Can Tech Tools Stifle Creativity?

Just over a week ago I produced the coolest off-the-cuff formative assessment using Google Slides. Students accessed a slideshow that I threw together right before getting them from recess. There was a picture in it that I wanted them to use to identify arrays.  

My 3rd graders have struggled with learning multiplication at the very beginning of the year, as I have struggled teaching it right out of the gate. See, my district just signed on to use iReady math, and everyone is experiencing some growing pains.

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Scarlet plays with some blocks I brought home.

We have been looking at arrays, frontwards and backwards. I had brought some connecting blocks home to take pictures for a quiz I would administer, when an idea hit me. My daughter Scarlet was enjoying constructing shapes with the blocks, and she built a robot. Rather than making nice neat rectangles for my students, I’d have them find the arrays that lay hidden in this robot. I love combining life experiences and teaching moments, so I told my students about the robot’s inception and their assignment. They loved it and jumped right in.

I had taken a picture of the simple combination of blocks and uploaded it to a Google slideshow. Students were to find the slideshow (a copy per student) waiting for them in their Math Google Classroom. They were to identify different arrays by circling them. I also told them to label the arrays appropriately; Putting the number of rows first, and then the number of columns.

sloppy iPadMy classroom has a mishmash of different devices. I literally did not know how they were going to outline their arrays, but I did know that there was more than one way. The iPads are pretty easy. Kids can click on the assigned Google slideshow and immediately start drawing and writing all over the slides, without opening it in the Google Slides App. When students are done they can save/submit the work as a PDF.

On the Chromebooks and Macs, students could put shapes on top of the arrays, but then they would have to adjust the shape to be transparent. Students found a tool called “Scribble” under the “Line” icon within slides that worked the best. They could draw (using two hands) a rectangle around the arrays they found. Then they used the regular “Line” to connect the array to a “Text Box” that they typed the array inside. These lines were very thin and black, so students worked out a way to change the color and thicken up the lines. They also used this experience to find out how to change the font size, color, etc. of text. I witnessed my students teaching themselves the technology, problem-solving in many more ways than one, using creativity for practical reasons, and experiencing tremendous success, both practically and mathematically!

All in all, the lesson was a smashing success. I was very happy with how well my students did identifying the arrays. And I was incredibly impressed with the ingenuity they showed in figuring out the best ways to show their work, using the tools at their disposal.

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Heather Moser Empowers EPSD Teachers w/ Terrific Tech Tools

Now, this is where the title of this blog comes into play. The aforementioned lesson took place on the Thursday before Columbus Day Weekend. On Monday (Columbus day) my school district had a professional development inservice. I attended an incredible session titled “iPads Untethered”, taught by East Penn Tech Instructional Assistant, Heather Moser. She started out the teacher learning time with an app called “Sketches”. Kids can use this app to easily draw all over images that are either shared with them or they generate from taking a picture. The sketches can be saved in organized folders, shared, or submitted. We then moved on to doodling all over images in Notes, another easy to use app that comes preinstalled on iPads. It was as though Heather knew about my lesson and was saying, “Gee, Captain, you could have simply used one of these.”

The catch is that both my students and myself grew threw our productive struggle. Problem-solving ways to show arrays within Google Slides helped us learn all kinds of things. Also, I liked my ability to link comments to student work when it came time for me to provide feedback and grades for this assessment on the fly. In the future, when my students have one iPad/kid I can use the awesome apps that Mrs. Moser showed teachers during professional development. Robot

Those simple-to-use drawing tools would make it much easier and faster to perform an assessment like the one I had planned, but would this rob my students of the opportunity for productive struggle? As digital tools make life easier and easier, we teachers will have to be creative in finding ways to make tasks challenging. 

Student-Owned Education is Classy

It’s not just about giving kids access to computers and the Internet; Teachers must instruct kids how to use technology “innovatively.” It’s all about the SAMR model (Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition). Teachers should stop worrying about redefining technology, and let it redefine their teaching. Then substitution, augmentation, and modification will fall into place.

What has technology done for our teaching?

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This pic shows my trusty van, the 1st vehicle I ever owned, in front of a flower shop that one of my crews painted during the summer of 1994. (Collegeville, PA.)

When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to run my own outdoor house painting business through a corporation called College Pro Painters. This company hired and trained college students to operate franchises — reproductions of the original business begun by a college student, Greig Clark, from Canada in 1971. The training did not spend any time teaching us managers how to paint. It concentrated on teaching us how to train our painters to produce high-quality work by requiring seemingly “barely achievable” expectations. We also learned how to hire our workers, estimate prices, budget supplies, and land jobs.

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Here I am getting a crew ready to spray the outside of a house (1995).

I had painted for one of the College Pro Painting franchise owners the summer before I was hired to run my own business. It had been a rewarding, successful, and lucrative summer job. Thus, I knew how to paint, and I could do it well.

