Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sources for Science Articles

I have compiled a list of websites that can be used to find science current events which can be used when addressing the Common Core State Standards Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects and the Next Generation Science Standards Practice 8:  Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.
Science News Websites:

If you are having a hard time finding articles that meet the reading level of your students, you can complete an Advanced Google Search to sort by reading level.  Here are instructions on how to do that.

You can also search Google Books and Google Scholar.  Check out this blog post for information on those two resources.

I compiled all of the sites above into a Google Custom Search Engine.  You can type in the topic you are looking for, and it will only search the above news sources.

Click here for the Public URL for the custom search page.

Or, type your search in here:

Here is a sample of a search for "cell organelles".  1800+ results were found from those news sites.

You can create your own Google Custom Search for projects in your class as well.  Click here for Google Custom Search.  If you would like the code to embed my Science News Article Search into your own webpage for your students, here is the code:  


  (function() {
    var cx = '014690327803651444005:dh0sprq_3gu';
    var gcse = document.createElement('script');
    gcse.type = 'text/javascript';
    gcse.async = true;
    gcse.src = (document.location.protocol == 'https:' ? 'https:' : 'http:') +
        '//' + cx;
    var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
    s.parentNode.insertBefore(gcse, s);

Common Core Tip Using Google Advanced Search: Reading Level

As my school is switching over to Common Core (and NGSS), I am trying to find more resources to integrate more texts and articles into my biology course.  I want students to learn the skills of analyzing science writing (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.1), finding the central ideas of a text, (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.2) , and analyzing the author's purpose (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.6).  

When searching online, there are lots of sources of scientific writing.  However, many are too advanced for high school students to read.  I want to find challenging articles, but at a level that my students could work with.

Using an Advanced Google Search tip can help teachers find writings and articles. Google allows you to sort through your searches by reading level.  Here's how.

How To

1.  Go to the the google search page.  (Rosalind Franklin is the Google Doodle today!)

2.  Type in what you are searching for.

3.  Click on the Settings Tab on the right of your screen.  Choose "Advanced Search". 

4.  Scroll to almost the bottom of the page, to "Reading Level".

5.  Choose annotate results with reading levels.  This will give you a list of all results, with each one labeled with the reading level.  

6.  You can also sort by reading level by clicking on the reading level near the top of the search.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How to Automatically Send an Email to Parents When Their Student is Tardy

At my school, I am required to have students sign in and out of my classroom.  So if a student uses a pass to use the restroom, go to the library, or comes to class late, they have to fill out a form.  This started a few years ago as part of our safety plan.  

For about two years, I had students fill out their name, date, time, and reason for leaving the room or coming in late on a piece of paper on a clipboard by the door.  Last year, I switched over to a online google form after Joan Le shared the idea with me at the Exploratorium Alumni Teacher Institute program.  I posted a QR code with a link to the form on my classroom door so students could use their phone to fill it out on their way in/out.  I also have a few computers that they can use if they don't want to fill it out on their cell phone. 

I had heard someone mention in passing, at a conference or workshop, that a script could be used to email parents when a student is tardy.  I thought that that was a brilliant idea!  It was a way to immediately communicate with parents and hopefully change the students behavior.  I had been thinking about how to do this for months, and finally created the workflow after a full day scripting workshop led by Jay Atwood at the Google Apps for Education Summit in California last weekend.  Jay's guidance was key in helping me figure this out.

Linking parent emails to a form submission and sending the email is a multistep process, but I have outlined all the steps to recreate this for your classroom in this video.  I hope it helps others.

Also, I want to thank Kevin Brookhouser again for teaching me how to add annotations in YouTube to make the video interactive.  It is such a cool trick!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Google Apps for Education California Summit - Day 1

The Google Apps for Ed Summit is at Sequoia High School this year.  I signed up for and attended the Pre Conference Workshop on Google Scripts with Jay Atwood yesterday. It was AMAZING!  Jay had us start a website to organize all of the information from the class.  I am going to use that as a resource for me to be able to remember how to use all the scripts.  I also want it to be a guide for others who want to learn more about the different scripts and have a step by step tutorial to guide them.  It is a work in progress - I still want to add a bunch of steps and screencasts.  I just need to find the time.  But I should have it done before the school year begins.  :)

Today I attended a bunch of workshops and will share some of the key ideas and tips/tools I learned about.  I will also share a little bit about how I might use these tools in my classes.

