Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lightening up our Standards

Have you seen these light boxes around? I keep seeing them all over the place. From my view in the aisle of the store, I was feeling pretty "meh" about them until my daughter received one as a birthday gift. She was so excited to get one that it was one of the first things she opened. Now that I have seen it outside the box, I admit that I, too, am quite taken with it. And, as with so many things, I keep thinking of things I could do with it in my classroom.

One idea I had is to post my standards on it each day. A standard light box comes with a small set of letters - maybe two of each letter and a few extra of the vowels. That probably wouldn't be enough to write an entire standard. I got to thinking that I could type the standard in a large font size, print it, and use the copy machine to make a transparency. Then trim it to the right size and slide it into the tracks for daily viewing. I like the idea of this because it would emphasize the standard in a way that's fun. The light draws attention to it. I mentioned this idea to my daughter and she said she appreciates that her ELA teacher posts the "I Cans" every day and she thought the light box would be great for that.

Of course, the light box could have other classroom applications too. Maybe it could announce birthdays. Kids would get a kick out of that, I think. Maybe reminders could be posted. Or homework assignments. Or station directions. It's a little gimmicky, I guess, but I think these have a place in the classroom. Are you using one in your classroom? Do you have ideas for how you might use one?

It's almost Teacher Appreciation Day. A light box is on the top of my wish list. I'll let you know how I use it if I get one.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Two More Possible Padlet Replacements

Doug Robertson definitely wins the "best tweet of the day" for his suggested Padlet replacement: giant pad of paper and sticky notes. I love it!

There have been lots of other free suggestions today, like using Google Docs, Slides, or Drawings as a replacement. Everyone's fave Richard Byrne blogged about 5 Alternatives on Free Tech for Teachers today.

Still, I poked around and looked at two more possible Padlet replacements: Pearltrees and Stormboard.


Pearltrees was not new to me, but I was prepared to hate it because in my previous use of this tool, I found it to be not intuitive. I am usually willing to give a tool 15 minutes. In that time, I either find value or decide it's not worth the time. I'm glad I took a fresh look at Pearltrees because within 15 minutes I could see teachers using this one. It's much different than I remembered it.

The interface is pretty simple. Click a plus sign and you can add a collection or an image, file, link, note, or import things from Drive, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, or your computer. Collaborators can be invited through email. Collections are embeddable. Here's the one I made:
You can also share your collections via link, through email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and by QR Code (nice touch for education!).

Pearltrees has a free and premium service with special packages for educators. The free package comes at a cost - all collections are public. For only $25/year, you can change the setting to private and get full customization.

Pearltrees has an iOS app, an Android app, and a web clipper Chrome extension or Firefox add-on that you can use to add things to your collections from anywhere on the web.


Stormboard was a new tool to me, so I was excited to try it out. I saw a few people recommend it on Twitter yesterday as a possible replacement. It's really designed to be an online brainstorming, collaboration tool, but could be used with students in a Padlet-y way, I suppose.

You start by creating a "storm," a board where you will post ideas and perhaps encourage others to do the same. They have ready-made templates that serve many purposes, including some education specific templates to help students write 5-paragraph essays or compare and contrast two topics. Once you name your storm and choose a template, you can click to add an idea in the form of text, a whiteboard, an image, a video, an index card, or a file. "Text" is a sticky note and I quickly mastered that. You can color code the sticky notes and create a legend for what each color represents. I struggled mightily to get the whiteboard to work (I managed a sad scribble eventually) and almost started cursing when I tried to delete my index card. Video and image were much easier. If I used the tool a lot, I'm sure I would get the hang of it, but I didn't find it to be intuitive. Here is an image of my final product:

You can share storms, and invite collaborators, via link and email. If they are embeddable, I did not find that option. When you are finished with a storm, you can close it, but they can never be deleted.

Pricing is a little tricky. There is a free Personal plan that gives a user 5 open storms with 5 collaborators each. For $60/year, the Startup account gives unlimited storms and collaborators. There is an Educator package also which allows for unlimited storms and collaborators with more storage and features; it is free until June 30, 2018. Not sure what happens after that date.

There is an iOS app, Android app, and Microsoft app, but I did not find a browser extension or add-on. That makes sense for what this tool is designed to do. It's more about brainstorming and not so much about curating.

Bottom line: For me, I would choose Pearltrees over Stormboard, but depending on what you need, they each have potential.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

After Padlet, There's Wakelet!

Padlet users went into mourning today when the inevitable happened: Padlet become a lot less free. Beginning today, if you used Padlet, you received a message about how many more free walls you could create. If you create a Padlet account today, you can choose between a free account (3 free walls, ads, 10 MB file limit, and standard support) or a $99/year plan where you get unlimited walls and lots of bells and whistles.

In fairness, and before I suggest an alternative, I'll say a few things in Padlet's defense. First, if you want a tool to grow and stay awesome, that takes people and ideas and infrastructure and those things have a cost. The expression "there's no such thing as a free lunch" definitely applies here. Second, in the letter I got from Padlet, it implied that I could have a total of four free walls (based on my usage), but if I created four and wanted a fifth, I could delete one that I no longer use. This suggests that it's not that I can create three more, it's that I can have four total. Also, you can pay by the month. For only a month if you need it for a month. Finally, Padlet is providing some extras in the Padlet Basic (free forever) account like Search, Themes, and Premium Wallpapers.

Still, for many teachers, $99/year to use Padlet is too much to spend on one webtool, so people began looking for an alternative. My pal Sarah Rivera suggested Wakelet, so I investigated that tool tonight. Here is what I found out:

Wakelet is similar to Padlet in that you can curate items together into collections. In my experience Padlet looks more like a bulletin board and Wakelet doesn't necessarily look like that, but beyond the aesthetics, the idea is basically the same. In fact, you can choose among a couple of different views for your collections and there is a grid view that can give the illusion of a bulletin board. Ish. Take a look at a collection I built tonight (you can embed them!):

Wakelet Features You Will Like

Wakelet is free.

Click a button to create a collection. Click in the header to upload or choose a cover image. Same for background images. Click to add a link, something from Twitter, and image, or text. When you have your collection just as you like it, click Save or Publish. You can have a private, unlisted, or public collection and you can add collaborators by email.

There is a Wakelet iOS app, an Android app, a Chrome extension, Firefox add-on, and Safari extension.

You can import your collections from Storify (which is shutting down as of May 16) which is kind of a cool feature. I didn't use Storify all that much, but I went ahead and imported what I had there just to try it out.

In short, Wakelet is not a perfect substitute for Padlet, but it is free, easy to use, can be collaborative, is embeddable, and has many of the shortcut tools that Padlet offered. It's definitely worth a look!

PS I'll make a comparison chart at some point . . . after a few more alternatives emerge.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Goophy Addition to Google Docs

While exploring Add-Ons to Google Docs today, I found one that I think will be a lot of fun called Goophy. Goophy allows you to insert animated GIFs into Google Docs! If you are creating a word processing document that you plan to print and copy, inserting a GIF is probably a useless idea. If the document will be static, you might as well insert an image. For documents that will live a digital life, inserting a GIF might serve many different purposes.

While working in a Google Doc, head over to the Add-Ons menu and drop down to get add-ons. When the pop-up window opens, search for Goophy. Install it. Then go back to the Add-Ons menu and drop down to Goophy and click on Start Goophy. When the sidebar opens, you can search for a maximum of three words and then GIFS are found. Want to put one in your Doc? Just click it. Once it's in the Doc, you can change its size or move it around just like you would a static image. Except this one is an animation.

Here is an example of a Doc I made with some GIFs (plus some ideas for using them):

I like the idea of using GIFS in Docs as a way to capture attention. I might use a follow directions GIF near the procedures of my labs or a safety GIF to highlight safety features. I might add a GIF near the title to illuminate the concept of the lab. I would also entertain the idea of inserting a GIF that I could use as a visual for a test or quiz question. With my colleagues, perhaps a GIF could lively up a boring agenda or make a to-do list seem less laborious. 

I think kids would like to open a Doc and find an animated surprise. A quick warning: If you're planning to show this one to kids, tread lightly. The GIFs are not all school-appropriate. A search for "chemistry" revealed the ones I used above, but also revealed GIFs that said Sexy Chem and included curse words. 

Like any other strategy, if overdone, this would be tuned out. Still, for me it seems novel today and I am looking forward to trying it out at school.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nominate an Outstanding STEM Teacher for the PAEMST

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of STEM teaching. The nomination window is open until April 1, 2018. With just 11 days left, consider nominating an outstanding STEM teacher for this prestigious honor.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I won the PAEMST for Ohio Science in 2015. I was first nominated, though, in 2013 by an assistant superintendent in my school district. My first reaction was surprise (Who knew she thought I was doing a great job?), followed by fear and dread (This looks really hard. I'm not sure I can do it). I never would have applied without her vote of confidence; I am incredibly grateful that she believed in me so much that she nominated me.

It wasn't that hard!

The application process includes some application paperwork, letters of recommendation, a 30 minute video of a lesson, and a narrative reflection on the lesson and your teaching practice. If you have achieved your National Certification, you will know how to attack this. Step 1: Read through the narrative questions. You will reflect on why the content is appropriate, why you chose the strategies you used in the video, how assessments guide your practice, how you reflect on your success and challenges, and how you lead outside your classroom.
Step 2: Decide on a lesson where you can showcase the skills you want to write about in the narrative questions. Look for something where you facilitate great thinking, deep learning. Capture 30 minutes that will show some variety - small group and large group or lecture and lab or discussion and experimentation. 
Step 3: Make arrangements for videotaping. It doesn't have to be professional (my mom followed me around with a Flip camera to make my video), but if you have an expert, use one! Allow for mishaps. I had my whole plan in place and then learned there was a scheduled tornado drill! Give yourself plenty of time to write the narrative, collect the letters of recommendation. Applications are due on May 1.

Why bother?

Teachers receive so little recognition, and so much criticism, that any opportunity to celebrate educators is one worth taking. I will never forget where I was when I opened the email that told me I was a finalist for Ohio. Or when I opened the email that indicated I had won the award. All of the winners traveled to Washington, DC in September 2016 for our awards trip. Meeting so many talented, passionate STEM teachers was an incredible experience. I continue to follow many of these teachers on Twitter for inspiration. We were treated to professional development, networking opportunities, a beautiful awards ceremony, and a tour of the White House. You can read more about my PAEMST trip hereAgain, if you have achieved your National Certification, you probably don't need to be convinced. You would do this for the same reason you went after that. The video and narrative offer a chance for deep reflection into your teaching practice. It is so validating to have a group of your peers evaluate your work and find it to be noteworthy.
Ohio's Math and Science PAEMST winners, 2014 & 2015

Like with the National Board Certification, winning the PAEMST put me into a select group of STEM teachers who will be offered opportunities to contribute to the field. I have been invited to serve on selection committees at the state and national level and contribute to various PAEMST efforts to spotlight great teaching. I would love to be able to help shape educational policy and winning the award makes that more likely. I am facilitating a science specialists network to inspire continuous improvement and innovation while honing my own teaching.

In 2018 the PAEMST winners will be K-6 STEM teachers. There is a probably a terrific K-6 teacher in your life. Maybe it's you. Take a quick minute to nominate. For me, the nomination was the nudge I needed toward my own Nobel Prize in teaching.

Monday, March 12, 2018

$1 Merge Cubes: Easy and Cheap Handheld AR/VR

I went to Walmart yesterday, looking for Merge Cubes. A friend had mentioned them to me as a cube that triggers virtual reality games and I was anxious to see one and try it out. According to Google tonight, Merge Cubes sell for between $5 (eBay) and $15 (Target), so imagine my delight when I found them at Walmart for $1! I scooped up four of them and headed home to try them out.

I was immediately impressed by the product. The Cube is made of material a little tougher than a stress ball, so it can be dropped and tossed and will not break or break things. Each side of the black and silver cube is covered with designs that will trigger holograms in the apps that will Merge with the Cube. It comes packed in a little plastic case; it's not fancy but will store the cube nicely.

If you haven't tried out augmented or virtual reality, here is how the Merge Cube works. You get an app and launch it on your mobile device. Then, inside the app, point the mobile device at the Merge Cube. The designs on the cube trigger augmented and virtual reality experiences - games, activities, and more. The Merge Cube apps work with a mobile device or by pairing a mobile device and a VR headset. 

I tried out two apps as soon as I got home - Mr Body (FREE) and Galactic Explorer (FREE). My Body is pretty cool. You are greeted by a stick figure guy whose organs you can see. Tap the organs and you see that one close up. Tap the buttons on the organs and you can read some information about it. Flip the cube and you can see Mr Body (and his organs) from different angles. The graphics (seen below) might look cartoon-ish but the information is pretty sophisticated.

