Thursday, March 22, 2012

HELP! How do I get my class logged onto the computer for the very first time?

Teacher Preparation
The first thing I did this year, when preparing for the technology part of my year, was to change my student’s passwords. Our district required six alphanumeric items (it now requires eight) and it assigns them random and often difficult passwords. While we cannot change their usernames, we do have control over changing their passwords.

What I did was take a real four letter word and one number that repeated, for example work44 (now work4444).  This was a successful strategy for my class this year.

  • A suggestion from another teacher was to have the students choose their password and then you change it. This would allow for them to pick something that is more meaningful and therefore easier to remember.
  • Another idea is to have students choose a word from the word wall.   
  • For our district, the username is their first initial and their last name, sometimes with a numeral. Not only having them memorize their password but their username as well is useful. Making sure their last name is visible on their desk is also a supportive technique for some students.

While all of these strategies take time, as the year goes on using them will save you and your students both time and frustration.

Computer Code Cards
A few years ago I started using a computer code card system in my class. This system has saved me many headaches. Like everything in teaching, spending more time planning ahead  pays off in the long run. Before I print out the computer card template, I decide on three or four websites that require logins that we use throughout the year. I try to standardize their usernames and passwords as much as possible. I also include any school and district wide usernames and passwords.

Once I have created a master document, I photocopy it onto cardstock and laminate them. One stays in the class and one gets sent home. I let my students keep them in their desks (which does mean some may get lost). For students who regularly have difficulty storing their computer code card in an easy to find place, I write their username and password on the back of their mailboxes which are stored in class.

  • One modification is to have students store their computer cards in a baggie with their headphones.
  • Some teachers choose to hold onto the cards and hand them out and collect them as needed.

One issue that may concern some people is that usernames and passwords are not very secure in this model. The reality is, in division one especially, that password security is non-existent and unrealistic to expect. That is not to say that it should not be encourage, modeled and discussed, especially at the end of grade two and in grade three.

Computer code card template.

Colette Mondor

Going to the lab for the very first time...

I know the feeling of dread I experience in September when I have to bring a new class to the computer lab for the very first time. My mind begins to spin through all the things that have gone wrong in the past. Will they lose their log in card? Will they know how to turn the monitor on? Will the computers even be turned on? I can hear the cacophony of cries “My computer doesn’t work!” “I can’t find my log in card!” “He took my computer!” Here are a few simple tricks that have helped teachers at my school when they introduce a new class to logging onto a computer or laptop for the first time.

1. When you plan to go to the lab or book the laptops, make sure you book 2 or 3 sessions the first week so the students have an opportunity to practice and achieve mastery at this new skill. The extra time you spend this first week will save you countless hours over the course of the year. Having one regular computer time a week also ensures that your students maintain their computer skills. If you don’t use them, you lose them!

2. If you have access to a SMARTBoard, model for the students how to log in using your computer before you take them to the lab. If you don’t have a SMARTBoard, you can call small groups of students up to gather around a computer to see the demonstration. Another simple  simple trick for demonstrations is to actually have a child log on to your computer so the desktop and icons that appear will look exactly the same as the other students in the class (often our teacher profiles look very different from the student profiles). Having the students all watch the process without the temptation of touching their very own computer makes the demonstration much easier. While you are demonstrating, make a list of the steps the students need to complete. Post this chart in the lab, or bring it with you to the lab until the students are competent following the steps.

3. Determine computer assignments ahead of time! One easy trick for assigning computers is to assign computer numbers by class list number. I post the class list on my wall and on the wall of the lab so that substitute teachers have easy access to the computer assignments. Another way to store the assignment numbers is to write the number on each student’s desk name tag. A good way to get the kids to practice remembering their computer number is to line them up by calling out the numbers. This way your students with great memories know every child’s computer assignment and will help the students who struggle to remember their own. When we use the laptops, I have 2 students in charge of monitoring the class as they unplug their laptop as well as when they return it. The assigned student helps to plug in the laptop, check that it has been shut down properly and ensures that the laptop is returned to the correct shelf according to the laptop number. Some of our classes also post their laptop assignment list on the laptop cart to avoid confusion.

4. When you go to the lab for the first time, call attention to those kids who are able to follow steps quickly. I call them my “experts” and I tell  the class who the experts are for each step. We have “Monitor Experts” “Power Experts” and any other kind of expert we happen to stumble upon along the way! One teacher at our school writes the experts names on a piece of chart paper so the students can go “find an expert” when they need help without having to ask anyone. I also ask my experts to circulate around the room offering help until the whole class is caught up on a step.

I hope these tips help. Please leave us comments with tips and tricks that work for you and your class.

Kelly Flasha

Google Earth in Grade 1

As part of the grade 1 Social curriculum we learn about our community. We started with our home, our school,  our community and moved out to our city and our province. Google Earth was the tool I chose to help the students understand how they fit at each level of community. Their first experience with Google Earth was viewing it on the SMART Board as I searched for my house and then our school. My students were amazed by the picture of the planet Earth. As we zoomed in they saw North America, Canada, Alberta, Edmonton, our community and then our school. They were so excited! Then the questions started. "Can I look for my house?" "When can I try it?" "Can we go to the lab and go on Google Earth?". I started thinking of ways they could use Google Earth to search for places that were meaningful for them and to their learning.

First they needed the skills to navigate their way around Google Earth such as how to search, zoom in and out and street view. As part of our calendar time we opened up Google Earth and searched for a place the star student was interested in, by this time we were approaching Christmas so the North Pole was a popular choice. We then looked at the symbols and clicked on them to learn what they meant, which was another connection to mapping in Social Studies. We also went into Santa Tracker where one of the activities was connected to Google Maps and the students were engaged in zooming in and out of the different countries and looking at the buildings and people. The last day of school before Christmas in the computer lab my grade 1's were having conversations about how what they saw was different than their own community. Wow!

