The day swine flu came to town

Up until a week and a half ago, I had really good attendance in all my classes. Lately there's been about 10-15% of students out sick. While it's certainly not a swine flu epidemic it's a trend that seems to be pretty likely to increase over the next month or so. There are schools somewhat nearby1 who have shut down for a few days because over 40% of the students were out with the swine flu.

The problem

With our 10-15% absence rate, I've been receiving a lot more requests from parents for the work their kids are missing. I've been noticing that I'm spending a decent chunk of my planning time just getting together whatever classwork I can for the absentees. I greatly value my planning time for...well...planning. I don't like sacrificing it for non-planning related activities.

The solution

I have a class wiki where I post a weekly calendar. I also use it as a jump-off point for any online assignments or projects. I did not post every handout for several reasons: (a) it takes extra time, (b) it creates more clutter in an already hard to navigate Wikispaces file manager, (c) the vast majority of students don't use (or perhaps don't need to use) the additional resource.

However, a couple things have changed the last couple of weeks. As mentioned earlier, I've found myself spending a lot of time emailing parents of sick students and putting together handouts for them. Secondly, I've (perhaps a little belatedly) discovered the ease with which Google Docs lets you upload and share PDF documents.

The process

  1. Whenever I print a handout or prepare a slide deck for my classes, I also save it as a PDF.
  2. Upload the PDF to Google Docs

    Uploading a pdf

  3. Share the pdf document so anyone with a link can view it.Sharing Google Doc PDFs
  4. Copy & paste the document's URL & link to it from my class wiki.
  5. Relax as the email requests for class handouts can be answered with a quick, "The handouts you need are all available on the class wiki.2"
  6. Bask in the parents amazement at technology these days.

Here's an example of a handout and a slide deck uploaded to Google Docs as PDFs in case you'd like to see what they look like.


  1. Holy cow. That article has more than a couple spelling/grammatical errors.     (back)
  2. Of course I give a little more instruction than that. Also, when parents request to pick up the handouts in person, I also oblige. I realize not everyone has the internets at home.     (back)

Artifacts #2- Chemical reaction primer

Part 2 of the Chemical Reaction Artifact series. Part 1 describes what an artifact of learning is and why I use them.

I'm not someone who really enjoys being the center of attention. I don't enjoy talking for longer than 5-10 minutes a time during class and yet I found myself being the center of attention talking much more than I would've liked during my classes. I had had enough. The dissonance between how I operate best and how I was actually operating led to the following project.

The idea

Students go through the unit on chemical reactions creating a different artifact for each of the three sections in the unit. The artifact must clearly communicate their understanding of the required content. They were free to choose whichever format they felt most comfortable using- most students gravitated towards a wiki-page, PowerPoint presentations, or some form of a newspaper/textbook document.

Documents given to students on day 1 of the project:


I decided early in the planning phases that I would avoid the perhaps more typical model of teaching the material traditionally (notes, lecture, review, etc.) up front, then having students work on a project as the assessment. I wanted the learning process to be wrapped up in the process of creation. However, I needed to support the students' learning. I couldn't just give them the rubric and tell them to get busy- they needed (and desired) some support. I decided to implement two support structures in order to help students while still keeping much of the onus of content learning on them.

Quick & Dirty Overviews. I did a brief (10 minutes max.) explanation of the required content broken down into three sections based upon how I broke down the content in the rubric. In addition to this, on the wiki-page for the project, I embedded an old presentation that I had used several years ago as notes for this section. I explicitly told students that these overviews covered only the bare-bones basics. It was their job to flesh these ideas out, provide examples, images, diagrams, and really show that they've mastered these ideas. These overviews served as a safety blanket for many students. The artifact was big and scary, and the overviews were just a touch of that style of teaching they'd grown used to over their schooling career.

Collaborative Groups. I placed students randomly into groups of three. At the conclusion of each day they worked on their artifacts, they met in their collaborative groups. Their requirements in the groups were to: (1) show each other what they have done of their artifacts so far, (2) help each other find resources for information/images/video, (3) check that everyone is citing their sources appropriately, (4) check that each others' information is correct.

Students were somewhat resistant to meeting in their collaborative groups. They wanted to keep working on their own artifacts, not waste time seeing what other people are doing. Students didn't do a great job of sharing useful links with each other and the thought of (in the future) getting students to use common tags in delicious or diigo crossed my mind. However, I'm unsure whether the time required to get students up to speed on social bookmarking would be worth the possible benefits. What was a major success was simply getting students to see what each other are doing. Getting to see how other people used images, organized their information, cited their sources, and so on seemed to be very helpful to many students.


It'd just be wrong to not have a couple labs when learning about chemical reactions. This section included two labs.

Exothermic and Endothermic Reactions. Students create two chemical reactions; one exothermic (adding yeast to hydrogen peroxide) and one endothermic (dissolving ammonium nitrate into water- it's not really a chemical reaction but it does get very cold).

Types of Chemical Reactions. Five reactions that demonstrate the five basic types of chemical reactions. Clicking the following links takes to you photos taken of the reactions as students performed them:

In the end

Students will upload their completed artifacts to the class wiki for all to see. At the time of this writing, students have completed their artifacts, but the upload process will happen this Monday (12/8). When they're all up I'll be sure to share.

My goal is to begin using the class wiki somewhat like a portfolio for student work. Each student will have a page on which they post their artifacts and other assignments completed throughout the year. I'm starting a little late on this for the current semester, but I hope to improve the practice in the future.



Part of the Chemical Reaction Artifact series of posts:


Image Sources: