Monday, November 29, 2010

Interactive WhiteBoards

I'm very excited for some of my staff as they will soon be receiving previously loved SmartBoards in their classroom.  A few are excited.  Some are terrified.  Hopefully all will realize that, if used properly and with the right pedagogy, a SmartBoard can be useful as a teaching tool in the classroom.

As the Technology Integration Leader and the AISI leader at my school, I gladly offer my support and knowledge to help these teachers become comfortable with the technology.  I'm even planning a set of after school sessions (or a Friday off), to help.  I think it would even be smart to sign these teachers up for James Hollis' Teacher Online Training.  He's my SmartBoard hero.  His website Teachers Love SMART Boards, and the challenges provided there, was the reason I was able tolearn to use SMART Notebook in 3 days and, as a result, signup for an "Advanced" SmartBoard class.  I was so excited when I had the opportunity to meet him at the Teacher2Teacher conference in Bow Island, Alberta last year.

Anyways, I better get back on topic before I go too crazy. 

I need to spend some time looking for simple but effective interactive websites as well as Notebook files that I can show my staff as starting points.  When I got my smartboard, I started a website to store all of these URLs but haven't been back to update it in a while. 

So, if you have a fabulous resource that I should share with my staff, I would love to check it out.  The staff receiving a smartboard consist of:  Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 5, Grade 6, K&E, High School Science, and High School Applied Math Stream 10-12 (plus grade 9 math)

I'll keep this post short as I really should be planning my math lesson for tomorrow.  See you soon!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Math 10C

Next semester, I will be teaching Math 10C for the first time.  I am extremely excited about the new course but I'm also a little scared.  There are so many decisions I need to make and things I need to prepare for.  Luckily, there will actually be another teacher teaching the same course at the same time as I am.  Woohoo!  When you teach in a small rural K-12 school, this seldom happens.

I know that I have a lot to learn.  I have to change my teaching style and this is definitely something I'm looking forward to.  I know that many teachers get scared when they're asked to change.  I'm looking forward to it.  I know that I can be way better than I am.  Right now, I spend way too much time talking/teaching.  I know that I need to step back and give that control to the students. 

Based on that, I have decided to quit my job as a math teacher.  I am rehiring myself as a math coach.  I think this will help me really embrace the new format.

One thing I know I will be doing was suggested by another teacher teaching Math 10C.  She creates pairs of cards with math concepts on them.  Students have to figure their card out to figure out their partner.  For example, one card might say p^(1/2) and the other card might say radical 2 (image the proper symbols there).   This is done each and every day so students are always switching partners.  This teacher posted her first 3 pairing activities and I've already had my work experience student create and laminate those.  Now, I'll just have to make more.

My main focus right now is deciding what order to complete the curriculum in.  The following are the formats I know some are using.
  1. Work through it in the same order as the curriculum:  Measurement, Algebra and Number, Relations and Functions
  2. Work through each unit for a specific number of days.  (Example 2 weeks).  When the time is up, move on to the next unit.  Repeat.
  3. Create units of study that pull from all 3 units.
All of these sound reasonable.  All have their pros and cons.  I could see having a lot of fun with the third choice.

The second issue I'm relooking at is assessment.  Right now, we have a lesson.  The next day, students are given a short mini quiz (1 or 2 questions).  They can rewrite the mini quiz as many times as they want until the exam date.  Then, they write an exam.  I don't take in homework for marks.  I used to go around each day and give a mark out of 5 based on how much of the work they had completed.  This would be recorded in the gradebook that parents could access but it would not actually count.  It was just a way to let parents know their child's work habits.  I felt this way, students could complete as much or as little as they wanted/needed to but they would be held accountable if their marks started to drop.  I dropped that this year as I found a lot of time was used up checking all of these and their report cards got really, really long. No parent ever made a positive or negative comment regarding this practice.   I may or may not reinstate this.  I haven't decided yet.

