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An interview with Laura Smith
Laura Smith is a Technology Instructor and Facilitator at Trinity Lutheran Christian School in Joppa, MD. She is a mom of three, a member of the Discovery Educator Network, and loves sharing and learning with other technology using educators. She blogs about education and tweets about trending education topics at @agentlaurasmith.
My degree is in early childhood education. I taught for two years in Harford County Public Schools before leaving to pursue my goal of becoming a computer teacher. I’ve been teaching technology skills at my current school, Trinity Lutheran School, for 15 years, and I teach students in kindergarten through eighth grade. I also help the faculty with professional development and any other technology needs that they have.
I piloted Classcraft with just my sixth grade computer classes here. Usually when they would come in, I would have the random events screen up on the projector. They would all get excited and sit down. I would give them a few minutes to log in and check on their pets, and check their points, and compare points with each other to see where they all were. Then I would start the class with the random event. That was a good way to get us all on the same page, and it’s something fun and engaging.
I mainly used it as a motivation tool for the students. I would keep the teacher’s screen up on my computer as the students were working, so I could very easily come over and have my entire class list in front of me and either assign or detract points for them based on their behavior and how they were doing in class.
As the year progressed, I started to add in a few other components, such as the discussion forums. Students could ask questions on work that they had, talk to each other, or ask me, and I could answer them even from home.
We mainly used the discussion area, where I could post a question for them and have them log on at home, answer the question, and discuss the topic so that we could be prepared for what the next lesson was. It was kind of like a flipped classroom idea, where I would give them the topic and give them a little heads-up on what was coming up the next day or the next class period.
It gives them a chance to look at what the upcoming topic is, and sometimes I might give them some research to do — “find out about this topic X, Y, and Z, and then when we come to class next time, be prepared to discuss it. So, “Find five Internet safety tips, and then the next time we come to class, you can share the tips that you found with the class.”
It gave them a positive place to talk to each other outside of class, and it could be monitored as well. So I could watch and make sure that the discussion was staying on track and that everyone was staying appropriate. It was nice to have that feature.
With the Health Points (HP), I took my classroom rules and made those the things that I would either take HP or give Experience Points (XP) for. One of my rules is, “You don’t touch someone else’s computer.” The minute I saw someone messing around with someone else’s keyboard, I would just walk to the front of the room and start taking away HP. As soon as they saw me walking toward my screen, they all froze.
I would give XP for students who went out of their way to help other students. Sometimes I would just do it for motivation. If I saw one student doing a good job paying attention while a few other students were talking, I would go over and give them some XP and say, “You are really paying attention and you're closing out all those other distractions, and I appreciate the attention you’re giving me.” So then the other students would suddenly get quiet, and they would want to get that praise as well. So it became a motivational tool.
If they completed their class work successfully, I would also award XP for that.
I spent some time at the beginning of the year, and I gave them an entire class period just to log on and explore, and ask questions of me and each other. Since it was new for all of us, we took that class period to learn together. So giving them the time upfront to make sure they understand how it works, it saves some of those troubles further on in the school year. And once they’ve had that chance to get to know how it works, then it can really run smoothly and in the background for the rest of the school year.
Another piece of advice would be for teachers to really try out the learning management system (LMS). I really want to use the class content more next year because I think having all of that in one place just makes things so streamlined and easy for the teacher. You can have your lessons all in one place; the students know where to go. They can find their lesson activities for the day. You can even give them points for the grades they receive. Everything is built in.
It takes a little time at the beginning to learn everything, but once you do, it can really make lesson planning and execution so much easier for the rest of the school year.