Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Place for Students to Congregate

A collective cheer went up earlier this summer when Google announced that Meet would include breakout rooms this fall. That is, until educators realized that breakout rooms would only be available for GSuite Enterprise customers. Breakout rooms are one way where Zoom and Meet differed in the spring, so many people are anxious to have this feature in the Google tool they can access. I saw a tweet recently (I'm sorry that I can't remember who tweeted it!) about Congregate as a way to manage groups in video conferences, so this week I tried it out.

Congregate is in public beta and will accommodate groups of twenty so far. Sign in with your Google account and create an event. Once you have created your event, create tables. You can add seats to the tables to make your groups a particular size and name them table 1 and so on or get more creative. Invite participants to join. When participants join, they will enter the lobby of the event and can be seated at a table.

When you are seated at the table, a Google Meet opens up. Then you can video chat with the members of your table. You can see the Meet controls under the photos in the image above. Each table also has a chat function. If you move to another table, you end up in a different chat.

The host of the event can change the number of seats at the table or throw a table away. You can also see at a glance how many people are at each table. Within the settings you can change the color scheme, add a password to your event, and add dates for the duration of your event.I loved using this tool! I love the look of the tables and that students can move around. It was easy to set up and join with Google accounts. I love that I can join the tables and listen in on the student conversations and then pop out to the next table. While I am doing that, I can watch the lobby view for student movement or access the chat to check in. 

Now I just have to hope that Congregate stays free (at least for this school year) and adds capacity for a few more students. With those two things, this tool will enhance a lot of classroom experiences this year.

Meeting Students Where They Are -- on TikTok

Last year I joined the Texas Computer Education Association. They say everything is bigger in Texas and TCEA is no exception. It was a big deal - literally - when they offered a free membership and I snapped it up. In 2020 they offered free memberships again right around Teacher Appreciation Week, so I grabbed one up again. Boy am I glad I did! As part of the membership this summer, I have participated in several free "Lunch n Learn" webinars, fast introductions to topics. My favorite one this summer was about using TikTok in the classroom.

The thirty minute webinar was a crash course. The premise was simple - you don't have to buy into the social media aspect of TikTok. And you don't have to dance. Instead, use the quick and easy video editing tools of TikTok to make short clips for your classroom. When you have your video perfected, you can download it. Then you can upload to YouTube or post it in your LMS.

Teachers are masters at using a tool in their classrooms even though the tool may have been designed for something totally unrelated. My plan is to make videos that make chemistry more tangible. In chemistry, we do a lot of talking about what the particles look like, so that seemed like a good place to start. Thirty minutes was perfect for inspiration, but I needed some extended time, so I turned to my local TikTok expert, my teenage daughter. She showed me the basics. Choose a sound. Record a video (15 seconds, 60 seconds, or use a template). Add a filter if you want. Add effects. Add text. Publish publicly or to your private collection. Download if you want.

She helped me make my first video:

And I created the second one all by myself:


OK, the second one has some problems. In the spirit of sharing my learning, I posted it anyway. It's a work in progress. Now I know that I have to use vertical video. And everyone on TikTok can probably guess my age.

As I think ahead to the coming year, which will no doubt bring more remote learning, I am giving a lot of thought to engagement. One way to engage students is to meet them where they are, in their learning spaces, instead of demanding they enter ours. TikTok is one students space where I hope to meet them this year. Keep watching here, or on TikTok, for my progress.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Just in Time for Back to School: Nearpod Your Videos!

As we inch closer to the beginning of the school year, many of our favorite tools will start rolling out updates that make us love them even more. The first of these exciting announcements, for me, came from Nearpod. As of yesterday, they have incorporated interactive video moments into their already amazing presentation and student response tool. I was lucky enough to be in the beta testing group for this feature, so I am very excited to begin using it with students.

Nearpod already offered an easy-to-use platform for interactive presentations. Bring in a presentation, or build it in Nearpod, and add questions to gauge student understanding or weblinks, videos, and virtual field trips to deliver content and increase engagement. Now they have extended some of these interactive features specifically to videos.

Like presentations, you can grab a ready-made video from their library or bring in a video from YouTube, your computer, Google Drive and more. Once your video is loaded, click at various points on the video timeline to add an open-ended or multiple choice question. When you're all done, click Save. Then launch the video the same way you would a Nearpod presentation and deliver the 5-letter pin code to your audience.

