5 Reasons Educators Should Be Using Google+

In recent months, I have been using Twitter and Facebook less and less and using Google+ more and more. I haven’t stopped using Twitter and Facebook, I’ve just gotten more out of Google+. I still use Facebook to keep up with friends and family, but check it much less during the day. I still enjoy getting news from Twitter, but the possibility for discussion with Twitter doesn’t really exist. If you have a GMail account, you already have a Google+ account. You just need to activate it and start sharing and networking. So, here are my five reasons why, if you are involved in education, you should be active on Google+.

1.) The concept of “Circles” on Google+ helps me share content with specific people and groups.

I am friends with many teachers on Facebook and enjoy interacting with them. However, when I post something that is intended more for teachers, my friends and family also have to tolerate it in their newsfeed. There are also things that are of more interest to math teachers, or high school teachers, or specific groups of teachers that everyone will have in their newsfeed as well. There is a way to share with specific groups in Facebook, but it the process is more tedious than with Google+. With “Circles” on Google+, I can share a story or article with specific groups or with multiple specific groups. I have circles of high school friends, middle school friends, math friends, and teachers in my district. I can share with one or combinations of those circles, depending on content. Also, my district recently made the switch to Google Apps for Education (GAFE) this year. I would like to set up a circle for my 8th Grade Math students and a circle for my Algebra students so I can present discussion topics to students and parents in different classes.

2.) I can share files from Google Drive with specific circles.

Much like sharing content with specific people in Google+, I can also share my docs from Google Drive with specific circles. Once I have my circles set up for my classes, I can share a Form or Doc with specific classes for them to complete. If I want to share an assessment or lesson over a specific topic, I can share it with just my math circle. I wouldn’t have to type in each person’s email address when I would share it through Google Drive. This makes sharing much more efficient, especially when sharing through the mobile app on my phone.

3.) Communities allow me to discuss specific topics with specific groups of people who aren’t in my circles.

This past week, I was informed that my district is trying to determine whether to go to a integrated math track in high school or a traditional track when making the transition to the Common Core standards. I went to the Common Core community, and asked for any input or advice as to which is better. Within minutes I got responses from teachers in Boston, Cedar Falls, Iowa, and North Dakota. They shared links to states that are doing traditional and the advantages of it. There was also discussion of how the district would help a student that came in from a district that used the traditional track and how you would help them transition or integrated. These were some great things that I hadn’t thought of and it was nice to get input.

As I said earlier, my district recently switched to GAFE and there are communities where teachers post things they are doing or using in their classroom with GAFE that you can use. There is the Google Apps in Education community, Google Apps for Education community, and Google Apps and the Common Core community. There are also content specific communities, grade level specific communities and many others. Some communities are public and some are private, so be sure to read the community description before you join.

4.) When I look at my Google+ page, I don’t see multiple ads and game invites.

As I woke up this morning, I saw I had two new Facebook notifications. I haven’t been posting anything, so I wasn’t sure what someone “Liked” or commented on. When I clicked on the notifications, I saw that I had been invited to play “Plants vs. Zombie Adventures” and “CardParty.” It feels like I sit for ten minutes about once a week and turn off the newest game invites, hide posts from some new game, or turn off everything from one of my friends that only uses Facebook to post their newest game updates. With Google+, there is none of this. I don’t ever see game invites or new high scores. It is a much cleaner newsfeed where I can get straight to the content I want to read.

5.) I can still use hashtags like Twitter, but I can have a discussion about those hashtags.

One of the things I’ve always likes about Twitter is the idea of hashtags or “#” for those of you who don’t use Twitter. I can search for specific hashtags and read what everyone is saying about that topic. However, I can’t post comments and start a discussion with those hashtags. With Google+, I can still search hashtags, but also comment on a person’s post about that topic. For example, I often search #ccss, or Common Core State Standards, and look at all of the posts on that topic. People often share their lessons and ideas for tasks for others to use. I can ask questions, say thanks, or just discuss their topic.

I am sure as I learn more tricks with Google+ that I will enjoy using it even more than Facebook and Twitter. If you decide to join, be sure to add me to your circles and start a discussion with me.



How are You Doing So Far Teaching Common Core?

For the first time in my seven years of teaching, I got days off of work for excessive heat. With this time off, I was able to reflect on how things are going so far in my classroom.

