20 March 2014

Simulating the NCAA Tourney with a Random Number Generator

It's "Big College Basketball Tournament" time, everybody!

(When I remember to get it in on time) sharing your bracket for the NCAA tourney is always an easy way to get conversations going with a lot of my students, which is especially good because right before Spring Break is when some of my students want to talk to me the least. :)

I did some research on building a "probabilities of the NCAA tournament" project a few years back, but it seemed kind of impossible, and not totally worth it when weighed against other curricular demands.

So, I scaled back expectations and started with having fun with it myself. Using the probabilities from the user picks on CBSSports.com's bracket manager, I simulated the outcome with a random number generator (from mathgoodies.com), and chose the victor from there.


Had this been the number generated for the game above between Oklahoma and North Dakota, OU would have been the winner because 33 is between 1 and 76.

To my pleasant surprise, the method produced a rather conventional bracket, while still making some fun, plausible upsets. As I'm writing, the first day's games are about half done, and the bracket is holding its own against most anyone else's.

17 March 2014

1 Simple Question for Evaluating Lessons

Is it cool enough to put online?

Would there be any value on sharing this with others online?
Would people outside of your classroom want to see it? (Do the people inside the classroom really want to see it?
If you posted all of your students' work, would they all look relatively similar?
Is it cool enough to put online?
Would you want to blog about it?
Would someone want to showcase it on your school or district's webpage?

Positive answers to these questions represent varying degrees of relevance and rigor in instructional design, but they are all questions I ask myself when evaluating lessons, assessments, or applications of technology.

Does the work your students do in your classroom have any last relevance beyond the end of the unit? Beyond this week? Beyond tomorrow?

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that my own interest in teaching is pretty closely related to the creativity I'm putting into students' learning activities and products. You know the feeling - you come back from a conference on a buzz because you saw the coolest demonstration of the Pythagorean Theorem, or a self-assessment tool, and all you want to do it share it with others, talk about it, and try it out.

That sharing, the excitement - we don't have to try and desperately cling to it as we survive on fumes from conference to conference. Yes, the infusion of new ideas helps to get your started, but I'd argue that high you feel from the experience is in the sharing. In talking with others about it.

Why must that feeling be confined to someone else's work? I think its a relatively attainable goal to wrap up our week in reflection with this simple question: "Did I do anything cool enough to put online?"

And there are even several activities you could reasonably answer that question with -
  • You put together a concise, clear, engaging tutorial for flipping your classroom.
  • You (and/or your students) used a web 2.0 tool as a forum for class responses to a prompt or a container for shared information.
  • Your students create presentations or videos and share them with social media
  • You enhanced a lesson you usually feel is rather dry with a video, photo, or song to grab students' attention
  • Your students explored a problem relevant to their lives. This one isn't even necessarily technology related. Our senior lit comp classes do an EXTENSIVE project that one teacher started several years ago that is essentially a semester-long, super in-depth career exploration. They write papers and create presentations, but a lot of the work I've observed secondhand doesn't necessarily depend on tech-rich environments. The point being, its a COOL project.
  • Your students created something
  • You created something
  • You used technology to enhance or improve a common task
Your answer to the 1-question lesson evaluation is in many ways reflective of where you are in your professional development, with a scale of answers being appropriate.

In the Web 2.0 class I just finished teaching after school once a week for teachers in my district, I had a group of eager learners that always came back with tech celebrations from the week before, but in varying skill levels of implementation. "Cool" for one might be "normal" for someone else. Just as an example, here are two applications of Padlet that they came up with: a space to get a discussion going, and a student-controlled medium for class art critics and portfolio.

As an excuse to show a super adorable video I rediscovered as I went to make the one at the top of this post, here's "something cool" I made after my first son was born in 2011. To link it back to your classroom (even math), why couldn't your students use Animoto to put together a review product linking unit vocab to processes and applications? #ideafornextunit :)

Landon Jude

16 March 2014

Choose Your Ed Tech Like a 500 Year Old Saint

Having a plan for the education technology you use in your classroom, school, or district must be the first thing you do when considering technology implementation.

You could do worse than designing your technology plan around the educational principles of a 500 year-old saint.

