The Beauty of Doctopus

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-12-02-amI’m sure I’ve written about this topic before but it bears repeating because this tool is a game-changer…what am I talking about? Doctopus, of course! One of the best ways to determine what a student is thinking is by having them write it out. Our students have multiple opportunities to share their thoughts:  online discussion forums, collaborative GoogleDocs, F2F discussions (er, debates), and written assignments via GoogleDocs.

Let me be straight. I’m not a fan of grading. I love the creation aspect of teaching, the designing, the planning, the execution of activities and projects…but the assessment part? Not so much. As for grading essays…<sigh>….seriously not my cup of tea.

My department is extremely collaborative. We talk all.of.the.time. It helps that our classrooms are next door to each other and that we’re great friends to boot. During collaboration, we discuss student progress and grades. Needless to say, our grading procedures and process are closely aligned. And then Docuptus happened.

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about Doctopus, let alone tried it…but once I did, I realized that this was going to revolutionize collaborative writing for students and grading for us. We give students the option to have a writing collaborator for the end of the unit essays because we see value in students working together towards a common goal. It helps that GoogleDocs gives us a sneak peek into their writing process and comments. 😉

To start, my department created several Goobrics (a.k.a. rubrics) for each of the assignments. We have Goobrics for Level 4 short essays, Level 5 essays, and various other projects (e.g., Crusades memes, Open Minds).

Once those assignments are submitted through Google Classroom, we use Doctopus (an Add-On) to ingest the assignment into a ready-made spreadsheet (I usually title it with the unit name+semeter&year+period –> China Unit F16P1). I choose the class and the assignment and then wait for the magic to happen. Doctopus gives you the option to ingest all student projects or just the ones from students who clicked “Turn In” in Google Classroom (I usually choose the latter).

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There are two ways to view the Goobric…this is the default. The other view allows you to scroll through the Goobric instead of clicking on the tabs at the top.

Once the assignments are ingested, all you need to do is choose the appropriate Goobric and then you’re off! All of the assignments are there…tied to a specific rubric…all that’s left is for you to assess student work based on the Goobric. Doctopus+Goobric gives you the option to click right on the Goobric, add comments to the GoogleDoc, as well as leave comments that can be emailed to students (I highly recommend this last option). But the best part?! Doctopus puts the Goobric right on the GoogleDoc with your comments. Students can see where their worked landed within the Goobric. Brilliant!

However, if I could change one thing…it would be the ability to easily notify the writing collaborator/partners that the document is graded. Of course, all students could go back to the original GoogleDoc to see the rubric and comments, but only the owner receives the email with the rubric attached. It’s not a deal-breaker and it’s certainly not something that would make my department stop using this easy way to assess student work.

Having said that, if you’re looking for a new tool to try in 2017 might I suggest giving Doctopus a whirl? You won’t regret it. Trust me. Game-changer.

Setting Intentions

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#amorebeautifulquestion #sketchnotes #paper53 #doodler

As 2016 comes to a close, I thought I would take a moment to write one last blog post…

Winter break began on December 19 for me. For most of my colleagues, it began Friday, December 16 at 2:25PM, but I wasn’t quite done yet. As soon as I turned in the last paper of my first semester as doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, I felt like I could finally relax. And relax I did.

I spent most of my Christmas break reading and of course thinking about what 2017 would bring.  I’ve been practicing yoga for several years and it has a made a huge difference in my mindset. Things that I used to perseverate upon now (for the most part at least) roll off my back. I’ve learned the importance of slowing down, taking notice of the little things…and just Be.

Earlier this week, my yoga instructor mentioned that though she has nothing against New Years Resolutions, she focuses more on setting intentions and she welcomed us to consider that option for 2017. In fact, each time before class, she asks us to set an intention for our practice. Usually my intention is to not fall flat on my face because I’d sure hate to have to find a new yoga studio (I’m kidding, kinda). But for 2016, I spent the better part of the year reminding myself that I should be…that I need to…always remember to be grateful for what I have. So for 2017, one of my intentions is to show gratitude for the blessings in my life.

I am lucky. Blessed in fact. I mean, who else gets to work with little minions who want to learn…who crave interactions…who blurt out the first thought that comes to mind…who share perhaps more than their parents would like about what goes on at home…who poke their heads into my room to say “Hi” even though they’ve already seen me earlier in the day or will later on? I mean, who gets to be surrounded by this much awesomeness? I’m so grateful to be able to work with children. Their curiosity inspires me. Their willingness to try new things is like a breath of fresh air. They don’t fear…much. And they laugh. They giggle. A lot. Even the boys.