So, where do I go with assessment?  Keep the mini quizzes?  Ditch them?  What's the best way to assess the problem solving that's going on in the classroom?  This is especially made difficult as students will be working with partners.  I find this difficult to wrap my brain around.  How do you give equal marks when you suspect students aren't pulling their fair share?

So many many answers I am still thinking about.  Any suggestions?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Our HillBilly Smartboard

I'm so excited!  Although I already have a Smartboard in my classroom, I've heard about these "HillBilly Smartboards" and absolutely had to try building them.  Ok.  So, they're not really called HillBilly Smartboards.  That's the name our fearless leader @sojbanks gave to it.  It's a homemade interactive whiteboard made with a wii remote, infrared pen and a piece of software.  What does this mean?  You can turn on surface that can be projected on into a touchscreen.  Just like a smartboard.

I saw it on a Ted Talk and then soon after, an employee at FutureShop showed me another video.  I spoke with @scorgo, from Division Office, and she told me that Division Office had a few of these special pens that I needed.  I told her that if they lent one to us, I would get it up and running and share that knowledge with them.  Of course, the sweetheart that she is, I walked away with two pens and a bluetooth dongle (needed to do this) that came with the pens.

Off to work I went.  I had all the pieces that I needed except for software.  Every piece of software I worked with refused to play nice.  How rude! Not sure if it's our operating system, system requirements or a flaw with the software.  (Although I did try this on both my work and home computer which are completely different so I suspect it may be the software).  I won't mention the software name as I'm sure someone else made it work and I don't want people to by-pass it just because I couldn't...

The software that I finally got to work is not free, however.  Luckily, they do have a demo version which works just like the paid version except you have to click a button every 10 minutes or so to get it to keep working.  Annoying but for my purposes, it worked great.  It's only $30.00 to buy it though so it's not bad.  Oh, by the way, I used Smoothboard.  I like it because it comes with it's own tools:  pens, shapes, highlighters, etc.  but will still work using the Smart Notebook software.  (Don't tell anyone I said that.  I don't think you're really supposed to do it that way.  It'll be our secret).

First, I tested it at home using my home laptop as my touch screen.  The pen was a little large for the screen but it actually worked.  Then, I brought it to school and tried it on a whiteboard.  I just propped the wii remote on a tripod.  This took a bit of work to position it properly but once it worked, it worked well.

After that, I discovered a website that sells educational kits.  For about $200, you get a wii remote, blue tooth dongle, ceiling mount, a good infrared pen that is touch sensitive (unlike the push button one I was using), an AC adaptor for the wii remote (so you don't have to use batteries) and the software.  Pretty good, eh?  A lot less expensive than a smartboard! 

So, how do you set this up?
1.  Plug in bluetooth dongle (unless you have a bluetooth adaptor built in.
2.  Install and open software.
3.  Run software.
4.  Press the 1 and 2 buttons at the same time on the wii remote until it finds and begins install of your remote.
5.  Point the wii remote at the center of the screen/board you are projecting on to.  This is the hardest part.  I found that if the wii remote is half way between the board and the projector and twice the distance from the board as the height of the board, you'll see the best results.  (Actually found the distance info on a help website but can't remember which one or I would link it).
6.  Calibrate the wii remote.  (See software..just press A on wii remote or click on the button).  If you can't click on the calibration points, you'll have to adjust the wii remote.  This is much easier with two or three people helping.
7.  That's it.  Everything should work great after that.

1.  One wii remote works but you have to be very careful not to blog the wii remotes line of site to the pen.
2.  This software will actually recognize two wii remotes.  Set them up on opposite sides of the board.  If you block the line of sight to one then the other will pick it up.
3.  It takes just a little bit to get used to writing neatly.
4.  I found that touching the board (when using a push button pen) will be way more accurate than holding the pen slightly away from the board.

Has anyone else created their own "HillBilly Smartboard"?  What software are you using?  What problems did you run into?  How do you think it compares to a real smartboard?  Anything else you think is important to share?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why do I do this to myself...Presentation Woes...

