Tuesday, 27 November 2012

App Review: Explain Everything

Our school just got an IPad cart. I've just started exploring its uses, so I guess I'll be reviewing apps for use in the math and science classroom.

The app that I just had a demo on was "explain everything" which is super easy, very intuitive and allows you to upload videos to social sites. Our sixth graders just made these videos for math class:

I gave it a whirl after a two minute demo, made the following video on a starter lesson on "exponents" within 5 minutes.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Content Creation Based Assessment

We just had our first alternative assessment for our unit on functions. Alternative assessments are getting traction as educators look for new ways for students to demonstrate their learning in place of traditional tests.

The Problem With Implementing Authentic, Project Based Assessments
When I started out teaching, I really struggled to design alternative assessments that were an accurate reflection on what the student could actually do. There were so many instances of students having a parent or tutor doing the work for them. For group projects, often the alpha student would lead the discussion, work and the beta students would follow suit; their lack of in-depth understanding only to be highlighted after a final test. I've seen more than my share of differentiated project based monstrosities that are more of a reflection of student's interests rather than the intended learning standards. I've had to give many a student a sad appraisal of their tech infused creation because although it looked flashy, it failed to communicate essential understandings.

Infusing 21st Century Skills with Learning
The real challenge is to design a project with all learning standards in mind, not just a narrow swath. We remember 90% of what we teach to others and one of our school's 21st century skills is to develop students who are content creators, not merely regurgitators. I took these standards:

  1. Which best represents the graph of y = 2x − 5? Standard 3.3
  2. Students solve simple linear equations and inequalities over the rational numbers Standard 4.2
  3. Graph linear functions, noting that the vertical change (change in y-value) per unit of horizontal change (change in x-value) is always the same and know that the ratio (“rise over run”) is called the slope of a graph. Standard 3.3
  4. Plot the values of quantities whose ratios are always the same (e.g., cost to the number of an item, feet to inches, circumference to diameter of a circle). Fit a line to the plot and understand that the slope of the line equals the ratio of the quantities. Standard 3.4 
  5. Solve two-step linear equations and inequalities in one variable over the rational numbers, interpret the solution or solutions in the context from which they arose, and verify the reasonableness of the results. Standard 4.1
  6. Graph functions of the form y = nx 2 and y = nx 3 and use in solving problems. Standard 3.1 
  7. Graph linear functions, noting that the vertical change (change in y-value) per unit of horizontal change (change in x-value) is always the same and know that the ratio (“rise over run”) is called the slope of a graph. Standard 3.3
 and wrapped them into a project rubric like this:

Graphing Linear Functions Rubric

Near the end of my unit, I had a set up a station wherein students could record themselves solving a function. I asked them if they want a standard, advanced, or highly advanced level problem to allow for challenge by choice which makes the curriculum accessible and challenging for mixed ability classroom.

Using a simple document camera, students recorded their own instructional video on how to solve a function which they could upload to the school's or their own personal "You Tube" account.The practice allows students to build their digital footprint and market their own brand.

Alternatives to traditional testing are giving some variety of how students might demonstrate educational objectives. Although I still do use traditional testing methods, I find them quite dry and uninspiring. I may be happy with my class for having well on a test which supports good teaching, scaffold, etc, I always find myself asking: "What are students going to do with this skill and knowledge?".

Education needs a makeover and we need to design ways that students don't merely learn something to appease the teacher. Student learning should be shared with the world, inspire others and not be confined to only the teacher and select students. Through web networking tools, student blogs, students can share their learning with a greater audience. They can use their knowledge and skills to help others, solve problems and apply creative solutions in a way that traditional tests can never do.

As much as I liked this project, I think that the document camera is on it's way out. It's limiting to have only 1 recording device for my students to all cycle through. We just got our first IPad cart up and running yesterday and already the students are creating videos like this with the app "explain it to me" as mini formative-lessons for others:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Cooperative Learning in the Science Classroom

My sixth graders have had their first experience with cooperative learning. In nature, much of the learning in class is cooperative, but cooperative learning organizes learning around a few principals:
  1. Everyone is accountable. Everyone sinks or swims together
  2. Assessment that reflects the above
It is controversial too. In the following video, I recorded my students doing a quiz in cooperative learning fashion. The provisions of the quiz were that students were allowed to talk and share and ideas, but that only 1 quiz will be picked randomly to be graded which would reflect the efforts of the group.

