Classroom Management · EdTech · New Teacher Tips · Organization & Workflows

My Apple Watch Makes Me a Better Teacher

If you’re a teacher and looking for an excuse to buy an Apple Watch, look no further! I’m about to drop all of the ways my Apple Watch has improved my teaching practice.

I originally purchased an Apple Watch for running and it’s definitely been useful for that. I have the Nike Plus edition with GPS. I still run with my phone but I can keep it tucked away in my running belt and can easily check my pace, distance, and control my music from my watch. But that’s not what we’re here for. Let’s look at some ways to use the Apple Watch in the classroom.

Starting Class

Here’s my routine for starting class:

Alarms for starting class
  1. I greet scholars at the door
  2. Scholars have 7 minutes to complete their warmup (more on this later)
  3. While scholars complete their warmups I take attendance and hand back any graded work
  4. After the 7 minute warmup time is over I draw 3 popsicle sticks and ask these scholars to share their answers

I have alarms set to go off 2 minutes before each period starts. We don’t have bells at our school so this helps me keep track of time and makes sure I can get to the door with enough time to greet my scholars as they enter. I also snooze this alarm so it goes off again 7 minutes into class when warmup time is over. This helps me keep a consistent routine and prevents too much time being spent on warmups and becoming off task time (which was an issue I used to run in to).

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

Some of the preset timers. Or you can just say “Hey Siri 5 minute timer”

I use the heck out of the timers on my watch! The presets are great: 1 minute for a think-pair-share, 3-5 minutes to work a more challenging problem or for quick rotation activities, 10-15 minutes to work a groups of problems or longer rotations, 30 minutes to finish a lab or project. Timers help both me and my scholars stay on task. What’s that quote, “Idle hands are the devil’s tools?” Something like that. Anyways, the quickest way to an off task group of scholars is to give too much time for a task. You can always add more once time is up, but I like to give a short amount of time for my scholars to tackle something and the Apple Watch timers help me with this. I can quickly glance at my watch and give a “time remaining” reminder too. Even if most or the entire period is work time, I will always set a timer to end 5 minutes before class so I have enough time for cleanup and closure.

Digital Hand Raise

Probably the coolest thing I have set up my Apple Watch to do is a digital hand raise. My classes consist of a lot of work time and coaching rather than lecture and notes so it’s important for me to be able to get to my scholars who need help. Enter the digital hand raise. Here’s how this works:

Here’s what the digital hand raise looks like on the watch
  1. A scholar needs help so they type their name into a simple Google Form that lives on my LMS home page called “Help Me!”
  2. The Google Form has an add on called TheFormBot which is set up to forward any form responses to the Telegram App which I have installed on my watch.
  3. I get a tap on my wrist and see who I need to go to next within 30-60 seconds of the scholar submitting their name.

I like this method of hand raising because it keeps things equitable. Scholars who are uncomfortable raising their hands might be more likely to type their names in an anonymous form. I can help scholars in the order they need help rather than attending to the noisiest requestors first. Just make sure to go over etiquette (not submitting other people’s names as a joke) before implementing.

And there you have it! 3 more reasons to buy an Apple Watch as an educator!

EdTech · Google Apps

Project Check In via Google Forms

I am a most effective teacher when I am not talking. It’s not a new idea that students learn and retain more when they take ownership of their learning rather than being an information sponge during a lecture. But also, when I talk less I can differentiate more. I am more in tune with where each individual student is at when I am sitting and meeting with them one-on-one to discuss their learning and what support they need to move their learning forward. Students move at different paces, they have different needs, and a conversation is the best way for me to uncover those needs.

Here’s what that looks like for me: multi-day projects or assignments that ask big questions. Recently my partner and I assigned a protein project where students had to choose a protein and conduct research to construct an argument for how its structure affected its function. The result of this was a research page (I say page, not paper because it wasn’t a structured essay and it required creative inclusion of visuals to explain). To accomplish this task, we front loaded some content that students could use to describe structures and functions of proteins, then set them loose for 3 days to research and form their arguments.

