Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Matters...

All semester long, my students have been examining the big question of “What Matters?” What matters to them in their own lives, what matters to them from each piece of literature we studied, and most importantly, how does that all relate to the world around us. At the beginning of the semester, I told my ninth graders I wanted them to create a Photo Story showing the connections of what matters. I didn’t have an example to show them what I expected; I just wanted them to show me what they could do. I wanted them to create what was important and meaningful to them as well as for them to decide how it should look.

They have spent many hours not only learning the Photo Story 3 software (I really only had basic training when I introduced this assignment), but planning, finding visuals, editing audio clips for their script as well as for music, pasting and inserting sound and visuals, and reworking the elements for a finished project. I can definitely say this has been a learning experience for all of us, but I am glad we all undertook it. Linked are some notes on tips we have learned along the way. I think after seeing each others’ presentations, they will feel the same way.

Please comment on the presentations giving them constructive feedback.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Skype v. Blogger: The Battle of the Fishbowl

Instead of using Blogger to continue the outside circle’s discussion of the assigned chapters for Fishbowl, we tried out Skype. Skype is a free program which enables people to make free calls over the Internet to other Skype users. It also provides an instant-messaging type service for groups to communicate with one another in a “chat room” setting.

The students signed up for accounts through Skype and added me to their contact list. We made sure to communicate with the students the importance of not publishing any personal information over the Internet and encouraged them to use their Blogger display name along with an additional set of characters as their Skype username (both for safety and to create a unique username).After a few glitches, we were able to get everyone added and connected to one another. We completed some initial test runs with practice questions balancing two chat sessions occurring at the same time. We displayed the conversation side by side on their screens as well as projected onto the screen at the front of the classroom. At first it was truly mesmerizing to see how fast they were posting. However, it raised some interesting pedagogical questions regarding depth and quality of insight. My hope of using Skype versus Blogger was to use multiple online conversations with the outer circle in tandem with the inner circle conversations of the fishbowl. With Blogger, we created one post and the students commented on that. Even if we created multiple posts in Blogger, it would be difficult for students to follow multiple conversations due to the refresh issues.

When using Skype with the Fishbowl technique, I was looking for how it enhanced or detracted from the conversation. With Skype students noticed the conversation moved at a much faster pace allowing for them to comment more frequently, but at the same time, they put less thought into what they posted. Once again we, as a class, went back to the drawing board establishing Skype guidelines while reflecting on our Blogging guidelines. We had to focus on what it was we did well and liked about Blogger, but at the same time how could we make Skype better while increasing our learning and collaboration without sacrificing the quality of conversation.

It was really amazing to see them connect so easily to one another in the two smaller outside circle groups. I had split up the outer circle into the two smaller conversations so that the connections could be more instantaneous and lively. I also enjoyed hearing and seeing their connections between the conversations from the inner and outer circle as well as between the two Skype conversations. They did a much better job after reflection and analysis of referencing one another, using complete sentences, and expressing complex thoughts. In addition, since we are using an inquiry based approach to this entire semester focusing on the question of “what does it take to challenge the system?” I have been impressed to see how easily the students connect back to previous pieces of literature we have studied (Macbeth, Inherit the Wind, The Chosen, Fahrenheit 451) as well as referencing common themes and motifs they see reoccurring through each (appearance v reality, relationships between men and women-marriages, hands, eyes, challenging the system, price of progress, ambition, power).

Skype is still up for debate, but the students really seem to see the value in it as seen from their commenting to the posts regarding its trial run in class. Also, within the links below, please read through the transcripts of their conversations :

The Chosen Period 2 Fishbowl Group One

The Chosen Period 2 Fishbowl Group Two

The Chosen Period 5 Fishbowl Group One

The Chosen Period 5 Fishbowl Group Two

As for me, the verdict is still out on Skype. I am impressed by my students’ abilities with multi-tasking and the quality of conversation available to them through Skype. I agree that it is much faster paced allowing for their conversation to develop as fast as they want; but at the same time, I appreciate it more when they slow down and listen to one another. It was really important to have a conversation with them about the purpose behind Skype and more importantly, behind fishbowl. After we completed a few Blogger and in class reflections, now they are doing a more comprehensive job commenting and connecting with one another using Skype than they did with Blogger. I guess I just thought that I would not have to re-teach the things they did so well with Blogger. In my mind, it just took longer to get them to that “good” place than it had previously.

