After the amazing results we saw last year in our Algebra I Blended Learning classes, on of our math teachers decided that to truly take advantage of everything technology has to offer he should take matters into his own hands. After playing around with some different ideas and programming languages, this dedicated teacher spent the summer teaching himself how to program specifically so he could build the best possible tool he could imagine. Let me proudly introduce mrbarrette.com.
Now where to begin… I guess I will start by describing the user experience. On the second day of class the students were asked to log into their chromebooks, proceed to the url, and create accounts for themselves. This initial set-up process is similar to other social networking sites, add a photo, send friends requests to all your friends, write a short blurb about your interests etc..
What sets this apart from other tools such as Facebook, instagram, or twitter is that there are lessons that you can do, there are quizzes, there is a spot to keep track of all your homework from all of your classes, there is a forum where you can ask questions about the content and where you are encouraged to discuss mathematical ideas. For the first few days of class the students focused heavily on writing blog posts about a variety of math related topics. Writing in math class? I know, it’s amazing!!
From a teacher’s perspective this tool provides a centralized system for reaching all of your learners, both during and after the school day. All lessons can be uploaded so that students can work at their own pace, and so that you can spend valuable class time focused on higher order thinking tasks, class discussions, projects etc. Not only this, but our wonderful developer ( by day Algebra I teacher) is very focused on generating a system that has Learning Management System – like features, but that actually work for teachers. For example, certain quiz grades are posted to the students’ pages so that they know exactly what grade they have, and what they need to work on. Student attendance is also posted to their page. This may seem trivial, but there are many students who do not realize exactly how much school they are missing until it is easily accessible, right there for them to see. This system also allows the teacher to specifically generate modified versions of course assignments, or quizzes and post these for students who require these modifications.
Now I know that this sounds very similar to something like Edmodo, and indeed I think that this is probably the existing platform that most resembles mrbarrette.com. However, there is one significant design objective that sets us apart – a vision that we hope to nurture into existence over the coming months. Envision Schools has a unique pedagogical perspective that, among other things, highly values deep and engaging tasks or projects. All Envision Schools students must generate several tasks and present this work in portfolio defenses throughout their high school career. This new platform that we are building will not only support the acquisition of small skills and applied practice, but teachers will be able to develop and implement portfolio tasks and projects using the system, and be able to personalize and individualize, as well as easily monitor student progress. This is an exciting new territory for all of us and I look forward to sharing our learning with the educational technology and blended learning teaching communities as we forge ahead.