Getting Around

Saturday, October 27, 2012

#msSunFun iPad and Tech

Before I go on, if you have experience or ideas on how to integrate slow netbooks into a classroom, please comment on my previous post. I could use your help!

At my school all the teachers have iPads. The students will eventually get them, too. What I've been using mine most for is controlling my computer. We have the Splashtop whiteboard app on our iPads and the matching software on our PCs. This is so handy. I have classes who find it difficult to focus, and as soon as I turn off the lights (I have a very dim projector) they can't concentrate. I can walk around and still control my computer with the iPad so I can manage by proximity. In addition, it's just wicked cool to be able to access my PC from anywhere in the building, particularly during meetings. I also take attendance on the iPad with our student system because then I can use the projector, which is run by the computer, for bell work. We will eventually be using My Big Campus when students get their iPads, which I'm hoping to use to post and collect assignments in addition to having a forum/discussion area.

I also have a set of clickers, which I use for weekly, 5-question quizzes first thing on Fridays. These quizzes are worth very little grade-wise, but I get a lot of formative information out of them. The reports are pretty useful as long as I'm careful about how I structure the quizzes. The way I run the quizzes is that we do each question and then we can see how many of us got it right. I'll work the problem at the board right then and there before we move on to the next question if anyone got it wrong. Students tell me this helps them think about what they were supposed to do and it minimizes the overload you feel when you get several wrong and you don't know why. I'm hoping to find some new ways to use the clickers because the kids LOVE them. Some teachers in other buildings have students enter their homework answers on the clickers, but I'm not exactly clear how that works for complicated answers.

I recently offered to host a departmental netbook cart (see previous post) and am looking for ways to use the netbooks. I have all my math kids signed up for Khan Academy with me as one of their coaches, which I'm slowly introducing as a way to supplement the textbooks. Many of my kids have reading difficulties, and the videos are a good replay of the material we cover in class. The textbooks are of little use to over half my class since their reading levels aren't that high and they have huge math gaps. As time goes on I'd like to teach them to use KA more independently to fill gaps and review things they're having trouble remembering. I don't think KA could ever replace a teacher and I do find flaws with it, but the kids love anything to do with the computer. If it gets them to do extra practice, I'll take the flaws, any day. All kids in the school have school-sponsored Google accounts, which is what I have them use to login to KA.

Last but not least, I have a website. I post any homework that comes from the book as well as any handouts I gave kids that I have the rights to post. About a third of my math class doesn't have internet access at home, so I can't count on the website as a reliable communication tool. Several of my students check it regularly, but they are the exception. I use Google sites because that's what the school has provided for us. I like Weebly better, but I already used up my two free sites!

I can't wait to see how everyone else is using technology!


I just scored a used netbook cart*. Woot! So, now what? It takes FOREVER for the things to log anyone on, but it's probably no longer than getting everyone to the computer labs on the other side of the building and settled. I have tons of ideas, and I'm probably freer in my math classes than I am in my science classes to incorporate/abuse technology.

So, if a netbook cart fell into your classroom, what would you do with it? Where would you start?

The interwebs are full of advice articles on how to use technology, but I'd rather hear it from the people who have actually tried things.

*It's not really mine permanently. Technically, it belongs to the science department and so they can come use it any time without a reservation (though they'd ask first, because they are darned nice people). I am the newest teacher and therefore have the quirkiest room. One of its quirks is that, unlike all the other lab rooms, it only has one wall taken up by cabinets. That leaves me with wall space. I generously offered to store the netbook cart on behalf of the department since I haven't really seen anyone using it and I have more space. Voila! I can haz netbooks! Having access to the resources of two departments is the bomb, I must say.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sub Seating Charts

In my classes the interpersonal dynamics are very fluid. I also get new students regularly and without warning. Because of this, I change the seating charts frequently.

And therein lies the making-more-work-for-myself problem.

We have to keep our sub plans, including seating charts, in the office in case something befalls us unexpectedly. I'm killing trees each time I change seats. And I have to remember to replace the old ones with new ones each time.

Here's my brainstorm: seats for sub days!

This last seating change we did is now the sub seating chart. I told the kids that if I have a sub, they are to go to these seats instead of whatever the current seating plan is. I'm going to post it on the wall so they have a reference after our next seating change. I can pencil in new students as soon as they show up.

I feel like a genius. Yeah, it doesn't take much!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Frustration of Collaboration

Before I begin with my frustration, let me just say that I love working with others. I can never do as well by myself as I can with a cohort. I believe this. I know this. I wouldn't have become a teacher if I hadn't seen how collaboration was the new hotness, because in my previous career you just can't function alone and I couldn't imagine doing so.

But. How can I put this?

Unlike in other collaborative circumstances, I feel hampered rather than empowered. I'm starting to feel that it's because teachers take the latest new "thing" they have to do and assign arbitrary ridiculousness so that it becomes clear to everyone around them that the new "thing" just won't work. It's self-defeating. We don't get to try any new "thing" through to its conclusion because the next new "thing" is just waiting for us to feel slightly competent in the last one before it pounces. This is a fair response to an unfair situation. But my background is as the change enforcer in business situations, and I see that unless we jump in and try something whole-hog, we'll never know if it's any good.

