Monday, March 27, 2017

Authentic Language Learning Through Tech Tutorial Screencasts

Recently at Minnetonka Middle School West, teachers Stephanie Battista and Melissa DuBose had their seventh grade Spanish Immersion students make instructional technology tutorial screencasts. They purposely had the students make these videos to give them an authentic task to practice using specific instructional and technical vocabulary, in this case “mandatos” aka command verbs. This language practice was not something that would have been as meaningful or memorably practiced in a simple classroom discussion.

Student sample template
The students worked in small groups with two to four classmates and chose an app for their project, such as Pic Collage or Popplet. They then collaborated and created their plan and script in a shared Google Doc using a template (pictured) for their instructional screencast which was to last a couple minutes. They made a shared Google Slide show with screenshots and instructions to use in their Explain Everything video. Melissa and Stephanie are hoping that final screencasts will be used with our elementary Spanish immersion students as part of a tutorial library in the future so these younger students can learn how to use these apps as well as learn the language in an authentic situation, hearing older students as the teachers. 

Here is a student example (shown above). The basic summary of the project requirements are below:
  • Must include an introduction to the app: What is it?  Why is it useful? What are the benefits?  
  • Must include at least ten steps explaining how to use the apps. Instructions should be detailed and easy to follow for a new user.  Underline these words in the script!
  • Must include “mandatos” (the command form of Spanish).  Highlight these words in the script!
  • Must include at least five screenshots and an image of the app icon to help users follow along
  • All group members must contribute!  All group members must speak at some point during the tutorial.
  • Final product should be 2-5 minutes long.

When I asked Stephanie to reflect on the project and its outcomes, she said the following: 
I love this project because Google Docs gives students the freedom to collaborate and work together simultaneously on the same document. It does take students a while to get used to sharing and exporting Google Docs, but we have worked hard to get our students accustomed to the app, so much so that some students chose to present Google Docs in their App Tutorial.  The major benefit of this app is that when students are absent or need to work at home, they can easily do so using a Google doc.   
Additionally, using Explain Everything gives me the opportunity to hear my students use their presentational communication, which is an important skill that we are trying to improve.  Many of our students can speak “conversational” Spanish proficiently, but struggle to speak in a presentational manner for an extended period of time.  This project gives the students the opportunity to plan and practice those skills.  We look forward to the future and hope to pass on these videos to our elementary counterparts as an authentic resource!
Furthermore, Melissa adds:
I agree with Stephanie, that this is an opportunity  for a truly authentic experience and will create a great way to share with our elementary schools. I think the students enjoy the project and love picking out which app they would like to make a tutorial for. They struggle to find the vocabulary they need without using English but this a great opportunity for them to apply the vocabulary specific to a context they might not feel comfortable in. 
This is a great example of student collaboration, communication, and learning in an authentic and real world situation harnessing the power of technology in our 1:1 iPad program. It covers multiple dimensions of the Minnetonka Teaching & Learning Framework.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Quizlet Live: Collaborative Team Quizzes Loved by Teachers & Students

Quizlet has been a tool used in our classrooms for a number of years that helps students learn and practice vocabulary and content in a fun way. is loaded with decks of flashcards students can use to review vocabulary and concepts. Teachers and students also have the option to create their own decks. Decks can be linked and embedded into Schoology, our Learning Management System. Recently, Quizlet Live launched and it takes the basic studying tool to a whole new level. The developers have made Quizlet into a group collaborative game that is very interactive and engaging.
Students Collaborating in Quizlet Live
Quizlet Live randomly assigns students to teams and when the teacher starts the round, students have to find their teammates. The students each see the question, but only one possible answer choice is displayed on each team member's screen. Students have to work together to share and discuss what is on each person’s screen and select the correct answer as a group. Each team is also competing with one another to finish the question sets correctly. A couple of examples from our high school: in Contemporary US History, students use Quizlet live as a pretest for vocabulary terms in a Vietnam War unit. In an AP Chemistry class, students review Intermolecular Forces concepts.

Quizlet Live Team Competition
One of the best things about Quizlet Live is the collaboration component. Tools like Socrative, Kahoot, and other formative assessment tools are good for individuals, but Quizlet Live really requires interaction, conversation, and getting students to work together. I also like the randomness of the generated team rosters; students are continually required to mix up their groups and not only work with their friends. As you watch the video from Patricia Price's high school chemistry class, you will see her students moving around to work in teams and use Quizlet Live and you will hear them working together and discussing the meaning of the terms. One of our special education teachers appreciates the fact that Quizlet Live encourages social interactions and is a non-threatening way for students on the autism spectrum to start conversations with classmates. Overall, our teachers like the fact that Quizlet Live is easy to use, requires little setup time and that it also gets kids up and moving around the room.
Quizlet was developed in 2005 by a high school sophomore, Andrew Sutherland, who was studying for a French vocabulary test. He knew how to code and developed the program which he then shared with his friends. Sutherland eventually left MIT to develop and start the Quizlet company (learn more). Quizlet is now used by over 20 millions students per month!

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Your Phone is a Slot Machine Purposely Designed to Be Addictive

This video on the Time Well Spent site nicely explains
how apps are designed to be addictive.

In his TED Talk, How Better Tech Could Protect Us From Distraction and an essay, Tristan Harris explains that apps on your phone are a like a slot machine, designed to be addictive. He certainly has the background and inside experience to be able to state such a thing, as a former Google Design Ethicist and student at the Stanford Persuasive Technology lab (yes, there is such a place "looking for back doors in people's minds to influence their behavior"). The fact that phones are addictive is not news, but the fact that a former designer is not only openly explaining how tech companies are working to make things even more addictive than they are already and some are working to encourage an alternative solution is. I really admire this and appreciate his work.

This isn't the first time I have heard and blogged about Tristan. I first wrote about him two years ago (see Techcognition in an Attention Economy) after hearing him on WNYC's Note to Self podcast, one of my favorites. Host Manoush Zomorodi interviewed Tristan again last week about addictive apps and his new company, Time Well Spent. The episode, Will You Do a Snapchat Streak with Me? is worth hearing. I listened with great interest after seeing so many kids addicted to Snapchat. (With my own kids, we don't allow Snapchat until age 16, and often wish we hadn't ever allowed it!) A few main points which Tristan spoke about include:
  • 40 people at three companies are shaping how billions of people behave.
  • Recently the Netflix CEO said its biggest competitors are YouTube, Google, and sleep.
  • On Snapchat's Streaks: Snapchat's goal to is to hook kids and make it a habit (vs. an alternative like Duolingo, where users set usage goals to learning Spanish). 
  • No one is malicious, but technology isn't neutral. It has an intelligent engine in it fine tuned to make you use it more.
I especially found his description of phones as slot machines enlightening. In an essay on his website, Tristan asks: 
If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine. One major reason why is the #1 psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards (he links to Wikipedia for more on this). The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices? ... here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:
When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got. 
When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got. 
When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next. 
When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match. 
When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.
I'm struck by this analogy and concerned how we are giving our kids slot machines, getting them hooked into this cycle so early. So what can we do about it?
"Imagine a future where technology is 
built on our values, not our screen time."

Tristan explains that thousands of engineers are working to keep your attention. If they were to stop fighting the war for your time, they will lose money. So the only solutions to this are either regulation or a demand by consumers for something different. In his TED Talk, Tristan points out that McDonald's didn't offer salads to consumers until they demanded it. So, too, must we demand that technology be designed to use our time differently. I love the phrase at the end of the Panda Dancing video on their site linked above, "Imagine a future where technology is built on our values, not our screen time." That sounds great, and one we should start demanding!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Part II: Technology Shouldn't Be Absent When the Teacher Is: Flipped Video Instruction for Substitute Teachers

Watch Reserve Teacher Technology Training Video (7 Mins)

A while ago I wrote that Technology Shouldn't Be Absent When the Teacher Is. I mentioned how critical it is that the substitute teacher step right in without any problems so student learning continues and listed five ways to ensure this happened. In Minnetonka because so much instruction is done with the help of technology, it is super important that all of our reserve teachers know how to use it. There is so much a reserve teacher needs to know: from turning on the projector and sound field, to finding the electronic lesson plans and taking attendance, to troubleshooting and classroom management in a 1:1 environment, to working with Schoology, iPads, and SMARTBoards.

In the previous post, I explained that one of the five ways to ensure substitute teachers are ready is to provide them with training. Unfortunately, not all of our reserves can get to our fall training session or were even working in our schools when the training was offered, so we recently created some flipped instruction videos to show any reserves in Minnetonka the basics of using and managing our technology in the classroom. Middle School West Instructional Technology Coach Sara Hunt worked with our videographer, Andy Smith, to create a series of instructional videos. The seven minute video can either be watched in its entirety or is split into the following short segments for reserves to easily view only what they don’t know:

Sara scripted out the videos to get to the essentials of what reserve teachers need to know. She also gathered some student volunteer actors and obtained parents’ permission to be filmed for public viewing. The the segment about “Tech for Learning”, she shares classroom management tips and common vocabulary used in our 1:1 iPad classrooms. With reserve teachers having this knowledge about both behavior management and how to operate technology, they will be even better equipped to insure that learning is uninterrupted when the regular classroom teacher is absent.

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