Galactic Explorer is an exploration of the solar system. I tapped the record button inside that app and made a quick video you can watch to see how this one works. In the video you can see my hand as I flip the cube and turn the solar system. I am tapping and untapping planets to zoom in and read information about them.

Here are some descriptions of a few of the other educational apps that are available:

57˚ North: A choose your own adventure app where two cousins are shipwrecked and decisions must be made in order to survive ($2.99).

Anatomy AR Plus: Hold the brain, heart, and lung in your hands and explore them in incredible detail ($0.99).

Cube Paint AR: Choose from several animals, paint them any way you want, and watch them move with their custom paint job (FREE).

Dig: Mine and build holographic worlds that you can hold in your hand and share with others (FREE).

Dino Digger:  Dig for dinosaurs with famous paleontologist Jack Horner. Uncover fossils and learn interesting dino facts ($1.99).

My ARquarium: Choose from among 55 types of fish to fill your virtual aquarium.

There are lots of games apps too.

If you have wanted to explore virtual or augmented reality, this is a durable and easy-to-use product that is available at Walmart for $1. It's definitely worth the price!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Supporting Parents Supporting Students: Start with a Calendar

In my last post, what started as an endorsement of The Incredibles2, and their recent sneak peek trailer, ended as a declaration that parents need help supporting their children with school work at home. Think about how frameworks have changed over the last ten years (but certainly since parents were in school). When parents were in school, there might have been weekly newsletters or emails indicating what happened in school this week and how parents could support students at home. Then teachers developed websites where parents could check assignments and look at support resources. In the last few years, learning management systems came onto the scene and replaced websites. Teachers can now, with a few easy clicks, easily store everything they want to in a digital classroom for students to access. Unfortunately, parents often can't access this resource. Even when Google Classroom added parent email capability, it only sort of helped. 

A most basic example of this is with tracking assignments. Parents probably start the homework routine with the question "do you have any homework?" Some kids probably know/remember/recorded what they have to do and get right to it. For those of us not blessed with professional students, the answer is often "I don't know," followed by a groan (and sometimes it's the student)! An easy solution to this is to use a calendar program and share the link with parents. In my classroom, this is Google Calendar (which I couldn't get by without), but other calendar programs probably work the same way. 

Here's my system:

1. Create a free Google Calendar with the name of my class.

2. Add my assignments to the Google Calendar. I like the "Schedule" view for an assignment calendar because it looks like a list rather than a calendar, but you can choose among several different views. If you want to provide an agenda for each day, consider starting your "assignments" with numbers, like "1 Review Homework" followed by "2 Forces and Motion Lab" so they will stack up in numerical/chronological order.

3. Go into the calendar settings and make the calendar PUBLIC. This will allow anyone, whether or not they use Google calendar, to instantly see your assignments. Share the URL with parents (and students!).

You can also share the calendar with individual email addresses. Or embed the calendar on a website. This way, parents can add your calendar to their digital calendar. Then the assignments come to them without having to do anything special. If you're trying to support student learning at home, what could be easier for parents than just seeing what the assignments are inside an existing calendar? Of course, parents might need to be shown how to do this. That is a great task for Open House, right?

If you want to learn more about Google Calendar, check out this post I wrote about it earlier this year.

The system you have in place might look great to you. Take a minute and think about it, though, from a parent's perspective. Can they access the information? Without an account and a password? How many clicks does it take to get to the vital information for all the classes their children take? Is the system convenient for parents (whose help you probably need) or is it convenient for you? Have you taken steps to teach parents how to make this system work efficiently?

When we make decisions about the way we will support students outside the classroom, we need to think about the classroom that happens at their homes. A fellow Ohio technology enthusiast, Mike Daugherty, addresses this with his website on a page called Help @ Home. Mike is a K-12 Director of Technology and an endless supplier of tips and strategies. He was selected as a Google Certified Innovator in part due to a project that aims to help parents understand and navigate technology advancements that we discretely teach to our students. Of course, this thinking fills the gap that I have now described in two posts. If you are feeling that gap, subscribe to his email updates on his website. And, of course, follow my blog for continued conversations about this topic.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Math is Math!" An Incredible(s) Reaction

It was a crummy week to be a teacher. Maybe that's why I found special happiness on Thursday to walk into my house after work to the sound of my children's laughter. They were crowded around a chromebook giggling, with my husband hovering nearby. "What's so funny?" I asked. "An Incredibles 2 trailer has been released," all three of them said at once. "You have to see it." I plopped down on the couch to watch and soon I was laughing too. If you haven't seen it, here it is:

