reflection

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Final Teacher Thoughts: Polygons & Minecraft

Today I met with Mrs. Kerr and Mrs. Hogue about the Polygons lesson we’d completed in Minecraft with 4th grade students. I feel strongly about reflecting on new lessons and tools after they’ve been completed/used, and this is no different. This is the first day that all 3 of us have had available to sit down and discuss our thoughts.

We began with the pros of the lesson. Both teachers really loved the creativity and engagement seen in students. This comes from observation during the initial play and learn lesson, as well as the polygons lesson. They were amazed to see the different ways that students responded to the tasks provided. They also felt that Minecraft provided chances for a lot of discussion and teaching. Students talked to classmates and partners as they designed. We also had students who knew a lot about Minecraft that assisted classmates as the need arose. Kerr and Hogue were easily able to see how students could assist in the teaching process, as well as allow students to take on more of a leadership role.

Another positive that both teachers enjoyed was how we had structured the lessons. We had set up the first assigned task to be more rigid and strict. There were certain things that needed to be done in a time frame, in this case 3 designed polygons with a sign. The second task was more open ended, and allowed students to be more creative and daring. The second task for this lesson had them designing a home using polygons. Assessing this piece was done in class, as students explained the polygons in the designs to their teachers.

A final pro was that kids without access to internet or computer games at home got to try something new. Minecraft isn’t something default on every computer, nor is it free to get. Students were able to try it in school as part of their learning, and gain experience with a program they may never have seen before.

Not everything can be a pro, of course, so we delved into the cons of the lesson. These will lead to improvement with future lessons. One of our cons was figuring out who wasn’t doing what they should be. Some students enjoyed getting off task and ended up being destructive with classmates. We have since corrected part of this with a good seating chart that lists which account is signed into which computer. Kerr and Hogue are also learning how to recognize characters in game.

Our second con was the invisibility potion. Students find a way around being detected by using the invisibility potion to wreck havoc. I have to say that this isn’t something that I considered when putting together the lesson, though I’m not entirely surprised. I have club kiddos who love utilizing this trick. Since we can’t get rid of the potion itself, we’re going to take some time to work on classroom management techniques in Minecraft. I also informed both teachers that drinking milk makes the potion wear off, and that /ban and /kick commands existed as an option.

The final part of our quick meeting was to focus on needs to cover this summer. The three of us are going to do some in depth work with Minecraft, including me teaching them how to run and manage the server. They want to learn to be independent, so that I don’t have to visit the school to get them set up. We’ll do a lot of practical run throughs to give them practice. Ideally, I should only have to design and upload templates from afar.

We would also like to create a cheatsheet of basic commands, and create at least 1 lesson per subject area for teachers to utilize. Both Kerr and Hogue would love to get more teachers on board with Minecraft in the classroom. In order to do this, we’d like to have a lesson that could be easily implemented into each teacher’s curriculum. As for the basic commands cheatsheet, this is to be used as a refresher/guide for teachers as they work with students. Students are still expected to learn the game through play and problem solving. We’re going to look at potentially meeting in the beginning of July for all of this training.

So far so good with Minecraft use! Our next topic is to tackle science. We will be taking a lesson where students are designing a plant and using Minecraft as the program to model in. It will also give students some more experience using graph paper. Can’t have enough of that!

Minecraft, Polygons, & 4th Grade

January 25 was a crazy day, and I have dubbed it Minecraft Thursday. I spent most of the day teaching Minecraft related lessons or activities. There was the Ideal School introduction before lunch, and then Minecraft: Cityscapers after school. I started my day off with 4th grade, and this time we were tackling our first geometry lesson in Minecraft.

Previously, the students had been introduced to the template I had designed, and we had completed a play and learn session. This had given us a chance to set the class boundaries and give students who hadn’t had a chance to play Minecraft time to get used to the game.

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The class first began with introductions to the lesson, and a review of the classroom expectations. Students were asked to build 3 polygons in Minecraft. Only one of the polygons could be a quadrilateral, and the students were not allowed to build triangles. If they finished early, they could move to a different location and build a house using polygons in their design.

During this first session, once students were in their homeroom zone, they were allowed to pick a space along the wall to build. This turned out to be a mistake, but I didn’t realize that until later. Once a spot was selected, students placed a sign with their name, and began to build. Overall, the session went as expected, and the students stayed on task.

There were a couple of issues with this first session, and I changed them for the 2nd lesson, which was completed today. First, having students pick a space along the wall was a bad idea. I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have created a fenced in space of some kind. Trying to take screenshots was a nightmare without this, and students didn’t do so well at creating their own boundaries.

Examples of what happens without a fence. I cannot believe I let this happen, but I have learned from this mistake!

Secondly, students sometimes had trouble designing their shape in Minecraft. It would have been easier if I had made sure to have graph paper available to the class as they worked. Then any student struggling could take a piece of graph paper and design their idea first.

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Students in the Tuesday group using graph paper to design polygons

Fast forward to today, Tuesday. I had another crew of students to work with. The lesson was still the same. However, this time I had made sure to create 20 x 20 spaces of white wool for students. Each student/student pair was to select a space. They placed the sign with their name/s on the front of the wool fence, and were then constricted to that space for building. This worked out so much better! In the future, I will edit my original template and create a version with 20 x 20 areas for building.

Graph paper was also made available for students, and this helped quite a few when it came to designing their polygons. Students were allowed to get the graph paper at any time. If anything, some had trouble creating a design to transfer to Minecraft, but this is something I have seen with all ages. They have to be taught this skill. However, since our designs were simple polygons, it didn’t matter too much.

With our two issues fixed from last week, you wouldn’t think we had many issues. However, one thing that the teacher noticed was that students sometimes determined the sides of their polygons differently than what the teacher interpreted. This led to a discussion on how we could fix this issue. We knew students knew how many sides represented each polygon, but they sometimes interpreted the blocks differently.

Thus, in the future, students will need to create their polygon design on graph paper, with appropriate labels. This way the teacher can see their original design before it is transferred into Minecraft. The teacher will also be able to explore the designs with students, and have them complete explanations in class, or as a written part to this project.

Examples of student work from Tuesday’s group. Notice how easy it is to see where each student completed their work.

Overall I feel that the lesson went well for a first go. I am impressed with the things I saw from the students, and I look forward to doing it again in the future, with the rest of our changes implemented. I am so lucky to work with two teachers who are very flexible and expect things to be imperfect on the first go round. They realize that things don’t always work out as well as planned. It makes reflection and redesign a lot easier to accomplish.

Reflection: Introducing Minecraft to 4th Graders

Today I found myself back in 4th grade. I used to teach in this age group, so I was rather excited. Even though there had been setbacks to our original plans (thanks snow days!), we were ready to get started.

My job was to introduce Minecraft to Beverly Kerr (@tblkerr) and Julie Hogue’s (@HogueJulie) math classes. We did not plan to jump right in with lessons. Instead, I would introduce the game and class expectations before doing an explore and build session. Originally, the build was to relate to the 100th day of school, but because of snow days, our time was limited so we simply let them build whatever they wanted instead.

Prior to the class, I had set up the server the school had purchased with a 4 quadrant template of my own design. I logged the accounts into the program, and they all spawned in the center at what we eventually dubbed “home base”. The template is pictured below, and is also available for download here.

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4 Quadrant Template

First, the kids were given assigned seats and asked for their attention. I started by introducing myself, and then the game of Minecraft. As I had suspected, most had played, but only in survival mode. I started with the sandbox explanation and how the game had no given instructions. I did share the basic keys and what they did with students.

From there, I gave our class expectations and rules. I explained the rules of home base (always return there at the end of class), and what each quadrant was for. The kids were then told to spend a few minutes exploring, and the rest of the time building whatever they liked within the quadrants.

We then let them set off to work, and some kids tried to do other things, but we always went back to the main 2 instructions: Explore and Build. If we noticed someone spending a little too much time exploring, then we gently reminded them to build something. I think the next time, I would use a timer to designate how long to explore. This might be a bit more concrete for these students.

The kids built different things. Some built random shapes or objects, and others built homes or bases of some kind. We did have some kids “accidentally” use TNT, which I figured would happen, but I wanted to wait and see.  I am probably going to switch the server to run the Spigot version of Minecraft so I can install the antitnt plugin. This will take care of that issue easily.

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TNT oh my!

At the end of class, students did well with returning to home base. They weren’t allowed to line up to leave the lab until their character was safely inside, and I was pleased with how quickly they followed the instruction. Having students return all characters to home base makes it easier for the next group to get started right away. At this point, I am not sure if I’ll install the EssentialsX plugin. I’m still testing how it runs on my club server. If I do install it, it will make returning to base easier, as I can teach them the /warp command. This would be especially handy if the student was located far away in the assigned quadrant. They would simply have to type /warp base in the chat box and then they’d be instantly teleported back.

The teachers wanted to give the students more time to build in the game, so they returned with their classes after recess. I was not at the school at this time, so it gave the teachers a chance to handle running the game without me around. They had a couple of issues, but nothing major. Because of this, I am planning to meet with them after we complete the first lesson with all classes, so we can go over any issues they may have had, and help them learn how to run the server on their own. My goal is to eventually be able to have them running the server and program completely on their own, with minimal support from myself. This will definitely take time, as it took me awhile before I was completely comfortable running my own server.

Overall, I believe the lesson went over very well, and I am inspired to do a writeup of a lesson plan that will work for teachers introducing Minecraft to students in a classroom setting. I strongly believe that teachers need this first lesson before doing any actual curriculum work, as it allows them to set the ground rules and expectations for using Minecraft in the classroom.

Reflections on Technology Feedback Sessions

This week began technology feedback sessions in each of the district schools. This is the 2nd annual meeting. Each meeting is attended by the technology director, the instruction and curriculum director, and the ITRTs for the school. Staff come to each meeting on their planning periods. A list of questions has been created, and staff are free to share their thoughts and opinions related on anything to technology as well. All responses are tracked in spreadsheets for later analysis. This helps the district to address needs and consider the wants of staff as well in preparation for the next school year.

Monday started with the middle school, and my fellow ITRT and I attended these meetings throughout the day. The ones with this school tended to last an hour on average. Wednesday I went to the high school, and since I am the only ITRT there, I was really focused.

My biggest personal focus was on staff opinions on professional development- thoughts on this year, suggestions for next year, and then questioning them about the possibility of the tiered system I have been designing. I know that I will be implementing it 100% at the high school level, but I still need to talk about some things with the middle school principal before putting into place there.

The general consensus was that professional development this year was okay, and staff preferred the small once a month sessions during the school day to after school. I have already eliminated this for next year, so I wasn’t too concerned when it came to that bit of feedback. Set times were also a drawback, as some teachers had other obligations to attend to, such as IEP meetings. Suggestions were made to put together video professional development, and that if we have a day for professional development, do a broad overview session in the morning and let staff sign up for individual, personalized sessions in the afternoon. Someone was also curious about having a site where they could check out links to look at later.

When asked about the tiered system, there were positive responses to it. Staff liked the idea of personalized professional development, and they also liked the way that it was designed for different types of needs. When I introduced the highest level, which requires more research and is more open-ended, many were not open to it, but that’s okay because that level isn’t meant for everyone either. The variety of options were good, and staff have provided some ideas as to what I could use for topics in the future.

Based on suggestions, I am considering or am planning to do the following:

  • Video-based PD: This takes quite a bit of time to put together, especially if the materials are not already available online. I did tell staff that I would be happy to put the work together around a solo tech byte (Level 3) so that they would be using them. If I had to make a new video every so often, I would do common tools that many teachers already utilize.
  • Tech Byte Flexibility: Tech Bytes are the lowest level of the tiered system I have. They are 30 minute sessions that cover 1 or 2 objectives on a topic. I have planned to schedule different sessions a couple of times a month. I am now adding a piece where if staff cannot attend the scheduled tech bytes sessions during a month, they are free to sign up for solo sessions on those topics so that they receive the information when the timeframe best suits them.
  • Fluco Toolbox: I am considering adding this to my blog based on the request for a site with links to look at. I am going to revamp my blog over the summer, and add additional pages. Fluco Toolbox would provide those links. However, the links would go to a blog write-up on the tool so that staff can see some of the benefits of the tool, and what it is capable of. I’ve done this before with some tools before moving to this district and I think I’d like to start it again.

You may have noticed that professional development in our district still focuses on tools, rather than problem-solving. We do still have staff at this very low level and mindset, and it is something I am going to work on changing. I want to start making the shift away from tools, but first I want to have a system in place. Once I have had time to implement the system, I’m going to branch out. I know my first way of doing this will be picking “themes” for the tech bytes each month, such as assessing in a digital age.

We do have a little ways to go, and I am glad I can look to the districts that already implement problem-solving professional development for ideas and guidance. We will get there one day! This is not a forever thing; our district is just slower to move forward, but we WILL move forward.

I still have plenty to think about, and I need to work my new ideas into my professional development plan for next year. I feel inspired to work hard for my staff and do even more with professional development than was done this year. Hopefully next year’s technology feedback sessions will bring good things!

HyperDoc Fail

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I seem to be writing about failing a lot lately, but I’ve learned so much from my failure. I have the mindset of “fail foward”. It really does put a new perspective on failure and mistakes. I don’t feel like some horrible person anymore for making mistakes. I recognize my mistake and then immediately reflect on what went wrong and how I could fix the issue so it doesn’t occur again. If it does occur again, then there’s more reflection. It’s changed the way I do things this year for sure. I’m certain that being a stubborn person when I truly want to do something also helps.

I’ve written about hyperdocs before, and even shared a resource. Yesterday I presented a professional development session on Google Classroom. I had developed my hyperdoc based on the “hero’s journey” template. It had taken some time, and I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t completely finished yesterday, but couldn’t figure out why. I figured it out pretty quickly at the PD session though, thanks to my participants reminding me.

Here’s what happened:

The session was set up to let them explore ways to use Classroom first. The next section was a whole class bit. I had forgotten to put in a part where I demonstrated setting up Classroom, and having them do it alongside me. Instead, I only had discussion for the problems teachers may face and how to solve them. Argh it seems so obvious now! Thankfully my participants reigned me in and asked for me to do it. I was happy to oblige. I’m pretty flexible when it comes to my PD sessions, and prefer to adapt on the fly to the needs of the participants.

Of course, having left out that one section meant we didn’t get to finish completing the hyperdoc, but trying to do a proper introduction on Google Classroom and get teachers up and running with it definitely takes more than an hour. I would definitely love to run the session longer or in multiple parts, and will most likely do that in the future. Multiple parts is more feasible though because so many staff already have a hard enough time staying after school for an hour, so extending that wouldn’t be beneficial to them.

Since my reflection on my failure, I have since changed the hyperdoc to reflect what should have been there all along, and am recommending that it be used over 2 class sessions, or even in a class of 1.5 -2 hours. Staff would not feel rushed to complete everything. I will soon be sharing the hyperdoc in my blog, so if you want to assist your staff in learning about Google Classroom, it’ll be worth a look!