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.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Easter Eggs with Mini-Game Creators

In recent conversations with my gamification PLN, the use of Easter Eggs has come up. As a non-videogame gamer, I was unfamiliar with the term. Doing some digging I came across this Storify of #XPLAP's chat published in @MrMatera's blog. With a little bit more knowledge, and after talking with my personal source of all things gamer (my teenage son), I was ready to think about some ways that I could create Easter Eggs within my hyperdocs and project pages.

Hiding the Easter eggs is relatively easy. In a hyperdoc, you can simply type whatever you wish (perhaps a reminder to yourself of the title of what you linked) and hide it by making the font the same color as the background. In a project page, Google Drawing or Google Slide, you can insert a shape and make both the lines and background transparent, of course linking the shape to the website that hosts the Easter Egg.

Once the issue of how to hide Easter Eggs had been resolved, the question became what to hide. Of course, you can hide Youtube or Edpuzzle videos, links to websites, simulations, interactive sites or documents for the students to read and interact with. However, in true gamer fashion, I like to hide mini-games that are specific to the content and/or vocabulary the students are learning. That is where the mini-game creators come in.


This site from IXL Learning,  offers the possibility to create 18 game types from one data set. This means that once you have your content, in the form of text and/or images, you can reuse it, getting a new link each time. It has the added benefit of providing the students with points at the end of a game, which I then just add to my students' XP total giving an immediate incentive for playing the mini-game.


At first glance not as pretty as Sugarcane, but LearningApps gives you more/different mini-game options (20 total, including hangman, cloze, group puzzle and crossword). It also gives you several options to embed your mini-game in other platforms, which for some may be a plus.


Much like the now defunct Zondle, you are able to create multiple choice review question sets that appear as part of a mini-game. You can link to a specific game or you can give students the link to the question set and have them choose which mini-game to play. Their games do require Flash, so you may want to check that out before creating your Easter Egg with them. Also important to know, the site now runs one ad at the top of the screen, which may be non-negotiable in some settings.


This site has been around for a long time, so it is easy to find ready-made question sets. On the flip side, they only have a couple of "gamy" options (match and gravity), and some of their functionality is restricted (adding images and voice) requires that you upgrade to a Teacher account (currently $2.92/month)

Now, what does this look like in the end? Below is an "assignment page" that includes three Easter Eggs. Can you find them?

Any thoughts to share about how to create Easter Eggs? Leave a note in the comments.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Google Draw - the neglected sibling

For the last several years I have been using Google products for most of my authoring needs. However, my students and I seldom venture outside of the three products that appear when you click that red NEW button on our drives.

Although I also create Forms and have my students create Sites, we have all mostly turned a blind eye to Draw. In fact, up until a few months ago a search of the thousands of documents that I have in my Drive produced maybe 50 or so Draw documents, and those were mostly simple flowcharts or places to host images that I collected to add to Slides and Docs.

This all started changing after I took the "Making Infographics" course at KQED teach. The course itself walked me through the creation process, thinking like a designer, and provided me with many resources for images, icons, fonts and color palettes. From Pixlr to build graphics, to Pexels - a great source of CC0 high def images, to Piktochart - an easy to use infographic maker, the course gave me the tools to start creating.

Now, you may be thinking what does this have to do with Google Draw? Well, once I started on that creative path, I started exploring what I could bring to the classroom. Piktochart, like Canva and Smore (two other sources for creating visually appealing graphics), have two limitations to their use in the classroom - they require an account on the platform and they do not allow multiple editors, or if they do, it cannot be simultaneous. On both those fronts, Google Draw becomes the winner; yes you do need a Google account to use Draw, but most schools have that in place. Before I continue, I do have to give kudos to Canva for two great "side" resources they have - Font Combinations and Color Pallete that you can then use on Google Draw.

Anyway, once it became clear that I would be "limited" to using Draw for creating infographics, I set about figuring out how my students could make them "pretty". Thankfully, many educators and designers have shared their own tips and tricks freely:

 Clickable Google Draw Image

Once you familiarize yourself with the basics, the possibilities that open up are endless.Using Google Draw my students and I have created posters, mind maps and trading cards like the ones you see below.


Using the technique discussed in "Embedding a Google Drawing with Clickable Links", I've also used it to create clickable learning paths (below) and even display the ranking system for my gamified classroom, which you see at the top of this post.

Have you found other ways to use Google Draw? I'd love to hear about them.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Game Based Learning in a Gamified Environment

In an effort to increase student engagement, gamification and game-based learning have been gaining traction in the education world for the past couple of years. Because of this, there have been some great blog posts that explain the difference between the two:
There have even been some Twitter discussions about the merits of each, almost asking one to choose between the two as if there were mutually exclusive. Much like you Project Based Learning and Maker Ed are not the same thing, but can both occur at the same time in a classroom, you can have a game based delivery in a gamified environment. 

I've talked before about how I've gamified my classroom. If you are interested in how to add game elements to your delivery I invite you to visit my gamification page on this blog, and/or follow the gamification experts - @MatthewFarber, @mrmatera, @mpilakow, and @christibcollins.

If you are looking to find or create games to add to your game based arsenal, you may want to look into:
iCivics - specifically for Social Studies
Legends of Learning - specifically for Science
PhetColorado - math and science simulations
LearningApps and SugarCane - for those of you that are interested in creating your own mini-games

I also invite you to the weekly #xplap (Tuesdays at 7:00 PST) and #games4ed (Thursdays at 5 PST) Twitter chats. Both of these are super fun and informative and will put you in touch with the many other educators that are interested in bringing play into their classrooms.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Grades in the Gamified Classroom


In a recent #games4ed conversation we were talking about gamified grading, and the two tweets above came up. This resonated with me for several reasons:
1. As I am sure it is true in most cases, at the end of the day (term, school year), I have to submit regular letter grades. 
2. I have been guilty of falling for the above-mentioned pointification, or simple substitution of traditional grading for an XP-like system and leaderboard. While the change did infuse some excitement in my classroom, the students quickly discovered that it was simply "a rose by another name" and rebelled accordingly - Gamification - Don't Fake It

Simply changing the grades to points does not change the student's mindset. At its core, gamified grading can be a visual representation of competency-based grading, which as Matt Townsley reminds us is different than standards-based grading.
"Competency Based Education is a system in which students move from one level of learning to the next based on their understanding of pre-determined competencies without regard to seat time, days, or hours.
In a competency-based system…
  • Students advance to higher-level work and can earn credit at their own pace. (In a building, district, or classroom using a standards-based grading philosophy, this is not necessarily the case. Students are likely required to complete x number of hours of seat time in order to earn credit for the course.)
  • Learning expands beyond the classroom. This may or may not take place in a standards-based grading philosophy. For example, in a competency-based system, a student who learns a lot about woodworking over the summer may earn credit when he or she returns to school the next year. Similarly, students are encouraged to learn outside the classroom so that they can demonstrate competencies at their own, rapid rate.
  • Teachers assess skills or concepts in multiple contexts and multiple ways. (This may or may not be the case in a standards-based grading classroom; however, it is non-negotiable in competency-based education.)"
How does this translate to a gamified environment?

1. Explicit criteria and targets are made available to students ahead of time. The students in a gamified classroom know exactly what it takes to "defeat the boss" (AKA demonstrate mastery). Basically, everything is assessed using rubrics. The rubrics are created using objective measures, provide actionable feedback and are presented in kid-friendly language. 

2. There are multiple opportunities to gain XP (practice the standards). Every piece of work submitted results in XP, even incomplete or half-correct work! Let's think about this from the gamer standpoint. A player going through the third level of Mario falls and must restart the level. The XP he gained does not go away, and he/she will try the level again using what he/she learned from the previous attempt in order to pass the checkpoint and proceed to the next level. This cycle continues throughout the game. This is also true in the gamified classroom. That half-correct work is re-done based on the feedback, resubmitted for a new assessment and opportunity to gain more XP.

3. Some may demonstrate mastery on their first attempt earning a set amount of XP and perhaps a badge that shows the students (and community) that mastery of the standard has been achieved. This does not mean that the "learning is done". The student can then go on a side quest to earn even more XP and continue to level up within that standard. While this is happening other students are re-working/adding to their work and even going through the same side quest that the "masters" are completing, practicing the standard until they have collected enough evidence of mastery and the total amount of XP available for the standard is achieved.

All of this made public to my students on the leaderboard. But what happens at the end of the week, when I am contractually obligated to publish at least one new grade in the grade book? For that, I choose the most recent evidence of learning. This means that what goes in is not the same piece for all, but rather the individual piece of work that illustrates the learning from that particular student for that week. So, for example, the student that demonstrated mastery on week one and decided to sit back and relax on week two may, in fact, receive a failing grade for the week (no evidence of learning), while the student that has not shown mastery could be receiving an A. 

I know that this system is not perfect, and there is a possibility of inflated grades. Have you found a different solution? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Digital Media Literacy with KQED Teach

Bill Ferriter 

I am sure that many of you are familiar with the image above. While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, the National Association of Media Literacy Education tells us:
“The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world.”

So, while the learning outcome should not be "create a Prezi" or "produce a video", we do need to provide students with the skills of expression to be effective communicators.

Now I'm sure that we've all been privy to things like

  • presentations with too much text, or unreadable fonts
  • student videos that, while cute, are unintelligible
  • Edmodo or Google classroom posts that should have been edited
  • student-created cartoons, infographics and Google Draw productions that are nothing more than a disorganized copy/paste
I illustrate these to make the point that we do need to help students develop better media literacy skills. We live in a world where most classrooms have access to 1:1 devices (especially if we count student-owned devices). Many of us have dabbled with creating educational products for our students and/or have asked our students to do the same, but how many of us have taken the time to hone those skills before teaching them to the students? I know that I was one of the ones that expected my students to "produce a 5-minute video to explain ____", without ever having gone through the process myself!

That is why I was so glad when last spring I was introduced to KQED Teach. In Randall Depew's words:
"KQED Teach, our new online learning platform, will support educators’ growing media literacy needs by helping them develop the media skills necessary to bring media production to their learning environments."
The beauty of KQED Teach is two-fold. First, it is completely free. Not only are the courses free, all the tools they suggest within each course are also free. Second, the courses are self-paced and short enough to be easily completed in an afternoon or two. As teachers, we are budget and time poor. KQED Teach understands that and responded in kind. 

Let me tell you a little bit about the courses I have taken, and what I've been able to do and teach because of it.

Media Foundations: Allowed me to explore the impact digital media could have in my teaching. Because of this course, I became a more critical consumer of information and started paying attention to bias and copyright. The skills I learned were easily transformed into a lesson titled  "Should I CITE-IT?", which I posted and have available on the KQED Teach platform.

Taking Charge of Social Media: This course opened up my eyes to the world of social media, especially Twitter, as a PD tool, allowing me to add a myriad of innovative educators to PLN, which in turn made me grow so much more than any "traditional" PD.

Designing Presentations: This course should be required by anyone that has ever thought about creating any kind of presentation. We all know about essay-like presentations, but have you ever thought about how fonts, images, and colors interact to tell a story during your presentation? After this course, you will be ready to go well beyond the template that you've seen or used 1000 times to create much more impactful and memorable presentations using any platform. 

Interactive Timelines: At first, this course looks a little scary, especially if you are unfamiliar with Google Sheets. However, following their advice, I was able to create the interactive timeline of my scope and sequence that you see below. How cool is that!

I have not taught the lesson I posted at the end of the course "Technology Timeline", but it is there for anyone that wants it, and can be easily modified to suit other purposes.

Making Interactive Maps: Much like the interactive timelines, I did not know I needed to know this until I created my first map. The course not only gives you the step by step instructions and ideas on how to integrate their use in anyone's practice but also includes how to take these maps further using the layers and data tables that I did not know existed within Google Maps. Because of this course, I was able to have my 5th graders create maps like the one you see below, in response to the lesson I posted within KQED Teach - The Journey of Stuff.

Making Infographics: My favorite course so far. This course taught me some design basics that are transferable to many other platforms, creating websites for example. But that was not all, it also helped me hone my skills as a creator of digital content, allowing me to take it to the next level in things like the blog post about student-designed board games, and the image I created for the Stop the Fake News Cycle lesson I shared in response to the KQED Teach course on Finding and Evaluating Information:

Communicating with Photography and Video Storytelling Essentials both highlight the power of your smartphone camera. Beyond the composition of your subjects to issues regarding lighting, sound, and editing (including how to conduct interviews), these two offer very specific fixes and ideas that can help you learn and then teach the basics to your students. I invite you to look at the lessons I posted for these two, which include student examples -Source to Mouth documentary and Layered Selfies.

These are only a few of the courses that KQED Teach has to offer, and they are consistently adding new courses. I encourage you to sign up and start learning today.