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)

Revisiting the Dreaded Quadratic Formula

It is hard to believe that it was one year ago that I posted “DON’T MAKE ME LISTEN TO THAT SONG AGAIN!!” reflecting on how technology was used (in a small way) to help students learn the Quadratic Formula .  My nightmares all had a “Pop Goes the Weasel” soundtrack  after listening to the quadratic formula sung to this tune many, many, many times!  So this year as I turned the page in my notes and saw the words “Quadratic Formula” my heart skipped a beat and my palms began to sweat.  How was I going to survive the trauma again this year?

Fear the Dark by Stuant63

Fortunately, this year I was spared some of the agony.  I only have one Algebra 1 class and we very quickly looked at some of the quadratic formula videos from YouTube.  It was comparatively quick and painless.  But last year I had said that I might extend the technology use this year … so why not?  My nightmares have diminished and I can take it!  So students were asked to create a video of their own to help them remember the formula.  I was very impressed with the results!  The quadratic formula was put to music in unique and creative ways.  The music used included “Happy Birthday”, the “ABC Song”, a couple of raps, a song by “One Direction”, and some original music.  The creativity with the songs as well as the video editing skills of the class impressed me.  Once the videos were finished, students uploaded them to the class Google site.  One video was not able to be viewed after it was linked to the site.  Before I was even aware of the problem, another student has posted instructions on how to correctly upload the video!  Thank goodness, because I have no idea how to do that … it all seems like magic to me!

Here are some of the videos created by my class!

 

The bloopers and “historical perspective” added to the charm of this video.

This group could run a course in “How to Earn Brownie Points” for the way they ended their video, but it made me smile!!

This student did a great job of taking a well known song, adapting the words to fit the formula and using appropriate props!

Besides recording their videos, many students extended their production by including bloopers which is always good for a laugh. What a privilege to be blessed with such a creative group of students.

There were a number of other excellent videos submitted, but this gives you an idea of the craftsmanship of these students!

So next time those infamous words “Quadratic Formula” end up in front of me, there will be no need to panic … the students have got this!

Don’t Make Me Listen to that Song Again!!

Over the past two days, my Algebra 1 classes have been learning the quadratic formula.

 

The derivation of this formula involves a rather dry process of completing the square.  Though I was not able to figure out a way to turn this portion of the lesson into a digital, visual masterpiece, I did turn to YouTube at the end of the lesson to help students remember this challenging formula.  We looked at four videos.  Of the four, one could be classified as an attempt at digital storytelling.  In this video, the hero is brutally murdered after saving the killer from the stress of dealing with a parabola by applying the quadratic formula.  Betrayal and violence … a true hollywood blockbuster!!

YouTube Preview Image

Another video showed that it is not only Math teachers with no life that post math videos.  This rap performed by Adam and Braley Branson brings out a number of key math topics, including the quadratic formula for determining x-intercepts, the discriminant for determining the number of solutions to a quadratic equation, the idea of symmetry and inverses, and the process for combining rational expressions.

I am not sure that listening to this rap would validate the statement by Patricia Deubel  in “Web 2.0 in Instruction.  Adding Spice to Math Education”  that a “math class would certainly be spiced up with math raps” but at least it is a start.  Though these two videos provide entertainment and valuable mathematical content, I think the final two videos will prove the most effective for actually recalling the quadratic formula.  In these two videos, the quadratic formula is sung to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel,” which is one of those tunes that gets stuck in your head … and has the potential to drive you crazy!  The first video has some “geeks” singing.  However, in case students tried to say that they were not good at memorizing or that the formula was too hard, we watched one final version:

YouTube Preview Image

The question is though, was it the visual images connected with the song, or the tune itself that helped students remember the formula?  Regardless of what caught their attention, the YouTube videos served another purpose.  They got students talking about math.  They critiqued the videos I chose, picked their favourite, and talked with their parents about the song.  At the beginning of the next class they were still talking about the songs of the quadratic formula.  Some students even started to write their own song.  It is this interest that is most meaningful.  At the conclusion of our YouTube viewing, it was also entertaining to hear students humming “Pop Goes the Weasel” as they wrote out the quadratic formula in preparation for solving a problem.

Next year rather than simply have students view the work of others, I may have them create their own video to post.  This process of creation will both aid their recall of the formula and hopefully can also be designed to deepen their understanding of the use and derivation of the formula.

The worst part of this … having listened to these songs about the Quadratic Formula in multiple classes over two days, I keep waking up with these songs on my mind!  “x equals negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4 ac all over 2a!”