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.
BTW–lots of people ask why the name ‘Otto’. It’s a palindrome so beloved by geeks and nerds and techie-sort of folk.
I got this question from a colleague::
I teach computer literacy. K-4 teachers line their students up and they arrive all at one time, so with this age it would be easier to give instruction before everyone is seated. However, it is still difficult because I don’t really have enough open floor space to seat them away from their computer.
One of the most difficult chores teachers perform at the end of the school year is not final grades, saying goodbye to students, or wondering how to fill their summer free time. It’s preserving the digital files that made up their school year. Be it to close out one school year in preparation for the next, transfer student files to the next class, or the need to safely and effectively transfer teacher files to a new job, handling digital files for use later is stressful. In fact, teachers self-report that this task is one of the most stressful of their end-of-year chores.
There are a lot of products to address this nerve-wracking activity. That’s not the purpose of this article. Here, I’ll concentrate on schools that use Google products. That includes Google Classroom as an LMS, Google cloud as a digital portfolio, Gmail as an email program, YouTube to deliver videos, and other apps (like Google Sites and Blogger) included in the Google ecosystem. If this applies to you, you’re in luck. Google’s free product, Google Takeout, is one of the simplest available. It requires no installation, no new hardware, and is already part of the Google you already use. Google Takeout automates the download of your Google data across all Google services, making it ready to be uploaded to new accounts or preserved as a back-up. This includes but is not limited to:
- Google Apps (but not all of them)
- Google Calendar
- Google Contacts
- Google Drive files
- Google Keep
- Google Voice
How does it work
Whether you use Google at your school or as an individual, you’ll be pleased to learn that the Takeout process is intuitive. Here’s what you do:
Last year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was even worse — only 41 percent. Without doubt, we teachers recognize this as a problem but what do we do about it? An option several school districts I converse with are trying is called “mastery-based learning” — MBL. When I read this article about it, I got pretty excited. This could be a solution, if not for all students, at least for those who don’t excel under traditional teaching.
What is MBL
Also known as “competency-based learning” or “proficiency-based learning”, mastery-based learning is described by The Glossary of Education Reform as:
“a system “of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting … based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.”
Learning is personalized, based on school standards. Students who don’t understand a topic and don’t do well on the summative assessment for that subject, aren’t automatically moved on because time allotted for that topic ran out. Instead, they are given additional support and then retested until they have the skills to move on to the next stage.
Metaverse is one of the most popular AR apps in schools. It blends a website for the creation of AR experiences with an app for their display, nimbly allowing users to create, share, and interact with their AR ‘experiences’ (or projects). It’s easy to use and requires no coding. Users can access a wide variety of AR games, lesson plans, and other experiences created by others and shared in the Metaverse ecosystem via the free app (reminder: Always preview these to be sure they fit your student group). For those looking for greater personalization, they can create their own on the website.
The top four education uses for Metaverse are Breakouts (here’s a spreadsheet with a long list of Metaverse Breakouts by topic), Scavenger hunts, timed quizzes, and Choose your own adventure stories. Other popular uses are interactive stories, AR field trips, student-led learning, and programming (like the popular Hour of Code).
If you aren’t familiar with Metaverse (and realize you should be), check out my review of Metaverse. If you already use Metaverse in your classroom (click for my review of Metaverse), you’re going to want to know about their newest classroom management tool:
This is Classroom Management Made Simple 😎
- View all of your students’ Experiences in one place
- Edit your students’ Experiences and view Experience Storyboards
- Share your students’ Experiences as a group
Purpose Driven Learning (or PDL) is a concept coined by Michael Matera and Adam Moreno to summarize the philosophy that each learner’s inner strengths can be unlocked by focusing with purpose and drive. By following the guidelines for Purpose Driven Learning, teachers avoid the biggest pitfall in many lesson plans — that they are theoretic without meaning in the real world. With PDL, resources are relevant, lessons are personalized, and real-life connections are placed under a bright light. In the end, learning is changed from pedantic to powerful and students learn to reliably connect academic studies to the world outside the schoolhouse.
The Goal of PDL
In a phrase:
…the goal of Purpose Driven Learning is NOT about a curriculum that lasts a year. It’s about creating life-long learners who fuel their future passionately with knowledge.
This applies to both 1) education pursued with the goal of college or career, and 2) the critical preparation of students to succeed in life. Purpose Driven Learning, faithfully delivered with buy-in from students, will result in students willingly participating in even the boring lesson pieces (like worksheets or podcasts) as well as exciting applications like simulations and student-devised projects.
Problems implementing Purpose Driven Learning
Engaging PDL in your classroom is seen by some as teaching students what they want to learn at the expense of what they need to learn but this isn’t true. Done right, students come to understand that real knowledge relies on a solid foundation of data upon which they build their personal interests. For example, students who want to join America’s proposed Space Force must first be grounded in the basics of science and math.
Educators who wish to use PDL often run into three roadblocks:
School Standards. Because state and national standards are often devised to serve the majority of students, they may not well-serve your students. But they do provide a necessary foundation without which the goals of your particular group can’t be met. That means that standards are taught first and additional learning is scaffolded afterward. Standards are in fact the foundation that underpins your students’ ability to achieve their PDL goals.
Education used to focus on the 3 R’s — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Without a doubt, those remain critical subjects but these days, they are just the beginning. What about history (because those who don’t understand history are forced to repeat it) and civics (so we understand how government works)? And the STEAM subjects — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math? No wonder it takes eight hours a day — and more — to learn what is required to thrive in the 21st-century world.
I need to add another topic to this list, one that is used daily and misunderstood just as often, one that intimidates some and confuses many, one where an introduction feels like drinking from a fire hose. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s the Internet. Let’s be honest: The Internet is a monster. You felt that way — probably called it worse — the last time you were hacked. Having your personal information stolen feels like your life swirling down the drain. In your lifetime, you will spend more time on the Internet than sleeping. It doesn’t care about your career, your favorite subject, or life goal. If we are defined by the choices we make, the Internet provides the biggest chance for an oops with the most devastating consequences.
Teenagers spend average nine hours a day on the Internet. It seems irresponsible to adopt the SODTI attitude — Some Other Dude Teaches It.
That’s the bad news: Internet safety must be taught and if not by you, by whom? The good news is, teaching about the Internet is easily blended into almost any subject, any topic. Let’s start with the biggest Internet topics most schools want to cover and I’ll show you how to do that.
When I started teaching, syncing work between school and home was impossible. Completing homework required either printing it and bringing it in as paper or–well, nothing. There was no way to get it into a student school drive from home. Thanks to cloud computing, that nightmare is over. Cristopher Burge who runs the website Cloud Storage Advice, has a great rundown on how cloud computing has revolutionized education:
The concept of cloud computing saw its beginnings in the educational sector ever since the first open source websites saw the light of day. Online libraries and collections of free didactic documents were a reality as early as 1997, through the Cisco Networking Academy. American entrepreneur Salman Khan (not to be confused with the Bollywood actor of the same name) founded a similar project ten years later, namely the Khan Academy.
Cloud Computing in the Educational Sector
And yet, cloud computing for school and universities wasn’t a top priority less than a decade ago. According to statistics published by Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman, only 4% of the school and education system was interested in cloud computing in 2009. It registered as one of the lower ranking fields on the list, but it still managed to position itself in the top ten.
Nevertheless, an article published in the International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications one year later in 2010 uncovered that 88% of teaching professionals saw a need for integration of the service. Fast forward to 2018, how many schools in the world can actually say that they executed this?
In considering the question, Is technology outpacing you?, let’s first look at technology’s place in the current education landscape. True, it is touted as a magic wand that will fix all education woes. Sure, 73% of teachers use cell phones in their classrooms and 92% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their teaching. We gush over new hardware like iPads and Chromebooks. We spend millions on training teachers to blend tech into their lessons. We darkly predict that the day will soon arrive when technology erases the need for teachers.
But truthfully, technology is less a magic wand than a unicorn. It will never:
- take over education. Using webtools and burying noses in digital devices won’t provide the interpersonal skills required to succeed in the working world. Any job students get post-school will require listening to real people, responding, and adapting when body language says you’ve confused the person in front of you.
- replace teachers. The human piece to education can’t be overstated. The attention and care provided by a teacher — technology may measure it but can’t provide it.
Current research supports this:
“… among school-related factors, teachers matter most. … good teachers are irreplaceable assets for coaching and mentoring students, addressing the social and emotional factors affecting students’ learning, and providing students with expert feedback on complicated human skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, and project management.” — RAND Education
What technology does, and does quite well, is make learning materials more accessible, more equitable, more up to date, and better suited to individuals. And importantly, it automates tedious tasks like roll call and grading so teachers have more time for students.
TeacherKit, a useful classroom management app for iOS or Android, provides teachers with one location to log student attendance, take note of student behavior, record grades, create student-level reporting, and other tedious tasks that traditionally take time away from teaching. The intuitive interface allows all this to be done with quick taps and swipes, generating data visualizations on the fly, both for whole classes and individual students. The student-profile system allows teachers to quickly contact students and parents via email, and the premium version adds the ability to send detailed progress reports, complete with behavior and attendance breakdowns. Plus, teachers can send announcements to an entire class, letting them know a date change, assignment due dates, and/or to update class information.
TeacherKit is a global Microsoft and Tradeline Strategic Education Partner with over 1 million teacher users around the world.
How it works
TeacherKit is easy to initiate and intuitive to use. Simply download the app from iTunes or Google Play and build classes. Students can be added via your class list, from other classes, or by photo. Once the class is set up, you can generate reports that summarize grades, behaviors, and more by class or student. Reports can be shared (as a PDF) via email or print. Optional reports include an overall class report, student performance, student/class grades, a class seating chart, and attendance. Here are samples of several:
I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m taking a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.
Today: Organizing your classroom
18 webinars (more added as they become available), approx. 30 minutes each, show how to set up your classroom to be tech-infused.