Monday, January 31, 2011

The McGoldblog

Now what?

Just got my classblog set up finally and today will be day 1! One student was volunteered, by me, to be the first "blogger" at our classblog, which is called McGoldblog. Here's the link to it:

Anyone can view it, but not everyone can post, as it's password-protected. About that: Darren Kuropatwa, the blogfather, said last week, in a live chat on EdWeek, that his classblogs have always been open to all, that is, no password required to post or comment. I have the feeling that if I were to do that, parents would perhaps protest that I am opening their child to all kinds of predators. So for now, that's how we're rolling.

The ultimate acid test: Was anyone listening in class today?

Today's lesson was the first one on trigonometric functions. We reviewed good old sohcahtoa, I introduced their reciprocal cousins, and their equivalent memory aid: choshacao (can't help but feel like a ninja when I say that). We will see what Kristopher, today's blogger, will have to say about it! He has until 7:00 pm eastern to post his summary and a sample question on today's lesson, then soon after that, if my dreams come true, the comments from the other students will start rolling in. We tried it out today in one class, just to make sure everything was working, and it was working so well that we got a message from wordpress that we were commenting too quickly, slow down!

The Blogfather's prediction:

If Darren Kuropatwa is right (and I'm sure he is, and I figure the more often I put his name here the more likely someone out there will find themselves here and read this blog!), this will not only make their thinking transparent to all class members, but it will allow them to collectively create their own version of the content. My hope is that I will see more authentic participation from everyone, including those who only participate when they have absolutely nowhere to hide and absolutely no other choice.

Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Followup on using voicethread

Day one: Here goes nothing!

I had my students watch a voicethread that was made from the exact same powerpoint lesson that we had just gone through in class. This was a lesson on change of base. I asked them to comment on the voicethread. My suggestions for their comments were things like: 
  • This part confused me
  • I found this easy
  • I still don’t get this step

Or, if they wanted to respond to someone else’s comment:
  • I think I know the answer to your question
  • I got confused here too lol
In this particular powerpoint, the slides were arranged so that the entire solution to a problem was revealed one step at a time as the slides progressed. As I said, they had already seen the whole thing in class, so this was a repeat performance.

The result was that most of the kids commented only on the very last slide, and most of the comments were kind of an overall assessment of the lesson. Almost all recorded their voice. I could tell from their voices that they were all feeling a little self conscious!

As for me, I must have checked 20 times for new comments. Most of the time, there weren’t any.

Day two: Revelations:

The first came from the fact that now the kids who were away on day one started commenting on the change of base voicethread. These were the kids who missed all the nuances, the chance to ask me questions, the emphasis, etc available during class.

Revelation #1: This is great for kids who were away.

Now the comments were more dispersed, and there were some comments aimed at those comments, like “Oh I forgot how to do this over the holidays”  “Me too lol”. Not only that, but some new comments came in from kids who had already done their part, had already commented on day one, but were now having another look at the lesson anyway!

Revelation #2: I need to tell them to have another look at the voicethread to see what other people said about what they said. But I really want them to keep those math thoughts floating about!

After today’s class, I uploaded today’s powerpoint lesson, (solving log equations) but this time, as it happened, we hadn’t had time to look at all of the slides in class, so I told them, go ahead, watch the rest in the voicethread, comment, etc. By chance, this powerpoint was not as stand-alone as the previous one. I had only put in examples, intending to work them out with them in class and summarize as we went along.

HUGE DIFFERENCE! This time, the comments were all over the place! And there were comments on the comments on the comments! Kids were asking questions, kids were answering questions, it was marvellous. Price to pay: most of the comments were now texts, not voices!

Revelation #3: If I want participation, I have to stop explaining everything. And I might have to accept that these darn teenagers just don’t like to talk out loud.

And as for me, just about every time I checked, there was a new comment. Hey there’s another one while I typed this!

Here it is:

Day three: Wagons ho!

