Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nine years

Teaching is an interesting profession. Tuesday I completed my ninth year of teaching 7th grade mathematics and in many ways, it was the most challenging year I have experienced in my teaching career. When I worked as a meteorologist for the same length of time, that was not the case at all.

I find summer a welcome and necessary time to assess what changes I implemented during the year went well, what did not, what needs to be scrapped, what needs to be altered and what new things to consider for next year. The difficulty in doing this is to know how to assess why things truly went awry. Did they go awry because of my implementation or because the synergy of the class that particular year just would not allow things to work well. And what percent combinations of these factors existed? I find that this self-reflection process can lead to more zig-zagging than is useful at times. I guess this is where my experience teaching comes into play - to eliminate too much zig-zagging.

I read somewhere, I think in a blog post but I do not remember where so I apologize that there is no attribution, that if the experience of teaching becomes easier each year, you are doing it wrong. I guess I should take some solace in that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Ahead....Fall back

Even though it is not really Spring yet. (The deep snow cover and tall snow banks in shaded areas emphasize the point this year).

Despite the "extra hour" of daylight that Daylight Savings Time provides, I have never been a fan. Maybe it is because I am an early riser. I prefer to wake up shortly before or after sunrise rather than when it is dark. When the initiation time for DST was pushed ahead/delayed by 4-5 weeks a few years ago, it surprised me that people that live on the western half of the time zones, particularly in the Eastern Time Zone, did not complain very loudly. Elementary children must be waiting for school buses when it is still dark well into late April/early May in those areas.

And we do not really gain an extra hour of sunlight - we just mess with the clocks. Mark me down as one who would prefer to keep it in Standard Time all year 'round.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Google Forms and Flubaroo

I had used Google Forms in my classroom, a 1-1 Ipad environment, a few times during this school year as an aid to help with formative assessment. While it did help me focus on identifying patterns of misconceptions and errors my students were having, it did not help me get information to them in any more timely manner than I had not been doing before with more traditional pencil and paper methods so I only used them sporadically.

This week, I decided to try to combine short Google Forms assessment tasks with Flubaroo, a grading script tool that can be installed in a Google Form response spreadsheet. While this brings some limitations to the assessments, what I liked about this combination was the ability to get very timely information to individual students via e-mail on errors that they had made that day and at the same time, get a very quick overview on common errors that my classes were having so I could address those class-wide misconceptions the next day.

It is not a perfect process, especially for a mathematics class. Google Forms does not have an equation editor like Google Docs does, (why not?), so symbols like fraction bars have to be entered with a slash - example 12/35. This in turn can confuse the Flubaroo reporting tool in thinking that the numbers separated by a slash are dates. I also do not get a look at all the work my students did with each problem that I got with pencil and paper. But I feel the ability to get very timely information to them, and to me, outweighs the negatives. I will continue to tweak the process during the rest of the year to hopefully improve the quality of feedback they get and that is transmitted to me.

A link to one of the Forms I used this week is here.

A link to the what a student e-mail report looks like is here. - Note that the slash in the answer gave some incorrect responses as to what the answers were. The actual grading of the results was fine, but the reporting of the errors was confused by the slash.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Homework - Still

One of the things I have been thinking about for the upcoming school year is - Homework. Over the last two years, I have attempted to limit the amount of homework assigned, made it as relevant as possible, and designed it to practice what we have been working on in class. Even with those modifications, that has not really improved the quality of what is submitted. Since homework was designed as practice, my policy was to count homework for effort, not accuracy. It would end up counting about 20% of a term grade and was a way to encourage students to show consistent effort and improvement through practice. However, the game for many of my students often was to submit something that was complete enough - for the grade - with not really much learning or practicing going on. It mainly served as a way to inflate their grades.

Eliminating homework altogether is an option that I considered. Pernille Ripp posted an excellent post recently about getting rid of homework in 11 steps. It had me almost convinced to go that route. The primary problem with this approach is my belief, for now anyway, that while we definitely practice in class what we are studying, enough practice on math concepts is not possible only in the classroom - at least for a majority of my students.

