Sunday, May 8, 2011

Backup plans - some tips for teachers (guest post)

by David Andrade,

Every teacher is taught that back up plans are a must. Things change constantly in education and there are a variety of factors that can make plans change - computer breaks, internet goes out, file is corrupted, forgot your flash drive at home, you finish a lesson early with a class, your class has very low attendance due to a school activity or event (like AP testing, prom, etc), lesson runs long, students don't understand the material, class is interrupted by a fire drill.

To deal with these issues, teachers must have back up plans ready to go and be flexible and organized. Here are some tips and resources for backup plans.

1. Computer breaks - if possible, have a laptop or netbook available for use. Be aware of any laptops in the building that you could quickly use or even an empty classroom you could move to for that period. You should also have your lessons and resources available in paper form. Even though I am 99% online, I have a print out of my lesson plans, lesson notes, master copies of any packets or worksheets, and print outs of PowerPoint slides. If you have a smartphone, you can always access your notes and files that way and then write on the board. (pretty much same advice if your projector dies).

2. Internet goes down - see computer breaks. If you have a laptop available, having the ability to connect to the internet in other ways is a great back up too. You may have a plan for your laptop with a wireless company or be able to access public WiFi or, like me, access the WiFi in the area from my cable provider. You can also use many smartphones as a WiFi hotspot for your laptop.

For both 1 and 2 I can access all of my files and information from any computer, laptop, and even my smartphone. I use web based services for everythingonline file storage and backupGoogle Docs for filesEvernote for lesson plans and resources, and email, Google Sites, Blogger, and more.

3. File corrupted - have backups of your files on a backup system

4. Forgot Flash drive at home - don't use a flash drive. Use an online system instead (or at least also use an online system) to access to your files from anywhere.

5. Finish lesson early - have some kind of material to work with if you finish your lesson early. Going to the next lesson doesn't always work depending on the time remaining. You could show a short video about the topic you just finished, you can have a classroom discussion about the topic, have students write a short paragraph about what they learned today (and anything that surprised them).

6. Low attendance - many times there are school activities such as AP testing or class trips that can leave your class looking barren. I always have some kind of extra activity that I can do with the students that are there. I don't always want to continue on with a lesson and leave a huge percentage of the class behind. I usually have them do a mini-project or some kind of mini-lab (whether hands-on or virtual). I may also just have a discussion with them about different topics, including college plans and how they are doing in their classes.

7. Lesson runs long - Sometimes a lesson takes longer with one class than with another due to the student make up, discussion, or other issues that may interrupt the lesson. I try to be flexible when planning and give myself time in the plans for some classes to take longer. This also means that if I want to keep the classes in sync, I may have to use some extra activities, like I described in #6, to stagger another class. The activities are always relevant though.

8. Class interruptions - don't get flustered. Just come back to class and get started again. You can use the ideas above in #7 to deal with the fact that you lost class time and therefore your lesson may "run long".

9. Students don't understand the material - have a different idea or method to teach the material. A video, activity, or just a different approach can be used to help the students. I have extra videos, activities, textbooks, and web sites that I share with my students who are struggling. I also have time after school every day that they can come and see me and get extra help.

10. Adapt and overcome - issues will happen. Just go with the flow and put your backup plan into effect.


Cross posted at Educational Technology Guy and via Twitter

David Andrade is a Physics Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist in Connecticut. He is the author of the Educational Technology Guy blog, where he reviews free educational technology resources for teachers, discusses ways to use technology to improve teaching and learning, and discusses other issues in education. 
He is also a professional development trainer and presenter at conferences, helping educators learn new and innovative ways to educate students. He is also a Discovery Education STAR Educator and member of the CT DEN Leadership Council. 

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of his employer.

Twitter - Expanding our Classrom - Shrinking the World

While I was principal for 3 years I dealt with a lot bullying/behavior issues related to social media. Finally, I swore it off as a hassle that led to many discipline issues. I swore up and down that I would never use a social media site like Twitter. Now I am back in the classroom full time and cannot imagine my life or career without Twitter.

