Monthly Archives: March 2012

Course 1 Final Project

I have taken a lab for determine the acceleration of objects down an inclined plane and modified so that the students across the entire school will be able to share their data through the creation of a google doc, and use that data to for their conclusions.

 

OneNote Reflections

After nearly two years of one to one experience, I have settled on using mainly OneNote, as the primary method of giving notes and information to my students. I have attempted to use PowerPoint presentations (boring), and Dyknow (clunky), and eventually have turned to using OneNote for just about everything, with a few exceptions I’ll elucidate later. I’d like to write about some of the strengths and weaknesses of the program as well as how I have integrated it into my courses.

OneNote is an excellent tool and the major benefits of it are that the students can keep all of their work organized and accessible and in one place. I have cut down on the printing of most materials, and even lab assignments are done electronically, graded electronically, and the graded work is kept in their OneNote notebook. In a sense this can be treated like a portfolio if you add reflections and such. Additionally, I have a tablet and I can make any sorts of notes I need to, such as formulas, drawings, or graphs, even the polar bear ninja at the top of my blog was done using OneNote. And all of it goes out to the students where they can add it to their notebooks. At least, that is the theory. It isn’t quite that simple in reality.

I have played with a bunch of techniques and currently what I am doing is pushing the students’ notes to a server we have at school. The students pick up the days notes at the beginning of class and add it to their own notes. Of course there are a few students who resist organizing them and I have to come around later and ‘remind’ them. I do it this way because sometimes the files are quite large and I don’t want to overload the internet connection. Some teachers send their notes out through email, which I have done at times if I want to send the notes outside of class time. Also, when I grade assignments I normally post them to the server for the students to pick up, so that I don’t have to deal with trying to send an individual email for each student. We have looked at the possibility of having shared notebooks with the students, but the students would be able to delete files, and frankly, we don’t trust them.

Notes in this program can include a wide variety of content including pictures (with a simple way to embed screen shots), tables (although frustratingly they are different than those in Word), links to websites, links to audio (including the ability to record from within OneNote), and links to video. There currently is no way to embed video itself into the program, but I can imagine such a thing will be considered in future versions of the program.

There are a few issues myself and some of my coworkers have run into, however. Our students, for the most part, do not have tablets, and we in the science department have lamented that issue to no end. A major point of having laptops at all is the ability to do formulas and drawings and have them saved to a notebook, but unfortunately that was not mandated when the laptops program began, and we have been suffering for it ever since. As it stands, the students sometimes get by using the mouse, or the trackpad, or trying to type the formulas out. But, none of these solutions is particularly good. I have taken recently to printing more materials than I did first semester just so that the students can solve equations on paper.

Also, we are still in the process of transferring many of our materials from Word to OneNote and the conversion does not work very well for notes that include drawings or have had reviews written on the notes. Some teachers get by printing their files as a PDF, and then the notes themselves are loaded to OneNote, basically as pictures which cannot be edited afterwards. I have done it, but I don’t like it. I have found, however,  that transferring PowerPoint files to OneNote works fairly well (once again the slides are like pictures), and I usually give them those notes as a resource.We also have had the issue of compatibility from the 2007 version, and the 2010 version. Our older students still have the older version and there are a few small issues there.

The thing I find most annoying is that when copying files from Word and then attempting to write notes over the top of them, many times the notes will shift around instead of staying in place. And they basically can’t be fixed afterwards. Please don’t comment that there is a fix for it from Microsoft. We have updated the fix and it doesn’t work for this issue. I have learned to handle some of it by removing any formatting on the word files and deleting any spacing before copying it over, but the problem still occasionally creeps up and there doesn’t seem to be a simple solution.

Overall I am reasonably satisfied with OneNote, but I’m definitely hoping for a new version to come out. It is frustrating and makes no sense to me that it doesn’t match up hardly at all with other Microsoft products, particularly Word. This type of program is clearly the wave of the future, but it is still a few years away from its full potential.

We have looked at the possibility of having shared notebooks with the students, but the students would be able to delete files, and frankly, we don’t trust them.

Creativity

I watched a video today about creativity which made me think about some of the purposes of education and the role of creativity both in modern times and from a historical perspective. The video can be found here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

His main point, that schools do not promote creativity, and in fact stifle the creativity of children, is without question partially correct, but I’m not convinced that a curriculum which supports the kind of creativity he seems to advocate would actually produce better students, or students that are better prepared to face the realities of normal adult lives.

Robinson observes that the implicit goal of education systems worldwide appears to be the creation of university professors. While I see his point, I certainly don’t think that there are many high school teachers that I work with who are thinking “I’m preparing these students to be profesors”. I think that what we are trying to do is teach students to be intelligent thinkers above all else, and to learn the material that we have determined will help them to reach that goal.

