Thursday, October 21, 2010

CUEBC 2010 - Saving Time, Effort, and Money

Hi and Welcome to CUEBC! My name is James Gill, and I am a teacher with SD43, Coquitlam School district. Today, I would like to share with you some of the ways that I have been saving time and effort in the classroom by using a classroom website.


I teach computer education at Moody Middle school, and have for 3 years. Part of my job involves teaching the same lesson to different groups of kids. Also, I find that some of my students would like to be able to get help, or review the instructions, but don’t always follow written instructions well.

I use a free program called Jing (pro version is $15 dollars) and I create screencasts:

1.) I save myself effort by playing the video 4 times in a row, instead of talking 4 times in a row.
2.) Jing forces me to be brief, and no one listens after 5 minutes – I have a tendency to talk if left to my own devices
3.) Kids don’t wait for help with their arm going numb in the air- they can review at their own pace
4.) Parents can support their kids at home – when was the last time your parents did 8th grade math? Probably in the 8th grade!

But what if you have a student that forgets their homework....often!

By putting your lessons and your worksheets on your website, you can tweak your lessons on the fly from anywhere there is an internet connection. I have had students go home, and realize they have forgotten their homework. If there is a worksheet or template they are writing their responses on, they can download them from the website (or rather their parents can ;-)). While students are never thrilled to re-start an assignment, it prevents them from possibly losing marks for turning in late work. I re-use my lessons often, and re-invent them often.

I use this with my middle school classes, but I first used it with a class of Grade 3 students. It saved me a lot of time waiting for a kid to re-do lost assignments, or having to mark after they have handed it in late.

Hand In Bin – Easy Peasy Paperless:

In my first term in my position, I had students hitting print on their first assignment. Then I realized that this created organizational problems, kids not printing on time. So using our SharePoint websites, we created a list where students can hand their work in:

I see everyone’s work, they see their own. I can mark them here, or at home, or anywhere I have an internet connection. I don’t carry my marking home with me. Perhaps not all of your students will do their work on computer, but I bet a lot of them are doing it on a computer and hitting print. If you even take some of your work electronically, it could speed up your marking. Kids can hand in from anywhere there is a computer with an internet connection, which sometimes increases your chances of getting their assignments in when you are ready to mark them.

Giving Feedback that Motivates Kids to Listen:

Another problem I have wrestled with in the past is that kids don’t read my feedback. Students are only interested in the mark. I can ask a student what mark they got, and usually they will know the answer to that question. But when I ask a student what I had to say about their work, hardly any students were able to tell me. I am not alone in this struggle. Apparently, students will not read your comments unless they are surprised in a negative way about their mark.

One of the ways I have found around this issue has been to have students turn in their work to my classroom website. We currently use MS Word on all our school computers, and many students have this program at home too. Rather than write on their work, I will record a comment on their work. By embedding a voice recording in their work:

1.) I can save myself time and energy by “talking” my comments into their work- I can say in 35 seconds more than I can write
2.) Students listen to my comments- listening comprehension is higher in my middle school students than is reading comprehension
3.) There is no way to fast forward the comments – as long as I say their grades last, they have to listen to all my feedback first.

Improving Student Writing:

I thought that using the Document Libraries on SharePoint would create a great way for students to share their work with each other . Basically kids upload their work to a common folder on my website. Then, they sign out the document, read it, and post comments in the margin.

After teaching the class about how to give useful feedback, and what are some ways to phrase it to not offend others, I asked kids to then read, and make use of any feedback they felt would help when writing good copies. I decided to do an informal poll which is something built in to our SharePoint websites. You can also survey your students on SurveyMonkey. The results were quite telling:

I hope you have enjoyed my workshop on using the virtual classroom to save time, and money. I would like to leave you with a final thought. Sir Ken Robinson, a college professor and internationally renowned speaker and writer on the topic of education said recently that schools are at their most elemental an interaction between student and teacher, and so we must only make changes to school that improve this dynamic (sic). My two bits - use technology, but not because it is shiny, new, or trending on twitter. Only use it if it makes your life better.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rewarding Initiatve and Bending the Rules

Today, a young lady in my class named Samantha turned in an altnerate assignment. She had not taken home the correct homework assignment, but fulfilled the spirit of the assignment with an essay. How often do teachers mark according to the criteria, and not the spirit of the assignment. While not exactly what I was looking for, I like initiative, and think it ought to be rewarded. By rewarding her efforts in front of the class, I hope that the other students will realize that the world is looking for people with initiative. If you don't know what to do, sometimes the most dangerous thing is to do nothing, and give up. Samantha didn't give up.

This is why I gave her an A on the assignment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Screencasting Worked - Just Not How I Planned

Yesterday I created a screencast to help students in a math tutorial class designed for kids who are struggling with math. The topic was integers. Turns out the student who planted the seed of this idea became confused with her schedule, or chose not to show up. But for the kids who did show up, I created this screencast as support for them to use at home and at school:

When I ran into Susan later that day, I showed her the video. She was surprised and pleased that I had taken an interest in her academics, but I don't know yet if she checked out the video. But someone did.

Jeffrey, another student from the class caught up to me in the hall. He told me he watched the video last night.
  1. I asked if he thought it was helpful, and he said yes.
  2. I asked if his homework was complete - another yes.
  3. I asked him if he always completes his homework, and he replied no
  4. Finally I asked if he would like to see more screencasts about his homework - definitely yes.

I guess the question remains, with other staff adopt the idea of screencasting their lessons? I went around and informally shared my screencast with other staff, and told them what it was for. Most were hesitant, perhaps dreading an awful learning curve associated with learning how to screencast with Jing. Or, perhaps they don't believe that students will go to the video.

It is my goal this week to support one person who is interested in learning how to screencast their lessons.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Susan Don't Tell Me Your Lies!

20 minutes ago, a student in my class named Susan (not her real name) told me she was stupid and that's why she couldn't do math, but that it didn't matter. Holy cow - I told her that she lied to me and herself 2x in the same sentence.

1.) I don't believe she is stupid (but I do believe she finds math hard)

2.) It does matter if she doesn't do well at math.

Currently students are creating their own designs for the school that will eventually replace this school here at Moody Middle in 2014. We discussed it in class, then on a discussion forum, and now we are taking these ideas and using them in sketchup. Susan was having trouble coming up with a concrete idea that she could create, and I think she was close to giving up and just looking for a way to go and talk to her friends out of my line of sight. Unfortunately for her, there is no such place in my room.

I asked Susan what she was doing in Math right now. She told me she is learning about integers. She finds her math class distracting because her friends are talking about other stuff around her. She also told me that she only understands some of what the teacher says, but none of what she reads in textbooks.

I showed her this video:

I then said if the front of her "futuristic" desk had a computer screen in it, and all the instructors lessons were on youtube, and her desk had privacy screens on the sides, then she could watch the videos, pause them, do one step at a time, and review them as many times as she would like.

Susan asked if you don't have to practice math to get good at it. I asked her if you could practice something when you don't understand it. If the lessons were on youtube, she could watch it at home, and practice it there. She would be getting some support at home. She said that these ideas made sense to her, and that she would be more likely to learn math skills, and to do her homework.

I wonder if she would go home today, and watch a youtube video on math? This week?

Stay tuned.