Thursday, December 30, 2010

Technology Review 2010

I firmly believe that, when used with intention and purpose, technology enhances learning for students, and understanding how to use and adapt to current and future technology is a quality that all students need. So, one of my professional goals for 2010 was to incorporate more technology into my classroom. This was no small feat, considering that I have no computer aside from my personal work-issued laptop, so my students (in groups of three to eight) have to share one computer with a lot of teacher oversight when they do use the computer, which isn't often.

Still, thanks to generous donations this year, my students were able to work with a variety of technology tools, here's the round-up:

eInstruction Clickers

In August, I received a generous donation of "clickers," an eInstruction CPS IR System. The "clickers," a student communication device, look a little like Wii controllers, with buttons that the students push to select answers on my computer screen. I was surprised at how quickly my students took to them and they've been a great addition. Some of my students favorite activities:

Clicker Sound Sorts: Students who are working on phonics match a letter with a picture. For the letter M, for example, their choices may be pictures of a moose, elephant, or fish. The kids love to click in, see their clicker's number turn dark blue, and encourage each other to get the "right answer". I've also used clickers to have students identify long and short vowel sounds in words (click A if you hear a short vowel, B if you hear a long vowel).

Reading Comprehension: I've used clickers to set up storybook reading comprehension quizzes for young students that include both text and images in responses to questions like "Where does the Grinch live?" (answer: a cave) and "What was the Lady Next Door doing to annoy Harry?" (answer: singing loudly). The addition of images along with written answer choices, allows all my students, regardless of reading ability to participate and be successful. In my literature group (fifth grade students) I create multiple choice reading comprehension quizzes based on the novel we're reading and the standards they're working on (identifying literary tools, for example). With my older students, creating reading comprehension quizzes specifically for their skill level has been very helpful and it's made me a better question and answer writer as I have to think about what I want my students to identify in each question and how I want them to think as they're answering it.

Math Review: Every week or so, I have my students in a fourth grade math group review use clickers to answer either math review questions or speed fact practice.

ePod Handheld Learning Device

There's a new start-up in Chicago that's focused on hand-held learning devices. ePod Club provides ePods (iPods configured with learning apps and eBooks). They provided one for my students and asked me to help try it out. Using the ePod apps, I've noticed a few things:

It's great for math fact practice: My fourth grade math students require a lot of extra subtraction, multiplication and division fact practice (as I'm sure many other fourth graders do as well). Our ePod came equipped with math fact practice games that focus on speed and accuracy and the kids love to play them. I've used the ePod as a learning tool for "down times" when students have to wait (for another student to finish a test, when something unexpected comes up), and as a part of our schedule. Thanks to the ePod, with my smaller groups, I've set up Math Center time that involves a rotating schedule of time on the ePod, time on a computer game, and time playing fact practice games. Throughout the past eight weeks especially, I've seen my students' multiplication and subtraction fact practice skills improve remarkably.

Also on the ePod, games for phonics and word review consistently engage my students who are working on phonics and basic reading skills. My younger students love the tactile nature of the ePod as they identify letters and read stories. It's a popular "center time" activity for them as well and they'll sit on the rug engrossed in a game or story for as long as I'll let them. One kindergarten student, who loves playing the letter games, has increased his knowledge of letter sounds from three to 13 in the time we've worked together.

Portable DVD Player

My classroom also received a donation funded through Donors Choose of a portable DVD player and phonics DVDs. We just received the DVD player and are still receiving all the DVDs so we haven't been able to make full use of it yet. However, I have used the player with DVDs of read-along stories with students who are working on reading comprehension. The students watch a DVD of a familiar story (Where the Wild Things Are, for example) and then complete comprehension questions about it.

In 2011, I'll be starting Technology Centers that will involve rotations between computer learning games and DVD phonics and sight word videos that reinforce the letter of the day or sight word of the day.

So far this year, one aspect of tech that's been driven home to me: it's all in the planning! Technology has the most impact on student engagement and learning when I plan it just as much as I plan a paper and pencil lesson. For me, this has included really understanding and getting to know the technology inside and out, and scripting it into lesson plans and routines so that students understand how and why we use the technology to reinforce old skills and learn new ones.

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