Sunday, May 20, 2018

Side quests - with semi automated XP


If you are new to the idea of side quests, consider visiting Explore Like a Pirate and GamificationEDU.

The past few weeks I have been mulling over the idea of adding more sidequests to my game. Up until now, sidequests have been few and far between for a couple of reasons. The biggest hurdle is that I have felt that it is up to me to develop the side quest, complete with resources for the students, and this simply takes too much time. Another issue is that I honestly have never put in a system for awarding XP for sidequests, so whenever a student has actually completed one that I planned for we are both dissatisfied with the XP assigned. If this was not enough, I hate the idea of prepping all of this only to have one student actually complete the side quest that may have taken me days to craft. Yes, it is a me problem.

However, my gamification #PLN often mentions sidequests as a great way to engage students, and provide in-class time for struggling or less interested students to catch up, while more advanced students happily toil on the sidequests. This got me thinking about how I could shift more of the responsibility of side quests to students by providing a board of activities with some assigned XP for attempting/submitting, but still have the choice to add either XP or items on top of that if the end product warrants it. With that in mind, I turned to Westphal's "Differentiating Instruction with Menus", and the internet, and came up with a menu of 15 ideas that could be used as a sidequest. The menu includes a general side quest rubric and explains that the base XP value of a side quest type decreases the more times it is attempted. My motivation for placing this limitation is simply that I would rather a student attempt different avenues to explore the content and not fall into a routine of recreating the same thing for different concepts. The menu also includes a space for complete student choice for my more adventurous students.

With that hurdle taken care of, the issue of how to collect the work, keep track of who did what, avoid repeats and assign XP needed to be taken care of. I toyed with the idea of writing a Google Sheets script, but that is, at the moment, beyond me. What I came up with is a Google Form whose response sheet would:
  1. Provide a place to submit the work (if the work is a physical product, the students will have to take a picture and submit that. I wanted to avoid the "I created a mobile and left it in your room, but there is no XP!"
  2. Ensure that duplicates of a file are not counted for assigning base XP. (I have middle schoolers who are prone to clicking submit over and over in hopes of rigging the system)
  3. Automatically count the number of times a specific side quest type has been submitted and assign base XP accordingly.
  4. Automatically add up the XP a student receives.

This is the sheet/form I came up with, and you are welcome to make a copy of both. The folder and its contents are shared with anyone can view. To make a copy, click on file/make a copy for each of them, placing them in the same folder. Depending on your district's permissions you may be able to make a copy of the response sheet and have the option to create the form, or you may need to copy both and link them yourself.  For those of you that may need to recreate the form from scratch, I have included comments on each sheet explaining what it does and the formulas that are attached. Brief recap of how this works:
  • FormResponses1: Is where the data from the form is collected, and the query to check for unique URLs is created.
  • Unique: Counts the number of unique URLs and type of product by student e-mail.
  • PivotCount: Creates a pivot table that adds the values for each product type.
  • BasePoints: Uses the data from the pivot table to assign base XP values.
  • BaseXP: Creates a pivot table that adds the base XP earned by each student e-mail
I am sure that there is a more elegant way of doing all of this, and I welcome any feedback or suggestions.  Right now, I will still need to manually transfer the numbers from BaseXP to my leaderboard, and I've been exploring ways to do that (Vlookup?). If you can point me in the right direction please share. However, I think it is a good start and I hope you find this useful.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Flipgrid as a "Turn-in Bin"




Like many of you before me, I've been struck with Flipgrid fever. This simple, yet powerful tool has transformed many of my classroom discussions and activities, providing a space for students to develop their voice. There have been many relatively recent posts about different ways to use Flipgrid in the classroom.

Catch the Flipgrid Fever
17 ways to incorporate #Flipgridfever in your classroom
End of Year Engagement

I would like to add one more...

As an educator reaching the end of the school year, last week students noticed that I had not created our traditional Edmodo turn-in bin for their Scientist Wanted assignment. As I quickly reached my laptop to create it, I also realized that we would probably not have time to do all presentations. Pondering that thought, inspiration struck. What if instead of simply providing me the link, they also had to create a quick video on Flipgrid, which their peers could then watch and comment upon? I shifted focus to create the Grid, which takes all of two minutes, I vaguely remembered that when submitting a video response you can add a link, and that is when everything coalesced.

