reflection

Asynchronous Lesson Self-Evaluation

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I created an asynchronous lesson on solving systems of equations by graphing using a graphing calculator. I began creating the lesson using Google Docs, but after a couple of weeks, it became a little unwieldy. My students all have IEPs and require a lot of remediation and practice for each skill they learn. I used to have a huge collection of textbooks in my room to give me the largest possible bank of problems. And we still often ran out. Technology has changed all that. I now use Google religiously and keep files for each topic in my Dropbox. Sites are tagged on Pinterest boards that match each unit. It is a simple matter to find examples of whatever we are working on, and print them, project them or upload them to our Google Classroom. As I started to add numerous activities and videos, I quickly outgrew the Google Doc’s usefulness and decided to try a LMS. While I use Google Classroom every day, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted for an online delivery system. After some research, I decided to go with Schoology. Schoology allows me to create folders and hierarchies that organize my materials into easy to use groups. I included an initial page detailing the lesson and what needs to be done. All lesson activities are included as assignments underneath that initial page. I then created folders for calculator skills, remediation, extra practice, challenge activities and final assessments. I’m impressed with how easy it is to upload what I want and arrange it in an easily accessible way. As I continue to play with it, I find myself liking the flexibility it offers over Classroom, and I am thinking about moving everything to Schoology instead. Definitely something to consider and I am already making a mental list of the advantages it offers.

My Asynchronous Lesson can be found here.

To self-assess my lesson, I used the Asynchronous Lesson Rubric and the Common Core Instructional Practice Guides. I found the Common Core Instructional Practice Guides thorough and relevant. I much preferred them to the Danielson Rubric my district uses for our observations. They go deeper into the lesson itself, and the thought behind it. The Danielson rubric is very broad and fairly shallow. It irritates me that I have to show something from every area in a forty minute lesson or I get marked down. The rubric was never intended for that, nor is it feasible to have every single area in every single lesson.

I created an account and completed the Achieve the Core Coaching Tool for HS Mathematics. My thoughts can be found here.  My reflection on the Asynchronous Lesson Rubric is embedded below.

Module 5 Reflection – Finding Myself

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dreamstime_xs_53393938The most important thing I learned from Edtech 504 was never to judge a book by its cover. Theory and pedagogy are not high on my list of things I am interested in. I find them pretty dry. I am an observer, though, and adjust my teaching methods based on my instincts and observations. I am also a math teacher. While I am an avid reader, my writing skills are rusty. Writing has never been something I particularly enjoy, so I have been dreading this class because it is everything that I tend to avoid. How wrong can one person be? While not my favorite class, 504 definitely resides in my top three. This class will be incredibly helpful when I start back to school in a few weeks.

I will be applying ideas from Gardener’s multiple intelligences and looking at my students in a whole new light. I can’t get past the thought that many of them be labeled as special education simply because their intelligence does not fall into the two intelligences that schools focus on almost exclusively. My entire first week of back to school activities will be heavily impacted by Dweck’s growth mindset theory. I need to find a way to address the fixed mindsets that the majority of my students wear like a badge of honor. We will be celebrating our mistakes this year, using them to deepen our knowledge and increase our perseverance.

I enrolled in the K-12 Online Learning certificate program at BSU to further my knowledge in this area. I would like to find ways to bring my curriculum to my students who for various reasons, cannot find success in a physical classroom. Graduation rates for at-risk students are dropping precipitously. Online learning may be a viable answer for some of these learners.

Finding that my instincts tend to be spot on was gratifying. While I may not have known the theory behind what I was observing, much of what I have implemented in my classroom reflects best practices that I have researched and learned about in this class, further adding to my confidence in my ability to help my students.

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Module 3 Reflection -Connecting the Dots

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The module title “Connecting the Dots” is very appropriate and closely mirrors the path I find myself walking. I started this class with a basic knowledge of the major learning theories: Constructivism, Cognitivism, and Behaviorism, and a much narrower understanding of Connectivism. Researching and reflecting on what happens in my classroom (Cognitivism) versus what happens in my head and heart (Constructivism) led me to Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. As I have continued to research, I found several areas that interested me, but the one that spoke to me most was Carole Dweck’s Growth Mindset Theory. My students come to me firmly believing that they are bad at math, that they can’t do it, and there is nothing that either they or I can do to change that. Towards the end of a particularly difficult time last year, I started doing some reading on this subject. I need to find a way to convince my students that if they put the effort in, they can be successful. My telling them so is not enough. As often happens, school ended, summer school started, grad school continued, and I stopped thinking about this with any real seriousness. Enter this module. Isn’t it wonderful when one can align what one is learning directly with something needed, something that can be used and applied almost immediately? Even better, next year I add 8th grade to my schedule and will soon teach 7th grade as well. I can’t wait to see what my classes will look like when next year’s 8th graders enter my 10th-grade classroom three years from now. I dream about the possibilities of teaching a group of students who not only believe they can learn, but are willing to work towards that goal.

