Saturday, October 31, 2009

Youtube as Bulletin Board for Student Work

As regular readers have seen, I uploaded a couple of student projects (and here) to youtube this week. I tweeted about them so each video had some views on them. The next day I told my class that I had a youtube video to share with them that I "found" yesterday. They were quickly excited when they realized it was from our classroom.

Their questions were for the URL address, how many views it had, and how do you make and upload a video to youtube. It was fun that I could show them that it already had 15 views and explained how I used twitter to share it. So I have thought a bit more about the power of this simple act on my classroom.

Traditionally teachers hang "excellent" student work on their bulletin board or on the hallway walls. We try to honor their work by sharing it with others in our buildings and parents when they come to conferences. Of course many of us are now using many forms of technology to showcase student work to the world including blogs, wikis, and hundreds of specialized sites such as voicethread..

But I really think youtube is in a special class of limited platforms (I would include Facebook, Bebo, and MySpace too). Youtube is "cool" to students. It is not some educational platform (which I am afraid is how students see blogs sometimes), but a cultural platform that people love to go to from around the world. Students want to put themselves on youtube.

I beleive I have just greatly increased the motivation in my class. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that I only had one group take the Lego robot project to the next level and create their own program that performed a unique task. But I can almost guarantee when I show that video to my next class that they will be motivated to create something. I am sure students will start to ask me if they can put their projects on youtube and I will then challenge them by saying "If it is good enough, sure."

The irony in all this is that only I can access the youtube videos at school because the filter blocks it for students. On the other hand it creates a reason for students to go to our class blog at home and show it to their parents.

I don't think as teachers we should ever underestimate the motivating power of showing off student work to as many people around the world as possible!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lego Robot Erase

My students, Cullen, Jordan, and Jordan designed, built the robot, and implemented this program where the robot follows a black line and then erases it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Math from Canada

My student teacher, Kyle Webb, in Canada sent us a video problem to solve. Check it out on his blog.

We solved and sent a screencast back to him. This was my favorite thing that we have done this year so far.

Pneumatic-Powered Truck

My 7th grade technology class always designs a pneumatic-powered device. We use syringes and tubing as the power source. Anthony made the best one ever: a dump truck with doors that open and hydraulics. I then made my first youtube video to document.

I love projects that let kids be creative!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Master Learning

I took a big step in my math class this weekend and started moving toward master learning. We had a geometry test on Friday and had mixed results: a few A's and B's, many C's, and a few D's and E's. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I woke up early Saturday, not able to sleep from the students that failed. So I e-mailed the parents and started a new policy: re-takes for tests.

The rationale behind this is simple for me. I believe in mastery learning. My job is to teach the 6th grade mathematics standards. I really don't care when students learn them. Some of my students "get" it the first day and some of them may not "get" it until after the first test. Why should I punish them because it takes them longer. For a more formal and detailed argument for this approach check out the blogs of Matt Townsley and Becky Goerend who have influenced me a lot on this topic.

So my new policy looks like this (although I still consider it a work in progress): homework will be graded based upon completion, but I am not going to tell students this. I think that will encourage them to give their best effort but not punish them for "mistakes" while learning. Any student who does not do well on a test based upon their self-assessment can re-take a different version of the test after completing further review work and tutoring with me.

This creates more effort for me-new assignments and test have to be created and I will have to find time to re-teach students outside of class, but that is my job and I will make the extra effort to help my students learn.

Will the students make the extra effort to schedule time with me and do extra work? We will see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wood chips

I should have wrote this before my last post to better describe how my math class has been going. We are currently working on a basic geometry unit of area, perimeter, volume, and surface area. I was excited because this would be "easy" to teach with out a textbook.

I started off by explaining a problem I had of needing to know how much wood chips I needed to cover some landscaping that I did with a class last year. We discussed what we needed to know to figure this out and then went outside and measured the circle. They told me we needed to know the length and width of the circle so I had them measure where they told me those were. I did not try to correct their improper terms. We came up with 7 meters and 6.9 meters. One student noticed that they were approximately the same. We ran out of time for the day.

