14 September 2014

A glimpse of Google Classroom's potential

To be honest, I wasn't going to use Google Classroom this year. I see that it has a lot of potential, but it just didn't really fit what I wanted to do with my students this year. Last year I moved from my Moodle site to Edmodo. This year I was going to shift back to Moodle so that I could do more online assessments and free up time in the classroom for other activities. Unfortunately, Moodle is taking so long to get up and running the way I want it to that I needed to make another shift.

Enter Google Classroom.  Well, sort of...

So I didn't decided to use Google Classroom until the end of my first class of the day. The night before I shared a document we would need for the next class with all of my students. During the first block, I showed the students how to find the document, make a copy, and share it with me. In between classes I had the realization that everything I just did could happen a lot faster if I used Classroom.  Later in the day another class came in for the same lesson plan as earlier and, but we used Google Classroom this time for the assignment.  That class, despite having more students, were into the activity TEN MINUTES faster than the earlier class.

So I learned my lesson with that one. But the purpose of this post is not to talk about how prior planning would have helped with this. I wanted to share one aspect of the review process.

We are working on Naming and Forming Compounds. After explaining the process with ion cutouts as manipulatives, the students joined the Google Classroom and accessed the assignment for the day. First, what we found was the assignment doesn't appear in the students' Google Drive until the access it in Classroom first. This forces the students to log into Classroom to see any announcements or directions prior to starting the assignment. Once they have clicked on the assignment Classroom makes a copy in their folder (if you set it up to do that) and creates a link for the teacher to access it at any time.

For this assignment, I wanted to be able to check how the students were doing as they were both naming and forming ionic compounds. I told them that I would leave feedback in the document for them for the next class so they can correct their mistakes before the due date. Below are 2 screenshots so you can see my comments.:
As you can see above, this student had a number of mistakes that needed to be addressed. I left both short and long comments depending on what needed to be fixed. Also, any changes I recommend making can be left either as comments or "suggested edits" which is a new feature in Docs.

This student only made a minor mistake so I left positive note at the top.

All of the assignments for the class was in an alphabetized list for me in Classroom instead of being in my Incoming section of Google Drive mixed in with all of my other documents. Since everything is technically in my Google Drive, I was still able to leave feedback on the students' work from my phone (this is how I kill the hour my kids are in swimming class). I never found this easy to do from Edmodo and not possible at all in Moodle.

While Classroom really made this aspect of my job easier, the jury is still out on whether this will be my go to method for distributing assignments. It is great for HW/Classwork, but anything that requires group work doesn't function here. I will continue to update on how I use Classroom as the year progresses.

If you are using Google Classroom with your students, I would love to hear the ways it is working for you. Please leave your comments below. Thanks!

11 September 2014

Be audacious, get fired

I am reading Creativity, Inc. by Tim Something who is the founder and CEO of Pixar Studios. In the section I am reading, he talks about how he met John Lassiter--the Executive Producer and Director for many of Pixar's blockbusters like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2.  Here is a story that I found fascinating:

John Lassiter was a Disney animator in the early 1980s before coming to Pixar. He had this idea to create a short film which integrated computer generated graphics with hand-drawn animation. He, along with other Disney animators, visited George Lucas' ILM studios in the graphic arts division (where Pixar was born). He became amazed at the work they were doing with computer animation and decided to pitch his idea to his project managers at Disney. The managers listened to his ideas and shortly after that fired him. The animation team felt, at the time, that computers had no place in animated films. Within a few months, Lassiter was hired by what would become Pixar Studios.

Lassiter would go on to actually make the film which is what you can see below:
Lassiter's story is not unique. Many of the people we call geniuses in their field were originally laughed at or shunned because their ideas were too bold, too unique, or too revolutionary.

So, here is the message that I took away from this:  Be bold. Be daring. Be audacious. If your employer values you and values creative endeavors, you are set. If not, then find a place that will and you will better off because of it.

07 September 2014

First Day(s) of School

One of my unwritten goals for this year is to make a post every week. The idea that I want to pursue for the TED Ed Club is to help others see the awesome that is around them every day. The truth is I have awesome students and we do awesome things in the classroom so I want to share that with everyone.

This was the first week of school. My oldest son entered 2nd grade and every year he comes back and tells us he doesn't remember anything he did that day. When he entered Kindergarten, I remember him saying that the entire first day was him listening to his teachers tell the class the rules: where to sit, where to stand, when to talk. As he spoke all I heard was 'Sit. Stand. Speak. Good boy.' This year I vowed not to make class an obedience lesson.

