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500th Blog Post - Teacher Stats and Reflection

Looking back across the three years I have been a technology specialist and even the years before that I was a teacher, many things have changed.

When I started teaching in 2011 there was(were):
  • No Google Drive/Classroom/Chromebooks & no Gmail accounts for staff or students.
  • Students did not have any school provided mobile devices, WiFi was new to the school.
  • No iPads
  • A 2 week wait minimum for reserving the 1 of the 2 computer labs.
  • An hour wait at the Scantron Machine during Finals.
  • Windows XP on every student computer
  • Brand new teacher laptops with Windows 7, which are still in use in 2017.
  • USB Flash Drives that I used to keep all of my class resources on. I starting using Dropbox and eventually Google Drive after numerous USB Drives went through my washer and dryer.
  • No PLCs online or otherwise.
  • and I'm sure many more that I am leaving out...
Through all the changes, technology-wise, I decided to take a look at how my teaching style and how the learning experience improved (or at least became more efficient) through the addition of technology in my classroom. Some background for context, I taught High School Social Studies at my face-to-face school from 2011 to 2014 before becoming a Technology Specialist. Since 2015, I teach High School Social Studies online through a virtual school.

#1) Check the website

Image result for 24/7

One of the first lessons I learned as a first year teacher was to always make more copies of a handout/assignment than I needed. There will almost always be a student who needs an extra copy for one reason or another. However, if a student lost their assignment outside of school hours, they were mostly stuck until they could get back into my classroom to get another copy. Some students thought this was a good thing as they may get more time to complete the assignment.

One way this changed and improved in my classroom was when I added all assignments to my class website. That way students could access, download, and print an extra copy of any assignment if needed at any time. Some students even starting typing out their assignments before printing as they preferred.

Whenever a student asked for an extra copy of a handout, I would always respond with the same answer, "Check the website." I had a computer setup in my room for students to use as not all students had access to the internet and/or a printer outside of school.

I found myself posting everything to the website. Any video, reading, handout, or other resource we used in class was either uploaded, linked, or otherwise attached to my website. Sometimes I would only show a clip of a video in class. Then, students would go to my website after to view the whole thing (providing enrichment). Having 24/7 access to the course provided deeper learning experiences for my students and made students take more ownership and responsibility for getting the work done.

#2) Assignments are due Today (by 11:59pm)

Image result for online learning

When I started accepting student work online via Google Drive or through Edmodo (before the days of Google Classroom), students were thrilled to learn that assignments were NOT due when class began, but by 11:59pm instead. This allowed a lot more flexibility when students needed it and it also allowed me to provide more immediate feedback.

For example, I assign a worksheet that needed to be submitted the same night by 11:59pm. I would grade the assignment the following morning and return it to the student that same day, allowing me to review material from the previous class before moving on. Whereas if the student had to wait until class to turn it in, I would need an additional day to grade it and return it to them. By that time, often times we had moved on to another topic.

#3) Instant Formative Assessment

Image result for students raising hands

As a first year teacher, I was (and still am) obsessed with checking to make sure how well students are learning the content in my classroom. When I finally was able to get a device in each student's hands I was able to use a variety of tools to implement formative assessments. Apps like Socrative, NearPod, and Edmodo allowed me to assess students and get an instant snapshot of where each student was at in the learning process. I was able to instantly modify/adjust lessons base on student needs instantly as well as provide resources and pair students up based on ability level.

However, in an unexpected twist for me, I was also able to flip the process around and have students check themselves. With apps like Quizlet, students could create their own review games or check their own understanding of a topic and seek out additional resources on their own.

#4) Infinite Possibilities

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Whenever students completed a project or assignment on pencil and paper, options on how to complete the assignment were limited to the resources at hand (i.e. the textbook and the worksheet). When each student had a device in hand, all of the sudden, almost limitless options were open for completing activities.

Here is a great example. One project students completed in my class was "The Castle Project." Students had to construct a Medieval European Castle, accurately, using any resources they wished to use. Immediately, I had students using cardboard, paper towel rolls, Legos, building bricks, rocks, and so on. One group asked if it was possible to turn in the project in Minecraft. I was mostly unfamiliar with Minecraft at the time, so I reviewed the requirements of the project with them and asked the students if it was possible to meet all of the project requirement in Minecraft. They were all really confident that it could be done.

Since I didn't have Minecraft, I needed a way to see the castle. The students suggested that they do a screencast video where they give me a tour of the castle, outlining the architectural and functional purpose of their castle's design. With all of that set, I gave the green light. To this day I am awestruck at the quality of work and the time those students put in building their digital castle. Seeing students work on some thing they enjoy, have a personal interest in, and relating their interests to the course content is one of those moments I relish as a teacher.

I like telling this story to those that feel they need to know everything about technology before using it in the classroom.

Conclusion - Student at the Center

Image result for student centered learning laptop

This reflection does not cover all of the changes that technology made to my classroom, however there is a common theme. Technology in my classroom allowed me to shift the focus away from the teacher (me) being the main provider of content and knowledge to being a facilitator of knowledge and a coach/guide. Technology allows students to take control of their learning, at their own ability level, and their own experiences and interests to create deeper and long lasting learning experiences.

Don't just take my word for it though, after all I'm a bit biased as I am a Teacher and Education Technology Guru. Here is an article featuring students answering a couple questions.

Students at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, responded to two questions: How has your teacher used mobile technology to help you learn something? And how might a teacher use mobile technology to improve a lesson?

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