Ed Tech In the SpEd Classroom

Using Technology to Help Bridge the Learning Gap

Holy plethora of info to update you on…(flipped classrooms, class blogs, E-pals, and gamification)


This title actually reminds me of a clip from one of my fave movies, “The Three Amigos.”  If you like the movie as much as I do, click here.  If not….well, then…don’t.

So, where to begin?  Yesterday I spent most of my day at the 2012 EdCampGR conference.  Two words: Dee. Lish.  I came out of that conference with so many ideas of how to incorporate different apps, programs, and strategies into my classroom!  I highly recommend attending one, if you’re close to the Grand Rapids area.  I also met a lot of great people and made some new Twitter connections.  🙂

Ok, so back to all the info I’ve kept you in the dark for the past week.  I apologize for not updating this sooner.  Last week was atrocious.  Grades were due by Friday and my building is currently doing a pilot for a new gradebook system.  Glitches galore.  On top of that, I co-teach Math and English, and have to input my resource students’ grades into the gradebook myself.  It may not seem so bad, but my assignments/test entries need to match the GenEd teachers’ entries, and it’s hard trying to get printouts of their gradebooks when they’re running around like crazy themselves. In the words of Kanye West, it was cray.

So anyhoo, back to my stuff.  Since there’s so much, I’ll divvy it up into sections.  First up, updates on using the flipped classroom components.

Part 1: Flipped Classroom Updates

*insert nervous laughter here*  So things may or may not be going as anticipated.  In my last blog, I talked about how I showed the class the video while pausing and having them write their information in their SSS packets.  By the end of class, they were all doing well and gave me the impression they knew what they were doing.  Since there were only 4 videos in the set (and already doing one video as a class), I had them do the next section on their own.   Here’s where things start to go willy nilly.  I allowed them time in class to do the videos, regardless if they had internet at home or not.  This was because I wanted to monitor how they were doing.  Unfortunately, I was asked to help with MEAP (our state’s standardized test) makeups.  Meaning, I had to get a sub for a bit.  Well, apparently, those who “knew” how to do it forgot that although they copy notes from the videos, there are places for them to put in their own examples.  I had a lot of packets turned in with the portions that they were supposed to fill in blank.  For some reason, they copied all the notes/examples from the video and kept truckin, even though I (and the video) said to pause and put in their own examples.  This wasn’t the case for ALL students, but I’d say the majority of them.

A student fills out his SSS packet while listening to his video on abstract nouns.

Clearly, this is something I will have to go over with them again.  Additionally, there were some students who “lost” their packets or left them at home, or who just didn’t finish them.  I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to deal with this, since this no doubt will happen again.  I hate to waste paper and still haven’t gone completely paperless in my room yet, so I’ll have to keep extra copies on hand.  The funny thing is, they were told to keep them in their file folder in my room.   Listening to directions is something we need to work on.  Looks like I will have to go Barney-style on them and do the whole, “Everyone, lift your SSS packets in the air. Good. Now place your packets in your folder. Good. Now close your folder. Good. Now, one at a time, place your folder in the crate.”  I didn’t think I would do this much hand-holding, but darn it–we will get it done.  Sergeant Rivas* may have to appear here and there.  This week I plan on starting class by having a chat with them about being responsible.  Then, we’ll go over procedures on filling out the SSS packets again.  Students who completed it the first time and feel they’re ready to test out of the nouns portion of the unit, will have the chance to do so.  Everyone else: back to finishing up their packets.  I hope to start presenting the verbs portion of our Parts of Speech Unit by Friday (no school Monday or Tuesday).  Delia Bush gave me the great idea at the EdCampGR conference of spending about a month doing them as a class.  So be it.  🙂

*Sergeant Rivas refers to my military rank. I served 5 years in the Marine Corps.  Yelling at Marines is ok. Yelling at students is frowned upon in a school district.  I have to remind myself of that. A lot. 

Part 2: Class Blogs Update

Holy cow.  Talk about another area that we will need to revisit.  I had been talking about our class blog since the beginning of the year and have prefaced our first blog entries with videos, the Paper Blog project (see my post about that here), and looking at sample class blogs.  I officially started it this past Monday, showing them step-by-step how to just get into the blog.  This, of course, required them to retrieve their usernames and passwords that were e-mailed to them.  This, of course, turned out to be an epic fail.

First of all, some students forgot their e-mail usernames and/or passwords.  No biggie, since I gave them all a log to write their usernames and passwords for all the sites we’d be using during the year.  Well, it makes it a skosh more difficult when students a) didn’t write their passwords down on their logs or b) didn’t have their logs at all.  I’d say, half of my students were able to follow along.  Rather than losing my cool about this (I could feel my inner Bruce Banner  stirring), I simply told them to watch and I would help them, individually, later.  I showed them the menu and where to enter a new post.  As far as their entry, I gave them all a Blogging Checklist to follow, which I quickly realized, I would need to tweak.  After going over the checklist, I gave them their topic, which was in correlation with the Wonderopolis Wonder of the Day, “Do You Get Spooked Easily?”  The kids had four focus questions to answer in their blog entries: 1) What were you doing? 2) Who were you with? 3) What time of the day was it? 4) How did you conquer your fear?

I then modeled how to write a blog entry.  I had my computer screen displayed on the projector and typed about how I saw the video “Thriller” for the first time when I was four (don’t even think about doing the math).  I purposely made spelling mistakes to show them later how to correct them.  When I finished my entry, I showed the class how to check off their checklists and how to do a spellcheck.  When I was FINISHED finished, then I asked them if I answered each focus question. I followed up with showing them how to save, publish, and how to read/comment on their peer blogs.  Oops–there goes some of the student laptops just shutting down for no reason again in the middle of everything.  But I will keep my comments of how crappy the laptops we have are to myself.  For now. *ahem*

Remember, this was our first time doing it and it required a lot of steps.  Oh, and did I mention that I was being observed by my principal during this lesson?  Yeahhhhh….. (side note: although I was sweating bullets, he was very optimistic about my lesson and gave me a great review.)  🙂

So, to wrap this all up, I have to go over this with them again.  Blogging will be done every other week, so we will have plenty of time to discuss. I keep wanting to believe that this will come to pass once they get into it more and more.  I really, really want to believe…

Part 3: E-Pals Update

Well, the kids started pen-paling via e-mail (e-pals) a few weeks ago to another Resource classroom out of New Jersey.  All my students sent their letters and were eagerly awaiting responses.  It was somewhat encouraging, as bad as it sounds, to hear from the other Resource teacher that her students were really struggling with getting their letters done.  It was just nice to know I wasn’t the only one desperately trying to teach a concept and having students give you a deer-in-the-headlights reaction.  I think one of my students only got a response.  Unfortunately, with Hurricane Sandy hitting the east coast as badly as it did, their teacher informed me that they were out of school for at least a week.  While our e-paling may be on hiatus, I would like to think of something our class can do for them.  I can’t begin to imagine what they’re going through.

Part 4: Gamification Update

Lastly, the gamification piece.  So, if you read my first blog, you’ll know that I was interested in using gamification in my classroom.  Basically, using components of games, such as earning badges, working at levels, leveling up, and so forth rather than doing a traditional grade system.  The kids all start at 0, or Noob status when they begin a marking period.  The more work they complete (and the quality they do it in) will allow them to move up levels.  They are able to see their progress on the Leaderboard I have posted at the back of my classroom.

I can see how this totally works in a classroom where one subject is taught.  However, being a Resource room, I had to think of how to do this, knowing they each have different goals in different areas.  So I decided I would award badges only if they get a B- or above on an assignment (and each badge will have a different status.  For example, Ben can get a blue Edmodo badge for getting an 87% on his Edmodo packet, but Alice will get a gold Edmodo badge for getting an 100%).  After so many badges, they will level up to the next level.  It’s really hard to explain if you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.  Hyle Daley is my inspiration for this, as he has gamified his classroom wonderfully! While I slacked majorly on this aspect of my class so far, I will work harder this marking period to use it more often.

So, there you have it.  That is definitely what I call a plethora of information.  I will continue to make tweaks where I need to, all the while evaluating what’s working and what’s not.  In the end, I value my own sanity.  I know I strive to exceed expectations and go above and beyond.  However, I do have 4 little ones that would like to have Mommy, not Homer Simpson, around.  That’s all for today.  Rivas, out…..

Intro to the Flipped Classroom–AT LAST!!


If I could have a soundtrack to this blog entry, it would be this.

At long last, I’ve finally been able to get around to intro-ing the flipped classroom component.  If you’re not familiar with the flipped classroom model, click here for some info.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to actually start this.  With all the (unpaid) researching I’ve done all summer, I’ve been dying to actually try it in my own classroom.  Since the start of the school year, I had to train my students on the technology (iPads) and the digital tools we’d be using in class (Edmodo, Wonderopolis, Dropbox, Edublogs, etc.) before we could even start this.  Now that the training is all finished (and the MEAP is finished as well), we can start.  My plan is to use components of the flipped classroom to help my students with IEPs master their goals and objectives.  By providing them with video lessons on their goals (that they will watch at home), each student can learn and progress on their own and at the same time.  This way, I can help Student 1 with syllabication while helping Student 2 with making inferences and Student 3 with multiplication at the same time with these videos.  Also, I can work with them more one-on-one during class time to follow up on their progress.

I’ve already taken into consideration those students that don’t have internet access.  I will allow these students (I only have 2 right now) to watch these videos at the beginning of class as their warm-up.  The videos will be no longer than 10 minutes long, so they’ll have plenty of time to apply what they’ve learned and ask questions during class.  Again, this is my very first time trying this out and it’s complicated enough being a resource room where they all have different goals in different areas.  But I’m willing to try it anyways.  The video lessons will come from ones pre-made that I find online as well as videos that I will create myself.

As far as today, I introduced my students to what the videos would look like and how their work packets, called Student Success Sheets (or SSS), will be used.  Before I get into all of that, I want to give props to Crystal Kirch and Nicole Cremeens for the videos, SSS packet creations, as well as a lot more tools of theirs I will be using during the year.  I pretty much used what they had already created and modified it to fit my own classroom.

The first thing I did was pass out an SSS packet to each student.  I put it up on the ELMO and explained what it was and how it was going to be used.  I then showed them their first video to their first unit, Nouns.  The videos were already created by Mrs. Cremeens and go hand-in-hand with the packets.  To see the Nouns playlist, click here.  To see the SSS packet, click here.  As the video played, I paused and explained how they should be filling in their packets along the way.  The great thing about the videos, besides being short, is that they present the material in small, bite-sized pieces.  It’s not too complex, but it still requires the student to think and apply what they’ve learned in their packets.  I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty cool to watch them do this.

Filling in their packets as they watch.

Working so diligently. 🙂

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to finish the video and our packets.  However, I still plan on finishing it up tomorrow for the nouns portion of the unit.  That way, they will have a clear understanding as to how the videos and SSS packets work.  I’ll keep you posted on that.

Last thing I wanted to mention: I’m trying something new tomorrow, and it may be a flop but oh well.  I posted on my student Facebook that I will have an online study session to prep for their Math test that they’re having on Friday.  Anyone who is interested can join.  A perk I threw in for my resource students only: free admission to the Halloween dance on Friday that I’m running for those that get a B or above.  Hopefully, it’s enough to get them studying.  🙂


Ah, the MEAP…



Occupational hazard, if you think of it the way I do.

As much as I LOVE administering the MEAP, I can honestly not wait until they’re over.  Ugh.  But, gotta keep a happy face on for the kids, right?  🙂

As for my Extended Core class, yesterday I introduced them to the world of Dropbox.  I was the only one excited about it.  I was  like, “Don’t you get it? You can save your work to the Cloud and never have to worry about hauling your thumb drive everywhere!”

And they were like,

But it’s all good.  They’ll learn to appreciate it more when we start research papers.  The actual sign-up process didn’t take very long at all, which was awesome.

I hope to have them blogging on our class blog next week.  Also, I will start them on their very first “flipped” lesson of nouns.  Hoping the technology is merciful that day.  🙂



Kent ISD AssisTechKnow Conference 2012, Grand Rapids


First and foremost, let me just say I am not a good public speaker.

