Friday, September 28, 2007

Best Practices 2.0: Collaborating With Clay

Speaking of multiple intelligences, best practices, and the power of planning and learning with collaborative tools, contribute to Clay's latest collaboration.

"Language Is A Way Of Negotiating Human Relationships": Students Really Get This

In yesterday's post, I listed the parts of a discussion-based lesson plan. During that discussion, the students identified several elements of the idea of "home." One of which was that members of a close community develop their own way of communicating. Certain tones and vocabularies are appropriate in communications between certain family (the example of a close community that we discussed) members, and all members of the "home" understand the intricacies of the language.
It wasn't until I attended a virtual Microsoft Sharepoint presentation later in the day, in which I was mostly confused because of my lack of understanding of coding and programming jargon, that I thought more about my students' observations from The Odyssey. Then, I chose a random TED videopodcast to watch today; it's Friday. And my choice happened to be Steven Pinker's discussion of the construction of language in which he states the quote I used as the title of this post and that "language emerges from human minds interacting with one another."

Now, this post is being written pretty quickly, and these ideas seem obvious and enormous at the same time. But I was already thinking about how lesson-planning is different with the ability to use social networking and collaborative software. Pinker's talk gave my thoughts a little more of a center. If we think about where language comes from and what its basic function is, I think students will be way more tuned in. But, usually, I think, we don't teach that way, there's a different, more convoluted message that's conveyed about the function of language, something that comes more from our, as English teachers, love of language. And we'd probably do more to appreciate communication based on different intelligences. More related material and more organized thinking to come...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On Developing And Differentiating Discussion Skills

I teach one section of freshman English at 7:30am, in addition to my position as Technology Resource Teacher. This morning, I was expecting an observation from my department head and principal. Our laptop program just rolled out to our freshman class, and they want to see how things are going in the classrooms. Although I work and come from a school culture of collaboration and classroom visits, I still was anxious to make their visit 15 minutes of high tech engagement. Well, they didn't show up, but I did put together a high tech version of a timeless, low tech instructional technique: Harkness Discussion. My problem with this method in the past is that it sets forth a set of high level hoops for students to jump through, essentially a checklist to be executed for a grade, things like: everybody talks, listening skills are exercised in order to exhaust one idea before moving onto the next, specific references are made to the text (in this case, The Odyssey). So the questions to myself became: how do I include more people? How do I scaffold the discussion properly to try to eliminate the hoop-jumping feeling that the students must have? How do I provide a way to effectively debrief and assess the discussion?

Before I explore these questions and describe the lesson plan, I want to mention that I'd pretty much abandoned the Harkness Discussion technique until reading Barbara Ganley's post about her talk at Exeter on Harkness in the 21st century.

The Lesson Plan:
1. Anticipatory Set: Individually, students were assigned two books from what we've read in The Odyssey so far (up to Book 9). In their assigned books they looked for any kind of reference to the idea of "home." (Home is an element of the essential questions for the course).

2. Using a Ning forum (I was dissatisfied with Moodle's wiki, otherwise it would have happened there), they stockpiled all the quotes and specific examples, cited parenthetically, of course).

3. In our class Moodle, I posted a text resource listing simple discussion guidelines, as well as discussion stems that I asked them to use. Basically, I'm asking them to do two things when they contribute to a discussion: identify who's idea they're responding to and paraphrase that idea, explaining how it leads to their idea. We discussed this quickly.

4. We sat on the floor in a circle around my Belkin-mic-outfitted iPod and commenced discussion of the elements that make up the idea of "home" as shown by Telemachus, Odysseus, and the people and places they've visited. This lasted about 15 minutes.

5. My plan was to post the audio recording of the discussion to our Moodle. (It didn't work due to the fact that the voice memo was 150 mb and our Moodle upload limit is 2mb). They were going to listen to it, find a place to expand and/or respond, and leave another, more developed audio recording of their response.

6. The next class, we're going to go back to these new comments, rate them, and identify what kinds of thinking they represent.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Technology Update: Ning, Moodle, Project Global Cooling

It's been awhile since I've posted, and there's certainly a lot to write about. The last couple weeks I've scudded past open house, Moodle meetings and collaboration, the first debate tournament of the year, the first grade reporting period, letters of recommendations for seniors, and planning for my own class. Feeling like a blog-slacker, I've reminded myself of what a colleague pointed out to my wife after she finished the 42-mile Molokai to Oahu outrigger canoe race last weekend: that no matter what, you're taking part in a world championship, like being in the draw at Wimbledon. So that's the analogy that's motivated me to get back to the blog this afternoon. Here's what been going on:

Visit The Global Cooling Collective
Project Global Cooling:
Here in Honolulu, we're starting a school club, which will be advised by me and led by a student who last year for the culminating project in my class, learned how to plan a concert for charity. So far, she's contacted local venues, met with our center for public service, and has started to make contact with others on the PGC Ning. I think both of us will join Clay's tutorial on setting up a website. In addition, students in my class have started to rally on our class Ning site and slowly move those conversations to the PGC Ning.

Ning Has Been The Thing:

In the last two or three weeks, I've helped four teachers at my school set up Ning communities for their classes for very different purposes. And I'm planning on presenting the ideas behind Ning (teaching using social networks) to this year's group of student teachers and mentors, and new-to-our-school teachers at the end of this week. So far, I'm using Ning as our class social network, for all the reasons one might join a social network, except it's an extension of our classroom community; a computer science teacher is using Ning for his students to share, test, and collaborate on their programs; another English teacher is using Ning as a course management tool; and in an English/Social Studies block course, the teachers are using Ning to run a simulation activity called Ada Valley in which three tribes have to successfully negotiate a government that fairly represents the interests of all groups (I'm planning a future post that will discuss this project more completely, including an interview with project creator, our own Dan Mindich).