I showed students the "main grid" and showed them the prompt:
Introduce the scientist you researched (use his/her full name) and tell us about him/her. Share the information that you think would encourage us to know more. 
When you submit your video, add the link to the poster you created. You are able to do this on the screen where you add your name and the title of your video (name of your scientist).

AFTER you have completed your own video, come back, watch at least one video from your peers and respond to the information about the scientist presented.

With the addition of that final line in the prompt, not only did I get their work and presentation, but also created a space for peer-interaction on the content. This was an EOY activity, but I am now thinking that in future iterations of this, I could change the presentation to a reflection or provide a more specific prompt or frames for the peer commenting.


I would love to know how you use Flipgrid, and if you try it as a turn-in bin, would love to know how it went. Perhaps you may even be tempted to look at some of my students' work and comment on it :)



#EdTech and the 4Cs



I started my career as an educator 10 years ago. At the time, the buzzwords regarding preparing students for college and career was "21-century skills". In fact, I received Trilling and Fadel's "21st Century Skills" as a graduation present from my mentor teacher, and it was the text under which we anchored the AdVENTURE program. Of late, the 21-century skills framework has been distilled into what we now call the "Four Cs" (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity), and while all of them can be taught and practiced using Google Drive Tools, there are many other free tools that can also be used effectively by both teachers and students as we progress in our educational journey.

These are my favorite:

📝 Collaboration: Tools that help us work together



Scrible: My students use this chrome extension to curate, annotate, tag and share articles. The extension also reminds you when you are on a webpage you previously annotated and prompts you to load previous annotations.

Padlet: A digital canvas that allows users to add all sorts of items as they work together on a project.
I know. There is an uproar among educators because of their new pricing/limits on the number of free Padlets. However, once a Padlet is no longer active, you can export the content to make room for more.

Trello: A project management tool that helps keep teams organized as they work. I create board templates for students. They make a copy of the board, add collaborators and move things around/upload documents, etc. as they get done.


💬 Communication: Tools that help us share what we've done



Blogger: Although part of the Google Apps suite, I still mention it since it is not part of Drive and it is a powerful tool to elevate student's voice. My students write a post at least once a week sharing their learning with the world at large.

Flipgrid: Easily and quickly create topics for students to discuss ideas. These quick videos provide insight into student thinking. I also use it for mini classroom presentations that students can then watch over and over.

Seesaw: Allows students to capture, organize and share their learning. Extremely popular with my elementary colleagues as a way to share classroom activities with parents.

Jilster: A really cool tool that allows you to create online magazines. The best part is that it is collaborative. I create a magazine, assign pages to student editors who can then work collaboratively on their assigned pages.


🎨 Creativity: Tools that help us develop products to explore the content 


WeVideo: Online video editing software. We video has a shallow learning curve and gets students creating in minutes. 

Canva: Easily and quickly create visually stunning flyers, posters, collages, infographics and more. They also have a complete selection of tutorials that help students (and teachers) explore how different design elements work together (or not) to tell a story.

Tinkercad: This easy to use 3D modeling software allows my students to bring their ideas to life in a way that 2D drawing cannot, even if it remains as a virtual product for lack of a 3D printer. 

MakeBeliefsComix: What my students and I like about this site is how easy it is to start creating and the fact that the comic can be printed or e-mailed. Its major con is that it is a "one sitting" deal. However, other comic creator sites come at a price making this site my go-to for quick student developed comics.


💡 Critical Thinking: Tools that help us go beyond the content.


Coggle: Collaborative mind mapping Chrome extension that integrates with Google Drive. My students use it to brainstorm ideas and develop maps to show how the content they are learning integrates with previously understood ideas.

KQED Learn: Students work in a semi-gated environment (all students must be attached to a teacher but can communicate with each other), responding to prompts and investigations. Absolutely awesome to help students extend their thinking as they curate resources and craft responses. This is only available to students in the U.S.

