Monday, March 29, 2010

Course 5 Project Plan

The final course for the Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy requires participants to apply what they have learned throughout the course by creating a plan for the embedded use of technology to foster student learning.

Throughout the year, grade 6 teachers have worked with students to practice their math communication skills. Reflections are done frequently which require clear, thorough descriptions of math ideas using accurate math vocabulary. Grading is assisted by use of a rubric. While teacher feedback is important, seeing exemplars of other student's work can also be of tremendous benefit. Traditionally this would involve putting examples onto a notice board (or into a smartboard document or under a document camera), and each of these approaches has a time cost factor.

This ongoing reflection process has generally seen an improvement in the quality of the work. However, with the exception of the pieces chosen to be exemplars,these reflective pieces only get teacher-to-student feedback, and this is carried out in a traditional, non-public manner.

In addition, group work on problem solving usually has a component where students are able to explain their thinking to the class, and then compare and contrast their methods with those of other students. This is an enjoyable, stimulating process that I firmly believe pushes kids to start to understand the mathematics more deeply. However, this stimulation and enjoyment bears a cost; it can become very time consuming. It was with this in mind that was hoping to find some viable, tech-driven alternatives.

My grade 6 students have just completed a unit on fractions as part of the Connected Math Program. Emphasis in this course is put on to students explaining their thinking. In line with this philosophy, I will be getting my students to solve a fraction problem and post their explanation on to their blog, along with a digital photo of the model they constructed as part of the support for their answer.

I am doing this for several reasons:

1. that the public nature of the forum will encourage students to make a quality effort with regard to the clarity of their explanations (so its not just Mr S. they are trying to impress, but the world).
2. having the opportunity to view many other examples from their peers will assist in cementing connections we make during class time with regard to different approaches;
3. that the comparing and contrasting between their method and an alternative method will promote deeper understanding.

Keep an eye on this space for the reflection to this activity, where students will post their answers, models and explanations on their own blog spaces.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


How can 300 students, miles from their home, face a multitudinous hoard of mathematical concepts, relentlessly keen to flay children into an uncomprehending puddle?

Easy. Use Math 300.

This program is from Australia, and about 18 months ago I joined ISB colleagues and attended a workshop in Beijing that introduced us to the philosophy of Math 300, a wide variety of activities, as well as the software that can be used as a lesson resource.

In short, the philosophy of Math 300 revolves around open-ended mathematical investigations, that have multiple entry and exit points, as well as plenty of scope for differentiation.

If you are subscribed member, you can log into their site, and then search for lessons that fit your particular topic, i.e fraction estimation. A list of lessons will then come up, and you can click on the "overview" and "lesson" links to provide information on how to use the lesson. Details for using the software is also provided.

As ISB has a subscription, all of the laptops I use in grade 6 have the software installed. I start the lesson by getting the kids interested in what we are doing, by providing a scenario or real-world hook to get them into the problem. Then the kids gather round the smartboard, and I go through a few fun examples so that everyone understands the goal of the lesson. Then students get to it, using one-laptop per kid (one between two can also suffice).

The advantages of using this program are many-fold; it is interactive; the games/quizzes/challenges are usually instantly self-grading, so kids can keep track of their progress (the nintendo effect); parameters can be easily adjusted to make activities more/less challenging.

I have used Math 300 on many occasions, and find that it certainly has some excellent lessons. The next step for me is to see where it can be best used as a support and/or enrichment for our current program, the Connected Math Project.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exploring Explore Learning

A great web site that I have used this year is explorelearning.

This site has many excellent lesson resources for both math and science. It requires a paid subscription to be used freely, however it allows users to get a 5 minute free pass to interact with some of their "gizmos", the applications that illustrate a wide variety of math and science concepts.

In the last week I have used this website for both math and science. Students have reinforced their understanding of multiplying fractions by using the gizmo. Making a work sheet to go with the gizmo helps to add structure to the lesson. Students get their laptops, log in, then gather around the front of the room where I take them through the activity on my smartboard. After ensuring that they are clear on the goals, procedure, and flow of the lesson, they head back to their computer, search for the desired lesson and then begin to work at their own pace. Worksheets are provided for each lesson; however I sometimes make additional worksheet questions that may be suitable for differentiation (in particular for ESL learners).

Students have reinforced their understanding of distance-time graphs by using the explore learning gizmo for this activity. Kids were able to manipulate a number of variables (distance, time, number of runners) while constructing a distance-time graph, and then observe the impact of this of on an animated figure as it runs under the graph they have just created. The activity itself is very engaging; it is also possible to stimulate discussion/challenges by having kids write a set of instructions that other students have to translate to a graph, and ultimately the cartoon figure.

A further plus for this site is that under each gizmo, the page has a short test that quizzes students on the main ideas that should be taken from the lesson. Once completed, the students can check their answers for immediate feedback.

The positive reviews students give to me with regard to explore learning means I will continue to use (and adapt) this piece of technology to further student learning.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

B(l)ogger Lite

Another wonderful tool I have been able to use recently was the Vernier Motion Sensor.

Our 6th grade science course has a Motion and Forces Unit, and this motion detector and its software has been a great teaching resource. Students connect the sensor device to a laptop and then aim it at their partner. The partner then physically models states of motion such as: forward, back, back 'n forth and motionless. The sensor picks up this information (using echolocation, similar to a bat) and records and displays this on a laptop screen using logger lite software.

In real-time the screen displays a distance-time graph, and the kids are able to make connections between how they have just moved, and the shape of the resulting graph. Experimentation can occur, with creative movement giving interesting looking results. The reversal of this idea can be used as a teaching point, with students given a graph, and then they have to move a certain way in order to mimic the graph. To be successful with this means that kids have to really understand the nature of a distance-time graph.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Random Ramdomizing

One technology tool I have found to be very useful this year has been a random list generator. I initially began to use this to provide a new seating plan once a month in order to expose students to the dynamics of a different group environment.

In the old 1.0 days I would have pulled names from a hat, now I can do it digitally in a matter of seconds. As the program is "making" the decision, it seems to completely remove any disgruntled feelings students may have after being assigned to a table with people they would not normally choose to sit with.

In fact, the program was so easy and quick to use, and the students so accepting of the outcome, that I started to "randomize" every two weeks. An alert would pop up on my calender every second Monday morning, and the kids would be duly randomized. Word docs on my desktop for each class list allow a rapid cut and paste into the program; the students watch with baited breath while I hit enter, and then move into their new numbered seats without fuss.

The frequent mixing of the students has also had other positive spin-offs: the new math program Connected Math certainly lends itself to discussion, debate and collaboration, and this is aided by students doing group work with a continually changing group of peers. An assessment utilized by connected math is the "Partner Quiz". This is where a group/table of students work together to do a test, and are allowed resources such as notes, reflections, and each other. Having the chance to work with peers to complete a quiz is a novel concept for most students (and for me!). It certainly demands skills like listening, speaking, and decision making. When students start to realize that they will only randomly and occasionally be with their "best friend" and have to get along with others in order to achieve a goal, it opens up a powerful new experience. Students have little option but to learn to deal with different ideas, strategies, and personalities.

The randomize system also allows me to integrate this very real-world situation into the probability unit we study as a class. For example, it brings tremendous interest to questions like "what is the probability of sitting with your best friend if we have 6 tables?", "what is the probability of sitting at the same table with a friend twice in a row?", "what is the probability of sitting in exactly the same seat twice in a row?"

All this has sprung from the seemingly innocuous use of an easily available piece of technology.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Project Reflection

The project I am designing will be in collaboration with my teaching colleague Martin Herrmann. Out "big picture" goal is to have the students communicate scientific ideas and processes clearly and concisely to a different group of students outside of the class where the science work is taking place.

The method of communication will be to use blogs to post ideas and findings, and then have other the other student group comment on these. We want students to experience first hand how important it is to be able to explain ideas and concepts clearly so that others can understand and then repeat(the scientific method).

Our students will realize immediately when they have not been clear; the reviewing students when seeking clarification will draw attention to any omissions or lack of detail.

In the same vein, our students will also have the chance to use deep thinking to examine and comment on a different groups science investigations, and critique the work of others.

A project sketch with further details can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Managing Classroom Peripherals

My latest obsession is my document camera. Last year I observed teachers using this tool and immediately saw what a powerful idea this was. It has taken this whole semester however, to start to integrate this technology into my lessons in an efficient manner.

My first few attempts were clumsy and unsure; I had trouble with all manner of details, and the kids probably saw the camera as an expensive paperweight. Now it has become an extension of my body, just like a smartboard. Perhaps more than myself taking the credit for this turn-around, I need to look at the nature of the new math curriculum I am teaching. As with all new initiatives, it as taken a while to figure out exactly how to implement this math via a different philosophy. Gone is the old days of teacher centered math with a lot of "drill and kill".

Connected Math is all about making connections, looking for patterns, explaining your thinking, and looking for multiple problem-solving strategies. In other words, it allows me to "wind up" students in the search of "prove to me/them/us that you are correct!". It gives opportunity for the kids to really talk with each other and debate (often passionately) their point of view.

In order for the energy of this process to remain high, it is crucial that kids are able to display the evidence of their thinking quickly and efficiently. Enter the document camera and smartboard dream duo. The students have the choice of using either the board or the camera to convey their thoughts; they come up to the front of the room, excited and ready to go, and then present their evidence using their preferred tool.

I take a back seat and watch the fireworks. To see kids arguing a point and using their own proofs to illustrate a point is enjoyable and informative. Students are going beyond just the math, and using many other skills like planning and public speaking. The key point for me is having the technology that is able to serve that immediate need: the need for the presenter to be able to show their work quickly and not slow down or disrupt the flow of the lesson.

The start of the year saw the kids very hesitant to approach and get behind the desk and teach the class; now, thanks to the use of relevant and effective technology, students are busting out of the seats to get up and confidently show everyone the nature of their thinking.