Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 2

Last week I wrote the first post in a series about the chemistry PBL that my colleagues and I are piloting this year. Here is the update for Week 2!

On our second day devoted to this project, we asked students to read the article that was the springboard for this project. Instead of reading it in its original form, I pasted it into Prism and asked students to read and highlight one thing they agreed with, one thing they disagreed with, and a reason we might be doing the project. After they submit their highlights, they can see everyone's highlights. Want to check it out? Take a look at the Prism article here.

We wanted our students to choose groups and begin thinking about a topic. We have identified four roles for each group - Project Manager, Researcher, Web Designer, and Graphic Designer - and we wanted to help students choose groups that would allow them to draw on diverse strengths instead of just relying on their pals. Since we are working on relevance, we decided to use a BuzzFeed quiz. Students completed the quiz and then received a match of their best role. Want to try our quiz? Here it is.

As they waited for everyone to finish, students put their names onto post-its and brainstormed a quick list of 3-5 topics for which they might want to investigate the chemistry. Chemistry of saxophones? Lattes? Drugs? I collected the post-its as they finished them.

After learning of their best match role, they grouped together with the other students in that role and read the description. If they didn't think it fit them, they could change, but we emphasized that all groups would need to designate a different person as each role, so they should carefully consider what their attributes. When they were firm in what role they could play, I put the post-its on the whiteboards in role categories. Then students could walk around and read what their peers might want to explore and begin choosing groups.

Once all the groups had formed, they had time to start talking about a topic and looking around on the internet to see if information would be available for the topic they chose. By Week 3, they would need a firm topic.

I liked using the BuzzFeed quiz and I think students did too. They thought it was silly, but it pointed them in a direction to get them started. One student said, "I love that we took a BuzzFeed quiz for school since I take so many at home!" Unfortunately, about half the students in each class came up as Project Managers, so compromises had to be made about who would actually serve in that role. This surprised me a little, especially the really quiet students who pictured themselves in this leadership role. I have obviously watched a lot more Project Runway and Top Chef because I know what happens to the Team Leader when the project goes awry!

The day actually had a reality TV feel. I'm not sure the groups formed in exactly the way I hoped. Many students opted to work with friends and made the roles fit. Also, in one class, two students didn't make it into a group, so there was an awkward conversation that had a happy enough ending (or so it looked to me!), but I hate that feeling of waiting to be chosen. I might change how I do this next year, but I'm not exactly sure how. Maybe identify the Project Managers first and then let them choose their teams? Not sure, but I would love your suggestions in the comments!

Nearpod: Hay Algo Aquí

I spent this past Saturday and Sunday at the second annual Nearpod PioNear Summit in Austin, Texas. It was great to see the 30+ people that I met at last year's summit and to connect with 60 more PioNears from all over the world. We started the weekend with a keynote address by Guido Kovalskys. During his inspirational talk, I created the sketchnote above. He focused on the important ways that Nearpod is used to provide context, improve content, and build connections. The data is impressive: 5.4 million virtual field trips have been taken using Nearpod. 1700 virtual field trips per day! 

The people and conversations in this community were the greatest part of the trip, but a close second was hearing about all the cool things coming down the pike from Nearpod. Here's a closer look:

Ready to Run PD

Nearpod is creating professional development modules on topics that teachers need to be successful in the classroom, like evidence-based writing in math. If your district doesn't have the funding to bring an expert to the district, perhaps a Ready to Run PD module can be substituted. Created in the spirit of Master Classes, these would be the content and ideas of experts.

Nearpod ELL

The English Language Learners are the fastest growing population in the United States. Often ELL teachers are stretched very thin, trying to support learners with a variety of native languages with differing levels of English mastery. Enter Nearpod's ELL modules. With lessons designed specifically to increase English proficiency in grades 2-12, these will come at just the right time. Look for these lessons to be available January 31, 2017.

Nearpod for Subs

Everyone has a nightmare story of the time a sub plan went wrong. Nearpod is working on creating a special distinction for lessons that can be used by a substitute. When a teacher is absent, she chooses the lesson and a notification is sent to a substitute by text message and email. Directions are included for using Nearpod (in case the substitute is unfamiliar with the platform) and accessing the lesson for the day. I am really excited to try this one out!

