(By Barbara Williamson) * TECHIE OF THE WEEK! *
Fortunately I have always been able to learn a couple of tricks using computers relatively quickly… as long as it involves working with programmes that I find useful! I love things that make my life easier, especially if teaching becomes more effective at the same time. I certainly don’t enjoy time wasted by using something just for the sake of using it. Although I tried flip my teaching a few years ago when I first was introduced to the idea, most of the Grade 9 guinea pigs I used were not happy with being taken out of their comfort zones, and so I decided not to exert all my energy on something that freaked them out too much. Now they are bigger, and I decided to give it another try in this, their Grade 12 year. Fortuitously, what with our being encouraged to become much more “future focused” and start Google Classing, I decided to give it a shot at the same time.
Setting up my classroom was much quicker and easier than I expected, and I was quickly able to load my kids’ books and lesson slides on the “About” page, and add pretty backgrounds for each class, just for fun. I was also very excited to be able to load kids’ tasks with deadlines on the “Stream”, as well as add test dates to the calendar.
Although I could not tell you quite how it’s done, I love the way the Google Classroom calendar syncs with my iPhone calendar, so that I can see everything in one place. Now that the kids are becoming more comfortable with Classroom and syncing calendars, every lesson is loaded as a calendar item at the correct time, with a short note detailing the work covered. This was exceptionally useful when I ended up off ill for an entire week – the kids knew what needed to be done, and were able to try keep up to date on their own until my return. It also helps me remember where I am with each class each day!
Having kids submit their first task was rather interesting, and a little exciting. It was a presentation they were to do, so I set the deadline for 7.30 am that day, in the hopes that I’d be able to load the slides up before the start of the lesson. What I found very interesting, was that the 2 late submissions were still accepted by Classroom, and simply marked as “late”. This means we can use our discretion regarding whether or not to mark work submitted late. Part of the task involved the kids giving classmates notes. I was quite pleased to see that one pupil thought to share her note in the Classroom stream, rather than sharing printed notes. I had not considered the fact that, working in groups, only 1/4 of the kids would submit work. Fortunately, I discovered that al kids can be given marks, whether or not work was submitted. Also, we can add personal notes with the mark. I have yet to use Google Classroom to accept, mark and return work … this is on my “to do” list.
Google Forms and Flubaroo
I decided to try set a multiple choice test which could be marked using Flubaroo, and was quite delighted with the results.
Of course, setting the test took an age, as I wanted it to be very rich and well scaffolded. Actually setting it up in forms (and remembering to add a place for “Name”), was very quick and easy. Adding Flubaroo, too, was much simper than I expected. The only frustration was in not being able to actually test it live until the kids had written – it can only grade a test that has at least two submissions – one being the memo, others being kids’ answers. In case of Wi-Fi issues, I printed hard copies of both the information pages and questions. The day arrived, and the Wi-Fi behaved! I used Classroom stream to send the Forms link as an assignment, also attaching the information sheet. Kids were also given hard copy (for their own confidence, just in case), but submitted their answers online. While they worked, I opened the form and clicked on “view responses”. As soon as a test was submitted, I was able to see it come in, as well as check that they had answered all the questions. Flubaroo worked very easily, and created a lovely spreadsheet that showed overall stats.
What I had not actually planned, but was invaluable, was the fact that I was able to use the second half of the double lesson to send them their marks and go over the test immediately. They found this very valuable – wonderful, when my belief is that tests should be formative rather than simply “for marks”. This is definitely something I will do again!
Flipped Teaching and YouTube
This is probably the most dramatic, time consuming, and exciting part of my journey thus far. To illustrate ideas in Accounting, I usually make use of examples shown on PowerPoint slides, with different transactions highlighted step-by-step in different colours. The kids highlight in their books during the explanation to make later studying easier (and make sure they stay focused on the lesson). A combination of a natural shyness and the nature of my slides meant that I decided screen recordings with audio would be the most effective. I use QuickTime Player on my personal Mac, although I know there are similar programmes that can be used for Windows. I then use MP4 Free Converter to quickly and easily create MP4 files, which are smaller and easier for kids to access on any device. At first, creating a video took quite a lot of time, but as I do more of them, they have become much easier. One does have to get over one’s natural shyness, and how strange one’s voice sounds on playback. However, the benefits are worth it. I placed these files in my trusty DropBox folder (to which kids have access), as well as in Google Classroom, as this is what I felt I had to do. The kids then had to watch the lesson (and highlight) as easy homework, and then in class the next day, do the exercise which requires higher cognitive skills. I discovered I was able to spend much more time giving the kids much-needed individual attention.
I also had to get over the fact that I think the videos are much more boring than I would like them to be. I decided to just get going anyway, figure out how to do it all, and then find ways to make them more interesting with the help of the kids. Although I do apparently “sound like a robot”, the kids were wonderfully supportive, and even said they found it easier to concentrate on a 10 minute video than my (much more exciting, I think) actual live lessons, where they would too easily zone out. This I did not expect! It also helps that they can work through the video at their own pace, pausing to consolidate an idea, or going back to repay a concept as needed.
To add a bit more interest and “wow” factor, I decided to finally try this YouTube thing. To my surprise, creating a channel was as simple as clicking “upload”, and following a few easy steps. Voila! My own channel. I then uploaded my videos, and used Classroom to stream the link to the kids. In reality it is exactly the same as the videos they have in their folder, but they were very impressed, and excited to have their own channel. This was certainly much easier than I expected, and opens many opportunities, as no longer do I need to load the videos into the other folders (although I still do). I have also discovered that you can edit your videos in YouTube, and was able to add annotations along the way to spice the lesson up a bit, and focus on particular aspects of the slides. In addition, I am also playing more with PowerPoint to get my animations to do more, and now have pictures of trucks and my Smarties (a vital Accounting currency in so many lessons!) zooming in and out of the slides on demand. I have yet to play with other presentation apps, but am sure they will have even more exciting ways of doing things.
After flipping my teaching for a week, my grade 12s are not yet totally sold. They still seem to like the safety of the old ways, although there are a couple of kids who love our new methods. However, instead of giving up, we have devised a new strategy – continue flipping as before, but at the beginning of each lesson, teach the kids who are not yet confident the old fashioned way. This teaching should be much faster than usual, as they have already been introduced to the concepts when watching the video, and will have done the time-consuming highlighting already (it will also help me check they have actually watched). This will give them an opportunity to hear it all again in the usual way, and ask questions as part of a group, which they can’t do with videos. Afterwards, I can still spend time with all of them individually. Kids who are happy can move on at their own pace, and even work ahead. Kids who are not confident can repeat lessons as necessary.
Although this journey has been exceptionally time-consuming, I have to remind myself that it will be set up already next year, and may only need tweaking then. And the teaching seems to be so much more effective, and exciting!