Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shout it Out: the SMART LAB is Cool!

Almost a year ago, SMART Notebook was updated to version 15, bringing with it a new feature called Lesson Activity Builder (LAB). This addition allows teachers to create engaging, interactive activities for students. Options include flipping cards, filling in blanks, ranking and sorting things. Many of the activities also include a gaming component - random spinning wheel or hat pick, dice, and so on. In August, Notebook 15 was updated to include a LAB called Shout It Out that allows students to use devices, mobile or otherwise, to interact with a Notebook file. I tried this out yesterday in class.

Step one was to use the LAB to create categories in the SMART Notebook file. I planned to use this feature just to see the answers my students calculated to the homework due in class, so I just made each question into a category. It is very easy to follow the on-screen prompts and click through some options (themes, game components) to create the Shout It Out.

Step two was to start the activity in class. When you do, you get a prompt to send students to a website ( and a code they enter. Once they do that, they can start typing and entering answers and they instantly appear in the Notebook file. Within a minute or two, I could see the answer every student calculate to our homework the night before. A quick scan told me which questions I needed to go over in detail and for which questions I could just describe some hints or common errors.

You can select whether or not to show student names. I initially chose to show names because I was not planning to project the file; I just wanted to see the answers. I loved the way it looked, though, and wanted to share it with my students, so I clicked a button and hid the names so we could look at all the results. My pictures show what it looks like both ways. One of the screenshots also shows how you can see how many times each student has contributed and how many students are participating. When the activity is started, the mobile device icon turns green. When it is finished, it turns red. When a student exits the activity, a red mobile device appears by his name, a handy classroom management tool.

Shout It Out would be great for asking students to infer similarities and differences, provide operational definitions to vocabulary words, report out their lab work, reflect on learning or group work, make predictions and more. I love that you can use it anonymously but also see identified student contributions. That is a great feature for sharing in a class while also tracking student progress. For me, it meant I knew how many students were successful on the homework and also which students struggled with which questions. Most of my students used MacBooks to participate but a few used their phones because they had them in their hands when I gave the directions. It worked equally well with mobile devices and laptops.

I don't know how this update passed me by, but I really enjoyed this tool and am looking forward to trying out some of the other Learning Activity Builders soon. If you have SMART Notebook, look for the magic hat icon in your toolbar. Click it and start building today!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Differentiation with ClassKick App

In January I participated in a web chat with Laura Litton from ClassKick. ClassKick is an iOS app that allows a teacher to create an assignment of slides and then watch students complete them in real time. While students work, they can raise a virtual hand to get help or their work checked. I love that students can help each other within the app. Stickers are available for instant feedback. Students can go back to their work (or parents and others could watch a student work) with a new web viewer. I have written about ClassKick a couple of times before and every time I use it I like it even more.

When I spoke with Laura last month, she mentioned that some teachers are using it to differentiate instruction and I asked for more details about that. She said some teachers create different assignments and provide the codes for those assignments to different groups of students. Other teachers create multiple page assignments and give students a menu of pages to try out. I thought both those ideas sounded interesting, but I tried something else in my classroom this week.

The feedback stickers in ClassKick are customizable. I created one sticker that said "Great Work! Go to the next question" and another that said "Great Work! Skip the next question." Then I created the assignment slides, each one with a math problem to solve. I placed them in order of increasing difficulty and grouped them by topic. I told the students to wait to have their answers checked before moving on. If they got the answer correct, I used the sticker that told them to skip a question; if they struggled a little, I sent them to the next question.

The Good

Here are some things I liked about using ClassKick in this way:

  • Every kid did not need to do every question and this provided a seamless, private way that I could provide help and targeted instruction.
  • Students could work at their own pace on these questions. No one had to wait for everyone to finish before moving on, but some lab groups elected to work through the problems as a group, so they had an option for individual or group pace.
  • Students could ask for help and receive it from me or their peers. Students could give help while they waited for their answers to be checked.
  • Students seemed to like the idea that sometimes they got to skip questions!

The Not-so-Good

Here are some challenges to using ClassKick in this way:

  • Sometimes students didn't wait to work to be checked before moving on, so by the time I said "skip the next question," they had already completed it!
  • Some students never asked to have their work checked and then I didn't realize that I needed to look for it until after the lesson.
  • In one of my classes, I had a very hard time keeping up with all the checking and students weren't asking for help, so there was a backup.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I liked using ClassKick to differentiate like this and will definitely try it again. As a feedback system, I loved it and it was reasonably easy to send kids to a particular question when they needed to practice or when they were more ready for a challenge. I love that I have screenshots of everything they did so I knew exactly where to start and what to emphasize in the next lesson. Most of all, I love that ClassKick is chatting with teachers, has a suggested features page, and is working on a web version of this great tool.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Choose a Video Clip with ClipChoose

In January I wrote about how much I enjoyed using the iOS IPEVO Whiteboard app with my students to make videos of chemistry demonstrations. I promised to share some of the best of these easy to make and annotate videos. Around the same time of that post, I read about ClipChoose, a webtool for making video polls, so I decided to share the videos using ClipChoose.

