Day in a Life of a Tech Coach

Today I went on a job shadow with Susan Reynolds, the digital technology coach at Monroe County Community School Corporation (MSSCS). Ms. Reynolds is one of two tech coaches who travel around the 12 elementary school in Bloomington. She goes back and forth between the six Title 1 schools in the district. She’s only been a tech coach with MCCSC for three years and before she came here, she was a high school English teacher in Kokomo. She went to a small technology seminar at Ball State that changed her career. Since the audience was so small, she got to work closely with education technology experts and it inspired her to incorporate it into her classroom. Unfortunately, when she got back to her school there was a lot of push back from the administration to using technology in the school. Eventually, she got her students to do writing e-Portfolios and other online projects. They were so successful in her class, the same administration that was originally against it, asked her to train other teachers to do the same thing. She said she doesn’t really know when she became a tech coach because it was just a gradual change in her career. She only came to Bloomington for a change of scenery.

I met her at Arlington Heights Elementary at 11:45. At Arlington, the teachers all have iPads, grades K through 2 have enough iPads to work in small groups and grades 3 through 6 are a one-to-one iPads. The younger grades should be getting one-to-one iPads in the next year or two. Ms. Reynolds told me the teachers generally think it’s a good thing, but there are some teachers who don’t use the iPads effectively. As the tech coach, she does not solve technical problems, but will help with small problems that can be solved with a quick Google search or phone call. Ms. Reynolds also has to deal a lot with apps and getting students to locate them quickly because it can take the students a lot of time to find the right app or iPad website. To solve this problem, she created a website that compiles all of the iPad friendly sites and all of the apps she uses on to one website called iPad-Friendly K-6 Sites. This website is very convenient to start class and get all of the students on the same page.

ipad friendly

In the three and a half hours I was there, Ms. Reynolds worked with two classes every Thursday, one 3rd grade class and one 2nd grade class. In the 3rd grade class, she does iPad work since they all have their own. Today they worked on ISTEP practice problems (the website can be found on Ms. Reynold’s websites). Apparently, the ISTEP test will also have an iPad format, but they want to give the students a chance to practice with the tools so that won’t have too much of an affect their test scores. They modeled one reading comprehension question. Ms. Reynolds read an article about geocaching and as she did this she demonstrated the tools the students would have access to, which were a bookmark, highlighter, and eraser. During this time, the classroom teacher co-taught with Ms. Reynolds.

front rowAfter they finished this question, they worked on Front Row math. Each student worked independently on their math problems. This app automatically differentiates the math problems based on the students’ ability level. Today they were working on base ten numbers. This app also has manipulatives the students can use, such as number lines and base ten blocks. I walked around while the students were doing this to ask how they liked doing this. All of the students said they like this method of doing math much better than paper and pencil. This sort of made me laugh because doing the problems is literally the exact same as working them out on paper, but the students just love using their iPads. They were telling me all about how they solve the problems using the white board and they can earn coins every time they get a problem right. The students can use those coins to buy items to dress their pig up. One little girl was telling me that she is saving up for a white dress for her pig. This immediate reward seems like it really motivates the students to keep working. A boy I talked to talk me he was blowing through some problems and that he was really good at it because sometimes he just works on it at home. It was really awesome to hear that the students enjoyed the app so much they wanted to do math at home without it being assigned.

big universeThe second class I sat in on was a 2nd grade class. They worked in the computer lab because they don’t all have iPads. Ms. Reynolds told me a good chunk of the beginning of class would be spent trying to get the students logged on since they don’t all know their usernames and passwords. This was true and even with three adults in the room, I still had to help about six of the 21 students log on. I will definitely remember this for the future and make sure I account for time to get all of the younger students on the same page. For the majority of the class the students played Big Universe.  Everyone seemed to love it and they really enjoyed the read aloud books. We ran out of time to do the colARaugmented reality Ms. Reynolds wanted to do. So instead of getting to color the worksheet, she just skipped straight to the augmented reality app called colAR. This app allows you to print out a worksheets for the students to color and then it will animate the picture and make it come to life. The 2nd graders absolutely loved thisprogram. They kept trying to touch the animation, which unfortunately, stopped it. It would probably have worked better if they all had to stay in their seats, but it was nice to see the students so interested.

At the end of the job shadow, I helped Ms. Reynolds copy two songs from a CD onto the shared drive for the Veteran’s Day celebration. She hadn’t done it in a while and asked if I knew how to do it, then she let me try. I stumbled through it, but eventually figured it out. She was impressed by how easy it was and asked me to create a job aid for it. She then emailed it to Karen Bennett who originally asked for the songs to be put into the shared drive.

