Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tooling Around #11

Animoto and Prezi continue to be my favorites. That kids can collaborate on powerpoints through GoogleDocs is great. Animoto's shortcoming for an English class is the few characters you can use in each "tile" I'm going to have my seniors do their farewell "speeches" on animoto because it would be a great emotional, photo heavy project. Likely I'll repeat a Fitzgerald language class animoto where they pair images with text they've selected from The Great Gatsby - "her voice was full of money" or "the hot struggles of the poor." They love watching what the class project ends up looking like and want to see the animotos from the other classes. Prezi seems to be the most thoughtful - you can embed anything, and the student's organizational strategy is so profoundly obvious (or not). I'll continue to have the kids present their work that way.

Google Forms, todaysmeet - some of these are only as good as you can get them all online quickly, efficiently, and this I find doesn't happen. They don't all have phones, ATT&T service isn't available most of the time on campus and kids had to go to the parking lot to register their votes for pollseverywhere. If I depend on an email, I have to have a working email and assume they will check their email and find mine among the gazillion they wade through. The collaborative programs will be most helpful. I frankly just can't see the ipads working well as stations, but I will keep an open mind. I'm enjoying the heck out of it. As much as I want to transform myself, reading books electronically is still a big step. I do hope to find a way to skype some interesting people. So far my efforts to contact an author this year has failed, and I haven't had the time to look for skype penpals in international schools. Maybe now that I've finished 11 tools....

The main unexpected outcome is that I discovered how many lessons are already out there - on educreation, flashcards. Handwriting on a white board isn't going to be particularly helpful in AP English, but I saw one that looked like a power point with the teacher's voice over, and I can see that being helpful. But I frankly can't see that happening on an ipad. I can teach it in class. Maybe I can capture a passage and then annotate and talk over it? Hmmm....just when I thought I was finished.

By the way, the time stamps on my posts are off. I just published this and saw that it says 1:52 PM when in fact it is 7:40 PM. I wish they were accurate so you could see how this task has occupied my evenings. I promise none of these posts were done during teaching hours; that's when I teach.

Fellow teachers recently passed around the following pasted article scanned from the Houston Chronicle about what being an English teacher and student used to be like before standardized tests. I think we could also say it was before technology. I am adding this to my last Tool, embedding this brazenly, having just received the scanned article, to remind us of what the classroom used to look like before today when I am embarrassed to say I allowed my senior English IV DC student to read Frankenstein to herself on her phone because the TAKS testing schedule doesn't allow me to meet with all my classes and they are catching up on their "reading." I would have to position myself over her shoulder to confirm she is not answering her email or checking facebook in between Elizabeth's murder and Victor Frankenstein's lingering death.

A time when teaching wasn't standardized. Today's school culture is about testing

Only once, in college,had I ever weighed in on a radio discussion. But last week, listening to a public radio show on the book Ethan Frame, I couldn't keep silent.Several people had called in or written to Diane Rehm's Reader's Review, saying that Edith Wharton's tragic, bleak, "depressing" 1911 novel, about a poor New England farmer's forbidden love for a young woman who comes to care for his ailing wife, isn't appropriate for high school-aged readers. One listener suggested people needed to live several decades to grasp the subject matter, the themes of poverty, isolation and repression, and the torturous ending that deprives
the reader of comfortable resolution. I kept waiting for some listener to speak up for the book, for young readers, for high school education in general. No one did. So, with only a few minutes left in the show, I dashed off an email to Rehm, describing my own experience with the book. Rehm read it aloud as the final piece of feedback. In the email, I explained that my sophomore English teacher at Seguin High, David Fleming, not only assigned the book in his class, but he read every word aloud, Allowing us to savor the
language, mull its meaning, and soak up the other lessons of imagery, character development, pacing, plot.
I can still hear Mr. Fleming's screeching interpretation of the voice of Ethan's wife, Zeena. I can feel the tension of the scene when Ethan touches a cloth Mattie is sewing, an intimate moment even though the two
never really touch. I remember the hopelessness I felt at the end, and the way in which our teacher helped us deal with it. He assigned us to write our own alternate endings. Drill and kill The radio show left me reflecting on Mr. Fleming's methods of teaching, and how rare they seem today in this drill-and-kill culture where performance on the Almighty Test sets the standard for everything from good instruction to teachers' salaries to housing prices in local real estate markets. Mr. Fleming retired a couple of years ago, but I can't imagine him in this era where every second in the classroom is planned and measured, dissected and squeezed. I don't remember feeling pressure in his classroom of towering shelves of books and sunlight. Only inspiration. With his gray beard, penetrating eyes and blue jeans, he resembled a kind of countrified M.C. Escher. He called every kid "son," regardless of gender. He introduced me to Baudelaire and Verlaine, and trusted me with an early edition of Tarzan of the Apes that he kept in a glass bookcase. He fed my obsession with language, and with writing. He'd stay after school to edit my latest dispatch of flabby poetry, waiting until I was safely
down the hall to unfold the pieces of notebook paper I couldn't bear to watch him read. Mr. Fleming knew how to make his students feel like we mattered. When I asked him once if he remembered my sister whom he had taught six years earlier, he reached in a filing cabinet and pulled out an essay she'd penned on her love of October. He treasured us as we treasured him. They're getting scarcer Mr. Fleming wouldn't fit in this prefab box public education has become. I'm sure his quirks, his pace and his creativity would displease the peddlers of the multipleguess machines. I'm not saying teachers like Mr. Fleming don't exist anymore. But they're becoming scarcer as their efforts become.devalued, their passions drown in paperwork, their methods are deemed helplessly old-fashioned against the latest reformist fad. Accountability has its place, but we've come to mistake testing for real learning. No test-prep session, no bench mark quiz, no worksheet drill can stay with you, teach you, touch you, push you, in quite the same way as those few simple afternoons nearly 20 years ago, reading aloud from Ethan Frome.