I have the worst trait possible for a teacher.  I am absolutely terrified about speaking in public.  About an hour before a presentation, I start to pace.  Then, I'm nauseated.  I start randomly talking to myself.  Never a good sign.  It's worse though when it gets to the point that I start talking back.  I find myself losing the argument!  I'm sure I look like an absolute crazy person.  I'm surprised people don't take one look at me when they enter the room and run the other way.

Once a year, my school division holds a division wide PD day.  For some reason, I agreed to offer a presentation and once I did that, the stress was on.  What topic do I do?  Finally, I came up with my two favorites:  math and technology.  Ok.  Topic done.  Now, I need a fancy title and a description.  Hmmm...How about..."Teching up the Math classroom".  Well, it's not fancy but it works.  Wrote out a quick description and sent it off.  Now's the hard part.  What do I want to include?  It would have been so easy to include a list of Web 2.0 tools that I've used but I knew some people were attending because I use Smart Notebook Math and they wanted to learn that as well.  I also knew some wanted to find out more about the virtual graphing calculator I use.  Ok.  Well, that's easy enough.  Two topics covered.  The calculator would be quick but I'd be able to spend all day on Math Notebook so I need to be careful not to go over board.  But what else?  Hmmmm....Another focus I wanted to cover was how to include review games using the smartboard that would involve everyone.  Too many activities focus on only one student at a time.  When I was on the SmartTech website, I found a Jeopardy game that was created using the Senteo clickers.  Excellent!  (We have 2 older students sets and 1 elementary set so I knew this would be a great addition to my classroom).  But wait, what about the teachers who don't have Senteos?  Easy.  They could do it the way I do other review games.  Students write their answers on mini whiteboards and hold those answers over their head all at the same time.  I also decided to include another very basic review board game I had made up myself.  No questions were included, just the board game but in class, I always made the questions up on the spot.  This way, you didn't have to make up 25 questions like in the Jeopardy game.

So this is how my presentation went:
  1. Virtual Ti-83 Plus calculator and how to maximize it.
  2. Digital Cameras (and my sample "Lines in My Life" project)
  3. Screencasting software (Jing vs Screencast-o-matic)
  4. Jeopardy Game using senteos (Showed my Pure Math 30 Trigonometry Unit 1 game)
  5. Review Board Game (that I made up myself)
  6. Smart Notebook Math (spent a lot of time exploring these tools)
  7. My new Google Site for Math 10C.  (Which I will use next semester as I'm not teaching Math 10C yet).
  8. We even talked about how to create an interactive whiteboard with a wii remote, bluetooth, special pen and a piece of softare. 
So, my presentation wasn't fancy.  (I'm definitely no @scorgo for personality.)  I didn't want to overwhelm the participants with a lot of information and wanted to leave time to further explore any of the tools they asked about. 

Which reminds me, I promised them I would send them my notebook files of the presentation, review board game, Jeopardy games and Ti-83 plus virtual calculator software.

Will I present again?  Probably.  Each time I do it, it gets a little easier.  I turn a little less green, pace a little less.  Will they want me back is the question...and if they do, what on earth will I present about?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jing vs Screencast-o-Matic

I love screencasting.  For me, it has many benefits in my classroom.  First of all, as a senior high math teacher, especially in the Pure Math stream, it is very difficult to find a sub who can help my students.  When I finally do find a good sub, they're usually snapped up by a school very quickly.  This can be quite frustrating.  However, I have found the solution to my problem...screencasting!  I can record myself teaching a topic to students.  All the sub has to do is double click on my video and voila!  It's like I'm right there.  The problem with screencasting?  It doesn't exactly fit with the whole concept of exploratory learning.  It's a sit and git lesson.  Once I start teaching the new curriculum, this will change the way I prep for subs but for now, when I'm missing, this is the best way to guarantee my grade 12's are getting the information they need.  The other great thing is that I actually recorded all of my class examples and posted them on my moodle site.  We use the Absolute Value workbook so I contacted the company to make sure this was ok.  They told me that as long as it was 1) located on a secure server so that only the students in my class could access it, 2) every student must have purchased the workbook, 3) I must be teaching my students face to face (not an online setting) in a traditional classroom setting.  I was also given permission to share my videos with other teachers as long as they met the above requirements when they share those videos.