Once I saw most students were able to navigate around Google Earth independently I placed pins for two communities, Lac Labiche and Beaumont, which are both discussed as part of our Social curriculum. Their task was to look at each community and compare similarities and differences to complete a Venn diagram using pictures or words to demonstrate what they noticed.

This tool was so engaging for all the students I will be trying to integrate it into other units and subjects.

Google Presentations for Visual Learners

This is my first year teaching Strategies 2-3-4 and my first time teaching Alberta’s natural regions. I wanted my students to communicate what they had learned, but did not want them to write a test or struggle through another writing assignment. After hearing a presentation on visually learning and thinking about how well my students learn visually, I decided to attempt my first Google Presentation project.I told them that the project would let them show me what they know, but it was an open-internet and open-book test. (and eventually this became a very collaborative project - because why shouldn’t they learn from each other as well???) 

On day one I showed them what the project would look like by the end of that day’s work time by putting up my pre-made example on the Smartboard, and then created a new presentation so I could model the process step by step

.I had them start by going through Schoolzone to Google Docs. They then clicked Create and selected "Presentation". They could choose any of the pre-made themes that appealed to them, and this initial chance to personalize it helped to spark their interest and enthusiasm for the project.They then created the “bare-bones” of the project - a title page and 6 subsequent pages with titles that match the 6 natural regions of Alberta. As students completed each step they would then help the students around them. (Creating presentation, adding titles to the pages, giving the presentation a title, and sharing it with me was plenty for the first day!

In the days and weeks that followed my students would add information to the pages by using text OR pictures. They researched using Google (though there are more kid-friendly search engines that I need to learn about and have my students utilize), added information they knew from their personal experiences, and gleaned information from the research of their friends (especially the ones who could read and comprehend Wikipedia). At this point, the research process and collaborative skills were obviously the most important skills being taught (in my mind) but the knowledge-based curricular objectives were also being covered.I did whole group or individual mini-lessons as needed. (How to insert an image, how to add an image by copying an URL, how to add a text box, etc.) This kept my students from feeling frustrated or overwhelmed.One reluctant writer came up to me and asked “Do I need to write anything?”. My response to him was “Can you show me everything you know about that region using pictures?” He had a big smile when he said “yes” and realized what this meant for him.

 My group of visual learners LOVE being able to research online and choose pictures; I have never seen them more motivated. They are also learning to collaborate effectively and to communicate their knowledge in a new way. I am still learning a ton as I go through this process, but I think it is well worth the growing pains because my students are excited about their learning and are developing skills that they will use throughout their lives.

Google Presentations in Grade One!?!?

At our school, we were asked to introduce Google Presentations at all grade levels.
At this point of the year, my students are able to log on to the computer and navigate parts of SchoolZone (our district's portal) independently.
I picked Social Studies as my area of focus, and urban/rural as my outcome.

We are lucky enough to have grade 5 reading buddies spend 1/2 an hour with us per week, so I decided to maximize our time, and have the grade 5s assist my guys in the presentations.
The first meeting, I just wanted my students to find the assignment (posted on SchoolZone), copy it, rename it, and share it with me. The grade 5s were guiding my students through this process.
As I circulated, I realized most groups had already completed that and started the assignment.

The Assignment.
Students had to find pictures of urban and rural animals, homes, and vehicles and then 3 pictures of things that you could find in both urban and rural communities. The grade 5s helped my students navigate Google images, when my students decided what picture they wanted.
They pasted the pictures in the slide together, and then my students wrote one sentence about the picture. E.g. This is a  tractor.

My students have had exposure to building a Google Presentation, and were able to create, with the assistance of their 'reading buddy', a slideshow that they can share with anyone, as long as they have access to a computer. This was a great way to review what we had learned, and share it immediately with family or friends, since they were very excited about it. It was also exposure to working collaboratively with another person on a technological assignment. Would they be able to go build one on their own tomorrow? Probably not. Do they have an idea of what can be done using Google Presentations? Yes. Did they have a great time showing me what they knew about the concepts of urban and rural in an unconventional way? Definitely.

If you want to see the assignment, please click the link below:
Urban/Rural Presentation

Word Q for struggling and reluctant writers

What is WordQ (the simple explanation)?
I have been using WordQ in my grade 3 class since the beginning of the year.  WordQ is a word prediction software that my school purchased as a site license (for the entire school).  The way the software works is as the student writes, the software will predict, based on letter combinations as they type, what the 5 most likely words they are typing would be.  The student can then select the word that fits.  The software will also read the word choices to the kids if they can't read them as well as put them into a sample sentence.  For some words it also gives synonyms. They can also have the sentence or paragraph read back to them.

How we use it?
I introduced all of my students to the software and had all of them use it at the beginning of the year.  As the year progressed, some students stopped using it as it became cumbersome. For others it is an invaluable tool for their writing in all subjects.  Different students use it differently:
1. regular word prediction
2. increase typing speed by selecting the words instead of typing them all (especially for my reluctant writers)
3. read back to them for editing  (Does it have punctuation? Does it make sense?)

What I have noticed?
- struggling writers are more confident and developing their sounds
- reluctant writers write more because the software does a lot of the typing for them
- students are looking for better word choices for their writing
- helps them listen to their writing and improve it for clarity

Next Steps:
My next step is to explore SpeakQ which is an extension of WordQ.  It is a speech to text software.  In other words, students speak into a microphone on the computer and it converts the audio to typed text.