Friday, February 27, 2009

I am an impatient man

I admit it. I harass people who put on conferences, seminars and talks on mathematics, education and technology and then don't stream or video-archive them. Given the size of our country and the cost of travel between major and minor centres (not to mention the whole green aspect of the issue), I think it's imperative that we use video to make the audience as large as possible. For example, there's a math-education group in Canada -- they advertise really interesting seminars. To everyone in Canada. They're held over a lunch hour or in the late afternoon. So they get, what, 20 people in a room in Ottawa or Edmonton. This is so wasteful. How many more could they reach if they stuck a FlipVideo in the room with them and plunked the video down on their website?
It can't be hard to do; I've done it. NCTM in 04, MAA in 05. I didn't do it at the OAME last year because the room was so small and crowded with people there was no camera angle ... but then I also posted everything on my conference wiki (which is a whole other issue).
Now, people will say ... what about the cost? Why pay for going to the conference when I can just watch it online? Well... there's a big difference between being there and watching it live or even later. Face-to-face gives us so many opportunities that video just doesn't -- I'd much rather attend in person. But what about using a micro-payment model for the video archives? Heck, even a tip-jar. For live-streams, why not a video-attendee rate?
This issue has always been on the back burner for me (ask the poor administrator of the math-ed group mailing list) but Educon 2.1 really made it clear for me. If I'm going to a conference physically, I want to make sure that people who aren't as lucky as I am can get in on it, too!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why I hate Sharepoint (reason #3)

I have given up on Sharepoint but school policy says I have to provide a link to my new resource. As it happens, there is no Webpart that allows me to quickly create a link. I can make an IFRAME and put the webpage inside it but I can't just put up a quick link!
I have to go to ALL SITE CONTENT and then create a Link List. And then in the Link List, I have to create a link entry.
I admit... I'm a self-admitted IT professional. I've been programming for more than 20 years. This process should be dead-obvious for the user. Look! An "add a link" button right on the main page's edit toolbar. But no, I have to dig, dig, dig to do anything.
Funny item: when I introduced our new wiki to the kids, one of them wistfully said "I miss Blackboard." Never thought I'd hear that but Sharepoint has had such a poor implementation that I can't blame them. They promised so much and the potential is certainly there... but someone needs to sit down with teachers. Watch how they use their computers. Watch how they organize information (and why they organize it this way). A course management system is not a business intranet. Or maybe business intranets are poorly organized, too?
As one of my bloglist mentioned about me the other day: Little bitter?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Google Docs and Box.Net

So far, so good. Fingers crossed. Wood knocked.

I've massaged Google Docs into the Grade 8s and the Model UN club; at this rate I'll have about 20% of the school covered by the end of the month. I'm slowly trying to win the school over. Already one of the social teachers noted my use of it with MUN kids: they are writing scripts/storyboards for some videos so I set up a template and shared a document with each group so they could work simultaneously.

It also helps for evaluation. After working to keep this one student on task ("no, Johnny, watching anime on YouTube is not helping your script on the issues surrounding prosecuting peacekeepers on criminal charges"), I sat him down at the end of club and showed him the history for his group's document. He had made one change compared to the huge list of his teammates.

As for the Grade 8s, I set an assignment in GoogleDocs with links to the rubric which was in another GD. What was nice is that they pointed out a structural error in the assignment that I hadn't noticed (the author is always too close to the object) and I went in, changed it and it was automatically refreshed for them. Once their wiki is finalized this will all fit in quite nicely.

