Tagged: technology

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TEACHER VOICES: Dave Keller, #5

Chromebooks in Classrooms: What does the usage data show?

favicon This just came across my virtual desk and it seemed worth sharing.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 12.01.07 PM

The graph shows usage during a week (24 hrs a day) for the entire K-12 Piedmont Unified School District, which has about 2,600 students. First, some context: 2015-16 is the first year my high school and middle school have gone 100% 1:1. This means every 6-12 grade student has a Chromebook that they can take home.

Here is a little more data:

Snapshot in time – At 10:00 am Thursday December 3:

  • 390 student Chromebooks were in active use.  
  • 186 high school students, or roughly 22% of school population
  • 118 middle school students, or 18% of school population

The week of 12/8, students spent:

  • 3,806 hours on Google Docs,
  • 377 hours in Membean, a personalized/adaptive vocabulary service for 6th-12th grade students
  • 360 hours checking grades on Infinite Campus,
  • 305 hours on the Math textbooks piloted for 6th-12th graders
  • 109 hours on Newsela, with differentiated nonfiction current event articles for  3rd-6th graders
  • 96 hours using Desmos, an online graphing calculator
  • 87 hours listening to Pandora music
  • 45 hours using Kahoot, a fun classroom quiz game
  • 36 hours in Scratch coding

The week before Thanksgiving also showed the 187 high schoolers using their Chromebooks to apply for college: 173.7 hours were spent at admissions.universityofcalifornia.edu.

Dave Keller - TEACHER VOICES - IserotopeAs a result, our teachers, students, and families are trying to understand the benefits and problems associated with so much technology.

The reaction from faculty has been mixed so far, but one thing is for sure: These numbers are causing quite a stir. What strikes me is that 3,800 hours were spent using Google Docs. Almost a third of computer time is spent writing text or reading text curated by teachers. Of course, it is hard to tell how Docs is used. Some of my Docs activities are digital worksheets. If that is the predominant use, then Chromebooks are a modern version of the mimeograph (or “ditto machine” for those who remember the pungent, blue paper).

However, some of my digital activities teach students to evaluate each other’s writing (using Google Forms). I also use technology to quiz or review (using Socrative and Kahoot), to increase collaborative work (with Docs and Teacher Dashboard), and to promote research while evaluating sources. These uses of technology are showing good results.

Students report liking the computers that are now part of their academic toolbox. They say their organization is improving and collaboration is easier in many ways. For example, online flashcard decks are routinely shared, as are student-generated review sheets and research. When it comes to reading, students seem divided on which they like best: paper or digital. I use a digital textbook and many digital sources but can’t tell whether digital has improved students reading or learning.

Some faculty are alarmed by the amount of time spent on activities that are not directly related to classwork, claiming this data shows that over 50% of computer use is not related to academic work. For example, 11% of Chromebook time was spent on YouTube and 360 hours were spent checking grades.

Like much of the data gathered by Google, these stats are interesting, colorful and fun—but might not tell us much about student learning. However, I am excited to see what future conversations about this information will reveal about our students’ lives at school.

If you have an observation or question about the data, please leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you! favicon

Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont High.

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Not enough computers? Phones will do.

favicon I’m not at a 1:1 school. Far from it.

Our school has no laptops, no tablets. There’s a computer lab downstairs, but that is shared with everyone, so you can use it every three weeks or so.

I used to collect old desktop computers. At one point, there were 12 computers in my classroom, thanks to donors. It was impressive. But they took up a lot of space.

In small classrooms, mobile devices rule. I’ve written grant proposals for laptops and netbooks. (I don’t believe in tablets.) So far, I’ve had no luck.

So I’m stuck with one computer in my classroom for student use. It’s a great machine. But when there are 23 students wanting to type and revise their essays, one computer just does not suffice.

The good news is that my students are getting better and better at using their phones as mini-computers. And technology is catching up, too, and bringing more functionality to smaller screens.

Google announced today some significant improvements to Google Docs on Android. Because my entire writing program is based on Google Docs, and because many of my students already use their phones for academic work, this update — which allows for full collaboration — is a big deal. Take a look.

Of course, writing on your phone is far from ideal. I find that students make many more errors when drafting on their phones. In addition, revision is more difficult because it’s harder to see the entire document and its organization. Nevertheless, I’m impressed with what my students can do.

Given the state’s budget cuts to education, it doesn’t look like my school will be getting huge numbers of computers anytime soon. But the good news is that more than 90 percent of my students have fairly sophisticated phones. So I’m pleased that phones can serve as a makeshift substitute.

I hope that phone technology will continue to improve. Maybe the next steps are pico projectors (to display a larger screen) and virtual laser keyboards (for easier typing).

