Why Classroom Sets are Better than 1:1 in Middle School

I teach 12-13 year old students that come to class every day without a pencil.  Or come with destroyed binders.  Or need to visit their locker to get their assignment.  I know that the current trend has been to give students individual devices, but I really feel like classroom sets are better overall.  My reasons?  Teacher supervision, the ability to limit classroom downtime, and targeted technology.

Teacher Supervision

There is a subset of the young teen population that has serious, and I mean serious, problems with self-control on digital devices.  They cannot sit near a digital device without playing a game or some other type of mindlessly entertaining application.  If given an assignment to complete that requires the use of technology, they will be on Cool Math Games faster than you can say “The project we’re working on today is…”  No matter how engaging the content being taught, some young teens would rather sit and stare mindlessly at “Papa’s Pizzeria” than do the thinking required for school work.  Classroom sets with monitoring software at least provide supervision for times when young teens have access to technology.   Yes, I know that they can access technology from their pocket–but it’s not technology given to them by the school and the rules against personal technology use at least curb it somewhat.

Classroom Downtime

As I mentioned before, lower performing students (and even some high performing students) frequently come to class unprepared with even the most basic student supplies.  Lower performing students  frequently wreck their notebooks and lose their journals at a much higher rate than higher performing students do.  Leaving devices in the classroom prevents any learning downtime from forgotten/uncharged devices, and eliminates student excuses.   It also prevents what are frequently the poorest students from accumulating charges for lost or damaged technology.  Just ask any librarian:  often it is the poorest or lowest performing students who lose their books and play-aways and accumulate large fines until they are not allowed to use the library anymore.  Now give them a device worth hundreds of dollars, and watch out! Also, part of it is the age.  There’s a reason their moms give them $20 TracFones–anything else would be silly and a waste of money at this point in their lives.

Targeted Technology=More Bang For Your Buck

Students don’t need technology in every class (P.E. being a case in point).  It makes more sense to provide technology when it is needed, and not have to deal with the inevitable hiccups of technology when you don’t.   (Do you leave your laptop in your P.E. locker?  Carry it with you while you run laps?)  A central lab for subjects that only use technology occasionally is a better fit, and a better use of money.  You can give every student in a school with 500 children access to a Chromebook for English class for only about $30,000.00.  Contrast that with the cost to give every one of those 500 students a Chromebook to take home and you realize a substantial savings.  Also, after a year of almost daily use, we’ve only had one Chromebook in three complete sets be slightly damaged (still useable).  Compare that to standard replacement rates in a 1:1 program.  With many school districts stepping away from technology because of cost, I think classroom sets make more sense than 1:1.  Keep the tech, but use it better!

 

I have challenged myself to become a better blended learning instructor, and so I am taking an online course through Canvas specifically designed to help me do that.  In doing the reading this week, I learned that I am 1)already using most blended learning components, and 2)have a lot to learn about intentional design for my course.  For instance, the question raised by the text of “how much instruction will be replaced by online coursework” (Thomson) is something that I have been struggling to balance all year.  I teach 7th graders, and it’s unrealistic to assume that they will take a blended course in the same way that a college student would take a blended course.  But, the only models I’ve seen for blended learning have been the college level courses I am taking…so I’m blindly groping my way along, trying to strike the right balance between technology and personal support and help appropriate for 12-13 year olds.  I hope this course will teach me better ways to reach my students and to plan my blended instruction.

Using a Classroom Set of Chromebooks on Canvas LMS

2014-15 has been full of challenges for me and a lot of fun.  I wrote a grant for a set of Chromebooks for my classroom (and the other teachers in my department.)  I have been learning how to teach using these instead of the iPad set I had before.  I really like the versatility of having the keyboard, especially since I teach English and science now instead of just straight science.

I have had fun learning to use the Canvas LMS and teaching my students how to use it.  I love being able to have my students blog about what they are reading and record themselves doing poem recitations.  I also really enjoy the group settings and the easy peer reviews that give students such valuable feedback on their work.    The students LOVE being able to see each other’s work and comment on it. They like having a calendar and the to-do list keeps them on track and organized.  The rubric feature and the standards based grade book have also been valuable additions to my classroom–I can see at a glance which standards I have covered and because it is linked to my rubrics, I can also see which of my students have reached mastery.

