Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This is Our Classroom

Welcome to our classroom. Pardon the mess... we've been busy.

Our room is a large semi-industrial studio. The students in the foreground are sitting in our Blogger's Lounge while in the distance, two students are projecting student work and leading a peer review session, and to the right a cluster of students have a chat session around a table to plan for their presentation; two more groups hang in our mini Mac lab just to the left of where this picture is cropped.

We're a 1:1 school and all of the students have Tablet PCs. You'll notice the two cameras as well in the picture below; that's because we share this room with @schickbob and his fantastic TV and Film students; this area doubles as a soundstage for student-directed video and TV as well as a blackbox theatre during in-class student productions and performances. We've also got exposed rafters and a nice semi-mobile mounted lighting system that we use to give productions that authentic feel.

Here's our larger than life-sized class Twitter feed projected up on the wall. Students use this for everything from chatting and sharing ideas and links to organizing bibliographies and resources via hashtags.

During the class session when we shot these pics, the students were peer reviewing outlines and rough drafts of academic essays. Each group rotated into the middle of the room at some point during the class to post their work on the big screen and present their arguments. They used Twitter to organize their group efforts and they presented all of their work via Blogger.

Each student has his or her own Blogger account. The students keep all classwork as well as all notes and long-term assignments on their blogs, so by the end of a semester they have a complete portfolio of work. Students write daily blogposts on questions gathered from our crowdsourced wiki-syllabus; the best writing goes up on our public class blog.

With the exception of the sofa, everything in our room is either on wheels or light enough to easily move around. As a teacher, I've found that to be key. The more flexible your space, the more engaging your classroom.

And there's the authenticity piece. Life isn't an orderly row of desks. I want my students to own their room and be able to adapt it to their needs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Over 1000 Teachers Worldwide Sign Pledge to Go Paperless for Earth Day 2010

Happy to report that over 1000 teachers have now signed our pledge to go paperless for Earth Day!

Is your school represented?

Click here to see the complete list of participants. And click here to make the pledge.

I've also started a wiki where teachers can document the things they do with their students on Earth Day. Feel free to leave documentation of all sorts -- written, audio, video.

I'd love this to become an evolving resource for teachers looking to go paperless.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Stick

This, my friends, should be the new standardized test to replace the NCLB/SAT/ACT/HSA/BS:

The Stick

In comparison, nothing comes close to truly assessing... well... much of anything concerning the intellect, aptitude, understanding, or creativity of just about any human being.

"Here's a stick..." he said, "Make me believe in something."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Introducing the Middle Ages to Freshmen History Students via Online Gaming

What's loud, crude, bloody, and educational?

Why, I do believe it's the 1066 game from Channel4.

Summing up the three major battles over England in the year 1066, the game lets the player experience warfare from the point-of-view of Viking, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman warriors.

I particularly like the Flash sequences between battles which tell the story of the Viking and Norman invasions in an accessible format easy for students to pick up on.

The battle sequences liberally splatter the blood around, so I'd tend to save this one for the older kids. But for the 'older kids' among us, it sure is fun.

And to extend the logic of medieval warfare beyond the historical battles, the game also allows players to create their own scenarios and play against one another online.

One thing's for certain: it surely did grab the attention of my Freshmen like no textbook description of the battles ever has.

Thanks to Emily, one of my former students (and now a Classics geek in college), for the showing me the game to begin with.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Over 900 Teachers Have Pledged to Go Paperless for Earth Day 2010

A good couple days. We're at the end of the quarter and it's springtime!

So, I'm taking a break from JingCrits for a Paperless Earth Day update. As of 3PM EST, there were 906 teachers worldwide who had taken the pledge to go paperless on Earth Day 2010!

The whole list is available online to view; everything is listed alphabetically by school -- so see how many folks from your school are taking part!

You can make your own pledge to teach paperless on Earth Day by clicking here and filling out the short form.

In addition, TeachPaperless has just started working with the Earth Day 2010 Action Center and, in an upcoming post, I'll have more information about what's going on there. Until then, join the Earth Day community of over 750,000 members and add TeachPaperless to your network!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Example of Jing Used to Comment on Student Work Online

Have been using Jing for about three weeks now as my primary form of commenting on student work. Here's a recent example that uses Jing's 'pause' ability to quickly jump between the student's work and online sources and resources.

