To LMS or Not To LMS…

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CC Image via Pixabay by markmags

Let’s move beyond the LMS, back to and forward to an independent Web and let’s help our students take full advantage of it. (Audrey Watters)

Whoa, whoa, whoa… let’s back up a moment here. “Let’s move beyond the LMS”… how about we first realize that most educators in Saskatchewan aren’t even aware of what an LMS is! Heck, most of Saskatchewan’s educators are still “digital visitors” (My Dad, Web 0.1) and may just be getting used to the idea of how technology and learning management systems (LMS) can be integrated in to their classrooms.

That being said, I am not one of those teachers. I value the way that technology can enhance learning outcomes and how students can use technology in varieties of ways to express their learning.  This is where an LMS comes in handy.

My first choice of LMS is Google Classroom. The reason being, this is what is supported in my school division, so when I am in need of assistance when using Classroom, I have tech support that can help me. As Jessica pointed out in her blog, Google Classroom is one of the platforms that are really geared for ease of use and has lots of support in terms of teachers that are already mastering this platform. So this LMS is already top of mind when it comes integrating it in to the classroom.

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CC image via Pixabay by Wokandapix

Although we were asked to explore different LMS platfoms this week, I feel that if my division is already supporting one particular LMS platform, then I should be mastering it over learning a new one. And, after hearing the different reviews of fellow classmates reviewing LMS platforms (such as Canvas), I feel that, especially in an elementary setting, these other types of platforms are not cohesive to the needs of my students. Kirsten summed up my feelings nicely: it’s another LMS system to have to learn, where I am already comfortable with the one that I am already using.

So, what are my thoughts on Google Classroom as an LMS platform as an itinerant teacher in elementary schools? I fall back to Bates questions he posed regarding Technology Based Education (9.1.3) and adapt them to how I wish to use Classroom for my students:

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Here is how I would answer such questions:

  • I need and want to offer a program that supports all types of learners needs, especially when I am not always in the classroom with the students. And because it is a split grade group, I need to cover all curricular content for both grades. Google Classroom allows for independent learning and teacher led learning.
  • Factors that influence my decision on Google Classroom are:
    • It’s supported by our division
    • Chromebook carts so that students have instant access to it
    • Ease of use
    • Used from class to class, grade to grade (continuity)
  • Because students can easily access assignments and lessons online via Google Classroom, the role of classroom teaching becomes more open. For example, at my school, we tend to have a large population of students who go on extended vacations or visits to home countries. Parents always ask about “taking homework” to work on. With Google Classroom, students will always have access to assignments and be able to turn them in. As another example, an LMS platform like Google Classroom allows students to always have access to their work. No more forgotten assignments at home, or lost papers.
  • The question of the role of the educator can be addressed in all aspects of open and free access. The role of the educator has only shifted slightly. In elementary schools, educators still need to teach students to “find” appropriate and proper information on the free Web and analyze it critically. Educators must also teach students about how to use technology to enhance their learning.
  • When it comes to creating resources and using free resources, I am a believer that both could be one in the same. I don’t know why some teachers feel the need to re-invent the wheel, if what you need already exists. And, when using free resources, adapt it based on the needs of your students. However, should you have to create something, share it- there is always someone else out there who is also looking for it. In this case, an LMS is not necessarily the tool to use for sharing, but other professional LMS-like tools exist. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, provide many user groups to share and discuss.
  • The final question would apply, in my opinion, more to University teachers who are interested in MOOCs. As an elementary teacher, the need for me to create an open class for students in Grades 5 or 6 isn’t really a reality as of yet. I would open my lessons to my students who would be absent from class for reasons beyond my control so that they would have access to the lessons happening. However, opening it up to the entire world would require more thought and planning. Too many factors over privacy would come in to play, especially when working with minors.

When considering Bates description of Online Learning Environments in Chapter 6, he describes it as:

LMSs provide an online teaching environment, where content can be loaded and organized, as well as providing ‘spaces’ for learning objectives, student activities, assignment questions, and discussion forums.

I feel that Google Classroom does just this. Content is loaded on to students personal platforms based on classroom subjects and organized based on assignments. It provides multiple tools of learning (whether creating an assignment, posing a question for discussion or providing information) and also allows for immediate feedback between teachers and students.

