Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Questions to Ask Before Using Class Dojo

    A recent New York Times article posted to the Iowa GEG Google+ Community, a blog article from Teaching Ace on Class Dojo and tasing kids, a question from one of my teachers, and this blog post by Joe Bower (who does an excellent job of citing sources and gathering many different theories on motivation) got me thinking about Class Dojo and other classroom management tools/ strategies/ apps this week.  I did have the opportunity to use Class Dojo a few years ago, but because I had a strong classroom management philosophy that did not completely "mesh" with the intended use of Class Dojo, I repurposed the intent of the app to achieve a completely new means to a different end altogether.  More on that later...

    When it comes to making sure all of your students are engaged with the lesson and learning at high levels in a safe and effective environment, choosing the right classroom management tool/ strategy to match your teaching personality is paramount to student success.  When choosing a tool or strategy, let me give some advice that was given to me early in my career, and has made an incredible difference:
Source: At Whit's End Blog
     Knowing that no management tool, strategy or technique I used would be effective if my students felt like I didn't care about them as people helped to form my own classroom management experiences.  Here are a few questions to ask before you choose an app, tool or strategy:

1) Does the app/ tool/ strategy allow for meaningful conversation, individualized feedback, and periodic reflection for both student and teacher? Or does it help manage a reactive type of relationship?
2) Does the app give your students a voice in the classroom rules? Do students have a significant role in shaping the written norms of the classroom? Or does the app police the rules imposed on the students?
3) Does the app give you time and opportunity to invest in each student personally and strive to make them feel welcome and loved in your classroom? Or does the app simply publicly announce misbehavior and/or positive behaviors?
4) Does the app allow you to model kindness, autonomy, forgiveness, grace, and leadership? Or does it cause you to model harshness, escalation, and indifference?
5) Does the app allow for students to be aware of procedures for misbehavior?  Will it allow students to reflect on behavior and have an opportunity to adjust? Or does it impose consequences for misbehavior?

     If you are at a point where you're ready to begin using a tool like Class Dojo, or a technique like Behavior Clip charts, or anything similar, take a moment to think about these questions:

1) What is the end result you see happening from adding this tool?
2) Is the tool designed to enhance what you are doing, or detract from it?
3) What are some alternatives that you've looked at? What makes this tool better than any other?
4) Are there specific classroom behaviors or student issues that you are trying to address with this app?  What features do you like about this tool?
5) What do you plan to do if the students don't respond to the tool the way you anticipated?

     I have some pretty strong personal beliefs when it comes to the debate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and I also know a great teacher will maximize any tool if she feels it helps her students grow and learn in significant ways.  Personally, I wouldn't ever use a tool for the sake of the tool; rather, I want to do things for the sake of each student.  

     When I had the opportunity to use Class Dojo, I took the app to my students and had them brainstorm ways we might want to use the app in class. A few students liked the app's design, including the little monsters, but were wary of the "points for behavior" system.  This led to a great discussion about our classroom and what kind of environment we had- and how using Class Dojo the way it was intended did not fit our shared values for the class.  A student then suggested something fun- to use Class Dojo as a point tracking system for an end of the day trivia/ exit ticket contest.  I would ask questions, possibly from trivia cards (like you find in Trivial Pursuit games), or from essential skills we learned that day. Students would give me answers to the questions; sometimes students would answer after a group discussion, other times they would take a guess individually.  There were a few times when I had students write their answers down, and add their own points.  Occasionally, I'd have them add a point for each standard they had met that week.  

     At the end of the week, we'd look at the points tallied, talk about our answers, and decide who the winner was.  Many times it wasn't the student with the most points, but rather the student who gave the most to the class that week.  I'd then let them choose their prize- who got to use my teacher's chair for the week.  I was most proud when the winner would choose another student in the class to use the chair- just to let them know we valued everyone in our class.  

     Was this the best way to use Class Dojo?  I'm not completely sure.  I do know, however, it wasn't the app that created that environment, or even sustained it.  It was us choosing to be better for each other.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Read and Write for Google Extension

for Google
   Google Chrome is an incredibly powerful web browser for both teachers and students, and once you begin customizing your Chrome experience with Apps and Extensions from the Chrome Web Store, you'll find yourself never using another browser again.

     A teacher this week showed me the Read and Write for Google extension from  The extension, when added, will look at web pages and read the text on the page aloud.  Students can use this extension to highlight words and take notes, along with "Simplifying" the website into a text-only site.  Some features, however, expire after the 30 day trial.

    This particular teacher said she uses Read and Write for Google to read aloud what her students have written in Google Docs- a kind of self- editing via listening tool.  I can also see this being extremely helpful as an assistive tool for students that are struggling with texts, but need to remain independent in their reading.


Friday, November 21, 2014

2 Ways to Engage Students with 3D Printing

Image from:
     I'm fortunate enough to work in districts where there are incredible teachers looking to continually provide high quality experiences for our students using the latest technology and pedagogy.  Recently, I worked with a high school science teacher that really wanted to use his 3D printer for student critical thinking and collaborative projects.  This particular teacher knew that it would be a big undertaking, but he also wanted to move away from simply printing objects downloaded from Thingiverse.

     We introduced Autodesk's 123D Design web software to his physical science class, and let them play after a short tutorial.  I like using Autodesk for a few reasons:
- It's free!
- Students and teachers can use Google credentialing to sign in.
- It's fairly easy to use, and has an iPad app as well.
- 123D Design plays nicely with the Makerbot printers, and actually has a host of other apps from Autodesk which work together
- Autodesk offers loads of lesson plans, tutorials, and self-directed, digital STEAM 3D projects that are all available for free here.

     After the students became more familiar with the software, their teacher challenged them to solve a few real-world problems by creating and printing their ideas. One problem was to design a product that could aid a student who consistently loses pencils, or has an assistive need for such a device.  His students were very creative- and afterwards had great discussions and reflections over their designs and issues.
See-through pencil holder clips to a backpack. 
This simple design allows pencils to clip to the ring,
while the ring is attached to a bag using the small hole.

     Another task was to work collaboratively to design one of four wheels that would fit on a printed cart.  Students individually created wheels, hubs, and tires; however, each student had to work with another to make sure their individual wheel, when added to the cart, would allow the cart to roll and function.
Student designed and printed cart needs wheels, and an axle,
which are provided by other students.
Students had to collaborate to design wheels with similar
diameters and axles hole diameters.

These are two examples of engaging students with engaging problems, collaborative critical thinking skills, and reflective analysis of learning objectives.  The best advice when doing something similar with 3D printing and imaging software is to take the time to scaffold the skills needed for a larger project- don't throw this entire project, software and all, at the students all at once.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

gMath Add-ons for Google Forms

    Google recently released the capability to give add-ons to forms.  This is very handy in that you can now add gMath to your forms.  gMath helps to image complex mathematical symbols and equations to be used in a form.  This adds quite a few possibilities for creating online assessments for students, gathering formative data, or giving quick feedback to students based on form submissions.
    This can also be paired with a script like Flubaroo, which can take form answers and grade or score quizzes automatically.  Check the add-on menu when using a form to add gMath.

    After selecting gMath in the Add-ons menu, it gives you three options to create- math expressions, graphs, or statistical displays.  I chose the expressions.

     When you've made a choice, a sidebar will open giving you options for building your expression.  Typing code in the LaTex box can help you figure out what the image will look like that can be inserted into the form.  You also have an option to choose pre-made and commonly used expressions at the bottom of the sidebar.

   After getting the equation that you want, click the "Insert" button and gMath will create a new form question with your image.

     This add-on came to my attention after having some conversations with a middle school math teacher who wanted to use a Google Form and spreadsheet to create Histograms in algebra class.  The gMath add-on allowed her to create quizzes more tailored to her class.

     gMath also has an add-on for Google Docs, which adds the same functionality to a doc.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

EasyBib Docs Add-On

     Google has made searching and citing resources extremely easy and accessible within Docs.  One of the tools students can use to cite research in multiple formats is by using the add-on called EasyBib.  EasyBib is a website that can take information from multiple source styles and format them for bibliographies.  Students can use EasyBib to cite print articles, web articles, digital images, and even movies- up to 59 different types of sources.  EasyBib can also format to MLA, Chicago, APA, and more citation styles.

     Getting the Add-on in Docs takes only a few steps.  First, create a doc, then go to the "Add-Ons," search for EasyBib, then add by clicking "+Free."  Using EasyBib is as simple as entering the name of your source in the search field in the EasyBib sidebar that pops up.  Citations can be added to the end of documents from there!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Coding/ National Hour of Code thoughts and resources

The National Hour of Code, sponsored by and Computer Science Ed Week, is only a few short weeks away.  Of course, you don't need to wait until then to start coding with your students.  A few thoughts here as you begin the coding journey:

- Many nations are requiring coding as part of the national curriculum.  While the United States is not there as a whole yet, there are quite a few school districts across the U.S. that are incorporating coding classes for high school credit requirements.
From AEA267's Coding in the Classroom site,
originally from

- Coding is not just a math skill, or a computer science skill, but rather a thinking skill. Sure, the hallmarks of coding are computer programming and logic, but the real process for students lies in the problem-solving, collaborating, and critical thinking involved in solving coding problems.  Usually, the best coding programs will capitalize on the problem solving aspect for students.

- You don't have to be an expert coder to teach coding. I'd even posit that you probably don't even have to be good at computers to teach coding!  You just have to be the type of teacher that can give students an opportunity to own their own learning, take some risks, and be humble enough to learn alongside your students.

- Since you aren't the expert, bring in those that are. My best experiences with coding have been when I invited people from our community to come in and work with kids.  This included Math and Computer Science professors and students from our local university, parents that worked with computers, and people that use coding everyday at work.  Not only do the students benefit from having more adults around, the community can back what the students are doing as important and relevant.

- Find ways to keep the coding processes going throughout the year. Students tend to be intrinsically motivated by this, so see if you can work in the concepts into other lessons, or give your students some time to continue their coding projects frequently.  Perhaps the worst thing you can do is assign the coding or make it homework.  Chances are, students are going to want to do coding as homework anyway.

- Anyone can code. You, me, high school seniors, kindergarteners, 6th graders, parents, principals... all can code.  Let's figure out ways we can code together.

- You don't even need a computer to code! Some of the resources I'll link below teach coding concepts with paper/pencil, robots, play-dough, and all sorts of other things you most likely have laying around your classroom.  Of course, there are plenty of web apps, iPad apps, AEA check-out items, and things you can buy to teach coding listed below.

- Have fun, relax, and know that it ties to the Core. That's right!  Not only can coding hit ALL of the Universal Constructs, but you can creatively tie Math, ELA, Science, Social Studies, and 21st Century skills to coding.  The best part is that has links to those resources!

Here are a few resources as you plan:

- AEA267's Coding in the Classroom site

- My personal Symbaloo page of Coding sites I used in class

- The National Hour of Code's Youtube site

- Professor Ben Schafer's (University of 
Northern Iowa) sponsored free workshops for teachers and administrators

- Google's Made with Code site (geared specifically towards young ladies)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gooru gCon on Google Classroom

   This morning, The Gooru hosted a "Google Conference (gCon)" via live, free Hangouts covering three topics dealing with Google Apps for teachers.  Juan De Luca, a Google Certified Teacher and Trainer from Mexico City, hosted a Q and A Hangout covering the how-to's of Google Classroom.  Even if you didn't catch the Hangout live, all the Hangouts are archived on The Gooru's Youtube channel.
   If Google Classroom has caught your attention, and you want to learn a little more about it, feel free to check out the archived Hangout below.
   The Gooru will also post videos from Hangouts covering "Streamline The Writing (and Grading) Process with Google Drive" (CLICK HERE) and another video over "Google Apps for Education Admin Rountable" (CLICK HERE).