Tech-Dependence

The first week of school was an exciting one! Not only did my cohorts and I have a great time decorating our learning space, but we also had a lot of fun meeting our students for the first time, introducing them to the S.T.E.A.M. class concept and planning our first lessons for them!

While we were lesson-planning as a team, we wanted to look up a lot of ideas on the Internet. Teachers at my school are not given their own laptops, so we had to bring in our own computers and iPads. No problem. Fortunately for us, we can sign in to the guest Wi-Fi network at our school. But when we started looking up ideas for our lessons, we realized that half of the sites we needed were blocked by our district. Uh, oh.

We quickly realized that many of the resources that we use so freely and frequently may not be an option for us and our students this year. Wikipedia is even blocked. (I’m not a huge fan of that site for obvious reasons, but why is it blocked?) YouTube, Twitter, Prezi, etc…all blocked. Should this be a problem? Have we, as a society, become too dependent on certain Internet sites and web applications, or is our district too restricting?

Now, let me back up a little bit and clarify one thing. The teachers’ Internet network (only accessible on teachers’ computers in our building) has fewer restrictions on the Internet and we can access many more websites. So that leaves my cohorts and me with two options: log students in under our names to research lesson topics, or severely limit their researching options on the students’ computers in the building. Hmm….

I realize why some sites are blocked. I get it. I’ve seen the inappropriate videos on YouTube, and I’m aware that any “Joe Shmo” off the street can post his own version of how the Titanic sank on Wikipedia. But have you seen all of the amazing, educational videos on YouTube? Have you learned some great facts on Wikipedia (that you later cross-checked on another website)? I have. It isn’t fair that our students don’t have – and won’t have – access to these great learning tools.

This was the only frustrating road block that my cohorts and I faced this past week; which, if you think about it, is not a huge deal in the big picture. That being said, we want our lessons to be engaging, and we want our students to learn how to maximize their use of technological tools. It’s hard to maximize anything when it is so minimal to begin with.

Have we become too tech-dependent as a society, or do we need to find ways – as a society – to give students access to learning across the World-Wide-Web? Maybe YouTube should limit the amount of trash that is posted on its site, for example. Although I wish I had the simple solution to this problem, I don’t have the answers. (Just don’t tell my students that!)

Does your school district have a similar issue? If so, how do you work with it to maximize learning in your classroom?

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Creating Project-Based Learning Units

I have spent the past year daydreaming about engaging, fun math projects. A few short weeks ago, I accepted a STEM math teaching position and I feel like I can finally start living my dream! Here is an example of a math project I made for 7th grade. It is called A Dream Day at Carowinds (the local amusement park here in Charlotte, N.C.). If you like it, please feel free to download/use it and tweak it to meet your students’ needs, and make it FUN and ENGAGING for them!

 

 

The Benefits of Handheld Tech in the Classroom

I must admit something: one year ago, I was not an advocate of cell phones or tablets in the classroom. I naively felt that they were cause of distractions and were the source of evil that would prevent me from accomplishing my mission: teaching. However, since then, I have been awakened, my eyes have been opened, to a new world in which we live. I have learned, via my PLN on @Twitter and other social media sites, that handheld technology is not evil. It is my accomplice!

What sparks this thought? This Tweet that I recently read (and retweeted):

When you imagine a student sitting in a classroom all day long without access to an ounce of technology, you probably feel the same sense of suffocation that I do. Students in today’s tech-driven society can not be expected to “sit & get” all day long without an escape. Handheld technology allows for that escape – a brain break – and a way to access even more information than their teacher is feeding them.

There are many articles out there regarding the research of the benefits of technology in the workplace and the classroom. One article, written by Zoe Fox in April, 2012, Why CEOs Should Allow Facebook in the Workplace (Mashable.Com), gives CEOs takes on allowing social media (Facebook, in particular) in the workplace and a study conducted to reveal the benefits of surfing the web. “The study concludes that taking a break, particularly one spent browsing the Internet, should be encouraged by employers hoping to increase productivity.” Well, if adults need the break, shouldn’t the same be true for students?

I’m not suggesting a free-for-all when it comes to allowing students to use technology in the classroom. Quite the contrary because, like anything else that works in education, it must be structured. Many middle school and high school students, who come to school with phones and iPads, are already tapped in to some format of social media in our classes, anyway. If we give organized breaks that allow students that necessary thinking-escape, it could benefit us all. Students will be more productive, they won’t miss important instruction while trying to conceal their Internet-surfing under their desks, and they’ll respect the teacher who gives them those 5 minutes to check the latest e-mail, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. (Important Note: If you are going to allow tech brain breaks, just remember to create a student-teacher contract that clearly states the Do’s and Dont’s of these breaks. If a student violates the contract, you have the justified right to take that privilege away!)

