Teaching Math In the Digital Age: The Debate and More Resources (Part 2)

My experience with intertwining technology into my Math curriculum has been a roller coaster. Initially, 5 years ago, the attempt to combine the two knocked me down and out more than Mike Tyson in his prime. Once the initial problems occurred I felt like throwing in the towel but I knew if I could use tech with Math my lessons, student engagement, time management, and data collection would all be improved if I stuck with it.

Now, five years later, I have a system that is working for me and my population of students. I know that there are naysayers out there that are totally against anything tech in a math class besides a calculator, but I can say from my experience that student growth and achievement have gone up in my classes since I introduced tech into the game. My students are not always locked into a screen and there is always a time to put pencil to paper, or expos to whiteboards. What I am trying to get across is that there are powerful tools that technology can provide educators and I believe it is our duty to teach our students how to use them correctly so they can implement them in their college or career choices.

There have been many studies regarding tech with math and the overall consensus is that technology should be used to bolster learning. Researchers have stated that the key to being successful is to get accustomed to the programs and be educated on what you are exposing your math students to, so they can have success with the tech. There are downsides to using tech like distracted students and cheating, but the benefits far outweigh the cons according to research.

Picture of student working on a computer.

Students use Tinkercad to design 3D objects and models.

On that note, I am going to give you, the reader, a few more programs that are extremely effective when it comes to student engagement and technological skill. The first being Tinkercad, which is a student friendly version of Autodesk (design program). This program allows students to create 3 dimensional objects and can be used for geometry but also for engineering purposes. Tinkercad is used best when the teacher has a 3d printer because student ideas can come to forwishen over the course of a day of printing. I have used Tinkercad to teach area, angles, and volume for different shapes.Perfect cubes, cube roots and finding square roots could also be taught with the program as long as you take the time to create an assignment that includes Tinkercad. If the students have a google account they can save their designs in the cloud and upload them into google classroom with a few clicks of a button because it is a cloud based program. There are tutorials for the students and teachers on the site, and the best part of the program is that it is another free resource. The skills that students learn in Tinkercad can be used for jobs of the future and enable students to creatively engineer.


The next program is mainly for students to obtain vocabulary terms in a fun and creative way. It is called Flocabulary. Flocabulary is a website that creates rap music based on many different subjects and topics. My students enjoy the music and seem to retain more of the terms than traditional ways of teaching vocabulary in Math and any other subject. The students will usually watch a music video, do a few exercises based on the video, take a quiz, and then create their own rap using the vocabulary they used. This program is also synced with Google Classroom, so adding students and classes is as simple as a few clicks of the mouse. The only issue with this program is that it is not free. There are individual, school, and district plans that can be bought and are definitely worth the price.

Implementing these two programs will get your students more engaged and subsequently give them tools that can be used for their entire lives. Whether it be designing a new logo, car, a shape, or making music with a program, the students will definitely be better off going forward in their education with skills that are applicable to the real world. In this day and age being creative and collaborative are highly valuable in the work world and I believe we as educators should use the tools that will enable students to attain these skills rather than stifling their creativity with the same old curriculum.

12 Books in 12 Weeks 

Our school district, Stockton Unified School District, recently concluded a 12 week reading campaign. The challenge was for all students of SUSD to read 12 books in 12 weeks.

I thought it was a benevolent activity so I gave the flyers and challenge to my classes. I quickly realized this challenge was accepted by more of the elementary students and teachers than the high school audience.  My high school students laughed and satirically asked what a book was?  I guess they use cell phones and videos rather than pass their time reading pages on paper.

 I decided to “do it myself” just like the Little Red Hen in one of my favorite children story books.

I gave it the good old college try but came up short in total books read. I could analyze and make a list of why I didn’t meet or complete the challenge. I could dwell on dissatisfaction of not obtaining the worthy goal. Instead I have decided to share my list of books.  

The order of the list doesn’t have any strategy. Following is just a list that came to mind and a reason why I would like to read it.    

I hope you enjoy reading.

Books to Re-read:

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The Little Train That Could  by Watty Piper  

Childhood favorite.


15014._uy630_sr1200630_Crucial Conversations   by Kerry Patterson, et. al.  

Hints on how to talk when the results could cause a loss or really hurt feelings.


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One Minute Teacher: How to Teach Others to Teach Themselves by Constance Johnson       

I wonder if there are any suggestions to make me a more effective teacher.


 

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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success  by Carol S. Dweck  

Top guru of having positive attitudes about success.


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Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions 

by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana

My  students are very weak at asking investigative questions. Will this book help?


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Ditch that Homework: Practical Strategies to Help Make Homework Obsolete   

by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler  

Excellent book to learn better strategies to help students learn.


