Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The struggles and rewards of painting turtles

Each year #HourOfCode rolls around and I have a great time generating enthusiasm about coding with kids and teachers. But I was itchy to push coding activities further into our curriculum and truly align coding activities with our curriculum. I was so pleased when I found the middle school page at code.org and began reading about Project GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically).

Project GUTS has developed professional learning and student modules for teaching scientific concepts while building virtual models and simulations through code. There are three units which align with traditional middle school science curriculum: Earth Science, Life Science and Physical Science. I immediately reached out to my 7th grade Life Science team and we spent an afternoon playing with the lessons and learning our way around StarLogoNova.

It was very powerful to have time to watch the teachers struggle and conquer the coding themselves. They had rich conversations about what is like to learn something new and how it felt when some teachers got it and others didn't. From there we planned how we would want to organize the lessons with the students and how we could make accommodations for our English Language Learners and Special Education students. The lessons that have already been written by ProjectGUTS are excellent and have great unplugged activities to go along with the coding lessons which help drive home important computational thinking processes.

As the educational technology coach, I scheduled myself so that I could be in most classes as the teachers first introduced the unit and the project. We spent a lot of time initially building up why we would do coding in science and how it relates to work real scientists do. We also emphasized that these lessons were all building towards the opportunity for them to build their own scientific simulation.

I think the most striking thing I learned as we implemented the lessons with the students was that coding is one of the best self-corrective lessons out there. If you run the code and it doesn't work, you know you need to fix it - you don't have to wait to see what score you got or wait until the big game to see if you know how to shoot the ball - you just hit run code and see what happens. This is one of the most compelling parts of coding for students.

I also saw that many of our students struggle with open-ended assignments. When we did the first lesson "Painting Turtles," most of them were fine with getting the code to run and have five turtles moving in a circle leaving a trail behind. But when we told them to "mess it up" by trying out other commands and seeing what happened, some were at a loss. Where should I go? What should I try? There was a definite moment of panic as they realized there were no directions for this part.

The hesitation didn't last long though. It would only take one or two kids to find the dragons or add sound effects, and the rest of the students were off and running. Pretty soon students were all calling my name at once. Not to ask me how to do something but to show off what they had just done. It was wonderful to watch them turning their computers to get their classmates attention to show their rainbow cube patterns or what happens when you change the camera view. I especially loved the pleased smiles on kids' faces who had come into the class looking despondent or just resigned.

As the lessons progressed, the coding challenges got more difficult and complex. Students were now coding simple simulations where "turtles" (small colored blocks) reacted when they came into contact with other turtles. Next they needed to start creating traits of the turtles that would change as they gained or lost energy. As the coding got more difficult, students needed to be persistent, to try new approaches, and to ask for help as they needed it. One strategy that we found helpful was to build "starter" programs that contained the code the students needed but not in the right order, much like an English teacher might provide sentence starters for certain students.

On our culmination day last year, administrators and curriculum specialists came in to see the simulations students had built. It was powerful to see how complicated and varied students various simulations were. By providing open-ended challenges to the students, many went far beyond anything we could have thought of. And those students that found this coding challenging and new still created solid simulations and by their admission, learned a ton.

We are just re-launching this coding project this year. We are starting sooner after #HourOfCode and giving more space between lessons and finding more ways to let kids code to show what they know about science. I look forward to seeing what kinds of simulations the students create this year and how we can support all learners to embrace the challenges of coding and become computational thinkers.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Hyper about HyperDocs

I'm using this tomorrow!

These are my favorite words to hear during a professional development workshop. When I hear this, I know I have shared something with teachers that is relevant, applicable and scalable. I also wasn't surprised to hear this during a workshop in which we used a HyperDoc as our main tool.

If you haven't checked out HyperDocs from Lisa Highfull, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis, you definitely need to. On the surface, HyperDocs are Google Docs that are visually attractive and provide links to users to different information. But at their heart, HyperDocs are a student-centered, constructivist approach to using technology for student-driven learning. HyperDocs are organized with key words that invite users to be active members in their learning. The Google Docs are framed around verbs like: Engage, Explore, Explain, Apply, Share, Reflect and Extend. The "Engage" section might have users watch a video that sparks their curiosity. The "Explore" links might lead to websites that have further explanation about a topic. "Explain" might ask students to make their own video or voice recording about what they have learned or this might even be a face-to-face component of the lesson where students are asked to turn and talk to one another. As the verbs get more interactive in nature, there are more opportunities for student creation of products and collaboration among students. I particularly like the "Extend" idea which gives students that are really intrigued by the topic further opportunity for exploration.

Templates: http://hyperdocs.co/templates 
In the professional development workshop that I was co-leading, we created three different HyperDocs using one of the amazing templates available on the HyperDocs site. The workshop was about differentiation so we had teachers self-evaluate and choose a HyperDoc based on their knowledge and use of stations for differentiation. Teachers then used this HyperDoc to organize their learning for the session. In our case, each step in the HyperDoc was also a station and we asked teachers to physically move as they completed each step. This was useful for pieces of the HyperDoc that involved physical things (like manipulatives) and for promoting group discussion. Using the HyperDocs kept learners on track and clear in the steps they needed to take. The HyperDocs kept all the links in one place so there was no confusion about "where to go" for certain activities. And, above all, it ensured that our learning was student- (or in this case teacher-) centered and active. We did not stand and deliver a lesson on differentiation, teachers experienced a differentiated lesson and the HyperDocs helped us manage it.

Since that day, I have had numerous teachers share that they have moved to the HyperDoc as a way to organize their instruction. I love that this resource has thoughtful and intentional pedagogy embedded in it. While I'm sure some teachers can adapt a HyperDoc to make it just an electronic worksheet, I think the way Lisa, Kelly and Sarah have created and organized the HyperDocs really lure all teachers into crafting a more student-centered and activist approach to learning. I found it to be simpatico with my creed of Ask, Create, Play, Solve, Share. I believe that just seeing the examples on the HyperDoc Girls website, encourages teachers to think more about what the students are doing and less about what they as teachers will be saying. Their excellent book and website both have loads of tips and background about their thinking behind HyperDocs that are worth checking out. Let me know how you are using HyperDocs in your school. I, for one, am thrilled with a tool that is easy-to-use and has meaningful instruction at its center.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Personalized Learning via Crowdsourcing

"That was the best homework assignment I've ever had." 

This is not what you usually hear from middle school students. In fact, sometimes we get excited if they remember there was homework. But this is what an 8th grader recently said to his science teacher. Why? What was it about this homework assignment that made it stand out above all others?

"I was doing something that was just right for me."

If you are like me, you are imagining that his teacher stayed up to all hours searching, curating and refining an individualized learning path for each of her 120 students. After all, sometimes when we hear the term "personalized learning" this is how it is described. Students coming to school and getting a series of assignments that are designed for their ability level and current achievement. These programs are very impressive and often require a major fiscal investment from the school. I think this can be a very powerful part of learning and look forward to working with teachers to develop some lessons and units this way.

So what had this teacher done instead?

She crowdsourced! Crowdsourcing is when a large group of people all contribute to the success of a project, often monetarily. Luckily this teacher didn't ask her students to donate money to a cause. What she did was ask each of them to go out and find a resources that taught them about a specific science concept. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't in place of her teaching. She had already done several lessons on this topic using a variety of instructional strategies. But she knew from formative assessments and her excellent teacher instinct that some students still weren't getting it. So she put it back on them.

"Find a video, a cartoon, a simulation, a website that explains this concept in a way that makes sense to you."

Brilliant! The students found loads of excellent materials and posted to her Google Classroom. She shared that students that never hand in homework, submitted cool resources. And, she now has loads of great resources for when she teaches this concept next year. And because students had found materials that applied to their learning styles and needs, they were able to learn a concept that they had found challenging.

So, why did students respond so well to this activity? My thought is that it is personalized learning, just with a different definition than we've become accustomed to. In this case, instead of a student being handed a series of assignments that someone else (or something else) has decided are right for him or her, he or she gets to be the one to say what learning resource meets his or her needs and interests.  Students have the opportunity to create a meaningful learning experience and own their own learning. This reminds me of what has been termed the "IKEA effect." Mike Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely found that when participants in their study put together furniture, they placed it at a higher value than similar furniture that was store-assembled.

So much of what students do in school happens to them. They walk into class and wait to see what the teacher asks them to do, they go home and work on homework the teacher assigned, they take tests when the teacher says. Students today are hungry for the opportunity to contribute, they way they do when they build their own levels on Geometry Dash, or code mods in Minecraft or post their photography on Instagram. Crowdsourcing is a way to shift this dynamic. Now students have a chance to contribute to the learning plan. Someone is asking them what they think and how they want to learn.

Give it a try. Not everyday, every topic, of course. We know, as teachers, that we offer expertise and wisdom that our students don't yet have, but why not give them a chance to contribute to their learning plan?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Keeping the "We" in WeVideo

I am lucky enough to work in a school district that uses WeVideo as part of our 1:1 Chromebook approach to blended learning. If you aren't already familiar with WeVideo, it is a fantastic tool that let's students create, edit and publish videos in the cloud. Students can collaborate on projects and teachers can create sets of media for students to use for video projects. Finished videos can be downloaded or uploaded directly to Google Classroom. It has been loads of fun getting to know this powerful tool for student creativity this year. I have been a part of really innovative WeVideos and I've been a part of WeVideos that felt like any other school assignment that gets completed just because it was assigned. Here are some of my observations of what makes a WeVideo stand out in terms of the student learning experience.

Collaboration. An obvious plus to WeVideo is the ability for multiple students to work on a video project at the same time. In the world of Google Docs and Google Slides, students have come to expect to be able to share a project with a classmate and have dual editing rights. WeVideo is a little tricky this way since only one student can be editing one video clip at any one time. This can be a great benefit though since it creates the need for more coordination, communication and planning among the students. For instance, if two students are making a Google Slide presentation together, two things often happen. One, the students divide up the slides and they each make their slides without checking in with each other about the content or style of their slides. Two, one student does all the work. With WeVideo, students need to plan out the video into media and video edits. Some students can be responsible for gathering the media needed: images, video filmed via phones, photos, music, audio. Other students can be responsible for assembling the media into a video edit. This creates a natural need for students to truly collaborate and not just divide up the work. The editor needs to be able to tell the media managers what they need. The media managers need to check back in with the editors to see how the media works in the videos. Being intentional with students about this is essential, helping students understand how the program works and how to communicate with other students will make the video project much more enjoyable and the final product much more meaningful for all.

Student Created Rubrics. Let's face it. Our students are huge consumers of video. They know what makes a good video and what makes a great video. Make sure to take some time to have students brainstorm what makes a quality learning video. Ask students to work in pairs to identify the characteristics of videos that are informative while fun to watch. Use their thoughts and ideas to build your rubric. Of course, you likely will have to add some components that students might not consider but having their buy-in on what the final products should look like will pay off in the long run. As you do more and more video products, be sure to save the quality examples. Show these to students and have them evaluate what makes them good. You will see an exponential increase in the quality of what students produce. They will feel much more connected to the project when they have helped build the rubric.

Student Reflection. Here's the great news, you've already laid the ground work for this one! Remember that student-built rubric you made with the students? Now, they can look at the rubric and reflect on what they did. In addition to checklist types of reflection questions (did you do this? did you have this?) be sure to include questions about what they learned from the project and, most importantly, what they would do differently next time. I always find that I learn as much from what students put in their project reflections as I do actually viewing the project itself. This also gives students another opportunity to share their view of the project. As educators we need to keep our focus on how students are experiencing the learning opportunities we provide in our classrooms.

Celebration. There is nothing worse than working really hard on a project and having your teacher move right on to the next topic, or the next project. Be sure to take time to celebrate the products students have created. Whether you have a movie day where you watch each of the projects or you have an evening presentation where parents are invited, be sure to plan time to view and celebrate the projects. This is a great opportunity to invite your administrators in or at least the tech coaches (we love this stuff!!). Consider having students write positive notes to their peers about each video. While sharing a glow and a grow is common practice, I find letting students just focus on the "glow" provides a more positive flow in the room and gives us all a chance to go full circle back to that original question of what makes a quality learning video.

I'm sure it is very intentional that the first ISTE Standard for Students is Empowered Learner. The Empowered Learner is one that "takes an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences."* Keeping this in the forefront of our minds when planning video creation lessons will ensure that students see themselves as part of the process, not something the process happens to.

*2016 ISTE Standards for Students, ©2016, ISTE® (International Society for Technology in Education), iste.org. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You've done mystery location, now what?

I've had the lucky opportunity to plan and coordinate Mystery Location calls for all of our sixth grade social studies teachers in my school. It is so fun to help arrange their line ups and to co-teach the lessons as often as I can. I love watching the students try to solve the puzzle of where the other school can be from and the level of collaboration that is necessary for success. If you haven't done a Mystery Location call yet - definitely try it out. You'll be hooked. Want to know more? Check out Who Doesn't Love a Mystery?

Because of our success with sixth grade social studies, I had a few other teachers approach me and ask what kinds of global connections they could make. We also had a lot of fun with some Mystery Calls and wanted an excuse to call those same classes back. So I poked around and read about Mystery Number.

