Make a Website for your Flash Drive

The Problem

If you’ve ever been in a situation where substitute teachers can log onto the computer but not do much with the Internet other than take attendance, it can make sub plans hard to pull together, especially if you want students to see a video. This is doubly true if you’re not in 1:1 environment where students can just pull it up on their own.

Over the last couple years, I’ve added an “absent” section to my class website to hold instructions for the sub. I’d make a video, put it on YouTube, and then put it on the site for the sub to play for the class. Once it’s set up, I just update the video and the instructions.

This requires two things: an Internet connection which allows for YouTube and one that allows external sites to be displayed. Neither can be done currently.

The Fix

I got around access issues by simply creating a local copy of the website and putting it on a flash drive. Modern web browsers can have video embedded directly in the HTML using the video tag, which makes the process much simpler.

But what if you don’t know how to write HTML or CSS, like this method requires?

I’ve created a template to do it for you.

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Using the Templatizer

It’s a pretty simple tool for you to use. The challenge with these things is always to reduce the number of steps and clicks for general users. The point is to give you a fully-functioning website without knowing any code.

To use the templatizer:

  1. enter your class name, which becomes the title of the generated page.
  2. This step is very important – enter the filename of the video exactly as you have it on your hard or flash drive. The code needs media to reference, so if you put the wrong file, it won’t work. This only works with mp4 files for the moment. Also, try to avoid spaces in the filename because they can cause some wonkiness.
  3. Include any written directions you’d like shown below the video. If you don’t put anything here, nothing shows. This is unformatted text – bullets and other items won’t show up, so keep it simple.

When you’re finished, click on “Create and Download Page” button to download your shiny new website.

Once you have the file, you need to move it to the folder with the video. They must be in the same folder to work correctly. For me, I put these files in a folder call absent on the flash drive to make things easier on the sub.

The Result

Now, once the downloaded file and video are in the same place, open it up to test your page. You’re looking for two things – that the video plays and that the file is really being called from the filesystem, not the Internet.

Your browser address bar should have something similar to this if it’s from the flash drive:

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It’s not perfect and limited to MP4 video right now, but it works. It solves a problem for me and I hope it can do the same for you.

Make your own template

Get the source.

Getting the Axes Right in Google Sheets

I think I finally figured it out.

Getting charts and graphs created in Google Sheets (or Excel for that matter) has always been somewhat of a wrestling match between what I want the software to do and what the software thinks I want it to do. Predictive and suggestion-based user interface is nice, but not when I want to plot some data. Let me dictate what happens.

Excel isn’t as bad – you can create a chart and then manually set the Y and X axis series. No such workflow in Google Sheets.

The Task

This week, my students were collecting data for position and speed of an object as it accelerated down an incline. We put the data on the board and then I went to make a chart of it the following day. As usual, I selected the two columns to plot and inserted the scatter plot.

Here’s a sample table:

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No matter how I selected the data – left to right, right to left – Google always put the velocity data on the X axis and time on the Y (in Excel, it remembers which direction you select data, so it’s an easy fix).

The Fix

I realized, after several minutes of trial and error, that Google defaults the X axis to data in the leftmost column. Seriously. It was that small of a distinction. So, you have two options: 1) Swap the columns, or 2) Select data manually. Because this sheet was dependent on some formulas I’d already written, I chose to do the latter.

  1. In your spreadsheet, click on Insert > Chart or click on the chart icon.
  2. In any tab, click on the data select tool to close the chart dialog and choose your data. 2015-09-26_14-26-10

  3. Select the range you would like to be on the X axis. Then, click on Add another range and select the Y axis range of data.

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If all goes well, your new chart should have data on the correct axis in the graph.

Building Rigor

I missed two days of school last week. One day gone is enough added work on it’s own, two is nearly unthinkable. I wanted to make sure my students did something meaningful – as always – but without the need for a substitute to try and manage device access, etc.

I think one of my favorite definitions of “rigor” has to do with the cognitive task and level achieved by students as they work on a task. It isn’t related to the “difficulty” – perceived or inherent – as each student can jump to higher orders of thinking at various points in any given task, thus achieving rigorous thought patters. I’ve spent a good amount of time this year reaching for that goal in all lessons with some success and some failure.

I designed a task in which students spiraled up through an idea by first approaching the knowledge I needed them to have through applying skills developed as part of the knowledge-acquisition phase. We’re about half way through a unit on motion, so a lot of what they worked on included some prior exposure.

Part 1 – Introduction

This portion’s role was to help solidify and formalize information. Definitions of terms and basic application questions were geared to help frame the rest of the activity. This page was meant to be a warm-up; something to help get the juices flowing. The questions here were recall or lookup only.

Part 2 – Skill Acquisition

A major part of the motion unit is knowing when something has changed its position. This is a deceptively simple statement. We’re so used to movement in our lives that we lack the vocabulary to explain what motion really is without practice. (If you want to see this in action, ask students how they know when there has been movement. You’ll get some interesting responses.) Part 1 gives them the vocabulary necessary. Now it’s time to start developing skills.

Maps are essential in describing movement every day. We Google addresses all the time to get from place to place. Part 2 asked my students to interpret a map of our city with five locations laid out. Before even layering motion into the task, they needed to identify the locations and measure distance and displacement of each one. We spiraled back to ideas in Part 1 to formalize the context. The point of this section was to marry the information with the skills necessary to complete the task.

Part 3 – Getting Around

Now that students had a vocabulary and a skillset to get around town, they had to tackle one final task. I provided a hypothetical schedule of events they had to get to throughout the day. They made up a driving schedule based on that information and then linked it to the distance and driving time using local speed limits. Finally, they took all of that and turned it into a position/time graph, which they’ve been reading for weeks now.

The entire point of the task was to help them see the application of small ideas in every day life. Every time we make plans, we go through this process – when do I need to arrive? How long will it take to get there? Which route should I go? Familiarity with the fringe of content is both an entry and a barrier: we can use it to break the idea open though context or we can struggle with helping students see the underlying ideas.

Feel free to take a look at the Google Doc with each component in order.

From Crappy to Okay

One of my goals this year is to help students struggle productively with ideas before I loop back to teach it. I don’t remember who said this first – probably Dan Meyer, Frank Noschese, or Kris Shaffer – but it makes a lot of sense. It builds anticipation and allows students to find and build meaning with the discrete ideas before they tackle them.

I tried to do this with my introduction to motion with my physical science students. I started with Dan Meyer’s TEDx Talk which highlights a ski lift problem and how he broke it down for students. I tried something similar by asking students to describe the position of each ball to the other using this picture:

dots

The goal was to have them feel the struggle of explaining a position without any reference point, two very important foundations for movement. Instead, I confused kids without offering any direct path to resolution. Why circles? Why are some “higher” (again, no frame of reference, so they could be lower…) than others?

Frustrated, I tried again with a variation on the same picture with a different class:

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This became too easy – they didn’t see the need for using a coordinate system because they could describe – well enough, at least – the relative position of one ball to another. I had missed the mark again…I hadn’t created a situation in which a coordinate system was essential for describing motion.

At this point, I sent out a tweet asking for help. The minute I sent it, I realized that the image was way too abstract to make any sense. I thought the framing I had done for students in the room was enough, but it highlighted the fact that I had pseudotaught rather than actually taught anything leading up to the discussion.

I tried a different tactic. I made it a game. Here was the picture I came up with:

people

I stood at the board and grabbed a marker. I then closed my eyes and told my students to get me – verbally – from one of the people to the other.

It was like the Price is Right. Directions, shouts, and redaction all flew at me. I let them argue over where to start and where to finish for a while. After a try, I stopped and asked what would have made it easier. They immediately recognized that labels would really help in descriptions. We set directions and names. Trying again, the class was able to identify which two people would be connected.

Then, I asked them to tell me exactly how far away one person was from another along the path. This set the stage for the coordinates. If you’re in an airplane looking down at this group of people, you can’t land, grab your measuring tape, and start counting centimeters…it isn’t practical. Some classes took longer than others, but eventually, they realized that a grid would work, which let us set exact positions for the people.

It took me the better part of a day to really get down to an okay situation for students to struggle with. I’m still not entirely happy with where we landed, but it worked. The hardest part of creating struggle is finding the sweet spot between not obvious but not too abstract. I’m still trying to incorporate struggle, mostly through having qualitative lab experiences before teaching an idea, and it seems to help build a proper frame of reference for the instructional stage. I’d still appreciate any tips you may have for building these experiences in your classroom.