Month: September 2016

Netiquette Expectations in my Classroom

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This week is the start of our collaborative assignment on Netiquette. We put ourselves into groups, considered the questions below, and created a set of Netiquette Rules for our classrooms.

  • Are emoticons and acronyms appropriate for students to use with their teacher in an academic setting?
  • Will you allow invented spellings, or will you expect students to always use correct grammar and punctuation whenever they are communicating in an academic environment?
  • Should the expectations be different for discussion boards, email or chat? In what ways can they differ and to what extent?

I found both the questions and my group’s answers thought-provoking. There are a lot of math teachers in this class, something I appreciate. There are not a lot of special education teachers though, and since I fill both roles, my thoughts often take a different path than my peers.

The majority of my group felt that emoticons and acronyms were inappropriate to use in an academic setting, as were invented spellings. As a special education teacher, my feelings run more towards getting them to communicate in any form, emoticons, acronyms, invented spellings and all. We did all agree that the setting will impact and dictate the expectations. My thoughts on the the three questions are included below:

My thoughts on these questions are a little different. I teach self-contained students math. Many of them are math-phobic by the time they get to me, and their mindsets are definitely negatively fixed. Anything that I can do to make communication easier and more on their level I will do. In my eyes, it is enough to expect them to do algebra. If they are willing to communicate with me, I don’t care how they do so as long as it is in a respectful manner. I use emoticons as a formative assessment. It lets me quickly check where they feel they are in relation to what we are learning, in a very visual form. They also find it fun and are willing to share their feelings this way. Many of them will take a minute or so to find the emoticon that best describes what they are feeling. This has led to some great conversations about what is causing the feelings and how can we improve the emoticon. It almost seems to help them discuss their feelings via an emoticon as if it were another person. That distance has allowed for deeper conversations with some students. We also use acronyms, but I agree that IDK is a cop out, and I tell them so and why I think that. This has also led to some interesting conversations! Using some of the acronyms that they use makes a hard subject a little more relatable and fun and has allowed me to establish a connection with them that they get. If showing up in a clown costume with a big red nose will motivate them, I will order the outfit now. My students have to pass Math A1 and A2 (algebra 1 taught over two years) and the state test at the end of A2 to earn a diploma. I think that I would probably have a much different take on this if I taught English, but for math and my population, I am fine with both.

While I would like to insist on correct grammar and punctuation, the nature of my population makes this difficult. At the start of the year, I take what I get. My students are notoriously poor spellers, and their grammar is terrible. Many spell phonetically which can be a challenge to read if you are new to sped! My department has gotten very good at this. Now that we are 1:1 with Chromebooks, the expectation that they use spell and grammar check has increased. Before this most didn’t have access to a computer and many still don’t have Internet outside of school. I haven’t made a big deal out of it as long as I can understand what they are trying to say, but again I teach algebra. This year I have a classroom blog set up that we have yet to start using. I am planning to have them type whatever they plan to say in Word and use the spell/grammar check since it is a public forum. I am definitely taking baby steps with this as I don’t want to shut down their willingness to communicate. It is a double-edged sword for me. I have several students who will not talk in class at all. But they do email me or will type an answer when I use something like Socrative’s short-answer questions. In this instance, I could care less what the spelling and grammar look like, just that they are reaching out to me in some form.

Expectations for discussion, email, and chat will differ according to the audience and the setting. I believe that this is something that should be very clear, even with my population. Much of this ties into respect, something that many of my students have difficulty with. My students are almost all living in poverty, and that definitely has an impact on how they communicate. I work a lot with respect, what it means and why it’s important. We also talk about how it is earned. Many of my students feel that they need to be respected but don’t feel that they need to be particularly respectful. Such an interesting (and faulty) take.

As a group, we created a Google Slide presentation of Netiquette Rules for our classrooms. I had a hard time with this assignment. I don’t like wordy slides, a preference that works well for my population as they are generally poor readers. I tend to use lots of images and bright colors, and very few words. I did add some images and pops of color throughout, but the final product is not something that I can use in my classroom without excessive doctoring.



