Monday, November 19, 2007

CSAP scores revealed-SCARY

Last week, teachers of ninth grade and tenth grade students were given in their mail boxes a highlighted sheet of their students who are partially proficient or unsatisfactory. Out of the 24 students I have in my ninth grade class, 11 are in the above categories. SCARY! I always have these weird feelings about test scores when they come out. One, I get really worried that I am going to somehow be measured as a teacher by their ninth grade test scores. What if they don't improve? If they don't improve then I am not doing my job. Also, I want to know what has happened to these kids? How can they not have applied all the writing strategies their teachers have used up to this point to this test? What is even more scary is that it seems that these students scores compared to former students are lowering at a greater rate.

So why write about this? I guess because I am frustrated. What should I do? If I am overly committed to them succeeding on this test, I could offer for them to come in on all of their off-hours form now to CSAP working on CSAP type exercises so that they actually apply the strategies we are working on in class to the standardized test. I actually offered this the other day and only one student out of all 11 wanted to come in.

I believe in all the writing exercises and real world applications I am doing in class, but I worry that those techniques won't transfer for them.

I guess I am wondering what to do? I know I am going to spend some serious time at the beginning of second semester working on their struggling areas, and I hope this works. I just wish I felt they cared as much about improving as I feel like their teachers do.

Rubrics, rubrics, rubrics

I was sitting in class the other day and had what I like to think of as a Ah-ha moment- or environmentally conscious moment. It was nothing too revolutionary, but here I sat grading presentations on Personal Learning Networks and The Chosen background information as well as previously had graded This I Believe essays. With all of these, I printed out rubrics I had created on the computer. Why did I do this? It seems like a no-brainer that I would use my laptop to assess my students work rather than printing out a rubric and then handwriting illegible comments for my students to later decipher (I actually think I have nice handwriting but I guess my students would beg to differ on the writing they see). This is a change I want to make. I want to be able to use the rubrics online and then comment directly on them.

No big in depth revelation here- just an easy solution.

Reflections on PLN...12 weeks in

I want you to take some time and really reflect on our use of Personal Learning Networks. Think about the following questions and compose a detailed and thoughtful response in order to guide our use of PLNs for second semester.

1. What do you like about PLNs?
2. What are some challenges of PLNs?
3. What do you think of the PLN presentations in class on Fridays?
4. Does reflecting on your presentation in an evaluative form in your personal blog help you?
5. Do you access the audio version of your PLN presentation? If so, does it help you? If not, why not?
6. Does it help you to read the reactions of your classmates to your presentation?
7. Are the categories of your subscriptions helpful?
8. When you don't complete an assigned PLN, why don't you?
9. Are there any suggestions or changes you think we need to make for next semester?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Parent Teacher Conferences-Reflection

As previously posted, I changed the way I did conferences this semester. Instead of concentrating on my students' progress via their grades in class, I conducted conferences with their learning as the focus. I asked my students to reflect on their learning based on the following questions:
  • Assess your learning in class so far this semester. Look at your participation, growth in writing, comprehension, etc..
  • Where, in terms of your learning, do you want to be at the end of the semester?
  • How are you going to get there?
  • What can I do to help?
  • Write a message to your parents.
The students then were asked to bring home a copy of their learning assessment for their parents to read before conferences as well as place a copy in my class drop box for me to access at conferences. Most of my students did give a copy of their assessment to their parents. Some parents hadn't read it but had been told by their kids they had a letter for them about school and so they read it off my laptop as part of our conference time. Only a few parents had no idea their child had written a learning assessment. Overall, the reaction I received from a number of parents was positive to what they read regardless of how their child grade-wise was doing in my class (we post grades online so almost all of our parents know their child's grade). In fact, I recall only once throughout two nights of conferences actually talking about grades- the student is failing.

What was difficult about this whole process was that 5 minutes for conferences was definitely not long enough. I had actual conversations with parents about their child and feel like I took away more from them about how their child is growing as a learner, or how their child needs to grow as a learner. I felt like I listened as much as I talked which is a huge change from the way I participated in conferences before. I was the one relaying all my information to the parent rather than allowing them to give me insight into their child and react to what their child had written.

Here are a few samples of things students said in their assessments:

Student 1: I have grown a lot so far during this year in terms of my reading comprehension and the understanding of different texts. Being in this class has definitely improved these things. I love coming to this class every day because it is very enjoyable and it is a great learning environment. The way that our class learns is so different that it is almost motivational for me to learn in it because it is so much fun. We have already read Macbeth and Lord of the Flies so far this year. Every day we would have discussions in class about the story, which not only allowed me to share my ideas and interact, but it allowed me to gain more understanding of what was going on in the story. When our class was required to read and annotate Lord of the Flies it helped me learn about the book by myself. My reading understanding has definitely improved. I also love participating and speaking up in this class because everyone will listen and then be able to give you feed back about your thoughts.

At the end of this semester I want to be able to read a book without any annotations or discussions but still be able to fully understand it. I want my mind processing to become much better, and for me to have deeper thoughts even when reading a book that was not assigned in class. I love reading and it would be great if I were able to understand something without having to research or ask questions about it on paper. I want my head to do all of the work in my head and be able to understand a book that I might read in my free time.

I am going to achieve this goal by doing all of my work for reading books. I will annotate and ask questions which will then teach me to do thinking for myself in my head. It is something that I will have to work for, and it will also come as I get older and grow in my thoughts and ways.

Mrs. Smith, you can help me achieve this goal by having more class discussions and helping me ask good questions. It might sound like a funny goal, but it would be amazing if I could understand everything that I read. Even if it was some book that had nothing to do with our class. I don’t know if there is much else you can do to help me achieve this goal. It is mostly something that I have to work for.

Student 2: Mrs. Smith’s class really is my favorite class. I actually understand what is going on. She always has interesting and different projects for us to do so that we don’t lose interest and work hard. Even though I like the work in her class I think that she kind of gives us a lot of it. Even though her class is my favorite, it is also the class that I have the most homework in. But the reason why I don’t mind doing it so much is because a lot of it is done on the computer and I like working on the computer. But I always do the work that we are given. But now that cross country is over I will have a lot more time to work on my homework and assignments. I know you think that I am a horrible student that doesn’t work hard and only cares about her social life, but I’m really not like that. I promise that my grades will go up and I am striving for an A in this class, Soccer/ Rec, and US History and a B in Science and Math. I really want those grades by the end of the semester. I am going to start going into my teachers when I need help after school and during my off hours, I’m going to spend less time on the phone willingly instead of being grounded from it, and I’m going to start studying really really hard on all my tests. I don’t like studying for tests very much but I will start doing it more often. Mrs. Smith doesn’t have to do anything to help me other than when I go in for help because she is already doing a good job teaching me in class. But the only thing I would like for you to help me with is to not put me down so much. I know I have bad grades, but I’m working on it really hard and when you take my phone away and tell me I can’t go trick or treating with my best friend. High school is already stressful enough and it doesn’t help very much when things like that happen.

Student 3:

1. Assessing my learning: I feel like I have learned a lot this semester, but not just learned. I feel like I have actually connected things we learned to life. Macbeth and LOF, for instance, were very relevant to human nature. It was so interesting to read these and talk about humans and society and the attrition thereof. The discussions we have are awesome and I always want to keep going. I think the main thing I need to work on is responding to others more on blogger. I need to learn how to have actual conversations on blogger (since it is hard for me to do this when there is no actual verbal dialogue going on). Other than that though, I feel pretty confident with what I have learned.

2. At the end of the semester I really want to take the idea of “learning outside of the school walls” to a whole new level. I definitely incorporate what I learn with how I live, but I feel like I could do more. Overall, there is no specific goal I want to achieve, like better grades or anything, just continuing to add my learning to my way of living. After all, that is the true reason for education.

3.I just want to continue conferencing with you about papers. This really helps me to understand what I need to fix in my writing, and it is just so cool that a teacher actually wants to spend time talking about learning instead of just being a teacher when in the classroom.

Student 4:
I have grown in class in a few different ways. First off, I am able to make connections to different things better. For example, I was able to make a lot of connections to Lord of the Files and Macbeth. I have also been able to manage my time better. I feel that I have participated in class quite a bit. I not only raise my name in class, but I also participate in all of the class blog discussions. I feel that my writing has always been pretty good, but I feel that I have gotten a little bit better at extending my word choice. For example, I think that I used good vocabulary words in my Macbeth essay. I think that I do have a good foundation for my comprehension. I feel that I really benefit when we discuss the book in class, though.

At the end of the semester, I would like to be in the position where I feel less stressed. At times, we have a lot of homework, and on other nights we don’t have hardly any at all. I would like to have a more constant amount so that we can plan out nightly homework a little bit more. I would also like to write more essays, rather than do so many projects.

I will reach that goal by trying to plan ahead more. I will try to use all of my time wisely. I will continue doing what I have been doing all semester. I think that I have been doing a pretty good job this semester.

You can help my by giving us more warning for all of our projects, and assignments. I think that you could maybe print us out a sheet that has due dates and our schedule for about a month. There would be no surprises this way, and we might be able to all have things done on time.

Would I do it again? Most definitely, but I would do a couple of things differently. One I would make sure all the parents had received the letter early enough to read it and be able to react to it. Also, I would have sent a letter with their child's learning assessment indicating my purpose behind doing conferences differently.

I am going to ask my students and hopefully their parents to comment on this process as well. Yep, that's right I want the parents to create blogger accounts as well so they can participate in the conversation. After all, that was my goal all around to create a conversation about learning.

Releasing My Seniors from Grades

My seniors created their own semester long project constructing their own definition of a hero through studying the works of Oedipus Rex (tragic hero-Greek), Beowulf (epic hero), Canterbury Tales, and Hamlet (Shakespearean tragic hero) as well as connecting to our in class discussions of modern day heroes. These are group projects which will be presented as their class final.

We discussed some ideas together one day in class about different ways they could demonstrate their understandings of heroes. I shared with them some projects I had come across regarding creative ways to construct a definition. One was as sample Oxford English Dictionary Definition my friend and colleague Lauren Gaffney created. Another was a Time Magazine article of the future looking at heroes (Gaffney created this as well- what can I say, she has great creative assessments so I keep stealing them from her). I showed my classes these two assignments but clarified for themas well that I wanted this to be their project. After taking the better part of two classes (different weeks) we came to the following criteria:

Final Project: What is a hero?

  • Multi-media
  • -- Photo story, movie maker…
  • Group project
    -- 4-5 maximum
    -- Everyone participates significantly-veto power
  • Individual reflection of contributions
    -- Self reflection
    -- Peer evaluation
  • Modern examples
  • OED Definition as a part
    -- Portfolio
    -- Document comprising all work
    -- Include OED written definition
    -- Overview summing up all ideas into one
    -- Organized
    -- Creative
  • 10 minute presentation
    -- Clear and smooth transitions
    -- Organized
    -- Answers essential question
    -- Goes beyond the expectations
  • Synthesize all text covered in semester
  • Personal commentary
    -- React to what you have learned about a hero
    -- Give feedback through modern day heroes
    -- React to the evolution of the hero

    Point Value:
    No grade-intrinsic motivation
Hopefully, after looking over the criteria you noticed this final point (no pun intended):
Point Value:
No grade-intrinsic motivation
This was the decision the class agreed upon after much deliberation. We talked about the seriousness of an agreement like this and the trust that takes place between the teacher and student as well as the students working together. What would happen if members of your group weren't taking the assignment seriously? What would happen if members of your group weren't completing the project? What would happen if group's fall short of the expectations of the assignment? If groups don't show any work at all? I really felt like we talked through a lot of the pitfalls that could come from releasing the control of this project by getting a grade to completing this project to demonstrate learning. This is a project they created so if research is correct, they shouldn't need to receive a grade on it because they will be intrinsically motivated to succeed. Right?

My reaction to all of this is two-fold. On one side, I am excited of the possibility. How could I not be? Here are students taking their learning in their own hands. YES! They are using real world skills of collaboration, critical thinking, synthesis of information, to demonstrate their own understanding of information as well as relating it to the real world. On the other side,I am scared. How could I let them not be graded especially on something as important as a semester final. What are my colleagues going to say? What is my principal going to say? I feel like instead of letting them down I am raising the bar, but will they see that?

But I have hope. I believe in them. Why? Read their comments after we created the project. Here are a couple:

Brooks K...
Guys, it is our duty as responsible students to take a leading initiative and care enough about our scholastic achievement that we excel beyond standards despite receiving a grade or not. I have found that when grades are less applied to study habits and to my work ethic, I succeed. When I go into class not for a grade but to actually learn and take away something valuable, my mentality is always in the right place and I know I have structured myself with full potential to learn.

Kyle B...
I think that all the fuss that this style of evaluation has created is based upon the fact that, ever since middle school, we have strived for personal gratification through good grades. This is all we have known and, by not receiving a grade on an assignment that would normally comprise a sizable portion of our grades has upset the pattern that we have known and accepted for the past 7 years of our education. We are all members of an exceptional class and none of us would wish to abuse this opportunity that Mrs. Smith has given us, an opportunity to succeed and exceed expectations solely for the knowledge of success.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the project. I am planning on giving them some tools like Google Docs to organize their projects as well as some in class time to meet and discuss with the group where they are going.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome to Conferences

I am one of those teachers that usually walks towards conferences dreading the conversation with parents because of the fear that one of them will go off on me about some aspect of my classroom, teaching, something random I said (I say a lot of random things not realizing what I say until I see it on a scribe post- i.e. I would kick kids in their shins if they didn't complete an assignment). However, usually, I walk away from conferences feeling appreciated by the parents as well as having learned more about my students. One aspect of conferences that we have been trying to change here at AHS is to steer the focus away from grades per say and focus more on the student specifically. In fact I recall a teacher who will go nameless saying he wished to put up a sign at conferences that would say, "If you want to talk to me about your child's grade, check Infinite Campus; if you want to talk about your child, see me." This is the direction I am hoping to go with conferences this year. I asked my students today (I wish I would have done this on Monday) to reflect on the following questions in a typed paper:

Assess your learning in class so far this semester. Look at participation, growth in writing, comprehension, etc…

Where do you want to be at the end of the semester?

How are you going to get there?

What help can I provide to achieve your goal?

Write a message to your parents.

I let them know before I gave them these questions my purpose behind doing conferences differently was that I know grades are important to them and to their parents, but what my greater concern is about is their learning. That is what I wanted to focus on with their parents at conferences rather than just talking about their grade. Now I know some of you are thinking that their grade should be a true reflection of their learning, and I agree that it is in part, but I an still one of those teachers who holds my students accountable for turning in work on time. Because of this, I think their grade measures part of their learning but not all of their learning. I actually think that grades can't fully capture a student's understanding because there are too many other factors to consider, but that is another conversation entirely.

After my students responded to the questions, they were asked to print out a copy to take home to their parents. The had a couple of options with what to do once they gave the note to their parents. One option is to let their parents know that we will be talking about this at conferences and not to talk about it till then or option two is to talk right then and there discussing their learning with their parents. Either way their parents are to bring the copy to conferences. Also, my students were to put a copy in our class drop box for me to access at conference to discuss.

I am anxious to see how this all turns out.

Cross Curricular Happenings

I have always been fascinated with the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. I know it sounds dorky but here is a teacher, John Scopes, who chose with the help a few close friends (I don't know if I want these kind of friends) to challenge a law he felt was unjust. I find the history behind the whole trial as well as the outcome fascinating. I think I bring a lot of this enthusiasm into our discussions when we start reading Inherit the Wind. However, one area I feel like I have never done a great job of is making the trial relevant to my students- that is until yesterday.
Ideally, I wanted two Biology teachers to come and speak with my ninth graders about what it is like to be a biology teacher in the 21st century. I asked Adam Wallace, a passionate evolutionist, as well as Cara Syers, a devoted Creationist, to come and speak to my students. Cara wasn't able to find a sub for her class but we were quite fortunate to have Adam come and speak. The kids didn't say much to Adam after his presentation, but they left some interesting comments on our class blog in reaction to his presentation.
I do have to confess I was nervous exploring the issue of religion/ faith/ creation of the earth with ninth graders but I am very pleased with how this turned out. I hope it made to more personal and relevant to them. I know I learned many new things from Adam that I hadn't thought of before regarding his role as Biology teacher and all the various beliefs versus hypothesis about the creation of the world (notice Adam I used the word hypothesis). I am looking forward to next year hoping that I can have Cara and Adam both present to facilitate this important conversation with our students.
Adam- I would love for you to comment about the presentation and experience as well.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Macbeth Fishbowl Discussion Test...A Student's Perspective

Being an honors student all my life, I have gotten used to discussing, and I have loved it since my very first guided discussion in fourth grade. Personally, the best way for me to process my thoughts, and for them to be fully formed, is for me to talk them through with other people. I grow so much from hearing others ideas and from having to support my own. It helps me to become a better communicator and a better thinker. This past Tuesday, we had our final test on Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Macbeth. Generally, a test is a series of questions on a piece of plane white paper. However, Macbeth is not black and white, so that type of test just wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, we tried out our very first world famous Anne Smith Fishbowl discussion. This is not your usual discussion (Surprise, surprise! Like Ms. Smith would do something out of the box, please!). In this discussion, we mixed verbal discussion with blogger.

When I first heard about this double discussion idea, I was not too jazzed. I am not a lover of technology, so it seemed very impersonal to me for there to be a chance for teenagers to not talk in class. I mean, what sane teenager wouldn’t rather blog than discuss Macbeth? Let me just say, I was very pleasantly surprised! I couldn’t get a word in edgewise! Me, of all people, the one girl who usually dominates discussions and prays for others to speak up, did not get more than three chances to talk! It was astounding how much thinking was going on during those forty minutes of class. I felt like we could have spent many more hours discussing and growing as learners. There were 175 comments on our blog when we were finished, and there are only about 30 of us in the class! Wow!

Even though I didn’t blog too much, it was such a relief to type my thoughts when I couldn’t speak up because of all my fervently discussing peers. In that way, I could still have a discussion and finish thoughts that had been passed over in the verbal discussion. I could also remember what I was going to say during those long periods when others were conversing.

People whom I had never heard speak before let go of all their reservations on the blog. They spoke freely about their opinions and gave new insights to portions of the text. I was truly enlightened by the findings of my peers, and apprehended the material much more completely. Also, it was fun to have little disagreements that had to be worked through, and to be in complete agreement at times as well.

For any teachers who may be reading this post, I would seriously recommend trying this type of discussion out with your students, especially if you are reading literature that has important implications but that may be hard to understand. It was very beneficial to my understanding of Macbeth and I look forward to many more rewarding discussions like this in the days to come! - Hannah L.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Personal Learning Network-Presentations

Last Friday, I had our first group of students present on their personal learning network. I used this rubric to evaluate their presentation as well as had the class access the student blog he/she was referencing to leave real time comments about the presentation( we pulled up the blog and had it appear via our overhead projectors). While the student was speaking, the class reacted to the presentation. The instantaneous feedback the students provided was valuable to the presenter. If a classmate did not feel comfortable offering oral feedback in our class debriefing, the evaluator could reference his/her blog and see what reactions the class had to the presentation. Here are some examples:

seanb said...
Brandon good job presenting. you had a clear voice and didnt studder or fidget. But next time try and be more descriptive and dont fade off reading the story.

laurene said...
brandon! Good job on your presentation. Your pace on your speaking was good and slow so I could really understand you. Your eye contact with the class was also good. I also really liked how you compared your article with your history class and your english class and you went into details with how they relate to the article. I also think that you should try not to fade off win speaking and try to speak a little clearer, but other than that good job.

berekm said...
Anna, You did a good job speaking loud and clear so everyone can hear. I liked your relations with the story about taking pictures of landscapes. I think its funny that you thought New Jersey was New York. I agree with you becuase people do take the easy way out and also students do it too. I understood everything you said and i agreed with the getting pictures online. You looked up while you read and talked to the class as if you memorized the writing. You added an interestin personal aspect to your presentation, good job.

avereel said...
Anna, I really enjoyed your presentation. You really got into detail about how it connects to the world and to yourself. You were so calm about presnting, you were so brave to go first! I totally agree with what you said, too many times, we do take the easy way out. I haven't read My Flickr Conundrum, but your presentation made me really interested. Good job!

annies said...
Alex! Good job explaining the article. I agree because students in the US should have a high literacy rate, and then people will see them as "Kids of the future". But i think it could have been a little longer, and you could have related it to the world and yourself. But otherwise, good job!

