Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The paperless classroom debate

With the introduction of Google classroom, Microsoft OneDrive, and digital testing more schools are opting to go 1:1 and are moving toward going paperless.  Is going 100% paperless really what is best for the students.  I'll list some pros and cons and let you make your choice on what will work best for you.

Benefits of Integrating Technology and Going 100% Paperless

1. Going "Green"
Going paperless is good for the environment.  It reduces paper waste and helps protect our natural resources.  Many teachers have to buy their own paper and supplies for their classroom.  Going paperless reduces the amount of money spent on making copies for students

2. Organization
With every assignment online assignments will not be lost in the students black hole of a back pack or left at home or on the playground.  Students have the potential to become more organized by keeping assignments in folders so they are easy to access and find. 

3. Twenty-first Century Digital Skills
We are now in the digital age and with that employers are looking for people that know their way around computers.  Going digital will help give students the skills they need for life in the workforce.  They will learn how to research and use reliable sources.  They will learn basic word processing and presentation skills.  They can be given the opportunity to try out multimedia presentations and really use their creativity.

Consequences of Going 100% Paperless

1) Less writing on paper
There is a lot of research out there that supports the benefit of physically writing information down on paper.  The act of writing helps the brain remember and retain information better than just reading or listening to it.  Typing notes is not as beneficial as actually writing notes down.

2) Internet is down
One of the biggest fears for those that go paperless is having the internet go down or getting a power out.  If you are not paperless than you don't have to worry about not having the internet your lesson can continue.  However, if you are 100% paperless you will need to modify or completely change your lesson for the day.

3) Less Oral Communication
With students on their devices for most of the day one fear is that students will have less communication with each other.  This is a big concern for language learners that require lots of oral communication practice.  There is a difference between communicating in a digital format where tone is hard to read.  Oral communication, which includes tone, is an important skill to master and needs to be incorporated daily in the classroom.

As you can see going paperless and choosing not to go paperless both have their benefits.  You will need to decide what works best for you and your students.

What I have chosen to do

Although I have a chromebook cart in my classroom I have chosen not to go 100% digital.  With 85% of my students being language learners I felt that I needed to incorporate writing and oral communication into my classroom so I have decided to go 70% digital.  My students start off their units with an inquiry investigation.  Sometimes this is a online inquiry and sometimes its a hands-on.  In either case the students work together in pairs and groups so that they are forced to talk orally about what they are observing and learning.  I then move onto a flipped lesson.  The students get the information from a video but are required to take written notes from the video.  They then have to go back and create questions from the notes they take.  They then move onto science stations.  One station is an online station that they usually do in pairs, one is a group collaboration station, and one is a teacher-led station that allows me to meet the needs of my students.  Notice that so far half of their assignments are written and half are digital.  From there my students take all their notes, review and analyze them, and work on a digital interactive notebook.  Once that is done they have a project.  I usually give them choices.  Some of the choices involve using the chromebooks while others are non-digital.  Lastly they take their assessment online.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Genius Hour for Middle School- How to Make it Work

This year I incorporated Genius Hour into my 8th grade physical science class.  It was a learning experience for both me and my students. The first semester was spent figuring things out. There were many amazing moments and many failures.  Trying to figure out the logistics of keeping track of what my students were doing and learning was an adventure in itself. We also had to figure out ways to work around the restrictions imposed by the districts firewall, no youtube, no blogging, no video creation.  Here is what we learned and what worked for us.

Getting Started:
- I decided to do this with my Pre-AP science students every Wednesday. I chose Wednesday because that was our collaboration day and class time was shorter.

- To introduce Genius Hour I showed them the video from A Pep Talk from Kid President. You can find the link HERE. I then had them come up with some really bad ideas which I borrowed from the bad idea factory video.

- Next I created a digital notebook for them to put all their Genius Hour information in.  They had to create a complex question that would require weeks of research. They then had explain why they chose that question and what product they will create with the information.

- For their first project during first semester they were not allowed to work with partners.  They had to take the first journey on their own and learn how to deal with struggles. They were allowed to have the same ideas but the research and product had to be their own.  There was a lot of growth happening this first semester because of it.

- The second semester I allowed them to work in groups of up to three people.

Checking In / Accountability

- At the beginning of the class I had them post two quantitative goals they were going to do that day.  Example: Today I will find two reliable websites with information on my topic.  Today I will fill in one full page of my research notes making sure I cite my source.

