Monday, November 21, 2016

Stupid Questions: How To Teach Google Forms to Middle-Schoolers

There are some concepts that I struggle with teaching my students. One of those are spreadsheets. Sure, if you're out working in the business world, you probably use them all the time, or if you're living on your own and need to plan budgets and life skills of that sort, spreadsheets are super useful and relevant to your experience.

But middle schoolers just don't have the "need" for it that many adults do, making it really hard to get them excited about it. And it's part of my current curriculum, so I'm trying to find ways to make it "work."

Well, I found something, and it turned out to be a pretty fun activity, actually, so I thought I'd share!

I call this lesson "Stupid Questions." :)

It's a 3-day activity (assuming 40-45 minute classes). Here's the basic outline:

DAY 1: 
Go over directions as a class.
Have students take my sample quiz; show results
Show students how to create their own quiz
Work time 
DAY 2: 
Show how to preview quiz and share URL
Finish writing quizzes & submit URLS
Start taking classmates’ quizzes
DAY 3: 
Finish taking classmates’ quizzes
Go over results as a class, show Google Sheets tricks 

Basically, I have each student create a Google Form 9-question "quiz" utilizing the different types of questions available to create. They can ask anything they like, provided that it is both school-appropriate and respectful.

You know how much people love taking those quizzes on Facebook to "see which Disney princess you are?" Yeah, it's kind of like that. No wonder they enjoyed this so much!

Once students had created a quiz, they shared the URL to a Google Doc. They then had to go down the list and take all of the quizzes that their classmates created! Some students were very non-sensical and weird with it. Others were pretty darn clever:

By taking each other's quizzes, students gave each other a batch of data that could be viewed in Google Sheets and be manipulated in a variety of ways. If you're looking for some ideas, here are some of the ways I showed students to view/manipulate data from their forms:

Do you want to take my Stupid Quiz? You can here!

I concluded the lesson with talking to students about how Google Forms can be a useful tool for middle school students: creating review quizzes, surveying friends, making class presentations more interactive, etc.

Do you have any Google Forms or Sheets lessons that seem especially engaging for middle school students? Please share!

- Mrs. L.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Using Pixlr to Combine Images in Creative Ways

I love using Pixlr to combine pictures to make silly photographs! My students do several projects using Pixlr editor that require removing the background on a photo and combining it with another. Removing backgrounds and combining images are pretty simple starter tasks for learning how to manipulate digital images. Here is a breakdown of how we have used Pixlr in class.

Me on a Wheaties Box (left), and Mr Gail-nimals (right)
Visual Puns (left), and Animal Mash-Ups Alliteration Poem (right)

Past projects have included putting ourselves on a Wheaties box, creating animal mash-ups and writing alliteration peoms to accompany them, and visual puns. Just for fun (we had a couple of extra days one term!), we put our assistant principal's head on a variety of animals and called them "Mr. Gail-nimals."

What's great about these projects is that it gets students comfortable with the idea of layers and how to manipulate them, as well as file type limitations (like how a .jpg cannot have a transparent background!) and sizing/re-sizing of images.

We use Pixlr as our image manipulation tool because it is a pretty good FREE resource that works on our Chromebook devices - it's not as user-friendly as fancy Photoshop software would be, but since we can't install software anyway, this suits us quite well. Students need to get used to using the "Free Transform" tool to re-size images and create a selection box with anchor points - they're used to just clicking on an object in Photoshop - but most of the functions are so very similar that the transition from one digital manipulation software/application to another is pretty easy.

This last quarter in 8th grade classes, we made a "Mount FaceMore" project where (as you can guess) we swapped out the faces on Mount Rushmore. After walking around the room and providing assistance to students, I realized that I kept answering the same questions over and over again. So, I decided to make a video all about the process. The first half is about about removing backgrounds using Pixlr, and the second half shows how to manipulate the layers and file types to save as:

This turned out to be pretty helpful in class, as students could refer back to the video (just skipping to the point that they needed help with), but also could get help if they worked from home, or were absent on the day that the project was first introduced or demonstrated. Win!

I really like teaching digital imaging, as it combines my love of art and computers in one happy place. The skills and concepts that students experience in this project are extremely helpful for future applications and across classes, when custom graphics or images can help demonstrate knowledge in other areas.

Do you have a favorite digital imaging project?

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Using Ozobots in the Middle School Classroom

The middle school tech teachers in my district have tried really hard in the last two years to modernize the curriculum and engage students. One of the ways that we do this is through tech tools and gadgets, which we refer to as "Innovation Stations."

8th grade (a nine-week course) uses Spheros, Makey Makey, and LittleBits, 6th grade (a six-week course) uses Dot and Dash robots, and 7th grade (also a six-week course) uses Ozobots. So each grade gets to have an experience with at least one new tech tool/toy/gadget/whatever you like to call it.

We have been very lucky to receive funding to buy most of these tools via our curriculum department, but our middle schools won a special grant from our education foundation to purchase our classroom sets of Ozobots!

I thought I'd go over a little bit how we use Ozobots in my 7th grade computer classes. First, I divide the unit up into three sections: on paper / on an iPad / on a Chromebook. Ozobots can do a lot of stuff and be used in different ways, so we start small, on paper, with Ozobot reading lines and color codes, just to learn the basic workings. We look at the sensors and how the robot works. We talk about basic care and maintenance: cleaning the wheels, charging the battery, and calibrating the robot before sending it off to travel.

I'm an almost 100% paperless classroom, so it bothered me that I was having to print out so many calibration sheets on paper (even if I kept and collected them each class, they would get lost or damaged/folded up and I would have to make more), so I found a solution that seems to be working really well so far! I cut out circle stickers from black matte vinyl on my Silhouette Cameo machine at home (I bought one two summers ago for my own personal use and I love it!), and stuck them to the underside of my centerpiece placemats at each student work table. If you don't have placemats to hide stickers under, you could still put a circle sticker on each desktop/tabletop in your room for calibration purposes.

In class, we also talk about line following/line sensing robots and how the technology is being used now/could be used in the future. One of my favorite videos to show is this one involving robot chairs!

Students can choose to work individually or in pairs with Ozobot, since I have 18 devices total. But for the second part of our unit, which is on iPads, we have to get into groups that are a little bit larger, because I only have 9 iPads. It ends up being no more than 4 per device, so not too bad. We use OzoGroove to program our robots to dance! Working in larger groups means using multiple Ozobots with one iPad, which is actually advantageous when using OzoGroove because you can write one dance program, but run it on several Ozobots at one time so they dance synchronized! It's pretty neat.

Out last portion of the Ozobot unit is using our Chromebooks! We use OzoBlockly to solve puzzles (the shape tracer) and to write code (the Editor) to load and run on our Ozobots. If you've ever used Scratch, you'll find that OzoBlockly Editor is very similar in how it functions.

The end of the unit is the most fun for me, because I like to see what students can come up with using their Ozobots. Some set up games, like tiny bowling pins, and others make mazes or race tracks for their Ozobot to run. I've been doing a little bit of exploring via Pinterest as to how other educators and families are using Ozobots, and I found an awesome resource over at Tech Age Kids where they detailed the instructions to build a tiny Lego chariot for Ozobot to pull! I was so excited to find this that I had to try it out right away:

I'm going to give students the opportunity to integrate Ozobots with Lego this term, and I'm excited to see what they do! Every time I teach a unit, it gets a little bit better and I see more and more cool things that students come up with!

- Mrs. L.