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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Using Adobe Spark to Explore Essential Questions

Post by: Erin Thomas, High School English Teacher

One of the struggles I have been faced with as a teacher is figuring out how to encourage students to slow down and think critically about a complex topic or text. The art of “wondering” our way toward an answer over time seems to have dissipated as technology has made it increasingly easy for students to arrive at immediate resolutions. One way we have been combating this issue, and working toward fostering ongoing, academic inquiry is through the use of essential questions.

Last week, I introduced a project to my classes which uses Adobe Spark to engage students in an investigation of the essential questions associated with their current thematic unit. When I designed this project, one of my main focuses was to encourage my students, through the details of the project, to “wonder” about a topic over an extended period of time. I first introduced the essential questions to my students at the beginning of the unit when we started our first core work, Lord of the Flies. While reading and analyzing Golding’s novel, students explored the questions in relation to the core work, various poems, visual texts and nonfiction texts. Once we had finished the novel, I introduced the Adobe Spark project.

As I explained the project to my students, I made sure to emphasize that this would be a project that we would be adding to at different benchmark points throughout the unit. Again, one of the goals being to have students explore an essential question through multiple core works and ancillary texts. Since we have three core works for this unit, I decided to have students create the first segment now, before we begin All Quiet on the Western Front, again before we begin Antigone, and then at the end once we have reached the conclusion. By having my students revisit, and add to, their Adobe Spark videos over the course of the unit, my hope is that they will get to closely examine how their own understating of a topic evolves through a deep examination of multiple texts. For me, it is very important that I create opportunities for my students to participate in a rigorous academic environment, which teaches important skills by exposing them to rich and complex texts.

How the Project Asks Students to Think:
When I design any lesson, I always ask myself, "What kind of thinking do I want my students to do?" Below you will see the general outline of the type of thinking this project requires of students. By having them revisit the project three and this type of thinking three times, over the course of the unit, they will get to trace the development of their ideas, and hopefully see the benefit of "wondering."
Marrying Technology with Content:
In regards to the actual technology, most of my students had not used Adobe Spark before, but I did create one earlier in the month to give them a refresher on how to write a theme statement, so they had seen it used before, just in a different context.

For those who are unfamiliar with the technology, Adobe Spark is essentially a forum that allows users to create video slideshows. The site offers various layouts, themes, music and voice recording capabilities, all are fairly simplistic and extremely user friendly.

Since I did this project with both my honors and CP classes, I outlined my modifications below. As I have been working as a tech fellow this year, I have been learning that I have to consider not only how I scaffold content, but also how I scaffold tech.

College Prep
  • Introduced project
  • Five minutes to explore the technology
  • Students created slides
  • Next day follow-up, completed voice recordings
  • Introduced tech the day before I introduced the project; allowed time for students to explore the technology
  • Introduced project; showed Teacher Model EQ
  • Provided students with a SLIDE ORGANIZER which I required them to complete before creating anything in Adobe Spark
  • Next day, students created slides and completed voice recordings using the organizer as a “script”
A note on CP modifications:

My rationale for making these choices is really based on what my honors students are ready to do at this point in the year. My desire for second semester to be a release of responsibility back to all of my students; however, my CP classes still require some additional scaffolding.

In addition, I made the choice to introduce the tech to my CP students at the end of the period, the day before I assigned the project, because that class in particular can get a little excited when we try something new. For my own personal sanity, this modification was key. They were incredibly focused the day they actually started the project because they had already had time to squirrel around with the tech the day before.  

Per the advice of my tech coach. I had my students submit their projects on a class slides which I posted to Google Classroom. They simply added their group names and the shareable link to their Adobe Spark videos

Overall, I was pleased with how these projects turned out in all of my classes. The feedback I have gathered so far from my students has been general, but here are their overall impressions:

  • They prefer Adobe Spark to screencasts
  • They had fun coming up with their own connections for the project
  • They preferred to create the slides in Google Slides first, and then transfer those slides into Adobe Spark, because this made it easier for them to collaborate

Sample Student Projects:

CP Student Sample
* As a side note, the essential questions I gave my CP students were slightly different HERE are their specific project guidelines

HERE is a link to the rubric I created to provide feedback to the groups. 

A few tidbits about using Adobe Spark:

  • As noted by my students above, it does not have a collaborative feature, so if you want student groups to create one video, it would be worth considering having the begin in Google Slides. They would then have to upload each slide as a JPEG into Adobe Spark, but my students assured me that this wasn’t too labor intensive.
  • Encourage students to keep the responses to 20 seconds or less. If they feel like they have more to say about a particular slide, they can simply “duplicate” it and continue their recording.
  • I had to constantly remind ALL, despite my models, to not write everything they were planning on saying on each of their slides. Once they thought of themselves as the narrator of their video, they were fine.

If you are looking for a way to increase the "wondering" in your classroom through essential questions and technology, this is a great way to go about it. Happy Adobe Sparking-ing!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Screencasting Our Train of Thought

My name is Tala Pirouzian and I am a student teacher in the English department at Beckman! As a former student of the school, I love reflecting on the educational changes that have occurred over the past few years. One change that I find to be powerful, valuable, challenging, and engaging is the role of technology in the classroom. As my mentor teacher, Erin Thomas, and her tech coach, Crystal Kirch, discuss when and how to bring the tech into the classroom, I am continuously reminded that the purpose of using technology is supposed to be to support students’ learning by making instruction more engaging and effective. Thus, I have found it to be a form of litmus test in that before a teacher uses a tech tool they determine: what purpose does it have? is it the right tech? how are students going to experience and learn from it? how is instruction going to be enhanced?
One lesson that I am eager to share with others involved using a new (new for me and my students this year) tech tool, “Screencastify,” in order to analyze author’s craft. As students develop and practice their close textual analysis, we added a new layer to their annotation and analysis by asking them to use the “Screencastify” extension. This tool was supposed enhance student learning in that as they “draft talk” their way through their analysis, they will be better equipped to write about it.
First, I posted a model screencast (about 5 minutes) in which I commented on why I annotated specific parts of the passage and then authentically verbalized my analysis of the passage.
Here is a screenshot of my sample. Feel free to listen to it here.
During the lesson, my students students selected one of nine passages from the text to annotate using Google Drawing or Kami, and then they used the “Screencastify” tool to make their “thinking visible.” This is one of the most significant and valuable parts of this lesson in that the tech tool gave all my students the opportunity to voice their thoughts and understanding. Furthermore, they were all using the content language as experts in the discipline would! As I watched and listened to their screencasts, it was like a window into their reading minds. Sometimes we highlight or mark the text without taking the time to rationalize and reflect on it, which also leaves the teacher asking why did you annotate what you did? Or what made you think that? This tool asked students to explain what they were highlighting or marking, and why.
Here are some sample screenshots of students’ annotations, which they provided a screencast of:

The screencasts range from 3-5 minutes. Following this, the students used their annotations and screencasts to write a short close textual analysis.
Here is a sample written work (with peer feedback):

As I reflect on this lesson, I realize that such technology not only serves to improve students’ digital literacy but also enhances their content skills in that they are annotating the passage using Google Drawing and Kami, communicating their interpretations and organizing their analysis via the “Screencastify” extensions, and then creating a written product. This offers students a chance to demonstrate their learning in different ways.
I definitely recommend this tech tool to others because it truly does make thinking visible in an innovative and effective way. I am so eager to try out different technology in the classroom and read about the ones you all are using!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Turning Online Discussions into Meaningful Class Conversations

Post by: Erin Thomas, High School English Teacher

I am not a techy person by nature. The latest gadgets, fancy apps, and social media aren’t really my thing, so when I decided to commit to being a tech fellow this year, I was nervous about how things would go. One of my biggest concerns was that the technology I brought into the classroom would become a distraction from the actual learning I wanted to take place. My tech coach vehemently assured me that we would only bring in technology when it made sense and would serve to enhance the lesson I had planned.

