Thursday, March 11, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

Guess We are not in Kansas anymore

March may come in like a lion, but February went out like a cyclone. Last 3 days of school? Two days at ICE, learning all kinds of things and meeting people. Still digesting and will be reviewing later in a future post. Friday, we attended a really engaging performance of Comedy of Errors Short Shakespeare @ Navy Pier that totally engaged the kids. This followed by a lunch meeting discussing the modification of our exchange program for MS students. which will involve some research and investigating.Add Image

NAIS just ended, and some great thoughts are flying on the Independent Schools list serv. I have yet to read some of the online materials that have been posted from this as well as ICE. Finished DRIVE which has led me to take a look at Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, which is considerably more difficult to read but more applicable to the topic of education.

I may be a life-long learner, but I have got to learn to pace myself! Times like this I wonder if our students feel the same. I am so excited about it all and cannot get it all in. What about when you are involved in all this merely because you have to be, not because you enjoy it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Whole New Problem

I have been working with a friend to put together a technology project for our 8th grade class. My school has single gender classes and we are working on a humanities topic for the boys. We are lucky enough to live in a large city with wonderful theater. The boys will go to Steppenwolf Theater this week to view their production of A Separate Peace and will be also completing a novel study of the same book. We decided to use this opportunity to introduce the idea of contributing to wikis . They have used wikis in the past, but primarily as a web page/textbook type resource for tech class in the 6th grade.

The challenge that we wanted the boys to accomplish was to talk/write about their experience with the book, focusing primarily on critical analysis and deeper thinking. We determined to create a lit circle based concept with 3 teams of 5 boys each. Each team would distribute the 5 roles and be responsible for covering a total of 4 chapters each. Those roles are partially based on the traditional roles of Harvey Daniels and partially modified to accomplish some tech goals of visual literacy . I realized in trying to determine some of the roles that a great likelihood existed that some of the boys ( maybe most, for all I know) will go to the Internet ( Wikipedia, Bookrags, Sparksnotes and the like) for a quick and easy overview of the book,its characters, themes, and even test questions before they even open a page of the book. In their perfect world, they would be able to respond without actually reading the novel itself. They are well aware that with a little bit of their time and very little effort, it is possible to get an overview of all that content that is usually covered in writing assignments and class discussions. These possibilities present a good argument for trying to teach more contemporary books that do not have so much material available on the web to "borrow" or read in lieu of a book. However, these possibilities also provide an opportunity for the instructors to create and demand more inventive ways of being held accountable for reading material and providing interpretation.

I am looking forward to having a discussion tomorrow about how to accomplish the goals mentioned above. I am going to assign one role as a Graphic Interpreter and hold that student accountable for finding an image to capture an idea or theme from the chapter, making sure to cite the artist who created it as well as the source. I am going to use this opportunity to talk about Creative Commons and copyright protections. Instead of the role of summarizer and theme, I have decided to try to create a set of more "essential" type questions that will require using real life examples or discussions of ideas such as heroism, healthy competition, war, and lies. Each student will need to respond to the events of the chapter as one of the characters in the book who are responding to what they see they narrator do or hear him say.

I am hoping this will be an excellent adventure- or at least, an excellent exercise in trying to get the students to think for themselves.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Funding summer?

Well, every year we find out about title funds being available for one thing or the other through our relationship with CPS. The last 2 years I have travelled to the November Learning Conference in Boston. In my opinion, this is a great conference that has it right. In addition to a variety of international experts, social networking is key. What I love is that it is not so much electronic, but face to face. Lunch served in a banquet hall to tables of 8, parties in the evening, outings into town or to a concert. Real live human interaction that encourages conversations about learning more than technology,engaging versus teaching. All of it, good stuff.

This year, we are hoping to send a couple of other faculty members, but the school's push to have people get master degrees is really working against us in many ways. Many teachers are too busy with classes, papers and projects in addition to ( sometimes at the expense of) their regular classroom preparations. This same thinking extends into thinking about the summer. Either people are taking classes or burnt out from trying to teach, go to school, and for some, teach after school classes for extra income. Others have to pick up summer employment to help pay the bills, while others just want to enjoy the break.

This year, I am hoping to attend something, but just can't decide what it will be. ISTE is too big for me; I attended the San Antonio conference 2 years ago.The sea of humanity overwhelmed me. I am interested in some offerings through Pearson on literacy and 21st century skills that are being offered in Maine and North Carolina, a 1:1 conference in Memphis in July ( Am I nuts?), a Gray Stager conference in New Hampshire, or a Brain Conference in Groton Massachusetts on the campus of a boarding school. Half of these qualify for title funds, the other half would come from my professional development money. Which one to attend?

That decision awaits another day. As for tonight, going to take a listen to Steve Hargadon's interview with Dan Pink about his new book, Drive. I just finished reading it this weekend, and like A Whole New Mind, it has me thinking. That's a good thing. I am interested to hear how he applies it to education. I think the idea of learning for intrinsic purposes or for the joy of the journey is something that escapes a lot of students these days, particularly as they get more and more pressured by parents. Hope more light is shed on it all for me tonight!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let's see if I can deliver!

I am going to try to present myself with a Lenten challenge. I have always contended that it is harder to do something more than to give something up, so here is my opportunity to try. I have been trying to do MORE exercising, but that is easy to write off with " I have not time" or "I am too tired" or "I'm just too busy." Well, since I work in front of my computer most of the day, I will either have to stick to my guns on this or get far more creative with my excuses. Either way, I will need to be thinking on another track.