Cell phones, tablets, and notepads (or laptops) can also be a huge help in accessing information. If the teacher is working with a student (or a small group) and other classmates need additional information on a topic of study, they have access to a plethora of new information right at their finger tips without having to interrupt the teacher. (Tip: Consider creating a class website, if you haven’t already, and posting links to helpful websites or videos that students should utilize while studying a particular unit.)

Afraid students will be tempted to reach into their pockets during class, even with the 5-minute break? Create a cell phone parking lot on student tables. Use masking tape or duct tape to create the “parking spots” where phones must be parked during class. Students can leave their phones – face down – in the parking spot until given permission to use them. Make this part of your classroom tech contract…if a student doesn’t use the spot appropriately, they lose their tech privileges!

At the end of the day, our goal is to reach each student and inspire them, educate them, and teach them how to balance responsibility and accountability. If we deny our students any technology in the classroom, yes, we make our lives easier; meanwhile, we are only hurting them by neglecting to teach one of life’s important lessons.

Reasons Why Students Should Blog

First, I would like to thank Popplet.com for giving me the inspiration for this blog post. I used their free Popplet service to create a small brainstorming bubble map (above). Of course, I couldn’t just leave my thoughts limited to the bubbles, so I decided to blog about it!

I recently read a blog on edudemic’s website titled “How To Integrate Blogging Into Math Classes.” Wow, that seems like a no-brainer, but why hadn’t I ever thought about that before? What a great idea!

As you’ll see in edudemic’s blog (added by Felicia Young), sites such as Kidblog.org provide a safe environment for students and teachers to blog. I think this is a fabulous tool to get students involved in the blogging forum. While I’m not endorsing this website, I just want to share it with other educators out there who may not have heard of it and want to do something similar for their students.

Weblogs have become one of the greatest avenues of communication these days. Students need to be – and want to be – involved in this part of our virtual culture. Blogging will allow them to express their own ideas, discuss various viewpoints on a variety of topics, and, most importantly, practice their reading and writing skills. (Shh…don’t tell them the last part or they may not want to do it!) Also, blogs can be used across the curriculum. Here are some sample blogging prompts:

Math: Reflect on a math concept that was really difficult for you to fully understand. Why do you think it was so difficult to learn? What could have made it easier to learn? 150 word minimum.

Science: We just learned about the three states of matter. What would life be like if there were only two states of matter? Pick one to eliminate and reflect on how life would be different without it. 200 word minimum.

Music: What is your favorite genre or style of music? How do you feel when you hear that style of music being played?

Art: What is your favorite van Gogh painting? What makes that piece your favorite? Color, texture, movement, feeling, etc.

Language Arts: Reflect on some of the books you have read and the characters in them. Which character can you relate to the most? Why?

As you can see, some of the examples have length requirements, and others do not. I believe that should be left up to teacher discretion; some students may need that type of requirement to push them outside of their “comfort zone.”

I see my students blogging in our future. How about you?

Great Math Blogs

One of my hobbies is seeking out great math blogs on the Internet. I have come across hundreds of blogs since I began my search. Some are great and others are not. What defines a “great blog” in my opinion?

Great math blogs…

…are user-friendly and attractive in appearance.

…are updated frequently (at least once per 1-2 weeks).

…include multimedia (pictures, diagrams, videos, slides, etc.).

…and illustrate best practices or lessons that teach math!

Here are some examples (listed in random order) of what I’m talking about. They just so happen to be some of my favorites. Enjoy!

1. Math Techniques and Strategies

Math Techniques and Strategies has a lot to offer to teachers of mathematics. This site’s blogger, Trevor Reeh, writes posts about a range of math topics, including lesson plans and fun math trivia. The links at the top of the page lead to a variety of additional resources, including interactive math notebook ideas, instructional videos, best practices, and fun uses for math QR codes!

2. I Speak Math

I have to give huge props to Julie Reulbach, the math blogger at I Speak Math. Julie (@jreulbach) was one of the first educators I started to follow on Twitter. Julie  encourages her fellow educators to blog about popular education topics via forums such as the New Blogger Initiation and the MS Sunday Funday blog forum on her site. And when she isn’t helping other educators with their blogging, she is blogging about the lessons that her sixth graders are currently doing or her best practices involving math & technology. Awesome!

