Performance Assessment via Google Maps

As we approach the end of the first semester, and middle school students begin looking towards a new trimester, performance assessments are on the minds of many. How can we know what students really understand?

If your content has any connection to physical location, perhaps you might consider allowing students to display their knowledge and skill through a customized map. Check the post below for a number of resources that will allow your students to examine the math of existing buildings, plot the course of a person’s life, or animate a story with words and pictures — all using tools freely available.

For drawing on maps quickly and easily allows you to draw on any map, whether it be one with roads, or with buildings, or only topography. Students can create accounts and save their work online, tweaking their creations both at school and at home. A sample annotation of the Cardinal’s stadium is above. Beyond marking up maps, ScribbleMaps can also generate blank maps (at least at the country level) that may be used in some curriculum areas.

For plotting the course of a person’s life

Whether real or fictional, the stories of people’s lives hook students into understanding and “living” the big ideas in our curricula. One way for kids to present their understanding of a life is through a map that includes primary source materials. Two websites have a host of examples of these sort of assignments, all built in the free tool Google Earth:

Keep in mind that you will need Google Earth installed to view projects from the resources above.

For animating a story in words and pictures

A recent resource for animating the types of maps featured in the two sites above is  Animaps allows students to easily drop place markers, photos, and descriptions into a Google Map, and then animate each element to show up at a specific time. Similar to the trips and events that are described above, animations created with Animaps give stories a sense of space and time. The difference between animaps and the trips created with Google Earth is that with Animaps no software is necessary to install. Maps can be created and saved entirely online. Students can turn their products in by simply sending their teacher a link.

So, if you’re looking for a different take on performance assessment, and maps might hold some possibilities, give the resources above a look, or feel free to drop me a note.

Posted in Comm Arts, Google Earth, Google Maps, M & C Languages, Math, Social Studies | Leave a comment

Promoting Detail in Student Work with aMap

For anyone who asks students to think their way through an process step-by-step, getting students to explain how details support their summary can be a challenge. If you’re interested to check out a more visual way to organize and force those processing steps, you may want to check out this week’s resource – aMap, a visual “argument” creator.

aMap is a visual map of the details that support an opinion. Students step through through a 4-tier process the aMap developers call “informal logic”, described below.

The underlying structuring of aMaps is based around “informal logic” – this is the logic people use to argue in everyday life. Informal logic has a four-tiered structure:

– Your position (I think . . .) – what you think overall
– Propositions (Because . . .) – reasons that support your position
– Arguments (As . . .) – supporting arguments that back up each of your propositions
– Evidence (Supported by . . .) – supporting evidence to back up your arguments

A sample argument and the resulting map is below. Every map can be either e-mailed to a teacher, or embedded directly into a website or wiki.

aMap has a few limitations:

  • There is a 3 “arm” limit, which means that the site only accepts up to three supporting details for any opinion.
  • Each element of the form is limited to 100 characters (less than for a text message).

The tool seems best for an introduction activity, or a review if students need work on clearly connecting details to a general opinion. If you like the concept and interactivity, but need something with a greater number of arms or more room to write, I’d encourage you to check out SpicyNodes.

For another “green” example in SpicyNodes, check out the example below.

For more information on either of these resources, feel free to contact your TIS.


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Making connections with Graphwords

When asked about how to help students make connections between words and concepts, not too long ago I would have directed teachers to a tool like Google’s Wonder Wheel. Earlier this year, Google discontinued this tool in an effort to be more focused in their efforts.  The Wonder Wheel would essentially take your search term and find similar searches displaying them in a graphical “wheel”. Watch the following video to see how Graph Words can accomplish a similar task.

Cross posted to NEM Friday Flyer.

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Screencasting – for information, differentiation, and feedback

Screencasting is great way to deliver audio and visual information to your students. If you have been looking for a way to record your lessons, or you’d like to deliver some formative assessment of student work using your voice as well as your pen, check this post for information about Jing, Screenr, CamStudio and other tools that make this happen.

Making a “screencast” simply means that you are creating a video using your microphone and whatever is displaying on your computer screen. A program captures both the audio and video and then makes them into a seamless package you can upload to Moodle, e-mail to a student, or drop onto a flash drive.

Three popular tools that make this happen are Jing, Screenr, and CamStudio.


Jing is the most full-function tool of the three. Sporting both an image capture and annotation tool as well as a video recorder, Jing enables teachers to take screen shots with a keyboard shortcut as well as videos up to 5 minutes in length. Teachers I have known use Jing as a way to capture equations, record directions for playback from their websites, and, at least in one case, record a physics animation in order to use it on an online assessment. I recently came across a foreign language teacher who is using Jing to record her feedback on student papers.  She writes:

“As long as I have been grading papers, I have been talking to myself while I grade — a habit that drives everyone around me nuts, except for those of my colleagues who do the same. And truth be told, I’m really not talking to myself, I’m talking to the student whose paper I’m grading, except my words float uselessly unheard into the atmosphere, never to help develop anyone’s writing at all.”

