Saturday, March 21, 2015

Digital Books and Online Annotation

Textbooks are obnoxiously bulky, and in my high school days, we often had homework or readings from the book assigned daily. I despised lugging around more than two textbooks at any given time, and it got to the point where I just started leaving my books at home because that's where I did my homework. Plus, we hardly opened the books in class anyway.

Fast forward to today, where more and more books are now available online. My placement has a classroom set that students may check out, but the entire textbook is also online for easier access. Students no longer have to carry a 5 pound textbook for each class when they can easily go online and read the assigned pages. The issue now was how to take notes from the readings.

With paper copies, students were free to hilight, underline, dog-ear, and write notes in the book on what they read. They could use Post-It tabs to locate the book sections they needed. Online, these activities are much more difficult. For instance, the book used in my placement just has the block of text on the screen. It's difficult to switch back and forth between screen and paper as one takes notes. If only there was a way to take notes right on the screen. Oh, and word-processing programs don't cut it because switching between windows is irritating.

Enter Scrible, a free cloud-based program with a downloadable toolbar that can help students hilight and annotate webpages and e-books. The pages can be bookmarked for later, with all the hilighting and notes intact. This would save time and paper while decreasing the clutter usually associated with printout copies of articles and books.

I heard of Scrible, as well as other annotation programs like DocHub (formerly PDFZen), through Katherine Lester's talk at the MACUL conference last week. With entire libraries online (see the Michigan e-Libary at that are organized by reading level (like NewsELA and TweenTribune), it's no wonder that more and more teachers are making the switch to digital books and articles. And now, with the advent of free programs like Scrible and DocHub, teachers can save paper and decrease clutter because the articles don't need to be printed out.

Did I mention that all this is Chromebook compatible and free? Welcome to the new age classroom.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Technology Teach-In

I've heard that Prezi can make audiences dizzy because of their constant zooming in and out. That being said. I don't think it would be to difficult to incorporate into a lesson if the animation was limited. For a biology class, Prezi would be a great way to utilize the animation and the customizable backgrounds to teach about molecular biology. As the topic becomes more refined, the zooming in feature of Prezi helps students visualize where they are in the cell in relation to everything else, as well as what that area looks like up close.

We will be covering DNA, transcription, and translation soon, and I think it would be more helpful for students to see the big picture as the background to the Prezi, then letting the program zoom in to specific objects in the cell, like nucleus, ribosome, and tRNA. I've usually used PowerPoint or a chalkboard to teach these topics previously, and while it worked well, it was also directed towards students who have had a strong science background. In my current situation, the goal is to build up students' science backgrounds so that they're college-ready.

Prezi and a SmartBoard may sound relatively low tech for some schools, but for the one I'm working in, a communal Chromebook cart or iPad cart is not an option. We have one cart of iPads for the entire school, and demand is high. Wifi is not available, and as a student teacher, I have no right to demand wireless internet for my students or the rest of the school. Given the resources available, Prezi and a SmartBoard may be my best bet at the moment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

EduBlog Response

I like the idea of problem based teaching, since it gives the students more control over what they're learning and why they're learning it. That being said, it's up to the students to come up with a research question so they can gather the necessary sources and materials. The issue here is for teachers to help students identify a research question that is both challenging and feasible, and given the amount of trouble people had in my PhD days, this will be very difficult.

I do agree with the author of this post that teachers must continuously learn in order to properly guide their students; my advisor was constantly reading current literature in order to formulate new questions for upcoming grant proposals, and likewise, I had to read literature in order to find sufficient background information for my project. However, that was a doctoral program, and much of the pressure to design the experiments and search for relevant journal articles was on me. When I first started out, my advisor provided me with a few articles to kick start my reading and build my background knowledge on the lab's research interests. There was quite a bit of hand-holding as I somehow managed to stumble through my first year, and eventually found a good routine to reading paper efficiently, taking notes, and coming up with possible research questions. After I passed prelims, things started shifting and it became more on me to come up with ideas, while my advisor's role became more mentor-like rather than lecturer-like.

At the high school level, I would imagine it to be more like the first year of grad school, with less restrictions on what counted as reliable resources. While I was stuck using PubMed and books lying around the lab, there's nothing stopping a high school student from searching the textbook first for some background information. The teacher then becomes more like a consultant, asking the student about how they propose to continue their research, rather than the source of all knowledge.

The author talks about the difference between "ill-structured" and "well-structured" questions, and while most scientists, not to mention grant agencies, would like to see well-structure questions, I don't see anything wrong with starting with an ill-structured question, breaking it down, and the assigning the well-structured components to different groups. After all, scientists do collaborate...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Digital Storytelling

One of the group projects in our tech class was to present on a teaching tool that could potentially be used in our own classrooms. Last week one group talked to us about Digital Storytelling, an application that allows users to upload pictures and create a slideshow while recording audio. The end product is basically a slideshow similar to that in PowerPoint, with your recording playing in the background.

We had a seminar class this past summer, and one group had talked about how planning and teaching lessons was like telling a story, and using Digital Storytelling would be a great way to showcase the visual while creating your own narration to go with it. I have used YouTube videos to show students more difficult concepts in my own teaching, but since it was someone else's video, I couldn't tailor the video narration to suit my students' needs. Students in more advanced classes could skip over some of the introductory information in some videos and go straight to the key concept, while some students may benefit more from hearing the introductory portion as a reminder.

Digital Storytelling wasn't without its problems; we had some issues with adding more stills to our presentation, and other issues with recording and playback. Figuring out the functions of Digital Storytelling took some playing around on the app, but overall I think this would be a good way to make my own videos and narration for my students.

