Oh How Times Have Changed

About nine years ago, maybe even longer ago, I joined a listserv on Eric Crump’s Interversity. The group consisted of dozens of dedicated English teachers. It was there I got my first taste of digital networking. Even at the time, I knew I was a part of something special. As far as I knew, no one around me was partaking in something like that. I soaked up the discussions rich with professionalism and innovation.

Two years into my joining, I noticed a few of them started talking about Constructivism and webfolios. I was intrigued and started soaking up everything Dawn and Ted were saying. Eventually I had my students creating webfolios and this was years before blogging and wikis. Those tools hadn’t been created yet. My school had a site license for Dreamweaver, so that’s what we used. If you’ve ever used it, you can imagine what a feat it was to use that tool in an English classroom that already has tons of content to cover.

Despite the hurdle, my students were pioneers in the art of digital creation and they were good at it. The webfolios contained their work, but it was so much more than just a place to house efforts. It was an artistic reflection of who they were.

Years have passed. Web 2.0 has arrived and now old hat. After some moving and exploration, I’m back in the classroom, but at a higher educational institution teaching written communications for the business world.

My Written Communication students this semester have demonstrated technology skills that have made them the perfect candidates to resurrect the webfolio concept, but with a twist. In the past, the webfolio was an informal creation. This time around, I wanted their creations to be professional — more like a digital portfolio they could use in the job market.

I decided to use Googlesites. Back in the day, it would take at least a week on and off in between other classroom activities to build the shells of the webfolios. I had them create google accounts (some already had one), make a site, fill out the description, change the security settings, share editing with me, build pages, change the theme, and set the footer. Even with me babbling directions, they were completely done with the shells in one hour.

I was stunned not only at their speed, but also in their ease. Sure, I answered questions, but they were rare and very easy. Back in the Dreamweaver days, I would be exhausted after an hour.

This particular class made for a great test group because almost all of them use their moble devices for more than just phone calls and they handled an earlier technology assignment with fantastic ease. I knew this would be a success, but I didn’t think it would be that easy. While I was showering them with comments, I’m sure they were thinking, “yeah, what’s the big deal?”

Oh how times have changed!

Is This a Vision of my Students Today?

Even though this video was made back in 2007, I think it still echoes our students today. I’m not saying their habits are admirable, but they are wired differently than students 20 years ago. In 2010 Ian Jukes, Lee Crockett, and Ted McCain wrote a book called Understanding the Digital Generation and they reiterated the same theme as they painted a picture of our digitally networked students. Most of our students use digital tools to network with others, but they do not necessarily use them to complete homework and learn new information (beyond Googling something, I suppose). Our students expect information to not only be instantly accessible, but also mashable, something they can customize and mix with other tools. When they enter a traditional classroom they often aren’t any more savvy than other students because the assignments do not require a transfer of those skills.

I have to add in that this vision of students today also spurs discussion of the wicked digital divide. The gap between the haves and have nots widens, even in this area. Access to technology and information means opportunities for all sorts of knowledge and experiences. Let’s face it – some of the students entering our classrooms, even if they’re just 18, have not had access to all the same gadgets as other, more affluent students. K12 schools today are left with the unrealistic burden of providing access, but with budget shortfalls and aging equipment, that reality is slipping. As a result, when students graduate and enter higher education, they aren’t coming with the same technology experiences or tools.

Lastly, I hate to make a generalized statement, but this video ignores the returning adult. Of course, the assumption could be made that the students in this video are all under 21. In our system we encounter students that are ranged between 18-66, so I don’t know that we can say this video represents a vision of OUR students. Last semester I attempted to introduce some useful collaboration tools and was met with a lot of angst because, for many of them, they have not grown up glued to social networking or cloud computing.

The reality is that this video is a vision for some students that enter the classrooms of the WTCS. If you looked at homogenous group of more affluent means, you bet. My students, not so much.

 

Will Ipads be the New 1:1?

