Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Being a High School Student for a Day

This week I was a High School Student for a day.  I shadowed a student for the whole day starting with 1st period going all the way to 8th period.  It truly was an enlightening experience.  It has really helped me appreciate the daily grind of our high school students.  This blog post is about the thoughts and ideas that this day has generated.  I hope that this will give you inspiration to ask your principal to allow you to shadow a student for a day so can experience it first hand.  

Why Shadow a Student for a Day?
While talking with a colleague Rob Porter last spring we pondered the question "What kinds of things do our students go through in a day?"  Out of that conversation we decided to ask our principal if we could actually shadow a student for a day.  He said YES.   We ended up shadowing different students on the same day this past week.  And yesterday we got to compare notes about our experiences.  It was a fantastic experience that I want to repeat at least every other year.  

Asking the Student
I couldn't ask one of my current students.  I would not want to be in my own classroom when there was a substitute.  So I had to ask someone else.  It turned out that I had just finished soccer season for my freshmen boys and Neil was on my team.  I decided to ask him.  He immediately said yes.  I told him he could think about it if he need to but he said that it was fine.  GREAT.  I then got a hold of his schedule and found out I would be in HONORS mode.  Neil is a smart student.  I asked his teachers and they all enthusiastically said it would be fine for me to visit their class.  And then I began to get worried about what I got myself into....   I really was a little worried about getting back into the classroom.  Things like what to wear and what lunch should I bring.  My worries were for naught.  It was a GREAT DAY.

1st Period   Honors English
2nd Period  World History
3rd Period  Honors Algebra 2
4th Period  Honors Chemistry
5th Period  Lunch
6th Period  Physical Education
7th Period  Spanish 2
8th Period  Study Hall

Here are some RANDOM THOUGHTS during my Shadow Day
  • I feel trapped in these fixed (non-swivel) chairs.  
  • I have warm classes and cold classes.  I'm glad I brought a extra fleece.
  • I find myself thinking a lot about food.
  • The teachers have so much passion about their subject.  It was clear they love their subjects.  
  • I remembered that I don't like to be called on until I have had time to think about the question that is being asked. 
  • I like it when the teacher introduced me.  I think all the students were wondering why I was there anyway so why not just answer the question early.
  • 4th period I sat in a swivel chair.  FREEDOM!  Wow what a difference it makes to be able to move freely.
  • I dressed and participated in Physical Education class and I can anticipate being sore because I have not lifted weights for a long time! 
  • I need to move more.  
  • The first few minutes always seemed to have the most energy and focus. 
  • I don't like being late for class.  The distance was too much to actually make it on  time.
  • Eating lunch with 15 freshmen boys was not so bad.   They did say their lunch conversation was 'different' because I was there.    
  • Teaching is a great profession.
  • I understand better why students want to look at their phones during class.
  • I'm glad I don't have to do the homework that was assigned today.  
  • I'm really tired.  My brain is drained.  I feel more tired than when I am a teach and am on my feet all day long.
  • I received so many papers today.  I have to deal with them all.  That is overwhelming   
  • I feel like I didn't create or accomplish much today.
  • If all these teachers gave me 40 minutes of homework each night I would be in trouble.
  • Time is easy to waste.
  • The teachers answered so many questions.
  • The teachers interrupted a lot  (i.e.  I forgot to tell you about....)  I do that too!
  • As a teacher I think I give too much homework!  I need to pair down my homework so that only the best problems are selected.  I don't want too much repetition.  
What do I take from this experience
Shadowing a student for a day has really helped me to empathize with what exactly our students go through. I realize I need to think about my student's whole schedule and not just his/her mathematics class.  I will be changing my homework expectations.   I learned some cool teaching techniques along the way.  I need to have my students move more in class.  I want to maximize the energy of the first few minutes of class.  I won't be embarrassed about showing passion  in the classroom because it is an important part of my job. This was a really wonderful experience. I think all teachers should shadow a student.  Thanks goes out to Neal and all the teachers that hosted me.  I learned a TON!

What do you think?   

Friday, October 5, 2012

Give the Most Difficult Math Problems FIRST!

We as math teachers typically give the easiest problems first in our classes.  Then the problems get more and more difficult as we move along in the class.  Then finally we give the most difficult problem.  Sometimes we don't even have time for this problem because we have spent so much time on the easier questions.  Our homework assignments are the same.  We give 20 problems that get more and more difficult.  Then you get to the "Word Problem"  which is usually skipped by the student.  They are thinking that their teacher will go over it the next day. 

I think we should give the most difficult problem FIRST!  Then we use the easy questions to help us get to the solution.  When we do the most difficult problem first we showing students this is what we expect all to accomplish.  We give it PRIORITY!  When we go straight to the hardest question we show how vital all of the easy questions are to help us get to the tough question.  There is a NEED for the easy questions and not just busy work. 

This sounds really easy to implement.  But I'm having a hard time doing it.  My traditional teacher mind takes over and I can't seem to switch.  However, I'm also finding that you must get the right problem(s) to start with so that this can happen effectively. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you buy in?  How can we accomplish this?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Latest Technology is not always the Greatest

I get caught up in the latest technology.  It is cool.  It is slick.  It is a little magical.  I remember the first time that I saw an I-Pad in operation.  Whew.  That was nice.  How about the time you saw your first SMART phone in operation.  The power they have.  AMAZING. 

Now, the problem with the latest technology is that we try to translate that to the classroom.  There are some major problems with transferring the latest technology to the classroom.
1.  MONEY!
2.  Professional Development
3.  Up front student learning time.

Here is an example of a technology that I'm not ready to buy into.
The TI-NSpire
1.  This device commands a lot of money.  It would be difficult to work without a classroom set. 
2.  We had a 2 hour professional development session on the inspire.  I'm a techie and I thought the calculator was confusing.  I can imagine a teacher that is required to use this and really being frustrated with the amount of learning that has to go into it before they can feel comfortable with it.
3.  I thought about my students learning a whole lot of useless technology and receiving a very small amount of curricular value.

Here is an example of a technology that I'm sold on.
The Flip Video Camera (or a similar inexpensive video camera)
1.  Under $100 for 1.
2.  Teachers can learn the technology in a 15 minute sitting.
3.  Students need to know NOTHING before they use it. 

How are these different?
Video Camera technology has been around a long time.  When a technology has been around, it improves it's user friendliness.  It also improves on price.  I think I bought a video camera about 22 years ago for $1000.  It was very complicated and clumsy.  This flip video camera is a snap to use.  The fancy new calculator needs to come down in price and in ease of use before I try to use it with my students.
Here are two blog entries that I have made previously.

I don't want to avoid technology.  But for the most part I won't hop on the technology bandwagon until I can reach these three points of using technology.
1.  Students like it and benefit from using it.
2.  There is a low up front learning curve for student and teacher.
3.  The cost is reasonable.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What would YOU like to see in a Digital Math Textbook?

Our department is looking into writing our own digital textbook.   Whenever we adopt a new textbook it seems like we rewrite it anyway.  Why not write it ourselves.  So we discussed the question:  "What would you like to see in a digital textbook?"   Please add to the list by giving a comment.

1.  Levels of examples

2.   Video examples

3.   Video lessons

4.   Assessment tool

5.  Homework problems easily printable

6.  Link for students to access SMARTBoard notes

7.  Geogebra/sketchpad/fathom activities

8.  Wikipedia like edits

9.  Accessibility (all browsers, phones, etc)

10.  Interactive Practice

11.  Homework submission

12.  Dynamic charts

13.  Exploratory features

14.  Tutorials

15.  Plenty of practice problems

16.  Online quizzes with built in mastery and explanation of correct answer

17.  Test generator-choose questions by standards. Alternate questions

18.  Students can highlight sections, annotate on-line, and drag and drop main ideas to make a study guide.

19.  Targets generator with tutorial

20.  Reference to Google tutorial topics

21.  Aleks like account

22.  Shows only the problems that the teacher wants to give.

23.  Dynamic and up to date

24.  Immediate feedback on practice

25.  Printable Homework

26.  Grades and inputs the scores into grade book

27.  Interactive links

28.  Dynamic Charts (up to date)

29.  Easy to view on a Smartphone

30.  Links to other help websites like Khan Academy

31.  Lessons if they don’t understand a concept

32.  Some type of self-assessment where they can see what their mistakes are

33.  More practice problems at different levels of difficulty

34.  Some sort of explanation or hint for practice problems that a student doesn’t know how to do

Please give some ideas that you have?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I Love the DropBox File Sharing System

I use dropbox everyday.
It is a file system that allows you to share your files with your colleagues. 
I have a file that I share with other colleagues in my department.  You could use it for all the Algebra teachers at in your department so that they all would have access to the files. 
It is also a back up file system.
If anything happens to a file on my computer, it is backed up on the servers at Dropbox.com.
It is also a file system that can be shared with all your own computers.  I can download the software so that any computer I own will have the files in my dropbox in them.
I can also login to dropbox.com and access my files from any computer that is connected to the Internet.
Best of all, you get 2 GB free of storage.  That is a lot of storage.

Here is a short video that I made showing it's highlights.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Use the Wireless Mouse from the BACK OF YOUR ROOM!

I learned a tip yesterday that most certainly will help my students. It is that I should use a wireless mouse in class. Here is what I mean. You just have your mouse with you while you are in the back of the room and then when you need to do anything on your computer you can just scroll your mouse on any available surface. The mouse I have works from any location in my room.  The mouse I have works from any location in my room. So while still in the back of the room you can scroll your mouse on a free desk or even your pant leg and it will work.

Here is how I see it best used.

1. Helping students without "rescuing" them.
Sometimes I have to go up to the SMART Board to actually help a student out of a jam. This will help me to be able to guide them out of that jam without too much interference by staying in the back of the room and guiding them with the mouse in my hand.  I will only have to move my mouse wherever I'm at to help them. If I'm at a desk in the back of the room, I can just scroll the mouse on the desk, or you could just scroll the mouse on the side of your leg. It is a snap.

2. Giving the mouse to a student to work on a problem directly from their desk.  There are times and occasions that I want a student to show how to do something.  This will be an excellent opportunity to simply give the student the mouse and have them work out and explain to everyone what they are doing.

Besides a direct help to the students I can advance a slide from anywhere in the room or I can point to something at the board without having to be at the front of the room.  What a beautiful thing!

My daughter gave me the Logitech M215 wireless mouse for Christmas.  I think it costs about $30.  Although I just searched and found it at TARGET for $15.  Someone else told me that it was on Woot.com for $5 at one time.  As you can see in the picture the USB insert is very small.  I really like that.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Thanks goes out to my Naperville Central Colleagues Flint Collier and Dan Olandese for sharing this tip with me.  I love it!


How do you see it helping you?