So far, the reaction to Jing comments has been overwhelmingly in favor. In fact, both students and parents have been pushing me to produce as many JingCrits as my time allows.

Thinking about the future, I want to experiment with using graphics within Jing; and I would love to hear the experience you all have had jinging the net.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Over 800 Teachers Pledge to Go Paperless for Earth Day!

Over 800 teachers from around the world have now signed our pledge to go paperless in their classrooms for Earth Day 2010. Can you commit to going paperless for a day?

Click here to add your name and pledge!

And click here to see everybody who's pledged so far!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Listening to Students

Since the start of this semester, students in my 9th grade West Civ class have been publishing their own blogzine.

The blog is open to the public and the authors and editors take great pride in their work. They've made mistakes along the way and have humbly corrected them, and they've come up against criticism along the way and have admirable engaged with it in debate.

In short: they've learned.

And so have I.

Today, we published a piece by two students. It's a look at how students learn best today and what kind of teaching proved most effective in the past. Mind you, this isn't written by a teacher or an ed school grad. It's just two 15 year-olds thinking about what works for them and taking a look at how folks who were in school in the 60s and 70s had it both differently and similarly. The students talk with a man who in an all-white school in the 1960's encounters his favorite teacher in an African-American woman. They talk to a woman who describes her experience in school and who feels like she missed out on a lot on account of the way the teachers taught. The kids themselves talk about the things that have engaged them; and they candidly describe the sort of teaching that has bored them to death.

It's not a completely polished piece. These kids are busy 9th graders, after all. But it's an honest piece. And it's the kind of piece that we as teachers should be reading closely. There's a lot there between the lines.

Read it for yourself, and please comment. The students would like to listen to what you have to say too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Skyping History

Today, my 9th grade history class took a digital detour to Scandinavia. A good friend of mine from Stockholm skyped into our class session on Vikings.

American history curricula teach Scandinavian history as if its only contribution to the world was plunder and horned helmets (which of course, as some of my students pointed out yesterday on their West Civ Proj blog, they didn't even wear). So, I wanted to give them a view of what Scandinavian history is really like by having a conversation with someone who actually was born and lives there.

My friend Joel is a world-class musician and he's spent the last few years working on NGO projects using music as a way of empowering kids in the forgotten cities of the world. A native of Sweden, he was a perfect choice for a brief conversation with my kids here in Maryland.

First he pointed out the different ways Scandinavians think about their ancestors. On the one hand, they were admittedly brutal and severe. One the other, however, they were industrious people who wanted to better their lives and who survived much hardship in the face of climates and limited resources few of us could imagine.

Someone asked what Sweden was like today, and Joel described their schools and government as well as the general attitudes of Swedes towards world affairs. And you could see in the faces of some kids a difficulty lining up the modern society he was describing with the limited knowledge they had always carried around about the land of the Vikings.

Each week, I give the students a question to ponder. This week's question is: "Who is Good? Who is Bad?" We collect these questions, along with many others, on our class wiki; and we crowdsource for more via Twitter. These questions -- not the facts from some filtered-down textbook -- form the basis of our class dialog.

The kids are learning history via the questions we ask about it.

And so, after an eight-minute conversation with a stranger a quarter of a world away -- a conversation that threw some theoretical complications into the mix regarding Vikings (Good, Bad, and Otherwise) -- I look forward to seeing how my kids answer the question this week.

And just as an aside, I'm gonna say that I'm just so happy that I'm living in a time where I can bring the world to my kids and bring my kids to the world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Using Google Wave in the Foreign Language Classroom

I'm not the one who thought to use Wave. That was a student's idea. 

I just came up with the task: for the kids to write their own epic poem in Latin. Google Wave for writing Latin Epics? Of course... I should've thought of that to begin with! 

It's actually a no brainer. (Or that's what I discovered over two days watching the kids work with it in class.)

Basically, creating the poem is a four step process: 
1) Collaborating on the writing of the poem in English. 
2) Editing the English version into a cohesive whole. 
3) Rendering the English into Latin. 
4) Making adjustments to fit the Latin version into epic meter.
We began by chunking up parts of the narrative -- beginning, rising action, climax, etc -- between the students. We were all sitting around a big table with our laptops, so it was easy both to chat between one another f2f and at the same time follow what was happening on the Wave (which I projected on the wall).

