Category Archives: Activities

Tool Review: Blendspace by TES Teach

One of the challenges of teaching science to sixth graders is that many of the most common lab procedures and processes are new to them.  Everything from identifying constants and variables to using lab equipment properly can lead to a slew of questions and slow groups to a steady crawl.

That’s why I started tinkering with Blendspace — a digital tool that makes it possible for users to create a landing page filled with content that users can consume.  I figured that if I could point students to one site that could answer all of their questions, lab time would be more manageable for me and more productive for my kids.

Need to see a sample of Blendspace in action?  Check out this one, covering important information for a lab we are currently completing:

http://bit.ly/6sciptlab

Each tile on the Blendspace represents a piece of content that will help students to successfully complete their lab.  Students can work through the space in order from beginning to end by hitting the “Play” button at the top of the screen OR they can click on the icons in the bottom right hand corner of each tile to explore individual resources answering specific questions.

Creating my Blendspace was a breeze.

After planning out all the content that I thought my students would need in order to successfully complete our lab, I sat behind my cell phone camera to record and upload my videos directly to YouTube.  Adding those same videos to Blendspace tiles was a one-click process.  The other content — links to online tutorials or videos, links to individual Google Docs, text-based slides sharing directions and/or information — were just as easy to add.

Putting this Blendspace together — recording videos, organizing content, adding tiles, making a short link with Bitly — probably took about 90 minutes from start to finish.  That’s TOTALLY worth it if it helps students to answer their own questions during our labs AND if I plan to use the same lab in future years.  Better yet, my Blendspace will help other teachers on my learning team who are teaching the same lab — saving everyone a ton of time and energy.

I see potential in Blendspace because it’s a tool that solves a specific problem for me.

Providing students with recorded directions and organized sets of materials for every lab promotes independence and frees me up to interact more meaningfully with the kids in my classroom.

Whaddya’ think?

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Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Screencastify

Tool Review:  Google Expeditions

Tool Review: Edpuzzle

I’m Planning a Pokemon Go Rally for My Middle Schoolers

I have a confession to make:  I spent the first two weeks of July rolling my eyes as I read article after article in my social stream about the “transformational power of Pokemon Go.”  I had the app on my phone, I’d caught more than a few Pidgeys, and hit up more than a few Poke stops — but to me, there was nothing truly transformational about it.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I’d delete the app before school even started.

But then I showed it to my seven year old daughter, and she was hooked!

Something about the clever monster names, colors and actions caught her attention and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has enriched our lives.  Each day, the first thing she asks me is, “Dad, want to go for a walk and catch some Pokemon?!”  Those moments together are worth everything to me — including the extra $25/month I had to plunk down because I blew up my data plan.

And when my sixth graders started school on Monday,  I realized that I just couldn’t ignore Pokemon this year.  As soon as I mentioned that I was a Level 16 trainer with a pretty hyped up Vaporeon, stories started.  “Oh yeah?  Well I have two Snorlaxes!” said one girl.  “My dad wasted like 15 Poke balls on a Pidgeotto.  He stinks” said another.  Needless to say, catching Pokemon is well and truly a middle school craze — and that makes it worth exploring.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I STILL don’t think there’s anything transformational about chasing imaginary pocket monsters around.  Pokemon Go ISN’T the silver bullet that we’ve all been waiting for to save education.

But I have hatched a plan to use it as a fun team building activity.  In just a few short weeks, I’m going to host my first ever Pokemon Go Rally.  

Here’s the handout:

Handout – Pokemon Go Rally

The basic plan is to invite parents and their kids to work together in teams to catch Pokemon at a local hot spot that offers free Wifi.  My guess is that our first rally will happen at the local mall, given that it is like 105 degrees outside here in North Carolina.  To make the game more challenging and to encourage strategic thinking, I’m limiting:

  • The time that players have to capture Pokemon.
  • The number of Poke Balls that they can use during the rally.
  • The extras — incense, lucky eggs, lures — that can be used to increase capture rates.

