The Importance of Practice

and routines. Don’t forget routines.

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As part of my Twitter profile, I included the phrase, “trying to be progressive”. This blogpost has been in my head for about two weeks but I hesitated to write it because it’s the absolute opposite of progressive. In fact, it’s downright traditional. Meh, it works for me, so I’m sharing.

I’ve set up a classwork routine that works in my classes to give kids in-class practice that builds their confidence on the homework I assign.

Why classwork? I wanted kids solving problems in class not watching me solve problems in class.

Design Goal

Classwork problem sets should build in difficulty, helping kids to make leaps while I’m in the room for  support.

Here are all the classwork assignments from this semester:

Maybe it’s obvious to you guys but I just figured out that classwork assignments should prepare kids for homework assignments which in turn should prepare them for quizzes & tests.

Setting a routine

I felt like routine was an important thing to implement because of feedback from last year’s students. Many expressed confusion about what was expected of them in class as well as homework felt like it came out of the blue.

My goal was to establish a routine I could live with. The framework of a classwork assignment allowed me lots of wiggle room in terms of the questions I asked — Circuit Sudoku is a great example of a creative assignment that adequately prepares kids to solve basic electric circuit problems.

Here’s my routine:

  1. Kids get assignment. We agree on a reasonable due date — often times the next class meeting.
  2. Kids often can start an assignment with no lecture. In the case of Circuit Sudoku, I let them puzzle over the first drawing and the table for about 5 minutes and asked what they needed to be able to solve the problem. From that, I presented just the information they asked for.
  3. Kids do assignment alone for 20ish minutes (out of a 70 minute period). Duration varied depending on the class and their pace — I was looking for about 50% completion by most of the class.
  4. Kids work on assignment with partner. Meanwhile, I station myself at a lab table to answer questions. My answers are usually more questions but this year, I found bugs in my classwork sets that needed some work. Sometimes, if a question was uper-popular, I’d announce to the whole class a mini-lesson in 2 minutes then walk to the front of the room and say something like “ok, so #4 is messing with your head, right?” and share the morsel they needed.
  5. Kids check answers against the answer key. For any that are incorrect, the pairs return to step 4.
  6. Some kids needed some extra time to finish, so the classwork was never made due on the same day I gave it out.

My classes meet 5 days out of 7 on a rotation. The 5 days often looked like this: 1) introduce a topic, 2) work on classwork, 3) do a lab, 4) continue lab or classwork, 5) maybe extend the topic. As you can see, one classwork per rotation was pretty typical.

Future improvement

Students rarely referred to their completed classwork when they had homework questions. I want them to do so next year. Am considering having my homework questions offer feedback such as “this problem you just got wrong is very similar to something on the classwork”.

I also want to tweak the length and difficulty of classwork assignments. Many are too long and too easy. I’ve left appropriate notes to myself to correct these for next year.

What’s your routine?

Neglect and 180 Blogging

I decided this year to write a 180 blog, which has put this blog into a state of dormancy (is that even a word?) I didn’t expect. First off, my 180 posts are longer than they probably should be, so they simply take longer to write. Also, I do most of my interesting reflection over there. Here are a few ideas I’ve been kicking around the last week:

1. Our projects should be a reflection of what we learn in class.

Pinhole project aligned somewhat with class.

Pinhole project aligned somewhat with class.

I’ve run a musical instruments project as well as a pinhole camera project this semester.

For the musical instruments, kids struggled to see how placing frets on a stringed instrument was an application of our string resonance relationship. Next year, I want to have a lab where we build a monochord (single string instrument) complete with a full octave of frets. This’d hand off to the full project very smoothly.

For pinhole cameras, I will modify to ask for them to calculate the magnification based on object distance and image distance. Then I’ll ask them to predict image height based on magnification.

Do you do projects? How do you keep them closely aligned to the rest of class?

2. Labs are fun to do but my current format is a PITA to grade.

Lab writeups take me over a week to grade. I don’t see that changing. A week is too long for a student to actually use the feedback. How can I create a self-checking lab? Ideally, once a paper is handed in, it’d already be corrected.

