Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Technology: Photo Spheres & Class Instagram

Half way through the semester, and I'm realizing that I haven't had the chance to blog much. There's been both the struggle of having no time, as well as the feeling that there's nothing worth writing about.

But I've been trying to encourage other teachers to blog and share, because even if it's an everyday occurrence in their classroom, it will be brand new to someone else looking to try something new. So here are some new image-related tech things I've tried this year.

Photo Sphere

If you're familiar with Google StreetView, you're familiar with 360-degree images: photos that you can pan around and see from all perspectives, as if you were really standing there.

Most of these StreetView images were taken with the special spherical camera (mounted on a Google car that has made the rounds through neighbourhoods), however it's possible for anyone to take these 360-degree pictures and add them to Google Maps for all to see.

A flat Photo Sphere of our road on Manitoulin

The process is fairly simple, provided you have the right app. With an Android device, download the Google Camera app: "photo spheres" is one of the options when you go to take a photo.

On an iOS device, download the Google StreetView app, which guides you through the photo spheres process. From here, you can also use the image in Google Cardboard. There appears, however, to be no equivalent option for Blackberry users.

You can see (and play with!) the full image here.
In our Earth & Space Science class, part of an assignment had the students locate examples of local surroundings that demonstrate erosion and take 360-degree images of them (here are some examples: Bridal Veil Falls, road-side rock cut).

It was a neat way to encourage students to get outside and apply what they've learned, and it was a new tool for the students to try (most didn't know they could take photos like this). My plan was to create a shared map for the class using My Maps, and have the students share their spheres to the class map.

Sharing the photo spheres turned out to be tricky, though - the only way to share/publish your spheres is to upload them to the public Google Maps, much like you would contribute a normal photo of an area. This process takes upward of a day (each photo sphere that is uploaded needs to be approved by Google), and once published to the public map, the links seemed to disappear randomly - visible one day, and gone the next. There doesn't appear to be a way to publish the spheres to a private map. Yet.

Those without the app were encouraged to take a panorama photo, and barring that, a series of photos, of their chosen location. Not quite the same effect as a 360-degree photo, but it still got everyone outside hunting for erosion.

Class Instagram

Earlier in the school year, I mentioned wanting to try a class Instagram account, but wasn't sure what to post or how to go about it. My grade 12 Earth & Space Science class seemed interested in taking up the challenge, and came up with the name for the account: @SESforyou (a play on our course code, SES4U (SES = Science, Earth & Space; 4U = grade 12 University-stream)).

A photo posted by @sesforyou on

The account was created, and I gave the students the login and password information so that anyone could post to the account. The plan was to post photos what we're doing in class (with the understanding that we keep students' faces out of images), or their own photos of geology around the island.

A photo posted by @sesforyou on

The account was fairly well-received in class, but even with full login access, only one student has posted his own photo so far. Many say it's too tedious to log out of their own Instagram account and log in to the class one on their devices. This week, I hope to set up the account on one of the class tablets so that students can use that device to take and post pictures.

I love the idea of being able to share what we're doing, especially as some of the projects the students are creating are fantastic (blog post on those, coming soon), but I was hoping to interact/share/connect more with other Earth Science classes through it. We are getting better at using social media, though (especially harnessing the power of the hashtag to get our photos noticed).

What have you tried?

Have you tried either of these image-sharing tools? Any tips or tricks to share? Please comment! We're always looking to learn and try something new.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Autograded Exit Slips - #LazyTeacher?

Since turning the learning over to the students, I have used "exit slips" to both help students focus their efforts as well as help me keep track of their progress through the learning goals in a particular unit.

(I hesitate in calling them exit slips since those are traditionally done just before "exiting" class. The checks we do in our classes can be done whenever the student is ready for them, at any time during the period. Because of this, we're starting to get into the habit of calling them "mastery checks" instead of exit slips. The concept is the same - assessment as learning for the students - letting them know if they are ready to go on to the next topic.)

I have struggled, in the past, with managing all the exit slips that come in - immediate feedback is key on these assessments, and I wasn't always able to provide it. So this year I tried something new.
There was a LOT of paper piling up on my desk...


In my Math (MCF3M) and Physics (SPH3U) classes, we have moved exclusively to online mastery checks, autograded by the Flubaroo add-on for Google Sheets. The fact that this makes the assessment paperless is amazing, however it's how the students are using the mastery checks which has made the biggest impact in my class.

The mastery check is created using Google Forms. Here is a recent one from our Physics unit on two-dimensional motion. Try it out - see how you do!

On the back end of the form, I have installed Flubaroo in the responses Sheet, and set it to autograde. Once a form is submitted, Flubaroo will grade the responses, and send that student an email (at the address they provide), usually within 60 seconds. That email will contain a message from me (written in advance), the student's score (in the above case, out of 3), and a breakdown of which questions the student got right or wrong.

Seriously - try out the above form to see what the students see! I promise I won't judge :)

One of the tabs Flubaroo provides in Sheets - you can see who took the mastery check, their highest score (points), and the number of times the mastery check was attempted.

(If you're interested in trying Flubaroo, there are detailed instructions here on how to set it up.)

Visible Changes

This has completely changed how my students complete (and master the material on) these checks:
  • Students receive feedback almost instantly (no waiting for me to have a spare moment in class to look at the slip, or worse, waiting until the next class to find out how they did).
  • Students immediately (and naturally) go back and try again, seeking help (most often) from classmates or from me.
  • Within a span of a few minutes (or longer if there are bigger gaps in the knowledge of the content), the students have fixed their mistakes and re-submitted their slips. They can re-submit as many times as they like - when they get perfect, they can move on to the next learning goal. Often, this happens without me even knowing.
I'm seeing students become both more independent with their learning, as well as more collaborative (I hear lots of on-topic conversation among students as they find their mistakes and correct them). Those who can master the material quickly are doing so and moving on, not held back by others who may need more time. 

And those who do need more help are realizing it more quickly (without having to wait on me to assess something), and are seeking help. Some students will approach me en masse because they collectively can't figure something out, while others will seek help from me independently because they're just not sure where they're going wrong. And this leads to great teaching moments, because the students are genuinely curious and ready to learn.

Students are taking more ownership of their learning, relying less on me as they master the basics, and honing their own problem-solving skills. 


Earlier this month, I was trying to explain to someone why a teacher might want to become connected on Twitter. One example I gave was that it provides an instant connection to a huge, international network of teachers from which you could seek advice. I mentioned how in August, before I knew about Flubaroo, I had asked my Twitter PLN what apps/extensions were available to autograde quizzes. To this statement, my colleague replied: "hashtag-lazy," implying that this was how I should have punctuated the tweet.

It stung that it was assumed that I was just looking for an easy way out, rather than a way of more effectively managing my time: freeing up more time in class to sit down and work one-on-one with a student who needs extra help, or freeing up more time in the evening to provide detailed feedback where students need it most - on rich tasks and in-depth assignments.

In the grand SAMR scale (or whatever acronym is used for the place of technology in classrooms these days), if technology can be used to engage students in their studies, help them continue the conversations that drive learning in the classroom, and allow them to foster their learning skills, I'm all for it. In the classroom, I'm just as active than ever (if not more active), as are my students. Might I suggest #Empowered?