Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Year of Change

According to Google, it has been nearly I year since I last posted.  What a year it has been.  In that year, I have tweeted over 400 times.  For so many reasons, I prefer Twitter right now.  There have been a few things rattling around in my brain, and, as Will Richardson probably said once, "Just write it."  I know realize I have a lot to write about, so, look for a few posts closely spaced in the next month or so.  I'll begin with my attempt to move to an all-electronic classroom.

This past summer, I was talking with a friend, and I pulled my phone out of my pocket and asked the question, "What if all the information one needed were accessible from this device?"  My friend and I started laughing.  All the information one needs IS accessible from my phone.  Then I began thinking about how my teaching needed to change.  I informed my division head I would be reserving a cart of laptops for my World Cultures class every period, every day.  Next, I discussed with my ultra-talented IT Director the idea of allowing kids to personalize laptops by assigning them to particular students.  We agreed that since most information would be kept in the Googlesphere, it was easier, from a management standpoint, to keep laptops generic.  Given the middle school proclivity towards ownership, I assigned laptops anyway to discourage kids from using laptops as social bait (I call Orange Papa!)

And, so began the year.  If a word comes up in discussion that kids don't know, somebody looks it up almost before I can ask what the word means.  No more passing out papers, documents are shared with classes either when I create them or just prior to the beginning of class.  No child has ever shown up and asked for another paper or has had to dig through a notebook looking for the elusive assignment.  Completed projects and project pieces have been shared with me.  I comment on them and email students that they should check the comments.  The change was seamless and appropriate.

Ah, I hear you cry.  There must be a dark side.  Of course there is.  I teach seventh graders.  Google's fabulous chat feature, so useful for adults, is candy for seventh graders.  It is very hard for kids to type questions into chat while simultaneously listening to a discussion.  If any reader has successfully integrated chat into their teaching, please let me know.  I'd love to hear the stories.  Students also struggle with naming conventions.  Students who turn paper in with a proper MLA heading share online documents with only generic names, making it difficult for me to track their work.  Next year I will insist on a shared folder with the student's name in which all work is shared.  That will help my work flow, and, I suspect organize life bit more for students.

The highlight of the year so far was FAME, Feudal Asia/Medieval Europe.  Electronic research was accomplished using EasyBib.  Kids navigated notecards and work has never been so properly cited.  The presentations themselves were not overly slide heavy. Most students know that paper posters, models, acting, etc are far more effective than watching slide presentations.  Students took notes on laptops the first two days.  The group that presented on day 3, having realized what a distraction that was agreed among themselves to upload and share all of their research and notes.  It was a paradigm shift.  Students focused on the presentations themselves, not on trying to take notes; knowing that all the information they were taking in was already uploaded and could be accessed from anywhere.  For the FAME Final Fling (Test is so anxiety inducing,) I used a Google Form scored by Flubaroo, allowed full and open access to the Internet, and allowed kids to organize their notes anyway they wanted.  An enterprising young student created a 65 person study group and invited his class to contribute.  While most students took the idea seriously, there were a few social issues that arose, and we eventually suggested the student make his document view only.  Next year, I will probably suggest smaller study groups and may even assign them.

At the halfway point in the year, I am excited to continue the paperless experiment, am still having fun teaching, and think I may even begin blogging more regularly.  Thanks for being patient and allowing me to enjoy a posting pause.  Next on the horizon?  Preparing a Puppet Pals tutorial!

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