2016 - 2017 Year In Review: Technology Tools

Overview

I've always been a pretty heavy user of technology. I've been more careful in the past few years to use it for a reason, not for its own sake though. I also balance that use though with a healthy desire to try new things in a way that I would actually use them in the classroom.

This is also the first year I've been able to take advantage of the Google Tools suite since Vietnam is not subject to the limitations of China's Great Firewall. Though there have been times when the internet connection to the entire country has been subject to shark attacks, connections in general have been smooth. Seeing how effectively some folks use Google in the classroom after being unable to use it for six years make me feel seriously behind the times. Luckily, my colleagues are really eager to share what they do. I might be caught up.

  1. A Macbook Pro where I do most of my lesson planning. I connected an external widescreen monitor that mirrored all projected content. The second screen was sent through AirPlay to an Apple TV, which was then connected to the projector.
  2. Class worksheets electronically created and stored in Google Docs. These are printed out on A5 size sheets for students to tape into their notebooks for a physical record of what we did.
  3. For IB Mathematics SL and PreCalculus, I had two students per class make an additional Google Doc that was a copy of the handout. In this document, students would paste solutions to class work, homework, and whatever else they thought might be important to their classmates. The student responsibility for doing this was on a rotating schedule, similar to what I've used in my previous classes.
  4. Notability app for class notes, with a Wacom Tablet for input. I used the wireless accessory kit for around two days, because it disconnected too frequently.
  5. iPhone as a document camera for capturing student work for sharing answers or for conversation during the class. I would take pictures of student work and use AirDrop to upload them for inclusion in the notes.
  6. Moodle as a repository for all of the above documents and links. I also used it occasionally for distributing quizzes and automatic grading.
  7. My WeinbergCloud website for managing, assigning, and recording reassessments throughout the semester.
  8. PearDeck on a trial basis for first semester, and then regularly during second. I sometimes used an iPad to manage the class, but every time I regretted it, and just used my computer.
  9. Desmos Calculator usually at least once per lesson
  10. Desmos Activity Builder about once per unit per course
  11. EdPuzzle for self paced lessons, videos, and quizzes in Algebra 2. Most of the videos were produced by my colleague, Scott Hsu.
  12. Spreadsheets for building useful calculators (like discriminants for quadratics, arithmetic/geometric series sums, etc)
  13. Khan Academy for practice exercises and monitoring of student effort in reviewing material.
  14. Geogebra for checking exam questions and demonstrating its use as a work-checking tool for students.
  15. Camtasia for recording videos from time to time of solving problems, using
  16. Quizster as a way to have students submit specific homework problems for feedback.
  17. Wireless keyboard and trackpad, though these lasted about a week and a half.
  18. I dabbled with GoFormative, primarily when I was on sick leave for a while. Connection issues that were inconsistent across the class led to my abandoning it for regular use.
  19. For two units in PreCalculus, I used Trello as a way to organize units and help students organize their work for each day of class.

What worked:

  • The process of cutting and pasting images of problems or student work into Notability, and then annotating them was great for recording important information during class. These notes were then either pasted into the document created by students for each class, or exported as PDF for posting on Moodle. This felt like a good way to have a record of what went on during a given class block in case students missed a block.
  • I liked automated grading of quizzes through Google forms and Moodle. This definitely saved time, but the process of getting feedback to students in response still is awkward. When student work is analog, but answer checking is digital, where should that feedback go? Quizster offers some way of making all of this occur in the same tool, but the workflow never was smooth enough to fully commit to it.
  • The combination of PearDeck and Desmos Activity builder, along with photos of student work, made for great sources of understanding (and misunderstanding) that helped me decide how or whether to proceed with other material. These also made for great motivating elements for direct instruction when it needed to happen. The students really liked using these tools, and said they looked forward to them, according to the end of year survey results.
  • I don't think Khan Academy exercises work well for assessing students beyond a basic level. I think they can provide the practice some students need on procedural skills like factoring or evaluating trigonometric functions. It's just one tool among many to serve the needs of my students.
  • When I provided guidance on how spreadsheets could be used for more than just making charts, students appreciated it. One student went so far as to say that this instruction was "actually useful". I decided not to ask what this student thought about the rest of the class.

What needs work:

  • I posted homework problems on the printed class handout, digital handout, and on a dedicated document for assignments that is an expectation across classes our high school division. Consistently updating all three documents was a challenge, despite my best efforts.
  • The student notebook entries for each class were among the least favorite element of the class, as reported by students. I've written previously about the need to have some record of what happens during class, but frustration over students that do not produce their own record through regular use of a dedicated notebook. This isn't the best solution, but I think it's the closest I've come to something that actually reaches the right balance. I just wish I could figure out how to get students to buy into its usefulness.
  • I still have not figured out the best way to bring the class back together after letting them work at their own pace through lessons. The only times it makes a lot of sense to do this is at the very beginning of class, and at the very end.
  • PearDeck, Desmos Activity Builder, and GoFormative each offer features that I really like. None of them do everything. I'm ok with this, but I wonder whether the fragmentation of activities is good for students, or a problem since their work is distributed across these tools.
  • While I liked using Trello, and some students reported that they also appreciated it, many students did not. I'm not sure if it actually is the self-paced lesson tool I'm looking for, but it was better than a static Google document.
  • At the end of the year, despite my own research and attempts to improve this, the Apple TV disconnected at least once every class period, if not more frequently.

Conclusion

My focus continues to be on using technology to free up time for the ways that I can best add value in the classroom. Many students don't need my help in making progress. Some do, and some like having me explain ideas to them. It's hard to simultaneously meet these different needs without technology, which enables me to be in multiple places at once.

Having the range of tools I describe above, and not fully committing to one, is both a blessing and a curse. The fragmentation means the residue of learning is distributed across many web addresses. The variety helps keeps students (and me) from getting into a rut. I don't know if this balance is appropriately tuned yet.

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