Dweck believes that intelligence is not set at birth, that the brain can be exercised just like any other muscle and will show growth when this happens. According to Dweck, “When students believe that their intelligence can increase they orient toward doing just that, displaying an emphasis on learning, effort, and persistence in the face of obstacles” (2008).  She has written numerous books and articles on mindset and motivation and has created and participated in many studies. Unfortunately, many of the studies I read, while interesting, do not include enough students to be statistically valid. The studies that have enough participants are often inconclusive. One study, in particular, showed that while it is possible to change a student’s mindset from fixed to growth; without ongoing interventions, the mindset reverted to the original within a relatively short period of time. The ongoing theme throughout the articles I found is that more and better research is needed.

There are few scholarly articles written about the use of technology to create growth mindsets. Dweck created the Brainology program, a series of modules designed to foster the growth mindset in students. This program appears effective, but there is not much information on the longevity of any change. Since the Growth Mindset Theory fits well within Constructivism, project-based learning and maker spaces are two good examples that will allow students to use technology to actively create hypotheses and find ways to prove or disprove them. These types of learning demand deeper thinking and perseverance from students.dreamstime_xs_48879005

Many of the articles I read mentioned the impact of the teacher’s mindset on his or her students. Most claim that if a teacher has a fixed mindset, it will detrimentally impact the students in that classroom. Some argue that the teacher’s mindset is of little importance. Again, there is a call for more research. I don’t see how a teacher’s mindset could NOT impact the students. If I don’t think that mindsets can be changed, I am not going to use language and activities designed to promote growth. Mathematics is an area in which many students demonstrate fixed mindsets. As I stated above, this is the most prevalent thinking that I see. My students are very quick to give up, often asking for help after that first glance at the activity. My use of interactive notebooks (see here)has had a slight impact on this attitude, and my hope is this impact will continue to grow as I add other grade levels to my schedule. The chance to have my students for four or five years in a row will allow me to introduce and foster the attitude that we can “change your mindset, change your mind”.  It will allow me to introduce them to project-based learning, knowing that even though in 7th grade it will be new, awkward and uncomfortable, by the time a student reaches 10th grade it will be business as usual. My efforts to incorporate student-centered activities have been largely unsuccessful with students whom I only see for a year to two. Instead, I have tried to focus on my language and how I say things. Below are some examples of my thinking that are posted on my classroom walls. The attitude bulletin board can be found on the site Math=Love here.

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References
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and math/science achievement.

 

Module 1 Reflection – Educational Technology – Introduction to the Field

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This week we were required to create a personal definition of Educational Technology. It was interesting watching the class thought process as we shared and discussed our definitions. There was a lot of “I didn’t think about that” and “I liked that you included this”. Many of us stated that the discussion was changing our original definitions, adding to their complexity and thoughtfulness. James Finn’s description of technology as a “process and a way of thinking”, rather than a “category of objects” helped add shape to my definition (Januszewski, 2001):

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My first forays into incorporating technology into my classroom consisted of borrowing another teacher’s class set of Chromebooks. They were only available for one of my class periods so that class quickly became my guinea pigs. We created some Google Slide presentations in small groups, played several Kahoots, and used Desmos. I found the whole thing rather intimidating, especially since my students are mostly on the wrong side of the digital divide. Many are not connected outside of school, and most do not have access to a computer at home. At the end of that first year, I found out that my district would be going 1:1 with Chromebooks. While I found that news exciting, (my students would finally be connected, at least at school), I also realized that I needed to learn how to integrate that technology appropriately in my curriculum. To that end, I spoke to one of our IT people who is a graduate of the MET program at Boise State. After doing my own research, this program seemed to be exactly what I was looking for, and I enrolled last summer.

I completed my first certificate last week and am now considered a Technology Integration Specialist. Using what I have learned over the past year has added much to my ability to integrate technology in an appropriate manner. Teaching algebra to special education students presents many challenges, and the use of technology allows me to create knowledge and understanding in places where the concepts are so abstract that my students struggle to make sense of what they are learning. I use a lot of simulations, adding some visual and kinesthetic learning to topics like functions, finding domain and range and What If? problems when we explore graphs. Demos and the Desmos Activity Builder have been invaluable for this type of exploration. I use Google Forms for formative assessment and often use Flubaroo to grade them. All direct instruction is projected through my tablet onto the classroom screen. Students love it when I hand them my tablet and stylus and freeze the screen. As other students work out a problem on paper or a white board, one student works it out on the tablet. When we are ready to discuss, I unfreeze it, and the work is displayed. Interestingly my students don’t see this as using technology. Their version of educational technology is the use of cool tools and fun games that make learning algebra more fun and less boring. Not a terrible definition, but definitely limited.