I’ll give you a little background information on the two classes I currently teach. I have four sections of 8th grade math completely aligned to the Common Core; as far as I can tell anyway. I also teach a section of Algebra, which I try to align to the Common Core, but the class feels much more traditional, although I am trying to incorporate more inquiry-based learning.

So far, I really like the results I am seeing with my 8th grade class aligned to the Common Core. Through my formative assessments, reteaching, and interim assessment/retake, I have all but six of my students at 80% or higher, which I am calling “proficient.” The six students that are not proficient are either ELL students or in my enrichment class, so they are getting the extra interventions that they need. My students are also discussing their ideas more and more and are open to critiquing or expanding upon someone else’s ideas. Overall, I’m very happy with fewer standards and spending more time on concepts.

My Algebra class has been more difficult to get a feel for because we are trying to teach out of a textbook that is in no way aligned to the Common Core. These students are being prepared to be placed into a traditional Geometry class next year. I struggle with this class because it is difficult to find hands on activities that will help students learn how to combine like terms and how to rewrite equations using the distributive property. However, as we move through the course and begin solving equations, I will be able to work in more authentic tasks for students to work through and discuss.

During my time teaching the Common Core these first three weeks, I have also gotten some feedback from a few parents about how they feel about the Common Core. The only negative thing I have heard so far from a parent was through their student. The student told me that their father believed they should be getting  20 practice problems a night and only having two where they had to explain their thinking was “dumb.” I did explain to the student that I feel if you can show me that you know how to do two, you probably don’t need to do 20. But, I also had two other parents contact me and tell me they were excited for the change because they felt that change was necessary. One parent also felt that the changes will help her son who has struggled in math in the past. She felt that through discussion with his classmates, he will see where everyone is coming up with their answer, instead of just getting it out of the blue.

I feel that I should conclude with some important information. I attribute much of my attitude and success thus far with Common Core to the building I am in. I get time to collaborate every Monday with the other 8th grade teacher and we have also had time during early releases to discuss timelines, assessments, successes, and failures with the Common Core. The other teachers I work with seem to be embracing the change and discussing their ideas with everyone else. The leadership in my building is also very excited about Common Core and supports the staff in all ways. If you want to have success implementing the Common Core, I feel energetic, inspiring, innovative leadership is the key. From talking with others, without that type of leadership, the change will be difficult and frustrating.

How are you doing with the Common Core so far? I’d love you hear about your experiences.

First Common Core Assessment

This week, my students and I prepared for my first assessment over Common Core material. Through different formative assessments this past week and a half, I felt my students were ready. Last week, after a one-question check-up, I found I needed to spend an extra day teaching how to change a repeating decimal into a fraction. I gave the check-up again and felt students were ready. The students worked on a review together that was similar to my interim assessment and we went over it towards the end of class. Again, I felt comfortable with how the students were doing. The assessment I gave can be found here and here are some observations I made during each question.

Question 1: Given the following numbers, determine which are rational and which are irrational. Then, explain your reasoning. Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 9.23.52 AM

Overall, students did a really good job telling my a number is rational or irrational. But, sorting the numbers proved to be a little more difficult with some numbers being common mistakes. The fraction 1/3 was probably the most missed number of any. When I returned their quiz, students told me it was because they weren’t sure what 1/3 was equal to as a decimal. Most of them were using the idea that a rational number was a decimal that either terminated or repeated. If students had remembered that rational numbers could be written as the quotient of two integers, maybe they would have done better. But, I don’t think that definition is as student-friendly as “if the decimal repeats or terminates, it is a rational number.” I felt that with Common Core, it was important for students to come up with their own definitions and criteria as to what was and was not a rational number. Next time I teach this, I think I will be sure to repeat every day that, if a number can be written as the quotient or ratio of two integers, it is rational.

Question 2: Given the following numbers, graph them on a number line. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 9.23.52 AM

This question gave students more problems that any of the other questions. Many students graphed 1/3 and 1/4 farther to the right than any of the other numbers. Although students will manipulate fractions sooner and more often in Common Core, it was apparent that students’ knowledge of fractions at this point was very fragile. As I questioned students when we were going over their quiz, some of them said that 1/4 was 1.4. Some said it was 4. Some said they had no idea, so they just guessed where the fractions would go. Next year I will spend much more time working on ordering fractions. Another problem students had was where to put the square root of 5 and 2.236. Before students started their quiz, I told them and wrote on the board that the square root of 5 was approximately 2.2360679775. Even with this knowledge, there were students that had the two numbers switched. We talked about how 2.236 was equivalent to 2.236000000…. and that the square root of 5 would be larger in the hundred-thousandths place, making it the larger of the two. Next time I am going to spend more time ordering numbers that are very similar and point out the differences to help students determine which is larger.

