Thursday, October 20, 2011

And the evolution continues....

I have written a lot about how I use googledocs to track my students in my flipped classroom. If this is your first time reading my deep thoughts, then here are a few of my earlier posts that lead up to this one:
the googledocs checklist, how it looks to the teacher, handling all the gorgeous data, parent reactions.

Well, now I'm using my beloved checklists as a two-way communications device.  I'm finding that just showing the kids the results of their updates is having a huge impact. At the very least, the ones who update everyday love to see how pretty it looks as a spreadsheet, AND, believe it or not, that seems to motivate the others to update more often, and hence be more organized, because they like to see all the pretty colours! And no one wants to see any red.

More importantly, though, showing them their own week-at-a-glance gives me a way to communicate with them in case I don't get to them in class. It also enriches our time in class in ways I hadn't even anticipated!

Here's the routine I've fallen into so that I can quickly assess their progress on the fly, give feedback, and more importantly, get feedback:

Every day:
     To handle the INCOMING info (from students to me): I:
  • check for their updates
  • colour updates with day of the week, using an abridged and pastelled version of roygbiv:  (Mon = orange, Tue = yellow, Wed = green, Thur = blue, Fri = pink, Sat/Sun = lilac, any day after that = deep purple)
  • check for items I can verify, ie if they say "I left a comment on voicethread" I go to voicethread and verify, or if they say "uploaded to dropbox" I check their dropbox
     OUTGOING info (from me to student): I:
  • insert comments aimed at the students (not just at me like before) as necessary "ie received" or "not rec'd" or "good comment" or "way to go" (to insert comment, right click on cell in spreadsheet)
  • flag, with bright orange, anything that doesn't check out - ie they say they handed something in but I don't see it, or the comment didn't appear at voicethread
  • check for any entries with "need help", then flag that with bright orange also
  • after all comments are in, and all flags shaded, rearrange in order by student (using data > sort)
      IT'S GO TIME: Now I'm ready for the dialogue! Next class I:
  • give them whatever feedback I have put in the comments
  • talk to them about anything that's flagged bright orange - ie if they say they did something but I can't see it, or if they said "need help", we talk about that (note that if I don't get to someone, I know that they will still see my comment, at least at the end of the week)
  • document that by inserting another comment, like "helped with #3" or "did the worksheet but forgot to upload"
At the end of the weekend:
      Summarize the week's communications, INCOMING, OUTGOING, whatever, as soon as the Sunday
      night deadline is up. I:
  • check each student's data  for missing items, and flag those items with red.
  • check for students that haven't checked anything all week and make a manual entry for them, which I then shade completely red.
  • go to "view list", "show colours", then display one child at a time
  • take a snapshot, and send it to them
  • if necessary, send their parents the snapshot
  • next day in class, process, discuss, suggest, encourage self-assessment
Interpreting their snapshots:
  • If it looks like this:

    I can safely assume they are at least checking in on a regular basis. Note at the bottom are my comments, in footnote form.
  • If it looks like this:

    they might be cramming everything in too short a time.
  • And how unappealing is this:

    This is someone who is either forgetting to update (in which case, they're missing out on a lot of connection potential with me, and I'm missing out on a lot of data about how they work), or they're not doing anything, in which case, intervention of some kind is needed, and easily set into motion with one look at all the red.
Other enrichment that's happening:
  • The things I discover during some talks: one student has been asking me for help before watching the videos! He was frank about it, and knew it couldn't go on. Another admitted she was simply copying her answers then handing it in like that. All I had to ask her was where is your work, and she caved like a tower of jello. I'm not saying I am the first teacher to discover this kind of thing, and I'm not really shocked, it's just that it seems to be their own consciences at work here, because we are talking one one on one.
  • Some kids will never ask for help in class, but they will via the checklist.
  • Whenever they have the chance to type an answer, rather than check off one from a list, it makes for interesting reading. I asked for their feelings about their test results, and here are some of the things they wrote:
Should have taken my time but I think my score was pretty good, but I should have done better
I hate the fact I made a silly mistake on a MULTIPLE CHOICE question.... But I'll survive. Loved the test, not too hard! :D
I had 100% already so i compared my solutions with my classmates to discover the different ways of solving the problems
I think i did very well considering how difficult it was for me to understand all the work. I studied hard and it paid off
  • Some kids won't ever ask for help, no matter what , so I want to more regularly question kids individually.
  • I still need to get them collaborating more. I had hoped it would happen organically, like they would group themselves according to what they were currently working on. Today, 4 kids actually asked to work together, which is a first, but for the most part, they don't.
  • I need to give them work that lends itself to collaboration. Malcolm Swan comes to mind.
  • Time to use those google accounts for self-correcting quizzes, a la Andy Schwen! I wrote my own set of instructions for this back in July, and now I'd better re-read those and hope my own post makes sense to me....
Now I just have to figure out a way to do all this and NOT spend every waking moment on the computer, so that my family won't disown me.....another post entirely. Maybe even another blog entirely.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The tip of the geogebra-berg

I have a few lessons that, over the years, I have worked hard on to improve, and that, as a result, I felt not-embarrassed to share. (Is that the best teachers ever feel - not embarrassed? Aren't we ever pleased with our work? But I digress.) This year, I am using geogebra right out of the gate, and I am amazed to see how much of a difference it has made, even on those not-embarrassing lessons.

Here's an activity I did last week, along with one I plan to do this week that builds on it. I wanted them to work together to develop a procedure for finding the rule of an absolute value function, so I made up some geogebra worksheets. In each example, they are given some points, and they have to input the rule that fits all the points. And of course, change the function's colour to match the points, since I am a geek for colour-coding. I started out easy, by giving them a few examples where they know the vertex and one other point:

This is a Java Applet created using GeoGebra from - it looks like you don't have Java installed, please go to

Note that geogebra doesn't give them the rule, it just graphs the rule that they type into the input bar at the bottom, so they have to put the vertex into the rule properly, and they have to figure out the value of parameter a. The hardest part for them seemed to be getting used to using geogebra, but in no time, I had all kinds of ggb files uploaded to their dropboxes:

Note that for the black one, all I gave them was the vertex. "But that's not enough information!" some objected. "Well," I said, "it might not be enough for you all to get the exact same answer, but it is enough to get AN answer..." just to warm them up to the idea of minimum conditions.

The next worksheet was a bit more challenging:

This is a Java Applet created using GeoGebra from - it looks like you don't have Java installed, please go to

Again, I shut myself up, and just said, you know everything you need to do this, work together, check out each others' ideas...In the red function, some tried making A the vertex, which geogebra soon showed them couldn't be. The tool did the intervention, not me.

Most figured out the red and turquoise functions pretty quickly. I saw some nice discussions happening in the breakout rooms. Some found h, the x-coordinate of the vertex, by using midpoint, others found slope of one side of the function.

But the purple example was REALLY cool to watch. It took a while for them to absorb the significance of not having that vertex. You don't realize what you have until it's gone! I did have to give a few hints, like which one of those points is the vertex ("oh! none!"), would you expect the vertex to be above those three points or below ("oh! below! ok I got it!") A couple of kids jumped right into the algebra - found the rules of the two linear halves of the function, then solved the system to find their meeting point. But others just used the line drawing feature in ggb to DRAW the answer. They drew two lines with equal and opposite slopes, located their meeting point on the graph, then boom, they had the graph of the function, which then revealed the rule, instead of vice-versa:

Now I figured my job was to show that these two methods of finding the answer were related. That each drawing step corresponds to an algebra step. AND, something I previously only dreamed of getting through to my students, that if it's possible to draw one and only one function to fit the points, that must mean there is enough info to find the rule algebraically. So I spent some time next class comparing and aligning the steps:

I think, I hope, that this validated the kids who drew the answer, and opened the minds of those who algebra-ed the answer, to see that even the most abstract of ideas has a foundation in the concrete world. Geogebra is 100% responsible for however much of that idea made its way through their neurons.

Next job for geogebra:

This coming week, we're doing the square root function. When we get to finding the rule, I will re-use the first worksheet, by merely replacing the words "absolute value" with "square root", and see what happens. I am hoping like crazy that someone will say, "Hey isn't that the exact same worksheet?" "Same points," I will say, "but now they belong to another function." And I will have shown them that these points didn't BELONG to any one particular function to begin with, we are the ones deciding that - bending the points to our will, if you will. And who knows, maybe someone will learn something that I hadn't anticipated, or even known myself!

And my next not-embarrassing lesson to be geogebra-ed:

I call it "The Big Picture", which is coming up in a few weeks. It brings together a few different functions. Enough said. The problem is, for every idea I have about how I will do that, 5 more seem to bubble up. It feels like I'm standing on an iceberg. It's a bit scary but, as my yoga instructor says, "Bring it on."

By the way, I would love to share my ggb files here, but I'm not sure how to do that. They are embedded, but does that mean they can be downloaded? Don't know.  I know I can upload to the geogebra wiki, which I will, but as soon as I can figure out how to do that here, I will. Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated.