Saturday, November 12, 2011


For a long time now, my teaching partner and I have been known as the "project team." At times parents want their students on our team in 6th grade or don't want them on our team, solely based on the fact that we give "a lot" of projects. Some parents view this as outside the traditional, not the way they did school and can't understand why their kids would be doing "so many" projects. Other parents don't see a use in traditional testing and want their students to learn and be assessed in such skills as group work, creativity, and long term planning. Obviously because we give so many projects, we tend to side with the second camp. However, over the years, we have made some changes to the way we are doing things.
For one thing, we want the projects to be demonstrations of students work not of parent work. Therefore, we have given students more and more time during class to work on these projects. I like to be able to go around and talk with the students about the projects and how they are doing.
In addition, we have begun breaking down due dates for students. We begin the year by sharing a project and having multiple due dates throughout the project. Here is a sample project. These include things like a name for the project, a list of materials, and a rough draft. Slowly throughout the year, we start giving less and less due dates, so that eventually with the final projects of the year, students are responsible for only one due date, the date of the final project. I like this as it models for students the idea of breaking a large project into smaller parts. Many students will still wait until the last minute but if we require them to show work then they can't keep doing that. The problem I'm having is that I am still the one having to ask for each of these pieces. Students often will forget to share things with me unless I seek them out. I'm wondering what else I can do to make them value these due dates better.
Another change that we have made is the way we use rubrics. Here is a sample rubric I've used We have always given students a rubric as we begin a project. Two years ago, we went to giving a rubric that had only one column on it, what we thought would be a perfect project. Our feeling was that students should be shooting for the best project. They shouldn't go through a rubric and decide what they could do and what they couldn't do. I really like this idea. For one, I only have to figure out what the "best" is for each descriptor. I also like to show the students that the "best" is what we expect. This year, we have decided to change the rubrics a little again. We no longer have only one rubric but have split the rubric into two, one for the product itself and one for the content. I had found in the best that students would often focus on the product and the content would be an afterthought. By changing to two rubrics I'm hoping students will see the value of the content (since that is a huge part of why we are doing the project.) One major problem at this point is that many students use an "out of sight, out of mind" theory in terms of the rubric. They see it when I introduce the project and listen to me as we go over it but then they don't look at it again. Even if I have them assess themselves they don 't take it really serious and don't use the rubric as a tool to help them make a good project. What can I do about this?

Anyhow, at this point I'm happy with the constant changes we have as we go about assigning, creating, and assessing projects. I think students get a lot out of projects and it helps them understand and demonstrate their understanding of content. I'm planning on continuing my use of them and plan on refining my projects as I go.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Using Wallwisher

Alright so as I've said before, we have gone one to one in the sixth grade. This means that each student has his or her own lap top. One of the great side effects of this program is that I've begun using a few programs that I had only used sparingly in the past. My favorite so far is Wallwisher.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wallwisher, here is a link to one that I had my students do on an outdoor activity that helped them learn about Carrying Capacity and Limiting Factors.

As you can see its a large bulletin board where anyone (in my case, my students) can post information, thoughts, or questions in a short little blurb. Really students should be able to go on and post a note in a minute or two.

Up to this year, I had tried to use it for kids to reflect on a particular lesson or unit. It had never really got off the ground because of the amount of time students were taking to get online, get to the site, post, and then share the computer with someone else to do the same (we rarely had a computer for each student, more like a computer shared between two people.) In fact, it would take upwards of 20 minutes for kids to make their post of 140 characters. To me, this didn't seem like a good use of time.

This year, I've found that I'm able to use it so much more. Students no longer have the wait time to get on. They are pretty much online right away and now that we have done a number of Wallwishers, they can get there quickly and make their post. Obviously there also isn't the need to share computers. The quick 140 character post is just that, QUICK. They do it in a minute or two, a much better use of time.

So what does all this have to do with anything outside of speeding up my class? Great question! I'm finding Wallwisher to be a great way for kids to do a quick summary reflection on what happened in class (particularly science class for me.) Then I'm able to take these reflections and see just where the class is in terms of understanding the current content. In fact, my student teacher, Matt, took a Wallwisher he had the kids make and organized it and then saved it as a PDF file. This gave me the idea of actually organizing the WallWisher into groups based on what kids said. I think this might allow me even more opportunity to check for understanding!

