Friday, August 12, 2016

#MTBoSBlaugust Day 9: Canvas Crash Course

I was lucky enough to pilot a blended learning course for my old district using the teacher reach model, where my class size was doubled and I saw each group every other day. On the days when I didn't see my kids, they had assignments through an online learning management system. Year 1, we settled on Schoology. I finally felt like I'd figured out all the kinks and started making tweaks to my course when....BAM...Year 2, the district switched Canvas. Now I've moved districts AND changed preps, so I'm on to LMS #3 in 3 years. 

So, in effort to save some of you a little time and a little headache, I've prepared some of my favorite Canvas tips. It's a lot less intuitive to set up than Schoology or Edmodo, but has a lot of capabilities that can be explored. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it will get some people started who might be in a situation like I was....trying to frantically piece together a whole course right before the school year starts! 

Tip #1- Make It Navigable
Canvas is an LMS with tons of options- great, great, great. This is a slippery slope, though, because with options come lots of ways to get lost. [ start looking for one thing on Google and end up in the Wikipedia wormhole....that kind of lost] For example, a student can get to an assignment from the assignments tab, the modules tab, the upcoming reminders on their homepage, the gradebook, and more. Be cognizant of how you're teaching students to navigate to content. I opted to do this by creating buttons on my syllabus (which I made my homepage) that would take students directly where I wanted them to be. 

Here's a tutorial I take no credit for creating: Creating Buttons on Canvas

You are able to hide or show certain options on your side bar with ease and only give students access to what you want them to see. With younger student, you may want to use only use buttons and not give them the access to the left side bar at all. My homepage looked like this for my senior level Pre-Calculus class:

Another important element of using this with students was some direct instruction with how to use it. Other LMS's are much more intuitive for kids as they behave like the most common social media outlets. Canvas takes a bit more finesse to use correctly and teachers need to be patient with their students when they are still learning.  I used this Canvas Scavenger Hunt  (that my wonderful husband created and I modified) to get my kids started. 

Tip #2- Head Cheating Off at the Pass
Let's be real, when kids aren't being monitored some of them are going to try to cheat. There are tons of great activities online that can be used for practice or exploration, but unless your school has boundless money, chances are they aren't all things that kids will have a unique login to use. To try to combat this, if I ask my students to screenshot anything I require that they either:
a) have their email open in another tab
b) have their username in the corner (easy on Macs)
Could kids still do this and cheat? Yes. But the effort would be so much greater and if kids perceive that you're holding them accountable I have found they're less likely to try to take the easy way out. 

Tip #3: Find Resources that Work for You
Blended learning can be a benefit for kids who don't like feeling pressured to work at an unnatural pace. Whether they work more slowly or more quickly, it's great to find resources that can adapt to an individual student. Some of these cost money, but some are free and can be used to differentiate or just for extra practice:
  • ALEKS- Honestly, if your district pays for it, it's a blended learning dream. You can create assignments, allow kids to re-test as many times as you want and it will generate new questions, assign specific things to specific kids, and pre-assess easily. 
  • Khan Academy- Not just videos, ya'll! The activities are great because they provide hints, instant feedback, and will keep going until students demonstrate mastery. This can be incredibly frustrating for kids, though. Make sure to assign things that are in their ZPD or you'll have some upset kiddos on your hands. 
  • Quia- My kids used to beg me to post "Millionaire" activities. Again, you can require students to get a 100% or demonstrate mastery in some way and then screen shot it. Just make sure you play them first yourself; they sometimes have errors.

Top #4: Canvas is Your Test Prep Friend
Whether it's prepping for a quiz tomorrow or prepping for the AP Exam, I really love Canvas as a test prep tool. First of all, you can upload answer keys to "open" with certain requirements- either at a certain time or when a student has submitted a certain assignments. That way, kids can get feedback once they complete study guides, but are given some time to work without a key. 

And then, there's maybe my favorite trick of all. My AP kids need practice with timed multiple choice sections more than almost anything as we get closer to the test. I used Canvas for this exact purpose daily as we began our review. Here's why I love it:
  • You can set a time limit. Kids see their individual time remaining and can learn to keep track of their pace. 
  • Kids get instant feedback. You can even set up notes to display depending on a kids answer. For instance, if they got answer choice c because they integrated instead of differentiated, you can put in a note that will pop up saying "You used integration instead of differentiate here! Remember to think about....." 
  • Multiple attempts are allowed. Great for mastery or doing test corrections. Can decide whether you want to take highest grade, average grade, last grade, etc. 
  • Class data is easily available. As students were finishing, I'd pull up the class data summary (nameless, of course) and display it. We could see as a class where the struggles were and I could choose what to go over. We could also chart our progress and it helped my kids to be able to see how we were improving. 
An example of some quiz data (from )
Tip #5: Math Type is Hard. Stop it. 

Yes, Canvas has an equation editor. It's actually a pretty good one. But let's be honest....that isn't going to create the graphs you need and it takes time. My secret for making quizzes quickly?
1) Use your favorite resources to find questions you love! I use:

2) Screenshot each question and save individually as a picture. I have a folder for each unit and throw them in there so they're already sorted:
3) In the quiz editor, upload the image and make your answer choices A, B, C, D. BOOM! You're done. 

Tip #6: Walk Your Kids Through the Notification Preferences
My students would often complain that they didn't know when I posted an announcement when the course began. Canvas has an incredible amount of notification options, including texts, tweets, emails, and more. There is no reason you should need to use ANOTHER app or system to talk to kids if they have their settings on correctly. Here is a guide to Setting Notification Preferences to look through and then chat with your kids about. 

Tip #7: Explore the Other Cool Features (When You Have Time)
Canvas can do a whole lot more than what I've described here. While it might not be the LMS I would have chosen, it has a lot of perks and your district is paying for it. Why not get the most out of it? Here are some more options I've played with that were pretty cool:
  • Re-assessing for mastery
  • Curving feature
  • Voice submissions and comments to students
  • Group assignment features
  • Link to PowerSchool or other grade book
  • Parent accounts and contact
  • Speedgrader

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! We use Canvas as well, so your tips will come in handy this year!