New ways to communicate! (and pretty helpful during Hurricane Sandy…)

For the past few years, Middle and Upper School teachers at Hamden Hall have been required to post weekly syllabi and course material to their course conference on First Class. This year, I decided to pilot two additional ways to communicate with my students: Schoology and Remind101. I figured that, with the combination of a web-based, Facebook-like interface, accessible via iPhone, iPad or computer using Schoology, and with texting via Remind101, I would be able to communicate efficiently and effectively to my students in a variety of ways.

After using both for about two months, here are my thoughts:


1) Students really like the interface. Access on many devices is very convenient.

2) Schoology allows easy access for students to watch the videos that I create on my iPad using Educreations.

3) After students watch the videos, I use Schoology to create short online assessments to see how well the students understood what I explained in the video. These are automatically graded and it is very easy for me to see which problems I need to go over when we get to class the next day.

4) Students have said “I can’t believe I can do my homework on my phone,” although, a few have said that the online quizzes are difficult to complete on their phones because the font is too small.

5) The mathematical formulas and symbols are a little cumbersome to use in the online assessments.

6) I can easily post screenshots and SMARTBoard notes from class for students to refer to for review or if they are absent. I can also upload practice problems to our “news feed.”

7) I can easily create polls that students like to answer!

8) I get notifications when students post to our “wall” and they can also send me direct messages if they would like to communicate with me privately.

9) Students feel that the upcoming assignment area is a bit confusing. I had to make it very clear when I post to this area, clearly differentiating when the assignment is assigned vs. when the assignment is DUE.

Overall, using Schoology has been a positive experience for my students. When I polled them, all but one liked watching the videos and completing the online assessments. I have found it to be incredibly convenient when our First Class email system is inaccessible (as it is right now, with the storm affecting power in our area).  I do wish they used Schoology to communicate with EACH OTHER a bit more. I have to work on that. The “Learn. Together.” part isn’t really happening just yet.


I heard about Remind101 on Twitter and then someone showed it during the app smackdown at EdCampCT. It seemed easy enough to set up. Students would not have my cell phone number, and I wouldn’t have theirs, but I could easily get a text message TO them for free!  I also  liked the idea that students had an option to subscribe to email messages in case they did not have unlimited texting. The set up was SO EASY! Once you create your class, Remind101 creates a printable PDF with step-by-step instructions for students to subscribe.   It turns out that all of my students subscribed to the class texts.

Students seem to really like getting reminders about changes to class meeting times/ locations, reminders about extra help sessions, and, today, reminders about their assignments when they do not have internet access during the storm. (Do they really love this?…) The students would love to be able to reply to the texts, but Remind101 does not allow that . It is definitely something that we can work around because students have Schoology and regular email as options for direct communication. Overall, this has been great for us and I am using this quite a bit today, with Hurricane Sandy, as more and more of my students are losing power and internet access.

So.. new ways to communicate are allowing me to keep in touch with my students during what is possibly the worst storm to hit CT since 1938! This storm is nowhere near done with us. I wonder what this week will bring. At least I can get some work to my students! I am sure they are happy about it 🙂

The “Problem Solving” Problem

Two trains leave the station headed in opposite directions. One train travels 10 miles per hour faster than the other. In 6 hours they are 425 miles apart. Find the rate of each train.

We’ve all heard it before… it’s the nightmare every adult has about their algebra class in High School…why do word problems have such a bad reputation!?   They are actually the avenue by which algebra (and most of math) becomes relevant. They can only become relevant if they ARE relevant. Is the “train problem” relevant to us? What connection can a student possibly make to this?

In my 20 years of teaching High School Math, word problems have always been challenging for my students. Consecutive integer problems, age problems,  distance/ rate problems, simple interest, etc…Word problems fitting into neat little categories.  Is this really the way students learn how to think critically? Are these the problems we WANT them to solve?  I think they actually learn to fear and dread word problems when they are uninterested and find no connection with it.  This year, I am using a new text (Pearson’s Algebra 1) and it, thankfully, takes a different approach to problem solving. It does not break down each word problem by “type”, as the “traditional algebra textbook” does.  While no textbook is perfect,  I am finding that my new text is a breath of fresh air. Each algebraic concept is introduced with a real “problem” to solve, and each section’s skill is used to solve that (and many other)  problems. These problems  don’t fit into a category, and don’t have a chart to fill in or a formulaic method to solve.  This is still hard work for my students. (And, really, how many 14 year olds love to work that hard?). But,  the problems are interesting (comparing vacation excursions, calculating tickets to concerts, figuring out how many songs and videos an iPhone can hold). And the problem solving process has not been equated with meaningless, rote work.

Over the course of the past week, however, I have felt that my class needed a little boost to keep the problem solving momentum going.  I searched the web, tweeted to my #mathchat friends and visited some of the math educator blogs I love… nothing was really jumping out at me. After thinking about about it some more, I decided that I should focus on something that all 9th graders care very deeply about… their cell phone.

So, I developed the  “Cell Phone” project:

You and your partner are charged with figuring out the best cell phone plan out there! You have 5 minutes  to make the sales pitch to the class. You must determine 3 “must have” features your plan should include. You will research the available options and choose 2 to compare.You will present the monthly cost for each plan and the reasons you and your partner chose that particular cell phone plan.

Here is a link to the sample “worksheet”.


Task #1) Interview your parents to find out about the cell phone provider/plan your family uses. What were the factors that your parents used to make their decision? Include as much detail as possible.

Task #2) Determine the 3 “must have” features your plan should include. Why have you chosen these features?

Task #3) Determine which cell phone plans you will compare. What are the factors that you considered in choosing these plans?

Task #4) Research the cost of the two plans for a month. Use at least three different web sources.

Task #5)  Create a 4 slide googledoc presentation to convince the class that you have chosen the best cell phone plan to recommend.

Here is the rubric.

I introduced the project using this website  as a starting point  for discussion. We talked about different features and came up with a list of relevant factors that groups might consider– coverage, voice minutes, texting, data, international calls (a few students have family out of the country).  We also discussed ways to research the information. I can’t wait to see how the project evolves! My students seemed excited to get started.

So– here it is:

My professional goal for the year-    change the perception of the “dreaded” word problem in my class!