SmartBoard Day 1

As I walked down the hall towards my classroom early Friday morning the door of my classroom was wide open. A couple of students were standing in the hallway peeking in. I walked in and there was Chris VanCrynest, our tech, just finishing with the software installation for my brand spanking new SmartBoard! I don't know what I'd do without Chris. Every time I come to him with some new hairbrained scheme involving technology in my classroom he says "No problem."

The SmartBoard is permanently installed at the front of the room and I've got a wireless mouse and keyboard. It took some getting used to. I tend to write on the board while resting the side of my hand on it and with a SmartBoard you can only touch one spot at a time. I'm also just learning the software and what it can do, so, that first day, teaching was a little slow. ;-)

The kids were crazy excited too. Everyone wanted to touch it ... and they did. ;-) Several teachers walking by in the hall couldn't help but notice the projector hanging from the ceiling and walked in to try it out too.

Not knowing exactly how this was going to work I gave one kid the mouse and another the keyboard. In my first class we had a lot of notes to catch up on. This is my Pre-Cal 40S which I'm podcasting this semester. I forgot to plug in the bluetooth headset to recharge overnight and we had trouble configuring the software to record the podcast with another headset before class began so unfortunately the audio from this class was lost.

Anyway, I set up the notebook software with 12 blank pages and, at first, wrote notes on the board they way I normally do (slide 1 below); although I did stumble a bit interacting with the board ... I could "feel" myself learning as we went along.

By the time I got to the second slide I started using the handwriting recognition software to convert some of my chicken scratches into text. By the third slide the student with the keyboard started typing over my fumbling errors. The fourth slide shows how it ended. I dictated the notes while a student typed them up on the screen for all of us to see. The only time I wrote on the board was to put a box around an important point. The kids also taught me how to change the text colours to more than just the four (black, red, blue and green) the "markers" are preset to write with. That's how we got purple into that last slide.

In my next class I tried something different. I'm still thinking of ways to incorporate the atelier method into my teaching. We're preparing for a test on Monday. I made four slides each with a problem on it. The class was divided into groups of four. It was a race to see which group could solve each problem first. As they did so, one student went up to the board to write their solution. They were hesitant at first. ("How do I know if I'm right?" ... "We'll find out together.") After their solutions were displayed we went over them. I first pointed out the things I thought were good about each solution and then moved on to ways it could be improved. The students seemed to feel more comfortable sharing the different ways they approached solving the problems. The discussions were rich, the students were attentive and, when it was all over, everyone agreed they had learned a lot and enjoyed this style of learning. We only got through two problems but they served as leaping off points for some great conversations and learning.

After each class I saved the notebook ( and a pdf copy as well. The pdf version was uploaded to my SlideShare account and published to each class blog. (I leave Firefox open and logged in to my SlideShare account to make it pushbutton easy.) I hope to do this with every class each day.

This weekend Terry Kaminsky from Alberta sent my his gallery of SmartBoard math tools (Thanks Terry! Lots of great stuff in there!) and I've started listening to the SMARTBoard Lessons Podcast (blog) by Joan Badger and Ben Hazzard. Sure enough, this is the very same weekend they sent some "blog love" my way. (Thanks guys ... right back atchya! ;-))

I've looked at the teaching resources available at the SMART Technologies website for Canadian Secondary schools and there's not much there. Joan and Ben's site seems to be a better resource. If for nothing else than to help teachers using interactive whiteboards to connect. I was also impressed with the stuff Terry shared with me ... there should be a wiki somewhere, where teachers using these boards can store and share the lessons/resources they have made.

Developing Expert Voices ... Words into Actions

This is going to be long ...

An Open Conversation
I received an email from Terry Freedman shortly after my first post about this project. Here is the reply I sent him (published with Terry's permission) ...

