Thursday, February 28, 2008

Depth vs. Breadth: English and Technology

Lately, I've had two thought experiments running in my mind, and now they seem to have converged into one theme: depth vs. breadth. First, my life as a technology resource teacher has changed dramatically since the beginning of the second semester. The backstory is that this is our high school's first year with a 1:1 program for freshman, next year sophomore, and so on.

So first semester, there wasn't a lot of action for me, just a few classroom visits to set up blog accounts or help an early-adopter with an innovative project. Besides that, with my reduced teaching load, I had at least a couple hours a day to read and comment on blogs, explore their links and ideas, employ them in my own class, and keep up with my own blog. I felt like I was really in the pocket of the educational technology wave.

Now, my department is off and running, leading the school in the ways they're employing technology: blogs, wikis, moodle, Ning, Diigo, And my calendar no longer allows for that exploration time I described above. This is a really good thing! However, I find myself rushing around a lot, trying to fit it all in: exploration and implementation. And in my own class, I find myself less willing to give myself permission for new ideas to be messy and maybe even fail. Although just identifying this has allowed me to get back to being real with myself.

That's all just about the situation that has allowed me to extend my thinking to the question of breadth and depth in implementing technology in a school. What I mean is I could really get behind a schoolwide blogging initiative, and I could focus all my attention on figuring out how blogs can be educationally transformative in all kinds of ways. Or, is it good to keep pushing and pushing forward. Blogs are great in school, but there must be a bunch of other tools that are just as good and better.

It's easy to see that the answer is both. So I guess the question becomes how do you know when you've struck on something that you should keep around and build on?
Just needed to write it to think about it. I'm happy to surf it.

The second line of thinking is similar but has to do with text selection in freshman English. The first comparison is that every new thing for the past few year at least seems to have made sense to put into the freshman curriculum. Now, there's too much, and it's too disconnected. Each of us teachers pick from the menu something different, and leave out the rest. Or else, in the name of being a good soldier, we try to cram it all in. There's talk about a project-based common experience. And there's talk about the value of common reading. And there's talk about whether there are particular texts that freshman need to read. And again, all of it is really good, and it all should be included. So how do you pick the best of what's really great? In the end, I feel lucky that I'm in a place where I get to spend time considering such important questions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

And This Is 19th Century Education

I've made it a goal to get back to posting to my blog every school day. So, not knowing what to post today, I took a scroll through my email and came across a strand that seemed to juxtapose nicely with yesterday's post. An 8th grade final exam from 1895 was being forwarded around and discussed. I'm not really interested in what it shows about education then and now, just thinking about the differences and similarities. Here it is:

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no Modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb. Give Principal Parts of. lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft deep, 10 feet long! , and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
8 Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U. S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e'. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Apparently, this test has been in circulation on the web for awhile. It's original intent was to show how education in America had declined since 1895. Here's some more discussion and background.

Flickr Photo Credit: Scott Crouse
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Monday, February 25, 2008

This Is 21st Century Learning

At my school, we're most interested in the question:
How does technology transform instruction?
Well, here's how:
Lindsea started blogging last year in my sophomore English class. Unfortunately, a lot of what she had to blog was my assignments. But the class also had opportunities to start their own conversations on their blogs, and we were lucky enough to blog with Clay Burell's class in South Korea. We were all trying to figure it out.
Fast forward to the beginning of this school year, I noticed that there are new items in my "students" Reader folder. A few students are writing on their own. A few more are using their blogs for other classes.
Lindsea becomes a sophisticated web2.0 regular. She write for Students 2.0 and organizes grassroots fundraisers using her networks.
Then she writes this post in which she describes Project Global Cooling, student-owned collaborative web space, and sustainability at our school. Within the conversation about her post, she connects with a middle school teacher in Qatar. They decide to collaborate. She Skypes with his class at 2:30 in the morning, teaching them about environmental issues in Hawaii, and what we're trying to do about them.
Now, she's planning her senior independent project for next year. Not only is the project going to be for her, but she's designing a project that will lay the foundation for other students here to find their own Personal Learning Networks.

Flickr photo credit: iurikothe
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Curriculum Day With Alan November

Alan November was here to address our faculty and parents on Tuesday, and lead small workshops with various groups yesterday. For the edtech set, it was confirmation of the power of connective learning. What was interesting to me was the discussion of how to get more people engaged in web communication and collaboration technologies, especially in a K-12 school with a democratic leadership structure, 4000 students, and a high school faculty of 150+. Essentially, he laid out six things that should be happening in classrooms:

1. There should be a curriculum review team made up of four students, assigned jobs like: writer, mixer, editor. They produce a podcast each week reviewing the lessons and content.

2. There should be a tutorial design team that creates screencasts for further review. Alan suggested using Jing for screencasting. (I used to use screencast-o-matic, but Jing can do more, and screencasts are easy to embed in a Moodle page or blog or anything else.)

3. Student questions should not be answered by the teacher. Instead students should be charged with finding the answers and using social bookmarking tools to organize resources. In addition, students teachers and students should become expert web researchers and create their own custom search engines for class topics and questions.

4. Three to four students should be official scribes for the class, collaborating to write and share notes in Google Docs.

5. Each class should have a global communications team, leveraging tools like: ePals, Skype, Technorati.

6. Students should manage RSS feeds relevant to curriculum and communications.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Learning And The Brain: Keynote by Larry Cahill Ph.D.

I tried to tap into Dr. Cahill's research on emotional memories in my last post, but here are the notes I took during his keynote at Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco, which also addresses gender, hormones, and brain hemispheres. Some of my notes are in my own words and some phrases are Dr. Cahill's. I apologize for not quoting well here.

Basic Premise: Memory (the brain function) creates self. And, emotion disproportionately sculpts the brain. So, how, again, can we leverage this for effective teaching and learning? And how can this knowledge empower students?

Part I: Background – Brain Mechanism of Emotional Memory
•Memory is active, constructive, and based on orientation. Throughout the building process, perceptions are created.

•Amygdala is the structure in brain that's central for making strong memories of emotional events. It works together with stress hormone response: during and after events, feeds information back to brain. Amygdala works harder in emotionally arousing situations; doesn't care about neutral situations.

•Stress hormones enhance memory storage.

•New technique for measuring response is brain imaging, which is leading to awareness of difference between men/women brain.

•Activation happening on different sides of the brain: right side in men; left side=only women in response to stress hormone.

Part II: Sex Influences On The Brain

What does it mean for education and learning?
•Classical difference, no debate:
On average men can rotate images better (visual fluency).
Women have more verbal fluency.
Many differences on the psychological level.

What about on the brain level?

  • 1970 hippothalmus was difference.
    • Differences are ubiquitous
    • Incluences everything
  • Differences now:
    • Size of brain regions
    • Levels of neurotransmitter
    • Females have lower levels of serotonin
    • Women more depressed 2 to 1; drugs boost it for depression
    • Uncovering differences that aren't understood yet
    • Hippocampus cell experiments with knocking out molecules
    • Results in memory deficits in male mice, not female
    • Cell cultures – differences on this level
      • Neurons die, why?
      • Different depending on where they came from: male or female
Part III: The Blinders Come Off: Sex Influences On Brain Mechanism Of Emotional Memory
Sexes are not two different groups; two groups with overlap
• What are the findings?
  • Right hemisphere is gist of situation
  • left hemisphere better at details
  • Amygdala can be blocked, beta blockers
  • Experiment with emotional story:
    • Females remembered gist
    • Men remembered details
  • There are memory differences:
    • Women have better memory than men in general
    • Better for details
    • Outperform on these kinds of tests
    • Left side is more engaged when emotions are involved
    • What about without emotional stories?
      • Amygdala works with left side in women, right side in men

more notes soon...

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Leveraging Emotions For Learning And Brain-Based Activities With The Cather In The Rye

(This post has been under construction for a week (that's how busy it is here). Hence, the dates are off a bit)

I got back to Honolulu yesterday after attending the west coast Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco. There's a lot to process and disseminate after three days of learning about the latest in neuroscience research and how it's applicable to education and specific classroom practices. Of course, the first people I wanted to talk to about all this were my students. So I shelved Catcher In The Rye for a day (maybe for a few more days) to empower them with some understanding of how they can leverage their intelligences, learning styles, emotions, and the plasticity of certain parts of their brain. Here's what I did:

Monday morning, I announced pop quiz on the first three chapters of Catcher In The Rye.
Brain-based connection:
As they reacted in fear to my announcement, I explained that I wanted to let them in on some secrets about their brain and the way they learn. Their emotional and physical reaction to my announcement was a change in their brain chemistry. Cortizol had washed their brain, hindering their ability to learn and access their long-term memory. The best thing they can do about it is drink water.

I explained that this was a two part quiz, and there was no way to fail. Part 1: List ten summary statements about what they read over the weekend. Look for details.
Part 2: They had to clap out a rhythm together, then go around the circle giving new facts about the chapters.
Brain-based connection:
The rhythm engages the right brain, the summaries engage the left. To do both forces connections between the two hemispheres, which foster better long-term memory learning. Not to mention that it was fun and active. We continued to talk about leveraging their brain chemistry and identifying what they can do for themselves.

Now that I had their interests piqued, I wanted to connect more brain secrets to effectively exploring The Catcher In The Rye, so I asked them to free write about specific emotional highs and lows in their lives. The homework extension was to collect visuals symbolic of their highs and lows and construct a "high/low" collage.

The next day, we had a gallery walk to view everybody's collages. Specifically, I asked the students to look for and record patterns they see in the collages. Next, I asked them to translate their observations into questions about what it's like to be a teenager. They came up with questions like: why are friends so important to happiness? Why are so many emotional lows connected with anxiety over grades? What is the importance of outdoor activities in a person's life? And so on.
My pitch was that now that they are invested emotionally in a thinking about their experiences as a teenager, they are better equipped to interact with the novel they're reading.
Brain-based connection:
I learned that the most effective learning environment for teenagers is social, interactive, and emotionally engaging. Reading, as my students agreed, can easily be none of these if not properly framed. So not that they were engaged, I led them through some active reading strategies that would help create interaction with the text and put them at the center of the reading experience.

more soon...

flickr photo credit 1: krischall
flickr photo credit 2: revcruz

Friday, February 1, 2008

Story of Stuff

A lot has happened in my inbox this week. First, a few Commoncraft videos were passed around and discussed. Couple that with a workshop on creating and podcasting class lectures and multimedia through Moodle, and it's propelled to think more about teachers and students as producers, rather than consumers. So a group of colleagues and I were discussing the premise of Commoncraft, creating simple analogies and explanation of fairly complex concepts, AKA demonstrating understanding. And that rang a bell, demonstrating understanding is that measurable things we're always looking for from students. But it has to be authentic and relevant. So I realized, I guess maybe I already knew, that the work of teachers and students is becoming more about the back and forth creation and exchange of these kinds of learning objects that demonstrate understanding. That's all for Friday.
And, check out this amazing website and 20 minute navigable video: Story of Stuff