St. Ignatius and the Jesuit Educational Mission
Quick background for the Igna-ignorant like I was several months ago (with apologies to my Catholic friends who know more about this than I do).
"Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish knight from a local Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and, on 19 April 1541, became its first Superior General.[2] Ignatius emerged as a religious leader during the Counter-Reformation. Loyola's devotion to the Catholic Church was characterized by absolute obedience to the Pope.[3]" - from Wikipedia, "Ignatius of Loyola"
"The Ignatian pedagogical paradigm is a way of learning and a method of teaching taken from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola.[1][2] It is based in St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, and takes a holistic view of the world.[3]
The three main elements are Experience, Reflection, and Action. A pre-learning element, Context, and a post-learning element, Evaluation, are also necessary for the method's success, bringing the total to five elements. Ignatian pedagogy uses this dynamic five-step method along with an Ignatian vision of the human and the world to "accompany the learner in their growth and development."[4] 
The Ignatian pedagogical paradigm is also used in spiritual retreats and learning experiences as an active means of developing and questioning one's own conscience, as well as in making sound and conscientious decisions." from Wikipedia, "Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm"
These 5 elements of the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm and the Jesuit motto, ad majorem dei gloriam ("to the greater glory of God"), serve as a educational framework for the numerous Jesuit sponsored high schools and universities in North America and around the world. (including St. Louis UniversitySt. Louis University High, and De Smet Jesuit High locally)

To the greater glory of God and the salvation of man

Wrapping Your Faith and Your Professional Life Together
Its been my experience teaching in public schools as a Christian that the further I want to make all of my choices in accordance with my mission to Jesus, the more fulfilled I feel, the more I can stand in the conviction of my choices, but also, the less some of my colleagues, students, and parents may understand where I'm coming from.

Being a teacher that's a Christian is about more than "being Jesus to my students" as the most honest, or most compassionate, or most just teacher in the school - its a challenge to make every pedagogical decision in light of you and your students as spiritual beings with imbued worth as beings created in the image of God. As just one example, being a standards-based grader is a great opportunity to silently craft a narrative of mercy, repentance, and redemption to your students. (The analogy falls apart when I think about grace - if our sins are really analogous to grades, we don't try and try again until we get it right, Jesus takes the failing grade for us and we're granted "mastery" through his sacrifice, but you get the point.)

A lot of money gets thrown at technology because it looks good, or because its the next lastest, greatest savior of education, but following Ignatian principles and reflecting on "to the greater Glory of God," we can be more sure of the stewardship and utility of our technology choices.

For more reading on the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, this paper from the Jesuits, "Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach" was very helpful for me.

Using Technology to Enrich Your Students' Experience and Call to Action
How can education technology affect or serve each of Ignatian elements of education?

1. Context
Thinking about your students contextually should always be a consideration when evaluating a technology tool. Can my students use this? Would my students be willing to try this? When I was anti-flipping the classroom on the basis of home access for some of my students, I was sitting here in context.

2. Experience
When a lesson affects your students on more than a superficial level with little active engagment, the material is less likely to "stick" or to spur students to action to apply the knowledge. Integrating multimedia resources to affect senses, reaching out to professionals in the field of study with social media, creating discussion boards via Padlet, or creating a digital artifact to link to the lesson in the students' experience are just a few examples

3. Reflection
Ignatius and the Jesuits went against a "monastic" life of seclusion, which made reflection and solitude in the midst of mission of vital importance. We see times in Jesus' ministry where he left the crowds to be alone with the Apostles, and separated even further to be along in prayer.

Reflection in the Ignatian paradigm is the opportunity to look back on the experience and action of the day to find their worth and to seek what the Holy Spirit is doing next. Even if you're not a Christian, reflection is VITALLY important to teaching because it is the time when we see how we've done and what we have to do next. Reflection is when we sort out our perceptions from reality. Blogging is the only edtech application I see here, but really, why try to do more with it than that? :)

4. Action
The Jesuits were all about being on mission (some compare them to "Catholic Marines"), so the purpose of any learning experience is to compel the student to want to do something with what they've learned. Action is where you put into practice what convictions you found in reflection. This is an excellent opportunity to use technology to reach out to community leaders, upload a video to launch a viral campaign for a cause, or even use a 3D printer to make a product to meet someone's need.

5. Evaluation
How'd you do? What your action effective? Evaluation is the last element in the Ignatian cycle because it then affects the next lesson's context. As far as technology goes, here's another chance for students to blog as self-assessment, use adaptive software tools like Study Island, Manga High or Renaissance Learning for testing, send students a Google Form to fill out, or depending on the product they created in action, using site analytics or view counts as a real-life metric to their success.
YouTube Video Analytics of my most popular upload
"What's in it for me?"
As I mentioned earlier, once I started researching St. Ignatius' educational philosophies and how they fit in with the Jesuit mission for education, I found a lot of clarity in what the Holy Spirit had begun in me several months ago as far as what it means to be a teacher that's a Christian. I have always believed that whatever technology we use in schools should be in service to the learning, but it was harder to go further with that - "and what, exactly, beyond "math," do I want the kids to be learning?"

