Tag Archives: Technology

ComputerU: The Paper-Less Teacher

Once a semester, I teach a 1/2 day professional development seminar for a series at my school called “Computer U.”  This year, I focused my course on my growing efforts to go paper-less.  I keep incorrectly placing that hyphen there on purpose.  I am not trying to go paper-free; rather, I want to simply reduce the paper load one element at a time, and it is the things I have learned in these efforts that I want to share with my colleagues.  The focus of my presentation was necessarily on new activities and websites for student projects and engagement.  Those things can be great, of course, but I wanted to focus more on how we, as teachers, can organize ourselves in a more paper-less manner.  For more insight, check out my post on teachers integrating technology in the classroom or a post from a few years ago when I first started my paperless efforts.

My presentation is below.  Currently, WordPress is not compatible with a Prezi embed code, but clicking on the image below will take you straight to the presentation.

Click the image above to be taken to the Prezi.

Click the image above to be taken to the Prezi.


Five Questions Teachers Should Ask Themselves When Integrating Technology into the Classroom

The following five questions are those I try to take into consideration each time I integrate technology into my lesson plans.  A little hint:  The answer to each question should be yes!5 Tech Questions for Teachers

1.  Do I have a purpose larger than using technology for the sake of using technology?

This question is a biggie.  Technology should not be used simply in order to check off a box or fulfill a requirement.  When integrating technology into a lesson plan, your end goal should not change.  Unless, perhaps, you are a technology teacher, the technology is not the goal.  Technology is a means.  Learning is still your end.  Another way you can ask this question would be:  Does this technology either lead students to critical thinking, help students demonstrate knowledge, or make the learning and working process more efficient?

2.  Have I tried this technology myself?

Please, please let the answer be yes!  You always want to do a test run before introducing students to a new technology.  If possible, try the tool out both from the perspective of the instructor and the students.  Sometimes I like to gather one or two of my teaching peers to act as my “students” before introducing the tool to actual students.

3. Am I willing to have things not go as planned?

It is important that your answer be “yes” here.  Even if you have answered all of the other questions in the affirmative, nothing will guarantee that things will go as planned in the classroom.  Do you have a back up plan?  Do you know how to achieve your goals in a similar but different fashion, if need be?  Is it okay if this takes longer than expected?

4.  Is the input worth the outcome?

Technology is usually pretty great at streamlining a process and making us more efficient.  Some technologies, however, can do really incredible things at the cost of incredible amounts of time or resources.  Make sure you are considering your true learning outcome when deciding if the work and resources required behind the technology is the best way to go about achieving your end.

5. Will this technology respect the security of my students?

The web is a great way to expose students to the wider world around them.  When you test out a new tool, try to ensure that the students, themselves, are not over-exposed.  Use pseudonyms when possible, make sure any location features are deactivated,  and, when using images, do not use pictures of the students, or blur faces if needed.

Side Note:  A few weeks ago I wrote about making my own infographics like the one above.  If this presentation style intrigues you, be sure to check it out!

One More Side Note:  You are welcome to save the infographic for your own use, but please keep the creative commons license below in mind and credit TeacherNextDoor (with a link when possible).  Thank you!

My Latest Tech Tool Experiment: Piktochart and the Value of Infographics

When time allows, and sometimes even when it doesn’t, I like trying out new technology tools for the classroom.  I am the type of technology user I have deemed the tech-experimenter.  I learn through trial-and-error; I work backwards, forwards, and backwards again; I push all the buttons (only occasionally to the dismay of our tech department).

Recently, at the NCTE National Convention back in November, I heard Penny Kittle speak on the importance of adding infographics into our students’ critical reading repertoire, and perhaps even their writing repertoire.  In response, I decided to try my hand at infographic creation and made it the focus of my next tech-experiment.

Romeo and Juliet Characters InfographicAfter looking around at my options, I selected Piktochart as my tool and Romeo and Juliet characters as my subject.  Piktochart has a great drag-and-drop format, plenty of examples, and a great pre-loaded library of templates, backgrounds, fonts, graphics, etc.  It took me about thirty-forty minutes to make the infographic to my left, but I’m sure I will become a little quicker and creative with repeated use.

Next came integrating the graphic into our lesson.  I did not spend forty minutes creating the image just to have them file it away in their notebooks for future reference.  It was a great chance to practice some close reading of a visual.  Inspired by Kittle’s talk, we asked ourselves the following about the infographic:

Why do the following matter:

  1. Color choice (consider backgrounds, text, and graphics)?
  2. Icon/image selection and placement?
  3. Order in which information is presented and arranged?

These questions can be applied to just about any infographic and really help students engage with this unique form of presenting information.  Can you think of any other general questions you might add to my list?  Eventually, I would like students to be able to create their own infographics.  Perhaps in conjunction with a research project?

