Below is an article that is doing it’s rounds across social media at the moment. I read this whilst half asleep eating breakfast and by the end of it I felt like I was once again reminded of the gravity of our job.

It’s easy to focus on the academic side to teaching, especially since that’s the only thing we’re given numbers and grade levels to. However, there is a very real undercurrent of pastoral responsibility in what we do, and that’s worth remembering.

Have a read of the original article below – from what I can work out, the original blog post is from a website called momastery.com

 

Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece ofpaper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?
Who doesn’t even know who to request?
Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?
Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot – and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.

As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea – I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said.
Ever since Columbine, she said. Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine.

Good Lord.

This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched that tragedy KNOWING that children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.

And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often, and with the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11 year old hands – is SAVING LIVES. I am convinced of it. She is saving lives.

And what this mathematician has learned while using this system is something she really already knew: that everything – even love, even belonging – has a pattern to it. And she finds those patterns through those lists – she breaks the codes of disconnection. And then she gets lonely kids the help they need. It’s math to her. It’s MATH.

All is love- even math. Amazing.

Chase’s teacher retires this year – after decades of saving lives. What a way to spend a life: looking for patterns of love and loneliness. Stepping in, every single day- and altering the trajectory of our world.

TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we’ve got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one is watching- it’s our best hope.

Instructional Design

I have recently come across potentially the most important ‘Key word’ of my career to date. That phrase is ‘Instructional Design’. It is no secret by now that my passion outside of the classroom is creating on-line opportunities for my students to further their knowledge and understanding. The addiction here lies within the fact that if I get good enough at this process, I can help an unlimited number of students, and that would be the most gratifying of achievements for me.

It is somewhat surprising then that despite a long passion for EdTech and e-Learning, I have only recently explored the region of Instructional Design.

For those that are as clueless as I was only one week ago, ‘Instructional Designers’ are the people who plan, develop and storyboard the courses for e-learning technologies. These can be courses on anything from fire safety, to hygiene in the workplace, to the more familiar realms of exam technique or science curriculum. Usually the Instructional Designer works with a ‘Subject Matter Expert’ to produce the courses, but in my case, I guess I’ve been trying to fill both roles.

The reason I am so glad to have found the job title, is that all of a sudden I have found a new realm of blogs and websites designed to help Instructional Designers. Whilst I have been busy reading up on EdTech trends, on-line teaching blogs and e-learning opportunities, I have never explored the back end of how these things are produced. This meant that there was always a disconnect between what I was achieving in the classroom, and what I was able to provide online.

Probably the most beneficial piece of advice I have received in my exploration of the field is the importance of storyboarding the course. As of yet, my videos have been incredibly impromptu and are little more than a rough reiteration of what I went through on the board with my students that week (Only usually worse because I still get nervous around a camera and microphone!). As a result, I can’t say that I’m very happy with the quality of the videos to date and I’m glad that they don’t yet have an audience that extends further than my own class.

Having been so busy with grading assessments in time for my schools report card period, I have fallen a little behind on the videos. I’m excited to try making some now with a storyboard template that I have found on this blog and seeing if I can’t improve the quality of these videos. Furthermore, I have downloaded a trial version of the professional instructional design software Adobe Captivate, and will do the same with Storyline 2 once the trial runs out to evaluate the use of both in e-learning.

Watch this space for Mr A Copeland .com V2!

Goldilocks in Education

The Goldilocks principle is simple enough to understand. Where there are two extremes, most often things will settle in the middle. In my experience, the most common application of this principle has been within the description of the Goldilocks effect to describe the habitual zone around a star that a planet must occupy to support life – the band around star in which any closer or further away would result in non-liquid water (Through evaporation or freezing respectively). However, the principle also has common applications in cognitive science, economics and even marketing (Ever wonder why you are given three options for subscriptions to that internet package/phone contract/internet service? Ever notice how extra-enticing that middle option is?).

The purpose of this post is to discuss the possibility of a Goldilocks area within education today. And it was all inspired by this video.

In the Ted talk, Cesar is incredibly inspiring. Whilst watching the video I found myself in awe at how clearly he had brought action and service into his science lessons. In fact, it almost looked like he was instead bringing science into his action and service lessons. Furthermore, I was inspired by the level of contextual learning the students were receiving – there were no dry content session in sight yet the students were achieving great things. I closed the tab thinking “That’s where I need to be”. And then I slept on it.

Before long a couple of realisations dawned on me. Firstly, I realised that an approach this heavily invested in experiential and big-project based learning would only be feasible for my key stage 3 / grade 6-8 students. Cesars projects must have taken at the very least a whole term, and grade 9 / year 10 students need to be gearing themselves up for grade 11-12 / year 12-13 where no matter which programme of study they enter (A level, IBDP or AP) they are about to be required to cover a massive amount of content.

Secondly, no school that I’ve worked in would be comfortable with the lack of useful student data that such a project would provide. It’s a common point of frustration in education that teachers will want to move away from over assessment, whilst many schools require frequent summative reports on students, which provide numerical indicators for progress and attainment. Again, this is all the more true for older age groups. Personally, I believe that with the correct use of technology in the classroom, regular numerical indicators don’t need to result in over assessment any more. But that’s for another post.

Thirdly, and finally, I realised that the ideas the students were having throughout the video relied on good knowledge and understanding. So, presumably the students in this video were in fact moving through content based lessons, they just weren’t showcased in the video.

Ultimately, I believe that Cesar is an outstanding educator, and I think he is doing great things. However, I don’t think this video should be interpreted as a call to rip up the curriculum. Knowledge and understanding is important before we move on to the higher order thinking skills, and there’s no getting away from that. In the age old argument of content vs context, I think what I’m trying to say is, somewhere in the middle is “Just right”.

Canvas 101

For some time now I’ve been planning on creating a step-by-step list for anybody interested in creating their own Canvas LMS where it is possible to track student mastery of individual learning objectives. These last couple of weeks I’ve been slowed down by  a couple of things: Firstly, I have some family visiting and staying with my here in Dubai. Secondly, I’ve had to complete a number of applications for positions that have opened up at a couple of fantastic schools that I’m interested in working with (It should never be underestimated just how much time a teaching application can take if you want to really try to decide whether or not the school is a good fit for you before wasting anybody’s time – especially your own).

I’ve been given a little bit of breathing space lately, and I’m happy to say that I’ve finished a summary of how I approached the creation of my Canvas course.

Now, I feel I should include a warning before we start: This is a large undertaking. It took me about 100 hours to get the LMS at a point where I could share it with students, and I’m still adding to it today. In fact, I doubt there will ever be a time when I’d call it “Finished”. But, if you’re willing to put the time into the system, it will give you a massive amount of information on the attainment and progress of your students. Having done this solo, I would say that in hindsight, it is a task that would be best achieved as a departmental effort.

 

Step One: Record and optimize your exam board’s specification

Every exam board releases a specification and I have always insisted that this is the most important document available to any student or teacher. It is a comprehensive list of what every student needs mastery of in which to pass the exam. So in that respect, it is also a comprehensive list of the learning outcomes for students that you need to track mastery of. By optimizing the specification, I mean that you have to group small outcomes and split up large outcomes until you have a long list of learning outcomes that will serve as your question banks.

Step Two: Create a folder directory on your PC for question bank files

As I was doing this for the entire IBDP Physics course, this could have been a mammoth task in itself. However, I managed to find some free software online that will create a large quantity of folders from a basic list, which I had just done in step one.

Step Three: Begin collecting questions

This is the biggest stage, and one that never really stops. For this to work, volumes of questions are key. Simple questions can be made in bulk by Canvas itself, but that’s a tutorial for another day. Right now you need to start screen clipping as many JPEG image files of questions into the relevant folders as possible. Go through all your resources and scavenge every single question type you can find.

Step Four: Zip your question banks and upload them into files

Now that your folders contain files, you’re ready to get them into the files section of canvas. The quickest way to achieve this is to move them into a zipped folder, and to literally drag and drop that into the files section.

Step Five: Create a question bank for every folder

Now for the final directory of learning objectives, and where your complete questions will live. Move into “Quizzes” and select the little cog icon. Click on question banks and then “Add new question bank”.

Step Six: Fill your question banks with questions

This is the long-game. For my course I have worked out that I need at least 10 questions in every question bank, and I am pillaging every source of questions available to me and even writing many of my own to ensure that my students are going to receive enough variety from the random quizzes as to not simply get used to the questions and their respective answers. But even when the term starts, I will be offering extra credit to my students for the collection of new questions in which to fill my banks. Ultimately, you really do want as many questions available to you as possible.

Step Seven: Build random quizzes throughout your course

Lastly, you’re going to want to build as many quiz opportunities for your students as you see fit. For me, I think that the upper limit is restricted only by the number of unique questions you have available. Because I’m a big believer in intermittent testing, I need a ton of questions available for the early topics, but not so many for the later topics. Luckily, I can rely on my students to help develop question banks during each topic as part of their revision so I’m happy to start my course without enough questions in my unit 1 question banks to last me right the way to the end of the year, because these should be getting topped up fairly regularly.

 

How am I going to use this data?

Firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way. I am going to regularly share a student’s mastery with the student and it is going to be a fantastically useful tool for revision. Some readers will have also spotted the usefulness for parent’s evenings and report cards.

On top of that, I also intend on using the data to partner or group students with other students that complement their areas of weakness. I can have the high fliers in one particular set of outcomes teach the students struggling to master those outcomes.

Finally, I hope to create an indexed revision supplement of video’s and written practice that once this data is fed into, will spit out a revision supplement tailored to the student.

Office Mix – Immortalize Your Teaching

What?

OfficeMix offers teachers an integrated method to record a screencast and voice over audio of their PowerPoint presentations whilst also integrating quizzes.

Why?

Why only deliver your PowerPoints to your students once? Why deliver the same PowerPoint multiple times? Does doing both sound nonsensical? It needn’t.

With a combination of OfficeMix, a decent microphone and (Optionally) a graphics tablet (Or your SmartBoard which is, in essence, a giant graphics tabled that you project onto!) you are able to create a series of slides that are animated with your own narration, questions and video files.

 

Example

Below is an embedded office mix which I created for a Year 13 IBDP class covering Internal Resistance. As I say to my students, I recommend you toggle the “Speed” option so that my lecturing speed matches your listening speed (Often students prefer a speed of 1.5-2x the speed in which I normally explain at!)

Advantages

  • Do with one program what would normally take multiple stages
  • Students can access the content as often as they require and are able to step forward or backward depending on their mastery of the material
  • Students can toggle the speed at which the presentation is delivered ensuring nobody is left wishing that you would a) get to the point or b) slow down!
  • All of the amazing PowerPoints that you have developed over your career so far are compatible with OfficeMix
  • Plug in as many quizzes as you like, the results of which can be viewed through a handy dashboard on the website
  • View useful statistics such as the time spent on each slide by each student

 

Disadvantages

  • The pen options are visually sloppy and the recorded inking can be “jittery”
  • There is no pen sensitivity (A light press and hard press result in the same thickness of ink) which makes it more difficult to sketch when compared to programs like Smooth Draw.
  • You appear to be forced to use the Office Mix dashboard to view quiz results. Whilst the dashboard is well designed, it would be nice to have results from Office Mix fed into a teachers current grade book or excel file.
  • Unfortunately, some teachers prefer to not have their lectures recorded for fear of mistakes being evidenced or audio files being used maliciously by students.
  • Using OfficeMix does require additional prep time unless the lecture is being recorded live.

 

Advanced Advantages

  • The OfficeMix can be downloaded as a SCORM file type, which can be plugged into multiple smart media players or even uploaded to sites like Udemy if you want to turn your course into packaged and sellable material.

Gamification

Over the years I have grown tired of seeing students hitting a wall or failing and having the automatic response of giving up.

“I’m not smart enough”, they argue. “I’ll never get it”.

Then I see students playing games and it’s a different story. In video games they’re happy to play the same boss a hundred times until they defeat it. How different is that boss from a practice assessment?

No matter how fit they are, they’ll break into chasing each other at the first sign of a game. Imagine if our lessons were so competitive?

They love pretending to be soldiers and super heroes. What if they pretended to be creators, scientists or geniuses? Could they “Fake it till they make it”?

This is the mindset that I wanted to see in my classroom, and this year I have completed a series of very big steps towards successfully creating it. With a mixture of Tech Ed services, I’m finally able to successfully gamify my classroom.

3D GameLab

3D GameLab allows me to turn my classroom activities into “Quests” and my students into “Hero’s”. My students earn XP (Or, “Experience points”) by doing quests or gaining awards or achievements through positive behaviors. When they gain enough XP, they actually level up.

Both the beauty and complexity of 3D GameLab comes from the complete destruction of the boundaries of a “Lesson”. In 3D GameLab there are no lessons, there are only quests and rewards. This alone has demanded a huge shift in mindset for both my own pedagogy and my student’s expectations also.

For my own pedagogy, I have found that I have had to find clever tricks for partnering students up for things like peer assessment, practical work, group projects and sometimes lectures (Sometimes the brute force approach of making a quest available for all and dictating that this is the quest everyone must work on for this lesson is the best approach, but I am also becoming quite fond of creating shared spreadsheets where students add their name to a group and continues with other quests until enough students have joined that group (The last student to join notices this, and alerts the other one/two/three students that have proceeded with other quests that a complete group is not ready).

For my students, I noticed a visible shock to those that used to get satisfaction from racing to the end of the lessons material, or those that used to rely on doing the bare minimum. In 3D GameLab there is no end. There does not even have to be a specific route – a well-developed course could have so many side quests and branches from the original course that each and every student is able to choose their own path (With careful planning every path can hit each and every learning objective – “Newton’s Law’s” could be explained through a play, a video, a leaflet,

 

 

Class DojoClass Dojo and Class CraftClassCraft Logo

 

 

One shortcoming of 3D GameLab is that it does not easily free the teacher from his or her computer, and I think that’s a really important factor. We want Tech Ed to enhance our lessons without killing real relationships and a team environment. One way in which 3D GameLab could achieve this is to allow teachers to give students rewards, badges and awards from a mobile or tablet application, allowing the teacher to do so from any point in the room. Unfortunately this is not a feature that is provided so far, so I’ve come up with my own solution to that problem.

Both Class Dojo and Class Craft can be used as simple logging systems for badges and points and both have a mobile and tablet application. I have set up the systems for both to reflect the IB Learner Profile, and I reward students with each badge when I see the corresponding behaviour in class (See the screenshot from Class Dojo below). This allows me to reward students in real time whilst I am moving around the classroom or supervising practical work. If you’re wondering why I use both Class Dojo and Class Craft, I simply find that Class Dojo is best for the younger students whilst the older students respond better to Class Craft which is a little bit more “Grown up”!

Dojo IB Learner

Once a student earns a badge for every aspect of the IB Learner Profile, I ask them to alert me and I then award them the coveted “IB Learner” badge on 3D Game Lab which comes with a huge reward of 200XP!

 

Plickers

 

The sound of the dragon is all it takes. A class-wide boss battle! Which team of adventurers will succeed in protecting themselves from the dragon’s flames?