Twitter recently led to an experience for my 6th graders that I could never planned or make happen on my own. While studying ancient Greece and their gods, I assigned my students a research project on a god. While they were giving their presentations on it, I posted a few tweets about how well they were doing. A teacher in Pennsylvania (@brdcmpbll) happened to see the tweets and it led to an awesome interaction between our two classes.

Mr. Campbell saw that we were studying Greece and asked our class to help his class. His senior Western Civilization class had prepared Greek god reports and we were going to be judges. Through the use of Skype we sat in on some of their presentations. During the presentations, our students used the backchannel My 6th graders were excited to see other students’ work, talk with students in another state and oh by the way, learned a little more about Greek gods in the process. One of my students actually got to perform the song she wrote about Athena for her presentation to the class in Pennsylvania.

The collaboration due to Twitter did not stop with viewing those presentations. Our class viewed the rest of their presentations using a Google 3X3 grid. Later, the students in Pennsylvania made study guides for my 6th graders using Studyblue, Studystack and Quizlet. All of these sites helped my students learn our material better and made it more fun for the students to learn.

Twitter helped make all this connection and collaboration happen. It broke down the walls of our classroom and allowed students in classrooms across the country to interact and learn from each other. My students were still buzzing about the experience days later, more so than they ever would have been had I just taught a lesson only in our classroom.

Twitter shrinks the world. My students and I follow world events on Twitter, almost as they happen. Greece riots reported by someone watching out their window, earthquake updates in New Zealand, and of course the guy who blogged the U.S. raid on Osama’s compound without even knowing are all examples of events we have “watched” unfold through Twitter. We talk to with classrooms around the world. We participate in classroom competitions and gain authentic audiences for projects of our own. For a recent project the students had to create Prezis on an earthquake. I wanted the students to practice the skill of persuasive writing/presenting and try to win “Worst Earthquake of the Century.” One of my 6th graders was concerned that in the voting phase, everyone would vote for their friends. Great point! Through the use of twitter, my students will have a non-biased audience for their presentations. This provided more motivation for them to prepare great presentations.

Twitter increases our school’s communication as well. I have created a middle school Twitter account (@aslsms) that the students are allowed to tweet from during the school day. The students update it periodically. I also put updates out there for the parents to read. We have gained a few followers through the year; parents and others. Parents are also just checking the Twitter page to see what is going on daily. Also, some students have even gotten their own Twitter accounts and I have communicated with them via Twitter.

Twitter brings the world into our classroom in so many ways. It breaks down the walls of our classroom and allows our students to experience the rest of the world in new and better ways. Twitter provides opportunities for connection, communication and collaboration to help make the students’ learning experiences better. Twitter has made me a better teacher. Twitter has expanded our classroom and shrunk the world in exciting ways for my students.

Please check out some of my students’ work at This is a collection of some of the digital work of our students from this school year. Most, (if not all) of these ideas or websites I learned about on Twitter – yet another benefit!

Two big thank you’s – one to @kevcreutz for getting me to sign up for Twitter. Also, to @brdcmpbll for collaborating on the Greek god project.

Scott Akerson – 7th Grade homeroom – Abiding Savior Lutheran School – St. Louis MO – Twitter handle @mra47 –

VoiceThread in Early Childhood

"What did you do in school today?"

This is a common question that parents ask their children when they come home from school but young children have a hard time answering. In preschool I like to use technology to help show parents what their students are doing in school and to help the students reflect on what they have learned. Sometimes it is also difficult to show a young child's learning because so much of their learning is through play

VoiceThreads allow you to upload pictures or video and make written, audio, or video recordings. I use VoiceThreads to give students the chance to show their learning.

Use in Early Childhood

In the beginning of the year I took pictures of the things we do throughout the day. Then had different students explain the different things that happen in our classroom. This gave students the chance to recount what they did at school to their parents.

VoiceThreads also give students the chance to reflect on a project. After our class project of making pizza I created a VoiceThread with two pictures and asked the students two questions, "How did we make the pizza" and "What was your favorite part of making the pizza"

VoiceThreads can also be used to tell a story or recreate a story. In the following example the Kindergarten got ready for school by making their own version of Mrs. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.

A VoiceThread can also be used as a sort of diary of events in your classroom. You could allow the students to take the pictures and create the "caption" or you could take the pictures and have them narrate.
VoiceThreads can be used for special events. For our Grandparent's Day celebration, we allowed the grandparents to leave messages for their grandchildren to view later.

Amanda Helmkamp is in her fifth year as preschool teacher and third year as technology coordinator at Zion Lutheran School, St. Charles, MO. You can follow Amanda on Twitter or her blog Special thanks to @rlimback for the use of some of her class VoiceThreads

Goodreads Makes Great Readers

 This is a guest post by Jennifer Roberts @jenroberts1
So if you are here you read blogs, but do you read books too? Do your students? Mine didn’t. Not much anyway. Then about a month ago I read a book for teachers called The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It reawakened the book lust I lived with as a middle school teacher which had languished when I moved to teaching at a high school (and had my second child) five years ago. The Book Whisperer encouraged me to make independent reading books a purposeful and deliberate part of my teaching agenda again. But, have I mentioned, I teach high school?

Then I remembered I’ve used it sporadically with a few adult friends since last August. Goodreads is a social network site designed around books.  Users add books to their “shelves” and get to post updates about the books they are reading. Users can rate books they’ve read, add reviews, and my favorite feature, recommend books to their “friends” on Goodreads. The site also has an app for iOS devices, complete with a book bar-code scanner.

I asked all my students to join Goodreads on a day when they were each going to meet with their counselors separately, I had them independently join Goodreads. I thought of this as a challenge to see if they could negotiate the UI and set up their own accounts. Later I found out that they could login to Goodreads using their Google account and the process was incredibly simple. Each student sent me a friend request. I approved them and we were off.

They began to friend each other and I worried that too many friendships might stifle their willingness to express themselves about their reading.  But mostly their friendships are limited to between 4-6 peers who they respect and listen to. Often I see students who are light readers friending students who are heavy readers. One student, who has read three books this week and has rated 88 books, is friends with five peers who have rated just three to 15 books each. She is recommending book to them and they are picking them up.

Through Goodreads students can let me know what page they are on in their book, review books when they finish them and add books to their to-read shelf.  Students are suddenly reading more and asking for books more often. They are excited and focused to go to the library to find more books.

This is a two way street, though. Many of the same principles of teaching through independent reading still apply. Modeling is a big one. I realized I had to read more too because my students were watching my updates. Several students recommended, Rain of Gold to me on Goodreads. I started reading it to show them I was listening, but in the end I couldn’t put it down.

It’s not easy to quantify Goodreads activity into a grade. Mostly I run through my friends list and see what they are reading. Goodreads will sort them in a number of ways, books added, last status, last review. Students who show up at the top of these lists are using the site the most and get the most extra points, but I haven’t used lack of activity on the site to lower a grade. I try to stress to my students that I am adding points to their grade because they are READING, not because they are using Goodreads. The site is just a great tool to help them communicate about their reading to me and their other friends.

One more bonus is the daily digest e-mail of their activity. Even if I don’t check the site I get that e-mail to let me know what activity my students have been posting.

The best part of Goodreads however, is the way it has helped me build relationships with my students. Many of them are much more excited about reading. They are picking up things I recommend to them and recommending books to each other. Previously reluctant readers are seeking out books at the public library. A tough (and very at-risk) student noticed that I had Shadow Speaker on my to-read list. He approached me shyly one day after class and told me he had a copy at home he could loan to me. He doesn’t turn in homework very often, but he brought me that book. I better go read it.

"I think Goodreads is awesome. It has helped me find new books that help me become a better reader.” -Michele
Read 59 more quotes from my students about Goodreads, their real opinions.

This post is dedicated to my mother for showing me how to love reading and teaching. 

Jennifer Roberts teaches English to students at Point Loma High in San Diego. She has had 1:1 laptops in her classroom for three and a half years now. She also supports her colleagues with technology integration, teaches as adjunct faculty to pre-service teachers at The University of San Diego and reads. She blogs intermittently for teachers at for her American Literature students daily at and can also be found on twitter @jenroberts1.