Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 Digital Tools I Can't Teach Without

For the past few years now, there have been five digital tools that have become vital to my teaching, so much so that I wouldn't be as effective without them.

Here is a quick rundown of the tools.  Later in the post, I'll dive more in depth on each.

1.  Blogger (how's that for irony - writing about Blogger on my blog).  This is the base for everything that I do.  All the other sites listed here work well with Blogger.

2.  Padlet.  I've been using this for many years now.  It is a great discussion starter, brainstorming device, and classroom content organizer.

3.  Storify.  This is my new favorite app.  I use this every single day - not just in class either.  This allows you to basically turn the web into a story.  More on that later.

4.  Google Docs.  Initially, I had a love/hate (more often hate) relationship with Google Docs (namely Drive), but I've started to come around.  This is probably the most prominent tool in my classes.  This is how I send out assignments and have students submit most of their work.

5.  TED Ed.  This is another one I use at least once a week in my classes.  This allows you to take any video and customize it for your needs (create a quiz based on it or build in pages with further resources or connect it to other videos).  The only thing I'd change about this is that I wish I could embed the videos on Blogger.  Instead, I have to just include a link.

In depth dive -

Blogger -

There are a couple different ways I use this bad boy.

1.  I use my personal blog as a tool to model all of the skills I want my kids to develop.  As Penny Kittle and Tom Romano and Donald Murray and Peter Elbow and Thomas Newkirk and a host of others have been saying for 30 years now, the most effective writing teacher write themselves.  This blog illustrates me doing just that.  That's why I have the menu bar at the top that includes My Writing.

I also know that Don Tapscott has talked about many companies who now require (imagine that) their employees to blog!  Why?  It's simple: Transparency.  Any one who deals with millennials know how they are big on transparency and integrity.

Yes, they love to spend money and buy things, but if they can buy things from companies that do something good for the world, you're golden.  That's why transparency is so vital to the future.

When I tell my kids to be life long learners and constantly curious, what better way to prove that I'm walking the walk other than showing anyone that.

2.  I have two blogs for my classes: College Comp 2 and College Comp 1.  This is the "home base" for much of what we do.  This allows me to share past student work, send out assignments, have class discussions, and just post cool stuff.

3.  I have students create their own blogs (this is something that our senior focus class uses Google Sites for - and it's a brilliant idea).  This allows for students to publish their work for the world.  I love what Angela Maiers (follow her blog here) is that she encourages all of her students to publish work online, as long as it has a "W.O.W." factor, which means "Worthy of the World."  Let me tell you, this is something - as I scan all the crap on FB right now - that I wish my generation would have learned!

Here are some excellence examples of student blogs.

Example #1 - a "beauty" blog.

Example #2 - using Google sites as an online portfolio for student work.

Example #3 - a book review with hyperlinks.

Example #4 - a hyperlink essay (though to be honest, Google Docs allows for this just as easily as Blogger).

Example #5 - a way to publish a MGRP.

2.  Padlet

There are a couple different ways I use this and have seen this used.

1.  I like to use it as a way to engage students in a topic that we will be reading soon.  Before we begin reading The Element in College Comp, I like to have students do some research and thinking about the importance of creativity in our culture.

What is great about this is that it allows you to post media to a wall for all to see.  Usually how I do this is on Monday I send the link to the Padlet wall out to my class.  On it I explain that I want them to find two examples of what they deem to be creativity (and to explain why - students always seem to neglect that part).

This works great because most will head right to Youtube.  They will come up with the most amazing stuff.  Then on Friday I have them justify their examples as we watch them as a class.

What is great about this is that my students know so much more about Youtube than I do.  They always amaze me with the original stuff they find.  I just steal all of their examples and add them to my personal playlist on Youtube for use later in class or in demos or Keynotes.

Here are some examples -

The only problem with the older version of Padlet is that it didn't allow for any real organization of content so it looked like the mess of posts above.

