Student WordPress Documentation of FlowLab.io Designs

The other day I was talking with an educator interested in using FlowLab.io with their fourth grade game design introduction. Fully supporting this, and knowing their students used WordPress in order to document their studies, I put together a quick tutorial walking students through embedding their games on their blogs. If you have suggestions for improving this tutorial be sure to comment!

I always appreciate when a company makes embedding easy and FlowLab does a great jobs of this.

 

You can see the embed code at the bottom.

You can see the embed code at the bottom.

As you can see, the game above was built at a square. I copied the code directly from FlowLab’s embed code. as pictured. After copying the code, head on over to your WordPress site.

Create a new post!

Create a new post!

First off, after logging into your WordPress blog, create a new post.

Your new post should appear as below. Make sure to title the post first so that you can find it easily if you have to interrupt the posts due to the bell ringing or some other interruption!

New Post Edit Screen

Tabs for visual editing versus text editing.Once you have your new post look for the tabs in the upper right corner. On says visual and the other says text. Click on the text tab. You cannot paste embed code in the visual editor. If you are learning how to use HTML you can really refine the look and feel of your posts using the text tab.

Note that this tab does not have the same what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tools as the visual editing tab. If you are uncomfortable editing in HTML you can go back to the visual editor after pasting the embed code. The game will not appear normally in the visual editor, be sure to preview your post several times!
Picture of the text editing tools
Image of the embed code in the text editor.Paste the embed code from FlowLab as shown to the right. You can further edit the embed code to center the game on your post, change the width and height, and increase the frame. Play around with these settings in text editing and visual editing. Experiment!

If you enjoyed embedding your FlowLab.io game into your blog, try experimenting with other embeddable objects – like YouTube Videos!

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Online Learning: Class Size Matters

  In regular classrooms teachers and administrators have long struggled with issues of class size. Teachers feel they can provide better instruction and individualization in smaller class environments and administrators appreciate the efficiency of resource use that occurs in larger classes. Both groups can draw on a variety of research studies to back themselves up but generally smaller class sizes win out in face to face instruction as the preferred learning environment. Feel free to find your own research studies to support your position – my position is this – a class between 10 and 23 students tends to work really well for me.

Recently I posted concerning my view that online learning needs some serious revamping in some cases. Today I picked up the September issue of the International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning and found a study that supports one of the things I argue for in online learning – smaller class sizes.

Check out Mingshu Qiu, Jim Hewitt, and Clare Brett’s research study, “Online class size, note reading, note writing, and collaborative discourse” for more information. This group from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto provides evidence of how class size impact learning online. Their findings suggest 13 to 15 students as the optimal class size for graduate level course work.

While I do not know how this correlates with K12 learning environments I find the numbers extremely appealing as a constructivist online educator. If I worked with even 15 to 20 students per section in a course I can see many opportunities to increase student interactions that would allow for greater social construction of knowledge. As with any group collaborative experience the greater the number the more likely you are to have students who become overwhelmed and quietly hide themselves from participating. On the other hand, 15 students can construct a courteous community of learners much more easily.

Contrast this with courses where I had upwards of 50 students assigned to one section. In one course the quality of student writing and my own responses devolved dramatically from those courses where I worked with twenty students or less. I actually had one course of 160 students, another of 60+ students and four courses of between 25 and 45 students as well as four courses of 18 or fewer students. I should have taken better data on my larger classes but their size alone led to a dramatic reduction in my ability to quantify, even subjectively, their progress.

The study suggested minimizing overload effects by dividing students into small groups for larger classes. This works fairly well but exists as a function of the learning environment (LMS) and whether or not this tool supports discussion groups of this type. Often I found the user-interface confused students and led to even less success though this is a topic for another post. Still – when it worked it really helped positive student outcomes.

The best thing about this study was the pedagogical recommendations at the end. I use many of the items discussed in all my online classes but I feel that a teacher new to online learning would benefit from reviewing these items before planning their course. Of course teachers already teaching online would benefit as well – probably even more than the new-to-online instructors.