Hi, Darren

I'm interested in this, but what are the logistics, or are they not known yet:

1. Who manages the teaming up of individual students?

Teachers do. They leverage their network of connections with other blogging teachers to find appropriate matches. I just built a wiki to help facilitate this:

2. What safeguards are there against being teamed up with a perv (am thinking of your example of a younger child being paired up with an older one)

FOAF [Friend Of A Friend]. If "Joe Soap" from Over There contacts me to connect our kids it's not going fly unless I "know" him. What I mean by that is I would have to be familiar with his work as a blogging teacher or someone in my immediate network of connections would have to have this familiarity with him.

This project really amounts to exploring the responsiveness and flexibility of the network. Will it respond to the invitation? Will it explore the potential hazards associated with doing something like this? (Your email is the first response of the network in this regard. How will others reply to these questions? What further questions do these concerns raise?) Can we collaborate together effectively? Can we build a workable rubric together? Can we figure out the pedagogy together? Can we work beyond the normal boundaries imposed on teachers, students and classrooms? Can we pass the benefits of this kind of collaboration on to our students?

3. What is the overhead in terms of time and access?

Not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean how long will it last and how will students connect and then aggregate their final products? I figure from start to finish, once students are paired up, two weeks should be sufficient to put their presentations together. These pairings should roll out sporadically as the semester unfolds and students continue to learn new content. They can build their own wikis to collaborate. Chris Harbeck and I have put together a wiki which is just a links list of different web 2.0 tools kids can use to build their projects:

Aggregating the final products will be done on either a wiki or a blog. If the number of participating teachers is small perhaps a blog, if large maybe a wiki. Then again, the nature of the collaboration is more suggestive of a wiki rather than a blog. If I end up doing this with just my students their work will be aggregated on a blog.

It sounds very exciting.

I think so too. My students will all be required to do these presentations this semester. The question is will I be able to work the network to connect them globally and get them to collaborate with other students elsewhere? ;-)

Terry, I think the questions you've raised here should be more broadly discussed. Can I publish your email and my reply on my blog? Feel free to do the same on yours if you wish.


Terry and I continued the conversation and he asked me to write something about it to include in the latest edition of his newsletter Computers in the Classroom. You'll find Terry's further thoughts about this there.

A Further Clarification
I've received other email from people about Developing Expert Voices and a few requests to join the wiki (which are granted asap). Julie Lindsay also chimed in with this post on her blog. The tenor of most replies seems to be along the lines of: "Neat idea Darren. Count me in when you're ready to go ahead with this." No one has actually said that; that's just the sense I get from reading them. So, I feel this need to clear things up a bit. I've hesitated because it's hard to convey this in text using the same tone of voice I would in real life. In text, it's liable to come across rather harsh. Please understand, that's not the way it's intended. Here goes ...

I am not volunteering to organize teachers and classes who are interested in doing the sort of collaborative work Julie and Vicki did.

I am interested in working with individual teachers who share an interest in pursuing this sort of work. Either by matching our classes up or by matching individual students up on a case-by-case basis.

I have no idea if this will work, but I'm willing to give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What's Happening
Ryan Maksymchuk and I are teaching the same course this semester. He teaches in a rural school about a five hour drive North West of Winnipeg. We're fortunate in that we are teaching the same curriculum and covering the same content at more or less the same pace. My Applied Math class blog has a feed window into his Applied Math class' blog and vice versa. We've talked and decided to pursue the idea with our classes.

When I first brought the idea up with my class they seemed scared. The class discussion centered around three concerns:
(1) What if my partner in the other class doesn't carry their weight?
(2) What if my partner makes a mistake and, when I point it out to them, they get angry with me?
(3) I just learned how to blog! Now you want me to "publish" a project online! I don't know how to do that ... I don't even know what that means.

I reflected back to them that the first two concerns would be no different in a face-to-face class but the third was a different matter. So, I've started collating a set of various online presentations for my students to have a look at and perhaps give them some ideas about how to put together an online presentation.

