Thursday, 31 July 2014

Engagement is not a conforming word!

I was fortunate today to undertake some professional development facilitated by Dan Haesler. The focus of the day was student well being and engagement. Dan shared current data on aspects which can affect student well being and led us in meaningful discussion on these issues.
We then looked at student engagement, we discussed what engagement truly means. Can you have a class full of students all working on the task at hand and not be engaged? Yes! We discussed students who are compliant or conform to expectation but may not be necessarily engaged. I have spoken with colleagues, as I'm sure you all have, about lessons that have gone well, where your students were engaged. Were they? Is it as easy to judge as seeing a harmonious classroom with everyone doing the set work? It's hard, as a teacher, to think that it might not be the case, but if we don't challenge these conceptions then how do we begin to create engaging experiences for our students. I am always looking for ways to increase engagement for my students, and I have to admit it is not as easy as you think. What you think is relevant or interesting to a teenager isn't always the case, but I keep trying.
We discussed the use of technology, because we all know it is engaging. I think Dan put it the best way when he said "boring stuff on the iPad is still boring". Technology opens up a huge opportunity for engagement, but I think we still only have the door ajar. I can't wait until we are all brave enough to let the door swing wide open.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Innovation is more than a label.

We've come through an era where we debate the benefits of rote learning and its long term benefits and I'm not sure the battle has been won in either camp. We move into the dynamic world of the technological age. With so much access to information and resources, there are no limits to anything that you want to learn about. I have been reflecting recently about my utilisation of technology in the classroom. Most people that I work with would say that I am innovative and have great ideas. And, that is great to hear, but...

The more I travel on my journey, the more I realise that I'm not innovative at all. In fact, the whole idea of being innovative is a goal that I am still to achieve. Do I incorporate technology in a meaningful way into my lessons? Yes! Is this innovative? No! I know now, what I have been doing, which many others think is innovative, is actually automating. I have been using technology in a variety of ways to bring the curriculum to life and I am happy with these endeavours. Being truly innovative is a challenge which is so much harder to succeed in. I hope one day I will actually deserve to be referred to by others as innovative.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

When technology means doing the same thing in a difficult way!

I want to start off by saying that I think the use of technology as part of the learning process for students has opened up endless opportunities for them. This post is more about us, as educators. Now, this is not a criticism or a judgement, it's just something that I have been thinking about. We have introduced BYOD for our year 7 students this year, which has been an amazing adventure for all involved, staff and students alike. So, I have been busily looking for lots of different ways to utilise this great resource. As you know, I am a Mathematics teacher and many would say that mathematics is a very traditional subject with a rigid set of processes and rules, and in some ways it can be. Mathematics also provides many great problem solving opportunities which requires high order thinking processes. So you would think the integration of technology in a meaningful way into mathematics would be difficult, and until I really started looking, I would have agreed. I have been surprised at all the great things you can do, not just with the iPad, but also with a laptop.  
At the start of this year, I had a goal to go as paperless as I could and I am still passionate about doing that. To help this occur, I have been providing my students with PDF documents via google drive and then they annotate them using PDF cabinet and then share them back with me in their shared google drives. And that has been fine, the work flow isn't ideal, but the students have managed to do that. However, it is more difficult for me to mark their work this way than if they had completed it on paper. While looking for ways to simplify this process I realised that I was trying to make the iPad a worksheet, which quite obviously it isn't. Thinking about what I was doing, and others, I realised I was trying to get the iPad to change instead of me changing. I was wanting to do the same as I'd always done, and try and get the iPad to fit. So I have another goal this year, stop trying to change an inanimate object and make some significant changes myself.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Let the games begin!

I have decided to trial gamification next term with one of my classes. I have placed all my students into teams, and they will gain points for themselves and their teams. There are many activities which they will have the opportunity to complete in order to gain "skill points". The rationale is to try and increase student engagement in "extra" tasks and to also benefit them by improving their skills in mathematical thinking.
To get the ball rolling, on the last day of term, I put the students into their groups, I didn't tell them any details of what is to come. They were told that they needed to come up with a team name.
They also needed to plan their team logo.
And then create the logo digitally on their iPads.
I was impressed with the number of different apps used to create their logos.
I have been busily creating the rules and the criteria for gaining points. Working out levels and setting up google forms and sheets for keeping track of the points. I can't wait to get started, I'll let you know how it goes.

In a world of zeros and ones, are you a 0 or 1?

I was undertaking a MOOC just recently and had the opportunity to revisit binary numbers. As a Mathematics teacher and lover of all things to do with numbers I couldn't pass up this chance to have some fun with some of my students. We have a small group of students who are part of the APE (Academic Program for Enrichment) program so I thought they would be the perfect group to do some activities with.
Firstly, I created this little video as an introduction to the idea of binary numbers. It's purpose wasn't to teach the concept but more to showcase how an iPad can be used to create something (these students have all been given an iPad to use as part of the APE program).
The students were all given the opportunity to be a bit and become part of a byte. We worked together to do some conversion of numbers from our decimal system to the binary system.
They then practised doing some conversions themselves with the assistance of the BinaryGame app for their iPads 
We then looked in simplistic terms, letting a = 1, b =2 and so on up to z = 26, so to get the understanding that every number, letter and character can be represented by a binary number. The students then went about writing their name, birthday and a sentence in binary code.
We then looked at the idea of a Pixel being on or off (1 or 0). The students were given a set of binary instructions to follow in order to produce a picture.
They were given a grid, via google drive, and then using the app PDFCabinet ( they were able to create the picture.

We also spoke about modems and their purpose. We discussed how we can use sound to demonstrate on or off (high note or low note) to send a message. The students were able to play around with garage band and use music to send a message.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with a few different concepts/ideas. The students enjoyed being able to use a few different apps and being able to make use of their iPads.

The Paddle Pop Effect Part 2

I said I would update you on my progress with the paddle pop sticks. Initially when I started using the sticks I only trialled it with two of my classes. I was so happy with the impact of the sticks that I have adopted the approach with all my classes. The students who were apprehensive at the start, now say they love it. 
The students have made suggestions to improve the implementation also. One being that I have a stick in the cup also, so I got my 6 year old daughter decorate some sticks for me. I always enjoy pulling them out, especially when I say I hope I don't get pulled out because this is a really hard question.
Another change, with one of my classes is that, I pull out a stick at the start of the lesson and then that person is responsible for stick selection for the lesson, the students really like that. It is definitely a positive experience for the students because they complain if they are not pulled out and they always remind me if I have forgotten to get the sticks out of the cupboard. If you are looking for a small thing to change then I suggest you give it a go.