Back to School = Back to Moodle!

This year, I am revisiting Moodle as the Learning Management System (LMS) for my Pre-Calculus classes. I considered making a switch this year, but settled with Moodle again since I already created a course for my Pre-Cal classes last year and it worked out really well. Using Moodle again, to me, is like getting to teach the same course again– I can add to what I did last year and make it work even better for my new classes. I was able to delete last year’s students and add my new groups very easily. Check out my Moodle at http://mrsblanchet.net/moodle. Continue reading Back to School = Back to Moodle!

PoW Planet Project (p^3)

I am super-excited about one of a few projects I have coming up. I do not have all the details but I have to share what’s happened so far, because whatever it turns out to be, I know it will be awesome!!! Earlier this summer, I was offered a Problems of the Week (PoW)subscription by the Math Forum at Drexel University. In a conversation I had with Vicki “Cool Cat Teacher” Davis, she offered me some ideas as to how I could incorporate collaboration in my math class. She suggested that I take a math problem “around the world” to compare and contrast how kids in different countries do math. I though it was great idea and went straight to the Math Forum to see if they had subscribers in different countries.
Continue reading PoW Planet Project (p^3)

A cool chat with the “Cool Cat”

Reader’s Note: this post is about my reactions and impressions from my interview with Vicki Davis, the “Cool Cat Teacher”. To watch the full interview, visit the Vimeo channel at http://vimeo.com/channels/223778.

I recently interviewed Vicki Davis, global collaboration guru and bonafide social media superstar with nearly 22,000 Twitter followers, and over 23,000 blog subscribers to date. Best of all, she’s a teacher, just like me! Her followers know her as the “Cool Cat Teacher” and co-founder of the Flat Classroom™ project. To promote her upcoming book release, Vicki graciously agreed to an interview with me at ISTE 2011. A family emergency prevented us from meeting up at ISTE, but we were able to video-chat using Facetime soon after. Besides being totally starstuck, I truly enjoyed our conversation and found Vicki to be be more than anything, inspirational.

Backstory
I met Vicki for the first time at our state technology conference in December 2010, where she was the keynote speaker. At the time, I was so impressed by her keynote, that I wanted to attend her session on the Flat Classroom™ Project. I was not the only one! I waited in line for 30 minutes just to get in to the session. Then I sat on the floor in what were literally “standing room only” conditions. I wanted a chance to talk to her then, but it just was not going to happen! At the time, I knew that the best I could do was snap a quick pic for my blog, and make it my mission to reconnect later…and, so, here we are!

About Vicki
I prepared a few questions for our interview, and of course, we chatted about unplanned topics as well. To start, I asked how her journey as the “Cool Cat Teacher” began. Interestingly enough, she went all the way back to when she was 8 and her dad bought a TRS-80 computer that she figured out how to use. I had to Google this, since I had no idea what a TRS-80 was, and found out that TRS = Tandy Radio Shack, which I totally remember! I think a Tandy was the first computer in my house, too! She also shared how her students came up with her name: “..we’re the Westwood Wildcats, and you’re pretty cool, so why don’t you be the Cool Cat Teacher?” …and the rest, as they say, is history. I love it!

“Flattening” Classrooms
As our conversation progressed, Vicki began to talk about the Flat Classroom™ Project and how her upcoming book became a reality. She defines a “flat classroom” as a classroom that can “work and co-create with anybody, anywhere, anytime” using synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication. Since our first encounter, I wondered how I could “flatten” my own secondary math classroom. Here’s what Vicki offered:

In this segment, Vicki suggests several ideas for flattening the math classroom, some I’ve thought of and tried, and many that I never even considered. I have had several professionals who use math visit my classes over the years, but never thought to compare and contrast problem solving-techniques across countries!!! I was recently offered a membership to the Math Forum Problems of the Week site in exchange for my tweeting and blogging about how I use it. I am now very excited about trying some of Vicki’s ideas with these problems!

The Book
Here is another part of the interview in which Vicki discusses her upcoming Flat Classroom™ book:

I particularly like this segment because you can really see how passionate Vicki is about the work she’s doing. Here she also talks about how the Flat Classroom™ project has helped “unleash excellence” and “break cycles” for students with mental and physical disabilities, and low socioeconomic status. At one point, she even tears up while talking about a particular student who cited the project as the catalyst for his attending college (on a full scholarship), as the first in his family to do so. In this video, Vicki also talks about how the book is written, full of QR codes the reader can scan to connect with online interactive content right away. I am intrigued and curious to see a book written like this, as it is definitely a break from the norm, to say the least! At a time when many book publishers are fearful of all things technological, I am impressed that Vicki and her co-author were able to get these cutting-edge techie tools included in their text.

Final Thoughts
I will not include the entire interview in this post, since I chopped it up into 7 videos which are about 5 minutes apiece. I think the vids speak for themselves. I did a lot of listening and absorbing throughout the interview and came away from it inspired and energized to do more in the coming school year. Here are a few more memorable things that Vicki said during our talk:

  • “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”
  • “Principle of Transference: If they (students) love chocolate cake, and everyday they go to math class, and you have a chocolate cake in the front of math class, what’s gonna happen when the bell rings and it’s time to go to math? They will be running, because they have transferred their love of chocolate cake to math! …now what do they enjoy? They enjoy social media…they love to connect with each other.”
  • “Blogging is first person-‘I’ is in there, blogg-ING…we’re hungry for a real person. It’s OK to say I think _______.”

When I think about how Vicki and I met at a time when she was literally untouchable, it really underlines the beauty of online communication and collaboration. Someone who was impossible for me to get to in person was in my living room just a few days ago! This is truly powerful, and I have to share this power with my students and peers! Vicki and I have decided to continue having these conversations, so stay tuned for the next time we get together. For more info about Vicki and her book, visit http://www.coolcatteacher.com. I’ll leave you with my favorite video from our chat, which I’m calling “1-minute inspiration”.

To Moodle or not to Moodle? Part 2

As promised, here is part two of my Moodle review. I am going pick right up where I left off:
Quizzes (“Calculated” questions)
As I mentioned last time, after reading “Using Moodle”, I was very intrigued by the “Calculated” question type for the quiz module. Since the last post, I have finally jumped in and given my first calculated quiz and I LOVE it!!! It was a trigonometry quiz for my advanced math class. I was able to create complex word problems with parameters representing different values within the problem. I then created an equation for the correct answer involving the parameters from the question.  I was even able to set a tolerance of +/- 2 units to allow for a little error from rounding.  I also wrote equations for expected miscalculations and granted partial credit for these answers.  Another nice feature is “Adaptive” mode for questions in which students get instant feedback for submitted answers and are able to correct their answers with a penalty for each try.  When kids get tangled up in arithmetic errors, this is a great way to allow them to find their own mistakes and fix them.

Math teachers!!! Check out this link to find out more about the “calculated” question type and how you can use this powerful math assessment tool in Moodle.

Assignments
A practitioner of Project-Based Learning, I really like the Assignments module in Moodle. It allows students to upload files directly to the course website in response to a project prompt. For example, I had my students create a “Math Minute” Video using Animoto. I posted the instructions to the Moodle site as an assignment link in our weekly agenda. Students were able to upload their completed project directly to the site, and I could view and grade the submitted files, and even leave comments all on the Moodle. Here is a graphic I made using screenshots from this assignment and Picnik (to make it pretty).

Discussion Forum and Blog
The discussion forum module is a tool for collaboration and interaction between students in the online course. I have seen students ask for help and get assistance from their peers using the discussion forum. This is a great way for students who choose not to speak out in class to get the help they need from me and their peers.
Each Moodle participant also has his or her own blog to write in throughout the course. My students use it in a variety of ways–some jot reminders to themselves about what we do in class. Others use it as a place to store and share information they find on the internet about what they learned. Some just use it as a journal where they celebrate high test grades or bemoan the quiz for which they were not prepared. Although each student has an individual blog, all blog entries can be viewed for the entire course or sorted in myriad ways. I love going in and seeing what my students blog about; it’s always interesting! Click below to see snippets from our discussions and blogs.

a few final thoughts–
I require my students to “moodle” at least once a week for their participation grade in my class. This has produced a lively Moodle site that I have enjoyed watching grow from nothing to a rich online learning community in one grading period. So what’s the final verdict? I think you saw this already:

Please do not think this is my last post about Moodle; I am just getting started! I have also been using it for Professional Development and of course, I’ll be blogging about that soon! So, if your a Moodler, a wanna-be Moodler or just interested, stay tuned! Also be sure to check out part 1 of my Moodle review, in case you missed it. As a parting gift, here a short video created by my students about their use of Moodle. Enjoy!

Moodle Student Video from Tinashe Blanchet on Vimeo.

I’m Ba-ack! (with My New “Digital Kiosk”)

Sorry for the big break in posts. My husband and I celebrated our tenth anniversary on Valentine’s day with a cruise to Mexico where we renewed our vows on the beach! Good times! It has taken this long for my mind to leave Mexico and return to normal things, like my classroom.


I guess the biggest thing going on right now is the TV/ “digital kiosk” that I’ve recently had installed outside of my classroom door. In September, I wrote a “Quality in Science and Mathematics” (QSM) grant for a 40-inch TV and an Apple TV unit to use as a digital kiosk to display my student’s tech projects. In my previous job, I worked at a school where project-based instruction was the norm. To show off the projects students had created, teachers would fill the halls with posters, dioramas, models, and other artifacts of their work. As I have made the transition to tech projects, I was finding it very difficult to find ways to display my students’ work. Of course I could print things out, but they would not have the same dynamic qualities that could only be shown in digital form. Here we were doing all these great projects and no one had a clue! I know that when you display student work, they take more pride in it. Students also feel their work is validated when they have an audience, even if it’s just passersby in the hallway. Of course the big TV in the hallway made quite a splash when it was first installed, but like all new things, it is slowly becoming a natural part of our school landscape that occasionally catches someone’s eye.

When I first had the TV installed (by the shop class who built and painted the case for it, (thanks, Coach Bridges!!!) I envisioned it showing a never-ending slideshow of student work pulled from my Flickr account. That’s why I got the AppleTV–it has lots of cool options for slideshows that can stream directly from Flickr or your computer via iTunes. Shortly after, I realized that I could stream video from iTunes and suddenly the floodgates opened.

I created a slideshow of student work using Animoto and added it to a video playlist including student video projects, instructional videos, and my students’ favorite–math rap videos I downloaded from youtube. I find ones related to what we are doing in class, and the kids in my classes (and everyone else’s) love to watch to see what the new video is! Here’s our current favorite: