February 22

Touch Screen Assistive Technology

Technology in the classroom can allow students to be self-directed learners in many ways. There are many types of assistive technology software that can help students. However, even with these softwares, common technology, such as Chromebooks, can sometimes have physical restraints that younger students or students with physical disabilities may struggle with. These restraints can hinder the students ability to use the technology effectively, therefore making it less self-directed. 

Touch screen technology, such as touch screen computers or iPads, has proved to be an effective assistive technology tool for these students. The touch screen can help them overcome the physical struggles of using certain technology and provide them with the ability to be self-directed learners. With touch screens, students can use their fingers to navigate through their devices, making it easier to use technology without the need for a keyboard or mouse. This can help remove physical barriers to learning and enable students with physical disabilities or underdeveloped motor skills to engage with technology in the classroom.

(Image Source: ATforED.com)

In addition to helping with the physicality of using technology, touch screens provide an interactive and engaging way for students to learn. With the ability to touch and manipulate the screen, students can interact with learning materials in a more hands-on way, which is especially beneficial for younger learners. Touch screen technology allows students to drag and drop items on the screen (i.e., digital manipulatives, sorting activities, etc.), zoom in on images, or even draw on the screen to illustrate their ideas, all with their fingertips. 

Arguably the best part of touch screen technology is that it is useful for all types of learners to use! Universal supports are a great way to meet the needs of all students, and touch screens offer just that. While all students may not rely on using touch to navigate technology, or they may prefer to use a trackpad or mouse, the option is still there to use whenever they would like, while also being available for those students who do rely on it. Therefore, I believe that, while often more expensive, schools should prioritize integrating computers and tablets that have touch screens into their arsenal of technology.

(Image Source: TeachHub.com)
January 31

Pineapple Charts: A Creative Approach to Professional Development

There are a multitude of ways that training can be delivered to education staff, both formally and informally. It is important to acknowledge that the education system is changing (e.g., new pedagogies and types of technology, while also adjusting to staffing concerns, etc.) and we must adapt to these changes in order to maintain innovative as lifelong learners. A creative approach to teacher training that I have read about and would be interested in trying is Pineapple Charts. 

What is it?

Pineapple Charts provide an open invitation for other educators within your school setting to pop into your classroom and watch you facilitate a specific activity or lesson. The goal would be that other educators might learn something from watching and/or participating in your classroom that could be useful or integrated into their own classroom. Simply put, Pineapple Charts provide a space for “meaningful and affirming collaboration” for educators (Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).

(Image Source: Algebra and Beyond)

How does it work?

Let’s say you have a tried-and-true lesson that your students enjoy every time you use it. Or, you have designed a new lesson that has your heart and mind pumping with excitement to try. Or, you are going to use a teaching strategy or technology tool that you think other teachers might benefit from seeing in action. Really, any sort of lesson that you think other teacher’s might be interested in, you post that information on the school’s Pineapple Chart. A Pineapple Chart is a blank chart with each day of the week and each period of the school day that is posted in the staffroom (or anywhere teachers gather) or digitally (shared Google Doc) where teachers can fill in information about their lesson (TECA, Pineapple Charts: Learning from Your Peers). 

For example, if I know that I am going to teach my students about coding on Spheros on Wednesday right after lunch, I will write that in the Pineapple Chart (e.g., Mr. Burton – Sphero Coding). If this is something that another teacher has been interested in learning more about or seeing in action, but hasn’t found a way of learning that works for them (e.g., online training), they can come attend my lesson at that time. Teachers can either use their planning time, or can rearrange their planning times with other colleagues in the building, to attend this valuable, yet informal professional development.

(Image Source: Cult of Pedagogy)

But, what’s with the pineapple?

Well, pineapples are a symbol of welcoming and hospitality, which fits well with the overall theme of the Pineapple Chart! This approach to teacher training is built on organic, staff-led collaborative learning. When a culture of open-doors and teamwork is fostered and embraced, the level of deep learning that can be achieved is unmatched.

