Thursday, July 12, 2018

Appsmash your narrative

One of the biggest struggles I've had in the whole gamification business has been the narrative aspect of the gamified classroom. As many before me have suggested, a good narrative engages the students and helps drive the game forward. (The importance of narrative in the student-centered classroom - Adam Powley). The narrative gives meaning to the whole idea of why we are collecting points and/or struggling to reach the top of a leaderboard.

As my games have evolved through the years, I've used different themes and attempts at narratives. We've trained dragons, explored idyllic islands and even survived a zombie apocalypse, however, in all of these my narrative has been a secondary consideration, mainly due to not having figured out a way to deliver that narrative consistently. In fact, it was not until the end of the zombie apocalypse (last year) that I re-discovered the mini-videos I had created to accompany the original narrative. In the day to day business of teaching they had been left behind and by then my students had lost interest in the story they had pushed for when we started. They saw the leaderboard and acquisition of privileges as the only end goal of the game, and though this was enough for some of them, for others it became nothing more than "regular" school with a few bells added.

In an effort to remedy this, I started looking for ways to have everything I needed to move the story forward from the beginning. Now, this meant that I needed not only a changeable storyline, a place to hold everything, and a way to hold myself accountable (lest I forget again) but at the same time keep the story hidden from students with enough crumbs so that if I did forget they would ask about it.

The changeable storyline was easy. I had already decided that we would be space explorers giving me the ability to add or remove planets to explore through the different units I teach. Star Trek and its "continuing mission" being the obvious choice for this. You land on a planet, meet a new civilization perhaps capture a couple of aliens in our Boss Battles, and on to the next one. Best part, you can always revisit a planet or remain there longer if needed. With this in mind, and using LunaPic (as illustrated by Mr. Powley in his ClassroomPowerUps blog), I started a Google slide deck to house the complete story. Each slide is a mission log, has a quick recap of events and hints at what's coming next as the ship moves through its assigned sector. The idea is that it would read like a serial comic book of sorts (or like the logs entered by the different captains in the series).

I was busy with this for a few days, but the main issue remained... How could I publish only the portions of the story that have been visited ("the story o far") while letting the students know that there is more to come. After much Googling, I found that there is no easy way to password protect only portions of a slide deck, there are many ways to prevent people from editing, but not from moving forward on a deck. That being the case, I transformed a slide into a Google drawing, and that was strike two. Not only can you not directly password protect the drawing, you cannot open it directly when published to the web, it will always be a download. Not being one to give up, I finally came across a handy tutorial appropriately called "How to Password Protect ANY File in Google Drive" from Flipped Classroom Tutorials, which uses Google Forms' response validation to ask for a password and deliver a link if correct. Although using this, I still had to have individual artifacts for each part of the story, at least now I could hide them in plain sight.

As it usually happens, I got distracted with something else and left this alone for a few days, as the back of my head considered where to house all of this in a way that would be consistent with the space narrative. I considered places like Deck Toys or Symbaloo's Learning Paths which would give this a "gamy" look, but I wanted an even more engaging feel to it that would also not require students to log in to read the logs (other than what they already had with Google). Serendipitously, I came across Roberto Fantini's VR Tour "Space conquest" on Thinglink 360. Now, if you've read my posts before you know that I avoid using paid for stuff, but I have Thinglink premium already so I took it as a sign that this should be an avenue to explore. So I finished up most of the narrative for one grade level (still debating whether we will come back to earth or not) and "remixed" the image to come up with this:

The first "hidden" part of the narrative is item 3, and in case you would like to see the story the passwords are:
3) hydrogen
4) lithium
5) sodium
6) potassium
7) rubidium
8) cesium
9) francium
10) beryllium

The added benefit of this is that I can also add Easter Eggs and links to directed side quests to the narrative slides, or add elements to the story as needed, which gives me the flexibility I was looking for in my narrative.

I am happy with this solution, but wonder whether there is a less time-intensive or totally free way. If you've found it, please share. In the meantime, I' still have to do this for three other grade levels :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Individual Rank Sheets - Google Sheets to the Rescue

Over the last couple of years, as my game has grown, so has my need to add elements that improve the sharing of ranks, perks, and standings with my students. Up until now, I have published our leaderboard two ways:

  • a "combined" leaderboard that displays the Top 15 students among all 170 of them.
  • each grade level gets their own, which ranks all 34 students for that particular class.
I also publish a Badge Sheet for each class, where students can go and see which of the badges they have earned. All of this already populates automatically from the "master leaderboard" I shared a while back (Leaderboard and Badging with Google Sheets).

