Thursday, August 29, 2013

Putting technology to work in my classes

After a summer in which I taught a 3-week workshop for middle school math teachers with iPads in everyone's hands, I am returning to my regular classes, in which students may or may not have a mobile device. What to do? How can I use technology to improve the workflow and the learning in my classroom?

I'm sure there's no one right answer to these questions, so I plan to try 3 variations in my 3 classes. 

For the past several years I used technology mostly outside of class, to create and push PDF handouts to students and to keep a grade book. Having used iPads during the summer, though, I feel that I can improve the workflow and my communication with students by doing more with technology.

For my undergraduate classes:
What am I doing? 
Here, my plan is to take snapshots of students' work to be presented, and to use ThreeRing to manage the photos. The rest of the work (homework submissions, exams) will be handled via paper, though students who miss class can submit homework via emailed photos.
I am hopeful that snapping photos of the work will free some of my in-class attention to monitor the class better and generally to engage a bit more in-the-moment of the presentation. 

In one of the classes, I am projecting the photo via iPad, and making annotations based on the class discussion using NotesPlus, so that the presenter gets back a photo with the annotations the class made to his/her proof.

In addition, for my undergraduate Math for Middle School Teachers course:
What am I doing?
Here, my focus is going to be on using technology to enliven the curriculum. So I intend to "3 act" some of the material, in the sense of Dan Meyer. I'm working on trying to motivate more of the problems by developing more wonder or want-to-know, using photos and videos as appropriate.
First, with the onset of Common Core, as much as I think I had a good curriculum, I would like to add another layer of making the problems more intriguing, as opposed to, "Do this because I am assigning it." Also, I want to get these pre-service and early career teachers thinking about how to make lessons that have 21st century appeal, that use media to draw students in to the mathematics. If the problems were not valuable, window dressing would not help; but in this case, I think we had good contextual problems, and adding media should draw out more interest and perhaps help students take more ownership of the directions of the questions we pursue in class.

For a graduate course: 
What am I doing?
Here, the students are primarily practicing secondary teachers, and already have one or more mobile devices (smart phone, tablet, laptop). So I am going to use ThreeRing here also, but adding the feature of having students submit homework to ThreeRing on their own. They also have occasional reading assignments which they submit to a Moodle discussion board (something I was already doing in the past).
As with the other courses, I want to be freed up from my usual note-taking, and just add a few annotations during presentations, so that I can engage myself more with monitoring understanding and pushing the conversation in the room. Beyond that, I want teachers to begin to see the power of tech tools for rethinking their own classroom workflows.

What did I choose not to do?
I considered:
  • Opening a backchannel for students to air their questions during student presentations, using something like TodaysMeet. I have split feelings on this issue. This is either harnessing the power of texting for good, or it is letting face-to-face conversation go the way of the dodo bird.
  • Using Subtext, which is going to have a web version soon, to have discussions of readings in grad classes. I have not done this, but will consider it if the web app becomes available, or if we require iPads for our grad students, which we are considering.
  • Having students create portfolios in a cloud drive for me to access and give feedback. Here, I decided against it because of access issues. I am surveying my students this semester to see if they have their own devices. But if they only use a school computer, then it is more difficult for them to see my feedback than it is when I return things by hand. Because of the importance of the portfolio as a review tool, I choose not to take that risk here (whereas I do not mind doing this with the presentations being returned via ThreeRing, because they present only a few times, and it is less important that they access the feedback quickly).
What am I missing? How do you feel about this plan? I look forward to your thoughts.


  1. Matt, can you provide some more details about your workflow with ThreeRing and Notes Plus. In particular, when will you annotate the photos? Will the original photo and the annotated version go in ThreeRing?

    1. Dana,
      When I find someone to present, I snap a photo of their work. I then drop the photo into NotesPlus, and connect the iPad to the projector. The student talks the class through what they did while that work is projected. Then, as comments are made by students, I annotate the photo in NotesPlus. For now, I have been taking a screen shot of the NotesPlus and loading the screen shot into ThreeRing.