Saturday, 21 January 2017

Digital notes: Novels

Last year I wrote about taking digital notes on Lord of the Flies. It was something that one of our English teacher's came up with, and we had no idea if it was going to work or not.
I am happy to report that it was so successful that not only will she be using it again, but we also created something similar for To kill a Mockingbird.

One of the things I like about this activity is that it can be very low tech. The teacher who came up with it is definitely not one of our technological trail blazers. And there is not need to be. Once the spreadsheet is set up, all you have to be able to do it create a copy for everyone on Classroom.

But you can also do a lot more with it. Here are some ideas.

  •  Randomly choose 5 learners every week and check up on there notes. Make sure you give them a constructive comment, so that they know that you were looking at there work. You can even give a price for the person who came up with the most insightful notes for that week. 
  • Once you have covered the physical attributes of the characters ask the learners to search for a picture of how they imagine the characters will look and add it to the notes. 
  • Learners can also add links to websites like sparknotes. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Google Classroom - How to create a class

Your school have decided to implement Google Classroom and you might be feeling like the Queen sending her first tweet. The good news is, she managed and so will you.   

But lets start at the very beginning. 

Open Classroom by typing in you address box.  Since you are going to use this everyday I would suggest that you set it as one of your homepages, so that it is always open. 

Since Classroom is limited to your school domain, it is important that you are signed in with your school account. If you are signed in with your private account, you will first have to sign out of your private account and sign in with your school account. 
Whenever you or the learners struggle with permission, the first thing you do is check which account they are signed in with. 

Once you are signed in you can start creating classes. 

For each class you want to create you click on the "+" sign in the top right hand corner. Think carefully about the name of the class, it should be appropriate for both you and the learners. If all grade 8A's teachers call their class "8A" the learners will end up with 10 classes with the same name. As well as 10 folders in their Classroom folder named "8A". On the other hand, if I call all my classes "Maths" I will end up with 5 classes with the same name. 

The first thing I used to do is to pick a different theme for each class. This year I am going to let the learners in each class decide on a theme. I like the idea that they can take ownership of the class. 
To change the theme click on "Select theme" for a preset theme or "upload photo" to make your own. (Both can be found at the bottom right hand corner of the banner) 
Just remember when you make your own theme you will need a high quality panorama picture. 

Next you can invite students. This can be done in 3 ways.
  • Before the lesson start email the Classroom code to all the learners and ask them to join. 
  • Write the code on the board during the first lesson and ask them to join. 
  • Click on invite and invite each individual student. 
I use a combination of all 3 methods. I email the code to the learners beforehand (if I can) and maybe half will respond by joining ahead of time. That means it take less of my class time to get the rest to join. After the first lesson I go through my classlists and invite those students that have not joined yet. 

Another important step is to decide how much freedom do you want the learners to have. (you can always change it during the year)
Under the "student" tab you have 3 options.
  • Only teacher teacher can post or comment - this means that you are the only one that can add anything to the page. Having all information flow from the teacher to the student is not very efficient, but I have found some teachers feel saver and more in control with this setting. If you are very stressed about managing Classroom, you might want to start with this setting. I promise you that soon you will change it. 
  • Students can post and comment - this is the opposite of the previous one. Students can create their own posts and comment on anything you post. A few of our teachers (who also doesn't feel to comfortable with technology) love this setting because it allows the students to manage the page. Some has even gone as far as to appoint a student to be responsible that all homework etc gets posted. 
  • Students can only comment - this is my standard setting because I am a control freak. I spend a lot of time thinking of sensible headings and clear instructions, so I am the only one that can post new things. However the learners can comment and ask questions on anything. 
Two last things before you are ready to go. 
  1. Post a welcome activity to all your students before they even join the class. This is great to keep them busy while the last ones join the class. 
  2. Decide on one or two things that you will consistently post on Classroom to start with. For me it is the dates and information about all tests and assignments and everyday's homework. 
Once you get the hang of this you will see that instead of wasting your time, you actually save time. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Looking back at the year gone by.

I look back at 2016 with mixed feelings. I would love to report that we are now 100% into the eLearning thing, but that will not be the truth. 

If 2015 was the year we officially started eLearning, 2016 was the year we practically started with it. We now had 3 grades (grade 8-10) using devices in the classroom and almost every teacher was involved in someway. In comparison with the big changes of 2015, it almost feel like we lost a bit of momentum in 2016. And maybe it was expected. Any big change goes hand-in-hand with lots of excitement and enthusiasm (and maybe a little fear). But such a steep growing curve is not sustainable in the long run and at some point you need to consolidate. You also need to give your teachers time to become confident with the changes in order for it to be sustainable. 

Even though the changes was not spectacular, there was some areas that I thought we did really well:-
  • The integration of online research into regular lessons. Instead of depending on the teacher for all answers, learners now has the opportunity to google for information. Not only has this made learners more active in the lessons, but it has made projects and assignments more fair. Every teacher knows that feeling when you mark an assignment and you just know this is mom or dad's work. Having access to the internet in class means that learners can do a bigger part of their assignment in class under controlled conditions. 
  • Communication. If I knew the difference email would make, all our learners would have had email accounts long ago. Sending out information, getting feedback, all of this now happen with just the send of a single email. Emails have mostly been used for bulk communication, but slowly teachers are starting to realize that it can also be very useful to get hold of a single learner. One of the big concerns was that learners would abuse the emails and contact teachers at all hours of the day. This really was unfounded, we might have had one or two cases were learners send inappropriate emails, but in the end it was more often teachers using the emails to send out information at all hours of the day that was the problem. 
  • Going paper-less. We are still a far way from being completely paperless, but we have made huge strides to cut the amount of photocopies we made. 
  • Kahoot. For most teachers Kahoot was their first experience of the impact immediate feedback and gamification can have on learning and it took of like wildfire. 

