Sunday, May 29, 2016

GUEST POST: Tried and True Lessons Made New (Stephen McGill)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Every year I feel like a new teacher. While I build upon the successes of the past, I am constantly evaluating to what extent the activities I have designed are meeting the needs of my current students. To this end, the frequency and scope of my implementation of technology in the classroom this year represents a dynamic shift in my teaching. I have used several applications to what I perceive to be great results in the past. However, through the coaching process, my repertoire of applications has increased dramatically. I am now able to move more seamlessly between various apps and select an appropriate tool for specific lessons.

If student learning is simply a function of exam scores, then the use of technology in the classroom is having a demonstrably positive effect on student outcomes. More importantly, using technology has also increased student engagement and class participation, When I provided a one or two page activity on printed paper, most students would dutifully answer the questions or respond to the prompts with just enough elaboration to address the prompt and support the response with evidence. However, I have noticed throughout the past year that when similar activities are pushed out via Google Classroom, the depth and complexity of students’ responses has increased steadily.

The following student samples demonstrate the depth of their preparation on an activity that would typically have a one or two page response.

The following applications represent what I will continue to use as an integral part of my teaching.
  • Google Classroom
  • Google Drive
  • Google Docs, Slides, Drawings
  • Google Forms
  • Padlet
  • Verso
  • GoFormative
  • Haiku (discussions, polls, content management)
  • Quizizz
  • Kahoot
  • Ancillary Resources (videos, websites)

Google Drawing
While many of my lessons and activities may look similar to what I have done in the past, I know I have made incremental, though profound changes that have ultimately resulted in better lessons and increased student engagement and performance. For example, using Google Drawing for my previous “Tell the Story” framework has resulted in significantly better results. Exam scores and commentary during the class discussions and debates reflect this increased understanding both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Here is a student example that demonstrates the connections between significant events during President Jefferson’s tenure in office from 1801 - 1809.

Presentation on Google Classroom and Google Drawing
I had the great privilege of presenting this year at the TUSD Connect Institute 2016 with my Digital Learning Coach and mentor Crystal Kirch. We presented an overview of Google Classroom and demonstrated the use of Google Drawing, Docs, and Forms in the classroom. Please use the following link to access the slides and the examples.

While I use several applications in my teaching interchangeably throughout the year, Padlet has always been my “go to” platform for expedient and purposeful student responses. Earlier this year, I used Padlet to facilitate responses from my students regarding the excerpt I had each of them read from Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. The purpose of the reading was to provide students with a glimpse into the world of a successful businessman, who in the beginning of the 1920s, represented the upper-middle class.

At the beginning of class, I provided an introduction to various book covers of Babbitt. Students shared their interpretations during our class discussion. I had students listen to the title track from The Lego Movie titled “Everything is Awesome.” I asked them to comment to what extent this would serve as a theme song for the 1920s. Shortly after, I assigned various groups specific prompts regarding the text as it relates to today.

Here is a sample of what student responses to a prompts regarding the text as it relates to today look like on the Padlet wall.

Padlet - The Epilogue
While the class discussions were on point and revealed the striking parallels between the 1920s and today, I learned an even more valuable lesson regarding instructional practices from this experience.

The BREAKTHROUGH of my Tech Journey!

Specifically, I am constantly considering how and in what way I want my students to interact with the material. As I reflected on this experience, I came to following conclusions:

  • I employ the use of technological applications most frequently when I am confident that my students are well-versed and prepared with regard to the topic at hand. I often use applications such as Padlet, Formative, Verso, Kahoot, or AnswerGarden.

  • If I am NOT confident that my students understand the material, I am finding that I move away from using technology and go directly to providing prompts for students in pairs or groups to begin the discussion and to provide the opportunity to conduct research. If students do not know the material very well, I am finding that their responses via any technological application will not reveal startling insights or spark an epiphany among their peers. As such, why employ the use of an app and valuable class time for the sake of using technology?

