Getting Started with LanSchool


LanSchool is a program that we have at Denver Community Schools that allows teachers to monitor computer activity and control computer activity.  As we have all of our students 6-12 on Macbooks during the school day, it sounds like it would be a lifesaving and proactive dream program for teachers.  (see why it isn’t that simple below)

Before a teacher can begin controlling computer activity or even monitoring the students in individual classes, a teacher needs to create a class list of computers.  This way, the teacher is only looking at the monitors in his or her room and not everyone on the network.  Looking at the 20 monitors you care about vs. looking at 200 monitors of everyone.

See a tutorial video here.

All computers on our network can be found at Channel 0.  You need to be on Channel 0 for the first initial set-up of LanSchool.  After you have created your class lists, get off of Channel 0 and put in your own personal channel.  At Denver, your personal channel is your phone extension.

Your students need to be on their computer in your room in order for you to build your individual class lists.  This isn’t something you can prep at night and have ready for class the next day.

The tutorial above shows how you can build and save your class lists.

Problems:

As we’ve found with most monitoring software programs, LanSchool isn’t perfect.  The average “success” rate is about 80% – – meaning that if all of your students are on their computers, LanSchool will only be able to discover about 80% of them.  There are constant updates and things that we can do on our end to try and help that, but we need to accept that reality.  Silver lining: it’s better than nothing!  And it’s sometimes perfect.  I was using it for the first two weeks out of the year with 100% success everyday.  Then, not so much.  It’s just glitchy.

Silence vs. Hushed Buzz


Conduct an interview with any one of past or current students and you will learn that I have a few quirks.  Most of my quirks stem from my paranoia and worrisome personality.  One thing that always makes me nervous in a classroom is silence.  Silence freaks me out.  When inserted in a silent classroom, I start fidgeting, rocking, nervously giggling, etc.  I realize that most teachers go out of their way to cultivate a silent environment.  Through the years I’ve tried to be one of those teachers, suppressing my paranoia, but my nerves always win out.  However misguided, I worry that a silent student is a bored and inactive student; a student that I’ve lost on our journey of learning.  (There are 3 other reasons why silent students worry me, but if I shared them with you now, you’d probably just want to have me committed).

But something happened the other day in my classroom that I loved.  I hit a key between silent and chaotic.  I had my Spanish 1 students reading our Spanish 1 blog, written by last year’s Spanish class.  They had 20 minutes to read and comment on different stories.  As they worked, the noise level dropped to a hum.  I observed Hushed Buzz.

Characteristics of Hushed Buzz: few spoken words but vocal stimulation (little laughs, “hmmms”, grunts of all sizes) and the noise of purpose driven activity (keyboard clacking, writing on paper, meaningful paper shuffling).  It’s not silent but it’s silent’s close relative.  Twenty-three students sat in my room for 20 minutes, completely unaware of what was happening around them.  They were so engaged in what I had asked them to do that you could feel the energy in the room without hearing a sound.

As I teacher, I had a great hangover from this Hushed Buzz and immediately hoped to replicate the phenomena again.  I have started to plot and plan, dissecting that lesson to identify the key ingredient in this new academic libation.  I acknowledge the role technology plays in all of this.  While none of my students said they knew for sure what a blog was before we began, it took them .5 seconds to feel comfortable because it fits in their world.  They also seemed enthralled by the notion that what I was asking them to read was authored by older students that they knew or have heard of.  Reading words that “the girl that sits behind me in band” wrote mattered more than textbook words.*

As hard as I may try, Hushed Buzz might be like catching lightening in a bottle.  I might not feel this again for a year.  But at least I know there is a small step above silence that eases my paranoia.  I like having an alternative to my usual Manic Enthusiasm.

*Interesting Note: I don’t patrol the blog for proper grammar and spelling and my students were rapidly pointing out errors in both as they read.  I asked them to comment about the content of the articles but some asked if they could comment on the grammar and I wasn’t about to turn down a learning opportunity.  It was fascinating to see how many of them were irked or at least observant of mistakes, and in their comments, offered suggestions on how to fix the grammar problems.

Popplet Mindmapping


I’ve had my students dabble in mindmapping before with vocabulary development.  I like them to think about how words are connected and hopefully those connections make the vocabulary more meaningful, thus they remember it.

At first glance, I thought that Popplet was going to be just another word web/mindmapping tool, similar to Inspiration or a few other word maps available online.  I discovered the following things while using this application:

The Popplet Bubble

1. Easy to use and maneuver: Each popplet, or tiny box, comes with very easy to understand options.  In each box, you can add TEXT, or draw a PICTURE or upload MEDIA.  After creating the content in one popplet box, you simply drag the grey connector dots out to where you want to make another popplet.  This grey line connects the boxes, thus building a very large web.

2. Media: When using technology, you have to ask yourself, “Why is this methodology better than paper and pen?”.  I like to justify my technology use.  I’ve had students make mindmaps before on paper and they are just fine.  But Popplet lets them add PICTURES and YOUTUBE videos to the map.  In a recent vocabulary section on adjectives, students took pictures of the words strong, beautiful and weak, and were able to incorporate those pictures into the map.  And who doesn’t love YouTube?  Students searched for funny videos that would showcase their Spanish vocabulary words.  For example, many students looked on YouTube to find pictures of clumsy people for the Spanish word “torpe”.  Or they used their favorite YouTube video (the Waffles video by Julian Smith was very popular) and tried to see how many Spanish words they could use to describe that one video.  Hands down this was the biggest plus for me and for the students.

