Posts Tagged ‘technology’

High Five for Friday! 1-23-15

Week 20 – Officially halfway!!! It is the end of Quarter 2, which means grading, grading, graaaaaading. But there were SO many highlights this week! My favorite 5 are below:

ReadBox Kristen Dembroski

1. Readbox – Time for the big reveal – I finally finished my newest bulletin board! My 8th graders have been working on writing book reviews, which I have posted on my classroom wiki. Our school is one-to-one with iPads, so anyone can simply scan the QR code, which directly links to a student-written review. My students were SO excited to have their work posted like this, for anyone to appreciate. 

Donuts (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Celebrating Success – More good news – we are done with MAP testing! Of my 8 intervention students, 6 of them made a 10-point gain which is the equivalent of gaining a whole grade level. I get goosebumps just thinking about it! Their confidence is soaring. We have been using MobyMax and Newsela to practice reading informational text and looking for text-based evidence. To celebrate, I brought in donuts for everyone. Yippee!!! 

Decide Now App (c) Kristen Dembroski Decide Now App (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Decide Now App – Found a new app I love. There is a free version, but I opted for the paid version which has more editing capabilities. I made a wheel for each of my classes and filled in the names of all my students. Now, whenever I need help picking a random student, I just roll the wheel! This can be great when I have a lot of volunteers and want to be fair. Here is a link to the app if you are interested. The students really enjoy the anticipation of seeing who will be picked next! 


4. A Time for Justice – To kick off our unit on Spite Fences, we watched “A Time for Justice” this week. It is a great documentary that includes primary sources from the Civil Rights Era. Since we have just finished studying the Civil War and the 15th Amendment in Social Studies, it is fascinating to bring the students 100 years into the future and let them see how things simply didn’t just ‘fix’ or get better overnight like they thought they might. We learned that in one town, 50% of the eligible voting population was black, but only 1% of them voted for fear of retribution. The students are absolutely silent during this film, which I know shocks and engages them on a deeply emotional level. Teachers can order a kit including this video for free from the Teaching Tolerance Organization – just click here


5. NAEP – We had a professional development day for teachers on Monday, during which we explored the NAEP test. Information and sample test questions can be found here. I thought the questions were thoughtfully designed to engage students in deeper-levels of analysis. I just kept wondering – who is gonna grade all this?!? I think this will be a useful piece of data going forward when we do finally adopt the NAEP, but this is in addition to many other forms of assessment we already use in our school. I am always concerned about over-testing our kids – how much data (and what kinds) is enough? 

So how was your week? I’d love to hear about it! 



What a Kahoot!

Kahoot (c) Kristen Dembroski

Have you heard of Kahoot? I just learned about it, and I was so excited to try it in my classroom. You can use this tool with any personal tech device with internet access. My students all have iPads, but you could also use cell phones or laptops if students have these.

I’ve got to say, my students REALLY enjoyed it. I haven’t seen them this excited in a long time. And I didn’t even offer prizes! They wanted to know when we could play again. As soon as I can make a new game!

Kahoot is like Trivia. The teacher creates a game, and the students play with their personal technology devices. I created a review game for some tricky grammatical concepts we have been studying. This would be an excellent review tool for vocabulary or content area classes as well.

I put the game up on my SMARTBoard, which displays a 5-digit game code. The students go to and enter the game code, and suddenly they are logged in to the game (no account or set-up required).

For each question, choices appear on their device. They log their answer on their iPad, and they are awarded points based on speed and accuracy.

After each question is complete, the SMARTBoard screen shows the correct answer, and their iPad tells them how many points they were awarded as well as which place they are in. On my SMARTBoard, the game then displays the top 5 participants (struggling students are not identified to the class).

I pause after each question for discussion. I usually create several questions in a row on the same concept, and this gives students a chance to learn and improve.

The possibilities for this game are endless! I did a 17-question game (each question has a 30-second timer), and this took about 25 minutes once you include the discussion and all of their enthusiasm. What a fun day in Language Arts class!


