1:1 Environment – Where the Old Impossible is the New Easy

Geometry homework tonight was:

At home or school, take three pictures of objects that fit the following descriptions 

1) not a polygon

2) polygon with 3-5 sides

3) polygon with 6+ sides

Upload them to a Google Drive folder shared with everyone in the class and rename the image with the name of the polygon shown

It took me under five minutes to set up the tech side of this assignment (including collecting Gmail addresses with a Google Form during class and sharing the folder), and perhaps another five minutes to explain to students what they needed to do.  

The end result:  a folder full of real pictures (some good, others not, but none of them provided by me) that we are going to (hopefully) have a good discussion about tomorrow.

Last year, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without a lot of hassle, and two years ago, it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind to try it.  Say what you will, but mobile technology is a game changer.


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.

And you can’t beat the colors!

Margaret’s love for Desmos is fully endorsed by the other half of this blog!

If you aren’t convinced, here’s some additional classroom action:

Yesterday in pre-calc, my students did an investigation about power functions.  They graphed groups of these functions and made generalizations about their characteristics.

Here’s what a group of power functions looks like on a graphing calculator:


Here’s what the same group of power functions looks like graphed on Desmos:


Which one makes it easier to tell that all the functions in this group are symmetric about the y-axis?  A picture is worth a thousand words.

Weekly Reflections

One of the nice things about teaching in a 1:1 environment is that we can ask our students to submit homework, surveys, quizzes, etc. online. We are using this to our advantage by asking our students (both in our PreCalc classes and Margaret’s Geometry class) to submit weekly reflections by Saturday at midnight.  We created a Google Form where each student enters his first name, last name, email address, date of the Friday of that week, and a reflection based on the following:

What did you struggle with this week? What did you find easy this week? What do you need more help with? What are you confused about? Are there any other situations going on in your life that I should know about? The content of your response will not be shared with other students.

The purpose of this ongoing assignment is two-fold.  First, it gives our students an opportunity to reflect on their progress made during the week and evaluate the way they need to approach the week ahead (should they seek extra help, ask more questions in class, etc.).  Second, it gives us the opportunity to hear how each student in our classes is doing at least once a week, and it informs our choices about how we begin our classes on Monday.

So far, Margaret has been able to email students who indicate that they are struggling with a concept and set up a time to provide extra help (before or after school).

Lia’s PreCalc students are mostly working on review so far, so their reflections have been mainly positive.  However, a few students have taken advantage of the opportunity to ask specific questions that Lia has been able to address with the students one-on-one, usually by reply e-mail.

Algebra I Boot Camp

At the same time that our school was preparing for a 1:1 initiative last year, our math department was also preparing to revamp our curriculum to be more closely aligned to the Common Core.  As part of this effort, we decided to get of our old textbooks and ultimately chose to switch to an Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 series built for the iPad.

I teach a regular level, college prep Algebra 1 class, and the other teachers who teach this course with me decided that we needed to review some middle school skills (that used to part of our high school Algebra 1 curriculum) before we actually started the topics in the text.  I usually flip my Algebra classes anyway, but this is the first time that I have done it within the 1:1 environment.  I decided to use the review unit to try a couple of new things:  approximating the idea of a flipped mastery classroom and using some elements of game design.  I’ve heard that gamification is, to a certain extent, all about what you call things, so here’s a basic outline of Algebra 1 Boot Camp:

1.  I created a series of short videos on each topic to be covered and posted them as a playlist on my YouTube channel.

2.  I created a set of problems that corresponded to each video.

3.  I created quizzes on certain groups of topics and a test on the whole unit and set dates for each quiz and test to be taken.

4.  I gave students a Boot Camp Manual (check it out on the Raid Our Files page) that outlined the work that they needed to complete before each assessment date.  Each evening and day in class, I present certain videos that they should be watching and problem sets that they should be working on, but there is a certain extent to which they can work at their own pace.  If they don’t finish their problems in class, they can finish them at night before we go over them in class the next day.  If they finish their problems early, they can just start watching their next video in class (headphones were on my list of required materials this year!)

5.  Each time students pass one of the intermediate quizzes, they get promoted to a new level – Arithmetic Master, Variable Whiz, etc.

6.  I posted progress charts on the back wall of my classroom.  Each time my students finish a numbered section of work in their Boot Camp manual and/or move to a new level, they are able to put a start on the chart.  So far, they love it.  The stars are little thing they help them to see the fruits of their accomplishments.

Progress charts – Do you have enough stars to level up?

For laughs:  The funniest result of Boot Camp so far is that my juniors, who are taking an honors pre-calculus class and do not have star charts, wanted to know if we could come up with some charts for their class, too.

It would be so much more satisfying to do well if we got stars for it!

iPads as Notebooks — Part 2

The Tools

In the first part of this post, I talked about why I decided to use iPad as notebooks in some of my math classes.  Now, how exactly does that work in practice?

My school required all students to purchase the note-taking app Notability along with their iPads this year, which I was thrilled about because it is probably one of my favorite and most used apps. Over the course of the first few days of school, I intentionally included activities in my lesson plans that gave me the chance to show my students how to do the following:

1. Organize their notes for different classes and chapters using the Divider and Subject features. Because Notability supports typing, handwriting, and importing documents from the web or cloud storage accounts, it is flexible enough to work for any subject.

2. Be smart about naming “notes” (using section numbers, etc) for each organization and searching.

3.  Use the ZoomBox and wrist guard features to write math neatly.

The Zoom Box makes it so easy to write intricate things neatly!

The Zoom Box makes it so easy to write intricate things neatly!

4. Import PDFs that I post on our class page on Edline, my school’s learning management system. These can be:

  • Templates for notes. I typically create lesson skeletons in SMART notebook, print them as PDFs, and post them for students. I think this helps them to pay attention more in class because they have to spend less time copying things like diagrams and problems down. It’s easy for me to do and a huge time saver for the kiddos.
  • Problem sets for class work and homework.  When I don’t want to assign problems from the textbook, I can easily distribute digital problem sets to students. Some benefits of completing them in Notability rather than as paper worksheets are the availability of colors, the ability to erase really easily, and the fact that I can leave lots of space for them to work in between problems without worrying about fitting everything on one sheet or, in general, using too much paper.

5. Access solutions to problem sets and attach them to original work. Notability makes it very easy to merge documents by using the “Add to Note” feature when you import a file.  Prior to this year, Margaret and I were both in the habit of writing out solutions (using Notability, of course), exporting them to DropBox or Google Drive, and them posting them on Edline.  Margaret had the brilliant idea (I wish I could take credit for this one!) of having students add our solutions to their work so that they can easily scroll back and forth to check their work.  We’re getting lots of positive feedback from the students about being able to do this!

With two weeks under our belts, I can truthfully say:  so far, so good for Notability!  The only hiccup we have experienced is when we are planning on having students import PDFs as part of the day’s activities and, suddenly, the wireless network has been down.  If I can get organized enough down the road, I think it would be a good idea to have students import the PDFs they need for class the next day as part of the previous night’s homework.

Google Drive + Screenshots = Faster Feedback

When my students do their math homework and struggle with a problem, they often wait until the next day to ask me about it.  Occasionally they will email me with a jumbled message in an attempt to type algebra.  While these are not terrible options, Google Drive provides an even better (and faster) way for students to get help with a problem.  Now that my students are doing their homework on their iPads, this process is even easier!

When a student has a question about his work, he can take a screenshot on his iPad of his attempt at the problem in Notabililty, save the image to his Google Drive, and share the image with me (and preferably add a message asking a question about the problem).

When I get an email notification that a student has shared an image with me, I can give him feedback quickly by opening the image in Google Drive and inserting text comments on different portions of the image.  He will see these comments immediately.

For Student Directions and Teacher Directions, check out our Raid Our Files page.