Friday, November 20, 2015

TechTalk- 3 Effective Tools to Change a Classroom from Boring to Magnificent

Too often we stand in front of our students and lecture, recite familiar words that put them to sleep, make them work through endless boring worksheets, and quiz them to death.
With just a few simple tools, you can transform a day in your classroom into an interactive and fun experience for your students, and make your life easy by saving valuable time that would allow you to spend time with those who struggle or let computer algorithms calculate the results for you!
In this first post in the TechTalk series, I share 3 simple yet effective tools that will do just that:
1. TriCider– Visual collaborative decision making
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TriCider is a convenient tool that would help you and your students suggest issues, offer pros and cons, and vote for the best idea. The best functionalities about TriCider are that sign-up is optional, and that sharing with students is extremely simple. TriCider also allows users to set and change deadlines, to subscribe to updates, and the creator of the document is able to edit all other users’ input.
I recently used TriCider with my students to discuss how sleeping arrangement would be decided upon in an upcoming field trip.
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I added three “ideas”: Student choice, teacher choice, and a combination of the two, and one student added “Teacher choice, then student” (smart girl!). Then, on their laptops, students added arguments for and against each option individually. When we all added our pros and cons, students were ready to vote. It all took about 20 minutes, and the discussions around each idea and arguments were insightful, and allowed for even the quietest students to have a voice! 

Easy decision making. Creative and collaborative.

Collect ideas, discuss and vote. That’s how tricider works. Your team will make decisions faster without meetings or calls. Innovative solutions arise because everyone can contribute ideas and vote. Whether with friends or clients: taking advantage of all the opinions and ideas to find the best solution has never been easier.

2. GoFormative– Interactive Worksheets
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GoFormative has the capacity to turn your classroom into a paperless one! All you have to do is upload a worksheet (as Google Doc, PDF, , and then add buttons on the sheet, which would offer more information (through videos, online tutorials, etc.), quiz students (through multiple answers or typed response), or even show how they solve problems! You can then share it with your students using a quick code. Once done, all of their work is saved, collated, and ready for you to use! What makes this an even more convenient tool is that you can view their work while they complete it, and even leave comments on their work. And you know what? It’s FREE for teachers and students!!!
On their blog you can find not only information about the site, but also great resources, such as pre-made exit tickets.
Here is a short tutorial video:
If you need more details about GoFormative, here is a lengthy and detailed video created by a teacher.

3. Google Forms– Making quizzes out of videos.
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By now, everyone should know about Google Forms and how convenient they can make our lives. So to save everyone’s time, I will just touch upon how simple it can be for teachers to create a video quiz which would automatically collate responses and analyze data for us. This is a great way to flip or blend your classroom! The only thing you need to do is log onto Google, create a form, embed a YouTube video in it, and add questions about the video, like the one I made below.
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The cool thing about Google Forms is that they automatically create a spreadsheet to record responses. After you sent the link to your students and they completed the quiz, you click “View Responses” (a tab in the menu at the top of the form). Doing so would open a spreadsheet (a Google Sheet), and voila! All the responses are beautifully organized in front of you:
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What’s even cooler, is that if you click the “Show summary of responses” (circled in red above), it will magically display the data in a convenient view for your analysis!
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For the more advanced and tech-savvy, Google Sheets Add-Ons, such as SuperQuizFlubaroo or Doctopus, can very easily grade quizzes for you, and even send customized e-mails to your students or their parents with detailed feedback about their work. The folks at Google and their third party developers make the impossible not only possible, but shockingly simple!

So… What are you waiting for? Get going! Make your classroom the kind of classroom all students want- fun, interactive, and differentiated!
If you have any questions about any of these tools, or would like explanations or tutorials about any other educational tool, please let me know by leaving comments.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Differentiation Workshop to Local Ethiopian Teachers

I am very fortunate that my international school has such a strong and positive relationship with our local community. Last weekend I had the fortune to participate in professional development workshops, teachers at my school were giving to teachers of our local partner school, Mekdela.

The differences between the schools are obvious (and unfortunate). One is a wealthy international school serving sons and daughters of expatriate business people, diplomats, and the likes, while the other is a public Ethiopian “government” school serving over 1600 students on two rotations due to lack of space (a morning and an afternoon shift). From teacher salaries to classroom resources, the similarities are few and far in between. This being said, as expatriates living and working in the developing world, it is (what I see as) our moral obligation to share our knowledge and skills with our local teacher counterparts in whatever ways we can think of, and so these teacher workshops were a wonderful addition to my weekend.

The professional development day included over 80 teacher participants from the Mekdela school. There were about 15 workshops offered by my school’s teachers and teaching assistants. Each workshop was designed to last two hours. Expatriates who did not speak Amharic were provided with one of our school’s TAs, who served as a mediator and translator to the participants. We were to have two such workshops throughout the day.

I chose to share my knowledge of differentiation theory and practice. Immediately after volunteering to share my knowledge at the event, I was struck with the simple and obvious question- How do you differentiate instruction when you are a traveling (“a-la-carte”) teacher who have little to no resources and 40-60 students in a classroom??? I started by taking a deep breath!

After a short visit to classrooms at the local school, several hours of presentation planning, and middle of the night consultation with colleagues, I realized whatever shape the presentation would take, it would have to be interactive (to keep the audience engaged, to build on their knowledge, skills, interests, and needs), and to include both theory AND practice sections (background is important, and so does the application aspect!) And so by the morning, my presentation was born and the classroom prepared with visual aids and concrete resources for the teachers to browse through.

Although I was concerned with the time element, I felt that all the background information and theory, as well as the interactive nature of the presentation, were necessary. And I must say that the workshops went quite well, aside for the fact that I did not take into consideration the delay in participants’ arrival and the time it would take to translate everything I was saying… What I assumed would be two full hours, were actually about 70 minutes of material…

Unfortunately, in the first presentation teachers had little time to work on concrete and authentic strategies for their own classes, which was quite disappointing to me. So I was happy that I had the time to create a packet of handouts for each participant, which included both theory and practical advice for a variety of subjects. Those, I was hoping, would allow them to reflect and experiment in their own time. Not ideal… I had to re-think the second session!

The second workshop went better. I briefly introduced slides, and let Ato Bereket, my fantastic and overly-qualified translator, to take it from there and explain concepts and ideas directly in Amharic. This allowed us to go through the material faster without compromising the discussion and content. We had more time to work on individual strategies, although another hour or two of collaborative work would have been wonderful!

All in all, this was a very successful educational day for everyone involved. After the presentations ended we got together, shared a buna (coffee) ceremony, exchanged thank yous, took a photo together, and started our weekend…

Upon reflection, I must say I am very impressed with the motivation these local teachers have to improve and enrich their understanding and practice as teachers. These workshops were not mandatory, they did not get paid for attending them, and many would think that they would not be very applicable to their situation. Yet they attended, participated, stayed to ask questions, and asked if they could come in the future and observe the classroom or create some sort of a collaborative practice with us teachers.

What an inspirational day. I hope I will continue to be involved in this collaboration and be able to see how these teachers grow in their profession, and how I grow as a result of these experiences.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Can Games Change the World?

“Reality is broken and we need to make it work more like a game.” – Jane McGonigal, Game Designer
Jane McGonigal’s brilliant TED talk is mind blowing when one considers the immense challenges our civilization is facing. The possibilities of utilizing everyone, not just scientists and politicians, to buckle up and join the challenge of solving real world problems should not be looked down upon. If millions of people are putting so much time and energy into playing games, then utilized properly, gamers’ curiosity, persistence, perseverance, and creativity could all contribute to solving tangible and authentic problems.
McGonigal discusses the point of an “epic win” where gamers accomplish something they never thought they could, and have an amazing sense of accomplishment. According to her research, games make us feel good, motivated, inspired to collaborate and cooperate, feel like this is the best version of ourselves, and help us find the motivation and courage to get up and confront obstacles. So no wonder so many people spend so many hours playing games all over the world! But unfortunately, this exciting and optimistic feeling is what education for change is lacking…
Although I have no knowledge or experience with the game World of Warcraft (“WoW”), I think that what the game has accomplished is astonishing. In 2010, WoW had over 12,000,000 subscribers around the world, which, if their total game time was added up, have played about 5.93 million years… That’s incredible!
So what can we learn from these types of games that would allow us to direct all the time and effort to win toward a more realistic, and needed goal? In WoW, players establish trust, work at their level (Zone of proximal development), feel there is something important to be done, have many willing collaborators to achieve their target, and receive constant encouragement (“+1ing” others). These are some of the conditions that can push education forward!
According to McGonigal, there are four “things” that gamers are practicing and getting better at:
  • Urgent Optimism (epic win is possible),
  • Social Fabric (befriending and collaborating with anyone; trust; values; persistence; bonds, trust, cooperation),
  • Blissful Productivity (willingness to work hard no matter what)
  • Epic Meaning (awe-inspiring missions- create new knowledge)
McGonigal used the fact that school-aged students spend about the same time at school as they play games to expose viewers to the idea of “parallel track of education” (at 6:50). She cites cognitive scientist research (“10,000 hours of success”) that assumes if anyone spends 10,000 hours at something, they would master it. I believe that if we want to make education more motivating and meaningful to students, we must learn from the gaming world.
There is a lot to say and discuss about the need to transform education, so I will leave this topic for now and get back to it later on. But before I end this post, I would like to include this thought-provoking talk by a current (and fantastic) professor of mine, Dr. Chris Haskell:
Afterthought: I would love to explore the games Jane helped create with the Institute for the Future (“World without Oil“and “Evoke“), and perhaps even start a student group who would be playing the game as a part of their extra curricular activities. It is also interesting to read the data compiled about their game “SuperStruct“.