I find that this is often the key: hybridizing f2f and online experiences.

The students developed a humorous story about Greek heroes on a quest to save the last ice cream cone. (Okay, so it's no Homer... but it's a start!)

As students wrote their chunks, I flipped through the Wave commenting on each student's work -- it being a Wave, of course, I am able to comment as they are working rather than waiting for them to turn something in. This is a great way both to gauge formative learning as well as nipping problems in the bud before they blossom into full-blown misconceptions -- it's so often those ingrained misconceptions that we spend so much time trying to help kids unlearn.

Once the English versions were rendered and edited into five-line chunks, students began the process of morphing their poem into Latin. We started with the verbs.

As students suggested verbs and verb-forms, I was able to check through quickly and again figure out who needed extra help and who was ready for greater challenges (and as I've found over and over, it's not always the kids at one end of the 'grades' spectrum or the other that needs more of the former or more of the latter). Wave actually lets me gauge each student individually in real-time and cater my teaching to each individual student. 

I'm coming to think of Wave as a 'differentiation and formative assessment' device.

Tomorrow, we'll start on the process of rendering the rest of the Latin and fitting everything into the confines of the old ancient meter. I'll be sure to post my thoughts on the conclusion of the project and hopefully will have a nice bit of Latin Epic to offer you all -- courtesy of the kids -- in two days' time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Update on the Paperless Earth Day Campaign

Over 700 teachers have signed the pledge to go paperless for Earth Day!

Thank you to so many of the subscribers to this blog as well as all the great educators on Twitter for helping out and spreading the word.

Let's keep this ball rolling! Earth Day is April 22.

Pledge now!

TeachPaperless on Facebook

A reminder to regular readers and an invite to new readers: further the paperless discussion with TeachPaperless on Facebook. A nice place to find other people involved in 21st century education.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Real Teacher Education

After a long day of PD yesterday, I've been thinking about how we see ourselves as educators. Been thinking about what our own education means and how we continue to develop as teachers. Been thinking about real teacher education.

Our PD session ended in a faculty discussion where we debated what the role of lecturing is in the high school classroom. On one side, we had folks who said that kids need to "learn to become engaged in a lecture" because that's the primary form of classroom communication they'd see in college. On the other side were the folks who argued that outside of the college classroom, there wasn't a job on Earth where the primary form of communication is lecturing and therefore we should dispel with it in our classrooms in favor of 'real world' education.

This of course, is a classic argument that's been going on since at least Mr. Dewey's days.

And I think it misses the boat.

Because the argument is structured in such a way to propagate the false dichotomy between 'levels' of learning and experience. I'd argue that rather than gear your instructional strategy towards expectations in educational leveling -- i.e. teaching with different strategies to second graders than to college freshmen based on the 'ideas' of what the expectations of teaching and motivation are -- what we really should be doing is understanding who our students are in a meaningful and compassionate way and, without any preconceptions about what's going to 'work', we should be formulating approaches democratically with the input -- and veto power -- of our students.

The students deserve the veto. It's their education, after all. And if the teaching method you are using isn't working for them -- be it lecture or open learning or project-based or what-have-you -- then they have a right and obligation to petition you to understand what would work for them and you have a professional obligation to try out new strategies.

Hard? Yes.

Professional and necessary? Even more so.

I'm tired of teachers acting like their 'tried-and-true' method is the only way. I was tired of it as a student and I'm tired of it as a teacher. It's arrogant and it stinks of the fear of losing the comfort of the 'normal'.

Nothing about your students is 'normal'.

I realize that I can be a bit militant in the pages of this blog. And I fully realize that I've got an ego and personal arrogance that occasionally makes me look like a jackass. So I'm gonna say right here right now: Don't base your teaching approaches on the arguments that you hear on this blog. Rather, base your teaching approaches on the conversations you have with your students. Find out who they are. Ask them how they learn. Challenge yourself to figure out how to teach them. Each of them.

Because in the end, this isn't about lecturing vs. not lecturing. It's not about preparing kids to be able to handle college. It's not about the authority of one form of instruction over another.

It's about engaging minds and empowering individuals.

That's it. That's the whole point of education.

And you ain't gonna engage the mind of a student by arguing the finer points of pedagogy with your colleagues. You're only going to engage the minds of your students by learning from them how their minds work. You've got to talk to them. You've got to know them. And you have to trust one another.

Real teacher education happens when you leave your ego behind and jump into the learning process as not a 'teacher' or a 'facilitator' but as a fellow human being who has compassion for human beings and who recognizes the real importance of education as the armor of empowerment. Because the 'real world' is an endlessly relative term; and what we really want is not to produce students capable of dealing with one kind of 'real world', but capable of adapting, showing compassion, and helping to empower others in whatever world in which they may find themselves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Go Paperless

Steve Katz posted a nice summary of where this Paperless Earth Day idea came from on his blog.

Check it out; tell Steve "THANKS!" for instigating this whole thing; and then be sure to join over 650 teachers from around the world in pledging to go paperless for the 40th Earth Day this April 22, 2010.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Remembrance of Things Past: What is the new iPad ad suggesting about Apple's intended audience for the new device?

What is the new iPad ad suggesting about Apple's intended audience for the new device?

First of all, despite the edgy-guitar pop hooks that give the soundtrack to this ad that iPod flavor, the visuals are completely... well... milquetoast. We're in a house decorated by Pottery Barn with a couple of indeterminable age who favor bluejeans and skiing.

The couple are 'readers'... you know, they read 'books' and 'newspapers'; no Boing Boing or Daily Dish in this house, kids. Chatroulette is right out.

Second, they love the travel. They read the 'Escape' section of the Times and have friends who send them pics of trips to Switzerland. We might assume that these folks have made it through the Great Recession alright and are looking for an opportunity to drop some buckage on a hotel with a hot tub and a view.

When it comes to scheduling events, it looks like they have plenty of free time on Wednesdays; perhaps they'll sneak in a few hours to read the Ted Kennedy bio. On second thought, maybe Wednesdays are best spent looking at pictures of the kids and the dog. (Note, ironically, that the interior in this commercial is obviously not the interior of any domicile containing multiple children and a dog.)

Next shot: look! They write emails that look exactly like 'real' letters!

And then, just when I thought I had the market for this device pegged as upper middle class Boomers: they go and throw in that snowboarding article. How edgy! Why, we must actually be looking into the secret life of a Gen Xer with typical 1960's fetishes -- Kennedy, The Doors -- and definitely not folks who'd prefer receiving a letter on 'paper'.

Or are we?

One of the things that's most striking about this ad is the way it blurs together stereotypical Boomer and Gen X interests and tendencies into a composite whole. Notably absent from the video are any of the ways people will actually most often use this device (3rd party apps, 3rd party apps, 3rd party apps) [and I should add 'making stuff', though as of now, there appears to be no simple way ala the typical Macbook avenues to 'make stuff']; instead we're presented with Apple-lite for folks interested in the technology thing, but who have real lives planning ski trips and giving harbor to nostalgia dressed up as hipness.

I'm struck by the images of media that I caught the first time I watched the ad: Star Trek, Steven King, Jim Morrison. There is nothing remotely 21st century about this. The device might be as "magical" as all get-out; but the ad campaign -- and we can assume the intended market's world view -- is entirely based in nostalgia -- and I'd argue -- a certain big-company-fed cynicism towards new media and what's actually happening NOW on the Web.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Crowdsourcing Questions in the Social Studies Classroom

Click here and enter into a wonderful classroom project. @vtdeacon is putting this together as a "Crowdsourcing Questions" project.

Personally, I'm so excited about this sort of thing.

We've had such a good time the last few weeks in my 9th grade West Civ class running our syllabus as a crowdsourced document -- and we'd love you to stop on by after you leave a question or two on @vt's wiki.

Collaboration. It's a beautiful thing.

The Social Alma Mater

Over the past week and a half, I've had several great conversations with former students... especially recent grads. By-and-large these students and I have kept up our friendships via social media.

@schickbob and I were talking about this today and came to the conclusion that -- in a way -- the future of education is bound up in the ways that we relate to our alumni via the social connections of the Net. Because the future of education isn't about the classroom; it's about the world. And your alumni are the bridge between the two.

With that in mind... if any old alums happen to be reading this, do get in touch. We need you now more than ever.

Nearly 600 Teachers Have Taken the Paperless Earth Day Pledge

Click here to see the current list (organized alphabetically by school name).