There came a point in the summer that I was managing three different crews made up of between three and five painters, each, when I was frustrated by the rate of slow production and low quality work. I confessed to my district manager, my boss, that I wished I could just go out there and paint the darn houses, myself! He told me a story.

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One of my crews painting a twin in Pottstown, PA (1994).

Before becoming the district manager of the entire North Eastern United States, he had been in the same shoes as me. He was estimating, budgeting, hiring, and training with barely time to sleep and eat. Then his dad got ill. His mom had died when he was young. He had no siblings. It was up to him to help his father.

Maybe you think his business suffered. It didn’t. This incredible businessman began running his business from home. He started having his foremen stop by his house in the mornings. They would pick up orders and estimates. Then they would get supplies from the paint store that the manager had called in. The foremen would talk to the homeowners, walking them around at the end of each day, discussing the progress of the project, and even finalize the job, collecting the final check.

phone-2476595_960_720The ground-breaking technology that made all of this happen back in 1990 was the… ready for this? Telephone. Homeowners called an 800 number to ask for estimates for painting. Because the manager was stuck at home, he was able to check his leads several times a day, calling homeowners back nearly immediately. He scheduled all of his estimates on the same day and back to back, rather than spreading them out. By the end of the summer, the manager who seemed the most limited was able to produce far more painting work than any other manager in his district.

This tale resonated with me. Rather than taking over the work that my painters were producing “under par” and slowly, I gave my employees more responsibilities. I stopped running around town like a manager with his head cut off. No longer did I talk to each painter. I only spoke with the foremen. They became the ones who communicated with the homeowners. They were the ones responsible for the job, anyway! The quality of work slowly rose as foremen realized they wouldn’t be able to collect the final payment until the homeowner was happy. It became the leaders of the crews who put pressure on their painters, instead of me micromanaging everyone. Needless to say, I won the Rookie of the Year Award at the end of my first summer running my own business (1994). And, it was thanks to the encouragement of my district manager, who empowered me with vision and leadership.

What does this have to do with teaching?

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Don’t fall into the trap of letting technology innovate you. You be the innovator.

How often do teachers take over the learning for their students? How can technology revolutionize the reach of student-ownership? The technology that was cutting edge in 1994 was the beeper. I got pages when leads called for an estimate. I would pull my painting van over at one of the dozen pay phones I frequented and call the 800 number to collect my lead info. Then I would call the future customer, right away. Nowadays we get instant notifications when a social media message or comment comes in. We must teach the next generation how to manage this barrage of technology. Don’t let it innovate you. Be the innovator.

We have all heard the derisive term used in competition when a competitor conquers his opponent so thoroughly that he is said to have “owned” him. It was made popular during the inception of the Internet by hackers (Savagegump, 2005) gaining complete control over a program. Teachers should stop trying to “own” their teaching. Let students control their own learning. Let technology redefine your teaching, and LET GO.

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My most successful crew was rewarded the best jobs. Here, they are painting the largest project of the summer, 1994… $8,500.

This blog is a byproduct of two experiences: Participation in the “live chat” #MasteryChat on September 27, 2018, hosted by @chadostrowski CEO of @teachbetterteam that centered on “Student-Ownership”…  And, reading Deubel’s (2018) “Technology Integration: Essential Questions” for a class from Kutztown University.

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The #masterychat was an awesome experience. Can’t wait for the next one!

Sources:

Deubel, P. (2018). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site: http://www.ct4me.net/technology_integr.htm

Savagegump. (2005, February 11). Owned. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Owned [More than just a definition, this is an etymology of the term.]

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016, January). National education technology plan 2016: Future ready learning: Reimagining the role of technology in education. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/netp/

Five Ways to Classy-ify Assessments with Google Forms

I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to tackling “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go

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My pile of reading is bottomless!

Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sackstein (2015). From what I have seen from tweets, this text lines up perfectly with my transforming attitude about tests and assessment. I have been leaning away from right/wrong assessments the past few years. Google Forms have helped me all but completely stray from formal testing into the land of forging understanding through creative assessments.

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Provide clear instructions for beginning quizzes.

I teach third grade, so the following examples may have too much text for your students, or be too simple for your grade level. Obviously, you are going to make your own quizzes to fit the needs of your classroom. I present concepts, here to help you make your quizzes a little more classy. Here’s five ideas. 

First of all, I use the potential answers to continue teaching the concepts. Does this point kids in the direction of the answer, making it obvious which one is correct? You bet. Not only

Answer 3 negates the second
The feedback points out what I do in the quiz; pointing to how the answers are structured to “give away” the correct responses.

that, but you should hear me read the questions and add anecdotes to the answers! The only kids who should be getting these questions wrong are the ones not paying attention, and, so, that is being assessed as well. 

