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.

Biology Materials

I’ve been fortunate to work with some really excellent educators. These fine teachers have developed materials that were piloted with students this last year. The materials are now being made available for free to any teacher who wants to use them.

The first materials available are the Biology modules. These are high quality biology resources that a teacher could use, or adapt for use, in their very own classroom. The materials are all being made available through a Moodle site.

ATEP (Articulated Technological Educational Pathways) Project was the result of a National Science Foundation Grant. The group put together resources for Biology, ICT (Information and Communication Technology), and MMT (Modeling and Manufacturing Technology).

(In case you are interested, my part of the project was to upgrade the “look and feel” of the Moodle site that ATEP was using. I also did some training on using Moodle. That training included developing resources to help instructors use Moodle as well as providing guidance on how to structure material within Moodle. However, the implementation presented for public use and consumption is decidedly “plain vanilla”. This was intentionally done to make sure that users didn’t need to have special themes or plug-ins installed).

Please head over to the ATEP site and check out the resources. All of the courses are available for download and installation into your very own Moodle instance.

Start with the Biology Course. Biology has two modules (A & B). Module A includes the following sections:

  • An Introduction
  • The Design Process
  • What is Biotechnology
  • Biology Review
  • Biomanufacturing: The Story of Insulin
  • The Effects of Insulin
  • Biomanufacturing
  • Protein Purification
  • Solving the Insulin Problem
  • Bioreactor Training
  • Product Redesign and Maximizing Product Production

There are exclusive teacher resources in each of the sections.

You can register for the site with an email. (This is done solely to provide a way to download the materials. Emails are not being collected for use in any other way).

There is a “Download Course” which has links to the files to download so that you can install the courses on your own Moodle site.)

Frayer Model

Well, the wonderful people that I work with have done it again. This time, they’ve rolled out the Frayer Model in Moodle. Once again, the Database activity forms the base for this work.  The students can then enter relevant information (Concept, Definition, Image, Example, and Non-Example) to create a Frayer model.

Here are the fields for the student to complete:

frayer-model

Students enter all of the required fields (those with a * ). Once they do, a Frayer Model will be created for them.

tech-training-patterson-frayer-model-2016-11-09-20-48-57

When the student places a mouse over one of the fields, the information is brought forward.

tech-training-patterson-frayer-model-2016-11-09-20-50-29

 

Since this is a Database activity, the work that students do can be shared with the entire class (or not). If you want all students to share, simply leave Approval set to “No” (in the Entries section). Conversely, if you want each student to only see their own work, set “Approval required” to “Yes” (and don’t approve anything).

 

Here is Mr. Chris Kenniburg explaining the process.

5 Ways for your students to say “Hi” in Moodle

Having your students introduce themselves can be a powerful and useful activities. Whether your class meets in person or just online, Moodle can help your students introduce themselves to you or to the entire class.

Teachers can use any to the modules below to find out more about their students. Which module you pick is dependent upon what you want and how you want to know that. Some questions to consider:

  1. Do you want all of the students to see the information?
  2. Do you want to guide students by having a form or do you want them to follow directions?
  3. Do you have a comfort level with using a specific module?

Glossary

This one is probably my favorite way for students to introduce themselves. Set up a Glossary, and then let the students add in information. Each student would enter their own name as the “term” and then whatever information that you want as the definition.

Important Notes:
  • Easy to set up
  • Easy for students to enter their information
  • Can be used with the Random Glossary Block to display a student name for other students in the “side bar”
  • No automatic grading (but can be graded)
  • All students can include pictures
  • Entries can be approved by the teacher before the other students can see them

Database

This allows the teacher to set up a “form” for the students to fill out. The database is viewable by all students.

Important Notes:
  • Allows for multiple types of information (such as checkboxes, pictures) to be collected.
  • Checkboxes means that specific information can be gathered. May be especially useful for lower grades.
  • Easy for students to enter their information
  • A bit more work for the teacher to set up
  • No automatic grading (but can be graded)
  • All students can include pictures
  • Entries can be approved by the teacher before the other students can see them

Forum

The Forum module allows the teacher to set up a forum in which each student would create a post. The post can have a variety of information in it. However, it is more limited than the Glossary or Database.

Important Notes:
  • Easy to set up
  • Each student can reply specifically to other students
  • Can be graded
  • Each student gets a separate line

Assignment

Many teachers are comfortable with the Assignment module. Unlike the Glossary and Database modules, the Assignment module will only be viewable by the teacher.

Important Notes:
  • Easy to set up
  • Limited to teacher viewing the information
  • Private between each student and the teacher

Quiz

Like the Assignment module above, the Quiz module would be limited to collection of information about students. Only the teacher will see all of the responses. The advantage of the Quiz module is that the teacher can create a template for the student to complete.

Important Notes:
  • Many teachers are comfortable with creating a Quiz
  • Limited to teacher viewing the information
  • Private between each student and the teacher