‘Instant Edmodo How-to’ by Dayna Laur

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Edmodo has become very popular as the Learning Management System (LMS) of choice for many schools and teachers around the world. I can not think of any reason why that would not be the case: Edmodo offers a free and user-friendly service. Dayna Laur, a social studies teacher with 14 years of classroom experience, has created a wonderful how-to eBook demonstrating the steps taken to integrate this LMS in the classroom. The eBook, titled ‘Instant Edmodo How-To‘ is targeted at educators and administrators, and is written using very simple language, outlining clear & detailed steps for performing a wide variety of functions using the Edmodo LMS. I would highly recommend reading the eBook for teachers who wish to become more familiar with using Edmodo in their classrooms.

The eBook contains 14 short chapters, each with a different focus. For example, there is a chapter titled ‘Setting up your Profile’ which outlines the steps involved in creating and building your teacher profile on Edmodo. The chapters are also labelled ‘simple’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’, depending on the level of tech-savviness of the reader, or their level of comfortability with the platform. Each chapter follows the same structure: a short introduction to the Edmodo function or feature, followed by a ‘Getting Ready‘ section to outline prerequisite steps, then a ‘How to do it‘ section listing the steps in a summarized format, followed by a ‘How it works‘ section explaining the steps in more detail. The last part of every chapter has a ‘There’s more‘ section that offers further features or steps for the teacher that would like to try them out.

Dayna Laur has written the eBook using very simple language that I believe is accessible to all educators, regardless of their ICT knowledge or expertise. I also believe her style of writing is very practical and not too technical, and the steps outlined or explained in every chapter follow a very logical sequence. Organizing all chapters using the same structure also helps the reader follow the instructions, and be able to easily identify areas where they might need more reading. Additionally, the eBook is full of screen-shots that help the reader with following the steps outlined in each chapter. The formatting of the eBook is also very appealing to me as a reader: the use of clear sub-headings, the font size, and the appropriate use of ‘bold‘ font and numbered lists. I would definitely recommend Dayna Laur’s ‘Instant Edmodo How-To‘, as I believe it is a useful guide ‘for educators who intend to use Edmodo for instructional support in classrooms or in professional development sessions’.

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10 reasons I love using Edmodo in my iPad classroom…

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I can not describe how much easier Edmodo has made my teaching! At the beginning of this academic year, and in my capacity as an eLearning leader, I was involved in a whole-school effort to rollout Edmodo. The eLearning leaders at school gathered all teachers and showed them a few videos highlighting the benefits of Edmodo, then we divided all staff between us and went on to smaller workshops to help them set up their own accounts and classes. It caught like wildfire! I had staff approaching me everyday wanting to learn more and find out ways to use it better.

In my school, we have three year levels using the iPads (years 6, 7 and 8), and two year levels using laptops (years 9 and 10). Every student in those five year levels has a personal learning device, whether it’s a laptop or iPad. I generally teach the earlier middle years, and I am in charge of the school’s iPad program. Therefore my focus is usually on the iPad as a personal learning device. Edmodo now offers a fantastic iPad app, especially after recent updates just before Christmas 2012. I will try to list the many ways I use Edmodo, and why I love it so much:

