A change of venue!

Anyone who has read this blog has seen that the post count is down severely lately. There is a reason for that. I ran into roadblocks using the edublogs platform. I ran out of space very quickly for uploads, and I could no longer use LiveWriter to upload my blog postings.

Granted, all of those features would come back or be enlarged if I paid them the monthly fee. And edublogs is a good platform worthy of paying for.  Really, I almost paid it.

But then I thought about what I wanted to do in 2010. It involved much more uploading of files, some video perhaps, and more. The 5 gigs you get when you pay for edublogs would end up used again. Leaving me in the same position in a year or two.

Instead, I paid for my own webspace, hosted on hostmonster.com and constructed my own webpage for all my classes, linked my google calendar and profile to it, and created a subdomain blog.mrwaddell.com.  All for $5.95 per month for the next 3 years. That can’t be beat. Unlimited bandwidth, storage, and subdomains for the flat fee.

Hooray! I have my own website now!  Head on over to mrwaddell.net and check it out! It is a work in progress, and will be updated weekly for the next few months.

Also, I have a new wordpress blog, blog.mrwaddell.net.  I am working on getting RSS set up, and I am transferring all of the posts on this blog to that blog.

Come join me in my new digs!

Hooks and Ladders in Alg 2

An accident happened to me while teaching Algebra 2 this year. A very good accident. I was teaching solving equations, and I always tell my learners that solving equations is about looking for 1’s and 0’s. I stress this fact, and point out the 0’s and the 1 every time we solve something.

And of course, before we can do equations, inequalities, or absolute value equations, we do expressions. And EVERY single person in the class can rattle off “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally For Looking Too Rough” (did you forget the “from left to right too?).

I taught the lesson, I had SADMEP written on the board, and as I looked at it, I realized that if I wrote the 0 and the 1 down in the right places, it would help. Then I taught Inverse and Identity, and I realized that I had the Inverse and Identity right there!

But then I had an IEP learner in my room later, and he asked me to explain it again. He was confused on when to use SADMEP and when to use PEMDAS. He has been told since elementary school that PEMDAS was how to do problems, and in high school it was all different. He really struggled in Alg 1(I had him then also), and his struggles have not abated. So, I wrote down something else on his paper. It looked like this:

SADMEP imageLink: http://www.box.net/shared/2msix7air5

And the learner looked at this and said “AHA!  I understand now! We are doing different things.”

The whole issue of Expressions and Equations became clear to him, and I realized I had just written down something that made sense. It have him a HOOK to attach his learning.  PEMDAS was a hook as well, but it no longer works for solving, and putting them side by side made sense to him.

When the learner looks at it, she can see that if you have addition, you need a subtraction. If you have division, you need a multiplication. The Identity is written right there, and the inverse is the opposite! They groupings GIVE the learner a HOOK to LADDER what they know to solving equations.

My learners tell me it makes sense to them. I realize it is a ladder that allows them to practice what they know in a new situation and it gives them the same structure that PEMDAS did for expressions. It does not give them answers, it gives them KNOWLEDGE about how to solve equations.

I like it.

Two different thoughts on tech

Okay, these are two totally different thoughts on tech and presenting. One is from Laura Bergells from her blog “Maniactive” or “More than Powerpoint” entitled “How do you earn attention when presenting.” 

Laura tells a tale of a presentation she went to where the presenter was rude, arrogant and all together a jerk about tech. The presenter told the audience to pay attention only to him and turn off all electronics.  hmm, my that sounds familiar to these teacher ears.

In the end, Laura asks, “How do you EARN attention when presenting to a modern, tech-savvy audience?”  Right. How do we, as teachers EARN our learners attention. I “present” 3 times a day, for an hour and a half, to three different groups. How do I EARN their attention? Are they required to give me their attention?  I think this is the main question of the modern teacher.

Which brings me to the second idea from Dangerously Irrelevant. How many teachers have I heard say both of the phrase, “I am not good at math,” and “I am not very good at computers.”

I can not count that high. I try to be polite, and helpful when presented with these individuals, but I really have to struggle. These teachers think their audience is just going to give them their attention, and they have to do nothing to earn it. What really gets me is the wave of the hand that says, “it doesn’t matter”. Really?  It doesn’t matter that you are defective?

Don’t you think your learners have figured out you are defective? Does that impact the attention they give you? Personally, I have to say yes. I think I must EARN my learners attention. Every day. 3 times a day. For an hour and half each time.

No wonder I am tired at the end of the day. No wonder I look forward to going to school the next day so much!

One way to get more from your projector

I was frustrated last school year because it was a pain to use my projector.  I had an S-Video cable wired for my TV, 2 Video cables, one for the school’s computer and one shared between my elmo and laptop, and a fourth cable for my iPod.

It was the shared cable between my laptop and elmo that was the frustrating thing. A ppt was running on my laptop, but to show student work, or the book or anything else, I would have to unplug the cable from the laptop, and then plug into the elmo, and then back again.


