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The structure of the Interstitial App, or, Observations & Conversations - Part 2

This builds on my earlier post (link here).
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Observations & Conversations : Part 1 of many?

I kinda run on some basic principles when using IT -- it's gotta be free, increase teacher efficacy (modulo some smal learning curve), reduce time spent, it's got to digitize content and I have to be able to to work with the data to find meaning.
So every other year we get inspected by the Ministry of Education and her most recent feedback has been that we need a way to record evidence of observations and conversations in our classes -- and provide a structure for how they are included in the grades of our students.  Now we have read Growing Success (link to PDF), the guide to assessment & evaluation in our province and we thought we were doing really well with discussions, debates, Harkness, one-on-one conversations, videorecordings, student screencasts, Flipgrids, well, you name it.

But NO.  She wanted evidence of incidental noticings, conversations-in-passing -- those ephemeral interactions with students that build up our gut-instincts of what a student knows and doesn&#…

Visibly Random Grouping in Excel

So I was in the Lounge the other day and one of the teachers mentioned that she heard I used Excel for Visibly Random Grouping and asked me to explain it (previous blog post).  Well, I use Excel just to assign my students to one of five tables - at the tables, they can sit in whatever arrangement they prefer.

Well, she wasn't happy with that so asked if she could have a tool that she could design her seating arrangment (sometimes a U, sometimes groups, sometimes rows/columns) and have the students randomly assigned in that.

Well I did a few searches online and there were a few apps but many of them cost money (no way, buddy) so during a class coverage where the students had free work time (i.e. I didn't have to actual teach or ensure they were doing something) I whipped up an Excel macro (well, VBA, but you know what I mean) that would let her design the seating map and then drop the students in randomly.
You are welcome to download the Zip file and use/edit it as you like :

Choose your own... PD.

When we return from March Break, we tend to have a teacher-only day of PD and meetings.  The admin had broken the faculty into 3 groups for two sessions and hadn't planned anything for the third so I suggested I run a tech PD.
Since this would be my swan song as the tech guy I wanted to do something interesting but also to value the time of the teachers. I would have 30-40 teachers at a time, so I knew I couldn't do a workshop or a "presentation" of tech so I turned to an idea I've had before -- a Choose Your Own Adventure PD.  Why?  Well, I haven't had any time to give them PD this year so I had a lot of things to share, I wanted to make sure they found it profitable, and I wanted it to be something different than what they'd done before.  (I've talked about Choose Your Own Adventure earlier on this blog here.)

I had a long list of things that were new, new-er or just hadn't reached universality.  I was a little restricted because IT doesn't…

The Universe decides...

For a number of years now, instead of a fixed (or no) seating plan for my classroom, I've been using visibly random grouping (PDF).  I have an Excel spreadsheet (link) that takes my class list and randomly assigns them to a 4-seater table (2 tables that seat two students). I project it at the beginning of class as they walk in.  And I use 5 plastic covered letters to randomly place the groups inside the space.
Now, my classroom has one fixed projector and the rest of the room is either whiteboard or window -- both vertical surfaces are used to write on, and the tables have been explicitly purchased so that the surfaces are write-able. So while we do a lot of work seated they will also go to the whiteboards individually or in pairs (the table seating decide the pairs).
While the pedagogical reasons for using visibly random grouping are laid out in the attached article above, I bring it up because of what happened the other day.  Someone else had used my room for a discussion and ha…

This is a Test... this is only a test...

This post wouldn't have been possible without Eric in our IT Dept -- he fixed a network setting that prevented us from using TakeATest last year... so a huge shout-out to him (he's likely relieved because I've been pestering him for the past couple of years!)
Built into Windows10 (right from its initial release!) is the option to TakeATest -- a way to lock down the device to a single web address.  It shuts them out from any program or content on their device and restricts them to whatever webpage you direct them to -- the only way to exit is to CTRL-ALT-DELETE back to the login screen.  They can't do screen captures, can't open up other pages, print, etc.
In most cases, this has been used to lock down the device and have the student take a Microsoft Forms based assessment (how? click here) -- the student clicks on the link to the Form and they answer the questions, typically multiple choice, short answer, sorting (all automatically graded) and long answer (not aut…

Post It Notes go universal

Microsoft recently began rolling out an update to their Post-It Note software, which they call StickyNotes - now at version 3.  You can get it in the Microsoft Store here.  For the sake of clarity, I'll continue to refer to them as Post-It Notes -- they're like Kleenex.
What's nice now is that the Notes now sync between devices that are tied to the same Microsoft/Office365 account.  So my school laptop, my home desktop and my phone can now access all the same notes all the time. (I did use my personal Microsoft Account rather than my O365 account because I use them for personal reminders and not just academic ones.)
The application is as simple and colourful as you'd expect.  You click the + sign to get a new note.

You'll briefly see a little check mark as the note gets synced to the cloud.  There are some basic formatting (bold, italic, underline, list ... and strike-out for when you get things done!).  And you can change the colour of the note by clicking on the…