Connecting Virtual Rural Classrooms with PearDeck

In our southern Alberta rural school district we have many very small schools. Sometimes there are only three or four, or even one or two students in a grade level. In primary and elementary levels the solution is triple graded classrooms, however, this is less practical or realistic once students hit junior high. One solution that our district has employed is the development of a robust video conferencing network, supported by reliable technology.

While our division has been connecting classrooms via video conferencing for over a dozen years, the supporting technology has changed and sometimes outpaced the technology that our teachers are using. In the early days of video conferencing teacher assistants would fax and/or email student assignments back-and-forth to the teacher to be marked. Of course, this was time-consuming, and the time it took to digitize these paper products added to the length of time students waited for projects and assignments to be marked and returned. As technology has become more 1 to 1 it is important that our teachers shift from the fax and email mentality to using the many tools that are now available to not only make accessing work easier, but also more engaging.

Our ninth grade video conference math teacher is located in one of our larger centres but teaches math to four different school sites, each with 1 to 5 students.

Math 9 via Video Conference

5 sites are joined via video conference for Math 9

Each group of students is assisted by an Education Assistant (EA) who helps with the content on site, as well as the logistics of getting materials back-and-forth. Despite the support, it is still a challenge to keep students on task and to help them as much as they need. To alleviate this, we have been working together to come up with solutions for this teacher and one of the very best has been in the form of Pear Deck.

The Video Conferencing Pear Deck Revolution

The teacher pushes her Google Slides lesson out to the students and they join the Pear Deck session on an iPad. As they work through the lessons, she can watch in real time as students respond to questions.

Pear Deck real time

The video conference teacher using Pear Deck can see thumbnails as each student answers questions in real time – from 5 different sites.

Unlike some other platforms of this nature, students do not have to press submit to send their work. This is very important in this situation because the teacher can see who is stalling, off task, or struggling. After the modelling portion of the lesson, the teacher turns the lesson setting to “student-paced” so students are able to work through remaining questions/slides at their own pace, while the teacher can move between slides to support individual students.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher publishes “student take-aways” – a premium feature – which automatically puts a Google Doc copy of all notes/slides and a copy of the student responses into a Pear Deck folder in each student’s Google Drive, organized by lesson date and title. The teacher also has a copy of this document for each student so she can use portions of it for individual assessment if desired.

Other video conference classes in our district have also been using Pear Deck, but since they are humanities-based, students can type many of their responses on Chromebooks. Trying to have students type Math just to use Pear Deck would be a deal breaker, so we have found enough iPads (sometimes old ones) to allow each student to use a stylus + iPad to “write” their math. This has taken some getting used to, but it is becoming more normal. We have solved the issue of “not enough writing space” by increasing the custom slide length in Google Slides – this allows the students to scroll down to continue their answer, something they can’t do when the lesson is on a standard-sized slide.

Of course, there will be ‘bad internet days’ when a cloud-based technology like Pear Deck just doesn’t work.  Fortunately, there is always pencil and paper as a backup!

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Takeaways from District Wide FlipGrid Book study

Back in November of this school year, we decided to bridge the 29 000 square km of our rural school district with some virtual PD in the form of a first-ever PRSD8 FlipGrid Book Study. flipgrid-700x403 Midway through the study as we paused for Christmas break, we were experiencing some great successes and some sure signs of disconnect.

Despite initial excitement, in many ways, this experiment in virtual Professional Development was somewhat disappointing if you consider some of the statistics:

  • by the end of the study right before our February break, only two of the original 16 participants had completed almost all of the suggested posts
  • about a quarter of the group did not get past Chapter 1
  • by the time we broke for Christmas, less than 40% of participants were still responding.Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 6.31.22 PM

However, our feedback suggests that it is feasible to try again:

  • We had 13% completion, but whenever I watch a Seth Godin interview, he often mentions that only 5-10 % of people actually complete online courses.  So, I guess that we should see our 13% completion as positive!
  • Over 85% would try a FlipGrid book study again or recommend it to a colleague
  • 90% found the FlipGrid format easy to use and also appreciated not having to drive
  • 70% enjoyed “talking” their responses instead of having to write them

But when we match the reality of the completion data with the post-survey feedback, it is obvious that we do need to make some changes.  Here are some of the most commonly repeated suggestions from participants:

  • We should start with an “in person” get together to help everyone feel more comfortable with each other
  • YES to some sort of regular email or Remind reminder just before responses are due
  • We should remind members who do not like to see themselves on video that they can just put a picture of their cat, dog, pile of marking  etc. in front of the camera, thus just providing us with audio
  • We should post our chapter discussion prompts further in advance

Since these are all do-able suggestions, perhaps we will try again!

 

 

 

Success! Google for Education Certified Trainer

Sweet relief!  I will admit that I literally did a dance of joy when this email flashed across my iPad img_3899screen in the middle of leading a Virtual Reality session on bugs and insects with a grade 2 science class!

After a lengthy application process, I have been chosen as a Google for Education Certified Educator.  The application involved 6 hurdles:

Why bother? Here are some of the benefits:

  • access to more Google training
  • early access to some of Google’s new product launches
  • connections for collaborating with and learning from a community of other Google trainers
  • a listing in the Google for Education Directory, which could lead to some additional opportunities to share Google tools

Trying Something New: The iWorld

Just over a year ago I got a new job in my school district as an Instructional Coach. As Instructional Coaches were a new role in our district, my Instructional Coach partner and I had the good fortune to get new laptops instead of hand-me-downs from the previous position-holder. In fact, we were even given a choice about the type of machine that we wanted.

At the time, I was also teaching a night class for preservice teachers at our local college. This was an Ed tech class and so students had all types of devices including Macs and they needed to use them for all sorts of technical “Edtechy” tasks, not just word processing. Generally, I thought that I was less able to help my Mac-owning students as I could only do basic navigation and thus less problem-solving. So after some deliberation, I decided that I would be a brave girl and take the opportunity to learn about using a MacBook by using one myself. After all, it’s good to learn new things.

It has been just over a year now that I have been a MacBook user. My history is certainly in the Android and PC world, so this new device required some new learning. I watched some YouTube videos, I asked some friends when I was really stuck, and slowly, I got the hang of doing things the Mac way. Fortunately, I forced myself to experience a similar learning curve a few years ago when our school district informed us that we would be using iPads instead of Chromebooks for in-classroom devices. I saved up and bought an iPad so that I could plan and test learning activities for my classes on our new school set of 20 iPads. This earlier foray into the iWorld, including doing lots of online training to receive “Apple Teacher” status, img_0344 helped shrink the learning curve when my MacBook arrived.

Like many people, I would say that there are things I like better about both the PC World and the Mac World. But what I do like, is the fact that I have essentially become bi-lingual, or dual-device-competent, or whatever the official word may be. Of course, I often find myself “Controlling” or “Commanding” on the wrong keyboard, but that’s a quick fix with a head shake. It has become second nature to locate and navigate files and programs in both worlds. As an Instructional Coach, this is certainly helpful, although most of our district devices are PCs and Chromebooks.

To fully complete my Mac integration, last January the Instructional Coaches finally received phones – new iPhone 8s along with other Central Office personnel. Having previously only ever owned and loved Android mobile devices, this was another change. But now, a year later, this is just another platform where I have become bi-lingual.
It’s good to learn new things.

Trying Something New: District Wide Virtual Flipgrid Book Study

Our Prairie Rose School District is a geographically vast space in southeastern Alberta covering over 29,000 square kilometres. It borders Montana in the south and Saskatchewan in the east. Our central office is located somewhat centrally, yet when teachers assemble for meetings they travel from schools located over 2 hours from the north and almost 2 hours from the south-west. So, as you might imagine, gathering teachers for professional development is a challenge.

Fortunately, it is 2018  and it is time that we started to better leverage all of the amazing access that we have to digital technology.  Many of our small, remote schools connect students via video-conferenced classes, but it seems we are generally less likely to connect virtually as educators.  To remedy that, my fellow Instructional Coach and I decided that we would try to provide valuable PD that didn’t require travel. By what magic you ask? We are attempting some district-wide book studies using Flipgrid as our platform.  Some of our participants are already using Flipgrid in their classes or school, and some will be catching #FlipGridFever for the first time.

We are featuring two books that align with our district goals of Deeper Learning and Literacy.  Participants will have approximately 2 weeks to read a chapter/section and respond to their choice of discussion questions. Then, to make it a ‘conversation’, they have an additional week to ‘respond to’ the musings of at least two other educators on that same chapter.

 

Have you read the books and want to join the conversation? Our participants include teachers and administrators from primary to high school!

Out of district? Go to flipgrid.com and use this guest code to check out the conversation about Disciplinary Literacy: a8d729a2

In PRSD8? Click here to check out and/or join our Flipgrid discussion on Disciplinary Literacy (or join code fea160)    or here for Learning That Lasts (or join code 4171a7)

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Using Blogs as a Reflection Platform to Deepen Learning

A classroom or school-wide blogging platform is a great tool for having students reflect on their learning. The beauty is that it can be used in ANY subject area, and perhaps is even more powerful in subjects where students don’t traditionally “write” in class.  Scaffold the reflective process for students by providing a list of possible questions that probe into their learning process.

For younger students – use SeeSaw or Fresh Grade –   While many elementary classrooms use Edublogs, other popular options for younger learners include platforms like SeeSaw or FreshGrade.  These sites facilitate parent views more easily, and provide easier access to including video for pre-readers and writers. Check out a SeeSaw overview here (grade 1 class)

Check out these student examples. Notice how the learning is deepened and extended as students reflect on their process.

1. In Foods Class: Appetizer

Student Reflection: For an appetizer we made Beet, Goat Cheese, Arugula Salad with a vinaigrette as a dressing. This salad stimulates the taste buds and therefore is a great choice for an appetizer. It altogether is very colorfuland flavourful.

This salad has a variety of shapes, from the thin sliced apples to the long cut red onion and even further with the crumble of the goat cheese and the unique shape of the arugula leaves. The texture also varies in this appetizer. The red onions are crunchy along with the apples while the goat cheese is smooth and melts in the mouth. The vinaigrette coats the salad and gives the dish extended flavor and shiny appearance. The salad has many colors within it. The bright red of the beets contrasts with the green of the arugula leaves. Red and green are complimentary colors and brighten the dish altogether. The clean bright white of the goat cheese contrasts with the other garnish, craisins which is a dark red. A variety of sizes are also incorporated into this dish. The leafy arugula, the sliced apple, and the crunchy pecans all help bring balance to the dish. With the contrast in texture, shape, size and color this salad is a great example of an appetizer.

If I were to make this salad again I would add less of the vinaigrette to the salad as it was drowning in it. I would also think ahead and plan the plating so that more of the toppings for the salad are visible on the plate. One thing I would keep the same is the placement of the beets. I placed them directly on top of the arugula leaves which allowed the other garnishes to stay clean and free of the red beet juice which would dye them.

2. At the culmination of a semester-long Current Events Project

Student Reflection: I learned about multiple events that I was not even aware that they had occurred. First of all, China and the United States have a well rounded relationship with many trials and tribulations. They are not always the best of friends to one another and can be focusing on their own national interests at times. However, China and the United Sates have a very important and on going tie to one another. Trade between the two is so vast that China is the second largest trading partner next to Canada. The relationship is beneficial to both and that is why it is still and will continue to be a fulfilling relationship. One thing that I was unaware of was that NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy building while bombing Serbians that were in Kosovo. This was a substantial event for this relationship.

I definitely learned much more about the world than I did before. Before this project, I was unaware of the significant impact that international relations have on each country and even further how it affects those around them. Taiwan, for example, was something that I was familiar with but I was unaware of the depth of the issue. Because of the project I can tell others about what I have learned and further explain the controversial relationship between the US and China.

Despite me learning a widespread of events that occurred between two nations I found that after numerous amounts of research it appeared to be a continuous spectrum of the same issues. Trade between these two countries was one of the main necessities for the relation and other than that there was not much to the relation. Learning about the history was interesting but if I could have switched I would have preferred a more impactful and possibly devastating topic to explore. These issues although information can be harder to find, would be more interesting to me. If I could have switched I would have taken that opportunity.

Some of the biggest challenges for me was not necessarily finding the information needed but finding the benefits and draw backs that came with the relationship. I myself did not fully understand the relationship even after researching it because there was numerous opinions about it. I was unsure which to believe. Citing my information came easy to me and I found that part of the project time consuming but easily done. I was hardly ever stressed over this project and I believe that is because i took time almost every weekend to do a little bit of the work and when the checkpoint came I was already finished.

To finish, my project is obviously an on going issue/relationship and therefore much will change. I will most likely still hear about the issue/relationship but wont go as far as researching it on my own. I learned vast amounts of information about events that occurred in the world and between the United States and China than I probably ever would have with this project. Therefore, it was a great way to help students learn more about the world and some of the issues that are arising and those that are continuing.

 

3. After a group project in Psychology Class

 Student Reflection:  I think the most enjoyable part of this project was being able to come up with different ideas and using that to our advantage. For example, we chose to make the project funny and a bit goofy, but at the same time still taking into consideration it needs to be professional as well. I believe one thing my group did really great on is coming together and deciding which aspect is our best qualities to work on, in order to get the project done. The part of the project I am most proud of is how well the project came together. Saying that, sadly we did not decide to dress up. However, it still turned out very well and my group still shares laughs while reading this. Some of the challenges my group faced was being able to focus and not being able to contribute enough. Since our project was so small it was hard for everyone to have something to do at all times. I enjoyed working in a group because this was a huge task, and I found it really cool how we got to pick our own and communicate our ideas effectively.

Padlet: Premium Panic Put to Rest

Less than a month ago, I wrote a passionate ode to Padlet for my college pre-service teachers who really didn’t seem to “get” Padlet’s adaptable uses for the technology-infused classroom.  Over the past year, I have fallen in love with Padlet again and again as they have added so many great new features; it has morphed significantly since I began using it in 2012 when it was still called “Wallwisher”.padlet 2

So, you can imagine my dismay, when an email from #DitchThatTextbook, a blog that I follow, was advertising a podcast called, “What to do now that Padlet isn’t free”.  I went into panic mode, as I use Padlet quite frequently in a number of settings – with my high school students, college classes, PD sessions as an Instructional Coach, as well as many other general uses such as mini-travel blog!

When I finally logged into my Padlet account, I did heave a sigh of relief, as I read Padlet’s “Dear User” letter. They informed me that I had a limit of 53 free Padlets, and my current count was only 50. So, I could sign up for the Premium version at $8.25/month, or just keep my account under 53 Padlets.

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I’m sure you can guess which I chose! And honestly, it was pretty easy to delete a dozen ‘stale’ Padlets from courses that I haven’t taught in a few years, or class duplicates.

Check out the podcast by #Ditch That Textbook’s Matt Miller, as he explains some rationale behind Padlet’s move to Premium.

 In the end, I applaud the number of features that Padlet has maintained on their free side. Unlike recent pay increases from companies like Thinglink.com, who have made it nearly impossible to use with students without bucking up the cash, Padlet still has a giant “free” learning playground.

Padlet reinvents itself…again

Every semester in my #EDtech class for pre-service teachers, I do a section called Interactive Systems. First they wear a “student hat” where we play with several easy access web tools that increase student engagement and student voice. The next step is creating a few questions in each program wearing a “teacher hat”. Poll Everywhere, Plickers, Kahoot!, Socrative, Wizer.me, Quizlet.live, Peardeck, SMART lab, Spiral.ac are among the sites we explore; into that mix I always add Padlet. padlet 2

Poor Padlet. Because it doesn’t have the ‘game’ feel of several other sites, most pre-service teachers are quick to dismiss it as the one they are least likely to use. Despite the low ranking it often receives, I always keep it on the list as it has capabilities that the others are lacking, AND it is constantly reinventing itself.

Padlet started out as Wallwisher. Its genesis was essentially an online bulletin board where different people at the same link could simultaneously post text and then read what others had written. Although many other platforms now offer the same capability, it was one of the first of its kind. If you have ever gone through the pain of 20, or even 10 different students physically writing a thesis statement on a whiteboard around the room, or even the Smartboard, you too would see Padlet as an astronomic improvement!

