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Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Today’s freebie is my collection of digital notebook documents for the 6th grade chemistry unit. See the earlier posts with more documents for scientific inquiry and ecology. To learn more about why I use digital notebooks and how to set them up, check out my digital notebook page here.

Chemistry Unit

chemistry mouseoverAlthough I call this a chemistry unit to my students, it’s really more of an introduction to matter. It’s not until 7th and  8th grade that our science curriculum delves into a close study of the periodic table and specific chemical reactions. The main learning goals for this unit include learning how to classify matter (substances and mixtures), measuring matter (volume, mass and density), and describing the states of matter and how they change. Some parts of this unit were adapted from the FOSS unit Mixtures and Solutions (which I love from my days teaching elementary), and the culminating CSI project was conceived entirely by my creative predecessor Krista Bouhaidar.  (more…)

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Yesterday I started posting all of my digital notebook documents for 6th grade science, beginning with the scientific inquiry unit. Today it’s on to ecology! Same as before, all of these are Google Apps docs that you can copy, adapt, and use however you’d like with your own students. For more info about why I use digital notebooks and how to set them up, check out my digital notebook page here.

Ecology Unit

ecology mouseoverThis unit is designed to teach students about the complex interactions and relationships between organisms and the environment in different ecosystems. The majority of the unit focuses on population interactions and energy flow in ecosystems, but it also dabbles a bit in natural selection to help explain adaptations (evolution is more thoroughly taught in my school at the 8th grade level). This unit culminates with a trip to a very unique ecosystem near my school: the mangrove wetlands of Qatar. If you’re teaching ecosystems, I highly recommend that you tailor it to the local environment to make it as authentic as possible! (more…)

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digital-notebook2This school year was my second year going paperless with my science classes and using digital notebooks. Since starting out I’ve learned quite a lot: how to make digital notebooks easier to use (for students and teachers!) and how to make them more effective tools for learning. Over the past two years I’ve also received a lot of queries from other teachers out there who are trying to do the same thing, so I wanted to share my updated version of a digital science notebook, as well as some tricks of the trade from a paperless “veteran”.

First off, here is the link to my digital notebook template. Feel free to try it out for your own class, modify it however you want to suit your needs, but please share your experiences for others to benefit from! Digital notebooking is very new terrain in education, despite the fact that technology has become such a pervasive part of our lives. Only by teachers sharing our experiences and ideas with each other will education ever catch up and start realizing the potential that technology has for learning. For more details on how to set up your own digital notebook, check out the tutorial videos on my digital notebook page.

Now for some advice about digital notebooks for those of you interested in giving it a go. I’d like to share four digital notebook secrets I’ve learned from my experience, but before I do that, please keep in mind that my Middle School has a 1 to 1 laptop program, and most of my students are already fairly computer savvy. The digital notebooks we use are based on Google Apps, specifically a Google Site that each student creates from a template that acts as their notebook, and the documents inside there notebook are mostly Google Docs and Google Sheets. I’m not sure how well my ideas would translate to other devices (like tablets/iPads) or other platforms (like Evernote/Notability), but if you have ideas about this I’d love to hear it! In my opinion though, digital notebooks work best when students have their own laptops and when you just embrace the amazingness that is Google Apps. But on the tricks of the trade… (more…)

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google-classroomJust when I thought I was ready for the beginning of a paperless new school year, something new comes out and changes everything (this is a familiar refrain with education technology I’m afraid!). This week, Google started releasing the new Google Classroom to all its Google Apps for Education users. If you haven’t heard of Google Classroom yet, check out the preview video here and if your school has a Google Apps for Ed account, check out classroom.google.com to see if you have access yet.

So how does the new Google Classroom affect a paperless classroom and digital notebooks? In the short-term not much, but looking forward I think it’s going to be a game-changer. Here’s a quick synopsis of what Google Classroom can do now (not too exciting), some thoughts about what it could do in the future (potentially pretty awesome), and my current thinking for how use Google Classroom with digital notebooks (feedback appreciated!). (more…)

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digital notebook2In this third and final (at least for now!) tutorial about digital notebooks I explain the steps your students will need to follow to create and maintain their notebooks. You’ll need to have already created a template on Google Sites of the digital notebook, which I explained in the last tutorial. As you’ll see in this video, setting up and maintaining a digital notebook is super easy for students to do, and most of the organization is automatic. Since I teach Middle School students, this is a huge selling point!

 

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digital notebook2Here’s the next instalment in my video tutorial series on digital notebooks. In this video I explain how to create the actual notebook using Google Sites. When you combine this with paperless documents using Google Docs (explained in the first tutorial video), you have a digital notebook that is easy for students to use, simple to keep organized, and ready to take advantage of the ever-growing number of technology tools for learning.

