Learning about Climate Change

Back in October, I gave a 1-hour workshop for the elementary teachers on how to use Quizlet.com. One question I received at the end of the workshop was whether there was a quick way to print the vocabulary sets so that they could be used in the classroom. I didn’t realize that there was an option to generate ready-made flash cards, so I helped the teacher cut and paste the images into a Word document.

Well, guess what! There is a way to make flash cards … I should have know and feel a bit silly only to realize this 5 months later. The instructions are on the Quizlet website.

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This afternoon, I ended up printing out a set of our Earth and Space climate change flashcards for each of my students. In the morning, we had discussed some major ideas – how greenhouse gases work, the difference between global warming and climate change – through a step-by-step lesson on Facile Learning. They seemed particularly intrigued, but I wanted to make sure they had some “sandbox” time to practice learning scientific terms that might not be familiar to them.

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We spent a  50-minute period cutting and reviewing the words. I asked them to shuffle all the cards and try to match them with the definition and the picture . What I thought were terms that most students would already be more familiar with were actually ones that I received the most questions on. They weren’t curious about chemicals like nitrous oxide or chlorofluorocarbons, but the shorter words that were easy for ELLs to pronounce and read aloud. Mostly commonly inquired were:

  • exhaust
  • smog
  • ozone
  • methane

They really, really wanted to know these definitions and make sure they understood them. It’s always interesting to me to see what topics they are fascinated with.

I realize now, in hindsight, how boring it is to teach the carbon cycle without an interesting context. But when the context is that your way of life may be affected – the that migration of geese might affect your spring hunt or that unstable temperatures mean that you can’t safely drive your Skidoo across the river to your hunter ground – then you cannot help but give your attention to climate change.

I suppose I have been teaching climate change in a very alarmist and upsetting way (is there any other?) which may have piqued their curiosity a bit more on these topics. Either way, this was great. It was really nice to see the entire class engaged.

I gave them the last period off to goof off and play cards or study on their own, making time to work with my one selective mute student. I drew pictures at random and then asked her to write the words on a whiteboard / VNPS. She did pretty well, once she was confident that the spelling was correct. I also wrote on a scrap piece of paper, “I need a hint”, and she would point at it if she felt stuck. We had a good time and it was a nice way to end the day.

Happy Thursday!

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Testing Apps: GradeCam

A fellow colleague tipped me off on an interesting app last week, GradeCam. You create multiple choice worksheets and students can either use an Elmo or a laptop camera to scan the answers into the system. The website will then mark the paper and you get the data logged right away!

It was fun to play around with it, but considering I only have 25 kids in my largest class (of two!), it’s not something I would need to use right now. This would be much more useful if I had 5-6 large classes, or if I taught at the college level.

I should have saved this app for the end of the year, when we start practicing for multiple-choice style answers for the provincial exams. Ahhhh well, guess I’ll just let my 60-day free trial run out and just stick with practicing multiple choice on Socrative.

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Incorporating Mindfulness through Meditation

I am a science and math teacher. But I am also a mentor and that means it’s important that I use my role to teach important life lessons. This might include how to persevere despite difficulties, how to develop a growth mindset and using mindfulness strategies to develop better mental health practices.

Today, the Grade 11s and 10s tried meditating for the first time. We used the website Stop Breathe Think (http://www.stopbreathethink.org/) and did two short 5-minute sessions. I was initially nervous, as I wasn’t sure how well it would be received. To set the tone, we turned off the lights, pulled the blinds down and laid on yoga mats. I gave three simple conditions that they must follow:

  1. Do not touch or disturb anyone around you.
  2. Respect other people’s right to participate.
  3. Do not make any noise or talk aloud. Keep as silent as possible.

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It actually worked out quite well! In general, everyone was fairly respectful. The Grade 11s liked it and even stayed on their mats for an extra minute. However, the Grade 10s were a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them were not interested and wanted to listen to music*, while others were happy to just relax with the lights off.

Ahhh well, you can’t win them all!

Have you used mindfulness strategies or lessons in your class?

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Looking to find more mindfulness exercises for the upcoming year. Please share any good strategies or resources if you have any!

*I gave them permission since everyone had been working very hard for the past hour and a half, studying for our first upcoming test.

Introducing Geogebra

Back in the fall, I was thankful to have a one-on-one training session on Geogebra. A math professor whom I’m in touch with at the University of Nipissing generously offered his time to teach me how to use this free, open-sourced math software. It’s quite versatile and it can be used to create functions and draw geometric shapes.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten about the software … it had always been on the back of my mind, but as other tasks piled up, it fell down on my priority list. Luckily, in February, all the high school math teachers were asked to attend a Geogebra training session. We were given three hours of “sandbox time” to play around with it and the principal made it a priority to get IT to install it in the computer labs … finally!

The week after my PD, I got my students onto the program right away . As each of our class periods is 50 minutes long, I gave them two short tasks to work on. The first task was quite simple: make a line drawing. Kids picked up pretty quickly on the difference between a line and a segment. They learned how to turn on/off the grid lines and/or the axes. They coloured the lines in, changed the thickness and figured out how to correct their mistakes and save their files.

Here’s one of the products by my student, J.:

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The second task required making an equilateral triangle. At first, I would just tell students to try making one on their own. Most of them would start with three line segments, and quickly realize that the side lengths vary far too much. Using the cursor, the sides could easily stretch, the side lengths would change and it would no longer be equal lengths on all three sides.

Subsequently, I showed them an easier way – we created two overlapping circles of the same radius, then drew the radii to form an equilateral triangle.

Altogether, our first session was a success. Next year, I will have to build some assignments for them to follow and have tasks that are presented within each of the units.

Extra tip: Some kids are awesome at picking new software up. It’s always a good idea to figure out who these kids are and space them around the classroom whenever you’re doing a new task. They can be great peer mentors and work as an extra helper when you find yourself running all over the place!

Getting Students Caught Up: Tech Solutions

A few students missed yesterday’s class, when we were filling out our Frayer models on relations and functions. Defining important math vocabulary is pretty important, so I wanted to make sure that they had their notes completed.

Now, when there is a lot going on in the classroom, trying to handle kids at different stages of a process can be tough. I used to run back and forth, giving two sets of instructions, but it got very tiring. It also doesn’t help that they become very dependent on your verbal instructions either! When I’m not there to tell them the next step, sometimes my students will sit there, start checking their cellphones or just waste time.

So I thought about it: how I could get them to work independently while I helped others?

Here was my solution: Edmodo.

This morning, I typed in the instructions and tagged a private post for those specifically to those who needed to get caught up. The only instruction that I gave was, “Log into Edmodo and bring your notebook” and then they’d follow the rest of the instructions on the site:

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It worked marvellously! The students got all their work done – there were three of them – and they were focused and quiet. They were able to fill out their Frayer models on relations and functions while I walked around and help others on another task.

I also ask students to write a comment and confirm that they completed the task. When I log into Edmodo later in the day, I see a notification at the top of the page – set up similarly to Facebook – and I know that that’s one more thing crossed off the list!

How do you get kids caught up? Have you used Edmodo in a similar manner?

Choosing a Good Education Tool

For the past two years, I’ve been using Edmodo as my digital home page. It’s been a great launch pad when I want students to do a quiz, go to a website, check out a diagram or give me a short written response.

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I’ve heard teachers say that Edmodo doesn’t work and it saddens me when a teacher tosses out a great device because they don’t know how to use it.

All the education apps, sometimes known as #edtech, I’ve seen advertised on blogs, teaching magazines and social media are popular and out there for a reason. Education apps won’t survive today’s competitive market if they aren’t well designed, versatile and adaptive. Think of it this way, a good carpenter would never blame a hammer for what it can’t do; an effective tech-savvy teacher takes time to test out a variety of BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) tools and focuses his/her energy on which is the best tool and what it can do depending on his/her classroom needs. Many school boards in Canada, such as the Peel District SchoolBoard, now have policies around BYOD and see blended learning as a necessity to developing strong students.

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The bottom line is, becoming tech-savvy and getting your kids to love your apps ain’t easy.

You can’t get a firm grasp of education tools if you’re not willing to put some time and effort into it. But being busy isn’t a good excuse; it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find a YouTube tutorial or a post on a teaching blog explaining all the pros and cons or how to navigate Class Dojo or figure out how to turn Quizlet flashcards into literacy games.

If you’re just starting out, here are some important questions to ask when you choose an #edtech tool:

  • How accessible is it? Is there set up for desktops, accessible through the web or best used through an app?
  • Is it free? How much does a single user license cost? A school-wide license?
  • Which OS is it available?
  • How effectively can I roll out this tool? How will I introduce it? What strategies can I use to help my students to effectively use this site / app?
  • Does the site / app give opportunities for collaboration? (i.e. editing document together, developing discussions)
  • Am I familiar with the all the options that are available on the site? Did I spend time researching it?
  • How tech-savvy are my students? How friendly is the user interface (UI)?*
  • How do other teachers use it? Are there YouTube tutorials / blog posts about its effectiveness?
  • Are similar tools available? Which is better for my classroom (e.g. comparing Schoology and Edmodo)**
  • For BYOD tools, will a student without a cellphone still be able to access it from a desktop computer?**
  • What languages are available on it? Are translation tools available?***
  • How much bandwidth does it require? Does it load easily in the classroom?****

And smart developers know that teachers are their customers and ask themselves these questions when creating a good educational app.

