Thursday, December 14, 2017

Differentiating with Technology: Content

An incredible feature of teaching in a 1:1 classroom is the wealth of content and capability available at both teachers and students fingertips in the classroom.  Having access to so many resources and assessments beyond what is available in typical textbooks makes differentiating for students more straightforward than ever before.

What is differentiation?
Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching in which educators actively plan for students' differences so that all students can best learn. In a differentiated classroom, teachers divide their time, resources, and efforts to effectively teach students who have various backgrounds, readiness and skill levels, and interests (ASCD).

Teachers typically think of differentiation in three different portions of their instruction: content, process, and product.  This blog post will begin a 3-article series regarding integrating technology as a resource to supporting differentiation.  

Why and how to differentiate content?
Though teachers are obligated to teach content knowledge as dictated by standards, there can still be significant flexibility of content.  For example, in a standard like the one below that asks students to solve fractions in real world scenarios, the teacher or student could certainly choose the specific real world scenario based on student interest.

5.NSF.2 Solve real-world problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions with unlike
denominators

Allowing students to work with fractions in a context that means something personally to them makes learning more engaging and likely to endure.  Is a student particularly interested in cooking and so manipulating fractions in the context of a recipe is engaging?  Or would a student rather work with fractions representing probabilities of winning a game?  In both cases, students meet the standard but providing options for the context encourages greater student engagement.  

As another example, consider the biology I standard below:

H.B.1A.4 Analyze and interpret data from informational texts and data collected from
investigations using a range of methods (such as tabulation, graphing, or statistical
analysis) to (1) reveal patterns and construct meaning, (2) support or refute hypotheses,
explanations, claims, or designs, or (3) evaluate the strength of conclusions.

Access to the internet allows teachers to quickly and easily provide multiple options of informational texts or data when planning the instructional activities for the skill of using data to reveal patterns and construct meanings as required of the standard.

Does this mean all the students are working on different things?

Providing options for content does not mean a teacher should provide one option per student.  It would be a challenge to curate and provide 26 individual informational texts for a lesson.  Using technology to access two or three options of informational text, however, is a reasonable adjustment for differentiation that students will benefit from.  

Teachers don’t have the burden of copying multiple text sets or even knowing how many they need of each article when technology is used to deploy content.  Moreover, content can be up to date and current and not dependent upon the published year of the textbook as with traditional sources of content.

Resources for finding vetted content
The following resources can be used to provide choice in content to students at various levels:


Site
Summary
Browse our free collection of news articles, poems, short stories, and historical documents for grades 5-12.

BHP is like nothing else. But if you had to categorize it, you could say it’s a social studies course that runs on jet fuel. Co-created by teachers, students, curriculum experts, and a dedicated team of tech developers, BHP was inspired by the work of David Christian and is supported by Bill Gates. The fundamental goal is to provide a world class, ready-for-the-classroom resource available to everyone, everywhere. For free.

The Data Library contains lists of ongoing data-sharing projects as well as downloadable Excel spreadsheets along with other sources of data on the web.


Founded in 2003, Science News for Students is an award-winning online publication dedicated to providing age-appropriate, topical science news to learners, parents and educators. It’s part of the Science News Media Group, which has published its flagship magazine since 1922.

Delivering options to students in Google Classroom
Using the “topics” feature of Google Classroom allows teachers to tag assignments according to themes.  This tagging feature can be used to indicate to students how content is being differentiated.  Read more about organizing with the topics feature here.

In the process of actually assigning the work, teachers can choose which students receive assignments as well.  Read more about how to use this feature here.

Looking forward

In our next post, we will tackle the process portion of differentiation and provide recommendations for how teachers may allow students to work at their readiness level and learning preferences.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Coding Should be in the Classroom


I remember when I was a school level Technology and Learning Coach, I loved working with the students and coding, whether it was with the 4th/5th Grade “Game Coding Club” that I ran or the events I coordinated for the yearly Hour of Code activities for the school. The students were engaged and showed such excitement while programming the characters to move; it was motivating for me to keep coding going for the school. However, just like other other “cool” thing there isn’t enough time to add in something new and then there’s the idea of how to connect coding to curriculum?