PBIS Videos Part 2

Last week, I shared about our current LA-Technology Project of creating PBIS Behavioral videos in our school. I am reporting back that it was such a fun project and a major success! Every student was ‘in the flow’ and fully engaged. Everyone was able to contribute with their own strengths, from planning to acting and editing and using technology. The final products are in, and they are AWESOME! I thought I’d share with you a few screenshots, with faces obscured, of course. Next week we will pick the winner, and that group will receive a pizza party and gift cards. WOW!

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski


Bluetooth Keyboards

Time for an “Ipads in the Classroom” Update!

iPad + Bluetooth Keyboard (c) Kristen Dembroski

Things have been going so very well with the iPads. In my classroom, we use them every – single – day. We do so much typing, it’s ridiculous. And frankly, if you’ve ever had to type for a significant amount of time on an iPad, you know what a pain in the rear this can be. Those tiny buttons, the tiny screen – iPads are great for consuming information, but no so great for production.

To help alleviate this strain on our students, my district did some hands-on research and picked out a quality bluetooth keyboard to offer to our students. They purchased them in bulk, then offer them for individual purchase in the office. They would up being only $13, what a steal for such an invaluable piece of equipment! The students quickly snatched them up, and I see many of them in use in my classroom already. They require 2 AAA batteries, and I am sure we will need to purchase those and have them on hand as well.

I purchased a keyboard for myself, too, since I know this will be a great tool for traveling, staff meetings, etc. And I’ll have one on hand to lend to a student when needed. I even thought – wow, for $13, these would make great Christmas gifts!

Bottom line: If you plan to use an iPad in the classroom, I feel that a bluetooth keyboard is ESSENTIAL, a non-negotiable. I just wish we had figured this out earlier in the school year and had these available sooner, but as they say – live and learn!

There are many great bluetooth keyboards on the market, but this is the one my district chose when considering quality and cost. EC Technology Bluetooth 3.0 Multimedia Keyboard. 


High Five For Friday! 11/8/13

Adios, week 10! It was a difficult and LONG week, especially with WKCE State Testing, but there are always the highlights to celebrate.

Sharing Photos Tech Poster (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Share Responsibly –  I love seeing this Technology Poster hanging outside my room and throughout my school. I think it is wonderful that adults are realizing the role we play in modeling and guiding students to make good decisions online. How will students ever learn these skills otherwise? Well, besides the few students who have crashed, burned, and learned the hard way. We need to be proactive and provide lessons in respectful and responsible digital citizenship. Man, I never had to worry about any of this as a kid – it’s tough being a teen today!

Sunny Clouds (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Sunny Mornings – The end of Daylight Savings is actually a really sad event for me. I try very hard to shirk my season depression each year, but it is a real challenge. Right now in Wisconsin, we only get about 8-9 hours of sunlight each day. And it’s only going to get worse. I MISS SUMMER!!! Even taking the dog for a walk after I get home from work is difficult as the sunlight begins to fade. The one highlight I have (since that is what High Five For Friday is all about) is that I am enjoying seeing the sun a bit more on my way to work in the morning. This was the gorgeous view on Tuesday.

Tiles and Strips (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Letter Tiles and Highlight Strips – I’ve ordered some new materials for my reading interventions. I tell you, as an 8th grade middle school teacher, these are just not items that we normally expect to see and use in a middle school classroom, so this took some investigating to specifically pinpoint student needs. I have purchased letter tiles and highlight strips. I plan to do some phoneme-grapheme mapping with my struggling readers to help get them up to speed with phonics. I will also use the highlight strips with several students to help them focus on one line of text at a time – attention is a real issue for several students, and I think this will help (while also being somewhat private and not making the student feel ‘stupid.’). I will introduce these tools to my group next week and we will attach these foundational skills head on!!! They will catch up to speed with their peers!!

