26 February 2013

WHY Interactive Technologies? #1 - Curiosity and Play

Thinking through rationale for the value of engaging students in their learning process with SMARTboards and/or websites/apps for a training this Friday and ran across this video.

Obviously in the daily ebb and flow of your classroom you're going to aim a little lower than giant interactive art installation, but here are some things I'm going to start asking myself every morning before I start the day:

Is there anything playful in my lessons today? Are there any elements that are going to pique someone's interest to want to touch or explore? Is there anything here to grab anyone's attention?

You find out within your first couple months teaching that some of your best efforts at lesson planning sometimes crash and burn, so the end result of daily interactivity is not the point. Rather, the effort is what flexes those creative muscles (and keeps me from being bored in class...)

23 February 2013

Why Students Are Failing Online Courses and What We Can Do About It

A recent study of students in online courses by the Columbia University's Community College Research Center (featured in TechCrunch) found evidence that "all students who take more online courses, no matter the demographic, are less likely to attain a degree," but that particularly, male, African-American, and younger students struggle. I'd just had a conversation with an English teacher, @amathews17, about online courses at METC last week, so the study particularly piqued my interest.

The Problem
Class averages with "normal" sample sizes are lower than traditional courses
Our district currently offers a ton of recovery credits to juniors and seniors during the school day and after school two days a week. The success of the program is debatable in my opinion. The math scores, which shown above, are low, but the history and lit courses, (which I thought were always better) aren't drastically better. A lot of kids get credits, but...

Here's the problem (from my experience as an online student AND teacher) with online courses that disadvantage males, minorities, and youth.
  1. Online courses require more intrinsic motivation to begin and sustain work, and self-assessment of progress toward learning goals. Without social pressures or direct teacher pacing, many students cannot monitor their pacing and fall behind, or struggle to even begin coursework.
  2. Online courses, even those facilitated by instructors featuring both synchronous and asynchronous interactivity in the form of chats or discussion forums, are an independent venture. Students are expected to work alone, and to seek out assistance when necessary. We work hard to socialize our students and foster collaboration (and rightfully so), but we've lost the value of independent, quiet thought in the process.
  3. Online courses require students to read for learning and often to write for assessment. This is a particular challenge in OUR program because a lot of our students wind up needing to recover credits because they reading below grade level. They get by in traditional courses where teachers can modify texts and give verbal cues, but once those supports are gone, these struggling readers don't even know where to begin.

What Can We Do?
If online courses are the future of ed, (which all recent trends suggest) there are elements of online courses we can integrate into traditional classrooms to develop a blended-learning environment that can prepare our students for future online courses.
  1. Make students read. You have to. Use more than just your text book
    1. Check your bookroom for old texts
    2. Create/adapt your own texts with a CK12.org Flexbook
    3. Make use of free materials on other publishers' websites and MOOC offerings on iTunesU 
  2. Hold your students responsible for monitoring and reflecting on their progress, and have tools available for self-assessment and directed intervention
    1. Video repository (Your own or any from YouTube/tutorial sites)
    2. Extra practice links that are self-grading or worksheets with solutions available
    3. Guided chapter or lesson summaries with some blanks missing
  3. Before (or after) your social, constructivist activity, introduce an independent activity of pre (or post) cognition. It will enhance later discussion and acclimate students to forming their own questions and ideas
    1. Pre-reading
    2. KWL charts
    3. Frayer models for key concepts
    4. "I learned, I liked, I wish..."
The Takeaway
It gets reiterated every year and every time standards are reorganized, but every teacher really must be a reading teacher. Whether its for future Smarter Balanced CCSS assessments, strategies for online courses, or improvement in your own subject, there's no way to get around the necessity that our students are able to read in our content area.

21 February 2013

Co-Teaching for Relevance with WordSift.com and Data

Relevance seems to be a theme this week. Touche', Dr. Hopper.

Yesterday I wrote about my frustration with what I thought I was highly relevant lesson and the varying degrees that my students bought into the premise and were engaged in our graph/function activities. Since relevance is an area of focus our building principal is leading, I shared the post with him to get some feedback.

He made a great point that while I had, indeed made a great attempt at relevance, relevant to me doesn't always translate to relevance to my students. Something I'd kind of observed but had not solidified - kids don't really buy picture packages anymore, they just opt for the CD files. Truthfully, I should have been alerted to problems when I had to explain how buying photos works... LOL.

Today in my Algebra II class, I revisited a tool that I piloted first last Thursday to try and steer my Applied class's inevitable preoccupation with Valentine's Day into math activites.

The Tool

Wordsift.com from Stanford University is no ordinary word cloud generator. Beyond the basics, WordSift allows you to highlight tags by subject relevance, and creates a concept map of related topics to generate ideas for further research. Here's a video demo from a science class for more in-depth info.

