Friday, June 3, 2011

I did it! (Well almost.)

After being inspired after visiting Marymount School in NYC and attending EdcampBoston, I had to bite the bullet and just jump right into creating ebooks with my students.

I have to admit that although I would like to be more innovative in my teaching and I like the ideas of student centered learning and formative assessment, I don't do much of it.  If I were going to have my students make ebooks, then I would be going from zero to sixty in no time at all.  (I also have to admit that I picked a very motivated, successful group of students to be my pioneers.)

I decided to have my students pair up and pick a topic out of a hat.  Their job was to first research the topic and learn it with the help of their partner and me.  (I should add that I teach Algebra, not history.)  I had no idea how many days it would take them to not only learn the topic, but then create a book using Pages in one of our Mac labs at our school.  I reserved a lab as many days as I could find one available for a bit less than two weeks.

The research piece seemed to run smoothly.  On the days I couldn't get into a lab, I would have the students share their sources and what they were learning.  It was on those days that students raised concerns about not feeling like they had completely mastered the ideas behind the topics they had to learn on their own.

At the end of the project I had intended to give them a good old fashioned quiz, but how could I if they were only learning one topic out of a larger group of topics that they were required to know?  During the day during class time they needed the time to work in the lab.  At night some students continued to work on their own at home, but I didn't require outside work on the project because I wasn't sure what the limitations were at their houses.  So I decided to "flip" my classroom.  I had tried it a few other times during the school year, but it seemed to be a perfect fit for what I needed.

For the last week of the project, I would flip the lessons using my Haiku site with short videos using Replaynote on the iPad.  (Think Khan Academy looking videos.)  The students would come in to class each day understanding the concepts necessary for the project.  If necessary, they could take a break from working on their computer in the lab to ask me about the lesson they worked on at home.

Back to the students making ebooks.  (Or is it ibooks?)  The students did a great job creating original documents that explained their topics.  Some students modeled their book after a chapter in a math book, while others included movies of worked out math problems or original music videos singing the quadratic formula.

I had figured out that if the students were able to get me their document via email or on the schools public folder on the file server, then I could publish the document as an ePub and open it up on my iPad.  (Was I being crazy to even do this project?  My students didn't even have a school supplied device!)  Once I had the documents, I published them as an epub and saved the files in my Dropbox folder.  I was able to then open up the same file in my Dropbox app on my ipad, then open up the epub in iBooks.

Well, it almost worked.  After I figured out some of the formatting snafus, I was still not able to figure out all the details to make the books look seamless. Overall, I would say that even though this was an ambitious project for me, it was a success.  Looking back, here a few things I would do differently:

  1. I need to learn more about Pages before I have my students use it in full force.  
  2. I should create an expectation sheet and/or rubric to assess the project.  (I had no structure in place for my maiden voyage.)
  3. I wish my students all had their own device so that they could view not only their own ibooks, but their classmates ibooks.
  4. I need to learn how to share an ibook with students who DO have their own device.

I will refine the project in the future and definitely do it again next year.

(p.s.  The quiz was yesterday, and they all did great!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

How It All Began - Part 1

Let's just say that this year was life changing for me in terms of my teaching.  I have always been interested in technology, even when I was a child.  I was fascinated by gadgets and loved logo in the 80's when I was in elementary school.  As an adult, I have always tried to integrate technology into my teaching, as much as I could with the resources that I knew about.  But how far could I get with a Smartboard and a tablet PC laptap?  (Pretty far actually.)

Then everything changed.  After taking a professional development course online about blended learning, in the summer of 2010, through the Online School for Girls, I was introduced to a whole new world that I didn't know existed.  It was my introduction to Web 2.0.  I had no idea that not only was my use of technology going to change, but so was the way my students were going to learn.

The first tool I was used was Haiku.  Haiku is a web-based LMS (learning management system).  My school had been using Moodle for years, but I hated it and refused to use it with my middle school students.  I found Moodle to not be intuitive, and I struggled with uploading information and moving it around.  If I struggled with it, then how would my middle school students do with it?  (Don't answer that.  I know the kids are the natives.)

I did learn about a few other tools, but nothing stuck with me like the use of Haiku.  School started in the fall, and I had my pages up and running with a free teacher account.  I have to admit that I started off pretty slow. I only posted links to interesting websites and uploaded extra math practice worksheets.  I made it optional for my students, as I wasn't sure how it was going to work.  (See Part 2 for update!)

The 2nd most pivital moment for me this year was attending the Education Innovation Summit in the fall of 2010 at Hathaway Brown School outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  The conference itself had a huge range of topics, but the one that stuck with me was iCreate, iInnovate, iLearn, a presentation by three teachers from Marymount School in NYC.  I had no idea that technology could be used to vodcast, podcast, create ebooks and visual art in education.  How could I be so clueless?

This was the beginning of my fascination and craving for an iPad,

This post describes my journey up to December 2010.  2011 brought many more exciting changes, which I will share in my next post.