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 HIV.gov, 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.

Friday, March 20, 2020

How a Significant Loss Prepared me for #Quaranteaching

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
It was a Sunday evening two years ago. I was getting ready to serve dinner and watch a movie with my family when my phone rang. I would have let it ring, but it was my principal. When the principal calls on Sunday night, you answer the phone. He delivered the worst news: The man I had taught next door to for over twenty years had died suddenly that day. It was totally unexpected - he was younger than I was, had lost weight that year, was working and working out at a gym. The heart attack that killed him stole a beloved teacher with one month of school left and one week until his AP test.

Because I am the Science Department Coordinator and his next-door neighbor at school, I stepped into his classes daily for the first couple of weeks. After the initial shock and sadness gave way to moving forward, his students had many questions about their grades. In the most teacher move ever, when he went to the ER with chest pain, he carried his school bag with him; it was, of course, full of papers to grade. The students wanted to know if they could turn in late work, if those papers would be graded, if they could still participate in senior project. The answer to every question, due to this terrible situation, was yes. I made one promise: no one's grades would suffer due to this horrible loss. And then I worked with my tremendous colleagues to make sure that was the case.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately because it mirrors at least a little bit what happened in our classrooms last week. At my school, I saw my students on the last day before spring break and told them to take their books home in case we were closed for some days due to illness. Hours later the governor closed all Ohio schools for three weeks. The next day my partner and I raced to plan online teaching week 1. The following week our buildings were locked. Now we are all anticipating that we will be home longer than these three weeks.

My takeaway is this: Our students are caught up in a terrible situation. They are trying to manage their worry and fear, maybe their siblings or nieces and nephews, while they help out at home and complete their schoolwork. We have worked with these students now for three-fourths of a year. We know what grade they will likely have earned. We can give them the benefit of the doubt that their grades will not decrease. We don't have to worry about assessment and points and number crunching. We can instead try to provide some normalcy, some routines. We can provide materials and assignments with a focus on helping them learn, not helping them earn a particular grade. 

One of the chief complaints I hear about education is testing. Imagine that you've gotten a "snow quarter," a reprieve from testing. Why spend time figuring out or preparing for online assessments? Instead try something you've always wanted to try. Provide lessons that highlight what you love about your discipline. Stop grading things. Ask kids to demonstrate learning in whatever way feels right to them. Maybe they will make something or do something that will become an important part of your future lessons. In the grand scheme of things, will it matter if students can't write an electron configuration or calculate an equilibrium constant or identify the shape of a molecule? If you're not a chemistry teacher and you can't do those things, then you know the answer is that it won't matter. 

We are one week into online teaching in Ohio. Ten days ago we had three COVID-19 cases; today we have 169 (up _50_ from yesterday). Remember that your students are going through this too. They need our grace and understanding now as they would during any other tragedy. Please provide that above all else. Those things are way more important than assignments and assessments.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Really "Rotten" Book Review Template

The inspiration for this post came from two factors: 1) my family loves to watch movies and my daughter always tells us how the movies we are considering have fared on Rotten Tomatoes and 2) I was thinking about a way for kids to do an assignment with a book report or review. Thus, "Written Tomatoes" was born:

I was picturing a class of students would read some books. Maybe these are books the students chose or maybe they are required reading of books or stories or articles for a particular class. After they read, they create a fake book review website. Kids might think it's fun to review the book in this way and other students could view the reviews and perhaps find a book that they may want to read.
You can click here to get a copy of this template. In addition to the template seen above, there is a "front page" that can be linked to individual pages for reviews of separate books. The template comes with instructions for customizing it for your class. 

As I write this, much of the USA has transitioned to online K-12 schooling in response to COVID-19. Perhaps this would make a good online lesson. Students could read a book and then create a review. If you use it, I would love to hear how it goes!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Take a Guess!

Image by Jondolar Schnurr from Pixabay
Remember those contests from your elementary school carnival where you would guess how many jelly beans or gumballs were in the giant jar (and if your guess was best, you won the jar!)? I've always loved those contests, but I haven't had much luck winning them. I'm sure there are great strategies of estimation, but I usually just went with winging it.

In my high school physics course, my teacher implemented a variation on the theme with Fermi Questions on the first day of class. A Fermi question asks participants to make a quick estimate as an answer to a math problem, often about something very big or very small. Perhaps it was equal parts jelly beans and physics class that inspired a guessing game I use in chemistry class.

I teach the mole relationship early on in class and circle back to it in every unit. I like how each time we return to the mole, the students' understanding of the concept, and the bigness of the mole, deepens. With each revisiting, I pose a question for them to guess. How many atoms of iron make up this nail? How many molecules of sugar are in this sugar packet? How many molecules of carbon dioxide can I liberate from a bottle of Diet Coke? And my most recent question: What is the weight in pounds of the oxygen in our classroom?

I asked my students this question a week or so ago in class. They write their names and their guesses on a small strip of paper (and the winner gets the oxygen!). A picture of the guesses of one class is below:

Notice the difference in the sizes of the guesses, from 0.000000001 lbs to 120 lbs. Of course, they immediately want to know who has the best guess, so then I provide them with time and space, but not too much in terms of directions, to figure it out. 

There are several reasons why I love doing these guessing games. First, it heightens their desire to complete the task (that I was always going to make them do anyway). Sure, I could just pass out a worksheet and tell them to calculate it, but asking them to guess first - and making it a contest - makes them invest and makes them want to win. Second, it is a great way to formatively see how they are thinking about the mole, how their understanding of a huge number is progressing. When I first ask about the atoms in a nail, many of the answers are numbers like 100 or 1000 and very few are in scientific notation. It's very hard to comprehend how small the atom is. Would they be able to see atoms if they were 1/100 of a nail? They aren't so sure because, at that point, they struggle to differentiate between a small number and a really really small number. Finally, it gives them a frame of reference for whether or not their answers are correct at the end. When they have first made a guess, they wonder if their answer is correct. They compare it to the guess. They think about what they calculated.

As to who had the best guess in the photo above, I don't want to say and spoil it for you or for my future classes, but I highly recommend completing the investigation and the calculation to find out!

Monday, December 9, 2019

There's No Substitute for Good Plans!

It's officially cold and flu season and that means people will be absent from school. And sometimes those people are the teachers! With my school's transition to a 1:1 technology plan for students, my options for sub plans have also changed. Without a computer in the classroom for the substitute to use, I often have to choose activities my students can do without much teacher input. One thing that hasn't changed about my sub plans is my need to do them quickly, especially when I am under the weather. Enter Google Docs.

I created a Google doc called "Roediger Sub Plans." Each time I am absent, I keep all the general information about my teaching schedule the same and just delete and change the specific activities that I am leaving for my students. This saves me a little time since I don't have to re-do all the basic information about where I teach and what time the bells ring and who in my department can help if needed.

After using this process for a while, it occurred to me that I could use Version History in Google docs to streamline my process even more. I started opening the Version History and clicking on dates to find a previous version of sub plans that included a quiz (or whatever). Then I restored that version and made little tweaks as necessary.

Then I remembered about naming versions of documents! So now I give different versions of my sub plans different names to remind me of what was happening in each class in that particular version of my sub plans. To name a version of your document, click the three dots to the right of a date in Version History. Then click on Name this version. You can even flip a digital toggle switch so you can only see the named versions, look for the one you need, and click restore!

When I am scrambling to leave lesson plans for my substitute, any time-saving technique is appreciated. Streamlining sub plans is especially useful when illness takes its toll.