Vol.#63: Simplifying a Teacher’s Life: Free Technology Tools for Assessment

Last week, I posted my presentation   “Every Teacher a Literacy Teacher Using Technology Tools” from what I shared with the 2015 Kenan Fellows at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) in June.  As promised, though a little late, I am adding the other presentation: “Simplifying a Teacher’s Life:  Free Technology Tools for Assessment” this week.

The video is long (30 minutes), but as with any flipped lesson, it provides the benefit of being able to pause, skip, or come back to it as needed. Plus, the focus is free technology tools to collect student data so you spend less time grading, so in the end you will get your 30 minutes back, I promise! :)

  • Care to share your experience or planned use for any of these tools?
  • Have another tool to add?

Please share in the comments!

Vol.#62: Every Teacher a Literacy Teacher Via Technology

This past week, I had the opportunity to give a couple presentations to the new year of 2015 Kenan Fellows at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). One of these presentations, “Every Teacher a Literacy Teacher Using Technology Tools“,  introduced seven free technology tools that enable teachers of all content areas to embed the literacy skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening into their instruction and facilitate the use of higher level thinking skills with their students.

screencasted this presentation and have shared it below. The original 50-minute presentation has been boiled the down to just over 20 minutes, but as with any flipped lesson, it provides the benefit of being able to pause, re-watch, or rewind. I hope others find it useful. I plan to share the other presentation, “Simplifying a Teacher’s Life:  Free Technology Tools for Assessment” soon.

 

  • Care to share your experience or planned use for any of these tools?
  • Have a favorite?
  • Know a great tool I missed?

Hit me up in the comments!

Vol. #60: Save Your Wallet Fiscal Conservatives! Invest in Education!

The current misguided philosophy is that tax payers are paying for “results” (ie: standardized testing scores) out of their teachers. Besides the simple fact that standardized tests don’t measure educational quality, it’s approaching the funding of education completely wrong. You are not buying a result, you are investing in one.

Fiscal conservatives, please listen up: Funding education is an investment that will pay you back in spades. And I don’t mean that hippie-dippy, “the world will just be a better place” crap you may not believe in…you will be better off financially.

Consider a few points from this CBS article titled, “High School Dropouts Costly for American Economy””

  • Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs.
  • Dropouts earn about $10 thousand less a year than workers with diplomas. That’s $300 billion in lost earnings every year.
  • They’re more likely to be unemployed: 15 percent are out of work versus a national average of 9.4 percent.
  • They also are more likely to be incarcerated. Almost 60 percent of federal inmates are high school drop-outs.

I have often heard that for every dollar that is spent in education, we will save ten dollars down the line in the prison system. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, considering this Forbes article titled, “A $5 Children’s Book vs. a $47,000 Jail Cell — Choose One”:

  • “Texas uses fourth grade reading scores to project the number of prison cells they’re going to need 10 years later.”
  • 60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate
  • 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems.
  • It costs approximately $47,000 per inmate per year to keep a young (and relatively healthy) inmate locked up.

 “Can’t Read? Let’s Build You A Prison Cell” says while reading scores to project the numbers of prisons is an urban myth:

“In 2011 the Annie E. Casey Foundation report “Early Warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters” showed definitively that low-income children who are not reading on grade level by 3rd grades are six times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers are. And low-income children of color who are not at grade level by 3rd grade? Eight times more likely to drop out of high school.”

Meanwhile, my state is cutting teachers’ assistants at those grades to “help” the bottom line. Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?

What does the difference in cost look like to you, the tax payer, in your state?

studentvsprisoner
easel.ly

And just in case you thought it was “different money”…

“Analysis by the National Association of State Budget Officers shows that elementary and high schools receive 73 percent of their state funding from this discretionary fund; colleges and universities count on the fund for half of their budgets. However, $9 out of every $10 that support imprisonment come from the same pot of money.”

Beside the cost of prison, there’s the fact that citizens will be gainfully employed, paying their share of taxes on their higher income, happier and more fulfilled… no, I forgot, we aren’t factoring in that last part.

So, the question is, do you want to spend money to educate a citizen, or what in my state is over three times as much to imprison one?

Which one makes fiscal sense?