An example will perhaps clarify.

Points. I hate assigning points on quizzes and tests. I would like to quiz more frequently, based on standards. I would like to assign a scale score that reflects the level of mastery a student has. I feel that I can do this with our collaboratively-written assessments to help my students learn what they need to learn. My mentor, who also teaches my course, says this is fine and that we should start taking baby steps in that direction. While I'd like to start tomorrow, he says since we're dragging other people into it we should shoot for the last grading period of the year to be full-on scale scoring. I can live with that.


There is another math teacher who not only loves his points, but creates quiz and test keys with the possible errors on them along with a point assignment for each kind of error. He passes these out to the rest of us. We're all supposed to use them. When mentor and I question their usefulness, he shoots back that if we don't grade our assessments all the same way, we can't collaboratively use the data. I get that. He has the support of the principal, who says we need to assess the same way and then look at comparable sets of test data. In fairness to her, we haven't brought up the scale method of grading. I don't think she'd care as long as we all did it the same way.

Mentor and I can't get through to anyone because the other middle schools in the district use points. Everyone uses points. It's tried-and-true. No one wants to hear another way, because we're snowed in by PLCs, common assessments, and all sorts of things we're supposed to be doing. They don't see scale grading as the logical extension of what we're doing, even though the elementary schools are doing it for both math and language arts this year.

I feel trapped by points. I don't feel assigning points helps my students. I did insist that we add a checkbox next to each problem for us to indicate if a wrong answer was a content or a calculation issue, but that's all I've been able to get so far. I'm the newbie, so I do have to tread lightly.

I need baby step ideas. It's going to be a long road.

p.s. I just thought of an idea. Assuming I have to keep the assessments intact, what if I added a sheet to the back of mine that listed the standards, which questions apply, and whether the student achieved mastery? Is that too much unnecessary work? Will it help me? Will it help the students?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

#msSunFun Sub Plans

I will confess to still be working on this. I did some subbing before I got hired, and here were the things I wanted to know:

  • How do I take attendance and where the heck is your class list/seating chart?
  • Where's the nearest bathroom that I'm allowed to use?
  • What, EXACTLY, do you want me to do with difficult children (and no, telling me to use the "school standard policy" doesn't really help)?
  • Which children are helpful and which will try to pull one over on me?
  • What things in the room are fair game for students to use without asking?
  • What are your rules about going to the bathroom/getting a drink/going to the library/going to lockers during class?
  • What teacher(s) will be helpful if I'm in a jam?
  • What are the names of the nice people in the front office?
  • What's the bell schedule and how does your crazy lunch schedule work?
Since I subbed at all levels, the questions had different priorities depending on where I was. I only had one day where I had difficult children where I was at a loss, and that was at a place where there was a student teacher who was supposed to do everything. The kids walked all over her.

As for my own sub plans, I have generic plans with something to do in case I can't make sub plans, my seating charts, and hopefully plans specific to the day(s) I'm out. We are required to have a sub folder in the office at all times, ready to go in case of emergency. The seating chart thing is a pain because we switch seats pretty regularly in my classes. I'm considering coming up with a "sub seating chart" that I post on the wall and tell the kids about so that I don't have to keep killing trees printing out the seating chart to put in my sub folder.

My generic plans right now involve variations on the game War. I'm thinking of changing that to a special sub set (not subset) of "I Have, Who Has?" since the kids seem to like that and everyone at school knows how to play it. Since I teach both science and math I have to come up with things that all my classes can do. Ideally, anything the kids do with a sub should be practice of things they need to know how to do.

I was out for a half day a few weeks ago, but it was a test day for ALL my classes. That was ideal because the kids knew what was coming and I could give them all rules to follow for the sub. Since we assess collaboratively I don't really have total control over the test schedule, unfortunately. I'll be out again at least twice this month for various meetings and things, and I'm hoping everyone else who posts will have fabulous sub plan ideas!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Little IN Love

This week I gave a quiz. We create our assessments collaboratively, and this time I insisted that after each question we put which section of the book the question relates to next to each problem.* Interactive notebooks (INs) are allowed during my quizzes.

During this quiz, a girl raised her hand in a panic. "Mrs. Walsh, I can't find where we did section 3.1! I didn't label it that way in my notebook! What do I do???" I showed her that she DID label section 3.2 in her table of contents and asked her if she thought she could take it from there. She could.

At the time, I didn't think anything of it. I later realized: SHE USED HER IN AS A REFERENCE TOOL! This is exactly what I wanted to happen. I'm hoping it spreads, kind of like that stomach thing that's going around school right now.

I cannot even begin to thank everyone who has been spreading the IN/ISN/INB love around the math interwebs, but shout-outs must go to at least Megan, Sarah, and Julie, as well as many others whose names I never noted because I didn't have the time. I wish I knew you in real life so I could hug you for the notebooks. Thank you!

Not sure how I'll convince that kid who questions me at least once a week on why we're taking notes this way, steps. And some sighing.

*Yes, it would have been preferable to use standard numbers, but this is one of those weird standards with a bunch of different skills all bundled together but not labeled separately. Using the standard number would have been meaningless in this case. And, I'm still trying to convince my coworkers that grading by standard is a good idea. Collaboration is a double-edged sword, as we all know.