Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cell Phones in the Classroom...

There are two apps that I had my students download Monday. SyncSpace is used for Android devices and the iPad while Whiteboard is for iPhones. I had them pull out their phones at the beginning of class and put them on their phones. Some students weren't able to connect to the app. store so I told them to write it down and get it when they got home.

Remember, I'm trying to go paperless....DIFFICULT!! Anyway, I found these two apps this past weekend and spent my entire Sunday playing around with them. I have an Android and an iPad 2 so it was great that I could work on both of them. SyncSpace for Android or iPad (not iPhones) has a zoomable space for drawing and can be shared over the net. You can sync the document and send it to others (also through e-mail) for editing. I like this app. because students can write notes on the drawing area and e-mail them to one another or friends that may have been absent and may have missed a lesson. Also, a student could write down a problem and place it in Dropbox for me to correct or help them with. I had students mess around with the app. at the end of class and a couple students said they would like to start taking notes on it. Another thing that I really like is that when you have written on all the drawing space, you can click on the arrows and move the virtual whiteboard up or down to create more drawing space without erasing other material.

Whiteboard is for iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. This is basically the equivalent app. for SyncSpace just with a different name. It is a collaborative drawing tool that enables two iPod touch devices or iPhones to create pictures together over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth peer-to-peer. I can also do this through my iPad 2. Students in the same class period could work on the same problem using this app. They would just have to connect over Bluetooth and the creativity could begin.

These are two apps. that I will be incorporating into my classroom over the next couple weeks. I still have to figure out about the handful of students that don't have either of these devices. I will keep you updated and post a follow-up blog in a couple weeks with "the good, the bad, and the ugly".

If anyone has already incorporated these two apps. in their classrooms, I would love for you to share. I am always eager to learn better ways to teach "outside the box".


Monday, February 20, 2012

Finally... Interaction Outside the Classroom

About a month ago, I decided to try out Google Voice for my classroom. I wanted a way for students to continue to get help and ask questions outside the classroom. I honestly didn't think this would work because most students that I have taught haven't seemed to care much about their homework or overall grades. In my class last year, I taught students that had very little support at home to further their education. I would only have a couple parents show up to meetings and would never have e-mails or phone calls about their child's grades, whether good or poor. Even though I am teaching in another high-poverty school district, I went ahead and gave it a try. I opened an account that had the same area code as the town I teach in, that way it wouldn't be long distance to call or text. I set it up and made a practice call to see if it would work the way I had hoped.

I wrote my number on the board and directed students to put it into their cell phones or write it down in their math binders. I informed them that this was my business number and that they could call or text questions to it when they weren't in school. I also reminded them that it was to be used only as a resource for the class and that no questions were to be asked after 10:00 p.m. I explained to them that if they were having difficulty on homework and couldn't figure out how to get started or what step needed to be next, to text me with the worksheet along with the problem. They were shocked that I would give them a number to text. I told them that I was serious about them succeeding in my class and that I would enjoy it very much to give them help at home. I did this because most of my students' parents haven't graduated high school and lack the ability to help their child with the homework assigned.

So far, in the past month, I have had 23 out of my 65 students text me. When they text, I make them send me their name so that I can save them as a Contact in my account. One girl text me 57 times in a single setting because she had been out sick for a few days and missed a handful of lectures. She would ask the question and then I would reply with the first step (what is 3x-4x?). I would then wait for her response and reply accordingly. It was a great feeling as a teacher that this student would take the time to do homework as long as she had some outside help from the teacher. It actually made my night!! I've also had students message me when they finish a chapter in their Cognitive Tutor so that I can put it into the gradebook. Some will text me to see what is due the next day or what we will be working on due to an absence they will have because of extracurricular activities or illness.

I keep the messages in a folder labeled Algebra I in case I ever need to reference it. Also, I keep them filed for administration viewing. If an administrator would like to view something that has been written, it's easy to just pull up the conversation and allow them to read it.

What I really like about the Google Voice is that it transcribes the voicemails that are left by students. Sometimes I don't have time to pull out my phone and listen to a voicemail. However, I do have time to open up my account and read the message. I can reply to it immediately through a text or wait until I have some free time to return the call. I am very happy that I can have the account sync with my personal cell phone, allowing my Google Voice messages to be forwarded to my phone. I'm also able to reply to messages from my personal phone without my number showing, just the Google Voice number. This is great because I could be out grocery shopping and still be able to help students with questions they may have.