3. Yummy Math

I retweet Brian Marks (@YummyMath) on Twitter a lot, so if you follow me on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve heard of this site. Current events + creative math application + fun learning opportunities for all students = Yummy Math. You can search for the lessons by math concept or by post date. Give yourself some time, though, because once you visit it, you could be on this site for a long, long time…

4. Math Coach’s Corner

I really like Math Coach’s Corner for two reasons. First, Donna Boucher blogs about some of the cutest math topics and lessons I have EVER seen! This place is great for elementary teachers who are always looking to make math cute and fun. The second reason I love this blog is for the Blog Hop. The Blog Hop leads to a page that just explodes with hundreds of colorful links to other education blogs. (Again, you could be here for awhile…)

5. Number Loving

I recently discovered Number Loving, thanks to Sharon Derbyshire (@numberloving). Number Loving has existed for a little over a year, and within that year the bloggers have compiled a list of exceptional lesson blogs and great ideas. Looking for math games, puzzles or other teaching tools? Visit this site for some GREAT ideas!

 

Please comment below with any math blogs that you’ve encountered – or written yourself! – that you believe are GREAT and will help our math teachers out there! Thanks!

Top Ten Reasons I Love Twitter

It was some time in 2009 when I first heard about this new social media site, Twitter. Celebrities were joining left and right to share their thoughts with their thousands of “followers” (i.e. virtual groupies). I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, so I signed up. I lasted one day before I abandoned it….I obviously had better things to do than read updates from the Kardashians.

Flash forward to 2012, I finally realized that at some point in the past 3 years, Twitter became a virtual dynasty for education leadership! All of the experts in my field were on Twitter now and using it as a means to communicate with other teachers! I thought to myself, I’m a teacher! I need to be on Twitter! So, here I am, and here is my list of The Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Twitter:

1. It provides fast and frequent communication. I follow over 150 educators on Twitter. Needless to say, I am constantly receiving the latest news and trends in education from the numerous people I follow. I never worry about missing out on the most popular blogs or news stories because, rest assured, my Twitter feed will update me almost immediately.

2. Twitter is a community-builder. Teachers are all part of a professional community. Within our global community there are various networks which stem from multiple sources, including Twitter. Since re-joining Twitter in 2012, I have become part of several educators’ PLNs (world-wide!!) just by being a part of what is happening on Twitter. My PLN has also grown leaps and bounds!

3. Got free PD? Ever been part of a chat on Twitter? #Edchat, #Satchat, #Elemchat #SSChat are just a few of the many, many Twitter chats that are held each week. In these chats, educators come together to discuss some of the most notorioius and poignant topics in education. It is amazing what people bring to the table! These discussions can be so inspiring and informational, that sometimes (most times) it is better than any prof. development session you’ve ever attended.

4. I can connect with some of the greatest pioneers of my field. Laura Candler (@LauraCandler), Jonathan Bergmann (@jonbergmann) and Erin Klein (@KleinErin) were all names I had heard of many times before from my teacher friends. I have known of them for years as “leaders” in education, but I had never met them, heard them speak, or spoke to them. Now, however, I follow them and learn first-hand from their best practices that they share!

5. Sharing resources has never been easier. My job involves creating math games, activities, and other resources for educators around the globe. While posting them on my websites is easy to do, it doesn’t make teachers aware that they exist. Twitter helps me do that.

6. I am always learning new things! Thanks to the resources that my Twitter PLN share with me, I can safely say I learn something new every time I check my Twitter feed!

7. Hashtags. Thanks in part to Twitter, the cute transformation of the pound symbol (#) has completely altered the way we communicate in pop culture and daily life.


8. Twitter allows us to gain new insights and new ideas. I will be the first to admit that my personal philosophy of education has changed since the first day I connected with Twitter. It wasn’t one tweet or one day that changed my outlook, but the amount of information I have been led to that have opened my eyes.

9. K.I.S.S. (Keep it short & simple.) With only 140 characters allowed per tweet, a person is confined to what he or she can say. Some may think that is very limiting and hard to do. To them I say, “Good!”

10. Easiest way to communicate with students and parents. Twitter is an AH-MAZE-ING tool to use to communicate important news with students and their parents. If we all connect on Twitter, we can easily and efficiently communicate when needed, and create strongly-knit schools!

I still have a lot to learn about Twitter and everything it can provide for me on my professional journey. I hope that you’ll join me (@thatmathlady) on that journey so we can learn together!

Geometry PowerPoint Lessons

I really enjoy using Microsoft PowerPoint to create introductory math lessons. With PowerPoint, you can make lessons creative, colorful, interactive, and engaging for students. PowerPoints can be used with SMARTboard technology or something as simple as a laptop computer or mini notebook.

Here are two sample math lessons (via SlideShare) that I made recently using PowerPoint. Both presentations, which you can download for free for your own personal use from thatmathlady.com, are quite short and relatively simple to use.

Both presentations are uploaded in my Math Vocabulary binder on http://www.claco.com, too!