Google Sites: Learning in Action: Final Project Reflections

For my final project, my Algebra 1 students created a Google Site that contains explanations, examples, videos, worksheets, practice problems, quizzes, and so much more! For all the concepts they have covered this semester, there is an overview page, a links page, a practice problems page and a quiz page.  Students created videos where they explained concepts to their peers, either through demonstrating the step-by-step process needed to solve a problem, or through entertaining songs created about a formula or a solution.  Most of these videos ended up on the overview page for the chapter.  The other page that may need some explanation is the links page.  Here students put links to other related resources they found on the internet.  This might involve Khan Academy videos on the topics being covered.  Or it could be a math site where careful explanations are given, such as coolmath.com or sosmath.com. To balance out these more “dry” methods of review, there are hopefully also links to some games that allow practice of mathematical skills to be combined with entertainment.  The hope is that each student will be able to find some extra resource that will help them review in a form that suits their learning style.

I am very proud of the class for the hard work they put into creating a great site and for the creativity they showed in their approach to the site and to the videos.

The hope is that this site will not only be valuable to them as they study this semester for their assessments, but that it will also be a resource they can refer back to in future years as they study Geometry and Algebra 2.  At the beginning of this year, I had a number of my past students who were just beginning Algebra 2 come and ask me to quickly remind them how to factor using the technique they learned in Algebra 1.  While it was a privilege to help them, next year I can just send the students back to this site.

As with all technology, the Google site is not perfect.  For example, there are difficulties with uploading some material.  Though the students found ways to insert graphs, there are other graphics that did not work when inserted into the Google site.   Also, mathematical notation is limited in the Google site.  This was a minor inconvenience in an Algebra 1 class, but would be a major distraction in a Calculus class.  Whether this issue was only a problem because Algebra 1 students are not always aware of the importance of notation remains to be seen.  (Hopefully next year when I get my IB Higher Level Year 2 class to create their own site they will find ways around the limitation.  YES, I already have plans to continue and expand my technology use!)

The other issue that caused significant problems related to the mistakes that inevitably ended up on the overview page.  Because editing access for each chapter was only given to a select few, other students could not post comments when they detected an error.  This meant they could not work towards correcting the error.  To overcome this, each chapter was given its own “Comments” page that the whole class could edit.  The goal of this page was for the class to become editors and proof-readers.  If they found a mistake they would post a comment alerting the chapter creators to the error, and giving a correct solution.  Other students could then agree that a mistake had been made, or they could offer their own reason for why the original approach was correct.  The idea was to start a dialogue where students had to justify their mathematical reasoning while helping to improve the site.  (It sounded like a good plan anyway.)  Students did end up using the comment section in an unexpected way though … for the chapter on exponents they each ended up writing about their own misconceptions.  They would say what they were struggling with and how an example on the overview page helped them to understand the concept better.  Cool!

Being human, there are guaranteed to be some mistakes on the overview pages that do not get identified.  Regardless, it was a step in the right direction.  Now I just have to figure out how to improve the editing and correcting process.  Since at least one group creating a Google site for me next year will be seniors, I will most likely give all of the students in the class full editing rights to the whole site, rather than restricting access.  Hopefully at that stage of their development, the students are mature enough not to erase or mess with other peoples’ input.  (Though time will tell I guess.)

One of the unexpected benefits of this project (besides once again having students complete my course homework for me), was watching their joy and excitement as they were given some control through the editing rights to their chapter, some freedom to learn and study in multiple ways, hopefully finding a system that worked for them, and some creative opportunities, on a large scale through the video production as well as through simple things like the font, color and organization of their pages.  They truly rose to the challenge.  (I just hope that they learned some important math along the way.)

So that is what the students did.  Now, for me …

A year ago, I would never have attempted this project.  I would have appreciated the benefits and marveled at the options, all the while justifying why I could never do that!  Yet here I am!  There is still a long way to go on the technology journey, but that first big leap has been taken …  Let’s see where it all goes from here.

Before ending this course I have to thank Jeff for persevering with me.  I am sure there must have been many days where he hung his head in despair and longed for the simpler world of dealing with adolescent digital natives.  Thanks for opening up a whole new world to me Jeff!  I hope to one day make you proud!

It is hard to believe that the journey begun nearly two years ago is coming to an end.  We have run the race and the finish line is within our reach.  Or is it …

The official, graded portion of the journey is definitely coming to an end.  A mere two year marathon …

You Can Do It by sirwiseowl Keith Davenport

But the true journey to implement up-to-date technology into the classroom … that is a long road.

The long road ahead! By qmnoic (Matt MacGillivray)

It is not always an easy road, as challenges and obstacles are faced …

long hard road compressed by alvazer (Alvaro Vega F.)

But there are definitely rewards along the way that make it all worthwhile.

Monument valley by Vvillamon (Vicente Villamon)

So let’s not just ride off into the sunset!

