Thursday, June 30, 2011

Initial Impressions of "My" iPad2

     On Tuesday I received "my" iPad 2 from our principal.  I put that in quotes because the iPad, like the MacBook Pro I am using right now, is not mine.  The school district owns it and I am being given it to use in my classroom.  Of course this means that there are some responsibilities and expectations that I incur by having this in my possession.  One is that I will use it as it is intended - a tool to improve or upgrade my teaching skills and a way to involve my students, collaboratively, with other students in their class, the school, or the world.

     In anticipation of receiving this tool I had been reading and listening to those people I feel are either experts on using iPads in the classroom or are people who are collectors of information and have lots of good data on iPad use.

     The first place I went to was the Mobile Tech Learning site.  This site, as the name implies, has links to articles on all things "mobile."  Actually, to be fair, I went to that site first but the first place I intended to go to was Mr. Reliable - Cybraryman.   Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman)  is a collector and if you need something related to the teaching profession then he's the man to go see.  Finally, I joined the iPads in Education Ning Group.  The great thing here is that these are teachers who are using the iPad and are willing to answer questions and share information.

     On the surface this looks like I only went to three places to get information.  What I really was able to do is access dozens of sites filled with anywhere from great to worthless information.  But by containing all of these in three areas I was able to glean the cream of the crop, so to speak.

     After turning on the iPad and getting oriented to all of the basics (thanks to the iPad 2 manual in PDF form that is available all over the place), I knew that I wanted to have folders for my apps.  I created folders for My Class Stuff,  Social Media, Music, Movies/Videos, Photography, and Books.  I'll concentrate on the folder with My Class Stuff but it really is nice having all of the other apps I have collected in nice tidy boxes.

     Here are the apps I have in My Class Stuff: (1) Clock Pro, (2) Pick Me!, (3) ShowMe, (4) Prezi Viewer, (5) AudioNote, (6) Evernote, (7) ReplayNote, (8) Dropbox,  (9) Splashtop, (10) Google Earth, (11) Quick Graph, (12) Mathemagics, and 4 of the Khan Academy apps - (13) PreAlgebra, (14) Algebra 1, (15) Geometry, and (16) Algebra 2.

     Clock Pro gives me various timers to use with students as they are working.  If you can break the class period into set times for work then the students can, usually, be more productive.

     With Pick Me!, you can put your roster into the app and then students are randomly selected.  There is an opportunity to give each student a thumbs-up or down to show how they did with their answer for later.  This is great for getting a feel for levels of understanding and for making sure that all students are paying attention.

     ShowMe will allow me to use the iPad as a tablet where I (or students) can work on problems, draw diagrams, or myriad other possibilities.  The beauty, as I see it, is that this is recorded and can be shared with students.  I could even work problems at home and share them with the class at night.  And, in conjunction with Splashtop, can be shown on our  Smartboard as it is being done in the classrom.

     The next three apps AudioNote, Evernote, and ReplayNote are ways to take notes and make them available to the students.    They are each different and have plusses and minuses.  I may end up using just one or maybe two but I will end up getting rid of at least one.  And, Dropbox is an app that could be used similarly.  Lots of evaluation this summer will help me decide.  If you have a preference please tell me in the comments section.

     And so, in less than 48 hours, I have a starting place.  What I'm hoping to do over the next few weeks is to hear from people and to read more so that I can update and improve this folder.  Then, as the month of August rolls around I will be able to decide exactly which apps I will be using on a daily basis.  Please let me know any apps you love to use in the classroom.   And let's start being productive.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time to Rage Quit

     I was sitting here listening to my son discuss how he plays Call of Duty Black Ops with a number of my students.  They are scattered around the area and he isn't old enough to drive so this gives him access to these guys who are, definitely boys but, leaders in our school.

One of the terms they use frequently (besides noob- tuber and camper) is "rage quit."  It just means to quit the game before the time has expired and usually is stated in a derogatory manor towards someone quitting when they are getting killed.  But it can also just be a way for a player to let the others know they have to go while they are all in the middle of a match.

     Well, this morning I decided I was going to rage quit social media.  In some ways I'm leaving in the standard way - I feel like I'm losing and just want a break.  In another light,though, I do intend on returning after I take my break. (7 to 10 days ought to do the trick).

     So why am I losing the game here?  Well, I teach at a school that many see as the cutting edge in Project Based Learning.  Yet, if I send the teachers links to interesting things I find in the education world I'm just seen as a spammer.  Ironically, the last thing I did (related to social media) was to watch a presentation from ISTE11 that was live-streamed on Eluminate.  The topic, by one of the most passionate people I know in social media, was on being a passionate educator and building passionate classrooms.