Vol.#59: Four Things I Wish Parents Knew About Grades Online

old report cardSchools have been communicating with parents about their child’s success in school since the days of the one-room school house. I remember getting “progress reports” or “interims” for the first time as a student in the late eighties. In an effort to update the parents and students with progress before the end of each quarter, we received written notes or computer printouts mid-quarter. These had all the assignments listed, where report cards simply had an average or letter grade.

However, in the information age, parents and students can now check on a computer or smart phone around the clock and see the status of grades in each class. This is a powerful and relatively new reality in education. Were I able to log on and see all my grades as a student, or were my parents able to, I know many things would have been different.

However, after a teaching students with families who have this capability for several years now, I have found the “resolution” to which some parents wish to have their child’s grades focused at all times a pragmatic impossibility for the teacher.

Here are four things I wish every parent knew:

1. Grading is not immediate. 

Look, I get it. I type in my phone number at Yogurt Mountain for the rewards program (I may have a “sea salt caramel” problem, but I digress) and before I grab a napkin the rewards email comes in and my phone chimes in my pocket. We are in an age of expecting immediate feedback, from our banks to our froyo.

However, a middle school teacher with four classes of thirty students teaches 120 students. If the teacher looks at your child’s assignment for only three minutes, she has six hours of grading to do. Just because the posting is immediate doesn’t mean the process to assess the work is, and it will go a long way with your child’s teachers if you keep that in mind.

2. Ask your child about the grade first. Always.

I have entered a grade at 9 am planning and had an email asking about it within ten minutes. In class, was handing out the test and went reviewing the information, retest procedures, and so on. Were the parent to wait until their child got home, the child would should be able to answer the questions.

This is more than just the “you have one of them and I have 120″ mentioned above. By asking, the parent reinforces the student is the one in the driver’s seat of his/her education. By explaining what they learned at school, a student will reinforce those concepts. And absolutely, if your child can’t explain something after you’ve talked with him or her, feel free to follow up with a call or email to the teacher. You’ll know more than you would have and have a great starting place.

3. Understand the way in which your child’s grade is calculated.

I have a “formative” category that is weighted zero. These might be pretests, standardized benchmarks, and other grades which provide information of progress that to not factor into the actual average. I say this at Open House. I say this at “Meet the Teacher” night. I say this a Student Led Conferences. It’s printed on the interims, in comments next to the assignments, and is posted on my webpage. This doesn’t stop me from getting emails. Actually, I don’t even mind the confused emails as much as I do the angry ones who accuse me of incorrectly calculating the grade because the parent has added and divided by the number of grades, ignoring the fact that major summative assignments are weighted more heavily than minor ones. So, maybe this tip should just read, “Seek to understand before you attack.”

4. Keep in mind that it is just a snapshot in time.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.35.28 PMIf you check grades online or the teacher prints them for you to review, keep in mind that like your bank account, it’s just what’s there at that very moment. Your child’s average is obsolete as soon as another assignment has been collected. Do not panic about that grade that is lower than you’d like,  nor “relax” if it’s fine. It’s just that day’s reality, and will change soon. Your efforts are better spent looking at with what types of assignments your child struggles, if there are retake or make up opportunities listed, and if your child is turning work in on time.

Teachers, what tips for parents would you add?

Parents, what things could a teacher do to help communicate your child’s successes and struggles in online grade reporting?

Vol.#58: 30 EdTech Tools in 13 Minutes

Our Technology Facilitator Luke Miles recently offered a “30 Tech Tools in 30 Minutes” session at our school. I was familiar with some of these technology options and others I’ve been trying out since. I asked him if he’d “film it to flip it” and was thrilled when he did. I love being able to reference it (“what was that great one he said that…?”) and thought some of my readers would enjoy it as well. I’m grateful he’s agreed to let me share it with you from his blog coolhandED thoughts.

Bonus: He got it down to about 13 1/2 minutes…and these tools are all FREE!

Check it out:

VOL.#57: Open Letter to Senator Tillman [GUEST POST]

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Image Credit: flickr user theparadigmshifter

We have discussed the North Carolina General Assembly’s systematic dismantling of NC education from our unacceptable frozen salaries which rank us dead-last nationally over the last decade to the growing mass exodus of NC teachers. 

Are we being heard?

