PowToon Empowerment

I was preparing to teach rationalizing the denominator to my 9th grade students when the key concept took a life of its own in my head. I could see this party animal radical in the denominator playing mad riffs on his electric guitar. I could see the mathematical mastermind set the trap with the identity property of multiplication luring him in with one of his own kind. Dancing radicals due to mutual attraction, convergence, and then poof the disappearance of the radical in the denominator — problem solved (or should I say simplified).

What? Variables and numbers don’t dance for you? Frankly, the last nine years of teaching this particular topic, they didn’t dance for me either. This time, though, there was definite dancing.
My kids were going to love it, or so I thought.

Thanks Breann & Stephanie!

Thanks Breann & Stephanie!

I asked that student whose math notes look more like works of art than mathematical theorems to draw a “Radical 3” on the Smart board. She recruited a friend for help. Teenage girls move in pairs you know. The result ☛

The students already understood the mathematical procedure.
Story Time! The kids were all for it as I had in the past, with crude Smart Board drawings and poor acting, pulled off other great stories (the party story, Rio Grande story, bee story — all very mathematical). However, despite my best effort, the magic of the math in my head just wasn’t bursting forth. Epic Fail.

PowToon to the rescue!
This was going to take a little more effort than usual. Could PowToon get across the magic?
Let’s see what you think (Click on the picture to see the presentation in a new window. Sound is critical.):
PowToon Rationalize the Denominator
Okay, okay — it’s the first PowToon I’ve ever done. I admit there’s room for improvement. However, when I showed this to my students on Day 2, they got it. (Perhaps I showed it more than once since it happens so fast.)

What is PowToon? A PowerPoint alternative? Did you catch the line “Loading Awesomeness” as the presentation downloaded? Perhaps awesomeness is the most appropriate descriptor for PowToon. One PowToon under my belt definitely doesn’t make me an expert, but here’s what I do know:

  • It’s free.
  • It was easy enough to use that I didn’t need to attend any special workshop or presentation.
  • Did I mention it was free?

How did I do it:   Breann & Stephanie’s radical 3 was saved as a .png file straight from the SmartBoard (along with other mathematical symbols).  Other text, hearts, moving hands are all compliments of the PowToon dashboard.  I had a little learning curve with manipulating the timing of objects.  Once I realized the similarities to Movie Maker, I was home free.  While PowToon has free audio clips that you can use, this sound file is actually one that I first mixed in Audacity with my voice and free sound clips from FreeSound and then uploaded to PowToon. My only disappoint: I can’t get my 3’s to wiggle as much as I would like. But that’s the power of imagination, isn’t it?

What animated content do you have locked in your head? Maybe PowToon can help it out.


AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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Don’t Overestimate Students’ Technology Skills

Students and Tech Skills“Oh, kids, they’re so good with technology!”  I hear that regularly, but I want to gently remind people that it’s not always as true as they think.  While my students appear to flawlessly navigate Twitter and Facebook, they often are missing some basic skills with productivity tools.  And it is these productivity tools that will serve them in the workplace more than Instagram or Pinterest.

Some shocking things I’ve seen from my high school students:

  • Inability to copy and paste (and inability to deal with wonky formatting during a copy-paste process)
  • Inability to save to a different location (i.e. save a file to a thumb drive instead of the desktop)
  • Trouble with Google search terms
  • Inability to double-space properly (hitting enter every line is not evident on a print out, but painfully clear when submitted digitally!)
  • Can’t adjust content in Resume Template (because it’s a Table, and they have no clue)
  • Don’t know how to email things to themselves
  • Do not know how to change the file format (such as saving as an RTF file)
  • Don’t know how to find a file they’ve misplaced

I assure you that this is not hyperbole..  And it doesn’t even get into topics like lack of familiarity with Excel (such as not knowing how to enter formulas) or trouble manipulating layered objects (like several pictures or textboxes in a PowerPoint or Word document), not that they know what an “object” is.

While many students do have solid skills, and others well surpass their teachers in technology skills and comfort, we do a disservice by overestimating their ability.  It’s important to remember there are students who have missed lessons on technology, students who ignored lessons because they are already “good with computers,” and students who were not taught something because another teacher assumed they already knew it.

Dont Overestimate Student Tech SkillsWe wouldn’t assume that a student who has books at home reads fluently… but we assume that a student who has a computer at home (or has used computers regularly in classes) has certain skills, often without verifying and without checking.  And without providing the support they need when lacking those skills.

When setting students loose on the computer to complete a task, I consider what skills they need.  And consider what they would need if they didn’t have those skills.  How can I support them, individually if need be (hey, differentiated instruction works here, too!) I find myself watching their use of the technology as much as their completion of the assignment, offering tips and support as I canI admit it helps that I am a computer nerd.

Just as those who cannot read printed words well are great at hiding it, those who struggle with technology are also proficient at covering up their deficiencies.  They can ‘get by’– but instead, they should be helped up.  And not just for this lesson or this activity, but because technology is such an integral part of personal and professional lives.  And more than just texting and Tumblr, but true productivity skills.

CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher (and computer nerd!), likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget.  Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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Regents Analysis and a New Test Prep Strategy

This post is reprinted with permission from Science in the City.

I don’t  know if you are in a state that has Regents exams, or if you are in a state that has other state exams instead.

Here in NY, we have Regents exams.  They are exams given at the end of the course, in most high school courses, and passing a certain number of them in each content area is a graduation requirement.
I teach in an urban district, where the passing rates are fairly low.  I am always looking for ways to help students be successful on those tests.  I have tried many other things (which I may write about in other posts).
A colleague and I are trying a new strategy now.  Here is our plan (really, it was my colleague’s plan first, and then I have adpated to my class):
 – Analyze the past few years Regents exams, correlate them to the NYS standards, to determine which topics are the most heavily tests, and what those test questions look like.  In other words, which standards are emphasized on the exams, and how are those standards translated into test questions.
– Starting about now, give students weekly 10 question quizzes.  The quizzes will be made out of the most commonly tested standards.
– As students get questions right, the quizzes will adapt to include the next most commonly asked questions.
– The quizzes are being done on http://www.socrative.com.  This allows me to add an explanation to the questions.  Students can take the quiz, know immediately how they did, and as they see their answer, see an explanation of why the correct answer is correct.  I am encouraging them to take  notes, and study those notes.  If they are getting questions wrong, there is a good chance that they will see the same questions next week.
– As I see a question that the class as a whole is not progressing on, I can go back and target that for a quick ‘intervention.’
So far, students are enthusiastic.  One of my top students even said “So we are starting review now?!”
Me: “Yes, a little bit of review”
Student: “That’s a good idea, then when we get to June it won’t be so overwhelming!”

That’s the idea.  Those students who advance faster through, will get more review, but those who advance slower will still review and hopefully “get” the most commonly tested concepts.
profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

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Chromebooks in the Classroom

Chromebook2In the fall my school will be getting chromebooks, and becoming a 1:1 technology school.  In the process, I am doing some research and learning about chromebooks.  I wanted to share that information with you.  Everyone’s school technology situation is different, but it may be of help to you.

First of all, this brings up logistical management issues.  My school has a number of students who also take courses at a local community college.  They will be allowed to take the chromebooks with them, to use in college classes.  Our other students will not be allowed to take the chromebooks out of school (keep in mind that I am in a very urban district).  We have not yet, as a school, determined how they will be managed.  For example, will students get their computer from a cart in the morning and then need to return it at the end of the day?  And carry it from class to class all day?  Will they get out a new one each class block?  And use class time logging in/starting it?

All those issues aside, I plan to make some instructional changes in my class, and have been learning about chromebooks.

Here were a few of my initial questions:

Does everyone need a gmail account ?  No, they need a google account, but it can be tied to another email (for example my school email).

How quickly do they boot up? They are supposed to boot up quickly, like 10 seconds.

What is the battery life? Battery life is supposed to be about 6 hours, roughly.

What can you do on a chromebook?  A chromebook boots into google chrome.  So you can run anything you can run from there.  That includes browser, google docs, or any apps that are in the chrome webstore.  There are some that would work well for school in here, such as apps geared towards typing, language learning,  edmodo, anatomy and solar system games, etc.

Can I use flash based animations/sites? It appears that yes, you can, and they are supposed to run well because google chrome automatically updates flash on the chrome browser.

What do I want to try? Although there are many other sites that are comparable (such as socrative.com and others), if we are using a google platform I am curious to try this extension that will grade google doc quizzes http://www.flubaroo.com/flubaroo-user-guide

I will be spending some time this summer adapting my curriculum to better fit this technology.   I think access to chromebooks will allow for more differentiation/self-pacing, and more immediate feedback.  I can see it being easier to offer more options through an online platform.  Perhaps I will move to a semi-flipped classroom model, but implemented within the classroom walls.

All in all, they sound like a great classroom alternative, and I’m excited to learn more over the summer.  Is anyone using chromebooks? Have any advice to share?  How does it change your instruction to have 1:1 technology?

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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