Books on the first time to read list:

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Blink   by Malcolm Gladwell  

I have read other books by this author and believe this would be an awesome read.


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The New One Minute Manager  by Ken Blanchard, PhD

I used the previous book which was excellent as a help for managing people.  I am curious of what is new in management styles.


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Measure What Matters    by  John Doerr    

Sounds like a statics and a help guide for science experiments.  I am curious to see if it will help me teach investigation to my science students.  


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Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom   by Matt Miller  

This title sounds like additional hints and helps from an excellent author I have read.


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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport  

I am curious what hints and behaviors will help me focus deeper and longer than I already do.


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Out of Curiosity: Restoring the Power of Hungry Minds for Better Schools, Workplaces, and Lives    by Bryan Goodwin

This book was suggested by a friend to see if science students can be taught to be curious and thus engage in science classes.

 

Using tech to promote equity: technology equalizer

Technology can be used to level the playing field for learning. You may ask how can this be? Imagine a classroom where all students receive personalized learning plans that support their learning styles and social-emotional needs.25733957In the book, “For White Folks that Teach in the Hood …and the rest of Y’all too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education,” Dr. Edmin states, “ The technology alone was not enough to engage them. What they cared about was how it was being used.” Below I will list a few uses for technology that can engage urban youth by creating the cosmopolitan effect which is a feature of Reality Pedagogy.

  • Design a digital scavenger hunt related to the content being taught. Components: a powerful driving question, a quick assignment for students to complete and a short lecture.
  • If your district and students age allow: Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social netting site as a platform to share homework assignments with classmates, plan school activities, or create profiles dedicated to topics being taught. Create a Facebook, Twitter, etc. that highlights your class name, homework assignments, members of the class, books being read, links to Youtube videos related to classroom content. You can invite experts on the field of study to join the discussions.
  • To teach students these same skills with actually joining an internet-based social media group use the following ideas. A Twitter board can be created in your classroom. This is equivalent to a Twitter timeline. Students will need to create a handle. The process begins with students writing their handle on a paper tent that is placed on their desk for all to see. Next, the teacher sends tweets about what is currently being discussed in the class to one student using their handle. When someone has been tweeted they have to come up to the Twitter board and respond. A person cannot be tweeted more than 5 times. Students must answer the question and then ask someone else a question. If they don’t have an answer, they must ask a question about what they don’t understand. All questions must relate to the main hashtag( topic) set by the teacher and the beginning of the activity. This event ends when the teacher writes a closing Tweet.

Social media is a powerful engaging teaching tool. In order for students to see it as a tool for learning, teachers should teach this skill. If we don’t Dr. Edmin states,” …as a result of excluding social media from schools is that students then infer that these platforms are completely unrelated to learning.”

Emdin, C. (2017). For white folks who teach in the hood – and the rest of yall too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Boston: Beacon Press.

Education for the iGeneration

If we define today’s world in one word, it would be “change.” The 21st century is truly an age of change and if the education system does not change according to today’s needs, it is sure to collapse. As pointed out by Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert, we have to “change paradigms” in order to cater to the educational needs of the 21st century. For this reason, I think most of the countries today are thinking of reforming their public education system. Educating tomorrow’s children, with yesterday’s methods is not at all a good idea.It is true that a change in our education system is the need of the hour.

A quote from the article.

 The reason for this need may be the economic efficiency of our students or the ability to be a global citizen who still has a hold on his/her cultural roots. The iGeneration is the first American generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand. Today, our children are flooded with information coming to them through technology. They have access to endless information at their fingertips. We, as educators, can use this for our advantage or this can actually become a distraction for our students and a problem for us. It is due to this, that more and more schools are shifting their curriculum and methods to incorporate technology and media in everyday instructions.

Some schools are providing technology and some schools are following the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy for this. According to Project Tomorrow’s annual Speak Up survey, fifty-eight percent of high school students in a national survey said they use their own mobile devices for learning in school, and 47 percent of teachers in the survey reported that their students have regular access to mobile devices in their classrooms. Along with this, most of the schools also provide chromebooks, ipads or some other device with wi-fi connectivity from the school, for most of the core classes, and students can use these on a daily basis in the class.

Due to this, digital literacy has become very important for all of us. As Eric Sheninger pointed out in his article, The Need for Digital Literacy, “although technology enables students to access more information in much less time, it does not always foster learning. Teaching digital literacy helps to manage all of the benefits of technology while helping students understand how to safely weed through the vast amounts of information online.”

 

This vast amount of information online is the number one distraction for our students these days because they find it interesting and engaging as compared to the traditional and “boring” class work. We need to make our lessons more challenging and engaging for today’s generation. Otherwise, we will and we are losing our students to the more magnetic digital world of technology. This has been rightly pointed out by Marc Prensky in his article, “Engage me or Enrage me.” The students who are truly self-motivated are rare in today’s classrooms. We usually have students who go through the motions and think that they know how to manipulate school work, to get a good grade or we have students who “tune us out” because we fail to engage them and their senses in the class work. Technology can come to the teacher’s rescue here. It can make the lesson not only more interesting, but also challenging enough for our students to perform to the best of their abilities.

But this brings up another problem and I have personally faced this in my class and this problem is of digital equity. Forty-seven percent of surveyed school and district technology leaders said digital equity and students’ out-of-school internet access are among their most challenging issues. “Today, as many as 7 in 10 teachers, assign homework that requires access to the internet and broadband,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner, at the Congressional briefing. I am also one such high school teacher. But we need to remember that as many as 1 in 3 households in this country do not subscribe to broadband and this leads to what is called the ‘homework gap.’ I have students come to me and say that they could not finish the homework because they do not have access to the internet or a computer at home. To tackle this problem, I give more time and opportunity to my students to work on these assignments in the class, using the school chromebooks and assign homework which can be completed without the use of technology. This can be an example of using “Blended learning,” and it is showing positive results like the forty-five percent of surveyed districts, where blended learning programs are showing positive results.

Online and blended learning can increase self-directed learning even outside of the classroom, foster divergent thinking and creativity as well as develop and maintain trusted collaboration among students. Collaboration fosters learning, innovation, and development. According to Burns, Crow, and Becker, “collaboration spurs innovation because bringing together groups of people who have different ideas, approaches, experiences, and areas of expertise creates a fertile environment for generating new concepts and methods.”

We need to stop alienating our children from who they actually are and what they are actually interested in. We need to use their interests and capacities to challenge them to improve, learn and innovate. The “factory line” system of school can only create a generation of students who are clearly uninterested and find school boring and irrelevant. This will keep reinforcing our idea of “Fictitious ADHD epidemic” that we think is responsible for our students’ lack of interest and ultimate “failure” at school.

Using technology, along with divergent thinking and creativity, is one of the most important 21st-century skills that our students must have. For developing this skill, we should be using technology more and more in our classrooms for challenging our students’ capacities and engaging them in the process of learning. For this educators should become more digitally literate themselves and then use this knowledge for the benefit of the students of the iGeneration.

What is My Argument?

by Melody Swars

Teachers should participate in professional development because not only does it train you in new strategies but the time at professional development sessions allow teachers with similar growth areas to collaborate.

I sat in an amazing train with Karin deVarennes on a recent Saturday that was focused on how to get students to write an argument. I walked away with not only knowledge that Karin provided but also that of the colleagues that were at the training. We want our students to be successful in collaboration with each other to help build language and content knowledge. This also creates students that are college and career ready. During the training she showed us many ways to get student to collaborate, whether it is for the purpose of writing an argument or in one of the many aspects of student learning.

As a group of teachers that all have varying  years of experience, we got to collaboratively developed a list of ‘getting to know you’ activities that we do in our class. Some teachers had students write a letter about themselves, while another teacher mentioned that in her letter she has students write their future goals. She said this is important because she can incorporate this into her teaching strategy. Some strategies that were collected were:

4 corners
Fish bowl
Equity circles
Shares and celebrations
Quotes of the day with student reflections
Team Building games
Boggle

As a group of educators that were learning, we didn’t just watch a PowerPoint presentation;  we became collaborators through different strategies. One strategy that I really like was a silent debate. One student needs to write their opinion and the other student then responds by writing back their side of the argument. It was intense because you want to respond quickly but you have to take the time to write out your thoughts. I think this could be incorporated into a google doc where two students can write possibly from different classrooms.

Quote from textAn argument debate topic was “should a student have to be passing their classes in order to get their driver’s license.” The room was split in two sides; pro and con. Each side then got into small groups of three and had to discuss ones reasons why we felt this way. After that, the representative of that triad group had to share with the other side. The guidelines were set that we need to listen while one person gives their opinion. After both sides had time to share we returned to our groups and had to develop a rebuttal as to why we do not agree with something from the other side. We were also provided sentence frames to follow to help guide the conversation. While teaching it is so important to have a universal design for learning so that you can meet the needs of all your students.

Another fun strategy I felt was very beneficial for all ages was the 7 chair countdown. You can use any number but the idea is you can count out so many chairs and then stop at the last chair and find a brand new partner. You then get to share, after you share your partner paraphrases what you said. It could be used for ELD students to build language and background knowledge, or to have a better way to access the curriculum in a way that is taught to them at their peers language level.

While I could continue with every aspect I learned that day these were my biggest takeaways. I felt like I have added to my teachers toolbelt of skills as well as meet many teachers in our district with a wealth of knowledge. I would think to give thanks to Karin deVarennes for giving such an interactive professional development.

Skill Mastery: Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk!

By Adriana Cruces

Currently, our school is using a new textbook, as we have navigated through the textbook in our second year after adoption, it has been found that most of the specific skills to become proficient in the subject and level have been missed by the assessments given by the publisher and or are at a higher level of study since the adoption was a college-level textbook.

Untitled drawing (2)One particular idea has been brought to the table: using the textbooks as a resource and not as the main tool used to drive instruction.  Why not select and construct mastery assessments that each student be given with multiple scenarios of assessment for one skill and be required to pass and master the skill at least at an 80% rate. This could possibly set the stage for students to know that the particular skill, one, it’s not going away, and two is really needed to understand the skills and know how to apply them in order to move forward in a real-life situation.

As a reflective practice, I have asked the question: What are those essential skills that each student must master in order to function and be successful in the next level of study? And How can I provide real-life scenarios where each student must depend on knowing how to apply this skill that will allow them to internalize and retain the learned objective? Finally, how can I continue to spiral those skills to ensure the use of the skill becomes automated and mastered?

Image of students and teacher discussing work

Educators need to work together to identify which skills students need to master in order to be successful in the next level.

Together with all reflective practices, I have come to terms that one single textbook cannot be and should not be the main nor the only driving force that provided practice for students. But rather, as a district, as a department, and as a single classroom, we could study the possibility of finding which essential skills must students master at each given level of subject matter in order to go on to the next level of study. How will students show they can walk the walk and talk the talk!

I would appreciate feedback on ideas that would help construct data-driven skills based level assessments when individuality in each class and each school and each district will be a factor as students transfer from one class to another or from one school to the next school or even from one district to the next. On more than one occasion, I have discovered that although we believe we deliver quality instruction in our individual classrooms, if one student transfers from one class to the next, or one school to another, the delivery and expectations of each individual classroom  hinder students success, as there is no common ground currently for some subjects here at SUSD! Shouldn’t we as educators be part of solutions! Shouldn’t we walk the walk and talk the talk?

Breakout EDU Games

Breakout EDU is an immersive learning game platform where students use critical thinking skills and teamwork to solve a complex puzzle in order to open a locked box. You may have heard of Escape Room activities that have become very popular and are popping up in cities all across the country. Stockton has two Escape Rooms that opened in early 2018. Breakout EDU is the educational version of an Escape Room. In an Escape Room, a group of people works together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and escape from the room before the time runs out. In Breakout EDU a group of students works together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and open the final locked box before time runs out.
A unique thing out Breakout EDU is that the games can be completely physical with real locks or completely digital with virtual locks or my favorite a hybrid of both physical and digital locks and problems to solve. Click on this link to see three types of digital puzzles and locks. See if you can unlock all three locks before the time runs out.

A physical Breakout EDU will require you to purchase some items (separately or as a kit). Once purchased these items can be used over and over for different Breakout EDU games. The kit that is available for purchase from the Breakout EDU website comes with:

  • Large Box
  • Small Box
  • Key Lock
  • 3-digit Lock
  • 4-digit Lock
  • ABC Multilock
  • Directional Multilock
  • Hasp
  • Color, Shape, and Number Mulitlock Wheels
  • Invisible Ink Pen
  • USB Drive
  • UV Light
  • Hint Cards
  • Reflection Cards

There are hundreds of Breakout EDU games already created for all kinds of curriculum and content topics and for different grade levels.  You can also create your own or easily adjust one that has already been created. In addition to the content knowledge that students will be learning or applying, Breakout EDU games require the very important skills of critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Students use critical thinking to solve the problems and puzzles.  This may involve sorting, ordering, synthesizing information, making connections, evaluating, and comparing.  By collaborating on solving the puzzle students will utilize the different strengths of each student. You will probably not finish in time unless you work together and collaborate.  Communication is also key to finishing the Breakout EDU in time. One person may find a clue that another group needs to solve a puzzle or open a lock. When one locked box is opened there may be something inside that will help another group solve their puzzle.  Without good communication, the group will waste a lot of time unnecessarily. Creativity is important because solutions to puzzle are not always obvious and require students to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to use the information and solve the puzzles.

Students will be engaged, working with others, and actively learning.  Breakout EDU is adaptable for any subject and grade level. Once you do few of the ones available on their website, you will be ready to create your own Breakout EDU games with the help of their creation programs.  If this sounds interesting and you want to know more about Breakout EDU, I will hopefully be presenting this during the beginning of the year Professional Development days.