Saturday, April 25, 2015

Technology As My E.A.


I recently had an educational assistant (E.A.) join my grade two class about 60% of the week. After about a month of having her in class she was away for two weeks. Despite her only being with my class for a short time, I already relied on her for the smooth running of my literacy centres. Each day students go to two centres. I have a large number of students who are working significantly below grade level and with behavioural issues. I truly needed her help and now she was going to be away for two weeks!

Technology To The Rescue

During reading centres I like to work with one group exclusively on guided reading or guided writing. I only leave my group briefly in the middle of each centre to monitor students' progress on the other centres (I sit where I can visually scan all groups regularly but I also like to do a walk-around once). Therefore, all the other groups need to be independent so that they are not interrupting my group. I do not want the independent work to be "filler", however. I want students to be engaged in meaningful work.

So, I decided to try increase the technology I use for centres to help me during my E.A.'s absence. My reasoning? Not only is it engaging but it could possible help provide immediate feedback on their work. Plus, if done correctly, I felt it would require little instruction from me. 

I already was using technology twice in my centres. Since September, students used tablets to access their RAZ Kids accounts. As well, students regularly accessed the computers to do word work activities (either from Spelling City or from interactive games/activities that related to the word work topics of the week).

OR Should I Say Google To The Rescue?

After searching ideas online and scanning many Pinterest boards, I did not find any pre-existing and free technology options that I felt met my needs. So I decided to make my own using Google Apps for Education products. 


The first tool I turned to was Google Forms. I used multiple pages along with the "Go to page based on answer" for multiple choice function to create a form that told students if their answers were correct or not as they worked on the form. They were directed to a video that reviewed "verbs" are if they selected the wrong answer. I taught students how they could select the "back" option once at the video to try again. 

I could see using this as a centre again, depending on the topic. It did not take much time to set up and my students were already familiar with forms, so it do not require a lot of instruction from me.


I used YouTube for a making words station in a similar fashion as I used forms: I used it to provide students feedback on their work. I found a Notebook file I had created previously for a whole class lesson (I've been doing making words on the Smartboard for a long time, so I have many of these). Using Screencastify and a headset with a mic, I recorded a instructional video that I then uploaded to my YouTube channel. I put the letters needed for the making words lesson into ziplock bags and created a worksheet to record their work.

At centre time students took a bag of letters and a record sheet to a computer. As the video instructed, they'd make a word based on what they heard orally. Then the video would show them the correct way to make the word. I monitored whether or not students were just listening to the video and writing down the answers or if they were actually making the words along with the video. Only one or two students needed re-directing at the beginning of the centre.

I asked the students after how they liked the video/making words centre. Most gave it a thumbs up. A few mentioned that they found it too easy. So the following week I created two videos. I labeled each bag with a sticker to denote which level the letters belonged to.

I found this centre so successful that I have decide to keep it even with the return of my aide! I had always avoided having a making words (without technology) centre because students would not get feedback if they were making the words correctly until I looked at the record sheet a day or two later. Now that is no longer a concern as the video provides instant feedback. As it does take some time to make the videos, I will likely not use this centre every week.

Read And Write For Google

We had been working on adjectives and adverbs in language arts and learning how to revise sentences with them. So I decided to have students work at a "Super Sentences Centre". Each student was given their own copy of Super Spring Sentences (I used Doctopus to share). Students had to revise the writing by adding adjectives. Students who needed support got it with Read and Write For Google (RW4G). For those of you who are not aware of RW4G it is an extension that will (among other things) read a Google Document to the user. This meant all my students could work at this centre independently. In addition to having RW4G support them in reading the Document, they also had spell check to help them with the words they were adding. My students were familiar with how to use Google Docs and RW4G prior to this centre.

At the end of each round of centres each day, I read that day's Super Sentences creations on the Smartboard. This helps hold students accountable as well as show students how adjectives and adverbs can totally change a piece of writing. 

Like the making words videos, I liked this centre so much that I've decided to keep it in the regular centre rotation. The following week I modified it slightly for adverbs. As I create more "Super Sentences" centres I will share them on the Division One Collaboration Site For Educational Technology.

Not A Replacement

While having these technology centres helped bridge the gap while my aide was away, they are not a true replacement for an effective teacher or educational assistant. Unfortunately, there are many years when teachers have large class sizes with diverse needs and no funds to provide a human educational assistant when one is needed. Hopefully some of these ideas may help support teachers in that situation.