The Long Road Home by Stuck in Customs (Trey Ratcliff)

Radical Revamp … in Small Increments

From the original image Pupae by Moonrhino  Quote by John Seely Brown, as seen in the 21st Century Learner video on YouTube.

Embracing Change posted by Keri-Lee Beasley; From the original image Pupae by Moonrhino Quote by John Seely Brown, as seen in the 21st Century Learner video on YouTube.

As this school year and my COETAIL course comes to an end, I have begun the task of setting my “Summer Reflections and Actions List” … you know what I mean … that list of educationally-focused tasks that, in an ideal, perfect world, I will diligently work through over the summer.  In my dream scenario, before reality takes over, I begin with honest reflection on my current practices, identifying what has worked and more importantly what has not worked this school year.  After careful consideration and copious research (remember … dream scenario) I want to devise changes for improving the classroom experience for my students, refining what has worked and completely revamping what has not.  (Please note that I did not say “for improving my teaching” as I hope to move steadily toward a more student-centered educational experience.)  Having thoughtfully and thoroughly worked through the list, blogged about my reflections (a nod to you Jeff), and updated current lesson plans to accommodate my new direction, I hope my teaching next year will be vastly improved, … and since I am still in my dream scenario … the sense of being constantly behind will be a distant memory, and I will leave work at a reasonable time everyday knowing that I am fully prepared for every eventuality that could occur …EVER.  And, of course, my students, after a few hours of exposure to my new direction and outlook, combined with my calm nature, will be transformed into independent learners, with strong critical thinking skills … they will become effective collaborators and clear communicators … they will, of course, perfectly model our core school values of respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness … they will be held up as role models to be emulated by others, they will bring about world peace and an end to poverty … and when asked the reason for their radical transformation, the students will smile a knowing smile and say “Ms. Connor” …  Ahhhhh!!

Oops … sorry!  I think my dream scenario went a little too far!  Let’s get back to reality.

Seriously though, I hope to spend some time this summer reevaluating my current teaching practices and choosing a few small, yet significant areas of change to implement for next year.

Realizing that this may change in the coming weeks, I currently have three key areas that I want to consider.

  1. I want to design a new homework system that will motivate and reward students rather than discourage and punish.  A system where positive reinforcement in the form of individual and class rewards can be worked towards.  (Unless Loren manages to finish his Gamification homework plan before he graduates, then I will just test out his plan.)

    The Joys of Homework by Cayusa

    At the end of last school year, a colleague and I were contemplating new ways to assign and grade homework.  We wanted to make it meaningful, efficient and authentic.  But after some discussion, we decided that there was no perfect way, and perhaps not even a “better” way to check that students were completing their homework in a manner that would enhance their understanding of the topic.  So this year I continued with my same old approach.  In all its’ unimaginative glory, here it is:  At the beginning of the year I use class time to carefully check homework for completion.  Student’s work is examined for evidence that every question is attempted and that work is shown.  Part of homework is to check the answers with the aid of the back of the book so  students can ask questions of me or a peer (preferably before class) for all those problems that they could not solve correctly.  Corrections are then done in a different color as a visual reminder of concepts to be aware of in the future.  Having used significant class time early in the year to establish my expectations, I then turn the task of grading homework over to the students and have them do peer grading of the homework at the beginning of class.  With that inauspicious starting point, there has to be a way to improve the process and the expectations.  Gamification seems like it could help, so I am going to start the reflection and research there.

  2. I want to identify one key concept/unit/topic that can be taught using the flipped classroom model.  Once that topic is determined, I need to begin to plan the unit and hopefully record some of the lessons.  Currently I think that Vectors from the IB Higher Level Math curriculum might be suitable to be presented in this manner.

Vectors

  1. I want to develop a plan for how I can use the Harkness Method of teaching to enhance the effectiveness of the problem-solving portion of each lesson.  (Coupling this with a reward plan might be investigated in the future, but I need to think the process and consequences through first.)  How can I use the challenging problems tackled during class to encourage collaboration and communication of solid mathematical processes, and make it student-centered?  The vague outline that I want to reflect on and develop involves blocking out set portions of time during all (or maybe just some) classes to have students present solutions to difficult problems, whether from the class notes or from the homework and then have them discuss alternate problem-solving strategies or more elegant approaches.  The idea would be to analyze each person’s work through open and judgment-free discussions, providing a safe place for students to ask questions.  A key to making this work is going to be identifying problems that can be solved by numerous methods as well as having questions that require the synthesis of multiple skills and strategies.  But as I said, this all needs to be thought through more carefully to make it a truly positive experience and to optimize the chances of it succeeding.  My original thoughts were that this would be diametrically opposed to the flipped classroom model, but now I am not so sure … something to think on further.
At The College Preparatory School

Students and instructor seated around a Harkness table

This time next year I want to look back and see significant changes in the experience students have in my classroom.  I don’t want to feel that it was one more year of doing the same thing.  I know that my current teaching practices meet the needs of some students, but there is always room for improvement if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone.  Some of the changes may fail miserably, but at least that will give me a new starting point for my “Summer Reflections and Actions List” next year.  So, armed with my new tech skills, a lot of reading and contemplation, I hope to walk boldly into next year.