I'm sure that I missed some of your favorites. I invite you to add them in the comments.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Digital Citizenship - #IronChef edition



A few days ago, @goformative shared @jcorippo's interview on Every Classroom Matters, "What I learned About Student Engagement from Watching TV". In it, he describes an interesting Iron Chef-inspired protocol he developed to modernize and re-energise the traditional jigsaw activity we learned about in our certification courses.

I immediately became intrigued by the idea, thinking not only of how I could use it in my Science class but also how useful it could be in other content areas. As I thought of the possibilities, I decided that a topic that would lend itself well to this protocol was our Digital Citizenship unit. For starters, my students receive this information from several teachers at the start of every school year, but as the year progresses they start "forgetting" about it and begin to copy/pasting material without proper attribution. They also, because they hear it from adults, often do not pay as close attention to it as they should. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that using this strategy would not only be beneficial at the start of a school year having the different groups present their 30-second slides and hearing the information over and over from each other, but also that I could, every month or so, have a random group present again as a refresher. Even better, as issues will inevitably arise with some of the content (oversharing, cyberbullying, plagiarism, etc.) I could call on those experts to once again present their Iron Chef work whenever it is appropriate.

With this idea in mind, I created three Iron Chef templates (going along with our school mantra "Respectful, Responsible and Safe).



For each of them, I also have a secret ingredient Flipgrid (made public), in which each of the experts will post their key takeaways, and that I am also envisioning using as a reference whenever only a specific group or student needs a private reminder.

As this is my first foray into this activity, I would find your comments useful. Have you tried something like this?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Data visualization, an important 21-century skill


Although the gathering of raw data and its analysis is not new, in this era of information overload, it has become an increasingly important skill. A quick search of the importance of data visualization opens up a multitude of articles that tell the story about the need to teach our students to manage, work with, and analyze vast amounts of information into visuals that can easily convey complex concepts almost at a glance.

Data Visualization - What it is and why it matters

In the context of science the use of data visualization is deeply rooted in all three dimenstions (practices, disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts). Data visualizations not only force us to analyze and interpret data, but also create visual models (charts, graphs, etc.) with it and construct arguments derived from it. The data comes from the disciplinary core ideas. For example, you must collect data on things like increase in global temperatures or carbon emissions if you are studying human impact on Earth systems, while data in population variations over time is at the core of Ecosystem dynamics, functioning and resilience. If we think in terms of crosscutting concepts, data visualization helps us identify the patterns in the data and understand systems and system models.

With all this in mind, and considering that the data is out there, how do you teach students data visualization techniques? It is not enough to simply tell students to create an infographic. After all, you do not want them to create a collage of images that do not tell the story of the data. In looking for anwers to this, a while back I took the course on Infographics on KQED Teach 
"KQED Teach is a free online learning platform, that supports educators’ growing media literacy needs by helping them develop the media skills necessary to bring media production to their learning environments."
The course itself contains easy to digest modules that guide you through the design process for an infographic, considering elements such as font combinantions, colors and great places to manipulate images. This in turn is easy to adapt to any lesson you are currently teaching where data plays a role.

Here are a couple of examples that my students have created using the skills I was able to teach them through the use of this course.

Invasive species:


Endangered species:


Severe Weather Project



There is, of course, still work to be done, especially regarding the creation of graphs and charts to map ideas, but I think we are off to a good start. What do you think?



Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hyperdocs using Formative



Formative (which you may know it as goFormative) is a platform that allows you to create assignments, assessments, and homework for your students. It is easy to use and frees up your grading time with their automatic grading feature. Most importantly, and one of the reasons I love it, it allows you to see live responses and with just one click identify the areas of struggle or misconceptions for your students so you can quickly pull a small group or even address the whole class before they leave for the day.
10 Reasons Why Teachers Use Formative (Goformative.Com)

Their wide variety of embeddable items and question types, make it an easy fit for creating Hyperdocs. Let me show you what I mean by using my Forces Mastery Quest Hyperdoc



I start by creating a Google Docs clickable image (like the one you see above), making it embeddable in the same way as I explained in "Embedding a Google Drawing with Clickable Links". Remember that the beauty of doing it this way is that once generated, you can go ahead and change any and everything, modifying the background or adding more clickable items as you go along, even including some Easter eggs if you wish. All changes populate automatically to anywhere you embed the image to, including Formative.

Once I have my main image, and I obtain the embed code,  I add it to what I call a Mastery Quest Formative (MQF). This MQF also houses my summative assessment, which most often is automatically graded by Formative.
The instructions at the top let students know that in order to click on the image inside Formative they will need to right-click and open in a new tab or window.

I then create each of the Formatives that will house the documents, images and activities the students will need to interact and respond to. In this case:

Engage, which includes an embedded Flipgrid
Explore and Explain which houses embedded videos and readings, all with checks for understanding along the way
Apply, includes an embedded Phet simulator
Share, housing a gif image and a Padlet that allows students not only to respond but to vote on each other's responses.
I do not include a reflection piece since my students write reflective posts each week as a matter of course. However, the Extend portion is hidden away in one of the Easter eggs (the little blue bird you see on the top right), and I provide a hint to its existence at the end of the Share formative. There are two other Easter eggs that I embedded as quick surprises for the students.

As with many other Hyperdocs that you may have seen, it is the planning and finding the content that you want your students to see what will take up most of your time. If you have your links, adding them to your image and putting the Formative Hyperdoc together is rather quick.




You may be thinking of those things that do not have a readily accessible embed code, like Gizmos for example. There are several Embed Code Generators out there, which are super easy to use. That is what I used to generate the embed codes I used in this Cell Cycle Formative, which like the Hyperdocs we are talking about is a Formative composed of several Formatives.





Although not as easy as providing links and tasks on a Google doc or slides, the end product(s) is actually much easier to asses.

In traditional Hyperdocs, every student gets a copy and submits it in some way, but you still have to open up each individual student Hyperdoc to see what they are doing and provide feedback. On Formative, this time-consuming task is eliminated since you can see all students' work in the corresponding formative at once. Easy to see that most students are having trouble with question 2 (for example),  and address the problem immediately, or that everyone is on the right track, but that whole back table has not registered an answer on item 4, prompting a visit from you.You can even display the chart, hiding names of course, and discuss a particularly challenging question or task, switching to your own preview so that everyone sees exactly what you mean as you explain or discuss with the students.

For those of you that may have given Formative a try in the past and have some questions or are simply curious to learn more about it, there is a growing community of Formative educators that is ready to welcome you. Hope you can join.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Differentiating with Technology


Differentiation, one of those words that is easy to say, but hard to do. However, as Peter DeWitt reminds us in his blog post "Yes, Differentiation Is Hard. So, Let's Get It Right", watching students struggle because their needs are not being met, is for all of us harder than differentiating. So, if our ultimate goal is to provide quality education to all of our students, but there is only one of us and 150+ of them, each with individual needs, what do we need to add to our teaching arsenal to accomplish this herculean task?

I know that edTech is not the answer to everything, and as Carol Ann Tomlinson discusses in her book The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, differentiation is achieved by designing instruction to address the learning and affective needs of all students.

What can, and should be differentiated?

ContentThe material students are expected to master. Different students in your class will access different materials that are most appropriate for their readiness at the depth that is right for them. All are working towards mastery of the same standard.

ProcessThese are the learning activities that take place in your class and connect the content to the learner. Differentiating the process takes into account:
  • Learning style differences.
  • Multiple Intelligences.
  • Multiple formats for students to access the material to be learned - Options are important!
  • Understanding what is the learning that is taking place.
  • The following image contains links to the different tools I use for differentiation.

ProductsThe evidence students produce to demonstrate mastery. 
  • OPTIONS are key
  • When students are making choices, give enough time to develop some background knowledge before the choice to allow students to make an informed decision.
ReflectionTasks that encourage reflection and help increase rigor in the classroom:
  • Ill-structured, ‘messy’ or real-life situations
  • Asking the ‘right’ kinds of questions – there are no clear-cut answers
  • Tasks that challenge learners to integrate new learning into previous learning
  • Tasks that demand the ordering of thoughts
  • Tasks that require evaluation
The following image contains the links to the tools I use for differentiation. Take a look and let me know what you think.