Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Power of Tweetdeck

Image Courtesy of CC
There are three applications I open up in the morning. My web browser with a number of pinned tabs. My staff email system "Firstclass" and finally, Tweetdeck. I started thinking about how effective the latter is because last night, some colleagues and I were rapping about which RSS feeds we were currently using. I use Digg for politics, Feedly for dozens of educational bloggers and flipboard when I'm in the mood for any and everything. Tweetdeck has become invaluable to me this year, as I've taken on a few projects that I haven't before.

What is Tweetdeck?
Tweetdeck organizes specific Twitter conversations, interactions or hash tags into a column type format on your desktop. You have to download to your computer, but once you do, you can just open it up to browse by subjects, or monitor ongoing conversations you are having with others. By just using Twitter, you sign on and see tweets from all the people you follow. If you want to see conversations, you have to click different icons on your twitter interface. Although many people sync Twitter with their email, Tweetdeck has them all in one place for easy access.

The Tweetdeck Dashboard. I have my timeline, interactions and two hashtags

How Does Tweetdeck Filter and Why Should I Use This?
Hashtags on Twitter filter certain conversations. Something my teaching partner and I are piloting this year is "Genius Hour". Rather than checking my Feedly feed every minute and hope that someone writes about Genius hour, Tweetdeck filters microblogging about the subject. Another thing that is my weak point is teaching chemistry. I am a strong teacher of biology and earth science, but physical science is a bit of a weak point for me, so I'm following a hashtag on Chemistry to help catch and collect resources and ideas related to the subject as I'm teaching a new chemistry class today. 

My Genius Hour Hashtag
Genius hour is a pilot program that my teaching partner and I are currently exploring. We're piloting it to see if it has tangible, quantifiable improvements to science education as a supplemental program that is sort of like a class IEP.  We're not the only teachers that are exploring this as well. Around the world, thousands of teachers are sharing their successes, resources and asking for help and offering it. By having #Geniushour as one of the columns I'm following, I've been able to follow conversations and grab resources related to this topic. I've come across an AWESOME infographic that I've been using to structure sessions and develop learning products. I've also connected with a number of other educators that are using student blogging like me to have students reflect on their learning. I've connected with about a dozen teachers and we have connected our student blogrolls and our students are starting to leave thoughtful comments on other students blogs on opposite sides of the world.

 By having #Geniushour as one of the columns I'm following, I've been able to follow conversations and grab resources related to this topic.

My Chemistry Hashtag
I'm teaching grade 7 chemistry which I haven't done before. As you can see in the picture to the right, one blogger has shared a great picture personalizing elements by their "Avenger Equliavent" Notice the pun with "Ironman"? Such are the resources falling through #chemistry. I've come across some great videos that I've gotten and some I show to my students the same day I find them.

The only people that are using #Geniushour are teachers, whereas #Chemistry may attract high school or college students lamenting on how poorly they did on their last Chemistry exam.

There is a downside with this hashtag. #Chemistry is bit general, and can attract a different demographic than #Geniushour. The only people that are using #Geniushour are teachers, whereas #Chemistry may attract high school or college students lamenting on how poorly they did on their last Chemistry exam. Still, some good material does find its way there.

The Bottom Line
Twitter is a community. Start as a lurker, but don't horde the great things you are doing. We're all collectively trying to educate the children of the world and we're amidst a time where our classrooms and teaching pedagogy is increasingly connected. Share your best practices so we can learn from you and help you learn.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Genius Hour Confrontations: The Phat Snake

"Good morning Mr. J! See what I brought in for my project?" Phat said while holding a black bag, noticeably away from his body and with two accompanying friends in tow.
"I bought a snake! It will help me learn why snakes climb."

I suddenly remembered telling Phat that his question: "How do snakes climb trees?" might be difficult to investigate for two reasons. A: It is the sort of question one can look up on the internet, and B: I didn't have a snake in the science lab. I didn't fully realize the impact of the second reason because, A: We live in Vietnam where such creatures are readily available, and B: A resourceful student is a powerful thing.

