Present Pedagogical Ecosystem

Social networking is not a bubble filled with colleagues we know. It’s precisely the opposite – an enormous, continuously changing environment in which we choose to collaborate and learn from people we may not know personally. It’s a new pedagogical ecosystem that takes down classroom walls and makes our teaching transparent. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to appreciate the power of social networking in education. Unfortunately, many teachers are afraid to take that risk today.

Edmodo is a great example of a dynamic online environment that helps build a learning community in which every member is given a voice and empowered to influence another. I’ve used Edmodo for two years, and I find it to be a perfect platform for teaching digital literacy and writing. Either it’s a brainstorming activity or feedback on a rough draft, Edmodo offers features to do it effectively and efficiently. There is something special about being able to post a question, sit back, and watch kids think and communicate online. I know who my students truly are because Edmodo conversations let the students run the learning show while I am offstage, assessing their skills and academic performance. I love the annotating tool within assignments, too. This feature allows me to comment on student work submitted in any format (documents, Power Point presentations, images, and etc.), converse with a student about mistakes, and continue a one-on-one writing conference in this manner. One click, and students are able to see my notes, start revisions, or ask questions. As each draft improves, Edmodo keeps track of all submitted versions which enables me to see how well students analyze feedback and are able to improve own work. In addition, a few Edmodo apps that support writing instruction in a classroom are available for purchase. Teachers can join Language Art or Writing communities to collaborate with other professionals on specific topics, strategies, or lesson ideas.

To me, Google Docs are a well-packaged collaborative platform, and its possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. I know many of us create documents and presentations to share with others, but we often forget the purpose of this tool: creating something together, revising, and perfecting it. I imagine Google Docs being an engine for writing instruction. For example, a document can be a place for groups to brainstorm ideas, categorize them, and develop a plan in the pre-writing stage. While writing rough drafts, students can evaluate each other’s work using requirements of a rubric and provide specific feedback to improve it. Writing itself can be collaborative: students may work in pairs to develop a story. Teachers would not need to carry thirty composition books home to read and comment on student writing. Instead, they can dive into it with Google Docs, comment on strength, and define weaknesses upon which students can act immediately.

I also imagine teachers writing together with Google Docs. Why not to set up a document that would serve as a lesson plan template? Teachers can divide and conquer multiple subjects or units at the same time. While one is developing lessons for math, another teacher finishes language arts activities. With no emails or hard copies, both have access to the ready-to-go  lesson plans. Google Docs can help us teach kids how to plan, execute, and evaluate work that is accomplished collaboratively. The same approach can be implemented when developing teaching or professional learning resources. Collaboratively created presentations and documents can then be implemented in classrooms and/or become a part of the school resource library. Below is an example of a short presentation that offers some suggestions on how technology can be implemented in writing instruction.

Honestly, I do not even remember what I did to gather and record information before I learned about Google Forms. Did I take notes on every response and then manually combined them into a data sheet? That’s a scary thought…Today, I use Google Form almost everyday. For example, I fill one out every time I observe teachers and provide feedback on their technology integration strategies. I have developed a simple form and set it up so the feedback is automatically emailed to teachers as soon as I click the submit button. The feedback is immediate, and I have a summary report for every observation I conduct. Then I analyze the combined data, represent it in numbers and graphs, and share it with the staff. I have implemented other forms for the kindergarten registration process, app suggestion surveysthe end-of-the-year technology check list, and many more. Just like social networking tools, Google Docs are a convenient way to support creativity, communication, and collaboration among teachers, students, and parents.

Portable On-Demand Learning

I thought I knew quite enough about podcasting to say I was ready to use it in my classroom. Explorations of podcasts in iTunes and reading about them on the web proved me wrong: I have had only a slight understanding of what this tool truly is and how powerful it may be in daily instruction. My head is spinning with ideas for podcasting in elementary classrooms, and I am eager to share this tool with teachers. Podcasting is an easy way to build lessons in which students are provided with opportunities to think critically, be creative, communicate, and collaborate with each other.

As I try to analyzes what has stopped me from trying out podcasting before, I realize that I always wanted it to be perfect: smooth transitions, no background noise, and studio-like performances from kids. Listening to many examples similar to Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Leiphart’s classes helped me realize that a podcast is a raw genre of communication in which “cracks and pops, obscure music, and “ums” and “ahs” are all part of the podcast genre” (Richardson, 2010, p. 113). Teachers do not have to spend hours polishing audio creations because, with technology tools available today, podcasting is a very time-affordable tool that allows learners to focus on developing powerful content and make technology integration invisible in a classroom. Students need to learn that the quality of the stories they share matters the most, while all technical bells and whistles of putting podcats together will improve with every try.

