Friday, September 26, 2008

A bit of frustration (*rant*)

Had to give a district assessment today. I do understand and appreciate the need for frequent data collection in order to best work with our students, but our students are assessed a good 8-10 times in a school year, not including the informal and formative assessments that take place on a regular basis in my classroom. That's at least one major district or state level assessment per month, which doesn't sound that bad until you realize that this occurs in each and every core class they take, so in reality, the students are formally assessed by the district and/or state approximately 36-40 times in a year. No wonder our students burn out so quickly and get so frustrated with school. One student told me he hates them because they take time away from his time to learn things. A valid point, I think.

I am not opposed to assessment itself. I am opposed to over-assessment. There has got to be a better way than this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Education in the 21st century, pt. 2

I just posted part two in my series on education in the 21st century to the Elephant Journal website. In case you missed it, here is part one, and there is more to come. Feel free to link to it and pass it along!

"Mr., what's the definition of truth?": Adventures in Epistemology

I think I've mentioned before that I'm teaching an cross-cultural studies/epistemology class this year. It's a junior/senior level class, and I've been borrowing from the IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) curriculum for supplemental material for the class. This week's blog question asked the students to address whether or not truth is culturally based or if there are some truths that are universal. One of the students read the question, then looked at me and said, "What is the definition of truth?" And so began the class. At first, he stated that he was interested in the literal definition, but then found that the literal definition wasn't helpful and didn't give him the information he was really looking for, and so as a class, we began to discuss the philosophical side of the question. It was an amazing class period: the conversation ranged from culture to politics to semantics to science to religion and so forth. By the end of the class, we still hadn't answered the question, but one student acknowledged that she knew I wasn't going to answer the question, that the whole point of the class was to get them to ask the question and to think about it rather than answer it.

The student that asked the question was a student that I've had for the past two years and was in my IB-influenced class, so I wasn't surprised by the question, but very pleased to see that the seeds I had been planting for two years were beginning to bear fruit. It speaks well of the MYP program and speaks to the importance and urgency of implementing it here if our DP students are to be successful. I am fairly convinced that the encouragement to think differently in his freshman and sophomore years led him to begin the questioning that led him to asking that question in class today. He got bonus points from me for asking it, with the hope that he will ask more, and that other students will pick up on it and begin asking similar questions as well.

This is the realm where I function best, really. While I acknowledge that I do well working with freshmen and sophomores, I also flourish when placed into an environment where I can explore the "deeper" and less "traditional" questions in a class. I guess that's why in the long run, I definitely plan to apply to be in the IB Academy at the new school (this isn't exactly a state secret- I've been saying that since we found out about the Academies), for both MYP and IB TOK.

More importantly, however, it shows that providing a continuum of IB style teaching and learning definitely sets a student up for success within IB. I'm really excited about the implications for IB within the district, especially since the ultimate goal is a K-12 IB program. IB is an amazing program, and we have amazing students, so we're perfect match! :-)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week of tech reflections

(Cross posted on the Global Learners blog.)

Happy International Day of Peace, everyone! I read an article in the paper reporting on how various factions that have been involved in armed conflict have agreed to not fight at all out of respect for the day, which begs the question, if they can do it for one day, why can't they do it permanently?? *sigh*

We had the laptops in my classroom for the entire week, which should have been great, right? Yeah, well.... *ahem*.

The biggest frustration was students who couldn't remember their passwords for their blogs and/or their school email accounts (even more so the ones who'd forgotten them from the day before). I expected that the first day would be refreshing memories, but we ended up losing two days to that, and even more for some students. Add to that the various technical difficulties, including Google not publishing posts on blogs even though I watched the student write the blog and click "publish now," and it made for a very interesting adventure, to be sure. There were times when I felt like just saying "forget it, let's just use paper and pen or pencil," but then I remembered that for some students, this technology is completely new to them, and as such, require a certain amount of patience from me. Just because this generation has been called "digital natives" doesn't mean all of them were born in the same technological land (figuratively speaking). The digital divide was very prevalent in the room, and I almost blinked and didn't see it.

I think that by and large, the week was a success. Yes, there were some students who in spite of my watching over them and giving and paying as much attention as I could still managed to slip through the cracks, but most of the students took advantage of the opportunity, so I'm pleased.

