Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Tag: teaching (page 2 of 2)

Working with a 1 to 1 laptop program

At our rather large high school in Thailand, we have a 1 to 1 laptop program.  Every student in the high school has a laptop, which they are supposed to bring to class.  After a year and half working with these laptops, I discovered the joys and pitfalls of such a system.

The really nice thing about the laptops is that you can plan activities that require a computer much more easily than schools where you have to book time in a computer lab.  Having done both, the laptops are just plain easier to work with.

Another advantage of the laptop program is that a greater percentage of the students you work with have an intermediate level understanding of how their computers work.  They can manage their documents in a relatively organized fashion, install software, navigate the web, and use a search engine, all with relative ease. It has been very rare when I have not been able to explain to one of my students how to accomplish a task.  I find myself being able give instructions to the students using higher level skills and more complicated phrases than my previous school.

For example, I can tell the kids to ‘copy and paste’ and to ‘create a screen-shot’ and most of the kids know how to do this stuff.  I can also give instructions like ‘copy the URL for the image and paste it into the textfield on the image uploader’ and they can do it.

Another nice feature of the 1 to 1 laptop program is that it allows me to include a little bit of tech training in my lessons.  Since it is likely that the students will be using a computer pretty regularly for the rest of their lives, it seems to me that the use of a computer is one of the most important skills I can pass along to my students.

Since the students have access to a computer at any time, you can use a number of online tools quite effectively.  I have mentioned in a previous article about using Google Docs for collaboration online, and with my classes I have also successfully used blogs, wikis and other resources I have found online with my students.

There are a number of problems with the use of the laptops however which need to be pointed out.

The first problem is that if you plan a lesson that involves everyone needing a laptop and one or more students does not have their laptop, you can find yourself going to your backup pretty quickly.  Students have difficulty keeping their laptops virus clear because of all of the file sharing they do.  They also sometimes just forget their laptops at <insert the location here>.

Another problem, at least at our school, is that there seem to be some limits as to how many students can access a wireless acccess point at the same time.  So once the first 15 or so students in your class get started, the next 5 or 10 students are locked out.  This can be pretty frustrating pretty quickly.

Students will also tend to use their laptops for inappropriate things during your lessons.  The student in the back that you think is diligently using their laptops for taking notes is probably text chatting with their friend in Physics or Biology.  Students who are supposed to be carefully working from a PDF version of their textbook are actually surfing blogging sites looking for next year’s fashion.  This can be real problem, and as usual you need to rely on your own classroom management skills to try and curb this kind of behaviour.  Some schools install special software on the network server to limit students access to the internet, but the kids in your class will probably just turn to computer games instead.

When all is said and done, I have enjoyed the access to a 1 to 1 laptop program I have had at my current school.  There have been some problems, but they have not been insurmountable.  It is likely that more and more schools will be looking to initiate similar programs, so we as educators must prepare for the future.

Making mathematics fun

One major barrier to students learning mathematics is that they spend a lot of time NOT enjoying themselves.  Let’s be honest, listening to poetry is enjoyable if the poetry is selected carefully.  Having discussions about current events in History, while learning critical analysis skills, is fun.  Solving a cubic equation is just not a lot of fun, even for mathematicians.

We as mathematics educators are charged with the job of making math accessible and more easily learned by our students.  It makes sense therefore to inject a bit of fun in once in a while, especially if you can justify it with some educational theory that suggests it is pedagogically worthwhile.

Trebuchet projectA project I have done with my 9th grade students now for 4 years in a row, is to have them do some quadratic modelling.  When I worked in London, I was really lucky because the students were creating trebuchets and catapults in their Design class.  So we had a class where the students took their models they created in Design up to the nearest park, and we took digital footage of the trebuchets in action.

At the end of the period, when the students had enough footage, they submitted some samples of their models at work in digital form directly to my computer, and that night I converted their video to a usuable form.  This actually meant I spent hours figuring out how to convert all of their wacky video formats into something readable by the FFMPEG converter to an flv file, which I could then set up to stream.

There were some technical difficulties which some of the groups had.  For example, one of the groups decided to do their footage from 20 metres away with no background…their poor little golf ball wasn’t very visible in their footage.  Another group videographer had a very unsteady hand.  However, I ended up with 6 good videos, so I split the students into 6 groups and they went to work analyzing their footage the next class.

Students had to figure out a way to convert the flight of their ball into coordinates, in other words numerical data.  They then had to decide on a model for their data, and find an equation to represent it.  I also had them calculate the mean horizontal speed (which involved being able to convert frame rates into an appropriate unit of time).  Finally there were some questions the students had to include in their write-up for this projectto focus their thinking on the physical phenomena that happened.

What was wonderful about this experience is the reaction of the kids.  At all stages of the project they were all actively engaged and interested in what they were doing.  The mathematics, which could have been very dull and boring for them came alive.

Just listen to the reaction of the students in the video when their trebuchet goes off for the first time.  How often do you get to hear a spontaneous cheer in a mathematics class?

What can I do to help my child learn mathematics?

Update: It’s amazing how much my thinking has changed since I wrote this post. I literally cringed as I read the part about homework & test scores.

One of the most common questions I am asked by parents during parent teacher conferences is, what can I do to help my child learn mathematics?  There are a variety of answers I can give to this question.

The very first thing you can do is have a positive attitude about mathematics.  Almost anyone I meet who does not use mathematics for their career tells me how hard they found it, or how much they dislike mathematics.  Your positive attitude about mathematics will rub off on your child and will help encourage them to keep trying.

Show an interest in what your child is learning.  Find out what they will be learning this year in mathematics and keep track of where they are at.  There are certain topics that everyone finds more difficult, make sure your child has the help they need for those topics.  If you move from one school to another, this information will help your son or daughter adjust to their new mathematics class.

From an early age, encourage your child to think about puzzles and problems.  Having an active imagination and a willingness to think carefully are two huge assets when doing mathematics.  Many times students struggle with mathematics because they do not know how to persevere.

Work with your child on their homework whenever possible.  This does not mean do their homework, it means help them finish it.  There is a clear relationship between finishing their homework and your child’s scores on classroom tests and assignments.

Make sure your child has their addition and multiplication tables memorized.  This can be very difficult for some children, but it is one of the few things that really should be learned by repetition.  Not having to use their calculator for every single calculation will speed up how quickly your child can work, which will lead to improved test scores.

Keep in touch with the person who teaches your child mathematics.  Make sure you are communicating with them often so that you are aware of your child’s progress in mathematics.  Strong communication between parents and teachers helps improve students’ progress.

Most of mathematics is interrelated.  There are connections between different topics which can sometimes be missed by students.  If you send your child to Kumon math, or something similar, you should be aware that these connections are not taught in these types of classes.  This time would be much better spent having your child work with a private tutor in mathematics.

Be realistic in your expectations.  Not every person is a mathematician, and therefore not every child will be a mathematician, but all children can experience success in math class with sufficient support.  Give encouragement when your child improves rather than discouraging them when they do poorly.  Set reasonable goals for your child to achieve and give rewards for their achievement.  An expression used often in North America is “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” which basically means that rewards are more effective than punishments.

If you follow these guidelines, your child should have a rewarding experience in mathematics.  Remember that the goal of a mathematics class is to encourage analytical thinking and problem solving skills.  If at the end of your child’s school career they are a critical thinker, and are willing to tackle challenging problems, then you have done a good job.