Friday, June 29, 2012

Let me tell you...

I <3 Edmodo!

After hearing about Edmodo for about a year now, finally joining it this past Spring has revitalized my homework and project assignments. As an English teacher who loves creating assignments using Word, I have always been inundated and swamped (redundant on purpose) with paper, often drowning under buckets and baskets of assignments I've created on paper. Like a turtle caught in a crab pot, I could not figure out how to get out of the paper trap (Leslee, that simile is for you! Check out her article on the dangers of terrapins and crab pots in Barnegat Bay). Edmodo is my savior & BRD that has set me free from some of the trappings of teaching English to high school students.

Free to Be Paperless

One of the most contributing reasons for using Edmodo is the fact that it is FREE! Being frugal, I can not pass up a freebie.

OK, I want to show you what I've done with Edmodo and going paperless. Log on to Edmodo and join the Sample Class group (group code: t7y9vhto see the assignments. 

Even if you are not ELA, think of the assignments as framework/structure that can be adapted to your subject. 

  • How can your assignments be cross curricular and extend beyond the bounds of your subject? 
  • How can your assignments use various skills? 
  • How can the internet be used as a resource for furthering student study?

For the Sample Class, I've loaded some tasks that were assigned to my 9th grade Honors students this past Spring when studying George Bernard Shaw's play, Pygmalion. Don't be freaked by Shaw if you don't know the play!  Pygmalion is the basis for the Broadway musical My Fair Lady staring Audrey Hepburn. Using the Pygmalion myth as inspiration, Shaw's play provides valid commentary on class structure and how language and appearances segregate people.  We studied Pygmalion after concluding a unit on Greek Mythology and Homer's Odyssey. Pygmalion  then segued nicely into West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. We discuss the themes of relationships, identity, dreams, aspirations, and society-- all relevant topics for 9th graders who are trying to figure out who they are and where they want to go.

The due dates for the Sample Class are obviously not real, but the due dates show the sequence of the assignments. When checking out the sample class, and so as not to get overwhelmed by the number of assignments in the newsfeed, go to Calendar and view the assignments as they are listed on the calendar. Then click on each one. Also note that the assignments would be spaced out over the course of a month. For the Sample Class, I've just posted 75% of what was assigned to my classes.

A variety of assignments have been loaded to the Sample Class from actively reading the play and answering questions to webquests to projects to worksheets to a quiz. Some assignments were designated as HW, needing only a short time to complete, and others required more time for completion. Interestingly enough, my students had a hard time figuring out how much time to spend on each assignment, thinking that all assignments on Edmodo were projects and required hours/days of deliberation. I may need to clarify this for future students.

Take a look at the Sample Class; see what there is to see. Showing is much better than telling.

Calendar Screenshot:

Most of these assignments were traditionally handed out on paper. The worksheets I created on Word and would photocopy them. Before Edmodo, I killed quite a number of trees. Now, I'm able to enhance the worksheets by pairing them with additional links and resources. Students could watch a clip of My Fair Lady while completing a worksheet on language and dialects. Worksheets are no longer two dimensional when uploaded to Edmodo.

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy..."

To account for technical snafus, I've adjusted some of my class rules. I tell students that the deadlines are guidelines and provide the sequence for the work.  Despite seeming to encourage procrastinators, I tell my students that assignments are due no later than 3 days after the assigned deadline.  I've had servers crash, computers infected, computer labs booked, class trips, sports, family emergencies, etc all interfere with work getting handed in on time, and rather than listen to the plethora of excuses, I tell students, "I am not concerned about the reason, because there will ALWAYS be a reason to not hand in work. What I care about is getting it done and not letting anything get in the way. If there is a problem, adjust, solve it, and move on. Just get the work done. Period." 

I am lenient and frankly too busy to be taking off points for lateness. Instead, I give that wee bit of wiggle room, but after the 3 day grace period, the assignment becomes a zero. No excuses. Period. I also assign the work with enough time in advanced that students can plan out their schedules to designate time to complete assignments. This adjustment from traditional firm deadlines has actually helped my students to become more responsible and efficient with time and allows for problem solving to take place instead of promoting the generation of excuses. 