Just at the point where Bob explodes into a full-blown dad-rant that ends with "Math is math," my son exclaims, "It turns out our family is the Incredibles." That made us laugh even harder. But it turns out that everyone isn't laughing about "math is math." In fact, some teachers are irritated that Pixar seemingly took a shot at the Common Core State Standards

I'd like to offer a different perspective. Almost every school night for the last two years, I sit down at the dining room table to help my son with his middle school math homework. Most of the time, he doesn't need help, just encouragement. This year there have been more times when he needs help with math and also science. One night last week I had to text three physics teachers to get help with something he was assigned. About once a week I ask "what do the kids without a science teaching mom do when they need help?"

When teachers are absent, we leave lesson plans for our substitute teachers to follow. When kids go home with their school assignments, they sit down at dining room tables to complete the work and their parents, who function essentially as de facto substitute teachers, try to help and support them. Without lesson plans. Without extra information or professional development or degrees in education, parents won't necessarily understand what an assignment is trying to accomplish. Or how a skill is foundational. Or why we would try to solve a problem three or four different ways. They just want to help their kids. And we could probably do a better job at helping them do just that.

For two years, my son has been solving diamond problems in math. I didn't know why. And neither did he. He just did them. This month he started factoring quadratics and one night at the table, he told me, "Mom, this is why we've been doing all those diamond problems. They make the thinking we have to do now easier." That was a cool moment, but it took us two years and a lot of diamonds to get there.

Maybe Pixar meant to take a shot at the Common Core. Maybe, as others have pointed out, because the story is set in the 1960s when the phrase "New Math" was born, the shot they took is at that. Or maybe Pixar capitalized on the timeless, common experience that all parents have shared - that feeling when you look at the work your child does, work that looks different from what you did, and you don't know how to help. The "math is math" rant makes us laugh, not because it's about math, but because we have all been there about something.

For my part, I think the trailer makes the movie look great. I can't wait to see it. Between now and then (June 15!), I am going to give some thought to how I can do a better job at helping parents support their kids while they learn chemistry.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Word Choice: Use Ctrl+F when Proofreading Writing

This week a few of my students have asked me to proofread their research papers for English. The papers have been a fun read; I have learned about several interesting topics. One thing that struck me, though, has been stale word choices. In one paper I found the word however four times in one paragraph. In the paper pictured above, the use of huge was, well, huge.

After I read "huge" for the third time in seven lines, I decided to investigate how often huge was used. I clicked Command+F (on Mac; Ctrl+F on PC). When you access the "Find" command with this keyboard shortcut, a small pop-up window appears in the upper right and shows how many times a word was found. In this case, huge was used fourteen times. Next to the usage window are two arrow buttons. Click on these and each use of the word will show on the screen.

This would be a great shortcut to show kids before they turn in the final version of their essays. During editing, Command/Ctrl +F could be used to check for commonly overused words. Once they are located, the arrow keys can be used to toggle between uses so that a different word can be substituted.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Choice is Yours: Differentiating the Math of Chemistry

Unlike many chemistry teachers, I don't teach stoichiometry (the math of chemical reactions) all in one unit. I introduce the mole early in the year with atomic structure and cycle back to the mole concept in every unit I teach. Today I took my second pass at reaction math, incorporating what the students have learned about gas laws in our current unit. Some teachers will tell you that if you don't show students how to solve these problems, they won't be able to. I disagree with that and have a couple of years of differentiated lessons to back me up.

When the bell rang, I asked all my students to stand up and come to one side of my classroom. Once they were there, I briefly explained the kind of problems we would solve. Then I described three approaches they could choose from: 

  1. Sit at a table with other people and talk about ways to solve the problems (or ignore everyone and forge ahead without conversation). 
  2. Sit at a table with an iPad loaded with a presentation that will model each type of problem and solve a subsequent one without the model. 
  3. Sit at a table with some manipulatives I made to help get from the start to the finish of the problems.

Then I gave them the opportunity to self-select. Most students ended up where I would have placed them! About half the students sat at the tables with the iPads. About a fourth of the students sat at a table with no resources except each other. The last fourth sat with the manipulatives. The conversations at all the tables were outstanding. At each center, students were having great conversations about why and how they should proceed to an answer. All these conversations would have been lost if I had been the only one modeling.

