Saturday, July 12, 2008

Watch my Math & Website Design course unfold as it happens!

This week was the first of a short, three week course I am teaching at my new Boston-area school this summer. The course is entitled Math & Website Design, and I have students of all different HS grades and levels of math ability and computer literacy. Our time frame is short and so I designed the class to be very simple and straightforward, with plenty of room for differentiation.

By the end of the course, each student (or pair of students) will create a website that explains one specific math area they need to improve upon. Their content should be easy to understand, interesting (to themselves and others) and preferably fun.

This is what we've done so far:

Introduction to the course and diagnostic tests (selected questions from the 2008 MCAS retest).

Students logged into the class blog, completed a student survey (created using PollDaddy) and created a permanent email address for class use. I wanted it to be permanent so that I could correspond with them, they could sign up for multiple services if needed for the project, and so they would have one for future use. I told them to use Yahoo! or Google, and the only problems were their desired usernames already being taken and difficulty with the captcha.

Originally, I wanted the class blog to be a group blog, where each student would post what they learned at the end of each period. This proved to be a bit difficult: my directions were vague, and the whole email business took too long, so most didn't get to create a Wordpress account at all. So I am using the class blog to post the daily agenda and links for the day, and students are emailing me when I need that kind of check for understanding.

I also included four online math games, some of which I've written about before and others that were found via Larry Ferlazzo's website. These were to inject some fun into the proceedings when they finished everything else.

After another Do Now question (again using PollDaddy), students began research and planning of their site. I met with them one-on-one about what their topics could be (I gave them options based on their diagnostic results). Then they had to gather 10 quality links about their topic. This took the majority of the period, as some students had to catch up with Wednesday's work and they actually had to read through each link and decide whether it was good or not. Good meant that it followed the guidelines stated up front: easy to understand, simple to use, preferably fun.

I also asked students to experiment with Dvolver Moviemaker (from Larry Ferlazzo's list The Best Ways for Students to Create Online Animations), as I think they will be able to use it creatively in bringing their website to life. I told them to play around with it, figure out how it works, and show me whatever they came up with. They really enjoyed it, and no one had any problems using it at all.

I continued to have students log in to the class blog immediately and complete another short Do Now survey. They had to finish their research and email me their 10 quality links. I also asked them to try out 2 more websites where they could make interesting content easily:
  • Bubblr! - Search images via Flickr, then add speech bubbles with their own text. It can be a single frame or a series of images.
  • Make Believe Comix - Make your own comic strips quickly and easily.
I found both sites through Larry's list The Best Ways To Make Comic Strips Online. My students had a lot of fun, and very little difficulty in making some funny practice comics. Here's one example, and here's another (before you ask, yes, I will be sitting down to help that second student with her negative numbers. Kids are amazing.)

Next Week
I plan on introducing one basic skill per day:
  1. Monday: Sign up for web host, learn how to post topics, 10 links, etc to site.
  2. Tuesday: Learn how to change the layout, color scheme, and background.
  3. Wednesday: Field trip!
  4. Thursday: Recording audio, finding/taking/editing pictures, and how to post them
  5. Friday: Creating video/animations (using online tools) and posting them
Each day I will provide another link (probably almost all of them from Larry's site) where they can create content to help bring their pages to life, as well as meet with them one-on-one to discuss how they're going to "teach" their topic. I may change the schedule up a bit--some dislike the math part, others the computer part, and I need to make things as engaging and challenging as possible for everybody.

This has been a whole new experience for me, as I've never completely integrated technology into a course before. Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day has been absolutely indispensable in learning how to do this kind of course--I've literally been reading all of his "Best Of" series for ideas, as well as going back through daily posts I had been saving through Google Reader.

I still haven't decided which site to use as our web host. I may use Google Pages or Yahoo! Geocities. Has anyone tried Weebly? My guidelines are the same as the ones Larry uses for many of his "best" resources: free, easy to use, with lots of ways to create engaging content. Please leave a comment if you have any ideas or recommendations (for this or any other part of the course).

Follow along with our progress for the next 2 weeks. My class blog will be updated daily. Stay tuned for updates and links to more student creations: