Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Observations

I had the opportunity to visit a school just outside of Edinburgh yesterday. While my overall intent was to look at the use of OneNote and Office365, what resonated with me so strongly was the fluidity with which both educators approached their classes.  I admit, I was taking notes furiously.  So much so that I often felt rude because I wanted to make sure I captured both what they said but also what they did and how they did it.
It reminded me of once reading how they built the first bread machines.  Random thought, I know.  The engineer in charge of making a machine that replicated a human baker had, of course, interviewed bakers to get an idea of how they manipulated and molded the dough.  While the bakers had tried to describe in words what they did it was only by watching them intensely and for a long time that they noticed that the bakers hadn't adequately described the "twisty-stretch" that was one of the most important manoeuvres in bread production.
And that was what I noticed about the teachers yesterday.  They talked a lot about the way they used OneNote, how they designed projects, look at ways of assessing, gave feedback, developed a professional learning community. Given my objective, they succeeded in giving me the notes I wanted.  I watch as they interacted with students and as they both implicitly and explicitly managed a classroom environment. All of these are steps well known and universal across teaching programs; either teacher would make a good case study for beginning teachers.
But the "twisty-stretch" that they never vocalized but was clear through observation and listening was the totality of their understanding and passion - likely too strong a word -- they were in their groove. These are professional athletes who clearly enjoy playing their sport. But they weren't just doing a job by following all the steps correctly.  They flowed, deftly, intuitively, making instructional decisions based on tacit knowledge that would be difficult for the non-teacher to see the near-instantaneous reasoning that led to it.
It's why people think "teaching is easy" - because they see situations like this. But they miss out on the hours of preparation, the reflection on student work and the years of experience (and errors!) that led to yesterday.  The value in observing classes can not be understated.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The #OneNote Grand Tour - Evolving Questions

So while my hometown undergoes a rare March Break blizzard, I'm enjoying 13C and sun in beautiful Edinburgh. It's quite enjoyable to be relaxing in a coffee shop watching the Scottish go about their daily tasks while I get caught up on emails, blogs, tweets and the like.  (Don't worry, I was a tourist yesterday).
Today I start my school visits and so before I head out, I thought I'd best outline my curiosity.

When we laid out the initial structure of the OneNote, there's no question it was pushing on continuous feedback -- we wanted a way of taking advantage of digital ink, audio and video to support student learning both while in the classroom space but especially when the students are not physically present.  We are a very active school with extracurriculars (sports, service, international travel) that it was important to be able to engage students in the formative cycle even if they couldn't be present in class.  So, one of my questions will be "How has OneNote affected your feedback to students?"

After the ability to use digital ink, OneNote allowing students to interact & work offline was the second reason we chose OneNote over GoogleDocs.  That also played into our first reason - if students aren't at school, if they're in transportation, if they're in locations with little or no wifi, can they still be actively engaged with both my content (as teacher) and their earlier content (as learners).  OneNote gives that easily.  Once it's in the Notebook, it's there to stay and anything new syncs up as soon as you find wifi again, in exactly the right place.  And both students and teacher have (respective) control over their space and access to all kinds of digital content (and digital forms of physical content).  That prompts another question for me: "How has OneNote affected your teaching & learning content?"

And since good things come in threes, my third question is one that vexes us at Appleby College.  "Where do we go from here?"  This goes beyond OneNote, of course -- although their first response will likely be what they want to be added to OneNote. While it's all well-and-good to be transfixed by Hololens and to be astounding by the seemingly predictive power of data analytics (my two favourite next-steps in education), classroom teachers recognize that there's a big gap between the marketing and the reality, in terms of time, money and implementation.  So what do those folks on the ground want and feel they need when it comes to technology?

My last question is more personal: "How have you changed as an educator?"  My own journey is commingled with OneNote, digital ink, PCMI, and the wise guidance of my colleagues.  How are others evolving? What is prompting their ongoing evolution? And what are the pain points?


Thursday, March 9, 2017

The #OneNote Grand Tour - Part 0

In the summer of 2012, I started a new position at Appleby College.  Moving from math teacher to "indeterminate job title"1 meant that for the first time in 20 years, I would not be in the classroom.  The goal of the school was to make technology use meaningful at the School by working directly with the folks in IT, while retaining the link to the teaching faculty.  And the first result of that project was our OneNote Binder which engendered what would become Microsoft's OneNote ClassNotebook.
I'll never forget sketching out on the whiteboard the structure that Jason Llorin, our programmer, would bring to life in my OneNote.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016.  Our School, through the generosity of our parent community, has a travel grant that teachers can apply to for support in doing their own independent research.  And so I submitted one to look at how our initial work with OneNote has travelled around the world.  We want to see how others use it in different countries, different schools, different contexts.  How did we get things right? How did others adapt the Notebook?  And where are we headed with the technology?  What can we learn and what can we share?

Thanks to the assistance of the folks at GlowScot in Edinburgh and the indefatigable Marjolein Hoekstra (@OneNoteC) in the Hague, I'll be visiting a large number of schools and talking with as many teachers and other users of OneNote as possible.  I cannot wait!

(And I will be riding a motorcycle around the south of England on the weekend.  Hey, the schools aren't open on the weekend!)

So stay posted!  I start on Monday the 13th and return on the 25th.

__________
1This really is true. Our CIO has never been able to settle on what I should be called, so he just makes up a name that describes the situation at that point in time.  And I'm okay with that -- just as our learning space is under continual evolution, so do the expectations and demands of my position evolve.  Names define things and by not putting a pin in it, we can remain responsive.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Mr. A is always on his phone in class..."


So,, the above quote is true... I'm always on my phone in class.  For one, I take a lot of pictures (see the previous post, for example) - my students treat every surface like a whiteboard, and I like keeping track of what students are doing.

I also created a Microsoft Form (http://forms.microsoft.com) to track learning skills and other observations of learning.  What's nice is that everything gets pushed into an Excel Spreadsheet and I can pull out by day, by section, by student, by learning skill -- and because it's automatically date/time stamped I can also match pictures to anecdotes.

When I first opened the form on my phone in the browser, I made sure to click on ADD TO HOME SCREEN in the browser menu so that I could get a button I can easily tap each time I want to make an entry.

I teach three sections of Grade 10 Math, so my first question is which section I am adding a note to.  Now, I could have made three different forms but then I would have had three different spreadsheets and three different buttons on my phone.   It's worked out easier to just choose which section... because...

Forms does Branching ... 

...depending on which Section I pick in the first question, the next question displays which group of student(s) I am assessing.  And yes, I set up the "which student" so that I can make an observation on one or several students all at once.

It does take a couple of minutes setting up the form when I first started and I do have to go back in when there is a change of students but the time-saving on the other end makes up for it.

After I choose the student(s) I then added a series of ranking questions - in this case, I used the Ontario Learning Skills:

  • Responsibility
  • Organization
  • Independent Work
  • Collaboration
  • Initiative
  • SelfRegulation


Now, I don't necessarily use each rating for each observation - but if it's appropriate it's good feedback to capture.  I didn't make them required questions so I can skip what I don't need.

Then, I have an open text box in which to write a comment.

And lastly, I have a check box to indicate whether or not there is a photo associated with the entry.  Since Microsoft Forms puts a time/date stamp in the Excel spreadsheet, I can match the picture to the entry.



I also recommend using a swipe keyboard; I use Swiftkey (Android) - by swiping to get your words down, it can greatly increase your speed of entry and allows you to write using only one hand.  In fact, only one thumb with enough practice.

(The idea to develop a form like this came from an old app on my iPod Touch that I used to use called GradePad.  But then Apple removed the ability to update my iPod so I use my phone now).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What is your classroom like?