- As the class was working I would walk around and ask questions about their research.  Why they thought a particular site was reliable? How they could use key words to get better results in their search?  

- Every 15 minutes I would do Goal check ins and have the students read their goal and do a quick self evaluation to see if they were working towards the goal.

- At the end of class the last 3-5 minutes I had them fill out a reflection survey.  They had to restate their goals. Explain if they met them or not.  If they didn't meet them they had to explain why and if I could do something to help them with their project.

- Their digital notebook was where they recorded all of their research notes and information so I was also able to look at their notebooks to make sure they were using reliable websites and recording information.

Presentation / Product
- During the first semester I required every student to create a product and then share their journey through a TEDtalk.  I felt having the experience of doing a TEDtalk and sharing what they did and their journey was important.  I will continue to have them do that for their first Genius Hour project.

- For second semester they were not required to give a TEDtalk, instead I allowed that to be there final product with the knowledge that it would be taped.

- Some of my students did ebooks for their final products. Many produced websites. Some did Powtoon videos or Prezi's. A few made their own videos with WeVideo.  The ones that did videos had the most challenges since most of them required the videos to be uploaded to YouTube, which is blocked by my district.  The chromebook video creators that upload to their drives were also blocked.  We made it work by individually making time to upload them to my Youtube site and work from there but some students just decided to create a website instead.

- If you have iPADS creating video infomercials would be a way to go using iMOVIE.

Below are some of the example websites, videos, and music compositions my 8th grade students created.


The most important thing to remember is that Genius Hour is an amazing journey for both you and your students. When students are given the opportunity to investigate and learn about ideas that are important to them, magic happens.

Friday, April 1, 2016

5 Big Take Aways from CUE 2016

The national CUE conference was held two weeks ago in Palm Springs and it was amazing.  The mission of CUE is to inspire "innovative learners by fostering community, personalizing learning, infusing technology, developing leadership, and advocating educational opportunities for all." Here are my 5 Big Take Aways from the conference.

1. Students Can Do More Than We Think
    Throughout the conference it was very evident that the presenters believed in their students.  They were challenging their students to do amazing things.  To think deeper, to tackle difficult concepts, to create products that seem above their capabilities.  It was amazing to see the products that students can create when given the support, time, and encouragement that they need.

2. Use Technology to Enhance What You Do
    Technology should not be used just because you have it.  It needs to enhance your instruction.  Technology is more than just a way to have students do word processing or make a presentation.  Students can use it as a fun way to review the topics.  It can be used to give the students the basic information before they go deeper into the information in class.  They can interview and talk with experts and do simulations.  They can create videos and other products that take them beyond a simple presentation.

3. Let The Students Be The Creators
    As we become more comfortable with technology we create a lot of the activities that our students will do like online videos and games.  What if we allowed the students to become the creators.  Let them create the videos.  Let them create the games.  Have them make their own interactive digital reviews that fellow students can learn from.

4. Start Small and With Basics
    Don't try and take on too much at once.  Start small and build from there.  Get comfortable with a few technology applications and then build from there.  For some that means just starting out using Google Classroom and assigning students Google Drive assignments.  From there they might add a few online review games or online assessments.  I know when I went to a blended learning classroom I started out by only doing a few station rotations for a couple of units.  Then I went to doing it for most units.  Eventually I added the flipped classroom model as well.  If you try to much it will be very overwhelming.

5. Video is Where It's At
     There were so many session on how to incorporate video into your classroom.  Many were about having students show their understanding by using videos to present their claims, evidences, and reasonings.  My two favorite session came from Doug Robertson otherwise known as The weird teacher and Maggie Mabery.  Both of their sessions were about empowering students to demonstrate their understanding by creating videos. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

5 Ways to use Google Forms in your Classroom

Below is a list of five different ways you can use Google Forms in your classroom.

