15 November 2010

Web Publishing Requires Some Humility...

Naked before the world...
I taught myself another lesson, today.  I've been warning the Functions students for almost a week now that they were going to have a project coming up instead of another quiz over material from chapter 3, about transforming functions.  I also told them that they were going to do most of their work online, and submit their project to me via the class facebook wall, or via email to be posted by myself.

Some students seemed interested with the prospect, but I had a couple of students who were very resistant to putting their work out there for everyone to see.
"But Mr. Baker, I don't want to everyone to see my grade."
"What if I don't do very well? Everyone will know!
My response to them was one that I adhere to myself before posting things on here or sharing things on Twitter of facebook.

If you're worried about what other people will think about the work you've done, then make sure that you submit work that you know you are proud of.  There's nothing to be ashamed of if there's nothing in your work to carry shame about.

With that in mind, I shared a recent group project from my "Learning with the Internet" class last night on the Twitter hashtag #edtech, and even had someone retweet it to pass our wiki on.  I felt pretty good.  The first bookmark is our work.  While checking the class discussion board this morning, I found out that another group had also done their project on Diigo.com!  The second bookmark is the other group's work.
So, what's the lesson, here?  Well, first of all, there was a nice lesson in humility.  :)  But moreso, I'd say that the same thing I told my students about their future project holds true for myself.  I felt confident turning in that wiki for our group work.  I knew I had created a well thought out sample lesson, was proud of the way I had initiated our group's norms for communication on the wiki, and thought we had a good amount of knowledge on the site for a curious teacher to happen upon.

At first I was just stricken with panic over how much more professional in appearance group 8's Google site was.  After the fear subsided, however, I was able to appreciate how well thought-out the page was and was able to escape envy and shame.  I congratulated the group on a job well done.

19 October 2010

Changing "Authorship" in the 21st Century

In my Learning with Internet course, we were challenged to watch this video and post a response on our discussion board.  My emphasis was on the end of the video, but is thoughtful throughout.  My response is after the vid.

 Digital, hyper, dynamic text is forcing us to re-evaluate our understanding of what is copyright worthy, what is "authorship", and plagarism.  

When anyone can be an author using WYSIWYG web-editing platforms (of which I am also writing right now), and text from anywhere else can be copy and pasted into those platforms, I think plagarism and copyrighted material get a little hairier to find.  Sure, someone who has not also established credibility on a topic is not able to pass someone else's ideas off as their own (for instance, if I were to suddenly have a swath of knowledge about raising thoroughbreds), but someone already known in the field could more easily accomplish the task.  

To quote Dash from The Incredibles, "When everyone is special, no one is."  Can we apply it to 21st century authorship?  "When everyone can be a "credible" author, then no one can?"

On another plagarism thought, I was astounded to find out last spring that I had seniors in my math class who thought they had not "plagarized" because they had not copy and pasted, but rather hand typed the text into a project.  "I wrote it myself," he said.  I think the biggest influence on authorship from video and multimedia on the web is that the mash-up or remix is viewed as a "new" project by many.  Personally, I think this is a Reader's Digest approach to creativity.

17 May 2010

"Your Rational Expressions Quiz Will Be Online Today..."

or, "Lessons in Network Management", or, "The Day I Learned NOT to Over-Embed"

These were my words today after spending 5+ hours last night and this morning perfecting my Google Form and handwriting in the rational expressions using my tablet.  With grand plans of going to our math computer lab and having the students enter their answers on my form with different quiz versions on the right-hand side of the page on ppt slides, I anxiously waited for the kids to log on.

And we waited.  And waited.  Then kids were logged in and we waited for the page to load.  And then, we were waiting...

...for this.

After 10 minutes with some kids still waiting for the embedded docs to load, I had to make the mad dash upstairs to photocopy hard copies of the slides (shame on me for not having a back-up plan, I guess :/ ).  During my prep, I thought I got the issues ironed out.  I hesitantly returned with my students to the lab with a prelude of, "It WILL take a long time, just be patient."  This class has more students, so of course, the network was jammed even worse.

My 4th hour was smaller today, so more were able to navigate the page, but I would still rule it a failure.  Thankfully, I'm on lunch now with another pseudo-prep to follow, so I can regroup and re-evaluate my strategies.  Did I embed to much on the page in the spirit of trying to ease navigation?  Is it worth trying to redesign the page?  Does someone around here WANT me to use up the A/V paper supply before the year runs up?

My 3rd hour co-teacher said today, "Man, you'd be in business if you had a school with good, new technology...  ...but then you'd probably go!"  I don't know if that's totally true - I usually like the challenge of trying to make things work here, and I know I'm needed here (and my loans get repaid after 5 years), but I can't say it isn't tempting.

Things I wonder:
If I create a separate page for each doc, would it load faster?
Am I fighting a losing battle?
Can I at least try and use this again next year?

15 March 2010

Lessening My Lesson Load

This photo was taken from my camera phone right after 1st hour was over.  I read pieces of a book over Christmas Break called Never Work Harder Than Your Students, and those few pages did a lot to free my time and rethink the priorities of my time in the classroom.  I think it has improved my instruction because I've had to be more creative in order to present my lessons with "less" work.

One factor that significantly contributes to my workload is rewriting notes and homework assignments on a different board when I move between the 3 different classrooms I travel to.  Using the SMARTboard for notes and interactive tools alleviates some of this hourly repetition, but if the computer is down or the server is slow, then I end up having to use the whiteboard and rewriting notes in subsequent classrooms.

The kids give me some trouble over having my cellphone out, but I think it models good mobile device use, which is a good thing.

11 March 2010


I heard today from someone "in the know" at my school that given the EXTREME budget shortfall we are experiencing, the 4 yr PC replacement cycle plan we had been on (and my school would have reached next year) has been extended to an EIGHT YEAR cycle.

Really?  That has to be a joke, right?  I mean the computer I bought in 2002 for college still gets a little use in the basement, but I've upgraded the RAM since then and paid some more then so I could get some extended use out of it.  Our school machines, most surely, went to the lowest bidder, and are beginning to die a painful death.  (Although I'm not sure if the death is more painful for the machines, or for the teachers' whose lesson plans are thwarted whenever one goes down.)

My only assumption is that admin across the parking lot is really just holding out for some sweet grant that magically wishes us new machines.  I'm quite understanding that attempting to extend the lives of our current machines is probably a good idea fiscally (and I would even probably end up trying to snag a few of our current machines for in-class use if they WERE to be replace "on time.").  It's just hard to shrug off my envy frustrations when I read about lesson plans using iPod touches and the bubbling excitement over the possibilities of integrating iPads when I'm looking toward a future relationship with an 8-year-old PC.

Finally, while I'm at it, anyone with money to share want to upgrade the computers in the McCluer North math department?  Doesn't hurt to send out a call, right?

Personalizing the Ed Experience

Lu found her feet this morning.

You try to share some of your personal life with your students, but my life lives in social media, not on celluloid.  So, instead of being able to share a facebook picture with my classes, I have to jump through hoops and email/save/upload.  More difficult than it needs to be!

10 February 2010

Battling the Tech Learning Curve

Is it poorly designed tech that sometimes has a steep learning curve, or does it just depend on the skill?

Last year our school got our first set of student response clickers (ours are from Turning Technologies), and as a techie, I was very excited to give 'em a go.  My dept. chair and I sat for at least an hour one afternoon learning how to develop interactive slides integrated into PowerPoint and practicing the actual polling process.  There was certainly a learning curve, but we eventually figured it out and were hopeful at the promise of our new toy.  I never ended up checking the set out last school year, but several did, and student response was postitive.

This year during one of our district professional development days several of the math teachers had a chance to go to a session about using these clickers in the classroom for formative assessments.  They learned how to make slides, create session reports for easily entering students answers as graded assignments, and a few bells and whistles to boot.  I was busy leading my own session that day, so I missed out on the collaboration.

After finding Poll Everywhere through an #edtech tweet, I actually decided to ditch the district clickers and hold out for the day when my kids could just use their cell phones.  The reasons I liked Poll Everywhere were simple:
  • (with sacrificing some functionality) it's Free
  • The interface is pretty user friendly
  • No hardware to keep track of
  • No hardware issues to destroy my lesson
  • Possibilities for short-answer responses (Turning Technologies makes clickers that make this possible also, but we do not have this model.)
  • Students love using their cell phones anyway
But still, teachers were using those clickers, students were engaged, and I began to feel left out waiting for my day that is still a long time coming.  So last week I signed up for the clickers and sat down to create PowerPoint lesson with those interactive slides.  To my utter frustration, I'D FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING.  I left school that day after slaving at those slides for 45 minutes with nothing to show for it and dejectedly crossed my name off the clicker list for the next day.

