Thursday, March 20, 2008

Adding Voice and Visuals to Poetry

During past poetry units, I have had students write their own poetry on a variety of subjects and then compile all of the poems together at the end in one big, creative poetry portfolio. Last year, I had the students podcast one of their poems (Period 2 and Period 5) as well as post at least one of their poems on the blog postings throughout our poetry unit Cut-up sonnet, Oprah Winfrey Poem, Metaphor 1, Metaphor 2, and Metaphor 3, Persuasive Poem, and Table of Contents Poem.

This year Maura and I had them complete some of the same poems ( Oprah Winfrey, Persuasive Poem, Table of Contents Poem) and we also added some new poems ( Dark Room Poem, Homonym Poem). I also had the kids post all of their poems as comments so that they could see one anothers' work. At the end of the unit, the students even commented each others' work under each poetry assignment.

After they completed writing each of their personal poems, the students were introduced to Voice Thread. They received some basic instruction and a couple of handouts here and here. The students were then to take one poem and through voice, images, and their own personal writing, make their poetry come alive.

Here are the wiki links to their Voice Threads (Period 2 and Period 5) . Please feel free to comment here or leave audio commentary on their Voice Thread works.

With my ninth grade class, we also wrote original poems and posted them online. For their first poem, they completed an I am poem and then added visuals illustrating who they are ( they could use Picasa to create the collage)- because they added images they needed to post this on our class blog rather than as a comment as their other poems were done. They also completed a ballad about school, personified a kitchen utensil, wrote a found poem, and finally they were able to write a free poem. These students also took one of their original poems and produced a Voice Thread original work.

One other assignment that I have always enjoyed completing with my ninth graders is showing them the power of poetry in music. Maura and I developed the assignment called Pop-up Poetry about 9 years ago and it has evolved as technology has evolved. Students select a song that they like and that is school appropriate. They then use PowerPoint to create a presentation showing what poetic devices they found in the song. They are to find at least 12 different poetic devices, 4 facts about the band or artist, and then 4 trivial tidbits or stupid facts that correlate to words in the song. The presentations are always interesting and a good application of poetic deivces with something that kids enjoy. The kids then present their PowerPoints to the class playing the song at the same time. Here are some samples:

Alena V. and Annie S.
Berek M. and Ethan L.
Joey W. and Nowlan S.
Mandi G. and Lauren P.
Angelica O. and Sean B.
Jackie N. and Xavia H.
Kelly S. and Samantha H.
Lauren E.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Classifying Galaxies

In the astronomy class that I am a part of, as the teacher, we are ending our study of how astronomers classify galaxies. We have covered this material many different ways in the courses that I have taught. The most effective way has been to look at images and classify them as the astronomers have. Then we check our work.

This Thursday, we are going to attempt something new...

We have covered all of the discussions on how galaxies are classified and attempted to classify some images of galaxies. Now for the fun part! There is a set of images on-line that the students can assist in classifying. We will attempt to pass the exam for a qualified person who is going to classify galaxies. Then using the computers in the classroom, we will access a database of images and begin assisting astronomers with the chore of galaxy classification. I am not sure how this will work but rest assured that I will be back this week to complete this post.

I cannot wait for the students to help with "real" science.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Hypothetical Situation

National Geographic contacted Karl Fisch and I sometime ago about participating in a pilot program they were trying to get underway called Learn.Dream.Go. They had selected a few teachers in the Denver Metro area to try out a new learning platform that NG was interested in implementing. There are a number of very interesting parts to participating in this pilot as well as a number of pondering ones as well. First of all, NG has never started a program like this one before. Typically, they hire a number of people to look at focus groups and do a wide array of testing before putting any material out to the public. This endeavor would be built in a more grass roots effort Also, rather than be the creator of content, they were looking to what teachers and students were creating, thus seeing a shift from one giant corporation being the distributor of information to anyone/ anytime/ anywhere creating understanding.

After a number of meetings with two of their representatives, Philip and Mikela, Karl and I decided, "what the heck" and we would give it a whirl. I also managed to get my deskmate and friend, Lauren Gaffney to participate with her two classes of English Literature students. Both Lauren and I were having our students focus on the essential questions of "What does literature say about us as human beings? do you agree of disagree with what it says? How does it come true in modern society?". With these questions, we derived at an assignment I had done previously with my seniors using Dante Aligheri's The Divine Comedy. With this text, as Dante explores the afterlife, we learn the nine levels of hell that Dante encountered including the symbolic retribution he bestowed on many of his contemporaries. In our assignment, we ask our students to be a modern day Dante, and create their own interpretation of the afterlife.

Now, you are probably thinking, how can they talk about heaven and hell in a public school? It is a fine line, I will acknowledge that. We sent home a parent letter indicating our reasoning for participating in this project. All forms came back signed! We had tremendous support for the journey we were about to take.

Before we began working on the project though, we needed to establish some background information for all students to come with so we had a basis as to what various people believe of the afterlife. We had the students listen to a variety of music with accompanying YouTube videos, watched movies (Legend- my own best interpretation of what Satan looks like, Bedazzled-female devil, The Devil's Advocate- Satan as a lawyer, and South Park's Satan's Sweet Sixteen- got to have the humor). They also answered a couple of blog posts: greatest wrongs and why does a just and good God allow evil to exist?. We also looked at a number of different art pieces. And finally, we actually did some reading. We read from the book of Genesis, and excerpt fromMilton's Paradise Lost, and two creation stories (one Hindu and one Native American Hopi Indian). After all the videos, songs, reading and blogging, I had them pull together their interpretations in a creative manner of what connections they saw. What did hell and heaven look like to them? Here are some examples:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Then came they big project, A Hypothetical Situation.

