In The Classroom

Teachers using tech

Turning Shy Students Into Showoffs

Patricia Embry_Tampa Prep pic 1“In my 30 years of teaching, I’ve seen a lot of ideas come and go. I don’t adopt all of them,” explained Patricia Embry, the Associate Director of Middle School and Mathematics Department chair at Tampa Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida. “But this one—it really has made a huge difference in how I teach in the classroom.”

How does she know? Because even with her impressive position, Mrs. Embry still teaches algebra on a daily basis. And last summer, Tampa Preparatory was remodeled to become an Active Learning Environment, which included moveable furniture, multiple monitors, new software and Epson’s BrightLink 595Wi interactive projectors.

“The teacher isn’t the ‘sage on the stage’ anymore. The class doesn’t just revolve around the teacher,” Mrs. Embry continued. “We don’t have the students sit in rows and, due to the Epson’s Moderator software, I can roam around the classroom with my tablet, rather than being tethered to a laptop.”

Not only does that mean that every student now has a front row seat, it also means that no one can hide in the back. But the great thing is that none of them want to hide anymore. They want to show off their work, which is a phenomenon that most teachers are unfamiliar with.

Students never minded showing their work in front of the class when it was correct. But in math, said Mrs. Embry wisely, it truly is about learning from your mistakes. “They’ve realized that everyone else is making mistakes, and that makes it safe to admit their errors,” she stated. “After that, they learned that it’s fun to uncover the mistakes and find the answer as a team.”

The Moderator software allows Mrs. Embry to project four students’ work at a time. She keeps track of which students have had a chance to show their work, and rotates through the class roster to make sure that everyone’s work is displayed. “Students know their work will be on the monitor in front of the class, and I noticed that they’ve become much neater, and are doing a better job on their homework. They have pride in their work.”

Even when their work is not projected, up to 50 students can be connected to a session, allowing teachers to see who is participating, and who isn’t. Mrs. Embry can visit those students having problems and, using her tablet and a stylus, walk through the problem on the classroom screens.

You might wonder if it was challenging for teachers, especially those unfamiliar with technology, to learn to use the BrightLink interactive projector and Moderator device-management software. With the help of a great IT department and some training, the teachers had little difficulty adapting to their new classroom equipment. Plus, they all have a secret weapon in case they forget. “After the Christmas break, I was a bit rusty turning on the projector,” she explained. “When I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working, they politely said ‘Oh, Mrs. Embry, you just have to push that button!’ They have become the experts!”

Expanding the Classroom’s Potential with Document Cameras

document-camera-pie-chart

“The document camera allowed 30 kids to easily see each delicate, valuable artifact that each of the leaders brought with them, without crowding around the visitor,” explained Rachel Marcus, a teacher at Prairie Middle School in Aurora, Colorado, about her World Religion class.

When we ran a contest for teachers to win an Epson DC-20 document camera, we didn’t realize that we’d learn so much about why teachers would want one. In fact, 53 percent of over 1,100 teachers who entered the contest wanted one to display assignments and items so the entire class could see easily—just like Rachel Marcus.

Engaging the students is the second most popular reason that teachers are clamoring for visual display technology in their classroom. “The students learn more quickly with the document camera because it keeps them engaged and interested,” said Mrs. Marcus. “And that makes my job so much easier.”

Marcus is one of several teachers we’ve interviewed to share their experiences with technology in the classroom, in the hopes that the ingenuity will spread to other schools. Alison Murray, a teacher at Central Falls Senior High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, uses the document camera to record her physics lessons to post on her school’s website, a capability that many of the respondents are excited about—recording a lesson to display later. “I record the lessons for two reasons. One is so that the students who miss the class don’t actually have to miss the instruction,” Mrs. Murray explained to us. “And two is so that those who are having a hard time grasping the concepts can watch it again. It is physics, after all.”

Teachers are looking to save time and money, according to nine percent of the responses, and that’s a purpose that every busy person can understand. “I’m able to use more of the documents I’ve brought back from France now because it used to be a hassle to sort through them and run back and forth to the photocopier,” said Renee Kurtz, a French teacher at Alder Avenue Middle School in New Jersey. “I do everything that I need to do right here at my desk.”

Mrs. Alperstein, a grade school teacher in New York City, has been teaching for 26 years, and has brought technology into the classroom, just like many of our contest applicants want to do. Her students have a healthy competitive streak in finding new ways to use the document camera. “I don’t always have time to learn what the document camera does, so I assign it to my students,” she says. “I get more done, and they get to learn from reading informational text, things like sequencing, implementation and text-to-real-life. Those are just a few of the many skills they’ll need as an adult.”

