30 April 2013

Tech Tip: Using Animation for Sharing Procedures And Directions

"Did you read the directions?"


"Alright. What's your question about them, then?"

"I don't get it."

"Which part?"

"I don't know."

How many times have you had a conversation like that? As you can tell from my gif there, conversations like that tend to bring out the grumpies in me.

It doesn't have to be that way!  Making quick videos and animations through services like Xtranormal or Go!Animate are an easy way to introduce assignments and projects or to draw your students into the lesson with something other than your (handsome) face.

Take, for instance, this area problem from my Applied Math book. I like it because it has elements of being open-ended, offers some choice for students, and secretly requires some scale factors and unit conversions.
If students don't read the paragraph on top, this is nearly impossible to do "right."
When my students did this problem 1st hour, I had several "I don't get it," questions - way more than I should have.

I knew part of the problem was that they didn't read the information above where #19 is, and some of it was my introduction of the problem (or lack thereof), so during passing time and our Do Now, I made this video on Xtranormal, essentially just copying most of the text from my book for the character to say. This literally took, about, 7 minutes. (And your students will be amazed.)

Pool Design Problem
by: chuckcbaker

This one I made to introduce our study of minesweeper at Saturday School to improve reasoning
The Minesweeper
by: chuckcbaker

I set up an "interview" to address FAQs on a logarithms project
Functions Log Project FAQ
by: chuckcbaker

26 April 2013

Fewer Than 1/4 of Americans Use "Advanced" Math At Work...

But how many use “advanced” writing?? No one ever poses this question – is it because a larger portion of Americans think they are “good” writers? (As opposed to anyone who has ever said, “I was never good at math.”)

This post from the Atlantic takes research from Northeastern University professor, Michael Handel, and puts together his charts into graphs. (Here’s How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work – Jordan Weissmann – The Atlantic.)
This is my favorite-
Here's How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work - Jordan Weissmann - The Atlantic
Does it surprise you that SKILL and LABOR jobs use the highest percentage of “advanced” math? These careers like machinists, electricians, and others that require extensive trade school training are rising in demand as baby boomers retire. (I wrote more about the new role of tech school here – vocational training is coming back and we need to be steering some traditional “college” students in that direction)
Once I went to Mr. Handel’s Northeastern page and downloaded the research Atlantic used for their graphs, I uncovered another layer of the picture that may (or may not) surprise you.
The drop-off from basic to advanced writing between skilled white-collar and blue-collar to unskilled is even more pronounced than with math.
Here are the numbers together.Math AND Writing Comparison
It’s probably not fair to make a direct comparison between the yellow and blue bands in each section of the table, but even in the “more advanced” red band on the math section, those percentages aren’t drastically lower than those of the “five pages” yellow band in writing, and for blue collar workers, the percentage of math users is HIGHER.

So, tell me, why is our culture not in an uproar over writing formally as they are over “real,” relevant uses of Algebra? Where are all the programs to get kids using math in their liberal arts courses like we have to get kids writing in math and science?

25 April 2013

Playing School: Using Badges and Achievements for PBIS

Thanks to +Keith Sorensen for the great badge summary post that sparked this one! If you're not familiar with uses of badges to reward achievement in Scouts, the military, and even videogames, head on over there, first.
Badges work well into PBIS strategies, as well. 
The purpose of PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) is to craft a welcoming, positive school culture in which students doing the right things are noticed and rewarded, as opposed to traditional behavioral strategies that highlight the bottom 10% and heap upon them punitive damages.

We give out tickets at my high school that can be redeemed for stuff, but I wonder if badges would be cheaper (most of the rewards cost the school something) and perhaps even more "meaningful" because peers will know WHY a student got that badge instead of the generic tickets we hand out.
I like the idea of the tickets, and perhaps the staff gives out more of them because they can be given more on a whim ("Hey, what you just did was great. Here's a ticket."), but I can't help wonder how effective they really are.
If you use EdmodoKhan Academy, Manga High, or even Study Island, badges and achievements are built right in (to varying degrees), so you wouldn't even need a new service, if if you want one, Keith highlights Class Badges in his post.
There are more than a thousand badges already created for you to apply to your own classroom content or goals, and if you make your own (just like you can in Edmodo), the possibilities are endless!  I searched only in the "math theme" and got more than 100.
There are 4 more pages of this gold.
I haven't set up classes yet, but in less than 5 minutes, I was able to set up my account and create my first badge for what we're doing in Algebra 2 right now (which I wrote about here)

Do you have an "A" wall, or a star wall where students get to put their good assessments or projects? If you didn't want to use electronic badges, it would be pretty simple to make your "A" wall a badge wall and be more specific about your achievements. 