This isn't the only reason I use screencasting software.  Last year, in my Pure Math 10 class, I had students create a math problem for a topic we were reviewing.  They then used screencasting software to record themselves working through the problem.  After that, we posted the recording on our moodle site.  This way, any of them could access the recordings if they were having trouble.

Up until recently, I have been using Jing.  I really liked this program but found it had a few issues that caused me so much grief that I finally decided to explore other options.

  • Extremely slow start up time.  I would have to open it up, walk away for a few minutes, and then return to use the program.  Now, this is partly because my school laptop is having issues but I noticed a slow start up (but not as bad) on my personal laptop as well.
  • Must be downloaded.  This is fine for me but when I'm trying to run this with my students, it's a pain to have them temporarily install it.  Our tech department doesn't like to install programs onto our image unless it's been tested thoroughly first so I wanted to use it quite a few times with my students before making this request.
  • A user account must be created.  I created a school based one for my students to log in, though.  All of my students were able to log in at once so this was great.
  • 5 minute time limit.  Have you seen some of the Pure Math 30 examples?  I would have to split my explanations in half in order to record them.
  • Freezing.  This was the final straw.  I'm starting to see a lot of program crashes when I hit "stop recording".  I thought maybe my file was corrupted so I uninstalled it, downloaded a fresh copy and reinstalled.  It kept freezing.
  • I upgraded the Jing Pro version for $14.95 for a year.  This allowed me to record in other formats but I found my students preferred the original format as their computers would automatically open it.  They would have to make changes to the opening settings in order to watch the other videos.
So, recently I have been exploring Screencast-o-Matic.  I haven't had a lot of time to play with it but here are some of the things I have noticed.
  • No account needed but you do need an email address.
  • When you are finished the video, you can export it to a variety of sources
  • The free version gives you 15 minutes to record.
  • Must have internet access to record the video as it is online.
  • The free version prints a small watermark at the bottom of the video but it doesn't detract from your video.
Based on what I've listed as my pros and cons, it's pretty obvious which program I'll be using now but that does not end my quest for the perfect free screencasting software.  The software must meet the following requirements:
  • Preferably online but not absolutely required
  • Free
  • Allows at least a 10 minute video
  • Easy to use
  • Stable
  • Easy to download the videos
  • Downloaded quality is reasonable

What screencasting software are you using?  What are it's pros and cons?

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Why aren't Women More Involved in promoting EdTech?

    Yesterday, I was thrilled to participate in the Kickoff for the Alberta/Saskatchewan PLP group.  Like my vice-principal stated, it was great to be in a room full of people who didn't snicker "geek" or "nerd" whenever you got excited about technology.  I have another blog post in the works to discuss everything that happened yesterday during the official session.  However, after the session, several of us went out to dinner with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, the creator of the PLP, and had the opportunity to discuss the day and talk about a variety of other issues.  It was a hoot!  We spent more time laughing than anything else. 

    Sheryl posed the following question:  "Why aren't women more involved in promoting EdTech?".  It made me, and everyone else at the table, pause to ponder this question.    Why am I not taking a more active role?  This is an easy answer for me, personally, but I can not speak for other women out there.

    Don't make me get up there:
    I am terrified, absolutely terrified about speaking in public.   Yes, I know.  It's not exactly the greatest to trait to have as a teacher.  In fact, I still get nervous the first day of every class, even when I've taught those students before.  When I'm presenting, I'm fine until I start to set up.  Then my stomach begins to roll.  My face turns green.  I seriously start to look for the nearest bathroom in case I throw up.  I begin to pace.  Why, oh why, did I sign myself up for this?  Once the actually session begins, I calm down and am "good to go" as my mother would say.

