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Dear Otto

Dear Otto: How do I create a classroom library checkout system?

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. 

I got this question from a colleague:

I am looking for an app that classroom teachers can use to scan a classroom library and allow teachers to check books out with students.  Any suggestions on one or your colleagues may have liked?  Thanks for your help!

I chatted with colleagues and got a few common answers:
  • Classroom Organizer–a free app that works with a desktop application; lets you scan in books, manage them, and check them out (through the app)
  • Classroom Checkout–a fee-based app that catalogues books, manages student checkouts, and keeps track of books.

Another interesting approach that one friend uses is through Google Forms and an add-on called Checkitout: You enter all the books yourself (rather than scan a barcode and have the information populate) into a Google spreadsheet tied to a Google Checkout Form. Students would fill the Google Form out with relevant information and that would automatically populate on the spreadsheet you created. You can sort the spreadsheet by book rather than date to see which books are checked out to whom. Richard Byrne does a nice summary of how it works here.

A final option: QR Codes. I didn’t find anyone in my PLN using this approach, but it sounds pretty good. Here’s an article on it.

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Categories: Classroom management, Dear Otto, Reading | Leave a comment

Dear Otto: My Students Think Hunt-and-Peck is Good Enough. What do I do?

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. 

I got this question from a teacher. It’s becoming more common as students start life on iPads:

Do you have any suggestions for kids who have developed substitute patterns for using home row keys? Many of our 5-7th graders have learned how to hunt and peck quickly and are resisting using the correct fingers on the home row. Ultimately this will limit their speed, but they don’t see that consequence yet. Help.

The goal of keyboarding is twofold:

  1. to keep up with the student’s thoughts 
  2. not interfere with that creative process

Students should be able to type while they’re thinking, put their ideas onto the page without interrupting what’s buzzing through their brains. It should be an invisible tool in support of their learning–like handwriting. If they’re hunting and pecking (albeit quickly), they are searching for keys rather than collecting their thoughts. If they’re typing from a print copy (which is becoming less common in classrooms), their head is bobbhunt and pecking between the right place on the page and the keyboard.

Few hunt-and-peckers exceed 20 wpm, and studies show that students need in excess of 20 wpm to keep up with their thoughts. For some students, this simple math will convince them. Additionally, hunt-and-peck speed rarely exceeds the speed of handwriting, which is 25-35 wpm for 5th grade. Touch typing speed pretty much doesn’t top out. Middle schoolers who have practiced with a goal of touch typing easily reach 45-75 wpm. Apply this speed to authentic uses of typing, such as homework and classwork. Wouldn’t they like to finish earlier?

The buy-in to this concept is the first step: Do they agree with the goals of touch typing? Does hunt-and-peck satisfy the goals?

Do a few experiments with students. Make it a scientific experiment as they are used to in science class. Here’s an example where my classes compared handwriting vs. keyboarding Here are student pros and cons to handwriting vs. keyboarding.

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Categories: Dear Otto, Keyboarding | Leave a comment

Dear Otto: How do I teach vocabulary?

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. 

I discuss teaching vocabulary a lot on this blog. If you’re looking for specifics, try these posts:

But recently, I got into a conversation on one of the forums I frequent about how to teach vocabulary without ever giving a test or grading homework. Here are a few ideas:

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Categories: Dear Otto, Word study/Vocabulary | Leave a comment

Dear Otto: How do I Make Keyboarding Collaborative?

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from a reader:

I am student teaching in a high school in Louisiana. I teach 5 hours of IBCA a day. The students use KCA, this coming week they will be learning P and Y. I’ve had my first evaluation. My supervisor would like to see some group activity, students asking each other questions, and students creating their own assessment rubrics. I am at a loss. I need to keep with the curriculum, and the students do not know how to type words yet. I cannot think of anything that will be good for my next evaluation. Got any ideas?

One of my favorite collaborative keyboarding exercises is a Keyboard Challenge. It tests students on their knowledge of all things keyboarding. This includes key placement, shortkeys, care of the keyboard, and anything else you want to include. Students divide into groups with a list of the types of questions you will ask. They select a spokesperson (the only one who can answer questions) and study them as a group, maybe assign certain group members to be experts on each category. When you play the game, you ask the first group one of the questions, give them 2 seconds to answer (only the spokesperson can answer). Why only 2 seconds? Because keyboarding is about speed, automatic finger movement. They shouldn’t have to think, just react. As a result, I accept visual answers, such as:

Q:    What finger do you use to type T

A:    Student raises the left pointer

Each right answer gets a point. The winner gets a prize that works for your group. Here’s an example of the list of questions:

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Categories: Dear Otto, Keyboarding | 4 Comments

Dear Otto: I need to convert from PDF to Doc–Does that work?

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from a reader:

I have a lesson plan I created in MS Word and then converted to PDF so I could share with my grade level team (everyone doesn’t have Word). It took us a while to go through it–lots of changes–and when I tried to find the original document, it was nowhere to be found. I tried a few PDF converters, but they didn’t work well and I’d have to retype most of the lesson plan. Can you help?

This is an all-too-common problem for teachers. Much of our work is shared with others or updated year-to-year, but when we try to find that original document, it’s either misfiled, corrupted, or just plain lost. All we have left is the uneditable PDF which means a lot of retyping if we want to update it for the new school year. Converting from DOC to PDF format is easy and often native to the word processing program used so you’d think the reverse would be easy also, but that’s not true. Docs.Zone is a great solution for this problem. It’s intuitive, user-friendly, with a clean uncluttered interface and no download required. Their Optical Character Recognition programming will convert PDF to an OCR Word document quickly and effectively.

Here’s how it works:

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Categories: Classroom management, Dear Otto, Reviews | Tags: | Leave a comment

Dear Otto: Evaluating Faculty Websites

tech questionsDear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Melissa:

I have heard repeatedly from many of my high school social studies students that they rarely use teacher websites. Most who say they do do so only to obtain homework assignments (many prefer to text other students for assignments rather than go online). In general they report that they do not explore the websites any further than they must.
I do find that AP students use teacher created websites frequently, Honors students less so. 
I am looking for research on measured student use of teacher websites. Commercial sites collect extensive data on visitor behavior (dwell time, click through, and etc.).  Are you aware of any research along those lines?
 ..
I’m not familiar with such research so I’m putting it out to my readers. If you have a teacher website that measures visitors, or if you know of this sort of research, please add a comment and a link.
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I know when I had a teacher website several years ago, it was rarely visited by students, even though I tried to add relevant, authentic information. That wasn’t just mine, either; it was all teachers at the school. My Principal tasked me with evaluating faculty websites to see if it was a content issue rather than user disinterest. I adapted a rubric offered in the public domain by the University of Wisconsin-Stout (I’ve attached it for reference). I found that most teachers (in excess of 75%) 1) didn’t keep them up to date, 2) had the wrong information,  or 3) didn’t even have one. It was the rare individual that had a solid, well-thought out website. That–I shared with the committee–was why students weren’t visiting.

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Categories: Dear Otto, Research | Tags: | Leave a comment

What a Typical Tech Lesson Looks Like

tech lessonIn the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several emails like this from teachers:

I am a tech teacher, going on my fifth year in the lab. Each year I plan to be more organized than the last, and most often I revert back to the “way things were.” I’m determined to run the lab just like I think it should be! … Could you please elaborate on how you run your class? I love the idea of having kids work independently, accomplishing to do lists, and working on different projects. You mention this in Volume I, but I want to hear more!

Currently, I see close to 700 students, grades 1-6. I want to break out of the routine (the “you listen, I speak, you do” routine), and your system seems like it would work well. Just hoping you can share some details.

I decided to jot down my typical (as if any planned lesson ever comes out the way it’s written–you know how that goes!) daily lesson. You can tweak it, depending upon the grade you teach. Here goes:

Typical 45-minute Lesson

Each lesson requires about 45 minutes of time, either in one sitting or spread throughout the week. Both are fine and will inform whether you unpack this lesson:

  • In the grade-level classroom
  • In the school’s tech lab

As you face a room full of eager faces, remember that you are a guide, not an autocrat. Use the Socratic Method—don’t take over the student’s mouse and click for them or type in a web address when they need to learn that skill. Even if it takes longer, guide them to the answer so they aren’t afraid of how they got there. If you’ve been doing this with students since kindergarten, you know it works. In fact, by the end of kindergarten, you saw remarkable results.

When talking with students, always use the correct domain-specific vocabulary. Emphasize it and expect students to understand it. (more…)

Categories: Classroom management, Dear Otto, Lesson plans, Teacher resources | 2 Comments

Dear Otto: What’s a good End-of-year Tech Show?

tech questionsDear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Sandy:

I am a computer teacher for Elementary as well as for preschoolers…ages 3 and 4. In the past my younger children have always used desktop computers and I have taught them about the basic parts of the computer. For our annual Spring Program I will choose up to 10 students to represent these computer parts and the students tell what they have learned up on stage…always a huge success and very cute. Well, this year we have replaced those desktop computers with tablets. Now I do not have any idea how to come up with something cute and educational for the little ones to do on stage for the program so that all can see what they are doing in computer class. Do you have any ideas?
..
First, Consider the purpose of your end-of-year tech show. That will greatly affect which of the next choices serve your needs. Here are some ideas:

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Categories: Computer skills, Dear Otto | Tags: | Leave a comment

What to do When Computers Are Down

sideways cat on laptopAll tech teachers have experienced a day when the computers don’t work. You jiggle the mouse and nothing. You reboot and the screens remain dark. You know how to tap dance when the internet won’t connect (use software instead) or a particular program refuses to load (go to your Symbaloo page of alternatives).
 ..
But what happens when the computers themselves are down–a systemic virus, or a site-wide upgrade that went bad? What do you do with the eager faces who tumble across your threshold ready for their once-a-week computer time? You need something that ties into technology without using it.
..
Here are some ideas:
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Discuss digital citizenship

This is a topic that needs to be discussed every year, repetitively. When I teach digital citizenship, it always includes lots of back-and-forth conversation and surprised faces. Students have no idea that the right to use online resources includes responsibilities. In getting that point across, I end up answering endless questions, many that revolve around, ‘But no one knows who I am’, ‘But how can I be caught‘.

Use tech downtime to delve into this topic. Gather in a circle and talk about concepts like ‘digital footprint’, ‘plagiarism’, and ‘digital privacy’. Common Sense has a great poster (see image below) that covers these through a discussion on when to put photos online. You can print it out or display it on the Smartscreen. Take your time. Solicit lots of input from students–like their experiences with online cyberbullies and Instagram, and what happens with their online-enabled Wii platforms. It can be their personal experience or siblings.

A note: The poster says it’s for middle and high school, but I use it with students as young as third grade by scaffolding and backfilling the discussion:

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Categories: Classroom management, Dear Otto, Lesson plans, Problem solving, Teacher resources | 2 Comments

Dear Otto: I need year-long assessments

tech questionsDear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Mary:

We are required to create 2 measurable Student Learning Objectives this year. Last year was our first year having this requirement so mine centered around 6th grade and their mastery of technology vocabulary. They didn’t fare so well. I need suggestions of what specific skills I could include this year. We are required to have pretest data, midyear data and end of the year data to show gains. I thought about assessing keyboarding but most of it is assigned outside of class as I only see each group an hour a week so honestly gains would be minimal there as well. Ugh. Any suggestions??

Hi Marykeyboarding

I think keyboarding is a good assessment choice. Especially by 6th grade, students should be improving their keyboarding as much by authentic use in classroom projects and communications as through drill–or more so. Let students know the correct way to keyboard (posture, habits, do it right every time they sit at a computer–that sort–there’s a lot of information on that in my keyboarding book here). Share this with other grade-level teachers, parents, even the library media specialist. Make it clear to students that wherever they use a computer, they use good habits. Then, assess them regularly to track progress.

The fact that you only see students an hour a week is fine. Technology should be a tool that students use outside of your hour a week with them–in their core classes, for homework, for projects, in their family life. This brings up another good assessment–tech use. Students can start the year with a blog (Kidblog, Edublog, GAFE’s built-in Blogger). Their first post can be a discussion of how they use technology. Then, ask them to post once a week (or a couple times a month) on how they use technology in their life. It could be for a class project, communicating with friends, reflecting. It must be evidence-based and include a sample of whatever they used technology in (via an embed or a screenshot). Then, ask them to comment on the posts of friends–use suggestions from friends in a future project. Assess this activity based on how they use technology and share their knowledge–not the perfection of the project.

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