Monday, October 27, 2014

Baby steps

I just spent 5 minutes with a math teacher at school. He was excited to show me a story one of his students had written to match a distance/time graph (it was about a crazy sloth who traveled light years to lose weight...). The teacher was telling me that the only problem he had with assignments like this was that all of his students wanted to share their stories out loud in class and it killed the rest of his day.

I suggested that he set up a discussion prompt on Schoology (our LMS) with the graph so that the students could type in their stories and read/respond to their classmates' entries. The teacher was excited about the idea.

Then we talked about using Google Forms (or a Schoology quiz) to ask open-ended questions. Our math department primarily uses MathXL for the Common Core courses, but it doesn't allow for anything open-ended.

What got me most about this teacher (aside from his never-ending enthusiasm, which I LOVE), was something he said on his way out of my office.

"I love getting better."

Don't you wish all teachers felt this way?!

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.).