Monday, March 31, 2008

Some More Online Math for the Work Centers

Now that work centers are underway in 8 math we're on the lookout for engaging activities that help to develop math skills. Not all work centers involve online activities, but it's helpful to have a few up our sleeve:

Investing in Parents

I have four sons, each of whom is now at school. Unfortunately, I do not feel terribly informed about my children's education, as parents are being excluded from the daytime learning. And when I look back at my own teaching, I'm alarmed by how little I kept parents 'in the loop'.

My rights as a parent should go beyond a 10-minute parent-teacher conference, and a quarterly report card filled with meaningless grades and comments extracted from a menu.

I'd like to see the full curriculum placed online for me to peruse and discuss with my children, and I'd like access to their assessment calendar and criteria by which they will be assessed. And I don't think I'm being unreasonable, as I'm tired of seeing the drop off of interest from parents as their children pass by the early years of education.

Many teachers would argue that there's no point informing parents because most wouldn't be interested, but I don't think that that justifies a closed curriculum.

Other teachers would argue that it's just not possible, as time and resources wouldn't permit. However, with great tools like moodle, wikis and Google Sites, we should be planning our curriculum online from the outset, and then opening this up to parents. In fact, why aren't parents invited into the planning process? And the students too, for that matter?

I'm very proud of the way that I.S. 339 is opening up the school and hosting a Parent Expo, and I think we need to welcome parents back into schooling more often and in more imaginative ways. I would love to see one of my sons' classes ustreamed, or see a few more of their projects on the web. I'd welcome them to blogging, and would happily Skype in to their classrooms to facilitate a group session.

It's wrong that parents are 'left out in the cold' - only called in to pass time and offer up voluntary hack work at Parent meetings, or to sell a few raffle tickets when some fundraising is required.

As teachers, we're quick to complain about 'parents who don't care', but we haven't been as hasty in opening up the school to parents who do.

Sorry to be posting negative thoughts, as I try very hard not to do this. I just wish that we could make more of the parent capital in our school communities.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Scribd: 501 Writing Prompts

Thanks to Oz Diigo group, I was led to this bookmark for '501 Writing Prompts'. What I found just as interesting as the prompts and the graded sample responses, was Scribd - a site allowing you to upload files as PDF and share with the world.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Schooling is Not a Closed Book

We are in the early stages at the moment of planning ahead for next year, and revising what we currently have as a school web-page. This will require some inspired thinking from Jason Levy (Principal) and Christina Jenkins (Tech Coach), but I thought maybe someone else might have some suggestions. Please feel free to leave a comment suggesting what we might not have thought of yet.

New school website needs to

  • either replace the wiki, or the wiki should be revised and embedded within the new school website
  • have both general access and multi-level restricted access
  • be comprehensive in terms of advertising and archiving everything that goes on within the school
  • be versatile to fit with the other applications that we use most frequently
  • be sustainable to warrant the time that would need to be invested in creating and maintaining it
  • be practical/user-friendly to encourage high usage
  • be tracked using site analysis application such as Google Analytics

Include school details:

  • leadership team
  • location
  • mission statement
  • history
  • description
  • newsletter (in the form of blog) through headline animator or RSS feed

Provide convenient external links to

  • NYCDOE site and docs (ARIS, ACUITY, Learning Surveys, Progress Reports, SQR, test materials)
  • iteach-ilearn
  • united streaming
  • atomic learning
  • brainpop

Have a Students' Corner and Parents' Corner:

  • Calendar with coming events
  • Forum
  • Focus for each month
  • Celebration Pages
  • shout outs

House our online teacher library:

  • systems and protocols
  • exemplar student work
  • standards and performance indicators, curriculum maps, unit plans, lesson plans, online resources
  • team meeting notes
  • PD calendar
  • PD resources
  • school-wide data (Progress Report/s, SQR summaries, past NY ELA and Math results)
  • grade-wide data (spreadsheets tracking common assessments)
  • team-wide data

Include RSS feeds to:

  • Hardlines - student newspaper
  • Celebrations Pages
  • Parenting blog/podcasts/voicethreads
  • 339web

    If we end up using Google Sites, teachers will need to start using their accounts to enable fast access into anything for which they have permission to view/collaborate.

    Ideally, parents should have access to curriculum maps, assessment schedules and rubrics.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Talk that's not too tedious

When we were planning the midyear SMART goals review process, it probably seemed like this would be a tedious task for Curriculum Team members and teachers. However, from the thirty minute meetings that I have had so far with individual teachers, this talk has been a breath of fresh air.

For some teachers, this has been their first one to one exposure with using Skype, and my online review meetings require some shuffling back and forth between the original goals on Google Docs, the reflection sheet for teachers on another Google Doc, and the Google Form for review feedback. Online meetings go surprisingly well though, perhaps because we can stay focused on the task at hand as there are very few other visual distractions.

These meetings have also produced some gems in terms of ideas. For instance, Ms. McHale was wanting to make better progress with her goals, be a consistent blogger, and launch a newsletter about academic intervention. Now she's going to do all three in one as she transforms her blog into the newsletter and addresses the key issues from her SMART goals - differentiation (especially for ELLs), data-driven intervention, PD offerings for academic intervention, and so on.

Ms. Lovett has proven what a star performer she is, and we have been planning to round up some teachers to be part of two study groups on differentiation.

Ms. Jenkins will be deep in thought about developing our school web-site - with Google Sites being an option - and Mr. Himowitz will be focusing on the development of protocols for offering students feedback on their Google Docs.

It's great to be part of a community of innovators.

The Twitter Plunge ...again this time I'm going to attempt to get into twitter properly. I've been signed up for about 7-8 months, and have re-signed probably twice since then.

I just couldn't seem to get into twitter as I was still getting so much out of blogs and the exciting school community that I'm working in. We've had Google chats and gmail flying about since the start of the year - not to mention the Google Docs, Google Groups, now Google Sites, and so on. So to be honest, I've felt well connected and not PLN-deficient in the least.

I wasn't intending to be dismissive of twitter, it's just that there was so much else to read and do. Not that this situation has changed. But here goes. The time has come. Now if I can just figure out how to reply to people...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Math Reflections and Shout outs

Two of the grade 8 Math classes (807/808) are about to launch into work stations, thanks to a great deal of planning from Ms. Heiser and Ms. Lovett.

To enhance students' learning, blog posts will be used for weekly reflections and 'shout outs'. There's no need to create new student blogs as each student already has his/her own from the ELA online media unit in February. Additionally, teachers have already subscribed to these blogs so they can continue to track work easily using Google Reader.

The four work stations will be focused on:

  • Percentage Project (with Ms. Heiser)

  • Math-ography (the math extended writing pieces)

  • Targeted Re-mastery (with Ms. Lovett)

  • Self-guided Interactive Online Work (using either or mysavingsquest)

To reflect on their work (and to keep their international readers satisfied), students will reflect on these prompts at the end of the first week:

  1. Which work station do you think is helping you to learn most effectively?

  2. What do you think this tells you about the type of learner that you are (for instance, you prefer to

work independently,

work in a group,

have a teacher helping,

be using the computer,

work at your own pace,

be challenged,

be able to visualize through diagrams,


3. To whom would you give special mention (a shout out) for

making a big effort this week,

achieving something that presented a big personal challenge,

or being a great team member or teacher?

4. What are your goals in math for next week?

Monday, March 24, 2008

School Boards and Parents Onboard

I.S. 339 is hosting a Parent Community Expo in late April, and this pleases me for so many reasons. The more that we can get parents involved in middle school education, particularly in the Bronx, the better chance we have of keeping students engaged.

We have talked on many occasions this year about ways that we can use technology to involve the parents. Although this isn't easy, some teachers are making use of gmail and blogs to communicate more effectively, and they have provided some technology and video demonstrations at parent conference nights. I'm particularly looking forward to the day when students can share their Google Docs with their parents, or the day that a parent Skypes in to talk to a class about a career choice or pressing social issue!

