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Smiling About Smilebox

Just recently I’ve stumbled upon Smilebox, a free scrapbooking application.  Yet, it doesn’t limit you to just scrapbooking.  You can create newsletters, cards, postcards, collages, photobooks, slideshows, calendars, & more!  This is not all that dissimilar to other digital scrapbook applications.  Many of them do the same thing.  There are a few features that make Smilebox unique.

Smilebox offers thousands of templates.  Within those templates you can control how many pictures or videos you add.  Depending on the template you choose, your viewer controls when to view the pictures or video by clicking on them.  Each template has a certain style of music associated with it, but if you don’t like the music you can change it to one of your own songs or one of the 1,000’s they have stored.  Most of the templates allow you with the ability to edit the text.  And it allows you to edit text for each video &/or picture you load.

While this is a great application to use personally, for friends and family.  It has endless opportunities within the classroom.  Initially, as an introduction, my students used it for its intended purpose ~ they created holiday cards to send to their friends and families.  This provided them an opportunity to see what the application was capable of doing.  Once they witnessed the capabilities and EASE of use, most of them could not wait to use it for classroom experiences.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Since finishing The Giver they could not wait to share their ideas about the book with people outside of their classroom.  They were moved to create something, enticing others to read it.  After carefully planning out what they are going to say about the book, many of them have decided to use Smilebox to share their thoughts.  One child is using the newspaper template to write an article.  A group is using the collage template to upload their video commentaries.  Other groups are using the scrapbook and slideshow templates.

Beyond book analysis, there are plenty of applications for this tool: portfolio, yearbook, documentary.  My friend, Sherry, had her 3rd graders use it to demonstrate angles and later for a phonics strategy.  Because you can search for images and videos online and include them, or use your own photographs and videos, the options are limitless.

But then there is the authentic audience.  The students are choosing who their audience is.  Once they decide they can then choose how to get it to their audience.  You can post your creations on facebook, twitter, and blogs.  They can email them directly to the recipient(s).  They can embed their creations into their websites.  They can even turn their creations into a video and burn it to a DVD!

If you haven’t had a chance to check this out yet, give it a try!  Once you go to the site, you download the application, create an account and get started!  The beauty of it is that I have one account for my entire classroom, and I can access all of the creations online yet they can create on their own computers.  It emails you every time a creation is sent of posted.  While there are some limitations, and you can do more with the paid version, the free version does give you plenty of options!  Happy creating!

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WWE (Wild World of Evaluation)

I seem to be in a constant state of flux.  I have become adverse to assessment & data.  I am aware that there is a variety and abundance of research out there for both the pros and cons of assessment and data.  I have read both over the years.  In past years I was a rubric queen.  Everything was rubricized: working as a group/partnership, products, process, and content.  I stopped creating rubrics on my own & involved my students in creating the rubrics.  My students were rubric masters!  These last two years I have slowly removed rubrics from my classroom.  This is when I began to question their effectiveness.

I wondered why I was providing a document that 1)told my students the least they could do 2)put a cap on what they could do.  I was finding them to be limiting at both ends of the spectrum.  Even though rubrics are to be a continuum & I felt as if I were doing a good job creating ones that reflected this, at some point the continuum says 1)once you get here, you have nowhere left to go (or I won’t allow you to go any further) 2)because you are here, you really don’t know what you are doing or anything at all.  I wondered what my students were really gaining from using rubrics.  Can they reflect on their learning?  Do they know what they are doing well?  Do they know how they can grow?  I noticed that they did not.  Don’t rubrics try to squeeze someone into a box? (Just look at their design.)

I wanted more for my students.  Being a reflective person and knowing how I grow by constantly thinking about what I do, I knew that I wanted that for my students.  I have to say, it’s not easy.  Reflection is not easy.  If you are critical of yourself you can put a tremendous amount of stress on yourself.  It can be difficult to admit to yourself that you need to change something.  It can be tough when you don’t know what to do next.  It’s really tough teaching kids this process.

Here’s the conundrum…what are my kiddoes actually reflecting on?  What’s the criteria?  I’m thinking that it’s right there in what I teach my students.  Every mini-lesson, action, & interaction.  Posters litter my room of all the common language we have created together since the beginning of the school year.  Language that states what we do looks like, sounds like, & feels like.  But is that enough?

Data Destruction

A friend & I have been engaging in a conversation the last couple of weeks about data, & have a few observations &/or questions.  Here is what’s happening.  Teachers have become data managers.  They are being required to spend hours to…Create a test.  Teach to the test.  Give the test.  Score the test.  Enter the test scores.  Create small groups according to their test scores. 

