middle school technology

Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

IMG_6560 (1)

It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.

IMG_6557

Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

IMG_6561 (1)

Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!

 

A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?

Hyperdoc Resource: Minecraft Makershop Unit

16938902_1891664271076296_526782380554497340_n

Holy llama riding in a minecart! It’s finally done!

If you’ve followed me for some time, you’ll recall that last summer I ran a workshop for middle school students called Minecraft Makershop. This is a workshop that I designed and developed after applying for a grant to help fund the process. I had a small crew of students join me for a 5 day workshop, but we learned a lot. Now that I know about hyperdocs, I’ve taken the workshop and redesigned it. All of the original workshop projects are included, with the addition of more discussion, more critical thinking, and more problem solving. Hyperdocs made this all possible. Plus, using the hyperdoc format allowed me to really organize the entire workshop so much better. I’m happy to finally be able to release my workshop nearly a year later. I will be using my new hyperdoc unit version this summer when I teach during Kids College.

Name: Minecraft Makershop (6 hyperdocs unit!)
Description: Would you like to give a workshop on Minecraft? How about add some activities to an afterschool club? Or integrate Minecraft in other ways? Minecraft Makershop is a hyperdoc unit that focuses on building and design theory in MInecraft. Students learn about the basics of building, giving feedback, and using redstone. The final project of the unit is a collaborative group build that implements each learned objective.

This Minecraft Makershop unit includes 6 hyperdocs, enough work for a 5 day workshop (if hosting a 4-5 hour session). Teachers are free to redesign the time restraints to feed the needs of their students. In addition to the 6 hyperdocs, there is also a Resources folder, and a guide to help you set up the unit. Because this is a unit, and not just a hyperdoc, the link to the file below is a .ZIP file. Download and unzip to access all of the folders and files, then upload to your Drive.

If you would like to see a preview of one of the hyperdocs of this unit before downloading the entire thing, please click this link to view the 2nd hyperdoc in this unit: Minecraft Makershop Activity 2 Hyperdoc

Download the entire .ZIP file here.

Feedback is appreciated. @tisinaction on Twitter or comment here!

#IMMOOC: Empowerment & Fluco Game Designers

strength-1148029_640

“Our job as educators and leaders is not to control others but to bring out the best in them.” – Innovator’s Mindset, pg 98

As I have mentioned before, I recently started a game design club at the middle school where I work. I ended up with a large group of kids. I am supposed to have 66 if all kids show, and I had 55 last week at the first meeting. I’m crazy and nuts for keeping my group so large, but I do have 2 parent volunteers and as long as the behavior is good, we’ll keep the large group.

Keeping so large a group is a tricky little beast. The students meet in the library and are seated at tables that hold 5. I use one particular tool for most of my management, and that’s so I can get the students’ attention quickly and easily when I need to give guidance on the next topic. If you’ve heard of Kagan strategies, then you know about high five. Basically, the teacher holds up a hand, says “high five!”, and the student response is to hold up a hand in return, mouths closed. A bit of compliance, yes, but simply so the group can regroup and move forward.

The goal of the club is to teach game design, and a lot of that is done through quests (via Gamestar Mechanic) and then the students’ own projects. I want the focus of the club mostly on student designing, so I am carefully scouring the lesson plans provided by Gamestar and using that to create my own. I set up the week’s plans via Google Classroom so that all of the students can be on the same page. Gamestar uses 5 simple lessons to get things started, and then students can branch from there. The basic 5 lessons are meant to teach basic concepts. Once that’s done, there are many routes to take.

For example, this week, students focus on the elements of game design, the big backbone for all of their future work. Every game designed always features the 5 elements- mechanics, components, space, goals, and rules. I want to make sure to hit this one on the head, but I don’t want to make it all lecture. That’s boring and the students don’t get to do much with that route. The lesson I found details it as where I introduce it, then the students complete episodes 3 and 4 to play games that utilize it, and then we come back together for discussion.

Because this lesson is so important to game design in general, I want to add in some empowerment, and may extend the lesson further into the next week. I’m thinking of having the students first focus on one particular element and create a game in their workshop focused around that, asking them to blatantly ignore all other elements in their design process. Then I want them to design a game where they focus on all 5 equally. Since they won’t have finished the first quest in its entirety yet, they won’t have all the sprites from it, but they can still use what they  have to make something. I need to mull it over and put it into my plans.

Looking toward the future in the group, I want to have a lot more projects where students are given the basic parameters and then set free to create while I work on facilitating. It will help prepare them for the STEM Video Game Design Challenge in the spring. I also want to borrow the idea of an Identity Day for game design. I want to see what games students identify with and are passionate about, what their influences might be when it comes to their games that they’ll design. Influences are important, no matter what field, and I already know this crew loves talking about their favorite games.

I used to think engagement was key back when I was in the classroom. Oh, I was good at getting the students’ attention all right. I loved being a goofball, and using that to design lessons that grabbed the students’ attention, such as my Power Rangers Rock Cycle demonstration. Looking back now, that wasn’t all I needed to do. I should have engaged, yes, because that got their attention initially. What I failed to do was take that interest from being engaged and use it to empower the students to take control of their learning, which is what I should have been doing. I know better now. Engage first, but empower more than anything. I’m going to demonstrate that with Fluco Game Designers. I can’t wait!

Fluco Game Designers

landing-gsm-ad

In my new district, I was asked to start a STEM club of some kind at the middle school back when I interviewed and was hired. I was happy to do this, as I did want to try something new. I eventually decided on game design after having taken the Coding, App, and Game Design I training earlier in the summer. The training was meant to be used at the high school level, but I figured I could easily rework some of it to be used at the middle school level.

It took me some time to come up with my ideas on how to proceed. Unlike with previous clubs, I wanted a neat timeline of events for working with the students. I decided to use 3 different tools- Gamestar Mechanic, Minecraft, and Construct 2. I also want to have students review different games based on gameplay. I wanted there to be an end goal for the year for students as well, so I’m going to have each of them participate in the STEM National Video Game Design Challenge. I believe this will be a good way for them to put their skills to the test.

The basic idea is that students will learn gameplay mechanics by using Gamestar.

After some back and forth with the principal where we worked out details on dates and meetings, forms got sent home with student progress reports. This was probably not the best of ideas, even though it did expose the club to everyone. I ended up becoming more popular than I could have imagined.

Within the next few days, I had over 40 responses. I had to cap the numbers on the club, and in the end I ended up with 66 students. I have to split the group into two groups so that they meet every other week. I also needed volunteers, and so have ended up with 3 potential parent volunteers. Great, I was off to a good start.

Some time passed and I had to set aside my planning for a little bit due to other obligations. The week of the first meeting I began doing my final preparation. I focused on Gamestar and used their resources and lessons to design my own. I knew I needed to be prepared with so large of a group. I also began setting up Google Classroom for my group as well. I knew it would be a big help in getting information to the students. Finally, I set up the Facebook page and Twitter account for our club.

Thursday, October 6 was our first meeting. In the end I had 55 of 66 students show up. We worked in the library. Two parent volunteers showed up as well and they were a huge help in getting materials to students, as well as helping me observe and keep them on track. I could not have done it without them.

For our first meeting, we got things set up. Students completed a game designer profile I had created, and then they joined the Google Classroom and Gamestar Mechanic. We completed the first lesson on the parts of a game and they also completed episodes 1 and 2 of the first quest. We then played a match game based on the parts of a game before wrapping up and dismissing the students.

Overall I was really pleased, and so were the remarks I heard from parents as well. We’re going to meet as a whole group until behaviors keep us from doing the planned materials. They did well so far, so until something keeps us from accomplishing our goals, we’ll keep meeting in a large group.

Looking forward to the next meeting!

GAFE Teacher Resource: Equation Editor

As I go along, I’m always learning new things about GAFE and its set of programs. Today I was exploring ways to use Google Classroom in the math classroom and came across the equation editor in Google Docs. While I am aware that there are some more robust add-ons (and that I’m looking into them!), I went ahead and put together a quick how-to sheet for my staff while I learn the other add-ons.

Click here for the resource

Positive Post Friday: 8/12/16

I’m going to start something new with my blog, and hopefully it’ll be something to look back on at the end of the year. 

Fridays mark the end of the work week. Fridays mark the start of the weekend. Fridays should end the week on a positive note. Therefore, I’m going to share 5 positive things that happened this week:

  1. I was approached by the superintendent and congratulated for my livetweet session on Manny Scott. She then told me she wanted me to help with a social media initiative this school year.
  2. I successfully created my first professional development class using Google Classroom. Now the material can be used for a professional development session, a follow up resource, or a self-paced professional development piece.
  3. I volunteered to make a presentation to administration on building our district’s brand and using social media.
  4. I will be implementing a games design club at the middle school as soon as I plan out the particulars. I want them to participate in the National STEM Video Game Design competition in the spring.
  5. I’ve already started building some great relationships and trust among some of my new colleagues. I sent many of them resources already that they asked for me to research.

Your turn: Share your Positive Post Friday.

Until next Friday! Have a great weekend!