And click here to pledge.

Friday, March 05, 2010

From the Archives

Especially for new readers, here's a list of the eleven most read articles on TeachPaperless (as of, well, today).

Sort of a miniature 'TeachPaperless Reader'.


1. Response to Questions About Education and Obsolescence
It's not really a matter of whether teachers will become obsolete; it's a matter of whether the institutions that currently support learning will become obsolete.

And they will.

2. On Paper, Candles, and Rituals
There are times when we need to feel that pencil sketch across the pad.

3. 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.

4. What are we preparing them for?
I'm obliged to recognize that I'm of a generation caught in the transition between two ages.

5. Go Paperless for Earth Day!
Source reduction is the best form of conservation.

6. Why Teachers Should Blog
I blog and what I blog -- and how that message is received by others -- tells me what I think.

And it tells me how I think. To blog is to teach yourself what you think.

7. Thinking About 'Technique' and 'Innovation'

8. Thoughts on History and the "Important Questions"
Many of us in education -- myself included -- tend to be pragmatists; we work with what we've got, and for the most part theory and history are often a diversion rather than a primary function within our practice. We talk about practice and policy in the story of "now" and we work scrappily to make things happen in the "now". And that's fine. But it leaves me personally feeling that the work of education all too often is forced to exist within the confines of politics and finances rather than in the sphere of the re-enchantment of the spirit where it belongs.

9. Tech Engaged by Default?
And the more I think about it, the more I think that the majority of folks left on the fence about the role of tech in the 21st century are going to simply fall into the 'user' catagory by default as society changes around them.

10. Using Authentic Gaming to Engage Kids in Authentic Learning
Gaming itself is a form of 'text'. And, especially in terms of fantasy MMOGs, games are complex narratives. Well, if you've got a kid who won't read a book, but who maintains a high-level character on a complicated MMOG, the problem likely isn't that the kid isn't able to understand complex narratives.

There's something deeper going on.

11. Yes, Internet Access is a Civil Right
we are presented with the opportunity both to re-train and re-employ citizens and spread access throughout the country by means of a public works program for Internet connectivity and community training in digital literacy.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Using Jing to Assess Online Student Writing

Been experimenting for the last couple days with Jing.

And among several uses I've found for it, by far the most important for me has been as a means of giving in-depth feedback to students on their blogs and in their writings.

I'm not the only teacher who has been frustrated by the limitation -- especially on blogs -- for marking up and commenting on student work. And so I've been looking for an alternative.

I wanted something that was more flexible, more personable, and more similar to a one-to-one conference with a student.

Jing supplies all of that.

Here are two examples of my use of Jing to assist in the assessment of student writing. The students are 9th graders in History class. You'll see that I'm pushing them to think about the sources they use and to think about how they structure an argument.

Example One

Example Two

I know many of you have used Jing for all sorts of purposes and would love it if you would share your most interesting ideas.

In a way, I'm embarrassed that it took me so long to realize that the solution to my problem was sitting there right in front of me for so long. But, such is learning.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

500 Teachers Pledge to Go Paperless for Earth Day 2010!

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, over 500 teachers worldwide have pledged to go paperless in their classrooms for the day.

Here's a link to the original call.

Here's the place to pledge.

Here's a spreadsheet of teachers who have pledged.

And here's a handful of posts written by folks taking the paperless challenge:

EdTech Workshop
Web 2.0 for ESL
Just One Teacher
Musings 365
SMS Tigertalk
Getting Comfortable Teaching with Technology
Earthcast 2010

Thanks for all your words and actions.

Teaching with DIY Digital Flashcards

So, I've put together a brief presentation about the digital flashcards I'm using with my West Civ students.

I know that when most people hear the word 'flashcard' they think 'rote memorization'. I think though, that the concept of the flashcard can be turned on its head in the Digital Age.

Check out the presentation and tell me what you think.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Student Challenge to Go Paperless for Earth Day

Woke up to a pleasant surprise.

Turns out that the Green Team at South Middle School has challenged their entire student body to go paperless for Earth Day!

Would love to hear about other schools taking on the pledge school-wide. As of right now, over 430 teachers from around the world have taken the pledge to go paperless on April 22, 2010, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day

You can pledge by clicking here!