This works well to inform the students of their standings. However, it requires that students navigate between several web pages and do some scrolling, often complaining about not "finding themselves" within the data. I also often worry about the students who are at the bottom of the leaderboard since these placements within the ranks are public to all my students. As I pondered these problems, I also thought about a way to give students some control about what information is shared with all and what is "just for each one".

In searching for an answer, I came across two blog posts that should be mentioned as the inspiration for the sheets I came up with, @MrMatera's "Standards Based Grading Gamified and Googled" and @MrPowley's "XP Grading: Video Blog". As always, these two masters of the gamified classroom had already come up with solutions that better informed the students of their progress - The Individual XP Sheet. With a name in hand, and knowing that it was possible to share individually with students, I set about creating one that made sense for my classroom, using a combination of IMPORTRANGE and conditional formatting so that everything would auto-populate without me having to open up a whole bunch of individual sheets. Remember I have 170 individual sheets to maintain.

Just like in the VLookup post I published a few days ago, I would love to simply give you a template to use tomorrow. Unfortunately, even if you use what I share in the set-up procedure that follows, the references for the cells will need to change as soon as you create a copy.

Before I go into explaining the set-up and scare you (it is time-consuming, but you only have to do it once!), let me show you the magic. In the following mini-video you see my leaderboard, my "Teacher Master Sheet" spreadsheet, and a Student Individual XP Sheet

Now that you've seen it in action, let me explain what to do to set this up. It all starts with the Leaderboard, where I need to be very consistent in the placement of the information, especially student names and Emails so that things do not become complicated down the line. In order to accomplish this, the first three columns on the Leaderboard sheet are the only ones where I actually type names and e-mails. The first three columns (A:C) in every other sheet on the leaderboard, where I will type in or import scores, get:


With that in place, it is time to create the Teacher Master  Sheet template. I created mine using Alice Keeler's TemplateTab so I would not have to duplicate each student tab myself. If you open the Teacher Master  Sheet template, you will notice that it includes 4 tabs instead of Alice's 2. The Heraldry and Standing tabs, which are imported from the Leaderboard using TRANSPOSE(IMPORTRANGE) and IMPORTRANGE respectively, were necessary for my purposes since I wanted to display elements of both but limit the delay it could cause as I was importing the other elements.

The mini-leaderboard is set to always display the owner student in the middle and two students above and below. It combines some manipulation of conditional formatting and If- Match statements in order to not get errors when the student is at the top or bottom of the class leaderboard. This is why I had to add the Standing sheet.

Once my template was done, I used IMPORTRANGE to add the names to the roster and ran Alice's TemplateTab script. Since I ran the script after I had added the Heraldry and Standing sheets I ended up with a couple of sheets that were mislabeled. If this happens to you, simply discard them and/or duplicate and rename what you need. You will only run the script once for each Teacher Master sheet.

Then comes the onerous task of referencing each of the correct cells from the Leaderboard, as C3 will need to become C4 and D3 will become D4, etc. I wish there was some way to automate this, but I have yet to find it. However, it more painstaking than anything else, and just like the script, I only need to do this for the set-up, and never again. I opened the leaderboard, and for each name, I found the row where it was located and changed the numbers accordingly.

Once I had finished all of them and had the Teacher Master (sharing one where all the numbers have been changed for 34 students, though if you use it you would need to change the leaderboard reference), it is time to create the individual sheets. One would think that you can just open up a spreadsheet and copy/paste, but that does not preserve the format that I painstakingly created, plus I want them to all update automatically, so instead there are a couple more steps.

To preserve the formatting, I first created a new spreadsheet (I called it Student Template). Then I chose one of the student sheets in the Teacher Master. I clicked on the arrow next to the name and chose duplicate sheet. It asked where you want it, and of course, I selected Student Template. Once it is duplicated, I went to the Student Template and saw it had added a tab called Copy of "Name". I deleted Sheet 1, and instead of selecting and deleting the cells in Copy of "Name", I selected and cleared the cells. This preserves all formatting, including all conditional formatting.

Of course, since the referenced sheets were no longer there, it looked like there was an error, but I knew what the final step was...

I made a copy of the Student Template, renaming it with the correct name for my first student (Name 1 in the example), and went back to my trusty =IMPORTRANGE formula.

=IMPORTRANGE("URL of TeacherMaster","'Name 1'!A1:M14")

Notice that Name 1 includes single quotes, this is because the sheet name has a space between name and 1. This is not needed if there are no spaces in the Sheet Name.

After doing this final step 34 more times, I had my first complete set of Individual Student Sheets.