     I am passionate about my profession.  And, I am passionate about learning new things and improving my teaching skills.  I also know that there are teachers who are better "teachers" in the classroom than me.  But, how can they ever improve their skills if they are stuck in the past with resources that are not current.  Don't get me wrong many schools would kill for our technology.  But there are an increasing number (100's?)  of schools across the country who are trying more innovative techniques with less technology.

     And so, I plan on going for one whole week without Twitter, without Facebook, without links to ISTE11 that is going on this week.  Ironically I do intend to keep working and so I'll still be using different forms of social media: bookmarking (Delicious, Diigo, LiveBinders), photos( Flickr CC ),  Google Docs,  and others I can't even think of right now.  You see we can't really escape social media.  Not if we plan on living in this connected world we live in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Some Personal Reading For The Summer

   I was fortunate, many years ago, of obtaining a collection of books that were my Grandfather's.  Many are old "classics" and some are just cheapo abridged editions of some classics and some non-classics.   Tonight I walked over to the book case and grabbed 4 that I decided that I would read.  I knew nothing more than the title or the author and I inspected them closely before taking them up to my bedside table.

   The first title was "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."  Always a fun summer read.  When I opened the cover I realized that it was a bit more brittle than I had hoped and I looked at the date and realized it was from 1896 with a smiling S.L Clemens inside the first page.  In the back cover I found a poem from 1896 that was written for Winsted Connecticut's 125th anniversary.  It's from the paper and on the back they are discussing a Tariff from 1894.  My natural assumption was that my grandfather bought the book new (it even has his signature in it) but, since he was born in 1892, he would have been 4.  Sounds like a mystery to solve.

     The second title "Oil for the Lamps of China" is by Alice Tisdale Hobart (1933).   I have always liked the title.  The inside cover artwork is really nice.  Inside was a Christmas tag to my Grandfather from my Great Aunt Grace.  So, was this a Christmas gift from my Aunt Grace?  I always loved spending time with my Aunt Grace and Aunt May.   The tag was at the beginning of chapter 16 and it makes me wonder if my Grandfather ever finished the book or did he get through the first 15 chapters and then stopped, never to finish.  I'll have to finish it for the both of them. Another mystery.

     The third title "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder (1928) has a date stamp next to my grandfather's name saying 1928 so I assume he got this book new.  Almost all of his books have either his (very) neatly written signature or a stamp of his signature and a date.  He was in banking and I assume he used the signature stamp that he used every day for work.  Wilder.  I had always thought that smart people read authors like Wilder.   That's why I picked the book.  We'll see.  This signature thing isn't really a mystery but it is something worth exploring.

     For the last title I decided on some Hemingway.  I was a big Hemingway fan in high school.  For those who knew me you may be surprised.   But I loved his descriptions of places that were foreign to me.   So, this book?  "Green Hills of Africa."(1935)    I hadn't read it and it has a grass green (no dust jacket) cover.   I'm pretty sure I started reading Hemingway because of my grandfather's many titles by him.  He, (and my Aunt Grace and Aunt May) always had tons of books around the house and I think I developed my love of reading by spending time thumbing through these wonderful books.

     And so what started as walking over to a book case to "see what I might want to read," has become a blog post, a trip down memory lane, and a mini sleuthing adventure.  And, it's only been about 90 minutes since I walked over to the book case.   This process has made me want to explore our ancestry because of all of the questions that have risen in my brain.  Maybe some of my relatives can write in the comments about their remembrances of Raymond Larkin of Winsted Connecticut July 19th 1892 -  August 1, 1971.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WIFI, Should It Be Expected?

      As I sit here waiting for the Texas High School Project (THSP) School Leadership Institute to begin I am saddened to realize that I am limited to my laptop being an expensive word processor.  For you young folk, a word processor would eelectronikly take what you typed...typed?  Well, that term comes from the times we used type writers to…what’s a type writer?  Oh heck, let me just continue with my post…

    So, I have no wifi here in the main ballroom.  There IS wifi for the presenters I’ve been told.  So, is this a problem with bandwidth?  Or, is this a problem with revenue.  You see the hotel has a package they sell for this conference and, I’m betting dollars to donuts, one tier allowed for wifi access to some people and another (more expensive) tier allowed for all attendees to have access.    

     What really got me was that I was working on my laptop (online) just a few minutes before.  I was only about 100 feet from the entrance to the ballroom.  But, as soon as I walked in I no longer could see the wifi I had been using.  What was funny was that I asked the front desk if I could get access to the hotel wifi even though I hadn’t checked into my room yet and they quickly told me the password (cowboys – “we are in Dallas,” my hostess stated). 

    So, they weren’t afraid to give guests free access.  But, when I crossed that invisible line of demarcation separating the Conference Center from the hotel, I wasn’t good enough to have access.  Something tells me that bandwidth is NOT the culprit.  It all comes down to revenue.  Let’s see how much money they would be losing if they had kept me happy and allowed me access.

