We Love Classcraft! A BGL Review

Here at BGL, we love Classcraft! It’s a free classroom management system a la Class Dojo but with deeper options and a fantasy-based theme that the students really enjoy.

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One great element is that a given student’s avatar can “die,” which sounds a bit violent for a classroom setting until you consider a few things:

  • Students are organized into teams and there are disincentives built in to the other team members if one of their teammates dies. In other words, students HAVE to help each other in order to avoid team-wide consequences.
  • The teacher can customize the penalty for death with creative consequences that can otherwise benefit the class.

The latter bullet point is the subject of the following video in which Teacher Travis introduces Classcraft to his 5th grade class via distance learning. Please enjoy! Our students definitely do.

 

The teacher dashboard allows multiple views of the class with varying degrees of detail. It also makes it easy to reward/punish groups of students or the entire class at one time with just a few clicks.

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Another element we enjoy with Classcraft is “Today’s Event,” a randomized act that may or may not affect multiple student accounts at one time. It’s akin to some of the squares on a Monopoly board where rewards or consequences are doled out simply for having been in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

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Almost everything in Classcraft is customizable. From a student perspective, they can customize their avatars and earn the ability to unlock special wardrobe elements and skills. The teacher, like with Class Dojo, can customize the rewards and consequences to target specific class behaviors.

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Given this level of customization, there is definitely a learning curve. It seems a bit unwieldy and user-unfriendly at first, but most tech users will find it to become second nature after using it for a short amount of time. Like with most things in teaching, consistency is key – the more you use it, the more effective it becomes.

Using Video to Teach Current Events

BGL’s own Teacher LaCora has experience in front of the camera as a red carpet host here in Los Angeles. She used those skills to create a video about the recent earthquake in Ecuador as part of BGL’s weekly current events unit.

 

To teach current events, BGL selects a handful of stories from the week and shares links to the stories along with discussion questions to all their teachers across grades K-8. Each teacher chooses the story and discussion questions that are best suited for the ability and interest of their classes. Choosing more discussion questions – or turning them into writing assignments – takes the activity from a short one (5-10 minutes) to a longer one (a full period or two).

Here are the discussion questions for the Ecuadorian earthquake story. As you can see, they get progressively more difficult so that teachers in older grades choose from the bottom and vice versa for younger grades.

  • What can people do to help when there is an earthquake?
  • Have you ever felt an earthquake? What does it feel like?
  • What causes earthquakes? Are there different kinds?
  • What is the Richter scale? What does it mean to increase exponentially?

How do you teach current events? Tell us in the comments section.

10 Ways for Time-Strapped Teachers to Keep Up with EdTech

Teachers who love technology (like we do!) always want to learn about the next best—and most useful—thing. Whether it be a burgeoning LMS, a free game site with built-in analytics, or an app students can use for creative projects, within the booming edtech world it can be difficult to wade through the tedium to get to the truly fantastic. So, we’ve developed some tips for keeping up with edtech without tearing your hair out in the process.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

1. SCHEDULE – 2-3 professional development events each school year to attend where you think you can get the most information and learn the most. (Great resources here and here.)

2. Keep an ongoing LIST of new apps, programs and resources you hear about.  Give some description after each listing so you can remember, generally, the purpose it serves. (Some of our favorites are: Zaption, Zeal, Formative, BrainRush, DragonBox, NOVA Elements App, GoodReader, Duolingo, and ClassDojo to name a few.) Make the list in Googledoc for collaborative input.

3. KEEP your entire team WORKING on research and testing new technology that is available. Organize a task list and be systematic about testing for maximum efficiency.

4. CONNECT WITH OTHERS – Keep an open dialogue with your team and with your personal learning network. What’s working and what is not? Some top hashtags to follow on Twitter are: #edtech, #edchat, #elearning, #ipadchat, #flipclass, #flippedclassroom, #iPadEd, #EdApps, #iPadClassroom and #mlearning.

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Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

5. Go with the “DOES IT STICK?” approach.  After your team starts testing something, ask yourself: “does it stick”?  If it stays on your radar, it’s probably worth keeping. If not, dump it and move on.

