Sunday, August 31, 2014

September Blog Challenge: Google Drive Apps

My school is currently in the middle of seismic shifts in technology. Just this year...

  • New evaluation system using the website Bloomboard to manage files and meetings
  • All teachers now have Macbook Airs (previously desktops running Windows) 
  • Lesson plans to be uploaded through Google drive
  • Moving to a new online gradebook system-called TAC for teacher access system 
I'm sure other schools are also finding themselves attempting changes in technology; unfortunately, it seems like there is just never enough time in the school day to do everything teachers have to do, never mind the new technology tips and trips! However, technology can save time and deeply engage students. So, I'm challenging myself to blog about some of the new technology tips and tricks I've found really helpful through the month of September in the hopes that it might help someone out in internet-land. 

My first topic: Making Google Drive work for you... with apps! 

In Google Drive, when you click the big red button in the upper left corner marked 'create', you will have the option of using all of Google Drive's version of documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. For your every day life, these programs work perfectly well. However, for many teachers, they just don't have the same features as more traditional programs, like Microsoft's Powerpoint. My favorite app to replace presentations and Microsoft's Powerpoint in Zoho Show. Here's how to use it: 

At the bottom of the create page, you will see the button marked "connect more apps." I searched for "powerpoint" and found Zoho Show. You will have to click "yes" to make it the default program to open powerpoint files and other slideshows. 
Once you connect Zoho Show, just click "create" then "Zoho Show." To use this app, like most other apps, you must click accept in order for it to connect with your email and other security features. After that, it will offer you 15 templates to choose from, but then the basic arrangements are a lot like Powerpoint. Here's an example: 
I have personally really loved using Zoho Show; I haven't really even missed Powerpoint! If you find yourself missing certain programs but only have access to Google Drive, try searching in the app store for replacements. You might find something really awesome! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Power of Choice

Today was one of the only days in my teaching career where I walked away feeling like I had truly done the right thing by every student. Being an educator means that you will never know for sure if you are doing the right thing; everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing in your classroom, after all. Test prep, close reading, word walls, exit tickets-I've been advised to do all of that (and more) at some point in every single class period-as if there really is some perfect recipe for a lesson. Hint: there really aren't magic bullets in education. Sorry.

But here at the beginning of my fourth year, after a very special summer with the Arkansas Delta Writing Institute, I plunged into my classroom with something resembling confidence. Okay, maybe that's not the right word-fear mixed with passion multiplied by commitment all poured over the top of years worth of reflection, sweat, and tears (all baked at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 months-to terribly mix my metaphors).

The balance to strike at the beginning of this year at my school is schedule changes, technology hot messes, and getting to know students in a meaningful way, all while itching to get started on whatever standards or units that have been shoved at you or you've carefully developed and edited-whichever. In my first week of school, my students read two non-fiction articles, set up writing notebooks, and worked on internalizing a growth mindset through discussion and a short exit ticket.

It was just alright-maybe a little energizing to actually meet students. But then today happened.

I took all of my classes to the library and all of my students checked out a book and established a page amount goal, based on Penny Kittle's Book Love. The only real direction I gave was in selecting a title that wasn't too terribly difficult.
Blatantly borrowed stock photograph. 
Did some of my kids wimp out and get really easy reads? Absolutely. Did some of my kids want to re-read books from junior high, probably out of a lack of confidence? Yes.  But In Cold Blood, The Things They Carried, westerns, sports books, biographies, and non-fiction books about wars were all checked out by kids who were excited to read. I was able to talk to almost every single student about books in a meaningful way. I gave a mini-lesson about dialogue on the side. Even my most reluctant readers walked away with a book and at least 20 minutes of reading.

My principal came in at the beginning of first period and asked if we were doing a research paper; I said no, we were just checking out books. I felt a twinge of embarrassment and shame-just checking out books? What was I doing? It turns out, I was building the foundation for life-long readers.

I feel energized and passionate; I still have a long way to go to sustain a meaningful and productive independent reading program in my classroom that leads students to increasingly challenging books. I am working on building in choice and creativity, as well as argument and research, into my writing units. But-I've jumped in. No going back.