One of the concerns I’ve noticed repeatedly coming up in my IU class is — what options are available to students who don’t have Wi-Fi at home but need to work on online assignments. Ms. Reynolds told me there was a grant at Fairview Elementary that allowed students to take home a hotspot for six weeks. Unfortunately, this grant has been suspended because they found out there is no way to filter what the students are looking at with the hotspot at home and part of the grant required the information the students were looking at and searching for was filtered to be school appropriate. She also told me that students who didn’t have Wi-Fi could download all of the assignments and course work to the iPad so it could be worked on offline. I thought these were good solutions for the time being.

This was the first time I really got to see a tech coach in action. I learned that for the younger grades it can be kind of difficult to be more than a computer lab teacher. It takes so long to get them all set up because you almost have to do every students individually. I also realized that sometimes you have to do easy tasks for people because they don’t want to take the time to find out the answer themselves. However, I would much rather be a tech coach than a technician because tech coaches actually get to work with students as opposed to updating iPads the majority of the day. I really enjoyed this job shadow and felt like I learned a lot more about what a day in the life of a tech coach.

After seeing how much these students enjoyed using the iPads and computers, I really feel technology is a benefit to the classroom. The students were excited to do math and read. They also told me they would work on it at home without the teacher assigning it. It was great to see how engaged the students were in a real life situation and not just a promo video of a certain app. This has definitely inspired me to continue down the technology path because the students really want to work on the task at hand a stay on task. Even with the ISTEP practice the students kept asking if they could work ahead. I’ve never heard about that with any standardized testing. Usually the students can’t wait to stop. It was refreshing to see students that wanted to do their school work and were working really hard on it.

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Framework Debates

As technology become more popular in the world of education, new models are emerging for how to integrate the technology into lessons. Two of the most popular models are Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) and the SAMR model. TPACK explains the combination of content knowledge, pedagogy knowledge, and technology knowledge. The sweet spot of this model is called the TPACK. For more information check out this website.

My favorite model, however, is the SAMR model. This stands for Substitute, Augment, Modify, and Redesign. As you move up the ladder, the use of technology gets more advanced. In the first level, the technology merely replaces the activity without changing it. The second level is the same activity but the technology does provide some improvement. For example, using Microsoft word to write a paper would be a substitute for writing the paper with pen and paper. It augments the activity when the student uses the editing tools available on Microsoft word. Both of these phases fall under the enhancement part of the model, but in order to reach the transformation aspect of the model, the tool must modify or redesign the activity.

At the third level of the SAMR model, the technology is expected to redesign the activity and in the fourth level the technology should create an activity that wouldn’t be possible without the technology. For example, using email would allow for collaboration with other classmates and peers with internet access to modify the activity, but using Skype would allow the class to collaborate with peers and experts on the topic they’ve been working on.

The SAMR model is my favorite because it really makes you think about how the technology is changing the activity. When a teacher uses the TPACK model they aren’t pushed to redesign the activity. In order to be an effective teacher with TPACK, you only have to know how to use the technology. I think the most valuable part of the SAMR model is thinking how you can increase the use of technology to continue pushing the activity further up the SAMR ladder. I feel that a lot of teachers think of a technology to use in the class, but don’t necessarily think about how the technology is effecting the activity. Teachers are probably only thinking about the technology’s efficiency and not thinking about how much further they could push the envelope in order to get their students to achieve something completely different.

Plenty of teachers would think to have students use email to talk to an expert about a research topic, but the project could be taken so much further if the students had to interview the expert using Google Hangout or Skype. Having a real time conversation would give students a chance to go off script and ask questions they didn’t initially come up with. I have also noticed the interviewee is more willing to expand on their answers when they are just talking. Typing out all of their answers seems to inadvertently limit responses because fingers type slower than our mouth can talk and the interviewee is aware of how much they are type as opposed to how much they are saying.

All in all, both are good models to refer to, but I feel the SAMR model really pushes the teacher to expand the activity with technology and not just replace it.

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Flipping the Classroom

Right now flipping the classroom is a very popular trend, but it can seem very overwhelming to teachers who’ve never done anything like this. Below is an example of how a classroom can be flipped and you might find that it’s not as daunting as it seems. For this flip, the classroom I have in mind will be part of a middle school in an urban environment. They have a lower socioeconomic status, but they have outside resources available to them. The school is also transitioning to one-to-one iPads.

There are several management systems that can make this transition easier. First, if your school already has a management system that will probably continue to work when you flip your classroom. One learning management system (LMS) I will go over briefly is My Big Campus. My Big Campus has a lot of great feature and is very user friendly even for younger grades.

  1. It’s similar to Facebook. The activities page, profile, and groups work similar to Facebook so students would already be familiar with the features and how to navigate them
  2. There are plenty of educational resources as well. On My Big Campus there is a where you can access videos and websites. It works very similar to Google but it’s filtered to be school appropriate. There is also a drive for cloud storage which allows you to open documents and edit them from any computer or mobile device. You can also share them with others. You can upload assignments, grade, and share quizzes and tests online.
  3. You can keep everyone on the same page. There is a messaging feature where you can send messages to your students. You can also create a class calendar and share it with students and parents to make sure everyone know about important due dates and deadlines. There is also a reporting feature so you know what your students have on their profile and what they’ve been looking up.

The second management system I will be sharing is Piazza. This is system can be integrated with any LMS, is easy to set up, and is free! It allows for class collaboration on answering questions and responding to posts. When students respond to answers, the teacher can go through and endorse the answer so other students know the information is accurate. Teachers can also create polls and use them for formative assessment. Students also have the ability to post anonymously so students won’t have to feel self-conscious about what they’re saying which will hopefully increase student participation.

Figuring out how to use both of these systems may seem complicated and like too much work, but I think they could be integrated pretty seamlessly. To start, I would set up My Big Campus and get assignments uploaded there. This way students would get use to using a LMS and the transition to a flipped classroom would have already started. After introducing how to complete assignments, I would create groups next. This would get the students to start communicating online and collaborating with one another. The final step would be to add Piazza. This would become where the students are fully integrated into the flipped classroom and completing assignments and collaborating with each other online. With this plan, flipping your classroom would be natural for the students and less stressful for the teacher. The integration and steps would happen naturally and it wouldn’t feel as overwhelming.

Free and Easy

Adding iPads to the classroom with only be beneficial if the teachers know how to use them and found apps that benefited the students. One app that I’ve found to be very useful for students of many age levels and ability levels is Abitalk Sentence Builder. This app is for kindergarten through second grade, but it can also be good for special education students. This app focuses on putting sentences in the correct order with punctuation. It is kid friendly and easy to use. Here is a video demonstration of how to use it:

I created an app review presentation using emaze. The Abitalk App Review highlights the benefits and uses of the app. Below is a summary of the presentation.

abitalk app review

This app’s settings can be customized to change the difficulty of the activity making it suitable for students through second grade and students in higher grades that may be in special education classes or struggling with sentence structure.

This app has three main benefits and they are:

  1. Sentence Structure – The main goal of this app is to teach and practice sentence structures, including word order, grammar and punctuation.
  2. Listening Skills – Depending on the difficulty the teacher sets, the students will need to listen to the sentence and remember what was said.
  3. Motor Skills –  For younger students and those with disabilities, this app will help them practice their motor skills because they must drag the sentence parts to put them in the correct order.

The app also has three levels of sentence difficulty. The first lesson is only two word, subject-verb sentences while the third level gets into more complicated structures with more words. The difficulty can also be increased by taking away how much of the words are read aloud. If you turn off the volume completely, then the students would have to read all of the words on their own and figure out what the sentence should say. One step below that would be to turn off reading the words aloud so the students will have to practice reading but they don’t have to figure out what order they go in.

Another good quality of this app is the ability to create your own lessons. You can use your own pictures and words. This can allow you to create harder lessons for the more advanced students. You would also have the freedom to use vocabulary words or words the students might be struggling with so they can get more practice with them.

Here are some examples of how this can be incorporated into the classroom:

  1. Start with a mini vocab lesson and then have the students complete a lesson you created on Abitalk Sentence Builder.
  2. Use the app as a review activity to evaluate the students understanding of sentence structure. Since students can work on this individually, you are free to work with students who are struggling.
  3. Have the students create their own lessons and then switch with another student to have them complete the lesson.

I feel that this technology resource would be a good addition to the classroom iPad because they are a good way for students to practice and they are great for an inclusive classroom. All of the students can be working on it at once and the struggling students wouldn’t notice that other students were working on more advanced levels. The app can also be used through grade levels to keep a consistency throughout grade levels. I think this app would be a great (free!) addition to any iPad.

After presenting this app to my class, 14 of my fellow classmates filled out a rubric judging the app on 7 features. I graphed the abitalk rubric results, but I will also provide a summary below:

The 7 features are as follows:

  1. Relevance: 93% of my classmates agreed the app is a 4 out of 4 on the rubric (The app’s focus has a strong connection to the purpose for the app and appropriate for the student).
  2. Customization: 43% of my classmates agreed the app is a 4 out of 4 (App offers complete flexibility to alter content and settings to meet student needs).
  3. Feedback: 64% of my classmates agreed the app is a 3 out of 4 (Student is provided feedback).
  4. Thinking Skills: 50% of my classmates agreed the app is a 3 out of 4 (App facilitates the use of higher order thinking skills including evaluation, analyzing, and applying).
  5. Usability: 79% of my classmates agreed the app is a 4 out of 4 (Student can launch and operate the app independently).
  6. Engagement: 64% of my classmates agreed the app is a 3 out of 4 (Student uses the app as directed by the teacher).
  7. Sharing: 57% of my classmates agreed the app is a 3 out of 4 (Performance data or student product is available in app but exporting is limited and may require a screenshot).

Overall, the majority classmates agreed this was a good app because it was relevant to its audience and the students could use it independently, however, they felt it lacked customization and efficient reporting capabilities.