1. Survey

      Google Forms are a great way to gather information about your students.  I like to survey my students at the beginning of the school year to learn more information about them.  You can also use surveys for reflections and feedback.  I give my students quarterly reflections that have them look back at how they did during the quarter and then set goals for themselves on the new quarter.  I also take this time to have the students provide feedback for me as a teacher.  They get to rate the different activities we did in class and then I have them explain one thing they liked about my teaching style and provide one piece of advice on how I can improve for next quarter.  You might be surprised at some of the insight the students have.  For example, I don't grade every assignment especially assignments we do at the beginning of a unit.  I feel that it is unfair to grade them on something they are just beginning to understand.  A few of my students actually requested that I grade all the assignments. I thought that was interesting.  I still don't grade everything but I now collect one assignment from their science station rotation to grade.  I let them chose the one they want to turn in that they feel better reflects their understanding. It doesn't count for much but it does hold them more accountable for the learning.

2. Entrance / Exit Tickets
     Google Forms are also great for quick checks for understanding.  You can have students answer a few questions as they come in about their homework assignment and that can then guide you in your instruction for class that day.  You can also use it as an exit ticket.  They can write about what they learned or answer a few questions at the end of class.  You can then use this information to reflect on how the instruction went and plan for the next day.  At the bottom of this post is an example exit ticket that you can download and use in your classroom today.

3. Assessment
   Google Forms are great to use for assessments.  You can have a variety of questions like short answer, multiple choice, check boxes, drop downs, and essays.   You can choose to shuffle the order of the possible choices and to shuffle the questions also.  This will help prevent cheating because students sitting next to each other will have different questions for their first question or if they are the same question the choices will be in a different order.  You can also add pictures and video to help students learn to gather information and answer questions using different forms of text.  For easy grading of your assessments you will want to use the add-on called Flubaroo found in Google Sheets.  It's great for grading multiple choice assessments.  It's a little more tricky for grading short answers but still works.

4. Unit Review or Choose Your Own Adventure
   Google Forms have a great feature in their multiple choice and dropdown questions.  You can have it send students to a different section based on their choice.  I like to use this feature when I create my unit reviews.  I make a section for each question and then a section for a help page for each question.  I then set it up so that if they get the question correct it will take them to the next question.  If they get it wrong it will take them to a help page where they get a picture or video explaining the topic.  From the help page they are directed back to the original question.  This way they get the help they need and eventually they get all the questions correct.  At the end of the review I survey them on how many times they needed a hint page and which topics they needed the hint pages for.  I use the survey part to focus the class review the next day.   You can also use the same format as a choose your own adventure where students could read a story and the story would change based on the choices they would take.  You could then have them summarize their adventure and explain why they made certain choices.

5. Paperless Worksheet

   Google Forms are a great way to go paperless.  Instead of creating a worksheet with question on paper you could put those questions on a Google Form.  I like to use this for my online labs and simulations.  The Google Form will have the directions and questions they need to answer as they go through the online investigation.  This is great to do in partners.  One partner can have the Google Form open and the other partner can have the simulation open.  This way they have to talk and discuss what they are seeing which is very important especially for English learners.  

These are only five ways to use Google Forms but there are many others.  What are some ways you use Google Forms in your class?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Teach Motion Graphs Through Inquiry

Discover how I took my students love of sports and used it to teach them how to interpret motion graphs in a guided inquiry investigation.

I used to find it difficult to have students understand how their motion correlates to a line on a graph.  I would have them walk, then stand, then jog and we would graph it.  The problem was that the graph was made after the motion not at the same time they were doing that motion.  That all changed when I discovered two websites.  These two websites gave me the opportunity to first do an inquiry investigation where they were able to see the motion of an object and the graph they were creating at the same time.  We all know that when students can learn through inquiry they own their learning.  This is now how I start my motion unit.

The first activity I do is a guided inquiry activity using the motion of skateboarders from the site: skateboarders- distance time graphs of skateboarders.  My students are given questions like draw what a constant slow speed looks like and draw what a constant fast speed looks like.  They manipulate the speed of the skateboarders to represent the question and then draw the graph the skateboarders create. For my advanced students I have them make the skateboarder to three motion, draw the graph that was created, and then trade with a partner to see if they can figure out the three motions from the graph. To see this in action you can watch my live scope on this at katch.me.

The second activity I do is another guided inquiry but with more information given using the site Football Distance Time Graphs.  The football is not American football but world football also know as soccer. The students get to watch clips from the 2000 FA cup between Manchester United and West Ham United.  Sometimes they have to match the graph to the motion of the highlighted player and sometimes they have to match the player to the graph.  I like doing this one second because after each investigation it explains what they discovered and then it ends with a 10 question quiz that is similar to typical multiple choice questions they would see on a test. 