Tonight my husband asked me if I thought Ipads would be replacing netbooks as a 1:1 solution for districts. I didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. As much as I love the Ipad, I doubt they will be an answer for the public school system.  I’ll list off a few reasons, none of which are specific to the district I work in. These are just statements in general about public schools in Wisconsin.

  • Schools have hinged themselves to textbooks to create a common curriculum district-wide.  I get that — it’s important to hang your hat on something to maintain a unified vision. Some will argue if textbooks are the answer to that need. That’s for another blog post. The issue I am presenting is that most textbook companies are now  featuring comprehensive online resources that use Adobe Flash technology. As you know, the Ipad can NOT play flash. So that means that portions of online textbook resources will not function on an Ipad.

 

  • Schools are not really to differentiate or adapt to what the Ipad has to offer. Imagine your students being able to have dozens of applications at their fingertips any time in class. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Depends on what generation you are teaching. With an Ipad in hand, today’s students will jump around from app to app multi-tasking constantly. For many teachers, that’s called “off-task” behavior and very annoying. I foresee a huge power struggle between student and teacher when the Ipad comes marching in with the power resting in the hands of the student. Teachers have to realize that in some cases they are not the only one with access to knowledge, but rather they are the educated guide on the side. The Ipad will not only enhance this Constructivist teaching style, but it will practically demand it from a teacher. If they are not willing to adapt there will be daily arguments over the use of the Ipad in school.

 

  • Schools still love paper, paper, and more paper. Because most schools are PC, printing from a non-networked Apple device requires research that many schools have yet to explore. Last year I traded in my PC for a Macbook and then I realized, “Oh…now I can’t access the network or print.” Because I was just the third staff member to ask for a Mac, printing from the machine had not been explored yet and because I would always be in the minority, finding a solution was not on the horizon. This turn of events made me realize that I really did not need network access. I adapted to reading words on the screen by increasing the font size. As far as saving to the network, I became a fan of Google Docs which completely liberated me. Even with a new job change, I still quit relying on my personal network drive and I only print when I absolutely have to. After having been in two districts now with both not being ready to network Mac devices, I suspect that there are more out there. If PC schools suddenly fly into the Ipad phenomenon, are they ready to accept the fact that printing and network access may be further into the horizon than they think? I bet not.

My overall message is this — 1:1 in a school shouldn’t mean one of the same device per student. Perhaps it should be a blend of available tools. There should be some fine print after the term “1:1” that reads, “by this we mean 1 tool per student that rotates within any given hour.” That does not sound very catchy. I’ll have to work on that.

I would love to outfit a classroom with this — 6 laptops (2 of which are Macbooks), 6 Ipads, and an Ipevo Document Camera. Sure, toss in a Smartboard…seems like everyone has them now a’days (insert sarcasm here).  Now THAT would be sweet. That would be WAY more effective than the traditional 1:1 vision schools are trying to achieve.

I love the Ipad. I use mine every darn day, but I also see reasons why public schools are not ready to dump 20 of them in each classroom. There are all sorts of hurdles that we are not ready to jump.

 

 

Thoughts After Reading “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”

by Collins and Halverson (2009)

I finished this book awhile back and have been meaning to write about what it has to offer a reader. I really like what Collins and Halverson had to say. I already agreed with their points, so this was an easy read for me. Collins and Halverson present two sides of the story — the enthusiast’s and the skeptic’s side. Both of which are very apparent in any school today. They also explain the evolution of education through the eras and how those changes have impacted reform.

Collins and Halverson point out that our students will need two unique skills — the skill of being able to be a successful life-long learner and expertise with informational technologies. Students need to be willing to persue further education, some times on the fly, and then be able to learn additional technologies. I find it interesting that I used the term “students”, but really everyone needs to be able to do this. We are at that point where every adult and young adult needs to have these habits and skills. We need to be constantly learning new information and skills, but it’s not enough to just learn facts. We need to synthesize our learning either that be in the form of writing, video, audio, building, et cetera.

As I’ve gotten older, I have often thought about diversifying myself as a teacher and leader often asking myself, “What else can I learn?” For me, though, it’s a passion. It’s fun. Lucky for me, I’ve directed myself to a career that I find fun. This means that learning is more like a game than actual work. Currently, I’m experiencing a hurdle that is putting my beliefs to the test. I was hired as a Technology Coordinator back in November, and while the majority of the position is my dream, there are aspects that make me very uneasy because I am not well versed in areas related to network and server maintenance. Granted, I wasn’t hired to do that, but it would certainly be to my advantage to learn as much as I can. In this particular case the learning curve is wicked, but because I have that drive to learn, I am sure I will get to where I want to be. Despite my age (I’m not a “digital native”), I still have a drive for learning new technologies and solving problems. I think this is a quality our kids have and we need to support them. Flexible learning is important for anyone today — we do not all learn in the same way nor should we all learn the same things. Whether we like it or not, technology can help us work our way through this era.

As society has swallowed this reality, we have put more computers in the classroom or tossed in a technology course here and there. Sure, those are probably good additions, but are schools and teachers really changing the way they think about learning? Collins and Halverson would suggest that the change is slow. If we were to let students determine their own mediums for learning that would mean we would have to give up some of the control and trust that students will make the right choice. Guess what folks? For the past several decades we’ve been making the choices for our kids and it hasn’t always been right either. There can certainly be a melding of student choice and adult guidance that will help our students enjoy learning and explore new skills and concepts.

Collins and Halverson would also suggest that we need to focus more on skill based learning than fact based learning (15). Many of our occupations today require a solid education, but also the need for “just-in-time” learning that comes with the ability to ask good questions, conduct wise research, and think through problems. Guiding students through this process will empower them to take control of their own learning — now this is the type of learning that transcends disciplines. I think of a teacher I was working with this week that had her students creating videos demonstrating propaganda techniques. My role was to offer assistance when asked. What was interesting and yet not surprising at all, was the students just tinkered through the tool I handed to them — Jaycut. They had never used it before, but they already had enough background knowledge to know what to do with it. A few made mistakes or the program hiccuped thus locking up their browser, but the students had the perseverance to keep working towards the finish line. I only coached a group here and there for no more than three minutes. The teacher and I were clearly the guides on the side and that’s the way it should be.

Collins and Halverson point out both sides of Technology Integration — the enthusiasts and the skeptics. Even though I side with the enthusiasts, I do see some of the points a skeptic might observe as Collins and Halverson point out. For example, if we allow students to determine the path of their own learning and focus on skills, it could be a reasonable assumption that students might not perform well on standarized testing (45). While this could be true, I am a bit disheartened that schools have put so much stake in standardized testing. That is a whole different blog post, I suppose.

Collins and Halverson will leave you with many ideas for change. I’ll list just a few below:

  • “Simply inserting technology into classrooms and schools without considering how the contexts for learning need to change will likely fail” (140). I couldn’t agree more. While I do think it is important to share new tools, the ultimate goal is to change the way we think about learning.
  • “We need to think about how to integrate nonschool resources into learning environments” (140). Schools need to open their doors to all sorts of resources for educational use. Our tools no longer need to come from a textbook company or cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • “Learning [plans] might involve taking online courses, going to a learning centerfor specialized training, getting a technical certification in some area, joining an apprenticeship program, or learning from a computer-based tutorials to enhance particular skills” (142). The point that the authors are making here is that students should be able to create a plan for self discovery that includes a variety of learning avenues. I think back to my high school days — we all sat in the same classroom and we all received the same information. Rarely was education customized. Those days should be in the past.

Overall, the book is worth the $15 dollars. Put it in the hands of a teacher and hope it sparks change. I would love to engage in conversation with anyone that read the book.

Ian Jukes’ Presentation Notes: The 21st Century Learner Today

Ian Jukes’ Presentation
ISTE 2010, Denver, Co.

