Thursday, August 27, 2015

Strategy of the Week: Exclusion Brainstorming

This strategy is perfect to get students thinking critically about an event, concept or topic they are studying. It also provides opportunities for students to engage with peers, and to practice in multiple language domains.

First, create a list of words that appear in the reading you are using or that have come up as you’ve been learning about a particular event or topic. Include some words in the list that don’t belong, as well. Divide students into small groups or pairs and provide each group with a list.

Students should work together to identify the words that belong and separate out the words that don’t belong. If they struggle with figuring out what belongs, ask them to choose which words they would use if explaining the event, idea or topic to a friend- these go in the “include” column. Any words they wouldn’t use in an explanation would go into the “exclude” column. 

It a chance for students to explore both content and the vocabulary related to it while incorporating higher-order thinking skills like synthesizing and justifying. As such, this activity makes a great warm-up review of previous learning, a wonderful pre-assessment, or an excellent post-reading activity. Close with a whole-group discussion on why certain words should or should not be included.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tech Tip Tuesday: Flubaroo

By this point in August, you're probably either exhausted from your first week or two with the kids, OR you're getting ready to welcome the new round of kids. It's an exciting time of year, but, it can also be exhausting. This week's tech tip is designed to make your life a little easier!

At the beginning of the year, there are usually some pre-assessments that you need to do with your kiddos to see exactly where they are and what they know (or remember). Then comes....GRADING those assessments. Why not start early with integrating tech to get the kids accustomed to it, and make your life easier in the process?

Create your assessment using Google Forms and grade it using the Google Sheets add-on, Flubaroo. Once you've created your assessment, go through and complete the form yourself with the correct answers. The correct answers will be recorded in the first row of your Google Sheets.

In class, get each student on a device (you can use stations if you don't have enough devices for every student to work at the same time). Once your students have all completed the assessment on their devices, you run Flubaroo. Flubaroo grades each row against the answers you provided, which are stored in the first row. You can instantly grade hundreds of assessment results! You can use this with any multiple choice, checkbox, or true/false assessment questions.

Why this is great for use with ELLs:
Many of our ELL kiddos do not have access to tech at home and need all the practice they can get. Plus, faster grading for you means it's easier to reteach those who need it and push further those who are ready. Faster feedback means faster results!

I hope this makes the pre-assessment struggle a little easier, and lightens your grading load for the rest of the year as well!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tech it for Granted: Parting Thoughts

Well, if you've made it through to the final installment, then hopefully you're well on your way to getting a grant for your school or classroom! Before I end this series, I want to provide a few parting thoughts.

Don't Give Up
Even if you don't get the first grant you apply for, that doesn't mean your idea isn't great or worthy- just that it may need refinement or or your application may need help. Take it as a chance to refine your idea or work on your application and apply to another opportunity! On the same token, don't be afraid to scrap an idea and go back to the drawing board.

Meet Follow-up Requirements
Many grants require some sort of follow up. Some require you to submit data or a final report. Others want copies of documents created or thank you notes. Be sure you know what the follow-up requirements are and meet them. Failure to do so will often make you ineligible for future grants.

Stay True to Your Grant
No matter what curveballs come your way, be sure to stay true to the original purpose of your grant. Some adjustments might be necessary, and that's usually OK. But, buy the equipment you said you were going to buy, and do your best to use it in the way planned. Failure to do so can also result in not receiving funding from that foundation or grant source in the future.

Best wishes in your search for grants!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tech it for Granted: Once You've Gotten the Grant

Once you've gotten the grant there are still things to do! The tips below will help keep you organized.

1.  Get to purchasing!
From my experience, in some districts (ok,  most), it can take weeks or even months to get an order through purchasing from submission to fulfillment. I ordered materials for one grant in May and didn't have them in hand until September. As soon as funds are available, get your order process started. Stay on top of it until you have the materials in your hands!

2. Implement your materials
As soon as you have materials in your possession, begin implementing! The more time your students have to use the equipment or software or program you are implementing, the more time they'll have to show growth. This is especially important if the ordering process takes longer than expected.

3. Keep records of everything!
Some grants require an accounting of how funds are used, or data to show student achievement. It is easiest to keep track of this information between receiving the funds and turning in final documents rather than to have to scramble to collect everything close to the deadline. When ordering, ask for copies of POs for your grant records. Track student data. Take anecdotal notes. Scan and save student work samples. I find Google Drive and an accordion folder useful tools for keeping track of my records.

4. Take pictures!
Take pictures of the students using the materials, software, or equipment you purchased or received. These can be helpful for anecdotal notes, or in the event you choose to present or publish in the future. They also make great additions to thank you notes!

Best of luck in implementing the materials you purchased!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tech it for Granted: Creating a Budget

Many grants that provide funds rather than equipment require that you submit a budget with your application. Even if not, it's a good idea to begin thinking about the cost of equipment and other items you need (that are eligible to be covered under the terms of your grant).

1. More research!
While many schools and districts have contracts with certain companies for discounted prices on materials and equipment, I recommend researching your prices in the public sector and using those prices in your budget. Often, prices on certain items can fluctuate in the months between the submission of your application, notification that you've received the grant, actually receiving the funds, and finally putting in an order. Going with the generally higher prices of the public sector for your budget estimate will help offset those fluctuations.

2. Find out the ordering process in your school or district
Know how the funds will be received and routed, how long it will take for you to be able to use the funds to order materials, and the procedure you must go through to make the materials order. Also try to get an estimate on the average time between you submitting an order and fulfillment.

3. Create a spreadsheet!
I promise, I don't own stock in spreadsheet software, they're just really handy for keeping track of things like this. You can even set up handy formulas to help you calculate expenses do you don't have to do all that mathy stuff on your own! Check out this example spreadsheet I set up as a starting point. Again, be sure that your budget follows grant guidelines and includes all requested information.

4. Be sure the items included in your budget are eligible 
Some grants have restrictions on what you can and cannot use the funds for. For example, you might be able to cover a how-to book and equipment, but not money for a PD workshop. Other grants allow you to purchase software, but not equipment. Simply review the grant you're applying to to ensure that all the items you include are eligible.

5. Be sure the items included in your budget are realistic
Be sure the items included in your budget are realistic. Don't ask for things that you don't need, and remember that you don't have to have the best of the best- if there is a moderately priced item that will get the job done, you might want to go that route. The more realistic your grant request is, the more likely you are to receive the funding you want and need.

6. Justify each item
Provide a short narrative that explains how each item you want to spend money is relevant to the core goals of your grant. While this is often not required, it gives grant reviewers a quick reference should any questions arise, and provides the peace of mind that you will be diligent and conscientious with how you spend grant funds.

Don't miss the final installment- Tech it for Granted: Next Steps!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tech it for Granted: Writing Your Grant

In this week's installment of Tech it for Granted, we're going to talk about writing your grant! This is possibly the most important part of the whole process. This is where you have the opportunity to explain why they should give you their money or equipment.

1. Identify the need
As mentioned in the last installment, Tech it for Granted: Getting Started, I suggested that you begin looking at a few factors, one of which is the need. What is the need you hope to satisfy? Higher student achievement? More exposure to and fluency with technology? Higher math scores? English language growth for ELLs? Closing the achievement gap for minority students? Identify the specific need that you hope to fill. The more specific you can be, the better. It's better if it is curriculum based, which brings us to...

2. Look at the data
If you're hoping for higher student achievement- be specific about your goal, and use data to back it up in your essay or application. For example, in the last grant I received (NEA Student Achievement Grant), I identified writing as a particularly weak point for our ELLs, and one that was keeping them from exiting. I looked at the data and presented it in several different ways- amount of growth, average score in the domain, etc. It's not necessary to be too technical, but having some relevant data lends credibility to your request.

3. Know your audience
Some grants will have an official review board of foundation members or stakeholders to review the grant. Others, like DonorsChoose, are crowdsourced and funded by average Joes who want to help the kids get a better education. It's important to know your audience and write accordingly. Another important thing to remember is to limit the use of educational jargon. In many cases- even for those grants reviewed by a board of a foundation (like those from corporations)- the people reviewing the grants aren't necessarily educators themselves. Too much jargon (while it would sound impressive to educators) could be confusing to non-educators in the review process and may hurt your chances.

4. Explain, don't complain
Focus primarily on what you hope to accomplish rather than the factors that are limiting your students, school or district. While these are important to mention, your essay or application should not be a laundry list of obstacles, challenges and limiting factors- too much of this will sound like a complaint or an excuse. Instead, focus on the positive and devote the majority of your word count to what you hope to accomplish.

5. Maximize your words
Most grants have a word count limit. Be sure to stay within this. Grants foundations and even those looking to contribute to crowd-sourced grants are looking at many applications and many options. That's why there's a word limit. Respect their time, or your application may find its way to the trash can. Choose the best words to make your case- remember what we teach our kiddos about "spicy" words and interesting language. Ensure that your essay or application is interesting and engaging so you can hold their attention to the end.

6. Don't leave anything out
Make sure your application includes ALL the information that is requested and required. In many cases, incomplete applications will not even be considered. Go back to the spreadsheet I discussed creating in Tech it for Granted: Getting Started, as well as the grant website, and make sure you've included everything.

7. Edit, Revise, Edit
Get several pairs of eyes on your application and essay. Have colleagues look it over for organization, completeness, attention to detail, and mechanics. Have a few non-educator friends look it over to make sure it is understandable and engaging to non-educators too. Remember, not everyone looking at your essay or application will be an educator.

At this point, you're well on your way to getting your tech grant! Don't miss the next installment- Tech it for Granted: Creating a Budget.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tech it for Granted: Getting Started

Over the summer, I've decided to make a little change on Tech Tip Tuesdays. For the next five weeks, instead of Tech Tip Tuesdays, I'm going to run a special miniseries titled "Tech it for Granted". Since many of us are less busy during summer than the school year, it is a great time to get started on a grant!

One of the questions I often hear from teachers is how to get more technology in the classroom. Many teachers know that there are grants out there available to them, but they don't know how to go about finding, applying for, and securing those grants.

In this mini-series, I will review the grant process in five installments (please note, these links won't work until each installment is posted):

Getting Started 
There are a few things to do to get started on the grant process. Getting a grant can be a long and somewhat complicated process- but it is one that anyone can be successful with! If you are realistic, organized, and determined, you can secure grant funds to bring technology into your classroom. 

1. The idea- chicken or the egg?
Many people are unsure whether to start with an idea and search for relevant funding, or search for funding that their school is eligible for and then develop the idea. I think it is best to brainstorm a few ideas, and run those by others in your school to see what types of ideas you can garner support for on the school level. You can always start with one idea in mind, and then modify or completely change as you learn more in the process and find different types of funding. Also, begin thinking about a few things to help you find proper funding:
  • What is the need? (Look at some data!)
  • What do you hope to accomplish?
  • How will you measure the effect the grant has?

2. Get Approval
Different districts have different processes. In my district, I simply have to talk with my supervisor about any grant under $20k. For grants over that amount, I have to go through a district approval process. Also keep in mind that receiving government grants can reduce the amount of other federal funds your school or district might be able to receive. No matter what you do, sit down with your supervisor and discuss any ideas before you start seeking funding. Once you've found potential funding sources, sit down with your supervisor again before you start applying. 

3. Do Your Research
Once you've got an idea in mind, and the support of your supervisor, the next step is to start seeking funding sources. Be sure to look closely at any restrictions on what the grant will cover (some tech grants will cover software and apps but not equipment) and who is eligible for it. There's no need to waste time applying to grants that don't fit your needs or that you are ineligible for. This webmix contains links to several sites to help get you started, but be sure to do your own research as well!

4. Get Organized and Stay Focused
As you do research, make a list of the potential funding sources that meet your needs, along with notes about their eligibility requirements and application requirements- I created a google form for myself to fill out as I did research, which collected all the information into a handy spreadsheet for me. Also, be sure to put the application deadlines for each grant you're interested in into your calendar and set alerts for a month out, two weeks out, one week out, and one day out.

Congratulations, you've just made the first steps to getting your very own technology grant! Don't forget to come back next Tuesday for the second installment of Tech it for Granted: Writing Your Grant!