Monday, January 28, 2008

I Learn, I Practice, I Grow

Over the weekend, I was keeping an eye on Educon in Philly and Twitter. One of the comments that came across Twitter keeps going through my mind. Someone was at a talk by Gary Stager. They wrote that they felt ashamed as a teacher as they listened to the presentation. I plan on listening to the session, so I admit I am writing this without having seen it. I will listen soon. The comment is weighing heavy on my mind.

I believe in the process of conversing, people forget that we are like our students. For the most part, the teachers who are blogging about education, technology, web 2.0 tools, and the like are learning and trying new projects in the classroom on an on-going basis.

I have been teaching computer class in the K-8 grade level for the last six years. I am no different than my students. I learn, I practice, I grow, and I learn some more. What I do is not always perfect. It is a work in progress.

There is no way to have an amazing, global, creative, collaborative classroom unless you take the first step. Those steps are creating excitement in my students. I had a seventh grader who was reading emails from a second grade project today. I have them hanging on the wall. He read it of his own accord and commented on how interesting it was to read about life in other countries. Writing classroom-to-classroom emails is something I’ve always wanted to do. I tried to get a local school to collaborate with me, but it never came to be. Now, with a shout from Tom in the UK, I have my second graders (and any other student in the school who chooses to read the printed letter) connecting with these other students.

I don’t believe edubloggers, as a group, are on soapboxes. I believe we are trying to take what exists and learn to apply it for the benefit of our students. I came a long way from my first attempts at wikis last year to what we are managing this year. We have been having intra-class collaboration in the sixth through eighth grade. They will take those skills and work on the 1001 Flat Tales project next month. I build the skill blocks one step at a time.

We’ve started working with other classrooms through a Classroombraids project and the fifth graders were so proud to show off their VoiceThreads at the open house this weekend.

I’ve even been able to get my Kindergarten class interacting with other children preparing for their 100th Day of School this year.

The students are learning to create podcasts and movies to reflect their learning, too. They have some very nice first attempts to show what they have learned. The eighth grade’s plagiarism podcasts were a first try. My sixth grade math class is working on creating a video about population density, and my seventh grade will be creating audio podcasts about web site evaluation.

It may have been an off-the-cuff comment that I read, but it’s been playing over and over in my head. I know where I was six years ago. I see where my work is today, and I know it will only continue to grow over time. I don’t see why there is a need to feel ashamed of our work. I am not ashamed of mine. I will continue to grow and modify in the same manner that I expect my students to grow. The shame would be mine if I saw the potential and chose not to act.

Image Citation:
"educon_welcome_screen (SLurl)", teachandlearn's photostream. 2008 Jan 18. 2008 Jan 28.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Network's Face

I'm putting the final touches on the course I will be teaching February 4-6, 2007. I am still in the final stages of determining the layout of the course. I'm checking links that I created over the last six months or so and adding information.

As I work, I see what a human face all of this digital information has. I was sorting through my links and trying to get a mix of grade levels. I will see teachers who are potentially from K-12. As I looked at the links, I was thinking about the faces (from Twitter and other venues) and realizing that you're all becoming so real to me. I know so much about what Lisa and Christine from my neighboring Long Island have been attempting with their class. As I thought about it I realized that they would have some great elementary links (for special needs students as well). Then I was thinking about Darren and his high school math classes. He probably has useful links for the high school set. I worked a bit with Mr. Mayo's English class just south of us in Maryland. He surely has some worthwhile links in the middle school range.

Next I went on to look at what type of wikis I'm linking to. I thought I would add Damian's British Romanticism wiki. It has some great content. He also received some great feedback on it. Of course, Vicki's Flat Classroom wiki has all kinds of content as a showcase wiki. My students are working on a Classroombraids wiki organized by Sharon. Maria also offered a great collaboration for Kindergarten students in the 100th Day Project. She also got me out of Wikispaces for a change and into WetPaint.

Again, my Twitter conversations run through my head as I think of where I first heard of these projects and these fine teachers. If you're looking for some example links, feel free to take a look at my wiki. It's my first attempt at public speaking, so be kind. I can't wait to present and get some great new teachers involved in the possibilities.

Image Citation:
Fornal, Robert. "Smile on Forehead." Bob.Fornal's photostream. 2007 Mar 28. 2008 Jan 24.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2008 Education Blogosphere Survey

I just finished taking the survey about my part in the blogosphere. Take a stop by and help Scott McLeod gather his data.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Student Reflections in the Class

As some of you know, I've been working with Scratch in computer class since just before Christmas. My students in the seventh and eighth grade have a bit of a programming background through our use of the Logo programming language. (Skip to paragraph six for reflections.)

We used ACSLogo for the last two years. I still like Logo, but I would say that many of the students do not put it in their top things to do in class list. Looking at my survey from class in September:

Seventh Grade Students would use ACSLogo:
38.5% (15 students) anytime
23.1% (9 students) once per trimester
7.7% (3 students) once per year
28.2% (11 students) if I must
2.6% (1 student) didn't use it as their previous school

Eighth Grade Students would use ACSLogo:
4.8% (1 student) anytime
23.1% (6 students) once per trimester
4.8% (1 student) once per year
57.1% (12 students) if I must
4.8% (1 student) didn't use it at their previous school

I probably would have went through at least a few days of Logo if Scratch didn't show up. I wanted to learn more about how the students felt about their experience with Scratch, so it was a good opportunity to teach them about Classblogmeister.

