Books fall open, you fall in

Posted by Leslie Miller on April 28, 2016

The author's daughter shares a story on her iPad.Like many educators who are also mothers, I dreamed of reading to my children every night before bed.  I saw myself reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, gently tucking them in, and watching them drift off to join Aslan in Narnia.  I managed to fulfill that dream when they were small and loved picture books.  Yet somewhere around the time my eldest wanted a more challenging reading experience than The Very Quiet Cricket, I realized nightly reading was a road block.  What with homework and nightly routines, I just couldn’t do it!

Smartphone apps

So, I turned to my smartphone.  I found two apps I really liked.  One was the for-pay site Audible.com which, like so many Amazon products, offers a wide range of books to choose from for adults and children.  The other site I chose was Overdrive.com which allowed us to connect through our local library card to a wealth of free audiobooks, e-books and movies.

I downloaded Beverly Cleary’s collection of Henry and Ribsy to my phone. One particularly hot afternoon in the car, when my brood was fighting and my internal temperature was starting to rise, I turned it on.  Magic happened!  They listened. In fact, when we got home, we sat in the driveway listening because they did not want the story to stop. They were like camels crossing the desert to an oasis.  They drank deeply.  I knew we were on the right track.

As research has taught us, listening to adult readers builds in a child the value of becoming a successful reader.  It allows children to learn how to read at a natural pace and grows the enjoyment of listening to spoken words of a story.  If we think of oral comprehension as the foundation of the development of reading and vocabulary, then it is easy to see how listening and reading comprehension are interlinked.

Matthew Effects

In the primary grades a student’s maximum level of reading comprehension is predicated on the child’s level of listening comprehension.  Students exposed to stories with increased vocabulary will inevitably have a greater depth of knowledge and more developed academic vocabulary.  Keith Stanovich has described the so-called “Matthew effects” in reading—the wider the variety of reading, the more cumulative the child’s vocabulary and early acquisition of reading skills become, while the child not exposed to the cognitive exercise of tiered vocabulary can have gaps in her schema and will likely become a poor reader.

The beauty of online stories is that no longer am I the gatekeeper of reading more complex text.  At any time, my daughters can pick up a tablet, pop on their headphones and listen to stories unfold. The tablet becomes more than a screen to watch a movie or play a game; it becomes a way to connect with the library. With the current additions to Overdrive.com, children can enjoy hearing the story read aloud while following the text on screen.  While reviewing one particular Star Wars story, I noted how the inclusion of John William’s theme music, the rich voice of the narrator and high interest text invited the reader to become enthusiastic for the story.   Our smart devices become living books that unlock the reader’s imagination.

“Books Fall Open

Books fall open,
you fall in,
delighted where,
you’ve never been.
Hear voices
not once heard before,
Reach world through world,
through door on door.
Find unexpected
keys to things,
locked up beyond
imaginings….
True books will venture,
Dare you out,
Whisper secrets,
Maybe shout,
across the gloom,
to you in need
Who hanker for
a book to read.”

David T.W. McCord

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Choice Eliminator Add-On for Google Forms

Posted by Susan Gilley on July 12, 2015

Google forms have a variety of uses. You can do surveys, gather important data, or create quizzes, just to name a few. Recently, I have discovered an add-on for Google forms that increases the power of forms. This add-on is called Choice Eliminator. Imagine the possibilities when you can have choices that disappear once each person submitting the form has selected one of the options. My first thought for use would be for parent/teacher conferences. You want to give parents the option of selecting their time, but you also want options to disappear once they have selected one. The Choice Eliminator add-on is your best friend for turning this possibility into a reality. Brian Gray’s YouTube video gives you the best example of how it works and walks you through the steps to accomplish it on your own.

Once you have watched the video to see how it is done, follow these basic steps.

Install the Choice Eliminator add-on to your Google form
  1. Create your form including the multiple choice options for each question.
  2. Click on Add-ons (Make sure you are in your Google form).
  3. Click on Get Add-ons.
  4. Search for Choice Eliminator.
  5. Install the Choice Eliminator Add-on.
Use it
  1. Click on Add-on – Choice Eliminator – Start
  2. A dialogue box appears on the right hand side of the screen.
  3. After the question list loads, click on the question you want to eliminate choices on.
  4. Click SAVE.
  5. Your form is now ready to go!
But WAIT!, there’s more

As shown in the video, you can now allow multiple selections/restrictions for different options within the form. For example, if you want three 8 o’clock slots, but only one 3 o’clock slot, you can do that!

  1. Create your questions in the usual way
  2. Open Choice Eliminator dialogue box on the right
  3. Click to eliminate choices
  4. Then click on choice options
  5. Now you can set the number of options available for each answer within your multiple choice list that you provided in your form.

The Choice Eliminator add-on for Google forms truly transforms your educational practices and opens up an unlimited number of possibilities for educators when creating forms that need limited selected options at times. Please share in comments how you might use the choice eliminator add-on and how it might most benefit you! As I always say, it’s not what you know, but what you share.

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Using Technology to Build Community Involvement

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on March 30, 2014

Come Back Kids logo and Twitter handleI confess.  As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate.  I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back.  I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind.  Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion.  Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Twitter

Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement.  I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses.  I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.

Google Forms

Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back?  I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and  send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards.  Staff and students promote it too.  Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab.  I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP.  My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year.  I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.

Google Hangouts

The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts.   With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely.   Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and  using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together.  One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting,  but in this format she felt comfortable contributing.  Busy parents and community members can join from work.  It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother.  Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties,  keeping our mics muted  except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes.  Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.

Accomplishing multiple goals

As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose.  First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school.  Third, it’s always fun to try new things!

 

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A Learning Management System as a Game Changer

Posted by Gabe Soumakian on January 26, 2014

Picture of chess pieces with words Game CHANGERTransitioning to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment will require acquisition and application of 21st century skills by both teachers and students. As instructional technology and education leaders, it is our responsibility to promote a culture of innovation and collaboration among our staff, as well as to create the right systems drivers for teachers to share and build on their depth of knowledge during the transition towards the CCSS.

There are many online tools to enhance collaboration for social interaction and many tools to host online document and file storage that support an environment for teaching and learning. The challenge for a whole system approach is to organize the documents and PLC collaboration discussions that allow multiple teachers at multiple grade levels, building levels, and across district the level, to effectively communicate during their journey of CCSS implementation. For small schools and small districts, creating this culture of collaboration using freeware software such as Edmodo and other social media products works wells and may meet their needs. However, in larger districts, it becomes a challenge to manage the conversations, threaded discussions, and support collaborative environments that promote a cross-disciplinary and integrated approach that the CCSS require.

Once teachers have developed their curriculum, lessons, activities, assessments, and electronic learning resources, the decision then becomes where to host the materials to allow multiple layers of access among teachers and students. As schools move from hard copy textbooks to interactive ebooks, they will require a complex Learning Management System (LMS) to host these new online learning materials that provide multiple sources for collaboration housed within one product.

Initial investment will pay off in long run

An LMS system may require a costly initial investment, that districts may fund through the CA state’s new Common Core funding. The investment and ongoing costs will be offset in the long run by the value of a comprehensive LMS as a necessary tool for successful long term implementation of CCSS and project based learning. An advanced LMS has a bridge to a district student information system (SIS) that connects courses with students and teachers in a virtual learning space. Transitioning towards the use of an LMS for teaching and learning becomes one vehicle toward promoting a blended learning environment and supports the practice of 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. An LMS system, when used appropriately and effectively, becomes a whole systems approach to changing how teachers and students interact, supporting personalized learning- anytime with any device.

Now the challenge for superintendents and  boards will be to design a system to ensure equitable access to the LMS with mobile devices and equitable student accessibility to the LMS from home. When education achieves this major milestone, we will truly see a major transformation in education and the closing of the achievement gap. Let’s make this happen!

 

 

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iPads, and Netbooks, and Chromebooks! Oh My!

Posted by Will Kimbley on November 3, 2013

Netbook, iPad, and Chromebook

The times they are a-changin’. Previously, there have been haves and have-nots with regard to the presence of technology in education. Now, the demands of the Common Core, and their attendant Smarter Balanced assessments, dictate that schools provide technology tools for students.  In California, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s soon to be released ed-tech blueprint says the goal is 1:1 devices for everyone. So, how do we meet that goal? What devices do we purchase, and why?

We have seen a number of districts roll out one-size-fits-all solutions. It sounds a little like the Oprah show: “You’re getting an iPad, you’re getting an iPad!”  But is that the best decision? What are the key factors to consider?

One of the primary considerations is the Smarter Balanced assessments. There are requirements that whatever technology is purchased meets a set of minimum specifications, e.g. 10 inch screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, keyboard, as well as certain operating systems (click here for complete information).

Besides the new assessments, there are other considerations.  Cost, of course, is a big one. How much money do you have to make the purchase? What about sustainability? What is the life of the device? Which devices are easiest to manage? All of these are important, but they neglect one of the biggest factors that often gets overlooked: the classroom.

The decision-making process must include how the device will be used in the classroom. The mobility of tablets is great for science classrooms and allows students to do science.  What about a class where the primary use will be word processing? Then an iPad or Android tablet may not be the best solution. What about Chromebooks? They work great with Google Drive and web based applications and you can’t beat the price. You can get two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad, and you don’t have to purchase an additional keyboard. But if you need to install software, then you’ll need a different device. Netbooks are another possible solution, but they tend to have slower processors and have a difficult time running large operating systems such as Windows.

The reality is there is no single device solution that will cover all your needs. While a single device type may be easier to manage, you should consider a variety of devices. Talk to teachers who are already using devices in the classroom. Find out what devices they prefer. Pilot a variety of devices with teachers of various skill levels. Survey students to find out what they prefer to use. Weigh the pros and cons of the various devices and how they will be used. There is no perfect solution, and no way to make a good snap decision. Whichever devices you choose will require careful consideration and planning.

 

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