Smoothboard Air

As I embarked on my search to free myself from the front of the classroom, I stumbled upon (thanks to my brother, who teaches English in Japan – shout out to Eric) an interface called Smoothboard. Developed by BoonJin, it’s a way to use the wifi connection between two devices with wifi capability to remotely control the master device. That doesn’t make much sense, so let me explain. In my classroom, I have a laptop set up on my AV table with my ELMO and projector. As great as all that technology is, writing on the board, working with the ELMO, or working from my laptop tethers me to the front of the room. Students are very difficult to manage from that far away. Any teacher worth his/her weight in salt knows that proximity control is the first line of defense against misbehavior. Kids do what they think they can get away with, right? I mean, most of them, anyway. So, there’s this seemingly dichotomous issue where I have to be near my students but also up in the front of the room teaching. Sure, not 100% of the time. There are circulation points built into the lesson when students do partner or independent work. I don’t want any of my readers to think that I just park my behind up in a chair at the table and talk, a la Peanuts teacher, for a whole period. But it is limiting to have to go back up to the front to work out an example, give a visual to answer a question, etc.

Enter the Smoothboard interface. First, I download the Smoothboard software (free, though you can pay to remove “ads”) onto my laptop. Then, I can take my tablet, smartphone, Surface, etc. and activate the Smoothboard interface so that my personal device (the tablet, etc.) controls my laptop. The interface also has the cool capability to use drawing tools, has graph paper, and other awesome features that let me teach from anywhere in the room. I can go over bell work, do examples, write whole essays, even, from my tablet right next to Johnny in the back of the room, who now is deterred from being his usually obnoxious self.

Look! I made a video!

 

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How to Gain an Extra Set of Hands in Your Classroom

As a teacher, if I could give myself a superpower, it would probably be the ability to be in two places at the same time. That, or just never need sleep. Or be able to stop time. But definitely, being able to be in two places at once would be an amazing ability – especially in my own classroom as I teach.

I also wish I could re-teach every lesson for students who were absent. There’s no time for that, but it would make life so much easier if I could take the student aside when s/he returned and give the lesson from the day before.

Well, two years ago, I got myself one step closer to achieving both those dreams. How, you ask? I’ll let you in on my secret: I videotaped myself teaching the lesson. Sometimes I did this before the lesson, and sometimes I did it during first period so I had it for the rest of the day. Then, I played the video and I was able to teach the lesson and walk around the room and troubleshoot (and manage behavior) without affecting pacing. I also put the videos up online for students who were absent, so they could watch the lesson and get the same instruction as their peers who had been in class. It was, I suppose, a variation of the flipped classroom.

I’ve not perfected the art of the video. I’m still learning new things. Just the other week, in fact, I learned that you can record your computer screen while talking as a function in PowerPoint (cool, I know, right?!). And, I figured out how to use a graphic tablet (very affordable on Amazon) to do real-time notes and handwritten lessons through PowerPoint’s “Mix” function. So, I’m still learning. But it’s made an AMAZING difference in my teaching and my students’ learning. It takes some prep work and time in the beginning, but it is SO worth it in the end. Have you ever done something like this? If so, what are some tips and tricks you can share to make it more successful? Thanks!

How I Lessened the Absenteeism Problem in Relation to Student Achievement

This isn’t an entry on how I got kids to come to school. If I had the answer to that, I’d have sold it and be retired. No, absenteeism is a reality within all teachers must live. Instead of lamenting the issue itself, time is better spent thinking up ways to mitigate the consequences of it. I think teachers can sum up the negative consequences of absenteeism in 2 words:

  • Instruction
  • Work

No one wants kids to miss school. It’s a hassle. They come back and teachers have to work overtime (more than we already do) to get that kid caught up. Because no matter how much you chant the mantra that it’s the student’s responsibility to take care of what they missed…it’s really up to you. Because until we can figure out how to reverse the student misconception that if they were absent they are excused from the work…we have to take matters into our own hands because ultimately, we’re judged on that student’s performance.

If you are not fortunate enough to work for a district or school that has either reliable technology or a digital platform, you could do what I used to do (up until semester 2 of the ’15-’16 school year) and have the absent binder. I used to print the forms and “hire” a student captain to fill out the appropriate information each day. This worked really well most of the time, but the students were unreliable sometimes (because: teenagers) and I ended up doing most of the writing. I eventually changed to keeping the document template on my computer and typing in the information each day (or week) and just printing it out and putting it in the binder for students.

This was a lifesaver. I trained my students to go to the binder when they returned and get any handouts they missed (also printed and available in the absent binder), the day’s bell work (starter, bell ringer, whatever you call it in your room), and record the assignment – both in class and homework, if applicable – they missed and only come to me if they couldn’t get what they needed from another classmate. And by “needed,” I mean the notes, questions about the assignment, etc. – not copying answers for problems. This saved me so much time in the long run and made things easier because students had something consistent. They didn’t stop missing school, but they made up their work more frequently and more independently, and that restored a lot of my sanity.

If you do have reliable access to technology (i.e. a desktop/laptop and the internet) I would highly recommend doing this electronically. I’m lucky enough to work for a district that purchased rights to use a digital interface for our grade book, and with it, come some really cool features. I am able to post anything I want in a “class feed.” Think of it as a type of Facebook page for my classes. Each class has its own. Starting 2nd semester of this year, I moved my absent binder to our web interface. I posted the weekly bell work, assignments, everything we did each day on that feed. I got a student desktop through a grant and then when students returned from an absence, I sent them to the computer to get what they needed from the class feed. They did the bell work question, took the notes (I uploaded pictures of my hand-written notes for each day or the PowerPoint lessons I did), did the assignment (I uploaded any specifics – what pages and which book were used, the worksheet if it was stand-alone, etc. I even started videotaping my lessons and uploading those to the feed so students could watch the actual lesson.  And, if it was distributed, I still had a stack of handouts for the entire quarter), and turned it in. Usually. This was so efficient and saved me time and energy (and sanity). It took some work on the front end, and I would fall behind sometimes, but my students would always seem to remind me – which was great; it meant they were looking for what they missed and couldn’t find it.absenteeism 1

Be a Convert!

As a middle school math teacher, there never seemed to be an end to the things my students could not do when they came to me. For instance: I thought that a 7th grader would be able to efficiently subtract double and triple-digit numbers. Wrong. I thought that an 8th grader would be able to at least make an educated guess when taking a multiple choice quiz. Wrong.

Side note story:

My first and second years teaching 7th grade pre-Algebra followed a very strict (flexible when necessary, though) schedule where Monday and Tuesday were direct instruction, Wednesday and Thursday were student practice, and Friday was assessment (short, 10-question quiz, and then re-teaching when necessary). So I knew that not all my students would get 100’s on their quizzes, but I did expect them to at least try. Or use common sense. I swear to you, I got responses back like:

Solve: ½ + ¾

  1. 4/6
  2. 5/4
  3. 3/8
  4. 1

Student answer: “No”.

No joke. I think one time I even got the answer “blue.”

I had to find a better way. I had to give them what they needed. So I started making PowerPoint lessons. One that worked really well for them was on converting among fractions, decimals, and percents. In the 3 years I taught math, I found that my students needed, at the least, a refresher on this concept, and at the most, a full-blown lesson with direct instruction on it. My PowerPoint could serve in both capacities. I found that my PowerPoint lessons engaged my struggling students because it was visual and it was structured. It kept them focused, it kept them engaged, it taught note-taking skills, and it presented a document I could easily turn into a grade (through a notebook check or something similar). Yes, it took time on the front end to create, but it solved so many problems that it was well worth it.

Do you have students who need help with converting among fractions, decimals, and percents? Check out my PowerPoint lesson!

converting fractions decimals percents

Teaching with Power Point in the Middle School Math Classroom

First of all, I want to apologize for being a little lax with my posting. My day job has been especially hectic for the past month or so and it has just been really difficult to find time to write an entry and get it up on time. So I’m sorry for that. I’ve also done quite a few entries highlighting ELA topics, so this week, I’ve decided to focus on math.

When I first began teaching, I started as a middle school math teacher. My first two years were as a 7th grade pre-Algebra and 8th grade Algebra I Honors teacher. I found that my students did not have the first clue about how to take notes, and it was very difficult to get them to stay on task and listen to what I was saying. I found this more problematic with my “regular” pre-Algebra 7th grade students. I also was involved in a lot of outside-the-classroom activities like district assessment panels, professional development, etc., and I missed a LOT of school. I had a LOT of substitutes. I had to overcome the challenges I was facing.

I found the answer to this through Power Point lessons. I created Power Point lessons for various topics we were studying, and began teaching with them. It was like a miracle had happened in my classroom. Students began taking notes (pretty decent ones, really – the Power Points actually taught them note-taking skills), they began sitting and listening, and it was easy for the subs because all they had to do was play the Power Point and walk the kids through the lesson. Of course, I answered questions when I got back and assessed their understanding, but usually the re-teaching and clarification needed was minimal.

I was SO happy with the success of my Power Points in my 7th grade class, that I began using them the next year with my special 8th grade students who had taken Algebra I as 7th graders and didn’t have any other math classes to take. Our middle school didn’t offer Geometry and there were no high schools close enough to bus them to take the course there, so I told my administration I’d create a curriculum for them that taught/dealt with lots of advanced math topics and would prepare them for Geometry. It was really cool. We did a lot of Geometry prep work (you know, the fun stuff like postulates and theorems!) but we also did some advanced (for 8th graders) Statistics work like standard deviation. There were only 6 of them and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had teaching. Anyway, I started using Power Point lessons with them as well, and they worked very nicely.

I have since become much more familiar with the PPT software and have updated my old PPT lessons and created new ones. The majority of my lessons are now (with the new CCSS) aligned with 6th grade topics, but I do have PPT lessons aligned with other grades’ standards. Additionally, the lessons that are now “6th grade” could certainly be used with other grade levels either for remediation or enrichment. I have so many of these PPT lessons that I have bundled them by standard. I have a set of 6th grade PPT lessons that are all aligned to the Number System standards.

Another great benefit of these lessons is that it is a way to incorporate technology into lessons. Many teachers find it difficult to use lots of the new technology, but on most new teacher evaluations, the use of technology is a component of being rated an “outstanding” (or some high-level) instructor. PPT is a very easy technology to use: all my lessons require no knowledge of the software other than how to open the file and use the arrow keys or mouse (or remote clicker, if you have one) to advance the slides or go backwards. In this bundle there are ten lessons:

  • Adding and subtracting decimals
  • Multiplying decimals
  • Dividing decimals
  • Greatest common factor
  • Least common multiple
  • Dividing fractions by fractions
  • Long division
  • Ordering integers
  • Integers and absolute value
  • Inverse numbers and operations

Each lesson follows an “I do,” “We do,” “You do” model. There is instruction/examples, guided practice, and independent practice in each lesson. There are visual examples and whenever possible, I try to use “real-life” examples. If you are working on any of these concepts this semester, this bundle may be for you! All of these lessons are available separately, but you save some money by buying the bundle.

If you don’t teach 6th grade or if these concepts aren’t being covered this semester, don’t worry! I have over 60 math products for grades ranging from 3rd to 9th! Power Points aren’t the only thing I do, either, so if they aren’t your cup of tea, there’re lots of other things you could check out!

2015 Mad Eye Moody Productions 6th grade number systems bundle

Check out the bundle!