Monday, December 24, 2012

Convert from consumer to producer

This post is a commentary on the shifts that are needed in schools in order to make the role of a data coach more effective.

The shift that I will comment on is this:
  • Adults need to focus less on the teaching and more on the learning
In earlier days, I was a teacher of biology. One of my favorite units to teach was on Ecology. I loved to see the surprise in my students' faces when they learned that the study of ecology and the environment was so much more than a recycling program that gets discussed at the middle school level. One of the most dynamic parts of ecology is the study of energy transfer.

My reason for bringing up the food web is to discuss the concept of producers and consumer. A producer, or autotroph, is an organism that can create its own food within its cell via a chemical process (i.e. photosynthesis or chemosynthesis), whereas a consumer, or heterotroph, is an organism that much eat another organism in order to sustain its existence. In the classroom, I would discuss the current carrying capacity of the Earth and how the that could be increased if we all acted as lower order consumers instead of the tertiary or higher consumers in the food web (i.e. top consumer).

Students would then ask if they could be a producer, instead of a consumer. This would indicate to me that we needed to discuss some cellular concepts a little more...

But, when we move from an ecological discussion to one of educational preparation, the environment of the classroom takes on a new look in the terms of producers and consumers. For anyone who has been through a teacher preparation program up through and including the past few years, was taught to have their students be consumers of knowledge in the class.

Teachers, classically, have been taught and prepared to be the smartest person in the room and provide all of the information to students. Even older teacher evaluation models focus on how well the teacher can impart knowledge upon the class and create a sense of order and control of the young people in their room. The focus has been completely on the teaching in the room and had very little do with the learning that is happening by the students. (Take a look at how student grades are entered -- mentioned in my last post).

Recently, there has been a (needed) change in education that teachers need to guide and facilitate the learning of the students instead of directing it. (The biggest challenge to this is that Federal laws and tests that are required.) If this change can be realized in the classroom, then the students will be able to make the change from the consumers of knowledge to the producers of their own learning. This would allow focus to shift from the teaching to the learning.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mayan Childrens Books

So I am reading my Twitter Feed and start seeing posts by Tim Wilhemus with the hashtag #MayanChildrensBooks.

I started to contribute and some of them are so funny, I just had to storify it! Direct Link:

Coaching needs to reduce blame

This post is a commentary on the shifts that are needed in schools in order to make the role of a data coach more effective.

The shift that I will comment on is this:
  • Placing blame needs to shift to inquiries in examining potential solutions
I feel that a lot of this feeling of blame and accusation when looking at data comes from the issues of when we look at the data. Most times, we look at autopsy data. Autopsy data is the information that comes out and is available after time to affect any change on the issue has passed. Ex. Parent-Teacher conferences after the grading quarter has ended. If we examine data when there is no chance for change the questions the arise are all about "why did this happen" and "what didn't you do".

Another issue is that while we are bombarded with numbers and data, we don't know where to being. This causes us to suffer from the DRIPs (Data Rich, Information Poor). Teachers can look no further than their own grade books to begin finding a lot of valuable information.

When I was in the classroom, I know that I would fall into the grading trap of either doing a mad rush of grading at the progress report and report card times or, when I was on top of it, just entering the grades in the grade book without examining what the data is telling us. Think of a time when you were entering grades into your grade often do you look at the aggregate? Most times, teachers get so caught up in the individual cell at the intersection of the assignment and the student, that they do not look at the entire row (to see if any patterns are developing for that student) or the entire column (to determine if there are patterns developing for the class on that assignment).

(Looking for some alternatives to traditional grades? You can look at this article on Motivating $tudent$ or De-grading your classroom)

Simple measures of central tendency can illustrate volumes about a particular assignment. If you are asking "measures of central tendency" that is the fancy way of saying average. There are multiple ways to measure this though. We can take a look at the mean, median, and mode.

The arithmetic mean is commonly known as just the mean and what we think of when we discuss average. Simply put, add up all of the numbers and divide the sum by the number of terms. This can give you an idea of how most students performed.

The mode is simply the most repeated term in a set. The mode can help explain a low or high mean and also provide another insight into how students performed.

The median is simply the middle number of a set when the terms are arranged from lowest to highest. If you have a data set that is skewed, this can help provide more insight that simply the mean.

Even if you hated sadistics (or statistics), these are simple things that can be calculated and provide insight into student achievement. Importantly, these measures can get you or your curricular team asking questions about the assignments and level of understanding of the students. More importantly, these calculations can be done quickly, help provide immediate feedback to students and the class, and allow for change before the autopsy of the report card.

By examining the data as it is entered, blame is reduced because it is live information and the information from the data can help raise questions about how to improve the practices within the classroom.

Avoid the blame game by doing these calculations in your own class. Get comfortable with your own information and then begin working with colleagues. When we can move to a space that is safe and supportive, we can then seek out the help of a teacher who has better or improving student achievement to determine how to improve one's own practices.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being the data coach

I have had the opportunity to attend a 6-day coaching institute from Learning Forward. For those who may not know, Learning Forward is the new name of what was formerly the National Staff Development Council (NSDC). has some wonderful resources surrounding the latest research in providing professional development and professional learning. (e.g the newest version of professional learning standards can be found here.) Each standard begins with the stem of "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students...". Within the stem of each standard exists the emphasis of professionalism, continual learning, increasing effectiveness, and equity for all student...and that is just the stem!

I digress...

The coaching institute has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on how I have worked with teachers in professional development, evaluations, and even day-to-day interactions. One of the great things I have learned is that in the coaching role, as opposed to the administrative/evaluator role,  there is no preconceived answer or solution. The coach is a support and an equal partner in the learning that will occur between the two professionals. While there are times that the administrator is needed, I think leaders should emphasize the coaching aspect more often.

My current position involves looking at all of our data and making it meaningful to those who need it. There are a lot of spreadsheets, equations, and bar graphs. Luckily, I like exploring Excel.

One of the things discussed today in the workshop were the critical shifts that needs to happen within an organization in order to make the role of a data coach more effective and successful. They are as follows:
In the next few days, I will elaborate more on each of the bullet points above. How do you accomplish these in your school? Has the shift happened? Has there been a realization that the shift needs to happen?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Does the business world see the education world as lazy?

Today was a great EdChat on Twitter. These chats are on Tuesdays from 11 am - 12 pm CST on Tuesdays and hosted by Jerry Blumengarten, Tom Whitby and Nancy Blair. Today was a very interesting conversation centered around the topic of "Business people & politicians insist on comparing schools to business. Are bus.strategies applicable in lrng environments"

What made this discussion so great is because there were some contributors who felt that education can learn a lot from the business world while others felt that business' influence on education was creating an environment that needed to be focused on profits over learning. This led to the question of how do you define profit in education? It is test scores? It is how much students have learned? Is it creating productive citizens? Responsible citizens? A steady workforce?

These were great questions that were discussed. Some of the tone of the discussion brought me back to my Organizational Theory class and the concepts of Theory X and Theory Y for managers in business. If you need a refresher:

Theory X:

"management assumes employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can and that they inherently dislike work. As a result of this, management believes that workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed. A hierarchical structure is needed with narrow span of control at each and every level. According to this theory, employees will show little ambition without an enticing incentive program and will avoid responsibility whenever they can" (Wikipedia -- see link above)

Theory Y:

"management assumes employees may be ambitious and self-motivated and exercise self-control. It is believed that employees enjoy their mental and physical work duties. According to them work is as natural as play[1]. They possess the ability for creative problem solving, but their talents are underused in most organizations. Given the proper conditions, theory Y managers believe that employees will learn to seek out and accept responsibility and to exercise self-control and self-direction in accomplishing objectives to which they are committed" (Wikipedia -- see link above)

Specifically, the EdChat discussion got me asking the question if the business world sees the world of education as lazy...if politicians are the ultimate policy creators for education, I think we can safely associate them with the management of the education system.

