27 February 2014

Flip Student Project Presentations w/ iOS App Touchcast

I asked a few of my colleagues in the math office about any the reservations they had about having their students make class presentations.
"I think I'm always disappointed with the end product."
"You do it for too long, and they get bored. They don't listen to each other."
"I worry that so many kids are off task and not engaged when the other students are presenting."
When I asked one of them how many days they usually allocate to project completion IN CLASS, her response was, "Days?! How about weeks! If you don't give more time, even those honors kids won't do as well because they're so stressed out about their other classes."

Needless to say, taking out time for project presentations is not something we usually get warm fuzzies about.

At the end of every chapter in AP Stats, I usually alternate between summative exams and summative projects. The exams are good because they get more practice preparing for the AP exam, but I think the learning is usually more evident (or lack thereof), and more authentic.

We usually write papers to practice formal, technical writing and integrating math with charts and text, but I was excited about using the Touchcast app recently for my flipped lessons in another class, so I thought I'd have my students kick the tires.

The students had a choice between two projects requiring similar skills, "A Fair Coin," or "Airline Overbooking."

The most I usually commit to these projects is one day to allow for questions and clarifications, but there was an obvious need for more support on this project (especially because students under-performed last year), so gave a day for stats work and a day for putting together the slides.

After the slideshow was together, students copied the share link and inserted it as an interactive app in the iOS broadcasting app, Touchcast.

Students were really nervous about being on camera and talking about their slideshows. In a good way, I think. I enjoyed the creative tweaks many of them inserted in their presentation, risks that I think they may have been less likely to take if they were up in front of the room. (even though they knew I would be sharing their videos).

Getting in Touchcast took about a day and a half, but it was time we would have taken any to present, and using Touchcast, everyone was ON TASK because they were making their videos at the same time.

  • Students create a current events broadcast for a social studies class
  • Adding in a browser-based whiteboard (like Twiddla) and having students create tutorial videos
  • Students discuss themes of a piece of literature
  • Students create a news broadcast about historical events
  • Demonstrate a procedure for a science experiment
  • Present and critique a work of art or song

26 February 2014

EdTech, Valuing Culture, and Fulfilling "Every Tribe and Tongue"

The critical nature of building relationship with students has been an overarching theme to my identity as a teacher this school year. My heart felt burdened with an insurmountable task as the first day approached in August, and it continues to dominate my end-of-the-day reflection into the spring.

No, you can't just go sit in the office today.
Yes, I hear everything you say. Even under your breath. (Because I think its important to hear more of what you're saying than just x=4)
Yes, its breaks my heart that its not even halfway through the quarter and you've already decided you won't try.
No, I won't just go away because you obviously have enough people in your life that just ignore you because its easier.

The ethnicity of my students has not really changed since I started 6 years ago, but this year I perceive that many of my students see me as a the white guy that cannot or will not understand them. 

Do you ever feel that?

I don't believe its an accident. The title of this blog, Evangelizing the [digital] Natives, is really about the importance of teaching and training technology use even to the generation often perceived as "getting it," but tonight I do want to talk about Jesus, ethnicity, and mission.

If you're a teacher that's a Christian, you must believe that just as He has with your spouse, your family, your friends, and your co-workers, God has placed you and those students together. And its about more than just math. (or English, science, art, history, personal finance, etc). The objective is different depending on the kids you get any given year, but the mission is always about God's Kingdom. 

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John write about a vision of heaven that he receives from Jesus. Sure, a lot of it is symbolic, but surely this is not:
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This post is not about prayer in schools or religious freedom. It's about acting intentionally for "all tribes and peoples and languages" because that's what God says heaven will look like. (And so we should practice the same here).

It's February, Black History Month, so our student news in the morning is featuring short interviews of local African Americans talking about success. By default, many of my students tune out the Star News and would rather just talk to classmates around them or bury their face in their phone, but I've made a very obvious point of emphasis during this month to focus attention on Star News.

Today, I got this question: "Mr. Baker, why do you care so much about this?" [Yes! He noticed I cared!] To be honest, I don't even remember my answer, but I love that he noticed. It's more logical for English teachers or history teachers to openly care about race because they must discuss its role in literature and history. It'd be weird NOT to address it, but I think many STEM teachers (and students) view their subjects as transcendent of it.
You can imagine a teacher saying something like, "I don't care if you're black, white, brown, purple, or green - you've gotta solve an equation."

Yes, that's a true statement, but the context of that truth is different because of the difference in how my students interact with the general culture. I don't have any lessons on African number systems, or projects on famous African-American mathematicians, but I think doing "culture" that way would do my kids a disservice. I polled them recently on if they wanted to do a "Black History Month" themed math lesson and the summary of their responses was a resounding, "Eh."

When we are culturally responsive one unit at a time, or as an obvious add-on, it continues to strengthen a disconnect between my students' life experience and "real" math.

My students don't need more lessons on the contributions of Benjamin Banneker to geometry, they need more tools to address, communicate, and solve the problems of their community.

