Apr 10

UbD Unit – Kicking Systems of Linear Equations’ Booty

I’ve finished my first legitimate UbD unit and project. You can view it here.

It’s a math unit, and the topic is solving systems of linear equations. I think the UbD is okay, but since it was my first, it feels a little stilted or rigid. Some of my essential questions and objectives are a bit too formal, but then again, many school standards are quite formal.

My favorite part was discussing the end product. One of the things I most wanted to attempt after the EARCOS conference was student generated video tutorials (such as the ones on Khan Academy). Therefore, I thought it fitting to have this be the project the students would be working on for my math unit. Not only is it incorporating technology, but it really gets the students to take ownership of the material to be learned. They will not only collaborate as students, but they will also become the teachers when the videos are finished.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out. I’ll post more in the coming weeks when they students have finished. Also, I’ll post the YouTube links where the students are publicly posting the videos.

Regarding comments, I’m open to input on the pros and cons of students created video tutorials. If anyone has good advice or things to be aware of, I’d gladly receive and revise my unit or lessons. Thanks!

Apr 01

1:1 Technology Tips in Math Class

I went to Jeff Utecht’s session on 1:1 Technology Tips. If you missed it or want to view the links and tools, you can find out more by clicking on his name above.

Even though my current school is not a 1:1 laptop school, I hope it will be someday. Cowphoto © 2008 Jelle | more info (via: Wylio)
In the meantime, we have a few computer labs and we have computers on wheels (COWS). It’s not perfect, but I can certainly start introducing certain digital tools and learning skills into my students.

On area that I’m a little weak in is incorporating technology into my math class. I have some plans to improve it, but I’m often stuck just showing videos from Khan Academy or BrightStorm. Both are fantastic resources, but I really need to get a little more “down and dirty” with my math lessons.

One cool site that I learned about during the session was Geogebra. It’s a graphing site that is especially useful for graphing linear lines on grids in just a few quick steps. Even more importantly, it’s FREE! I know of another one called Autograph, but it’s expensive. Also, my school has Geometer’s Sketch Pad, but it’s quite outdated.
geogebraphoto © 2008 Fergus Jones | more info (via: Wylio)
Anyway, I already had the chance to use Geogebra because my students were learning about graphing systems of equalities. Students were not only able to easily graph lines, but they could manipulate and label them too. I then combined my lesson with a quick overview of screenshots. The students learned how to take both fullscreen and partial screenshots of their graphs and save the images to their student folders. My students were more engaged and seemed to grasp the concept a little more easily than when I taught the same lesson in previous years. Rock on!

Help!photo © 2008 Dimitri N. | more info (via: Wylio)
On a final note, the other interesting thing I incorporated into our math lesson was Chatzy, a site that sets up FREE, customizable chat rooms. There’s no way for me to be fully available during class to each and every student. However, many of the students can just as easily teach one another while I’m occupied. In the beginning, students were a little overwhelmed and being silly (most chat sites or functions are blocked at my school). But after a few minutes, they calmed down, and Chatzy seemded to really help some students when they were stuck or had a clarifying question.

I’m sure things will need to be tweaked, but I’m very glad the students have been engaged by the tools, tips, and tricks I learned at the COETAIL, EARCOS conference.

Apr 01

A Blog Post on Blogs

During the EARCOS conference I had a chance to go to Aloni Cahusac’s sesson on blogs. I was excited because she said it would be more of a workshop than a listening session. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the announcement.

Aluminum Apple Keyboardphoto © 2007 Andrew | more info (via: Wylio)
Nevertheless, there were many good things to be gained! First, it was good to see so many other teachers at the session whom are interested in blogs. Second, those other bloggers had some good things to contribute. For example, Kim Cofino gave me two ideas that should be shared with my students:

  1. I should do an activity/blog post where my students create video tutorials for something related to a class topic. This is perfect, especially in a generation of education where the lines are being blurred between teacher and student. (<– Kim or Aloni might have said something loosely related to this)
  2. Though my students were less than thrilled when I shared this with them, I was able to post a good set of guidelines my students should follow when they create blog posts. If you want something similar, you can find the guidelines here.

There were two cool ideas that I gained specifically from Aloni. First, I found a widget for a flag counter. It was fun and simple, so I found the flat counter site and put it on my COETAIL blog. The other neat idea was something called Better Blogging Battles. Every week a new challenge is presented to voluntary participants that should help them blog better. If they win the challenge, they receive a simple prize. I think it’s a fantastic way to enrich my blog lessons and reach/challenge the highly motivated students.

The other thing that excited me about this session was that the timing allowed me to join Aloni for lunch afterwards so that I could pick her brain for specific questions I had regarding my students.