He tells several anecdotes about people who did not do well with traditional learning practices, yet have gone on to be successful and interesting people, and seemingly projects that possibility onto all students. I just don’t think that is fair, accurate, or realistic. I don’t want to seem to be against creativity, I’m not at all. But just as knowing physics is not critical knowledge for many people, being able to express oneself through dance or painting is also not a critical ability for people. And unfortunately, it is even less important for critical thinking skills, which in my opinion are sorely lacking on planet earth.

Let’s be a bit realistic, the world itself stifles creativity. Reality stifles creativity. Creativity without reality is a bizarre sort of fantasy. And while fantasy is and make believe are important aspects of our lives, we already have far too many people who think fantasy is real. Part of my job, particularly as a science teacher, is to teach students how our reality works, because in my opinion, once you learn the system,  the better you are able to solve problems that you might face. The creation of fantasy is only one small part of what creativity even means.

Going further, I have a strong interest in music and I enjoy writing songs. But the reality is that to create songs that make creative sense in the current sort of landscape of music, one has to fit it within the current structures that we have. One has to know the basic structure of music, the forms, and the feel. Does that make music a form of expression that destroys creativity. Yes, and no. And that’s how our reality works. We need to know things, because creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

But it’s true that we should face the reality that not all students will thrive in the current academic model. Many who could otherwise be very successful will become discouraged. I don’t think that means the model itself is flawed, but there need to be other avenues for students that are not as interested in a classroom setting to have other options for developing their interests. I have often told students that if they know what their passion is, they should just go for it. If they really and truly want to be an actor they should get into acting classes and chase their dream, because school is not designed to teach them that skill. On the other hand, if they don’t know what they want to be, they should study hard and learn to be a good thinker. The world has more need for good thinkers than good actors.

 

More on Flippers

As I have been gathering more information on flipping the classroom I have come across a few things that I wanted to share. One thing I came across was a video from Salmon Khan, who has an interesting history related not so much to flipping, but to putting instructional videos of all sorts online for people to use.

http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html

He is attempting to remake some aspects of education and has the support of several other innovators including Bill Gates. One statement I found interesting was that when he first started making videos to help his cousins with math, he found that they preferred watching the videos to having him there in person to explain the concepts. The reason being that they could watch videos multiple time, could watch them whenever they wanted, and didn’t have to feel embarrassed if they didn’t understand it. Here is a link to the website with their large library of videos.

http://www.khanacademy.org/

This idea that students might prefer videos has clear implications for my own classes and the approach to learning I should be pursuing. Of course most teachers assume that time will be spent more productively face to face explaining a concept, but there are real reasons to recognize that for certain types of learning, videos can actually be more effective, or at least more effective for certain types of students.

In addition, I found another article which takes the idea of video tutorials and gives that to the students to get them more involved in the entire learning process.

http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/08/move-over-sal-khan-sixth-graders-create-their-own-math-videos/

I also spent a little time using the screen recording software on my computer, Camtasia. I understand the basic method for recording the screen while also having a window of myself in the corner, but I haven’t figured out how to change some of the settings. There are many things I still need to learn, and it’s going to be an ongoing process.

 

To Flip or Not to Flip

I work at a school that is one-to-one laptop and we of the science department are known to be particularly proficient at using our computers in class. Nevertheless, to my knowledge there is not a single class that is currently working on any kind of flipped classroom model. In fact, when the math department attempted to change their curriculum to something which in some ways resembled flipping, parents were not impressed and put pressure on the admin to kill the program. Which they did. I’m sure a big part of the complaints were based on confusion about the goals of the program, and skepticism in the face of changing traditional teaching methods, but the big question remains, how does one attempt to make such a change within a school climate that doesn’t support it?

Amongst the physics teachers we have talked this year and tentatively agreed to change one of our units this year. We made this decision because of several important factors. For one, this class is currently being taught by four different teachers, and we likely couldn’t make any drastic changes to the entire curriculum without resistance from one or more of them. Also, the curriculum is already fairly laid out and because none of us have experience with this kind of instruction, we determined that starting with one unit would be an amount of work that we could handle in the middle of the year without too much stress. Also, if there were any problems or a catastrophe, we would be back to the comfort of traditional teaching soon enough.

I had thought about simply doing this in my own classroom, but having no experience doing it, I felt that having other teachers to plan with and to sort out problems would be beneficial to the process. I recently mentioned to my team teachers whether we were still interested flipping a unit, and there was agreement on doing it, but also agreement not to confront it until after spring break when things will have settled a bit.

There are still a few concerns about the possibility of admin or parents coming down on this change, but there seems to be confidence amongst this group of teachers that we will not have any real issues, despite the current focus at our school on so-called traditional methods. I am hopeful, but we will see.