Adventures In Desmos: The Quiz

Desmos Systems example

My kids were working on solving systems by graphing last week. Desmos has been making some inroads in my building the last couple years but it’s still not widespread, partially because we fancy ourselves as a school that prepares students for college – meaning that TI rules in our upper grade math courses. I had my students checking their hand-drawn work in Desmos, which led to some interesting reactions. For many, the ability to enter an equation and instantly see the graph made them more confident in their work. Eventually, one student asked me,  “Mr. Dull, why can’t we have a quiz like this?”

Yeah, why not?

I’m not in love with my current quiz for solving systems. Even with the built-in support, it’s still… not me. It’s basically a dressed-up Kuta worksheet.

It sounds like my students are at max cap with pencil/paper systems quizzes too.

What if the quiz reflected the kinds of things we value in class? I know, novel concept, right? But in one of my many internal conflicts, I know my students need to do skills practice and individual written work, and I also want them to dive in to the discovery and collaborative stuff that Desmos does best. How do I marry the two? I’ve already done performance-based assessments (such as the Desmos art project) for conics. What would a Desmos quiz for systems of equations look like?

So I stumbled across a Twitter convo recently that led me to a circles quiz in Desmos Activity Builder written by one of the co-authors of Classroom Chef. (At least I think I saw this conversation on Twitter . I think even put a “❤️” on it but now I can’t find it. But it happened. Swear.) Anyway: OK, good, now I have a template for making my own quiz. Because if it’s good enough for the #MTBoS people, it’s good enough for me.

Then, time to go to work. For my first time, I’ll take it. I wanted to leverage the power of Desmos, recognizing that the collaborative piece is kind of by design going to be missing if it’s a quiz. We used the graphing tool, the sketch tool, the text boxes and the multiple choice option.

Plenty of explaining their thinking:

Explain Elimination

I wanted to be able to see their math work too, so for several problems I had them do the work on paper, and enter their answer in a text box on the Desmos screen.

And, because Children Must Play: Draw a dinosaur.

 

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I definitely didn’t do myself any favors by setting up the quiz this way. I traded the self-grading ability of a Canvas quiz for the power of Desmos to support my students in their efforts to show their understanding of the math. That means I’m grading their pencil/paper work as well as their entries into Desmos. I had visions of me spending untold hours over a period of days trying to grade 90 quizzes.

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Source

So, a spreadsheet. Turned out to be the quickest I’ve turned around a stack of quizzes in quite some time. I made a column for each screen in the activity, then went screen-by-screen with the Desmos activity open in one window and the spreadsheet in another, recording the points by screen for each student. I set up a column at the end for their poster points, another to sum each row, and one to double the points so I could make the 15-question quiz worth 30 points in my gradebook.

Desmos quiz spreadsheet
Pow. Done. Now to dump the scores into Skyward…

Automating at least part of the grading cut my overall task time by half, if not more. My kids were stunned when I reported back on Monday that I was nearly done grading.


So how about student feedback on this project? Mixed. Many students appreciated not having to graph lines by hand. Others were stressed by having to switch back and forth between pencil/paper and a chromebook screen.

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A couple were pretty blunt:

  • I feel that the quiz could be taken on paper
  • Please just put the quizzes/tests on paper.

And their answer to the question “How closely does this statement reflect your feelings: “I feel we should use Desmos (including its ability to graph, sketch, and submit answers) for some quizzes in the future.”” averaged 3.2 on a 1 to 5 scale. Right down the middle.

As for my reflections, I’ve got a couple of thoughts:

  • I’m definitely interested in integrating a Desmos into assessments in a way that matches how we use it in class.
  • I’m not sure I did a great job of that with this quiz.
  • Honestly in looking back, there’s nothing about this quiz that was so Desmos-dependent that it couldn’t have been done on paper.
  • So from a SAMR standpoint, this was substitution-level.
  • Desmos activities are extra-awesome as formative assessment tools.
  • Does that translate to Desmos quizzes as summative tools?
  • I still think that a good Desmos quiz is out there for me.

There’s a lot of firepower from the neck up out there in my online PLN. I’m gonna keep searching for some examples of existing Desmos quizzes to use as models. Plus, my department chair offered some useful feedback on my first try, things I was able to integrate into the quiz before I rolled it out to my students. I feel like my colleagues in the department can help me match the tool to the task as well.

Might be a good topic for an informal PD-brainstorming sesh after school someday.

If that happens, I’ll write about it here too.

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I Hope So, Kid

I’ve been fortunate to have really strong leadership throughout my teaching career. If you are keeping tabs, 7 principals in 3 buildings across 15 years of teaching. Each had unique strengths suited to the particular school setting, and all had a commitment that kids are the reason we get out of bed in the morning.

Gavit Aftershow
Hammond sunset.

My previous assignment, in an urban district just outside Chicago, we had two guiding principles:

  • We do what’s good for kids, not what is easy or convenient for adults
  • Would what you’re doing be “good enough” for your kids at their school? If not, why are you doing it?