When people are quoting economic theory that competition will improve the education system with the concepts of vouchers and charter schools, I feel that it comes from a theory x perspective. Even the ideas behind the Common Core and the new NCLB assessments (either PARCC or Smarter Balance) add to this thought. Is this the public view of education? Especially when you make it "education" as opposed to a specific school/set of teachers? Do the vast generalities presented in new blurbs and political speeches perpetuate this because it is an easier message to spread?

Working in schools, I know that most teachers, administrative teams, grade level teams, etc. are focus on preparing students for the world that exists, or will exist, and will do whatever they can to help students grow, mature, learn, and even be protected.

Is there an inherit conflict between the management of a system and the education that occurs within that system? Aaron Ross asked about the role of the CEO vs Executive Director of a school. I responded that a Superintendent is more of a political position than an educational position. With Aaron working in a private school, he responded that his school has both an Executive Director and a Principal (to provide a separation of the management from the education). When I asked him what happens when there is a disagreement between the two, he responded that is where tensions rise.

Businesses can be great partners with schools, but do they need to remain silent partners as to not exert undue influence on the public education of all students?

Lot's of questions, great discussions. Comment on the blog to add your thoughts!

Final addition: A great tweet from PJ Caposey -- Twitter Tip - Follow someone you disagreed with. Divergent thoughts will help you grow as a professional

Monday, December 17, 2012

Africa is NOTHING like The Lion King

This is a far cry from my usual posts, but I enjoyed the show so much...I will try not to spoil anything from the show.

I had first learned of The Book of Mormon (the musical) by watching the performance of "I Believe" on the Tony's performed by Andrew Rannells (of NBC's The New Normal). It was a great performance and I started reading about the show and how it was from the creators of South Park. Eventually, Lorelei got me the soundtrack. We would listen to it in the car, even with some bad language, and it all seemed fine because the kids were not picking up on the lyrics. Once Logan asked me if tomorrow would be a latter day, I figured we needed to stop listening in the car. (It could have been a lot worse if you are not familiar with the lyrics).

When I got word that the show was coming to Chicago, I was very excited. We were able to purchase tickets on the first day of sale due to an AmEx member special event. That was in April...before we knew that Lorelei was pregnant. We got the tickets and for almost 9 months, they sat in their envelope connected to a magnet to the fridge. Finally, the day of the show arrived. Lorelei's parents had graciously agreed to babysit the boys and Lorelei and I set out for an adult evening out.
We went to The Italian Village for dinner and after a short 45 minute wait, we had a nice dinner and got to the theatre 15 minutes before curtain.

Our seats were in the Dress Circle, center section, row F. It was a slightly obstructed view due to the overhang of the Mezzanine balcony. The only thing we could not see was the top of the proscenium arch, which did not detract from the show at all. What was a detraction the large head of the person seated in front of us. Combine that with the narrow seats, I got to watch the entire show with the arm around my wife and heads together so we could have a sight line to the stage. If I wanted to see stage right, I had to look around the large head in front of me.

I knew the soundtrack backwards and forwards and there were still surprises for me in the actual performance. The show has so much humor, it is very possible that you will miss some of the great lines in the lyrics and dialogue, but on the flip side, I did not have all of the surprises and laughs because I knew what was coming.

The cast was very strong and the music was terrific. If I had one criticism, it would be that Elder Price (Nic Rouleau) was not portrayed as I had imagined him by listening to the soundtrack (with Andrew Rannells). I had always imagined Elder Price to be someone who truly believed in what he was taught and wanted to really be there to help people. When he is disappointed, I thought that he would still take it in stride. This portrayal seemed to make it once he is disappointed, Elder Price remains self-serving and completely self-centered. As I watched the show, I did not buy into Nic as Elder Price. He has a great singing voice, but there was a connection between the actor, the character, and the audience that I found missing.

Ben Platt plays Elder Cunningham. If you saw Pitch Perfect, you saw Ben play the roommate who desperately wanted to get into an a cappella group and when he finally does, he show everyone how good he is. The role originated with Josh Gad (The Rocker, Love & Other Drugs, and the new NBC comedy about the White House). Ben does a great job portraying the character of Elder Cunningham without trying to imitate Josh Gad. His comedic timing was very good, as was his voice.

