Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shall We Play a Game (& Learn)?

Since chatting with Tom Driscoll via Google Hangout and Brian Germaine at the EdSurge RIDE event in the Fall, meeting up with Chris Aviles at Techspo14, viewing Mr. Lewis' Edmodo Webinar on Gamification, and engaging with my #TeamMAITs in class, I'm intrigued by the didactic nature of games. I've been thinking about how to use gamification with my students to restructure the learning activities to mimic aspects of a video game that encourage student involvement in the classroom.  Using a simplistic approach, I decided not to go full tilt with a backstory and XP spreadsheets and instead tried this out by first changing how I deliver content to the students. Because gamification promotes blended-flipped learning, behaviorism conditioning techniques and self-paced instruction, I'm hopeful that this instructional design will help meet the needs of some of my lower-level, reluctant learners.

Deploying a combination of 1:1, BYOD, and paper-based activities, I am able to give my students an opportunity to pace themselves through the levels. Scheduling consistent time in the computer lab, 3 days a week throughout the unit we are 1:1 with Chromebooks and computers. But keep in mind, while the students are allowed to go at their own pace within the window I give them, they do not have to work alone. Even when in front of the computers, my students discuss the material and engage with each other. The other two days a week, we are in the classroom using BYOD for group and teacher-led activities.

Instructional Game Design

In Edmodo, I created a separate group exclusively for our Greek Mythology and Odyssey Unit. On the main newsfeed, there is one welcoming message that provides an overview of the design and unit. All of the subtopics for the unit are organized in individual small groups, of which all of my students are members of. I also have all groups set to read-only. Students will access resources and assignments in the small groups, but all discussions and sharing of their work will take place in our original class group. Students can only see the small groups they have completed or are currently in. As students successfully complete the tasks of one group, I "unlock" and add the students to the next small group--my version of "leveling up". 

Take a look at this screencast to see the group set up:

I think this is an effective design because the students won't get lost scrolling through the myriad of posts that appear on our ever-updating class newsfeed. All content is organized by subject/keyword, so if a students needs to refer to resources on the gods and goddesses of Greek Mythology, they simply go to that small group and see the 5-10 items listed on the newsfeed. Organization and archiving of resources is much more manageable than trying to rifle through a three-ring binder or online folders. 

Also, I like this design because I will have student performance organized by topic/unit.  I see very quickly how well a student performs in this particular unit, as opposed to my district gradebook which keeps a running tally of all grades for the marking period. I can also use the Edmodo gradebook as my leaderboard for the "game". 

I'm considering setting up all of my units for next year using this "game" design with each unit having its own Edmodo group, and as I become more proficient I can incorporate more gaming techniques.

Behaviorism is a Game

Video games are behaviorism in action. We've all felt the addictive pull of playing a video game: look at the popularity of games such as Candy Crush, Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja, and systems such as Xbox, Wii, and PlayStation. We are bombarded with positive and negative reinforcement every time we play: extra points, bonuses, difficult levels, and the thrill of success. So attempting to mimic these elements, I use badges, positive comments, and quick tasks to encourage students to "level-up" to the next small group.

In Edmodo, I created badges specific to the Odyssey unit and award them as students perform. I am surprised at how badges positively reinforce the students-- they keep doing more to get more badges. I can barely keep up with them! Some badges are awarded for completing a level, other badges are awarded for behavior (helping others, quick problem solving, etc.). Luckily badge making in Edmodo is very simple and adding badges to a group is even easier. I'm torn though: I'm glad that my students are motivated, but I wish that they weren't so externally motivated. Then again, you can't have intrinsic motivation if you are told to do it.

Since the tasks in each group take about 15-30 minutes maximum, students can quickly level up after demonstrating proficiency. This was a big tip from Tom Driscoll: in order to keep students hooked, they should be able to "level up" quickly. So rather than cramming a bazillion assignments in each group, I created more groups with few assignments in each. This also helps to keep me on track with grading. I have caught myself procrastinating on grading big assignments because they take so long to grade, but with smaller assignments, I too can feel the success of leveling up and completing a task because I can grade a set of small assignments quickly adding positive and constructive comments as needed. By increasing the frequency of completion, we all receive the positive reinforcement more often.

