To Moodle or not to Moodle? Part 2

As promised, here is part two of my Moodle review. I am going pick right up where I left off:
Quizzes (“Calculated” questions)
As I mentioned last time, after reading “Using Moodle”, I was very intrigued by the “Calculated” question type for the quiz module. Since the last post, I have finally jumped in and given my first calculated quiz and I LOVE it!!! It was a trigonometry quiz for my advanced math class. I was able to create complex word problems with parameters representing different values within the problem. I then created an equation for the correct answer involving the parameters from the question.  I was even able to set a tolerance of +/- 2 units to allow for a little error from rounding.  I also wrote equations for expected miscalculations and granted partial credit for these answers.  Another nice feature is “Adaptive” mode for questions in which students get instant feedback for submitted answers and are able to correct their answers with a penalty for each try.  When kids get tangled up in arithmetic errors, this is a great way to allow them to find their own mistakes and fix them.

Math teachers!!! Check out this link to find out more about the “calculated” question type and how you can use this powerful math assessment tool in Moodle.

Assignments
A practitioner of Project-Based Learning, I really like the Assignments module in Moodle. It allows students to upload files directly to the course website in response to a project prompt. For example, I had my students create a “Math Minute” Video using Animoto. I posted the instructions to the Moodle site as an assignment link in our weekly agenda. Students were able to upload their completed project directly to the site, and I could view and grade the submitted files, and even leave comments all on the Moodle. Here is a graphic I made using screenshots from this assignment and Picnik (to make it pretty).

Discussion Forum and Blog
The discussion forum module is a tool for collaboration and interaction between students in the online course. I have seen students ask for help and get assistance from their peers using the discussion forum. This is a great way for students who choose not to speak out in class to get the help they need from me and their peers.
Each Moodle participant also has his or her own blog to write in throughout the course. My students use it in a variety of ways–some jot reminders to themselves about what we do in class. Others use it as a place to store and share information they find on the internet about what they learned. Some just use it as a journal where they celebrate high test grades or bemoan the quiz for which they were not prepared. Although each student has an individual blog, all blog entries can be viewed for the entire course or sorted in myriad ways. I love going in and seeing what my students blog about; it’s always interesting! Click below to see snippets from our discussions and blogs.

a few final thoughts–
I require my students to “moodle” at least once a week for their participation grade in my class. This has produced a lively Moodle site that I have enjoyed watching grow from nothing to a rich online learning community in one grading period. So what’s the final verdict? I think you saw this already:

Please do not think this is my last post about Moodle; I am just getting started! I have also been using it for Professional Development and of course, I’ll be blogging about that soon! So, if your a Moodler, a wanna-be Moodler or just interested, stay tuned! Also be sure to check out part 1 of my Moodle review, in case you missed it. As a parting gift, here a short video created by my students about their use of Moodle. Enjoy!

Moodle Student Video from Tinashe Blanchet on Vimeo.

To Moodle or not to Moodle? Part 1

This semester, starting in January, I began using Moodle as the platform for my new class website. As you may know, I was using Google tools for most of my online interactions with students, and while it was mostly effective, it was not without its kinks and struggles. For instance, I used Google Forms to give online quizzes, but this was short-lived when I discovered that I could not add equations or pictures to questions, which was a critical flaw, since I was teaching Calculus at the time and needed this feature. There was also the clunkiness of Google Sites, which I attempted to use as a class wiki where I could centralize class info. When I heard about Moodle, a free LMS (Learning Management System, like Blackboard) I wanted to try it. I had no idea what I was in for!

First of all, Moodle is not for the faint of heart. Unless your school or district has already installed this system on the school server (mine had not), it will take some time and energy just to get your site up and running. While the system is free, finding a place to host is definitely not. My fellow WordPress users will understand–like WordPress, Moodle is a free way to organize and manage your content, but you will still have to find somewhere to house it on the web, which will probably cost you. After haggling a bit with my hubby to get some server space, we then went about installing Moodle. This was also a long process as the Moodle package is HUGE. By the time we got a clean install after a few tries (it kept timing out), I was finally ready to jump into the software. Even if your district does have Moodle available for your use there is a moderate learning curve to get past before you really start “moodling”. I found a pdf available for free at Moodle.org called “Using Moodle” that really helped me understand what Moodle is, how it can be used, and all it has to offer. If you are a Moodler or plan on becoming one, this is a must-read. Since it’s available as a pdf, it is great to download and read on the iPad. After reading this book, I was super-excited about Moodle, because it is such a rich platform that was clearly built with teachers in mind. Here are a few of my favorite features:

Glossary

Moodle’s glossary module is a great way to get students involved in studying vocabulary. In higher math courses especially, it is so easy to forget the importance of teaching vocabulary as we get bogged down with teaching tons of new formulas and rules. To date, my students have defined and added 106 “Key Terms” to our Moodle glossary, over 10 vocabulary words a week. Up to this point I’ve struggled with making vocabulary an ongoing part of my Pre-Calculus and Calculus classes. Of course I’ve taught them tons of new terms, but to find the time to focus on the words and their meanings with so much math to teach can be difficult. The glossary has really helped me get my students involved in going out and finding the meaning of our mathematical vocabulary. I simply post the list at the beginning of each unit, and they do the defining. Students find pictures online and attach them to their definitions, rate each others definitions and search the glossary for their own reference. Not only is the glossary useful or me as a math teacher, but a great tool for teachers of any discipline.

Quizzes
OMG. The quizzes on Moodle are soooo awesome. I know I sounded like a kid there, but this how I really feel about the quiz feature in Moodle. Not only am I able to add pics and equations easily, but there are many additional features that make giving online assessments so easy and fun! Moodle natively recognizes LaTeX, a programming language that renders mathematical equations in their proper visual form. Along with this and the free plugin, Drag Math, I am able to insert fractions, functions, and tons of other math stuff into my quizzes with no problem!
quiz
Moodle also allows lots of options for scrambling questions and answers to prevent students from cheating, which is usually a concern with online quizzes. Not only can you randomize questions AND answers, but there is even a feature (I haven’t tried it yet but read about it in “Using Moodle”) that allows you to give questions with variables so that each student gets a random value chosen from a list you create. For example, for a multiplication quiz, you could create a question “what is xy?” where x and y are integers between 1 and 12. The correct answer is clearly xy regardless of what numbers are randomly chosen for the student. So far, I have used multiple choice and short answer, but there are many more options for question types that I can’t wait to try in the coming years.

Obviously I have a lot to say about Moodle, but since this post is getting long, I will cut it off here. Stay tuned for part 2 in my series of posts about Moodle!!!