Your use (or lack thereof) of technology in your class can do a lot to sculpt students' self-perception, their outlook on math relevance and their capacity for future success.

1. Stop using access to technology as a punishment or a reward. Don't give your students an opportunity to identify their worth to you by their access to digital tools. Everyone should have these because they democratize learning.

2. I think schools with high percentage of racial minorities need to be the MOST innovative with their use of technology in the classroom, because I don't know about you, but the only time I see brown children doing cool stuff in the media with technology is when Bill and Melinda Gates are posing for photo-ops. Schools with high-needs students MUST make bold, creative budget and resource decisions so that kids can stop waiting for the next (grant funded) savior and know that having or not having is often about intentional budget choices

3. You must be MORE uncomfortable with letting the kids use technology when you are MOST afraid of it getting trashed. You'll probably be one of many adults that was highly protective of the new technology around them, but you might be the first to let them kick the tires. Show them how to care for it, and have consequences when they aren't, but let them USE it.

4. Leverage social media and Web 2.0 tools to give your students an audience for their work. As far as interactions with my students, i think the prevailing attitude is that what they say or do is only important as an athlete or musician - that their only worth to the Internet is highlight reels and music videos. This is true for any kid, but tell a kid that you're so proud of the work you know they're going to do that you want to put it on the Internet and watch the pride or shock in their reaction. 

You're in the classroom you're in with the kids you have for more than just teaching your subject and giving tests. You're all there to work to the greater glory of God, and you're there as the teacher to nurture an environment that reflects God's will for His creation as "all tribes and peoples and languages." Let's use education technology as a tool in service to that.

23 February 2014

5 Reasons NOT To Use Remind 101

Remind 101 is a website and mobile app with one singular purpose - sending text or email alerts to your subscribers' cellphones or inboxes. Its used mainly in an educational setting, but there's no reason any organization with a need for quickly distributing information to its members could not utilize Remind 101.

We're hosting a Remind 101 session in our building this Friday during our half-day PD, so I wanted to get ahead of those that may be curious and give you some reasons NOT to use Remind 101.

1. You don't have a smartphone. Or a tablet. Or a computer.

Oh, you do have at least one of those? Nevermind. There are many ways to access and send Remind 101 messages! I don't have a smartphone, but I use the website and the app on my iPad equally.

2. You don't know how to write an email.

Sending a Remind 101 alert is as easy as sending a short email message. In some respects, its easier, because you do not have to address it to individual recipients. You just click on the class, type the message, and it goes to every student that has subscribed to that class. Even BETTER than email, you can schedule the message and control when it gets sent. I usually type my messages during class, but set it up to send during passing time or after school.

3. You don't want students to have your cellphone number. (or you don't want to be responsible for knowing your students' numbers).

NOT A PROBLEM! Students sign themselves up using the class code you provide and Remind 101 takes care of all the phone numbers. The only thing you see are your students' names and YOU never even have to enter your number.

4. You want your students to be responsible for ALWAYS writing down the homework off of your chalk/white/SMARTboard.

Sending reminders and alerts to their cellphones will train them to be lazy. Just make sure you'll hold yourself to that same standard when it comes to your own text and email alerts. I get the responsibility angle, but does that mean we SHOULDN'T use a technology at our disposal? Honestly, if I could get a text alert every Tuesday night at about 10 o'clock to make sure I put the trash at the curb, it would change my life.

5. Homework is really just a tool to punish kids who refuse to do it.

Sending a reminder to a kid's phone would increase the chance they might study on any given night, and you won't be able to triumphantly enter a zero into the gradebook the next day.

Our students look at their cellphones ALL DAY LONG. We compete all day long for attention with Instagram, Twitter, and text messages from family and friends. Remind 101 is an easy to use tool that puts your class information right in front of their faces.

