Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Increasing Student Participation with Nearpod

This week I visited my colleague, Dautie. She’s a fifth grade teacher who enjoys trying new apps and tech tools in her class. She introduced me to Nearpod. It’s a platform that helps teachers create engaging lessons to increase student participation and interaction. Teachers can set up a free account and create content to use in their classrooms. There are also pre-made lessons available for purchase.
During the lesson, students use their Chromebooks to visit and enter a code provided through the website. This allows students to join the live lesson and participate by answering multiple choice, true/false, short answer, or poll questions the teacher has created. When students respond, all student answers display on the teacher’s screen. When projected for the class, students are able to see what their classmates are thinking.
This teaching tool is great for helping teachers to get instant feedback on their students’ learning throughout the lesson, allowing them to adjust their teaching. Students are motivated and excited to see their answers displayed for the class to see, increasing participation and accountability. Moreover, every student is able to participate and answer every question, improving engagement and thinking.

Lesson Examples

Let’s take a look at few of Dautie’s lessons. This week she used Nearpod along with a novel study. Students completed the selection of reading with Dautie and highlighted the text looking for explicit information to answer questions. This was followed by a second read of the same text with a partner.

Using Nearpod, Dautie posed different implied questions in which the students had to find the evidence in the text and make an inference. Students were able to chat with a partner and then respond using Nearpod. Dautie created a variety of question types including poll, multiple choice, short answer, and extended response. She made sure to draw attention to exemplary responses to use as a model for future questions.
Short answer question
Poll question with percentages

Extended response question

Last year, Dautie used Nearpod during a lesson in which students used multiple texts to compare point of view and how events in a text are perceived. She designed this lesson to require students to deepen their understanding of point of view, beyond simple identification. Dautie has also used Nearpod for her math instruction to allow students to explain their thinking and their process when solving a problem.

Student Perceptions

I asked a handful of students what they thought about using Nearpod. Many of them stated that they like typing better than writing with paper and pencil. One student even said that she was able to type faster than she would write. While observing Dautie’s students, I noticed that every student was engaged and working hard to complete their answers in the given amount of time. Not all students were typing correctly, but I would say that most of them were typing faster than they would have written.
A few students also mentioned that they like being able to answer every question from the teacher. Rather than waiting their turn, and making their arm tired from raising it all the time, each student answers every question. By projecting everyone’s answers on the front screen, everyone can have a voice in the lesson.
Two students stated that they like Nearpod because they can see what everyone else is thinking. They can interact with other students, even if they are not sitting right next to them, because they can read their work on the screen.
This student is reading her peers' responses and commenting


I initially thought that Nearpod would mostly allow for basic, low level questions, but Dautie has created language arts lessons that require her students to analyze and compare texts, make inferences, respond to peer answers, and justify their thinking with textual evidence. Her Nearpod math lessons allow students to explain their thinking and the processes they used. What a great way to use this technology tool to improve instruction.
I’m looking forward to trying Nearpod in my classroom soon. Thanks for these great ideas, Dautie!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Encouraging Classroom Collaboration

I work with some pretty amazing teachers. I am continually impressed with their dedication, hard work, and innovation. Lately, I’ve been chatting with my colleagues about interesting ways they use technology in their classrooms. I plan to share a series of posts with you highlighting their awesome work throughout the school year.

This week I sat down with Anita Earl, a second grade teacher, and had a conversation about how she uses technology in her classroom. Through our discussions, she explained how she uses Google Slides to help her students organize their writing and promote whole-class collaboration.

Using Google Slides is a great way to allow all students to work in one space, even when they are not online at the same time since Anita’s students typically use their devices in stations.  Students who need peer modeling can check work done before them for examples, and partners can easily provide feedback during peer conferences.

Whole Class Collaboration

Anita uses Google Slides to create class books. One such book that Anita has made in the past was inspired by the book, Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon.

This alphabet book is unusual because each letter is identified in a challenging way.  For example, A is for seed- tomorrow’s apple. These word puzzles encourage students to think critically about cause and effect relationships.

Anita reads this book with her students and challenges them to think of their own cause and effect relationships. Each student is assigned a letter, and they collaboratively make an alphabet book using Google Slides. This higher-order writing activity challenges Anita’s second graders to apply their understanding of cause and effect while also creating a book. By assigning each student their own slide, every student can make their mark as they collaborate to author a story.

If you’re interested in learning more about collaborative story writing, Read Write Think has some great lesson ideas to get you started.

Organizing Writing

One of the benefits of using Google Slides rather than Google Docs is that it provides natural divisions for main ideas. This can help students who are beginning to learn about organizing their writing. It can be used as a step between a graphic organizer and paragraph writing.

Anita first helps her students brainstorm various main ideas for a given topic. Then they are prompted to use a different slide for each main idea. This process guides students to learn how to group like ideas together in their writing, allowing them to organize their ideas and present a clear message for their audience.

A big thank you to Anita Earl for allowing us to take a peek in her classroom this week to see the great ways she’s using Google Slides to improve her instruction and increase classroom collaboration.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Starting Math Workshop

One of my personal goals for this school year is to transition to a math workshop model. As much as possible, my co-teacher and I try to teach math in smaller groups for a number of reasons.

First, we have an inclusion classroom, so we have a wide range of needs. Teaching in small(er) groups allows us to work more closely with each student. We are able to gain a clear idea of the skills each student has mastered, and who needs more support. That data helps us to differentiate our instruction, making sure all students are progressing toward our objectives.

Next, we have a large class. Right now, we have 31 students and 2 teachers. Working in smaller groups ensures students are engaged and on task. Moreover, our time is much more efficient because there are usually fewer distractions.

With our 31 students we can split the class to parallel teach (teach the same lesson at the same time) and each have about 15 kiddos, but we don’t really feel like we experience the benefits of small group instruction with such a large group. We also use alternative grouping, where one teacher leads a whole group lesson, while the other teacher teaches a small group of 5-6 kids. Unfortunately, we still have a very large group of students with one teacher, and they are not benefiting from small group instruction.

Last year we sort of stumbled into a grouping method that finally seemed to make a difference. Half of our students would work independently on a review task, assessment, or project while my co-teacher and I would split the remaining students, effectively allowing us each to have a quarter of our total students for small group instruction. We could also set up 3 rotations, allowing each teacher to meet with a sixth of the class. After replicating this grouping system as often as we could, we started to have serious discussions about making this a regular part of our future teaching. This year, we are intentionally moving toward a math workshop model for our instruction in order to take advantage of these small group possibilities.

Math Workshop Explained

Math workshop generally consists of a short mini lesson for the whole class and centers or stations in which students work independently for a time and then receive small group instruction with the teacher. The blog post Differentiate Math Instruction with M.A.T.H Workshop at The Core Inspiration is a great explanation of the different aspects of math workshop. I found it helpful in thinking through how I might create meaningful work for my students when they are working on their own.

One of the main reasons I hadn’t tried math workshop in the past is because the idea of creating multiple center activities and directions for students every day seems so overwhelming. Not only that, but our students need consistency. Learning a new math game or trying a new activity every few days would be a disaster. What I like realized after reading various blogs is that consistency can be a part of math workshop, and thanks to our technology resources, it doesn’t need to require excessive material preparation.

Here’s a list of activities I’m planning to use for independent work to start off this year:
  • Multiplication fact fluency with Xtramath or multiplication partner game
  • Independent skill review and practice with IXL
  • Partner skill review and coaching with paper and pencil worksheets
  • Number work (building number sense with “number of the day” type activities)
  • Assessments including pretests, quick checks, and tests

Eventually, once we have the hang of the procedures and expectations of math workshop, my goal is to incorporate some online learning. A station rotation model of blended learning would work really well here. To create the online content, I’ll make my own teaching videos using a document camera (check out my Donor’s Choose grant to help make this possible!) and using Khan Academy materials.


This article from Math Tech Connections helped me to wrap my mind around various ways to organize our math workshop. It outlines three different ways to create groups and rotations-plus there’s free planning resources!

For our class, we will have two sections of whole-group time including daily math review and our daily mini lesson at the start of our math block. Then we will split into three main groups for our stations. During our stations, students will have about 15 minutes at each station.
  • Teacher Instruction: Focused and differentiated instruction will be provided for students related to each day’s whole group mini-lesson.
  • Independent Review: This will be mostly fact fluency for now. Eventually, it will become the online learning portion of our stations.
  • Partner Practice: Students practice recent skills with a partner for support and collaboration.

Workshop in Action

Today was our first day using the math workshop model. We taught our mini lesson and took some extra time to discuss our learning expectations during independent work time. This left about 40 minutes for instruction. Our students completed two or three stations today. We left the third station as optional for our early finishers.
Independent Work: students completed a pretest for an upcoming unit.
Skill Review (optional): students practiced math fact fluency online. 
Teacher Stations: students practiced rounding on a number line.

Winning with Workshop 

Let’s reconsider the problem of large groups. With this model, students would ideally get 15 minutes of differentiated teacher instruction in a small group of only about 5 students. FIVE! With 31 students, that’s 10 in each of the three groups. Since there are two teachers for the teacher instruction station, that’s about 5 with each teacher if we divide groups strictly by number of students. Does that seem amazing to you? Because it seems really amazing to me!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Classroom Management and Technology Procedures

It’s the beginning of the school year, and that means we spend the first few weeks teaching and reinforcing classroom procedures in order to make the rest of the school year run smoothly. Outlining procedures and norms for using technology devices is a critical factor in successful technology integration.

My personal goals for this year are centered around integrating technology. While there is much I want my students to experience and accomplish, I’ve learned that it’s best to slowly build up to using our Chromebooks. Rather than implementing our daily work plus blended learning environments for reading and math all at once, I plan to give my students time to practice our technology procedures and grow toward more complex uses and increased student responsibility over time. Reinforcing my rules and norms upfront will make all the difference.

Learning Mindset

In my classroom, we operate with the mindset that technology is a tool for learning, not a toy. Can using technology be fun and interesting? Absolutely! It’s my goal to create meaningful and engaging lessons and projects using technology. We use Kahoot to review our content, create beautifully illustrated stories with Storybird, and critique funny short films for their use of story elements.

That being said, we don’t “play” on our devices during school hours, and we don’t have free time in my classroom. Does that seem harsh? I guess I just want to make sure that my students have a learning mindset each time they open their Chromebooks. Our devices are always used for a specific purpose, and knowing that purpose promotes on-task behavior.

My Basic Rules

  • Stay on task
I reinforce this rule by using the same management techniques I use when I’m teaching low-tech. I walk around, check student work, and investigate if I notice something fishy, such as frantically closing tabs as I approach. Checking internet history Google Docs revision history are great ways for me to see what my students have been up to.
  • Follow safe practices
Internet safety can’t be overlooked. As fourth graders, my students must take on some responsibility to protect themselves. Google’s Be Internet Awesome resource teaches students simple rules for safe and responsible internet use. This free teaching tool allows students to play games to learn five main principles of digital citizenship including evaluating the safety of websites, personal privacy and security, and kind online interactions. It’s also paired with a free curriculum for teachers.
  • Respect others
I expect my students to show common courtesy when interacting with others virtually and face-to-face. That means we practice digital citizenship at school and at home. I also continually prompt my students to partially close their screens (I call this “screens at 45 degrees”), remove headphones or earbuds, and make eye contact when someone is speaking to them.
  • Bring your Chromebook to school fully charged every day
As we increase our use of technology on a daily basis, it’s critical for students to come prepared to school each day. With a full classroom, it is unrealistic to allow students to move seats and sit where they can plug in. There just isn’t enough space or outlets to accommodate.

Natural Consequences

In general, I try to make consequences as natural as possible, and I try to avoid taking away a student’s Chromebook because it is an essential learning tool in my class. Here are a few examples of some natural consequences I used last year.

Off task- If students are continually off task and not completing their work, they may have to sit at a desktop computer where I can more easily see their screen, share a computer with a responsible peer for a while, or finish incomplete work as homework. If the assignment we are working on isn’t completely tech dependent, then I may have students work with paper and pencil instead.

Inappropriate actions- This kind of behavior usually involves a call home. These students have to work at a desktop computer where I can see their screen or move to my front table with their Chromebook so I can more easily monitor their work. We also have a series of tutorials focused around our acceptable use policy that students may be required to complete before being allowed to use their Chromebook again.

Low battery- Our Chromebooks have great battery life, so the only reason a student’s battery would run low during the day is if they didn’t charge it the night before. For this reason, my students have to leave their chromebooks in the classroom during our specials class if it is not charged for the day. If Chromebooks are needed in specials that day, that means they have to use a desktop computer or share with a friend.

Incomplete homework- Believe it or not, some students may be tempted to use their Chromebook at home to play games rather than complete their homework. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with using devices to play at home, but not while ignoring homework. Last year I spoke with a few parents and we decided to have their students leave their Chromebooks at school overnight until they could complete their missing assignments. It didn’t take them long to pull it together!

Promoting Problem Solving

Is there anyone more impatient than someone wanting to use technology? Seriously. What was your reaction the last time your internet was slow or you couldn’t figure out how to use a new app? My least favorite part about incorporating technology in my class is providing tech support for 32 students while also teaching a lesson. It’s the worst situation. The last thing I want to do is run around my class showing students where they should click and restating directions. To manage this situation, there are a few things I do to promote independence and tech problem solving.

First, I expect my students to try to solve their problem in at least 3 ways before they ask for my help. They can refresh, logout, reboot, ask a few neighbors, or reread directions. My first question for a student asking for help is “What have you done to try to solve your problem?”  If I notice that many students are having the same problem, then I address the issue with my whole class by having a student use my computer and projector to show the problem and solution.

During my blended learning stations later in the year, students learn online independently while I teach small groups (see Implementing Blended Learning, Blended Learning Explained, or The Student Experience: Blended Learning for more info). I assign a few tech savvy students to be the designated tech support so that I can teach my reading groups without interruption. Having student tech support was a life saver for me!

Also, when I introduce a new app web tool that we will be using, I always give a general overview, demonstrate how we will use the tool, and then I give my students time to explore for a bit. This allows them to have time to try things out before having to apply the tool for a specific purpose. It also increases the expectation that students can navigate on their own, without needing my constant help.

I want to empower my students as much as possible! Persevering and problem solving are skills they will need for life, and they are motivated to practice these skills while using technology because they want it to work. Now is a great time to start! I hope this glance into my classroom helps you as you start your school year!