The manipulatives were just pieces of cardstock with conversion factors on them for each of the problems. They included conversions that students needed and conversions that they didn't need so they had to choose correct relationships to get from the start to the finish. As a new problem solver, it's challenging to look at a blank space and figure out which relationship will help solve the problem. The manipulatives took a little guess work out, but still required students to think through the problem and select the right ones. The cards were color-coded for three types of chemistry problems we attacked today. They seemed to genuinely help students see why they sometimes need molar mass but other times they don't. One student even asked if the manipulatives would be available next week on the quiz.

Two takeaways really stick with me tonight: 

  1. Given a chance and the support to think and talk through problems, my students will successfully do this. The way they help and question each other is awesome. 
  2. When high school teachers say it's impossible to differentiate, I wonder how often they have tried it.

Today in my class, more students got what they needed. And I did, too, because I was able to wonder around and listen to their terrific progress and touch base and observe students who might struggle. I think all of us - my students and I - learned more today than on many other days this year.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

What are chemistry students prone to when learning stoichiometry?

A blog I am reading every week is Math Equals Love. Sarah Carter, math and chemistry teacher in Oklahoma, writes in exquisite detail about the things she is trying in her classroom. Every time I read it, I wish she had been one of my math teachers. Sarah loves, and often features, puzzle she is using in her classroom. I, too, love puzzles and that's probably one of the reasons I love her blog. One of the things I loved best about middle school math were those cheesy, punny puzzles when solving a math problem led to a letter that led to an answer to a question involving math. I recently had to miss three days in my classroom, right as my students needed to take a big quiz over stoichiometry (the math of chemical reactions, for non-chemistry teachers), so, inspired by Sarah and middle school math, I created a puzzle for them to do in my absence.

The puzzle consists of 24 paper tiles that have a letter in the center. All the tiles also have an answer at the top of the tile. Some of the tiles have a stoichiometry problem at the bottom of the tile. Students, working in groups of 4, solve the problems and then look for the answer on the letter tiles. Finding the correct answer shows the letter that comes next in the sequence. Solving the whole puzzle correctly answers the question "What are chemistry students prone to when learning stoichiometry?" Answer: Overreactions.

The puzzle is pictured below and you can make a copy of the file here if you'd like to use it. Please attribute it to me if you share it with others.

The reason I love a puzzle is because the kids can figure out the word(s) and that helps them check if they are solving the problems correctly. The puzzle provides the feedback that they need, especially when I am absent and cannot. I am particularly proud of THIS puzzle because I built in some ways that make it challenging. The four chemical reactions in the puzzle all involve lithium and water in one way or another. Finding the limiting reactant, then, is not as simple as just looking at what is in a particular reaction and finding that tile. The extra tiles (answers but no questions) are spoilers, common mistakes that students might make when solving these types of questions. One of my students emailed me right after class to ask about a problem that her group struggled with, so I made this video to try to help.

Are you using puzzles in your classroom? I hope you'll share them and inspire others.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

New Year, New Calendar

Are you seeing this pop-up on your Google Calendar? Have you noticed the blue Use New Calendar button in the upper right hand corner? This week I made a screencast to highlight some of the changes in calendar:

  • The new version of calendar has more white space, so it's easier on the eyes. The dates - the part that we are looking for on a calendar - are larger, more prominent. It has a fresh look.
  • When you look at events on the calendar, you can see how you have RSVP'ed.
    • Solid color event = I am attending!
    • Solid color event with diagonal lines = Maybe I am attending.
    • Outlined event = I have not responded to the invite. 
    • Outlined and struck through text on event = I am not attending.
  • When you add an event or edit an event, you can see more information right away. Of course, you can still see date and time, but now you can also see location, guest list, what calendar the event is on, and if you are attending. You can also email the guests from the event pop-out! Click MORE OPTIONS to add attachments, a Google hangout, notifications, and more.
  • There is a drop down menu in the upper right to change the view of your calendar. Agenda view (one of my favorites, actually, for my classroom calendar) is now called Schedule.
  • Click the gear icon in the upper right to access Settings. Here you can change your general settings for Calendar or click on any calendars you are using to change their settings. You can also import and export data here and add calendars.

If you'd like to take a video tour, here is my screencast. Enjoy!

