All summer it's been looming. Last week it was finally time to do something about it. I attended a training for new/newish AP teachers. And now, a collection of ideas that have resulted.

AP Community

  • Our instructor for the week knew what she was doing. A teacher of Calculus AB and BC for many years, and with a history of establishing successful AP programs from nothing. A task similar to what I have.
  • The most beneficial aspect was the fact that our instructor has been an exam reader for a number of years and gave all sorts of insight on just how brief an appropriate mathematical justification can be, and how the AP exam is way easier than it looks.
  • The AP Calculus community in Texas is full of all sorts of resources. The mathematics chair at the University of Houston started an effort to better support the AP communities in the state by starting Houston Area Calculus Teachers. It's a dual effort to support the needs of high school teachers and show college professors that yes, they are partly to blame for 50% failure rates.
  • The AP Calculus community in Texas is full of rock stars in its own right. It shows you how impossible it is to find every quality teacher out there. You would think the likes of TMC and the MTBoS movement would bring everyone out, but I would imagine that for every person attending TMC, there are 50 quality teachers who have never heard of it or any of the people who go.
  • AP curriculum is mired in the traditional. While covering the entire Calculus AB curriculum in four days, our instructor offered hints of good strategies. She was not a "here are the rules, memorize them" type person. Lots of leading to have the students develop theories on their own. Simultaneously, there were a lot of over-copied handouts and discussions about nitpicking students on points and being stingy with re-assessment. We did two less traditional activities (some f and f prime matching, 3D solid construction) that BLEW EVERYONE AWAY as I sat there thinking "math class can be like this all the time you know."

Structuring

  • Running a Calculus class is going to have to be different than my recent approaches.
  • The scope of the curriculum is really narrow when you think about it, and after scanning it many times it seems like it's organized well.
  • Homework is going to be necessary, but not "1 hour a night" necessary.
  • Students are going to use two notebooks I think, one for notes/practice/activities, and the second for official assignments.
  • An AP modeled exam is going to happen every six weeks. It seemed pretty clear that free response questions are where you really learn what a student knows.
  • Desmos and TI are going to have daily showdowns. TI skills are necessary for the minimal calculator sections of the exam, but Desmos will be there to make them modern mathematicians. Graph manipulation skills should be universal, regardless of interface.
  • My SBG system needs to be altered significantly. Calculus doesn't seem to like being constrained into an easy to manage topic list (and the material only lasts until March). Given the nature of the AP Exam, I want flexibility to hold students accountable for material at any point in the year. Conceptual thinking is such a major focus too, and that needs to be assessed in a way that works well. I think I know what this looks like, but I haven't finished the prototype yet.

An exciting future is in store. Expect this course to be featured prominently here this year.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon

Not long ago I mentioned how beneficial a 180 Blog can be professionally. Personally, it has the side effect of giving you tons of action shots from your classroom throughout the year. Every so often you'll hear someone mention that student work outside on the wall doesn't tell the whole story.

This year I combed through my photo collection to make a fun poster.

I picked out 80 of the best pictures (and secret selfies the kids thought I wouldn't find) from the collection and assembled them on this 24" x 36" sheet. It took an hour or two of fiddling in Illustrator. Printing it cost about $40. You could do a cheaper version by running off the 4 x 6 prints and taping them down (about $20), but that would take up a lot more space. These photos are 2 x 3.

It looks amazing in person.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon

Summertime means maintenance time and a chance to refresh the iPad fleet based on what worked last year and the types of tasks that have been worthwhile.

Let's run through how our finalists were selected.

1. Google Drive

Used for getting material off the device and viewable on a computer. Each iPad is logged in to a generic Google account I've made for this purpose. Works well.

2. Google Docs

Drive no longer has the docs and sheets components included. Google chose to make them separate apps. When you sign into Drive with an account, these two apps will use that same information, no need to login twice. Though I don't use them much, our students save all their English/Social Studies writing to Drive, so letting them sign in on my devices is a quick way for them to print an essay or whatever.

3. Google Sheets

Replacing Numbers. Though I've yet to find a good use for a spreadsheet that can't just be done with a pencil.

4. Adobe Ideas

Solid sketching app. Now that Desmos supports image overlays I don't need the layering capability of SketchBook Express. Ideas can export to Drive whereas Sketchbook could not. Having them both on the device was confusing.

5. Pages

Useful here and there. Some projects were accented well by students typing and printing headings from Pages. It's also a good way to put multiple images on a sheet to save paper when printing. If you print an image directly from Photos, it will use a full page no matter the physical size.

6. TI-Inspire CAS $29.99

Only here because I picked it up for $5 a number of years ago and the calculator function replicates a TI-89 rather well. We'll see if it sticks around for version four.

7. PCalc $9.99

A scientific calculator with a long development history. Started life as a Mac app and spawned an excellent iOS version. Early returns indicate large class sizes, so I may not have enough TI-84s to go around. This and TI-Inspire can help fill in the gaps.

Not a lot of flash. Simple apps that support simple workflows. No electronic flash cards here.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

This article was originally published May 30, 2014 in The Loop Magazine, reprinted here with permission.

What questions come to mind when you look at this picture? Likely, you want to know the value of the coins. How long did you spend on the question? Did you make a guess first, or start counting the coins instinctively? How did the final answer compare with your expectations?

One simple picture, a dozen questions. As a point of comparison, consider if the picture were replaced with a block of text.

Jerry has 5 quarters and 2 nickels. Steve has 11 dimes, 15 pennies, and 2 quarters. They would like to buy candy bars that cost 75 cents each. How many candy bars can they afford?

Are you as interested in the second scenario?

What was different, though? Both have the same requirement of the student: determine the total amount of money available. The picture lets the student ask the question. There’s no prompt. It’s just a picture of some coins. With the textbook problem, the question is spelled out. All the necessary information is stated and an answer is expected. The student isn’t given the opportunity to wonder, to determine the necessary information, to generate the affordability discussion organically.

My education career started by prompting students with blocks of text. I was taught that way and the students had come to expect that and did not protest. Three years ago, I tried it the non-traditional way. I opened up the picture of coins. I asked no questions. I just waited. Thirty-seconds. A minute. The classroom exploded with discussion as thirty individuals suddenly had cause to ask “why?” Loud protests erupted when I would not reveal the answer. Thirty individuals, hooked on a math problem, dying for the answer.

Education is a tough issue. Everyone has an opinion because everyone had to go through the system. Everyone falls back on the way they were taught. Most of the time, everyone has no problem with the way they were taught and expects the same or better for their children. If the SAT score checks out in the end, the parent is satisfied.

Generating quality education engages an entire new set of opinions. Everyone knows how to crack it. More homework, less homework, more spending, less spending, and of course, technology. Lots of technology. Technology will disrupt education, they say. Students can learn what they want, when they want with the right technology. There’s a video for everything, and according to vague research, it works.

Well the jury may still be out, but the statistics are in, the statistics are showing in all aspects of education, computers are helping dramatically in terms of comprehension of information, in terms of the ability to develop analytical thinking, basic skills like math functions, etc. In just about all the ways of measuring these things, all the kinds of things you want out of education are in fact increased when you do use computers.

Sounds like something you could read today about Sal Khan or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Or a speech from a school board member that just approved a one laptop per child program. Or pulled from a press release announcing a lucrative iPad contract. Yet, it’s a quote from Computer Chronicles in 1991.

It seems easy to fix things with the right technology investment. Technology can be bought. It can be shown to concerned parents and city officials. It makes your school look forward thinking. Students are getting necessary 21st century skills thanks to the computers. Higher test scores are around the corner thanks to the computers. Students love every minute of their modern education experience thanks to the computers. Buying technology is great. Students using the technology is great. But how are they using it? How are the learning experiences different? What are they doing that’s not a derivative of outmoded instruction? Students reading blocks of text on a screen is no improvement over reading blocks of text in a book.

Last fall Apple revamped its Education page. It features testimonials from teachers using iPads in the classroom and has a few videos from schools that have deployed the devices at a large scale. All of the material is designed to show you what’s possible with iPads and Macs in the classroom. Students will be filled with awe, wonder, and be ready for the 21st century if someone just buys them an iPad. Seriously, look how they love using iMovie.

Study the videos closely though. Specifically, the tale of Burlington High School in Burlington, MA. Students do revolutionary things like sit silently at their desk (1:03), take notes about a paper textbook (1:25), take a picture of a transparency on an overhead projector (2:10), add notes to a digital version of a textbook (3:51), and sing from PDF sheet music (4:29)

Nothing is disruptive about these tasks. Students still experience school the way they always have. A teacher will speak for a while, students write down what they say whether or not they’re interested, and I will be quiet while I do it. No discussion with the teacher and very limited discussion with peers. Taking notes on an iPad does not change taking notes into a more engaging activity.

How do you break this cycle? How do you turn a classroom into an actual engaging place? How can you take something like an iPad and let it support new and interesting projects without just replicating the blocks of text, note-taking, and worksheets?

It starts with a picture of coins. In broader terms, tasks with a low barrier to entry. Tasks that engage some fundamental need in the student to find out more. Tasks that generate questions which may or may not have simple answers.

In my classroom, it starts everyday with the work of Andrew Stadel. Mr. Stadel teaches middle school teacher in California who noticed a deficiency in student number sense. Feeling the lack of number sense undermined the other objectives of his curriculum, he started posing questions to the students with pictures, similar to the coins. One day it’s a small tape measure. How long is it? The next a larger one. Now, how long is that? Next week it might be the number of lollipops in a bag. Each day a new question. Each day a simple demand of the student: give me your best guess. Sometimes it kicks off a discussion. Sometimes the room doesn’t accept the answer. Middle school students, fighting with one another about math. Imagine.

The experiment was so successful, Mr. Stadel organized the challenges into estimation180.com, a site that allows you to play along at home. Or in my case, start every day with a way to get the room talking.

Guessing the length of a tape measure usually has nothing to do with our lesson for the day, but after three months, my students wouldn’t start class any other way. In ten years, encouraging their ability to estimate will prove its usefulness more often than the day’s logarithm problem set.

Last November, some seventy days of estimating later, I turned the table. It was now the students’ turn to design a math task worthy of Mr. Stadel and his estimation project. Our Estimation Wall would be our love letter to how much we enjoy starting class. This simple activity, producing a picture worthy of someone’s attention, was going to shine thanks our classroom technology infrastructure.

Technology in my classroom starts in February 2011. My school district migrated to a gradebook and lesson plan system that lived on the web, removing dependence on the standard issue computer. The MacBook Pro that came next was just the start. iPads came to the room in August 2012 through a district initiative to put four in every classroom. Four iPads for thirty students is no way to reach the products’ potential, so I went looking for more. As of January 2013 I have twenty-two iPads: eight district issued, seven donated—a combination of family and DonorsChoose.org, a Kickstarter for teachers—and the remaining seven were purchased personally by me. The best and worst feature of the Apple Store is how casually one can buy four iPad minis at once.

As if that’s not enough, the MacBook Pro at the center of the room broadcasts its message through an eight port HDMI splitter to one 60-inch television, one 40-inch televsion, three 32-inch televisions, one 22-inch Wacom Cintiq, and one 22-inch desktop monitor. Did you know teenagers don’t like wearing their glasses? Since 2011 around $15,000 has been invested in this room. Amazon Warehouse Deals doesn’t have a better customer.

After three years of buying iPads, televisions, and cables, the Estimation Wall is the project designed for this infrastructure. You might be confused. Why aren’t we making instructional videos in iMovie? Where’s the Keynote presentations? A giant guessing game? This is the ultimate 21st century project?

Technology in the classroom should serve to enhance great ideas. It should not BE the great idea. Progressing through a worksheet on an iPad is still progressing through a worksheet. Making a tutorial with iMovie is no better than talking to the student next to you with a pencil. Designing a task with a low barrier to entry, that leaves someone begging for the answer, that is the challenge to face. An iPad serves to enhance the result.

The technology skills that built the Estimation Wall were forged during the course of our normal curriculum. It is necessary at times for math students to solve math problems. In the marketing material, iPads in math class involve watching tutorials, making tutorials, or completing digitized problem sets. That’s not a complementary use case. My students solve problems with pencil and paper, cutting and taping problem sets into a notebook, a textbook they build themselves. To enhance our ability to do algebra, the iPad and its high resolution screen gives us the ultimate graphing calculator interface. Through the use of the app Desmos—also available on the web at desmos.com/calculator — my students make connections between the manipulation of terms, and the intersecting graphs they represent. After some tutorials with AirPrint, we no longer rely on 1-bit calculators or poorly done hand graphs.