That’s a tough standard. I know we say we love all our students like our own kids, but let’s be honest. Blood is thicker than everything else.


The second half of summer I’ve been preparing myself for back to school, not only in the Xs & Os of planning and setting up Canvas and such, but in learning from teacher leaders online through a couple of pop-up digital summits. First was the CUE Craft #DitchSummit, hosted by Matt Miller. Next: #HiveSummit, in which Michael Matera picks the brains of some brilliant folks. (Conference closes on August 14, and all the materials go dark).

Things got a little meta last night when Miller was Matera’s guesttalking tech & pedagogy. Miller is a highly-sought-after presenter, a veteran teacher, and author of two books, Ditch That Textbook and Ditch That Homework. As of late he is focusing on helping teachers pivot from the “wow factor” of tech toys to a stronger focus on how they fit within good pedagogy. His books have always emphasized that tech use in school should exist to serve learning goals, but pedagogy was the theme of the #DitchSummit.

In a bit of a switch, my freshman-to-be son was watching over my shoulder. He heard Miller expound on all the ways teachers can use, say, Google Slides in class beyond their value as a presentation tool. Then, the nuclear weapon dropped:

Mystery Skype.

If you know Miller’s background, he was the World Language department at his rural Indiana school. One guy. Which is both frightening and thrilling. It forced him to seek new ways to engage his kids. His #DitchBook stuff isn’t theory. It was his reality. He was an early adopter of Skype in the classroom, matching his emerging Spanish learners in Indiana with English learners in Spain. They’d Skype and speak the language to each other. So cool.

Image result for knowing nod gif
Image via giphy.

And that’s just the beginning of tech’s ability to serve kids and break down barriers. Miller related a story of doing a mystery Skype with a class in Belgium where kids in both countries starting Flossing on camera.

 

Image result for floss dance gif
You know the dance. Via mlb.com.

While it was intended as a cautionary tale, my son was hooked by the concept of a classroom without worksheets, where teachers crafted engaging lessons using the tools we ask our kids to lug around in their backpack: 

“Are my Valpo teachers gonna do stuff like that?”

Record Scratch Freeze Frame. 

I hope so, kid. I really do. That crinkly sound you hear is my heart breaking in a million pieces. He didn’t have a great middle school experience. For all his teachers’ efforts, they were never really able to hook him in. He wants school to mean something, it just… hasn’t yet.


Now, keep in mind: It’s one kid in one town. Generalize at your own risk.

But still. He is not your traditional student. “Sit still” and “take notes” and “do this worksheet” is not his thing.

He needs teachers to teach different to teach him. And: There are teachers out there doing just that.

Matt Miller calls them “Maverick Teachers” – teachers who are willing to take risks to engage their students.

And now that my son knows those teachers exist, he’s not going to settle for anything less.

How many more Sams are out there? How many are on my roster this year?

How about my teacher friends rosters?

And what happens when we ignore their needs and teach them the same old traditional way?


source

Guess what: Now that we know they’re out there, we don’t have any excuse for not doing what we need to do to reach them.

Sam was born in 2004. For our incoming freshmen, there aren’t “21st Century Skills”. There’s just “Skills”. By the end of next school year, the 21st century will be 20% over. As my bishop Donald Hying told the St. Paul confirmandi last year, their class will live long enough to ring in the 22nd century, in all likelihood.

Here’s the good news though: With my online PLN (#MTBoS) and at #sselearn and #eVillageNWI and Canvas Camp, I was surrounded by teachers putting in the time over the summer to work on their craft, to stretch themselves and learn new tools and tactics. They know they need to take risks to engage their kids, on the daily. The same-old, same-old, is not going to do it. I hope my kid ends up in their class this year.

I really hope so.


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

From The Ground Up

What do kids really want their school to be like?

Does that match up with what we offer our kids at school?

Speak Up 2016 Ultimate School Slide
From the “Play Like A Girl” presentation by Dr. Julie Evans. Almost 100,000 Indiana students, parents, teachers, and administrators responded to the “Speak Up” survey.

Dr. Buddy Berry, Superintendent of Eminence Schools in Kentucky, has some thoughts. He calls it the School on F. I. R. E. model. It includes a significant amount of student input:

Eminence Student Voice
From the Eminence Schools “School on F. I. R. E. Framework

His daughter has some ideas too, and presented them to us at the SouthShore e-Learning conference in Hammond.

 

Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, obviously. She’s self-taught on a lot of web tools, mostly because her dad gives her the freedom to find and use the tools that help her learn, and express her learning.

That graphic from the Speak Up survey up there? The one that shows what tools kids want in their dream classroom versus what adults think is needed for kids to learn? Brooke and her dad don’t just give that lip service. They live it. On fire, man.

So: What if we could blow the whole thing up and start over? What would that look like?

We can’t rebuild institutional school, but we can change what we do and how we do it within the existing framework. That’s how I’m approaching the coming school year.

My school is going 1:1. We have a unique opportunity to rebuild how we “do school”, what lesson design looks like, how students interact with us, with each other, and with the math.


 

Close your eyes. What do you see and hear when I say “punk rock band”?

The Young Ones
OK, so strictly speaking, not “a band”. Young Ones image via the BBC. RIP Rik.

I don’t imagine too many teachers or administrators will be mistaken for punk rockers. But like Dewey Finn’s kids in School of Rock, we can steal a little bit of the ethos. I’m currently reading Route 19 Revisited by Marcus Gray.  It’s the 500-page backstory of how the Clash made their seminal double-album London Calling.

London Calling
Cover image via theclash.com.

They lived punk. They looked punk. But the sound drew on a variety of influences, including early R&B, blues, rockabilly, reggae, pop, and jazz. And while the stereotypical punk rock song is raw and unsophisticated (“volume, velocity, and aggression”, as Gray puts it), the Clash took its time to craft its masterpiece.

March A Long Way For Glory
Image from Marcus Gray’s “Route 19 Revisited”.

As Gray writes: “The original version of the lyric came first. But the final version of the lyric came last.” The educational equivalent is: “It’s OK to teach 20 years. Just don’t teach the same year 20 times.


 

So: Now’s the shot. A chance to take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and build something awesome. This tool and that one, and remake my Algebra II classes. My kids are gonna walk in every single day with a laptop. That device can either be a paperweight, a distraction, or an awesome tool for learning. My option.

The seeds were planted at the School City of Hammond’s inaugural e-Learning Day last June:

“My top takeaway from the day: the different sessions I attended (and facilitated), the tools I got hands-on with, all existed as part of a framework. In reflecting at the end of the day, I realized I had curated my own little Lesson Design seminar. Whether using Docs & Forms for formative assessment, or creating a hyperdoc for a unit review, or creating an activity in Activity Builder, this was all about identifying a learning objective, and then laying out a path for students to follow, and letting them do the work. And the learning. I’m seeing that Google Classroom, Activity Builder, and hyperdocs can be a powerful combination for my classes.”

I’ve been building my toolkit for years. Tweaking and adjusting. Borrowing from Vaudrey and Nowak and Nowak some more and Carter and Meyer (of course).

There’s more though. Jonathan Claydon has some cool stuff he’s doing to leverage tech in his class, and his students are climbing way up the DOK ladder.

Chevin Stone modeled hyperdocs for all of us at Gavit. Just the thing to put all the student learning tools in one place. There are a literal ton of resources online, and a book.

At South Shore e-Learn Katie Bradford shared some cool tools for use of video in lesson design. I see this as an opportunity to go 2:1, pairing students up to annotate a quick video on the skill of the day.

 

I’m already down with Desmos Activity Builder. Now’s a shot to build in some activities where the ROI was way too low for checking out a cart and getting everybody logged in. On-demand tech means Card sort, Polygraphs, and Marbleslides will all debut this year.

The wildcard is MyMathLab. Several of our teachers who have on-demand access to carts have been using this Pearson tool on the daily to create practice exercises and assessments. It’s actually an expectation within the district. I picture it as a way to create extensions and additional practice as a way to differentiate for students. Gonna need some tutorial there though.

So much in my head right now. Image via Giphy.

So that’s a lot of tools to sort through. It’s gotta be done though. The shift to 1:1 can be done well, or done poorly. It’s too great an opportunity to fumble away.

It can’t be just, OK, kiddies, open your computer, here’s the lesson, pencil/paper just like its always been. The laptops will be an afterthought. Forgotten. Left in lockers.

Or worse, I use them as a $300 worksheet.

And it will be an opportunity gone by the wayside. Instead, I’ve got an chance to build on what’s come before, give it my own personal touch through several rounds of revision, and who knows, maybe turn out a masterpiece.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to march a long way for glory….”

Rock Family Tree
The Family Tree of Rock. Via The Odyssey.

 

Linear Review: “Children Must Play” Edition

Image result for teacher at the board meme

So: Quiz Review.

I promise my students at the start of each year that I will never drop a quiz on them without scheduling a review day. Now, if they happen to be absent on that review day, that’s on them, not me, but still. I’m not here to play “gotcha”, right?

I also learned way early in my career that me standing at the board and working out problems while they watch me like I’m a trained seal is the worst kind of review.

Seriously, “Sit and Get” didn’t work the first time. Why should I think anything has changed because there’s a quiz tomorrow? So for a while now I’ve been on a quest for quality review activities. (Looking at you, Speed Dating.)

But the reality is, anything can get stale if you let it. Even really good, student centered activities. It helps to have a deep bench. Mix it up. Keep ’em on their toes.

Between the MTBoS and the Classroom Chef/Ditch That Textbook crew I stalk follow online, there are virtually limitless ideas out there. Beautiful thing is, creativity breeds creativity. Reading about my fellow teachers taking chances and putting themselves out there inspires me.

So come time to do linear review with my Algebra II classes, I planned a double-barreled approach: A Desmos Activty based on my Clark County School District enrollment trend project (trend line, writing equations, making predictions), and (inspired by Rafe Esquith, who wrote in his book “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” that as test prep he’d have his students predict the common mistakes that generated the distractors on the California state tests), a Make Your Own Kahoot.

