Friday, 26 August 2016

Doing poetry in the right atmosphere

Death be not proud - John Donne

In every class there are learners that love poetry and those that struggle to see the point. They have just never found the poem that move their soul. In a classroom there are limited ways in which you can create an appropriate atmosphere for a poem. But with the addition of technology a few more options are available to you as teacher. Why not try one of these video clips next time you have to introduce a poem. (An list of Afrikaans poems are to follow)

Still I rise - Maya Angelou (read by Serena Williams)

An abandoned bundle - Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

Sonnet 30: When to the sessions... - William Shakespeare

London - William Blake

London (set to music 1) - William Blake

London (set to music 2) - William Blake

When I have fears - John Keats

When I have fears - John Keats

Futility(photo's) - Wilfred Owen

Futility(1) - Wilfred Owen

Futility (2) - Wilfred Owen

Monday, 22 August 2016

Voting, teenagers and Google Forms

This week we had our annual leadership elections at school, and I decided we need to try our hand at doing it electronically. Why should we spend hours counting the votes manually, when I can be done within seconds online? However, if I am honest, I could have counted the votes three times over in the time I spend setting up and managing the online election. But hey, next year it will go a lot quicker. 

Since we are a GAFE school, Google forms were the obvious choice for our election. Forms are not perfect for an election, but we are talking small scale, in a short time frame. Not much risk of election fraud here. All students have a login name, so I was able to set it so that each student can only vote once. At first, I thought I would have to record their usernames to ensure that they do not vote more than once, which put me in a bit of an ethical conundrum. Your vote is supposed to be secret, and even if I delete the username column, the moment I eliminated any double votes, it still did not sit right with me. A little playing around and I found the setting that allows you to limit the responses, without linking the username to the results. 

My next and biggest problem was which question format to use. Each learner can choose up to 3 representatives, which eliminated the straight forward multiple choice since that will only allow one selection. 
The appropriate format would be a tick box. It allows you to choose more than one option, and you can even set it to ensure that learners do not select more than 3. However, I found the resulting spreadsheet to be less than ideal. When you use a tick box, it groups the names chosen in a single cell.  I know it is still possible to automatically count them, using the "split" and "countif" formulas. There were so many doubters on the staff who was not convinced that an online election is a good idea that it was important that the result can be verified manually to set their mind at ease. To do this I wanted to use formulas as little as possible. 

I ended up using a multiple choice scale, with only one option (at first). Luckily I decided to do a trial run two days before the actual election, because what I did not realise was that, on most devices, you were not able to unselect a person once you have selected them. The only solution I could come up with on short notice was to have two choices, "YES" and "NO". Only the "YES" votes were counted, but if you wanted to undo a vote you just click on "NO". 

You might be asking yourself, "So what ended up taking so much time?" and you would have a point, as usual, the technical side was without a glitch, the problem came in on the human side. Learners are working on tablets, and most are signed in to their personal account and "supposedly" their school account. If you have more than one Google account on your device, you will be aware of the permission issues it can cause. Learners had to be signed in to school account, to ensure that no double voting takes place. Suddenly a whole bunch realised that they do not remember their password. Those that did the trail run like they were supposed to reset it the day before the election, but children being children, lots of them did not. Typically the ones who do not know their password was also the ones that did not do the trail. So on Wednesday morning while the election was already taking place I was frantically resetting passwords. (At least now most know their passwords.)

But still, that was not the biggest issue. Big was my disappointment when I logged onto the result sheets only to realise that just 60% of the learners voted. In any other election, a turnout of 60% would be considered high. But we are used to a 100% turnout, after all, the teacher used to put a paper in front of every learner, and they had to vote. I knew that if I used that result, it would just fuel the nay-sayers. There was no option; I had to ensure that every learner vote. So for the next two hours, I walked from class to class with my laptop, checking up that everybody voted. By the time I reach 90%, I decided that was good enough (luckily my principal agreed). It seems that if the form didn't load immediately, or they did not know their password, some just didn't care enough to do something about it. So much for caring who represent them. 

At least I was right. The counting took only a few minutes. I did a quick count using "COUNTIF" to ensure that nobody voted for more than three representatives and deleted the few spoiled ballots. Interestingly, there were significantly less spoilt ballots than previous years. And then I totalled the votes. 

Before first break, the results was on the principal's desk. 
All in a day's work.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Olympic Games

Tonight is the closing ceremony and I have not even mentioned the Olympics on Butterflyclassrooms. And then Google provided me with the perfect source to change that. They used their fancy-smancy algorithms to create hypothetical medal tables, if the playing field is evened. 

This can form the basis of a great geography lesson on the effect of different parameters on the success of a nation. Or even a data handling lesson explaining that comparing nations are never straight forward. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Fall Updates - Google Classroom

By now those of use who work with Classroom regularly, look forward to the US schools starting in August, because it always brings with it some great updates to Classroom. When Google launched its fairly simple platform in 2014, they promised to add features that teachers request. Well, they are living up to their promise.

