Sunday, May 13, 2012

Living in the Rabbit Hole

Maybe it's because my iPad has been loaded with over one hundred applications. Maybe it's the fact that I keep collecting professional texts on digital learning and now could open up an online bookstore on this topic. Or maybe it's simply because of the unlimited resources available to teachers on the Internet. Whatever the reason, I have sometimes felt overwhelmed with an educational technology malady: digital-itis. The symptoms of this illness include, but are not limited to, clicking on random technology emails; cruising educational Twitter feeds related to technology; playing random learning games through iPad applications; reading every New York Times article related to education and computers; and wasting hours of time with free technology sites for teachers. If unattended, this illness can lead to random computer activity, with limited connections to my teaching objectives. As a result, at the beginning of the year I decided to concentrate my efforts in three areas: Google Documents, blogging, and digital media.
Google Documents 
A good first step for anyone jumping into technology is Google Documents. Although my district provides Google Document accounts, previous to this year, my students had only used it as a document cloud where they could easily access their assignments from home and school.  In addition, they used Google Documents as a collaborative tool, working on projects simultaneously in groups in our Mac computer lab, using the share function.
Although my grand design was to use Google documents as paperless site, my students and I came upon a major glitch: iPads and Google Documents are not fully compatible.  For example, while the students could write on Office HD using their iPads and there was a direct link with Google documents, there was no share function.  Thus, my students were not able to create a document and share it with me on Google Documents without copying it, going through the Internet, and opening Google Documents.
In addition, the document formatting was compromised when the students composed on Office HD and sent it to Google Documents.  Essays would not stay aligned and poems could be scrambled.   Only using this strategy, could they enable the share function.
I had to resign myself to the fact that Google might best be used as a document storage site. I did, however, find another way to incorporate Google technology into my twenty-first century classroom.
Google Sites
This year we used Google Sites for creating group projects. In order to accomplish this, I had to first set up the student accounts as though I was the administrator. This meant that I could ultimately keep control of the contents of each group's site.  
At the beginning of the project, I identified technology leaders and set up groups of four around these students.  I let the groups choose a hominid species and create a wiki about their topics.  

Examples of these are the following:

Even though our word processing journey was filled with trial and errors, the students have been able to use Google Documents as a cyber storage space and access it from multiple locations. In addition, they have collaborated on wikis and published their learning on Google Sites. The emphasis has been on publishing and sharing - two important skills on the new Common Core Standards.
My search for greater ease in recording keeping led me to Edmodo.

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