It’s the new way to track students.  Instead of students being placed in ability groups because of teacher intuition, they are being ability grouped because of standardized tests.  The data is reinforcing old habits.  Grouping is occurring younger & younger, in some instances as early as Kindergarten.

Data is deceitful. When data is used, typically only the numbers that support the point being made are used. none of the variables are included. Nor is the information that may disprove your point.It’s an excuse to purchase technology.  Technology is not being purchased to engage students in 21st Century Skills, but instead to engage educators in pre-historic skills.  But, wait!  We want our teachers to work smarter, not harder.  So for them to work smarter we will purchase them an iPad or iPod or netbook or some program that will make either the data entry or data analysis easier.

Although data analysis is a higher level skill, everything else leading up to it (test creation, instruction, implementation, & scoring) are all lower level thinking.  When our students observe us consistently engaging in low-level thinking, will they be inspired to engage in high-level thinking?  NO.  They mimic us.  They will engage in exactly what they see.

We’ve tossed around a few theories about why technology is being used in this manner.  Is it a digital immigrant’s way to become comfortable with technology?  Are the new generation of teachers enamored with data?  Are the elder generation of teachers seeking a ‘back to basics’ approach?  Has creativity gone to the wayside to the point where it is extinct in educators?  Has the business model fully hijacked education? 

It’s hard to say.  But this I can say for certain.  When we are focused on a number, we loose sight of other things.  The most important being children.  Children who are people.  People who are individuals.  Individuals who will be required to stamp their unique qualities on the world at large.  Unique qualities that should encompass empathy, individuality, and thinking.

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Is Your Data Clean?

You may know that I’m not a data queen. But…in order for me to do what I love ~teach~ in a way that I believe works for kids ~constructivism~ with engaging tools ~technology~ I am required to collect data for my district.

I have 2 Nooks in my classroom, getting 2 more, & hopefully a NOOK COLOR. In order for my students to use them I need to collect data on how that tool is effecting their academic growth. I have to admit … I completely forgot I was supposed to do that. When I was reminded, I was angry at myself for forgetting & for having this type of stipulation (would this be required of base 10 blocks). Anyway, I’ve decided to pull my kiddoes into the data collection; incorporating 3rd grade math into it.

I also have to collect data on my professional goal. My professional goal is 21st Century Skills. This is more than tech, but I wrote it in such a way as to fold in cooperative learning, technology, & critical thinking. So now I’m collecting data on how social media impacts academic growth. (We are actually required to have a goal to increase scores on open-ended responses.)

I’ve already noticed a difference (anecdotal), but what most people won’t say is that there are incredible variables that are not taken into consideration with educational data. The teaching that happens before, during, & after. The dialogue between students. The choices they are provided & have to make. So much goes into teaching. Can you truly collect clean data?

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Blinded by Data

Teacher A’s students just took one of many standardized tests.  On this particular test 70% of his class is at goal or above.  The 3 other standardized tests this class took show approximately the same percentage.  Teacher B’s students took the exact same standardized tests with quite different results.  Teacher B’s class has between 25% to 45% of the class performing at or above goal. 

By looking at the achievement occurring in these classrooms, one could assume that Teacher A is a better teacher than Teacher B.  He puts in long hours to help his students achieve great academic lengths.  Teacher A is employing progressive, alternative teaching strategies.  Each of these things very well may be true, but there is plenty that Teacher A’s & B’s scores are NOT saying.  Teacher A’s 70% were at / above goal BEFORE entering his classroom.  Teacher A’s students come from middle & upper – middle class families.  Teacher A has less than 10% of his students receiving Free & Reduced Lunch. 

Teacher B’s 25% – 45% achieving at / above goal were doing so BEFORE entering his classroom.  60% of Teacher B’s students receive Free & Reduced Lunch.  Another 10% of Teacher B’s students qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch, but don’t apply.  Teacher B’s students are visual / spatial learners with a strong mix of musical & kinesthetic (standardized tests are verbal linguistic).  Teacher B’s students have low social & academic self – esteem; having grown accustomed to (over the years) being spoken to in a negative manner with limited positive feedback.  When Teacher B’s students were tested, they were starving & struggling to concentrate on the test matter ~ they were requesting a snack but denied because there is a no-eating rule during standardized tests. 

Can we trust data?  Is it an accurate picture of our students’ abilities?  Can we evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores?  Should Teacher B seek advice from Teacher A because his students are higher achievers?  Are we so blinded by numbers that we can’t see the students, the human beings that inhabit our classrooms everyday?