  • It is now very easy to share a worksheet or handout with my students on Edmodo. If I prepare a worksheet on Pages or have a worksheet in my Dropbox, all I need to do is ‘open in another app’ and select Edmodo. I prefer to share worksheets and handouts as a PDF, because that preserves the formatting of the document and it’s very easy for students to download an app that allows them to annotate PDFs (like Notability or TypeOnPDF).
  • Students can easily download a document from Edmodo, use it in another app (like a PDF annotation app) and then upload it again onto Edmodo to submit it as an ‘assignment’. This solves the whole ‘work-flow’ problem that many teachers faced upon the introduction of iPads into the classroom. Worksheets, handouts, task sheets, graphic organizers, anything you want the students to work on, just upload it into your library, add it to a folder that you share with the students or attach it to a post, then they access it and open it in another app. Once they have finished, they need to upload it into their ‘backpacks’ and then submit it as an attachment to an ‘assignment’ that you posted.
  • Edmodo’s ‘assignment’ feature allows me to post an assignment with a due date and a task sheet, see who submitted it and when, mark it using a PDF annotation tool, grade/assess it and give feedback all in one neat place. It really is hassle-free! While the desktop version of Edmodo allows better assignment-marking features than the iPad app, I can still mark simple assignments on-the-go from my iPad.
  • Edmodo’s ‘quiz’ feature allows me to create really quick and simple quizzes to use in class. Creating the quiz is really simple, and I can use multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, or even short answer questions. It also shows you some really cool statistics about the students’ answers.
  • Edmodo’s ‘poll’ feature allows me create quick survey polls in class and can be a very valuable formative assessment tool. It has been very useful in my Humanities class to help me decide what students may need to focus on more for the coming lessons, or what sort of format would they prefer to submit their assignment as, among many more polls.
  • Edmodo’s ‘note’ feature has been a great help in creating exit slips for the students. Right before the lesson ends, the students are asked to write ‘one thing I learned today is…’ or ‘one thing that surprised me today was…’ or ‘one thing I’d like to find out more about is…’. After posting their exit slips, they can all see what the others have posted and maybe comment on each others’ posts and respond.
  • Edmodo’s ‘members’ feature allows me to manage my students in each class/group. This has been very handy in reminding a student of their username in case they forgot it while logging in again, or resetting their password if they can’t remember it, or even changing a student’s member-status to ‘read-only’ if they have been posting too much irrelevant content and abusing the posting feature. I can also use this feature to award ‘badges’ to my students, which is a great incentive for many of them.
  • Edmodo’s ‘small groups’ feature makes group-work a lot easier to manage and assess. In my drama classroom, students are arranged in small groups or ‘theatre companies’, and a lot of their brainstorming is done on Edmodo, or even simply documenting group-work in a virtual group-work log.
  • Edmodo’s ‘folders’ feature makes it very easy to organize documents in a folder and share that folder with my classes. Standard templates like reflection help-sheets or rubrics can be placed in these folders so students can have access to them anytime.
  • Edmodo has made it much easier to teach ‘digital citizenship’ skills in a safer and more-controlled environment. Having a strong social-networking aspect to it, Edmodo allows the teacher to model appropriate online behaviour and etiquette, and gives the students the opportunity to practice those skills in a teacher-controlled environment.

I would seriously recommend Edmodo to any teacher out there. I would also refer any of them to the Edmodo Help-Centre which has a great collection of how-tos (with screenshots and clear steps) and tips for using Edmodo.

Technology vs. Teachnology: eLearning in moderation?

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I am a big proponent of eLearning and mLearning. There, I said it! However, I often receive comments from people saying “those kids are not necessarily learning more when they’re eLearning” or “eLearning is destroying those kids’ spelling abilities because of autocorrect and text-talk” or “eLearning will lead to a loss of lots of essential motor skills like handwriting because of all that touch-typing” etc… The list of Armageddon-like scenarios people creatively conjure up is endless! I believe some of these concerns are valid, but can also be completely blown out of proportion.

eLearning and mLearning offer benefits for educators such as saving paper, higher student engagement, immediate student response systems, fast feedback, portability, mobility and many more. Students can also learn at their own pace, and connect with a global audience. Lots of eLearning tools also allow students to create many things: animated movies, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, screencasts, ebooks, comics etc… However, I am also a proponent of using everything “in moderation”. While using these educational-technology tools enriches the learning experience of students in many ways, it still does not replace teachers, and it certainly does not entail we throw all our old practices out the window.

I do believe it is still important to expect students to write every once in a while, instead of type. Not every Art project has to be on the iPad, as hand-drawing on paper also offers a lot of benefits for the child’s sensory-motor development. Not every project or assignment has to be submitted in electronic format. Sometimes receiving a good poster about the topic where the student actually wrote down their understanding, and used REAL scissors and glue to cut and paste pictures, can be as rewarding a learning experience as a virtual poster using Google Images and typed up paragraphs.

Web 2.0, mobile devices, tablets, interactive whiteboards are all TOOLS. Any skilled teacher should have a whole TOOLBOX of diverse tools, with edu-technology being a part of many others in that toolbox. Not all books have to be ebooks, not every written word has to be typed, not every assignment has to be electronic, not every discussion has to be online, and so on… Students need to learn a very large range of skills to be able to cope with the demands of the modern workplace, but not all these skills can necessarily be taught with a sole-reliance on educational technology tools. Teachers have to find the right balance between edtech and non-edtech learning experiences, so that our students are as well-prepared for life beyond the classroom as possible!

iGeneric: how can teachers incorporate iPad in all subject areas?

