OpenStax: Mathematical Goldmine

When looking at the list of Open Education Resources (OERs) this week, I wanted to take a look at something that I do not have a lot of experience with and that I may actually use in the future, I am all about practicality in assignments where possible.

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Banfield1 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I already have some experience with some of the OER repositories such as Khan Academy and TED Ed which I use in the classroom as supplemental support and visuals for my students. Khan Academy has great videos for mathematics where concepts are mapped out and taught in a method that I would use, but often with much better drawings. TED Ed also has great lessons for that “filler time” at the end of a lesson in their puzzles, my students LOVE them, but I find that although many these lessons come complete with Questions, Dig Deeper, and Discuss sections (see link for example), they are often what I refer to as “island lessons” where there is no way to make them all flow together to create a unit of sorts.

I first looked at American Institute of Mathematics. I found that they had quite a few open textbooks available but that most of the content was at a university or college level meaning they are not overly useful for a K-12 educator, outside of some of the Precalculus 30 outcomes. I did look through two of the textbooks, Precalculus and Precalculus – College Algebra – Trigonometry,  and found they were not bad but were very wordy, something that I often find students struggle with.

Next was MERLOT, I had never heard of this one and I was drawn to its name for some reason……… I did not like the look of this one, it was not very user-friendly in my opinion as there were a lot of things going on and it was not very easy to tell what type of resource each item was before clicking to open it. Probably the most critical downfall was that most of the math resources I clicked into were applets and interactive, needing Adobe Flash Player, and support for Flash Player is being phased out, my division is not updating our Flash versions any longer.

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via GIPHY

Then I hit the open jackpot (for math anyways). I took a tour through OpenStax and I loved the layout, it was very easy for me to find an area that contained their math resources. I skimmed through all of their Algebra textbooks, through their Precalculus and the first two Calculus textbooks and, I was impressed.

  • The textbooks were available in several formats: PDF (with high and low-resolution options), web-based, and print for a small fee.
  • Textbooks cover content from my Grade 7 to university Calculus, meaning that I could find outcomes from every curriculum hidden in one of the courses!
  • The PDF was hyperlinked so that you did not have to do the “long scroll of death” to find what you were looking for.
  • There was a good balance of visuals and text through the textbooks, enough visuals to keep you engaged and to understand concepts but nothing for the sake of an image.
  • Textbook examples and solutions are well-described, colour-coded to help with understanding, extensive and thorough.
  • Problem sets contained a comprehensive list of types of questions including word problems, real-life applications, technology applications, review of basics, and the list goes on. This is the part that I was most impressed with by far as often I find that textbooks do not contain enough varied practice for students.
  • Odd questions have answers provided to help students guide if they are completing the exercises correctly.
  • At the end of many sections, especially in higher level courses, there were links to Youtube videos which further described certain concepts that may be difficult to comprehend if just reading examples.

Overall, I was very impressed with the diversity of these textbooks and their quality and will 100% be sharing them with my math colleagues for additional exercises and supports for students. My only critique would be that I would like to be able to download portions of the PDFs at a time instead of the whole thing but, all in all, I don’t really think that is a true thing to complain about.

I took a peek at the Physics textbook which seemed good for the above reasons but I do not teach Physics so feel that I was not able to state whether it applies to our curriculum, it is for AP Physics so there may be some units that would apply. The Social Science and Humanities textbook offerings do not align with Saskatchewan curricula so I did not look too far into these.

I love the idea of OERs but unfortunately, our educational system has become very monetized, I am afraid to know how much is spent on textbooks each year in the North American K-12 system. Getting a textbook on the “approved” list for a curriculum is not always the easiest and some of the approved textbooks are less than desirable. What benefits do you see to moving towards OERs in Saskatchewan in our current economic situation? Do you think that they would be a “hard sell” to prove that they are just as valid as textbooks from the “big companies” or do you think that most people would accept them easily?

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Making International Connections!