We heard from many of our interviews that teachers, from grade school on up to high school, are looking to teach their students real-world skills, which includes collaboration, public speaking and presentation skills. Over 350 of our respondents were looking to use a document camera for this purpose, and Mrs. Alperstein’s class is a prime example. With little time to prepare, her class used the document camera to work together on their entry for a national competition, allowing them to work as a team as the clock ticked down.

“They won an Honorable Mention, and for a national award, that’s pretty exciting,” recounts Mrs. Alperstein. “It would not have been possible without that document camera.”

 

Projecting the Future of Programming Through Minecraft

Minecraft Hacker Dojo

“Dad, my JAR is broken,” said Arun Gupta’s12-year-old Minecraft-obsessed son, referring to his Java Archive as opposed to a glass-based container.

Gupta, Director of Developer Advocacy at Red Hat, said, “That changed our daily discussion at breakfast, dinner, going to classes, shopping, and laundry – whatever we were doing together. He’s teaching me Minecraft, and I’m teaching him Java.”

Gupta knew that programming can be an abstract concept, so he’s applied something that both he and his son love – video games. Soon Gupta had 12 neighborhood kids in his living room, all wanting to learn Minecraft modding. The session not only taught coding in a fun way, but it helped to break down barriers to computer use.

The success of the inaugural class developed into a U.S. chapter of Devoxx4Kids, a program dedicated to introducing children to programming, robotics and engineering. Gupta also runs the San Francisco Bay Area chapter which has taught upwards of 1500 students per in weekend meet ups.

Gupta explains that the children are hungry to learn, but they need to see results quickly. “Instant gratification is very important to kids,” Gupta said. He fuels their appetite for learning with their need to see quick results by asking the following question: “Why would you want to play plain, boring Minecraft? Let’s make your TNT explosions bigger!”

Gupta is pleased with the results. “It’s really surprising how quickly the kids grasp the technology,” Gupta said. “Our minds get corrupted as we grow old. Kids are much more open.”

Multisensory Learning

With the motivation side of learning taken care of, Gupta uses a multisensory learning method, explaining code modifications verbally as he’s live editing them. The changes are projected on a big wall or screen while the students follow along, executing the steps and commands on their own computers.

“You have to project what you are doing on the screen,” explained Gupta. The class guides students through mods that can change the game, enabling them to add content and alter gameplay. The ability to see a small tweak to code alter in-game attributes like scenery or their player’s ability on the big screen helps to encourage the students’ drive to learn more.

“I want them to have a fun, fun, fun experience,” Gupta said. “Once they have fun, they know it is not intimidating.”

Gupta’s ultimate goal is to influence how children are educated in schools today. “I want to incorporate these courses into the curriculum itself. Every kid – no child left behind – should have access to this.”

If you are in the Bay Area and looking for a Devoxx4Kids workshop, visit meetup.com/Devoxx4Kids-BayArea/ for more information.

 

Photo Credit: Arun Gupta

The French Connection

Ms. Kurtz helps Nicolas, one of her students, with his project using the DC-20.

Ms. Kurtz helps Nicolas, one of her students, with his project using the DC-20.

“They feel like they’re truly learning and using the language, not just reciting a textbook,” said Renee Kurtz, a French teacher at Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. “It’s a little more work for me to find the materials, but it’s better for the students because they’re using real things.”

Many Americans haven’t even been to France, let alone middle-school students from a small town in New Jersey, as Ms. Kurtz is well aware. So on her trips to France, she carefully collects magazines and materials with regional information to share with her class back in the U.S.

She uses an Epson DC-20 document camera to photograph and print the pages for the students, so they can review the information about restaurants, hotels, and things to do as she projects the original on the screen. It’s these kinds of innovative ideas that allowed her to win the document camera in an Epson contest back in March of 2013.

“It makes it easier for them to see and follow along,” she explained. “We’re supporting the new Common Core State Standards where they need to identify main ideas and analyze. We’re doing all the same work that they do in English class, we’re just doing it in French.”

The DC-20 has allowed Ms. Kurtz to leave the photocopier well alone, and she does not miss it. She can use more of these original French documents in the class, of which she has quite frequently, and she can take pictures of them right at her desk. She likes to focus in on a part of the document bit by bit, hinting at the answer, using the document camera’s zoom feature. That, on a photocopier, she finds difficult and time-consuming.

