Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oregon Trail

At a staff development a few months back a very good point was made about the stigma of math in schools (life). Something along the lines of "grumble, grumble....but that is math....and I am not a "math" person...grumble, grumble" As someone who has struggled with math, checkbooks, budgets, gas mileage and measuring I was surprised to find myself entrenched behind the front lines and going to bat for them. How can kids like math if they are constantly hearing the grumbles about the woes of math and how everyone is so bad at it. I have to admit I have changed my tone. I don't have a lot of opportunities in my class, but I now approach density calculations with the same vigor as someone standing on a bridge with big banners supporting their candidate before an election.

What does this have to do with technology? Well, when I read this blog post (Edublog post of the year for 2007) it was clear there was a connection.

If I could celebrate the genius of mathematics in my classroom there should be some other human out there that can turn on a LCD projector and begin throwing some wiz-bang at the kids. Seriously, that is where we need to start. Wikis, blogs, Moodle, Voicethread, iMovie, Garageband, Twitter, Ning and all that other stuff can come in due time but we ought to begin moving forward without grumbling. When I was roaming the halls of my elementary school we got to go to the "technology room" to play Oregon Trail to learn about MATH...sorta. That was 1985ish. Computers are not going away and we ought to saddle up and begin lumbering along. If we run into an obstacle, we'll caulk the wagons and float it.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I finally received my XO -- One Laptop per Child (OLPC) computer and I love it. In December, OLPC was running a Give One - Get One program and for $400 bucks you could get two computers. One gets shipped off to some distant land and you get the other. I jumped on it because I thought this little thing was too good to be true. Now, you can buy one on ebay for $400.

While I was getting used to the shrunken keyboard and checking out every Wi-Fi signal in my neighborhood I was imagining some student in some far off land trying to figure out this new gadget. For me it was a toy, but for the other kid it was a glimpse into a unknown world...maybe. It could be the first camera, audio recorder, notebook, video game, internet access, encyclopedia, light...the student owns...all in one...for less that $200 bucks.

When you think how you could transform the classroom for $200 bucks/kid it really gets you thinking. The XO has this great handle. Students could carry it with them to class and you wouldn't have to go to a "technology room" to do technology. Imagine! The XO also forces you to rethink the notions of Microsoft, Apple and Adobe which is a good thing because the equivalent is out there for free.

I recently put in a grant for an iCart. 32 computers that would have missing keys within a few months (or weeks). They would get lots of wear and tear and be shared by at least 6 other students during the day and most likely be farmed out to other classes at every free moment. For the price of the Macs, I could GIVE every student I teach (~175 students) an XO and have them bring it to class. Not just my class, but every class!! Eight times the fun!

I can foresee a few issues with the XO. It might not be as slick as a Mac/PC and you have to work a little slower, but what if every student walked in the door to your class with a real life 21st century notebook?

One of my favorite things about the XO is that there are no instructions....not really anyway. There are a series of pictures that lay out a few ground rules along the lines of not leaving the XO out in the rain. Clearly, times are changing. Computers come in the mail with no instructions and you can figure them out despite it being different than the traditional platform. On top of that, it only costs $200 (unless you go to ebay).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Huck Bloom's Taxonomy at my Students!

I have often been heard muttering something about pictures being worth a thousand words. I actually say it...and believe it. I like to draw little cartoon animals on my Activboard that are somewhat relevant to a main idea. I once drew an convection oven (to illustrate convection) that the students couldn't quit talking about. For some reason, our students that constantly play vids and watch TV seem to like visuals. Here is a picture of my oven.

(I don't think it is that good.)

I recently started showing interesting images to my classes and then having the students work their way up Bloom's Taxonomy by asking questions about it. I didn't come up with it, but I sure do like the strategy. You can find the original source at this blog . I also embedded a glimpse of it into the my blog using http://kwout.com/. You can embed into Moodle too.


A simple inquiry-based lesson | Thoughts on teaching & educational technology via kwout

In all seriousness, you can ham up how lame basic questions are with the students and how they don't really result in any interesting conversation. The more Bloom's you throw at them the more they enjoy it. Seriously! By the end the students all want to illustrate, contrast, estimate, compare, extend, infer, analyze, and predict. It is really a fun strategy and all you need is a good image and your little Bloom's flipchart thingy. I included a sample below.

Enjoy...and make sure you check out the original source and http://kwout.com/ too.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Finally...Success with Moodle!

I'm not going to lie to you. I have used Moodle for two years and recently had one of my first real successes. My site has all sorts of bells and whistles and is a record of just about everything I have ever done in my classroom. If a student was sick they would be able to get just about everything they need to get caught up, but they don't! If someone has difficulty taking tests...they could take a pretest from home and practice, but very few do. Why do I put hours into it? I'm not sure.

I guess I am looking for the hook. When do they buy in and when can we really start making progress? Apparently, it is when you give them a chance to take control and stop the top-down approach. I recently created a forum where the students got to post their own content and they went bonkers. Here is the prompt...

At last count when I closed the forum after two weeks or so there were 46 posts. Every post happened outside of the school day and I got around to responding to about half. All the forum posts related to how the class connected to the students' lives. Granite counters, eclipse, sunsets, lava, vacations, the earth exploding....

Here is a sample.

In my opinion, the kids are not so engaged until they have a stake in it. When you give them a chance to produce they jump on it. I think Myspace would be boring if they just got to look at it. Luckily, they can customize it so they are engaged. We are just learning that. Because of the web, we can connect with our students beyond the classroom and so we should. If we bother, they will respond.