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!

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.

Flipped Out

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Thanks to Jasper for allowing me to use footage of his airborne antics!

Having been motivated and challenged by the esteemed likes of Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, the pioneers of the flipped classroom, Peter Pappas through his blog exhortation, and Brian Bennett through his google hangout interaction and blogging, it is time to figure out what this flipping process is really all about.

Jonathan Bergman in The Flipped Class Blog outlines the potential benefits of the flipped classroom saying:

“We believe strongly in the proper implementation of the Flipped Model because it has so many benefits which speak to the heart of education reform.  The Flipped Model allows for:

Furthermore, Peter Pappas says:

“Instead of class time being filled with the pointless transfer of information from teacher to student, you and your students would have the time to apply and explore the content in a more engaging and project-based classroom.”

His statement is what started the rusty wheels of my imagination turning, as I started to dream of all the possibilities and benefits of this process for preparing my students for life after high school.  Actually, what it did was bring to mind the conversations I have recently enjoyed having with some of my students, as described at the beginning of my previous post Less is More.  Though we talk about student’s hopes, dreams and thoughts, it is not those particular conversations that I want to focus on.  Instead, it is the learning-driven, sometimes curriculum-based, problem-solving discussions I have been privileged enough to listen to and be part of.

To set the scene …

timepiece prime time clock closeup watch by zoute drop

When I think about the learning that I get most enthusiastic about, it is not the “learning” I hope is going on when I deliver my carefully prepared and scripted lesson.  This is teaching … not learning.  I don’t know (and probably don’t want to know) what is going on in the minds of my students as I lead them through our proscribed material for the day.  At the end of the class, I try to gauge how much they took in by seeing how effectively they can solve the examples.  Unfortunately, these examples are often straightforward as students need some proficiency in a topic before I can give them the more interesting questions and we just never have time to do these FUN questions.

But, I hear you ask, “Where is the problem-solving discussion you said you were part of?”  Where indeed!

I have had those discussions and enjoyed the thrill of hearing students engage in true learning.  Unfortunately, as indicated above, it is rarely happens during classtime.  Instead, this year I have experienced this pleasure in two unique settings.  Firstly, I have started offering bonus questions, when possible, to my BC Calculus and IB H2 students.  Students are invited to come and solve these problems with a partner after school.  The questions push the boundaries of what students know and provide them with the opportunity to try, and to fail, because they do not know exactly how to go about solving the problem.  But as they try and fail, and try and fail again, they start to truly share and discuss their problem-solving strategies.  They are engaged … they are motivated … they are INSPIRING!!  Some students have come back multiple times to work on the same question, making success that much sweeter.  Celebrating when someone succeeds after multiple attempts is a fabulous experience.

powered by Fotopedia

The second place where I have listened to and been part of such extraordinary conversation is in Math Team.  Each week multiple questions are proposed and groups of students work together to reach a solution.  They wander from group to group, questioning, arguing, analyzing, evaluating, THINKING, until they can eventually put all the pieces together and reach a solution.  One night a dedicated group worked on one particular problem for three hours, only to finally head home, not having reached a solution.  But each time we met in the hall or in the classroom, we would ask if anyone had made progress on the question.  I proposed it to students in my classes and they started bringing in new approaches to spark further progress.  Students not in Math Team or in my class were also bringing their ideas to me, having heard their friends talking about the question. What joy!!  To date, no one has reached a solution, but someone did find the solution online.  Despite this, many do not want to know the answer yet as they know their own solution is just around the corner.  Their next approach may just be the one that finally works!!

 

Problem Solving by Martino

Brian Bennett’s characteristics of an effective flipped classroom outline many of the outcomes that I find most invigorating about these problem-based conversations with students.  He says: In a flipped classroom

What these articles have finally driven through my exceptionally thick skull is that a flipped classroom would allow me to experience that rush of watching students learn and grow and struggle and fail and keep struggling until, having passed through fire, they emerge victorious and empowered on a daily basis, not just after school or in Math Team.  So, rather than saving these questions for after school when only those who want the extra credit show up, the flipped classroom would make them available to everyone.  And all students would have the opportunity to be part of the discussion.  And who knows, maybe while I am having so much fun, my students might just learn some math, and more importantly, learn to be independent thinkers and problem-solvers that truly are ready for the real world.  WOW!!  I can’t wait to get started!

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