In an effort to help myself process and remember more for a presentation, I wanted to take notes of this presentation. I was surprised at my ability to keep up. Hopefully I don’t have huge gaps in my notes, but I think I did an acceptable job. As I look back at these notes, I’m reminded of Ian’s message. Ah, another benefit of blogging. Anything in italicized would be my thoughts. Everything else would be notes I took while listening to his presentation. Of course, this doesn’t replace listening to him in person. It’s more for my benefit. Hopefully the italicized commentary isn’t too annoying.

Today, Ian Jukes is talking about how our brains are wired differently than the brains of our students. Understanding this will better help us as teachers understand why our kids can’t learn how we were taught. Even in the past ten years I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen a huge change in my students. I feel unprepared most of the time. Hopefully Jukes will help me out.

Students today don’t even read the way we learned. They read/skim the bottom, then the edges. It’s called the F pattern. Researchers tracked the eye movement of students reading. Digital readers read in an F mattern. They ignore the right bottom side. This is to be compared to how we surf the internet.

What does this hold for us?

We need to design pages/reading material that adapts to them.

So when I design my moodle pages or blogging prompts I need to keep this in mind. If I end up creating a worksheet, this is also food for thought. As an English teacher I’m still left with the question, “Well then how in the heck do I help them read a book?” Last time I checked, books aren’t written in the F pattern.

Students come to school and hit a wall. They’re slowed down here, at school. Their brains shut down.

I consider myself a wired person. I am unusual for my age, but not as wired as my students by any means. I know this — I would fall asleep if I had to attend the same classes my students do. I’m honestly not ripping on my co-workers or myself; it’s just that when I don’t multi-task or keep moving, I get tired. My brain goes into a lull…and I zone out. Frequent change and engagement is my key for overcoming this.

The world has changed. We need to get over it.

  1. Digital learners prefer receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources. Many educators prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources.
  2. Digital learners prefer parallel processing and multi-tasking. Many educators prefer linear processing and single or limited processing. We need to help our students learn to focus for extended period of time, yet we need to allow for multi-tasking. We can’t deny that reality. Many educators continue to run their classroom as if it were a single linear processing room.
  3. Digital learners prefer processing pics , sounds, color, and video before text. Many educators prefer to provide text before pics, sound, color, and video. If we present material w/images, we retain 90% of  the thousands of images 72 hours later. If we only used oral, we’d remember 10% of the material. If images are added, 65% of the material is remembered. Students need images and video to communicate the messages intended.
  4. Digital learners prefer random access to hyper linked multimedia info. Many educators prefer to provide info linearly, logically, and sequentially. That’s what we experienced growing up. This generation has extensive experience using hypertext. Students that are forced to follow a linear pattern of learning will probably become bored. I wonder if this is when bad behavior occurs. Students today are learning to construct their learning. Both sets of skills are important!
  5. Digital learners prefer to network simultaneously. Many educators prefer students to work independently before they network and interact. Look at all the web 2.0 tools out there now today. I look at my daughter – web 2.0 has been around since she’s been born. She will grow up having that type of technology. She will live in a hyper-existance. She will be able to use multiple tools seamlessly.
  6. Digital learners prefer to learn “just in time”. Many educators prefer to teach “just in case.” Today students need to prepare for multiple jobs. Keeping the same job is unlikely. Companies aren’t loyal. Students need to learn to be flexible. Our students will have 10-17 careers by the time they’re 35 years old. Ugh! Many of the jobs my daughter might explore as an adult, haven’t been invented yet. How should her school prepare her for that?! We often lecture students that they better learn this “just in case” you need it. It’s not that type of learning is bad, but our students often want to learn something just in time, right when they need it. Just in time learning is a completely different learn set. Major question – whose world are we preparing them for? NOT ours.
  7. Dig learners not only prefer, but are look for instant gratification and instant rewards. Many educators learn deferred gratification and delayed rewards. Social networking, games, cell phones, etc will allow them instant feedback and rewards. The payoff is very clear. Yet when we teach we tell students that the pay off is years down the road and not entirely guaranteed.

There are several fluencies Jukes feels we need to address with our students. These are notes written for myself. For more information on the 21st Century Fluencies click here.

Solution Fluency

  1. Define the task.
  2. Discover. Turn your attention to the past and ask yourself how we got into this mess. What is the historical context. Could I do that differently again now?
  3. Dream. We begin to imagine a creative solution.
  4. Design. We create a roadmap for our project.
  5. Deliver. We take that information and share it with others or create a type of product for others. It’s not enough to design the presentation. We have to give it.
  6. Debrief. We need to go back and think about the product. How could we have made this process/product better

This can give a teacher a road map for designing problem based lessons. Often, I have found myself wanting to spoon feed students answers or set the project up so students are promised an easy ride or sure success. By accepting the possibilities of a problem based lesson, I will be able to really enjoy watching students go through a process.

This should be a structured process we teach students. It should be hanging up in the classroom and taught specifically as a skill to solve their own problems.

Information Fluency

With in 1 minute, there are 24 hours of Youtube videos uploaded. Ugh.

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Access and acquire, even if it’s the wrong information.
  3. Analyze and Authenticate. Students need to take that information and decide if it’s legit and useful
  4. Apply
  5. Assess

Many of today’s students seem to skip step #3. I’ve had so many students say, “Well, I googled it.”

Creative Fluency – Basically this means that students need to construct meaning through design, art and storytelling. This allows students to use their imagination. Daniel Pink has talked about the need for creativity in today’s economy.

When I was a kid, I excelled in this area. In English class I loved writing stories. In history I loved inventing names of people that lived during a time period or drawing a scene from some era. In math though I struggled. To me, nothing was inventive and there was only one right answer. I was so bored and depressed when I couldn’t reach the answer the same as my classmates. Instead I’d retreat into my own world and doodle in the margins. In my 30’s, I still feel the same way about math.

Media Fluency

  1. As we watch media, we need to be able to decode a message and judge how well they’re saying it
  2. We also need to determine what the best media vehicle would be to deliver a message
  3. We need to help students use their digital tools

This is humorous because students today are able to use their digital tools better than many of their teachers. I guess we need to help them use their tools to understand the world.

Collaboration Fluency

  1. Students need to work together on projects. Even consider mixing groups not in the same class. With today’s tools we do not have do collaborative grouping within the same hours.

The kids are asking the why. The teachers don’t give good reasons. It’s not that these kids are ADHD. They are “OTHER” abled. Many educators just don’t get it. They’re not willing to acknolwedge that the world has changed. The digital generation has just rocked our world. We have made buildings for a student that isn’t walking through the door.

Woah. Those are powerful statements. I’ve been there myself as a teacher. Here are statements I’ve said: “I just don’t understand why Billy can’t do the assignments. It’s not like it’s a lot of work. Doesn’t getting the assignment done count for anything? Doesn’t it show a great work ethic?” Sure, I suppose it demonstrates an ability to conform. Maybe I should be weighting grades with a category devoted to “conformity.” The problem is that Billy doesn’t care about any of that. The world moves a whole lot faster than that and he needs to see the relationship between reading “Julius Caesar” and being an auto mechanic in two years. I suppose the problem is in making Billy read Caesar… ?

There is a place for traditional learning. We can’t deny the reality that traditional learning is probably in the minority now. If we want to actually engage students, we need to respect their world. We need to have a balance.

And this concludes the last of my notes from Jukes’ presentation. I left out oodles of information, but as I go back and read my notes I feel inspired to learn more. Now that I’m entering into a new teaching position this fall, I’m excited to see how I can implement true change. I will have a lot of questions to ask.

Read more http://www.committedsardine.com/.