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CC Image via Flickr by Wesley Fryer

Roxanne put it quite perfectly when she summed up that an LMS platform, such as Google Classroom, can

encourage students to be independent learners and to help them realize that technology can be beneficial to their education.

However, it can also be beneficial to educators who are looking to enhance learning opportunities for their students as well as themselves.

My Summary of Learning for ECI 833

With this being my 3rd class with Alec, I always know what to expect. I also like to explore new tools in education when it comes time to do my summary of learning.

This class is no different. I decided to use an app called WriteReader. I comes with high praises from Common SenseMedia and other reputable software critics. However, I found it to still be lacking in certain areas.

To begin, this app/software enables the youngest of writers to publish their own stories. It is a great tool for kids who love to tell stories. They can use their own pictures or pull from a Google search (which, according to the developers are pictures that are free to use).

One problem I ran into when creating my story for my summary of learning, was I could not insert a page between two pages. My first outline of my story required me to add additional pages to keep my story moving along. However, it would only add pages to the end of the story. After discussions with the developer, they too realized the flaw in this system. So, I had to start over with a paper outline. That was my first frustration.

My second frustration is the limited characters in the writing boxes. It forced me to be concise in my thinking and how I explained my thoughts.

My third frustration with the tech is the recording function. It would work fine for a couple of pages, and then it would simply copy what the previous page’s recording was. After many attempts, hours of trying and re-trying, I finally discovered that I had to re-listen to every recording after I made it and if it began repeating the previous page, I had to leave the program and log back in to start where the repetition began. Finally, it is done. I’m not sure I am ready to share WriteReader with my staff just yet, there are some bugs that need to be ironed out first.

Well – here is my first WriteReader published story. Enjoy!

Adventures in ECI 833

Thank you for a great semester! And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Rochelle

 

My Kid has a Learning Disability and is in French Immersion – Does that make me a bad parent?

“You’re just setting him up for failure, you know.”

“Why punish him by making him learn a second language when he can’t handle a first?”

“Just wait until he gets to High School, then you’ll understand why I was right.”

Yup. Those were words once spoken to me by a teacher (thankfully not one that taught my son).

I loved the discussion around assistive technologies last week, but I’ve been dreading this post. This conversation hits very close to home for me as I have a son who is Dyslexic (although they don’t officially diagnose that anymore). On his file – he has a “Reading and Writing Disability”. Because of the hard work of his amazing teachers and LRTs, we were able to get him a laptop to assist him in his daily work. He is currently in Grade 8 and is doing amazing in French Immersion and even has plans to continue in French Immersion through High School.

However, those damning comments always sneak up in my mind. I judge my decisions all the time and then, I remember “He’s got this. He’s got the tools he needs to succeed. Let him do it if he wants to!” And the best part about it- HE WANTS TO DO IT!

“It” is French Immersion. Learning a second language is hard enough as it is. Doing it with a reading and writing disability makes it even harder. Lucky for him, he has the technology to help him along and a mom who also happens to be a French Immersion teacher. So this post is going to be about all the positive ways technology has helped my learning disabled child be successful in French Immersion.

#1: Google Read&Write http://thinglinkURL

Google ReadWrite allows my son to work on documents in Drive, assist him in reading websites and helps read to him. He doesn’t use it as often as I would like him to, but it is because it is still not quite as user friendly as it could be, but it’s much simpler than Kurzweil.

#2: Google Translate

This is a tricky one. French Immersion teachers either love or hate this app. Some students use it inappropriately by simply typing what they want to say in English and then hit translate to French and then copy and paste and turn it in. It happened a couple of times when I taught Grade 7/8 French Immersion. Thankfully, the following video explained to my students why we can always catch them when they copy and paste.

Google translate has its useful purposes. I have used it quite often to look up a word in French or even help getting ideas on how to properly phrase an idea. However, this video reminds me and my students that it is not a perfect system and that we have to make sure that it is used with a critical eye. My son uses it in two different ways: the first is obvious, to help him with his French vocabulary while writing. However, the second is for it’s speech recognition. If he is unsure of how to spell a word (whether in English or French), he simply presses the microphone icon, speaks the word and Google Translate helps him with his spelling.

Another interesting feature with Google Translate is the camera view. When using Google Translate on a mobile device with a camera you can click on the camera icon, hover it over the text and Google Translate will translate the text it “sees”. This is useful to parents who may be helping with homework and are not familiar with the language.