I’ve done a little of this — some labs have a section I have to sign off on before the kids move on. When grading, I just look for my initials. Maybe my grading solution is as simple as building similar checkpoints throughout all my labs.

One question of many on a recent lab of mine.

One question of many on a recent lab.

3. How might I better develop units-sense in my freshmen?

What I mean is “how can I get the kids to see that units matter?” If you say you need a pinhole diameter of 0.6, I have no idea how big that is because you didn’t tell me inches or millimeters (it was millimeters). My kids view units in physics like they view showing their work in math — busy work the teacher makes you do that’s just picky details, not actually useful.

I can absolutely see incorporating units into projects in a way that makes them useful. Sometimes I have to control the power tools and the kids have to specify the size of a cut. If a kid doesn’t supply units, I can purposely choose the wrong units. A board that should be 2 inches wide could be made 2 meters wide, for instance. How do you drive home the value of units?

HOWTO Participate in #Twittereen

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#Twittereen is a virtual costume day for the mathtwitterblogosphere and beyond. The rules are simple:

  1. Change your avatar to “be” someone else for Halloween (that’s Thursday, Oct 31 in 2013).
  2. Tweet something about being in costume with the #Twittereen hashtag.
  3. Obsessively read Twitter all day long to see everyone’s costumes.

How did all this get started? I gotta be honest with ya, last year was my first year participating. I knew there was at least one before that. Thankfully, our #MTBoS-historian and Twitter Math Camp organizer, Lisa pinned down the origins for me: #Twittereen began in 2009, where it looks like Sean (@SweenWSweens) dressed as Sam (@samjshah).

Doing #Twittereen

How do you do #Twittereen? First of all, let’s bring Lisa (@lmhenry9) in to eliminate some stress:

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My approach is to first get inspired by browsing avatars of folks in the #MTBoS (or peripherally associated with us!). Then, I choose my target. In 2012, my target was @mrpicc112 who was at the time using one of those arrays of nails that you press your hand into to make cool 3D images. I had spotted one of those thingys in a colleague’s room, so I knew it was achievable. Finally, get set up to represent or recreate your target’s avatar, and simply tweet using #Twittereen on Oct 31 while wearing your new avatar. Don’t give it away right off the bat — the guessing is half the fun.

Probably the most unintended of consequences are the new people I follow because of #Twittereen. What? You want an example? So, last year, Sadie (@wahedahbug) dressed as Lusto (@lustomatical), some well-tattooed dude I wasn’t following at the time. But if he’s cool enough for Sadie to emulate, he’s cool enough for me to follow (good guy BTW):

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Some people look forward to #Twittereen for most of October. They plan multiple costume changes during the day. Well, to be honest, I’m mostly just describing @approx_normal. I asked her why she loves #Twittereen and she responded:

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@approx_normal changed costume four times in 2012 #truestory

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@druinok on why she loves #Twittereen

And now, a tour through #Twittereens past:

Twittereen 2013 Contest

(updated Monday 10/28 at 2pm EDT) A challenge for y’all from @approx_normal: GO TO APPROXIMATELY NORMAL IN THE CLASSROOM TO READ AND ENTER

TWITTEREEN WITH A TWIST!!

Last year we submitted our character changes and then voted on our favorite. We are still going to do that, but this time we are going to add some extras.

If you’ve already put on your “costume”, please change back to “normal” for a few days. Why? We will need your original avatar for comparison. Aaaaaand, everyone loves “reveal day”.

So, here are the rules for submission (if you want – totally optional):

1) You must fill out the form at the bottom of the blog post to submit your Twittereen costume by October 30th 7:00 p.m. EST to qualify to win. There are a bazillion of you now, and it will take me a few hours to compile. :)

2) Reveal starts on October 31st! And so will the voting for best Twittereen “costume”! This year we are adding a few extra awards:

a) Best Copy

b) Most Creative Interpretation

c) Best Burn

GO TO APPROXIMATELY NORMAL IN THE CLASSROOM TO ENTER

So again, please DON’T change your avatar until people have had a chance to do the copy. Here is the direct link to the form if you need it. Have fun and we’ll see the “new you” on the 31st!

Twittereen 2012

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Love, love, love the way Timon (@mrpicc112, at left above) swapped the hedgehog in the image for this. There are a few leaps you have to make to get it.

More Twittereen blog posts from 2012: mine and @approx_normal’s.

Twittereen 2011

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You want Lisa’s blog “Twittereen 2011 — for Sam” because she kept record of the Tweets as folks revealed themselves.

Twittereen 2010

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And it looks like 2010 was the year of “dress up as Kate”. Sam blogged about 2010 #Twittereen and has more pictures. I do remember #Twittereen 2010 but had forgotten it till Lisa pointed me to Sam’s blog.

Twittereen 2009

This, apparently, is where it all started. October 2009 and Sam was using this picture as his Twitter avatar:

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I’m gonna let Sam’s blog do the big reveal. See the first ever #Twittereen costume.

Updates

(7:15pm Sunday) Greg (@sarcasymptote) reminds us if  you’re doing twittereen you should save the pic of the person you are dressing as. In his words, “shit gets real confusing otherwise when trying to pull together compilations.” Spoken like a true veteran, Greg.

(4:50pm Friday) Why should someone very new to the mathtwitterblogosphere particpate in #Twittereen? I mean, after all, it’s not like your inspiration would even notice (yeah right, that’s what @ mentions are for). Kate (@k8nowak) mentions all the good feels your target gets when you dress as them:

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Holy crap, yes! I can only speak for me, but I LOVED seeing Julie dress as me last year. What an honor that *she* picked *me*. Y’know?

(4:50pm Friday) Struggling to find someone to impersonate? Katie (@fourkatie) who dressed as @cheesemonkeysf suggests the following for inspiration:

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Here’s her costume:

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Nailed it.

In my attempt to write about the history of #Twittereen, I’m pretty sure I left important people and details out. Won’t you help me fill them in with comments, below?

Students Correcting their Mistakes — Immediately

Students turn in their work papers to me with corrections already marked on it in ink. I ask them to classify their mistake as an algebra error, a physics misunderstanding, or an IDK moment. About 3/4 of the time, kids spot their error as soon as they see the correct answer, saving me the headache of figuring out what was in their head when they were testing. Students get the benefit of leaving the test knowing exactly how well they understood the material (and almost their exact grade on the test).

Here’s how the testing procedure works.

Step 0: Write a Test & Allow 20% Feedback Time

My system works only if the vast majority of your students have the chance to give themselves feedback in the same class period as they took the test. I use the 80-20 rule to plan this time: kids need 20% of the class period to check their work and leave feedback.

Class Period = Futzing Around at the Start of Class + Test + Feedback

Feedback = 0.2*Test

I often will have about1-2 students in a class who don’t have time to do the feedback part. That’s ok. Just plan to allow most kids to do this feedback cycle.

Step 1: Take the Test

though this step would work just as well on a paper test

a moodle test

A test on the Moodle platform can include pretty much any question type you want. These are called calculated questions.

Students hit submit at the bottom of the test then switch to pen. I monitor the room for cheating because this is the one spot where it could happen.

Step 2: See the Key and Give Yourself Feedback

This requires you to either use a computer-based test as I do or place answer keys around the room for students to move to once complete.

How often does it happen that once presented with the right answer, students will have a “D’oh!” moment where they immediately realize their mistake? This is where you get the best feedback from kids. You can’t mine this kind of academic gold the next day, either. You gotta do the mining immediately after they solved the problems.

If you’re working on paper, you could model your setup on Frank Noschese’s version that inspired me. I’ve provided complete solutions in the past though my current setup doesn’t do that. I think kids are more analytical (critical?) of their own work if they have to find their own path to the correct solution than if they’re comparing their solution to mine line-by-line.

Before you look at my examples, keep in mind my kids are transitioning to thinking of their work papers as “scratch” to a place to demonstrate what they know. So with that in mind, here are a few test papers from this latest round:

September 29, 2013 85925 PM EDT

Unit conversions at right and solving for the wrong thing at left. I’ll grant you 3/4 credit on the units and 1/2 credit on the other one.

