Monday, 17 March 2014

Leave Voice Comments with Kaizena

I learned about Kaizena from Stacy Behmer who has this great tutorial below. Kaizena allows you to leave voice comments which are tons easier than typing long winded descriptive comments.

This was enormously valuable for giving feedback in my classroom for the process writing process of a research comparison between the efficiency of the digestive system of a cow, pig and human for my seventh grade science class for comparative body systems. See a student example here. 

The power of Kaizena is through a number of key features:

  1. You can leave both voice comments, written comments or insert links for reference. 
  2. You can send comments to individuals who have sharing rights to the document. 
  3. Color coated comment types can give priority to editing recommendations, or feedback type. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

How Technology has Changed My Science Classroom

What were your goals for this lesson/project (Standards)?
As teaching often requires delivering and assessing a grocery list of standards, I used formative assessment tools to measure entry level background knowledge and skills and provide coverage for all the standards I teach in the unit "Intro to Chemistry". However, our school is taking steps to identify "power standards" which are 3-5 key standards that teaching teams agree on having higher order application at the end of the learning process. My power standards were:

  • Accurately collect data through the selection and use of tools and techniques appropriate to the investigation. Construct tables, diagrams and graphs, showing relationships between two variables, to display and facilitate analysis of data. Compare and question results with and from other students.
  • Communicate scientific procedures, data, and explanations to enable the replication of results. Use computer technology to assist in communicating these results. Critical review is important in the analysis of these results. Level: Important
  • Use mathematics, reading, writing, and technology in conducting scientific inquiries. Level: Important
  • The total mass of the mixture is equal to the sum of the masses of the components. Total mass is conserved when different substances are mixed. Level: Important
  • All matter consists of particles too small to be seen with the naked eye. The arrangement, motion, and interaction of these particles determine the three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). Particles in all three states are in constant motion. In the solid state, tightly packed particles have a limited range of motion. In the liquid state, particles are loosely packed and move past each other. In the gaseous state, particles are free to move. Level: Essential

Having power standards meant more flexibility on how I would use a summative assessment for authentic purposes and not force me to use a traditional test. Although some teachers argue that we must give standardized tests to get kids ready for the rigors of high school and colleges, I think they are usually pretty dry and boring. That being said, they are useful, but as a formative assessment piece. In the case of entry and exit interview, the results don't really count towards a final grades as they are assessments for learning.

What tools did you use? Why did you choose this/these tools for this/these task(s)?
This question will give a dizzying array of actors so I'll break them down for sake of understanding.

Formative Assessment Tools

  1. Infuse Learning-Great on computers or mobile devices for entry and exit interviews. What I like best about infuse learning is that it streams responses in real time and you know whether or not a student has started.
  2. Google Forms-I used these for quizzes about every two weeks. The questions were a bit higher up on blooms taxonomy scale and the responses allowed me to do a number of functions with them afterwards.
  3. Flubaroo-Flubaroo is a script that is compatible with Google form spreadsheet responses that allows quick grading of multiple choice, choose from a list and checkbox responses.
  4. Doctopus-I like doctopus for file sharing and the easy of going back and forth between student work. It also allows me flexibility for grading and assessment.
  5. Autocrat-Autocrat has allowed me to create personalised documents following assessments after having used Google forms. For instance, a form will reduce a students responses through flubaroo to a 6 out of 10. But with autocrat, a document can me made and emailed to the student with correct responses, and their responses for reference.

Publishing and Peer Review
  1. Snapguide-We used this app on the ipad to document and communicate procedures of how this apparatus was made. I have never used snapguide before, but the result was a very sleek product.
  2. Screencastify- This free chrome app extension made it easy to record screen casts which I incorporated into the movie later.
  3. Google Docs-Google Docs is invaluable and the sharing options make it great to check in with student progress. As the higher order thinking was structured around command terms such as "Analyze" "Prove" "Interpret" and "Apply Concepts", open ended responses were the best way for students to show their learning of these concepts.
  4. Google Spreadsheets-Like Docs above, I like the collaborative nature of sharing and spreadsheets. I actually use spreadsheets more than docs in the science classroom as we are constantly doing data collection and analysis.
  5. Wordpress-Wordpress is our blogging platform and hence publishing tool. After students had finished on their Google Doc, they can publish their work for some of our partner classrooms around the world and elicit feedback. 
  6. Skype-I've had a few experts talk to my class this year, but I am lucky to know the head of a major water treatment plant as he was the father of one of my students years ago. This is where it pays to get to know your parents and the knowledge that they can share with your class is so awesome.
  7. I Movie-What I used to make the finished product. It was hard getting the time down to 11 minutes.

How did the students react? Include actual samples of student reflection (video, images, etc)
What I enjoy most about teaching is that it's such a multi-faceted profession. We're not only teachers, but we're statisticians, counselors, mediators, actors, performers and scientists. I closely follow the debates about education reform and think a lot about the future of education with assessment models that are being imposed on schools. 

I love that students struggled to share ideas and hone their communication skills. I tried to capture this "struggle" in some of the movie clips above, but I think overall, the students were very engaged and had a lot of fun.

Evidence of learning? Remember to include student evidence like video, images, reflections.
The summative piece was on a google doc that I used with a scoring rubric. I'll put a link to a student example here as well. The grade 6 math teacher (Zachary Post) and I collaborated to include samples of graphing and analysis which is a current theme in grade 6 math, so we thought it was a great opportunity for integration.

The formative pieces were more frequent and assessment tools such as forms and infuse learning made assessment quick and easy. 

A Word on Standardised Assessments
The irony of teaching is that we should differentiate our teaching and standardise our assessments. I think one cannot standardize things such as collaboration, creativity, and personal qualities such as self reflection and learning from failure. Many companies are increasingly wanting such skills from their new hires, but standardized testing does little to engender these. I think that standardized testing does have a place, but I relegate it to formative assessments and ensuring that students have the necessary skills and knowledge for later application. After all, if we're going to ask that they learn something, shouldn't we teach them why they should be learning this?

Outcome? Did you meet your goals?
Looking at the spreadsheet and responses of the students, about 90% of the students had excellent support within their final reflection. There were a few students who didn't, but this was due to quickly glossing over the questions and not giving them ample support. As a middle school teacher, I try not to be too much of a hard liner on grading and gave some of the students that struggled in the final reflection to turn in their best work. After all, isn't our job to teach children, regardless of how long it takes them to learn?

What would you do differently next time? What did you learn?
The use of snapguide was a godsend, but my timing of it could have been a bit better. For instance one designated "tech ninja" documented the procedure early on, but over multiple trials, groups amended their design and altered it slightly which was different than the documented procedure during the initial construction. The reason I did this was to free up the group for data analysis and graphing later, but as I saw the designs change, I knew their original construction procedure was obsolete

On the making of this movie, I learned that I had a lot to learn in the way of movie editing; especially sound equalization. On some of the interviews in the hallways, some of the background noise (white noise) was odd and I struggled with the audio editing. This was my 6th movie I made on I Movie and need to get better at audio enhancements.

What was your greatest learning from COETAIL?
I think that technology is seen as an obstacle for many people and that new trends can inundate educators to feel like they are behind the times, so why learn? What I learned most is that quickly learning new skills can be a huge benefit to classroom instruction, especially data collection and analysis. Freeing up time to assess such lower level tasks has given me more time to read about student learning that does matter. The funny thing is, despite all that I've learned, all these new skills have grounded me in keeping with fundamental practice of good teaching pedagogy but select tools that redefine learning in ways that are seamlesss. Such tools like Skype, Apple Products, Google Apps and Wordpress have brought my students interests and voice to the world. Although they are only sixth graders, I think they have a role in shaping their view of the world and empower them to think like scientists. By giving them real challenges to solve, we inspire them to think that they can be one.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

What's Your Reader?

The other night someone asked what do we use to curate and consume media online in order to become better at our practice. For fun, I'd share mine along with frequency and use.

What: Flipboard App for the Ipad
How: Curates information from twitter, news, flipboard pics, news.
When: At home on the couch or perhaps in bed falling asleep, usually on a daily basis. Great for lazy wake-ups on Sunday morning.
Why: Flipboard is my aggregated newspaper. I typically don't interact with the articles other than to re tweet on twitter. When I want to chill out and learn about the world while relaxing, Flipboard is my 'go-to'.

What: Tweetdeck Chrome Extension
How: Pulls tweets from people I'm following and also through hashtags that are interesting to me. I like #eduwin and #steallikeanartist at the moment.
When: I check tweetdeck two to three times a week, but tweet articles from flipboard or other sources to twitter once or twice a day. Tweetdeck is well organized and I like the columns to organize new posts and interactions with online friends.
Why: It's a personalized community and you easily meet strangers.

What: Google + Communities
How: Directs RSS feeds and posts from blogger and other sources to a "facebook type" of interface where people are sharing blog posts and other items of interest.
When: I check into Google + almost daily. It's my facebook but for professional use.
Why: I think that Google + has the most helpful community of educators. I've asked for help on Twitter a number of times but don't generally get a response. Google + has helped me get in contact with others that have helped me troubleshoot technical issues with Google Apps.

What: Facebook
How: Posts from friends or status updates of humdrum happenings!
When: I went from using facebook daily to checking in roughly 1-3 times per month.
Why: Facebook has been the best for getting in touch with people from the old days. It's older than Google +, and more people are using it. I restrict my use of facebook to strictly personal and socializing purposes and never do "shop talk". If we go on a trip and friends want to see what we did, Facebook is where I create an album.

What: Feedly Chrome Extension
How: Sends RSS feeds to an aggregated place.
When: I read Feedly during the 20 minutes in the middle of the school day when we "drop everything and read".
Why: I've only started using Feedly this fall after Google reader when down in July. (So bummed!) Feedly gives me the feeds from from my favorite educational bloggers.

To readers out there: What is your reader of choice? 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

You Tube Like a Rockstar

This article first appeared in Fractus Learning on March 7th, 2014.

I've been using YouTube all wrong. Usually, I just upload my own videos and searched by typing a query in the box and see what came up. I learned some ways to turn you into a YouTube rock star. Here they are:

Filtering: A quick search for "evaporation" yielded tons of video. But under the search bar is a small grey box called "filters". Click this and you can search for videos for a certain duration, creative commons licensing, HD, relevance, view count or ratings. This has minimised the amount I've taken to preview videos ahead of time by finding lengths, and quality that is better for my students. Sometimes we're just looking for a three minute video!

Remix with Video Editor: Click "upload" and instead of uploading a video, go to video editor. It brings you the page to the left which allows you drag and drop your own videos or creative commons videos into the timeline, add some music, splice it together like you want and create new media. With the amount of media on youtube, this allows you to tailor a video to your liking by taking the best elements of multiple videos and combine them into one. Here's one I made in 5 minutes on the digestive system. 

Adding Captions: On this video of our families recent trip to the Philippines, we took a little footage of my daughter snorkelling. I popped them into a template on "I movie" and uploaded them onto You Tube. After visiting the video editor, I dropped this into the timeline and added a text caption by clicking the "a" icon on the video editor icon and added some captions. In this case, note the video below at 12 seconds pops up a caption for my daughter. Although this was for personal use, I think this has real applications for teachers, namely:

  • Posing probing questions to their students during significant video events
  • Flipped classroom uses 

Subscribe to Content: Do a search on "youtube _________ channels to subscribe to" and you'll get plenty of options. Here are some new channels that I learned about at the Vietnam Tech Conference:

TED Ed-Awesome animations on a variety of great topics.
Edutopia-The popular blog has a channel with videos on a variety of educational topics.
The Intellegent Channel-The best thinkers of our world share their thoughts.
Autograph Math-Simon Woodheads tutorials on mathematics. A must for math teachers.
Crash Course-Videos that will blow your mind.
The Kids Should See This-Ok, not a channel, but videos selected by kids that will make you smile.

Create Annotations-This basically turns videos into a "choose your own adventure" sort of activity where users "interact" with the video by making choices that will send them to one video or another. I haven't gotten a chance to use this yet, but it's available in your video editor setting. James Sanders uses it as a review here on the catholic church. I saw a great example of digital citizenship on a girl who's boyfriend asks her to send an inappropriate picture. Should she do it? You choose.

Related Posts
Embed Quizzes around You Tube videos with Blubbr
Flip Instruction with TED Ed

Saturday, 1 March 2014

What You Should Know Before Enrolling in a MOOC

MOOCs shot up in popularity two years ago and this year they're being dismissed by many education writers and bloggers for their high drop out rates. Most people that I read about who are criticizing them have never actually done a course. After taking half a dozen courses for the last two years, here are my thoughts, reflections and recommendations.

Image Courtesy of CC

What Exactly is a MOOC?
It's a free, college level professional course. Through them, you'll find a growing variety of courses that are being offered in an even larger growing palate of disciplines from typical subjects such as social sciences and biology to topics that are coming to the forefront of society and politics such as healthcare and artificial intelligence.  Most of them are offered by professors at top schools such as Berkeley, Harvard and Yale.

Why Take a Course?
People taking MOOCs are just folks that want to advance their education but maybe don't have the money to afford a college level course. Judging from the demographics, most people are in their mid to late twenties.
I wrote once that MOOCs will level the playing field between rich and poor although courses you complete for a MOOC don't translate into "University Credit" although some offer certificates of completion. Because of this, MOOCs have an extremely high drop out rate with some statistical indicators saying that around 4% of all enrollments actually finish the course. It is because of this that MOOCs are heavily criticized and many wonder if they have lasting power. 

Who is Offering Them?
The big three platforms offering them which are CourseraUdacity and Edx. Some of these may have as many as 100,000 sign ups, but there are people and organizations who are offering smaller courses. I've learned about some courses through Edmodo and Google + communities.

What Should You Know Before Enrolling
Clear your Calendar. The first class I ever took and finished was a course on Professional Learning Networks which I learned about on Edmodo. It was small with roughly 100 people. Luckily, it was during the summer when I had a lot of down time. Doing the class was a lot easier with not "alot on my plate". Just this spring I signed up for a class on Human Physiology which was unfortunately during a time when I was finishing up some graduate school work and also had a one week holiday during the course which made it difficult to keep pace with the other students as I was off the grid for 9 days. Minimize the distractions, and chances are better that you'll stick with it.

Know What You Want Out of It. With the human physiology course, I was swamped with other work I was doing. However, I really enjoyed listening to the videos during my prep periods. They gave me ideas that I wove into my unit on human bodies systems with my seventh graders. The videos were the extent that I wanted to participate and I was cool with that. Some courses are starting to survey participants before hand to see if they actually intend to complete the coursework, do the assessments, participate in community discussion or do hangouts with other members. Know yourself and what you hope to learn from it.

Take Courses That Benefit Your Practice. The first course I signed up for was "Intro to Statistics". As a teacher, I use data a lot in my practice and I thought a refresher course in statistics might help me glean some new things on how to aggregate and analyze data on student achievement. Eventually, the course got into statistics that I don't use, so I abandoned it. I got what I wanted out of it, and once it stopped being relevant, I was gone.
My course progress on Statistics
Consider Taking Courses With Peers. I enrolled in a course on "Next Generation Science Standards" through Coursera as our science department is thinking of piloting them next year. After passing the info on to my colleagues, my school's curriculum coordinator and 3 other science teachers have signed on to get a better feel of what these standards are and what they entail. Our school's Technology Resource facilitator took a MOOC a few years ago on "Moodle" which is an organizational platform our school was going to pilot the following year. Taking it gave him some insight on setting and administration of the system. It's for this reason that a course was invaluable to a group of people that want to get training for an upcoming school-wide vision.

Self Paced or On a Schedule? This varies. For my course on "Intro to Statistics" though Udacity, the lessons were all self-paced and I could do them at any speed I wanted. Want to spend an afternoon doing 10 units? Sure! Want to take a week off? No problem! With the scheduled course, the timing keeps things going at a certain pace. My wife recently finished a MOOC on cooking and nutrition that was on a schedule that forced her to commit to make recipes with the new materials. As she cooks a lot, this was easy for her. For me, I like the self paced classes where I can do a weekend binge if I want.

Image Courtesy of CC

In Their Own Way

An interesting article came out of the Huffington post this week indicating that all the free web content, flipped videos, and "google-able" answers will never replace good teaching. The author Chris Liang Vergara admits to be trumpeting Mind Research Institutes math enrichment program which he currently presenting on at SXSW this weekend with fellow developer Matthew Peterson. At first, this just seems like a self promotion with more interactive and "text-less" learning as opposed, to say, Khan academy.  In either case, both engender personal traits of:
  • Persistence
  • Learning through ones mistakes
  • Self-paced learning

Are These the Solution?
Are we not at the holy grail moment of education where such technologies are making the life of a teacher considerable easier? With such programs, why is is that students still turn off of learning and may not be motivated to sit through a youtube tutorial? 

Failure is essential for learning. So why do parents and students fear it?
Image Courtesy of CC

Because what these programs do is teach essential skills and knowledge, but don't well enough engage students in the question "Why must I learn this?" and what relevance does their learning have to benefit their local communities? I think in this regard, all the well intentioned flipped learning advocates, and self paced app developers fall short.  One of the more inspirational videos I read this week was about the power of "Design Thinking" which came out of Edutopia this week which shows a group of students redesigning their local environment. After one sees this, it becomes immediately noticeable where skills and knowledge play a part and how teachers can use these as teachable moments, essential to the project.  

It's these skills which we would all agree make a well-educated individual. More and more articles are coming out advertising what employers are really looking for in their workforce. Contrary to popular belief, it's not passing standardised tests (if you can believe that), but the ability to work cooperatively, solve problems, learn and apply new skills on the job that is nouveau.

Measuring What Matters
To people that try to compartmentalise learning as a checklist of bulleted facts and skills that can be checked off with a standardised test, they'll never see this bigger picture. What education reformers often fail to understand is the difference between giving students the skills to be a scientist and inspiring them to be one. I'm not saying that assessment doesn't have a role (actually, I would argue that is has a big one with assessing for understanding) but the application of skills is what is difficult to measure, so it's not.

"What education reformers often fail to understand is the difference between giving students the skills to be a scientist and inspiring them to be one"

Are such skills an indicator of future success anyways? Thomas Friedman reported yesterday that even Google is shying away from hiring college graduates and has roughly 14% of it's staff on some of it's teams without college degrees. G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” said Laszlo Bock, senior vice president for people operations at Google. If you want further proof, ask yourself how the United States has been the global economic superpower for the last half century and producing mediocre educational testing results. 

Designing a Distillation Apparatus to Create Potable Water

In about two weeks, my students will complete their projects; distillation apparatuses that purify water which is a UN millennium development goal. I told my students on the first day of class that this would be our focus and they'll upload their instructions of how to build one and their data results to the internet for free. The result has been dynamite. Lessons are based on teaching skills and knowledge essential for the project and relevance has seamlessly tied into lessons. This has give the students the ability to be creative, struggle, compromise, apply and learn humility. The use of educational technology has also played three key roles:

  1. Modifying Data Collection. Our school is making strides to get teachers more involved in using formative assessment rather than assessing merely at the end of a unit. Formative assessment may seem like a huge time consuming task, but using such feedback turns failure into information, and electronic tools allows teachers (and students) to see their progress in real time which improves cognitive abilities through brain-based research. Such scripts like autocrat allow for generating personalized feedback after assessments on google forms. 
  2. Documenting Process. Engineering a device is a rather cumbersome process, and one that is best augmented with the use of visuals; either pictures of video. In this capacity, the Ipads have been great because such apps allow for a sleek presentation of how to do any procedure. Some of my kids used "Explain Everything" although most of them used a new app called "Snapguide" which was a first for me, but a nice product. 
  3. Publishing Their Results for Peer Review. I've been a big advocate of blogs for student portfolios and I've been connecting with other teachers around the world and their classes that do the same. Now, more than ever, students can share their work with a greater audience and invite others to comment and critique their research which is now possible. 
Peer review motivates students to do better work and write for an actual audience
Image courtesy of CC

I'll finish with a quote from Jay McTighe who once said at a workshop, "What does it mean to really understand something?" All teachers have scratched their heads at one time or another when a student has seemed to "demonstrate" something to turn around and show no application of it later. What led to this disparity? Simple forgetfulness? Poor pedagogy? It up to us to keep at it, teach what's important and allow for students to show this, all in their own way.