Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bumps in the Social Media Road

I used Edmodo for the first time yesterday without the greatest results. Edmodo is a site designed for teachers to use for a private chat in a classroom. I used it for a backchannel with a large 8th grade class. We watched the commercial "Think before you post" and the video of Brad Paisely's "Online".

First of all students had difficulty signing up because the site would not pull up the sign in page properly. The solution was to keep refreshing until it did but it took some students over half an hour to get in. This resulted in a large amount of down time for the rest of the class as I tried to help/figure out why the site was not loading properly.

When we watched the videos I asked them a question about each and some of them responded, but no real discussion came out of it. There were a lot of silly, irrelevant comments about other things which I expected as middle schools "play" with something new to figure it out.

The most disappointing part was that a few of the students posted rude comments about each other and even some inappropriate remarks. We had talked about following our social contract in the chat and that it would all be monitored but that did not matter to a couple of them. The main problem was a student who signed in as another student in the class and made fun of him.

I caught him, of course and had an archive of the chat to prove it, and turned him into the office. I want the students to take this seriously, not as a joke. I was very frustrated yesterday, but felt better after looking through the transcript and realizing it was mainly just one student.

In the future I see this as a problem with edmodo that students can sign in under any name they choose and I will not know who they are unless I physically go around the room and check their screens. Anyone have any ideas to prevent this?

Today we set up individual blogs. We talked about the problems with the chat, and I showed them how people from around the world had viewed our blogs last year. Most of them seemed interest in blogging and I think they understood that they are representing themselves and the school on-line. We will keep talking about appropriate netiquette and creating a digital footprint.

Mistakes are a part of learning. I will never be afraid to try something new. We will use backchannel again. I refuse to let one student wreck this learning opportunity for the class. One little bump in the road might slow us down but will not change the direction we are heading.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Still Working on Teacher Websites

We are working as a school on setting up teacher sites. We ended up going with two platforms. Those that felt comfortable created blogger sites. Many had already made them. The teachers new having their own site are making wikispaces. The unifying feature is that each teacher is embedding Google Calendar on a separate page to share their lessons and homework.

It is exciting that many teachers are willing to take on this task by themselves. Also my principal and teachers who have 1st hour prep are subbing for teachers at the begining of the day when we show Channel 1 News to the students and have silent reading. I then can meet with five teachers for a half hour and help them get set up. Many of these teachers are anxious, but have left me set up and feeling confident and understanding the usefulness of the websites.

One of the most important concerns for me is that teachers see the websites as useful, productive, and not as a worthless adminstrative task that they are being forced to perform. So I am very excited by the great attitudes of the staff in my building (they are great to work with).

I hope to get some time to teach the staff how to use Google Docs to store their assignments and post them on their sites so that parents can see and/or print the work at home. Next year I would like to push everyone to have the same kind of blog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Math History and Pre-tests

On Friday I had my students write their "math history" and then take a pre-test on factors and multiples. I know this is probably not revolutionary to many of you, but it was new for me and I am very happy with the results.

First I had my students tell me their "math history." I got the idea from Glenn Kenyon's blog. I just had them write one paragraph of how they did in math class in elementary school and how they feel about math as a subject. They were very honest about their past performance and grades. Many really like math and say that they are good at it. A few others have struggled and not surprisingly do not like math very much. None of them sounded like they have given up though, and were hopeful that they could be successful this year.

The pre-test was simply 7 questions covering the basic topics of our unit: prime and composite numbers, factors, multiples, LCM, GCF, and prime factorization. We did not review anything ahead of time so it was cold turkey. I could now compare my students self-assessment of their math abilities with their knowledge on our first unit. Most of their abilities matched what they said about themselves.

I also found out the overall strengths and weaknesses of the class. They did best on primes, composites, and factors. Some did not know multiples and only one student got the correct LCM of 4 and 5 being 20.

Based on their self-assessment and pre-test I know now where to spend my focus in this unit. Furthermore I have a good starting point of their math abilities whereas beforehand I had no clue of their level. I am now able to divide them into pairs for this week by their abilities.

I highly recommend both of these strategies to start a new class or new unit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hoax Site Research Results

A quick update on my "cloning research" assignment. Out of 60 students only 4 gave a clear indication that they did not believe that this site was real. The last question that students had to answer in a Google form was:

"Would you trust this company if you wanted to purchase a clone? Explain"

Many students said, "No" but they did not want a clone for various reasons such as fear, not wanting one, or even ethical or religious reasons.

So the next day I congratulated the students who figured it out and told the rest of the class that they had been tricked. We then had a short discussion about how they should trust no one including the internet, TV, newspapers, textbooks, and teachers. I told them that they should question and doubt everything until proven.