The requirements of the Estimation Wall were simple: design two connected tasks that require someone to make a guess. The items in the picture should not be easily counted, and any hints should be obscured as best as possible. The answer should be provided in a separate picture.

Two days of class time were set aside to complete the activity, roughly two and a half hours. My students brought any necessary objects to class on these days. All the iPads were available to take pictures. Students spent their time framing the picture properly, adjusting their objects just so, and double checking they didn’t give away the answer. When ready, they snapped a picture with the iPad. Without my intervention, students sent their pictures via AirPrint to my Brother color laser printer and grabbed them. A few chose to type their questions and answers in Pages. The rest was a sea of colored paper, scissors, and glue.

Technology was the complement that simplified our task. Students didn’t need a printer at home. I didn’t need to take them to the library. We didn’t have to settle for black and white. Nobody ran an impressive app. Some touched an iPad for as little as five minutes. After two and a half hours, we had the coolest addition to the school.

Technology in the classroom has a place. iPads and Macs are a great way to add modern experiences to learning. But the modes we use to provide learning are not any better in digital form. I cannot imagine a better time to be teaching, to have the internet at your disposal at all moments of the day, to not be limited to the feature set of a dry erase board. Technology and paper can co-exist. Let each shine in their own way. Real education disruption starts when a teacher isn’t afraid to throw out the traditional, regardless of how many iPads are in their classroom. I solved math problems on an Apple //e in 1992, the students of 2014 deserve something better.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon
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A silly thing I do to amuse myself. I always had a thing for titles. It started with random essays in high school government, continued through college English, and went dormant until I started writing tests for a living. Few students notice it, and usually not until the end of the year when they sit back and look at the collection.

You may have noticed them if you've ever glanced at my posted materials. All in one place, the test titles for this year's Algebra II batch:

Not lying, spent like over a minute thinking up some of these.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon

A year ago I embarked on a wild idea. Algebra II as a subject is taught in a broken way. The goals of the project:

  • Students can recognize an equation of any function type at a glance
  • Students are comfortable manipulating parent functions of any type
  • Students aren't scared of decimals or 10-step solutions
  • Students can connect algebra manipulation with a graph
  • Students don't think there's anything special about an inequality

I wrote a plan and spent a school year making it up as I went along. What's practice look like? What do the assessments look like? How extensive will we study rationals?

It was an experiment in every aspect. I never knew what was going to happen more than a day or two in advance. As if changing the entire curriculum wasn't enough, I tasked these students with two ambitious projects. That I made up randomly.

Estimation Wall? Improv. Algebra Wall? Improv.

All I can say is that the experiment was a complete success. The kind of algebra these students were doing at the end of the year was unthinkable a couple years ago in an academic-level class. In certain aspects we were beyond a PreAP level.

And now you can try it yourself!

My Algebra II resources have been very popular this year. If you've found your local Algebra II resources lacking, mine have been freshly updated with everything you need to approach Algebra II in this excellent way.

SBG Assessments? Check. Practice? Check. Activity Ideas? Check. Final Exams? A formalized outline of the curriculum you can use to start a meeting with your Algebra II team? Check.

Before you get too excited, there are some shortcomings. I did not meet all of my goals. You should know in advance that:

  • I could've done a better job with inequalities, students were ok with the mechanic but I have this nagging feeling they never conceptually understood x = 3 vs x > 3
  • I never got to conic sections, like, at all
  • I don't like the names I used for my assessment standards, students were confused and the SBG system was kind of compromised as a result
  • I covered systems of equations without ever calling them systems of equations
  • I never stressed simplifying radicals, I had them fiddle with decimals instead
  • I barely talked about factoring, my students even rejected it in favor of the quadratic formula, and I never touched it when dealing with rationals
  • I could've included more material to enforce domain and range, I introduced it and tried to reinforce when discussing the boundaries of solution regions, but many students found it to be a struggle, and I have no idea why
  • I didn't stress complex solutions a lot, and I never got into the mechanics of complex numbers
  • I didn't discuss rationalizing denominators or complex conjugates
  • I only scratched the surface of polynomials, it was relegated to a vocabulary unit

That means there's room for improvement. Due to the needs of my department, I won't be teaching Algebra II in the future. But, the experiment gave me a much better understanding about how the topics of algebra connect. As a result, the lessons learned here will have an impact on how I teach Pre-Cal and Calculus.