I hope that even more of my students will take advantage of this tool while being outside of the classroom. It is something that I'm very pleased with and will continue to use in years to come.

Let me know if you use this tool and how it's working for you!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Desktop Notes

Every unit that my students study, I print out a note packet for them to follow and fill out. I have found that this helps them with homework and studying for the unit test. Since I decided to spend a week creating a paperless classroom, the notes on paper just wouldn't do. When the students arrived to class, I had them all grab a dry-erase marker and clear everything off their desks. The concept for the day was Multiplying Polynomials. I started with a brief review over the past couple lessons: Multiply exponents and combining like terms. After we had discussed these concepts for a few minutes, I wrote an example on the board. I had the students put their markers down and just watch and listen. I wanted their complete attention. After I solved the problem, step-by-step, I wrote another example on the board and told them to solve it on their desk. They all looked at me like I was crazy and I actually had a couple students say they always get in trouble when they write on their desk. I told them that after we finished with the lesson, we would wipe down the desks and no one would ever know what we had done. I don't have any other teachers in my department that would have students write on their desks. Most of the students that I am teaching this semester came from different teachers. I only have a handful of students back from last semester due to schedule changes. We continued to work out problems on the desks and I noticed that some students were reaching for their phones and taking pictures. I asked them what they were doing and was told that they needed some way to keep their notes. I thought it was great that they took the initiative to record their work for the day even though I wasn't requiring it.

At the end of class, I asked the students if they enjoyed doing their notes like this and they said that they liked it better then regular pencil and paper. This amazed me so I had to dig a little deeper and find out why. Here were some of their remarks:
  •  I really liked doing notes on our desk because I felt like I had time to pay attention and then work out the problem.
  • I like being able to write on desks. I think I learned more without having to take notes. I wasn't worried about writing everything down and could listen better.
  • I want to do this everyday!
  • If we did this for notes, how would we be able to get help at home on our homework without a note packet? (comment from one of my ESL students)
I loved that the students gave me so much feedback about taking notes on the desks. I didn't have a single student gripe or complain about what we were doing. I'm not going to lie, I was really surprised. Since when did teenagers not have something negative to say about math? I will be trying to think of how to incorporate this method of note taking again.

Hope you try this with your class!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Candy Hearts Homework

So, I decided to go paperless this week in my classroom. I teach Algebra I and get bored with the same ol' paper and pencil routine. I teach in a 1:1 classroom so all of my freshmen students have individual netbooks. I had to definitely think "outside the box" on this week's lesson plans. It's not easy to remove the two resources that most math teachers rely on....pen and paper. On Tuesday, in honor of Valentine's Day, I decided to have students get into groups of four. We learned how to Add and Subtract Polynomials at the end of last week so I made a quiz using the heart candies. I took a permanent marker and individually wrote each term for each problem on them. I then wrote each term for the answer on hearts too (I aslo added a couple incorrect terms in the mix to make it more challenging). I chose the groups and teamed together strong students with those that needed more instruction so that some peer mentoring could be happening during the activity. I had each group get two dry-erase markers and two whiteboards. I then projected the five questions on my promethean board. I told the students to write down all questions on one board so that they could have it to refer back to and I wouldn't have to keep messing with it. Once all questions were copied, they had to get an envelope (small coin ones) that had a number on it (1 through 5). Only one envelope per group at a time. They had to open the envelope, decide which problem it was, set up the problem using the candies and solve the problem using there desks or whiteboards. Once they had the solution, they set up the candies in the correct order and took a picture using their iPhone or webcam. They had to email or text my Google Voice account with their picture answer. They repeated this process until all questions were answered. Here are a couple of examples:

The top lines are the actual equations to the quiz. Students set this up first and then calculated the answers using their whiteboards or desk. The second line of hearts are the answers that these students came up with.

I didn't have any trouble reading the answers via e-mail or through my Google Voice. I told the students that I needed to be able to read the problem and answer clearly. If this wasn't accomplished then the problem would be counted incorrect.

Hope you enjoyed my FIRST post!!