"Um, Phat, I really wish you ran this idea past me before you bought this."
"I did. I sent you an email!"
I checked my inbox later and found his email. Postmarked 11:35 pm.
"By the way, Mr. J" Phat extolled, "You have some empty terrariums, so why can't we put it in there?"
"Because caring for it is a major responsibility. Do you know what kind of food this snake eats, and whether or not it is dangerous?"
"It's not dangerous, the guys at the pet shop said although it bites, it's not venemous."

While deciding how I would seek out and reprimand these pet shop owners for taking advantage of impressionable children, my coworker Lori came in and told Phat that such an organism could not be kept in school, for liablity, safety and a host of other reasons. Phat responded the only way he knew how.

Image courtesy of:
"But I wanna learn about my snaaaaaake!" He sobbed and blubbered as if he flipped on a switch. I asked his friends who joined him for moral support to wait outside. Lori gave him a hug and our tact shifted to praise for showing such motivation. Eventually, I relented and set the poor beast (the snake, not Phat) free within the confines of his habitat-less terrarium. It slunk in the corner all day with a few stinky dead crickets for company.

It definitely created a stir. Students trickled in and out of lessons, tapping the glass, and I frequently tested to make sure the crayola marker box top was on tightly. One staff member, who was terrified of snakes, wondered how I could have such a dangerous reptile in my classroom and what kind of example I was setting.

Mr. Bai
We decided that Phat should take it home and we encouraged him to continue caring for it, just outside of class. The problem then came of how to get it back into it's original bag. After much research and diclaimer reflections on Animal Planet that "These people are trained professionals. Do not attempt to handle these animals at home," I decided to arm myself with oven mits and a will to capture. I'm the child of two veterinarians who grew up with a menagerie of animals in my childhood. What could possibly go wrong? I asked the third floor janitor, Mr. Bai, to serve as my assistant and tilt the terrarium up on its edge, and the plan was to "pour" it into the bag. Immediatly after our first attempt, it was clear that this snake took the excitement of his changing environment as an excuse to thrash widely.

Image courtesy of:
Luckily for me, Mr. Bai is an experienced handler. He motioned for me to wait and he left and came back minutes later with long, rubber gloves, much like dishwashing gloves, except that they rolled down to his elbow. They were skin tight, red in color, and had the translucence of a large condom. I couldn't imagine what they could possibly be used for-my only guess was if one needed to perform a rectal examination on a large bovine mammal, and didn't want to get their arms dirty.

Mr. Bai removed the top and his hand shot down and grabbed the snake behind the head like a seasoned snake-handler. He didn't flinch or shuffle for a better position. He picked it up and while the snakes body started to curl around his forearm, I stood there, jaw agape to his heroics.
"Don't just stand there, man."  He said. "Open the bag!"

Phat took his snake home that afternoon. The next morning when I inquired as to how his new pet was doing, he told me that he "let it loose in the field". Considering his previous emotional breakdown, I decided to lay off giving him a guilt trip. I am however, waiting for the uptick in local news reports of our local biodiversity being upset by a mysterious organism and what factors transpired to bring it there.

When I walk home from school, I scan the grass fields, wondering if the Phat snake has found some peace amongst the rushes. I listen, making sure the crickets still chirp and whether or not their tune is a happy one.

Friday, 20 September 2013

20 Slides X 20 Seconds Each = Petcha Kutcha

Petcha Kutcha is a new way of presenting for me. With its origins rooted in Japanese minimalism, it takes the viewer on a slideshow of 20 slides, each with a 20 second duration. This is harder than it looks. Couple this with some of my new Steve Job-"Ish" presentation skills, and I realize how much talking I used to do in the past. Daniel Pink writes how Mark Dytham (one of the two brain-children on Petcha Kutcha) actually says the time perimeters actually give the presenters and their work a more "poetic" feel.

