Padlet: A Quick and Easy Collaboration Tool

Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) is hardly a new tool, but it is easy to use and very versatile, so it is definitely worth checking out or revisiting. Basically it is a blank wall online, and people add sticky note posts to the wall which will expand as needed. Posts can include text, links, video, and pictures, so there is potential for a rich variety of information and interaction. With a free account at Padlet.com you can create walls with a variety of customization options, including privacy settings that range from completely public to email invitations to collaborators of your choice.

A Padlet wall can be used in the classroom in many ways. Recently a colleague and I combined our different grade level writing classes in order to begin some group writing projects. We are hoping to teach/learn about various government agencies and use writing to inspire positive change through those agencies. We want student choice driving the projects, so we had students brainstorm individually and then post their interests to a padlet wall so that they might benefit from other’s brainstorming and find partners with similar interests with whom they might collaborate. Teachers and students could see all the posts and even rearrange them into groups and categories. It sure is handier than writing all the ideas on a whiteboard only to erase them at the end of the period.

Once again, imagination is the limit to how you could use this tool. A student could use it to curate their knowledge of a topic and submit it like an interactive poster. Students working in a group could organize their research and writing on a wall. Here’s a wall I set up last year as a welcome back to school activity that also measured my students’ comfort with using their iPads in a 1:1 environment.

Padlet1

Padlet offers handy embed codes, but they don’t play nice with my free WordPress account.

Padlet has great features such as embed codes for your class website, social media sharing, QR codes, privacy settings, moderating, and all kinds of customization to fit your classroom application, and it is a web-based tool that works with laptops, tablets, and phones. Show this tool to your students and see what they can do with it.

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Tracking 50 Passion Projects at Once

As my second full year of Genius Hour passion projects begins, I’m trying something new in order to better track each student’s progress. Last year I learned plenty from my students, including that I need a leaner, more agile tracking system in order to assess, encourage, and praise progress. Google Forms to the rescue!

Instead of clipboards and growing piles of paper charts, I created a simple Google Form that looks like this:PassionForm

The form is short and takes students only a minute or two to complete at the beginning of their Passion Project time (I schedule this period once a week on a Monday or Friday). The form can be distributed to students in several ways: email, url (I’d use a url shortener for this), or a QRcode (I use Qrafter Pro, but there are free apps). Most students simply bookmark the form the first time they use it, but some love scanning the QRcode every time because it makes them feel like they are attending class on the Starship Enterprise. If not all the students in the room have a device or access to a computer, they can complete the form on a friends device or take turns on a classroom computer. I’ve even circulated the room with my iPad so that students could complete the form.

If you don’t know how to make or use a Google Form, it is very simple, and @alicekeeler has a very good Intro to Google Forms that will walk you through the process.

Once students complete the form, the real power of Google Forms is at your fingertips. All the answers are sent to a spreadsheet like this:PassionResponses 

Obviously this one is blank at the moment, but once it is full of data, the spreadsheet is a versatile and handy assessment. If you click on the heading of column A (timestamp) and organize the information in alphabetical order from Z-A, you have a list of what everyone is doing (or supposed to be doing) today (alphabetizing the timestamp Z-A puts the most recent answers at the top and the oldest answers at the bottom). I use this information to connect with each student during passion project time and to help some students manage their time. It is a great way to help students to learn over time how to set reasonable goals and manage time independently.

After several classes have passed, I click on the heading of column B (Name) and organize alphabetically by name. This enables me to look at one student’s progress over time. Are they making progress? Are they accomplishing their weekly goals? Do they seem to recognize their progress (or lack of)? This helps me to identify stragglers and strugglers much earlier than I have previously, and all the information is on one spreadsheet in Google Drive instead of a pile of paper charts in my desk.

If you’re tired of treading water in a sea of paperwork, Google Forms may be the tool for you. It is very versatile and can be used in many situations. Some teachers use it to get to know their students, others to organize events or collect information from parents. Start with a simple form, and I think you’ll quickly see the power and potential of Google Forms.

