Friday, March 16, 2018

Gamification in the Classroom

            There are over 155 million Americans playing video games regularly. Chances are many of your students will be among these 155 million. To many parents, video games have a negative connotation that seem to have no value. The truth is that video games, in moderation, have many benefits. The gamers use many facts, tools, and information given to them to move on throughout the game. This makes it no surprise that some games can also be beneficial in your classroom.
            In our technology class, one of our favorite type of game is one that sets the students up against each other. If you have competitive students, as we do in Math 371, these types of games can be very beneficial. They can also be used for short quizzes, or exit tickets. One thing that we must be carful with when playing these is that we do not forget what we want our students to learn. Many of these games can teach the students speed, but is speed always important in math?
            Another type of gamification you can incorporate into your lesson plans are quests. During these, the students are given different questions, tasks, or projects to earn points. These are usually done throughout a semester or a month. They allow the students to work at their own pace but also allow your high-achieving students to work ahead. You can even create a fun tradition if you do it year in and year out.
            You can also use badges to reward your student’s learning. One advantage of this could be that not all badges mean the same for the students. A badge might signify an increase of a student’s grade, or an increased level of mastery. The badges will not only encourage the students in the classroom but will also allow the students to see where they are as far as understanding the content.

            In conclusion the main purpose of gamification in the classroom is to engage your students and create a deeper learning while having fun. Not only does it make it enjoyable for the students, it also makes it more fun to teach the content. I encourage every teacher to find a place in their lesson plans for gamification.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

How Twitter Became My PLN

Greetings students of Math 371!

I'm very excited to once again add to this blog.  Dr. Vestal asked me two years ago to post as a guest blogger.  I skimmed through my previous post and am happy that it's still relevant.  The revolution is as strong as ever.

I want to talk briefly about how Twitter has helped me become a better teacher. 

I first joined Twitter back in September of 2011.  It wasn't until the spring of 2014 that I started being active on Twitter and using it professionally.  Over the past four years, my use of Twitter has evolved into what I now consider my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  

I first started following some of the all-stars of mathematics education -- Dan Meyer, Andrew Stadel, and Dr. Vestal to name a few.  Over time, I've followed more and more people who I've either met, read about, or heard of via re-tweets and likes.

Each day, I spend between 5-10 minutes skimming through my Twitter feed, fishing for new ideas and resources.  Tonight's catch was okay, with a couple of potential keepers:

If there is a resource or idea that I like, I will simply send myself a direct message of the tweet.  If it is something really great, I'll implement the resource or idea as possible into my classroom.

Also, I will often times search #MTBoS and #iteachmath to see what I can find.  MTBoS stands for Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere, and it is a collection of math teachers who love to share, collaborate through Twitter, and meet in the summer at Twitter Math Camp (TMC).  I have never been to TMC, but I hope to go someday.  Only about 85 people can attend each year; there is a lottery and waiting list for those who don't get chosen to attend.

In addition to providing ideas and resources, Twitter can also provide answers to questions you might have.  For example, just tonight this gentleman had a question he posed to #MTBoS:

Within four hours, there were more than ten replies and a pedagogical conversation taking place about this particular topic.  These conversations can be extremely beneficial to teachers who are in small districts and have no other math teachers in their building to bounce ideas off of.

Over the past four years, I have borrowed dozens of ideas and resources from people on Twitter.  I'm always looking for ways to improve my teaching and being active on Twitter has helped me grow as a educator.  

If you're not on Twitter, I challenge you to sign up today and begin to grow your own network.  I'd recommend these people as a great place to start:
  • Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer)
  • Andrew Stadel (@mr_stadel)
  • Jon Orr (@MrOrr_geek)
  • Fawn Nguyen (@fawnpnguyen)
  • Michael Fenton (@mjfenton)
  • Kyle Pearce (@MathletePearce)
  • I Teach Math (@iteachmathAll)
  • Classroom Chef (@classroomchef)
  • Open Middle (@openmiddle)
  • Mark Kreie ;-)  (@kreiem)
There are many, many more very good people to follow out there.
Best of luck on your journey.  I'll be seeing some of you around my classroom!

Mark Kreie
Brookings High School Math Teacher

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Integrating Interactive Software in the Classroom; a Useful Tool or a Dangerous Crutch?

            I remember back in the days of my elementary education occasionally using computers that had a cathode ray tube monitor to play educational math games. There were games that involved representing fractions and identifying geometric shapes. We were allowed to play these fun games during recess if we would like, or occasionally they were part of an assignment. Throughout current classrooms, whether it be an elementary classroom, an 8th grade intro to algebra class, geometry, or even Calculus classrooms, these games and interactive applications are becoming a more popular tool. This has several students, teachers, and parents posing the following question. Are these games and applications a useful learning tool, or are they a dangerous crutch with the false perception of educational value? A strong argument can be made for both sides, but the fact of the matter is there are far too many variables to consider for a blanket case of both. To answer the question, one must examine these variables.

            First, the quality of the application must be examined by those who plan to use it. This also ties in with another variable, the effort that a teacher is willing to commit to incorporating an application in their classroom. Teachers must be willing to learn the program they are planning to use in depth, before they can successfully integrate it in their classroom. Sometimes these applications can become a crutch because a teacher sees something they think might be fun to use, but they don’t do enough research themselves. This can result in a couple of problems. Primarily, the quality of the application, and its usefulness might not be as good as intended or believed. Second, if a teacher doesn’t research the software enough they may not be able to answer any questions their students have, which halts learning and turns what could have been a productive lesson into an hour of fiddling around.

            Additionally, teachers must implement the application into their classroom in a manor that supports and fosters learning, rather than using it simply to fill an hour. This isn’t to say that using technology for an entire hour isn’t a good thing, but if a teacher just does this for the sake of killing a class period, then the lesson is a waste. The key component is finding ways to tie it into relevant curriculum. For instance, there is a game on Desmos in which students must plot two points that form a line, in a way that allows a set of balls to travel through a course and eventually reach a hole. This game could certainly take up an entire hour but at some point, it becomes repetitive and depending on how it is integrated, it might not be entirely useful. To maximize its effectiveness, consider the case of using it as a supplementary tool in an introduction to Algebra I classroom. In this particular case, the students might have just finished working with plotting points to form a line or creating a slope. If a teacher were to have students play this game after a lesson involving something like that, the learning becomes more enhanced and students benefit for a few reasons. The first is that students get to explore hands on, how their plotting of points to form a line manipulates objects. In other words, they get a hands-on experience of a real application to material they just learned. Activities like these also involve critical thinking, which is an incredibly useful thing for students to learn and practice. Lastly, it makes learning fun, which is something that can be taken for granted in a math classroom. This might be one of the most important aspects, because when something is fun, or relevant it becomes a great incentive to learn or practice more.

            The success of integrating games and software in a classroom is dependent on several variables. The most important variable however, is the teacher. A teacher’s willingness to research and practice with an application, find a way to incorporate it in their classroom that enhances learning rather than distracts from it, and make learning fun and applicable is the primary determinant of whether an activity can be beneficial or detrimental. So, is the use of interactive software and games a useful tool or is it a dangerous crutch?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Useful Technology in the Classroom

            Throughout high school classrooms, technology is being integrated more and more. In my education classes, we are learning about the do’s and don’ts of technology. The main point that I have taken away from this Technology for Math Educators course is that you need to make the technology you use in your classroom actually useful.
            Although technology can be a “fun” thing for your students to use in your classroom, if it is not challenging them, they will eventually just get bored. As a teacher, you need to incorporate technology that will be useful in your classroom. During our class time in this course, we have been assigned to teach about different mathematical apps that could potentially be used for our classrooms. Before taking this class, I might have said that it would be an okay idea to use most of them in my classroom. However, when I took a step back and actually thought about what the apps could do to help my students learn a subject I had a different thought on them. Most apps that I have reviewed wouldn’t actually benefit my students at all.

            Most of the mathematical apps that I have looked at for this class are apps that would just be “time consumers” in a class. What I mean by time consumers is that they are apps that won’t teach your students anything new, or even allow them to discover anything new. However, I have found some great apps that I intend on using once I become a teacher. Some of these apps include: Desmos Graphing Calculator, Geogebra Classic, and stats!. If you have never looked into these apps, I would encourage you to research ways that would allow your students to discover new things that you might not be able to cover in your lecture time as a teacher.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Flipped Classrooms

              Many teachers are experimenting with the idea of flipped classrooms. Studies show that this type of structure causes more help to the students than harm. I have mixed feelings about flipped instruction but exploring new methods are important, especially when they hold proof of being beneficial to students. Flipped instruction is basically the opposite of the traditional lecture style of teaching. The lecture portion is done outside of class and the activities and homework are completed in class.

              I have some concerns about flipped instruction but overall think it is a step in the right direction. Many educators assume that every student has access to technology outside of the school setting. While this is true for most students, there are still some without access. Having flipped instruction would make it difficult for these students to watch lectures or other videos and online readings outside of class. Also, students already spend a large chunk of their time in class and may be unwilling to watch lectures made by their teacher on top of that.

              On the other hand, the flipped classroom method has many benefits. In the traditional style, students’ number one complaint is homework. When students are left to work on their homework at home without any aid, they tend to become frustrated when they come to something they don’t understand, resulting in them giving up. In flipped instruction, the students are with the teacher when working on homework and can ask for assistance when they get stuck. This keeps students from becoming discouraged and helps the teachers get a better idea of what their students are not understanding. Teachers can also give immediate feedback to students and can reteach material if needed. This style of teaching also allows for more discussion in class. Students have more opportunities to ask questions and the teacher can ask more thought provoking questions to expand learning.

              As with any teaching method, flipped instruction has its pros and cons. With our advancement in technology, this method makes more sense than the traditional lecture style. Having students watch lectures outside of class at their own pace eliminates the one size fits all idea. Students learn better through activities than through lecture and incorporating technology outside of the classroom allows more time for activities. Flipped instruction is the step in the right direction of reevaluating old methods and forming better ways to advance and support student learning.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Math: A Love-Hate Relationship

Over the course of my life, I have had my fair share of struggles when it comes to mathematics. It could be so frustrating when I would spend hours upon hours on a single question, with little progress towards understanding the material. However, there would be days I found enjoyment in math, solving problems that required a higher level of understanding with ease. As this cycle of attitudes towards mathematics continues in my life, I find myself believing this is the groundwork for having a passion, and in this case, being passionate about math.

To offer this idea in a different context, I sometimes compare my relationship with mathematics to my favorite football team, the Minnesota Vikings. They can have a great season with high chances of winning in the playoffs, but can also leave me frustrated, when they lose in a way only the Vikings can. The same goes for math. One moment I am ‘winning’ and the next I am ‘losing’, but, in the end, it still draws me in and I continue to be a fan of mathematics no matter the outcome. By understanding this idea of a love-hate relationship, it is easy to see how this applies to several areas of a person’s life, especially to his or her areas of interest.

Although it is interesting to consider how math is a love-hate relationship, as a future math teacher, I cannot let the thought end there. The posing question to be asked is what is the student’s relationship with math? I cannot count how many times I have heard the words ‘dislike’ and ‘math’ uttered in the same sentence. It appears to be the frustration that is most notably expressed when using mathematics, and understandably so, for it is a challenging subject. Frustration is a normal outcome when going through challenges, but, by persevering through these difficulties, one can succeed by learning from his or her endeavors.

The goal is not to make the student ignore their frustration, but rather to help him or her develop that balanced relation with math through recognizing its potential. One possible way to achieve this may include a lesson directed at a student’s interests to help with broadening their understanding of certain applications and uses. I believe it important to share one’s own difficulties with math as well as the success and enjoyment. When only the success from experience is expressed, it can be displayed as to not having failure in math, when we all know that is not true. By letting students know everyone has those ups and downs, it allows for the students to realize we all have frustrations with math, creating a mutual understanding and connection with the students. Having this common ground may help students to reconsider their feelings towards math and move from frustration to being interested.

I know I will always have this “love-hate” mentality towards math, and, therefore, I know my students will experience one or both feelings towards math as well. Knowing where the students stand and how I can relate to those situations will not only benefit my students’ appreciation for mathematics, but also develop my path as a teacher.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Try Something New!

Living in the Digital Era, we see many uses of technology in the classroom. For many students, technology is used during every class period. Whether this be writing on a Smart Board or looking something up on their phone. Educators cannot shy away from the fact that technology is becoming a big part of the classroom and it is benefiting our students as well. 

Some teachers are reluctant to use technology because they are afraid that they will not be able to use it or that something will go wrong with the technology during their lesson plan. There is some very useful technology that is easy to use but that can also greatly impact our students. If you feel uncomfortable using technology talk to your school’s digital coordinator. They can show you in a matter of minutes how to run certain technology. You will also find that your students often know more about technology then you might. Ask the students if they know a simple solution to the problem. My sixth grade teacher designated someone to be tech helper for the semester.

Some teachers also believe the old saying that, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” These teachers are unaware of the advantages technology can have on their students. It is not only enjoyable for their students but is also a different way to expose students to the content. I encourage these teachers to communicate with other educators in their field to find an easy way to incorporate technology into their classrooms. After you find a few programs that work for you, be proactive in learning about them. Find different ways to incorporate them into your lesson plans. This is also beneficial because your students are already familiar with them.

My goal for the readers today is to try a new technology in your classroom. This might be one of the first pieces of technology you have used this year or might just be something different for your students. Either way you are guaranteed to learn from the experience and share that experience with other educators. Don’t be afraid to try something new!