Also, feel free to save and use my graphic if it suits your needs, but please do not claim it as your own (See Creative Commons note in footer).  Thanks!

Practically Paperless

The idea of going paperless, or even practically paperless, in the classroom makes a lot of teachers – and parents, too – nervous. In my own attempts to use less paper this year, I have discovered that the students do not seem bothered by it at all. In fact, they appreciate it, especially the more disorganized among them.

From a student perspective, there is always an extra-copy of hand-outs available, it is nearly impossible to lose things, and if you do misplace something, you have a handy search box to help you find it.

I find myself both wary and excited about the potential for a near-paperless classroom. My fears simply stem from a residual distrust of technology that I find gradually diminishing the more I work towards my goal. I love using technology, view myself as reasonably adept at it, and like to experiment with new uses in the classroom. However, a fear that my computer will spontaneously lose all of my hard work nags me from time to time.  However, be smart, back-up your work, teach your students to back up theirs, have a contingency plan, and those pesky fears should gradually be abated.

There are a number of reasons to pursue a practically paperless classroom.

1.  The benefits for helping students with their organization we have already discussed.

2.  Students are receiving training in communicating and managing resources in a technology-rich environment.  They will encounter similar environments in college and the workforce, except that they will most likely be expected to already have an understanding of how to be productive within them.

3.  As a teacher, you can take more of your resources and grading piles with you to more places.

4.  Students find technology rich lessons engaging.

5.  With such a wide variety of presentation and assessment options out there on the web, differentiating instruction becomes more manageable.

Now, I understand that different levels of “going paperless” are going to be reasonable for different school environments.  Schools that are limited in their access to technology will not be able to implement everything I have outline.  However, I’ve tried to come up with some modifications help such school better use the resources they do have.  If you have ideas for increasing technology use in a technology-limited environment, I am sure your comments would be greatly appreciated by both myself and other readers!

In the meantime, here are some ideas to try if you are setting your own “practically paperless” goal.

1.  The Flipped Classroom:  Especially for student bodies who may not have easy access to computers or the internet at home, try a modified version of classroom flipping so that non-technology based lessons might become more home-based to allow maximized computer time at school.

2.  Use web-based services to manage the “paper” load so that documents can be accessed both at school and at home.  I like using Drop Box for keeping track of student work.  I pair it with the DropItToMe service, and now I can access work that students have submitted from any computer.  By having my students save their submitted work based on a period-name-title (ex: 2_Smith_Mythology Essay) formula, submitted work is automatically organized for me, first by period and then by last name.  Easy access to my files and automatic organization leads me to prefer this method to email submission of work.

2.  I have my students organize their work using the Microsoft OneNote program (Software Website).  If you are unfamiliar with it, this program works just like a binder.  Each notebook can be customized with tabs and document-like tabs are stored within each tab.  I use share a notebook with students over our school server as a means of passing out handouts, sharing links, etc.  Students keep their own notebooks for my class to house their personal notes and work.

3.  Blogs!  Writer and Reader Journals have morphed into blogs in my classroom.  The theory and practice remains the same, except now they have an authentic audience of peers sharing with them and providing motivation.  Student blogs also provide a nice window into our classroom for the parents.  I plan on writing a post detailing my students’ use of blogs in the classroom next week.

Below I’ve linked to other websites an blog posts that can help you go paperless.

Scholastic Classroom Solutions: Going Paperless

The “Teach Paperless” Blog

The Free Technology for Teachers Blog

Thoughts on a paperless classroom (and OneNote) from the Cool Cat Teacher blog

Another Cool Cat Teacher blog post (She’s on a roll!)

From the education blog of my grad school Alma Mater – USC! “Visions of the Future Classroom”

If you have any questions, please let me know!  You can leave a comment or use the “Contact Me” page.

If you have any great paperless comments or ideas, please share!  Collaboration is wonderful.

Happy Teaching!

A Quick Note on E-Books

Independent reading looks very different in my classroom this year, and quite suddenly, too. Last year, I had one student bring in an e-reader one time, and the occurrence was an event and a novelty. This is the first year I have seen a semi-regular appearance of e-readers in the classroom. Each period has seen at least one kindle or nook appear. One had an ipad being used as an e-reader. These devices seem to be family editions rather than individual possessions. Beyond the physical presence of e-readers, there are also students reading e-books on the school laptops. I’m not really sure what this trend means for the book market and the future of reading habits, but if it means that middle school students are engaged in a practice of reading self-selected books independently, how can it be a bad thing?

Have you seen e-books appearing in your school? Are you taking any extra steps to even use them more officially/intentionally?

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