Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nuggets from the Nearpod Summit

Two weeks ago I got to participate in a Nearpod Summit for their PioNears. One of the main purposes of the summit was to see the projects they are working on and will roll out this year. I wrote about some of those when I returned home. Another of the purposes of the summit was community building. The PioNears are an amazing group of educators and we spent a good portion of the weekend working in teams. Many of the activities were very fun and easy to replicate in classrooms, so I thought I would share them here:

The Living Camera

Working in pairs, one person is the camera and one person is the photographer. The person who is the camera stands in front of the person who is the photographer. The camera has eyes closed and is directed around an area by the photographer. When it is time to take a picture, a signal is given (tap on the shoulder) and the camera opens her eyes. It was hilarious to see "photographers" line up perfect shots and modify the signal to take panoramas, selfies, and more. Definitely a good one for building partnerships and trust.

Make a video

Working in groups of 3, we were given four images to lay, face down, on the table. We scrambled them into a random order and turned them face up. Then we had to make up a story and make a video about it. That's pretty much all the instructions or equipment we were given. And we had 15 minutes to do the whole thing.

Count to 3

With a partner, count to three, alternating who says each number. Each time you get to three, start again. Go as fast as you can. Next, replace 1 with a clap. Clap-two-three-clap-two-three as fast as you can. Then replace two with a snap. Clap-snap-three-clap-snap-three. Then replace three with a stomp. Clap-snap-stomp-clap-snap-stomp. It's not as easy as it sounds.

At one point in the process, we were encouraged to watch our body language when we screwed up. It was about what you'd guess - fist shaking, face palming, slumped posture. Then we were encouraged, both partners, to throw up our hands and shout "ta-da" every time we made a mistake. This became a framing concept for the weekend. Every time we turned around there was another "Ta-Da" moment. I loved the celebration of errors!

Fashion Show

I am a huge fan of Project Runway, so when we were invited to form a team of six for a fashion challenge, I was in my element. There was a table of materials - rolls of paper, post-its, tape, markers, pipe cleaners, props - and we were all given a concept to represent with a fashion design. We had about 15 minutes to design and create it. Then we had a runway show. Our fashion represented Evidence Based Writing in Math. How did we do? I think this would be fun to represent characters in a book or new vocabulary or historical events.

Three in a Scene

Working in a group of 6, you create an improvised scene. Person #1 begins by assuming the position of something in the scene. For example, she might stand with arms outstretched and say "I am the tree." Person #2 adds himself to the scene. Perhaps he flaps his hands above one of the branches, saying "I am a bird in the tree." Person #3 adds herself to the scene in a similar way. Now the first person removes herself and either Person #2 or person #3 from the scene to create a new beginning and new people join. This was silly, but fun. Our scenes went to hilarious places!

Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament

Challenge the person next to you to rock-paper-scissors. Whoever loses must become the loudest, most enthusiastic supporter of the person who just beat them as she takes on the next person. Eventually the room is divided in half where each half is cheering for one person. Good as a brain break or to bring the energy back after lunch!

Best of Seven

Everyone write their best idea on an index card. On the back, draw 5 squares. Walk around the room and exchange cards with everyone as fast as you can until someone says stop. The person closest to you is your partner. Read the ideas on the card and divide seven points between the ideas to indicate how valuable they are. How will you divide the seven points - 7 & 0? 4 & 3? Write your values in a square on the card. Then repeat the process again and again until all the boxes are filled. Total the numbers in the boxes to see which idea is the best. This was a fun way to sift through many ideas to come up with a great one.

Haiku Band

Working in teams, participants write a haiku to sum up an experience. Choose one person to read the haiku. All haiku readers make a circle in the center of the room. Everyone else surrounds them. The group is divided into fourths. One section makes a repeating rhythm, another section sings a repeating baseline, another section sings a repeating horn riff, and the last section sings a repeating melody. The "band" plays loudly until the leader quiets them and then the haiku is read. Then the music swells. A great finish!

Hopefully one of these ideas is one you might try. I hope to use them all in my classroom or in professional development that I lead this year. Thanks, Nearpod, for all the great ideas!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 3

Here is the third installment in a series of posts that will reflect on the chemistry PBL my PLC is trying this semester. Our students are creating infographics to explain the relevant chemistry of any topic they choose. The topics they chose are listed above in the word cloud. You can read the first two posts here and here. So far we have used a BreakoutEdu challenge as our entry event and used a BuzzFeed quiz to form groups. During our third week, it was time to settle on a topic, choose an infographic tool, and start researching.

Before we got down to the nitty-gritty of the topic, I wanted to do a quick group exercise to encourage group collaboration. I read this post on Sara VanDerWerf's blog and it sounded awesome, so I decided to give the 100 numbers task a try. It was awesome! 

As she reports, all the groups were able to identify more numbers the second time through the task. In addition, I observed that the groups were quieter with heads closer together and using strategies they created the second time through the task. Look at the photo on the left of students working on the task the first time. In the photo on the right, where they are working through the task a second time, they have created a smaller workspace, their hands are all closer to the task, and they look more focused. We talked quickly about what adjustments groups made in order to be more successful. Hopefully they will apply those things during the remainder of the PBL.

Then we watched a brief video about what an infographic is. I was worried that I was using that term like we all know what it means (infographics are everywhere in edcuation it seems). I also liked the video because it emphasized what makes a good infographic. Here is the video we watched:

Then I gave groups the rest of the time to narrow their focus and begin researching. Our web designers and graphic designers were encouraged to review tools for making infographics and our project managers and researchers were encouraged to focus on content for the topics.

Next week they will have the bulk of the class period to start to create their infographics with a gallery walk of rough drafts and focused comments at the end of the period. We hope to wrap up the whole project after two more class periods.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 2

Last week I wrote the first post in a series about the chemistry PBL that my colleagues and I are piloting this year. Here is the update for Week 2!

On our second day devoted to this project, we asked students to read the article that was the springboard for this project. Instead of reading it in its original form, I pasted it into Prism and asked students to read and highlight one thing they agreed with, one thing they disagreed with, and a reason we might be doing the project. After they submit their highlights, they can see everyone's highlights. Want to check it out? Take a look at the Prism article here.

We wanted our students to choose groups and begin thinking about a topic. We have identified four roles for each group - Project Manager, Researcher, Web Designer, and Graphic Designer - and we wanted to help students choose groups that would allow them to draw on diverse strengths instead of just relying on their pals. Since we are working on relevance, we decided to use a BuzzFeed quiz. Students completed the quiz and then received a match of their best role. Want to try our quiz? Here it is.

As they waited for everyone to finish, students put their names onto post-its and brainstormed a quick list of 3-5 topics for which they might want to investigate the chemistry. Chemistry of saxophones? Lattes? Drugs? I collected the post-its as they finished them.

After learning of their best match role, they grouped together with the other students in that role and read the description. If they didn't think it fit them, they could change, but we emphasized that all groups would need to designate a different person as each role, so they should carefully consider what their attributes. When they were firm in what role they could play, I put the post-its on the whiteboards in role categories. Then students could walk around and read what their peers might want to explore and begin choosing groups.

Once all the groups had formed, they had time to start talking about a topic and looking around on the internet to see if information would be available for the topic they chose. By Week 3, they would need a firm topic.

I liked using the BuzzFeed quiz and I think students did too. They thought it was silly, but it pointed them in a direction to get them started. One student said, "I love that we took a BuzzFeed quiz for school since I take so many at home!" Unfortunately, about half the students in each class came up as Project Managers, so compromises had to be made about who would actually serve in that role. This surprised me a little, especially the really quiet students who pictured themselves in this leadership role. I have obviously watched a lot more Project Runway and Top Chef because I know what happens to the Team Leader when the project goes awry!

The day actually had a reality TV feel. I'm not sure the groups formed in exactly the way I hoped. Many students opted to work with friends and made the roles fit. Also, in one class, two students didn't make it into a group, so there was an awkward conversation that had a happy enough ending (or so it looked to me!), but I hate that feeling of waiting to be chosen. I might change how I do this next year, but I'm not exactly sure how. Maybe identify the Project Managers first and then let them choose their teams? Not sure, but I would love your suggestions in the comments!

Nearpod: Hay Algo Aquí

I spent this past Saturday and Sunday at the second annual Nearpod PioNear Summit in Austin, Texas. It was great to see the 30+ people that I met at last year's summit and to connect with 60 more PioNears from all over the world. We started the weekend with a keynote address by Guido Kovalskys. During his inspirational talk, I created the sketchnote above. He focused on the important ways that Nearpod is used to provide context, improve content, and build connections. The data is impressive: 5.4 million virtual field trips have been taken using Nearpod. 1700 virtual field trips per day! 

The people and conversations in this community were the greatest part of the trip, but a close second was hearing about all the cool things coming down the pike from Nearpod. Here's a closer look:

Ready to Run PD

Nearpod is creating professional development modules on topics that teachers need to be successful in the classroom, like evidence-based writing in math. If your district doesn't have the funding to bring an expert to the district, perhaps a Ready to Run PD module can be substituted. Created in the spirit of Master Classes, these would be the content and ideas of experts.

Nearpod ELL

The English Language Learners are the fastest growing population in the United States. Often ELL teachers are stretched very thin, trying to support learners with a variety of native languages with differing levels of English mastery. Enter Nearpod's ELL modules. With lessons designed specifically to increase English proficiency in grades 2-12, these will come at just the right time. Look for these lessons to be available January 31, 2017.

Nearpod for Subs

Everyone has a nightmare story of the time a sub plan went wrong. Nearpod is working on creating a special distinction for lessons that can be used by a substitute. When a teacher is absent, she chooses the lesson and a notification is sent to a substitute by text message and email. Directions are included for using Nearpod (in case the substitute is unfamiliar with the platform) and accessing the lesson for the day. I am really excited to try this one out!

Nearpod Original Content

Nearpod also has its finger on the pulse of the movement to put students into the driver's seat as far as content creation goes. The think tank at Nearpod is working to design interdisciplinary lesson starters that will ask students to create an original product, allowing for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. Teachers will definitely be more likely to try something like this if much of the advanced preparation for finding these started is ready to go when the lessons are downloaded.

Those are four reasons to keep your eye on Nearpod in 2017. I continue to be impressed with how this company listens to its stakeholders and tries to create tools and strategies to meet the needs of educators. When the company started, founders Guido Kovalskys and Felipe Sommer said "hay algo aquí" to each other. This phrase means "there's something here." I couldn't agree more!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 1

My school has a PBL focus this year. Every staff member is expected to try one out, so my PLC and I have designed one that I want to document here. Our students will work on it on 5 consecutive Tuesdays in January and we started last week on our first day back from vacation.

This fall I read this article that explains that though many chemists would say students dislike chemistry because it's difficult or boring, people actually don't like chemistry because it doesn't feel relevant to their lives. To a chemist, this is hard to believe. After all, our "central science" is the heart of every other science. What in the world, after all, isn't chemistry?

Using this article as our springboard, we developed our driving question: How is chemistry relevant to an aspect of your life? In the project, students, working in teams of four, would investigate the chemistry of something that interests them. We love the infographics we have seen at Compound Interest, so we decided we would ask our students to create one about their relevant chemistry. With some of the major decisions made, we needed an entry event. Something fun. Something that would welcome students back from vacation and catalyze their interest in the project. Something that would draw them in. A breakout!

We bought a BreakoutEdu box and created our puzzle. We wanted our puzzle, like our PBL, to be relevant to chemistry and relevant to our project. Because we were coming back from a holiday, we decided to focus on candy. We found, and loved, this infographic on the Chemistry of Candy. We would use that as the exemplar and put the project rubric on the back. We loaded the infographics and some candy into the Breakout box. Our puzzles and clues all had to do with the chemistry of candy and reviewed many skills that students learned during first semester.

I will admit that I felt a little sorry for my bleary-eyed first period students when they entered the room at 7:20 AM last Tuesday and two minutes later I told them they had to use first semester knowledge to solve a puzzle and unlock 5 locks. Though it must have seemed like the middle of the night to the vacation-brained teenagers, they quickly got up and started moving around the room to solve the puzzles. All my classes opened every lock on the box within about 30 minutes. 

Overall, I thought the entry event was a success. It was a great way to come back from break and get back into the swing of learning while reviewing first semester concepts. From the teacher standpoint, it was great to stand back and watch them work as a class of 20+ to solve these puzzles. Sometimes students would step back and watch too or disengage for a bit, but, for the most part, the engagement was very high. In two classes, two groups emerged - one of boys and one of girls, but eventually they intermingled again. The 30 minute solve time was terrific because, with our 48 minute classes, this left 15 minutes or so for a description of the project, including what makes a good infographic, a first reading of the rubric, and questions from students. That was Day 1. Day 2 is tomorrow. We will take a closer look at the relevance of chemistry, form teams and start to consider topics. 

Have you done a PBL? What advice do you have for us as we move forward? We can use all the help we can get! Please comment with your tips and hints.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It's Always the Quiet Ones

I'm not quiet. There, I said it. I talk too loud, I've been kicked out of libraries, and sometimes I realize a few seconds too late that I shouldn't have said what I did (as loudly as I said it). This quality makes me a big participant and an incessant questioner when I am a student in a classroom. As a result, I find kids like this easy to teach. I understand what makes them tick. The ones that have me stymied are the quiet ones.

This isn't a new phenomenon. For as long as I have been teaching, I always react with surprise when the quiet students thank me for a good year or ask me to write their letters of recommendations. My fallback position is that if students are quiet, they hate the class. Or, at the very least, are counting the minutes until it's over. I know this isn't 100% rational, especially this many years into my career where many quiet students have expressed satisfaction or gratitude. Still, this many years into my career, I still don't think I am serving this population very well.

What has me thinking about this is a collision of two factors. First, it's a new year and people tend to reflect and resolve. There is a resolution in this somewhere for me. Second, my school made a change to make year-long classes into two semesters so students receive final grades twice a year instead of once. The result was that some students who might have raised their Cs to Bs by May finished in December with Cs. I have a group of quiet girls who have done their homework and tried hard and probably studied, at least a little bit, and are stuck at Cs. I'd like to find a way to help them improve.

I've added Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking to my reading list. I've considered offering a before school help session that is a small group of quiet students to see if in a small setting I can offer better assistance. I already use small group settings in class, but I could probably do a better job with letting students process thoughts for more time before reporting ideas to the whole class. None of this feels, though, like it will revolutionize my practice. Well, maybe I don't need a revolution, but I do need something bigger than a tweak.

What would you suggest? I'd love to hear your ideas.