The DC-20 has helped Ms. Kurtz be what she calls a more “reflective” teacher by capturing her lessons and, more importantly, her students’ responses. She keeps binders full of all her lessons and the recordings on a hard drive to review them year on year. “Next year I can look and see which responses the students typically give,” she said. “Is that analysis in-depth enough or do I need to ask more probing questions? What is it I want them to learn from this lesson? I like to know what works, and what didn’t work.”

In addition to the recording, the document camera allows Ms. Kurtz to face the class instead of the whiteboard. “I can see their faces,” she said. “I can tell if they’re getting it, if they’re bored, confused or on task. That’s been good for me too.”

Dissecting Books in Biology Class

books_Crop

“I was so sick of dissecting I could scream,” said Kelly Murray, a math and science teacher at Preston High School in Kingwood, West Virginia. “And the kids hate textbooks, but I needed to get them to read something.”

The Epson DC 06 Document Camera that Ms. Murray received from DonorsChoose.org is being used for its original purpose—for projecting dissections up onto the classroom’s SmartBoard—but this clever teacher realized it could be used in other ways. Ms. Murray’s detour from dissection required her students to take a non-fiction book or a novel and produce something creative. And, sure enough, Ms. Murray was impressed by their creativity.

“I asked them to do anything creative with these biology-based books, like write a poem, make a movie poster or turn it into a children’s story,” remembers Ms. Murray. “The favorite project overall was making a movie poster.”

One of her students couldn’t get the scale right for his movie poster drawing, because he wanted it actual size. Ms. Murray showed him how to use the document camera to project his letter-sized drawing onto the wall, adjust for scale and trace his original onto his poster board.

“The student who chose The Lovely Bones made a movie poster because she was unhappy with the actors chosen to play the characters in the film,” Ms. Murray said. “So not only did she recast the film on her movie poster, she also wrote a letter to the author about it.”

invertebrate id day

Using the document camera with a microscope, Ms. Murray projects the “Invertebrate I.D. Day” subjects.

The Life of Pi inspired a student so much that she wrote a children’s story from the full-length book, using the document camera to show the class her sketched storyboards and illustrations, while another showed off the 3-D shadowbox he’d created from the book Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

The document camera has been such a classroom success that the kids beg to come to biology class. “The kids got into using the document camera for both the book project and the dissection assignments so much, I thought I might have created monsters!” Ms. Murray laughed.

At the end of the day, even high school students are still kids. Hooking a microscope up to the document camera made them go completely nuts for it. “Their favorite thing to do is with three minutes left of class is to run out and find flowers, worms and bugs to put under camera. They have used every memory card I have taking pictures!”

Color Matters in the Classroom

 

carrots

“It looks like my Pantone®  color book!” exclaimed Lauren Roy, as she took the Color Brightness Challenge at the 2014 Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC). As an education technology specialist at The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, Lauren shouldn’t even know what a Pantone book is. But she does, and she knows that a Pantone book is the color bible for design professionals when it comes to accurate color.

“It’s pretty,” she said, commenting on the Epson PowerLite 935W projector’s image. “I guess the term for it is authenticity. It’s very accurate in all contexts.”

Lauren developed her affinity for color accuracy during her past career as a web developer, as she was working her way through communications/public relations degree.

“Something that always irritated me with projectors is that I’m looking at my computer screen and I’m looking at the projected image, and the two just don’t match.”

When Lauren observed the two projectors at the FETC (An Epson 3LCD and a comparably priced competitor’s single chip DLP) , she said it made her think about projectors in a new way. “I thought—hey, maybe someone can actually make a projector that shows color accurately!” said Lauren. “The colors looked like they should be, true and solid, not like a translucent, watercolor version.”

During her career as interactive technology director, Lauren has been subjected to a wide range of projectors, some of dubious quality. “Schools have had a random mish-mash of projectors—an NEC projector in one room, an off-brand thing in another that’s been dropped and scratched to death, and an Epson in another room,” she explained.

She has to learn how to shuffle the projectors around the school as the teachers turn them in so that she can make sure the good ones are available for certain classes and events, like the middle school’s movie night. “It’s not that you become biased, but you learn that there are applications for the things that work, and there’s a place for those that aren’t as efficient.” But there’s one thing she is biased about, and that’s getting great color from the projector.

“Teachers sometimes try to request a projector that I know isn’t the right one for the job,” Lauren remembered. “I just say: Trust me, and use this one. You’ll thank me later.”

