Saturday, November 4, 2017

FLUXX MOD Project - Board Games in the Classroom

Although I am not affiliated with FLUXX® (or Looney Labs) in any way, I think that FLUXX® is a great game that everyone should own.

We often think of board games as a staple for Family Fun Night, and because many of them help teach soft skills and facilitate higher order cognitive abilities, teachers routinely incorporate classics like Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble and Apples to Apples in their classrooms. By the same token, creating MODs or skins for existing games is a time-honored classroom activity. A simple Google search will bring up a plethora of "create your own board game" classroom projects. For those of us that have tried it, we see it as an opportunity to review content, both as the game is being created or modified and while the students play them during those extra-long rainy day recesses.

A couple of years ago, my own children introduced me to a great little game called FLUXX® - The card game with the ever-changing rules. The game was very easy to learn and portable which made it a staple for my family. Over the next few months, we purchased several versions happily bringing them out as part of our game repertoire.

Not long after that, I started toying with the idea of not only sharing it with my students but also having them create MODs for it to play in the classroom since the gameplay itself is based on reaching a goal of paired concepts. This makes it super efficient in helping the students revisit concepts, while at the same time allowing for some deeper thinking about the relationship between ideas. For example, in FLUXX's original version one of the goals is Rocket Science, which "needs" Rocket and Brain on the table to win.

After a little refining and tweaking of the idea, I set about creating a project page with directions, templates and of course a rubric for my middle school students. I introduced the project on a Monday, and gave them two weeks to come up with their skins.

Of course, there were some students that did not know what I was talking about, which made me realize that before anything else happened, we needed to play a couple games of FLUXX. After a couple of rounds, and some more clarifying of where to find the "big ideas" and how to keep track of their paired goals so they would not repeat them, I had them get into groups (of 4) and choose a topic for their MOD.

Students took to this creative form of review in a way I had seldom seen otherwise. They loved the idea of coming up "funny" titles for their goals and were seen scouring textbooks and notes to figure out how they could pair ideas that at first glance may not have been obvious. In one of my favorite examples, a group that developed a Newton Motion FLUXX Mod, included Robert Hooke as a creeper.
Here is the full set of "Newton Motion" cards in case you want an example for students:
I have run this project now several times, and I am always amazed not only at the cards they create but also by the enthusiasm that they show whenever I declare "it's review time", and bring out stacks of student-created FLUXX decks.

For obvious reasons all of my students' FLUXX decks are science related (Motion, Evolution, Genetics, Matter, etc.) However, I can easily see FLUXX decks for novel studies, American Revolution, and even Linear Equations. In case you missed it above and are interested, here is a link to the Instructions and Templates that I share with my students.

If you try this, let me know. I would love to know how it went for you and your students.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Chemical Bonding Lesson with Old-School Manipulatives

For many years, I have been using ACS's "Middle School Chemistry" as my main curriculum to teach chemistry concepts in my middle school classroom. I love the simplicity and ease with which these lessons can be used in a classroom that does not have a traditional lab set-up. I have also always felt very confident with the knowledge gained by my students through the use of this curriculum. However, this year, as I was moving along in the unit, I came to the realization that this particular crop of students was very comfortable reciting answers without much in the way of understanding.

This was especially apparent when it came to bonding. In our assessment, my students were able to recite the difference between covalent and ionic bonding, but as soon as the question required even an iota of critical thinking, they were completely lost. Mind you, this is middle school chemistry, and I know that many of these students are not particularly interested at this point in pursuing chemistry careers, but I still felt an obligation to ensure that they could do more than simply recite information.

So, I set about trying to find some way for the students to gain that conceptual understanding of bonding that I saw as lacking. During these explorations, I came across a couple of good things that students could do in a virtual space - the ChemThink tutorials for example. These were good, but a little too much for middle school. As I continued to look for something that students could manipulate I found an awesome SEP lesson titled "Exploring Chemical Bonding", and that is when it became clear. If students could actually manipulate those valence electrons, perhaps they would finally move beyond stating "covalent bonds form when non-metals share electrons", and actually be able to explain why.

I modified the SEP lesson templates (simply to add color to the valence electrons so that students would not lose track of what they had) and  dedicated one full Saturday (and over 500 brass fasteners) to creating 9 sets of atoms. I also created a sheet to go along with the manipulatives that would help guide students through the task. Here is a link to the adapted lesson plan.

With all of this in place, Tuesday morning I finally taught the lesson, and was overwhelmed by the engagement and results. Although the students did struggle a bit to finally figure it out and at times I felt like a spinning top as I tried to listen in on all the conversations that were happening, having these old-school manipulatives helped my students visualize exactly what was needed for the different types of bonds to form. Physically moving electrons created the opportunity for actual discovery of concepts in a way that no computer simulation had been able to achieve. Even though creating all of those atoms took a lot more time than many teachers usually have, I highly recommend spending that time. Your students will reap the benefits of handling your "old school" manipulatives!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Professional Learning Networks

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I am quite often asked variations of the questions "How did you find that?". The truth is that I, personally, do not always "find that". The reality is that other people, my ever growing, active and remarkable reliable Professional Learning Network (PLN), are the ones truly responsible for the reputation I enjoy as an innovative educator. Because of my PLC, I've learned and then shared about gamification, hyperdocs, project-based learning, virtual reality uses in the classroom and so much more. This is my invitation to you to grow your own PLN.

What is a Professional Learning Network?

A PLN is your own personalized “network” of educators who share a common interest with you and is available to provide pointers, tips, and resources to you in order to help you explore that common interest is depth. This PLN goes beyond the teachers at your site or district, encompassing educators who you may not have met in person!

Why and How?

I was recently "challenged" by a member of my PLN to explain why a PLN is important and how do you grow one. This is what I came up with:

Where do I find educators to grow my PLN?

Most members of my PLC hail from three places:

  • Edmodo: You may be thinking, that is a learning platform for students. But for me, that has almost become a secondary use. Anytime I need pretty much anything I go to Edmodo and post in their topics or community streams. Educators from all over the world are there ready and willing to offer their insights. In this article, Edmodo explains how to use their platform as a PLN. 3 Steps to Creating Your Personal Learning Network (PLN).
  • Twitter: The dreaded words, social media, may be coming up in your head, raising all sorts of red flags. I was also very wary of it and did not even have an account until an Edmodo member of my PLC suggested I join a Twitter chat. WOW, that experience completely changed my perception of Twitter as a source of personalized learning. Education Twitter chats are happening almost every hour of the day! Anything you want to discuss, there's a Twitter chat for that. Just take a look at this calendar of education related chats - Chat Calendar. Once you join a chat, even if just to read the stream, you are sure to discover educators to follow. Here are a couple of suggestions from Edudemic, to which I would add @alicekeeler, @MatthewFarber, ‏‏@mpilakow‏, @mr_isaacs, @mrmatera, @legendlearning, @Ted_NSTA, @FredEnde, @legendlearning and‏ @carrierenfro, at least.
  • KQEDTeach: Relatively new, but so powerful. They are offering PD courses on demand to complete at your own pace. However, once you join you have access to all the other educators that are taking the courses, with a place to have threaded discussions. Basically, you learn together and continue the conversation within the platform. Who can say no to that?
I hope this post inspires you to grow your PLN beyond your site or district. As Pablo Picasso once said, "I am always doing things I can't do, that's how I get to do them". 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Avoiding the Summer Slide - Teacher Edition

Parque 2 by Fotoblog Rare is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For many of us, the beginning of June marks the end of another school year. Almost everywhere you look at this time you find all sorts of activities and ideas about keeping students engaged in learning and "stopping or preventing the summer slide".

From the teacher perspective, summer means teaching summer school, taking those well-planned trips with family and friends or simply having the time to read a good book. However, it is also a great time to explore new ideas and engage in some self-directed professional development. You know, those things that you bookmarked for later and never got the chance to look at since you had to grade all those essays and lab reports. What can you do (for free or close to free) to avoid your teacher summer slide and come back in the fall refreshed with something new to try?

Things you can do in an hour (or less)

Twitter Chats: Every day, at almost every hour of the day, there is an education-related Twitter chat going on. All those hashtags you see in your colleague's Twitter feed mean that they are having conversations about something you may find interesting with people from all over the globe. This education chat calendar lets you know what is being talked about. Pick one (or more) and off you go. If you have never done a Twitter chat before, it may seem daunting, but it is really not. First off, if you are unsure about what to do, you can simply search for the hashtag and see what the participants are saying, without even having to tweet yourself! If you ar ready to participate, but are afraid to get lost, you can use things like TweetDeck (tool that helps you organize your tweets) or my favorite Participate Chat (tool that organized the chat in one place, adds the correct hashtag automatically and also lets you look over what was posted in previous chats). Here is more information on how to get started with Twitter chats.

Webinars: In a similar vein as Twitter chats, webinars are online meetings, but in this case, there is an official presenter or host. I think of these as old-school lectures. This does not mean that they are boring, but rather there is someone that will be talking most of the time, there is an official slide deck of some sort, and although there may be time for questions, the pace is less frantic than that of the Twitter chat. Most of them have the advantage of providing you with an "after the fact" link, so if you were not available at the specific time, or you have to step away to reapply sunscreen, you can still benefit from participating. My favorite webinar for education sites include EdWeb and ASCD, but there are many others. Sign up for a couple and you will start receiving e-mails with invitations.

Things you can do for dedicated chunks of time  

If you are interested in developing a new skill or trying out a new platform, there are two sites that I would like to share with you:

KQEDTeach: In his introductory blog post, Randy Depew explains it much better than I ever could. They offer free mini-courses aimed at growing educators' media literacy and bring those skills back to your classroom. I have taken several of their courses myself, and they are super easy to navigate and, because they are self-paced, you can advance at your leisure.

BadgeYourClassroom: Created by Christopher Tucker in Indiana, in this site you will find mini-challenges that will help you learn how to use a variety of platforms in your classroom. All you need to do is visit the site, select the tool you want to explore and watch a video that explains how to use the tool. Once you complete the tasks, and fill out the required form to "show what you know", Chris will award you a shiny badge.

For those want to delve more deeply in education technology (or have a bit more time), you may want to look into becoming a Google or Microsoft Certified Educator. Both of these companies have several pathways to choose from, with corresponding certifications.

Google for Education Training Center: Whether you want to obtain certification, or simply want to hone your technology integration skills, the Google training center will provide you with self-paced courses. Even though I had been using GaFE for years before I actually took the courses, I still found them incredibly valuable to hone my skills and remind me of things that my students needed explicit teaching on.

Microsoft Education Courses: Some of their offerings are product specific, but others are more pedagogy based, aimed at teaching you how to better integrate technology in your classroom. Their Digital Citizenship and 21st Century Learning Design proved invaluable additions to my own PD last summer, and I am looking forward to taking some more of their courses this summer.

Things you can do if you prefer face to face interactions

EdCamps: This will require a little bit more planning, simply because they happen on specific locations, dates and times. However, they are well worth the effort for a day of conversation with educators who are interested in collaboration and sharing ideas and best practices. The site will allow you to search for Edcamps that are happening in your area, and though there may not be one near you, it is the perfect excuse for a road trip.

So what are your plans? I would love to hear about any other ideas you may have to grow as an educator this summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chrome Extensions for Teachers

Although I have been in a 1:1 classroom for many years and my students have been exploring Chrome extensions for a while, it was not until my district disabled student access to Chrome extensions that they became an issue for me. Perhaps it was that little rebel in me that questioned that decision or simply a case of "you don't know what you got till it's gone". While I understood the need to get rid of the annoying bee in student devices, having to go to IT to enable a specific extension pushed me to find the ones that I believe are a must for every teacher and student.

So what exactly is a Chrome extension?

Chrome extensions are small programs that live inside your Chrome browser, allowing you to customize Chrome, adding features and functionality. Once you install them, they appear next to your address bar, and you access them by clicking on them, much like you would a bookmark. Watch this video to learn how to install them.

The cool thing about extensions is that once you have added them, they are "attached" to your Chrome browser, so it does not matter which device you are using, as long as you are logged in to your Chrome browser, they are there for you to use.

There are thousands of extensions, and a simple search of education related extensions in the Chrome Webstore is bound to be overwhelming, so which ones are the ones that I chose for my students?

Chrome Extensions You Should Know About

Share to Classroom : Allows both teachers and students to push web pages directly to Google Classroom. Everybody goes to the right page without the need to type or copy/paste long URLs.

Mercury Reader: You found the perfect article to share with your students, but it is riddled with ads and distractions. With one click, this extension removes all that noise leaving only the text and images and helping your students focus on the content. You can even print the uncluttered article.

Read&Write for Google Chrome: By far the accessibility tool. With dual color highlighting, this extension will read any article, web page or document to your struggling readers. Premium functionality, as explained by Teacher's Tech, is available for free to teachers.