So my new year's resolution is to write one blog post a week.
I thought I would start off by answering a question I was asked during #PubPD in October.  Now, #PubPD is a fun evening where teachers gather together in a local pub and over the course of an hour, we discuss questions posted to Twitter, alongside teachers in pubs around the world.  During the dinner that preceeded us discussing the questions posted on Twitter, Melinda Lula, our Hamilton #PubPD organizer asked me "What is your classroom like?" ... and I never really got around to answering that question.  So I'll do that here.
My first statement would be that I don't religiously follow any approach or pedagogy; I think it's important to be agnostic in education since, unlike math or physics, we can't know 'best' or 'right' (we do know wrong, obviously, and I don't go there).  I'm not a bandwagon guy (okay, maybe OneNote, but that's like being in favour of having chairs in class).
So each day I will have planned something different.  We have 60 minute classes, so I can choose from me talking (yes, sometimes I just show them math and ask them questions throughout), sometimes it's them working individually on problems (although there's never a prohibition on asking questions of their group mates or others), sometimes it's them working in partners or larger groups, or as a whole class and I'm just watching and inserting myself when I feel appropriate.  Sometimes, they all work up on the board showing their work to everyone.  Sometimes they know where they're going; sometimes they don't and they don't get where I wanted or expected.  Sometimes it's guided, like a Desmos activity; sometimes it's completely open ended and they go interesting places that we document and clarify later.  And the 60 minutes each day is broken up in some combination of those.  So... what's my classroom like?  It's different each day.
What's the same day-to-day? 
Well, I have a small room to work in -- this does cause some challenges because I am a big guy so I do shuffle around a lot what with tables, chairs, bookbags and other human beings. Fortunately, when they redesigned the rooms, they put up whiteboards on every vertical wall -- and the fourth wall is all glass looking out into a quad, so I can use that space, too  (the students love to use the whiteboards but they have an aversion to writing on the window... they don't quite trust that they can get away with it).  I think room-to-work and documentation is important so I encourage them to write everywhere, and fortunately the tables the school purchased work well with whiteboard markers.  We use Office Lens on our phones to capture written information in the course OneNote.
Our tables seat two and I put the students in groups of four; they're randomly assigned at the beginning of class - the students walk in and they see the seating spreadsheet projected. And it really is random; I don't jig it.  This has worked out really well.  I used to not have a seating plan at all and let them sit where they want but it would always settle into "this is my chair and I don't like other people sitting in it", so random works out much better.
I think (hope?) there's one thing that people notice when they walk into my classroom and that's my use of questions.  I've really been affected by the Park City Mathematics Institute and I spend a lot of time thinking (both before class, during and after) about the questions I ask my students.  I've learned to pause a lot before I say something to a student.  To simplify things, I try to use Black&Wiliam's idea that questions should either probe the student's thinking or push the student forward.  I try to avoid answering questions that have simple answers directly ("Mr. Armstrong, what's 5*6?"... "well, John, what would it look like if you drew it as a diagram?").
------
My last thought is pushing on the idea of "like".  I hope my students experience my classroom as a fun place to learn a fun subject.  I want them to enjoy math, to see it as problem-solving and sense making, as a way of communicating ideas.  I do know that as a large (6'4, 230lbs), white male with an aura of authority (seriously, people always think I'm a police officer or in the military) that students -- until they spend some time and realize I'm a push-over teddy bear -- are put off by me.  That's one reason why I ensure my students have access to virtual spaces for questions outside of class.  If they're not comfortable asking in person, they have the opportunity to do so elsewhere (and anonymously, if necessary).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thoughts on Google versus Office

This was a recent question posted amongst school educators
G suite versus Office 365. Thoughts?
Since I wrote a fair bit, I thought I'd also post it here:



If people are learning with a modern pen-based tablet pc, or are learning math, science, or languages outside of the QWERTY keyboard, then it is Office365 specifically because of Microsoft OneNote. There is nothing in the Google Suite that provides a 360 degree flexible, open digital learning environment. However, that flexibility & openness does require a bit more work on training for novices (and some handholding for those teachers who aim pedagogically for a, umm, less-than-21st century and/or paperless classroom) . I cannot teach without it, and its use has improved instruction and assessment school wide.

I have experienced that Google Classroom is really good at structured (and perhaps inflexible) document management, given its genesis on top of Google Drive. Teachers also seem dependent on a collection of 3rd party apps/plugins that extend functionality to the Google system; Microsoft tends to build that extension by themselves (likely since it's a smaller part of the market).

Now, if you're only running Chromebooks then maybe it makes sense to go with Google, but iPads are becoming pen-active.