A Note About Access To Technology

To provide some context, I will share what technology I have access to. I have four desktop computers in class. As I have 25 grade two students in my class, most of my groups for centres are four to six students. So I use the computers as a centre but often need to use a netbook or two as well for large groups. Our school has 18 tablets. I currently keep six of them in class permanently as they are not used by others, at the moment. I also have easy access to a cart of 24 netbooks (yes, netbooks).  While these are not for my class exclusively, no one else uses them so I keep them in the room across from my classroom for easy access. Therefore I can have more than one group working at a computer-based centre.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

KidBlog: A Review

Kidblog Instead of Blogger

I have used a few different platforms for blogging with younger students. A few years ago, I settled on Blogger because it was apart of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) which I use regularly in class. The interface is similar to the other GAFE applications students use.

Last year I learned about KidBlog and was invited to participate on another classroom's blog. I was impressed by its set up, so decided to use it for my classroom blog this year. At the moment I am only using the free features. However, when my school finally gets Chromebooks, I may look into getting a premium membership as I love the fact that it has Google Drive integration.
  • is free
  • is ad-free
  • is easy/simple
  • has Google Drive integration for premium members
The site motto is "safe and simple".

What I Like About KidBlog

FOIP Friendly

When students log in, they have a drop down menu to select their name from (I wish more sites did this). You can choose for each student whether or not their name is in the login list and blog directory. Those students who you do not want to be listed publicly can scroll down when logging in to "show all users" and then find their name.

When students who are not listed in the blog directory post, no one can see their posts on the blog. So students who may not be able to participate in blogging on other platforms due to FOIP can still blog but it is only visible to them and the teacher. 

You can have 40 users for you class with the free account. I add (safe) adults who I often ask to help respond to blog posts. However, you can have any visitor make a comment without needing a login, if you wish. You can also restrict comments to only being from users in your class and/or other users from other Kidblog classes.

One Blog, Many Bloggers

One of the things that I like is that all the students' blogs are centrally located. When you set up your class, you have one main blog. Then each student is a blogger within that blog. When you, as the teacher, do a new blog post, it shows up on the main blog site. When students do a blog post, it does not show up on the main blog site but on their own blog that exists within the class blog.

When you go to your class blog, you'll see the most recent teacher posts and then on the right you'll see a blog directory. The students' names are hyperlinked to their own blog.

What A New Post Looks Like

Their new post format is very similar to other blogging platforms. I wish it was a little more division one friendly. In general, students have minimal difficulties with composing new blog posts. Younger students will need help finding drafts and making edits on already posted blogs.

Teacher Dashboard

The teacher dashboard is well set up. You get a quick glance at if there are pending comments/posts that need your approval. 

Some Ways I Have Used It

Class Writes

PDULI4I often model a form of writing prior to students doing their own writing. I give a purpose to these class write by publishing them on our blog. This also provides parents the opportunity to see what we are doing in class.

Commenting as a First Blogging Experience

Before letting students do their own blog, I introduce the site to them by having them learn how to comment. This year I posted a picture from a field trip and asked students what their favourite part of the field trip was. I like this as an entry point into blogging because it allows them to learn how to navigate the site without the extra complication of writing expectations. 

High School Commenters

wDTzhWTo give my students the full blogging experience, I connected with a teacher in high school and arranged for his students to comment on our blogs. My students were excited to have a real (and older) audience. The high school teacher said his students found the assignment challenging.

I will say getting other classes to comment on our class and individual blog is a challenge. I use Twitter and G+ to try to solicit involvement, as well as emails to friends and colleagues.

kHguFB Student Created Math Problems and Answers

I won't go into this activity in great deal as I recently blogged about it. Students took pictures of their concrete graphs. These were then made into blog posts. Each student had to write math questions to go along with their picture. Then they each had to answer another student's blog/questions. 

Keeping Connected

I have one student this year who is moving temporarily to another province. She will be back for grade three. She is able to stay connected with her friends while she is away. She has posted twice now and the class has replied in the comment section. Her mom emailed me to say: She is super happy to be still in touch with her friends. Thank you Colette. Talk about writing for a purpose!

Suggested Reading

If you are interested in exploring Kidblog further, I suggest reading Blogging4Kids' posts on Kidblog.