During this time I could have just wandered the classroom looking for blank faces, but I decided to be methodical about it. I created a project check in using Google Forms and asked the students to complete the form at the beginning of each class. I pre-loaded the form with what I predicted would be common sticking-points in their research, then got to work. Within the first 5 minutes of class I had a list of people to need help and could prioritize based on their needs.

Let me walk you through my workflow:

  1. I load the form responses in GoogleScreen Shot 2017-03-27 at 1.29.49 PM Sheets in my iPad and look for the responses that indicate the kid is completely lost.
  2. I go talk to that kid and see if I can get them started. For one I might provide scaffolding from our ed. specialist, for another I might chunk the assignment and direct them to a specific web page, quick fixes that will get them started.
  3. If I feel that the kid is able to move forward without further support I mark their response in green on my Google Sheet. If I want to come back to them I mark their response in yellow.
  4. I move on to the next kid that needs a lot of support.

I also shared the responses with the ed. specialist who is in my room during one class period so we could tag team. The other great thing about this method is I was able to get a snapshot of what the class was struggling with overall and could do some clarification for the whole class on those things:

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 1.46.18 PM

I love Google Forms (they’re super versatile!) and will be sharing more about how I use them in my classroom.


Teaching With 1:1-Trial and Error

Originally posted 12/12/2013. Link to original post.

So right after Thanksgiving break we got a class set of laptops (netbooks?) for our students and with all the tech talk in all my classes I was more than a bit eager to bust them out and get to work. So I’ve been playing around with them, incorporating some tech tools into my lessons, and learning a bit about what does and doesn’t work…

Problem #1: The first few logins 
So far we’ve had 2 lessons with the netbooks incorporated and something happened that I didn’t anticipate: slow login time. Like 5-10 minutes for the computers to get past the login screen, resulting in a slew of frustrated 16 year olds opting to use their smartphones instead and ragged beginning that threw of the tone of the class.
How to fix it:
After speaking with seasoned 1:1 teacher Jen Roberts, it seems probable that the slow login is due to the netbooks having to connect to the district server and download all of the files the students have ever saved ever. After a few logins and full shutdowns of the computers this problem should dissipate. The takeaway: for the first few uses plan for lag.

Problem #2: Getting Everyone on the Same Page
Even though we are living in a technology world it is still hard to get every student to go to the same page. Some are playing games, some don’t know where to go, some mistype the link several times, some are using Internet Explorer… In general they all know how to navigate to a webpage but be prepared for a chorus of “Where am I supposed to go? It’s not working!”
How to fix it:
If possible use links. I had huge successes getting students where I wanted them to go when they had a link to click. Alternatively have typed (or written) step-by-step direction on where to go and what the site should look like. Screenshots included. And with typed directions, make sure you use a font where capital “I”, lowercase “l” and the number 1 (one) are distinguishable. It can mean the difference between getting where you want to go and ending up on a Japanese surrealist’s art portfolio.

Problem #3: Trying to do too much too soon
I got a bit overenthusiastic about fully incorporating technology into my last lesson. The resulting chaos and confusion as half the netbooks took 10 minutes to login, students couldn’t figure out the website, incorrect email addresses were given, and using an unfamiliar new tool devastated the amount of instructional and practice time in the day.
How to fix it:
Start out slow. Unless you plan on devoting multiple classes to troubleshooting the problems of some students while the others grow increasingly restless, their fingers twitching at the keyboard, just aim for one thing at a time until everyone is comfortable with the technology rather than planning a whole lesson online.

One thing that worked fabulously for me was devoting 30 minutes at the end of class to getting started with the netbooks. I left an Internet breadcrumb trail for the students to follow. They started out on my homepage and were instructed to find the link to a Google form which asked for their name, email, and things they wanted to do more in class. The submission confirmation page led them to a Socrative quiz on the content for that day. The final question asked the students to find the homework assignment on my homepage. The final feedback page in the Socrative quiz instructed them to Mahjong Chem where they could play a review game until the end of class. Bonus: by the end of class I had a student roster of name, period, and email address sitting in my Google Drive.