The first day of school is a clean slate. I can be anyone I want. I can be the person I was last year or I can completely recreate myself. I chose the latter.

On the first day, I told my students that I didn't want to talk about procedures or grading or a syllabus. I talked about learning and my expectations for them and their expectations for me. I talked about my experience at the Google Teacher Academy and how it changed my life. I did a lot of talking, unfortunately, but they did a lot of smiling.

My classes are very different from each other. I think my Honors classes surprised me the most. I talk about my bungee chairs and how I encourage the class to make the classroom their learning space, to be as comfortable as possible. One of classes just stared at the chairs as if I told them they could sit on a bed of nails all class. My other class stopped me, asked if I was serious, and the second we broke for the activity, began pushing each other out of the way to get to the chairs. One student didn't make it so he sat on top of his group's desks, happy as a clam.

Colleagues came up to me on Friday and told me how their former students who have me told them how excited they were for my class. That makes me feel good, that they actually heard what I was trying to tell them. But on the 2nd day of class I wanted to be sure. I ran a PollEverywhere poll and asked "What was your biggest takeaway from last class?" Obviously each kid took something slightly different away, but here is a screenshot of my favorite:


I wasn't going for fun, but many realize that they will learn chemistry, they will learn new skills, and that they actually have to work. The ball is rolling and now I just need to keep this momentum going.

06 September 2014

Shuffling the deck

Think back to your HS science class days. The class probably looked something like this:

  1. The teacher introduces a new unit by giving you notes, then assigns HW that night based on what you just learned.
  2. The next class, you turn in your HW and then take a short quiz on what you learned last class.
  3. The teacher gives more notes, which are slightly more in-depth and complicated than last time, and gives HW again.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary.
  5. The teacher has you perform a lab that illustrates what you have been learning.
  6. You take a test on the unit.
I have to be honest, I am guilty of following this plan. As a teacher, I would find activities and labs that would help the students better understand the material that I have already taught to them. There were a lot of lightbulbs going on during the lab because now students could finally see why what they had been learning was important.

But if the lab is so important to the learning, why did I leave it until the end of the unit?

I decided to rearrange the order of some of the items above. I am going to activity the heck out of my class. We are going to start the unit with the activity and the labs. My hope is this will generate questions from the students about WHY something has occurred. The WHY is what we are always seeking in education and yet we are satisfied with an OH, as in 'OH, I get it now."

I understand that sitting quietly and taking notes while someone is speaking is an important skill. However, if you think about the average person in the average job, they probably spend maybe ONE hour a day doing that. We ask kids to do it for SEVEN! If I told you that your job would be to sit in a room all day and listen to other people talk for 7 hours a day, I guarantee you would be dusting off the resume and looking for a different employer.

School, and science especially, needs to be about doing. Even if the activity is a little crazy or boring we are going to be DOING things during class this year.

20 August 2014

If you're a freak like me...

I have an unhealthy obsession with a number of things:
  1. Google--this is pretty much everything they do. I am obsessed with their products, their corporate philosophy, how they treat their employees, how they want to change the world, and the fact that they offer pretty much everything they create for free.
  2. The color green--it used to be just forest or hunter green, but a few years ago it turned to neon green and I have never looked back. I especially love the combination of neon green and black. I have a neon green tie, neon green shoelaces on my sneakers (which also are black and grey), neon green and black Google sunglasses (yes the obsession goes that far), a neon green doorstop for my classroom, and a neon green case for my Nexus 7.
  3. Chemistry--actually this is pretty much anything science, but my true love is chemistry. I have chemistry shirts, a chemistry clock, and even my wedding ring is pure Tungsten.
  4. The word Awesome--I try to include it in everything I do. My class hashtag is #chemisawesome, my quote board is #wordsofawesome, I have a shirt that just says AWESOME, and another one that warns that my awesomeness is contagious.
  5. Lists that have 5 things in them--it is not OCD. Five just seems like a nice number of things to have in a list. In fact, I added this just to make it to five things.
I grew up in the 90s in a time when you got ridiculed for standing out from the crowd. When I went to HS, you were either a jock or a geek and I was both. I hid my true self from everyone but my closest friends to not draw attention to myself.  Today's world is one of the best times to grow up because you can flaunt your obsessions, your inner geekiness, and no one really cares because they are doing it too.

So, if you're a freak like me, raise your flag. Wave that geek flag high in the air and be proud. Being a geek means you are passionate about something and there is nothing wrong with that.