Sunday, November 22, 2009

Volunteering in Second Grade

I had a half day because of parent teacher conferences this Thursday. So in the afternoon I went to my son's second grade class and helped the teacher with a "technology" lesson. My son has weekly time in the computer lab that is usually spent playing games like I Spy or Math Blasters. My goal was to demonstrate to the teacher how she could use some free web-based tools with the students to tie the computer time into their lessons. I had already shared some resources with her and she was willing to try something new with my help.

The class has been studying mountains and islands as part of their social studies unit. So the plan was for students to create a slideshow on Animoto out of pictures of islands and mountains. The first challenge was figuring out what was unblocked in my son's school district. I have had filters wreck lessons too many times at my school, but it is even more challenging to figure out the filter in another district. I used people in my PLN who worked in that district for advice. Special thanks to @Tee62 and @zmanrdz for helping me out. I found out that Animoto was unblocked, but Google images, Flickr, and Picasa were blocked. We were able to access Google Image swirl and ask.

I had never used Animoto before and my education sign up did not come through. Luckily my son's teacher's account went through quickly so we were set (so I thought). I got to the school about a half hour early. His teacher did not realize we needed to set up individual student accounts. So I figured out how to sign up as a student.

It was a little crazy trying to get over twenty second graders to fill out a sign up form. We used the gmail hack to set up multiple accounts on my gmail. I had each student use +"their computer station number" so that it would be easy for them to remember. We ended up with four adults helping us (a special thanks to the principal for coming and helping us). After we got the accounts created the students started finding pictures on the web and put them on their desktops. Then they added them to their Animoto. We ran out of time so the students did not get to add music and render their videos. They will finish them on another day.

I had a great time. The students needed a lot of help as they have probably never filled out a form before, but they were excited about the program and learning. The best part is that their teacher was not discouraged or intimidated even though things did not go as well as planned. She is excited about finishing them and has ideas to use Animoto for other projects. I also plan on helping her class use Skype to connect with another class (probably mine) later this year.

Ultimately my goal was met: I exposed my son's teacher to how to use the web to allow students to create projects about their learning. I truly believe this one day will help shape her teaching in the future for the better.

How have you influenced your own children's teachers? Do you complain about them or their methods? Try volunteering to show another way to them. You might be surprised by how open they are to your ideas if you are willing to help them learn and implement them

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Parent Conferences Using a Computer

This week is parent teacher conferences. My new plan for this year is to use my laptop to show parents the student blogs and our class wiki. We have our conferences in the gym so I had our IT department get me a 25 foot cable to connect to the internet through the gym closet. I am excited to try this format for conferences.

My gut feeling is that many of the parents do not know or have not looked at their student's blogs. The other thing that all teachers are doing is passing out "business cards." The cards are color printouts of our names, e-mails, and class blogs or wikis. Again we are trying to get parents to visit the sites since this is the first year that we have all created them.

Has anyone else done this or something similar? How did it go for you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twitter Shoutouts

"Showing off Twitter. Tell me where you are from and why your PLN is important."

I was at a technology conference and a "big name" conference speaker sent one of these tweets out and of course received 20-30 responses from around the world in five minutes from his thousands of followers. I must confess that I usually respond to these when I see them. It feels like I am supporting a "Twitter evangelist" and I am a definite believer in the power of my PLN. I want to help people show how useful Twitter is.

I have been thinking about the message that this activity sends to people who are new to Twitter. First of all they usually think Twitter is only about "what are you doing" and that the answer is something mundane or ridiculous. I think Twitter shoutouts can come across more as bragging than as anything productive:

"Hey, let me show you how great Twitter is by showing off how many people listen to me and when I say tweet, they say 'How high?'"

I know that this is not the intent of any presenter, but that they are trying to show the power of a PLN that is both worldwide and always available, but I am not sure that this is how it comes across to people unfamiliar with Twitter. The Twitter shoutout does show how far your network reaches, but does not demonstrate what your PLN can do.

So I have a suggestion, a minor tweak to this presentation of Twitter. Demonstrate how educators actually use Twitter. Ask a random member of your audience what unit or topic they are studying with their class. Then tweet out and ask for resources on that subject. Then instead of "Hi, I'm Concretekax from Michigan and my PLN rocks!" The speaker can then show how PLN's help each other.

Wouldn't educators be more impressed seeing results that are practical and useful. I would definitely think the teacher picked out of the audience leaving with real resources would see the power of Twitter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Balsa Tower Podcast Rubric

With all of the talk on #edchat this past week about differentiated learning, one tweet stuck with me about having students create their own rubrics. Off the cuff I had students create the rubric for the podcasts we are making about our Balsa tower project.

I played them part of this student podcast from uptonben  We talked about the good things we heard: music, multiple speakers, enthusiasm, and interviews.

Then I had one student write down our requirements on the board:

Podcast Rubric

  • 45 points total
  • must have a written script before you are allowed to record
  • podcast should be 2-4 minutes in length (-5points/ 15 seconds off)
  • Introduce yourselves with first names only. (2 points)
  • Explain the project-what were the requirements/goals. (5 points)
  • Explain how you made your tower and your design ideas. (5 points)
  • Tell about your results-weight of tower, sand, and efficiency (5 points)
  • Explain what you learned. (5 points)
  • Creativity and making it interesting (8 points)
  • Cooperation (15 points)
  • Music is extra credit-5 points
This is my polished version. I added the total points and points for each item. I also required them to have a written script, creativity, and cooperation. So the rubric was not totally created by the  students :)

Matt Townsley, who always gives me great pushback, asked me on twitter:

"Also in the spirit of reporting learning, how many of your podcast points are based on process/requirements vs. learning/content?"

My response is that 20 points are for the learning/content of the podcast and 10 points are for style (intro. plus creativity). The cooperation points are for effort and are primarily to make sure that both partners are doing their fair share of the podcast. So a little less than half of the points are for learning/ content from this perspective.

But this is a technology class and learning how to make a podcast is also a learning objective for me. The students have already received a grade of 140 possible points on the Balsa Project itself for things like research, drawings, construction, and how much sand their tower held before breaking. Therefore the purpose of the podcast is two-fold: to report their learning from the Balsa Tower project and to learn how to make a podcast. So in my opinion all of the points represent learning/content.

Finally I do not believe that true assessment of student learning can always be measured. Some of my top students tried some experimental designs. They looked cooler than the rest of the class's towers and were voted by almost every member of the class as most likely to be the champion. Ultimately they were failures as designs and broke under the weight of the bucket with no sand. 

These students definitely learned about design from their failure, probably more than the rest of the class even though their grade may not reflect it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interview Questions

Paul Bogush is creating a list of interview questions for his student teacher. I added this to his list:

"Tell me about your PLN. Explain how you interact and its importance to your professional development and growth."

If I were an administrator this would definitely be a question I would ask of any teacher I interviewed.

I would also be asking it of my staff after I modeled how valuable mine was to them.

I have only met a few members of my PLN face-to-face and have never seen any of them teach a class, but somehow I feel very confident that they are excellent teachers that I would hire in a second.

PLN as litmus test. Legitimate or not?