Saturday, April 13, 2013

Parts, Parts, Wonderful Parts (or the Making of a Maker)

This is cross posted from my other blog A Make Per Day.

Recently I picked up an old dead photocopier. It was heading for the landfill anyways so I figured I could take it home and strip it of anything useful.

Turns out that the parts are only a side benefit. The the best part has been getting my boys to help take it apart. My 3 year old has a short attention span but my 6 year old has been eating it up.  He can't stop yammering on about the robot insects that we will make.  This is a huge learning opportunity for them.  As we take off parts I describe what they do (when I understand the purpose).  He sure is excited.

As a society we need our children to understand that these machines are not magical boxes that do wonderful and mysterious things.  They are systems an we need them to be able to look inside and figure out how things work.  They need to see that  you can figure out a purpose for each part.  Once they can see the purpose of the little parts then they can start figuring out the bigger system. This is important if we want our children to become makers instead of just consumers.  Consumers just buy magic boxes and then throw them out.  Makers create wonderful things.  Or messes - but messes can be wonderful too.

This photocopier is a wonderful experience for my children.  Today we hooked some of the motors and gearboxes up to batteries to see if they worked. The whole project is a great way for them to learn.  It cost nothing.  If they break something while trying to take it apart it doesn't cost anything.  If we burn up a part, oh well.  It was free.

Don't get me wrong, there are some great parts on this machine.  I have my eye on a couple of big stepper motors.  They are already earmarked for some CNC projects.  Lot of the other motors, gears, and belts will make great projects.  The machine contains countless hardened steel shafts and even the metal brackets are getting saved.  This junk will be supplying projects for years to come.

While this isn't really a project where I am building something tangible, I am definitely creating something in my children.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pendulum Waves

Wow.  I really wish I had this video last term.  I am now going to immediately leave my Accreditation seminar and go buy some fishing weights.

Did I say wow?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thoughts from a Five Year Old

Today I grabbed my iPhone and did an experiment.  (It was also and excuse to play with paper airplanes.)  I wanted to see what kind of journaling I could do with a five year old (my son).  Fifteen minutes of filming, fifteen minutes of editing, and fifteen minutes of uploading later we were done.  I did everything on my iPhone 4 (but it also would have worked fine on an iPod touch).  The editing and commentary was done using the iMovie app on my phone.

Someplace during one of my many conferences and PD events I heard a speaker talking about video science reports.  The speaker was playing with middle years lap reports.  The students recorded their conclusions in a video instead of a written report.  Their work averaged about two grade levels higher.  The written report was a barrier to their learning.  (No I can't remember who or where it was - if you know please let me know.)

My goal was to see what we could do with a primary student.  I am quite happy with the results.  Tristan looked at the pictures and talked about them with very little prompting.  (Yes I did bribe him with another airplane.)  I left most of the prompting in the video.  The intent was to see what I could create with very little time and effort.  It is not meant to be an award winning documentary - just a quick record of what went on.  I think that there is huge value in projects like this.  Often in the primary grades journaling consists of drawing a picture to describe what you did.  Isn't a video like this more valuable?  With young students an adult would need to do most of the work but I am sure that Grade 3 students could run iMovie and create the same video (after some lessons of course).

Yay - Some success!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Successful Failure

A couple of years back (in 2009) I went and recorded about 70 math instructional videos and put them up on my YouTube channel.  I was very excited about how it might be a way to help my students work at home.  Our school has very poor attendance and I was pulling my hair out about how low my success rate with with senior math.  Each video was 5 minutes or less and were intended to be simple - only one concept per video.  I even organized them (in many cases with classroom notes) on my section of the school webpage.

The project was an overwhelming failure - and now it has become a different success that I am proud of.

First the failure.  My students did not use the resource.  I tried to sell them on the idea but failed.  The time, effort, and resources were wasted.  It failed for two main reasons.  One - very few of my students had high speed internet at home.  Today it is still shocking how little access my students still have.  Two - my students rarely did (or do) homework.

As time has gone on other people have been finding my videos.  Comments from students all over have been filtering in.
Thank you so much! Now I get it haha. THANKS! >_<
It is obvious that the comments have been coming from students - not teachers.  People are finding my videos useful.  The hours I put into creating them have not been wasted.

Last week one of my math videos even hit 10,000 views.  I am not sure why that particular video has been viewed so many times.  (Yes I realize that you aren't anybody on YouTube until a video has hit half a million hits).  It is not one of my better ones - in fact I created it on a whim and almost didn't upload it.

This year some of my students have finally started using the resource.  Finally.  When a sub teacher comes in they prefer to watch my videos than listen to somebody else explain the concept.  They are used to the way that I teach.  It is about time.

This fall near the beginning of the school year some of the Central Office staff started getting excited about online learning resources like the Khan Academy.  One of our consultants mentioned my name and pointed out that I had already done this with my math videos.  (Thank you Donna.)  For the record I think that most of the assistant superintendents had already seen my videos but had merely forgotten about them.  Sometimes it feels good to be on the right end of the curve.

The math video project is still a failure.  The students that I am paid to teach have not really used it a lot (and my goal was to help MY students).  I can admit the failure but I am still proud of what I created and what it has accomplished.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Clickers and Questions

This year I got a set of Sentio Response clickers for my classroom.  When the Sentio's (to be referred to as the clickers from now on) were first brought out and available I thought that they were gimmicky and a symptom of bright new shiny object syndrome.  After going to Boston and Allan November's Building Learning Communities conference I really got to thinking about them.  I had a conversation with Donna Desroches (one of our division consultants), and we agreed that they were not worth the $2400 price tag.  The cellphone option of Poll Everywhere was also not possible because of my school's cellphone policy.  So I did what I do.  I found a cheaper way.  That cheaper way was to buy a used set off of eBay for about $500.  Two of the 32 were DOA but the rest worked fine (a third just decided that it did not like the number 9).

Let me start with the conversation I had with Donna.  Her fear was that the clickers were not being used effectively in other classrooms.  They were sometimes just a tool for trying to buy student engagement in review sessions at the end of a unit.  I agree that that would be almost a complete waste of money.

When I went to Boston, Dr. Eric Mazur was demoing his own version of the clickers.  I liked some of his methods and he is the one who got me thinking about using them.  To put it simply he would ask a question.  If the majority got the answer correct he would move on.  If most were wrong then he would reteach.  The magic happened when there was a variety of answers.  He would have the students pair up with somebody with a different answer.  They were to convince each other that they were right.  He said that the students almost always came back with a much higher percentage correct.  They were teaching each other.

I have been using the clickers quite heavily in my Workplace and Apprenticeship Math 10 class.  They are quite useful for formative assessment.  I actually over plan my lessons.  Before I start the actual lesson I ask one or two quick review questions to see if they have the background skills.  The software gives me a quick chart describing what percentage knows it.  If it is too low then I have to take some time to review the skills.  A couple of clicks and I can see it.  If the students get it then I skip the review section and go on to the lesson.  I have not had much luck using Dr. Mazur's method in this class.  This class has some definite gaps in ability and they are very reluctant mathematicians.  I have next to no luck getting the students to formally discuss the math questions.  I still believe in his method, it just isn't working for this class.

The clickers are have a couple of effects in my classroom.  Nobody gets left out or missed.  Every student signs in with their own ID number and I can quickly see who has not answered a question.  I can even go back and see what each student has answered for the question.  It is harder for a student to hide in the corner unnoticed.  Unfortunately it does slow down the pace of the class.  Everybody has to wait for those few students who might have simply let the class move on past them.  On the other hand I have a higher percentage of students engaged (if I don't lose them from going too slow).  Every few minutes there is a clicker question that brings them back in.  They know that I know when they are not following.  The students are not engaged because of the bright new shiny object, they are engaged because I am doing an activity that forces them to keep coming back and contributing to the lesson.

There is another function that allows them to click a button and have their name flash up on the screen showing that they have a question.  I have not used it yet but it also has some potential.

