Sunday, August 17, 2014

Less Paper, Not Paperless

This past week's #flipclass chat exit ticket was to write a post about our workflow, which I have to admit I didn't even know where to start with. Then Brad Holderbaum helped me out by asking me this:
This is in response to my answer for Q2, which was about how paperless our classroom is. Now that I am actually thinking about it, I'm not sure mine's as paperless as I thought. Since I teach online, everything that flies between me and my students has to be, at some point, in digital form, but as it turns out, there are wildly varying degrees of paperless-ness during the year. To measure the degree, I'm looking at how much paper is involved in each task at each of these stages:
  1. The actual task
  2. How I deliver that to them
  3. What they do
  4. How they deliver that to me
  5. How I assess
  6. How I deliver that to them
I looked at five different types of tasks, and filled out this table with green = no paper, red = paper. It made it easy for me to see that the most recent things I've been giving them are, or can be at least, 100% paperless.

A little more detail about those tasks:


When I give a test, I email it to each of the schools' secretaries, who then prints them up. The students then write on it, and it then gets either scanned or faxed to me. If it's faxed, obviously, there's more paper used. Either way, from then on, it's paperless. I don't put my corrections on any paper. By now their tests are all in digital form, either as an image or a pdf, so I send them to Smart Notebook, where I can mark them up with digital ink, stickers, whatever. Here's how that actually looks in real life:


These might be a worksheet, or a set of problems, or one big multi-step problem (called a situational problem here in Quebec). I deliver it via our CMS (Sakai) but I know most of the students print it up right away. I always give the option to do it on paper, but unlike the tests, they can also do it using some digital tool, such as voicethread, or geogebra, or whatever they choose. I usually offer bonus points for that - questionable I suppose, to motivate using marks, but hey. At any rate, as long as it's presented so that I can follow their reasoning, it's all good. If they go with the paper, then it's exactly the same degree of paperlessness as the test, but if they do it digitally, for example, like this, I create a rubric in Smart Notebook, fill it in with digital ink as I do the tests, export to pdf, then upload that to their dropbox on Sakai. Here's what that looks like to the student:

Blogpost / Geogebra / Portfolio entries:

My students all have their own blogs, as well as digital portfolios. The blogs are of course viewable by anyone, and they are linked from the classblog, but the portfolios are only viewable in our immediate community. Usually the post or the portfolio entry is about an applet they're creating using Geogebra, my favourite dynamic geometry software. Regardless of which of these three they're doing, the degree of paperlessness is the same - 100%!

Toward the end of last year, I gave them a task involving all three of these things. I wanted them to use their portfolios to track their own progress and to get feedback from me, then use geogebra to confirm and organize their learning, and once they were ready to commit, share it with the world on their blogs.

Here's how that looked: assignment description, assessment descriptionstudent's post, and a filled-in rubric:

Note that all of these points came directly from the assessment description that I linked above. I didn't want my students to be surprised at how I would be assessing their work! Next year, I plan to get them involved in creating the rubric itself.

I can't show any students' actual portfolios of course, but I did do a post that showed snippets from their reflections for another assignment, this one involving just creating a geogebra. (I got their permission to share, and they're anonymous anyway.) You can read about that here if you're interested to know what I mean by portfolio entries.

Good on paper:

Full disclosure - several times a week, my students write notes, on paper, based on the voicethreads that I create for them to watch. If I put that into the table above, IT WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS. I know it's a lot of paper, but I also find that writing on paper can be a worthwhile thing to do, so I don't know if I'll ever want to change that. I'll reduce, but I don't see myself ever being 100% paper-free. Besides, like my mother, I love books too much!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After the Ten Stages of Twitter

This post has been in draft mode for about 3 months. I've never stared at that publish button for as long as I have for this one. Then this summer, at Twitter Math Camp, in Jenks, Oklahoma, this happened:

Photo credit: Greg Taylor @mathtans
What is this? This is one of the slides presented by none other than Dan Meyer. His presentation was about who the Math-Twitter-Blogosphere (#MTBoS) is and, among other things, how the members of it use twitter. He showed us some very interesting stats, some of which are in this picture. Under #FOLLOWING are the top three people in the MTBoS in terms of how many people they follow. If you look closely, you'll see my twitter handle. Yup. If Greg had taken a picture of me at this moment it would have looked like this:

♫ Psycho shower scene music ♪

Because it means out of all the people in the MTBoS, almost nobody follows as many people as I do. Dan mentioned that he'd like to hear about how one would manage this many followees. Well, here it is. How do I manage it? I don't. Which is why I was writing this for so long. Nothing like being a statistic in a Dan Meyer presentation to motivate finishing that 3-month-old blogpost! Here it is, folks:

I remember when I read The Ten Stages of Twitter, by Daniel Edwards. I recognized every single one of those. But now I'd like to add a few more stages to his list, based on my own recent experience, maybe yours too.

Stage 11: Vexation.

I'm not really sure when this stage started, all I know is that at some point, my twitter experience started to sour, and to distract me from my growth as a teacher. Reading my twitter feed used to make me feel stimulated and inspired, but suddenly, I was getting vexed instead.

