Colin's Sandbox


wk5, err, a bit late…

by on Aug.01, 2013, under #oltak

I’m writing this to make up for the Week 5 posting for the #oltak MOOC that upon closer inspection I haven’t turned in or even done at this point.  It seems a bit contrived to place my memory back those many weeks ago to write as if the information was fresh, so instead I’ll write concerning one of the webinar topics of that week, which was concerning facilitating online classes in a synchronous environment.

I’m finding that with my own tutoring efforts that the asynchronous environment does not seem to be working very well at all in motivating Roberta, my student.  For the first few weeks Roberta checked into Kahn Academy as well as Edmodo but over the past couple of weeks there has been little activity if at all.  When pressed about it, Roberta claims bugs in the site as reason for ceasing involvement, but I’m not so sure.  The discussion we had during our last synchronous session we held over Skype just served to reinforce my suspicion that the student is not engaging with any of the suggested material and has shown a general malaise about learning lately.  Attempts to draw the student into material of her own choosing is not going so well either, and it seems as if she wants just to be spoon-fed learning.  I’ve put in a lot of effort to try to meet Roberta half-way and work with her to come up with lesson plans that cater to her activities outside of schooling and to any future plans so I’m a bit frustrated.  Without this internal intrinsic motivation I don’t think tutoring in an asynchronous environment has any shot at working.

The past couple of synchronous sessions I’ve tried employing an online whiteboard and encouraged her to bring her iPad so that she too could collaborate on the same sheet of virtual paper but so far she hasn’t grabbed this opportunity either.  I’m trying to help her understand the utility of using Google Docs for realtime synchronous or asynchronous collaboration but has been _very_ reluctant to learn new tools.

At this point I’m not sure where to go exactly.  I can certainly continue to provide instruction over Skype every week but I’m not sure what point this serves as the teacher who is there face to face can almost certainly be more effective in this role than I can be.  I feel like I’m at a loss here.  I’ve tried to show the relevance of math to all sorts of everyday activities that she claims to be interested in, from taking pictures to traveling, so that we can use that as a rock to build our course around, but I’m not getting any bites what so ever.  If I seem a little down about this, it’s because I am just looking to be useful somehow in this endeavor.

Leave a Comment more...

Online Math Tutoring Course Design

by on Jul.14, 2013, under #oltak

Course History

As part of the course requirement for the UAS EDET674 “Online Teaching in Alaska” (#oltak) course I was asked to put together a math tutoring unit for a 1:1 effort assisting a student who was to retake the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (HSGQE). I previously detailed how I set up my course as a weekly Skype session to go over sample problems with asynchronous resources shared solely over email. What I found out over the span of the first two weeks is that I was sending a lot of information in emails to the student and the student’s parents but I wasn’t sure how adept the student was at finding information that I had sent over email or if they had a clear sense of what they were being asked to do. I reviewed several alternatives but what stood out for me was Barbra Donachy’s Point Hope History Project and its use of Edmodo and I liked the potential gains that could be achieved by organizing the material in this fashion. Therefore at the risk of changing horses midstream I decided to move the learning environment over to Edmodo. Since I only had about 2 modules worth of material developed for the task I felt the benefits outweighed the cost in terms of time spent doing the change.

Transforming the Course Design into a Welcome Letter

As listed at the bottom of the previous posting, originally I had put together a Google Document outlining how the course was to be run. I took input from two of my peers in the #oltak course and added sections to the document to clarify assessment and feedback. I modified the document extensively to change the audience from a 3rd person perspective to be a more personal welcome letter that would be used initially to introduce the student to what’s expected, weekly workflow, and the tools we’d be using. Reading this document gives you an idea of how the course is structured from the point of view of the student:

Evolution of the Course using Edmodo

I sent out a “Needs Assessment” to the student after the first week and a half of the class to get a better feel for how they learned and communicated best. Upon reflection, this should have been sent out much earlier to get a sense of the preferred learning and communication styles of the student. The results indicated a preference to corresponding via email but after going over the survey results with a parent I convinced her that using Edmodo would be a good way of chronologically organizing material that we’re going over in class and to provide a common place for assignment submissions, etc.

River of News

I’ve used two main features of Edmodo extensively in the construction of this course environment. The first is the course posts which flows along the screen with the most recent posts put on the top of the list. I have heard this described in other contexts before as the “River of News”:

River of News

The student sees this page when they log in to Edmodo and are alerted that they have an assignment to complete.  They can reply right in the interface if they have questions, and submit work to be graded in this way as well.

Organization by Module

Edmodo uses the concept of the library to organize content. Each course can have a set of folders that contain links to items from your library. For my course I am making one folder per course module that lists the module introduction plus video resources and exercises. The module introduction itself is an Edmodo assignment which is linked here.

Sample module showing a portion of resources available.


How successful this transition to Edmodo will be remains to be seen.  I hope that the change isn’t so jarring that the student loses interest in doing the work, or becomes confused as to what is required.  I think the mechanisms that are in place for resource lists, assignment submission, and feedback are a good step to keep things in one place.  I like the environment enough as an instructor to carry it forward in any future tutoring efforts.

Video Overview

Leave a Comment more...

Thoughts on my tutoring course + doing the QM rubric

by on Jul.08, 2013, under #oltak

Assessing Courses

First off, since it’s at the top of my head: I found assessing others’ work using the Quality Matters (QM) rubric seemed harsh, especially that the two courses I assessed may be difficult to assess in this way.  Ryan’s “Individual Technology Learning Plan” course was more of a meta-course; a self-directed exploration of technology in the classroom in which the learner sets the milestones and outcomes with the help of a coach.  Many pieces were thus left to the learner to flesh out.  After reviewing Ryan’s coursework I came to the realization that in this sort of self-directed format a valuable tool for the learner would be a set of examples of previous students’ work (used with their permission of course).

The other course that I reviewed was Tiffany’s math tutoring effort for a student seeking to be ready for math at the 8th grade level (leading up to Algebra).  Many of the pieces asked for by the rubric may not be applicable (anything with the word “institution”) and other stuff may have been gone over in one of the synchronous sessions as well, so this may not be measurable via this rubric.  The biggest thing I got out of reviewing Tiffany’s class is the understanding that even in a tutoring environment it’s likely a good thing to have everything linked to in one spot as a starting point and then add policy-type information as class resources for the student to refer to later on.

As part of the QM assessment piece Dr. Graham asked us to engage in a synchronous manner to discuss the feedback given to us, but this proved difficult in the last minute sense.  I felt that I had sufficient opportunity through email exchanges with the various reviewers and reviewees and therefore felt that the synchronous piece was unnecessary in any event.

Even though I didn’t particularly love the QM assessment process I did gain valuable insights from just going through it with others.  And since I was (and am) feeling a little nebulous about my own course, it gave me some starting points when I got stuck thinking about how to round out my own tutoring course description.  Reviewing others’ projects and receiving others’ reviews on my own showed me a lot of areas that I can improve upon with my course and I’ll be starting in on that today.

My Course Outline

5 Comments more...

Hitting the ground running

by on Jun.30, 2013, under #oltak

It’s been a crazy month of June to be sure, filled with lots of work travel and a trip back east to be with my family after the passing of my Grandmother.  It’s also taken a bit longer than expected to get a set schedule worked out with the student and the student’s parents, so I’ve been behind in the work for this course.

But it’s finally coming together: we have a set weekly event, a protocol of synchronous communication (based around using Skype), and a shared goal: understanding the math well enough to take the AK HSGQE in October and pass.  I’ll be working with another teacher on site who I believe either student taught at the school this past year or this upcoming year.  The parents are also active participants in this endeavor, so I view a large part of the job here is just coordinating everyone’s efforts and being flexible.

The work schedule I proposed initially would be a Skype session every Friday afternoon where we would go over problems in real time, go over work that was done during that week, and talk briefly about where we’re going next and come up with a fun project to do that elaborates on what we are working on.  At the suggestion of my wife (a former math teacher and current science teacher), I think I am going to try to mix in a little vocabulary each week and have the student use flash cards to help remember them, possibly using Quizlet After the session I am to send out the weeks’ resources to look into and work on in the form of an example problem and sections of Kahn Academy videos that show the progression on how to get there.  The usage of Kahn Academy was the student’s idea; I was pretty excited that she’s taken such an interest in knowing what methods and materials works best for her.  As part of the goals for the week I hope to have the student demonstrate the learning through a creative means.