Nearpod Original Content

Nearpod also has its finger on the pulse of the movement to put students into the driver's seat as far as content creation goes. The think tank at Nearpod is working to design interdisciplinary lesson starters that will ask students to create an original product, allowing for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. Teachers will definitely be more likely to try something like this if much of the advanced preparation for finding these started is ready to go when the lessons are downloaded.

Those are four reasons to keep your eye on Nearpod in 2017. I continue to be impressed with how this company listens to its stakeholders and tries to create tools and strategies to meet the needs of educators. When the company started, founders Guido Kovalskys and Felipe Sommer said "hay algo aquí" to each other. This phrase means "there's something here." I couldn't agree more!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 1

My school has a PBL focus this year. Every staff member is expected to try one out, so my PLC and I have designed one that I want to document here. Our students will work on it on 5 consecutive Tuesdays in January and we started last week on our first day back from vacation.

This fall I read this article that explains that though many chemists would say students dislike chemistry because it's difficult or boring, people actually don't like chemistry because it doesn't feel relevant to their lives. To a chemist, this is hard to believe. After all, our "central science" is the heart of every other science. What in the world, after all, isn't chemistry?

Using this article as our springboard, we developed our driving question: How is chemistry relevant to an aspect of your life? In the project, students, working in teams of four, would investigate the chemistry of something that interests them. We love the infographics we have seen at Compound Interest, so we decided we would ask our students to create one about their relevant chemistry. With some of the major decisions made, we needed an entry event. Something fun. Something that would welcome students back from vacation and catalyze their interest in the project. Something that would draw them in. A breakout!

We bought a BreakoutEdu box and created our puzzle. We wanted our puzzle, like our PBL, to be relevant to chemistry and relevant to our project. Because we were coming back from a holiday, we decided to focus on candy. We found, and loved, this infographic on the Chemistry of Candy. We would use that as the exemplar and put the project rubric on the back. We loaded the infographics and some candy into the Breakout box. Our puzzles and clues all had to do with the chemistry of candy and reviewed many skills that students learned during first semester.

I will admit that I felt a little sorry for my bleary-eyed first period students when they entered the room at 7:20 AM last Tuesday and two minutes later I told them they had to use first semester knowledge to solve a puzzle and unlock 5 locks. Though it must have seemed like the middle of the night to the vacation-brained teenagers, they quickly got up and started moving around the room to solve the puzzles. All my classes opened every lock on the box within about 30 minutes. 

Overall, I thought the entry event was a success. It was a great way to come back from break and get back into the swing of learning while reviewing first semester concepts. From the teacher standpoint, it was great to stand back and watch them work as a class of 20+ to solve these puzzles. Sometimes students would step back and watch too or disengage for a bit, but, for the most part, the engagement was very high. In two classes, two groups emerged - one of boys and one of girls, but eventually they intermingled again. The 30 minute solve time was terrific because, with our 48 minute classes, this left 15 minutes or so for a description of the project, including what makes a good infographic, a first reading of the rubric, and questions from students. That was Day 1. Day 2 is tomorrow. We will take a closer look at the relevance of chemistry, form teams and start to consider topics. 

Have you done a PBL? What advice do you have for us as we move forward? We can use all the help we can get! Please comment with your tips and hints.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It's Always the Quiet Ones

I'm not quiet. There, I said it. I talk too loud, I've been kicked out of libraries, and sometimes I realize a few seconds too late that I shouldn't have said what I did (as loudly as I said it). This quality makes me a big participant and an incessant questioner when I am a student in a classroom. As a result, I find kids like this easy to teach. I understand what makes them tick. The ones that have me stymied are the quiet ones.

This isn't a new phenomenon. For as long as I have been teaching, I always react with surprise when the quiet students thank me for a good year or ask me to write their letters of recommendations. My fallback position is that if students are quiet, they hate the class. Or, at the very least, are counting the minutes until it's over. I know this isn't 100% rational, especially this many years into my career where many quiet students have expressed satisfaction or gratitude. Still, this many years into my career, I still don't think I am serving this population very well.

What has me thinking about this is a collision of two factors. First, it's a new year and people tend to reflect and resolve. There is a resolution in this somewhere for me. Second, my school made a change to make year-long classes into two semesters so students receive final grades twice a year instead of once. The result was that some students who might have raised their Cs to Bs by May finished in December with Cs. I have a group of quiet girls who have done their homework and tried hard and probably studied, at least a little bit, and are stuck at Cs. I'd like to find a way to help them improve.

I've added Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking to my reading list. I've considered offering a before school help session that is a small group of quiet students to see if in a small setting I can offer better assistance. I already use small group settings in class, but I could probably do a better job with letting students process thoughts for more time before reporting ideas to the whole class. None of this feels, though, like it will revolutionize my practice. Well, maybe I don't need a revolution, but I do need something bigger than a tweak.

What would you suggest? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Splitting the Difference: Predicting Reaction Products

Tonight I started watching this video of a keynote address by Dan Meyer and friends from the California Math Council Conference. Dan describes teachers as being lucky because we get to consider interesting questions every day in our work. The first friend to share some questions is Shira Helft and she has me thinking about some of my questions. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about differentiation. How can I differentiate in a way that lets my students who are ready work on enriching content while providing extra practice for students who need that? I've been working on that in my current unit; it has been a good question to tackle this month.

By December, my students and I have finally made it to chemical reactions, the heart of chemistry, the fun stuff. I love this unit because every day leads naturally to the next, every day builds on a skill that came before it. Simultaneously, it's also the end of the semester and gaps in understanding have developed for some students; my awareness of those sharpens. This week I have been teaching students to predict the products of chemical reactions, a topic that traditionally slows many students down because it relies on so many skills they have learned so far. If students don't draw on all their chemistry knowledge, and this is especially challenging where gaps have developed, they struggle. 

To combat this, I started by giving the class 5 reaction beginnings and asked them to guess, individually and then with their groups, the products. In every class the results were the same: students were able to correctly guess at the outcomes but stumbled a bit with the actual chemical formulas. Then I introduced the activity series and solubility table as tools that allow us to predict whether a reaction will occur at all. I would have liked one more day for this to really develop the idea that sometimes a reaction doesn't occur, but the semester timeline did not leave me that as an option. After this first day, students completed a homework assignment where they had to predict the products of 7 reactions.

When they came to class the next day, I used our LMS to collect their homework answers. In about 5 minutes, I could see how many questions each student had correctly answered. Now to differentiate. I split my class in half and both halves completed a different experiment. For students who struggled with the homework, there was a predicting products experiment. Students explored six reactions - a synthesis reaction, a decomposition reaction, and two single and double displacement reactions - for signs of reacting. They would need to predict the products for each reaction that actually took place, providing them with the visual of what it looks like when a reaction does and does not take place and a second opportunity to apply the skills from the day before. For the half of the class that mastered the homework, a puzzle awaited. Given five solutions (AgNO3, BaCl2, CuCl2, K2CO3, and NaOH) in numbered droppers, could they discover which solution was in which dropper?

What I liked: It was easier than I would have guessed to run two different experiments simultaneously. I split my distribution table down the center and placed the chemicals for each experiment on one side or the other. The students managed that process easily. 

Students who needed more practice got it and students who were ready for something more got that too. Without two options, one of the groups would have missed out on what they needed.

I love this inquiry lab of discovering which solution is which. The thinking students do on this day, and the collaborating and knowledge checking, is rich. And fun to watch. The reactions in the other lab are also interesting; it never gets old watching a split relight when inserted into a tube of decomposing hydrogen peroxide. Good reactions (heh heh) by students to both experiments.

On the quiz that followed this differentiated lab day, the students achieved good results. The average grade was about a 90%, better than I have typically seen in other years. Only about 10% of my students scored below an 80%. It felt like a big win to see students who had only correctly answered half of the homework questions to ace the quiz.

What I think could be better: With a little more time, I could have done a better job at making sure students had predicted reaction products before each stage of both experiments. Instead, some are "predicting" after the experiments are complete so they can interpret results. That's far from ideal.

One of these experiments - identifying the five solutions - is a rich and engaging task. The other - predicting the products cookbook-style - provides good practice with engaging experiments, but isn't as cognitively challenging. I hate to remove this opportunity for great thinking from some of my students. On the other hand, without solid knowledge of how to predict products, would they have the foundation to really dig in to the problem? And, there I am, back at the initial question.

What are you doing to tackle questions like these? What are your answers? I'd love to hear more about them. Please comment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

6 Reasons to Take Another Look at Quizizz

Quizizz is one of my favorite web tools. If you need a quick game to review content, Quizizz can't be beat. Search for public quizzes and launch in an instant. Control many features like whether or not questions are timed (and how long), whether or not questions are scrambled or whether or not there's a leaderboard. Kids see memes when they get answers right or wrong. Even better, the memes can be customized. And, did I mention that it's free? Recently there are even more reasons to love Quizizz. Here they are:

1. Create Collections of quizzes. Like using folders, Collections allow users to group together quizzes based on topics. Any quizzes, the ones you write or just the ones you find and use, can be added to a collection.

It's easy to start a collection. Hover on a quiz title and click on add. In the pop-up window, select the collection you want to add it to or click the plus sign to create a new collection.

2. Eliminate users. This was one of the most requested features by Quizizz users! When students join a game, the teacher can hover on a name and click an X to eliminate a user. I guess most teachers would use this when a student joins with an inappropriate name, but my students ask me to do this when they don't like the cartoon avatar they are assigned! You can also remove a student from the Reports section of Quizizz.

3. Faster than ever. Quizizz has been redesigned to make it work fast on low bandwidth networks. If your school network stinks, Quizizz still probably works great. As many as 2500 people have completed a quiz at one time. That's pretty awesome!

4. Like a Quiz. Found a quiz you like? Now you can "like" it with a heart. That might sound stupid, but the quizzes can also be searched based on popularity, so liking quizzes helps all users find good quizzes.

5. Steal other people's questions from inside a quiz you are writing. When you create a quiz, you can search for questions that are used on other quizzes. Find one you like? Just click the red plus sign when you hover on it. Now it's your editable question.

6. New Chrome apps. Install the Student app and eliminate the need for a link to join a quiz. Or use the Teacher app to access all the great features of Quizizz without an address bar or tabs like you have in a browser-based tool.

This past month my students used Quizizz at the beginning of almost every class in order to help them learn the polyatomic ions. When I was scheduled to be absent, they asked me to assign the Quizizz as a homework assignment that they could complete in class since I wouldn't be there to launch in person. This regular, repeated practice did motivate and help students learn their ions.

This tool couldn't be easier to use. If you already use it, I bet you'll love these features like I do. If you haven't tried it, give it a try. If you search for a quiz on whatever you're teaching tomorrow, I bet you'll find one. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Individual Interactive Whiteboards: A Review of Ormiboard

Thanks to three great posts by Monica Burns about Ormiboard, I tried the tool out this month with my students. Ormiboard is a whiteboard tool. Where this one differs from some others, though, is that teachers can create interactive activities, give students a code to join, and then each student gets an individual copy of the board to use.

Start with a white canvas and a basic toolbox. Choose a background color. Add text, shapes, images, clipart, or drawings. With a couple more clicks, add some activities. In the picture above of one of my activities, I keyed each of the phrases like "Gain 1" or "Lose 1" to a particular shape. When the students try out this page, they drag the phrase to the appropriate circle. If it's right, it stays in the center of the circle. If it's wrong, it bounces back to where it started.

I used this activity to review a homework assignment. I changed each question of the homework into an interactive board. Students "played" while I walked around to see who had completed their homework. If students had done their homework, they received quick feedback on how they did from the activity. If students had not done their homework, they could still use the activity to review the content. While they worked, I could see a screen that showed where each student was in my set of four board that made this activity:

Want to try my activity? I'm not positive this will work, but let's try it. Go to this link and log in. Then use the code KS74J. Hopefully that will take you to the activity so you can see what it can do.

A couple of other things I liked about Ormiboard: There are ready-made templates for sorts and matching activities. With just a few minutes and the template, it is easy to make an interactive board to students. Also, there is a free version (try before you buy!) and a affordable GO Edition (currently on BIG sale).

Some of the functions of Ormiboard were not intuitive. I sometimes had to try things several times before I could figure out exactly what I needed to do to get the tool to do what I wanted it to do. Still, when I got stuck, there was a library of helping videos that showed me the way.

I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what I would use this for in my classroom. I lost my SMARTboard last year and I like the idea of replacing my SMART Activity Builders with Ormiboard. I liked using it for homework review so my students all participated and received instant feedback. I'd like to try to use it in a different way. Are you using Ormiboard? If so, please comment and share an idea.