Building Bridges–Classy Connections

Earlier this year a student from my room hurt the feelings of a peer by pointing out a physical characteristic that contrasted the child’s appearance with the other kids in the classroom. The rudeness was unintentional (Whitman, n.d.), but painful nonetheless. 

firstThe only reason that I knew about this interaction was the hurt child came over and told me about it. It almost seemed like she wasn’t sure if she should be upset or not. As she told me her story, others, overhearing the tale, chimed in with their two-cents. This additional commentary seemed to spin the story into a negative frenzy, so that I put an end to the retelling in order to address the class.

I talked to my third grade students about the effect that pointing out differences among people can have. I explained that while the observant student may not have done anything overtly wrong, it wasn’t polite to focus on what makes someone different from you. It is great to be proud of what separates you from others; These characteristics make us unique and special, but don’t draw attention to how other people are different from you. Rather, we should celebrate our similarities.

secondWhat the boy did when he pointed out the way a little girl looked different from himself was a natural thing to do. We humans can’t help but categorize things (Vanderbilt, 2016). We have genres for music, books, movies, art, dance; You name it! It’s much easier to find things when they are labeled. When I’m in the mood to read a mystery, it’s much faster and easier to go to that section of the bookstore, rather than sift through every single shelf. But, what about those books that are very funny true stories about a person’s life that happen to also be highly mysterious? Now what? Often times, we simply create a new category.

silly facesTom Vanderbilt (2016) goes a step further, suggesting that the more we like something, the more we want to categorize. A person who enjoys candy will separate a bag of treats into several groups of like sweets. How many times has the book-lover rearranged his or her library, recategorizing titles? I have grouped books that I read close in chronology, only to separate them after reading new texts.  

The problem with doing this to people is that genre-making exaggerates differences (Kaufman, 2012). When we categorize things, we look for what makes them unique. When it comes to relationships, it is wise to seek similarities over identifying differences. Contrasting characteristics can create wedges and rifts between people. Locating, examining, celebrating, and strengthening the things we have in common will pull people closer together. This will build relationships that will be useful, helpful, comfortable, and enduring.

IMG_0463I came up with an activity to help reinforce this concept in my classroom. I call it “Building Bridges”. We have a snack/play time in the afternoons, when we give ourselves a brain break. I instituted a “constructive” play rule, where kids use items that can be connected or built upon in order to make things, rather than just mess around. We have Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, 30+ year-old Robotix toys from my childhood, and we also use the colorful interlocking blocks that came with our math curriculum. Because we have the most of this last medium, I chose to have the whole class use the colorful blocks in a contest. (The competition makes it more exciting.) Groups of kids–I not only let the kids pick their own groups, I didn’t limit the size of groups–arranged and connected blocks to form bridges that spanned distances between desks. I told them that the bridge had to be able to hold and transport a Thymio robot–This is a little robot that students can program to drive. The robot was the trick. Students worked to make their bridges wide enough, thick enough, and strong enough for the robot to use. Rather than drop robots on the floor during trial runs, we measured the weight with a simple scale. The robot was equal in weight to a half-full pencil box.

We discussed the concept of working together right after having experienced it first-hand. The kids loved constructing the creations.

The thing is, the blocks in our bridges were all different colors. Not only that, but they stuck together in varying strengths. Some had tight connections. Some were very loose. But every block had way more in common with the others than it did with the desk it rested on!

In the same way, humans are all different; We look, think, behave, talk, dress, and smell different. But, we have way more in common with each other than our differences would let on. Lets focus on our connectivity, building bridges, rather than tearing each other down.    

last
Celebrating similarities is classy.

Sources:

Kaufman, S. (2012, October 13). The Pesky Persistence of Labels. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/201210/the-pesky-persistence-labels

Vanderbilt, T. (2016, May 28). The Psychology of Genre: Why we don’t like what we struggle to categorize. The New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/the-psychology-of-genre.html

Whitson, S. (n.d.). Is it Rude, Is it Mean or Is it Bullying? Retrieved November 6, 2018, from http://signewhitson.com/is-it-rude-is-it-mean-or-is-it-bullying/

Classy Conflict Management With Cause & Effect Lesson

bass
Sonia Weimann

The idea for this project surfaced this past summer. My wife Sonia plays keyboard and electric bass in a band that hosts an open mic in Allentown, PA. Sonia also sings.