We had our first session and it about how I expected; I was a little awkward at times, I think we came to some good understandings of some things that motivate her, and I think we made good strides at overcoming shyness.  My first impression is that the student feels a combination of being somewhat shy as well as intimidation when looking at the math expressions and equations.  I am pretty confident that we’ll work out a good working relationship.  The impression that I’m trying to give off is that the thing that I value most in someone I’m giving a lesson to is that they give it an honest go, learn from the failures, feel open to suggest ways that they feel motivates them.  We do have the luxury of being pretty flexible in how we tailor the class.  I think I need to change the whiteboard app somewhat to allow the use of the iPad and some sort of stylus.  Also I think in the future weeks I’m going to find more of a way to incorporate visual elements in the problems as well as manipulatives if we can.  For her first creative assignment I asked the student to take a recipe for some cookies, and divide it by 4.  Send me the original and modified recipe, and then bake it!

For the actual class mechanics I tried out a combination of a few tools:

  • Skype for synchronous audio, video, and IM client for sharing links
  • CoSketch as an interactive whiteboard application
  • At the student’s suggestion I set up an Class Dojo class room but I wasn’t able to get the student codes going; the server just sits there and eventually spits out a 504 HTTP error.  I put in an email to their tech support.
  • I set up a class in Kahn Academy and invited the student to join the class.

The Kahn Academy concept to augment a class is a totally new thing for me and I’m curious to see how well it will work.  I’ve done one personal foray into using the Kahn Academy to help learn about macroeconomics, because I had a passing fascination about the global financial crisis of 2008.  So far from the coach’s dashboard I can see that the student has already logged on, what videos they’ve watched, what activities they’ve done, and for the sections that they’ve attempted, how proficient they are.  I’m excited to see that the student has logged on and played around quite a bit already.  Awesome!

Here was the first solid week’s initial plan:

This week’s “Example Problem”You want to get ready for a week long camping trip where you’re hoping to take a lot of photographs with your camera.  Unfortunately you only have a couple of storage cards and they each only hold 100 pictures each.  You also want to save room for taking about 10 shots of the group at the end of the trip too.  About how many pictures does that leave for each day of the trip?  Let’s assume also that you can’t delete pictures 🙂
This week’s ideal result
What we’re shooting for is to be able to solve the “example problem”.  There’s a few different ways that I can think of so that I know you understand this.  A very effective way would be to come up with your own realistic problem and send me the problem and answer over email.
Another may be to turn the example problem into some sort of spreadsheet that you could just plug different numbers into for whatever reason, for example, if you found an SD card hiding in the kitchen drawer where mine always end up.  If you are into Google Docs, Google Spreadsheet works well for spreadsheet collaboration.  I think they’re great.
How are we going to get there?
For this week we’re going to use Kahn Academy resources to look at expressions and equations and go through the exercises on the Kahn site.  If you get stuck during the week with solving the example problem that’s OK, there’s a lot here – we can work through it together during the Skype session as well.

Other Sample Problems

If you want to see some examples of problems that could be on the test, check out HSGQE Practice Test: problems 25 and 27
Vocabulary wordsTry to come up with or find definitions for these words.  We’re going to turn them into flash cards.  The important thing is that you understand the definition, so if you have a hard time finding or coming up with a definition that makes sense, Google them, pick a few out and we can go over together to find one that sticks with you.

Kahn Resources for This Week
Please log into the Kahn Academy with your own login and join the class with the code MWT4DJ.  I’ve sent [the student] an invitation to that class.  Then go through the following resources and drill exercises.  If the bandwidth becomes a problem please let me know and we can find an alternate route.Expressions and Equations: step equations drill: for 2-step equations:

Two step equations drill:

Have Fun!
Leave a Comment more...

Fast times at Petersburg High!

by on Jun.18, 2013, under #oltak, ramblings

One of the parts of the job that I like the best is my ability is that I often get to wear many hats in the span of a day, such as “Network Guy”, “Systems Administrator”, “Ad-Hoc Trainer”, “Computer Maintenance Guy”, “Updates Updates Updates!”, and “Talk Technology with Teachers Man”.  This past trip I took with a coworker down to Petersburg I was all of those things.  The school district is in a good spot in many ways because it has access to great people on the ground who understand the purpose of technology in education (Education!) and are dedicated to providing great support to their teachers.  Where people like myself fit in best is as part of a team with the technology staff, finding ways to roll out computers quicker, finding ways to speed things up and make things easier for the staff.

With my own current schooling in the forefront, working directly face to face with the technology director / teacher and his staff provided me with a lot of opportunities to ask questions about how technology is used in their school, problem areas in the usage of technology in education.  We floated ideas of how to get student input and hopefully buy-in to technology related aspects of their education.

I also engaged in a lot of just-in-time, face-to-face teaching of the staff there in how to use tools in order to best manage various aspects of their network.  From finding and fixing cabling issues, to tracing the network cable routing itself (not as trivial as you might think!), to showing them new methods of maintaining their computers, there’s a lot of diverse topics to hit upon.  After a trip like this is over I usually continue with asynchronous and synchronous support in the form of Google Docs, IM sessions, emails, etc.

Spicoli learns something new about managed switches that he never knew was possible

What’s also really exciting is that the education goes both ways.  I learn things every time I go on a trip to do an installation, because no matter how much you are committed to a set of implementation steps, there’s always something that comes up to work around.  During the past two trips I have worked a couple of stints pretty closely with a network engineer working for GCI who’s been very helpful in working with me to design out the customer’s network, and I’ve got the chance to learn new things about various parts of computer networks, which I’m finding more and more recently that there’s a lot of gaps in my knowledge.  It holds true: the more I learn, the less I know.

I also thought of ways we could use tools that we normally associate with systems administration to help make teaching some technology courses easier.  How about incorporating something simple such as Dropbox or Google Docs to propagate reference projects out to students for example?  At one point Jon (the technology coordinator / teacher) and I were batting around different ways we could facilitate what I like to call “geeking out” classes when I saw he had a radio time signal receiver setup in the tech room.  How neat would it be to interface with something like that to make a network time server?  It’s not necessary really, there are much easier options out there for an accurate source of time that are good enough for what a school district would need, but it would be a fun project   Now that they have some great hardware in their server room with plenty of head room, what about the idea of rolling out a virtual machine as an option in a technology class, giving a highly advanced and motivated student the option of having their own sandbox to play with to do systems administration, web programming, etc.?

Fun times, and a pleasure to work with a staff that really wants to see their students engaged in learning.

While working down in Petersburg I attended a couple of webinars, the first concerning digital communication in online classes given by Matthew Turner from the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Rose Urban Rural Exchange, and the second involving synchronous learning environments for teaching.  The first one covered some bases for me that I had already a good grasp on, having took the “Multimedia in the Classroom” class taught by Dr. Ohler, as well as being somewhat conversant in various course management systems.  The big take-away here for me was a strong reminder on some basic tips when doing video with groups of students in particular using mobile devices, such as:

  • Keep each video shot as short as possible (10s).  Not only are they easier to combine later on into your video, they keep the movie interesting.
  • Establish your scenes so people feel connected to the environment they’re being shown
  • Landscape, landscape, landscape!
  • Improvise a tripod from your body or any other objects around to keep the video quality as still as possible.  Allow yourself one (1) pan or tilt per shot, and make it last for the entire shot.
  • Hash out a quick storyboard or shot list beforehand so you can hand out shots individually or to groups (camera team A and camera team B).

Matthew’s presentation was based around the asynchronous mode of learning facilitated through a Joomla-based content management system (although this is in transition), and a lot of the units he uses to work with students involve video.  Some examples that he’d use would be ato have students develop a video introduction to aspects of their town (a day in the life) as well as create a destination log of their travels to their syster school district.

The other webinar in the week was devoted more to synchronous learning environment such as Elluminate and its progeny.  My feelings are a little mixed using something like Elluminate; it seems like a good way to manage large groups of students in a very traditional class-like synchronous environment but at the same time provides some neat features for breaking students into groups, assigning them each tasks, recording and archiving the class environment for later viewing, utilizing a whiteboard component.  What I personally got out of it the most though was a couple different ideas: first, build the community early on as best you can, know your audience and when and when not to use humor, and how little things like moving stuff around on the whiteboard to better demonstrate math concepts can be a really effective tool (thanks Virgil Fredenberg).

My planned tutoring hasn’t started yet 😐 – I think the warm summertime is taking its motivational toll out on people.  This is unfortunate because I’m going to need something fast to explore in terms of this class, and therefore I’m falling behind by default.

2 Comments more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!