What was the most successful lesson you ever taught? Why was it so good? How do you measure its success?
I’ve recently been reading a classic on motivation: “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink (2009). In part three Pink gets into the DNA of motivation; purpose. You can focus on intrinsic and dress up extrinsic all you want, but if your activity lacks a deep purpose, it will fall flat.
Last week I was interested in wrapping up a small unit on plural nouns. How could I close it out? There is the old-school paper method, where I plop a worksheet in front of them with a list of singular nouns the students must make plural. I could make a Google form full of questions. That would only substitute the paper. What was something I could have students do that would be more purposeful.
BloxelsEDU is an app that is free to download and use. You have to purchase an account
to build games. But, with one account, I can make many games that can be published to an online “Arcade” for my students to use. I have been taking a course through PD Campus, created and taught by Ken Ehrmann, where I have learned how to use this creative tool to engage my students in meaningful critical thinking.
To assess proficiency in making nouns plural in a super fun way, I decided to make a video game. I was interested in building into the game an element of reteaching. Additionally, the video game could show students some new elements of gaming design. (We have been working on crafting our own personal video games in class; I got accounts for all of my students through my PD Campus course–I highly recommend this professional development/grad-level class.)
The game would be a maze. The students’ purpose was to get to the end. What do you get when you get to the end of a maze? A feeling of accomplishment; I don’t have to tell you that this feeling is way better than completing and turning in a worksheet or filling in a Google form!
Here’s how I made it. I created a template frame within BloxelsEDU game builder platform that provided a few options of changing directions, so that students would be presented with having to make decisions on what way to continue traveling. I made sure that there were openings on the sides, top, and bottom that lined up with opposite sides, etc. Then I copied and pasted the template, over and over, making a huge waffle of terrain for video game characters to hop and run through. Next, I used coin blocks to select the direction that I would have the character travel. I replaced terrain blocks with yellow coin blocks in one direction choice at each stop throughout some of my maze waffle. From time to time I stopped and played the game, because some of the decision rewards came dangerously close to others. I wanted to be sure that the weaving back and forth would work and not cause a player to backtrack.
After deciding on a place to end the maze, I went back and put red hazard blocks and purple, moving enemy blocks in the paths that would NOT be the correct decision. In other words, a student would be presented with a question that had 3 choices, one of which would immediately reward them with coins, and two that would harm the character, taking away hearts. At this point in the game development I could still view all of the different colors.
Before disguising the blocks, I first created all of the questions and answers that would guide students through the maze. I varied the nouns and the way they were presented. Some questions had fill in the blanks, while others presented a singular noun, but asked what the plural version would be. After planting all of the questions and directions, I played the game, to make sure that the player would not have any hangups. This showed me places where I ought to spread out the path of the maze. There were places where it folded too close to itself. I didn’t want players to accidentally skip questions by stumbling into the correct channel through a mishap.
Once the path was complete, it was time to dress up the game. I made a fake green block in the “Art Builder” of BloxelsEDU. This block was brought into my Plural Noun Maze to disguise all of the yellow coins, red hazzards, and purple enemies. I also hid some life-giving hearts with the fake green blocks. Another block that I made in Art Builder was a “transparent” block. I saved a square of nothing; containing no color at all. This I used to disguise the word blocks. I didn’t want students to see future word blocks while they were playing the game. They would assume the correct path of the maze. Additionally, I hid some hearts, enemies, and hazards with the transparent block. Come to find out, when I made them invisible, it took their power away. A player can walk right through a transparent hazard, and an invisible enemy really is a ghost. A player would never know it was there! Lastly, I wanted the end of the maze to be on a floating, invisible terrain, but when I turned the green blocks invisible, they may as well truly disappear. The player cannot stand on the transparent terrain. Oh well.
Now that my maze was complete, it was ready to administer. Before having students play it however, I devised an ingenious plan for monitoring their work. Students would read each question, then take a screenshot of the answers. While the screenshot was still
available, they would “mark it” up by circling what they thought was the correct spelling of the plural noun. Then they would save the screenshot and travel in the appropriate direction. They would then find out whether they were right or wrong by immediately receiving coins or encountering hazards. I put these instructions in a visible word block at the beginning of the game, along with one that warned students that the maze’s directions were hidden inside invisible blocks.
Students enjoyed playing the game. They couldn’t help but show me their progress. Many felt the need to point out hidden things that they found, as if I didn’t know they had been placed in the maze! Ha ha.
Finally, when everyone was done, I posted a generic, simple Google slideshow to our Google classroom, making a copy for each student. They populated their individual slideshows with all of their screenshots of the game. I was able to go into Google classroom and access each student’s slideshow to see exactly what they had circled as their answers for spelling plural nouns. I gave kids scores of 1-4 depending on how successful they were on their initial guess. It was funny, because I could see in the screen shot areas where students had accidentally or otherwise already found the coins in the correct direction! The screenshots also betrayed loss of hearts, indicating that students had checked to see where hazards may be. But, I was totally okay with this. The whole idea of the game was for it to be self-correcting. If they figured out what direction they ought to go before looking at the answers and circled the corresponding answer, more power to them. You got it right, one way or another! That’s life!
The lesson, the maze, the assessment… it was all totally awesome, but there is more. Because I shared the game to my BloxelsEDU classroom, in addition to publishing it to the “Arcade”, my students now had access to the game as something that they could alter. They opened it up as a “Remix” and were able to see all of the different tricks to the trade that I had developed. They could learn how to make their own games/mazes, but also simply change mine and put in different questions, totally change the path of the maze… The BloxelEDU world was the limit! And, now you can too! Enjoy.
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
I’ve been teaching for 9 years. This is a second career for me. To pay for college (graduated in ‘96) I painted the outside of homes. This turned into a lucrative business, and I liked working for myself. Eventually, I wanted to do something more with my life. Because I enjoyed connecting with people and communicating ideas, and because I thought investing in youth to affect the future was a noble and intelligent goal, I decided to enter the elementary education field. Boy, am I glad I did! Naturally, this story is much longer, but I wanted to just provided the basics, here.
The past 9 years have provided plenty of professional development opportunities, but I had yet to attend many conferences. This past weekend I visited #Rewire19 and was energized and inspired by a long list of incredible presenters.
In addition to learning, I felt like I made meaningful friendships with these mentors. Something that plagued me, though, was the idea of how much teaching many people had under their belt. There were numbers like “Teaching 20+ Years” thrown all over the place. Is it necessary to teach a long time before you share pedagogical practices with peers?
This question made me feel like a latecomer to a party. Wait, what’s that expression?
I do sport a pretty mean #Bowtie.
Beyond #Fashion, I feel like I do have something to offer to this party; a type of experience that didn’t come from teaching many decades in the classroom. And, I am not just talking about having run a successful entrepreneurial painting company, either. I am a “Late Bloomer”.
As I read the text, many things happened simultaneously. One, I felt my insecurity of seeming-career-procrastination melt away as I realized that I had gained many useful life lessons that were presently helping me be a good teacher, today. If I had gone right into teaching, straight out of college… first of all, that couldn’t have happened because I didn’t even study pedagogy! …But, if my younger-self had entered the education career field, I would have certainly burned out and failed. It is only through allowing myself to bloom later in life, that I am experiencing this wonderful world of teaching. While I may not be able to place a “20+ years” near my name when it comes to teaching, I have been preparing for this position all my life!
Secondly, the book “Late Bloomers” has caused me to view my students differently. Some students will be early bloomers. These kids are already shining in school. They are acing tests, excelling in reading and math capabilities. Everyone is excited for these students. But, what about the “Late Bloomers” who will need several decades to finally open up and realize their potential?
I think every educator would do well to read this book. When we differentiate our instruction, we work hard to enrich students who need to be challenged right now, but what about the students who will eventually grow into shining stars?
There are plants that take several years before blooming. If a gardener focused only on the early bloomers and allowed weeds to overtake the Stargazers (my favorite flower), he would miss out on quite a show, not to mention the marvelous fragrance. The gardner must make sure these July blooms are planted properly, watered and cared for appropriately, and protected from voracious sun-hogs.
Whether you are a “Late-Blooming” teacher like me or a quick start out of the gate, make sure you are conscientious to the idea that within your walls are flowers that will take quite a while to bloom… And, that’s okay. In a world “Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and boy is it ever! …It’s our job, as educators, to power or fuel the patience everyone (parents, administrators, employers, etc.) will need to practice in order to see these blooms to their marvelous opening.
What are you doing to empower potential “Late Bloomers” in your classroom?
Wednesday morning I woke up at my usual 4:55AM with an idea in my head. I had been planning to assess elapsed time in math class (3rd grade) this week, but hadn’t decided on how. All kinds of ways to quiz my students’ understanding abounded, but none were optimal for this subject… or situation.
During the previous week, out of the blue, Laughlin came up with an astounding; an outrageous; a formidable goal. If all of the students in the class get a 100%, we should have a party. Immediately, I softened this to “between 90% and 100%–If everyone earns an A.” Through this suggestion, I was admonishing my acquiescence. And, I told them all that “If everyone received an A, I’ll bring in ice cream sandwiches for the whole class; except the two who are allergic–they would get something super special; I don’t know yet, but it will be awesome!”
Now, I know that grades are perceived negatively in some circles of pedagogical thought (Don’t hate me, @MaireCervenak), and there will be blow back from the start of this concept, but I am writing about it anyway, because I am looking for some help. My students and parents are used to grades from previous years and I have (yes, I’ll admit it) handed out grades, this year. What I am looking for is a way for every student to get to the A (mastery of the subject), while I can still assess each one’s understanding through standards-based assessment. I think that I am almost there, but I would like your feedback and help.
This is what my brain cooked up: I came up with a story where students would have to use elapsed time to solve a mystery. Rather than there being several questions that students answered right or wrong, I would have them wrestle with timed events to figure out the conclusion to one massive mystery.
Here is the premise: A parent comes home; it could be a mom or it could be a dad; late from work. The parent usually gets home at 5:15PM, but today he/she had a meeting that was two hours long. So, immediately, students are working out an elapsed time problem. What time did the parent actually arrive home? [When I introduced the story to them, I gave them this one. They all knew anyway, that the parent walked through the door at 7:15PM. I tell them, “This is just an appetizer; Wait until we get to the meat of the problem!”] After working hard all day, the parent is not too happy to find the house in disarray. There is a huge mess! And, here is the ONE question for the whole quiz: “Who dun it?” (Here is a link to the Google slideshow containing the story. Feel free to use!)
I explained to my class that the kids are all guilty unless they can prove that they were so busy the whole time that they couldn’t possibly have had time to make a mess. It was my students’ job to figure out if the kids filled up the time from getting out of school to the time that the parent arrived home with activities. If there was any missing or unaccounted-fortime, then that kid was a suspect. My class liked the idea, but they hadn’t fully bought into it, yet. “So, we are like detectives…” Avery offered.
“No, you are not like detectives. You ARE detectives,” I countered. Huge smiles of glee infected the room. Not only was this going to be fun, but don’t forget that we are working for As, so that the whole class (minus a couple, who are going to get something super special) can receive ice cream sandwiches. Now, they understood that all they had to do was figure out the answer to one question: “Who made the mess?”
Okay, I have to backup a little, here. While all of this may sound awesome, it would be too much for third graders to just throw a long tale full of times at
them, no matter how well I prep their minds. First of all, this story, which I wrote from start to finish between 4:55 and 9AM that morning, was three long pages full of text! If I were truly assessing only the math concept of elapsed time, I would have to find a way around the students who need help reading and comprehending text. I have read test questions to my class in the past, but this is a long story that was full of information and nuance. Keeping everyone together would be too much. I decided to record myself reading the story.
I had just recently found an online, free teleprompter program that I was planning on having my students read from when video-recording themselves to use picture-in-picture within iMovie for a research project. I had already mentioned this to my students, but hadn’t shown them how to use it, yet. I decided I would take my math assessment story and use it to show them how the teleprompter program worked. At 10:30AM I got the equipment ready, and projected my computer screen onto the wall so students could see exactly how it all works. I copied the text from the slideshow that I had typed it in and pasted it into the teleprompter program, all the while explaining what I was doing. Then I tried different speeds available for reading. I was learning how to use this software right in front of my entire class. (I also had a student videotaping this whole process. See video below: Warning, it’s a little shaky:)
Finally, I did record my reading of the first section of text, right in front of my class. We have an early lunch, 10:45AM, so we had to pause the project, so I could bring the class to the cafeteria. When I got back to my room, Ms. Bee’s student teacher was waiting for me. He said that he had a question about how to get a Word document into an email. I hadn’t freaked out, yet, but I was teetering on the verge. I smiled at him and told him that I would like to help, but “I have a test that I still have to make, and I am planning on administering it in 30 minutes… I would be happy to help you, but I can’t right now. I recommend using Google Docs and sharing a link with your professor. Good luck, and stop back later, okay?” He assured me that he had time, and we agreed to get together after school. Alright, it was go time!
Not only did I have to make my video so that kids could listen to it, but I still had to print out the papers that I wanted them to record their work on!!!
As I write this, I honestly don’t remember the exact order that I did things; It is all a blur in my memory. I’ll tell you the outcomes, though. I screen-casted the teleprompter scrolling through the script that I had already recorded myself reading. Then I prepared the teleprompter with the next section of text. I screen-casted that as it scrolled. I videotaped myself reading the text. I then airdropped the screencasts to my iPad. Using iMovie, I created a movie with the screencasts. I put the videos of myself reading out loud into the movie as a picture-in-picture. This way my students would see, but more importantly, hear the text being read to them. I thought about providing some voiceover of instructions on how to use the movie, but I didn’t have time. I just got the raw footage ready, edited it a tiny bit, making sure the PIP wasn’t covering any of, or very little fo the scrolling text, and double-checked that all of the volumes were appropriate (I even stuck background music in; Thank you Bensound.com. You are awesome.) Then I exported it.
While my iPad was uploading the video to Youtube, I got the story ready for printing. I was able to at least type my instructions into the top right hand corner of the first page of my story. My district has begun using ReadyMath this year. ReadyMath has a very specific way of having kids proceed through problems. I am supposed to be using this curriculum with fidelity, and I have been, for the most part. But, this story-quiz was all me. Here I had the opportunity to merge my assessment with the ReadyMath way of teaching.
Now, we back up even more. I had come up with an idea a couple of days earlier that I thought would help the class all get As. They would not take this quiz as though it were a standardized test, with desks spread out and stress prevailing. Rather, I would have them work the way they were used to:
And, now for the secret weapon: After solving the problem multiple ways, they would discuss what they had figured out with their turn and talk partners. In order for this to work, they must “Record their process”, so that they can more easily and accurately communicate their work their partners. (Of course, I wanted to see what they did, also, but I didn’t even have to say the most heard phrase in all of math, “Show your work.”)
Back to my lunch. I was sneaking bites of a tuna sandwich, while typing, formating (I needed students to have plenty of space next to the text to record their work.), and printing the papers. Before collecting the papers from the printer to bring to the photocopier, I (virtually;) grabbed the link of my movie from Youtube, threw (again, virtually;) it into Google Classroom as a “Question” and punched keys (literally at this point) to provide a minimal outline of expectations. I pushed this out to my math class. iPads were ding-ing acceptance of their new assignment as I rushed out the door to print the paper versions of the assessment.
With thirty copies of my story/quiz in hand, I met my students as they entered the building, from recess. After walking them up to the classroom, I sat them all down on the carpet. Before launching the assessment that I had just barely managed to pull together, I told the students a different story.
I wrote times on the board, as I explained all of the things that I had done that morning prior to arriving at school, starting at waking up at 4:55AM. Other than being inspired with this great idea of a math story/assessment, it was a pretty typical morning, so it was easy to rattle off all of the stuff and times. They were in awe of an adult life’s responsibilities. I ended with “What time did I get to school? –Go!” They rushed to their desks to get Math Spiral notebooks. No two students figured it out the same way. Most everyone got the same answer. After discussing it a little, I told them that this was the hors d’oeuvres for their assessment.
On the fly, I decided to separate the first page of the story from the other two and administer it independently. The papers hadn’t been stapled, so it was easy. Before handing it out, I displayed the page on the screen and went over the directions. They still didn’t know that they would be “discussing” their findings with their neighbors. I told them that when they read the text, they should highlight the important information. Then, as I read, we made high-pitched, inquisitive sounds of marvel at each mention of a time. This was hilarious and reinforced picking out the necessary numbers.
Finally, it was time to set them loose. I explained the video available in Google Classroom. A student asked, “Do we have to watch/listen to the video?” It hadn’t occurred to me that they might not want to.
“No, you definitely do NOT have to watch the video,” I answered. I knew that several would need it. But, it started to sink in that the video could very well be just a distraction for strong readers. As I handed papers to students, they went to their desks to begin figuring out whether or not the first-born child of the parent in the story might have made the mess.
All the papers being handed out, students either watching the video or reading intently, the classroom was as silent as the morning after an evening snowfall. I finished my tuna sandwich and took some pictures and video. I dragged teachers in from the hall to witness my class. I was so proud of how hard they were working and what I had put together for them.
This might be hard to believe, but when I was writing this story, I was adding the times of all of the different activities that each kid was using as an excuse up in my head. I didn’t even know if I had done the math accurately, or which kid was really responsible! I know this seems crazy, but it made it extra fun for all of us. I ended up having to figure it out with the students when they had questions, or told me they were done.
As it turned out, Angela, the oldest of the three kids and first to provide the parent with her excuses, had provided times adding right up to the minute that the parent came home. Only a handful of my students were not accurate in their calculations. I encouraged them to try solving the mystery through using a different mathematical strategy. Everyone recorded more than one way to solve Angela’s elapsed time. This brought us to the end of our math hour, and I collected everyone’s paper.
Overnight, I scanned everyone’s papers using the Notes App on my iPad. I was insecure about students changing their work when they discussed with partners. In this way, I would be able to see how well each student understood what he/she was doing. How well did they meet the standard?
At the very beginning of math the next day, the class revisited the premise of the assessment. “What are we trying to find out?”
“Who dun it?” –Who made the mess?
In order to solve this mystery we were calculating the times of the kids’ excuses to see which, if any, had any unaccounted for time that might mean they might have used this time to make a mess. With all of my students on board with the mission of our mystery, I handed back the paper they had worked on the day before. They were instructed to discuss with their partner what they had done. I was explicit in that they were not to erase anything. I told them that they could add to their notes if, in discussing with their partners, new ideas or information came to light. I told them I had scanned the papers, so they were not going to be tricking me at all if they decided to break the rules. I don’t think anyone did. The discussion was lively. Everyone was energetic about figuring out “Who dun it?”
I then handed out the second page of the story. This one had Angela’s brother, George providing excuses. This part of the story has a lot of dialogue between the kid and the parent. Students were again able to access the video to listen to the text being read aloud. Many did. They were told to highlight the important information: the times. After students had ample time to complete their calculations, providing more than one strategy for solving the elapsed time, I had them again discuss their work with their partners.
It was now time to work on the third and last page of the story. This was a kid with a slightly different name. Rowan was a relief. His times were just half hours. There were six of them, so students could try using multiplication or repeated addition or skip counting. The timeline method seemed to work best. Once they had finished this and discussed their work with partners, I explained that it was time to provide answers. Students were to use the work that they had diligently recorded on their papers to provide explanation for their choice of who they think made the mess. They were to revisit the Google classroom and type the name(s) of the culprit(s) (another vocabulary word stemming from the experience), along with why they think that these children might be guilty.
When finished typing, they were permitted to read each other’s answer and comment within the Google Classroom on each other’s answers. The room was pin-drop-quiet for fifteen minutes. You could smell the neurons firing.
They loved interacting with each other within Google Classroom.
And, now it is Sunday morning. I have a pile of papers and a Google Classroom full of answers. Did everyone get an A? Did every student display mastery? They were all present for the assessment. One student left her grandmother at the airport to not miss school!
The work looks very impressive, but I will have to comb through it all. I don’t think everyone got everything perfectly accurate. As far as the mystery being solved, the story ends with the parent saying that he/she trusts the kids’ stories and just wants some help cleaning up the mess. In the end, as long as everything is straightened up, it does not matter “Who dun it”.
I finally introduced iMovie to my students this past week. We’ve had our iPads since Christmas, but we’ve been busy. Last week my students read text and watched videos about St. Patrick’s Day from a Google slideshow (1). They took notes as they learned.
When they concluded the slideshow/I told them time was up (2), they began making their iMovies. Before opening the app, they acquired four images (3) to import into iMovie. After making the first image a title slide (4) with information about themselves and their project, the students produced voiceovers for each of the remaining three pictures. They recorded themselves reading their notes. To finish off the project, students added background music. “How would the students share these videos with me and each other?” I wondered. Without skipping a cognitive beat, I thought of importing them into Flipgrid. This worked without a hitch. I made a new topic in my classroom Flipgrid, and kids figured out how to import their movies. They loved being able to watch each other’s movies and comment on the pictures and information.
I wrote on the morning board “Import iMovie into Flipgrid” & provided the code for new grid.
1st Ss asked “how?”
I told her to figure it out.
Not only did they get their videos uploaded without a hitch, they figured out how to include their famously funny selfies. pic.twitter.com/DIICrpnQcF
Immediately following the St. Patrick’s Day project, I had my class begin a new iMovie. This one was going to be about how animals communicate. There is a “Photo Essay” in the STORYtown textbook that I frequent for lessons called “How Animals Talk”. The accompanying assessment for this text has a written response asking students to explain why it is important for animals to communicate. I thought it would be fun for my students to publish movies about this, rather than simply writing about it. Using pictures would reinforce the nature of the “Photo Essay” genre that STORYtown was presenting.
Building on the introduction to iMovie students just experienced, I added the element of picture in picture (PIP) to students’ production tool knowledge. This time students would have more images, and instead of using voiceover, they would videotape themselves reading a script. This video would be added to their movies as a frame on top of the slideshow of images. Additionally, students would use an iMovie built-in theme: I had them use the News theme because they were reporting on animals. Also, this theme has awesome text graphics! We used the News theme music, as well.
This time students would collect specific images. They had to find pictures that illustrated their animal communicating. There should be three or four per animal. And, students were to report on three or more animals in their movies. The notes about animals “talking” to each other should be written as a script. The script could be typed into an online teleprompter program (5) or app. This is neat because it makes the font big and easy to read, plus moves so kids can keep a reasonable pace.
After students acquire their images and record their videos, they are ready to make their movies. Just like last time, they import all of the pictures, first. They move the pics around, stretch them out, adjust the Ken Burns, if they like. Then students add the theme effects. Next, they insert the PIP. At this point students should include text on some of the images. I had my students provide sources for the information that they shared. They could tell the name of the animal, also. Kids will need to resize and position the PIP so that it doesn’t cover any of the image that is important, and so that it does not get covered by the text.
iMovie 3.o will involve showing students how to fine-tune volume, fading, and generally polishing their productions. I want them to understand the importance of quality before moving on to greater and greater quantity.
iMovie 4.o will teach detaching audio. This is neat, because watching someone talk for too long is boring. You can videotape yourself speaking, and break up the video by inserting pictures, all the while keeping the audio track playing in the background. (It is important to learn all about adjusting volume before this lesson, because when you detach audio iMovie automatically makes it louder.)
Obviously, this kind of project could be conducted on any topic. St. Patrick’s Day just happened to be the event that corresponded with me finally being ready to have my students use this tool. The main thing to consider is having the students only wrestle with one thing at a time. I recommend already having information compiled for them. Don’t have them research, conducting all kinds of steps before ever getting to making their iMovie. Then they won’t remember how to make one. My students had a one-stop shop of a trough of info about one topic within the Google slideshow.
I gave them plenty of time, but stopped everyone at the same time, regardless of finishing the slideshow. (Honestly, it had too much information in it, anyway.) This way I could help everyone with iMovie at the same time. They were all on the same page. They could go back to the slideshow to learn more when they finished their movie.
Here is where digital citizenry comes into play. Kids are already familiar with Google Images. Because we are going to be making movies using the pictures, and we plan to published them, images that are copyrighted are a no go. Kids can use “advanced search” in Google Images to find usable images,
“Slide”–I called the images in the iMovie app slides because my students are used to Google Slides, and the pics look like lined up slides. “You can stretch each slide so that it takes up more time in your movie, for a longer voiceover. You can rearrange, delete and add more slides. Also, you can add text to your slides.”
Just over a week ago I produced the coolest off-the-cuff formative assessment using Google Slides. Students accessed a slideshow that I threw together right before getting them from recess. There was a picture in it that I wanted them to use to identify arrays.
My 3rd graders have struggled with learning multiplication at the very beginning of the year, as I have struggled teaching it right out of the gate. See, my district just signed on to use iReady math, and everyone is experiencing some growing pains.
We have been looking at arrays, frontwards and backwards. I had brought some connecting blocks home to take pictures for a quiz I would administer, when an idea hit me. My daughter Scarlet was enjoying constructing shapes with the blocks, and she built a robot. Rather than making nice neat rectangles for my students, I’d have them find the arrays that lay hidden in this robot. I love combining life experiences and teaching moments, so I told my students about the robot’s inception and their assignment. They loved it and jumped right in.
I had taken a picture of the simple combination of blocks and uploaded it to a Google slideshow. Students were to find the slideshow (a copy per student) waiting for them in their Math Google Classroom. They were to identify different arrays by circling them. I also told them to label the arrays appropriately; Putting the number of rows first, and then the number of columns.
My classroom has a mishmash of different devices. I literally did not know how they were going to outline their arrays, but I did know that there was more than one way. The iPads are pretty easy. Kids can click on the assigned Google slideshow and immediately start drawing and writing all over the slides, without opening it in the Google Slides App. When students are done they can save/submit the work as a PDF.
On the Chromebooks and Macs, students could put shapes on top of the arrays, but then they would have to adjust the shape to be transparent. Students found a tool called “Scribble” under the “Line” icon within slides that worked the best. They could draw (using two hands) a rectangle around the arrays they found. Then they used the regular “Line” to connect the array to a “Text Box” that they typed the array inside. These lines were very thin and black, so students worked out a way to change the color and thicken up the lines. They also used this experience to find out how to change the font size, color, etc. of text. I witnessed my students teaching themselves the technology, problem-solving in many more ways than one, using creativity for practical reasons, and experiencing tremendous success, both practically and mathematically!
All in all, the lesson was a smashing success. I was very happy with how well my students did identifying the arrays. And I was incredibly impressed with the ingenuity they showed in figuring out the best ways to show their work, using the tools at their disposal.
Now, this is where the title of this blog comes into play. The aforementioned lesson took place on the Thursday before Columbus Day Weekend. On Monday (Columbus day) my school district had a professional development inservice. I attended an incredible session titled “iPads Untethered”, taught by East Penn Tech Instructional Assistant, Heather Moser. She started out the teacher learning time with an app called “Sketches”. Kids can use this app to easily draw all over images that are either shared with them or they generate from taking a picture. The sketches can be saved in organized folders, shared, or submitted. We then moved on to doodling all over images in Notes, another easy to use app that comes preinstalled on iPads. It was as though Heather knew about my lesson and was saying, “Gee, Captain, you could have simply used one of these.”
The catch is that both my students and myself grew threw our productive struggle. Problem-solving ways to show arrays within Google Slides helped us learn all kinds of things. Also, I liked my ability to link comments to student work when it came time for me to provide feedback and grades for this assessment on the fly. In the future, when my students have one iPad/kid I can use the awesome apps that Mrs. Moser showed teachers during professional development.
Those simple-to-use drawing tools would make it much easier and faster to perform an assessment like the one I had planned, but would this rob my students of the opportunity for productive struggle? As digital tools make life easier and easier, we teachers will have to be creative in finding ways to make tasks challenging.
It’s not just about giving kids access to computers and the Internet; Teachers must instruct kids how to use technology “innovatively.” It’s all about the SAMR model (Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition). Teachers should stop worrying about redefining technology, and let it redefine their teaching. Then substitution, augmentation, and modification will fall into place.
What has technology done for our teaching?
When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to run my own outdoor house painting business through a corporation called College Pro Painters. This company hired and trained college students to operate franchises — reproductions of the original business begun by a college student, Greig Clark, from Canada in 1971. The training did not spend any time teaching us managers how to paint. It concentrated on teaching us how to train our painters to produce high-quality work by requiring seemingly “barely achievable” expectations. We also learned how to hire our workers, estimate prices, budget supplies, and land jobs.
I had painted for one of the College Pro Painting franchise owners the summer before I was hired to run my own business. It had been a rewarding, successful, and lucrative summer job. Thus, I knew how to paint, and I could do it well.
There came a point in the summer that I was managing three different crews made up of between three and five painters, each, when I was frustrated by the rate of slow production and low quality work. I confessed to my district manager, my boss, that I wished I could just go out there and paint the darn houses, myself! He told me a story.
Before becoming the district manager of the entire North Eastern United States, he had been in the same shoes as me. He was estimating, budgeting, hiring, and training with barely time to sleep and eat. Then his dad got ill. His mom had died when he was young. He had no siblings. It was up to him to help his father.
Maybe you think his business suffered. It didn’t. This incredible businessman began running his business from home. He started having his foremen stop by his house in the mornings. They would pick up orders and estimates. Then they would get supplies from the paint store that the manager had called in. The foremen would talk to the homeowners, walking them around at the end of each day, discussing the progress of the project, and even finalize the job, collecting the final check.
The ground-breaking technology that made all of this happen back in 1990 was the… ready for this? Telephone. Homeowners called an 800 number to ask for estimates for painting. Because the manager was stuck at home, he was able to check his leads several times a day, calling homeowners back nearly immediately. He scheduled all of his estimates on the same day and back to back, rather than spreading them out. By the end of the summer, the manager who seemed the most limited was able to produce far more painting work than any other manager in his district.
This tale resonated with me. Rather than taking over the work that my painters were producing “under par” and slowly, I gave my employees more responsibilities. I stopped running around town like a manager with his head cut off. No longer did I talk to each painter. I only spoke with the foremen. They became the ones who communicated with the homeowners. They were the ones responsible for the job, anyway! The quality of work slowly rose as foremen realized they wouldn’t be able to collect the final payment until the homeowner was happy. It became the leaders of the crews who put pressure on their painters, instead of me micromanaging everyone. Needless to say, I won the Rookie of the Year Award at the end of my first summer running my own business (1994). And, it was thanks to the encouragement of my district manager, who empowered me with vision and leadership.
What does this have to do with teaching?