For this teacher, the ability to capture her thoughts via video has been helpful for her own understanding of student progress as well as beneficial feedback for her kids. If you’d like more info, you can read her full blog post.

Jing’s drawbacks are that it is a program that must be installed, and there is a five-minute limit to screencasts you capture.


Screenr is an entirely online tool – one that is as available to students as well as teachers – and it creates a nice collection of your videos once you’ve created them (an example of my ‘channel’). It still has the same 5 minute limit as Jing.

The potential for Screenr, especially at the secondary level, is that students can create these videos just as easily as their teachers. Students can create tutorial videos on the use of specific websites, short narrated presentations (conveniently limited to five minutes), or teach mini-lessons as part of an assignment.


CamStudio is another program that must be installed on your machine, but it allows you to record as long as you’d like. This allows teachers to record full lessons or lectures, if they have a specific need to do so. I prefer this tool to others, like the built-in screen recorder in Smart Notebook, because it won’t slow your computer too much and you have more options for saving different video file types.

Awesome Screenshot

If you’re only looking to capture and annotate web pages, I’ll throw one more tool in for good measure: the Awesome Screenshot tool, a great Chrome and Firefox extension from the social bookmarking service Diigo. If you ever wanted to capture a screenshot of an entire webpage, this is the tool that will help you do it.

For more information about screencasting, check out the latest “1 Tool at a Time” webinar or a curated assortment of videos and posts on the subject on this Scoopit! page.

Know of another great screencasting tool? Feel free to include it in the comments below!

This is cross-posted over at

Posted in General, M & C Languages | 2 Comments

Promoting Peer Assessment – Using Blogs in Communication Arts

When Erica Rogers and Dan Barnes, communication arts teachers at Parkway West High, were redesigning a cumulative activity for their English III students, they were looking to create an activity where students would be writing and revising work throughout the year, culminating in a final portfolio of work.   Applying a simple, stable technology took this project to another level of engagement and effectiveness.

The goals of the redesign were 3-fold:

  • Show student progress over time
  • Archive the work so it could be displayed as a portfolio
  • Enable peer commenting for draft versions

The solution: a blog for each student.

Blogging is in no way a new technology.  It’s been around since at least 1995, one of the earliest and easiest ways to publish on the web.  The concept of blogging is simple – create a post and publish it for others to view and comment on.  Blog posts can be organized in a host of ways, making it easy to view an author’s growth over time, and blogging is a uniquely public act — every page is searchable and shareable.

The Process

Erica and Dan chose to apply blogging to their project in order to capitalize on its archiving and publishing abilities.  Students …

  • were grouped together with peers from other classes, creating an authentic audience for their work.  Students were given due dates for posting their work as well as for adding their comments.
  • posted both a draft for comments and a final version for review.  This established a sense of growth that both the student as well as his peers could see.
  • were required to comment in specific ways that were designed to promote valuable feedback to their peers.  Comments were defined, focused, and assessed by the teachers.  You can check out Erica and Dan’s feedback forms here and here.

This, in addition to in-class peer edits as well as teacher-edits, constituted a third round of feedback for every draft.  But what Erica and Dan noticed was that it was the audience of “strangers” that seemed to make this feedback cycle something different than the others.

Feedback from Beyond

Creating for a public audience changed how many kids went about the drafting process.  Erica sums it up nicely,

“Why would you want to create something you weren’t proud of?”

Students were concerned how their work was going to be perceived by students outside the bounds of their classroom, and they created with this in mind.  Students cared about the feedback they were delivering to and receiving from others, even going so far as to greet their teacher at the door with “My partner hasn’t posted his paper yet!”  The public nature of the publishing process meant that failing a due date didn’t mean that a student was frustrating her teacher – it meant she was letting down her peer.

An Example and an Explanation

Check out the blog below for a sense of what students were working on.   I’ve linked Dan’s write-up of the experience, a paper he recently completed for graduate school where he describes the positive impact of this application of technology on his students’ achievement.

In all, this project stands as a nice reminder that powerful uses of technology don’ t have to be complicated uses of technology.

Simple tools applied to specific needs can increase student investment and motivation without overwhelming the teacher.

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Reason and Audience: Scratch in Geometry Class

scratch iconAt the beginning of last summer, Corrie Meyer, math teacher at West High, was looking for a way to engage her 9th grade immersion students.  She wanted something fun but practical – something that would keep kids’ interest but also build logical reasoning, a necessary skill in mathematical pursuits.

She decided to try out programming, using an application called Scratch.

