Tool Time!

4fingersLooking to add some new tools to your teaching toolbox? This week’s Friday 4 will highlight a few relatively new technology related tools that are fairly easy to learn and use that have the potential to significantly change the teaching and learning that is going on in and out of your classroom. I encourage you to take the plunge and try using one or more of these tools in your classroom in the next couple of weeks.

  • Socrative is a web-based student response system that is similar to “clickers” in functionality that can be used on a computer, a tablet or a smart-phone. “Through the use of real time questioning, instant result aggregation and visualization, teachers can gauge the whole class’ current level of understanding.”  A Complete Guide for Teachers on How to Use Socrative is a great place to start if you have never seen or used Socrative.
  • If you are a user of Google forms in class, there was some big news recently having to do with the release of new add-ons for Google forms that add some really neat functionality to forms. If you are a user of Google forms, check out this post from the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning website that describes a few of the add-ons that educators will find useful.
  • Ever wish you could easily create an interactive multimedia collage for a topic you are teaching, or better yet, have your students demonstrate their understanding by creating a dynamic presentation? Well, now you can! Check out this post from the Free Technology for Teachers website that is run by Richard Byrne @rmbyrne.
  • My personal favorite new tool that I have added to my teaching toolbox has to be Edpuzzle (@EDpuzzle). With Edpuzzle, you can take any video (your own or one from YouTube or several other sites) and make it your lesson by trimming it, annotating it or embedding questions that the student have to answer right into the video. As a flipped classroom teacher, it has been awesome to be able to add questions that allow the students to check for their own understanding right into the videos at the exact moment that I want. Here is a wonderful blog post by a fellow teacher that explain how to get started. Even if you do not use a flipped classroom, this tool could turn some of the videos you like to show into richer lessons.


April Showers



I ran across this blog post that has some interesting ideas for ways to utilize social media tools to enhance learning, collaboration and outreach in and out of the classroom. A related blog post on The Power of Twitter happened to come across my stream around the same time that speaks to the utilization of social media for professional development. Both pieces are good reads that may inspire you to try something new. If you think that Twitter is just a big waste of time, take the time to read the  following blog post from Carolyn Durley (@c_durley), a member of my PLN. Her thoughts may convince you otherwise.

Recently, we have been discussing the issue of gender equity in our upper level courses, particularly in the areas of Math and Science where girls have been traditionally under-represented. The Institute of Education Sciences has a “what works clearinghouse” with a bunch of great resources about education related topics including a practice guide titled Encouraging Girls in Math and Science

To round out this edition of the Friday 4 (or more than 4!), here are two nice articles about how we ask questions in the classroom and Ways to Cultivate ‘Whole-Class Engagement’.

Vernal Equinox Edition of the Friday 4

Friday Four – Is it Spring yet?

Well, it appears that spring may actually have arrived in New England and baseball season can finally start. To celebrate the arrival of the Vernal Equinox, I offer up this week’s interesting finds. Enjoy!

  • Here is a recent post from Annie Murphy Paul (@anniemurphypaul) on the power and use of feedback in the classroom based on research by John Hattie. If you do not already follow Annie on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, I would encourage you to do so. She is a wonderful resource for information about thinking and learning for those who do not have the time to scour through lots of research on their own.
  • Tired of hearing about the five or six or seven “C’s” of essential learning for the 21st century learner? (When will we finally admit that the “C’s” are timeless and have not all of a sudden become important?) Bo Adams (@boadams1) may have a simpler solution that he posits in this post from his blog.
  • Looking for a way to easily create multimedia presentations either to use in class or for your students to create instead of a poster or traditional paper? Check out Soo Meta a website where you can pull together images, video clips and all sorts of content and create short little videos. Thanks to Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) and his blog freetech4teachers for bringing this neat tool to my attention.
  • The final piece this week is a long but interesting research report that I came across via one of Annie Murphy Paul’s blog posts (I can not find her post unfortunately so you may have to search her blog if you are interested in her summary of the piece) that is titled “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology.” Daniel Willingham, whose work I really like, is one of the authors which immediately drew me to the piece.  From the abstract…”In this monograph, we discuss 10 learning techniques in detail and offer recommendations about their relative utility. We selected techniques that were expected to be relatively easy to use and hence could be adopted by many students.”  There conclusions may surprise you on a few of the techniques they studied.

Enjoy the weather!

Fighting through the winter doldrums

Friday 4 – February 15

If you are like me, the winter term months are some of the most challenging as a classroom teacher. The excitement of a new academic year is a distant memory, the hours of daylight are disturbingly low in number and the interruptions (snow days and breaks) to any kind of “flow” in the classroom are too frequent and many to count. During the winter doldrums, I like to read articles/blogs/pieces that are more reflective and inspirational in nature in the hope that they will get me through the cold, dark, lifeless winter and excited for the upcoming warmth and optimism that spring tends to bring. With that sentiment in mind, I offer up a few items that I ran across this past week that got my juices flowing in anticipation of the start of spring and the baseball season.

As always, I hope you enjoy this week’s tidbits. Hang in there, spring is coming!

