Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Adding Students to Canvas without Email Addresses

If your students don't have email addresses, it can be a challenge to use certain web apps. I use Canvas as my LMS. Up to this point, I've always required my students to have an email address for logging into Canvas. There is an alternative though, and this will be the way I have my students sign up for courses in the future.

After you have signed up for Canvas and created your own course, you are ready to invite students to participate.

Start by clicking "Settings" in the left sidebar.

Then click "Edit Course Details" near the bottom of the screen.

Choose "More Options", again at the bottom of the screen. 

Select the first choice: "Let students self-enroll by sharing with them a secret URL or code".

Update your settings, and use should see new information appear at the bottom of your Course Details. Canvas provides you with a direct link for students to create their own username/password to login to the course. Alternatively, students can sign up at and use the code provided to join the class. 

This feature makes Canvas more appealing to teachers of upper elementary and middle school levels, where sometimes there are issues with creating student email accounts.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Brit Lit Curriculum Re-imagined

This year, I completely revamped my British Literature Honors curriculum. After years of wrestling with students to read books that were of no interest to them, I decided to take a step back and evaluate what is really important - what are the main objectives of my curriculum? How could those be met in a way that is more engaging to students? My curriculum was already project-based and tech-heavy. What more could I do?

I began by removing the unfirom required reading and expanding upon a popular past project. I chose fifteen authors from the British Literature genre, valued for their many contributions to the literary canon.

J.R.R Tolkien - The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Silmarilian
Charles Dickens - David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House
Jane Austen - Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park
Thomas Hardy - Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, The Woodlanders, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure
Bronte Sisters - Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, Villete, Tenant of Wildfell Hall
CS Lewis - Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces
George Eliot - The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner, Middlemarch, Adam Bede
Robert Louis Stevenson - Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
PG Wodehouse - Jeeves & Wooster series, Blandings Castle series
EM Forster - A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Passage to India, Howard’s End, The Longest Journey
C.S. Forester - Hornblower saga, The African Queen
Elizabeth Gaskell - Cranford, Wives & Daughters, North & South, Ruth, Mary Barton
HG Wells - The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Roald Dahl - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox
The first week of school, Brit Lit students researched and then took turns picking authors. No two students had the same author. Students were assigned to read 900+ pages of their author's works before the end of January. Then, we jumped into our schedule: 
Mondays - Journal
Tuesdays - Discussion
Wednesdays - Work Day
Thursdays - Work Day
Fridays - Discussion
Reading Logs - Report on 50+ pages of your reading. Give a rating (1-5) and en explanation for that rating. (due every Friday)
Vocab Logs - Find three challenging words from your reading. Give the definition, the sentence from your book where the word is used, and your own sentence. (due every Tuesday)

On Mondays, students journal roughly 200-300 words on various topics related to their books. Each journal entry starts with a one paragraph summary of the student's reading, and then ends with a one paragraph discussion of a literary topic, using examples from their books. Students have blogged on flat vs round characters, foils, and archetypes. All journaling takes place on student blogs. I've had my student's work quoted on other respected blogs - how's that for rigorous, authentic writing! 

Tuesdays and Fridays we have class discussions. On these days, I will propose a topic and students respond, giving examples from the books they are currently reading. Using this method, all of my students are exposed to a wide variety of books and authors. Students passionately defend their authors and become the classroom experts on their author's point of view. One of my favorite discussions involved the class attempting to rank the literary value of the books they were currently reading. Here's the diagram they finally settled upon by the end of the class. 

Wednesdays and Thursdays are class work days. Students use these days for on-going work projects, due at the end of most months.  
September: Author Biography Presentations: Students created and presented a four-minute Ignite-style presentation on the author.  
October: 10 page research papers: Students chose a critical lens and examined their author's work critically.
November/December: Author Skits: Students work in small groups, collaboratively writing a skit in Google Drive. Skits are memorized, presented, and filmed mid-December. Each student pretends to be their author.
January: 10 page short stories. Students write a short story, as if they are their chosen author. They mimic the author's style and point of view, writing a believable story that could pass as belonging to their author.
We are two months into the school year, and in my opinion this was the right move to make for the British Literature students. Students truly have become experts on their chosen author. The discussions are informed and it's obvious that students are reading (without any need for standard tests). 

Sample Student Work:

Author Biography Slides

Critical Lens Research Paper:

Student Blog Post
Author Skits (coming soon)

Short Stories (coming soon)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Connected Teacher

A student teacher recently asked me how I stay informed about trends in educational technology. It seemed overwhelming to this student to keep up with the latest apps and edtech news.

Here's what I check almost daily. It doesn't have to take a long time - ten minutes a day is a good place to start.

Feedly still feels a bit strange to me. I was an avid Google Reader user before that service was axed. However,  Feedly is clean, modern, and user-friendly. I can check in on all the blogs I subscribe to, save interesting articles, and quickly share things I like with my colleagues. I strongly suggest following a variety of blogs, not just edtech blogs.

Google+ is in many ways an extension of Twitter for me. I follow many of the same people on both apps, but with Google+, there's opportunity for richer engagement. Google+ is excellent for conversations about technology and questions about its usage. Google+ houses many of the communities that I belong to, from STEAM initiatives to using MMOs in schools. Every time I check in on Google+, I'm reminded how much I like it and wish more educators used it to its greatest potential.

If you only have five or ten minutes a day to keep up with your personal learning network, head to Twitter. Need a resource for that math class you're teaching in an hour? Ask on Twitter. Want to follow what's happening at a conference you can't attend? Follow the conference hashtag on Twitter. Twitter can feel hectic, but I love how quick and easy it is to chat and build relationships. This is where today's connected teachers network.

Zite is a magazine app that pulls together interesting articles from all over the web. After you set up your interests, Zite mines the recesses of the Internet for current articles that you might enjoy reading. I love browsing through Zite because I encounter new blogs to follow. Zite is also where I get a lot of my tech news, because I don't limit myself to "educational" topics on Zite. The articles I share on Twitter and Google+ often come from browsing Zite. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Problem Solving through Gaming

This morning, two of my students jumped into Pirate101 to complete a quest for class. I overheard them working together while trying to solve a problem. One student would brainstorm a possible solution, they would try it together, evaluate the outcome, and then adjust and try again. Over. And. Over. Until... success! Epic win!

THIS is why we game in class. THIS is what I want my students to understand - because this is how we learn.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Mulitiplayer Classroom

What if school was like a video game? What if instead of earning grades, you collected XP and leveled up? What if badges replaced report cards?

3DGameLab makes these ideas reality. Students progress through the class by choosing engaging quests. Teachers reward mastery with experience points.

I have been using 3DGameLab for two months with four English classes. The most time-consuming part is the set-up. I spend about five hours every other week building new quests, using a combination of tools to plan out each module.

I start by brainstorming all the quests I want to include in a given module. For this particular module, I wanted students to balance time spent in Grammar, Vocab, Literature, and in-game. Students in my 7-8th grade class play Pirate101 alongside reading Treasure Island. The literacy value of gaming is not to be discounted!

After determining the point value for each quest, I then plan out the progression using an iPad app called PureFlow. It is crucial to map before building quests in 3DGameLab, because when the quests are built, you need to set the prerequisites to unlock new quests.

The final step is to build the actual quests in 3DGameLab. 


A fully designed quest looks like this:

Once students have turned in all of their quests, different badges are awarded, which in turn unlock the new set of quests. Every module (2 weeks) students are graded on their progress in Grammar, Vocabulary, and Reading & Writing. The grades are based on the badges students earn (which show mastery) and effort. 

Most of my literature-based quests involve using some type of digital tool. On any given day students can be found updating their blogs, creating comics, recording Tellagamis, annotating literature on an iPad, or making character maps.  Students regularly hop into the game world to compare the world of the game with the world of their book.

I find that using 3DGameLab keeps my students motivated and engaged. In the words of my students 3DGameLab is: "Interesting!" "Fun!" and "Amazing!"