I don't have numbers, but after reviewing all their blog entries, they seemed to like it on the whole. It's a much richer environment with the ability to use graphics with the programming. It's a little more on par with the HyperLogo I used five or six years ago.

The Project

It was A LOT of work learning Scratch and putting it to a useful purpose. Since we only meet twice a week for 42 minutes, it takes a long time to finish a project. While part of the class was finishing a previous project, I had some students follow the Scratch tutorial put together by the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten group. Their Getting Started PDF file is quite good.

The problems arose in that the students didn't have a focus on creating a project. Over a weekend, I developed a simple Monkey Game. I uploaded four of the versions created by seventh graders: Monkey1, Monkey2, Monkey3, and Monkey4. They haven't gotten any love from the Scratch people (and I understand why). It took at least two and a half weeks (or 5 42-minute classes) to complete the project. Some students had to wait while others received help. They did a nice job of helping their neighbor as they waited for me. There was also the difficulties inherent in some students being out sick and needing to somehow catch up. I have 19 seventh graders a piece in two classes and 21 eighth graders.

The Reflections
Here's the wow factor for me. I know we talk about the importance of reflecting on your work. This was by no means a comprehensive reflection. What I found that amazes me is the number of students who enjoyed making the project step-by-step as a class. I would have thought more students were bored by the process. Also, every student who enjoyed the step-by-step process also felt successful at the completion of the project. These are things I would not normally have found out.

I want to build more reflection into my computer class. The blog is going to become a standard tool in the way I conduct my classes. For the last few years, I have had the eighth grade write a note in one of our last computer classes to tell me what they liked, didn't like, and would change about all their years in my class. It's too late then. One graduating class can give me a glimpse into my success with the students. These blog entries allow me to keep, change, or remove pieces of the program on the spot.

Next Up
I am now working with the fifth grade. They've never used ACSLogo with me. Several are on the school's FIRST Lego League team, though. I am approaching it in the same way as I did with the seventh and eighth. I am leading them thorough a project, but I'm doing a more simple starting project - a dress up project. If I start now with the fifth grade, by the time they are eighth graders, they will probably be able to do some amazing work. This is one of the true benefits of seeing students from Kindergarten to eighth grade. I can build skills. When I arrived, I had to do a lot of simple work (word processing, drawing skills, and the like). What we do now (at all grade levels) is much meatier The blog is going to become a staple. My sixth graders have used it all year in math class. I will certainly get the fifth grade going with Classblogmeister at the end of the Scratch project. It will give students the time they need to digest and reflect on what we just did. It will give me a view into what is and isn't working. It might give you, the reader, some background as you try similar projects.

If you read about something I'm doing that you are too, please drop me a comment. I love to look at other school work. It always points me in a direction that improves my student's work.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Working the Halls and Holding Hands

I was working the halls at school today and plan to continue all week. I think a fair percentage of the teachers would like to add more to their courses, but they don't know how.

As a full time computer and math teacher, I really don't have time to spend time in other classes to hold someone's hand. So, I'm trying out a new model for the rest of the year. I'm looking at projects that will integrate more global collaboration for my students. As I find projects, I'm showing them to the specific grade/ content level teachers and trying to gather interest.

Last month, the middle school Language Arts teacher agreed to help the students prepare drafts for the 1001 Flat Tales project. I looked at the sign up list and was so happy to see another participant and fellow Twitter friend derrallg on the list. For some reason, the middle school group isn't attracting the same number of participants as the elementary level.

I've been following the Teach Jeff Corwin Spanish group for a while and was really interested to see that they want participants to create video scavenger hunts. I spoke to our Spanish teacher and she's willing to brainstorm the project with her sixth graders. On Wednesday, I'm going to show her the first three videos so she sees where we would be heading with this. I'll help the students who volunteer to record the videos and get them online.

I also finally took a good look at Jen Wagner's TechnoSpudProjects web site. I had gone there before, but with an eye to doing a project myself. With this new objective of getting teachers on board, I spoke to the fourth/ fifth grade math teacher about The Great Egg Roll 2008. She's going to read all the instructions tonight, but sounds like she'll go along for the ride.

My fifth graders are already participating in the Classroombraids project through Sharon Betts and are enjoying the fruits of their labor. They'll be excited to hear the comments on their VoiceThreads this week.

I am trying to keep the number of projects to a reasonable number. I will be able to keep Classroombraids going during computer class. The Great Egg Roll is almost a one shot deal with the math teacher doing the majority of the work. The Spanish video has the highest level of work, but it feel comfortable.

Now I just have to talk with the third grade teachers about a potential Social Studies project that looks cute. A third grade class from Massachusetts is looking for little stories of how towns got their name along with photos.

Finally, Lisa Parisi is creating a VoiceThread about fictional books. I'm going to offer it as an option to my fifth graders. It won't be for the entire class, but I'll offer it as a project they can do on days when it's too cold to go out for recess.

Image Citation
Romel. "Holding Hands". WolfSoul's Photostream. 9 Aug 2007. 7 Jan 2008.