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!

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.