Archive | November, 2010

So Danielle, What Have You Learned?

30 Nov
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Response to Lisa

27 Nov

Last night I read Lisa M Lang’s post Going to Extreams but I realized that I had a lot to say about it so I decided to do it in my own blog.  Lisa writes about the risk, dangers and issues with education reform especially related to social media and technology.  While she raised some points that I agree with and made me think about some things that I had never thought about before, I  would like to address some things that she said.

Before I begin I would explain my position.  I structure my practice from a constructivist position.  I believe that students should be taught to question, discover and share their learning and not be fed what they are to know and asked to restate it in a fancier way or on a test that only those with good memories will do well on.  My belief is that digital media, web 2.0 tools and social networking is only neccesary in classrooms where learning is being encouraged from this inquiry model.  For example, Twitter would not be neccesay in a traditional classroom as it would probably be used by students to ask their teachers if their answer to question 10 is correct.  That is boring and only useful for holding the student’s hands through their learning.

I teach 12 and 13 year olds in a split 7/8 classroom at an upper middle class school in a small city.  My students can read, have supportive parents and for the most part do not have the issues that some students in our city have.  Because of this, I am able to set my expectations for their learning higher than the average 7/8 classroom and they are able to meet them.  Inquiry and Project Based learning have been initiatives of my school board for the last two years but I have been structuring my classroom this way for the last four.  In addition to inquiry and project based learning within the structure of our curriculum, we also throw in a dash of social justice education.  My class uses technology as a support for their learning as it allows wider access and more options. Having explained this, I will now address Lisa.

Lisa says:

1. I am at the center of my learning.
This is good for me — I like it. I want my PLN and my instant information, my Google maps and my blog. But I already went to school, and know how to learn and what might be worth investigating. Is it good for my students, who want to spend all day playing video games? whose idea of the future is after class? Does such an approach encourage narcissism and narrowness? I’m starting to think so.

My response to this is: in the new constructivist classroom, it is my responsibility to help my students narrow down what they are trying to learn about a topic, what their question really is and help them choose what is worth investigating.  I do not leave them to hang out to dry on their own and tell them to google stuff.  I am trying to teach them to be in charge of their own learning and how to do it.  When school is approached in this manner, I think that students should be the center of their own learning. I think that if I do this now at the age they are at, when they get to high school they will be better prepared to think outside the box and do more than what is expected of them. I also think that it will make learning easier because they will know how to analysis what they are being asked to learn and figure out the best way to learn it for themselves.

From Lisa:

2. If I can’t find it, it isn’t there, because everything is on the web.
Everything is not on the web. Most of the sources I used for my thesis are not on the web, nor are they likely to be. And it’s not just a lack of sources. One of my top students, now at university, asked me recently, “what do we need older people for, when we can look up all the knowledge on Wikipedia?” I explained the difference between data or information, a lot of which you can find on the web, and wisdom, the meaning that is developed using information. He understood. Many of my younger students don’t.

This one, I agree with for the most part, especially the wisdom. My students often ask me how I know so much stuff, I tell them that I pay attention to life  AND that when I don’t know something, I find out.  Which means, sorry Lisa, I google it.  This just shows that teachers are still necessary in the classroom.  The web is good for data  and information as Lisa says but we still need actual classroom teachers to mentor students about how to use the data and information and put it into a real life context, or share their wisdom and experience.

From Lisa:

3. My interests are of high importance in my ability to learn.
We keep assuming that engagement is crucial to learning. I haven’t seen evidence of this.

