Sunday, January 27, 2013

Getting students to read the Constitution

My fiendish plot was simple - get my students to actually read the US Constitution, which is dry and long.  I came up with a Constitutional Convention, having them work in small groups, with each group taking on the role of an important stakeholder during this time period - merchants, farmers, slaves and free African-Americans, craft workers, indentured servants, and plantation owners.

They had to evaluate eight issues that were critical at that time, using the lens of their particular stakeholder.  The activities are described in the study guide posted on Scribd.  

I used some of the role descriptions from the Zinn Education Project's version of a Constitutional Convention, developed by Bill Bigelow. This helped my students understand their roles.

Each student had to find the parts of the Constitution that related to at least two of the critical issues that were hotly debated during this time - slavery, balance of power within the government, balance of power between states and Federal government, commerce and money, defense, personal liberties (since Bill of Rights was not yet part of the Constitution), religion, balance between big and small states.  Then each had to present the issue from the point of view of their role - and we had some spirited discussions as students really got into their roles.

We voted on each issue by group - although some were unable to agree - and found that there was little consensus.  But when we voted on the Constitution overall, when faced with the alternative of the Articles of Confederation, students opted for the Constitution in some form.  Only one team across two classes voted to ratify the original Constitution.  Most also demanded a Bill of Rights, and one team asked for the elimination of slavery. 

The only technology I used was posting a lot of resources online.  Could have added online discussions.  But this was glorious face-to-face. 

A good time was had by all, and the essay test I gave my students demonstrated that they really understood the Constitution and the issues that surrounded its creation and ratification.  This could have been the deadliest unit of the year - instead it was one of the most memorable. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Demo course, Moodle 2.3

What fun to convert a course from 1.9 to 2.3 without too many wrinkles.  To play with new features of Moodle (blocks!).  And to create an image interface to link to each unit (something I've wanted to do for ages). 

Many thanks to Russ Willis of GlobalClassroom for helping me work out the Moodle 2.3 surprises.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Moodle 2 Cheat Sheet

screen shot
Here's a Moodle 2 "cheat sheet" to help users get through the basics of creating course content in Moodle.  If you see errors or something you think I should add, please leave a comment.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Menu avoids scroll of death, Moodle 2

    I wanted to stop having my students scroll around to find work - and also wanted to stop having to drag units up and down as we move from one to the next.

    So I used Mary Cooch's lovely idea of making my Moodle courses more like web pages (see her video at and expanded on it.

    Create a table with a cell for each unit in the unit summary (this is the first Edit icon you see in a topic - when you have editing turned on).  I first added the text, then added an image.  I had to play around with the image sizes a bit to make them all consistent, so the text would all line up.  I put the table in topic 1, but it would probably have been better to put it in the news forum topic. 

    Create a section links block.  This will give you a list of blocks.  You can make the block invisible later, but it will give you the locations for each topic, which you want to link to the correct picture.  Keep it, since you might want to use it later when you add/change topics.

    In the section links block, right click on the number associated with the first picture.  One of your choices is "Copy link location."  Click on that. 

    Then (with editing turned on), while editing your menu, click on the image you want to associate with the link, then click on the link icon, paste the link in, and click on Insert.  I let the default stand - to stay on the same web page.

    Save your edit, then click on the image to make sure you go to the correct topic (so embarrassing when you go to the wrong one).

    Then, if you don't want your students to see anything but your menu, go into Settings, and change the number of topics to 1.  Your students will still be able to get to all those other topics, but when they enter your course, they'll only see the menu.  Caveat:  at least, that's the way I understand that it's supposed to work - not working that way on my installation of Moodle 2 just yet.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Getting to know Moodle 2

    Since my Moodle host, GlobalClassroom, has just moved to Moodle 2 from 1.9, I'm doing it, too.

    GlobalClassroom nicely upgraded my existing courses into a new URL, so I can have both old and new courses to compare (and can do some strategic copy and paste).

    Since all the nice blocks I created disappeared during the conversion (almost the only thing I lost), having both old and new open at the same time has been a good thing.

    And I lost some of my images, but not all.  I'm happy about that, because I use a lot of images.  My students are very visual and really don't respond very well to lots of unadorned text.  I'm getting better and better at original images (screen shots, Wordles/Tagxedos, my own photographs...), as well at resizing images so the pages will load more quickly.

    Since I'm scrutinizing everything, I'm switching embedded videos to links.  The videos converted well, but they make the courses take forever to load in 1.9 and 2.x).  Embedded looks snazzy, but a speedy course is easier to use.   

    Have found some really nice features of Moodle 2.  For example,

  • It's much easier to move individual resources and activities.  Drag the 4-pointed arrow for the item around.
  • It's much easier to move a topic.  Just drag the 4-pointed arrow for the topic/week around.
  • It's much easier to move a block.  Just edit the block and set its relative location.  0 is top, 1 under that and so on.  (Don't forget to set relative location in both "this page" and all pages.)  It's easy to move a block left or right while in edit, too.  One can even pick whether the block is on all pages (example: a help block), or just some.
  • Topics can have names instead of numbers!  This especially makes sense if you  move topics around. 
  • The new blog-like forum type shows exactly what I've been looking for (see example).  Instead of lists of threads, you can see what each student has written without first having to click on each thread.  This is much friendlier when you want to have multiple threads, but also let students see what's in each thread.  This will be much more engaging and should encourage interaction.  

    Still exploring.  Such fun to have a new toy.  ;-P   

Monday, June 18, 2012

Moodle Resources (especially 2.x)

Decided this information needed updating.

Moodle Community
· forums
· documentation

Sample courses:   (sample courses to see how they’re put together)
·    Moodleshare
·    Moodle Commons
·    Mt. Orange School Demo (example of 2.x course)

Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers: (marvelous summary of functions, ease of use, relation to Bloom’s Taxonomy, from Joyce Seitzinger)
·    1.9
·    2.0

Blogs include:
·    Moodle News – regular updates and news about Moodle.  Very helpful.

Hosting – some possibilities
·    Free:
·    Free – collection of free hosting possibilities

Tutorial resources include:
.    New!

Books about Moodle include:

Moodle 2.x
·    Moodle 2.0 First Look, Mary Cooch
·    Moodle 2 Administration, Alex B├╝chner

Moodle 1.9
·    Moodle 1.9 for Teaching 7-14 year olds, Mary Cooch
·    Moodle for Dummies, Radana Dvorak
·    William Rice
·    Administration – Using Moodle,     Moodle Administration

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Logistics: assessing online discussions

Moodle provides a wonderful variety of discussion forums – they provide for reflection, engagement, deeper understanding, broad participation, and much else – but the work also needs to be assessed.  Here’s one way to handle it:

I’ve set each discussion forum to send me an email whenever a student posts.  I can read the post on the spot and even click on a reply button in the email.  But I prefer to group replying and grading into clumps, rather than doing them piecemeal.  My replies and assessments are more consistent that way.  But I like to see if there are problems, misunderstandings, or the occasional inappropriate post that I need to address now. 

Replying at one time every day works well – otherwise you’ll feel like you’re being nibbled to death by ducks, and lose a sense of how the discussion is developing.
Since I’m usually looking for students to engage with the question and with each other, and since these are evolving skills, my focus is on formative assessment.  Can I use my replies to coax the student into deeper thought?  Does the student have a question that needs answering?  (Since I teach blended classes, I often bring these items up during F2F class, benefiting both the student who posted and the entire class.)
Moodle forums are a bit cumbersome to grade.   To see the posts in context, one must click on the forum, then on the post to open it (unless using the single, simple discussion).  Then click on Reply and write the reply.  Then click on Post to forum.  Then on Continue.  Then on the name of the forum.  And on to the next student.  But this gives me the flavor of the entire discussion that I don’t get from the emails. 

I keep a blank class list to write comments on and often just use: checkmark, +, or -.  If I’ve asked for replies to at least two classmates, I make checkmarks for these.  Keeping this information in one place for each assignment makes keeping track of student work and coming up with a grade easier.  My grading for most discussions is done/not done, though with loss of points when there is not much effort.  I’m focusing on building confidence and participation.

If I see that there is nothing on the class list/grading sheet for a student, I’ll then go to Participants and pull up the student’s record, which has all their forum posts in one place.  This shows me quickly if the student posted and I somehow missed it (perhaps the student replied to somebody else when they were supposed to create a separate thread). 

My school has an online gradebook, Gradequick, so I mostly use that gradebook rather than Moodle’s.  It takes about a minute to enter one class’ grades there.

I wish there were a quicker way to get through the process of replying to Moodle discussions, so if anybody knows of one, please let me know!