Regardless of either using Skype or Blogger, the growth in my students’ learning with the use of these technological pieces and fishbowl has been tremendous. They connect every piece of text we have studied this semester to each other as well as see connections with themselves as learners and with the world around them. They can produce interesting, captivating thoughts and are learning to value one another’s opinions and insights. They are learning and teaching one another! Isn’t that what education should be all about? Before Blogger and Skype, I was the only one who could witness their growth as learners because the fishbowl had to feed through me before my students had access to the technology. Now that they have the technology they are able to see each other’s thoughts and growth as teachers and learners. This is NOT education as usual.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Romancing Your Computer

While 12 of my Honors American Literature students were in Hawaii, I decided do to a little experiment with the somewhat grumpy students who were left behind. I gave them the following objective: Develop your own understanding of American Romantic poetry based on the resources in your book; select and incorporate at least one extension, such as Romantic art, Romantic music, British Romantic poetry, or your own, original Romantic poetry. Use Photostory to present your findings.

I showed them how to use Photostory, helped them individually with interpreting tough poems, and then just gave them time. The results were impressive, and discussing the poems in small groups with individual attention was much more effective and engaging than discussing the poems with the whole class.

When we shared the Photostories in class, students voted on the following categories: Most Deeply Analytical, Most Sublime, and Most Creative and Entertaining. The winners are worth taking a few minutes to enjoy if you have time:


Friday, November 03, 2006

Social Studies and Videos

I hesitated to talk here about video, being a history teacher and all. But Barb's post on te Fischbowl inspired me to share.

Many of my students will tell you (or complain to you)that I can take a 30 minute video and turn it into a 3 hour tour as I stop the video and have so many discussions. I ususally believe that these conversations are more important than the video and the video is simply a vehicle for the conversations. The weaknesses in my methods tend to be my inability to stay on track time-wise with the department's curricular goals and the fact that most of the conversations are based on MY questions or observations that I ask the students to respond to. Rarely do they create the questions or pose the observations that become the video conversations.

So...what did I try? In A.P. Government, I have shown a video for the last 6 years called "Why Can't We Live Together?", a Tom Brokaw special that examined the issue of race, white flight, perceptions and self-fulfilling prophesies in a middle/upper-middle class suburb of Chicago that tends to mirror our world in many ways. The conversations in class can often be uncomfortable for some as we speak publically about an issue that few find comfortable. This time, as we watched the video, I held back from stopping it (for the most part). Instead, they blogged as we watched. They shared their observations and questions. We responded primarily through the blog and I only stopped to have a discussion based on a question or comment they had posted.

What did I think of the experiment?

There were some positives. Students, for the most part, were not passive watchers, but active participants with EACH OTHER. A number of good conversations were held, much like those in the past. Some students shared great resources or anecdotes. We have a record of the conversation which is interesting to look back on to see how the conversations changed as they were presented with new information.

But, regardless of the positives, I'm not sure I like it. Some struggled with the multitasking. Much of what the video offered was missed or ignored. Instead, some students turned to a more generic discussion of race. While I like them having the conversation, the video offered some specifics that challenge or support many of the generic pieces. From many, those were missed. I watched a number of students only watch their laptop screen as they tried to keep up with comments.

Additionally, blogging is the wrong tool. Maybe something like skype would be better, but I had not yet created that capability in class. Blogging made the conversation very jumpy as responses to comment A are not seen until eight to ten other comments have been posted.

A few outsiders joined our conversation, one who threw gasoline on a fire. Because of the topic, I then had to be even more vigilant with each new post as I felt like I was no longer responsible just for what my students posted.

Will I try it again? Probably, but I will try a different tool, will discuss more the multitaking aspect and their responsibilty with the video info. But I suppose I should wait for them to respond before I decide.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Final Exams...Already?

We started looking at material for the final exam in Astronomy class. While this assessment has the possibility to look like many things I started to think about the course title and how that could be a part of the final. The students have been doing a great job creating their own information for this class and the assignments that they have been given. The course title is "Planetary Astronomy." When thinking about this and the final I became interested in what the students thought about the class. I have spent a lot of time during the past few years taking the students on what seemed to be a tour of the Solar System and have not given them the time to take their own tour. With the computers in the class, I think that they could gather enough information to design their own tour. The software is there (Photostory) and the internet (along with print sources) could provide ample information for the students.