But ultimately, the end user is always the student.

They are our main customers. They might vary from city to city, culture to culture, but most teachers quickly realize that our customers are pretty darn picky! While educators might choose tools based on how well we like it – we tend to focus on file management or how easily we can track our students progress – the biggest goal is to choose it based on how receptive our students are.

So far, I’ve been very, very careful about choosing my #edtech tools. I go through all the considerations I’ve mentioned above and read several reviews from other teachers before I decide to introduce it into my classroom. Not a single one of my choices have ever been rejected, but it often takes a month or so before students get comfortable with it and are able to navigate it on their own.

For example, many students were hesitant to install Class Messenger this year. They were comfortable with getting text messages from me through Remind.com, but did not like the idea of a new app they had never seen before. I had to use several strategies to “sell” it, including using my own data to have students download it in class, but after 3 weeks, many of the kids saw how much more superior Class Messenger was to Remind.com and any stragglers who didn’t have access to it were asking me how they could join the club. It’s worked well for our school because we have many kids without cellphones; if they only had an iPod, they were still able to be included on the updates when they connected to their wireless internet at home. Therefore, I was able to fill the needs for my students since I took the chance to try something new. And believe me, even I was initially hesitant until I put the time and effort into discovering a new app!

So while Edmodo has been working well for my students the past two years, most of my kids are starting to get tired of it. I’m working with older students – Grade 10s and 11s – they need an interface that allows them to create documents (i.e. Word, Powerpoint) and access them more easily. Edmodo can’t do that, but Google Classroom can! And since my students’ needs are changing, what better time than now?

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Of course, I only purchased the domain tonight and just started playing around with it. It’s eaten up a good 2-3 hours of my day already, so I’ll have to write more once I get this rolling. Learning about new BYOD tools is always a process with ups and downs. It will take a few months for my students and I to get the hang of it, but since I’ve heard so much from other teachers, I can’t wait to try it. It’ll be interesting to see how Google Classroom will impact my classroom in my 3rd year of teaching!

Which education tools do you use in your classroom? How do you choose a good app?

Have you looked at the #edtech hashtag on Twitter to learn more about educational tools?

Would you like to learn more about BYOD in the classroom?

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*Some UIs are designed to be similar to other social media platforms. For example, Edmodo has a similar set-up to Facebook.

**Kids don’t have Twitter? Put everyone on Today’s Meet. Want to review photosynthesis on Socrative? There’s still a desktop version available.

***An important factor to note if you work with Second Language Learners.

****I would love to use Classcraft, a classroom management tool, but the bandwidth in our school isn’t strong enough for it.

Digital Lesson Planning

I like my tech toys, so it’s no surprise that I prefer typing out my lesson plans rather than writing them.

Last August, I spent the first couple of weeks testing out several websites, trying to figure out which to use. It’s a tedious process but if you want to find a good tool, you have to take the time to play around and check out all the specs. As I am likely to be teaching the same course for a while, I figured it made sense to find something that allowed me to organize my units and lessons, save them and then upload them again to reuse, rather than writing them out by hand year after year.

The Ontario Teacher’s Federation (OTF) pushes the free Chalk.com, otherwise known as Planboard, but despite bugging the CEO of Chalk, they still have not decided to make the app available offline. This is a major issue when you work in a small town with poor bandwidth. While I love seeing so many cool apps being pumped out of Waterloo, Ontario, I am not impressed considering that I’ve been asking for it and it does not seem to be on their radar at all.

Eventually, I settled on Planbook by Hellmansoft. It is available for both Windows and Mac and costs approximately $30 USD. The iPad version is an additional $6 USD, but is well worth it for me. The mobile version, sadly, is not available offline, but I tether the iPad to my phone for access. Here is a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.42.44 PMWhile the hefty price tags might turn a lot of people off, it is probably the best educational planning tool I’ve found so far. It proved itself extremely useful when – VOILA! – I found that I was able to transfer all the lesson plans and documents – linked through Dropobx – onto my planbook this year!!!

No need to retype everything!! OMG!!!!

Isn’t technology amazing?!?!?!