30 April 2014

Using Paper Slide Music Videos to Reconceptualize Content

Today's post is a super-easy way to integrate video creation into your class. All you need is one tool to record video (smartphone, tablet, digital camera, flipcam).

Lodge's resources (mp3 and lyrics) on Discovery Streaming

My Students' Videos
My first attempt at paper slide music videos I attempted to have each of my 3 classes collaborate to make one video, which turned out to be a mistake. Only 1 of the classes were able to pull it all together and finish.

This week, for my second attempt, I split the students into groups of (up to) 4. It was good for forcing more accountability for the work, and because it required fewer students to all be there/have their materials/do their work, we had more measures of success.


Lessons I've Learned about Paper Slide Music Videos (in case you didn't read them on the post-its) :)

1. Make your videos in groups of 3 or 4, and let the kids self-select. 
2. Don't be stingy with materials. I counted out enough slides for each group to have enough, but there will inevitably be crumbled slides on the floor that need to be redone, so keep a stack of extras on hand for the kids to access.
3. Reteach and reconceptualize the content throughout the process. The thought required to package the idea of proportions visually is more than simply solving problems out of your textbook, so you may be shocked about misconceptions students have along the way. Use it as a teachable moment.
4. Celebrate! Producing these videos in one take required my students higher levels of organization, perseverance, and attention to detail than I'm used to seeing from several of them, so it was a delight to be able to breathe a sigh of relief and congratulate them when they were successful.

24 April 2014

The ACT: Does it Rock or Does it Suck? Pt 2

Yesterday, all 1200+ juniors in the Ferguson-Florissant School District took part in a special administration of the ACT on-site. (As did the Rockwood School District further west in St. Louis County, and Liberty North High School near Kansas City.) The weight and scale of this undertaking required a ton of planning, training, and discussion, so the ACT has been heavy on rotation around here for most of the semester. As we got closer to the date on Tuesday, I got to wondering - does the ACT rock, or does it suck? 

In part 1 of this series, I gave 5 reasons why the ACT is good for our students. This post explores the other side.

I had a student declare on Monday, "I'm gonna get a 35 on that ACT." Without much hesitation, I told him he had no chance. In reflection, I probably could have delivered the message with more love, but there are several reasons I could tell him that quite certainly.
  • We were doing bellwork on basic trig ratios, which he had just announced he could not do.
  • Any junior scoring that well at my school would probably be in calculus. He's at least 3 courses behind that.
  • No students from my school have done that well for several years. That's not to say it couldn't happen this year, but that it wouldn't be from a student in this course. There are simply several concepts he's not had much, if any exposure to.
  • You don't just decide one day you want a 35 on the ACT - (with statistical exception) it take years of discipline to math study if math is a personal strength, much less a weakness you're trying to improve upon.
But he doesn't know any of these things, nor is he even in much of a place to hear them. He took "that's impossible" as a personal indictment on his future success. Because a student would let a test have that much power over his life, his self-worth, and dreams for the future, the ACT (and other standardized tests like them) SUCK.

4 Reasons the ACT Sucks

1. The test steals from opportunities for studying "interesting" topics to serve itself.
Stress to raise scores for the sake of funding or accreditation (in schools) or scholarships (for individual students) narrows math instruction to the discrete set of "on the test". Instead of perhaps devoting more time in class to open-ended projects or questions, we do things like "ACT Tuesday". Students spend any extra personal time for math they may be willing to devote in test prep than in exploring personal interests that ignite passion for further studies.

2. The test is expensive. 
Kids that are probably most likely to go to college AND most likely to need scholarships are dunder the most pressure. From my perspective, if only one of those is true, the student either receives "free and reduced lunch" waivers for the test, or the student's on the other end and their families can pick up at least some of the tab. For kids in the middle, the cost of each exam is also a conderations as they seek better scores.

3. Results from the test are sometimes misused to perpetrate or enforce stereotypes.
Students attach self worth to their scores, and even to their communities, and the media doesn't help when they use the scores to grade districts. When kids that don't look like them do well and kids that do look like them do not, students internalize the message.