How often do teachers take over the learning for their students? How can technology revolutionize the reach of student-ownership? The technology that was cutting edge in 1994 was the beeper. I got pages when leads called for an estimate. I would pull my painting van over at one of the dozen pay phones I frequented and call the 800 number to collect my lead info. Then I would call the future customer, right away. Nowadays we get instant notifications when a social media message or comment comes in. We must teach the next generation how to manage this barrage of technology. Don’t let it innovate you. Be the innovator.
We have all heard the derisive term used in competition when a competitor conquers his opponent so thoroughly that he is said to have “owned” him. It was made popular during the inception of the Internet by hackers (Savagegump, 2005) gaining complete control over a program. Teachers should stop trying to “own” their teaching. Let students control their own learning. Let technology redefine your teaching, and LET GO.
This blog is a byproduct of two experiences: Participation in the “live chat” #MasteryChat on September 27, 2018, hosted by @chadostrowski CEO of @teachbetterteam that centered on “Student-Ownership”… And, reading Deubel’s (2018) “Technology Integration: Essential Questions” for a class from Kutztown University.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016, January). National education technology plan 2016: Future ready learning: Reimagining the role of technology in education. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/netp/
I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to tackling “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go
Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sackstein (2015). From what I have seen from tweets, this text lines up perfectly with my transforming attitude about tests and assessment. I have been leaning away from right/wrong assessments the past few years. Google Forms have helped me all but completely stray from formal testing into the land of forging understanding through creative assessments.
I teach third grade, so the following examples may have too much text for your students, or be too simple for your grade level. Obviously, you are going to make your own quizzes to fit the needs of your classroom. I present concepts, here to help you make your quizzes a little more classy. Here’s five ideas.
First of all, I use the potential answers to continue teaching the concepts. Does this point kids in the direction of the answer, making it obvious which one is correct? You bet. Not only
that, but you should hear me read the questions and add anecdotes to the answers! The only kids who should be getting these questions wrong are the ones not paying attention, and, so, that is being assessed as well.
Second, only assess what you are teaching. Because I was not teaching reading comprehension, I am not going to expect my class to be able to read and understand these questions. I had that in mind when I designed and typed the quiz. I plan to read this entire quiz to my class. I might administer it in small groups, because I do not have enough digital devices at this time for every kid to have one. That works, too. If I were assessing reading, I would have the kids take the quiz independently, and I would have made it on their reading levelS–That is right!! Tailoring the quizzes to meet each kiddo’s needs is great with Google Forms. You can copy and paste things. You can make a copy of the entire quiz and only change things as you need to, also.
Third, use the feedback to provide students with not only why answers are correct and
incorrect, but as a teaching space. I often instruct students within the feedback areas on how to evaluate answers. I show them what I was doing when I typed the quiz. In the same way learning how to write from an actual published author will enhance a budding writer, I hope to help my students become better test-takers. That’s right! I said “test-takers”. Guess what; No matter how much you hate it, life is full of taking tests. I want my students to be great at it.
Fourth, let go of grades. This is where I think my methods lineup with Sackstein’s “Hacking Assessment” (2015) book thesis. When creating my quizzes in Google Forms, I allow my students to “Edit after submit” and “See summary charts and text responses”. I do this so that students can assess themselves. They can revisit the quiz with their peers, seeing what other people chose as answers. (https://youtu.be/ZZ65RwKOsPA) You have to instruct your students in how to analyze these pie charts. They are pretty easy to figure out, but it is important to recognize that just because more people chose the second option as an answer, does not guarantee its correctness. If everyone else chose an option that you didn’t, however, may lead you to reevaluate your choice. I love having my students read each other’s written responses, too. Kids go back and dress up their own answers with better information. Teachers, you have to be willing to allow students to correct themselves. So what if they get a better grade than the one that they initially “earned”. In every other area of life kids are allowed to improve what they do without getting penalized. Why are our tests a once and done, black and white, the moment you click “submit”, your assessment is up experience?
Fifth… This is going to seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but I actually like grades. They are measures. Parents want to see how their children “measure up”. Grades are goals. Without some sort of measurement, it feels like we didn’t get anywhere. It is important to understand that the grades are artificial; they are made up; they are relative… but they do exist. Also, kids like getting good grades. The way I see it, my job is to help each kid get the best grade possible. I provide opportunities for bonus points. I let students retake quizzes. I allow students to see what everyone else did. They can all but copy and paste answers. One key idea is that, even with all of this help, it is important for students to feel as though they earned their grades.
And, now I am going to end this blog by doing what I all but scream at my students for doing: I hope that you found some of this useful. Thanks for reading! Ugh, I hate it when they do that;)
Sackstein, S. (2015). Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School. Cleveland: Times 10 Publications.