Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

May your New Year be blessed!

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon after the holidays...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Survey Monkey

The research says good feedback has significant impact on student learning. (If you want to check that statement, you do not need to look farther than Marzano's meta-analysis in What Works in Schools.) The research strongly supports gathering effective assessment to drive instruction and giving helpful feedback to students.

Obtaining, analyzing, and acting upon feedback is a critical part of being a classroom teacher or school leader. When I want feedback, I like Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is free for up to 10 questions with some limitations. If you work at either of my schools, you have access to a school account for Survey Monkey.

Survey Monkey is powerful because you can ask any type of question and obtain feedback in many forms. Some examples include multiple choice, checking all that apply, open-ended responses, and rating scales that are automatically tallied for you. Analysis is easy with the tallying of most common answers and easily sorting or filtering results in a number of ways.

One of the best parts of Survey Monkey is the ability to export to a spreadsheet file such as Excel. As Survey Monkey doesn't specialize in analysis, this feature allows many more uses than the basic summary through an export to a spreadsheet. Organizationally, this tool has tremendous benefits whether it is evaluations, signups, accreditation surveys, exit surveys for staff and students, or just general staff or student feedback. It is a good way to collect data quickly and get a sense where people stand.

In a classroom, this could be used to get feedback from students. I would consider even making a blank survey with numbers 1-5 and choices A-D. I could orally check students understanding of the previous day's material or check for understanding at the end of a lesson by reading a few questions aloud. It's not designed for summative feedback but could serve as a tool to ascertain where students are in their learning, and allowing me to adjust the lesson(s) appropriately. By leaving the questions blank, I could just use it any day by orally giving questions and then reset it for use again. It could be used as part of a larger plan or I could spontaneously get students feedback in a 1:1 laptop setting. Without 1:1 laptops, I could have students do a short quiz for homework (no grade, but just a check) with multiple choice or open-ended answers.

It is worth noting that I would not use it for summative assessments or any significant grading due to the potential for cheating by students. However, it is very valuable in the formative sense for just seeing where students are.

I know some colleagues that also use Google Forms as part of the Google Docs/Spreadsheets package. This can work as well but I find that Survey Monkey is more powerful and in many ways easier to use depending on your purpose. Others use quizzes or surveys on Moodle and Quia is also used by some. Perhaps this will help you find quick ways to get some feedback and see how your students are doing in their learning.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Fast World

Friedman wrote about a fast world. The world's interconnectedness is speeding up. I went to watch a 20 minute video today. It started a little slow and I debated in my mind whether or not to stick with it. We have come to expect relevance and engagement quickly...20 minutes is too long. In reality, we often may only give 2-5 minutes to see if something is worth our time. In some cases, it may only be 30 seconds. Our ability to find the information relevant to us has become critical. Using Google effectively has tremendous value.

I would guess students may frequently hold this view. How much with they engage your lesson based on the first 90 seconds? How about the first 5 minutes? Are they intrigued? Or have they already written it off and tagged it as irrelevant? As educators, we must recognize and engage our audience.

For the record, I stuck with the video and it got interesting. In a fast world, may we take some time to slow down. Patience is a virtue we need to practice at times amidst the speedy culture in which we live. But may patience not be an excuse for us to be left behind.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Firefox + Add-ons

Many people use Internet Explorer (IE) to surf the web and probably to view this blog. However, a significant number of people of internet users also use Firefox. Firefox has increased its percentage of use over the last year. I like Firefox for a number of reasons...

First, I like the tabs and interface on Firefox. Yes, I know IE has tabs but the Firefox interface makes better use of my screen and I like the button locations better. It also does a better job of opening new tabs rather than cluttering my desktop with windows as I click on links. Maybe it is preference & previous experience, but it is intuitive and easy to navigate through multiple websites simultaneously. I can open to my homepage or the tabs I had open when I closed the program the last time. Many preferences are easy to access and set.

Secondly, I like the add-ons. What is an add-on? It is a simple download that integrates into your browser. I use Foxmarks Bookmarks Synchronizer. This handy little tool automatically synchronizes my bookmarks between my computers. If I bookmark something at school, I can also access it from my computer at home. Additionally, when I am on the road on a public computer or a friend's, I can go to and access all my bookmarks on the web. It is easy, and runs in the background without me doing anything.

I also like the AdBlock Plus add-on. I install it and it automatically blocks some annoying banners that I get. Since I installed this on my Firefox, my spam has gone down. I can't promise there is a correlation but it is supposed to keep advertisements from dropping unwanting things onto your computer.

Other add-ons of interest include Google Notebook, Google Gears, and Pronounce. Overall, I find these add-ons run seamlessly in the background but make my productivity easier and more convenient. Many themes are also available for aesthetics.

Lastly, I also like the search bar on Firefox. It allows me to easily search Google, Amazon, and Creative Commons among others. (I'll talk about Creative Commons in a later post.)

More browsers are available to search the internet. Some people like IE but others just use because they don't know about other options. Firefox is a good choice to consider. Some people also like Safari. Chrome is a new browser that has gotten some attention lately.

Choose what works best for you and makes you most productive.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

RSS Feeds - Bringing the Info to You

One issue many teachers face is how to keep up with information posted in many places. RSS, short for "really simple syndicates," is a great way to organize your life and potentially save time. To summarize, you sign up and subscribe to a website and any updates to that site will automatically be sent into your RSS reader. The video below gives a simple explanation in under 4 minutes.

I use Google Reader. Why?...Because I already use Google Apps and Gmail. If you have accounts with Yahoo or other services, they likely have an RSS reader that can be easily accessible. Consolidating your websites and software to one login is nice, regardless of who it is.

RSS feeds are also nice when you setup your own customized homepage. For reasons I previously mentioned, I use iGoogle. Others may use Yahoo or Netvibes among others to do the same thing. These services allow you to customize your homepage with relevant news, your email inbox, stock quotes, funny quotes, etc. in addition to your RSS feeds. Most services also give you the option of having multiple tabs on these customized pages so you can have several screens of customization.

If students are using blogs in class, editing Google Docs, or even working on Wikis, RSS feeds a great way for teachers to have all the student information in one place.

At the bottom of this blog, rather than the RSS feed, you will see an option to subscribe to "Posts (Atom)". Atom feeds work the same way and integrate the same way RSS feeds work, it just different coding so it has a different name. You will also see a drop down menu on the right side to subscribe this blog to the reader of your choice. Try it out...