My Conclusions

My answer to my own questions is that I always consider the ultimate purpose for having students use applications as I plan lessons. My decisions are based upon the following criteria:

New concept/material
Use a class prompt/stimulus and provide time for students to reflect, discuss, research, and share.
Significant preparation and familiarity
Use an app or technological platform to showcase/broadcast understanding

As I mentioned previously, I use several apps to elicit student responses and to prompt student discussion and interaction. While Padlet serves as an expedient and purposeful tool for showcasing student responses, I have used Verso specifically to highlight students writing, NOT student authorship. In other words, it has been my experience that many students will evaluate student writing samples based upon who the author is and not upon the quality or cogency of the actual writing.  

To this end, Verso has provided an excellent platform that allows students to anonymously post their responses and provide feedback to others without the bias inherent with authored posts or comments.

Here is a sample of what student responses to a prompt using Verso looks like on on the screen.

The Tech Fellow Journey Continues…

Based upon the impact that the use of technology has had upon my teaching and the success of my students, I am eager to refine, revise, and create activities that will continue to encourage the exchange of information, ideas, and perspectives among my students. Although I used the apps highlight below this year, I will make a concerted effort in the near future to employ these apps more consistently and comprehensively to encourage student interaction and learning in my classroom.

While the following tools are NOT in my toolbelt at this time, I plan to explore each and implement them in the classroom with my students next year!

My Final Thoughts as a Tech Fellow
Although I am approaching the end of my 18th year in education, this is my first experience having a dedicated, weekly mentor to help me improve and refine my practice. I think it goes without mentioning that it was long overdue. As such, I want to continue to improve my craft and develop new lessons utilizing the apps and ideas I have learned and implemented throughout the year. The evolution and use of technology and its use in the classroom will only hasten with time. As such, I feel more confident in my ability to use new and existing apps, to reinvent old lessons and activities, and to develop new experiences for my future students with apps that may not even be developed.

The Tech Fellowship has been a welcome and enriching professional and personal experience. Teaching six classes and 200+ students does not always afford me the time to search for technological solutions to pedagogical problems. The Tech Fellowship has provided me with a dedicated partner to help me negotiate this process. Additionally, I feel more confident in my ability to develop and use a wider array of apps with my students. The more apps I learn  and use, the easier it is to use them in the classroom. Consequently, the more I use a variety of apps in the classroom, the easier it is for my students to respond more efficiently and more meaningfully. Furthermore, my tenure as a Tech Fellow has empowered me to what I have learned with my students and with my colleagues.

About the Author
Stephen McGill has been teaching in the Tustin Unified School District since he entered the profession in 1998. He currently serves as the History/Social Science Department Chair at Beckman High School in Irvine, a position he has held since the school opened in 2004. He has taught a wide-range of courses to students in grades 6 - 11 from language arts and history in middle school to Advanced Placement United States history in high school. He started his career at the middle school level at Columbus Tustin Middle School. After one year, he served as a member of the founding staff at Pioneer Middle School where he served as department chair until he joined the Beckman faculty. Most recently, Stephen has joined the faculty at Concordia University in Irvine in his newest role is as an adjunct professor where he teaches the introductory course to students who have enrolled in the teaching credential program and who aspire to join the profession.

Watch the “Connected Minute” video to learn more about Stephen and his perspective on teaching and family.

Friday, May 27, 2016

GUEST POST: Using Technology to Develop a Student-Centered Math Classroom (Erin Mead)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

As I look back on my teaching from last school year to this school year, it has been a whirlwind!  I didn’t realize how much I have changed in how I teach, how I want students to learn, and the amount of technology I have in my toolbelt.  There has been a dramatic change in the way I “teach” and the goal I have for my students, which is to be more active learners.  I have tried to create a learning environment of more self-directed, collaborative learning and less directed instruction.  

GoFormative is an online tool that gives me instant feedback on whether my students are learning and understanding the content.  I can upload a worksheet, or create my own formative assessment.  I can also set whether or not students can see if answers are correct or not.  For CP students, I set GoFormative for students to see immediate results, and they can try to figure out where their mistakes are.  For lower level classes, I do not let them see if answers are correct, and instead watch the results myself and go to students directly that are not getting it, and I also let students know on an individual basis which ones they miss.  The biggest benefit I have seen when using GoFormative is that students will tell me that they understand a concept they didn’t before because they are completing the problems during class where they can work with peers, and I can give individual help when needed, increasing their understanding.