Our school has been working through a "soft" pilot of Moodle for the last year or so. Now, we're starting to formalize, and Moodle is being used to bridge the gap between lower and upper grades, as well as being a solid course management system. My frustration so far is with Moodle's wiki. It overwrites and deletes work if students are working on a document simultaneously.

Random Thoughts On 1:1 And How Its Changed My Assessment Practices

I've been writing and thinking about the ways a 1:1 program changes the classroom experience, in terms of physical layout, and now, assessment. Today, I finished the first round of grade reporting, and I noticed a few things. It used to be that grades fell pretty much along a standard bell curve, a few outstanding students, most of the students in the "good" range, and a few strugglers. But planning with a 1:1 environment seems to have changed things a bit. I've really been trying to write lessons and assign homework that takes advantage of technology's ability to provide a more collaborative, flexible, and individualized learning environment. We work in forums a lot more, group work is much more transparent, the hard-to-assess quiet students' voices are being heard. Because of all this, the grades have spread out. They seem to me much more of an accurate report of what the student is learning and demonstrating. But there's a big problem with that: grades aren't perceived, especially in a competitive prep school, as a report; they're perceived as an evaluation of the "goodness" or academic worth of a student, or a statement of status and achievement. What should grades mean? Who are they for? And where do I, as the teacher, report authentic, individualized assessment, now that it's more authentic and individualized?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ways Communication Technologies Bring Us Together: Pangea Day

Probably, many people online know about Pangea Day. I didn't until a few minutes ago. Thanks Lisa. The idea of contributing and sharing powerful films globally is an adult version of collaborative student projects like 1001 Flat World Tales and Project Global Cooling. These projects are the most powerful ways to learn in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Animoto Test

I was cruising my Google Reader and came across a website called ANIMOTO in a post by Wesley Fryer. The webtool lets you upload pictures and music, then uses some magical algorithm to create a quick, unique slideshow. I haven't decided whether or not to pay the $30 for unlimited videos (for free, you can create 30 second shows), but here's a slideshow based on a recent surf trip to Peru. It took about 10 minutes to create.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Designing A Classroom For Digital Learning

The building where I teach and work was built in 1894, and, with the exception of paint, crown-molding, and air conditioning, not much has changed, in terms of classroom design. Obviously, optimizing a 1:1 laptop learning environment was not a concern. I've been thinking for awhile about how the physical dynamics of classrooms change when every student and teacher has a laptop, for that matter every student is a "digital native" and all the learning/working style implications that come with. But all of my ideas were pretty random and based on nothing.

Then, I came across a brief exchange in "The Talk Of The Town" in last week's New Yorker. (I marked the quote but left it at home, will post later). The discussion was about the renovation of newrooms, specifically The New York Times and Washington Post (if I remember correctly). The times had designed what they thought would be a workroom that encouraged the most collaborative and productive kinds of interactions amongst employees. The space was described as one huge room, no offices, no cubicles, just open table with work stations, and flat screen TVs and tickers all over. Sounds 21st century right? Vs. offices and printing presses, the scene from the movies, as the article reminds. But in the following issue, there was a response to the article, citing design research, which says that the big room design is, in fact, counterproductive. The most efficient 21st century space is more expensive, of course, and it is a perimeter of closed offices, looking into an open, middle space. The offices are for solo work, and the open space is for spontaneous and planned collaboration. I got excited and started to think about how this would look in a classroom.

So today, I married two ideas. The modern work space, and what I learned as a first-year teacher, which is that students at this level (in my case, first semester freshman) need to transition often to remain engaged, even if it's just breaking the same activity into several parts). First, we continued a small group activity from the previous class, which involved creating an Inspiration web of direct quotes from the story "Powder" and the inferences, observations, assumptions, questions, and connections that accompany them. These were posted as forum topics on our class Ning. Next, the students transitioned to solo work. We don't have private offices so we simply turned the desks to face out (we normally sit in a circle of desks). I also allowed them to plug in headphones and listen to music. The assignment was to read each group web, and build on the ideas in the forum, including a new direct quote that relates. What I saw was: every single screen at once and total engagement. Lastly, we moved from the formal, directed, solo work to the floor space in the middle for a more casual slide show I had put together about a man I met in Costa Rica who showed me the power of story. End of class.
As a follow-up, I posted a forum question about how the students liked the arrangement and asking them what other ideas they have for classroom design.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What's Been Going On This Week: Project Global Cooling

View my profile on The Global Cooling Collective

Visit The Global Cooling Collective

This week, I've been trying to get my school involved in Clay Burell's (I think he would object to it being called his project, but he started it. The idea is that it will belong to the students) Project Global Cooling (and here's the Ning link too--it explains everything and is where much of the planning is happening). Today, Clay, Gary in Kazakhstan, and I are going to Skype and discuss the project, as well as our similar roles as tech resource teachers in first year 1:1 Apple laptop schools. I think we'll Skype about once a week, inviting others, and these conversations will become resourceful (hopefully) and reflective (definitely) podcasts.

On my end in Hawaii, I've met with Econ teachers, our center for public service, my department head, and the other tech resource teachers. Our school is a big place, and we already have a sustainability initiative and annual fair, in addition to our middle school being named one of the "greenest" campuses in the nation. This year, sustainability is being incorporated deliberately into the curriculum. So I'm hoping that all the work that our students are already doing can be funneled and featured on Project Global Cooling.