The best thing I gained from it was that I think I know how to get my students connected with other students. I realize they are more motivated to write when there is dialogue happening. The dialogue happens via comments. Comments are especially powerful when people outside the classroom leave some input. There are a couple of ways to make this happen, but one of the easiest is to find an educator teaching a similar subject and then put our students in touch. t shirt design / connect themephoto © 2010 Mark Chapman | more info (via: Wylio)

The trick is finding that teacher. One way is Twitter. That’s how I found Carmen, a Catholic religion teacher. We’ve been exchanging DMs and preparing our students to meet. I also met Genevieve at lunch, and she showed me a brochure for KnowMyWorld, a website to connect teachers and break down cultural barriers using technology. How cool!

Well, I’m looking forward to trying out some of these ideas. I’ll come back and comment how they turn out.

Mar 25

To QR or Not to QR

This morning I experienced my first useful lesson on QR codes. It was full of relevant information, and I started to figure out how I can use QR codes in the classroom.

For example, which is better for this post:

OR http://bit.ly/hn5Axz

Decide for yourself, and let me know in the comments.

The best definition I heard for QR codes came from Jeff Utecht today. He said, “QR codes are meant to connect the physical world with the digital world.” I completely agree. They are not the end product, but rather the means to learning. QR codes are a vessel to enhance our educational experience. They are simple, recognizable, and have a wide variety of uses, and I think they can be a useful tool until something better comes along.

I heard a crazy and complicated example of 4th graders using iTouches and QR codes and geo-location to learn about how schools use, waste, and save water in a scavenger hunt format. I know it’s only a fourth grade lesson, but it was way too complicated for me at this moment! Rather, I think I need to start at a smaller level. One example mentioned today was simply posting a QR code with simple free-form text around the school. The message would say something like “come to room 421 to receive a prize.” However, no directions would be posted – just the QR code.  As students become familiar with the concept, I should be able to more easily bring it into lessons. This and more examples can be found on Jeff’s blog, The Thinking Stick.

The other exciting part of QR codes I learned about was the tracking aspect (usually partnered with bit.ly). I can easily monitor the number of clicks on a QR code and link. I can see how this is useful for advertising companies, but it’s a little more ambiguous for teachers. An example mentioned during today’s EARCOS session was related to school newsletters. I could monitor how many times a link was clicked via the QR code. Lots of clicks is clearly good. However, what if few people clicked it? That means I might need to teach people about QR codes, remediate, or find another method of more effective communication.

I definitely need to spend some more time exploring how I can use QR links in the classroom. If you too are looking for a good place to start, check out these links from Jeff Utecht:

If you have any QR Code ideas, please share below!

Mar 24

Are Girls Better Than Boys?

This morning I had a chance to listen to Michael Thompson, author of the book Raising Cain. He had a lot to say regarding boys versus girls within the educational system. One of my favorite quotes from him during this session was that, “Boys suffer from the tyranny of low expectations.” In other words, Michael Thompson put the onus on adults and educators to change the shocking statistics that are going on in schools.

STATS presented today:

  • Demographics in schools (all levels, all over the world) are roughly 60:40 girls to boys
  • 70% of Ds and Fs given out in US schools go to boys
  • Fewer than 1 in 9 elementary teachers are men
  • Most teachers would rather teach girls (or boys just ‘get in the way’ of teaching)

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What to do about this? What are some solutions to the epidemic in schools?

After breaking down the session with my colleague, Jack VanNoord, we came up with the following things:

  • Movement and kinesthetic learning needs to increase dramatically in the classroom. This is easy for me to dow when I teach PE, but much more difficult in math. However, there are ideas out there. I found a great idea for PI Day (March 14) when I listened to a podcast by a math teacher named Alan. (It’s podcast #1 for those that check it)
  • We need to increase the stakes within a classroom. Too many teachers play it safe with boys. Boys are ready to be adventurous, a little dangerous, and are not afraid to take risks. Maybe I need to introduce a little chaos or “unsafe” things into my classroom. However, I think I’ll stay away from fire and knives despite Michael Thompson’s suggestion!
  • Boys need to know when male adults, parents, and teachers care about them. I shouldn’t be afraid to invest into boys’ lives. Furthermore, dad’s need to step it up too. As an educator, I need to bring the fathers into learning as much as possible. Maybe I should invite them to school. Pursue them to come on field trips. Encourage them to be the primary person to help with homework.
  • Maybe educators should take another look at same-gender schools and education. I’d do it!

To sum things up, to aid boys I need to make my classroom look as much like outdoor summer camp, and my lessons and teaching style need to cater to the “heroic hearts of boys.”