If anyone has thoughts or ideas of how this could look please let me know. I think it will be a good project but there are some questions that I still have and some that I am sure I have not thought of. I really do not know how I would grade this projects (or do I let the students grade themselves?).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fishbowl 101

When I was in college, I had some wonderful professors (Dawn Duncan and Jim Postema- Concordia College) who not only taught us how to think for ourselves, but also challenged us to teach one another. Recall the phrase, to teach is to learn. This might not seem like a big deal, but to ask sophomores and juniors in college to teach their classmates a novel per week complete with criticism as well as facilitating a conversation for an entire college class period was a daunting task. This is where the fishbowl began.

When I began teaching a senior level English class at Arapahoe, I became frustrated that I was to be the center of their learning. These kids have spent three years listening and watching their teachers teach; why couldn’t they be the expert on a piece of literature? However, I felt that they could not simply teach an entire piece of literature to one another in one week. So one day, I talked to the kids about how I learned in college and the difference it made in my learning to teach something rather than simply sitting back to listen to what my teacher told me to think about a novel. They were truly interested in the challenge of trying out fishbowl. They wanted their education to be different. I sat down and talked with our “new” instructional coach, Ray Hawthorne, and we talked through what changes would be necessary to make this work for high school. I decided that students would need to know how to ask good questions (higher level thinking questions), how to facilitate a conversation while still being able to get their point across, how to manage the classroom, how to look for criticism and understand the criticism they found, as well as actually understand what they read.

After much refinement, discussion, trial and error, and more trial and error as well as feedback from that first group of seniors ( the feedback is essential every year to tweak it to what best benefits the students), the fishbowl emerged.

There have been times it has not worked with a particular group of kids. There have been times it has simply blown my mind to see what they have come up with. [Please make sure to reference the handout as you read this section to understand the layout of the fishbowl] In the beginning, the outer circle merely reacted to the conversation in a journal format (only I would see these reactions). However, now we have many variations to the outer circle. We have also had the students T-note the questions from the inner circle and reacted to these. Other times students used a discussion tracking method keeping track of who said what and the reaction from those statements. Now my classes are live blogging on the outside so that there are actually two separate conversations occurring. Sometimes these conversations intertwine and sometimes they go in two separate directions. Either way, the best part of it is that the students are reacting to one another. I become a participant in their conversation rather than the director. That being said, sometimes I need to be a facilitator. I participate in the conversation with my freshman and sophomores, where with my seniors I stay out of the conversation and become an observer. (Actually this was a request from my first group of seniors who noted that every time I tapped into the conversation, the kids would take what I say as gospel. They thought it best to keep me out and they would grant me the last ten minutes of class to say what I think-they were so generous! I usually negotiate this piece on a class by class basis asking how much they want me to be involved).

How do the kids prepare? There are a few ways: one, the kids decide their own groups and can choose from a set of predetermined dates to present on. By allowing the students to create their own groups, they have more control, autonomy, and decision making ability than with pre-assigned groupings. Two, the kids read their assigned section, meet and discuss on what will be the focus of the conversation. They compose a syllabus for the class discussion which they turn in ahead of time to me for feedback. They must also find criticism to extend, support, or challenge our thinking on their assigned chapters. The criticisms often allow for the students to create great blogging questions for the class to react to after our fishbowls. The classes are often very good at making sure topics from previous discussion are referenced but they tend to hold each other accountable when one topic becomes too repetitive. My freshmen come with their own individual questions - they do not meet as a group ahead of time. They each create three higher-level questions which we post on the blog, write on the chalkboard or change the discussion direction.

As previously stated, teaching the kids good questioning strategies, methods for facilitating a discussion, and frequently asking for their feedback about how it went and what suggestions they have for improvement is so important.

Brains come alive

I borrowed an adapted assignment from my good buddy Kristin called Fun with Brains regarding the characters from Fahrenheit 451. Students were to select four characters and dissect each brain into four quadrants equal to the amount of the brain devoted to a particular subject that character would be thinkng about. After completing that portion of the assignment, they were to attribute quotes and explanations to these sections. Here are some samples to share using different tools of technology.