This week we go back to the "regular" world of not having instant access to all of the technology we need. I have six desktops in my room now so up to six students can blog or work on their essays at a time, though, so I expect we'll still get a lot done; maybe even more since I only need to watch six instead of twenty-six or so.

I've started reading over some of the personal narratives, and there are some really amazing pieces of writing there. There are some structural issues and the like, but last week was about getting the words down; this week is about making them better. I'm looking forward to the finished product, and I am thinking of asking some students about posting their work to the web, and since Google docs has that as an option, it will be really easy to do, and I can put the link on the class webpage... yet another way to make the writing more "real world." (479)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Link and new geekiness

I published an article about the digital classroom on Elephant Journal a couple of days ago that I'm rather proud of, and it's gotten some nice feedback. If you're interested in reading/commenting on it, you can find it here.

I've also found a new and cool way to get info to my students without paper. I found an excerpt from a book that I wanted to use with my students, and so I asked the publisher of the book if I could copy it to use. I got permission, scanned it, and saved it as a pdf to a flash drive... but then couldn't decide what to do with it. I wanted them to read it tomorrow in class, but then there was the whole digital vs paper thing that has become something of a block for me now. I ended up emailing them the excerpt. (Yeah, I know.... obvious solution. I really do need to apply Occam's Razor much more often than I do.) Nonetheless, I am still rather pleased with the idea that each of the students in the class already has the excerpt waiting for them in their inboxes. Tomorrow in class, I am going to have them log into their email accounts and read the excerpt. We have the laptop cart tomorrow, so each can use their own, but this still wouldn't be that much of an issue if I have them do this same task in their Learning Teams of three, one team per computer; the principle is the same.

I definitely want to use this as often as possible. Best part is that a student can't claim to have lost the handout or leave it in class... all they need to do is log in at home and there it is! I can and will still print it out for students without internet access, unless they have a flash drive and a computer at home, in which case they can simply load it onto their flash drive, again saving paper.

I so love this whole technology thing. :-)

Oh! Speaking of technology, it's possible to search the 'net and be eco-friendly at the same time! I recently came across Ecoogler, a search engine that uses Yahoo technology and for every 10,000 searches done, they will plant a tree in the Amazon rainforest. To date, they've planted 2,290 trees and counting. So.... bookmark 'em and use it frequently! (Click on their logo or the link to get to their site.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Group work thoughts

Started group work in the freshmen classes this week. Now, group work was never really my strength, so it's a little scary for me to do that. The groups worked well, overall. Sixth block seized on it and used the time well, so they get huge amounts of credit for doing so well with it. It is going to take some time to perfect it, but I am pleased with how well things by and large went. I've always been something of a control freak, so doing this is a huge stretch for me. There are some definite kinks for me to work out, especially with the more unmotivated students, so it wasn't a cake walk, but I am encouraged by what I saw and by how the students handled it.

I still have some work to do with the students and blogging. Some have set up the blogs but have yet to actually do the blogging, which is somewhat disappointing. I am going to try to get the laptop cart in my room this week so I can reinforce things, and will rely on the learning teams to help each other out with this. If I have the students working in learning teams so often, then in theory I'd only need something like 7 or 8 laptops in my room; one per team. I'm thinking that perhaps I could go through or something like that to get the laptops donated to my classroom. That would be super sweet, and it's certainly worth a shot. (256)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Global learning... at least into a district next door

I was talking with my son's best friend last night about an assignment he has for one of his classes in which he is being asked to make a collage using pictures and quotes. I offered to help him out with finding what he needed online, and he replied, "I can't... I'm supposed to use magazines." I asked him how much technology they were using in his school, and turns out that they aren't using much, which is particularly frustrating for him since he hears me talking about what my students are doing in my class and what my son is doing in his classes, and basically he wants in on the action, so to speak. Furthering his desire is his intent to attend CSU after graduation, and so between the higher use of technology in our district and our partnership with CSU, which has taken serious steps towards going green, including having students hand in all work electronically, he is considering transferring to ACHS in his sophomore or junior year.

He also talked with me about becoming more tech-savvy in regards to his schoolwork, so I've agreed to tutor him in the use of technology, ranging from Power Point to blogging to Google Docs. His first "assignment" was to get his teachers' email addresses and talk with them about handing in his work electronically. He was wondering how he'd be able to "make his mark" at his high school... he may have just found it. :-)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I've been able to accomplish one of my goals: my reluctant colleague has just set up a blog and has started blogging for her classes. I'm pretty excited for her, and for her students. The next step is to get her to create a webpage for her class, which she wants to do as soon as we can find the time. Yay!

Technological thought for the day

All the best technology in the world doesn't mean doodly if the batteries aren't charged.

I made this oh-so-profound discovery during my 2nd block class today as I was getting set up to record the class for podcasting. I picked up the receiver to turn it on, and lo, it had been on all weekend. Oops. "Okay, everyone, today's class will not be podcast later... the battery is dead."

Lesson learned: always make sure the batteries are fully charged, or at least have a back up battery or two to fall back on (something I didn't have).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Goals met (at least partially) and Smart Board reflections

Got up early this morning and really wanted to go on a bike ride, so I pumped up the Cannondale, got in the saddle and off I went. It was an absolutely perfect morning for a bike ride. I headed north and found myself on highway 7 before long, then I headed west. Next thing I knew, I saw a sign that said "Lafayette 6; Boulder 17." I smiled and decided to make the trip to Lafayette. It didn't take me anywhere near as long as I thought it might; an hour or so after I left my house, and I was in Old Town Lafayette. I hung out for a while, then made the trip back for a total of 28 miles in roughly two hours. I was pretty psyched, and it's most of the way towards my goal of riding my bike to Boulder. Since I was roughly 10 miles from Boulder, I definitely know that it's within my reach to finish it out to Boulder. I have to admit that I was glad I turned myself around, even though I was tempted to finish it out to Boulder. I like to finish out the last half-mile or so to my house on a dead sprint, but that just wasn't going to happen today. About five seconds into the sprint, my legs gave me a very firm "Nope, not gonna happen, buddy" response, and I decided instead to do a nice, easy warm down ride instead. Heh.

I've been using the Smart Board quite a lot now, and it's been working out fantastically. We were working on the 11-sentence paragraph in class last week, and what could have been dry and boring ended up being a lot of fun. We spent some time filling out the graphic organizer together on the Smart Board, and I had 100% engagement for 100% of the time in all of my classes; not bad for a Friday afternoon before a long weekend.

I think I've actually perfected the podcasting, too. I recorded each of my classes on Friday, and I'll be uploading and linking them on my class website later on today. (I also plan to upload and link the Power Point presentations I used, though I will likely upload them as .pdf files since not everyone may have Power Point or even Microsoft Word, but Adobe Acrobat Reader is free.) Initially I was going to do all sorts of editing of the podcasts and only upload the "best," but the principal encouraged me to just upload them as they are and let the students fast forward through them as they need to.

Of course, there are some definite implications around doing that, not the least of which is that my classroom walls are definitely going to disappear and there will be full transparency, particularly since not only my students can listen to the podcasts, but their parents can as well. I told my students not to worry... I know how brilliant they are, and now their parents can hear it as well. :-) I do plan on emailing the link to as many parents as I have email addresses for, and while it seems a little scary to open myself up like this, I don't see it as a bad thing at all. I'm really excited about it.

I've gotten most of the students logged on and blogging already, and that has been a fantastic experience so far. The students have the option of blogging or reading during independent reading time, and it's not unusual to have a line of students four to six deep waiting to blog. So far I only have two desktops in my room, though I'm trying to get more put in. If you go to the class website, I've linked to the students' blogs there, so anyone interested can read and comment on their blogs. There is still some tweaking to do around the blogs, but they've gotten started, so the biggest part is done. I'm planning on working with my reluctant colleague after professional development this week and want to have her up and blogging as well.

I hit upon a bit of a flash as well around sub plans. What I hope to do on days when I know I'm going to be out is to upload my lessons as Power Points and record what I want to say in advance, along with a notesheet for my students to fill out and email back to me, then email links to the Power Point and podcast to my students, along with the notesheet to fill out. Then, on the day(s) when I know I'm going to be out, I simply reserve the computer lab for my students, the sub takes them down there, where they then log in, and can watch the presentation, listen to the podcast, and do the work there. Chances are I'll let them work collaboratively, but certainly any student that wants to work alone could... I guess it will depend on the nature of the assignment. I can even check in on them while I'm wherever I am and address issues/questions as needed. They really CAN have class 24/7! Of course, making sure I have access will be an issue, but I think it's one I can resolve (I hope).

The implications for all of this on my teaching is mind boggling. How on earth did I get anything done in the classroom before?? ;-)