We wrapped the 2012-2013 two weeks ago and I thought I’d write my first post in almost a year about some of the things I tried out this year (that didn’t fail miserably). Also, I moved this blog to a new location after some problems with my old webhost, so it’s also my first post at the new location.
1. – Chrome became my primary web browser about 2 years ago and the primary browser for my students this school year. In August, I showed them how to log into Chrome and add a few apps and they were hooked. Now the students can log in on any computer and get the same experience they have on their school machine. They especially like customizing the backgrounds and having their apps travel with them. This hasn’t been without some troubles. Some students have logged into Chrome on public computers and not logged out, leading to some “problems” on their account. Others have loaded so many extensions that their Chrome slows to a crawl. Despite a few mild hiccups (many of which provided lessons on digital citizenship), Chrome has helped make my students far more productive. We get to the things we use regularly – Google Apps and some Chrome Apps – much quicker and search more efficiently.
2. – I started using Mentor Mob last summer as a new and improved way to aggregate websites. During the year, I started using it with students in my science and civics classes. It’s a great way to create a list of websites for a specific unit. The best part is that students can navigate to any of the websites on the list without ever leaving the window. Mentor Mob has a few features I like compared to similar webapps, including the ability to add an assessment to your list and embed a preview of the list on a webpage. This makes it easy for students to access what they need quickly, without having to navigate lots of tabs or windows (example).
3. – I started having students create infographics a couple years ago on Google Drawings, but was never satisfied with the results. For the 2012 November elections, I had students make infographics about the candidates for president, Nebraska Senate, and Nebraska House seats (see student sample). The students used easel.ly to complete this, but it wasn’t the easiest to use on netbooks with small screens. There were some other alternatives, but later in the year I moved back to Google Drawings because they’d expanded their feature set. I started a template for students and they were able to make some adaptations to it and crank out some nice infographics about the Omaha mayoral race (student sample). We did a few more later in the year and the students really got into the design features and made some neat infographics comparing city council candidates (student sample).
4. – iCivics proved invaluable for the second year in a row in my textbook-less Civics class. I used it regularly during the first year I taught this course, but really dug into it this year. The activities, resources, and interactives provide an extremely rich learning experience for students. If you haven’t used it before, the interactives are amazing (Do I Have a Right?, Counties Work, & Win the White House are some of my favorites). This year, they also introduced a writing component called Drafting Board. It helps students research and construct a persuasive essay around 1 of 5 topics. Drafting Board really breaks down each part of the essay and students end up with a very polished product by the time they finish. We did two Drafting Board essays (one with guidance from me, and one independently) then used the same format to produce an essay on the Second Amendment without help from Drafting Board (sample 1, sample 2). While we still have a ways to go with writing independently, Drafting Board provides a lot of the scaffolding students need to gain confidence with independent persuasive essays.
5. – Programming became a small part of each of my science classes this year. To teach students the basics, I had them use the Google Blockly Maze. At the beginning of the year, Blockly had a single maze that could be solved in a variety of ways. Students always started with step by step commands that turned into long, drawn out programs. After showing them some of the basics of if/then statements and loops, the students were able to refine their programs significantly. Later in the year, the Blockly folks added some new levels to the maze which, by level 10, required some serious coding acumen. Another program that I’ve used in the past, MIT’s Scratch, came out with an online beta version (previously available only by download) that made it much more accessible to students. One pair of students created an amazing program that modeled invasive species for their science fair project. I look forward using it and teaching more programming skills in the coming year.