Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Case for the Classroom Backchannel

Opportunities for students to respond can be an amazing part of a classroom.  Think about all that goes into it though, from a traditional classroom standpoint: Teacher speaks, asks question(s), asks for students to volunteer responses, and receives 1-2 responses from the students that feel so empowered to do so (see previous blog post).

CoverItLive worked amazingly well for me in an AP Statistics classroom last week.  I had given back a test from a long time ago, and the plan for the day was to review probability topics in preparation for our upcoming AP Stat exam.  Each student had their copy of the test and was signed into a CoverItLive chat room to discuss test questions.

I received amazing feedback from my students: "I suppose this works much better, now that we have to think about why the answer is incorrect, instead of being told why it is incorrect" resonates with me.  I'm working on compiling the data, and will update my blog when it has been put together, but many students were actively participating in the discussion online. 

If it's an average of 2 responses per student(which is probably a close estimate), that response rate is much higher than a usual lecture and respond classroom setting.  Think about how a teacher could generate 60 total responses in the "traditional" classroom.  At the bare minimum you'd have to ask 60 questions and allow each student to answer twice. 

I'm loving the backchannel as an instructional device, but want to make sure it is not overused. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Empowered Students Do Amazing Things

Having witnessed a pretty awesome thing in my classroom today, I wanted to celebrate it by way of a blog post.  If you've read my previous posts, you would have seen that I've been focused on making my classroom much less teacher centered.  Well, to do this, students need to step up and become the center of the class.

We were working on test review, students had laptops in front of them for online discussion purpose, and many of them used a discussion board quite well, all of their own accord.  The Promethean board was also available for student use. 

The most amazing thing I saw was a group of 3 turn into a group of 6 standing around the Promethean board, as one student went through a review exercise explaining it to others that were at the board.  Finally, student interaction with the Promethean board instead of teacher interaction.  Props go out to that group of students that really got something out of class, and moved class in the positive direction. 

With that being said, it felt kind of cheap and very minimal use of class tech by just having/letting kids "do problems" (as goes the phrase in the Math Ed world).  I'm now in search of ideas that let kids interact with the board on a much higher level.  Today was just the beginning.  We can't get to having students do amazing things with the Promethean board without the help of some student pioneers stepping up to change their classroom. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

I lecture way too much...

In the AP Stat classroom, lecture is an acceptable method of teaching, as most of the students in there are capable of learning that way.  It’s funny, AP Stat and most other AP courses are the ones where we do the fun labs because “kids are smart enough to be able to handle it”. 

In my Calculus 5.0 class, anytime I start a lecture, there is an immediate disconnect.  Kids in this class don’t learn that way and they don’t want to learn that way.  Too often teachers solve this problem by making their classes more regimented.  I guess these kids can’t “handle” a lab or fun activity.

My observations are that students in Calculus 5.0 respond better to the labs and activity, because that’s what they want and how they learn.  I’ve had this class completely fall apart, but it’s weird, it’s only during a lecture that this happens.  From experience, my Calculus class today was close to mutiny as a result of too much lecture.  That, and it was raining outside.

I’m going to embrace my Calculus class’ different learning style, and allow them to work with material using classroom technology and communication with each other to learn.  How do you think they will do on the final exam, a standardized multiple choice exam?  I don’t know, and honestly I can’t say that having them all pass the final is my ultimate goal.  If the end result is a group of students not bored to tears and enthusiastic about interacting with Calculus, I think I’m happy with that.  Now, if only I could explain an F on the final to a parent or administrator……

Yours in getting better at what we do every day,
Mr. C

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Haves vs. Have Nots

I open up the opinion page of the paper every day, even though I vow not to.  For some reason, I really care what overly opinionated people have to say.  The guest writers can be entertaining and insightful (George Will), while others are written to be downright abrasive and obnoxious.  Most of all, I enjoy local editorials.  It's my guilty pleasure I suppose.  PSSA Prep Analogy: Mr. C is to editorials as high school students are to: a) Tool Academy b) Call of Duty c) Jersey Shore.

A number of folks have voiced their opinion over the health care reform debate deciding to focus on the health care plan that members of congress are afforded.  "If the new health care plan is so good, why doesn't everyone in Washington go on it to see what it's like?"  Fact of the matter is that these people need the cushy health care plans and pensions that they are given.  Otherwise, nobody would do a public service job where you are raked over the coals for every decision that you make.  The same holds for folks that complain about teacher pensions, but I'm going to avoid opening that can of worms.