ClipChoose is a free service for creating polls based on videos. It's very easy to use. Create a quick free account to make your first poll. Then write a question and paste in the YouTube URLs of the videos you want to use in your poll. Click Submit Poll to get the link for your poll. It couldn't be simpler!

Want to see my student videos and participate in a poll about which video is best? Click here.

ClipChoose was probably not made for education, but I can see a lot of uses for it, especially when paired with the easy IPEVO Whiteboard app. Ask students to make videos that show them solving problems and create a poll to see who solved it in the best way or correct way or most unusual way. Make videos of problems being solved with one problem solved incorrectly. Ask students, in the poll, to identify the incorrectly solved problem. Some of the videos my students made had incorrect explanations and I could have asked them to identify those with ClipChoose. You can also browse other polls by categories, so maybe you can find one that would work for your students? I found a recently created poll about methods of heat transfer. I hope that ClipChoose will add an "education" category soon. A "science" category would also be great!

Which of my students' videos did you like best? Please watch and choose a clip!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Teach my [Stoichiometry] Lesson

A few weeks ago I wrote about a new approach I tried to teaching stoichiometry, the fundamental math of chemistry. At almost the same time, I wrote a post in response to a blogging initiative launched by the MathTwitterBlogoSphere (#MTBoS). This post is a follow-up to both of those things. This week the #MTBoS asks us to post about a lesson we taught this week. What went well? What didn't? 

The Lesson

This week I taught a lesson that is part of a progression of stoichiometry lessons. In the past, I might have stood at the board and prodded my students with questions to help them lead me to the answer using a problem solving strategy that we have practiced all year. In the past couple of years, I made a presentation available to all students and they could use it (or not) to assist them as they worked through the problems while I circulated to help and answer questions. I wanted to try something slightly more differentiated and targeted this year, partly because my experiment in the stoichiometry lessons of a few weeks ago left some students really struggling.

I looked at scores from two quizzes and put my students into three groups. The smallest group was 5 or 6 students from each class whose quiz scores revealed deficits in this content. These students received small group instruction with me during my lesson. The students who did fine on the two quizzes completed the math problems with the presentation. All these students solved the same 6 problems, but some did them with my modeling and elaborations and others checked their work against a digital version of the notes. I predicted that the students who aced both quizzes were ready for more of a challenge and didn't need either my instruction or the technology assistance. I wrote a difficult problem and told them to try to solve it. Once I had the small group working on something, I could still circulate and answer questions in the two other groups. After the extension group finished solving the problem, I made the chemicals from the problem available so that they could carry out the reaction from their problem. They created a balloon full of hydrogen gas that they ignited!

Anecdotal Benefits

I saw benefits to this version of my lesson while teaching it. The group working on the extension had excellent conversations in all classes where they worked together to solve this problem, asking and answering great questions. They all arrived at the answer with minimal assistance from me; eavesdropping on their awesome conversation was spectacular! When I told them that they would carry out the experiment and light the balloon, they loved the idea of that. Still, I wasn't prepared for how much they would enjoy doing it. One student who has said very little to me all year, looked at me and said, "This is the greatest thing I have ever done."

The experiment opened up an opportunity for more great conversation. They had calculated the size of the hydrogen balloon, but the balloon did not inflate nearly as big as their [correct] calculations predicted. Why is that? They had very interesting ideas about this and it was fun to share them.

As sexy as an exploding hydrogen balloon is, my favorite benefit came in the small group setting. One student who has had a very difficult year almost always sits with students who are outpacing her in class. In the small group setting, the person next to her did not understand how to set up a problem, so she showed him. Without differentiating like this, she would not have had the chance to demonstrate her knowledge and he would not have been able to thank her for doing so, but both of those things happened during the class. How nice it must have been to go from being the person who asks for help to being the person who provides it!

The Data Don't Lie

The lesson was really fun to teach, but if it were just fun without content gains, it wouldn't have been worth it. At the end of the week the students took a quiz over the concept. I was anxious to see the scores to see if this approach had helped or (please, no!) hurt. The average score on the quiz was a 13 out of 15, right around my typical average for a quiz and just a shade higher than last year's average. Fourteen students in three classes had received small group instruction. Eleven of those students improved when comparing this quiz score to the previous two that were used to group the students. Four of those students had failed at least one of the previous quizzes and passed this one, some by earning As or Bs this time.

The Takeaway

In my classroom, I struggle to differentiate in a way that is not too hard to manage and doesn't make anyone feel badly for whatever version of the lesson they complete. I also try to keep things open-ended and challenging, but I think I do model more often than I need to, especially for students who are ready to go it along. This lesson was a step in the right direction in both of those areas, so I am going to look for ways to expand this in coming units.