Obviously, the main objection is that students don't want to suffer from one anothers lack of work ethic which may penalize them. However, a lot of research supports cooperative learning in the classroom. My philosophy in implementing it is to do it with more formative tasks than a high value assessment. In the case of the quiz below, the quiz takes on more of a "group lab" feeling although the quiz is more assessment based and labs in my class are more inquiry based. I surveyed my students on a Google Form at the end of class to see what their feelings where on this new practice and the responses were pretty interesting.


 Other advantages of cooperative learning:
  • Students get immediate feedback. An assessment can be graded quickly and give instant feedback to students and allow remediation if needed. Brain based learning supports quick reflection rather than taking home an assessment and giving it back a day or two later.
  • Students can share and clarify ideas.
  • Teachers can model good listening skills, speaking skills and procedures for arriving at a group consensus.
  • Less paperwork
Tips On Using
I use cooperatively learning sporadically, and really make a point to debrief the process. It's important the the emphasis is not assessing "group skills" but rather using the group dynamic to meet educational objectives. Also, the activities should be very low risk and reward at first, and incrementally move upwards as the classroom culture becomes more supportive. Cooperative learning can be a fun way to build camaraderie, foster communication and engender a group sense of accomplishment.
Related Posts
Blended Learning
Using Flubaroo with Google Forms
Cooperative Learning Activity: Jigsaw
Making the most from Quizzes


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Blended Learning

Blended learning has been lighting up Twitter in the last few days. Although blended learning has been around a while, blended learning basically supports the following:
  • Accessing information from the web in addition to the teacher
  • The ability to have discussions in class and online 
The advantages to the previous points are then:
  • Evaluating sources of information for bias and trust-ability
  • Allowing all students (no matter how confident) to participate in discussions as opposed to the smartest, most extroverted
  • Creating content to teach others 
A student brainstorms over wallwisher in the beginning of class
Most people that I've read about who are using blended learning usually agree that a mix of the virtual and in class discussion is ideal. On one hand, we don't want to create students who are antisocial internet perusing trolls who can't raise their hands and hanker a guess. Of course on the other hand, we need opportunities for those students that never participate in class but do seem to be quite understanding of the material and learning goals.

Students sharing their predictions on "Google Docs" after an pre-lesson physics demonstration

How to Implement Blended Learning

The inflection points to use web 2.0 tools is pretty daunting for many teachers. Some of our old-school teachers don't venture out with them as they don't know where to start. I do not profess to be an amateur or expert in the above, but I probably fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of comfort levels and risk taking. Here are things I've learned:
  1. Use Tech to Support your Goals-This is the blurriest line in education today. The irony of this post of mine is that using these tools may seem like the goal, but actually it's not. The web 2.0 tools help support what you're trying to do, so you must be respectful of assessment to see whether or not students have met curricular objectives using these tools. Simply saying: "Woo-hoo. I made a Voicethread" should not be the goal.
  2. Use at the Beginning and End of Lessons- Brainstorming, reviewing and activating prior knowledge is a great way to introduce 2.0 tools in the classroom. Of course, you may be accessing the internet all throughout the lesson I found that I generally use new tools for virtual discussion at the beginning and end of lessons. My students have their curricula on a google doc which is an organic document that spreads out like a virus.
  3. It's not a Conspiracy-Diane Ravitch who is one of nations leading intellectuals (and I'm a big fan) argues that many tech tools developers are in it for the money and that an ongoing shift towards using technology in education is nothing more than a conspiracy to privatize education and pigeon hole it into a class system which will widen the gap between the rich and poor. I argue my point 1 to her and also note that many web tools are free.
  4. Seek your own Comfort Zone-Don't feel that you need to do any and everything the most innovative educators are doing at your school. I usually have 1, maybe 2 of these entry/exit points per lesson. After trying something for the first time, you might be surprised at how easy it was. I find myself sometimes spurring virtual discussions and creating URL's in a matter of seconds which I send to the students immediately. Sometimes we'll elicit ideas to the board, sometimes, we'll do it online. If there's time. 
Students compare levels of ancestry in living things to help with classification. Blended learning environments are also supplemented with traditional approaches
Blended learning models are evolving as education seems to make peace over what is a good balance between virtual and in-class learning. It is a balance. One should use both and they should compliment one another. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the internet is not going away any time soon, and in order to be competitive in tomorrows marketplace, students who are content creators, evaluators and innovators will have an edge on their peers.

