Saturday, August 30, 2008

The First "Full" Week

So, it seems like the first week is almost over. I just have to grade some labs, grade a test (AP) and finish posting some football video to the Internet. This week contained:
  1. My first week of being sick (boy, are students willing to share).
  2. Not seeing my daughters but a couple of hours each day.
  3. Fighting with technology (some wins, some losses).
  4. The first trial of the football video editing software at a game.
  5. Five or so hours of working with tech support (which did solve the problems, thank you CoachComm).
  6. Back to School Night - where most parents were excited about the cell phone "student response system" that I am trying and a few were fundamentally opposed to the thought.
  7. The first AP test - which had a lower average (by three questions than last year which is a large percentage when there are only 25 questions).
  8. A new squeak from my single speed, fixed gear road bicycle - which really bothers someone with my personality. It is my commuter right now, while the weather is nice.
  9. Staying up way too late watching the DNC speeches.
  10. Doing some chemistry Olympics with the metric system and laughing with the students so hard that my face hurt.
Well, then comes this post on The Fischbowl

Let me say that I am glad to see this post. I do know that I really need some feedback on this idea and I think that Karl is the right person to help me get word out. I am trying to figure out if Blogger or Feedburner is the correct place to publish the xml feed for the podcast. Here is what I am currently wondering...If the class scores on the first part of the unit test in AP Chemistry are lower (by 12%) than last years, is that caused by the lack of direct lecture? or something else? I know that we have not had the time so far to do stuff in class that I would have completed last year but it is not content stuff. Also, I noticed that the set of students this time were not working as fast as they have in the past...Could it be the test itself? While I wonder about the effectiveness of a big test, I know that the statistics of the questions (standard deviation of less than 2 for 25 questions) show that all of the students were in about the same range. So, now what? Oh, I know that I will continue to work on the things that are important in chemistry and I will continue with the podcasts, but I need some help and input. Wednesday of this coming week is the essay portion of the unit 1 test. I think that the students will do better on this part since we have been doing more problems in class.

The big issue that I am now dealing with is the compatibility of the usb wireless mic and the bluetooth interface in my classroom. I have the Bluetooth working now and I am fighting with the mic. Any ideas? The microphone works on radio frequency and the manufacturer says that it should not interfere with Bluetooth. I have updated drivers and stuff but they do not want to work on the same computer right now. I guess if I had a little more time then I could figure it out.

As for the Bluetooth, I am using it to attempt to create a less expensive form of a interactive whiteboard. It works. There is a little bit of work still to be done before I really use it in class but for right now, it is as far as I will get. Perhaps if we had in-service days...The idea comes from a YouTube video (from the Ted conference) of Johnny Lee using a Wiimote and a Bluetooth dongle with some code that was written to calibrate the screen. Then, using a LCD projector and a program like PowerPoint, an IR remote becomes a pointing device like a mouse for a computer. The best part is if you have access to software like Camtasia or SnapKast that can screen capture what you are doing. You can stand at the screen and record what you are writing, when you write it, to play back later. Think of the power of playing back material. The students that miss a day, don't miss out. The students that miss a point, don't miss out. The students that do not have access to AP Chemistry, don't miss out. The whole setup cost less than $60 and I had a student's help putting it all together (he is really into tech stuff). I will post some video when I get it up and running.

Now, I think that I will sit down and read a past edition of the Journal of Chemical Education. There is a lengthy article on the use and effectiveness of small, collaborative groups in chemistry. Who knows, I might even blog about it...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What am I doing?

This is the best title that I could come up with to summarize my first week. You see, I have changed a few things in my chemistry class at AHS and I am now wondering if it makes any difference. (See last post.)

There are a lot of things that happen at the beginning of the school year and I am wondering now if just giving reading and notes for homework is the best thing (if anyone actually reads this blog please leave a comment) for the students.

In the AP chemistry class, it is no different since last year the students also had a summer assignment. Since I never checked if the students were doing this assignment I have no measure of if it has made any difference. The "it" I am referring to is the posting of the lectures for the first few chapters of material to iTunes. Right now, it seems like a lot of extra work for me with nothing new occurring. I doing think that I will see amazing magic right now but I was hoping for something from the students. I got feedback from one student out of 65 but that is a special cast. (Boy o' boy, does this sound negative.)

Then there was the new technology that I was very excited about having in the classroom...that did not work. I know that there are some "bugs" that need to be worked out by me in using screen capture software with a new microphone and a bluetooth enabled tablet in the classroom but when you practice and everything works fine you would think it would work great at showtime. Boy is that frustrating. About the only thing that did work was the PowerPoint. But then the bulb was dim in the projector and the colors are very different than what is displayed on the monitor. I know that this does not seem like a problem but when showing images it is bothersome. There are somethings that i will try to fix this but I wish I could just "teach".

The problem that I have with just "teaching" is that I do not think it is what is best. It might be what is the easiest for all parties involved, to pull out the same material from a year ago, but I struggle with this. There are some great teachers who can do this, I however feel like I am learning and would like to figure out the connections between the students and the material.

