November 2021 | Tech Tips
Get Jammin’ in Chemistry!
By Ellen Spencer
Like many educators in the summer of 2020, my head was spinning. I was looking ahead to one long year in which I would have to completely reinvent most of what I had done for my entire career. In retrospect, I was fortunate about the many tools and strategies that I learned during hybrid and remote instruction.
Of all the tools I found, probably the most exciting was Jamboard— even though my initial impression of the app was not so stellar. A former science teacher colleague of mine, now working as an instructional technology specialist, recommended I check it out. But, when I opened the app and saw a total of only eight tools (and just one font choice), I was not overly impressed. Thankfully, I signed up for her Jamboard training session anyway, and soon began to understand more about what the app could bring to my teaching.
Why Jamboard, and not Slides?
|Figure 1. The series of three images shows the interactive capabilities of Jamboard. Given prompt (top); a student’s correct model (middle); and incorrect student model with notes added as feedback (bottom).|
Jamboard is considered Google’s interactive whiteboard application. Although you can purchase a physical Jamboard for your classroom, the app can also be used on any device with internet, including a Smartboard, ViewSonic board, Chromebook, iPad, and more.
Initially, the app appears somewhat similar to Google Slides, with a blank white frame to work on and some tools placed along the side. On this background, you can build content, manipulate objects, and show ideas and work.
One of the first questions that I get about Jamboard, from both colleagues and students alike, is “why don’t we just do this on Slides?” At times, Jamboard’s advantages can be a bit challenging to articulate. To put it simply, Jamboard is built for collaboration and interaction; Slides is built for presentation. Jamboard gives the feel of using an interactive whiteboard, with the added benefit of allowing your students to engage with it from their own devices. The response time is fast (almost immediate), even when a large number of students are working together on a Jam.
In terms of their variety of creation tools though, Slides is much better than Jamboard, hands down. But I have come to see the simplicity in Jamboard as a positive. It keeps students focused on the intended learning activity, rather than overwhelming them with choices in presentation colors and fonts. One of the standout features of Jamboard is the ability to write directly on a Jam when using a touchscreen device or interactive whiteboard. Similarly to Slides, Jamboard is integrated into the Google world and works seamlessly with Google Classroom, though it isn’t required. As a teacher, when you assign a Jamboard through Classroom or share one with your students, you can easily open it to watch their work in action!
Getting started with Jamboard
One great way to begin is by exploring Jamboards made by others. Currently, the best sources I have found for these are on social media, and I encourage you to not limit yourself to content or grade-level-specific examples. I have learned an incredible amount about using Jamboard effectively from elementary level teachers. In my experience, these teachers think a little differently than secondary level teachers, and are skilled at making Jamboard learning activities that are user-friendly and engaging.
Much of my early Jamboard inspiration came from following Julia Dweck on Twitter (@GiftedTawk). In an interview, Dweck shared her opinion that educators should make quality computer-based learning activities “colorful, interactive, and game-like” to keep learners engaged, especially in remote learning. Dweck’s Twitter feed contains endless videos highlighting Jamboards she has made, and explanations of how to use them. Additionally, she very generously shares most of them with her followers! Although many of her Jamboards aren’t appropriate for high school chemistry, they have taught me so much about the functionality and capability of Jamboard.
Recently I also became aware of Evolve EdTech, a great resource for technology integration in the classroom. The website offers a Jamboard Template eCollection, another a good place to find ideas. I have also learned an incredible amount from joining the Facebook group, Teachers using JAMBOARDS. One of the administrators of this group, Patty Jeanne, not only shares Jamboards she has made, but also often makes tutorials and shares “how to” advice that is very valuable to those new to Jamboard.
Figure 2. In this short video, the author highlights a selection of her own favorite chemistry Jamboards in action. Templates shown in this video can be found on the author’s Linktree.
Tips for creating Jams
I have now been using Jamboard for just over a year, and I’ve come a long way in building and effectively using the app. Here are some tips and tricks for getting started:
- Building the Background: When making a Jamboard, I typically start by creating my backgrounds in Google Slides, using all of the formatting tools available. This will create a nice fixed background for your frames in Jamboard that students cannot change, which will prevent your work from being accidentally altered, deleted, or moved when students access it. It’s a little labor intensive, but I download the individual slide as a PNG, then apply it as the background in Jamboard.