My Petcha Kutcha Evolution
A good presentation can be a powerful tool, but finding the right high definition, evocative images takes time. Altogether, the one below took Lisa and I roughly 5 hours to make. The animations, recordings took longer. Looking at any task in these terms, one recoils. As our time is so important, who would want to spend half a day putting together a presentation?

The 'beat the clock' constraints were my worst enemy and best teacher. 

My first presentation felt like the "Gong Show". After rehearsing the below show by myself and with Lisa about 10 times, did we finally achieve as close to "perfection" as we could ever hope. It's the 'beat the clock' constraints which were my worst enemy and best teacher. I was actually cursing the time on the clock when I ran out of time. Actually cursing. Out loud. F-bombs. Eventually, I realized that the problem was not the clock, but my cumbersome, wordy presentation style.

I purposely changed. Instead of trying to cram as much information into the 20 seconds as I could, I tried doing less, especially in the first few slides. I reveled in the pauses. I appreciated getting done talking after 15 seconds and giving myself a breather. One of the commentators on Diigo asked: What if a slide's narration was less than 20 seconds?

Minimalism Focuses on Knowledge of Topic
Last spring, some of my students were working an informal presentation on hominid fossils. I'll share one groups presentation on Homo Erectus. Not bad, they had hyperlinks, bulleted information, and they didn't have large swaths of text copied and pasted from the internet. Their images were pretty sparce save for the first slide. If I do this again, I'd make it mandatory that every slide have a maximum limit of one word per slide. Here's why:

By having so much text on a slide, we condemn kids to reading it. They're bored, and the audience is too. By reading a slide, all they've done is transferred information from the internet over to a slide and even if they've cited it correctly, does it mean that they've really learned it or remixed it in a way that shows a deeper understanding?

This style of presentation definitely is an art form, and may not be suitable for all presenters and topics. But by practicing its style, you hone your understanding of your topic on so many levels.

Related Posts
Zenning Your Presentations

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

3 Student Response Systems to Try this Year

This article was first featured on Fractus Learning on September 4th 2013

If there is one part of teaching that has been made better and more efficient by technology, it is the use of educational technology as an assessment tool. I spend much of my professional time sifting through new apps and new pedagogy to understand whether certain apps have any long term value or if the new storytelling tool online is easier and more effective than the one that created such a buzz last year. That aside, there is still a credible and necessity to check for understanding to ensure that students are learning that will remain timeless in the face of exponential innovation.    

Why Check for Understanding?
Checking for understanding is one of the most underrated and undervalued topics that is practiced daily. Teachers are notorious for asking the class for "the answer" early in their career to learn only some students raise their hands, and some don't. If the answer is given by one of them, all of them now must all know from then on, what "the answer" is. "Students are not always self-regulated learners. They may not be aware of what they do or do not understand"-(Hofer, Yu, & Pintrich, 1998) This notion rears its ugly head when students with short attention spans do poorly later on to which the teacher asks, "Weren't you listening?" We shouldn't be upset with their answers in this regard. Their failure is ours too, and we must accept that making mistakes can be part of the learning process as long as it is focused, constructive and tied to curricular goals.

Most teachers think of a quiz as a check for understanding, but they are often bi-weekly, graded and often too long to manage a meaningful debrief with a dozen or so students that would benefit from a conference to clear up misconceptions. Jennifer Sparrow, the curriculum coordinator at Singapore American used this model in a workshop I attended that outlined how assessment frequency and use can be practiced to ensure cyclical re-visitation and reflection.

Assessment for your goals should mirror the frequency of the levels above
Assessment for your goals should mirror the frequency of the levels above (Image courtesy of Jennifer Sparrow)

For example, assessments "as" learning are the informal prompts and discussion methods that may take 4-5 times throughout a lesson. Such activities like "fist to finger", "think, pair share" or "thumbs up, thumbs down" are examples that can used to visually see that every student is making a statement, offering an opinion or making a prediction. Having students use personal white boards in math class is another assessment "as" learning. These are meant to foster discussion, give dissenters a voice and come to a consensus.

