LaTeX in WordPress

I assumed I would have to pay fees, get a plugin, or use WordPress.org in order to have math rendered in my blog posts. Not so.

Details are at http://en.support.wordpress.com/latex/, but here’s a sample:

f\left(x\right)=\frac{5}{2}cos(x-\pi)+\frac{1}{2}

Nice, eh? It renders an image and puts the \LaTeX in the ALT tag. I love it.

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Computer Lab Design

I was in a high school this morning to work with two Career Studies classes. It was an introduction to Blended Learning using the virtual Learning Environment (Desire2Learn), and we were scheduled into a computer lab. This is what it looks like:

A picture of a computer lab

I couldn’t fit it all into the frame, but there are 30 computers (there are a few along the windows to the right of the image) and there is a projection screen on the wall behind me to my left. The classroom is enormous; I’d estimate it’s 30 feet (across in the photo) by 60 feet.

As I worked with the students I found the setup of the room to be really frustrating. Most students were too far from the projection screen, so that made it hard for me to demonstrate stuff whole-class. Also, if someone needed elbow support, I was 40 feet away from my computer. In the end I decided to mostly provide verbal instructions and coach people that needed help. The screens face every which way, so I couldn’t even see half of them from any one location in the room.

The classroom definitely needs a redesign. Some points I would consider:

  • arrange desks to make it easier for the teacher to circulate and guide the learning
  • keep the instructional laptop close to the learning area
  • put students closer together so they can help each other
  • keep the projection screen close to the student computers

It’s not a highly mobile classroom; you can’t move stuff frequently. These are desktop computers which use power supplied by posts coming out of the floor. But up to the limitations of the hardware, I think we could do better.

Response to @dougpete and using Social Media with students

Once in a while I like to go back an arbitrarily-round-number time in my posts to see what I said. Today I returned to about a year ago and saw a post called tMI – Students’ Personal Lives and Twitter in the Classroom in which I shared some concerns that a teacher brought up during a professional learning session. I quickly read it over, and then tweeted it out again:

Then Doug Peterson (@dougpete) commented on the post, which got me thinking some more. We had a brief Twitter exchange, prompting more firing of neurons. I started to reply with a comment, but I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m ready to paste my new-and-improved-but-still-not-final thoughts in this new post. First, here’s…

Doug’s comment

Interesting post, Brandon. I think you’ve both asked and answered some questions in the post. In light of the fact that the Ontario Curriculum has yet to prescribe the use of social media, it is currently just another tool that a teacher may elect to bring into her or his classroom. I think that there is a good argument for it once a teacher gets his / her head around it. As I would imagine that you’re summizing, I’m in favour of its use, where appropriate. Schools didn’t have internet access when I started teaching but many of my students were connected and connected to me – I ran my own Bulletin Board Service and students were able to dial in and talk on chat boards, ask for homework help, and even upload programs for solution.

To this end, I’m a real fan of a student-created Acceptable Use Policy rather than the legal ones that are so often used. Of course, the teacher drives the policy!

You used the term “wild west” in your post so I’ll throw back another popular analogy that we don’t ask students to drive without teaching them first. What better way to teach the effective and, yes, appropriate use than in the classroom of a professional educator that knows the tool and what it’s capable of.

There are so many “social networks” that are available including the Ministry’s LMS that a mere mortal teacher wouldn’t be able to monitor them all. But, we’ve all been in situations where we see things and we do need to act on them. I can remember, as a football coach, going into the stands to break up an altercation or, as a hockey fan getting involved for no other reason that it’s the right thing to do and one of the participants was wearing a school jacket. I would hope that anyone would do the right thing whether or not they were on the clock.

I think that it’s a good conversation to have and that people aren’t running and hiding. You know that, with the proliferation of services, that it’s going to happen. We’ll look back on these conversations with a smile wondering why we spent the time to comment.

We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account.”

And My Reply

Thanks for commenting, Doug. I keep returning to the idea that teachers need to develop some comfort with some platforms so that they can engage with students meaningfully. Part of that is for the learning at hand (the science or philosophy or whatever), but another significant part is for students to learn how to interact appropriately (learning to drive, as you say). I don’t think any more that we should ignore the activities of our youth online just because their virtual personas may be “unreliable”; instead we need to be careful in how we interpret their interactions. The teacher I spoke with wasn’t concerned about whether they were on the clock (teachers are always on the clock), but rather whether they would know what was serious or truthful and what was joking or dishonest.

I’m planning to engage with students online next year, and I’m trying to decide where the boundaries should be. I won’t be using Facebook with students (family and friends only, thank you), but Twitter seems very useful as a learning tool. I’ll be teaching high school students as well, which might make a difference; I just don’t know what kind of difference. I see examples of teachers (like Danika Barker, @danikabarker) using Twitter to engage and interact with learners, and I see a place for that in my own teaching. I’m also a relatively experienced Twitter user, so my comfort with the platform takes away some barriers that another teacher might still need to overcome. As I mentioned in the original post, I believe hashtags are a good way to interact without interfering too much in students’ lives.

So I don’t think we need to protect our teens from social media as though the platforms themselves are evil. Instead we should be working with our youth to understand the place of social media in their (our) lives with a mind to positive, thoughtful interactions and the legacies we leave. We don’t want a young child to be on Twitter, but I think we need our teens to be on Twitter or something like it. How else will they develop the skills and the resiliency they’ll need in other parts of life?

I’m thinking that the “right” approach is to treat online communication much like offline communication. The main differences are that it’s more transparent, more public, and definitely more permanent. Those differences are mostly strengths, but they should inform and temper our uses. The challenge is to be wise in applying these technologies to our communication without introducing a chilling effect. And I think teachers will best be able to meet that challenge if they’ve taken some time to learn a platform well.

Figuring out how to make that happen isn’t easy, of course. I’ve given workshop sessions and written blog posts galore on how a teacher might use Twitter for professional development (this is both to improve their PD and also to help them consider other uses for Twitter). I’ve encouraged my local colleagues to use social media for their learning. I’ve commented on blog posts, invited people to EdCampSault, and offered one-on-one time to learn tools. But teacher need will win out over everything else in its own time: the need to connect with colleagues or the need to improve student learning. When a teacher becomes aware of the power of social media for learning, they’ll see the importance of figuring it out. So I try to be an awareness builder, because these tools are a major part of our lives.

Doug, I really like your last paragraph: ‘We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account.”‘

We are developing online presence all the time, and remembering that online presence is a real-life presence should go a long way towards ensuring we make good choices in our interactions with students.

Thanks again for commenting!

“Being an independent practitioner is inconsistent with professional practice.”

wall.jpg by frenchbyte on MorgueFile

Don’t go it alone. Image from frenchbyte via MorgueFile

The title quote is from Catherine Montreuil, Director of Education for Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. She said this during her keynote presentation at On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning on April 2, 2014.

This has really stayed with me. I’ve thought before about the moral imperative I believe teachers have to use technology in their teaching, and to be a reflective practitioner. I’ve always thought it a basic requirement to keep up-to-date with our best thinking around instructional strategies and assessment approaches.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it quite they way she put it: that it’s actually unprofessional to be disconnected.

I believe you can connect in any way you like. Connecting with others in your school is a good first step, but the insular nature of schools can prevent you from seeing the possibilities for learning. Technology has made it tremendously easy to connect, build relationships, and learn from others who think a little differently because they don’t have the challenges/restrictions/history/blindspots that any group has. My preferred platforms are Twitter and WordPress, but there are many ways to share and to question. Create your Professional Learning Network (PLN).

The opportunity is there for all of us. You can choose how deep you want to go, but I don’t think you can in good conscience choose to ignore it completely. Learn from and with others, because no one has all the answers.

A collection of Storify stories from #OTRK12

@tommy2toneman: Hanging with the registration gang. #OTRK12  #OTRK12Selfie

@tommy2toneman: Hanging with the registration gang. #OTRK12 #OTRK12Selfie

Jaclyn Calder (@jaccalder) published the first one I saw, and I thought I might build a collection here. If you created or found a Storify story from On The Rise K-12 2014, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

@jaccalder: Competencies Session at OTRK12

@jaccalder: Collection of Notes and Reflections on #OSSEMOOC

@bgrasley: @Stephen_Hurley’s keynote at #OTRK12

@bgrasley@cathymontreuil’s keynote at #OTRK12

@bgrasley: #OTRK12Selfie – A Story of Relationships

@YKrawiecki: On The Rise K-12 2014 Conference

@MeglioMedia: OTRK12 2014

@lynekohutOn The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning

@htheijsmeijerOTRK12CHOIR

What I Learned Today (at #OTRK12): Not having the answers feels good!

(If you like, you can hear me read this post here.)

We concluded the excellent On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning symposium today, and perhaps two dozen people came up to me with the same, interesting remark: the “feeling” of OTRK12 was really, really positive, especially compared with other gatherings of educators.

I discussed it a bit with a few people and came to a conclusion that might explain the difference.

When you go to a subject association conference you meet a lot of people who have “solved” teaching problems. They have instructional approaches that work (for them). They have (perhaps) a strong idea of what, precisely, they want students to learn. They have years, maybe decades, of experience with experimentation in their classroom which inform their practice now. And this is all good, to a large extent.

The problem is that each of those people has a different solution to the problems of teaching math or chemistry or geography or whatever. Unfortunately, sometimes this creates experts who are very certain of themselves, or who are held up as authorities in their subject area to the exclusion of innovative thinking.

Digital Learning is different. There are people who have decades of experience with digital learning, but there is no one who has even years of experience with today’s digital learning. It’s just not possible, because today’s digital learning doesn’t look like digital learning from 2012 or 1998. In digital learning, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, people aren’t experts; they just have expertise.

Brilliant people were here sharing what they have discovered. These are really, really skilled educators, and they are learners just the same as those who learn from them. There’s a tangible humility.

And so OTRK12 had nearly 600 happy participants who are well aware that we’re figuring stuff out as we go along, and that it will always be that way, from here on out, forever.

No one has answers, but everyone has possibilities. No one is very comfortable, but everyone is very hopeful. No one knows the destination, but we’re all moving in the same direction.

And it feels good.

Upcoming #OTRK12 Session Highlights – Part 3

Another chance to hear about the great opportunities at On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning on April 1 and 2, 2014 in Mississauga, Ontario. You can read all the details at http://otrk12.ca. If you want to attend, you can register there (the cost is $100 per person per day).

The awesomeness continues

I’m sure you’ve already read through Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Here are a few more beautiful learning opportunities.

Note: If you have already registered and wish to change your session choices, just send me an email with the new session code(s).

Tuesday

Session Block 1

D1S08: Leaping into Literacy Test Preparation with D2L

This session will look at the TVDSB OSSLT preparation strategy using D2L. We will demonstrate what the course actually looks like, the data that can be collected when utilized with students (individual/group, skill/competency) and how it is being put to use in a variety of different ways in our schools to suit their unique needs.
Intended Audience: Secondary Teachers, eLCs/DeLCs, Administration
Experience Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Presenter(s): Shereen Miller and Carrie Huffman

Session Block 3

D1S22: Blended Learning Meets Science & Technology (Elementary Focus)

Join us for a look at Ministry provided Blended Learning resources specifically for K-8 Science & Technology, including the provincial Virtual Learning Environment (vLE). Did you know that Ontario teachers have access to blended Science and Technology packages, carousels of OERB objects, as well as tools such as ePortfolio, News, and Calendar? Did you know that Blended Learning provides flexible and engaging ways to help students demonstrate their learning and focus on activities that highlight communication, collaboration and differentiation? Come and find out more about how you can make Blended Learning part of your students’ learning experience.
Intended Audience: Elementary Teachers, eLCS/DeLCS, Administration
Experience Level: Any Level
Presenter(s): Sharon Korpan

Wednesday

Session Block 1

D2S08: Building a diverse, digital learning ecosystem

Just as a carpenter wouldn’t get very far with just a hammer in his toolbox, so to the e-teacher wouldn’t get very far using only a single digital tool. This presentation will look into various online tools for replacing classroom techniques as well as unique digital tools that offer opportunities that can’t be found in a f2f learning environment.
Intended Audience: All teachers
Experience Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Presenter(s): Tim King

Session Block 2

D2S13: Inspiring Technology Training

This session will cover lessons from voluntary and incentivized tech training. Examples include lunch and learns, after school professional learning “tech” groups, and earn a laptop type session. The session format will be a short overview of what other boards have done, followed by discussions and questions by attendees on how to encourage this type of learning in their own boards. Attendees are encouraged to share their own stories and questions regarding how to expand PD opportunities in their own boards.
Intended Audience: eLCs/DeLCs, Administration
Experience Level: Any Level
Presenter(s): Gino Russo, Corrine Pritoula