The project, as I have said before, asks them to emulate the situation Dante faced upon his exile. He was cast away from society because his political beliefs did not correlate with the ruling party and forced to live away from his family for the remainder of his life. So given those circumstances, our students were asked to create their own creative interpretations of the afterlife in modern society. Who would be there? What would their punishments be? etc... Mikela and Philip even provided a storyboard handout walking them through creating their own story. Originally, the students were to turn in their projects last week, but after talking with them about some preliminary feedback I was getting from Mikela and Philip as well as my own observations, the students asked for an extension to go deeper with their learning. How can you turn that down?

Now the students are able to redo their projects before submitting their final work to NG. NG is posting the projects for all to see, but I thought it would be great to get some early feedback for the students to continue to work on bettering their submissions. Take a look and let them know what you think. Feel free to use the language of the rubric to evaluate.


Ryan B.


Alex B.

Daniel C.



Ryan F.


Emily H.





Emma L.


Emily Lo.




Rebecca R.





Matt W.

Alex F.

Oh, the Possibilites...

The big day came and went. Karl, Maura and I are still living. All is good...

Reflecting back to our video conference with Daniel Pink, I am amazed by all that needed to work and come together to create this possibility; it all worked. Since Karl already posted about all the technological side of things, I thought I would take the time to reflect on what I saw and learned.
  • CoverItLive: I have used Blogger so much for live blogging as well as Skype it was fun to try out a new tool. I liked how it worked, although the verdict is still out on whether this will replace Blogger for fishbowl. One aspect I didn't like was that when Karl accepted the comments, they would flood the gates of CoverItLive and it was too difficult to comment on someone's previous thoughts. There simply wasn't enough time to keep up. However, the kids did a great job with it and continue to impress me with their adaptability.
  • The kids had to once again share computers with their classmates and did a great job with that challenge. Whenever kids needed to make a comment, they moved next to someone who had a computer and made it work.
  • Daniel Pink's energy was contagious. He answered seemingly endless questions dealing with topics ranging from his book to History, Economics, Design, language Arts (of course) education, school budget, the Pledge of Allegiance, Immigration, philosophy, just to name a few... Also, He in turn asked really good thoughtful questions of the students. He gave us a lot to think about as well as showcasing his new book. Business classes and seniors in high school should all take a look.
  • We had comments from Bud the Teacher, Carolyn Foote, Will Richardson as well as some parents.
  • I also had two previous students, Adam and Ben (thanks guys) stop by to participate in the conversation.

So looking back at the past 7 weeks of craziness, it was quite the experience. I can't really think of how to express all of what I thought about the day other than we survived and I couldn't be prouder of the thinking and curiosity my students exhibited over the past 7 weeks. They accepted this challenge of learning in a different way and have allowed for me to a participator towards that experience. I am so thankful for being part of all of this. So to 110 kids, 2 teachers (Maura and Karl), and Daniel Pink, thanks for showing us all the possibilities. All is good...

This is Your Brain on PSAs

Two years ago, at NECC 2006 in San Diego, CA, I watched Kathy Schrock deliver an address about the use of PSAs in classrooms. I was really impressed then with the idea but not really sure where the idea of PSAs would fit well with our school's curriculum.

Then at the start of second semester, my students were beginning to write their position papers using documented research to support their position. These papers are typically in introduction to teaching the students a structured writing style, how to use in-text citations, as well as creating a works cited. Teaching the students how to write the paper is probably one of the most labor intensive things we do in 9th grade, because many of our students come to us with varying degrees of writing abilities. So, to make a long story even longer, I asked my students what they knew about PSAs at the beginning of our writing unit. Many of them knew very little about them so I decided before I asked them if they wanted to create their own PSA that they should watch some PSAs.

Last year at NECC 2007, we watched PSAs created by the students at Mabry Middle School outside of Atlanta. These were remarkable pieces of work and even more surprising, they were created by students in 7th and 8th grade.

I also found a very helpful tutorial online from Art Wolinsky at Wired Safety. In it he clearly breaks down examples of PSAs as well as introduces the purpose behind PSAs. He shows PSAs that are used to inform or persuade.

After the students completed their position paper, and watched all the examples of PSAs, we talked about how they could create their own PSAs. Would they use videos or stills? Were they going to tell the PSA using humor or a serious tone? We also reviewed Read Write Think rubric analyzing if they thought the rubric would be a good reflection of their PSA or not. The students also decided that they would like to complete the project in groups choosing one topic from their position papers to create a PSA.

We spent three days outlining, creating and refining their PSAs although they were given additional time outside of classtime to complete their project. They created PSAs about animal abuse, teen driving, the war in Iraq, and others. Overall, I was happy with the results of their projects. I am anxious to see what they all have to say about each others' once I have them posted online. As usual, some are good and some seem last minute, but I am glad I gave them the opportunity to try something new showing their understanding.

War on Iraq

Animal Abuse

Driving with Distractions

Seat Belt Use

Teen Suicide