blogging, another podcast, and much more. I am excited to see what Quarter 3 brings for both my students and me!

Monday, March 23, 2015

#CSCTFL15 Conference Takeaways!

I was recently able to attend the 2015 Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Minneapolis! I was vaguely familiar with this organization but had never attended one of their conferences. When this year's event was in my home state of Minnesota, I knew I had to go.

With more than 1200 registrants and dozens (hundreds?) of sessions to choose from, the #CSCTFL15 conference was an amazing example of excellent planning, hard work, camaraderie, and professional development. 

Over the past several days I have been reflecting on my experience and all of the incredible sessions I attended. I still have notes to go through and PowerPoints to review, but have started implementing some ideas already.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was our connectedness via technology. Attendees were tweeting messages during the conference and presenters were sharing and tweeting information. People were meeting up with Twitter friends they'd never seen in person! The "virtual" community was a mirror of the physical one. It was fun, engaging, and a practical way to share resources.

The other takeaway is for my classroom. I was reminded how so many authentic (and some non-authentic) resources are available to us via technology. Foreign menus, tickets, schedules, comics, memes, photos, videos...are all available to us with just a few clicks. Beyond that, sites like Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook help us share and curate those resources. Although it can be time-consuming to locate just the right materials, they are so beneficial to the Foreign Language classroom, and no one said they had to be perfect. Just get some real stuff into your classrooms! I have been re-energized to incorporate authentic media in my Spanish classes, thanks to Central States!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Día de San Valentín

Valentine's Day with ninth graders. Is there anything more festive, more exciting, more annoying? I am fortunate to have an excellent group of freshmen in my Spanish 1 class and we had fun celebrating today.

For Valentine's Day I typically do low-tech activities. We make cards with Spanish phrases, and students get really creative even though they have only been in Spanish about a month. One of my students made a lovely valentine for his girlfriend, who is not in Spanish class, and later in study hall she painstakingly translated it using Google...then asked me for the real meaning, since the Google version didn't make any sense. It was fun and a great Google lesson besides. I love seeing students having fun with the language.

Finally, sometimes I talk about piropos. Students get a kick out of the funny phrases. I found some on the site 1000 Piropos Románticos, and there are lots more. Be sure to filter first for your students. This is where technology plays a role. I am not a native speaker so how would I have access to piropos? Before the internet, culture like this would be challenging or even impossible. We have all kinds of resources at our disposal to make our classes more engaging.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Student Reward Systems--Yay or Nay?

Bonus points, candy, prizes, stickers, badges, gold stars...what do you use to motivate and reward your students? For me, until recently, I didn't do much of anything. I put stickers on perfect quizzes and occasionally threw out a small candy to a student who won an activity or game, but I had no formal system in place. There was no consistency.

I attended a workshop a few weeks ago and a fellow World Language teacher presented on student reward systems, which she had researched in graduate school. I went in a little skeptical. I think, at times, we reward our students too much. Shouldn't they be intrinsically motivated? Shouldn't they WANT to do well? (Aren't grades enough?) The presenter showed research and examples of how reward systems don't have to be bad, and reminded us that we are all rewarded for things in life, such as pay for jobs, or bonuses for working extra, and so on.

So, agree or disagree, I decided to try a consistent reward system. Then, because I am a little particular, I decided to try two systems, one in Spanish class and one in Digital Literacy class.

My system in Spanish class is low-tech. I have little "peso" coupons that I pass out for different achievements: perfect quiz, outstanding homework, game winner, group leader, etc. I have a big list of qualifications. Then with their pesos they can buy things: candy, prizes, a homework pass, even an excused low quiz if they really save up. This system is very reminiscent of my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Olson.

My Digital Literacy class system is of course, more techy. I have been researching Badges lately, and wanted to experiment with them. A few articles that helped me get started are The Teacher's Guide to Badges in Education, and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Badging in the Classroom. I have also participated in a couple of #BadgeChatK12 Twitter chats.

I started an account at ClassBadges.com and worked from there. How I used this account will be in another blog post. Stay tuned!

Do you use reward systems in your classroom? I'd love to hear what you think!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Kahoot! for Incredible Student Engagement

Kahoot is not brand new in the Ed Tech arena but I recently started using it with my Spanish class. Students are typically engaged in technology but in the years I've been teaching and integrating tech I don't remember anything eliciting a response like this.

I'll admit that I was the first teacher to use Kahoot with this particular group so the novelty was over the top. They were participating, competing, laughing, cheering, and most of all, LEARNING.

Kahoot reminds me of sports bar trivia. (Yes, really.) Questions are posed, and students choose their answers. Points are awarded for correct answers and how quickly you chose your answer. Students can play on ANY device--a huge plus for a BYOD school like mine. Teachers can prepare their own games or choose from thousands of shared Kahoots that can be edited or used as is.

I like that Kahoot lets me download a summary of responses to see how the students answered. Although I don't think Kahoot should be used for formal assessment, it is certainly a valid source of formative data for the teacher.

Kahoot is the easiest and most engaging quick response tool I've used so far.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A New Chromebook in My Family

A sucker for all things technology, I've wanted to get my hands on a Chromebook since they first arrived. However, owning several devices already made it difficult to justify buying one more just because. I kept hoping and waiting and on CyberMonday last November, I spied a Chromebook with a deep discount and snatched it up.

I was completely amazed at this slim, streamlined device. I quickly added my teacher Google account and everything was there. I set up a second "personal" account as well. I was easily able to create accounts for my children, adding or blocking websites as needed. I love how they can do school work or play web games and I don't have to worry they might accidentally share my Facebook status or delete tax files.

I have been making myself use my Chromebook for as much as possible, to learn more and find out what it can and can't do. The truth is, it can do a lot. Of course you need to be connected to the internet for most tasks, and you can't download programs such as Microsoft Office or PhotoShop, but the Chrome Web Store is populated with apps and tools to help you be productive and so much of what we do as teachers or families is in a browser already. My Chromebook came complete with all the ports you'd expect from a full size PC: SD, HDMI, USB and of course audio.

Not long after my purchase I noted this article online at EdTech Magazine that said Chromebooks are now the best-selling K-12 device. I was surprised, since my school--among many--has been stockpiling iPads over the last few years. With a price point of around $200, this technology is within for more schools. I am curious to see where Chromebooks go in the next 5-10 years. I am certainly impressed with mine!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Technology Turned Interpersonal with Avatars

I recently started a new semester and on the first day of class, had my Digital Literacy students create avatars to use for their Google Apps profile photo.

I have written about Avatars before and their uses in the classroom, and I used the same Avatar Generator with them that I have used for my own profile photo.

I expected this lesson to be about technology...but as often happens in education, my students surprised me. As they were creating their avatars, I overheard many questions and comments.

  • Is this what I look like?
  • That's not you!
  • Which hair color is more like mine?
  • That TOTALLY looks like you!
  • Where did you find those glasses?
  • A pink shirt? You never wear pink!
  • Is this me?
Students were interacting, reflecting, thinking and observing . My technology lesson quickly became interpersonal. They were completely engaged and having fun besides. It was a great moment. After this they learned how to save and upload their images to their profile, and my course became filled with funky handcrafted photos of my students.