Friday, August 31, 2018

Tracking Progress with Google Sheets

My friend Andreas is a Spreadsheet Jedi. So when I saw this post of his where he created a progress tracking to-do list, I immediately wanted to try it. Since I am a new AP Chemistry teacher, using Andreas' system to track progress in AP Chemistry seemed like a great idea.

My AP Chemistry students have their first unit exam in my class next week. I wanted to help them self-assess and review, but I didn't want to make a typical high school review guide. AP Chemistry is, after all, supposed to take the place of a college class. AP Chemistry has something like 117 learning objectives, all keyed to six Big Ideas. I recently created a list of the learning objectives in Google Docs so I could use it for curriculum mapping and so forth. I used Andreas' tutorial and my list of learning objectives to create the AP Chemistry learning objectives tracker.

I shared the file with my students so they could each make their own copy. I suggested that they look at their lab and quiz scores from our first unit to deduce whether or not they have mastered an objective. If they have, they check the checkbox. When they do, the objective turns from yellow to green and the text is struck-through. The percent of mastered objectives is instantly calculated and displayed. Our goal will be for 100% mastery by AP Exam day.

This afternoon a fellow chemistry teacher (named Amy!) mentioned she would like to try something like this for her work with Standards Based Grading in AP Chemistry.

I think this could work the same way as my tracker except I would add a second column of checkboxes for "progressing" (or some other word that means not yet mastered but progress is being made). Conditional formatting could turn those rows one color while mastery could be a different color. The visual cue of different colors would be appealing and indicate progress.

Now we can all keep our goal in mind, while staying organized and focused. How are you tracking student achievements? How are your students tracking their mastery?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Getting Kids Talking with Talking Points

I'm teaching AP Chemistry this year for the first time in a very long time. Since many of the students in AP Chemistry are my former students, I had the benefit of knowing almost everyone on day 1. Rather than start with a traditional icebreaker activity, I decided to use a strategy called Talking Points that I learned about at TMC18

Talking Points is a strategy that is designed to get students involved in discourse about a topic. The teacher creates a short list (10ish) of statements that have some built-in controversy or at least differing interpretations. Using words like "most," "best," "worst" help create statements that are easy to argue about. In groups, students read the statements and tell their tablemates if they agree or disagree and why. They tally up the agrees and disagrees for each statement and then share takeaways with the whole class. While they discuss, the teacher can circulate and eavesdrop on the interesting discussions that ensue.

Where I can see myself using this to address chemistry content this year, on day 1 I used the strategy to learn more about what my students think about AP Chemistry. Since I am designing some of what we will do based on my agreement with some of these items, it felt like a good way to introduce the rationale for what we do. My statements are pictured below:

It was fascinating to listen to their ideas as they discussed these statements. Every students participated in the discussions and many were very lively. Here are some of the takeaways:
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that a major focus of AP Chemistry should be preparation for the test.
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that we should practice tasks that are similar to the test this year and that we should become proficient at solving a certain number of problems in a certain amount of time.
  • Most students disagreed that earning an A in AP Chemistry ensures a 5 on the test. 
  • There were mixed reactions on whether or not we should practice calculating without a calculator (and most did not realize that you cannot use a calculator on the multiple choice part of the AP Exam).
Some of the trends and takeaways they identified included:
  • "We really want to practice the test."
  • "Although the test is important, the class and material is most important. The score is not necessarily definitive." 
  • Our agrees and disagrees were split in half.
 Here are reasons I will use Talking Points again:
  • In small groups, every student spoke. Without having to guide the discussion, I could just listen to the interesting things they said. 
  • It wasn't like pulling teeth to get them to share ideas.
  • When I described the AP Chemistry Exam and the types of tasks we will tackle this year, I think my vision made more sense to them. I think the activity did lay a foundation for the rest of our work.
I'm looking forward to using this in a more content-specific way the next time. Perhaps to compare answers to a lab or methods to solve problems or  review essential questions. I'm also planning to use this same activity with parents at Meet the Teacher next week. I hope they will embrace discussing these statements, too!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Anchor, Aweigh!

Podcasting is an area that I would like to explore this year. I'm not sure I want to podcast (maybe, though), but I know a lot of people who regularly listen to podcasts and that is not a medium I have tapped into much so far. In some ways, podcasting appeals to me because I could speak my thoughts much faster than I can type them, so maybe a podcast to accompany a blog post or instead of a blog post? I'm not sure. Still, I would like to learn more about them in the next 12 months.

To that end, my friend Ryan and I serve together on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Speech and Debate Association. Ryan suggested that maybe the OSDA needs a podcast, so we volleyed that idea back and forth at a recent meeting. Ryan started by asking a lot of logistical questions - how would we do it, where would we store it, could we mix in listener questions and comments, and on and on. My answer to all his questions was "yes, with Anchor." Again, I don't know much about podcasting, but I had heard that Anchor is a great tool. We quickly checked it out and, to prove to him that we could do it, we made a test podcast that I have embedded below:

Thoughts on Anchor: 

  • It was incredibly simple to make that 2 minute podcast. We did the whole thing (create an account, click New Episode, and start/stop recording) in fewer than 10 minutes.
  • You can upload audio files, record audio files, grab files from your anchor library, mix in listener messages, and add transitions. All with easy buttons.
  • You can store your podcast on their site. And you can farm it out so its available other places too.
  • Their mission: to democratize audio. How cool is that? They say they will do that by having a diverse team that represents everyone and offering awesome tools that are 100% free. It sounds too good to be true, but, in my limited so far use, it was true.

How can we use podcasting in our classrooms? Weekly podcast that reviews the week? Designated but rotating podcaster who makes a recording of a big idea or important takeaway? Citizen chemistry podcast? I really like these ideas, but I need to think about it more. 

Are you podcasting at school? With students? Share ideas as comments.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Get Rocketbook, indeed!

Last year I bought my first Rocketbook. Have you seen these? It's a notebook that you write in, often with a Frixion pen, like a regular notebook. At the bottom of every page, there are seven symbols. You get the accompanying free app and link each of the seven symbols to particular location in your cloud storage. Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or wherever you want to store your handwritten notes. When you scan the page with the Rocketbook app, the notes automagically go to the cloud location indicated by the chosen symbol. It's a great marriage of handwritten notes with technology storage and access.

I love handwritten notes. I like them because when I write something down, I am more likely to remember it. And to think about it afterward. But I also like the freedom of writing with a pen, of words mixed with doodles and pictures, diagrams, and annotations. This is hard to recreate with a digital note-taking tool, but easy to write with a pen and store in a digital way.

There are several styles of these awesome spiral-bound notebooks. There are the one-time use notebooks for write, store, and discard. There are also reusable notebooks. I have the Rocketbook Wave. When I have filled it up with notes, it can go into the microwave with a cup of water on top. Run the microwave and the whole notebook erases itself so you can start again! There are also Everlast Rocketbooks that can be wiped clean with water. In my classroom, I refer to spiral notebooks as the devil's tool, but I make an exception for these great notebooks because they are sturdy, well-made notebooks that can be used again and again and allow me to integrate writing and technology.

Recently Rocketbook expanded their line to include a similar notebook for drawing. The Rocketbook Color has eight blank pages, 2 dotted pages, and 2 lined pages. The pages can all be written (drawn!) on with dry erase markers and wiped clean after they have been scanned and saved. Crayola dry erase products are recommended but any dry erase markers will work. Last week I presented a session on sketchnoting at a local conference and recommended the Rocketbook Color as a great sketchnoting tool.

Rocketbooks are great for everyone, but they have a special devotion to educators. They have an educator community that one can join to stay abreast of new notebooks and share tips and tricks. They also offer a 30% discount on a bulk order of notebooks and they donate $1 from every notebook to Donors Choose.

If you are looking for a back to school bonus for yourself or a favorite teacher, treat yourself or your favorite to a Rocketbook. You'll be glad you did!