Sunday, October 30, 2016

Formative Assessment With Google Slides and Poll Everywhere

It seems like a few times during every school year I find myself re-purposing old materials to meet the needs of my students. As I've moved away from textbook-driven assignments and lecture-based lessons, I've been careful to not "throw the baby out with the bathwater," as a former coworker put it.



This time it was a slide presentation that I thought was already a good lesson. Not settling for "good enough," I decided to use Poll Everywhere to add some question slides. The Poll Everywhere Chrome extension allows users to access polls without leaving Google Slides. It's one of my favorite time-saving tools.

Then, the light bulb went off. Most of the slides were excerpts from primary sources that were either of the Federalist or Anti-Federalist point of view. I made a copy of the presentation, deleted all of the explanation slides, and added two choices to the top of each slide – Federalist and Anti-Federalist. This was all in preparation to make clickable image response questions with Poll Everywhere.

Watch the video to see how I did it.

BONUS: If you're having a day with too much screen time, the slide presentation design facilitates a total-body response. I explain it all at the end of the video.

Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vlog Ep 1: Finding Missing Voice

I started a vlog.

After blogging consistently for about two and a half years, I wanted to do more. I wanted to share more. The goal with this vlog is to be a bit vulnerable in the sense that it is not scripted and I will likely share more stories that inspire me than the ins and outs of integrating technology.

In the first episode, I introduce this project and get right into my experience at MassCUE16. The story that I tell is about making adjustments on the fly to my presentation because of the conference scheduling conflicts that I did not foresee.

More importantly, Episode 1 highlights the fact that reflecting on the process reveals some of the most important lessons. The lesson I learned was from a story that came to mind while presenting at the conference. It pours out my struggle during my earliest awareness of student voice, especially the missing ones that literally kept me up at night.

The title of the first episode is appropriate in more ways than one, for I've found a voice in this vlog.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Automate Your Reflections With Google Forms And Keep

It's hard make new routines. In college, I used to type new ideas and print them in 60-point font before taping them to the wall. Looking at the large fonts everyday caught my attention until I successfully made the "post" part of my routine.


These days, I use Google Keep to jot down what I think are good ideas. This seemed like it had a lot of potential, but it wasn't as good as the paper posts on the wall of my college apartment. Something was missing. The messages weren't in my face like the paper posts.

The solution hit me when my wife, who preferred her paper calendar to the Google calendar, asked me what she could do to make the digital calendar more routine. I suggested setting reminders in Keep.

That's when the Keep reminder light bulb went off in my head. Why didn't I think of that before? Like the paper posts that I took down after the idea became routine, I delete the reminder when I can see the Keep post in my routine. It's often the simplest solution that changes our lives.

Here's what I did to remind myself to reflect on what happens every week. Classroom or not, this is a great way to work any learning routine into your work flow. 

1. Make a Form (or a link to whatever you use).

My students use a Google Doc to write weekly reflections, but I chose a form for myself because I wanted the time stamp collected automatically. Plus, I wanted to try something new to see if it works better.


2. Paste the form link into the note.

What's great about pasting the form link into the Keep note is that the reminder appears as a notification on my phone and reflecting is just two quick touches away.


3. Set the reminder to repeat as frequent as you want.

The reminder can be set for a specific time, and the frequency can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or custom. I set the time for the end of the week when the ideas are fresh. The best time for me is 4:00 because it's usually a time when no one needs me for anything else. 


BONUS Reminder Idea

Upload photos from your phone to a Google Drive folder (include the folder link). I should probably do this monthly, maybe on a Sunday.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

5 Reasons Textbooks Will Not Survive

I have nothing against books, even textbooks. In fact, I am convinced that it's plausible for a teacher to set up a course to follow a textbook and prepare kids for the 21st Century. But that is no small task with a class full of kids wired for a connected world, and there are very few teachers up for it.


Once upon a time, pen and paper were the way we recorded everything. Business ledgers, journals, work schedules, and gradebooks, to name a few, were all done with paper. It was a different time. Some say it was better. The fact of the matter is that we are never going back to that. Like it or not, we will always be moving in the direction digital technology takes us.

Textbooks will not survive the 21st Century. I don't even think they'll survive the next five years. And the attempt that textbook companies are making in the direction of online resources is deplorable. I know teachers who have made better sites in their free time.

From my perspective, the end of textbooks is quite clear. To reflect on why this will happen, I've made a list of reasons.

1. Cost

Textbooks cost too much money, especially when everything you'll find in a textbook can be found online for free. And don't start with me about how untrustworthy Wikipedia can be – it's more accurate than Britannica and larger than the Yongle encyclopedia. 

Plus, there are so many free resources created by experts for the purpose of providing information to the average person. In many cases, these sites are designed with students and teachers in mind. Why not use them?  

2. Environmental

Chromebooks require electricity and will one day end up in an waste recycling facility – if not off the West coast of Africa. But if you add up the carbon footprint of learning with paper versus digital devices connected to the Internet, you'll find that the paper has a higher environmental cost. Remember, recycling requires lots of fossil fuels, and copiers use energy. I could keep going with factors, but I think you get it. 

Think about the fact that a textbook is only one book. A device connected to the Internet is so much more than even a library of books. The World Wide Web is so vast that the most popular search engine was named Google. Can't remember what a google is? Google it! The amount of books needed to keep pace with the Internet is unfathomable and certainly bad for the environment.  

3. Relevance

We do not access information in the same ways anymore. Sure, while you read through this list, someone is sitting at a table in a library with a book. But most of the connected world will search the Web for information when a question comes to mind.

The days of the mother's myth are gone. Kids can find information on their own, which is exactly why educational institutions need to support them. Speaking of myth's, kids are not tech savvy. They don't know this stuff. They don't know what SQL, https, or HTML5 stand for. Most search engine users don't even know how to conduct an effective search.

4. Proximity 

Too many clicks. My students hate it when a resource isn't just a few clicks away, never mind having to go to a library or carry books to school. 

I try to make it so my students are no more than two clicks to content. Online textbooks, however, are a mess. Most of the online textbooks are three to four clicks to content, and the newer platforms are not trustworthy when it comes to digital assignments. 

We have Google Drive and many amazing LMS platforms, so there's no need for online textbook assignments with software made by a book company struggling to survive the last days of its existence.

5. Makers

Matt Miller wrote Ditch That Textbook. I loved idea when I first started perusing his website, which is full of solutions for classrooms. For example, Matt shares links to Google Drawing templates among other things. I particularly like his ideas about how to use Google Slides in different ways. The vibe is very much about promoting student-created materials versus completing a worksheet.

We like to make stuff. With all of the online word, image, and information processing tools in the Google Apps Suite, why would we use textbooks? We can make our own books with classrooms across the hall, or even the World.

After all, we are trying to prepare the youth for a world that doesn't exist. They'll need the skills to make things – solutions to problems placed before them or, better yet, problems they found on their own. 

Bottom line: Why would we set up conditions for learning that do not relate much to ways people learn and work outside educational institutions? Textbooks do too little, too late for this issue.

I've tried to continue to find value in textbooks, but it's a tougher and tougher argument to sell. So I'm done. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Reasons Teachers Will Love DocentEdu

It seems that every school year brings updates to the tools we already use and new ones that grab our attention for one reason or another. For me, this year's new tool is DocentEdu.


I'm a firm believer in technology that saves teachers time and facilitates the learning process. Here's some of the ways DocentEdu does all of the above.

1. Quizzes

After all the excitement of a new tool wears off, the real integration takes shape. It often points to effective learning strategies, such as checking for understanding. At it's core, DocentEdu has made a tool for guided reading that allows teachers to spend time writing good questions, not fumbling over technology by over managing digital resources.

Better yet, the multiple choice questions are scored automatically and allow students to try again for partial credit. I wouldn't use this for a summative grade, but it's great for instant feedback.


2. Discussion

Some of the best learning happens through discussion. Let's say you find a website that presents problems with many plausible solutions. Why not insert a discussion and keep a record of student participation and evidence of mastery?

3. Embed Video

This is how I found DocentEdu – I wanted to embed a video in a Google Doc. As it turns out, you can make a docent out of a published doc and embed videos into them or almost any webpage. I haven't found a site in which it hasn't worked.


4. Feedback

Although I'm told that specific feedback is on the future features list, I still like the ability to easily adjust the point values of questions. What's more, the multiple-choice questions grade automatically. This means students know how they did on their assignment right away. For the few homework assignments that I require, immediate feedback is crucial – kids these days are used to getting answers right away.

5. Download CSV

I like having the ability to look for patterns in student performance. By providing a CSV file of the student scores, teachers are free to convert the file to whatever software they use. 

Whether it's Mocrsoft, Google, or uploading straight to a gradebook, a CSV file is a must have for looking at long term achievement – sans tedious data entry.

6. Classroom Integration

This was so easy. Want to add all of your students? If you use Google Classroom it's instantaneous. A few clicks and DocentEdu sets up access to all of your classes. 

Also, to assign a docent activity, the option to assign via Classroom is one click. You don't have to open Classroom to do it. And like I've said in the past, anything that saves me time is my friend. 



7. Embed Quizlet

You can embed all kinds of things. I like embedding Quizlet decks into a docent because it keeps my students on the same browser tab. That's huge for classroom management in the 21st Century. One activity. One link. 


8. Google Docs

If you publish a Google Doc, it will give you the opportunity to use the helpful tools of DcentEdu. Add a video from YouTube, a slide presentation, and some questions to a reading you are about to assign, and students won't have to go to four different places. 

9. Annotations 

Docent tools are also available for students. Just as teachers can add notes to an assigned docent, students can highlight text and leave notes, too. 

10. Insert URL

Keeping students within one resource is what I love about DocentEdu, but sometimes they need to go somewhere else. Add hyperlinks within the activity to ensure students go to the right site. This tool could be used for web quests, as well.

For info on DocentEdu, visit the site to explore the great resources created with teaching and learning in mind.