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A group of science teachers were sitting around on the staff room table. They were having a faculty meeting. One of them said, “I found this great app about biological cells! We can use this to teach the unit about cells!”. Another one responded by saying “This app I stumbled upon yesterday is amazing for teaching about the periodic table!”. The conversation went on for quite some time, only to end with one of them saying “there aren’t that many apps that can be used to teach Science”. This is when I intervened!

What I observed was a number of teachers who flicked through the chapters of the textbook, and then tried to find an iPad app to replace each chapter. I believe this approach is very limiting, and does not allow for full utilization of the iPad as a tool. I teach drama, and none of the apps I use in my classroom have anything to do with drama!

In Andrew Douch’s words, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife” of tools! Subject-specific apps are great, but generic apps are even greater! There’s so much you can do in every subject with just a bunch of generic and cheap/free apps! Using the iPad in the classroom does not just mean using apps that are subject-specific. It is more useful to think of learning processes and activities, and how the iPad can facilitate these learning activities, not replace the designated reference used in the subject (i.e. textbook).

Here are some generic learning activities (or learning processes) that can incorporate the iPad, and using apps that are not subject-specific:

1- Documentation: the iPad has a Camera. So what? Before iPads, students may have been asked to use digital cameras, and then connect them to a laptop/desktop, import their photos/videos and so on. There were a lot of steps involved, and more than one device. The iPad eliminates all these steps. In science classes, the students could shoot video footage of their science experiments. In art classes, the students could take snapshots of their artwork at different stages of the creation process. In maths classes, students could take snapshots of the whiteboard to keep a visual record of the steps a teacher took to solve an equation. The students can also keep video footage of class discussions or group work for their documentation. Realistically, the ability to shoot video/take photos anytime and anywhere, without having to import them on another device later, is a great advantage for any subject area.

2- Reflection: the iPad can make student-reflections easier and more suited to their learning styles. Students can use an app like Evernote to keep reflection notebooks/journals. Evernote notebooks allow inserting text, photos (from the Camera-roll), voice notes, checkboxes, and locations. Therefore, students can reflect in oral or written format, and supplement their reflections with photos and screenshots. An app like ShowMe can also facilitate reflection, as students insert photos of different parts of the learning process and doodle over them, while also recording their voice. Reflection has a role (or should have a role) in all subject areas, and so these apps/learning activities can be used in whatever class.

3- Discussion: this is not necessarily an advantage of the iPad itself, but the iPad does facilitate discussion by allowing mobile access to several discussion platforms. Students can have back-channel discussions on Edmodo while a teacher is explaining a lesson. Twitter hash-tags can also be used to encourage back-channel discussions, or even a Facebook page. Whatever the subject area is, these apps/tools can facilitate discussion in any class.

4- Formative Assessment: being able to gauge the students’ learning while it’s still occurring is a very useful thing for teachers. Again, it’s not a characteristic of the iPad itself that makes it easier to make formative assessments, but its mobility and portability, as well as a range of apps that facilitate the process. An app like Socrative allows students to ‘click’ their answers as a teacher poses a question, and also allows teachers to create and assign quizzes, and exit slips. The teacher could also poll the class quickly before deciding the next course of action. Socrative will automatically send the teacher an e-mail with a spreadsheet report of the answers. Also, the statistics can be displayed directly on the app to show the class and prompt further discussion to correct misguided learning. The teacher just downloads the Socrative Teacher Clicker and creates a free account. The students then download the Socrative Student Clicker and join the teacher’s room, no sign-in or registration required. Socrative can be used in any subject area, as it is not subject-specific.

5- Creation: as Andrew Douch wrote, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife of content-creation tools“. I have written a post previously about using the iPad to encourage creation in the classroom. In this post, you will find several non-subject specific apps that teachers can use to get their students creating blogs, wikis, animated cartoons, comics, podcasts, screencasts, videos/movies, ebooks, ePortfolios, and much more. These content-creations can be used in all subject areas. Students can create podcasts in science class explaining main concepts, or comics in history class to describe a historical event, or animated cartoons in geography class where they are interviewing a famous geographer, or screencasts in Maths class to explain steps taken to solve a mathematical problem etc…

To conclude, I would like to encourage teachers to explore the apps mentioned in this post, as well as any linked posts. Below is a screenshot of many apps that can be used in meaningful learning activities, and none of these apps are subject-specific!