I assigned the Desmos Activity as a do-at-home, which was probably a mistake. Other teachers I follow have had great success using AB this way, but the mistake I made was not priming the pump with an in-class Activity. Not too many of my students logged on to try it out after-hours.

Live and learn. I did do a little crowdsourcing for the slides, and got some good feedback.

That’s a good first step.

Still, I took some time the next day to debrief and walk through (OK, more of a 10k-pace run) through the activity screens, pointing out how the students that attempted the activity had the chance to apply what they had learned about slope to a (semi-) interesting problem.

Next up: a chance to dig in to the common mistakes that derail my students. Time for “Make your Own Kahoot!”

It was a two-day review of linear equations for an Algebra II class, which sounds excessive. But I think it was worth it. Day one, I challenged them in pairs to write their own Kahoot!-style multiple-choice question. With good distractors. No ridiculous, obviously wrong answers, but instead answers generated by common student mistakes, just like the testing companies do.

make-your-own-kahoot-equation
Photo credit: me. Brainpower credit: my kids.
make-your-own-kahoot-slope
How many ways can you mess up slope? Let’s see…

Then I collected the questions and answers and went home and made the Kahoot quiz.

Next day, we played their quiz.

Good folks have their issues with Kahoot.

Which is fine. I wouldn’t do it every day, or every week, for that matter. But damn, do the kids love it. You should have been in the class where one kid picked “harambae” as his screen name.  (Get it? Haram-BAE”). Rich.

Doc here: diy-kahoot-ch-2-review-directions.

Are my Track 3 kids learning Algebra? They’re trying, which is what I ask. Are we having fun?

Oh, hell yeah.

 

 

One-Man Book Club: Ditch That Textbook – The Takeaway

(Retroactively VHS Math Department Book Clubbing my way through “Ditch That Textbook”. Intro here. Part 1 here.)

It’s the time of summer when a low-grade anxiety starts to settle in. Bit more serious than “awareness”, not quite a “panic”. But: The New School Year Is Coming. There’s always a ton to do, and the Rational Me reminds myself that everything that needs to get done always gets done. But right now I feel like Adam Richman staring at a 6-pound burger with a timer set to 60:00.

When your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Image via http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/tvbanners/192792/p192792_b_v8_bf.jpg

 

Right now I’m processing Matt Miller‘s “Ditch That Textbook“. There’s a lot in there, people. Don’t believe me? Stop by the #ditchbook chat at 9 pm Central Time some Thursday sometime. And watch the awesomeness overtop the dam. Best thing about that chat is real teachers who have really made the leap share out how this works in their classrooms. I end up blown away any week I spend time lurking there.

Now having read the book, I’m reflecting on my main takeaways. My Top 3 (really 3.5) are Chapters 28, 29, and 30, with a nod to Ch. 32. “Jump In And Try”, “Don’t Use It All”, “Make It”. I think these three chapter titles pretty well sum up my journey as a teacher the last 7 years or so. And I’m definitely down with “Make It Visual”.

When I first started trying to Find A Better Way, I wasn’t on Twitter. I barely knew what Twitter was. I had found a handful of really useful teacher blogs, and I was sold on Will Richardson‘s book “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools For Classrooms“. Having learned just enough to become dangerous, I jumped in to give it a try. I started a wiki for my students. I used Dan Meyer’s “What Can You Do With This” (#WCYDWT) concept, starting with The Slow Forty, and eventually made his Three-Act Math a regular feature of my classes. I used Standards-Based Grading for a couple of years, and learned that selling students on the chance to learn, re-take, and improve their grade (rather than just copying homework, failing a quiz, and hoping for the best) was a challenge. I dumped out of that one after a couple of years, but kept the concept of a list of “alternate assignments” that my students could use any time to make up missing work or to improve a low test grade. Meyer and another brilliant math blogger, Kate Nowak,  shared out so many of the classroom activities that they created, that I stared to feel like I could make my own openers and activities as well. Like the time we tried Mythbusters: Kobe Jumps Over A Speeding Car.

Not sure we did any actual math in that one, although we did some research on height of the car, Kobe’s vertical leap, tried to estimate the speed of the car, tried to graph the speed vs. time of the car and height vs. time of Kobe, and used a little common sense. As in, “would the Lakers really let their superstar stand in front of a speeding car?”

It was ugly and messy, and kinda cool. And made me (and my students) hungry for more.


So, if I were in charge of running a department book club on “Ditch That Textbook”, my next-to-last session would be a huge brain dump on the Conclusion chapter, featuring Five Questions based on the DITCH acronym. (The last session would be a department-wide brainstorm/make/share day. But that’s another post, for another day.)

So, the Five Questions:

How is your instruction different than that in other classrooms? How is it the same? In what areas would you like to see change?

I think in my classroom, we’ve turned “I Do, We Do, You Do” on its head, following the lead of Kate Nowak, and others.

In keeping with the “Make It” ethos of Ditch That Textbook, I stared creating my own discovery-based openers that we used to introduce a concept. Then after the students had teased it out, we could go on to formal notes to fill in the holes, and some skills practice. How is my class the same? Well, despite all this, we still do quite a bit of whole-class instruction, and problem sets from the book or worksheets. I think that’s the thing – as excited as I am about infusing tech and building in opportunities for discovery, I still need to give my students opportunities to practice the skills. Hell, Derrick Rose was taking 1000 jumpers a day the summer before he won the MVP. I’m looking to strike the right balance.

 

What grabs your attention outside of education? What do you think grabs your students’ attention? How can you incorporate those things into your classroom? What are some ways you’ve seen other teachers innovate?

That last question could be a whole ‘nother post too. But anyway: One thing that has been on my mind for a while is advanced metrics in baseball. These are the stats that go past the standard BA, RBI, ERA, W-L to tell the real story of player performance. If you’ve seen Moneyball, you know what I’m talking about. I wish there was a branch of sabermetrics that applied to economics. Something that would cut through the unemployment rate/DJIA/”jobs created” fog to tell us what’s really going on. Because once the curtain is pulled back, whether it be Wins Above Replacement, or real unemployment rate, it’s hard to look at things the same way again.

A couple summers ago I read Big Data Baseball, which told the tale of the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates, a once-proud franchise on a 20-year streak of futility. The mindtrust, which included front-office staff, the manager, his coaches, and the scouts, all agreed on a new way of maximizing success by identifying player traits which translated directly to wins, then finding otherwise overlooked players who had those traits. As an example, they signed a mostly mediocre (by traditional metrics) catcher who was outstanding at catching borderline pitches in such a way that the home plate umpire saw them as strikes. More (unhittable) strikes equals more outs, equals less opportunities for opponents to score runs, equals more wins. See?  The team also went all-in on examining opposing hitters’ tendencies, and began to shift their defensive players out of their usual places on the field, to places where opponents were more likely to hit the ball. Brilliant. Using data to set players up for success. Now if there was only a way to translate that philosophy to the classroom…

Three infielders on the right side of second base. Because that’s where this particular batter tends to hit. Image via http://www.piratesprospects.com

For my students, right now (and this will change probably by the time school starts), OMG is Pokemon Go! huge. A gold mine, really. Take familiar characters, a hunt, real-life locations, and put it all in their phone, and Boom! Instant sensation.

How are other teachers around me innovating? I don’t think anybody is hunting cartoon monsters, but some of the real good ones I know have their students thinking about solving real-life problems:

I guarantee you Chevin will have a kick-ass Flint lesson put together by the time school starts. My #elearnschk12 people already know that, though. She’s got a gift for seeking out new tools, recognizing how she can use them, and then getting those tools into her students’ hands. And then watching the magic happen.

It’s not exactly finding Pikachu, but the lessons I saw in Ms. Stone’s class, built around hyperdocs, had her students engaged and learning right from the jump. I’ve spent a bit of time this summer thinking about lesson design, and Google Classroom, and hyperdocs, and how they will all fit together for my kids this year.

 

How has technology improved your life? How can that translate to the classroom? What’s a classroom practice or procedure that could be rejuvenated with an infusion of tech?

My biggest benefits from using tech in my life are connecting, and organizing. That group of math bloggers that I started to follow and borrow from back all those years ago? Almost all those guys and ladies tweet now, and almost all still share. When it was my turn to put together a presentation to help the teachers in my building learn Google Drive, I turned to Matt Miller and Matt Vaudrey for help via twitter. And they came through.

In addition, the portability and sharability of information via GAFE (Google Apps For Education) tools has made planning and sharing my work quite a bit easier. I can create a doc at school, open the same doc at home, or from anywhere via my phone. Shoot, I made a doc of recipes and household instructions for my family while I was on vacation this summer, and updated it from my phone while looking out over the Las Vegas Strip from my hotel room. Cool, huh? And the Google calendar (mostly) keeps me from forgetting appointments.

So now combine the goodness of the Goog with the need to quickly distribute materials to students, to get them to the same web site or video at more or less the same time, or to seamlessly get absent students and their missing work together. That sounds like a job for Google Classroom to me. Or as Miller would call it in Chapter 23, “A Place For Your Stuff”.

 

What types of products do you and/or your students consume a lot? How can the role of consumer be flipped to creator? How do you or your students demonstrate original ideas?

The obvious answer here is videos. Teachers are always looking for videos to help explain or illustrate a concept. Youtube is overflowing with math help videos. When my students aren’t curating a playlist of their favorite rap videos they are searching for the fight that happened after school or in the cafeteria. So maybe my students are already “creating” content, just not in a school-appropriate way.

Could they create videos to explain how to use a math concept? You bet! Here’s an example from a class at Hammond High School, done Common Craft-style:

Among the alternate assignments I offered my students this past year was to make a video of themselves explaining the math we did to somebody else. Like such:

 

What’s an area of teaching that’s become bland or lost its luster? How could your students use technology, objects, conversation, etc. to re-engage in that area?

