Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Math "From Canada"

The other day I had the privilege to participate in a Skype conference call with Sheryl NussbaumBeach (@snbeach). The topic of discussion was Project Based Learning, however we also talked about the use of social media. This was not the first conversation I have participated in about the use of social media in the classroom, but for some reason it got me thinking about my own lesson plans for the month and how I could incorporate social media. Once I started thinking, the ideas started flowing and I realized how much room there was for improvement in my lessons!
While checking Twitter that night, I came across a tweet from Aviva Dunsiger, @Grade1, whom I follow and admire for her creative uses of technology in her classroom. The minute I read her Smartie Math problem blog post, I knew I wanted to participate. My lesson plans for the month involve the use of data, spreadsheets and graphs. The math problem presented in the blog post not only involves those subjects, it adds in the social media aspect. Thus, I presented to my first grade class our math problem "from Canada!" They couldn't believe that we would be doing math from Canada! "How can we do that?" they asked.

After looking at a map to find Ancaster, Ontario in relationship to Wisconsin, we began by reviewing the slide show on Aviva's blog post and discussing what data we needed to know. We focused on the slide with the buckets of candy and I asked them what information I should write on the board. All they wanted me to write was the question "How can we make the buckets equal?" We then discussed what tools we have available to solve this problem. Since I am the computer teacher, we focused on different software programs that we have learned to use throughout the year. As anticipated their ideas were to use Smart Notebook software to draw solutions, or draw shapes as manipulatives. We have also used Kidspiration which has many objects we could use for manipulatives, so some students suggested that as well.

The students returned to their computers and paired up with the person they sat next to, a random mix based on an alphabetical seating chart. For the next half hour, the students were totally engaged in trying to solve the math problem. Some of them started by recreating the picture of the buckets. Others also drew two buckets, but went to the board and counted the number of red and white candy to sort right away as they drew them in the buckets. The students who drew the mixed candy then moved them to also be sorted one color in each bucket. Finally, all groups who had a chance to finish moved the sorted candy so there was an equal amount of each color in each bucket.

At the end of class, we took time to write a comment on Aviva's blog post about how we solved the math problem. The students were really excited for this part and were also excited that she wrote back to them! Overall, this was a very successful activity. It was relevant (sorting candy fairly), global (from Canada), collaborative (they worked with partners) and involved communication (commenting on a blog and getting a response). Finally, students were problem solvers using their choice of tools available to them (critical thinking). Thank you Aviva!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First Grade's New Netbooks

Last week we finally finished imaging the new first grade netbooks, putting them in a cart and giving the first grade teachers a quick demo of them. So the question is: What would you do with a netbook for each of your students? Every time I walked by one first grade teacher's room, he had come up with really authentic, engaging activities for his students to do with the new netbooks. Afterward, I asked him how we can get the rest of our teachers to do these kind of activities. His first answer was to share with them what he has done and how. So I am now sharing these ideas!

The very first activity the students worked on was to do their daily journal entry in Word. This was an activity they were completely comfortable doing independently (having done journaling every day in their class and having used Word in computer class a few times.) This allowed the teacher to help them with the logistics of using the new netbooks. When I walked in, every student was deeply engrossed in their writing.

The second activity spawned off the first and they wrote letters to the superintendent thanking him for the new netbooks. They have done letter writing before, so after a quick review they were off working. What an authentic task that involved language arts and communication skills!

Branching into more authentic communication skills, another activity was to send emails to their classmates, teacher and parents. Letter writing skills were reinforced again and when I came in the room, they were so eager to show me what they were doing! We had a few problems with correcting some inaccurate email addresses and navigating some message boxes that popped up, but they were thrilled to be doing this activity! They learned how to respond to their classmates emails and they also received responses from their parents. What positive reinforcement! Think of all the language arts and communication skills they were developing during this. Yes, they used kid spelling but that in no way inhibited their ability to communicate with each other through a written medium.

An activity I didn't get to see was when the teacher had them use Smart Notebook software (again something they were familiar with using) to create math review worksheets. They were given the choice of topics and the worksheets were completed by classmates. Math curriculum and creativity were definitely reinforced!

This particular first grade teacher is pretty technologically savvy, but he is also willing to take risks. He had no idea how it would work sending out emails, but he was willing to try. He is also very supportive of student choice and allowing for movement in his classroom (as the students help each other and show off their work to each other.) Not all teachers are willing to take such risks, but as he said, once an activity is successfully accomplished, share the experience!