28 September 2012

Sharing a Computer (with your Students/Co-workers/Spouse/Childen) Without Going Crazy

Classroom teacher:
Does the sound of your students asking to use your computer to check their email or print something give you an unrational fear?
Have you ever passed on checking your email because someone else was logged into the computer, and didn't want to log them out?

Windows XP Login
I hope you're ready to commit to the next half hour logging in to this machine.
 How often do fits of internal rage rumble inside (or outside) when you go to check your email/Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Yahoo/etc., and have to logout your spouse? How many times accidentally commenting as *not* yourself before you consider quitting social media?

Computer frustration
You know this is you.
One of my favorite aspects of the Web 2.0 - Google/Facebook controlled internet is the ability to use a cornucopia of services without keeping a flashdrive of passwords and usernames at my disposal. It's a great time-saver to seamlessly move from site to site that I think someone under 20 doesn't really appreciate.

The flip-side of that ease of use, however, is that this always-on state of login culture is NOT station-sharing friendly. But no worries, there's hope for you yet. It requires you and yours to have separate opinions on browser preference, but I promise to extend the health of all your personal and working relationships.

Being logged into your GMail (or any service) is only really true on one browser at a time. Here's the setup on the media PC in our living room at home:

You CAN have it all.
Fortunately for our household, although we both cringe at IE, Beth and I happily coexist on Chrome and Firefox, our internet lives (usually) keeping an appropriate separation.

Application to the Classroom:
You CAN allow students to login to their email to print that paper, access a file, or check their grades as long as your IT department has provided you with at least two different browsers. If they haven't, you can work around with a flashdrive, but that's another story. You only need to remember which browser you're using and to ensure that they use the other.

This could even work on a shared class set of iPads or iPods. Most of the third-party browsers are not my favs, but at the very least students could split logins between mobile Safari and mobile Chrome

I've felt so much more freedom with sharing the computer in my classroom since I discovered this a couple years ago. The biggest advantage I've seen instructionally is catching absent kids up faster by accessing previous lessons, and encouraging students to USE the machine for quick internet searches as questions arise. A student USING an instructional computer in the classroom. Go figure. ;)

25 September 2012

Giving Examples: Defining Expectations, or Killing Creativity?

"How do I do this?"

 Even the most well crafted, backward designed, standard aligned, rationale based of projects is going to elicit that response from at least a handful of your students. The easiest answer, I suppose, is, "Like this," and then you, the experienced, organized, amazing teacher pulls out 8 different examples in differentiated degrees of mastery, craftmanship, and creativity. But maybe you don't have those.

Then what?

 I say, forget 'em.

 Before I continue, let me first say, I completely believe in giving students clear guidelines on what you want/don't want to see. Never estimate the value of a clearly defined, communicated rubric. Let the kids judge for themselves before you pull out the gavel. Rubrics give students parameters. Examples often give students limits. 

"As long as its good as that one, I'll be okay." 
"I could add some extra commentary on that one section and really take this to the next level, but Adam last year got an A without it, so I'll just go to bed."
"I'm having trouble coming up with a format... I'll just copy that one - it passed."

My Algebra II students had an assignment earlier in the year to write an inequality story. These were the parameters:

  1. At least one page
  2. The protagonist faces a "real world" inequality scenario (one a teenager might face in everyday life)
  3. The inequality is solved (showing the algebraic work)
  4. The solution process is explained
  5. A reasonable resolution to the inequality is presented
I had some personal interest in this assignment, too, so I wrote up an example of my own one day during lunch about setting up my room in August. It was essentially about counting desks. I got back one that was formatted exactly the same; all she changed was "desks" to "llamas," the numbers, and names of characters. I did a car salesmen commission problem in two of my sections, and wouldn't you know it, we saw a ton of commission stories from them.

Besides being boring, here's the lie we feed our students when we assign meaningful projects, but provide examples:

Innovation and creativity aren't breathed from individuals following examples. If the research that concludes most all of our learning potential and brain connections are developed by age 5 is true, then we owe it to our students to all least keep their creative, innovative, work-is-play spirits alive.

The common core state standards address a need for college and career readiness... get your students ready for travels more like this:

22 September 2012

Logic with Minesweeper

Have you ever played minesweeper? You know, that game with the smiley face on any Windows PC? Most people know about it, as in, they know it exists, but far fewer actually know how to play it. Besides randomly clicking on boxes (which can sometimes lead you to victory by chance on beginner), there is reason and logic built into the game.

Which of these do you identify with?

I've chosen to focus on logic this fall in my Saturday morning SMART Academy classes for a few reasons:

  • reasoning and logic make us better, more creative problem solvers (math and real world)
  • logic intellectual building blocks are probably done forming in the brain long before a student gets to me, but I can at least build on what a student does have, and nurture/encourage refinement
  • students often get lost in the middle of solving problems because they don't know what to do next, or they run out of gas. Practicing that perseverance in minesweeper or a logic puzzle lowers the risk of failure.

Coming next, we'll see how my kids did.