So that left me stuck with what to do for this year. For now, I have decided to continue to assign homework on many nights. It will also continue to be designed for practice and/or enrichment but it will not count towards a grade. My thought is that with the removal of the grading game, those that do it, hopefully most of them he said naively, will be truly doing it for practice and to improve their skills. When I check the work they submit, the feed back I give should also be more meaningful and open up further avenues of discussion and learning between us; student and teacher.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where to go after Year 1/2

As the school year nears an end, it seems like a good idea to assess the first half year of using Ipads in my classroom. Our school went 1:1 this year. The students were given access to Ipads in February. They did not go home with the children and current plans are for them to stay at school for next year as well.

What worked

Google Drive and Notability for homework and class work - While not nearly a 100% success and hampered by the Ipads staying in school, this workflow significantly reduced the amount of paper used and more importantly, for the students that submitted their assignments using Notability, increased the ability for interaction between us and served as a great way to have their work easily accessible to them.

Google Forms in the classroom -  I was very pleased with the ability to improve formative assessments and enhance classroom engagement and participation through the use of Google Forms. A description of one of their uses in the classroom can be found here. My original plans were to use Socrative for this type of assessment but never got around to really doing it. I still think Socrative can play a significant role for formative assessments in my classroom.

Enhancing classroom discussion - Access to the Internet at the fingertips of each student can be a blessing. There were several instances in class where students checked on something we were discussing. The information they found was able to improve our classroom discussion. Topics checked included the concept of infinity, the concepts of multiple dimensions, and the feasibility of continuing to produce pennies. In addition, some of my students also took on the role of fact checker. One example - When discussing positive and negative relationships between two variables - the speed of pitcher's fastball and the number of strikeouts that occur - I mentioned that Nolan Ryan had the record for most strikeouts. Blank stares from the audience as my age is showing and nobody knew who he was - until someone checked that indeed I was correct and how incredible his strikeout stats were.

What did not work

Note taking - I had planned to have students use Evernote and Skitch for their note taking and spent a couple of days at the beginning of the Ipad roll-out explaining how to use these new tools. While i believe about 20-25% of my students did make good use of the capabilities of these apps, it never felt to me that enough students really "got it" and many of them wanted to use other methods and apps. That is fine, except when each app has different limitations, it becomes difficult to manage what they are doing and how they can gain access across platforms.

Too much of a distraction  - I was most disappointed with the amount of distraction that the Ipad served for too many students. Despite much preparation and anticipation of this, it still ended up being more of a problem than I had anticipated and was prepared for. I had no interest in being an Ipad policeman but at the very least, I was an Ipad truant officer too many times. On some days, I admit to thinking that the whole 1:1 thing was not such a good idea.

Ipads staying in school - Keeping the Ipads in school limits the ability of many students to use the interactive capabilities of some of the apps used in class at home. In particular the ability to edit PDF documents and then submit them as assignments is not easy. As of yet, I have not figured out a suitable workaround for those that do not also have access to an Ipad at home.

Where to go/What to work on

(This is only a beginning list)

Use and curate digital resources - I need to use the resources of Net Texts and other digital platforms to supplement our textbook. Much of the content I present in class is via Smart Notebook files created by me that are based on topics from the text. More effort is needed to branch out and access and curate the readily available digital resources to enhance my presentation.

Improve classroom procedures - Clearly much more thought needs to be given on how to reduce the distractions of the Ipads while not limiting them or policing them too stringently. Not sure exactly what I will come up with at this time but I know the practices I used this last half of the year need to be significantly tweaked. It will be an interesting balancing act.

Note taking and in-class work - Again I am not sure at this point exactly what will be changed but I need to reconfigure the way notes are taken, referred to, and distributed in class. Too much inefficiency and wasted time was involved in the process used the last half of the year.

Continue to enhance classroom formative assessment - More uses of Google Forms and Socrative-like tools need to be thought of and woven into my classroom procedures. It was one of the highlights of the Ipad deployment but I know it can be improved upon.

Creating - Much of my summer planning will revolve around ways to attempt to continue to shift my classroom to one where the students create more and consume less. It will be a challenge but to use the abilities of what the Ipad brings to the classroom, a necessary one to think about and begin to undertake.