I felt a little embarrassed at "discovering" educational principles that teachers have been using in my own cities for nearly 200 years, but its been a refreshing response for me to the subjective, everyone's-truth-is-good-for-them attitudes that often prevail in education.

15 March 2014

Blended Learning and Unintended Consequences

A relationship with one of my AP Stats students went sour this week, and it was a little unexpected.

Stats is the class in which I usually have my edtech act "together" because its easier to pilot apps or tools in the smaller classes, they're better at "playing" school so they're more readily willing to try new things, and because they're generally more mature, if things don't go well, we can generally recover, go more "traditional" and still have a worthwhile class period.

Of my preps this year, AP Stats class is the most "blended." Many of those students contact me via email or texting my district monitored Google Voice number. Every project I have them complete is submitted (and completed) electronically. I have a Google Drive folder that they all have viewer access to for notes, handouts, PowerPoint files, worksheets, lesson plans, etc. - there's a lot in there. 100% of these students are signed up for my Remind101 messages. 

So when I had a student complain Friday morning before our quiz that I hadn't "taught [her] the Central Limit Theorem" because she had missed some of class on Tuesday, I was at a loss for words. 

All teachers have to lie (to themselves).

For many reasons, chief among them hope and forgiveness, there are many instances in which teachers have to "lie" to themselves about their students or their classroom in order to walk through the door the next day, teach students, and inspire whatever growth they can conjure from their pupils. It's quite common to give the benefit of a doubt to the student. "She does have a job, 3 other honors classes, and plays basketball - she's got a lot going on." "He has to spend a lot of time looking after younger siblings." "I could have done a better job catching her up after she was absent." "I forgot to get him the homework assignment from yesterday..." 

But. The more we blend our classes, put our materials online, make ourselves (technically) available 24/7, the more we must be real with ourselves. The more the learning opportunities extend beyond your 4 walls and 50 minutes, the more you've got to let it go.

You can lead a student to water, but...
This student was frustrated because she felt like I had not done my job in this particular respect. It's arguable; "if there is no learning, then there is no teaching," might certainly apply to this student's circumstances this week, but when you teach high schoolers, where does your responsibility for effort ever end?

Does it?

The Unintended Consequence:
Because I felt completely resolved in my efforts to share everything with my students, because I had made two content videos last week for note-taking, because I had posted students' class Evernote summaries in our shared Drive folder... I could not rationally wear my teacher-lenses and excuse this student. All I could see was a girl who wasn't taking her responsibility for learning all she could about sample means this week. Using tech in the classroom is supposed to make you feel better, right?

I've asked a lot of rhetorical questions in the post - I hope you made it to the end. Just wanted to share something useful, too.

Evernote - after I noticed a student was doing it on his own with his iPhone, I decided to designate a kid a day take the "official" notes for class in the Evernote app and send them to me so I could post them on a doc in our Drive folder. I'm already in love with this because it saves me 1 or 2 steps in my desire to archive our class sessions for the students. We used the new doc-scanner settings, text, and audio. If I had a premium account I wouldn't have to touch the notes at all because students would be able to upload to a shared Evernote notebook. #gotmethinking

Present.me - One of my videos for the week was made with this #flipclass tool. I like that it makes slides+you easy to create, but there are no YouTube upload options, so it fragments my resources.

Touchcast - The first video I made this week was via the Touchcast app in iOS. This was needed more actual examples worked out, so I needed the whiteboard functionality that present.me does not have. I wrote about my students using touchcast here.

Remind101 - We started a really cool activity from our textbook about the ages of pennies, but didn't get as far as I thought we would be able to, so I had to switch up the plan for the next day. I compiled some numbers they would have had if we'd gotten further, got a share link, and sent it out with instructions for the next day.

Google Voice - Two students texted to my Google number (which shows up in my Gmail inbox) to ask clarifying questions on what I'd sent to them with Remind101.

Google Drive - cre

01 March 2014

Chicken or the Egg - Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?

The topic for Thursday night's #moedchat was "Out of the Box PD". I guess  the first question was my favorite, because I'm still thinking about it.


I didn't get the feeling that it was a very popular answer - maybe only because the focus of Thursday's chat was on TEACHER learning - but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I'm convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results. 

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there's a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

"They didn't try hard enough."

"They didn't listen to my directions."

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of "cool tool" sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If "how will my students use this" or "what challenges will my students face" is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative "clicker" app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate - they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem - Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally  skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3.  Focusing on teachers' learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students' learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.

What do you think? Should we prioritize teacher learning or student learning?