Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Group or Small Group? An Edmodo dilemma

For the past two years I have used and I find the platform is more than sufficient to meet my growing online classroom needs. In fact, the company generally manages to create new options faster than I can think of them (though I have a couple I'm still waiting for!)

One of the nice features of Edmodo is the ability to quickly and easily create groups. Each group is given a unique code, and the students (or educators) can only enter the group once they have that code. Every group is distinct from any other group a teacher creates. Many teachers choose to create one group for each class in their rotations. However, some teachers choose to put all of the 'like' classes into one group and from there choose to use the 'small group' feature.

What is a small group?
A small group is a collection of students that are currently enrolled in a group, which the teacher then chooses and adds to a 'small group' of the same full group. Once the small group is created, a teacher can send notes, assignments, etc. just to that small group. Using this technique a teacher can bring all of their 'like' classes into one larger group and then create small groups for when online content needs to be distinct for one class over the other. In my example, I have a small group, Advanced Web Design, that is part of my larger group Web Design Spring 2012. I can then share some things with everyone, and I can choose to limit other items to just the advanced group.

This method has three great advantages

  1. The teacher does not need to create duplicates of notes, quizzes, assignments, etc. All of the work can be created and posted just once to the overall group.
  2. When the teacher does need to target one class or another, she can easily do so right in the flow of everything else. 
  3. This method will significantly increase the interaction between students who are physically kept in different classrooms. They will share ideas, read interesting thoughts, and discover wonderful online resources from students who study the same things, but with whom they would never get to interact otherwise.
Easily choose the subgroup when choosing who to send a new 'Note' or 'Assignment' to

  • You may wish to avoid this method if you heavily rely on the grading within Edmodo as it could add to your work load of needing to separate out the students to move the data out to your gradebook program. Not a deal breaker, just something to consider.
  • Find the Edmodo instructions for how to create Small Groups through this link. The basic steps are to click 'Manage' by group members and then click "+Create Small Group" on the left.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What is a 21st Century Classroom?

Welcome to your 21st Century Classroom learning experience (This blog is designed to go with a PD course I am teaching, but there may be something here for everyone!) There is one thing you need to understand to find success in this model: Be ready to fail. Please don’t take this as my wish for you to fail, it truly is my wish for you to succeed. If you are willing to succeed at a high level, to take on new challenges, to try new technologies, and turn your classroom inside out, you will undoubtedly hit some rough spots, run into roadblocks, and occasionally you will flat out fail. Without failure, there is no progress. Nike captures this concept simply with this Michael Jordan commercial.
Now that you are ready to fail, let’s get on with the show. (if you aren’t yet, just hold tight!)

What is a 21st Century Classroom?

  • It is a classroom that brings in 21st Century skills, including digital literacy, and creates an experience that is student centric with limitless technological tools at the fingertips of you and your students. (Read here to get a quick summary of 21st Century Skills) 
  • It is a classroom led by a 21st Century Teacher. That is, a teacher who is willing to take risks, collaborate with others, let students lead, and much more (Educational Oragami)
  • It is ultimately unique: Will you use a Wiki, a blog, online discussion, video, audio, websites, social media, Google apps, project based learning, flipped classrooms, Web 2.0, etc? Sure, pick one, pick all and start implementing it in a way that is pushing your comfort zone and most importantly, that you feel is educationally worthwhile.

My 21st Century Classroom is project based. I have online discussions, student produced videos online, Google Docs, and social media all in play. Every year I add something new and I frequently take out something that has become stale. This is for me to decide. The goal is for my students to be the best they can be. I have a class website, but it tends to sit with very little use, mostly as a repository for useful documents that rarely change. Here is a list of the top 5 tools I use almost every week:

  1. Edmodo - class discussions and so much more
  2. Google Docs - Create documents, share documents, collaborate
  3. Schooltube - Post and moderate student videos to share with the world
  4. - Simplify those long tedious links AND get stats on how many people click them
  5. Twitter - Amazing place to send out info, photos, and links, AND a great place to learn!

This is just my current list. It does not include the dozens to hundreds of website my students and I use for research, online tools, email, etc.

I welcome you to share what you are already doing and to consider the very distinct possibility that if you take this on, it will not only make education more enjoyable and more rewarding, it will also succeed in making your classroom a place where students learn more in a way that matters.

Friday, March 23, 2012

PDPs Come in Many Flavors

While doing some research on how to earn PDPs for my own recertification, I came across the Massachusetts DESE webpage that describes every option in great detail. Please check out their complete list with full details on each option. What I have decided to do here is to give you a rundown of what they say in bulleted form. You might be surprised by what you can do and what the limits are for each. The amount of PDPs available for each is in parentheses. note, maximums (max) are either per event, per year, or per five (/5) year period.

Learning Options
  • Courses - audited, undergraduate, and graduate per credit hour (7.5 to 22.5)
  • Doctoral Dissertation (90 /5)
  • Master's or CAGS Thesis (45 /5)
  • Performance Assessment - currently being developed (120)
  • Content Test - looking to add to your certifications? (90)
  • Participate in district, collaborative, and state initiatives  (10+)
Observatory Options
  • Mentoring (15 max)
  • Peer Coaching (15 max)
  • Peer Assisting and Review (15 max)
  • Cooperating Teacher (15 max)
Teaching Options
  • Deliver presentation at a professional conference (30 max/5 - first time only)
  • Develop school based activity for students, parents or teachers (30 max/5 - read carefully)
  • Professional Development Series (3 session minimum) (24 max/5)
  • Accreditation (30 max/5)
  • Accreditation leader (30 max/5)
Creating Options
  • Book (90 per book)
  • Chapter in a professional book (30 per chapter)
  • Professional journal (30 per article)
  • Published results of action research (30 /5)
  • Curriculum Development (60 max/5)
Continuing Education Units
  • Continuing Education Units ratio - 1 CEU = 10 PDPs

For details on which PDPs count toward content and which toward pedagogy, please visit the Mass DESE website. This list is being written in the Spring of 2012 and is subject to change at any time.

How I Use - Top 10 Uses and 2 bonus ideas

My Edmodo start screen

As I began preparing for teaching The 21st Century Classroom, a professional development course for colleagues, I wondered how I was really using Edmodo. So, I sat and started to run through the archives of the groups I created and groups I participate in. What I discovered was a list much longer than I expected and a consistent growth that I was pleased to uncover. Here are my top 10 uses and a brief description of why it makes a difference.

1. Student Discussions
I started with one class four years ago on a different platform. While I think there is room for Edmodo to improve, I am thrilled to be using this platform to extend the classroom. I currently have four different groups in weekly discussions on various topics related to the variety of courses I teach. Students have an opportunity to respond by sharing their research, exploring classmate's links, and leaving comments to further the discussion. 

2. Assignments
In addition to being able to post a discussion topic (which I now do as an assignment), I can also post assignments directly to a group. Each assignment is created with a due date, the option to attach links, documents, etc. and the ability for students to 'Turn In' the assignment. A turned in assignment provides a private communication between the teacher and student and an opportunity for the teacher to provide feedback and a grade.

3. Share Documents
Using the library feature of Edmodo, I am constantly uploading documents, sorting them into folders for specific groups and creating private repository for my classes that will be reusable year after year. After a recent update to Edmodo, I can also now share my Google Docs directly from my account. Because I am a devoted user of Google Docs, this addition just made my life much easier! I always post documents with assignments including rubrics and instructions.

4. Sharing Links and Videos
As a frequent part of online class discussions, I provide links to websites and videos for students to watch. In return I often ask for students to do the same. The number of great links that have been posted to my walls over the past two years is amazing. My only wish is for an easy way to capture all of the student posted links. Also, all of the videos I link to are embeded directly into Edmodo and play right from the site.

5. Professional Discussions
Edmodo is full of groups that are started by other teachers and professional organizations. These groups create instant communities of like minded individuals able to share ideas, ask questions and be a participant in the ever changing 21st century classroom. Almost every subject and topic is covered by at least one group. I use the groups to post questions, participate in philosophical debate, and answer questions of other users.

6. Creating Subgroups
Once a group is formed, it is quite simple to create subgroups. I use this feature for my web design group. their are currently over 30 users and several of them are in my Advanced Web Design. So I give these students full access to the web design group and I have created a subgroup to create discussions tailored to their needs and growth.

7. Notes / Alerts / Polls / Quizzes
Using these various types of posts I have managed to explore student thoughts in different ways, get their attention quickly, and share my thoughts. While I almost always use 'Assignment' as my post of choice, the others serve their purposes from time to time.

8. Twitter Stream (or any RSS feed)
Using my Twitter RSS link, I have found it possible to have my Twitter messages post directly to the wall for each group. Now I know that students see my posts, which often provide links to technology and education related topics. I also sometimes Tweet out directly what students are doing in class, so they get to see their own work published on Twitter.

9. Parent Communication
I have created access for parents to see what is going on in Edmodo on an as needed basis. I could easily do this for the entire class. I currently only provide access as any parent requests it. Parents receive their own special code that gives them access to their child and any posts that I choose to share with parents.
10. Professional Development
I currently use Edmodo as my class platform when I deliver professional development. It is a tool that continues to impress and while it does not fit all of my needs (it is not a duplicate of Blackboard or other delivery systems) it is reusable, connected to the outside world and I find using Edmodo creates an opportunity for other teachers to explore its many possible uses.

Bonus #1 - Gradebook
If you choose to, you can provide grades on assignments done in Edmodo, directly through Edmodo. While I have an electronic gradebook that I use already, I can see this tool being quite helpful and it can provide immediate feedback to both parents and students.

Bonus #2 - Text Messages
While I don't use this feature, students and teachers may find it helpful to find that notifications of updates to Edmodo groups can be sent as a text to any cell phone number. The user can select which type of Edmodo event will trigger a text notification.
While the number of possible uses of continues to grow, it is my intention that this list give you a good starting place for what you can do with Edmodo. If you would like to read a much longer list of very specific curriculum ideas, please see the google shared document Edmodo Ideas started well over a year ago by Troy Seyfert.

Please follow me on Twitter @ahstechteacher and leave feedback on this post if you have something to say! 

Chad McGowan
Computer Arts teacher
Technology Enthusiast
Ashland, MA