Tuesday 25 June 2013

Rockin' roller coasters!

I've mentioned in previous posts my interest in Google + as a tool for use in the classroom, and I still think there is a place for it. This last couple of weeks some of my students have made experimental forays into posting their work. Initially the posts have been made on the community I set up specifically for the classes, giving them a safe place to get used to posting. It did not take long for a few hardy souls to actually make some public posts regarding the roller coasters they are making. We are investigating forces, and rather than waffle on about actions/ reactions etc. I decided to let them investigate forces through making roller coasters from card to test with a marble. That way we can find out about inertia, momentum, actions and reactions, gravity and other force-related ideas. More fun that way too!

It has taken us 3.5 weeks to get to the stage of even getting track onto the coasters, however the other skills that have been developed have been very worthwhile, and perhaps were not something I considered prior to starting the unit. The NZ curriculum mentions key competencies about Thinking, Relating to Others, Using Language, Symbols and Text, Managing Self and Participation and Contribution. This is not to mention the thinking in science and Nature of Science objectives.
What I have notices is that the thinking has been developmental with the students. Initially it was just a case of build whatever appears to be useful, and this has shifted to thinking about what is actually needed to get this project working properly.
As for relating to others, they are evaluating their team-mates weekly, and themselves. The team work that has been coming out with sharing of tasks, collaboration on ideas and general effort to pull together have been outstanding. Some of the teams are becoming really cohesive units. Slacking members have even been expelled in one case as the team was being pulled down!
Posting openly on Google + has been an interesting challenge for thee students, as making these sort of comments public requires a bit of thought about what should be written, as this has engaged certain students. The students that did post publicly were succinct, and there was a hint of pride in what they had done in terms of construction. Awesome!
Self-management is an important part of the project because the students are being left to just get on with it. Of course, I am there to help, but each team has to get building and evaluating their own ideas to achieve the team goals. The extent to which the kids get straight on with things is demonstrated by my tutor class who I also teach for science. They regularly want to use tutor time for some little bit of building, and I am happy to let them get on with it. Double awesome!!

Clearly there is some participation and contribution there too.
Testing and evaluating their work has given them some of the scientific thinking and knowledge necessary too. The Nature of Science (NoS) aspects are seen as a critically important part of science education, allowing students to THINK about the world around them. I don't care if none of my students become scientists, in fact it is quite unlikely. But having a natural curiosity about the world, and what happens around them, that has to be worth more than the formal education that a rigid curriculum does not allow. We have some additional freedom in the current curriculum to allow us to find interesting things to do with the students, and mine seem to be enjoying steeping away from formal tests, and I certainly am. Marking this work is done in terms of stages of the build and evaluation. We will actually use some proper tests once the coasters are built, just to make sure we are covering the physics aspects!
I am posting pics (and so are the students!) onto Google +, so watch out for them and leave them a comment- they'd be really pleased with that!

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Google do it again

So we are now a couple of weeks from Google I/O 13 and things have not settled yet in terms of releases. New toys have been coming thick and fast and trying to keep up with all of it has been an effort!
The new Google Maps really has improved this particular tool, making it much more interactive and easier to find things worth finding. I haven't had the time to play properly yet, but it is exam week and that might mean a few minutes to really see what it can do.

One change I have made use of from the moment of release was the new inbox layout on GMail. This enables streaming of your messages in GMail with tabs for Primary (the important stuff), Social (where all my   Google + stuff ends up), Promotions (for those less important emails- sales etc), Updates (where receipts etc end up) and Forums (where all of my Google community posts go). Also, there is the option to 'train' GMail to direct messages of each type into the correct folder. For me, it has made it easier to sift the 'not so important stuff' from the more useful messages. It made it very easy to delete about 1,000 email in a couple of hours!

Hangouts has also had a big revamp, and this is something I love the idea of using with students, although not sure I want to be hanging out with students when I am at home relaxing! But having the ability to find people who are experts about a subject we are learning about would be awesome and powerful learning.

A lot of the upgrades appeal to me as a bit of a geek  to make the way I do things personally, but it also gets me thinking about the idea of using these apps with students. I'm probably fighting a losing battle with the GMail upgrades as they still don't check their emails, but I have mentioned it to them anyway!
Maps is not something we use a lot in science, but maybe there should be some way to incorporate them into lessons. The Google + and Hangouts have massive potential and there was a post on Google + today discussing the use of G+ with students- something I need to hunt down (not really, I favourited it!) and have a read of. As an update, the blog post I mentioned is here, by Jack West.
Now, off to play with some of the updated apps!