Thursday, May 25, 2017

Escape Room / BreakOut in OneNote

So Anna in Edinburgh showed me how she used Password-Protected OneNote sections within the OneNote ClassNotebook to help students check their work -- she set the password to the correct answer, so they knew they had it right when the Section opened up.

I figured I could use this for Math Review, so I set aside a couple of hours (turned out to be 3 hours but a fair chunk of that was solution-time) the other night to put an Exam Review together for my Grade 10 Mathematics course.  I pulled together as many multiple choice questions and short answer questions on the topics as I could Google and tried to balance each Section with a mix of topics and then threw in a couple of pop-culture questions, too.  The students worked on the problems in each section and used the answers as passwords to unlock the next section until they got to the Prize section.

Result? 
Near total continual engagement for the 60 minutes class! Across three classes!  They loved the idea of the puzzle that built across several sections and several even mentioned that even though these were similar to other questions in the rest of the review, they liked the idea of them wrapped up in a challenge.  I was really surprised at the focus they had for the entirety of the class because reviewing is often a challenging time for engagement (let alone the nice weather outside). 

Things to improve: 
  • I put way too many questions in for an hour-long class.  Half as much likely would have been good -- this would have cut down on my prep time, too.  I had assumed they would divide & conquer in their table groups but even when they said they were going to do that, they ended up solving all the problems together.  This surprised me -- I thought they would be more mercenary.  I also thought there would be more sharing between groups (even though it was phrased "the first group done wins a prize") but they kept their cards close to their chest.
  • I will likely add some more puzzle-like pages, questions & structures instead of just having multiple choice or short-answer questions.  Maybe do an anacrostic, a fill-in for another clue, or a cipher/code with their answers that has to be undone. Using multiple choice lets you pick letters that spell something, or builds a larger question, for example.  Now, that's not precisely curriculum expectation focused, but it would add a problem-solving element and increase the fun-factor. 
How to do it:

First, I created a OneNote notebook.  Pretty easy.  If you're just reading this as a new OneNote user, go to www.onenote.com and you can create one for free there. Your students do not need OneNote to do this... when you're done, just create a VIEW link to your OneNote and give that to the students, and they can use their web browser to view the pages and enter the passwords.

For you, be sure to download the application to your device -- the web version is fine for the students to work in (and they don't have to be 1:1), but you'll want to use your device's OneNote application to do the work in.  It gives you a lot more functionality and creativity to play with.

In that OneNote I created seven sections, one for each puzzle-set. Now, I think seven is likely too many... four would be better.  Lesson learned. Each section had one page, but you could put separate questions on separate pages within the section.   I just labelled the Sections Q1, Q2, etc but you could be more creative (and I should have been!)

And most importantly, at the top of the first page in each Section I put a table -- and that table is going to contain the password for the next section that this section is going to give the student.

Then, I collected questions.  I just Googled "analytic geometry multiple choice" and pulled my favourite ones off using Windows-Shift-S to screen-capture them from either the PDF or Word document and then CTRL-V pasted them into the OneNote.  I kept flipping back & forth between the sections trying to balance the difficulty of questions across the different topics, cutting & pasting as I went.  And I wanted at least some short answer questions so that my passwords would be more ab12.3d than just a stream of letters so I kept re-arranging them on the pages.  Plus I know if I had just used multiple choice, some kid would just keep entering aaaaa, aaaab, aaaac, etc.
With all the questions in place, I solved each question and put the answer in the table at the top of each page.  I kept double-checking my work, because I didn't want to screw up a password! 

With all the problems solved and all the passwords at the top of each, I then created a page in my Course Notebook and screen-shotted the password-tables for each Section so I would never lose them, and then deleted them from the Notebook.

I now when to each section, right-clicked the Section Name and chose Password Protection.  This let me enter a password (twice) to lock the section.  DO NOT forget the password as no-one can unlock it for you -- IT will not be able, Microsoft will not be able, okay, maybe the TSA can.
So I locked up all the Sections with the appropriate passwords and it was ready to go!

Now, I used OneNote2016 and used the Export--> Notebook so that I had a single file I could post in my OneNote ClassNotebook... when the students double-clicked on the Notebook, they got a complete copy of the Notebook.

If you don't use OneNote2016, you can just create a VIEW link for your students and have them work on paper or in another OneNote to do the problems.

Alternatively, you can use Docs.com to post your OneNote and folks can create a copy of the Notebook of their own from Docs.com ... as I've done here: https://doc.co/YpXv9F   You can go to this link and download your own copy of the EscapeRoom Notebook.

