Thursday, November 27, 2014

Actively Learn on Thanksgiving

I don't give my students homework over the Thanksgiving recess, but I do like to provide a little extra credit opportunity for the holiday weekend.  Chemistry is, after all, the heart of everything, so why not inject a little chemistry into Thanksgiving?  I was anxious to try out a new web tool, Actively Learn, so I combined the two efforts for this assignment.

Actively Learn is a web tool designed to help students read closely.  Teachers can select reading material from the catalog or import a weblink or PDF.  Then questions and media can be embedded into the text, allowing teachers to create an experience that could mimic the PARCC assessments that will debut later this year.  Students can collaborate while they read and answer the questions.  Teachers can score the answers to the questions, provide feedback to students, and view the assessment results.

After I signed up for my free account, I quickly created my 5 classes.  The Get Started screen walks a teacher through the process with easy to access help screens.  The intuitive service had me up and ready to go in no time.  Creating an assignment was a breeze - find the reading material, highlight text, add questions and videos.

Students create accounts at Actively Learn - with or without email addresses - and use a 5 letter-digit code to search and join classes.  For my high schoolers, I created a quick handout that I shared with them through Google Drive that gave them 3 steps to creating accounts and finding the assignment.  So far, several have joined my classes and no one has asked me for tech support, so it seems pretty easy from the student side too.

For my reading material, I went to my go-to source of chemistry applications, the articles from the American Chemical Society's ChemMatters.  I easily found an article about the chemistry of digestion and imported it to create my assignment.  This article was associated with a video too, so I linked that to the PDF in Actively Learn.  Then I went to the ACS YouTube channel Reactions to find one more video about the chemistry of why we feel full after eating a big meal.  Reactions is a great Youtube channel for great and quirky chemistry applications.

My students have to read the article, watch the two videos that are about 2 minutes each, and answer three questions.  Once they do (Shout Out to the students who have already completed the assignment!), I can see all the answers and evaluate them.  On a summary screen I can which students have started and completed the assignment and how long they spent (I love that!).  There is a screen that shows me the answers and I can rate them as Incomplete, Basic, Proficient, or Advanced.  I can also add comments.  

If you're looking for a free webtool to help students read closely with the ability to add questions you design, Actively Learn is an easy one to try.

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