Friday, October 25, 2013

Keyboarding: It isn’t sexy, but neither is eating.

We kicked off keyboarding this week with our third graders.  Keyboarding will be king until the way we input information into computers shifts.  And while speech recognition is getting pretty awesome - it still doesn’t work in a crowded room.  The skill is really important - especially as I watch my 5th grade students peck inefficiently on their new Chromebooks. We can do better. 

So this is our plan: Every third grade student cycles through the lab every day for twenty minutes during a two week immersion period.  We’ve purchased a school subscription to Typing Club, a web based typing app.  It is free for individuals, but we needed the centralized management of the school edition.  I’m happy to report that the pay version is a more robust than the free beta was last year. Typing Club can use Google Apps as a passkey which is also really convenient for us. We’ve pushed the Typing Club Chrome App to our students’ Chrome browsers.  They have to configure the Chrome App (command+click on the App, go to “options,” and then point to our Typing Club domain) but that is easy enough.

During the first week, students practice typing position and the home row. During the second week, I tape a thick piece of paper to the keyboard and require the kids to cover their hands with the paper.  The paper has a keyboard printed on it for reference if they have to look down. After week two, the immersion period is over and we move into homework mode.  Each student must use typing club at home twice a week for fifteen minutes.  It’s easy for teachers to hold students accountable via the Typing Club report feature.  We also send this letter home, which helps communicate the "what and why" of the plan.   We are just entering week two.  The kids have gotten into using Typing Club, they like competing against their own scores.  The program is straightforward and doesn't have the glitz of some of the competition.  I actually like the clean interface and I think it keeps kids focused on what they need to do.  A game or two would be a nice reward, though, and this is missing. Hopefully they will add some moving forward.  Bottom line: the programs works well, it’s simple to set up, and it’s easy for kids for use. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Online Rights and Responsibilities with formRanger

The highlight of this week was a 5th grade lesson on digital citizenship.  Students had previously created a chart of classroom rights and responsibilities and discussed the differences between them.  In my lab, we set out to create another list of digital rights and responsibilities. This is a particularly relevant task considering our upcoming 1 to 1 chromebook initiative. The lesson had three elements that worked: using the right right videos, having students create a list collaboratively in a Google spreadsheet, and then vote on their favorites using a formRanger updated form.
It’s hard finding videos on digital citizenship for 10 year-olds because most of the content is targeted for older or younger students. After much searching I found two that fit perfectly.  The first video is a short piece on digital footprints and was a perfect anticipatory set to start our discussion. After talking about digital footprints and why they are important, students started collaboratively building a list of what they felt should be their online rights and responsibilities. I get a thrill each time I see a class working on the same spreadsheet at the same time.  It is amazing to watch them self organize.
After a few moments, we brought the class back together to watch another great spot by Common Sense Media on Cyber Bullying. We checked for duplicates as a team and the student written Rights and Responsibilities were used to update a Google Form via the formRanger script.   Before the period ended, students had used the form to vote on their new digital rights and responsibilities list.  

The Google spreadsheet and form allowed the kids to be at the center of the process.  In the past we would use chart paper and solicit discussion.  Some students would contribute, others would watch.  This lesson was different - everyone was involved - everyone contributed to the list in some way.  That universal contribution lead to more engaged discussion and a pretty great list.  See for yourself.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Observation Form with Autocrat and FormRanger

It's almost as if the Google Scripts Autocrat and FormMule were made with the teacher observation process in mind.  Although the good folks at YouPD shared an excellent example of a teacher observation system using FormMule, there were a few things that didn’t quite fit my school. Thankfully, I was able to study their Teacher Mini-Observation Tracking System and lift some really good ideas.  In the end there were several things that I needed to behave differently:
  • The formMule script triggers it’s merge on form submit and I need my administrators to have less pressure. They might start the observation in the classroom, but come back to it later to flesh out comments. To do this I shaped the system around the Autocrat script because the trigger for the merge can be based on a value in the spreadsheet. As a result, the administrator can start the form and submit it unfinished, then come back to the form later via a bookmark.
  • The YouPD Mini-Ob tracker is provides a beautiful structure for great feedback.  I needed the form to be a little easier to submit via a tablet. My form relies on multiple choice questions organized and informed by by Danielson's four domains. Each domain includes a comments/evidence section, for more personalized feedback.  Administrators can bang out notes here, and pull it all together later after bookmarking the incomplete form.
  • My teachers will be observed three times this year - one formal and two informal. This system is meant for the two informal observations.  If two observations have occurred, the teacher’s name is removed from the form using formRanger.  

That's it. Most of the magic happens in the autocrat script. The "log" page concatenates each domain's feedback and adds the personalized comments. I think the doc looks pretty good when it's merged. I’ve left some comments on the spreadsheet to help navigate how to make it yours.  I hope it’s useful!