Thursday, October 23, 2014

The changing face of the math class...

Have you heard about the new app called PhotoMath?  You can scan over an equation and the app will solve it for you... it will even show the steps in solving!

I added the free app to an iPad that we have available at school, grabbed an Algebra 2 book, and tried it out.  My observations:
1. The app doesn't support hand-written equations. So that takes out the option for the kids to scan their homework. (A teacher here discovered that it won't scan a computer screen either, which removes our kids use of it with their MathXL assignments.)
2. It has a pretty large scanning window which makes it hard to scan any specific equation. And it sees the problem number as a part of the equation, which obviously changes things. (Thanks to Dan Anderson, who informed me that you can change the size of the viewing window, making it more precise.)
3. The app is very quick to show the solution to the equation (I was wondering what kind of lag or solving time there would be) and offers the option to show the steps involved.
4. It appears to only support linear equations; I tried a quadratic, an absolute value, and an inequality with no luck.

So my summation? It's pretty cool but very limited. It would be helpful in an Algebra 1 classroom for a few weeks, but that's about it.

I'm sure there are math teachers scared by this technology... but is it offering anything new that students haven't had available to them before?  WolframAlpha has been around for years and will solve all kinds of equations, including absolute values and power equations. For a nominal fee ($3.75/month for students, $5.49/month for adults) you can even get step-by-step instructions.

And yet if you google "PhotoMath app" it's showing up on a lot of different news sites right now. People see this as another way for students to cheat.

So let's assume that kids start using this app. What can math teachers do to combat it?
1. Stop grading homework. (That's hard for me to say, honestly.) Are the kids legitimately doing it? Or are they googling the answers? Or copying from a friend?  (C'mon, we've all done it.)

2. I've become a big believer in the use of formative assessments; warm-ups, exit slips, quick checks of understanding during class. Make the students accountable for what you expect them to know.

3. Assignments need to change. Don't let the kids' homework tell you what they can do. Make them tell you. Make them explain how they solve a problem. Give them the steps and the answers and make them justify everything.

4. Apply the learning. It took a student-teacher of mine for me to see the light. I like doing the math just to do the math, but most people (especially teenagers!) aren't that crazy about it. Help the kids see how much math they're doing every day without even thinking about it.

Just my $0.02.

(And I can always count on Dan Meyer to put it in words better than I can!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I've been pretty busy at school the past few weeks!

For several weeks it was all about ACT Aspire testing.  As it was the first round of online testing for our kids (around 600 9th and 10th graders), we put in a lot of work to prepare. A good solid two weeks was spent getting directions together to check kids' devices, bringing them to the media center to go through those directions, organizing the school devices that needed to be issued, tracking down kids who were avoiding us, etc

And then came the two days of testing.

Day 1 was a mess. Student devices that we thought would work with the test didn't. Settings on the school network didn't allow some students to access the test. Kids didn't read the directions that the had previously gone through and got confused.

Day 2 was much better. We didn't have the network issues, planned ahead for kids who had previously borrowed a school device, and things ran much smoother. One thing though, was that we loaned out over 200 school Chromebooks for the test... and we were lucky to have that many!

We got some major props from our administration in how we prepped for the test, which was nice. And it's also nice to be done with the online testing. For a few months, anyway!

I've been somewhat busy with teachers; there's a new math teacher at school that is actually interested in what I have to share with him (he's loving the class openers from Bob Lochel!), and another one is going to use the Desmos Carnival today in class. The big kicker is that he's being evaluated and chose to use it; I think that's pretty gutsy! I'm going to his class to help troubleshoot his first time through before he's evaluated.  My fingers are crossed!

I've done some organization in the resources that I'm sharing with the staff. I know it's not the best way, but it'll work for now.

So those are my two steps forward.  And back?
I was told today that one of our teachers doesn't allow devices in his room. He said there's too much cheating going on. So how to get around that?  I need to get better versed in using and maybe find some workarounds for him to use. That is, if he'll let me.  That remains to be seen (I've offered before and gotten a big fat no.).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why I don't want my daughter to be like me.

This is where she got stuck and cried tonight - and it's where she stops every night.
She whips through the majority of the page with no problems, but when she gets to that last question that asks her how she did them, watch out! Tonight's episode involved an hour-long dinner break while she calmed down and was able to listen to my questions about her process. 

This is why I like Common Core. Sure, I'm not happy with the testing (I'm sure you can imagine the gasps and groans from the staff at my school when we saw what the kids will have to do this year!) but if you take a look at the Standards themselves and especially the Math PracticesI hope you'd agree. I don't like the drama of that last homework problem but I like that she has to think about what she's doing. 

Would I have liked them as a student? No way. I was one of those "Just give me the assignment and let me start the 50 problems and I don't want to do the group work" type of kid. It worked for me. I made it through all of my schooling not understanding (or caring) about the "why" and just doing the rote memorization of the process. But I don't want that in my kid. I want her to be able to think, to generalize, to look for patterns, to communicate her thinking, to understand why she's wrong. 