Another tool I have expanded upon in my daily teaching is Haiku. I started using Haiku loosely last year as an additional support of resources for students but I didn’t go a good job of keeping up on it.  I now use Haiku to upload homework and homework answers,so now the daily routine for students is for them to check their answers, which also allows them to check with their peers, then ask questions about problems they miss, saving valuable class time for other learning activities.  I also upload resources that can help students with their learning, such as video tutorials and PowerPoints.  A new way I have used Haiku is for administering assessments (concept checks, quizzes, unit tests).  I can mix up the questions and multiple choice answers so students that seat near each other are not working on the same questions in the same order, and the instant scoring feature saves time in grading.  

For next year, I want to continue to incorporate technology to enhance student centered learning, and continue to add to my toolbelt to support my goals and the environment I have tried to create.  I want to try new tools, like Pear Deck and Desmos, for how I present and engage students in lessons other than PowerPoints, encouraging students to explore and investigate rather than note taking, which will increase their understanding.  I have tried a couple of Desmos activities and I would like to incorporate those more as an alternative to direct instruction.  I feel these tools provide more opportunities for students to discuss the content and work together.

You can see the Desmos Activities I have tried this year here:

The Tech Fellowship positively impacted me indirectly by supporting what I have been striving for in my teaching practices.  It also provided me the opportunity to learn and incorporate technology practices that I would not have taken the time to figure out on my own.  The coaching aspect gave me direction and focus toward my goals of not only learning technology, but also shifting my teaching practices.

Erin Mead teaches Geometry and Algebra at Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine, CA.  Her main math love is Geometry and she is constantly searching for meaningful and fun ways for students to learn.  Erin serves as a mentor teacher to beginning teachers in her department, and she is a member of the district’s unit writing team for Geometry.  This year, to improve her teaching practices and use of technology in the classroom, Erin became a tech fellow and has finally caught up to, and maybe even surpassed her students and colleagues with her tech knowledge.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

GUEST POST: Teaching with Technology: Reinvigorating Pedagogy in an English-Language Arts Classroom (Tracey Kent)

This is the first in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

*This post is cross-posted on the Technology Fellowship blog at

Technology has had a noticeable impact on my classroom this year. It has afforded me greater efficiency and reinvigorated somewhat calcified pedagogical knowledge. For my students, it has increased their productivity, accountability, and engagement.

This year, technology has added to my efficiency as an instructor in various ways. In terms of managing the requisite influx of writing assignments, Google Classroom, Goobric/Doctopus, and have helped to make me a more efficient grader so that I can provide timely writing feedback to my students. Google Drive’s “Suggestion” mode has made leaving digital comments on student work just as easy as writing them by hand. The customizable nature of rubrics via Goobric/Doctopus and also allows me to give directed feedback to students that pinpoints areas that need improvement. While it has definitely been an adjustment, scoring online is something I feel has improved my efficacy, and as a result, my students’ learning. I also believe that my efficiency with delivering content knowledge has improved with technology. Tools like Haiku and Pear Deck permit me to hone in on the necessary content and become more strategic about the way I deliver such information. These tech tools have helped to effectively disseminate content and have forced me to rethink pedagogy. Although much of the essential pedagogy remains unchanged (pair sharing and group collaboration and lecture all remain as effective instructional methods), technology has allowed for a reinvention of some of what is considered “tried and true.” For example, TodaysMeet and Verso provide another avenue for collaborative discussion. Pear Deck brings interaction and accountability to lecture. Google Drive helps with editing and revision. Ultimately, I have discovered that technology can enhance existing pedagogy by making it more efficient and engaging.

See the end of this post for some examples of my lessons utilizing these tools.

Technology has also impacted student productivity, accountability, and engagement in my classroom. With the aid of technology, students are able to produce more, in that certain activities once bound to class time are no longer confined to the classroom. Online discussion boards like Verso allow for conversation to continue outside of class, which extends discussion activities. Students are also able to produce differently with technology. For example, instead of using a poster, students can use a Google Drawing for a visual project. The change in how and where assignments are produced inevitably leads to increased engagement and student learning. I polled my junior honors English classes about how much the various tech tools we have used this year enhanced their learning, and approximately 80% said that Google Drive and Google Classroom greatly enhanced their learning while 73% said these tech tools “positively impacted their interest” in learning the content. 

