Fieldwork, day 3

On Monday, I hit the road again back to McMinville for another data collection trip to another 5th grade class. Despite how attractive Yamhill County is, I am glad that I won’t be spending another 2 hours in the car for 20 minutes of fieldwork. I’m very appreciative of the teacher and her students though, and of the lab manager at both schools in McMinville for helping me overcome some of the IE-based problems with the testing apparatus (read; Blackboard)

Upon arriving at Columbus Elementary, I was momentarily mortified when the woman in the head office said the teacher wasn’t in today. I assumed she meant that the teacher was at one of the other 2 schools where she teaches. Luckily, she simply meant that the teacher had a sub who was informed of what we were doing.

The class piled in to the lab after I’d logged all the machines in, we did the intro, and they took off. There was a noticeable difference between the early and late finishers, time wise. The last two sessions didn’t have such a long span between the first and last student. I’ll be interested to see both the biographical and the times in the results.

Again, after thanking all the students, I rewarded them with giant pretzels (many of the students had never seen such a thing) and peppermint candies. Then I excused myself to drive back to work. In the car I enjoyed a few pretzels myself, but then realized I didn’t have any water to help wash them down. This is when I started getting calls from work. I frantically tried to swallow the crumbs and not sound like a buffoon.

Note to self – check out one of the alternate questions on question set 7. The map didn’t come up for everyone.

Day 2 of fieldwork

Wednesday I drove south to McMinville’s Newby Elementary School to have a class of 5th graders run through my maps. Overall, the experience went well, though there were a few hiccups when some students tried to save a few questions, and many of the screens were 15″ rather than the desired 17″, but 23 students were able to complete the test with only a few bumps. It was a lot of time in the car for about 30 minutes of testing, but such fieldwork (I suspect.)

First official field work

This morning I visited Tualatin Valley Academy where a class of 7th graders took my thesis maps for a spin. After the revisions I made following the pilot, I was curious to see how long the tests took, and if any other problems arose. I got to the school rather early, logged in to all the workstations, and set up an example on the projector. The students filed in after a period change and automatically separated themselves by gender (it was rather comical to see girls in one corner, boys in the other). The introduction was quick, organized, and done in about 3 minutes. Then, the students started, quickly and quietly moved through each of the questions, finishing in less than 13 minutes.

When I thanked them and said that I was astonished how quick it went, several said they’d be happy to hang out in the lab longer so they didn’t have to go back to class (classic teen). I pointed out that they’d probably be more eager to go back to their classroom since they couldn’t (pulling a box from underneath my coat) eat these donuts in the computer lab.

I have to admit, I was a little shocked at how quickly it went (and how positive and complete the results are). Whether the difference has to do with changes I made to the quiz, to the introduction, or if it was simply the age and understanding of the students will have to shake out over the next couple tests. The next is tomorrow in Newberg.

Thesis Methodology Test

Note: This was supposed to have been published on May 19th. Not sure how it got stuck in the queue.

Note 2: Oh yeah, I dictated it in to my phone on the drive home then tried to have it auto-recognized. The grammar is atrocious.

I tested my thesis methodology in my friend Eric’s classroom on Monday. It quickly became clear that there were some problems in my methodology, and that I’ll need to adjust before doing live data collection. However, there are also some differences in on the actual set up as in the methodology and we encountered on Monday and the biggest was that it was not a lab situation where I could pre-configure the computers and accounts. Instead, we took maybe 20 to 30 minutes getting laptops passed around getting logged in and troubleshooting certificate issues while the students were waiting in front of the computers, which cost a precious 30 minutes of time.

The class is also a mixed fourth and fifth grade class so there were students from age 9 to 11 in the classroom and I think because of that rather than any other factor, there was a pretty big disparity between the who completed the test or not. They tended to be 11 rather than nine or 10 and up the students who did the best on it, and, you know, I can only say that based on the people actually saved answers and in with a question or two they all tend to be older.

I don’t think there was any take away data from this other than to make some changes in the methodology. It was definitely a humbling experience, and it was great to watch my friend work in his classroom and see such a beautiful mix of laid back and in control. I know that it was definitely fun on and it is clear that I’m not using the prescribed environment, so that was an interesting side effects. I still think that this is something that will be possible to use with him and think it will just simply requires some tweaking of the test itself and a maybe moving to an older classroom. Maybe get better results, which made the net looking for a group of students, so we’ll see what happens on. I am going to make changes to the exam length and my script to see what i can do to improve the time it took.

From all angles

My work life and school life are both reaching critical junctures at the same time. At work, we’re nearly to the halfway point on a project to replace the learning management system, and at school, I’m preparing to complete the fieldwork for my thesis research. And while work is incredibly busy lately, I’m still scheduling time to visit 5th through 7th grade classrooms in the Portland area to have students use the maps I’ve made. I’m hoping to have 6 classrooms worth of students complete the map use activity, and so far I have 4, though one is big enough to be worth 2 classrooms. Now I just need to find another 1 classroom to evaluate before June 15th or so and I’ll have my data collected.

One challenge I didn’t quite foresee is that many schools have replaced the computer lab paradigm with the netbook paradigm. So every student has a mini-laptop with a wireless network connection in their classroom rather than going to a separate lab facility to use the computers. On one hand, this is great, but it also has created some challenges. These laptops typically have a 9″, 10″ or maybe even 12″ screen and typically do not exceed a resolution of 1024×768 pixels. This has been problematic because the software I picked to do my thesis uses at least 150 of those pixels to display test status information that is actually extraneous to my work, but I can’t hide it. I can’t change to a testing platform very easily because I need to collect both the student’s answer choice when answering a question using the map I created, but I also need to record how long the student took to make the choice.

I suppose I should have learned some actionscript and written a flash-based quizzing interface, but I didn’t have much luck with that. Plus, it seemed silly to reinvent the wheel, when at work I use and support software that accomplishes most of that already.

So here I am with the two worlds colliding on many fronts, and so very close to both chapters closing. Here’s hoping the fieldwork goes well. I’m so thankful that I’ve found teachers who are willing to share their class and time.