iTunes offers a colossal collection of podcasts on any topic. I focused on locating some that can be used with elementary students, and I was overwhelmed by the number of them. Using Storynory, a weekly podcast for young children, could be implemented in a classroom as a Listen to Reading center in which students would enjoy classic stories read by professionals. Brains On by Minnesota Public Radio should be a part of every science classroom. The topics discussed in this podcast are intriguing, and invited experts engage listeners in fun learning. Digital Inspiration podcast caught my attention because I love to learn different how-to tricks when it comes to using technology tools. I also found The Reading Room, a newly founded podcast in iTunes and an outstanding resource to learn strategies for teaching digital reading with Common Core curriculum. For my guilty pleasure, I subscribed to Life Habits by Karel Vredenburg, a podcast that addresses topics on social interactions, building relationships, and leadership skills. Listening to different podcasts made me think of how comfortable it was to access them. I was able to take breaks when I needed, go back when I wanted to hear something again, and share podcasts with colleagues by emailing out links directly from iTunes. It made me think that podcast is a perfect tool for portable on-demand learning.

There are many ways podcasts can be integrated in a classroom. Richardson (2010) speaks of recording audio conversations with experts via Skype and integrate them in podcasts – a strategy of which I have never thought before, but find useful. I also want to share the blog post from ClassroomTech on podcasting. It offers step-by step strategies for podcast integration that can be adopted by teachers in any grade level. Podcasts erase the cultural definition of communication as we’ve known it and offer opportunities for kids to unleash their interests and creativity.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Magic Touch of Wixie

Frequently, I stumble across tweets that refer to blog posts about best Web 2.0 tools for education. Over 20 Free Digital Classroom ToolsThe 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools Chosen By You, and 10 of the Best Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers are just a few to mention. I always get excited when I read these posts because novelty is a key to engagement in any classroom. Unfortunately, my eagerness dies out quickly since most listed tools can be used only by students older than thirteen years of age. The feeling of disappointment always makes me feel as though elementary students are left behind when it comes to having an access to a wide variety of online tools. 

Thankfully, there is a magic pixie that comes to my rescue every time students need to create digital stories, prepare presentations, publish writing, make posters, complete graphic organizers, or design comics – Wixie, a Tech4Learning program that offers many possibilities for students to unleash their creativity. The software is completely web-based, and Wixie apps are available for Androids, iPads, and Kindle Fire that makes it a perfect tool for a BYOT classroom. Shapes, stickers, voice recordings, text features, layering options, and drawing/paining tools provide students with multiple options to express their thinking and demonstrate what they learn in unique ways. The library in Wixie is full of public domain images (Pics4Learning), backgrounds, and graphic organizers that can be used by students. Users can collaborate on projects and export/import each other’s pages to put together and present their group’s work. Students have ePortfolios in which they can place their best work and collect projects throughout a school year. Publishing projects cannot be any easier: students are able to copy and share a unique url for each project or embed them into blogs, wikis, or other online tools. In addition, creations can be exported as MP4, MOV, HTML, Flash, PDF, or ePub files. If needed, students and teachers can choose to set a passcode to access projects online. Such option may be a handy tool when students work on narratives and share personal information.

Managing Wixie projects and assessing student work are very simple processes that can save time for teachers. They access classes with a teacher account to monitor student work, align assignments to standards, and comment on individual projects. In addition, teachers are able to assign Wixie activities to students based on their individual needs to differentiate instruction. Creating a built-in rubric for each activity is a powerful feature that helps with standard-based reporting and academic progress monitoring. Teachers do not need to carry home loads of papers to grade and provide feedback to students.  All of it can be done in Wixie. Collaboration among teachers is supported as well. They are able to develop projects/activities with specific rubrics attached and share them in the school’s shared folder where they can be copied, edited, and assigned by others. If sharing resources within one school is not enough, Creative Educator is an online community for teachers to share project and lesson ideas, post examples of student work, and support each other. Communication, collaboration, and creativity are evident components of Wixie.

Like with any online tool, users may face some challenges when working in Wixie. First of all, this tool is not free. An annual subscription is required for every student. We are lucky to have a county-wide license for this wonderful tool. I know I would do everything possible to get the subscription if it was not provided. PTA, technology grants, and Book Fair fundraisers can be used to sponsor the program. Another possible problem with Wixie is connectivity issues that can cause a disastrous lesson. To avoid it, I suggest using this tool for small groups, center rotations, independent work, or homework assignments instead of in a lab setting. Lastly, kindergarten students may have difficulties learning their usernames and passwords and not be able to quickly log in to Wixie without assistance. Implementation of Techno Buddies (a partnership between kindergarten and fifth grade classrooms) can be a solution to help young students learn the procedure quickly. Why not to think of a collaborative project between them, too? 

As you may have noticed, I am a little be-witched by Wixie. Some teachers call it Wixie Wonderland, and I cannot agree more: the program is definitely has a magic touch that can transform any classroom into a student-driven learning environment.