Taking Risks: Digital Tools

When we think of risks, our minds drift to cliff-diving in Hawaii–rarely do we think of a classroom, typically seen as one of the safest places in the world. However, in this rapidly-changing world of education, we are asked to take risks and dive off that cliff into the unknown almost on a daily basis. But it is scary. And several times we tell ourselves we have failed because our lessons do not go as we planned.

What we need to embrace, however, is that element of the unknown. We need to begin to put ourselves out there to accomplish goals that we never could have imagined. I want to take a look at what risk-taking means for educators, and I hope to hear from you, too, about what “risk-taking” means in your classroom and teaching practices.

This post will focus on embracing digital technology. To be honest, when I heard our school was going 1:1 (every student would have a Chromebook) I was terrified. I grew up around computers and felt confident in my mastery of Microsoft Office, web-based research, and grading tools like Mastery Manager. And while I saw this as being “tech savvy”, in no way were these skills going to help me when 30 students entered my room with computers. Also, I was proud of being “old school”; I still kept a record of grades on a printed out document and required students submit a paper copy of essays. I relished in the idea of a paper on my lap while I sipped my tea and graded.

I began my foray into digital learning by attending a district conference in August which offered workshops on tools like No Red Ink, Screencastify, and Google Apps for Education. For anyone in a district rolling out a 1:1 initiative, my advice is to attend any professional development you can get your hands on. If your district does not offer any professional development, gather with colleagues to swap ideas. I left the conference tremendously overwhelmed but more excited about future possibilities than ever before.

At the conference, I learned how to flip my classroom using WeVideo and Screencastify. I developed ideas for revamping assessments, understood the aspects of the SAMR model, and even learned techniques for classroom management. I knew this year would involve risks, but I was confident I could provide the best opportunity for my students to explore these tools. As a Type-A personality, throwing caution to the wind was worrisome, but this attitude literally saved my year.

I knew my focus for the year was to implement digital tools for formative assessments, and my goal was to create a small but dependable list for students.

One app, Verso Learning , is the tool I lean on most to assess my students. Verso is a discussion board that allows students to post anonymously. The interface mirrors a Facebook feed, which is familiar to both students and teachers. The feed is vertical and allows students to like and comment on one another’s posts. Teachers are able to see the students’ names; but, because it is anonymous to peers, students feel more comfortable sharing ideas and taking risks in their thought process. Listed are ways I used this app:

  1. Writing 6 word stories about a character and voting on the strongest word choice.
  2. Reading silently in class and posting questions/comments so peers could respond (this is my favorite way to use Verso)
  3. Posing questions for an academic conversation. We discussed what constituted a strong question and students voted on which questions would be asked during our discussion.

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