 [We fast forward a little over 24 hours....]
     Last night I tried to finish this but I couldn't upload the text to the blog.  Without internet access I had written what you read above in Office and I saved it in multiple formats but no luck.  Oh, I was online and I was accessing everything I wanted but I could not get this stinking thing to save in Blogger.  So, I gave up and went up to my room only to find that I couldn't access the wifi in my room.  What really made me furious was I had access in my room but decided to work down at the bar area just an hour or so before.  Crazy!

     And so this morning I tried to access in my room and had no luck.  I went down to the front desk and, as expected I was told to contact the service provider.  They did remove the wifi fee from my tab though.  Oh, yeah, didn't mention that little tidbit.  While in the bar area wifi was free but in my room I had to pay.  That is wrong on so many levels.  Then I headed to my first session (having left my word processor in  my room) and the presenter was disappointed that more people didn't have their laptops with them.  When I mentioned that there wasn't access in the rooms she stated that "there is in this room."  Maddening!

     Now I could go into all of the craziness trying to get access this evening in the dining room (10 feet from the bar) but I won't bore you.  Suffice it to say I am now on and I am going to, hopefully, finish this post and publish it before the wifi gods start messing with me again.
    So let's get back to my question at the top: should wifi be expected when you are attending a conference in a hotel/conference center?  Some of us still don't have smart phones and many of us do not have a 3G or 4G connection to our laptops.  So, some of us would like to be able to access the internet during conferences.  For example when I learned the great stuff about the new procedures for standardized testing yesterday, it would have been nice to pop up a quick tweet with a link to the resource mentioned.  It would also have been nice to go to each of the resources and book mark them for later perusal.  I could go on and on about why I should be able to access the internet. 

    But should I expect to gain access to wifi?  Yes, in 2011 I should be able to access wifi in a conference center.  I can access wifi in McDonalds in the middle of nowhere.  I can access wifi in restaurants and coffee shops all over the country in the middle of nowhere.  So, in Richardson Texas (just outside of Dallas) I should expect to be able to get access and the bandwidth I get should be strong.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How Do You Do PBL in a High School Math Class? (Part 2 of 2)

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Michael Foley Photography
(This is the second part of a post I first wrote on March 29th)
     When I last put finger to keyboard, I wrote that we had rearranged the Algebra 1 curriculum so that it fell in with our plan for teaching during the year.  So what was our plan?  Well, we wanted to have a Function-Based Approach to our lessons.  That meant that we wanted  our students to understand the concept of functions in mathematics: there are acceptable inputs and outputs based upon criteria defined by the mathematical function that controls the relationship between the inputs and outputs.

     (Let's assume you are a mathy person because that last sentence was a mouthful.)

     So, our first project concentrated on the concept of what a function is: for each input there is a unique output.  The students produced videos to show 3 scenarios.  Two had to be a function and one a non-function (or the opposite case).   There were scenarios ranging from drive through windows, to opening locked doors, to a boy being slapped for saying inappropriate things to a girl.  In addition to teaching the concept of a function these 9th graders learned how to create videos and the basics of video editing.

    Our next project explored the concepts of domain and range.  To do this we asked our students to create art using the dozen, or so, parent functions that students will be introduced to in their high school career.  Here is the video we used to kick off the project.  This video was created by my amazing co-teacher, Tara Craig.  To create the art we utilized MathGV.com.  The students chose the functions, "cut" them by restricting the domain, and then put these together to create artwork.  

     Since it was late September for this, many students created jack-o-lanterns as their piece of art.  In addition to linear functions the Algebra 1 students had explored trigonometric, logarithmic, and cubic functions.  Most Algebra 1 students are never exposed to more than quadratic functions and our hope was that they would have less angst when they saw these functions in their Algebra 2 year.

    And so, it was the first of October.  Our students were conversant in function-eze and creating videos. They were ready for (what most teachers start with) the manipulating of linear equations.  When it came to graphing linear equations we could talk about their characteristics and the idea of slope seemed to make more sense to the students.  

     By front loading the functions in their own projects we could now create projects that were based upon linear relationships and, later, quadratic relationships.  Discussions about these relationships could be held at a much deeper, functional, level.  That doesn't mean we had 100% success with all students.  There were still stumbling blocks created by poor arithmetic skills and skill building needed to be added to our daily plans for scaffolding within the projects.

    Whether you are teaching in a PBL environment or a standard classroom environment you must plan on dealing with skill building.  A common misconception is that PBL will just take care of all of the holes in a student's abilities.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  However, in a PBL classroom, there is more time devoted to listening to your students as they discuss concepts and a recognition of deficiencies is quickly realized.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why Should You Have a Blog?

     Tuesday night on Edchat we discussed how blogs effect education in the 21st century.  We started by discussing students but ended up talking about teachers and administrators having blogs.  The bottom line was that most of us agreed that students should blog and teachers/administrators should lead by example.

     So if you don't have a blog, then why should you think about having one?  Here are some ideas to get you thinking.

     As a teacher you need to decide if the blog will be for yourself, for your classroom, or for your school.  Or, it could be a composite blog dealing with all of those topics and even clubs or organizations you are involved with or sponsor.  Here are a few lists of educator blogs you might want to look at to see what works for you. (here and here)

     There were a few people who, rightfully, stated that they worry about getting in trouble for their comments.   I know I always read, and re-read, and re-read again, my posts before I hit "publish post."  That's because I not only want to make sure I don't have any spelling errors or grammatical errors, but I want to make sure that if I am making any comments that might upset someone.  This is especially important when you teach in a small town like I do.  Everybody knows everybody in town.  Heck, teachers don't even buy alcohol within the town limits (if they are smart) so that no one can question their  character.

    So, unless you want to be controversial, feel free to write down your thoughts, ideas, and hopes.  Most people will just read the words and move on.  Some, if you are lucky, will leave a comment (make sure you set up to have comments done in a fairly easy way - you WANT comments).  Remember that if you do get a comment then write a comment back to that person or maybe to a group of people who have left comments.  And, if you do feel like having a controversial blog then maybe teaching isn't for you.  Try another line of work where you can go wild with your posts.

     You've decided to start a blog.  You've decided what angle you want to use for your "theme."  And, you are ready for your first post.  Don't beat yourself up about how long it is.  Don't beat yourself up about needing to "blog often."  Just be natural and when the urge happens sit down and write.  The rest of this will come with time.  I've been at it for 2 years but this is the first year where I've written more than once a month.  Very few people have ever read my posts and that's ok.  This is just a place where I can put down my thoughts - my thoughts - that are mine.

     Leave me a link to your blog in the comments section and I'll come over and visit.  Happy posting.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Summer Reading Program You Won't Regret

   When I started following ISTE 11 in my tweetdeck I instantly started seeing great tweets.  One of the first tweets I came across a retweet from Lucian Duma and it said that there was a google doc of essential blog posts for educators.  I looked through the list and decided that this was a great place to start for doing my own, personal, professional development.
     So, check out the link, book mark it, and then start reading.  I'm thinking of starting by reading 5 to 10 each day.  Enjoy...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Planning For Summer 2011 (More Work Than Play)

   While many teachers start planning their summer vacation trips and experiences when the school year ends, I like to plan on what I will be adding to my sea bag (to use a navy phrase).

     There are many things I would like to accomplish, many things I want to learn, and many things I want to share with others.  Some of these I've written about in previous posts and some I have never mentioned in public.  This post is where I want to put these all down so I can map out my summer and early fall.  So, let's get started...

     The first thing I need to do is finish some business I started in previous posts.   Let's start with my post from March 29th on PBL in a math classroom.   That post said it was the first of two posts on the subject.  Well, it's been over 2 months - it's time to get hot!

      Next up I talked about how I needed to improve my teaching at our school (here, and here, and here), mainly in the area of classroom management.  This will take several weeks of planning so I am ready for the new school year and I may need to pick the brain of some of the awesome teachers at our school.  If I just take the time to re-read those three posts I'll have a good road map for what needs to be done.

     The third item I have written about here and on twitter, is the creation of Edcamp Manor.  It will be October 22nd at our school.  I have created a wikispaces, have contacted the tech folks at our school district to make sure we can handle it, and I have started working on getting a core group of three or four people from the Austin area to be in my planning group.

     The next thing I want to get a handle on is the professional development I'll be involved with.  First I'll be heading up to the Dallas area for the Texas High School Project Leadership Conference (14-16 June).  Then I go to Grand Rapids for the New Technology Network All Schools Conference (19 - 21 July), followed by training with Region XIII on the End of Course exams for Physics (27 - 28 July).  Who knows what else will get added to this so I need to have all of the other requirements in place so I can have a flexible response to new items.
     The last things to figure out is what I'll be teaching next school year,  a turn-over of parents for the school's Parent Involvement Committee (PIC), and final preparations for a Freshmen Orientation Program (FOP) that will happen on Friday of the first week of school.  The PIC will fall into place.  We've already met with students who will be running the FOP.  And, that leaves the always huge question of what subjects I'll be teaching when school starts up.

    That covers just about everything except vacation.  Like every year I'll end up doing some local things on the weekends.  I'll also be flying into Chicago prior to Grand Rapids which allows a day before and two days after the conference to relax and see Lake Michigan.  Now I need a big calendar to put everything on it and get to work.  Work days will be Monday through Thursday until (about) noon.  That gives me a three day weekend every week.  Planning (step 1) complete.