When people watch the video, they will see a timeline across the bottom of the screen. Blue circles on the timeline indicate places where interactive elements are inserted so students will know when questions are coming. Questions pop up underneath the video and can be expanded to take up the full screen. Students can leave a question blank but they must submit an answer (or a blank answer) in order to continue the video. It is possible for students to rewatch portions of the video if needed. Want to see one? This sample will be available through September 30, 2020.

Once students have watched the videos, their answers are available in the Reports section of Nearpod. A very clean layout makes reading student answers easy. Navigation arrows in the upper right hand corner make jumping from question to question a breeze. The video report reminds me very much of what you see during a live lesson; it's easier to find what you need here than with a typical Nearpod report.

If you have used EdPuzzle or PlayPosit, you can probably already list some advantages of interactive videos. So far, this tool certainly does not do everything that those two do, but I like that this feature is now embedded in a tool I already love and my students regularly use. As I think about providing instruction this fall, and consider my options for experiments, I know I will use Nearpod's latest addition quite a bit. Plus, interactive video at Nearpod will continue to evolve, so I am expecting great things to come of this tool. I can't wait to see where it goes next!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Feedback Loop with Floop

In my live classroom, when students encounter a new concept, I check homework for completion and provide feedback (correct answers, worked solutions, answers to their questions) in real time. In my remote pandemic classroom, this was something I let go. I still provided answers and worked solutions, but I didn't require students to turn in their work, partly because I didn't have an efficient way to check it. I think that changed this week with my discovery of Floop.

Floop is a web-based feedback tool. With a couple of clicks, you create a class. Give the join code to your students so they can join with an email address. Create an assignment. Students upload their work, as an image or a PDF or from Google Drive, and submit.

Teacher goes into the class and assignment. Click on a student's work to provide feedback. This part was REALLY easy. Simply click anywhere on the work to leave feedback. A panel on the right will record your comments. With the flip of a toggle, you can easily add comments to bank (or not). This is great for those things we say over and over again (units! sig figs! show your work!). After you have the comments in a bank, you can just click and drag them onto the student work, so it is EASY to reuse your comments. When the student opens the assignment, s/he can click on the colored dots on the work to see the comments. Students can reply to the comments, too.

So far, it seems like a typical feedback tool, but Floop goes a couple of steps further. Floop is designed around the idea that providing prompt feedback and allowing students to act on it, while helping them receive and provide feedback will net bigger gains in a classroom than merely providing feedback alone. Once everyone has submitted work, a Peer Review can be conducted. The teacher can ask peers to look for something particular or keep it general. Peers provide and receive feedback anonymously with guiding questions from Floop. Students are prompted to support their opinion of the work with evidence, suggest improvements, and celebrate positive features. Following the review, the teacher can see all the feedback a student gave and received.

Student submits work and feedback is received. In order to complete the feedback loop, students can resubmit. Floop makes this very easy with the addition of a Resubmit button once a student has submitted the first time and feedback has been received. The teacher will then be able to click through all the versions of the assignment for each student. I probably wouldn't use this feature on my nightly homework assignments, but it would be great for lab reports or other similar assignments that might involve a couple of drafts.

Floop has been free for the 2019-2020 school year. Next year, it will be $7 per month if you pay for an entire year or $10 per month if you pay for a month at a time. They offer a referral program too, so if you subscribe and refer others, they get a discount and you earn credits. Want a discount on Floop for yourself? My referral code is kkvtly7. Type that in when you pay for it for $10 off.

Things I liked about Floop:
  • It passed the 15 minute test. In 15 minutes, I had a class and assignment ready to go and was looking at sample work (that I submitted as sample students from a separate account). The interface is clean and intuitive. Easy to use, both in terms of technology expertise (hardly any required) and functionality of the tool.
  • The price is right. I don't know if I would pay $80, but at $40, it feels worth it to have a solution for seeing my students' homework assignments - in their handwriting - and efficiently provide feedback.
  • I have not used a technology tool in my classroom for peer review. This one has that feature with built-in supports to help provide meaningful feedback.
  • This tool is based on research about feedback. It was created by a STEM teacher to fill a gap she saw in education.

When we teach remotely next year, I will definitely ask my students to upload their homework through Floop. Then I can check and offer feedback from my remote location. To prepare for this, I will likely introduce Floop and get them using it for other assignments too so it becomes part of our routine. I am looking forward to using this one next year!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Always Wear Protection: A Quest to Convince People to Wear Masks

When you go to college in the middle of nowhere, you probably attend the programs in your residence hall, especially if you are a freshman, because there isn't really much else to do. So it was that I ended up at a program about AIDS awareness in the fall of my freshman year. The other freshmen on my floor and I barreled down to the lounge for the program that was being led by an iconic biology professor, Bill Laughner. He was the professor I met with when I toured the college as a high school senior and he was synonymous with the college itself. I was hoping someday to take his classes and was excited to hear him talk that night.

AIDS had been identified for years, but, by the fall of 1987, the virus and education about it were in full swing. According to, in October of 1987, 68% of people polled identified AIDS as "the most urgent health problem facing the world." October was designated as AIDS Awareness month that year; thinking back, the program in our hall was probably because of that. The purpose of the program was to raise awareness and talk about misconceptions. It wasn't a gay man's disease or a drug user's disease; AIDS was a disease any of us could get if we weren't careful. I have two very specific memories of this program. First, Bill told us that this disease would be the Vietnam of our generation, that eventually every one of us would know someone who died of AIDS just as his generation knew someone who died in Vietnam. This resonated specifically with me because my dad had served in Vietnam and my sister is named for someone who died there. Eventually, Bill talked about how using condoms could provide a great deal of protection, but only, he explained, if they were used properly. And this is the second very specific memory: Bill pulls out a banana, and a condom, and just matter-of-factly describes that there is no shame in buying these, as he opens the condom and demonstrates how to put it on - the banana - properly. He probably said there was no need to feel embarrassed, but I am certain I was. I had never had sex or seen a condom. I don't think I moved or breathed during that demonstration. Ah, college.

I've been thinking about this program, and its impact on me, a lot lately. There are a number of similarities between the AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. Both diseases started slowly and then took off, infecting and killing many people. Both disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic people. Both resulted in discrimination. Both were subject to slow governmental response and disagreement about how to proceed. Both could be slowed, or perhaps stopped, by wearing personal protective equipment.

I can't say for certain that it was the banana demonstration that has kept me from getting AIDS, but I can say a couple other things: Eventually, without shame, I bought condoms. I knew how to put one on from watching this demonstration. Whatever he said in the hour or so that proceeded the banana convinced me that using condoms correctly would keep me safe. Hearing a well-respected authority give common sense advice had a lasting effect on my sexual health. Now, as I look ahead to an unusual school year, I have been considering how to use a demonstration to convince students and staff members to properly wear masks, the personal protective equipment of our current urgent health problem.

Early in my teaching career, many biology teachers were using a demo to simulate the spread of a virus like HIV. Described in detail here, the demo has students "share bodily fluids" by pouring their cup of liquid (most have water; some have a baking soda solution) into another student's cup and then transferring half the mixture back into the first cup. After repeating this process two more times, an acid-base indicator is added to all the cups. The color of the resulting solution shows who has tested positive for the virus. Perhaps this demo could be altered by giving some people cups with lids to simulate wearing a mask. Like a mask, the lid prevents the sharing of fluids, so those people would be less likely to test positive for the virus. Maybe a demonstration like this, coupled with meaningful conversation by respected authority figures, could help everyone in a school embrace mask wearing.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, around 130,000 new infections were reported in the US in a year, but that number dropped to around 50,000 by 2010. Certainly a combination of factors resulted in that strong decrease. During the 40-year AIDS epidemic, almost 700,000 people in the US have died (CDC Fact Sheet). Comparing this with COVID-19, over two million cases have been identified in the US; over 120,000 people have died (JHU COVID Dashboard). We know that a combination of factors - social distancing, masks, and education - can slow the spread of this disease. Masks work, but only if we all wear them. Let's develop some interesting ways to convince our students and colleagues that we must do that at school this year.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Adding a Little of Me(me) to my Quizizz!

I have blogged about Quizizz many times. I love this tool for all the reasons articulated in these blog posts. One of the first things participants comment about (or laugh at) is the memes that show up after questions are answered. The memes were a way this outstanding tool distinguished itself from competitors from its inception. Quizizz has some standard, very recognizable memes that are randomly generated for right and wrong answers, but they also allow for custom collections of memes, too. Schools could have custom meme sets of principals or teachers saying encouraging or redirecting things, those familiar phrases that get uttered in schools. I have had this on my to-do list for too long to recall, but I finally did it during this time of #quaranteaching to bring some of me back into the lessons, to remind my students that I'm rooting for them. 

The thing that kept me from trying this until now is the labor in creating the memes. Actually Quizizz makes it easy - upload images and use their tool to add the text you see in standard memes. But taking pictures of myself? I am the least photogenic person I know. Just the thought of that turned me away. Today, in just about 20 minutes, I finally created my custom memes by using my Bitmoji to avoid the pesky photo issue. 

I started in Bitmoji on my iPad. I typed in some random phrases (Yes, No, Good work, Try again, etc) and searched for images that I thought would make my students laugh. Tapped on the image and saved it to my camera roll. Then I went into Quizizz. I clicked on Memes in the left index. I clicked on Create New meme Set

Then upload images for correct and incorrect answers. I selected 8-10 images for both and uploaded. I didn't add any text to the memes because the Bitmojis already had phrases on them, but it's very easy to add text to the top and bottom of your image. Just follow the onscreen prompts.

Once you have your set saved, you can select your own set of memes when you launch a game or assign one as homework. Incidentally, Quizizz practice has been an optional activity in my #quaranteaching every week since we began our distance learning, but students choose to do it every week. In fact, one week I messed up the assignment and a student emailed me to ask if I would fix it so she could play the game. Hopefully, when my students play this week's game, these memes will give them a laugh, something we all could use more of right now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Rocketbook to the Rescue!

I first wrote about Rocketbook two years ago. Rocketbook is a paper and pencil notebook with an app that allows for seamless online storage. If you haven't seen Rocketbook in action, take a look at this introduction video:

I'm thinking about Rocketbook this week for two reasons. First, Rocketbook released a set of templates for teachers and students to use during #quaranteaching. This is awesome, and generous, because Rocketbooks are pricey (worth it, for sure, for a reusable notebook) and students won't want to spend $40 on a notebook during the economic disruption of the quarantine. They can print the free templates, complete schoolwork on them, and use the Rocketbook app to upload to cloud storage in "a fraction of a second."

The second thing that has me thinking about Rocketbook is that the College Board announced its changes for the 2020 Advanced Placement tests, including that students may either handwrite (and upload) or type their responses. If you teach a subject like math or chemistry, it's tempting to choose handwritten responses so time isn't wasted during an exam trying to figure out math or equation formatting. But, if students choose handwritten responses, they will also have to quickly upload work which might mean taking a picture with one device and moving it to a second device, or accessing the test on a phone where time could be wasted scrolling around so they can read an entire prompt.

Enter Rocketbook with their free templates. Here are the steps I would try to familiarize myself with if I were a student taking an AP test:

  1. Download the Rocketbook app (iOS or Android). During app setup, link one of the magic Rocketbook icons to a folder in Google Drive.
  2. Print out many copies of the desired Rocketbook free templates. With a lined, graph, or dot template, students can complete their work in whichever format makes sense for the test they are taking.
  3. Access the test on something with a large screen - iPad, laptop, desktop, chromebook. Students can notify the College Board this month if they need technology to access the test. Complete the work by hand on Rocketbook templates, marking the icon that is linked to the folder on Google Drive.
  4. When finished working, use the Rocketbook app to scan the pages and upload to Drive. Then move the work from Drive to the interface where they will need to be uploaded.
You might be wondering how this process would be better or faster than just taking a picture of finished work and uploading that. I can think of a few reasons this would be better. Accessing the exam on the phone might be challenging because prompts can be long and include data organized in tables that are better viewed in their entirety. If the exam is accessed on a laptop or chromebook, students can take pictures and manually put them in Drive (or wherever) but that will take time and they only get five minutes to do it. Also, Rocketbook will allow for a multi-page upload so the entire written portion of a test could be uploaded in one motion rather than by moving each image one at a time.

Like with any new process, practice makes perfect. I wouldn't wait until May to try this out if you think it is something you would consider. If you try it out, I'd love to hear what you think about the process.