Here’s the link to the digital notebook template: https://sites.google.com/a/asd.edu.qa/digital-notebook-template/

And here are the blank versions of the post-it note pictures so you can create your own pages to match what you need for your class (click on a picture to open the full-size version and then save it for your use):

post-it yellowpost it pink blankpost-it blue blankpost-it green blankpost-it blue blank shortpost it pink blank shortpost-it green blank short

Update (July 6, 2015)

A teacher who is customizing the science notebook template for her own class just asked me a great question that isn’t covered above (thanks Erica!): How do you add new unit pages? If you have more units of study than I have on the template, you can add new ones, but it does take a little bit of extra work. Basically you need to create a new page (along with a new sticker on the cover) for each new unit, along with the sub pages for each new unit (class/lab/homework stuff). Here’s the steps if you’re curious:

First you click the icon to create a new page (which looks like a paper with a plus) and then, when the new page screen comes up, give it a name and select the template “Unit Home page” like this:
Inline image 1
This will create a new page set up just like the other unit pages. You’ll then need to go in and create new sub pages for the Class, Homework, and Lab stuff (if you’re using those). When you make these pages, just make sure to pick the right template and put them under the new unit page like this:

 Inline image 2

The last step is to fix all the links to your new pages. You’ll need to fix the cover page sticker to go to the new unit page, and then the tabs on that new unit page to go to the right sub page. Finally you’ll want to go into the sub pages and fix the links too. A little annoying, but it should go quickly. Oh, and you’ll want to change the stickers to put the right unit sticker on all the new pages too!

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digital notebook2Last school year I used digital notebooks with my 6th grade science students in place of traditional science notebooks, and I’ve received a lot of interest and questions from teachers out there who want to know more about how to set them up. I posted last summer about the basics of setting up digital notebooks, but one of my readers (thanks Belinda!) made a great suggestion to create some videos that could walk people through the process. So my new summer project is making a series of short tutorials that will explain both the nitty gritty details of setting them up and also show off some of the advantages over paper notebooks. Hopefully this will enable anyone out there- tech savvy or not- to give digital notebooks a try!

The first video in the series focuses on the “pages” of a digital notebook, which create using Google Docs. For those unfamiliar with Google Drive and Google Docs I explain some of the advantages, and then I demonstrate how you can use them to replace paper notebooks and paper handouts in your classroom.

If there’s anyone else out there using digital notebooks or considering going paperless, please join in the conversation! Despite the fact that our students are now “digital natives” and the technology available is more than capable of replacing paper, I have found very few resources out there about digital notebooks, and I would love to hear new ideas.

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My biggest fear about going paperless was the impact I thought it might have on student engagement. Would students stare at their screens and ignore each other during class discussion? Would the laptops become more of a distraction than a tool for learning? To try and avoid this fate I began the year by creating a set of technology rules with students, which is the topic of this 2nd reflection on my paperless year:

#2: Technology rules- but rules for technology use are trickier than they seem

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 4.33.33 PMTo create our technology rules I based them on our school’s 4 core values of respect, honesty, responsibility, and compassion (see the template on the left). Unfortunately I don’t have a finished copy of the rules-  I was a little to zealous in my classroom cleaning this week- but I’ll need to improve them anyway because there were things I didn’t anticipate. Here’s a sampling of some of the rules:

 

I will be respectful:

  • Close your screen during class discussion

I will be responsible:

  • Stay on task when using your computer
  • Bring your charger to class

I will be honest:

  • Don’t copy and paste other’s work

I will be compassionate:

  • Help others who are having problems

For the first half of the year everything ran smoothly, and I was laughing at myself for being so fearful of the switch- my students were using their computers responsibly and they seemed no more or less distracting than a piece of paper would be. There were a few violations here and there, but it was so rare I didn’t even keep track of them. It seemed so easy that I even started composing a blog post about going paperless the “painless” way.

However, as the year moved on and those teenage hormones started kicking in, I noticed a sudden uptick in bad technology behavior. More and more students had lost their charger and almost every class someone had to go on a “charger hunt” around the classroom to find one to borrow. The chat feature in Gmail became more popular with students, who started routinely chatting with friends in other classes. Certain students also started getting sneaky about staying on task, quickly switching their computers from one screen to another. All of this made me start to feel like a technology policeman, keeping a watchful eye on potential criminals and doling out punishing justice whenever a caught an offender. It wasn’t painless any more.

What I thought were simple consequences also turned out to be problematic. How do you confiscate a student’s computer in a paperless classroom? In some cases I could just print out their document and let them continue on paper, but what if the learning activity involved a simulation or creating a movie? All technology violations are not created equal either, so I had to make tough judgement calls about whether students needed a reminder or some kind of consequence.

To improve things for next year I know I need to be more proactive and prepared. Now that I know the most common problems I will encounter, when we make our technology rules up for the year we will need to discuss more specific examples so expectations are clearer. We will need to review our rules too, probably once a quarter to keep them fresh in student’s minds and also to be able to make changes if we need to.

In terms of accountability, next year I’m going to base our rules on our Middle School’s Learning Habits. These are similar to the school’s core values, but they are more specifically about behavior and students receive grades on these every quarter. This way students would get feedback on their technology behavior in their report card, which would help hold them accountable. I will need to keep better track of both good and bad technology behavior, and perhaps even use something like Class Dojo to communicate this with students. Also, by tying our rules to the Learning Habits students could self-assess themselves periodically so it wouldn’t just be me as a technology policeman.

As for consequences of failing to use technology properly, I need to rethink these to make them more effective and to help students make better decisions. Instead of just a verbal reminder the first time, I think making it visual by attaching a Post-it note to their screen would be a helpful reminder. A discussion after class could also be part of this process, so the reminder is not just shrugged off. If student continue making poor choices I need be more prepared to have them go back to paper. This way I can move students to this swiftly when the laptop is getting in the way of their learning.

So overall it was a year of a lot of learning for me, successful but certainly not painless! I’d love to hear other ideas and suggestions from other teachers out there about how to manage technology well.

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Update: This post is my original instructions for setting up digital notebooks. For the updated version (and tutorial videos!) check out my Digital Notebook page.


Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 12.06.50 PM

After much fiddling around and way too much time spent trying to make it look “cool”, I’ve figured out the basics of how I’m doing digital science notebooks with my students this year. Several teachers out there have also expressed interest, so here’s the nitty gritty below of how I’m setting it up. One caveat though: my Middle School has a one-to-one laptop program, so my students basically always have their laptop with them and are already pretty well-versed in the technologies I’m using for this. So what works for me at my school might not be the best fit for you.

Step 1: Goodbye paper, hello GoogleDocs

All of the traditional papers that I would photocopy and hand out to my students in the past will instead be shared through GoogleDocs. GoogleDocs is a great way to digitally manage documents so that the teacher can decide whether students are editing documents individually or in groups as appropriate. Anytime the teacher (or another student for that matter) leaves a comment for a student on their document they get notified by email. In addition, whenever students makes a change to their document, GoogleDocs automatically saves it and keeps a record of when all changes were made (good for accountability). Last year I already used GoogleDocs for almost all my students’ homework assignments (here’s an example), and it worked well. Now I’ll be taking it one step further and turning everything digital: notes sheets, lab reports, handouts, homework… which means no more collecting, lugging around, and passing out papers. Yay.

Step 2: Manage GoogleDocs without making a mess

 A lot of people who “don’t like GoogleDocs” complain because if it’s left untended, your Google Drive page starts looking like the email inbox from hell. Since all of the documents that you create and edit will show up there, you need to set up some organizational system to make it easier to access the documents you actually want. Last year my students and I created shared folders for our GoogleDocs to simplify things. Everything I dumped into my shared folder was automatically shared with my students, then they would make a copies of those master documents and put them in their own GoogleDoc folder that was shared with me. Decent solution, but Middle Schoolers being Middle Schoolers, there was always a handful that would forget to share their copy with me, leading to a recurring digital paper chase.

This year my school is paying for Hapara which creates software that handles all this organization for me. With a few clicks documents are automatically shared with the right students and accessible by me. Hapara also gives teachers a handy “teacher dashboard” that will show you at a glance all your students GoogleDoc documents- whether or not they have remembered to share them with you:

Hapara Teacher Dashboard

Hapara Teacher Dashboard

Don’t have Hapara? It’s certainly not a deal-breaker, since you can manage GoogleDocs yourself with a little pre-planning like I did last year, but there’s also a free option out there: Doctopus. Created by an awesome educator who’s work I just discovered on YouPD.org, this GoogleDocs script also lets you automate the generating and sharing of digital documents.

Step 3: Putting the “notebook” in a digital notebook

As great as GoogleDocs is as an education tool, without a way of organizing documents in the same way you would within a traditional 3-ring binder or notebook, all these digital documents float electronically around in students’ files the same way their paper counterparts do in the messy backpacks teachers abhor. In my switch from paper to electronic documents, my first two goals were to find a way to make digital notebooks better at organization and presentation than traditional notebooks. So the last step is to figure out how to tie all these digital documents together, easily and elegantly.

There are several different options I considered (Blogger, LiveBinders, EverNote) but in the end I decided on using GoogleSites to create the notebook. Most of my students already have experience making websites on GoogleSites, so that played a part in the decision, but the main reasons were the flexbility offered by a website and the synergy between GoogleSites  and GoogleDocs.

The flexibility of a website allowed me to go retro and design a digital notebook that looked like a classic composition notebook:

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 9.26.11 PM

By clicking on the “stickers” on the notebook cover, students can navigate to the different units we study, and then within each unit there’s a section for Class Stuff, Lab Stuff, and Homework Stuff which look like Post-its in an actual notebook:

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 9.33.45 PM

You can actually insert entire folders of your GoogleDocs onto a GoogleSite, which means my students won’t have to individually add documents to their digital notebooks- they will be added automatically whenever I create a new document and put it into one of their shared folders (no wasted class time!).

Using GoogleSites also makes it easy for students to incorporate anything created with GoogleDocs in their digital notebook: data tables or graphs made in Google Spreadsheets, scientific sketches made with Google Drawings, Google presentation projects, Picasa photo slideshows, the list goes on and on. I want their notebook to be able to easily highlight their best work so it doubles as a portfolio, and GoogleSites will allow student to do this easily without jumping through a lot of technical hoops. I’m also working on the possibility of creating a “learning dashboard” for each student that will display their progress on the learning goals for each unit and guide them to helpful resources when they fall short of meeting expectations (more on this later!).

You can go ahead and check out the template notebook site here (or go here for my updated template). When it’s completely finished I plan on saving it as a GoogleSite template so others can use it as they see fit.

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In my last post about reinventing science notebooks, I described my summer project to introduce digital versions of the traditional science notebook with my students next fall. Before I get into the nitty gritty techie side of how to do this, I’d like to state my goals for these digital science notebooks. Although I’m currently leaning toward a Google Apps/Google Sites combination for these digital notebooks, I’m not wedding to any technology in particular, and if anyone out there has a better idea for what tool could accomplish these goals, I’m all ears! So here goes:

#1: Help students stay organized, easily

Middle School students are notoriously bad at organization, so I’m looking for a solution that will make it easy for students keep assorted types of documents organized. Just like a 3-ring binder could have sections for homework, notes, lab work, project research, I want their digital notebooks to keep things orderly, well labeled, and chronological. Unlike a 3-ring binder I don’t want students to waste a lot of time hole-punching, sorting, and still ultimately misplacing their documents!

#2: Share students’ learning like a portfolio

We do student led conferences at my school, and it’s a powerful experience for students to share their learning and reflect about their learning with their parents. The past few years we’ve had students set up an “e-Portfolio” using a GoogleSite, so they can put all of their evidence and reflections in one place, but this is a time-consuming task. As long as it is set up in an attractive, reflective way, a digital notebook could double as an e-portfolio.

#3: Enable and encourage collaborative learning

Most science classrooms are naturally collaborative, but the collaboration doesn’t need to end at the lab table. Tools such as Google Docs make it easy for students to share work and ideas with others, as well as comment and build on each others ideas. A good digital notebook should allow for different types of collaboration (peer, small group, whole class) as well as allow for some documents to be private when collaboration isn’t appropriate.

#4: Connect students with learning resources

This is something that can really set digital notebooks apart from their papery counterparts: the ability to link up students with learning resources that can help them either review or extend their learning. Imagine a student finishes up a lab on the properties of solids and liquids, but they’ve still got some questions the lab activity didn’t answer. A digital notebook could allow the teacher to provide links to different online resources for the student to explore further. There could be links to similar content for the struggling student to review as well as links to new material to challenge those students that are ready to move on.

#5: Give students more feedback about their learning

This last goal might be the most challenging but also the most important. With traditional science notebooks the teacher could periodically collect the notebooks and write feedback to students, but we teachers know  how time-consuming that is. I began this past year with a goal of giving more formative assessment-type feedback to my students, but it became challenging to keep up with the pace. The more immediate feedback is, the greater the impact it will have on student learning, so a good digital notebook could help provide additional opportunities for learning feedback, as well a keeping a record of their progress. I’m imagining a kind of “learning dashboard” for each student that would keep track of all their learning progress from many types of feedback: graded teacher feedback, practice quizes results, self-reflections. I’m not the first person to think of this (Kahn Academy has a “gameified” learning dashboard, and my school is currently creating one a school-wide one), but I’ve yet to see something that takes advantage of teacher’s online gradebooks and feedback and create a student-friendly summary of their learning progress.

So there you have it. I know it’s an ambitious list, but I think there is a ton of potential in education technology tools that are currently being way under-utilized. Hopefully with the help of like-minded teachers out there, we can move science notebooking into the 21st century where it belongs! 🙂

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