Tuesday, October 25, 2005

GradeQuick at End-of-Term

1. Effort and Conduct Grades
  • Open a class file in Gradequick.

  • In the View menu, select Student Info.

  • In the pop-up box, select C1 and C2, and then click OK.

  • Enter effort (C1) and conduct (C2) grades.

  • Repeat for each class file.

Reminder: The next time you open the program, columns C1 and C2 will not be visible, but your effort and conduct grades will still be there! (To prove it, follow the above steps a second time!)

2. Submitting Grades

  • Open a class file in GradeQuick.

  • In the File menu, select Export, and then Admin Plus.

  • If the file name that pops up is G:\RS4\GQtoAPRC\03603802.rc, click OK.

  • Repeat for each class file.

Reminder: you should only submit each class ONCE! If you have any questions, or believe you have submitted a class erroneously, call Kay!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Quick As A Link

Hours of observation in WMS libraries and labs over the past few weeks have demonstrated an interesting truth about using the web for student research: It takes, on average, ten minutes for an entire class of middle school students to correctly type a web address into Netscape.

If the point here is to practice accurate page-to-screen transcription, then I suppose the time is worth it. But if the point of the exercise is to utilize the information on that web page, that's ten minutes of valuable research time lost.

The same happens with adults, of course. The often cryptic nature of web addresses leads to an especially high potential for typos or mispellings, which can confound what should be a painless process of "passing along" links to students and teaching peers alike.

Luckily, there are plenty of better ways...

For passing links to students, putting your links in a student network folder for easy click-and-go use is especially effective. To use this method:
  1. Log into the network with the username student and the password student.

  2. Set up a folder for your activity or lab. (Optional, but recommended.)

  3. Without closing the folder, open Netscape, and go to the page you want to send your students to.

  4. Finally, drag each link from the address bar to your new project folder.

Alternately, if you want students to associate links with a particular part of an activity, you can also add links directly to a word document stored on the student server. With this method, students can merely click the link at the correct time in the activity, and the page they need to reference will open right up!

Bonus hint: in both cases, when sending students to network folders, writing the sequence they'll need to follow to get there -- a series of heirarchical navigation cues also known as the network path -- on the board before class begins seems to be the fastest way to get all students to the right place effectively.

As always, of course, what works for students works for us. As we discussed last week, our new shared teacher network folders allow us to pass links to each other using either or both of the methods above.

In addition, you can also send links via our district webmail, or indeed any email system. To make emailed links clickable, make sure you include the entire web address, including the http:// at the beginning.

Got an idea for next week's tech tip? Let us know!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Notes on Networks

The introduction of shared network resources has already made a huge difference this year at WMS. Today we discuss some of the new opportunities that the network brings to our teaching and learning...and some of the challenges of sharing and storage that we will face in the next few years.

The (re)introduction of student network folders -- and the accompanying hierarchy of network folders for teams and classes to store and share student work -- has made it easier to move ongoing projects and digital documents from lab and library to classroom. As a beneficial by-product of this move away from disks and towards student use of the school network, students have lost less work over the past week.

Student shared folders on the network have been so successful, in fact, that at the suggestion of the Science team, we have created a shared space for teachers as well.

These new network folders are designed for idea-sharing between teachers of shared interest and needs. Want to share MCAS-related work and other curricular materials with your subject-area peers on other teams? Have a link or word document to pass along to the other members of your team?

The addition of shared network spaces makes it possible to think of the network as a communal resource, a hang-out space and professional lounge, where we can share ideas and materials despite a lack of common availability. All of us have the ability to create new folders, so be creative about how you want to use this space – they sky is the limit!

To access these folders, simply log on to a computer with your own username and password, go to “My Computer,” and open the new folder called wms_teacher_shared. Inside, you’ll find folders for all-school use organized by type of document, and a folder I’ve already created for Science teachers. You can even download and install the new smartboard software from the “shared software” folder.

Neither students nor teachers can access the school network from home, of course. For now, as long as we continue to assign digital work as homework – and, by the way, watch for this, as a small minority of our students have no computers at home, and are thus at a severe disadvantage when assigned digital work for homework – we’ll need to keep using disks.

Disk drives, of course, remain unstable. Though diligence in reporting technical problems will continue to be the best solution to this problem in the short term, finding long-term solutions to "the disk problem" may require broader thinking.

And we are already beginning to find that the disk drive is becoming a thing of the past. New computers these days do not generally come with floppy drives, and thus, ironically, many of our most technologically adept students are least able to continue working on digital documents as part of their homework.

In the next few years, new technology at WMS will be better able to interface with new storage media -- USB cards, removable drives, iPods, etc. -- that student bring from home. In the meantime, please remember that student work stored on the network can easily be “dropped to disk” from ANY school computer – so if a disk drive is not working, just move to the next computer over, or send the student to the library, to get their work home.

