Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaching Search Strategies

Google has so many projects that it is hard to keep track of them.  They have their BIG applications being search, drive, and gmail, but there are a huge number of apps that are lesser known.  Small projects that came from the 20% time model at google.

A Google a Day is a set of 3 questions every day.  Students search for the answer, while the app times them.  The wording of the questions increases the challenge of searching for the answer.  The google a day website is a quick and easy way to get students practice with searching on google.  I have used this as an opener in class and have required students to take screenshots of their successful searches to get credit.  It is a challenging and fun way to get students searching.

Every day you and your students can answer questions from three categories (pop culture, science, and sports).  The questions are hard, but there are enough clues to get the answer.  I have worried about typing in the question and getting the answer right away, but the webpage eliminates all posts during the day to get rid of all spoilers.  Just make sure they are searching within the tab with A Google A Day open.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Trouble with the NGSS

Today I was training the school technology leads in my district and toward the end of the time we had a chat about what kind of support they needed and what they felt were the needs of their teachers and their schools.  Near the end a teacher mentioned frustration he was having with the NGSS and I haven't been able to let it go.  This teacher wanted to know when science teachers would be getting more  concrete NGSS lessons.  He felt that he had been told what lessons were and were not supposed to look like and what components they were supposed to have, but that he wanted to be given some true NGSS lessons.

I think what troubled me about that conversation was the authenticity of the lessons he wanted.  Sure there are things cross cutting concepts, STEM concepts, science standards, and real life connections that need to be made with the common core and NGSS; but only incorporating those pieces is missing the point.  This teacher wanted a script of how to run the class, step-by-step methodology rather than best practice, pre-scripted examples rather than examples and ideas that organically flow out of conversations with students about the content.  That bugs me.

Is there such a focus on standards that we are missing the point that many of the standards open up the chance to talk about the connections that science has in the real world.  Even more importantly, it affords teachers the opportunity to inspire students to derive connections to their lives that we may not have seen.  It is hard for teachers to take more of a guide role and less of a teach role.  Guiding requires responding to what students say and their interests that day.  The role of the teachers is now to steer student interest and challenging students' preconceived ideas toward scientifically accepted theories and logical connections.  Yes, teachers can do this with a scripted lesson, but a scripted lesson loses the quality of being driven by student interest and engagement, rather it is driven by teacher agenda.  There is less of an organic flow to the learning and the conversation and topics are less authentic to the students.

That being said, there are excellent lessons out there that are amazing, but are they considered Common Core or NGSS lessons?  That all depends on the teacher.  The same lesson given in two different classes, by two different teachers may look very different as teachers know.  Are students organized in rows, listening, following directions, and completing work when told, or are they working in groups, working with the teacher to come to class-wide theories and shared understandings, rationalizing their theories with logic and content knowledge, and having thought provoking conversations with the ability to extend their learning and naturally differentiate instruction based on the interest they have in the subject.  Yes the latter is messy, pseudo-chaotic, and slightly more unpredictable.  I guess that is why we tend to focus more on what a NGSS lesson is and what it isn't, rather than some lessons that fit NGSS.

Why watch videos the day before Break... Have Students Code

In the past, teachers have given tests the week before the long breaks. After students finish the test, we tell them to wait until all the other students in the class are done. Then you put on one of the many movies until the end of the period because you know that teaching students new information may be a waste of time.  Lets engage students, show them a video, what is more engaging than that?

Why not have them DO something? Something that might grab their interest, something that might help them in the future, and something that is fun so they are engaged and proud of what they are doing. That is where I started with the Hour of Code. This was a safe way to get this in my classroom when the computer lab was open (who signs up for that the day before break), and I did not lose content time (unless my principal is reading this... I taught up until the bell that day, effectively engaging students in content area material).

The 'Hour of Code' is a nationwide initiative by CSEdWeek and code.org to introduce computer programming to 10 million students and encourage them to learn programming.(http://www.tynker.com/hour-of-code/)

As a teacher, what do you need to know about coding?  NOTHING!!!  Don’t believe me, try doing one, its actually kind of fun.  Even for the NOT-Geeky ones.

Through Code.org - Here you can make a class and track student progress.

Coding Games at Tynker
Hadi Partovi began in 2013 with a video to encourage students to take computer science classes.First video 2013: http://safeshare.tv/w/NtBOkMXLMh

Stats on Needs versus Availability of computer science in US http://code.org/promote

Class Available at all levels:     http://code.org/learn/beyond

What do these activities teach?
The puzzles and creative activities are designed to teach students computational thinking and the basics of computer programming. Students solve each puzzle by programming visual code blocks to achieve a goal.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Google Apps to use with English Language Learners

The best parts of having a computer in the students' hands are the availability of learning resources and the ability to access information in different languages.  This being said, I have found one of the biggest benefits of chromebooks being how they help my students who are not fluent in English.  Having a background in Spanish, I have been able to help many of our EL population in southern California, but Spanish is not the only L1 of students.

There are free games and resources for students to play to learn conversational English and even academic English.  On the flip side, if you want to learn another language, there are apps for that too.  Here are a list of apps, by no means comprehensive, that are actually pretty fun to use for practicing English.
Learn English and Learn Spanish are apps that are free for introductory material, but also have a paid subscription for those wanting more.  Easy to use system.

Language Games and English Memory - this is an organized set of links to a games website.  This might sound bad, but the app takes students right to the games.  The games are amazing.  There are many games to choose from (20ish), they keep score, and there are a variety of topics to choose from.  Overall fantastic, not that I am addicted, but... ok, I'm back.

Duolingo - this is an entire learning system that students could use to practice English (or many other languages) for a long time.  There are discussion boards available to discuss successes and failures, hold conversations in different languages, and respond to others online.

Chrome Speak - This is a must have app and extension for your chrome browser if you have EL's in class.  With this app, you choose the voice students wish to hear in the options menu.  After that, on any webpage students visit, students can highlight text, right click and have the voice read the text.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Using Google Scholar

For the longest time I thought Google Scholar was simply a search engine to help find articles that were peer reviewed, recent, and relevant.  I have found so much more use for Google Scholar with the added functionality afforded by this search engine.  Having read the topic on Mashable I do not wish to bore others with a replica of the reading, I suggest you look over the ideas suggested.

What I found interesting were the possibilities of students' libraries of research articles, one-click citations, and, my personal favorites, the cited by and related articles options which allow a student (or teacher) to follow the conversation among researchers as an idea transpires, changes, and is challenged from article to article.

By introducing students to the Google Scholar search engine, not only do you give them a method of searching for reliable resources, you show them how to find more, relevant articles.  You could also combine this tool with a web application like timeglider to create a timeline of citations of early articles and show how ideas evolve through time.

Set up a Google Scholar Profile, like everything Google, it links to your Google account.  If you have published articles you can search for them and add them to your profile.  Search on Google Scholar for an interest you may have.  If you are the one person reading this, then you may be interested in educational technology.  Search in Google Scholar and instead of reading an article, click on SAVE below the article.  It will be added to your library.  What's the worst that could happen, you lose 5 minutes.