Got Questions?: A Quick Fix Inspired by my PLN

First, a huge shoutout to my #EduMatch family for helping me figure this one out.  Many thanks to you all for your amazing tips.

Update: One thing I forgot to add is that my class is taught in the computer lab, so this is more so a fix for classrooms that have access to technology (computer lab, 1:1, BYOD, etc.).  However, the steps focus heavily on Google Forms.  My friend in EduMatch (as stated below) had a great idea, that works well for schools with limited tech.

The Scenario:

I recently moved to teach at the high school level, and I must say, I am loving it!  The students are amazing, as are my coworkers, the administration, and the parents.  This is a wonderful experience.

Each of my six classes has its own culture.  The only constant is me, and even I try to adapt for each period.  Over these past four weeks, I’ve enjoyed learning about my students.  I have one particular period that is full of hard-working and sweet students, who tend to ask for a lot of help during independent time.

Questions are great!  I love them, but I would prefer that students help each other, because the best way to learn something is by teaching it.  Also, it often helps to learn from a peer.  Finally, there is only one of me, and about 30 of them, so sometimes it’s hard to keep straight who had a question, and in what order.  I know it must be frustrating to wait several minutes, and to be quite honest, my short-term memory isn’t the best, so people are occasionally skipped by mistake.

I posed this question in the #EduMatch Voxer group, and got some fantastic responses.  One of my fellow Edumatchers suggested that students put their names on the board, and that would solve my problem.  Someone else agreed, but said that some students may feel shy about doing so, and suggested QR codes going to a Google Form as a solution.  There was even an app proposed, similar to the system used at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I downloaded it, but couldn’t figure out how to use it in the classroom, without creating paper tickets.

The Fix

Friday morning, I woke up inspired as it all came together.  All three of these suggestions had something to them, so I decided to synthesize them.  The result was a Google Form that I whipped up and beta tested in first period with upperclassmen.

Ms. Thomas, Help Me!

Here’s how I did it.

  1. Create a simple Google Form.
    1. If your school is GAFE, you can have it automatically collect the username of your students while they are signed into the domain.
    2. Make sure to put something along the lines of “ask 3 before you ask me,” or any variation of that in the description, as a gentle reminder that their classmates are also available to help.
  2. Add questions, such as “Your Name” (optional, if you already did 1.1), and “The Nature of Your Question.”  Feel free to add more if you wish.  I suggest the multiple choice format.  More on that later.
    1. I have three categories: about the assignment, need a pass, or other.
  3. Design it however you would like.  I didn’t do much with it, since it served a very basic purpose, and we were just trying it out.
  4. Copy the link and make it into a bit.ly with something easy to remember. (Mine is bit.ly/thomashelpme)
  5. Open the “View Responses” form.
  6. Apply conditional formatting to make every multiple choice option turn a different color.
    1. I picked multiple choice, because it is guaranteed to populate the responses exactly how you set it up, without being affected by punctuation, spacing, spelling, etc.
    2. Multiple choice is also great because students can add their own “Other” category, if it’s not listed as an option.  You can see at one glance what the student needs.
    3. Conditional formatting will allow you to take all the kids who don’t understand the assignment at once, and explain it to them.  This is a huge time-saver.
  7. Project the spreadsheet so that the students can all see it.  You may have to resize your window if you want to split your screen.  When students can see where they fall in the queue, they won’t get frustrated, because they will see that you are not ignoring them.

I’m so excited to try this out with the class in question.  I think it will go over well, as it has in my other classes.  The key will be to stick to protocol, but once we have it down, then it should work.  Please let me know if you have any tweaks or suggestions.

Day 10 – Clubbin’

Today, we took the SRI.  Nothing to report.  Almost everybody finished.  Most of Third Period got through it a little too quickly for my taste.  I asked them if they checked their work and they assured me they did.  A lot of kids said it was “easy.”  The scores will speak for themselves.

In Fourth Period, the kids took a little longer.  For some reason, this made me feel a little better.  I think (hope) they were careful.  There are about five students who need more time tomororrow, which is fine.

The big excitement for the kids today was turning in their club pre-authorization forms.  I lead five different technology clubs for the students.  That may sound like a lot, but really, it’s helping everybody in the long run.  The kids learn some cool skills that they can bust out later in life, and I get some help and don’t lose my mind.  These are our five clubs:

  1. A/V: Sets up and breaks down equipment, and runs the sound board during chorus concerts and plays.
  2. Photography:  Captures special moments at our school through photos and videos.
  3. Morning Announcements: Produces and edits our morning announcements in the school, via Google Sites (see video below).
  4. Yearbook Committee: Open to eighth graders only.  My right hand, helping me plan fundraisers and design the school yearbook.
  5. Repair Squad: Helps teachers with basic troubleshooting.  Also designs websites, logos, etc. for our special events.

The eighth graders have first dibs.  They are super-excited, because they paid their dues last year and took all the sloppy seconds.  Poor seventh graders, last year there were no sixth grade slots left for them.  This year, I’ll try to keep this in mind, and save a few spots for the underclassmen (and underclasswomen lol).  Most groups will have seven slots, four for eighth graders, two for seventh, and one for sixth.  This will be first come, first-served.  With Yearbook, though, all seven slots will be filled with eighth graders.

One year, we even had a Music Production squad.  The eighth graders of two years ago were incredibly musical, and a student approached me with that idea, so we did it.  Last year, I was stretched really thin, especially coaching basketball.  Plus, the students were more into sports than anything else, so it worked out.  One seventh grader asked me to do a Drama Club, but I really couldn’t fit it into the schedule.  Maybe we’ll try it this year.  We might try a Ted-Ed Club later in the year, since I’m freed up a little bit, but I don’t want to bite off too much.

Anyway, I was bombarded by students for signatures, ever since the papers came out.  When they turned in their pre-authorization forms with all of the teacher signatures, I passed out permission slips for them and their parents to sign.  Hopefully we will get clubs underway shortly.  The sooner, the better.

On another note, I explained to students about the self-assessment for the collaborative work that I talked about yesterday.  I actually developed a Google Form, and asked students to fill it in tonight.  The evening is still young, so we shall see what they report back to me.  So far, a couple of students have filled it out, and the comments are very fair.  One said to divide the points for his/her group evenly, and that the assignment was challenging, but s/he appreciated the teamwork dynamic.  Another assigned points based on contribution, and had similar feedback about the process.

One last thing…as a team, we came up with a way to hold people responsible for checking out the shared iPads via QR Codes linking to a Google Form.  I played with the customization.  Here it is.

Tomorrow: Genius Day, because it’s my birthday and we’ll be smart if we want to!  Woohooooo!!!  Adios.

Day 9 – Fumble Recovery

Last Friday, I assigned a collaborative assignment to be completed in class by my students via Google Classroom.  None of them finished it, so I assigned it for homework.  None of them finished it then, either.

Today in class, we had an honest discussion about why the work wasn’t done.  I told them that it was a no-blame situation, and that we would brainstorm ways to make things run more smoothly in the future.

Students provided the following reasons, among others:

  1. They are not used to the technology.
  2. They are not used to working in groups.
  3. It was hard having group homework on a weekend.

They were totally right.  It is still the beginning of the year, and I have completely uprooted my previous practice of having them work solo.  And to be quite honest, it really wasn’t fair of me to assign group work on a weekend, particularly at the beginning of the year.  If I were in the class, I probably definitely would have dropped the ball, too.  

So, I told them that we all learned something, and that we would cut each other some slack this first time.  I gave them an extra day to work on the assignment in class with no penalty, and said that I’d try not to assign weekend homework (especially group work) anymore.  

Third Period took the assignment very seriously.  Every now and then, I had to tell a few people to focus, but for the most part, they were extremely diligent.  One student even discovered the sharing feature on Google Drive to help them work faster, and more efficiently.  At that moment, she became the hero of the class.

Fourth Period, since there are more students, there was a little more confusion.  Most of them got the work done, but I noticed that one of the groups was very slow to start.  I had to constantly come by their table to cue them to begin.  They claimed they had it under control, but by the end, they were panicked and rushing like I knew they would be.  One member volunteered to come up for lunch and finish the assignment.  This raised a red flag to me.  I asked if anyone else was coming with him, but he volunteered to come up alone.

When he came up, he was very loyal to his team.  I asked him if he was doing all the work (which I could tell that he was).  He told me that other group members had contributed; however, I had witnessed them being off-task.  He wasn’t able to finish the entire assignment during lunch time.  

