Monday, December 12, 2011

Where's My Hovercraft? Part 3: The Typical Student Project

Welcome to part three in my N part series on technology. In part 1, I bashed Smart Boards. In part 2, I shared my Christmas wish list for improving homework logs. Since my birthday is on the 28th, I guess this could be considered my technology birthday wish list.

Right now I'm finishing up my statistics unit with both my fifth and sixth graders (moving this unit from 6th to 5th grade, so I'm doing something similar in all of my classes at the moment). I've never taught a full fledged statistics unit, and it's going really well.  Here's an overview.

The project
Our hook was this slick movie by National Geographic called 7 Billion: Are you Typical?  We then posed the following question: Are you a typical 5th/6th grader (throughout, I'm trying to keep the idea of "a typical 6th grader" light and humorous with the understanding that this is kind of a silly question)? Kids brainstormed topics and questions that would help answer this question, creating categories from after school activities to the environment. They learned how to write good survey questions and how to use Survey Monkey. They then took the survey (which ended up being a whopping 150ish questions). The data was then downloaded and kids spent time learning to summarize, convince, and predict (what I presented as the three overarching goals of statistics). We explored ways to analyze data both graphically and numerically and kids put together a portfolio of their results.

The product
My goal for after break is to make our own version of the National Geographic movie. While I consider myself relatively tech savvy and relatively proficient in editing photography, the movie making business is completely new to me. Even Dan Meyer's simple drawing of a box and a diagonal leaves my mouth agape. Btw Dan, I'd totally pay to sit in a room for a day and learn the basics of After Effects from you. I'd also be open to a list of sites/books that you would recommend for novices. Anyway, any guesses how the NG video was made? It has a Prezi feel, but alas, Prezi does not have export to movie functionality yet (really...come on already). Those of you with experience with these things, am I asking for trouble? I'd love to teach/work with my students to create something as slick, but worst case see this becoming something where each kid creates a slide or two highlighting a statistic they found and then putting it all together into a slideshow/movie in power point or keynote.

I'd love some feedback/thoughts from people with more experience.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Technology in School: Where's My Hovercraft? Part 2

Last post I talked about the difference between figuring out how to use a technology that is given to you versus looking for a technology to solve an existing problem.  Then I went all Negative Netty on interactive whiteboards. Today I'm going to talk about searching for a technology to solve an existing problem.

My students complete a short homework log every night (ah, the advantages of being in a community where everyone has computers and internet access). I use this to track how much they complete (important, since I only want them working for 30 minutes and often (purposefully) give them assignments I don't expect to be finished or don't really have a finish).  I also use this to help prepare for my lesson the following day, get a sense of what questions they have, and how well they understood the assignment. Finally, this is yet another space for kids to communicate with me.

Anyway, the tech issues:

  • Right now students populate a google form and these data are transferred into a google spreadsheet that I look at. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who can see this.  It would be really nice for students to have access to their own homework logs.
  • It would also be nice if this history could easily be a way for students to organize their digital work. If work could be easily linked from the log, the student and I could both look at old work.
  • Filtering is possible, but it's slow and clunky...especially now that my spreadsheet is quite large. It would be really nice to be able to quickly filter by class, by assignment, by kid, by understanding, etc.
  • At this point in time, the file in general is becoming slow and clunky. While I could start a new form, this makes filtering by student even more time consuming. 
  • I wish it were easier to analyze this large (and potentially informative) data set. What's Jonny's average perception of his understanding on homework assignments? Has this increased or decreased? Is he spending more, less, or the same amount of time on assignments?
  • I wish I could click on a comment by a student and have my email pop open so I can shoot off a quick and efficient reply.
  • I wish my students would have an email automatically sent to them when the log is not completed...or for the ability to automatically or quickly contact parents.
Ok, so who's going to make this happen? :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Technology in School: Where's My Hovercraft? Part 1

The #pencilchat discussion on twitter has rekindled something I've been thinking about a lot...

There's a big difference between being handed some technology and then figuring out how it's useful and having a problem and finding (or creating) a technology to solve this problem.

Let me get my Interactive SmartBoard bashing out of the way.  Just to be clear, my definition of interactive does not include a tool that:
  • lives at the front of the room
  • must be connected to a computer to work (and even then...) 
  • freaks out when it is touched by more than two people at a time
That said, I am still trying to find ways to make this (expensive) thing that covers my whiteboard more than just a whiteboard that occasionally spontaneously erases everything (it's the only time kids are allowed to use the word "dumb" in my class). A few weeks ago I got together with three other great teachers to pow wow how smart boards could be useful.  In the end, we spent a bunch of time sharing "here's something else that's kind of neat" but someone's insightful question at the end asking if we'd learned anything brought everything back into focus. We hadn't yet found a way to make this *much* more than just a chalkboard you can take pictures of.

For me, the smartboard falls into the tech category of "here's some tech, now make it useful."  This is too bad, because I have lots of unresolved tech issues that I'll address in the next part of this series.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Asilomar Reflection

I led a workshop this past weekend at CMC-North Asilomar (this is a math conference for those of you who do normal weekend things like gardening and watching football).

Making the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice More than an Afterthought

This was the second iteration of the talk I gave last month in Palm Springs. About 25 people showed up, a number I was pretty happy with considering it was the last session of the day (a beautiful one at that). I feel the Palm Springs session went fairly well, but that this talk was more polished and more interactive. Three or four more times doing this and it'll start approaching good.

One of the recurring themes of the talk was promoting productive failure and a culture of working on hard problems. With this in mind, I'd like to share the critical feedback I received (thanks to those who took the time to write feedback):
Give more sources for 'good problems'
To be honest, most of the good problems I have are from a mishmash of sources: conferences, colleagues, blogs, students, and sweat. I need to start putting together a problem bank as soon as I get over feeling intimidated by Sam Shah's Virtual Filing Cabinet. That said, here are some good online sources:
Alan Schoenfeld talked about the Math Assessment Project
The Park School in Baltimore
The CME Project (a more traditional textbook in the sense that it's published)
Someone at the session recommended the book Thinking Mathematically.

Show how to connect to content standards.
Right now 99% of the resources for math teachers center on content standards. As for the standards for mathematical practice, we are the 1%. I see the discussion of habits, independent of content, to be necessarily in order to raise the status of these processes.

Heard this before. Glad will be part of standards, but didn't we already know this is good math teaching?
Maybe this comment wasn't meant as criticism, but would you prefer that I talk about and model bad teaching?

Thought it would be more about what the common core is
 I zoomed through the connections between my habits of mind and the common core standards of mathematical practice. Feel free to download the presentation, though, and take your time looking at the specifics.

a little slow
moved very slowly
I'm not sure I can drink enough coffee to keep a Steve Leinwandimo tempo (that's a bit faster than Prestissimo for the music novices). That said, I think some parts can be tightened, especially the beginning of the talk. On the other hand, I'll take "a little slow" any day if it means work/reflection time that leads to someone learning something and changing their practice for the better.

I would like to hear about or develop rubrics to assess habits of mind

I run my version of standards-based-grading where topics are broken up into skills and concepts. Kids can take each quiz as many times as they need until they show proficiency. I mostly use projects and classwork to assess retention and connections. Along these same lines, I give my students assessments of certain habits of mind (no way to hit on all 10 in one year). Here are some examples.
Assessing Collaborate and Listen: Sam Shah writes about the Participation Quiz
Assessing Pattern Sniffing: Here's one version of habits of mind quizzes my sixth graders took last year.
Assessing Tinker and Invent

Wanted to see how he views implementing the common core. Not sure the premise of conference is accurate.
Hmm...I guess I really failed with at least one person on this part. My views on implementing the common core standards is that they should be implemented. More importantly, I believe that the standards of mathematical practice should be implemented. Really implemented.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

4th Grade Student Standards vs. 4th Year Teacher Standards

One would think (and hope) there's been a bit of thought put into creating a framework for expectations of students at different grade levels (the Common Core Standards being the most recent incarnation). We don't just say "Here's all the stuff kids should learn. Make sure they are done by the time they finish high school."

Does this same differentiated framework happen with teacher development? In my experience, the answer is definitively no. I've never been given a choice during school/district run PD based on my experience/expertise. I rarely see PD that focuses on a teacher at a particular place in their career (some conferences have sessions specifically geared towards new teachers, but the idea of a session specifically geared towards a fourth year teacher just seems funny).

...which begs the question: Why is it normal to talk about something being fourth grade content, but ludicrous to talk about something being fourth year teaching content?

Thursday, November 24, 2011