Senator Jerry Tillman [R] is the chair of the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force. They meet again tomorrow, Monday, April 14th to make their recommendations to the NCGA.

Please contact him and have your voice heard.

One of the great educators from my digital PLN, Pam Lilley, has done just that. She forwarded me her letter, and when asked agreed to let me share it here with you.
~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~
Senator Tillman,

I am a school library media specialist in Cornelius, North Carolina. I have always had a keen interest in politics in general, though lately my interest has become more focused in the area of educational policy because, obviously, those decisions affect my career, my children’s education, and my bank account.  

As a citizen and mother in North Carolina, I am gravely concerned about the rapid exodus of teachers leaving North Carolina for higher pay in other states.  While I recognize that there are highly qualified teachers such as myself (all “accomplished/distinguished” per this year’s evaluation) who consider North Carolina their home and teaching their calling and refuse to wave the white flag, I completely understand why teachers are leaving at higher rates.  Last summer, in my frustration with the legislation that was passed removing teacher tenure and once again denying teachers a cost-of-living adjustment or step increase, I started a blog to archive teacher resignation letters:  www.resignnc.org Obviously, most teachers don’t go out in a blaze of glory like this and instead leave quietly, not to burn any bridges in case the situation ever does improve here.  But for those brave teachers willing to speak up about why they were leaving, I wanted to create something of a time capsule to the period in which we find ourselves.

Recently, I began thinking about how much this moratorium on teacher pay is costing teachers out of their paychecks.  I appreciate that people such as yourself are trying to come up with a system that you believe teachers such as myself (accomplished/distinguished) will prefer because there is the opportunity to earn more.  I saw from Mr. Baxter’s presentation last week at the task force (via Twitter) that the current salary schedule is over 100 years old.  Indeed, something that old justifies a closer examination of its relevance to the profession of teaching in the 21st century.  The question I keep coming back to is this: if we were to poll every school’s “teacher of the year” or those teachers who got the highest performance evaluation at each school, what would they say?  Obviously, they’re the ones who stand most to benefit from a new pay structure that recognizes and rewards their work.  Yet, I am friends with hundreds (literally) of teachers, many of whom HAVE been teachers of the year at their school and nobody is interested in a model that pays some teachers more than others based on performance and it boils down to the argument I’m sure you’ve heard before: effective school-wide teaching depends on collaboration.  When only so many teachers or a certain percentage of teachers can qualify for the higher pay, that creates a competitive atmosphere.  And if the state were to say that there are no caps and that any teacher who meets or exceeds a proscribed set of criteria gets additional pay, it’s quite likely we would see a replay of the ABC bonuses wherein the criteria was met but the money wasn’t there.  And that gets to the core of the issue: just as legislators clearly do not trust us to do our jobs, we do not trust them to pay what is promised.  You can see this playing out now with the 25% contracts.  Only the first year of the 4-year contract bonuses are funded.  Teachers do not trust that the money will be there beyond that. (Though, obviously, our concerns about those contracts run deeper than the lack of funding).

In the meantime, teachers are making less many than they did 5 years ago.  In fact, I took the time to create a blog post about this a few weeks ago and it’s generated quite a bit of traffic so far: resignnc.org/five-steps-back  I wanted to share it with you.  I am a teacher with 14 years of experience.  I have a master’s degree (required for my position) and national board certification (an experience which truly did make me a better teacher).  I am making $2560 less than a teacher with my EXACT credentials did in 2008.  Over the past five years, I have lost a total of approximately $15,000.  That’s the cost of a new economy car.  That’s a year and a half of tuition at my son’s preschool.  That would pay for 4 years of the Duke TIP camps that my daughter qualifies for but cannot attend because we can’t afford it.

I recognize that these numbers are based on the salary schedule that you and others feel is antiquated but right now it’s the only pay structure we have.  And it’s the salary schedule we agreed to when we signed our contracts years ago.  We have held up our end of the bargain but the state has not.  We recognize that in 2008 the state entered a deep recession and when our pay was frozen the first year, most of us were grateful not to have been furloughed.  But this year when the state cut revenue that could have been used to help teachers in order to instead help the wealthy and corporations, the trust between teachers and legislators hit an all-time low.  And that is why any proposal for a hastily-prepared new salary structure will not be well-received by teachers: we have lost faith that the legislators are doing what’s best for us or for our students. What would it take to open our minds and hearts to something new?  An act of good faith on part of the state to restore our step increases and get our base pay up to the national average.  Then we will know their money is where their mouth is when they say they value education.

Until then, I will continue to collect resignation letters and hope that enough qualified teachers remain to prepare my own children for the future.

Sincerely,

Pam Lilley
Cornelius, NC

Vol.#56: Forgive Me EdTech for I Have Sinned

I’ve claimed that a tech tool should lead to new thinking. However, perhaps this was somewhat hypocritical, because before I can wrap my head around a new tool for the first time, I need a familiar jumping-off place.

This past month I taught a short story I’ve taught many times before (“Rikki Tikki Tavi“) and used several characterization graphic organizers which I’ve used before (linked below). They provided the context with which we explored nine technology tools. However, in what has been described as a cardinal sin of tech in education, these tools did not necessarily provide a new perspective or process for students in thinking about the content, in this case the characters.

Pragmatically, when I throw a new tool at them (or in this case nine) I choose to start with an assignment with which I am familiar because I want to navigate only so many new unknowns at once. Judge me if you must, and feel free to admonish me in the comments.

In groups, students linked the work on a group padlet and provided me with the valuable feedback on each tool in the +/- data charts pictured and summarized below.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.37.02 PMvs. Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.37.28 PM

20140302-184015.jpgStudents had an option of either of these word cloud tools to display character traits for various characters from “Rikki Tikki Tavi”. Here are the recurring themes in their +/- chart sticky notes.

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Positives:

  • easy to use/simple
  • no account required
  • make important words larger by typing them multiple times
  • the “undo” button
  • cool fonts/colors/designs
  • worked with JAWS (screen reader for my blind student)

Negatives:

  • couldn’t save image easily
  • hard to post created image to padlet
  • didn’t get to choose colors
  • limited color schemes
  • update/install/Java issues
  • time taken to enter text

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.37.28 PM

RTTPositives:

  • able to shape the words
  • saves easily
  • color/font selection
  • easy to navigate

Negatives:

  • Limited font selection
  • difficult to use
  • had difficulty saving

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.44.08 PMvs. Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.45.40 PM

20140302-184045.jpgStudents had two choices for displaying a Character Traits Map for the main character of Rikki Tikki. Overwhelmingly, students chose bubbl.us, which means I have very little data on gliffy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.44.08 PM

Positives:

  • formatting/customizing options (bubble color, text, size…)
  • good controls & no lag
  • efficient & easy to use
  • neat & organized
  • “I liked it because it saved [my work] every 2 minutes.”

Negatives:

  • Hard to organize
  • Bulky and awkward
  • Hard to add a bubble, connect a bubble, paste a URL…
  • “Easy to mess up on!”

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.45.40 PM

Positives:

  • “I liked how Gliffy was an open field”

Negatives:

  • Kids who tried it said, “Gliffy was glitchy”.

The slogan stuck. :(

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.59.45 PMvs. Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.00.16 PM vs. Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.00.32 PM

20140302-184100.jpgStudents chose two characters and completed two Character Quadrilateral with their choice(s) from these three tools.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.59.45 PM

Positives:

  • “I like it because it was easy to use. It was all organized. You can change the color of the nodes.”
  • “I liked [it] because you get to move everything and when you click something it adds a leg for you to type. It’s also easy to use and creative.”

Negatives:

  • “very confusing at first”
  • “I couldn’t access it at home.”
  • “I didn’t use this tool because it wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure it out.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.00.16 PM

Positives:

  • “Very fast, fun, and easy to use”
  • “It was really easy and simple to use. I was able to complete my project quickly and efficiently. It was fun to use and I thought it worked extremely well.”
  • “I liked spiderscribe, it let you add dates, pictures, and maps. It was interesting.”

Negatives:

  • “I didn’t like that I had to sign up with an email and I couldn’t get arrows to the main box.”
  • “The only thing I disliked was that when you tried to print, it would be small to see.”
  • “It wouldn’t go full screen. The text was small.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.00.32 PM

Positive:

“I like that you can log in and save your work automatically.”

Negative:

“I didn’t like that it was acting up when I was working on it Monday. I had to copy it and then it let me edit it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.10.29 PM vs. Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.10.05 PM

20140302-184116.jpgStudents completed an Open Compare & Contrast Chart of two characters using one of these two mind mapping tools. Creately was heavily favored over mind42.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.10.29 PM

Positive:

“I liked Mind42 because it was easy to use.”

Negative:

“I did not like mind42 because I could not move and place things where I wanted.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 6.10.05 PM     

Positives:

  • “What I liked was that they have different colors and shapes and you could make the presentation more inviting for an audience.”
  • Easy to use; great layout
  • “I liked that creately was able to save my work easily and efficiently.”

Negatives:

  • Sign up to use, and pay for most features
  • Hard to link my finished work.
  • “I didn’t like that it was difficulty to create new boxes and there wasn’t a color variety.”
  • “I didn’t like how I couldn’t get the bubbles to show up and make the map.”
  • “I did not like the text. When you would type, it would be font 2 and you could not change it until you were done, and then you had to highlight and re-highlight it a lot!”
  • “I did not like how long it took to enter my info.”

And by the way…I did not only throw new tech tools at the students. My favorite was the one I tried out myself to score these projects:

forallrubrics.com

Vol.#55: Is the NC Goal “First in Teacher Flight”?

It may be only be six weeks after New Year’s, but already both the state of North Carolina and Wake County have grave concerns about filling the needed teaching positions for next school year.

And so they should.

North Carolina often fills positions from teachers in states like Ohio and New York where turnover is low and teachers can’t find positions. However, with no more pay for advanced degrees in NC, most of those candidates will likely no longer be coming here anymore.

Besides needing to attract teachers, there’s the issue of teacher turnover. NCDPI was concerned enough about this very issue to send a report to the General Assembly. You can read the whole report here, but I’ve compiled a few highlights:


easel.ly

You’ll notice it’s not just that more teachers are leaving, but that more and more tenured, experienced teachers are leaving. The mentors of the beginning teachers. The department chairs. The leadership team members. The teachers any principal needs upon which to build a school.

The concerns the data raise are only the tip of the iceberg for what I feel is impending, based on my front-row view from the classroom trenches.

TeacherXing

For example, of significant note but not yet reflected in this report is the fact that in Wake County alone, the number of teachers who have left specifically to teach in another state have already doubled so far this year from this data last year.

And…it’s still only February.

Also consider this year so far this blog has included:

None of these facts are reflected in the reported data. Yet.

And then, this week a teacher raise for only new teachers was proposed. This conversation, which I’ve been given permission to share with you, should give you some insight into the morale and mindset of North Carolina’s teacher leaders:

facebook quit FINAL

These are some of the best educators in North Carolina classrooms from all over the state. And although I can personally vouch for their exceptionalism as educators, I am certain these sentiments are not exceptional. Conversations like this one are happening on every facebook wall and in every teacher lounge in the state.

Yes, indeed…they should be gravely concerned about the mass exodus coming North Carolina’s way.

first in flight

Vol.#54: The Pupil Paradox

A search on the web shows a teacher has for many reasons to teach despite it all.

mantraI have always tried to operate under this theory: The harder a child is on you as the teacher, the more s/he needs you to be good at your job.

Like little Julie*? Who you could throw the textbook into the room and leave, and 180 days later, she’d have completed all the work? Yeah. She doesn’t need you. I mean, you love her in spite of this fact. After all, she’s wonderful! And hopefully, she will learn more with your guidance that she would have without it. But, still… You are not a crucial adult in the journey to success in her life.

dandelion-16656_640
Image Credit: Pixabay User beeki

That one (ten? thirty?) who drives you crazy? Who doesn’t know social cues? Who doesn’t appropriately respond to authority figures? Who won’t pick up a pencil, let alone complete assignments, without your constant prodding?

He needs you.  In fact, he has little chance without you.

And there lies an interesting paradox: The harder they make your job, the more important your job is for them. The more crucial you are as the teacher.

The harder a child is to teach, the more he or she needs you.

I sometimes chant this little mantra when I am so frustrated with those most difficult students.

What core beliefs to you remind yourself of as you teach that help you?

 
 
 
 
*Julie is used here as the name of that sweet little (usually female) student whom teaching is an effortless joy. This is not based on any specific, actual Julie.

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