A Few Good Links + A Vacation

I’m headed out of town tomorrow for a vacation and a visit with my family, so I won’t be posting again until after the Fourth of July holiday.  Last week, I posted some Web 2.0 tools I came across recently while surfing the Web, and now I’m posting a few more good ones I’ve encountered.  Hope they are of help to someone.  I know I’ll be using many of them myself.

1.  Jeopardy Labs – The other day I posted a similar link to this one.  It’s strange how for a long time I could never find an easy template to create jeopardy-style review games, and within the last week, I’ve found two!  This one is similar to the other one.  You put in a password of your choosing, plug in the questions and answers, and save.  By saving, you generate a link for the game that you created. You will need to save this link as the site won’t save it for you.  If you ever need to edit the game, there is a link for that as well.  And of course, it’s free for the most basic version.

2.  Scribble Maps – Okay, so this is my favorite find this week.  Scribble Maps allows you and your students to draw on maps, add images and overlays, and add text and place markers to maps.  You can then save the map and share it with others by emailing them a link or a JPEG file.  Saving as a JPEG would allow a teacher or student to easily place a map of his or her making into a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.  It’s incredibly easy to use, but there are also great tutorials to watch if you have questions.  I could see students using this to identify major battles of a war, map a trade route, or research the movements of a famous person or group of people throughout history.  It also has uses for science and math as well, although don’t ask me to go into those details since that’s not my area! 🙂  All this, and the best part is that it is free.

3.  Exploratree – Exploratree offers a HUGE variety of what the website calls “thinking guides”, which are really just graphic organizers.  You can print blank ones out for students, or they can complete a “thinking guide” on the website and print out their work or email it to the teacher for grading and feedback.  By creating an account, students can save their work on the website, thus saving on ink and paper.  There is also a blank sheet to create your own graphic organizer from scratch. Since the thinking guides can be shared, the teacher can assign a group project as well.  Totally free and totally awesome.

4.  TeacherPal – TeacherPal is an app that works with the iPad and iPhone.  It may work with other smart phones as well, but I’m not sure.  While it has an attendance feature and a grade book feature, the reason that I downloaded it was for the behavior log.  Say your students are working on a group project or working on something individually. As you walk around the room, you can make notes on their behavior – good or bad.  You tap on the name of the student, create a title (something like “Thesis Writing Assignment”), and then you can click a thumbs up or thumbs down to designate their behavior or perhaps their participation.  In addition, you can write your own notes to provide more detail on the behavior. The notes are then dated, timestamped, and saved automatically so you have clear documentation for the student, parents, and administration.  Love this app!

5.  Cacoo – Cacoo is similar to Exploratree in that it is a site devoted to diagrams and graphic organizers.  With Cacoo, you get 25 blank “sheets” for free to create whatever kind of diagrams you wish.  So long as you never need more than 25 sheets at any one time, this site is also free.  The major difference between Cacoo and Exploratree, besides the fact that Exploratree comes with some already-designed templates, is that Cacoo allows students to collaborate in real time.  With Exploratree, you can share the thinking guide, but only one student can edit at any given time.  With Cacoo, multiple students can work on the same diagram at the same time.

6.  The Periodic Table of Videos – Now, I don’t teach science, but if I did, I would definitely use this site.  For each element on the periodic table, there is a short (around 6 minutes) video of a scientist talking about the element and showing experiments or natural phenomena and materials that contain the element.  I ended up watching several of the videos despite severely disliking chemistry as a college student.  Imagine what a student who actually likes the subject matter would think of this site!

7.  Stick Pick – I still like to use good old-fashioned popsicle sticks in a cup to call on students randomly, but if you want a high-tech version of this technique, then Stick Pick may be the answer for you.  Stick Pick works with the iPhone and iPad. Not only can you call on students randomly with this app, but the app gives you question prompts based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.  It also tracks student responses so you can keep track of how many times a student is called on, what kinds of questions they answered, and how many times they answered correctly.  This app costs $2.99.

That’s it for now.  Enjoy your 4th of July.

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Short Post with Good Links

I am spending time this week just surfing the Internet for some new Web 2.0 tools to use in the classroom.  I thought I’d pass on three new resources that I found so far that I think could be useful for many teachers and students.  All are free and require no more than an email address to register.