Dan Russell Keynote:  Mindtools:  What does it mean to be literate now?
  • Google Image Search
    • go to and drag an image into the search bar. Related images will appear.  I tried this at home and didn't get the perfect results that were shown in the keynote, but it was a cool tool.  (I had a picture of a chipmunk from the Sierras, and it showed pictures of spiders, lizards, and fabric.)


  • Command F (or Control F)
    • This is a tool that I have used many times to find things in documents, websites, etc.  
    • I did not realize that 90.5% of US Internet users and 51.1% of teachers do not know how to do this.  (Dan Russell)
    • I need to be sure to teach this to my students.
  • Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
    • This is a hoax website, but would be a great tool to teach students how to analyze websites and media when looking for sources for projects and research.

  • Moonshot Thinking Video by Google
    • show at beginning of school year to students
    • this video goes over important themes of perseverance  risk taking, and persistence
  • Celebrate creativity:  applause after students share thoughts, projects, etc.
  • How to ask questions:  Ask open ended questions so there is no one wrong answer.
  • Assignments Matter:
    • - instructions on how to download creative commons w/ citation info in file name.
    • when assigning students a project (ex:  video project), show them examples and have them analyze them.  This will help them know how to create a good project.
      • what are strengths of videos?
      • what are weakness of videos?
      • how would you approach that video differently?
      • how would we validate the information presented?
    • audience - not just teacher.  Students think about who is going to see it.  They will make something good for their peers, but good enough for their teacher.
    • Implementation:
      • script - shows real learning is going on
      • audience
      • posters - for students who don't want to make a video, (or parent complains they don't have tech at home) make a poster to present to the class.  (No one chooses poster)
      • partners
      • time limits (video can be no longer than…)
      • If a student comes to you and said their technology failed and I can't turn in, say "oh, that's too bad… where's your poster?  where's your script?".  
    • Questions that Matter:
      • Students don't always have an adult that they can ask important questions to.  Give them the forum to do so.
      • Once a semester, pass out index cards for a Q&A.  
      • Tell students to write any question you want about anything…school, college, career, politics, life etc.  
      • Tell them "I can't promise a good answer, but I'll try."  
      • Don't put names on cards.
      • tinyurl./questionsthatmatter

Mark Wagner:  Google Search for Educators:  Books, Scholar, News, Blogsearch, Alerts & More
  • Google's Mission:   Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.  
  • Search Tips: 
    • site or domain - ex:  search a certain blog for your topic, search district website
      • "21st Century Skills"
      • when searching for atomic bomb hiroshima - you get a websites with mostly a western perspective, so search for websites in Japan
        • "atomic bomb hiroshima"
        • ac = academic - all other countries don't use .edu, they use .ac
        • internet country codes - do a search
    • search for a type of document
      • causes "American Civil War" filtetype:ppt 
      • some teachers are hesitant about showing students other presentations - they may just steal another students work.  So show them how to cite sources, creative commons, and how to give a good presentation.
    • search for usage rights - filter by license  - in advanced search
    • define:word
    • reading level - in advanced search
      • you can differentiate readings that you give to students.
  • Google Books
    • you can search google books.  There are huge number of books available for you to look and search through.  If you are logged in to your google account, you can keep all of your books that you are using for research on your shelves.  Create a shelf for your project.  You can share shelves too.  
    • search each book with and use preview to see where search term appears.  You can come back to this over and over again.
      • type in your search:  Bald Eagle
      • hover over to the right of more, and "search tools" will show up.  Click on that, and then preview available.  These are the books that you can search and see the entire contents when you do the search.
      • Search the preview: Nestlings and you will now see all instances with that term in the Bald Eagle book.

  • Google Scholar
    • allows you to search scholarly papers.
    • Once you find a paper you like, you can go back in time to find related articles by looking at the paper's references.  
    • Can go forward in time too!  You can find more recent papers based on the original work.  (See new articles/documents that have been written since then).
    • You can cite the source as well.  Click on Cite under the source and it will give you the citations in MLA, APA, Chicago.
    • You can limit your searches to what people are writing in blogs.
    • type in search term, results types you are looking for, how often you want alerts, and you will get any new updates in your email inbox.
  • Search by voice using chrome browser

Holly Clark:  Collaboration 3.0 20 Innovative Ways to Globalize Your Classroom

In this workshop different ideas about how to collaborate with other classrooms across the world were discussed.  All of the examples were elementary examples, but I got a few ideas on how I could modify this for my high school students.

First, we discussed that group work is NOT collaboration.  

Four Characteristics of Collaboration
  • shared knowledge among teachers and students
  • shared authority among teachers and students
  • teachers as coaches
  • heterogeneous groups of students
The first ideas that I think I could make work in my high school class is Mystery Skype/Hangouts.  Elementary students play a 20 question type of game to find out where the other class is located.  I think that this would be fun to do with my AVID students, but with a career speaker.  Students would ask questions to try to find out what career they have.  After they figure that out, they could have a discussion about the job, the education requirements, etc.  

I started having my students blog this past year as part of their final project.  I want to expand it to the whole year.  Blogs allow collaboration when students can comment on each other's posts.  But the key is to write a captivating title so others want to read the blog.  Holly stressed that students need to create good titles so people around the world who find it will want to read it.  I really believe that when students have a big audience (not just the teacher) they do better work.  My students loved seeing others around the world read their blog.  

Demo Slam

A lot of great tools where shared.  I have used some of the tools already.  Many of the vendors shared their projects.  But here are some of my favorites that were new to me.
  • Rushton Hurley:   Chrome extension -  YouTube Options - it takes away all the distractions, like comments, other videos, etc.  This would be great for students or when showing videos to the whole class.
  • Lisa Nowakowski:  Chrome Extention - Webpage Screenshot - it takes screenshots (of the entire webpage) and allows you to edit text on websites.  It would be fun to have students summarize writing in articles they find on the web or write things using the vocabulary terms we are learning in class.
  • Kevin Brookhauser: -  I learned about this a few days ago at CUE Rockstar, but I love this.  I can't wait to share it with the English teachers at my school.  This website has a bunch of instructional grammar videos.  The videos are interactive and quiz students to see if they really understand the grammar concept.
Other Info I Learned 
  • teachparentstech is a cool website where you can send emails with video tutorials on a wide variety of technology tools.  It is really creative.  Check it out.

It was a long day but I am excited to learn more tomorrow!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

CUE Rockstar Tahoe: What I Learned on Day 3

Today I got to experience CUE Rockstar from a different perspective.  Kevin Brookhouser invited me to present with him in his Class Polling without Clickers session.  I have been using Socrative this school year in both my biology and AVID classes for quizzes, reviews, and for quick checks for understanding.  I also shared another tool, Infuse Learning, which is similar to Socrative, but allows the students to write/draw answers.  In the two sessions, I got to share what I had learned and done, but I also learned quite a bit from Kevin and the other participants as we discussed ways we would use the tools with our students.

To start the session, Kevin told a story which demonstrated how people can have biases about information and what they know when others share or provide information.  In the classroom, this happens all the time when students are asked questions.  Many times one student raises their hand, and that student provides the correct answer.  Everyone else thinks, "oh, yeah, that's what I thought", when they didn't really know the answer.  Maybe they would have gotten to that answer, but didn't get a chance to process it or really decide on the answer themselves.  

That is where clickers come in.  Clickers allow all students to have their own voice.  But clickers are expensive, and really can only allow students to answer multiple choice or true false answers.  As technology is advancing, and smart phones are getting more affordable, many students now bring smart phones or other mobile devices, like iPods, to class.  These devices can be used as clickers, with the right website or apps.

Poll Everywhere
Kevin shared how he uses Poll Everywhere and Google Forms to poll his students.  Poll Everywhere allows teachers to ask one question at a time.  They can be multiple choice or short answers.  The answers can be shown on the board in real time, and the multiple choice answers are shown in a bar graph.  Students can text or tweet in answers, or they can use an internet browser to respond.  Kevin gave examples of using Poll Everywhere to answer questions as he went over a poem and the concept of paradox.  He also shared how he had used it for students to write sentences using vocabulary words.  All the sentences show up on the screen and students can discuss if they are correct or why they wrote them in that way.  I definitely will use this ideas as my AVID students study their SAT vocabulary or when my biology students practice writing arguments and claims from their readings.  