You will notice that ebooks does not really feature anymore. We are still making use of them, but we quickly realised that even though they are very convenient, they have no effect on the actual teaching in the class and one of the goals for 2017 is to move away from ebooks that are no more than a pdf of a hardcopy book. 

If we spend 2016 consolidating, we have to pick up the pace in 2017 in order to really see the Butterflyclasses that we envisioned realized. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A year of change...

A year ago I decided to take try my hand and Butterflyclassrooms was started. At first I was not sure that I would have enough to say to keep blogging, never mind if anybody would be interested in what I have to say. But never did I imagine how much I would learn from blogging.

 99 Posts and 11 958 views later all I can say is thanks to each and every one of you that spend some time this year reading what I wrote and especially those who commented and shared your own experiences. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Hyperdocs - the start of a journey

The newest arrow in my eLearning quiver is Hyperdocs. It started a few weeks ago when one of our teachers came to me to ask for help with digital worksheets. She pdf'ed one of her existing worksheets and posted it on Classroom, and it was a complete flop. So she wanted to know what she did wrong. 

I asked her if she would mind giving me the worksheet and a few weeks to do some research. Then I will redesign it for her in a way that I think would be more efficient. 

Let's start with what went wrong:
She converted a paper worksheet to a digital worksheet making some adaptations, like googling for pictures but she gave little thought to how she wanted the learners to complete the worksheet. Some printed the pictures, others saved it on their devices, while others printed it and stuck it in their workbook and other 'found' pictures but didn't think to save them somewhere. 

This became my first attempt at a hyperdoc or a purposefully designed digital worksheet.

The first question I asked myself was, where and how do I want the learners to answer this? Keeping in mind that I want them to have concise and clear notes that they can study from later. 

One option was to do it in their exercise book like they used to when it was a paper worksheet. But I want them to move away from printing pictures.
So I decided to design the worksheet in such a way that they could answer it on the worksheet. 
Initially, I was thinking a slideshow with each question at the top of the slide and their answers below. But as soon as I started to play around I wanted to do better. In the Hyperdocs Handbook, they describe a slideshow not as a presenting tool, but rather as a stack of cards with notes on. Once I started to think about it that way it was easier to design the worksheet. I tried to stick to the questions that were on the original worksheet, OK I couldn't help myself I added a few items to make it more fun. The biggest change was that the answer now went with the question, whether the answer is typed text or a picture. 

Once I got to the end of the worksheet, I was still not satisfied. Even thought the workflow was much improved and learners got a chance to apply their knowledge, they still did not create anything. 

That's when it hit me, why not design your own room by using the principles that you just learned. A quick search later I had found a few websites that allow you to create a room and voila I had my final activity. 
I could have left it to the students to find their own design websites, but that inevitably leads to a waste of time. One of the biggest complaints that I get from teachers is that when they learners use the internet, they get lost in the vastness of it. It takes them hours to find a decent website and by that time the lesson is over. Hyperdocs is a way to deal with that problem. Instead of the learners spending hours searching for an appropriate website/tool, you can direct them to a good site that you have already tested. 

I will be the first to admit that my hyperdoc is still very basic. I am already playing with ideas of doing a version 2.0 where the whole activity is designed around creating your own room/house. But before I do that I need to practice my hyperdoc skills a bit. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Book Review: The Hyperdoc Handbook

Something that has been plaguing me for a while is: How should an electronic worksheet look?

When I started with eLearning my primary focus was substituting what I already had. Electronic worksheets meant a pdf of an existing worksheet. But as I was starting to get the hang of this eLearning thing I wanted to do more than substitute. And then they Hyperdoc Handbook came across my path. At first, I did not want to buy it, after all I know how Google Apps work. But then I got curious and decide to spend the money and believe me it was money well spend.

The Hyperdoc Handbook is not a thick book, only 122 pages, but it is crammed with great ideas and examples, and it completely changed the way I look at designing activities. For the first time, it feels like I understand the difference between working on paper and working digitally.

The fist few chapters deal with the theory of eLearning, and although I am familiar with most of it, it was good to read through it again. But it is the second part of the book that I found the most valuable. In describing how to create your own Hyperdoc they authors share so many of their ideas and examples. I just wanted to start creating new activities.

If I can give one piece of criticism, it is that nowhere in the book is a clear description of what they consider a Hyperdoc to be. Given that Hyperdocs are a very fluid term and each teachers Hyperdoc will look different, but I was half way through the book before I started to form a picture in my mind of what we are busy with.

As you would expect The Hyperdoc Handbook was designed to be read as an ebook, with lots of interactive links that you can just click on. However, I decided to buy a hardcopy, mainly so that I can share it with my colleagues and use it as a reference. I was pleasantly surprised at how user-friendly even the hardcopy book was. I downloaded a QR reader on my phone, and whenever they were referring to an example, I quickly scanned the code and voila I have it on my phone.

If you are in any way involved with designing teaching activities for learners with personal devices, I would suggest you get on the internet now and order your copy.

For more information click here.

The Hyperdoc Handbook - Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps
by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis
Softcover, 122 pages
Publish in 2016 by EdTechTeam Press