Polleverywhere, Socrative, Peardeck and Spiral all can mimic this “instant voice” capability, but the advantage that Padlet has long had, is that students can add images and Weblinks of their own. This means that participants can add research and data for all to access. Students can post a picture of their math solution, their drawing, or their favourite book, and then type an explanation defending their choice, or explaining their methodology.

Padlet is also extremely easy to access; all that is needed is the web link. Teachers can customize the URL to make it easier to type, and Padlet also auto generates QR codes to make getting to the link quick and painless. A few years ago, Padlet added the ability to create classes and have students “join”, just like most other sites. I have appreciated that they have kept the simple web link access available and I continue to have my classes access it without “joining”.

Now for the latest improvements.

  • Students can now add audio and video directly to a post. You could always upload a pre-recorded video, but now you just push the button and record, much like the fast-growing Flipgrid. No more struggling to type on a small phone screen! Great for young learners and ELL learners.
  • Padlet has added a drawing canvas. Students can draw a response, like Spiral, Nearpod or Peardeck. A super cool difference is that you can switch the canvas from a white to black background. Padlet adjusts the colours for great visibility as you switch back and forth.
  • A few months ago, Padlet added the capability to add comments to posts. This makes for a quick hack-blog platform, and is also great when students are using the Padlet board as a research gathering tool, as they can leave comments for one another.
  • You can now change the colour of the background of each post, similar to Google Keep. Think of the possibilities for sorting and ranking!
  • And to add more ranking, you can now ‘like’ or vote on posts. The moderator chooses the type of “reaction”that students will have access to: like, thumbs up/down, 1-5 stars, or a numeric grade

Implementing VR #1: Early Lessons

Classes in our school division have had access to a class set of 30 Virtual Reality viewers for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far; we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

Things that we have learned:

  • Google Expedition is a great way to start sharing VR with whole classes; the teacher/leader guides and all students experience the same thing at the same time
  • It is important to tell students ahead of time that they should pull the glasses down and take a break if they are feeling dizzy
  • We have quickly made the rule that students have to stay seated — bottoms in your seats!
  • It is important to give all instructions BEFORE students take their first peek! The first moments when students start to explore is priceless to listen to, and they are so excited. It is not worth trying to interrupt this moment of discovery with any information!
  • Students always want to know what the silver button on the top of the viewer does.  In Google Expedition, it does NOTHING. I tell them to go ahead and push it all they want!

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    30 VR Viewers inside MAX

  • VR eats battery life! We cannot do a full day of Google Expedition with a different class every period – the battery is done after about three sessions of approximately 30 minutes. It even seems we have one or two units that have difficulty keeping a charge — we are trying to pin point them.
  • As teachers search for Google Expeditions to run with their class, it is VERY important to actually download the tour, and then click on each tab to see the images that are available. Often, what sounds like the perfect title, is a boring museum or monument tour.
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First ever Virtual Reality viewing session at Prairie Rose School Division – at Parkside School. Thanks Mrs. Heidinger!

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VR at Senator Gershaw in Bow Island.

Trying Something new: VR & Google Expedition

Google Expedition 1Check out this grand adventure!  This is way beyond Google Cardboard that I wrote about previously! This picture shows 24 of our 30 new Google Expedition viewers waiting to be fully formatted and set up so that we (the new PRRD8 Instructional Coaches) can get them into the hands of eager teachers and students around our division!

There has been lots to do to get this set-up ready to ‘hit the road’.

  • The tech guys have been formatting and securing the phones that go into each of the viewers.
  • Cathy and I have been doing lots of experimenting and app testing to get used to how they work and to decide on some of the basic apps, in addition to Google Expedition, that would be useful for classrooms.
  • We’ve had to buy a smaller wheeled-storage / carrying device to transport them in; the set-up in the picture takes two grown ups to load into a vehicle, and it won’t fit into the trunk of our cars!
  • We’ve also been stretching the limits of our YouTube channel and playlist knowledge as we come up with an expedient way to get additional content to all student in a timely manner when we are not use the actual Google Expedition app.

So, steep learning curve, yes, but a very exciting one! Can’t wait to update with ‘stories from the classroom’ once we are able to hit the road with this set-up!