Sunday, September 14, 2014

Adios Blogger

We have moved our blog over to Wordpress. All of our old posts (and all of the new ones) can be found at the link below.

Shrewsbury EdTech

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Using Google Sheets as a Paper Organizer

Greetings! We know our Tech Tips have been somewhat scarce this year -- but we are looking forward to having the time to publish more of them, during the upcoming school year. In the meantime, here's one for June...

 In yesterday's professional development session for content area teachers, one of the ideas discussed was the use of Google Sheets as an organizer. This has a lot of potential and, for those who are interested, we have included a link to one which I have been using for the past couple years. Why use a Google Sheet as a graphic organizer? It has a number of benefits, including:

  • real-time collaboration and feedback 
  • the ability to sort details according to their use in the paper 
  • the ability to limit the view, so a student only sees the details for one section / paragraph at a time.
Here is the basic sheet I use: 

In this shot, you can see some of the key features -- I have color-coded areas up top for the thesis / topic statement, followed by a second area where a student can list the subtopics -- categories for sections of their paper, or paragraphs.  Each comes with a pre-set abbreviation (a simple letter, from A to E.).

The next section is where kids enter their information for the paper, with columns for source information, quotes / details and their importance, and a checklist box for them to use as they move details into their paper.  The category column - color coded to match the the topic area above - is where students will indicate which section each detail fits.

Here's an example from a literary analysis paper (where there is no "source number" column, because they only use one source...

The student had brainstormed a series of subtopics for her paper...

... and then used these categories as she entered details into her spreadsheet.  Each detail is now coded according to the categories she had brainstormed.

Once she had entered all her details, 
she could then sort them, using a pull-down menu at the header for each column.  She can simply sort by category, or choose a particular section to view.  This allows her to focus on one paper of a time.

Once she has everything entered and sorted, she can paste her information into a document or organizer, to begin the formal writing process.

Another benefit to the spreadsheet format is the ability to insert a sheet which contains specific instructions for students, regarding how to use the spreadsheet.  Here is the one I include with the organizer.
Note that I color-coded specific instructions to match sections of the organizer - the thesis area is yellow, the category section is pale tan, etc.  This makes it easier for students to follow the directions.

Another benefit to spreadsheets is the ability to use the "insert comment" feature to create scroll-over hints / instructions within the sheet itself.

On the organizer, I include tips above several of the columns -- you can see where the tips are, by looking for the little orange triangles in the corner of a cell.

Once you have your master copy set up for student use, just place it in a shared folder, and set the sharing settings to "anyone can view" -- this way, your students can make copies of it for their own use, without affecting your master copy.

Want to experiment with it?  Feel free to access my master document, make a copy, and play around with it.  Drop me a note if you have any questions, or want to see it in action!

Happy June, everyone, and enjoy some well-earned relaxation over the summer!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Science Review Games

I know this is not a "Tech Tip" exactly, but we have been playing some fun review games in class to prepare for the energy test. It's been a fun two days so I wanted to share!

Vocabulary Games

Science has a lot of vocabulary for students to learn. One strategy I have long used to help them review these words is to print out vocabulary cards on card stock. Each card has one vocabulary word. I print out one set of cards for the eight groups in my class. My homeroom students help by cutting the cards out and placing them into a Ziploc bag. 

The main idea is for a student to give clues to the others at their table so they can guess the word. There are many different ways for them to set this up. Usually, one student gives clues while the other three try to guess. Sometimes, they will form two teams that compete against each other. 

I let students decide how to give clues. The three main options have always been Pictionary, Taboo, and charades. 

Pictionary - Student draws clues on a large whiteboard. They cannot write down any words, and they are not allowed to talk or use gestures. 

Taboo - Student gives verbal clues. They are not allowed to mention any word or part of a word written on the card. They are also not allowed to use gestures. 

Charades - Student can only use gestures as clues. I also let them use props. However, no speaking and no drawing. 

As students played these games in class yesterday, one group suggested another variation called "Catch Phrase". It's similar to Taboo, but there are two teams. As soon as one team correctly identifies one term, they quickly hand the cards off to the other team. It goes back and forth, and the goal is to get through as many of the vocabulary cards as they can in one minute. I thought this was a great idea and decided to take it one step further in my last class of the day. The last 10 minutes of class was a class Catch Phrase competition. The goal of the competition was to be the table that correctly identified all vocabulary cards in the shortest amount of time.  