The other major stand-out in the cast is Syesha Mercado, who plays Nabulungi. Her bio says that she was second runner-up on American Idol. I am just going to have to believe that as I never watch that show. She has a great voice and works well with the rest of the cast. She was able to easily keep up with the comedic chops of Ben and the rest of the cast.

Aside from the theatre being too hot and the seats being too small (or my rear end being too big), it was a spectacular evening. I left the theatre humming the music (but I also entered the theatre doing that). The show has a lot of comedy. If you are a fan of South Park, you will notice certain elements from the tv show in the musical, as well as from South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.

I would go see it again.

Learning from tragedy

Friday, December 14th is now added to a growing list of atrocities that have occurred in schools due to gross acts of violence. Unfortunately, I cannot categories this as a random act of violence because as more details come out, the more it is discovered that there were big flashing neon signs pointing to help that was needed by the person who committed this heinous act.

Patrick Larkin posted "Back to School With New Worries, But the Same Plan" with a link to his blog post on this tragedy. It is a very thoughtful post about how he is dealing with this event, both with his children and the students in his care. He provides two key quotes about how parents and educators deal can help young people deal with the aftermath of this event. I will not provide spoilers, you will just have to read his post.

A friend of mine on Facebook posted that no child should have to worry if their school is safe or not...we need safe schools. While I understand his intent, the implications of his post may go off course. Our schools are safe.

Reactionaries over the weekend were stating that we need more armed security in schools to even the extreme that teachers should be carrying weapons. I have worked in schools with armed security forces (off-duty police) who assist the school as a part of a police liaison program. The goal of the police liaison is not to have a cop on duty with a gun, but to provide a positive interaction between students, community members, and the police to help build relationships. We had questioned whether we should install metal detectors at the entrances and use them at all home sporting events. We have, thankfully, not installed them because of the potential change in climate that it would create. As a school and district, we wanted to focus on creating a culture and climate of learning and safety. Added to that, we have spent a large amount of time and effort in developing policies and procedures to follow in the event of a crisis.

I want to comment on the title of his blog post: New worries, but the same plan. When we examine the events and our own crisis plans and drills, we find that the school did what they could to protect their staff and students. After this event, another plan goes into effect to help counsel the students and staff and provide grief support. The plan is to provide a quality educational environment that supports the academic and Social/Emotional learning for students. His title is accurate, the same plan in in place because it was not the plan that failed.

As an Associate Principal, I had the opportunity to attend an administrator academy on security and loss prevention that was put on by Paul Timm from Reta Security. Paul discussed how most people think of loss prevention as insurance and recovering tangible items that might be stolen. The most important items found in schools are the students. The crisis plan that goes into effect now for the students and staff for Newtown will help protect those students from the emotional damage.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tis the season of giving

December has a lot of holidays that emphasize the family, protection, renewal, etc. When I looked for a list of winter festivals, I found way more that I was looking for:

(After looking for this list, I realized that I had a certain bias toward the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere, so for my Aussie and Kiwi readers, I apologize and hope you are enjoying your summer!)

But, I digress. It can be said in the US (and most probably elsewhere) that this is the season of giving. While there has been a mad scramble to accumulate tangible objects with a specific monetary value (since the Thanksgiving night), I would like to turn my attention to something with much more meaning...the gift of time.

When I was in a school building and I could serve as the administrator in charge, I would always volunteer to work on the day of December 24th so someone else could be with their family and prepare for the holiday. When teachers have expressed a need, I have served as an emergency sub so they could take care of family emergencies or even get on a road a little early to be with family.

I am sure that we can think of personal examples of this all over the place. Maybe you have been the giver, maybe the recipient. The question I had was how has this translated into the classroom? How do we instill this idea of the larger community in our classroom? Social Studies classes seem to be a natural alignment with concepts of civic responsibility, but how can we do this in a science class?

Here is how: We can share with our students volunteering opportunities at local informal places of learning...museums! Here are some links you can share:
Even The Art Institute of Chicago

Not only will these activities look great on a student's resume or college application, it will provide them with a chance to give back to the community and reinforce the concepts being taught in school.

I realize that these are Chicago-specific, but go to a museum website for your area and search "Volunteer". You will find TONS of opportunities that will reinvigorate you and even generate more professional connections making you the constant learner.

Tis the season...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pluto strikes again

If you do not watch The Big Bang Theory, I highly recommend it. Any time 3 physicists with PhDs and an engineer, with only a Master's Degree from MIT, get together, hilarity must ensue...

On a re-run of an episode, they had a great physics joke about one of the simple machines. The set up for this punchline is that Sheldon's (green shirt) friend who is a girl wants him to meet her mother. Leonard (red shirt with purple hoodie and brown coat) has explained that there is no way to avoid the girl changing from a friend who is a girl to a girlfriend. Sheldon doesn't understand so Leonard puts it into physics terms:

It got me thinking about the basic machines that have been studied in classical history. From Wikipedia, there are 6 simple machines listed:
  • Lever
  • Wheel and axle
  • Pulley
  • Inclined plane
  • Wedge
  • Screw
Based on the definition provided, the simple machines are the building blocks that can be combined into more complex arrangements that with the aid of the combined specific movements will provide a mechanical advantage allowing more work to be performed with the same amount of energy put into the system without the machine.

When I look at the six simple machines listed, I think that the list can be condensed to three. The pulley is really a wheel and axle with a groove to provide a channel for a rope or belt. The lever is an inclined plane placed on a fulcrum (which in a simple model is a wedge). And, as seen described in the video clip above, a screw is an incline plane wrapped helically around an axis. The pulley, lever, and screw are all combinations of simple machines, this making them more complex. (We have not included a bicycle or automobile in the list because they are complex combinations, although they are the first of their respective kinds of transportation. Even as my mind wandered to the idea of the airplane and the wing, the wing is merely a modified wedge.) Thus, in my humble opinion, there are three simple machines: inclined plane, wedge, and wheel and axle.

But, in the modern age, I think that the list of simple machines (3 or 6) is incomplete. When we examine what I am using to write this blog post, we come to the computer. As a coincidence of today, as we consider what components the computer can be simplified to, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge today's Google Doodle:

The doodle of the day depicts Ada Lovelace and her contributions to Charles Babbage's computation machine. So, what simple machine can we take away from the computer? Would it be the monitor, keyboard, mouse, hard drive? Simplify it all down and we get to the microprocessor as the driving engine of the computer.

But even the microprocessor had predecessors: the microchip, the transistor, and the vacuum tube. Do any of these make the list? I would argue that they should not because each can be simplified down even more to the most base components. I would contend that the addition to the list of simple machines should be the circuit.

If you clicked on the link above for circuit, you would see that there are many machinations of the circuit and there certainly is an advantage when they are put to work (may not specifically be a mechanical advantage, but I do not think it would be a hard argument to make to fit the above definition).

So here we are, a historical list of 6 machines that can be argued into 4. Just as in the case of Pluto, what used to be historically accepted as fact should be modified in the modern age.

Do you agree?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Trying to enlarge the thimble...

Once again, my daily Dilbert desk calendar is prophetic!
While it does not amaze me that all superintendents and assistant superintendents are not up to date on the most recent trends in instructional technology, it continues to baffle me when these leaders do not consult with the people within their organization that does keep up with the trends.
Too often we see grant dollars spent on technology equipment at the last minute without consulting educators who have used the equipment in the field or have at least had discussions with people using the equipment. Authorized signatures seem to always believe the technology sales rep who collects their check and leaves the bulk of the work to people who were not involved in the development of the project.
Case in point, I know of a district that is purchasing low-cost tablet laptops. Great idea...except with this new purchase, the director of IT was never consulted (about the purchase, the effect on the infrastructure and wireless network, manpower needed to physically ready and tag all of the machines...), nor did they talk to a neighboring district who went through this process and could describe the pitfalls they went through and how to avoid them. And guess who is going to be left holding the bag? Teachers who will get about one hour of PD on how to turn the machine on...
Now, part of the issue may be with the state and the fed. Grant notifications seems to always come with less than a 2 week turn around time. School districts do not want to look bad to their court of public opinion by denying an opportunity for funding, so they quickly put together a proposal and then heaven forbid the proposal gets approved! Now, comes the scramble of trying to make a pipe dream a reality.
But, I am not about pointing out problems. I want to try and fix them.
I am thrilled that I have had the opportunity to go to some wonderful conferences this year and I have learned a lot and connected with a lot of great people. The ISTE Leadership Forum was a wonderful event and I have made the recommendation for as many administrators attend this conference as possible next year. I informed my boss that I was approved to present at ICE with some great people (@stumpteacher, @principalkmelt, and @tomwhitby) and she told me to extend an invitation to some teachers to attend!
These are some good steps, but I have realized something...when technophiles attend a technology conference, we are the choir getting preached to. I presented some methods of immediate student feedback using mobile devices at a science teacher conference and this is where I may have added a new tenor or two to the choir...I think we need to expand our outlook and begin presenting at our content area conferences about technology. This might plant some seeds in maiden fields and really expand the 21st century learning pedagogies into more schools.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Have you thanked your IT director today?

We use Microsoft Outlook for our email system.

The long pause was for all of the Google Apps for Educators users to finish booing and throwing fruit...

Over the past 3 weeks, we have had some interruptions in service. Usually, when we have an interruption in Internet service, it is due to a small power outage, a server switch getting reset, overly stormy and windy day that causes havoc with the alignment of our microwave dishes, website provider server crash, etc. For my 6 years in my current district, these are the first instances of the issue being actually on the Microsoft side.

If you would like to skip the diatribe that will follow and get to my main point, scroll past the section enclosed by the row of asterisks...


The first instance happened on the Monday before Thanksgiving. I was going to do some substitute professor-ing at a local university for a colleague of mine who teaches an evening course in methods of reading to pre-service teachers. I have been doing this every semester for the past 4 years and love the opportunity to introduce pre-service teachers to Web 2.0 and technology that can be infused into instruction to increase student engagement. The local university has been under construction and thus, the room where the class is held each semester has changed.

When my colleague asked me to talk with her class again, she sent me a calendar invite with the room number and the time she told the students to show up. I was ready. I had my interactive presentation ready, brief hand-outs, exit slip...these students were going to do some exploring and learning! I arrived at the university about 45 minutes before the class was scheduled to begin, park my car and check my calendar one last time to note the room number...that was odd, the calendar on my iPhone didn't show the event anymore.

I got out of my car and gathered my materials and walked toward the building thinking it must be something with my phone. I would go into the building and log into my web access email and verify the room number. Only problem was that when I logged into the web access email, the calendar was showing a date of November...of the year 2000! This was impressive on multiple levels, one being that for an instant, I thought I had successfully travelled through time, and the other was that I did not work for this district in 2000 and yet they prognosticated that I would grace them with my presence and had established an account for me 6 years before my auspicious arrival. Unfortunately, neither was true.

What had happened was that the authenticating time server that we use (from a US Naval base on Colorado) had an error and its clock got reset to the year 2000. (Those Y2K people weren't wrong about problems that would occur!) While I was in a mild panic, I was texting our IT director to inform him of the issue and see when it would be resolved and my colleague (who was on vacation in AZ) about where the room was.

Long story short, my colleague got back to me 8 minutes before class started with the room number and things went flawlessly for the rest of the evening. Unbeknownst to me and, I am assuming, everyone else in the district, our IT director spent the next 12 hours dealing with Microsoft and making sure that the issue was fixed for no noticeable issues during the next school day.

