Why iPad is Great For Teachers (and a Bit on How To Use It!)

The Science department at Walnut Grove is looking to make a technology plan. Before going forward, we’re using some collaboration time to share some current uses of technology by teachers in their classrooms. We have a teacher prepared to present how she uses an iPad, and another teacher prepared to present how he uses a Tablet PC. I don’t know whether anyone else at the school has used both, but I have… so I think that I have a unique perspective in that regard. Unfortunately I can’t be there for the collaboration, but I hope this blog entry will be helpful in my absence.

First, let me share my journey to using a Mac and iPad, which shows why I think iPad is great for teachers:

Now, if you’re going to use an iPad, you’re going to need apps, because although iPad has some great apps to start you off, you’ll need some specialized ones that do just what you want. That’s why my first recommendation to people with iOS devices is to get App Shopper*:
*This link may not work, because Apple seems to have pulled it from the App Store. Not to worry, the online service is still available from www.appshopper.com.

For teachers, the next app that I would recommend is GoodNotes:

Hopefully that gives people a good idea of why I think the iPad is great for teachers. I will be adding more to this page when I have time to add more about other useful apps for teachers, so if you’re interested in hearing more from me, please follow me here on WordPress or on Twitter: @teacheramiller.

See you on the flip side,

Andy.

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A Turning Point in the Year

Oh, hello blog of mine. Long time no see. Well, I’m back.

 

In my last entry, I talked about priorities, which you can read about here if you’re interested. It’s a good time for me to revisit this post, because aside from being approximately halfway through the year, this is a short week, and we have both collaboration tomorrow and Pro-D Friday. Let me take a minute to self-assess how I’ve managed my priorities…

1. I’ve definitely made family more of a priority. I think that working closer to home has been a huge help in that respect. However, I still haven’t made enough time for myself to workout regularly, so I’m going to have to manage my time better if I hope to be involved in pole vaulting anytime soon. I’d give myself a C- on making family priority #1.

2. We’ve managed (my family) to spend more time with the friends we have, plus we’ve managed to make a few new connections that I think have some potential. It will take some careful planning, but it will be worth it in the long run. I’d give myself a C+ on making friends priority #2.

3. Work has been incredibly challenging, due to the massive undertaking of flipping my classes (all but Science 9), plus incorporating some mastery learning. The blogging obviously fell off the map as soon as the school year started, but hey… I’m back now, right? Actually, I have several good reasons to get back at it:

  • I actually can’t make it to the collaboration session tomorrow, so I’m going to contribute through my blog.
  • I want to organize my thoughts on how things have gone so far this year before the end of the week, when I’m meeting with another flipped classroom teacher for Pro-D.
  • I’ve just been chosen to present two sessions at the Flipped Classroom Conference in Kelowna, BC on June 20th and 21st: one on my first year of classroom flipping experience, and another on Macs and iPads. I’ll need to have material ready well in advance of that. Given that this blog is supposed to be a teaching journal for me, it’s time to treat it as such… it should make my presentations a lot easier to prepare.

I’d give myself a B on work being priority #3, contingent to getting the blogging back on track, and getting more sleep.

 

I feel like this is a turning point in the year. I’m excited about the second half of the year, with the weather starting to warm up a little, and lots to look forward to. I’m going to keep the ball rolling tonight with another blog post, which will be on iPads for teachers. I’ll have a few app recommendations, some demos, and some video of me just sharing my journey into the world of Apple products and iOS. Expect more posts to follow this week, where I’ll finally debrief with myself on the flipclass implementation so far this year.

 

See you on the flip side,

Andy.

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Priorities, Public Declarations and a Challenge For All Teachers

Priorities are so important! With two weeks to go until school starts up again, I thought it would be a good idea to think about what my priorities are, so that I can focus on making my actions consistent with the things that matter the most to me. Too often, I have gotten so busy doing things, both at work and at home, without first carefully considering my priorities. Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the following quote about priorities by Stephen Covey:

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.'”

In the last several years, I have been trying to do too much. In trying to do so many different things, I wasn’t doing the best that I could. A lot of what I was doing was only good. This year will be different, because I will act more consistently with what matters the most to me. I will say no to less important things, because I am going to have more important things to say yes to. It will be the best year for me, because here is what I am going to say yes to:

1. Family. Shouldn’t that be everyone’s #1 priority? And yet, time and again, we put off our loved ones because we have other things to do. I am going to say yes to my family a lot more this year. Yes to my wife, who could use more help around the house, and with raising our two boys. Yes to my boys, who want my attention. And here’s a novel idea: yes to me… I’m going to start coaching and training for pole vault again this year.

2. Friends. I’m going to say yes, just by planning ahead a little better, to make sure that we have the time to get together.

3. Work. I’m going to say yes to flipping my class, mastery learning, and blogging. More on these things in future posts!

Of course, there’s a lot I’ll need to say no to, like:

1. Allowing students to be dependent on me.

2. Nonproductive meetings.

3. Overbooking myself and tight timelines.

4. Depriving myself of sleep in the name of productivity, which just makes me too tired and nonproductive the next day.

Now about public declarations… they’re important too! If you know what your priorities are that’s great, but sometimes it helps to write them down, because it makes them more concrete. I’m taking that one step further, and making a public declaration of my priorities because, well… I’m going to feel awfully silly if I don’t act consistently with them! In fact, if there is anyone who reading this blog who runs into me in the next year, and gets the feeling that I am not acting consistently with what is most important to me, please feel free to give me heck for it! There, that should keep me in line!

Lastly, my challenge to all teachers: do for yourself what I have just done for myself.

See you on the flip side,

Andy.

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The Evolution of My Practice

I graduated from York University in 1999 with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Applied Math, and a Bachelor of Education in Intermediate/Senior Math and Science (Physics). At the time, what I really wanted to do was to put all of my time and energy into the pole vault for a year, to see how well I could do. Unfortunately, I had a big student debt, and a car that was just barely getting me from A to B. A job offer came in to teach OAC (Ontario Academic Credit) Finite at summer school. I needed the money pretty badly, so I took the job. Here’s what my practice looked like at that time: first, I would write out my notes in pencil. Then I would deliver the lesson the next day on the chalkboard, and my students would listen and copy what I wrote. Then they would work on some exercises that I had chosen from the textbook. I had very little time left to walk around and help people. I didn’t check work for completion or give quizzes before tests. I gave a test at the end of each chapter, and an exam at the end of the course. I’m embarrassed at how basic my practice was then. Even worse: I did exactly the same thing the following summer when I taught it again at summer school (except that my notes and tests were already prepared, so it was a heck of a lot easier).

From July of 1999 (when my professional teaching career began) to October of 2007 (around the time of the fall BCAMT conference), I made small incremental improvements to my practice. While there was improvement in my practice, it was definitely a slow process. Regardless, I’m pleased to look back at the accumulation of knowledge about teaching that I have gained. Among other things, I learned (specifically about teaching Math) how to…

  • connect previously learned topics to new ones
  • ensure students got a comprehensive lesson and notes
  • predict common mistakes
  • anticipate questions from students
  • prepare students for assessment
  • use both formative and summative assessment
  • create a website to keep parents & students up to date
  • teach Math in french (oui, c’est vrai!)

My lessons in particular had come a long way… I now used lesson note templates, where key ideas were listed at the top, examples followed, with space in between examples for students to write. When a graph needed to be done, I would insert a grid into the template, so that the graph could be done well. It made the lessons go a lot more quickly, because students didn’t have to write as much (especially for word problems). I would run off the lesson note template on paper for the students, on acetates for me, and then I would mark it up on the overhead projector. Since the lesson note templates were electronic documents, I was well prepared to make the first significant change in my teaching practice… to start teaching with a Tablet PC.

I first tried using a Tablet PC at a retail store in about September of 2007, and I thought to myself: “I think that I could teach with this.” In October of 2007, at the fall BCAMT conference, I went to every session I could on Tablet PC’s. When I saw them demo’d, I saw the potential immediately. I thought: “Oh my gosh, my notes are already electronic… I could start using this technology immediately!” I knew then that I would be able to…

  • save my notes and post them on my website
  • highlight
  • zoom in on things
  • show kids how to use their calculators using a virtual calculator onscreen
  • research stats on the internet

and so much more… all during class for my students to see and learn. I was so excited that I called my wife at the end of the conference and told her: “I have just seen the future of education.” She had never seen or heard me so excited about teaching. Next, I called my principal. He was very supportive of using technology in the classroom. While he secured the funding for the computer, the Math department at Earl Marriott agreed to fund the projector. It took until the spring of 2008 to get it, but when I got my first Tablet PC, it was very exciting. My students were wowed by the clarity, the colour, and all the things that we could do with it. Students and parents were appreciative of the change, especially to be able to have lesson notes from my website when classes were missed. It seemed to be a good start.

