Friday, August 26, 2011

NEH, Did You Know?

Today I showed all of my 8th-12th grade students the “Iowa, Did You Know?” video. They laughed at the more phones than toilets statistic, cheered for Facebook and Twitter, gasped at the 49th in entrepreneurial (yes, according to Pages I did spell that right on the first try) activity, and were appalled when they saw that their classrooms (mostly) look like the classroom in the 1890 photo.
After the clip and after we talked through their initial questions and concerns (Is Iowa really THAT bad?) we discussed and wrote about the accompanying discussion questions. Here I’d like to share the reoccurring themes from the approximately 85-90 students who viewed the film and discussed it’s contents. 

Question 1: Do you feel like you are being educated for the last 50 years or the next 50 years?
The students answered all across the board, with the majority answering “the last 50”. Some did feel that they were being taught for the future, but several felt they were being educated by the present.
Question 2: What do we need to do to make students better communicators, collaborators, and problem solvers?
The overwhelming responses included more technology and more group work. While some are leery of technology and wish we could just use textbooks and worksheets (because they are good at them, not necessarily because they find them interesting), many wanted to take advantage of opportunities available to them through technology such as working with groups outside of the school building.
Question 3: What percentage of your day would you say you spend using modern technology in school (I asked them not include items they weren’t supposed to be using or word processing)?
Of course the answer varied, but most were below 20% and all were below 30%. They said that it varied from class to class and what was going on in class. More technology is used, they said, during projects and for research.
Question 4: What percentage of your day outside of school would you say you spend using some form of technology (I asked them not to include watching television)?
Again, answered varied, some kids have more at-home restrictions than others, but answers averaged at around the 50-60% range. I saw some 80s and higher - and yes, even one 100%, though I’m not sure when he sleeps if it’s 100%.
Question 5: What percentage of the school day would you say you are bored? What should be done to ensure that students are engaged and want to come to school to learn?
This ranged from 2% to 98%, but the most common answers landed in the 50-70% range, though 40% and 80% made several appearances in my analysis.
Again technology was the overwhelming winner. Students wanted to be able to use their cell phones, more computers, they want iPads and to invest in new technology. Projects were a close second. Students want “fun”, hands-on learning experiences, more group projects and non-traditional learning. One student asked for flipped classes. 
Question 6: What should Northeast Hamilton do to address the concerns of the “Did You Know” video?
Number six may as well have been a copy and paste of number five, although they also included making tech use more equitable between classes, getting rid of textbooks, and asked for air conditioning so that they would be more comfortable during classes and could pay attention better (well, it IS August in Iowa). A couple asked that they be included in education discussions. 
Question 7: What should the state of Iowa do to address the concerns of the video?
Most students asked for more money, but some asked for the government to be less strict in educational laws concerning seat time, required subjects, and grade levels. They want to be able to have more voice and choice in the classes they take and more freedom and flexibility during the school day. Several noted that they would ask for college to be made more affordable. 
Overall I think this lesson had a positive impact on the students. I got a lot of great feedback from students who don’t typically offer an opinion, and many were still talking about it well after class had ended. It helped give them some background behind why I am doing what I’m doing in my classes and about what changes might take place in the future. The felt like they had a voice; that somebody was listening to them.
Not everyone wanted more technology, though. Some fear change and some fear technology. I saw that the fear or resistance was more prevalent in the younger grades, while the older students begged for new technology to be put in their hands. My hope is that these conversations today set the tone for a productive, engaging experience. I gave my students permission to call me out (respectfully, of course) if I was truly not teaching in a way that would help them become better prepared for their futures. We will be partners in learning this year. We will be better together. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Mobile Interactive Whiteboard

I just emailed my supt. to ask if I could present an alternative proposal to our Mobi vs Smartboard debate. We're looking at purchasing some new technology for the district, and these two companies are sharing their products with our staff on Monday.

Check out my screencast analyzing the cost and functionality of this product.

Limited mobility (since it's attached to the wall, this may be an understatement), EXPENSIVE, a little dated.

After the initial cost of the iPad (pick your model, Apple Care plan, etc - mine cost about $600-$650 after all was said and done) I added $30 worth of apps (Air Display and Ink2Go - although Ink2Go is optional and the more expensive of the two) and have a fully functioning mobile tablet that will project through my computer/overhead projector onto my screen at the front of the room. I can attach my second iPad and make the screen even more accessible. I can annotate, run iTunes, manipulate documents, windows, Tweetdeck, etc. One suggestion online was to  purchase a stylus ($10) because you'll be able to manipulate that better when it comes to writing and highlighting.

I can also do extended display. Instead of mirroring my laptop, I can set the iPad to become a second extended display and open Safari windows with research on one and have a Pages/Word document up on the other. Or move tool bars to the iPad and fill my laptop screen with the document. It doubles your screen capacity and works in landscape or portrait. The Air Display program works with both PCs and Macs (there are glitches with Lion at this point, however - I haven't updated yet).

Finally, in addition to the mobility and cost that make the iPad the best option of the three, there's the best factor of all: YOU GET AN IPAD.

