Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Rube-Goldberg Machine - A Design Project with a Digital User Guide

Every year, we have had our grade 8 students build Rube-Goldberg machines. This is always a fun activity for them. They pick a simple task for the machine to perform and then plot out all the steps that will happen in between their first step and that final output. The project allows for so many areas to be evaluated: teamwork, science concepts from our unit, communication (both verbal and written). The students are usually all in on the design, build and test aspects but they have had difficulty recording the process by hand.

Last year, working with my student teacher, we decided to have the boys document the process digitally. Overall, this digital recording and data could be used to create a User Guide for their machine. Each of the groups was to produce one that met specific criteria. While we still required the students to submit a diagram of their machine, we gave the option of the diagram being either hand-drawn or digital (most took pictures of hand-drawn diagrams).

In the end, the students were much more keen to produce the User Guides. Overall, it was a better documented project.

This year we incorporated two parts:

1. Daily logs: The students were required to post a daily reflection on their Google Site. They pasted this post into a Google Form so that I could follow all of their work easily and make sure it was being submitted regularly & on-time. They were given guidelines to help write their daily log.

2. Google Site: First, this was incorporated with the daily log. Second, they were required to post their final user guide on their site.

The documents that the students were given for this project were:
Daily Log Guidelines

I will be posting a video that further explains this project on my YouTube channel. In the video, I will be showing an example of a User Guide produced by a group.

Have you done a project where your students have produced a User Guide? What were some of the challenges you faced? Feel free to post below!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Create An Insect Project - How we use iPads in the class!

I posted earlier this year about how we used iPads and the apps Animation Desk & Explain Everything to complete a project called "Create an Insect" in Grade 8 Science.

I have created a video that further explains this project and provides an example of a student's work.

You can check out the video on my Youtube channel.

In this Google doc, you will find all of the information about the project, including a link to a template given to the students.

This was our first experience using an animation app and I liked Animation Desk. It was relatively easy to use but since it was our first time using it, there was a bit of a learning curve and the animations were pretty simplistic. The students seemed to enjoy this product over the traditional poster.

For next year, we are considering having the students make a model of their insect. We have not had the opportunity to use the 3D printer much and we are looking into having the students make a digital sketch and then print a model of their insect.

Do you do a similar project at your school? Do you use an animation app you would recommend? I would love to hear about what you do - please comment below!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Feedback & Ways to Improve

My classes have been working with technology now for a little more than 2 and half months. We have been using Google Sites in grade 8 to display all of their work, from projects to daily activities. In addition, I have been using Socrative as a feedback tool to see how they understand content. I have been using this same tool with my grade 7 classes. We are a Google school and have just implemented a new learning management system called onCampus.

As my semester at McGill is coming to an end, I have decided to survey my students to see how they use technology (in my class and outside) and what they think of the technology we are using. I am also very curious about how they feel the technology has helped to keep them organized. This is specific to my grade 8 students who have been compiling an online binder. In general, I find that boys really struggle with organization. I have tried to help them organize a regular binder, I number the work that they do, I add headers with unit names and I help them label their tabs to help separate their work. It is still a challenge for many of them and at the end of the year, many are searching for lost papers. By posting their work on a site, I don't have to chase them for it and I can provide them feedback from anywhere (I don't have to carry that pile of papers around either!).

As a teacher, it is not always easy to keep up with marking. I find that staying on top of their sites can be challenging. In general, we know as teachers which boys stay on top of their work. I have a Google Sheet that I keep where I record any issues and feedback I have given students directly during class. This allows me to keep a record of whose site I have seen & when plus if it is up-to-date.

I am hoping the quiz the boys are completing this week will provide me with some feedback about how they are enjoying the new systems we have put into place. I am also hoping it provides me with some insight into grade 7 and their interest or use of technology.

You can check out the survey questions at this link:

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Create-An-Insect Project - An experience with animation!

This year, I am working with a new teacher in my department. Her name is Meghan. She is young, keen and open to trying anything. She is also incredibly collaborative and brings a lot of great ideas to our partnership. I feel like I have already grown so much by working with her.

