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Why is TMC So white? One idea for change…let’s invite the neighbors

July 30, 2017
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Of the 186 TMC attendees, 166 of them (86%) were white, which I think was a deep cause of concern for nearly everyone at TMC. One other surprising fact is that Atlanta, a very diverse (if still fairly segregated) city, wasn’t especially well represented at TMC—we had nearly as many people from Massachusetts at TMC as from the Atlanta area.

200 is pretty close to a hard size cap for TMC. Grow much bigger, and it will be next to impossible to find institutions willing to host the conference for free. But, at least at this TMC, there’s only one place, the cafeteria that housed all of the keynotes, that is significantly size constrained and couldn’t accommodate a few more people. All of the other smaller sessions were held in classrooms that could easily accommodate 5, 10 or even 20 more people. At the same time, many of the sessions were about more than just teaching math; a bunch are simply about doing math together. And I would classify sessions like Ilana, Christopher and Lara’s session as one of these that was more about exploring the joy of learning math in non school contexts.

This gets me thinking, why are we limiting this fun to just math teachers? Physics teachers like me are already sneaking in, but I’m thinking we might really make some progress on the diversity front by specifically devoting an afternoon to outreach—running sessions specifically designed to share a joy in math (I’m thinking of Jonathan Calydon’s incredible sidewalk chalk project. What if we did this at TMC, and what if we invited the surrounding community to participate?

Expanding TMC in this way would allow us to get a number of people into TMC and have them experience a taste of the community and feel the infectious joy for math that is so pervasive during this conference, and at the same time, it would allow the rest of the conference to stay small, close knit, and not overly tax the facilities by trying to squeeze 400 people into a cafeteria meant for only half that number.

Creating a TMC outreach afternoon will allow math teachers in the area to give TMC a try for an afternoon without having to commit multiple days. If we were to reach out to all the colleges in the area, particularly historically black colleges and colleges that do a good job of serving 1st generation students, we might not only bring some diversity to TMC, we would also be reaching a number of pre-service and potential math teachers who will be the ones who that diversify math education after we are all retired. I think we could extend this even further—why not reach out to students at area schools? After 2 or 3 days of awesome math learning, I’m itching to try out some of what I’ve learned on some real live students. This outreach would be a bit effort—the cities that host TMCs are huge, and it’s a lot to ask the host institution to be responsible for getting the word out to all the math teachers in the city, particularly when we think about how many different types of schools there are. Maybe there should be a TMC sub committee completely devoted to home site outreach.

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TMC Day 2—we belong together

July 29, 2017
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Here’s a moment—it happened in Ilana, Christopher and Lara’s season on Learning From Children’s Mathematical Play at Math-on-A-Stick. Last year, Ilania got an NSF grant to study Christopher’s amazing garden of mathematical delights, and see how students engage the mathematical ideas within. She and her grad students outfitted kids visiting the exhibits with head mounted GoPro cameras, and they are now spending their time analyzing the footage.

Lara shared one video with us of a girl trying to make a heart out of plastic eggs on a 6×5 cardboard egg carton. For 7 minutes, the girl was thoughtfully working her way through how to improve her heart design, moving eggs from place to place, apparently working with some notion of symmetry.

She filled in her heart, and then expressed some frustration, feeling like it just didn’t look right, and then she said “there isn’t a middle,” and tried to place an egg between columns 3 and 4. And then suddenly, she rotated the carton by 90 degrees, so that there were now 5 columns—and she burst out an exclamation of delight, seeing that she now had a middle, and could reconstruct a fully symmetric heart.

I tell you, for those 20 seconds where that little girl was finding the middle in this cardboard box, every single teacher watching that video in this session was enthralled, and we all cheered at the exact same moment.

This is surely one of many moments when you realize this is a community that has a deep bond, and really gets what it means to love the wonder and creativity of mathematics.

Ilana, Christopher and Lara’s session was fantastic, and they shared some fascinating early findings of how parents interact with their children in these nonschool math experiences. They categorize the interactions into Problematizing and Schoolitizing.

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I find it surprisingly hard to problematize with my own 6-year-old when I work with her on activities like this. Too often, I think I miss the hidden mathematical structure in what we are doing and often jump to the low hanging fruit of the school math that I’m so comfortable with. This is something I need to work on, and I want to keep it in mind for my classroom work as well.

Finally, I’ve been having a few more thoughts about the question I raised yesterday—why can’t I help outsiders to see how amazing this community is?

Do you know how hard it is to hire a math teacher? I’m thinking Holy Innocents is going to have a much easier time making a hire the next time they have a math opening, for the simple reason that 200 incredible teachers have benefited from the school’s amazing hospitality, and have seen the beautiful facilities. So why isn’t every school and college rushing to offer up their campus for TMC? And even simpler, why isn’t some smart administrator with a math opening wandering around the cafeteria looking to set up a few interviews. It seems like such a no-brainer.

I’m still pretty genuinely perplexed by this. At first, I thought maybe it’s the fact that I’m so enthusiastic about the MTBoS when I speak of it that I turn people off, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But I know there’s also a pretty big culture of “connected educators” that are way more enthusiastic than me about the power of connection to transform learning and none of them seem to recognize the truly unique sauce that is the MTBoS, that we are the embodiment of much of what they preach about.  In the rest of the world, it seems that successful institutions and groups get wide recognition both inside and outside the group, and usually more than a few imitators. But I don’t think the MTBoS is getting the recognition it deserves from the math education community or the wider world at large. And given the number of “where is the MTBoS of X field” tweets I see, there aren’t that many imitators either. Probably all of this is me just being too invested in this community and super appreciative of all it has done to push my own thinking. I doubt that there is one thing I can say to a colleague or administrator that is going to get him or her to suddenly change course and recognize this TMC as the future of professional collaboration, any more than there’s one thing I could say to get all my students to fully master Newton’s Second Law. MTBoS is an understanding we all have to construct ourselves, and the best I can do for anyone else is to share my own experience and serve as a patient guide.

It’s late, and I’m getting tired so I won’t be able to tell you how amazing Elizabeth’s (CheesmonkeySF) session continues to be amazing, and that the Talking Points Framework is a genius technique for getting everyone in the class to participate and explain their reasoning.

And I’ve got even less time to say that Clothesline Math blew my mind. I had no idea that you could tackle incredibly deep and challenging algebra, geometry, and statistics problems using a simple clothesline number line. I’m going to try to spend some time thinking about how I might adapt this tool for physics.

Twitter Math Camp Reflections Day 1

July 28, 2017
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Earlier this spring I won the lottery and got a ticket to Twitter Math Camp, and after only one day, I can say that this is the most incredible professional development conference in education around, bar none.

What makes this conference great? I think it’s in the tiny details. These details are the ideas you would think up if you had 200 people helping to plan your conference thinking—”wouldn’t it be just a bit better if we did X,” and then most of the time, took the responsibility to do X. Here are just a few:

  • Sam Shah made buttons for newbies and “adorably shy” introverts—we’re talking 50 or more of these buttons. I still remember the second AAPT conference I went to on my own in Canada when I’d been teaching physics a couple of years. I don’t think I spoke to a single person for more than 30 seconds for three days other than the rental car agent. I just went to sessions, sat in the back, took notes and just felt too afraid to engage anyone in conversation. I don’t know that a button is a magic solution to welcoming us introverts to conferences, but it’s just one way in which TMC has shown a crazy level of commitment to making people feel welcome. There was also a first timers meeting and dinner that were genuinely welcoming, a speed dating conversation session, multiple reminders about how it’s ok to jump into conversations in person and on Twitter, and so much more.
  • Sprinkling announcements in between “My Favorite” talks—My Favorites are great little 5 minute presentations anyone can present about some super cool tool or aspect of their teaching, and they’re great, but not all that unusual—they’re a staple of edCamp. What is awesome is that Lisa made 1 or 2 quick announcements between each 5-minute talk, rather than taking 5 minutes at the beginning or end of the session. This made the entire session feel much snappier.
  • Meticulously planned sessions with an eye for marketing—The conference opens with each of the presenters of the morning sessions standing up and giving a quick description of their talks. But they don’t just say “Hi I’m so and so and I’ll be talking about such and such,” it’s clear they spent a serious amount of time thinking about how they could best use 30 seconds to market their workshop. The first group even wrote a poem to describe their workshop. Two other presenters came in custom embroidered chef’s jackets they made for their “classroom chef” workshop. All of this also gave me a much better idea of my session proposals didn’t make the cut.
  • A truly generous spirit—Have you heard of a conference where a teacher would spend hours in the evening teaching others to crochet? How about an entire hashtag dedicated to participants inviting each other to various activities?