We all know about the hundreds of "apps for educators" that exist, for a few dollars (or even for free) you can expand the educational capacity of the iPad exponentially more than could ever be done with a SmartBoard or Mobi.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Making a Difference

It's looking like all the hours I put in and sacrifices I made this summer are going to produce something truly meaningful - on a level that I did not anticipate. While I would hope that my new curriculum is meaningful to my general ed students regardless, I had a great conversation with our counselor yesterday, and we are going to look into using my new web-based courses as a form of credit recovery. We may be able to eliminate part of the scheduling nightmare that comes from having only one teacher per department and one section per class.  I'm so excited at the possibility of being able to offer students another another "equalizing" opportunity within our small district. If even one student who struggled in the past can graduate on time because I have torn down the walls of my classroom and provided expanded access to quality education all of the "blood, sweat, and tears" (no actual blood, of course, but re-working curriculum in Iowa in June, July, and August = plenty of sweat and tears) will be all that much more worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pushing the (and my) Limits

I am embarking on some big changes in my courses this year. Am I a little nervous? Absolutely. Is it possible that I’ve taken on more than I should have? Possibly. Does that matter? No. The world is changing quickly. The classroom isn’t keeping up. Waiting one second more to provide my students with the education that they need and deserve would be borderline criminal. Each second that we wait to move forward is another student’s curiosity extinguished; lost to the educational status quo. So I’ve done my best to put together what I think is the best possible education I can give this kids. I know there will be missteps along the way, I know my curriculum won’t be perfect right out of the gate, and I know that I still have a lot to learn. But I also know that my passion for this profession and desire to provide my students with a “world class education” will carry me through the rough points.
The biggest changes this year:
Project Based Learning (#pbl)
My 6th grade class will be primarily project-based learning. We will spend the first semester working on skills and content through C-SPAN’s StudentCam. Students will have “voice and choice” in deciding their topic of study through this year’s theme - the Constitution and You. Students will research, write scripts, edit, film, narrate, and create a video project based on the theme in small groups.
My World History class will participate in 8 project based/thematic units throughout the school year. These authentic assessments will make up the majority of their course grades. 
The Flipped Classroom:
While studies argue both ways, I’ve decided that while the “flipped” classroom may not be the perfect answer (and I can think of a couple of my twitter friends specifically who will not be happy with this choice), it is a step in the right direction. My 8th and 9th graders will be doing “flipped-lite”. They will get the information/material in class on Mondays instead of doing it on their own outside of class - this will help them transition into what they will do as seniors when it will be truly flipped (which is what my government class will be this year). Flipping the class will allow more time for class discussion, work with primary sources, and student interest based discovery. I want to give students as much control over the curriculum as I can. I’m pushing outside my comfort zone on this one, but you have to give up control, as Andrew Miller (@betamiller) would say.
Citizenship & Service Learning:
Each of my classes will plan and carry out some sort service project. I will be putting an emphasis on creating an informed, positive, helpful citizenry. Students will be encouraged to pursue a course of study that allows them to help others through the learning process. My 6th graders will focus on a community project, US History classes on a national project, World History on a global project, etc. 
Standards Based Grading (#sbar)
My World History class will see not only an emphasis on project based learning and global citizenship, but a change to standards-based assessment and reporting based on rubrics adapted from the Waukee model. Each theme focuses on a specific set of standards. Students will participate an practice activities to help them meet each of the standards by the end of the unit. Students that do not “meet expectations” will be given additional opportunities in the following unit(s) to demonstrate competency in the skills and standards. Anyone who has looked at #sbar at all knows I could go on for pages about this topic, but I’m trying to keep it simple. This is probably the area in which I feel least prepared. I know how much work others have put into preparing for this process, and that’s intimidating, but I’ve put a lot of work into researching my material, developing and locating quality assessments (thank you BIE), and studying as much of Waukee’s materials as they’ll let me look at (thanks Steph Wilson!). 
The Global Citizenship module created by @nmovall ‘s ingenious #IACoPi will be the basis of my curriculum for my “Geography” elective this fall. However, I know that only using it in Geography will reach a handful of students to start with, so I’ll also be using it to supplement my Government, Econ, and World History classes. Differentiation and modifications will need to be made for students who overlap with the elective. I’ll be looking for a partner social studies classroom to complete the summative activity (UN Summit) with.
A Touch of C-SPAN
My fellowship with C-SPAN will also serve as the basis for a distinct flavor in my classrooms. In addition to using StudentCam in 6th grade, the Video Library, Timely Teachable Videos, and the C-SPAN Classroom webpage will provide invaluable access to primary and secondary sources, current affairs, and authentic history. I’ll be using Brian Lamb’s BookNotes - interviews with political and historical non-fiction authors about their works - to supplement and enrich content. I hope my #ela colleagues appreciate my effort to hold up my end of the social studies/language arts relationship.
As I look at these changes I know I will need the support and guidance of my Twitter PLN - especially as I work to complete my graduate work in May. The goal is to blog about at least one of these six components each week throughout the year. I’m hoping to document the process, get suggestions and feedback, and maybe even inspire others to push the boundaries of their comfort zones. Because I’m certainly stepping outside of mine. This is what I’ve been working on for the last 4-5 months. As the days fly by and we close in on two weeks to the day that students will step inside my classroom, I can only do my best and hope that I can pull this off. However a stumble or struggle is not the end, it is an opportunity to improve.