What does it mean, then, if a teacher comfortable with tech (who has already once learned the basics of the software or hardware) gets frustrated enough with its implementation that even they give up?  Was I expecting too much to have a bicycle-type experience?  Or does Turning Technologies need to make its PowerPoint plug-in more intuitive?

Are there other tech toys or software that have given you a similar experience?

01 February 2010

Facebook in the Classroom: Should I Heed the Warnings?

First off:  I WISH.  I think that using it as a networking tool COULD be worth exploring.  I understand from a liability (and time-wasting) perspective that the risks are probably too great to open up school use.  So we'll experiment with use on the other side of the firewall.

Last night I dipped my toe into the Facebook pool for use with my classes.  I set up a fan page for Mr. C Baker's Math Class and plan to use it as a communication tool for both students and parents and a holding place for notes, links, and resources.

My fears are not founded upon students finding incriminating photos of past transgressions (nor present).  I am not concerned with crossing any lines of professionalism in interacting with students online (because I do not believe I am).  I do not fear opening my classroom or teaching to criticism from the outside (because it brings accountability and transparency with it).  I have been a believer even since student teaching that if you are afraid or wary of observations and eyes in your classroom, then you probably know that there are deficiencies in some manner of your teaching (and need to be humble enough to address them).

So, then, the fear I do keep is in boundaries for myself.  As it is so natural for me to interact on Facebook for my personal social networking, I worry about being sucked in with the allure of building "fans," addressing students' and parents' questions, and monitoring my discussion board to see if students are using it.  What can I say; I'm a sucker for unique hits.  I think this is a healthy fear, however.  A fear that springs from self-awareness of my weaknesses and obsessions is a fear that keeps me in check.  It's a fear for improvement.

In the end, I'd say my Facebook fan page is really just an extention of having my own class website on freewebs with discussion board, or my class twitter account.  I know there are many educators (including the official NEA stance on the subject) that would criticize my decision; even some close to me.  I guess all I'd have to say to them, is that I reserve all rights to act now and ask for forgiveness later.  I think that has to be the nature of any educator acting as an early adopter of technologies.

We'll see how it goes!

25 January 2010

Prezi for Math Notes

Prezi is a presentation  tool that allows you to create concept maps and notes on a single canvas.  You can zoom in and out, create frames for emphasis, resize text, doodle, and map paths to create a slideshow.  Think tag cloud on steroids as one analogy.

I'm sure that it would work great in an English, Social Studies, Science (minus chemistry equations), or other general elective class, but using it for math notes is a big chore.  Writing in the presentation is easy enough, but you cannot permanently group the numbers together (as is a snap in SMART Notebook), which makes resizing written text next to impossible.

So, all told, it took me about 2 hrs to create this.  To best understand a Prezi, check out mine.

It probably goes without saying, but my Prezi does not nearly capture the potential for the tool. Much better examples and ideas exist on their website.

Math use:  Unless I get dramatically faster at creating these notes, Prezi's practicality is nearly nonexistent when compared to just jotting notes in my IWB software.  The extra pizazz could be worth it occasionally, however.  One thing I really like is the ability to embed my Prezi into this blog or an assignment on our district's class website/news service, Edline.

Other word of note:  The computers at our school are going on 3 years old, so keeping up rendering the javascript was quite a task for them.  It worked better at home on the laptop from this summer.

23 January 2010

Just When I Thought I Wasn't (Comparatively) OLD.

There's much to write (and has been written) about how the exponential growth and expansion of technologies (and the internet) is creating micro-generations and expanding generation gaps between those.  As someone who my peers acknowledge as tech "being my thing," I've largely ignored and dismissed the idea as being applicable to myself.  Yes, being 27, my age group is on the edge of "growing up on the internet," but I've always been an early adopter.  Since I've grown right along with the internet, I did not fully remember the stark contrast of computing without it.

"Were there even computers before the internet?"

"Of course!  Don't you know they were invented in the 40s?  All kinds of computing was being done on computers before the internet.  People published papers and wrote books..."

"That's what typewriters are for..."

"Yeah, but what if you need more than one copy?  You'd have to type it all over again!"

"No, people would go get it Xeroxed."

