Sunday, August 9, 2015

Kicking off the School Year with New Digital Learning Tools

Image result for nccatAs educators, we're told to try one new thing in our classrooms every year; however, after attending the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching's Teaching Generation Z session this summer the question is, "Which amazing resource to use?" 
With the big day approaching, here is a list of some of the incredible resources presented at this NCCAT session that can be immediately implemented in your classroom:

Kahoot-An easy to use online game program allowing you to input your own questions and answer choices. Students can connect to the game using a code from their own device and points are tiered by answer times. This really brings out kids' competitive nature and is great for test prep/review...Goodbye Jeopardy! Be careful, don't overload the game with too many questions.

DoInk Green Screen-A green screen iPad app. All you need is a colored background (it doesn't have to be green either) and a device with this app. You and/or your students will be able to make fun videos in front of any scene. One third grade teacher had her students' make book reports using the app, another had their media students create the daily announcements 'TV Show' using the screen--making the lunch menu especially fun to watch. The cost of this app is $2.99, there are other Green Screen apps out there for free.

Aurasma-This might be the single most "mind-blowing" tool I learned during the week. The app allows you to overlay text, picture, or video over a trigger image. Once students scan the trigger image with the app the 'secret message' is revealed! It is incredibly easy to use: Using the app, capture the overlay message, then snap a picture of the trigger image, and finalize--BAM! Done. Imagine students scanning a math problem and seeing a teacher-made video of how to work out this problem, or even problem hints for more challenging tasks. This definitely requires a BYOD classroom.

Aris-An online program and app allowing users to create quests and missions using their local geography. Teachers can make one big game using their school's layout. Mission objectives/goals are unlocked based on GPS location services and/or QR code scans. At NCCAT we used it to explore the campus instead of your typical first-day grounds tour. This program is more involved than others, so explore and troubleshoot first, before implementing. 

GooseChase-Instagram meets Scavenger hunts! Forget the hastagging of photos, use GooseChase to assign students various photo missions, it keeps track of the point values, and gives you access to all the images. From there you can push out the best one on social media. 

Layar-This is just a neat app allowing you to see social media posts, restaurant Yelp reviews, etc. based on GPS location services. Other than spying on kids social media use during school hours, I don't know how this could be used in the classroom--but it sure is cool.

SAMR Model-This is not so much an app, but a lesson planning tool for technological integration in your classroom: Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition. This is a really nice launching point for teachers new to digital learning and a comprehensive check-list for those wanting to delve deeper in their technology use. Focus first on technology as a substitute for paper/pencil assignment, then gradually grow into the other stages of technology use. 

MinecraftEdu-It seems MinecraftEdu is all the rage in education, and for good reason. This gives students an opportunity to collaborate and create in a platform they are used to. One teacher created the front lines of WWII for students to virtually explore trench life. Connect with Chris Goodson and Lucas Gillipse for a wealth of information and first-hand experience with MinecraftEdu. User licenses costs $18/ea ($14/ea with 25 or more) and server software costs $41.

Image result for canvas lmsPBS Mission US-For my history colleagues, this program provides virtual U.S. history experiences for students, aligning with ELA and Social Studies standards, the four missions available feature: a boy's 1770 life on the brink of revolution, a African-American slave girl's 1848 quest for freedom, a native-American girl's 1866 fight for survival on the Plains, and a Jewish immigrant girl's trials in a new life in America. This program targets middle school social studies and language arts objectives.

CanvasLMS-This learning management system allows teachers to create, align, and grade assignments. Teachers can upload fill-able rubrics to assignments, control release of grades, and provide direct feedback to students and their parents. A platform that truly gives students perspective into digital learning and the ideal exposure to what a hybrid college course is like. Any 1-to-1 teachers who want to go paperless, Canvas is the way to go. Many districts are adopting this LMS and syncing student information with it (WCPSS being one of them). 

While these are only a few of the resources presented at the NCCAT summer session (after all there needs to be some hint of mystery), identifying one or two that could make your life easier this year in the classroom is what technology integration is all about--otherwise, why do it?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The power of the Post-It: Student-Centered Review

Most teachers hate those last few days of review before the final's the cram session no one looks forward to. I mean how far can Jeopardy and Trashket Ball take you, and does that engage the whole class?

This semester I tired to combat this overwhelming task with the almighty Post-It as a way for students to self-identify struggling topics and differentiate their own review--without me doing the bulk of the data collection. After students' reviewed their complete practice final and final exam review problem packet they were asked to identify two topics (on two colors of Post-It notes): one topic they did the worst on and the other they felt they needed to more review.

Then they had to identify the over-arching concept (or unit) that best fit their topic and stick it in the appropriate category (i.e. solving logarithmic equations would be a topic under the concept "Modeling with Inverse Functions." This allowed me to quickly identify the main concept students (as a class) struggled with (or where they think they struggled) and where I needed to spend my front-of-the-room time reviewing (saving valuable classroom time). When we broke out from full-class discussion, students grouped themselves based on similar concepts, and self-regulated their review time with problems from their review packet.

Not only did the Post-Its aid in identifying weaknesses, it gave an effective visual representation of where the class stood as a whole. This helped students who are self-conscious about their struggles by giving them a big-picture perspective and connecting them with similar-ability students (all without my intervention). The most important aspect of this activity was giving students a physical task to center their review around, holding them accountable in identifying their needs (which is a fantastic meta-cognitive learning strategy), and engaging them as an individual student contributing to a group.  

To extend this further, I would create problem packs (color coded with the Post-Its, perhaps even on bigger notes) for students to select based on their Post-It placement rather than sticking with the problem packet they had already worked through. This activity is cheap, easy, and adaptable to any subject and all grade levels, and gets the kids out of their seats.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Beginning Teacher Network of Wake County: Empowering BTs to propel change

Myself thanking a panel of N.C. public education champions at a BTN session this fall.

"EducationNC (EdNC) seeks to expand the educational opportunities for all children in North Carolina, increase their academic attainment, and improve the performance of the state’s public schools. EdNC provides the state with data, research, news, information, and analysis about the major trends, issues, and challenges facing public schools. We hope to be your trusted source of information, and we hope to build the architecture for your participation in a statewide conversation about our public schools." - See more

This online community has published a piece I wrote on the Beginning Teacher Network of Wake County:
"...Beginning teacher programs within local education agencies (LEAs) are generally aimed at the paperwork aspect of the job: ensuring professional development plans are monitored, educator effectiveness standards are accounted for, and licensure requirements are met. Mentoring programs serve as daily vent sessions and idea sounding-boards with veteran teachers. However, these first three years need more than a pay incentive and instructional practice. We need a sense of empowerment..."  
- Read the whole story here

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A New Year of Teacher Leadership

Teach to Lead
While at a pre-conference event for our school's YMCA Youth & Government club, one of the YMCA directors explained this was the "busiest week of the year for the Y," due everyone's new year's resolution. And that seemed like the perfect launching point for a topic I've been trying to blog about for a month now--teacher leadership.

Last month I had the privilege of attending the Department of Education's 'Teach to Lead' Summit in Louisville, KY. This summit brought together amazing, like-minded educators with the intent to share and collaborate on projects centered around teacher leadership.
Teaching is one of the few, if only, professions that forces you to leave your area of expertise to be a "leader" in that field. Teachers who do a phenomenal job in the classroom must leave it to pursue a leadership role in education. (And think about it, we don't ask a brilliant surgeon to stop operating.) The summit acknowledged this aspect of education and focused on various participants' projects aimed at improving and empowering teachers to be leaders in  and out of their classrooms. 

The amazing feedback I received from colleagues
 at the Teach to Lead Summit in KY.
Programs in various stages of development from states across the eastern seaboard were analyzed, critiqued, and further developed by conference colleagues for implementation in our home districts. My goal was to share and discuss the pilot process of the Beginning Teacher Network of Wake County. While discussing the pitfalls and possible challenges of my program with administrators and other educators was a huge support in the program's current implementation, the feedback I received was only a small part of this summit's success for me. The true leadership success was in the sharing of other ideas and programs, either in the implementation or planning phases. Some of these ideas I had only "Twitter dreamed" about as being possible. They showed me the endless possibilities of initiatives to improve teaching practices, methods, school networking, you name it!

So to bring it back to my new year's resolution thought process... We, as educators, are designed to share, network, collaborate. These are the first steps in becoming a teacher leader, and frankly the most powerful factors to propel change, and they are an easy, effective way to begin teaching in 2015. Set the tone for your classroom resolution, and teach to lead by being a teacher leader.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Standards-Based Paper Slide Videos

At the close of each semester, teachers find new and innovative ways to review course concepts for the "big test." In the past I have talked about my students' paper slide videos as a way to review; however, this semester I took a different spin on the idea.

Over the summer I was asked the question, "Who are the standards written for?" And that stuck with me. Though I, the teacher, need to know the standards as a basis for my instruction, the standards are written for (you guessed it) the students! So I incorporated all the Common Core State Standards that would show up on students' state final exam, as outlined by NC DPI, in these paper slide projects. 

I asked students to interpret them (with a little decoding on my part), create a video outlining and explaining the standards as they have appeared in our course, and then craft a multiple choice assessment for their targeted audience (their peers). Since my classroom was already "flipped," I was able to upload the videos to Blendspace for students to watch the other units' videos prior to the given review days. The multiple choice questions served as a good bank for me to select for Google Form checkpoint questions. See Below 

This project allowed students to actually see the standards they are assessed on, create a meaningful product around these standards (that they will share), and then think about ways they can be assessed. Since these videos needed to be high quality and rich in review content, I followed A.J. Juliani's "20% time" theory, where 20% of students' time in class is focused on a personal learning project. Students chose their own groups and units, and were given 15 minutes at the end of each day for a week to work on the project, with a full day before break to wrap it up (a great use of that "throw-away day").

Here are the rubrics for all the units/standards (Math III class).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Modeling Mathematics in FOM3

Many educators can attest to the challenges the Common Core State Standards have posed to the way they teach. This rings especially true for those having to create all new courses. When starting from a list of standards and building a coherent curriculum, many things tend to fall at the waist-side (that really shouldn't!). An important aspect of the Mathematical Practices and Standards in the Common Core is to "model with mathematics."

This seemingly small phrase in a long list of standards may seem unimportant, but it is what sets the Core from all its preceding curricula. Modeling goes beyond the application problems at the end of textbook chapter. It is adding context to concepts, and giving relevance to what students learn. This is by far one of the most difficult aspects of implementing the new curriculum, but a necessary one.

In my Foundations of Math III (FOM3), I have two objectives for this course: model mathematics and establish a strong foundation of concepts for success in the Math III course. In order to accomplish both of these goals, my unit modeling projects are designed to provide relevance to what students have learned and apply new skills to applicable problems.

Unit 1: Modeling with Linear Programming
Business Pitch: Drug Company whose product will
increase individuals' attention span, without side -effects. 

Linear programming may be the single most applicable math you learn at the high school level. Students of all levels can benefit from learning how to minimize business costs and maximize profit while maintaining a list of constraints. This project asked students to create a business, establish a business plan with researched cost and product constraints, mathematically determine the maximum profit, and present their findings in a business proposal (which we called mini-shark tank) to earn an extra credit point on the project.

During the presentation, other students used the Business Pitch Practice Sheet to copy down other business's constraints to solve the problem them self. At the end of all the presentations I awarded the most profitable investment the extra point. This project was three class periods: two work sessions, one day of presentations.

My Thoughts: The kids enjoyed this project, and got into designing their own products to sell. I loved this, because they had to think about cost-constraints and how to effectively use them to prove their point in business--taking them through the modeling process.

Unit 2: Modeling with Polynomial Functions

Polynomial graphs are bit harder to model, but not impossible. In this unit I had three different projects: Roller Coaster, House Dimensions, and Birthday Graphs spanning over two class periods.

Birthday Graph

Students used their birthday month, date, and year to create a polynomial function. Their function had a degree of either 5 or 6. Students used the calculator to find the roots, determined the intervals of increasing/decreasing and maxs/mins and created  poster of their graph. This really helped those struggling with understanding the graphs of these functions.

My Thoughts: In the future (to be more in line with solving polynomial functions and test more foundation skills), I will have students use the calculator to identify one root, perform long (or synthetic) division on that root to simplify the function down to a quadratic, and then solve the quadratic for the remaining roots. The graph will then just be a sketch around the roots.

House Dimensions

This project asked students to find the perimeter and area of specific rooms on a floor plan whose dimensions were expressed as linear monomials and binomials. This had them practice their multiplying polynomials (which many of them need). Then they were asked to find the cost of laying carpet and/or hardwood in specific room, which had them apply the formulas they had created and use them to find a real-world cost.

My Thoughts: I would add a budget at the end of the process, so students have to determine the most cost-effective flooring in what areas to maintain a budget (adding a real-world constraint).

Roller Coaster Design

The Roller Coaster design project was for more advanced students who were ready for real-applicable uses of polynomial graphs. This project was adapted from a Pre-Calculus assignment. This assignment walked students through a series of questions analyzing roller coaster designs, and then asked them to design their own (with given constraints). Students not only had to sketch the coaster given a time constraints, but had to analyzing their own coaster using long/synthetic division on specific roots. This hit every topic we covered in this polynomial unit and took it beyond simple sketching.

My Thoughts: The kids struggled to see a direct connection on these topics, and constantly wanted to do one of the other ones (thinking they were 'easier'). I liked these, because it differentiated students based on the type of practice they needed (graphing, operations, applications). Next time around I would (once again) add a budget constraint, if for nothing else get them in the mindset of working on a budget.

Unit 3: Modeling with Exponents & Logarithms
Students research "dream" car prices to
determine loan monthly payment.

This project was a quick one-class period assignment where students had to research a car they wanted to buy as well as an interest rate on a loan, determine the amount they could pay per month (with a hypothetical part-time job, real for some of them), and determine the amount of time needed to pay off the car. The adapted worksheet (linked above), guided students through the process, and gave them practice solving logarithmic equations.

My Thoughts: The kids loved researching cars, but needed step-by-step guidance on solving the problems. Many of them confused what to do with  the interest rate. Of course, this would vary depending on the level of your class.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Blending My Classroom

Blended learning is the combination of online, student-paced instruction with face-to-face teacher-student collaboration. In math class this style of learning seems near to impossible (or at least that's what I hear). However, the need to quickly learn a set of skills and then apply them to a series of different problems is what the blended classroom was meant for. 

Much like a flipped classroom, my style of blending involves students actively watching videos at home on skills needed to solve a set of problems within a particular math concept (i.e. a video on solving rational equations shows students how to find a least common denominator). Then students come into class and we debrief on the video with student questions and a quick teacher summary of the skill. Then depending on the concept, we would go deeper into an explanation of why a certain practice works or straight into a set of problems (which we later discuss in whole group). 

Blending must be Modeled

This process did not occur over night, with the help of some meaningful feedback from a colleague (who has flipped a class), I modeled how to watch the videos from day one. For the entire first unit (2-weeks) students watched videos and took notes in class. For the second unit, students watched videos in their groups and worked together to take notes. Once getting over hearing yourself from eight different places at the same time, modeling this process is key to students successfully completing the videos on their own (which we started in third unit, and have been doing it ever since). 

Blending needs a Platform

One of the major challenges is setting up a system for your blending. Uploading videos to YouTube and then giving students the channel link is fine for the flipped classroom, but to blend there needs to be a platform for students to engage in a multitude of content (videos, dynamic worksheets, GIFs, assessments, etc.). Many sites/resources out there allow users to collect resources in one place and share with a single link. For my classroom I use the site Blendspace for two main reasons; it is easy to organize an entire unit's lessons in one place, and gives me a wide variety of resources I can incorporate. (More to come on Blendspace in a later post). 

Blending is Differentiated

An important aspect of any practice/technique is determining if it is a fit for your class (and this even varies from sections). My standard-level Math III class can take videos home and come in the next day prepared and able to fumble through some problems before I need to intervene. While the practice for my Foundations class is to provide them with a set list of activities (online and on-paper) to complete during class to make the class student-led and self-paced. These activities include videos on a concept with guided practice examples, then a brief problem session, ending with a daily quiz on what was learned. While both are different methods/implementation of this style of learning, they are both a blended approach and provide the necessary differentiation for your classes. 

Blending your classroom can provide students with enrichment or remediation opportunities, dynamic opportunities to reinforce class concepts, shared project space/resources for students, or even online assessments. This is what makes blended instruction perfect for 21st Century learning--it is tailored to your instructional practices and how your students learn best.