The next day we started in class and discussed the wrong use of terms. I had them search and find the area of a circle and we talked about what the formula means. Then I asked which of our measurements was right. They argued that 7 meters was correct because it was a whole number. We finally concluded that we did not know which one was right and that we had to go outside and take more measurements and then average them. We also talked about the fact that the circle was eye-balled when created and not perfect.

We ended up solving the problem and then solved two more wood chip problems for some rectangle gardens. Through out these lessons I asked lots of questions and guided their learning but did not give out any information. The students either came up with the answers themselves or surfed the web for them.

My evaluation of this teaching method was that I did not see the high engagement that I had hoped for by the class. My top students were with me and the bottom students seemed to be daydreaming or not really participating. I don't have a great story of the student who always fails getting excited and being successful.

Next I needed to cover parallelograms and triangles which are harder shapes to find in the real world. So we did some visual proofs together in Geometer's Sketchpad so they could play around and see why the area formulas work.

Again I have to give the district unit test so I gave them some practice problems with area and perimeter of parallelograms and triangles. They were totally lost. They could not remember the formulas or even use them when I gave the formulas to them. I ended up going around the room and individually teaching how to use the formulas.

We measured a bunch of food boxes and found their surface area and volume. I demonstrated how to use the formulas on the board and the majority of the class still needed me to re-teach individually.

So in response to the comment from Matt Townsley on last post about teaching at a deeper level. I have tried (I am not giving up!) but in the end I have to prepare the students for the district test. That is why I found ThatQuiz to be a useful tool for students to check their work on the basic problems that they need to know. I know it is not technology integration but doing the same old thing just on the computers. I do think the immediate feedback to students of whether or not they found the right answer is helpful. And unfortunately these are exactly the kinds of problems on the required tests.

All right push me back some more readers :)

Better "homework" practice

I was just venting Friday about how when I teach a new concept in my math class the majority of the students do not seem to be listening very well. When I have them start working on their own problems, too many of them need me to re-teach to them. I enjoy doing this but I find that I run out of class time before I can help them all. So my first solution is to pair them up and have a few of my students that "get" concepts quickly help those that tend to struggle.

Then I found a great resource to help on twitter. That Quiz is a math site (and some geography, science, and vocabulary in English, Spanish, German, and French too) that I learned about from @karlyb. It covers many of our math topics and is designed for teachers to make and give quizzes. My purpose will be a bit different. First of all I can have students select specific problems related to our current unit. But what I like about the site is it immediately gives feedback on whether they got a problem right or wrong. This will serve the same purpose as giving students the answers to their homework ahead of time as recommended by Matt Townsley. The problem I have with just giving them the answers ahead of time is that this unit (area, perimeter, volume, surface area) is so easy that it is really just memorize the formula and plug and chug.

Therefore I can have students practice on this site and they can self-assess the areas that they understand and those where they need help. I think I will be using this site as a review tool from now on. Then I can spend my time helping re-teach the concepts that they tell me they need help on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Skyping in a Student Teacher

Just a quick note that one of Dean Shareski's education students that will be working with a couple of my classes skyped into class today. Check out how it went from him, Kyle Webb .

Nice job, Kyle!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Edchat Suggestion

First, I would like to thank Steve Anderson , Tom Whitby, and Shelly Terrell for their great work in organizing and promoting the weekly #edchat on Twitter. I have enjoyed participating and reading the varied opinions on the Tuesday night #edchat''s (7:00-8:00pm EST). My favorite topic was the homework discussion as it really made me think through the purpose of homework. I have also found great educators to follow through the weekly discussions.