Public office needs to be an attractive position, as such, there are perks.  Do we want people representing us just because they need a job?  Again, the teacher pension and benefits situation applies here.  Public office is an incredibly high stress position.  Everyone loves to say that our representatives are incompetent, but that just can't be the case.  Someone that was completely incompetent for the position would work out to be a complete disaster. 

There needs to be a public servant appreciation day, thanking our public servants for the 8 million good things they do for us every day.  We don't need to hang them for 1 or 2 bad things that happen.  I go back to the schools example.  Teachers, administrators, and school board members do a million great things every day on behalf of their schools.  It's a shame that one or two unpopular or bad decisions can overshadow those great things.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Elementary School Teachers

So, my wife has inspired me to write on this subject with all the stories of the cool things she does in her first grade classroom. There is all mess of amazing activity that goes on, in part because it is so difficult to maintain their attention for longer than 10 seconds (don't worry, in high school, that timespan stretches to 15 seconds).  It got me thinking at most districts proficiency numbers, where it is most often the case that elementary schools do great, middle schools so-so, and high schools struggle to be deemed proficient each year.

So what's so different?  I think a lot of it has to do with the "silly", "immature", and "juvenile" games and activities that those teachers introduce.  In high school, most activity is viewed as being too immature for our clientele, so we find ourselves slipping into teacher-centered lecture instead of promoting student-centered activity.  Does proficiency go with it?

I'm well aware of the fact that there are numerous other factors: elementary school brains are developing rapidly, high school brains are focused on other things, environmental concerns, and easiness of test.  I think these factors are reasonably disjoint from enjoyment and engagement felt during the school day.  With a little activity(takes a lot of planning), we can probably get kids to enjoy our class just a little bit more.

When I'm working on a lesson, my last thoughts are "What will I teach?".  The more important questions to ask are "What will they learn?", "What can they do?", and "How can I not lecture?"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cool Project Ideas - Hypothesis Testing

Alright, so I've been thinking of some good data for your projects that you'll be working on that are due Thursday March 18, and here's what I've come up with.  It will be up to you to do the legwork, but here are some ideas in case anyone gets stuck. 

Violent crimes in one locality by year
Proportion of $$ spent in congressional bills on earmarks
Wins by the -01 and $1 bidders on The Price Is Right
Education level of celebrities on top rated TV shows
Violent acts in primetime TV shows
Disease by locality/ethnicity
Use the Consumer Price Index
Beezid/Quibids winning items

Those are my suggestions, let's just try to keep a purpose behind the data we collect.

-Mr. C

Thursday, March 11, 2010

There is no such thing as a free lunch

Reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" and "The Tipping Point" has completely changed my way of thinking.  I've begun to analyze everything going on around me in the context of economic/risk theory.  My latest kick has been recognizing the idea of trade-off and risk free profit, most specifically in the field of education.

For some background, you need to be aware that there is no such thing as a risk-free profit.  In order to earn money or make some type of gain (capital or not), you must assume the risk that is associated with that gain.  Big gains often carry the greatest risk, while small gains do not carry such a large risk.  There are ZERO situations that involve a huge gain with no risk or payoff, and it should be obvious as to why.

With that being said, we tend to ask for things of the utmost quality at no cost to us...
1.  Taxpayers want their elected officials (yes, elected, by them) to be at their beck and call, but don't want to pay taxes. 
2.  Taxpayers want the most exceptional high quality education that can be provided for their children for the same price forever
3.  Teachers want to do great things in the classroom, but may not want to put in the incredible amont of time required to develop a good lesson (also could be the case that they spend their time grading, rather than creating).
4.  Students want an A for just showing up and doing what they're told, without spending the incredible amount of time it takes to actually learn something.
5.  Everybody wants their medical bills paid for via health insurance, but they don't want to pay an increased cost for it. 

So, the health insurance debate snuck in here and is a pretty interesting risk scenario.  On one hand, you can opt to not have health insurance and pay your own medical bills at the risk of paying an increasingly high amount.  On the other hand, you can opt for health insurance, at the risk of paying higher premiums.  And yes, I do realize that insurance companies can deny coverage, so we don't really "opt" to not have health insurance.  Just consider that an insurance company does the same risk management evaluation when they evaluate you for health insurance.

Hoping I can get some student commentary, examples, feedback about risk free profit,
-Mr. C