4. ACT prep courses replace "real" electives.
If the purpose of elective courses and credits is to structure time in the high school curriculum to encourage students to study subjects of personal interest or to offer courses outside of "core" courses (even with core subjects), then we do a disservice to our students shuffling many of them through our ACT prep courses. They help in the short-term - potentially raising kids' scores to open more doors - but once they get to their place of post-secondary ed, what more do they know about themselves or their passions? When the end goal is getting kids out the door and on to a university without as much care to knowing why they should be going, it's no wonder to me that so many students wander through college courses, paying top-dollar to hopefully find something, anything that sticks. (And it's also no wonder that so many dropout before the find "the one".)

What do you think? Are the benefits I listed yesterday worth the costs above? Is the problem the ACT, or is it the system?

22 April 2014

The ACT: Does It Rock or Does it Suck? Pt 1

Our district is administering the ACT to all 1200+ juniors during the school day tomorrow, so its been on our minds even more than usual around here. Love it or hate it, the ACT and standardized tests like it are not leaving the American educational landscape anytime soon. 
I've been reflecting on the explicit and implicit information that preparing for, taking, and interpreting the test's results gives us and our students, so I wondered, does it rock, or does it suck? Today, in Part 1, I'll explore 5 ways the ACT rocks.

1. Comparisons between individual states, districts, schools, and even students.
Because the ACT eliminates factors that can be tweaked and fiddled with locally such as letter grade scales, state assessment rules, GPAs, and general grade inflation/deflation, it allows for more straightforward comparisons. A solid ACT score from a student coming from a weaker district takes any asterisks off a transcript that a selection committee may be tempted to apply to a student.

2. The ACT as a set of national standards.
The ACT (and SAT) have served as a sort of national "standards" since long before states began adopting the common core. "Adoption" is truly optional relative to any given state's emphasis on tracking scores or the universities within that state emphasizing it in admittance guidelines. Along with the SAT, it even competes in a dynamic similar to the two consortia dedicated to administering common core tests for students (Smarter Balanced and PARCC)

3. Empowering students to evaluate their own learning.
More than letter grades or standards, the ACT gives students a benchmark by which they can measure their own learning progress or quality of learning. Sure, there may still be an element of "I don't test well," to factor into the discussion, but after several attempts a student's score should be relatively representative of what they have learned in high school.

4. Initiating Goal Setting
Improving their ACT score is some students' first practice in goal setting. "I want a score of ____ on the ACT" is even just an intermediary goal to larger, long term goals. Career goals beget college choices. College choices beget ACT goals for admittance requirements. Admittance requirements beget higher ACT goals for scholarships at that student's particular school of choice. I've seen many students dramatically change their focus on the ACT (and school in general) after they found out they were probably unlikely to get into a school they were hoping to attend. 

5. Encouraging Self-Discipline
Beyond (but related) to goal setting, improving their ACT score is some students' first practice in self-discipline. You don't wake up on exam day and expect to meet your new goal. Like improvement in anything, it takes the time and consistency of practice and sacrificing of other, more "fun" choices. Especially for students that don't play sports or a musical instrument, reaching for an ACT goal gives real practice in what it takes to dream a dream and see it through.

Do you think the ACT sucks? Check out part 2 here.

17 April 2014

Are The Chicago Cubs About to Be Historically Bad?

I have a student in one of my AP Stats sections that is a Cubs fan. Its usually a great opportunity to build relationship with him (and the others) by harassing him about how bad they are.

It's in good fun. And educational.

He was telling the class today about the Cubs 4-10 record through the first 14 games of the season. It sounds bad, and it is, but since we know significance tests now, I thought it'd be fun to through their preseason projected win percentage (.413) against their current (.286) to find the chances of a win percentage that low, assuming that the original .413 was close to correct.

1. Refer to preseason final standings projections from mlb.com to find the Cub's projection along with the other 30 MLB teams.

2. Find the standard deviation of all the team's projections using a spreadsheet.

3. Use the standard deviation of win percentage, projected win percentage, and current win percentage values to find the z-score and corresponding p-value on the normal curve. Our's calculated to .0015%. That's the likelihood of the Cubs having a win percentage that low, assuming the original projection was correct.

So what's happening here?
We probably shouldn't rule out that the Cubs could be worse than their projected win percentage, but with the team only 9% into the season, its certainly too small a sample size to declare that the team is headed to a historically poor season.

Supersize the Floorplan Area Project

Designing a floor plan to have students calculate and study area is pretty standard fare for a high school Geometry course, but the further we get into the CAD-era of drafting, the further it gets from relevance.

The only way I've ever seen this done is on grid poster board or with grid paper. It's good for modeling how someone might draft up an informal plan at the kitchen table or your workbench, but its completely unlike what "real" architects, engineers, and designers do at their desks. Your students might get some exposure in the career and technical ed department with the heavy tools from Autodesk, but there's no reason you can't get everyone a quick exposure from these free tools.

Google SketchUp

My students are in the middle of a project right now designing a water park for a fictitious town in southwest Missouri using SketchUp to lay out the 2D geometry, pulling up into 3D shapes, wrapping it with colors or images, and adding dimensions. You can add some pizzazz to your plan from the extensive 3D warehouse gallery of items contributed by SketchUp users.

I'm not mandating this for our purposes, but you can also add any text you want for identifying parts.

When you're done you can export your SketchUp to 3D printers or as images to be embedded anywhere else on the web.

How to get it:
SketchUp is available for download here for your personal use, but its software, so you'll have to wait for someone with admin privileges to install it for you at school. (I always hate coordinating this, so I stay away from locally installed apps whenever possible).

You can also run it with a browser plug-in from this link. I haven't tested that yet, but I imagine it might get slow at times. On the positive side, your students will be able to use it at home without having to install it on their own.

Autodesk Homestyler

Homestyler is marketed directly toward consumers wishing to design for their personal home or office. Therefore, there's less to offer to the "power" user, but its easier to pick up and use for your students that might be wary toward the technology aspect of your redesigned project.
My favorite parts of Homestyler:
  • When adding doors/windows/appliances to your model, beyond the generic options are brand name designs that you could specifically purchase at your favorite home improvement warehouse. 
    • Adding a budget or cost layer to your project because as simple as keeping a window open to homedepot.com or lowes.com
  • Exporting images AND interactive walkthroughs 
    • Users have a choice of several nature backdrops to have peeking behind any windows, and can even choose a setting to have the sun shine through. The point is to get a better feel for how a paint color would look in the afternoon sun of your actual home, but for your students' fake floor plans, it just adds an extra pop.
How to get it:
Not only is Homestyler free, but its also a web app, which means all your students need is the url to finish on their own at home. Launch the web app here. (requires Adobe Flash)

CONFUSION WARNING: There is also a Homestyler app in the iOS app store that has a completely different interface and functionality. The app directs the user to take a picture of the room they want to style and then add elements layered onto the image of that space. From a consumer standpoint, its a lot simpler than having to measure and layout your space like you do on the web app, but for the purposes of your floor plan area project, its useless.

Honorable Mention: Free, online tools that may also work for your project

RoomSketcher - looks a lot like Homestyler

16 April 2014

Should Your Students Be Practicing Typing for CCSS Assessments?

The Problem Ahead
There is a lot of concern among a lot of elementary teachers I know about the younger kiddos' proficiency with computer skills necessary for completing Missouri's version of the Smarter Balanced Assessment field test later this spring.

I understand the concern. When we're trying to eek out every accreditation point we can, it would be a SHAME to miss the mark because our kiddos knew what they needed to know, but where unable to communicate their knowledge because they were uncomfortable with the interface, typing skills, or mouse skills that will be required of them on this web-based assessment.

So, to address the concerns, many of them have been discussing using the labs in their buildings to have kids practice typing on software or web-based typing games. There's irony here, right? Not only are we teaching to the test now, we're teaching to the skills for regurgitating the skills on the test. Forgive me if I'm out of place here - I have only a small amount of experience with elementary from my year subbing in 2007 and 2008 - but this doesn't seem rational. Elementary teachers are pulled a myriad of directions every day trying to fit in writer's workshops, reader's workshops, social studies, science, math, and specials, and already don't have enough time for their content, but we're going to advise they take time from content and relationship for kids to play typing games?

We don't need them to become home-row drones that crank out 80 wpm. We need kids that are comfortable typing real documents. We need kids that can take something they may have written down on a piece of paper and transfer it to a text-box in the testing environment. We need kids that know how to type out some math as simple even as 8+7=15 without searching for each symbol.