I’m glad we made the switch to Chromebooks, although I do like the iPad better for other (different) (mostly science) things.  Having access to my old set of iPads and having a new set of Chromebooks is the best of all possible worlds.

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Third Time’s a Charm

Is it okay to ask a student to re-do an assignment twice?  Three times?  At what point do you, as a teacher, accept that the student doesn’t seem to be capable of learning a particular skill? That’s a question that I struggled with this week as I was teaching students a new way of doing vocabulary words.  I had seen an article on Edutopia about new ways to teach vocabulary and had tried them in my class.  This worksheet is what I came up with when I tried to incorporate most of the tips given in the article.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.42.18 AMI asked students to:  1)examine their prior knowledge, 2)identify areas they needed to improve, 3)show what they learned or claimed they knew before, and then 4)apply their knowledge in new and different ways.  I hoped they would engage more than they usually did in typical vocabulary exercises.  And they did!  But over and over, students were unable to create similes using the vocabulary words. During journal checks, about 1/3 of students continued to write definitions for the words instead of similes.  In spite of repeated coaching, examples, explanations and everything else I could think of, some of them just didn’t get it.  I sent students back to try again, sometimes 2-3 times, refusing to take work that didn’t meet the assignment requirements.  Now, however, I think I’m just going to have to concede defeat and give partial credit if they at least drew an appropriate picture for the definition.

We’ll try again next week.  Maybe by the end of the month I’ll be down to only a handful of students who don’t understand what’s required.  I’d sure love to hear your thoughts on the matter, though!  What do you do in your class?  How many times do you let students try before assigning a grade?

 

Summer Reading List for Seventh Grade

Favorite Fiction You Might Not Know About:

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander (this is part of a series, LOVE the whole thing)

The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper  (this is also part of a series that is really good)

Promised Land, by Connie Willis

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Favorite Classics:

Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper (a little tough going, but worth it!)

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (watch the BBC video version first, you’ll enjoy it more)

Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

The Once and Future King, T.H. White (Disney’s The Sword in the Stone is based on a section of this book)

Favorite History/Non-Fiction

1776, by David McCullogh ( I learned so much about American history from reading this!)

The Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson  (serious history fans only!)

 

What I’m Reading Now…

April 2014

I just finished a great, free!, iBook called Halo by Frankie Rose.  It was a good read, especially if you like dystopian, futuristic-type books.  It’s kind of a cross between Roman history (gladiators, mostly) and Hunger Games (rebelling against a harsh and oppressive system of government that kills people for entertainment).  You should definitely check it out!  I’m waiting for the next one in her series.

If you’re more into romance, Emma:  A Latter-Day Tale is cute, but a little tough to follow and clunky, especially if you haven’t read the original by Jane Austen (recommended) or seen the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow (meh).  Another fun rework of an old classic is Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  I really enjoyed the idea of Cinderella being a cyborg, and there was plenty of action to keep the plot moving along.

I also re-read Ender’s Game because it had been a while since I’d read it (I think I first read it in grade school).  It was a better book than I remembered, and the movie wasn’t too bad, either.  My kids really enjoyed it.

For non-fiction, I just finished Poultry:  A Beginner’s Guidewhich has been really helpful as we are trying to incubate turkey eggs and hopefully get some chicks to hatch.  It’s also been useful when we’ve had various issues with our chickens.

Another non-fiction book which is my favorite go-to book is 200 Easy Cheeses, by Debra Amren-Boyes. I love to make feta and chevre from my goat’s milk, and the recipes have been pretty good so far.    

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Who I Am…

I’ve been teaching for 10 years.  I have a B.A. in English from Colorado State University, and a second field in Bio-Science and Spanish.  I have endorsements in English and Biology, as well as Integrated Science.  I have a M.A. Ed in Secondary Education from the University of Phoenix, with an emphasis in distance learning.

I was excited to be T.H.E. Journal Innovator of the Month for October 2013. See the link to my edWeb webinar here.  I was also lucky enough to be written up by KQED blogger Katrina Schwartz.  See the link to her article, here.

Follow me on twitter:  @cinnamonrene