Third Graders on Backchannels

A backchannel is a secondary route for the passage of information. Back in my day, backchannels involved elaborately folded pieces of notebook paper covered in gel pen missives. These days you can allow students to use technological backchannels to communicate to one another while the teacher instructs the room at large, or focuses on specific students.

Some of my current third graders figured out how to use the chat function in a shared Google document last year, in second grade. I’m still impressed with them for how they used it well, for the most part. Though some students occasionally spam the chat with keyboard mashing or off-topic chatter, most use it like this:

backchannel

I thought it was really apt that they were using a the rubric for this kind of backchannel today. It saves students time because they don’t have to wait for the teacher’s attention, and I can focus on students who face bigger challenges than spelling and grammar. It’s also very engaging to them (especially since I encourage them to use emoji in moderation).

This type of backchannel is good for me to use, because as the creator and sharer of the document in Google Classroom, I can have it open on my own computer. Even if kids try to hide something, as long as I don’t close the tab, I can scroll up and find it. The worst message I’ve seen posted in the chat has been keyboard mashing, since they know I can see and share their messages via screenshots. They’re also aware that I might pop in “undercover” using a classmate’s account, because maybe I was looking over someone’s shoulder when I saw a big question (or poor choice of message) appear.

I can get and give pretty immediate feedback from students this way, too, and they can give feedback to each other. When I have a whole class on it, the chat frequently moves too fast to reasonably keep up with, but I could see it as a great tool for small groups collaborating on a project together.

 

I might see what they can do on Padlet next.

“What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet (3rd Grade)

So I was trying to think of how to explain Alice Keeler’s Participate In a Twitter Chat template to a colleague planning to moderate a district Twitter chat next week. I used the template to participate in a #gafe4littles chat last week and I thought it might make good training wheels for coworkers just getting started with Twitter chats.

And it occurred to me. Why am I not using this for my kids?

I have been struggling with delivering feedback effectively to third graders in particular, given that I only see them once a week in the computer lab. It stinks that some kids fall behind in some activities (due to absences and other things), while others are ready and rarin’ to go for more. It’s not fair to hold either in holding patterns while I struggle to meet all their needs.

So today I made a “What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet and posted it into their Google Classroom.

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The spreadsheet was easy to put together once I figured out which kid fell behind in which activity. I copied and pasted my list of students from Google Classroom into the leftmost column. Then, in Column B, I put their “first priority” activity – which was both a title, and a link to where I had posted it before in Google Classroom. In Column C, I put their “second priority” activity, and I even had a Column D “third priority” list, though it didn’t go that far across for most students. The doc linked to in “Choice of Sponge Activities” is a simple list of educational fun or game sites I know the kids enjoy (that is also contained in the “About” section of Google Classroom). For the first time in five years, I was able to tell students they had “choice time” without several of them asking which activities were “allowed.” The doc itself also contained names and links, and no child who used it needed it explained to them after they had used the spreadsheet.

What was amazing to me was how little I had to explain. I feel like I showed it in detail to just a couple of kids, and they helped transfer knowledge to each other. They are already accustomed to navigating tabs, clicking links, and using their Google accounts to log into other sites. It was really convenient, because this class had a new student in it, and I needed to take some time to set up his accounts and guide him. I think the kids really liked it too, because it simplified for them what exactly they should be working on! They could tie loose ends on one thing, and they knew what they needed to or could do next without checking in with me first. It was very freeing for them, too! I am so excited to try this with the other third grade classes this week.

In terms of delivering feedback, I am betting I can adapt a spreadsheet even further to indicate to a student how successful they were at a task, or provide a link to feedback they can follow. I am not all the way there yet with that challenge, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

I feel I am definitely getting better at seeing something that works for someone else, and adapting it to work for me, my students, and my environment.

Christine Pinto’s Conditionally Formatted Login Cards… With a Twist

Login cards. My favorite thing! A couple years ago, that would have sounded sarcastic. But these days, I mean it sincerely! Really!

Every year I get better at making login cards. I learn what works in the lab, and what’s not worth the effort. At the start of the school year, I was very proud of the login cards I had made. And yet we’re just halfway through September, and I can already think of several things I will do differently for next year.

One of those things is making color coded conditionally formatted login cards — at least for our incoming first graders. It’s a brilliant idea, I think. Not only could I use them in the lab, I can share them out via Google to the first grade teachers, who could use them when they use Chromebooks in class.

But I only stumbled onto this idea this past Monday or Tuesday, and this was a week sorely lacking in spare time for me. So rather than recreate the login cards I made weeks ago, I just adapted the ones I already had.

20160916_163624First, I color-coded the rows on the keyboard with little highlighter-style stickies (I have Mac desktops in the lab, not Chromebooks). I had five different-colored stickies leftover from when I used to teach a reading class; we used them to highlight ‘sticky words’ in passages. I had green but did not use it, because once it was on the keys it looked very similar to yellow. Also, I trimmed them to be consistent in size only after a couple of days. When I left them long, they were easy to accidentally knock askew, loosening the adhesive. Hopefully now that they’re shorter, that won’t be the case.

Then, I took login cards that I had already made and went at them with wet erase markers. I didn’t want to use dry erase markers because I didn’t want the color to come off too easily. I also didn’t have dry erase markers that match the stickies’ colors. Here are sample photos of some login cards. Don’t worry, these aren’t real cards — they are ones I made typos on; neither of them is a student’s real username.

20160915_120018 “K” was in the yellow row, so I colored it yellow. “I” was in the orange row, so I colored it orange. “N” was in the blue row, so I colored it blue, then I patted it with my thumb a little to make sure you could still see the letter. “A” and “L”? Both in the yellow row. The numbers at the end are all in the pink row, but I didn’t have a pink marker — so I used red and then thumb-patted it a little, just like with the blue. Our usernames are entirely numerical, so I didn’t color-code those as they would all be the same color.

Because this was a little time-consuming, I only did first graders’ cards intentionally. I did do a couple of second and third graders’ cards, if they were struggling still. I also used the color code system to help them spell words. “‘M’ is in the blue row… ‘u’ is in the orange row… ‘s’ is in the yellow row… ‘i’ is in the orange row… ‘c’ is in the blue row.” When I did this for older students, I told them I was “practicing” for the first graders. But they adopted it, and I heard them guide each other to keys by telling their classmates which color row to look in.

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All in all it’s a very effective system. It’s particularly good at helping with similar-looking letters and numbers. For example, the number “1” and the letters “I” and “L” are all in different colored rows; confusion between them is collectively our single biggest obstacle to logging in successfully in the lab. At best it helps your kids adjust to a QWERTY keyboard, especially in a setting where they’re used to seeing letters in alphabetical order. At worst, I guess you can still figure out which students might be colorblind?

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I even added stickies to the finger-placement keyboard posters hanging around the room.

Update, September 27: Here is a short video showing this system in action. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, when we’re still getting used to the QWERTY keyboard!

Google “Fun Fact”/”I’m Feeling Curious”

If you enter the search term “fun fact” into Google, it responds with a random fact mined from generally reliable sources, such as PBS.org and the Encyclopedia Britannica or Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. If you refresh the search page, you get a new bit of trivia. You can also Google the phrase “I’m feeling curious” and click on the blue ASK ANOTHER QUESTION instead of refresh. We accidentally discovered this this morning when trying to find a fun fact to include in our morning announcements broadcast.

Fun Fact