Obviously, my Applied class loves math!
A concept map about sleeping
This was right after lunch. :)

The Catch

If this were, say, a creative writing class, we could have then found interesting ways to express our feelings about love or food, or had it been history we may have looked at food in a given period or place. But this is MATH CLASS, where cool ideas and easy ideas rarely intersect. :) How do I incorporate co-teaching and relevance into analyzing polynomial functions?! My book has several problems like this:

Sure, they're "real-world," but you're not getting any extra points with your students for engaging them with topics they're waiting to sink their teeth into.

Using Data

 My go-to relevance kicker in math class is to go to the data, so I sent my little darlings on a data hunt to make line graphs on a topic of their choosing.  Here's where things are going to get "ugly:" even after your students get to make a choice about their topic, they're going to have to evaluate that choice for usefulness. Whenever they asked me if the set they'd found would work, most of the time all I had to ask was, "If that's your set, what are the IV and DV?" When they realized they couldn't (usually because they were dealing with a qualitative variable), they knew to move on. Here are the rest of my instructions for the assignment.

The Key

It came as no surprise, but when I tried this the first time with Applied and "love," even after we were a little more specific and looked for things like marriage, divorce, or # of teddy bears sold over a period of years, without prior planning, the kids were kind of sinking in the entirety of the internet. The fixated on answers from Answers.com that were less than reliable. To find more success and ensure more viability of datasets, here are some good places to get started:

Data Sources
Extra guidance: Gapminder is most extensive (and has some amazing visualizations. Bonus video showcasing those here). The Census Bureau has an amazingly sortable index on business and industry time series and trend charts. I'd lean toward going here for the most user-friendly (although perhaps less customized to student interest) experience.

Census Bureau's Index

Adaptations for YOUR class:

Using data sets to enhance the relevance of your students' problem sets and studies is not something I think you're going to be able to do every day. Some days, you're going to have to provide direct instruction building up to your relevance piece, or more focus practice building on their work from a previous project or activity. What's important to remember is that the extra choices, evaluations, and connections that your students have to make when it does come time to incorporate datasets is going to pay off in the end as you build your automatrons into independent learners and thinkers.

20 February 2013

Relevance and Engagement: Where Is the Teacher/Student Demarcation of Responsibility?

I picked up two sections of our Applied Math course this semester. According to the curriculum guide (and practically), it is a bridge in our sequence between Geometry and Algebra 2. Following the textbook, MathMatters3, its a fairly even distribution between Geometric and Algebraic concepts. 

And, of course, we try as best we can (given the aforementioned parameters) to make what we do applicable and relevant to our students. 

We're in linear equations, graphs, and domain and range, right now, and I chose to have the students look at senior portrait packages. A quick Google search for "st. louis senior portraits" got me here: a real-life company that takes real-life photos of real-life St. Louis people.

Posing as the photographer, I gave them print options with prices, told them I wanted them to design packages for themselves, spending at least the minimum investment amounts listed on the Nordmann website for each session type and let 'em loose. After most everyone had chosen an a la cart package of prints to fulfill the amount they had to spend, I refocused what we were doing to the stated objective of graphing, domain, and range.

I had to generalize our package information down to an average cost for print, but we had a cross-curricular discussion into science class as we were setting up our graph.

What's the IV here?
What's the DV here?
(Some disagreement...discussion...people that were wrong figured out their error)

How much would 0 prints cost?
(Insert y-intercept and fixed costs reminder here)

So, nothing in this lesson was exceptionally rigorous (although some of my students get very frozen when you tell them to make some choices for themselves and tell me what they come up with so I can know the answer), and the standards in this mini-lesson were at best middle school level, but in terms of relevance, it should have been spot on.

And yet, I still had a student (a senior) ask,
"What do senior portraits have to do with our lives? I mean, this is applied math..."
And I had students that exhibited a similar level of engagement to boring days when all we do is direct instruction (that is, little).

The question is this:

Where do our best attempts to draw in our students with relevant topics end, and where do we stop beating ourselves up we students make deliberate choices to do anything but the day's activity?
Leave your comments below; I'd love your input!

18 February 2013

20 Ways to Use ONE iPad in Your K-12 Classroom

ONE iPad can change your teaching. Do you believe it? In a lot of ways, I think my teaching transformed more when I had only my own iPad than when I got the class set a few months later.
students gather around their teacher's ipad
copyright Duke Energy, 2011
Here are just 20 ways you can use your ONE iPad (or iPod, or iPhone) to enhance your teaching and open your classroom.

  1. Scanner - handwritten notes on paper, old paper originals from curriculum, student work examples (Camscanner, GeniusScan)
  2. Document camera
  3. Mobile IWB (Airsketch)
  4. Podcasting - you OR your students
  5. Large screen graphing calculator
  6. Creating tutorials (for assessment or flipping the class) - (Explain Everything, ShowMe, Educreations)
  7. Timer for pacing work 
  8. 2-3 students catching up on assignments/notes from absences
  9. Student trips to the "library" - collection of reference texts (iBooks, Kindle, Google Play)
  10. Super Stick Pick can with differentiated Bloom's question prompts (Stick Pick)
  11. Texting students/parents class updates (Remind 101)
  12. Monitoring backchannel while your main machine runs presentation (Today'sMeet, PollEverywhere, Twiddla, Wiffitti)
  13. Automatic rubric scoring of student presentations/projects with Google forms
  14. Dictate notes on student performance or parental contact (Dragon Dictation)
  15. Administrative tasks - gradebook/seating chart/behavior and learning notes (TeacherKit)
  16. Videoconferencing (FaceTime, Skype, Google+)
  17. Writing a collaborative story (Google Docs, Twiddla, Mad Libs, Popplet, StoryBuilder, Toontastic)
  18. Running Prezi/SlideRocket/PowerPoint remotely
  19. Interactive globe (Google Earth)
  20. Card/Dice/Marble simulator for probability experiments or random number generation (Natural Dice, Best Chance)
Anything to add to the list? How have you used your iOS device for your students?

07 February 2013

Reading in Math Class: Think Alouds (Formative Reflection)

First, I wanted to celebrate the fact that I tried Think Alouds with this iMovie trailer. (I blogged about the lesson plan here on Tuesday.)

That being said, today felt like a train wreck. :)

I had originally intended to copy each handout on the same piece of paper so I could have a parallel notes kind of situation like this:

I didn't get my copies done, so my first thought was to just have the kids pull it up in our AP Stats shared Dropbox folder and annotate on their iPads with any of our note-taking apps (since they were already out to transcribe the whole experience with Dragon Dictation). The whole process was started to get overwhelmed with all of the tech layers I was throwing on top of the lesson, so I abandoned that and eventually just went old-school print out of the text from my Google Drive file, highlighting items of emphasis and writing their thoughts in the margins.

There's a lesson planning truth here: Always try out new stuff with your most resilient class. My AP Stats class is my smallest, and the students most agreeable to patiently working on something else for another class if/when I have to troubleshoot. They're also independent enough to do some extra work YouTubing or reading on their own later if necessary (which is crappy for a teacher to do when its unintentional, so of course, we try to limit that). :)

My Verdict:

Kelly Fisher-Bishop followed up to my comment on her post about Think Alouds and it seems to summarize my current thoughts on the strategy:
I think this strategy will take some time for it to work and run smoothly; students will have have trouble vocalizing their thoughts in the beginning, but after some practice and modeling (on your part) the students will eventually get the hang of it. If it becomes part of the class routine, then students will get better and better at using this new reading strategy.
 If you watched all of the trailer I shared at the beginning of the most, my kids really were "defying stereotypes" with the reading lesson. Part of the problem may have been the texts I ended up choosing, but I'm willing to rest right now on a level of discomfort they had a) reading aloud in class, b)reading in math class (although of any of the courses in our catalog, stats has the most reading as routine), and c) working in new groups (they usually just pair up with the person next to them. I truthfully may have thrown too many variables into this lesson to attribute the effect to any one of them).

Students' Verdict:

Here are some of their thoughts on the lesson (collected using Today's Meet).
"I liked that we worked in groups to figure out what the reading was talking about."
"Group work is nice, binomials are a little clear, could've gone over it as a class more. I learned more than if it would have been a ppt."
"I liked that we could use the iPads to help figure stuff out. If we had more time to talk about it afterward, that would have helped me more" 
"I like that we got to go over the material from two different websites n we reviewed it"
"Can we do a binomial problem in class together step by step?" 
They're usually nicer than I expect them to be. :) Two things I gather from these responses:
  1. they liked talking it out with their partner/group 
  2. a summary of the activity/application of what they learned was necessary to validate thoughts from the group and clear misconceptions that may have developed. 

Adaptations for YOUR class:

Using Dragon Dictation was a waste of time. The help in the app suggests that you speak directly into the microphone, which is unnatural and weird to do if you're trying to have a constructive conversation with a person. If I want to archive the audio next time, I would just use the recording utility in Noteability or SmartNote Free. As mentioned from the student comments, a summary of the learning and thinking that went across groups should have been compiled before we left - a couple ways to share could be Todaysmeet.com, a Google Doc that everyone edits as they wrap up their own conversations, or good ol' pieces of butcher paper for each group.