We decided that we were going to revise a project that we have been doing for years with our grade 8s. It was actually a project taken directly for our textbook, something I relied heavily on when I returned to work from maternity leave and didn't have as engaged of a teaching partner. The project involved the students researching an insect and then creating a poster in the shape of the insect to present the information. While the posters we received from the boys were usually gorgeous (we would always get compliments when they were hanging in the hallway), we decided that we need to make a change.

And so we decided that we should do a project that utilizes some sort of technology. First we thought about them doing similar research but posting their findings on their site. Then this evolved into more. I proposed that the students actually "create" an insect. They would research a currently existing insect and modify it in some way (as long as it was still an insect). Then, after a few night classes involving a multitude of apps, I proposed that our students use the iPad to create an animation of their new insect.

We drafted an outline of the project and sent it to our students. You can view it on this Google Doc:

We read through the outline together and then the boys got to work. This ties into my last blog about posting of the names to a shared sheet and the disaster that ensued! Regardless of that issue, the project progressed and some of the boys produced incredible animations!

Here are a couple of examples of the students' projects:

After reviewing a lot of their work, I realized a couple of things.

1) You need to be organized, especially when there is limited resources.

First, we only had 10 iPads available at any given time. We used the app Animation Desk. Luckily this allowed us to save their projects under their name so they could work on their animation over a couple of classes. Our class periods range from 60 min - 75 min depending on the day. Most boys needed two periods to complete their animation.

2) It is very hard to monitor their progress.

I think next year I will make a list of 5-7 boys each class that I will check in on while we work on this project. Many of the boys did not meet the deadline and needed extra time. A couple became very distracted during the research time and seemed to waste a great deal of time just surfing the net. In the future,  I may break the project down a bit and have them submit something each day. This may pressure them more to use their work time more productively.

3) Even when we give them a checklist, they don't all follow it.

I am not sure how to make the criteria for the project any more obvious. I will be writing a second blog about how I used the criteria to evaluate via a Google Form. However, even though I went through the criteria and reminded them to use it as a checklist while completing their project, many of them still did not follow the criteria. In addition, we also provided them with a template to follow: https://sites.google.com/a/selwyn.ca/terrarium/create-an-insect-project

This is not a technology issue though - we still see the same thing when boys are given the outline on paper.

Overall I am happy with how the project turned out. We are hoping to use Aurasma to create auras with screen shots of the boys' videos. These screenshots could be put up in the hallway (where the boys' posters would normally be). Then anyone with the app could view the boys' video.

I found Animation Desk to be a really good app to use. It was a bit buggy for some of the boys and we sort of learned as we went with it. Do you know of a good animation software that you have used? I am definitely open to suggestions!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Shared files & the novelty of technology!

This past week I decided to try something that I didn't think would cause such a fuss. We were beginning a new project and I created a shared sheet on Google Drive. My grade 8 students were assigned a project in which they have to create an insect by basing it on a current one and adding some sort of cool feature (such as colour changes, defense mechanisms, etc.). I asked the students to enter the information for their project into the shared sheet. In this case, they were required to type in their name, the scientific name they had created for it and the common name. I had already entered an example in the first row and froze the row so it would be viewable to them, no matter how many were entered below it.

Within 5 minutes, chaos broke it!

"Miss, someone deleted my names!"

"Miss, someone changed my names!"

"Miss, someone wrote something next to my name!"

I remembered that my school's Director of Technology had just informed me that a "revision history" option was now available and I opened it to see if I could find out who had deleted / change / wrote inappropriate things. Unfortunately, with 20 students posting items at the same time, it was going to take me hours to go back and try to track the students who had made the revisions. At this point I was beyond frustrated and even after informing the students that I could track their revisions (afterthought: maybe I should have done this first?), the deleting / changing / inappropriate writing continued. I decided it was to switch the sheet to "view only". Then I went about editing the students content as needed. Each student sent me their information by email and I entered it. I asked them to view it to confirm that it was correct.

