Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day 13: Name the 5 top edtech tools you use on a consistent basis, and rank them by their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

#5. Elmo
I will never forget the first time I heard about an Elmo or document camera. It was truly a turning point in educational technology. It was the first step towards creating a tool that allowed a teacher to engage students in a new way. Students could now project their work onto a screen and examine their thinking, share their writing or ask the class for help. They could share a passage from their book and point directly to the language they wanted to speak to. Not to mention, no more overhead projector and transparencies...woo hoo! I thought I would never have access to such a useful and exciting innovation. When I returned from a two-year maternity leave though, I came back to a classroom that was not only equipped with an Elmo but an interactive white board as well. In just two short years, the Elmo was being bypassed by other tools. While I don't use my Elmo as much as I had first imagined, it's benefits are still impacting my teaching and the way I am able to engage my students to share their thinking and work.

#4. Cell Phones
While I know cell phones are still viewed with trepidation in the classroom, especially in middle school, I have tried to demystify them for my students. When you tell a student that they have to keep them in their locker or not even allow them in the building, they are devalued and students aren't asked to maximize the potential that they hold.  We use our phones to take photos of our work, research a question, email reminders, write a blog post or upload media to WeVideo. They are time savers not the time wasters they have been cast as. And when a student commits a social cell phone faux pas, I use it as a teachable moment in using that powerful tool in a responsible and respectful manner.  Lord knows, they aren't going anywhere. 

#3. Chromebooks
I haven't had my Chromebooks (CBs) for a full semester and they are already an integral part of my teaching. Gone are the days of scheduling precious computer lab time or feeling guilt over how many days I had reserved the laptop carts. What a difference it is not having that one layer of stress (in a profession that has too many layers and new ones continued to be added) in my day. Being able to integrate technology and give students the time they need to work in class instead of outside is a relief for us all. It allows for more time for instruction on how to use a particular application, troubleshoot, and then go beyond the basics. My mantra with students is that, "You can't break Google." This a line used to encourage their curiosity and asks them to delve into the apps we use without my direction. Some would but lots wouldn't. Having CBs allows us to explore a bit more together in order to get them comfortable enough to venture on their own. I'm hoping to see a big difference in having CBs in my room this year, for a full year, and seeing students ease with the technology grow and deepen each quarter.

#2. Google Apps For Education (GAFE)
When I found out that my district had secured a domain using GAFE, I was beyond excited. I and a few other teachers across the district knew the potential they held and begged for the chance to begin using them with our students.  Student accounts were configured, and a page had been turned in my teaching. I used the final days of my summer participating in a digital workshop on using Google Sites to create student portfolio websites. I now had digital tools available to both me and my students that would allow for work that I had only dreamed of. I had two administrators observing that first class in the computer lab as I asked students to log in to their Google accounts. Easier said than done. It took forever troubleshooting, resetting passwords, and translating to my ELL students who didn't speak any English. A more sane teacher would have called it quits right then. But I am a true glutton for punishment.  And as I look back on that frustrating and comical start, I am amazed at how far we have come as a GAFE school district. More and more teachers are taking advantage of the usefulness in asking their kids to utilize these tools. This year, I learned, that our district will be making a move towards all students having a portfolio website. It makes all of the wondering I've done about if the work my students and I have been engaged in has all been worth it evaporate, and I'm pretty proud of what we have accomplished together.

#1. Promethean Board
As I said before, returning to the classroom after a two-year leave, I discovered I would have an interactive white board or Promethean Board. Luckily I had gone to check out my classroom in early August and saw it mounted on my wall. I couldn't believe it. Yes, I was happy to see such a surprise, but I also couldn't figure why no one had bothered to tell me. I soon realized there was no training being planned for me. Geez, I didn't even know how to turn the thing on.  Panicked and determined not to look stupid in front of my students, I was fortunate to find a workshop being offered at another school that was giving a basic training. I signed up and left with so many ideas of how I could engage my students. There are so many bells and whistles (literally and figuratively) that I still feel after three years of teaching with my Promethean Board that I know I have only scratched the surface. But the power of being able to save my students' thinking, pull it up on another day, or show one class' thinking to another (sometimes even different years) has added a depth to my teaching that I could not live without.  It allows us to utilize different forms of media to inspire us and to enrich us. I am sure in 10 years I will have an even more amazing version of it, but for now I can't imagine teaching without it.

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