Thing 22: Twitter

I signed up for a Twitter account, mostly to see what the posts looked like and whether it might be useful.  Given the number of athletes being sent home from the Olympics for racist tweeting, others losing their jobs over impulsive tweets, and a general feeling that social networking is a mine field for middle school teachers, I was wary.  I didn’t actually do any tweeting myself, but this could change if I can get a sense of how to post things that won’t cause a ruckus.

I did notice that looking for middle school math teachers with or without the # has tag tends to bring up salacious stories about people’s memories of their middle school days.  That wasn’t where I wanted to go.  Also, I noticed that some people who have perfectly professional blogs spend a lot of time on Twitter talking about how they really need to go running or make dinner for their kids.  There doesn’t seem to be a great way to get the personal stuff out of there, although I found the hash tag #msmath proved to be pretty good.

By signing up to follow four people whose blogs I like, I was able to scroll through a lot of tweets for most of the week.  I found a couple of links that were really good, in particular a list of 30 blogs by middle school teachers.  One of them, for instance, had an idea of using colored plastic cups to given off-task cooperative teams warnings about their effectiveness, for instance.  I think this could be really useful.  There was also a discussion of various ways to use math notebooks to improve organization and higher-order thinking.

So I see that it could be useful if you pare down your list to people who tend to tweet just about your subject, or just scroll through things quickly to see if there is a nugget somewhere.  I think the RSS feed is more generally fruitful, but I can see that Twitter has a place for quick links and succinct ideas.

Thing 21: Google Maps

This is one thing I have actually used before.  When we went on a big family trip to Washington DC, I used Google Earth to print out all kinds of maps with various places highlighted.  We were going in August, so we didn’t want to be out walking in the heat more than necessary–we were able to find out that a lot of the distances that looked small on the map were actually quite far.  For example, it is 2 miles from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, although when you look down the National Mall it doesn’t look that far.  We made plans to go by taxi if it was too hot.  Also, we “drove” the highways into DC so that we didn’t miss any key turns, lane changes, etc.  This was a life saver when we got to DC, although we noticed the Google Earth car was able to go into the back entrance at Georgetown University, when we were turned away!

Here I tried to make a little map of the highlights of our 7th grade trip to Williamsburg, with tips on things to ask to see.  I had all kinds of trouble drawing the lines–they would go all over the place and then the map would start scrolling out of the state.  Then I couldn’t delete the Governor’s Palace when I put it in twice.  I did manage to link a nice picture of the palace to one of them, though.  And the map contains the very important information about where we have lunch, always a FAQ!  I have had trouble with this program before–it always takes me many tries to get things right, but it can be very useful when traveling if you have these customized maps with you.

I also saved the Physics site application in my Diigo account, as it is all about distance, rate and time, which we do all the time in 7th grade math.  I think the kids might enjoy doing this activity.

I think this one is going to take more practice, but I will keep at it, if only to use to plan family vacations!  Whenever I get frustrated with a program, my daughter always tells me to just keep at it until I get it right.  She also points out that while you seem to be wasting time on a program that does not work right at first, you are learning a lot about debugging the program for when you use it later.  Wise words from the young techie at my house!

Thing 20: Google Docs

I had a little trouble with this because there were repeated references to an “Upload” button that I couldn’t find, nor did it seem to be in any of the drop down menus.  Once I found this–right next to the “Create” button–I was able to do more things, but I noticed that things don’t transfer over too well.  I never could figure out how to move the school logo over from our website, but I have asked some of my collaborators to look into that.  It is probably pretty easy to do.

I put 3 things on the Google Docs.  One is a graphic organizer I got from an idea on Dan Meyer’s blog about a first-day-of-school activity he uses.  I couldn’t get it to copy at first, so I went into the drawing program and made my own.  It turned out to be easier than editing Dan’s version in Word anyway, so I posted the one I made.  (Also, I wasn’t sure if I could use Dan’s stuff without permission.) I have asked some other teachers at my school to edit it so we can use it with our advisee groups at the beginning of the school year.  I like the idea of filling in a form with lots of different shapes–it is very creative, which middle school kids always like.

Another thing I added was a template for 7th grade team meetings.  I found the template on Google Docs in the “public file” and adapted it. This is where I wanted to add the logo and finally gave up.  I like the idea that different people can get into the agenda and make changes before the meeting–it definitely saves having to send the agendas around by email.  We also make handouts for parent night, rooming lists for our trip to Williamsburg, advisee lists for rising 8th graders, and supply lists for the coming year, all of which documents are edited by everyone on the team.  This would be far more efficient.

