Thursday, May 29, 2014

Going Paperless... Is It Good for Students?

Author Note: Please check out a more thorough version of this post on EdSurge posted on June 26. Thanks!

As I close in on the final weeks of the school year, I'm always buried in research papers, projects, and data. But I can't help but be slightly nostalgic for that sweet spot about a month into the school year.  It is then that I don't feel the rush to grade by a hard deadline, I've had a little time to get to know my students on both an academic and personal level, and I have plenty of room to experiment a bit with content and instruction.

It was at this point in late September/early October of 2013 that I decided to take the plunge and go completely paperless.  This was certainly a personal and professional challenge for myself, but now that I look back, did it have a beneficial impact on student learning?

Because if it didn't, none of it was worthwhile.
A little paperless artwork on my classroom whiteboard courtesy of some sophomores.

As part of some end-of-year reflecting and some planning for next year, I asked my students if they would be willing to write short reflections on how our paperless BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model has affected their learning.  This is what they said:

They Realized Their Phones Are Powerful Tools for Learning

"The use of technology is getting more and more popular, but what are we really using it for? When you look down at anyone's phone or iPad, you'll most likely see messages and social media. With such an amazing invention, we should expand what we can use these devices for, and bringing education into it is a great idea."

"BYOD hasn't been utilized as originally intended, but with Mrs. Gallagher's teaching methods, I feel as if we are reaching the intended purpose."

They Feel More Organized

"After spending a year in a paperless classroom, I've realized that taking notes and doing activities on iPads is a cleaner and more organized way of learning. It's nice because all your work is right there in the click of a button; there's no need for endlessly looking for a paper in an overfilled binder."

"I now have the ability to digitally store my notes in "the cloud" and have my notes accessible to me wherever I go, making organization much easier for me."

They Feel More Connected With Their Classmates

"This class has helped me immensely, getting through to my peers with the use of technology and sharing my thoughts and ideas. I know it is not the greatest thing to be hidden behind a computer screen, but through the use of new forms of communication with technology, I feel that I have gotten more comfortable with my classmates and can speak freely in front of them. We utilize programs such as backchannel and Google Drive to collaborate with other kids, making projects and presenting much easier."

They're Having More Fun... and Learning More!

"The devices have allowed access to new things in class and we are able to use many different apps.  Through the use of devices, students become more intrigued in their learning."

"Activities on iPads and computers are much more fun to do compared to just doing a worksheet for class, and you still get the information in your brain."

"I can honestly say that I have learned more through the use of technology in the classroom."

There are still days when our school's BYOD wifi is unreliable. There are still a few students who reach for paper now and then. All of that is part of the deal in a big high school with students of varying needs. We aren't paper-haters, but we are willing to try something new together to find out if the benefits outweigh the frustrations. It seems the majority of students feel that this is the way they want to learn, so I'll keep at it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Paperless Rubrics With Skitch

The commitment to go paperless this year has been both exciting and challenging. Surprisingly enough, one of the toughest things to move into the paperless realm has been the department rubric. At our school, and in our state, there is an emphasis on measuring consistency from teacher to teacher and class to class with district determined measures. This means we:
  • choose a common assessment that measures content or skills that we feel are essential for our students;
  • design the assessment and the evaluation collaboratively as a group of educators;
  • read, compare and contrast student work together; and 
  • calibrate our evaluation of student work.
For us, this meant working with document based questions (DBQs).  So how do I take a rubric that was designed for classrooms that use paper and adjust it to a paperless classroom?  Well, here are the steps:

Step 1: Screenshot

On every laptop keyboard there is a 'PrntScrn' button. Locate it. It is your friend. I use mine all the time to create instructions and tutorials for my students.  The first step to paperless rubric is to pull it up so it fills your laptop screen and then screenshot it.

Print Screen buttons from 3 different teacher computers in my hallway.

Don't be alarmed if it looks like nothing is happening when you hit the 'PrntScrn' button, your computer has saved the image of what appears on your screen at that moment on your clipboard.

Step 2: Crop and Clean

I use the Paint program that is build into every Windows machine.  Open Paint and then hit the 'Paste' button. The image of your laptop screen will appear in the Paint window.

Screenshot of  rubric on laptop screen pasted into Paint.

Click the 'Select' button and then draw a clean box around just your rubric. You can keep the toolbars, tabs, and other items that surrounded your rubric outside of the box.

Click 'Crop' to create your clean rubric.

.jpg of rubric after it has been cropped in Paint and saved.

Save your image in whatever format you like. I prefer .jpg.

Good news! The hard part is over!

Step 3: Skitch It

If you haven't already downloaded Skitch, click here and do it. It's free and once you've tried it out you'll be hooked.

Open Skitch. Click 'Skitch' from the top left of the toolbar. Click 'Open' from the dropdown menu.  Then select the .jpg of the rubric you've just created. It will appear in the Skitch window.  You will do this each time you need a new rubric.