Most recently, last Friday, the email system shut down again and I received an erroneous meeting reminder that I was 15 minutes late for a meeting 15 minutes away from my office. After burning rubber out of the parking lot to get to the meeting, I found out the the meeting is in one week and I made it back to the office...slowly and sheepishly.

Our email system was just restored as of 9:32 am today. Our IT director and his team spent the entire weekend working with Microsoft to fix the issue, which was a corrupt administrative directory that led to the need to create a back-up of 80 GB of email at a rate of 3 GB/hr, then a defrag of the both the main and back-up servers (remember having to defrag your hard drive?!), and finally a reconstruction of the main server to restore service.


During this time, everyone was having some difficulty dealing with the lack of email and cursing the system, the IT department, and life in general.

Once everything was restored, I sent an email to our IT director and his team saying thank you for their hard work and long hours getting us back up and running. It got me thinking, how often do we thank people for the thankless jobs they do? If the technology is running properly, you may never have to deal with the IT department. When there is a political issue that is erupting in the newspaper, do you realize that the Superintendent has probably been dealing with this issue non-stop for the past 12-48 hours, speaking with the BOE, lawyers, key personnel involved, reporters, etc?

You might make the argument that this is what they get paid for or why they make the big bucks, but as an educator, doesn't that get under your skin when the general public makes statements about compensation for the work that teachers do?

November just ended and thus the 30 days of thanksgiving that was popular on multiple social networks. While I do not advocate for any religious group, in particular, we should take a moment to thank the people that make it possible for us do get through our day: maintenance, custodial, IT, clerical, and administrative staff, parents, students, etc. Let them know that their everyday work that usually gets overlooked or taken for granted is appreciated and essential.

YOU can make THEIR day!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Using Google Forms to provide quick student feedback

What is one of the biggest challenges in teaching today? I would argue that student engagement could be on possible answer to this question. Possible reason for this is that when we provide students the chance to demonstrate what they know/have learned, the feedback that they receive is slow and does not provide the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Regardless of students being able to define RPG, LARP, or MMORPG, this is a generation of gamers. Being a gamer today does not mean that you are put on a costume or carry a 20-sided die in your pocket to assist in your daily decision making. With the advent of social networks, there are multiple opportunities for students, both young and old, to participate in a form of learning or entertainment that provides the user with immediate feedback, progress check points, and chances to experiment with choices and then deal with the consequences.

There have been a flurry of articles discussing if homework has outgrown is usefulness. Recently, there was even an article in the Des Moines Register about a teacher providing her students with quests to complete.

Students want to demonstrate what they have learned and how they can improve if they have made some mistakes. Students also want rapid, if not immediate feedback so they can accomplish the former.

To assist with this challenge, you can use a feature of Google Docs to bring a traditional assessment measure closer to the 21st century. I am assuming that you are familiar with Google Forms. If not, you can view the video from Google here:

While google forms can help with the data collection for an assessment, there is the still the issue of how to provide feedback quickly.

By utilizing some relatively simple spreadsheet formulas, you can have the Google Form grade the answers once they have been submitted.
The grading formula is seen below.
What you will need to do is to develop your quiz in the Google docs and then enter the answer key as the first entry in the spreadsheet. When you look at the spreadsheet you will see the the questions/column headers are in the first row. Essentially, what the formula is telling the spreadsheet to do is if the entry in cell B2 is the same as $B$2, then give it a score of 1, if not, a score of 0. Now, the difference between B2 and $B$2 is that when you drag this formula down the spreadsheet for every entry, the B2 will change to B3, B4, B5, etc for each subsequent entry; the $ in front of the cell letter and number makes it static, and will not change with a dragging of the formula. (The same is try for C, D, and E). If you have more than 4 items, just extend the formula accordingly

The key to this method is a script that was originally written by Romain Vialard and modified by Dr. Henry Theile. The script can be found here.
In the above link, you can see the instructions on how to apply the script to your form and even make modifications to alter how the report is sent (i.e. correct answers only vs hints to improve). You do NOT have to be a programmer to apply these and begin providing students with faster feedback as we transition to more authentic assessments. Those will be discussed in later posts.