Like most things in life, everything is not for everybody. Of the three big updates, I am on cloud nine about the topics, have lots of reservations about the email to parents and need some time to make up my mind about annotating pdfs. 

Keep in mind that it normally take a couple of weeks for new updates to be available across the whole Google domain. Just have a bit of patience if you don't see it yet. 

Update 1 - Adding a topic to your posts.

One of the negatives to Classroom is that a year's worth of post gets to be very long. I still want to see the learner who scrolls back to every activity when they study for the final exam. Now you can add a topic to every post and learners can use that to extract all the posts on that topic during the year.

There is no set topics, you create your own ones as needed. For maths using the chapter headings makes the most sense, with maybe one or two other ones like, "TESTS and EXAMS" and "INTERESTING LINKS". But each subject will be different.

This update gives Classroom a bit of a more structured feel, which I think is great.

Update 2 - Annotating pdf's in the Classroom app.

I am still waiting for the updated app to be available on the South African App Store to try this out. But in principal, I think it is a good idea. I know that annotating pdf's are at the centre of very heated arguments between teachers involved in tech. On the one hand is the very valid argument that we should not try to recreate paper online. Annotating a pdf is the same as filling the worksheet in on paper, nobody saves time, learners are not more engaged, to be honest, more often than not it is easier just to do it on paper. 

However, when Apple brought out the first iPad, they still added a clicking sound to the camera and the pages of their books still "turned" like real books, because that was what people were familiar with. Six years down the line, we find that tech companies are leaving these features out because people do not need that safety blanket anymore. If annotating pdf's make teachers feel more comfortable, and that enables them to try using technology more, then I am fine with it.  

Update 3 - Summary to Parents/Guardians

When Google launched Classroom, one of the biggest complaints, was that there was no 'parent view'. As an answer to this Google have added a summary email to parents and guardians. If your school activates this feature, you will be able to invite guardians, and they can choose to receive a daily or weekly summary of their child's classes. 

I can understand why parents requested this feature. But as a teacher who has been using Classroom for a while, I am not sure I want parents to have so much access to my class. If I were only posting tests and projects, I would not mind, but I try to post everything we do in class. I am also afraid that such a summary will just enable helicopter parents to take over all the responsibility for assignments from the learners. 

Maybe it is just a new concept that I need time to adjust to. To try it out, I have invited myself and the principal as guardians to Demostudent. Demostudent is an account I created to test all new features (it is also very useful when I do training) so Demo is in all the Classes in our school. For the next couple of weeks, we will receive the summaries and then make a call if we want our parents to have access to that feature. However it seems like the feature is not totally activated on our domain. I can send out invites, but at the moment are not able to accept them. Hopefully it will be released within the next few days. 

Congratulations Google, on improving on an already great product. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Blindkahoot: Converting Area

I was recently asked to give a type of demo lesson for a group of Maths Lit teachers, showcasing a Blind Kahoot! The idea behind this demo was to encourage teachers to think beyond the obvious applications and make technology an integral part of their teaching, not just an add-on. 

In a Blind Kahoot, you use Kahoot, not as a revision tool, but to introduce a topic and give context and structure to your lesson. For more info on Blind Kahoots, have a look at their website. 

Time:  90 minutes (could be split into two lessons)

Pre-knowledge:  Converting between mm, cm, m and km. This lesson is aimed at learners who has never converted areas. 

Equipment: Each student needs their own device. (I often play Kahoot in groups, but I prefer Blind Kahoots to be one-on-one.)

Link: Converting units - A

I divided my lesson into 5 phases. 

Phase 1: Start the lesson with QUESTION 1-3 of the Kahoot without giving learners any background. Most of the learners will get the answers wrong since they want to apply the rules for lengths to areas. Complete all three questions before you do any explanations. 

Phase 2: Put the devices to the side and teach your regular lesson, explaining how to convert areas and why it is different from lengths. 

Use this time to answer all the questions that came up during Phase 1. During this phase, the learners should also copy notes into their books. 

Phase 3: Return to the Kahoot for QUESTION 4-12
Usually, at this stage of the lesson, I would get the learners to do a bunch of conversions to consolidate what they just learned. So all I did was put the exercise in the Kahoot. You will notice that the questions are repeated. However, the second time around the time is less. When the learners know that they are going to continue the Kahoot, they pay a lot more attention during the lesson. By picking my possible answers carefully I also manage to explain some of the misconceptions the kids might have. 

Phase 4: Apply your knowledge. 
Put the devices to the side again and continue the lesson with more complicated applications. 

Phase 5: Best of the best
Return to Kahoot for question 13-15. These questions are quite hard, and unlike the previous phase, learners will need pen and paper to determine the answers. Two minutes are allocated for each question, putting the focus on the calculations and not so much the speed. 

Incorporating Kahoot into your lesson like this, has 2 big advantages. It gives context to the information you are sharing. The learners want to listen and ask questions because they know that they will be playing just now and unless they understand what is going on they have no chance to win. But most importantly the learners are actively involved in what is happening. It is not a case of copying the notes down and figuring out what it is about at a later stage, they need to participate in the lesson to increase their chances of winning the Kahoot.