I spent a lot of time the rest of the day thinking about what had happened. I realized that every new thing we bring to class has some sort of novelty to it. When we had down our iPad training, Greg, the workshop facilitator, said that for awhile the students may be hard to get to focus on using the app they should be rather than playing with other things on the iPad. The novelty will wear off and they will hopefully become more focused on their use of the technology.

The next day I spoke to the class about my disappointment and how I felt they were mature enough to work in a shared space and respect each other's work. I told them I wanted to give them a second chance. I had created an iPad sign-up shared doc and they needed to enter their name on the day that they wanted to use the iPad for their project. Again, I reminded them that I could track their revisions and that they must not delete a peers' name. I had created a table with the number of slots for each day so it was much clearer for them and more limited as to wear they could write.

Fortunately, this experience was so much better! The students went in an signed up as necessary. I was so happy with them and feel that this made them a bit more accountable for booking / scheduling their own time in class, taught them that they do have second chances and gave them the opportunity to show how they can respectfully work in a shared space.

Have you tried to implement a form of technology in your class and had it go haywire? What happened and how did you resolve the situation? I would love to hear about it! Please feel free to share your experience in comments.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Socrative Part 2

Today I gave another set of "Review Questions" to my grade 7 students. Ten questions on Socrative about the content we have covered so far. I used the word review questions because whenever we say quiz, it seems to make students fly into a panic. When I say review questions, they ask, does this count? My response: Of course, everything counts!

I broke the 10 questions up into the two themes we have looked at: Skills (identifying variables) and Theory (Water - Phase Changes & Density). Even after 8 years into teaching, I am still realizing that the wording of a question can be entirely misinterpreted. The majority of the students got one question wrong because of the wording (many of them came to see me after, feeling confused about why it was wrong). As a result, I decided to give them all a mark for this question.

Since I broke up the questions into the two parts, it made it easier to see if the student was struggling more with the skills or the theory (or in some cases, both). This has allowed me to make recommendations for each student to develop their area of weakness. As I had the live results on, I was able to circulate after as the students worked on a different assignment, and review with some of them specific points they had gotten wrong.

Our test is in two weeks and I plan to do a third set of review questions with the boys next week. I have seen some progress in a few of their results so I am pretty optimistic about their performance on our unit test.

If you are interested in the review questions, here is the Socrative info: SOC-18407209

Monday, 19 October 2015

Socrative & Formative Assessment

Over the past week, I decided to try using Socrative with my grade 7 students. I wanted to gauge their understanding of the content we had been working on recently and leading up to their unit test in two weeks. As far as technology use in class with my grade 7s, they have really only used the email system and Microsoft Excel to create graphs. I had them use their school issued laptop (we have a one-to-one laptop program) to connect to the Socrative website. Then they could use their touch screens to select answers.

I created a 10 question quiz, mostly true/false and multiple choice questions. I decided it was best for this quiz to have it student-paced, meaning that they can submit their answer and go to the next question when necessary. I also had it provide them feedback on whether their answer was correct or not. This let them know right away whether they were right or wrong.

For myself as a teacher, I clicked on Live Results, which highlights in red or green each answer (red for wrong and green for right). This gave me a sense of the questions that were challenging the class as a whole and highlighted for me what I need to review further. There were two questions that really confused most of the boys. I know that this is something I will have to review. Since our test is in two weeks, I may give the same "quiz" again to see if they improved on those questions.

One student approached me about having difficulty with multiple choice questions. He attended tutorial after scoring only 3/10 on the quiz and we practice some variable identification (mostly what he had gotten wrong). He seemed to have an understanding when the answer wasn't right in front of him in a multiple choice format, surrounded by incorrect answers that confused him. I told him that I would consider for our test having some questions as multiple choice and some not. I would allow the student to decide which ones they wanted to answer, but give them a minimum number that they had to complete.

I really liked this type of formative assessment. It was quick & efficient from my perspective. It let the students know right away when they were right or wrong. In addition, Socrative gives each quiz an identification number, so I was able to easily share it with my teaching partner so that she could use it with her class.

If you teach science and want to check out the quiz, here is the code: SOC-18080612.