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?