I would also say that in the past 18 months Microsoft got its stuff together in terms of the rest of the package. OneDrive (their cloud based storage) now actually works and the online versions of the Office suite are better than their GDocs options (not to mention that you can pull them into desktop versions for more functionality). Microsoft's other apps in Office365 all bring something new, different and powerful to the table (Sway, PowerBI, Yammer) or lack some features of their Google alternatives but are quite functional (Forms, Video, Group, Planner). Having said that, the latter group are also under aggressive development, with considerable improvements every four months. Forms isn't even a year old and already it's nipping at the heels of Google Forms.

And then finally (since I could likely write considerably more) there is Delve, the Office365 intelligence, something completely missing in Google. Given the massive amounts of information in the cloud, Delve sorts through it all and presents it to you prioritized. I work with Google for several other projects outside the school and get frustrated trying to search for materials in 100G and ten years; Delve proactively surfaces materials for me from across the school often before I realize I need it. And it's completely individualized, so students get their upcoming assignments and critical dates automatically highlighted while teachers get report deadlines and policy documents, for example. It is also beginning to be able to offer feedback on how people use the technology in order to be more efficient, productive and healthy.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

OneNotes upon OneNotes...

We're just prepping for the start of the school year (we don't start teaching until the 12th) and I just thought I'd run through how enmeshed Microsoft OneNote is to our school.

1) Class OneNotes -- this is where it all started five years ago, so we have over 2500 Class Notebooks in our archive.  Each year, we run a script against our timetable and a Class Notebook is created for every class, with a Teacher Content Library section group (including a private planning space), a Group Collaboration Space section group (with a wide-open collaborative space along with the opportunity to add additional small-group spaces at the teacher's whim), and a section group for each student (with appropriate student assignment dropbox, private teacher marking space and a returned section which the student can't edit for marked work.  This is all spelt out here here and here.

But then there are all the other places we use OneNote that I thought we should mention.

2) Department OneNote
Every department has a OneNote -- it helps streamline the management of all the information that gets distributed both up from the teachers to the administration and vice-versa.  Curriculum, assessments, exams - everything about every course gets put into the Department OneNote so that if you don't know what's gong on, a quick search will show you.  What's awesome is that this is all available on our phones, too, so we can check up on policies and duedates anywhere!
The example below is from our Visual & Performing Arts Department - you can see along the left hand side all the sections over the past few years.  Well, not all, because it actually goes back to 2012!  And I love, absolutely love, that the very first section is a list of suggested Netflix shows with reviews from Arts faculty.  We encourage our faculty to use the tools for personal use, because there's a great symbiosis of skills development.

3) Advisor Group OneNote &
4) School Directors' OneNote (aka Principals' OneNote)
Our school has a large pastoral program - each teacher is assigned 8 or so students who they track from Grades 9 through 12.  It's an incredible thing to meet your students as they enter Grade 9 and then watch them grow and graduate in Grade 12.  Their academics, their extracurriculars, their social development, we try to capture evidence of all this.  Each week we meet to see how life is going and the teachers and students track their progress in the Group's OneNote, which is just a Class Notebook with sections aligned to the Advisor Program (goal setting, accomplishments, reflections, etc.)  This Notebook is active for all four years of their high school career so they have a complete record of things that went on outside the classroom.
To manage all this, there's a Staff OneNote Notebook where the School Directors (grade level principals, basically) are the "teachers" and each of the Advisor Group faculty is a "student".  This is the space for the principals to deliver content and have a space for collection of student info from each Advisor group.  As well, we add the community oriented directors (Morals & Ethics, Inclusivity, Social/Emotional) and Guidance staff so that the entire student-life is included.

5) Guidance OneNote
As a university preparatory school, our Guidance department is active from Grade 7 in finding out the interests and goals for each of our students.  To maintain continuity, we have a Class Notebook that contains all the students of each grade that they use for their Guidance class, with several Guidance teachers co-owning the Notebook.  This way, the students and Guidance can keep looking back on what their earlier thoughts were.  They also use it, in conjunction with the Advisor OneNote, to keep track of all of their accomplishments to record in their university applications.

