Archive for April, 2011

So, I’ve been thinking about what I call my class as a group. I know some teachers do the “friends” thing. My personal kids go to a Quaker school so their teachers certainly do that. And, I hear lots of teachers, usually of younger children, use “friends” at my school as well. I wasn’t sure that was right for us (my class and me as teacher).
"What's in a name?"
I feel like we are working on things together and there is a social aspect to that, but my students and I are more coworkers than friends. Not that we are not friendly, we are. But I don’t feel that is the our primary relationship. So, what are we? Peers? Co-workers? Colleagues? Teammates? Buddies?

Well, I’ve settled on “colleagues”. We’ve been working on so many things in groups this year that it does seem to me that we are in it together-that we are working towards common goals and understandings. It still makes the kids giggle a little, but I can sense that sometimes it makes some students feel important and makes them sit up a little straighter. It’s the power of words being brought to life in my classroom. We are reading Tuck Everlasting at the moment, so we are talking a lot about word choice and the power of descriptive language. Then just out of the blue I got an email with a link to a great video on the topic. I love it when things come together like that.

On a side note, I am a gatherer, not a hunter. I collect things/ideas/images all the time. It’s just what I do, and it works for me. I count on being inspired and having ideas come to me. And, I can count on it because I’ve got all that flotsam and jetsam in my head just waiting for the right moment. It sometimes make for some last-minute changes of plan, but it lets me take the best advantage of what I encounter in my day and combine information in my own ways.

So back to what to call my students, Tuck Everlasting, the power of words, and my email. Here is the link to the YouTube video (it’s less than 2 minutes, you should watch. I would have embedded it, but I’m not paying for that option at the moment) called “The Power of Words.” It ends with the words “Change your words, Change your world.” It fit in so well with what I have been thinking about as well as what we are doing in class. I showed it to my students before we begin a writing assignment on Wednesday.

I am pretty sure that my word change to “colleagues” is unlikely to change the world. But, I noticed that one of my student colleagues wrote this on her digital portfolio reflection for our last book: “Me and my 5E colleagues just read the book called, The Rainbow People.” (I know it should be” my 5E colleagues and I”.)

It turns out that I changed my words, and I might have changed a little piece of the world.

(photo by Jack Dorsey used under creative commons license)

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about creating a digital museum for ancient history with my 5th graders next year. I know, there is still plenty of time left in this year. But, something this big needs time to develop.

I am part of a group at my school that is working together to understand and begin to implement more Project Based Learning. We are using the excellent online resources of the Buck Institute to learn about true, unadulterated PBL. So, the plan is for each of us to work on a unit we already teach that could be transformed into PBL. Then, we meet and help each other do the nitty-gritty of crafting driving questions, planning assessments, and coming up with ways to have a more public final something (which I find the hardest).

Once again, I have found myself with eyes bigger than my stomach. (Anyone who has seen me in front of a dessert buffet will have a clear picture here.) Instead of thinking about a unit, my idea involves tackling an entire subject area. In fact, I have had this idea rumbling around for months already. I have “put it away” many times and “gotten it back out” just as many. At the moment, it’s out again.

Every time I spend some time with the idea, I drag more folks into the project  get more people interested in working on the museum. So far this list includes:

At the moment, though, I am a bit stuck on the big question of what format to use for the base of the whole thing. I have not let this stop me, but it has slowed up my planning. Instead of really diving in, I am flitting around the edges, which is starting to feel unproductive.

So, I am asking for some ideas.

Here’s what I want:

  • to create “pieces” in many formats (text, audio, combination)
  • to embed these “pieces” on some home site
  • to be able to edit the site (during the year and year to year)
  • some ability to comment or contact us (my class/school) as creators
  • something that looks good
  • something that is a somewhat flexible

Question mark made of puzzle piecesI know about and can find out about lots of great web tools that will allow my students to create the individual pieces (some which can be embedded elsewhere, some would have to be links out). And, there are more being created every minute. What I don’t know is what the base site should be. At the moment, I’m imagining that my options are wiki or google site, but I’d love some advice.

What do you think?

Anyone else interested in being involved in the project?

(Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons license.)