As Matt says, it doesn’t always have to be about the technology. Many of the teachers I follow get great results (and increased engagement) by getting students talking to each other, talking about math, making guesses, arguing about each other’s answers. Three-Act Math is great for this. And a good supply of whiteboards (personal and desk-sized for group work) can bring a class to life.


One of the most valuable chapters in Ditch That Textbook is Chapter 34, “Establish Your Philosophy”. In it he asks “what kind of teacher do you want to be?” It’s worth the time to examine yourself and answer that question.

What kind of teacher do you want to be?

Many of my first class of PLTW students stayed with me for two years, through IED & POE. We got to know each other pretty well. They knew I was interested in finding answers to questions that troubled me, and had no problem admitting when I didn’t know something. As a result, they felt pretty comfortable experimenting with new approaches to problem-solving in those classes. They did some really cool stuff, things they probably would not have done if they were just following a set of steps in an assignment.

Those kids still send me funny engineering/learning-related stuff on Facebook.

Other students tag me in updates on their post-high school successes, or when they recall a silly moment in class. Or when they use something they learned from me a few years down the line.

(No, really. It happens).

I want to be that teacher. Guess I should keep Ditching That Textbook…

One-Man Book Club: Ditch That Textbook – The Hook

(Retroactively VHS Math Book Clubbing my way through “Ditch That Textbook”. Intro here. Part 2 here.)

You know what happens next. Pew-pew-pew, stormtroopers vs. Alliance soldiers. Dust settles, bulkhead door swipes open, and we meet Vader for the first time. You don’t need to be any kind of genius to know he is A Bad Guy. And just like that, the scene is set. You’re hooked….


There’s a lot of good work being done out there in the area of lesson design. Dan Meyer maps out the Three-Act Math Task here. I’ve taken my cues from him, as well as from the Undisputed Master Of The Presentation:

The common thread is “The Hook” – how teachers pull their students into a lesson, how a sales pro gets face time with a prospect.

In Matt Miller’s “Ditch That Textbook”, the hook to the next 219 pages is a Nightmare In Real Life, or as close as most teachers get.

Students running out the door. Not because of a fire alarm, a swarm of bees, or a fight. Nope. Running out the door, at the bell. Just restless kids, sprung from a mind-numbing 48 minutes of lecture and practice exercises from a worksheet. The kind of class that even bores the teacher.

Oh No.

I can imagine. Although I don’t have to imagine it. Because I’ve been there. I’ve been The Invisible Man to a group of kids who would rather do anything else and be anywhere else. So has just about every other teacher ever. It sucks. Miller says he knew there had to be a better way to teach. He eventually developed a model for deciding what and how to teach: Different, Innovative, Tech-Laden, Creative, Hands-On. (“DITCH”. Get it?).

I’m hooked.

Actually, truth be told, I had already bought in.  Miller doesn’t need to sell me on The Why. And even though I’ve implemented these concepts into my teaching, I’m always open to some help on The How.


Interestingly enough, Miller doesn’t start with a list of “14 Apps You Should Be Using In Your Classroom Right Now”. He first suggests ditching the mindset of 19th-Century Industrial Model education. The middle section of the book begins with reminders to make it personal, add fun and magic, to build relationships, and to win over students. Only then does he start talking tech.

And even then: Not everything has to be techy. Surprised by this admonition from a guy who is best known for using tech to figuratively knock down the walls of his rural west-central Indiana high school? Don’t be. Miller is a teacher, with the scars to prove it.

Is pencil-paper best? As Miller points out, that 45 minutes (or however long your class period lasts) is sacred. If you take a half-hour to get computers issued, booted up, kids logged on and then a quick formative assessment done, well, you were better off with mini-whiteboards or notebook paper. The ROI for the tech was way too low. Miller calls it “choosing task over tool” (Chapter 13).

I had this displayed for me vividly the year I had a student teacher. I wanted to seamlessly integrate some tech, to model some of my “go-to”s for her. Except I hadn’t “gone-to” in a while. I set up a quick poll using Poll Everywhere, but had forgotten to have it display real-time results. So after the kids took out their phones, made their votes, probably started checking their FB feeds, we sat their and stared at a screen full of… no results.

cookie_monster_waiting
Via http://www.reactiongifs.us/cookie-monster-waiting/

Instead, I got to model how to gracefully dump out of a plan that wasn’t working. We did a poll by show of hands instead, tallied the results on the chalkboard, and moved on.


My other big takeaway came in Chapter 15: Choose To Cheat. We live in a world where cheaters really do win, where it seems like the ends always justify the means, and what’s legal is really defined by “what I can I do and not get caught”. But for teachers, “cheating” is a dirty word. So again, Miller uses words to grab the reader’s attention. He means “cheating” in the sense that there are only 30 hours in a day. Something is gonna have to be left undone. The teacher’s job is to figure out what things go above the “done” line and what falls below. And how to maximize the impact.

