Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reflecting in the Math Classroom

My colleague, Meredith Swallow, recently shared a post about the importance of reflection in her professional growth, which got me thinking.  She points her readers to a post written by Barry Saide and Jasper Fox, Sr. Reflect or Refract: Top 3 Tips for the Reflective Educator where the authors suggest "reading a wide variety of education blogs regularly exposes educators to new ideas and concepts. Transformational thinking occurs when conversations about these posts develop. New ideas that stem from blog posts provide alternate thoughts to consider. Engaging with the writer is one of the strongest benefits to blogging."

I couldn't agree more. Here are a few tech-savvy math bloggers who you might want to engage with over the break to inspire ongoing reflection:


 Mathematics, Learning, and Technology

Great Maths Teaching Ideas

Math Hombre


And finally...
The Pursuit of Technology Related Happiness: The name itself makes it worth of a visit in my book. I am linking you to the math resource list published on this blog; while the links on this page have not been updated since 2011, the extensive list is worth a look.  For instance, I was pleased to stumble upon The Math Interactives site which includes some engaging simulations.  Check out the blog posts on the site as well.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Needing Some Common Sense Advice - Digital Bytes

My 12-year-old twins are counting the days to their 13th birthday in April, anticipating with much more urgency than past years their special day, all so they can finally triumph over the tyrant of online limitations...the dreaded Under 13 Terms of Service rule.

According to the infographic Trending Tweens: How Kids Use Social Media, 21% of kids under 13 are subscribed to (at least) one social networking site.

Our family rule on social media and app use is to follow the legal restrictions posted on each site's "Terms of Service" page, much to my daughters' dismay. 
 The work around in the past has been for me to create an account and then share that username and password with them; it's worked well with apps, but when it comes to social media, they balk and put up a mighty stink, liberally peppered with tween girl drama.
Apparently, asking friends to follow HennesseyGirlsMom on Instagram would be social suicide.

I was on a mission to find resources explaining why the under 13 rule exists that would resonate for them, and not rely solely on the simple answer of the importance of being a law-abiding citizen. The gist for me, getting them to truly understand the data tracking and gathering that is at the core of most business models.

I appreciated finding this post from Alpha Mom Lessons Learned: Kids and Instagram because it mirrored my experience and provided this good advice:

     I’ll also utilize some of the tools the website GetNetWise.org has for parents as well as their  
online use contract for kids to sign. Sure, a contract may seem a little silly, but that plus a social media discussion will reinforce to the kids the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I found a pretty impressive new "choose-your-own-adventure" type resource from Common Sense Media called Digital Bytes that provided exactly the information I was looking for to start that social media discussion: 

The Online Tracking module, which I selected, provided a short context-setting video that got my girls' attention.  Then, Ted Kovac's Ted Talk Tracking Our Online Trackers provided just the right amount of provocative information to prompt a a real discussion, effectively moving us away from a "because I said so" conversation into one where they genuinely wanted answers. 

If you want to know more about data tracking, check out Dan Tynan's good post Explained: Here's How Advertising Tracks you Across the Web

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Multiple Pathways via MOOCS

I've been on the search for examples of teachers creating multiple learning pathways in middle level classrooms.  This Future of Learning infographic helps define a "diverse learning ecosystem" but I need concrete examples of what one might look like to wrap my head around this change agenda.

Notice they suggest "a wide variety of digital networks, platforms, and content resources will help learners and learning agents connect and learn."

What might this look like in a middle school classroom? One recent experiment involving 6th grade teachers at Edmunds Middle School in Burlington VT is worth a look.  Laura Botte and Ian Bleakney, both math teachers and both committed to establishing a growth mindset in their classrooms, took on the role of "learning agents" as they joined thousands of other students around the world in participating in the Stanford MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) EDUC115-S How to Learn Math - For Students
                                                                                    Link to full infographic from Future of Learning

When we think about students choosing online courses as one of their multiple pathways for learning, we often imagine the isolated single student, headphones on, hunched over a keyboard in a kiosk, engaging with digital learning materials divorced from important human interactions. While this is one scenario of introducing blended learning into schools, an alternative is to create opportunities for online learning that are participatory, collaborative, and connected via a MOOC.