3. Customization: Each popplet bubble can be made a different color, so students could color code the different levels or categories of their web.

4. Sharing: Popplet includes nice sharing options for a free application.  Students used the embed code to embed their projects on our classroom site at Edmodo.  They also used the links if they wanted to post it to their blogs.  You can invite others to share and comment on your Popplet and also post it directly onto Twitter or Facebook.

My students worked on these Popplets using the mobile laptops in my classroom.  Once they got started, you could have heard a pin drop.  There was a such a hushed enthusiasm to work that I haver NEVER experienced before.  They were very captivated by it all and worked so hard, so fast and with such effort.  I will definitely be revisiting this site again and I consider my use of technology well justified in this case.

Examples:

Right now, I’m unable to embed these lovely Popplet’s onto this WordPress blog for easy viewing, but I can include the links.  These are student created projects.  I gave them the bare minimum of requirements and they went with it.  Charlie Sheen was very popular in these, by the way.  Please check them out, share them and enjoy using Popplet! (I will be adding more examples in the next few days).

(Thanks to José Picardo for his inspiring ideas!  Visit his site @ http://www.boxoftricks.com)

Edmodo Time Experiment


On an overcast Saturday in Iowa, I found it hard to stay interested in my school work.  I had plans to make, materials to develop and, every teacher’s favorite, papers to correct.  As I looked at some of the paper clipped, fringe ladened notebook papers in front of me, I had a thought.  I created a little game for myself to keep me interested in working for the next 3 hours.

Last week in school, I was running late with my first class of the day.  I quickly printed out homework for them to complete on paper.  However, with my later two classes, I had the time to upload the homework to Edmodo, an online classroom module where students can complete the homework online.  I asked myself: Is it faster for me to correct these assignments on paper or on Edmodo? And just like that I had a Saturday challenge to keep me occupied.

I set the timer and began to correct 18 of the paper copies in front of me.  It took me 23 minutes, 15 seconds to correct the sentences and write the grade on the paper.  It took an additional 1 minute 50 seconds to put the scores into my gradebook.  That is a total time 25 minutes, 5 seconds for one class of 18 students.  It’s approximately 1 minute, 40 seconds per student.

One student's Edmodo assignment.

I had more than 18 students complete the assignment on Edmodo, but to keep things equal, I only timed myself for 18 of the students.  In Edmodo, the students type their responses in a text box and the teacher has a comment box for comments.  I commented just as I would have on paper and graded the assignments.  I was done with that portion of my work in 16 minutes, 48 seconds.  I then had to transfer those grades over into my gradebook, but since the students are listed in Edmodo in alphabetical order, it took me only 40 seconds.  (The paper homework was in a random order.) The Edmodo grading took me a total of 17 minutes, 28 seconds.  That breaks down to only 58 seconds per student.

Concluding Reflection:

Pros: Edmodo looks like a clear winner in the department of time saving.  The difference between grading the paper copies and the online assignments was about 42 seconds per student.  I average about 65 students in my Spanish sections, which is about 45 minutes of time saved just grading the assignment and inputting the grades into the computer.  That is 45 minutes of “me time” that I can spend watching Bravo reality shows, painting my nails or chasing my dog.  And it’s 45 less minutes I have to spend in front of my computer or with nubby, fringy homework papers.  Also, the students get that feedback immediately.  They aren’t going to have to wait until Monday when I pass back the paper (which takes about 2 – 3 minutes of instructional time) to get their results.  These students can log-in anytime to see their score and their comments.

Cons: I like my Sharpie correcting pens because they make bright, dark marks on papers.  I like to draw in arrows or missing letters on the assignments so that the students see their mistakes and they pop.  In Edmodo, I am limited to making my comments inside of a text box, so my comments cannot be drawn directly onto one of their sentences.  In this particular assignment, students were writing sentences and I was assessing their sentence structure and grammar.  Being able to make visible corrections over top of their work is valuable and something that is lacking on the Edmodo side.  However, as a high school teacher, I usually carefully watch when my students receive these types of assignments back and most of them take a quick glance at the letter grade and start to crumple it up and practice their jump shot with the trash can.

Bottom Line: For future grammar assignments where I am particularly interested in word order, spelling and construction of the phrases, I would seriously have to think about sticking with the paper assignments.  The feedback options and the opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes should outweigh my basic need for more free time.  But I will not lie: the valuable of a teachable moment vs. 45 minutes of being able to kick back and relaxing creates an internal struggle.

XtraNormal Assignment Introduction


Saturday night, November 27, I developed a project for my Spanish 2 students to do using a program called Xtranormal.  The very next day while watching football, I saw a Geico commercial that features this movie making website.  I immediately felt as if they stole my idea.

I’m excited to get started with Xtranormal and anxious to see how my students respond to it.  I think it will be very interesting and useful.  I’m so grateful that the characters in Xtranormal come with Spanish languages programs and accents.

This is a quick introductory video I made for our Spanish 2 project using Xtranormal.  I thought:  what better way to explain the project than making an Xtranormal to explain everything I needed.  I’ll be posting in about a week with updates on how the project is going.