Friday, February 24, 2012

Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt 3

I am in the third online unit of my hybrid/blended PD so wanted to give some feedback and updates on how things are going online.  For those of you who have been following my hybrid/blended professional development series on integrating technology into math instruction (see a listing of all posts in the series at the bottom of this blog), you will remember that we just finished our third face-to-face meeting a couple weeks ago.

My focus for this third unit (both f2f & online) is relevancy:
Lesson Three: Make the activities and learning relevant to the teachers every-day teaching practice. By providing activities that focus on learning the skills, how to integrate technology appropriately, and also cohere to the specific content and curriculum the teachers must follow, it is more likely that they will begin to change their own practice. If they can see the relevancy to their own daily experience, they are going to be more willing to implement new tools and strategies.
This current online unit is five weeks long, and while there is specific content teachers are assigned to do (watch videos, readings, and Sketchpad math activities) as they continue learning the software, learning and practicing instructional strategies, and learning specific math content and Common Core standards, there is quite a bit of personal choice involved. As in previous units, they must choose at least one lesson, using Sketchpad, to do with their students.  This means creating a lesson plan and providing feedback and student artifacts after the implementation. The difference in this unit is they can choose what lessons to implement rather than being given a specific lesson.  The lessons they choose can be specific to their classroom, their students, their content and their needs. (They find relevant lessons to their needs using Sketchpad Lessonlink, which provides ready-to-use Sketchpad lessons that they are searching for either by content, textbook, or even standard they may be currently teaching).

What I am finding so far this unit is much more excitement and a lot more sharing of activities and how the teachers are working with Sketchpad and their students.  Granted, I still have those participants who are not posting, but those that are seem to be so much more vociferous and energetic in their postings. They are really making connections to how the use of technology makes learning of mathematics engaging and more understandable for their students. Many seem to have reached a turning point, where the software is no longer the 'enemy' they are trying to fit into their teaching, but rather an amazing resource that is expanding their teaching and their students learning.  I think the biggest factor in this enthusiastic embracing of using the technology in their practice is the relevancy of lessons to what they are teaching.  They have found lessons that are making it easier for them to help their students learn what has to be taught right now.

This brings me to a question that came up in an #edchat I participated in this week on Twitter.  Jeffery Heil (@jheil65), in response to my tweet that "think this goes back to showing the direct relevancy to what they teach, how tech is a tool to support/enhance" responded "I agree, but relevant for whom? Tech might be necessary but perhaps not sufficient for student learning".  It was a great question, and if I look at what I wrote above in my Lesson Three, it might seem I am only thinking of the teacher, in terms of relevancy - their curriculum, pacing, standards, students' needs, etc.  But, Jefferey has had me thinking all week on relevancy for the students as well. I am finding, in the responses of the teachers in my online PD, they have focused on relevancy for themselves and their own teaching requirements, but also relevancy for their students as well, by providing opportunities to see, touch, and connect the mathematics to something visual or contextual.

Here are a few example comments from my online teachers which I think exemplify both teacher and student relevancy:
 "{Using the Sketchpad Activity {Graphing Quadratic Equations"} I really like the ability to easily use parameters to influence graphs. I like that there always seems to be several ways to accomplish the same task (like the use of sliders or +/- keys), as that allows us to better adapt to student strengths. I really like the self-correcting aspects of working in Sketchpad. If it is done right, it works the way it should, if not, it won't work and the troubleshooting (often where the real learning occurs) begins. I also like the ability to easily issue programming challenges to the students. This gives valuable insight into the way in which students approach mathematics."
"I like the real life application that was used in {How slope is Measured}. As I did this activity I wondered if students would explore beyond the guidelines. Would they question what it looks like if slope is the same but the coordinates are different. Would they want to explore even more possibilities for different staircases? Would they be able to transfer that knowledge over to the slope game and come up with some strategies to "stump" their partners. How slope is measured is a great activity for building understanding of the concept. This would provide students opportunities to explore and apply their understanding. Another way I might approach these two activities is to use the slope game as an explore activity, use measuring slope as a explore and summarize activity and then revisit the slope game to assess their understanding."
"I love using the lessons from lesson link. They relate so close to what I am currently teaching. I did a lesson on Rotations on paper first because I couldn't get into the computer lab until Thursday. On paper it didn't go so well. Next year, I will save the lesson to do just on Sketchpad. I am so proud of myself!"
"{Using the Sketchpad Activity "Toy Car"} Based on my students' need, I basically had to ask what units of measure would be reasonable. So I ask if is it possible to push a Hot Wheel car two feet and one seconds? I illustrated how far two feet was and count for one second, and they agreed that it was possible if you pushed it fast enough. I then went on to discuss a wind-up toy car. I asked the question, what about a wind-up toy car? What would happen if you wind-up a toy car and then let it roll, would it start off fast and then lose speed as it travels? They all agreed that it would. Based on this information we decided that the numbers on the left were seconds and the numbers on the bottom were probably feet. We then did several practices using the different rates. I believe this type of questioning relates to the Standards of Mathematical Practice because it encourages students to think about what is reasonable. Next we discussed another name for the word rate, and we came up the distance. So we decided that the rate/distance was based on time."
I have probably included too many examples, but it's so exciting and gratifying to me to see the change in these teachers perspectives about using technology to teach mathematics, I just couldn't help myself! Their obvious focus on their students, their students needs and making sure the activities they pick and the questions they ask are relevant to their students learning of math concepts simply solidifies for me the importance of relevancy. When considering new technology and really, any new strategy or innovation, that we want teachers to adopt and use to change their practice, relevancy to what they teach, how they teach, and the students they teach should be a key factor in the decisions made and the support provided.

**If you are interested in reading the Hybrid Professional Development series of posting in their entirety, here are the titles and links:

Planning for Hybrid PD - Comfort Level and Confidence First
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD - Day 1 
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD - Day 2
Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt 1 
Planning for Hybrid PD (part 2) - Develop Community and Supportive Environment 
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 2) - F2F Feedback 
Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt. 2 
Planning for Hybrid PD (part 3) - Make it Relevant 
Follow-up On Planning for Hybrid PD (part 3) - F2F feedback

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