OfficeMix in a BYOD classroom

Last term I had the privilege of team teaching with a colleague who is teaching a Year 7 class this year for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History (at my school Year 7s are taught these subjects by the same teacher as a middle years strategy). This class, like many classes, consisted of students of varying ability levels and were learning English as an additional language. We wanted to utilise technology in a way that enabled more differentiation. personalised learning and more opportunities for teachers to help students one-to-one.

So we decided to use OfficeMix to flip the classroom. We didn’t flip the classroom in the traditional sense of getting students to watch video tutorials at home and then do activities in class. Instead, we did a brief introduction of the lesson (eg. brainstorm, linking the lesson’s content to previous learning, pre-loading metalanguage) then students watched an OfficeMix presentation on their own devices with a follow-up activities (eg. quiz or a worksheet). Students were told they can watch the OfficeMix presentation as many times as they need to in order to complete the follow-up activities successfully. This meant some students only watched the OfficeMix presentations once or twice while other students watched it many times. When students found the follow-up activities challenging, they were able to watch the OfficeMix presentation to work out how to do it. This allowed me and the teacher I was team teaching with to offer intensive one-to-one support to the students who needed it most.

Here’s an example of one of the OfficeMix presentations we used for this class:

https://mix.office.com/embed/ny5p5aabe06m

Using video tutorials is not new but what I like about OfficeMix is that it utlises PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a software that many teachers are familiar with so it is an easy step-up for for them to use the OfficeMix add-on. Many teachers already have many existing content presented in PowerPoint so they can easily turn them into video tutorials with minimum workload. What I personally found the most useful is that OfficeMix presentations works on all devices. The class I was teaching in had students bringing Surface Pro’s, Windows laptops, Macbooks, iPads, iPhones and Android phones. OfficeMix worked on all of them.

My next step is to have students making their own OfficeMix presentations to show their learning.

My 4 goals for 2014

an image of two people drawing targets

In New South Wales, Australia, the 2014 school year is just about to start so I thought I’d share with you my 4 professional goals for 2014.

Goal #1 – Keeping science real

2013 was the year where I started the journey of connecting my students with current, practising Australian scientists. This was a response to our students’ survey responses that they did not know many careers or jobs that science can lead them to. They also did not know what scientists actually do. Many students have accountants, tradespeople, bankers, etc within their families or family friends but students often do not have exposure to scientists in their everyday lives (ask a student to name a scientist and they’ll still tell you Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein; they rarely name a living scientist). We wanted to make science real in the sense that we can put real people’s faces to what the students learn in the classroom. So in 2013 our school connected with Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools, where we are now partnered with scientist Melina Georgousakis. Melina has already spoken to our Year 8s and 9s on her journey to becoming a scientist, what she does in her job and explained how the immune system and vaccinations work (that’s her area of expertise). In our end-of-topic survey, a lot of our year 9s listed Melina’s visit as the best activity of the topic. In their words the best part of the topic was “when the lady came in to talk about vaccines”. In 2014 we have plans for our Year 12 Biology students to work with Melina when they explore the immune system more deeply.

2014 will also be the year where I want to utilise social media and technology to connect students with scientists, not just in Australia but from around the world. In 2013 social media led me to connect with a postgraduate student called Ash from the University of Technology, Sydney, where he came to the school and spoke to Year 8s about his work with sharks (Year 8s were learning about the role of sharks in the ecosystem and how removing sharks as apex predators impact on the ecosystem). We also connected with Dr Mel Thompson from Deakin University and Dr Karl via Skype. In 2014 I am hoping to expand to using Twitter to connect with my students with scientists. I want to create a class Twitter account for my students and connect with scientists on Twitter. There’s so many of them such as @realscientists and Dr Cameron Webb.

Goal #2 – Embed science communication into my teaching

I was very privileged to be involved in the UTS Summer School this year where I worked with Christy, a former Questacon presenter (a science communicator who does science shows for children). She re-emphasised to me the importance of designing learning that drives students’ curiosity and create learning experiences that are memorable. One of my biggest gripes with science education is that it uses flash-bang experiments inappropriately. You hear lots of students say they just want to do pracs. You hear a lot of teachers say that all students want to do are pracs. A lot of the times I think showy experiments are wasted at school as they only serve as entertainment. Christy re-emphasised to me that showy experiments need to be set up in a way that drives students to want to know the science WHY something has happened and the journey to understanding they experience must be memorable. This can mean turning explanations into stories, plays, musical items.

One of the ideas I have this year is to have a science communication project where students work in small groups and become science communicators themselves where they design and perform an act that explains a scientific concept. If I could I’d like to make this a cross-curricular project with Drama.

Goal #3 – Making learning, thinking and understanding visible

This year is where our faculty applies the Structured Observed Learning Framework (SOLO) for all students in Year 9. We have used this year’s implementation of the new syllabus for the Australian Curriculum as a drive for this change. See this previous post for more details. The challenge (not so much a goal) will be to evaluate the impact on student learning.

Goal #4 – A better work/life balance

Over the last few years I realise that looking after yourself is a one of the most important jobs for teachers. After reading this post on 10 tips for slowing down, I really want to make sure that my entire faculty’s wellbeing is well looked after this year. I tend to be someone who doesn’t know when to stop. I feel guilty when I’m not doing work related to school. When I’m relaxing it feels like I’m doing some kind of injustice to my students’ education. I love my job but I’m no use to my students if I burn out. From the post on 10 tips for slowing down, I want to make these changes:

  • Allocate time to opening and closing meetings

Schools are such busy places that many teachers schedule meetings right on bell times so that we are rushing from one place to another. This year I want meetings where people are now running from their classrooms, crashing down and then expected to immediately adjust their mindframes. I’m hoping that simple things like having meetings start 5-10 minutes after the bell will avoid that rush feeling that make people stress.

  • Make time to eat

Eating recess and lunch is my other goal for wellbeing this year. While this seems self-explanatory, I know many teachers don’t eat, or sit down, or even visit the bathroom during school hours because there’s just so much to do. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at this but this year I want to reduce the number of times where I eat my sandwich while driving home.

A story in 2 minutes – a multimedia activity for all subjects

My principal shared this video with me today. It’s called Our Story in 2 Minutes. The video summarises the Earth’s history from the Big Bang till now in two minutes.

This inspired me to come up with some similar story-in-2-minutes activities where students can create a video using images only to represent the development of an event. It doesn’t even have to be two minutes. It can be one minute, three minutes, however long you and your students like. A video of images can be made to sequence the events in the evolution of life on Earth, the development of our current understanding of the universe, development of the cell theory, development of our understanding of genetics … the list goes on and on and it can be used in subjects other than science.

What I like about this activity is that it’s simple and yet allows students to create and engage in deep learning that extends from a subject area and even be part of a cross-KLA activity. It’s simple for both students and teachers as it involves searching and selecting images that represents certain ideas and events and then inserting the images into a video-editing program such as Windows Movie Maker or even PowerPoint. Technology tools that don’t require a high level of technical expertise from either teachers or students and are available to most students. The activity is also simple in the sense that it does not have to take long, which can be a good activity to suggest to teachers who are concerned about being pressed for time.

To create stories in 2 minutes also allow students the opportunity to learn about digital citizenship. Can students use any images pulled from the web? Do they have to search for creative commons images? How do they acknowledge the source of images? This activity is not only about the content of a subject area.

Finally creating stories in 2 minutes can be adapted into project-based learning or provide an opportunity to create a product that can be shared with a public audience beyond the classroom. Creating a story in 2 minutes require students to first understand the content, select and justify appropriate images that best represent the content and sequence them in a logical order. It allows students to apply higher order thinking skills.

I teach in Sydney, Australia so my school year is starting in about a week’s time. I will be definitely using the story-in-2-minutes concept this year.

What will you use it for?

 

Small changes can make a huge difference

Over the past few years I have been constantly changing the way I teach due to introduction of 1:1 laptop initiatives in some classes and a continually-developing understanding of how students learn. In a lot of cases it has involved turning things upside down and completely rewriting units of work. This is tiring. Worth it but tiring. But I found out recently that small, minor changes can make a huge difference too. The Student Research Project (SRP) has been around since I was in high school. It’s an oldie but a goodie. The SRP involves students planning, doing and reporting on an experiment of their choice. It is a compulsory activity for all Year 7-10 students in NSW, Australia. Each student must do at least one SRP once in Year 7 and 8, and another one in Year 9 and 10. By doing the SRP, students learn how to design a fair experiment, a must-have skill for all scientists! See here for more info on the SRP.

It was the Year 8’s turn to do the SRP in September this year. The traditional way of doing the SRP is for students to choose an experiment, plan it, do it and then submit a written report. This year my faculty decided to revamp it and not just rehash the status quo. However this didn’t involve major changes that would stress everyone out. It involved a few tweaks that would have the most impact. Like always we gave students the choice of whatever experiment they wanted. My class were doing experiments ranging from water absorption of different types of soils to whether particular types of video games would improve people’s reaction times to using Gary’s Mod to run a simulated experiment. However instead of forcing students to do a written report, we decided to let students choose how to present their SRP findings in whatever medium they wanted. Some students still chose to submit a written report (but by sharing it as a Google document to make the feedback process more efficient) while other students chose to create Prezis or videos. Students had to justify why their chosen medium would be the most effective in communicating their findings to others. At the conclusion of the SRP, students shared their findings with their class over a two-day conference, just like real scientists.

In the presentations I would usually get students to give each other feedback (one medal and one mission) by writing it down on a piece of paper, which I will take home and collate and then give back to students. This was a really inefficient way of doing it. Students had to wait at least 24 hours to get peer feedback and it took me time to type of the students’ feedback. This time I decided to create a backchannel on Edmodo that students used to give feedback to each presenter. Students did this by using laptops. A designated student had the role of creating a post for each presenter and then the whole class will reply to that post with a medal and mission for the presenter. Doing it this way meant that the presenter got the feedback as soon as they finished presenting; they didn’t have to wait till the next day after I’ve collated the class’ feedback. Students really liked the immediacy of the feedback they got from the Edmodo backchannel. There was also one student who made a video for his SRP, but he was ill over the two days of the presentations. His video was still shown and he was able to receive feedback on it at home from his peers via the Edmodo backchannel.

A sample of the Edmodo backchannel

So just with a little of tweaking, the good ol’ SRP has been thrusted into the 21st century. I didn’t have to completely re-write it or turn it upside down. Just by adding Google docs, more student choice and Edmodo, the SRP was made a million times better for students as a learning process. From the end-of-term evaluations, many students from across all Year 8 classes identified the SRP to be their favourite activity this term because it gave them choice, it let them use technology and they learnt by doing.

Next time I’d like to have students sharing their findings with a global audience, or at least with an audience beyond their class. But one small step at a time 🙂

Using video as evidence of learning

Today my Year 8s used lollies and toothpicks to model elements, molecules, compounds and mixtures. This isn’t anything new. Lots of teachers and students have done this before. However, I decide to allow students to film themselves explaining how the lolly models they made represent elements, molecules, compounds and mixtures as evidence of learning. For one group, I decided to record a question-and-answer conversation on my iPad.

The video showed that this student understood to a certain extent how particles are arranged in elements, molecules, compounds and mixtures. The student did accurately use the lollies for this, but upon questioning, she was confused about how many different types of particles made up her lolly models of compounds and mixtures.

I’d like this type of evidence of learning to be prominent in schools. As a system I think we rely too heavily on written exams and assignments to elicit student understanding of concepts. Having videos such as the one shown above is much more powerful to give feedback to students and to use as evidence of learning. Eventually I’d like each of teacher in my faculty to a collection of videos like this for professional discussions on our students’ learning.

BYOD – the first steps

So my school has decided to journey down the BYOD path. This is for several reasons, including students already bringing in their own devices (not just their own smartphones but quite a few students bring in their own laptops and tablets) and asking for them to be connected to the school WiFi and wanting to continue technology-rich learning post DER (DER stands for Digital Education Revolution, an Australian government initiative that gave Year 9 students their own laptops. The funding for this has ended.)

Several teachers have asked for a blog post on our BYOD journey so far so here it is …

Before we jumped on the BYOD bandwagon, we wanted to know what students thought of this. This involved chatting to students to explain what BYOD is and whether they would bring the devices they already at home to school. We put the feelers out to see what students, parents and teachers think. The students we spoke to in these informal discussions were very supportive of the idea of BYOD and wanted to be involved in the school’s exploration of possibly implementing BYOD.

At the same time, we also looked at the literature review into BYOD and did some further research, which included using the insights from Mal Lee’s Bring Your Own Technology. Once we had a good grasp of the educational research and grounding for BYOD, looked into other school’s journey into BYOD, looked at what we already knew about our school community, we decided to propose a BYOD model where students bring in whichever laptops or tablets they wanted as long as the devices connected to the school WiFi and had certain basic software and apps installed. We also seeked feedback from people with a bit more expertise than we did at BYOD (hat tip to Pip Cleaves and Stephen Turner in particular).

So at this stage, the senior executive team was happy, the students we spoke to were happy and the teachers we seeked out for the BYOD trial was happy with the model. At this stage, our Community Liaison Officer and P&C gave their support to the model and was able to help us explain our BYOD proposal to parents. This launched us into mass data collection stage. We had a fair idea of what devices our students already owned and the challenges that will face our students’ families if BYOD is implemented, but wanted to be 100% sure and to hear as many voices and ideas as possible.

We surveyed Year 7 and 8 students and their parents. From the student survey data, we chose a group of students that held a diverse range of views towards BYOD for student focus groups, which is also acting as a student advisory group for BYOD. The focus groups enabled students to explain their concerns towards BYOD in detail and as a group come up with solutions to address their concerns.

From all the data collection and consultation with the school community, there was overwhelming support for BYOD and the reasons cited include:

-students already being familiar with their own devices
-having access to their own devices in class caves time as they longer need to move from their regular classrooms to a computer room
-bringing their own devices to school will make learning more fluid between school and home
-technology being a part of students everyday lives

The main concerns that were raised were:
-how equity issues will be addressed
-safety and storage of devices
-digital citizenship

The main lessons we’ve learnt from our BYOD journey so far is to involve the school community as much as possible. This sounds obvious but from our experience it is the students and parents who have come up with the best solutions to address challenges of BYOD.

Our next step is to work with teachers and students on the next challenges, which includes leading a classroom with multi-platform devices and learning design that will best utilise students’ devices.

Using PowerPoint to tackle misconceptions and embed literacy in science

Many people frown upon PowerPoint, It has become rather unfashionable these days. Search ‘PowerPoint’ in Google and you’ll get websites with titles like:

“Be Less Boring: The 4 Best Alternatives to PowerPoint”

“Hate PowerPoint? Here are 5 Web-based Alternatives”

“5 PowerPoint Alternatives to Wake Up Your Presentations”

Anyway, since PowerPoint has been getting such a negative spin lately, I’d like to share some a learning activity that uses PowerPoint a little differently.

My Year 8 class are currently learning about states of matter and the particle model. It is one of the most conceptually difficult science topics for middle school students. The most difficult aspect is probably because the particle model is an abstract concept. There are also many misconceptions associated with this topic. Let’s take particles of water as an example. Students often think that:

  • particles in ice, liquid water and steam are physically different from each other

  • particles change in size as water changes from ice, liquid water and steam

There are also a few conceptually difficult ideas that students need to grasp such as:

  • Particles are inside objects (as opposed to particles actually making up the object)

  • One particle of water is actually two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom

  • The behaviour of the particles that cannot be seen is directly related to the behaviour of the macroscopic object they make up

  • The particle model is a model and every model has limitations in what they can explain

This is one of those topics where a lot of regular and frequent formative assessment is very  beneficial as it allows you as the teacher to identify and tackle any misconceptions as they happen with each student. This is one of those topics where you don’t want to find out your students have completely misunderstood particle model at an end-of-topic test.

So with my Year 8s I decided to use PowerPoint to identify misconceptions. Their PowerPoint task looks something like this:

This is an unfinished audio slideshow made by some of my Year 8 students

This activity was done over three lessons, spanning three weeks. At the end of each of these lessons, students upload their progress onto Edmodo and I give them feedback based on the medals and missions model.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean.

screenshot of feedback

And here’s my feedback to them on Edmodo.

And here’s my feedback to another group. From their progress I was able to pick up on one of their misconceptions.

screenshot of feedback on Edmodo

From my observations of my Year 8 students doing this activity, I have found that they actively engage with the text when they are finding images to match different sections of the text. In their groups they were often arguing and justifying to  each other which images were the best to use. I also think that this activity allows students to ‘talk science’, which will be particularly beneficial for students learning English as a second language. Setting aside time where students practise using scientific metalanguage to talk about science with each other is also something that is often neglected in high school science.

During this activity, it is also the students who are working the hardest to learn. It isn’t me showing pictures of circles and talking about the particle model. It is them talking about it and me regularly checking their understanding.

So don’t just think of PowerPoint as a boring presentation tool. It can be used as a very easy way to create a student-centred learning environment that frees up the teacher to tackle student misconceptions.

Learning about sound waves with English Language Learners

Sound waves and waves in general are concepts that I’ve found many students have difficulty understanding. These are concepts that deal with understanding how energy is transmitted from one place to another through a scientific model. Why are these concepts difficult? Firstly it is abstract. You can’t see waves. When you speak or hear music you can’t see the waves coming out from the source and travelling to your ear. You can’t see the vibrations of particles. Secondly learning about the transmission of waves comes with a lot of academic language. Here’s just a sample of academic scientific jargon you’ll hear when you sit in a lesson learning about waves:

  • Equilibrium

  • Particles

  • Transmission

  • Transfer

  • Amplitude

  • Frequency

  • Period

  • Wavelength

  • Compression

  • Rarefaction

Due to this, learning about waves is particularly challenging for students who are also English language learners. Not only do they have to deal with difficult and abstract scientific concepts, they also have to deal with the intense bombardment of academic language.

This year I have a Year 9 class who are students learning English as a second language. I didn’t want to start the topic with a waveform diagram and pointing out what is an amplitude, etc. I planned a learning sequence that will move them from concrete to abstract, and from everyday language to academic language.

The first concept I wanted them to understand is that sound is vibration, or things shaking back-and-forth very quickly. We used the good ol’ tin can phones for this. We also did an experiment where students used a vibrating tuning forks to tickle their noses and make tiny splashes with a beaker of water (I thought they would find these experiments too boring, but they absolutely loved it). Every single student left that lesson knowing that sound is caused by vibrations.

The second concept I wanted them to understand is that we can represent sounds as waves. Students used Audacity to record their voices and experiment with how the loudness and pitch of their voice affected how the sound wave looked like on Audacity. We also experimented on whether saying “Hello, My name is ____” in English and students’ first languages had a difference in pitch.

Here’s a video on Audacity. It’s a free program that can be downloaded.

Students worked out from this Audacity activity that the higher pitched their voices were the more squashy the waves were. They also worked out the louder their voices were the taller the waves. I was happy for them to use the words “squashy” and “high” to describe the waves for the time being.

The following lesson I introduced frequency and amplitude. By now the students had a conceptual understanding of the relationship between sound and vibrations, the relationship between pitch and “squashiness” and the relationship between volume and the tallness of waves. They now just had to replace “squashy” with frequency and tallness with amplitude.

I really like the strategy of teaching a concept with everyday language first and then introducing the scientific terms after students have actually understood it. Science is hard enough without a bunch of difficult words bombarding students as well.

Plague Inc – Learn while you infect the world

It’s the summer holidays here in Australia. This means I get to play more games than usual. Rather than spending my evenings planning lessons, I get to sit on the couch with my tablet and play games while watching the Australian Open.

Last week I stumbled across a game called Plague Inc, available on iOS an Google Play. The goal of the game is to design a disease that will become an epidemic that wipes out humanity. You as the player chooses where you start the disease, the symptoms of the disease, how the disease will be transmitted and the defence mechanisms it will have such as drug resistance.

The game is an authentic simulation of epidemiology. While it is not 100% scientifically accurate, it is accurate enough to reflect the following epidemiological aspects:

  • The location of the origin of the disease affects where and how fast the disease is transmitted. For example, a disease originating in a third world country with limited health care resources will spread faster than the same disease originating from a first world country. The disease will also spread via transport routes.
  • To design a disease that will kill everyone on Earth, the player needs to balance the rate of transmission, the severity of the disease and how lethal the disease is. Making the disease too lethal early in the game will result in doctors noticing the disease and research on a cure will begin too soon.
  • Islands are harder to infect. In the game it is often difficult to spread the disease to Greenland and Madagascar.
  • The transmission of disease follows trade and travel routes.

Plague Inc has a lot of potential in games based learning. I am planning to use it as an introductory activity for students to think about how diseases are spread on a global scale and how scientists approach epidemics. The game can be used to discuss evolution of pathogens and vectors of diseases. The game can also be used for students to test out how wealth and regional location affect a country’s ability to respond to epidemics.

Plague Inc also throws in some ethical issues. In the later stages of the game, it shows how countries begin to respond to massive numbers of people dying. Some countries’ governments are overthrown, some countries fall into anarchy and some countries bomb areas with large numbers of infected people in order to control the spread of disease. This can be used as a stimulus for a whole variety of learning that spans across many subjects.

I am planning to use Plague Inc with my Year 9 class this year when we are learning about diseases. I am going to use the game in the beginning and have students come up with questions they would like to explore and mould that into a project based learning opportunity.

Plague Inc is a bit morbid and perhaps not entirely politically correct, so it is best to check with your principal if you are thinking about using Plague Inc in your classes as well.

Using technology to enhance the learning of scientific language

I have always found teaching the separations topic in year 7 science difficult. This is the topic where students learn a range of separation techniques like sieving, filtering, evaporation and distillation. Students have to be able to explain how this separation techniques work based on the physical and chemical properties of substances, which at times involve them having a good understanding of particle and atomic theory. One barrier to this topic is the large amounts of scientific technical language. Students have to know the definitions of these words and know how to use them in their scientific explanations – solution, suspension, solute, solvent, dissolve, soluble, insoluble. These words are just a small proportion of the entire list of terms students are expected to learn.

So with my Year 7s this year I decided to test out how online tools can help make the learning of these words easier and more effective for students. Previously I’ll use a lot of literacy strategies like barrier games, spelling games and concentration games to give students lots of practice at using the words. This year I decided to do it a little bit different. Here’s what I did.

1)      Introduce the need to separate mixtures in the context of obtaining clean, drinking water by using an adaptation of the river story.

2)      Students played a game to learn the definitions of solution, suspension, solute and solvent using Student Response Network. These PowerPoint slides were used to play the game:

3)      Students then performed an experiment to have hands on experience on solutes, solvents, suspensions and solutions.

4) Students then used a science dictionary to construct a table of terms and definitions.

Excel illustrated science dictionary

4)      Students worked in groups using the table of terms and definitions to create multiple choice questions for each term via testmoz.com. Each group uploaded their quiz for the rest of the class to complete. I chose testmoz.com because it is easy to use for Year 7s, doesn’t require registration of any sign up and it gives students a URL to share their quiz with others.

I found that this sequence of activities exposed students to these terms multiple times without being too repetitive. In their weekly tests, this group of year 7s have grasped the definitions of these terms and are able to use them in a scientific context more readily than other groups of year 7 classes I have taught previously.