Wednesday, November 26, 2014

If they’ve got the tools, let them speak...

Looking at articles and research that have appeared in the last couple years, there has been much discussion about emerging technologies that will heighten student engagement.  In recent visits to schools, we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about new student response systems.  Boy, has this technology come a long way from clickers, and before that, an even longer way from the old “raise your hand”. And these systems work.
“Citing a number of research studies, the benefits of using a student response system have been highlighted... In summary, such systems provide an immediate source of feedback for the academic and student, rapidly identifying areas of misunderstanding. Moreover, there is improved student interaction, engagement, active-learning, and participation. Significantly, students are enthusiastic towards their use and there are potential improvements in student learning and they drive increased levels of advance preparation.”  Paul Dervan, 2011 [Increasing in-class student engagement using Socrative (an online Student Response System)]

While there are now many online student response systems, Plickers is a free student response system, downloaded as an Android or iOS app, that requires no electronic devices in students' hands.  Each student holds a piece of paper showing their answer (as a barcode) to the multiple choice question; the barcode is scanned by the teacher's smartphone. The teacher gets a real-time bar graph showing the results.

Edmonton Public Schools wrote a great blog post about using Plickers instead of the “old” clickers.  The post describes how Plickers can be used, how it works and what you need to get started.  There is a short video at the end to show a teacher using Plickers in the classroom.

Along with the new student response systems, backchannels are being used to engage students in synchronous discussions in parallel with ongoing activities in the classroom. As mentioned in this Edudemic article about backchanneling, there are many different ways you can use a backchannel to open up a conversation to all students in class and expand on any discussion.  Depending on the technology in your classroom, you could use Twitter, Today’s Meet, or Google Moderator or a number of others.

Beth Holland also wrote a great article for edutopia, describing how backchanneling can give all students a voice, capture curiosity and capture the ideas that students have but are not always willing to share in class.

If you are looking for a few ideas to start backchanneling in your classroom, try out this article, which includes ten ways to use backchannels.

The Langwitches Guide to Backchanneling provides planning considerations, skills learned and Bloom’s taxonomy points

Still need more information? Visit Create, where we have collected teacher resources about using student response tools and backchannels.  We have included articles about Plickers, Poll Everywhere, Socrative and more.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Start the conversation - November 16 - 22 is Bullying Awareness Week


Bullying, to me, starts very small around the kindergarten age where the first thing we learn is to call each other names. Something so small can be so long lasting in someone's life.[Shane Koyczan]

There’s a wealth of interactive media that you can use with your students to start a conversation about bullying, no matter what their age. We’d like to share three examples.

For younger students, here are some friendly faces to help students have a conversation about feelings and being a good friend.  From PBS, this interactive video - So Funny I Forgot to Laugh - shows Arthur making some jokes at Sue Ellen’s expense.  When Arthur is making jokes, is he being funny? Is he going too far and hurting Sue Ellen's feelings?  

For older students, here are two great examples, created right here in Canada.

Words Hurt is an interactive video experience about how our words affect others. In real time,  you have an online interaction with the young woman on the screen.  Fill in the box with positive or negative words to see how she reacts.  

To This Day is a powerful and beautiful slam poem by Shane Koyczan. The animated poem describes how bullying touches us all.  From this TED link, you can access a short quiz in the Think section and additional information about Shane in Dig Deeper.  

You will find many linked sites for teachers or students in our Cyberbullying and Bullying special edition.  We know that you will be considering necessary conversations not just this week, but all the school year through. Be proactive, not just reactive. In planning for conversations about treating others fairly and respectfully in your classroom, use’s curated collection of resources as a place to start!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Virtual Housekeeping: The Changing Nature of Internet Content

We often get asked how we check the database for broken links, dated resources and inappropriate content.  We believe that keeping our database clean is an important task.  We also know how challenging it can be to maintain links to the best content when websites are constantly being redeveloped, reformatted, updated, etc.

A dramatic example of this is Sort It Out.  This interactive about sorting recyclables was made right here in Alberta and was used by many Grade 4 teachers.  Over the past few months, the domain ownership has changed and the link is now about things that are decidedly NOT recycling [see the screen capture].  This site was definitely removed from the database and other sites on recycling with more appropriate content were added.

Another of our favourite examples is Wumpa’s World.  This is a Canadian interactive that explores Inuit culture, a perfect fit for Grade 2 Social Studies.  A few years ago, the interactive was moved to a new URL without a re-direct. Alberta teachers who had been using the link from our Ready site called us, “Where is Wumpa’s World?” We tracked down the creators of the site and after a few email exchanges, were able to update the link for teachers.
Recently Wumpa’s World has been redesigned in HTML 5 with new content and a new URL, and is linked in Ready

The Blobz Guide to Electric Circuits is a popular interactive linked in Kids Love for the Grade 5 Science unit on Electricity and Magnetism.  A few years ago the site disappeared. We tracked down the owner/developer of the site who had forgotten to renew his domain.  Our email to him was his reminder to pay his bill - which he did - and we continue to benefit from his work!

How do we find out about website changes, broken links, and re-directs to inappropriate content?  First of all, we check our most popular sites on a regular basis - for example as we prepare for our seasonal Enjoy pages, ie: Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc. or in preparation for presentations.  We review sections of the site on a regular basis for links which are not broken but need updating. Teachers also contact us when they find broken links within our student sites. We are as proactive as we can be in this worthwhile ‘housekeeping’ task.

We know that Alberta teachers rely on the rich digital content that we have linked in our database. With over 10,000 sites in our database and over 5,000,000 hits on the site per month, we are motivated to do our best to keep these sites current for our users.