Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Promethean PDU Final Reflection

I received my Promethean Board in January.  Actually, it was delivered and being installed on the Friday before winter break.  I was a little disappointed to go to break knowing that the board was in my classroom waiting to be used.  When I returned from break, I was eager to get started.

Prior to coming to DPS I had a SmartBoard in my room for two years and I really enjoyed using it and felt that in some ways it changed the way I taught.  The first thing I did upon returning from winter break was to attend my first training.  During Modules 1 and 2 I learned the basics of using the software and creating flipcharts.  I also felt it was really important for me to simply use the board every day, even if I was using it like a glorified white board.  This was a great opportunity to get used to navigating the software by creating flipcharts, duplicating pages, using features and exploring resources. 

One of the most useful aspects of the training and the PDU is the experience I got exploring resources that are already out there, especially on the Promethean Planet website. I think it is crucial that we share the flipcharts with each other, rather than every teacher creating everything from scratch.  During my Module 3 and 4 training, I found a flipchart on ecosystems that I used in my classroom.  It was a very creative flipchart which used layered images and reveal tools.  I downloaded the flipchart and added video to make it work better for my students.  This inspired me to be more creative in the way that I created flipcharts for my classroom.  I spent a workday creating my own math flipchart on addition and subtraction of fractions.  I was disappointed that it took me all day to create what I thought was a useful flipchart, but in the end I was proud of what I created.  It really impacted the learning in my classroom because I had thought that fractions would be difficult for my students to grasp.  I created a flipchart with pattern blocks that were the same that students would use at their desks.  By manipulating the pattern blocks, they could better understand the meaning of the problems they were solving.

During this PDU I also reflected on my experiences in two ways.  I reflected on my blog and I participated in discussion groups on the Promethean Wiki.  I was asked to answer various questions about my experiences with the Promethean board on my blog.  The most interesting question asked if I frequently offer control of the ActivPen to your students.  Offering control of the ActivPen has been key to students being more engaged and that is the whole point of having an interactive white board in my classroom.  These kinds of boards are sometimes criticized because it is still a "one person" centered learning environment.  But if kids are offered control of the board through the pen, or the slates or the clickers, they are much more engaged and it is much more student centered.   If they aren't offered the opportunity to use the Promethean Board, they run the risk of being passive observers rather than participants.  I was in a training once with a middle school teacher who had a SmartBoard and his philosophy was, the students should be touching the SmartBoard more than the teacher.

This PDU has been important to me for a couple of reasons.  First, I think that it has helped me increase the student engagement in my classroom.  During one lesson students were manipulating shapes to demonstrate addition and subtraction of fractions on a flipchart that I created during a Promethean work day.  As a problem came up, one student was solving it on the Promethean Board, while others were doing it with manipulatives at their seats.  Students at their seats were checking the student up front, while also checking their own work.  The whole time they were staying on-task because they wanted to be the next one at the board.  It was very engaging.  It has also been important for the purpose of sharing information with other teachers.  Often, teachers feel that we our isolated in our classroom, struggling to help students learn.  This PDU has given me an opportunity to share ideas on the blog, discuss issues on the wiki and discuss ideas and issues with other participants.  For example, I was having an issue playing videos on the board and then using a feature to capture individual frames of the video.  This is a great feature for stopping video and discussing certain sections of the video with them.  I was playing a cooking video that was about fractions and capturing frames of ingredients being measured and added.  I posted my question on the PDU wiki and received an answer within a day that allowed me to utilize this important feature.

I learned a tremendous amount in this PDU.  I learned great ideas from other participants.  We had our final face-to-face meeting at the beginning of May where elementary teachers shared a lesson that they had created.  I was totally impressed with what other teachers have created.  There was an art teacher teaching kids about color theory.  A music teacher was teaching kids about setting goals and creating bar graphs about what they want to be when they grow up, melding together music and math.  I learned how to better link pages in my flip charts to other flip charts.  I learned how to drag and drop actions from the action browser onto pages, which makes accessing features on the fly much easier.  I learned that there is another teacher in my grade level who has created a flipchart for every math lesson in everyday math in the fourth grade.  It would be very useful if all of the lessons were available to all teachers so that we aren't recreating lessons independent of each other.  I am planning on using the ActivInspire software to plan lessons in math and science.  As we create these lessons that are aligned with our curriculum, it will become much easier to use and modify these lessons that are directly related to what we teach every day.  I am excited to apply all that I have learned in the modules.  I have learned about creating containers in the ActivInspire software.  A container is where you can place other objects and then you can tell the container to accept or reject certain kinds of objects.  This would be very useful for teaching kids about polygons for example.  I could create a container that accepts only polygons and if a student tries to place an object that isn't a polygon, it will be rejected.

There are also some specific tools in the ActiveInspire software that I have used a tremendous amount.  I was using a timer found in the shared resources, but found out about the clock in Module 3/4 training.  The clock is found on the menu bar under "tools" then "more tools".  You can display an analog and/or a digital clock.  You can also have it count down like a stopwatch and then repeat automatically, or perform an action after the countdown, like move to the next slide.  Very basic and very useful.  I use it all the time to keep students on task, especially when we are working through a multi-step science experiment.  I also love the resource browser. I can find gadgets like timers, dice and backgrounds.  Some of my favorites are the paper backgrounds.  I can make the board look exactly like my students' science notebooks and model how I want them to create entries.  Another is desktop annotation.  I don't use it everyday, but when I need it I like how convenient this feature is.  I have been using it to annotate over math websites to demonstrate how to play math online activities and to annotate over maps to demonstrate scale.  The ability to save these annotations using the camera tool makes it extremely powerful.

This PDU has impacted my practice.  It has changed the way that I plan.  For math, I create the math message and mental math as a page in my flipchart. Then I can create pages with pictures, links, videos, demonstrations that will supplement my direct teaching.  When it comes time to teach the lesson, I simply open up the flipchart and consult it as I would consult the teacher manual.  Then, I can reflect on the lesson, modify and save it so that it is better next time.  It has also made me think more deeply about how to best engage the learners in my classroom.  I don't want the Promethean Board to be a place where students look to see me teach, or a piece of technology that they don't get to touch.  Having this technology has made me think:  Am I engaging students?  Are they getting the opportunity to get out of their seats and interact with the board and with each other?  It has also impacted my day to day practice.  I use my Promethean board constantly.  One lesson that I thought went well but wasn't planned ahead of time was one where I used the board to help kids plan a project they were doing on our ecosystems unit.  I took all of the required documents they needed and made them into a flipchart.  We reviewed, they with highlighters and paper, me with the Promethean highlighter.  I then imported all of the pages as .jpg files and put them on our class wiki.  I was amazed at the number of students who told me that they accessed the documents online to show their parents or to work on the projects over the weekend.  I thought it was very effective to have the exact documents on the wiki that we did in class.  It wasn't fancy or pretty, but it seemed to be very effective.

Another major impact is that everything can be saved, unlike on an old-fashioned white board.  So, if I begin a conversation with students about food chains, we can save and continue or review the next day.  I also create science groups on my Promethean Board, save it and look at the groups every couple of days.  Another impact is the ability to move from the white board space to anywhere else on the computer or web.  Again, we have a conversation about food chains, then move over to a BrianPop movie about the topic.  Links can be embedded in flipcharts as well.

This experience has impacted my students' learning in many ways.  They are simply more excited and engaged in the learning in my classroom. I am able to engage students with a piece of technology that is very exciting to them.  The Promethean Board can still only engage one user at a time (with the "Dual User" feature it can engage two users).  It is still often a situation of 25 students in their desks, watching two users at the board.  I still need to be a good teacher and engage those students in their seats with questions that keep their minds active, so that they aren't just sitting there disengaged, hoping they will get chosen next.  Yes, engagement is higher because you can utilize all things that are on your computer, like images, video, flipcharts, websites, but it doesn't automatically improve engagement.  This is why I think the ActiveExpression Learner Response System is the best for student engagement.  They are really simple to use, you can setup a quick assessment on the fly, and every single student is engaged.  Most days I use my Promethean Board constantly, sometimes just jotting notes like I would on an old fashioned dry-erase board. 

There are many ways I will use my learning in my future practice.  I am going to continue with the learning modules.  I am most looking forward to learning more about how to better use the ActivExpressions Learner Response System.  I can use it in a very basic way, but I am seeing from other participants that there are many features that I haven't used yet.  I am most interested in having students take self-paced tests.  I will continue to use it to access interactive manipulatives for math using EM Games or the Virtual Manipulatives math site.  I would like to extend this to allowing students to do math activities on the Promethean Board as center work, or when they are normally playing other math games.  I will continue to create flipcharts around my Everyday Math lessons.  I will use it to create a system where I put my warm up on the PB and begin my lesson there.  I will continue to watch science videos with students circling key parts that demonstrate a concept.  I want to continue to create science files with my class throughout a science unit beginning with KWL, adding concepts, ending with key points, vocabulary.  This way, when I want to teach it next year, I have a document of what I did.  I have also thought that it would be really useful to have students create a Virtual Science Notebook with the help of the Promethean Board.

Our school improvement plan is focused around writing.  Although I am not a writing teacher, there are many opportunities for students to write when they are in math and science.  In science, students need to keep themselves very organized so they can keep track of the steps of their experiments and data.  I use the Promethean Board connected to my document camera to keep my own science notebook so I can carefully model how we progress through the steps of the scientific method.  I also use it, with the help of the notebook background, to also model science notebooking.  In math we have been focusing on how to think deeper and explain our thinking in math.  As CSAP approached, we spent time as a class creating exemplars of constructed response questions.  Every day we would look at a couple of examples and together we would read over the question to find out exactly what kind of information we need to gather and what the question is asking.  We took notes together on the board.  Students would then work on the problems.  The we would use the document camera and Promethean Board to collaborate and craft advanced responses.  Students would take turns coming to the board and showing their answers.  I displayed their responses outside my classroom door.  I found students to be very engaged in this process.  Without the Promethean Board I think they would have found it dull.

Overall, my experience in the Promethean Board PDU has been a very positive one.  I would be attending the trainings even if I didn't participate in this PDU, but the PDU allowed me to collaborate with my colleagues around the district.  At our final face-to-face meeting many, including myself, expressed interest in continuing to reflect on our blogs, engage in discussions on the wiki, and find a way to continue to share flipchart lessons that we create.