On the off chance you're going to TMC14, the results of this experiment will be discussed in the Algebra II morning sessions.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

A couple years ago TI brought its Nspire platform to the iPad. During the first week of release it was on sale for $5, so I figured what the heck. I fiddled with it for a bit, but found it lacking. I noticed some time ago that my copy of the app updated itself to the latest version and that it seemed less clunky than before. Could this be a worthwhile addition to my iPad library? Let's see.

Experience

There are two versions of the app, TI-Nspire and TI-Nspire CAS (no clue what the differences are). To purchase a new copy now costs $29.99, regardless of which version you pick. Per standard iOS use terms, using the same Apple ID you can put this on 10 devices. If you have a class set of iPads available, that's a pretty cheap startup cost. Certainly cheaper than trying to buy stand alone Nspire calculators ($140 - $180 each), and way easier to use.

Nspire is a file based calculator system. You don't switch to the graphing or calculator modes, you create a graphing or calculator document. The intended output is like a slide deck, each slide having some math function associated with them. There are sample files included to show you the types of products you can create. There are lessons to download. Navigating is ok. Often there are no hints about what some buttons do. There's also an irritating feature I'll get to later. There is readily accessible help, but it's simplistic. I don't feel like I could create something like their sample lessons by simple intuition or using the help files.

Pro

The calculator is really full featured. It can do everything a TI-89 is capable of, and a little more. When playing with it, I got to thinking this might be the go to tool for my calculus students, since it has robust calculus features.

The calculator keypad is pretty easy. It puts advanced functions like limits, integrals, etc in easy reach. There are tons to choose from (maximization, minimization. etc) if you tap the wrench button. Buttons with a line at the top have options. Instead of having to change between degree and radian mode, you can specify the unit by affixing it to the end of your number with the angle button.

Of course, it wouldn't be TI without being a little fiddly. It has options for exact (fraction), approximate (decimal), or auto when displaying answers. How it decides is a bit of a crapshoot. No different than how it behaves on a TI-89.

I wish I knew how to use the "H2O" and "+ - / *" buttons. Tapping them does nothing. The help is of no help. They might work in a different type of document? This calculator keyboard is standard across all document types.

The graphing feature has a few nifty tricks. It can handle two or three condition piecewise functions. Graphed functions can be adjusted with your finger and the equation will update itself automatically. Function labels can be dragged around. You can change the window with finger pinches, they did get that right.

You can summon the tables for all graphed functions and display them side by side. This converts the slide from a graph type to a lists/spreadsheet type.

Graphics can be inserted for overlays. TI includes some stock images, or you can import items from the camera roll. The image will always take up most of the frame. The axes can be manipulated with your fingers to get the scale correct.

The TI-89 functions come into play here as well. Along with the standard minimum, maximum, zero type functions you're used to, you can also dynamically compute the area under a curve. You have to set an initial lower and upper bound, but afterwards you can drag the end points and the total will update. There are lots of other analysis tools available.

I didn't play with it as much, but there is a Geometry document type. This lets you create any kind of figure. You can choose from a series of regular shapes, or define them with points. For instance, you can make conic sections with five points. Points can be manipulated after the fact and the shape will change to a parabola or hyperbola as necessary to keep all five points connected.

Con

There are negatives. Within the geometry and graph document types, it is very frustrating to delete anything. Sometimes you can hold and release to invoke a "delete/rename" pop up like cut/copy/paste. Sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes you just have to spam the undo button. There is no way I can tell to remove a slide once you've created it. You can rearrange the order by pressing and holding them on the left. No amount of tapping or holding or double tapping seems capable of giving you the option to delete. Help is no help here. Export options have improved, but there's a catch.

The share button implies you can send the current slide to Dropbox or Google Drive. Not true. This will attempt to export the entire document in its native format (a .tns file, only readable with TI's horrid desktop software or another Nspire device). To get a file that can be opened elsewhere much easier, you have to use the export menu to create a PDF or series of images. Once you open the PDF or photo set you can send THAT to Dropbox or Google Drive.