6) Duke of Edinburgh OneNote
Another longitudinal Class Notebook, since the Duke of Edinburgh program runs the length of high school, and beyond in fact.  The DofE, as it's known, is an external award that highlights to students the benefits of "Service, Skill Development, Physical Recreation [and] Adventurous Journey."  But since it's an actual award, each of the students must be tracked by our DofE administrator to verify that they've completed all the steps for each of the three different levels of awards.  This is all done via a OneNote Class Notebook they have for each grade that the student continues to add content to.  The administrator then drags it into the student's "_R" section (read only for the student) so that the student doesn't muck it up and lose/edit something that's been confirmed.  For a very information-dense process, the OneNote has made it manageable.

7) Presentations of Learning OneNote
In Grade 8, our students spend all year reflecting on their progress from Grade 7 to Grade 8 and complete their year by giving a ~20 minute presentation on why they're ready for high school.  They meet regularly with a mentor preparing for this presentation, collecting content and practising their presentation skills.  To make things easier for this review process, we set up a OneNote just like it's a regular "class" but where all of the teachers & mentors can participate in the individual student spaces.

8) Service Trip OneNote
We send out about 1/3 of our 750-strong student body on international service trips, from Peru to Vietnam to South Africa.  Each trip is given a OneNote to provide all the preparatory planning material, all the travel information and to keep things up to date as the travel progresses.

9) PLC OneNotes
Every Monday morning our faculty meet for an hour in a self-selected Personal Learning Community group.  Of course, we use a class OneNote where the faculty can participate!

And there's lot more OneNotes running around campus.  I was surprised two years ago to find that our Medical Centre (we have two doctors and a cadre of nurses for our boarding students) have started to use OneNote internally.  Our Admissions, Advancement and HR are also starting to use them to track information - mostly because they interact with teachers with whom OneNote is deeply embedded.

--------------------------
I've been working on a series of OneNote Class Notebook blog posts for the 2016/17 school year: 

Creating your first OneNote Class Notebook
The first page of your Class Notebook
Putting content in your Class Notebook
--- this post
Distributing content in your Class Notebook (the video)
Facilitating Feedback in OneNote (Review Student Work)

Monday, August 29, 2016

So you want to hack your OneNote Class Notebook

Taking a brief break from my "Getting Started with OneNote Class Notebook" series (you can start that one here)...

This is a little advanced so if you're not comfortable setting permissions inside of Office365 you may want to avoid this.  Or set up a Class Notebook to play with so that it doesn't affect any existing Class Notebooks.  Yeah, the latter is a good option.

One of the great powers of OneNote is that you can do some really neat permissioning of the Section Tabs. When the Notebook is created, of course, it gives you an "open permissions" on the Collaboration Space and student-read-only on the Content Library.  And then each student space is wide open to each individual student.

But we've found that occasionally you want to mix up the permissions a little.  For example, you could create a space in a student section for your private notes that the student couldn't see, or maybe you want a tab in the Collaboration Space that students couldn't edit.

Here's how you do that:

Go to your OneDrive for Business and go into the Class Notebooks folder.

The URL will look like this:

https://applebycollege-my.sharepoint.com/personal/carmstrong_appleby_on_ca/_layouts/15/onedrive.aspx?id=%2fpersonal%2fcarmstrong_appleby_on_ca%2fDocuments%2fClass+Notebooks&AjaxDelta=1&isStartPlt1=1472482816818

Click on the far right of the URL and get rid of everything up to the Class+Notebooks

Now, type %2f and the name of your Class Notebook.  Since my Class Notebooks is named "MPM2D-2 2016" it means I have to type MPM2D-2%202016 and I get:

https://applebycollege-my.sharepoint.com/personal/carmstrong_appleby_on_ca/_layouts/15/onedrive.aspx?id=%2fpersonal%2fcarmstrong_appleby_on_ca%2fDocuments%2fClass+Notebooks%2fMPM2D-2%202016

When you press ENTER you should now see the exploded version of your Class Notebook.

Notice that each Section Group is a Folder and each Section is File (ignore the "Open Notebook" file).
So if I go into _Collaboration Space you'll notice I have a Section called "Just Briana and Peter" ... right now, though, anybody could go in there.  We're going to make it just Briana and Peter...
Click on the selection button to the left of Just Briana & Peter and then click on the SHARE button along the top ribbon.  You'll get a popup window appearing
Click on the SHARED WITH option and then click on ADVANCED

You'll now see the permission on this section.  We want to "Stop Inheriting Permissions" because the Collaboration Space says everyone can contribute to it (and the teacher, me, has Full Control, which is why I can do this).  So click the Stop Inheriting Permissions button ... you'll get a warning about doing this, but go ahead.


