January 30, 2012

Technology Transforms My Classroom

Although I am interested in using technology in the classroom, I know that I am way beyond the true visionaries. Even still...I keep plugging along.

At the beginning of the year I started using Edmodo, which is kind of like a school Facebook, with my classes. Unlike other platforms I have tried, like my district's teacher webpage system, I have been faithful in posting my daily assignment to Edmodo. In the evenings, when I am night school, I log on to check to see if anybody has any questions. What I find is that usually if the students post a question to the class, someone will usually answer it. I like that sense of community very much!

I also like that I can upload documents for students to view on their own. In an age when funds are tight and I am limited to the number of copies I can make, anything that I can upload for students to view digitally is a plus for me. How many papers do we teachers give students to put in their folders for later reference, such as help sheets or project instructions? These are the type of things that are great to upload because I just want student to have them.

Of course, with Edmodo available, I have high expectations of students. If they have questions about things, they should ask me or the class for clarification. If they are absent, they can check Edmodo for information. If they lose information about a long-term assignment, they can retrieve that information from Edmodo.

Edmodo also gives students the ability to turn in assignments. I've only used this feature a few times, but I like it very much because it keeps things organized, and Edmodo has updated its features so teachers can make comments right on students' documents. Pretty slick stuff!

Just before Edmodo came out with the feature that allows teachers to give feedback to students directly on their documents, I started using GoogleDocs with my students. Now, honestly, had Edmodo rolled out their feedback feature sooner, I would have never started with GoogleDocs, but since I did, and I didn't want to use a program just once, I stuck with GoogleDocs.

Now, GoogleDocs in the classroom is awesome! I have collected three major assignments since December, all of which required me to give students heavy feedback. (We're doing research, and it is always challenging getting middle schoolers to do things correctly.) It's a little bit confusing because students can be revising even after the assignment is due, and it's sometimes hard for me to keep track--even with the obvious date stamp. The other English teacher decided that with GoogleDocs she gives a lot more feedback, and I'd have to say that I agree. It's a little weird, though, to have students on at the same time while I am giving feedback. Just last week, while students were working on a different assignment, I was giving feedback on science research projects, and two students, sitting in two different classes, were obviously off-task and making changes to the feedback I was giving them. It was a bit of a trip! Awesome, though!

The downside of GoogleDocs has to do with management issues. I have instructed my students to label their assignments in such a way that, if they would do it correctly, I can easily move their assignments into designated folders. Of course, it's a pain in my rear when 10 students title their essays, "Persuasive Essay" with no name or period. Sure, it shows the name of the recipient, but because we are not yet a Google school, and many of my students did not take my advice on creating an account with a profession name, I have contacts named like LVSis94, CreamPuffDaddy, IM2QT4U. When I am trying to digitally sort 100's of papers, I don't really want to have to stop and figure out which of the damn kids is too cute for me!

What is much worse than the students not labeling their papers correctly is when they do not "share" the work with me at all. It's quite exciting that they are so wrapped up in their assignments that they forget that it's not just for their personal growth. Wait, it is for their personal growth--gak, am I really spouting Growth Model jargon so freely--but I'm the one who has to evaluate it. My Google ID is in giant letters on the board, and I post it to Edmodo every time I give an assignment, but I still have those students who "forget" to share it with me. Some of then "remember" after they see their grades...I feel a little bit bad for them, but in reality, not sharing it with me is like doing the work and not turning it in. Some of them claim they "tried" to share it with me, but they typed in the wrong address. To that I reply, "If you don't see my gorgeous picture, you did not share it with me. Again, if you are not blinded with beauty when you share it with me, you did it wrong."

There have been many instances in the last few weeks where I am about done with the handful of knuckleheads who cannot turn in their assignments correctly. It's not like it's the same kid who just can't figure out how to do it because it's hard. It's the random selection of teenagers who don't follow directions on any given day. Exasperating! I have thought about just collecting EVERYTHING in hard copy again, but for now, I do appreciate working in this digital world, so I am holding out hope that my students and I master it soon!