Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As the semester ends, here's what I've learned.

Learner centered instruction and technology integration pair nicely, but I'm still learning about how to change over all of the steps of the process.  I love allowing the students to choose some of the pieces/topics they are interested in, but the evaluation process becomes more difficult.  Now I know that many of you would love to tell me about how those lovely projects including stop animation, go animate, and other lovelies will naturally evaluate the skills my kiddos need to know for their upcoming MSL and AP test, but I beg to differ.  Additionally, as far as trying to grade students' comprehension of pieces, I cannot always allow individual choice as I have yet to read everything that has ever been written in any given period.  Nothing but the actual act of writing and revising will improve my little lovelies' ability to write better responses to constructed response or teach my students to write three essays in two hours.  With this said, my students have used online peer reviews via Google, constructed responses via Kidblog, and created group responses via Prezi or a Tweet ticket out the door.
I like small groups, but I cannot allow a final evaluation of a unit to happen this way. I feel like it is more important for me to evaluate each individual's effort because that is how they are graded. I cannot even wrap my head around centers still.   Unfortunately, even with the fantastic opportunity of having nine total computers in my room, I feel overwhelmed trying create enough stations that are independent of one another to make centers work.
My students have gained 21st century skills in lessons about how to shape our online selves, how to evaluate sources, and how to funnel information to ourselves rather than having to look for everything.  I did a small lesson on Twitter and provided a list of hashtags that might help them with AP study materials and college admissions next year.  Additionally I showed them how to use Symbaloo and PearlTrees to organize and keep information.  I'm currently re-enforcing these topics with a college and career project.  My students are creating eProfiles as online resumes for college next year and utilizing online tools to complete research on a career of their choice.  This semester I also brought in a friend of mine, via Skype, to talk to my students about a book he is writing and how he uses writing in his everyday life as a lawyer.  It was an amazing experience and I'm working on bringing in another speaker in the medical field by student request.  Additionally, my students can earn extra credit on their college and career project by conducting an interview with someone in the field they are researching and some are choosing to interview by Skype or Google + hangouts.
Overall, I am exhausted, overwhelmed, and feeling a bit inadequate.  I feel like we have done some great things in class, but that my time is limited and I cannot always create fantastic new projects to utilize my resources in the most creative ways.  Additionally, in a high school English class I feel the best use of technology would come from having a one to one ratio where students could type responses and share constantly.  I have not utilized the Gaston County student cloud this semester because I cannot ask my students to place their precious work someplace that will most likely disappear in January and that cannot be reliably backed up anywhere else.

Here are some things my students have done this semester:

1. Small Group Project using American and the presentation tool of their choice.
Patton SOAPSTone project 

2. Students did research on the Native American tribe of their choice, created a presentation about their tribe, and reflected on what they learned about the Native Americans and how the Natives' beliefs would have clashed with the European settlers' goals.
Student Presentation
Kidblog response #1
Kidblog response #2

3. Fallacies in Political Ads
Student Presentation (download to view; features do not work in Google presentation)

4. Skype with Mr. Jason Miller: I didn't record the Skype session, but Chris Goodson will confirm this was an awesome experience!  I'm attaching some Kidblog responses.
Student One
Student Two

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Video conferencing tips?

I am about to take a bold new step into the world of 21st century teaching. I have finally decided to take on a video conference.  I am looking for advice from ANYONE who has set up one of these before.  Here is what I have planned thus far.
1. Introduce students to our guest through his resume and a piece of his writing.
2. Encourage students to create a class list of questions beforehand to hopefully avoid the sound of crickets as we start at one another through the abyss of the video screen.
3. Introduce the speaker to my students.  I've given him a heads up about some of the interests of my students and plan to give him a bit more information after picking through their brains some more.
4. Do a trial run.  I plan to set up the video conference ahead of time to make sure I can iron out most of the bugs before going live on conference day.

I'm hoping to use Google+ hangouts, but right now it appears that I am locked out of that under the Gaston county cloud.  If pressed, I will use Skype.  Other than some video conferences with our family back home, I have little to no experience with this.  I'm a bit apprehensive of how this may all play out, but I think if it goes well it could be a great learning experience for all involved.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The trouble with technology...

is that it doesn't always work the way you think it will. One of the first assignments I had my students do required that they watch a video on YouTube. As the students fired up the computers for the first time, I was excited about their assignment, then they all started saying, "YouTube is blocked!", "I can't get in!", and "This won't work!"  Of course it won't work, only teachers have YouTube unblocked, duh! I quickly pulled up the video on my computer and had them watch it on the SmartBoard before proceeding with the rest of the assignment.   I have avoided further issues with blocked content by having a student in the NCVPS class I monitor check out assignments before I give them.  Other than that, my problems have been minimal.  I've had days when the wi-fi is slow or when the laptops don't get plugged in, but I don't consider those to be serious issues.  As far as avoiding these issues next year, I'm sure I'll avoid most pitfalls, but I'll find myself doing some quick troubleshooting when something doesn't work the way it should. Unfortunately, as Scotty McCreery says, "nobody loves trouble as much as me."  :-)

Friday, August 31, 2012

First Days of School

I LOVE the first days of school.  I enjoy getting to know my students, I love the excitement in the air as friends reunite after the summer break, and I don't even mind the inevitable schedule changes of the first few days.  But my favorite part of the first days of school is presentation day.  I assign my students the task of creating a presentation to help introduce themselves to me.  The only requirement is that it include a list of information I want to know and the rest is up to them.  I model one mode of presentation through my own introduction project, but I give a quick tutorial on several other tools they may use.  Additionally, I give them the option of using poster board and embellishments, but I give extra points for the use of technology.

Today is presentation day.  In some classes the students are almost competitive for the opportunity to go next; while in others I have to strong arm a few unwilling folks I happen to be familiar with to get the ball rolling.  Every year students learn new things about classmates they've shared classes with for years.  One student was an extra in The Hunger Games movie, another is an avid outdoorsman who has also considered a career as a fashion merchandiser for outdoorwear, and still another has traveled extensively with a prestigious choral group and has even performed in the Vatican.

I am constantly amazed at what these kids have done in their relatively short lives.  (I'm also constantly reminded of how old I am as they state that they were born the year I graduated from high school.*ouch*)  I love the opportunity to learn more about my students and to see photographs of their family and friends.  I love to poke fun of my colleagues when their children reveal something about their parent that I never knew. Simply, I love these shared moments of humanity.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In response to "What is a 21st Century Teacher?"

    After reading Josh Stumpenhorst's article, "What is a 21st Century Teacher?" I was relieved to hear him echo many of the thoughts I've had bumping around in my mind. My favorite point is that we need to be advocates for our profession.  During my eleven years of teaching (in three different states), I've noticed an alarming trend of declining professional behavior among my peers.  One of my education professors once discussed the importance of professional dress if one wanted to be taken seriously.  I am the first to proclaim a profound love of dress down days on football Fridays, but I strive to dress the part of a professional on a regular basis.  Additionally, when someone cracks, "Oh, must be nice to have summers off," I am the first to outline the various professional opportunities that I take advantage of over the summer break.
     This summer I'll be completing my second year of technology training in a county based program called Pinnacle Technology Leaders.  It is a program one must apply for, be accepted and complete several days of summer training as well as additional web and site based meetings throughout the school year.  Later this summer I'll be teaching a course at our county's Teaching and Learning Conference about online research tools for teachers and students.  Of course, like any other dedicated teacher, I'll have ideas running through my head on how to change activities around, how to incorporate technology and centers better, and how to find additional resources for my students.  
     When I look back on my teaching practice during my first few years of teaching, I cringe.  I wish I could take those dear students into my arms and offer my sincere apologies.  I was a newbie, I was overwhelmed, and I'm sure I didn't do much justice to my subject matter.  I am constantly reflecting on what I've done, how I can change it, and where to go from there.  As I sit in a workshop or conference, I'm contacting peers or former students to bounce ideas off of them about what I'm learning.  When I was taught about using Twitter last summer as a professional development tool, a light bulb went off.  I'm still a fledgling in the world of tweeting, but as I spend more time exploring the worlds of education and technology, I am figuring out how to be a contributor as well as a consumer of information.  
      As I connect to teachers outside of my county, state, and even my country, my craft improves.  I think the moment I received my National Board certification was the moment I gained enough confidence to put myself out there.  Given I had bounced from state to state for the first few years of my teaching career, I was a little unsure of myself.  I would start to develop friendships and connections, only to move hundreds of miles away and start over.  In the past year the number of connections I've made has blossomed.  I have talked with educators from all over my county through a teacher leadership team working on Common Core curriculum guides, discussed technology integration with my peers in Pinnacle, discussed my AP class with someone from England with International Baccalaureate, and discussed college admissions requirements with the Dean of Admissions from M.I.T. 
      It has been a whirlwind year, but it has reinvigorated my passion for what I do in my classroom.  Am I a perfect teacher?  No, but am I constantly improving and reflecting and connecting?  Yes!    

Thursday, May 24, 2012

You learn something new every day....

Since I was getting close to caught up on grading, I decided to cruise over to one of my favorite bloggers, Cool Cat Teacher.  First, I read her fantastic blog about the final days of school and the beginning of summer.  She discusses the need for rest, but also the need look forward while not losing these final moments with our "kids." I highly recommend it, you can find it here.
In her top ten articles, I found another interesting entry about Google forms and personal information.  It discusses how Google has some filters on the words used in Forms and if the words seem to indicate that you are compiling sensitive information such as usernames or passwords, the form will be deleted and you will be unable to retrieve it.  You can find the details here .  Several of my fellow Pinnacle leaders indicated that they used Google forms to keep up with student passwords for their Google accounts and I thought you might want to know about this little glitch.
For now, I'm going to submerse myself back into the land of Brit Lit, so I can finish grading these assignments and enjoy my holiday weekend.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fantastic Webinars!

I just finished participating in a webinar offered by Bedford St. Martin's Press. Larry Scanlon, author of The Language of Composition,  provided an hour lesson on analyzing argument.  Yes, he hawked the newest edition of this book, but additionally he provided some great strategies to use with my students in these weeks before the AP exam.  The webinar was easy to plug into via Cisco WebEx and was recorded so I can refer back to it if I missed a point.  I highly recommend these!  It looks like you can view past recorded events too.  You can access these at  Yay for easily accessible information!  :-)

Google Docs in 2nd Semester

Please be sure to signed in to your GCS account in order to view content.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Google Docs in the House

So, I really love Google Docs for AP:Language class.  My students recently wrote, peer reviewed, and submitted their essays to me via Google docs.  The students seems to really enjoy electronically commenting on each others' papers and I feel I am able to make better comments since I can draw their attention exactly to what I want them to ammend.  Additionally, I can make deadlines for midnight of a certain date and can stand by them.

 I'm not especially fond of the Google presentations.  My students far more enjoy using Prezi and I wholeheartedly agree with them.  Additionally, I do not find many opportunities to use Google Spreadsheet in my ENGLISH classroom.

Later this semester, I'm hoping to use Google forms with my AP class for an essay.  In discussions with former students, they have indicated that many of their composition classes in college have asked for more inquiry based writing.  I'm hoping to have students research a topic, come up with a questionnaire, and use Google forms to compile the information.  I'm not sure how this will look, but I've recently discovered I have to re-write all of my writing topics anyway and this type of inquiry based essay seemed like a good way to incorporate Google forms.

I'm hoping to find some inspiration in others' blogs to liven things up this spring.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Google, my love and my hate....

So, first I'm going to send out some love to my friend Google.  I LOVE using documents to create things like the script to Mr. South Point.  I've shared it out to all of the pertinent people and we can all make the necessary changes in one place so nothing gets lost.  Additionally, since one of our hosts is at college, he can read through his parts to prepare for this Friday's program.  This also works well for the Common Core curriculum guides.  We can work in one place, on our own time, and our supervisor can monitor our progress and prod us as needed.  YAY!  I love productivity.
Now, here is my rant.  I took my three classes of Googlites to the computer lab the other day to introduce them to the Google products and let them explore the possibilities.  Additionally, they were then to share on a common document how to best utilize these products during the once a month meetings in the computer lab.  I did this in the hopes that my students could help stoke my creative fires.  So, all seems to be going well after we get folks signed in.  There were a few hiccups there, a few unreadable capshas and all, but no big deal.  The problems came when we tried to work on the common document.  I don't know if it was a lack of bandwidth or a problem  on Google's end, but all productivity stopped when the document could not keep up with number of students I had.  I realize my class of 31 was a bit of a test, but this failed big time.  My class was frustrated, I was frustrated, and they lost a little love for a product that I generally adore. :-(

Monday, January 30, 2012

Educating the 21st Century Mind

I was afforded an amazing opportunity earlier this month to attend a conference sponsored by the University of Southern California entitled "Educating the 21st Century Mind."  Among other things, the conference discussed the non cognitive skills that our students need to be college and career ready.  One of the skills mentioned frequently was the ability to problem solve.  With this in mind, I'm starting to brainstorm ideas on how to better "teach" this ability.  This is easier with my AP kids who are primarily intrinsically motivated or in the very least put up  with my whims because they want the quality points on g.p.a.  My summer assignment will involve recognizing a problem in society, searching for five articles, facts, or charts that are part of the "problem" they've chosen, and then using at least  three of these sources to write an essay about a possible solution to the problem they've identified.  Basically, they are designing a synthesis essay.  My Honors kids are similarly easy to manipulate, again, because they want the quality point.  The 11th grade English curriculum centers around American literature, so I plan to use "problems" within each time period as a springboard.  Additionally, I've contacted some former students to send along some of their essays from their freshman Composition class to provide some ideas for writing projects.  My regular 12th grade class is where I'm coming up with some blanks.  We are working on some practical skills such as letter writing, goal setting, and basic grammar/usage improvement.  I'm thinking I may have them think about dilemmas they may encounter in the work place, then have them create Google forms or documents that may help alleviate the problems. I've scheduled the computer lab at least once a month for this semester, so I'm hoping to create something easy and engaging to fill those activity days.  
If you are interested in some of the information from the conference, here is the link:
 I especially recommend Conley's presentation on misalignment and real approaches to improvement,  Session One on Common Core and National Assessment (NC is using the SMARTER balanced assessment and there are some sample test items), and Polikoff's presentation on what makes teachers ineffective (too many objectives, not enough depth).