An open mic is a different venue from a concert. It is more like a jam-style atmosphere. This is an opportunity for musicians to try new things and literally play, rather than perform. You can collaborate on projects, join other bands for a song or two without committing to membership, and meet new people.

more singing
Sonia began to feel bullied by other musicians. (not these;)

Sonia had been going to and playing at this open mic for nearly a year. On a pretty regular basis, people thought that they should go up to Sonia and tell her what she could improve. It didn’t seem like these people were doing this to anyone else, and the pep talks, or whatever you want to call them, were unsolicited. It felt like Sonia was being bullied. She was new to the scene, and had quickly moved to center stage. Perhaps the bullies were jealous.

Whenever Sonia would tell me one of these stories, I tried to only listen, but I inevitably thought about what a classy response might be. It varied on the situation, but my favorite boiled down to asking the purveyor of symphonic wisdom, “What are you doing?” I thought up the idea of interrupting the (let’s presume) ignorant bully, and simply inquiring, “Why do you feel the need to push this lecture on to me?” It isn’t like Sonia had asked to be critiqued, so what was happening here?

singing
What do you do when someone shares criticism of you with you that makes you feel badly?

Sonia is far from insecure, and she is very classy, so she nearly always let the ignoramus spout his advice. She, probably, rightly so, figured he wanted to feel important or knowledgeable. It’s not impossible the guy just wanted something to talk to my beautiful wife about. Wrong move. It was not providing Sonia with positive feelings. 

I transferred all of this to a situation that I could imagine happening in a school setting. If an elementary student was being bullied, what would be the best response? Also, how could I communicate to 3rd graders appropriate ways to deal with verbal bullies? I came up with a lesson involving Cause and Effect that used Google Slides. I began by making a flowchart.

From each action (or inaction) a couple of different things might happen. From your next decision, new angles or issues would appear. What would be the best direction to take?

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If an elementary student was being bullied, what would be the best response?

I made a Google Slideshow that has a simple, generic storyline for students to interact with. As they read each slide, they click on the box that they think will be best for dealing with the given situation. The boxes are all linked to slides within the slideshow, so depending on what is clicked, students will create their own narrative; like a “Choose Your Own Adventure”. There is a box on every slide that allows students to go all the way “Back to the Beginning” of the narrative to start over. There is also one that allows students to return to the “Previous Slide”.

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Bullying is not a 1X occurrence. 

Before using the slideshow, I recommend using yarn to form a story web. Index cards with elements of a story can be attached to a wall, placed on the floor, or read from desks. Yarn can begin at the start of the story and travel back and forth from causes to effects. The yarn is a timeline. This shows students that conflict is not linear. By definition, we do not deal with a bully once and done. Each variation in how we deal with the conflict is a science experiment. You think to yourself, “This time I will ignore the bully and see what happens.” You witness the outcome, analyzing how it worked out for you. Then next time, you tryout yelling, “Stop bullying me!!” Or, perhaps you give telling an adult a try. Never seeing the bully again or successfully dealing with the situation so that there is no more bullying could be represented by cutting the line of yarn. What would simply running out of yarn symbolize?

After the yarn conflict web group exercise, students can independently or with partners participate in clicking through and reading the interactive Classy Conflict Management slideshow. This allows them to take control and explore the concept of cause and effect on their own.

Classy Conflict Management Interactive Google Slideshow

An important thing to keep in mind is that there isn’t one way that works for every single situation. It is different all of the time.

“Sympathy for Creativity” A GarageBand Project

Creativity is one of those things that everyone understands, but has a hard time defining. I think art, and especially music emulates the essence of creativity the best. Musical artists seem to tap heaven when coming up with completely new melodies.


Henriksen, Mishra, & Fisser (2016) use three concepts to build a definition of creativity: novelty, effectiveness, and appropriateness. This is perfectly fine, if we are using creativity solely to solve specific problems within the context of an educational environment. In my opinion, the last two concepts flatten creativity into a two-dimensional word that can be explained away in a paper.

I think that you can stop after “novel”. The authors of “Infusing Creativity and Technology in 21st Century Education: A Systemic View for Change” (2016) take the magic of Willy Wonka and stick it into Henry Ford’s assembly line when they push productivity onto creative people. They, like many, seem to be looking for ways to harness creativity in order to power old machinery. Sticking art in the regular-ed classroom won’t transform it. We need to break down the walls!Animated GIF-source

Applying the limiting definition of Henriksen, Mishra, & Fisser (2016) to a problem like making Internet connections faster would make wires carry more and more information, faster and faster. Perhaps there brand of creativity could even think up Wifi. The most creative person might harness the Earth’s Mantle to transport information from one side to the other instantaneously without using energy. This is all super helpful, would benefit society, make money for companies, save money for others, create jobs, foster new research, etc. But, what about the kid who thinks about changing the information from the Internet in general. We praise the kid who builds the most amazing structure with Legos and punish the one who uses the Legos to form a picture. That is not how Legos work. You did not build anything. Another kid makes the Legos dance and sing. They put on a play. Still another builds with the Lego people a structure that the blocks live in. Whoa, that kid is reeeeeaaaally wrong!