Related Posts


Wallwisher is a great tool to have online discussions in the blended learning classroom. I've used wallwisher many a time for brainstorming or post lesson reflection. They've stepped up their game by improving their services. Some notables are below:

A student shares some background knowledge on "forces" and asks some quetions

The best thing about wallwisher-it's free. Simply click "build a wall" and it gives sharing options such as embed codes or a URL. See the example of my students using a wall to reflect on the previous lesson's objectives in order to clear up misconceptions and activate prior knowledge.

Related Posts

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Aligning Experimental Design

My students did really well on their first summative lab of the year. They're getting a better understanding of variables, and are starting to draw evidence based conclusions. I can't believe how well students can make a data chart, considering we haven't spent much time on that. Although I've been teaching science for 10 years, I've grown so much compared with work my students were producing in earlier days.

Vertical Alignment
At our department meeting last week, we agreed on some common expectations for experimental design at our school to have more consistency as students move up through our program. Granted, there is a higher turnover of students in the international school, but teachers were using different target vocabulary (Dependent and Independent verses Manipulated and Responding) which was creating a little confusion from students as they adjusted to a new set of expectations. So far, I have been using a somewhat generic cover sheet for final lab and a MS friendly evaluation rubric that is graded on three categories.

Meaningful Meetings
All individuals and departments shared how they were using experimental design and were able to take a the version the high school uses, and tailor it to their division. After a few minutes, we came up with this version:

MS Experimental Design Template DRAFT

We melded in some of our target vocabulary and made a few formatting changes but the format is 80% similar. I like that we have some prompts for students to do multiple trials for data collection to offset any outliers.We also adopted a similar evaluation of this work to make our grading policies more transparent and deprivatize our practice.

I know that meetings are not very popular, but I walked away last week feeling that we came together as a staff and compromised well on a format that will make it easier for subsequent teachers to teach science in their classrooms. We also shared some target vocabulary that we can emphasize in "word choice" when writing and communicating scientific procedures. Who knew that meetings could be so productive?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Sponteneous Math Activites

These are some ideas for activities I've learned to use over the years while students are doing independent practice in the math classroom. In the mid to late stages of working by themselves, I've thrown these in on occasion to build a classroom atmosphere of fun, but with an emphasis on basic computational skills. They're not overly disruptive and students can chime in when needed but still go back to the work they're doing. These are also quick, taking less than a minute and I sometimes thrown these in at 7-10 minute intervals. Some are competitive, some are cooperative.

Around the World-Around the world is a competition between two people over a multiplication or division fact. The competitor takes their work and stands behind the challenger. The one faster on the "draw" goes on. The loser stays. Around the world is great because everyone gets a chance to compete and it shuffles up the seating arrangement, if only for a day. I use a box of multiplication and division flashcards for this.

Buzz-I got this idea from Rafe Esquith wherein while students were seated, the teacher initiated a number sequence. Starting at "0" when the students got to a certain number, instead of saying it, they say "buzz". For example, if the challenge is multiples of "5" a sequence would be 1, 2, 3, 4, "buzz", 6, 7, etc..You can vary up synonyms with the word "buzz" or substitute a word of the day, student's name, whatever! Some variations:
  1. Perfect Squares
  2. Prime Numbers
  3. Common Multiples of 2 and 3
  4. Even or Odd Numbers
Multiplication Race Smackdown-I invented this one, or so I'd like to think. A student will challenge another to list the first ten multiples of a number and compete to see who can do it faster. My students really like this activity and confess to practicing these count up strategies in their free time. For example if the race is "9" students would see who could say: 9, 18, 17, 36, .... up to 90. I have a stop watch handy. .