As we move forward, please keep thinking about the possibility and pitfalls of shared access. Pass along, especially, any ideas or inspiration about how to better include student home environments as a part of the emerging world of virtual storage. And, as always, if you have a tech tip to share or an instructional subject to ponder, let us know!

Friday, October 07, 2005

On Blogs and Blogging

Blog: a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first.

Blogging: The act or art of writing in, developing, and maintaining a blog.

In its most basic form, a blog is simply an online journal. Primarily textual, updated regularly with dated entries, and most generally thought of as produced by a single individual, the vast majority of the several million blogs currently "out there" on the Internet track the daily minutia of several million lives.

Teachers have long used journals in the classroom. Used deliberately, journals help students practice low-stakes writing and put their ideas into clear language, offer a mechanism for students to communicate with teachers, and help teachers track student development.

These same benefits exist in blogging. But bringing the traditional journal to the online world adds new and exiting layers to student journaling.

Of course, students of a digital generation are habituated towards digital writing, and most students take to screen-based journaling as a fish to water. But teachers who ask their students to blog cite many benefits:
  • The multimedia capability of the online world makes it easy for students to incorporate illustration, quotes, concept maps and links into their writing, which in turn helps them think about and practice communication broadly, regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses as a communicator.

  • The ability of the blog to link directly to other information encourages students to think of their own work and minds as part of a wider universe of interconnected ideas...while the expectation of linking, and the ease with which it can be done, helps students consider appropriate association and citation (rather than plagiarism) when connecting to and utilizing the ideas of others.

  • The virtual nature of the blog makes it possible for teachers to read and assess student journals more easily (using bookmarks or blog digests), without taking those journals out of the hands of their students. This, in turn, allows students greater sense of ownership over their blogs, which tends to engender stronger commitment to writing.

  • The innate ability of most blogs to associate comments with each blog entry allows teachers to add their own comments (and assessment) to student blog entries without doing so on the blog itself...which, in turn, affects student ownership of blog content and writing even more strongly.

It is for these reasons and more that so many teachers have begun to turn to blogging.

But many of us who come for the journalesque nature find that blogging is much, much more. The ability of blogs to reach a wide audience, coupled with the ease with which readers can add their own voices, causes many long-time users to speak of blogging as somehow both publishing and a kind of community activity.

In educational settings, blogging can bring groups together, create a pool for developing resources, track and represent progress, and act as a publishing medium on small and large scales.

The potential for the blog in educational environments transcends the blog-as-journal so much, in fact, that Will Richardson, a leader in the blogging-in-education community, suggests that Blogging is not journaling. Blogging is learning. That’s a tall order for a single technology.

But it is true that blogging is a kind of convergence of almost everything that the digital tools of our world make possible. And the diversity of potential in blogging leads to a broad diversity of potential uses. In the last five years, I’ve seen...
  • Blogs for project groups, shared by a small group of students, so they can share and collaborate throughout a project...and so a teacher can observe and track group progress, without being seen until she wants to be.

  • School library blogs connecting, concentrating, and making accessible everything from online resources to online catalogs to tips on better search engine use and research strategies.

  • Blogs by teachers, for students, designed primarily for ongoing teacher musing and information delivery, which add a new layer of ongoing communication, allow links and digital documents to be passed on easily and in context, and allow for an ongoing archive of thoughts and ideas.

  • ”Featured responses” blogs which showcase select student answers to test questions for all students to learn from and, as a bonus, let parents visit your class throughout the year without ever setting foot in the building.

Of course, the realities of technology are always best grounded in our own desires as teachers, and our own best understanding of our students as learners. As with any new Big Idea, there are issues from the political to the pedagogical to be discussed before we might figure out how we wish to use blogging -- if at all -- in the best way possible for our school at this time.

In other words: how you choose to use blogs – or indeed any technology – in your teaching is an ongoing question. I offer this week’s tip primarily as a sense of the possible, a way to engender conversation about the big issues of technology and change.

But I also offer it in response to the several people who have come to me fascinated by the potential they see in this new space. This, too, is a blog. And one great way to think about what we want blogs to do for us as teachers is to explore them as tools for ourselves.

So now that you know a bit more about blogging, imagine this blog -- currently a one-way publishing medium – as what it can be, with the full potential to be a virtual faculty lounge and shared resource room, a place where we can all come together for ideas and development regardless of the limitations of schedule and space.

All it needs is your voice.

So take the first step. Help make this space truly ours to share. Click on the “comment” button below to chime in with comments, critiques, concerns, or ideas about this week’s topic. And, as always, if you’ve got a tech tip or idea to share, or a project coming up which could benefit from some relevant tips from others, let me know.