Assessments "for" learning are done less frequently, but done more formally. This is where a student response system comes in handy as it minimizes the amount of time marking and tabulates responses into a spreadsheet that can be reviewed by teachers, teams and parents as formative tasks to see how students are meeting the curriculum on a weekly basis. "Checking for understanding not only corrects misconceptions, it can also improve learning".-(Vosniadou, Ioannides, 2001)

 Finally, the assessments "of" learning are the final summative tests or PBL products where we as an institution tell students: "show us what you have learned" which happen most infrequently, typically, at the end of a unit. They show the highest level of understanding and if other assessments were used throughout, students statistically do the best on them. I have found that teachers that offer retake after retake on these assessments have not used formative ones frequently enough, and do so to inflate grades to a point that will show their teaching in a favorable light and thus avoid controversy.

3 Response Systems for Formative Assessments
Infuse Learning- Infuse learning is a great response system to try this year as it shows real time feedback on how a group of students is progressing through a quick assessment. See a video here on the process but some it's definite pros are that it has great multitude of response types. Students can translate questions in different languages and even audio as well. The drawing feature is very nice as you can have students draw pictures (which may be harder to standardize. Being able to embed a picture is a nice feature if you're teaching art, humanities or any other subject that benefits from a nice visual. Here is the tutorial.

Socrative- Socrative is also a nice survey response tool and like infuse learning, it gives real time feedback. A teacher creates a "room" where students are directed to do a quiz. There is a nice tutorial on it here. One advantageous benefit is that students can choose which "pace" to do their assessment. A teacher paced assessment is more constrained by time as a teacher might want to give only 5 minutes for the assessment. Another great feature of Socrative is that students don't need to create accounts. They simply go to the room that the teacher created and do the assessment. Students respond and teachers see their progress as a progress bar chart. Here is a tutorial.

Socrative's dashboard allow for great marking for "entry interviews" if you use a flipped classroom model (Image Courtesy of CC)

Google Forms-I've written about Google forms before and coming from a Google Apps school, I must say they are a nice tool. They've made some changes to Google forms over the summer but most of the major features of it still exist. I learned that you can embed a drawing into a form but is is clunky. Also, you can collate student responses in real time feedback but assessment is not done as easily as Socrative or Infuse Learning as you have to "grade" your assignment using a grading script like "Flubaroo", which requires a few mouse clicks and is a bit cumbersome if time is not a luxury. One point I always make with Google forms is to formally go over the "correct" response after they have all been collected.

Creating a question type in Google forms
Creating a question type in Google forms

Want to Help your Students, Give them Honest Feedback
An interesting blogger said a few weeks ago that "assessment is not a spreadsheet, but a conversation." This is so true, but replacing good feedback for interpersonal relationships is one of the main reasons for the push of standardization testing in education, which Diane Ravitch woefully asks "Is it because teachers can't be trusted?" Relationships are key, but we have to have the resolve and data to tell all vested parties when intervention is required, and early on is best. We can't chalk up poor achievement to quips such as "Suzy doesn't test well" or "I don't believe in tests". Such spreadsheets and their data may seem impersonal at first, but they are also balanced with a personal touch afterwards, knowing that all our students are human, all humans make mistakes and "because understanding develops as a result of ongoing inquiry and rethinking, the assessment of understanding should be thought of terms of a collection of evidence over time instead of a single event"-(Wiggins, McTighe, 1988)    

  • Checking for Understanding-Formative Assessment Techniques for your Classroom: Fisher, Frey 2007
  • Designing learning environments to promote conceptual change in science. Learning and Instruction, Vosniadou, S., Ioannides, C., 11, 381-419, 2001
  • Understanding by Design-Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Wiggins G., McTighe, J. 1988

The Genius Hour Chronicles: Day 2-Blogging

Today was day two of our Genius hour or "20% time". Our first session was two weeks ago (I'm on an alternating block schedule) which we spent planning our projects on Trello and students making a plan for what they wanted to do. Today we got into blogging.

