An Inside Look at Using Twitter with Students: Our Third Twitter Chat

 

photo by Matt Hamm CC BY-NC 2.0
photo by Matt Hamm CC BY-NC 2.0

This past week, the teachers, students, and principal of LearnQuebec’s online school had our third all-school twitter chat. Three is a magic number. Once you’ve done something three times, it starts to become a habit. You also start to notice trends, behaviours, what works best, and what doesn’t. Most importantly, you get an idea of how it’s evolving, if it’s gaining traction, and we are all now convinced we are onto something!

 

 

 

A little background:

snipofclassroom
Our classroom (students’ names appear in chat area at lower left,
hidden here of course)
  • We’re synchronous online classroom teachers. Our students are in brick and mortar schools all day but when it’s time for Math, Science, Physics, or Chemistry, they get online with us. They are from all over Quebec, many in remote areas. We’re all pretty used to interacting live online, in fact, we pretty much crave it due to the lack of f2f time.
  • By “all-school”, I mean all of our teachers, all of our students, and our principal.
  • Most of the teachers already use Twitter with their students, so most of them already had accounts and were comfortable using it.
  • At the beginning of each year, we get permission from the parents of our students to be online in many sites – google drive, twitter, blogs, geogebratube….and the list just keeps growing every year. So that part was already taken care of.
  • For non-Tweeters: A twitter chat is what happens when a bunch of people all get on Twitter at the same time to tweet at each other. It’s like a party that happens online, except that you can actually have way more conversations with way more people at a twitter chat than you could ever manage at a party.

The story so far:

We started having these twitter chats in February of this year. Our purpose was to create a stronger sense of community amongst our online students, whom we almost never get to see face to face, and who almost never get to see each other. Here’s a quick synopsis of the first two chats:

Chat 1: Feb. 5, 2014:  If you’d like to read all the details of this wonderful event, including the actual tweets that happened that night, I blogged all about it here. If you’d rather not read that whole chapter, allow me to summarize: It was great! We decided on 5 questions, the theme of which was online learning – the one thing that unites all of us. The participation rate was very encouraging – we had about 35% of them there, and by the end of the evening, there were about 700 tweets with the #lqchat hashtag. The staff were all so thrilled by the event that we spontaneously had a staff meeting immediately afterward to debrief! We were so blown away by how enthusiastic our students were about the opportunity to interact this way. It took a while to calm down! My takeaway was that every human needs to connect, regardless of age, academic interest, or what medium you use. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Chat 2: March 12, 2014:  Unfortunately, I didn’t blog about this one, not because it wasn’t great or important though! You can see the complete chat here, separated into questions. Summary: This time we used some of our students’ suggestions for chat topics, like career plans. The theme was still online-based, but also looking to the future – theirs and ours. Once again, the staff met afterwards to take it all in together. Chats can be quite overwhelming. Not only is the sheer volume of tweets impossible to keep up with, but the stimulation generated by all the ideas and connections can be quite overpowering as well. We had about the same amount of participation, and we were once again thrilled by it all. As a side note, suddenly there was more tweeting happening on a daily basis from some of the more reluctant tweeters on our staff! My takeaway – sometimes to get from A to B you have to aim for C, and then unexpectedly end up at B on your way there.

Our latest chapter:

Chat 3: April 22, 2014: This time, we asked for the students’ ideas in a more concrete way. Peggy Drolet made a google spreadsheet for them in which to give their input. The staff met, and together came up with the questions, using as many of their suggestions as possible, while keeping it safe, appropriate, non-academic, and interesting. Unfortunately, as I write this, Storify is not fully cooperating, at the moment, in giving us the full set of tweets for all the questions, so I have had to take a few snips to give you an idea of the flavour of the responses.

Prechat:

Here the Storify for the prechat chatting that took place. As it happened, that night there was also a very important hockey game happening at the exact same time as our chat. This hockey game happened to involve the Montreal Canadians. Have I mentioned we are all Canadians? Living in Quebec? So, of course, we get a little excited about hockey. More than a few people were, um, multi-tasking during the chat! These happened before and during the chat:

hockeychat

And finally, here are the actual chat questions, with a few of the responses:

Q1: What is the happiest/proudest you have ever been in your life?

q1

Q2 What is the coolest thing about math/science?

q2

Q3: What is your favourite pastime/hobby?

q3

Q4: What tech tool is your favourite & why?

q4a q4b

Q5: What about you would people find the most surprising?

q5

Q6: What is something that you are not learning presently in school that you want to learn?

q6a

This last question took an interesting and unexpected turn toward the end!

q6b

A few other things that happened:

An idea was hatched for us all to do our own version of Pharrell’s Happy video!

happy

Our students’ personalities, sense of humour revealed themselves:

funny

And as usual, our fabulous principal was there and supportive “like a boss”!

dianne

Finally, the day after the chat, we all asked our students to type their reactions on the eboard in class. I have taken snips of those and put them on this padlet wall, word for word. Yes indeed, I really think we’re onto something!