While I still prefer exit cards for individual understanding (particularly of on skills and in math) I'm finding that I really can get at whether I need to reteach something or not based on kids comments on the Wallwisher. I'm also finding that students are able to pick up information from one another and add on to thoughts that others are saying. I've yet to have students ask very deep questions on the Wallwisher but I'm looking forward to them answering one another on there.

Overall, I'm happy with how Wallwisher combined with our one to one initiative has allowed me to take my use of formative assessment into a different path and I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can do.

What are people's thoughts on Wallwisher? What other things have people used it for? How can I stretch myself and my use of it?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1 to 1 reflection: part 2

I'm going to use this post to reflect on the first month of the one to one initiative with this post looking at how the one to one initiative has changed my classroom from the perspective of my teaching and more importantly the students' learning.

To start, I think we have started from a different place than maybe other one to one initiatives. We had a set up of a dozen or so lap tops on each team the past two years and we have had the opportunity to borrow from other teams. We also had a couple dozen net books to sign out too. All these computers made it so that I had the opportunity to use computers with my kids just about all the time. Often it was in a one to two sort of situation but at times I actually was one to one. We have also had Google Apps for the past two years and I have used them fairly extensively, starting about a year and a half ago.

All that being said, there are a number of changes this year with students having THEIR OWN one to one computer. First is a simple matter of ease and making lap tops ubiquitous in my teaching. I no longer have to plan around other people and their computer needs. I don't need to check on who else is using the lap tops, if my teammates need them in their classes, and so on. If I have something planned I know I have access to computers and online resources. In fact, its to the point that I don't even think about this access and I kind of take it for granted. This is great in a number of ways. I can have the students watch a video, look at an online simulation, listen to audio, etc. on a particular topic. In fact, I can offer all of those options which helps get at different learning modalities. Also students have access to online files (Google Docs) where I can share the day's activities and students can do their work. Finally, with students having their own lap tops, I know students will have the ability to finish their work at home or during enrichment time.

It actually is getting to the point that I no longer think of the lap top as a different tool that I need to plan for but rather I treat it as a normal tool that students have and will access at different points in a lesson. I think this is probably as it should be. That's not to say that the students are using the lap tops at all times during all classes. There are plenty of times in math when students are working out problems with pencils and paper (or dry erase marker and desk),

playing games to reinforce concepts, or doing a simulation. In Science, students are engaged in hands-on labs, acting out the roles of living things, or reading and responding to text. The beautiful thing is that the lap tops can have roles in these activities but often I don't expressly plan for their use.

Along this line of thought, I have continued to do a number of activities that I have always done but I have offered new ways for students to demonstrate their mastery by using the lap tops and online programs. I think its important to not search out activities just to use the lap tops but rather to do activities that may benefit from using a lap top but are otherwise strong activities. For instance, I have had students make a "lesson" on the topic of using prime factorization. In the past, this has taken the form of a written "notebook item." This year, I had students download Smart Notebook and create a podcast of the lesson. The goal of the lesson was to have students teach a skill (because if a student can teach others a topic that shows that they have a great grasp of the topic themselves.) By using Smart Notebook students now had a multimedia lesson, one which allowed them to talk through the problem as well as draw out examples. In this example, I really believe that technology expanded on an already strong lesson.

Another area I see my classroom changing for students and myself is how we treat homeroom and enrichment time. Students now come in and fire up their lap top, check into the attendance page, and then answer a question that is posted outside the classroom on a whiteboard. Often the question requires some research which gets kids working with Wikipedia and Google Search. As the year progresses, I can see using these questions to even teach advanced search.

During enrichment, students have begun to "play" with their lap tops. Students have looked at world landmarks on Google Earth, made houses on Google Sketchup, and searched for a topic that interests them on Wikipedia. This isn't something that I had seen before nor was I expecting to see it now. Students in the past had used lap tops during enrichment mainly to do work that we had assigned. There were not enough computers for kids to just "play." I think its great that kids are doing different things now that they can with their own lap tops. They are experiencing programs that I might not be able to show them or not show them in much depth. They are learning about all sorts of things that I don't even know about! This ability to "play" is a great side benefit of students having their own lap tops.

