Posted by: nelsosuz | October 23, 2011

Get the Most out of Online Quizzes

Get the Most out of Online Quizzes

Life is not Multiple Choice; It’s a Story Problem

If you grew up in a school system that used Scantrons ad nauseum, you are not alone. Unfortunately, life is not multiple choice; it’s a story problem. If we want to prepare our students for the demands of college and the real world, we cannot afford to whittle away their knowledge to a, b, c, d, or e: all of the above. At the same time, our time as teachers is at a premium and very few of us can afford to spend hours grading essay tests. (Just yesterday, I spent 5 hours of my Saturday wading through essay tests and struggling to decipher handwriting.) Fortunately, the powers that be are aligning in the classroom teacher’s favor, and there are two great tools you can use to reduce your grading time. In this post, we’ll explore what these tools are and how to maximize their efficacy.

2 Great Online Quiz Generators

There are a ton of online quiz generators, but I have found most of them very limiting. The two best I have found are below and, best of all, FREE!

QuizStar

When I began student teaching, I discovered quizstar4teachers.org. It was a fabulous tool, and I was crushed when it went to a paid service. Due to many disappointed teachers like myself, quizstar4teachers.org shifted gears again. By selling advertisements, QuizStar is free once more!

So what does QuizStar have that other sites don’t? My favorite feature of QuizStar by far is the “choose all that apply” option. You can create a question, put in multiple correct and multiple wrong answers, and students have to figure out which ones apply. This eliminates the “lucky guess” component and requires students to thoroughly know and understand the concept.

Another feature of QuizStar is that it mixes up the order of the questions, so no two students get the test in the same order. And if you permit retakes (which I do for formative purposes), it mixes up the questions each time the student retakes the test. You can decide if students get feedback on their quiz or not. I set mine not to. Then students come to me, I tell them which questions they missed, and then they review their quiz to try to figure out the correct answers.

And of course, QuizStar has handy tools that measure responses for each answer, analyzes overall scores, creates graphs and charts, etc., etc. QuizStar also allows for short answer and true/false questions. Finally, you can attach pictures to various questions, so students must identify objects, etc. There is also a feature that lets teachers use other teachers quizzes, provided they have the teachers quiz code. Work smarter, not harder, right?

The biggest drawback with QuizStar is the signup process for students. Students get to create an account, but then they have to search for your class. This can be a challenge, so make sure to name your class something unique and then practice finding it yourself so you can help students out. If students forget their username or password, you, as their teacher, can reset it for them.

Edmodo Quiz

Edmodo has finally created a quiz application! If you aren’t familiar with edmodo, check out my previous post on edmodo.

Edmodo’s quiz feature allows you to create a quiz that mixes multiple choice, short answer, true/false, and fill in the blank. Unfortunately there is not a “choose all that apply” option, but there are other amazing features. For each quiz question, you can add a link or a file from your library, allowing lots of flexibility. You could ask students to analyze a web article or identify salient characteristics of a particular object.  As an instructor, you have the option of adding the quiz to Edmodo’s gradebook and letting students see their results or not.

But like QuizStar, Edmodo also analyzes results for you. When you click on the quiz, you get pie chart for each question. Then you can click on each student and grade their short answers. Edmodo also lets you delete a student’s submission if you want them to retake it. Finally, Edmodo automatically saves quizzes to your library and you can quickly find and repost quizzes, even changing them a little if you need to.

I’ve already worked with QuizStar, but now I’m excited to start using Edmodo’s quiz application for formative and final assessments. Below are a few rules to keep in mind when designing online quizzes.

Rules for ALL Online Quizzes

1.  Never, ever, EVER copy a question from a textbook or a quiz you found online. I can almost guarantee that some enterprising student somewhere has copied the question and placed an answer key online. All students have to do is copy the question, paste it in google, and the answer will pop right up. Always design your own questions and NEVER put them on the web for public consumption.

