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?