I could go on and on. I also haven’t mentioned the simply incredible keynote talk by Grace Chen (see part 1 here), or everything I loved about @CheesmonkeySF fantastic #cheezyExeter workshop. I’ll do my best to write on those soon.

At the same time, I can say that I don’t think I can convince anyone in the “real world” why this workshop is so great. I know a lot of great educators outside the MTBoS/#iteachmath community, some of them have no online presence at all and see social media as a mostly destructive enterprise—so they can’t see the ways in which our social media connection create an extra layer of connection and familiarity that make this conference so wonderful. Other great teachers I know don’t teach math, but fully embrace the idea of being a connected educator, and I think they’d see TMC as just another voice in the chorus of great connected education, when in reality, TMC is the the standout soloist that towers above all the rest. And I know every time I’ve tried to convince one of my math colleagues, or an administrator that this is the most powerful professional development in the world by long shot, I get quizzical looks, and somehow get a feeling that they think “that may be great for weirdos like you, John, but I don’t think it’s really all that great for normal people like me.”

I want TMC to be the model for professional development everywhere and the MTBoS/#iteachmath community the mainstream of math education, or at least to be widely recognized as an incubator of ideas that have transformed math education and the lives of many student. Somehow, I think I fail when it comes to making this case. This is something I’m going to be thinking about a lot in the days ahead.

STEP-UP to change the underrepresentation of women in physics

July 23, 2017

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that women are underrepresented in physics—women make up only 20% of undergrad physics majors. You may not know that every year, about 15,000 students choose to major in undergraduate physics (3000 of those are women). So what would it take to bring women’s representation in undergraduate physics up to parity? Just 9000 additional women choosing to major in physics. And here’s where you and the other 27,000 high school physics teachers in the United States come in.

All it takes for women to reach parity in undergraduate physics is for each high school physics teacher in the US to recruit one additional woman to major in physics once every three years.

When you think about it this way, it sounds simple. Surely we high school teachers can reach this modest goal. This is why when I was approached to be a part of an NSF grant to Mobilize Teachers to Increase Capacity and Broaden Women’s Participation in Physics, I was thrilled to participate.

Earlier this week, I and 8 other teachers from around the nation met in Miami to work with researchers from Florida International University, Texan A&M Commerce, APS and AAPT to offer feedback on two lessons that are designed to encourage women to pursue physics majors. The first lesson is designed to help students see that majoring in physics gives students a broad set of skills that are applicable to a wide range of careers, and the second is a specific intervention to address underrepresention of women in physics and the role that unconscious bias plays in this underrepresentation.

This is going to be a multi-year project, and I will be sharing more about it as our work continues, but for now, I did want to pass along a few great resources I discovered during our meeting.

First, here’s a great one page summery of research proven strategies you can employ in your classroom engage and encourage female students in physics.

Here are a couple of papers from Professor Hazari’s research group about her research into encouraging women to study physics:

Finally, I want to say that this work is much harder than it sounds, especially when we think about how deeply ingrained unconscious bias and sexism are in our culture. At one point in our conversation, we had been discussing ways to successfully recruit women for about an hour, when one of the researchers pointed out that for the past hour, men had been speaking for 75% of the time—this is a room of teachers and researchers with strong understanding of gender bias and a common goal of increasing women’s representation in our field. A number of people in the room quickly tried to justify this result, noting that only 3 out of the 8 teachers in the group were women. But, after about 45 minutes more discussion, the ratio had dropped considerably—men only spoke for 66%. These statistics were provided by the awesome website, Are men talking too much? , which lets you quickly track the gender composition of any meeting.

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My takeaway: we need to use tools like this to make ourselves more aware of gender bias and to hold ourselves accountable to do something about it.

I’m very excited to be a part of this project and look forward to writing much more about it in the future.

Paradigm Lab Assessments

July 14, 2017

This year, I joined an Honors Physics class in the 3rd quarter, and one of the things it reminded me of what both how vital paradigm labs are to modeling physics, and how tempting it can be for students to sit on the sidelines and wait to be handed the information they think they need. In one instance, we were trying to figure out what factors affect the net force acting on an object moving in uniform circular motion, and students were releasing pendulums and measuring the tension force of the string to see how the mass, speed, and radius of the path affected the tension force at the bottom. When first discussing how to approach the experiment, I saw the not too unfamiliar situation where a couple of students seemed to be driving most of the discussion, and many other students seemed to be just waiting for them to get to the point where the teacher said: “great, now go do the experiment.” This, naturally, left them very shortchanged when it came to understanding what they were investigating, and really ill prepared for the board meeting to follow.

