Type of Technology: Website for reviews and testing material
SAMR Model: Augmentation
Grade: High school
Subject: All subject
Cost: Free (SBUSD bought a license for this tool)
Have you ever Shmooped? I bet your students have.
Last week our staff was presented with Shmoop, a classroom tool for students and teachers. In a nutshell, students can use Shmoop’s large library of test prep materials. There are sample tests, review pages, and videos all presented to students as a light-hearted and humorous way. Shmoop’s moto—“We speak student!” The Santa Barbara Unified School District has purchased a license for Shmoop so that teachers can use this well-known student site as another tool to incorporate technology into their lessons. Shmoop is aligned with the state content standards, the Common Core, and offers a plentitude of AP review tests and other materials.
First of all, I decided that since this has been a site used by students for many years, I would hear from the students what they like about Shmoop. So when I asked them about Shmoop, here is what they had to offer…
- Jillian: “Don’t you use it to cheat on homework?”
- Ava: “I have used it for book summaries. I like it. It seems like a valid resource. Very straight-forward and easy to understand.”
- Sarah: “I think Shmoop is a great way to look up history information. Very accurate and a good online source for every topic. Way easier to navigate than Spark Notes.”
Now a teacher’s review…
Attached is the teacher instructions that Shmoop provided, which were very easy to follow. I was able to create an account and use the “magic word” to connect my account to our school account. That step is very important because having the school account opens many more sections of the site. I was able to create a profile, a classroom, and add resources to that classroom. Students can be invited to join the class by sending them an email and giving them a class code. Most of my students had no trouble joining the class. The classroom has a grade book (which can be downloaded into CVS format), an announcement section, and a place where students can use the resources. I am currently teaching AP US Government, so the resources I added were the AP US Government Exam Prep resource and the AP US Government Review Course.
Testing Resource. The Exam Prep invites students to start with a diagnostic test that is timed and will report to them their areas of strength and weakness. The diagnostic test begins Shmoop’s algorithm and tracks the student’s progress. After the students complete the diagnostic test, they can go on to a number of practice exams.
I really like that Shmoop includes a timer on the diagnostic and other tests. Pacing is very important in all AP Tests, and Shmoop does a very good job emphasizing this importance to the students.
Review Course. The second resource I included in my classroom is the AP US Government Review Course, which is very helpful. Each unit begins with an introduction and all the readings are short and accessible. There are links to video clips, photos, Wikipedia, and other sites for students to get more information (one link on democracy took me to a clip from the movie Planet of the Apes). The course is organized exactly how AP Central organizes their units which reinforces the major topics and essential learnings of the course. Each section has an introduction, readings, and activities. The readings take a student further into the topic and the activities are mostly quizzes that they call “drills.” The review course is great because I can create assignments for students within the Shmoop site, students complete the test, it is reported to my Shmoop grade book and I can then re-enter their grades to EDU/NEO, our online learning management system. I am not excited about re-entering their grades, especially when I can give multiple choice grades in EDU/NEO and it is directly recorded in my EDU/NEO grade book, but it is not a difficult task, and using this testing material as oppose to a test a create in EDU gives much greater analytics that are reported directly to the students so they can see where they need to focus their efforts.
Two Thumbs Up! Overall, the site offers a lot of testing with great analytics for students to see their results and monitor their own progress of learning. There is great simplicity for teachers to set-up classes, give assignments, and view student outcomes. The Shmoop AP Government curriculum was nicely aligned with AP Central, and in my brief exploration of their college prep curriculum, it seemed to be well-aligned with the state content standards and Common Core. Overall, I am very pleased and I look forward to using this site as a tool for my students to review material. It can easily replace all of my Barons and Princeton Review books that students labor over when they are reviewing before the AP exam, and I will also try to incorporate it in my weekly lessons. After our class’ first attempt at using Shmoop, the students found it useful. Most were especially pleased with how easy it was to read and navigate. They found the drills a bit difficult, but all new testing material should be challenging. Besides being useful in individual classrooms, I also can see our administrators and counselors encouraging the students to use the ACT and SAT prep material that all students will have access to.
Watch Out! I did experience once area of the site that was disappointing. Given that the Smarter Balance assessments will also include videos, and the Shmoop library hosts a number of videos, I decided to view a few of the American Government videos. These videos were not directly geared for the Advanced Placement students, but I thought there might be something I can use. I viewed two videos. The first was on the Branches of Government and I was disappointed because the narrator was Thomas Jefferson, who claimed to be one of the “framers of the Constitution” which he was not because he was our ambassador to France during the Annapolis and Philadelphia Conventions. The second video I watched was about Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. In this video, the narrator said that “Thomas Paine spoke of life, liberty, and property.” It was John Locke who penned those words, not Thomas Paine. Basically, I would suggest that you preview the videos. You may choose to use them and verbally correct any errors, or like me, you can just skip them.
My final critique of Shmoop is that I fear that as they attempt to “speak student” (mostly through humor), that they don’t speak all of our students. As I explored the site, I noticed jokes everywhere. Jokes as call-outs on the main page, jokes in the text of longer narrative writings, jokes in videos and photos. As I was confronted with joke after joke, I asked myself, “Would all of my students understand this joke?” So often jokes need cultural context, and as we teach a diverse group of students from different cultures and backgrounds, some may not have all the contextual clues and be left out of the joke. This is not too concerning to me, and I still think this is a fabulous resource, but it is a reminder to me, that as I present content to students (Shmoop, other websites, my lectures, or anything else), I can’t assume that all students will have the same culture backgrounds and pick-up on the same contextual clues.