Well, Monday starts another week (with Back to School Night, a PLC day, the first AP test of the semester and the first football game) and I will try again. If nothing else, this form of writing helps me to realize that the hard work is probably worth it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good ideas seem to come in sets.

We all seem to understand that a lot of things happen in threes. Good and bad, the human mind likes to put things into sets. Well, this year I am attempting three new things in my classroom that might alter the way that science is taught at AHS.

The first item is...
Poll Everywhere!

I was introduced to this little bit of web based software at NECC this summer. The craze right now is student response systems (in use at major universities) in the classroom. And, it should be. This tool allows teachers to test student understanding and then alter their lessons to reach the needs of the class. (At least that is how I see it.) The systems are very interesting and have the ability to transform the way that a typical lesson is designed. I was hooked!

Then came the next piece of information. The student could use their cell phones to text their answers (either multiple choice or short answer) to the teacher during a PowerPoint presentation! Just think, a way to embrace the cell phone use in the classroom!

On the first day of class, I asked my students to:
  1. Take out their cell phone. You should have seen the blank looks. One student even told me "I don't even know you" after I asked them to "just trust me."
  2. Answer the question "What scares you the most about AP Chemistry?"

You can only imagine the answers that I got on the screen in the classroom when they realized that it was being shared. The students are interested in what their peers are thinking just like I am, as a teacher. I cannot wait to look at the results when a subject based question is asked. The software does have some simple analysis tools built in.

And did I say that it can be FREE?!!

The second item is...

Podcasts. Yes, chemistry podcasts.

For the past few years, I have felt frustrated with how my classroom was working. I would ask the students to read and they would act like they did, and perhaps some of them did, and then I would lecture over the material on the next class day. It seemed that the students were learning that they did not have to read since I would be covering the exact material in class. Then they would struggle on the homework problems and ask in class and earn average grades on the tests.

However, I felt as though I was doing a lot more of the problems then the students were. So, I started looking for a way to fix this. Enter Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams of Woodland Park High School. They presented at NECC this summer also (I guess you could say that this was a good conference to attend...) on podcasting. So, I borrowed a couple of ideas for the classroom and started posting note guides on web, specifically TeacherTube. This seemed like a good way to cover the background information for the AP chemistry class. I thought that the students might like to get some information this way.

Boy, was I wrong...They seem to really like it. As a matter of fact, they liked it so much that one of the students took it upon himself to help me post the videos to blogger. Then, I submitted the information to iTunes for review and the podcast has now been linked in the iTunes store! The students have decided that this is pretty cool. Or, in their own words:

"I am personally very excited about the way you have decided to use technology to fundamentally change the way you run your class. The way you perceived an issue and saw how technology could be used to effectively address it is a prime example of how the expertise of teachers is key to effectively integrating technology into a class.
The screencasts you have a created are available on teachertube, which is a convenient way to view them. However, I thought that it would be even more convenient if your screencast was also a podcast. For this reason, I used several tools to turn the videos you post on teachertube into an iTunes subscribable podcast.
At this url, I have created a blog where the videos are reposted. It is the process of reposting that syndicates them into an XML format iTunes or other video podcast readers can understand. They are also available for download individually in a format that can be transferred to an iPod or viewed with Quicktime. The "PODCAST HELP PAGE" link on the sidebar goes to a website I quickly assembled that describes how to subscribe in iTunes, download episodes, or even view online
with an iPhone or iPod Touch.
One of the reasons I am sending you this email is to make sure that this is acceptable to you. The screencasts are your intellectual property, after all. If it is acceptable, hopefully this will become a valuable way to access the content." - Ben H

Wow, that was written by a high school student...and we want to be worried about them.

I have been looking for ways to use classtime to answer questions and have discussions without feeling "rushed". I think that this will help. As a matter of fact, the other chemistry teachers at AHS liked the idea so much that we are trying this as a team. Change, or I'm sorry, "Shift Happens." We, I mean my student is trying to show me, are now trying to get iTunes to read the metadata for the podcast so that the information is there.

Please check out some of the podcasts and let us know what you think.

And the third thing...

I received some money from the HACH foundation this summer. They were looking for ways to transform the way that chemistry is being taught. I wrote a short letter asking for help adding some technology to my classroom. Now, You might ask why, afterall Mr. Fisch is at AHS. But this money was additional to all of the help and guidance that Karl gives me.

The money was used to purchase equipment so that the students and I could record what is occuring in the classroom and share it. The focus will be on problem solving and lab experiments with a focus on sharing with the world.
Some of the equipment includes:

  1. A USB lapel microphone(I am really excited about this one)
  2. A Blue Snowball microphone
  3. A video camera
  4. A digital still camera
  5. Camtasia software
  6. and a Portable hard drive to store all of the video.

Who knows, maybe some students somewhere will want to share in this adventure. I have already talked to other AP teachers outside of the US who are interested.

So, There it is. Three things that might change forever the way that learning occurs in my classroom. I have not been this excited about trying new stuff in a long time and the energy from teh students is great. Who knows, they might even learn something...