HaystackOver the summer holidays I spent quite some time thinking about how best to use 3 upcoming whole-staff professional development sessions planned for my school. In the past I have found that no matter how charming, funny, well prepared or handsome I try to be, PD sessions never come out as well as I hoped. It’s not that people don’t learn, it is just that they are never as good as the lessons I delivered to my students.

As I pondered this I wondered what would happen if I took one of my better lessons, and adapted it to fit the needs of teachers. The original concept was an online treasure hunt, and whilst it was centred around Sherlock Holmes, a lot of the tasks fitted with an area I really wanted to develop in our staff: basic web literacy skills.

What evolved was a digital scavenger hunt in which teachers collaborated in small groups to problem solve their way towards a final solution. Along the way, they would be exposed to the following skills:

  • Link Shortening – using bit.ly, goo.gl or tinyurl.com to turn long links into short links. This is useful when people need to write down a link, or if you want to track usage of a link.
  • Text Search – simply using Google’s web search functionality to answer a question, such as “second digit used in binary counting systems”.
  • Image Search – drag and drop an image into images.google.com to search for images based on an image, rather than on text. Very useful for identifying logos, art work, etc. Google Goggles is an Android app that does this, but not as well as the web site. Does not work well with Safari (this is a great teachable moment about browser foibles)
  • QR Codes – creating codes with links, pictures, text, etc, using a QR code generator (I like http://www.qrstuff.com, but there are tonnes). Scan codes using a mobile phone with appropriate scanning app (I like QRDroid for Android), or using a website such as webqr.com (as long as it is not blocked, only works with Chrome).
  • Google Street View – getting students to step out of the classroom into a real life setting and look for clues. Make sure you test it ahead of time to make sure things have not changed if the Google car has been around and updated the area.
  • Steganography – hiding a message and make students search for it. Use hidden ink, or the HTML equivalent of setting the background and foreground to the same color. This should work with word processing as well.
  • Music Search – use Shazam or SoundHound on a phone or desktop to identify a piece of music, and then search online for a lyric or piece of band trivia.
  • Twitter Search – use a popular hashtag, and hide a tweet instead a stream of other tweets. Beware of inappropriate content outside of your control.

Each of these skills can be applied in the classroom to make learning more interesting, whilst most of them also offer the benefit of allowing teachers to work smarter and faster online.

The first time I ran this session, the teachers got very caught up, to the point where it really felt like having a group of my regular students engaged and learning together. The feedback from the session was very positive, and led to teachers being encouraged to integrate some of these ideas into their classrooms.

This leaves me with the awkward question of how to top this and make use of my 2 remaining in-house PD session.

If you are interested in running this same session, or one similar, check out the complete documentation. Everything is available under a CC license, so feel share to reuse, remix and share.

Update: thanks to Janice Dwyer for taking this work, adapting it for Year 6 Maths, and sharing it back here.

Credit: Haystack image via Wikimedia Commons, under PD.