The process started with a proposal that was sent to our county department chair. The proposal included the use of Blackboard collaborate to offer review on the following topic: Array, ArrayList, 2D Array; Object Oriented Programming; Recursion and Loop Tracing; GridWorld Parts 1- 3; GridWorld Part 4; and Testing Tips and Free Response. We were granted permission to move forward.
Advertising was handled through the classroom teacher and posted on our county Technical Education webpage. We encouraged teachers to attend sessions with their students, because this lends an element of credibility to the sessions. In addition, we encouraged teachers to give students an incentive for attending. Each teacher was provided with a link to a registration survey for students to complete. Students were asked for their name, school, teacher, email and which session they would be willing to attend. A week before the session started, students were emailed the link and reminded to attend. Teachers also posted the information on their webpages. As students began to register, I encouraged school rivalry, by sending emails out thanking those teachers who have gotten their students to register. This seemed to work very well. In the end 218 students and their teachers registered for these sessions.
Stephanie and I planned lessons together that included about 5 multiple choice warm up questions, instruction and a free response. We took turns presenting the sessions and running all the behind the scene tasks. While one person presented the other person, started the recordings, took attendance - once at the start and once at the end, and most importantly answered student questions that were entered into the chat window. Along the way, they would flag the presenter when clarification was needed.
During the session, another one of our stellar teachers, Karen Curtis of Collins Hill, created an assignment for students who were watching the recordings. These were distributed to teachers so that students could watch the sessions, answer the questions and prove that the session was viewed. The questions ranged from content, to tips that were provided during the session, and even mistakes that the presenters made.... students truly had to watch the recording to answer the questions.
What struck me most about doing these sessions, was how enthusiastic both the students and teachers were at attending them. If the students' teacher was not in attendance, students remarked, "where is _________ tonight". They really appreciated their teachers taking time in the evening to spend with them. All the teachers pitched in to answer questions and to help keep the students on track. On one occasion when Mrs. Curtis was unable to attend, Ray Parsons from Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology filled in for her. I am so impressed with our teachers and their dedication. I feel blessed that I have the privilege to work with such awesome people.
We did have some challenges implementing these sessions. And will make improvements for next year.
One challenge / blessing was the sheer number of students who attended. The first several sessions we had over 100 students. About mid way through, the attendance tapered off to about 70. When there were 100 students, it made managing the session very difficult. We had to establish some norms for how they behaved in the session.
- We removed their ability to draw on the whiteboard.
- We encouraged them to be sure their conversations were school appropriate and reminded them that these sessions were recorded.
- We had to remind students to not have side conversations during the session, because this made keeping up with questions very difficult. The chat window in collaborate scrolls each time a student enters a post, so it is very hard to scroll up and see what someone has posted.
- We utilized the polling so that students were not entered answers into the chat.
- Instructed them to use the emoticons that were next to their name vs. posting smile faces into the chat box.
All in all, students behaved themselves very well without too much redirection.
Drop in Attendance
We did see a decline in attendance over time. Some of this could be attributed to a lack of email reminders and activities at local schools. This is a busy time of year for schools with award banquets, prom, etc. After the first few sessions, we didn't send emails every time because there were so many email addresses that it made using web mail very difficult. At first we didn't realize how vital these emails were, because the link didn't change from week to week. But not all students realized that they could use the same link, and so they didn't attend. We will be sure to send email reminders prior to each session. We could also utilize remind101 to have students sign up to receive text reminders. This service would allow us to schedule reminders ahead of time, to be sent the day of the review. Many of our students are more apt to pay attention to a text then they are to look at email.
Incentives for Students
Each teacher handled this incentive in their own way. Several required students to attend and complete an assignment that was graded. Sessions were recorded, so if a student couldn't attend, they were still able to get credit by watching the recording and turning in the assignment. Others gave drop grades or extra credit for attendance.
We will be sending students a follow up survey about these review sessions. We would like to know what they liked? What they thought was most helpful? What they would like to see more of? What they didn't like? What they thought we could cut out? We are also curious to see if the number of session and topics were appropriate. Would students like more sessions? Or fewer? What additional topics would they like to see offered?
This was a huge success! Beyond anything I expected. We have about 400 students enrolled in AP CS A across our county and we had 1/4 of them attending on a regular basis. I mark this in the success column. The students and teachers were great. And best of all the sessions were free to them!
We will DEFINITELY be looking at offering these again next year. In the mean time, teachers are planning to utilize the recordings in their classrooms.
Click here for recordings.
Crystal L. Furman