Take 4 minutes to watch the following video if the term MOOC is new to you:

 I'll be sharing feedback from the teachers and students who participated in the Stanford Math MOOC soon.

Another example of opening multiple pathways of learning via MOOCs comes from edX, one of many MOOC providers, who recently announced it had created courses for high school students to help them prepare for college level work.  The CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal, declared meeting the needs of the over 150,000 high school students who participate in MOOCs as a high priority for the company.  Students participating will be able to track their progress online but will not earn credit for participation.  edX provides a variety of ways to show evidence of participation:

A quick look at the high school focused offerings suggests most are AP prep courses or are focused on increasing computer programming skills, but with course titles like The Beauty and Joy of Computing, the catalog is worth exploring.

If you are interested in exploring the world of MOOCs for your own benefit, or to introduce a MOOC into your classrooms, here is a list of MOOC providers.

Check out these two infographics on MOOCs to get a better sense of who participates and who is behind-the-scenes:

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Community Building with Shadow Puppet

I love it when I find an app that is both intuitive and oh-so versatile.  Enter Shadow Puppet
As summer days wane and thoughts start to drift toward those first few important days of school where you have an opportunity to build community and set norms, you might want to take a few minutes out of your summer break to explore Shadow Puppet EDU.  It's a perfect app for student-created  introduction slideshows to share as a get-to-know-you activity.

                                                                                                                        Image credit: Flickr user
Benefits:                                                                                                         Justin O'Rourke, CC 2.0
  • image-rich reflections of each student to share and revisit
  • voice-overs and images provide context and tell a story                  
  • easy way to introduce camera functions on the iPad                         
  • Digital Citizenship concepts of image sharing explored in an authentic activity

Check out this quick screencast tutorial I made demonstrating how to use Shadow Puppet EDU to structure this activity:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Testing Unbound

Wonder what words, when using free association, are conjured from folks when they hear the word test?  Pulled quickly from my psyche are:  anxiety, study, judgment, memorize, prep, control.  My guess is these are some common possibilities, but the word learn, probably wouldn't make most peoples' list. 

Henry L. Roediger III , in his article How Tests Make us Smarter   argues tests, when formative in nature, can be used to both measure and promote learning.  The gist: when learners are forced to retrieve and use knowledge through testing, that knowledge is embedded more securely in our memories.  He calls finding ways to stem forgetting a central challenge to learning, a challenge that routine, informal testing can address.

"One insight that we and other researchers have uncovered is that tests serve students best when they’re integrated into the regular business of learning and the stakes are not make-or-break, as in standardized testing. That means, among other things, testing new learning within the context of regular classes and study routines."

In my work with educational technologies, I emphasize the promise technology holds for teachers both to differentiate learning and to adjust instruction to meet the changing and diverse needs of all of their students.  Frequent, formative assessments are one avenue to meeting this goal, so I find myself demonstrating often how digital tools can support teachers to efficiently and routinely assess students' current understandings and be responsive to those changing needs.

What Roediger's article did for me was to see how frequent, informal, and formative testing could also benefit students directly as a means to stem forgetting and embed in memory the learning.

This begs the question how then can technology support these in-context routines and seamlessly wed instruction with assessment?  Clearly too much testing requiring rote memorization is not the answer.

Benjamin Harold's recent article Testing Digital Tools to Inform Assessment 
provides us with two examples of teachers in Oregon using technology to inform instruction.  I was particularly intrigued by one teacher profiled who mixed and matched apps in his mathematics classroom to uncover common misunderstandings and get a quick read on the class needs for just-in-time adjustments.  Here is an excerpt:

"First, Mr. Thompson had the class download problems from iTunesU, a course-management tool from Apple Inc., and begin solving them in Notability, a digital note-taking app.  Shortly after the students began, Mr. Thompson asked them to use the Socrative app to submit their solutions directly from their iPads to his. As he walked around the room, Mr. Thompson scrolled through a single screen that contained each student's name and response. One student appeared way off base; the teacher stopped by to work with him directly. Overall, the snapshot revealed that most students got the overall gist, although many made rounding mistakes and failed to properly notate the unit of analysis."