Google Forms
Next, Kevin showed us a great example of using google forms.  He created a peer grading rubric where students fill out the form for each presenter as they practice their presentations. They provide feedback so their peers can make improvements before their final speech.  I have used a similar form for grading a class project, but I love having the students help their peers by giving suggestions on how they can improve their presentation.  Something that I shared is how I took the info that the students entered in the form, which is really hard to read in the spreadsheet, and I organized it by mail merging the data into a document.  I made a google doc that looked like a written out grading rubric, and then used the Autocrat script take the spreadsheet data and put it in the right spots on the document.  Autocrat then emails out the doc to the students so they get that feedback.

Next, I shared Socrative and Infuse Learning.  I have been using Socrative with my class for quick reviews and small quizzes on and off last school year.  I have written a post about it where you can learn how to use it.  Today, when sharing the site/app, I learned something new that I am very excited about. 

When giving students a Short Answer - Single Question Activity, a teacher will ask students some sort of question.  It could be a comparison of mitosis and meiosis, a thesis statement for an essay prompt, or some other higher level question.  Students answers will show up anonymously on the teacher's screen.  This can be projected out to the class.  

After all of the answers are up, the teacher can have the students discuss why they chose their answer and try to persuade the others that their answer is correct.  This would be a great way for students to teach each other the content.   

Then you can choose to have the students vote on the answer again to show what they now believe is the correct answer.  Hopefully you will see more correct answers.  This is what it looks like after they vote.

I think that this will be a great way to have students discuss what they know and it will provide them a way to have a structured academic conversation where higher level thinking will take place.

Infuse Learning
Next, I shared Infuse Learning.  I hadn't used this in class with my students yet - I didn't want to try out too many tech tools at once, and Socrative was working for us.  The big different with Infuse Learning is that students can draw answers.  This would be awesome for math problems, science drawings, imagery in English classes, etc.  We learned that it was tough to draw using a laptop, but those on tablets had an easier time.  

Some comparisons of Socrative and Infuse Learning, is Infuse Learning does not have an app, it is internet based.  On a mobile device, it seemed to work best using the Chrome Browser.  Also, in Socrative, teachers can name their room number, I named my "Hero".  In Infuse Learning, you can't name the room number, and it changes each time you use the website.  That might be confusing for the students.  

On the right are some sample drawings that the participants drew using Infuse Learning.  I think that this will be a great tool in my iPad classroom.

Shared Resources
After we demoed the resources the participants had time to play with the different polling systems.  They were tasked with creating a lesson that used one of the polls.  Then there was a lesson sharing time at the end of the session.  All the teachers had great and creative ideas on how they would use these tools.

During the sessions, we had a lot of great conversations and I learned about some other resources and tools.  

One was Tag Crowd.  Tag crowd creates a wordle type image - but the words are all in straight lines instead of bunched up together.  I think this would be much easier for English Learners or students with reading difficulties to look at.  

I also learned about Canned Response - a Gmail lab where you can create canned response emails.  The example shared was an email to send to students in response to an email they sent you telling you that they are sick. I think that will really help save some time.  

We also talked about Google Voice and how French students recorded conversations that were sent to the teacher's voicemail to listen to later.  This will make the process of recording themselves much easier, because it automatically gets sent.  If using other apps, students must save it, then cut/paste and email the link to the teacher. 

Thank You
The last three days have been a gold mine of resources, tools, and conversations with great educators to add to my PLN.  I have learned so much and have made many good connections with people who are so willing to share and support other educators.  

All of the presenters went above and beyond.  During the morning breakfast time and lunch they always shared what they knew.  They had mini sessions at lunch to get educators on twitter, shared how to take good mobile device photos, how to create google forms, or gave a minecraft introduction.  And they had spent the time to prep and prepare for amazing sessions.  Thank you so much for a great three days.  I will definitely be back next year and hope to convince others at my school site to attend with me.  (I tried unsuccessfully this year.)

And thank you so much Kevin for inviting me to present with you.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot today from you and the participants in the two sessions.

