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GaVS ePortfolio: Best Practices Spring 2017

Spring 2017 was my first semester teaching with Georgia Virtual School.  As a result, I made it a point to attend as many professional learning sessions as possible.  I knew that I was new to teaching a fully online class and the more helpful tips and tricks I could learn, the better.

During a Discussions PLC, I learned a few things about grading discussions and keeping on top of discussion posts, but one of the things I was able to implement immediately was creating a pinned post about the topic.  As it happened, my students were working on a discussion prompt about static electricity and gas station fires.  Many of them kept bringing cell phones into the discussion, suggesting or outright stating that cell phones cause fires at gas stations.  I created this pinned post with explanations, a video, and links refuting this popular misconception.  Hopefully the video caught their attention and they stayed for the research-based explanation below.

Dropbox Folders
I noticed early on in the semester that the dropbox folders didn't have any instructions for the students.  This was fine for those students that carefully made their way through each module, watching the videos, reading the text, and generally being great students.  Some students, however, tend to go straight to the dropbox folder and just submit their assignment and often don't spend much time on the content.  These students were turning in their work without showing their calculations, using any (let alone correct) units on their answers.  As a result, they were losing a lot of points that could have been avoided.

My course also didn't have a specified point breakdown for the assignments, so the students had no idea what each part of the assignment was worth.

I created this little stamp and posted it in every appropriate dropbox folder and test.  I also posted the point breakdowns I created for each assignment in the dropbox folder so they'd know EXACTLY what they needed to do to earn full credit on their assignments.  Several students have told me that this is very helpful for them because they know what I'm looking for as they complete their assignment.

Bulletin Board
I will admit, I was a science major in college first and a teacher second.  So I don't have a lot of experience with bulletin boards, both in the face-to-face classroom and online.  My face-to-face classroom was always covered with a bunch of science posters and if I happened to have a bulletin board, I'd post interesting science quotes or articles that I found online.  So, when it came time to create an "engaging" bulletin board, I wasn't sure what to do.

Then, I attended a Just In Time session about homepages and the presenter mentioned that you could embed a SMORE in the bulletin board.  I'd been trying to think of a way to put the instructional videos I'd created for my flipped students somewhere where my GAVS students couldn't miss them.  This seemed like the perfect place.  So I embedded playlists of my instructional videos in the SMORE and posted it to the bulletin board.  I also included my Twitter feed as a way to continue t post those interesting science articles that I used to post in my face-to-face classroom.

News Announcements
I tried to create engaging and interesting News Announcements for my students.  I tried to include memes that the students would find funny, but also get my point across and videos that could help introduce them to a topic.

I created a variety of News Announcements in my Physics Course, but they all fell into the following categories (roughly):
  • Reminders - Due Dates and Adobe Sessions.  These usually had a meme of some sort and then the "meat" of the announcement below (see first screenshot below)
  • Weekly Updates - these were shortened versions of the weekly newsletters I sent home each week.  They usually had a picture/video, explained what we were working on that week, gave the date and time of the weekly Adobe session, and listed the assignments due that week (see second screenshot below).  I tried to have these start on Sunday or Monday morning.
  • Course Hints/Helpful Tips - These announcements showed students how to find adobe recordings (see third screenshot below), how to check dropbox and quiz feedback, and answered questions that I seemed to get OVER AND OVER about particular assignments.
  • Miscellaneous - These announcements reminded the students that spring break was coming, if the late work window was adjusted due to a holiday, or simply an interesting video that I came across that related to what we were studying that week (see fourth screenshot below). 

One thing I tried really hard to do my first semester was give authentic feedback.  Some assignments felt like they needed more feedback than others.  If an assignment was watching a video and simply answering questions whose answers could be found in the video, not much feedback was needed ("Great job copying down answers from the video!"), so I would provide a link to a place where they could find more information on that topic or a graphic that went with the material in the assignment (see second screenshot below).  And I would ALWAYS include the point breakdown so they could see where, if anywhere, they missed points and then write something about why they lost points there ("You didn't show your work for this problem").

If they submitted a non-quiz or test before the weekly deadline, I would try and grade it, give feedback, and let them resubmit (For example, if they didn't show their work, they could resubmit with work shown).  That way, they had a reason to turn in their work early and check their feedback in a timely manner.  And, I usually ended up getting what I wanted from them in terms of their work, eventually.

For quizzes and tests, however, I tried to provide more detailed feedback.  I would usually include an image (I had a different image for 80 and above, 70s, and below 70), specific information about why that particular question was incorrect, and then remind them of the review I posted about that exact material (see first screenshot below).   For quizzes, I was hoping they'd watch the review before the test.  For tests, I was hoping they'd see there was a review and maybe watch the review for the next unit.

Weekly Newsletters
Each week, I sent home newsletters to the students and parents.  These newsletters had the date and time of the weekly Adobe session, listed the assignments due that week, explained a little about that we were studying, and tried to offer some sort of helpful hint.  

I created these newsletters in SMORE.  I think next semester, I may just embed these newsletters into the weekly news announcement, rather than both.

Spring 2017 Physics B Newsletters:
Summer 2017 Environmental Science B Newsletters:

Helpful Information
At the Spring PLS, our department had a "share" session in which teachers could share something they did that was really helpful.  One teacher shared that she created a SMORE for each module that had helpful hints for each assignment in that module and links/videos for additional practice/help.

I thought this was a great idea, so I created one for each module we have left this semester.  I will expand these to include each module in future courses, but you have to start somewhere:

Physics B Course Resources:
A best practice for online teaching is hosting synchronous sessions where the teacher and students can interact in real time.  I host weekly synchronous sessions for my students.  Students rarely attend live.  Whether this is because they'd rather watch the recording, they have busy schedules, or simply understand all of the content and do not have any questions (I can only hope!), I often conduct my sessions to no one.  Rather than sitting in front of my computer for an hour anxiously awaiting the student that never shows up, I have decided to post reviews for my students during this time.  I go over the important concepts in the module, work practice problems, and even discuss test/quiz questions that I feel are very difficult or tricky.

I have posted what I call "I Spy..." Extra Learning Opportunities (ELO) for students that watch the recordings or attend live.  They can submit a copy of the notes they took during the review OR answer 5 questions about the review and I will give them a point (not a percent) back on their test.  Between 15-20% of my students take advantage of this opportunity, but at least that's 15-20% of students that are watching these reviews, increasing their understanding, that weren't watching the reviews before I started offering the ELOs.

I will be reviewing for the final exam during 4 different synchronous sessions.  I am hoping that this will be a way to remediate some concepts the students may have struggled with throughout the semester and also refresh their memories' of the content.