Saturday, April 28, 2012

It's Not Just About Academics

One of the most rewarding aspects of working with Mr. Mitchell's class this year has been to watch the students independently experiment and grow in areas that are not always covered in typical elementary school curricula. This is possible because Mr. Mitchell not only allows experimentation, but encourages it and prompts students to share their work on the overhead and to teach other students how they created it. It's amazing to see how the student artists are able to break down their work into simple steps so that other students can follow along in real time and recreate their work on their own iPads.

On my last visit, I noticed several students creating and sharing art amongst themselves and Mr. Mitchell at lunch. I was very impressed with the way students were experimenting with different media and apps and creating impressive images of which they seemed very proud. I asked a few students to send me some of their work, Here are some of the submissions. (You can click on an image to see a larger version.)

Porcupine (Makennah)

My Dog (Karli)

Streetlights (Maddy)

Dog (McKinley)

Lizard (Makennah)

Rose (Karli)

Shark (Nels)

Mouse (Angie)

Fish (Monique)

And here is a short video of how students do the sharing--wirelessly connecting to the projector using an Apple TV.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Classroom Without a Front

The new classroom configuration;  projector cart in the center, teacher's desk along the wall.
Last week, we acquired an AppleTV for our classroom. Things will never be the same.

First, the technical stuff. An AppleTV is a small $99 device that is capable of receiving a video or audio signal over WiFi from an iPad (or Mac or any iOS device) and playing it back on an attached screen and/or speaker. This is accomplished through the AppleTV's HDMI port to output video and audio and an additional optical port for audio only.

The Sharp NetVision projector currently in the room lacked an HDMI port but did have DVI input. A simple adapter converts the video for the projector but strips out the audio signal. We solved that problem by taking the audio signal directly from the AppleTV's optical port and running it through a small box to convert the digital signal to RCA audio so we could plug in the existing speakers for audio. The result is that our iPads can project both audio and video wirelessly from any point in the room. Counting the AppleTV, the HDMI to DVI adapter, the optical audio to RCA audio converter and the HDMI and optical audio cables, the total expense was less than $150. As a bonus, it's easily disconnected and moved to another projector if necessary.

 Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

So how have things changed as a result of this new addition?

Change ... first, where is the front of the classroom?  I have now gained the freedom to move anywhere in the classroom, at any time, in order to present or demonstrate learning.  I can also move into the hallway or anywhere in the school.  The most immediate affect has been my ability now to view student work while the student is working and then be able to demonstrate or fix student work live on the screen.  This instantly translates into improved student performance as well as providing an example for the rest of the class.  Using the camera on the iPad II, I can now have a "document camera" to show actual student work and capture instantly examples of positive work to display to the class.

In one case, a particular math problem was presenting problems to one student ... so I took a picture, instantly projected it to the class to only find out that most of the students were struggling which allows us to instantly address questions and provide direction towards a correct solution.  In another case, given that the students email me a tremendous amount of work, I was able to show the student from across the room that in fact their email had arrived and "grade it live" while the student was correcting the work on the fly.  Again, I didn't need to physically be by the student but was able to walk across the room and provide a more direct approach when the student's first attempt failed.

 On a side note, since we brought our Apple TV into the room, 4 other teachers in my school made the investment and are now projecting live without wires.  It also means I can attach to their Apple TV and them to mine so if something needs to be projected to another room without physically going there... we've just broadened our reach and teaching ability.

Larry Mitchell, Classroom Teacher

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Little Math...And a Big Change

This week's short video documents a Friday afternoon math lesson. It's another example of the high standards that Mr. Mitchell has for his students, both in terms of math and in terms of independent and collaborative learning. But there is an important change in this week's lessons that will have a significant effect on the nature of instruction in the classroom for the remainder of this year and in the future. Before reading on, watch the video and see if you can detect it.

In the meantime, here's a quick description of the afternoon's proceedings.

A few days ago, Mr. Mitchell introduced the Khan Academy to his students as a way to supplement and extend math instruction in his classroom. The students took to it quickly and enthusiastically. For the first few days, all students downloaded and viewed the same videos using the excellent Khan Academy app on their iPads. Next week, Mr. Mitchell plans to create accounts for his students and let them select videos on their own. In the video, you'll see students using some Khan videos along with some math drills and some worksheets from the district's math program. As usual, pairs of student partners have to plan their afternoon's activities and negotiate the use of the iPad and other materials with each other. Headphones with audio splitters allow two students to view the same video simultaneously. Results are emailed to Mr. Mitchell, who can instantly evaluate them and work with students who need extra help.

So, did you catch the difference in this week's instruction?

Notice the iPad that Mr. Mitchell is using to broadcast the lesson to the class. There are no cables connecting it to the projector. Earlier this week, the class acquired an Apple TV which, when connected to the existing projector using an HDMI-to-DVI converter, allows Mr. Mitchell (and his students) to wirelessly project content from their iPads. This provides Mr. Mitchell with the freedom to walk around his classroom rather than instructing from his desk at the front of the class. As a result, he has moved his desk off to the side of the classroom and rearranged the student tables in a central square facing each other. The effect is to further decentralize the classroom and emphasize interaction and learning rather than teacher-directed lessons. He is more free to move from table to table, monitoring students and providing help as needed.

It will be fun to see how this change affects the nature of instruction in this classroom.