I will agree that gamification seems gimmicky, but keep the notion of the game in mind. How many levels are in Candy Crush? How many can you get through in one sitting? And what happens when you can't get through a level quickly? Yup, you use up all of your "life," get bored and walk away from the game. But progress quickly and you find enjoyment playing. But I can't help wonder: Do we play the game because we want to, or do we keep playing the game because we've been conditioned to? 

I'm still figuring this out as I go, and I have lots of room for improvement both in design and execution. Look for some more posts on this topic and my students and I continue our quest. If you have any tips, tricks, or best practices, please share! 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

FINALLY! Chrome Screencastify!

As a work around for not having screencasting capabilities on my Chromebook, I would do a Google Hangout by myself, capture to YouTube, and screenshare to record the screencast. Then I'd have to go back and edit out my initial clicking around to screenshare. While this worked, it was cumbersome and inefficient. I've been patiently waiting a Chrome screencasting app that doesn't use Java, and have instead been using Screencast-o-matic on my school and home computers. So imagine my excitement when Richard Byrne's post sharing Screencastify came across my newsfeed! After installing the extension in my Chrome browser, I immediately tried it out.

To record a tab, click on the icon in your browser and a window appears to access settings and start/pause/stop recording. To learn more about how to use Screencatstify, check out their YouTube video.

I had some issues with it dropping audio and frames and had to change the setting to 1FPS to record the following screencast and it wouldn't let me direct upload to YouTube.  Now I was using this on my home WiFi network which is limited in bandwidth, so I wonder if I would encounter the same issues at school on a better network, and I have 2 different Google log ins (one for school & one for home), so I wonder if the multiple log ins contributed to not being able to upload to YouTube. I was able to save the file to my Chromebook and then upload it manually to YouTube without issue.

Overall, I can't complain, and since Screencastify is still in Beta, I anticipate that any issues I have will be resolved with time as the developers receive feedback. I've waited this long, so I can be patient for just a bit longer.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

3 Tools for Speaking & Listening

Working in a large school district and being the mom of two girls in elementary school, I'm exposed to numerous germs everyday, and while I know I've built up a strong immunity over the years, sometimes I get sidelined with an ailment. Well, for the first time EVER in 15 years of teaching, I have contracted  conjunctivitis (aka pink-eye). I will spare you the details, but know that it is gross, hurts, and my eye looks like it could be a zombie extra in a Walking Dead episode. I can't wear contacts; my eyes are light sensitive; I can't see that well, but my brain still is working. So, using the proverbial lemons to make the proverbial lemonade, I got to thinking about tools that could help the visually impaired and bolster auditory and speaking skills.

Voice Dictation

Searching the Chrome Webstore for voice keyboards, I came across this Chrome app, Voice Recognition. The navigation is easy to use, and as long as you have a webcam microphone built in, there is no need for an external mic. I also like that I can export my dication to Google Drive and Dropbox or save to computer or send via email. Accuracy, as with any voice recognition program, is dependent on speed and articulation. While I would want the dictation to be highly accurate, it does provide an opportunity for a lesson in revision of text. Pair up students with one doing the dictation and the other doing the editing, and you have an opportunity for a lesson on voice (literally) and intention in writing.

Screenshot of Voice Recognition
While I have to use Voice Recognition in the app, I'd like to find a tool that could be used in any browser window or program on a Chromebook or computer.  On personal devices, I like using the Google Voice keyboard on my Samsung Galaxy S3  dictate into an open Google doc, but I haven't come across anything similar for Chromebooks/computers.  Please share if you know of such a tool!

Read to Me

SpeakIt! is a Chrome extension where you highlight text that you would to have read aloud. After adding the extension to your browser, highlight the text, and click the icon in your browser tool bar. A little pop up box appears and you hear the text being read aloud.  For the visually impaired, this extension is not as easy to use since you have to select text and click on a small icon, but for those who like being read aloud to and to reinforce reading skills, this extension is useful.