1.  Super Teacher Tools Flash Classroom Jeopardy – Creating Jeopardy-style games has never been easier.  This site has the template all ready for you.  All you have to do is plug in your questions and answers and click “create game”.  Instantly, you have a Jeopardy game that can be used with a Smart Board.  No more using Microsoft PowerPoint or Keynote for these kinds of games.  This is so much easier! The template works with both PCs and Macs.  Your games are saved to the site, you can choose to make them private or public, and you can password protect them so no one can edit them but you.  As a bonus, this site also includes other game templates like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and a traditional board game template for the Smart Board.  Best site I’ve found in a long time.

2.  When In Time – When In Time is a resource that allows teachers and students to create their own timelines, which are stored for free on the site.  The timelines can be easily shared or kept private, and all that is needed to register with the site is an email address.  This timeline maker appears to allow for more detail than others I’ve seen.  You can embed images, and choose among different templates and background designs.  Timelines don’t have to be just for history, either.  You could chart the major events of a novel just as easily.

3.  PDF Escape – PDF Escape performs multiple functions with PDF documents, but the two functions I like best are the PDF Filler and PDF Annotator.  The PDF Filler allows students to upload a PDF document, fill it in, and then save it to their computer.  So you could hand out a diagram or other kind of worksheet as a PDF, and the students can upload it to the site and complete it.  Then, they can save it and turn it in or keep it for notes.  The PDF Annotator function allows students to upload a PDF to mark up, highlight, and add sticky notes.  They can then save the PDF with their annotations.  The free version of PDF Escape does come with advertisements, but you could upgrade to the paid version if that’s a major issue for you.  Again, all you need is an email address to register.  (Shout out to Kerri W. for sharing this one with me!)

Hope these are of help.  I will post more as I come across them.

Rubrics and Some Useful Links

Unless they happen to be Superman or Superwoman, teachers – and beginning teachers especially – have to make tradeoffs in terms of what goals they will concentrate on each school year.  Teachers with multiple preps need to make even more tradeoffs.  For me, over the last 4 years, I concentrated on researching content and designing lessons to share that content with my students more than I concentrated on designing assessments.  I relied more on objective tests and holistic essay and project grading than anything else.  This year, one of my goals is to concentrate on designing better assessments.  To be clear, I will still rely on multiple choice tests and holistic essay rubrics, particularly in my AP classes, since this is how the actual AP exam is graded, but I do want to make some changes and additions to my assessment system.

In a previous post, I wrote about some of the problems associated with projects and alternative assessments, and I mentioned how rubrics were so important when it came to assessing projects.  As I begin teaching in a 1:1 environment, with even more kinds of assignments and projects available to me, I know that I will rely more on rubrics than ever before.  As such, I’ve been reading a great deal about rubrics of late.  While much of what I’ve read, I knew or could intuit, it’s always nice to remind yourself from time to time of the information you may have already known but have somehow forgotten along the way.

Rubrics can take a variety of forms, from holistic to analytic, and they can be weighted or not.  At one time or another, I’ve used them all, but as I mentioned above, I’ve tended to rely more on holistic rubrics in the past.  This year, my goal is to add more analytic rubrics to my assessment system.

No matter their form, rubrics offer a number of advantages.  Here are some of the best benefits of using rubrics for both teachers and students as I see it.

  • They increase validity and reliability while decreasing bias.
  • They help teachers identify the most important components of any given lesson or unit of study, thereby clarifying for the teacher what the ultimate goals are.  Oftentimes, teachers (maybe history teachers in particular) can get too caught up in the details.
  • They help teachers set reasonable and appropriate expectations.  The performance of the student is then placed on a continuum from exceptional to not meeting expectations.
  • They help students take ownership of their own learning and assess their own work since they know from the get-go what an “exceptional” piece of work looks like.
  • They allow for more specific feedback, which in turn allows students a better chance of improvement in the future.  They know exactly what they did well and what they need to improve upon.
  • They improve the quality of the final product and thus the quality of learning.
  • Over time, time spent on assessment decreases for the teacher.

It all sounds so great, right?.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I still struggle with rubrics.  One of my biggest issues is simply designing them well.  There are a lot of great “rubric makers” out there that allow teachers to download already made rubrics and tweak them to their liking or create them from scratch. You can find some of them here, here, and here.  Yet creating a rubric is one thing; creating a well-designed rubric is quite another.  I find myself either being too loose in my criteria or too strict.  Too loose and I’m stuck defending why I gave a student the grade I did.  Too strict and the student has no room for independent thinking or creativity.  There’s nothing worse than grading 20 projects that all look exactly the same.  Talk about boring!