Monday, 12 November 2012

What Education Can Learn from the US Election

As policy wonks and spinsters debate the reasons why Obama won and Romney lost, it seems more than apparent that Obama's ground game was more effective than Romney's. Joe Biden even commented: "The ground operation which you guys represent is the best in the history of presidential politics." What was equally more interesting is that the Republicans were so sure of victory up to election day. Many of the lessons learned echo education reform. One more thing: I'll try to keep my own political views out of this.

Know your electorate, know your students
Staffers from the Romney campaign were taken aback from Obama campaign's dizzying understanding of voting blocks in key counties. In doing so, they identified areas where staffers could concentrate their efforts to win over undecided voters. When teachers have a better understanding of each individual student, they learn how to tailor instruction to them as well to ensure a more personalized learning experience.

Use Data Effectively
Polls and assessments can vary depending on the sample size of the electorate and students that take them. The goal of assessment should not be for teachers to put a grade in the gradebook but rather to identify gaps and learning and reteach accordingly. Formative and summative assessments should be little snapshots into student abilities, but educators should never resign to saying: "Well Johnny, you didn't get it". They should use this data to help sit down with Johnny until he learns.

There is no substitute for hard work
"Democrats' turnout efforts this year dwarfed those of their GOP counterparts. The 125 million voter contacts the Obama team claimed were more than twice the Republican total. The hundreds of Democratic field offices outnumbered GOP outposts by greater than 2-1 or 3-1 in key swing states." CNN

Teacher centered environments are not as engaging as 1 to 1 contact
Many Romney polls said they had an edge because they had hung more door hangers on door knobs in neighborhoods or had used more attack ads that week. This smacks of a teacher/politician centered environment talking down to students/constituents where they are not allowed to voice their feelings and ask questions. Classrooms must change to allow students to take charge of their learning and merely be led.

Old tech tools are counterproductive
The Romney campaign used an automated calling center that left disparaging messages on peoples message center that were impersonal and, lets face it, no one wants to be interrupted at the dinner table. His voting/polling app fell flat too. Obama has been one of the most tech savvy presidents ever (possibly the most) which he supplemented by great connections by his dedicated electorate through "get out and vote" programs through Facebook and Twitter. 

Teach people how to use tech tools 
I had lunch with one of my ICT support staff the other week and he said that our school has so many software tools that the staff don't even use. Although we do offer in service workshops and have professional development, many staff members don't simple 'play' and 'explore' new applications. The Romney team met this headfirst first with their ORCA data amalgamation system that crashed on day two. Also, tens of thousands of their ground staff on election day were plagued with apps and communications systems that they could not access. Many of them were standing around confused and unorganized on election day. Obviously, they hadn't give the staff the proper training and and troubleshooting tutorials.

By the way, I am a Democrat. A big one.

Analysis: Obama Won with a Better Ground Game CNN
Obama's Moneyball Campaign  

Related Posts
Making the most from Quizzes
Turning student failure into information
Engaging parents with a classroom blog
Formative assessment ideas for the math classroom

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Augmenting Reality with Google Sketch Up in Math Class

Augmented reality (AR) is high on the "wow" factor chart. If you're a fan of 'Star Wars' or 'Avatar' like me, you've seen the future play with a mixture of reality and holographic images. I thought that creating and using technology was for experts in digital media, namely, not me. Well, not any more.

I had used Google Sketch Up over the years in math when working with area and volume. I've had students do some PBL where they had to design a bookshelf or house with a given amount of material and apply their understanding of surface area and volume to making a product. However, the product seemed to remain in the virtual world. Could we make it "pop out" to become more real? Could we blur the line between the digital and physical world so that students could see what their creation would look like in reality?

I got the idea of taking such products after watching videos like this:

The virtual textbook seemed cool as it brought to life what was in the text. My goal was for students to design a product and impose their design on the physical world. For example, I wanted students to build a bridge with curricular objectives in mind, but then superimpose their bridge across the local river to see what it would look like. Another thing I had in mind was to resurrect the bookshelf project, but show how this piece of art might look in their rooms back home.Through a simple screencast, they could record themselves sharing, analyzing, or critiquing their piece with curricular objectives in mind.