Student collaboration has changed somewhat too. Students still chat with one another while working in math and science or even during enrichment. Students have begun sharing Google documents and working collaboratively, especially in science on labs. But I'm also seeing students chat using Google chat and even video chat! I see students sitting in my teaching partners class chatting with kids in my class (at appropriate times of course!) Some of the more adventurous students have even begun using the chat feature when they are doing group work and aren't right next to one another. I had never really thought about using this feature in learning but the students willingness to try it makes me interested in seeing how I can incorporate it into their learning.

Overall, its very early into the year and I'm still getting used to students having their own lap tops. I don't know that it has created this huge shift in the way that I teach largely because I've been teaching as if students had this sort of technology for the past couple years anyhow. I do know that I need to keep learning and introducing and trying new things. I'm excited about what this is going to look like and where we are going to go each and every month!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

One to One Reflection part 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm going to be reflecting on the first month of our one to one initiative. I'll be cross posting these reflections on the Ozzie Peeps part of the PLP wiki. This first one is going to be in two parts. Part one will be the nuts and bolts and how I feel those have gone thus far. Part two will discuss changes that I've made in the way I teach. Enough of my blathering, let's reflect!

I'm focusing this part of the reflection on the nuts and bolts of rolling out a lap top initiative. This means things like the parent meetings, storage cases, and the actual handing out of the lap tops.

The Good:
1) Identify lap tops: We decided to have the lap tops engraved with an id number, write the id number on the lap top and charger in Sharpie, and add a sticker with student identification on the bottom of the lap top. All of these work great. Students know the id number of their lap top and easily claim their charger if I find it laying around and call out the number. The most important item, the lap top, has the number for the kids to identify it but more importantly, I don't have to know each number because the students' names are on the bottom. This way if a lap top is left laying around I know who it belongs to.

2) The physical roll out itself: I was pleased at how well the roll out itself went. As we essentially had six classrooms having lap tops passed out, I think our idea to pass out only two classrooms worth a day was a great idea. This allowed plenty of time for students to get the lap tops, take them out of the boxes (I think its important that the kids get to actually "open" the lap top and take it out of the box as well. In my opinion this led to more ownership of the lap tops), attach their name stickers, and then play with them for a little.

3) The timing of kids bringing their lap tops home: I liked that students couldn't take their lap tops home right away. I think it was a good idea to have get to know the lap tops while at the same time allowing us to get to know the students. We were also able to instill some responsibility into the students about the lap tops. I think by not just letting the kids take them home, we were able to show them how important we though the lap tops were and for most kids this transferred to them.

4) The lap tops themselves: I couldn't be happier with the way the lap tops have worked. Students can access anything we have thrown at them so far (although we haven't done much video editing.) I'm also loving the idea to have them not connected to the network. The amount of time I wasted last year waiting for lap tops to boot up and then having some not do so was tremendous. None of that this year! Granted it is early, we really haven't had any issues with speed or battery power. I think it will be interesting to see how they are doing next year at this time.

The bad
1) The lap top cart: there really isn't much positive to say about the cart. Its too small. It doesn't have enough power slots. The lock doesn't work. I think the idea of a mobile cart is something we need to examine. We obviously had previously used mobile carts because we were actually moving them around the building. Now the lap tops are going to stay in one classroom to store and charge. A better idea would be to have some sort of shelf where all the lap tops could be stored. We could then have some power strips so we would have enough outlets for all of the lap tops to plug in. I think we need to examine the idea of locking up the lap tops. If they are in our classrooms and the door is locked, do they really need to be locked up as well?

2) The timing of the roll out: Personally, I'd like to see the students get the lap tops on the first day. I think we could use the first week as a boot camp where students learn about their computers and the programs we will use with them. Not having access to computers for that first week and a half was actually somewhat difficult and I can only imagine it will be more so for me next year after having almost a full year in this one to one program. I think we might want to look into a way to roll out the computers on day one next year.

The so/so
1) The parent meetings: I was very impressed that almost all the parents made it out to the pre-school meetings. I was also impressed to see most parents paid the self-insurance money right off. It seemed that many parents were on board with the whole idea. That being said, I'm not sure we really got across the whole idea of why we are doing this initiative. I don't think this is anyone's fault. I just don't know that we knew what to say as this was all brand new to us. I certainly think future pre-school parent meetings will present what we are doing in a better light.

2) All those forms: Obviously there are a lot of forms we are having parents fill out. There is the AUP, the lap top agreement, the google form asking if parents want the lap top to go home. I think its important for us to look at this and maybe consolidate all these into one form. I've mentioned this before, but I'd like to see these forms (especially the AUP) done in such a way that they encompasses the whole Middle School experience, i.e. parents sign them and they work for all three years. I'd like to see them passed out in the spring of fifth grade for parents to sign so that we can get rolling on day one. I also think by consolidating to one form, it will make it easier on us. I hate having to check all sorts of forms. It would be so much easier if all the information was contained on one Google Form.

3) The carry bags. I really like the bags. Once students got them it made things so much easier. Prior to getting the bags, we had a couple students drop their lap tops. Since we have had none of those problems. I also love that students can "personalize" their bags by adding stickers, etc. That being said, the bags could be a bit bigger. There is barely enough room to hold the computer, the charger, and a mouse. What if students had a microphone/headset too? What about other things students might need? The other problem I had with the carry bags is the timing of getting them. They need to come out at the same time as the computers. This would avoid those drops I previously mentioned.

4) The programs loaded on the computer: I'm happy with all the programs loaded onto the computers although I don't know that anyone is ever going to use the libre office suite if we also have Microsoft Office on the computers. I love that Google Earth and Sketchup are on the computer as kids are already playing with both programs and I haven't introduced either. I imagine in the long run these kids will easily know more tricks with both programs than I can show. I also love that both Firefox and Chrome are on the lap tops as some kids prefer one and some kids prefer the other, with both having some positives and negatives. I do think that this year, we will probably have some idea on some add ons that we will want to use with particular browsers and may want to add that to the image for next year. My biggest issue with a program missing is Smart Notebook. This program has so many possible uses for the kids and we have a district license so it makes sense to include it on the lap tops. More so, it is a tremendous pain to actually put on the lap tops. It took me a couple of days during enrichment to get it on my forty four students' lap tops.

Overall, even though it seems like I'm negative on some things, I'm really pleased about how the one to one initiative started. I think there are some areas we can improve and I think its important to have the discussion about how to do so. Once do that, we can focus all our attention on how the lap tops can change our teaching.

Now on to part 2: the first month of teaching, how the lap tops have changed my teaching

Thursday, October 13, 2011


So I've been really bad with my time management and have not posted since February. In that time, I've had pretty close to a million posts rummaging through my head, from my Dry Erase lab tables to our new one to one initiative that I and my sixth grade colleagues are undertaking. I've decided that its time to actually do something about it and start making some posts. For this first post back I'm going to provide some background of our one to one initiative. This will lead up to my next post which will be my reflection of the first month of our one to one initiative.

First the background. Last winter/spring, our sixth grade team meet for our monthly sixth grade meeting. Also sitting in on our meeting was the district technology integrationist and the district technology director. Obviously something was up! It was shared with us that the district was planning on increasing the amount of funds put toward technology with hopes of eventually having a one to one program in grades 3 through 8. This was exciting news! Each sixth grade team had previously had a cart of a dozen lap tops and had access to many other carts throughout the school. Therefore we were not going into this "cold turkey." That being said, it was a difference from anything we had done before and so we scheduled some meetings and preparation periods for the rest of the spring to ready ourselves for the "rollout" in the fall. We spent the majority of these meetings talking about the nuts and bolts of the rollout. These included such things as the when, where, and how of parent meetings, the software that we wanted put on the machines initially, and the plan on how to store lap tops during the school day or if kids didn't take them home. We never really got around to talking about how our teaching was going to change with the lap tops. The summer came and all of us did our own thing. We took different classes, went on vacation, and just re-energized for the new school year. In-service came and we spent some more time on the nuts and bolts and actually had our first two parent meetings. These actually went really well with only a few, small unanticipated questions popping up. It was at this time that our Director of Technology started to present us with some options of ways that we (the sixth grade team) could meet and begin discussing how we would implement changes in instruction because we had the lap tops. Obviously this was a very important issue to her as she needed to provide the Superintendent and the School Board with some data to show that the lap tops weren't just being used as glorified word processors. So we were signed up to go to a one to one conference run of local educators here in Vermont. We were also signed up to join the PLPnetwork with Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It was at the first PLP meeting that we began planning how we would gather and share data on how the lap top initiative is working. One thing we decided on was having students do a monthly "Thoughts on Learning" reflection in Google Docs. This reflection was simply an answer to two questions, neither of which was directly related to the lap tops and technology but both of which could be answered by referring to those things. Off of this, I suggested that we as the teachers should also reflect at least monthly on our learning and how it had changed. So basically, this long winded explanation is one reason why I'll be blogging more. I plan on cross posting my thoughts here as well as on our Ozzie Peeps website (the one used by our sixth grade). If you read through all this, Thank You. It was more for me to kind of summarize where we are coming from as I start reflecting.
Next Post: Reflections on the first month of one to one

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I know I've been away for a REAL LONG time but I figure its time to start posting again. Anyhow here is a post I made on MSP2 about my new experience of "flipping" my math classroom.

So a couple months ago, I was having a conversation on twitter with another teacher discussing homework and how I had kids not doing it, doing it all wrong, etc. She suggested I watch a video link she sent me from youtube on "flipping the classroom." Here's the video link- check it out The Flipped Classroom.

Anyhow, it just made so much sense to me. So I decided to go ahead and "flip" my classroom. I was just finishing up my unit on fractions, so it made sense to start with my unit on decimals.

In the past, I had started many classes with what I call a note book item. This was essentially an explanation of how to do some math skill plus some practice problems on the skill that I would do. Then I typically have students work on an activity (maybe something involving a number line for instance) or play a game to reinforce the skill. Finally, I'd have kids take home a sheet of practice work that I had created. Overall, I wasn't unhappy with this way of doing things but I always questioned how the practice work was going. Sure it worked nicely for some kids but others never did it and would have to stay in for lunch or after school with me. Others would come in and tell me they had no idea what they were doing or worse would do it all wrong and then I would have to "unteach" what the practice had taught them!

Now with my "flipping" of the classroom, I make a video of myself doing the note book item and have students go home and watch the video (and fill out the note book item while watching it- nothing more than copying down what I'm doing).Our district has a district Smart note book license and I have a Smart Board in my room so I use Smart note book and the Smart recorder. This works well for me as everything I need to make the video is in one place. Here is an example Converting Repeating Decimals. Then the next day when students come in, they do a version of what I used to send home as homework. While they are doing these practice problems, I'll wander around and chat with kids, getting a sense of their understanding. I can then do some more work with kids who didn't get it and those that did move on to the game or activity that I had planned for class.

So far, its been working great. The kids enjoy it as they can watch and listen to me in their own time. This means they can rewind me if need be so that they can go over something that just didn't make sense. I think many of them like this because unlike in class where they feel awkward asking questions, the rewinding and watching again doesn't make them stick out in front of their peers. Many also like the fact that its a "video" for homework. It just seems cool to them plus to many who are more visual than auditory learners it helps them retain the information.

All that being said, there are some problems that I'm having. For one thing I still have a couple kids (4) who are still not doing any homework. What do I do with the kids who don't watch the video? I can keep them after but then what do they do in class that day? This is something I'm struggling with. Another thing I struggle with is how best to share the videos. Our district has Google Apps and so I upload the videos and then share with the kids. The problem is that I'm already at 15% of my file space and I'm not even done the decimal unit! I don't want to delete them because I think the kids may want to access them later. I can see possible benefits in putting them on youtube as kids could access them via their ipods, etc too. Of course then kids have to take extra steps (other than just going to google docs) to get to the videos.

I'd love to generate some discussion on here. What are people's thoughts on this? What issues do people have? Do people have ideas or thoughts about my potential problems? Let's get a good talk going!