Learning more about the pedagogy and theories behind educational technology will help me better integrate these tools appropriately, in ways that will best meet my students’ needs. As I progress through this program, I notice that even my language is changing. I am becoming more of a facilitator, asking my students what they wonder when I show them something new. I am more willing to let those awkward silences stretch out a little, and increase their discomfort in an effort to improve their willingness to think on their own and then share those thoughts out loud.

I am already known as one of the more “techie” teachers in the building. My co-teacher and I give presentations at math conferences at both the local and state levels. Our current department chair does not use technology other than a graphing calculator with his students. My hope is that when he retires in the next couple of years, my knowledge, and background in educational technology will influence the new department chair to incorporate technology throughout the department. I also hope that my students will themselves be a catalyst of change. If they enjoy the ways we use technology in math class, I want them to push their teachers to incorporate that technology in other classes. When my math-phobic students tell me they like math because I can make it fun, then other classes that are not so abstract should be able to follow suit.

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Dr. Ray Clifford, 1983

 

References

Januszewski, Alan. Educational Technology: The Development of a Concept. Englewood, CO, Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 2001

Final Reflection on EdTech 542 – Project-Based Learning

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When I enrolled in this class. I had no real concept of what project-based learning entailed. I assumed it would be similar to EdTech 541, in that we would be creating numerous small projects to use in our classrooms. The reality could not have been further from the truth! Project-based learning, while it does involve projects, is a much more in-depth and inclusive tool than I ever imagined. In fact, it is a lot like assembling the perfect burger; many components are required to ensure that everything is in balance, allowing for that perfect bite. Gold standard projects pull from multiple subject areas, revolve around a driving question that must be both authentic and open-ended, allow students to dig deep into the question to find the means to answer it, and involve a public presentation at the end.

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PBL can be time-consuming, and that is where I continue to struggle with this tool. How can I effectively implement true PBL in my self-contained special education classroom with the time constraints and large mathematical knowledge gaps that all of my students display? They require so much direct instruction and drill to grasp algebraic concepts that I worry about the amount of time a project would require and the level of frustration a true gold standard project will cause. This is not a strategy that is used in my district. Can it be successfully implemented with my population for the first time in 9th grade? On a more selfish note, my teacher score is based on my students’ results on a test that is not designed with their abilities in mind, that doesn’t take their challenges into consideration and is written at levels almost impossible for them to understand well enough to be successful. And while I know that my score should not matter, that it is not what good teaching is all about, the unfortunate reality is that it does. If my scores are routinely low, I can lose my job. I can even be publicly shamed. In 2012, the New York City Education Department publicized evaluation scores for their teachers in media such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which publicized individual teachers’ names and scores. It is not surprising that the lowest score belonged to a non-regular educator.

Because my expectations of the course were so far off from the reality of it, what I actually learned has little to do with what I expected to learn. I learned what gold standard PBL entails. I was introduced to the Buck Institute and found the planning forms, instructional tools and rubrics offered there to be essential. Using the provided checklists and information kept me focused and moving in the right direction for the duration of a very short class. I could not have completed everything that was required in such a short time period without the tools provided by this site.

While I like the concept of PBL and feel that it can be a very effective strategy, it is not a tool that I will use more than once or maybe twice a year with my students. I can envision using this at the end of a semester, as a way to bring many concepts together. My students gain greater understanding of individual concepts when they can take a step back and see how they all tie together. I plan to use PBL as a way to accomplish this, in an engaging, informative manner.

My schedule is changing. Next year, I am adding 8th grade to my current 9th and 10th-grade classes. Within the next two years, I will also add 7th and 11th grades. This means that I will teach math to self-contained students from grades 7 through 11. Once this happens, my hope is that PBL will become a bigger part of my curriculum. The continuity of having the same students for the same subject for at least five years will allow me to adapt many strategies that I would find difficult to implement otherwise. I plan to start small in 7th grade, exposing them to more collaborative, group activities, and increase those activities in both number and depth as we progress through middle school and high school. I am greatly looking forward to this and the impact it will have on the way I can teach my students.

PBL Reflection #5 – Scaffolding

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6a00d8341c650653ef01310fba4d31970c-500wiIf you search for the word scaffolding in the dictionary, you will not find any definition that mentions education. But ask any special educator about scaffolding and you will get an earful. In its simplest form, scaffolding is supports for students. And special education teachers are masters at it.