I’ve read plenty of TFA stuff. I’ve seen the movies. The Super-Teacher shames the rest of us. In real-life tho… I’m just a man. As I tell my students, “Hey, stress me out, I’m gonna go home and have a drink. Make me mad, I’m gonna holler at you. Cut me, I’ll bleed.” I got the same 24 hours everybody else gets today. And I have the same options for spending those hours that everybody else does too. One of the greatest benefits of getting old is knowing that not only can I not “do everything”, but also that I don’t have to do everything. My most trusted advisor will usually let me know when I’ve stretched myself too thin. As Miller says, it’s important to make sure we’re not cheating the people closest to us.

My next One-Man Book Club read is Classroom Chef by Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens. Both those guys tweeted this week that they would be skipping Twitter Math Camp (a huge #MTBoS love-fest) where they would be Rock Stars among rock stars. Both gave the same reason: their kids. That’s what Miller is talking about. Then extending that mindset to the classroom.

It’s really just setting priorities: what’s most important right now? Grading every single question on every activity? Or finding ways throughout the week to assess (formally or informally) what students know and can do?

How can I use this? Let’s cede the floor to Miller (pg. 89):

Ditching & Differentiating

So I use themed bellringers throughout the week. There’s math in there, there’s common sense in there, there’s opportunities to justify your thinking in there (SMP #2, 3, and 4 everyday!). My review day before a quiz might be a practice quiz, it might be speed dating, it might be a Kahoot! game. Eventually, everybody gets what they need. Tech or no tech. The bigger question is: am I using all the weapons I have at my disposal in the service of teaching and learning?

I’m getting there.

Part 2 coming soon, in which Miller lays out the Xs and Os of powering up the classroom: A Home For Your Stuff, Creating Content, Going Global, Jump In And Try.

 

 

 

 

The “e” is for Epic

I’m not gonna lie to you. I love having summers off. As a practical matter, I get to be Activities Director for my very own (Membership: 2) Boys Club of Northwest Indiana. But the opportunity to recharge is awesome. Yes, I plan for the upcoming year. Yes, I reflect on what didn’t work, what did, and what I’d like to change for the upcoming school year. And yes, I attend conferences and/or trainings.

But even for teachers whose summers are packed, that first week off is sacrosanct. Just 7 days to exhale, shake off the weight of 900 performances, and maybe watch a sunset somewhere.

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“And this concludes our broadcast day…” Photo credit: Mrs. Dull.

So how did 370 teachers and administrators end up in a high school auditorium at 8:00 in the blessed am on the Monday of the first full week of summer break?

The School City of Hammond offered its first eLearning Day on June 6th. To me, it’s been a long time coming. As one of our assistant superintendents pointed out, in the SCH we’ve got the numbers, but more importantly, we’ve got the talent. The bulk of the presentations came from among the 1000 men and women who teach in the city of Hammond. And oh my goodness. Superior Firepower from the neck up, people.

iron-man
Also, cool tools. Image via source.superherostuff.com.

Seriously, anyone still mocking urban teachers is gonna have to fight me. You give me any 100 teachers and 3 administrators from that room, let’s start a school, and sit back and watch the magic happen. I’d put this group up against anybody.

Real teachers, sharing real things that really work. Also, sponsors picked up the tab for everything. Whole day was freebie. What’s not to like?

Kristin Ziemke opened the conference with a keynote presentation that set the tone for the day. I was able to reference her talk a couple of times in my own presentation. Her journey from self-proclaimed “Digital Disaster” to a teacher who uses tech as a tool for her elementary school students to show their learning in a variety of ways had teachers ready to open school back up, like, tomorrow.

I found myself nodding as she spoke of “Mini Lessons I Didn’t Know I Needed To Teach” (been there), and stated that “When we invite kids to make something, that is the best representation of what they know and can do today.”

And on a day devoted to tech learning, a guardrail:

In other words, don’t feel like you have to use a million new things. Figure out your go-to tools, then get them in your kids’ hands as often as possible and let them play around. Awesomeness ensues.

I presented on the Desmos Activity Builder, a tool for math teachers to build custom lessons using the power of the Desmos online calculator. Slides are here if you are interested.

I also attended sessions by Chevin Stone on creating formative assessments using GAFE tools, and Katie Bradford on creating and using hyperdocs, which is my main personal learning goal for the summer. Both ladies know their stuff. On a day filled with options, I chose well.

My top takeaway from the day: the different sessions I attended (and facilitated), the tools I got hands-on with, all existed as part of a framework. In reflecting at the end of the day, I realized I had curated my own little Lesson Design seminar. Whether using Docs & Forms for formative assessment, or creating a hyperdoc for a unit review, or creating an activity in Activity Builder, this was all about identifying a learning objective, and then laying out a path for students to follow, and letting them do the work. And the learning. I’m seeing that Google Classroom, Activity Builder, and hyperdocs can be a powerful combination for my classes. I definitely have a picture in mind for organizing my plans in the fall. It’s a fuzzy picture right now, floating around a bit unformed in my head. But it’s there.