Learning and Implementation
Google Sketchup has it's own blog that it has has good post to show what AR looks like. However, Charlie Mahoney has an even better screencast to walk you through the process of installing the AR media plug in required to connect Sketchup to AR. Inglobe technologies offers a trial version for free so you can see what it looks like in a 30 second snippet. If you want to buy the full version, it's 99 Euros. If all students upload their models to the model warehouse on sketchup, you can download them and run them from the teacher's or classroom computer. I'm not extremely tech-savy, but was rocking and rolling with this after an hour of playing.

Example of Bringing the Bookshelf to Life
The bookshelf project is a project based learning (PBL) initiative wherein the students have to design a piece of furniture but apply their understanding of cost to raw materials. We do the project in stages but the resulting product (in this case) is a bookshelf from which students have a good understanding of the square feet of material and resulting cost, and the volume of it to indicate how many books can be stored there.

With AR, after finishing this project, students can do the following which I've demonstrated in the video below:
  • Make a commercial to sell their product
  • Explaining the surface area or volume
  • Reflecting on the project, rubric or evaluation

Applications for Teachers
I usually like to have student examples of work in such videos, but I don't intend to revisit the bookshelf project until March. I thought that by showing any interested readers some examples now, that would give you time to explore this to give you time before implementing it with your students. Some ideas that I see educators are doing with AR:

Art: Creating a virtual art gallery with student paintings that you can walk around in an explore.

Architecture: Discussing famous virtual work through style and proportion.

AR is already around us and is starting to permeate into the market through products like "Google Goggles" which give virtual information about the physical space around us. Two years ago, augmented reality was a pain in the ass, as you had to scan objects and upload them through a very cumbersome process. As it's becoming much easier, I wonder where it will take education.

A reader tweeted the other day: "A bad teacher with expensive technologies is nothing more than an expensive bad teacher". Very good point. Many technologies have short lives and fleeting applications as they're replaced by newer, easier to use versions. As consumers look for virtual ways to gain information about the physical world, it seems like teaching students how to access and utilize the AR interface will give them an edge in innovation in their future.

Using Critical Friends to Improve Professional Practice

We have our annual "Critical Friends Group" training happening this weekend. Although I did my training two years ago, have facilitated for others, had others facilitate for me, I whole heartedly endorse the program.

What is Critical Friends?
Critical Friends Group or "CFG" is bringing people together to help solve a problem or dilemma that a staff member is having and has brought to the table to share with others in order to find solutions.Where often teachers so easily go off on tangents with regards to education, critical friends keeps the discussion very focused. There are a number of protocols that have been developed by School Reform Initiative and presenters usually meet with their facilitator to determine what a good protocol is for the issue.

Common Misconceptions about CFG
People that bring a "problem" to the table are inexperienced, weak teachers. Most people have some real interesting dilemmas that are solved by insightful discussion.Usually, people participate in a CFG session before they have the confidence to bring something of their own to the table.

I can critique my work on my own. Teachers are reflective, but it's amazing how many ideas come out of a CFG session. I had brought an ongoing science project to the table a few years back as a presenter, and in one hour, had progressed the project more than I had in three years of reflection.

I don't have time for this. True, our time is valuable, but even participants get a lot out of sessions. I was in a CFG session two weeks ago, and it's amazing how much I got out of the session. When we confine our work to microcosm of our classroom, we sometimes fail to learn from others who are doing amazing things in the school.

Tips for Implementing CFG
We had a very passionate staff member who brought CFG to our school three years ago and it's grown by leaps and bounds. I think it's crucial that you have a number of dedicated staff members who have benefited from the practice and time in the calendar to practice CFG as a staff. If you have the opportunity to learn from a CFG session, check it out!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Create Talking Avatars with Voki

 Voki makes easy customizable avatars which you can upload to your website or blog. They have a really easy interface and have a nice array of avatars to choose from. After chosen, you can change features like hair, skin and having a talking head seems to connect more than a podcast.

I think this might be a nice option for narration of a student project or portfolio at the end of the year.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Making Data Charts on Google Spreadsheet

I'm becoming a data junkie. I routinely look at statistical patterns in my grade book to look for trends in learning. For starters, many averages on formative assessments are up. Does that mean I'm too easy a grader? Or perhaps the assessments have gotten easier. Or maybe, even, "gulp" my students are improving their student skills of reviewing and preparation.

I'm transferring the data over to a spreadsheet on Google spreadsheet and am starting to crunch the numbers so thought I'd share the process. I've used google spreadsheets a few times this year, most notable when teaching evolution, but it was me entering data and the students looking on. We recently had a project on amphibians wherein the project venue would be student blogs and students practiced using a google spreadsheet to generate a data chart which they could embed on their blogs. It was surprisingly simple.

Step 1:
Enter your data like so:

Step 2:
Select your cells and select the bar chart icon on the toolbar:

Step 3:
Select the type of graph you want. It will offer options depending on the type of data you want collated.

Step 4:
Once it's selected, it will automatically generate a graph. Click on the title to rename it or the "keys" on the sidebar. To publish it, make sure it's public. After clicking on the graph, you'll notice a little drop down arrow. Select "publish chart"

Step 5:
Select image (I've never used interactive charts) and copy the HTML code and paste it into the HTML version of your blog or website. When going back to visual and publishing, it looks like this:

Monday, 5 November 2012

Teaching Science with Summative Labs

Summative labs are the epitome of creativity, innovation and application of science. In short, they connect "Learning to Life" In an era where many education reforms are piloting multiple layers of standardized testing, summative labs are skills-based demonstrations of how students might approach a question using the scientific method. Despite these assessments being "tests" students really enjoy them. What they learn to appreciate is that:
  1. In science, it's OK to be wrong. That's how we learn!
  2. There are many ways to design an experiment. There is no one "right" way.
  3. A constructivist approach to learning allows students to create and find their own meaning.
Our summative labs for our biology this year allowed students to focus on one of three questions related to living things. The offering of three questions gives students to challenge themselves based on their current level of understanding. Such options provide opportunities for all students to meet the curriculum but also provide an opportunity for gifted and accelerated learners. Our three questions that students got to choose from this unit were:

Green: Are protists more active in bright or low light conditions?
Blue: Do fish respond to music?
Black: Do snails prefer to eat meat or vegetables?

The labs are administered like a test. Students don't know what the questions are until they come to class so they cannot design an experiment with help from others. They have one period to do their experiment which is graded on the following rubric based around experimental design. The students had used a similar rubric for their group project on amphibians to help students get use to designing experiments on their own by scaffolding it's practice. Summative Lab Rubric-Diversity of Life

I love the open-endedness of summative labs and like that students seem to enjoy them. Through providing the opportunity to investigate intriguing questions, students start to develop a love of science as a practice rather than simply memorizing a series of unrelated facts. Although understanding basic underlying science content is essential, students must be give the chance to "be scientists". Only then will we produce learners that are intrigued by curiosity, ask essential questions, take risks, and stretch the forefront of our understanding.

I'm trying to blend some elements of summative labs with more content standards to replace the traditional test that I normally supplement with these labs. However, I'm working out the details as to implement them so there is no academic dishonesty or grade inflation. 

Any suggestions? Comments?

Using "Flubaroo" with Google Forms

I've been using Google Forms pretty regularly in my math classroom. Mainly as an exit interview, but I'm starting to also use them as an "entry interview" at the beginning of class to assess which concepts from the homework students know and don't, and re-mediate, regroup and reteach accordingly. An entry interview is also good for students to see where they might jump in with math stations.

Such formative assessments are important, but marking them takes time. Many a teacher have told me how they just "spot check" homework before moving onto the next assignment, but I think assignments become much more important if they're discussed as a class, or in pair or groups before moving on. A quick spreadsheet of student responses on google forms looks like this:

Great, but I didn't want to read every student's column response to see whether or not they got it "correct". Enter a tool called "Flubaroo". It's in the script gallery in the "tools" tab:

After I installed it, it appears as a new tab. After selecting it, it then asks to grade assignment. So far, I have selected a student's responses who will be the answer "key".

After which, it grades the assignment and creates a new form for looking at the data. It collates responses and breaks them down as a percentage so you can notice class trends in the data:

"Flubaroo" is a great tool that I've only begun to explore within Google's script gallery. I hope to trial more of them this year. Obviously, the multiple choice test seems easiest to assess with this tool although I hope to work towards open-ended responses that show reasoning. Will keep you posted when I learn more!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Implementing Math Stations

I'm a big fan of Dan Bowdoin. His blog: "Technology Integration for Math Engagement" has some great ideas. Recently, I was inspired to trial math stations more systematically after his post: Ownership of learning during math stations

I've done some station activities in the past, but I've struggled with the classroom management of them so the class does not seem to resemble "total chaos". Mr. Bowdoin has some ideas for stations that I've already done at some level, just not all at one time. I took some of his ideas and made the lesson plan for my investigation on "Interpreting Tables and Graphs" while learning about functions.
  • Station #1 – Review-Finish missing homework, watch any videos from your Holt Online
  • Station #2 – Modeling-Debrief Homework White boarding activities with Mr. J
  • Station #3 – Independent Practice-Individual, pair or group work on lesson worksheet objectives
  • Station #4 – Application-"Focus on Problem Solving" Make notes on poster sheet to present to the class
  • Station #5 – Content Creation-Record yourself solving a problem, Blog Post Title: "Exploring the Coordinate Plane"
Station 1 activities are generally for novices, beginners or for students who might need a little more support and front loading before independent practice. However, I am encouraging students work at a station that they feel ready for, and are engaged to explore. For example, a student that struggles in math might prefer to start at station 1 or 2 and work their way up. A high flyer might start at station 3 and work their way up, depending on their level of interest. Although these stations are labelled in the class, the activities may change from lesson to lesson. For example, the station on modelling might involved pattern blocks, or modelling scales for the next lesson, and so on.

Near the end of class, I administerered a formative assessment that links to educational objectives. I've recorded the students working as seen below:

Tips for Implementation
  1. For Independent Practice: Consider having the answers on hand. As I was station #2 helping students with modelling, the students need to know whether they got an answer correct or not. I have the answers posted on a bulletin board for reference. 
  2.  Emphasize that all stations don't need to be visited. Some students tear through independent practice, some need the entire period. Stations can be visited as based on interest. 
  3. Encourage all students to stay on task. With either content creation or application problems, some of my students were weary of working on those particular problems as they felt their work would be scrutinized by others so some students were "standing around" until I reminded them that there were other projects on which they could work. Blog projects seemed less threatening for students that don't like public speaking.
  4. Give about 40-50 minutes. Most of my students wanted more time to work today and time is necessary to debrief and share experiences and clear up misconceptions on what was learned during math stations.
  5. Consider front loading (flipping) assignments prior to math stations. The jury is out on flipped instruction, but I like them personally as it limits the amount of teaching in the beginning of a lesson. However, some students still don't do the work, but station 1 and 2 are a nice option for these students that need a lot of support.
Although some parts of learning should be systematic, I personally like learning environments that encourage students to take risks, and push the boundaries of their comfort levels. Station activities can be awesome as they offer differentiated tasks and roads to understanding which support struggling and gifted learners in an heterogeneous class population. I don't anticipate working in math stations every single class period as there is slightly more preparation, but every 2 or 3 lessons using it as a format for students to learn through many different pathways.

Related Posts
Formative Assessment Ideas for the Math Classroom
Morphing into a student centered environment
Flipped Lessons
Making Flipped Lessons Meaningful

Friday, 2 November 2012

Tools for Building your Professional Learning Network

10 years ago, I would really feel inspired only after having gone to a teaching workshop. With social media, I'm inspired all the time with as a constant stream of ideas and resources come to me through a latticework of networking through my Professional Learning Network, or PLN. I've learned more in the last two years of teaching than the 9 years before that, and much of that has been commensurate with building a PLN in the last two years. Instead of being a participant of workshops at our school, I'm starting to be a presenter; many of the ideas coming from things I learn online and trial in my class.

Building up a PLN is easy, but it does take time. There are many tools, but I'll share my "big 5". I don't think that ones need to use all of these tools, and in some respects, many have similar uses.

