Saturday, August 27, 2016

The First (Half) Week of School 2016

I didn't sleep in any day, at all, during the summer.  I always woke up in the 6 or 7 o' clock hour. Every. Single. Day.  I find this very unfortunate.

It seems to be a trend that is continuing even after the school year has started because now I'm waking up somewhere in the 5 o' clock hour.

But, it's back to the "grindstone".  Though this grindstone isn't making a lot of noise.  So far, my students are soooooo quiet.  It's kind of disconcerting really.

I'm teaching the same preps this year (English 11 College Prep and English 10 Honors), but they flip flop back and forth between periods, which is kind of annoying and will probably get more so when we start doing different activities.  A minor issue, I know.

So, a post on the Breakout EDU facebook group rolled through in the days before school started from Sally Hoyt about a back to school digital breakout she did with her students.  She gave me permission to modify it, so I did and gave it a try.

Like Sally, I started out with a Google Form student survey.  Once the students were done with the survey and had clicked SUBMIT, there was a link to the 3-lock digital breakout I'd created for them.

Many of the students didn't read the confirmation page and closed the tab, which created some problems, but we navigated through them.

I had clues built into the data validation for each lock.

The first lock was a date lock, and I followed Sally's Breakout and chose Back to School Night.  Ours happen to be on the same night.  Many of the kids thought the clue about going back to school meant that day: the first day of school.  Some kids were getting upset with me because they didn't understand and thought they had to put in the date I gave in the example so they would type the date in the correct format, which of course, didn't work.

I followed Sally's example, to a point, with the directional lock as well and used it to lead them to Google Classroom.  I had given them a sheet with all the codes for all the Apps we would be using in class, which included Classroom.  The clue talked about how if you couldn't find your way, you may need to GOOGLE your way to the CLASSROOM.  Some of the kids picked up on the clue right away, others thought they had to find the coordinates to the school on Google Maps.

Once they were in Classroom, there was an announcement with a link to this document:

Many of the kids figured out the code, but couldn't quite figure out (read:  were not reading the help text for the lock) and were writing out the entire word instead of the first letters.

I'd given the kids a half sheet of paper "introducing" myself and telling them they could find more about me on my website (one of the pages on my site is titled "About Me").  Where the following infographic about myself could be found.  I borrowed this idea too.  I thought it was cute.

If the kids paid close enough attention to what I talked about in note (how many schools I've taught at, how many degrees I have, how many Google certifications I have, and how many colleges I've been to), they would pick up on the numbers and order for the 4-digit lock.

I had one girl figured it out, on accident, by deducing that few meant 3, multiple meant 2 (for her at least; but hey, it worked!), etc. from how I worded my clues.  I might need to be a bit more vague next time.

Once they had all the locks right, they clicked NEXT and that lead them to...

I decided to add a few questions to gauge how students felt about the Digital Breakout.  Here is a sampling of some of the results:

I had a few kids report that they liked nothing about it, but many of them said they liked the challenge, some liked how "sneaky" I was with my clues, and many of them liked the mystery of it.

A lot of the kids realized that the objective was to hit all four of the "Cs": Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication.  Some missed out on the communication part because they were trying to do it alone.

Overall, I think the Breakout was a success.  I think I'm going to do one for The Crucible.  I think I'll do the "old-fashioned" Breakout for that.  I need to find one for a book that has already been done and modify it.  It would make me feel a little more confident in trying it out than if I tried to do one from complete scratch.

The Breakout didn't take up the whole period, so I had a Kahoot all about me and the room ready to go.  The kids really had fun with this one despite the fact that they'd just met me.  I used it to point out where the station for staplers, sharpeners, and a hole punch is; and, how to go about turning in late work or getting their absent work, etc.  Here were my two favorite questions, the first one comes right after a question about whether or not I have a sense of humor:

The next two days, I spent practicing some of the Apps we will be using during the school year with the students.  We used Google Classroom both days as the springboard for the other three.  I really like the new topics feature they added, by the way.

First up was a diagnostics assessment on NoRedInk.  This is an online grammar learning tool that I found out about from Esther Wojcicki when she came to present at our district on Moonshots (bought the book, have the book, haven't read it yet).  Four of the five classes are having the most trouble with connecting clauses with colons and semicolons.  My 4th period needs help there too, but they were having more trouble with active and passive voice.  So, I now know what my first official NoRedInk assignments will be for the students.

Then it was Verso.  I really like Verso.  I discovered it last year during CUE after having a hallway chat with my friend Crystal Kirch before we headed to lunch with another friend.  I could have sworn I blogged about using it last year.  Apparently, I had meant to and never did.  I really love Verso, and the kids seemed to like it last year in the few times we used it.  I plan to pretty much use it for any online class discussions this year.  The students' responses are anonymous to students, but not the teacher.  The kids mentioned how they liked the idea of anonymity because that way they would feel more confident and comfortable responding honestly and thoughtfully knowing that other students don't know what response is theirs, but they can't be mean to each other with impunity since they are accountable to the teacher who can tell who said what.

Here is the video that the students watched for their first "flip" (What Verso calls an activity) that they did as practice.  There was an accompanying question:

Lastly, I introduced them to Actively Learn.  As I blogged about last school year, I really like Actively Learn.  My school is test piloting it with a Team plan for 6 of us, so I get some special goodies this year.  One thing I noticed is that when I sync my Google Classroom classes with it and then create an assignment, it creates a draft for the assignment in my Google Classroom.  That was really cool.  For this practice session with the kids, I chose a current event article from the catalog on music and how it affects the brain.  It has only two questions, which I thought was perfect for practicing.

I was really surprised at how thoughtful and thorough many of the answers were from the students, especially from my 11th graders.  Many of them wrote quite a bit.  They seemed to like when I went over to the computer and started grading their answers and they would get the feedback in front of them already.

A similar product to Actively Learn reached out to me over the summer through Twitter about their product and this blog.  They talked about my readership.  I wasn't aware I had a readership.  Readership are you out there?  Would love to hear from you.

The product is called OwlEyes, and it is certainly worth a look.  Their slogan on their home page is: Read. Annotate. Collaborate.  It's completely free and houses a bunch of readings from the public domain, and they were going to be adding (should have already added at this point) some texts from Project Gutenberg.  It seems really interesting, and if I didn't already have Actively Learn, I'd probably give it a try with my class. But, we are paying for Actively Learn, and I don't want to overwhelm my students with Apps that carry a similar purpose.  I did sign up anyways, just in case.  I like having my username saved.  I also liked how they have some analysis already embedded into their texts.

Here are two short videos that Samantha over at Owl Eyes sent me:


  1. I enjoyed reading your blog about how you are integrating technology into your teaching and learning practices - your reflection on your experience having your students breakout was really interesting - do you plan on trying that strategy again, or having your students create a breakout?

  2. Hi Alex,

    I definitely plan on doing another with 10 Honors. There's already one built in the sandbox for To Kill a Mockingbird, but for the end of the reading. I may try and do one for the end of The Crucible, and kind of want to do one as an anticipation guide for The Great Gatsby.

    I plan on adjusting Unlocking Shakespeare from the one I did from BreakOutEdu last year. Just a bit. There was some things that even I didn't know. The kids still enjoyed it.

    I would love to have my students create their own. But, I think I'll do that after they've broken out of a few themselves.

    Thanks for commenting.