This week was very exciting in my Social 9 class and for my Learning Project. We have been working on making some handouts in a jigsaw activity and this week students shared them on their blogs (except one group…more on that a little later), we linked our group members’ blogs to our own, and we had a small reflection that was to be posted. I modeled how to link, and how to attach our handouts on my SMART Board and some of my students helped to support their peers one-on-one. Some of my students, such as Sydney, did an amazing job by already linking her summary to various other information in her post, some were still at a beginners level. I shared my reflection on our progress so far to Twitter and the magic happened!

I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Sue Wyatt who runs the Student Blogging Challenge on Edublogs as she went in and commented on many of my students’ blogs. Not only that, she asked questions and provided some additional information via links or videos, and she related our knowledge of First Nations culture and history in Canada with that of her home country, Australia. I am honestly not sure who was more excited, my students or myself. This was what I had hoped for when starting blogging with my students and it was happening, and a lot sooner than I had hoped for!

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So this week, we replied to comments on our blogs (after a conversation that went Students: “But what do I do if someone asked me a question?”, Me: “Answer it!”), we finished up our first “true posts”, and we started our Current Events assignment for November, which I will be requiring to be posted on the blogs by November 30 (our regular due date). This upcoming week, we will be completing a Location Research Project and learning how to cite our sources for information and for images when blogging as it is different than if they are sourcing in print. We will also be commenting on our peers’ blog posts for this assignment.

I learned a few different things about using Edublogs this week that I wanted to share as well:

  • Once I have reviewed and published each post, students cannot go back in and edit it. I have the security setting set so that I have to approve all posts and comments before they are “live” and one of my groups was not quite done their handout when I published some of their posts. This is something I will have to keep in mind for the future and will be looking into maybe I just didn’t find the correct button to allow this.
  • Once I have approved a comment, students were able to respond to comments and they were published without my approval. This is something I am okay with but I will have to ensure I watch the comments while we are still learning how to be appropriate online.

I am so excited with how well this project is going and I am hoping to continue it for the entirety of the year with my class and continue into future years. Outside of my next few planned assignments, I hope to find another class that we can start to interact with. Has anyone done pen pals or blog pals? Is there a specific site that helped you find a buddy-class or do you have any suggestions on how I can get started?

Alright students, now remix!

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By Ansonlobo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This week, we looked at open education and the culture of sharing. I have always thought of myself as a teacher that would share my content and will eagerly share the resources that I use and create with others that are looking for ideas, support, or a place to start. I will even admit when what I have is awful but at least a starting point for content (cue that one year I taught Science 5 for 2 months at the beginning of my career…I do not recommend ANYONE using what I created then!).

I have played with putting my course material online, I made a few flipped lessons last year, and I believe in using the internet to help support our students in their learning but, I realized as I was watching the videos assigned to us this week that I was more-so paying lip service to the idea of sharing openly than actually actively working toward contributing to open education. I felt a little bit guilty of feeling like I was contributing when I was still very much secluded in my own little world.

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By Creative commons (the original CC license symbols), the combined work by Shaddim and is hereby cc-by-4.0 licensed. [Public domain or CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Larry Lessig and his work on copyright and copyleft is something that I was aware of as I have previously taken a course from Alec, however, I was very intrigued by his idea that the internet is reviving creativity and the read-write culture. I resonated with his reference to how children and adolescents today are engaging in (re)creativity and how he is pushing for a change in how products are default licensed. To put this in a personal context, I would be a full supporter of copyleft, I encourage those I share my resources with to rework and adapt to their situation or to use “as-is”, whatever they choose. I encourage them to share with the next person down the line as well.

Oh, the possibilities that Ze Frank discussed in his TED talk, My Web Playroom! I think that when I decided to blog with my Social 9 class for my Learning Project, I was envisioning a final outcome that resembled some of the projects that he discusses but, after a few classes, I am not sure we will quite get there. (Maybe if I work with them on this until they graduate, we could make something really unique). The simple requests that he makes to the internet remind of the Post Secret project that was created by Frank Warren (maybe it has something to do with a common name…). Warren encouraged strangers to send him anonymous postcards and posts them on his website. He has published several books of secrets I have always been intrigued by Post Secret and see it fitting into Lessig’s definition of (re)creativity. The community around the project is very supportive (for the most part, darn trolls) and work together to decipher secrets that are submitted in other languages or in codes. I get the feeling of being a part of something bigger when I look at this project, connected to others around the world.

RIP: A Remixer’s Manifesto was a great watch, with some great music. In it, Brett Gaylor challenges the current definition and laws around copyright, gives a history of the intent of copyright and patents (which I was surprised to find out was created to encourage more production of ideas, not to monetize ideas), and there is even a hint that there the cure for many diseases may be just around the corner, but due to a patent, researchers’ hands are tied. He demonstrated that many songs by big musicians are already a remix of something they have heard elsewhere and that the songs his favourite artist, Girl Talk, creates are individual in their own rights.

So how does remixing play into our everyday lives as teachers? I think that Roberta summed it up in the most accurate manner: we ask our students to remix every day and we call it learning. Reading this caused me to pause and think about all of the assignments I give my students, and I couldn’t agree more. Teachers share information with students and, to ensure that their students comprehend, ask them to repeat, retell, and apply the knowledge to other situations. In fact, when looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy, the entire section labelled Synthesis could be renamed “Remix”.

This has left me with a lot to think about, much like Sapna, I like that online and open education supports learning as it tends to be accessible, affordable and flexible. I want to contribute but I need to stop just saying I am contributing and actually do something to help. Maybe that will be my next project….

I’m sorry, you don’t have access to this webpage….

This week I was able to get my students signed onto their blogs for the first time. After spending a fair amount of time setting up an account and blog address for each student last week, I was excited to get them online and choosing a theme and title for their blog. I handed out my Getting Started with Blogging worksheet, everyone logged into their computers, reached the Edublogs website, were given their usernames and passwords, and only about 2/3 of them were able to log in.

“Mrs. Taylor….I don’t see that…I get this message…it tells me I don’t have permission to access the page…I don’t have permission to edit this page…”

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via GIPHY

Ugh. I went into my “teacher side” of Edublogs and tried to see what was different for those students than the others that were able to log on, I couldn’t figure it out. I started to get stressed, this is why teachers are afraid to do things online in class: what happens if it doesn’t work? Then what? After fiddling with the system for a few minutes (and luckily the rest of my class were busy picking a theme, a very important task) I gave up and decided to email the Edublogs support team for help.

“Okay, I sent an email for help from the company, hopefully, we will be able to get you online tomorrow or later this week, I just can’t seem to figure this out. If you can’t log in, please find someone who could and follow along so that you can see how the blog works. “

I am a big fan of letting students know that teachers are not perfect and that sometimes we struggle with content or in completing things just as they do. I find that it helps students relate to the teacher and know that it is okay to not be successful the first time, that is how we learn. I am a big fan of teaching and being aware of mindset in the classroom.

Now, I have emailed support for various things on various websites in the past. It is not always the most useful approach and I had the intent of calling after class to see if I could talk to someone who might “fix” my issue a little more immediately. I was happily surprised that Edublogs emailed me back in four minutes. FOUR MINUTES. That has to be an all-time record for me!

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Screenshot of email

As you can see, I had tried to delete and re-add the student accounts. That was not successful. I couldn’t believe how fast I received a response. I quickly sent back the usernames and, even though it was the end of class and 1/3 of my students hadn’t been able to log on, I felt it had been a definite win.

Later that day, I received the following email from Sue Waters:

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Screenshot of email

I was thrilled. Not only was I able to receive support, it took less than 12 hours to have my issue fixed for me along with the tools to fix it myself if it happened again. I must say, I am happy I chose Edublogs as my platform with this service!

My next class with my Grade 9’s, we were able to all log on (yay!!!), change our blog titles, add category and tag cloud widgets, and make our first post. I modeled the post on my SMARTBoard and all students wrote the same thing but they were excited to get out there and make a post. We even embedded a link to the Saskatchewan Grade 9 Social Studies curriculum page and my students thought it was amazing. (“You can do that? Wow! This is awesome!) This week, I hope to have them finish up the jigsaw activity they have been working on and post their student-made summaries on their blogs.

I also put out a challenge for my students. Each month we complete a current event. I find several new stories and have them answer some questions on the story as a way of interacting with the current headlines and world issues. I have challenged them to complete their Current Event on their blog this month. A few students looked excited so I hope to see some online events!

If you have a moment, check out their blogs, maybe welcome some of my students to the blogging world on their posts or mine, not only will it likely blow their minds someone outside of our classroom commented but I would very much appreciate it!

Mrs. Taylor’s Classroom (Student blogs are down the right sidebar.)

Social Activism Online: Leading the Charge or Contributing to Nothing?

It seems that there is a new hashtag campaign every day, advocating for this, boycotting that, bringing awareness to some new cause. Some of these campaigns are more successful than others, protests which once took extensive planning can occur in a short span of time and simultaneously around the world (such as the Women’s March or Climate March that occurred earlier this year), images of companies, groups, or individuals can be destroyed or lifted up (such as #boycottUnited, or NASA’s #ayearinspace). But how does one hashtag outlive others, and why are some successful while others never achieve a viral status?

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Although there is a history of failed social activism, we are seeing increasing more successful campaigns and social media is becoming the platform of choice for activists to share their story.

 

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Photo Credit: MTSOfan Flickr via Compfight cc

Sabina Khan-Ibarra makes several points in her article The Case for Social and Hashtag Activism as to why activists are choosing social media. She acknowledges that social media allows us to reach more people, more quickly in order to share our message, that conversations can happen worldwide instead of in a localized area, that those who are not able to leave the home are able to access the cause, and that social media creates an engaged and interactive audience. Her strongest point, is that social media gives the average person the ability to call out injustices, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations and be heard by a large audience. Although there are many that will just “retweet”, “share”, or “like” a post, these slacktivists are still useful as they are serving as a means to continue to share the message to those who will take action and therefore, we are not losing out on the purpose because those sitting on their couch do nothing but click a button.

In fact, it is the average person’s pleas that are often form the most successful campaigns. Jonathan Moyer’s article describes how campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter tap into feelings that are already present and prevalent in our society and this is why they are sustainable. When we are looking at issues that touch the general public, we are more likely to go out and say something, to act on our thoughts that would typically only solicit a retweet or a share. When we use social media to try to demean or punish brands for their actions (such as United Airlines) it doesn’t “hit home” in the same way as systemic prejudice.

“[…]people are now faced with real, personal, unavoidable issues that drive them into public spaces to attempt to break down oppressive structures.”

-Jonathan Moyer, Political Activism on Social Media has Grown Some Teeth

Campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter, #WomensMarch, and #ClimateMarch demonstrate that there is meaning and worth in social activism, the trick is finding the appropriate means and motivation. Caroline Dadas looks at the trend of hashtag activism and proposes considerations and warnings for those who wish to engage online.

“I argue that those engaging in hashtag activism need an understanding of the political and historical context of the issue(s) they are describing; an awareness of how rhetorical velocity and remix might affect their tweets; and a willingness to include links to reputable news stories in their tweets, in addition to other factors.”

-Dadas, Hashtag Activism: The Promise of Risk and Attention (p. 18)

Dadas pushes the need to ensure that activists consider the brevity of hashtags that they will be using to invoke change as well as the ways in which the hashtag and the images used to support their cause can be skewed, such as how #yesallwomen saw a counter #notallmen campaign.

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via Rikki’s Refuge on Flickr

So is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? Yes. Following the suggestions of Dadas, the conversation needs to use simple hashtags, and be cognizant of the various political, historical, and social contexts of the topic to ensure that the cause is interpreted in the correct manner. There will be naysayers,  just as there are in any social justice conversation, and these need to be addressed in an assertive but conversational manner and backed with research.

Using social media will likely be the activism of the future and I agree with Katia Hildebrandt that:

If we are online, as educators, and we remain silent about issues of social justice, if we tweet only about educational resources and not about the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in Canada, or about the burning of Black churches in the southern United States, we are sending a clear message: These issues are not important.” 

-Katia Hildebrandt, In online spaces, silence speaks as loudly as words

Our students need us to model how to engage online, to be digital citizens, and to speak for what we believe in. We need to model and teach how to engage in social justice issues to ensure that, when our students are in our shoes, they are equipped to engage in our ever increasingly online world to enact change and share their passions. Otherwise, we are leaving our students ill-equipped to succeed and grow in their future.

Do you agree that teachers need to be engaged in social activism? Is it their responsibility to help our students develop the digital skills they need to enact social change? Do you think the potential risks that educators may encounter when engaging in social justice online are “worth it”? I would love to hear your opinions!

Setting the Stage

This week, I have been up to a few things for my digital learning project. I started with creating a few documents to help organize my students for their upcoming units, have been working on a “Getting Started with Blogging” cheat sheet (I will post this once I have it fully tweaked the way I would like it), and have made my first post on the classroom blog.

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Screen shot of my classroom blog

I have decided that I will model how to use a blog with my students for a unit before letting them go free and have them put basic, fairly common posts initially so that they can become comfortable with the platform. I am also waiting on permission forms to come in so I cannot get rolling too fast with having them posting away until I receive a form from each student.

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Screenshot of Edublogs form to add student blogs

Today, I sat down and created blogs for each of the students in my class. It was a little of a tedious task as I had to create a username and blog URL for each student. Thankfully Edublogs has a great support page on Choosing Student Usernames, Blog URLs and Blog Titles and, with a little planning and thought on how to maintain the privacy of my students but have unique usernames, I was off! For now, if you are looking at my page, you will see their usernames/URLs on the right side bar of the post but, as we log in this upcoming week and name our blogs, this should change to be [Student name]’s Blog or Learning, that I have not quite decided upon yet. What do you think? Should this be uniform or should I allow the students to choose?

We started a jigsaw activity last week on cultural aspects of various First Nations’ groups based on their geography and students are to create a handout on their region in our next class. Once these are complete, they will be posted on the classroom blog, I can’t wait to see how they do, they were already excited and talking about how their product will look!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the theme I chose, the layout, or anything else!

Digital Identity and Schools

We were asked this week to talk about one of a few different things and of the list, I chose Digital Identity. I chose digital identity because I feel like it relates to my learning project as it will be a topic that I discuss with my students while we are blogging and considering when we are presenting ourselves online.

Maintaining your digital identity is a complex task. This has a lot to do with the ability to take things from the internet and claim them as your own along with the fact that once it is online, there is no way to take it back and it will always be documented on the internet.

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Photo Credit: Oliver Dunkley Flickr via Compfight cc

When I look at my digital identity, some of the things that I do to manage it is to do regular checks of my security settings on my various social media accounts as well as mediate and go on what I call an “unfriending spree”. I go through those who have the most open access to my accounts every 2-3 months and consider if they still need to be my friend or connection on my social media account and often unfriend quite a few people every time I do this. I have also become more selective on who I will be connected to.

Not only do I limit and restrict who has access to me on certain accounts, I also censor what I share, like, and comment on. I recognize that every time I engage with certain content online, others online are able to see what I have engaged with. When I go to share a video, like a photo, or comment on someone’s status, I always take a moment to consider how this will affect me as a teacher if someone sees it, can it be “used against me” in some way? That teacher hat never comes off and therefore I need to ensure that I am always acting “on duty”. I also have to consider my division’s procedure for Use of Social Media.

When talking with students, or when I see students interacting on various forms of social media, I try to share the risks of sharing online. My division has a policy on what students are allowed to share and I have dealt with some issues of inappropriate use of social media as an acting administrator in my building but I feel that more needs to be done in order to help students understand the effects of them sharing personal information online. This is part of the reason why I have chosen my major project to involve interacting online through blogs. The blogs will allow me to bring digital citizenship and some of the laws and regulations of sharing images, photos, and the work of others into the classroom in a real and applicable manner where they may demonstrate more “buy-in” to the ideas of being a citizen of the digital world and not just someone who uses it.

Do you have personal rules or procedures you use to ensure the security and appropriateness of your social media accounts? Do you add your students (current or past)? Does your division have a policy around social media that you are required or recommended to follow?