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Googlassroom: Google in the classroom?

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I write a lot about the iPad. This is because we’re an iPad school and I’m an eLearning leader. However, luckily, we’re also a Google school! Our school has signed up for the Google education suite years ago, and every staff member and student has a gmail account. Thank the heavens!

Google Apps for Education offer a very wide range of apps that can make the learning process more engaging, meaningful and interactive. I am a Google-addict and I encourage all teachers to integrate each of these Google products in their classroom, one way or another!

1- Google Docs: Wikipedia defines Google Docs as “a free, Web-based office suite and data storage service offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users”. The applications of this service in the classroom are endless:

    • essay-writing tasks: if a student is asked to write an essay, they can set up a Google Document and share it with the teacher. The teacher can give feedback in real-time during the drafting process, and the student can invite another classmate to give peer feedback. This way of setting up the task emphasizes the PROCESS of writing the essay, and not just the final PRODUCT.
    • student presentations: if a group of students have a presentation together, they can set up a Google Presentation and collaborate in real-time to create it.
    • formative assessment: I am a huge fan of Google Forms, which allows you to easily create forms for anything. I have used it for collecting results of student brainstorms, for facilitating peer evaluation of drama performances, for allowing students to reflect on and evaluate their performances, and to collect feedback from students on my teaching and my units of work. It can also be used in many more ways like tests and quizzes, rubrics for assessment, keeping records etc… Refer to this link for more ways to use Google Forms in the classroom.

2- Google Drive: is Google’s file storage and synchronization service. Google Docs is now a part of Google Drive. This service allows sharing all sorts of files with the students, whether they are worksheets or handouts or templates etc… Students can also upload files to share with the teacher such as completed work to be graded/marked etc…

3- YouTube: is a video-sharing website that was recently acquired by Google. There are many teachers who bring YouTube videos into their classroom, whether to help explain a difficult concept or to illustrate with examples or to spark a debate. However, I believe 21st century teachers should now be pushing students to become content providers, and not just content recipients. A teacher can easily set up a class YouTube channel for students to upload the videos they created, whether they are filmed drama performances, or screencasts about educational topics. YouTube also offers a range of security options, so videos can be set to either public, or unlisted or private, and thus the students’ safety is not compromised. Here is a link explaining the many ways YouTube can be used in the classroom.

4- Google Sites: as defined by Wikipedia, Google Sites “is a structured wiki– and web page-creation tool offered by Google as part of the Google Apps Productivity suite”. A ‘wiki’ is a collaborative website in which users can add, edit or delete content via a web browser. There are many ways a teacher can use wikis in the classroom:

    • Student portfolios: a very common way I have observed of using Google Sites in the classroom. The teacher would set up a Google Site and give each student a page name where they upload and embed evidence of the learning process. Students can add video (embedded from YouTube), audio, pictures, text, hyperlinks and documents/files (embedded from Google Drive). Alternatively, each student could create their own Google Site as their portfolio and have a page for each learning objective for which they have to demonstrate evidence of learning.
    • Revision notes: I used a wiki last year to allow the students to collaborate in preparing revision notes for the final exam. Each group of students were given a chapter to summarise and collect/create revision material for, and a corresponding page on the class revision wiki.
    • Resources website: A teacher can set up a Google Site for a specific unit of work or theme that the students are interested in and the class can add educational content to build an educational resources website about that topic/unit/theme.

5- Google Blogger: is Google’s blog-publishing service. A ‘blog’ is essentially a journal of entries (or ‘posts’) that are displayed from most to least recent.  Blogs can be used for discussions, posting information for parents and/or students, student portfolios, collaborative projects and reflective journals. The teacher would have to set up the blogs for either individual students or groups of students, since Blogger has a minimum age requirement for setting up blogs. A blog can also be set up if the teacher wants to flip the classroom. I would normally post a video along with a discussion question and an embedded Google Form to help with my formative assessment and to check students’ understanding.

While these are not the only products Google offers as part of its educational apps, these are the ones that I love the most. These apps can be seamlessly integrated and combined together to create a classroom environment that encourages creation, collaboration and communication, while also allowing for the collection and collation of evidence of the learning process.