SoundGecko is site that will read an entire webpage article to you. Simply visit the site, paste in the URL and your email address, and start listening. SoundGecko can be used on any device or computer using a browser window. I can see (even with my pink eye) using SoundGecko during listening activities, asking students to listen and answer questions based on what they heard. Teachers could also use SoungGecko for BYOD stations where students practice listening skills.

Whether visually impaired or not, these three tools are useful for practicing speaking and auditory skills. Know of others? Please share! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tag and Chat

Confused colleagues will ask me about Twitter:

What are those number sign thingies? 
How do you chat?
Do I friend or follow someone? 
Where do I find people to follow? 

Hashtags (those number sign # thingies) are used to tag posts and help organize people in a chat. Tagging means to label with a keyword. The number sign provides a visual cue signifying the label.  Tags can be self generated or recognized by groups of people as "official". When tweeting out links to resources, I tag the tweet (ie. include the hashtag and keyword) for the appropriate audience.  For example, if I'm sharing a resource that English teachers would find helpful, I use the tag #engchat (English chat).  I can incorporate as many tags as I can fit in 140 characters when trying to reach a larger audience. So if I my tweet was appropriate for English teachers who use technology and flip their classroom, I would use the hashtags #Engchat, #flipclass, and #edtech.

Professors and school-approved twitter accounts may also use hashtags for classes, athletics, and district events. You will often see me use the hashtag #teamMAIT when I want to share posts with my Masters in Instructional Technology classmates. Twitter and hashtags are an effective method for sharing resources and announcements. Since the tweets are always being sent, I can search for the hashtag to find relevant posts that I may have missed.

Besides tagging tweets, hashtags are also used to connect people during a chat.  To participate in a live Twitter chat, sign on at the scheduled time and search for the hashtag. The moderator of the chat will post questions using an alphanumeric system: Q1 for question 1, Q2 for question 2, and so on. Participants reply by including A1, A2, respectively with their answers to the questions AND include the appropriate hashtag of the chat. If you don't include the hashtag, people who do not follow you and are participating in the chat will not see your posts, and you will miss out on the conversation.

Chats usually last an hour, but I can tell you from experience that it does not feel like an hour! My favorite chats to participate in are #Flipclass on Monday nights, #NJED on Tuesday nights, #patue and #edmodochat which are on Thursdays, and Teachercast's #TechEducator chat and podcast on Sunday nights.  I try to participate weekly, but I'm not always able to when balancing home, school, and coaching.  But if I miss the chat, all I have to do is search for the hashtag the next day and scroll through the tweets. Moderators of chats may also archive the chat using Storify or a Google Script.

The Official Twitter Educational Chat Schedule is a useful resource for looking for specific chats. Aside from being scheduled weekly, Twitter chats have been known to organically grow out of circumstances and when opportunities present themselves. Conferences will encourage participants to use a common hashtag to continue the conversation online (#CEL, #EdmodoCon, #NCTE to name a few), and I had the pleasure of moderating a serediptious #SnowEDin chat during a snow day-- educators who were off from school because of a snow day joined in at noon to talk about relevant topics. Just be aware of the hastags you choose: while those of us were focused on the educational aspects of being snowed in (hence the capitalization of ED in #snowEDin), others not participating in the chat posted generally about being snowed in using #snowedin. "Official" hashtags aren't all that official-- it is just a group of people agreeing on a common meaning of the hashtag.
Search the hashtag, then click on PEOPLE to see who is
uses this hashtag. Then click on follow to make a connection.

Twitter chats are an excellent way to find people to follow. By following people who share common interests, you are constructing meaningful connections in an ever-ongoing stream of information. You can then see who those people follow to find others to connect with.  Visit my profile, @KtBkr4, and take a look at who I follow and begin to build your own Personal Learning Network in a few short clicks. There's no "friend requests" needed, and you can choose to unfollow someone at any time.