Blogging seems to be a natural choice to chronicle learning along with progress and pitfalls. Our three prompts today were:
  1. What are your goals for the project? 
  2. How will you measure your learning?
  3. What is your procedure?
We spent the period writing, although some students started some long term experiments. A lot of eager students brought materials in, but no plan how to carry out their experiment. Although play is fun, I do want to keep it connected to the scientific method. Am I being a killjoy? Underlying this blogging prompt today, I can say that students honestly felt purpose to their writing. It's being used to inform an audience.

Reading many other educators reflections on genius hour, many genius hour proponents seem to accept that some students will excel, some will flounder and some will show no interest at all. I struggle with this personally, and I can't condemn some students to a different form of apathy and indifference. Although I do agree that education needs a shakeup, I think that much of the research for genius hour work is still in it's infancy. Is this a good use of class time? Should students do work outside of class? Is it that different from science fair work which students have done for decades? Is simply giving students freedom a recipe for success?

The Connected Classroom
The blogging angle is great because within each classroom, I can manage feedback and ensure that students have two peer reviewers after every session. Many of my students have lamented that although they're blogging, they don't feel they have many readers. Commenting can be a powerful tool which focuses writing skills and makes students feel like they're actually writing for an audience. I have some posts to comment on, so I'm signing off.

Related Posts

The Genius Hour Chronicles: Day 1-Project Planning

Thursday, 12 September 2013

"Zenning" Your Presentations

I've had a renaissance with my presentation skills. Learning from masters like Garr Reynolds and Steve Jobs this week whose share the caveat "less is more" gives a real simplicity and zen to presentations. I've pumped out hundreds of math and science presentations over the years with clunky and busy bullet points, data tables and uninteresting clip art which now makes me barf.

"Having the mind wander is a much more enjoyable visual experience rather than having slides read out loud"

I'm not arguing that presentations can't be informative. That's their nature. But I do think that they can tell a story, and give a certain amount of freedom to the viewer in a way that makes the viewers mind wander and wonder. Having the mind wander and wonder "huh?" "wow" or "what if" is a much more enjoyable visual experience rather than having slides read out loud or answer questions on cue. We've all given presentations like this and we've all been subjected to them.

Jesse Desjardins has made a viral appraisal of this with "You Suck at Powerpoint". Some of the more interesting points that he makes are that hundreds of power points are given every second around the world and that most of them (99%) are terrible. Some of his more interesting arguments:
  • If you're reading your slides, sit down and take a seat. 
  • Don't inundate the viewer with information
  • Keep it relevant
  • Put time into it

The Tully Monster Challenge
I decided to apply the skills towards a lesson on classification and taxonomy for my sixth graders. We are currently learning about classification and taxonomy in science, but I haven't found many activities where students actually get to classify an organism like an actual biologist does after its discovery.

I came across an activity last spring called "The Tully Monster" in the NSTA press for developing good writing skills in science. The gist of it is that a mysterious organism called the Tully monster is an anomaly within taxonomic classification. Students are given a handout of information that they might use to develop an understanding that would lead them to drawing conclusions through inferences, but I wanted to make a presentation that conveyed these notes in an interesting and engaging way.

Design Reflection
When I starting out on this presentation, I thought that "less is more" would mean less work. Was I wrong. Because of it's simplicity, I was forced to find high definition images and really think about the best images that conveyed the message that I wanted. The images became not just something to "fill in" in the space but rather the cornerstone for how well the text and images played with one another.

"The third slide, whose caption was "Always found in groups, never...individually" was done in the same fashion with the word "individually" being by itself."

My second slide "No complete fossils found" was fun to make, namely because the text was "broken up" and scattered around the image in the same way that the fossils were. The third slide, whose caption was "Always found in groups, never...individually" was done in the same fashion with the word "individually" being by itself. Slide 5 was a lot of negative space that then went into a four slide photo bomb with high resolution images that spoke for themselves. The digestive system picture took some effort to make, but after playing around with it, I realized the linearity of the image on the left side would be complimented by a similar configured text box on the right.

My heading for the final student prompt was re-written over and over until I settled on "Discuss, Debate, Speculate" which sound much more dynamic than merely "Questions" or "Answer". The former has a much more lively feel to it and would be a activity that I'd like to engage in. As was my presentation; I enjoyed making it as much as I did watching it.

Leaving the Pride of Ownership Aside
For the first time in my life, I decided to not have my school, name and date on the title slide. I think with pride of ownership, most content creators feel compelled to put such personal information out there to lay "claim" to their intellectual property. However, if they upload it to slide share or the like, isn't their upload signature and username on that? As I am joining the ranks of connected educators that constantly share work, I'm starting to feel that we can all acknowledge intellectual property but still present a slideshow to our students that was not obviously made for or by "someone else". Claiming intellectual property is fine, but I believe that if you want your presentation to be used by others over and over, leave your name and job title out of the title slide and make it property of the commons. No embarrassment and no excuses why someones name is splattered all over. In the presentation above, I've moved my name to the final credits to not distract the viewer in the beginning and take subtle credit after the presentation is over. It's still there, but doesn't forcefully say to the world "Look at what I made!"

"If you want your presentation to be used by others over and over, leave your name and job title out of the title slide and make it property of the commons."

The Student Response
The students were absolutely captivated. Where as before I would need to smack my classroom management stick on occasion, all students were glued to the visuals, eager for another piece of the puzzle. The whole presentation took only 4 minutes, but the resounding discussion afterwards was the gleam of what all educators dream. Motivation. Curiosity. Intrigue.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Check for Understanding with Infuse Learning

I've been blogging about formative assessment tools in the last few weeks, but I was saving the best for last. Infuse learning is a fantastic tool and is similar to "Socrative Teacher" where students go to a room, and participate in activities that teachers assign. The features are so large, I had to create separate tutorials that scaffold basic activities to more complex ones.

Part 1-Teacher and Student View, Standardized Responses
This first one takes you through the login process for both teachers and students and what real-time feedback looks like as students submit responses.

Part 2-Open Ended Response Data Type and Translations
This shares what data looks like that is subjective or open-ended. There are keywords that can be given as anchors but still, there are difficulties and challenges when trying to use this assessment type. Although the open-endedness may be desirable, it makes standardization difficult.

Part 3-Draw Response
This is really a nice feature and can be differentiated based on interest, readiness or can combined with other classmates for cooperative learning.

Related Posts
Check for Understanding with Socrative.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Don't Just Teach Writing, Teach Visual Literacy

How do we handle the information bombardment? We can't escape it. We adapt.

David McCandless draws and eloquent picture with how much data is taken in by the senses. Visual images take the lions share but most are unconscious that we look at and dismiss unknowingly. We are unaware of how our brains are filtering images and input. Humans have done this since the beginning of time, but how to search for, find and dismiss the exponential amount of information that comes up with the click of a mouse?
We've become a culture of skimmers and headline grabbers. We've done so unknowingly by deciding if the title, thesis statement and opening paragraph are worthy enough of our interest. I've learned this the hard way.    

Image courtesy of CC
Image courtesy of CC
Youtube Copyright Battles Lost to Bad Titles
During the summer, I posted a culmination of my ongoing copyright battle with youtube. I do like youtube, and I hope that they continue to allow me to upload videos. However, the title was "Navigating Copyright Infringement with Youtube and the Creative Commons". I thought it would make a good read for people that used youtube with students and for personal use. However, the title is long and cumbersome and although the title had elements of what I thought would draw in people, it had only a handful of reads. In retrospect, I was writing for too specific an audience. Fast forward to a note-taking script post on The title was " The Best Flipped Classroom Tool Ever?" This went viral, getting hundreds of hits within days. The success of this post was not merely the content, but the title. Flipping your classroom is a buzzword in education and people are looking for tools to make this job easier. Also, it's in the form of a question which intrigues the reader. In short, it hit on three of the four characteristics that also make infographics appealing: Controversy, newsworthiness and educational applications. The one it didn't hit was humor.

