Friday, 11 September 2015

Why I Gave Up Genius Hour

There is a lot of buzz online about providing 20% of classroom time for students to play and explore concepts of their own for the new school year. Modeled on Google's 20% time, (from which many innovations have emerged) this shift has come onto the scene in public education with critics and proponents on both side of the debate: "Is this good practice in public education?"

After doing "Genius Hour" for two years in a row, I'm giving it up after thoughtful reflection from managing projects, and quantifying learning outcomes that have come with this. Even if you're thinking of taking it up, here are some things to consider:

  • Interest wanes over time. If you do Genius hour, you will notice an immediate spike in interest when students are told they can learn about whatever they want. However, you'll notice that this starts its gradual taper as projects finish at different times and students struggle to plan and manage projects. 
  • It's not that novel of an idea. I've heard that 20% time is unlike anything ever done in education. However, is not an IB personal project or science fair project the same? 
  • You'll lose 20% of instructional time. The most important thing any teacher can do pedagogically is provide good teaching and instruction. This will drastically cut the time that you have to teach and implement a viable curriculum. 
  • Google employees are highly innovative. Many of our students are just finding themselves and do not have good "sense of themselves". I've always had students in both years that when confronted with this free time were wrought with indecision; no matter how much I've tried to help cultivate their interests. 

At first glance, giving the students the opportunity to learn about their interests may seem like a good idea and a nice respite from the hum drum learning in your classroom. The problem is, "hum-drum" learning is usually the product of an uninspired teacher that can't seem to make content and skills relevant or meaningful and connect them to real-life. Since there will always be opportunities for differentiation in a project-based environment, will "Genius Hour" stand the test of time?

60 Rockstar Chrome Apps and Extensions for the New School Year

I added 10 to the list from the original post back in January to make it 60. Enjoy!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Using Google Sites for Assessment

Last week, I wrote about how you can use the Add-on "Site Maestro" to mass distribute websites to groups of students. One of my co-workers has his students build his own websites from scratch, but "Site Maestro" is good because it give administrative control over student sites which is much better is you're thinking of using Google Sites for assessment and want to go paperless. I've used blogs for the last few years for students to publish their science research for purposes of peer review, but the management features over Google Sites make assessing student work extremely easy.

Writing Assessments 
Doctopus is one of my "go-to" tech resources for assessing writing. However, it can be time-consuming to set up, especially if you share and send documents to different classes as you might want to turn off editing access to some classes and not others as you're working with students throughout the week.

The writing piece above was based on our in-class practice of drafting arguments and evaluating them orally. However, our summative piece was a writing piece asking students to evaluate and provide arguments on the topic of commercializing cloning. As this was a "test" and I didn't tell students the writing prompt before they were to come into class, I wanted a way to make sure they didn't go home and work on after school as the validity of the assessment would have been diminished.

Changing Student Access
Site management tools set up through Site Maestro give teachers the flexibility of managing sites for assessment and grading. For example, after the writing piece above, I wanted to do "turn-off" each classes ability to edit their websites because I didn't want their parents or tutors to help them amend the work. I wanted to know what they could do.

Go to "Site Permissions" and turn student access to "View" or "No Access"
Changing Site Visibility
What is to stop a student plagiarizing work from another students website? This question brings up the need to make sites public on the web for student-led conferences but have private (even from the school domain) so students cannot copy and paste one another's work. Simply click "Site Access and Permissions" and change site visibility.

Change site permissions and visibility with the Site Maestro management tab

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Make Student Portfolios with SiteMaestro

Blogs and websites can be great methods for publishing student work. In this tutorial, I'll show you a very easy way to create websites for large groups of students using Google Sites and Spreadsheets. What you'll need is:
  1. A google site built in your own domain. If you plan to have a site that is used by more than one teacher, consider how you want the layout, pages in a way that supports the learning in your classroom. If you're new to sites, here are some tutorials to get you started. Building a site is 90% of the work and you can tinker with it for hours if you're not careful. 
  2. A spreadsheet of each student's first and last name and email address. You may want to wait to build sites using this method until the second or third week of class, as class rosters may change due to scheduling conflicts. 

The Visibile Thinking Chronicles: See Think Wonder

I've started reading a great book called "Making Thinking Visible-How to promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners" by Ritchhart, Church and Morrison. I've had a few visible thinking activities in my bag of tricks and all them have been amazing to get my students discussing issues and sharing ideas.

"See, Think, Wonder" is a great one that you can use with a piece of artwork, graph, or picture that merits discussion. I used this as a prompt to get my students discussing what the difference is between an "observation and inference".

Running the Activity
See. Present the image and solely ask students to make observations A great activity to use with this is "Think, Pair Share" and from this, have every partner team share things that they see in their picture.

Think. After "see" have them offer opinions about what they think is happening. This is the place for inferences. It's great to see how much critical thinking and insight comes from this!

Wonder. Although you might believe that this step and "think" are the same, it's amazing at the depth my students went with this. From the slide below, some were wondering if the man failed to see the orange cone and whether it was put there as a warning. Some wondered if his coffee was starbucks!


Related Posts
Graphic Organizers for Visible Thinking

Friday, 7 August 2015

5 Powerschool Tips and Tricks to Start the Year

1.) Email Parents- If you want to send a mass email to parents, there is easy way. In your grade book window (or header if you're on a Mac) click "tools" at the top and then drop down to "email parents". You can select individual classes to send emails to, or can select multiple classes at the same time. You can choose to select certain parents or students from the drop down menu.

Select "Tools" and then which classes you'd like. 

2.) Copy Assignments to Multiple Classes- If you have the same assignment that you'd like to add to multiple classes, the time-sucking way is to create an assignment and then copy and paste half a dozen times. A much easier way is to create an assignment for one class and left click on the assignment and then "copy assignment" to other classes. It's a snap.

Create an assignment and then left click on it, which will allow you to post it to other classes.

3.) Fill Scores for Students- Taking time to individually add the same score to many of students can take hours of your precious time over the year. A much easier way, is to enter a score for students that have submitted work, but then if you have a large number of students that have the same grade, (either missing, or have a "0", late, etc.) left click the assignment and then "fill scores" to save bundles of time.

Left click on the assignment and select "fill scores" and then "Items with no score". 

4.) Setting up Categories- From the lower left hand box, you'll have default categories listed. If you want to change their name, left click and then hit "edit". If you'd like to add more categories, click the "+" icon where you'll be taken to a page to set up default points for assignments that best support your practice. To add category weighting, click "Grade Set Up" and select the semester or quarter and categories to indicate what % you would like to allocate. A word of caution: if you use categories, don't wait until the last minute to add an assessment as it might cause grade distortion. 

Left click on categories to edit their names or to add new ones. 
5.) Assignment Codes- If you want to assess with more qualitative rather than quantitative methods, (or like standards based reporting instead of numerical ones) you can make assignment codes to enter. I like this for assessing homework and use "mastery", "developing" and "introducing" rather than numbers. Another problem with numbers is that if you grade homework (something that I personally don't believe in, because it's more formative than summative) having a low numerical scale will by default create a letter score. For example, if you use homework on a 5 point scale and Johnny earned a "3" it will assign him a score of a "D" as 3/5 is 66%. Although it's no biggie for the teacher, some parents may go ballistic. To create assignment codes go to "Gradebook" and then "preferences" on the top bar. From there, select "score codes" and give what abbreviations you'd like. When entering scores in your gradebook, a left click will give you option of selecting these instead of numerical entries.

Preferences allows you to create assignment codes and descriptors. 

Additional Resources
Ken O' Connor and Power teacher
Youtube Videos on Powerschool

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Gamification Chronicles Part 1: Kahoot

"Gamification" is transforming education. The thought of bringing games into the classroom may seem like a "step backward" for some teachers as they think of gaming and games as a distraction, but they are increasingly permeating into apps, open source software and other tutorials which can create opportunities to put a slightly different spin on traditional learning products and assessment tools. My first experience with gamification was an extension activity that I did as a math teacher years ago called "Lure of the Labyrinth" wherein students had to apply their mathematical understanding to solve puzzles and challenges by using mathematical understanding. They absolutely loved it.

Since then, "gamification" has transformed my classroom as well, and on a variety of levels and products. (Although a lot of this is due to my COETAIL instructor Robert Appino) I'm going to share some tools and also showcase some products which I think are really cool over the coming months that have elements of gaming which can make this a reality in your practice.

Enter "Kahoot" 
Kahoot has been sweeping our middle school. Up till then, I used quizlet as a review tool for vocabulary and concepts, but since I've used Kahoot, my kids prefer it hands down. There are some other select response tools out there as well such as Socrative which I still use for exit interviews, but Kahoot is a bit different.

The Kahoot question screen. Students respond on their devices and points are given to correct answers and quick response.

Kahoot is a platform wherein a teacher creates an account and can have a number of different of different assessment types-quiz, survey or discussion. Whence you do, you "play" your Kahoot and a game number is produced which sends students to the room via this log-on porthole.

How Does Kahoot Work? 
When you are in the room, the teacher/game master dictates the pace of the game. They can click on users to boot them from the room or stop the game re-mediate instruction or provide feedback. For instance, with questions that the majority of the class got correct, we quickly moved on. However, with questions that a high percentage of students got wrong, I'll pause for a minute and clear up any misconceptions. There is an eerie game show type of music in the background which adds to the excitement. Give it a try!

Kids get excited when they get questions right!