Thursday, March 20, 2014

spring 2014

In the spirit of this post (and this one), I've made a list of things I hope to squeeze in before Summer begins:

*dye eggs
*finish my Leaflet cardigan
*make spring potstickers

*plant my garden
*go on a hike
*enjoy the sunshine whenever I can

My Spring list is much shorter than I'd like, but the reality is that this time of year teaching gets really tough, and the weeks feel endless. I'm often going to bed early and still waking up exhausted. I know that Summer will be here before I know it, but right now it seems a world away.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Google Drive

I've had a spurt of learning recently in the realm of technology. My colleague and I, with the expert guidance of our very tech-savvy librarian, recently taught our students how to use Google Drive to save files. They are beginning to work on their science fair projects, and we reasoned that the Google Drive account would result in fewer tears over lost USB drives.

While poking around my own personal Google Drive account (which I had previously never used), it occurred to me that the "Form" option could result in an online test. My 8th graders learned some biology in 6th grade when I wasn't their teacher. In 7th grade we don't teach biology at all, but in 8th grade we do. I know what their 6th grade teacher taught them, but I wanted to see how much they remembered.

With that purpose in mind, I started to design a simple cells pre-assessment. I checked out the school's iPAD cart in order to have all my students take the pre-assessment. I explained to my students that this pre-assessment has two goals: it will show me what they remember from 6th grade, and it'll help me learn how to use the Google Form feature for the future. I'll walk you through the steps I used to create a self-grading pre-assessment using a Google Form so you can try this yourself.

Step-by-Step Instructions
Google Drive allows you to create a variety of files: Document, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Form and Drawing are the default options. To use Form, click Create, and then choose Form. You'll notice in this picture that I have already made a copy of my original Cells Pre-Assessment and I've begun to modify it to make it better. 

You'll also notice in the picture above that there is a Cells Pre-Assessment Form document, and a Cells Pre-Assessment (Responses) spreadsheet. When you create a new form, there is the option of choosing a "response destination" which is how you make the spreadsheet that collects the responses. Since the name of this new form I made is "Cells Pre-Assessment" the default name of the spreadsheet is "Cells Pre-Assessment (Responses)." I recommend naming your form before choosing a response destination so that they match.

Below you'll see a screen-shot of part of the pre-assessment, as seen in my Google Drive account.

(I added my name and my school's name to the form directly below the title, so that my students would know they were at the correct web-page, but I blurred it for privacy)

This next picture is how it looks to the students when they are taking the test online. I used one of the themes that Google Docs offers.

This next picture shows the Spreadsheet (Google's version of Excel) that collects the results automatically. You'll notice that the cells are rather text heavy, since they display the entire answer that was selected. The tech-savvy math teacher across the hall and I have been brainstorming a way to make it just show A, B, C, D (for a multiple choice question), so that the data is easier to look at in the form. More on that once I figure it out. For now, I can see all of my students' answers, along with their names and class period (since I made the first two questions "name" and "class period"). As a side note, I used the option for each question to make it required, so that I wouldn't have to deal with "Johnny forgot to answer question #6, so I don't have data for that answer".

The next hurdle was how to input a formula that would show me how many of my students chose the correct answer for each question. Since this is a pre-assessment, I wanted to see at a glance if there was anything I didn't need to spend time teaching, or if there were other things that needed more review. 

Notice in the picture below that for the question "what makes plant cells different than animal cells?" there is the number 33 in the cell above. I tested 46 students, and 33 students selected the correct answer. The formula for that is visible in the picture below. That formula is: 
=COUNTIF(D4:D50,"plant cells have a cell wall & chloroplasts, animal cells don't")

What that means is that I'm telling the program to count how many cells between D4 through D50 contain the answer "plant cells have a cell wall & chloroplasts, animal cells don't." When I figure out how to have the form display just A, B, C, or D, I can change the formula to be:

The next picture shows how I used another formula to find out how each student did overall. The first entry is from "Perfect Student" and is my own answer key. Since I was the first person to take this assessment, those answers are shown first (the Timestamp field helps to display the answers in chronological order). The formula compares each students' answers to the "Perfect Student" row. The formula is: 

The formula literally says, if the contents of D4 match D3, give the student 1 point. If the contents don't match, give the student 0 points (and so on for column E, F, G, etc). The $ signs ensure that if the Perfect Student's row changes for some reason (as it did when I inserted a row above to count for each question separately), the document knows that and will adjust accordingly. You can change the point amounts as you see fit.