Using Glogster with my Students

My Glogster Experience

Do you still have kids use tagboard for assignments? Blech! That’s so 2008. Glogster is a great tool for poster creation. Glogster allows the user to take a large space (on the web) and add in photos, graphics, text, video, and sound. Hm…I’m pretty sure none of us ever squeezed a video into our rolled up tag board project. Glogster can. 🙂

With the start of this new semester I wanted students to do something self-expressive using Glogster. I decided to let students create a free-style glog with a few requirements (3 images, 3 frames, 2 graphics, 1 title, 1 textbox, and a unique wall background). The purpose was to demonstrate what was important to them by using a new tool. This leads into helping them think of writing topics for our next assignment, non-fiction writing.

What I found interesting about this assignment is just easy it was to implement. I described the requirements and showed them an example I made myself. I think making an example is essential because it will point out the difficulties that the students might encounter. I walked around the room a lot the first two days and we always had something else to do just in case they became burned out. The first day the kids flew into the task designing their backgrounds and grabbing the cameras. I required the images to be copyright free, so they knew it would be easier to just take their own rather than search for freebies.

Another pleasant surprise was that I rarely had to teach them how to download the digital images. They grabbed a transfer cord and downloaded the images with little hassle. Once in awhile a kid would look for the images in the wrong location, but that was about it.

Take a look at this Glog. It was made by a quiet, hard-working student. Doesn’t this look better than tagboard? Do I learn anything about her? Absolutely. I’m very happy with her effort and I think she learned something — that’s what’s important (Here’s her blog if you want to leave her a comment). Below you’ll find Ryan’s Glog. I picked his because English isn’t his thing, but he doesn’t mind the work and is getting an A. He is able to express himself using technology. His blog is here. Be sure to click on Ryan’s images to see what they do.

Once they finished their Glogs, I had them embed their work into a blog post. Actually, THAT was the most difficult, but even then it was never stressful. If you don’t blog, you have other options. A coworker made a teacher account and had her kids as part of her Glog network. You could also have the kids email you their glog. Looking back, those ways would have been easier, but I wanted my kids to continue practicing code embedding as one more skill.

Cautions:

  1. If you have kids look at other blogs first, just understand that some people use Glogster as their blog/personal social networking site. A few of my boys enjoyed looking at personal glogs a little too much. Nothing was inappropriate, but it can be distracting if you open the door too much. You might be better served to show them educational glogs.
  2. They need to make an account BEFORE they start working. It seemed like my kids lost their work without an account.
  3. When listing off requirements use Glogster terminology. For example, I told the kids they needed 3 pieces of clip art, but Glogster calls that “graphics.” Match up terms to avoid confusion.
  4. Teach kids how to save. It’s not a one step process. SEVERAL kids haphazardly exited out of Glogster without saving their work.
  5. I don’t believe Glogster spell checks.
  6. Firefox worked better for us (versus IE).

If you’re tired of using tagboard for assignments, Glogster is your answer. You will be happy. Your kids will be happy too. I enjoyed the process.

Ways to Engage the Distracted Student

 
Eric Jensens Teaching With the Brain in Mind
Eric Jensen's "Teaching with the Brain in Mind"

As I am reading Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind, I am thinking about ways to engage the distracted student. Doesn’t it seem like some days we have at least six hours of distracted students? I am not surprised. There is a lot of competition these days. For those of you thinking about mixing your teaching style up a bit, here are some things to try.

Provide student choice in the medium in which an assignment is produced. There are so many great web 2.0 technologies out there. Why force your students to just write a report? What are you assessing? Their ability to demonstrate understanding? to write? to speak? Think about what it is you really want to know. If the report isn’t the only vehicle, open up the lot for test drives. Most likely they will produce a better end. In the past I have given students about 100 choices in which they had to demonstrate to me they understood the material they were led through. Some are overwhelmed by the freedom. Some love the creative zeal they get to add.

Allow for collaboration. I do not have students collaborate all the time. Some times it is just for brainstorming exercises. When I do a research project in the spring, I allow for collaboration, but I set up the groups so only 2 people per hour are in the same group. Their partners are in other hours. Using Googledocs I am able to have students still work together even if they never meet face to face. The tool works well and the kids find the method interesting.

Continue tying assignments to their lives. If you’re reading a book, let them figure out how they can connect. If they’re writing, choose prompts that can be tied to them. Student blogging can help with this because the learner gets a great deal of control over their writing and design.

Get them up moving. Now this isn’t something an English teacher like myself usually does. I have always had this vision of playing grammar kickball, but I always chicken out in fear of an accident. What a lame excuse! After coaching freshman softball for two weeks, I learned that I needed to have stations set up to practice basic skills. I would create 5 stations and rotate the team around them. They stayed engaged and a great deal of work was done. Feeling good about my planning, I started applying what I learned from coaching to the classroom once a quarter. Spend a Friday setting up stations, say four. Maybe the first station can be a short reading. The second station could be a video on a laptop or ipod. The third can be up at the SMART Board utilizing the Notebook software. The fourth could be doing a video response using a Flip Camera. My student teacher used stations twice this quarter and the kids really enjoyed it. 

Bring in speakers. You do not have to make arrangements for Maya Angelou; just think about your own community. Here are some ideas:  A. For example, we are writing personal narratives at the sophomore level. So I am making arrangements to bring in a local writer to talk to the kids about capturing accurate memories when the event happened long ago. B. My senior speech class is taking a field trip to our local news station to talk about stage fright, articulation, and preparation techniques with their reporters. The station is happy to have the students visit and the only cost is our bus time. C. I think I’m going to have my upperclassmen read Dracula, but I don’t feel knowledgable about the book just quiet yet. Another teacher and I will be switching students one morning because she knows a lot more about Dracula than I do. I think they’d get a kick out of having an expert introduce the novel the first day.  I don’t mind admitting that someone knows more than I do. Embrace it and enjoy mixing up the day! D. A few years ago we read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and after my initial planning I felt totally incapable of talking about sexual assault. I knew I could talk about it to some degree, but I felt I needed someone more helpful so I asked our guidance counselor to call the Appleton Sexual Assault Crisis Centerand Helen Kobussen has come to my classroom for three years now.

Walk around the room. I intentionally set up my room to not have one “front” to the room. I have my SMART Board on one side, my dry erase board is on the opposite wall, and I’ll often start class at a 3rd wall. Before the end of the hour, I do try to be sure I have instructed from all three sides.

Break the hour into three chunks. When I plan I try to have at least three different activites different in nature, unless the task at hand requires most of the hour. I will often start out with a reading, then move to the lab for blogging, and end the hour in the lab still, but perhaps playing grammar games online.

Give frequent reminders. You would think that just telling them about tomorrow’s quiz twice would suffice, but that just isn’t the case. If there is something coming up that is important I write it on the calendar in Moodle, on the dry erase board, and I will verbalize it at least 4 times.

My Reflections After Reading Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth”

When I get the itch to buy a new book, I often stop by a Goodwill to see what’s on their shelves. This winter I happen to swing by the GW in Green Bay, only to find The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn on the shelf. I haven’t read any of his work since college, but recall liking his ideas so I scooped it up. I was following him on Twitter too and liked what he was tweeting.

For 4 bucks I picked the book up and found myself soaking up his every word.

First, assigning homework doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement in grades. The two don’t go hand in hand. There are other factors to consider and studies do not show that increasing homework will increase grades. Actually Kohn notes that there is research to show that “several studies have actually found a negative relationship between students’ achievement and how much time they spend on home work” (29). I would agree with this even if I had not read the book. Piling loads of homework usually leaves a distast in anyone’s mouth and will result in a severe resentment of “learning.”

And I don’t know that homework equates with learning. Sometimes the mind shuts down when skill and drill is being shoved down a person’s throat. I think back to my math classes that layered on the homework. I would sit at the table frustrated and alone. On a good day I might have gotten the evens done by looking at the answers for the odds in the back of the book, but I hadn’t really learned the material. That showed when I took the test. I remembered wishing I had an example problem to coach me through.

