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.