Having said that, imagine how shot my nerves were this morning before giving my half of the presentation.  Just a quick recap:  I was asked by my supervisor to give a presentation about the technology I’m using in my resource room, namely, the iPad program I’m leading.  I would present about middle school resource for half of the hour and another SpEd teacher, who teaches elementary resource, would do the other half.  I quickly put together a Glog to show my ideas.  Here is the Glogster I created for my presentation this morning.  Add on top of all this the fact that I have a head-splitting migraine, and you can see how today was already not going the way I would’ve liked.

So, I get to the building early and enter the room I’m going to give my speech so I can set up my laptop.  The guy who presented first (we were 3rd)…I felt so bad for him! Technology glitches galore! Needless to say, it didn’t help my emotional being at all.  Fast forward to our presentation.  I think it went very well.  My co-presenter and I were able to show our audience the different ways we use technology in our rooms, at different grade levels.  Each of us had our own, unique things to talk about.  What’s more, I was pleased to hear how well we did from different audience members!

The rest of the conference offered several different topics held in different rooms about all kinds of different technology resources.  I learned about a lot of new apps I can’t wait to tinker with and try in my room! My head is still pounding, but I still plan on charging my iPad and brainstorming different ways I can incorporate some of these apps in my room.  As soon as I try them, I will keep you posted! 🙂



iPads vs. Laptops


In the left corner, we have the iPad: sleek, engaging, and fun to use.  In the right corner, we have the school laptops: bulky, slower, but more familiar.  Which will come out on top for our next lesson on grammar? Let’s look at the reel, shall we?

I was excited to use this new website I found from my teacher friends on Edmodo called NoRedInk.com.  If you’ve never heard of it before, go check it out! Basically, students can sign up for a free account and join your class after you create one.  When they create their accounts, the site asks them to choose three things that interest them, ranging from actors, movies, music, even inputting their own friends’ and pet’s names.  You, as the teacher, can choose from different areas of focus to assign your students.  For example, there is the apostrophes option, which focuses on the correct use of apostrophes in sentences.  The site will give students a sentence in either correct, or incorrect format.  If it’s correct, they hit “Submit” and go onto the next question.  If there’s a correction, they click on the part of the sentence that needs correcting and fix it.  A table located above their sentence shows the progress they’ve made and which questions they’ve answered correctly after a certain number of attempts.

What’s great about this site is that students can actually click (or tap, if using the iPad) the sentences and modify them.  Also, the website incorporates their interests that they chose when they signed up and uses those things in their sentences.  For example, my student entered “Rocky” as his pet name.  On question 4, his sentence mentioned Rocky as the subject.  He gave a little squeal and *gasp* even a small smile when he worked on this sentence.  If the students are working with punctuation (commas, colons, semi-colons, etc), you can click or tap the correct punctuation and drag it over to where it belongs in the sentence.

So, back to our lesson.  I posted the link on our classroom’s Edmodo page and had the students use their iPads to practice their grammar.  Not the best idea I’ve ever had.  While the iPad is more engaging for the students, clicking and dragging the various punctuation marks to the correct location in the sentence proved to be a hassle.  Most of the time, students had to attempt several times clicking and dragging.  It was enough to mildly frustrate some of the students.  And we all know, we cannot afford to “lose” our students in a lesson and have them check out due to an incompatibility with the technology.  The laptops, even though they are sooo last year, would’ve been a better idea to use for this website.  It really would’ve saved a lot of time, and my guess is the students would’ve enjoyed it more.

The moral of the story (for me, at least) is don’t completely abandon what you’ve used in the past if it works just because you have something new to use now (in this case, the iPads).  I’ve been so gung-ho on using the iPads for as much as possible, I think I was in denial with the fact that maybe the iPads weren’t the right choice every single time.  Laptops won this fight.

Lesson learned.