Xavia H2011 said...
If you have your notes, try not to look back and forth to the screen and your notes, just choose on. Good job though, your blog was well explained and it was good how you related it to yourself. Try to make it a little longer to.

I also asked for the presenter to add an additional blog entry to their personal blog critiquing his/her presentation. I think it is important for them to reflect on their preparation as well as evaluate their delivery and effect of the presentation. Thinking out loud, it might be interesting to do some goal setting before their presentation on what they hope to achieve in their personal blog and then assess that piece afterward in a reflection blog. Here are some examples of their personal reflections:

Anna K, Overall, Friday's presentation was pretty good, but I still need to work on not sounding so nervous and fidgeting so much. I think I did a good job at keeping eye contact with everyone and not talking to fast which I normally do.

Josh TS, For my next presentation I would like to do a few things diferently, first of all I would liek to be more prepaired with note cards instead of reading off the screen. I would also have like dto have a longer presentation

Alex E., After presenting my PLN in class, i think that i didn't prepare enough, by practising talking and have the materials needed, and my writing didn't have enough detail in it and could have been longer. Also i could have spoke up more and made more eye contact, and work on not saying "ummm" and "like" so much. But besides that i have learned from my mistakes and now i know how to prepare for my next presentation

We have some work to do on the reflection side, but hopefully we will get to some honest feedback on what they did and how they can improve after we practice what good reflection looks like. I am also going to add podcasts of their presentations to their own blogs as well as to Learning and Laptops for them to reflect on. I think this is a valuable piece to a reflective evaluation be hearing what you sound like when speaking in front of a group.

Some changes I decided to make to the presentations after conferencing with Jessie Comp about her classes presentations were that the students need to speak about all their blog postings. I am not sure how this will work out once they have numerous entries but I like the freedom it grants them in their presentation. Also, I am asking the presenter to create follow up questions to their presentation to create a post-presentation dialogue with the class. After all, one of my focus points for creating a Personal Learning Network is to get my students talking about issues that are relevant to them. Jessie had great success with this in her class and I am hoping to create the same dialogues in my class.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


So today, I tried something new. I know, me?

I created a new blog for my Advanced Placement Chemistry Lab students. I had one group volunteer to keep a video/pictorial record of their actions in lab. I even allowed them to repeat the demonstrations that I did at the beginning of the class. One member of the group kept a typed record of what they were photographing/videotaping and then that student is going to send it to me tomorrow. What my plans are, and I need a little help figuring this out, is to post this information in a blog so that we have a record of all the things that we do this year. I just am not sure how easy it is to post video to a blog. Is there another format that I could try? Are there teachers out there that have done things like this already?

I know that when the wireless network is running I can hav ehte students post directly as they are doing the experiment, but what are some possible work arounds right now?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Google Earth meets the Odyssey

During my first few years at AHS, Maura Moritz and I developed an assignment where we had our freshmen complete personal learning journeys on big laminated map mimicking Odysseus own journey. Along the map, they had to carefully mark 10 places they had visited, what they did there, as well as what they learned from the experience. We displayed the maps around the classroom and everyone could marvel at all the places their classmates have traveled.

Once I was introduced to PowerPoint, I updated this assignment to the use of PowerPoint complete with linking slides and maps. However, this past spring, I watched a presentation from Mike Porter about his use of Google Earth and saw how The Odyssey Personal Learning Journey could take on a whole new level.

My students will be creating a Google Earth journey of their travels following the same criteria as before looking at where they went, what they did there, and most importantly, what they learned. Odysseus during his travels learned something about himself as well as other cultures along his journey home, and I hope they will do this as well. I am hoping that these will be true reflections of their learning. Also, I am anxious to see the impact that these presentations will have on one another. Will they find they have visited similar places? Will they see and reveal the lessons they have learned over their short life thus far? Putting together my presentation did that for me. It was difficult to recall some moments, but allowed for me to really laugh and appreciate all I have been through. I would love to know suggestions others might have for this assignment. Although mine doesn't contain pictures, video or audio, these are things I am thinking of adding to their presentations.

Here are their examples

A Twist to College Essays- Using Google Groups

Google is taking over our senior essays!

Michele Davis, Lauren Gaffney, and I were interested in approaching our senior college essay unit differently this year focusing on more collaboration work done outside of class. Typically, we have our students compose a series of essays of which the teacher responds and provides feedback to the student. For my class, my students write three essays dealing with either a crossroads in their life, how have their parents impacted them, and a who am I essay.

Over the years, I have changed the focus of the essays to meet the needs of the colleges they are applying to, but for the most part in the past, it has been an out of class, teacher to student assignment. To give myself some credit, I do have them use Word’s reviewing toolbar to peer edit one final paper in class. Also, I have them conference with me about their final essay before they turn it in so we can discuss changes one on one.

However, even with all this work, Michele, Lauren, and I wanted something more this year from our seniors. We wanted them to connect with one another and see what their peers were saying. Last year, Michele had used Google Groups with her seniors to submit their essays online so that their classmates would be able to provide valuable feedback to the posted work. After discussing how to do this, we came up with the following criteria so that our combined 5 sections of seniors could upload, comment, and read their peers work. We had some basic criteria in completing this assignment:

Post one final essay

Students can choose to post anonymously. We actually came up with a coding system of the teacher’s last name followed by a number (Smith 4).

Students could choose to use their names to post, but no last names. (Anne S)

All students needed to post their essay by the same date.

Students need to give constructive criticism and valuable feedback to at least 5 other essays. (These essays need to be students in other classes)

Constructive criticism needs to be memorable and helpful.

Try not to comment on essays that have already received feedback. If an essay has received 3 comments, move on to another essay.

I will have my students blog about their feelings on this assignment, but most really felt the process was helpful. Some suggestions that we need to think about next time we do this:
· What does constructive criticism look like? Some kids received valuable feedback while others had no comments.
· Clearer identification of who is in what class.
· Do we want to open up the essays to a larger audience?

Overall, I think we are on the first steps to a really valuable and interactive assignment. I really feel that in order for the seniors to become the best writers they need to read what other students/ writers are producing- as well as the great writers of literature (We don’t want to forget Oedipus’ memorable crossroads or was it a fork in the road). This assignment enabled them to do so. In fact, when I asked them if they would want to put their essay out their for the whole world, many said yes, but only if they could go back and make the changes that their peers had suggested as well as what we talked about in our teacher student conference.