All Fun and Games: Gamifying a Language Classroom

Photo credit: jonesytheteacher CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: jonesytheteacher CC BY-SA 2.0

In February, I attended a session at the LCEEQ conference given by Avi Spector on Gamification. I was skeptical, as gamification is getting a lot of press from corporate training and marketing folks, and we don’t always see eye to eye on classroom practice issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when Avi presented an action-research project that he had undertaken with an FLS teacher in the Adult Ed. sector at CQSB, Catherine Boisvert. Now, before you say to yourself: “Oh no, Adult Sector is not for me, that’s not my reality, I teach kids”, remember that the Quebec Adult Ed. sector is geared towards students over the age of 16, so many students are actually not much older than those in regular secondary classrooms. Moreover, I discovered that the gamification model is so universally applicable across ages, that its principles are valuable no matter what level you teach. If you have read the blog before, you might know that I am a BIG proponent of action-research as a model for professional learning. We learn and grow as educators when we try sound pedagogical approaches, reflect on our experience, adjust and try again. So, without further ado, here are some key points from my interview with Avi Spector:

What is Gamification?

Avi discusses his definition of gamification and how it compares to game-based learning. Important distinction!

*Note: currently, the videos are only available on a computer. We are working to have them available on mobile devices shortly!

Reasons and Motivations for the Project

I spoke to Catherine Boisvert, the teacher whose classroom was the laboratory for the gamification experiment, via Skype last week. She works with teenagers and young adults whose pathway through traditional schooling was not always successful. Catherine had this to say about her reasons for agreeing to participate in this pedagogical innovation in her classroom:

C_Boisvert
Catherine Boisvert, CQSB

I was looking for ways to jazz up my curriculum. I work in a learning center with a small group of very disparate students, all working at varying levels of French language ability. I wanted to make my classes more dynamic and to move away from the self-perception about their abilities with which the students were coming. I get a lot of students who come into my class the first day and say to me: “I’m not good at French” – they label themselves as not being good students right off the bat. I wanted for them to have this gaming spirit, the same perseverance that came through when they talked to me about the games they played. I was really inspired by the idea of failing forward, of using mistakes as opportunities to try another strategy, or a new way of doing. I wanted to take the drama out of mistakes and have students say to themselves: “It’s ok, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to try again”. I also wanted students to feel as though they had all the tools necessary to pass the exam, and for this, I needed them to do a lot of practicing. I didn’t want this work to feel like a burden, I wanted it to be fun.

The Six Principles of Gamifying your Curriculum

These are the guiding principles that Avi and Catherine followed when designing the gamified learning environment.

 

The model used by Catherine and Avi

Avi provides an overview of the setup in Catherine’s FLS classroom.

Outcomes of the Experiment

Catherine talked to me about her ongoing experience this past school year:

I had students in my class who really didn’t put in very much effort before. Less than the minimum, in fact. After the gamification model was put into place, these same people would submit work and demand feedback so they could win stars. When I would say to them “Well, I’m hesitating between one and two stars” their reaction would be “What do you mean? Give that back, I’m going to change it so I can get two stars!” They never would have said that before! It’s as though they weren’t taking the evaluation so personally anymore, it wasn’t a label that they felt they had to stick on themselves – I’m good, I’m no good. These labels are so immovable and students really feel powerless when they buy into them. I see that students feel more in control of their learning – they feel that they have the power to get one, two or three stars. As Avi would say, they feel a greater sense of agency. I noticed that even when they are trying to convince me to give them more starts, they are actually referring to their work and the clearly stated outcomes: “What do you mean I didn’t use enough comparative language. Here, I wrote ‘more than’, and ‘as much as’ and ‘similarly'”. So the learning is actually very deep and metacognitive.

Students are also more clear about expected outcomes, because the outcomes are part of the ‘game’. They are better able to make links between essential knowledge and the situations in which you apply that knowledge. This also gives them more choice as to the ways that they can demonstrate competency growth, within the LES structure that I’m using. My students no longer see tasks and objectives as obstacles to getting a good grade. They see them rather as opportunities to ‘level up’.

My biggest challenge was a cultural one. I do have students who come from cultures where school and learning are a serious business. It was more difficult to get them into the spirit of the ‘game’, because of the perception that if you’re having fun, you can’t possibly be learning. Also, next year, I won’t be starting the project in January. Starting right away in September will mean that there won’t be a disconnect midway through the year.

(Stay tuned for a blog post featuring my whole interview with Catherine Boisvert from CQSB en français, bien sûr!)

Are you working on a Gamification project in your classroom or network? I would love to hear about your experience.

***

Avi Spector is a pedagogical consultant with the RECIT FGA and the Riverside School Board. His provincial mandate is to support General Adult Education teachers from the nine English School Boards. You can tweet him @a_spector

All of his Gamification workshop materials can be found on his Pinterest board www.pinterest.com/avimspector

Catherine Boisvert is a French Second Language / Francization teacher at the Eastern Québec Learning Centre in the Central Quebec School Board.

 

POP goes the Portfolio: Digital portfolio in the POP Classroom

POP
Photo by Eliot Phillips – CC Attribution License CC BY 2.0

One of the main goals of schooling is to prepare students for a fulfilling life in the workplace, an often difficult task when you are functioning in a traditional course-based high-school model. Enter The Personal Orientation Project (POP). POP is a Career Development course aimed at Secondary Cycle Two (Grade 9) students. Its purpose is to guide students in the process of discovering different career paths, providing them with tools to make appropriate career choices. More so than many high school courses, POP offers an venue for real self-directed learning. The teacher’s role is to support the students in their career explorations, and to offer them opportunities to think outside the box by examining career possibilities that they might not have considered on their own.

The POP course is not a typical high school course. Students undertake career development explorations with greater autonomy than in many of their other courses. In the process of learning about different career paths and their own aptitudes and interests, students collect a rich bank of experiences and knowledge, while the teacher acts as a guide and sounding board.

The POP learning and evaluation process is known as KPOP (Know Yourself, Plan, On-Task and Ponder). KPOP mirrors the phases of self-regulated learning: Planning, Doing and Reflecting, with self-knowledge added to the mix. Each phase is scaffolded with reflection questions that help the student develop their profile and execute a career exploration.

The use of portfolio in POP can enrich career explorations for the student, and make teacher’s role easier. Maintaining a portfolio allows the student to not only keep a record of his/her explorations and reflections, it also facilitates sharing those experiences with the teacher and peers

Technology plays an important role in POP. The configuration of the POP classroom is effectively a computer lab environment in which students can conduct web research on various careers, experience simulations of different work environments (e.g., aviation), or learn to use the software employed in different professions.

Pop epearl logo

POP-ePearl is a digital portfolio tool designed specifically for POP. It is a component of the ePearl digital portfolio tool developed by Concordia University’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP) in partnership with LEARN, MELS and others. POP-ePearl leverages the technology angle of the POP course.

There are several key advantages that POP-ePearl offers:

  • Convenience: Students can typically use ePearl anywhere they can access their school board portal, and since they are working in a POP classroom, they can record their experiences and reflections as they work through their career explorations.
  • Immediacy: Teacher and peer feedback on student work can be shared with students easily and quickly.
  • Iteration: The student can easily build on their experiences as they pursue other explorations, and refer to earlier work.

Craig Bullett is the RÉCIT animator for the Eastern Shores School Board (ESSB). For Craig, POP-ePearl offers distinct advantages for POP teachers and their students.

“There are resources built-in,” according to Craig, “You don’t have to spend time looking for stuff or creating it. There are plenty of resources available for teachers to feel comfortable managing the course.”

POP-ePearl supports POP through close integration with the learning and evaluation process. Students are presented with help prompts, cues and suggested reflection questions as they work through the phases of KPOP. They can record their reflections and experiences in different ways: writing directly in ePearl, recording their voice, attaching files created elsewhere or even linking to an external site like a blog or a photo stream. Students’ learning traces are always available to their teacher, but can be shared by each student with individuals or the whole class. Using a parent mode, students can also get feedback from their parents.

New approaches are not always an easy sell, and teachers are sometimes reticent to take on a new way of working, so Craig took a unique approach.

“I offered to launch it for teachers to their students. One teacher took me up on it and it worked well. The teacher was able to be a ‘fly on the wall’ and learn with their students as I introduced it.”

“Three other teachers have since approached me to do the same.”

Eastern Shores has had to be resourceful in its use of POP materials. Instead of purchasing a full set of POP experiential toolkits for each of their schools, a limited supply of kits are rotated through the schools on a schedule. Not only is it an effective way to manage limited resources, but time constraints it imposes in the classroom can actually help the students manage their time.

In this kind of setting, POP-ePearl can play a role by saving students and teachers time. Since the POP classroom is set up with technology in mind, students have immediate access to it.

Travis Hall, Career Development Consultant at English Montreal School Board, saw the usefulness of POP-ePearl immediately.

“POP ePEARL makes sense. That was my first thought when I tried it,” says Travis.

Matthew Maxham teaches the Personal Orientation Project (POP) at LaurenHill Academy in Ville St-Laurent. His is a large school and he has many students. For Matthew POP-ePearl has an obvious plus: “Now I won’t need to rent a van to take student work home to mark.”

Are you interested in learning more about POP-ePearl and getting a look at the tool? Join me at the next LEARN Web Event on April 9th.