Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why I Struggle with Those who Struggle with Teachers Pay Teachers


Recently a fellow educator wrote a blog post about why he has a problem with Teachers Pay Teachers.  Since the article remains, but not everyone's perspective was allowed (some comments were deleted) I wanted to post my response to the topic somewhere that I can control (but if you're a regular follower looking for my weekly teaching tip, scroll all the way to the bottom for a little post script).

Mr. Drake, I appreciate your wish for teachers, that we should not have to spend our own money on things for our classrooms.  Of course it would be great to be reimbursed for everything I buy to supplement curriculum, as well as those things we buy to meet my students' basic needs when I notice specific areas are not being met. 

Of course, if this were to happen, it would affect taxpayers.  You yourself remind us that the taxpayers are the ones who pay us to work during specific hours of the day.  Of course, they don't pay us to work on weekends or summertime, and for most, not after 4pm on weekdays.  Yet every teacher I know gives more of their time beyond their contractual hours for free to plan lessons, mark papers, and so on.  And taxpayers certainly do not give teachers carte blanche to spend money where they see fit.  So although that's a nice dream for us educators to have, it doesn't seem feasible.  And until that day that schools are given unlimited tax dollars, situations arise, often on a weekly basis, where we see something is lacking, and we have to step up and fill that need. 

Fortunately, when it comes to meeting the ever changing needs of the children in our care, the beauty of the internet and the free marketplace is that we are never alone.  We can find bargains at the grocery store to stock up on snacks for our students.  We can peruse Pinterest for 17 do it yourself fidget objects for under $10 to help kids with sensory needs who break the 3 we're issued at the start of the year by the second day of school.  And yes, on TPT we can purchase engaging Fraction of a Set task cards when the lesson from our textbook is so dull that half our class is asking to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, or see the nurse instead.

The fact is, not only do we need to be flexible when it comes to caring for children, our curriculum is changing so fast (not just every year anymore; in my own school our writing curriculum changed 3 times during this school year) that we NEED to supplement resources beyond what the schools have bought for us.  We're going to get it from somewhere.  Some of it is free, (both on Teachers Pay Teachers and other venues) and some is not.  In a free, capitalist society, we all get to/have to make choices when it comes to what we're willing to spend.  Teachers are consumers too.  Why wouldn't we be?

So if teachers have to be consumers like the rest of society, why can't we pay for materials created by experts?  And by experts, I mean other teachers.  This too is the way of the world.  In the last decade, reality TV has made "regular people" into stars.  People don't just want to see professional actors in a role; they want to see regular people and real reactions.  People aren't just getting their news from professional broadcasters.  They read blogs and Twitter to get news faster, from people who are there, who are local, who have perspective.  People magazine named "You" as "Person of the Year" because of the number of self-publishers who are garnering the attention of the masses who want hear "the common man's" view.  So why wouldn't teachers turn to other teachers who are coming up with creative solutions to challenges in their classrooms? 

In this day in age, online publishing is easy for everyone (as you, Mr. Drake, a fellow blogger, can attest).  Teacher Pay Teachers is not unique in that regard.  It's a shame that this is the site that comes under fire by those who don't understand the real role of a teacher.  We are paid by the tax payers to teach children.  We are not hired to publish games, advertise and promote products, or implement graphic design for cover art, and those skills are valuable, not to be given freely.  Our resources that are created on our own time, with our own materials do not belong to the public, any more than the dinner I make for my family belongs to the public.  What I buy and make on my own time is my business. 

Just because "most teachers signed up for the job knowing...[they] aren't paid what they're worth...[and] can't really raise a family on the salary they're given" does not make teacher-entrepreneurs criminals who are stealing from the tax payers.  Instead of condemning a site like Teachers Pay Teachers with insinuations that teachers are doing something wrong by earning money by publishing on there, try looking at what the site is actually doing from a different perspective.  What the site actually is, is a place which promotes collaboration among teachers, current materials during a period of rapid educational shifts, and yes, extra income for teachers whose hobby is related to their field.  Maybe, just maybe, teachers who love educating enough to devote their free time to it should be applauded. 






P.S., To my regular readers who look forward to weekly ideas for classroom use, a bunch of us on Teachers Pay Teachers have donated a product or two to a GIANT compilation for charity.  All of the money earned from this product will be going to The One Fund, the organization endorsed by Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Tom Menino, to help the victims and families of the Marathon Bombing last week.  

As a Massachusetts resident I was happy to help with this effort.  I've donated my Substitute Teacher packet and my Fraction of a Set, Level 1 activity cards.  The grades 3-6 Bundle contains 37 Products (valued at over $180) for $20.  You can make your donation here at Michaela Almeida's site, The Center Based Classroom, and receive this bundle as a thank you.




Money bag and piggy bank graphics from OpenClipart.org.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learning to Use Educreations on the iPad



In my last 2 posts, I talked about getting an iPad for my fourth grade classroom, thanks to our generous PTO, and how my students became the teachers when it came to using it in the classroom. 

My next step was to take a class on iPad use in the classroom.  Luckily the local educator collaborative offers these a couple times per month on various topics.  After a few weeks I worried I might be too bored with the beginner class on "browsing the internet " and "learning to use the camera."  I think one of my students put it best when I told them I was excited to go to a workshop on how to use the iPad afterschool and he quipped, "Why do you need to take a class on that?  Just look on the internet." 

So instead I signed up for a class on popular apps to use in the classroom.  I'm sort of at a loss for how to schedule student use, and I decided it isn't worth it to worry about that until I have content for them to consume on the thing.  I had some apps for myself, like Class Dojo (but no Smartboard/projector for the kids to see it), a free multiplication game, (which is fine, but there are plenty of free websites with multiplication games) and Educreations, which was intriguing to me but I didn't feel ready to dig into.  I wanted to see what else was out there.

Well, unfortunately she didn't show us any apps the kids themselves could play with, (I guess I'll be looking on the internet after all) but she did teach me how to use Educreations (it was pretty much the whole focus of the 90 minute class).  For anyone not familiar with it, here is a sample of what you can make on it (this video is not mine).

Isn't it AWESOME!?

I'm not sure how soon the "flipped classroom" model is going to come to fourth grade at my school, but I love the idea that my kids can be home, tell their parents, "I can't do my homework," and instead of the parents writing me a note saying, "I was afraid to help them because I don't know how you do it/I don't want to confuse them" they can watch a demonstration with their child!

The highlights of the videos you create on Educreations are:
1.  You can type (and move your text around the screen) which is easier than writing text on the iPad.
2.  You can draw arrows or whatever else you need in multiple colors.  I told my class, "it's going to look like me writing on the whiteboard, except you can't see my hand."
3.  You can add in pictures if you don't want to draw something, such as fraction circles.
4.  You can record your voice, so for those students who are not great readers, they can hear you tell them what they need to know.  They also get a little thrill that it's proof that it's really YOU, their beloved teacher, who made this video for them!

Some challenges with Educreations are:
1.  You can't erase.  Seems like a big flaw!  I hope they correct this soon.  You can click "undo" if you make a mistake, but you can't erase something once it's there.
2.  You can't reorder slides.  There is a workaround (when it comes to recording you don't have to go in order) but it can be tricky to find the slides and remember where you are.
3.  You can't go back and record over any part once you start recording your voice.  You can pause as many times as you like as you record, but you can't undo the sound part at all.  As a result, I'm a little afraid to record at school on a prep or even after school in case an announcement is made over the intercom.
4.  You can only have one work in progress at a time. 

So far I've recorded 4 videos for my class, all related to fractions.  The plan is to do one for long division and one for 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication next (when I suggested those two topics for my next videos I got a resounding "YES, PLEASE"). 

It's easy to get these videos into my students' homes just by putting links up on our classroom blog (clicking the link will bring you to a post about our blog).  They don't need the app to view them.  I just introduced them to the first couple videos in class, (this video is one I created) and they are already well versed in accessing the blog at home by this point in the year to study and play (I have a healthy mix of anchor charts, open ended questions, and math games on there, as well as the interactive element of allowing comments).

Have you ever used Educreations?  Is it something you could see yourself using?








Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Starting Out With My iPad in the Classroom (Part 2)

Yesterday I talked about the first steps I took with my iPad, but the post was getting so long I decided to split it in two.  In a nutshell the first 6 tasks included: figuring out how to turn it on, dealing with Wi-Fi and how to type on the thing, taking and working with photos, synching Gmail and Google Calendar, Class Dojo, bookmarking, and selecting a case.  Once that was finished, I started looking into other capabilities:

7.  I downloaded OneNote and played with it a little, but it looks too basic for my word processing needs.  I might try EverNote, but on March 1 there were dozens of reviews saying there was a problem with the update, my husband said they were hacked, so I decided to wait this one out a while!

8.  I downloaded Educreations.  It's free and looks interesting!  Haven't played with it yet, but since my kids love the blog so much, I think they'd like this.  The question is can I put it on my classroom blog!?  That would be the ultimate...but I don't want to get my hopes up.  Difficulty level: TBD

9.  My husband wanted to play, so he downloaded a calculator because it's educational.  I'm surprised it didn't come with one :\

10.  Setting up "Kid's Mode" to lock students into a single program.  It may be a while before I'm ready to leave the iPad on a table with a kid or two or four to play in an educational app, but this was too useful to risk forgetting about!  You don't need to download an app for this; it's a capability that you just need to turn on in settings (the link will walk you through the process).  Easy to set up, easy to get out of.

11.  I set some alarms/alerts.  Through Pinterest I found an article on setting "alarms" right before transition times, such as before dismissal, so that kids get used to how long they have before it's time to go, and start to internalize the process subconsciously with cues from the song.  Interesting!  Setting the alerts themselves was easy.

12.  Getting songs onto the iPad:  This was SO FRUSTRATING.  I don't mean just buying new songs from iTunes, I mean I wanted to take a few MP3s from my pc and put them on the iPad to set as "alarms."  I could not tell you how I finally did it, except for I basically had to get the songs from my pc onto iTunes first (which involved installing iTunes on my pc first) plugging the iPad into my pc, whining to my husband who also struggled a while, and then somehow dragging them from iTunes onto the iPad icon in My Computer.  It was a lot of trial and error, looking up things online, and luck.  Difficulty level:  nightmare (possibly exaggerated). 