My only problem thus far is where to store the OneNote files for my classes. Teaching math on a tablet is a great environment but it limits me really to OneNote for students' written exercises. And they are not pleasant to move around. They tend to be large files so I'm a little afraid of running up against Box.Net's storage & transfer limits (the school will not be interested in paying for any fees). I really like the way the widget works on the wiki except that when you click the OneNote it defaults to save with no option to just open the thing in OneNote. Sigh. The problems.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Finally

Okay.. it's taken me since September but this was the first math class of my Grade 9s where I was convinced that they 'got it'.  Not in terms of the math content; these kids are pretty bright.  But rather in terms of how one learns math, how they collaborate, share, discuss, conjecture, disagree, check, etc.  It was amazing.  And, as we were closing down, they made commentary that showed they noticed it too.  Finally.  I'm recording this so that when it doesn't work, I'll remember.  And when a parent complains that I'm not "teaching" because I didn't tell them what to do, I'll have a happy place to go to :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why Smartboards?

I really have to question the continued emphasis on Smartboards... if you're a teacher (well, high school teacher at least) I'd strongly recommend you consider investing in a good tablet PC and wireless projector.  For the price of the Smartboard, you could likely pick up a couple more tablets or a lot more netbooks and using just the wireless projector you can collaborate with your students.  There's also some nice collaborative software out there (I use Classroom Presenter from UWashington). 

Much like the over-emphasis on the TI (you could outfit a class with netbooks) the bandwagon that the Smartboards are driving is causing schools to waste a lot of money that could be much better spent.  At our school, which have had Smartboards for 8 years, every classroom is outfitted with one.  And number of them being used?  Maybe 5%.  Maybe...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What a beautiful day...

One thing LiveJournal has is a nice space to automatically put the music you're listening to... here I have to do it manually... U2, Beautiful Day.
Anyways... what makes it s0?
1) 10C, rain in the morning... means riding the motorcycle later this afternoon & tomorrow!
Oh, but then there's the professional part
2) The contractor was late this morning, so I was 5 minutes late arriving to class; my grade 9s were working away. Sure, some of them were discussing soccer's latest news but they were seated with their work open. What kids!
3) The same MPM2D; we're finishing up the unit on parabolas and quadratics and the like. I gave them four different quadratic curves, different concavities, one just with one arm of the parabola, one with a series of parabola. They have to come up with questions involving those graphs and all the content we had this unit. The questions are turning out to be great -- I'll post some up here once they hand them in but for sure they're going to be used in the future. They're pulling everything together and some are even bringing in Linear Systems from the Fall, too.
4) Towards the end of class, I interrupted them and pulled up the graph CalculatedRisk posted about last night - huge discussion ensued about real data, parabolas, economics, politics and the like. And using mathematics to make predictions and provide analysis. Given that these are accelerated Grade 9s, most of whom have trust funds of some kind, they all have considerable interest in the economy. I figure I'll spend Family Day planning some kind of summative with this -- Maple, here we come!
We also discovered that all the recent recession has seen me have a life change (81/82 start high school, 91/92 graduate university, 2001 start at this school).
2) AP Calculus - I will be away in DC for the NCTM conference in April for the entire week. This sucks, of course, for a class that meets 6 times a week. So, having been to Educon and seeing it in action I've begun playing with Mogulus video in my class. Well, the first time live it worked amazingly well! It means I have to have a lot of stuff preplanned and use BBFlashback to create my example videos beforehand but wow, what potential. It's a different style of teaching than what I normally do but it's better than a week of substitutes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Google Docs

So I've been playing a bit with Google docs in a few classes...
1) Grade 8s. A communal document for review... I distributed review questions to each student and they wrote out the solutions in OneNote and clipped them into our Google Doc for everyone to see. I used the comment tool to mark it up.
I could have used a wiki, but havent finished the setup yet. Small steps with my kids. But our IT director has made a public statement that we can start using other resources and we're not tied to the (lamentable) Sharepoint.
2) The aforementioned Sharepoint will not allow us to synchronize OneNote notebooks (for reasons no one can figure out) so in order to look at their homework electronically, I had my AP Calculus students clip their hw into a Google Doc. One concerns... it's not a click-click exercise since Google Docs don't allow access to the clipboard. The Grade 8s mentioned this as well. *I should try this with Zoho to see if that'll work!

I've also set up Google Latitude... waiting to see if I have a stalker! :)