Go ahead and click the blue button. Upgrade now!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Add 'Em Up: A New Strategy for Me

As is often the case at this time of year, the winter weather is breaking up my lessons. I introduced stoichiometry, or what I call reaction math, on December 13 but some snow days and semester exams put it on the shelf almost immediately. Now that we are back to school, I needed a way to help students review what they began almost one month ago. 

I am often inspired by the tweets and blogging of Sarah Carter. I haven't met Sarah, but I know she teaches math and chemistry in Oklahoma. I read her detailed blog posts where she generously shares many great ideas with great interest. Sarah has written about a favorite strategy called Add 'Em Up and her posts were the inspiration for this lesson.

In Add 'Em Up, a sheet is created with four math problems. When the answers are added, they should equal a sum that is provided. If the answers do not equal the sum, students know they need to look for, and correct, their errors. With my teaching partner, I created an Add 'Em Up activity for stoichiometry with a few revisions. We created four sheets of four different math problems. Today we instructed the students to solve a problem on the sheet they had and then pass the sheet to the student on their left at their table and solve another until all four were solved. 

Once the problems were all solved, students added the digit in the ones column of each answer to get their sum. We didn't tell the students at first that these digits would be 2, 0, 1, and 8 (because welcome back to school for 2018!), so the sum would be 11, but we eventually revealed the sum and the digits to streamline the process of finding the mistakes.

Part of "welcome back to school for 2018" in my classroom is getting new seats and new groups. Today was the first day in new groups for my students, so I wanted to do an activity to help the students get to know each other and build some teamwork. This was perfect for that. Because the papers were passed from student to student, every student worked on every paper. When they got back to the original participant, each student had to evaluate each other's work and investigate errors. While they worked, they were incredibly collaborative despite the fact that they all had different problems. There were excellent conversations all day long in these new groups. They really worked together nicely to get to the correct sum on each paper. Things I heard students say to each other included:

  • Does that make sense?
  • I'm not sure about the coefficients. What do you think?
  • Can I use a whiteboard?
  • Someone please help me.
  • Is this the way you solved number 2?
  • Should we all just check one problem?
  • Can I use this problem as a model for this one?
  • I know Ms Roediger likes dimensional analysis but it makes more sense to me with ratios.
  • Oh, cool (when he saw the 2, 0, 1, 8).

I loved the strategy and am looking forward to trying it again sometime. If you'd like to take a look at the file, you can see it here. Make yourself a copy if you'd like to use or modify it. And check out Sarah's blog. It's amazing!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Whose Game for Chemistry? Science Ninjas Valence

Every since I read this post by the amazing Sara Vanderwerf, I have been kicking around the idea of a game table. Honestly, when I first read it, I thought that math teachers are so lucky that there are so many cool math games you could put at a play table. Then I read this post from A Mighty Girl blog. There is a game mentioned called Compounded that caught by eye. So I searched for it on amazon; the search lead to a lot of chemistry games. It turns out that chemistry teachers are also lucky that there are cool games for a play table. One I recently bought is called Science Ninjas Valence.

Science Ninjas Valence is a card game that plays quickly. Each player gets six cards from the shuffled deck. The rest of the deck goes face down and the top card is turned up. Players look at the element cards in their hands and try to make compounds - acids, bases, salts, water, carbon dioxide, etc. When you can make one, you discard your cards and pick up the compound card that you made. Each compound has a point value. The first player to ten points wins.

What I like about Valence:

  • The game plays fast. My eighth grade son and I played 4 games in 30 minutes on the day I got it.
  • It's good practice in adding up ionic charges to get a neutral compound.
  • There is chemistry involved, but if you don't know any chemistry, you can still successfully play (and will probably learn some chemistry). For example, If you don't know that a base is often composed of a metal, an oxygen, and a hydrogen, the base card is color-coded to emphasize that. After you play a while, knowing no chemistry, you will start to remember that an acid has a hydrogen and what a metal oxide is.
  • There is also some strategy involved. When you have to draw a card because you can't make a compound, you can choose from the deck or the discards, so the order that things are discarded is important.

The Science Ninjas who created Valence have also made a sequel game called Valence Plus. This one looks more complicated. And awesome. I'm putting it on my wish list!

This semester I am going to start putting out some chemistry games. Valence is going to be the first one. Stay tuned for how it goes!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy Retirement, g(Math)! Welcome aboard, #EquatIO!

image from texthelp.com
Yesterday g(Math), a popular add-on to Google apps for inserting math, was officially retired. This means it can no longer be downloaded and added on, and it doesn't appear in my list of add-ons any more. If you loved using g(Math), you will find much of what you used in the Chrome extension EquatIO which was developed from g(Math) by John McGowan with support from TextHelp. If you have never used g(Math), or EquatIO, read on for some details.

Install EquatIO from the Chrome store. If you're a teacher, apply for a free premium account after you install it. You must be signed in to Chrome to use the extension. This is one drawback for teachers who teach in many rooms with shared computers, but I don't think it's a deal breaker. Once you install it, you will find its icon at the top of your browser window, to the right of the address bar.

The premium account of EquatIO, free for teachers (thanks, TextHelp!), will allow you to add math to Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Drawings. The free version will only get you integration with Docs. Once inside a Google tool, click the EquatIO icon and a window pops up at the bottom of your screen. 

From that pop-up window, you can type in the math you want, use LaTex to code the math you want, use handwriting recognition to write the math you want, or use speech input to record the math you want. Then click "insert math." It's that easy.

Here is a quick video to show how the handwriting recognition works:

Here is a video to show how the speech input tool works. It's worth noting that EquatIO "listens" carefully to what you say and tries to only turn that math words into insertable math.

EquatIO also has a prediction feature for premium users. In this video I show a few things that are quickly predicted:

EquatIO also has a student response tool that I blogged about here. The retirement of g(Math) is really an evolution from add-on to Chrome extension, full of more possibilities and to be used in more ways. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

What Top Chef Taught Me About Teaching

Did you see this tweet on New Year's Eve?

I did, and just as my wheels started turning about how fun it could be, the tweet was quickly ratioed. The Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere almost universally hated the idea. Math teacher Jamie Garner postulated that the idea could work and posted this good read to her blog. Other than Jamie, most comments read like Alice Keeler's opinions on homework.

I don't watch a ton of TV, but a few reality shows have captured my interest over the years. I jumped on the American Idol bandwagon after season 1, but was with Project Runway right from the start. This summer the viral Mandy Harvey video got me hooked on America's Got Talent. My unlikeliest love is Top Chef. Who wants to watch a show where you see food being prepared but don't get to eat it? It turns out, I do! Here are my takeaways from my reality show viewing:

  • You will have to step out of your comfort zone to create something spectacular.
  • But it's important to edit. Don't add so many elements that you lose your focus.
  • You will have to work in teams and your ability to do so will help determine your success. The people around you can influence your work and teach you great things.
  • It will be stressful. And there will be challenges that you don't see coming. Some will manage that well; some will not.
  • If you attempt this without much training or experience, the odds are not in your favor.
  • Reflecting on why something worked, or didn't, is a very important part of the process.

That list sounds a lot like teaching to me. Sometimes, as I prepare for a lesson or an inservice, I start telling myself to pare down, that I have too many ingredients in my dish!

I don't know exactly how the Great American Teach-off will pan out, but here's the show I would like to watch, Teach Your Way to the Top: Take a group of twelve amazing teachers with varied backgrounds and licenses. Give them a week to learn a technique or some content or whatever the challenge is. They teach every day and on the last day someone is eliminated. The week everyone teaches kindergarten, perhaps the calculus teacher struggles, but during chemistry week, maybe the preschool teacher has to dig deep. Change locations so we can see rural, urban, and suburban settings. Find a great host and expert judges. Film it during the summer so teachers wouldn't have to leave work to participate. Show the episodes during the school year so others could be edutained and inspired. Make the prize a great one.

A wise man once said that Math Class Needs a Makeover. Certainly others have said that about American education in general. Would a show like this provide that makeover? Absolutely not. But it might raise awareness of the successes and challenges in our education system. Because of Top Chef, I learned about food trucks and pop-up restaurants. I didn't know that chefs carried around their knives as their most important tools. I didn't know that salt, fat, acid, and heat can be considered the 4 elements of every great dish. I didn't know about the training or artistry that a chef brings to his dish. And I certainly couldn't have named any famous chefs past Julia Child. Perhaps if people tuned in to Teach Your Way to the Top, they might learn more about the time we devote to our craft, the importance of content standards, the reasoning behind a new pedagogy, and the inequity inherent in American education. And understanding and awareness might pave the way for needed reform and innovation.