Online Community Building – A Personal Experience

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My assignment this week was to identify community building strategies that I can use in my classroom. You can see my activities here.

I am a member of numerous online communities. The Secondary Math Teacher Community is the community I participate in the most. It is hosted on Facebook, a site I use a lot and am comfortable with. It takes me no extra time, thought, or effort to glance through posts and respond as I see fit. I have posted questions, asked for help, given advice and shared information on a regular basis since the group’s inception a couple years ago. This is my go-to group for almost anything math. I took Edtech 537 last summer, which forced me to start to figure out Twitter, something I had been wanting to learn about but had been putting off. I am now a member of the Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS) and recently participated in a blogging challenge called MTBoSBlaugust. It was a great experience, and I will continue to participate in this community, but I prefer the Facebook group. Twitter is not something that I think to check daily, and I always feel like I am missing things. It is a lot like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. Despite my explorations in my blogging class, I still find the platform overwhelming. I also follow several blogs that pertain to my subject area and students. I love to read them and borrow their ideas, but I don’t interact much on them. My absolute favorite blog is  Math=Love. I have commented on several posts and read the majority of her posts. Many of her creations are happily hanging in my classroom, and her Interactive Notebook ideas are part of my lessons. Dan Meyer’s blog dy/dan is a must read for any math teacher. I have used many of his three-act materials with my students and have worked to incorporate some of his language, such as asking students what they wonder when I show them something new. I had the pleasure of attending his keynote address and subsequent sessions at the New York state math conference last fall.


For this assignment, I found three Google+ communities involving education and technology and joined them. I am already a member of several Google+ communities for Chromebooks, Classroom, Special Education and Algebra. I have found these communities to be very helpful when I post questions or seek input on something I am doing or would like to try. But checking these sites isn’t something I remember to do often enough to make them useful for me. The sites I joined are Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Educational Technology, and Technology in Education. I spent some time wandering through all three sites. There seems to be very little interaction on these sites, despite the largest one having over 306,000 members. Most posts have at least one “+1” but there are few comments. I found the Mobile Learning site to be the most interesting. There are lots of great articles and links to peruse, but all of them are posted by the owner of the site. I chose this group because I am not currently a member of a group dedicated to online and mobile learning.

Online communities can have a huge impact on student engagement in an online learning environment. Human beings are social creatures by nature. We need to connect with each other, to find some sense of belonging. Not being in a physical classroom setting means those types of interactions must take place somewhere else. The online communities that I enjoy on a daily basis allow me to collaborate and network with other educators, many with similar populations and classrooms. I am the only special education math teacher in my district. There is no one I can talk to who truly understands my classroom and my students. Luckily, I have found a small group of teachers just like me and we chat, ask questions and bounce ideas off each other all the time. This small group is part of a much larger group of math teachers. Our board is a very busy place, with lots of vibrant conversations and great energy. My best advice for building and participating in online communities is that you get out of it what you put into it. The more I interact, the more people interact with me. And in the end, that is what we are looking for! A place where everybody knows your name…



Getting to Know Students and Families – the Interview Tool

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For various reasons, getting information from parents has presented a challenge for me. Whether the reason is mental illness, indifference, poverty or a complete disdain for what I am trying to do, I have often come up short when trying to gather information that will help me find ways to improve my students’ chances of success. Last year, I decided to ask those questions in the form of a digital interview. I created two Google forms, one for my students and one for my parents. It took some creativity to get everyone to complete the form, but once I did, I had a wealth of information that I had never had access to before. Hallelujah!!

