Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Technology Renaissance

Sorry, but this post has no tips, suggestions, or tricks. It is simply me reflecting on what teaching has become, and the amazing students we have to work with.

As a teacher I work with a wide variety of students with a even more broad range of abilities. Every student is an individual, and has individual strengths. One thing that is common among all my students is that they have successfully harnessed different realms of technology to blossom into a new age of Renaissance. That's right, I said it, Renaissance. You know people like  Leonardo da Vinci, or Nicolaus Copernicus. OK, I know what your thinking...Alchemy was a Renaissance failure, true, but with the knowledge and technology available at that time,  would it be so far fetch to think that on atom could be changed into another? Now we all know that is impossible, unless of course you were in a supernova explosion, or in an astrophsycial jet...the point is, some of the Renaissance ideas were proven wrong, yet they also gave us some great ideas, art, literature, and song. The time period allowed everyone to express themselves through various creative modalities. You might be thinking of your own students and reflecting on how horrible you were treated today, or wondering why your lesson did not go as well as you hoped for, but keep reflecting, and look closer. What would have happened if that lesson had some technology? or what if that lesson had technology presented in a different way?  What would happen if you harnessed creativity and not forced the typical idea of the Common Core into your students brain? How would your students flourish? What do they need to flourish?
Image: Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice (1485-90)
Obtained from 

For example, I just wrapped up a unit incorporating robotics and programming with the study of volcanoes in an Earth Science class. I also just wrapped up a differentiated project focused on extreme weather conditions in a different earth science class  I also wrapped up an ongoing geologic field study. One of these three scenarios clearly has more STEM initiatives obviously integrated. Yet, another,  has more of a STEAM flavor, and the other has more of a placed based approach.  In each scenario I was able to see students be creative and present amazingly unique  finished products. I had a team of students design and program a robot to navigate through an obstacle course to a "volcano" to find a hidden piece of Amethyst, while playing the Super Mario Brothers Theme song, using only 5 lines of code (this includes the code needed to play the Super Mario song they organized through the various sounds they could produce out of the robot, set to repeat). I also had a student "hand" draw diagrams of the structure and formation of hurricanes. These vector drawings were enhanced to show 3D using only sumo paint.  Give me a piece of paper and a pencil, and you're lucky if I could produce a legible stick figure. Finally, I had students using their androids to create field maps that accurately displayed their randomized samples of a geologic site to determine the primary rock type present, and mark clues to suggest incidents of faults and folds.  I gave these students a task, a goal, and some tech tools to aid their quest. They were able to tap into their own creativity and problem solving to  produce things that I couldn't even anticipate.

As educators, we are flourishing in a time of creativity and possibility. The limitation is our own ability to loosen the reigns and allow our students to show us what they can do with the technology they have readily available.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Google Keep with Google Classroom

Since Google Classroom has been released my classroom has been much more streamline. Everything that my students might need is conveniently organized in one location. Students can track  assignments, obtain their feedback much easier, and resubmit work much quicker than before. The way that I run my classroom is a pseudo-flipped environment. Not every student has equal access to technology at home, our school does not provide a 1:1 program, and the attitude to try and adopt a program is very obtuse. I also do not use a traditional text book with students, for various reason which will end up in another blog post, I also have my students doing a lot of science rather than me telling them about science.

With all that said, I often ask students to research a concept and take notes on about the important pieces before we apply what they know and learned. The research is always partnered with teaching students how to validate resources, effectively search Google based on reading level,  obtain quick accurate information, and how to appropriately cite information collected. To do all this I ask students to take notes. And, why not? Notes are a good way to help trick your brain into remembering things you may not be all that interested in learning.

Previously, I had students keeping notes in a notebook where they would hand write their notes. Which is an important skill that is still needed, however, it is sometimes easier to keep digital notes. Not only are they more legible, but they won't get lost in a backpack, locker, or the dogs mouth. I have since shifted to have students take notes with Google Docs. Only because Evernote was another place for students to have to remember where to go,  and Springseed only worked for those running Linux. All  of my students have a Google account and know how to access it easily. I discovered that Docs works well for some students, who heed suggestions about keeping one large document complete with a table of contents and headers.  But then, I ran into a virtual "dog" in Google Docs. What started to happen was that, students were not keeping one document, but making a separate one for each note taking event. Which could still work, however they were not organizing their files and folders in Google Drive and were not naming their documents. A students drive would be flooded with documents called "untitled." As much as you can try and keep a student organized, there are some who have selective hearing and are masters at ignoring teacher suggestions.

So, I needed another solution. One that would force students to include a header on notes, be able to access quickly, and be able to easily see  what was written.  I ended up turning to Google Keep. I know this tool was more designed to keep short "sticky notes" as reminders, but it also works really well for students to take notes on short concepts and keep them all organized on one screen  For now, it works, and the virtual "dog" has yet to have a satisfying meal.

(screenshot of a students Google Keep notes)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rubrics With Google Forms

Many teachers use rubrics as a way to rate student performance. They are a great tool to provide feedback to students, as well as provide students with a benchmark before they even start the assessment. With the push to include more technology in the classroom, filling out a rubric with a pen and paper seems a like taking a step backwards. There are some cool tools like Doctopus and Goobric that allow a rubric to be attached to an assignment, and it works through Google classroom, but sometimes it just doesn't work the way you want. I've run into issues with these scripts many times, to only find myself ditching the technology for pen and paper. Here is a fail-safe approach to digitizing your rubric.

Use Google Forms!

I know it's old news, but it is a solid solution that works, all the time.  Here is how:

  1. Create a Google Form
  2. Name the form something that is related to the assignment
  3. Insert a text question "name"
  4. insert a grid question,
  5. fill the 'row" selection with your criteria
  6. Fill the "column" section with your scale
  7. insert a "paragraph question" called comments
  8. publish and done. 

Now wasn't' that simple? 

Depending on how you set up your rubric, you could even set up an auto-grade function with an add-on, or write a short equation to auto-grade for you. Here's how.

One way, that doesn't always work the way you want, but sometimes fits the bill;
  1. use Flubaroo
  2. Go to the form spreadsheet
  3. click add-ons
  4. install Flubaroo

The other way that is just as easy. (maybe easier) 
 (this depends on how you are grading your rubric. This equation assumes it is out of 100%) 

  1. insert this equation into the column where you want your totals
  2. =(Sum(C2,D2,E2,F2)/20)*100

  1. If your rubric is using text instead of number use this equation
=if(right(B3)="!",4, if(right(C3)="!",3, if(right(D3)="!",2, if(right(E3)="!",1,0))))

Where "!" is the text you have in your form and the number 4,3,2,or 1 is the value you wan't it to associate with. 

(If you want to use these formulas and need more assistance, send me an email, I will be glad to help)