I use the same basic sheets for all my 5 classes, but I do have five leaderboards (where the badges differ) and also like to keep the Teacher Masters separate. This means that I had to change the leaderboard URL to create each of the Teacher Masters before running the Alice's TemplateTab script.

The last step is to share each Individual Student Sheet with the student "owner", which I accomplish the regular way (share, type e-mail, can view). 

Those individual links can also be added to a spreadsheet or blog post where names are sorted alphabetically and since only the student "owner" and myself have access, the risk of oversharing is minimized. Now, for those students that perhaps do want to share their badges or rank insignia, there is always the possibility of creating mini-sheets within their individual sheet. Using =arrayformula(index('Name of student sheet'!C2:E6)) you can select specific cells to share. If you publish just that mini-sheet to the web, students can then get the embed code and publish in their blogs or e-portfolios.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Assign XP automatically using Vlookup - Google Sheets

My last couple of posts ended with a question, "How can I give the XP generated by sidequests or Boss Battles automatically to students?" This is a key question in both instances because:

  • In true gamification style, it is imperative that students' can instantly see their progress in ranks. The immediacy of the auto-updating of progress serves as a motivator, and there is nothing worse for my students to have to wait until I manually input the data.
  • I really do not want to have to input values manually, it is time-consuming and prone to error, especially when you have multiple submissions by the same student.
Much like I ask my students to do when attempting to solve a problem, I first asked what is it exactly that I need. So in simplest terms, "I needed a way to have sheets look-up an e-mail (name) in one workbook (Boss Battle or side quest results) and input the value that accompanies it into another workbook (leaderboard). I set about finding the answer and after several attempts, I found the answer is a combination of Vlookup/import range combination. 

As much as I would love to provide you with a template that you can simply copy and start using, it is not as easy since the workbook and cell references need to be changed in order for this to work. What I can do is provide you with a skeleton and an explanation of what needs to be done. 

1. Have your leaderboard set up with the e-mail addresses of your students - e-mail is necessary since the other sheets will match the e-mails auto-collected in the corresponding forms. Here is the one I used to set this up. For a full explanation of how just the leaderboard works you may wish to visit "Leaderboard and Badging with Google Sheets".

2. Have your boss battle sheet(s), each set up with a pivot table that sorts the data by e-mail and "sum of score". I am sharing a blank one, just remember that this one is tied to a specific form. To recreate a boss battle sheet with your own question set, look at my post Boss Battles with Google Forms/Sheets
You can use the process I am describing with any form responses/quiz you create on Google sheets. What needs to be done is to have a form that collects e-mails automatically. Once you have your form responses sheet, add a pivot table. I remane mine "scores".

3. It is now time to connect both sheets. On your destination sheet, in this case the Mastery Quest sheet in my Leaderboard, add the following formula to the first cell where you would like your imported scores to appear.

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(A2,IMPORTRANGE("1O5AhXP4qJhbcNbjzDOI7-trYDjSDBQtN4iA2MIDzfeo","scores!A3:B"),2,0), 0)

The big string (1O5AhXP4qJhbcNbjzDOI7-trYDjSDBQtN4iA2MIDzfeo), which must remain in quotations, is the URL for the sheet the scores are coming from.

Important to note:
  • Depending on the sheets version you are using, you may first need to allow both sheets to connect. If you paste the formula and it does not seem to work, add =IMPORTRANGE("long sheet identifier","scores!A3:B"),  anywhere on the destination sheet. A little box will appear asking if you want to connect the sheets. Once they are connected, delete the formula. This is just to give it access.
  • If you rename your Pivot Table anything other than scores at any time, you must manually change it in the formula.
  • The 2 that shows after the parenthesis in your formula identifies the column where the data you want to bring is found. If you add any other values to your Pivot Table, or you rearrange them in any way, you must change this number to whatever number column your data is in.

4. Finally, it is just a matter of copying the formula down the column in your target sheet (in this case the leaderboard sheet). In order to accomplish this quickly, and to save you from the carpal tunnel syndrome that would inevitably arise from all that Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V, simply position yourself on the cell you want to copy down, and drag the little blue box that appears, down.

Once you have copied down the formula, it is a good idea to double check that the references changed correctly. 

When you are setting this up, all the values will be zero. The same is true if there is no Email match between the quiz/form and the destination sheet/leaderboard. This is helpful if you are running a boss battle or if you have absent students, as you can quickly see who has not done the work at all. However, once your students have submitted their quiz, your leaderboard scores will be auto-updated to reflect this "change".

 This same process would need to be repeated for each quiz/form you want to Vlookup, but really once you have done it a couple of times you will find that it is not as cumbersome as it seems. It simply boils down to creating a pivot table to aggregate your data, copying the Vlookup formula and changing the reference to the corresponding sheet. You can also modify it to assign XP only for max score changing that final column reference in the formula, or if you add another value column you could even use averages. Whatever makes the most sense for you and your students.

Also, it is important to note that you do not have to have a pivot table other than to summarize your data initially. For example, I use Alice Keeler's Rubrictab to grade my students' work. Using the same process described above, with the corresponding modifications to the references in the formula, I can have the roster sheet I create from her template each time I grade linked to my leaderboard.

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(A2,IMPORTRANGE("1VVD83QukeZ6P3pMmpoJnxEt9cgg8tv2LnnirkM71Vso","roster!B2:E"),4,0), 0)


"1VVD83QukeZ6P3pMmpoJnxEt9cgg8tv2LnnirkM71Vso" is the workbook identifier
"roster!B2:E" is the sheet name and cell references (Email Address through Score)
4 is the number of the column where the score is found, starting the count from column B

For more ideas on the use of Vlookup, you may want to read Mr. Powley's post "The Magic of VLOOKUP: G.Sheets, Boss Fights, and Badges".

As always, if anything seems confusing or you have questions, leave a comment or drop me a Twitter question @MarianaGSerrato.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Boss Battles with Google Forms/Sheets

For a long time, I've been thinking about how to do more than just award experience points (XP) to my students who complete a mastery quest (quiz/test). I've been toying with the idea of making them a bit more interactive and wanted a way to show students how the Boss would lose hit points (HP) as they answered.

Adam Powley (@MrPowley) wrote a piece on Dreadsheets a few months ago, detailing his system, using a very elegant mix of Google sheets, group roles, and dice, kindly sharing all that is needed to implement his system. Make sure to read his post, as it is truly masterful.

His system works really well when you have all those elements in place, but I sadly am not there yet. However, this did not deter me from continuing my pursuit, so borrowing some of his ideas, but trimming it down to the game elements that I do have, I came up with a simpler version that works for me. Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let me show you how it works.

These boss battles use the simple quiz version of Google Forms and its corresponding Form Responses spreadsheet. You can obtain the folder where I housed both here, though you may just need to make a copy of the Boss Battle Share (Responses). (They are shared as anyone can view, but you may need to be outside of your district domain to make copies).
Also, although I have deleted the data and created several copies, you may find that if you use a copy directly it still carries over some of the "extras". If this is the case, simply create your own Quiz as you would normally do, and once you have the corresponding Form Responses spreadsheet, add a Boss Battle sheet where you copy/paste everything that is included in cells A1:L16. If you do this, you will also need to create a new tachometer, which is a simple gauge chart; if you do not know how to do this, here are some instructions (Stop at slide 8 since you will not need to embed it anywhere else)

Elementanywhere Boss Battle Sheet (although embedded below, you may want to open the link if it is not quite as clear as you wish it to be.)

Finally, I set the quiz to automatically collect email adresses, release grade immediately after each submission, respondents can see missed questions, and, depending on what I want, either limit to one response or not. 

With all of this in place, it is just a matter of sharing your quiz with students, and displaying the Boss Battle sheet to the class using your projector and screen. As students complete the quiz and submit their responses, they can see the "damage" they inflicted on the boss, until eventually, they defeat it.

I usually provide individual XP after a boss battle like this one to encourage students to actively participate. The XP for each student can easily be obtained from the Form Responses sheet. Also, once the boss has been beaten, you can use the information from that same sheet to determine which questions were missed most often and/or sort it to find out how many responses each student submitted as well as their specific answers. 

Now, I do realize that one student can answer 50 times (simply memorizing answers), while another student can decide to not even try once. This can be somewhat deterred by limiting the number of responses so that the reluctant student has to answer in order for the whole class to beat the boss. You could also make the quiz much longer (this 10 question quiz is just an example, with questions that are not particularly insightful). Another idea, which I have not yet implemented, would be to use the Form Responses sheet in a similar scheme to the one discussed in my post about side quests to determine the number of times a specific student answered and assigning XP on a sliding scale, but that is a post for another day.

I would love to hear what you think about all of this. 


I thought you may be interested to know what my students had to say about this format of "testing". I presented them with a 10 question and a 20 question format, and as you can see, their response was positive, although they all agreed that a shorter quiz was more engaging than a long one.

If you would like to know how to automatically add these scores to your leaderboard or grade book, I invite you to take a look at "Assign XP automatically using Vlookup - Google Sheets".

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.  If you would like to know how to automatically add these scores to your leaderboard or grade book, I invite you to take a look at "Assign XP automatically using Vlookup - Google Sheets".

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, and 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.

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.