    What you talkin' about, Willis?
    I'm terrified that when I'm up there, people will look at me and think, "Who does she think she is trying to teach us about this topic?  She's no expert.  Get her off the stage!  booooo....hissss...."  Or, maybe instead, they'll simply walk out because they think I'm an idiot with nothing valuable to share. 

    Tech?  Again?
    There are so many PD sessions out there that I have to question, is there really something new out there that I can share?  Why would they want to take something from me when they could take it elsewhere?

    What it comes down to:
    I know that for me, it has a lot to do with self-confidence it what I know and have to share with others and a little bit to do with stage fright.  Now that I've started this blog, maybe it will be easier to share what I know and am learning,

    Something else I have noticed:
    I attend a lot of PD, especially with a new math curriculum.  However, I used to attend of lot of PD with a tech focus.  I just realized that women make up most of participants at sessions like this.  So does this mean that they feel that they are still learning and do not know enough to share?  This is probably a major issue for most.  Why aren't men attending these sessions?  Is it because they feel they know it well already or because they don't care?  I'm sure there's a mixture of both out there but it certainly is an interesting question.

    Thoughts from other women:
    Tonight, I visited with my stamping group, another passion of mine, and asked them this question.  They were trying hard not to stereotype women so they focused on their own concerns.  Most of them have young children and are actively involved in their lives.  Where would they find the time?  In their households, they, more than the fathers, were the ones making sure that everything that needed to be done was getting done. Maybe in a few years, when their children were older, they would find the time to learn more about technology and then if there was still time left over, maybe they'd share with others.  So, where do I fit in?  No children. Just two pooches and a hubby.  I'm not spending the time running to basketball games, dance recitals or swimming lessons.  That adds hours to my day that others just do not have.

    So, where do I go from here?
    I realized that as a woman, I need to take more of an active role in promoting ed tech.  Currently, I am planning a session at our Divisional PD day (really have to get working on that as it is on November 1st, eeek!) as well as a supper series to focus on Math. 

    Does this help?  A little bit, I'm sure.  I know that I want to be a positive role model for other women out there.  I just need to turn my itsy bitsy teeny weeny baby steps into bigger steps and then into strides.

    Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach asked me to participate in a panel to discuss this issue.  Hmmm...trip to the US...sounds like fun...speaking in public...oh no....  I'm thinking about it but I would want to do some research so that I felt like I had something intelligent to share.  At this point, I'm still waffling.  We'll see.

    Question to you:
    Why do you think women aren't more involved in promoting Ed Tech?

    Saturday, October 2, 2010


    If you're not on Delcious yet, shame on you!  Are you still using the Favorites/Bookmarks on your computer?  You are missing out!  Three years ago, I was like you.  Limited...tied down to one computer...missing out on a great opportunity.  I had a great, disorganized list of websites on my home computer and on my work computer.  Sites were duplicated on both.  Sites were sometimes located only on my home computer or just on my work one.  If I was at home, the site I needed was invariably sitting on my work computer.  If I was at a conference, someone would ask me about a site, but of course, it was on my home computer so I would have to look it up on the internet.  So much time wasted!

    And miraculous day...I was!  How my world changed!

    Now, ALL my websites are bookmarked in one place...on the web.  I can go to any computer and access them.  I have them somewhat organized (yes, I know. I need to take an hour and reorganize them all) by tags.  So no more will you see me scrambling to find a website I want.  It's all there.  I can tag from any computer (even if the buttons aren't installed).  I don't have to be on my own computer.  I can be on anybody's.

    But that is NOT the coolest thing.  I can create a network of friends.  Through Delicious, I can send them websites I think they'll want to look at.  If they like it, they can click once and add it to their delicious account. 

    But that is NOT the coolest thing, either!  When I tag a website, it shows me how many other people have tagged that website.  Pretty cool!  If lots of people have tagged it, then it's probably pretty good.

