Tuesday, December 26, 2017

More than a "Design your Own Board Game" Project

Link to Unit Plan

In a recent conversation, the subject of student-created games came up. As many before me, I've had students create games for a variety of reasons - to review the content, to demonstrate knowledge, etc.  However, often the products are nothing more than trivia games, where students go around the board they created answering questions. At best students craft a nice-looking "skin" for games like Trivial Pursuit or Beat the Parents, and at worst there are only boxes and questions in a quickly hand-drawn path. There is little challenge or replayability - as @MatthewFarber has been known to say, "chocolate covered broccoli".

This got me asking, "Where is the disconnect?"If all of my students have played games before, can quickly make decisions about whether a game is fun or not, and know that there will be a game tournament at the end, why is it that they rely so heavily on these types of games? Now, I know that one part of the answer is simply that they equate questions/answers with review. However, in my search for answers, it also became clear that they look at this type of assignment from the point of view of the consumer, not as designers of an experience.

At this point, I would like to clarify that I have never taken a course in game design myself, but with a willingness to learn, I embarked on my own quest to help my students become better at designing games. The assignment I am sharing with you is the end result of this experience.


In this assignment, the research is not where students go over notes or textbooks looking for questions and answers, but rather where students learn about creating games. We start by investigating different board games and discuss what makes a game "good". This is also where I explicitly teach the parts of a game, including the need for goals, challenges, storylines and clear rules which will then make their end product interesting and replayable.


One of the key parts of game development, which is often overlooked in "create a game" assignments. From carefully selecting a theme to presenting and playing a paper prototype with a focus group (consisting of other students), the goal is for the students to develop a well thought out game idea before committing to a final product. This is where students often realize that their game is really a non-game, just a pretty board with questions. Providing this opportunity to prototype, play-test and most importantly act on the feedback is a good way for students to develop critical thinking skills.

Final Design 

If the previous two sections were done successfully and allowed enough time for students to digest the information and feedback, this section is relatively easy to implement. The "hard thinking" is done and it is just a matter of crafting the product and making it look pretty. Skills to be practiced in this section include of course fine-motor skills (which even my middle-schoolers need to practice), and digital media creation (icons, game pieces, digital art and transforming hand-drawn art into digital formats). Although some of my most artistic students like to create their art by hand, I require them to digitize it ("If you wanted to create 50+ copies of your game your art would have to be easily reproducible").


Often some teams of students are ready to move on to our tournament day while other teams are still crafting or even prototyping, so I added the advertising section. This has not only the benefit of providing us with a time buffer, but also continues the "think like a designer" mindset, with the goal not only of creating a better game, but also to be able to market it adequately.

ISTE Standards (for students)

The beauty of this project is that it also allows your students to practice several of the ISTE standards for students. For example:
4a -Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
4c- Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
6a - Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
6b -Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Below you will find a small version of the board I created for students to access the complete assignment. If you would like the version that I share with my students click here. Almost all of the icons and text are clickable, opening the needed information and items students need to document their progress. On the student assignment page, you will also find a Teacher Corner button, which opens to a unit plan that may help you in implementing this with students.

Feel free to share with others who may find this useful.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Embedding a Google Drawing with Clickable Links

I'll start this post by stating the obvious, the easiest way to create a drawing with clickable links/tags is to use Thinglink. This site has been my go-to for any type of image tagging and while I love all their possibilities, including adding custom icons and tagging 360 images, I recently had the issue of wanting to both create the image and the tags at the same time.

A little backstory. 

The culmination of my Interdependence of Organisms unit has my students creating blog posts for different organisms in the Amazonian rainforest where they write about how each organism has a specific role to fulfill in its environment. In class, we then use those posts to create a Google drawing of the food web with links to their work. Everything works great as long as you stay within Google Drawing. It is not until I tried to embed that tagged image the students created anywhere that I realized that those tags the students painstakingly created do not work!

In the past, I've always solved the problem using Thinglink.

But as I mentioned before, this has the "problem" of having to create the image first and then add the tags. In class, this does not always work for a variety of reasons. The most important being that the image is completely static. You cannot change anything on the actual image so the students cannot add any more arrows (or organisms) as they discover other relationships when they discuss their work. Since this is a collaborative end product, the permanence of the image does not work for my purposes.

The workaround

It is a little convoluted, and it requires a little risk-taking simply because of the unfamiliarity you may have with some of the steps, but bear with me. In the end, you will have created the code with working links that can be embedded on any site or platform.

1. Open up a Google drawing. Add your background and items, and tag to your heart's content. In case you do not know how to do this, Karen Ferguson's video does a great job of explaining this.

2. Once you and your students are "done", or even before if you wish, publish your drawing to the web (File>Publish to the web). It does not matter when you do this since any changes you make after the fact will be updated automatically, which is exactly what my students needed. Do not worry about the size or the code at all. You just need it to be "on the web".

3. Go to Google sites, and create a simple blank site. You can name this whatever you like, and edit the homepage to insert your google drawing.

4. Unclick "include border around Google drawing" and "include title". At this point, you will choose your height and width. I recommend setting both to the size of your actual drawing.

5. Save the Google site. This creates a version of the site, with your Google drawing that includes those pesky clickable links you were aiming for.

6. Once you have saved, right-click anywhere on the image and select inspect

7. For those of us not familiar with working with HTML or the developer tools, this is where it gets scary. But don't fret it is simply a matter of finding the code and copy/pasting it in three quick steps:

  1. On the tab that appears, select Elements. Find the code where you see <div id="sites-chrome-everything-scrollbar">, and click on it to expand it.
  2. Scroll down until you find  <div class = "sites-embed-border-off sites - embed"... style=width 800 (or other number) px;" and right click on that.
  3. Select edit as HTML (third option). A box within the space appears, filled with the code you are looking for! Select everything within that box, and copy it.

It should look something like this:
<div class="sites-embed-border-off sites-embed" style="width:600px;"><div class="sites-embed-object-title" style="display:none;">Interdependence Rainforest Blogs</div><div class="sites-embed-content sites-embed-type-sketchy"><iframe src="https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1ELpo7S7a0htZsqckkHkEtaI3KMXORFPStvVZGnVzt_o/preview?authuser=0&amp;h=400&amp;hl=en&amp;w=600" width="600" height="400" title="Interdependence Rainforest Blogs" frameborder="0" id="811835776" allowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" webkitallowfullscreen="true"></iframe></div><div class="sites-embed-footer"><div class="sites-embed-footer-icon sites-sketchy-icon">&nbsp;</div><a href="https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1ELpo7S7a0htZsqckkHkEtaI3KMXORFPStvVZGnVzt_o/edit?authuser=0" target="_blank">Open <i>Interdependence Rainforest Blogs</i></a></div></div>
8. Now you can go ahead and paste that full code anywhere that allows you to edit HTML embeds (Blogger, Wix, Weebly, Wordpress, Emaze to name a few) creating your tagged and clickable Google drawing. 

And not only that, any changes you make to the original image immediately populate anywhere you have embedded your image so your students can modify the drawing, adding and deleting elements and tags without any worry about going through the process again!

Additional benefits

Using this method for creating interactive images also has some other "unforeseen" benefits.
  • The students can be in total control of the creation process. Any CC0 image is fair game to be used as a background or for tagging purposes. Once you teach your students to crop things in shapes, they can create all sorts of icons without worrying about size limitations.
  • Recently my district blocked Thinglink for student use. I can share my tagged images with them, but they cannot create accounts themselves and use it to create their own. 
  • Thinglink is not set up to be collaborative, so even if my students went outside of our servers and created personal accounts, they cannot work on one image together. This often defeats my purposes for creating interactive images.
  • It is totally free. You only need access to the Google tools mentioned. Most districts nowadays have given students access to the Google suite, so anything they create using them will not need any paid upgrade of any kind.

I hope this is useful to you and your students, and please drop me a line in the comments section if you find an easier way to do this.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Leaderboard and Badging with Google Sheets

Many of us in the gamified education game have toyed with different leaderboards and badging systems over the years. I've often dreamed of having a system that does the tracking of XP, badges, and items automatically as I input scores, without having to navigate between spreadsheets copy/pasting data from one to the other. This dream also includes the ability to change ranking and badging systems relatively quickly so that if my students become bored with something I do not have to start from scratch each time. As I've kept toying with this idea, I've been discovering some new tricks on spreadsheets that have allowed me to come up with a template of sorts.

I invite you to make your own copy of the template before I explain what is happening in each sheet. Doing so will allow you to follow along and make changes so that by the end of this post you have your own working copy.

Leaderboard Sheet

Displays all names, ranks, total XP and badges earned by the students. The names and last names are carried over to all other sheets, so any changes you make there will be present in all other sheets. Inversely, it populates the data and images from the other sheets, so changes made in other sheets will display on the Leaderboard sheet without you needing to make any adjustments to it. This is the only sheet I share with the students.

Ranking Sheet

This is a pivot table created from the data on the Leaderboard sheet. If you are using the template, you do not need to do anything to it, but I am sharing a video that explains how to create one in case you are interested.

Heraldry Sheet

In this sheet, I include the images and points needed for each of the 11 ranks I have in my game this year. If you want to change the image to something else, you will need to have the URL for the image you want to display. Simply substitute that URL within the =image("URL goes here, inside the quotations") formulas found in cells A2-A12. Changing those URLs will automatically change the images on the leaderboard page. Same goes for changes in the name and the min and max XP for each rank, allowing you to quickly change the theme of your ranks as well as make adjustments to your ranking when you find that the range of points for a rank is too wide or too narrow.

Badges Sheet

Much like the heraldry sheet, this sheet contains the images and descriptors for each of the badges I have for this class. Any changes in name or image for the badge are reflected on the Leaderboard sheet. Just like in the Heraldry sheet, to substitute the badge image change the URL of the image to one of your liking within the quotations of the =image("URL") function. All of my badges were created using Google Draw as explained by Alice Keeler in this blog post.

XP Sheets - (Blogs, PBL quests, Mastery Quests, Repeat Assignment)

These are the sheets where I input the XP. Although I could have done this on just one sheet, I prefer to have the different sheets in order to organize the data. The names in all of them are populated from the leaderboard, and the total values calculated in each sheet, populated back into the hidden columns (F-J) on the Leaderboard and added into column E. Changing the names of the sheets will not affect the Leaderboard calculations nor the ranking sheet. The "magic happens" on the cells with a grey background so those are the ones that should not be touched directly.

Badge Tally Sheet

This is the sheet where the badges are "awarded".  You can award the badges "manually" by entering the scores directly, or you can pull those scores from the sheets and manipulating them using the different formulas you see on the sheet. The names for the badges come from the Badges sheet, making it easy to keep everything organized.

Right now, I am toying with adding an Items sheet that will work much like the Badges sheet, and I will share that with you as soon as I am done. If there is anything that does not work, or you find confusing drop me a note in the comment section. I'll gladly help you figure it out.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Twitter, a Tool for Teacher Professional Development

Whenever I share my Twitter experience I face the inevitable, "Oh, I don't use Twitter", and I must admit that the first time I heard about teachers using Twitter, I was skeptical, too. My knee-jerk reaction was, "Social media is for keeping up with family and friends. Twitter, specifically, is for people that, at best, participate in politics and debates, and at worst those who enjoy instigating others. Why would a teacher invite that!" I completely dismissed the idea and patted myself on the back for not following in the trappings of social media.

The second time I became aware of Twitter as a possibility for me was at a conference. Like many others before me, I joined so I could post the happenings at that particular event, but it was more a feeling of shouting things out to the wind. I even remember that there were prizes given out for the most tweets, which pushed me a little to participate, but nothing more than that.  Follow others, why? At the end of that conference, I did not go back in. This cycle was repeated at the next event, and three or more times after that.

A couple of years went by and as I became involved with Edmodo as an ambassador, I completed the "Participate in an #edmodochat" challenge. That was the turning point for me. I started to read the posts, occasionally overcoming the risk of replying with my own ideas. All of a sudden I was involved in a deep conversation about best practices in education with a bunch of people that I had never met. That first hour went by in a flash, and at the end, I had specific ideas that I could put into practice the next day. I left that chat energized and hungry for more.

Fast forward to where I am now, writing about why educators should have Twitter accounts and participate in conversation often.

Twitter as Professional Development

Find and Share Resources

Gone are the days when the work of a teacher was a solo endeavor, or when you could open the file cabinet and teach the same lesson the same way for years on end. At our fingertips we not only have a plethora of resources, but these resources are constantly updated. New tools are imagined every day and ideas are flowing freely. Teachers all over the world are discovering and sharing ways to teach specific content and/or using ed-tech tools in a variety of ways. You may never have thought of using the board game Pandemic to teach about The Columbian Exchange, but @MatthewFarber has.

Staying Updated

Education is changing. Whether you are now an expert at the Common Core Standards, struggling to implement the 3 Dimensions of the NGSS, awaiting Social Studies standards or interested in changing your delivery to include PBL or gamification, the conversations are happening now. And wouldn't you know it, many of these conversations are happening on Twitter. Just take a look at the calendar of education Twitter chats below (managed by @cybraryman1, @conniehamilton, @thomascmurray, @cevans5095 and @jrochelle). You could say, "There is a chat for that!"

For those of you that have never participated in a Twitter chat and that may feel overwhelmed by trying to follow a conversation while remembering the "rules", here is a handy "How To" written by @kelseynhayes. The only thing I would add is the use of @participate's tool - Participate Chat simply because it allows you to focus only on that particular chat and automatically adds the #hashtag to the chat you joined, lessening the risk of tweeting to the wind.

Grow your Professional Learning Network

All of these educators that are sharing on Twitter and participating in Twitter chats are offering up their perspectives. They are also connecting with other educators who are willing to help out when the teaching work gets hard. Perhaps you are struggling to reach a particular student, and you need a sounding board outside of your own site. Maybe you would like to infuse more kindness or creativity into your classroom, or even would like to have a speaker come into your classroom, but do not know where to start. The PLN you create by using Twitter is there to help out. The beauty of this is that Twitter is available 24/7 so those ideas or questions that came to you at 2:00 a.m. as you were grading the last batch of essays can be posted and tagged to be answered by your Twitter connection in Europe as he/she starts the day.
In a similar vein, leaders in education are also on Twitter, and connecting directly with them is only a click away. Perhaps you are not ready to engage them in conversation, but you can infuse what you learn from their posts into your own practice. Here are a couple of lists to get you started:

How to's

If you are ready to get started, I invite you to read Edudemic's The Teacher's Guide to Twitter, and if you are new to the Tweetverse, look below for a handy infographic.

Click to view the original
How To Twitter
Source: Twiends

Friday, December 8, 2017

Embedding - Generate your own iFrames

If you are like me, you use a variety of tools to share content with your students. Tools like goFormative, Wizer.me, Symbaloo learning paths, PowerMyLearning, DeckToys and even webpages you create on WIX or GoogleSites, are super useful in part because they allow you to embed content from other places. This means that your students "stay" on the same platform as they work on their assignment, lessening the risk of distractions from moving between platforms. The developers of most of the apps and simulations I add to these sites know that their content is shared on other platforms and they have made it easy by providing embed codes right on their platforms.

But what happens when you find something you really want to share but there is no embed code in sight? In the past, I would just add the link, and teach the students to navigate between several tabs. This is fine for most, but of course some would use this as an excuse to visit something else - that meme generator they've been itching to show off, for example.

After a bit of searching ways to create embed codes, I came across this easy to use iframe code generator

To use it, the only thing you need is the URL of the content/resource you are wanting to embed.

Once you have pasted the URL in place, you click on Generate, and presto your embeddable iFrame Code appears almost as if by magic.

Of course, if you wish, you can also play around with height width, adding scrollbars, borders, etc. (as I did on the "blob-in-blog" above).

Now, depending on where you are going to use that embed code, the only thing you have to worry about is whether the original site's URL is secure or not. Most of the educational sites that have embedding content options do require that the embedded link is "secure" - HTTPS and not just HTTP.

I have also shared this with my students, who blog for me every week and who sometimes create products using different edtech tools. They, in turn, publish their products by embedding them into their blogs.

I am sure there are other iframe generators out there. Have you found a different one that you like better? Share with us in the comment section.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Countdown calendars using Thinglink

Although I recognize that not all my students celebrate the holidays the same way, for the past few years I've been creating advent calendars simply because I love the idea of having little treats that countdown to something. In the spirit of inclusion, I've also created Hannukah menorahs, but this still begs the question of what to do with students who do not celebrate in either of those ways.

Hour of Code Spotlight link                                                                                     Hanukkah Spotlight link

The more I thought about it, the more it became evident that I could use the same concept for a myriad of purposes. For example, we could countdown the days until the holiday break, or better yet countdown the days until "we meet again in 2018". It is all about inspiring students to continue learning every day.