I went to the students’ Fifth Period class and had a quick conversation in the hall with the captain, and told him that everyone on his team needs to pull their own weight.  I asked him to reinforce that to the squad, and gave him a heads up about this awesome grading system that I learned about this weekend.  In it, group members self-assess for the most fair result.  I think I’ll create a Google Form to help facilitate this process.  If anybody has a script, that would work even better.  Can you even do scripts on forms?  #PLN, I may need backup 😀

In the meantime, fumble…recovered!!!

Day 6 (Edited) – I Don’t Need a Nap Anymore

Okay, so today was day six of school. I am currently “voice-typing” this into my iPhone, if that’s even a phrase. Today would be the day that I would totally lose in my blogging challenge, but thank goodness for voice recognition.

I am “writing” this as I drive home in my car. It has been a very long and grueling day. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day, but it was still very long, and I am still very tired.

In class today, we first worked on Actively Learn to help us with informational text. Afterwards we read about the different characteristics of genres in our online textbook. Then, we worked on a collaborative Google Doc about said characteristics of different genres. Third period did incredibly well. I was very proud of them. Fourth, well, they got a little carried away, and someone deleted everything after we were done. But it’s okay, we’re still learning Google Drive.

Then, we discussed the reading log that we’re going to use for the 25 Book Challenge this year. I found it from a template on Google Drive that I tweaked to fit the needs of my class. Now with the new upgrade, it should be so much easier to make the forms look awesome.

Afterwards, we talked about The Item Shop. The kids oohed and aahed over different perks they could purchase with their spendable points. My third mod got to see Sphero, the remote control ball that I bought for absolutely no conceivable reason. At least now I get to justify it to myself. Fourth period ran out of time.

In technology class at the end of the day, I decided to take my seventh graders to the cafeteria for an in-school field trip. There, we talked about the soundboard. This is partially because I need a new army to replace my A/V gurus who graduated from the school two years ago.  Last year, I did it mostly by myself.  It’s better for everyone if the students learn how to operate it.

These kids were particularly into the lesson, because they’re really big into music, something that we share in common. They were so hype over learning about EQ, as well as basic operation of the board. We had a good time, then we went to the gym for dismissal.

Today was cool, but I need a nap.

(Edit)  Ok, I don’t know if this is the new thing with me, but it seems like as soon as the school day is over, I’m wiped out.  Then, once I get home, I suddenly have this second wind as I am planning the next day’s lesson.  Very strange.

Anyway, this is the results of the planning for tomorrow.  I was planning to do an academic vocabulary lesson with the students, but I refused to make it dry.  Never will they copy words from a dictionary in my class.  No siree, Bob.

I was thinking about buying a vocabulary subscription for my classes in Edmodo, until I saw the price tag.  It was $50 per group, for a grand total of $100.  While it did come highly recommended, I can’t won’t spend that much for an app we will only be using sporadically.

Next, I took to the web with a vengeance to find a *free* app that I could use with my students.  I read many reviews and settled on Quizlet.  Prior to doing so, I had used Voxer to ask my teacher buddies from the GEG DC Metro Area about their experiences with the $50 app.  They echoed that it was a great product, but they also shared a free website called Zondle.  Big shout out to Rafranz and Jake for steering me in that direction.  What it allows you to do is create games based on any subject.  Jake and Rafranz both shared that they allowed the students to create their own vocabulary games.  #doublewin!!!

I called an audible and saved Quizlet as a plan B. We are so going to use Zondle tomorrow.  I was initially going to let students choose their own words, but I think I’ll hold their hand a little and assign words to various squads this first time.  Eventually, I’m thinking of using the TextHelp Study Skills Read and Write add-on.

In the curriculum, we are supposed to do level 3 words for grades 6-8, but I’m also going to throw in level 4 words for grades 9-12.  Being overprepared never hurts. These kids can take it…they’ve been flying through passages for grades 9-10 without even knowing it.  But I’ll never tell 😀

Day Four – Leveling Up

In the words of Ice Cube, “today was a good day.”

Feel free to press play, and let the instrumental serve as the soundtrack.  Let me steal a page from my homie The Weird Teacher, and I will kick a funky rhyme.  I can’t wait to hear Sound Gecko read this one aloud.

Today everything went so well

Slept in, still got to work before the school bell

Said hello to my principal and colleagues

Gave a hug to all of my little buddies

My eighth graders grew and now they call me short

But it’s ok, I’ll still school them on the bball court

Did some Snapshot for warm-up, #edmodo

Then we turned around and talked about the Dojo

Fourth period figured out their squads overnight

Looked around the class, there’s no drama in sight

Then we took a look at the leaderboard

We brainstormed some Item Shop rewards

Not from Chicago, no Bull, but he’s the realest

Shout out to my homie Chris Aviles

Used his model and I told him he’s a genius

Check it out on Teachers Pay Teachers

Class time flew by, both periods

No interruptions, so I wasn’t furious

I’m impressed the kids are so curious

Tech class: #digcit, the kids tried to Google us

They had lots of knowledge that they dropped my way

I gotta say, it was an awesome fourth day

Fiki fiki fiki. Take that, Sound Gecko 🙂

Hanging Out for Winter Break

2013 was epic.

I’ve been doing a lot of new things in my classroom this year, such as #gamification, #blogging, and #flipclass, and it’s been working out!  Yaaaaay!  Big shoutout to my PLN for teaching me all of these great strategies.  My group of highly intelligent young scholars also thanks you, whether they know it or not 😉

Needless to say, I was really amped about Winter Break, but this year, it’s for a different reason.  Most other years, I’d put in some much-deserved R&R, binge watching series on Netflix (ok, you got me…I’m doing that too); however, this year is different.  This year, I’m “hanging out.”

Wait, wait…

Before you click off, let me explain.  When I say, “hanging out,” I’m not talking about sitting around playing Playstation, or going to karaoke with my buddies.  I’m referring to Google Hangouts on Air, a way to interact with people that is changing the way we can collaborate, educate, and…uh…something else ending with “-ate.”  Relate.  There we go.

Let me backtrack for a minute.  A few years ago, I had this totally awesome idea that went…absolutely nowhere.  Womp womp.

A parent at my school suggested that I offer technology courses online, so I ran with it.  I got it all set up, made a Google Voice number, and even printed up business cards through VistaPrint.  Check Exhibit A:

I had a website all ready to go, but I never launched it, because one little thing held me back.

It was too daggone expensive!!!


I window-shopped all the various platforms for collaboration at the time, and I realized it was going to cost me an arm and a leg.  Hence, I would have to charge an arm and a leg for tuition.  No bueno.  So the idea just sat, and festered, and sat some more.

Flash Forward

(That was an awesome show, by the way.  Highly recommended for winter break binge watching.)

I was introduced to Google Hangouts (offered free of charge), first hearing little bits and pieces through the grapevine, mostly on Twitter chats and the like.  One day, I took the plunge to meet with a supervisor in my school district to discuss new features in Safari Montage (also awesome).  That was the moment that I fell in love with Hangouts.  Awwww…flowers and roses.

I could tell that Hangouts were going to change my professional life, but the gears in my head didn’t really start to turn until I attended a session at EdCamp NJ about Google Hangouts, presented by several of my PLN members, including Bill Krakower.  There, they introduced us to Google Hangouts on Air, which would allow large groups of people (up to 10), to sit in on a panel.  An unlimited number of people can watch the hangout as audience members.

Later, I discovered that audience members can use a Q&A feature to interact with the panel.  Thus, Thomas Tech Tutorials was reincarnated!  Yaaaaaaay!  Wait, that sounds like the plot of a scary movie.  Oh well, you guys know what I mean 🙂

I learned more about the features of Hangouts while I was helping my sister-in-law design her website on Wix, which will be the topic of a future walkthrough.  Within Hangouts, you’re also able to share your screen, and even access the computers of other participants, through the Remote Desktop app.  Sweet!  Of course, I don’t plan to do this during the On-Air Hangouts, but it’s a nice feature to have.

Flash Forward…Again

To wrap it all up and throw a nice bow on it, I’ve been using Hangouts to do tutorials for a few days now.  So far, I have the following tutorials under my belt:

Google Drive
Google Sites
Edmodo

It has been such a great experience…since Saturday (five days ago), I’ve met a ton of great educators from all around the globe.  We’ve bounced ideas back and forth, and I’ve learned so much already.

This Saturday, at 1 PM EST, I will be leading a discussion of ways to extend the recent Hour of Code initiative throughout the remainder of the school year, and beyond.  Please click here to RSVP.

It’s geared towards the absolute beginner; however, I would love to have those with more experience sit in on the panel and offer their tips, too.  Please contact me if you are interested.

Welp, time for me to sign off…tis the season, and I’m about to spend some much-anticipated time with my family.  Adios mis amigos…I hope to catch you on the Hangout!