Sunday, September 28, 2014

Augmenting my Professional Development

When you read a blog post about why bloggers blog, many mention the connections they make with other educators and the way blogging helps refine their practice.  I am only ten weeks into this blog, but already I have found that to be true.

I recently posted my slides from a presentation I did on augmented reality.  Then I started a page about AR apps I like.  And I joined an AR community on G+.  Last week I had a comment from Jonathan Newman, a fellow chemistry teacher in New Mexico, who is using AR in his classroom.  He suggested that I add the app Augment to my AR page.  He included a link to his blog.  

Here's the reason I hadn't included it:  I initially thought it was beyond me.  Augment is installed on my iPad.  And my class set of iPads at school.  I have read all the materials on the Augment website.  And joked that I if I ever get it figured out, I should write some tutorials that teachers would understand.

The difference between Augment and something like Aurasma or Daqri 4D Studio is that in order to use Augment, you have to create some 3D models that you can attach to your trigger image.  In order to use this app, I have to learn to use some other thing to make the 3D models.  I know I should look at that as an opportunity, but it feels like an obstacle.

So I went to Jonathan's blog so I could see how he used it.  What I found was inspiration.  It's really cool.  If you teach chemistry, check out his version of Rutherford's Gold Foil Experiment.  If you don't teach chemistry, check out the states of matter post.  I am not any closer to knowing how to use Blender or Avogadro, but my incentive is greater now.  I really want to create things like that!

What does any of this have to do with my first paragraph?  I think Jonathan found my blog through our mutual admiration of Dan Meyer's work.  He found AR resources he didn't know.  He comments on my blog; I find his blog.  And inspiration.  It all happened because we blog.

If you have been toying with blogging, I recommend it.  It's great to connect with a PLN that you get to choose!  If you are just finishing up a 30 day blogging challenge, stick with it.  Your reflections might inspire others.  If you aren't ready to blog, follow some.  I'd recommend BlogLovin' as a service that makes it easy to follow the blogs that inspire you.

And thanks to readers who have offered comments.  Keep 'em coming.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Got a Kick out of ClassKick

This week I read about ClassKick, an iOS app that allows you to simultaneously watch your students' work as it is created.  It was my favorite combination -- free and easy -- so I quickly installed it on my class set of iPads to try it out today.  Verdict: awesome!  I can't wait to try it again.

The app setup is very intuitive.  You create classes that students join by entering a class code on the login screen.  No accounts are necessary.  If students are old enough to recognize and type in a 6 letter/number code, they can join a class with this app.

Creating assignments is also simple.  You start with screenshots of any kind of file and grab the text you want on each page of the assignment.  It took just a couple of minutes for me to create my 4 question assignment for today's class.  After students join the class, they automatically receive the assignment that you have prepared.  The teacher taps the "View Student Work" button and can see screenshots of each student's work.  Excellent.

Students see each page and use their finger or a stylus to work on the task.  My students were solving chemistry problems.  The default color is black, but they quickly discovered, to their delight, that several others colors were also available.

When in the Student Work view, the teacher can scroll through to see the work of class members.  Pages are shaded green to show which question a student is working on.  Pages turn grey when a student logs out.  

Tap a page and you can see it full screen to get a better view of the student work.  The teacher can create a set of custom stickers with phrases to praise or help students.  The teacher can also write on the student page (with default red ink) to show corrections or compliments.  Students receive a notification that they have gotten feedback.

I already loved the app at this point, but there are still so many great features.  

When a student is finished or confused, he can ask someone to help or check his work by raising a virtual hand (tapping the hand button).  Hands appear on the teacher dashboard to show who needs assistance.  Wow.  Even better, with a click of a button, students can help each other.  Now it's collaborative too.  Soon my students were eagerly asking for and providing help to each other.

In the teacher dashboard, it is easy to see with a color-coding system who needs help, who has gotten feedback, and who needs to have an answer checked.  From the teacher perspective, I loved that I could see how every student was doing as they were working and I could provide instant assistance if needed.  The teacher can see all the students by name and they can see that it is the teacher who is offering help.  