23 April 2013

Playing School: Be a Storyteller, Be Memorable (This Week's Exponential Functions)

There are two ways you can have you students write algebraic models for a set of points.

1. Give them step-by-step directions of abstract coordinates, master the steps, and then work on applying the new skills to word problems.

2. Give and define a structure (in this week's case, the exponential form), then lead them through stories, putting the pieces in place.

You may have more success with writing equations from a given graph if you follow the first method, but how connected will that learning be the logs lesson you're going to have in a few days? How applicable will that knowledge be (which is where you get to have some fun)?  Last Friday's quiz had several growth/decay questions, 3 graph to equation matchings, and then one equation modeling word problem that was really half of a context pieced around 2 chunks of data.

Results on the first section were great, but we fell off in the middle, and really lost it at the equation modeling. Last week's modeling examples and practice mostly consisted of a given set of points to be plugged into the general form to find a growth rate of initial value. Granted, we really only did it for a day, but I wouldn't say any memorable learning was going on.

This week, without anymore modeling instruction, I've seen more success (and certainly interest) in involving my students in the problems (that are still even mostly contrived).

Monday: Real basic information scenario-wise, but it gave us a reason to put in a value for y and solve for x..
"When will 1,000,000 St. Louisans be infected?"

Tuesday: Andre asked at the last second to be in the story, so, there he is. :) It actually helped with my setting when we did this problem the next hour.
Dani chose Taco Bell, which worked well with the radioactive mutation scenario here, LOL

Students are looking forward to the next day to see who gets to be in the story and how they are involved, and they're snapping pictures of the notes so they can think about it later.

You may remember two days ago when you worked through the example for exponential decay with points (0,9) and (5, .4), but  "The day Sam and her friends were the beginnings of an E. Coli outbreak" or "The day Dani ate the radioactive taco" is the kind of things remember (at the very least until next week.) :)

By modeling the process for writing and working through stories, you can segue way easily into students doing the same for their own assessments. #student-becomes-the-teacher

Student created assessments and demonstrating understanding through a story would be a great item to include in student portfolios if you and/or your school have student-led conferences.

18 April 2013

Socrative + Desmos Calculator = Multimedia, Interactive, Easy Assessment

This came in my inbox today, so I figured it was safe to share this previously "secret" feature.

If you're new to Socrative, the web and app-based service is a formative assessment and survey tool that can be accessed via PC, Mac, or any web-enabled device. (Which comes in handy when the app gets glitchy some days and I can switch to the web). I wrote more about using Socrative to replace Scantrons if you want more info on practical application and a comparison to using Google Forms.

Math Assessment Writing Toolbox
  • Equations - Google Drive
  • Graphs - Desmos
  • Formatting - Socrative
Adding images and auto-grading short answer makes Socrative a powerful tool.

One of the previous shortcomings of Socrative was that any multimedia I wanted to use in assessing my students had to be via a worksheet, a different file, or on my SMARTboard. This visual disconnect resulted in errors for some students simply because the content was not adjacent to the question prompt.  Even including basic equations in the prompt was awkward because I had to write exponents with carrots (^) and rational numbers or expressions with a forward slash (/). There's still no equation editor, but now that you can embed images, you can take a screenshot from your favorite equation editing platform and insert it with the prompt (embedded images is how most equations show up on the internet anyway, so don't bemoan the work-around).

My Algebra 2 students have a short assessment on exponential functions tomorrow, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to run Socrative through the paces and embed some beautiful exponential functions from everyone's favorite web-based graphing calculator, Desmos.

Here's a screencast of my workflow this afternoon:

I'd REALLY like to be able to add images to my MC responses, also, but overall, I'm very excited about these additions to Socrative. I don't know how they keep it free and rival many paid services, but I'm thankful!

12 April 2013

My HS Math KidBlogging: 1

Okay. I've set up my page.

Who knows where we'll go from here.

To take some of the pain off of implementing new tools, I usually pilot in either of my two smaller classes - AP Stats or Applied Math. I reserve the "fun" stuff for Applied and I push the "interesting" things into AP Stats. Especially with blogging, I wanted to pilot with Stats because they are all pretty strong writers, and I wanted to experience some level of success before I tried any other classes. (and because AP Stats requires a lot of writing anyway)

My student that is also currently in AP Calc stayed after to meet with Mr. Owen, the Calc teacher, so when she stopped by on her way out from his class, I knew my guinea pig had arrived.

"Hey, you're just in time for your blog."
"My blog?"
"Yeah, I just set it up. Let me just figure out how to log in now..."

[I click around on a few links on the kidblog.org site until I find the student login screen. I like it, by the way. I hate having to help students remember their login name.]

"Sorry its KidBlog - it was the only site I know would let me set all this up for you guys. I mean, its demeaning to me..."
"It's fine...    I've never blogged before. I'm not interesting. I won't have anything to say."
"Oh, don't worry about that - I'm going to give you prompts for now."

Here is my students' first writing prompt:

We'll see what J comes up with this weekend. She's usually willing to try most anything (if she's sure I'll get around to giving feedback on it).

Where I'm sitting  now on the direction I'm going to steer my kids' blogging is to relevance. (which was one of the options I came up with previously) They always want to know, so here's their change to get it. And share what they find. I'm going to stress much more on research process in the writing than a "right" answer about relevance.

What do you think about my prompt? How would you help me improve it?

05 April 2013

Student Blogging - In High School Math?!

Thursday's #moedchat was all about blogging in the classroom. And if the energy flowing in the chat was any indication, I'm apparently missing out on the fun.

The chat was moderated by the amazing +William Chamberlain (@wmchamberlain), a #comments4kids advocate, an EduBlog nominated writer many times over, and general tweep I trust. Beyond William, my sister, @JenBearden is in her second year blogging with her 5th graders at http://kidblog.org/MrsBeardensClass2012/

The archive is here. We had a great, enthusiastic chat about the purpose of kid blogging, defining the meaning and purpose of "authentic audience" and explored what makes kid blogging transition from another assignment to a transformative experience. A lot of good experiences were shared, and I know the power of reflection in learning for myself in teacher professional development, but my perception for now is that most classroom bloggers fall into one of 3 categories:
  • Elementary teacher
  • English/Communication Arts teacher
  • History teacher
I'm completely in favor of writing in the content area, and believe in my heart that writing/reflecting in math can improve your little thinkers' reasoning and understanding of the content, but it feels like an impossibility to integrate for my 50 minutes a day. @jenbearden says that her 5th graders write about math often, but I still think its "cheating" because elementary teachers have so much more flexibility with time allotment in their room. (How much learning time do high school/middle school students lose moving from class to class?!)

My Current Perception

Can it be done?

If you've been to any number of PD sessions, conferences, or graduate classes as a teacher, you're probably used to hearing something like, "How would this work in the math classroom?" The facilitator, bless their heart teaches NOT math, has passion for their content, but has no perspective on integrating it fully in your subject. And their waiting for you to figure it out. :) 

The "How would this work in math?" stage is how I feel about classroom blogging, so I'm just going to start my research how I would direct my students. Google. Storify. 

Now that I've even begun reflecting on this I know I've got to try, but I need your help! What experience do you have with high school math students blogging? What teacher experts do you know?

04 April 2013

Foil Wrapper Stylus - Even For Kids? Yes!

(Yesterday's post was about a stylus I found you can DIY from food wrappers, tape, and a pen/pencil)

While the foil wrapper stylus had passed all of my own tests, I'd been a little concerned with durability of my tape/foil construction. More than that, I wondered if primary students would able to hold the stylus "just right".

I'm happy to report that after just 5 minutes of training, my 3 year old daughter was proficient with the stylus on this Kindle Fire.

Start the kid-assembly line!