To learn all there is about using Twitter, visit Cybrary Man's Twitter Page.  Jerry Blumengarten, aka the Cybrary Man,  is simply amazing, and his superpower of curating information for educators to access on the web is a tremendous gift to all of us who engage in online learning.

As you become more adept with using hashtags, be sure to engage in some hashtag shenanigans or #hashtaggery to add some pizzazz to your tweets. Just be ware of excessively incorporating hashtagging in your daily life, as seen in the hilarious skit by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Edmodo Quizzes: Tips & Tricks

Edmodo's quiz feature is a versatile tool that saves teachers time. Whether used for quick informational checks or unit tests, the quiz feature enables teachers to assign formative and summative assessments with ease.  I use Edmodo Quizzes for assessing students' knowledge acquisition, practicing PARCC related digital literacy skills, and demonstrating students' application of knowledge learned through out the marking period. I will never grade a multiple choice quiz/test by hand ever again, and Edmodo quizzes provide a paperless way for me to easily read and score open ended, paragraph responses.

Formative Chunks

When my students are learning large amounts of information such as vocabulary words or types of literary
devices, I break the list up into smaller chunks and assign quick, no more than 8 questions quizzes. Leading up to the final test, students take one quick quiz per day and get immediate feedback on what they know and do not know. I will use multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank or matching type questions for my quick quizzes.

A note about fill-in-the-blank, you may run into issues with misspellings or students not providing the exact phrase/word. I don't mind encountering the errors/issues on the quick quizzes because I want students to learn from their mistakes and understand why they didn't get the correct answer. For quick quizzes, I usually do not use the short answer format because I want students to receive immediate feedback rather than wait for me to score their answer.

Summative Assessments

Summative unit tests can easily be given using Edmodo's quiz feature. I prefer to use the multiple choice and short answer formats because it avoids any issues with fill-in-the-blanks or matching and requires students to focus on the content of the assessment.

I can also link resources to specific quiz questions to assess high-level thinking skills.  On the summative test for our drama unit, I linked pictures of specific scenes from West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet, and Pygmalion and during our Odyssey unit, I included images from Odysseus' journey added to questions so that students had a colorful visual to refer to. For assessing visual analysis skills, Edmodo quizzes are much more effective than paper tests that included black and white  photocopied images.

My summative tests are open resources (book, notebook, web, etc), but my students quickly learn that they must know the material prior to the test because time is paramount. I purposely design tests with time in mind; students should spend approximately 30 seconds on multiple choice questions. If students are organized and prepared beforehand, they can quickly locate an answer they can't remember with out wasting too much time. While my summative tests do assess content knowledge, I'm also assessing and reinforcing organization and time management skills.

Time Management for Teachers 

Short Answer Response as First Question
To help speed up your grading time, when writing the Edmodo quiz, put your open-ended, paragraph response questions as the first questions on your quiz and then follow with your multiple choice, true/false, matching questions. I then select "randomize questions" so that the short answers are not usually the first questions the students encounter. How does this speed up my grading time? Well, when I open up each student's test responses, I have few clicks to get to the short answer responses I have to score.

When the short answer is last, I must click on MORE then
scroll down to last one to review responses.

At this time, students can take quizzes on either computers, Chromebooks, or iPads, but they cannot take a quiz on a smartphone or other personal device.  However, teachers CAN grade responses on any device. I've scored short answer responses while on my smartphone, iPad, Chromebook, home laptop, and school computer.

Edmodo also banks all questions that teachers create. When I want to create a new quiz, I can easily load questions from previous quizzes by searching using keywords. So I can reuse questions from my formative quick quizzes and include them on summative tests.

Edmodo Quiz is All I Need

Despite the plethora of online quiz tools available on the web, Edmodo is my go-to quiz creator: all quizzes are organized in the "Progress" area (gradebook), there is easy to see data analytics available, and, best of all, it saves me time creating and scoring assessments. While quizzes and tests are not my only method of assessing students, Edmodo makes it easy to do so when needed.