Friday, November 15, 2013

My day as a Battle student

I got the pleasure to spend yesterday with Taylor, one of my former all-star students. She agreed to let me follow her through a full day of classes at Battle High School. Although it certainly knocked her down a rung on the social ladder, Taylor stuck it out and gave me some great insight into what a high school day looks like. Here are some highlights.

Honors Geometry
We started the day with Michael Collins and Honors Geometry. The class had recently started their work on geometric proofs. Mr. Collins had all the technology resources clearly listed on the whiteboard along with directions for the day on the Smartboard. He started the lesson using the Smartboard, but the orientation was way off and we couldn't get the orientation menu to come up. So like all good teachers, he moved to plan B and fired up Doceri to teach the lesson from his iPad. 

My geometry notes
The students knew exactly where to go to get their materials. They were using Notability to quickly and efficiently take notes. The students already had access to class documents through their Google Drive or it was bookmarked on their home screen. I used the posted link to get there. It was impressive to see how they adapted to the speed of the lesson by using copy, paste, and modify to avoid rewriting longer equations. I say it was quick, but I clearly was the only one having issues keeping up. But I was able to cheat a bit by taking pictures of the Smartboard and inserting them into my notes when I fell behind.

Mr. Collins also showed them a nifty app called Flashcards+. I plan to write up a longer review on this app because it has great potential as well. One really cool feature is the ability to insert pictures, either from the camera or drawn by hand, into your flashcards. The students are going to use this app to become more proficient with the tools they need for their proofs.

Honors English/Social Studies Block
Julius Caesar iBook
On to second block. I'll admit that I was a bit apprehensive because Amanda Reddish dropped a bomb on me earlier in the day with the news that I'd be reading lines from Shakespeare in front of the class. She's got the wrong Villasana, that's for sure. But I had the Shakespeare app downloaded and I was able to quickly add a Julius Caesar iBook to my iPad in an attempt to prepare. Just like the old days, but more accessible. So with minutes of Shakespeare prep under my belt, I moved to the front of the room to assume my role as Julius Caesar. It turned out to be a lot of fun. Until I was killed. I should have seen it coming. The iBook was really easy to use. My only complaint was that the text and the play directions weren't clearly differentiated, so that's why I wasn't able to fully deliver my dying words. That's my excuse. But the students were really engaged and were all following along on their devices. Ms. Reddish did a fantastic job of stopping to discuss key moments during the reading. I know this because it helped my understanding a lot. 

For social studies, Michael Fernandez was leading the students through a government simulation. Each student was writing a bill that would be presented to committees next week. He gave them a template earlier in the week and they were using Notability to fill out the bill requirements. I asked Taylor to AirDrop her bill to me so I could see what she was working on. For some reason, we couldn't get my iPad to show up. So we used old-fashioned email instead. 

A look at Taylor's bill
It was authentic use of technology at its best. I asked Taylor some questions about the content of the bill. When she didn't know the answers, it worked so fluently to switch to an internet search, find a relevant site, AirDrop it to her, and discuss what it said. Just so easy, but completely dependent on whether or not a student has access to the information. We would have been stumped were it not for our iPads. Mr. Fernandez made his way around the room to conference with students about their bills and help them determine the next steps to take. No small feat considering there were sixty kids in the room.

I suggested she dump me for lunch and attempt to gain some credibility back with her friends. We met up afterwards.

We headed across the school to Sheri Parker's art classroom. The students have been working on drawing and shading techniques while working on a still life drawing. Most were in various stages of a practice sketch. Ms. Parker took the first part of the class to demonstrate the next step of the process. She expertly connected her iPad to Airserver and then mounted the iPad on a MaxCase Stand. Then she was able to use her iPad as a document camera to show how to create the border for the graded drawing of the still life. It seemed like such a simple task, but it was so powerful to watch in real-time. 

If you'd like an autographed print, let me know.
The rest of the period was time to draw. I got to use some supplies to make my own still life. I was tempted to walk up and take a picture of the model so I could get a closer look. It was quite relaxing to sit in a dimly lit room, listen to music, and sketch. Here's a look at my masterpiece. While I was working, I could envision students taking pictures of their work and organizing their year into a digital portfolio using Evernote or some other app. 

QR code links to videos
Taylor and I headed off to fourth block and physics with Ben Fortel. I learned that we'd be learning about and using GPS. The block started with students passing out papers from earlier in the week. I was impressed to see the sheets were covered with QR codes. I hijacked a paper from a girl sitting nearby and took a look. She explained to me how to use the QR codes (it was sweet, so I pretended to not know anything about QR code). They were links to physics videos that the students watched in order to answer the questions on the sheet. Pretty cool.

GPS Coordinates
We watched a short video about GPS from DNews. It gave a nice overview of how GPS works and the government's plans to upgrade the system. Mr. Fortel then let us know that we'd be going on a scavenger hunt with GPS devices. At this time, I quickly scrambled to try to find a GPS app for my phone. I had no luck, so if you know of a good one, let me know. He listed a series of eight coordinates on the board. The student groups wrote down the numbers and then we proceeded outside. 

We worked our way around the building to find the coordinates. On each coordinate, there was a flag with the answer to a question written on it. The students took turns using the GPS devices. They even found two hidden flags and recorded the coordinates for each. 

And that was the end of the day. It was well worth it and definitely tiring. Gave me flashbacks to the days when I had to stay after school for practices. I guess I was a lot younger then. 

Battle teachers are clearly integrating their resources to support the curriculum. But the best thing about it was that it was completely natural. The students were well taught and had very few questions about how to use the tools. I know that takes a lot of work, but the results are clearly worth it. I learned quite a bit from my time with Taylor. Mostly that Taylor and her classmates are fully capable of learning with the assistance of an iPad, well-trained teachers, and a little good old-fashioned trial and error. And this is after about a month and a half of implementation. I think the Battle iPad pilot is off to a terrific start. 

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