Guest Presenter

We recently had a guest speaker in our technology class to talk to us about cell phone use in classrooms. Before this session, we read an interview transcript and excerpts from her blog, and I thought it sounded way too idealistic. Students are on their phones all day long, and it takes some special skill to have them put down the phones and pay attention, and now she wanted to have them continue to use their phones and learn? It just sounded silly.

Her presentation to us during class made her out to be a little less idealistic about using cell phones in class, especially since she was having students complete surveys or do polls on their phones. To tackle the issue of student distraction, she asked all students to put their phones face down on the top right hand corner of their desks, and to close all laptops.

She had several activities for use on our phones, but overall it was all about using cell phones to answer survey questions. The only difference was how long the surveys were. She also mentioned logging into virtual classrooms using smartphones, but we logged into the classroom using our computers instead. Virtual classrooms, while a good idea, may not work on smartphone/tablet as well as they do on the computer, even if there is an app specifically designed for phone or tablet.

I'm sure that there are plenty of teaching tools one can do on a cell, but I remained unimpressed by her talk. It just seemed like using it to poll students on their opinions, not necessarily to help them learn more. And until I see evidence that students are learning when they're whipping out their phones to do these silly surveys, I remain skeptical.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Technology in my Placement

The high school classroom has changed considerably since I graduated; all of my high school classrooms had whiteboards or chalkboards, with a separate projector screen that rolled into the ceiling. The only place we had internet was the computer lab, and USB flashdrives were just starting to enter the market.
Fast-forward to today, where I'm currently student-teaching at a high needs school about 30 minutes away. All the classrooms have chalkboards, but half the chalkboard is covered with a SmartBoard and its projector. We also have a communal cart of iPads that can be checked out for student use. That being said, there is not much else. The staff computers in the classrooms are old desktops that run Windows 7 on machines designed for Windows XP, while the only computer lab is in the school library. WiFi is spotty on days it actually exists, but most days there is no WiFi unless the teacher brings in a separate router, which is part of the communal iPad cart.
While I can see how fancy technology can enhance learning, I think that technology can also distract students from engaging in class. So many students, especially during the first two periods, are on their phones between discussions (or are permanently stuck to their phones no matter what else is going on). Without WiFi, they dig into their data plan. Imagine what would happen if there was open WiFi at the school.
The SmartBoard in the class has its own pros and cons. I like it since it allows me to mark up my presentations in real time, but since it takes up half of the only existing chalkboard, I have limited space. Somehow when I teach, I take up as many chalkboards/whiteboards as possible. So when I fill up the SmartBoard, I only have half a chalkboard left to write, which leaves me with the dilemma of what to erase first, especially if I'm moving through material at a much faster rate than the students are accustomed to, but more on my lesson-pacing later. The SmartBoard, like all the other electronics in the classroom, is prone to freezing, shutting down, and general malfunction. At least with the chalkboard or whiteboard, the only issues I anticipate are running out of writing utensils and not having an eraser.
Overall I enjoy my placement without the myriad of fancy technology available. It's not a matter of training staff to use the technology, but also knowing what to do in case fancy technology fails. I prefer students to be less distracted, hence still looking for whiteboards in every classroom I'm in.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Connections Across Disciplines

I just started at my placement school last week, and although I'm working primarily in a science classroom, my mentor teacher is letting me observe classrooms outside of my focus area. Being a math minor, I took off during planning period yesterday to observe a geometry classroom, where the students were working with line segment addition/subtraction and line segment congruence. I was surprised by the amount of class discussion and variety of activities that students did, which led to them coming up with the theorems of segment addition and congruence on their own.

I wasn't surprised at the inquiry based learning and student exploration, since this was common in my college science classes. I was really surprised that discussion-based learning could exist in a math class. We didn't have such discussion in my own high school math classes. I had the same teacher for both Geometry and Algebra II, and although we did do some exploration on our own, our teacher did most, if not all, of the demos that would show us concepts. For example, when we were learning about conic sections, we first read the definition of a parabola and an ellipse. Just reading the definition of a parabola, with strange words like "focus" and "directrix", was enough to bore most students to tears, but the activity using wax paper, where we drew a point and a line, then repeatedly folded the paper so that the line and point intersected. Multiple folds resulted in a parabola appearing in the wax paper.

Unfortunately student explorations like the parabola in wax paper were few and far between. Often times we would break up into small groups and work on problems, so seeing this geometry class where students came up with the theorems themselves was a very different approach and needed few materials aside from a ruler and a worksheet.

For classrooms that have more access to technology, three of my classmates designed a math lesson using GeoGebra, an interactive drawing program that allows students to draw and manipulate graphs, figures, and angles. The lesson was about drawing lines when given points, then drawing lines with given equations using GeoGebra. The purpose was for students to see the connections between equation and the drawing of the line on the coordinate plane. Since GeoGebra shows equations, it was also important for students to calculate the equation of the line on their own before checking with GeoGebra, providing them with a way to check their work and discuss the meaning of vocabulary words like "slope" and "intercept".

I'm really enjoying the interactive way of teaching math, and I've never thought of math as being very interactive before. When I was volunteering at summer school in Algebra I, the teacher used GeoGebra to graph parabolas, showing the equation along with the graph. He could drag the parabola to make it wider, narrower, or upside down, and the equation would change along with it. Students were much more engaged, and better understood the relationship between the graph shape and the effect of changing the x^2 coefficient in the equation. This also meant that students decreased rote learning and had higher retention, while teachers found it easier to scaffold future information.

Looking back, I wish I had a more interactive math experience. I loved my math classes in high school and college, but I never thought about math as being inquiry-based until now. I will also admit that I didn't see the connection between the x^2 coefficient and the parabola shape until well after I finished Algebra I.