Sunday, August 19, 2012

Working out the Worksheet

With two weeks until school is back in session and in preparing for my presentation on Edmodo for the upcoming TeachMeetNJ unconference, I've been reflecting on past practices and thinking about how I structure the educational process in my class. Prior to the digital revolution, I used worksheets as the hub for lessons and content. I can hear the gasps of horror right now, but let me explain....

When students are not allowed to write in school issued books, having a place to write information and react to the text is vital, and being able to keep the number of worksheets to a minimum helps students as well. The worksheet was a way to organize the lesson structure and give students a location to put information. When teaching 9th graders, there is often an issue with organization. The worksheets provided guidance and structure for the content. Over the 14 years I have taught, I designed worksheets using Word and was diligent in use of space and the layout efficiently using 1 piece of paper 2-sided. Take a peek at what I created for our study of Romeo & Juliet and a group work review for Cask of Amontillado. Some of the Word formatting unfortunately does not translate well into Gdocs, but the gist of the layout and content is there.

One criticism of worksheets is that they are used for busy work.  While my students are busy working, the worksheet is not mindless and time wasting. My students are busy working, not doing busywork. There is a difference. Another criticism or misconception is that the worksheet promotes students sitting at their desks, heads bent, pencils scribbling... no interaction with others. The worksheets I have designed over the years have portability in mind: rather than lug textbooks and overflowing binders around the class, students carried one piece of paper to various locations for group work and stations.

Now that the digital revolution is in full swing, I am trying to devise means for moving to a paperless and digital classroom while facing the following challenges:

  1. Availability of technology: there is a reason why I'm focused on BYOD with this blog; I do not teach in a 1:1 district. While the tech department is wonderful, I can't always get into the computer lab or sign out the laptop cart.  Practical & free BYOD resources are a must.
  2. Changing technology: Web 2.0 tools are constantly changing; new technology is always popping up and disappearing. I love new tools, but the technology needs to be organized and centralized: students can't have 20 log-ins. And how many of these tools can be used with BYOD? Having students' resources scattered all over the web is akin to the exploding  3-ring binder loaded with all materials from multiple classes: it doesn't work. 
  3. Turning in through technology:  Being at home or in the lab, turning in assignments is easy when the technology is at one's fingertips. Students turn in assignments via Edmodo at home or in the lab, but in the classroom, I need a BYOD method that allows students to access, create, answer, and turn in to the teacher. Socrative is excellent for multple choice and short answer, but for other types of assessments and activities, the technology is still evolving. Any ideas? Delivery is easy, but assessment via BYOD is more problematic.
  4. Avoid reinventing the wheel and having a seamless transition: I have a massive library of resources that I've created that need to evolve for use in the digital cloud.  As evident in the Word docs above that were transferred to Google, the formatting isn't exact. How can resources be adapted to BYOD?

So here is my game plan for this year: generally, avoid paper and turn the students' devices into digital notebooks.

  1. Worksheets are uploaded to Edmodo for students to access, complete, and turn in. I won't have to worry about file types and formatting with Edmodo. This will be fine for in class use when we can get in the lab or use the cart, but for BYOD, I'll need a different strategy. I'm still working on that...
  2. Adapt previously created resources/worksheets for use in mobile apps such as Socrative, Evernote, Springpad, and GDocs, GForms, etc. I anticipate lots of copy/pasting. 
  3. Students take quizzes/tests on Edmodo and Socrative. Again, more copy/pasting from paper-based tests to the quiz generators.
  4. For BYOD word processing, students should be able to use the Google Docs/ Drive app on their devices. The files can then be accessed later on computers and with the integration with Edmodo, students can turn in the files on Edmodo. For BYOD in the classroom, the focus will be on smaller and more frequent writing assignments (paragraphs, journals, etc) that can later be collated and revised into larger documents on the computers.
  5. For active reading, I can deliver poetry and short stories via Google docs and have students use tools to mark up the text. We could have a class copy of annotated text that all students collaborated on. 
  6. Using Edshelf and scouring twitter posts, find more apps to use in class. Additionally, students will be assigned to find an app that can be used in school and write a review. By putting students to work, I should be able to find even more resources than the ones listed here.
    • Google Drive
    • Edmodo
    • Youtube
    • Skype
    • Kindle reader
    • Quizlet
    • Socrative
    • Evernote or Sprinpad
    • Document camera/scanner 
    • Skitch or other photo editor

While I'll be using Edmodo as my hub for digital learning, I still need to "grease the wheels" for BYOD.
This is all a work in progress, and as always, I welcome any ideas, thoughts, comments on how to make the BYOD integration work.

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