A second problem I face is generally an issue with holistic rubrics more than analytic rubrics.  When using holistic rubrics, I find myself more often than not stuck between two numbers.  AP history essays are graded using holistic rubrics that range from 1 to 9.  I generally find myself wanting to grade a student’s essay as a 6.5 rather than a 6 or a 7.  Now, of course, I can give a 6.5, but the AP reader cannot.  So then, I have to explain to my students that, while I gave them a 6.5, they should probably assume the reader would only give them a 6 and not a 7.  This is not an insurmountable problem, but it’s frustrating all the same.

Finally, there is the ever-present issue of time.  Research suggests that teachers who use rubrics consistently year after year eventually take less time to assess student work than teachers who do not use rubrics consistently or at all.  Eventually, it becomes second nature to create and then use rubrics.  Like most things of worth, however, there is an initial period of time when teachers first begin using rubrics on a regular basis when they are spending more time on assessment than they would without using rubrics.  (This is assuming, of course, that the teacher is taking the time to create and use well-designed rubrics as opposed to slapping one together in 10 minutes.)  There is a learning curve that teachers face when using rubrics as they figure out whether to use a holistic or analytic rubric for s specific assignment, whether to weight the rubric or not, how detailed to make the rubric, etc.  Then, actually using the rubric takes time as well.  Is this essay an 8 or a 7, and why?  Should this students get a 4 for the design of their model or a 3, and what is my justification?  Rubrics take away some subjectivity but not all.

Now, as I was reading, I actually came across a rubric to assess rubrics!  Go figure. This is to help teachers decide if they are really designing and using rubrics well. Here is the link to the PDF document which includes this rubric if you are interested.  It might be interesting to use the rubric the first few times you create a new rubric.  Of course, this takes more of what we are all short of – time!

My Worst Nightmare (As a Teacher)

So I have this recurring nightmare.  (If any of my current students happen to read this, don’t get any ideas.)  I am teaching – it doesn’t matter which class – and suddenly I lose control of my students.  They stop following directions, begin shouting and running around the room, and eventually leave the classroom altogether.  As this is happening, I am trying in vain to regain control – asking, pleading, shouting, and following them as they leave my classroom.  I often wake up with a start, muttering and talking in my sleep.  The dream visits me about once a month, sometimes even in the summer.

It’s the strangest thing really because I’ve never had much of an issue with classroom management.  I do have students who will test me, particularly at the beginning of the year, but generally I don’t have a lot of misbehavior among my students throughout the year.  Perhaps having had the dream, I now overcompensate and quickly stamp out any hint of unacceptable behavior before it gets a chance to grow, behavior that may actually be fairly benign?  I don’t know.

I do know that moving to a 1:1 environment is going to throw me a curve ball in terms of classroom management.  Monitoring as many as 20 computers is a challenge no matter how you look at it.  Making sure that students stay on task and use the computers for the purposes of education is a big task.  There is some truth to the idea that AP students and seniors (which is who I teach) need to monitor themselves, for no college professor is going to make sure the kid in the middle of a crowded lecture hall is taking notes rather than sending an email.  Still, my students are not yet college students, and I still need to help them figure out how to manage their behavior in ways that will lead to success in college and beyond. To me, letting them get away with playing games in class on a daily basis would send a message that I simply don’t care whether they learn what I have to teach or not.  And if I don’t care, then why am I choosing to be there, and why should they be forced to be there?

This is actually a change in my thinking. Last year, when some of my senior students brought in their own computers, I did not monitor them as closely as I now believe I should and will in the future.  Certainly, I am not suggesting handholding a senior from day one to the last day of school.  I will loosen the reins a bit over time, giving my students the freedom to make their own choices so that they can deal with the consequences – good and bad – of those choices.  But at least in the beginning, I am making a commitment to monitor them more closely. And let’s face it.  It is a commitment that you have to make because classroom management is not the fun part of teaching.

In thinking about what specific rules I want to enact with regards to the computers, I ran into a problem.  I haven’t taught in a 1:1 environment so I don’t know what issues I’m going to run into throughout the year.  Writing a list of laptop rules and their consequences in my syllabus is difficult.  I have an inkling of what problems I will have or what behaviors will bother me the most, but I can’t be sure.  Basically, I have to “wing it” a bit here this first year, and let the students know that my syllabus is a living document that can grow and change with the times.  (*I’ve posted what will appear in my syllabus below.  This could change as the summer progresses, and I think more about classroom management.)

I think there’s two major issues to consider when thinking about classroom management in a 1:1 environment. I know these may seem basic, but bear with me. The first is the physical set up of the room.  The teacher needs to be able to walk behind the desks, so desks probably shouldn’t be up against a wall if it can be helped.  Teachers MUST walk around while they are teaching to monitor screens, so having some kind of “clicker” for the SmartBoard or projector is important as well.  (There’s also programs like LanSchool, which help monitor the computers but are subject to some limitations.) The second is consistency.  Once you’ve got your rules written, and these will differ by school and by teacher, there needs to be a genuine attempt to enforce those rules consistently.  If you say you want laptops closed at the start of class, then no matter who has his laptop open, even if it’s the kid that never causes a problem, you need to enforce that rule and follow through with the appropriate consequence.**

I know, I know.  You are thinking this sounds so basic, but it’s usually more of a challenge for teachers than they want to admit.  It’s hard to be consistent when you are busy doing the actual teaching part of your job.  I know in the past I’ve always resented the time dealing with rule-breaking takes away from instruction. I think, however, that taking extra time the first few weeks of school to explain and enforce those rules will make the 1:1 classroom a more relaxed and efficient learning environment in the long run.  It’s like the old rule that a teacher shouldn’t smile until after Christmas, which I don’t hold to but has some element of truth.  It’s easy to relax your classroom environment over time, but it’s much harder to get more strict if you began the year without any rules, or at least any consistently enforced rules.  Will you lose some instructional time in the first couple of weeks?  Absolutely.  Will you make up the lost time as the year progresses with a well-oiled classroom machine?  You bet.

So even though I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of my nightmare anytime soon, with a little forethought, I might be able to keep it from becoming a reality.

*Technology Rules

  1. Come to class with laptops fully charged.
  2. You may not use my computer, charger, or printer.  If you fail to print something out beforehand, it is LATE.  See “Late Work” above.
  3. When the bell rings, laptops should be CLOSED.  Failure to comply will result in a demerit.  Repeated offenses will result in the laptop being taken up by the teacher and/or a suspension from laptop use in the class.
  4. During class, students must use the laptops ONLY in the way directed by the teacher.  NO games, applications, email, surfing the Internet, music, videos, etc. unless given express permission by the teacher to do so.  Failure to comply will result in a demerit. Repeated offenses will result in the laptop being taken up by the teacher and/or a suspension from laptop use in the class.
  5. When given permission to use headphones, the sound must be at a level so that no one around the student can hear any noise.
  6. All policies found in the Technology/Laptop Contract hold for this course.

**To be sure, you can’t catch everything.  So you will always get the kid that complains that Johnny was doing the same thing yesterday and you didn’t catch him, so why are you punishing Michael.  To which I say, the police didn’t catch the guy who ran the red light yesterday, but now they have a chance to catch another guy who ran a red light today.  Should they let him go? Not unless we want to live in a world where everyone’s running red lights.  Eventually, you’ll catch them all if they are doing something they shouldn’t be.

Teachers: The Reluctant Collaborators

Keeping the door open to collaboration is hard.

I have a confession to make.  While I make my students work together on assignments and projects, I myself very much prefer to work alone. Always have and probably always will.  I don’t think “despised” is too strong a word for how I felt when my own teachers forced me to work with others, even my own friends.  From my perspective as a student, I felt like the “good” students always ended up doing the bulk of the work, while the others got to ride our coattails, or I worried that my own grade would suffer due to the efforts of the less-capable students.  Even today, I like to do my own thing both as a teacher and in most other areas of my life.  I always feel like I can do whatever “it” is faster and better if left to myself.  I’m not saying this is true, but it’s often my perception.

I have a feeling this loner-thing is not uncommon among professional educators. For most teachers, it seems their classroom is their kingdom and they are kings and queens.  When the bell rings, we close our doors and do our own thing, particularly when we teach at a small school in which each teacher is responsible for a different class.  I mean, why collaborate?  I’m the only one who teaches AP history and government at my school.  What’s there to collaborate on, right?

Of course, if this is true, should I really force my students to collaborate?  I think the answer is clearly “yes”.  But if that’s true, then the next question is why. There are multiple answers to this question, but one that I think almost everyone would agree on to some degree is this: working together forces students to refine and strengthen their ideas, making them better than they would be otherwise.  If this is true for students, it must be true for teachers as well.  So why the reluctance to collaborate?  And here I mean genuine collaboration, not just talking in the hallways about a project or commiserating over a problem with a student or sharing a file.  I mean sitting down more than once throughout the school year and taking a good look at the curriculum, our objectives, our strengths, and our weaknesses as individuals, as departments, as a school. Teaching in a school that’s moving to a 1:1 environment brings this issue of collaboration to the forefront whether we like it or not.  When a school makes such a major shift in its design, it forces teachers, even those reluctant like me, to collaborate more.

I think one reason that teachers prefer to work alone so much of the time has to do with fear.  I know for myself I don’t like to admit when I don’t know something or that I’m confused or unsure.  I’d rather go look something up in a “safe” place like a book than ask a colleague who may wonder why I don’t know the answer already.  But teaching in a 1:1 environment will be new to nearly everyone when a school makes the shift.  Even those teachers who are more technologically savvy than others haven’t actually taught in a 1:1 environment (unless in a previous job).  When everyone is in the same boat, it makes it easier to put yourself out there and ask a question.

Another reason I think teachers are reluctant collaborators is more simple and straightforward but not necessarily easier to combat: time, or lack of it.  It’s hard to find the time to work together in a meaningful way when you don’t have a shared planning period or when teachers can’t stay after school because they have other commitments like coaching or picking up their own kids from school.  Until schools make it a priority to build time into the work week for teachers to collaborate, lack of time will always be an issue.  Luckily, sharing is made all the easier with technology.  This has less to do with teaching in a 1:1 school, of course, than with technology in general.  I love the fact that with a service like Google Documents, teachers can share files and write notes to each other, edit each others’ work, ask questions and answer questions.  As much as anyone else, I hate waiting around for meetings to start or going to a meeting for which a memo would do.  Such face-to-face interactions do not foster goodwill amongst teachers; they merely serve to aggravate us as we think about all the other things we could be doing.  Technology solves this problem, however, because collaboration can take place at the convenience of each individual teacher.  The English teacher wants to work on that cross-curricular project at midnight on a Friday?  He can.  The history teacher can look at what he did and add her own thoughts at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning.  This kind of technology-assisted collaboration is not limited to an individual school either.  Now, teachers who have never met and who live in different states or in different countries can collaborate using online forums.   Of course, this means there really is no excuse left for someone like me not to collaborate with other AP history teachers.

Finally, I think ego has a lot to do with resistance to collaboration.  I created this lesson, I created this educational game, I created this Keynote presentation.  I worked hard on it, and I don’t want to share it.  I’m sure something like this is at the heart of at least some teachers’ reluctance to share even if they don’t fully realize it or want to admit it.  Let’s face it – at times, it goes further than an unwillingness to share.  Not only do I not want to share, but I certainly don’t want you to take what I’ve done, get credit for it, and possibly even improve upon it.  To a certain extent, I can understand this sentiment, and I’m certainly not suggesting any teacher hand over all her lesson plans to another.  Besides the fact that I think teachers learn best from actually doing the hard work of teaching, this is just plain wrong.  Yet the reality is that few teachers that I know would be comfortable accepting this level of help even if someone was willing to give it. Most understand that collaboration is a two-way street.  We all borrow ideas from other teachers, particularly in our first few years in the classroom; paying it forward from time to time seems only right.  In addition, the teacher that is truly worried about putting their work out there on the web for free could use a service like Teachers Pay Teachers, which might eliminate some of that feeling that her hard work is unappreciated by those benefiting from it.

I write this post knowing that finding the time to share and finding the time to collaborate in truly meaningful ways is something with which I personally struggle. I also write knowing that, as my school rolls out its 1:1 program, I am sharing more and more with other teachers, both at my own school and others.  That sharing – even just putting this blog out there on the web – is forcing me to think more clearly about the things I do or do not do in my classroom, and hopefully, it will make me a better, more intentional teacher in the future.

Edmodo Is the Answer (At Least for Now)

In a previous post, I wrote about how I was dismantling my wiki and going with a new communication system.  That system is Edmodo.  I first learned about Edmodo at an iSummit conference last summer.  Two middle school teachers gave a glowing and energetic presentation on Edmodo, but perhaps because they were middle school teachers, I resisted using the website with my upper school students, thinking it might appear too juvenile to them.  After looking into the website, and comparing it to other communication systems out there, I decided it really was the best thing out there, at least until the next best thing comes along. Some of my students who have had experience with Edmodo in other classes are glad to hear I’ll be using it next year.  That’s a great endorsement.  So here’s my top 10 reasons for why I finally chose Edmodo, and as you read, know that, while I wish I was, I am not getting paid to endorse the site!

10.  Community Groups: Once you are a member of the Edmodo community you can join other professional teacher groups, sharing ideas not only about how to use technology in the classroom but also all sorts of lesson plans and assessment ideas.  For instance, I’ve joined a social studies group, a problem-based learning group, and a group that incorporates music into the history curriculum to name just three.

9.  Calendar: Edmodo provides a calendar for the teacher to post homework assignments and due dates, and the calendar is color-coded by group (class).  Each time the teacher creates a new assignment, the assignment is automatically posted on the calendar. Students can export the calendar to another calendar program like iCal should they choose to do so.

8.  Library: Users can upload both files and links to their personal library.  Files can be anything from a simple Pages document to a video or song.

7.  Organization: Users can create file folders, as many as they wish, to organize the files in their library.

6.  Sharing: Teachers can share whole files or single documents with their students.  For instance, I can keep posting documents to a folder called “Study Guides” throughout the year.  Once I share that folder with a class, each time I add a file to the folder, the students get it too.

5.  Quizzing Students:  There is a quiz feature that allows a teacher to assign a quiz on the Edmodo website, and the website will grade those quizzes for you depending on the kind of quiz.  You can create short answer, true/false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank questions.  There is a timing feature that allows you to set the amount of time a student has to take the quiz once begun, and the students can see their results right away.  Grades are automatically posted into the website’s grade book, another good feature. (Warning: Using this feature requires vigilance on the part of the teacher to prevent cheating.)

4.  Alerts: Students and teachers can set up their accounts in such a way that they can be alerted by email OR text message whenever a change is made to their group.  If a teacher adds an assignment or changes a due date, students know right away.

3.  Groups: Teachers can set up their “groups” or classes (which are color-coded as well) and even groups within groups.  Once a group is set up, a code is generated.  Students use that code to join the group.  Parents, too, can view, but not participate, in groups, allowing for parents to help their children keep up with their work (and keep parent emails to teachers at a minimum).

2.  Assign and Collect Work: Teachers can post assignments with attached files or links.  Students view and complete the assignment and return it to their teacher all within the website.  When the student turns in the assignment, it is time-stamped so the teacher knows exactly when it was completed.  Teachers can then view the student’s work, grade it, and return it – again, all within the one website.  Grades go into the website’s grade book.  Since everything happens on the Edmodo site, the teacher has excellent documentation.  At the end of the year, groups can be archived so that they are always available should the teacher need to view them.

1.  User-Friendly: Edmodo is an incredibly user-friendly, comprehensive site. Edmodo does everything my wiki did plus much more. The site is organized well for easy manipulation, and the “Help” site is indeed a help. In addition, Edmodo offers free webinars on all sorts of topics relating to the site.

And just in case you needed one more reason to check out Edmodo – IT’S FREE!

Do Just One New Thing

When moving towards a 1:1 environment, there are two ways a teacher can become overwhelmed.  Some teachers who are less familiar with technology will find themselves overwhelmed by having to learn the ins and outs of the computer and its programs.  Other teachers who are more technologically literate may find themselves overwhelmed with the sheer number of ways to integrate the technology into their courses.  As surprising as it might be for someone who knew me a mere five years ago, I fall into the latter category.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I was not always in love with technology, and in general, I used to avoid it whenever possible.  Now, however, I love playing with technology and think it has great potential for getting and keeping a student’s interest in history when used well.  Strangely enough, however, I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed, albeit for different reasons than five years ago.  My problem now isn’t how to use the computer in the classroom; my problem is what to do with the computer first.  Which computer-based assignment should I try first?  Should I have my students create a digital book on Renaissance art, or should I have them create an iMovie?  Should I have my students collaborate on a Wiki about the American Revolution, or should I have them interview one of the Founding Fathers using GarageBand?

Today, I met with some other upper school teachers from my school for a kind of mini “boot camp” on teaching in a 1:1 environment, and one of my colleagues reminded us to slow down, take a deep breath, and do one thing at a time.  She advised us to make a commitment to do one new thing every month with the computers – a new way of quizzing, a new kind of assignment, a new project, find a new website or program for you or your students to use, etc. Just one new thing incorporated into what you already do well.  If you find you can do more, that’s great, but doing just one new thing a month means that by the end of the year you will have incorporated around 9 new technology-based initiatives into your teaching.  That’s not such a bad start.

So remember: start by doing just one new thing a month.  And really, that’s good advice whether you teach in a 1:1 or more traditional environment.