Part of the vexation was sheer quantity. I was following too many people. Checking the general feed felt like drowning, getting pulled in too many different ways. I had tried to filter by creating all kinds of lists, but they also got too big. My "top ten" list had 27 people on it. And I wasn't very good at remembering to check each list anyway.How did I even end up following so many people? Some people I followed simply because they were nice enough to follow me, and after all, I am Canadian. But whether or not I ever saw any of their tweets afterward, or connected at all...for the most part, no. I couldn't honestly call twitter my PLN, because everyone can't be in your PLN. If yours includes everyone, then it really includes no one.

But that wasn't the main reason for the vexation.

Some tweets were actually upsetting me.

I'd see an unbelievably sarcastic, condescending tweet about someone or something, and wonder how an educator could behave that way - especially toward another educator. I often thought - How would this teacher feel if they suddenly realized that their students had witnessed this whole exchange? Would they be proud of themselves? Would they feel they had modeled respectful debate? I know no one's perfect, but shouldn't we try to move through this world the same way we want our students to? That means we treat each other the way we want to be treated, even on twitter.

I have to admit, some of the aforementioned tweets were also very funny, but does that make it okay? I don't think so, but based on how many retweets these funny retorts got, it seemed that on Twitter, as on the playground, sometimes mean was masquerading as clever.

And then there was the twunning.

In real life, when you speak directly to someone, and they don't answer you, it's rude. If they then turn to answer someone else instead, it's downright insulting. And if that happens over a sustained period of time, it's a form of harassment called shunning. I don't know what it's called on twitter, twunning maybe? But it sucks.

I wondered if it was just me - maybe I'm not supposed to have the nerve to be addressing a tweet to someone who has thousands of followers. And of course I get that some people don't have enough time to answer all the tweets they receive. But then someone like Darren Kuropatwa or Pernille Ripp would have that excuse, right? But they DO answer. And besides, isn't that what twitter is for? The chance to connect with ANYONE?

Stage 12: Self-analysis

Instead of getting more and more upset, I had to ask myself what I really wanted out of twitter. Because clearly, either I was looking for the wrong thing, or looking in the wrong place.

I realized that to a certain extent, I was looking for attention. I saw my melancholy self sitting by a stream with a dozen fishing lines going, resting my chin in my hand, just waiting for a bite. Not appealing. So I had to face up to that childish need. This was really hard to admit. *pats self on back*

But I was also looking for authentic and meaningful interaction - with people who are interesting and interested in the same things I am, who challenge me, or who just make me smile. But interaction is by definition two-way, not one-way. So people who tweet some deep thought, then get a zillion responses but never engage beyond that, (or only do so with a select few), have at it, but that's not what I was looking for at all. At all.

Most important of all though -  I needed to take care of the solid connections I had made already. I knew that the twitter fire hose was making me miss out on the good stuff - not only the info that I could truly use, but tweets from people who really mattered to me, with whom I did interact. Those people need interaction and responses too, just like me.

Stage 13: Re-twittering

It was about destroying in order to rebuild:

First of all, I got rid of a lot of the lists that I had.

Then I unfollowed a lot of people. Unfollowing someone is hard, because I'd never want to hurt someone's feelings. I didn't do it to be mean though, or as a tit-for-tat thing, I just felt I had to trim it down. It's simple logic to me - if interaction is what I want, and it's not what's been happening with @PersonX, I unfollowed. But that started to be really tedious and it felt really negative too.

So I took another tack - a more positive one. I decided to take some responsibility toward my actual, real, honest-to-goodness PLN. I realized that a PLN isn't just about what you get, it's about what you give.

I made a new list. A really short one. These are people who already consistently interacted with me. Some on a daily basis, some less frequently, but at least consistently. Or who did any of the following:
  • get me
  • are nice
  • answer me
  • have some common interests to mine, but that's not an absolute necessity
This list has become my PLN. There are teachers on it, there are gardeners on it, there are relatives on it...I can't even characterize any commonalities other than that I know I'll get just as much as I give to these people. I'm sure that being on this list confers no special honour, because it's only a confirmation of a relationship that already existed anyway. By the same token, I'm sure that not being on it won't upset or insult anyone. I don't assign such importance to myself. But I do to my feelings, and to my PLN.

My New Twitter Routine

Now the first thing I do when I get onto twitter is check my daily list. It currently has 46 members. Totally manageable. It doesn't take long for me to scroll through that feed, I see everything these blessed people are saying, I respond because I want to and I can! I feel like I'm in the company of old friends.

One last stage: when online becomes face-to-face:

I hope everyone gets to this stage eventually. When you get to meet these people face to face, after being twitter friends for years. I had the opportunity to do that at a tweet-up in Ottawa, then at Flipcon14, in Mars, Pennsylvania, and also at Twitter Math Camp, in Jenks, Oklahoma. This is a whole other-nother level. (apologies to English teachers everywhere.) Now when I read the tweets of these people, I hear their voices, I see their smiles, I remember moments we shared. The line between online and f2f just got blurred.

Twitter, like life, is a double-edged sword. There's just as much potential for good experiences as for bad ones. But I do have way more control over my twitter experience than my life one, and this change of tack has made a HUGE difference. No more vexation, WAY more growth, and wonderful friendships. I just hope my Daily list doesn't get out of control.......cue Psycho shower scene music again......