Google Sites: Learning in Action: Final Project Reflections

For my final project, my Algebra 1 students created a Google Site that contains explanations, examples, videos, worksheets, practice problems, quizzes, and so much more! For all the concepts they have covered this semester, there is an overview page, a links page, a practice problems page and a quiz page.  Students created videos where they explained concepts to their peers, either through demonstrating the step-by-step process needed to solve a problem, or through entertaining songs created about a formula or a solution.  Most of these videos ended up on the overview page for the chapter.  The other page that may need some explanation is the links page.  Here students put links to other related resources they found on the internet.  This might involve Khan Academy videos on the topics being covered.  Or it could be a math site where careful explanations are given, such as coolmath.com or sosmath.com. To balance out these more “dry” methods of review, there are hopefully also links to some games that allow practice of mathematical skills to be combined with entertainment.  The hope is that each student will be able to find some extra resource that will help them review in a form that suits their learning style.

I am very proud of the class for the hard work they put into creating a great site and for the creativity they showed in their approach to the site and to the videos.

The hope is that this site will not only be valuable to them as they study this semester for their assessments, but that it will also be a resource they can refer back to in future years as they study Geometry and Algebra 2.  At the beginning of this year, I had a number of my past students who were just beginning Algebra 2 come and ask me to quickly remind them how to factor using the technique they learned in Algebra 1.  While it was a privilege to help them, next year I can just send the students back to this site.

As with all technology, the Google site is not perfect.  For example, there are difficulties with uploading some material.  Though the students found ways to insert graphs, there are other graphics that did not work when inserted into the Google site.   Also, mathematical notation is limited in the Google site.  This was a minor inconvenience in an Algebra 1 class, but would be a major distraction in a Calculus class.  Whether this issue was only a problem because Algebra 1 students are not always aware of the importance of notation remains to be seen.  (Hopefully next year when I get my IB Higher Level Year 2 class to create their own site they will find ways around the limitation.  YES, I already have plans to continue and expand my technology use!)

The other issue that caused significant problems related to the mistakes that inevitably ended up on the overview page.  Because editing access for each chapter was only given to a select few, other students could not post comments when they detected an error.  This meant they could not work towards correcting the error.  To overcome this, each chapter was given its own “Comments” page that the whole class could edit.  The goal of this page was for the class to become editors and proof-readers.  If they found a mistake they would post a comment alerting the chapter creators to the error, and giving a correct solution.  Other students could then agree that a mistake had been made, or they could offer their own reason for why the original approach was correct.  The idea was to start a dialogue where students had to justify their mathematical reasoning while helping to improve the site.  (It sounded like a good plan anyway.)  Students did end up using the comment section in an unexpected way though … for the chapter on exponents they each ended up writing about their own misconceptions.  They would say what they were struggling with and how an example on the overview page helped them to understand the concept better.  Cool!

Being human, there are guaranteed to be some mistakes on the overview pages that do not get identified.  Regardless, it was a step in the right direction.  Now I just have to figure out how to improve the editing and correcting process.  Since at least one group creating a Google site for me next year will be seniors, I will most likely give all of the students in the class full editing rights to the whole site, rather than restricting access.  Hopefully at that stage of their development, the students are mature enough not to erase or mess with other peoples’ input.  (Though time will tell I guess.)

One of the unexpected benefits of this project (besides once again having students complete my course homework for me), was watching their joy and excitement as they were given some control through the editing rights to their chapter, some freedom to learn and study in multiple ways, hopefully finding a system that worked for them, and some creative opportunities, on a large scale through the video production as well as through simple things like the font, color and organization of their pages.  They truly rose to the challenge.  (I just hope that they learned some important math along the way.)

So that is what the students did.  Now, for me …

A year ago, I would never have attempted this project.  I would have appreciated the benefits and marveled at the options, all the while justifying why I could never do that!  Yet here I am!  There is still a long way to go on the technology journey, but that first big leap has been taken …  Let’s see where it all goes from here.

Before ending this course I have to thank Jeff for persevering with me.  I am sure there must have been many days where he hung his head in despair and longed for the simpler world of dealing with adolescent digital natives.  Thanks for opening up a whole new world to me Jeff!  I hope to one day make you proud!

It is hard to believe that the journey begun nearly two years ago is coming to an end.  We have run the race and the finish line is within our reach.  Or is it …

The official, graded portion of the journey is definitely coming to an end.  A mere two year marathon …

You Can Do It by sirwiseowl Keith Davenport

But the true journey to implement up-to-date technology into the classroom … that is a long road.

The long road ahead! By qmnoic (Matt MacGillivray)

It is not always an easy road, as challenges and obstacles are faced …

long hard road compressed by alvazer (Alvaro Vega F.)

But there are definitely rewards along the way that make it all worthwhile.

Monument valley by Vvillamon (Vicente Villamon)

So let’s not just ride off into the sunset!

The Long Road Home by Stuck in Customs (Trey Ratcliff)

Gamification Extended

Late Night Gamer by 2create Louis du Mont

It has been quite a few months since Loren first brought the idea of gamification to my attention, as discussed in the earlier post Gamifying Education.  His enthusiasm and prodding has lead me to plan to rethink my approach to homework over the summer (Radical Revamp … in Small Increments).  But I need to take the time to research this concept.  Hopefully I can then avoid making some basic mistakes in implementation by building on the insights and research of others.  With this in mind, I was intrigued to see the article Study’s the name of the game by Megan Johnston in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The article begins:

Inside a school laboratory, students gather around the bench for today’s lesson: how to create a chemical reaction. Yet instead of turning to their worksheets, these young investigators try some role play. Each budding scientist dons a lab coat and begins to experiment until – voila! – beakers erupt all over the room.

Their reward? Not a mark or score but a handful of special tokens. The student who makes the biggest explosion also wins the title of professor.

Who would not want to be part of that Science class?  Megan continues:

A growing band of teachers and researchers is already using games to boost student motivation and engagement, borrowing the structure of a typical computer game in which users overcome small challenges to collect points. Players – or in this case, students – work through levels of increasing difficulty until they reach their goal.

”Computer games have almost perfected the art form of ‘incentivisation’,” says the director of innovation at Northern Beaches Christian School, Stephen Collis.

From this, my challenge is to figure out how to structure course challenges so students are gaining knowledge, learning to think critically, and developing their mathematical understanding, not just accumulating rewards.  This is the part I need to look into over the summer.  How do I make sure my rewards system has a higher goal?  Though since I am focusing simply on increasing student motivation to do homework appropriately, I might be overstating the outcomes I hope to see.

It is encouraging to know that

Game-based learning is ranked as one of six ”technologies to watch” by international organisations New Media Consortium and Educause Learning Initiative in their annual Horizon Report, citing its potential to foster student collaboration, problem solving and procedural thinking.

This article intrigued me so much that I am tempted to quote the whole thing here, but I will try to resist.  Instead, here are some of the key points that the article brings up.

  • The game system allows differentiation to occur as students’ progress at their own pace.
  • Gamification allows self-directed learning, and helps students manage their time better.
  • Students are motivated by seeing their friends’ progress as well as by the rewards they gain for themselves.
  •  One study showed that students learning through playing a game retained more information than those who read the same content in a book.

My thought:  Retention is not the same as understanding, analyzing or synthesizing.  Does gamification help with these higher-order skills too?

Ok … I admit temporary defeat.  Megan begins to addresses some of my questions, so I need to just quote her:

The theory is that games boost students’ motivation – and thereby their learning – by leveraging cognitive, emotional and social needs. The narrative of a game helps players master difficult intellectual tasks, for example, while also invoking emotions such as pride and frustration and letting students test out new social identities that grant them academic credibility.

”It’s actually much more complicated than just adding points and badges to the classroom,” Lee says.

”There’s nothing inherently wrong with extrinsic motivation but we really need to couple that with trying to cultivate intrinsic motivation – so getting students to love learning and see themselves as successful at what they do.”

Games are especially useful in helping students overcome their fear of failure, Lee says. In fact, many games require players to fail repeatedly until the correct answer is found. And, unlike traditional exams, games give frequent feedback and keep the stakes low.

Too often in schools where I have worked students are no longer allowed to fail.  I, as the teacher, am expected to do everything in my power to ensure they “succeed”, where success is measured in terms of grades rather than in terms of learning.  (I obviously have my own very strong feelings about this, but this is not the place to vent them!!)  I love the idea of allowing students to fail while motivating them to keep trying and proving to them that they can come back from apparent failure, and they come back stronger, smarter, and wiser!

Though this article does not answer the question of how can I restructure my homework grading system, it highlights current thinking and research in the field of gamification, letting me know that this is a worthwhile avenue to pursue.  Not that I ever doubted Loren of course!

My plan to implement a systematic rewards system is barely worthy of being titled as gamification, but I need to start small and see where it leads.  Stay tuned!

Radical Revamp … in Small Increments

From the original image Pupae by Moonrhino  Quote by John Seely Brown, as seen in the 21st Century Learner video on YouTube.

Embracing Change posted by Keri-Lee Beasley; From the original image Pupae by Moonrhino Quote by John Seely Brown, as seen in the 21st Century Learner video on YouTube.

As this school year and my COETAIL course comes to an end, I have begun the task of setting my “Summer Reflections and Actions List” … you know what I mean … that list of educationally-focused tasks that, in an ideal, perfect world, I will diligently work through over the summer.  In my dream scenario, before reality takes over, I begin with honest reflection on my current practices, identifying what has worked and more importantly what has not worked this school year.  After careful consideration and copious research (remember … dream scenario) I want to devise changes for improving the classroom experience for my students, refining what has worked and completely revamping what has not.  (Please note that I did not say “for improving my teaching” as I hope to move steadily toward a more student-centered educational experience.)  Having thoughtfully and thoroughly worked through the list, blogged about my reflections (a nod to you Jeff), and updated current lesson plans to accommodate my new direction, I hope my teaching next year will be vastly improved, … and since I am still in my dream scenario … the sense of being constantly behind will be a distant memory, and I will leave work at a reasonable time everyday knowing that I am fully prepared for every eventuality that could occur …EVER.  And, of course, my students, after a few hours of exposure to my new direction and outlook, combined with my calm nature, will be transformed into independent learners, with strong critical thinking skills … they will become effective collaborators and clear communicators … they will, of course, perfectly model our core school values of respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness … they will be held up as role models to be emulated by others, they will bring about world peace and an end to poverty … and when asked the reason for their radical transformation, the students will smile a knowing smile and say “Ms. Connor” …  Ahhhhh!!

Oops … sorry!  I think my dream scenario went a little too far!  Let’s get back to reality.

Seriously though, I hope to spend some time this summer reevaluating my current teaching practices and choosing a few small, yet significant areas of change to implement for next year.

Realizing that this may change in the coming weeks, I currently have three key areas that I want to consider.

  1. I want to design a new homework system that will motivate and reward students rather than discourage and punish.  A system where positive reinforcement in the form of individual and class rewards can be worked towards.  (Unless Loren manages to finish his Gamification homework plan before he graduates, then I will just test out his plan.)

    The Joys of Homework by Cayusa

    At the end of last school year, a colleague and I were contemplating new ways to assign and grade homework.  We wanted to make it meaningful, efficient and authentic.  But after some discussion, we decided that there was no perfect way, and perhaps not even a “better” way to check that students were completing their homework in a manner that would enhance their understanding of the topic.  So this year I continued with my same old approach.  In all its’ unimaginative glory, here it is:  At the beginning of the year I use class time to carefully check homework for completion.  Student’s work is examined for evidence that every question is attempted and that work is shown.  Part of homework is to check the answers with the aid of the back of the book so  students can ask questions of me or a peer (preferably before class) for all those problems that they could not solve correctly.  Corrections are then done in a different color as a visual reminder of concepts to be aware of in the future.  Having used significant class time early in the year to establish my expectations, I then turn the task of grading homework over to the students and have them do peer grading of the homework at the beginning of class.  With that inauspicious starting point, there has to be a way to improve the process and the expectations.  Gamification seems like it could help, so I am going to start the reflection and research there.

  2. I want to identify one key concept/unit/topic that can be taught using the flipped classroom model.  Once that topic is determined, I need to begin to plan the unit and hopefully record some of the lessons.  Currently I think that Vectors from the IB Higher Level Math curriculum might be suitable to be presented in this manner.

Vectors

  1. I want to develop a plan for how I can use the Harkness Method of teaching to enhance the effectiveness of the problem-solving portion of each lesson.  (Coupling this with a reward plan might be investigated in the future, but I need to think the process and consequences through first.)  How can I use the challenging problems tackled during class to encourage collaboration and communication of solid mathematical processes, and make it student-centered?  The vague outline that I want to reflect on and develop involves blocking out set portions of time during all (or maybe just some) classes to have students present solutions to difficult problems, whether from the class notes or from the homework and then have them discuss alternate problem-solving strategies or more elegant approaches.  The idea would be to analyze each person’s work through open and judgment-free discussions, providing a safe place for students to ask questions.  A key to making this work is going to be identifying problems that can be solved by numerous methods as well as having questions that require the synthesis of multiple skills and strategies.  But as I said, this all needs to be thought through more carefully to make it a truly positive experience and to optimize the chances of it succeeding.  My original thoughts were that this would be diametrically opposed to the flipped classroom model, but now I am not so sure … something to think on further.
At The College Preparatory School

Students and instructor seated around a Harkness table

This time next year I want to look back and see significant changes in the experience students have in my classroom.  I don’t want to feel that it was one more year of doing the same thing.  I know that my current teaching practices meet the needs of some students, but there is always room for improvement if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone.  Some of the changes may fail miserably, but at least that will give me a new starting point for my “Summer Reflections and Actions List” next year.  So, armed with my new tech skills, a lot of reading and contemplation, I hope to walk boldly into next year.

Now, if I can just follow through on this brilliant summer plan and not get distracted by the thought of sitting under a palm tree, looking out over crystal blue water, and reading a book for the whole summer!

Beach, Nilandho, Faafu Atoll, Maldives. By Shazwan

Gamifying Education

Anyone Who Stops Learning is Old by Keri-Lee Beasley

Anyone who stops learning is old …

I, like most people don’t want to get old.  So if Henry Ford’s quote “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”   is true, then I need to keep learning.

Fortunately, I have some great teachers challenging me to think and rethink ideas.  Some of these teachers are sitting in my classroom every day.  The discussions I have with students educate me in so many areas.  They teach me about the latest technology they are using, the games they are playing, and the thought processes they are evaluating.  They share what motivates and challenges them, what they find interesting, … and what they find BORING!  I have been introduced to books I would never have read and logic questions I would never have pursued by their queries and insights.  Some days it is more than I can take in.  But, it gets better.  While my students teach me so many things, they have now taken their role one fabulous step further …

Students are now doing my homework for me!  Sweet!

After an intriguing discussion with Loren about game design and future career prospects in the gaming industry (obviously for Loren and not for me), I received an email that said:

Dear Ms. Connor,

This might be something you would be able to write about on your blog post, and if not, is still very stimulating brain exercise.

Hope you enjoy it:  http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/gamifying-education

This video intrigued me as it provided some very simple steps to help students be more engaged in learning.  (The fact that a student recommended it also suggests that the concepts are on the right track.)  Next year I am going to try and readjust my homework grading approach in a similar manner to that discussed in the presentation and see what happens.

It makes sense that by gaining points for work done rather than losing them would increase motivation as students work toward specifically identified goals and rewards.  The idea of employing this reward system to encourage students to think, to research, to collaborate, to communicate, to learn and to be independent makes sense.  And considering the time students spend earning rewards in their game scenarios, it might engage some students who have otherwise not been involved.

Rewards from MrTPlus

The idea of having class rewards when certain goals are attained also encourages collaboration as the strong students want to help those that are struggling so they can reach the class goal faster.  And the weaker students cheer on the success of the others.

Loren and I have discussed these ideas at length.  In fact, Loren came back a few weeks later and told me some of the down-sides of gamifying education, comparing it to some of the rewards systems employed by airline and other commercial enterprises.  (I need to talk with him again to share further about this.)

Over the summer I hope to get a plan together for how this might be used in my classroom.  Only by testing it out will I truly see if it is effective.  Having Loren help design this plan to “gamify” parts of my class greatly increases the likelihood of it catching student’s attention as he knows what would motivate him.  He also looks at the implementation from a student perspective.  Loren found this site where R. Spicar shares how he has gamified his courses.  Since finding this, Loren has been working on a plan for me.  If his ideas come to fruition, I will share them with you as I know he is contemplating how to reward true learning and prevent cheating, how to motivate and engage.

To investigate some of these ideas, I hope to use some insights in the following papers:

Gamification of Education

What Games Have to Teach Us About Teaching and Learning:  Game Design as a Model for Course and Curricular Development by Kimon Keramidas

Gamification in Education:  What, How, Why Bother?

Gamifying Homework

I for one can’t wait to see his plan and look forward to learning from him for many years to come.

Revisiting the Dreaded Quadratic Formula

It is hard to believe that it was one year ago that I posted “DON’T MAKE ME LISTEN TO THAT SONG AGAIN!!” reflecting on how technology was used (in a small way) to help students learn the Quadratic Formula .  My nightmares all had a “Pop Goes the Weasel” soundtrack  after listening to the quadratic formula sung to this tune many, many, many times!  So this year as I turned the page in my notes and saw the words “Quadratic Formula” my heart skipped a beat and my palms began to sweat.  How was I going to survive the trauma again this year?

Fear the Dark by Stuant63

Fortunately, this year I was spared some of the agony.  I only have one Algebra 1 class and we very quickly looked at some of the quadratic formula videos from YouTube.  It was comparatively quick and painless.  But last year I had said that I might extend the technology use this year … so why not?  My nightmares have diminished and I can take it!  So students were asked to create a video of their own to help them remember the formula.  I was very impressed with the results!  The quadratic formula was put to music in unique and creative ways.  The music used included “Happy Birthday”, the “ABC Song”, a couple of raps, a song by “One Direction”, and some original music.  The creativity with the songs as well as the video editing skills of the class impressed me.  Once the videos were finished, students uploaded them to the class Google site.  One video was not able to be viewed after it was linked to the site.  Before I was even aware of the problem, another student has posted instructions on how to correctly upload the video!  Thank goodness, because I have no idea how to do that … it all seems like magic to me!

Here are some of the videos created by my class!

 

The bloopers and “historical perspective” added to the charm of this video.

This group could run a course in “How to Earn Brownie Points” for the way they ended their video, but it made me smile!!

This student did a great job of taking a well known song, adapting the words to fit the formula and using appropriate props!

Besides recording their videos, many students extended their production by including bloopers which is always good for a laugh. What a privilege to be blessed with such a creative group of students.

There were a number of other excellent videos submitted, but this gives you an idea of the craftsmanship of these students!

So next time those infamous words “Quadratic Formula” end up in front of me, there will be no need to panic … the students have got this!