Zen and the Art of Projector Maintenance

FSU_Bobby Roberts

Much to the chagrin of students who’d love for class to be cancelled, Florida State University IT/AV tech Bobby Roberts keeps classrooms running.

It could happen five or thirty minutes into a lecture—suddenly, the screen goes black. The projector’s bulb has blown out at the most inconvenient time. Inconvenient, that is, if you’re a professor who, in this age of new technology, has forgotten how to use a blackboard to teach their class. For a student, it may be a rare gift, a day when the lecture is cancelled due to technical problems.

At Florida State University, such class cancellations happen less frequently, and they have Ray Falcon to blame for that. As the AV Systems Engineer for Information Technology Services at the university, he was responsible for installing Epson projectors in 265 classrooms on campus.

“The crew will come in within five minutes of a teacher’s call, and usually they can get a lamp changed in 10-15 minutes,” said Falcon. And what takes the most time is not changing the lamp—it’s getting to the projector, which is usually located in the center of the lecture hall.

“We like the reliability, because a lot of our projectors in the lecture halls are about 22 feet off the floor. When lamps and filters need to be changed, we need to bring scaffolding in,” Falcon explained. “With Epson, when they say you’re going to get so many hours, you get your hours, and the filters don’t clog up like the other manufacturers. It ends up being less work for our technicians.”

Thanks to the school’s new technology, Florida State University students have fewer opportunities for legitimately getting out of a lecture. Instead, they’ll either have to pray for a university-wide blackout, or just give up and study.

Folding Geometry Lessons into Origami Projects

DC20ContestWinner_Student_BarrenHigh_Rebecca Hurley pic 1

When I was a kid, I used to love playing pool. And for a while, I even thought I was pretty good at it. Then, in my early teens, our annual ski vacation found us in a rented cabin with a pool table. After a hard day of skiing, we decided to play a relaxing game of pool.

“Playing pool is easy,” said my dad, an engineer and “good at math”, a trait he neglected to pass on to me. “It’s just geometry.” And that was the moment when any aptitude I had for playing the game of pool up and died. Thanks, Dad.

But Rachel Perkins, a math teacher at Barren County High School in Glasgow, Kentucky, has been able to keep her students interested in geometry. They might even love it. She’s been teaching her students geometry using origami using the Epson DC-20 document camera she won through the Epson “Document Camera in the Classroom” contest.

“Using the document camera, the entire class gets to watch my hands move the compass and the straight edge,” explained Ms. Perkins. “As I fold origami, we talk about perpendicular bisectors because, as you’re folding, you bisect angles and line segments.”

According to Ms. Perkins, origami also makes teaching area formulas easier. “When we create something like a sliding star, it’s an octagon. So we found the area of the octagon, and the trapezoids within the octagon. All the shapes are in there—it’s a real life application of all those formulas I’m making them memorize.”

The document camera has had surprising benefits in the classroom. Ms. Perkins finds that doesn’t need to repeat herself as often, and she uses the camera to take still shots that she can leave up on the screen for her students to use as reference. But the best part was how it helped the shyer students ask for assistance.

“A few students wouldn’t leave the ‘comfort zone’ of their desk to come to the front of the class to see what I was doing,” said Mrs. Perkins. “The document camera makes them more comfortable asking me to repeat something, because they don’t have to leave their seat.”

For me, thinking about the “angle bisector” and “perpendicular bisectors” makes my eyes cross. But I love origami and geometry is now making more sense to me—although too late for a misguided career as a pool hustler, so perhaps that’s a good thing. I just wish that my teacher had used origami to teach me geometry.

Document Cameras and the Flipped Classroom

iStock_000010544989Small

“Not all kids have computers at home,” says Alison Murray, a physics teacher at Central Falls Senior High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island. “But somehow, almost all of them have smartphones. And those smartphones never leave their hands!”

Mrs. Murray has learned how to use those smartphones to teach her students, and even managed to increase their test scores and performance in class. In fact, Mrs. Murray is “pretty floored” by the progress her kids have made in the second half of her class this past year. What’s her secret? The Epson DC-20 Document Camera she received from her DonorsChoose.org campaign last January.

“I explain to people that it’s a modern version of the overhead projector,” Mrs. Murray says. “I’d wanted one for some time, but when I saw that this one recorded, I was so excited.” Mrs. Murray uses the document camera to help her with a flipped classroom approach, where she records her lesson and uploads it to her classroom’s website for online access. “I haven’t seen any other teachers using document cameras in this way, but it’s so perfect. Students can access the videos right from that smartphone.”

Mrs. Murray’s school is in an urban area, and attendance is not at a level that the teachers and administration are happy with. However, by flipping her classroom, her students excel in class–even with absences. “I record the lessons for two reasons. One is so that the students who miss the class don’t actually have to miss the instruction, and two is so that those who are having a hard time grasping the concepts can watch it again. It is physics, after all.”

In class, Mrs. Murray likes to think of her class as “multimedia,” using the document camera off and on, and in different ways. “Sometimes I write on the whiteboard, but putting something on the document camera makes it infinitely more interesting to them.” In addition, Mrs. Murray has noticed that working through a problem on the document camera produces better results with her students than using the whiteboard. “When I’m doing the same thing that they are supposed to be doing, it gives them more confidence to work on the problem.”

“Kids nowadays—technology, that’s their thing. Asking kids to go to a computer for what they need for class is often a lot easier than getting them to relate to a piece of paper.”

Image: ©iStock.com/Zig4photo

Four Gym Class Uses for a Projector

Ebbole_gym

All during my years of school, I was smart. And if you’re assuming that “smart” is another way of saying “not athletic,” you’d be right. That’s not to say that I wasn’t actually intelligent, but smarts didn’t get you picked first for group sports.

And so I dreaded the daily Physical Education class. As if the awkwardness of the changing rooms were not enough, it continued as I watched all the other kids get chosen for teams before someone grudgingly pointed at me. I viewed picking teams as an extension of the popularity caste system that seeped into every moment of school life. But I never saw a teacher try to bypass it.

Until now. Adam Ebbole, a physical education teacher at the Ravenswood-ridge Elementary Network in Chicago, Illinois, has discovered not just one, but several innovative ways to use a projector in his classroom. One way is great for the students, by eliminating the common “chosen last” phenomena many of us suffered through as children, but the three additional uses for the Epson VS210 Projector help to make him a more effective teacher.

1. No Student Left Behind

“I have an iPad app that I use with the projector,” explains Mr. Ebbole. “It picks the groups for the students, which is both a time saver and also prevents any student from being the last choice for sports groups.”

It’s not always random. Mr. Ebbole can use the app to choose teams that include students from all ability levels—and popularity levels. “By using the app, I can make sure that our high population of special needs students aren’t waiting around after all the athletic kids are picked, and I can break up groups of students that are more likely to talk than exercise.”

2. Keeping Kindergarteners Focused

Mr. Ebbole uses the projector, acquired through DonorsChoose.org, in every one of his 15 classes encompassing grades K-8. With more than 450 students in those classes, the projector comes in handy in more ways than just team selection.

“I use it for the kindergarteners a lot. I usually can’t hold their attention for 50 minutes, so if I use the projector to screen an exercise video, like yoga, they’re not just glued to the screen, they’re also active the entire time. I can also introduce the kids to new and international sports, like tchoukball, and using videos is the best way to show them how to play.”

3. Bigger-Than-Life Stopwatch

Using his iPad, Mr. Ebbole projected a timer for his students, helping them get through the exercise stations faster than when he used a stopwatch. With a projected countdown, the kids were able to keep time on their own, and finished the exercises on time. This allowed them more time to participate in their favorite part of the class—the sports activities.

The projector has also provided a teaching opportunity to Mr. Ebbole, helping him explain to his students how participation affects grades. “With half the time left on the clock, I’d see students that hadn’t been active at all. I was able to start a conversation with them about what their grade should be if they only did half the work, versus the other students who had completed the work. They’ve realized that I watch them more carefully than they assumed!”

4. Eliminating Student Excuses

There’s a video that Mr. Ebbole plays via the projector for each and every class, and for a good reason. “As a gym teacher, I get every excuse under the sun,” he explains. “I went to University of Wisconsin with Matt Scott, a Paralympic basketball athlete. He lost the use of his legs early in his life, and Nike® featured him in a TV ad called No Excuses. It’s only one minute long, but it makes quite an impression on the kids, because you don’t see he’s in a wheelchair until the end.”

Even though it’s too late to save me from the mental scarring of being chosen last, I’m impressed with the ways Mr. Ebbole is using the projector to help students get the most out of PhysEd—whether they like it or not. Through technology and ingenuity, he has made gym class more effective at engaging the students and actually getting them to be active. In this day and age of smartphones, video games and online media, that is a trend I hope to see spread to many more PhysEd classes throughout the nation.