Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Breathing Fresh AIR into Lab Reports

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog was about using the PARCC rubric for Narrative and Analytic Writing to create a rubric that I could use for lab reports. My reasoning was that some of my students would experience PARCC tests and using this rubric would help cement it in their minds. Also, that rubric was developed by a team of people and I believed it to be stronger than what I had been using. 

I used my adapted rubric for one year, and Ohio gave the PARCC tests one time, but then our state legislature voted to abandon PARCC and write our own state tests. This happened during the summer and when it was time to start school, a new rubric for writing had not emerged, so I stuck with the adapted PARCC rubric last year. Now Ohio has developed rubrics to use with its newly designed assessments, so a friend and I adapted the Ohio AIR rubric for Explanatory Writing for this year's lab reports. Here is what we came up with:


In past years I provide students with a set of guidelines for writing lab reports and we take a quick look at the rubric. Still, when I grade the first set of papers, some students have really missed the mark. This year I tried a different approach.

I provided my students with two sample reports from previous years. I chose one report that was a very strong example and one report that was a very weak example. I asked the students to read the reports, referring to the rubrics, and then, as a group, determine a grade for each report out of 20 points. I asked each group to report their scores and we listed their results on the whiteboard. 

Sample 1, the strong report, was scored as an 18, 19, or 20 out of 20 by every lab group. The students agreed that it was well-written, contained all pertinent details, and could be regarded as an exemplar. Sample 2, the weak report, received a much wider range of scores, from 4 to 12 out of 20, so we looked at this one in greater detail. We talked through what the author did well and where she faltered. The students were much more critical than I was. I think I recorded this report as a 13 or 14 out of 20 when I graded it a few years ago.

Overall, this was a better approach to introducing lab reports than just reading the guidelines and glancing at the rubric. At least I hope it was. First lab reports from my classes are coming in today and tomorrow. I am hoping for much better first reads!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Another Reason to Check Out ChalkUp

In April I posted about my use of Chalkup to teach a PD course. This summer I used Chalkup again to teach a new section of that same class and I found another feature that I really liked - the collaborative discussion.

We chose a text that we wanted the participants to read and we attached it to a collaborative discussion in Chalkup. We also posted some questions about the reading and vocabulary. Then participants read the article and, as they did, they commented on the text using some cool commenting features. You can attach a comment to a point (that you create) or to some text (that you select) or to an area of the text (that you select). Others can respond to your comments and create their own, all in the same document. The result looked something like this:


I like the idea of this tool to help with close reading and to get initial ideas on a text before discussing it widely in class. Maybe students could read and comment or select text as evidence while they read. Then, after everyone is finished, a face-to-face discussion could follow up. I also like that the ideas of the participants are still there for a closer look once a lesson is over.

Chalkup is a neat and free option for an online version of a class. With collaborative discussions, it moves even higher on my list of tools that are a must try!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Measure their Minds with Mentimeter

Last week I presented at my district's Blended Learning Conference. I had seen a blurb about Mentimeter, so I tried it out. I liked it a lot (details below) and will definitely use it again!

Mentimeter captured my interest right away because it offers question types that I haven't seen with a lot of other formative assessment tools. In addition to the standard multiple-choice type questions, mentimeter offers word cloud creation and sliding scales and a 2x2 matrix. I love a 2x2 matrix! Here are the question types:


After you log in to your account, you create a "presentation." The presentation consists of the questions you will ask. My presentation was just a quick poll at the beginning of my session about web tools we all use to bolster our own professional development. I started with the word cloud question you see above and followed up with the sliding scale question below:


At the session, it was very easy to launch. Click the name of the presentation and you are provided with a link and code to share with your audience. Participants join by going to the link and entering the code. The presenter has the option of presenting the questions at the presenter's pace or the audience's pace and whether or not to share the audience responses as they come in.

It's a little hard to see in the image above, but I liked an almost hidden feature of the sliding scale question. The number in the circles above represents the average score for each tool. When you hover on a particular tool, you can see a wave plot of how many people chose each of the values on the scale. I thought that was really slick!

Start to finish - from create the questions to launch - took me only about 15 minutes. I spent more time thinking about and deciding from among the cool question types than I did setting everything up. There is a free plan that allows for unlimited audience size (great for big groups) and the tool works on any device - smart phone, tablet, or computer. I thought mentimeter was a fresh look at formative assessment. Definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Use Print My Cal to Print a Google Calendar

My students like a paper calendar. I use Google calendar and our class calendar is embedded on my website and on my Schoology page.  Every year I threaten to stop printing the paper version, but the students always ask me to do it, so then I do. This creates a bit of a hassle because Google Calendar doesn't print nicely, so I end up typing all the information into a calendar twice - once for Google, once to print.

Yesterday I tried out Print My Cal. This service allows you to print a Google calendar with some limited format choices. In the very easy process, you sign in to Google and make a couple choices for your formatting. Then choose the calendar (or calendars) you want to print and download the file to print. 

I have tried out a couple of different fonts and I haven't found exactly the right thing yet, but I think with this one


I am on the right track. It's very plain and the formatting isn't perfect, but if it means I can stop typing the calendar twice, I am happy to keep poking around to find the right mix of font and size to make it great! Thanks Print My Cal for this tool!

Привет Россия


This week something exciting happened on A Lever and a Place to Stand! During this past week, my blog has had more pageviews from readers in Russia than in the US. This week marks the first time that any country other than the US has been the top of the pageviews list. Welcome, Russia!

I can't tell by looking at the analytics which post brought this increased international traffic, but I am so intrigued. If you are a Russian chemistry teacher or a Russian teacher of young children and you might consider partnering with me on a project this year, let me know by commenting below. I would love to connect with an international classroom!

Striking Coding Gold with GoldieBlox

Another new coding app entered the scene recently. This one is another app brought to us by GoldieBlox. If you aren't familiar with GoldieBlox, this is a line of toys worth checking out. Founder Debbie Sterling is an engineer who cashed in everything she had to start this line to encourage girls to make and build and engineer things. When she was just getting GoldieBlox off the ground, every time I watched her talk about the company, I teared up. This subject hits home with me, so we own many GoldieBlox sets and the Movie Machine app. Needless to say, I was very excited about the idea of a GoldieBlox app that teaches coding.

Open the app and you have four options: play the coding adventures, go to the coding sandbox, play the mini-games, or watch Goldie videos. I went directly for the Goldie adventures. The premise of the game is goofy - someone is having a birthday but we don't know who so let's deliver cupcakes to everyone we know in town to cover all the bases.  I recently checked out the game Nancy Drew Codes and Clues and the story is stronger in that one; it makes more sense. Still, the goofy nature of this fits this brand and the target demographic, girls ages 6 - 8, will love the idea of delivering cupcakes. The animation is adorable. Kids will be instantly engaged by the cute characters and the fun of the game.


The game is a good mix of back story dialogue, a nice progression of levels, some mini-games and some dress-up components to break up the coding levels. The coding levels start simple - tap direction arrows to move Goldie and her rocket-powered skateboard. Single arrows eventually give way to more challenging arrangements, requiring mutli-step planning. As levels are mastered, players can pick out trophy items for Goldie and Ruby to wear - scarves, sunglasses, and so on. There are also mini-games where players rearrange pipes to squirt icing onto cupcakes or tap falling ingredients (and avoid non-ingredients) to make cupcakes.


After I fiddled around with the coding levels, I checked out the Sandbox. In the Sandbox, you can choose many of the parameters - size of grid, number of obstacles and turns - and a puzzle is generated that meets those specifications. You can name the levels and save them. I liked this feature a lot. Even after all the levels are mastered - and there are a lot of levels - there will still be a lot of fun left in this game in the Sandbox.

I'm sure there is a reason that the same is designed for kids ages 6 - 8. Maybe that is the optimal age for planting a computer science seed with kids. Or maybe it's the demographic that buys the most GoldieBlox toys. Or maybe the difficulty of the levels is designed for kids who think at that level. This app is sure to be a hit with those kids, but I think it will also appeal to older kids. It's a great introduction to coding embedded in a story with cute characters and engaging animation. A win, all-around!

Special thanks to the friends at GoldieBlox who supplied me with the app so I could check it out!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Favorite Yes: The Answer Pad

During an inservice this past year, I was introduced to a strategy called My Favorite No. We watched this video




about the strategy and I really liked it (video AND strategy!). If you don't have time to watch the video right now, here is the gist: Give kids a quick bellwork assignment to complete on an index card. Collect and quickly sort into right and wrong answers. Then choose the best wrong answer and use a document camera to project it to the class. Ask the students to identify everything that is done well in the incorrect response. Then ask them to suggest a correction and identify why the teacher chose it as her favorite "no."

I like how quick it is, how it emphasizes that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, how the class starts with what is good and corrects the mistake. I like that everyone gets better at editing his or her own work. Today I stumbled upon a way to do with without index cards or document cameras.

One of my favorite web tools (and apps) is The Answer Pad. I use it most often as a student response system in interactive mode. I was demonstrating this tool today and showed an airplane icon that allows you to broadcast one student's work to every student's device.

What I didn't realize is that when the image is broadcast, every student has the chance to edit the student's work. If you look at my images from above, you might notice that Joe's work is incorrect. If I chose that as my favorite no," I could broadcast it to everyone and ask for verbal information about what is done well. Then ask everyone - not just the student or two I call on - to correct it. Maybe I would get something like this:
That's awesome! I love that it's as fast and easy as index cards without the stack of index cards in the trash at the end of each class. This is one I will definitely start to incorporate more next year!