Sorry, but I have. Case in point; I have a boy who is well above grade 8 ability and is bored out of his tree. When he is able to take the content that I am expecting him to learn turn and morph it into something that he cares about, he blows me away with his sophisticated thinking.  When he is not, he does either nothing or crap. (We’re working on the whole, sometimes you have to just learn things even though it’s boring thing, and he’s getting better but, man does he shine when he’s engaged.) I discovered this earlier this year when we were in the phase of teaching/reviewing the Inquiry process.  I was in charge of a group of about 12 “experts” and he was one of them.  This group was supposed to choose a question for inquiry and use it to model the process to the rest of their classmates.  This boy chose “Is World of Warcraft Really Addicting?” I thought “whoa boy,  a project about a video game and how awesome it is, not what I had in mind.” But I let him go on it. When he presented his project, I was blown away.  He used World Of Warcraft to teach everyone about the psychological aspects of addiction.  It was amazing but I was worried that it was a one time shot because he was able to do anything he wanted and that would not happen again.  During his parent conference, I discussed this with him and his mom and stressed that if he could take the material that we were learning in class and do something with it that would make him care about it, he would soar this year.  I guess he listened because he blew me away again yesterday.  We have been learning about how European immigration and settlement changed Saskatchewan’s ecosystem and how it affected the First Nations people. Their culminating assignment is a summary of learning.  He and his partner chose to make a game that we could play as a class.  My experience with student made games has not been great, but I let them go ahead.  Yesterday, they explained how the game works.  If you have played Civilization, you will understand how it works and I am not going to explain their game here because it will take too long.  But let me tell you, I have tried Civilization before and it was very complex.  So, my point is, he is engaged on his own terms and he is learning. You will also notice that there is no technology involved in this except that his inspiration game is online.

Lisa says:

4. My teachers are there to understand my needs and meet them.

I really liked the part of working against your leaning style.  I never thought of that but I will now be challenging them to do so.

and finally the last of Lisa’s statements that I would like to comment on:

So do we try to reform the whole educational system in a way that encourages these extremes? Do we hold up the student in the New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” as what we want? a young man who cannot get through a book and thinks that you can get the “whole story” of a novel in a 6-minute YouTube video?

As I said earlier, I do not believe that educational reform should be about just digital media, it should be about teaching kids to questions, discover and learn from that instead of being fed information and regurgitating it. That is how I learned and yes, I turned out okay but I only really figured out how to learn for myself as an adult.  Imagine how much more I could have done if I had learned that when I was 8, 12, 15,  or even 20. That is what I think education reform is really about.  Digital media, the web, social networking and all those technologies just give us more tools to do it.

Play Time! Pt. 1

25 Nov

Once again my students have copied me, stressing the importance of my last post.  This time, I told them that I used Xtranormal for my summary of learning for this class. Now, almost all of my kids are playing with and using Xtranormal.  I decided that I had better step it up and find some more Web tools that I can become an “expert” thusly expanding my student’s repertoire of tools.  I decided that my focus for blogging this week will be learning and practicing the web 2.0 tools that were suggested to me by my Tweeps this week.  My reflections on each will be in the form of each of the tools instead of a formal written blog.

The first tool that I explored is Prezi, a tool that allows you to publish and present information in a unique way. Unfortunately, I was unable to embed the presentation in this blog, which is a drawback for me. View my Prezi here.

The second tool I used was Glogster.  While I found it tedious to use and the choices overwhelming, I think  that kids would really like it. I like that you can embed pictures, video and audio but did not like that the text boxes were so small.  I tried to embed my poster into this post but it would not recognize my user name and password.  I do not think that I would use this tool to present information to my students but I would suspect that students would really enjoy it.

Being a Techie Role Model: An Observation

14 Nov

My Symbaloo Dashboard

In her blog, Roller Coster, Shelly Wright writes about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher that is working towards education reform.  In one section of her post she wrote:

“I also find that my students, although labelled, by some, as digital natives, aren’t all that technologically literate. If you take out Facebook, e-mail, IM, and texting, they use very little technology.  Most of the technology I use, they’ve never heard of.”

This reminded me of something that I noticed last week.  When I demonstrate a new tech tool to my students there are always some students that are enthusiastic about using it and then some that are ambivilent.  This is especially true if it is something that I am requiring them to use.  Having said that, last week I discovered something about my students.  They are just children that copy what adults do.  Case in point:  I was setting up my lap top and the projector to show my students Stixy and Wallwisher, which I plan to experienment with in my class.  When I hooked my laptop up and opened my browser, it automatically went to my homepage, which is my Symbaloo account.  The kids were all very curious so I quickly explained that it was a bookmarking dash board that allows me to access all my bookmarks and accounts from any computer.  I continued on to show them Wallwisher (which would not work, successfully ruining my lesson) and Stixy. While I was demonstrating the sites, one of my girls commented “I love how you know all these weird tech tools to use.”  When the bell rang for recess there were a few students lingering in the classroom.  As I went to ask them to go outside, I took notice of what they were doing.  They were setting up Symbaloo accounts.  A few days later, I noticed another student using his to access our class wiki.   They had copied me because I am a role model for their tech use.