Just for fun, my wife wanted to remind me that regardless of what I do, girls are way better than boys, and author Dan Abrams wrote about it in his book Man Down. Be careful though, don’t believe everything you watch on FoxNews!

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Mar 24

Ariane Turley

Today I saw a lot of myself in the student presenter that kicked off this year’s ETC. Her name is Ariane Turley (bio on page 14), and she’s a 12th grade student at HKIS. I too had similar ideals and passions that so many high schoolers seem to naturally possess. It made me think, “Why do adult passions often fizzle out?” Reliving her story has rekindled a little of what was lost in my heart.

She took the room on a journey through her self-discoveries growing up as a westerner in Asia. Two of her most profound experiences happened with the poor in Cambodia and Calcutta. While in Cambodia, she witnessed the privileges she has when placed against the backdrop of poor children selling things near the Angkor temples in Siem Reap. Calcutta was where Ariane had a chance to serve and administer to the poor and needy. One such example was when she massaged the frail joints of an immobilized girl.

In spite of these moving experiences, Ariane realized that her gifts and talents are NOT related to hands-on service. She didn’t hate it, but it simply wasn’t a strength. Rather, she found that she is quite a leader. Her gifting is in motivating groups to meet needs. That’s why she started an organic, Fair Trade, charitable cafe called The People’s Cafe. It is one of her legacies she’ll leave behind as university life looms around the corner.

If teens can move mountains and make great things happen, what’s stopping me? It’s time for me to re-ignite the dwindling fire in my heart a do something. Create something. Meet the needs of people around me. Anything but wait around for others to do it for me.

Mar 23

Student Input

I really enjoy asking my students to help shape their learning.

Therefore, you can imagine how excited I was to read an article from today’s COETAIL Cohort presenters that had the following excert:

building a classroom from the students' perspective

Mar 23

Something new I learned today

One of the most practical things I learned to do today was to create lists on Twitter.

Now that my network of educators, friends, and other people is around the 100 mark, I’m finding it difficult to sort through what I really want to know. Thankfully, my fellow cohort has encouraged me to create lists. Not only can I organize my PLN and friends, but I also found out that I can import and follow other lists that are already created! I’ll have to explore this more because I see it as potentially dangerous – opening up a new, potentially awesome group of human resources while simultaneously and dramatically increasing the time I will spend on Twitter. Time will need to be initially spent to weight the cost benefits.

Though a bit of a weirdo, Chris Gore gives an engaging overview of Twitter lists and gives you a quick lesson on how to use them. There are also embedded links at the end of the video. Check it.

Nora Brown created a useful (although a bit boring) sceencast on YouTube to watch. It’s called Twitter Lists. One cool thing she mentioned was a site to find unique lists – Listorious.

Now if only I could get my wife to use Twitter and show her the potential power of connectivity at her fingertips!

Mar 23

What to Teach?

One of the first conversations at my COETAIL cohort table was about the essential things we need to teach in the classroom. We don’t have a list of these things, but here are some of the things we decided upon:

  • We don’t need to necessarily teach facts, but rather skills
  • The learning in the classroom should be dynamic and adaptable to many subjects and classes
  • Students should be able to personalize things: blogs, documents, and other websites
  • Students and teachers should be interacting and collaborating and contributing in a variety of ways

Much of this has stemmed from an article we read as a group: The Future of Learning 10 Years On by Stephen Downes.  This author made some predictions in 1998 about classroom learning, and then revisited his predictions 10 years later. There’s a lot of interesting things to ponder. You should do it too and post some thoughts/comments below!

Picture introduced from Kim and Jeff & discussed at the EARCOS conference: http://isb21.wikispaces.com

Mar 23

Early Thoughts in KK

It was a crazy start to my trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for the teachers conference called EARCOS at the Sutera Harbor Hotel. First, I seemed to fail at packing some things: no sunglasses, no layer for the cold temp in the hotel, no USB drive, etc. But the worst discovery was that I somehow booked a flight ticket for February 22 instead of March 22. Wow. I almost missed my flight, and I had to pay some ridiculous fees. Still, I’m thankful I was able to make my flight and be part of the conference.

I’m embarking on a 15 credit certificate called COETAIL, and it should be quite fun. So far everything is computer/web-based and we’re having some fun conversations. It’s led by Kim Cofino and Jeff Utecht, and Jeff has already been quoted, “Standards and benchmarks are 20th century crap!” It’s going to be a fun conference. One of his predictions: the next generation of kids won’t know how to use a mouse. I believe it!

Next task: create a blog so I can post 5 blog posts by the end of the weekend! Another blog, here I come!