Thursday, June 27, 2013

My 5 Biggest #ISTE13 Take-Aways!

In the next few days, I'll go through and really process my ISTE experience... I took very thorough notes - even more detailed than usual - because I'm going to be submitting formal reflections to earn continuing ed credit through Dominican University of California.  But tonight, easing back into more routine evenings, lying with my kids as they fall asleep, I need to at least process my major take-aways:

1.) Attending conferences is foremost about making connections.
2.) The best sessions are those where we *DO* stuff!
3.) One-hour sessions with playtime are VERY hard to scaffold!
4.) The EdTech StartUp world continues to be more about business model and marketing strategy than about innovation in improving educational process and outcomes.
5.) My session kicked ass.

In more detail...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

#DesignFest At ISTE13

Welcome to the pre- and post-conference landing point for DesignFest: Science Units for Global Collaborative Knowledge Creation!  This session will be / is being / was held at ISTE's national conference on Tuesday, June 25 at 10:30am in SACC 005.  Use the resources here before the session to learn  how to apply global collaboration pedagogies and knowledge-creation discourse strategies, and continue working with others after the session to build projects ready for cross-classroom collaboration with your kids!

To access the resources available for DesignFest, please visit the DesignFest ISTE 2013 Google Drive Folder (also accessible via the QR code below.  There, you'll find a collaborative notes document and a spreadsheet for participants to share and begin collaborating.  You'll also find:

  • A report on the benefits of place-based education
  • A paper by Prof. Jan van Aalst on supporting knowledge-creation discourse among learners
  • A paper by Prof. John Loughran on the complex problem of understanding the relationship between teaching and learning - pedagogy
  • A document of resources, including a link to the session's Prezi

I know many folks will be following ISTE from home via #ISTE13 and other hashtags.  Please join a conversation on developing collaborative science units via #DesignFest !

By the way, if you haven't joined the ISTE Ning "social network" yet, jump in and join the Nerdy Science Teachers group as another way to connect with science teachers while at the conference!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

End-of-the-Year Feedback

Another teacher at my school started a little initiative earlier this year to plan to gather semi-formal feedback from kids at the end of the year and - true to form - I went searching for ideas from other awesome educators to steal!  I found this great blog post from Cathy Yenca on her own "teacher report card" using Google Forms, plus her link to  @MrVaudrey's Google Form as well, both of which I started mining for ideas!

As with many grassroots initiatives, the idea of teacher feedback kinda faded away until I brought it up with the other 7th grade "Advisor" (like homeroom) teachers, and we decided to create an overall 7th grade "report card" that looked at the whole 7th grade experience, rather than individual-teacher by individual-teacher. So! We got rolling, made a Google Form, and distributed it to the 7th graders on Monday!

You can see the questions we asked here, broken into "Overall 7th Grade," "Science," "Humanities," and "Fine Arts."  (The 7th grade Advisors include math, science, and humanities teachers, and only the fine arts teachers asked to also be specifically included in the survey!  Math gave a separate, math-specific survey.)


I was incredibly pleased with how many kids mentioned our Adventure Days as a particularly stand-out learning experience from the year! For example:

I think that I learned a lot from the Adventure Days. I created a graphic novel, and I learned a lot about what goes into making a comic/graphic novel and how long it takes. I also learned about different techniques to use and that it is actually really hard to create. It also made me appreciate the people who make graphic novels a lot more.

From the top of my head, I witnessed and experienced resourcefulness. During Adventure Day, my partner and I decided to make a layer cake. As many people are aware of, layer cakes take tedious hours of baking. After the process of baking, some of the layers turned out burnt and had fallen apart. Following this discovery my partner and I repeated that process, over and over again, until we had a few delicious layers. The rest of the layers, we decided to reassemble the good parts of the bad layers; not wasting food, and being resourceful.


We also got great comments from kids who really felt the benefits of service learning projects, a study of media influences in Advisor class, and a broad spectrum of academic projects from specific classes! For example:

I learned a lot in girls class about healthy and unhealthy relationships. I though that that was an important as well as interesting topic. It relates to everyone of us, and we all need to be aware of our relationships...

I think I actually learned a lot from the media project we did in advisor, because we learned about the sorts of tactics that advertisements and commercials use to grab our attention. I also learned more about how the media affects our decisions and and personalities.

In advisor I learned a lot from doing the Service Learning project because we learned about how we can help the community by doing little things. (like doing a sign and flag for the giving garden.


We also asked the kids to reflect on what skills they think they've improved on in the past year, and what skills they could work on more next year. I'm excited to think about how we can incorporate these reflections into *starting* the year next year!

A few of those fantastic improved skills are:

  • One skill I improved is just working really hard when something takes a long time, like the science animation or science essay or some of the humanities projects, and that it usually just works out even when you think it won't so you don't have to freak out and stuff if you don't think you will finish.
  • I think that I have improved with learning how to cut out things and shorten my writing. I think that this is important because my writing no longer has pages of unnecessary details, and the reader isn't bored with the length.
  • Writing with detail. I used to be a decent writer with detail, now I can write with a lot of detail in my papers.
  • I think I have really shown growth in the areas of asking good questions, and focusing, (which was a very big issue at the start of the year). This is because I can now much more easily pull myself away from distracting things, and dive into the academic work we were sent here to accomplish.

A few of those awesome need-to-work-on skills are:

  • I think next year I could work on Time management a little more. This year I felt like I didn't necessarily prioritize the way I should've and although I did get my work done I think I didn't use my time the most effectively.
  • I think that I could work more on asking questions when I'm confused, because sometimes I get too proud and don't want to ask for help. I realize now though that I need to, and that I can get a lot of answers and help. Next year, I will work more on asking questions when I'm confused about something because they can really help me on the project or problem that I'm on.
  • I think working in groups is another skill that I want to work on next year. I need to find a good way to communicate with my group members and make sure everyone is going to have enough time to do their part in the project. This skill will come in handy all throughout my life.


In the science section, I queried the kids about which unit they learned the most from and WHY. I love reading about kids enjoying the intensity of really difficult projects like the Biomedical Research Essays, and about how much they learned and grew in the more open-ended personal choice units! They also enjoy learning about issues directly related to themselves - Adolescent Brain Development! I also love reading them think through their own learning... for example:

Energy in Biological Systems. I learned a lot when we were doing the activities, but mostly while making the final animation of the whole process. At first I thought the animation wouldn't help anything, but it really made me understand how things worked, and I think the amount of time I put into it helped me understand the concepts even more.

I think that the biomedical research essays worked really well for me. I really enjoyed this because during the process and writing of the essay, I got to really think about how my study effects me and my family. I got to find a topic that relates to my personal curiosity and I got to answer a lot of personal questions about myself that I hadn't ever gotten the chance to ask. I also really liked this project because I like to write, and this essay was an inspiring piece to write about.


In the science section, I also asked in which units they feel like they could have learned *more,* and how I could modify the units to help future 7th graders. A very common suggestion was to add more time for investigations and projects - the kiddos felt rushed a lot of the time, especially during our investigations of heredity and gradual change, which they were really into and felt shortchanged! I definitely would love to find a way to let us lean into our projects more... perhaps that means cutting something out?

Another suggestion that I really appreciated was not having two open-ended, self-driven, individual projects right back to back. One student said:

I feel like I could have learned more from the Science Symposium. Since it was right after the Biomedical Research Essays, I was kind of burnt out. I didn't do as much research as I could have because I was just really tired and didn't have a lot of "science brainpower" at the time. I realize I picked a really interesting topic, I just wish I could have expanded on it some more.

I can definitely respect that sentiment!

(There were also a lot of complaints about my being out of town during the final week of writing those Biomedical Research Essays... Darn you, SXSWedu!!!)


Finally, I've really enjoyed reading the part of the feedback that asks the kids to offer advice to upcoming new 7th graders, and to their teachers for next year!

The big, huge, overwhelming suggestion from SO many kids to their teachers was, essentially:

  • Communicate with each other about assignments, so big projects don't occur all at the same time. Give us enough time so we're not rushed all the time!
A couple bonus good individual ones, that we should all definitely take to heart (even though the last one makes me smile from cute):
  • One possible change is to have more time to go further than the typical curriculum.
  • try to see things from our perspective.
  • be patient, because sometimes we make mistakes and don't know what to do so be forgiving.
  • I would tell the future teachers and staff at evergreen to do some mathematics, and adjust the height of the tables and chairs to better suit the ergonomic needs of OUR CHILDREN! My joints are hurting, and my elbows are trodden with pain.

And finally, to the new 7th graders:

  • I would tell them to enjoy the year but also to know what work you have to do and set out time for fun stuff and school stuff. It's all about balance.
  • Prepare whatever you think is right because if you don't truly believe what you are doing, it is meaningless.
  • I would tell the current 6th graders to be prepared for a lot more work. This means being organized with your homework from different classes and balancing extra-curricular activities with school assignments. I would also tell them to push through any friendship problems by talking to their friends in a calm environment, because it isn't worth losing a friend that you've known since kindergarten over a small argument.
  • I would tell the future 7th graders to not lose their cool, and to stop and think about how the decisions they make now may affect their lives in the future, but to also live in the moment. It's hard.
  • Seventh grade is a lot different from sixth grade... All I can say is be true to yourself... (as cliché as it seems, it's true) Classes aren't that hard, but make sure to listen carefully in class and get your work done. Put you're best effort into everything you do and if you need help ask a teacher, teachers can usually always help. Good luck...
  • Don't procrastinate. Also, Be Awesome.

I think that's really the best advice anyone can give to anyone... Don't Procrastinate. Also, Be Awesome.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Best Google Apps Scripts for Educators

My school adopted Google Apps for Education (or #GAFE) earlier this school year, and I *LOVE* it!  We've had some solid "teachable moments" re: appropriate/kind use, but for the most part, it has really been a start to a broader transformation of our technology use.  We're movin' on up the SAMR scale!

And Google Apps alone is pretty cool, but not the end!  I have been starting to explore scripts and am going to try my hand at a little programming this summer.  Here are my favorites so far, plus a few hopes for things I haven't found yet:

1.) Doctopus was the first script I tried, the very same day we launched GAFE at school.  I was about to go out of town for a conference, and my students had an essay due the Friday of the week I'd be gone!  Doctopus let me set up a folder with one document shared with each of my students, each with the skeleton outline for the essay.  This helped me enormously in keeping all those essays organized, and I was able to comment to my students while out of town!  My students also each shared with two peer editors and with their parents (each set to "comment only" so mom and dad couldn't over-edit!).

Doctopus also has a gradebook and commenting feature, but I haven't played with that one yet.

2.) Flubaroo is a script for creating automatically-graded quizzes in Google forms.  As a science teacher, I don't really give many multiple-choice or other computer-gradeable quizzes, but many teachers at my school do, and we're looking for solutions outside of our current LMS - Moodle - for giving and grading those quizzes!  Flubaroo could help us move away from the one-stop LMS into a more GAFE-focused online learning environment!

3.) AutoCrat is a mail-merge script that I just found, and can't WAIT to try!  We exclusively use narrative reports for our kids... No number grades, no letters.  I've found that this can actually make ongoing feedback to parents tough... I give kids narrative comments for all major projects - formative and summative - and haven't found an easy way to transmit those comments to parents so they understand how their kids are doing along the way.  Hopefully with AutoCrat, I'll be able to mail merge comments from a spreadsheet so each parent can receive the feedback specific to their kid, as a "heads-up, here's how much your child is rockin'!"

4.) A fourth script that I want, but haven't found:

Giving narrative comments for each assignment, I *WANT* to have one comments spreadsheet for each project/assignment where I can enter each comment per kid.  However, I also want a comments spreadsheet for each *kid,* so they can have one place to look for all of their comments from all of their projects/assignments.  I feel like this would be pretty easy to put together, so that might be my GAFE script project for this summer!  It might even be as easy as playing with Queries, but I need some tinkering time...

What's your favorite Google Apps script to use in the classroom?  Or what's a script you *wish* someone would make?