Question 3: Write the repeating decimal 0.282828… as a fraction. Then explain what you did.

This question was a heartbreaker for me. Almost every student that took the quiz did this perfectly. They knew the exact procedure to end up with 28/99. However, there were many students who did not write what they did. A few said they forgot to or didn’t read that part, but many students said they didn’t know how to put into words what they did. This is going to be one of the interesting things as the year progresses because it is such an important part of the Common Core. My strategy for “fixing” this is, when I give homework, assigning one question and then having students explain what they did. Hopefully this practice will become habit as the year progresses.

Question 4: Lylah believes that 2/3 is an irrational number because it is a decimal that goes on forever. Logan disagrees and says that 2/3 is a rational number because, although it goes on forever, it does repeat, making it a rational number. Determine who is correct and why.

This question came about after we had the same disagreement in one of my classes. The two students had the same reasoning and we had a great discussion in class about whether 2/3 was rational or irrational. The students did great debating the answer and the entire class joined in. Many students did well on this question, but again, the students the did not know what 2/3 was as a decimal struggled to get this answer correct. Some students also correctly said that 2/3 was a repeating decimal, therefore a rational number, but said that 2/3 = 66.6666…. Again, I think students’ knowledge of fractions is very muddy and hopefully I can do some different things this year to clear things up, at least a little bit.

Overall, I thought the first assessment went really well. I gained some great insight into what students think and what they can do. On Monday we are doing our retake and I’m interested to see how well students improve, not that I pointed out their misconceptions.

First Week With The Core

We may have only had three days of class this week, but I’m already observing some interesting things teaching lessons aligned to the Common Core.

First, I planned my lessons with only a few questions/problems because I knew my class and I would be involved in discussion of concepts needed for or related to each question. Yet, I’m still running out of time. But, I’m getting to the same point in a lesson with each class, so at least I’m consistently running out of time. It seems that I’m only getting about half of the problems finished that I would like to, but the discussions we are having in class are awesome. I’m really surprised at how many students want to share and how much students do know where normally I would have assumed they didn’t. During Thursday’s discussion of different types of numbers (rational, irrational, integers, whole numbers, counting numbers), a student who may not have participated in a previous class when answers were only correct/incorrect, shared that numbers could be “big or small.” I know that may not be a technical term, but he was willing to share and seemed proud of himself when I didn’t say he was wrong and that he participated.

Another interesting thing was brought to light on Friday when students were comparing rational and irrational numbers. Students had to determine which number was larger, given a pair of numbers. For one example, the two numbers were pi and 3.5. The student I called on said 3.5. When I asked her to explain her answer, she said that since pi was irrational and went on forever as a decimal, it would eventually be bigger than 3.5. Although her reasoning was incorrect, she was correct that it was irrational. Another student correctly disagreed, so we had a discussion of who was correct and why. The students came up with a better explanation that I probably could have. One student agreed that pi continued going on forever, but the digits in the ones and tenths would always remain the same, so pi would never get bigger than 3.5. I feel I should add that these were regular level students, not honors. Some people probably think that discussions like this only occur in an honors class, but my regular level classes have had great discussions and debate as well. Today, Friday, there was a great debate over whether 2/3 was rational or irrational. One student said it was rational because “the decimal repeats or has a pattern.” Another student said that it was irrational because “the decimal continues on forever.” Both points were correct and the class as a whole helped put the two together to clear up any confusion.

During this first week, I still have a few concerns about Common Core. One of them is assessment. I know how I’m going to assess and I know that I’m going to identify students that don’t do well on the assessment, help them, and then allow them to retake the assessment to show that they now understand the material. I’m first concerned with how grades are going to look. It is possible after the retake that nearly every student could be getting an “A” in my class, which would be great. I’m just hoping that everyone else, including parents, are ok with nearly everyone getting an “A.” Another concern is not unique to Common Core. Once I have retaught material to students who do not understand and they retake their assessment, what then when they still don’t do well? Then I reteach and then still they may not do well. I know this is nothing new, but I already feel rushed and don’t know how things are going to work out over time.

Speaking of parent concerns, I sent out my parent letter Tuesday to inform parents about what the Common Core is and how their student’s class will look different. As of today, Friday, I have only received one response about Common Core. The parent is understandably worried about how the change will affect their student. Unfortunately, I have only taught three days of Common Core and I’m unsure how the change will affect students as well. I told the parent of the positive things I am already seeing in my classroom and that I will be constantly assessing and reflecting upon my teaching with help from my student evaluation form in Google Forms. Unfortunately, I won’t know the answer to questions until later in the year. I hope through communication and transparency I can ease any worries that parents may have with the transition.

I’d love to hear any observations you have made during teaching the Common Core so far.

Students Assessing Me

About a week ago, Annabelle Howard, someone I follow on Google+, wrote a post about allowing your students to assess you as a teacher. The post and discussion that followed can be found here. I thought this would be great since, now that my district will be using GAFE, this could be done easily and often through Forms.

Here is a link to what I came up with. I wanted to keep it simple and quick for students to complete. The questions I asked were:

  1. Name
  2. What am I doing in class that you like or that is helping you learn math?(Tell me at least 1 thing)
  3. What am I doing in class that you DON’T like or ISN’T helping you learn math? (Tell me at least 1 thing)
  4. What can I do better in my class to help you learn math? (Tell me at least 1 thing)

After I was finished, I laughed at the double standard. If you notice, I didn’t make any questions where students rated me on a scale of 1-10. I didn’t want to do this because, the numbers are so arbitrary, I wouldn’t really learn anything from them. Yet, the only feedback I’ve ever given students is a number. I also wanted students to tell me what I can do better, even if I’m already doing a good job. Again, this is different from my class in which I usually only give feedback to students who are failing about what they can do to learn the material. I never tell any other students what they can do to do better.

I’ve already had a great learning experience just from making the assessment. As I receive feedback from students, I’m sure I’ll learn even more. I’m going to encourage students and parents fill this out as often as they would like. I don’t want to wait until the end of a month or quarter before changing something that isn’t working for students. I’m giving parents the ability to fill it out because they may give a different perspective that will benefit me. Once I start receiving responses, I’ll post them along with any changes I’ve made.

Common Core, Stay Off My Lawn!

The new Samsung Galaxy S4 is pretty awesome. Some of its features include “Smart Scroll” which allows you to scroll through a page by tilting the phone instead of touching the screen. Another feature is “Smart Pause” in which the phone pauses a video if you aren’t looking at the screen. Although I don’t really need those features, they sound cool and make me want to buy one. In fact, more than 20 million people have felt the need to buy the Galaxy S4 since it was made available in April of 2013.

As advancements are made in technology, healthcare, transportation, etc., we all embrace the change and cannot wait to take advantage of it. Why then are changes in education often met with defiance? Although everything around me has evolved since I was born, why does school basically look the same? Why do we shake our fists like an old grouch at the Common Core, as if we want it to stay off our lawn?

At times, I am guilty of this myself, although I am often more excited about this change than others. One of the arguments often presented against change in education is, “It worked fine when I was in school, why do I need to change?” If that is true, then give up your cell phone and go back to a landline phone. Drive a car that gets fewer than 20 miles per gallon. I’m sure you’ll also want to return your flat-screen, HD television with 200 channels and go back to watching 4-5 channels on a low-definition television. All of these things worked well when I was a kid, why do we need to change them? I know this is a little extreme and sarcastic, but I have never figured out how lecturing to kids sitting in rows is still the best we can do. I also feel that teachers did well enough in school and enjoyed school enough to do it the rest of our lives. If we asked non-teachers how school worked for them while they were there, we might get a different opinion.

Others would says that there have been many changes in education, but none of them stick. I would absolutely agree with this. As other things have evolved around us, either linearly or exponentially, education seems to start something new, stop abruptly, and start something completely different. Education would benefit from reflecting on what works, what doesn’t, and moving forward instead of starting over. I know we often talk about this during professional development, but I rarely see change happen. Let’s start trying new things in our classroom, reflecting on the results, and then sharing our experiences with other teachers.

The transition to the Common Core WILL happen. Parents and students will have to buy in to the changes in order for the changes to be successful. However, it will be impossible for that to happen if teachers and administrators are not buying in. Please do me a favor and look at the changes you’ve embraced in your daily life. I love my iPad, DVD player in the van, lightweight running shoes, GPS, central air, 30 miles per gallon, healthcare…I could go on forever. These are all things that have changed and changed constantly since I was born. It’s time education changes as well.