Creating a digital calendar:

1. Open a blank Google drawing.
2. Add a background and images appropriate for the purpose. This could be holidays or not.
3. Add a table, and label with the calendar dates you want to include.
Here is my December 2017 version, if you would like a template.
4.  Click on File>Download as>jpeg image (it can also be a png).
5. Upload the image to Thinglink.
6. Start tagging your calendar with links, prompts, apps or games. Whatever you want to share with your students.

Repurposing your image, unfortunately, requires that you follow the process again, but once you have the tags it is easy to simply copy/paste the links into your new image. For example, here is my 2017 PD Advent calendar repurposed as a Winter Break calendar.

                             Advent PD Spotlight link 

Different feel, but still fun.

Now, if free forming is more your style, you can also choose to go that route as I did in these EdTech and Science Games Holiday-themed images.

Edtech Spotlight link                                                                                                Science Games Spotlight Link

Although these are all holiday/winter themed, countdown calendars can also be used to launch a unit of study or review activities until a test. If you gamify, you can use them as we are reaching a boss battle or the end of a game chapter. The possibilities are endless!

Feel free to share how you have used countdown calendars in your classroom. I'd love to share ideas.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

An Hour of Code With Edmodo

Hour of Code and Edmodo is a logical pairing. Hour of Code (December 4-10, 2017) is a yearly worldwide event that promotes the idea that anyone can code, aimed at encouraging students to develop an interest in STEM. Edmodo is a superior LMS that allows teachers and students to connect by sharing ideas and helpful tips.

The question then is "How can you use Edmodo to run an Hour of Code event?" This is my answer:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Paper prototypes - From idea to reality

If your students are anything like mine, they hate planning. Whenever they hear something along the lines of "Create a presentation, website, game, etc.", they immediately run to their devices and open a tool, never mind that they have no idea what will be put in there. Then, they blankly stare at screens or worse, start furiously typing (or copy/pasting) with little thought as to why they are putting any kind of content or ideas in there. Much like writing an essay without an outline, they just want to get to what they consider the "fun part" and skip over the very boring planning stages.

As teachers, we have tried to solve this problem with graphic organizers, templates, storyboards and a myriad of other tools which, while useful, tend to thwart creativity. We then have to sit through presentations and products that look basically the same. What's worse is that students seldom see the connection between the planning tools and the end product, so there is little cross-usability.

Pondering this problem, I took inspiration from game developers and introduced the idea of paper prototypes to my students. It went something like this:


What is paper prototyping?

Paper Prototyping is exactly what it sounds like. It's your opportunity to make a usable version of your game/website/app/presentation on paper or with other physical objects. This means you don't need any electronic device to make your product.

Making a paper prototype allows you to create a version of your product much quicker; this gives you time to include as many features as you like. DREAM BIG – now's your chance!

Creating your prototype allows you to test your product before it is made. This means you can make fast decisions about your product without wasting hours adding features you may realize you don't like.

Sketch your main screen:

Get out your sharpies, coloring pencils, etc. Make a sketch of your product. You may use this general template, or a specific template for your particular product. The paper prototype is like a draft, so don't worry about creating perfect drawings.

Add Functionality:

Once you have your main screen, it is time to add buttons, sprites, or whatever you need to help the user of your product navigate through your product. Cut each element out, and play around with placement.

Sketch other screens:

Continue the process of sketching, cutting out items and placing them. You can reuse backgrounds as needed. Just make sure you keep all papers and cutouts organized.

Play test:

You have all your screens and cutouts. You have a general idea of how your product works. Create a video where you demonstrate your product.

Here are some sample videos of paper prototypes:


Have a partner play test with you. This conversation will help you become aware of possible interactions with your product that you have not foreseen. Use the I like, I wish, I wonder format to provide feedback:
  • I-LIKE: Highlight what you see as a strength in the work. 
  • I-WISH: State one area that could be improved. Focus on the big ideas.
  • I-WONDER: Ask clarifying questions and offer specific solutions to the stated I-Wish.




Needless to say, I was very happy with the results. Going through this exercise allowed my students to think in terms of usability and content and helped them make better decisions for their final product. They had a plan for creating, unburdened by the constraints of a specific tool.

Moving forward, I plan to incorporate paper prototyping for all sorts of products, even presentations, hoping to see more creative final products. I think it is well worth the effort. What do you think?

More paper prototype resources:

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

Image Source: http://www.quotehd.com/imagequotes/TopAuthors/pablo-picasso-quote-i-am-always-doing-things-i-cant-do-thats-how-i-get-to-do.jpg

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.