Sunday, January 27, 2008

We were telling stories...

My kids spent this past week focused on "Story" from A Whole New Mind. It was a big week for us all coming off a pretty good start with "Design." I had emailed the links of our work on "Design" as well as blog reponses from our invited guests to Daniel Pink. He was impressed with the work the kids are doing. I shared the email with the students and they were, of course, very excited that he was interested in what they were doing. He even left them a question to think about.

The kids read "Story" on their own this week completing an activity from the portfolio section and then we also started working on thesis statements from their Wikified Research Paper. We began talking about one girl's idea about her WRP topic and before you knew it, it became a free exchange of ideas and helping one another out with possibilities each could explore for his/her paper. Some students even posted links on our class blog asking for further feedback on their papers and for the entire class to use as a way to communicate beyond the classroom. I love it when things are spontaneous! It is so encouraging to see kids helping kids become better learners.

We fishbowled with live blogging on Friday. Period 2 our guests were our school board vice-president Renee Howell, and Kristin Hokanson . The kids did a good job once again. I am continually impressed with their starting questions. They always seems to make me take a step back and remember that they are only freshman. Crazy! Renee sat in the class in the outercircle while Kristin contributed from King of Prussia, PA (I love that name). It was really interesting to change the discussion to a topic the kids could relate to a little more. It seemed stories are such a huge part of all of our lives that we have so many examples to fit with what Pink was talking about. Beyond the discussion, one really awesome thing happened (like Karl says when you work with high schoolers you have to say awesome every now and then). I have a brand new student thrown into the mix of Pink, 1-1 environment, live blogging, wikis, WRP, PLJ, and well, me. Two of my students have taken him under their wing showing him how to set-up everything from his blog, wiki, live blogging, etc. They really stepped up and I couldn't be prouder.

In period 5, our guests were Christian Long, Jim Gates, and our own CIO, Dan Maas. These kids greatly improved over last week asking better questions and focusing the discussion to more relevant issues. In fact, my cool thing for this class was that one of my students broke her arm on Wednesday night at a soccer game, came into school Thursday, and stayed home Friday. I received an email from her mid-day on Friday asking if she could still blog with the class- umm, let me think about it- YEAH! She blogged from home with a broken arm. Why? Because she didn't want to miss out on the experience and her learning wasn't limited to our classroom. That is AWESOME!

Overall, the kids did a much better job. They were more focused, stayed on topic, and asked good questions. So, suggestions? Yep, here are some to think about:

  • Jim Gates offered up a good pointer for Maura and I of bringing in good comments from the outer circle to the entire class when we meet again to make sure the inner circle didn't miss out on any of the valuable conversation in the blog. Great idea!

  • I would like for my students to start exploring the texts more in-depthly and asking bigger questions. I guess going beyond how this relates to me and looking at the text in a global sense. This might be a stretch for them, but I know there are those that could lead the way!

  • I don't feel as though my presenters are as prepared with their questions as they need to be. This is something I will bring up in class.

  • I would also like to see this next week, because it fits in so well, for the students to begin synthesizing a wide variety of texts (all different media forms) to prove their point or to ask good questions. One, this would help them go beyond the basics of the book; two, it would broaden their perspective on how big these issues really are; three, it pushes their thinking. Jim Gates did an excellent modeling of this for them. He brought in a Christmas Story he often passes around, a clip from NASA, referenced a movie, Apollo 13, and podcast all while talking about story. WOW!

  • Finally, my students were always very good with their fiction books by using the book to back up their points or using it as a jumping off point to ask good questions. They can do the same with non-fiction. Use those quotations people! They won't bite, I promise!

Up next week: Will Richardson, Christian Long, Judy O'Connell, Eric Grant, Tim Stahmer, and Renee Howell. I can't wait to see what we talk about then.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Design Reflections

We are under way here at Camp Smith regarding our pursuits of learning what it means to use a whole new mind. Maura and I spent the first week school came back into session introducing the two major projects, the Personal Learning Journal and the Wikified Research Paper, to our students. There are so many questions as to what each needs to look like (this I would hope wouldn't be a consideration seeing as how we spent most of the first semester focused on the idea that they are in charge of their own learning) but alas, it still is. I guess some kids are more difficult to change. I too have many questions as to what this is all going to look like since nothing like this has ever been done before, but I really trust in my students that THEY will lead me where they projects need to go. We completed a test run of the fishbowl with live blogging so that Karl could work out the technical side of bringing in our valued guests. We were successful that it all seemed to come together. I really never doubt that though when Karl is involved.

Week Two was a focused week on Design. This is the first of the senses Pink explores in his book A Whole New Mind. I re-read the chapter while Karl and I were on a plane to Philadelphia. It is not an easy chapter- I am not speaking here of the reading level but more on a discussion basis. I mean how are ninth graders going to think about this on a deeper more meaningful basis. I remember thinking, how will they connect this to education and to their own lives?

So finally Friday our first live blogging day with influential and learned professionals came- Period 2 and Period 5. We were ready, the kids were ready, even the technology seemed to cooperate. The invited guests were all that and so much more. I can't thank them enough for taking the time, the energy and the love for education to connect with our students. It was definitely something I know our students will never forget. Thanks Darren, Dean, Julie, Sylvia, Karen and Tim!

Overall, it went fine. I am not giving it a fantastic review because there is so much left to come I don't want to over sell it. But here are some of my contemplated thoughts- they are contemplated because I don't want to hurt my students' feelings knowing that some read my personal blog, but also that I have taken some time to think about what happened on Friday...I guess here is the GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY:

  • the kids all participated and were enthusiastic. One student who was even home sick, blogged along with the class. His example shows the perfect reason why technology makes learning possible anytime anywhere by breaking down the traditional walls! How many kids do you know would still participate in class while home sick?
  • the technology worked bringing us all together
  • MEBEAM was too cool- I loved being able to see the people chatting online with my students
  • Karl didn't explode
  • the outer circle live bloggers were on fire (in a good way) They asked meaningful questions, connected the inner and outer circle conversations, kept up with the kids, etc. I was really blown away by them. Wahoo!

  • The kids normally focus on many subjects when we have done fishbowled and live blogged before. They easily connect many texts to one another, traversing ideas to other subjects, but the non-fiction threw them for a loop. We were often stuck on one subject for a long period of time. Sometimes the subjects were way off basis and not even focused on design. This was frustrating. I am going to talk with them about what I observed here.
  • In one class, that will go nameless, we talked about labeling kids with "honors" -you can see how we got off on the subject of Design by this example- they brought up a point that if they weren't labeled as Honors or in an Honors class they wouldn't try as hard. This is really disturbing to me for a couple of big reasons; one reason is that I know I have talked to them about what grades mean to me. This doesn't mean I expect them to buy into the philosophy that grades don't really matter, but heck, they have spent a whole semester focused on the idea that education is different in this class. This is not education as usual! This class is about learning and if they were in any class, not just my class it should always be about the learning-NOT ABOUT THE GRADE OR THE LABEL BUT THE LEARNING! That is all we want in education. We just want you to learn. AGHAGHAGHAGH!!!!! and so I digress. The other reason it bothered me was the idea that if they were in a normal class or labeled as regular they wouldn't try hard. Why? Why wouldn't you try? Haven't your parents, teachers, siblings told you that all they want you to do is to try? Why would it be any different in a regular class? The stories that followed their comments were disappointing to say the least especially since this is a class I really admire. I walked away upset and dismayed. These are supposed to be the best and brightest of our school and they feel this way about education. It really got me down.


  • I don't know if there is anything really ugly about it- I wish more of our online participants had used MEBEAM.
  • Disappointment about my kids attitudes towards education and Honors level classes could fall into this category as well. I am really perplexed by them. I need to have a serious conversation with them about what I heard.

Not to leave this on a sad note, we had some great commentary from our invited guests. Check out the following links:

Also, looking back over what I have written, always a good habit before you post, I realize how many more "goods" there were than "bads" or "uglies". I am not turning into a Karl like pessimist here; these are just some difficult and even challenging conversations to have with my students. There always seems to be more opportunities to learn.

I am looking forward to this next week and to another conversation. Heck, this next week it is all about conversation- our chapter is Story!