Feedback On Smartphone Shows Survey Evaluation And Reviews

Fast forward one year, and it is time to revisit those forms. This assignment was very timely, forcing me to do just that. The readings and information presented this week made me take a hard look at what I was asking, why I was asking it and what I intended to do with the information. After studying Carol Dweck in EdTech 504 last summer, I knew I wanted to do more with growth mindsets. I added questions into both surveys to give me an idea of how both students and parents view school in general, math in particular and intelligence. I also added questions about technology and access. I need to know if my students can access the Internet at home with their school Chromebooks. I found the generic “Do you have access to the Internet at home?” question that I used last year very misleading. Often the parental answer was yes and I couldn’t understand why my students kept telling me they didn’t have access. This year I added questions about that access and found a large number of my families do have access, but only through a cell phone. Not very helpful if a student is trying to write a paper!

I added questions about family dynamics. Knowing that a student has to go home right after school to watch younger siblings will change my expectations. Instead of staying after school for extra help, maybe that student can eat lunch with me while we work on homework. It may be easier to come before school (my district changed to a later start time several years ago).

Many of the questions I added or changed on my student interview reflect information that I need to know, not only to improve my classroom, but also to help me write IEPs. I think I will expand on this assignment and create a Google form for my IEP interviews. There are many questions on the paper form my department currently uses that would lend themselves well to being asked in a digital form.

My favorite question that I added to my parent form is very simple. I asked what they would like me to know about their child. The responses I got were extremely valuable, with some parents telling me how best to handle their child’s disability, some parents describing their child’s attributes and some parents giving me trigger information. By leaving the question so open-ended, I got answers according to what parents felt was important, giving me insight into their thought processes at the same time.

I find it interesting that I get more information through a digital interview tool than I ever did with a phone call. Maybe the anonymity of typing answers into a computer helps? I am not sure, but this is something I will continue to use. My parents are not joiners, they are not communicators, and I rarely hear from them. It can be hard to track them down by phone, and most do not attend Open House nights. If I am lucky, I will see two parents all night. I don’t know that using these forms really started any type of conversation. I send it, they answer it, and I analyze and adapt based on my new knowledge. My use of the Remind app has increased those conversations more than these interview tools, as parents are much more willing to drop me a Remind text asking how their child is doing, or when a test is scheduled. But the forms give me better, deeper insight into my students and their families if I ask the right questions. I can’t imagine starting the school year without them. As Anne O’Brien states, “Develop a communications strategy that meets the needs of your community” (2011). I am continually working to find those best strategies.


O’Brien, A. (2011). What parents want in school communication. Retrieved from



Avatar Pair and Share

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For this assignment, we had to choose a partner, explore various avatar creations sites and build our own avatar. Then we needed to choose an audio recording device and record a clear set of instructions that would allow our partner to recreate our avatar.

After much research, we decided on the app “Take a Stand” to create our avatars. I used QuickTime on my Mac to make the audio recording of the steps to recreate my avatar. This first image below is the avatar I created. The second image is my partner’s rendition based on my audio. Not too bad!!

This activity was so much fun! We communicated through a Hangout which made it very easy to collaborate. My partner’s instructions were amazingly clear. It took me no time at all to create an avatar that I knew was an exact copy of hers. I liked how she told me exactly what to click on, and I can see this strategy working very well for my special education students when they are doing something that must be exact. The avatar below is my rendition of my partner’s avatar based on the audio description. Nailed it!


I found it interesting that not only did we choose different platforms, with her using the app and me using the site on my laptop, but we also used different strategies. I chose to describe the features without saying specifically which box to click on. I wanted to see if my descriptive techniques were enough to get close while still allowing for some thinking and processing to occur. My students have been what I call GPS’d for their entire school careers. Do this, now do this, now this, etc. Getting them to think on their own without step-by-step directions is one of my goals for my students, and it’s something they fight me on every single day. They are masters at trying to out wait me!

The app is slightly different than the website and offers fewer customization choices, something I did not know going into this. I stated in my audio that I used the site, but I need to make it clearer what platform I am using to avoid confusion. I had my daughter try it too, using the site. She did well but struggled with the colors, as I tried to describe them, rather than telling specifically which box to click (like the third from the right on the fourth row). She also felt I talked too fast. She needed time to go through the choices and select the pieces I was describing. I don’t think I would change my pace, though. That is the beauty of recordings because you can pause and rewind, which I did when I recreated my partner’s avatar.

Overall, I think I did okay. My biggest takeaway is to ensure that we are all working on the same thing (site vs. app) so that no one gets frustrated for the wrong reasons. I can also see a little better why my kids want those GPS instructions so much. It was so easy to create an exact duplicate of my partner’s avatar from her directions that I felt like I was cheating! There was no doubt that I was choosing the right thing and no frustration. I am not an auditory learner by any means so being able to start and stop the recording was very helpful, as was the clarity of her instructions.

One of the initial activities with my students this year is to create an avatar. I think that I will take it a step further and have them try this activity. It may be a huge learning curve, but I think they will get so much out of it. I’m curious now to see which direction they go with it: like my partner did, or like I did.

What Is Blended Learning?

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blended-learning1Heather Staker of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation defines blended learning as “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (2011). According to Jen Jonson, blended learning is often confused with technology integration. She states that while the line between the two can be indistinct, blended learning takes the use of technology in the classroom to a whole new level. Blended learning is usually implemented through some type of learning management system (LMS) such as Schoology, Moodle or Google Classroom. These systems allow teachers to post assignments, facilitate discussions and incorporate multimedia online, giving students control over their learning by letting them set their own pace and allowing them to change when and where they learn. Teachers become facilitators, using class time to focus on group work, collaboration and activities such as project-based learning. The Clayton Christensen Institute predicts that “by 2019, 50% of all high school courses will be online in some form or fashion, with the vast majority of these using blended learning instructional models” (as cited in The Hechinger Report, 2016).


My interest in blended learning lies in the in flipped model of instruction. The Flipped Learning Network created the definition on the right to better explain what flipped learning really means. They also differentiate between flipped learning and flipped classrooms, stating that while many teachers are flipping their classrooms by providing lecture materials in the form of videos and other multimedia for students to watch outside of school hours, this does not necessarily lead to flipped learning. It is not enough to ask students to watch a video for homework and then spend the next day practicing problems in class. The Network argues that truly flipped learning must include a flexible environment that is designed to encourage collaboration and interaction, a learning culture that is student-centered and allows for rich learning opportunities, intentional content created through thoughtful instructional design and a professional educator who facilitates learning, collaborates with peers and reflects on classroom practices (2014).

Tammy Casey and Robyn Poulsen are high school math teachers in Lake Placid, New York. I met them three years ago when they presented at our annual regional math conference. Concerned about the disengagement of their students, they decided to flip their classrooms in 2012.

They will be the first to tell you it has been a lot of work, but they also talk about the success they are seeing. Typically they have their students watch a short (3-8 minute) video and then answer up to five related problems in Math XL. One challenge they overcame was ensuring that students actually watched the video. They found that by using Math XL, they could “lock” the questions until after the video had been watched. They also started grading the Math XL problems. Here is an example of a homework video created by Robyn. Tammy and Robyn do not use textbooks. They each have a class set of TI-Inspire calculators with the Navigator system that students use for notes, warm-ups, quizzes, etc. Class time is spent on project-based learning, activities or simply practicing problems. As a result of flipping their classrooms, they have found that they know their students better since they are no longer lecturing. Engagement has increased, students are learning responsibility and absences are no longer an issue since everything is posted online. Many of us in the session asked about students who are not connected or are special education students. Both teachers said that connectivity has not been an issue. Students can access the short videos during lunch or study hall, or they can take them home on a flash drive or cd. Special education students are thriving in their classes because the flipped method of teaching allows for easy differentiation. Struggling students can rewatch the videos, pausing and rewinding as needed to increase their understanding. Practicing the problems during class gives them time with the teacher if they are having difficulties.



Definition of Flipped Learning – Flipped Learning Network Hub. (2014). Retrieved from

Freeland Fisher, J. (2016). Taking the correct temperature of blended learning. Retrieved from

Staker, H. (2011). The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of emerging models. Innosight Institute. Retrieved from