Tag Archives: Web 2.0

A little Google docs win – almost

Today I played the Deer Game with my grade nines to illustrate population dynamics, limiting factors and carrying capacity. We usually iterate a dozen or so times, counting and recording the dear population on each turn, and then enter the results on a spreadsheet and graph it when we get back to the classroom.

Well, this year I did something a little different. I created a Google sheet, and created a chart based on a set of (presently empty) cells. I left this display up in the classroom when we went outside. During the game, I recorded the results each round on my phone, in the same spreadsheet. So when we wrapped up and went back to class the graph was already waiting for us on the screen. As a bonus, we ran this activity with two classes combined, and both classes could see the same data.

This was a great little timesaver, and I would rave about it, except for one little thing – scatter plots. The scatter plots in Google sheets do not show connecting lines or curves, just the scatter points. For this activity a line graph is sufficient, because we are iterating equal intervals, but uncovering a glaring hole in the capabilities of Google sheets slightly tarnished my esteem for this set of tools.

Check Out Project Noah!


I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover Project Noah. It is a citizen science community that, in their words, is intended to be “a fun, location-based mobile application to encourage people to reconnect with nature and document local wildlife”. Essentially, you take pictures of animals and plants, and upload to the Project Noah website. But it is based around smartphones. With the app installed on your iPhone or Android, users can snap anything interesting (or mundane, too) and upload. You have the option of identifying what you have uploaded, or requesting identification. The location information can optionally be attached to help learn more about geographic distribution. There is also a social network for chats and discussion, and even patches for accomplishments.

The images and locations are searchable online, so it can be used by amateurs and researchers alike, and as they say their “ultimate goal is to build the go-to platform for documenting all the world’s organisms and through doing this we hope to develop an effective way to measure Mother Nature’s pulse.”

I uploaded my first image today of a snail (me: “Oh! Gotta take a pic of this snail!” My wife: “Geek”),  and I took the time to double check the identification and enter that information. I think there is potential for this to be used in the classroom in many ways – an image resource, a class project or hands-on biodiversity lesson. Having to take a few minutes to identify and classify what has been found is an extra layer of analysis and engagement which requires a bit of patience, but pays off.

Of course, now that I have my first upload, I’m hooked. And, as with my snail picture, I expect to be called a geek a lot more often…


Socrative: web based response system for the classroom

I like the idea of “clickers”, when used judiciously, as a means of quickly checking rates of comprehension of a topic in a non-threatening (ie anonymous) way. But there are hardware requirements – both the clickers and the receiver – and with some systems the questions have to be established ahead of time, which doesn’t always work in a dynamic classroom where the focus changes to meet the students’ needs (as opposed to the teacher’s agenda). So I had been looking for an online alternative to clickers for a while, even resorting to a Google docs form that I had to reset after each question. I guess I was looking something I could use to gauge understanding of any question, quickly, whenever I wanted. Not too much to ask, right?

Well, I recently discovered Socrative, a multi-platform web-based response system for classroom use, and it seems to meet all of my needs and then some. I would like to share my initial impressions after using it in a few of my classes.

Probably the best feature of Socrative is its simplicity. As a teacher, you connect to http://t.socrative.com, and register or sign in. When you register you designate a room number – this can include letters and numbers, so you can use a school name or your name as well as a room number. Once signed in, the screen looks like this:

Students connect using http://m.socrative.com/. No login is required, they just need your room number. They can log in using a computer or mobile device. Their screen looks like this:

Once students are connected, you can ask a question (T/F, MC, or short answer) – shout it out, write it on the board, pull it up on a PowerPoint – and simply click the question type on your screen.  The answer options appear to the students, and as they respond the results show up on your screen. This can be used for pre-planned understanding checks, or spur of the moment queries or polls.

You can also create and save quizzes, and then activate them when you want. Quizzes can be automatic or teacher paced, or they can be done as teams with the result showing up as a “space race”. There is even a selection for using Socrative as an exit ticket, using your own questions or the built in ones. For the quizzes and exit tickets, on completion the results are emailed to the teacher directly as a colour coded spreadsheet for later analysis.

As with just about everything, moderation seems to be the key. Using it judiciously seems to refocus and engage the students, while excessive use tends to be tiring. It is simple and fairly foolproof, works through our school firewall (not all web 2.0 sites do!), and works on any web-enable device. Feedback from students is positive. One student in particular who has a great deal of trouble remaining engaged in Science reported that he was complete “sucked in” by it and found himself engaged almost despite himself.

Socrative is in beta at the moment, and all features are free. When it goes to full release, they report that there will always be a free version, but that advanced features – such as uploading quizzes as a spreadsheet – would require a subscription.


Using the Sloan SkyServer

In Grade 9 Science, we are currently doing the Astronomy unit. Today we were looking at the shapes of galaxies, and a variety of deep sky objects one can see with even a modest telescope. Instead of just rambling off a list of objects, I did a quick introduction to the different types of objects, and then divided them up into groups and set them on a scavenger hunt using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey data (http://skyserver.sdss3.org/dr8/en/proj/basic/scavenger/). This gave students an opportunity to explore real imaging data for specific types of objects.In other words, they had to observe, and think, while hunting for really cool stuff.

The best part of an activity like this is when students find something really great, and the gasps and squeels of joy spread through the class. Like when one student found NGC4030, a bright face-on spiral:

And then another found NGC4437, a grand, edge-on spiral:

For these students, they really felt the thrill of discovery, and that thrill can be contagious.

It was not a perfect class though. We had some technical issues that slowed us down – connection problems that prevented some students from accessing the site properly – and some students who were not engaged, despite the utter coolness of it. But that is another story for another entry; today’s post is about the awesomeness of hands-on learning with real data.


Digital house cleaning

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I followed half a dozen blogs, and as well as a few Nings and Yahoo groups. Mostly I used the browser favourites and history drop down to check my “usual suspects” for updates. But times change, and I now have over thirty blogs I follow regularly, a hundred or so people on Twitter I follow, as well as several hashtags, and dozens of discussion groups. Clearly my old, haphazard method doesn’t cut it anymore. So here are some of the tools I use to manage my digital life:

Google bookmarks and iGoogle

iGoogle is a personalized homepage on which you can arrange widgets however you like. The widget I have placed prominently on my iGoogle page is my Google bookmarks. These are very much lik ethe standard browser favourites, except they are stored online and can be accessed from anywhere. And with the Google toolbar, bookmarking is as easy as clicking a button. In addition, I have started prefixing my Google bookmarks, so that they appear grouped in the list. I have, for example, Blogs – , Forums -, School – , and Personal -, that I use to classify them. You can also use labels to classify the bookmarks, but I like to see them all with their respective identifiers. Now, I don’t bookmark everything using Google, just my “regulars”. For items I want to save for later perusal or reference, I us:

Social bookmarking

I use Delicious, but I hear great things about Diigo (I don’t use it because of issues with my school proxy, and I have been using Delicious happily for years). Here I can save and tag anything I come across for later retrieval. Very useful.


Twitter is great, but the actual website is limited in how it can present your feeds and searches. Tweetdeck lets me have my feeds and searches each in their own column for easy perusal. And of course it was through Twitter that I found all those blogs I need to keep track of.

Google Reader and FeedDemon

I got tired of checking through my list of blogs to see who had posted something new, so I set up a Google Reader account, which searched the blogs for me, and shows me when new articles are posted. I find Google Reader itself a little busy, so I also run FeedDemon, which resides on my local machine, but syncs with Google Reader. All in all, a very efficient way to follow what’s new.

If you need to sort out your digital world, give these simple tools a try.

Virtual Extra Help on a Snow Day

Yesterday we had a snow day. Hurray! Everyone loves a snow day. Everyone, that is, except the students who have a test the following day and are looking for extra help.

In order to provide extra help online for my students, I decided to try out Twiddla. Twiddla is a web-based interactive whiteboard that allows participants to comment and draw in a collaborative space, in real time. So yesterday I tried an experiment. I set designated times, started up a session in Twiddla, opened up Skype, and waited.

About ten minutes past the start time, a couple of students appeared on the chat list, and we began. after about half an hour, there were four students, asking questions and following along as I worked through problems on the whiteboard. So far, so good.

But I wanted them to take a more active role, so while working on one problem, I said (well, texted) “who has a calculator?” Within a few minutes, students were venturing answers to others’ questions – some on the calculator, some reiterating earlier comments for newcomers. As they became more comfortable with the arrangement, students also started putting their names in, instead of leaving the default user numbers. And some students stepped in and started solving the problems. Eventually, I wound up as a spectator, while the students helped each other. That made me proud.

So let me give you a bit of a rundown of the GBU (Good, Bad and Ugly) of using Twiddla in this way for virtual extra help:

The Good:

  • It is very easy to use
  • It is free to create a one-off, transient page.
  • No login required – just send students the URL of the page and you’re good to go
  • The process is democratic – anyone online has the same “presence”. No one is the designated “boss”, and anyone can contribute text or drawings at any time.
  • Pacing – having to type and draw, I could only go so fast, and students could interject at any time, so no one seemed to get left behind.
  • Tone – since everything was in text, no one seemed exasperated or impatient, so the tone was calm and supportive.
  • They offer free Pro accounts for educators.
  • The students liked it.

The bad:

  • When scrolling back through the chat history, if someone adds a new comment it jumps you back to the end.
  • There didn’t seem to be a way to grab the discussion and paste it somewhere for later reference, perhaps this is a feature in the pro version. Without easy access to the history, the same question may come up multiple times.
  • Voice is available in Twiddla, but anytime I tried to select it, it said all voice lines were in use. I don’t know if that was just because I was using the free version.
  • Pacing – it can be slow doing it all by text, and takes longer than would be the case with voice

The Ugly:

  • There was nothing intrinsic about Twiddla that I would put in this category
  • While I was offline, some of the students got excessively silly, posting inappropriate comments. Regular reminders that online forums like this are an extension of the classroom would be useful.

On a final note, it was interesting that in the end, not one student ended up contacting me on Skype. The entire session, which lasted for several hours on and off, was silent. Given how boisterous my students can be, that was quite a different experience.