2.  If your test is strictly multiple choice and true/false, be on the alert for any typing. Both QuizStar and Edmodo only require a mouse for these types of questions. Student typing is suspect and could be cheating.

3.  Science and math teachers – do not use formulas in these quizzes. Google lets you punch in a formula and will solve the answer for you. Stick to paper and pencil tests if students need to solve formulas.

4.  English, social studies, and foreign language teachers – do not ask students to define vocabulary or translate words/sentences. Students can quickly find vocabulary definitions online and google has an amazing translation machine for all sorts of languages.

5.  Check for cheating. If a student’s syntax seems suspicious, copy and paste a segment of their answer into google, putting quotation marks around the phrase. Google will do a search and will bold any identical matches under each website it discovers. Once you nail a student for cheating, word gets around and you will see it occurring less and less.

Guidelines for Online Quiz Design

While all the rules for online quizzes are similar, it is important to realize that different quizzes serve different functions. Below are suggestions to keep in mind when designing formative and formal quizzes.

Getting the Most out of Formative Assessments

1.  Set a time limit that will simultaneously allow students enough time to answer the question without giving them enough time to go online and research the answer.

2.  Do your best to design questions so that they are application based, and not simple recall. The reason for this is twofold. First, it requires students to use higher order thinking skills. Second, it reduces the likelihood that students can type in a question into google and find an answer.

3.  Consider allowing students to do retakes on formative assessments, since the goal here is to see what the student knows and adjust instruction to cover the gaps.

Getting the Most out of Open Note Formal Assessments

1.  If you are going to permit students to use notes and worksheets from class, design your questions so that they must apply the information they have at their fingertips. In government, I like to give “what-if” scenarios to my students about the succession to the Presidency. Students have to apply the information they learned in class to the scenario to determine the correct response.

2.  Open note, application-based assessments are time-consuming for students. Consider breaking the quiz/test into 2 or 3 parts with 30 minute limits. That way, students can complete one part of the test without running out of time or interrupting their session.

3.  Create time-limits that allow your students to search through their resources, but do not allow them enough time to go online and try to find answers. Keep in mind, though, that if your questions are application-based, online research will only provide them with facts, not the answers. They still have to do the thinking.

Getting the Most out of Closed Note Formal Assessments

1.  If no notes are permitted, reduce the amount of time students have to take the test. For multiple choice at the high school level, 45 seconds per question is fairly standard.

2.  Do your best to make your questions application based. Again, this will require your students to actually think and apply their knowledge, and reduce the temptation of going online and looking up answers.

Experimentation and Feedback

As you play around with online quizzes, ask your students to give you feedback. They’ll let you know what’s working and what isn’t. You should also ask them if the quizzes are working best as a review, as a teaching tool, or as a valid measure of their knowledge and learning.  Let me know what you discover, and share the wealth!

When to Introduce New Technologies to Your Students: The New School Year

Whether school’s been in session for a few weeks or you’re starting after Labor Day, now is the perfect time to introduce your students to technologies you want them to use throughout the school year.

The First Days of School

As suggested by Harry and Rosemary Wong, it is wise to get to know your students before jumping into instruction. With secondary students, the first couple of days should be spent getting to know your students and sharing expectations. If you’re a primary school teacher, you’ll want to extend that time and may even go up to the first two weeks that the Wongs suggest. Take advantage of the newness of the school year and begin incorporating technology. The sooner you establish the expectation that students will be using technology in the classroom, the easier it will be to introduce new tools later on.

Grade and Assignment Platforms: Secondary Students

If you are going to be using a grade and assignment platform (such as edmodo, a wiki, a webpage, powerschool, engrade, blackboard, etc.) introduce these to your secondary students within the first week of school.  Provide students with a short overview of the highlights of the program using your projector – don’t go into too much detail too soon. Then take students to a lab to create an account and/or log in with their account information. To get them familiar with the program, create a short assignment for them to complete for practice.

If your aim is to share information with parents, you may want to wait until the second or third week before you send a letter home explaining your class’s platform. Waiting serves a two-fold purpose. First, it will give your students ample time to adjust to the new technology so parents don’t get upset if something isn’t turned in because of the learning curve. Second, it gives you time to work out any kinks in your design and to familiarize yourself with any new platforms.

Grade and Assignment Platforms: Primary Students

The approach for primary school students is the mirror image of that for secondary school students. When using grade or assignment platforms at the elementary and early middle school level, get your parents involved immediately. Parents will help you in instructing younger students how to use the platform. Work almost exclusively with parents when first using the platform. Post what you are doing each day, send messages, and keep parents informed. After two to three weeks, parents will be familiar with your online presence and will help their students to understand the platform. As you begin to teach your students how to use the grading and/or assignment program, you’ll find that many students are already somewhat familiar with the program because their parents have shown them.

As with secondary students, make sure a practice assignment is ready for the first time your primary school students log on. If there are older students in your school using the same program, see if you can pair up with another class so these older students can serve as “mentors” for the younger. You’ll find this makes your life much simpler when it comes time to log students on for the first time.

Tips and Hints for Piloting Non-Required Grade and Assessment Platforms

1.  “Shop” around before picking a platform, and don’t be afraid to change it up. For every paid service out there, there is at least one that is free. Unless your district is going to put up the money, find a service that is free for you and your students.

2.  Create a “Teacher,” “Student,” and “Parent” account to see how students and parents will see your posts. Experiment with different features in each of these accounts so you are ready to answer questions and get students and parents “unstuck.”

3.  Don’t go it alone. Find another teacher in your building who is willing to take the plunge with you. You can support each other, learn from each other, and try new things.

4.  If you’re unsure that your chosen project is “The One,” practice with just one group of students for a semester before expanding it to all groups. Unless you have a lot of extra time on your hands, avoid testing multiple platforms at a time with different groups of students. You will find this cumbersome and confusing.

5.  When you are ready to get parents involved, create a straight-forward, step-by-step guide for your parents. Make sure you include screenshots of any important screens and give parents your contact information so they can ask questions when they get stuck.

Next Week: Introducing Presentation, Collaboration, and Mind-Mapping Platforms to Students

Posted by: nelsosuz | April 16, 2011

IWB Classroom Management Solutions

IWB Classroom Management Solutions

Dumping the Sage on the Stage

When the overhead projector was introduced, teachers everywhere celebrated. No longer were instructors trapped in front of the chalkboard. They could face their students, monitor classroom behavior, and still write as they taught. With the introduction of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs), however, we seem to have taken a step backward. IWBs are either touch or pen activated, and as teachers strive to fully utilize their IWBs, it’s easy to get trapped up in the front of the classroom. If you’re feeling as though your back is turned to your students and you’re longing to sit among them, make eye contact, and monitor classroom behavior, then consider investing in one or two of the suggestions below.

Liberating Technology: Slates

The slate is portable, wireless, and designed to respond to an electromagnetic (or similar technology) pen. Unlike a mouse, which can be picked up and placed anywhere, the space on the slate corresponds to the space on the board. A pen placed in the upper left corner of the slate will place the cursor on the upper left corner of the IWB. This can take some getting used to, but slates are great because they allow you the freedom to move around the classroom so you can use proximity to quiet restless students. Students also like the option of manipulating the IWB from their seat or up front.

  • Name Brand Portable Slates – $300-$400

The makers of Promethean and SMART boards both create name-brand slates that are compatible with their boards. If you have another IWB maker, chances are they make slates, too. Buying a slate that is made by your IWB company is a smart move if you want to guarantee compatibility and customer support. Your school may also be able to negotiate discounts if you buy a bundle package.