That alone was worth 8 hours of my time on a fabulous June day.

But the bigger takeaway? You know that line about where the needs of the world and your passion meet? That was The School City of Hammond’s inaugural eLearning Day.

Thanks, SCH people. Let’s do this again next year. Even if you have to grandfather me in. And invite the rest of the state, shall we?

Everything’s On The Table

Aces up. Image via caesars.com

I spent many a weekend night as a young adult hanging with the fellas, drinking beer and playing cards. One of the dads who would occasionally sit in on the games was famous for his table banter as he dealt the cards. His most memorable line, deadpanned as he dealt a pair of aces across the table: “Gentlemen, the price of poker just went up.”

Well, in my building, the price of poker just went up. Time to for me to put my money where my mouth is.

We’ve been moving slowly towards a more tech-rich environment over the last year or so. One high school in our district has already made the leap to 1:1 with Chromebooks, and we have made steps in that direction with some informal PD, and each department having use of a Chromebook cart. There is some grant money available to beef up our infrastructure so we can increase the amount of tech available to support teaching and learning.

So at our last faculty meeting, our principal extended a challenge. She announced that next school year we are moving to an emphasis on more authentic learning opportunities for our students.

“Next year – if you’re gonna be with me, we’re going to move forward on this together.”

She told us she hoped to see our staff move to “blended learning”.

So, what does that mean?

George Couros posted on exactly that question recently:

If you google “What is blended learning?”, you will find the following definition:

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

Right now, I do not think of this blog as “blending my learning” even though it is online and I was in a face-to-face setting earlier. It is just the way I connect and deepen my thinking.  Is Googling something when you are interested really something that we would deem “blended” in 2016?

Why I point this out is not for people to feel bad for using the term “blended learning”. My hope is that we get to a point that having an online component to our classrooms where students have an opportunity to learn with “control over time, place, path, or pace”, just becomes what we see as the norm, not the exception.

That sounds like exactly what we have in mind. Like so much education jargon, maybe “blended learning” has lost a bit of its meaning. Maybe a better term for what we are aiming for is “connected learning”? The ability to bring tech to the party changes everything. Including the culture. It’s a huge leap from “sit here and take these notes and do these practice problems” to “holy crap, this guy‘s students just verified a graph of the dating pool by age in an xkcd strip.”

In my world, students like this are the equivalent of likable Republicans in an Aaron Sorkin drama. Unicorns.

What could this look like? Jonathan Claydon says boring 1:1 can still be pretty cool. Especially when you don’t force the tech where pencil and paper would do as good a job, quicker.

But, he notes in a post titled “Boring 1:1“, about the worst possible thing is to use tech as an electronic multiple-choice worksheet machine.

At a local EdCamp, there was buzz about Google Classroom. But the end result was a lot of people migrating fill-in-the-blank worksheets and debating ways to have students fill in the blanks electronically. Or yet another way to boil math down into computer friendly multiple-choice sets. When asked (I usually just listen at these things), I said it’s the wrong approach entirely. You haven’t thought about whether filling in blanks or skimming through multiple choice was an appropriate assignment in the first place. Ask any college kid putting up with MathXL.

Do we need a #DitchBook club? Maybe a small group in the building gets together to learn how one guy (a one-man department, actually) in a small high school in rural Indiana left the textbook on the shelf and used technology to help his students break down classroom walls.

Or #TLAP? I don’t know. I do know the answer isn’t using thousands of dollars worth of Chromebooks to have our students pretend to do PLATO all day.

I spend part of every Tuesday night at the #connectedtl chat. Or as I like to call it, “My West Coast Teacher Brain”. Here was Question 1 from a few weeks ago, on site-level leadership:

As always, Matt Vaudrey brings the goods:

That’s what I heard at that faculty meeting.

So we have a plan. Good. Having a plan is great, but…

“Once you do that, this tank is going to get filthier and filthier, and the dentist will have no choice but to clean the tank himself. He’ll put us in individual baggies, then we roll out the window, down to the ground, across the street, and into the ocean. It’s foolproof!”

..once the theme is in place, how do we implement concrete strategies?

Here’s how: SCH Tech Day. My district has planned a Tech Day for a couple of weeks after school lets out, with teachers as presenters. I’ve been subtly trying to plant the seeds for an EdCampHMD for a couple of years. I know I had less than zero hand in it becoming reality, but: Now here it is.

Of course, you wanna have a camp , you need presenters.

Tech Liasons filling out the dance card.
Tech Liasons filling out the dance card.

Ooooh! Pick me pick me pick me pickme.

Sharing the #MTBoS love in the HMD.
Sharing the #MTBoS love in the HMD.

Seriously, if  after all this there’s not a a dozen teachers in my building next year crushing seamlessly integrated tech awesomeness with totally bitchin’ authentic student products to show for it, I’ll be sorely disappointed.

Maybe we won’t be IowaBIG (who is), but still. To paraphrase the great Shawn Cornally: We did it, so….

Yep, the price of poker just went up. We’ll see you, and raise…