Scrible Toolbar: My absolute favorite collaborative tool for reading online. Scrible will allow you and/or your students to annotate any web page together! Once the permalink is created and shared among collaborators, Scrible will not only keep all notes and allow you to sort them, but also will notify you when you are on a web page you previously annotated.

Grammarly: Your students are ready to respond to a prompt, but they have been raised in a world with spell checker and although they know better, they don't always revise. Grammarly will identify misused homophones, subject-verb agreement and other common grammar and spelling mistakes. It can get annoying at times, but much better than the alternative.

Screencastify: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is priceless. Screencastify allows you to quickly record, edit, annotate, store, and share video screen captures. Create a mini-lesson or have your students record their thinking as they work out a problem. The mini-videos are instantly stored in your Google drive for easy access and sharing.

Install and Remove Chrome Extensions

More Extensions, please...

For more Chrome extensions for education, I invite you to visit ShakeUpLearning's searchable database. And if you use one that is a must in your classroom, let me know!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Evidence Based Rubrics using Google Forms

It all started a few weeks back. My students were putting final touches on one of their projects, and as is usual in my classroom, I asked them to bring out their rubrics and go over the work. I also asked them to go over each other's work, with the rubric in hand so they could provide some feedback to each other.  At this point, they were supposed to act on the feedback before presenting their final submissions. Everything was OK; I saw the exchange of papers and students went back to work. Then came the final submissions that included both rubrics. I sat down to grade and as I looked over the first submission and compared my graded rubric with the ones the students had submitted I had to stop. Was I looking at the same piece of work? The students had given themselves perfect to almost perfect scores for work that was quite sub-par. What had gone so completely wrong? How can I ensure that students look at the rubrics and identify the specific items that are done correctly or that may need work? I needed to teach them how to provide evidence for the scores and not simply mark an "X" on a rubric with no thought about what it means.

So I set about creating my first evidence-based rubric. I had already created some rubrics using Google Forms (Alice Keeler showed me how). However, to solve this particular problem, I wanted the students to be able to add the "evidence" for the scores they were giving. In order to do that, I set up a form that had multiple choice items, page breaks and "go to page based on answers" functionality, requiring students to provide evidence for the scores they were giving.

Satisfied with what I had created, I patted myself on the back and submitted a trial run. I then opened the form responses, added a formula that would add the score, and formatted the columns so the comments/evidence would be easier to read and thought I was brilliant. Oh, how wrong I was. I submitted my second trial, only to figure out that my formula, which I had painstakingly copied over and over in my results and the formatting was "ignored" as a new form came in!

So now, what? I knew that I would not be the only one with this problem, so I dedicated an afternoon to figure it out. As I immersed myself in this, I came across this array tutorial by Ad:AM, solving the first part of my problem: being able to apply a formula (adding the individual scores), to a form.

The formula that I applied to my spreadsheet is:
=arrayformula(IF(ROW(A:A)=1,"Overall Score",IF(LEN(A:A),(D:D + F:F + H:H + J:J+ L:L+N:N+P:P),)))
where D-P are the cells where the response in the score. I could not use a simple =SUM because the columns were not adjacent.

With that problem solved, I still needed a way to keep the formatting. Although it is hard to see in the previous image, you may have noticed that the paragraph responses where the students are providing evidence do not wrap, making the "evidence" the students are providing almost unreadable. Once again, through a Google search and the generosity of strangers who have come across the same issue, I found this silent tutorial on how to solve the problem, using =QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:Q).

With the "problems" solved, I went back to the classroom and had my students each create their own copies of the three rubrics/spreadsheets I wanted them to use:

Evidence Based Essay Rubric
Evidence Based Project Rubric
Evidence Based CITE-IT Rubric - used to evaluate websites

In all three, I have hidden the "Form Responses" page, and when the students make a copy, it remains hidden. To view it in case you want to modify any of it before sharing with your students you just need to click View>Hidden sheets.

Once each student had made their own copy, I asked them to share it with me so I could have access to the responses. However, when having the students peer review, this is not necessary, they just need to send the form to the reviewer.

As a final step, I also taught them to create filtered views. My students use these to create filters that correspond to the websites, projects or essays that they evaluated, making it easy to share and have discussions about just one piece of work without having the rest of the information showing. The filtered views also have unique URL's, allowing for three-way discussion with other students or even parents without displaying everyone's input in the forms.

Have you found other ways to use Google Forms? I would love to hear from you.