Play for play sake. Be creative just to be creative. Come up with new ideas, just cuz.


This past summer I decided this would be the year that I explore a program that has evaded me for a while now: GarageBand. I watched a tutorial video that lit a fire in me to make my own music for the videos that I create. (I produce a lot of movies that I post on Youtube.)

The Rolling Stones
The Stones 1968, the year “Sympathy for the Devil” was recorded

I had a cool idea for how to use GarageBand: My class will take a song and change the lyrics, making a classroom song. I chose “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones. I’m sure that you think this is a crazy choice for a 3rd grade classroom. It is, but let me explain with some A, B, Cs… and a D;)

A

A is for A+. I love the song. The music is catchy, singable, memorable, rhythmic, and fun. Also, it uses tons of different instruments. This would be great for my class, because everyone could have a “part” in its construction. If we were to perform the music live, literally every single kid could be playing a totally different instrument!

IMG_0653
Mr. Peters shows Ss some different instruments available.

B

B is for Beginning. The song is sort of a riddle, asking listeners to “Guess my name”. At the beginning of the year (when I had thought about working on this) we are all getting to know one another. I had my students make “Who Am I Riddle Poems” to share things about themselves that are unique from others. We would take this concept and use it “whole group” to distinguish our class from other classes.

C

IMG_0650C is for simple, yet complex. The song is made up of 4 verses with a repeating chorus. The chord progression is E, D, A, E, with the change on the first beat of each of four measures. Dylan Peters (@DylanPetersedu), the brand new Technology Innovator Specialist hired to East Penn School District this past summer (2018) worked with me from the get go to teach my students (and me) how to use GarageBand. We used the “Autoplay” feature to have the instruments play simple rhythms. After guiding groups through creating the same set of four instruments playing the same four measures of music, we showed them how they could change the instruments, altering percussion styles, and fooling with some really funky disc jockey features.

IMG_0651
Thank you, Mr. Peters for all of your help with this project!

D

And, D. is for “dynamic”. [Dynamic was the theme of a recent #livechat I participated in from #masterychat, @teachbetterteam. I looked up the word, and found that it means “change”.] The original song by The Rolling Stones changes throughout, progressively increasing the tempo, number of sounds, and musical involvement. This is not only fun, but would allow for my entire class to be hooting and howling by the end! (Give the song a listen, and you’ll see.)

So far, the groups have been working on changing the instruments within GarageBand to customize their four measures before we piece them all together. The aim is for four totally different styles of the same music to be joined just like the students of my third grade class came from different 2nd grade teachers, possessing very different styles of teaching, personalities, and methods.

This past week I began teaching poetry, in preparation for the class to write the lyrics that will accompany our music. Dylan Peters plans to bring in a professional-style microphone to record the class’s singing once our composition is complete. Check back with me to see and hear the final product.

I mention this GarageBand project not just to share a pretty creative idea, but because of a question my wife posed: What are the learning outcomes for this? At first, I thought about justifying the time, energy, thought, and work by suggesting ELA, Art, or Math standards. Then I thought about explaining to her the camaraderie-constructing merit of the project. I settled on “We are just doing it for fun.” Why does this seem so wrong in today’s educational climate?   

Sources:

Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., & Fisser, P. (2016). Infusing Creativity and Technology in 21st Century Education: A Systemic View for Change. Educational Technology & Society, 19 (3), 27–37.

[Sanjay C]. (2018, January 20). GarageBand on your iPad Quick -START TO FINISH! . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ykGRexBtcXQ

Weimann, M. (2018, September 23). Critical Thinking is Classy. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from https://thecaptainofclass.com/2018/09/23/critical-thinking-is-classy/ [This is the first time that I have ever cited my own work.]

[zwwlg]. (2016, March 12). Ken Robinson – Do schools kill creativity/TED Talks. . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/tQzC7ubJriE

Can Tech Tools Stifle Creativity?

