14 April 2014

"Lying" to Your Students for Good - Crafting a Story to Engage Your Students

I'm lying to my students this week, and I think its okay.

Let me tell you about the town of Oklaville, MO...

If you're not from Missouri, you may not know, but "Oklaville, MO" is a completely fictional town that I created last week to hold a fake competition for designs for a community aquatic park. I created a relatively simple website in iWeb (but probably could have used Google Sites as well) and hosted it on Dropbox using these instructions.

This "design a water park project" is the marriage of something I've been wanting to do since February (use Google SketchUp for designing and area) and fixing a project that is never really as good as I want. The prompt for the design actually comes from my textbook -

The last two years when I had my students do this project, I gave them a clean sheet of 1cm x 1 cm graph paper, and it usually came back to me in a pretty rough draft that hopefully was not totally wrinkled. They were uninspiring to say the least, but maybe that wasn't completely the students' fault. Is there really a lot of sense in taking pride in a fake water park on a piece of paper that literally no one else but the teacher will see? I wanted them to look better for the sake of work ethic and pride in work, but honestly, I was kidding myself.

When the situation arose again this year, I knew it was time for something different. I just the last couple weeks spent many hours designing a website for my friend trying to launch a side-career in Gospel music, so I had design heavily on my mind.

Take a second to go back and peruse that site if you haven't yet - its three simple pages, but they look pretty legit, right? I included a "real" seal, an address for city hall, and a couple of examples. If you take 5 seconds to do a Google Map search for that address, or even Oklaville itself, you'd know it was fictional, so when/if my students get to that point, I'll easily fess up and tell them much of what I'm writing here.

Is it deceptive? Probably. It may be risky when I tie so much of my relationship building to honesty, but I'm really counting on the relationship we can build during this project as a serve as Google SketchUp mentor.

Is this for you? I don't know, but a colleague of mine pointed out all of the times she lies to her students when they ask her if something they do is going to be for a grade. We've probably all done that several times, but for what? A single piece of paper, 10 minutes worth of work? When you create worlds for your students' work, they can get real skills out of it.

Chuck's Tips for Lying To Students (for Relevance)
1. Take time to pay attention to the details. 
It's kind of like The Matrix - your students won't know things aren't real unless they are really looking for it.

2. Prepare multiple sources of "reality."
Besides the three pages I created for the website, I also registered a new Gmail address and crafted an official looking memo for another copy of the "proposal requirements"

3. Be non-chalant about everything
I showed this to all of my students today, but I pitched it briefly to just one student on Friday and was able to get him excited about it all weekend.

4. Have a real prize, reward, or recognition ready
Of course, there isn't a real Oklaville City Council waiting to vote on my students' submissions, but that isn't any reason why I can't make a big deal out of the best submission. Have a panel of your colleagues come in to judge once you let the students in on the secret. One student asked if he could have a medal if he wins. Sure!

5. Have fun.
The whole reason you're doing this is to bridge a gap between worksheets, bookwork, and teacher-driven assessment to something that is more authentic, more engaging, and more fun. Be creative in the setting you create, and cherish the enthusiastic conversations you have along the way.

20 March 2014

Simulating the NCAA Tourney with a Random Number Generator

It's "Big College Basketball Tournament" time, everybody!

(When I remember to get it in on time) sharing your bracket for the NCAA tourney is always an easy way to get conversations going with a lot of my students, which is especially good because right before Spring Break is when some of my students want to talk to me the least. :)

I did some research on building a "probabilities of the NCAA tournament" project a few years back, but it seemed kind of impossible, and not totally worth it when weighed against other curricular demands.

So, I scaled back expectations and started with having fun with it myself. Using the probabilities from the user picks on CBSSports.com's bracket manager, I simulated the outcome with a random number generator (from mathgoodies.com), and chose the victor from there.


Had this been the number generated for the game above between Oklahoma and North Dakota, OU would have been the winner because 33 is between 1 and 76.

To my pleasant surprise, the method produced a rather conventional bracket, while still making some fun, plausible upsets. As I'm writing, the first day's games are about half done, and the bracket is holding its own against most anyone else's.

17 March 2014

1 Simple Question for Evaluating Lessons

Is it cool enough to put online?

Would there be any value on sharing this with others online?
Would people outside of your classroom want to see it? (Do the people inside the classroom really want to see it?
If you posted all of your students' work, would they all look relatively similar?
Is it cool enough to put online?
Would you want to blog about it?
Would someone want to showcase it on your school or district's webpage?

Positive answers to these questions represent varying degrees of relevance and rigor in instructional design, but they are all questions I ask myself when evaluating lessons, assessments, or applications of technology.

Does the work your students do in your classroom have any last relevance beyond the end of the unit? Beyond this week? Beyond tomorrow?

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that my own interest in teaching is pretty closely related to the creativity I'm putting into students' learning activities and products. You know the feeling - you come back from a conference on a buzz because you saw the coolest demonstration of the Pythagorean Theorem, or a self-assessment tool, and all you want to do it share it with others, talk about it, and try it out.

That sharing, the excitement - we don't have to try and desperately cling to it as we survive on fumes from conference to conference. Yes, the infusion of new ideas helps to get your started, but I'd argue that high you feel from the experience is in the sharing. In talking with others about it.

Why must that feeling be confined to someone else's work? I think its a relatively attainable goal to wrap up our week in reflection with this simple question: "Did I do anything cool enough to put online?"

And there are even several activities you could reasonably answer that question with -
  • You put together a concise, clear, engaging tutorial for flipping your classroom.
  • You (and/or your students) used a web 2.0 tool as a forum for class responses to a prompt or a container for shared information.
  • Your students create presentations or videos and share them with social media
  • You enhanced a lesson you usually feel is rather dry with a video, photo, or song to grab students' attention
  • Your students explored a problem relevant to their lives. This one isn't even necessarily technology related. Our senior lit comp classes do an EXTENSIVE project that one teacher started several years ago that is essentially a semester-long, super in-depth career exploration. They write papers and create presentations, but a lot of the work I've observed secondhand doesn't necessarily depend on tech-rich environments. The point being, its a COOL project.
  • Your students created something
  • You created something
  • You used technology to enhance or improve a common task
Your answer to the 1-question lesson evaluation is in many ways reflective of where you are in your professional development, with a scale of answers being appropriate.

In the Web 2.0 class I just finished teaching after school once a week for teachers in my district, I had a group of eager learners that always came back with tech celebrations from the week before, but in varying skill levels of implementation. "Cool" for one might be "normal" for someone else. Just as an example, here are two applications of Padlet that they came up with: a space to get a discussion going, and a student-controlled medium for class art critics and portfolio.

As an excuse to show a super adorable video I rediscovered as I went to make the one at the top of this post, here's "something cool" I made after my first son was born in 2011. To link it back to your classroom (even math), why couldn't your students use Animoto to put together a review product linking unit vocab to processes and applications? #ideafornextunit :)

Landon Jude