But I read these tweets yesterday and it made me think about #edchat a bit more:

iMrsF : "Definitely did not vote for an edtech topic. Seems like we're just having "preaching to the choir" convos too often..."

and mctownsley replied: "@iMrsF as an edchat outsider/lurker, I agree. deep conversations need well-researched or deeply opinionated sides w/opposing views"

Now Matt Townsley's point about deeper conversations is probably one of the disadvantages of twitter and is best served in blogs and comments. But iMrsF has a legitimate concern. I definitely have felt this about Twitter and blogs in general and also about edchat. Now this is not a criticism of any of these ideas, just an admission of what we probably can all agree on that we need to involve more teacher into our PLN networks.

I have an idea that we set up an #edchat for next week with a topic for "newbies." Something aimed at teachers who have never been on a blog or seen Twitter. Some suggestions would be sharing examples of tech. integration, or sharing how our PLN helps us learn. I think it needs to be very introductory and inspiring. Then I would challenge all of us that normally participate to invite all of our teachers in our building/district to "lurk." Show them how to use twitterfall or a similar tool where they can "watch" without having to sign up for twitter.

So what do you think?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Standardization Kills Real Learning

I have not written about my math class much yet because I have been frustrated. My goal was to use the textbook as little as possible and to use authentic learning sources. The reality is that my scope, sequence, standards, and assessments are all mapped out for me with little wiggle room.

My first unit was on factors, multiples, and prime factorization. The more I think about these topics I find them to be quite abstract and separated from the "real world." The best real world example I could come up with was matching up hot dogs, ten in a package, with buns, 8 in a package, for multiples (Thanks to Becky Goerend for that tip on Twitter) to which another teacher responded, "I just let the extra buns rot in the frig."

This kind of example and others like it in the textbook just feel like the contrived story problems that drive students nuts. No one actually takes the time to figure out the right number of hot dogs and buns because nobody wants to buy 40 of them unless they are having a pretty big party!

I could have used multiples today when we bought candy for my son to bring as birthday treats for his class to make sure each student got the same amount. Instead we bought enough for each kid to have one package and we will eat the leftovers :) This is where math becomes too abstract and irrelevant to students because the questions that are asked in the book would never be worried about in the real world.

Although I do not have to use the textbook, each of our ten unit assessments (read tests) are already created for me by the district. I am required to use these tests. So on top of preparing (read teach to the test) students to take the MEAP next week (Michigan's assessment for NCLB) I feel that I have to teach to the test for every unit. I can not make an alternative assessment such as creating a mathcast or some other portfolio type project.

The push in this country to standardize everything in education to guarantee that each student receive an identical education is a fallacy and just plain ridiculous. It is time for the pendulum to swing back to professional teaching that is creative and individualized. We need to trust teachers to teach the right content at the right time for each student instead of trying to teach everybody as if they are in the same place at the same time. We need to start treating students as humans who are naturally curious, intelligent, and motivated by authentic learning experiences instead of as lab rats.

I am tired of hearing about how we are behind all of these other nations based on some test. The United States is still the creative center of the world. Last time I check the elite of the world stil come to our universities. This will eventually change if we continue down this overkill of standards and cookie cutter assessments that kill curiosity and creativity in our kids.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Paper Platforms

I usually write about the new things that I am trying in my classes, but I realized this week that some of my "old" lessons are worth sharing. In my 6th grade technology class I have always taught the paper platform lesson. The source of this comes from my mentor technology teachers Larson and Roode, a true master of teaching kids to come up with creative solutions.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

The paper platform project challenges students to build a three inch tall platform that can hold as many pennies as possible. The beauty of the challenge is that it is cheap and simple, yet not easy. I do not give students hints or help but ask lots of questions about their practice models. I often see all A students frustrated by this project because I will not help them solve it. I also feel it validates some students hands on skills that are often undervalued in school, but are important in the real world.

I have had lots of very different solutions over the years. The current world record is over 1500 pennies and the students get their names posted on my "Wall of Fame." What lesson do you use to teach problem solving?