Thursday, September 26, 2013

Choosing a topic for 20%

I had my students brainstorming ideas for their 20% projects. I used the Bad Idea Factory (Kevin Brookhouser  -, and created a Google docs form, which allowed us to collect all ideas in one central location. The mission was to come up with as many ideas as possible, and the table with the most ideas would get a TBD prize.

While going over some of the ideas posted, I ran across my first problem - I had not been as clear as I thought. About half of the class was submitting ideas that could best be described as Science fair projects. I don't know if this was partly due to the fact that they were trying to come up with more ideas, or simply because the idea of a "project that will allow you to explore your personal interests" was too vague or overwhelming. I asked several groups about this, and the response was mostly along the lines "I always wanted to do/find out _____, but never had the chance". I did not want to crimp the curiosity, but I worried about night before the pitch syndrome, when they realized that curiosity does not equal passion. One of the students in this group came up to me later and asked, "What if I did all the experiments I want to do, and publish them as a series of videos?" I replied with what has become my mantra as I work through this with them:

"Would you be caught working on this on Superbowl Sunday, while your family has having a party?" 

Once I got over that hurdle, I was also faced with the students that really were stuck on even finding a topic. For those students I devised a kind of systematic elimination:

- List three big ideas that you like.
- Under those, write down a couple of areas of particular interest.
- Now, write down one project that you could do for those. (If you cant think of any, eliminate that area)
- For the few that are left, tell me "Who will benefit most from you working on this?" (Eliminate any that include the word but in your answer)
- Finally answer the question "Would you work on this when no one is watching (AKA: Superbowl Sunday with a party in the next room)? (Eliminate any that do not receive a resounding "Yeah")

This appeared to work, I'll let you know after I read the introductory blogs.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Edmodo at AdVENTURE

What is Edmodo?

Edmodo is an educational website that takes the ideas of a social network and reļ¬nes them and makes it appropriate for a classroom. Using Edmodo, students and teachers can reach out to one another and connect by sharing ideas, problems, and helpful tips. The teacher can assign and grade work on Edmodo; students can get help from the entire class, and participate in discussions 24/7. A student that is absent one day, can easily log on and review not only the content that was/is being presented, but interact with the class in real time. Students also have access to pretty much all class materials, documents, simulations, articles, etc. by logging on and perusing what is posted.

Is Edmodo safe?

Yes. There is no bullying or inappropriate content, because the teacher can see everything that is posted on Edmodo. Inappropriate behavior is easily corrected by setting the student to read only, which allows him/her to still interact with the teacher and assignments, while limiting postings to the group.

How do I use Edmodo in the classroom?

I use Edmodo in the classroom in a variety of ways:

  • Assignments: Almost all of our learning opportunities have been digitized in some way. Students will log on to Edmodo, and check for assignments. In their assignments, they will be given a link to their project details (including entry documents, due date(s), tasks, processes and rubrics). 

As they progress through the assignment, students are able to post interesting things they find, comments, struggles and victories, and myself and the class can provide feedback and guidance. Once the project is completed, the students can turn in the digital copy of their work to the assignment for grading. As the work is graded, the students receive a digital copy of the rubric, and, depending on the assignment, can access an annotated copy of the work for further development.

  • Quizzes: Edmodo allows me to create quizzes to share with the students. The student complete a quiz, and get their grades immediately (if it can be scored automatically), and I am able to provide personalized feedback. If the student is absent, he/she can take the quiz at home.

  • Communication: This is probably the most exciting feature. Edmodo allows me and the students to communicate with each other, and continue class conversations outside of class. Whenever I find additional curriculum related materials (videos, simulations, etc.) that I think may help the students understand the concepts better, I post links with a note on how it may help the student (particularly helpful if a student is absent). If a student finds something of interest to their project or for someone else's project, they can also post it as a note. All students can then interact with all materials without having to go on random searches on their own.

  • Digital Libraries: Students can create digital libraries (called backpacks) for housing the content they find online.

Can parents have Edmodo accounts?

Yes. Here is a link that gives details on Edmodo Parent accounts. It is worth noting that a student can and should have their own Edmodo account. Parent accounts are linked to their particular student(s), and parents cannot post to the classroom or even to their own students.

More Information: 


Thinking outside the box - from worst to best lesson ever!

Little bit of background

This past week, my 5th grade students and I have been working to gain understanding about levels of organization in organisms. We did several readings, watched a couple of videos, and when the formative assessments told me they were ready, we started to build an organ in the traditional activity from Beacon Learning Center, "just like in years past."

Cool, right!

What actually happened

Big bunch of nothing. Presented with the fsummative assessment, the students were unable to make the connection between the readings, the activity and the question. Never mind that they had shown me before that they understood and were ready (Who am I kidding, ready to regurgitate information. No thinking required)

Now I could blame everyone involved (the kids, myself, their previous teachers, their parents, etc.), but that would not help anyone. They needed something else to visualize; to tell the story in their brains or a hook on which to hang this knowledge.

Enter that box of trains

I started thinking in terms of analogies. Brick to wall to room to house. I even started thinking about having different types of tissue in a house (and that is a lesson for another day). But then inspiration struck, as always, while doing mindless chores. In this case picking up my son's trains. I started forming the idea. each piece of track is a cell, several together form a tissue, complete an oval for an organ (yeah, because this gives it a function), and finally, connect them together for an organ system. O joy!

Back in the classroom

The students enter to find tracks on their tables. Some immediately get to work connecting pieces of track, while others wait patiently. I say nothing. After a couple of minutes (taking role and the like), a student asks, "What are we doing today?".
         - "Building a railroad."

The students soon realized that they did not have enough individual pieces, so they asked me for more. I replied that they could join forces with other tables, and that they had to use every piece of track available. After a while, they had a complete layout, and I gave them some trains to play with. With 15 minutes left in the period, I posed the question "How is this railroad related to what we have been studying?" (You know that moment when the students' faces reflect that big Aha.) Most hands shoot up, and I hear, "May I correct my test?"

My reply... Of course you may.

And guess what, every single student passed :)