Furthermore, sites like Actively Learn, Curriculet, and Pear Deck hold students accountable. With these tools, students cannot passively listen to a lesson or read a chapter. They provide the teacher with valuable feedback to help modify and refine instruction. In a survey of my sophomore class, 72% of students said that online reading tools like Curriculet or Actively Learn engaged them in their task because it helped them to better understand the information. One student wrote “ I think it was more engaging because there were questions to be answered as we read and it helped us to focus on what we were reading and remember.” Ultimately, I believe that student learning was positively influenced by my use of technology this year.

In the future, I plan to continue to explore what technology has to offer as an instructional aid. Technology aids instruction and learning in myriad ways, but it is important to remember that there is no replacement for good teaching. Much of my experience as a Tech Fellow this year has reinforced that idea. The process of building purposeful lessons and reflecting on teaching practice is what makes an effective teacher. Though technology brings new ways to engage students and greater efficiency, the content and pedagogical knowledge of a trained, living-breathing teacher is a combination that is not replaceable. Students need teachers who teach them how to learn and think, and technology can be a tremendous asset to skilled teachers who know how to use it to complement instruction.

Here are a few of my favorite lessons from the year and how the technology supported the learning goals.

Google Docs / Google Classroom / Goobric / Doctopus
Student essay with teacher comments submitted to Google classroom: Students completed an essay on The Glass Menagerie using a Google doc that they submitted to Google classroom. This enabled students to complete a peer review activity in which they were asked to highlight topic sentences, evidence, and commentary. They were also asked to provide a comment with the number of sentences of analysis and commentary. Then, students made corrections, de-selected highlighted text, and submitted the assignment again to Google classroom. Here I scored it using the Goobric/Doctopus extensions and made similar comments on their work.
Student essay rubric attached with Goobric/Doctopus in Google classroom

Google Drawings

Student group project Google drawing: To learn rhetorical strategies (ethos, pathos, logos, etc.), my sophomores were asked to design their own app and market their product to their classmates. They are asked to create their own advertisement and “commercial” presenting their product. During their presentation, they must provide a visual aid (Google drawing) that incorporates various rhetorical strategies.

Verso discussion: Students were asked to post a comment to the discussion board before class after reading an excerpt of Thoreau’s Walden. Before the start of the period, I grouped the responses according to those who agreed or disagreed with Thoreau’s central argument. In class, we reviewed the comments on Student Mode (student comments are anonymously displayed) before we began a discussion of the specific techniques Thoreau uses to espouse his position.

Pear Deck

Sample Pear Deck lecture on Modernism : To introduce the literary movement Modernism, I asked my students to review content on Haiku. The following day, I used Pear Deck to ask students to demonstrate their understanding of the information read for homework. For example, they were asked to define key terms from the reading. Pear Deck enabled me to make a lecture-based lesson more interactive, in that I was able to check for understanding throughout class and display and clarify student answers. At the end of the lecture, students received a “takeaway” transcript from Pear Deck in their Google drive containing the answers they provided as well as the slideshow itself.

Actively Learn / Curriculet

Actively Learn reading assignment: My sophomores used a site called Actively Learn to read some of the core works (Lord of the Flies Chapter 3 pictured below) Students are guided by questions as they read; these questions cannot be skipped, ensuring that students slow their reading pace to aid in comprehension. The screenshot shows student responses and the way in which I scored them.

About the Author: Tracey Kent has been teaching English at Arnold O. Beckman High School for the past nine years. A lover of learning and literature, Tracey received a Bachelor's degree in English, a single-subject teaching credential, a Master's degree in teaching, and a Master's degree in English literature all from the University of California, Irvine. Teaching combines Tracey's passion for literature, writing, and grammar (yes--even grammar) with her love of learning. She delights in helping to nurture her students' sense of curiosity and nourish their intellects. Tracey is enthusiastic about all forms of expression--literature, art, film, music--and it is this appreciation of culture that most informs her teaching. Technology's impact on art and culture fascinates Tracey, and she looks forward to discovering ways in which she can use technology to help enhance students' literacy.

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