Mistakes are Great

Earlier in January, I wrote about the Collaborative Exam Review that my pre-calculus classes (a total of 43 students) wrote using a variety of tools from Google Drive.  Today was exam day, so the project is done, and have decided that what I liked best about is was that it was their responsibility and it wasn’t perfect.

In preparing the review, students had to take responsibility for knowing what they needed to know (so they needed to become experts on their topic) and they had to take responsibility for knowing it well enough to explain it coherently (via their solution image) to others.

Even so, kids made mistakes.  However, because of the culture of responsibility for the material that already existed in this review, the mistakes actually made the comments and discussion on the review problems/solutions that I required in the week leading up to the exam even better.  Students evaluated peer solutions and, when they had questions or found mistakes, used Google Drive’s commenting features to offer constructive criticisms or additions to the material was already there.  Lots of different students started getting in on the discussions, going back and forth about what was right and what was wrong.  At the end of the day, I think this helped them demonstrate their mastery of the material better than simply completing a review packet.  After all, you can’t tell someone else they did something wrong if you don’t know how to do it yourself!

Overheard from a Chemistry Teacher

I was in the main office the other day and I heard a chemistry teacher singing the praises of his Apple TV.  When reviewing homework (lots of math in chemistry), he asks students to mirror their iPads.  If a student has a question, he asks that student to mirror her iPad so the class can look at her work.  They work together to find the mistake and correct the problem.  Then they move on to the next one.  He said the students love sharing their work with the class and helping each other find mistakes … it’s like a puzzle (for the whole class to work on together).


Multi-tasking Struggles

Have you ever tried to watch a video on YouTube and take notes on your iPad at the same time?  I often ask my students to watch short videos on YouTube for flipped lessons (have you heard of it?  I’ve had great success incorporating it into my Algebra 1 class).  But my students take their notes in Notability on their iPads.  So in order to complete this assignment, they have to use two devices (one to watch the video, one to take notes in Notability).

When Lia wrote about the Downside to Digital Textbooks, my Algebra 1 students were using paper notebooks.  Now that they are using Notability and have an iPad based textbook, we’re running into the same problem when they do their homework.

My students seem content enough to screenshot the problems and insert the image into Notability.  Others use the four-finger swipe/gesture to go back and forth between apps.  I don’t really like either of these solutions.  They seem more like temporary work-arounds rather than true solutions.  I’m coming to the conclusion that the only true solution will be when the “textbook” provides a work space for students to complete problems.

Cold Season = Increased Absences

It’s cold season in Massachusetts (I’m even writing this while surrounded by cough drops and tissues).  Cold season means my students miss class more often and come back to school overwhelmed by make-up work.

In our 1:1 environment, I write out my examples in Notability and my students take their notes in Notability too.  When a student is absent, he/she typically asks a classmate to share the notes from class before coming back to school.  While this doesn’t make up for the missed class, when absent students come to see me the next, they have already seen the notes and are prepared to ask questions other than the dreaded “did I miss anything?

Note: Students typically “share” their notes with each other by sending their Notability file via email to another student.

A New Take on Midyear Exam Review

Margaret teaches the highest level of Algebra 1 at our school, and I teach Pre-Calculus at the same level.  At the beginning of December, we both had conversations with our classes that began something like this:

I am not going to give you a review packet for your first semester exam…

**anxious/borderline angry looks exchanged around the classroom**

…instead, we’re going to do something better!  You’re going to write the exam review yourselves.

Wait, what, you’re asking?  Last spring before finals, Margaret and I decided that we were done with giving our upper level students an exam review packet or problem set and spending a couple of days in class going over it, as we had done in the past.  So, we decided to try something new, and we thought it was valuable enough that we both decided to try it again for the midyear exam that is coming up in a couple of weeks.  This year, iPads are making the workflow much easier for all involved.  

This is what the process looks like:

1)  We created a skeleton Google Doc with an outline of the topics to be covered on the exam.  We intentionally broke the topics up into a number of subsections equal to the number of students we each have.   We shared this document with our students specifically so that we could hold them accountable for their work via the revision history.

2)  On the day we introduced the project, students accessed the document via the Drive App on their iPads and claimed the topic they wanted.  Then, we gave them a day in class to work on researching their topic (going through notes, the text, old quizzes and tests, etc). and draft 2-4 questions that would help classmates review the topic.  We required that at least one question be conceptual and one question be computational.  

3)  Students entered their questions into the original Google Doc.  They used the built in equation editor to enter any equations.  If they wanted to use a graph or other image, they drew it in Notabilty or graphed it on Desmos on their iPad, took a screen shot, uploaded the screenshot to Drive, and then inserted the image into the review doc.  The limitations of the Drive app were such that most students did this step on the web-based version of Google Drive on a regular computer.

4)  Margaret and I reviewed the questions, made comments, and students used our comments to edit their questions into final versions.

Here’s a copy of my pre-calc review in its almost finalized version.  In order to write these questions, students needed to figure out what they need to know about a topic AND come up with questions whose solutions demonstrate that information.  This forced them to think a bit outside of the box, especially for some of the conceptual questions.  I think its so much better than completing a review packet!

5)  Once questions were finalized, students created solutions to each of their problems in Notability on their iPads.  These solutions are supposed to include a worked out solution to the problem with step by step explanations.  Students uploaded a screenshot of each solution to Google Drive and submitted a link to the image to me via a Google Form.

Directions for Creating a Solution

6)  Once all solutions were submitted, I made the response spreadsheet available to all students.  Each entry in the spreadsheet includes a verbal description of the topic, the number of the associated review problem, and a link to a solution.  When students are studying, they can go to this spreadsheet, find a topic they want to know more about, and then see a comprehensive explanation by one of their classmates.

7)  Once all the solutions are in, students are required to evaluate each other’s work, use the commenting feature on Google Images to share their evaluation.  The owner of each solution is then responsible for replying to the comment with an answer to a question or a resolution for an error.

Commenting Guidelines

This whole endeavor is still very much in the work in progress stage.  Stay tuned for a follow up post after exams about how we thought it went, how our students thought it went, and what we would do differently next time!