Feel free to use, edit, re-distribute.  I'm not including the answers, of course :)

Let me know how things worked out!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reviewing Math in OneNote - 2 ideas make it easier

So we have a period of time in our course where we have two summative activities and then a final exam. Basically, a lot of time to review as we try to pull ideas together and strengthen skills & understanding.  And, as always, working on collaboration and feedback.

Idea #1

Every day I start the class reminding them that we study and prepare for mathematics assessments by doing math.  Well in advance, I give them a tonne of problems from across the entire year.  Some multiple choice, some short answer, some deep-thinking questions.  Some textbook questions. Some practice tests, some practice exams.  I've been teaching this course for the past four years, so I've got a good collection of these -- and with worked solutions.

This is now really easy with OneNote Class Notebook.  First, I create a Section in my Content Library of my current course called Exam & Summative Review and use the ClassTools Distribute New Section to create one in each of my student's Section Group.

Then, I go to my Planning Notebook (see the Math Department... Notebook in the list to the left?) and select all of my review pages and copy & paste them into the Section I just made.  Then, using the ClassTools Distribute Page option, every student gets a copy of all those pages in their Exam & Summative Review Section.

This takes about 5 minutes for sixty students. To distribute what would have been over 100 physical pages (since it's not just the questions but also the complete worked solutions to all the questions).  I'm not big on being paperless as a goal - I use paper when it's appropriate, but for students looking to do review, this is the easiest thing in the world.



Tangent: 

And it's so easy to call up the question when the student is having an issue... or they copy & paste it into the Yammer online discussion area.  They just screen capture it using Windows-Shift-S ... that puts it into the clipboard and they CTRL-V paste it into the Yammer message space.  It's made off-line, asynchronous mathematics discussion a lot more fluid.


Idea #2 - Group Summaries & Questions

I drop the review questions above well in advance of actually completing the course, so they've had those questions for weeks and weeks.  Once we start the official review period, I start off with this summarizing activity.

I set up a small-group collaboration space in the ClassNotebook for each table of 4 to work in, and then set them to work with the Big Ideas and the Questions.  The due date is 8AM the next day.  The "group space" is nice because all the students at the one table have edit access but no other group can see it. There's no more "Johnny has all of our work" or "Janey didn't share her GoogleDrive folder"... it's all set up for them.  They're always in groups anyways (I use Visibly Random Grouping: see this PDF or my earlier post What my classroom is like) so they're pretty familiar with collaborative OneNotes.




At 8AM the next day, I copy the contents from each of the four groups back into MY Content Library  (Shift-click select all the pages in the group section, Copy->Paste, repeat) in a new section called Review and distribute all four groups' pages into each of the student's individual sections (so they now have a copy of every big idea, every question and every solution created by the other groups).  That's another four clicks with the DISTRIBUTE PAGE function in the OneNote ClassTools.
They then have a couple of days to go through the Big Ideas and the Questions and give feedback (using a Microsoft Form... just toss that bit of marketing in there!) to the composing group.  They love making questions and they're always surprised when one or two of them make it to the exam (shh.. don't tell them that happens).

I also do this across my three sections so I have a nice collection of both Big Ideas and Questions to discuss with students, share on Yammer and generally engage in conversation with students about the content.

Again, because it's SO EASY to copy & paste content between Sections in OneNote, it's easy to have them work together in a group space and then spin it around and give them all individualized copies.  That's really tough to do with paper in any manageable amount of time.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

When OneNote (& the Class Tools) makes your life easier...

So it happened that the day I was going to give a test, I couldn't, so I needed to quickly get together some review questions for the students to work on. (Sorry, I wasn't ready to start the next unit with them, and besides, it was the first class after the long Easter weekend... shoot me, I'm a nice guy.)
Into my archive files I go...
I found a test from back in 2003 that was highly algebraic -- just the skills they needed for the test and nothing else.  No "thinking" questions, as it were.  We'd spent the last week or so on word problems and questions that try to stretch and make connections.  I just wanted to makes sure their algebraic skills were strong & sound.
Here's where life gets easy, thanks to OneNote ClassNotebook.  

I used the PRINT -> Send to OneNote 2016 option in Word and it sent a printout of the test to my OneNote teacher section (called Content Library).

With the page in the Content Library (in the right spot! I like that things stay organized in OneNote) I went up to the the CLASS NOTEBOOK ribbon.
Then, I used the ClassNotebook Tool DISTRIBUTE PAGE (to multiple notebooks) and sent the "13 Practice Test" page to all the students in all three of my sections all at once.  Boom!  Handing out complete.  
Then, I say to the kids, I don't have a solutions page, but you have the period to work on the test and then I will go through and clip out good models for solutions for each of the questions from your work.  Away they went to work... crowd-sourcing their own solutions.

And so after school, I opened up the first class section's Notebook and used the REVIEW STUDENT WORK button to look at each student's work.  I opened up a second copy of the OneNote notebook and created a new page in my Teacher Section for the Answers... and copied (I use WINDOWS-SHIFT-S to do a quick screen capture to the clipboard) & pasted the good model solutions from the left notebook to the right notebook.

Using the list of students in Review Student Work was great, because I could flip between student solutions quickly and even students who would self-describe as "less able" I could find good models of solutions from their work, so no one was left out.  (I didn't include their names when I copied/pasted because I wasn't asking them to share their work -- I needed to keep it anonymous).

So now that I had my solution set, I used the ClassNotebook Tool to again Distribute to all the studetns in all three sections.  I counted; it took seven clicks -- the menu ribbon, the button, the three classes, the section to where it went and COPY.    To distribute the entire solution set to three classes, about 60 kids... no paper, no muss, no fuss, no lost copies, no email problems, no permission issues.  Just there & done.
And it's in the EXACT place you want the solutions, right after the actual test I distributed earlier.  

Not only did it save me time, it gave value to the students' work.  Yes, I could have had them post to Yammer or to the Collaboration Space, but this also gave me a chance to go through each students work and highlight any errors I may have noticed.  All in all, something I would do again.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Using Office Lens

A brief aside.

I had dropped by a workshop first thing this morning and was sitting at the front and wanted to grab a shot of the screen; at first I used my camera -- I wasn't thinking.  As soon as I looked at the image, I realized I should be using Office Lens.  Look, it was early morning and I wasn't quite awake.
Just using the camera app
Office Lens is an app for both Android (link) and iPhone/iPad (link) - and its main purpose is to capture physical content, clean it up and add it into your OneNote.

When you start the app, you get a camera ... but with a bouncing, resizing white rectangle superimposed on your image.  It's a smart rectangle, so it's looking for the piece of paper, the whiteboard, the business card, the content that is sitting in front of you.  Once you have it framed by the white rectangle, you tap the photo button and it grabs the image, cleans it up (brightens, sharpens), crops and... if the image was taken from an angle... Office Lens will transform the image so it appears flat and straight on.
Using Office Lens from the same location
Since I was sitting at the front of the room, off stage left, I had to turn around and lean over to take the picture.  You can see the difference from just the camera versus that of Office Lens.  And with no additional work.  Both pictures were taken from the same seat from the same distance, all by pressing one button.

The next step is to decide where it goes.  My default is to push it into my OneNote and to store into my Photo Gallery, but it will also create a Word document, PDF or PowerPoint or it will store the image in your OneDrive.

Notice that it does have a place for the TITLE.  OfficeLens defaults to the date/time but you can change it to whatever your want.

Office Lens is one of the most popular apps at our School since it does all of the editing automagically AND it delivers it to the student (or teacher) OneNote without any extra work  Since all of our classrooms are covered in whiteboards, we have a lot of student-developed content throughout the class that they want a record of.  And teachers want to grab exemplars to record student understanding without having to fiddle with things.  The feedback from Math and Art teachers, in particular, has been particularly strong, as both subject rely on images to convey a story.  Our most tech-reluctant educator has stated that this is his favourite app, since he can capture all the work he still has his students do on (gasp) paper.

And for me, I use Office Lens for everything ... agendas, maps, transit tickets, anything I need to remember because Office Lens pushes everything back into OneNote and then syncs across all my devices.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fife - The Grand Tour Day 1 Introduction


So my tour started in Edinburgh and the Hilton Grosvenor was kind enough to host me.  It was in a great old building with long narrow hallways with low ceilings -- the signs were helpful but I still managed to hit my head several times.  However, once you opened your room's door, the space opened up, the room was large and modern and the ceiling was wonderfully high.  But "Mind Your Head" became a useful motto for the entire trip -- for reasons not always associated with concussions.