A couple of weeks ago, I put her assurances to the test. I told her I wanted to find a way to take an online discussion and push it out into the classroom. I was curious if I could find an effective way to make a online discussion meaningful to their person-to-person interactions in class. The lesson series took a total of three days: one day for the online Verso discussion, one for the in-class 4 Corners discussion activity, and one for miscellaneous post recap and reflection which I wanted them to do. More information can be found about this style of discussion in Catlin R. Tucker's Creatively Teach The Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology

I decided to keep the online discussion fairly broad. I had them respond to two questions about the reading, with the goal being to simply get them warmed-up for their in-class discussion. They were asked to make both an initial post with their response to the question, and then one response to one of their peer’s responses.

That night for homework, I had them respond to a Google Form survey HERE which required them to write two open-ended questions based on their online discussion. My plan was to pull at least a few of their questions and use them in the Four Corners discussion in class the following day. This extra step really increased their buy in the day of the Four Corners activity. They were excited to see their questions from the form form filtered into the different rounds of discussion.

The in-class discussion took a fair amount of set-up to get everything into place, so they could participate in the in-class discussion I had in mind. My goal was for them to participate in four different, ten minute discussions, each with its on focus and questions. Each round they would move to a new table and would meet with a new grouping of their peers.

With the help of my amazing tech coach, we set-up a Google Sheets which organized them into groups, rounds and discussion roles. Students were given the Google sheets the day before the in-class discussion, so they could come to class prepared to make the numerous transitions as smoothly as possible. One adjustment I made to this portion of the lesson when I did it the following week with my CP students was to have them write down their assigned roles and rounds on a handout I created. This eliminated some of the issues my honors students had with forgetting where to go. CP Handout

The day of the discussion went great! It was so exciting to see them moving around and interacting with so many of their peers in one class period. My honors students tend to be really strong in discussion, but I had the same level of participation from my CP students a week later. As a teacher, I want to create opportunities for my students to think critically about a text and to articulate that thinking through meaningful discussions. The online discussion, partnered with the in-class Four Corners activity, did just that.

I did do a twenty minute recap of the information covered during the discussion with my students the following day, but it was mainly just a way for me to solidify what I observed them talking about in class. Additionally, I had them complete a final Google Form reflecting on the process HERE , their participation, and the relevance of the online discussion. The feedback they provided was enormously helpful when I went to set the same lesson series up for my CP students. In addition to the adjustment I mentioned earlier, I also chose to eliminate the role of “time keeper”, it felt fairly irrelevant to me during the discussion, and their responses confirmed that thinking.

The vast majority of my students indicated on their Google Form that they preferred this lesson series to the typical Socratic Seminars we have on a fairly regular basis in my class. Many of them shared that they felt more confident participating in this type of discussion, and that having the online discussion in advance of the in-class activity helped them to feel more prepared.

On a purely pedagogical level, I was really pleased with how this lesson turned out. While it was a bit labor intensive to complete all of the set-up required to make the Four Corners discussion run smoothly, it was completely worth it. I was so happy to see my students show how independent they can be of me while having a sophisticated, academic dialogue with their peers. And I was even more excited the following week to watch my CP students find the same success.

I still wouldn't say I am the most "techy" person, but I have learned to really enjoy it. I have seen how it can make a lesson I have planned more dynamic and engaging, while also allowing me to be creative and innovative as a teacher.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Scaffolding Reading Comprehension in a Foreign Language Class

I wanted to share a lesson from one of my fellow's classes.  Helping students in Spanish 3 to get comfortable with reading their first novel that is fully in a foreign language requires a lot of support and scaffolding.  Not only do they need to understand grammar and vocabulary used throughout the novel, but they also must be able to piece everything together enough to comprehend the storyline. 

To facilitate this learning, we decided to utilize several instructional strategies (both with and without tech) that would allow students to process their reading.  As students worked through the novel, we tried to utilize different strategies (matching with each of the four goals below) to keep students on their toes and to keep things fresh.