Ta dah!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tooling Around #10

Well, I’m spooked after reading about my Digital Dossier. Which took my mind off the frustration of being censored for digital safety in my Blog #4 because 60 minutes used the N-word to educate their audience about the censorship issues raised by the recent revised Huck Finn. We’ve all had trying times when a site we want won’t get through the firewall. Whatever it is, the kids will see at home; it’s a “not under my roof” system. I can’t blame the district for wanting to try to be safe and I’m usually not sabotaged significantly

I was fascinated by the deep web. I actually hadn’t realized how manipulated I was by GOOGLE until I heard Alan November speak, and I’ve grown very resentful of the narrow focus they likely give my searches. One colleague mentioned she has a different google profile on her home computer. I’m also concerned about the student’s research skills. Right now the seniors are doing issue-based research, and I continue to be surprised by their innocence about sources and their lack of curiosity about an author and his credibility and authority. They want information quick, and sometimes they are not discerning as a result. The good news, they seem interested in learning about the difference between a rant by a site called Dixie Rising and a scholar on the same subject.

Tooling around #9

I frankly wish we didn't feel it was important to tie the technology to the objective, but we are convinced that technology is so much a part of students' lives that we have to use it all day - even in a literature classroom. I'm inclined to think that a literature classroom is a refuge from techonology. Kids can type their writing and read a text electronically, but that doesn't seem to be particularly innovative. Research is another matter, but accessing databases and documents electronically isn't particularly new or exciting. I realize that students get more excited about reading if they can do it on their phone, but I'm not sure that's a good thing.

I did create an interactive MLA and grammar lesson for each student to do in the computer lab. It was not a "station" activity, but because they had the sense that they were playing a game rather than learning, it had their attention. They had to drag elements of a source citation until they got each piece in its proper place. They had to type in information using sample sources and they got points and scores for getting it right. I'll be honest - it was probably an effective way to get their attention with MLA formatting which is a painful lesson in minutia, but I hate to contribute to a culture that doesn't value learning. I think it's linked to a decrease in curiosity and creativity.

Why should we hold them accountable? Because the whole point is that learning should be taking place. With just paper and pen, the most a student could do was write a note. With lap tops and ipads, students can be far far away. I'm interested in surveillance software, frankly. With the laptop lid up, it's impossible to know what they are really doing, and they can multitask so fast that they can cover their trail if they see you coming.

Obviously accountability is a problem in all group work, and technology probably actually makes this easier to assess in some cases. Dragon dictation could record the group's conversation, so when they turn in their ipad I could take a quick look at whether or not they were talking about prom dresses or The Great Gatsby. Googledocs is a great way to keep them responsible for keeping up.

As I look at the various edusites, the few that are for literature classes are the readwritethink lessons that we have already been aware of for many years and often have thoughtful lessons, and the other site requires that the student type their answers to a series of questions about a passage and then they can print it up. The only difference is that they are not handwriting their answers. Why take them to the computer lab when they can write their answers at their desk? Until we have enough laptops, ipads or netbooks for every student, it's not particularly helpful.

