Welcome to Jennie Magiera's Technology in Education Blog:

Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reflecting on my iPad Grant Thus Far... A Story of Celebrating Failure

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, it is clear that this year's 1-to-1 iPad grant has revolutionized teaching and learning for myself and my students. From standardized test scores to portfolio student work and testimonials, I have buckets and buckets of "data" to demonstrate that - when integrated effectively and with the right mindset - iPads can transform a classroom into a magical, collaborative, yet still individualized learning environment.

So, the most popular question I am repeatedly asked is, "What made your iPad integration successful?" For the sake of efficiency, I thought I'd share my answer here.

The simple answer to this question is:
It wasn't successful. 
Well, not at first.


This is the story I always tell folks: It is the week before the 2010-2011 school year is to begin. I'm about to go to sleep when I hear my phone's email alert go off. After checking my messages, I immediately begin to cry uncontrollably. Looking over my shoulder, Husband sees that my school has won an iPad grant. He wraps his arms around me and says, "Oh Jennie, that's so sweet... you're so happy that you're crying." I shake my head and blow my nose loudly. "No," I sob, "I'm not crying because I'm happy. I'm crying because now I actually have to do all that stuff we wrote about in the grant."

And so the year began. The iPads arrived two days before the students, marking the first time I'd ever touched one of these devices. I told myself, "Well, how hard can this be? I'm getting free technology. These little doohickeys will probably engage the kids simply by being 'cool.' I can't mess this up. No problem."

Mmm hmm... Famous last thoughts. The next two months were a hot mess. Not much progress being seen from my class. A lot more crying (me, not the kids). Poor Husband suffering the terrible wrath of Teacher-Wife gone mad. Around the end of September I knew that I needed to regroup and reevaluate. So I took a step back and did some serious reflecting.

What had I been doing so far with this technology?
- iPad Games Apps instead of Everyday Math Games
- Typing notes on iPads instead of on paper
- Worksheet Apps instead of Everyday Math journal pages / math boxes
- Using the iPad as a slate instead of the dry erase boards
- Using the iPad to surf the Internet
- In short... things were going... okay. Nothing to write home about. Not what I would consider "worthy" of a $20,000 grant.

Clearly it was time for a revolution.

I began to realize that the problem was my attitude and understanding of how the iPads should be utilized in the classroom. I saw the iPads as a supplement to my pre-existing curriculum; something I could just tack on to what I thought I was already doing well. I was spending most of my time hunting for content apps that fit what I had always done. This was simply the wrong way to look at technology. If I hoped to truly revolutionize and rebuild my classroom, I had to be willing to do some demolition work first.

I started by mentally "trashing" my understandings of how a classroom operates and what I had "always done" or "always taught." I then started over with a few Utopian goals in mind. If I could magically conjure an ideal classroom, what would I ask for? Though I could name countless desires, I settled on three main goals:

- Increased differentiation
- Robust, efficient assessment
- Increased student access to teachers

Next, I considered: can the iPads address any of these ideas? I was surprised to find that iPads not only address all three, they address them all quite well.

I then redesigned my classroom, instruction and pedagogy around my three goals with iPads as the infrastructure. I began to create interactive video mini lessons to increase both differentiation and student access to teachers. I utilized Google Forms, e-Clicker and Edmodo to not only create a faster feedback loop for assessment (allowing for same-day differentiated groupings based on exit tickets), but also allowing me to tailor assessment questions to individual students. Through technology based reflections, mood check-ins and student-teacher blogging, I was able to make each student feel more connected to the adults in my classroom, thereby increasing student trust and making each child feel more "heard" throughout the day.

Throughout this re-tooling of my iPad implementation, I also focused on the question: 'What can I do with these devices that would be impossible to do without them?' In other words, I was hoping to create new teaching methods and classroom strategies rather than replace old ones. This led to an increase in student creation. Instead of simply replacing paper math games with flashy video math games, I began to have students create their own math videos, write math blogs and conduct Challenge Based Learning math projects.

Instead of being an afterthought tacked on to my curriculum, my iPads had become the epicenter. They were out all day, every day and were being pushed to their limit so that my students could be pushed to theirs. As a result I saw ten times the growth in standardized test scores this year as compared to last year. I saw students who hated coming to school show up daily with vigor and excitement for learning. I had one young lady tell me, "[iPads] make me want to come to school everyday because I know that Ms. Magiera got a lesson just for me that day. I don't want to miss my lesson. I like it cause she's - like - talking just to me."


At the ADE institute this summer, there was much talk of celebrating failure. For me, for obvious reasons, this resonated strongly. This year has been a lesson in celebrating failure. Through my initial failure to implement the iPad integration effectively, I was granted the rich experience of reflecting, re-organizing, re-norming and re-starting.

I know my experience would not have been as fulfilling had I been successful from the start. Just as I teach my students to evaluate incorrect math strategies to better appreciate the beauty of one that works, I had to fail to truly understand why what I'm doing now works.

To be honest, I know that I still a lot of room for improvement; I'm sure I have more failure in my near future. I can't wait. :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Whetting your APPetite Vol. 7: Toontastic is Fantastic!

This. is. amazing. Many thanks to my new ADE friend, John Shoemaker - a technology coordinator from Palm Beach, FL - who shared this amazing app with me. Toontastic is Puppet Pals on steroids. I still care deeply about Puppet Pals, but Toontastic is my new app boyfriend.

So what caused this switch? Toontastic seems to have been developed with the writing student in mind. The app embeds writing lessons into its beautifully animated screens - but doesn't hit your kids over the head with the fact that they are learning.

For example, this app asks kids to story board before beginning to create their movie. It breaks the "film" into scenes labeled 'setup', 'conflict', 'challenge', 'climax', and 'resolution' -- all in that same graphic story arc we teachers use to teach writing. Once your student selects the scene he or she would like to animate, they have the option to either use a stock setting or illustrate their own. They have this same option for their characters - choose a pre-created character or create one with the paint palette. (An additional plus to these characters over the Puppet Pals figures is that these characters can move their appendages. Groovy.)

Next up, mood music. And I do mean mood music. After developing the visual aspect of their scenes, narrating the plot, and determining their plot sequence, students select the mood  of each scene and its intensity. They use a sliding scale to modulate exactly how happy, sad or frightening a particular plot element may be.

So far, so great - right? Well, it gets better. Your students can upload their toons to ToonTube -- and watch other children's masterpieces as well! I'm not sure if it is up yet, but I am told that this "channel" will eventually (if it doesn't already) allow students to view a globe and select various geographic areas -- then see all the toons uploaded from that locale. So now students from Chicago, IL can watch toons created by students in Seoul, Korea. Wow.

What's more is I hope to also use this in math. MATH?! Yes, math. I am going to have my students animate short real-world mathematical problems to pose to one another, then post them for a classmate in our room or across the globe to solve. Paired with Edmodo or Schoology I think this will be a powerful and engaging tool.

Moreover, who says a character can't be a pie slice? Let's animate a fractions lesson shall we? We can put on some extremely happy music, and narrate the visual addition or subtraction of mixed numbers using pie slices as the "characters" and the "whole" as the background.

Considering the endless opportunities that this well-designed and visually appealing app offers, can you blame me for wanting to go steady with it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sites Worth Seeing!

I just returned from an invigorating week at the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Phoenix. There were many interesting conversations, enlightening ideas and refreshingly varied points of view. I learned a lot from the diverse group of educators present, and truly hope I can keep in touch with them.

Coming home with pages and pages of websites, apps, and ideas, I have only had time to read through a few thus far, but promise to share as I go through everything. Here are the three I've already been able to check out -- so far, so amazing. These three educators have a lot of helpful hints, new ideas and great energy to share. Please take a look!




Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm So Excited... and I Just Can't Hide It!

Recently I was honored to be named an Apple Distinguished Educator. In joining this amazing group of educators, I am able to attend the week-long ADE Institute this summer in Phoenix, AZ. As one of over 150 past and present K-12 and collegiate-level ADEs attending from all over the country, I will spend this week analyzing and creating digital content, considering how to evolve classroom practice through technology and examining the effect of digital devices on a district level.

I leave on Sunday and my head is already swimming with questions, excitement and ideas to explore while with these innovative educators. I don't really have a purpose for this blog post except to say that I am really, really excited... and that I can't wait to post again once I return with all of the amazing things I learn.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Homework Machine for Teachers: More on Assessment with Google Docs

Video updated at higher resolution.
I've had a request to post more about how I use Google Docs to assess my students, so here we go!

Remember as a kid, we were always wishing that someone would invent a homework machine? Well if taking stacks of papers home to grade is the teacher's equivalent of homework, then our childhood prayers have finally been answered. Through Google Forms there are now multiple methods to have your computer grade assessments for you - while still maintaining the rich data to inform your instruction!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video could be worth exponentially more. Therefore, I've created a short video on creating these forms and using conditional formatting to "grade" them. Scroll down below the video to read more about using conditional formatting for grading these e-assessments, as well an alternative method.

A second method to grade a Google forms is also available: Flubaroo. This is a script that can be installed into your Google Docs for free and will auto-grade your form. The main difference between this method and conditional formatting is that this script will provide the following: percent correct, auto-highlighted fields that activate when under 60% of your class got an item correct and an item summary. A great video regarding the use of this script can be found here.

I've found that Flubaroo and conditional formatting each have their own virtues and vices. Flubaroo is a great tool to use when you give a formal test and want a final grade to enter in your gradebook - i.e., summative assessments. I use this method with end-of-unit assessments, pre-tests/post-tests, etc. Flubaroo offers great tools such as a summary graph, emailing results to your class or yourself and other neat features. However there are a few keystrokes required to generate the data in Flubaroo, whereas conditional formatting is automatic.

Conditional formatting, therefore, works great when you want a quick, auto-generated, on-the-go visual as to your kids' progress on short assessments - i.e., formative assessments. I use this method with daily exit tickets, quick dip-sticking questions, mood check-in, surveys, etc. While this method lacks some of the data read-out of the Flubaroo script, it is useful when you don't have time to analyze the data in a spreadsheet, or aren't concerned with percent correct as much as single item analysis.

Please let me know if you have any other questions about this, or other, technology-based assessment methods!