Grading assignments on Edmodo has significantly decreased the weight of my school bag. As long as I have an internet connection, I can grade assignments on Edmodo anywhere.  I've even sat on my couch watching Survivor while grading HW using the Edmodo App. Just a word about the app, attached documents that students submit cannot be opened/graded on a smartphone, but teachers can grade students on assignments that are typed into the "reply" box.  The app needs some improvement and upgrades.

The annotate feature for commenting on students' assignments has saved me so much time and file space. Previously, students would email me their assignments. I would open and save them, then comment, resave, and attach to a reply email. The Edmodo annotate feature takes 10 steps out of the process, automatically saving any annotations I make. My feedback on assignments has also increased because I can type faster than I write. I've also been able to get to know my introverted students better. Edmodo is a platform for ongoing dialogue and written positive reinforcement. 

Quick Comment Example

Additionally, students can only take quizzes on a computer or through a browser window on a tablet. Questions can vary in type-- multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, and short answer-- and are automatically graded. Fill in the blank and short answer responses are still graded by the teacher. AHHHHHHHH, I love not having to grade multiple choice by hand.  Quizzes can also go beyond two dimensions by including links or files uploaded by the teacher.

Need Improvement

The Edmodo app needs some enhancement (nongender specific  -- sorry, bad joke).  It would be more convenient if students could take quizzes on devices. For me the app is clunky and slow, often taking forever to show me notifications. Seriously, hyperbole aside, the notification feature rarely works for me.

While I adore the quiz feature, it could also be enhanced. It would be nice to scramble questions and answer choices for each student and be able to insert new questions into the already created question list. I do like that quizzes are timed and that results do not have to be immediately released to students.  I really can't complain because Edmodo is FREE!!!!

I still need to learn how to efficiently use the small group feature. I got as far as assigning small groups and giving them some ungraded tasks, but I was quickly overwhelmed this Spring. Do any of my readers have tips/tricks for using small groups? I'd love to explore writing workshops and collaborative projects. I'm a wee bit leery of group projects on Edmodo because of compounding the usual list of group work complaints ("so&so does all the work"... "you know who isn't pulling his/her weight"... etc) with the technological excuses. Aside from the deadline grace period, I'm sure there are other ways to encourage responsible virtual group work. Tell me some! :-)

What was the purpose of this post?

While I'm telling you that this post is an introduction for the uses of Edmodo, there are some kernels of useful "stuff" for advanced users, and heck, you might even learn a little about Pygmalion in the process. I'm telling you to pop on over to the Sample Class and enjoy the show!

I don't have time right to tell you that outside of the virtual classroom, Edmodo is excellent for finding teachers to network. The Language Arts community is such a valuable resource for generating ideas and collaborating with others.

And, FYI, from Twitter, Edmodo is hoping to get 1 million teachers on their site before September. 

Let's go back to school with one million teachers on  - (RT to win $100 in Edmodo Apps credit!)

Speaking of collaboration and networking, I've been mulling over Cheryl Morris' flipped syllabus post. I love the idea of starting the flip immediately. Connecting Cheryl's post to this blog, what does the Sample Class and this blog show about me as a teacher? Take a look at the Sample Class; see what there is to see. 

Showing is much better than telling.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Notes for future Posts

Inquiry for Of Mice & Men, Pearl, American Dream unit

6 hat thinking as Lens for syllabus flip

Share Pygmalion Unit with Cheryl - Totally connects to upper level students & personality tests, psychology

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Emperor's New Clothes, a Sheep in Wolf's Clothing? Mixing Metaphors for Flipping Instruction

So, I'm very intrigued by the flipped classroom concept, but I have a sense of deja vu. I've been teaching for over 13 years and I've seen my share of trends: curriculum mapping, student-centered learning, cooperative learning, authentic assessing, NCLB...and the beat goes on...and will go on... and on and on.... and  on....

I remember when I first started teaching, a venerable and veteran teacher bemoaning the professional development and having to do curriculm mapping AGAIN. I was taken aback by her jaded position, but now I understand that she has seen the trends come and go with a lack of follow-through and longevity.  I get it, because I've been on the educational merry-go-round too.  Why spend all that time on training for something that will not be around in 2-3 years? Teachers need positive reinforcement and structure just as students. Likening it to athletics (and mixing some more metaphors), why train for a race that one will never run? But, shouldn't entering the race be up to the athlete? Does the coach have to be the one to tell the athlete when to run? Maybe it is the fault of the administration for not following through with the implementation of a trend, but shouldn't it be the teacher's job to determine the longevity and use of a trend?

This same teacher got irritated when administrators would dictate how/what to teach, but yet, she was bemoaning the fact that the administration was not following-through and making sure the teachers stuck with the trend. Her complaint is contradictory: she was irritated with being told what to do, but was equally irritated when she was not being told what to do.   The longevity and follow-through of trends should be on the shoulders of the teachers. There will always be trends in education and progressive supervisors/teachers will want to explore the trends and see how they can enhance one's teaching.  Education/teaching cannot be stagnate-- I have been teaching the same texts for the majority of my career, but I can state that how teach those texts is not the same year after year. Educational trends should not be dressing up concepts in "new" clothes, regurgitating the old and making it seem new. The trends cannot be about false appearances. The trends should be tools in a teacher's toolbox. Not every job requires a hammer, so change tools as needed,  but make sure the right tools are in the toolbox --invest in a solid, well-built hammer the first time instead of  buying a new one every time the handle breaks. Educational trends need to be more than trends; they need to be solid, well-built tools for longevity in education.

Is the flipped classroom model one such tool?  I like the concept for revitalizing classes and encouraging student responsibility.  Especially for traditional teacher-centered classes flipping can enhance the classroom experience. "Well, duh, that's an obvious statement," I'm saying to myself as I type this. Flipping seems akin to independent study and just another version of student-centered learning. Am I dressing my class up in new clothes that aren't really new? Is flipping a sheep in wolf's clothes? Will it amount to nothing, cool in appearance but lacking in substance? Will flipping have longevity? Or is it just a cool trend that will fade only to be recycled and repackaged again in 7-10 years? Is this a hammer that I will actually use or will I just drop it on my foot?

I need to wrap my brain around the logistics of flipping. Without daily access to computers in class, this won't be easy. BYOD will help, but without the computers or a consistent use of technology as a base for allowing all students to be more independent, I'm afraid to totally flip. But are daily computers absolutely necessary to flip? I do want the students interacting with each other, not just being absorbed by the computer. And do I need to flip? Aren't I flipped enough already with all the cooperative learning, teacher-as-facilitator that goes on in my class? Some of the more traditional & mundane units can be enhanced through flipping-- grammar instruction definitely needs to get jazzed up-- talk about dressing up a sheep in wolf's clothing! 

My spring drama unit seems to already to be flipped.  Students studied Pygmalion outside of class, completing assignments through Edmodo, while in class  we watched/read/analyzed West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet.  Most of the concepts in Pygmalion were reinforced and connected to WSS and R&J. Assessments were personal, varied, formative, and summative. Students really enjoyed learning about appearances, dreams, ambiguities, the use of language and connecting it to their lives. If you ask nicely, I could give you the group code to see this past year's class on Edmodo and you can poke around and see what I do.  I'm still stuck though: is this really flipping or is it just independent study? And does it really matter what it is as long as my students are engaged and accountable in their learning?

Some quotes to consider when thinking about appearances and reality:

"The world more often rewards the appearance of merit than merit itself." -FranÁois de la Rochefoucauld

“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have? Four, calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg”  - Abraham Lincoln

And, those of you who are flipped, may be thinking that I'm being as negative and contradictory as the venerable and veteran teacher I mention above. I'll admit, I'm wearing my skeptical black hat ( ), but in order to make an informed decision about how I teach, I need to deconstruct in order to reconstruct. First I question, then I create. 

