Sunday, November 4, 2012

Math - Down to the Little Individualized Level

Quick Update ...

By happen chance, we discovered yet another great math website a few weeks ago and we have been using it faithfully ever since.

Moby Math < > allows each student to work at his/her own pace and level.  The initial diagnostic testing provides a starting point for each student and then the rate of progress is determine by the rate of standard mastery.  Since starting we have now completed 711 standards, completed 767 lessons, and answered 52,867 problems.  I also received a high level of support from parents during our recent conferences and am enjoying watching kids enjoy math once again.

I would also like to mention the developers have been very helpful and extremely responsive to thoughts and ideas for improvement.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The World At Their Fingertips

Skip: Initially, the most striking feature of the 45 minutes I spent observing this project was the purpose-driven attitude of the students. They entered the lab, logged on to PowerSchool to check their grades, did a quarterly reading assessment using STAR Reading, and then got to work on their states projects. There were no directions from Larry, and everyone was immediately engaged. During my 30+ years of observing K-12 students interacting with computers, I've rarely seen such self-responsibility. So often, computer lab time is spent trying to get everyone on the same screen at the same time and dealing with the behaviors that inevitably result when some students get there quickly, others not so quickly, and others who would rather play a game. In this case, every student made their own plans for using the time effectively, helping each other as needed.

Larry: As Skip mentioned, we attempt to utilize our time in the computer lab to the utmost.  At this time, we really have 3-4 projects or instructional zones occurring simultaneously.

  1. PowerSchool - Our district utilizes PowerSchool Premier as our student information database.  This allows students, parents, and teachers to view grade performance, both current and past.  I personally have adopted the practice of not going home until all work has been graded and entered for each academic day.  Admittedly, there are a few assignments that required more than one day to grade, but...
  2. Google Earth - At this time the students are in the process of building a Google Earth file (KML) that contains outlines and embedded information for the 50 states.  Each state is outlined and highlighted using the polygon tool and then specific state information is either copied/pasted or typed directly into the outline structure.  The students are basically seeing and creating the growth of the American states and observing westward migration and expansionism as they work.  Eventually we will re-color the states to reflect the Civil War as well as other historical events.
  3. Excel - While the students are building their Google Earth files, they are also using Excel to track progress of specific state information.  Eventually this will lead to our ability to sort a large amount of information using the features of Excel.  Along the way, we are also learning various text features in terms of fonts, colors, sizes, and attributes.
  4. Safari and/or Firefox - Lastly the students typically have 2 browser windows open in order to search information needed with their other projects.  They have learned by having two windows and sometimes three, they can search specific information in each window without having to lose other information.

All in all, 60 minutes of very focused time and attention.

Skip: This short video demonstrates some of the strategies that the students have developed to pursue their various projects. Most have 3 or 4 applications--Google Earth, Google Search, Excel, in tiled windows on the screen so that they can switch between them as needed.  Some students used extra time to start up Moby Math or and work on their math tasks. It was exciting to see how independent and focused they all were during this period.

These students have the world at their fingertips, literally and figuratively.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Let's Talk Math

The problem with a one-size-fits-all curriculum is that it rarely does. Some students are bored because the work is too easy or repetitive; others are lost or lack foundational skills required for success. Some students need minimal practice to perfect a skill; others need more time than is usually available. (We seem content to give those students low grades and move along.)

One of the great promises of mobile learning is the potential to allow students to learn when and where they want, at a pace that is both comfortable and challenging. There is also the potential to allow students to take responsibility for their own learning. This involves much more than finding the time and place to work--it means understanding your strengths and your needs and challenging yourself to perform in order to improve your skills.

Wouldn't it be extraordinary if each student could find that sweet spot between comfortable and challenging and progress accordingly?

After observing just six weeks of fifth grade, I'm seeing that situation develop in Mr. Mitchell's classroom when it comes to math instruction. The students have a variety of tools at their disposal to supplement and extend the regular math curriculum (which is implemented largely through a district-wide adoption of Everyday Math). These tools include Khan Academy,, Fast Facts, and recently Moby Math, all accessible through their class iPads and, significantly, through computers and mobile devices outside of the classroom.

There are two videos associated with this post. Together they give a compelling picture of math as it should be taught, from both the students' and the teacher's perspective.

In the first video, you'll see a remarkable conversation with three students who have been working at an accelerated pace in math. (There are others in that group, but only these three were available for an impromptu interview.) This is the first wave of such students--Mr. Mitchell made it clear to his students on the first day of class that his goal is to move everyone ahead as quickly as possible by paying careful attention to their needs and strengths and crafting programs that will get them there.

As in most cases, the fact that this program is working is a combination of technology and good pedagogy. It wouldn't be possible without technology, but the technology itself would do no good at all were it not for the thoughtful planning and prescriptive lessons and opportunities.

First, you'll hear from three students who have taken responsibility for their work and have developed an expert facility with the tools for learning. At 14 minutes it's a bit long, but it's worth listening to their comments about what works and what doesn't--and about the freedom to learn.

In the next video, Mr. Mitchell discusses the recent addition of Moby Math to his classroom tool chest. If you teach math, it's worth your time for his insights into how math can be taught to 28 students, all of whom are on different levels.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Heart to Heart Dissection

One of the benefits of living in Alaska is the abundant wildlife. Moose and caribou are common in the Interior, and both supply a significant portion of the protein consumed by many Alaskan families. This fall, we were fortunate to have two separate donations of ungulate organs as an aide to our human anatomy unit--two moose hearts, a caribou heart, and a moose kidney.

Last week, Mr. Mitchell dissected a moose heart and the kidney in front of the class to begin the anatomy unit. The goal was to give students some direct experience with the heart as a model for our study of the circulatory system. (See last week's post for some pictures.) This week, Mr. Mitchell's daughter Amy, a teacher candidate at UAF, dissected a second moose heart and a caribou heart while the students asked questions and documented the process with iPads and their own cameras.

Once the hearts were dissected, the students used Drawing box to create circulatory system diagrams and Keynote to collect the images (along with images they found online) to create reports on the circulatory system.

There were several iPads involved in the dissection. Ms. Mitchell used the excellent Visual Body app to project interactive 3D views of the circulatory system and the heart as an introduction. Her notes were kept on a second iPad at her station. A third iPad was used to project the dissection onto the class screen via the Apple TV, and a fourth streamed the event to a class at another school using FaceTime. Students also used iPads and their own devices to take videos or still shots, some of which may their way into their Keynote presentations.

We'll try to post a few of the Keynote reports at a later date.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Moose Heart Dissection

Once again we were fortunate enough to have a moose heart donated to the class for dissection. One might wonder, what does an iPad and a moose heart have in common but we were also able to accomplish the following:

1. Facetime broadcast with a 4th grade at a school in Fairbanks, 15 miles away.
2. Broadcast on the large screen at the front of the room using our Apple TV.
3. Provide a closer experience for those students traditionally watching up front.

Here's a few pictures ... Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Field Trip Photos

One of Mr. Mitchell's goals this year is to create an active interest in the world around them on the part of his students. iPads are an ideal tool for exploring and documenting that world. It's easy for the students to take photos, jot down or record observations, and use that information to think more critically about not only their environment but also on the process of observing and documenting that environment.

One of the objectives of the September 6 field trip to Chena Lakes was to see how students viewed and documented their experiences. Would they find interesting subject matter in an environment that was already familiar to most of them? Would they think about composition, color, and light when documenting that environment? Could they critically examine their work (on the bus ride home and back in class) and decide which observations were the most striking or appealing?

Here are some of the photos that the students picked from the hundreds that they captured that day. Click to enlarge.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Digital Complement Art

As you can see from Mr. Mitchell's previous post, the students have been using their iPads to explore digital art. But the lesson that Mr. Mitchell implemented was so much more than an art lesson. The students were participating in an engaging project that not only familiarized themselves with a tool that they will use throughout the year but that also worked to develop the kind of cooperative partnerships that will be necessary in a setting of 29 students sharing iPads in groups of two. Significantly, along with other lessons that Mr. Mitchell has developed in digital photography (including the rule of thirds, use of proper vocabulary, composition, cropping, etc.), the students are developing a sense of visual literacy that is increasingly important in the context of the information society.

What to look for in the video:
  •  Mr. Mitchell makes sure to introduce and reinforce vocabulary relevant to the project.
  • Students were given the direction to work out a plan so that both partners could complete the project. Virtually every group chose to work cooperatively rather than serially. You'll see many examples of peer coaching and collaboration.
  • The students did not simply copy Mr. Mitchell's example. They brought their own creativity to the project and learned from each others' work.
  • The students remained engaged and self-directed throughout the project, even when they were not in direct control of the iPad. Most chose to read when they were not working with their partner.
  • Even at this early point in the year, students seamlessly saved their work and emailed it to Mr. Mitchell as they completed it. Several students mailed multiple versions of their work as they made improvements or added ideas.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Art in the Digital World

Two weeks into the new year and the iPads are in action!

On Thursday this week we did a little bit of exploring using traditional art methods and supplies to create some watercolor paintings of birch trees.  After discussing terms like background and foreground, today we approached it using an iPad and the Drawing Box app.  Again students explored and create backgrounds and then using a series of "painting" tools, students erased, brushes, and drew birch trees.

Here a a few examples of today's "Digital Art Explorations".

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year!

At this time it appears that we will have 28 students arriving on Tuesday to begin the school year.  One aspect this year that will be slightly different than previous years is the amount of knowledge the students will arrive with.  Our school has now been piloting and progressing through our implementation for 2 years so the basic idea of mobile technology has taken place and now we get the opportunity of pushing it to new horizons.

So ... come along ... should be an interesting journey.

Mr. Mitchell