Check out the full article: http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11412-012-9151-2

Online class size, note reading, note writing and collaborative discourse

Teaching at Portland’s Dart Program – Over

Students Sitting in Class

I grabbed this Creative Commons Licensed image as it cracked me up. The teacher or student at the front of the room appears to be tied up. Sometimes I wondered if my students, whom I did not have permission to photograph, thus the CC image, considered tying me up at any point. I hope not.

 

The Last Days of School – Summer at Least

Today was my last day at Portland Public’s DART program. Usually I try to post resources and other things for teachers but this summer was a bit rough and I find myself feeling extremely reflective. Normally I would avoid a reflective post so I apologize to all those who dislike overly meta-cognitive educator thoughts.

This summer provided a huge challenge. Portland’s DART program serves students who for one reason or another do not live with their family and instead reside within a residential program of some form or other. Basically this means I spent time working with kids who’s behaviors do not fit within the norm that a teacher might expect at a regular school.

Other educators I spoke with felt that teaching during summer “vacation” was crazy enough but that to teach students with such a high level of need would burn me out of teaching. Instead this experience revitalized and recalibrated my enthusiasm for teaching. When I first began working with students after finishing my undergraduate degree I worked with students experiencing these same types of struggles in New York. Having a chance to work with students like this again re-motivated me and helped me examine my role during the school year.

This last year I worked for a virtual school. I worked hard to connect with students at this school and developed some really positive relationships where I was able to guide students to some extraordinary outcomes. At Portland’s DART program I made those same connections but they happened so much quicker and something about the face to face environment fed my excitement for teaching so much more than the online environment. Due to this I decided to leave my position with the online school.

Right now I am not sure whether I committed career suicide or not. Schools are facing continued budgeting issues, few are hiring and applicant numbers seem huge! Also I seem to have a reputation as a great online teacher. This is true of course – with no modesty whatsoever I can say that I bring personality and draw a strong sense of community among my online students. I also bring these same qualities to the brick and mortar classroom and refuse to allow myself to develop the reputation as “that online teacher” when I can do both.

 

Things I would love to do in a regular classroom:

  • Help students view issues and ideas from many points of view.
  • Share my passion for learning and help students respect themselves, the learning environment, and each other.
  • Encourage students to accept their thoughts and ideas as unique attributes that make our learning community stronger rather than rejecting their personal potential.
  • Explore our roles as citizens today in this digital era and our future in whatever form that may take.
  • Discover the greatness each student possesses and help them care for and forgive themselves and others when they are not as great as they can be.
Of course I worked to accomplish these things in the online environment with varied success as well :)

Today, at the end of the school day, I distributed letters to each of my students where I identified what I felt was their strongest talents or skills. As part of that process I realized that I was able to delve more deeply and learn more about my students than I was able to with online learning. That personalization really makes a huge difference in my ability to assess student growth – not the academic growth which is important for planning curriculum – their actual development as a person with individual needs and cares. This makes a huge difference to me as the teacher and whether I feel positive about my teaching experience or not.

Both learning environments offer a lot for teaching and learning. I think some of the blended and flipped classroom models take advantage of the positives from both and I hope to have the opportunity to practice them as I did during my student teaching and community college teaching years.

Classroom Management Series: Use Humor to Diffuse a Conflict

Kids building a fantastic contraption.

Working with students we occasionally encounter defensiveness for one reason or another. Perhaps they did not realize that their behavior was disruptive and now they are denying their involvement. Maybe they think the failed a quiz. If a teacher was unwise enough (or tired – honestly this is the only time it happens to me) to become involved in a power struggle with a student this sort of deconstructive behavior can set in.

What do we do?

First off we avoid the aforementioned power struggle. The discussions of who is right and in control does nothing to help and focus students on their learning. Sometimes we can talk to students privately but with larger and larger class sizes and more requirements for out time this can sometimes be prohibitive. Often we send the student to the hall to gain some privacy but that action has its own onus. I always try to be ready to apologize – sometimes I inadvertently wrong or offend a student. Often times other students provoke the incident and I can impose consequences for uncivilized behavior on them which results in lowered defensiveness in the student I am working with. All these work well including planned ignoring but my favorite – the silver bullet to tense stressfull situations in my class room – is humor.

 

Intervening Through Humor

Using humor gives the teacher a powerful and positive tool to change disruptive behaviors. Getting a student (or class) to laugh during a tense situation breaks the cycle of the behavior and helps reset the stage of the classroom as a safe, fun place to learn. My one caveat for using humor as an intervention is that it should NEVER be directed at a student. Never use humor at the expense of a student. This not only fails to build a positive climate and destroys any chance of an effective intervention – using humor at a students expense  means the teacher bullied that student. The biggest bully in a classroom could easily become the teacher.

How does humor work? I interviewed a colleague, Mrs Sarha, who use humor to diffuse almost all ill-behavior in her classroom. Each use built upon other structures for managing her classroom.

She, like many teachers, uses a sound prompt to get her students attention. In her case she own a beautifully cartoonish bell in the shape of a turtle. She calls her bell Myrtle the Turtle. Early in the year she starts her high school students off by explaining to them that they must “Respect the Turtle!” What results from this is a bit of hilarity and anytime someone goes off task during a discussion another classmate with yell out, “Hey! Respect the turtle.” By turning her attention prompt into something entertaining and easily remembered she removed the focus from herself as the person desiring respect and, through Myrtle, turned the focus back onto the learning regardless of the source for an activity or information.

She also deals with disruptive student behavior in an entertaining fashion. Every teacher has a pet peeve. Sometimes it is the tapping of a pencil during discussion (something that immediately tells me I have a kinesthetic or  possibly auditory learner in the room) or something else that disrupts the teacher. Mrs Sarha had a screamer this year. Yes – a student who felt compelled to scream. To distract from the tension that built due to these behaviors she announced one day that, “Each scream means a multiple choice questions becomes an essay question.” By this time she had already established a caring environment and impressed upon her students that it was important that they all help each other overcome difficulties in class. They also knew her well enough to realize that she was unlikely to carry out this threat. What it did was show that the behavior was not acceptable and induced the entire classroom – including the screamer – to laugh. Occasionally the screamer will still blurt out but now the class groans and someone says, “Not another essay question.”

She also has a stock of directional phrases she uses that keep directions light-hearted but serious:

“Be nice or leave.”

“Respect the turtle.”

“Make a mess – clean it up.” – she uses this when feelings are hurt as well. Making a mess of someone’s feelings requires clean up as well.

Some of what she does may seem like sarcasm and she admits that she had a difficult time with that at first. Sarcasm does not help; especially if students do not understand the intent. I find that students respond best when I use humor where I make fun of my own actions or perform a bit of physical humor.

How do you intervene through humor? Feel free to comment.

Classroom Management Series: Start Strong

Kid starts strong to demoralize the competition.

Start Strong?

 

I have to say that I hate it when people say this but it really is good advice….if you know what they are talking about. Start strong? What does that really mean?

In my experience this does not mean start with a body-builder’s physique. I am sure that does something for the intimidation of students but that is not a goal I generally support. This goes along with the idea that you should not smile until December. You should smile on day one – not smiling is not starting strong but starting scary. Student fear and parental trepidation do not make the classroom an inviting learning environment.

Starting strong means setting higher expectations and following strictly to rules and procedures in an effort to make these guidelines clear. With this heavier handed start a teacher can always back off an untenable position. If a teacher starts off “soft” or tentatively; instituting strict policies becomes more difficult. Students rebel when they perceive that they are losing power or control. Also increasing expectations often result in confusion whereas allowing more freedom from a highly structured environment comes with an expectation that previous strictures’ reinstatement remains possible and even probably depending on student performance.

In my classroom I “start strong” with a week dedicated to learning classroom procedures and how their choices and activities in my classroom relate to school principles and values. Sometimes the experience can have a mind-numbing effect.

“How many times will I show them how I expect hand-ins handled?” 

“Do I really need to have them practice the ‘correct’ way to proceed from my room to the library?”

The short answer is yes. I do need to do these things. If I fail to emphasize these things in the beginning I get to spend the rest of the year explaining these procedures every time.

Later on in the year I can let go of the precise, “turn in your journals facing down as you exit the room with the spiral binding facing up,” to, “hand me you journals before you leave,” and expect students to easily revert to the previous method. This seems like a minor thing but in the course of a school year with all the transitions students need to make within the classroom – the little things add up!

So….start strong….but not like like the Hulk.