Sunday, August 25, 2013

Inference Lessons

Common Core Standard:
RL.6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. 

Digital Age Learning Environments: Technology coaches create and support effective digital-age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.

a.     Model effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology-rich learning environments
b.     Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments

Assignment 1: Prezi
Objective: Students will be able to support character trait inferences with at least two pieces of textual evidence for each chapter. 

As we read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, we will infer character traits and support those inferences with words from the text. Track your inferences and textual evidence by adding to a Prezi after each chapter. Here is a template and example for Chapter 1.

Assignment 2: Voki
Objective: Students will be able to support character trait inferences based on images as textual evidence. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tech in the Classroom, Everything in Moderation

Throughout my EdTech Masters at Marian (fully online), I often reflect on the growing reliance on online learning . When I began this program, I envisioned an entire online curriculum, complete with web tools for every learning experience and style needed for my students, paired with me as a facilitator to differentiated learning.

Having just completed a three-week summer course in which my high school students had 1:1 chromebooks, I’m tempering my enthusiasm for 100% online learning. I swung the pendulum too far toward technology, away from face-to-face collaboration. Students became silent drones, the blue glow of a laptop screen dimming any chance of building discussion skills. As a teacher of speech and language, this was disconcerting.

I’ve seen a similar drawback in my Marian online cohort. I’ve had fruitful debates with colleagues at PD sessions throughout my career. We get to know each other in flesh and blood, allowing for a quicker, natural level of comfort that opens us up to lively debate. Sadly, I’ve never met any of my fellow Marian EdTech-ies, which I feel contributes to the high level of agreeable responses and minimal critical discussion. Perhaps the blended cohorts have an easier time critiquing each other, but the overwhelming amount of discussion replies begin with "I agree.." or "Me too!" This shows me that we are afraid to engage in critique with a stranger and search out opportunities for platitudes so we can reach our discussion grade quota.

As is typically the case in life and education, a balance of technology and traditional learning should be our goal. My middle schoolers will have 1:1 laptops this school year. I hope to create a learning atmosphere that prompts collaboration and learning with and without technology, so students are building social and 21st century skills. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

An Example Research Essay... the Fabled Five Paragraphs!

*This post is dedicated to my ultimate brethren. To all the plastic worshiping diehards, I recommend checking my sources. Scholarly, peer reviewed journal articles interpreting "the ethnography of ultimate" is good for a smile.

**The following is a research essay I composed as an example for my 9th Grade English, Grammar, and Composition summer course. The underline and superscript denotes a quiz question that is not shown, so no comments on the grammar. We all know the impotence of proofreading.

Dan Piotrowski
Mr. Piotrowski
EGC Summer
13 June 2013
Ultimate: Born on Asphalt
Have you seen athletes on high school and college campuses across the nation? Typically these athletes are tackling an opponent with a football, hitting a homerun, or racing around a track or in a pool. However, have you seen athletes calling plays, wearing professional uniforms, and chasing a plastic disc in the sky? Ultimate Frisbees1 origins are rooted in loose rules and jokes that evolved into the competitive sport we know today. 

Ultimate Frisbee first took shape as a joke amongst friends in 1967. A student at Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ, Joel Silver, credited with inventing the game, were2 quoted saying “it was a high school joke” when he suggested to the student council frisbee be included in the curriculum. Joels’s3 motion was passed as everybody laughed (Lemire 89). ____4 According to a 1975 Time article, Joel and his friends began playing the sport on a school asphalt parking lot, wanting a “simple, inexpensive, low-key” sport (52). Started as a joke, Ultimate Frisbee was quickly taking shape. 

The earliest version of Ultimate Frisbee was a looser version of what it is today. Originally played on an asphalt parking lot, the field dimensions were made by natural boundaries and end zones marked with random objects (Griggs 761). Also, the names of throws were given different names as well as emphasis. The forehand or “flick” was called a “finger throw.” A “thumber”, where the player places their5 thumb on the inside lip of the disc, was6 called “thumb throw” and widely used as an alternative forehand (Time 52). Further, the highest level of the game attracted athletes looking for a less intense, win-focused environment, a mentality that is increasingly changing as the sport grows in size and popularity today. 

The counter-culture of the 1960s played a large role in the initial development of Ultimate Frisbee. Searching for a less competitive athletic outlet,  it 7 did not want to appear as “jocks” and connected with a sport seen as a “spoof” of organized sports (Time 52). Colleges were populated with groups identifying with similar counter-cultures, Joel8  and his friends spread the game when they graduated from Columbia High School (Lemire 89). From there, the game took root in the Northeast, branching west9.

The practical joke, counter-culture origin of Ultimate Frisbee is a far cry from the hyper-competitive college and club teams populating major cities today. Over the years, through 12 editions and revisions of rulebooks, the game is now entering its first year of a professional league. These pros will wear matching uniforms and play on regulated fields to large crowds but the relaxed10 origins of the game live on in parking lots and empty fields wherever a disc is close at hand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Maximizing eBook Potential

For a middle or high school English class, reading novels on an electronic device utilizes the commenting, built-in dictionary, clickable background knowledge via web links, and multimedia components, all the great resources teachers have been using in one, mobile device. 

However, it would be wasteful if lessons were limited to traditional literature circles in which students read the same novel as a small group and allow discussion to guide the learning. Years of pedagogy supports this practice, but with the advent of mobile devices, these literature circles need to expand outside the 25-30 students of a classroom. 

Kids aren’t just holding books, they’re holding a communication device. FaceTime, Skype, instant messaging, email, and wikis are all ways discussions on text can break the classroom’s four walls. Opportunities for discussions with experts or students from relevant regions of the globe bring a range of insights a single community of learners can’t. 

Attached below is a lesson plan for traditional literature circles in which the only innovative component is utilizing eBooks and the various tools the book reading apps provide. It falls short of its potential by limiting the discussions to the students in the particular classroom. 

This lesson focuses on the skills of using an ebook. Yet, student background in technology literacy and device intuition is growing. While basic training in the tools of a school’s particular ebooks is necessary, just as it is necessary to teach the use of science lab equipment or a new software program, an entire series of lessons is overkill. Further, students often end up teaching the teacher a new trick and are more than ready to show off their knowledge to the fellow student who is a tad behind. This instructional time could be better spent discovering connections with world-wide circles. 

eBook Lesson Plans:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

10 Apps for Teachers

As a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, I've been using my iPad to stay organized and grade assignments for a couple years now. Here are my thoughts on the ten I've used the most. 


This is the best lesson plan organizer in the app store. It color codes your classes, allows you to bump lessons ahead due to scheduling or pacing conflicts, and email lessons from the app in a wonderful looking table view. I love the ability to return to previous year’s lessons, referring back to “Teacher’s Notes” about what worked and what would need revising. The most useful aspect has been emailing the lessons to my administration. During a yearly review, my principal asked for lesson plans. It was a click of a button away. The developer is a teacher himself and has created desktop versions of the software. He is very easy to get in contact with for questions via Facebook or email. He’s responded to each of my questions within 48hrs. 

I give it a 4/5 because it only has weekly and daily views. I prefer to see my lessons and unit structures in monthly views. I understand this would be difficult to display on the iPad screen, but it’s just how my brain works. 


Anyone familiar with Google Drive knows the collaborative and accessibility benefits. Your documents are everywhere without the hassle of saving them to DropBox, and you can easily partner on documents with others. The app version provides everything from the online experience including editing, invites, commenting, and publishing, only now in an iPad friendly user interface (UI). 


As I’ve gone BYOD in my Language Arts classroom, I recommend all my students download a dictionary app. MW is my number one choice for its superior quality of information and UI. The voice recognition allows you to say the word you’re searching for; however, it is very sensitive and won’t work if background noise breaks up your voice. Students appreciate it’s use as a thesaurus. By looking up a word they know, several synonyms are provided. A simple click on any synonym will send you to that word’s entry. Sometimes a 7th grader can’t pronounce a word they found. The app will voice the word for them. 

A trusted name came through with a great app. 


I experimented with several note taking apps before settling on Notability. My main concerns with other apps were the lack of organization and constant crashing (resulting in lost work). Notability has been very stable, organized, and comprehensive in its capabilities. Videos, links, and images are easily embedded. Transitioning from typing to handwriting is seamless. A library of shapes allows for infographing. All of my notes are neatly organized in folders and everything is automatically backed up on my DropBox. 

I use Notability to grade student essays. It allows me to write comments directly on the essay as if it was paper and pen, type longer comments at the end, and highlight sentences with various pen styles. The most impactful benefit has been emailing graded assignments directly to families. Handing back essays has always resulted in unread teacher comments and a filled trash bin at the end of class. So, I email the essays home for parents and students to view together. If a student wants a retake, they must log-in with a parent, review my comments, and a parent notifies me by email. 


While I prefer Google Drive for my professional and personal work, DropBox’s folder organization makes it the better choice for student essays. Google Drive’s folders are clunky to create and navigate. DropBox has an organized UI for folders and viewing documents. 

I use DropBox and Notability together to grade essays. Students save their essays as PDFs and post them to a public folder on our school server. Then, I save all the essays to my DropBox by logging into the website. When I open the app, the essays are organized and I open the PDFs in Notability for grading. 


Explain Everything allows the user to record “white-board” like actions as he or she speaks. I often upload a PDF template of what I want to demonstrate in the video. I prefer it to Educreations due to the increased amount of tools. This is a great tool for educators looking to implement Flipped Classroom elements. 

It can be a bit cumbersome when finalizing the videos, taking long amounts of time to post the video to DropBox or email. So, your iPad usage comes to a standstill. Plus, you can’t leave the app during this time as the uploading will pause and then restart when you return. Be sure to monitor longer uploads. If you’re screen goes into lock mode after a few minutes, the upload will stop. Either turn off your lock in settings or keep an eye on your iPad and touch the screen every few minutes.


This app is a prime example of a web tool developing an app with all the same features, but the web experience cannot be trumped. The UI looks great but can be touchy when it comes to manipulating the screen with your fingers. Creating a Prezi requires scaling and tilting images and text. The use of a mouse online makes this a simple process. Using your fingers with the app is not nearly as simple. 

But, all your presentations sync with the online log-in and save your changes. So, if you don’t want to carry your laptop, at least you have your presentations. 


This app has a very basic function but holds a lot of nostalgia. Remember those (or perhaps do you use?) cardboard, slidable percentage calculators? Slide the number of questions into the window and the column shows a percentage to the corresponding amount wrong. For this app, all you have to do is type in the number of questions and the same information is provided. That’s it. Basic. The best part is it mimics the green color of the cardboard grader I remember seeing on a teacher’s desk as a kid. 


This app allows you to read and edit documents opened from DropBox, email, or other cloud based systems. I find the UI inferior. When using any of the editing or note taking functions, it requires you to click save, undo, or cancel before going back to the read view or switching tools. If you forget to click save, you’ve lost potentially a lot of notes. If you want to undo something five moves earlier, you have undo all five. Double tap to zoom, but single tap to pull up the tool bar and swipe to switch pages. Sounds familiar, but if you’re not use to the app, you might zoom when you want to turn or the tool bar keeps reappearing. Notability does everything this app does better, and more. 

Except for one tool: popup note. This tool places a tiny word bubble icon (which you can color code) on the document. When you click on the word bubble, you can type extensive notes regarding whatever picture of text you’re reading. A similar function is built into iBooks. This is the only thing Notability is missing. In Notability, you’re limited to writing in the margins or white space of PDFs. Sometimes I have more to write. These popup notes can hold any amount of typing and only take up a small portion of the screen.


Admittedly, the main reason for such a low rating is I got burned on the app crashing, resulting in the loss of 30 graded (but unrecorded) essays along with a myriad of notepads filled with ideas and comments from training conferences. 

As for usability, the app provides handwritten or typed note taking space, as well as marking PDFs. However, it has zero support for embedding video. Again, I refer you to Notability for greater stability and superior UI in every way. 

From Fun to Necessary: Breeding Student iPad Users

This video confirmed my recurring views on iPads in the classroom. I categorize iPad educational capabilities into two groups: A) touch/respond apps best suited for elementary and B) innovating old-school materials for faster access to knowledge. 

The beginning of the video focused on the former category. Elementary aged students respond positively to the instant gratification of answering correctly, spelling with their fingers, or completing word searches. However, the charm of touch/response wains as students advance in years which is where the second category comes into play.

As students lose interest in a firework display for answering a math problem correctly (touch/response), the iPad better serves as an expedient means to traditional ends. Considering current students are digital natives, maneuvering apps is second nature and preferable to interacting with traditional materials (i.e. paper books, maps, calculators, etc.). The second half of the video shows students viewing maps and reading text with iPad apps. While a student could just as easily search in a hardcopy atlas or read the paperback version of a book, supplemental information has greater accessibility on the iPad. 

Digital natives find it cumbersome and antiquated to search out supplemental information when using physical copies of text. This reluctance will often lead to inaction. Will they put their novel down and flip through a dictionary for each word they don’t understand? No. Will they actively search out a modern roadmap overlay for the topographical maps in a paper atlas? No. iPad versions provide immediate access to this information, matching the cultural expectations of the digital native. 

While their reluctance to put in the research time is concerning on certain levels, educators must understand the inertia of the technology movement cannot be slowed or stopped. True, proper research skills that include the use of multiple resources, tables of content, indexes, etc. is necessary to a certain extent, their traditional methods of use are themselves antiquated and have taken on new meaning and usability. A table of contents is no longer a place to find page numbers, but a chapter list for which to click immediately to necessary information. Further, even these uses become overshadowed by the “search text” bar at the top of iBooks and similar materials.

The video focuses on the consumer and research side of iPad use but does not show the creation aspects. Using document sharing, blogging/vlogging, and infographic creation apps allows for high quality student products in short time periods. Further, iPads allow for these creations to be collaborative and published just as quickly. This is of greater benefit to the classroom than the consumption aspects because, for the time being, traditional hardcopy materials can suffice as the information is still available. However, it is more difficult to recreate the collaborative and publishing capabilities if student products are limited to pen and paper or word processing. Thankfully, iPads allow for both. 

The video is evidence of how digital native students are conditioned from an early age to utilize technology for expediency. In kindergarten they can know immediately if they picked the correct shape by way of touch/response apps. This learned expectation manifests itself as the need for immediate definitions and access to information in the older grades. Because of these reasons, in the coming years, more iPads or similar tablet devices will replace traditional materials within the classroom.