© MazioCreate 2011
Do you remember the first time you used an OHP? Gen Y, this is an Overhead Projector and for its day very high tech, more so than the spirit duplicator. (I often wondered why some teachers were spending more time than required sniffing around the machine.) The feeling of power I experienced when I first started teaching and displayed my first OHT (overhead transparency) was euphoric. Okay, maybe I felt chuffed that the whole class could be involved in making bunny ears, dogs and every other shadow you can imagine rather than staring at a dull blackboard. Add to this elation the introduction of coloured transparency sheets and pens and I thought my life couldn't get much better. Except for a few drawbacks like wiping off material with your hand in the middle of an explanation, using permanent markers instead of water based and my total lack of drawing talent, the OHP and OHT combo served me well for a couple of decades. Then technology brought to me a beautiful piece of gadgetry - the data projector (D.P.) and at that point our affair began.
Back in 1997 when D.P. and I first became acquainted, the portable version (and that's all there was at the time) was a chunky little minx (diet was on the cards) and I needed a solid workout before any date. Now I'm not blaming her for the slipped disc, but moving her did coincide with the injury. In the long term it didn't affect the relationship, because her ability to display web pages, PowerPoints, Word docs etc, far outweighed her weight problem. I can vividly recall the response from a group of students who were deaf when I first introduced them to D.P. The hands up in the air clapping was nearly deafening. No longer was it necessary to get close up and personal as we huddled around a single computer while I demonstrated processes, we all had room to move, including the interpreter. The collective sigh still resounds in my ears.
My affair with D.P. didn't just gain me personal space, but an invaluable teaching partner. The only time she ever let me down was when her very expensive bulb blew (a little like my Blood Pressure when it happened mid sentence). Class and I went back into the huddle to discuss game plan - early coffee break and hopefully tech would arrive with new bulb. Over the years D.P. has rested beside me, sometimes above me and enabled me to deliver workshops and teaching programs in a polished and professional manner. Those few glitches were nothing compared to the fingernails being dragged across the blackboard. Still get shivers up the spine.
In the throes of a brain storming session.
I mentioned in my Top Ten out of Eleven Teaching Resources blog, about using D.P. to record input from the class/group. Nine out of every ten work topics undertaken by my classes were suggested by students during brainstorming sessions. I would record all suggestions using D.P. so there was no confusion on anyone's behalf. This strategy was an advantage as the students watched all my typos, processes, corrections and reading of drafts. Great way to show the correct procedures and this leaves butcher's paper just were the name says, wrapped around some haemorrhaging side of beef.
It all seems quite blasé now, using the data projector to demonstrate accessing and using software packages or reading material. By using D.P. to project the pages of books from the BBC RAW Reader library, the group were able to interact with text on a larger scale. My argument for this interaction being, they use BIG BOOKS for children to get them involved, why not for adults going through the same process of learning to read. One female student in the group commented, "Reading like this is great! I understand the story and can see how bits of the story are connected, and I'm not a reader. All I ever read are magazines and even then I mainly look at the photos." The excerpts are from books written to appeal to adults. Currently text is shown as a document, whereas it used to be displayed on pages like a book. In my opinion, the page format was superior. The lesson would go something like this - I would read the story (with all the ooohs and aaaaahs if it was a murder mystery) and students either followed the text on-screen or on their own copy. This big screen approach enabled me to draw students' attention to specific traits about the characters and other aspects of the story that would lead to solving the murder. One of the students enjoyed the excerpt from one murder mystery so much she even bought the book. SUCCESS!
Another activity that was exponentially enhanced by using a data projector was listening comprehension (link to video from resource Kitchens & Cuisines). Interaction with others by phone is the only time non-verbal cues aren't a component of listening. Now there's Skype, even our phone conversations involve more than listening. For groups who required higher levels of assistance (Level 1 ACSF assessed), either myself or a tutor would read the questions with the students prior to watching the video. One aspect of the reading activity would be to encourage students to isolate and highlight the main words / points of each question. These words would then be used as listening cues. With the video showing on the big screen students would prompt me when to pause to write the answer. Naturally rewinding (Is that possible with a digital video?) was involved, but asking others to repeat what they said, is all part and parcel of listening.
Aah D.P., you've done it again!
What was the outstanding bonus of using D.P.? Students using a tool that made their presentations as professional as any consultant. They displayed their advertisements for products they had designed, they used the D.P. to display discussion material and to demonstrate procedures to complete tasks.
This is one affair that will continue. Back to www.maziocreate.com.au
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Would you believe.........
No matter how you plan your lessons or days it sometimes can resemble the KAOS of Get Smart. You begin to feel like Max bumbling his way through yet another disaster. But wait! There is the trusty sidekick 99 to haul him out of another messy predicament. Was Max undertrained for the job or did the job just get the better of him on some days, okay every day? I'm more inclined to think he was the right man but sometimes in the wrong place and the outcome was CHAOS. More often than not, I was like Max with chaos raining down on me in the classroom. It was ordered chaos and like Max I was the instigator. The trusty sidekick for me was knowing there's an entire mathematical field devoted to chaos theory. PHEW! Wikipedia notes that for a dynamical system (the classroom) to be chaotic the three following properties must exist.
