Friday, January 10, 2014

The Wisdom of Classrooms

I have begun reading a fantastic book called "The Wisdom of Crowds," by James Surowiecki. In it, the author states that the conclusions arrived at collectively by a group are more reliable than those made by individuals, even expert individuals. This has inspired me to apply what I'm learning to my teaching practice.

I have also been watching the fantastic PD videos produced by the Educational Services Department at my school board. The video below is a short activity for writing a summary, which is a skill we will be focusing on.
I have modified the activity slightly, to have students include more than a single word on each slip of paper. Eventually, I will be having them pare down what they're doing to a single word. They will then be writing a short summary using what they've chosen. You can see the full lesson plan here.

But the book has suggested that the class can likely come up with the best selections through a collective process. And what's great for data collection and analysis? My mind immediately raced to a Google Form, and a script called formRanger.

Using the script, and the instructions +John Calvert created on his blog, I've put together a form that will live-update itself. That means that as students enter their choices for the best pieces of information from the story, the form will update to include those as options for the next form submission. This is critical, because I want to avoid having duplicate submissions in the "Other" box. I've run into problems with duplicates when using Socrative with my class. I'm sure there are ways of avoiding this, but I love playing with Google Drive at any opportunity.

And the reason to avoid duplicates? The script will also tally how many times each item has been selected. Using this data, I have the spreadsheet create a graph of the responses and their frequency. The graph is also live-updating, meaning it will show the new choices as they are added, and calculate the most popular. I have embedded the chart here.

As a class, we will be examining the overall selections that the class has made. I want them to determine the criteria by which we collectively selected the key points, since that goes to the process of writing a summary for anything, not just this particular story.

I've embedded the form below. Please feel free to try it out (this is a test copy that I used for debugging, so don't worry about throwing off the results). Fill it out, then take a look at the graph above - it should change to reflect your input. Items that you chose from the list will increment by one, and any new items will appear on the graph.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Giving students a voice in geography

I'm wrapping up a unit with my geography class about agriculture. I find it very interesting, as it has direct implications on the lives of every human on the planet. However, I don't think I managed to get my students as interested as I am while we were going through the material.

And in a way, I can understand it. There's a lot of geography-specific vocabulary and concepts, and the real meaning can get lost in the small details and the specific meaning behind the symbols. Geography can be dry (and it was when I took it in high school), so I wanted to find a way to make it more real for my students.

When opportunity knocks...

I was in the halls, chatting with some students, and a couple of them asked if we could do a project where they could make a model of a farm. I thought to myself "why not?" and designed the assignment. Since part of the QEP competencies for Geography require students to relate geographic scales and to deconstruct the landscape and understand its organization.

So I created this assignment. I gave students a sheet of 11" by 17" paper, with a scale already drawn (5 cm = 20 km). We went over how to scale things properly, and determined the appropriate measurements for each of the required buildings. The students then created a layout with the appropriate buildings organized on the landscape.

Now here comes the nerdy stuff!

I used Inkscape to create scaled drawings that are nets of the different types of buildings. Students cut them out, assembled them, and attached them to their layout. This reinforced the necessity of using proper scale (since the buildings wouldn't fit on an improperly scaled diagram), and gave students a tangible experience of what the territory would look like. They also seemed to enjoy it a lot!

I will definitely use this again in the future. I'll have to fix the silo net (since the rectangle just isn't long enough as it currently stands), and add another size to account for the house that's necessary on some farms. Overall, I'm happy with the way this turned out, and I'm even happier that the spark for this project came from the students themselves. There has been a very positive reaction to the project, and many students have thanked the two who came up with the idea in the first place.

So why was this successful?

I think this lesson was a success, but not because it's the best idea ever. It was entertaining to do, and I enjoyed it, but I believe the reason for its success was because the students knew it came from them. It wasn't an authentic application - they're not going to be buying farms any time soon, but it was authentic in the sense that I listened to them, and valued their input. My students understand that they have a voice in their own education, and that I listen to it. To me, that is why this was a success.


Original Assignment SheetBarn Cut-OutGreenhouse Cut-Out
Silo Cut-Out
House Cut-Out
30x15 Nursery Cut-Out