Michele’s comments on set-up and process…
Building this site was quite simple. Google groups make it easy and user-friendly. Google groups also provide pages to help users navigate their way through the site. One such link is the Google Groups Quick Start Guide. Google groups has 3 easy steps to follow to start: 1) set up the group (name it and decide who can view the site), 2) add members (if you like), and 3) add information to your page (add additional pages, upload information, change the logo, change the access, etc.).

We decided to set our College Essays site up so that we did not have to invite students; they just needed a Google account to sign in. If students did not have an account, we had them register for one. (One somewhat annoying aspect was that every time a student puts their paper (adds a page as Google groups calls it) on the site, it emails the managers.) This was a little bothersome, but it did show us who was responding by the deadline.

Overall, I love how this site provides an opportunity for students to place essays and get feedback from multiple readers. And, for this assignment, students go feedback from students in other teachers’ classes. The benefit, we feel, is that we all teach the college essay a little differently, so students from other classes will notice different things, find different areas to improve, etc. Since this was the students’ first drafts, we did not prompt them on what to respond to; however, next year, I would like to have 3-4 things for the students to critique in particular: voice, narrative, word choice, and getting to know the student. Students, for the most part, were specific with their comments, but I think it could be more focused.
Lauren's comments on the process...
Much like anything one tries for the first time, this Google groups experiment had both successes and failures. In terms of successes, some students received up to eight full paragraphs of comments. In previous semesters of teaching the college essay, students would have received feedback from a teacher and from one or two peer editors. In contrast, this Google groups assignment provided feedback from me as well as up to eight peer readers. Another positive students mentioned was that they could edit their essays with each piece of feedback they received as the Google groups’ pages function as Word documents. If students were struggling to think of a writing topic or a way to approach the topic they had chosen, this assignment also allowed them to scan hundreds of essays for ideas.

For next year, I will have students comment on three essays instead of five so the feedback is more authentic; several students felt like five comments were too many and that peer readers started getting lazy with their feedback. In addition, I would spend a class period talking about how to give good, specific constructive criticism based on the final rubric on which their essays were graded. Another student suggested that teachers comment on the essays of students who are not in their classes so writers not only receive feedback of students outside of their class, but also receive the opinion of another teacher.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Electronic Essay Editing

I am a student in Ms. Smith’s 9th grade honors class. This past week we wrote essays comparing 3 film versions of Macbeth. After writing our essays, we put them on USB drives and brought them to school. We then uploaded them from our USB’s and exchanged papers. This way we could take them home and edit them on the computer.
I personally like this process. It was fairly quick and easy. In previous years, when writing essays, I had to print mine out and physically give to someone to take it home to edit. Many times the person editing mine would lose it. When putting on the USB, it was easier to keep track of.
Plus Ms. Smith showed us how to make comments on each others papers (click view, toolbars, reviewing, and use the icon of the folder.) I liked this because it allows you to highlight errors or make suggestions without actually altering the person’s paper.
In the end, we were able to return the persons paper and remove it from our USB. It was a simple and painless process and a lot easier than dealing with a hard copy of an essay. This is an excellent method of editing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

After being introduced to online notations it is my personal opinion that online notation benefits my learning experience in a more progressive way than using the actual book. Online notation is being able to type annotations in comment boxes right along side the text. With the regular book I would have to use sticky notes and mark up my book with illegible handwriting. It is also very time consuming to interrupt reading the book to take out a sticky note, write your thoughts, and then continue on. With online notations I can type my thoughts directly onto the sheet without losing my train of thought. Something else I have found extremely helpful is that it is easier to clarify the content of the book through online notations. In the side comments one can work through their thoughts using the many resources the computer offers to understand the text. Everything is crisp and clear in an easy to understand format. It is easily transferable and my learning can continue without the aid of a teacher outside the classroom. Technology is a massive part of the world today and by incorporating it into the school systems that is truly preparing us for the future. Here is an example of online notation. I am able to work through what Macbeth is saying to better understand the text.

The service and the loyalty I owe,[k1] In doing it, pays itself. Your highness' partIs to receive our duties; and our dutiesAre to your throne and state children and servants,Which do but what they should, by doing every thingSafe toward your love and honour[k2] .

[k1]Feudal system. King Duncan has two sons Malcolm and Donalban. Thane is not that high in the system. But he owes his life to the kings his thane from when the king granted him land and Macbeth swore allegiance

[k2]Nice fa├žade of complete loyalty when he was thinking of killing Duncan. Duncan welcomes him with open arms. His downfall is trusting too much.

Online Notations

In my opinion, the online text is much more convenient, useful, resourceful, and helpful. The text is more convenient in a way that you don’t have to go and buy your own copy of the book and carry it around with you with sticky notes and a pen all the time. I love having access to my notes whenever I’m near a computer. Even if I don’t have my notes I can always access the text online. It is more useful because the online has the option of having the new English right beside the old English where our book only has the old English. You have nothing to help explain the old English version. Some books do have both of the interpretations but the online text allows you to annotate and compare both of the versions without having to draw a line from one page to the next. How many kids get to say that when they were studying Macbeth they got to have their notes with them all the time, in an easy to edit format, and get to continue learning outside the classroom? All I know is that I am one of the few. I am usually a good student, but with the added technology my learning possibilities have doubled or tripled. Not that I don’t like learning, but it has become more enjoyable now because of my online text and notations. I have learned more in these last couple weeks than in most semesters of regular classes. It is such an innovation to have this technology in the classroom, let alone for freshman, but it really does seem like the logical conclusion when we step back and take a look at how our world is progressing. We have so much technology in our world today and it seems like the school systems are taking their sweet time catching up. Imagine how many more students would stay in school all the way through high school and into college if every kid had the ability to learn with a laptop and online information. Kids would no longer have to confine learning to the classroom – they would be responsible for their own education.

Sample PLN promised

Jessie and I wanted to showcase some of our students' PLN entries. Please take a look:

Kelly S. wrote about Karl Fisch's Did You Know presentation,

There are things on there you wouldn’t have guessed, one that caught my interestwas that it said “if you are one in a million in China… there are 1300 people just like you” talk about having a twin! Some of it was more random than other stuff, but some was really just imaginative, but probably true. It talked abouthow in the “future” there will be a computer that exceeds the capability of thehuman mind. Now the first thing that came to me was; robots are going to out smart us and take over the world! Well I don’t believe that we know what we don’t even knowhow smart we are?! In my social studies class we were discussing all the stages we have economically gone through as a country, and even as aworld. There was the “cave men” age (I suppose), agriculture age, industrialage, and now the technological age. So what will be next? I don’t think anyonereally knows what next huge breakthrough we will make. Maybe something inmedicine, they could find a cure for cancer, which would change a lot of things!Or what if we were to find another world out there, this galaxy is huge, bigger than we can even comprehend. We’ve only studied our backyard, there’s a whole universe to explore! There is no doubt of how quickly and drastically we are changing economically (mainly technologically), so what will the world look like in just 10 years? Will I have a computer chip installed in me that connects me to anything or anyone within internet and communication devises? Will kindergarteners be learning to type, instead of write? Are these changes good? Orare we getting way over our head? I’m really not sure all I can do is I guess just wait and see.