Twitter is great for sharing resources back and forth and with so many websites having icons to "share to twitter" it becomes the ultimate micro-blogging platform. With a limited amount of characters, most of the exchanges have been short, and the limit does not allow anyone to go overboard with comments. It's a great way to increase traffic to your or other people's blogs. There are somethings that can be done to ensure more followers and build up your bases such as liking or favoriting other peoples sharing. Of course, to comment on others posts is crucial. To get a little, one must give a little too.

Speaking of sharing, Edmodo is a great, but I feel it is a little more "back and forth" discussion between educators. Although people do put posts on Edmodo, I think it is a little more of a forum or discussion over dilemmas that educators have or calls for suggestions. Edmodo has a number of communities that one can join and an online library that you can save resources to as well. Many teachers use Edmodo with their students as an online learning platform.

Speaking of creating an online library, Diigo's main draw (I think) is that one can bookmark favorite posts or websites and cataloge them by tags. As I read fast and steady streams of articles, rather than save them to a bookmarks toolbar on my web browser, Diigo puts them in a library and organizes them there. I often cite articles when I blog and Diigo is a nice place to have them all. Diigo also can craft groups so if I find a math article that I'd like to share with all the math teachers at my school, I can create a group within Diigo so when I save it, all those teachers will see my bookmark. It also has tools for putting sticky notes on web text and the ability to highlight sections which can be installed on your web browser.

Google Reader
For anyone that has a google account, Google reader makes use of RSS (Really simple subscription) buttons which look like this:
and send post to a reader as a stream of posts so you don't have to go back to the original website. I subscribe to dozens of RSS feeds and have them all on my google reader account so when I feel like reading and getting professional development, I log onto my Google reader account which looks like this:

Pinterest is similar to twitter, but gives an image to go along with posts for resources. The big allure of pinterest is that people can have different "boards" that correspond to different interests the user has. A teacher might want to put a post on their "Educator Board" but they may also have a "Cooking Board" which conveys work they do in the kitchen.

Navigating all these tools does take time, and everyone must meet it on their own learning curve. As I've connected with educators, I learn that some of them don't have an RSS widget, so I can't subscribe using google reader, so I may follow them on twitter. Or, people don't have a twitter account, but do have one on "pinterest".

How educators share with the world is a mixed bag and there are many tools to choose from. I share cool resources that I find on Twitter to communities in Edmodo. I bookmark articles from my RSS feeds on Google reader and bookmark them to Diigo. Whatever your style, consider these sites for sharing, asking for feedback and building a group of people with whom you can develop your teaching practice. Together, we can share more than ever before.

Related Posts
Engaging parents with a classroom blog

Field Trips for Awarenss and Advocacy

On Friday, we took our sixth grade class to "Wildlife at Risk" in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City. The trip had made a number of objectives, but most notably were learning about the wildlife trade and developing awareness to the issue. Wildlife at Risk (WAR) takes in injured or rescued animals and offers a home to them. Sadly, many of these creatures are unable to be reintroduced back into the wild as they've become dependent on humans.

 Environmental stewardship is an expectation within science integration in all grade levels at our school and after unpacking our science curriculum over the last few years, I thought that our unit on biology would be a great inflection point for this environmental awareness. The overarching essential question for our unit was "Why do we value some forms of life over others?" All students confessed to stepping on insects intentionally in their past and it's funny how humans tend to empathize with life forms that have similar reproductive and child rearing habits as theirs. Much of our study in biology has revolved around ethics in science, with some in-class discussions debating the role of zoos as a preservation or entrapment tool and which forms of life are "worthy" of our advocacy.

The field study allowed students to donate their time, practice field skills such as observations and sketching,pilot the use of Ipads in the field, feed the animals, ask questions, and gain a better understanding of the wildlife trade. I am hoping that the visit will be a catalyst for some longer term interest such as "Siemens We Can Change the World" initiative, and I'm hoping to entice a few dedicated students into this in the near future.

 Although our academic curriculum is important, we must try to find opportunities for students to focus their interests for causes that they find worthy. A sage once said, "A good education is invaluable unless it it wasted".