In their latest update, though, they fixed that issue and allow you to organize it more coherently.

2.  It's a great way to get students' thoughts collected to begin an assignment (or to wrap one up).

Here is one our principal used asking us to imagine what sucks about  LHS from a student's point of view.  (BTW - you can either have the students put their names or leave them off for anonymity.  That is what Mr. Zutz asked us to do in this example).

Here is one I used to gather my students' final observations about the book Everything Bad is Good For You.

Storify -

My personal favorite.

I use this all the time in and out of class.

In class I use it to direct students to resources surrounding a unit of study.

These can be embedded in Blogger, but they are so large that it slows the download time considerably, so I will just include them here as links.

Here is one I am going to use when I introduce the new book we will be reading this fall in College Comp 2, The Devil in the White City.

Here is another I used when we watched Jaws in College Comp 1 for a film review.  In fact, I keep adding to this throughout the summer as more stories about sharks and attacks hit the news.

Finally, here is a Must Read reading list I'm keeping as I browse the internet every morning looking for mentor texts to be used with my students next year in College Comp 1.

Google Docs -

This is a daily tool in just about every one of my classes.

The main use is for submissions of assignments and for sending out assignments.  Each one of our students is given a email address.  Then I take all of the emails of my students and put them into a contact folder.  This way when I create a document of an assignment, Drive allows me to share that document with everyone in that contact folder.

What is so great about this: there is never an excuse for a late assignment or for a student to say "I didn't know you assigned that?"

If you go to LHS, you have a MacBook Air and constant internet connection.  No excuse.

Another aspect that I love about Google Docs is that when I send out or share an assignment, I can see right away which students are logging on to it, for their little icons pop up in the upper right corner, so I know right away who is working and who is not.

Another feature that I like is using Google Docs for a class wide activity, such as coming up with interesting leads for an essay or partaking in a classroom discussion.  Docs allows you to create a document and then add as many collaborators as you want with permission to edit it.  So I could share a document with the entire class, grant them all editing privileges, and then type a sentence like: "Type the first sentence of your rite of passage essay below.  Be sure to put your name in bold after it.  Then read through the other examples and offer feedback to the author."

Then it a matter of seconds 20 students will descend upon that document and begin writing on it all at once.

It's a trip!

Finally, there is my favorite classroom tool: TED Ed.

What I love about this site is that it allows a teacher to customize any video for their classes.  

The first section is entitled "Think," and this allows you to create a quiz that students can take while watching a video, 

The next section is "Dip Deeper," and this allows you to add links to resources or questions to extend the thinking after watching the video.

The third section is "Discuss," which allows you to pose a question (or several) that your students can then discuss in an on-line forum.  Others on TED Ed can add to the discussion as well.

Last is the section "Finally," which allows you to offer any final thoughts or to put in any links to other related sources.

How I use this is as a great tool for when I am going to be gone.  I can structure an entire lesson for my students that they can access all via their computers.

I will share a video (say this one by Adam Kreek).  That link has the entire assignment for the class period as well as homework for the next day.

First, students watch the video and take the quiz.  Ted Ed immediately emails me when a student has taken the quiz (with the results no less!), so I can tell - even though I'm at home - who is on task and who is slacking.  Then I send the slackers a text reminding them to get back to work!

Second, I have this under the "Dig Deeper" category which sends them to two other articles and then poses several possible prompts for them to write during the period.

Third, under the ". . . And Finally" category is the homework for the next day.

Of course, students can share their homework with me via Google Docs.

And if I'm really on top of my game, I can begin the next period with a Padlet board where students share their reactions.  That leads to a solid discussion.  Then I can share a Storify with them illustrating related videos and stories for further study.

We can wrap that all up with a discussion via our class blog.

And there you have, the five digital tools I can't teach without.

Here is a Youtube version of the Keynote I presented at the class . . . if you're interested.

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