Monday, December 28, 2015

Make Comic Style Instruction Sheets with Google Slides

Make comic book style instructions using Google Slides.

Our first day back will be a full day of teacher in-service and I am tasked with training staff on our new mass email process. To help them remember the steps, I developed a process chart using Google Slides.

I like Slides because it allows items to float anywhere on the page, but there are a couple tricks. First the page layout needs adjusted. I choose a custom size (8.5 x 11 inches) so that the slide is the same size as letter paper.

By placing everything onto a single slide, a one page document can easily be produced. Multiple pages are easily added through additional slides. 

Using the built in clip art image search, shapes and Word art, elements are layered into the final product. Layering and grouping can be tricky but with a little practice it becomes easier. I also used print screen and Microsoft Paint to capture images from RenWeb, our web based communication system.

While I could have spent more time improving the cartoon look, my goal was to give teachers the information. For schools that use GAFE, slides could be a good alternative to Microsoft Publisher or Adobe InDesign.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Understanding the Value of Grades

Transparency in grading means clearly communicating the values behind the scores. Grades reveal two things: the value a teacher places on particular components of learning and how well the student has interpreted and adapted to that value system.

While today was the last day of school before the Christmas break, it is also the end of another grading period. Teachers will be compiling all the last scores, entering everything into the grade book, and sending report cards home.

I have students who rejoice over a "B" while others weep for the same grade. In the final weeks, some students will do vast amounts of work to raise their letter grade, usually at the prompting of parents. But for me, the grade is more than the volume of work competed.

I believe grades should reflect a student's mastery of the content. Some students understand but decide not to demonstrate their knowledge by turning in halfhearted work. This usually results in the frantic attempt to turn in missing assignments at the end of a grading period.

Some students take longer to grasp all the content. That's fine by me. If they get it within the grading period, give them full credit for mastering the concepts. These students learn that sticking with it can be rewarded, as opposed to punishing them with a permanent low score because they didn't get it by the predetermined test date.

But then there is the mathematics used for calculating a letter grade. Totaling points earned and averaging them gives different weight to each assignment, unless every task carries the same point value. This means that two incorrect items on a ten point assignment (or 80%) is not really bad when listed with 100 point projects.

If students understand that assignments are weighted differently, they can spend a comparable amount of time and effort on each task. But if every grade is adjusted to a percent, it evens out the thirty point project with the 87 point test. In this case, students should spend equal effort on all items as they are all valued equally in their grade.

The same is true for weighted categories. Some teachers will issue daily homework with over thirty scores in a category that together accounts for less than twenty percent of a students grade. Students will spend hours every night working for points that carry very little meaning for their overall grade. It's the few tests that carry more weight that should consume more of student's study effort.

Either way, how much value an assignment, quiz, project or test contributes to a student's grade should be clearly communicated to both students and parents. Inequity in grading can often be eliminated with clearer communication.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tues Tech Tip: Integrating Pop Culture

​Santa Tracker is Back

​Looking for something to entertain the kids over break? Explore Google's Santa Tracker! The Village is full of games and activities to do in the days leading up to Christmas Eve. Then follow Santa across the globe with videos and a wealth of geographic information.

Star Wars in the Classroom

​​You may not be a big fan of the cult sci-fi classic, but there is no escaping the Star Wars frenzy this holiday season. While Books A Million has Star Wars workbooks, you might want something more engaging for your students. Visit Star Wars in the Classroom, a compendium of educational resources organized by content area that other teachers have used. The home page features posts about calculating speed of TIE fighters, exploring themes in literature and programming with Princess Leia.

Use Lego Bricks to Teach Math

​​As you know, I really like the brightly colored plastic bricks and find lots of unusual ways to incorporate them into the curriculum. We Are Teachers has a wonderful infographic and suggestions on:
  • ​Lego Fractions
  • Lego Area and Perimeter
  • Lego Multiplication: "Groups of" and Arrays
  • Lego Mean, Meridian, Mode and Range
  • Lego Place Value
  • Lego Spatial Awareness
  • Lego Dice

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Iniquity of Inequality

When everybody is special, nobody is.

Not every child is capable of above average work, but each can work hard to achieve more. The only limitations is time. We cannot expect every student to hit the same benchmarks on the same day each week.

Some children will be left behind. Some will win, some will lose. But our objective must remain the same: to give every child the opportunity to grow. And when we impose limits on children in an attempt to equalize them, we are doing a grave disservice.

I am currently attempting to gamify course curriculum as a means of increasing student engagement and allow for differentiation. Plus it plays upon their natural competitiveness. Despite successes with the new method, I continue to encounter if not opposition, at least a dark foreboding sense that the system is not fair. It's as if our culture expects a version of equality that separates effort from results, where everyone achieves equally despite their background, ability, nature or circumstances.

While the potential for failure is there, students are also shocked to learn that doing the minimum asked does not get them an "A." They work to the level parents expect of them. Game elements simply make the process entertaining but do not change the course requirements. Failure is met with a simple try it again.

Every child is unique, and that's a good thing. When we give them the space and time to grow, every student can acquire the skills they need. It's when we push students to be just like everyone else, on the same time frame that we place unfair expectations on a child's development. Equal does not mean identical.

Friday, December 4, 2015

No Fear of New

Excited to see our Response to Intervention (RTI) teachers use new technology "out of the box."

Through a local, public school partnership, students who receive additional academic help have access to a new resources: a ClearTouch Interactive panel.

Within a couple hours of wheeling it into their room, these teachers had mastered its basic operations. (We found the large screen and excellent speakers worked well for Christmas song fireplace videos!) And then without any hesitancy, those teachers sat a group of kids in front and began using it for connecting word skill practice.

The biggest selling point to this device is its multi-touch capability and how it can convert to a table top so that kids can gather around it. My challenge is to find educational software content that will successfully use those features in ways that meet our students' needs!