Doing these two guided inquiry investigations really sets a good foundation of motion graphs and makes it easier for students to describe and interpret the different motions for motion graphs.  If you try this let me know how it goes in the comments below

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Inquiry in Science: Fun with Toys

True inquiry involves students coming up with their own questions and ways to test the question.  The problem that I ran into is the fact that I am required to teach certain topics in a certain time and it leaves very little time for this open-ended questioning inquiry.  I still want my students to do inquiry since I feel it is very important to allow students to discover information on their own. So I do a more controlled inquiry.

When I did my speed science stations my students already learned how to solve for speed.  They also had a basic understanding of the scientific method and the importance of keeping an experiment controlled and doing multiple tests.  Keeping this in mind I wanted to give them a fun inquiry investigation.  

What student doesn't love wind-up toys?  For my Group Collaboration Station I gave my students 3-4 different windup toys and just a question: Which wind-up toy is the fastest?  That was it. I provided the question but they had to figure out how they were going to answer it.  During their investigations they realized the toys didn't move straight so they had to problem solve to get them going straight.   

When doing inquiry investigations in your class it is so important to leave students alone at the beginning and allow them to struggle.  Give them the time to discuss with others and share ideas before you offer support.  Your support should just be probing questions. For example, when I saw that students were touching the windup toys to keep them straight I used this as an opportunity to discuss variables and asked them to come up with a solution that kept the windup toy straight without them touching it.  Most ended up making some type of track.  

By the end of the class period all my students, from my lowest special needs students to my highest Gifted students, came up with a controlled experiment to test the windup toys and determine which toy had the fastest speed.

For more information on this inquiry check out my Periscope replay on youtube.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Going Digital: Student Collaboration

How can you introduce technology into the classroom without loosing student collaboration?

Digital Day of Learning is coming up on February 17. Many teachers will be trying new things but going digital does not mean that students are put in front of a device where they only communicate with the device and no longer talk to other students.  Making sure students are still talking to each other, collaborating with each other, and sharing ideas and thoughts is very important especially for our language learners.  

One way you can go digital but still make sure students talk and discuss the information is by having them work in pairs and use GAFE (Google Apps for Education).  For example, if you are having them do an online investigation or watch a video, one partner could have their device open to the online investigation and the other partner could have theirs open to a Google Form.  They can work together to go through the investigation and answer the questions about it on the Google Form.  In my example in the picture the students are filling out an investigation handout on a Google Slide as they go through an online simulation to discover the relationship between speed, distance, and time.   This was part of my speed blended learning stations.

You can learn more about blended learning science stations and follow the digital blog hop for more ideas by clicking here: Blended Learning Science Stations

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to reduce the amount of time spent on grading

Google Classroom, Doctopus, and Goobric a winning combination

A few weeks ago Google Classroom, Doctopus, and Goobric made some improvements and now it is faster to grade assignments online and go completely paperless.  I just graded 130 lab reports using Goobric and it took me less than 3 hours.  Moving from one student to another is fast and easy.  

Within Doctopus is an add-on called Goobric.  This allows you to attach a rubric to the assignment.  This was nice but it took forever to switch between students and if you click off the rubric then it would disappear.  It was taking me longer to grade online than I would be able to by having my students print out the papers.  A few weeks ago all this changed.

Here is what you need to do:

1. Go to Google Classroom and assign your assignment.  
    - When you assign an assignment you have three options: 1. Students can view file, 2. Students can edit file, and 3. Make a copy for every student.  
    - I prefer to Make a copy for every student, this will make it easier when working with Doctopus.  (You can just create a blank document with a title and share that)

2. If you don't already have a rubric for the assignment you will want to create one using Google Sheets.  Make sure you follow these simple rules
     - Leave cell A1 blank
     - Put your numbers in Row 1 (leave A1 blank)
     - Put your categories in column A (leave A1 blank)
     - Write your descriptions in the boxes

3. Once your students have clicked on the assignment and you are ready to grade it you will want to open a new Google Spreadsheet to put all the assignments in one place. Give the new spreadsheet a title

4. Once inside Google Spreadsheet you will need to go to add-ons and select Get Add-ons if you do not already have Doctopus.  Go through the steps to add Doctopus.  Once you have Doctopus you will want to launch it.