#3 Word Reference

Word Reference is used by the teachers who do not like Google Translate. Word Reference allows for multiple definitions and translations of a word. I find Word Reference very “wordy” and for my son it’s too much information for him to sift through.

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#4: Bon Patron

Bon Patron is a great teaching tool to help French Immersion students navigate the very difficult world of learning the French language. Students simply copy and paste parts of their French text into Bon Patron and then the program provides suggestions and teaches the students how to correct grammatical and spelling errors. It is not a perfect program but it is very effective in helping students. My son uses it for almost every French assignment to help correct what he is working on.

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As you hover over a part of the sentence that is highlighted or underlined, it gives you a rule and options for possible fixes. My students were not allowed to hand in assignments until they put it through Bon Patron first. The nice thing about this is it offers a free version and their is a paid version. However, the free version is perfect for French Immersion students.

I know with all my heart that I am not a bad parent for allowing my son to continue with French Immersion, but the stigma of the difficulties of learning a second language with a learning disability still remains. However, the technologies that are offered to assist those (and basically everyone else) to be successful in everything they do is endless and as long as technology is accepted and supported to allow those to use it.

My Dad, Web 0.1…

 

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CC image via Flickr by Graham Stanley

What a crazy week. Husband working shifts, meetings at work, kids soccer and University class. Thank goodness I have my parents available to help me out. Now, I’m not sure about you guys, but when you ask your dad to pick up a kid at 7:30 and get them to soccer/hockey/curling they always show up at 6:45. My dad did that just this week. And of course, I was already on Zoom ready for the amazing presentation to come. Dad hung around for a while, listened in and even made a cameo experience (much to his horror). However, he was quite intrigued at how technology has come so far as to allow students to learn from home.

I asked my dad what his first experience with computers was. And I was quite surprised by his response:

Now, for those of you who don’t speak “Twitter”, basically, I had a conversation (convo) with (w/) my 58 year old (58yo) dad who would do a type of coding on the computers (comps) at High School (HS) that would print paper with holes in it. Then, they would get to go to the University of Regina where their computers would read the holes in the paper and create to program they originally made.

Hmmm… This seems a bit Web 2.0-3.0, doesn’t it? Using the computers to create something? Now, maybe it wasn’t connected to the internet because it wasn’t really around, but did my dad’s ts… I mean “teachers”, realize the potential computers had already even before the Internet was available to general population? Had the Internet been around, think of how my dad’s creations could have been shared! So what changed? Why are we so intimidated to shift from Web 1.0 and 2.0 to 3.0?

Let’s look at Web 1.0:

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CC image via Flickr by Alex Ambrose

I remember the first time I saw a web address on a TV commercial. I can’t remember exactly what was being sold, but I remember seeing the telephone number to call for more information, and, instead of an address to write a letter to, there was this weird www. “thingy”. I knew that the Internet was around, but it hadn’t really made its way to quiet, small city Regina just yet. My first thought “It’ll never last.” But alas, I was quite wrong. However, back then, the web address was simply a substitute for the mailing address. For those “who had” internet, they could simply type in the web address and pull information about the product. No different from making the phone call or sending a letter. The only big difference was (okay – huge difference) was the information was then immediate.

Gerstein likens Education 1.0 to Web 1.0. She says:

… {it} is a one-way dissemination of knowledge from teacher to student. (pg. 85)

In my case, it was from producer to consumer. We didn’t have internet back then, so if I required more information, I would have had to make a phone call, and because we only had 1 landline and 1 phone number and no call-waiting, my mom didn’t like if I was on the phone for longer than 5 minutes.

In such a case, and back in the day, the Web was simply a disseminator of information. However, has much of that changed today in education? Is the internet used for more than a google search? Or as a replacement for pen and paper? The non-fiction section in my library would agree. Very rarely do I see students in the library looking for books to do research projects and why would they- everything they need is at their fingertips.

But kids seemed to have moved on from simply “wanting” information. When the Web evolved from 1.0 to 2.0, so to did the new generation of digital citizens. Web 2.0, according to Gerstein:

…permits interactivity between the content and the user, and between users themselves. (p.86)

This was also the evolution of Education 2.0. Bill Gates wrote in his blog:

I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged their students to explore areas of learning they were curious about. Having the freedom to try things out allowed me to develop a passion for computing…

Today, teachers are are using more inquiry based approaches in their learning, making students seek out their answers and question what they are learning. Education 2.0, is much like Web 2.0 – we are loosening the reins on our children. We are giving them more freedom to explore, analyze, critique, make mistakes and yet still learn. Web 2.0 supports the communicate and collaborate of the inquiry method by making the world a much smaller space.