My first visit was to Queen Anne High School, in Fife, about 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh, on the other side of the River (pay attention, that will be important later).  They are building an absolutely beautiful bridge to aid in traffic - it should open in May. I was fortunately delivered there by Ian Stuart (@IanStuart66) who had been an educator and is now working as a consultant with notosh, helping schools think differently. He had graciously spent time arranging the visit and was kind enough to drive me around (this will also become important later). 
Scottish schools have access to GlowScot, a country wide system that gives them a single logon (Office365) to all the resources of both Microsoft and other programs licensed by the Ministry of Education.  I wish Ontario would have such an elegant and easy solution, given that OSAPAC licenses software for every Ontario student (*cough* except my students) there's no reason that our Ministry couldn't license Office365 and incorporate the same system.  Heck, just copy GlowScot wholesale.  So whether they're in the lab, using BYOD or at home, they have complete access to both the tools and content they've been working on.

And not only are students aided by having this global approach to content & software; teachers who move between schools don't have to worry about logins or files.  Everything just follows them (although there is always a momentary delay -- bureaucracy exists everywhere ).
Student view of GlowScot

There was interesting feedback from some of the teachers I spoke to -- while they liked having quick access to everything through GlowScot -- and I think it's a great system solution -- apparently the first version was not particularly user-friendly and so teachers weren't giving the new (and much improved) version a chance.  
We experienced the same thing at our school with some software we tried.  If the first roll out does not go our well, teachers are less willing to give it a fair shake the second time.  
There's two things going on, both here & back home  -- 1) IT should work with teacher feedback groups a little more and 2) teachers should give a little more benefit of the doubt -- software evolves quickly now and they're still a little stuck in the 1990s/2000s approach to technology.

And it was so refreshing that as Ian talked to students about Office365, some of them didn't realize that Office365 gave them free installs of the complete Office system on their home computers and their mobile devices.  I cannot tell you how many times I've told my own faculty & students they have that option -- and when I tell them that one-on-one, they act as if it's entirely new news.  It's a
great benefit because while the web apps are pretty powerful, there's nothing like having Excel on your desktop.  

I had the opportunity to watch two teachers at work with their classes: Sarah Clark (@sfm36) and Gareth Surgey (@GarethSurgey) but more on that in the next post.  Because quite frankly I took a lot of notes and I don't like blog posts running long.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Observations

I had the opportunity to visit a school just outside of Edinburgh yesterday. While my overall intent was to look at the use of OneNote and Office365, what resonated with me so strongly was the fluidity with which both educators approached their classes.  I admit, I was taking notes furiously.  So much so that I often felt rude because I wanted to make sure I captured both what they said but also what they did and how they did it.
It reminded me of once reading how they built the first bread machines.  Random thought, I know.  The engineer in charge of making a machine that replicated a human baker had, of course, interviewed bakers to get an idea of how they manipulated and molded the dough.  While the bakers had tried to describe in words what they did it was only by watching them intensely and for a long time that they noticed that the bakers hadn't adequately described the "twisty-stretch" that was one of the most important manoeuvres in bread production.
And that was what I noticed about the teachers yesterday.  They talked a lot about the way they used OneNote, how they designed projects, look at ways of assessing, gave feedback, developed a professional learning community. Given my objective, they succeeded in giving me the notes I wanted.  I watch as they interacted with students and as they both implicitly and explicitly managed a classroom environment. All of these are steps well known and universal across teaching programs; either teacher would make a good case study for beginning teachers.
But the "twisty-stretch" that they never vocalized but was clear through observation and listening was the totality of their understanding and passion - likely too strong a word -- they were in their groove. These are professional athletes who clearly enjoy playing their sport. But they weren't just doing a job by following all the steps correctly.  They flowed, deftly, intuitively, making instructional decisions based on tacit knowledge that would be difficult for the non-teacher to see the near-instantaneous reasoning that led to it.
It's why people think "teaching is easy" - because they see situations like this. But they miss out on the hours of preparation, the reflection on student work and the years of experience (and errors!) that led to yesterday.  The value in observing classes can not be understated.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The #OneNote Grand Tour - Evolving Questions

So while my hometown undergoes a rare March Break blizzard, I'm enjoying 13C and sun in beautiful Edinburgh. It's quite enjoyable to be relaxing in a coffee shop watching the Scottish go about their daily tasks while I get caught up on emails, blogs, tweets and the like.  (Don't worry, I was a tourist yesterday).
Today I start my school visits and so before I head out, I thought I'd best outline my curiosity.

When we laid out the initial structure of the OneNote, there's no question it was pushing on continuous feedback -- we wanted a way of taking advantage of digital ink, audio and video to support student learning both while in the classroom space but especially when the students are not physically present.  We are a very active school with extracurriculars (sports, service, international travel) that it was important to be able to engage students in the formative cycle even if they couldn't be present in class.  So, one of my questions will be "How has OneNote affected your feedback to students?"

After the ability to use digital ink, OneNote allowing students to interact & work offline was the second reason we chose OneNote over GoogleDocs.  That also played into our first reason - if students aren't at school, if they're in transportation, if they're in locations with little or no wifi, can they still be actively engaged with both my content (as teacher) and their earlier content (as learners).  OneNote gives that easily.  Once it's in the Notebook, it's there to stay and anything new syncs up as soon as you find wifi again, in exactly the right place.  And both students and teacher have (respective) control over their space and access to all kinds of digital content (and digital forms of physical content).  That prompts another question for me: "How has OneNote affected your teaching & learning content?"

And since good things come in threes, my third question is one that vexes us at Appleby College.  "Where do we go from here?"  This goes beyond OneNote, of course -- although their first response will likely be what they want to be added to OneNote. While it's all well-and-good to be transfixed by Hololens and to be astounding by the seemingly predictive power of data analytics (my two favourite next-steps in education), classroom teachers recognize that there's a big gap between the marketing and the reality, in terms of time, money and implementation.  So what do those folks on the ground want and feel they need when it comes to technology?

My last question is more personal: "How have you changed as an educator?"  My own journey is commingled with OneNote, digital ink, PCMI, and the wise guidance of my colleagues.  How are others evolving? What is prompting their ongoing evolution? And what are the pain points?


Thursday, March 9, 2017

The #OneNote Grand Tour - Part 0

In the summer of 2012, I started a new position at Appleby College.  Moving from math teacher to "indeterminate job title"1 meant that for the first time in 20 years, I would not be in the classroom.  The goal of the school was to make technology use meaningful at the School by working directly with the folks in IT, while retaining the link to the teaching faculty.  And the first result of that project was our OneNote Binder which engendered what would become Microsoft's OneNote ClassNotebook.
I'll never forget sketching out on the whiteboard the structure that Jason Llorin, our programmer, would bring to life in my OneNote.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016.  Our School, through the generosity of our parent community, has a travel grant that teachers can apply to for support in doing their own independent research.  And so I submitted one to look at how our initial work with OneNote has travelled around the world.  We want to see how others use it in different countries, different schools, different contexts.  How did we get things right? How did others adapt the Notebook?  And where are we headed with the technology?  What can we learn and what can we share?

Thanks to the assistance of the folks at GlowScot in Edinburgh and the indefatigable Marjolein Hoekstra (@OneNoteC) in the Hague, I'll be visiting a large number of schools and talking with as many teachers and other users of OneNote as possible.  I cannot wait!

(And I will be riding a motorcycle around the south of England on the weekend.  Hey, the schools aren't open on the weekend!)

So stay posted!  I start on Monday the 13th and return on the 25th.

__________
1This really is true. Our CIO has never been able to settle on what I should be called, so he just makes up a name that describes the situation at that point in time.  And I'm okay with that -- just as our learning space is under continual evolution, so do the expectations and demands of my position evolve.  Names define things and by not putting a pin in it, we can remain responsive.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Mr. A is always on his phone in class..."


So,, the above quote is true... I'm always on my phone in class.  For one, I take a lot of pictures (see the previous post, for example) - my students treat every surface like a whiteboard, and I like keeping track of what students are doing.

I also created a Microsoft Form (http://forms.microsoft.com) to track learning skills and other observations of learning.  What's nice is that everything gets pushed into an Excel Spreadsheet and I can pull out by day, by section, by student, by learning skill -- and because it's automatically date/time stamped I can also match pictures to anecdotes.

When I first opened the form on my phone in the browser, I made sure to click on ADD TO HOME SCREEN in the browser menu so that I could get a button I can easily tap each time I want to make an entry.

I teach three sections of Grade 10 Math, so my first question is which section I am adding a note to.  Now, I could have made three different forms but then I would have had three different spreadsheets and three different buttons on my phone.   It's worked out easier to just choose which section... because...

Forms does Branching ... 

...depending on which Section I pick in the first question, the next question displays which group of student(s) I am assessing.  And yes, I set up the "which student" so that I can make an observation on one or several students all at once.

It does take a couple of minutes setting up the form when I first started and I do have to go back in when there is a change of students but the time-saving on the other end makes up for it.

After I choose the student(s) I then added a series of ranking questions - in this case, I used the Ontario Learning Skills:

  • Responsibility
  • Organization
  • Independent Work
  • Collaboration
  • Initiative
  • SelfRegulation


Now, I don't necessarily use each rating for each observation - but if it's appropriate it's good feedback to capture.  I didn't make them required questions so I can skip what I don't need.

Then, I have an open text box in which to write a comment.

And lastly, I have a check box to indicate whether or not there is a photo associated with the entry.  Since Microsoft Forms puts a time/date stamp in the Excel spreadsheet, I can match the picture to the entry.



I also recommend using a swipe keyboard; I use Swiftkey (Android) - by swiping to get your words down, it can greatly increase your speed of entry and allows you to write using only one hand.  In fact, only one thumb with enough practice.

(The idea to develop a form like this came from an old app on my iPod Touch that I used to use called GradePad.  But then Apple removed the ability to update my iPod so I use my phone now).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What is your classroom like?

So my new year's resolution is to write one blog post a week.
I thought I would start off by answering a question I was asked during #PubPD in October.  Now, #PubPD is a fun evening where teachers gather together in a local pub and over the course of an hour, we discuss questions posted to Twitter, alongside teachers in pubs around the world.  During the dinner that preceeded us discussing the questions posted on Twitter, Melinda Lula, our Hamilton #PubPD organizer asked me "What is your classroom like?" ... and I never really got around to answering that question.  So I'll do that here.
My first statement would be that I don't religiously follow any approach or pedagogy; I think it's important to be agnostic in education since, unlike math or physics, we can't know 'best' or 'right' (we do know wrong, obviously, and I don't go there).  I'm not a bandwagon guy (okay, maybe OneNote, but that's like being in favour of having chairs in class).
So each day I will have planned something different.  We have 60 minute classes, so I can choose from me talking (yes, sometimes I just show them math and ask them questions throughout), sometimes it's them working individually on problems (although there's never a prohibition on asking questions of their group mates or others), sometimes it's them working in partners or larger groups, or as a whole class and I'm just watching and inserting myself when I feel appropriate.  Sometimes, they all work up on the board showing their work to everyone.  Sometimes they know where they're going; sometimes they don't and they don't get where I wanted or expected.  Sometimes it's guided, like a Desmos activity; sometimes it's completely open ended and they go interesting places that we document and clarify later.  And the 60 minutes each day is broken up in some combination of those.  So... what's my classroom like?  It's different each day.
What's the same day-to-day? 
Well, I have a small room to work in -- this does cause some challenges because I am a big guy so I do shuffle around a lot what with tables, chairs, bookbags and other human beings. Fortunately, when they redesigned the rooms, they put up whiteboards on every vertical wall -- and the fourth wall is all glass looking out into a quad, so I can use that space, too  (the students love to use the whiteboards but they have an aversion to writing on the window... they don't quite trust that they can get away with it).  I think room-to-work and documentation is important so I encourage them to write everywhere, and fortunately the tables the school purchased work well with whiteboard markers.  We use Office Lens on our phones to capture written information in the course OneNote.
Our tables seat two and I put the students in groups of four; they're randomly assigned at the beginning of class - the students walk in and they see the seating spreadsheet projected. And it really is random; I don't jig it.  This has worked out really well.  I used to not have a seating plan at all and let them sit where they want but it would always settle into "this is my chair and I don't like other people sitting in it", so random works out much better.
I think (hope?) there's one thing that people notice when they walk into my classroom and that's my use of questions.  I've really been affected by the Park City Mathematics Institute and I spend a lot of time thinking (both before class, during and after) about the questions I ask my students.  I've learned to pause a lot before I say something to a student.  To simplify things, I try to use Black&Wiliam's idea that questions should either probe the student's thinking or push the student forward.  I try to avoid answering questions that have simple answers directly ("Mr. Armstrong, what's 5*6?"... "well, John, what would it look like if you drew it as a diagram?").
------
My last thought is pushing on the idea of "like".  I hope my students experience my classroom as a fun place to learn a fun subject.  I want them to enjoy math, to see it as problem-solving and sense making, as a way of communicating ideas.  I do know that as a large (6'4, 230lbs), white male with an aura of authority (seriously, people always think I'm a police officer or in the military) that students -- until they spend some time and realize I'm a push-over teddy bear -- are put off by me.  That's one reason why I ensure my students have access to virtual spaces for questions outside of class.  If they're not comfortable asking in person, they have the opportunity to do so elsewhere (and anonymously, if necessary).