Long Hallway (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. The Looooooong Hallway – Okay this is just silly, I know. When the students are at their Specials/Applieds classes, this is my prep time. I spend it working feverishly and running around with my head cut off, of course. But the hallways are so… empty. And long! I get a lot of walking in. My Fitbit says I walk around 5 miles a day at work. So one thing I do – I guess just to feel alive – is I close my eyes while I walk down the long hallway. I challenge myself to see how many steps I can get before opening my eyes. I’m at 15, in case you were going to ask.

Rocket & Tyger (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. The Dogs – While my sister is out of town interviewing for dental school residency positions, I have been dog-sitting. My dog Rocket (black and white, left side) and her dog Tyger (white, right side) get along fantastically. As you can guess, they get into a heap of trouble, too! They constantly play fight, which is awesome. It tires them both out, and they love it. In this picture, though, they are both sitting on the back of the couch, a no-no, looking so innocent. “What? We’re just chilling, watching the street for potential people/dogs/leaves/cars/etc. to bark at. Nothing to see here.” Stinkers! I love them <3


Bring on the Debate!

We have begun working on our Argumentation Unit – a Common Core aligned unit in which students investigate all sides of a topic, choose a side (or in my classroom, I assign stakeholders to make sure that all perspectives are represented), debate and discuss the topic as the stakeholder, come to a compromise or solution as a class, then write a final paper in which they use reasoning and evidence. This all follows the TELCon writing structure – Thesis/Topic, Evidence, Link, Concluding Sentence.

Controversial Topics (c) Kristen Dembroski

So far, we have begun by selecting 8 Controversial Topics to discuss as a class. (First, we had to even define ‘Controversial.’) For the past two days, we have been deciding which questions we might be interested in investigating as a class based on interest and researchability. We start by considering each question, one at a time. I have the students generate a ‘pro’ and ‘con’ list in their notebooks. Then, they took some time to dig around on the internet and see what kind of evidence they could locate to support either side.

The steroid question is definitely of high-interest amongst my students. However, there is an abundance of research and evidence for the ‘No’ side of the argument with very little supporting evidence on the ‘Yes’ side. For this reason, we decided to eliminate #4. My students are VERY interested in #8 (Fast-food restaurants) and #5 (Cloning). If they decided to go with the cloning topic, we will first have to define cloning and learn more about it before we can develop reasons and locate evidence.

Tomorrow, we are going to pick the one question we will pursue as a class. Then, we will generate a list of stakeholders in the argument – each student will be assigned a stakeholder role. Next, we will generate a list of questions we have about this topic as well as a list of information each stakeholder may need to locate.

I am taking them through this whole process of the Argumentation Unit using both my Argument Unit materials and The Paper Chain, an Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook. It is very helpful to go step-by-step through this process with them. I will be sure to continue posting about our progress as a class. This is a very high-interest unit – I can’t wait for 2nd quarter to teach it every year!


Online Reading Comprehension

‘Kids these days are so good with computers – certainly better than I will ever be! They’re whatchya call ‘Digital Natives’. They spend so much time with technology, they know exactly what to do. What could we possibly teach them in school?’

Have you heard something like this before? It’s a popular school of thought. Unfortunately, it’s fundamentally flawed, and research indicates that schools need to start addressing the issues of Digital Literacy: the ability to communicate (read, write, speak, listen) effectively via technology. It’s not enough to simply take students to the computer lab and give them time to do research or type up their papers. Putting technology in their hands does not automatically mean you are using technology effectively in the classroom. We need to actually show them – model – digital literacy skills of locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating effectively online.

Another popular yet incorrect assumption is that reading books and reading online require the same set of reading strategies and skills. I mean – they’re both just information, right? Wrong. There are several key differences between reading online and reading traditional print that educators must understand. First, online texts are multimodal – they consist of media presented in multiple forms, from text to graphics, photographs, audio, video and more. Meaning can be conveyed through size, layout, proportion, and color. Students need to be taught how to ‘read’ these new kinds of ‘texts’ and draw connections between information presented in multiple media. This is hard work for our brain! Multimedia has so much potential for reaching our students with different learning styles and needs, but we must first teach them how to utilize it. Not to mention, there are SO many distractions and distractors online – it can be a real sensory overload!

When we read a traditional book, believe it or not, a lot of the work is done for us. The author has already pre-determined your purpose for reading, the order in which you will read everything, and how the text is organized. When reading online, we get to make all of these decisions for ourselves. We start out with a question or a problem, make decisions, click away, and build a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of reading experience. Because online texts are nonlinear, this means that no two people will have the exact same online reading experience. And since we – the readers – are the ones with the question/problem, only we can determine when we have fulfilled our online reading purpose and we can stop reading. That’s a lot of pressure!

Students require strong metacognitive abilities (awareness of our thinking) when reading online, as they must constantly reflect on everything they read, whether it is pertinent to their reading purpose, and what to do next. Every single navigational choice or click requires self-regulating reading strategies (planning, predicting, monitoring, evaluation), forward inferential thinking (predicting – what do I expect to find when I click this?), prior knowledge (of both the reading topic and prior experiences with technology), and global reading strategies such as questioning and synthesis (how does this fit in with what I already know? just read on the previous screen?). Phew – reading online is tough! We use more reading strategies more often when reading online, and we use them in unique and creative ways that are distinct from traditional print reading strategies.

So you see, we do need to address these issues in the classroom. We need to model for our students and give them lots of guided practice with reading for comprehension online. Being raised around technology does not automatically make our students proficient online readers.

One tool that is helping to bridge this gap in American Schools is the ORCA: Online Reading Comprehension Assessment. It is a 5-year research project funded by the United States Department of Education. The research team, located at the University of Connecticut, includes Dr. Donald Leu, Dr. John Kulokowich, Dr. Nell Sedransk, and Dr. Julie Coiro. The team has been generous enough to let me use this tool to conduct my own research for my dissertation before the assessment will be made available to schools across the nation.

The ORCA measures students’ abilities with 4 critical digital literacy skills: locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate. This is NOT your typical standardized assessment! It is designed to look familiar to students – a lot like Facebook. The students login, create an online profile, then interact with a peer named Brianna who asks questions and gives the students tasks to perform. These tasks range from reading email, searching the Internet, locating specific articles, summarizing (1 article) and synthesizing (multiple articles) the information, copying and pasting, evaluate the credentials and credibility of an author and article, and finally constructing a summative email. The ORCA measures everything a student does from the terms they type into ‘Gloogle’ (the ORCA intranet version of Google), to which links they choose from a list of search results. In the end, there are 16 tasks that are measured.

Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (c) Kristen Dembroski

For my research, I am conducting a 2-Phase Mixed Methods study that is investigating possible variables that may affect student success with the ORCA such as use of reading strategies, time spent on task, prior experiences with technology, and level of confidence. Here are my students taking the ORCA last week:

Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (c) Kristen Dembroski

In my first phase, I administered the ORCA to 123 students in 8th grade. As you can see from the average scores below, we need to adjust our 8th grade Language Arts curriculum to address the skills of evaluating online texts (is this a credible source?) and communicating that information appropriately (constructing email, citing sources, etc.)

Average scores out of 4 (n=123)
Locate: 2.54
Synthesize: 2.91
Evaluate: 1.81
Communicate: 1.33

I can’t wait for this tool to be available nationwide – I think this is going to make a huge impact on students and the way we teach reading comprehension. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of my dissertation as well – I am actually excited about this project, and I know the results will be interesting and of critical importance.




Teacher Approved Apps

Teacher Approved Apps (c) Kristen Dembroski

Let’s be real – when you give a 13-year-old an iPad, they are going to download and play games. Lots of them. During Homebase (Homeroom) time, I look over shoulders and I see a lot of Minecraft and other silly, pointless games. My response is, “you have 17 other hours of the day to waste your brain. I’m not going to allow that during school time!”

My colleagues and I got together and created this handout for our students – 35 Teacher Approved Apps. As it says on the first page of the handout, these are apps that can be used AFTER all other homework is completed and you’ve done your daily required 20 minutes of independent reading. We have vetted these apps and determined that they have (at least some) academic value for our 8th grade students. Feel free to download the hand out here: Teacher Approved Apps KD

Happy Teaching!



Library & Independent Reading

This week is our first chance to go to the Library. I make a point of bringing my 8th graders to the Library every Monday. This year, however, I knew things would be a little different with the iPads. For starters, our Library is now offering ebooks on loan. For some ebooks, we have only a few licenses, meaning only a few students can ‘check out’ the ebook at a time, and for other ebooks we have unlimited licenses. The students can download the ebook from our Library app (Destiny), ‘rent’ it for a couple of weeks, and then on the due date, **poof** it disappears! This means you can check out a book without ever stepping a foot into the library! This is great for kids who are absent a lot, who go on vacation, or who devour books at a breakneck pace.

To better utilize the iPads for reading purposes, I created this handout to help my students discover new and exciting digital reading materials. There are also some fantastic tips for finding your next great reading book. You can download the entire 3-page PDF file here: How To Find a Great Book KD. Enjoy!

How To Find a Great Book (c) Kristen Dembroski

How To Find a Great Book (c) Kristen Dembroski


Technology, Motivation, & Working Out

I am going to tell you an embarrassing secret. Last school year, I worked out…. 18 times. Total. For the entire school year. And it was always on a weekend. That’s really sad!

I just needed some motivation, right? I thought I WAS motivated. But it turns out, just wanting to be healthy (okay, skinny!) isn’t enough. And thinking about all the money I was wasting by paying the gym and NOT showing up wasn’t enough of a guilt trip, either.

So I tried what any good teacher would do. I set goals, a schedule, and created a reward structure. If I worked out ‘x’ amount of times, I would reward myself with a new workout shirt, etc. The problem with this is… I am in charge of the system. And I lie, cheat, and steal. I am not a reliable coach of myself. I can talk myself out of or into just about ANYthing!

This blog post is all about what DOES work for me; what keeps me active, motivated, and working out an average of 3-4 times per week. The Cliff’s Notes: competition, money, goal-setting, multi-tasking, and mental escape.
Workout Motivation (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Fitbit One
My husband bought me a Fitbit One for Christmas, 2012. I haven’t taken it off (other than to shower) since. What is it? I describe it as a fancy schmancy digital pedometer. It records my steps, activity level, flights of stairs, and sleep. This all syncs wirelessly with my phone or computer. I get immediate feedback on my levels of activity. I set a daily goal (10,000 steps, 10 flights of stairs) and do what I have to do to make that goal. Fitbit sends me cheerful push notifications (like texts) to my phone, letting me know when I am nearing, meeting, or exceeding my goal. It’s like getting a gold star! Who doesn’t love the positive feedback?

What’s brilliant about Fitbit is the social aspect of it. My mother and sister both own a Fitbit and use it as religiously as I do. Our activity level is displayed on a virtual leader board. We three women are pretty competitive, so it’s always a tight race for first place. My sister is training for a half-marathon right now, and I’m beating myself up trying to keep up with her! After dinner, I’ll check the leader board and see who ‘winning’. I may then take a walk, run some stairs, pace while I brush my teeth, volunteer to take the dog out again – whatever I can think of to get in more steps and get to the top!

Here’s a leader board example (note who is in first place!! muahaha!)

Fitbit (c) Kristen Dembroski

Conclusion: Fitbit motivates me to stay in shape by encouraging me to meet my own goals and by competing with others.

2. GymPact
If Fitbit keeps me moving throughout the day, GymPact actually gets me to the gym to work out. GymPact is an app for your phone that PAYS you to work out. I’ve made over $33 in 3 months. That may not seem like much to you, but it is a great bonus for me!

I describe GymPact as a way of gambling about working out. Let’s say I am willing to bet that I can work out 3 times next week. The minimum I can bet per workout is $5. So 3 x $5 = $15 total that I am willing to put on the line, promising that I will work out 3 times next week. GymPact is linked to your Paypal account, so believe me when I say that if you don’t make good on your bet, they will charge you. As it turns out, the threat of losing $5 because I am too lazy to work out is pretty darn motivating! I have not been charged EVER, because I am so stingy with my money that I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I ever miss a promised workout.

So where does the income come from? Think of it as a ‘losers pay winners’ sort of situation. GymPact collects from the people who didn’t make their workout pledge, then divvies that money up amongst those who did keep their pledge. You can make about $0.30 to $.50 per workout – it varies on the week. Once you have reached a balance of $10, you can withdraw your earnings to your Paypal account and buy yourself something nice – you earned it!

Here is a screenshot of my GymPact app from a week this summer when I was able to work out 5 times:

Gympact (c) Kristen Dembroski

Conclusion: GymPact motivates me through cold, hard cash!

You might be wondering – how does GymPact know if I am working out or not, huh? Well, the app requires that each workout is a minimum of 30 minutes and has GPS verification that you worked out. That means either ‘checking in’ at the gym with your app, or syncing GymPact with another app that tracks when you walk/run. And that app is…

3. RunKeeper
RunKeeper is an app that tracks your run/walk via GPS. When I leave my house, I simply hit ‘Start’ on the RunKeeper app. The app tracks my pace, location/route, splits, duration, and even allows me to enter notes and a picture when I complete my activity. As with Fitbit, I can set a goal for myself, which RunKeeper tracks for me. The app will give you verbal notifications of your progress as you walk/run, but I turn them off for peace and quiet. Once I’ve hit the 30 minute mark, I head home and complete my workout. RunKeeper then syncs with GymPact and let’s them know what I worked out, which counts toward my GymPact pledge. Sweet!

Here is a screenshot of my RunKeeper app, showing the distance and times for all of my recent runs/walks:

RunKeeper (c) Kristen Dembroski

Conclusion: RunKeeper motivates me through goal-setting and syncing with GymPact

Wanna know what I listen to when I work out? Hint: It’s not music!

4. Audible
I LOVE to read. As a Language Arts teacher, this only makes sense. But I don’t often have time to actually sit down and read a book. I make time, of course, because that is very important. However, Audible allows me to consume more books than by reading alone. Audible is a an Amazon company that sells audio books. Payment is linked to my Amazon account, so that’s easy enough, and the books download through ‘the Cloud’ right on to my phone. Easy as pie!

What’s brilliant here is that I have made a rule for myself. I am only allowed to listen to an Audible book while I am moving. What will happen is I will get really hooked on a book and want to listen more. BUT, in order to do that I’ve got to get on my running shoes and start moving! It’s a lovely motivation, and I know that I am doing something great for my body AND my mind at the same time.

Listening to books also keeps my mind focused while I work out. When I listened to music, it was too easy for my mind to wander and start to realize, ‘Hey – working out kinda stinks! I wanna stop!’ I’d stare at the elliptical or the clock. With the audio book, I can close my eyes and let my mind travel to a far away place! The 45 minutes on the treadmill/elliptical go by in a snap, and sometimes I go even longer because the book is at a really great spot!

Conclusion: Audible motivates me by allowing me to multitask and by taking my mind on great adventures!


Some other things I have learned about myself:

5. I need to work out on my way home. If I go home first to change or relax, I am never getting back in my car.

6. I have to pack my workout clothes the night before. I always keep a set in my car. To make things more efficient, I have also considered putting workout outfits in gallon-sized Zip-loc bags so they are ready to go, no excuses.

7. I tell someone I am going to work out. It just feels horribly disappointing to tell a coworker that you are heading out to the gym, then go straight home and plop in front of the TV.

Final Thoughts: 

I started out with just my Fitbit, but I slowly added in the other apps. I now use all 4, and I work out about 3-4 (often 5) times per week. I feel SO much better than I did last year when I was a big ole’ couch potato. Now I never even consider missing a work out. I hope you find some of these tips helpful! Enjoy your endorphin rush!


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