Then I made a form.  This is indeed very easy.   Every year I pass around a sheet for everyone to write in the internal ID number of their calculator.  Then when a lost one turns up, we can check the ID number if needed.  Since this is hand written, we have to look through every page to find the one we want.  I never take the time to enter all that stuff in an Excel file, but this would be great.  Then we can sort by ID numbers, which would be much faster.

Having found so many real applications that I can use this fall in so short a time, I have great hopes for Google Docs being a big time saver this year!

Note:  I only linked a few people to these documents, so let me know if you can’t follow these links and I will see if I can add you to the document.


Thing 18: Screencasting

I had trouble with the Screen Cast O Matic site on my regular computer, so I fired up my new Mac and used the Quick Time program with the new Snow Leopard operating system.  The first time it didn’t record the audio because you have to tell it to do so, but it worked the second time.  How easy is that?

The main problem I had with Quick Time was that it wouldn’t load onto this edublog site because I do not have the upgrade.  I recorded it several times to get it under 32 MB, the max this site will accept.  Here it is: Overview.  It takes a while to load, but it works!

This could be very helpful if I could make it available to my students and their parents at the beginning of the year so they can see how to get into the web site.  It also answers some of the questions I always get about using the site, which would be good to have.

Thing 19: You Tube

It was helpful to see how to set up the Safety setting on You Tube–I had not run across that before.  Since I teach 7th graders, I like to keep everything very PG in my classroom, so this is a useful tool.

I was able to access a number of things (all in my Diigo account with tags!) that could be very useful in the classroom.  For example, if I wanted to flip my first lesson of the year (bar graphs vs. histograms), I could ask the students to watch two different short videos at home before the lesson. Both of these compare bar graphs and histograms (Bar Graphs and Histograms;  Bar Graphs and Histograms #2) but they focus on different aspects of the graphs, which are complementary.   They also get into higher-order ideas about which graph to use in which situation.  This could be the basis of a very good compare and contrast discussion in class.

The student-produced video I found, on decimal/fraction/percent conversion, (Students on Decimal/Fraction/Percent Conversion) was very disturbing.  It was clear the students had been taught some methods that work, but they did  not demonstrate any understanding of what a percent is and why it is possible to make these conversion.  At one point, they wrote a 100 under the percent without removing the % sign, which is incorrect.  Again, I worry about students being able to do something, but not knowing why it works.

On the how-to front, I looked up how to reupholster old dining room chairs.  I actually did this yesterday by completely reconstructing an old chair we have, removing a great many upholstery tacks, throwing out the horse-hair stuffing, replacing the webbing with new material, and generally rebuilding it from the top, including replacing all the upholstery tacks with a hammer.  It took me all day. This lady glued a foam pad to the top of the old seat and then used a staple gun top attach new fabric.  I wonder what I might have done if I had seen this video first?  Probably there would not be random pieces of old horse hair floating around my house today!

Finally, I looked up the video the BBC made for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, entitlted “Happy and Glorious”.  That’s the one where James Bond and the Queen parachuted into the Olympic stadium.  I noticed you could get into it a few days ago, but now it seems to be blocked.  Probably a copyright question.  I did find it, but I am pretty sure it was copied from someone’s TV, so I am not attaching it here, as it may have been illegally pirated.  My favorite detail about this is that the BBC announced they were making the video on April 1, so no one believed it!

I can see where you tube videos could be very helpful in flipping the classroom, as well as a source of useful information and entertainment in daily life!

Thing 17: Podcasts

I went into the Math Dude podcast and listened to a few of his explanations–one on prime numbers and one on order of operations.  It was convenient to turn it on and listen to it while I puttered around my house doing various things, which is handy.  Unfortunately, both of these podcasts simply explained how to use an existing math tool, but not WHY or HOW they work.  I am finding this problem absolutely everywhere on the web, which makes me think this must be a pervasive way of teaching math across the country–no wonder we do so poorly in international math testing!

Also, I noticed that it is really difficult to understand math simply by listening to someone talk–you need to visuaize  the math he is describing in your head.  It would be much better to see the math written down somewhere.  So I won’t be using Math Dude–I am not impressed with the content or the delivery method.

On the other hand, I had more luck with podcasts downloaded from NPR–I got Freakeconomics and The People’s Pharmacy.  Those shows are designed for listening, so they know how to make the most of the audio-only delivery system.  The podcast is nice because I don’t listen to either of these shows regularly, but now I can get them.

I also tried to get into the Love and Logic podcast system, but it won’t play any of the podcasts I tried to access.  I think that is because it is a commercial organization–I suspect you need to pay for them, but I didn’t see that indicated anywhere.  They just didn’t open up.

Overall, I think podcasts might be nice for my personal use, but not so good in the classroom, at least from this initial exploration.