Mystery Number follows the same premise as a Mystery Location call. This time each class picks a number. The range of numbers can match the level of students. For very young classes you might limit it to 0 through 20. For our self-contained Special Education class we did whole numbers between 1 and 100. This year we are hoping to do 1 through 100 but to the hundredths decimal place.

Once each class has picked their number, each side asks a yes or no question. We tried questions like "Is the number even?" "Is the number prime?" "Is the number greater than 50?" We practiced the day ahead by having small groups pick numbers and ask each other questions. It was a great way to review academic vocabulary like even/odd, greater than/less than, and prime. Some of our students even tried using multiples and factors which was excellent. I'm looking forward to the questions our decimals class will ask.

Our students found it very helpful to have number charts that they could mark up. The classroom teacher I worked with had clear folders that we could slide the number chart into and then mark up with dry erase markers. This was definitely ideal.

I also found it helpful to have one class ask questions until they guessed and then switch and have the other class ask until they guessed. When we do Mystery Location we always alternate questions but with Mystery Number that transition seemed harder for the students. Play around with it to find a format that works for your students.

There are several reasons to try out a Mystery Number call. First of all, it is so important for students to have the ability to reach beyond their classroom. There is something about communicating with a class in a different part of the country that slowly opens their eyes to the world beyond them. Mystery call have sparked political, social, cultural, and economic conversations in our classes. Secondly, it is an authentic opportunity to put into practice something they've been learning. Suddenly there is a reason to know which numbers are prime beyond that "it will be on the test." Now knowing which numbers are prime helps you narrow down your choices, plan your next question and accurately answer questions from the other class. Thirdly, Mystery Calls give all students a place in the classroom. Students that I've never seen speak up in class have a chance to get in front of the web cam and ask a question to a class across state boundaries. Students that are careful note takers become invaluable because their number chart is the reference point. Each time I do a call there is a least one student who surprises the classroom teachers with their interest and level of participation. So, give Mystery Number a try. And if you are looking for a partner class please leave a comment below so we can get in touch!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Increasing Student Engagement with Nearpod

Can it really be three years since I first wrote about Nearpod on this blog? I just read through what I wrote back in the fall of 2013 and the tool is still holding up! Since then, my school division has purchased teacher licenses and the middle school where I work now has a 1:1 chromebook program making Nearpod more relevant than ever.

Why should you use Nearpod?

The number one reason is to increase student engagement in your classroom. 

Nearpod is a presentation tool that allows you to add interactive tools frequently throughout your presentation. Students can respond to a multiple choice question, give their opinion in a poll, draw a response or answer an open-ended question. Instead of having one or two students answer your questions, now all students can answer. Used well, these tools can access background knowledge, promote critical thinking, and show their thinking in multiple modalities. There are actually many tools a teacher could use to do these same things, but Nearpod allows you to do it smoothly as part of a presentation AND to share student responses back out to the class easily. Which brings me to the second reason you should use Nearpod.

Nearpod gives all students a voice and provides modelling.

Imagine you are trying to spark a class discussion in a strictly no-tech atmosphere. You ask a question, a few students respond. Now, with Nearpod, you can ask the question, give all students a chance to respond (in a written format) and then you can share out a few key examples for the rest of the class, anonymously. You can now provide a model (see how this student cited text in their response?) or provoke more discussion with out singling out a student (how many of you agree with this response?). Students who might never have raised their hand, or been able to express themselves in front of their peers, now have the opportunity to see their work shared with the class. Students that really don't yet know how to write a supported response to a question can see examples of what their peers are doing. We can not underestimate how important it is for students to see modeling from their peers or to be selected as the model.

Nearpod can be used in small groups or in stations.

Nearpod now has a student-paced option with each presentation. Teachers at my school love this as a tool for station work or literature circles. Students can work through the content and interactive tools in Nearpod at their own pace in a station. Here you lose a bit of the peer modeling but you gain the different pacing that some students need. Teachers have found that students are more accountable for completing Nearpod assignments than they are to complete other kind of station work. They like the opportunity to share their responses frequently throughout an activity and teachers like that they can add web content, audio and video.

Nearpod presentation can easily be duplicated, shared and adapted.

We have a high number of English Language Learners in our school. Nearpod allows teachers to add audio to a slide so that teachers can read the text aloud. In addition to providing this scaffold, teachers can easily change slides to add definitions to words or provide sentence starters to open-ended questions when needed. Furthermore, teachers could add extension slides into presentation for students that are ready to take their knowledge in a new direction. Working with a co-teacher? Share your presentation with them and they can make modifications for their students.

But, like all tools and all technology. Just using Nearpod does not mean all your students will be engaged. Teachers still need to be intentional and thoughtful in how they use Nearpod. To get the most out of a Nearpod lesson be sure to keep the following in mind:

1) Use a variety of interactive tools. Vary the kinds of questions you are asking. A multiple choice question after each slide will begin to get dull and students will begin to click on anything to get it over with. Use all the tools - especially open-ended questions, draw it and polls to keep students thinking and to promote conversation.

2) Pair up students. Having two students per device is a great way to add a new layer to Think-Pair-Share. In this format, students should discuss the questions before agreeing on the response they will enter into Nearpod.

3) Unplug! Unlike SMART Notebook or PowerPoint, there is no reason to project what you are seeing as the teacher. If you have a wireless device, go ahead and walk around the room as you are moving through the presentation. Kids have the slides on the screen in front of them, they don't have to look to the front of the room. This gives you the opportunity to manage by proximity (my favorite method!). You'll be surprise how this small change shifts the dynamics of your classroom.

4) Personalize. Nearpod has a wonderful library of presentations that are already made. As teachers we often reinvent the wheel when there is already a great presentation out there. Nearpod awesomely lets you edit any presentation that is already in their library. Kids really appreciate seeing content that reflect their class or interests, so go ahead and change some slides to include details from your own class. Also, be sure the content connects to your school and state curriculum. While it is great to have some of the content already made, go ahead and edit any slides that don't match up with your own learning objectives.

5) Share. Nearpod makes it so easy to share presentations with colleagues. If you've made a great presentations that all the 7th grade teachers in your building could use, go ahead and send them a copy. Teachers can then save to their own library and edit it for themselves. Professional generosity is a treasured characteristic. Who knows, if you share with them, they might share with you!

If you haven't checked out Nearpod yet, it is time. You can easily bring in slides from SMART Notebook, PowerPoint or Google Slides, you won't have to start over! Nearpod is a great tool to have in your toolbox and will quickly become one of your go to tech tools for assessment, direct instruction and station work!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Storytime with StoryKit

Sometimes the simplest apps can make the most powerful lessons.

A few weeks ago, I was brainstorming a lesson with a 7th grade Life Science teacher at my school. She had a unit on symbiosis coming up and she wanted to assess the students in a new way. We bounced around a lot of ideas: green screens, music videos, cartooning sites but what we landed on was StoryKit. StoryKit is a free app from the folks at the International Children's Digital Library (which is a great resource in itself if you aren't already familiar with it!).

StoryKit lets you create a digital book. For images, you can draw your own, import from the web or use your camera roll. You can simply add text with a text box. You can arrange and format the images and text as you like. A great feature of StoryKit is that you can add audio. Just click and record yourself reading the story out loud. You can even record word by word or sentence by sentence! This was just what we were looking for, a tool that let's the students' creativity shine without too many features or distractions in the creation. And... and.... what if we planned on reading the stories to an 2nd grade class at a nearby elementary school?

My job was to introduce the tool which was easy because StoryKit is so intuitive. I just walked the kids through the features and made a silly story as a sample. Students literally had no technical questions or problems. If there weren't sure how to do something, they quickly figured it out or asked a friend. It was seamless.

Their stories were fantastic. The teacher assigned a symbiotic relationship to each group of students. The task for the group was to write a children's story that told a story about that relationship. She made a model first to show them and reinforced Language Arts skills by using the same story graph that their Language Arts teacher had used with them earlier. Kids came up with adorable ideas and clever plot twists to demonstrate what they knew about symbiosis. And the best stories would go in person to an elementary school to read to a class. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Sloth and Algae Reunite
Lola and Charlie
Sandy and Randy's Adventure: Lost at Sea

I might have loved these stories, but the 2nd graders loved them even more. We had a great morning where the 7th graders first had to explain the four types of symbiotic relationships in 2nd grade terms (smiley faces did the trick) and then read their stories in small groups. The 2nd graders learned so much - they could identify the type of relationship in every story. And the 7th graders learned so much - how to explain what they know in a compelling, interesting and memorable way.

What I learned from this lesson:

  1. The simplest apps are often the best
  2. Having a real audience for school work results in better school work
  3. Asking students to explain what they know in simple terms demonstrates whether they know or understand an idea
  4. 7th graders are their best selves for 2nd graders
  5. Kids learn when we tell and share stories
And guess what app the 2nd graders asked to use next time they could use iPads?