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.

Scarlet
Scarlet plays with some blocks I brought home.

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.

sloppy iPadMy 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.

animated
Heather Moser Empowers EPSD Teachers w/ Terrific Tech Tools

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. Robot

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. 

Student-Owned Education is Classy

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?

van
This pic shows my trusty van, the 1st vehicle I ever owned, in front of a flower shop that one of my crews painted during the summer of 1994. (Collegeville, PA.)

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.

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.23.22 AM
Here I am getting a crew ready to spray the outside of a house (1995).

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.

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One of my crews painting a twin in Pottstown, PA (1994).

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.

phone-2476595_960_720The 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?

Phone_booth_Anchorage_2006
Don’t fall into the trap of letting technology innovate you. You be the innovator.

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.

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My most successful crew was rewarded the best jobs. Here, they are painting the largest project of the summer, 1994… $8,500.

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.

masterychat
The #masterychat was an awesome experience. Can’t wait for the next one!

Sources:

Deubel, P. (2018). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site: http://www.ct4me.net/technology_integr.htm

Savagegump. (2005, February 11). Owned. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Owned [More than just a definition, this is an etymology of the term.]

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/

Critical Thinking is Classy

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 9.26.39 PMTo be able to critique something, one must have background knowledge. Unfortunately, some teachers focus solely on pouring information into their pupils (Watanabe-Crockett, 2015).

What Does Critical Thinking Look Like?

I tried something new this year to get kids to introduce themselves to each other. The class visited the art room outside of their typical art time. Kids were told that they were going to make a self portrait. The catch was that they could only use scrap paper and glue; no drawing utensils, no scissors, only their hands and glue. They had a blast tearing the paper and sticking it together. Making shapes round was tricky. Some students made their art three-dimensional. Some used nonconventional colors.

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Polite Pirates of Room 207 Make Self Portraits

After making the self portraits, students composed “Who Am I” riddle poems. They had to write down a list of sentences telling information about themselves that makes them unique from others in the class. They wrote their names on the back of the papers. I attached them to the self portraits. The kids got to read each other’s poems, guessing who fit the characteristics listed. The portraits were little more than clues, since they were not very realistic.

The project was not only presented several facets of critical thinking, but it also dressed up my room for Meet The Teacher Night! Parents loved trying to figure out which portrait/poem combination was their offspring:)

How to Foster Critical Thinking: Don’t Settle

When I have students figure out a math problem, I tell them to solve it multiple ways. This forces them to rethink the math. They are required to analyze the problem. My students are asked to not only “show their work”, but also explain how they arrived at their answers. When they share the process with a partner the two of them evaluate each other’s work. Having to find other ways to solve a math problem causes students to be creative, looking for novel ways to think about the numbers.

A way to inspire critical thinking during a writing assignment is through allowing students to view their peers’ written responses within Google Forms. When I administer an assessment through giving a quiz from Google classroom, I instruct my students to click on “See Previous Responses” upon submitting their quizzes. They are to read their classmates’ writing, evaluating the responses and comparing them with what they wrote. They may go back and add information to their own writing, then, adapting new ideas to the answer.

One More Thing: Call it what it is.

Watanabe-Crockett (2016) suggests actually using the term critical thinking. “How to Develop A Critical Thinking Mindset in Elementary Students” supplies a graphic aid from Andrew Churches that shows Bloom’s Taxonomy applied to technology. It has long lists of verbs under each thinking skill. It isn’t a bad idea to make a poster of this and put it on the wall.me

In order to critique something, one must create an opinion. With this end in mind, educators can work to teach students how to think critically in order to complete the task.

Sources:

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2015, July 24). The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/the-importance-of-teaching-critical-thinking

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2016, May 28). How to Develop A Critical Thinking Mindset in Elementary Students. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/critical-thinking-mindset-elementary-students

 

Five Ways to Classy-ify Assessments with Google Forms

I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to tackling “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go

pile of books
My pile of reading is bottomless!

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.

Provide clear instr for taking the quiz
Provide clear instructions for beginning quizzes.

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

Answer 3 negates the second
The feedback points out what I do in the quiz; pointing to how the answers are structured to “give away” the correct responses.

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

With google forms be sure to copy and paste answer feedback into correct ans feedback
For this particular quiz I want even students who got the answer correct to see my feedback, so I had to copy and paste the response into the “Correct Answers” window, also.

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 Let students view each other's responses and answerssubmit” 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. Assessments can be teaching tools

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.