I think that we sometimes assume that because these kids have grown up with technology, they automatically know what is out there, how to find it and what to do with it. As Shelly noted in the quote above, they are not born technologically literate.  They know how to use Facebook, email, IM etc. because it has been modeled for them in the media.  Facebook and Twitter are popular because they all over  TV. They are simply coping what they see adults doing  If we want them to move beyond only Social Networking tools, we need to show them what to use and how to use it and not assume that they just know how.  This is one more argument in support of encouraging schools to develop and employ technologically literate teachers.  There is so much out there to use but without us modeling how to responsibly use it, they probably won’t seek it out on their own.  We need to teach tech to them.

My Project: Update After Student Feedback

14 Nov

Last week I asked my participating students to complete the second survey regarding communication methods with me.  I have posted the results of that survey and my reflections on it below.  Any observations, comments or things for me to think about while I continue would be appreciated.

 

 

Results of The Second Survey

This second survey was given to my students on November 9, 2010. It examines their use so far of the three communication options, what they would like to see to make it better and what their preferred method has been so far. I also asked for some written feedback regarding the three options.

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What positive comments can you make about the classroom website?

# Response Date Response Text
1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM good homework information
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM Its design of the page layout is very easy to use.
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Its makes easier to go on the wiki!
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I like all of the links to things we need like igo, engrade, homework, and notes etc.
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM The homework stuff !
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM i think the classroom website really helps to allow me to get to wikispaces.
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM It helps me remember my homework if I forget my agenda.

What would make the classroom website more useful for you?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM if there was more interactive stuff to do
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM If it had more links to infrotion we are learning about
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Nothing, I think it’s perfect.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I don’t know
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM maybe put games on it but like school games
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM if everything was linked to the classroom website
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM If we could see the actual assignment in case we forget it.

What positive comments can you make about the Senior Eagles Wiki?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM a lot of information on our classroom topics
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM It has tons of good links to information and easy to use.
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM It helps you a lot with your homework!
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I don’t use it
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM checking stuff!
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM that everyone can contribute
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Its good for typing stories or documents and access them at school rather than forgetting them at your house.

What would make the Senior Eagles Wiki more useful for you?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM n/a
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM Nothing, Its great already!
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Again, Nothing, I think it’s perfect.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM Not sure
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM the homework !
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM if evryone used it
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Being able to chat with teachers.

What positive comments can you make about having me as a friend on Facebook and what I post on there?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM all homework assignments in one place
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM I always look at the homework to make sure i am not missing something.
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM It’s easier to know what we have for homework all you have to do is when you are on facebook just go and check on you wall.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM It is good because it reminds me of all our homework so I remember to do it.
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM Having the homework updates and stuff
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM it helps because when i go on facebook i can see what i have for homework
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM That its nice to let you know if your sick or something like that

What could I post on Facebook that would make it more useful to you?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM links to wiki and Ethel Milliken school
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM Stuff that we will be doing the next day
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Mabe when you are on and we need help with something you can go to the chat and talk to us.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I think it is just fine where it is.
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM i don’t know
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM limks to all the website we use
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Nothing

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So far, what is your preferred way of getting information about school from me? Please explain why,

# Response Date Please explain why

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM I use it the most
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM I am on facebook almost everyday
3 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM because I already use facebook so its a lot easier just to check from facebook
4 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM Because i am always on Facebook and i can just check it.
5 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM because when i go on facebook i get reminded of what i have for homework if i forget
6 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Because I would rather go facebook than classroom website.

Is there another method of communication online that you would like us to try using?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM e-mail
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM no dont think so
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Just puting it our there not tweeter.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM No
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM no
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM not that i can think of
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM No

My Second Reflection After the Results of the Second Survey

November 13, 2010

After reading the results of the second survey that I posed to my participants, my suspicions have proven correct. When I started this project, I figured that the most popular choice for communication with my students would be Facebook. I knew that my students would like it because it is something that they use on a daily basis. What I had not thought about was that having it delivered to them rather than having to seek out the information would make all the difference. It was not expressed in the results of the survey, rather in person during school time, but my students have really enjoying having my posts sent to them. With Facebook, I can deliver any information that I wish my students to have to them and I know that they will most likely see it. If I post information on any of the other sites, only those that are diligent to check them on a regular basis will see it, and that is not very many of them. Facebook seems to combat that problem but at the same time, it is not without it’s own complications.

One of the main complications with using Facebook with my students is privacy. I am not concerned about my own privacy as the account that I use for communication with my students is for school only and does not contain any personal information about me. I am most concerned with the privacy of my students and protecting myself from becoming involved with inappropriate conduct online. I would never require any of my students to become Facebook friends with me as it makes me privy to their outside communication with their friends and I believe that there are some lines that should not be crossed. When I discussed this project with my volunteers I made it very clear to them that by agreeing to help me they would be opening up the potential for me to see their profiles if I chose to. I also made this clear in the permission slip that I sent home to parents. See here:  ECI letter.htm Most students said that this did not bother them but when I began to add my students as friends and was able to see their wall postings, I became uncomfortable with it. I did not like seeing who posted on their walls or when they played a game even. I felt that the professional walls of teacher and student had been taken down too much. Seeing their wall posts makes me vulnerable to having information about them that I may at some point be responsible to do something about. What if they posted something that I perceived to be inappropriate. Would I be responsible to report these things to their parents? Yes, I probably would be and I would prefer not to be. I order to address these issues, I blocked all of their wall postings from my news feed. This helped somewhat but I can still access their information if I wanted to. Friending my students also limits the number of students that will be willing to communicate with me, some will choose not to because it invades their privacy and I do not blame them. I talked to my whole class about this the other day and it was suggested that I create a Facebook Group instead. This allows me to do all of the actions that I could do before (posts, links, video etc.) but does not require my students to Friend me to be a part of it. Problem solved! I now have four more of my students as members of my group but not as friends. In my final survey I will address this development and extend the survey to the rest of my students that have joined the group.

I have come to a conclusion after questioning my students about the effectiveness of the three communication tools that we are using. No one single tool will accomplish all the goals that I have for communicating with my students. Each of the three tools have their own purpose and benefits. In the end I will be choosing which combination of tools I will use and what their purpose will be rather than one single tool. My project has turned into a way to streamline my communication methods rather than exclude options.

 

My Project

6 Nov

The Concept

After the third class for EC&I 831 I wrote a blog posting about the novelty of technology in the classroom and how students feel about teachers using the technology that they use for social interaction in their classrooms.

“I would like to talk about novelty. I have always allowed my students to use iPods at school, in fact, I encourage it. I like that they have a little computer at their fingertips to help them with spelling or give them the answer to a burning question or give them their own private space to work. At first, I was like, the coolest teacher ever, there were iPods all over the place. Now they all have them and they don’t use them as much. When I give them the option of using some kind of Web 2.0 tool they just want to do a poster or if they are really adventurous, use PowerPoint. When I tell them that they are not allowed to make posters and only posters, they act like I cut their arm off. So why is this? apathy? laziness? Boredom? All of the above? My instinct is that in my school it is leaning more towards laziness and the difficulty of breaking them out of their “old school” ideas. (And I mean old school literally) We have relied on novelty to motivate students for a while now and it have come to the point where the market has become saturated. What do we do now that the novelty is wearing off?”
“There is so much available out there for them to use that it is difficult to decide or learn to use many of the tools. They are familiar with Facebook and things like MovieMaker but when I ask them to use a new tool, they become confused and lost. The thing is, that most kids do not use Web 2.0 tools in their everyday lives. They use social networking tools and when you try to introduce social tools into the classroom, they act like we have walked into their bedrooms. It is hard for them to see that something that they use in their social lives can be used in the classroom and it is hard for them to let go of thinking that it is their’s. I think too that sometimes they find it uncomfortable that their teachers know and use the same networking tools that they do. It makes teachers human and gives them social lives, something that kids don’t think we have. Asking them to use Facebook at school and admitting that you know how to use it is now akin to seeing your teacher buying groceries (remember thinking “they eat food, weird?” I do.) I remember last year one of my students seeing me text after school one day exclaiming “whoa, Mrs. Stinson, you text?” So, social networking in schools is uncomfortable and web tools are unfamiliar, that leaves teachers with yet another task, making it comfortable and familiar. And if you are a teacher that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, then you have a whole other situation on your hands.”

Following that posting, I was reminded of a story that was on CBC news about a Regina teacher who was being criticized for using Facebook in his classroom. I was intrigued by this story for two reasons; I went to University with the teacher and I have also used Facebook in my classroom. This made me think about how I communicate with my students. I alreadyhave two means of communication with my students. I have a classroom website that has downloadable documents as well as a homework listing and other features. This year I also started a Wiki for all of the grade 7/8 students in my school so that they can all access resources and class material as we are all working on the same projects and learning material this year. This got me thinking about how much my students use these resources that I put a lot of time and effort into and what they would use more often. I decided to survey my students (see results here) and ask them what they use and what they would like to use. This lead to the concept of my project, “S-cool Communication”. (You can view the results of the first survey on this site)

Senior Eagles Wiki

Facebook Page

The Project

To complete this project, I have asked student volunteers (and hopefully some parents) to use and give feedback on three different methods of communicating with them online. The first will be myclassroom website. This site is maintained by Regina Public Schools and has limited capabilities. I have been using this site at various schools for about 5 years. The second will be the Senior Eagles Wiki. This wiki is new to the students this year. The third will be a new school based Facebook account that will be maintained by me. I will be asking participants to give feedback on the usefulness and usability of each during the middle of the project and at the end. I will use this information to decide what method of communication will be most effective for my students and their parents. On this wiki I will record reflections, data, research and the results of my project.

My Project So Far

We have been engaged in this process for about three weeks now. I have eleven students and one parent contributing out of twenty five. I would have liked a larger sample to gather feedback from but I am very grateful that I have students that were willing to help me. One of the challenges to getting students to help me was that they were not allowed to use Facebook for various reasons. In my research section of this project, I will be addressing the issues that parents and educators have with Facebook.

I asked my students to access all three websites at least three times a week. I post “check ins” on Facebook (example: “like” this comment if you have seen it) as a method of keeping track of who is really helping me. I wish that I had a method of keeping track of whether or not they have been using the wiki or the classroom website at all because I really have no way of knowing.

Today I created and sent out the second survey for the project. This survey targets only the people that are helping me with the project. I have asked for feedback on what they are using, what they like and what they could suggest to make it better. My plans are to take the results of the survey an apply their suggestions to the three communication tools. They will then use the new and improved versions and answer a final survey at the end.

I have internally surveyed myself about what methods I prefer. All three tools offer unique options and are useful in their own separate ways. My challenge is to find out which one tool or combination of two tools is most useful and convenient to use for myself and my students. Here is what I have come up with:

Classroom Website: I do not like my classroom website. I find it’s capabilities limited and that has very little use except as a jumping off place to access the other methods of communication. The only thing is, it is the only option that I have that is fully supported technically by my school board. My plan after this project is to use the website as a place for students and parents to find links to the classroom wiki and my grade keeping site, Engrade.com. I would like to not have to update this page at all during the year unless I need to add further links. Having said that, the results of the survey that I sent out today could change that.

Senior Eagles Wiki: This has proven to be a very useful tool so far this year. It is a place where all 75 of our senior students have contributed in some form or another. I like that I can post their assignment instructions online. This became very useful last week when I had to call in sick. In my emailed sub plan, I just directed the sub and the kids to the wiki where they found their assignment and the links that they needed to finish it. I also really like that all three senior teachers post the students homework on one page. It allows the students to see that we are working together on the same Outcomes and really solidifies us as a team, not three separate classrooms. It is very useful for content materials, in school use and having access to what we have done in school at home (or anywhere else). Having said that, I think that it can not be used on it’s own. It does not have the real time notification capabilities that I also would like to have with my class.

Sub Plan Assignment

Facebook: I really an enjoying using Facebook with my students. I like knowing that when I post a reminder or a link they will most likely see it as they are usually on Facebook everyday. There has been a few times in the past few weeks that I have thought of something that I forgot to tell them, posted it on Facebook and wished that I had more than eleven students that would see it. I try to post links or videos about things that we have done in class or talked about, even if it was not “curriculum related” just because I thought they would be interested. I also post videos and links that I think will help them with their homework that night. Having said that, I think that an even better way to accomplish this would be via Twitter, where we would not have the complications of having private profiles that I would be privy to (right now on Facebook, I block their wall posts from my News Feed to avoid crossing that line into their private lives). I did not use Twitter for this project as very few of my students are using Twitter regularly but maybe it is something that I can think about discussing using with them in the future. Again, there are ethical issues with using Facebook and Twitter with my students but I will address those later on in my project.

My ideal usage of these three tools would be the classroom website as a place to find links only. This must be maintained because it is available on the school website and that is the first place that students and parents go to access information. I would then like to continue using the Senior Eagles Wiki for it’s school content and collaboration capabilities. I would like to be able to continue to send out short reminders and links via Facebook but would love to have more students accessing it. Maybe after the pressure of having to help me with a project is lifted, more will be so inclined. I am also tossing around the idea of just creating a Facebook Group or Page that they could join without having to Friend me. We will see where this takes me in the next few weeks!

Any feedback on my project so far would be very helpful!  See the full project on S-Cool Communication

Technology Supported Inquiry Learning: An Example

1 Nov

I have written a lot about what I believe to be effective teaching practice.  If anyone has read my previous blogs, you will know that I am a Constructivist, meaning that I believe that my students will learn more effectively when I present them with material and ask them to question it and/or construct their own meaning from it.  For this week’s blog I decided that I will give an example of what that looks like in my room. I am going to use my most successful math lesson to date, one in which I did very little teaching! First I should give you a little background on my experience with math; this is my first time teaching grade 8 math, I have taught grade 7 for the last 4 years and my own math success in school is something that I do not wish to discuss (yes, it was that bad).  When I opened the textbook the other day and saw The Pythagorean Theorem, I thought “oh crap, that is scary and if it is scary to me, it’s going to be terrifying to them.”  So after figuring out what exactly the Pythagorean Theorem was, I came up with a way to make it a little less scary.

We use Math Makes Sense as one of our primary resources in math and from the comments that I hear from other teachers, I think that I am one of the few teachers that actually really likes it.  Most of the activities are really great for getting kids to construct their own learning and understand why they are doing what they are doing.  The introduction for the Pythagorean Theorem however, was not so good. So I decided to try something different.

When my students sat down in their math class that day, these were the instructions written on the board for them:

Go to the classroom website

Scroll down to the math link at the very bottom

Find SS8.1

Play games or watch the videos

You may also search YouTube for videos on the Pythagorean Theorem

By the end of the class, you have to be able to explain some of the theorem to me.

So, they got to work.  As they explored web games and videos in pairs, I walked around the room and listened as they picked up important terms and wrote them on the board.  They quickly discovered that the theorem only applies to right angle triangles and that the triangles have legs and a hypotenuse.  Once and a while I would call their attention to something important that someone had discovered that I needed them all to know.  It was going well.  As they played with the formula I began to hear, “oh…I get it” and then I heard the deep heavy breathing of Darth Vader

Yes, that is right, Darth Vader taught my grade 8s the Pythagorean theorem.  And it worked!  Just look at the comments for the video.  Soon, my students were making their own examples to try the theorem out and by the end of the hour all of them had a basic grasp of what it was all about.  They had created their own connections using tools that I guided them to and ones that they discovered on their own.  The next day when we went over the meat and bones of the ideas they already had constructed meaning and were able to follow  and participate in the lesson and apply it to their practice questions.

 

I asked my kids if they thought that discovering the theorem themselves was a better way for them to learn it than me standing at the board trying to get them all to understand and they all said yes.  There is a very simple explanation for this.  Instead of passively listening, they all had to engage their brains in thinking about what it meant. They were also able to use tools that would work for them individually to make that engagement happen.  If I had stood and talked, I would have had the attention of three or four students at most.  Putting them in charge of themselves forces them to participate.  Technology simply gives them the tools to make it happen.

On Friday, we had an assembly in the gym and my grade 8s were sitting on a bench that we set up on a diagonal to the corner of the gym. One of my students called my attention and said, “Hey Mrs Stinson, if this were a triangle, I would be sitting on the hypotenuse.”  It was silly, but at that moment I felt like I had succeeded in “teaching” them even though they really had taught themselves and I just made it possible. It was pretty awesome.