Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Power of Screencasts...and the Tools to Do Them

Screencasts are a dynamite way to show "how-to" tutorials. Recently my teaching partner and I used screencasts with our students for them to show their understanding of plate tectonics by synthesizing information on a map that we created into an oral presentation that would be recorded.

When the learning product is differentiated, class presentations may follow. However, in this case the skill was all similar and we didn't want to have to sit through 20 of the same type of presentation, but we did want the students to construct an explanation of plate tectonics supported by evidence. This is not done by a multiple choice test and is done best by referencing information. There were two screencasting tools that were handy for us.

QuickTime Player
If you're on a Mac, nothing is easier.  Search for QuickTime Player in your applications folder and drag it to the dock. Right click and select "New Screen Recording". Do a mic check to make sure that the volume is to your liking and do a trial recording. What I like about QuickTime is that it allows you to crop a small part of your desktop for a screencast leave out some of the desktop clutter. Videos are saved as a MOV file and easily shared to other sites.
If you don't have the luxury of a Mac, go to the Google Chrome web store and install "Screencastify". Screencastify isn't as sleek as QuickTime, but what I like is the option of integrating the screencast with the webcam which isn't an option for QuickTime. Screencastify also has the same sharing options and editing options as Quicktime. Make sure that students are signed into their chrome browser and are not using "Incognito" mode.

Compatibility With Google Sites
One problem that we came across was how to upload these videos to their portfolios. Our current school doesn't have a Youtube channel and I considered creating a channel that my students could login to, however, there was a much easier work around that didn't involve this at all.
Since my sixth grade portfolios are Google Sites that I created with Site Maestro, we learned that we could just go to "Drive" and insert a raw video that was embedded without having to be uploaded to a third party site.

Inserting a "Video" from Google Drive eliminates the need for Vimeo and Youtube sites. 

Working With Drive
To get the work to me, I simply created a drive folder which all students were given access to. They were able to drag and drop their work from their desktops, or save to drive (with Screencastify) for purposes of assessment and evaluation. From there, they could search Drive for, and insert their videos. A word of caution: Quicktime's MOV file is easily uploaded from drive, but the default file type from Screencastify took about 4 hours to convert after being uploaded and saved to a Google site. We work in South Korea with lightening fast internet, so expect longer if you have slow bandwidth.

"We learned that we could just go to "Drive" and insert a raw video that was embedded without having to be uploaded to a third party site"

In terms of time, the project took about 1 hour, from when I first introduced the project to modelling the tools to giving them time to play and when they finished their recordings. We had made a collaborative map beforehand and had a strong knowledge base through formative assessment. See a finished piece of student work for yourself!

NGSS Standards: 

  1.  Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.
  2. Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.
  3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.
  4. Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.
  5. Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.
  6. Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.
  7. Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts; therefore, complex natural and designed structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Introduction to Google Maps

Maps are awesome. I've been using Google Maps for a couple years and I'm always finding ways that maps are a useful way of visualising and synthesising information. I had a number of standards in our earth science unit that would be best understood through collaborative maps. In other words, students approached this like a jig-saw and mapped out anomalies that supported the theory of plate tectonics. Here was the product that my students created in a one hour session:

Eventually, this resource will support our student's summative assessment later, but this was a great way of supporting the following standards in NGSS:

  • Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales.
  • Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.
  • Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.
  • Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.
  • Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.

Getting Started: 

  1. Go to "Google My Maps" and create a new map. 
  2. Put the map on a third party site so students can access this or give them a shortened URL.
  3. Model the features either by yourself or a video. I have found providing a checklist of skills nice and giving students time to play is good. For the above, the checklist of skills was:
    1. Add a place mark
    2. Change a place mark's color
    3. Write a summary on a place mark
    4. Embed a picture on a a place mark. 
    5. Draw a polygon. 
  4. Once students have finished, give them access with the "sharing" setting. Although Google Maps are shared like Google Docs, you will not see edits to maps until refreshing your page. 

Share settings. Consider turning off access after class so students won't delete one another's work. 

Related Posts
2 Use of Google Maps in Science
Week 3 of Mining Next Generation Science Standards

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Tools for Tracking Collaborative Work in Google Docs

For my middle school learners, learning to work in groups is an essential skill that will continue into high school, college and adulthood. I typically use group labs as a method of formative assessment and as a means to help students collaboratively work together and share ideas. Formative work is usually supplanted by individual summative work later, but there always seems to be one or two students who struggle with the summative that I learned later did not "pitch in" earlier during the formative task. Lately, I've learned a few tools that help cooperative learning and how to hold students accountable early one. Here they are-

Doctopus Revisions By Student
I usually share out assessed assignments through "Doctopus" and it has a quick matrix on the spreadsheet for tracking individual edits, as seen below. A quick "refresh edits" under "Assignment management tools" shows who made edits and who did not.
Doctopus allows the teacher to see revisions by students. 

Restoring Revision History
Richard Poth recently taught me about a few neat tricks. I was aware of Google Docs revision history, but the feature he turned me onto was "restoring revision history". For example, if a student says that another student deleted another's work, you can go back to the moment it was deleted and restore an EARLIER VERSION of the Google doc and have students pick up where they left off.

Clicking "Restore Revision" will take the document back to an earlier version. 

If that's not cool enough, he also taught me about "Draftback" which is a Google Chrome Extension that you can install and "play" edits as they happened on the document. In short, it compresses and speeds up the revision of the document into a "movie". Here is a tutorial:

How to Handle Students that Don't Participate
I've always stressed that working in groups is a privilege and together, individuals can share ideas and divide up work in ways that saves time. However, with this arsenal of data that the above tools provide, it can easily make the argument who is and is not participating. With this you can:

  • Meet in groups to share data. Many students don't know how their actions affect others and may try to "argue" that they did contribute last night. With these tools, you'll know exactly who is and isn't doing the work. 
  • Model to the class. Show how these tools work so that students will hold themselves and others accountable. 
  • When all else fails. Despite multiple interventions and group therapy, some students will not show the necessary collaborative skills. In such cases, I ask that the specific individual not be given credit for group work and be asked to do the work independently. If they show good responsibility through their individual work, they can re-join the group at a later date. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Great Graphic Organizer for Comparing and Contrasting

I don't normally write about graphic organizers, but I happened to be reading "Classroom Instruction that Works" by Bob Marzano that had an awesome graphic organizer called a " Comparison Matrix" (feel free to copy) which is not only is a nice change from the typical venn diagram, but helped my students compare websites for credibility and bias across a number of indicators. Here were my standards from NGSS:

  • Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple sources appropriate and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.
  • Data Evaluate, hypotheses, and / or conclusions in scientific and technical texts in light of competing information or accounts.

Student exemplar

Another tool which helped my students understand bias and agenda was the Chrome Web app "Easy Bib" which allows users to cite resources and instantly check on credibility and bias. In the lesson, I also used "hatnote" to show how quickly edits happen in real time and whether we can trust automated bots to update the right information. A very powerful lesson-feel free to steal!

p.s. I'm loving the new Google Slides themes!

Related Posts
Graphic Organizers for Visible Thinking

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!