So what are my next steps? 

1.  Well, the alerts are set up, so the first thing I plan is to tell the kids about the songs they'll be hearing.  I'm really excited about just this for now! 

2.  I guess after that I should set up the Bluetooth speaker that came free with purchase so the kids can hear them better.

3.  Finish report cards.

4.  Try to figure out this Cloud thing.  How do I get to the cloud?  Do I have to set up an Email like it asks?

5.  Maybe try out that Educreations, or Onenote.

6.  Try writing a blog post on our classroom blog with a picture. 

7.  Sign up for an iPad class or 3.  There's one offered next week locally, but I have a doctor's appointment and can't make it, boo!  These tech classes crop up a couple times per month though, so I'll have to try to catch the next one.

8.  Search for more blog posts and Pinspiration so I know what else is out there!

So the obvious question for you, dear readers is, if you have an iPad for classroom use, what next step do you recommend? 






Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Getting an iPad for my Classroom


I can hardly believe my good fortune; the PTO bought all the classroom teachers in our building iPads!  My third thought after "wow, how generous," and, "I hope I don't break it," was how to use one iPad in the classroom in an efficient, productive way.

So having had it for less than a week, I wanted to post my experiences with it so far.  Keep in mind that I'm a novice when it comes to iProducts and exclusively touch screen devices (my cell phone is a slider because I like a keyboard).  That way hopefully someone can learn by my trial and error what was easy, what requires a bit of a time investment to pull off, and what, as far as I know, is just not worth it!

1.  Turning it on.  Yeah, we're starting from scratch here, haha.  The on button is not the front middle button, oddly.  It's the top right.  *shrug*  Then it automatically wanted me to get on iTunes or the Cloud or whatever upon startup, but I didn't have wifi at home.  Plus of course typing on the thing (like figuring out caps and numbers) was a new experience.  For me the whole startup process was a slight hassle, but if you have wifi already and use a touch phone it's probably very easy.  At least it connected automatically at school, where wifi is already set up.  Difficulty:  medium.

2.  I took pictures with the camera.  That was easy.  Figuring out what to do with them after is what is difficult.  I had to ask a student to show me how to delete them.  And what I use them for is to put on our classroom blog, but the iPad is not set up like a PC...no file locations that I can see.  I'm not sure exactly how to access them and transfer them to other programs.  The kids suggested I Email them to myself just like I was doing with my (Android) phone.  I suppose that will work, but the bottom line is, I'm not totally comfortable with pictures at this point.  Difficulty level:  medium.

3.  I set up school Email and synched my calendar.  The skins on these programs are slick looking and intuitive to navigate.  Difficulty level: easy!

4.  I already looked at Class Dojo before, and signed up, knowing I'd be getting an iPad.  If you don't know about this classroom management system, check it out!  It's got so many great features, and you don't even have to go to the effort of typing in your students' names!!  You can just copy and paste your roster in if you've got it on your computer already.  It is customizable in terms of you can add or delete positive and negative behaviors, and change each students' avatar, but all that stuff is fun for me so I don't even count it as time consuming.  Finally, I was shocked how easy the parent notices were to print:  they come up 2 per page with the student's name and a code for parents to enter when they log in.  All I had to do to let parents know about their child's behavior for the rest of the year was to click print and cut the pile in half!  Difficulty level:  easy!

5.  I created bookmarks of websites I need for school: our classroom blog, our school's website, and even Pinterest and Google Reader, since I honestly do use them exclusively for school ideas.  Obviously I won't be using either for other purposes on the iPad.  I figured this out by pressing the buttons up near the url window, so difficulty level: pretty easy.

6.  I researched cases.  I actually went against majority vote when I polled other teachers, and I really hope I'm not kicking myself later.  I knew I either wanted a durable case so that if kids dropped the thing it wouldn't smash, or one with a keyboard.  Others told me to get either the Defender or the Otterbox, but well, I really wanted a keyboard.  And I know what you're thinking, "Amber, you could have got a bluetooth keyboard separately from a durable case!"  But that would require shelling out a lot more money for something that doesn't truly feel like mine; it's school property.  And if I'm going to use it to type with on the projector (which will also probably be school issue soon; most classrooms already have them) I feel the need to have a keyboard.  Also, I feel like the kids are a little older, and a little more respectful of the tablet.  So in the end I went with a Kensington with bluetooth keyboard.  I really really really hope I didn't make a mistake here.  I agonized over this and even after I ordered it I almost canceled the order and got the Otterbox.  Difficulty level:  HARD.

It's exciting and intimidating to have this new expensive, fragile bit of tech!  I did more within the first few days of receiving it, but I'm going to cut this post into two so that it doesn't become unreadable.  I'll post the rest of my iPad-exploring next week!  In the meantime, can you recommend any apps or useful tips regarding how to use an iPad in the classroom?  Please leave a comment if so!






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