Room 204-A


So, it’s not really like me to post things on a weekend, but I decided to give you a peek into my classroom.  Now that iOS6 has given us the panoramic option in our cameras, I couldn’t resist testing it out and found out I absolutely LOVE it! It’s fantastic! With that said, I snapped a couple shots of my room so you can see what my students see every day.  It changes with the seasons (for example, it will be all kinds of decked out for Halloween).  Talk soon! 🙂

Couldn’t wait ’till tomorrow…


Ok, this may be silly of me, but I’m excited to share with you what I’ll be doing with my Extended Core tomorrow.  The majority of the hour will be dedicated to reviewing and catching up on Science (the kids have a Science quiz tomorrow).  However, I decided to try something different with their warm up.  What I did tonight was create a Google Form with 10 questions, each one in either short answer or multiple choice format.  I will have 10 different stations across the room where they will be directed to.  All four subject areas will be covered.  To see the form I created, click here.  There will be pictures posted in some areas, sentences in another.  I tried to narrow it down to 2-3 questions for each core content area: Math, Science, English, and Social Studies.  I wanted to get the students a bit more exposed to Google Forms.  I had them fill one out at the beginning of the year when they filled out their Student Information Sheets on the first day of school.

On top of getting the students out of their seats for their warm up, I get to see their answers instantaneously on my spreadsheet.  I only wish there could be a way to use pictures on the actual form as well, but this is good for now.  I hope all goes according to plan.  I will make sure to take lots of pics tomorrow and post them. I hope the technology is nice to me!

Blogging about blogging…


Yes, I’m a nerd.  I like to blog. Obvi.

Imagine my enthusiasm when I introduced blogging today to my students.  I decided over the summer to create our own class website slash blog slash wiki.  The wiki stuff will come later.  I wanted to get them blogging as soon as humanly possible.  But as usual, back to the beginning of my hour.

For their warm up, I had them read a Scholastic Action magazine.  Now, if you’ve never used Scholastic magazines in your classroom, especially with students who lack the motivation to read, I highly recommend them! They are absolutely wonderful.  Today they were asked to read an article about a girl who used a robot to go to school because of a severe food allergy.  At the end of the reading, there was a short, multiple choice quiz based on the article.  We went over the answers as a class and the kids did very well.




For those students that finished early, they were able to read the other articles, which had a ton of interesting stuff.

Ok, so onto our daily objective:  blogging.  I started off by asking them if they’ve heard of blogs or blogging before.  One student said they thought they heard of it.  Before I explained how we’d be blogging in our classroom, I showed them this awesome Common Craft video, called Blogs in Plain English, that explains what blogging is…in plain English.  (*side note: Common Craft is outstanding at explaining things via drawings.  Their videos are short, but give you all the information you need about several different topics. Check them out!)  Once the video was over, we recapped the video as a class and clarified once more what blogging was.  I explained we were going to blog as a class, sharing ideas with each other and commenting on each other’s posts.  I then showed them different examples online of classroom blogs and what kinds of things they wrote about.  Hopefully*, if all goes well, we can collaborate with another school’s class blog and comment on each other’s posts.  Ooooh, I’m getting all clappy and squealy just thinking about it! 😀  (*keep your fingers crossed!)

So before we dived full into the blogging world, I wanted them to become a bit more familiar with the concept.  In the hundreds of hours I spent researching over my summer break, I stumbled across this idea from another educator’s blog, Notes From McTeach.  As soon I read about their Paper Blog project, I knew right away I wanted to do it.  Basically, the idea is to get the kids to create a “snapshot” of a blog post on paper first.  They can write about any subject they want and decorate their “page” however they want.  I showed the class my own paper blog as a model so they could visualize what the objective was.

*my fake web address I put on my paper was www.missrivasisdabomb.com   :)

I had written my paper blog post on music and how much it has an impact on me.  My post was two paragraphs, just like theirs will be.  As far as the page layout I created, I told them they could use mine as inspiration if they couldn’t think of anything.  I even added my social networking share buttons! 🙂  Students, at first, had trouble coming up with something to write about, even though I told them they could write about anything.  When I mentioned some topics (video games, sports, pets, etc.), it got their creative juices flowing and they commenced writing and drawing their rough drafts.



I chose to blog with my students this year because I want them to write more than they did last year, but in a different way that they could find enjoyable.  Blogs can be posted from home, at school, on the laptops, or on their iPads.  It’s a great way to mesh perfecting their writing skills (writing, editing, analyzing others’ work, commenting) with the technological world we live in today.  Who knows–maybe it might inspire them to continue blogging after they graduate eighth grade. No, no…can’t think about them leaving me just yet.  I had these students all last year and will have them all this year.  The thought of them leaving gets me a little misty-eyed.  Because of debris, that is.  I have something in my eye, is all…

A breath of fresh air…


Today wasn’t too “exciting,” as far as the technology piece goes in my classroom.  Students got caught up with their Science homework. There is one small, but significant victory I had today.  We had our Open House this evening, and I expected very few (if any) of my students to show up.  The plan was to have parents come into the classroom to see what/how their child was doing in class.  Just in case, and as a last minute idea, I decided to set out my iPad and have a slideshow of all the pictures I’ve taken of the students working so far play for anyone to see who came in.  I was pleased to see one of my students come in with his mother and little brothers and sisters.  (*side note: I absolutely love seeing my students with their little siblings. They have this adorable parent-like characteristic to them that makes them so sweet!)

Anyhoo, I introduced myself to his mother, who I knew from last year, and she noticed the slideshow right away.  My student had explained to her our use of iPads in the classroom and now she had a picture to go with it.  She and her kids giggled at the pics of my student whenever they came up, but you could tell they were happy to see it.  In all his pictures, he was hard at work.  It’s one thing to verbalize this to parents, but it’s another to get a chance to show them.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this before.  I’m so glad I have the chance to use the iPads in my classroom so I can do just that–show the parents that their kids are learning.  In the end, it was only him and another student whose parents came to visit.  However, even if his family was there for a small moment, I was happy to witness that awkward grin he gave when his mom saw what a hard worker he was.

Awkward, with a little bit of pride.

Shoulda knocked on wood…


As the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t gasp at my pessimism. I feel like being in a pouty mood. What the crap? Everything went so well last Thursday! Let’s start with the warmup for today:  keyboarding.  Right now the students are using the keyboarding component of LearningGamesForKids.com.  I am trying to get the students to practice keyboarding during warmups or if they pull the ole, “Miss, I’m finished with everything! What do I do now?” Granted, they won’t be doing a whole lot of keyboarding, but it would be nice for them to know how to properly type.  Someday, when they’re assigned huge papers to write, they’ll thank me. Or it could just be wishful thinking.  Today our objective was to finish doing the Edmodo Scavenger Hunt, for the students to familiarize themselves with the components of Edmodo that we’d be using throughout the year.  I thought I had learned my lesson last time they tried retrieving it. Just a quick recap for those of you just tuning in:  my MentorMob playlist that was embedded into Edmodo had told my students the videos were no longer available when they really were.  Some last minute thinking had them go onto the YouTube playlist version of it, which took me a while to figure out and set up for the class.  After figuring out shortly after that the YouTube playlist couldn’t be viewed via Edmodo (and I couldn’t locate it anywhere in a regular YouTube search), I purchased and installed a YouTube player app 6 times for all of our iPads.  Purchased. With my own money. Six times. At $1.99 each.

You’re probably thinking, “So what? Twelve bucks for an app for your class?”  Well, here’s the kicker: when they went to access my YouTube playlist for the first time today, the videos didn’t load.  I have no freaking idea why.  It worked last week on my iPad when I was testing it; that’s why I bought the %$#@ app.  I don’t know if it’s a glitch in the app or if it was because my students were all trying to get on that one app at the same time.  I have no clue.  All I knew was that minutes were ticking away and I could feel the Freak Out slowly creeping in my body.  So, once again, I had to go to Plan K and have them do a YouTube search of someone else’s version of basically the same scavenger hunt.

Twelve dollars down the drain.

That’s a night’s worth of Hot and Now pizzas and Crazy Bread from Little Caesar’s for my family.  I don’t take that lightly.

Anyhoo, long story short, I narrowed it down to the four videos to watch before the end of class, since they were the most important to learn.  Tomorrow they get their Edmodo badges awarded to them and will get to come up with their player names for our class, known as Operation X.  Avatars will be created once they finish their tech packets.  I’m hoping by reminding them of the gamification aspects of the class, they’ll keep their motivation to push on.  Also, since it’s Tuesday, it’ll be a Core Class Review day.  More science review and finishing of homework.  Those who’ve finished can watch the rest of the Bill Nye video on volcanoes and finish the accompanying worksheet.  I’m also planning on reviewing English vocabulary with them by using their iPads as whiteboards. Seems like it should be foolproof.  Seems.

On that note, I’m signing out.  If at first you don’t succeed, right? *heavy sigh*

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