    But that is NOT the coolest thing, either!  I can click on the link that tells me how many people have tagged it and see WHO has tagged it.  By doing that, I can see THEIR links as well (unless they made a link private, then nobody can see it but them.  Good to know) 

    Why is that good?  Let's say, I'm researching some Pure Math 30 websites.  I tag one and discover that someone else has tagged the same website.  Well, there's a pretty good chance that if they tagged this website, they'll probably tag other Pure Math 30 related websites.  I can go explore what they think are decent sites.  They've done research that now benefits me!  Woohoo!  As well, they might be following someone who has focused on Pure Math 30 sites as well.  And so on and so on.  It's one big group!

    I absolutely LOVE delicious and it's the first tool that I recommend anyone and everyone signs up for.

    How have I used it?  Well, obviously, I have my own account.  I use this one account for my educational sites I use as well as my personal stamping sites.  Secondly, I like to create accounts for each of my classes so my students can access those links easily.  When I find a site for Pure Math 30, I'll send it through Delicious from my account to the Pure Math 30 account so my students see it as well.  Why don't I just give them my username?  They'd have to go through the tags to find what applies to them.  This way, it's one stop shopping.

    My delcious account name is wdotcom.  Feel free to access it and peek around.
    Promise to Myself:  Continue to spread the world about this amazing tool!

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    RSS Feeds

    RSS Feeds...What are they?  Check out the video below that explains RSS Feeds in plain english. 

    Other techno addicts at my school use RSS Feeds all the time and I've known for a long time that I really should do it.  Normally, I just subscribe to receive updates in my inbox.  However, if you've ever done this, you'll notice how quickly your inbox fills up.  I end up looking at it quickly, telling myself I'll come back to it later and then eventually just deleting it out of my email because I haven't got the time to spend to review again.  Today, I decided to go sign myself up for Google Reader.  Lo and behold, apparently I already did!  Now, I really have to take the time to get myself organized and actually use it.

    The most important step (after registering of course) I started with was to create folders.  I really am trying to organize myself.  Right off the bat, I created a Web 2.0 educational folder, a family folder (for my family's blogs), and a Stamping folder (for my rubber stamping addiction). 

    Second step?  Add a Google Reader tab to my home page.  I think I might even make it the first one that opens up instead of my email.  We'll see.  I have to prioritize now.  Which is more, at least I know they'll both open up, regardless of which tab is listed first.

    Third step?  Transfer all my email subscriptions to RSS feeds.  This will take a bit as I have to go to each email so I can get to the website.  Then subscribe to the RSS feed.  Then I have to go back to my email and unsubscribe from all the email subscriptions.  Oi vey!  (sp?)

    And finally, the all important step?  Check my reader!  Daily!

    I know that bringing all the blog updates to my reader will save me a lot of time.  I really am looking forward to being organized.  Really, I don't understand why I haven't embraced this tool before. 

    So, who did I add to my Web 2.0 Educational folder?  Right now, I only added two blogs.  I only had the opportunity to glance through them today but I really wanted to get my feed wet.  We'll see if they stay on the list or get tossed...
    • Kathy Schrock's Kaffeeklatsch:  She appears to focus on sharing various technology and apps that she has found.
    • Free For Teachers:    The post that caught my attention discussed how to obtain free supplies for your classroom.  Although this, of course, focuses on American resources, I thought the blog would probably end up being pretty useful.

    Today's promise to myself:  Spend 5 minutes each day, looking at my reader and selecting one post to read.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    The journey begins...

    Over the past few years, I have built a blog focusing on my love of rubber stamping.  This is the first time, I've ever focused on my educational learning.

    The journey began with a simple email asking if I would like to participate in a PLP.  I had no idea what a PLP was so I had to conduct some research.  Based on what I read, I thought it would be a great fit.  I love to collaborate with others and discover ways to improve my teaching and integration of technology.

    Every day, I worry that I am not engaging my students enough in the classroom.  I hope that this PLP will help me improve the skills needed to really grab my students' attention and meet their needs as learners.

    Although this post is short, I will continue to share my thoughts as the year progress.  Hopefully, somebody out there will be able to take something away from this.