Quoting Albert Einstein, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." I will learn from previous trends/educational models; I will use/apply what I can as I teach today; I will do more than hope for the education of my students: I will continue to question to make myself a better teacher. Through questioning, I will always find answers.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tell me about the rabbits, George

Ideas about flipping reading (sorry typing this on my phone before I forget my ideas)

-interactive texts that point out narrative terms and have links to relevant info
-audio texts
-videos of e texts being read aloud

I usually read aloud to my students in the beginning of the year, pointing out narrative terms along the way. My Lennie voice is infamous for Of Mice & Men.  How can they get the same experience at home?

Portrait of dogs

I'll revise this post about Brody & Sage later and supply more info about therapy dogs in schools, but the pics will serve as a preview.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What's Up Doc?

Here's an interesting demo on Google docs:

I've always been a Word Girl, so I haven't explored Google docs much. I like the sharing aspect of Google docs, but I have no clue how to use it.  And, there's something about privacy issues or copyright or something: what you write on Google docs becomes property of Google docs?  I'll have to research that bit again.

So, any of you out there in Internet land, do you use Google docs?  How? Why? When?

The Tweet Life

I'm back on Twitter... trying to figure out how to use the gosh darn thing in a better way than just following celebrities.  You can follow me:  @KtBkr4

I don't know yet what I'll be doing on Twitter, but there I am.  And as my husband likes to state, "where ever you are, there you are." So, here I am.

Here's some links and things I found twittering away the day...
(btw, we had thunderstorms here ALL day, so rather than doing laundry, I was using my time for educational purposes)    :-)

And anything with  #canflip  and #flipclass

Thoughts that pop in my head,
 catch 'em quick before their gone again.

Screen sharing with Skype  -- must check this out.

And we just had a lightning strike right outside my window, so I'm done tweeting now because my heart is now twittering from the shock!

Summer Leads

I'm still recovering from the mad dash of the end of the school year, so until September, most blog posts will consist of ideas and "stuff" I've found poking around on the web.

Here's some things  shared by my alumni buddy, Christina Seigel:   The Flipped Classroom Network.  A survey on flipping classrooms  An unconference for teachers-- looks interesting! I just need to get time off from my summer job A little self promotion, if you don't mind voting for me.  :-) And of course, you can post your grant ideas.

I'll be poking around on Edmodo all summer, so make sure you look for Mrs. Kate Baker from Southern Regional High School. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

To Do List

End of the Year Ideas for Next Year

  1. Flip grammar-- need to find resources and make online mastery quizzes 
  2. Figure out how to record lectures or screen-casts.  
  3. Learn how to better utilize the small group features on Edmodo
  4. Learn Class Dojo, Classroom Organizer
  5. Get devices for students who don't have access to BYOD
  6. Obtain digital copies of texts taught in class. Looking forward to using the Kindle reader app and projecting the text on the big screen.

Points to Ponder ("frog word" as Mr. Speck would say)

  1. BYOD and flipping the average/general level class. Will this motivate the unmotivated student? 
  2. Should classes really be tracked? I do see a deficiency in skills between levels, but does the label actually reinforce the deficiency? I'm thinking of the Pygmalion effect and self-fulfilling prophecy:  if the general have been labeled as general, do they perform generally because of the label?
  3. Can I challenge the general level as I challenge the Honors? HOW?

Using Edmodo in the Spring semesters was a success. I was able to assign more challenging and technology based assignments, provide quicker feedback, and lessen my paperload. The test/quiz feature has definitely saved me time! But, assessments should not just be test based. I still went overboard assigning too many assignments for me to assess, but grading in a timely manner has always been a point for improvement. AND, as I constantly tell my students, we are doing more than just working for a grade: there is more to learning than achieving the "A".