Sports Challenge

Each year, as the NHL and NBA playoffs are kicking off, I have a sports challenge review game for the test on energy transformations. In a traditional review game (such as Jeopardy), students earn points for their team by answering questions correctly. That is not the case here!

There are eight teams with each team having four students. Each team was assigned an NHL hockey team currently in the playoffs. Students had to rotate at each table and take turns answering questions. I made a Google Presentation with many energy-related questions and asked students to stand up as soon as they knew the answer. If they got it wrong, I moved on to the next student. If they answered correctly, they could then try to earn points by doing a sports challenge! If they were successful in the challenge, points were awarded to their team. If they were not successful, they received no points. It's also worth noting that if no students could answer the questions, I gave the teams a clean slate and allowed them to collaborate at their tables.

Here are the challenges: 

Hockey challenge: My desk makes a perfect hockey goal. Students had the option shoot against me as goalie, or they could play goalie and try to stop my shot. If they were successful, they earned 3 points. For the ball, I used a ball of paper wrapped in masking tape. 

Soccer challenge (new this year): This is exactly like the hockey challenge except they used their feet with the tape ball instead of hockey sticks. 

Basketball challenge: The goal is to throw the tape ball into a trash bin. There were a few different lines to shoot from. As the line distance increased from the basket, the points increased from 1-3 points. There was also a 5 point opportunity if they made a shot from behind my desk in the back of the room. The one rule here is their foot could not be past the tape. If so, I threw the flag (my yellow Terrible Towel) and the basket did not count. 

Juggling challenge: Students tried to juggle three balls as long as possible. If they juggled for 5 seconds, they earned 3 points. If they juggled for 10 seconds, it was worth 6 points. 

Here are some of today's highlights: 
  • Until this year, I have only ever had two students make the 5 point basketball shot from behind my desk. Today, three students made it, and they were all in the same class!
  • One student made the most amazing 3 point basketball shot of all time. The ball bounced off the ceiling, bounced off the floor, and then landed right in the basket. I wish someone videotaped it. 
  • When I had two students stand up at the same time (and they both knew the correct answer), we had a "head to head" challenge in hockey, soccer, or juggling. 
  • The greatest moment came when two teams were tied for second place at the end of the game. I had each group choose one student to represent their team in a final timed challenge. They had to first score a hockey goal on me as goalie. They were allowed to shoot again and again until they scored. Once they did this, they had to quickly grab the ball and make a "2 point" basketball shot. If they missed, they had to retrieve the ball and keep shooting until they made it in. The first student completed it in 57 seconds. The second student took just over a minute. It was intense! 
Needless to say, this was a very fun and engaging review session. Students were motivated, competitive, and very spirited. Feel free to use any of these review ideas in your classroom. For what it's worth, the four winning teams today: Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and LA Kings. Could these be the final four teams in the NHL semi-finals? We'll see!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tech Tip: Thoughts on a balanced life amid technology

We are all wired.

No longer does this mean highly caffeinated, although - for most educators (especially those of us on 8 Gold) - this old definition still does hold true: now, it refers to the fact that, at any given moment, we are leading a dual existence.  We are doing what we do, walking and teaching and eating and whatnot while also keeping one foot in the digital realm.

How many times a day do you reach for your phone or device?  How often do you look at a screen while eating your lunch?  For many of us, it's pretty frequent - and even more so for our students.  They seldom do one task at a time, and even less so now that so many of our lessons and activities are based in a digital realm.  I know that, while my students are working on papers on Google Drive, they are also chatting in a side window, posting on Instagram, listening to digital audio, and responding to the buzz of an incoming text.

So, what's wrong with this?

Ray Bradbury seemed to know what he was talking about in Fahrenheit 451.  By doing several tasks at once, we don't do any one of them fully - we cannot multitask.  What we do is divide our attention and compensate for the gaps thus created.

As educators, part of our job now - whatever subject we teach - is to help students navigate this digital realm, and find balance in their lives... to remember that living - real living - involves time in the moment, to really experience One Thing, whatever that one thing may be at any given time.

Anna Akbari has posted an excellent piece on CNN about just this sort of thing - ways to find a balance.  I found it very worthwhile reading, and think there are some tips in this for both ourselves and our students.  Give it a look.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The #Instagram Photo Scavenger Hunt

Over the last few years, the 8 Gold teachers have had new students take a Google "student survey" so we could learn more about them, their interests, and their learning styles. We ask them everything from "Where do you want to go on vacation?" to "which learning style suits you best?" You can read more about this survey in this earlier blog post. There are always a few technology-related questions. The most interesting of which asks students which social networking sites they currently use. When teachers later looked at the results, we were surprised by the results. 

Facebook has been the #1 social networking site for a while now. In past student surveys, more students used Facebook over any other site. Twitter and Instagram have become more popular the last few years while Facebook has seen a decline. Based on student feedback and information online, more and more teenagers are abandoning Facebook because they feel there are too many adults monitoring their behavior. As you can see in the graph below, only 39% of our students have are active Facebook users while 67% use Instagram. Twitter usage is still behind Facebook, but I expect that to change very soon. 

What Does This Mean? 

Even though I pride myself on being "tech savvy", I am always late on the technology bandwagons. I have only had a Twitter account for the past year or so and finally forced myself to join because I knew there were some great benefits for networking. I have resisted Instagram because I always thought it was just something middle school girls used for taking "selfies". As I looked into it more over Christmas Vacation,  I realized it too had a lot of possibilities. Plus, I knew it was about time I learned more about the tool that so many of my students were using. As someone once said, don't fight change. Embrace it! 

Both Twitter and Instagram utilize hash tags (#) to share and search for information. The "aha" moment for me (and the deciding reason why I joined Instagram) deals with my plans for the upcoming summer. As many of my teacher friends already know, I am planning to volunteer with kids in Morocco through an organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions. After doing research into the organization and their destinations around the world, I learned that each CCS destination has its own hashtag. For example, the Morocco hash tag is #ccsrabat. If I search for this hash tag on Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr, I can find pictures and information from past volunteers. Very cool!

The Old Scavenger Hunt

Last year, I had students do a photo scavenger hunt as a fun way of reviewing some of the chemistry concepts we had been learning before vacation. They took pictures of elements, compounds, and mixtures around the school building with their cell phones and iPads. They also searched for evidence of physical and chemical changes. We spent another day in class sharing these pictures in groups and making presentations using Google Drive. Each slide had to have an image, a label (element, physical change, etc.) and an explanation. There was a final day where groups presented to the class. All in all, it was a fun way to segue back into learning after a school vacation. The drawbacks were the troubles sharing pictures in a group, and I thought three days was a bit too long. 

The New Scavenger Hunt

Over the vacation, as I played around with Instagram, I reflected on how to make this year's scavenger hunt even better by including elements of social media. I decided to give students two options: Instagram or Twitter. 

If students opted for Instagram, they would take pictures or videos (up to 15 seconds) using their own Instagram account. They would choose from a list of hash tags to identify each image. The student must have a public Instagram account for this to work because hash tags are not searchable on private photos.

If students opted for Twitter, they would take pictures and upload to Twitter. If they wanted a short video clip, they would use the Vine app, then share it on Twitter. Like with Instagram, they would label each one by choosing from a list of hash tags. 

The Hash Tags...

#8goldsci (this hash tag would be used for all images)

How Did It Turn Out?!

Luckily, we had our "team time" first period. I polled the team and realized that while most of them wanted to use Instagram, very few students had public Instagram accounts (which is a good thing for their privacy but not for this lesson!) I ran into another room and created a new team account (@8goldteachers). Luckily for us, Instagram supports multiple log ins for the same account. So, rather than have students use their own account, I was able to have ALL students take photos on their phone using the new 8 Gold teacher Instagram account. There were some small delays uploading photos, but overall it worked out very well.

Students took some great pictures and videos, and most of them (unfortunately, not all) were labeled accurately. The next day, I looked through them all and shared some of the best ones on our team Twitter site. Students seemed more engaged than last year and were very excited to see that some of their photos were "liked" by others. I even noticed a few of them "liked" photos using their own accounts as well. 

There is one improvement I will make next year. It was tough for students to remember all of the hash tags and how to spell them, so next year each group will receive a handout of all hash tags, along with the definitions for each label.

Have any other ideas for using Instagram in class? Please share!