Are There Relevant Activities Can You Do To Practice Typing? (when all you have is lab)
Here's a quick list (this is one of things that are great for searching on Pinterest)

  1. Keep writer's workshop drafts or journals in a notebook, have students choose their best to type on lab day and publish to share online
  2. Pair students on a collaborative doc tool and take turns writing passages of a story
  3. Practice spelling words
  4. Choose an article or nonfiction passage in one of your content areas and write summary statements per paragraph.
  5. After a science experiment in the classroom, students write up a "report" detailing their hypothesis, method, results, and conclusion.
  6. Have students choose a recent leveled book they've read and write a review on Amazon or this site from Scholastic.
  7. Create a multiplication or factors table for personal use during math time.
Are "computer skills" important for our students? Absolutely. However, if we think about preparing them for CCSS assessments as another extra task, we miss the point. Skills practice and refinement can and should be integrated with content-specific activities - your students will be better equipped to transfer their skills when they've gained them within a "real" context.

14 April 2014

"Lying" to Your Students for Good - Crafting a Story to Engage Your Students

I'm lying to my students this week, and I think its okay.

Let me tell you about the town of Oklaville, MO...

If you're not from Missouri, you may not know, but "Oklaville, MO" is a completely fictional town that I created last week to hold a fake competition for designs for a community aquatic park. I created a relatively simple website in iWeb (but probably could have used Google Sites as well) and hosted it on Dropbox using these instructions.

This "design a water park project" is the marriage of something I've been wanting to do since February (use Google SketchUp for designing and area) and fixing a project that is never really as good as I want. The prompt for the design actually comes from my textbook -

The last two years when I had my students do this project, I gave them a clean sheet of 1cm x 1 cm graph paper, and it usually came back to me in a pretty rough draft that hopefully was not totally wrinkled. They were uninspiring to say the least, but maybe that wasn't completely the students' fault. Is there really a lot of sense in taking pride in a fake water park on a piece of paper that literally no one else but the teacher will see? I wanted them to look better for the sake of work ethic and pride in work, but honestly, I was kidding myself.

When the situation arose again this year, I knew it was time for something different. I just the last couple weeks spent many hours designing a website for my friend trying to launch a side-career in Gospel music, so I had design heavily on my mind.

Take a second to go back and peruse that site if you haven't yet - its three simple pages, but they look pretty legit, right? I included a "real" seal, an address for city hall, and a couple of examples. If you take 5 seconds to do a Google Map search for that address, or even Oklaville itself, you'd know it was fictional, so when/if my students get to that point, I'll easily fess up and tell them much of what I'm writing here.

Is it deceptive? Probably. It may be risky when I tie so much of my relationship building to honesty, but I'm really counting on the relationship we can build during this project as a serve as Google SketchUp mentor.

Is this for you? I don't know, but a colleague of mine pointed out all of the times she lies to her students when they ask her if something they do is going to be for a grade. We've probably all done that several times, but for what? A single piece of paper, 10 minutes worth of work? When you create worlds for your students' work, they can get real skills out of it.

Chuck's Tips for Lying To Students (for Relevance)
1. Take time to pay attention to the details. 
It's kind of like The Matrix - your students won't know things aren't real unless they are really looking for it.

2. Prepare multiple sources of "reality."
Besides the three pages I created for the website, I also registered a new Gmail address and crafted an official looking memo for another copy of the "proposal requirements"

3. Be non-chalant about everything
I showed this to all of my students today, but I pitched it briefly to just one student on Friday and was able to get him excited about it all weekend.

4. Have a real prize, reward, or recognition ready
Of course, there isn't a real Oklaville City Council waiting to vote on my students' submissions, but that isn't any reason why I can't make a big deal out of the best submission. Have a panel of your colleagues come in to judge once you let the students in on the secret. One student asked if he could have a medal if he wins. Sure!

5. Have fun.
The whole reason you're doing this is to bridge a gap between worksheets, bookwork, and teacher-driven assessment to something that is more authentic, more engaging, and more fun. Be creative in the setting you create, and cherish the enthusiastic conversations you have along the way.