My hope is that it was be a memorable lesson for them.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Filters and Fake Sites

Today was my first day of class, and it flew by. I was not able to have students do my fun research project because it was blocked by the school filter under the category of humor. Wow, humor sure is dangerous! The good news is that I e-mailed my IT dept. and they had it unblocked by the end of the day, and I can teach it tomorrow. So for those of you in the #edchat on Twitter tonight about filtering, don't give up and keep asking for things to be unblocked.

I was inspired by Cattywampus in an old Reader's Digest article. Go read it a minute-its better than this post I admit it.

OK, you're back. I just had to try this idea in my technology classes. I found this site on buying a human clone. The students will answer the questions in this Google form. If you look very closely the site is not very believable. It is also a bit dated from 1997 I think. But most students will not question its authenticity because it is on the Internet and the assignment is from a teacher.

The key question I will analyze is the last one: "Would you trust this company if you wanted to purchase a clone? Explain." This should show me whether or not they believe the site.

I do not plan to give the students an actual zero in the grade book. But I will be telling them they "failed" if they do not figure out it is fake. Quote of the day will be "Question everything."And that is the first lesson I want to teach this year.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Creating Teacher Websites

At a staff meeting this week we talked about our "Homework Hotline." This is a phone feature where teachers record their homework daily for parents to check on in the evening. Among its inconvenient features is that parents have to call back to access different teachers. We quickly agreed this technology was past its prime, and I volunteered to help set up teacher websites that could all be linked to the district site.

So...one week from tomorrow I have one half of an hour to train over 30 teachers to set up and use their own blog (Don't worry no one expects to complete this in that limited time. It will be an introduction). Maybe half of the teachers have been exposed to or set up some kind of on-line site before. The other half are likely to be a bit intimidated by this and are looking for simple and easy. I created a Google Doc survey to try to determine what the teachers want to do on their site. Most teachers do not check their e-mail on weekends, let alone a holiday so I hope to get most responses on Tuesday.

My thoughts are to show them my blog, class blog, and class wiki along with a few other teacher/school blogs so they can see some possibilities. In particular, I want to show them how I am using Google Calendar as my lesson plan book and embedding it in our class wiki to share with parents and students. I am leaning against a website because it might be too complex. I am also thinking against blogs because I feel like they are more difficult to customize. I think teachers do not really want posts as much as pages divided by their classes.

Therefore I am leaning toward teaching them to use a wiki, in particular Wikispaces. It is simple yet allows them to add almost anything. It is also easy to maintain different pages. The biggest disadvantage that I see is that "the look" of them is simple and not very attractive. But the biggest thing is that they are easy for teachers. Later I can introduce something more complex for those who are interested.

Teachers will be able to choose whatever platform or site that they want, but most will use whatever I show them. So readers what platform would you recommend? Blog, website, or wiki? What site would you use? Remember we are looking for simple use.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

PLN as Crediblity Test

This week I sat through a six hour ESL training that was painfully presented. The presenter was a university professor. We were given a book co-written by a husband/wife team who were her colleagues at her school. The intended audience of said book was student teachers in a college ESL program.

She presented with "Death by Powerpoint" the whole day using almost 300 slides. It was a canned presentation of the author's work with many slides being identical text to the handouts sitting in front of me. I am positive that she did not create the powerpoint presentation herself. She was working for the publisher of the book.

Now you can probably already guess I was not engaged or overly impressed with this professional development. During a break I went up to the presenter and asked if she knew Larry Ferlazzo from my PLN. Larry is in my opinion one of the top educational bloggers and sources of ESL resources in the world.

She said, "No." When I explained who he was she said, "I am not good with technology." (I already knew that I am watching your Powerpoint for hours) Later is her preso, she shared his name with the whole group again telling everyone, "I am not good with technology."

This was unacceptable to me. Now I have lost all credibility with her. How can a professor, paid speaker, "expert" tell us that she "is not good with technology"? How can she not know other experts in her field? How can she NOT be connected with other ESL teachers from around the world? I do not teach ESL but off the top of my head I can name 5 ESL teachers located around the world that I could tweet at anytime and have answers in less than 24 hours.

What if I told her, "Oh, I don't teach ESL" and dismiss her whole session as not relevant to me. That would not be professional of me. I am expected to learn new teaching strategies, and rightly so. Of course it was repeated over and over that the reason she was brought in was because our ESL students were our greatest weakness on the state standardized tests.

Since I have been involved in building a PLN on-line, I now feel that this is a new standard to evaluate speakers in my professional development. So am I being too harsh? Is it fair/right to judge people based on whether or not they are connected to other experts around the world? Should a professional speaker lose some credibility (notice I am not saying all) if they do not have a PLN who pushes them philosophically and keeps them engaged in current discussions in their area of expertise?