Sunday, July 21, 2013

Technology in First Grade on the First Day

Did I mention that the day I spent at Google was inspiring? No? Well, I've been thinking of everything school and Google and technology and collaboration and creativity ever since... and while I can't give Google credit for all my ideas... that day made a difference for me.

I had an extremely hard year last year. I had unbelievable challenges. The population at my school is not a particularly easy one anyway, but last year was extra special, if you know what I mean. It was one of *those* years. Times a hundred. Or maybe a thousand. Egad. I worked way, way too hard. I'm feeling the need for a margarita just writing about it!

When school ended, I didn't feel relieved right away. My husband jokes that I was experiencing a little Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whatever it was, it took a few weeks for it to sink in--- That. Year. Finally. Ended. Soon after that, I let a few thoughts about next year sneak into my brain. And when I went to the Google Geo Teachers Institute, I admit my expectations were low. Heck, I was still trying to forget last year, and I wasn't ready in the least to begin thinking about next year. But then I met some talented teachers and learned about some amazing tools and I got all excited.

Last year, the technology in my room was limited to the four iPods my students use to listen to stories. I take that back. I also had a MacBook Pro (district issue!), a LCD projector and document camera, and my own iPhone. I used the camera on my phone every single day for both still shots and video. And the document camera, LCD and MacBook got quite a bit of use. But I didn't have a lot in terms of "hands on" technology tools for my students.

Our school had two beautiful computer labs.

Okay, I'm not so sure about "beautiful," but I was really pretty thrilled when I first saw them. Brand new iMacs! There were thirty computers in each one, so during my lab time (every day for 30-40 minutes) my students each had an iMac to use. However, they had limited choices for how they used those computers. Wait. Who am I kidding?! Their choices were so limited that THERE WAS NO CHOICE. Two days a week, students used an online math program. Bleh. Three days a week, they used an online program with a reading emphasis. The math program was somewhat engaging, and the students liked it better than the reading program. The reading program caused many children to throw tantrums and refuse to participate. Honestly, I can't blame them. It was as close to a drill and kill phonics ditto on a computer that I've ever seen. But even worse than a ditto, if students missed any questions on a level, they had to re-do all the "activities" on that level. And there wasn't any teaching happening in this program. Omg. I could go on for hours. The kids hated it and I hated it, and despite the "research" praising the program and outlining all the magical things it could do, it just didn't work for my students.

Every day, I thought about those instructional minutes. Thirty to forty minutes per day were dedicated to those two programs (mandatory, with each students' minutes monitored by the district,) and yet I felt like I never had enough time to teach everything I felt I needed to. I started to share my feelings, and explain the reasons why I thought the time was not well spent. Every child, no matter his reading/math levels, was required to be "on" that computer for  the prescribed number of minutes every day. I just didn't see the point. They weren't engaged, it wasn't good instruction, and at least twenty students asked to use the bathroom during the computer lab time every single day. That was telling!

Thankfully, I was heard. At the end of the year, the decision was made to break up the computer labs and distribute the computers among all the classrooms. Yahoo! So now I can add "four iMacs" to my classroom technology inventory. And although I probably won't be able to completely wiggle out of having to use those online math and reading programs (it will likely be required for some students), I have bigger plans for  those iMacs!

And so... some of my plans for incorporating technology on the first day of school:

1. I am going to teach a quick lesson on how to use Photo Booth on the iMacs, and on the very first day, I will have students record themselves talking about... themselves! I plan to put all those recordings together into a little show about our class. Students can learn about each other when they watch it, and you can bet I'll have some writing activities to follow up the viewing! (Likely they won't watch it the first day, but probably a couple of days later.)

2.  I'll be using my iPhone... to take pictures and video of students on the first day. I always send a note home with students during the first week. Last year, my notes looked like this:

I had ordered those post cards from Vistaprint several years ago. This year, I'm going to create my own cards and I'm planning to include a photo of each child. I will also be taking video to use in my Back to School Night presentation.

2. While scrounging around home for any technology bits to take to school (more on that later), I found the Flip Video camera that I got for free a few years ago. All I had to do was attend a workshop to learn to use it, and it was mine! I know that there are better versions. I got my Flip Video about four years ago. But it takes decent video and it is simple enough for a first grader to use successfully.

And those first graders are going to use it a lot this year. I want students to take videos of each other, and we are going to start the first day. Our first project is going to be a presentation about the rules. After I teach procedures to the students, I am going to have one student record while the other students practice and demonstrate. Behavior is a gigantic issue at my school! Last year some of us were on a committee to help establish new procedures based on PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.) I will review those procedures from last year, have students record each other, and we will compile to create a group project. And I know I can find a way to share that project with the other classes at our school. Bazinga!

4. And my last bit of technology for the first day... my students will be taking lots of digital pictures! I know, I know, my plans are pretty heavy on the visual technology side. But we have to start somewhere, right? I want students to have practice using the digital cameras I have (old cameras my children and friends of mine used before we all had iPhones!) First they need to know how to use the cameras, and then later they can do great things with the pictures!

I'm actually getting excited about going back to school! I can wait to share lots of technology tools with my first graders, and watch them use them in meaningful ways!

No comments:

Post a Comment