So do the clickers help me teach?  Yes.  The best teaching tool is a good question.  The clickers just help facilitate that question.

Is there a place for them in every classroom?  No.  I don't use them with every class or every period.  I only use them when they fit.  In my WA 10 math class they get used most classes.  I have never used them in Math A30.  Different classes, different students, different needs.  In a smaller class it is better to walk around and look at each individual students work.  In a large class clickers are quicker.  I miss less.

Assessment Questions

Photo Credit:

I am sitting at a PD session on assessment.  A couple of questions have come up.  Some I am asking as a devils advocate.  Others are true burning questions that I don't have answers to yet.  They are not really in any particular order.

1.  Is it our job to sort and rank students for universities?  Is my responsibility to the universities or do I have a greater responsibility to those university bound students?  Is it my job to give them the best chance to get in and succeed at university?

2.  Ryan Hackl built upon the earlier question by asking "What is our end goal if we are teaching with the end in mind?"

3.  What if one student can complete an assessment in half the time of another?  Assuming the same level of achievement and effort do they both deserve the same grade?

4.  When you give a zero for an incomplete assignment does that really mean that the student knows zero about the concept?

5.  Why do students cheat?  Is it because they are lazy? Is it because they don't understand the content? Is it because I did not explain the task well enough or did not provide enough scaffolding?

6.  What does it say about our assessment if the mark is based purely upon the right answer?  Is process part of your assessment?

7.  How do you do formative assessment with poor attenders?  What happens if the group you did formative assessment with yesterday is different than the group you are teaching the adjusted lesson to today?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Building Learning Communities

Some quick reflections.

I loved my pre-session.  It was in depth time to work with one of the Ewan McIntosh (one of the keynotes).  It wasn't just a 60 minutes session but a full morning.  McIntosh and his scottish accent is worth my time and money.  More presenters should have an accent.  It adds credibility because they must come from a distance (which makes them experts right?).

This year had good keynotes.  One exception is that Stephen Wolfram is not Conrad Wolfram.  Confusing - I know.  Stephen is probably the smarter brother but Conrad presents better.  (You really should watch Conrad's math TED talk.) This was the keynote that I was most looking forward to but any disappointment is really my fault for not reading close enough.  However - I still got something out of his keynote.  Stephen's creations Mathematica and Wolfram/Alpha are awesome.  They had better change the way I teach

Dr. Eric Mazur started things off well with a talk about how the lecture is dead.  (Yes a lecture about how the lecture is dead).  His response system and smart grouping program would be great for my classroom.  I liked his techniques and how his system automatically paired up people with differing answers.  Without knowing which answer was right the students are to discuss and are given a chance to change their answers.  Students are learning from each other with guidance from the teacher.  I loved his quote "technology should be at the service of pedagogy."

Marco Torres ended up pinch hitting for another presenter that had to cancel at the last minute.  I could not for the life of me tell that he put it together on very short notice.  I wrote about him last time I went to BLC in 2009.  He was no less awesome.  Marco talked about the analog restrictions to students in this digital world.  I laughed, I cried (well not really), and I LEARNED.  Good job Marco.

Ewan McIntosh's keynote made me think.  He looks at education from a different perspective.  I like it.  His message is that we don't need problem solvers - we need people who go out and find their own problems to solve.  We need to build students who are motivated by the problems the they find.

Our final keynote was Rob Evans.  He is a clinical and organizational psychologist.  He talked about the psychology of change.  There is grief involved in change because you are letting go of something that you believed in.  If there is no resistance to change then people really did not care about what they were doing before.  It was a very entertaining (and enlightening) talk that came without any visual aids.  He pulled it off well.

When I went to BLC in 2009 the keynotes were from different professions and specialties.  There was more talk about creativity in their talks.  This time the presenters were all educators.  It was a more focused group of keynotes.  Not better or worse - just different.

The Building Learning Communities conference was a great opportunity for me.  Lets see how much I can improve my teaching with what I learned.

More to come as I find time.