Mr. Thompson completed the lesson by selecting a number of student examples of both creative problem-solving and work illustrating common misunderstandings to project for the whole class to unpack.  Once Mr. Thompson concluded all learners were now ready, his next challenge was a more difficult one, one requiring students use this new knowledge to "develop an original formula that would allow them to solve for the area of any non-right triangle."

This example of technology use makes thinking visible.  Mr. Thompson could have also used Socrative to test for understanding, before moving to the application step, not only to clarify that all students now had the knowledge they needed to apply the concept, but to help students retrieve and use knowledge, an active engagement that takes an additional step toward stemming forgetting, before diving deeper into application.

Roediger concludes "we need to change the way we think about testing. It shouldn’t be a white-knuckle finale to a semester’s work, but the means by which students progress from the start of a semester to its finish, locking in learning along the way and redirecting their effort to areas of weakness where more work is needed to achieve proficiency."  Apps like Nearpod and EdPuzzle can weave assessment directly into instructional routines, providing both learners and teachers with important and timely feedback.

Chappuis & Stiggins (2008), in their article Enhancing Student Learning: Create Profound Achievement Gains Through Formative Assessments contend "while formative assessment as traditionally defined can contribute to effective instruction, it is the practice of assessment for learning that wields the proven power to help a whole new generation of students take responsibility for their own learning, become lifelong learners, and achieve at much higher levels."  Technology, used wisely, can help teachers and students to partner together to turn formative testing into a learning opportunity for all. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Information Searching Simplified

A teacher with whom I work asked his 7th grade students recently for feedback:

"We did this in order to garner information on how to improve the independent learning project that we are currently creating. The big ideas that came out of that survey included the following:

They want…

  1. More time
  2. More consecutive work days (too many disruptions)
  3. More support for finding information"

While there were more "wants" on this list, I'm stopping at #3 for this blog post and sharing some tips & tricks that might help support their efforts at information searching.

I'll focus at this point on search engines.  One resource worth exploring with students as they begin the information gathering stage of their research project is Instagrok

Results of users searchers appear as facts, websites, images, videos, etc. all in a visually appealing mindmap layout that can be adapted both by selecting a "difficulty" level and by pinning chosen resources to the mindmap.

Here's how it works using the search phrase civil war:

Let's follow what happens when a researcher searches for websites:

Notice that the site prompts researchers to explicitly decide if the source is credible.  The Evaluate the Source for Credibility form pictured above is from EasyBib. 

Researchers and their teachers will like that the website search is saved along with any sticky notes generated to the main mind map:

And the map can be shared via a link, embedded in a blog or website, or shared via these other outlets.

From their "terms of service" page:
"You do not need to register to use instaGrok: you may research topics by making Groks on the subjects that interest you. Additional features, such as history and journal functionality, may require registering for an account. There is no charge for using the base features, but further functionality, such as the educator dashboard, may require payment."

 For a quick look at what Instagrok looks like on an iPad, take a minute to watch this tutorial:

Still curious?  Read more - Review from Edudmic:  Instagrok, the search engine made just for education.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Make, Invent, Play & Earn

In the spirit of the maker movement and VitaLearn's Dynamic Landscape Conference theme Do, Make, & Create, we thought we might build a little experiment involving collaborative, online fun!

Linda McSweeney, VSLA president elect, and school librarian in Stowe, created a Goodreads group around the reading of Invent to Learn, Gary Stager's book.  Gary Stager (@garystager)
and Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) are keynoting Dynamic Landscapes this year.

 Check it out:  https://sites.google.com/site/vermontschoolibraries/  (description located under announcement for DL)

When we got wind of this, Audrey and I at TIIE thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if anyone participating in this book group might actually want to Make/Do/Create based on the content and themes of the book, in addition to the online discussion.  If so, participants in the book club could not only discuss the book on Goodreads, they could use apps and digital tools to build artifacts and share their learning in multi-modal ways.  And to support and encourage this creative endeavor, why not recognize the learning and collaborating with a digital badge?

We contacted Linda, who was willing to play, so we created a quick DL Reader 2014 badge, to be earned by participating in the:

Dynamic Landscapes Book Club
- http://tiie.w3.uvm.edu/bookclub/

We built it using WordPress and the BadgeOS plugins.  The goal was to align with the Goodreads book club, and to build in some interactive, social, and gamified elements to see if we could engage with our colleagues prior to attending Dynamic Landscapes. 
Here is the announcement for the badge option in the Goodreads group which currently has 13 members:

In the spirit of taking on Chicago (http://openbadges.tumblr.com/post/82508317692/mayor-emanuel-announces-expanded-citywide-summer-of) and offering a new entry in our own Vermont-grown expanded informal learning options, credentialed via badges, we thought we'd give this a try and see what happens.  The badge, which when earned is portable via Credly, will live on earners' web presence of choice as a "badge" of honor.  I plan to present the results of this experiment on Friday at Dynamic Landscapes during the No Spectators Allowed! session.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Seamless Weaving of Instruction and Assessment

One way I know for sure an app has potential to transform classroom practice is when, with minimal introduction and little prep time, a whole team of teachers adopts it and launches its use.  After a short demonstration of the Nearpod app, all teachers on the 6th Grade Team at Peoples Academy in Morrisville gave it a whirl in each of the content areas, then shared the experience at a faculty meeting; from introduction to application and sharing, all in the span of a few short weeks.

Nearpod allows teachers to shoot out presentations - think Powerpoints made interactive - to their students' iPads.  Content slides can be interspersed with embedded polls, quizzes, and drawing tools for in-the-moment formative assessment. 

Yes, Nearpod turns a stand-and-deliver presentation into an interactive experience, with feedback tools embedded right in the middle of the presentation, viewed and responded to by each student via his or her iPad. 

Teachers see the results in real-time, both in list form and graphically.

The kicker for me is the ability for poll or quiz results or sketches to be shared back to the students in real-time to encourage discussion, clarify misconceptions or elaborate upon a point of interest.  (See Eric Mazur's work at Harvard on student response systems, turn & talk, and peer teaching)

As these teachers quickly realized, Nearpod allows for embedded formative feedback seamlessly woven into instruction. Students interact. Teachers make thinking visible and adjust instruction based on immediate feedback!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Informational text and current events customized to readers' needs

One-size-fits-all has no place in our classrooms, given the ready access we have to digital tools that support differentiation, which is why we welcome any resource built to allow its users control of content based on individual needs and preferences.  

Newsela provides its users with current news articles, each of which is written on multiple levels of text complexity.  Readers select the level best suited to their reading abilities; teachers have access to the article content written on a range of lexile scores to help them differentiate content delivery and instruction.  Newsela declares, "Give your students a new way to climb the staircase of nonfiction reading comprehension, from fourth grade to college-ready."

 InstaGrok is a research tool with search results displayed as a mind map where the "difficulty" level of returned hits is adjustable by the user.  The search results mindmaps of multimedia and text-based resources are customizable and can be shared. Check out this example of InstaGrok being used in an English classroom.


Finally, remember you can drive a Google Search to return hits based on a range of reading levels.  Really!

Want to find more current news resources?  Check out this post from the Learning Never Stops blog, 9 Sources of News for Kids That You May Not Know About

And, as an added bonus for making it this far, a way to extend the news into international waters:

Click on a colored pin to find a link to an online newspaper in that location.

Written in a different language? No problem. Simply select English (or any other language listed) for a Google Translated page.