The goals for the novel & strategies to help meet each goal.

STEP 1: Prepping for Comprehension + Working with Vocab / Verb Tenses

Before reading the first couple pages, students read a summary passage that one of last year's students had written. Using GoFormative, they edited the passage for grammar, verb tense, and agreement. In addition to exposing them to new vocabulary and helping them build their skills around using the correct verb tense, reading the summaries helped to prepare their minds for what they would see next.

STEP 2: Reading & Annotating chapter (supported with TPR)

While students could have used Google Docs or Kami (PDF annotation) to read and annotate the novel, we wanted them to do this on a hard copy so they wouldn't have to be navigating between multiple screens for the upcoming activities.  In addition, because this is their first exposure to reading a novel completely in a new language, we wanted to keep the "comfort" of being able to read and annotate with pencil & highlighter.  After reading and annotating the first 4 pages of the novel individually, the students reviewed the events they had just read about through a TPR "Total Physical Response" activity, where Mr. Miranda guided the class in "acting out" what had happened.

STEP 3: Sequencing Key events together

Students then got in collaborative groups to put together a sequence map of the events in the novel. Utilizing Google Drawing's Explore feature, they were able to bring in images that helped to communicate what was happening in the story.  The goal of building the Google Drawing was to ensure students had a level of comprehension of the key events in the novel.

STEP 4: Writing about the key events in the chapter & Analyzing vocab / verb tenses

Lastly, they used Verso App to write their own summary, taking what they learned from the sequence map and putting it together in complete, comprehensible sentences, focusing on the vocabulary and appropriate verb tense. Once all students submitted their summary, they were assigned another student (Verso App keeps student names anonymous) to critique, evaluate, and make recommendations for how to improve their writing.  Because all posts in Verso are numbered, it was easy to give each student a number corresponding to a different post to evaluate.

One of the challenges is getting students to summarize in their own words and not just take key phrases from the novel.  To overcome this, we had to make the Verso response a "closed text" response (can't have the novel out).  Students could still access their Google Drawing sequence map to help with their writing.

alternate STEP 4: Speaking about the key events in the chapter

Using either Let's Recap or Adobe Spark, students summarize the key events in the chapter orally rather than in writing.  With Let's Recap, Mr. Miranda just saw their face via webcam, which allowed him to watch their pronunciation.  With Adobe Spark, students brought in images to aid in telling the story of the chapter.  You can see a sample Adobe Spark here.  The students recorded them in class, so there is background noise.  However, that does not take away from the goal of the activity.

Overall Reflection:

Students found most of the activities helpful (either "a little" or "a lot").  They were most uncomfortable with activities that forced them to speak (using Adobe Spark or Let's Recap), but that is a goal they are working towards and should get more comfortable over time. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Desmos in ELA...Isn't that a math tool?

In an 11th grade Honors English class this past week, students were discussing Chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby with a focus on the different symbols throughout the chapter.

We designed a Desmos Activity that allowed the students to work through the potential symbols collaboratively in groups of 4.   For each element, they had to decide between "symbol" and "not a symbol".  Once they selected their choice, they were prompted to explain their reasoning with textual evidence.  After they submitted their explanation, they were able to see up to three other group's explanations before moving on.  The activity was student-paced so all groups were working at different paces and were able to take the time they needed to think through their responses without the pressure of being "moved on" with the rest of the class.

As they worked through the activity, the teacher was able to monitor student thinking through the Desmos Teacher Dashboard.

After the groups finished working through the Desmos activity, they were given the link to an individual hyperdoc that had mini-screencasts where the teacher recorded herself explaining whether or not each element was a symbol or not.  Students then were able to listen to the teacher's instruction at their own pace, take any needed notes, and fill out a column that asked them to compare the teacher's explanation to their original choice.

The final activity of this lesson was for students to look at the book so far (Chapters 1-5) and find one additional symbol that wasn't in the activity and explain why it was a symbol by using textual evidence.

