Friday, February 25, 2011

No Decorations in my Classroom

I don't decorate my classroom. I've referred to it as "hospital" sterile when asked what my room looks like.  The only decorations I'd like to have in my room are signs that say: "LEARN FROM THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU".  My philosophy on this is that it shouldn't matter what's on the walls, let's start caring about what's happening inside the walls.  If it's really cool, then kids will start hanging stuff on the walls and decorating the room the way they want to.

A  few years back, I had a student that would draw pictures to hang on the wall, half of them were about AP Stat. All of them were entertaining. The ones that were about stat were amazingly good depictions of AP Stat topics.  Stay tuned for me to scan these images in and post the best of them.

I think we're in trouble if we concern ourselves too much with what the content looks like, rather imthan what the content actually is. Make that double if we use technology to change only what the content looks like.  When I choose a technology tool, I want tools that make students think deeper first, and ooh and ahh later.  This is probably why I choose Wikispaces, Google Docs, then Microsoft Excel every single time.

I recently responded to a tweet from @nwhyluckysgirl regarding using emoticons when commenting on student work electronically.  
@nwhyluckysgirl: "when commenting on student work electronically, do you use emoticons?" 
@jasonchri: "the occasional emoticon, not too often.  The comment usually is seen only for the emoticon"

My fellow tech integrator and I often debate look and feel, mostly on the look and feel of our district's technology wiki, NP Tech Tools. I keep my class wiki as the default background and format, and I honestly don't care to spend time choosing the right template/background/picture. The content of my class wiki should be the focus, and for that matter I would hope that's what's interesting about it. If you're reading this blog,  you'll see that I take a similar approach to blog layout (and have not yet switched to word press).  How are  you going to see the content if there's a thousand other things to look at on the page? 

I was inspired to write this after reading a brilliant post(Coloring Books or Canvasses? from Spencer's Scratch Pad about technology that makes students think deeply about a subject. Use tech to make students think more, not think about something else, not comment on how weird or cool something looks.  

Making the choice of what tech tool you want to use needs to be content driven.  I wind up picking one of the same three tools (Wikis, Google Docs, Microsoft Excel), since experience has shown these tools can stimulate conversation and let students think the way that they want to.

Some of my tricks...
1.  An Excel spreadsheet that is completely protected, so that they can only manipulate and change certain values to notice some patterns.  They'll need to think their way through certain processes too, not simply plug-in numbers and tell Excel to perform a calculation. 
2.  A massively shared Google document to write about the difference between two(or more) topics.  I'm trying this to get an entire class to discuss the difference between binomial and geometric distributions. 
3.  Class wiki- set of skills completely blank, so determine just how to organize lessons and what we've thought about

I'm branching out...
Forever I've wanted to use more and more multimedia ideas in my class.  Not just make a music video (a lot of times kids spend a ton of time on creating a video, and frequently miss the boat on content).  I want students to show me everything they know about probability, but do so in a very short video (30 sec - 1 min).
I'm going to suggest Animoto, but I really want to allow them to pick any tool that they should find, as long as it communicates everything they know about probability.  I also want to have them use pictures that they've taken, just to get them thinking a little bit more.  

I want to come up with the best web tools/tech tools for education, and I think this is how I want to start. Which tools make students think more, and think deeper? Which ones accomplish the same thing as a "solve for x" worksheet?  Do certain tools get misused?  Are there some tools that are all bark and no bite?

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