(Image Source: Placement International)

How can this strategy be implemented successfully?

This strategy to teaching training only works if teachers are willing to open their classrooms up to their colleagues. That being said, there may be some things that have to be put in place in order for staff to buy-in. Adrian Cargal, an Instructional Coach and author at Edutopia, outlines 3 key components to successfully implement the Pineapple Chart:

  1. It’s a voluntary endeavor: Pushback will be inevitable if it’s a required task.
  2. The Pineapple Chart is accessible by all employees: A shared document via Google Slides or an equivalent is optimal. 
  3. It’s a connected call to action that inspires others to join in on the fun: Highlight the positive things that you’ve observed in your classroom at every possible opportunity. This will encourage your colleagues to participate and will make the PD experience more collaborative.
(Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning). 

Have you used Pineapple Charts in your school setting? What are some ways that staff buy-in could be fostered? What other uses could this strategy be used for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

January 25

Virtual Reality (VR) in the Classroom

Virtual Reality (VR) is increasingly becoming an accessible tool that allows users to integrate themselves into computer-generated environments. While VR is predominately used in video game settings, it is also becoming a valuable type of educational technology. After reviewing the many different educational/school-focused VR products offered and taking into account the wide discrepancy in pricing, I would be inclined to explore the Google Cardboard VR as an option for purchase within my school setting.

(Image Source: arvr.google.com)

Google Cardboard VR is a cost-effective virtual reality platform that can be used in the classroom to enhance students’ learning experiences. It allows students to immerse themselves in virtual environments and interact with educational content in a way that has the potential of being more engaging and memorable than traditional methods. Virtual reality can be used throughout the curriculum in a number of different ways. In my own Primary classroom, I could take the students on virtual field trips to view various structures around the world in Science, explore many communities in Canada and around the world in Social Studies, go to art exhibits and reflect on famous pieces of artwork in Visual Art, and even visit the cities discussed in the Bible in Religion. Google Cardboard VR has various apps that it can work with, as well as programs that students may already be familiar with, such as Google Maps.

(Image Source: arvr.google.com)

The SAMR model could be used to evaluate the use of VR in the classroom and outline some entry points for teachers with varying experience. Learning tasks involving watching videos or going on virtual field trips would fall within the Substitution/Augmentation categories, as these events could otherwise be completed in a similar way on a computer. However, tasks that involve having students create things or interact with each other in a virtual environment would provide learning opportunities in new ways, thus falling more within the transformation categories of Modification/Redefinition. 

(Image Source: PowerSchool.com)

While the Google Cardboard VR is cost effective (ranging from $11-$55 per headset), there is one main downfall of this technology (Google Cardboard, “Get Your Cardboard”). The downfall is that you have to supply the device that runs the applications within the VR headset. This would mean that the students would have to provide their own iPhone/Android or the school would have to have access to a set of cell phones. One way to overcome this issue would be to have donations of old devices that could be used specifically for the Google Cardboard VR (I know a few people, including myself, that have an old iPhone in a drawer that is not being used anymore).

July 28

Course Reflection (IICT Part 2) and Action Plan

This past year has come with a great deal of professional learning. As I navigated through my first year as a permanent teacher, I made an effort to try new things, get uncomfortable in my teaching, and integrate more technology into my teaching practice. Little did I know that COVID-19 was right around the corner, waiting to make everyone in education try new things, get uncomfortable, and use more technology. By taking the Additional Qualification course Integration of Information and Computer Technology in the Classroom Part 2, I was able to reflect on how I responded to Distance Learning, while also preparing myself for the unknown teaching climate of the near future.

A significant topic explored in the course was that of the SAMR Model. This model outlines the depth of technology integration throughout the learning opportunities provided to our students. While the purpose of this model is not to force educators to teach primarily in the Redefinition stage, it does provide a framework in which we can reflect on our own current usage of technology while thinking critically about how we can improve. 

This model also sparked some good discussions on Twitter. Some fellow educators were not so keen on the use of the model, as some schools were beginning to use it as an evaluation criteria for their staff. Others were concerned over education apps/programs being categorized into the SAMR model. Both of these situations were not the intent of the model, nor the takeaway message that I gather from learning about the model. I find that this model challenged me to analyze how I have been using technology in the classroom, made me evaluate ways in which I can take the learning opportunities further, and think about how I can foster further innovation from my students. At the end of the day, reflection on our professional practice and the learning opportunities that we provide to our students is the goal, and the SAMR model provides one opportunity for just that.

Throughout the IICT Part 2 course, we were asked to analyze, utilize, and evaluate many different tech tools. This in and of itself was a very beneficial moment of learning for me. I often find that I’ve read about or have seen other educators using different digital tools, but it takes me some time to actually take the jump and try it myself. One way that this course has helped me to branch out of my comfort zone was seeing my instructor practice what he preached! He regularly used the program Loom to provide personal and detailed feedback on the various course work that we completed. This not only made it much more engaging than a written post, but it also provided direct visuals and examples from our course colleagues. 

One way that I was able to integrate this practice into my own assignment was by using Loom to record a tutorial on how to use Tour Creator – Google VR. I had recently used this program and was prepared to write up a tutorial about how to use it, but after seeing my instructor regularly use Loom, it made much more sense to record a video tutorial. I feel as though this video tutorial was easier to follow than a written set of instructions, and it provided real-time images that would have otherwise been screenshots in a document. Beyond this assignment, I feel more comfortable using Loom and/or other screen recording softwares in my teaching instruction, especially if we return to Distance Learning. Take a peek at my tutorial for Tour Creator – Google VR below:

As partners in education, our course colleagues were able to connect and discuss many topics related to the integration of technology in the classroom. I have begun following and communicating with others on Twitter, adding them to my continually growing PLN. Through Twitter, visiting their blogs, and participating in online discussions, I have been able to see and read about many examples of ways in which technology can be used in the classroom. Above all else, this has been a significant takeaway for me, as I am not equipped with numerous ideas and activities that I can implement throughout the school year.

We were also able to connect digitally on a Google Meet! In this meeting, we were able to share our learning experiences from the various MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that we attended. Not only was this beneficial in learning from others about their takeaways from the courses, but it also taught us about the many MOOC providers around the world. Not only are many of the courses free of charge, but some are live, others are posted after the live session, some are short and quick, others have modules that span over a few weeks… The learning opportunities are essentially in our hands and we are able to pick and choose a topic and a platform that best suits us! There is a wealth of learning available through MOOCs and PLNs, and I am excited to continue my self-directed education as I continue “learning about learning”.

One of the next steps that I hope to take to further explore my interests in technology is building upon cross-curricular ways to integrate robotics/coding into teaching practice. Sometimes, as these types of activities are typically brand new for the students coming into my Primary class, there is a lot of time spent on coding as a separate entity. My goal is to move past using “coding to code”, and finding ways in which it can be so ingrained in our learning that the focus moves towards a deeper outcome. This would allow students to continue developing their coding skills, while also connecting it to other curriculum areas (e.g., angles in Math, story animation in Language, environmental innovations in Science, etc.). This learning curve for students could be shortened by encouraging other teachers to use coding in their teaching practice and helping to guide them in their own professional learning. Students would then come to my class knowing the basics so that we can spend more time on the deeper learning tasks.

My hope is that through my professional learning gained in the Integration of Information and Computer Technology in the Classroom Part 2 Additional Qualification course, coupled with my passion for teaching with technology, I am able to further my student’s abilities to use technology effectively and efficiently in their own lives. I mean, that’s the goal of any of this, right? As an educator, I hope to provide my students with the knowledge and skills required to be the best person and member of society as they can be. In order for me to do so effectively, I must continue my own lifelong learning, gaining new insights and strategies that will directly benefit my students. And that’s just what I’ll do!