Now, if I can just follow through on this brilliant summer plan and not get distracted by the thought of sitting under a palm tree, looking out over crystal blue water, and reading a book for the whole summer!

Beach, Nilandho, Faafu Atoll, Maldives. By Shazwan

Flipped Out

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Thanks to Jasper for allowing me to use footage of his airborne antics!

Having been motivated and challenged by the esteemed likes of Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, the pioneers of the flipped classroom, Peter Pappas through his blog exhortation, and Brian Bennett through his google hangout interaction and blogging, it is time to figure out what this flipping process is really all about.

Jonathan Bergman in The Flipped Class Blog outlines the potential benefits of the flipped classroom saying:

“We believe strongly in the proper implementation of the Flipped Model because it has so many benefits which speak to the heart of education reform.  The Flipped Model allows for:

Furthermore, Peter Pappas says:

“Instead of class time being filled with the pointless transfer of information from teacher to student, you and your students would have the time to apply and explore the content in a more engaging and project-based classroom.”

His statement is what started the rusty wheels of my imagination turning, as I started to dream of all the possibilities and benefits of this process for preparing my students for life after high school.  Actually, what it did was bring to mind the conversations I have recently enjoyed having with some of my students, as described at the beginning of my previous post Less is More.  Though we talk about student’s hopes, dreams and thoughts, it is not those particular conversations that I want to focus on.  Instead, it is the learning-driven, sometimes curriculum-based, problem-solving discussions I have been privileged enough to listen to and be part of.

To set the scene …

timepiece prime time clock closeup watch by zoute drop

When I think about the learning that I get most enthusiastic about, it is not the “learning” I hope is going on when I deliver my carefully prepared and scripted lesson.  This is teaching … not learning.  I don’t know (and probably don’t want to know) what is going on in the minds of my students as I lead them through our proscribed material for the day.  At the end of the class, I try to gauge how much they took in by seeing how effectively they can solve the examples.  Unfortunately, these examples are often straightforward as students need some proficiency in a topic before I can give them the more interesting questions and we just never have time to do these FUN questions.

But, I hear you ask, “Where is the problem-solving discussion you said you were part of?”  Where indeed!

I have had those discussions and enjoyed the thrill of hearing students engage in true learning.  Unfortunately, as indicated above, it is rarely happens during classtime.  Instead, this year I have experienced this pleasure in two unique settings.  Firstly, I have started offering bonus questions, when possible, to my BC Calculus and IB H2 students.  Students are invited to come and solve these problems with a partner after school.  The questions push the boundaries of what students know and provide them with the opportunity to try, and to fail, because they do not know exactly how to go about solving the problem.  But as they try and fail, and try and fail again, they start to truly share and discuss their problem-solving strategies.  They are engaged … they are motivated … they are INSPIRING!!  Some students have come back multiple times to work on the same question, making success that much sweeter.  Celebrating when someone succeeds after multiple attempts is a fabulous experience.

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The second place where I have listened to and been part of such extraordinary conversation is in Math Team.  Each week multiple questions are proposed and groups of students work together to reach a solution.  They wander from group to group, questioning, arguing, analyzing, evaluating, THINKING, until they can eventually put all the pieces together and reach a solution.  One night a dedicated group worked on one particular problem for three hours, only to finally head home, not having reached a solution.  But each time we met in the hall or in the classroom, we would ask if anyone had made progress on the question.  I proposed it to students in my classes and they started bringing in new approaches to spark further progress.  Students not in Math Team or in my class were also bringing their ideas to me, having heard their friends talking about the question. What joy!!  To date, no one has reached a solution, but someone did find the solution online.  Despite this, many do not want to know the answer yet as they know their own solution is just around the corner.  Their next approach may just be the one that finally works!!

 

Problem Solving by Martino

Brian Bennett’s characteristics of an effective flipped classroom outline many of the outcomes that I find most invigorating about these problem-based conversations with students.  He says: In a flipped classroom

What these articles have finally driven through my exceptionally thick skull is that a flipped classroom would allow me to experience that rush of watching students learn and grow and struggle and fail and keep struggling until, having passed through fire, they emerge victorious and empowered on a daily basis, not just after school or in Math Team.  So, rather than saving these questions for after school when only those who want the extra credit show up, the flipped classroom would make them available to everyone.  And all students would have the opportunity to be part of the discussion.  And who knows, maybe while I am having so much fun, my students might just learn some math, and more importantly, learn to be independent thinkers and problem-solvers that truly are ready for the real world.  WOW!!  I can’t wait to get started!

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