Thursday, December 6, 2018

Meeting the Emotional & Academic Needs of Students Through Technology

A couple of weeks ago, my co-teacher and I were in the midst of teaching a unit in world history on the Industrial Revolution.  Part of the standards for the unit required that we address the rise of capitalism and socialism as a result of the Industrial Revolution.  While I have taught social studies for most of my career, I had never taught world history until this year.  I probably spend more time than the average world history teacher on content while prepping lessons or helping my co-teacher prep lessons because of my lack of experience in world history.  Full disclosure, I have only taken one world history course in my life, a Western Civilization course as a freshman in college.  My focus in social studies was more on American history, economics, and government.  But while I have been learning a ton in my research to prepare better world history lessons, something else occurred to me after my lesson on capitalism and socialism.  

After teaching the lesson on capitalism and socialism to one of my classes through Pear Deck, one of my students approached me with a very concerned look on their face.  I have gotten to know this student very well over the course of the last few months, not just because this student is in my class, but because this student is also on my special education caseload and I have already written their IEP for this school year.  The student asked if they could talk to me in the hallway, which now had me concerned.  

Once in the hallway, the student asked what they could do regarding the lesson we had just finished because they did not get it at all.  I offered to sit with the student and review the materials that would be sent to them via Pear Deck's Takeaway function and help with the video enrichment lesson that the rest of the class had started in Edpuzzle.  While appreciative, the student was more concerned with how fast the lesson had gone and that they could not keep up, so they asked if I could slow down the lesson the next time we did something similar.  

It dawned on me perhaps I had gone too fast.  While no other student had shared that concern with me, it didn't mean that others in the class had also missed some or most of the lesson because they could not keep up.  Over the course of about 3 seconds, after the student had asked me to slow down my lesson, I came up with a potential solution.  It wouldn't be something that I could do immediately, but it was something that would not only catch that student up but in the future, the option would be there again for clear any confusion and review material.  

My thought was, "Could I take the Pear Deck presentation, pare out the interactive questions slides, open it in a standard Google Slides presentation format, and use Screencastify to record my screen and my voice going over the material of the lesson to share with that student and the rest of the class?"  (By the way, did you catch my hilarious pun back there?  HA!)  The answer to my question was similar to what it always is: you won't know unless you give it a shot!

I pulled my co-teaching partner aside and gave him the lowdown of the conversation that I had in the hallway and my idea.  As I have mentioned in the past, my partner is not very techie, so his response was somewhere along the lines of "You know how to do that?"  I asked him if I could step aside into a quiet room for a few minutes where I could record the screencast, do some quick editing, post it to YouTube or download a compatible file, and share it out to the students.  He said he would cover our class and to get it done because he was excited to see what I would come up within such a short amount of time.  

I got settled in, cut the presentation down to the bare essentials and opened up the Screencastify extension to begin recording.  Then another thing dawned on me:  would the new closed captioning function in Google Slides show up in a screen recording?  Before I went any further, I conducted a test run recording my screen with the closed caption function turned on.  I spoke a few words and recorded it for a few seconds.  Upon opening the file, I was ecstatic that it did show up in the recording! Now, not only would I be able to record my presentation and share it with my students so they could watch, pause, rewind, etc. at any time, my handful of deaf and hard of hearing students could benefit from reading what I was saying as well!  

Disclaimer: the closed captioning function in Google Slides is by no means perfect.  However, I did not notice any glaring discrepancies in what I was saying and what was showing up on the screen.  I highly recommend a quiet place if you want to use the function and do not want any other voice to potentially show up in your recording.  If you want to read more about this function, please check out my post titled Google Slides Extensions & Add-Ons.  

Any technology tool that you use needs to have a connection to improving student learning and solid pedagogy, not just making your classroom paperless or giving you less to do (however, those are nice perks, they just shouldn't be the main reason why they are used).  But so many of the tools available at educators' disposal now also can address students' emotional well being.  In the case of the screencast I created, my student's anxiety was lessened because now they had the opportunity to review the material at their own pace. Programs like Flipgrid and speech to text allows for students that are self-conscious about their writing to still be able to share their thoughts.  Students that are petrified of presenting in front of a crowd can create a video to show the class or a multitude of other alternatives.  Students frustrated with their reading skills can use text to speech functions to follow along with reading while they listen to it.  Then there are the numerous accessibility features in devices that can do things like enlarge the print on the screen and highlight the mouse cursor.  While these tools are designed to assist students academically, the byproduct of their use is also less stress and anxiety about struggles and concerns that students may have.

I am always interested in how others address students emotional well being, through tech or without tech.  If you have a nugget to share, please share on Twitter with #AndersonEdTech!

Until next time... 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Power of Disconnecting

This may seem strange coming from a blog titled Anderson Edtech.  It may seem strange coming from a man that embraces, encourages, and does his best to implement technology into lessons and life.  However, I am a firm supporter of the power of disconnecting every now and then.  

Throughout our world, we see the impact of technology and connectedness, the good and the bad.  I have almost always focused on the power of good with technology, but I want to take a brief look at the negative impacts of technology.  

You've seen it, probably so much now that you may not even notice it.  You are at the grocery store, a restaurant, a place of worship, and to keep a child occupied, the parent gives them a tablet or their phone.  I have been guilty of this at times.  However, I hate being "that parent".  I find that with my own children, the more I let them use their devices, the more they become attached to them and the more of a struggle it is to take them away and it becomes a fight.  That is why I try to limit my kids' screen time as much as I can. 

For me personally, I am also guilty of too much screen time.  I find myself at times mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, occasionally scrolling through Facebook, and reading the news.  And what do I get from this?  About 5% actual learning opportunities or things that make me smile, and about 95% of scrolling through garbage or becoming angry reading the news. 

For these reasons, I believe that I need to disconnect more often.  My kids need a model of seeing their father not constantly on a device and for my own mental stability, I need to get away from my devices.  Disconnecting gives me more time with my kids, gets me away from the negativity on social media and the news, and I feel more energetic from not staring at a screen.  So what do I do, and what can you do, to disconnect more often? 

Set Your Phone to Airplane Mode:  Most of us always have our phones on our person, whether it is in a bag or purse or in our pockets.  And most of us constantly jump at the slightest sound or vibration coming from our phone to see what we are missing.  To get away from the distraction, I set my phone to airplane mode for most of my workday.  My phone is still on, so it is a quick switch from airplane mode if I need to use it for a quick call or text, rather than powering it down completely and having to wait to power it back up if I need to use it.  Not only do I find myself turning to my phone less, but it saves on my battery, only using about 5% over the course of several hours, versus up to 50% if I leave it on standard mode. 

Turn Off App Notifications:  For every app we download, there is usually some kind of notification that you can receive from the app, ranging from banners, notification dots/numbers, sounds, vibrations, etc.  While many of the apps you download ask to allow notifications, you most likely won't get anything from the app.  However, the biggest culprits of your attention because of notifications are your social media apps, news apps, and messages.  To get away from them, turn off some, or all, or the notifications.  I have turned off all notifications for Facebook and Voxer, all of my news apps, and I have turned off some of the notifications for Twitter.  Sometimes, I end up missing some things that are time sensitive because I don't think to check the app without a notification, such as a message from Ryan O'Donnell a while back in Voxer that asked if I was going to the Nevada football game; the message had a picture from the parking lot of Mackay Stadium as he was preparing for the game and I didn't get the message until about 12 hours later.  However, I find myself doing less mindless scrolling, reading, and listening, especially on Facebook, because I have turned off many of the notifications. 

Log Out of Your Social Media Accounts:  When is the last time you had to type in your login credentials for your Facebook or Twitter account?  I honestly can't remember, my phone saves it so whenever I open my app, it's open and available.  If you have to type in your credentials, would you if you knew you were doing it simply because you were bored?  Logging out of a social media account, or deleting the app temporarily, will cut down on the time you spend on the app.  Facebook as a deactivate function where you can turn off your account for up to a week.  Whenever I have done that, I have found that I haven't gone back to Facebook for nearly two weeks.  I like to deactivate every now and then, especially when something happening in the world makes Facebook extra toxic (think election season or the debate of guns shortly after yet another mass shooting, which is another issue that I won't address here).  While I have never done it, you can also deactivate a Twitter account, however, if you don't log back in within 30 days, your account will be deleted permanently (at least according to a quick search of Twitter's help page). 

Set Up Do Not Disturb Mode:  Most phones have a setting called Do Not Disturb.  Using this setting, you can set up hours in which no notifications, including phone calls and text messages, will come through.  I have mine set up from 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM.  However, maybe you are concerned that you will miss an important call or text.  You can do a couple of things.  If you are expecting a call or text, you can temporarily turn off the setting; on my Pixel 2, it's a quick swipe down from the top to the Do Not Disturb symbol and pressing it.  Once I want to turn it back on, I simply swipe down and press Do Not Disturb again.  You can also set up exemptions for specific numbers.  For me, I have a handful of contacts that are exempt from Do Not Disturb that I have identified in the settings.  You can also set an exemption where if the same number calls twice within 15 minutes, the call will come through. 

Set a Reminder to Wrap Up Your Work:  We are all guilty of it: working on something, saying we are going to wrap up by a certain time, but go way over the time.  While I don't do this routinely, I have set up alarms using my Google Home to alert me when I should be done with whatever I am doing.  I especially will use my Home when I am playing my mini Nintendo (if you don't have one, it's preloaded with 30 games, I hacked it and added 25 more, and I also have the Super Nintendo version).  I will get lost playing Super Mario Bros., Blades of Steel, Contra, or whatever it may be; next thing I know, I have wasted almost 2 hours!  When I know that I may be on the games for a while, I will simply say to my Google Home across the room, "Hey Google, set a timer for 30 minutes."  When that timer goes off, I finish the level where I am at, save my progress, and turn it off.  Don't have a Google Home?  Use Siri on your iOS device, use Alexa on your Amazon device, set an alarm on your phone, or a calendar reminder.  There are a variety of ways you can alert yourself, use whatever you feel most comfortable with. 

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I am looking forward to disconnecting even further.  I will be traveling to my parents' place to enjoy the holiday with my parents, sister, brother-in-law to be, a cousin and her husband and kids, and of course, my wife and kids.  While I will be taking my laptop to work on a presentation for an upcoming conference, I fully intend to set timers to limit my work so I can enjoy my time.  I may even turn my phone off and stash it for a day or two because the people I would normally need to contact will be there in the flesh.  Either way, it is my intention to enjoy my family, lots of food, some beers (I'll be sure to share anything awesome on The BeerEDU Podcast), and getting away from my technology for a few days.  I hope that you do the same!

Until next time... Happy Thanksgiving!