So, I’ve been thinking about parent-teacher conferences lately. I’ve been doing this for a while so I’ve given my fair share of both good and not-so-good ones.

en union y libertad?
In reflecting on what I do well and not so well, I have been thinking that I give the kind of conference that I want to get as a parent. I feel like I am following the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Often that works, but sometimes it doesn’t. The problem is it assumes both parties would want the same thing. (I’ve written about the dangers of assuming before.) What if I’m giving the type conference I would like to get, but not the type of conference that the parent in front of me wants? Now the golden rule starts to lose its golden glow.

We had a speaker at school several years ago who talked about just this idea. (I cannot remember his name or I would give credit. I will ask around.) He referred to the need for the platinum rule: Do unto others, as they would have you do unto them. I think this really applies to my situation.

I like to think that I fall in the happy middle between an “everything is rosy” and an “all your faults in your face” sort of person when it comes to conferences. I have two young kids myself and I have to say I question the teacher’s knowledge of my kids if it’s all hearts and rainbows. Don’t get me wrong—I have nice kids. They are also human, and I like to hear about them as such. It reassures me that the teacher knows them and, honestly, knows kids. My personal kids are so far very different as learners and we are already noticing how different their conferences are. However, they are still pretty young and there just isn’t a lot of academic pressure happening yet.

In my classroom, I work hard to develop a class climate that allows for us as a group to be relatively open about our minor struggles and the fact that there are things some of us have to work more on depending on who we are. It’s just the luck of the draw. By the time kids are 10, they know enough to know that I would be lying to suggest otherwise. I have found that students really respond well to this message. I often see the relief on their faces when I say out loud that it doesn’t seem fair that you sometimes or a lot of times have to work harder than someone else, but that it might be true. Finally someone is saying what they have been noticing. It’s very validating for many. This means that before we start a writing assignment I remind everyone about run-on sentences and I very obviously make eye contact and smile at the prime offenders. It means that as we are working on math I might call across the room and ask someone if he or she is being neat since we all are aware that this is an issue for this person. I keep it to that level of “issues” but I just find it so much better for everyone than being secretive about it.

All this is to say that I am giving a conference that comes out of that context—me as a parent and teacher. However, when the parents come into the room for the conference, I have to remember that they are foreigners, no matter their place of birth. They haven’t been with us developing this common culture; they haven’t witnessed their child being part of this open learning community. And, they may not want the same things out of a conference that I do.  The vast majority of the time, I think it’s been a pretty good fit, but not always.

Time to upgrade to platinum.

(Photo by Paula Rey used under Creative Commons share-alike license)

So, I’ve been thinking about what do on the day before spring break when there will be a few too many people absent to do something new and a few too many people present to just do fluff all day. I planned my formal assessments for the day before the last day since I actually needed everyone to do them.

Then I planned a super-fun, if I do say so myself, day of running around and showing me what you know about Ancient China. Yes, you read that correctly. Why don’t I tell you about it.

First, the background:

  • We have been studying Ancient China.
  • I gave a map quiz, but needed to assess student knowledge on dynasties etc.
  • I really didn’t want to give a standard test.

Here’s what I thought about as I planned:

  • This blog post by Hadley Ferguson about how a colleague of hers combines physical activity and coursework.
  • If we’ve been doing group work maybe I should try group assessment.
  • I wonder what my kids would like to do?

Step 1:

  • I talked with my class about the fact that I needed to know what they had learned.
  • I posted on our class blog asking for suggestions of games or activities we could play.
  • We reviewed the many helpful blog comments and had more discussion in class.

Step 2:

  • I settled on 3 games (a version of “The Amazing Race,” memory, and a version of Capture the Flag)
  • I spend a ton of time making the games, the answer sheets, laminating, color coding, etc.
  • I make charts to record “data” as the games progressed.

Step 3:

  • Let the games begin
And the results are in: VICTORY!
Proof it was a success (another list):
  • I overheard more than 1 student say “I studied so much.”
  • I also overheard someone say, “I forgot my notes so I read over the whole chapter. It took me forever.”
  • All of the above was said with smiles and excitement.
  • I am NOT kidding.
  • Students had a great time running around looking for clues and answering questions in “The Amazing Race.”
  • They strategized and made secret signals to get information to team members in the dynasty memory game.
  • They huddled to perfect their explanations for the tough questions in “Capture the Dynasty.”
  • I got plenty of information about who knew what.
  • We all went home happy.
(Photo by Dennis Jarvis used under Creative Commons license)

Think about it Thursday

Posted: April 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

So, I’ve been thinking about ePortfolios some more. I wrote about using them for conferences and how useful it was for all parties. That’s the good part. The not as good part is the infrequency, in my opinion, with which we contribute to them.

I want my students to get into a real habit of reflection. (I think we’ve been over the fact that I make big plans, but if you missed it, here is more proof.) Every 3-4 weeks is just not enough to make a habit.

So, here are my thoughts:

  • It doesn’t have to be a major deal every time we add something.
  • Not all additions should be structured by me.
  • I need to find a regular time that we can dedicate to this project.
  • Format is flexible—text, podcast, maybe even image.

As it turns out we have a 20 minute block of time on Thursdays that is a challenge to use effectively.
New Surface
So, here’s the plan:

“Think-about-it-Thursday” will be a new feature in the week. We have 20 minutes after lunch before heading to Art each Thursday. So, during that time, students will have the option to reflect on some part of their learning. They will need to mix it up, subject-wise and can choose from a variety of formats. The goal is short and sweet.

I’ll keep you posted.

(And, before I could even post this, I managed not to make “Think-about-it-Thursday” happen, more than once. The amount of time I have is just so short that I’m not sure I can make it work. That new surface is pretty slippery.)

(Photo by Rockman of Zymurgy used under Creative Commons license)

So, I’ve been thinking about our ePortfolios, again. Working on them on the iPads is a little tricky. The eporfolios are wikis which, while easy to view on the iPad, are a pain to edit. You see all the formatting coding and it’s hard to do a lot more than insert text. But, I love that because the iPads and keyboards are small, students can easily sit in their favorite position, spread out the work for the unit, and really see what it looks like.

While students are getting the hang of the pattern we are using to review work, it’s not exactly becoming a habit. It’s too long between units. So, I’m working on some ideas to tackle that.

coursework to mark
In the mean time, we had conferences coming up. In the fall, I showed parents their child’s eportfolio. This time I did something different. We spent time in advance getting the work up to date. I did a lot of attaching files, since I am the organizer of each wiki, I can attach a lot easily from the school’s network folders. Then each student did individual reflecting. That’s been our pattern. However, this time I assigned this item for homework before the conference: take your parent(s) on a tour of your wiki.

Of course not every student did that. However, most did. And, those parents who did get a tour came to the conference with a better sense of their child’s work and with more of an understanding of where our conversation would and should go. For many it was much more of a conversation between similarly informed parties.

I’ll definitely be giving that assignment again.

(Photo by Andrea Rota used under Creative Commons license)

No More Assuming

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about what I assume my students know. In my class, I explain fairly early on that we won’t assume anything, because when we assume “it makes an ass out of you (u) and me.”  5th graders love that I say this; I mean I say the word “ass.” And, it’s not bad advice.

But, it seems I forgot it.

Here’s what happened. We were working on some writing and students had turned in first drafts. I, however, was not that impressed with said drafts. Many of them were riddled with basic spelling and punctuation errors. They were written on a laptop or iPad, so spelling errors should have been minimal. And, the “run-on royalty”, as I refer to those who seem unacquainted with the period, were in fine form.

Then I thought about it. Maybe they don’t know what a rough/first draft is?

So, I asked. “Has a teacher ever explained what a rough draft is and is not? I know I have not said what it is for me.”

“No.” (I am fully aware that this may or may not be true, but they clearly needed a refresher and knew it.)

So, I spent 15 minutes talking about the difference between a rough draft and a final draft. I made a list on the board of things that should and should not be in a rough/first draft (I never use the term “sloppy copy”). You might think this topic would not really grab people, but there was excellent attention and interest. This was news to people.

Here is a basic summary of what I notes about a first draft:

  • could have a few spelling or punctuation errors
  • first attempt at expressing your ideas
  • the best version of that first effort

Summary of a next draft:

  • again your best effort
  • new ideas after input from a peer or teacher reviewer

This seemed very reasonable to folks. Some of the best 15 minutes I have spent this year–just in time teaching.

How do I know it stuck with anyone?

Well, the next writing assignment we did I saw many of the chronic offenders ( in terms of run-ons, spelling errors, etc.) rereading, paying attention to spell check, adding punctuation, and generally handing in a draft that was in good enough condition that I could spend my editing time thinking about their ideas, not just their grammar.

No more assuming.