Learning to program/code does not need to just stop after the week of Hour of Code ends. (Which, if you are not aware yet, Hour of Code is the week of December 4, 2017.) This week of introducing coding is just the start of something new for the students. When students are programming/coding, they are given an opportunity to utilize and build skills such as logical thinking, problem-solving, perseverance, creativity and self confidence. These skills are not often found in a day to day lesson, however, these are world class skills employees need to be successful in today’s real world work force.

Let’s start preparing our students for the computer science professions and it does not need to be “just another thing”. I want you to think of a standard where you ask your students to develop and use models. Good teaching practices allows for student choice in how they want to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the new content. Why not add an option for students to develop their “model” through coding/programming? Take SC Science Standard 7.L.3.A.3 for example. In order to show mastery of the content, students should be able to develop and use models to explain how the relevant structures within cells function to support the life of plants, animals and bacterial cells. Coding the model through Scratch, for example, could also allow students an avenue to explain how one thing affects another.  For example, 6th Grade Social Studies Standard, 6-6.6; Explain the effects of the exchange of plants, animals, diseases, and technology throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas (known as the Columbian Exchange). Could a student program the effects to demonstrate their level of mastery using Gameblox? What I love about this idea is that the students are now applying their knowledge to creating content, rather than just consuming it.

So, you don’t know how to code or support the students in this creation, but you are open to giving your students an opportunity to extend their knowledge. Honestly, it is ok that you don’t know coding/programming. Our students tend to be one step ahead of us when it comes to the latest technology, it could be a disservice for us to restrict students because we are not familiar with it. Think of it as an opportunity to practice facilitating new opportunities for students. Here are some suggested websites that are free and can walk you through your first coding/program experience.  

Website
Ages
Type of coding
Cost
4-14
Block coding
Free
4-14
Block coding
Free
5-17
Python/Java Script
Core levels are free
8-16,
Block Coding
Free
13+
Java Script
Free
12+,
Python/Java/HTML coding
Free trial
13+
Block coding
Free
13+
HTML, CSS, JavaScript
Free
13+
HTML, CSS, Python, JavaSCript
Free courses
14+
JavaScript, Python,
Free
13+
JavaScript, HTML, CSS
Free

Friday, November 17, 2017

Adding value to edtech games

A few weeks ago we blogged about the value of online games in the classroom.  Hopefully it inspired some thinking about the purpose, intentionality, and value the games add to the student’s learning.  We know that there are times where some sort of online game works for classrooms so here are some strategies that may ensure higher quality learning.  

  1. Connect the game to another learning goal.   
If students need to study vocabulary and matching quizlet cards is your only choice, consider providing an activity that requires the students to transfer the learning.  If students must review vocabulary words, assign a follow up paragraph where they use the words in context.  

    2.  If the game tracks points/time, ask students to reflect on progress.     
Asking students to reflect on how they decreased their time to solve math facts or     
match words and definitions allows the kids to think about their thinking.  This also allows teachers insight into what mistakes students may have initially had and how the students addressed those mistakes.

    3.  Ask students to complete a check for understanding.  
If students spend their time working on a game, how does the teacher know what
the students know?  Consider asking students to immediately complete a
formative assessment that is automatically graded through Google Forms or GoFormative.com.  If students do well, you know that the game may not be the best use of the students’ time the next day.  If the students do not do well, you know how to adjust your instruction.

Hopefully these strategies will allow teachers to take edtech games to the next level of learning for your students.  Ensuring that students make the connections between the games and the unit’s learning is a great way to add value to edtech games in the class.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tell your story



2017 Richland Two Film Festival




What is the Film Festival?
Each year, Richland Two provides a unique opportunity for students and district staff to share their story through video creation. We are excited to be in our 5th year and know this will be a bigger event this year. Our window of opportunity began on November 6th, where students can begin finding a school sponsor, complete the interest form and turn in permission slips. There are opportunities for every person in the district to enter, from Pre-K students to District employees.
The suggested categories to enter a film are as follows…
  • Educational (PSA, informative, or news cast) - If you created a video for school and it fits our requirements, enter the video.
  • Music Video - The music must be original.  
  • Animation/Claymation
  • Storytelling (personal narrative)
  • Short film (documentary or drama)
  • Other
So, what are the benefits of creating videos?
I recently walked into a high school classroom where students were beginning the process of video creation. Their storyline was the same for all groups, reproduce a recent novel into a movie, but they were able to make some minor modifications to the plot, character, setting and story components to make it their own rendition. I felt some awesome energy coming from the students as they were collaboratively writing their scripts and planning for their videos. They were communicating to one another, building off of one another’s ideas, pulling in some “hidden” talents of their peers as they began to talk about the setting they would develop for their 6 minute video. When you think about the entire process of creating a video, developing a goal/idea, writing a script, determining the style of the video, storyboard both the scene and script, produce and edit a video...the skills students use is shocking. Yes, it takes time, but the rigor in their own learning and the grit/perseverance it takes to complete the process is awarding. Believe me when I tell you the excitement I felt and heard in this classroom versus other classrooms I visited, it would make you want to jump into this adventure too.
I am proud of the work the students put into their videos last year. Take a moment to click on the link to see last year's winning videos… 2017 Film Festival Winners


If you are a Richland Two Employee or student, here is some information you need to know. There are opportunities for every person in the district to enter…
Grade Level Submissions
Elementary
Grades Prek-2nd
Grades 3rd-5th
Secondary
Grades 6th-8th  
Grades 9th-12th
All District Staff
There is a prize for Best in Show for both elementary and secondary, and one prize for each grade category. District staff are not eligible for Best in Show.

Timeline of Events
NOV 6,
FILM FESTIVAL BEGINS
DEC 1,
PERMISSION SLIPS TURNED IN
JAN 19,
LAST DAY TO SUBMIT VIDEOS
MARCH 8,
NIGHT ON THE RED CARPET

For more information, visit our website… R2 Film Festival Blog


Tell your students about the Film Festival today. Give them an opportunity to create an original works to tell their own story.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Gaming in the classroom

It’s November now and our team has been spending a lot of time in classrooms all over our district.  One consistent trend has emerged in our district and in the EdTech field as a whole - gamifying the learning.  We aren’t referring to gamifying the entire process of learning but rather using websites for skill building that reward students with a game feature or websites where the skill building is embedded within the context of the game.

In some examples you see numbers for math facts flying around the screen and students have to quickly capture the numbers that sum to a given result.  In other examples, you see blocks of text with definitions and terms floating around and students must match complementary cards together to receive a point.  


Many teachers love these programs and emphasize the following positive points:  
  • The kids love it!  The kids are engaged!
  • The kids get immediate feedback.
  • The games autoadjust for the kids’ skill level and ability

These attributes may all be true, but in order for these activities to have a true impact on the students’ learning, a little more planning and thinking must be done:

Does the engagement in the game take away from the students’ focus on the learning?
When the timer is running and students hope to beat their previous score, are the students playing the game arbitrarily or are they really thinking through the process?  When we are in classrooms we’ve observed a lot of focus on beating the game at the consequence of the students thinking about their thinking.  

Is the feedback worth anything if the students don’t apply it?
Yes, the games give immediate feedback because students fail to go to the next level or earn a point.  We argue, however, if the student is unable to take that feedback and apply it to her learning process, the feedback is not valuable.  If the feedback is a nasty buzzer but doesn’t allow the student to think metacognitively about what went wrong in her learning, then the feedback doesn’t matter.

Does the teacher know what the students know?
Yes, the game may auto adjust to the student’s ability, but if that data never gets back to the teacher, then is this an instructionally-valuable activity for that child?  Or, if the activity doesn’t require the student to log in or the website doesn’t track progress (many free website versions don’t) for the teacher, then what’s the value?  The teacher must know what the students know in order to make an instructional decision.  If your student is stuck below standard, there’s a scaffold to be provided.  If your student is working beyond the standard, this drill-type game likely isn’t the best use of the student’s time.

In the end, these games can probably enhance learning when used strategically in moderation.  Creating a habit of spending 20 minutes per day on a game where neither students nor teachers use the information to make instructional decisions, however, is not ideal.   

Voices in Tech: How edtech coaches aid classroom instruction

We are excited to share an article from District Administration  featuring our very own Nichole Allmann.  See the excerpt below and be sure ...