I teach algebra to special education students. Scaffolding is something that I do every single day. For my inclusive students, scaffolding allows them to function successfully in a regular classroom. For my self-contained students, scaffolding increases understanding of difficult concepts and decreases frustration, giving those students the tools they need to pass the state exam and graduate from high school.

So what is scaffolding? According to the Glossary of Education Reform, scaffolding “refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process” (2015). Alber describes scaffolding as “breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk” (2014).  This is vitally important in PBL, as students may find this new way of learning overwhelming without extra support.

Our project, Burger Battle, is designed with special education students in mind. It is comprised of three acts. The first is quite detailed, with more direct instruction, more modeling and more teacher input. It includes teaching and practicing concepts that are part of this unit. The teacher is expected to vocalize thought processes to model this behavior for students. Prior knowledge is activated by linking the topic to real life, and then asking questions like “What do you wonder?” or “What do you need to know to answer that question?”  The second act removes some of the scaffolding, allowing students to take more responsibility for their learning. There is less direct instruction, and less teacher input. The students start to take the reigns, and as they are working together in carefully designated groups, success, while not guaranteed, is anticipated. The final act removes even more of the scaffolding, giving students full responsibility for their final product. Even then, the teacher can quickly put back supports if they are needed, or remove others that are not. We started Act One having students answer a specific question with a  blog post. My students tend to have a hard time with writing assignments, and open-ended reflection posts are very intimidating. The hope is that by Act Three, some of them will have progressed enough to be able to successfully complete a reflective blog post, with minimal teacher input.

We have created numerous rubrics to show students exactly what they need to do. The standards this project is based on will be posted in the classroom for students to see, and discussed thoroughly. We included a list of possible resources they can use to create their final products and students have access to our graphic organizer on Pinterest if they need it, which includes many articles about the topics included in this project.The one thing we are missing is examples of quality work. This being a new project, we have no examples of great products to share but plan to add those as soon as possible. I am sure that as we use this project, we will continue to adjust the scaffolding. I have found that the supports I put in place change, depending on when I use a particular activity and with whom. That makes sense to me, as different learners will require different supports, leading to a truly individualized experience, even within something like project based learning.

 

References

Alber, R. (2014, Janary 24). 6 scaffolding strategies to use with your students. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/scaffolding-lessons-six-strategies-rebecca-alber

Scaffolding (2015, April 6). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/

 

PBL Reflection #4 – Planning the Assessment

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assessmentMy district uses the Danielson Evaluation Rubric for teacher evaluations. In Domain 1, Component 1f – Designing Student Assessments; to be found highly effective, it must be evident that students contributed to the development of criteria and standards. Student input is found throughout the rubric under the distinguished column, and it is an area in which I find myself struggling to incorporate. My classroom is more instructivist than I would like, but I have found it very difficult to use projects with self-contained classrooms that are lacking many of the pre-requisites for algebra. Even though my students are not self-starters, there has to be a way to push them in this direction without creating anxiety and frustration to the point where they just shut down. I have tried to keep this in mind as I thought about how to assess the learning that should occur during this project.

As my partner and I worked to create assessments for our project, I printed the Seven Principles for Developing Performance Assessments and kept them where I could see and refer to them. According to J.S. McTighe, the seven principles are:

  1. Establish Clear Performance Targets
  2. Strive for Authenticity in Products and Performances
  3. Publicize Criteria and Performance Standards
  4. Provide Models of Excellence
  5. Teach Strategies Explicitly
  6. Use On-Going Assessments for Feedback and Adjustment
  7. Document and Celebrate Success

In our project, we have created several rubrics. We have also created other assessment tools, including peer feedback forms, checkoff lists, Google form pretests and regular pencil and paper quizzes. As we discussed how best to assess the learning during this project, we tried to use as many of the above strategies as possible. Our expectations are clearly stated in the assessments and use authentic real-world experiences to practice math standards. The criteria are part of each learning Guide in each Act, so students will have their own copy to refer to. Our assessments are found throughout the project, giving us enough information and time to adjust instruction as necessary. Special education teachers document everything, so our assessments are built to give me the ability to use the results to show growth and learning, allowing me to prove that we are working towards the goals on student IEPs. Cindy and I both agree that we lack models of excellence. I, too, find that looking at student examples increases my understanding of the requirements exponentially. I look forward to being able to meet this requirement as I start using PBL more often with my students and can build a base of great examples to share.

One of our summative assessments for this project is to have our students create a presentation that each group will share with the health classes in the middle and high school. This meets the criteria set by the organization “What Kids Can Do” by having their performance viewed by a large part of the district, as well as teachers from o departments and schools. I plan to record these presentations to allow us to critique the performances in class. Once recorded, they could then be made public for even greater sharing. Students will work harder and take more pride in their product when they know someone other than their teacher will be looking at it.