Period Two:

Period Five:
Emily L.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Conferences coming up

With the imminent approach of parent teacher conferences, I am interested in some reflections from my students over the past 9 weeks (this means we are halfway through the semester-yahoo). What do you think? Has class meet your expectations? What is challenging you? What is exciting you about class? Also, I would encourage you to reflect back over the projects we have accomplished this semester and evaluate those as well. Take a look at what other classes have done:
English Nine podcasts:
This I Believe podcasts
English Nine Honors SAT vocab assignment:
Wonder Woman Gone Country
English Literature scribe:
Daily Scribing

Also, think of this, I will be sitting in the gym for three and one half hours each night for two nights over the parent teacher conference time, what do you want your parents to know?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mr. Meyer...when will we really start using them?

I have waited to post here as I have felt that, in comparison to other laptop rooms, we have done little so far. We have blogged (sometimes to an obsessive extent), but that has been done out of class. We did some research in class, utilizing our laptops to look at the constitutionality of some scenarios and then finding cases to support our findings. The activity seemed to play out much like it had without computers, except the computers seemd to slow them down a bit. The two times they were the most helpful were when the counselors took the seniors and when we had a sub. Both times, I was able to create lessons that I think had value rather than relying on a video (usually used just in case the sub wasn't prepared for A.P. level discussions).

So what have we been doing? In my mind, we have spent six weeks developing a constructivist mindset where students have created an atmosphere where they want to know more, where they are challenging each other to support their ideas, where they are participating beyond "is it on the test?" discussions. Now they are ready for laptops and the wikis, podcasts, etc. that are better suited to future units.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Finding the Right Balance

With the exception of my first hour English 10 class, I teach in a "laptop classroom" where the laptops are not used on a daily basis. In my 4th and 6th hour Honors American Literature classes, for example, the laptops are rarely used for the entire period, and we probably take them out of the cart about two or three days out of the week. I deliberate over how to incorporate the laptops in my planning. While I realize that the laptops hold endless potential, I tend to abstain from designing units and lessons that revolve around the technology. To be honest, I alternate on a daily basis between feeling guilty for not using the laptops enough and feeling guilty for too often sacrificing valuable non-laptop activities for the ones that utilize the technology (and may or may not be a success).

I would like to hear from the students' perpsectives where this balance lies. Students in the laptop classrooms--what impressions have the first six weeks left on you? In other words, which activities have the laptops genuinely enhanced, and which have they detracted from? Have we, your teachers, found a productive balance? --Ms. Kakos

Monday, October 02, 2006

Astronomy and Computers

The past few yars, in an astronomy elective that I have taught, I have presented material on all of the different types of telescopes that are used by astronomers. With the addition of the computers to the classroom, I have been trying to figure out new ways to utilize them and still cover the material that needs to be covered. (I am actually tring to decide what this material is also.) I decided to give all the information (A PowerPoint, a research document and a student designed document) all at once and then to allow the students to choose the time and course of study. The end result needs to be a document (not just a typed one) that could be used to explain a type of telescope and attempt to market it. However, this would allow the students who already know some about telescopes to skip the basics and get into the "fun" assignment. I am going to start this adventure tomorrow and cannot wait to see how it goes.

If you are interested in some of the work that my class has put together up to this point please check out their wiki at []

I think that we will attempt to create a photo story for a tour of the Solar System. I am not sure what this will look like but that is up next. I am also trying to determine how to get all of this information into a portfolio so if there are any ideas out there please let us know.

An urgent message from Will

The following comment appeared under my post "potpourri." I thought you could all help out Will...


Hope I got your attention, this is very IMPORTANT.

I have an URGENT message. Today in AP Gov, Meyer brought up a very interesting bill called the DELETING ONLINE PREDATORS BILL, despite the nice title, the bill will destroy what we and the Arapahoe High School staff have attempted to create. Please research this bill. The gist of the bill is that all access to chat rooms, BLOGS, myspace,and perhaps even simpler pages that might allow students to display any kind of personal information will be denied to students.

This bill will be extremely detrimental to the education, will destroy everything we have worked hard to establish, and eliminate the benefits to internet in the classroom that many of you enjoy. THIS BILL PASSED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES BY A VOTE OF 410-15. Our time window is incredibly short to take any kind of action against this bill before it is passed by the Senate and it WILL be passed. We must take action now, IF THERE IS A WAY TO ORGANIZE A MEETING FOR CONCERNED STUDENTS I WOULD BE GRACIOUS FOR INFORMATION ON HOW TO GET A ROOM AND ANNOUNCEMENTS.

Any strategies on how not to get this bill passed would be greatly appreciated, I have a few, but I would prefer one in which I don't have to be suspended or expelled :).

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I do have to say things have been interesting in the Wonderful World of Constructivism (roll sound byte). Listening to the podcasts of my regular ninth graders' "This I Believe" essays has changed my view on some of their written pieces. It really speaks of how difficult it is to teach voice in writing, when hearing their actual voice of their essays comes through so easily. Some still need more polishing as well as them learning to plan ahead.

I guess that is a frustration I am feeling now. Here is this really interesting assignment, something they created, and then so many wait till the last moment to go out and complete it, rushing through it as though they do not really care that it is their best work. So it makes me wonder, why do another cool, challenging reflective assignment? Am I going to get the same results? The same lackadaisical last minute work ethic? Why challenge them to be better when they could care less themselves? I am trying to be better and challenge myself to break out of the assembly line production of kids to help them realize their true potential, but I feel right now that I am busting my derrière for nothing. Pardon my French (for those of you that kow me this is my kind of humor). I am frustrated! Do they see how good they can be? DO they see the moments of brillance I see? Am I not getting them? Is there something I am missing? I think I am going through a Karl moment-the glass is feeling close to half empty.

On the brighter side, I encourage you to listen to their podcasts on their English Nine class blog and give them constructive feedback. It was unbelievable that after the first day it was up, they already had a messsage from New Zealand (go Kiwi).

Additionally on an even brighter side, I do have to say that I am not giving up hope. I am starting Digital Storytelling with my regular ninth graders this week. Throughout this entire semester we are examining this idea of "What Matters" and realting each piece of literatture back to ourselves as well as the world around us. Everything connects to "What Matters." You can check out the full assignment on the AHS homepage-teacher web pages-Mrs. Smith-English 9-What matters. I would love to know what you think.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


My first hour English 10 class has been using the laptops daily for the past week to create a mockumentary (a partly fictitious documentary) using Photostory. This is a preparatory project for Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451--a prophetic novel that warns us of a dark and empty future in which humans have used technology both to feed and hide their shallow natures. We are using the mockumentaries in order to create prophecies as well. The task given to each student was to pick a subject that has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, such as phones, fashion, music, sports, cars, etc., to analyze both how things have changed and why they have changed, and to use these trends to make specific predictions for the future. Then, they will set their mockumentary in the year 2026 and explore how their subjects have progressed up to this point. As part of their script, they also need to establish their tone and address the positive and the negative consquences of these changes.

What is interesting about this project is that they taking one of the central ideas of our constructivist team and making it literal--they are creating their own futures, and they're doing so in an educated, individual, and cautious way. The technology has made this project far more engaging than a paper; because they know that they will be reading and recording their scripts and setting them to images and music for the rest of the class to watch, they're quite self-conscious about and invested in their writing.

I would like to publish some of their mockumentaries somehow. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know. The major challenge so far has been teaching to a class that is so diverse in their technological abilities. Some students want to use a more complicated program than Photostory, while other students are just now learning how to make tables on Microsoft Word and how to organize their electronic work into folders. Because of this, students have been working at very different speeds, and while they're all working--that's the important part--it's difficult to make daily plans. It still feels somewhat loose, and the amount of freedom they have had with this makes me a little nervous. Thoughts and suggestions? Thanks! Kristin Kakos

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Teacher Responds

To My Students,
You took on a new challenge this year, unbeknownst to you. I imagine this summer you never thought you would be starting this school year in a laptop classroom. I mean, learning with a laptop computer? Who would have ever created such a crazy notion? I myself doubted at times whether it would all come together by the beginning, and thanks to an amazing leader and friend, Mr. Fisch, you and I were presented with an amazing opportunity.
This opportunity has not been easy on some of you. I understand and hear your struggles in the blog. I am glad you are struggling with this because change is not easy. It is so easy to become complacent and feel safe in doing education the way it has always been done. But if my teachers would have been complacent when I was in high school, and their teachers would have been complacent with the way they were taught, would society ever advance?

I struggle as well, but with the implementation of quality in your learning, not merely adding quantity. Anyone can shove information down upon her students, asking for them to simply regurgitate it back in the same form that the teacher lectured. But is that building understanding? Is that creating learning? Should I be teaching the same way it has always been done? Or instead, should I be showing the passion for reading, literature, learning, and life that I feel I possess? Please understand, I am not saying that lecture and teacher directed learning does not have a place. I believe it does. Basic information and background knowledge need to be established so students can grow and learn. However, what I am trying to do instead is allow you to have a greater part in the learning process.

At the beginning of the school year, I was asked to develop my philosophy of education. Here is part of it:

• The teacher is a facilitator, coach, mediator.
• The teacher is seen as student as well as the students are seen as teachers.
• The teacher is there to build bridges between the knowledge and skills to link the students to understanding.
• " the teacher is a coach, providing scaffolding where needed, tailoring mini lectures to clear up confusion or if things are going well, simply moderate discussion and allow students to figure out things on their own."

When I read this quote and thought about what I wanted my classroom to look like, I decided I want my students to have a say in their education, to be able to challenge themselves as learners and push the boundaries of education. I want to provide that scaffolding that is necessary for you to grow and to instill in you a desire to be a life-long learner. At times, I want you to recognize that I too am a learner: creating questions, analyzing texts, wondering what I can do to prepare you to be ready for the 21st century. You have heard me say it numerous times, but I firmly believe it: THIS IS NOT EDUCATION AS USUAL. I challenge myself everyday to think critically about the work I am giving you and to see if it is meeting these standards. Reflecting back on how I have previously taught, I recognize I was largely successful; however, I know I am able to do much more for my students because the possibilities for your generation’s learning are limitless. Why simply use the standard previously set when I can raise the bar for both myself and for you?

You might think that my goal with you is to expose you to as much technology as possible. Guess what, you’re wrong. The technology is simply a tool to help you and I become a better and more efficient learner. It enables you to interact with the text and produce ideas like I have never seen before. You are creating questions and making connections that are so impressive. Do you see this in each other? Do you see how you have already grown in your learning and desire to know more? I want you to look at the world in a different way and with an informed mind that knows how to be a critical thinker. You are becoming producers of information, not consumers. You are not allowing others to produce ideas for you, but instead you are standing confidently on your own – this is my goal for you. Additionally, I want for you to see yourself as part of this community of learners who are all growing, struggling, learning, and challenging one another to be their best. Don’t become complacent with your education and let it happen to you, instead I challenge you to make your education happen. This year, you have been given an opportunity to start fresh, to use physical, mental, and technological gifts to transform our learning – show yourself, show me, show your peers, show the school, and show the community the possibilities.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

The conversation continues...

Students have created quite the discussion about the use of laptops in the classroom under a previous posting Becoming One with the Text. I am hoping we can continue the conversation here...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

What a grand thing...This learning thing...

Yesterday was a little interesting. You see, the students had a short quiz on ions in chemistry (I am sure that those of you who read this that have taken this class remember the quizzes on items that you need to memorize. Oh, so much excitement.) and then they needed to work on formula writing. The interesting thing about these types of quizzes is that the students all finish at different times. I guess they are not all the same.

Let me back up a little. There is a lot in chemistry that is thought of as memorization but if you know how to use the tools, like the Periodic Table, you can find reason in what you are looking at. The students in my classes have been working on these patterns for about a month and I hope that the scores on the quiz reflect this work.

Now, back to yesterday...

As they finished the quiz, at their own pace, they looked up to find simple instructions on the board. They were to start up their laptops and find my notes on-line. I tried to post a PowerPoint show on the school webpage so that the students could go through the information when they were ready. There was then some questions for them to answer and a worksheet for them to start on. The amazing thing was that all of the students were on task as I walked around the room helping them with information that was a little confusing. Even though the students were all at different points in the process they all were aware of where they needed to be for Monday and could find the information at a time (if they ran out of class time) that would be handy for them.

The best thing about this activity was that some of the students were using my notes along with a couple of college sources and wikipedia. They were building their own rules for naming chemical compounds that were in the proper rules but they had ownership of this material. You see, the material was not coming from one person to them but they were putting together information to build an understanding of the world around them.

What a wonderful concept. Students making their own learning and understanding with guidance. What will we (or someone else) think of next?

Friday, September 15, 2006


My regular ninth graders have been challenged! Instead of education as usual where the teacher gives all the information to the kids, I have asked my students to create the information for Inherit the Wind. They are seeking out the background information, creating the class study guide, and deciding what vocabulary THEY think is important to learn and use. Take a look at what they are doing and where they are going...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sometimes the kids say it best

I asked my ninth graders to reflect on what we have been doing in class these past few weeks as well as reflect on a little experiment we tried in class. Please visit their comments: "To cell phone or not to cell phone" and "what did you think"

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Becoming one with the text

I think I might be putting paper companies out of business as well as the sticky note companies with the use of laptops while we read. I use to have the kids write down sticky note questions while they were reading, and then when we were done with the text, they would pull out their questions from the book and never see them again.

Now I have them copy and paste the text into a Word document from an online so that they can manipulate the text, ask questions using the comment feature, highlight the text, and share their observations with others. I will eventually post an example from Macbeth when we finish Act 1. It is really cool! I am excited to see if this helps with their short term understanding, but I also feel the greater benefit will be in the long term when they can reference back to this text at the end of the semester and see all their notes, observations, and learning.

Another cool thing has been peer editing. I have done this before in class but this time I had the kids do this as a take home assignment where we established expectations ahead of time as to what makes a good editor. I will also post a sample of this when my students submit them to me. I assigned a comparative paper and the students exchanged papers via email or jump drives and then they took their peer's paper home to use Word's reviewing features. We debreifed on this process today at the beginning of class and it was great to hear their reactions. They liked the opportunity to see each other's work as well as see the connections their peers made that differed from theirs. What I also enjoyed is that the responsiblity fell to them to complete this task and put forth the best effort. They were excited to see the comments their editor had made.

Here is a sample of the online Macbeth annotated text done by a freshman.

Here is a sample of the peer editing completed by one freshman to another's paper.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The kids are smarter than the teacher

Today was fun... I was having the kids read a short story online called "The Lady and The Tiger". What made this task more difficult than normal was the fact that our wireless connection as well as the internet connection went down when the kids were supposed to be reading this story from my web page. Yahoo! Awesomely enough (flashback to the 80's) I asked the kids how we can prevent this from being a problem in the future. What was truly remarkable is that they had solutions. They declared, "Why not copy and paste the story from my website into their My Documents when we begin to read the story so that if the connections goes down they have the text right in front of them." I was so impressed by their ability to solve the problem on the spot rather than watching their teacher self-destruct because she wasn't sure of what to do. In addition, this made me think how great this would be to have the text copied and pasted into a Word document because they can manipulate the text. They can make commentss and connections, highlight words they don't know, and immediately, find the definition of those words using their right click. The kids never cease to amaze me and keep me heading on the right track.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Unleashing the laptops

The kids all needed to complete a timed writing sample on Friday and so I figured what the heck I don't have enough stress going on in my life, let's see if we can get them all signed in and running in a timed segment. Was it successful? Did the kids rise to the challenge? Was Smith crazy? YES TO ALL. The kids did a great job even though we had a few minor glitches. The students had issues with their log-ins as well as the computers having issues with the log-ins, but for the most part by fifth hour I was happy. The kids really rose to challenge despite me trying to be teacher and computer troubleshooter all at once. It was really cool to sit back and just watch them composing on the computer. It was like watching them all in this zone of writing/ typing. Now all I need is for the drop boxes to work so I can read theri creations.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The First Day...

The kids seemed to be experiencing a little bit of the George Bush syndrome of being shocked and awed. They aren't quite sure what to make of all of it. You mean, we get laptops but we have to be a contributor to our learning? We actually have a say in what we are doing and we are trying to change the face of education? You want me? I am not quite sure how to describe how things went but I know this...they were hooked. It will be interesting to read their blogging comments on being producers of information vs. consumers as well as what it means to have a professional learning environment. Tomorrow I am actually going to see if we can get all the computers assigned as well as have them complete their writing assessment on the laptop. The challenges have just begun...

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Project Begins...

So the school year is about to begin and we are embarking on this journey of revitalizing education at AHS through the use of laptops with one Social Studies, Science, and English classroom. It is a daunting task to say the least. The project began with just the excitement that we, Brian, Brad and I, were going to have a digital classroom where we could try some new things in terms of teaching and connecting with our students. Through countless emails, conferences with each other, meetings every Friday at school during the summer, we have been putting our plan into place of how these classrooms and these students will be different. Another time I will go into all the details, but I just wanted to get this started and get all my buddies to help me fill up this blog with what we are experiencing regarding leaving our safety zone of teaching and really trying something remarkably powerful and influential to not only our lives as teachers but to the lives of our students, their families, and the community of AHS.