03 April 2013

Foil Wrapper iPad Stylus for your Classroom

If you've had your students writing/drawing/creating on their iPads you probably quickly noticed that writing or drawing with your finger is not so great. And your students probably aren't too keen on it. 

Buy a ton of $10-15 styli online or through my supply catalog, right?

If you've purchased one for yourself, you also know that they aren't the most durable of products out there. The FIRST time I let a friend use my first stylus, they rubbed the rubber nub right off the end. You could get by with buying a ton more cheaper versions like this or this from Amazon, but especially if kids have to share them, they're not going to last for long either. 

Innovation time. 

I saw this article on Lifehacker over Spring Break featuring this how-to on YouTube from +Walt Mosspuppet to make a capacitive stylus out of a pen, some tape, and the foil wrapper from any candy/granola/protein/energy bar. 

Here's my attempt. My favorite part about making these styli (or having kids make their own) is that we're using trash I see the kids throw away nearly every day. 

I made 5 today in a little more than an hour, and only took that long because I was trying different methods, seeing which was cleanest for the least time. If you make them how I did in the video, just smushing and taping, you could make at least 3 in about 10 minutes. I was limited most today by materials, not skill or time.

Other DIY Stylus Tutorials
Cheap pocket sized iPhone/iPod Touch stylus

02 April 2013

"When Will We Use This?" - Can STUDENTS Find The Answer?

I have a notion that math teachers get this question more than anyone else. I don't notice a cultural aversion to reading and writing (and even science) that I feel toward math.

I want to answer that question, but more often than not, I just don't have an answer for things like adding rational expressions with polynomials in the numerator and denominator (if YOU do, please share.) I feel like our textbook writers would even say the same - our rational equation and radical equation chapters are a little sparse on the practical application.

I think a lot of the reason this is a difficult question for a high school math teacher is two-fold:

  • Many of the things Algebra curriculum still has students doing by hand is done by computer or technology in the "real-world."
  • Application of order of operations and other basic algebra and arithmetic principles have a wide variety of low-level fruit to pluck; the higher we go in math the more specialized the application (for good reason)
Unless I've worked in 6 different applied science fields before moving to education, my exposure to "real" applications will be limited to problems posed in college or that I've encountered in our textbooks. 

The irony of the solution to this problem, is that I think we can direct our own experiences to help students answer this question. 

Consider this column from NYT writer Thomas L Friedman about innovation. (Need a Job? Invent It)

Anytime we learn something new in grad classes, at professional development, or via our PLN on blogs or social media, we must decide, "How will we use this?" The answer may be easily implemented into current practice, adapted to current practice, or we may have to invent a use.

Friedman reflects on our past employment behaviors and current employment realities with Harvard Education specialist, +Tony Wagner, and I think the same adaptability we're having to apply ourselves to job searches is what we can use to train innovation in our students. 
"My generation had it easy. We got to “find” a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to “invent” a job. (Fortunately, in today’s world, that’s easier and cheaper than ever before.) Sure, the lucky ones will find their first job, but, given the pace of change today, even they will have to reinvent, re-engineer and reimagine that job much more often than their parents if they want to advance in it."   -Tom Friedman
I'm fixated on the last sentence above. "reinvent, re-engineer, and reimagine that job..." Isn't that what we do with tools and techniques in our classroom? Let's model that!

How do we model that innovation/application/reinvention to our students for math? Here are my ideas:

1. Utilize reverse instruction ("flipping the class") so you can use class time to mentor their investigation and exploration.

2. Stop trying to answer the "when will we use this?" question. "I don't know," is an acceptable answer, and if you take the shame out of it, hopefully you and your students can use it as a door for exploration.

3. Don't be afraid to "mess up" when modeling story problem solutions to the class. (Do it on purpose) Its bad practice to "wing it," but you can recreate the process you went through in finding a solution, and share what things you did wrong before you were "right."

4. We know it will take time; that's probably a reason we avoid these kinds of self-exploration for our students. Be okay with that, plan ahead, and give it time. If we introduce the chapter theme and exploration at the beginning of the unit, and stage checkpoints along the way, students will usually have weeks to discover an application for themselves.

What do you think? Is it doable? How do YOU answer this question? Comment below, tweet, and share!