Category Archives: Thoughts

Moodle and Wiris

We have been using Wiris in our Moodle installation to help teachers and students deal with math and science equations. In a perfect world, everyone would use LaTeX (which is the standard for math notation in writing). (Actually, in a perfect world, math and science notation would be easily integrated into writing and page layout). However, LaTeX is complex and involves a fair bit of a learning curve. Most teachers aren’t going to learn the ins and outs of LaTeX, and certainly, students aren’t going to master LaTeX as they are learning math. Neither one of them should have to do so.

Enter Wiris. Wiris allows the user to use visual buttons and prompts to easily create math and science notations and equations. Wiris essentially adds a visual way to easily create math formulas. It looks like this:

*Note that Wiris uses LaTeX for the actual formatting.

We’ve created a variety of sample math problems for students to practice their math skills. These math problems are presented in a random order. Additionally, the students can check their answers immediately. The goal is not for summative evaluation; rather, the goal is for students to practice and hone their math skills. As part of checking their answer, the students get specific feedback on what is correct or not. The teachers used Wiris to provide some of that specific feedback. That turned into a problem. Some of the questions didn’t use the Wiris editor in the question, just in the feedback. That would cause some programming issues with Moodle.

So, we reached out the Wiris people. We provided feedback. The feedback included screenshots and detailed descriptions of the conditions where we were seeing problems. I’m happy to report the Wiris people have issued an update which fixes the issues that we saw.

Lesson learned? Reach out to the developers of tools that are useful. Provide them with specific, detailed descriptions of the issue. The good developers will be responsive. Who knows, you may even help solve a problem so that the next user never even knows that the problem used to exist. They will just find joy in a tool that works wonderfully well for them.

Image of 3 beakers and an atom to indicate science.

Here Comes Science

I learned a long time ago that I’m a Constructivist. Constructivism is essentially the concept that each learner builds (constructs) his/her own learning (this is, of course, a broad generalization of a deep and complex topic, but will serve here). In teaching in the classroom and in watching students in other teacher’s classrooms, constructivism has been apparent to me. I’ve seen enough “light bulb” moments to be rooted in constructivism. So, the concept of finding that one right strategy to teach all students has always frustrated me. Learning is messy. Learning can be ugly. Learning is non-linear. Learning doesn’t happen on the same day for all learners. Learning doesn’t happen in the same way for all learners.

One of the recent trends that we seen is the identification and public sharing of Content and Language Objectives. First of all, let me say that I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with Content and Language Objectives. These are wonderful things for teachers to know, actively identify and work with on a real level. There are instances where it is wonderfully useful for students to know and identify Content and Language Objectives as well. However, if every class starts with the students choral reading the Content and Language Objectives, well, I’m going to doubt that meaningful learning will happen in all classes.

See, I believe that learning frequently resides in a mystery. Learning lives in a story. Learning lives in discovery. Learning can be different for each student on each day.

Now, here comes Science. The new NGSS guidelines focus on students doing discovery learning. YES! YES! YES! Students doing the work. Students NOT being told what they will learn, but being guided so that they will learn what they need. This is how I believe that more learning should happen. Teachers guiding the students along the path of enlightenment, not being told that at the end of the hour they will be able to….

 

*Image: The original image has been released into the public domain by its author, AllyUnion, at the English Wikipedia project.

Studying

As a principal, I used to meet with students and parents regularly. Frequently, those meetings were held because a student wasn’t doing as well as was possible. The subject of studying would inevitably be discussed. Generally, the student would study by reading and then reading some more. While this may work for some students, much more is generally needed.

Research shows us that students need to do much more to study. There are some really nice posters that communicate this over at The Learning Scientists Poster page.

These posters specify six different strategies:

These are strategies that all students should know and have be able to use. Not all of these strategies will be used all of the time, but students should know them and know how to use them.

I’ve shared this with others. One of my wonderful Tech Coaches, did a write up on how he used Moodle while in the classroom to provide students with retrieval practice. He is an excellent teacher. His write up is titled “Practice is Best”. Do yourself a favor and go read it.