Let's say you invest time in creating a nice slide deck for your students to progress through. Deploying that to all your copies of CAS is only possible by syncing the devices with a computer. It uses the outdated iTunes documents method for import.

Conclusion

This software is not designed with a connected student body in mind. It's intended to be a silo for one user's documents. Sharing stuff is hard. Importing stuff is hard. All the fiddly problems with creating items (especially the obtuse delete "feature") would make me think twice about creating documents in this app. If you look at it as a cheap alternative to a handheld TI calculator, that could be a good (and limited) use case. The graphing module is ok enough that it would be worth it for the advanced calculus stuff to me. Desmos is lacking there. Manipulating a curve with my finger is a nice feature. A bank of Desmos sliders is not quite the same experience.

Like a digital textbook, this is TI trying to staple its outmoded methods onto a device that can do so much more.

This one's ok, I guess. Solid B minus. I could see the calculator module being useful and the graphing module as kind of useful.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon
TagsiPad
3 CommentsPost a comment

As far as site traffic goes, my photo collection is the least popular. Did you know I have a photo collection? Seriously, go look at my photo collection.

Purpose

Traffic concerns miss the point though. Chronicling my school year in pictures is the most valuable thing I do for myself. And really, I am the primary audience for this whole endeavor. A 180 Photos collection helps me immensely when I'm trying to remember what happened last week or serves as a spring board for a future post. Most importantly, it helps demonstrate what life is like in my classroom to someone who can't see it everyday, like my appraiser. Our appraisal system has minimal walk throughs. Sometimes they'll catch something cool, or they might just observe how you administer a test. When prompted to document behaviors that were not observed, I go immediately to my photo collection. Technology integration, student engagement, you name it. It's there somewhere.

How To

It's an easy thing to do, but it can be tricky to establish a rhythm. Find something, anything, to take a picture of during each school day. It doesn't have be lesson related.

Day 136

See what I mean?

And you don't have to capture EVERY day. Sometimes there's just nothing, or you forget. That's ok. In 2012-13, I captured a photo on 138 out of 178 school days. This year I managed 154 out of 178. It just takes a little practice.

I do a very easy version of 180 Blogging. Many super awesome people do a great job:

Noschese180 - the godfather of the 180 Blog from Frank
180 Days @ NHS - my co-worker goes the picture gallery route
Physics180 - notorious MHG posts a picture and a brief explanation of the activity
ShahKinnell180 - the great Shah teamed up with a co-worker

Conclusion

Write it down as a goal for next year. Even if you don't post them. You'll be thankful when it comes time to reflect. After a few days you'll reach for the camera automatically.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

This is a companion piece to: The $1 Textbook and More on The $1 Textbook

See Also: Sarah Hagan's Make Note Taking Fun and Interactive

Prior pieces dive into the theory of what makes notebooks such a successful tool in my classroom. In this year's (shorter) iteration, I'll go through a few questions that I get asked frequently whenever I present on the subject.

How are they structured?

I impose a few items that are not negotiable. SBG tracking charts in the front, old tests in a special pocket in the back, and formal classwork permanently attached with the associated work somewhere nearby. I use duct tape along the spine to distinguish class periods. In the INB world I'm known as the "no frills" guy. I don't do foldables. I don't do structured notes. I don't do a table of contents. I set a few ground rules but leave a bulk of the organization to the student. You are free to dictate different terms here.

How do you grade them?

I check SBG sheets every three weeks. I will check classwork at random. I try to take 4-5 classwork checks in a six weeks. I do this all in class, usually making a stop at each table and asking for the books one at a time. I plan around the notebook checks, so usually the students have something to do while I'm walking around. Sometimes I'll hand out an assignment with a "I'm checking in 20 minutes" qualification. SBG sheets are worth 10% and classwork is worth 20%. I often call these "health inspections" where the notebook has to pass the shake test, meaning there are no loose papers and everything stays inside.

Here's an acceptable example of classwork:

The handout is attached with tape and the associated work is right next to it. There is not always a formal handout. Sometimes I scribble problems on the board and have them copy. Work is graded on a completion basis: 100/80/70/50/0. Students who get poor marks on classwork are free to show me a better version later on. It's on them though, I write down the 50 and keep it that way unless they prompt me.

Do you take them home?

Some people may want more time to examine a notebook. It's not always possible in a few seconds to see if a student completed all 12 problems or just 8. Maybe the student is trying to trick you by pointing to work that looks similar to what you're checking but is not really what you want. If you're dealing with younger students or if you're trying to establish protocol early, you may want to do more extensive checks. I don't recommend doing it often (or at all) because the mountain of notebooks will be REALLY intimidating. I've tried this routine a few times and hated it. Don't even think about lugging 100+ notebooks home. Just don't. If your assessments are doing the job, they are what will really help you determine who isn't getting it.

Do the students take them home?

If they want to. My classes are structured to let students work a majority of the time, so I have not found homework necessary. Some students like having their stuff with them, and most could care less. To ensure maximum participation, I keep the notebooks in tubs.

I go with 30 qt. tubs and the aforementioned duct tape system. This size tub handles a class of 30 without a problem. The duct tape kept us at a 0% loss rate.

What if a student doesn't have it one day?

This will happen sometimes. Because of the tubs it is super rare. Since I set the expectation that notebooks are a mandatory part of the class day, a student without one will borrow paper and make a mental note to put it in the proper place later. I'm not sure how well they remember, but this situation is so infrequent it doesn't matter.

What needs to change to support these?

You have two logistics problems. First, EVERYTHING you intend to handout should be considered for notebook size. Full sheets of paper are not ideal. Students will usually fold them in half dutifully, but this should be an exception. You can make anything notebook size if you think hard enough. Second, you'll need lots of adhesive contraptions. Glue sticks are ideal. Clear tape second (the dispensers tend to lose vital pieces). Staplers dead last (kids are SO GOOD at breaking staplers). Poke around Bulk Office Supply to stock up on scissors and glue. A 100 pack of 0.75 oz glue sticks lasts a LONG time.

What about absences?

If a student is absent for a notebook check I will go to the tub and grab the absent notebook if it's in the tub. Sometimes it's sitting at the empty seat because a kind table mate got it before realizing the student was absent. If a student misses a bit of formal classwork often they'll get it the next day because they'll notice everyone has flipped to a paper they don't have. I really don't micromanage missing work though. I don't have time and every time I've tried it doesn't go well.

They can't all be this good, where are the bad ones?

At the end of the year I solicit notebooks from students to take on my road show. Naturally I do tend to show off the really exceptional ones, but in general all my students do a really good job with these. A few are kind of messy. At the absolute maximum I might have 2 or 3 kids (out of 130) who just don't get with the program. Their inability to manage this valuable resource is usually reflected by their assessment scores. You as the instructor just have to send the message that notebooks are important to you, and that the students don't have a choice. Frequent notebook checks help establish this really early. It'll help you make the practice routine as well. If you're new to this game and worried about failing, force yourself to do a weekly check. Write it into your lesson plans, or write it up on the board, whatever it takes. Notebook culture is possible in any classroom.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

To start: I don't recommend this project. The scale is something else and really needs to be teacher centered to pull it off in a reasonable amount of time (two weeks from script to premiere). The end result has always been worth it, but this year showed how monumental it can be to make a coherent film with a bunch of teenagers. If anything, this story is intended to show you what can happen if you're committed to iterating on an idea. Don't give up because the first attempt is crap, figure out WHY it was crap and recommit yourself. Let me tell you a tale...

Year One

Classes: 2
Equipment: 720p borrowed camera, library tripod, iMovie, MacBook Pro
Final Product: 5:47, 440MB; 2:37, 203MB

My second year teaching I had this morning class. They loved to dance. They drove me crazy. A contributing factor to how mentally draining my second year was. This happened a lot:

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The afternoon class would find out about this and create responses. These dance battles continued for a week or two. Then I came to my senses and stopped it.

To appease their need to dance, I said sometime in the future we could make a more fleshed out version. That was the framework for the project. I typed up my thoughts in a little rubric. Some kid would be the director. Some kid would be the dance coordinator. Anyone who didn't want to participate could make posters or something. We needed five scenes, each one about a topic we'd covered during the year.

Verdict: meh, but a sign of potential. The kid director idea was terrible and the films are pretty incoherent. The posters everyone made were junk. The dances, those were fabulous.

Year Two

Classes: 2
Equipment: 1080p borrowed camera, library tripod, iMovie, 27" iMac
Final Product: 5:07, 788MB; 7:01, 1.08GB

I was going to be ready this year. We'd film for a week! I gave myself full creative control and wasn't going to let anyone cop out with a poster. I had just started organizing the room into discreet groups so I tried anything and everything to try out the group framework. In each class, I gave them the idea: a bunch of scenes, each vaguely about a topic we covered. Each group was responsible for fleshing out an idea around the scenes.

Verdict: better, the films were still kind of random, but each of them was funny. We even hacked together a decent plot in one of them. The quality of the sound left a lot to be desired. In the three days after we finished shooting the groups were supposed to make tutorial videos about the topic they picked earlier. This was my way of beefing up the intellectual content of the whole exercise. It was a bad idea. The tutorials were horrible.

Year Three

Classes: 3
Equipment: 1080p camera, Røde StereoVideo Mic, library tripod, Final Cut Pro X, Mac Pro
Final Product: 9:08, 1.35GB; 5:56, 870MB; 5:43, 835MB; 5:26, 804MB [bloopers]

Spurred by the success of year two, I knew these were going to be good. Now we start introducing some logistics: negotiating shooting locations, planning around AP tests, making arrangement for cameos, etc. We wrote the story the same way it was done the year before. The individual groups were responsible for a scene. This time, we found a way to tell a story, often needing to modify the original ideas heavily. I set aside two days to explicitly write the script. One class was so fond of their groups that the story revolved around the rivalry between purple table and blue table:

Verdict: now we're talking. Spending time on the stories really helped. One of them was a dud, but that had more to do with the personalities of the students involved. We were doing enough filming that the blooper real became its own entity. Previously they were incorporated into the individual films. Sound quality improved, but the stereo microphone had trouble (a school bus was idling nearby in one shot, kids still aren't loud enough). Tutorials were scrapped in favor of other projects.

Year Four

Classes: 4
Equipment: 1080p camera, Røde StereoVideo Mic, Røde boom pole, Røde NTG-2 shotgun microphone, H4N Zoom Recorder, sound technician, tripod, Final Cut Pro X, Mac Pro
Final Product: 5:26, 632MB; 6:54, 790MB; 7:43, 919MB; 6:12, 723MB; 7:52, 910MB [bloopers]

I was excited to make these the entire year. Each class had the right personalities to make it work and they did not disappoint. The biggest difference is we started with the story. All the classes had a foundation idea long before we started production. In little moments of downtime I would let them think out loud about their plot, knowing it would be beneficial. When it came time to write the script, we were way ahead of the game and discussed a story that was going to work and make sense from start to finish.

In case you're wondering: Avengers (top left), Cheating (top right), Dora the Explorer gets married (bottom left), and Selfie Addiction (bottom right).

Rather than force a scene around math, we let the scenes dictate what might be necessary. And it was subtle, little lines of dialog here or there, or a prop that involved a problem written on a little whiteboard.

We also heavily invested in costume design. OMG the props.

The big win was the investment in equipment. Everyone sounded lovely. I ran the camera with its microphone, and a couple students ran the separate recorder and boom mic. Honest to goodness sound technicians, creating mind blowing scenes like this:

day160.JPG

Verdict: just amazing. All four films were great. Premiere day was so much fun. The kids were so excited to be a part of it from start to finish. It's a lasting memory. But man, a half dozen times I had to stop myself and think about what I'd gotten into. Four movies to write, direct, film, and *gulp* edit. I saw the editing nightmare coming early (that whole external mic thing required a lot of syncing source files which thank goodness Final Cut manages like magic) and did a little blocking after every day of filming. When shooting was over all the movies were roughly blocked and the task of minute editing was not so intense.

Conclusion

Try this project with plenty of warning. It is a lot of work on your part. The kids were responsible for a lot of the ideas, but ultimately I had to have a very active role in the whole thing. It involved a lot of research on my part to learn about film making, audio/video equipment, and teaching myself to edit (and then spending about 10 hours editing). It was as much a learning experience for me as it was the students. This is NOT something where you can chill for two weeks while the students make something fabulous.

You and I are good at different things. You have lots of good ideas I'm sure. Do not throw them away because the first year didn't go as expected. Do not be afraid to invest time in tweaking. You don't make a full scale Avengers spoof your first time out. Keep pushing, never stop trying.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon