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.

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