Monday, March 30, 2015

The funnest game on earth: #MysterySkype

One of the most engaging activities I've ever participated in is a #MysterySkype. I've facilitated several Mystery Skypes in both 5th and 2nd grades since last year and in every case the students have been engaged and focused. They've cheered when they made a good guess and groaned when they realized their question was off-base. In fact, we just participated in one this past week where neither class wanted it to end, even after an hour of back and forth! Students also realized how much more they need to learn about geography - even for their own state!

Although Skype is primarily used, classes can accomplish the same thing in Google Hangouts and have a Mystery Hangout.

A Mystery Skype is a 30 minute critical thinking challenge where two classes connect. The goal for each class is to guess the other school's location, whether it's the country, state, city, or school name. Classes take turns asking yes or no questions, trying to narrow down the location before the other successfully guesses. 

Students hold a variety of jobs and use a variety of resources. We always set it up so that each student has something specific to do, whether its record information, research maps on the computer, ask and answer questions to/from the other class, or run information back and forth between groups.

Here's a two minute video demo to give you a visual idea.

Why would I want to participate in a Mystery Skype?

There are many skills that students can utilize through a Mystery Skype, including:

  • critical thinking
  • creates global awareness
  • geography skills
  • using resources to find information
  • collaboration
  • communication skills
  • creates partnerships for future projects
  • student-led

These are all important skills that students need to have, growing up in a global economy, but can't be measured or taught by any standardized test. 

Mystery Skypes can be done at any grade level and subject. Kindergarteners can do a Mystery Number or science classes can do a Mystery Element, for example. 

What do I need?

To participate you'll need a few things:

  • Skype or Google account
  • computer
  • webcam
  • microphone
  • a projector (optional) makes it even better to display the conference call on a big screen

Of course you'll also need geography resources to look up a locations you are trying to guess. Atlases and computers with web access are perfect for this.

Students love it!

Once you start, you won’t be able to stop. Mystery Skype has been the most engaging way I have found to hook students into learning about the world. Geography learning has never been so fun and student question asking abilities has improved out of this world!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Edmodo Part 17: Grading discussions and comments

This post is the next in a series of posts to help schools and teachers that I work with get started with Edmodo.

Edmodo is a powerful tool for engaging students in meaningful conversations. Posting and commenting are easy tasks for both teachers and students. Sometimes as a teacher, you still need to draw a grade from the discussion. Assignments and quizzes have grading functions built in, but there isn't an easy way to hold students accountable for posting and commenting. The best way to do this is to use a rubric.

In order to use a rubric on a discussion or a comment you will first need to create an assignment in the gradebook. Check out my previous post Edmodo Part 5: Gradebook for directions. Your assignment might look something like this.

After creating an assignment you can then use a rubric to score the post or comment. Your rubric should be designed to capture what information you are looking for. Do you care about spelling and grammar? Or are you more concerned about the content and effective discussion? Here are two examples of rubrics that are designed specifically for Edmodo.

Example 1 (Word doc)
Example 2 (PDF)

After completing the rubric, enter the scores in your gradebook under that particular assignment.

Using rubrics to assess student posts and comments is a great way to ensure quality posts and commenting.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

CommonLit: enriching clasroom discussions

I recently read about a new website that has a lot of great potential for enriching classroom discussions. CommonLit is a site that creates thematic discussion questions to use with upper elementary and secondary students. These questions are paired with interesting texts that are free to download.

Here's a basic rundown of how it works. As a teacher you select a discussion theme such as America, friendship, or growing up.

You then select one of several suggested discussion questions. For example, I chose the theme Growing Up, which offered two questions: Should we value our youth? and What does it mean to be grown up?

This brings up a list of grade levels that are stocked with various authentic passages. These passages are presented as downloadable PDFs that can be shared with students electronically or paper. Passages come from various authentic sources, such as excerpts from books, speeches, and video transcripts. More text-based and discussion questions are included at the end of the PDF.

The website is relatively new and has only a limited number of themes, questions, and texts. However, new ones are being added all the time. This is a great resource to help start classroom discussions based on specific texts. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

MysterySkype - where have you been?

I just discovered a really neat tool for displaying states or countries where your students have visited with during a MysterySkype. The website amCharts is used for creating stunning charts of any flavor, but also has free state and country maps. I quickly created one below to show the states that I've Skyped with.

To create your own map simply go to the Visited States Map page. Click on the states you want to highlight either on the map or in the list. You can even change the colors used on the map to indicate water, states visited, etc.

Once your map is ready, there are a variety of things you can do with it. You can share it using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. You can download it as a pdf or jpg by clicking the share download icon in the upper right corner of the map.

Maps can also be embedded on a class website or blog using the HTML code provided on the page.

This is an awesome way to share with the world where your class has gone for a #MysterySkype!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SBAC: It's not about the tools

I presented to my middle school today. The topic I was given was about the SBAC and technology. I was the last in a series of presentations by each of the departments. Each department addressed ways they are using technology to prepare their kids for the SBAC, usually by formatting their assessments or instruction to mimic the SBAC question formats.

Because they focused on tools, I focused on concerns teachers have with the format and structure of the SBAC, as well as the advantages this type of test has over traditional multiple choice questions. I stressed that teachers need to focus on content and integrating tech skills into every day activities. In the end, students will perform well if they have deep understanding of the content. No amount of teaching tech skills in isolation will get around that.

SBAC - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The presentation with presenter notes can be found here.

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