Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brave New World Montage Podcasts

Last year, Lauren and I were talking about doing something different with chapter 3 of Brave New World in order to help the kids understand the effect of what Huxley was satirizing. I explained to her a montage assignment I had learned from Cheryl and Marlys. Lauren, of course, developed the assignment into a fabulous creative piece and I added a wee bit of technology. We even created a sample for our students to listen to in order to get them thinking. (Teacher Sample Montage)
Last year, I didn't quite follow Lauren's detailed directions, but simply had the students create a montage of various quotes from the chapter. However, this year I asked them to trace one theme Huxley could be trying to warn us of (price of progress, sex, loss of family, loss of individuality, consumerism, etc...). After they selected the quotes from the chapter, they were to create a script of their montage, and then finally record it using different voices for the various characters.

Here are some sample scripts: (more will come as they turn them in)


Here are the completed montages:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Venting to meeting my goals

I am in a funk. I know I have done a lot this year with implementing constructivist philosophy in my classrooms, trying to more seamlessly integrate technology into my students’ learning, and growing as a learner myself. However, with that all said, I am in a funk.

How did I get here? I guess, sadly, I am depressed about my students’ achievement and focus in class. With my ninth graders, all throughout our unit on Lord of the Flies and William Golding, I asked the students to teach one another the vocabulary words, as well as annotate their own LOF text to show their understanding of the novel. Now some kids did a fabulous job on teaching one another. Others, as usual, had their partner do all the work – as if I wouldn’t notice. As far as the annotations, some made great connections, elaborated on points, and really spent some serious time putting together their thoughts. Others, once again, did nothing or minimal work. I just am feeling like a failure with these kids. No matter the assignment or what I feel like is an engaging activity, if the work isn’t done in class and only in class, they won’t do it.

I have always enjoyed teaching ninth graders, but I feel more and more that my passion for them is dying by what I see is apathy towards succeeding. They, and I am not talking about all of them, just don’t care. (the teacher in me is thinking that maybe I need to rethink my assignments- maybe I feel that they are engaging and purposeful but that the kids don’t) I am really questioning too, whether ninth graders can handle constructivism. I know I provide more structure than I do with my other classes, but what is the problem. There are those of you out there saying, “Ask them!” and I do. What is their response? I am just lazy, or I forgot, or some other excuse.

With my seniors, there seems to be a different, but yet, eerily similar story (this sounds like a thesis statement). I have seen some of my brightest students turn into kids who only paraphrase what others say trying to get credit, as well as kids who just won’t read. Once again, it’s not like I don’t know what is going on. But, how do I turn this around?

How do I get all of my students to see the value in doing a good job, the value of learning? Am I too hard on them? Do I expect too much from them? Should I quit trying to change the world?....

On a more positive note, Karl set up a series of goals for me at the beginning of the school year. One would think the goal of changing the world would be enough, but of course Karl always thinks we can do more. I know we can. So, the original purpose of this post was to let everyone know how I am doing on those goals and where I want to go from here:

Goal 1: Help students create a personal learning network:

In my ninth grade classes, we have created their own PLN. We read and respond to what we are reading twice a week with presentations on the reading every Friday. I have really enjoyed hearing what the kids are reading about. It has even opened my eyes to some of the things they care so much about. With that said, here is one of the assignments where they get to pick what they want to read about, and still, they don’t always do a good job on their reactions or complete the assignment.

Goal 2: Turn over one unit to your students:

Maura and I did this with 1984. We provided them with some planning guidance but the rest was all on them. I walk away from some classes incredibly impressed with the scenarios they set-up as well as walking away from others with a sense of “hmm, I wish there was more.” I also did this with Brave New World and my seniors. Similar to 1984, I gave them a calendar to outline the dates of BNW, but they decided what they wanted to do with BNW.

Goal 3: Have one global collaboration project each semester:

First semester I did not get this goal accomplished, but I feel like second semester with all the work we did with AWNM we did an extremely good job with this goal. I am so thankful for this opportunity to have worked with Karl’s learned network, Maura, Karl and my students. They all made this an incredible opportunity and challenge. I can’t wait for next year!

Goal 4: explore the various Google Applications:

This was a goal I had set for myself after last year. I wanted to have myself and my students become more adept at using these great collaborative tools. We have used Google Reader with our PLNs, used Google Earth with our ninth grade Personal Odyssey Projects, used Google Earth with the National Geographic Projects, used Google Docs to collaborate on group work, and used other tools such as PowerPoint, Word, VoiceThread, MovieMaker, Photostory, Audacity, and I am sure there are others I am forgetting. I definitely think my students are walking away with a toolbox of options to use.

Goal 5: reflective blog at least once a week:

So yeah, oops. This is one area I really have a difficult time completing. I don’t know what it is but it seems with all the other things I have going on, this is usually placed on the back burner of my life. I find the value in it, love the feedback, and like the chance to vent but struggle to make the time for it. This will always be a goal I will work towards.

Goal 6: Change the World:

Umm, yea, I am working on that.

Where to go from here:

  1. Last year I felt I did a much better job communicating with parents about what the kids were doing, sending emails, informing them of projects, etc. I have definitely slacked off on that area and want to do better on that next year.
  2. I need to do a better job with debriefing with my students. I feel like there are days or years I do a really good job of this, and then at other times, I get too caught up on curriculum or getting through activities and what is planned for the day – to be honest, I need to let go of not getting everything done that I have planned for class that day.
  3. With my fishbowl leaders, I want them to do a better job planning their discussions together. At times, they all just showed up. I really need to reinforce why this is important as well as model this for them.
  4. I want to add to my senior projects about “heroes” a community service aspect. I want them to practice what they are preaching.
  5. Keep building on what has worked well this year.
  6. I know next year is going to be a difficult year for me: graduate school, balancing family with my job, being a good mom, good fiancée, and taking time for myself and friends. I just want to do it all- is that so wrong?!
  7. Change the world.

1984: Kids Teaching Kids

During our reading and study of George Orwell’s 1984, Maura and I challenged our students with teaching one another the novel rather than us leading the class. We provided a calendar for them of the dates they could lead as well as a few simple requirements that they would be assessed by:

Syllabus: they needed to turn in a syllabus/ lesson plan of how they planned to lead the class with a clear outline, the assigned home work , as well as post their plans for the class to see.
Quiz: the teaching students were to create a quiz for their peers. The quiz could take any format. The teachers for that day graded the quizzes they had created.
Discussion: the teaching students determined the activity for the class period. We talked previously about making sure the teaching activities weren’t repetitive of another groups and was a meaningful activity.
Blog question: the teaching students were to post a blog question after class to either continue the conversation or extend the conversation on topics discussed in class. The teaching students assessed the blog responses.

Letting go of the control of what is going to happen on their teaching days in class is always an interesting feeling. Some days I walk away thinking, these kids are built to be teachers- they are so creative. We have had simulation activities where we are Winston or Julia and the leading group is Big Brother. There have been activities where we are split into discussion groups and asked to only answer the questions thinking of ourselves as Julia, Winston, Big Brother, or O’Brien. We have created posters, had small group discussions, and so much more. Then there are other days where I feel like this is simply a chance for them to play games in class (insert Daniel Pink-“When you are playful, you are activating the right side of your brain.”). I don’t mind the games, but what I seem to want is more from them on those days. A game is purposeful if it pushes their thinking, if it makes them question, collaborate and analyze, but too many of their games seem to be just that. (the kid in me is saying, “Why is it bad to have a little of both?”). I guess what I am getting at is not only the game playing but something Maura and I have been noticing about their teaching days.

Let me digress…All through our study of Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, the kids talked incessantly about the need to change educations so that weren’t asked to simply memorize and regurgitate information. They wanted to be in charge of their learning so that they could make deep connections. So, what has really surprised both Maura and myself is that the quizzes that the kids are creating and the game/ activities that they kids are implementing are simply asking the kids to regurgitate information. This is what they told us time and again they disliked about education and learning, but then when they are given the chance to change education, to be in charge of their own learning as well as their peers, they fall back to multiple choice quizzes. I just don’t get it.

On a positive note, I have seen some incredible teaching. I have seen kids create discussions and be leaders in the class. The kids in turn have seen how difficult it is to create a valid assessment.

I am going to ask them to reflect on this post as well as the experience itself:
I want to know what they got out of this learning experience versus me teaching them.
I want to know about their assessments (quizzes) and see why they chose to go the route of regurgitation.
I want to know about the collaboration in the groups to put together their teaching day. Was it difficult to get together? Did you have enough planning time? How did you do your planning?
I want to know what suggestions they would have for doing this again.

As with everything, it is always a learning experience and I wouldn’t trade teaching these kids for anything. They are becoming professional learners and leaders. I am so proud of them.