- Add Manipulatable Graphics: Having graphical objects that students can manipulate on the fixed background is very engaging. When I first started using Jamboard, I did the bulk of my creation in Slides. One challenge is that you cannot directly copy and paste an object from Slides into Jamboard. My workaround for this, initially, was taking screenshots of objects because you can directly copy and paste (using keyboard shortcuts) from the Snipping Tool into Jamboard. This is a great place to start, but will not give you transparent backgrounds. To improve the quality of my objects and give them transparent backgrounds, I have started to use Adobe Illustrator. This has improved the look of my Jamboards, but making objects on Slides is sufficient as well. If you continue to use Slides and the Snipping Tool, you can use the free online tool at remove.bg to give your objects a transparent background.
- Incorporate the Built-in Tools: Structure your activities to take advantage of Jamboard’s tools. Students can quickly and easily share ideas using the sticky notes. For example, they can type explanations with textboxes, and can sketch or work through problems using the pen tool. These tools can be used for both collaborative and independent work. Also, if you’re going to have students directly writing on Jamboard, I highly recommend the disc-style styluses, since they make writing much neater and less frustrating for students.
- Sneak in “Links”: It is important to note that at this time, active hyperlinks cannot be embedded into Jamboard. You can, however, use keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste a URL into a textbox on Jamboard. Students will have to copy and paste that address into another browser window.
- Incorporate Content from Other Apps: I highly recommend using Chemix to create lab diagrams in Jamboards (or any other digital materials). Their free version is fantastic, and allows you to download images as PNG files that can easily be imported into Jamboard. If you have other apps you use to generate content, find ways to build them into your Jams as well.
Preparing your students for a Jam session
Although students may have experience using Jamboard before encountering it in the chemistry classroom, I find it useful to do an introductory activity before using the app in a lesson. I have found that this helps to make students aware of the tools in Jamboard, become familiar with the program, and also understand how we’ll use it in my classroom. Additionally, Jamboard requires certain functions, such as copying and pasting, to be done using keyboard shortcuts, so it is important to familiarize students with this. For this purpose, I made a Ready to JAM activity using free coloring images for kids available online, and also borrowed some “toothpick puzzles” (as shown in Figure 3) from Julia Dweck to give the students something fast, easy, and fun to do in a collaborative group setting to get comfortable with the features of Jamboard.
Figure 3. An example of a Jamboard task as presented (top), and as completed by students (bottom).
Jamboard for collaboration and virtual learning in chemistry
I have found that Jamboard has real value in chemistry instruction, both in person and as a remote learning tool as well. I have used Jamboard for each of the learning activities outlined below, as shown in this video.
- Modeling: Jamboard is an excellent way to do simple modeling and share manipulatives with students —whether in the classroom or at home. In my favorite Jamboards video (shared in Figure 2), I illustrated some ways that this can be done. Jamboard also allows for easy and fast teacher feedback on student models.
- Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL): Jamboards are incredibly useful for POGIL practitioners with both remote and in-person learners, or a combination of the two. By putting POGILs onto Jamboard, students were able to work through the questions collaboratively, writing on or manipulating models and showing their work. Rather than handing out the printed PDF of the POGIL worksheet, I adapted the activities to Jamboard. Additionally, students both in the classroom and at home could simultaneously see the work of their peers while discussing in-person or using video conferencing.
Figure 4. A POGIL activity modified to be digitally interactive using Jamboard. Note: Image used with the permission of POGIL.
- Problem Solving: During remote learning, I was able to have students work on solving heat problems in breakout rooms in Google Meet while working on a shared Jamboard.
- Checking Progress: I can easily check on student work and progress in real time on Jamboard, whether the students are in the classroom or participating remotely. I also used Jamboard for a Pairs Check cooperative activity that students were doing both in-person and remotely.
- Feedback: As previously mentioned, Jamboard also allows for easy and fast teacher feedback on student work. You can see students’ work in real time and use the sticky note tool to communicate with students.
What’s to come?
Effectively using Jamboard does require having a few tricks up your sleeve, but the simplicity of the app is incredibly beneficial for the learner. I noticed that students with varying levels of comfort with technology took to Jamboard without any difficulty or anxiety. Although most of my instruction going forward will be in-person, I do not regret any of the time that I put into building Jamboard learning activities, because they are engaging and useful to students learning in person as well. I continue to use many of the modeling, problem solving, and POGIL Jamboards that I made several times each week.
The only downside I consistently face with Jamboard is that the app does take some time to load, especially when using Chromebooks that don’t have very powerful processors. However, once loaded, the functionality of the app is pretty impressive. I have high hopes for where Jamboard is going as a teaching tool: in the past year, I have seen a few very crucial Jamboard updates that greatly improved its usability. These updates directly addressed the concerns and desires teachers shared in their feedback, which makes me hopeful that Google is working to continually develop Jamboard into an even more powerful teaching tool.
(article cover) Rido81/Bigstock.com