"If we don't teach tactics to draw the reader in, student writing will be confined to dusty shelves of the blogosphere."

To write and build an audience in this age, we must be aware of, and teach our students "curbside appeal". I've written some extremely informative posts that have gone unread by many people. We as educators think that teaching writing skills is the most important but if we don't teach tactics to draw the reader in, student writing may be confined to dusty shelves of the blogosphere.    

The Rule of Thirds and When to Break Them
As someone who enjoys underwater photography, I often use the rule of thirds when composing media images. Presentation Zen writes a fabulous expose of this comparing an Australian and New Zealand travel promotion. They outline how many of the images in the New Zealand one are slightly better, which may give an unsuspecting boost to tourism in that region which may in turn result in better return on an investment from a marketing perspective.

Image Courtesy of
However, sometimes the rules are meant to be broken. We tell students that a sentence should be a complete sentence, roughly ten words long. Yet, we read passages from professional authors that are run-on sentences and short 2-3 word ones as well and chalk it up to their trade craft or eccentric writing style. Take this picture of a shark fin on the right for example. It follows the rule of thirds perfectly. It fills up the space and there are elements of the subject that touch each node of visual interest. However, it's a bit boring. Although the shark and it's impending fin are signs of anxiety, panic and danger, the picture is not really worth looking at. In fact, I have done this on purpose after having cropped it from a larger image.  

Shark Fin
Image Courtesy of
This is the original image and although the fin has been photoshopped on, it seems to tell more of a story. From a rule of thirds perspective, the fin is too small and it's not a good composition. However, in this picture, the fin is not the only subject; the calmness of the water is suddenly one as well. The reader scans the calm water around the fin, looking for signs of the sharks size and type. The calmness is also a nice juxtaposition next to visions of a shark attack with a hapless victim which suddenly make us curious to see if any swimmers or prey is near by. Questions race through our heads: Will it attack? Are we a safe distance? Has the shark seen us? The caption "horrifying" with it's small text size draws the reader down into the abyss as we wonder if our fear of sharks is self preservation or unwarranted paranoia.

"All teachers can teach visual literacy"

I could blather on about this, but it does merit an important point. All teachers can teach visual literacy. From how to interpret a picture like this, to how to craft a good blog post title, to how a make a nice visual display, or how to take pictures for the school year book. Some schools have media studies classes that teach students to weave such strategies into their work, although if students are more aware of such design elements in all of their classes, they begin to see how composition can permeate into different contexts and domains. This discussion becomes not about being write or wrong, but was is more effective and which is not. We stretch our thinking through contructivism and artful interpretation. We teach student's subjectivity and interpretation. Discussions become fun and intriguing. Isn't that what being a well educated person is all about?    

Teach Students Visual Literacy By Practicing it Yourself
John Medina mentions in his post that we "remember images and we tend to remember information with a 65% recall rate three days later as compared to remembering 10% of what we just heard". I think of the trite images of clipart that I used in my heyday that didn't say anything at all but were merely filling a visual hole for the sake of putting in a picture. Medina reccomends destroying these.

It makes me wonder what is the most effective media for teaching something to someone. Instead of blogging last week about my experience using the student response tool "Socrative" perhaps my time would be better spent by recording a screencast of a tutorial while using it online. A screencast is much faster to do upload and share, so perhaps that would be a better use of my time. But with so many videos out there already of how to use software tools, what's the point? Because it's fun. It teaches how to do something new and Vicki Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher famously said: "If you don't innovate, you depreciate".

Creating Infographics that Humanize Data
I decided to use an infographic for my lesson next week on classification and taxonomy. There are monster target vocabulary terms to understand and the organizational matrix is quite complex. Not to mention that the multitude of living things on earth is too big for one person to fully grasp. The closest one that I've seen goes as far as starting by domains and going down to the classification level of "family".

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

It's exhausting to look at. To look at this, you almost need to rotate your computer screen 360 degrees while reading and the center is unclear about what questions are causing data to diverge and spread the way it does. Still, some people like this complexity and have even gone so far to have tattoos made of this "tree of life". For my average sixth grader, I decided to start with some of the big questions and then move on with facts that make living things in this diagram easier to understand. I decided to start by making a taxonomic key that used "Piktochart"

Infographics are tiresome to make, but they really are fun to look at. I think that this one is pretty effective as it starts with some of the "big" questions and progresses down to smaller levels that went with fun facts along the way. I had to think laterally for some of the icons, for example I couldn't find a picture of a rod-like bacteria so had to improvise with a picture of a medicine pill. If we can create a community of educators that all have a hand in making such media, it will make all our lives easier; more interesting to look at, and hold our attention for just a little bit longer.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Check for Understanding with Socrative

If you're looking for a way to check for understanding in your classes this year, Socrative is a great tool for entry or exit interviews. I've been a fan of Google forms as I work at a Google apps school but Socrative has a few features that I haven't gotten around to blogging about until now. I'll compare Socrative to Google forms as many people are familiar with the latter.

The student sign in page for Socrative

No Lost Usernames or Passwords
First and foremost, students don't need usernames to use Socrative. This is great, however you must remember to have the first question be a name prompt. Socrative has a separate log on page for teachers who make quizzes and then a separate log on URL for students. Teachers all have a "room" that they can make active by starting a quiz and as soon as students access the room then can start their quiz. Students show up in the room and are wait until the teacher starts the assessment. Teachers can also dictate the "pace" of the assessment by indicating if it be student paced or teacher paced. A student paced assessment is done at the students pace, but a teacher paced one is slightly different; students cannot go onto the next question until clicked by the teacher.

"Teachers can also dictate the "pace" of the assessment by indicating if it be student paced or teacher paced."

Great Features of Assessment Design
Below is a question that I wrote for an entry ticket on my lesson on Taxonomy and Classification. Two of the obvious benefits is that Socrative allows you to add an image to a question prompt. Google forms does allows this as well, but it's very clunky. You have to upload the image into your drive and then indicate in cells on your form the original image location. With Socrative, it's just browse and upload. Nice!

Another nice feature which I love about Socrative is that you can indicate which is the correct answer as I have checked above. When students do their quiz, they immediately know if they have gotten a question correct or not. With Google Forms, it's not so easy, and answers need to be identified to the entire class later.

"When students do their quiz, they immediately know if they have gotten a question correct or not."

Real Time Feedback
Once students have entered a room and started their assessment, teachers see progress of their class after every question is answered in real time. This is different than Google forms, where responses are recorded on a spreadsheet only after the form has been submitted. Also, it becomes much more apparent how the student did compared to Google forms, which may be a bit cumbersome to know who got what right. There is a script from the script gallery which allows forms to grade response on an anchor response, but it takes a few mouse clicks and cannot be performed until all the responses have been received.

Students work through an entry interview and correct responses are shown in real time.

Two minutes later, all responses have been collected

Spreadsheet with That?
Excel spreadsheet sent via email. Most students got the third question incorrect
Although the teacher page with Socrative shows the number of correct responses, when the activity is discontinued, teachers can have a class copy sent to their email address. It is here that information about specific questions can be identified from each student and general class trends can be more easily seen. After this exit interview on chemistry, I noticed that the third column had more incorrect responses (as indicated in red) so that would be a point that I would need to reteach.

The only obvious downside that I have discovered with Socrative is that you don't know which specific questions students got right or wrong until you received the spreadsheet. Still, this is much more transparent and speedy than Google forms. Also, because it's not password and username protected, anyone can visit your room. I've had a few unknown characters wander into my online room. However, since their responses are seen only by me, I can censor any inappropriate remarks.

Teachers, what is you experience with Socrative? Care to comment?