Tuesday, September 17, 2013

4 Apps 4 Teachers

I am so excited that I recently acquired an iPad to use in my classroom! I immediately began to search for apps to enhance my teaching. Since I only have one iPad, I began by looking for apps that will assist with administrative tasks. In addition to the obvious must-have apps like Dropbox, Splashtop, and Evernote, I have found several other apps that any teacher is sure to love.


Planbook is an awesome app that can be accessed from a computer, as well as other devices like the iPad. Although there is an annual fee of about $12, you can try it free for 30 days. Believe me - after thirty days, you'll want to purchase the annual subscription!

As a music teacher, the trickiest part was deciding how to set up classes and schedule them. I finally decided to set up a couple of grades on each day, so I can see the entire week's plans at a glance. I have several grades twice a week, which is why they are listed on two different days. Here is a sample week, just to show how I arranged my classes:

Not only does it provide a great format for keeping up with lessons plans, it makes it very simple to note standards for each plan. You simply select the source of your standards (it even includes state standards), and then click on the standards addressed in the plan.
There are plenty of useful features, which include extending lessons, bumping lessons, attaching files, and adding notes and events. Use a computer to start your online Planbook today. You can set up your classes and begin planning in minutes. There are video tutorials to help you start. Visit Planbook.com to begin!

Teacher Kit

I LOVE this app, which is totally free! Using Teacher Kit, I can set up classes (with photos of students), arrange their seating chart, track behavior and attendance, enter grades, and set up any additional fields of information I want.

As an elementary music teacher in a school with approximately 800 students, I have a lot of names to learn. After finding this app, I was able to import my class rosters, take pictures of the students, and arrange their "desks" in the exact way they sit on the carpet in my room. I can study classes (especially kindergarten) to make sure I know all of my students' names.

The behavior tracking tool allows me to enter behavior as positive or negative, and also lets me add notes about the specific behavior. It keeps track of the date and behavior for each student.

The trickiest part was importing my student rosters for each class using a CSV file. Refer to the Teacher Kit Support Center for clear directions and answers to other questions you may have. (My first attempt failed, since I didn't use the right headings for the spreadsheet.) If you are a classroom teacher, you can simply enter your students individually. However, with 40+ classes in our school, I needed to utilize the import feature.

Set up classrooms for each class you teach.

Arrange seating charts by touching the desk and dragging it wherever you want. (This is a sample photo from the app store. My students sit in a semi-circle on the floor.

Track behavior and attendance, as well as keep up with grades.

Pick Me!

Although the Pick Me! app doesn't have as many bells and whistles as Teacher Kit, it may suit your needs. You can enter students by classroom, add pictures and other information (like parent e-mail address or other notes you want to add). The main purpose of the app is to randomly select students and keep track of their answers (via a thumbs up/down). You can reset the scores whenever you want to, but the limitation is that there is no way to record what skill has been assessed.

Class Dojo

Class Dojo is a free, fabulous, fun app that allows you to track student behavior using a computer or mobile device. I have been using it for a couple of years, and I highly recommend it. The iPad app (or app for phones) allows mobility while running the program. You can read more about Class Dojo in my previous post, Behavior Boosters.
Several of these apps can be run through a computer, so don't worry if you do not have a mobile device. I hope you'll try some of these teacher tools. I predict that you will find them as useful as I do!

I decided to join Steph's 2/4 Tuesday Linky Party at Stay Tuned, since I had 4 apps to share. Be sure to check out her party for ideas from other music ed bloggers. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Behavior Boosters

We have happy students at our school. They even get excited when they behave. Really! I'm not kidding. Our students enjoy being good (most of the time). In order to encourage positive behavior, Janet and I have several incentives that we use in both of our music classrooms.

1. Fun Friends

I found these fun friends at Dollar Tree last summer:
I picked one up, and it made me smile. I figured if I enjoyed it, then my students would, also. They were available in 6 colors, so I picked up 4 of each. I thought I might be able to use them when forming groups for centers or cooperative projects. I sent Janet a picture, and she wanted some for her room. So, we scoured a couple of stores to come up with one more set of 24.

These squishy friends have become an incentive for students to work hard and behave beautifully. Students love to receive a pal as a reward for excellent work ethic or behavior. When we notice a student exhibiting exemplary behavior or work, we simply walk by and drop a squishy in the child's lap without stopping instruction. As soon as the first one is handed out, the atmosphere in the room changes. Children sit taller, pay closer attention, work harder, and behave better. Students strive to be noticed in a positive manner.

These new friends have provided plenty of excitement in the music room. We have a 6th grader who asks if we are giving out squishy friends every time he comes to class. We have seen an improvement in his behavior and work ethic since the first introduction of these new buddies. Although they work very well, it is important to refrain from overuse, so they will continue to work their magic.

In addition to these friends, we also have a collection of finger puppets, beanie babies, and stuffed animals. Children love all of these, so if you do not have squishy friends, simply substitute something students will like. We find that even our 6th graders really love the stuffed animals. Janet has a big Winnie the Pooh and a big gorilla that makes the rounds during most 6th grade classes. Winnie and the gorilla never lose their charm. Students even keep them close as they work diligently on white boards honing their music notation skills.

2. Special Seating

Find a special seat to use as a reward for students. Janet and I do not have chairs in our rooms, so our classes sit on the carpet. We both have a few special places, such as a bench, a table with swivel stools, an exercise ball, and various stools. Sometimes we let deserving students leave the carpet and sit in a special spot. We also instruct them to watch for other deserving students to take their places after a few minutes. Students work hard to impress their peers. Of course, we typically require girls to pick boys and boys to pick girls to help the students pick based upon work, rather than friendship.

3. Class Dojo

This app is the guro of behavior management. I could go on and on about its magical effects on our 6th graders. It provides a way to award positive and negative points in any category you create. You assign points by simply clicking on the students' avatars, or on the list of names. You can also award points to multiple students, or the entire class. The app can be run from a computer, iPad, or phone. We run the program on a computer that is projected on the screen, but since the computer is in the back of the room, we can assign points from our phones or iPads.
Class Dojo keeps a running total of points for each student and displays the totals on the students' cute cartoon monster avatars. It will also create reports for individual students and classes, and reports can be sent to parents. There is even a way for students and parents to log in at home to check progress. Students can even log into their account and create their own avatar.

We LOVE Class Dojo! It has worked wonders in our 6th grade classes. One problem we had with sixth grade, is that they enter our hallway at the end of the day more like they are in junior high (with backpacks that must be put in lockers, people stopping by the restroom, complete with hustle and bustle and slight commotion. Therefore, I set up a behavior standard for being ready to begin. I stand at the door with the app running on my iPad, with it displayed on the screen. I award points to the first few students to enter and sit quietly in their spots. Then I hit the random button. If the chosen student is seated and quiet, he/she receives a point for being ready to begin. It really encourages the students to enter quickly and calmly.

We even allow 2-3 students to assign points (following our guidelines). We select the students by having students with a certain number of points (who have NOT run Dojo before) stand. For example: "If you have 20 or more points, and have NOT run Dojo, please stand." Then we raise the points until only 2-3 students are still standing.  They observe the class and keep a list on an index card, then they go to the computer to award points.

At this point, we only use the program with 6th grade. We are a K-6 school, and we feel like saving it until their last year keeps it fresher and more exciting. Try out Class Dojo, and let it work its magic on your classes. I guarantee that you will love it as much as we do!