Ed-Tech Lets Students Show What They Know In Week 1

--Originally published at FLN – matthewtmoore

Starting the year with Ed-Tech and flipping the script allows students to show their mastery in their native digital environment instead of trying to homogenize them with traditional review.

The way we used to do it:

I have done it, and I have had it done to me. As a math person, it has happened many times.  Due to the related content and the building progression of most math courses the first week or at least first few classes of a course begin with review.  The educationally correct reason for this is that we need to re-activate and re-engage prior knowledge to effectively build toward new learning.  A more skeptical answer includes attempting to homogenize the starting position of the various students in the class. Another insensitive answer might be to gauge the academic mix and level of preparation for this year’s class roster.  Regardless the result is often the same. A teacher at the board with open-eyed sleeping students or the worksheet barrage and attendant student resentment.

A better way:

There is truth that students need re-activation of prior knowledge and it is also true that the teacher needs to have a good gauge of who is populating his or her classroom.  What I did last year and have begun again this year is giving the students responsibility for the review component.  Students are paired by random number generator.  They are given a specific skill or concept from their previous math course that their transcripts claim they have mastered. The pair is tasked with creating a five to nine minute “demonstration” of their mastery of the topic to be delivered to the class. Here are some of the details bit.ly/PCentact.

The Ed-Tech Twist:

Here is where Ed-Tech comes to the rescue, the I highly encourage the “demonstrations” be digital in some form.  The twist is the students can choose nearly any digital form they wish. I suggest things like Tellegamis, screen casts, YouTube videos and the like.  I do allow students to present to the demonstration live utilizing a class activity, a short lecture, or present slides, etc. but I video (webcam) the demonstration for later use in the project. Remember this is material they have supposedly mastered at least once, for at least a short period of time, so what I am really doing beyond reactivating prior learning is setting a standard for the remainder of the year.

I have four core learning expectations in my classroom.

Students in my class are expected to independently research or investigate.  

Students in my class are also expected to utilize some level of digital technology as part of my flipped classroom and larger learning methods.  

Students in my class must interact and work with each other in a variety of ways.

Finally, students in my classroom are expected to be able to demonstrate, explain, present, apply, and constructively critique mathematical methods and concepts.

The beginning of the year demonstrations described above help me set these standards from the outset, from researching missing knowledge of previous material, to allowing me to see their level of digital literacy, to practicing demonstration and evaluation techniques on material with which they should have some comfort. This is all accomplished in 4 to 6 class days.  While some argue that is 4-6 class days not spent on new material, I argue that it will be time spent on review or at minimum establishing classroom practice regardless.

Higher accountability:

Students have been trained to have teachers “teach” (read lecture exclusively) and “give grades” (read measurements consistent with a students perceived academic standing “My child is always an ‘A’ student”).  Breaking this cycle is very tough and so for this demonstration at the beginning of the year I appeal to a higher accountability…peers. Once the demonstrations are finished and submitted I spend two days training students in peer review.  The goals are simple by having 1st hour review work from 5th and 7th hour and vice versa we can have students learn to find and assess the message within the 5-9 minute demonstration.  Questioning technique, training to listen or watch for information, expression of opinion in a constructive fashion, and many other skills we only wish students would utilize when listening to a teacher can be addressed.   Students will take great pains to carefully evaluate all aspects of the demonstration of a peer while nearly tuning out the presentation of a supposed “expert” teacher.  Students know this about themselves and in turn understand the standard their peers will be holding them to, thus increasing the quality of the work for all involved.  Some of my favorite creations are websites for calculus with embedded video http://verminsupreme2016.weebly.com/.   Zaption interactive videos http://zapt.io/tacg4dqc , classic slides screen casts, and new this year (and not even finished) some PowToons using cartoons to convey the message. See the link at the bottom for some of the examples and more as they are added.

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Interaction is key:

What makes the logistics of this project doable is the fact that students can use tech to research, tech to collaborate, tech to create, tech to curate, and share via tech to evaluate. The technology of working together without the restriction of similar time and space via Google Apps opens collaboration more broadly.  Creating a digital product means that it is more easily curated into student work libraries and easily shared. Using simple online forms students can evaluate and critique others with some degree of anonymity while being moderated by me for content and tone. In this way learning, or in the case of this review project re-learning, becomes a communal activity and an expectation of community and interdependence is developed.

Areas to grow:

Students create a wonderful catalog of work, come less wonderful but potentially the best a given student could produce, but once curated, my data shows it goes largely unused.  I need to find a way to make better use of their work and encourage repeated reference to the material.

A core tenet of my class is application but there is little application of the concepts demonstrated required by the project. I can tell myself that no one project hits every objective and that the year has 173 more days at the conclusion  but if application is core then application should be included.

Here is a link to the project explanation (the peer review component is given separately):

bit.ly/PCentact or bit.ly/CIIentranceactivity

Here is a link to my website that includes some example of student work in Calculus II and Pre-Calculus:


Please feel free to comment or critique either here on this page, on my blog at matthewtmoore.wordpress.com or via twitter @matthew_t_moore


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