 

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Choking or Panicking?

I’m a fan of Malcolm Gladwell‘s writing. Last night I read his article The Art of Failure where he distinguishes between panicking and choking. In short, people who panic stop thinking; people who choke over-think and lose the use of internalized skills. Both can result in failure, but choking happens to people with developed skills. Gladwell uses the example of a professional tennis player who honed her skills through years of practice in order to internalize the complex skills of touch and ball control. However, in a pressure situation, over-thinking (choking) shuts down the hard-earned instincts of ball control and causes a regression to the more novice practice of consciously thinking about shots. The tennis player loses her touch. Choking happens to skilled people and is largely triggered by the context or audience of the performance.

Near the end of the essay Gladwell reminds readers that a professional tennis player can’t change the context of his/her performance, but in many other areas of life, context and audience can be adapted to facilitate better performance.

“Choking is a central part of the drama of athletic competition, because the spectators have to be there–and the ability to overcome the pressure of the spectators is part of what it means to be a champion. But the same ruthless inflexibility need not govern the rest of our lives. We have to learn that sometimes a poor performance reflects not the innate ability of the performer but the complexion of the audience; and that sometimes a poor test score is the sign not of a poor student but of a good one.” –Malcolm Gladwell

The quote begs the question, “What is the complexion of the audience in my classroom?” The article was an excellent reminder to be vigilant about creating environments that allow students to showcase their talent and knowledge effectively. When my instinct tells me that a student choked, I need to reflect on the context and help him/her find another way to make their learning visible. How do you help create contexts of success for your students?

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Why Standards-Based Assessment?

Why SBA? Here’s a quick list of my thinking:

  • It focuses everyone (me, students, parents) on learning instead of a seemingly endless string of assignments tackled one at a time and then forgotten.
  • Course requirements and learning goals will be much more transparent and more effectively communicated.
  • It will help me and students assess strengths and weaknesses in a meaningful way that will allow me/them to adjust instruction/learning during the course. Assessment will more clearly inform future instruction.
  • Student self-assessment becomes a realistic and useful option during the course.
  • Parents/students who still obsess over marks instead of learning (old habits are hard to break) will have to look for weaknesses in the student’s and demonstrate improved mastery. In other words, extra credit would need to show improvement of deficient skills/knowledge instead of being some additional busy-work assignment that tops up an insufficiently full tank of marks.
  • Assignments can be resubmitted in a meaningful way instead of disappearing into the mist.
  • SBA can make adaptations and modifications much simpler and less time consuming. (Perhaps I’ll write another entry on this topic.)
  • Once a recording/reporting system is set up, marking becomes easier and more learning-centric. (Here’s another topic I should probably explain at greater length.)

That’s the list of the moment, and I’m sure that I’m forgetting some items and that I will discover more. What am I missing? Why and how do you keep the focus on learning in your education spaces?

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Ready for a Field Test

I’ve wished I knew how to use a spreadsheet for a couple years, but this summer I finally worked at it, in part because I was inspired by Alice Keeler, who is a spreadsheet wizard. If you’re looking for edtech know-how and inspiration, check out her blog, Teacher Tech, you won’t be disappointed.

The result of my early learning is a still developing but functioning grade book for Provincial standards. You can view it here, and if you would like to use it or keep a copy, click the “File” menu and select, “Make a Copy”. See the “Directions” tab at the bottom for a quick tour.

 The basic layout looks like this:

SBA Test 1 

Standards are listed on the left (y-axis) and Assignments are listed on top (x-axis). Of course not all assignments will assess all standards, but rather a handful of different standards. In other words, there will be many blanks on this spreadsheet. Right now I’m using a 1-5 numerical scale because it is formula friendly and I haven’t yet figured out how to use a symbol/letter scale that can also return some of the formula results. I have a lot of learning to do. 

The interesting data are hidden in columns A-D and look like this:

SBA test 2

As you can see by the headings in row 2, this sheet calculates a few valuable ways to look at each standard. Knowing how many times a standard was assessed (if at all) is important to guide your coverage, future instruction, and final assessment of a student’s abilities/knowledge.

I’m not sure if knowing a percentage is helpful or harmful–there is a lot of philosophy connected to assessment that I won’t unpack here. I included it for information and, honestly, because old habits die hard. I’ll be reflecting on it throughout the semester. 

I’d be happy if you made suggestions for improvements or customizations, and I’d be thrilled if you took it for a test ride in a class. You don’t have to know how to make the improvements happen, simply share ideas/functions that you would find useful, and I’ll see what I can do (more learning for me!).

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Recording and Reporting

Wrapping my head around SBA required figuring out the role of PowerSchool. As I mentioned in the previous post, PS’s standards features do not communicate as I would like them to. Here’s a bit of the process I went through to make PS work for me.

Rick Wormeli is a well-known educator who helped me think about reporting SBA. One of his videos is one of the most direct influences on my attempts to get practical about SBA.

Here is a rough chart based on what Mr. Wormeli described.

Student Name Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Totals
Prov. Outcome 1 C C C
Prov. Outcome 2 S U U
Prov. Outcome 3 S R R

 

This model requires one page per student with all the outcomes on the far left column (y-axis) and the assignments on the top row (x-axis). Only a small number of outcomes will be assessed per assignment, but over time a clearer picture of a student’s mastery of the course outcomes will emerge by following the X-axis for a particular outcome. This student has mastered outcome 1 but needs help with outcome 3. Totals should emphasize the most recent, relevant, and significant evidence. Focus on patterns. I’ve used the Provincial Report Card behaviour scale of Consistently, Usually, Sometimes, Rarely, but another number or symbol based scale could be used.

I may use such a chart for my own record-keeping. I don’t know how just yet, but perhaps a digital version (spreadsheet?) that I could share with individual students would be ideal. More to come on that.

Such a chart will not work on PowerSchool, so here’s my plan A for PS:

Categories GLO 1 —-> GLO 2—>
Assignments SLO 1.1 SLO 1.2 SLO 2.1 SLO 2.2 Totals
Student 1 5 5 4 3 %
Student 2 5 4 4 2 %
Student 3 R S U U %

 

General Learning Outcomes (GLOs) will be my categories and Specific Learning Outcomes (SLOs) will be my assignments. I’ll weigh the GLO categories according to their importance in the course. I’ll have all of this plugged in at the beginning of the semester and add or adjust scores for each SLO as it is assessed. As indicated by the sample chart, a number or letter scale could be used, but a percentage will be calculated as a total. I’ll keep a more detailed record with the first chart I shared.

It isn’t a perfect system, but it does take a significant step toward refocusing attention on outcomes and learning rather than marks. What do you think? How do you attend to outcomes/standards? How do you report them, particularly when your building or division uses a reporting system that doesn’t communicate what you would like it too?

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Getting Rough

In order to actually use this blog effectively, I’m going to have to get rough. My previous posts have hardly been polished gems, but my thinking/writing needs to be even rougher in order to make my learning visible. I need to throw ideas at the digital wall and see what sticks–for me and perhaps for others.

Recently I’ve been investigating standards-based assessment a little more closely and learning how to use spreadsheets from scratch, keeping a log as I go. I’m going to post and/or write some of those entries here as an exercise in learning, reflection, and loosening up.


Introduction

…as an example, I will focus on one learning goal to start: using and reporting standards-based assessment (SBA) within the confines of PowerSchool (our school’s reporting system). While PowerSchool is quite capable of using SBA, including doing some impressive math, most of the information is below the surface, requiring students/parents/teachers to dig to find the standards that affect the grade. This is poor communication. I would like the focus to be on the skills and standards rather than the marks for individual assignments. Courses in Manitoba are already standard(outcome)-based, but people tend to focus on assignments and marks. In at least one class, I’d like to shift the focus back to the outcomes and learning instead of the marks on individual assignments.

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