Again, I didn’t have time to go through all of today’s slides, and again, only the problems were on the slides, not the step-by-step procedures. I decided at the last minute not to assign the usual textbook pages for homework, but instead just to go to the voicethread and supply at least one step for one of the problems. If they wanted to do more, I said fine, but don’t do more than one problem. It is now 2:51 p.m.  They are all still in school, as far as I know. But there is already one comment, and it’s from a student who was in fact absent today!

So far, so great, if only for the fact that I now know for sure who is doing some math between classes!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Deep Thoughts

Why did I call my blog McSquared?

My first name is Audrey, and my last name, depending on whether I am functioning as a regular person or a teacher, is either McLaren or McGoldrick. More about that later, but that’s a brief explanation for why I named this McSquared. Plus I think it sounds cool!

Who I am:

I am an online math teacher (plus lots more of course). I taught math in a brick and mortar classroom for over 20 years, and the last 3 years I have been online. I teach math live over the internet to students all over Quebec who, for one reason or another, do not have access to an English math teacher at their school.

I also happen to love technology. At my last school, I was known as the SmartBoard Queen, because, well, it’s probably self-explanatory. I had to give up my beloved smartboards when I got this job, but at the same time, I got to use a boatload of other cool stuff, like a wacom pen and a webcam!

What is the purpose of this blog?

To share ideas with other online teachers, for starters anyway. We onliners crave contact with the outside world! I am happy to share my experience and tools, as well as get feedback and other ideas from readers.

My deep thoughts about teaching online: Establishing presence

When you never see your students, establishing presence – your’s and their’s - is everything. In the brick and mortar class, this is of course not an issue. When you see someone, you not only know that they’re there, and whether or not they’re listening to you, but you also immediately learn a lot just by how they dress, whether or not they make eye contact, their body language, etc. In the online environment, believe it or not, it is simply not that easy to believe that there is even a living breathing, real live person at the other end of the internet!

For example, most of the time my students use a chat feature to communicate with me during class, that is, they text me their questions or comments. But every now and then, I disable the chat so that I can hear their voices. This always has such a huge impact on me! Suddenly I find that Susie has an accent, or that Joe is smiling (did you know that you can hear someone smiling? You can!). Their presence is now so much more real to me because part of their personality has been revealed in a way that text never could reveal.

So how do I establish my presence? With my voice, for one thing. I also use the webcam, but most of the time I don’t because some of my students have limited bandwidth, and video is such a bandwidth hog. My assignment solutions are often in my own handwriting (using Smart Notebook software) instead of typed. Handwriting has way more personality, and it’s also a subtle message to them that I do all the work I expect of them.

What about their presence? If you teach teenagers, you know that many of them are only too happy to be invisible! Of course, there are always the few who are happy to participate no matter what, the ones you had at hello, so their presence is easily known. But for the rest of them, I need to do more than just disable the chat. I and my colleagues are trying out a few things to get more participation and hence presence:

·        Voicethread: kind of like a blog in which posts and responses are made up of images and voices instead of text. We have started by uploading lessons, problems, and review questions (in powerpoint format) to voicethread and requiring the kids to respond. So far, it’s looking very promising! Here is a link to my first one, although you might want to click to the last slide, which is where most of the kids responded:
·        Classblog:  Every day, one student will post a summary of the day’s lesson, including a sample question on the topic. Everyone else has to comment on that post. At the end of the unit, there will be a test using at least some of those sample questions. Just starting this now, so I’ll get back to you on how it goes.
·        Googledocs:  Picture a word document that is online instead of just your computer. This document can be edited by anyone else that is online, in fact, several people can be editing it simultaneously, and even chatting about it at the same time. Students will be using this to collaboratively create a memory aid for the unit. Also just starting that one.

Final deep thought:

My son played the cello in high school, and my daughter the violin. It took a lot of doing just for them to be able to play actual notes on those instruments, but they got there eventually. The thing is, it took even longer before they were making music with them, and there is a world of difference between getting the notes right and making actual music!

I think that as far as using online tools to teach, I am still getting the notes. I know it’s not music yet. Not YET!