The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Month: November 2012

Take nothing for granted

Inspired to learn
(Image credit: Altaf Qadri)

MSNBC shared this story a few days, and it truly is inspiring. Look at the careful attention of these boys. It reminds me that while I’m working hard to try and improve mathematics education, there are many people in the world who receive no formal education what-so-ever but are desperate for it.

Maybe this type of education (watch the teacher) isn’t the most useful model of learning these boys could be doing, and maybe there are some problems with a model of education that requires students to learn skills that have no value in their society, these are children who are desperate to learn and are being given an opportunity.

I see this and it makes me wonder if my attention is too focused on the wrong kinds of problems.

Simplified e-portfolios for young kids

I’ve been hoping to implement e-portfolios for students from k to 12 at my school for a while, but have always run into a stumbling block – how I can simplify the process at the k-5 stage so that it is easy (ideally for our students to do themselves) and not too time-consuming for our teachers. I think I finally have a solution to this issue, and I’d like to share it to get some feedback and to improve what I’ve started. I’m writing this as a bit of a guide to getting started, and to share my work so far so that other people can benefit and improve upon my work.

I’ll describe the set-up I’m working on first. The basic idea is to set up a station where students can put their non-digital work underneath a webcam, enter in a pass code (or a user name and password, potentially) and have their photographed and added to their own personal eportfolio.

 

eportfolio webcam setup

Hopefully you can see from above that I have my laptop hooked up to a webcam, and that the webcam is pointed toward the table. In this case I’m using the IPEVU webcam, but really any webcam that can be easily pointed at a table will work. The idea is to have a station like this permanently set-up in a corner of our school.

Hobbling together code from many different sources, I’ve created a plugin, which you can download here (released under an Attribution required, Non-commercial, Share-alike license with permission from my school). It is still very rough and needs lots of work, but the basic functionality works. Think of it as a proof of concept, which I need to have working before I can move further with this project at my school. I strongly recommend not using this plugin with a production site until all of the wrinkles are ironed out! It may have huge security holes!

Inside the saveData.php there is some code that needs to be changed before you will be able to use the plugin. If you open the file up in a text editor (I like Programmer’s Notepad), look for the following lines:

// @TO DO
// 1. Have this code randomly generated for each student upon sign-up.
// 2. Have a table somewhere to make looking these codes up for students easy for teachers
// 3. Match the code to student blog id
$allowed = array(
 '12345' => 1,
 '22222' => 2,
 '23432' => 3,
);

These lines tell the program the relationship between the pass codes and their associated blogs. Currently, you will need to modify these manually, but the eventual plan is to make this much more user friendly (possibly randomly generated pass codes, downloadable in CSV format). Add whatever pass codes and associated blogs you wish to and save the file, but you can probably start with these pass codes for testing.

This plugin is designed to work with WordPress 3.4, but will probably work with most WordPress versions as it using some functions which appear to be somewhat stable over different versions. You can install the plugin just by unzipping the attached folder, and dropping it into the plugins folder in your WordPress installation (you will need to edit the saveData.php file to change the include path to your WordPress installation).

Once you have the files for the plugin in the right place, while logged into your WordPress site, navigate to www.your-wordpress-site.com/wp-content/plugins/eportfolio/ with a browser with getUserMedia enabled (which as of writing this post was only true for Chrome 21+, Firefox 17+, and Opera, but you can test to see if it will work in your browser by navigating to the previous link). You should see a prompt asking for permission to access your webcam, which you should give.

Now, you should be able to enter a title (which is optional – by default the format is "My Work – dd/mm/yyyy"), enter one of the chosen pass codes, and click on "Take Snapshot."

If you then navigate to your WordPress site, you should see that whatever blog you chose has a new entry. Voila, 1 click to post!

Hopefully all of this works for you, but more than likely it will not. This may because I’ve missed a step explaining my set-up (or you did…), or because your set-up is different than mine. Please let me know. I’m also looking for collaborators on this project, particularly if you know how to code. I also need people willing to try out this system with actual students to get some feedback on whether or not it is as easy to use as I hope.

Internet filters should be in our students’ heads

During #EdcampLBC, I tweeted out the following:

To be clear, at a young age I think internet filters are necessary, and in a k to 12 setting it is probably a good idea to filter out porn, hate sites, and sites that contain computer viruses and malware. That being said, our internet filters based on hardware or software are easily bypassed, and our students will live in an (mostly) unfiltered world once they finish school. One obvious strategy is to use a gradual release of responsibility, and to recognize that our learners are learners in all domains. Mistakes will happen, but if we protect our students too much, they will not develop their own internal filters. So I suggest that we use heavy filtering for our youngest students and gradually remove the filters as our students get older.

A math question

I’m working on a system where students will be able to post their non-digital work directly from a scanning station to their eportfolio blog. I want to make the system simple enough that young kids can potentially use it themselves (and ask our teachers to review the portfolios of our students periodically). To this end, instead of asking our students to enter a user name and password, I’m considering asking them to just enter a 5 or 6 digit passcode made of numbers, letters, or a word (which would be recorded somewhere for easy access for the younger students).

What I hope to avoid are collisions where two codes are so similar that students end up accidentally posting to each other’s blogs (either different by only one digit, or by two digits being transposed). One thought I’ve had is that I can use a barcode or QR code scanner, but as this may be challenging to set up, I may need to use a simple passcode to begin with.

My question is, what is the minimum passcode I can use while minimizing the chance of a passcode collision for our nearly 500 students? I’ve done some work figuring this out for myself already, but I’m curious about some other approaches.

Different multiplication strategies

I’m investigation possible models for learning multiplication. Below there are 7 possible models or algorithms. I’d like to know if you know of more models. I’ve found 12 different models for understanding/doing multiplication over at Natural Math, but have not found explanations of all of these that I can easily share.

Interestingly enough, many of these videos define multiplication at the beginning of the video with no sense that there are other possible definitions.

 

Binary multiplication

Line Multiplication

Lattice Multiplication

Area model

Repeated addition

Using arrays

Chip model

Connected Leadership

I’ve put together this presentation as a conversation starter for tomorrow’s Edcamp Leadership conference. What do you think the implications of these changes in our society are for educational leaders?

 

Internet safety

I’ve created the following presentation to use as a conversation starter with our grade 8 and 9 students. The objective is to have a discussion about the Internet and safety. I am framing the conversation with the idea that our non-digital selves co-exist with our digital selves, and that non-digital citizenship and digital citizenship are really two aspects of the same part of our personality, rather than being completely separate things.

I’d love some feedback.

(Can’t view the presentation above? See it here)

 

Updated:

Here is a brief explanation of how I intend to use this presentation, which will probably make it more helpful for you as an educator. Lots of ums and aahs in this description as I did it in a hurry to get it up.