I’m also awarding bonus points for a range of different captures.  Participants who hatch the most eggs or catch the most Rattatas can earn a huge bump to their final point tallies. 

All of these limiting factors will force participants to think critically about their choices.  If you have only 60 Poke balls, can you really burn four of them trying to catch a Pidgey with a Combat Power of 30?  If hatching an egg is worth 100 bonus points, would walking further be a better strategy than hanging out at a Poke stop where a lure has been set to catch whatever happens to show up?  Will staying in the well-trafficked areas of the Rally Grounds be a better strategy than traveling as much ground as possible to get away from the other teams who are playing?

In the end, I’m hoping to get a ton of parents and kids to come out and play together for an hour.  If it works, it will be an easy way to build a bit of team spirit.  Better yet, it will be easy to replicate.  All I’ll need is a list of public spaces with free Wifi!

Can you see my unique technology lens here?  What matters to me is building a classroom community by bringing people together for a shared experience.  Pokemon Go makes that possible.  My goal is driving my technology choices — not the other way around.

Technology is a tool.  Not a learning outcome.

So whaddya’ think?  I know this isn’t transformational, but is it worthwhile?  Is it something you’d think about doing?

Looking forward to your feedback.

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Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

More on Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks.  Not your TECH Geeks.

 

 

 

New Feedback Activity: Unit Analysis Forms

If you’ve been reading the Radical for any length of time, you know that I’ve been wrestling with the role that feedback plays in my classroom.

What you may not know, however, is that most of that work was inspired by a single quote from this article written by assessment experts Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis.  They write:

Thus, the essential school improvement question from an assessment point of view is this: Are we skilled enough to use classroom assessment to either (1) keep all learners from losing hope to begin with, or (2) rebuild that hope once it has been destroyed?

Stiggins and Chappuis are right, aren’t they?  In traditional classrooms, our feedback strategies — think providing a single grade for every handout, project and test that comes across our desks — leaves struggling students feeling hopeless simply because they rarely see evidence of their own successes.  That breaks my heart.

The solution is a simple one:  Any grade that you give in your classroom should be paired with structured opportunities for students to spot the progress that they are making regardless of the final marks that they earn on an assignment.

What can that look like in action?

In my classroom, it looks like this Unit Analysis Form, which students fill out after a unit test has been passed back:

Handout – Scientific Method Unit Analysis Form

Unit Analysis Forms include three essential components: (1). A list of all of the outcomes that students are expected to master during the course of a cycle of instruction, (2). A list of the specific tasks completed during the course of a cycle of instruction– quiz questions, test questions, classroom assignments – that students can use as evidence of mastery, and (3). An opportunity for students to reflect on the progress that they have made over the course of a cycle of instruction.

Unit Analysis Forms also ask learners to decide whether their struggles are a result of conceptual errors or simple mistakes.  “Typically, we make mistakes through lack of attention,” write Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, “But once they are pointed out to us, we immediately recognize them and usually know the corrective action to take…Errors, on the other hand, occur because of lack of knowledge.  Even when alerted, the learner isn’t quite sure what to do to fix the problem.”

Unit Analysis Forms are powerful tools for helping students seek and effectively deal with feedback primarily because they make it possible to spot differing levels of mastery across all of the outcomes covered within a unit.  That means students can see exactly which outcomes they have mastered and which outcomes they continue to wrestle with.

For students who struggle, this kind of targeted feedback can be a source of encouragement. 

Instead of feeling like failures after earning a low score, they are likely to spot concepts and skills that they were successful at mastering.  More importantly, Unit Analysis Forms can help struggling learners and their classroom teachers to be more efficient, spending time revisiting genuine errors instead of wasting time correcting simple mistakes (Fisher & Frey, 2012).

So let me ask you an uncomfortable question:  How often do your students get to examine outcome specific feedback after completing major assignments?  It really is the first step for rebuilding hope in struggling learners.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity:  Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

New Slide:  Turning Feedback Into Detective Work

 

New Feedback Activity: Not Yet/You Bet Lists

If you have been following the Radical at all this month, you know that I’m currently consumed by the notion that we need to rethink the feedback practices that we have integrated into our classrooms.  The simple Dylan Wiliam inspired truths driving all of my thinking are that we have to turn feedback into detective work and that feedback should be more work for the recipient than it is for the donor.

But there’s a flaw in my thinking, y’all:  If we are truly going to develop confident, self-directed learners who thrive in situations for which they were not specifically prepared, we have to remind the kids in our classrooms that they should be actively gathering feedback about their progress BEYOND school, too.  If feedback becomes “a school thing” in the minds of our students, they will be woefully unprepared to meet the demands of the modern workplace where thinking on the fly, leading in the moment, and moving forward in uncertain circumstances really are essential skills.

So I’m tinkering with a new idea that I’m calling Not Yet/You Bet Lists.

Check it out here:

Handout – Not Yet/You Bet List

Like the Unit Overview Sheets that I’ve written extensively about on the Radical (see here, here and here), Not Yet/You Bet Lists are designed to give students opportunities to track the essential content and skills that they are working to master.  But because they are simple tools, students – whether they are baseball players, gymnasts, pianists or martial artists – can use Not Yet/You Bet Lists to detail the progress that they are making in areas of personal interest and passion outside of school.

Think about it like this:  At the beginning of each new season, parents, coaches and/or tutors can help students to generate lists of important skills worth working on.  Those new skills can be listed in the Not Yet column of the Not Yet/You Bet List, serving as a tangible, transparent reminder of just what it is that a student is working towards.

After practices, training sessions, or recitals, students can revisit their Not Yet/You Bet Lists to reflect on the progress that they are making.  When a new skill has been mastered, students can move it from the Not Yet to the You Bet column of the handout. Each time an important outcome is moved, students are reminded that they are making progress and that they can learn – important messages for building confident, self-directed learners.

Can you see why all of this matters?

By asking students to think carefully about their own strengths and weaknesses in learning situations outside of school, Not Yet/You Bet Lists can reinforce core feedback practices that you are trying to integrate into your classroom instruction.  More importantly, by asking students to think carefully about their own strengths and weaknesses in learning situations outside of school, Not Yet/You Bet Lists can reinforce the core notion that actively monitoring individual progress isn’t just a school skill.  It’s a life skill.

So whaddya’ think?  Does this have any value?  

I haven’t tried it with my own students yet — it’s a new idea for me, too.  But I think it just might work!

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Related Radical Reads:

Turning Feedback into Detective Work

Activity: Feedback Action Planning Template

Activity: Where Am I Going Reflection Sheet

Feedback Should Be a Work For/Work On Process

 

Activity: Feedback Action Planning Template

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been doing a ton of tinkering this year with the way that I give students feedback in my classroom.  My goal is to steal Dylan Wiliam’s idea that our goal should be to turn feedback into detective work.  That just feels right to me.

So I whipped up another activity this weekend.  I’m calling it a Feedback Action Planning Template.  Here it is:

Handout – Feedback Action Planning Template

This handout is a follow-up of an conversation that I had with my buddy Paul Cancellieri, who likes to argue that all too often, we fail to create time and space for students to (1). reflect on the feedback that they have received and (2). plan next steps based on the feedback that they receive.  Paul calls this “the essential epilogue” of the feedback process — and without it, feedback is a complete and total waste of time because it doesn’t result in new learning for our students.

So I wanted to create a structure for that “essential epilogue” — and in that structure, I wanted students to (1). think about what it was that they were trying to learn to begin with, (2). think about the feedback given to them, and (3). plan next steps.

My hope is that there will be times when students realize that the feedback they have received indicates that they have additional learning to do.  I also hope that there will be times that students realize that they disagree with the feedback they receive — or that they don’t completely trust the expertise of the people giving them feedback.

Either way, they will realize that feedback should lead to action — and that’s a win in my book.

Whaddya’ all think?

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Related Radical Reads:

Activity – Where Am I Going Reflection Sheet

Feedback Should Be More Work for the Recipient

Giving Feedback Should Be a Work For/Work On Process