1. It must be sensitive to initial conditions.
2. It must be topologically mixing.
3. Its periodic orbits must be dense.
Before we get started, I'm no mathematician, but I can see how scientists could have studied any classroom to develop this theory. I've muddled my way through the basics of this theory and recognise the relevance of applying its properties to our daily teaching lives.
Being sensitive to the initial conditions is synonymous to how I would approach each day. I'd ask myself these questions - Have I had enough coffee? Are the lesson plans on my desk, at home or did the dog eat them? What has happened to the students overnight? (We've all got thousands of stories to answer that question.) Did I take my St John's Wort? Okay, these may not be your pressing questions that are a component of the initial conditions, but I'm sure you understand. Chaos theory attempts to explain the fact that complex and unpredictable results can and will occur in systems that are sensititive to their initial conditions. (Seems to sum up any classroom I've ever been in.) Before those complex and unpredictable results occur, you're going to introduce two variables into the initial condition. Both have a similar affect upon you and can bring about the ripple effect on the students. Before you enter any classroom - with or without students - take three deep breaths. In through the nose, expand that diaphragm, I SAID EXPAND THAT DIAPHRAGM, and slowly out through the mouth. This type of breathing releases stress, clears away the mental fog and helps to detoxify your system. It also provides fresh air before entering a room of sweaty bodies, particularly after a break. The next variable - SMILE! Like deep breathing, smiling relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins and is contagious (not quite like measles). You now look and feel relaxed and with that smile you'll beguile the students and certainly put them off pre arranged behavioural threads. Lesson / day off to a good start - TICK and you've been sensitive to the initial conditions when entering the classroom.
Now to the second property - topological mixing. What is topological mixing? A new cocktail or a new type of speed dating? Let's start with Topology, in a nutshell, it is a major area of mathematics that is concerned with spatial properties that are maintained under continuous deformations or contortions of objects e.g. stretching (that is, our resources and sanity to the limit). How does this correlate to our teaching and classrooms? Believe it or not, it is a part of our lives that is best described as SETS. At some point in our schooling we've all covered sets in mathematics. So, think of yourself, the students and the physical environment as sets. Now you've become topological spaces and with that you inherit - convergence, continuity and connectedness.
a. Convergence - coming together each day as a teacher to deliver processes to assist with learning and as a student to apply those processes to learn. Aaaaah! The idealistic stirrings from my reading of Summerhill by A.S.Neill in 1977. Well you do come together each day with ideals, hopes and strategies, and whether they work or don't that's okay, because this is the chaos classroom theory.
b. Continuity - small changes in the input results in small changes in the output. YES! You can apply continuity to your classroom every day of every year. A hair style probably won't do it unless it changes your overall approach to teaching. Possible but not highly probable! To apply this property you could consider tinkering with your teaching strategies so they reflect the learning styles of the students. BINGO! You're on a winner!
c. Connectedness - nothing surprising here, you and the class are like a VENN DIAGRAM, you are each a distinct object yet as a class you are connected in different ways. The other subsets in your Venn Diagram need you to keep this connectedness strong. How? Take time each day to have a one on one with students. It doesn't have to be a saga like War & Peace, but you'll be amazed how important it is in their lives when a significant other takes the time to chew the fat.
Getting the drift of Chaos Theory? Well down to the third property - dense orbits. Yes, that is the third property and I can hear the giggles, no guffaws this one has caused. Without the coffee I think I'm reduced to a dense orbit. To sum it up my Venn Diagram object, because you and your students are subsets of your class, you are a collection of points in an evolutionary function i.e. you teaching to assist learning and forming relationships. During your time together as a Venn Diagram you and the students will evolve (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein could spring to mind). Continuously for forty weeks of the year, you and your students will be suspended in a dense space (classroom) connected by your converging ideas.
To bring order amidst the chaos you have to be willing to let go of the reins. Not completely because the horse will bolt, but to the point where students are setting behavioural parameters and sticking to them. I'll leave you with an
example of what I've been talking about minus the mathematical jargon. My teaching partner and I developed a learning program (for Year 6 & 7) based on the stockmarket . The truly chaotic time came when we simulated the stock exchange floor. I used a megaphone to make announcements about variables affecting stocks and the mayhem of buying and selling from the students was no lesser than the real thing. Did it work? It was a roaring success even to the point where parents joined in on the fun. My advice, keep it real and fun and you'll have mastered the classroom chaos theory.
Last but not least, no mathematician was harmed during the writing of this article. Hopefully the physicists fare as well when I start on the highly strung string theory.
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