Friday, December 9, 2011

Technology in School: Where's My Hovercraft? Part 2

Last post I talked about the difference between figuring out how to use a technology that is given to you versus looking for a technology to solve an existing problem.  Then I went all Negative Netty on interactive whiteboards. Today I'm going to talk about searching for a technology to solve an existing problem.

My students complete a short homework log every night (ah, the advantages of being in a community where everyone has computers and internet access). I use this to track how much they complete (important, since I only want them working for 30 minutes and often (purposefully) give them assignments I don't expect to be finished or don't really have a finish).  I also use this to help prepare for my lesson the following day, get a sense of what questions they have, and how well they understood the assignment. Finally, this is yet another space for kids to communicate with me.

Anyway, the tech issues:

  • Right now students populate a google form and these data are transferred into a google spreadsheet that I look at. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who can see this.  It would be really nice for students to have access to their own homework logs.
  • It would also be nice if this history could easily be a way for students to organize their digital work. If work could be easily linked from the log, the student and I could both look at old work.
  • Filtering is possible, but it's slow and clunky...especially now that my spreadsheet is quite large. It would be really nice to be able to quickly filter by class, by assignment, by kid, by understanding, etc.
  • At this point in time, the file in general is becoming slow and clunky. While I could start a new form, this makes filtering by student even more time consuming. 
  • I wish it were easier to analyze this large (and potentially informative) data set. What's Jonny's average perception of his understanding on homework assignments? Has this increased or decreased? Is he spending more, less, or the same amount of time on assignments?
  • I wish I could click on a comment by a student and have my email pop open so I can shoot off a quick and efficient reply.
  • I wish my students would have an email automatically sent to them when the log is not completed...or for the ability to automatically or quickly contact parents.
Ok, so who's going to make this happen? :)


  1. Sounds like you need to take the step to have a web application instead of just the spreadsheet. With all of the data indexed in a database, you could filter by date (or date range) and/or by student efficiently and do other analysis. Let me know if you'd like me to put together a basic site on a volunteer basis.

    I'd make the code open source, and use Python so that you could host it on Google App Engine for free, or host it anywhere you want.

  2. So I'm curious - your students do this log. Do they turn in any homework? How is it that you check their understanding? I'm only wondering because I've wondered in the past about how easy it is for a student to say they've done some amount of work when, in fact, they haven't.

    It is that ideal case where students get to play with their homework without fear of a grade to misinfluence them (I think).

  3. @Harold: I'd love to take you up on this. A web application would be fantastic! I'll send you an email with further details using the email on your website.

    @mixedmath I think the homework log can be added to whatever structure you currently have for homework (collecting, checking, stamping, portfolioing, sharing, ignoring etc). For me, I do not use homework as an external evaluative tool. I have lots of other ways to check for understanding.

    True, it would be very easy for a student to say they've done work when they haven't on a homework log...about as easy as it is to copy hw from a classmate. The key for me is getting students to buy into how hw and the log is helping them learn. I believe this message and trust is worth the few students that take advantage of the system.

  4. @Avery: I'll watch for your email. In the meantime I've thrown a proof-of-concept up on Google App Engine at and put the code on GitHub at

  5. Check out not sure if it'll send the emails but as far as data tracking it has all the bells and whistles.

    i used it with some homeschooling friends of mine when i tutored them.

  6. I think some of what you want can be done using It is a social network site for education and allows students to submit homework, you can do annotations, have student discussions, etc. Anyhow, it might fit the bill

  7. Harold:

    Have you experimented with Gapminder at all? I have no clue if it could be adapted to such a task, but it seems robust and strong and might be able to handle the weight of your task.