Second, only assess what you are teaching. Because I was not teaching reading comprehension, I am not going to expect my class to be able to read and understand these questions. I had that in mind when I designed and typed the quiz. I plan to read this entire quiz to my class. I might administer it in small groups, because I do not have enough digital devices at this time for every kid to have one. That works, too. If I were assessing reading, I would have the kids take the quiz independently, and I would have made it on their reading levelS–That is right!! Tailoring the quizzes to meet each kiddo’s needs is great with Google Forms. You can copy and paste things. You can make a copy of the entire quiz and only change things as you need to, also.

Third, use the feedback to provide students with not only why answers are correct and

With google forms be sure to copy and paste answer feedback into correct ans feedback
For this particular quiz I want even students who got the answer correct to see my feedback, so I had to copy and paste the response into the “Correct Answers” window, also.

incorrect, but as a teaching space. I often instruct students within the feedback areas on how to evaluate answers. I show them what I was doing when I typed the quiz. In the same way learning how to write from an actual published author will enhance a budding writer, I hope to help my students become better test-takers. That’s right! I said “test-takers”. Guess what; No matter how much you hate it, life is full of taking tests. I want my students to be great at it.

Fourth, let go of grades. This is where I think my methods lineup with  Sackstein’s “Hacking Assessment” (2015) book thesis. When creating my quizzes in Google Forms, I allow my students to “Edit after Let students view each other's responses and answerssubmit” and “See summary charts and text responses”. I do this so that students can assess themselves. They can revisit the quiz with their peers, seeing what other people chose as answers. (https://youtu.be/ZZ65RwKOsPA) You have to instruct your students in how to analyze these pie charts. They are pretty easy to figure out, but it is important to recognize that just because more people chose the second option as an answer, does not guarantee its correctness. If everyone else chose an option that you didn’t, however, may lead you to reevaluate your choice. I love having my students read each other’s written responses, too. Kids go back and dress up their own answers with better information. Teachers, you have to be willing to allow students to correct themselves. So what if they get a better grade than the one that they initially “earned”. In every other area of life kids are allowed to improve what they do without getting penalized. Why are our tests a once and done, black and white, the moment you click “submit”, your assessment is up experience?

Fifth… This is going to seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but I actually like grades. They are measures. Parents want to see how their children “measure up”. Grades are goals. Without some sort of measurement, it feels like we didn’t get anywhere. It is important to understand that the grades are artificial; they are made up; they are relative… but they do exist. Also, kids like getting good grades. The way I see it, my job is to help each kid get the best grade possible. I provide opportunities for bonus points. I let students retake quizzes. I allow students to see what everyone else did. They can all but copy and paste answers. One key idea is that, even with all of this help, it is important for students to feel as though they earned their grades. Assessments can be teaching tools

And, now I am going to end this blog by doing what I all but scream at my students for doing: I hope that you found some of this useful. Thanks for reading! Ugh, I hate it when they do that;)

Sackstein, S. (2015). Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School. Cleveland: Times 10 Publications.

Classy is Impressive

You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?

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There is getting into line, and then there is…

My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are lost or not trying. You see that when the work screams, “Whoa! I need serious help and attention over here.” And then, there are fours. These are the gems that students earn when they have exceeded expectations. When a student follows the parameters of an assignment, and then some. I am not looking for a sixth paragraph tacked onto a five-paragraph essay. A four would be awarded to a student who included a quote from a notable expert on the topic and referenced the site where it was found.IMG_6173

Fine, Mr. Weimann, but what does this have to do with classroom management? Well, this rubric can be applied to every aspect of the students’ activity at school. In the same way that I will use these principles to grade an assignment, I can use them to grade the way in which a student completes the assignment.

Here is how I communicate what that fourth level of behavior looks like. Students have all played with playdough or clay before. What happens when you push a penny or any other object down onto some playdough? “It makes an indent,” a student answers. “Correct,” I reply, “But, what is that indent called? What is a vocabulary word for that; something synonymous?” There are some thoughtful ideas. With only the sound of “im-” several students complete the word, “impression”. The object makes an impression of itself onto the soft material.

Mrs. Hulmes teaches first grade at my school. When Mrs. Hulmes’s line of students exit their classroom they not only walk in a straight line without talking or touching, but they hold their hands behind their backs. Not one or two of the students, but every single one of them. And, not once in a while, but every single time they are in line, they do this. When there is a substitute for Mrs. Hulmes, her class lines up and moves from location to location this way. You can probably picture it in your head, while reading this text, but if you saw it in person, it would leave an impression on your mind that you would never forget. I have never seen a nicer looking line in my life. It is so classy.IMG_6178

To be classy is to be impressive. Students can sit on the carpet and listen to me while I explain this, and that might be a three. The students that are sitting up straight, making eye contact with me when possible, smiling, and raising their hands to either share connections or ask pertinent questions to deepen their’s and their peers’ understanding are impressing me. This is four behavior. That is classy, and I am their captain.

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“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” is Sept. 19th