As far as choosing your text, its very important that the reading level is appropriate for your individual learners so they can get into the reading. A great opportunity for differentiation would be to group according to reading level and provide separate, approachable texts. My Stats class has been previously screened to make sure they could handle the reading required for the course, but when I try this with my Applied Math class next week, they will shut down if the reading is over the heads.

Have you tried Think Alouds before? Any other tips for my next attempt?

06 February 2013

iOS Ed-ssentials: "The Only Math [Apps] You'll Ever Need"

I picked up this book at a garage sale a couple of years ago. 
The Only Math Book You'll Ever Need: Practical, Step-by-Step Solutions to Everyday Math Problems.

Sounds promising, right? In fact, I think I'm going to use at least one section in here about mean and median next week in my Applied Math classes as a Think Aloud activity (my previous Think Aloud experience here) The real problem with this book as "the only math book you'll ever need," is that many of the sections in the book are all over simple numeracy skills or operations that anyone with a pretty basic mobile phone can have done for them. Here's a quick summary of topics in the book that my basic, feature phone can do:

  • Tipping
  • Unit Conversion (measurements)
  • Unit Conversion (time)
  • Percentages
[These aren't even covered in the book, but I just found out my LG Cosmos Touch can also give me trig and inverse trig ratios, factorials, permutations, combinations, nth roots, logs, and natural logs]
Needless to say, any of the sections that are heavy on computation tips and low on concepts are easily, and wisely replaced by modern technology.

Without further ado, here's my [short] list of "The Only Math Apps You'll Ever Need". If you're looking for yourself, your child, or your MS and HS students, I would start here.

MyScript Calculator, by Vision Objects : I found this one just last week, actually, and there was a tiny bit of a learning curve getting the app to recognize my numerals, but it took out a step for me between writing my work and entering into the calculator. It also tries to guess what you're calculating, and automatically computes what the operations are equal to (saving you keystrokes)

Free Graphing Calculator, by William Jockusch: This app is good as a graphing utility; I like the colors, I can zoom and manipulate the axes with ease, but I really like this app because it has a built-in reference library for basic formulas and mathematical definitions, axioms, and laws. A digital formula sheet, if you will.

Graph, by VVImaging, Inc: All the statistical graphs and data analysis you can't do with Free Graphing Calculator is covered here.

I made the choice NOT to put a regular scientific calculator on this list because I feel like its important for students to continue to carry those in their bags for assessments. Going on the assumption that your students will have traditional calcs with them, then, you don't need them on your devices.

Next in the series, I'll reveal my essential note-taking apps.

Do you agree, or disagree? Could you keep your list to three, or are there other essential math apps for you?

05 February 2013

Reading in Math Class: Think Alouds

Here's an attempt to synthesize a more lit-comp/ social studies/ science geared strategy for use in the math class. (We get used to that, am I right, math teachers?) For more info on think alouds, here's a post from Kelly Fisher-Bishop, an instructional coach in my district.

The point of a Think Aloud is to get students verbalizing the text, engaging with vocabulary, and forming an understanding of the nonfiction text. The "think aloud" part of the Think Aloud is a conversation between partners in which they explore meaning behind the words, connect concepts in the text to prior knowledge, define new words, and communicate their reasoning.

Archiving a think aloud could be done with Cornell Notes, a simple voice recorder, an app for notes and recording, and (what I'll be trying, the Dragon Dictation app, which would convert students' think aloud to text notes for later review, allowing them to focus on their dialogue.)

Math Class Adaptation:

My AP Stats kids did an introductory activity about binomial random variables (Lesson 8.1, TPS2e) today in class, played around with binomial coefficients and probability of discrete outcomes, and connected concepts (such as normal approximations) important in this lesson to material we've already mastered.

The purpose of this Think Aloud, then, will be to formalize the connections they made today by drawing definitions and concepts out of two different informational texts about binomial distributions, getting down definitions, and sorting out the reasoning behind the construction of formulas and when their use in appropriate.

I created a handout for them to read and annotate on, and I'm going to have them run the app the during step 2 of the Think Aloud, when most of the partner discussion will occur, and during their work on the practice exercise.
Handout 1, informational text 
Handout 2, Guiding Questions/Discussion Log

Although this is two pages, my plan is to print these on one sheet, side by side.

Here's a demo for the Dragon Dictation app

Adaptation for YOUR class:

Certainly if its common practice for your students to be reading informational texts, using Think Aloud with your students (and meta-cognitively modeling what you do most days anyway) should help your students construct sense and meaning. For instance, in math or science topics, I'd say most Wikipedia articles are very informative and could be very useful for students' understanding. A common problem I encounter, however, is that there is too much information in the article that becomes noise for what I want to be reading. Giving a tool to your students to sift out unnecessary information and methodically go through the text can make them more independent as learners and less dependent on you or only YouTube.