Dennis K. wrote about a quotation from The Fischbowl,

If adolescence is defined as the "learning" stage in life, if middle- aged is defined as "the starting to get it point", and if old age is the "reaching death" point in life, then, I believe that America as a country is basking in the warmth of its middle period. When the lands of North America were settled by early English Pilgrims, the territory entered a new era in its time period. As America developed, many mistakes were made and many lives lost, but America persisted through its early career. It then arrived at its "proficient" point where it developed based on its own learned lessons of the past. America has not met its old age, for, it is in no immediate danger of becoming nonexistent or a lacking nation. When faced with the question of technology slowing or accelerating the “death” of a country, I will present the following. It depends. If the “death” is very evident and unavoidable, then the scientific and technological knowledge we as humans possess will not suffice in order toprevent a “death”. If the country is at a stage where it can see death in the future further away, scientific and technological advances may be able to aid the country in its climb towards proficiency. As normal “deaths” of nations are primarily caused by the poor marketing conditions and economics, technologicaladvances in goods may help companies sell more products, earn more money, and as a result, pull the endangered country out of jeopardy. Likewise, scientific breakthroughs may lead a country to fortune through the utilization of theirscience in sold products. Although science and technology can be used in such away as to postpone “death”, it can also be used negatively to speed the process.When products are stripped of their scientific and/or technological values,sales for the product will diminish. If enough products are affected, the process of “death” will quicken.

Anna K. wrote about Will Richardson's blog,

I have just finished reading a recent post by Will Richardson called My Flickr Conundrum. This blog raises a question about taking photographs of landscape. His question was, “why take pictures of places that you visit that probably aren’t going to be as good as the photos that others have already taken that are already available for you to use in your own albums, slide shows, whatever? I mean, unless you want to organize the wife and kids in front of the spot just to prove you’ve been there, what’s the point?” I believe the point is to be able to call the picture your own. You can always look up a picture on the internet, but if you do that, you are not able to say, “I was there and I took that picture.” It doesn’t matter if it’s the worst picture in the world, you can still be very proud of it.

Sam H. wrote about David Warlick's post regarding cyberbullying,

I read a recent article written by David Warlick in the 2 cents Worth subscription. This post is regaurding cyber-bullying and how it is still an issue, but now its not only children who are doing the bullying.I looked at that post and I realzed something. It is a lot easilier to cyber bully than we think. I have heard countless times that cyber-bullying is a major issue and because I havent been involved in it I don't tend to think about it, but maybe it is something that we need to start thinking about more now. Technology has taken over in our world today and now it is much easier to say things, over the computer or maybe even texting on a cellphone, that you wouldn't say to someones face.Now we ask ourselves, why is it easier to say things over technology than to someones face? The reason that was brought up in this post is people feel more comfortable over the web or other forms of technology because there is a physical distance between the two. People feel more comfortable saying harsh things when there is distance between them because they arent afraid of the consiquences.How does this matter in the world? Now that technology is booming more and more adults are beginning to use technology for various forms of communication; thereforethe right of cyber-bullying in the adult ages has increased. Now we ask ourselves, with this technology how are we going to be able to lessen the rate of cyber-bullying among adults and children? The answer I am not yet sure of.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

PLN-The beginnings

We are on the road to beginning our adventure with students developing their own Personal Learning Network. Karl Fisch wrote about this on The Fischbowl a few weeks ago and we received a number of comments regarding what we are going to implement. I have appreciated all the feedback and support. Jessie Comp, my colleague and friend, will be doing this with her class as well. Some other ninth grade teachers are going to try versions of this project (see Michele Davis).

I spent all day yesterday in class reviewing with my ninth graders the reasoning behind switching from outside reading books to Personal Learning Networks. I went over the handout and had them sign up on my Google Reader with their own personal blog which they will use to react and reflect about their readings. I then had them create their own Google Reader and began to add feeds from the online handout. Keeping the handout online simplified the process of acquiring the links to add to their reader. Then as homework, the students were supposed to read the posts in their Google Reader and react/ reflect to what they read writing about in their personal blogs. The question to react/ reflect on:
  • What did you read? Link to the article.

  • What matters from what you read?
  • How does it relate to what we are doing in class or in your life?
  • How does it relate to the world around us?

Finally, the student signed up to formally present twice to their classmates about what they were reading. The students are expected to be well prepared for these presentations. During the presentation, the presenter's classmates will access the presenter's blog and react to the present on the personal blog. I think this will provide valuable feedback for the students both presenting and viewing. It also enables the other students to see other feeds that they could add to their own personal learning network.

Today I finished logging in the students' personal blogs into Google Reader. I want to export all the student feeds from their personal blogs to the class so they don't have to add them one by one but can access the link on my web page and then import the feeds.As far as seeing how their homework went, I was impressed by how many went to their own Google Reader, read their posts, and reacted on their own personal blog. One thing I wish I would have done a better job with ( I am planning on doing this tomorrow in class) is go over the sample entries I created on our class blog- Sample 1 and Sample 2 Why spend the time going over samples? Well, it seems that from my experiences last year with ninth graders that they need me to provide more guidance and structure. I struggle with this philosophically feeling like I am showing them they way it needs to be done, but I am hoping with our conversations about this project being about them taking charge of their own learning as well as showing the world what they think, that my students will make it their own. I am really anxious about this project because I can see the amazing possibilities that can come as a result of them taking this project seriously. I will be posting some of their entries on this same post after I get through reading them. To be honest, on the managerial side, that is something I am personally worried about keeping up with. I guess I just need to relax and see what happens.

Monday, September 10, 2007

PLC questions

Jessie and Brian asked our 21c group to respond to the following questions regarding establishing mission/vision:
  1. When I leave this school, I would like to be remembered for...I would like to remembered for helping students and staff members reach beyond their potential. I want to be the person who helped them see complacency is unacceptable. I want to be remembered as someone who was innovative in their classroom and pushed students to achieve more than they thought possible. I want to be remembered as someone who not only taught but learned from her students and colleagues.

  2. I want my school to be a place is expected to try new things, and that you are supported while doing so. I want my shcool to be a place where we trust our teachers to do thier jobs and trust kids to do theirs. I want my school to be a place of creativity and innovation. A place where learning doesn't seem confind to the bells of the school day. I want my school to be a place where we all learn from one another. I want my school to be a compassionate school where we care as much about the students while they are in our class as well as outside the class.

