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.