We chose Desmos because it allowed the activity to be self-paced and also allowed groups to view other group's thinking after they submitted their thoughts.  Both of these features seemed to be essential to the success of the activity

In addition, we chose to put the teacher's explanation on screencasts so students were able to access them at their own pace when they were ready for it (i.e. after they had worked through the activity fully themselves).  In the past, class time was used for this explanation, which decreased the amount of student discussion time that could occur.  With the redesign of this lesson, students had an entire class period to discuss symbolism.

Overall, the activity was highly successful.  The students were engaged in the small group discussion, and the tools we chose (especially the self-pacing and ability to still collaborate cross-group by seeing others' responses) allowed for ample processing and discussion time to ensure students met the learning objectives for the day.  Desmos is definitely a tool that will be used again!

Here is some more student feedback on the activity:

  • I thought the desmos activity was very effective and helpful in recognizing the differences in symbols and figurative language or archetypes.
  • I think desmos is a great way to work in groups and think about different topics. It was a different way of doing things, so it definitely made it more interesting. :)
  • I enjoyed the peer-feedback in order for better understanding of the symbol as students can see the perspectives of their peers. I also thought the process from question to question flowed smoothly and I believed it worked out really well.
  • Having a student-paced activity like this made discussion effective in keeping time and staying on task.
  • It was a nice change of pace in order for the discussion to be more interactive online and for it to be student paced because sometimes i don't understand things in discussions and in this types of discussion we can talk about it more and come to a conclusion
  • I think Desmos was the most effective technology resource introduced this year. The fact that we were allowed to see peer responses helped facilitate peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration among students. Considering that the activity was student paced, I think Desmos allowed me and my peers to fully contemplate our responses before submitting them.
  • It ran smoothly and the transition between desmos and screencast was easy. However, in the future I would do our groups thoughts for one symbol, then the screencast, then our notes on whether we were correct or not, then the next symbol. This would make it easier to remember our thoughts, and I think it would flow better.
  • I liked how Desmos enabled us to move at our own pace, yet would have preferred if everyone wrote for themselves in order to increase engagement in the activity.
  • The student pacing and ability to see student responses were the most effective as they allowed more control to be placed in the hands of the student. This helped my group better understand the content as we were allowed to spend as long as we needed on a question, but could also reflect and compare our thoughts with other groups.
  • I liked this activity because instead of having it on a written activity it is a memorable thing as we were able to work in groups, agree and disagree, as well as see your face and be able to play it multiple times. The group recorder in my group kinda just wrote without telling us what he was writing which was the only issue. A suggestion is that maybe we could rotate around the laptop and have us all write.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Improving Student Learning through Instant Feedback & Constant Communication (Tracy Dawson)

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.

Technology has transformed my classroom this year!

I have infused technology in my lessons in previous years but through this Technology Fellowship I have created a learning environment that is dynamic, effective, and efficient for my students all driven by the purposeful use of technology.  I teach Human Body Systems (HBS), AVID, and Biology CP and I have integrated technology into each of them in different ways.  

One of the major shifts this year in HBS is making my labs digital.  There is a lot that goes into digitizing a lab so the process has been quite an undertaking but the benefits make it completely worth the time invested.  I utilize Google Classroom in HBS (as well as in AVID and Biology).  The organization of Google Classroom and Google Drive has been a great way for my students to have a place to go to for all labs/handouts/links/announcements/etc.  It avoids students being confused on where to go to get the document or link and it allows for students to have a “homebase”.  In HBS, the students complete a lab about once a week and before digitizing my labs I was not completely satisfied with the way I was checking their progress or their understanding besides informal assessments and check-ins and Friday Quizzes (which at that point was a bit late).  I now can give every student real-time feedback as they are completing their lab through the great collaborative feature of Google Docs.  I have a running dialogue with my students about their lab and it is a place they can ask questions and I can clarify key points as well as checking in on their progress on the lab.  My HBS students are very comfortable with Google Classroom and Google Drive so I can ask them to take pictures of their dissections spur of the moment and they are able to digitally label them in a Google Drawing and upload them to Google Classroom so I can grade their dissections more thoroughly and they can have their labeled dissection to review. Here is an example of a labeled Digestive System from the Fetal Pig Dissection.  

Here are a few other ways technology impacted teaching and learning... with samples for you to look at!
  • I embedded Quizlets into GoFormative for all three of my classes as formative assessments as well as review for the students.  Here is an example of a quizlet embedded into GoFormative for a Biochemistry review for my Biology CP class.  

  • Google Drawings - The students created Google Drawings of concept maps for the Endocrine System as well as for the Insulin/Glucagon Feedback Loop in the Human Body.  Here is a Student Sample of the Insulin/Glucagon Feedback Loop.  In previous years, I had the students draw their concept maps and feedback loops on paper and I was not able to fully review them until they turned them in which was on the day of the quiz so it was too late to fix major misconceptions.  Having the students create them on Google Drawings allowed me to write comments on them as they were making them so misconceptions were dealt with right away.    

  • I also used Quizizz, Socrative, Let’s Recap, and GoFormative to do concept checks and for the students to review for the quizzes and tests in our class.  Anatomy has a lot of terms that the students need to know and the spelling is important so the Quizlets I embedded into GoFormative were particularly helpful because they tested my students on definitions, spelling, and being able to label diagrams.

  • I also utilized Google Forms (for reflections and to collect data), Padlet (get to know activity, summing up lessons, and reflections), and ThingLink (making a diagram of a cow eye more dynamic by adding “tags” to label each part, stating its function, and inserting videos).

  • AVID - Digital Journals (student-teacher dialogue), Google Forms (grade reflections, submitting questions for Socratic Seminars).  All of these allowed me to actually read and provide timely feedback to each of my students which was more difficult and time consuming to do when they wrote their journals on paper.  Before I digitized the journals and reflections in AVID, it took me so long to read them and I felt that in the time it took for me to get my written feedback back to my students, part of the impact of the feedback was lost.  Now, I am able to give immediate feedback and it helped me in the beginning of the year to get to know my students very quickly.

  • Biology - Collaborative labs on Google Docs, Google Forms (submitting lab data, reflecting on test/unit/grade in class), Google Slides (visual vocabulary), Google Drawing (Karyotype Activity), Quizizz, GoFormative, and Padlet.

I am very excited to continue to refine my use of technology in my classroom next year.  This summer, I plan to complete the certification and exams to become a Google Certified Teacher (Levels 1 and 2).  I am also planning on taking two technology courses online (“Flipping the Classroom” and “All Things Google”).  Finally, my new obsession, Twitter!  I will continue to connect with educators on Twitter to grow and develop my purposeful use of technology in the classroom.

I cannot begin to say how impactful this fellowship has been on my teaching practice.  I went from someone who would sometimes shy away from using certain things because I assumed the students wouldn’t have their devices (mostly in Bio) or not knowing if it was going to work well to now wanting to try every awesome idea that I come across!  Like most things in a teacher’s classroom, if it is set as an expectation from the beginning of the school year, then a teacher will have a lot less trouble during the year.  In my class, having your device everyday is like having a pencil and paper.  I also found the more willing and open I am to trying new things in my classroom, the more willing my students are.  There were times when I used a certain technology in my class and I thought “that was okay” but I can make it way better by tweaking a few things or using a different technology to accomplish the same goal in a more effective manner.  But the fact that I was not afraid to try the technology and my students were willing to engage in their learning through the use of a specific technology helped me to discover the things that worked best in my classroom and worked best for my students.

Tracy Dawson is a Human Body Systems, Biology, and AVID teacher at Beckman High School in Irvine, CA.  She is an innately curious person and considers herself a “lifelong learner”.  Tracy is a self-professed science and tech nerd and loves to be constantly adding to her “tech toolbelt” and enhancing her teaching and her students’ learning through the purposeful use of technology.  Tracy also serves as AVID Coordinator and a mentor teacher in the science department.