Friday, September 13, 2013

APPsolutely SMASHing!

It amazes me that what I think I am going to blog about at the beginning of the week is totally different than what ends up being posted! I finally experienced the magic of AppSmashing! What is that you might ask? This is when you take combinations of apps to end up with a final product that couldn't be created with one application. For my students, we used Explain Everything, Nova Elements and Evernote to create their first digital portfolio entries. This week started off with an activity that I have done for years. We are in the midst of reviewing basic chemistry to prepare for organic compound mastery in the next couple of weeks. To bring some excitement to the practice of making covalent bond models, we use gummy bears for atoms and toothpicks for bonds. This is a fun way to keep kids interested, and sneak a sweet treat in on the side! To combine the technology with the traditional, I decided that this assignment would be the first activity that my students would complete and turn in using their digital biology portfolio. Before doing the lab, I had each student set up an account on Evernote using the iPad app. As with every class account we have, I make sure my students keep a log of usernames and passwords.
What I like about Evernote is that they can access their account from the app on the shared iPad. We do not need them to make any iPad account adjustments within class.  As long as they log out of the app at the end of the bell, it is ready for the next student to use.  I also like Evernote because students can access their work from any internet source at home or at school.  Once the accounts were established, we got started building molecules.  Each student had a list of required molecules to build. I encouraged students to work together as they figured out configurations and ratios. As students completed models they took pictures of the models directly into their portfolio documents. 

After completing the lab, students brought their lab entries to me to review pictures and models. As we noticed that some needed revisions, students asked if they could do something rather than rebuilding with the physical gummy bears toothpicks. This is where the magic really began! I decided to introduce kids to Explain Everything to edit and annotate pictures.  This was the best decision of the entire activity.  I worked with small groups to show them how to work between the apps and insert the corrected photos/diagrams back into their final paper.  What resulted was priceless. Not only did I feel like I could really understand my students' thought processes as we made corrections, but I saw them helping one another to find understanding.  They helped one another learn the new apps and learn the concepts.  What started out as an activity that I thought was predictable and familiar, turned into an experience where I was taken to new experiences in teaching and learning for both my students and me.  
Here are a few suggestions I have to offer when you decide to do adapt a traditional lab to the technology age of science. 

1. When deciding to go digital for a lab book/portfolio, choose a program that works for you.There are so many out there that work well. As with everything else iPad, there are hundreds of ways to answer a question and all are correct!

2. Take the time to walk your students through setting up their accounts and make showing their parents a homework assignment. You will not regret slowing your pace down to make sure everyone is comfortable.

3. Use an activity with which you are very familiar for your first digital assignment. You can anticipate where students will have questions with the concepts to give you more flexibility to address technology issues. 

4. Allow time for mistakes and "do-overs" with the activity you choose.

5. Expect surprises! This is the best part of all.

To learn more ways in which I am using technology in my classroom, follow me on Twitter @eglassman757. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's Great to Begin Again!

It is hard to believe that I have not written a blog since May, but as the old adage goes, "time flies!" and yes it has! After having the summer to reflect on my first year of having shared iPads in my classroom, I am very excited to begin again. Now that I have finished week one of the new year with my BioBulldogs, I feel like I am at at good point to reflect on what I did differently to start this school year than last year.

I am now officially in my second year of having iPads in my classroom. I think what surprised my students the most is that we didn't even talk about iPads on day one. My focus was on honor, community, and understanding of the individuals in our classroom. In fact, we didn't even use the iPads on day two. If you are thinking about adding iPads to your classroom, just starting out with iPads this year, or you have experience under your belt with iPads, maybe you can find my take-a-ways of value.

1. Introduce your content, your expectations and yourself before the iPad.  If your school is like mine, the kids want to know you first and the technology second. I am blessed to teach in a community where the relationships between students and teachers trumps all else. The moral fabric of our community rests in honor and trust.

2. Make sure you have clear iPad etiquette expectations so that technology doesn't interfere with learning. In my classroom, all students are assigned a numbered iPad for the year.  When this number is given, students write the number on a log that they will use for all of their username and password information for the year. Students quickly get used to learning phrases like "screens off"  when I need to make sure they are tuned in to what we are doing. Little things such as not changing backgrounds, screen savers and moving apps are important points to make with shared iPads. It may seem very trivial, but you do not want students becoming frustrated because they cannot access their i-text or find the project app.

3. Assume that the first time you introduce iPads to your class that all students have zero experience with them.  This way, you are starting everyone from the same point. They will quickly show each other new features and ways to use the iPad. Even the most experienced users don't know everything. Many students are going from using the iPad for entertainment and consumption to using it for a totally new purpose in school.  Using a simple checklist of skills will give you a quick gauge on ability levels.

4. Allow time for discovery.  I have already noticed a stronger comfort level in my students this year since I have given them two full days of class to explore. The first day they were given specific tasks to do. The second day was devoted to working with the i-text version of our book, Biology by Miller and Levine. My students are using e-texts at home and i-texts in class. I want to give them the opportunity to get used to using the book in different platforms to write their notes. We also explored using one of my favorite apps, Nova Elements. Students can build atoms, much like a game, to show understanding of the periodic table and properties of matter.

Overall, the year has started off smoothly thanks to patient students who have a willingness to keep a solid balance between tradition and technology. Stay tuned for next week when we officially launch our class Twitter account and announce our first term project!

To learn more ways in which I am using technology in my classroom, follow me on Twitter @eglassman757.