Now, you have the ability to select students... so select the students that aren't Briana and Peter as I've done and then click on REMOVE.  They will disappear from the list and will no longer even see that there's a tab called Briana and Peter!

You can always go back into the permissions and re-inherit permission and it will become public again.

Let me know what you use this for!
And Microsoft has the habit of changing approaches so should this change I'll update the post.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Facilitating Feedback in OneNote

When we were creating the precursor to the OneNote Class Notebook, I was heavily influenced (well, I still am) by the work of Black & Wiliam and so improving the quality and quantity of formative assessment is cooked right into the Notebooks.  Likely the whole reason the Class Notebook exists in  its present structure in the first place is because of quotes like this from "Inside the Black Box":
Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils. (Black & Wiliam, p.6)
And so we have a private area for the student to do all of their work that only they and their teacher can see, and in which the teacher is easily able to provide feedback in written, typed, pictorial, audio or video formats at any time.

Microsoft went a step further with their Class Notebook AddIn to make the process a lot easier.

Let's say you distributed one question to each of your students (How do you do that in 3 clicks?  Check here). So each student has a copy that they can work on in their private area.  Now you want to provide feedback on their work.  So I put the page with my question in each of the students' Unit 1 tab - so each student has a "Question 1" page in their Unit 1 tab (that's the power of Distribute Page).  They work on it.  Now, since OneNote syncs continually, I can actually watch their work progress -- but let's say I've designed this as their exit ticket and so I'm looking at them all outside of class.

You could click through to each student section, click into the right unit section and then click down to the page, then go back out to the next student section & so on & so on.  Workable, but not practicable.

Instead, go to the Class Notebook Ribbon and click on the Review Student Work button.  As before, OneNote is smart and knows which sections each of your students have.


We want Unit 1, so we click on that. We now get a floating popup "Review Student Work" listing all of the material in the students' Unit 1.  From the options, we choose which of the pages in Unit 1 we want to look at.  Our page was titled "Question 1" so when we expand that page, we see all the students we can assess.

Click on Briana's name and we automatically jump to Briana's Question 1 page.  We can give feedback by writing or typing or using the Audio/Video tools on the Insert ribbon.  Once we're done with Briana, we can click on Peter's name (the window keeps floating) and we jump right to Peter's Question 1 Page.  Because everything is stored in OneNote, there's no opening or closing of files, there's no emailing of comments -- all your feedback is exactly with the student work for them to see in context -- and you can deepen the comments by using audio or video right on the page.
Student solutions courtesty of Dekker & Querrelle, 2002, the orgin of the Quarter the Cross problem.


Remember you can do this quick-page switching while in class while they're working, since student content is always syncing between your and their computers.  This way, you can ask Stephen if you can project his solution to the class to have him explain and quickly jump to his page to enter into a discussion.

Feedback is one of the most critical, most effective and most often ignored steps in learning, and the Class Notebook and Tool makes it a lot easier for teachers to give rich and meaningful feedback easily.  Since OneNote is available on any device and can work offline, teachers can give students the comments they need when the teacher is available -- they're not tied to a device or access to the internet.



So far we've done:
Creating your first OneNote Class Notebook
The first page of your Class Notebook
Putting content in your Class Notebook
Distributing content in your Class Notebook (the video)
--- this post


Distributing content in your Class Notebook (the video)

In the previous post Distributing content in your Class Notebook, I went through the steps of distributing a page to each of my students (effectively handing out what I wanted them to look at).  What's nice is that it doesn't involve any email - everything stays captured within OneNote.
It's sometimes easier to see that in action, so here's a screen recording of that process, first creating a new section in each of my students' areas (calling it Unit 1) and then putting a copy of the problem to work on in each of their Unit 1s.



So far we've done:
Creating your first OneNote Class Notebook
The first page of your Class Notebook
Putting content in your Class Notebook
--- this post
Facilitating Feedback in OneNote (Review Student Work)