He discusses how Moodle can provide teachers with a wonderful way to help guide students and provide them retrieval practice.

My experiment produced extremely favorable results. Test averages jumped. Anxiety levels on the day of the test seemed to plunge. And the two probably had an effect on each other.

Sometimes, it is necessary to review what we do as teachers. It’s also important to look at how we do. Take a look at the studying strategies. Maybe you’ll want to invest a bit in yourself and learn how Moodle can help your students study more effectively.

  • Bonus hint: what if students created the quizzes (along with why an answer was wrong)?

Medium is losing money, start your own blog

Medium “cuts” 50 jobs

According to Endgadget, Medium is cutting 50 jobs (er, that would be laying off 50 people) because they are spending money faster than it is coming in. Medium was quite the darling not too long ago. Several bloggers had moved their blogging over to get the additional exposure that Medium provided. Medium does have some really, really good content.

However, for me this exemplifies a choice. Either establish your own site, where you have full control and full responsibility, or continually follow the fads and fashions of the web. Following the fads and fashions can lead to easier publicity, fewer responsibilities and less “worrying”. However, it can also put you at the whim of someone else.

This is a choice that we users and content creators of the Internet should be making thoughtfully. There really isn’t a single correct answer. For some, following the fads and fashions is perfectly appropriate. For others, having control and creating what you want is important.

Whichever, you choose, choose thoughtfully.

Times Change

I found this picture in my ramblings about the Internet.

 

This is a picture of a 5 MB drive for IBM in 1956.  I’m not sure how much it costs, but you could lease access to it for $3,200 a month (roughly $28,000 a month factoring in inflation) .

Here’s another picture:

This one is being taken off a plane.

Here is an image of a 4 GB drive that I was given for free:

Image of a pen with a 4 GB flash drive in the cap.

The free 4GB drive is about 4096 MB’s (or about 819 times larger than the 5MB drive above).

Just a thought on how things have changed.

Working on an iPad

As much as I enjoy using my iPad, it still has limited use for me. The iPad remains a terrific media consumption device. I keep up on news and my RSS feeds on it daily. Additionally, I can do some creation on the iPad as well. However, the iPad frequently falls short on many tasks. For example,  I needed to find an email. I searched for about ten minutes on the iPad with no luck. I gave up and went to my Mac. In about thirty seconds, I found the email and had the appropriate information that I needed. (Now granted, I deal with a lot of email. However, not being able to locate a particular email in ten minutes is a problem.)

I’ll keep using my iPad. I will even continue to stretch to see what it can do in terms of creation. However, there are still lots of limitations which suggest to me that full on computers aren’t ready to be replaced by their smaller brethren quite yet.

How many?

I’m a fan of Vicki Davis. I think that she is generally very practical. She seems to really work with real kids, in real classrooms. She also seems to have a real life. However, a recent post of hers got me to thinking. The post was about 11 ESSENTIAL EDTECH ACTION STEPS FOR BACK TO SCHOOL. In the post, she mentions several tools that she (and, in some cases, her students) use. Which then lead to my wondering just how many tools she (and her students) use.

Now this matters to me because I work with a wide variety of teachers, parents and students. One of the frustrations that parents end up expressing is how many different sites and places that their kids have to go to complete assignments. Some of these parents express how frustrated their kids are at not being able be successful. Some of these kids are special needs.

So, here a quick list of the tools from that post:

Now, let me be fair. Some of these are things that a user would be interested in. Some are choices (either this or that). But, if you are not a techie, this is overwhelming.

Then I read a bit farther down. There is a link to the “163 tools Superhandout!”.

11 Essential EdTech Action Steps for Back to School 2016-07-30 15-22-11

163 tools. I’m afraid that this leads to the habit and belief that one must check out and use all of these tools. I’d much prefer teachers to learn a few really powerful tools at a deep level than to dally around with 163 tools.

163 tools. I still can’t get over that. We already know about the paradox of choice. I believe that this is part of the reason that technology hasn’t had an even bigger impact on education. We need to focus on the how, the why and then the what.

Now I also know that as a blogger, we need to blog regularly. (I’m guilty of not blogging regularly. I blog when I truly have something to say, the time and the motivation. That certainly doesn’t help with popularity. Popular blogs post regularly.) Lots of bloggers want (need, should, etc) make money from blogs. Making money depends on sponsorships, ads and lots of posting.

Again, I’m not really being critical of Vicki Davis. I respect what she does and talks about. I think that she is important in keeping the conversation going. I just want to put forth that sometimes quality is the most important feature. I hope that teachers will pick a couple of tools (preferably school-wide) that will help students learn and be successful.

How many tools will your students use this year?

ISTE Day 3

Monday was the full on ISTE Conference experience. Lots of walking. Lots of learning. As a side note, I’m attending ISTE with an iPad (and an external keyboard) and an iPhone. I use Notability for taking notes, the ISTE app to know where I’m going, Safari (and Chrome) for web browsing, Messages for staying in contact with the rest of my team, Mail to keep up with email and Mr. Reeder to stay up on the news. I also use tchat.io to keep up with Twitter at any conference. Using split view allows me to stay on top of at least two things at a time. 

Here are a few of the sessions that I attended:

  • Blended Learning
  • Create Your Own Digital Curriculum

  • GAFE App Management

The Blended Learning focused on the different models of blended learning. It was noted that we traditionally stay at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

Create Your Own Digital Curriculum didn’t really fit my needs. It was too much about a variety of tools without specifics on how it is being used. 

GAFE App Management was OK. I did know most of the material, so I didn’t necessarily learn much. I did think that it was interesting that there were quite a large number of attendees. This is a session that would’ve benefitted Super Admins in GAFE. Most of the attendees didn’t sound like they were Super Admins. 

Once again there was lots of good stuff. Some of the best parts of the conference were hallway conversations. One such conversation was with another attendee prior to the GAFE session. She had attended a session on Google Apps and shared some really good resources. 

ISTE Day 2

ISTE Day 2 was predominately two things, the TeachMeet and the Keynote. The TeachMeet was an interesting experience. Essentially, the attendees can sign up (via Google Form) to present to the group. You can present pretty much whatever you want. The only restriction is that it can’t be a “sales pitch”. The morning session of the TeachMeet was filled with people and had lots of energy. Then we had lunch. The room went from full to about a quarter of the room occupied. There was still lots of good stuff presented though.  

Individuals completed a form that included their name, their topic and the time that they wanted to present (2 minutes, 7 minutes or 20 minutes). There is no vetting of the speakers or the material. Yet most of them were really well done. I even talked my Tech Coach into presenting on a couple of projects that she did with elementary student involvement. 

A couple of speakers spoke twice. This seemed less than optimal. It really kind of changed the feel of the event from a democratic, share what you know, to more of an “expert” presentation. I greatly preferred to hear from each presenter once. 

By the afternoon, things were wearing a bit. Maybe it was the much lower number of attendees and lower energy level. Maybe it was just that the brain loves novelty and the novelty had worn off. 

So, here’s my suggestion. Combine the UnConference and TeachMeet. Get people together to propose different sessions. Then have one (or a group) talk quickly about the general discussion. In other words, identify some topics to discuss and then “pitch” them for 2 minutes. Then break out into those sessions. 

The Keynote, by Michio Kaku, was good as well. He was engaging and informative. 

ISTE Day 1

Day one of ISTE was all about registration and the UnConference. I attended several sessions. These sessions are all proposed, discussed, decided and delivered the day of the UnConference. These are a terrific opportunity to network with a variety of other people. It is also a great opportunity to find out what other schools and school systems are doing. Many times these conversations are hugely valuable because you can have real conversations about real environments. The chance to ask questions and get personal answers are very specific. This also skips over people feeling like they have to present the best possible “face” of the district and answer in depth. 

Another great thing about the UnConference is being able to baseline where you are and where your district is. For example, the Tech Coaches for the district (Amy and Bob) came with me to the conference. One of the things that they have discovered is that they do really great work. I can tell them that (and I do), but for them to realize where our teachers are compared to others, is extremely powerful.