Two of my primary goals for this school year have been to improve both technology integration and differentiation for individual student needs/ interests in my classes.
As I’ve begun to delve into tech integration with Edmodo for classroom communication & assignments and Edublogs for student work, I am now seeing how the two goals go hand in hand.
Screen cap from my Edmodo site
Edmodo calls itself a microblogging platform for students and teachers. However, it’s really much more than that. It’s a place to post notes and assignments for students. It’s a way to open a backchannel in your classroom. I contains a calendar for coming assignments. Students can use it to submit assignments electronically. It’s truly an organizational tool for both students and the teacher. One really cool feature of Edmodo is that students can input their cell phone numbers and receive messages from the system. I used this feature just the other day to remind my students to wear appropriate clothing and shoes for a lab the next day – which students often forget to do. This time, none forgot – even those who weren’t at school the previous day!
I’ve also had students using Edmodo from home after school hours to turn in work or to ask me questions about assignments. Because I get a text message when a student sends me a direct message, I know to login to Edmodo and answer (you can’t do it from your phone yet). This way I don’t feel a need to constantly check the site in case a student might have a question.
Student blog post about Zinc
I’ve set up every one of my 100+ students with their own blog via Edublogs. While the process has been a bit time consuming, I feel the payoff will be worth it. So far, I’ve had students using it to post certain assignments (my chemistry students each chose a chemical element to research and made a post to their blog about it) and reflections on their learning.
Another side benefit of all of these tools is the ability to greatly reduce the amount of paper used in my classes. While this is environmentally sound and cost efficient, the real benefit of paper reduction has been in the motivation of my students to do quality work. They are so much more willing to revise and resubmit their work, based on my feedback, than ever before. When I returned a lab report electronically via Edmodo with feeback integrated (tracked changes in Word) and a rubric attached, I had 10 of 24 students revise and resubmit their work within 2 days. When I left comments on their blogs with feedback and suggestions to improve their posts, I had students revising blogs and sending me links via Edmodo to their revised posts. When too few students heeded my reminder to integrate links to their sources within their blog posts, I gave a quick classroom mini-lesson about integrating links. I reminded them that their work is now on the internet and plagiarism is not just against school rules, it is against the law. Several students immediately revised their posts to integrate multiple links.
Why are they so willing to revise? Because they don’t have to start over from scratch. Because the feedback from me is right there. Because the tools are the ones they want to use. Whatever the reason, they are doing it much more than students ever have done for me in the past.
Finally, I’ve been able to differentiate for student needs with these tools. If a student has already completed the assignment while their peers are still working on it, I send them a note via Edmodo with suggestions for an extension assignment that they post to their blog. Students who are behind get extra help both electronically and in person. All students have more choice about how they will approach and represent their learning. These are all VERY good things.
Inquiry is absolutely crucial in science. How to get from guided inquiry to open inquiry, though? Through technology and differentiation. Students have the tools and resources available to them now in my classes to ask and answer their own questions. Edmodo provides a means for me to track what they are doing. Edublogs provides them an outlet for reflection and a place to present the results of their learning. This is a powerful combination, for science or for any class!