Connected Library: Going Google

Google-Classroom

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Teaching Librarian: The Magazine of the Ontario School Library Association Volume 23, Issue 3, pages 24-26 

One of the most exciting aspects of using instructional technology in the classroom is the variety of methods to facilitate the collaborative learning process; it is also the one which many educators, like myself, grapple with the most.  Hearing about the successes of educators using Web 2.0 tools to enhance the educational experience of their students is inspiring, and has always motivated me to incorporate them into my classroom.  But what to use?  Google Apps for Education (GAFE) have been huge game changers for some educators; completely redefining how they interact with their students, but I am often unwilling to simply introduce new technology in the class simply for the sake of using tech.  In order to see if I could use GAFE in my classroom effectively and purposefully I took a summer course offered by my union federation. Considering my school board has also recently setup Google Education accounts for all teachers and students with unlimited storage space, it seemed to be a good time to investigate taking the Google plunge.

Google_Classroom_Logo Google Classroom

A web application with a great deal of promise is the Google Classroom app.  I am a long time Edmodo user, however, and thought it was unlikely that I would be convinced to abandon it. I saw the inherent usefulness of Google Drive (see you later USB sticks!), but I was not prepared to use Google Classroom as my default classroom management app.  Through the summer course, I learned that Google Classroom is a much better solution than Edmodo for organizing my classroom. For one, it’s safer to use a server setup by my school board rather than sending student information to an external Edmodo server.  Another relevant point is that Google Classroom integrates seamlessly with Google Drive, making it much easier to store and attach files, and Google Contacts, which streamlines the class creation process, while still doing everything that Edmodo can do.  Making the switch to Google Classroom also gives me a platform to modify and improve peer editing in my classroom, and provides the opportunity to completely redefine the activity.

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Using Google Contacts  you can create Contact Groups which streamline the class creation process in Google Classroom.

Whenever I consider introducing a new technology into the classroom I always consider the SAMR model for tech integration.  If I cannot design a method using new technology that completely changes and improves a pre-existing, non-tech based activity, then I see little point of taking the time to learn and implement the technology.  When I decided three years ago to start moving towards a “flipped classroom” model, for example, initially all I was doing was playing pre-recorded lessons on the LCD instead of delivering them live.  Eventually, however, I was creating and using my own educational videos in the classroom, which lead to generating a bank of videos that I can share with students online to reinforce concepts learned at school, as well as keep absent students current on material covered.  My favorite success story moment using the flipped video model was the day I was showing a video to the class, and realized that a student who was absent that day was accessing the video from home at the same time.

Screenshot 2016-05-20 at 10.12.45 AM.png You can share a class code, or use a Contact Group to send an invite to students to join your Google Classroom group.

Upon first using Google Classroom the main task I found it replaced was writing daily learning goals, assignment dates, and homework on the chalkboard, and having students write these details down in their agendas.  However, right from the outset, it was clear that using Google Classroom was going to make classroom communication more streamlined.  Classroom also works seamlessly with other Google applications, like Google Contacts, which means you don’t have to rely solely on classroom codes to get your class setup.  You can send mass invites in Google Classroom, which is perfect for a high rotary teacher like myself.  Not content to simply bask in the glow of quick and efficient classroom communication, I also wanted to make full use of the Classroom platform as a collaborative learning environment.

This is my first year as a classroom Language teacher, and I was looking for a way to encourage peer editing in my classroom, as well as create a framework for a collaborative writing space.  I decided that I was going to use Google Classroom, not just to assign homework, but to create a space where students are encouraged to share their thoughts about books that they are reading, to see examples of effective reading criticism, and to offer and receive feedback on the process of writing about what they are reading.  I decided to set up a new Google Classroom for my class each month, designated as a monthly Book Club.  Since it is so easy to use a Contact Group to quickly set up a new class, it made sense to keep my class’s daily communication separate from the Book Club page.  We want to keep things from getting too cluttered afterall.

 

I always ensure that everyone in my grade 8 class has at least one student choice book in their possession.  Regular trips to the library, with our very helpful Teacher Librarian, ensure students always have high-interest reading material.  The instructions for the first Book Club assignment were simple and achievable: Write a review of your chosen book giving at least three reasons why the book you have chosen is worth reading, and why other people would enjoy it.  The assignment was given out at the beginning of the month, and students were given access to the Google Classroom and instructed to post their review anytime before the due date at the end of the month.  

When students first log on to the Book Club Classroom they find the assignment announcement, which re-iterates the instructions given in class.  

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Project Description
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Sample Book Review

The first post is a sample review, written by myself about the book I was reading at the time.  As a classroom activity, students are encouraged to log on, read the sample book review, and to identify three things that make it an example of a good book review.  Their ticket out the door is to share their reasoning with the class.  Since all that is required to access Google Classroom is any device that is Wi-fi enabled, students used their own personal iPods, or school provided iPads to complete the exit ticket.  The purpose of this introductory activity is twofold: It encourages students to investigate and label elements of good critical writing by an experienced writer, and students are given the opportunity to co-create criteria by which their own writing is evaluated.  Once students have submitted their book reviews to the Book Club Classroom, we then have students pair up with a peer, and read each other’s book review.  Students identify three strengths about their peer’s review, and bring up at least one area for improvement.

Students sharing feedback
Peer feedback shared in Google Classroom

Google Classroom already has an efficient workspace for students to perform this sort of peer assessment.  Each student, by default, has the ability to create new posts that can be viewed by the whole class, and each student also has the ability to leave public comments on those posts.  To make the process even more interactive, I elected to use Padlet in conjunction with Google Classroom in the peer editing process.  I created a blank Padlet page asking for feedback on my sample book review, and then posted the link to the page in the comments section of my sample review.  

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Padlet brainstorm used to co-construct criteria.

Students share their ideas with the class by leaving a comment on the Padlet page.  There is not a significant benefit of collecting feedback in this way, but it does allow you to display the comments in a “tiled” format which may be more visually appealing and easier to browse than a stream of sequential comments under a Classroom post.  Padlet pages have the added benefit of being easily sharable with outside users by simply providing the page URL, and Padlet also allows you to export and print the page as a PDF, should you need a hard copy of the comments left by students.

I was very pleased with the results of this peer editing activity, which was made possible by Google Classroom.  There was noticeable improvement in several of my students’ critical writing, particularly in their ability to show support for their statements, and to choose more vivid verbs and adjectives.  To further improve on this activity, my next step is to use the Google Classroom platform to augment and redefine peer editing.  Since Google Classroom is web based, and considering that all students in my school board are already setup with Google accounts, it would be relatively easy to extend the Book Club activity to include other Grade 8 students in my school, at other middle schools, and even include students in elementary or secondary schools.  The downside is that Google Educational accounts are locked to only communicate with other accounts in the same school board, preventing a truly global classroom peer editing activity.  That being said, I would love to hear from other educators that use GAFE to redefine their classroom activities, and would love to hear from teachers in the Peel District School Board who want to collaborate with my Grade 8s to improve their students’ writing.

 

Real World Math: The Garden Stone Problem

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I’m always on the lookout for ways to make Math seem “more real” for my students.  I find one of the worst things that can happen in a child’s Math education is if they get the idea in their head that Math is an abstract concept, detached from everyday life.  Under this mindset, doing Math is a dreary process of completing an assignment for the purpose of finding THE ANSWER (more on this mindset in my next blog post).  My goal in the classroom is to help students realize that Math is really all around us, and if you know how to think mathematically, can really make many day-to-day tasks much easier and less prone to trial and error.

I find taking this approach to Math instruction helps engage kids more in the process of doing Math, and for some of them, contextualizes it and makes it easier to understand the concepts when they see how they can be applied in real world settings.  Whenever I do an activity like this, I also find that inserting myself into the problem tends to give the activity a human connection that my students identify with.  So without further ado, let’s move on to the Garden Stone Problem, how I used Math to solve it, and how a teacher might use the activity in the classroom to encourage real world Math thinking.

Intro: The Setup

As I often tell my students, when you use Math in a real world setting, it’s very rare that the actual question is presented for you in clear words.  So I often begin a real world Math problem with a quick intro stinger like this one and have students brainstorm “What Math questions does this video inspire?”  The goal is to activate the student’s mathematical thinking and see ways in which they could potentially apply Math concepts to real life.  I call it encouraging them to seek out the questions, because really in Math instruction, it is knowing and understanding the questions and how they might be answered that is more important than the actual answers (again, more on this later.) Give students some time to discuss their Math questions, and most importantly, discuss what information they would need to answer the question.

Part 1: How many stones would it take to make a circle wall around the tree?IMG_1560IMG_1562

Next step in the activity is to pose the real world question: How many stones would you need to build a wall around the tree? Students can then be encouraged to come up with an estimate that they are sure is too small, and an estimate that they are sure is too large, and explain how they know.  It’s important that students base their estimates on something they see in the photos and are not just wildly guessing.  Next students should brainstorm ideas on what measurements they would need to solve the problem with Math.

Part 2: Gathering important information

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Next I would show these images with important information and pose the question “Can you use the information here to answer the question?  Do you need any additional information?” and see what they can come up with. Ask students to do some calculations to come up with a definitive answer.  Remember, the wall needs to be two stones tall.

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Next to pose another related question: How many bags of mulch would it take to fill in the wall?  Once again, zeroing in on the necessary information to solve the problem is an important step in the process.  What information do you need?

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Its also important to note that there are some factors that may affect our final outcome.

Part 3: Conclusion

Calculating the number of stones around the tree should be straightforward.  If you take the distance across the tree ring (or the diameter of our intended ring of stones) and multiply it by PI (3.14) you will find the distance around the stone wall, or its circumference.

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Then it’s a matter of dividing the circumference by the length of one of the stones.  Variations may occur if you use the length of the inner or outer edge of the stone (25 cm versus 30 cm).  I used the inside edge of the stone, getting a circumference of about 450 cm, meaning it will take 18 stones to go around the tree. Multiply by 2 and you get 36.  So when I returned to the hardware store, I made sure I had 36 stones in total.  If you watch the conclusion video, posted below, you’ll see that I only actually used 34 stones.  This may be a good concluding activity with students.  Why is it that the actual stone wall only took 34 stones when our calculations suggested we needed 36?

I really like the idea of creating real world Math problems to use in the classroom.  I really hope eventually to encourage students to see real world Math in their own day-to-day lives and to document them in the same way as I have in this blog post.  Maybe it would be beneficial for students to maintain a Math Blog for this very purpose.  Something to think about.

Thank you very much for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Sidenote:  I really rushed to get this job finished towards the end. I was so absorbed in my work, that I didn’t notice these rolling in.

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Considering all my calculations were written in sidewalk chalk, I was really glad that I had taken the time to document everything with pics and vids!  5 minutes after I finished, the skies opened up.

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Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and learning to create the #PaperlessClassroom in Peel

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I may be a little late to the party when it comes to the realization that Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is one of the most revolutionary applications to enter the teaching practice in recent history. However, what you may not know is that recently the Peel District School Board has setup all Peel teachers and students with a free, unlimited storage, Google account that is accessible right now.  Effectively, Peel teachers now have a safe and secure method of communicating and collaborating with other teachers and students in a secure online environment.

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I’ve been spending my summer learning how to use GAFE in my teaching teaching practice, first by attending the ETFO Summer Accademy Paperless Classroom course in Kingston, Ontario.  During the course, I really started to see how using Google Apps in the classroom can completely change how we communicate with, and assess our students.  Google Apps make it really easy to share files, send feedback, and stay organized, and since it has been setup by the Peel School Board, stay safe and secure as well.  This may be what makes me bid farewell to Edmodo.

As always, not simply content to just learn the Google system for myself, I want to help other educators figure it out as well, so I have been using my new Chromebook to make screencasts of what I have learned so far about how you can use GAFE in the classroom.  I’ve begun placing the videos in a YouTube playlist, which I will be updating periodically over the rest of the summer.

Accessing your Peel Google Drive Part 1 – Getting Started

Accessing your Peel Google Drive Part 2 – Sharing Files and Folders

Accessing your Peel Google Drive Part 3 – Letting Students Save to your Google Drive

Accessing your Peel Google Drive Part 4 – Using an iPad with Google Drive

If you are interested, stay tuned for more videos that will help you learn how to use other Google apps such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Forms and the real Edmodo killer, Google Classroom.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Tim Boudreau

“The Legend of Probabilia”: A probability game

I really love teaching probability in Math class.  Of all the areas of Math that help us understand “why do things happen the way they do” Probabillity is up there in its importance as well as its beautiful simplicity.  In essence, probability is as close as we are going to come to predicting the future.  As mortal creatures, we have a longing desire to control our destinies, and being able to predict what will happen is essential to making good decisions and planning for the future.  Hence the need for studying probability.

I am always on the search for good probability games to play with my students as a way to reinforce what we have been learning about probability and its ability to predict what may happen.  This year I decided to create my own probability game that combines my passion for probability as well as my obsession with table-top role playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons.

I hadn’t originally set out to create my own game, originally my plan was just to introduce my students to different types of dice other than 6-sided (d6) dice.

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The more I played with my new gamer dice, memories of fighting goblins and zombies with nothing other than dice, pencil and paper, and my imagination came flooding back to me.  I started writing rules for a game where success was determined by how aware of the probability of certain outcomes you were.  “The Legend of Probabilia” was born.