Thing 16: Education 2.0

I have been clicking around in Education 2.0 and I wonder if time may have passed this one by.  There is a nice group called “Middle School Math Teachers” that looked promising, but I noticed that some of the posts were from 2008, which is eons ago in web time.  I did find a connection to a web site on how to divide fractions that looked promising.  It was interactive and explained what is going on when you divide fractions, by dragging fraction bars around.  But it jumped into the algorithm a little too quickly for my taste.  Using the first few frames might be very helpful, though, as they were very well done.

I also checked out the High School Teacher site and found it had a lot of overlap with the Middle School site.  I am thinking there may be other resources that would be more helpful and more up to date for me to use.  The RSS feeds in particular have brought up a lot of really good ideas, for instance.

Thing 15: Diigo

I set up a Diigo account and added some of the sites I have found recently on my RSS feed.  It was easy to bookmark things and to add comments and highlights.  Also, tagging them should be very helpful.  You can see my Diigo account under “Mathteacher7”, the same name as this blog.

On this blog I have been developing a theme of how to use the internet for math education; a lot of the posts I have saved discuss how much kids can learn from watching videos on line.  When I went into the “Community” section of Diigo, I found much more on this debate, including one intriguing article called “The Wrath of Khan”, referring to the backlash against the popularity of the Khan Academy.  Another article pointed out that 67% of teachers surveyed thought “flipped” teaching had improved student performance.

Of course, you can do flipped teaching by recording your own videos if you don’t like Khan Academy.  Also, I get the impression that some people have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that has been so solidly endorsed by Bill Gates, just because he is Bill Gates.  But you can find a nice discussion of the pros and cons, along with a great deal of information (and ads!) from the Khan Academy people themselves.

This looks like a good way to organize web research–I was impressed with it!

Thing 14: RSS Feed Idea

I found a really interesting Op-Ed piece in The New York Times last week about the pitfalls on on-line education called “The Trouble with On-Line Education”  This article merited the Op-Ed page of the Times because it was written by an English professor at the University of Virginia, which has been recently embroiled in a heated controversty about putting lectures on-line.

The author makes the point that even when he is lecturing a large class, he can tell by watching his students what they are understanding and where he is losing them.  He can answer questions, adapt his lecture, and generally respond to the students in any given class so they are learning at an optimal level.  A canned lecture cannot do this.

I teach the same lesson five times a day, but each of my classes has a different group of students–some are in a class classified as “advanced”, some are enthusiastic about math, some have radically different learning styles, etc.  I have a general idea of where I want to go each day, but I adapt the lesson to each group throughout the day.  It depends on what they seem to already understand about the concept, whether they are following my explanations, what kinds of questions they have, what ideas they may have so other students will understand the concept.  I couldn’t make a one-size-fits-all lecture for a video that would work anywhere near as well as when I am in the classroom looking at my kids and talking with them,

I notice from other blogs and comments on the internet that others are running into this when they flip classroom and ask students to watch a video of the lesson.  Students say they have more trouble learning the material.  We may want to look at some serious research on how effective on-line educations is before we adopt it wholesale.  Such research would need to evaluate whether the teacher in question responds to students as he or she teaches–certainly, anyone who gives a canned lecture every day from 30-year-old lecture notes is not much better than a video!

Thing 13: 21st Century Conference

I watched one of the 21st Century on-line conferences, a narrated Power Point presentation by math teacher David Wees on how to use computers in the classroom.  He noted that one can use a computer for delivery of standard lecture presentations of formulas and algorithms (what we might call 20th century instruction), such as the Khan Academy videos.  Yes, there is a computer involved, but we have really not come very far in improving student understanding of math as a tool to solve problems.  In this model, students learn a math computation technique and may or may not apply it to a real-life problem.

Instead, Wees argues, we should be starting from the real-life problem and using the computer to model that problem visually and do the appropriate computations. He gives all kinds of examples of how this can be done, using various sites now available on-line. Here the math serves the problem–instead of doing computations in an abstract vacuum one uses whatever math works to solve the problem at hand.  The student needs to understand what methods are best to solve the problem, much higher-order thinking than plugging given numbers into a formula.

I found an almost identical argument on my RSS reader this morning–Dan Meyer’s TED talk, where he argues that we should use technology to present interesting problems to kids with one elegant question.  The students figure out what math is needed to solve it, rather than being given the appropriate formula.  He makes a compelling argument–take a look at his TED talk, Math Curriculum Needs a Makeover.

I definitely agree that this is the future of math education–students will need to be able to harness the mathematical tools available to them.  Math should be about analyzing the situation and finding what concepts are needed to find answers rather than solving artificial problems written to fit the lesson of the day.  This is definitely a paradigm shift!