As great as that was, and it was great, the best part was how my students embraced collaborating with each other.  As the problems got progressively more challenging, they became more and more willing to pitch in and help each other.  From the student perspective, they can see that an anonymous student needs help, but they can't see who it is.  When a student is being helped, however, she can see who is helping her.  I liked that one-way anonymity and I think it made more students willing to ask for help.  That and they liked the silly anonymous phrases the app uses, like "a baffled bear needs help."

I had planned to do this for about 15 minutes just for practice.  In the end, we worked on these problems for the better part of class because the students were demonstrating so many great work habits.  We did have some technical glitches -- app freezing and crashing, long waiting for some image loading -- but even with some frustrations, it was still the best part of my week.

I loved the app and I am looking forward to trying it out again.  I am adding it to my Apps page of the blog too.  It will definitely become one of my standards.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

37 Days until Mole Day

This week I am introducing the mole, a fundamental concept in chemistry that we use to measure amount of a substance.  On Friday, I will give my Mole Day assignment, a project that is often one of my fall highlights.

The mole, 602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 things, is a tremendously big number, used for measuring very small things like atoms and molecules.  It's hard for students to comprehend a number this big, so we celebrate Mole Day doing a project to help us understand how big that number is.  I ask my students to take a common object and measure its mass, volume, and length or something else that makes sense.  Then they calculate what each of those quantities would be if they had a mole of the objects.  Then they compare that to some known quantity of mass, volume, or length.  For example, if you had a mole of dice, they would stretch from the Earth to the Sun something like 63,000,000,000 times.  Students create a representation of their findings and present them on Mole Day.  Extra credit for incorporating the Mole Day Theme (this year: Mole O'Ween).

I have saved a lot of posters over the years -- mole of dice, mole of dimes, mole of post-its.  I have some tshirts, some mobiles.  There was a poem, now infamous, about burning a mole of books, several songs, and even an interpretive dance one year.  This year, the Mole Day project will get a bit of a facelift.  In an effort to help students explore some new resources the project will be digital -- kids must use a digital tool to create their representation.  I have a list of suggested tools like Powtoon and Thinglink and Prezi and Glogster, but it's always great to see what the kids find and use.  It's time to bring this project up to code, especially since the very best Mole Day project I have ever evaluated was digital four years ago:

In the spirit of Mole Day and digital tools, I played around a little with Zaption tonight.  Have you tried Zaption?  Zaption allows you to take a video and add interactive elements.  As with so many web tools, there is a generous free version and a PayForIt Pro version.  I have tried some other tools like this, but I love the way Zaption looks.  

I took a TedEd video about the Mole and added just a few interactive questions.  Here is what I ended up with after just a few minutes of tinkering.  Below is a screenshot of the analytics I can see as it gets used:

Looks like I will get some great info after my students watch it!  I think I will use this Zaptioned mole video on Friday when I introduce the project -- part inspiration, part formative assessment.   Maybe one of my students will use Zaption to complete the project.  Come back on October 24 to see the best of their work!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Drawing a Blank!

This weekend I participated in the CUE Learning Revolution Online Summit Featuring Google for Education.  Just like at all great conferences, I learned many things.  One of my favorites, and also one of the simplest, involved Google Drawing and was showcased by Chris Aviles.

In my experience, Google Drawing is the most underused of the main Google Apps.  Teachers love Google Docs for word processing and collaborating, Google Forms for quizzes and surveys, and Google Slides for presentations.  Even Google Sheets, perhaps the most technical of the apps, are well-known because of the spreadsheets generated when Forms are used.  But what do you do with Google Drawing?  Maybe draw something that you insert in a Doc or Slide?  At least that's what I had done with it.  Until now.

Of course, Google Drawings are shareable and collaborative.  I knew that I could create a drawing and share it or create a drawing with other people.  What I didn't know was that I could create a drawing with words in the grey space surrounding the Drawing and those words would share too.  I thought the shared part was limited to the canvas itself.  This feature allows a student or teacher to create an interactive drawing activity where words can be moved to places in the drawing.

My district is focusing on helping students examine similarities and differences this year.  Along comes my interactive drawing.  Last year my principal introduced a Top Hat Strategy that I like for comparing and contrasting.  The brim of the hat houses the similarities; the body of the hat is divided into rectangles where the contrasting happens.  The Top Hat is sometimes preferred over the Venn Diagram, the compare/contrast standard, because it has more space for writing and is easier to organize text to directly contrast specific qualities.  

I used Drawing to draw a Top Hat of sorts that I could share with my students and included some words that could be used to examine similarities and differences:

I share it with students with the words in the grey space.  Then they can drag the words around and drop them in the correct place in the Top Hat.  Quick formative assessment that is also a powerful thinking strategy.  If I create a Top Hat template, then I can use it many times by just changing the headings.

Then I started thinking about other things I could use this for.  Insert images and labels so students can label a diagram.  KWL.  Plot diagram.  Timeline.  Cause and Effect.  Match the diagram with a sequence of events.  Concept map.  Writing planning.  Maps.  Vocabulary pictures.  Any graphic organizer.  Endless possibilities.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Having a Ball with Chemistry

We're nearing the end of Unit 1 in my classroom, so it's time to start thinking about the summative assessment.  To prepare my students for the tough problem they will face on that test, I need to give them some monster problem practice opportunities.  For years, I used the chemistry standard "find the thickness of aluminum foil" for this.  It's a great problem because the students have to use the combined concepts of density and unit conversion to find the thickness (thinness?) of a square of foil.   

The trouble with that assignment is:  who cares?  Most students don't have a burning question about the thickness of aluminum foil.  They'll do it because I ask them to, and they might become better problem solvers, but it always felt kind of "meh" to me.  Taking a cue from one of my favorite thinkers and bloggers, Dan Meyer (his blog is included in my reading list at the right), I made this video.  OK, disclaimer:  it's not great, but it is a first attempt (and it's another video made with my Lumens Ladibug document camera - I can't get enough of that thing):

So then I pose the question:  Will a bowling ball sink or float in water?  Cue the eyeroll.  OK, I admit that this one starts out in sort of the same way as the foil.  The question is maybe not burning here either, but they are talking about how crazy it is to even ask that question as they work together in lab groups to solve the problem.  And that's where the fun starts.  There are three bowling balls, two groups solving for each ball.  Good conversation about unit conversion and density as I circulate.  Kids talking about the merit of measuring in centimeters vs inches, the difference between mass and weight.  When they finish the problem about 20 minutes later, we reconvene as a big group to make predictions and test them out.

I made a video of that too.  What I wish I had videotaped was the reactions of the students as we did it.  In every class, there is a group of students who doubts that there math is correct.  They check and recheck their figures.  In one group on Friday, an friendly argument erupted where finally they had to agree to disagree because one very strong student was so convinced that she had calculated it wrong.  We test the green 15 lb and black 10 lb bowling balls first.  Kids correctly predict that they will sink.  Then we test the purple 8 lb ball and kids cringe and shrug as they guess that it won't sink.  Video #2:

And then they cheer.  Literally cheer and high five like they have won a game as they see the results.  No one ever cheered after aluminum foil.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Don't Forget to Write!

I have just finished grading my first set of paperless lab reports.  This was high on my to-do list for this school year, so it feels like a major accomplishment that, by the tenth day of school, I have tried something that I really wanted to attempt.  Like all new ventures, there were highs and lows.

First the things I loved:

I used the Google Add-ons Doctopus and Goobric to create student and teacher folders in our Drives and send out the lab report template.  These add-ons are awesome; I loved that the whole process is so nicely organized.  Using Doctopus creates a tidy spreadsheet where the links to all the lab reports are accessible for grading.  Goobric allows me to use a rubric to evaluate the work and then Goobric automatically pastes the rubric onto each student's report.  So slick!