Friday 4 – Three good reminders and one tech tip

 Friday Four – January 18

I ran across two pieces this past week from an inspring educator I follow on Twitter, Chris Lehmann(@lehmannchris), that I would encourage you to read. Chris is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA. The Science Leadership Academy is an inquiry-driven, project-based, 1:1 laptop school that is considered to be one of the pioneers of the School 2.0 movement nationally and internationally.

The first piece is a good reminder for those of us who work in “high pressure” schools (what school is not high pressure?) who never seem to have enough time to complete the day’s tasks.

As a teacher of mostly seniors, the message in this piece from Chris Lehman about “letting go” resonated with me. I have thought a great deal about my role as a teacher over the years and this pece was a nice reminder of an easily forgotten aspect of the job.

I recently spent some time talking with our foreign and modern language teachers about class participation and how to assess it in the classroom. I suggested that it was important to provide the students with examples of what “good” class participation looked like, to develop rubrics for assessing it and providing the students with regular feedback about how they were doing with respect to the expectations. This week I ran across a blog post from Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins) in which he talked about the use and design of rubrics and models that was quite similar. Fortuitous timing I guess!

The final item for this week’s missive is for all the YouTube fans out there. Ten YouTube URL tricks that will make you a “power user” of YouTube.

As always, please share your comments or send along any feedback you may have. Enjoy!

Friday 4 – October 12

A Fall Cornucopia

This week’s Friday 4 is an eclectic collection of items from a busy week here at Loomis Chaffee. While there is no single theme that connects the items, I am hopeful that at least one of the threads will be of interest to you.

  • Given the fact that it is midterm time here, I have had many discussions with colleagues about grades and how we assess and evaluate students and their work. Ever since I heard Rick Wormeli (@RickWormeli) speak at an ASCD meeting a few years ago and read his book “Fair Isn’t Always Equal”, I have thought quite differently about my grading philosophy and policies. Fortunately, you can read several pieces from Rick and see several videos from him at the the Stenhouse publishing site dedicated to Free Assessment and Grading Resources from Rick Wormeli. (You will have to register for a free account in order to access some of the info.)
  • I referenced Daniel Willingham’s (@DTWillingham) blog and latest book  in a recent post and was pleased to see the Fall edition of the American Educator magazine feature an excerpt from his book. You can download the piece here in which Willingham explains how to analyze and dissect educational research.
  • Followers of the Friday 4 will know that I am a regular reader of Tom Whitby’s (@tomwhitby) blog “My Island View.” Tom recently wrote about his thoughts on the current state of professional development in education and the need to change the model and make PD “evolving and continuous.”
  • Jut over a month ago in the Sept 14 Friday 4, I encouraged people to join me in the Power Searching with Google MOOC.  Well, I can report today that I was able to successfully finish the course and received my certificate of completion via e-mail yesterday. While there was a great deal in the course that I was already familiar with, I did learn a whole bunch of neat tricks and tips for searching with Google that will make me a more efficient and powerful searcher. The course is officially over now, but you will be able to access the videos and course materials beginning Monday, Oct 15 at this link. The ability to locate quality, reliable information on the internet is a critical skill these days that we need to know how to do both for ourselves and so that we can help our students navigate the increasingly information dense world we live in.

Enjoy and as always, please do not hesitate to leave comments or suggestions for future Friday 4 editions.

Students ask for Metacognitive tools

A colleague and I recently engaged our students in a discussion about their most recent quiz and heard some interesting things that inspired me to write this post. We were seeking feedback on why they had not done as well as we had hoped on the quiz and what we might be able to do in order to make it more likely that they would be able to demonstrate their mastery of the material. Not surprisingly, the students had plenty of suggestions! A little context might help to understand/interpret some of their comments. First off, we teach at Loomis Chaffee, a private day/boarding school where the vast majority of our students are highly motivated, enjoy school and are pretty bright. (Not a bad combo!) The class is Molecular Biology, a two term advanced course for seniors and a few juniors that is lab intensive. The two sections have 14 and 15 students, and we use a flipped model predominantly in the class, producing video podcasts for most of the initial content delivery.

Both of us were pleased with the discussion and heard some interesting thoughts from the students, many of which had a common theme; namely, that the students clearly wanted more metacognitive tools at their disposal prior to taking the quiz. Some of the comments included the following:

  • “I was not sure exactly what to study?”
  • “I did not know what I didn’t know.”
  • “It was difficult for me to know if I was truly prepared.”
Most of the comments like these were followed by qualifiers that were a good reminder to us as teachers. The students cited things we had done in the past, either in this course or in Microbiology this fall, that allowed them to better self-assess their level of mastery. More specifically, we have included or done the following things in the past that were particularly helpful for the students:
  • included a list of “questions you should be able to answer at this point” into the handouts for a lab or in the video podcasts.
  • we used “clickers” (Student response systems) more frequently in the fall as a way for students and us to gauge their level of mastery.
  • We have used Google Docs to have students report their progress in an experiment that stretches out over a week or more. This has helped many students keep track of where we are in a longer experiment.
The students clearly were yearning for ways to assess their own level of mastery along the path to the summative assessment and we had not provided quite as many “formal” opportunities as we have in the past. Some of this was intentional as we try to teach them how to become more independent learners and figure out the ways for self-assessment that work best for them. After the students were done giving feedback, we were able to shift the discussion to looking at what their responsibilities are as they work towards mastery of a topic. Their list included:
  • being sure to review the plan for the day before coming to class so that if they have questions, they can ask them in class.
  • thinking more actively about why we are performing each step in the experiment and not just following the procedure blindly.
  • making sure that they read/watch the background material before we begin an experiment and then again after they are done making sure to focus on “what they don’t know or understand.”
  • actively thinking about what types of questions we might ask that would require them to demonstrate mastery of the material. At this point, they realize that we rarely ask any regurgitation type questions.
All in all, the discussion was a productive one that will result in a more conscious effort on our part to build in ways for the students to self-assess their progress and the students’ increasing realization that learning is hard work and requires them to be active participants in the process. It was also a good reminder to us that despite how sophisticated and mature our students are, they are still very much novices when it comes to learning.
I welcome and encourage your comments.

New Year’s resolutions for me and my students

I have never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I have made them in the past, and like most people, ended up breaking them by the end of January in the best of cases. Why should this year be any different?

Over the recent break, I finally got a chance to read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and as a result, decided to incorporate some of her “growth mindset” ideas into my own life. If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it; my wife and I read the book together and both found it to be enlightening and inspirational. Here is a link to a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Dweck. I was so inspired that I decided to make a few New Year’s resolutions with respect to my teaching despite my previous less than stellar experiences with resolutions. (Growth mindset at work!)

So, here are my resolutions for 2012 with respect to the classroom:

  1. Praise students more for their efforts and not their “innate” abilities. The research on the impact of how we give praise and feedback may surprise you and has a great deal to do with creating a growth vs fixed mindset. Here is a link to one study.
  2. We at Loomis Chaffee are engaging in a community-wide discussion about homework and our current homework policy. Academic departments are meeting to discuss the role of homework in their disciplines and the faculty as a whole are also discussing the topic. As a result of this school-wide initiative, I plan on asking myself the following questions about each homework assignment for my students: 1) What is the specific goal of the assignment? If I can not articulate the specific goal, then it is unlikely that my students will know why they are doing the assignment. 2) How will the students and I know if the goal was met for the assignment? Feedback and assessment (not always grades) are integral parts to a well-designed homework assignment.
Given my limited success with New Year’s resolutions, I figured that two would be plenty for me to take on. I plan on coming back to this post on the 1st and 15th of each month to assess how I am doing. I will let you know how I am doing! Do you have any resolutions you would like to share? Please feel free to post your comments here or contact me via e-mail or Twitter.

Friday Four 12/15

Friday Four 12/15

The theme for this week’s Final Four is a tad different as a result of a conversation I had with a fellow colleague. Our Dean of Faculty, Ned Parsons,(@nedparsons) spends a good deal of time in the Winter term visiting and observing classes. He likes to have something in general he is “looking for” in each round of his visits that he will then report back on to the faculty. This past week, he focused on seeing the various ways that teachers and students check for understanding during a class. We thought it might be interesting if my Friday Four was related to his focus for the week. So, here are four interesting articles, blog posts, etc. that I ran across related to the topic of how students and teachers check for understanding in the classroom. Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions.

  1. Edutopia is a great website that has a wealth of information for educators at every grade level. Here is a post “Do You Check for Understanding Often Enough with Students?” that will get you started.
  2. If you are looking for a more philosophical look at teaching for understanding, Grant Wiggins is a great resource. Here is a link to a post on his blog “On Not Teaching for Understanding” that will definitely get you thinking.
  3. Here is a link to an article from the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) journal Educational Leadership that explores the student’s role in assessment of understanding.
  4. ASCD has an entire section of their website dedicated to the Understanding by Design concept attributed to Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. This section of the site has links to articles, videos and much more if you are looking for a general starting point to explore the topic.

“Preseason” for my class this year

I recently read a post on Grant Wiggins blog that inspired me to try something new with my classes this fall that I have not done quite so extensively in the past. The basic idea in a nutshell is to do a serious “pre-assessment” of my students early on before we dive into the content of the course. Grant uses the analogy of pre-season athletic practices when coaches do far less coaching and way more watching and assessing of the potential players. Coaches collect a lot of information about the strengths and weaknesses of the players as they watch them scrimmage and perform drills before they begin “teaching” their sport.

I have always asked kids to write a brief paragraph or two describing why they were taking the class (an elective) and what they were most looking forward to in the class. After reading Grant’s post, I plan on expanding my pre-assessment and adding a few more questions that will help me design/adjust the curriculum for the course based on the strengths and weaknesses of my students. Some questions I am contemplating adding to the initial writing assignment are as follows:

  • What are your strengths as a student/learner?
  • What are your weaknesses as a student/learner?
  • What aspect of previous science classes did you most/least enjoy? Be specific.
  • What makes you the most anxious as a student/learner?
  • What teacher behaviors most annoy/frustrate you?
  • What are you most proud of as a student/learner?

What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts or suggestions.