Monday, June 11, 2012

Thank you, Quebec Ministry of Education, for Beaucoup de cool student projects!

In Quebec, up until 2 years ago, all grade 11 students were required to produce, by the end of the year, a math project, called the Independent Assignment. It was to be based on their own interest, of course related to math somehow, and it was to be done mostly during class time, in 10 sessions, with guidance from the teacher. This was so that it would be good training on how to do a research project as well. (We were given some excellent scaffolding for implementing this.)

I griped and panicked about how I would fit these project sessions into my classes AND still cover everything on time, for this was pre-flip, when classes were all me, me, and more me yammering away. But I dutifully had my students do the project anyway for the first time in the school year 2009-2010. They pretty much all made powerpoints, which was fine. The projects were great, and even though they had taken up a lot of class time and energy, I found it was worthwhile having my students do something that interested or inspired them mathematically.

Then I went to ISTE in Denver, and I heard about all the bazillion other tools there are out there. And I heard a casual reference to something called "flipping the class" during a session about something called "Twitter." Hmmmm", I thought, "interesting," blissfully unaware that, in that moment, my entire world had just been rocked to the core.

Well, back to reality, the next year, Quebec dropped the project as a requirement, but I decided to keep doing it, partly because, I really wanted to have some PBL in my course, but also because I really wanted to try out some of the tools I had heard about. That year's projects were a tiny bit more varied, I think I had one or two videos and the rest powerpoints. It had still been a challenge to fit in the sessions. Plus I started flipping late in the year, when many of the projects were already well under way.

This past year was my first full year flipping. And just like that, there was zero issue about fitting in the sessions. Class time was all about what THEY were doing, not what I was saying! I could discuss with them about their topic, they could discuss with each other, show what they'd found, experiment....I even had a period at the beginning of the year that was all about investigating the various tools, which was inspired by Terie Engelbrect's brilliant blog, which I had found on Twitter. Yup. Rocked to the core.

Well, it's two years after the government started it all, and here is the latest batch of projects, just handed in after a year of working on them in and out of class. The variety alone is blowing me away - voicethreads, videos, glogs, googledocs, prezis, AND powerpoints! If, two years ago, in Denver, you had told me that my students would soon be producing these kinds of projects, uploading them to their blogs, and never mind the fact that I have a blog and I'm embedding the projects on it....I would have looked around and said "Me? You mean me?"

Most of these are embedded, but some you have to click on the link to see the actual project. Enjoy! I know I did, in fact, I have this math rap song stuck in my head now:

Arnold's rap video:

Brett's intro video to his project:
....and the guitar math voicethread:

Emilie's googledocs presentation:

Kaily and the End of the World:

Kaitlyn's stepdancing voicethread:

Katerina's sizes of infinity video....definitely channeling Vihart here! ;)

Laura's mathitecture glog:

Madison's origami video:

Olivia's snowboarding prezi:

Ricky's sizes of infinity slideshare:

Taylor's energy glog:

Melissa's hockey math:

Joey's drum math:

In my dreams

So now off they go to CEGEP, which is the Quebec equivalent to college. A small, selfish part of me hopes that at least one of these students will next year submit a project using one of these tools, or something equally cool, to an astonished professor, who will then ask:

"Who are you really, and what is this amazing thing you have done, and where on earth did you learn how to do this?"

And they will say, "Oh I had to pick a webtool from a googledocs list, and learn how to use it so I could embed it in my blog, for my math teacher, Mrs. McGoldrick."

The professor will eventually regain the ability to speak, then he/she will exclaim "BLOG? GOOGLEDOC? How have you come to know all these wondrous things?"

And then he/she will learn about all these wondrous things, from one of my students, who will get to be their professor's teacher, at least for a few minutes.

How cool would that be? Beaucoup de cool. Merci MELS!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A year of student blogs - Warts and all

Time to take a look at the way things evolved this year with my grade 10 & 11 math students' blogging. I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone, because the potential for learning is HUGE. If blogging worked so well for me as a vehicle for growth, it should do the same for my students.

But it wasn't rosy for all my classes. Some kids took to it, some didn't, and in the case of one of my classes, it seemed that the entire class just didn't see the point. I do have at least 3 students, though, who now post simply because they love it, which makes me very, very happy for them.

First a look at the sequence of events, which worked out really well, even though I sort of made it up as I went along. So as not to overwhelm the kids, I gradually introduced the world of blogging. It began as assigned posts, then gradually morphed into optional use of their blog to publish their work.This sequence worked well, and the only thing I might do differently is maybe begin earlier in the school year.