And lastly, since I was going to need to have each student type in the URL for the pre-assessment, I decided to use TinyURL to make a much shorter URL. That way not only would access be quicker, but there would be fewer problems with students typing in the URL wrong and getting frustrated.

So there you have it. There are many disadvantages to this approach. I need the iPAD cart, or a free computer lab if I want to give another online assessment. In order for the automatic scoring to work, the questions need to be multiple-choice. However, there are many advantages as well. I am a terribly slow grader, and as a result it takes me much too long to return an assessment. I see this technology being useful for daily (or weekly) exit tickets. I wonder if I could utilize students' personal cell phones and/or tablets so that I wouldn't encounter the barrier of waiting for the iPAD cart or the computer lab to be free.

If these instructions are helpful, and you end up using Google Form to create an online assessment, please let me know. I'd love to learn from you.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

a new quilt

Now that my nephew has seen his quilt in person (ok, he's 14 months old, so I'm really talking about his mom), I feel that it's okay to post more pictures and talk about the process. I bought fabric last summer and started cutting. The top and bottom started coming together last October, and the final stitches were sewn this February. I had originally intended this quilt to be a Christmas present, but it ended up being two months late.


It all started with this Alexander Henry zoo print fabric I found at Joann's. I adored the print and the colors. I decided to use it as the basis for Mason's quilt.

With that in mind, I went on a search for fabrics that matched the colors in the zoo print. After looking at my options, I decided that I would make one side of the quilt look more like a little kid's quilt using the zoo fabric. I tried to make the other side look like it could be a big-kid's quilt. That way the quilt could 'grow' as Mason grows up.

I admit that I am a total beginner when it comes to making quilts, and there were definitely some problems along the way. For example, my quilt top didn't quite fit the batting size, so the quilt is shorter than it should be (which ends up just making it look longer than it should be).

I didn't buy enough of the zoo print to do the entire back of the quilt, so I bought some coordinating solid fabric and pieced the back side as well as the front side.

Two things I really like about this quilt are also the two things that tie it to Mason's older brother Daniel's quilt (which I can't seem to find any pictures of): the variegated blue thread I used to quilt the layers together comes from the same spool I used for Daniel's quilt, and they both have a square signature label. Although with Daniel's quilt I used fabric marker and actually wrote the label. With Mason's quilt I wrote on the fabric with pencil and embroidered the letters (since I just learned how to embroider).

I also did a much better job with the fabric binding along the edges. I still didn't quite do it as you are supposed to, but it is much, much better than what I did with Daniel's quilt (since I didn't know at the time what I was supposed to do). I still want to rip out the binding on Daniel's quilt and re-do it, but that might be a bit dramatic.


I wasn't sure about the best way to package it for mailing. I decided to wrap it in brown paper and use a flat-rate box, which ended up being the perfect size.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March goals

My goals for 2014 are pretty simple: go outside, simplify inside, and celebrate the seasons.

In January I wanted to take a walk each week, clean out the ottoman, and finish our snowflake project. I cleaned out the ottoman the first week, and Joe and I together finished cutting and gluing the snowflake project. We still need to buy some inexpensive frames for the snowflakes.

In February I wanted to reacquaint myself with yogaclean off the top of both dressers, and finish Mason's long-overdue quilt. I finished Mason's quilt, and Joe & I cleaned out the top shelves of two closets instead of the dressers. I didn't do any yoga, but I went skiing twice.

In March I hope to:
  • do yoga at least once each week
    • I didn't reach this goal, but got outside and got myself moving. On 3/7 I played in a staff v student basketball game. On 3/9 & 3/23 I did AM yoga. On 3/23 I went on a 4.5 mile walk with Kristi. On 3/30 I went on a 4 mile walk with Kristi & Blea.
  • clean off the tops of the dressers, and organize the dresser drawers
    • The tops of the dressers are still a mess, but I made other progress in the clothing department. On 3/8 I cleaned out and organized my side of the closet, installing new shelves in the process. I also reorganized my dresser drawers and now have a bag of clothes to donate.
  • dye spring eggs using natural dyes
    • I accomplished this goal using red cabbage (my favorite natural dye) to make blue eggs.