Friday, September 27, 2013

My new Assessment Center

I have a new name for the piano in my classroom - it is being re-christened the "assessment center".

Music teachers are constantly assessing.  The assessment/instruction cycle in a music classroom is so short that it is almost imperceptible.  It is part of a music teachers's DNA that what you hear (assess) instantly guides what you say (instruct).  Add this to the fact that many of the procedural skills a choral music teacher assesses are things humans usually do unconsciously (breath support, vowel shape/tone, diction, etc.) and you have a quagmire of assessment for instruction.  This is the challenge that music teachers somehow love - finding the perfect sound.

But back to my piano.  Why am I going to start calling it my "assessment center"?

In my elementary classroom, the students first walk in and stand around the piano.  We do warmups together - for the same reasons that any choir would do warmups - we work on beautiful sound. Sometimes we sing in small groups or individually.  This is our pre-assessment.

When I am teaching a song, we usually use the CD's that come with our textbooks or other resources (Activate, Music Express, MK8).  But when it's time to see how the class is progressing - back to the piano!  We make this a big deal - can you sing/play it with the piano??  These are our formative assessments.

Finally, when we have a song down pretty well, it's time to record it and publish it to our website. Where do we record the song?  Around the piano!  This is our summative assessment.  Is everything we put out on the internet perfect?  No.  But at the elementary level, the focus is on process, not product.  And letting the students listen to the recording lets them assess themselves, too.

Hope you love your new assessment center.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

(Google) Scripts for Success

For teachers who desire the ultimate in productivity, it's hard to beat Google Scripts.  Scripts automate other dull tasks.  But honestly, scripts scare me a little.  There are always several steps.  They're not pretty.  If you have never tried Google Scripts, read on.  Once you start using them, you'll wonder how you ever lived without. Thank you to gurus of Google Scripts (like Andrew Stillman and Jennie Magiera) for helping the rest of us harness the power of scripts in education.
The messiest desk in the world
Is this how your Google Drive looks?
Teachers who start using Google apps with students quickly realize that management of student work can become a nightmare. Misnamed documents and incorrectly shared files can make your brain and your Google Drive a mess.  The Doctopus script is a perfect fix for this.  Instead of each students creating his/her own document, naming it, and sharing it to specific people, the teacher creates one master document.  Then, Doctopus copies it to each student's own Google account, naming it the way the teacher prefers, and sets the sharing.  The teacher is left with a spreadsheet that links to every student's document.  I'm sure this is great for all grade levels, but when you work with elementary students, this is a godsend.

To use Doctopus, you need two things:

1.  A master copy of the document that each student will use.  Create a folder in your Drive just for this assignment and place your master copy in that folder.  You can also have the student work automatically placed in this same folder later, or have Doctopus create a new folder for incoming work.

2.  A simple spreadsheet with at least the student names and the Google account of each student in two columns (it's ok if your school doesn't use Gmail for students - Doctopus will put the document directly into a student's Google Drive).

In the spreadsheet from step 2, click "Add-ons" and choose "Get add-on".  Search for Doctopus.  With the new Google Sheets, you only have to add it once, and it will be available in the "Add-ons" dropdown for all of your Sheets.  Doctopus will walk you through the process when you click on it each time.

You will be led through several steps asking for sharing settings (i.e., can students view each other's documents or not, editing and commenting rights, etc) and where you want the completed work to go in your own Drive (the folder from step 3).  When you complete all steps, every student will have a copy of the document in his/her own Drive and the teacher is left with editing rights to all student files and an easy way to access every file.  No messy Google Drive or lost/incorrectly shared files.  If you want students to work in groups, add a "Group" column to your spreadsheet, and Doctopus can set sharing settings based on groupings as well.

For those of you who have never used Google scripts, give this a try.  The 5 minutes you spend setting it up will save you way more than that in precious time.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My iOS7 Wishlist for Education

My biggest hopes for this week's Apple event have nothing to do with a rainbow of colors, a "flatter" design, or what new voices Siri might have.  For me, it's mostly about sharing.  As an educator, here's my wishlist for iOS7, in no particular order:

1.  Photo Sharing - Photo sharing on the internet has become the wild west.  The Google+/Picasa changeover still remains messy.  You can't do much with Apple's current Photostream sharing except share a link to the album.  Facebook and Instagram are not very viable choices for schools.  iOS7 is supposed to rethink Photostream.  I would like multiple photostreams that are embeddable in websites and true shared photostreams in which multiple people can contribute to a single photostream.  Also, the possibility for the photos to remain in the "stream" rather than be deleted automatically.  As a teacher, I want to keep those photos from our field trip several months ago!

2.  Special Education - Apple is leading the way in adaptive and assistive technology for special education students.  Features like Speak Selection and Guided Access are incredibly helpful.  I work in a school with a large special education population.  No specific wish here - just a "keep up the good work" and continue innovating in this area.

3.  Teacher management of devices - For teachers like me who manage their own handful of devices, we're never going to have a cart.  It can be difficult to manage devices (going into settings every time, allowing downloads, updating, turning off access to iTunes store, etc.)  Anything Apple can do to help out the "little guy" with management is great.

4.  Screensharing between devices - Along the line of teacher management, some kind of integrated teacher-to-student screensharing option would be nice for devices in a virtual "room" together.  Sort of like a Chrome Remote Desktop for the iPad.  Sounds like AirDrop will allow greater sharing between devices.

4.  Apple TV - I know ... this is not an iOS issue, but recent updates to Apple TV software are bringing more features.  Certainly, the new Chromecast is trying to challenge Apple TV.  For me, Apple TV is about integrating your life - making everything seamless from laptop, iPad, or iPhone to TV or projector.

Big Group = Big Procedures

Every once and awhile, you teach a class that requires the ultimate preparation.  That is the situation I found myself in this year with my 86-member 8th grade choir.  The middle school choir room is not big enough, so we rehearse in our high school choir room (both schools are one connected campus).  I am teaming with a great colleague to teach this group.

It's a good problem to need this many folders
86 eighth grade students need to do the following in 45 minutes:
• Get in the room
• Put other books and materials elsewhere in the room
• Get the correct choir folder for class
• Have a spot to sit/stand
• Take attendance
• REHEARSE - maximize our worktime together
• Put folders away in an orderly fashion
• Get out the door

Don't forget that just finding 86 folders for a choir is an issue, storing those folders, and all of the technology I purchased and installed in the middle school choir room last year needed to be moved to the high school choir room.  This was shaping up to be a procedural mess of Harry Wong proportions.  But it's a good problem to have.

Here's the procedure we set up:
1.  The folder list is posted in the hallway
2.  I put wheels on an old music folder cabinet.  Before class, the cabinet is wheeled into the hallway.
3.  Every folder has a QR code with student name and folder number.  Since these are 8th grade students, I put clear packing tape over the QR code to (hopefully) eliminate doodling on the sticker that could thwart my plans.  The folders were purchased when a local office store had a 1-cent sale.  The limit was 10 per transaction.  Everyone in my family bought ten ... at multiple store locations ... on multiple days.  I got to 120 folders before a manager caught on to me.  Total cost was $1.32 including tax.

QR code on choir folders
4.  Students pick up their folder in the hallway.
5.  The QR code on each folder is scanned before entering the room using the Attendance 2 app.  Many thanks to Dr. Christopher Russell for this suggestion - read his great advice about it.  The app creates the QR code for every folder.  The iPad scans each folder as students walk by, and with the click of a button I know which 2 or 3 people are absent.  This also eliminates the dreaded "I don't need my folder" excuse because students need it for attendance.
6.  There are two doors to the room - men enter through one door, women the other.  This helps eliminate the backup as students are looking for a place along the wall to set down their other books.
7.  We have set up 7 section of risers instead of using chairs.  Students will get used to standing for most of our rehearsals.
8.  Now, we can actually rehearse!
9.  Five minutes prior to the end of class, the folders are given to four students who put them all away in the cabinet.  This eliminates the crush of bodies at the cabinet at the last minute and keeps my very expensive folders (ha ha) in good shape.  The cabinet is wheeled back into the room.

I also plan to set up a number of "jobs" for students this year to help things move smoothly:
• Attendance person - scan the folders and enter attendance into powerschool
• Secretary - If you need something from the teacher, or if I need to remember something for the next class, it will be this student's job to write it in my notebook.
• Sunshine - two students to check on birthdays and honor students each week.  With this many students, community building is going to be important, but it has to be efficient.
• Folder people - four people to put the folders away at the end of class as mentioned above.

These procedures were put together for an extremely large choir, but if they can work for a large group, think how they could help a smaller group maximize rehearsal time as well!