I recently heard a fellow Computer Using Educator say, "If you want your students to do cool stuff, you need to make cool stuff." Since then, I have significantly increased my usage of technology in my classroom. I try to model using new technology as I teach my students to use new technology.
The technology tool I have used for the past few years is Blogger. Now, my class blog has become the skeleton of my courses. Daily, I post warm-ups, classwork, and homework assignments. Within each post, I am able to directly embed or create links to online tools and resources. The RSS feed style of the blog makes it easy for people to access the most recent assignments in my class. Additionally, they can easily utilize gadgets, such as a translator and internal search. I have also created pages within my blog: Assignment Calendar, Student Blogs, Contact Ms. Priester, Student Resources, Campus Adult Resources, and Technology Resources. Visitors can follow links to my personal blog and our school's webpages. Since my blog is so thorough, my students know to "check" the it if they miss class or simply forgot the nightly homework assignment.
One of the gadgets near the top of my blog is a Google Calendar gadget. This gadget continuously updates to post a simple list of all assignments sorted by class period. When one of the assignments is clicked on, a link to the blog post describing the assignment is available. Within this calendar there are actually four separate calendars, which synthesize into one feed that is labeled color-coded for each class period. I edit these calendars from within my Google account, and the calendars are all automatically updated. A full calendar is also available as a page within the blog, as I mentioned earlier. On this Assignment Calendar page, students can also watch tutorial videos of how to create, add, and embed a Google Calendar. A few months ago, I began to have my students create calendar pages on their blogs and add their class period's calendar. My goal is to have all of the teachers on my campus create and maintain a calendar for each class. Then after adding all of their teachers calendars, the students will be automatically able to view all of their assignments on their own blog.
On the Technology Resources page of my blog, I have an embeded tagcloud to my Delicious account. Delicious is an online storage place that saves and allows simple organization of bookmarked/favorited websites. Whenever I find a new technology tool, interesting article, or other useful website, I save it to my Delicious account. I also create tags, which are keywords or labels, for the site. The tagcloud is a collage of all of my tags, that are automatically sized in relation to their frequency in my account. When one of the words in the cloud is clicked on, the visitor is taken to a list of links to all of the websites I saved using the same tag. Just this week, I taught my students how to create and use a Delicious account as a tool to help save resources used in the process of drafting research papers. They immediately wanted to know how to create and embed a tagcloud into their blogs. Many of my sophomores shared my excitement of discovering a way to permanently collect, organize, and share online findings.
By following the links on the Student Blogs page of my blog, a visitor can find Blabberizes within my students' recent posts. Blabberize creates online talking pictures. On the Blabberize website, users upload a picture, add an animated mouth, and record or upload a short podcast--these can even be recorded from a landline phone. Then, all three elements are blended together to create an entertaining talking picture. As a comprehension activity during my last unit, I had my students summarize a story using first-person narration from the protagonist. The images they selected matched descriptions of the character. Advanced students also use speaking techniques to creatively share their 100-word summary.
Many of the links on my blog are connected to Google forms, which are made in Google Docs. Within Google Docs, I create a simple form using their customizable template that allows for text, paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, scale, grid, and choose from a list question formats. The form becomes a simple webpage that can be published via a link or embed code. The responses automatically appear within one editable spreadsheet in Google Docs. I began using this tool to have students answer questions and to collect information from students and parents. Now, I have learned how to create self-grading tests within the spreadsheets and mainly use the form for students to turn in assignments. The spreadsheet view can also be published for public view, which assists with collaboration during projects. Within the past few months, using Google forms has enabled me to simply create a almost paperless hybrid of live and online class.
Using these technology tools has decreased the energy I need to spend on the tedious parts of teaching, such as publishing assignment sheets and grading stacks of papers. Instead, I am able to spend my time focusing on connecting to my students and creating engaging, meaningful lessons. As a result, all of my students are completing more assignments, have become more engaged in class, and are beginning to show a raise in standardized assessment scores.