And while the techies are doing that, maybe they could throw in a built-in printer, too? favicon

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Getting ready for online book discussions

 My students struggled with Beloved. It was a tough book: intense, confusing, long. I found out that my students have trouble tackling 100 pages at a time on their own. They need more support.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how best to help them. I could threaten them with pop quizzes. I could check their annotations more often. I could have them answer questions or write dialectical journals.

Although those ideas might work, they seem punitive and likely to zap any remaining interest my students have in reading. Besides, my students in general don’t do assignments just because of the grade. They do work because it’s meaningful, or because they value the class, or because they want to succeed.

They also do work when they’re part of a team.

That’s why starting next week, I’m unveiling a new feature in my class: online book discussions. There are three goals:

  1. Students read the book as part of a team (keeping themselves accountable),
  2. Students talk about the book outside class time,
  3. Students have fun with technology while doing #1 and #2.

Every Sunday night (or maybe Tuesday — I haven’t decided yet), groups of four students will go to iseroma.com/live, a page on my class website. On that page is a private, password-protected embed of a video chat room by TinyChat.

(I would have used Google Plus, but you have to be 18.)

For 20-30 minutes, the group will discuss how their reading is going, what they find confusing, and what they find inspiring. At first I’ll facilitate these sessions (yes, they need to be supervised), but my hope is to find other adults — Book Club Leaders — who’d like to take part. Each student now has an online writing mentor. Why can’t each group of four have an online reading mentor?

One of the primary purposes of this idea is to make reading more public and more social. I also want students to feel like reading is a real thing, something that’s tangible. Finally, by having a discussion the night before the class discussion, I hope students will feel more prepared and confident. I want students to be prepared for class by having a rehearsal the night before. 

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Using technology to build classroom community

 I’m finding out that one of the most important things I can do as a teacher is to build classroom community. If students like being in my class, and if they like their peers, they’ll work harder and give up less easily.

One of the ways I’m keeping things positive is through technology. Here are some of the ways I’m using tech to infuse some fun:

  • I’m taking lots of pictures. Students love them. Pictures say, “I notice you and care about you in addition to caring about your academic work.” I also have a student photographer who takes good pictures — of birthdays, presentations, whatever she likes.
  • I’m taking a lot of video. I like video because it accentuates everything. Something serious gets more serious. Something funny gets funnier. Students get ready for the camera and say something memorable.
  •  I’m keeping a Facebook page. Some teachers use FB to distribute information. I use it for funny updates, deep motivational tidbits, and photos. The whole point is to keep up morale and to make my class a “thing” — more than just a class.
  • I’m building an online community. My class website, iseroma.com, is quickly becoming something. Students post content and comment on each other’s work. They write status updates on the sidebar. They record mini-podcasts and produce short films. Although I joke about the site and try to keep things light, it’s clear that my students regard iseroma.com with pride.
The key is to keep students guessing. If a class becomes humdrum, then there’s nothing to look forward to. Technology does a good job of turning up the juice. 
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Technology in schools is not a panacea

 Yesterday, The New York Times ran an excellent article questioning technology’s impact on student achievement. Despite investing millions of dollars into technology, an Arizona district has found its test scores stagnant.

Writer Matt Richtel sums up what’s going on:

In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

Richtel’s reporting is sound. He describes school leaders doing their best but making shortsighted purchases. He highlights that technology can distract as much as engage. And he emphasizes that having technology alone does nothing to improve learning; rather, teachers need to know what to do with it.

Still, even if technology does not directly lead to gains in test scores, I think it’s crucial to advocate for it in schools.

1. Schools should look like the world around them. There’s WiFi at McDonald’s and at the public library. Why not in most schools?

2. Schools should challenge the digital divide. One student owns a computer while another doesn’t. The first student is completing her homework more easily and suffers from less stress.

3. Schools should teach students how to use technology, to interact with information, and to be respectful online. This is also why we shouldn’t cut school librarians.

4. Teachers should be treated as professionals. And professionals have access to technology to do their job.

While technology is important, it’s important to invest in the right technology. SMART Boards, which do little to disrupt traditional teaching, are not the same as laptops. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to get it.

But figuring out “the right technology” is not an easy puzzle. After all, what’s current one day is obsolete the next. By the time a school researches a product, puts in the order, and gets the equipment installed, the gadget is old. In addition, all devices have pros and cons. Kindles are great for English class, but they’re clunky for science. iPads look beautiful, but typing on them is horrible.

My school struggles with our very limited technology budget. Sometimes, I feel like we can’t get past fixing our current computers and printers. Maybe I should be happy that we have computers and printers in the first place.

Meanwhile, my students live in a scattered technology state. They’re comfortable on Facebook but have trouble fixing a printer jam. They snap pictures and listen to music but haven’t seen a library database. They text like crazy but balk at sending a professional e-mail.

Even if technology doesn’t mean higher test scores, there’s still a lot to learn from it.