Thursday, July 5, 2012

Teaching Math - Four Years Later

It has been four years since I had my own math class. This past school year I was asked to teach seventh grade math, pre-algebra, and algebra class for about six weeks. My computer classes were all shifted to the morning, several adjustments were made in the number of times per week I taught computer class, and the afternoon was dedicated to math. I am recording some new insights and how easy it is to reactivate old websites to quickly help students in class.

Math Podcasts
I made a number of screencasts several years ago. I use JingPro. I used to use screencasts for quiz and test prep for the students. I knew right away that I would resurrect my Mrs. Oro's Study Cast page on Podomatic. It was fantastic because the dedicated page was right there waiting for new uploads, it still feeds into iTunes, and is easy to use as a standalone page.

My aha moment this time was using it for test review. I take as much time as we need as a class to review tests. This year, I decided to post test reviews too. I still asked the students if they wanted to review specific problems. This was an added support. The value of reviewing the test in class is that students can show how they did the problem and as a group we can talk about alternate methods of doing a problem. The students still really want to have time in class to understand their mistakes.

The value added by creating the review podcast is that students can, and did, take the test or quiz home and play the podcast to hear my explanation and try to do the problem again on their own.

Math Wiki
I had a wiki, initially, as a class website. This year, I realized it was a perfect place to store files for the students to review at home or download. It is difficult hearing a student say they didn't do a review or homework because they forgot a paper in the locker at school. I had the use of an interactive whiteboard and would sometimes put up problems to work on in the evening on the spur of the moment during class. The wiki became a quick way to link to a PDF or image file.

This is an example of a screen capture from a whiteboard assignment. This is an example of a PDF created from a Word document. We use Schoolnotes to post homework assignments. It was simple to add a hyperlink to the wiki pages from Schoolnotes. The advantage to this method is the students go directly from my math Schoolnotes page to the actual page containing the screen capture or PDF file. No need for passwords or remembering other websites.

The students and I had been using Edmodo in the computer classroom for the entire school year. I immediately created groups for the math classes when I learned I would be teaching math temporarily. Edmodo gave me a very different and extremely useful way to interact with my students. I posted links to all of my supports for the students. I was able to ask them questions and store them electronically in one place. It is private and just between my students and I. The following two examples are from post-work on a test the students took:

In this case, I was able to see what the student understood of their mistakes. Knowing the student in class combined with the response helped me see that they were ready to move on.

Through the next student's response, I was able to see where the student and I needed to work one-on-one. The child came in at recess and with the extra help and some more practice problem became confident in filling in the gap in their knowledge.

I could have done the same thing by having the students do their reflections on paper, but it saved valuable time. I was able to look at their answers that evening and know if there were still areas that needed addressing in the class the next afternoon. I also knew who I wanted to make appointments with at recess, before, or after school for extra support.

Interactive Whiteboard
I did not have an interactive whiteboard when I was teaching four years ago. I did not integrate its use in the classroom in any particularly interactive way during the time in the math class from April through May. It was a great improvement for my lessons, personally, because I was able to save the flipchart and look at what we did right before the next class. At the end of class, it was so easy to see exactly what homework problems were assigned when I updated my Schoolnotes page. 

The students enjoyed the chance to solve problems and choose different colors when they were writing. This was not a stellar use of the tool, but anything that gets a student more involved in their desire to learn is a good thing. 

The other positive side to the IWB was the ability to take lessons and narrate them for the podcast.

If I was going to teach math on a full time basis, I would look to make the lessons more of an analysis tool and much more interactive.

Voting Devices
We have a set of 32 Activote devices in the school. I was really interested in seeing how I could use the devices to promote student learning in class. One method I tried was doing homework review with the Activotes. It took a lot of effort on my part to create good answer choices for the problems. It was actually pretty amazing to find where common mistakes were happening based on the pattern of responses from the students to the questions.  Often I would find a number of students making the same mistake and it enabled us to discuss the difference between the common mistake the the actual answer and the reasoning behind the work. It served a second purpose in helping me remember when I reopened the files and looked at the work. Today as I worked on this post, I could still remember the day I taught the material. These files would be invaluable if I was preparing to teach this content again next year.

Other Quick Ideas
There are so many quick ideas and tips I picked up by teaching math those few weeks.
  • The cell phone camera is great for taking quick photos of the chalkboard. They can be added to a flipchart to continue work the next day.
  • Word Equation Editor - This is invaluable in the math classroom for creating tests, quizzes, and worksheets.
  • Upgrading to ActiveInspire 1.6.xxxx - ActivInspire now has a built-in math equation editor. I had been creating my work in Word and taking screenshots of the document to import into ActiveInspire. The built-in equation editor saved me a lot of time.
  • Some students are auditory learners, others are visual learners, still others learn best by doing. The screencast can be modified to give all three groups what they need.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summertime and the Learning is Easy

I hope you’re enjoying some peace and rejuvenation over the summer months. I am writing to share some free and inexpensive professional development in New Jersey and New York. I will be at all of them, so please stop over and say hi if you attend.

Three of the events are of the EdCamp variety. As a recap EdCamp is a “do-it-yourself” type of conference. They are referred to as unconferences. There is no set schedule. The attendees build the conference session schedule the day of the event before the first session begins. You can post a session to lead or simply attend sessions. There is a “rule of two feet”. If you do not end up in a session that suits your needs, you are able to pick up and choose a different session. There are no hard feelings if you walk out of a session in progress and sit in on another that has already started. One time it took me two moves to find a session that fit my interests. The whole basis is getting out and having discussions with other educators.

July 2012

EdCamp Leadership will be held on Thursday, July 26th in Monroe Township at the FEA Conference Center. It is free. On their webpage they say: Edcamp Leadership is a free unconference for school leaders devoted to K-12 education issues and ideas. Its goal is to assemble forward-thinking school administrators, board of education members, classroom teacher leaders, parents/community members – anyone interested in K-12 education – for a day of conversation, reflection and inspiration. This is the first time this EdCamp is being held. I’m looking forward to hearing a variety of local leaders sharing their ideas about education.

Main website:

#140edu will be held Tuesday, July 31 and Wednesday, August 1st at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. If you register as an educator the cost is $1.40. I went last year and it was fascinating, exhilarating, and exhausting, but so well worth my time. The structure is a full day from 9am to 5pm. Individuals and panels have 15 minutes to speak on topics of their passion centered on education. You can view videos from last year’s conference at
Two speakers I really enjoyed were
School Improvement One Character at a Time by Eric Sheninger (principal at New Milford High School)
The Tech Commandments by Adam Bellow 

Main website:

EdCamp Common Core will be held on Thursday, August 9 in Union, NJ at Kean University. It is free. On their webpage they say: This unconference’s theme is the Common Core. You will gain insights by hearing answers to these and any other questions you may have: 
  • What are districts doing to implement the Common Core? 
  • What am I expected to know about the Common Core Standards for the grade level(s) and content area I teach to prepare my students for the 2014? 
  • What am I expected to know as a classroom teacher? 
  • Just how different are the Common Core from previous state standards? 
  • What kinds of professional development are available to assist with implementing the Common Core?
I believe that is the first EdCamp at Kean’s School for Global Education & Innovation. I am looking forward to getting more insight on the Common Core.
Main website:

Padcamp will be held on Thursday, August 16 in Galloway, NJ at the Galloway Township Middle School. It is free. On their webpage they say it is a: free unconference devoted to exploring the use of tablets, e-readers and other handheld mobile devices in K-12 education. I heard a lot of good feedback from last year’s event and I’m looking forward to attending as I begin thinking more about alternatives for sharing among classrooms.

Main website:
Archived Learning
I am looking forward to having the time to view the archived video from the K12 Online Conference 2012. Today I enjoyed the presentation by Kim Cofino and Chrissy Hellyer titled Hardware is Not Enough. It's given me a lot to think about in preparing for the new school year in September. Happy learning!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

I am happy to say that I graduated from Seton Hall University last month. I received my master's degree in Educational Leadership, Management, and Policy. I will sit for the School Leadership Licensure Assessment in July. 

I learned so much and have been integrating what I learned over the last two years into my daily practice. My posting has been minimal over this time period, but I'm back in the saddle again.

When I signed into Blogger, I saw two paragraphs about Symbaloo I had written back in March. I have to be honest: I want to finish the post, but had a hard time picking up where I left off. I'll do the best I can and post more over the summer.

Switching to Symbaloo
I've made a switch to Symbaloo on the computer lab computers. I used to use Delicious, but I wanted a more protected method of sharing links with the students. Symbaloo is a great site for allowing non-readers to select a website, too.

I first saw Symbaloo in the fall when Adam Bellow presented at Edscape in October. I liked the look of the website and the multiple tabs that can be set up. It took a little research to learn that he was using the paid version of the site. I was not ready to jump into paying for the service so I decided to see what I could do with the free version.

Symbaloo Trick One

I set up an account and have multiple tabs. There is a tab for each grade level from PreK-3 through eighth grade. In order to have it work, I have each computer in the lab use Symbaloo as the home page and I had the computer remember the user id and password. This could be a problem if students remove or add tiles. I only had one tile added by mistake once and never had a tile deleted.

There is another huge advantage. I start almost every class with a quick demonstration. When I start the Internet, I click on the grade's tab and show the students what I want them to do. When they go to their computer and start Firefox, it automatically takes them to the last tab I was on. No matter what grade was in the room previously the students are automatically shown the correct set of links.

Even if I did not demonstrate beforehand, it is easy enough for most grade level students to click on the proper tab. If I am with the PreK-3 or other younger students, as soon as the first child gets on and realizes they are on the wrong tab, I can click the correct tab for them and as the rest of the students start Firefox, they are automatically taken to the correct tab.

Symbaloo Trick Two

In order to easily have the students access the bookmarks at home, I embedded each tab onto a page on Wikispaces. It may not be elegant, but it works. It also relieves me of having to post eleven different links.

At the bottom of my Schoolnotes page, I have a link to the Symbaloo bookmarks. It actually leads to a wiki page with my school mix embedded in the wiki. Above the embedded page, I have links from PreK-3 through eighth grade. These are actually eleven separate wiki pages, but since I have identical layouts, it does not look like you're moving between pages.

Other Tricks
I have to think about other tips that I have picked up on over the course of the school year. I have plenty of time over summer vacation to write. It is good to be back in the saddle again.