I wanted to show you (above) some work that’s ugly to try and read because the student doesn’t organize his work well. If I let him identify the mistake, though, I see exactly where he went wrong. Let’s look at another one that’s tough to spot when grading several class sets but every kid who wants some partial credit will find:

This kid clearly wrote the correct work on her paper. I can tell because there are no erasures and the rest of the math follows from the mistake she identified.

This kid clearly wrote the correct work on her paper. I can tell because there are no erasures and the rest of the math follows from the mistake she identified. Oh, and mistyping a number in the calculator should hurt a little but should result in no credit for the problem — 3/4 credit awarded here.

Here’s another one where the kid had a big physics error. The question read “When you blow air across a soda bottle, you produce a tone with a frequency of 253.2 Hz. What is the frequency of the next harmonic?” Students needed to identify this as a closed pipe resonator, which only resonates on odd harmonics, and so the next harmonic is the third. The correct math to do is to multiply the frequency given by three. Most kids didn’t make that realization. When this young lady saw the right answer, se realized her mistake and showed a correct solution.

Who identified their mistake? This kid did.

Who identified their mistake? This kid did. 1/2 credit awarded on this problem.

Step 3: Teacher Awards Partial Credit

Yep, I’m not a SBG‘er. And unless you’re using binary grading, this partial credit thing still makes sense. 

Before I start grading, I like to think about the value of different types of mistakes. Usually I’ll grant 3/4 credit for pure algebra errors such as dividing instead of multiplying, 3/4 credit for unit conversion mistakes, and 1/2 credit for getting some of the physics but not all of it correct.

My kids know that the score Moodle awards them is their baseline test grade. On this last test, the average student added 8% to his/her grade through partial credit.

Beneficial Side-Effect

I spend so much less time grading assessments because kids have identified a lot of their mistakes for me. Sure, there will be cases where kids can’t identify their error. My colleague Adrian suggests students can’t do the bulk of this work:

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Maybe chemistry (which he teaches) problems are fundamentally different from physics problems. All I can speak from is my experience — kids can often identify where they went wrong on a problem they’re expected to know how to do if I present them with a numeric answer.

Why Teachers Pay Teachers Irks the MTBoS Me

The online math teacher community[1] has I have a problem with Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) and I intend to explain my own understanding of why.

First, a disclaimer: The MTBoS is a loose confederation of teachers all around the world. I don’t even know it’s fair to say “we” share beliefs and practices. However, I think our community has come to rally around this one idea probably more than any other single idea: we share freely. We share freely to help other teachers out, we share freely because we know we get more than we take, we share freely because we understand more users help make a better product.

Those ideas are more than a grand altruistic vision. It’s not about all the feels we get from sharing, at least not for me.

Part I: Why Share Freely?

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If I offer a resource for sale on TpT, I get an immediate benefit. What’s the benefit in sharing freely? There’s a great parallel in the world of software — a group that figured a lot of this stuff out before we hit the scene. Before I became a teacher 10 years ago, I worked in/around the free & open source software (FOSS) movement. Many around us wondered why anyone would spend their time crafting something just to give it away. These doubters also wondered about the quality of work that’s ultimately given away.

I think in our school buildings, plenty of us encounter territorial teachers. Those who feel like if they created it, they’re not gonna just give it to you. The MTBoS is completely opposite that mentality. We don’t even know you, but we’ll share with you our best lessons.

What benefit do I get from that sharing? Oh dear, this is where I’m going to come off to y’all as an egotistical jerk: I the ego boost of “Hey, I used your rational equations project. Thanks!” I like that someone trusted my work enough to put it in front of their kids and then found value in it. Am I circling back around and saying it really is all about the feels? Not quite. Have you heard of the gift culture? If not, go now and read Kate Nowak’s inspired words describing ours as a gift culture. I benefit from the gift culture — more on that later.

While I’m busy being an egotistical jerk over here, here’s another reason I like to share freely — y’all proofread my stuff and let me know about errors. Not to mention, if I share a half-baked idea with the MTBoS, y’all will help me brainstorm it into a complete idea. I definitely get more than I give from this community.

As a user of other teachers’ materials, I love that I can adapt your stuff to fit my classroom. Kindergarten teacher Matt Gomez has issues with TpT because he can’t adapt lessons (it’s mostly distributed in PDF). In the best applications of sharing, the user shares back with the developer ways the resource might be improved for all or mentioned as an offshoot at the source.

Part II: How TpT Subverts

So, let’s turn the corner now and look at Teachers Pay Teachers. TpT treats lesson materials as scarce commodities and therefore something of monetary value.

Teachers who participate in TpT see the immediate benefit of getting paid for their hard work whereas in the gift culture, the payoff is further out. Hey, I’ve been a single mom on just a teacher’s salary — getting paid is valuable. About getting paid through a store on Teachers Pay Teachers, my good friend @approx_normal says

I get that teachers don’t make a lot of money and this is a way to supplement that income. But we didn’t go into education thinking it would pay for luxury cars and vacations in the Bahamas. We went into education to make a difference in the lives of students and no one outside education really gets the trials and challenges of what we do everyday. We have to look out for each other because no one else will.

(she’s one of those altruistic types)

What does getting paid look like over at TpT? Approximately 2400 teachers made between $1000 and $5000 on Teachers Pay Teachers last year.[2] That’s nice money. Not as nice as this, though: my participation in the gift culture is 100% responsible for my current job. It came with a substantial raise from the job before. That raise was way more than I could’ve expected to earn on TpT last year. See what I mean about waiting for the long-term gains?

When you participate in TpT, you give up citizenship in the MTBoS gift culture.

Oh, we’ll still let you visit us (use our resources, read our blogs, and build upon our ideas) but what you lose out on are those long-term benefits of participating fully in the gift culture.

I have other concerns about the TpT gig, ways in which it subverts the whole gift culture because

  • TpT has no method of ensuring the seller has the rights to sell the product they’re offering. Several MTBoS’ers have seen their own creations go up on TpT without their permission.
  • Resources sold as PDFs (as I believe the majority of TpT stuff is) can’t be adapted for the purchaser’s classroom. Adapting and extending on another’s work is an important element in the gift culture.
  • “TpT is making money off of the teachers who use their services, so they’re using the teachers who sell things through them. It’s just another company taking advantage by making a buck off of education.” – @approx_normal

Part III: Why MTBoS Me and TpT Sellers Will Never Reconcile

Two words: culture clash.

The MTBoS is based on I believe in the gift culture while TpT is based on a capitalist culture. We have entirely different cultural norms and expectations. And excluding individual members being swayed by a blog post, people aren’t likely to change their minds. The comments on this post by Darren Draper illustrate how entrenched in our own cultures we all are.

So if we won’t move and the TpT’ers won’t move, is there any common ground? Andrew Rotherham, in Time’s School of Thought column had this to say:

Regardless of who foots the bill for more-effective lesson plans, this sort of professional sharing is long overdue. Too many teachers are on their own. It’s a sink-or-swim system, as [AFT president] Weingarten has often noted, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I believe we’re all working to be our best in front of the children. Let’s keep that in mind next time we argue.[3]

Highlights from the Comments

  • Mary Dooms: “Teachers selling on TpT may be violating their teacher contract. If the lessons, activities, etc. are, “prepared by an employee within the scope of his/her employment” it is considered a work made for hire.” It’s a concern others have, but I’m giving TpT’ers the benefit of the doubt that they’ve already checked their contracts and are in the clear.
  • Moniki: “I just lurk in the shadows and learn as much I can, adapt these wonderful resources to suit my kids and teach and reflect in the hope that I suck less than yesterday. But if I got paid for sharing, I might share more easily – a sort of you get what you pay for mentality. Like “it’s only 5 bucks” or whatever, so this will do. Whereas now I prefer to wait until I can really contribute something valuable.” Not the only one to express this to me. Mind blown.
  • Cathy Yeneca: ““Freely sharing” and selling on TpT aren’t mutually exclusive. Presented as an “us” versus “them” issue, should any teacher who wants to be involved in “MTBoS” who happens to have items for sale on TpT just politely step away now, per your post?” She made me think, which is why I replaced MTBoS with me where appropriate above. I can’t speak for an entire community.
  • Sam Shah: “The MTBoS is big and doesn’t have a single philosophy or ethos. However there are a lot of people who do converge on a few key points — Megan hitting on what I think is one of them. It isn’t everyone, and I’m happy that not everyone agrees with everything…I don’t see it as an “us” versus “them” thing. I think if people find good resources on TpT and find it valuable and useful, awesome! Buy them. If people want to make money on stuff they create on TpT, cool! Sell them. We all have to do what works for us as teachers.”
  • cheesemonkeysf: “I think there’s just a cultural mismatch and a skew of beliefs about means and ends. Someone who sells on TpT is probably not going to post a lot in a community where the cultural norm is to share and share alike because they are trying to protect the value of their own materials that they sell. Similarly, I think that someone who posts/shares their materials via the #MTBoS is unlikely to participate much in the TpT world because we simply value materials differently…The reason I share materials and lessons and strategies via the #MTBoS is that I do so in order to improve my practice as a teacher.”
  • algebrasfriend: “But today, I asked myself the same question you did, should I just quietly quit that community. It’s clear they don’t want me. I participate in TpT. I’m not going to defend my choice.” At first glance, there’s conundrum here because I very clearly said there’s little overlap between my gift culture and your capitalist culture. Similarly, there’s little overlap between my religious beliefs and yours, I bet, too. Doesn’t mean I don’t want you around. Just that we don’t talk religion. Please stay. Contribute. Let’s just be aware that we have different motivations.
  • I Speak Math (Julie): “My main worry with TPT is not stolen lessons but it is that the “lure of the money” for underpaid teachers will entice amazing new teacher bloggers to save their best work to sale, instead of sharing for free…Some great bloggers are using TPT, many of them before they even started blogging. This is not a blog against you. I admire how hard you work. However, I would like all NEW math teacher bloggers to realize that TPT is a business. In contrast, what I would like for our community is not more business people, but more volunteers, who freely share their time and work. I would like to encourage new math teacher bloggers who benefit from our gift community to freely give back as well.” There’s that culture clash again. Folks, if you’re considering participating in Teachers Pay Teachers, realize it’s a business making money by offering you a marketplace, be hyper-aware that ideas and materials you download from the Gifters cannot be incorporated into something you sell (without express permission), and the Gifters hope you’ll share freely in addition to selling.

[1] also referred to as #MTBoS as an acronym for mathtwitterblogosphere.

[2] Source: TeachersPayTeachers.com/about. I refuse to link to them.

[3] Want to start a firestorm? Tweet this: “I love Teachers Pay Teachers! #MTBoS”. I’ve been meaning to check back in on Chris Robinson since he decided to monetize his sharing on Twitter.

What Happened on June 2?

nohomophobes.com tracks mentions of homophobic slurs used on Twitter in real-time. There are a ton of lessons about hate speech we could delve into, but that’s not the point of my post. No, I want to look at the statistics here.

First off, here are the stats for today:

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I clicked over to the All Time tab and saw the following graph. Anything stand out to you?

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You see that spike on the pink, “No homo” line? What the heck is that all about? Click on it and you learn it happened on June 2.

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What happened on June 2, 2013 to cause that huge spike in the use of “No homo” on Twitter? Thanks to a little creative Googling, my friend @park_star thinks she has the answer. You want go give it a try?

h/t Eliot, with whom I teach.

Moodle Love Letter #3: Embedding Web Pages

My Moodle journey has recently been accelerated because I took over administrative duties for my school’s Moodle server. Last year, my primary use involved the assessment engine. Now I’m branching out and upgrading (to 2.5) to use Moodle as my class website.

Here’s one feature a colleague figured out:

And how I did that effect:

Pictured is Moodle 2.5 but “Embed” has been an option for quite some time.

You’ve never heard of Socrative? It’s kinda like Poll Everywhere in that you can ask questions to your students. I’ve written twice about Socrative.