Of course, I knew that business and then personal computers had revolutionized the way that people conducted business, designed, and published, but this student had already gotten me thinking.  When we went to the computer lab in elementary school, there was not much offered us beyond word processing, Oregon Trail, and (for gifted program kids) LOGO programming (which we didn't really understand).  How much less useful was the personal computer in the 80s?  The 90s?  How much money did individuals and corporations spend on software and utilities that had to be installed on individual machines that is now hosted online?  Just the fact that I even knew a life before being wired(less) was so natural gives me a completely different perspective on the internet and smart devices.

Think about it - do you even touch your computer when your internet connection is down?  Do we use unwired computers less because there is drastically less potential, or because we have been become dependent on web-based apps and file storage that we cannot access when unconnected?  How many lesson-planning resources do you use NOT online?

20 January 2010

No More Flashdrives?

I heard from a fellow teacher in my school this week that IT is going to be banning the use of flashdrives in district computers next year for security purposes.

It makes sense - the ability to boot smaller operating systems like Linux or OS 9 from a thumbdrive, or any game (aside from any malicious file that can be introduced) poses a security risk that twarts all the firewalls and access guidelines the district can proactively employ.  Even the most well-meaning, innocent user could unknowingly contract a worm on their home machine and then transfer it to the district server when opening their lesson for the day.  'Nough said; I get the reasons.

The question that came to mind when I breezily shared this with a class yesterday was this: do we even need flashdrives anymore?  Certainly as an alternative to floppys, CDs, and ZIP disks the flashdrive was a welcome addition.  However, with growing free space on district servers, remote access to shared space from email/IM/news clients like FirstClass, and the recently announced free space for any file in Google docs, are they even necessary?

Could you live without your flashdrive?

15 January 2010

Using Perudo to Explore Probability

After playing the dice game Perudo at a friend's house several NYE's ago, I've been trying to find a way to work the game into a classroom setting to explore and practice everyday application of simple probabilities.

Summer school is usually a good setting for these types of explorations also, but I just never got around to it in there.

Finally this year in my 6th responsibility I have a class of 9th graders with the only guidelines for the class being to provide a structure and support system for these at-risk students. In addition to enforcing organization and study skills from last semester this semester my team of core area teachers are also each taking a day a week as enrichment for our area. Here's a link to today's (and perhaps next week's) activity. Paraphrase of rules courtesy of this ehow page.

I'll report later how it goes.
Day One:
The intention today was to go through the rules, have the two groups play through once, and then reflect on the discussion questions.  We got started a little later than I thought we would, so we only had time for both groups to play through once.

Here are my thoughts:

  • This really started out as an idea the morning of before I left my home because I wasn't feeling 100% ready to successfully begin a podcast/mathematician research project I've been gathering materials for.  Because of that, my fellow core teachers in the class had no prior warning and I don't think I was able to use them as successfully as I could have.
  • Having the rules as a handout for the students to look at individually was very helpful as we walked through a practice round.  
  • Having experience myself playing the game was also helpful - I'm not sure how much - but it helped me coach the students through game-play and secretly leading them to the exploration I had in mind.
  • Because two students were absent, the numbers worked out that a teacher was able to play along with each using the sets of dice I had.  This helped in monitoring on-task behavior, in coaching through game-play, and I'm sure in facilitating the discussion for part two.
  • My only regret is that because I had not met w/ my teachers before the lesson to share my intentions, the 2nd group was given an intro to the probabilities behind decision making in the game as they played along.  Perhaps this was actually a better way to immerse the learning into the game, but my concern is that it will affect the true discovery moment I was envisioning.
Future planning:
  • Since we didn't get to the reflection questions, they are delayed until next Friday when it is math day again.  Reflecting the next day would have been okay, but I'm afraid some insightful nuggets will be lost throughout the coming week.
  • Fred coaching the other group on probabilities could end up being to our advantage, however, because that group now has prior knowledge to contribute to the discussion once we get to that this next lesson.
  • When we play next time I want the kids to be very mindful of the probabilities behind the game and using them to make good decisions based on the number of dice in play, but I have two options for accomplishing that:  (1) Have the students create their own probability charts to reference while playing, or (2) Distribute a chart I found online and teach them how to use it.  This option would take less time, I think, but I don't know if that really matters.
DAY ONE Conclusion:
Overall, I was very pleased with how my admittedly under-planned lesson turned out.  The kids really enjoyed the game and were engaged the whole period; even once they had lost all of their dice.  I think this was a great intro to probabilities.  My only foreseeable problem for future math days is this: How do I follow this up with the next game exploration?