So at the end of the year, I was thinking how I could fix this. How could I get all my tech wired into the projector, but not have to swap cables. I can’t physically run more more cables, because all the connections on the projector are full.  And then it hit me!  A KVM switch!

All a projector is is a Video Monitor. The KVM switch (the last time I used one of these was 20 years ago) allows you to have multiple computers hooked up to one (k)eyboards, (v)ideo, and (m)ouse.  Since the KVM switch doesn’t know or care what kind of video it is using, it “should” work.

Well, it does.  Today I went into my classroom and got it all wired up. I still have the school’s computer cabled  directly to the LCD, but all of my tech will go through the KVM switch. I can have 4 different machines physically wired to the projector, and then with the push of one button on the switch, jump to any of the other machines.

I ended up purchasing one of these Belkin Omniview SOHO 4 port switches. I bought mine from ebay. I purchased a 4 port KVM so I could have room to expand in the future. I only need 2 ports right now.  Another reason I purchased this switch is the hard buttons. Using an elmo means you can not switch using the keyboard. I needed a physical button to switch devices.

I have had other teachers complain about the fact they could only use their LCD with their elmo, or their computer, but now, with a cheap 2 port KVM switch, they can do both!

What not to do in video

I am in cadre that was given MacBook Pros to do podcasting and vodcasting this Summer and upcoming school year. Not too shabby, I downloaded Handbrake already in order to convert video from one format into another.  This was made essential because my Flip video camera only records in .AVI format, something the mac hates.  Downloaded Handbrake, change the .m4v extension to .mp4 and I am all set.

But today I am scanning blogs on Reader, and I discover this video on on one of the blogs.

Do me a favor though. Before you watch it, turn the volume DOWN to zero.  Don’t listen to it, just watch it. It is 6:02 minutes long.

Then watch it again but turn up the music and listen to the music along with the visuals.

Do you hate the music as much as I do?

Someone has spent enormous amounts of time getting the facts, the visuals, and then the orange / black/ white color scheme just right. It is an amazing video that is ruined by the cheap GarageBand audio tacked onto the video.

I think Dan said it best.   Don’t Let Your Students Use Music In Their Video Projects. Really.  Don’t do it. This video is every reason why not to allow music.

If the authors had spent one quarter of the time on audio as they did on the video, they would have an amazing video. Instead, they get something significantly less than they wanted.

When we were doing our training on Garageband, I spoke up and asked why we were being encouraged to spend 4 hours on a video and 5 minutes on slapping a cheap sounding soundtrack to our podcast.   The answer from the Mac trainer was dismissive and pointless. “The kids really get into finding something they like.”

Big deal.

The authors of the video above “really got into finding something they liked” and because they did that instead of finding something that fit with the story, the visuals, and the emotional impact of the pictures, they weakened their video.

Don’t do it. Don’t let yourself or your learners use music in their, or your, videos.

Videos in the Classroom

This post from Free Technology for Teachers made me think about the videos I use in my classroom.  In it, they go through over 30 different ways to get video for the classroom.  Some are better than others, but they annotate the sources to the quality and content.

From these sources, I use TED and YouTube and Vimeo the most.  Neither TED or Vimeo is blocked by my school district, so they are easy to use, but YouTube requires some … er … massaging to get the videos.  To get the videos from YouTube I have been using KeepVid. It works well for me, allowing me to save the videos in MP4 format and drop them into iTunes and play them on my iPod I have connected to my projector.

It has worked well, allowing me to have around 70 videos by the end of the year ready to go. This summer I am working on identifying another 70 or so and building my collection to use.

This is one of them. The Sixth Sense project. If you haven’t seen it. Do so. Now.  Don’t wait. It is short, and worth every second.

Free Technology for Teachers has a lot of links that I never knew about, so it will be fun to explore them and find more good math videos to use.

Here is one that will make your math class groan. I love it!

Dropbox is what teachers need!

I have really been struggling this year with my electronic organization.

Firstly, I am in charge of web development using the Angel LMS for the group of teachers creating and teaching our Advanced Algebra Applications 5-6 course. It is a new course, and the only course in the US that teaches the math it does. 

What that means is that I am in charge of a small amount of content today (250 megs) that will blossom over the next few years. Assessments, worksheets, photos, videos, and more will be created by this course.

And then there is the 200 megs of my AP stats material, and the 400 megs of powerpoints I created for my Alg 2 courses last year.  They suck, but given they were my first year teaching it and my first attempt, they will get better.

All that material is on my laptop.  Yes, the same laptop that is strapped to my back on my way back and forth to school on my motorcycle. Yes the same laptop that can be dropped and all the material created is gone in a second.


I have dealt with backing up before and have been doing manual backups.  That is so yesterday. If you have not been introduced before, meet Dropbox! It is a wonderful system that will synchronize your files with any number of computers for FREE! (2 gig limit on the free accounts).


With the very small Dropbox app on my computers, I now have full access to every file on my laptop I want. Using a very small “junction” hack, I directed Dropbox to look three folders in my directory, AP stats, Alg 3 -4, and AAA files.

Now, on my Mac laptop, my Destop at school, my smart panel desktop at school, my desktop at home AND my laptop I have access to every single file.  Even more, if any file is added in ANY of those locations, it is added to ALL of the computers I use the next time I turn it on.

Even better! I can access those files anywhere I have web access.

But wait, there’s more!  It is FREE for 2 Gigs.  Now, I actually have 2.25 gigs, because I used a link to login from another blog. As a way of giving back (and perhaps getting more myself) I would like to invite you to use Dropbox as well.

All you need to do is follow this link here, enroll in the Dropbox service, and you get a free extra 250 megs and so do I. Many of your (and mine) file backing up and syncing problems go away using this service. Heck, I may not even need to take my laptop with me everywhere I go!

5 year plans coming to fruition

I have been rather silent in my blogging the last several months mainly because I was so overwhelmed that I had to not do something, and blogging was it.

You see, 5 years ago this month I ran for my local school board. (I know, I know, why do you care but there is a point to this).  It was for an open seat, the member who was retiring had been on the board for many years and was an amazing and powerful woman who demanded success of the schools and worked tirelessly to achieve that. Very large shoes to fill, but I was passionate about education and from the private sector I felt this was the best way I could be involved.

Short story. I lost.

I came in third behind two very strong women who had lived in the community for many years and had many thousands of contacts and involvements. I lost to two very good candidates.

Losing was the best thing that happened to me!  Losing got my name out there as someone who was interested in contributing and helping, not tearing down. I became a board member of what was then the Education Collaborative. I served on committees and worked my fanny off.

Until one day I realized that I did not want to be a committee member, I really wanted to be a teacher. “Self,” I said, “it is time to either poo or get off the pot.”  So I did. Three years ago this month I quit my job, that I loved and enjoyed, and went back to school at UNR‘s department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning to get my teaching credentials.  [I loved the department and the courses, and had a tremendous time learning. Probably one of the few people who won’t bash the education department it seems.]

This May, I graduated with my Masters in Education. That is the reason I was so behind in my blogging, because I was fulfilling what was in the end a 5 year plan. To become a teacher was a journey that lasted 5 years, and it was worth every second of the pain and agony of the trip.

Granted, I have been teaching now for 2 years with the Washoe County School District and am still on many committees (LOL) but the trip is over with the M.Ed.

Where do I go from here?  Time for a new 5 year plan.

Another case working together benefits everyone

In another case of “working together benefits all”.  Dan Meyer posted a picture of himself throwing a ball into a trash can.  Except, he only posted the first half of the flight.  (See the original here.) This picture is one in his series of “What can you do with this?”, that challenges educators to think outside of their comfort zone and think inside of relevant, challenging, and interesting lessons.

David Cox then takes that lesson, and explodes it into a terrific lesson on quadratics, measurement and all around engaging math.  Oh, except it really wasn’t David.  IT WAS HIS LEARNERS who exploded it and created a fabulous lesson out of it.  Crazy what learners can do when we stop spoon feeding them and give them tools and interesting problems.

Well, ColleenK had to one up everyone and create an applet that would allow for anyone to do the same problem with different initial conditions.

I can see starting with Dan’s picture. Throwing that on the screen and asking the question that Dan asked. Will he hit the can?  Leave it at that.   Let the learners decide what they need to know in order to answer the question.  Having Geogebra handy would be a great idea.  Allowing the learners to answer the question on their own, with support and guidance when legitimately asked for (meaning “i don’t get it” is not legitimate) and the encouragement to TRY.

Summing up with something like David did, allowing each group to show how their solution is different or the same, and then putting Colleen’s app on the screen and giving each group a completely different set of initial conditions.  Or better yet, out to the lawn with a digital camera and MAKE sets of initial conditions.

Now that is successful teaching at it’s finest.

Why don’t more teachers communicate like this to see the really innovative and creative stuff we can do? (sorry, not the purpose of this post, but still a question that must be asked.)

Free Ebook from ASCD

From 15 April to 6 May, ASCD is offering a free ebook, no subscription or membership required. The title is: “EBOOK Engaging the Whole Child: Reflections on Best Practices in Learning, Teaching, and Leadership” and the link to it is here.

I downloaded it yesterday to both of my computers. It looks to be a good book.  367 pages, covering everything from violence and safety, to “empowering students” (not a phrase I would ever use, but whatever) to Instilling the desire to learn (easier said than done, but if there is one tip that helps me in those 50 pages than the time is well worth it.)

I have not read it yet, just the table of contents. But all it takes is one thing I can take away and use to make it a worthwhile use of my time.