5. In step one it will want you to choose a mode. You will want to select ingest a Google Classroom Assignment. Then choose your class and the assignment you want to ingest.

6. Now you are ready to attach your rubric using Goobric.  Select attach Goobric, then my Drive, and then type in the name of your rubric to find it an attach it.

7. You are now ready to quickly grade your students assignments.  Find the column, Goobric link, and click on you first students link.

8. Your rubric will be show above.  You can move from one category in the rubric to the next by clicking the tab key.  Once you have filled in all the score simply click the blue submit button and the next to go to the next student. 

Check out the video for more detailed instructions

(Side Note: When Google came out with Google Classroom in the fall of 2014 I must admit I wasn't particularly happy with it.  I found it lacking in a lot of things.  The concept was great but it had a way to go to compete with other LMS sites like Schoology and Edmodo.  Now that Classroom and Doctopus are incorporated together I will be using it to send out my online assignments.  I still prefer the folders and organization that Schoology provides and will be using that as my LMS but Google Classroom has come a long way from when it first started.)

July 25th is Innovative Classroom Technology Day.  Check out how other teachers are integrating technology into their classroom in the links below.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Purpose of School

I have a confession, I am a science teacher that does not care if my students learn science.  I began my teaching career over 16 years ago, before they had standards.  I had set topics that I had to teach but more freedom on how to teach them.  My students learned through inquiry and a project based learning type of style.  They loved learning, creating, and problem solving.  Then came standards and science turned into a lot of facts.  It was all about memorizing small details.  The focus turned to power points with checks for understandings of the basic facts during the lesson and worksheets to practice the facts.  The tests became multiple choice questions of basic facts.  I really struggled with what was happening. Especially seeing the love of learning disappearing from my students as the years went on.  To me learning small individual facts is not what science is all about.  Science is about investigations, problem solving, analyzing, looking at evidence, communication, and discovery.

So if its not to learn science facts, what is the purpose of school?  To me the purpose of school is to fail.  It is to make mistakes and learn from them.  The purpose of school is to learn skills of problem solving, persevering, learning to work with others, and learning how the choices we make have multiple outcomes.  When my students leave my classroom it will not matter to me if they know atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  What matters to me is that they learn how to think for themselves. That they learn to make better choices and fix their mistakes. It matters to me that they understand the importance of organization and using resources to find information.  

Don't get me wrong.  I love science and I love teaching science.  My students do learn that atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  However, they learn science because my focus is on teaching them skills.  I teach them how to research and organize their information.  I teach them how to gather evidence, how to communicate and discuss ideas with each other. How to make claims and support them with the evidence they have discovered.  I use their science topics to teach these skills.  So will my students learn science?  Absolutely!  However, it is not what I am focused on because to me that is not the purpose of school. 

What do you believe the purpose of school is?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Teacher Facilitator: The new way to teach

What I consider the "typical" teacher style starts with the teacher giving the students the notes, usually through a powerpoint, and then doing some type of worksheet to practice the information from the notes.  The students then go home and do another worksheet for practice.  The whole thing starts again the next day until the unit is done and then the students do a project and take a test.  This is how I used to teach when standards first came out. I never really felt comfortable with this mode of teaching but it was all I knew.  That all changed about four years ago when I learned about a new teaching style called blended learning.

After years of dabbling with different parts of the blended learning style I decided to go all out and instead became a teacher facilitator.  

My students start the unit with an inquiry investigation.  This is usually followed by a flipped lesson where they watch a video at home and then the next day they are put into different groups depending on their level of understanding. The next two to three days are spent exploring the information using science stations.  After the science stations they explain their their knowledge using the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning Format. Once they can explain the standard they extend their learning through a project.  Finally, the end is an assessment.

This way of teaching lends itself really well to the 5 E instructional model:

Engage- Inquiry Investigation
Explore- Flipped Lesson and Science Stations
Explain- Claim, Evidence, Reasoning
Extend- Project
Evaluate- Assessment

The best part of this model is watching the students grow and develop the skills to become life long learners.  Instead of being given the information, memorizing it, and then forgetting it a few weeks later. They learn how to find the information on their own and in groups.  Because they are in charge of their learning I find that they still remember the information, even months later after the topic has been taught.  

If you have switch to the teacher facilitator mode I would love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below.