I find board meetings to be both fantastic and frustrating. As much as possible, I just try to sit back, take notes and watch what is happening. Sometimes, I’ll feel like an important point is being left out, or a question isn’t being asked, and right as I’m getting ready to jump in, another student will save me from needing to intervene and raise the issue. I’m always astounded by the ideas students come up with in these discussions. But I also find that there’s a significant group of students who can be quite lost in these discussions. By the time you get to late in the year, those students have become seemingly comfortable with being lost—they’re just patiently waiting for the “smart” kids in class to figure it out and tell the class the formula they need to know to be able to solve the problems in the packet.

This is entirely my fault as a teacher. It is quite possible to succeed on all our assessments knowing nothing about the work done during the paradigm lab itself if they are comfortable working with the “equation.” And yes, this is part of the reason why some students can come to the notion of thinking in models so late, since they don’t av apply the idea in the paradigm experiment, and instead are just waiting on the result.

So what’s to be done? First, I’d like to point out that it wasn’t always this way in our classes. There was a time when we taught from PSSC physics and used their infamous multiple choice tests that pushed students to extend their reasoning from the labs they conducted. For instance, following the N2L experiment we did where students pulled skate carts with springs, we would ask this question

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This question pushed students to go back to the understanding they developed in lab and think carefully about what they were doing and how each of the points was generated by the same cart experiencing the the pulling of a different number of equally stretched bands. These questions were hard, and more often than not, students would miss them on the first try, and in these pre-SBG days, we’d have to do things like offer partial credit corrections for students to recover some credit.

I’d love to have questions like this as an integral part of the lab experience in our class now, and it’d be great to add a standard to about conducting and understanding experiments that establish the model. My problem is that under our current approach to SBG, I would likely have to generate a ton of questions for each experiment/model to give students the opportunity to reassess to mastery, and that seems very daunting.

Another way to have students demonstrate understanding of a lab would be to have them write lab reports, and I think there could be great value to this. But they are a challenge to grade, a chore for students to prepare and would likely entail a sacrifice of homework and class time that would lead to covering even less content.

Paradigm assessments

Instead of lab reports, I’d like students to focus and reason about a few critical ideas and questions that came up in the lab discussion. Keeping in the spirit of SBG, I’d like for them to be able to make mistakes and improve their understanding of these points, and I’d like for students to recognize that the best way to be successful at this task is to deeply engage our board meetings.

I’m thinking of creating paradigm assessments that would come from my observations and questions in the board meeting. Here’s a pretty artificial one that I cooked up for the buggy lab.

View this document on Scribd

The key to this assessment is that I’d like for it to be short (no more than a single page) and focused on reasoning about the lab. I’d also like it to get students to think about how to revise and improve their work, and why we ask them to do all the things we do like labeling your columns or including a line of best fit.

If I’m taking good notes, it should be relatively easy for me to find a point or two to build an assessment around each lab discussion.

As for grading, I think I could hand this out on the day following the lab discussion and ask students to complete it at home. If you reach a threshold for mastery of this that I’ll have to define, you get credit for the “can reason about the CVPM paradigm lab” standard. If you don’t, I’ll give a bit of feedback to keep thinking and ask that you make a short screencast explaining your revisions, and this process could go on until we agree you’ve met mastery, or time runs out, and I have to report your grade.

I think this gives me a tool that will be manageable for students and teachers and will push us to get more out of our paradigm discussions, but I’d love your suggestions and feedback.

Pivot interactive: The future of lab notebooks?

July 13, 2017

I’ve come to believe that the very best software out there is written by teachers who have a deep understanding of a subject and pedagogy. Sadly, I only have a small handful of examples of this:

  • Desmos, the world’s best graphing calculator and math learning platform. It’s a no-brainer that they have math teacher extraordinaire Dan Meyer serving as Chief Academic Officer.
  • Pear Deck, the best formative assessment tool I’ve used. I’ve come to think of it as a window into student thinking. Again, Riley Lark, a great former math teacher serves as the CEO of this company.

I’m glad to say that I think there’s now a third piece of software that is a teacher created a transformative tool for learning, namely Pivot Interactives, created by Peter Bohacek, an incredible physics teacher from Minnesota and his colleague, Matt Vonk, from the University of Wisconsin at River-Falls.

I first met Peter when he spoke to the Global Physics Department about the work he was doing to create Direct Measurement Videos (DMVs) back in the early 2010s. Sadly, I think the recording has been lost to history. Direct Measurement Videos allow students to make direct measurements of physical phenomena using tools (stopwatches and ruler) inside the video. They’re incredible.

Here are some examples of Direct Measurement Videos

Peter has also worked with Carleton to create an entire library of DMVs. Over time, they’ve also improved their player to the point where the latest version allows you to even move a ruler within the video. This library is an incredible resource, and I’ve run many classes where students work in small groups to figure out the physics of a hockey slap shot, a steel ball spinning around a glass bowl, or a disk falling from a string.

Peter and Matt have just released the next evolution of Direct Measurement Videos, creating an online platform for scientific investigations, Pivot Interactives.

Pivot Interactives consists of two parts: 1. A library of tremendous video labs, and 2. a tool for online making lab investigations of your own, with or without video. I strongly encourage you to go and create a free trial account to check out some of the labs to see just how good they are.

A Fantastic Library of Labs

I’ll describe one that I find to be magical—Electromagnetic Induction Demonstrator (I don’t think you can access this without creating an account).

Here’s a photo from the video—Peter and Matt have built a tricked out air track glider that carries a wire loop that will pass through a seriously powerful magnetic gap.

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When the loop passes through the gap, there’s a nice deflection of the voltmeter. The lab goes on to explain a bit about electromagnetic induction. One of the great features of Pivot Interactives is that you are free to take a pre-existing lab like this and modify any element of it to suit your tastes. If you’d prefer to skip the theory and have the students just jump to trying to make measurements, you roll your own version in seconds.

Now, here’s the cool part—in the upper right corner of the video, you have a toolbar that gives you three measurement tools—a stopwatch and rulers to measure horizontal and vertical distances. You also get an empty that you fill in with the things you measure. Everything has been filmed with a high-speed camera, and you can step through the video frame by frame to make your measurements.

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To get multiple data points, you can access videos of multiple trials from right in the player. As you enter points into your data table, they are automatically plotted on the graph below, which auto scales, and allows you to do a linear regression of the data. You can even add extra columns for quantities that you calculate.

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And because this was created by a physicist, Pivot handles uncertainty beautifully. There’s a popup to add error bars to each of the quantities in your graph, and questions with wonderful physics teacher wisdom (and a bit of snark) that read “As always, using the phrase ‘human error’ will cause the device you are using to burst into flames.”

A Powerful tool to write your own labs

So far I’ve only spent about half an hour working with Pivot Interactives, so please keep that in mind in both understanding how easy this tool is to use, and that there are probably lots of incredible features I haven’t even discovered yet.

Pivot lets you create your own interactive activities. I see this as an electronic lab notebook that we can use for almost all of our traditional labs in physics. I’m going to show you how I might create an interactive for the traditional buggy lab that stats so many intro physics classes. Once you click on “New Activity” you get presented with an interface that asks you to describe the objectives of the activity and lets you add interactive sections—data tables, graphs, questions, videos and more.

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It’s super easy to build up an activity just by adding sections and components:

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Once you’re done designing, you can save and preview your activity:

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This tool is so easy to use, that I think you could practically create an activity on the fly during class if an interesting idea comes up in discussion and you want to send the class out to measure it. I’ve done something like this with Desmos Activity Builder, and this level of quick adaptability is another sign that this is a great, well thought out tool—it will let you quickly put an activity in the hands of students.

To get students into this activity, you first need to create a class, and there’s a simple enrollment process to get them into the class with a code similar to most LMSs. You can add the activity to your class, and then you’ll be able to see and grade all of the student responses. Since I’ve only been playing with this for a short time, I haven’t had an opportunity to test how it works with a class. Peter tells me that you can see students’ work anytime after they press a save button, and they might add real-time saving similar to Google Docs and Desmos Activity Builder in the future.

Get started now

Again, it’s easy to create an account on Pivot Interactives, and right now, access to the software is free. After August, Pivot will be working with Vernier to sell student subscriptions to use the software. Yearly student subscriptions cost $5/student for high schools or $10/student for colleges, which I think is completely reasonable to support fantastic software like this.

Getting closer to the holy grail of returning papers fast

July 10, 2017

I don’t know why, but I find this video fascinating. I would never do this in my own class, but there’s something about the amazing efficiency of returning 30 papers in 11 seconds that make me go wow.

After a lot of work, I think I’m pretty close to having something working that’s going to blow the doors off this paper returning technique.

Previously, I’ve written about turning PDFs into student portfolios, and now I want to write a bit of an update and invite your feedback.

The dream and why QR codes are actually useful

It’s going to be a while before paper physics tests ever go away. It’s just too damn hard to write out mathematical thinking with anything other than a pencil and paper, unless all of your students have $1000 iPad Pros and Apple Pencils—which are just amazing.

If I’m going to be grading stacks of papers for the foreseeable future, that means students are going to be getting papers back from me, and more often than I’d like, they’re going to be stuffing them in the crevice of a folder or backpack never to be seen again. But what if it were different? What if when I got done putting feedback on those tests, I could return them all digitally to each student, individually, and both the student and I could go back to this document any time we wanted?

For the past 5 years, I’ve always made a scan of all my tests right before I return them. It’s very useful to be able to go back and pull out the pages from a giant PDF when a student needs a copy of his qui or has a question about something I wrote. But the big PDF is clunky—I want each student to get his own paper, and I want this to be automatic—shouldn’t there be a way to just do this after the copier finishes scanning?

I’m thrilled to say that there is, and QR codes are the magic that makes it all work.

The workflow

This year, we finished our transition of moving all of our assessments into LaTeX, which was a huge task. LaTeX is an amazing formatting language that lets me do two things—I can use the textmerge package to create a stack of tests with student names pre-filled out. Even better, I can use the LaTeX qrcode package to embed the student’s name as well as any other information I like on a small QR code in the upper right corner of a students quiz. When run LaTeX to output the quiz, I get a pdf that contains 15 individualized copies of my quiz, which I then print and give out to my students.

After students take the quiz, I can add my feedback, and just pile the papers back in a pile and run them through the scan-to-email feature of our multifunction copier—I don’t even worry about alphabetizing them, as I previously did.

Cool part here: I set up a filter on my gmail to look for incoming messages from the copier that contain the subject “Honors Physics” and tag those messages with a “process assessment” tag. I then use the Save emails to Google Drive chrome plugin to automatically download all attachments from emails with the tag “process assessment” to a Google drive folder. Since I’m using Google drive on my mac, that cloud folder is also on my computer, and I have the awesome program Hazel watching that folder. Whenever a file is added into that folder, Hazel runs a processScans.py script I’ve written that does the following.

ProcessScans called Ghostscript to break the pdf into a bunch of individual pngs and stores them in a temp folder. It then goes through the png files and reads the QR codes that are on the start pages of each quiz, and builds a list of the individual assessments that are in the PDF. Now I know exactly where all of the individual quizzes are in the large PDF and who they belong to.

Finally, ProcessScans goes through the PDF and uses the array to split, title and move each student’s quiz to a shared Google drive folder between me and each individual student, which I created using gClassFolders (which is no longer supported but still works great for me). And presto, my tests have now been returned to each student individually, probably before I can make it back to my office from the copier.

Future improvements

It shouldn’t be too hard to have this program also be able to send an email to students letting them know that their quiz has been returned. I was also thinking that it would be pretty simple to not only put in the individual assessment into the student’s folder, it could also append the assessment to a larger PDF so that the student had access to a single pdf with all his/her work inside. If I then had a webpage with links to each of these pdfs, I should be able to further annotate them and carry on ongoing digital conversations with my students about their work.

If I were to extend this a bit further and put a qr code on each page, I could probably pull out pages, and make concordances of an entire class’s work on a single problem too.

Beta beware, and maybe you want to play along too

After lots of testing, I think I’ve got nearly all of the pieces working, but it’s based on a small pile of spaghetti code and as you can see from the description above, connecting a mess of different tools in a Rube Golbergian way. Given my never ending problems with knowing which version of python I’m running and what packages I have installed, it took me an especially long time to get the python end of things working. But I’m posting what I’ve done now, rather than waiting until I polish it even more because I’m hopeful that you might have some suggestions for how to improve this idea even further.

If you are interested in making this work on your machine, I’m planning on writing up detailed directions when I get a chance to fully test it out on a clean computer in a few weeks. In the meantime, I’m happy to provide any help I can if you contact me on twitter or post a comment here.