Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Breaking Down Walls to Increase Teacher Confidence When Integrating Technology

I've been an Instructional Technology Specialist (Tech TOSA) for the past year and a half.  In my role, it is my job to help train and coach teachers in my district to integrate technology into their curriculum to enhance instruction, transform student learning, and meet the CCSS standards related to technology.  While many teachers are excited to use technology in the classroom, and the Chromebook carts are being checked out and are in constant demand, many more teachers are still not comfortable using technology in the classroom.  Many lack the confidence to use technology with their students.

There seem to be a variety of reasons why teachers are afraid to use technology with their students.  Some feel that they don't have a grasp on using the technology themselves, and don't want to feel that they are not in control in their classrooms, or not the expert of everything.  Some have had bad experiences in the past with the wifi or technology not working, and don't want to run into problems again.  Others are afraid of classroom management issues, such as students being off task and texting, surfing the web, etc.  All of these issues seem to lead to the idea of mindset.  

My goal is to slowly change hesitant teacher's mindset about using technology in the classroom.  I want them to understand that the teacher doesn't have to be an expert on the technology tools; they can rely on students to be the experts and share with their classmates.  And while the network may go down or tech may fail, it is important to always have a plan B, or even a plan C, because non-tech lessons may not work either, and you always have to have a fallback plan.  And lastly, students will always be tempted to get off task if they don't have an engaging assignment.  Before computers, smart phones, and texting, students passed notes.  The same classroom management skills and strategies that you use in a class without technology, are still important in a class with technology.

Mark Anderson, @ICTEvangelist
A few weeks ago, I saw this diagram "Teacher confidence in use of technology" by Mark Anderson in my Twitter feed.  This diagram perfectly describes the different levels teachers are at in my district.  I feel like many have moved on to the mastery, impact, and innovation levels.  But there are still a lot more at the survival level.  These teachers are scared to use technology with their students, and don't seem to be able to move up to the next level.

To get to mastery, the simple answer is that the teachers should receive training and play and practice with the different tools.  Then that would increase their comfort and confidence.  But many seem stuck.  They know they need practice, they know they need to sign up for training, or one on one appointments, but they don't always do that.  They have built up a wall of fear, that they have a hard time climbing over it.

How can I break down the walls that these teachers have built?  How can I change their mindset about technology and alleviate their fears?

I'd love for administrators to model using different tech tools in staff meetings, and to have technology purposely integrated into all professional development my district offers, not just the tech PD offerings.  I feel that this would help hesitant teachers start to see the benefits that using technology could provide to learning.  But this is a challenge for me in my district right now, and I feel like I'm making baby steps in these areas, but it's not enough.  Yet.

Another thing that I just started to try is to work with teachers to "crash their lesson".  (This ideas is based on the Yard Crashers TV show.)  In this process, I meet with a teacher and look at a lesson that they have already used in the past, that they would like to improve, and we find a way to use technology to enhance the lesson to meet their content goals and standards.  We plan a revised version of the lesson, and then I go to their class to co-teach the lesson or just help out and provide support while they teach it.  Afterwards, we reflect on the process and share what we've done with the whole staff as part of a weekly Tech Tip blog post.  It's starting to get other teachers, who are at the Survival level, to book appointments with me to brainstorm ideas to include technology in their lessons.  I'm hoping that this continues and spreads by word of mouth to other teachers.  

Do you have any suggestions to help teachers make that huge jump from survival to mastery?  How do you break down those walls that have been built?  Please share your ideas in the comments section below. I'd love to see what has worked for you.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Updating a Vocabulary Lesson - 10 Important Words

One of my favorite vocabulary lessons, that I learned early in my teaching career, is called "Ten Important Words".  It is a great way for students to find meaning of words based on the context of the text, allows students to judge the importance of the words, collaborate and then summarize the text.  It was a little hard to manage some of the whole class collaboration.  Adding a little technology simplified the entire process, and allowed more class time to be spent on deeper conversations around the meaning of the words and the text.

The Original Assignment:
When assigning a short reading, students would first read the text, and then go back and highlight what they believed were the ten most important words.  I generally assigned this for homework, and the text size was never more than a few pages.  It could be an article or a small section of a chapter. 
Then, in groups of four, students would have to come up with one list that they all agree upon.  So students would go through and have to convince the their group that their words are more important than others.   It was so awesome to see students "fight" and "argue" for their words.  In their "arguments", they were using evidence from the text and comparing and contrasting the value of the word in making meaning of the text.  (They don't really fighting, but they do get really into discussing and advocating for their own words.)

Then, after the group decided on their one list, we would combine them and decide as a class what the test most important words were.  Next, students would define the class list of words and then write a one paragraph summary of the text, using those ten words in context.

As you can imagine, it was challenging to collect the words from each of the class groups and agree on the class list of the ten most important words.  So I decided to take advantage of some technology tools and using the student's cell phones.

Integration of Technology
I set up a simple Google Form that just had one question for the groups to fill out, list your 10 important words.  One student in the group would pull out their cell phone and type in their list.

I would then go to the Google Sheet that contained the form data, and highlight all of the words typed in by my groups.
Next, I would go to and paste in the list of words generated by my student groups.  After pressing "sift", I get a word cloud, where the most used words are bigger than the others.  I can then click "create workspace" and drag the 10 most important words to one spot.  This process takes only a few minutes to do and saves a lot of class time.  Now, I can have a discussion with the class and ask why some of their words didn't make it to the class list, and discuss the definitions and the reading, before the students write their summaries. 

Other Uses for Word Sift
You can copy and paste in entire texts, poems, stories, speeches, etc.  When you sift, you not only get a word sift showing the most used words and a workspace, but can sort alphabetically or by common to rare words.  When you click on a word, you will find, images, and a visual thesaurus.  This can really help students understand and make meaning of the text or key ideas.

Students can even enter in their own writing and see if they use some words too much, or students can enter copy and paste their textbook in to see the big concepts or ideas.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Email Check In After Providing Professional Development

A few weeks ago, at Fall CUE, I attended Kevin Fairchild and Jessica Lura's session "Strategies for Teaching Adults".  I had participated in the Leading Edge Certification course for Professional Learning Leaders with them last spring and enjoyed learning with them.  I was excited to see that they were leading a session together at the conference.  

Their presentation was more of a discussion than a presentation, which promoted a lot of group conversations and sharing.  One of the things Kevin shared in the session really stuck with me, and inspired an idea.  When we were discussing how to know if our PD had an impact on the participants, and if they used what we taught them, Kevin shared a strategy that he has used.  Kevin sends out emails after the event, and then, if he remembers, another one a few months later.  

I normally send an email right after the PD, but never thought of sending one out later, to check in on the participant's progress.  I know I wouldn't consistently remember to send an email later in the year; I'd never be able to keep track of everything.  I thought that there had to be a way to automate that process.  I immediately began thinking of how I could use Google Forms and some Add-Ons, copyDown and formMule, to make this work.   

I just got a chance to try this out and set it up for the professional development I offer at my district.  In this post, I will describe how I set it up in case you want to use this for any PD you may offer.

Summary of Automation Process

  • First, I created a Google Form for participants to sign in when they attend a PD session.  It collects their name, email, and title of the session.
  • On the spreadsheet that is created from the form submissions, I added a few extra columns, with formulas.  
    • One column includes the date of a week after the PD, which has a formula that auto adds that up referencing the timestamp.
    • Another column that includes a date three months after the PD, with a formula to calculate that, referencing the timestamp.
    • And two more columns that reference those two dates I just created.  The formula in these columns looks at the previous column and if the date of the one week column equals today's date, it will write "TODAY" in the column, and if the date of the three month column equals today's date, it writes "TODAY" in that column.
  • Next, I ran the add-on copyDown to copy down these formulas into each row on form submission.
  • Finally, I used the add-on FormMule to run each morning.  It is triggered to send out one of two emails.  If the one week column says "TODAY", it will send the one week email thanking participants, sending them the link to our PD resources webpage, and asking if they need any support.  If the three month column says "TODAY", an email will be sent asking if they implemented what they learned and offering support if they need help.

Video Instructions

This video is about 20 minutes and walks you through the entire process to set up one week and three month check-in emails.  I am so sorry that it is this long, but you can jump ahead to the section you need, using the timeline if you open it up on YouTube, or on the table of contents "page" at the beginning of the video.

Spreadsheet Formulas and formMule HTML

Here are some of the formulas and HTML code I used, so you can copy and paste them into your own sheet.

Spreadsheet Formulas:
  • To convert the Timestamp (with date and time) to the date:  =to_date(int(A2))

  • 1 week reminder (7 days):  =B2+7  
  • Today:  =if(H2=today(),"TODAY","")

  • 3 month reminder (91 days):  =B2+91  
  • Today:  =if(J2=today(),"TODAY","")
(Where B2 = cell date, and H2 = cell that has the one week date (or J2 has the 3 month date formula).  Depending on what information you are collecting in your form, your column letters may change.)

HTML for FormMule:

  • HTML website link:  <a href="">SUHSD PD Website</a>
  • HTML email link:  <a href="" target="_top">Melissa</a>

(What is in blue is what they will see in the email, and it will be hyperlinked to what is in red.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lesson Crashers: Psychology - Functions of the Brain

I wrote up this blog post for my district staff, but decided to share it on my personal blog too.  I am hoping to get more teachers to book appointments with me for instructional technology, rather than seeing me as just their tech support to help them with their gmail and gradebook.  I am hoping that by starting "Lesson Crashers" I will get more teachers interested in incorporating technology into their instruction.


I must admit, sometimes I watch a little too much TV, especially when I should be cleaning my house, preparing a lesson, etc.

But some TV can be a good thing - educators can get some great ideas for lessons based on TV shows.  There are hundreds of Jeopardy style review games and templates on the web.  The Exploratorium Teacher Institute runs an "Iron Science Teacher" web show each summer based on Iron Chef where teachers create science lessons using a secret "ingredient."  Jennifer Kloczko, an administrator from Natomas, got inspiration for the Professional Development she leads from Food Network's "Chopped."

Yard Crashers
This summer, I watched a lot of HGTV and one of my favorites was Yard Crashers.  The main premise of the show is that some home owners are shopping at a Home Depot type store, in the garden section, and the host sneaks up on them, volunteering to design and landscape their yard.  The show provides the designer, supplies, and a construction/landscaping crew, and the home owners pitch in too.

Lesson Crashers
This gave me the idea to create my own spin on the show called "Lesson Crashers."  The idea behind "Lesson Crashers" is that I would help a teacher reinvent a lesson, integrating technology.  I'd meet with the teacher, we'd discuss a lesson or project that they have used before, and figure out what new goals they have or hopes for improvement.  Working together, we'd then brainstorm some ideas on how we can meaningfully integrate technology to enhance the lesson.  When the teacher then teaches the lesson, I can provide support if needed (ex. coteach, observe, etc.).  Then, we'd debrief the lesson, and come up with next steps.

Here is the first Lesson Crasher lesson.  Michelle McKee, a psychology teacher at Carlmont, graciously volunteered to test this out with me, and we wrote up a description of the process.  I am hoping that this lesson will spark some ideas that you can use in your own classes.