In September of 2008, I began teaching at Brookswood Secondary School, where I became a leader in terms of technology, particularly in the Math department. I got the entire Math department up and running with Tablet PC’s, and again I felt that my practice, as well as those around me was going in the right direction.

But gradually over the next few years, the novelty wore off for students. Also, I had become so efficient with the Tablet PC, that I was doing too much for my students: all examples on the lesson, lots of the homework questions (the next day in class), plus I went over solutions for every quiz and test question upon handing them back. I was working my butt off, and my students were doing very little. This made me very unhappy. I thought that it was becoming the culture of the school to do the bare minimum to pass. That may have been true to some extent, but I also had a big part to play in the passivity of my students.

Last summer, during summer school, I piloted a new approach in which I would put a huge emphasis on the effort mark (separate from their achievement mark), which would be based on homework completion and some self assessment done by the students. This was done on a daily basis, and I was very pleased with the results. Students were making a real effort to show me what they had done to learn the material. I spent a lot more time talking to students individually, and a lot less time going over every single question with the class as a whole. My students did very well, but more importantly, my students and I truly enjoyed the learning experience. Due to the success that I had experienced in summer school with this new focus, I intended to follow the same formula for next full school year.

About two months into the school year, I realized that I couldn’t keep up! In summer school, I only had two classes running, but now I had seven. I didn’t have enough time to do all the homework checks and talk to students individually and teach a lesson and go over homework questions, quiz questions, etc., plus talk to parents. There just wasn’t enough time. I tried to simplify my plan, but it was a mess. I thought to myself: “If only I had more time…”

Rewind back a few years… I was very fortunate to have an excellent IT department head at Brookswood by the name of Jim Cartlidge. He helped me come to the realization that it would be worthwhile to make some of my own video lessons. He also helped me transition from a Tablet PC to using a Mac with a Cintiq Tablet (although that’s maybe not as significant pedagogically speaking, so I’ll save the nerd talk for another blog post). Initially, I made only one one two video lessons just to see how it could be done. Later, I decided to make video lessons for several units in Math 8 and 9. I brought students to the computer lab with me to watch the video lesson and take notes. They could pause, rewind, and watch the lesson over as much as they needed to as they took their notes, which my students and I felt was beneficial. I was also free during that time to do other work (attendance, marking, entering marks, emailing parents, etc.). This was great for me, but not ideal for the students, because I still didn’t get as much face-to-face time with my students as I felt I needed. I thought to myself: “If only there were a different strategy that I could use so that I could make better use of class time…” For me, I would find that flipping the classroom would be the answer, and learning to make videos had equipped me with the key tool that I needed to begin to use that in my practice.

Fast forward to the spring of this year. Through the BCAMT list serve, I heard about the Flipped Classroom Conference in Kelowna, and started looking into the flipped classroom as a teaching method. I had heard about this before, but I had never actually met anyone who had tried it. I started to read and learn all kinds of things about flipping on Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, WordPress, Zite, and so on. I learned from a network of classroom flippers what flipping is and its advantages. It became apparent to me that if I assigned the video lesson as homework, then we would have the entire class to work on the textbook assignment (traditionally assigned as homework). No longer would students bring work home to struggle in isolation. Students would sit in groups instead of rows. I would spend nearly the entire time working alongside students instead of lecturing. I gave it a shot for one unit in Foundations of Math 11. The results were amazing. The dynamics in my class were completely different. Students were allowed to work at their own pace, and were grouped according to where they were at in the unit. I connected with my students like I had never been able to before, because I was spending so much time with them! With all the extra time in class, we had the time to do the remedial work necessary on previous topics, in order to learn new ones successfully. This was absolutely crucial for this particular course, and for this particular group of students. Once classes were over in June, I went to Kelowna for the Flipped Classroom Conference, and became absolutely inspired. Not only was I learning how effective the flipped classroom approach could be, but I was also learning how it was a stepping stone to the opportunity to incorporate strategies in the classroom that I didn’t have time to before. Fortuitously, I got a new teaching position at Walnut Grove Secondary School, where the Math department head had just started flipping his classroom too, so I’m thrilled to have a partner to work with on flipping strategies come September.

So that’s how my practice has evolved to the point I’m at today. My intention is to fully flip my classes starting in September, and this blog will document my experience. Although school starts in September, my preparation has already begun, and I will begin to share how I am preparing to flip my classroom in this blog starting in my next post. Thanks for reading my post, and sorry for the lengthiness. Future posts will definitely be shorter.

See you on the flip side,

Andy.

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Blog Disclaimer

I thought that before I start adding any more content to this blog, I should write a disclaimer, because I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about me. I don’t want anyone to think that since I’ve started a blog, that I’m one of those people who thinks that they know it all. While I do think that I will be sharing some valuable information, the primary purpose of my blog is to have this serve as my teaching journal. In other words, it’s really about my learning. I even considered changing my username to learneramiller, but I think that my target audience (professionals in the field of education) will understand that when I say that I am a teacher, it means that I am also a learner. So I’m sticking with teacheramiller. Plus, I’ve already got a Twitter account that is @teacheramiller, a Google website that is https://sites.google.com/site/teacheramiller, and a YouTube account that is teacheramiller. So here is my plan to lend some credibility to this blog, while trying not to come across as being pretentious…

I will start by listing my credentials & experience. That should help readers of this blog understand who I am. I will also try to identify my limitations, so that readers of this blog understand who I am not. That way, if you read future blog posts of mine, you will know what my frame of reference is, and you can take it for what it really is.

I graduated from York University in Toronto in 1999 with an Honours Bachelor of Science, majoring in Applied Math and minoring in Physics, as well as a Bachelor of Education, with Intermediate/Senior Math and Science (Physics) as my teachables. I taught Math, Science and Computers (programming) for two years at Stephen Leacock C.I., in Toronto before moving to BC. The next two years, I worked at Southridge Independent School, teaching Math, Science, and a little bit of IT. I worked one and a half years in Burnaby teaching mostly Science, then started to wonder if I wanted to continue as a teacher, or look for other employment opportunities. I took the Society of Actuaries Course 1 Exam. I had one interview for a job as an actuary, but I didn’t get that job. I decided not to pursue becoming an actuary, so I went on with teaching, spending the next three and a half years in Surrey teaching only Math. In the last year in Surrey, I had the opportunity to teach Math in French as part of the French Immersion program at Earl Marriott Secondary School. That was also the year that I started teaching with a Tablet PC. For the last four years, I have been teaching Math at Brookswood Secondary School. This last year, I switched to teaching with a Tablet connected to a Mac, and I tried flipping a class for the first time (for one unit in Foundations of Math 11). Now I have just accepted a position at Walnut Grove Secondary School, where I will begin teaching Math and Science in September of this year. My intention is to use the flipped classroom method as much as possible in this next year (this blog will serve to document the experience).

As for limitations, I would say that readers of this blog should note that what I share in this blog is coming from my experience more than from research. I don’t have a master’s degree or even my PB+15. However, I have a number of years of experience and I’m very passionate about teaching. Recently, I have started doing a lot of online reading, some of which is research-based, some of which is experience-based, using tools such as Twitter and Zite to connect to my own personal learning network. In summary, I would say that while my formal education ended at the bachelor level, I continue to learn in other ways.

Now that this disclaimer is done, I feel that I am ready to share my experience and what I have learned as a teacher. Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will explain how my teaching has evolved to the point I am at today.

See you on the flip side,

Andy.

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Me & My Blog

IMG_1482Welcome to my blog! My name is Andy Miller, and I am a Math & Physics teacher at Walnut Grove Secondary School in Langley, BC, Canada. I will write more about me later, because I think that first I should explain why I have started this blog. There are two main reasons for this blog.

1. For me: I want to document my experiences as a teacher. In other words, this will function as my teaching journal. It is particularly important for me now, because I am changing my pedagogy significantly, starting with flipping my classroom.

2. For others: I want to share what I am learning as a teacher. My hope is that other teachers will find this blog useful. Ultimately I would like to accumulate, organize & post information that could become the basis of professional development presentations for me to do in the future.

Thank you for checking out my blog. More will be posted soon, so if you’re interested, stay tuned…

See you on the flip side,

Andy.

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