What Are My Grades?

Most parents and students would like to know what their grades are in my class. As a teacher, I wanted to find a way to share my students’ grade so they know exactly where they stand in class at any given moment throughout the school year. Of course there are many awesome yearly prepaid grading programs out there, but I wanted one that can easily be share with their school gmail. Thus, I decided to go with Google Sheets. Since Google Sheet can be share with students flawlessly.

Image of a gradebook spreadsheetOnce I created this master Google Sheet to keep track of my students’ grades, I ran into a problem. I realize that if I share my master sheet, my students will get to see all their classmates’ grades. So I decided to research online and found a solution.

Image of an individual student's grade spreadsheetAll I needed to do was create a separate Google Sheet for each of my students. I used the formula =importrange(“mastersheet google sheet name”,”A1:A9”) to import those cells to each individual student’s Google Sheet. This way they will only see their grades and not the whole class.

By seeing their grades live, I notice a few benefits among parents, students, and myself. Most students tend to want to turn in their classwork/homework ontime. In addition doing their best on the test as this helps improve their overall grades. Most importantly, I don’t have any parents or students complaining about their grades by the end of each trimester.

3D Rendering

Humans are creative creatures. Whether finding ways to turn branches and leaves into shelter, or turning whale oil into candles, or tweaking electrical signals to be able to transmit voice through a telephone. Innovation is often born of necessity, but it can also be the catalyst which transforms innocent curiosity into great discover and growth. Not all of our students are on grade level, or proficient in every subject, but every student in all of our classes is creative, and we should be using that to teach them deeper level thinking and analytical skills. This is where 3D rendering comes in.

In talking with other teachers it seems likely that at most of our schools there is probably at least one classroom with a 3D printer in it. That allows for rendering to be taken to another level, but is hardly a requirement for students to be able to get something substantial out of it. In fact, we have yet to print anything out all year, but my students regularly render objects for an assortment of tasks.

Fifth grade math we get into three dimensional shapes and learn volume. Students can use place values cubes and other manipulatives, or they can draw out 3D shapes on graph paper. These are good ways to gain a conceptual understanding of shape. Though when you have to attend to precision in rendering a rectangular prism, ensuring sides measure out exactly as they are supposed to, students have to access a level of thinking and analyzing their creation deeper than stacking cubed manipulatives.

Image of a student produced 3D bridge renderingScience brings up a variety of ways we can take advantage of 3D rendering. Classes in many grades have students tackle engineering design challenges, and allowing them to create something much more significant than toothpicks in marshmallows allows these challenges to become more meaningful. You also have the ability to add constraints to their builds. If students need to create a bridge, you can give size requirements/limitations and students need to think more analytically to bring their designs to life while following these outlines.

Teaching modern or digital art can offer other uses. There are a variety of free programs or websites available for use, such as Tinkercad, but many require students to make accounts that have to be verified by a parent, so that needs to be done ahead of time. If you are not sure how you may use it, try one for yourself and explore. Your students may amaze you with what they can create. Last year my students designed the keychains we 3D printed and sold at the school carnival!

 

Making Science Meaningful

Some of the most meaningful learning experiences for me as an educator has involved teaching science. For some time it was a lost or misplaced content area after a district driven by making scores pushed it out. During this void, I was fortunate enough to be a part of engaging professional development. Reflecting on myself as a learner, I loved projects and learning through them.

Image of a student project.

A flow chart created in Google Drawing illustrating the food chain and flow of energy of an endangered species.

My joy for new and enticing PD led me to venture into project based learning (PBL) and trying some STEM courses over at Teachers’ College a few summers ago. It was idealistic that these two active learning pieces would fit nicely over the course of the next four school years. In order to not overwhelm myself, I started with a very loose PBL structure that embedded reading and writing skills within the science learning. It was easy for me to incorporate these content areas because I was also actively utilizing AVID strategies within my routine instructional practices.

Image of a student made insect model

The insect baby made from chenille stems a student created through drafting Punnett squares to uncover the alleles the insect would exhibit.

What eventually became the icing on the cake was infusing art into my teaching of science concepts. I had the pleasure of teaching for two school years at Elmwood Elementary where art is “the thing.” My time and experience in using art in my lessons really changed the dynamic of the “finished product.” I found it easier to include the elements of art in many of the projects and students were enamored by the idea of using art.

Image of a student project.

Students learn about simple machines and build a compound machine that incorporates multiple machines using recycled materials.

Here’s an outline of my instructional process. I build units based on major science concepts using the Next Generation Science Standards. Within those units I incorporate reading, writing, collaboration, communication and technology skills. I backwards map the major ideas to be learned and follow that learning using assessment checkpoints. Most often these checkpoints build on one idea to the next leading up to the final product. All units are built organically and the projects or tasks may have changed from year to year upon reflection.

Creating these interdisciplinary units have been developed over time through constant reflection and an earnest desire to have my students fall in love with science. They may seem overwhelming but I have found it as a way to work smarter by combining necessary skills from other core subjects. Fall in love with the idea of having students learning science with meaningful experiences that will spark their curiosity while practicing skills that will make them better learners in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

Padlet.com as a Homework Alternative

The dreaded homework dilemma.  How much should be assigned to get the right amount of practice?  Will students get it done? How should it be graded and how do students receive feedback?  Developing a homework philosophy can be a tricky endeavor given the severe implications it may have on family time, learning retention, and student morale.

In the book, Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller and Alice Keller, the authors address many of the classic issues students and teachers face when it comes to homework. It also outlines some key strategies and practices that can help make homework more meaningful, empower students, and move away from the inefficient turnaround cycle with minimal academic benefit of traditional worksheet/textbook practice.

Cover art for the book The essential question the authors pose asks educators to evaluate whether assigned homework is given purely to foster compliance and can be classified as busy work, or instead; facilitate collaboration, creativity, and deeper learning.  The book goes on to to discuss various alternatives and resources for those who may fall under the former category of homework ineptitude.

After digesting the material from the book, of which I was more than happy to take a huge helping of, I obtained the nourishment needed to spark an idea of my own using one of the resources mentioned in Ditch That Homework.  The result was an assignment created using Padlet that I hoped would result in a more valuable homework experience.

Through many conversations with my daughter during her advanced high school math homework sessions I realized that she didn’t have many opportunities to problem solve and collaborate with her peers on some of the most complex and rigorous items.  She also didn’t have the chance to practice some kind of retrieval every so often during her studies. In the book, Matt Miller and Alice Keller present powerful evidence that suggests stopping learning often to retrieve information (self-assess, summarize, or create mind maps) dramatically increases mastery of content.  

Screen shot of the homework question.

This is the assignment posted.

So how can educators embed these type of important opportunities into a homework assignment using a simple and free resource such as Padlet?  I started with Google Classroom. This way I could lay out all of the expectations of the homework and provide a link to the Padlet assignment created.

An example of student responses

An example of student responses.

From home the students can click on the link to the Padlet resource itself and access the math performance task posted.  In this medium they have the ability to collaborate and problem solve together. 

An example of student responses

An example of student images submitted as a response.

Students can post their calculations and work by uploading pictures or using the drawing application available in the Padlet post.

Audio and video are also an option to post questions, justification and reasoning, or even demonstrations of solving the problem.  Feedback within the student group can be instantaneous. To extend the discussion even further, take a few minutes in class to debrief the work as a class.  Management of how many groups or different tasks will be assigned may take some planning but overall the students will be the ones doing all the heavy lifting – as it should be.

A student submitted audio file.

A student submitted audio file.

Using Padlet.com as a homework medium allows students to have a discussion around the critical thinking process and receive peer support.  This type of assignment promotes student agency where they are directing their own learning and assessing others. It doesn’t burn them out by practicing numerous problems of which they have already mastered or by just getting more and more frustrated if they don’t know the content.  Just one complex task that is an application of the content standard is sufficient. It won’t take all night to complete but still promotes a deeper understanding of the concept.

This resource is user friendly and has many different styles of templates to follow. Performance tasks for other content areas could work in a similar fashion. Through AVID professional development sessions I have seen Padlet used for Socratic Seminars and other collaborative strategies.  These activities could be modified for homework purposes as well. I recommend exploring the resource specifically for homework purposes and ideas. The possibilities seem only limited to the imagination.

GSuite in the Math Classroom Part II

For the past few years, I have assigned slide presentations and technology based projects as options in semester final projects. In the 18-19 school year I made presentations required since they need to know how to use presentations for not only the SBAC but in college and career.

Each student pair is assigned a topic lesson that is covered on the semester final.  Students are to do a multitude of tasks along with their Google Slides presentation. Students are to create interactive activities using technology such as Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizlet, etc. for the class to do during the couple of weeks right before finals as part of their presentation.  In at least one of the examples that they do on their slideshow, they must use Desmos to create a table, diagram or graph that models the situation.  I created a folder on Google Classroom where their Google Slides will live as they work on them so that other students can look at their work to help them review for the semester final. It becomes an amazing resource for their semester review that they themselves created and can use!

Students were given a couple of months to work on their project. All of my classes had to do this project. At the time of this writing are currently working on semester 2 final projects.  There are some pictures and a video for you to see how the presentations are run. They are definitely engaging and student led. Enjoy!

As I have previously stated in part one, implementing the use of Google Apps and other technology in the math classroom covers at least two topics from the Common Core 8 Mathematical Practice Standards.  Students are engaged by modeling with mathematics and using appropriate tools strategically.

I am a lifelong learner and this year has been quite challenging. Many would say that I am well-versed in technology usage but I disagree. I have much to learn and have enjoyed this journey immensely.  Have a great new school year and I hope to do something innovative this school year!


Below is a gallery of pictures from some of the student presentations.

Some teams of students created an interactive activity using Quizlet. Students also had to create presentations to demonstrate their mastery of concepts.

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In the video below students are participating in a student led interactive activity using Quizlet.

 

Virtual Field Trips

Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks.  Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly.  Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.

One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students.  PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers.  The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication.  The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks.  The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.

Some of the PORTS topic include:

To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website.  All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.  

To get started, go to the PORTS website  and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study).  Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference.  The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.

Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips.  It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences.  You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.

Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker.  They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website.  This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.

I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.