And (unfortunately in her way of thinking), this kid's mom isn't going to let her (or her big brother) be like me. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sharing Resources... the Google Site

I spent some time last week messing around with the Google Site that I put together last summer for my school. The original intent was twofold:
1. Give teachers the opportunity to reserve space in the Commons (Media Center) electronically.
2. Share resources with the teachers.

They seemed to embrace the idea of making their own reservations. I thought it would be nice to give them the ability to reserve space (and computers, if necessary) whenever the impulse hit them. Otherwise they would have to email to see if there was space available (and wait for a response) or stop in during the school day. There was no reason for that!  I created a Google Calendar and set up appointment slots with all of our periods listed. They click on the time/day they want and hit save. Voila! The only problem is that they can't cancel the appointment - we have to do it. But I'll take it!

As for sharing resources, well... I don't think that happened so much. I found a way to embed all of my diigo tags on the site so that they would automatically update. I even set up some cute tabs across the top that were subject specific:

I'm guessing that no one ever clicked on one. But I could be wrong (though I doubt it).

On Friday one of the teachers (who is very tech savvy) emailed to suggest I create a repository for all of the resources that I've been sending. She didn't want to lose track of them if she didn't have a chance to check something out immediately.  So I responded, reminding her of the site, and told her I was keeping everything there too. I was able to embed my Google Drive folder of all the resources and how-tos I've put together for them on one of the tabs.  I'm pretty happy with how it turned out!

We have a staff meeting tomorrow; I'm thinking of sharing this with them (again). Just as a little reminder. :)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Resources, Take 2

I just sent some resources out to the teachers (and I'm excited to use them, too!). I totally agree with the comments that were left on my last post; I'm going to send specific department links to that department only (but I don't think I'll get to it this week... to much little stuff to do).

Need to combine pdf's into one file?  Try
Need to split pdf's into separate files?  Try
Want to type or write on a pdf?  Try
If you are a user of Google Forms but haven't checked them out lately, you need to! Google has added some fun new themes and added customization. You can now change fonts, background colors, and add your own image to the header. (Go to your drive, then Create -> Form)
On that note, any data that is collected in Google Forms ends up in a Spreadsheet. But I just discovered an add-on called "Save As Doc" that will take all of your spreadsheet data and turn it into a Google Doc.  This converts your info into a much more readable format. (In your spreadsheet, go to Add-Ons -> Get Add-Ons, then search for Save as Doc)

I'm excited to be heading to a math classroom tomorrow to help him with some of the Desmos activities. Woo hoo!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Resources, Take 1

I'm still trying to decide how to share resources with the staff this year....

My first thought is to do a weekly-ish email with resources, both general and subject-specific.  Here's this week's:

ViewPure - showing a YouTube video in class? If you input the url in ViewPure you get a nice clean screen (no ads, no sidebar) to display.

Public Domain Review - a collection of images, books, essays, audio recordings, and films found in the public domain

Plickers - A low-tech way to collect student input. Each student gets a "paper clicker" barcode to indicate their answer. You use your device (android or iOS app) to collect their data. You can even see a real-time bar code of answers and see individual student data.

Flipped Classroom Tools - If you're flipping your class (or thinking about it!), check out these 7 tools.

Random Name Picker - a fun colorful wheel that you can use to randomly choose students in class

Social Studies
Map Making Tools for Students
Assessment Resource Center for History
An Interactive Map of the Napoleonic Era

Human Footprint Interactives

Google Books

Using trendlines in Google Spreadsheets

(If you're wondering, I found these sites either on Twitter or on Richard Byrne's Free Tech 4 Teachers blog.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


My kids' Open House was tonight at their school. It's a great opportunity for them to meet their teachers and see the classrooms before school starts in a couple of days. It's nice as a parent to put a face with a name, too!

After we arrived at the school, I ran into a friend of mine who asked if we'd heard the announcement. None of the teachers were there; apparently they're in the midst of ongoing contract talks and were advised not to show up for this unpaid time.

As a parent I was disappointed and I know my kids were too. As a teacher I'm proud of their efforts to stand up for themselves.

We went to a local chili place for dinner where there were a couple of tables of families talking across the restaurant to each other. The one dad was pretty vocal about how those teachers want $100,000. Heck, four years ago his son's kindergarten teacher made $87,000 for teaching red, green, and 1,2,3. Their pediatrician doesn't even make that much. (Said kindergarten teacher just retired after what I'm guessing is 30+ years and a master's degree. But remember, she only taught colors and numbers.)

And then I came home to find someone commenting about it on Facebook. Most of the discussion was that parents would have liked to have known that he teachers weren't going to be there beforehand because some left work early. Unfortunately, then I saw this and I couldn't resist.

When will the struggle for respect be over?

ETA: I couldn't stop.