Scratch is a project created by MIT to encourage upper elementary and middle school  students to pursue computer science, but has been adopted by teachers in a number of different curricular areas at high school and collegiate levels.  In i’s basic use, Scratch allows students to tell stories by animating characters through a programming language that looks like puzzle pieces.

scratch controls

Geometry and Programming

After a successful first run in the summer school program, Corrie introduced the software to Kristin Judd, a fellow geometry teacher, as a way to give the abstract concept of geometry proofs some applied context.  The two decided to use it as an introductory activity this year.  When asked about the relationship between programming and the geometry curriculum, Kristin observed,

“In the past, students really struggled with ‘if, then’ statements.  It was hard for students to grasp the implications behind each step of the proof.  With Scratch, they keep asking ‘What do I need to do to make it work?’  They learn that they have to use the language of the system to explain to the program what they want it to do.  It’s the same with proofs – students need to learn the language so that they can explain to others the steps necessary to solve the problem.”

Leveraging an Authentic Audience

In addition to designing the application itself, the staff at MIT have built a website to show off student projects, creating an authentic audience beyond the classroom.  It’s this aspect that has really impressed Corrie.

“One of my favorite things about Scratch is that I’m not the only audience for the kids.  Kristin and I had our students turn in their projects by posting them on the Scratch website.  Then anyone who visits the website can see the projects and comment on them.  Their projects are also then available to download, so anyone can take it and improve it.  So in theory, kids from different schools (even different countries, if you check!) could collaborate very easily.  Our students were so excited when someone commented on their work.  Its a very tangible, real-world contribution as opposed to just a homework assignment.”
For an example of student work, check out the project below or visit one of the recommended links underneath it!
applet game
More student projects to check out:
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Tips for using YouTube

According to YouTube’s statistics page, “More than 13 million hours of video were uploaded during 2010 and 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day.” That’s an amazing amount of video that everyone, students and adults alike, has access to. While some of these videos are of cats riding skateboards, there are also as many instructional and educational videos available for use in the classroom as well as in your own life. Not long ago, my daughter, Molly, was trying to figure out how to get past a certain level in the video game Poptropica. She had worked through previous levels and was stuck. Rather than asking for help, she went to YouTube and did a search for a solution to that level. At 7 years old, she knew that she’d find her answer in an online video and in about 2 minutes, she found it, got through the level and went on her merry way. By watching her dad use the internet and find resources, she had learned that YouTube was someplace where she could find answers.

With all that video, sometimes it’s hard to manage and navigate the YouTube environment. Here are some thing you may know that you could do with YouTube.

  1. Create your own playlists– Just like with music services and software, you can create a playlist of YouTube videos that you want to save to watch later. To do that, you need to create an account with Google. (Watch this video for instructions.) If you’re logged into YouTube, under each video you’ll see an “+ Add to” button that will allow you to add it to a playlist.
    This playlist can then be accessed clicking on your username in the upper right hand corner and then selecting “Videos” in the dropdown. On that page you’ll see any videos that you’ve uploaded, tagged to watch later or added to a playlist.

  2. Share a video– Sharing videos on YouTube may not be new to you, but there are a couple of options that you may not know about. When you click the “Share” button below a video, you’ll see a link to a video where you can email that link to someone or you can click “Embed” and get a code to post that on your website. Those are common features that are readily used but in that same window, you’ll see a “show options” link. One of the features that I like best here is that you can check the “Start at” box and select the point in the video where you want it to start. Then when you share that link with someone, the video starts exactly where you wanted it to without the recipient having to watch the irrelevant parts.
  3. Subscribing to video channels– There have been many times where I have found a set of videos that were uploaded by someone that I really liked and wanted to know when they uploaded more. At one point, I would have to continually go back to that person or organization’s channel to see if they have something new. Now I just subscribe to their channel and receive an email every time they upload a new video. To subscribe to a video channel, click on the “Subscribe” button on the top of the video and you’ve just subscribed yourself. On the popup find the checkbox beside “Also email me for each new upload” and you’ll start getting emails whenever new content is available.
  4. Show videos without the comments or recommendations – YouTube has lots of busyness on every page with a video. There are comments and suggested videos that may or may not be appropriate as well as ads on the site. Sometimes that can be very distracting. Using a site like Quietube can allow you to focus only on the video by removing all the extras. Go to the Quietube website for directions on how to use it. (See an example here and watch a tutorial here.)

Online video is a part of our lives and it’s not going away anytime soon. Students like my daughter are becoming very adept at using and working with online video but it’s not “just for kids” and it’s not “just for entertainment”. More and more it can be used as a tool for education and for learning. Hopefully these tips can help you navigate the world of YouTube a little more smoothly. If you’d like to talk more about the role online video can play in your classroom, contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

Cross posted at Mr. Bass Online.

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