Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Posters are up and the stamps are flying!

As I did last year, I have put up posters with student names and Khan exercises. As the students master an exercise, they get to stamp their success next to their name for that exercise. I wasn't sure I was going to do it this year, but I'm glad I did. The student's motivation has definitely increased.

I've also modified my Khan Journal requirement. Now, students can try up to 25 problems before they have to show their work. This way if they know something well enough to get a streak within 25 tries, then I really don't need to see the work. But if they haven't got their streak by then, then they need to slow down, watch a video and start writing down the steps they are doing.

The whole idea behind the journal was to keep students from trying 50, 60, 100 problems until they either see all the questions or just guess right. I think this method will work to prevent that. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sal Khan Spoke at UCSB

I live in Santa Barbara, CA. Sal Khan spoke at UCSB last night and I had the chance to go hear him. His talk was very informal and similar to his TED talk, but with more detail on how he started, what he hopes to accomplish in the future for the Academy, and where he sees/hopes education will go in the near future. He really validated many ideas I have had about teaching math.

My wife, who also came to the talk, asked me afterward if what I had been telling her over the last few years about how math should be taught was just me repeating what I had heard from Khan. It was not. It was great for me to hear someone with the respect of many, like Bill Gates,  and the Google Corporation,  articulate what I believed to be true.

I had started to wane a bit on how I was using Khan and I started doing more full classroom direct instruction. After his talk last night, I was more inspired than ever to use the Academy both as homework for my students and also more in class. So, today I cut back on my lecture and gave students more time to work with Khan.

Here are some exact, unsolicited, quotes from today's class:
"This is the best math class we've ever had!"
"Yes, yes, I got it!!"
"Mr. D, I need your help, no wait I got."
"Can I stay here at lunch and finish up my exercises?"

My kids were focused, excited, incredibly enthusiastic, and obviously enjoying themselves. Can something that motivates students to try to succeed and to have a positive attitude in the classroom be harmful or detrimental to their learning? I think not.

BTW, week one of students eating during class has been a great success! The first day they needed to be reminded that it's okay to eat but they can't be drawing attention to themselves or disrupting the class by showing off their sandwich or whatever. After the novelty wore off, students just got their food and ate/drank while class was going on. No big deal and the classroom manger has kept my room nice and clean. When you give even young students responsibilities, after a few reminders, they handle it quite well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Khan 2011-2012

I'm getting a little pressure from the powers above to add more direct instruction to my classes. So, I've started assigning KA for homework. I'm requiring each student to spend a minimum of 20 minutes, 4-times per week. They can do more, but need to show at least 4-20 minute sessions per week. Some are picking up from last year's class ( I have my students in both 7/8 grades). In any case, they need to start with Addition 1 and progress along the path suggested in the Knowledge Map.

In other news, I recently spent some time presenting workshops at several Google Offices around the country. All Google offices offer plenty of whiteboards to brainstorm on and the availability of food nearby. Over the summer I "painted" several of my desktops with a product called, IdeaPaint and transformed my tabletops into whiteboard surfaces. I also installed several sheets of Melamine on my walls for more whiteboard space. I want my students to feel free to move around, stand, and collaborate when they are doing their math work.

Today, I instituted another Google idea. I'm allowing my students to eat and drink in my room during class. Each class has a classroom manager who is responsible to make sure the room is cleaned up before dismissal. These are middle school students and I'm not sure if this will work. But I gave them a lecture about how more freedom also means more responsibility. I want to give my students as much decision-making freedom as they can handle. I'm hoping that as they take on more personal responsibility, they will take on more responsibility for their learning. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How I plan to use KA this new school year.

I'm getting some pressure from outside forces to use KA as a supplement to my curriculum. So I'm looking at using KA for homework. I still like the idea of flipping the classroom so students spend a good deal of time in class working on problems where they can get help from me. Most of my student's parents are more or less lost when trying to help their child with math and students get frustrated if they can't figure out what to do. Trying to look it up in the text has not worked either.

So, I'm going to assign videos from KA and/or ones that I make, for students to watch as homework. I can embed the videos into a Google form where I can have the students answer a few simple questions about the video. Forms makes it easy track this. You can also just see how much time a student spent watching the KA video in the KA software, but it doesn't give you the ability to ask questions or have students respond to the video.

If you haven't used Forms in Google, it's a great way to survey students. It takes the data and throws it into a spreadsheet with a timestamp, name and more or less anything else you need.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dis'en the Khan Academy

If you're following some of the online discussion about the Khan Academy you might feel there's a battle going on about it's effectiveness. Some strong words are being said about how great it is and how horrible it is. Since I used it almost exclusively during my last trimester and plan to use it for a good portion of my classes next year, I worry that maybe I'm moving in the wrong direction.

I follow several blogs that have mentioned KA recently. Dan Myers' blog is one. I'm going to summarize what I think he was saying in his post and about the comments made about the post. My apologies if I didn't get this right.

Dan and others feel that KA is just the same old, same old delivered in a different way. That the videos still just cover the material the same way texts or teachers might in the classroom. That the deeper questions that need to be used to "really" understand math are not there. I agree, they are not.

But I do like the fact that I can have my students watch the KA videos and ones that I make myself, outside the classroom and that I can use my classroom time with the students to help them work on the concepts. For this, the KA works great and I can tell you that my students are a lot more enthusiastic and energized during class then they were when I was lecturing during class.

I think it would be great if I could take the time to delve deeply into a math concept and really get my students thinking and questioning what was being discussed. Unfortunately, in my "real world," I cannot do this because, whether I like it or not (and I don't), I am judged, my school is judged and my students are judged on how well they do on the state tests.

Math instruction and instruction in general needs to be totally overhauled. I think many of us agree with this. But until this happens we are still limited by having to prepare our students for the standardized tests. Until, they change the test or how they evaluate, I need to spend a significant amount of time during the school year teaching to the test.

Next year I hope to still use KA, but add some project-based learning for part of the week's work. I hope I can find a balance.

Note: I'm new to blogging so be nice. Your comments are welcome, but please be constructive. Thanks

Thursday, June 2, 2011

End Of The Year Reflection

I started using Khan Academy in mid-March of this year (2011). This was just about the beginning of our last trimester. As I described in a previous post, I was not real sure how best to use it, so I just dove right in.

I based 90% of the student's grade for the last trimester on their progress in Khan. I assigned about 25 concepts for each class to successfully complete. The students had only the deadline of May 27th to complete the assignments. However, if I saw a student lagging behind and not working on Khan, then we had a discussion. I also monitored how much time students that were lagging spent on KA outside of class and "encouraged" them to put more time in.

Having this discussion and reminding students that their learning is their responsibility worked pretty well. Most put in more time and/or caught up with the rest of the class.

I did not assign any videos to watch, but rather just told the students to use the videos when they got stuck or wanted help. During class I walked around and helped students. Often, students helped each other as well.  My classes this year, because of how I graded them, had higher averages than in most years.

Even though most students were able to get their streak of 10 on most assignments I question how well they learned the material. I believe most did learn the material, but I know others really didn't get it. So, next year I want to assess their learning better.

I think first I'll actually assign the videos related to the exercises. They will be assigned these to watch outside of class. I might create a short form in Google Docs for students to complete to summarize what they watched. I may require them to watch the video and complete the form before they are allowed to start an exercise.

I would also like to have some type of assessment for after they complete an exercise or exercises. Over the summer I want to correlate my curriculum with KA so I can have the the KA exercises paced for the school year.

Lastly, I'll have my 7th grade state scores back to see how my students did. This might help me decide exactly how I'll use KA next year.

Next year, I want to work with KA and design some project-based assignments to work on.  We'll see how the summer goes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Posting Progress

Below is an image of the progress posters I have at the front of my room. When a student successfully completes one of the exercises, they are allowed to stamp that exercise as proficient. Students cannot wait to put up their stamp. If they completed something at home, they are at my door first thing before school to stamp it.

At the end of each week, I give students a raffle ticket for each stamp for that week. I then draw for prizes at the end of the class. Students love this and get all excited. It's a nice way to end the week's work on a positive note.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How does Khan help me meet these challenges?

The Khan Academy (KA) is a library of short video tutorials on a full curriculum of math topics. They also have other subjects, but their math curriculum is quite extensive. Recently the Academy added an exercise software piece to help students practice their math skills and to help teachers monitor a student's progress. There's a nice video explaining the software on the site.

During the last trimester at school, I decided to use KA exclusively to see how students liked it and whether or not it would help them do better with their math studies. I felt that some of the challenges I mentioned in the previous blog could be remedied or at least reduced using KA.

Pacing: I assigned the math concepts I wanted my students to learn by reviewing my pacing plan for the remainder of the year. I then told the students that they would receive full credit for each assignment they successfully completed. There would be no penalty for WHEN they completed the assignment. So students could work at their own pace and choose which assignment they wanted to attempt.

Questions: At first I told students to raise their hand and I would come by and help them during class if they got stuck or needed help. I found this did not work too well. However, if I just casually walked around the room with pencil and paper, students would stop me and ask for help. This was a great discovery and I was very surprised how willing students were to ask me questions when I was next to them. Now I had students willing to ask questions without them feeling intimidated or standing out in class.

Gaps in math skills: If a student was not ready to work on the concepts I assigned, I could "back them up" and have them work on the gaps in their math skills. That is, I could assign lower grade concepts for them to work on first before tackling the pre-algebra assignments. This gave students a chance to be successful in their math endeavors.

Bored Students: OK, this was a great surprise to me. My students were incredibly focused during class. I gave them a lot of freedom but I monitored their work closely. For instance, if a couple of students wanted to go outside and sit at a table to work they could. Students were allowed to listen to music. Often students helped each other and worked together.

I have small classes so I was able to easily monitor all of my student's working. What I found is that they DID work and were much more focused and happy with this system. It's been eight weeks now, near the end of school and most students have completed a large portion of the assignments.

Posting success: I placed large sheets of paper in the front of my classroom for each class. The posters had student names and all the assignments. As a student completed an assignment, they were allowed to put a stamp showing they completed the assignment. This also was a big hit. Students came in at lunch and before school to ask if they could stamp their assignment. Seventh and eighth graders still have some of that elementary school mentality and really enjoy little stamps and such.

At the end of the week, students received a raffle ticket for each assignment they completed that week. I held a drawing for little prizes just before the end of class. You would think I was giving away a new car with all the excitement this raised!

I think KA is a great teaching tool. I still have questions and concerns about how I should/should not us it. I'll talk about that next time.

I Khan Do It!

Today I am starting a journal on my experience implementing the Khan Academy in my middle school math classes. I have used Khan and directed my students to look at the videos as help on their homework. After discovering the exercise software portion of the Academy, I decided to try and use it in my classes.

I usually teach two courses each year, grade 7 math (we call it Pre-Algebra) and Algebra 1 (mostly to 8th grade students). However, as in most math classes, the diversity of math skills is large. I may have some students that may be struggling with very basic math while in the same class have students that are almost ready for Algebra.

Some other challenges I face include very bored students, students that can learn math but need extra time to understand it, students that are unwilling to ask questions if they don't understand something during a lecture and students that have totally given up on learning math.

I believe the Khan Academy helps me address a lot of these challenges.