Rubric in Skitch.

Next, watch this 3 minute screencast that shows you how to fill out your rubric.

Step 4: Share It

Saving and sharing is the BEST part of paperless rubrics with Skitch.
  • Effortless saving.  Completed rubrics are saved and catalogued on your computer/school network drive. No more lost paperwork!
  • Sync with Evernote. If you use Evernote, the images will sync and can be saved and sorted there. (They do say "Remember Everything" over there at Evernote, don't they?)
  • Easy to email to students instantly. Here is an example of a rubric I filled out during a student group presentation last week. I emailed the students who presented, and seconds after leaving the front of the classroom they had detailed teacher feedback.
Rubric completed with Skitch during live student presentation.

  • Records of student growth. If you use the same rubrics to grade similar work (i.e. one rubric for all DBQs throughout the school year) you will have digital records of their score along with all of the detailed feedback you provided on the rubrics.
If you have a tablet, Skitch is available as an app download. I use it often on the fly during class on my iPad. My students also use it to edit graphs, art, and graphic organizers in class.
Tracking student scores and progress paperlessly has made my life MUCH simpler. Hopefully this inspired you to give it a try.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Best YouTube Channels for History Teachers

Here are my favorite YouTube resources for the history classroom. They've been sorted into two categories: METHODOLOGY and CONTENT.


The Teaching Channel

I recently started watching videos on the Teaching Channel website thanks to a recommendation from an assistant principal. I've found a few inspiring lesson ideas there that I've been able to adjust for my students and my classroom.  My favorite so far suggests teaching the Declaration of Independence as a break-up letter:

If you find something on The Teaching Channel YouTube channel you can go to their website to find more resources and discussions related to that lesson.  My favorite videos lately on the YouTube channel are the interviews of teachers and students surrounding Teacher Appreciation Week and the National Teacher of the Year. They are inspiring and can really recharge an over-taxed educator near the end of a long school year.

Stanford History Education Group (SHEG)

The SHEG website is a rich resource for lessons that teach students to read and analyze primary and secondary sources effectively. Not only that, the historical questions posed in the lessons are interesting for teenagers.  Their YouTube channel has great videos with guidance on teaching document analysis and there are examples of teachers using their methodology as well.  Recently I got into a conversation on Twitter with a few fellow history teachers on whether primary sources should be excerpted or if the language should be modernized when given to students at lower reading levels.  This SHEG YouTube channel video became an important part of that conversation:

There are many other videos available to provide guidance to both new and seasoned history teachers. I really like the source analysis method from SHEG: sourcing, contextualization, close reading and inferring, corroboration, and significance. Your students can benefit from video clips explaining and demonstrating each of these steps of analysis before diving into historical documents in your classroom.


Crash Course

These videos are fast paced, funny, honest, and packed with content. Crash Course creator John Green informs and entertains with insightful humor and cool animations. My recommendation is to use these videos as review, rather than first exposure to information, because of the pacing.  I've used a few videos, or segments of them, with both my freshmen and sophomore classes this year.  The one that seemed to have the greatest impact was about the treatment of Native Americans by Spanish explorers.  My 9th graders gained a deeper understanding of the misconceptions the Spaniards had of Native American belief systems and cultures that led to unspeakable persecution.
 I think my favorite part of the Crash Course videos is the "Mystery Document." John Green reads the text of a primary source aloud and then identifies the author and title... or else he gets shocked by a buzzer pen.  Yes, it is entertaining, but it also demonstrates document analysis in a humorous way to my students.

For your teacher friends in other departments, Crash Course has video playlists on psychology, chemistry, biology, ecology, and literature in addition to the world and U.S. history lists that I love.

HipHughes History

Keith Hughes is a history teacher just like you and me, but he uses his quirky sense of humor to put together short, funny, content rich videos for his students. Lucky for us, he publishes them on YouTube and we get to use them too!  I recently used this one on the controversy surrounding the Presidential Election of 1876.

I love it when a history teacher can use "cray cray" in an academic context and make it work.

If you struggle to get kids to sit up straight and engage when you're showing video clips in class, check out my recent post on making videos more of an activity than a passive experience. There are great suggestions for flipping your classroom there as well.

Please feel free to add more great YouTube channel suggestions in the comments below!

Monday, May 5, 2014

4 Ways to Keep the Conversation Going Beyond the Classroom Walls

Learning is not, and should not be, limited to what goes on within the four walls of classrooms.  Students are constantly learning and usually new questions are sparked when that learning happens. How can we encourage our students to ask their questions? Without a way to communicate their ideas and inquiries when they occur, will our millennials develop the inquisitiveness that is necessary for them to become the innovators of tomorrow?

Here are 4 ways you can encourage your students to share their thoughts and questions when you aren't together in the classroom:

Google Drive

My students submit their multimedia creations and lesson reflections on public blogs, but what about work that is in the draft phases? How can they submit that to me paperlessly and still get the feedback they need? Google Drive has been the answer to that question for my students this year.  Students make me an editor on their notes, outlines, and drafts. Then I can go in and comment on their work-in-progress. The best part is that I get email notifications when they resolve problems or comment back based on my feedback. Here are some examples of important detailed conversations I've had outside of school hours and walls because of Google Drive.
Helping a freshman narrow her research questions early in a project
so she'll be more successful in the long run.

Helping a sophomore differentiate between scholarly
and encyclopedic secondary sources.


Although many district AUPs prohibit teachers from communicating with students via social media, there is a way to get around them so that you can share the great tweets you come across with them. They can share their excitement, or frustration, with you too.  First, encourage students to follow you, even if you can't follow them back. Of course your tweets on the account they follow would have to be strictly professional, but you will be serving as a great model of the way to leverage social media to promote learning and PLN building.  Then, create a hashtag that is specifically for your class.  Be sure you clearly communicate that hashtag to your students and their parents.
My Twitter info is on the whiteboard in the classroom and
I mention it at the end of most emails I send home to parents.
 Then, of course, you have to use the hashtag often. Students start looking forward to seeing familiar names and ideas mentioned.  My students' favorite is #thankateenager because I give them shout-outs for going above and beyond.

Finally, if students are tweeting about something that's going on related to your class, encourage them to tag you or use your class hashtag in the tweet. It is important to establish a positive class culture and clear digital citizenship expectations before doing this, of course.  Recently some of my students' work was published and they tweeted out the links because they were excited. Here's one example:


I know it sounds weird to text message with your students, but hear me out. iMessage allows users to create multiple iMessage accounts based on phone numbers or email addresses. I certainly would not give my students my personal cell number, but they already have my school email address. Sometimes it makes more sense to have a conversation via text message than via a long slow string of emails.  Once again, after establishing some very clear digital citizenship guidelines, I have been able to quickly address student questions outside of school hours using iMessage so that students aren't getting stuck while working at home. Often these are clarifications on assignments that can be addressed quickly.
This student wanted to confirm a good painting choice before
moving to the next step in his Romanticism Art Analysis project.

This student needed help crafting the research question
 for her semester long research project.


Of course, the honest truth is that most of my students' parents' primary and preferred method of communication with school is email. Our district uses Edline and we can send out group emails to parents and students through our class pages. I make a habit of updating grades and sending out emails weekly so that both students and parents are aware of what is going on in class and what is coming up.  Included are shortened URLs to all notes, resources, and assignments.  Here is an example from last week's email to my sophomores and their families.

I'm sure there are more methods to communicate with parents and students (Remind101 comes to mind) but the combination of these 4 in the circumstance described has worked well for my students and their families this year. Feel free to comment with more that have helped your students be successful as well.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Read, Analyze, Create, Publish

Note: This post was originally published at Talks With Teachers.

History is an adventure.  It is a mystery to be solved. The evidence can be found in the images and words of the past.  As a history teacher I love digging into the evidence and finding new insights, but for a 21st century teenager they might not be so entrancing.  I’ve found the trick to getting kids to dig into both primary and secondary sources is to allow them to create something from what they’ve learned and publish their creation. Here’s how:

Give a Historical Figure a Voice

We read two opposing views of the African Colonization Society from the early 19th century. Students found online images of Richard Allen and James Madison, the authors. Then ChatterPix helped them make those images come to life. They used their own words and voices to explain the views from their primary source. The resulting videos were shared with the class and published on their blogs.

Create an eQuilt

The role of women in the Civil War is often overlooked.  Luckily, the New York Times has published a series entitled DISUNION as part of their Opinionator in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the conflict.  Small groups of 2-3 students read some of these articles and created images representing the contributions of women from both the Union and Confederacy. They used apps like Paper and Educreations. When they finished they shared their work collaboratively using Padlet. Along with their symbolic collages, they chose quotes from the article to demonstrate analysis.  The result is what I like to call an eQuilt and it generated great discussion.

Animate the Documents

Gettysburg is the well-known turning point battle of the Civil War. The DBQ Project has put together a fantastic document based question that asks students why this is true. Groups of students examined letters, statistics, maps and the Gettysburg Address to find out. The result of their document analysis this time was an animated movie trailer style video using Animoto. Then we played them in class and talked about what their movies represented.  Here are examples of student videos based on statistics and the Gettysburg Address.

Click here to see Morgan's Animoto.
Click here to see Andrew's Animoto.
Of course, analyzing nonfiction and writing essays is an important part of developing students’ literacy and communication skills, but there are many ways for students to communicate their learning. All of these options allow kids to create something that can be shared with the world.  They can be posted on social media or pulled up on tablet and laptop screens at home so the discussion doesn’t end when the bell rings at the end of class.  Let students create and publish their ideas with digital products and you’ll be amazed at how engaged they will be with the words on the page.