I am on the Independent School Network list serv which is attempting to gather educational blogger sites. I am going to take the leap and see if I can follow through. I can't imagine anyone else wanted to read what I have, but I had originally started this blog as a way to reflect on things I have learned since beginning the 2.o journey. that journey AND that learning continue.

Currently, I am only teach Grade 6, mostly about Internet Literacy. We call the class Tech, but my personal preference would be Digital Literacy. The students have spent time on validating sources, investigating sites, learning about back links, various algorithms of search engines, the wonderful tools provided by Google Search that the kids didn't even know existed, and just general ideas about being more efficient with their use of technology and how to find things.

Our present project is a follow up to our study of the features of Google search. We are engaged in an Olympic Scavenger Hunt of sorts on our Olympics wikipage . The students have recorded their answers on a Google doc that they have shared with me. After class, I make comments and corrections on their documents so we can get practice with collaboration and drafts. The students seem to be pretty engaged and are getting a feel for the idea of keywords and search shortcuts. Our next step will be to create a Voicethread on the Olympics using not just our vocal skills, but learning how to find appropriate images and give credit to the creators. In addition, we will be creating medal pictographs using Excel and also create a medal spreadsheet with Google. i suspect , however, that Google spreadsheets won't provide us with the option to insert images, but I will find that out later today!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thinking about Choices blog more frequently, BUT so much going on. I spent a good part of early summer determining whether to return to the classroom as a humanities teacher or to continue as a MS tech integrationist. When I sat down and wrote my pros and cons, as well as engaged in conversations with trusted colleagues, I have decided to continue on my "excellent adventure" with technology.

The one thing I have realized about my current job is that I have had so many more conversations and thoughts about pedagogy rather than technology , which is really what it is all about. Lately, I have found great irony in the term 21st century tools as it is something to happen in the future. Not only is the future now, but, as I heard on a Ken Burns documentary,
" Today is the future of yesterday." We are 9 years into the 21st century. Did we refer to 20th century tools? And, as educators, is it about tools or is it about LEARNING?
I have determined that, for me, the focus should be on the students , their learning, their literacies,their learning styles and their lifestyles. When we empahsize tools, teachers get nervous, especially if they are new tools that they don't understand or are not part of our day to day life. In that regard, I have to agree with Prensky's concept of "digital immigrants and digital natives." The learning process needs to be a partnership of sharing information - content ideas by the educator and technology skills/possibilities by the student. or a combination of both. In effect, education is really all about social networking. At least, that is how I have been going about mine.
Photo from

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Comic Adventure

I have been spending some time playng around with comic Life as a vehicle for the sixth grade to review or highlight one particular story of The Children's Homer. It has been rather interesting to adjust our PC thinking to a tool that was originally created for a Mac, but we are making some progress. This particular group of kids have been good sports about trying out new things, and this experience is certainly challenging. We are learning a lot through our mistakes and finding that we wish Comic Life had some features that it currently does not. The students are thinking of clever images they would like to morph to create a particular scene, but it seems a bit complicated for us right now.
So far, I am pleased with the amount of information we have managed to integrate into this study:
1. Obviously, the use of Comic Life software, but also the ability to envision a scene and think visually.
2. How to effectively search for a photo by trying a variety of descriptions.We saw the same pictures of Brad Pitt every time someone searched for Achilles, but we got a much larger variety when we search "Ancient Greek warriors."
3.Focusing on the main idea - the comic form is mostly visual and cannot be bogged down by too much text. Choosing pictures that best convey your meaning and use of minimal, but effective, verbiage is a challenge to some.
4.Learning about copyright . We created a 'photo-ography' to give credit to the creators of the images selected. We adapted the MLA format for this introductory exercise, knowing we can build on the MLA format for images later.
5. As part of our image search, the students became familiar with the sites of Flickr as well as the features of Google books.
6. Students who chose to create their own images needed to learn to operate the scanner as well as edit and save their photos. Students who wanted to use png. images also needed to use Microsoft Photo Draw to learn how to save as a .JPEG
7. Students learned the importance of extension for images as well as the importance of determining the credibility of websites using skills they had developed earlier in the year.
8. We were also able to talk about bibliographies as a whole and what plagiarism is. When we give a research project, the students need to understand we don't expect them to know all about it already. We expect them to analyze, review, and synthesize material so that it makes sense to them. They just need to state their sources.
9. Punctuation review was also a bonus as we spoke about the different types of punctuation with long and short works.
10. The students learned the value of creating a plan - figuring out your story, obtaining your images while concurrently saving bibliographic information about them, choosing the appropriate template to accommodate their photos by examining whether the layout is portrait or landscape, as well as adding the "accessories" of color and font style at the end, rather than focusing on them at the beginning.
All in all, I am happy for the experience and what we have learned from it. Due to the amount of ink used in creating the 3-4 page comics, we realize that a teacher needs to sign off on the quality of the work before printing begins. We also gave a minimum and maximum range of frames to keep the project manageable. We talked about different styles for different formats. Since Comic Life is a visual tool, you need to make it "eye-friendly' and visually interesting so that the reader is engaged by the variety of visuals and text without being overwhelmed.
I look forward to using it again in the future and hope it will create some enthusiasm among our faculty.