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CC image via Flickr by Paul Downey

But this can terrify educators who are not comfortable with using Web 2.0 tools. Sometimes, the thought of allowing students freedoms online to create, share, collaborate and communicate is a path fraught with the unknown. So, while teachers are trying to navigate new curriculum and new ways of teaching, they are also expected to include technology into their lessons.

It isn’t a surprise that when you talk to most teachers about technology they seem to groan and complain about not enough broadband, not enough devices so all students can type an assignment or how they have to take phones away because of Snapchat or texting in class.

But when you look at some statistics from Statistics Canada in 2011, most teachers in our schools would never have had grown up with computers in their home, let alone the internet.

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So, when the massive majority of teachers in Canada were born in a time pre-internet, and are not comfortable with Web 2.0 yet, how can we consider getting our students, our teachers and our schools Web 3.0 ready?

The Sofa Student

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CC Image via Pixabay by alphalight1

In 2012 I decided it was time for me to go back to school to pursue my Masters of Education degree. At this point in my life, my kids were 9 and 7 years old and my husband worked shift work. Classes being 1 night a week at the University was sometimes difficult with a young family and a husband who wasn’t always home in the evenings. I had to rely a lot on my parents and in-laws to watch the kids while I went off to school. The guilt was real.

When I discovered that I could take classes online, I was hesitant because I had never taken such a class but equally thrilled because now I wouldn’t have to rely on Grandpas and Grandmas while I took classes. I’ve had two types of experiences with online classes: Alec’s version and “the other kind”.

Audrey Watters wrote:

the original aspirations, even — of ed-tech: the idea that some sort of mechanism could be developed to not only deliver content — that’s what Edison imagines — but to handle both instruction and assessment.

In Alec’s courses, I feel that even though we are learning from the comforts of our own homes or classrooms, we still get the engagement piece through the use of Zoom. One aspect I do like about Zoom is we get to “see” the person who is talking and hear them. The content is delivered through screen sharing, slides and conferencing.  We also have the opportunities to use the breakout rooms and chat using the chat features. The use of Twitter, Google Community, Blogs and Google Docs allows for the assessment pieces. Plus, I get to sit on my couch, with a hot tea and my learning partner next to me!

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In my other class, we simply used MOODLE/UR Courses. There was no interaction, no set time and date to meet up and our only communication with our professors was through email. If you weren’t a self-motivated learner, this class had no appeal. The delivery of content was through readings, there was no instruction (other than the syllabus) and assessment happened with us turning in papers to faceless names.  It was not an ideal experience in my opinion.

So how about distance and online learning in the elementary classroom. Teachers nowadays feel as though they need to create a high level of engagement among students in order to feel they are reaching and teaching their target audiences. So can online learning or distance learning keep elementary students engaged?

When I taught Grade 7/8, I tried using the flipped classroom as a sort of distance/online learning tool. I would create a PowerPoint presentation (pre-Google slides era) of my lesson, record myself going through the slides, put in questions to ponder and discuss for next class and give the students the questions they would be working on in class. For my students who were heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, they enjoyed the fact that their only homework was to listen to a presentation and prepare to discuss certain questions in class the next time we met.

The downfall to my flipped classroom was it was a ton of more work for me. The presentations took twice as long as a regular class would be and we ended up discussing just as much in class when we next met. However, the one real big positive was that the students commented that they enjoyed being able to go back to my presentations for preparing for tests or doing projects. Even though they may not have understood the presentations at the beginning, they enjoyed being able to reference back to them later on.

I guess that is no different then what we are doing here in ECI 833. Just like my flipped classroom, when I need to refer back to class, I have the opportunity to replay it and retrieve the information I need.

I truly believe that, in a sense, with Google Classroom, we are beginning to see an amalgamation on Online/Distance learning with traditional school based learning. Students who may be absent for illness or vacations can always access Google Classrooms to retrieve content they may have missed (so long as they have internet access) and teachers can post from anywhere at anytime (say for instance – Hawaii…).