  3. The kind of school I would like my own child to attend would... be a place where they feel like they can grow as a learner and don't have to wait to for others to catch up (Emma wants to learn math right now, but her teacher told her she has to wait- they aren't there yet ), be a place where teachers are encouragers and motivators, recognize their uniqueness/individuality, appreciate the whole child not jsut the academic side

  4. The kind of school I would like to teach in would... be one that pushes and encourages me to learn more, challenges me to be the best teacher I can be, supports my family life time, encourages its staff to try new things, give time for teachers to talk to one another, trusts its teachers and treats them like adults(see T. Sale's post), 21st century ready-teachers and students with laptops, students and teachers see each other as continual learners, staff supports staff, students leave prepared with skills and knowledge that will allow for them to be adaptable/ fungable and a positive participant in their future, and one with windows.

This is just the beginning. I think it would very beneficial to have my seniors and freshman complete this from their perspective to see what they feel about school and they way it should be.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Matters

Last year, I had my freshmen all focus on the question of what matters. I was really glad to have one question on which they could focus all semester. Every project, assignment, class discussion all came back to this question. I liked this idea so much I am trying it again but with some more tweaking and focus. I realized that my freshmen need more examples and not quite as much freedom as I give to my other classes. It seems like they need me to provide a little more structure than what I would like, but I am hoping that by providing more illustrations of a possible end result, that their understanding and connections with literature will increase so much more.

The first part of the What Matters project is a creative, visual illustration of what matters to them. They always seem to struggle with this question at first, asking me, "Well what do you mean what matters?" I simply respond with, " I don't know, what matters?" They, of course, are confused and perplexed. This year after going through the same conversation with them as my last year's 9th graders , I decided to create my own example of what matters. I think this gave them some better direction, but I still have my reservations. Many of their posts seemed similar to mine (I am not trying to be egocentric here). I am just having a difficult time trying to find the line between feeling like I am leading them to the answer I am looking for (i.e. my what matters example) and having them struggle to find their own understanding- what I feel like they should be looking for. I know that this is the beginning of a new year. I just need to keep myself focused on the idea of showing them the possibilities and providing the structure for them to come to their own understanding. I guess it is just one of those ho-hum moments.

I am feeling frustrated today; frustrated by the fact that after giving them many days to complete the What Matters visual project, many were not done. They just chose not to do it. Was it because it wasn't a meaningful project to them? Did the technology get in the way? What was the hold up? Well, I asked them...and their answers varied. They all liked the project, thought it was better than other assignments, but just chose not to finish it on time. What is happening to these kids? To totally digress for a moment, this is why I don't believe in giving kids extra time on assignments. What did they learn from turning it in late. NOTHING! In fact today, I had another assignment due where they were to look up and develop their own understanding of literary terms. About 1/3 of the class didn't even bother to do it. I couldn't believe it. Two days in a row, and even after we talked about getting things done on time, and they still couldn't finish the homework. Just rants from the trenches today.

But, to end on a positive note, please take a look at their visual what matters. Please, leave them comments and help them see the possibilities. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Watching Zolli and reading about Death

Since I had seen Zolli first hand, I don't have much to say other than I remember walking away from the presentation thinking one, does this mean I am going to have to take care of my parents when they are older? and two, what does this mean for education. The fact of the matter is that if we are living longer, are we really preparing kids to be life long learners? I mean if they are living longer that means they are spending a greater portion of their lives outside the education setting, outside of being influenced by hopefully positive individuals. Are we giving kids in our classrooms today the skills they need to live a long and happy life? I feel like these are the changes we are trying to make at AHS. We are trying to show the kids how to be critical thinkers, how to collaborate, and how to be an effective communicator. This skills will help them no matter what the text they are studying or in what the job they are employed. As far as taking care of my parents (because as Zolli quotes this task usually lands on the female), it worries me. I know the cost of adult care facilities is increasing as much as college tuition. Will I be able to handle that responsibility? I know in my heart I would want to be there for them as they had taken care of me, but I wonder if I could really do it and survive. Stuff to think about for another time.

As for the article on death, it reminds me so much of Brave New World and 1984 two novels I teach. I think I will have to keep this article and have my seniors or 9th graders read it to get their reaction. I think about most teachers retiring around 60 years of age if not earlier. What are they going to do to survive financially until death rates of 80+? What is that going to do to the education profession if teachers are staying at schools until their 70's? Will we end up with a bunch of old teachers who are sorry to say "out of touch" with kids and what kids need to know? I am thankful to say, and privileged to know, that I don't see many teachers towards the end of their careers here at AHS who aren't still continuing to learn. That set such a positive example for the rest of us to follow. But back to the article.

I find it interesting how the author speaks of wealth flowing from older generations to younger generations, but now we will not see that happen as much. I have been thinking about this in terms of watching my grandparents (2 grandfathers who have already passed away, but two grandmothers still living- one 92 and one 87). I know the financial status of my grandparents as well as parents is much more than I could ever achieve especially considering I am a teacher. How can I give my own children more than what I had growing up? My mom and dad gave me more than they had, and I know their parents did the same but I am certain I will not be able to do the same for my kids. Am I sad about it? Not really, because I think I give Emma, Jack son and Will different things, but I do wonder about the change this will create in our society. Are we going to create a society of volunteers of caring and concern because people just can't give money to a problem?

Thoughts for today...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beginning of Year 2

Reflecting on the jaw-dropping progress made with laptops in my English classes to enhance student learning, I can easily say I was impressed with what my kids accomplished and produced. I walked away from last year thinking, where do I go now? There was so much they not only did, but showed me about learning, about life and that possibilites are endless in what they take away and want to give back. They rose to every occassion presented to them and exceeded all expectations. So I am beginning this year with some trepidation.

Where do I go from here? Not only do I feel the pressure (totally self-imposed) to do more with these kids, but also to do more with showing others the possibilites and doors that open to students when technology becomes "flawlessly" integrated into their learning. In no way am I saying that I flawlessly integrate it, but I am working towards that goal. Also, I am really feeling the urge to expand my own learning. I have begun the journey into looking at graduate programs. I found two over the summer when I was in Atlanta with Brad, Brian, Karl and my roomie, Barb! One is located through Pepperdine Univeristy in Malibu (it would be a rough time staying in Malibu). The other is located in Pennsylvania called Wilkes University. Both have online Masters degrees (which at first sounded like the degrees you could get through advertisements on TV) but both programs seem incredibly well rounded looking at theory as well as technology. Much like what we are already doing at 21c, but I don't think I can get a Masters degree through Karl Fisch University yet. Umm, Karl?

So I guess what I am saying is that there is a lot going on in my mind. Go figure. I want to be better about blogging as a reflective tool this year rather than just posting student work, although I will still do that. I want to push myself as well as my colleagues into trying new things... personal learning networks, video podcasting, Skype conferencing with other classes. I want to learn from what my fellow teachers are doing. I want to get a better sense of my students. Last year, I felt so rushed to do things. I want to go more in depth with the kids, explore personal learning networks with my 9th graders, show my students what continual learning looks like, run a 7 1/2 minute mile 1/2 marathon.

I guess I better get started!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Great Tours

You might find it interesting to know that I teach a senior level astronomy class. You might also find it interesting to know that the students and I had a conversation that involved the idea of the students being producers of information and not just consumers. We talked for awhile about what this would look like in a high school class. The students decided that they wanted to create different types of documents through out the school year where they could show that they learned and understood some of the material that was presented.

As we looked at the different ways that astronomy impacts our lives, the students tried many different approaches to show their knowledge.

  • They produced a wiki where they showed how the material in the history of astronomy currently influences the world around them.
  • They produced advertisements attempting to sell a telescope of their choice.
  • They measured the size of galaxies and attempted to classify them (on the computers).
  • They produced a timeline of space exploration.
  • They produced PowerPoints or PhotoStories on the life cycles of stars like our Sun.

All of these items were good.

  • They looked at the Solar Cycle and tried to find a pattern in the sunspots.
  • They plotted stars (closest and brightest) on an H-R diagram and tried to find patterns.
  • They looked up definitions of terms that I thought were helpful.
  • They worked in groups a lot.

Most of which needs more work to be a better fit in the class.

The students, and I, are most pleased with the final projects from both semesters. In the spring, the students took a topic of choice (from a list of course, I was not willing to give up all control) and produced a creative item to teach their classmates about the item. I received children's books about the Apollo program, CD's of music for Challenger and Columbia, video about black holes, and trading cards (for the Gemini missions, Space Shuttle, Apollo, space stations, different astronauts and other topics).

The fall semester, now that was impressive. The students created virtual tours of the Solar System. The only requirements were:

  1. The project had to be longer than three minutes.
  2. There needed to be research turned in with project.
  3. A reason for a source needed to be included with the works cited.
  4. All eight planets (Pluto not included) needed to be in the presentation somewhere.
  5. The Asteroid Belt did not have to be included.
  6. The students needed to spend time on the details of one planet of their choice.

As you might expect, there were some really good projects turned in (and some that left a little to be desired). The students used music to add to their projects and they even used their own voices. There were some projects that used video while most did not. There were some errors in the facts (I guess that we need to work on that). There are some items that I will need to go over with the group next time but I was impressed with the results that the students produced.

Take a look at a couple of the Solar System Tours. One with music and one without.

ErikJKyleL (6.75 MB)

RobertRSpenserH (5.29 MB)

Next semester, I am thinking about something using claymation. If there is anyone who has experience using this in a Windows environment please let me know about the software.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Does Literature Say About Human Beings?

All of second semester, my ninth grade honors students explored the BIG question, "What does literature say about human beings?" They were asked to work together in groups of their own choosing (3-4 participants) and put together a multimedia presentation of their answer to this question. Presented during their final exam time, this was their final assessment in this class. As well as answering this question, the assignment had additional requirements in that the groups needed to determine if they agreed or disagreed with what literature said, and then use modern examples to prove/disprove their answer. The final product was to be creative, captivating, as well as thorough. (In case you don't realize the beauty of this kind of project, the question they would normally have received during the final exam was now at the beginning of the semester. This way, we were able to refer back to the question as well as use it as a focus with all texts we studied. Furthermore, they connected this question to their other classes, their lives, and the world around them- you gotta love it!)

In order to begin completing this project, I outlined the units we would be studying this semester: a social issue independent reading novel, poetry, 1984, and Farewell to Manzanar. After each unit was completed, the groups were able to have time to work collaboratively, figuring out how they wanted to answer the question and in what format they wanted to present their findings. Also, the groups worked with me to determine a rubric for the assignment as well as determining into what grading category the assignment should fall. This project was student-based where they determined the answer as well as how it should be assessed.

After watching the tremendous hours and valuable collaborative discussions many groups put into this project, I would most certainly assign the challenge to my classes in the future. I was impressed by how each groups' presentations were so varied as well as the methodology behind presenting their findings. Groups used PowerPoint, PhotoStory, and MovieMaker. Some groups chose to look at the semester under one large topic (i.e. humans are hurtful to one another) while other groups broke it down to each text specifically (i.e. social issue books say humans are vengeful, Farewell to Manzanar says human can survive, etc...). I even had one group who choose to cover the material from their entire freshman year. Impressive!

Also, to me, this project is exactly what is required of them in the "real world." They were asked to synthesize information, work in a collaborative group, blend each participants' differing ideas, be creative, be original, and learn something.

I hope you take the time to watch what they have created and offer some constructive criticism. If you only have time to pick one I would pick "Experiences" (wonderful blend of music and visuals to enhance their presentation- plus it made me cry). I do think they are all worth watching!

Emotions:Man's Greatest Failure



Man Strives for Superiority

People Looking For More

Oppressive and Selfish


Don't Think Before You Act

Me, Me, Me

US History Student Samples

So I finally have some student samples to share.

First, we attempted a group project that intended to see the creation of documentaries regarding the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Civil Rights Movement. While some groups did produce strong documentaries utilizing some great interviews, the projects probably did more to teach us about the many potential problems with compatibility - technological and personal!

More successful and educational were the individual projects. Many stuck out to me as being entertaining and informative. One used claymation to explain the history of dance in America. Others dealt with topics ranging from genocide to fashion and fads.

I have chosen two to share. The first is a more traditional movie that I felt was well done addressing the issue of espionage: Cold War Espionage

The second is a power point that, to me, takes power points into the next generation. This student created a constructivist presentation that allows the user to determine their path. This project looks at military technolgy : US Military Technology


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tables or desks


I enjoyed your presentation yesterday and can easily imagine that you are a superb classroom teacher. At PBCC, we are building a new academic building that will have a wireless network for instruction. We are planning to initiate a computers in composition program using carts of laptop computers. I think you mentioned in your presentation that the students prefer tables to desks when working with laptops. We are looking at flexible furniture for these room—wheeled chairs and individual desks—see below—but I am now wondering if tables might be better. Your thoughts on this and anything else about using laptops to teach composition would be greatly appreciated.

Jim Mabry

Dr. James C. Mabry
Dean of Academic Affairs
Palm Beach Community College
South Campus
(561) 862-4410

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A New Kind of Rhyme Podcasts

Towards the end of the poetry unit, Maura Moritz suggested having the Honors students podcast at least one of their poems. The kids were very receptive to do this as you can tell with the creativity in their poem choices that they selected to read. It adds so much to their own work by having them read it to their audience in the manner it was intended rather than the audience only being able to interpret the poem on their own. Happy listening!

Please note there are four players below (the Odeo player only allows 20 at a time). The first two players are for Period 2, then the next two are for Period 5.