Choose your weapon

First of all, players must choose a weapon to take into the dungeon.  Each weapon with its own probability to hit and ability to deal damage.  Students make a prediction which weapon is best based on these probabillities.

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The dungeon is a perilous place

The goal of the game is to gain as many glory points as possible.  The only way to do this is to find treasure, and to defeat monsters.  Each monster has its own probability for appearing.  This may affect the player’s choice in which weapon to choose.

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Choose your own path

There are 3 ways the game can end.

1.) The hero loses all his stamina and dies (in which case you lose all gold).

2.) The hero defeats two dragons and rescues the princess (which doubles your gold)

3.) The hero can choose to flee the dungeon, but must backtrack through all the rooms that were initially travelled.  New monsters can appear, as well as new treasure.

When the game ends you add up your points by counting 3 things:

1.) 1 point for every gold piece

2.) 1 point for every monster defeated

3.) 1 point for every stamina point left over

Students are asked to figure out “What is the most effective method for getting a high score in the game?”

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We are going to play the game today in class and I will update this post to let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, feel free to use the resources below to play the game with your own classs.  Please send me feedback if you use it with your class!

The rules for the game can be found in the folowing google docs document.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4NrygJAYxLhNmg5T2ZvcGdBTVU/edit?usp=docslist_api

There is also a video that shows a sample play through of the game here.

If you don’t have access to fancy gamer dice, there are great free apps that will do the rolling for you, like D&D Dice Roller. Or there are onlie dice rollers that you can use like this one.

Happy gaming, and I’ll see you next time.

Leave my planning time alone, that’s my Twitter time!

Teacher Unions in Ontario are once again engaged in contract negotiations, and one of the most contentious issues, at least for us teachers, is the possibility of losing control over how we spend our planning time.  The suggestion is that OPSBA would like to co-opt teacher planning times in order to impose more professional development into the work day.

To anyone who is not a teacher this may not sound like such a bad idea.  Without even getting into the fact  that teachers rely on their planning time to do their marking and prepare for lessons, there is already PD that is happening during teacher planning times through social media and something called the #PLN.

Most people reading this blog probably already know the power of the #PLN (personal learning network) so forgive me while I preach to the choir momentarily.

For the uninitiated, a #PLN or personal learning network is a collection of professionals and colleagues that you follow on social-media for the purpose of profesional development. Sometimes that professional development comes in the form of a thought provoking twitter or blog post that challenge outdated classroom management techniques, like this blog post I shared from Brian Aspinall @mraspinall

Another great source of PD comes in the form of lesson ideas shared on twitter, like this one from Steve Wyborney @SteveWyborney

Which then inspire me to create my own lesson, personalize it, and share it back to him on twitter

Sometimes I use twitter just to have thought provoking conversations about Math instruction, like the ones I have with teachers such as Matthew Oldridge @MatthewOldridge , Kyle Pearce @MathletePearce , Jonathan So @MrSoclassroom and many, many others.

I also use my #PLN as a sounding board when I come up with ideas for possible lessons.

These days most of my best ideas have come, either directly or indirectly, from conversations I’ve had with people in my #PLN on Twitter.  Sometimes these conversations happen early in the morning, sometimes they happen in the evening via Twitter chats like #peelmathchat and #lkdsbmathchat, but quite often they happen during the working day on my planning time.  These Twitter conversations are so important to my professional growth because they give me the opportunity to speak directly to inspiring teachers from all over the world, and I often come away with practical ideas that I can actually use in the classroom.

I don’t mean to malign the PD sessions that I have attended in the past, but they are normally heavy on theory and jargon, and I tend to get way more usable ideas out of the twitter conversations I choose to have online than I do from the workshops I’m compelled to attend. The Saturday workshop I signed up for with Kyle Pearce, and the subsequent Twitter conversations that occured afterwards, helped me design a 3-part Math lesson to introduce Grade 8s to Algebra that was quite succesful with my students.

So many of the above interactions would never have happened had the activities of my planning time been dictated to me.  If teachers do lose the ability to chose how they spend their planning times, not only is a valuable source of ideas lost during the work day, but we are also left with the ludicrous situation of a learning environment where Grade 10 students are free to spend their off periods in any way they choose – reading, studying, doing homework, checking social-media – but their teachers are not.

I’ve said it many times in the past, and I’ll say it again here:

The most valuable professional development for any teacher is that which is chosen by the teacher, developed by teachers, and delivered by teachers.

I hope that in the process of attempting to improve professional development for teachers we don’t end up losing access to the #PLN during the school day.  Afterall, I’m not just playing with my iPhone, I’m working here!

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.

Tim Boudreau

Simplifying Multiplication with Number Sense: A Number Talk Lesson

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This blog post is based on a research article that we discussed recently at a staff meeting.  The article was written by Jo Boaler and is titled Fluency Without Fear.  The article begins with an amusing story regarding a British MP who publicly flubbed a simple multiplication problem.  This miscalcuation prompted for calls from many in the Ministry of Education to insist that “all students in England memorize all their times tables up to 12 x 12 by the age of 9.” (Boaler, 2015)

As the article goes on to point out, the problem with the Hounourble Member of Parliament isn’t that that he forgot his times tables, but rather he lacked the mathematical dexterity to solve a multiplication problem when his memory did fail him.  The same problem can be said of students who are struggling with Math.  The problem isn’t, perhaps, that students do not have Math ability but rather “they don’t use numbers flexibly.” (Boaler, 2015)

Boaler goes on to theorize that teaching students to be flexible with numbers should be part of Number Sense education and the best way to enoucrage this is “to work with numbers in different ways, not to blindly memorize” Math facts.

A Number Talk Lesson

One of the ways discussed in Boaler’s article to encourage students to use numbers more flexibly is by using a teaching strategy called the “Number Talk”, which is a process that “involves posing an abstract math problem such as 18 x 5 and asking studetns to solve the problem mentally.” (Boaler, 2015)

So I created a short, 3-part lesson that you can do with a class.  You can conduct the entire lesson in roughly 40 minutes.

The Video

The video is a bit long (6:15 to be exact) and I wouldn’t suggest playing the whole thing and making students watch; that’s just too long to listen to my voice all at once.  First I played the introduction and paused the video so this image was left on the screen with the question “How can you show that he is wrong?”  At this point, students are encouraged to work on a method that visually shows that 7×8 ≠ 54

They might do something like this

or this

The next part of the lesson is to ask students the question “Where did the Honourable MP go wrong? What was his mistake?”  The responses I received ranged from “He miscalcuated” to “He was having a bad day” to “He isn’t good at Math.”  The most simple and common reason given “He just forgot.”

At this point we have a little talk about “Times Tables.”

So then I pose the question “Wouldn’t it be great if you could forget your x7 times table and still manage to get the right answer?”

Next I show students how you can simplify this equation by multiplying 7 x 10, which is much easier to do since you just move the decimal point once to the right, and then subtract 7 from 70 twice.  7 x 10 – 7 – 7 = 56.

  

After showing this method I pose four more examples, and ask students to work them out in a similar fashion.  After enough time has passed, we work them out together.

Finally, we consolidate this new skill with a more difficult multiplication equation.  I then encourage my students to mentally solve the following multiplication problem.

My students were very concerned that there was going to be a quiz on this method of multiplication.  I informed them that there wasn’t going to be a test per se, but that if they learn to be flexible with numbers in this way, then they will be much more able to complete more complex Math problems, even when their memory of the times tables fails them.

For those still wondering, we worked out the above multiplication like this:

  

  

That’s all for now, I’ll see you next time.

Tim Boudreau

 

How is math like peanut butter?  How are prime numbers like glue? – A question posed by Steve Wyborney @SteveWyborney

A short post today to answer the two burning questions in the title.  A twitter colleague and fellow math geek is working on a collaborative blog post, wherein he is asking educators from all over the world to make an analogy.

How is math like peanut butter?  How are prime numbers like glue?

Here is a link to the original blog post by Mr. Wyborney http://www.stevewyborney.com/?p=326

The answer to the first question came to me quite easily…

Math is nutritious, like peanut butter, it contains the protein which are the building blocks of an active and inquisitive mind.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my very first reaction, that:

Math “sticks with you” very much like peanut butter does to the roof of your mouth.

The prime number analogy stumped me a bit, I had to do some outside reading before I could come up with it.  Basically, prime numbers really are the building blocks of all numbers.  All numbers, no matter how big or small, can be reduced down to their prime factors, and since so many tasks in Math involve finding like terms, lowest common denominators, common factors, common multiples, the fact that prime numbers are there, in the background whether we know it or not, really does connect a lot of different tasks in Math.

So my answer to “How are prime numbers like glue?”

Prime numbers are the building blocks of Math, holding it all together and creating a common link between various different concepts and tasks.

That’s all for today.  I’d like to thank Steve Wyborney for challenging me with this task.  You should follow him for some great insights and ideas about Math and math instruction @SteveWyborney.

Till next time,

Tim Boudreau