I think what bothers me most is what’s to come for my daughter. She’s 4 1/2 and about to enter kindergarten. Kohn’s book suggests that Jenna will be loaded with a great deal of homework in her elementary years. Right now she’s a young lady that soaks up everything she’s taught. I wonder how long it will take before the loads of paperwork will bog her spirit down at night.

If you’d like to read more, I recommend going clicking here.

Teaching With the Brain in Mind: A Great Reason to Keep Learning!

In short moments of free time, I am reading Eric Jensen’s Teaching With the Brain in Mind. Today I am encouraged to keep learning, to strengthen my brain for future experiences.

On page 13 Jensen discusses how the brain becomes more efficient as it’s exposed to new stimuli. The first time may prove difficult, but as the process is repeated, the brain rewires itself. Jensen says, “This input is converted to nervous impulses. They travel to extraction and sorting stations like the thalamus, located in the middle of the brain…The cell body sends an electrical discharge outward [and] stimulates the release of those stored chemicals.” In a nutshell, Jensen explains that our brain actually uses a chemical process to teach itself to become more efficient.

I think about this with my students and children. My daughter, at four 1/2 years old, is being exposed to more than I was at an earlier age. She can spell lots of words and understands many concepts at least a year before I probably did. She’s being exposed to more and is probably going to be smarter than I am when she is my age.

This also helps me realize the importance of exposing my students to new forms of writing, reading, and speaking (I’m an English teacher). Maybe I could include fine art with journal prompts. Perhaps I should expose them to Jazz music to try on their ipod sometime. I should consider a credo of a new written or spoken exposure once a week — something they would never have seen or heard somewhere else.

I am already good at this with regards to technology. I think I try to have them use something unique once a month or better. At first it was a challenge, but as time progressed the students have learned to multi-task, navagate, and be self reliant more than ever.

Blog Action Day 2009

Blogging Action Day 2009 has drawn to a close and I’m tired.

I’m so sad…I accidentally deleted the post I wrote yesterday. That’s the disadvantage of having my tweets sent to my blog. My blog was overloaded with tweets and I decided to get delete happy.

Blog action day was interesting. The started blogging with their first post about climate change. I did peek at some of the posts already and they’re what I expected. Those that did decent research had a good grasp of what to write about. I ask a lot of them really — they have to multi-task and look for directions in multiple places, some of which I didn’t design. It’s hard to look at websites for instruction when the authors aren’t always the same.

The students that were digging deep often found themselves going back to look for more information. It was nice to see students get beyond the plight of the polar bear and think about how this issue applies to them. For some, I think they still have a lot of learning ahead of them, but at least today they hopefully learned something new if they tried. If I could do it over, I’d have an assignment asking them to search for something they didn’t know before. I’m not sure they really learned a lot of new information.

I’m finding that I’m still struggling to get them to reach new interests and get beyond the surface. Even when I do use Web 2.0, multi-tasking, and a higher level of thinking, I still can’t get 100% to complete the tasks. I don’t know the percentage, but I was hoping for everyone to get into this. They might not love it, but I was trying to adapt to their learning style. I guess one problem to consider is that the reading level of the sites I use might not be appropriate for my students. Sometimes the problem is excessive distraction in the room.

Even though not everyone is up for these challenges, I’m continously surprised by the level of engagement I do see. The technological skills of this age group are pretty amazing. In the past two days these kids have created blog posts, hyperlinks, cartoons, online quizzes, and  online polls. I gave no whole group direction instruction. They had to do this all themselves. All of their work had to be linked or embedded in their blogs. Seems pretty cool to me.

If I could do it over again, I would probably reduce the number of challenges (tasks) and focus more on the research part. I was hoping to count this for the research unit, but I can’t since the students just didn’t get into the task deep enough. That’s okay. Maybe the research unit will be a breeze after this. I think next time I’d set up a culminating activity. Now that the kids have blogged I’m left thinking, “Okay they blogged. Whoop-dee-do. Now what?” I haven’t processed all their ideas. The ending question has to be “What can I do about climate change?” and right now I don’t know that they have an answer yet.