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.