22 February 2014

Blogging Options for Teachers

I offered a challenge to the Web 2.0 Resources course I’m teaching for teachers in my school district – start a blog and reflect on your journey.
Ar least one of them must have been interested, because just a heartbeat after I issued my challenge “homework,” they asked, “Which website would you suggest?”
Touché. I had not considered that question. :)
So, without further ado, here’s my take on leading blogging platforms for teachers who want to share their craft – both successes and failures.
Note: While I enjoy it as a blogging platform, i did not include Tumblr in this list for teachers because we block it on the filters in my district (and i assume thats true for others).
Blogger is (for now) my platform of choice.
  • Integrated with Google, so it plays well with images you may have saved in other Google services, and can track your user stats easily with Google analytic tools.
  • TONS of options for customizing your layout or design, whether you know HTML and CSS or not.
  • mobile user focused layouts available. (You dont want your blog to be a pain for someone to navigate on their phone or smaller tablet
  • One-step sharing to Google+ helps get your post in front of an audience
  • Add widgets to your site with javascript. My Twitter feed is right over there on the right (if you’re reading this on Blogger)
  • It’s a little difficult to find other teachers to follow within Blogger, which would also mean its a little difficult of other teachers to find YOU.
  • How many people “follow” my blog? (Subscribe to it such that when I update they receive an email, or it is fed to them through an RSS feed) I have no idea. This is hard to track in Blogger.
  • The only thing you can do on the iOS app is publish basic text and plug in photos. Not even any embedded HTML, so I really must ALWAYS write from my desktop or macbook.
While Blogger is my main squeeze, I cheat on it with WordPress because my wife uses it and sometimes I get blog tool envy.
  • Reblogging. Did you find another blog post that is inspiring you to add commentary on or write your own on the subject? Reblogging puts that post along with your own text onto your blog. I think it builds community as other teachers share ideas, and it can drive a little more traffic to your own blog.
  • Following other blogs and finding your subscribers. WordPress has a reader built within it, which makes it easier to find other teachers, read other teachers, and find out who else is subscribing to you. This is what I most wish Blogger had.
  • Built-in user stats are more easy to use AND more extensive than Blogger. All or most of the data on the stats page of WordPress is available for Blogger bloggers if you also use Google Analytics, but who wants ONE MORE TOOL to check? I mean, you just added blogging to your list, right? :)
  • AMAZING iOS app
  • Short on HTML and CSS customization. If you use the free version, you’re pretty stuck in the official WordPress templates
  • No custom widgets on the free version. (although there are some official WordPress widgets you can add)
Edublogs has been around since 2005, so they certainly have the most experience with teacher and student blogs, and (in my opinion) have a lot of polish on the product. The platform is built on the bones WordPress publishes for companies, so operationally, it quite similar.
  • COMMUNITY. Edublogs has a tab on their home page that takes you to a page organizing the community of edubloggers according to interest. Whereas I can do a search on WordPress.com and find many relevant teacher blogs to my interest, the Edublogs community page lists TOP blogs in that category. I see value in that because I don’t want to sift through potential junk.
  • Professional development. New to blogging? Take the “Edublogs Teacher Challenge.” It’s like a self-directed online course in blogging.
  • Mobile-friendly. I set up everything on my iPad.
  • COST. Unless you pay $7.95 a month to get a pro account, you might as well have a WordPress.com or Blogger account. The power of Edublogs is in organizing all of your students’ blogs in one place and having control over who sees your posts and their posts, but you have none of that power with a free account.
The favorite thing about Kidblogs is how they market themselves. Essentially its, “Do everything you would on Edublogs, but for free.” There’s a chart on this page spelling all of that out.
  • WordPress platform. Just like Edublogs, its built on WordPress’ product for hosting your own blogs, so the platform is easy to use and manage.
  • TONS of privacy settings. If you’re writing only for your class and your students’ parents, you can completely lockdown privacy by making your blog visible only to individuals who login from that class. The younger your students are, the more important this is, obviously.
  • Have your students blog and reflect with you. (For free this time, as opposed to Edublogs). Set up accounts and blogs for your students and manage their posts, comments, and privacy setttings.
  • There’s an iOS app, but it’s slow to be updated.
  • It’s called KIDblogs. My high schoolers are always super sensitive to being “grown,” so I don’t know how jazzed they would be with sharing their super thoughtful reflection from their Kidblogs account.
  • Just like WordPress, a little short on the customization of the layout and design. That’s a con for me as a teacher that likes that, but it might actually be a positive for kids who are going to spend all of their time on the layout instead of writing.
Whichever tool you choose is up to your needs. Giving each of these an honest assessment, I would feel comfortable using any of them, with a slight reservation with the kidblogs name. I’m a grown man, for crying out loud. :)
If you’re going to write WITH your students, I would strongly suggest Kidblogs, but I would at least peek over at the Edublogs community and professional development pages. I know I will.

09 February 2014

What Difference Does Dad Make? - #edcampstl 2014

I finally made it to my first EdcampSTL yesterday - this is (slightly better version of) the presentation I threw together at lunch.

My friend +Manuel Herrera and I had been talking earlier in the week about sessions, so I'd been considering which of the PD sessions I've given before I might like to kick around, but I wasn't particularly feeling inspired.

What was on my mind, however, was the impact a father (figure)'s involvement can have on students' achievement and attitude toward school. Am I alone in ever wondering if I the male teachers some kids have are the only men in their lives that have meaningful (and sometimes demanding) conversations about learning, education, and growing up?

I didn't know a lot about Edcamp, but I did know that the focus is on those attending driving the theme and focus of the day. So, when Manuel asked me in the morning if I was going to present, I asked myself, "What do I want to talk about," and thought about this recent tweet:

I signed up for a spot in session 3, and then spent most of lunch putting together a few slides (here's a slightly more polished version)

There were fewer campers with me than I'd hoped, but it was a good opportunity to throw out some ideas, and talk about one of my passions

The results?

We didn't get anywhere close to finding solutions for the kiddos that don't have a father or grandfather in their lives, nor can we (or would we want to) reverse more than 300 years of technology innovation that changed the way fathers interact with their children's education. However, we CAN host events at our schools that are more dad-friendly, and we CAN be more intentional about addressing fathers about school concerns beyond sports teams.

+Justin Tarte did a fantastic job reflecting on the session here - "Where Are All the Dads?"