However, the use of technology for online/distance learning brings up another issue and one that is maybe for another blog post – what are the benchmarks students need to achieve in educational technology to be successful at learning online? For example “By the end of Grade 3 all students will be able to share a Google Doc with their teacher.” Amy Singh and I are currently on a committee with Regina Public Schools addressing such questions and working on Digital Essential Learnings that will be integrated into classrooms through a framework or continuum. As we discuss the use of technology in classrooms and outside of the classrooms, it is important that we remember that students are not born knowing how to use technology so at some point, we need to teach them how to use it.

If My Brain Was The Internet…

When The Atlantic put out the video “Single-Tasking Is The New Multi-Tasking” they referred to the #TablessThursday movement where, on Thursdays, only work in the Internet with 1 tab open. While watching this video on a Saturday morning at 8 am, I quickly grabbed a screen shot of the tabs I had open- this is my pre-blog pic:

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Three tabs- that’s actually pretty good for me… However, an hour before starting this, I had already scrolled through Facebook, The Leader-Post App, Huffington Post and Instagram on my phone. Do those apps count as tabs?

The one sentence that really stuck out there for me in this is “Tabs are a metaphor for life”. Now, my post is going to get a bit more personal, but I promise to come back… If my brain was the Internet, there would be a thousand tabs open all time. I’m constantly multi-tasking in my head about all the events, work, kids, husband, dog- the things in life that consume my life. At the beginning of this week, I was stricken with 3 nights of insomnia where I couldn’t get my brain to turn off about all the things I needed to do. My husband suggested, on the third night, “Make a list of everything going on in your head”. After giving him a scowl, I tried it. Now, maybe it was because I hadn’t slept in three nights, or maybe, just maybe, it was because I made a list, I finally slept. (Please don’t tell my husband he may have been right… 😉

But that one sentence from the video stuck with me. Our brains are wired like the Internet. It is our central hub of all the information we have acquired over our lives and we pull out and search that information as it becomes necessary (and, I must say, much quicker than our actual Internet providers in this province…). But all those “tabs” that we use in our brains to keep ourselves going, to plan in advance, to make sure we are where we need to be, are always open. Managing those tabs is how we make it through each day.

Now, at the beginning of this week, I wasn’t managing them well enough and my body and mind suffered. I wasn’t sleeping because I was too busy thinking. So, if the brain is like the Internet, then is the Internet like the brain when we are trying to be productive? Here’s an example:

It’s 3:00pm. School is almost over for the day and you are on prep. Your email icon pops up, and it’s an email from your principal saying “Long Range Plans due”. You know you are close to getting them done, but you are stuck on a couple of outcomes that you likely won’t be covering until June… Well, let’s not respond right away to that email. Let’s start searching for that outcome online and see what’s out there. As you scroll over to your Internet icon, you see that you were searching up questions for a novel you want to study with the class. Well, that is important so let’s leave that up, next you remember that you needed to print off that news article for tomorrow’s social lesson. So you find it in a new tab. You still have your online textbooks open, but you still need that to plan tomorrow’s Math lessons. Speaking of math, Sadie asked for extra help with algebraic equations. What is that site again??? The search goes on and on. Three more emails pop up and by 3:20 you now have 10 tabs open in your browser and 6 unread emails. There’s the bell! Home time. Close the lid on your laptop and all those tabs just got put to sleep.

I will be honest – I just spent that last 5 minutes scrolling through Facebook looking for a post I read this morning about how teachers make more last minute decisions than surgeons. Couldn’t find it. But I did chat with another teacher about something different. Am I feeling productive? Is the Internet more of a distraction right now? Absolutely! It’s Saturday at 8:46 am. I consider myself a multitasker who takes appropriate brain breaks when necessary. We do the same thing in our classrooms. We see our students getting squirmy after long periods of inactivity so we get them up, focused on something more energizing for a couple of minutes and once they are ready, they can get back to work.

As adults, we have the self-regulation tools needed to help us re-focus when we find we are getting too overwhelmed with what we are doing. For me (and again, please don’t tell my hubby he was right…), I needed to make that list to quiet my brain. When at work, we need to check on something other than work to step aside and quiet our thoughts. When I re-open the lid to my laptop and see all those tabs open, at least there is a visual reminder of all the things I still need to work on (much like my list…). The difference between the Internet and the brain is that one can be turned off when needed. The other will eventually quiet in time.

Here is my post-blog pic:

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