6. COMPARE AND CONTRAST… given there are so many apps and services now that serve similar purposes, choose the top two or three and test those against one another.  Have one of your employees try one and another employee try the other.  Have them take notes and then at the end, collect your team, compare the two and decide which to go with for the time being (A great general resource is the EdSurge EdTech Index which offers a multitude of categories and suggestions).

7. DON’T MIX testing and what your company is currently using at the time.  Implement after testing and decisions are made.

8. BE OPEN TO CHANGE – keep your eyes and ears open to what may be new, better, etc. If you stick with a given piece of tech for too long, you may find yourself quickly outdated and unfamiliar with new stuff that’s out there.

9. STEP BY STEP is the way to work through all the new ed tech options otherwise you could just feel completely overwhelmed and do nothing.

10. ENJOY THE PROCESS – Remember to enjoy the process! This should be fun, right??  Don’t get bogged down feeling it’s tedious work.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

Image by Shutterstock, copyright Master1305.

So… how do you keep up? Write a comment below!

Flipping a Classroom from 6,800 Miles Away

Distance learning (DL) brings exciting possibilities to our Taiwanese students, but also presents some challenges. Our classes have 42 students in them, so how can a distance learning teacher maximize the individual time with each student? Using some #edtech tools we found at EdSurge LA last summer, we decided to do our own version of a ‘flipped’ classroom.

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Teacher Travis flipping his classroom. In the foreground is his laptop, which he is using to teleconference with a small group of students. In the back is the full view of the students in the classroom using H.323 technology to connect to BGL’s offices in Los Angeles. To the right is the view of Teacher Travis that the students see in Taiwan.

In a typical BGL DL classroom, students either do independent Internet research or read iBooks with BGL-designed course content. The teacher will lead a whole-group interactive read-aloud of the latest chapter and then conduct a discussion related to the reading. At that point, the students do an activity that reinforces the content and allows them to practice English in an authentic setting.

A wonderful iPad app and web-based service called Zaption allowed us to flip this model.

Zaption is an online video service that allows you to add question elements into/onto/adjacent to the video. Before Zaption, I would read the chapter with the class and ask individual students comprehension or discussion questions. Obviously I could not get to all 42 students in any given class. Now, I can record the reading and embed questions directly into the video. I can use the Zaption interface to group my students as a class and collect their answers.

Below is an excerpt from the first Zaption lesson we did. Notice that you can ask short answer questions as well as group discussion questions (at the end of the clip):

Here is what some of the analytics look like after students complete the video:

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When the students finish with the Zaption, they use the Quizlet app to practice vocabulary words from that unit or from previous chapters:

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So what is the other half of the class doing? They meet with me (the teacher) through an app called Zoom. Zoom is like a group FaceTime, except that I can also mute individual students, control who is on the main screen, share my screen and record the video (among other features). Now, I am effectively teaching 21 students rather than 42. I can answer more questions, speak to more students and better facilitate the discussion. After we meet on Zoom we may end the meeting so they can work on individual work, we may break off into groups, or I may meet with them one-on-one to discuss their work.

One of the biggest challenges of a distance learning teacher is how to engage ALL your students when you are not in the room with them. By flipping our classroom we cut the number of students we are interacting with in a “whole group” by half. Furthermore, the 21 students who are on their iPad using Zaption are required to respond to all the questions and thus I am able to collect meaningful data during every flipped period. Most importantly, the students LOVE this. Our kids like to be challenged and this allows us to use all 40 minutes of class time VERY efficiently.

This student is practicing vocabulary on Quizlet.

This student is practicing vocabulary on Quizlet.

This student is listening to the zoom meeting. You can see me in the corner of his iPad. I am going over their assignment and sharing my screen.

This student is listening to the zoom meeting. You can see me in the corner of his iPad. I am going over their assignment and sharing my screen.

A student working on an individual assignment after a Zoom meeting.

 

How do you flip your classroom? Leave your ideas in the comments section.

Virtual Entrepreneurs – Our 4G Field Trip to Lumosity

To understand more about designing their own companies, our advanced 8th grade Distance Learning class took a virtual field trip to the San Francisco offices of Lumos Labs, the builder of the world-famous brain-training service, Lumosity. Prior to the trip, the students read about other Silicon Valley companies and discussed the importance of innovation when starting a new technology company. They also discussed the competitive hiring processes in the Bay Area and the perks that some companies – like Lumosity – use to attract the most talented employees.
In the video above, we see students being led by their fantastically engaging tour guide, Amanda, as well as their distance learning teacher in Los Angeles, BGL’s Teacher Jackie. This 4-minute highlight reel of the 45-minute trip shows Amanda leading the students through the open working areas, fun spaces, and the many kitchens of Lumosity.
While students were most amazed by the food options in the kitchens (and by the gaming areas), they also found inspiration for their assignment to design their own companies. For that assignment, students created advertisements that captured why their company should be an industry leader, just like Lumosity.
Here is some of their best work:
An 8th grader's idea for a new company - ear rings: combination earrings and headphones.

An 8th grader’s idea for a new company – ear rings: combination earrings and headphones.

An example of ear rings, Minions-style.

An example of ear rings, Minions-style.

Another 8th grader's business idea: wifi cards.

Another 8th grader’s business idea: wifi cards.

Another 8th grader's business idea: an app that allows you to rent products before you buy them.

Another 8th grader’s business idea: an app that allows you to rent products before you buy them.

Which companies would your class like to visit? Leave your ideas in the comments section.

The BigDayta Project: Worldwide Collaboration, Instant Student Data, a Powerful Classroom Tool

If you are a teacher of any grade level and any subject, I have two questions for you:

  1. Are you looking for ways to incorporate technology into your classroom?
  2. Do you want to ask meaningful real-life questions that involve students from around the world?

If you answered ‘yes’ to both those questions, then the BigDayta Project is for you. BigDayta is our attempt to connect classrooms around the world by asking a simple question to every student: what do you do, every hour, on a normal school day?

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Turns out you can learn some really interesting things with that one simple question. If you know the country students are in, you can compare sleep times in different nations. You can see when students begin to do homework, or what is the most common thing they do outside school. If you know the town students live in, you can compare big city students to those that live in small towns. How different is their day?

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Three students, two very different days. What valuable information can we learn from their day-to-day schedule?

Our project is simple. Students record what they do on one day, and then they fill out a simple Google form. The results are accessible to everyone and are constantly updated. As a teacher, if you want to download the results and do the rest on your own, you can! But the website allows you to do much more:

  1. Collaborate—Did your students find the data about kids in Taiwan interesting? Do you want your classes to interact, share stories or go deeper with the information? There is a forum section on the website where you can reach out to others.
  2. Find lesson plans—There are already lesson plans created by the BigDayta crew, but teachers can add theirs as well.
  3. Post Blogs—Do your students want to write more about their day? Maybe they want to share their experience with this project. Email us at bigdayta@gmail.com and we will post your students’ blog on our blog page.

How can you use this in your classroom?

The questions you can ask with this data are diverse. Here are some sample ideas for different subjects:

  • Math:
    • What fraction of students are asleep at 9pm?
    • What is the average start time of homework?
    • Create a graph that shows the average wake up time for students in three countries.
  • Social Studies:
    • Why are after school activities so different between American and Asian students?
    • How does living in a city larger than 1 million people change the way a student’s day looks compared to a student in a city smaller than 1 million?
    • Do you think ‘nap time’ in Taiwan increases student achievement?
  • Computer Science—Practice manipulating spreadsheet data
  • Statistics:
    • Mean, median and mode
    • Create frequency tables
  • English
    • Find pen pals for your students
    • Write persuasive essays on why your day’s schedule is better than another
    • Use the timeline from students in another state/country to create a short story

…And many, many more!

This is the Google form that students complete. It is quick and easy!

This is the Google form that students complete. It is quick and easy!

As classrooms around the world add their data, this project will become more and more powerful. We already have data from students in Taiwan, so you can start exploring immediately. Let’s make this thing go global. Tell your students to write down what they do. Take five minutes to fill out the the form. Be part of something big.

And lastly, share it with your fellow teachers! Even the data within a single school can reveal some surprising results.

#BigDayta is here!