I am sad CUE Rockstar is over, but I have something to look forward to for next summer! If you are reading this, make sure you sign up for CUE Rockstar Tahoe next year.  :)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CUE Rockstar Tahoe: What I Learned on Day 2

Today was another great day at the CUE Rockstar Conference.  I am exhausted!  And a little afraid....  Today is only day two of a full ten straight days of PD!  What was I thinking?  I just couldn't turn down CUE Rockstar, then the GAFE Summit at Sequoia HS (in my district), a presummit workshop, and three days at the Academy of Sciences learning about NGSS.  I have been looking forward to these workshops all summer.  But I know I will definitely need a break afterwards. 

Song Parodies
The first session I chose today was Diane Main's GarageBand Karaoke:  Song and Video Parodies to Spice Up Your Teaching.  I have always been pretty shy, am not comfortable in front of a crowd, and have a terrible fear of singing.  So you are probably wondering why on Earth I would choose this workshop.  I assign a project each December where my students create "Biology Carols" to review for their final exams.  Students choose a holiday song and re-write the lyrics to teach one of the different standards we have gone over that semester.  I collect all the songs and put them in a song book for my students.  This is a homework assignment, but in class, on one of our review days, students read through each of the songs.  They must fix any errors in the content and add any extra information in the margins that was not included.  It is a fun way for the students to review and gets them in the holiday spirit.  I have offered extra credit to any students who record the song.  I have never had any way for the students to do this before in my class.  Now that I have a class set of iPads, my students can actually record their biology carols.  I wanted to learn how to use Garage Band and how to actually create the parody.  

Bee (5937135717)Diane has some great instructions on her webpage and some fun examples.  We went over all the steps to creating a parody, from choosing a song and topic, writing the parody, to recording it in GarageBand, to adding in a "video" to go with the song.  There were four people in the class and we chose to work together to create one song.  Mary Berelson, a 1st grade teacher, wanted to teach her students about bees.  It was fun coming up with a song and lyrics - we chose the John Denver song Annie's Song.  When writing our lyrics, we used a website called Word Hippo to help us find words that rhyme, are similar, opposite, etc.  Thanks Jen Roberts for sharing this cool website with the class.

Here is our final song     

and our lyrics:

Update 7/11/13:  Mary created a powerpoint to go with the song to make it a music video. I have added it here.  Thanks Mary!

The class was a lot of fun, I enjoyed the process.  I'm still not a fan of singing... but I learned how to go through the whole process and use Garage Band.  My next step is to compare the iOS version of Garage Band to the Mac Version which we used in class.  I also need to see how to get the karaoke background songs onto the iPads, when the students aren't able to purchase songs on the school's iPads.  I am excited to have a tool to allow my students to record their Biology Carols.

Interactive Flip Videos
For my second workshop, I went to Kevin Brookhouser's Flip Your Classroom with Presentations, Screencasts, and Interactive You Tube Videos.  I have been flipping my classroom for a year and was very intrigued on how to make the videos interactive.  I had watched the sample videos on the session's webpage and knew I had to learn how to do this.

Kevin showed us a bunch of examples of interactive flipped You Tube videos and then led us through making an example.  (English teachers, you will love his grammar videos!)  There were two ways we could do this  - the video could include the teaching of content and then there would be a quiz at the end OR the video could start with a question and if a student answers it incorrectly, they would get a review of the content   We chose to start out with the question first.  We created two google presentations, the first included the question and the correct answer.  The second presentation included the wrong answer, an explanation of the content, and then try again.  We quickly recorded two screencasts, one for each presentation, using quicktime and uploaded both of them to You Tube.  We then added in annotations.  We used the spotlight to box in our answer choices where the student would click, and linked it to the right spot in the right video.

I worked with Karen Wessel and we created a video quizzing students about mitochondria and chloroplasts.  We plan to use this as a fun review after we teach our students about cell organelles.  Here is our video:

**Note:  YouTube was being a little uncooperative today - hopefully all the spotlight links are working correctly now.  They were a little "jumpy" this afternoon.

I love how the YouTube annotations allows the flipped videos to really be interactive. The students had to really think during the videos and couldn't just passively watch them.   I definitely want to use this in my class this year.  One small problem... when these annotated videos are viewed on an iPad, the annotations don't work. :(  Since I am planning on having my students watch these videos during class time, as I am flipping using the asynchronous flip mastery model, my students won't be able to watch these interactive videos on the iPads.    Hopefully YouTube will make some changes so that the annotations will work on mobile devices.  

Not officially a session... but I was able to have dinner with three great educators - Josh Harris, Scott McMillan, and Lisa McMillan.  We talked about what we have learned in our different sessions, shared technology we used in our classes, and just had a great time getting to know each other.  I have learned a lot from not just the presenters, but from conversations with all the participants in the sessions, people sitting at the same table at lunch, and from people walking through the hall.  Thank you everyone for being so willing to share.  I love going to conferences where the educators truly want to be there and share the same views on education as I do - where student learning comes first.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

CUE Rockstar Tahoe: What I Learned on Day 1

Today was the first day of my first CUE Rockstar, in Tahoe, CA.  

There were ten presentations to choose from for the day, and each participant could choose two to attend.  Today's theme was "Getting Googley".  The two sessions I chose to attend were Black Belt Google Drive by Kevin Brookhouser and Awesome Cross-Curricular Projects with Docs and Drive with John Stevens.  I am pretty familiar with Google Apps for Education, so while many of the presenters are people I follow on twitter and I want to meet and learn from, I chose those two workshops because I feel that I would get the most out of them.  I was hoping to learn some advanced tips in Kevin's workshop and create a lesson using GAFE in John's session.

Black Belt Google Drive
In Kevin's session, Kevin shared how some examples and walked the participants through using scripts such as Flubaroo and Doctopus.  I have used both in my classes and during the time given for us to test them out, I shared my lessons and how I used it with a few attendees sitting near me.  Flubaroo and Doctopus are great scripts which make a teacher's life easier when giving quizzes and having students/groups work on documents in google drive.  Kevin has some video tutorials for both of those on his website if you want to learn more.  Don't be afraid of scripts... they really are AMAZING.  Watch his videos to learn how to use them.

I picked up a few things from Kevin and the others in the class trough out the session that I will definitely try out.  Here are some notes:

Keyboard shortcuts
Save time when inserting comments into a google doc using keyboard shortcuts.  Choose option+command+m to insert a comment.  To submit that comment, type control+enter.  To find a list of comments, in google drive (in the doc, spreadsheet, etc), go to help, and then keyboard shortcuts.

Spreadsheet Autofill
In spreadsheets, I knew how to autofill to create numbered lists or days of the week. You type in the first few numbers, days, etc.  Then highlight the cells.  On the bottom right of the bottom cell, there is a blue handle or box.  Click on that and drag down.  Google will automatically fill down with the next values in the series.

But that is not all you can do when using the autofill!  Kevin shared a cool trick to fill other types of things - like brands of cars, motorcycles, types of fruit, presidents, and even beers, etc.  Basically, you do the same thing, but this time, when dragging down the little blue box, be sure to hold down the option key on your Mac.

Change Default Font in Google Drive
If you have ever wondered if it is possible to change the default font or font size in your google docs, there is a way to do it!  First, you would change the font to what you want it to be.  Second, you need to go to the box that shows normal text (next to the font in the upper menu).  Then click on normal text.  A drop down shows up.  Hover over the section for normal text and click on the arrow on the right.  Then choose "Update 'Normal text' to match".  

This has only changed this particular document.  (You can also change title, subtitle, etc. here.)  To make this global - to change the default for all of your google docs, you need to complete a second step.  You will now go to options at the bottom of the "normal text" drop down list.    Choose "Save as my Default Styles".  

Now, you have successfully changed the default fonts for all future google docs that you create.  A great use for this in the classroom is to teach students how to change the defaults to the MLA format (or for my biology students, APA). 

Chrome Extensions
Kevin shared a cool chrome extension which allows you to easily create a google doc from within the chrome browser, instead of having to open up google drive.  It is called Docs Quickly.  I couldn't find it from the chrome store, but did find Google Docs Quick Create. You can quickly create docs, presentations, spreadsheets, drawings, and forms by clicking on the drive icon in your browser bar.

There are templates available to download into google docs.  They can be found in the Google Template Gallery.  A participant shared a template that looks like a lot of fun to use in class - Historical Facebook Page.  How much fun would it be for students to create facebook pages for famous scientists (other historical figures, characters in a novel, etc.)?  

I have multiple gmail accounts (personal and GAFE) and have been using multiple users in chrome.  This allows me to not have to worry about logging in/out each time I want to switch which account I use.  I had seen people who have logged in using "incognito" before, but didn't understand why I would want to use it.  

Many times when I am testing out webpages or documents that have created, I need to make sure that it will work for the public or people not in my GAFE network.  If I log in using Incognito, I can check all of this.  The shortcut key to switch over to incognito is Command+shift+n.

Thank you Kevin for a great workshop!  I enjoyed learning these new tips and tricks.

Awesome Cross Curricular Projects with Docs and Drive
I chose John Steven's cross-curricular session for my second workshop.  I have always wanted to work with teachers outside of my curriculum area to create a project, but it hasn't been easy at my school.  We don't have any provided time to work across subject areas.  I loved that John provided this opportunity for us today.

I paired up with a math teacher, Andrew Hyland, and another biology teacher, Thomas Safford, today.  We wanted to plan an intro unit on graphing.  After discussing the different types of biology labs we do that requiring graphing, we discovered that our ecology/population lab with exponential graphing matches up perfectly with the time of year the Algebra teachers generally teach graphing quadratic equations.  

We created a multi-day lesson where the bio teachers would teach about population growth at the same time that the Algebra teachers are teaching graphing quadratic equations.  It is still a work in progress - but I have a concrete example/idea that I can use when approaching the Algebra teachers at my school about collaborating.  I can't wait to see if any of the teachers at my school are interested.  

During the workshop I was listening in on another project that Brandon Dorman was working on.  He was trying to find a way to give students a template for a presentation that included his comments about what he expected of them for each section, sort of like a rubric.  He wanted it in front of the students as they presented.  I recommended that he create a google presentation, and put his comments in the notes section.  Then students could see the notes as they presented.  Brandon tested it out, and it did what he wanted when the presentation was shared with others.  The coolest part, was that Brandon tried to send out the presentation template using Doctopus.  He discovered that Doctopus can send out presentations to students, not just documents!  That is something that I will definitely use in my classes next year.

John will be tweeting out a website with all of the lessons created during his sessions today. I am excited to see all of the final lessons.

Next Steps
I learned a lot of great new things today and needed to spend the time writing this really long blog tonight to process and remember all that I learned.  Hopefully there aren't too many typos or errors - I'm getting tired and don't want to proof it again....  If you have read this far, hopefully you can use some of these tips in your classes too.  I am excited for the next two days and now need to figure out what sessions I will attend tomorrow.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Student Motivation and TED Talks Education

I teach high school biology and AVID.  AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and it is a course that prepares students in the academic middle to be eligible and ready for a four year college.  Many times the students come from families where no one has gone to a four year college or the student may come from a disadvantaged background.  AVID helps prepare these students for college by providing study skills, mentoring, tutoring, and support.  Here is some great info and an overview of the AVID program.

I just finished up my 9th year teaching AVID. It is fun to teach, I can be a little more creative in this class because there aren't state standards like their are in biology.   I can create fun lessons, such as incorporate games to learn vocab or come up with exciting team building activities.   Another benefit of AVID is I get to really know my students well, as I am their AVID teacher for their entire high school career.  I get to see them come in as freshmen, many times shy and uncertain of who they are, and watch them grow to be confident seniors, heading off to college.

Even though I enjoy teaching AVID, AVID is a tough class to teach.  Students must choose to be in the program, but many times they are in AVID, not because they want to, but because their parents want them in it.  If a student does not have that motivation and desire to be in AVID, they are not going to do the work.  AVID is not a magic wand - just because a student is in the program, does not mean they will be successful in their classes.  The students have to have that determination, and be willing to follow through with the assignments I give them, to be successful.  If a student is failing a core class, with a grade of a D or an F, I require them to attend study halls.  The purpose of the study halls is for students to spend time working with their teachers improving their grades.  However, many times the students believe that this is a punishment.  They do not see this as way to get the help and support they need.  It is really hard to get the AVID students, especially when they are freshmen, to see and understand that the curriculum and requirements I provide them will actually benefit them.  The future is so far away to them, that they don't always listen to the advice I give.     