Here are the milestones in brief, with more detail below:
  1. December 2011: Created the classblog, to serve as the hub for all the others. 
  2. January 2012: Sent out form for parents to sign so that kids could have their own blog.  
  3. January 2012: Had students create their own blogs, using either blogger or wordpress.
  4. Immediately after that: Get everyone to follow everyone else, and the classblog.
  5. Immediately after that: Assigned the first post. 
  6. January 2012: Showed other tools like codecogs.
  7. January - February - March 2012: Assigned a scribe post everyday.
  8. Simultaneously: Assigned other blogs to read and comment on.
  9. Simultaneously: Used hub, or classblog, to upload info - some fun, some business.
  10. March 2012: Assigned small homework examples to be posted rather than handed in.
  11. March - end of year: Some major assignments, like projects, could from now on be published on their blog rather than handed in to me.
  1. December 2011: Created the classblog, to serve as the hub for all the students' blogs.  I wrote about that here. Took me a while to get my head around this. Like till December. 
  2. January 2012: Sent out form for parents to sign so that kids could have their own blog.  Actually, my principal did this part to cover all the web tools and activities that Learn's students were doing. I wanted their blogs to be open to the world, because a real blog works that way. But making it open came with some risk, of course, and as a parent, I was worried about the weirdos out there who might make a comment that was inappropriate. The safest thing would have been be for me to moderate all comments on their blogs, but then I would have had to be the owner, which misses the whole point of it being their own space. So if they own it, they have to moderate their own comments, which meant they might see something inappropriate. Took the plunge, parents signed, we were off to the races. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, not that I know of anyway.
  3. January 2012: Had students create their blogs using either blogger or wordpress. For blogger, they needed to use their google accounts to do this, which they had already created earlier in the year. I took some time to familiarize them with settings and tools for blogs, like design options, and how to post/comment, but most did not need much help here. It's super intuitive on blogger. Once they had created their blogs, it was a simple thing to just link to them from the classblog using the "link list" gadget, which you can see on the right hand side of the above image. Next year, unless they already have a blog, I will insist on blogger. That's what I'm familiar with, and I still find wordpress, even the edublogger version of it, really difficult to learn and get stuff to actually work properly on.  Anyway it was a lot of fun to see the designs they used, some of which they custom-made! Jack Black backgrounds! Awesome!
  4. Immediately after that: Get everyone to follow everyone else, and the classblog. Next year I'll get the parents to follow their child's blog as well as the classblog. This will be an opportunity for parents to really, actually see, firsthand, what their child is doing in math class! Also, I will use the opportunity to help the kids with managing web content, for example, how to use google reader, rather than letting email accounts get cluttered up with notifications every time someone posts.
  5. Immediately after that: Assigned the first post. Everyone had to post about anything remotely related to math. This was just to get them to dip their toes in. Some posted at length about something on which they were experts, and some just posted a tiny little cartoon with a math joke. All good. But I found I had to assign it, because as usual, if you don't require it, and you just say "Post whatever you want" you will be waiting rather a long wait. Plus, if they're all doing it at the same time, it takes away any self-consciousness they may have about putting themselves out there.
  6. January 2012: Showed other tools like codecogs, or how to embed something like a voicethread or a video. Very quickly, I could see the blurring of lines between teacher and student. Eventually, learned about Cmap tools, and prezi!
  7. January - February - March 2012: Assigned a scribe post everyday, one person per class per day, so that everyone got a turn at this eventually. They had to post a summary of the current lesson. Again, some put in minimal effort, some had pictures, formulas, etc. You could see who was really sinking their teeth in. And some started to post things even when I hadn't assigned it to them! Not only math stuff, either, but other topics of interest to them, for example, this student's tribute to her beautiful hometown. Of course, to get conversations going, I required that everyone make 5 comments during a unit. The idea was to get them critiquing each other's work, so that the posts would get better and better. I gave some guidelines on commenting, for example, "Awesome post, dude" was NOT going to count, but that is one area that will need lots more coaching next year. And rubric-ing.
  8. Simultaneously: Assigned other blogs to read and comment on. Like betterexplained. Reading other blogs is inspirational, fun, and helps them get the point of blogging. When they see the kinds of conversations that go on out there, they see a new kind of community, that they likely have not experienced before, even on facebook or twitter. Also models commenting for them. Had a wonderful moment in one class in which one student's comment on betterexplained was replied to by the author during that very class, and I wrote about that here. Definitely went into my feel-good file.
  9. Simultaneously: I used classblog to upload info - some fun, some business. Fun stuff would be like one of Vihart's videos, business would be the week's video lessons, or how their work should look for a given assignment. I found this really useful for little how-to demos, reminders, and things that I hadn't had time to mention during class. But they didn't all get into the habit of reading the classblog, because of course they were going directly to their own blog, not via the hub like I was. Hmmm have to think about that.
  10. March 2012: Assigned small homework examples to be posted rather than handed in, gave choice about what example to post, and how to post, ie use codecogs or some tool that makes things look really professional. Some just scanned and uploaded their handwritten work, which was fine. If I start the whole thing earlier next year, this will be used way more for this. Makes a great homework checker. And gets them hooked, after all, it's work that they have to do anyway, so we're killing two birds with one stone!
  11. March - end of year: Some major assignments, like projects, could from now on be published on their blog rather than handed in to me. And now I see who really and truly has adopted blogging. You hated it? No problem. You loved it? I know! Next year - more reflection and self assessment on their blog, including - what tools can I now add to my portfolio to show prospective employers? Or universities?

I hope this is helpful to anyone looking to get their students blogging!