Sunday, August 18, 2013

e-Portfolios Using Evernote and iX500 Scanners

In a surprising turn-of-events just before school started (2013-2014), our 5-8 grade staff began working with e-Portfolios for our students using Evernote and iX500 scanners. Since I ended up being the school's "admin" for the Business Evernote account (schools receive a nice discount for opening up a business account with at least 5 users: normally $120/year; now only $30/year per teacher), I put together a proposed e-Portfolio Cycle to be used in our 5-8 grade classes. My middle school colleagues will probably modify this workflow to suit their needs; I offer it here for anyone who would like to check out the ideas I'm using.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Teaching With Netbooks

Today while preparing for a presentation with my staff I remembered a resource I used back when I was starting my journey as a netbook teacher. I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to Brad Flickinger, an educator who lives and teaches in Colorado, for the resources he's shared over the past 4 years. I was able to participate in an online version of FETC where Brad spoke about Netbook Teaching in a very practical way. He later posted those 3 videos on YouTube:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

In January 2010 he led a session at FETC in Orlando. I recorded the audio and took some notes. This was one year before our school began its netbook program. His presentation is posted here if you'd like to give a listen.

Brad also wrote a book on Netbook Teaching, which is available on Amazon. His Teaching With Netbooks website was one of the first resources I found on the topic back in 2010.

Thanks, Brad, for all the resources and for sharing what you've learned along the way!

Using DropItToMe To Collect Student Work

In our netbook classroom everyone has their own netbook. We use them daily for multiple projects and assignments. When it comes time to turn in work done on netbooks I have my students do it electronically rather than printing them out and turning in paper. This has several advantages:

  • saves paper and trees
  • reduces paper clutter
  • student still has his copy as backup
  • teacher has a duplicate and can edit as needed
  • teacher can do grading and feedback work on preferred device 
  • the option always exists to print out the papers
  • teacher and student can collaborate using email or another system

Dropbox for File Management

In the past, since all our students have Dropbox installed on their netbooks, I would share a folder with them and have each student place a copy of their assignment file in the appropriate shared folder. For example:
  • book report turn in folder Q1
  • beginning of year story turn in folder
  • space camp podcast turn in folder
You get the idea. Each student had access to each of these "turn in" folders and simply copied-and-pasted their file into the appropriate folder. In turn, I would see all the files come in as students did their thing. Unfortunately, each student could see all the other students' files, too! Occasionally, someone messed up and we lost a few files due to student error or prank.

DropItTo.Me As In-between Step

Now, we use DropItToMe. My DropItToMe account is tied to my Dropbox account. Students log into DropItToMe, upload their assignment or project file(s), and log out. That's it from their perspective. They don't need to accept my shared folder invitations for each and every project or assignment "turn in" folder. They simply remember one thing: DropItToMe. In fact, I have a link to my DropItToMe account on my website. Take a look. You can't hurt it without my password!

On my end I receive students' work, nicely organized by student number as follows:
  • 01george math17
  • 02sam math17
  • 03sally spelling22
  • 04mary science43
  • 04mary spelling22
I can control-click on all the spelling, for example, and highlight the whole batch at once. Then, I drag those files into my spelling folder. Next, I control-click (command-click on a Mac) on the math, and so on, until all my files are organized in an appropriate folder, leaving my DropItToMe folder empty until a new student file comes in. Sometimes I also move certain folders out of my Dropbox to save space. That happens with audio or video files that may be quite large and use up my limited Dropbox space.

The process above is similar to what we do with paper, except I do all the sorting with electronic files. With paper I have a bin for each assignment due that morning and students self-sort their work into the appropriate bin. With electronic work I found it safer and easier to do the batch selection and sorting myself. Plus, if a student files his work with the correct filename, it's easy to do a quick SEARCH for anything that comes up missing. This system hasn't eliminated missing student files, but it's made my job easier when I need to track down a file. Once again, if a student has followed directions and has the original file still in his dropbox folder, he can simply re-send it via my DropItToMe account. We do that all the time, since students do forget. The biggest problem is mis-named files. My policy is to not even open files named "untitled" or "book report" since I don't know at a glance whose file it is. Often, even opening the file will yield no information about student identity. So, I've simply told my students to re-submit the files and check your filename first. As a last resort in a few cases I've opened up "untitled" and discovered it was Johnny's missing assignment. Of course, he also neglected to keep the original, so this was the only way to retrieve his work. Fortunately, this happens only occasionally. As I often say to parents of students in my computer classes: learning to use a computer is as much about listening and following directions as it is about learning to use Windows or Open Office. If you teach children (or adults) you know what I mean.

Give DropItToMe a try. It's a great addition to your Dropbox workflow as a teacher. It works great for any project—even projects unrelated to teaching, learning, teachers and students — where you must collaborate with others and collect their digital project files into one central place for further work to be done. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Netbook Teacher Sets Up A New Netbook

As a netbook-using teacher working with a class full of netbook-using students I try to keep up with the technology times. That goes for the latest netbook technology.
The other day I was surprised and delighted when my principal gave me a new netbook for the 2013-2014 school year. This 11.6" laptop is much snappier than my 10" model with half the memory and a slower processor. When I asked him "why" he gave me a new netbook to use he told me he wanted "our fourth and fifth grade teachers to have the same netbook that we recommend to our student families". I thought that made sense, so I brought the netbook home and began the unpacking process.

It occurred to me that I should document the process and share it with my students. We ask them to set up their own netbook at home before coming to school in the Fall, but every year someone needs help with one or several of the steps. So, I spent today creating little videos with Screencast-o-matic and posted them on my website. The actual video files are stored in Dropbox, which works perfectly for this purpose. Take a look at the post on my website where all the videos are linked, and share a comment if you think I forgot anything.

Why Use "The Cloud"?

At my school we use several "cloud" services — apps that reside on the Internet and allow us to share or collaborate with one another. Two of them are Dropbox and Google Drive. Watch and listen to why and how this all works.