This break was sorely needed as I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends but I miss my little rug-rats. I miss their faces. And as I close the door to 2016, I look forward to what 2017 brings…because I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be an educator. I’m grateful to learn along side my students. I’m grateful to work with some amazing people. I’m grateful to be on this particular path. The road is windy, one never knows what is beyond the bend, but whatever the case, I’m ready. Bring it on 2017. Bring.it.on.

Train Your Brain

One thing that I’ve learned during my first semester as a doctoral student is that I really don’t know too much about how the brain works. But I also don’t know too much about how my car works either and I’m okay with that as well.  As long as both of them work, I’m good.

But what I’ve enjoyed this semester is learning about how the brain works.  My undergrad degree is in psychology because I love learning about how people think, why they think that, and how that affects their behavior.  In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working with my middle schoolers.  It’s like living within a social experiment. Every.single.day.  But I bring that up because one of the assignments in my Multiple Perspectives in Teaching and Learning (MPLT) class is to review two websites that are supposed to help train your brain.  As I went through the various exercises for both sites, I was intrigued…interested…motivated…and definitely engaged.  At the end of the first phase for Lumosity, I even received feedback on how I ranked among people of the same age.  Talk about feeding into my competitive streak!  If I didn’t have to go to bed, I probably would have done those exact same exercises again just to see if my percentages would have gone up.

In reviewing both sites (Lumosity and Brain HQ), I have to say that I’m impressed with the individualized learning components.  Lumosity supports individualized learning as you fill out a basic profile before starting the exercises in order to give you a score based upon people in your like age-group.  Brain HQ does not use personal information, but rather from the get-go uses performance to determine components of the activity.  I didn’t get far enough to see if or how my scores compared to other users.

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It’s interesting to use technology in this type of format.  I’ve used brain teasers that are book-based but I did not receive immediate feedback nor was I moved to different levels based on my performance but rather based on choice…not that I was deterred (remember, my competitive streak?).  However, immediate feedback is something that technology can provide which is motivating to the learner.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-04-02-pmI’m intrigued by the idea of using technology for game-based learning.  The points, levels, and options to unlock other levels is definitely motivating.  If I didn’t have to go to work this morning, I would have unlocked one more level for sure!  The fact that I’m even intrigued by both of these sites is a testament to their ability to engage the learner.  Believe me when I say that I am not a fan of video games.  I’m terrible…just ask my brother.  Expect for Pole Position.  I rock at that game…you can ask my brother about that as well.  I feel it’s helped to make me the driver I am today.  😉

Lumosity and Brain HQ adapt to the user’s performance.  In both games, the speed and complexity increased when I did well and decreased when I did not.  Lumosity gives immediate feedback (yay!) but I didn’t advance far enough in BrainHQ to see if there was an immediate feedback component.  In fact, the “spot the different bird” game was a bit frustrating to me because I didn’t know why sometimes only a few birds appeared when I clicked versus a whole flock.  Or was that supposed to represent feathers?  Did the whole flock…er feathers…mean I correctly spotted the wrong bird?  Who knows.

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Anyone who has attended my PD sessions knows that I’m a fan of free stuff.  As an educator, I have no problem spending money on my classroom, my students, or my own professional growth.  But I prefer free stuff.  Both Lumosity and Brain HQ are limited free…which is nice.

In evaluating the physical space for learning…because students use devices to access these sites, I don’t foresee any space issues.  However, some students might find it too distracting to use either of these sites with the regular hum of classroom noise.  I would suggest students use earbuds to block out the noise but also cardboard barriers to lessen visual distractions.

I believe sites like these are a valuable enrichment tool, especially for gifted learners, although across the spectrum I suppose these sites could be useful for all learners.  In fact, students who suffer from low-efficacy may be encouraged by using adaptive learning sites.

I believe that video games have a place in learning.  In fact, games that are historically based could help students visualize and remember historical content but having not seen or used any video games for learning in my own classroom, I cannot attest to its true value.  But I do see video games as another avenue for learning.  If the goal is to find something that interests, motivates, or engages students, I think educators need to be open to a wide variety of options.  Educators cannot use their fear of the unknown or bias against their perceived value of technology to automatically write off video games as a viable tool for learning.

#trainyourbrain #gamebasedlearning #yourbrainisamuscle

Pictures Don’t Reveal the Whole Story

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It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to write a blog post…but I’ve been posting plenty of pictures of learning in action on our Instagram account (@jiishawksrock).  This week my students are using their deductive reasoning skills as they analyze images about Chinese inventions.  Students were told to pre-read sections of the textbook (for background knowledge) before coming to class today.  Now, I’ve had discussions with many teachers about assigning reading for homework as most of them have found that students do not do the reading.  I am no different.  However, I also don’t believe in simply assigning something for students to do with the reading when all I want is for them to build a little background before delving deeper into the text in class.  The students who did the reading prior to class today had a much easier time locating textual evidence to support their inferences based upon what they thought they are seeing in the images.

This deductive reasoning skillbuilder activity is a modified version from Teacher’s Curriculum Institute (TCI).  Ever since the world history classes went 1:1, I’ve been slowly modifying lessons to incorporate the meaningful use of technology with critical thinking skills.  The image above doesn’t capture the dialogue that ensued all day in class today.  At the basic level, students were utilizing listening and speaking skills.  But on a higher level, students were engaging in meaningful dialogue as they used critical thinking skills.  They were making inferences, justifying their thoughts, and citing textual evidence to prove their point.  It was a beautiful thing to behold.  I’m only bummed that students tend to stop speaking when I start recording a video.  They are used to my taking pictures of them…but once I stand too long in one place their conversations slowly stop.  One of these days though I’m going to capture this learning moment…one of these days…

And…it’s gone…

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School starts tomorrow. Well actually, teachers report back tomorrow and students come on Thursday. This should be an interesting start to the school year because our school is in the MIDDLE of modernization. In fact, my entire quad is starting the school year in portables and if all goes well, we’ll be in our new-old classrooms come January.

Because we weren’t given access to our classrooms until today, I didn’t get to engage in my usual pattern of leisurely getting my room ready for the kiddoes whenever the mood struck. Instead, we were told that the first day we could have access to our classrooms was today. Well, that didn’t work with my schedule so tomorrow is the first day that I’ll be returning to school…to pick up my keys…and to see where the movers put my boxes. Hopefully, the ones marked “priority” are on top (a girl can only hope). The only good thing (well, actually there are two) is 1) I finally have air-conditioning so that I won’t be a sweaty mess after setting up my classroom and 2) at least I’m with my department in the portables. There’s comfort in numbers.

In spite of all that, I am looking forward to the new batch of 7th graders who are going to walk through my door. They are my inspiration. They are the reason why I teach. Their expectant faces, shiny binders, brand-new backpacks…it’s the same ritual every year and I love it. I don’t think there’s any other profession out there where you get a do-over every year and for that I’m thankful. I have some GREAT ideas that will hopefully make learning meaningful and fun for my students…and I’ve done a ton of reading (both pleasure and informative) this summer so I’m ready to tackle this new school year.  Bring.it.on.

 

It’s the Little Things

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This has been a great summer. I spent a good deal of it enjoying #lakelife in Michigan. Anyone who’s been in the classroom knows that teachers don’t turn their brains off when school is out. I mean, our brains might shut down from sheer exhaustion but once we’ve recovered, most of us are busy catching up on things that we couldn’t do during the school year. For me, it was reading and learning about new technology tools. I also spent quite a bit of time in my #happyplace, sketchnoting the book Innovator’s Mindset. I’m working on my last one which is perfect since school starts in two weeks.

What was reinforced to me from the book is that we need to get outside of our comfort zone if we want to grow…to be innovative. Comfort is nice. After all, who doesn’t love snuggling up by a fire with a good book on a cold day?

This summer, though, I was introduced to several really cool new technology tools…one of which is featured in the image above – Momentum. As a Mac user, I used to swear by Safari; but Chrome has continued to impress me with their features…and the Momentum extension takes the cake! Thank you Caitlin McLemore (@EdTechCaitlin)! Who doesn’t love opening up a new tab and being personally greeted? Momentum also allows users to type in one focus for the day – essentially a goal, a To Do. What I like is that it only allows users to type one thing at a time so there’s not the ability to create a monster list and then feel defeated at the end of the day when there are so many unchecked boxes. Am I the only one with this problem? With Momentum, I type in one focus, do it, check it off, and then I’m on to a new one. Being that it’s summer, sometimes my focus is a little less taxing (see the image at the top). However today, I’ve already completed one focus (Review RefWorks – I know, exciting, right? But I’m back in grad school…) and I’m now onto my second one (Finish blog post). I like that because I’m only allowed to set one focus at a time, it helps me to not multi-task.

The next awesome technology tool is Grammarly. I heard about this tool from Beth Holland (@brholland) when she presented to the #JHUEdD16 cohort of doctoral students at Johns Hopkins University. I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at spelling and grammar but who couldn’t use a little bit of extra help? Grammarly can be added as an extension for both Chrome and Safari. The benefit of adding Grammarly is that it will give options for grammar and spelling as one types online. For example, Grammarly has already given me three suggestions for revision as I type this blog – I accepted two of the three so far. But you can also download Grammarly as a desktop app which will come in handy as I write and write and write in the pursuit of my doctorate. I’ve already tinkered around with the desktop app using my Classroom Expectations for my students…and yes, there were corrections to be made. #sigh

It’s the little things that make the true difference and in the case of technology, these two tools have already made their impact…I mean, I’m already at #9 (see list below). When it came to these two tools: I skipped #1-8. I’m already there. I’m all in. I mean, seriously, how did I live without these two tools?

I know that several districts are already back in session. But I’ve checked off my focus in Momentum and now I’m off to have lunch with my girlfriends from work because we don’t have to be back until August 30th…Happy summer to all!

 

#InnovatorsMindset – Pedagogy

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Those thinking about or new to using technology in the classroom may be under the impression that technology is the magic potion that is going to radically change student engagement and achievement in the classroom. That is a huge misconception. Technology in and of itself is not the magic potion. If teachers simply hand students a mobile device without changing the task, it’s no better than using the more affordable alternatives – pencil and paper. In fact, the technology tool (in this case) becomes no better than a $1000 pencil.

What needs to change is the task itself. And this is where pedagogy comes in.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura is credited with defining how technology can transform learning tasks through the use of the SAMR model. John Spencer sums it up quite nicely:

Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with tasks at the Substitution level. After all, teachers and students need to start somewhere. But if that is all that is done…then the technology tool becomes an expensive alternative to paper and pencil. Those of us in the educational field know that money doesn’t grow on trees (remember when we used to have department budgets?) so the thought of spending vast amounts of money on technology only to have it being solely used at the lowest level of SAMR is a travesty.

But in order for teachers to understand the need to change the learning task, they first have to understand the pedagogy behind the meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. This is where the TPACK model comes in. Candace M does a great job summing up TPACK in 2 minutes.

So you see, teachers have (or should have) the content portion down pat. And some may even have differing levels of technology prowess. But without understanding the pedagogy, the learning tasks associated with technology will have little to no connection to authentic learning. And now we’re back to the $1000 electronic pencil analogy.

But I recently came across a term that is making me think more about how I structure learning tasks for my students and PD for my teachers: pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). In the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, pedagogical content knowledge is defined as “knowledge about how to teach in particular disciplines” (p. 167). In other words, it’s not enough to know the content, teachers must educate themselves on how to teach that specific content. The discipline of history needs to be taught differently than the discipline of math. In fact, the National Research Council states “expert teachers are sensitive to those aspects of the discipline that are especially hard or easy for new students to master” (p. 166). Take the discipline of history, for example. History is more than a mere list of names, dates, and places. Shocking, I know. Good history teachers will help students develop skills to critically read and interpret primary and secondary sources, corroborate evidence, as well as understand the problematic nature of historical interpretation (National Research Council, 2000).

So on top of clearly articulating the pedagogy behind meaningful integration of technology to teachers who attend my PD sessions, I also need to keep in mind the reading, writing, and thinking skills of how students should approach the study of history in my own classroom as well as how teachers should approach lesson and task design in their history classrooms.

And since I’m a serial book reader, I get all excited when topics of my books come together. Having finished The Innovator’s Mindset earlier this month, I’m stoked that the book How People Learn is helping me to make more sense in how to design meaningful learning opportunities for students. The sketchnotes below is my reflection on Chapter 9 from the #InnovatorsMindset book.
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