Principal talking to students about importance
of AVID and ending with a group hug.
This year it has been tough with the freshmen.  Many students have been failing some of their core classes.  They haven't been taking their Cornell Notes (an AVID requirement), turning in their Progress reports (another requirement) or completing their study halls.  I have brought in older AVID students, AVID graduates who are now in college, their guidance counselor, and even our principal to talk to them and hopefully motivate them and see that what they are required to do in AVID is actually a benefit and a privilege.  It seems to help motivate the freshmen for a day or two, but then there isn't a change in their behaviors.   I know that my freshmen class sounds very unmotivated to you, the reader, right about now.  I do have some amazing students in my class.  Most of them are actually doing very well and I am so proud of their accomplishments.  But when there are more than a few students that aren't doing well, it seems like the WHOLE class isn't.  I want to find ways to help them.

In May, the TED Talks Education special aired.  I was immediately inspired, and knew that it might help give some perspective to my AVID students.  There were nine presenters, including educators, students, and others with a strong interest in education.  They spoke about the problem of students dropping out of school, and ideas of how to keep students interested in school.  I think the program was aimed at educators as the viewing audience, not necessarily students.  But I knew that I wanted my students to watch this.

As part of my AVID freshmen's final exam, they participated in a Socratic Seminar.  (A socratic seminar is a type of discussion where students ask higher level questions and try to get a deeper level of understanding about a topic.)  I provided my students with a packet to take notes, and showed them the hour long show in class.  Students took notes, wrote a reflection, and came up with leveled questions that they could ask during the seminar.

This was the most amazing seminar I have seen during my nine years of teaching AVID.  I hated having to stop the students, but we just didn't have enough time.  The students were engaged and came up with some really great thoughts about education.  Many are ideas that I have been thinking about over the last semester, and it was amazing to hear the students really reflect on how they learn, the importance of learning as opposed to just getting a grade, etc.  Here are some key thoughts that they shared.  The student thoughts from the seminar are in blue, my reflections on this are in green.

  • Students should take the time to reflect on their learning.  It will help you plan for the future.  And that is what will bring you the motivation.  My thoughts:  I always have students write a reflection at the end of the unit.  However, many times it seems forced and the students don't really think about their learning.  I need to find a way to really have them reflect.  Maybe give more class time, or have them write it in a blog.  I had my students start blogging at the end of the year, and with others reading their blogs, their work was better.  I think I will have students start blogging and reflecting about their learning starting at the beginning of the year.
  • Grades should represent what you know and have learned.  You can get an A two ways, you can cheat/copy or you actually can learn.  Grades should be more than just a letter, it should represent what you have actually learned.  Students want/prefer feedback because it can help you improve, not just a letter grade.  My thoughts:  It was amazing to hear that the students preferred feedback, and letter grades didn't always show what they had learned.  I have been contemplating switching over to a standards based grading system.  I think that many students might have a hard time with this, but I think it would benefit the students.  Many students and parents, still want to see that A.  But I want my students to really think about what they are learning and mastering, as opposed to just getting a grade.
  • Parents intend to motivate their students, but a lot of times it causes too much stress.  My thoughts:  parents want their children to succeed and go to a four year college.  But in the 12 years I have been teaching, I have seen a huge increase in the number of students taking multiple AP classes.  Not because they are interested in the subject, but because it looks good on college applications.  Parents are pushing their students to do so much, and students are not being kids anymore.  I don't know if there is anything that I can do about this in my class.... I try not to give too much homework, or any at all.  I try to make my curriculum engaging, so students have fun in my class, and want to learn.  
  • Students need to want to do well.  The student needs to take control and responsibility of their learning.  My thoughts:  This is where I am having a hard time.  How do I get my few students who aren't engaged, who aren't intrinsically motivated, to take control?   I can assign study halls, call home, have conversations with the students, etc.  But I can't force them to take control.  The student tells me that they want to succeed, that they want to go to college.  I tell them the steps they need to take.  But how do I get them to take those steps?  I think spending more time reflecting on their learning might help.  We'll see how this school year goes! :)
I think that providing the time for students to really look at the importance of education and think about what their goals are is key.  I have my students reflect on their grades and learning often in class, and they don't always take it seriously.  This time they did.  The difference seems to be the time to discuss it with their peers.  I think I will plan activities like this more often, and I hope it helps.  I look forward to starting sophomore year with my AVID students and also incorporating more discussions about learning in both my AVID and biology classes next year.