Plickers is one of my favorite Ed Tech apps for questioning because it does what so little Ed Tech manages to achieve – it actually frees students from their devices whilst giving the teacher all of the analytics that usually come from allowing the students to answer with devices. You simply print out and laminate a class set of giant QR codes and assign a student’s name to each code (Don’t worry, you can re-use the class set for as many different classes as you want, so there’s only one set of printing and laminating to be done) and hand each student the assigned QR code. The genius of the system is that each QR code is unique on all 4 sides of symmetry – when you scan the class with your mobile phone camera using the app, the orientation of his or her QR code will be registered as that student answering A, B, C or D. This means that with a simple laminated piece of paper, the student is able to answer multiple choice or true or false questions which are logged into a database and compiled as bar graphs and pie charts, whilst you remain as the only person in the room holding a device.

Below is an example of a student card. On this card you can see that the card belongs to student number 1, and the student can see which orientation of the card represents option A, B, C and D.

Plicker example

As if this wasn’t cool enough, I figured that I would try to fold the idea of plickers into my quest based classroom even more by turning the cards into “Magical shields”. They will protect the hero’s from the dragons flames only if they are orientated the correct way – determined by the Boss Battle questions that appear on the board.

The students seem to have a lot of fun with the role play, and seeing students enjoying being quizzed is no bad thing.

Canvas by Instructure

For some time now I’ve been telling anyone and everybody that will listen how innovative some of the features of Canvas are. Well, now I’ve finally gone one step further and I’ve recorded a video showing my favourite features.

I’ll be making a couple more of these, aiming to show even the largest of technophobes how to implement canvas successfully, and I’ve almost completed a lengthy written article on the topic.

All in all, use canvas – it will change the way you run your classroom forever.

 

Getting used to Avada

I’ve spent the last month or so getting my IBDP Physics course ready for on-line publication to my students (That won’t be made publicly available, I’m afraid – far too many licensed resources have gone into it. But I have written up an in depth tutorial that covers the most efficient workflow to make your own and to be honest, that was by large the most difficult part of the job).

Once these courses are complete, I’ll need to link to them on this site for my students to access through the ‘For Students’ section before moving to develop the more “extracurricular” sections of teacher and award leader support. Maybe this blog will start to get off the ground then, too. However, my vision for this site is much more focused on developing a large, static framework of support towards Tech Ed, the sciences and outdoor education – But for each update to a page I will either re-post it within the blog or re-phrase it into a blog post for anybody that wishes to feed the blog into their favorite RSS Feed.

Set-up is taking a little longer than expected as I find my way around the Avada Theme – being new to both WordPress and Avada is resulting in lots of time being spent reading tutorials and support pages. I should add here that Avada’s support page is fantastic, it’s just taking me some time to familiarize myself with the sheer volume of options available.

Anyway, I’m not expecting to have a readership for a short while, but I’ll post frequent logs of this sort to at the very least reassure myself of site progress.

Eureka!

For a long time now I’ve had a model in mind of the perfect LMS for my classes.

Khan Academy had some great idea’s, but it wasn’t in the hands of the teacher at all. So whilst inspiring, and probably my first encounter of a legitimate personalised learning journey for self-paced mastery, it was more a glimpse of what I wanted every teacher to be able to create as opposed to what I wanted every teacher to be able to use.

For a while I thought I’d nailed it by embedding Google Sheets and Google Docs into Google Sites templates, but even then there were limitations. It proved difficult to create a system where I could track individual students without them being able to track one another. And every solution I thought I’d found ultimately became clunky and a nightmare for students to navigate.

Then there was a time when I thought I’d solved all navigation issues by using a tool called BlendSpace. That worked for a little while, but it only added to the whole “Clunkyness”

3D-GameLab introduced better tracking and flexibility than all of those options combined, it allowed me to set pre-requisites and introduce points and badges for student tracking. So far, I’m still very impressed with 3D-GameLab in its ability to map and track a course on the “Task level”, and by embedding Google Forms and Google Sheets, I can even track mastery on the learning objective level. But again this is clunky and either sends students to too many different pages, or offers a slow behemoth of wrapped up system.

Enter “Canvas“.

Canvas came to my attention by an e-mail sent to all 3D-GameLab teachers. The e-mail was underwhelming and uninspiring;

“3DGameLab: Canvas integration coming this summer!”

But when I followed the link to check out what Canvas was all about, my jaw dropped.

This could be it.

I keep promising future posts that will outline the tools I’m using for my core “Mapping and tracking” of courses, but the truth is that I’ve been too busy actually exploring these tools and developing these courses. When I originally started this blog I wanted it to reflect a developmental journey that was moving towards an ideal, but things have been moving so fast these last couple of months that at least for now, I’m afraid that I can’t achieve that without writing some posts in hindsight.

Whilst it might be a little too early to definitively say that Canvas answers all, or at least a lot, of my problems, it certainly looks like it’s going to be a step forward.

My next couple of posts will be on small Tech Ed tools that I use within my lessons for various activities (Quizlet for “Retrieval practice”, Padlet for class collaboration, TedEd for inquiry cycles, ClassDojo for encouraging IB learner profile traits etc). In the mean time I’m going to figure out the ins and the outs of Canvas and make a final decision towards whether or not it’s a platform I want to use for my courses. With upcoming 3D GameLab integration, it certainly looks like it will have a lot to add with nothing to take away!

Tempus Fugit

Its been some time since I posted here, and I feel as though I should quickly lay out the reasons why.

Its recently been spring break for us, but this time around instead of travelling, I decided instead to use most of my time to work on projects that I just haven’t had time to focus on during the school term. These include;

3-D Game Lab

I’ve finally completed enough of my training in 3D-Game Lab to really get my teeth into the service, and I’ve completed the framework for next years courses. I’ve decided to create four templates for grades 6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12 and now I can start dropping in content specific activities across the next four months (Blog post to follow shortly!)

Course Prep

In preparation of building my own video lectures for 3D-Game Lab, I completed a course on on-line teaching that I thought might give me a few things to think about. As it turns out, it gave me lots to think about and I found myself devoting hours of my spare time to everything from picking the right font type to developing a unique color palette for the design!

Coding

I’ve known basic HTML and CSS for a while now and I’ve been learning PHP and MySQL for a bit. I decided to take “The Ultimate Web Development Course” to see how the four interrelate. Containing almost a full 12 hours of video material and probably being set at a level I found to be slightly beyond comfortable (So, just right, but slow to move through) I feel as though I took a lot away from the course.

Building

I’ve decided on and purchased a couple of domain names for future sites that I’d like to play around with. For example, You can now reach this blog through www.anthonycopeland.com, although I haven’t set it as a default domain just yet as I’m still being hosted on the free WordPress service and besides, I think I’d prefer to use www.mracopeland.com for my education related stuff and save the former for something more all-round. One of my next ventures will be deciding on a host for these addresses. It’s all in the spirit of being a personal learning journey, and I’m excited to see what they turn into.

Blink

Finally, I recently spent a couple of days in Oman on a camping/climbing/snorkeling adventure and in preparation of the 8 hour drive I had on my hands from Dubai, I decided to download a new audiobook and I chose “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell.

Blink is a book about human intuition. In its blurb, “Blink” promises to show how we can hone our intuition for better use in our lives. I’d have to disagree. The book does a good job in making clearer the studies and case studies that have developed to make clearer the advantages and limitations of quick decision making, but it does very little in the way of detailing how this information can be used to make better decisions or to better manage the decision making process. At best, it reassures the reader that there is a time and a place for snap judgments. I was hoping to write a full post on how lessons from the book could be used in teaching, but I’m not sure that there really are all that many. Besides, I’m almost in a position to reflect on the 3rd 1/4 of “How We Learn”.