An Easier Way to Read Papers

In my last post, I proposed that technical writing should be taught in science class. Then I received 75 separate papers from students. Papers I had to read, give feedback on, and grade. I take it back! Please! Don’t make me grade all these things!

Then I turned on dictation.

I like to have Alex read me about half a page at a time. Sometimes I read along with Alex and other times I bring my grading rubric to the foreground.

Why does this work for me? I think because it fixes my #1 problem with reading: I get a page into a paper and wonder what the heck I just read (and not just because the kid’s work is that bad). Looking back, when I was a kid, my reading comprehension scores were always relatively low, which might explain things. Anyhow, maybe dictation will help you or a student. Let me know if it does?


There’s a major educational technology conference in my own backyard June 28 to July 1 this year and I’m eager to meet up with old and new friends alike from the mathtwitterblogosphere. Let me know your availability and I’ll organize some kind of group thing:

Open-Internet Quizzes

All my quizzes are open-internet* AND students may reattempt quizzes if they think they can do better. Yesterday, I was cruising around the room and saw this on a kid’s screen:


Searching for “how do i find the angle of the equilibrium force”.

I figure one of two things is happening here:

  • kid has zero idea how to find the problem and is searching for a howto online
  • kid wants to confirm that what she’s doing is correct

My gut says it’s the first scenario. As I kept moving around through all my classes, I also spotted kids copy/pasting the whole question, hoping it was published online (gotta admit to doing that myself). One kid was really pissed to learn the result he used to answer his question was incorrect. In his words, “Google lied to me!”

This Googling led me to wonder what my kids search for on open-internet quizzes:

myavatar mgolding
Would love to have a list of what all my kids google for during my open-internet quizzes.
3/20/14 10:58 AM

Oh, it’s on. I have a few different plans here:

  • classifying the kids’ queries because I’m curious
  • helping them search better
  • planting Easter Eggs on Yahoo Answers (yeah, I just want to mess with them a little)

The first step is to intercept the exact queries. John Burk pointed me toward the idea of a Google Form that hands off to a Google search query. I’d collect the data in the form and the kids’ searches would be automatically run. The key lays in convincing kids that me seeing their queries will in no way harm their score nor will I change my practice because of something I see. They need to believe me to use the form.

The second step is to learn if the query led to a result they used to answer the question.

More on this story as it develops.

*my quizzes are taken on Moodle, so the kids’ computers are online for the quiz. Also, we’re a 1-1 laptop school.

Socrative & Ranking Tasks

Socrative helps me manage formative assessments in class by providing a super-slick interface and great results in a spreadsheet. As happens to most of us at the end of the year, I fell off the wagon and had all but stopped using the tool. My colleagues and I today devised a way to conduct regular and meaningful formative assessments in class with Socrative. I believe this workflow will work especially well when the problem is a ranking task.


It’s 8:30 on Tuesday morning and you enter my classroom, wiping sleep from your eyes. On the board, I’ve projected this image:

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 9.50.28 PM

As the teacher, I’ve set up a Socrative poll as follows:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’ve done this before, so you know to pull up Socrative on your computer or your smartphone. You ponder the question, make some notes, rank it, and write a justification. You submit the justification while the rest of the class does the same. It looks like this:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As my student, you’re learning how to write a clear & concise explanation that’s accurate. Regular exposure (say every other class day? I’m not exactly certain yet) means your routine demands you consider why as more important than what.


  1. Grab a good problem that requires justification of the answer.
  2. Open a Socrative “short answer” problem type.
  3. Invite kids to solve the problem, join the room, and submit their justification only in the answer space.
  4. Vote on the best justification using the mantra of “concise, clear, and accurate.”
  5. Discuss.


GPScast: Explaining every state standard in 10 minutes or less

You’re back in ninth grade and struggling in math (long been *my* nightmare). You hit up Vimeo and search for the standard you’re trying to master, MM1A2c, and find something. Or, you borrow an iPod from your teacher during after school tutorial and search the movies on it for MM1A2c.

Welcome to GPScast.

I have a simple, if huge, goal: I want to publish a podcast for every single GPS* standard and element.

Sure, I’ve seen Khan Academy. It’s great! My addition is real state standards correlation (most of what I’ve seen that’s supposedly correlated to Georgia’s math standards is of shallow, if at all, relevance).

I’ve found that in math, my students want me to repeat the same explanation several times until that light bulb comes on. The podcast allows me to put an explanation in a kid’s hands and let him rewind & replay as much as he needs. Build in a little practice, and you have a nice little remediation tool.

I want to make the podcasts available on the YouTubes, in iPod format, and on DVD.

The kickoff of GPScast will be held in a concurrent session at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference. I’ll show participants: 1) what tools they can use to create podcasts, 2) pedagogy for online and asynchronous learning, and 3) how teachers can create online community with their students. Join me at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference on Nov. 4 at 1:45pm in Spanish 1-2 room.

* GPS = Georgia Performance Standard

Stay tuned here for details on the project.

Homework Reminders via SMS

Last year,  I wrote about a service called Group2Call that I was using to send homework reminders via SMS to my students. It worked great but now that I’m in a public school, it was going to be too costly to continue. After fits and starts, I’ve finally found a solution that works for me: sending email that gets transmitted as a text message.

Here’s how you can set it up:

  1. Get your students to give you their phone number and carrier’s name (MetroPCS, AT&T, Sprint, etc).
  2. Find out the email-to-SMS gateway addresses for the carriers on your list. For your convenience, I’ve included the ones I’m using below.
  3. Send an email in the usual way, but to your student’s SMS email address. Keep messages under 160 characters because that’s the limit for text messages. Don’t forget to trim your signature!

Email to SMS gateways for several major mobile carriers:

Metro “”
AT&T “”
Verizon “”
Tmobile “”
Sprint “”

Wish me luck.

New Year, New School, New Tech

Since I last wrote here, I’ve moved to a large urban public school district in the metro-Atlanta area. My school, Clarkston High, has a very diverse population, including many refugees. While many details of my teaching day have changed, the biggest impact has been the Promethean board in my classroom.

To be sure, classes that are twice the size of those I taught at Chrysalis is a little change. As is the diversity of the population. Not to mention that I work with a collaborative special education teacher 2/3 of my day. But I keep coming back to using that Promethean board in the best way possible.

In the five days we’ve been in school, I already realize I’m using the board as a plain old LCD projector. I’m not the only math teacher wondering how to use the Promethean for all it can offer.

What awesome — and really interactive — materials do you know for the interactive white board? I’ve checked out Promethean Planet and SMART’s lesson plans.

Meanwhile, I’m off to lesson plan. Wish me luck!

Homework Reminders Via SMS

Erin's Something Cool

Hidden triangle assignment

Are you or do you know of anyone using SMS (text) messaging with their classes? I’m interested in using it as a homework reminder.

I just signed up with Group2call, which lets me send 50 free messages a day. That’s plenty for me to bug remind my students to do their homework. I will be testing in the next week but according to the site, I can send email or SMS simultaneously — perfect for reaching the few students of mine who don’t have texting plans.

My plan is to assign homework in the usual way: write it on the board and ask the students to write it in their agendas. Then, I’ll experiment with the best time of evening to send a reminder text message.

By-the-by, I took an unintentional blogging hiatus because grad school has overwhelmed me. I have lots of advice piling up for anyone crazy enough to go to school while working full time!

(Photo by my geometry student, Erin. The assignment was to photograph a hidden triangle and upload the picture to my flickr photostream.

Free Webcast About Slide Presentations

If (like me) you find yourself on planning this Wednesday from 1 to 2 pm, consider attending this free webcast from O’Reilly:

We live in the most innovative time in history. That, coupled with pressure from a global economy, means that our corporate stories need to be told well and resonate deeply. In this session you’ll learn how to step away from your traditional content development process, fold in compelling stories and deliver presentations in your own uniquely human way.

It’s presented by Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology. While the session description clearly identifies a corporate audience, I’m hoping to adapt it to my own presentations.

slide:ology sounds like a great read. I found this “trailer for the book” on the O’Reilly website:

My Students and Google Sites

I’m teaching a middle school programming class and want to share the coolest thing that happened this week: my students started a website to share what they’re learning. The whole thing was their idea!

On their own, they found Google Sites and figured it would be a good tool to use. We already use Gmail and Google Chat as a part of class, so the kids already had accounts. With virtually none of my help and 1 class period, they signed up for a Google Site, made the class into site owners, put up the preliminary information, and even signed up for Google Analytics to track visitors.

The site is called Python Helper and the students’ goal for the site is to help others learn to program in Python. They’ve decided they want to share their programs. I’ve encouraged them to also describe the programs they’ve written and the kinds of problems they’ve attempted to solve. Please remember that the site is maintained by 6th and 7th grade students. We’re working on it as we learn to program — web design is not our main purpose.

But is it useful?

Python Helper is so cool mostly because it came from the students. After I wrote the above, I let this post sit in my drafts because it didn’t feel complete. Then it hit me, I hesitate because I wonder what my students are really contributing with this site. I don’t kid myself that this site will be really useful to anyone outside the class and their families. Am I just adding detrius to the sea that is the user-generated web? (Or have I just read a little too much Gary Stager this month?)

I’m concluding that the site is valuable because it’s a journal of the students’ learning. At the end of the year, we can look on this site to see all that we’ve learned.