I wrote this summer about my transition to a new rubric based on the PARCC rubric for analytic writing.  I turned that rubric into my Goobric.  I liked using this new and improved rubric to evaluate the work.  Much more detailed than what I have used in the past, this new rubric improved my eye for critical details.

And, of course, they are all typed.  No sloppy, messy, I-am-going-blind-trying-to-read-this reports.  No ketchup stains.  No spiral notebook edges.  No pink ink.  No arrows.  No scratch-outs.  They all looked great!

Now some hurdles to overcome this year:

It took me longer to grade the work this way.  Noticeably longer.  Maybe because I was doing it a new way, with a new rubric.  Maybe I will be able to speed up with practice.  Adding time to my grading time was not on the to-do list.

I am struggling with how to make comments.  I started by using the commenting feature in Google Docs, but when the documents are embargoed for grading (student editing access is turned off), the students cannot see those comments.  Argh!  There is a space at the end of the rubric for comments, but I want to be able to add them in to the appropriate place in the report.  I settled for typing them right into the report in a different color ink.  There has to be a quicker way.  Less feedback - or worse feedback - was also not on the to-do list.

This last one might sound crazy.  It turns out that, while I am glad that they are easy to read because they are typed, I feel like I am missing a little something too because they are all typed.  With a handwritten document, I feel like I learned a little something about the student as I read the paper.  When it was sloppy or perfect or minimalist or vebose, I knew more about them as people.  At least I knew who liked ketchup!  But, seriously, when I was done with this mountain of grading, I don't feel like these reports made as much of an impression on me as reports have in the past.  I can't really say which lab groups did really interesting experiments or whose work impressed me most.  Much has been written lately about how important handwriting is for learning.  I feel like I lost some of my learning with the loss of their handwriting.  And, if something has been lost for me, has something been lost in their learning too?

It's only Day 11 of the school year, so it's too soon for judgment.  I am excited to try it again.  I am looking forward to perfecting the process and reflecting on the outcomes.  Perfecting and reflecting are added to the to-do list.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I'm Lovin' BlogLovin'!

I was looking at the stats on my blog yesterday and, in the referring websites list, I found the usual suspects -- twitter, facebook, google+ and a site I didn't know:  Curious about this mystery site, I checked it out.

Bloglovin' is a feed reader, a way to keep tabs in the blogs you like to read.  I have written before about how my teaching changed when I took a Web2.0 class that required Will Richardson's book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.  As part of that class, I tried out some Web2.0 services, including a feed reader.  I started using GoogleReader to keep up with my many interests, but, when it was discontinued, I changed over to feedly.  When I deliver professional development about Web2.0 tools, I always talk about diigo for bookmarking and feedly for reading blog feeds, but there is something about feed readers that seems to stop people in their tracks.  And not in a good way.

Bloglovin' could change that.  It's easy to set up an account with your email or facebook account.  And bloglovin' has the tiled look of pinterest; it's visual, but clean and interesting.  It is simple to use.  Sign in and you get some hints on finding blogs to follow and how to add them to your feed.

Type the name of the blog into the search bar and you can find the blogs you like to read.  Then click the + Follow button and the blog gets added to your feed.  

On your feed page, you see the names of the blogs you follow and the number of unread posts you have for each of the blogs.

After you have clicked on and read a post, the title gets greyed out so you can visually tell which posts you have read and which ones still need attention.

You can click the Save button (a heart) to save a post so you can access it after it has been read.  

You can share a post using twitter, facebook, pinterest, or email (How about adding google+, bloglovin'?)

Bloglovin' has the typical bells and whistles -- search popular posts, find blogs by category, get notifications, suggested blogs based on your feeds, follow people -- but not so many bells and whistles to overwhelm new users.  It would be nice if they would add an education category and a sharing option for Google+.  If you don't already have a feed reader that you like, check out bloglovin'.  If you don't regularly read blogs, I'll recommend the ones in my reading list at the right.  They always provide me with inspiration to learn and try more.

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