Also, Ryan and I have thrown it back to our classes and written posts on our class blogs asking for the student's input via the comments. So far five students have replied; 2 in Ryan's class and 3 in mine. All the comments submitted are positive ones. Ryan and I will talk more this week and we'll see how it plays out. We've already figured out that we'll need a wiki as a central clearing house for organizing all the logistics in doing this. Like Vicki and Julie did we've started talking about doing some sort of podcast or audio introductions for the kids to "meet."

I must admit, I'm feeling very anxious about doing this. There is a great sense of ... trepidation(?) about it. Not sure I can put my finger on it, but there it is.

Four For My Outboard Brain

This is a mirror of a post from a new group blog called Striving Readers Kentucky. The post is by RolandOD.

It caught my eye because of the Developing Expert Voices project I'm beginning with my grade 12 Applied Math class. (More about this in my next post ... hopefully later today.)

I'm collecting samples of online presentations whose format my students can emulate or riff off of. None of them have any math in them ... this one does:

To quote Roland:

This group of undergraduate students from Northwestern obviously understands the content. If you want to share this video with your math teacher's I encourage you. Here is a link to the lyrics; just in case they want to explore the math behind the music.

And while I'm storing stuff here (in my outboard brain) for me not to forget let me just add these three vids ...

Another remix of Karl's Did You Know? presentation.

Jeff Utecht's Web 2.0 presentation ...

And this breathtaking video response to Jeff ...


They're installing a smartboard in my classroom as I write this. It's a permanently mounted affair with the projector hung from the ceiling overhead. I'm also getting a wireless, bluetooth mouse and keyboard and I think they said I'm getting a wireless tablet too (not sure about that last one). I can't remember being so excited to go to work in the morning. ;-)

A shoutout to Terry Kaminsky and Ryan Maksymchuk for their advice, suggestions and offers to share resources. Everyone I know who has ever adopted the use of a smartboard says it has made them a better teacher. I'm looking forward to learning how this will change my teaching too. ;-)

Update February 14
My school received 4 SmartBoards yesterday. I'm on the second floor ... so I'm going to be the last install. I don't know how long it'll take them to get to me but I hope it will be before the end of the week. ;-)

Mathcast Central

I decided to podcast all my classes this semester. The tech at my school is helping me as we try to make this "push button easy." It's not quite there yet -- I'm on a bit of a learning curve. Using a mac has been of tremendous help!

I created a site in iWeb (click a few buttons). It's hosted on my school's server. I record the podcast in GarageBand . Intro and outro music are preselected from the canned list of jingles and placed in advance. Before each class I simply delete the audio track of my voice from the previous class and record a new one in its place. At the end of class I select from the share menu > [Send podcast to iWeb]. (Audio file sizes between 30Mb and 50Mb+ result in this being a little time consuming ... I'm working on this.) In iWeb, from the file menu I select [Publish to Folder]. Then, using Transmit , I copy the contents of that folder to the server. Done. (This sounds more complicated than it is; total steps after recording podcast = 3.)

Using the new Blogger I've added a feed window to the podcasts in the side bar of the class blog . It shows the most recent 5 episodes. 

I was going to do this with all my classes this semester but have scaled back to only one as I learn the mechanics of making this as easy as possible. I'm also intersted in exploring how this practice changes my pedagogy and improves student learning. So far, the greatest impact has been on me.

Publishing everything that I say in class has made me more conscious of what I'm saying and how I'm teaching. Also, knowing that my students (or other members of the audience) wont be able to "see" what I'm talking about has resulted in me restating questions that students ask and being more descriptive about what I'm doing as I'm doing it. After only two classes like this my teaching is more deliberate. I'm also constantly thinking of catchy titles for each episode which makes me situate the content in a larger context -- generally, the history of mathematics as told through stories. ;-)

Another thought: Education researchers often look for classes within which to pursue their investigations. With all my classes online there will be a source of easily accessible raw data for people doing research in mathematics education. I will continue to make this content freely available online. I ask only that if you use it in some other context that you please share back your learning or observations. I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve what I do. I'm still working out some technical glitches like the sound quality. If anyone decides to listen to any of the mathcasts from my class (to be added to iTunes soon) let me know what you think.

On another note, Chris Harbeck shared a new tool with me, writetomyblog. I used it to craft this post (how does it look?). It may be a solution to easily typing some math and other special characters on the web too ... I'm droping a link to it on all my blogs.

Developing Expert Voices ... Playing With Boundaries

Finite players play within boudaries. Infinite players play with boundaries.

Building on my previous post, I've been thinking about ...

  • » Clarence's work with the atelier method of teaching and how he sees himself as a network administrator.
  • » George had mentioned the work of John Seely Brown at dinner last week. So I listened to this podcast.
  • » I have mentors for my students (Lani and Emina) but I'd like to develop mentorship amongst my students. I believe they learn deeper when they have to mentor someone.
  • » The Flat Classroom Project. Julie and Vicki have posted the podcast they did with Terry, Jeff, Jo and I. They are thinking hard about how to make the project replicable, scalable and sustainable.
  • » Chris left a comment on my earlier post to which I replied saying we could make this work across grade levels.
  • » A while back, Robert Jones' kids from Scotland were leaving comments on my kid's blog and my students reciprocated. Robert and I talked about collaborating but one thing led to another and we didn't follow up on it.

In order to move the Developing Expert Voices assignment beyond my classroom walls I don't need another class of students. Each of my students needs at least one partner in another class somewhere. If there is a critical mass of teachers on board with this idea then, between us, we work the network to find partners for each of our kids. So, in one of my classes, my students might collectively be collaborating with 10 or more classes from all over the world. Moreover, partners do not need to be in the same grade or studying the same material; as their network administrators we align the curricular content along thematic lines.

For example, let's say a grade 7 student (12 years old) partners up with a grade 10 student (15 years old). The topic is operations (add, subtract, multiply, divide) on rationals (fractions). The grade 7 student develops content using integers. The grade 10 student does exactly all the same thing using algebraic expressions. Together, they put together a presentation that is published online using free tools and aggregated on a blog somewhere.

Working with other students from elsewhere and publishing their work online for a global audience motivates kids to learn hard; to do their best work and make certain it is error free. The older student may know more math, the younger student may know more technology tools. (At least, this is what some of my students tell me.) The kids make curricular connections across grade levels and the mentorship experience grows both kids in ways beyond just learning the math.

The boundaries between classrooms blur.

The boundaries between teachers blur.

The boundaries between grades blur.

The boundaries between students blur.

Learning crystallizes.

Any takers?

Update - February 2, 2007
Just built a wiki to help organize this over at wikispaces. If you're serious about participating add yourself to the list. ;-)

Online Connectivism Conference

A while back George Siemens asked me if I'd be willing to participate in his Connectivism Online Conference as a "context filter." The format is a sort of smaller scale K12 Online. There will be a preconference keynote given by George this Friday at 11:00 am (N. American CST) and then five presentations given one each day next week at the same time of day. This is the schedule:

I'm most looking forward to the presentations given by Bill and Terry. While I don't always agree with everything Bill writes I think his is an important critical voice. He always has a well articulated perspective and really makes you think. Terry's presentation attracts me because I'm also interested in new pedagogies made possible by the proliferation of tools and potential on the web.

The role of the "context filters" (myself and 12 other folks not sure if their identities are public knowledge yet) is to reflect on the relevance of each presentation in the context that applies to them. For me, that means as a senior high school teacher.

I really like the way George is doing this. He has emphasized several times that the presentations are intended as conversation starters. The real value will grow organically out of the asynchronous, distributed conversation that will take place afterwards in blogs or the Moodle installation (click on the [login as guest] button) set up for the conference. Now, that's something that I think could have been done differently to improve access and distribute the conversation across a wider audience.

The Moodle installation, while it is open to everyone for viewing, only allows registered participants to post. The registration has been closed at just over 1000 people. I can see why George might like to have everyone registered in Moodle -- it's a way to track the number and identities of the participants. I think there are better (read: more open access) ways of doing this though. I guess that's something to think about for the next conference. ;-)