  • Third Party Slates – $200-$300

If your department and/or administrator is balking at the price tag of name-brand slates, you can also shoot for third party slates, such as RM ePad or the Mobi by eInstruction. Generally speaking, these slates are designed to work with any computer and don’t require an IWB. If you (or your tech department) don’t mind fiddling with the software to get your slate working, this could be a good option for you.

Simple and Affordable Solutions

The reality for many teachers is that there simply aren’t enough funds to go around to buy these awesome tools. However, there are easy – and affordable – ways to get you back to working among your students.

  • Home Office Bundle – $15-$150

Buy a cordless mouse and keyboard bundle that utilizes a USB port or bluetooth technology. The wireless mouse gives you the freedom to manipulate your IWB from anywhere in the room. And the wireless keyboard is perfect if you want you or your students to type on the board without going to your computer or using the floating keyboard. Additionally, you and your students are already used to using a mouse and keyboard.

Logitech, Microsoft, HP, Lenovo, Kensington, and other manufacturers make mouse and keyboard bundles that cost less than $50.00. Bluetooth tends to be more expensive, but often the range is better. However, many USB wireless bundles have ranges up to 30 feet, giving you plenty of flexibility. Just make sure you research the range on your desired device and read user reviews before purchasing. And most USB wireless bundles are “plug and play,” meaning all you have to do is put in the USB receiver and your computer recognizes it instantly.

  • Student Oriented Instruction – FREE

As much as possible, have your students use your IWB. Your students should be front and center, writing vocabulary words, solving equations, drawing pictures, making diagrams, and transcribing classroom discussions. As you reconfigure your lesson plans, try to incorporate as many student-centered activities as possible. You can always save student work for future reference. Looking for ideas? See Chart Page, Animation and Sound, Use Old Lesson Plans, and Understanding Layers. Or, ask other teachers for ideas, do some research online, experiment, and ask your students for feedback!

How to Adjust to Your Interactive Whiteboard: Animate Objects and Add Sound

There is nothing quite as fascinating to students as words and objects that appear and disappear on command. And if you’re looking for a giggle or a laugh, nothing does the trick like an unexpected sound effect when a student is at your board. Embedding sounds and setting up Object Animation is pretty straight-forward. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to add surprise elements quickly and create elaborate, interactive pages sure to capture your students’ attention.

Which software program is better, ActivStudio or SMART Notebook?

As with most competing products, there are advantages and disadvantages to both software programs. While we are going to focus on sound and animation in this post, I wanted to make a note of the strengths and weaknesses of each software program in this area. ActivStudio software (for the Promethean Board) allows the user a lot more flexibility but is less intuitive.  SMART Notebook (for the SmartBoard) is easier and faster to use, but lacks some of the “wow” factor that ActivStudio has the potential to deliver. Here’s what the two have in common and how they differ.

Common Functions

  • embed Sound
  • link to Page in Document
  • link to File or internet URL
  • object Animation (fade in/show, fade out/hide, grow, spin)

ActivStudio

  • containers (which can accept or kick out assigned objects)
  • cross-object interaction (clicking on one object (the “button”) impacts a completely separate object)
  • function assigning (attach the “pen” function to a pen image, etc)
  • pre-loaded sound library

SMART Notebook

  • animate pen drawings
  • animate and add sounds to same object

With these differences in mind, I’m going to walk you through how to apply sound and animation to objects in both programs.

How to Animate Objects in ActivStudio

Objects in ActivStudio can be text, images, or pasted items. NOTE: You cannot animate pen drawings. For a quick cheat guide around this, see “How to Turn Pen Notations into Objects in ActivStudio.”

Step 1: Before you start animating, you are going to want to disable actions. Click the gray arrow in your side menu (NOT the floating tool bar!) to do this (same menu that you use to turn pages).

Step 2: Double click the object you want to act as the “button” and select “Properties” (the white square with a red check mark). Highlight “Actions” and select “Object.” You’ll see a drop-down menu – select “Show”.

Step 3: Now you have to pick the object you want to “Show.” Click “Set” (beneath the drop-down menu) and a list of objects you can animate will appear. Select the object you want to “Show.” (HINT: Do use the same object for the “button” and the “show” unless you layer something behind it.)

Step 4: Double click the object you are going to show and select “Properties.” Highlight “Appearance” and uncheck “Visible.”

Step 5: Enable actions by clicking the gray arrow in the side menu again.

Step 6: Test it out. Then try other tricks, such as Hide, Page, and Object Size.

Hint: To undo an animation, follow steps 1 and 2 and then select “Clear.”

How to Embed Sound in ActivStudio

NOTE: ActivStudio does not let you add sound AND animate the same object.

Step 1: Double click the object you want to attach sound to and select “Properties.”

Step 2: Highlight “Actions” and select “File.”  In the drop-down menu, choose “Play Sound.”

Step 3: Click “Set.” Your “Shared Sounds” file will automatically pop up. If you have another sound you want to use that you’ve downloaded, you can select it from here.

Step 4:  Click “OK.” Test out your sound. If it’s not working, make sure that you’ve enabled actions (the gray arrow on the side menu should not have a red line through it).

Hint: To clear a sound, follow steps 1 and 2 and then select “Clear.”

How to Animate Objects in SMART Notebook

Step 1: Make sure your cursor tool (the black arrow) is selected.  Click the object, text, or pen notations you want to animate.

Step 2: Click the Gray Box with the Black Arrow and select “Properties.” A new box will pop up. Select “Object Animation.”

Step 3: Choose your Type and specify Direction, Speed, Occurs, and/or Repeats if necessary.

Step 4: Test your animation. If it doesn’t seem to work right away, turn the page and then go back to the page you were working on. This seems to reset the animation.

How to Embed Sound in SMART Notebook

Step 1: Find a sound you want to use. Make a note of what file this sound is saved in. ( http://www.freesfx.co.uk/ is a free and safe site. For step-by-step directions on how to download a sound from this site, go to How to Download Free Files using FreeSFS.co.uk)

Step 2: Click the object you want to add a sound to. Click the Black Arrow and select “Sound.”

Step 3: Using “Browse,” locate your sound. Make sure to select “Object” so the sound is activated when the object is touched.  Click “OK.”

Have a blast!

Posted by: nelsosuz | March 26, 2011

How to Download Free Sounds using FreeSFX.co.uk

How to Download Free Sounds using FreeSFX.co.uk

There are lots of websites out there that allow you to download sounds, but it is important to respect copyright. It’s also important to make sure you aren’t downloading any trojans or viruses, or your tech guys will through a fit. http://www.freesfx.co.uk/ is a free, safe, and copyright friendly website that you can download sound effects from quickly and easily.

Step 1: Create an account (see Keep Track of Usernames and Passwords for help)

Step 2: Confirm your account by checking your email and clicking the link that is sent to you.

Step 3: Go to freesfx’ home page. Make sure you are signed in. Do a search for a sound (e.g. “growl).

Step 4: “Premium” sound effects are listed first and cost money. If you’re looking for free sound effects, scroll down past the premium and the ads.

Step 5: Preview the sounds by clicking the “play” icon (standard sideways triangle). When you’ve found a sound you like, click the “mp3″ button on the right. Click the “I agree” button.

Step 6: Open the sound. If it pops up in Windows Media Player like mine does, right click the top of the black bar, select “File” and then choose “Save As.”

Step 7: Select the folder you want to save the sound in. DO NOT CLICK SAVE YET!  You MUST add on the .mp3 extension. To do this, click the box next to “File Name,” go to the end of the name of the file (you can change it if you want to) and add “.mp3″  .  If you don’t do this, SMART Notebook and ActivStudio won’t be able to find it.  NOW click Save : )

Step 8: You’re done! If you want to embed the file into an Interactive Whiteboard Page, see Animate Objects and Add Sound.

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