From a height just shy of 16 ft (190.5 in), two groups made amazing drops today:
Super proud of my classes today.
This last week we played with water in Algebra 1.
My students have gone through all the typical linear stuff, but they're still weak on creating equations of lines from two points or in describing what certain aspects of the equation mean when representing a situation. To help give some motivation to practice the skill, I have a bunch of experiments in which we gather data, create lines of best-fit, and create equations to model the data. The experiments aren't amazing or anything but they beat a worksheet hands down any day.
Here's the gist of how this goes. Students fill up a container with a random amount of water. They stick a ruler into the container and measure the initial height of the water. Students then add an equal amount of either centimeter cubes or glass beads to the container each time and record how the water height changes. Spoiler: the relationship is linear.
Since I'm not a science teacher, I don't have all the stuff I need to do experiments just hanging out in my room. I ask students to bring stuff in. I go shopping in the science rooms. And, just in case you're wondering, science teachers actually want to help you make this work. They desperately want students to make the connections between the applications in their subject and the the math students are learning down the hall. Seriously.
If I'm honest, it takes more work than I'd like to admit to pull of a good experiment but the increase in student engagement and the rapport it builds with students is amazing. And, it's fun. Fun matters. A lot.
I put out a plea for staff and students to bring me glass jars. Within a couple of days I had somewhere around 15-20 jars on my classroom counter. Quick side note: I tried metal containers before but it was too hard to read the water height because of the reflection off the sides of the container. I also opted to use graduated cylinders from the science department this year. However, this put a slight wrinkle in my plans. I planned to use centimeter cubes to displace the water but I want data that isn't perfect. For those of you who aren't up on your unit conversions, 1 cm cubed is equal to 1 mL. That's about as perfect as it gets. To add some variation/spice to the experiment I had students use centimeter cubes with the glass jars and glass beads with the graduated cylinders. Since the glass beads aren't all the same size, it gave at least a little noise to the data.
Students did much better when asked to create an equation from their data this experiment. However, when asked about what the slope and y-intercept meant we still had issues. In general, students nailed the y-intercept--it was the initial water height in the container. Students struggled explaining the what the slope meant in the situation. I have to keep reminding myself that what is obvious to me isn't at all obvious to an 8th grader.
Here's my handout if you're interested.
I've been attending edtech conferences for a couple of years now. I consider myself tech savvy; I understand what things can and cannot do. I'm mostly up to date on the latest GAFE news and what's new in the world of math ed tech. I've used a single iPad in class since the iPad 2 came out.
What's new for me is having students with computers available at all times. New as of this school year. I'm still trying to figure it out. Gone are the days of checking out the chromebook cart. There are no more trips down to the computer lab. It's lovely. And intimidating. Now that my students have the tech, I feel obligated to use it.
My questions are how much, how often, and do do what?
To try and find out, I attended ISTE 2016 in Denver. For those of you who don't know, ISTE is a huge (picture The Donald saying it) educational technology conference. Think big conference, now think bigger. 16,000 people.
Maybe it's just me, but when I attend edtech conferences, I think "this is fricking amazing!" Then when I get home, I'm like "meh". This year I'm determined. Even though school is almost two months in. I'm determined to do something with tech.
I've thought a lot about blended classrooms or flipped classrooms. I tried flipping 4 years ago for a couple chapters. It crashed and burned. Badly. I assigned videos as homework and we did what would normally be considered homework in class. Students didn't watch the videos. I had difficulty holding them accountable. They wanted me to reteach the video material in class. I missed our rich classroom conversations. I missed exploring ideas together. I decided flipping wasn't for me.
At ISTE, I attended a session called "Blended Learning Classrooms: Pedagogies, Skills and Tools for Teaching - ISTE 2016". The panel session had some rock stars of ed tech and was moderated by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher. Here was the panel: Thomas Arnett @arnettTom, Jon Bergmann @jonbergmann, Mike Gwaltney @mikegwatlney, Aaron Sams @chemicalsams, Stephane Sandifer @ssandifer, and Jerry Overmyer @jerryovermyer.
They talked about all sorts of things:
-Videos are only a piece of the flipped classroom.
-The goal is to create an active classroom by removing all direct instruction from the classroom.
-Going blended classroom is not about the tech. It’s about changing a culture.
-No tech for tech’s sake.
-Why do you want to go 1 to 1? We want to transform the learning experience.
-Don’t just digitize content. Transform what happening in the classroom.
-Redefining how vs what to teach.
--Who has the power in the relationship? Let go of control. Students need to have a say in what’s going on in school.
I found the conversation on individual spaces vs group spaces fascinating:
-The individual space
-is now where you get instruction
-there is still a place for direct instruction
-at student pace
-students get individualized instruction
-The group space
This all sounds great doesn't it? Here's my push-back--How does this improve what I'm already doing in the classroom? How does this increase relationship with my students? How does this increase student engagement? How does this help my students think deeply about the math?
We don't often have lectures in my class. We intro a new topic by talking about what we notice. We make conjectures about how things might behave. We do experiments and try to create math models to predict what will happen next. We talk about each others' work and reflect on how we could do things better.
How are videos going to help me do that? How are Google Forms or Slides going to help me do that? How is a Learning Management System (LMS) like Google Classroom or Schoology or Moodle going to help me do that better? If I'm already pushing my classes towards inquiry-based learning, rich tasks, experiments and classroom discussions, do I need to make videos? Do I need to shift content online? Is students handing in electronic work that I need to grade better than them handing me a paper? Everything I'm hearing in Ed Tech over the last 5 years seems to say 'yes'.
I've not found a compelling answer to those questions. If you're a math teacher who is rocking out the tech, I'd love to chat with you about how the day-in day-out tech use of your class works. Seriously. Please.
This year we got a new curriculum complete with all the online bells and whistles. I started using some of the online quizzes that auto grade student work. My students hated them. No joke. They begged me to go back to paper and pencil where they feel like they can show me what they know without a computer getting in the way. I didn't expect that.
You know what I really want? I want to shake this guilty feeling that there's a better way to do this teaching gig.
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I teach Math and Programming at Summit Middle School in Boulder, CO.