For this reason, I was very pleased to discover School of Thought, the blog by a South Dakota School Board member, Fred Deutsch. Fred states that he is passionate about education, and it shows in his blog. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Google and Goals

At the beginning of the school year, each staff member developed SMART goals for four areas - intervention, extension, professional development, and communication - and these goals were recorded on Google Docs and then linked to a Google Spreadsheet.

Even though this seemed a cumbersome procedure at the time, the shared digital records are really paying off now. When we conduct our midyear reviews of these SMART goals, we can now use another Google Doc as a teacher reflection sheet, and a Google Form to capture the reviewer's feedback during the 1-1 meeting.

In addition, to help explain the review process, it was easy to create a Google Presentation with appropriate links for those who are shared in on these documents.

Instead of shuffling paper forms back and forth, the system has become quite streamlined, but more importantly the meetings have been great for both teachers and reviewers.

Think about your systems!

(Links to docs have been removed)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Online Math

I commenced my teaching as a high school English and mathematics teacher, so I understand the differences in teaching in these two areas. As a result, I've often sympathized with mathematics teachers in terms of lack of ease in using computing in classrooms, due to the difficulty of communicating math symbols and computations.

However, I'm really pleased to see so many great online resources for math practice now. Grade 8 students at CIS 339 have been using all year, and they seem to really enjoy it. The math teachers have been incredible in their use of shared Google Docs, Google Groups, wikispaces, and SMART notebook files for collaboration on lesson plans, unit plans, and assessments.

Now the math classrooms can also utilize great sites such as:
math playground
word problems
project skymath
Arithmetic Problems and Kids Math Practice Exercises
Online Basic Skill Games
thinkquest problems home page
Working on Algebra
Working on fractions
Multiple Choice questions – all strands of math
Unit Conversions
Decimals to Fractions
Percentage Word Problems
Online Basic Skills Games
Step-by-step word problems

Monday, March 10, 2008

Data: Let's Face It

We're about to have a renewed focus on data-driven instruction, particularly as it complements differentiation.

The video below has been made as a re-introduction to this topic.

It features a poem reminding us that we need to 'face up' to data because our classroom data has a 'face':

Do you look at data?
Does it speak to you?
Are there too many voices
all vying for you?
Across this whole school
do we know what to do?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Beta Blogging

Even though student blogging is still in its infancy at I.S. 339, the improvement in the students' thinking and writing is apparent already. Sure, some students are taking longer to get into it than others, but the progression for many in focus, elaboration and organization from the first few posts to the sixth, seventh, eighth, etc is obvious.

It's also good to see students taking ownership of their blogs by including widgets with personalized avatars, or designing their own mastheads for the blog title. We can also witness the pride that some place in their presentation, with careful consideration of pictures or color.

Blogging also highlights students' needs, such as re-training on the importance of proper referencing to avoid plagiarism, or including text details for elaboration.

We can also sense students' thirst for recognition, as they acknowledge recent comments, or lack of comments. Hopefully, we can start to transform some of these posts into ongoing conversations.

Google Reader is, of course, so great for monitoring the students' work. You can see some of the students' blog posts in the Shared Items on the sidebar of this blog.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Hollywood conference hosted by the Insight Education Group was a great learning experience. In addition to the captivating location, the conference hosts made every effort to make sure that participants were engaged and enjoying themselves.

Jason Levy, David Prinstein, Jesse Spevack and I presented a session detailing our school's integration of wikis, blogs and Google tools.

Here are some of the slides that we used for the presentation:

More on Google Sites

I've spent some time creating sites and pages within Google Sites, and I think its potential for schools is huge. It's a shame that it only functions as part of Google Apps instead of a Google Account, but once you get past this, you can really start to create.

Take, for instance, the ability to insert any Google Doc, Spreadsheet, Presentation or Google Form directly on to a page:

Google Sites seems to have most of the same functions as other wikis, although you need to spend a little bit of time getting used to the different layouts if you're used to wikispaces or pbwiki.

Google Sites has the potential to be the main portal for any school, with new sites created within the one central site.

Building a Beta Web Headline Animator