I like the flashcard app - that seems like a terrific help to the students. I also want to explore freebooks. ( My students were excited at the possibility of putting an ibook of Great Gatsby on, but it cost $11.99.). I'm still not clear on how to use the ipad as a station with the few apps for English available. Other than accessing the internet which they can do on their phone. The educreation whiteboard has me excited. Some of the tricky MLA formatting rules have been conquered by some students, and not by others - how to create a hanging margin, how to get rid of the extra paragraph spaces on Word 2007 - and they could put these lessons on the ipads for each other. This summer I'm going to experiment with what I can share with dropbox in meaningful way so that the day's lessons could be opened by the group - and maybe each group would have a different project. I get to a dead end when I realize that we can't transfer the ipad experience to the activboard. It feels like a dead end (and very small as a station).

Tooling Around #8

The ipad

I confess I love it's thin shape, it's always on when I open it up. It's fast. Sweet.

But I (will have) 4 for the class of 30. Hmmmm. I brainstormed with that class and they are incredibly wonderful, clever kids. They told me about ibooks, so I could load the assigned class book (doubtless written by a dead white man! - no domain, no TM transgressions) for the student who didn't bring their book. (But I usually have a few paper copies for that purpose.)

We talked about dropbox as a mechanism to move work off the ipad - the printer or the active boasrd.

The flashcard app seems to be the big dang deal, but they can do that on their phone. As an individual, I'm in love with it. As a teacher who has to figure out how to share 4 30-ways, I'm puzzled. When I offered my 5 class laptops, the macbook and the ipad to students today to work on their research paper, nobody took the ipad.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tooling Around #7

Content Objective: Students will learn attitudes and opinions of students in other countries on current issues such as national health care, the government’s responsibility to its citizens beyond safety, outsourcing jobs, freedom of speech, our responsibility for global warming, American intervention in crises, etc.

When: Trial run after Spring Break
How: Skype, video if possible.

Where: students are volunteering their connections: So far we have London, Singapore, Japan, China, and most significantly Tripoli where school is actually not currently in session because of the current crises, but where I would like to concentrate my efforts. We had Dr. Jan Faber, who was visiting the UH Honors College last year from the Hague, speak to my students about the humanitarian causes for war. He told us that school children in conflict areas suffer deeply from a lack of contact with the world. Tripoli is therefore my first goal.

Complications: Time zones. We will have to negotiate for flexibility for students to attend a skype session that will not be in their class period, but which must take place sensitive to time zone differences.

Preparations: My students should prepare and send their questions in advance; this isn’t a time for impromptu responses, but a thoughtful interchange.

Why: Curriculum: All of my classes are either Dual Credit rhetoric and Composition or AP Language and Composition, both of which are focused on issues and argument. In order to prepare for the general argument and synthesis questions on the AP exam, students should be conversant in current events and global issues in order to develop argument and evidence. Similarly, college students (Dual Credit) should be having these conversations.

Tooling Around #6

What FUN! I created a poll to try to figure out why my seniors aren't reading Frankenstein. Their last test shows I'm losing them, but I can't figure out what the real problem is - time, habit, work ethic, reading ability????

I also created a today's meet to that same end and emailed the link to my students through the email address I had for them on They started responding right away with remarkable candor. It seems to be their kind of communicating.

I tried to create an Edmodo, but you need a school code. I'm going to have to slow down. Hah! the ironies of 11 Tools.

Tooling Around #5

OMG!  I just saw my blog and my video on Tolling Around #3 from 60 minutes was censored and you can't see it.  It will keep people guessing, but I'd rather they get to see it.  My students recently argued about the appropriateness of the newly published altered version of Huck Finn where the N-word was replaced with "slave."  Great discussion on a number of levels, and this video was a a great story on it.  I can't believe the district blocked it!

Okay, on to animoto and Prezi.  We've been using them in the classroom for a couple of years for book group presentations.  Right now kids are using it to explore an aspect of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:  regionalism, Twain's critique of religion, Jim as father, friend and human, etc.  I'm embedding one I made to introduce A Tale of Two Cities to my students..

I first saw Prezi on a TED talk and was wowed by its rabbit hole approach.  I used to have the students do paper mind maps of books we read, but when I offered them Prezi as an option, most seize upon it.  They can assign greater value/space to a variety of angles and never run out of paper.  They are also clever about the pathways, sometimes diving into the pupil of a person, the face of a coin, you get it.  Some students have chosen to make a Prezi for their Huck project.  Rather than embed one of mine, I'm going to embed one made by a student. It's almost finished, due tomorrow, but I think it's looking great!

Actually, I'm afraid I won't pass if I don't embed one I did - which is I suppose part of the point. I made this in 2010, and it has a sadly obvious lack of imagination, but here goes: