Monday, January 31, 2011

You say you want a revolution...

I find what is happening in the Middle East both fascinating and frightening. Revolutions that started in Tunisia have spread to Egypt and are rumored to be heading to Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, and possibly Libya and more. On one hand, the people have stood up against dictators, corruption, government waste,political imprisonment, and have asked for more rights. On the other hand I fear that if the current leaders are removed that power will move to Muslim extremists much like the Taliban moved into Afghanistan after their internal struggles after getting rid of the Russians. Crafty leaders often use "movements by the people" to gain power and bring in a new type of dictatorship (think Mao in China).

The role of social media in these protests followed the model of the Iran protests two years ago. The "day of rage" last Friday was planned days before on Facebook and Twitter. The Egyptian government has responded by shutting down all ISP connections to the internet and have blocked SMS messages as well. 

Google and Twitter have responded by creating a new service over the weekend. It is a speech-to-tweet service designed for Egyptians to get the word out in their country. It works by turning phone calls into tweets. Egypt may now try to stop all phone lines too. I find this part pretty remarkable. Granted it was not a huge design task technology-wise because the parts to make it happened already exist, but to see Google and Twitter act so quickly and specifically for Egypt is an important act on their part. 
from darkroom productions

I think governments around the world now realize and fear the power of social media to expose their actions. China is censoring what its people can access about Egypt.  I think most governments now realize they can not get away with oppressive treatment of their people without the rest of the world hearing about it through various social media outlets.

Tyrants around the world can try to quiet their people all they want, but when they choose to rise up they can no longer be muzzled by fear and force. It is a new world we live in and I think we have a responsibility to share this with our students. We should show our students how the tools they use for socializing are being used by people around the world to organize their fight for freedom. We should tell our students how new ways to use social media are being invented to support these causes.

How do you talk about these things in your classroom?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On-line portfolio

Appreciate all of the comments giving me advice on a platform for an on-line portfolio. I went with a blog on I have never used it before so there was a little learning curve. The biggest problem was I did not realize that the free version (not self-hosted) will not let you embed video except from YouTube. I also could not get Google Presentations on there so I put it on slideshare. It took some extra work to get everything I wanted in it but I am happy with how it came out. I would appreciate constructive criticism-be honest and brutal please.

Scratching the Surface

I have mentioned the Scratch video games my 8th graders designed with students in Vietnam before. We have finished the project and I want to tell you my evaluation of it. Overall we had some higher quality games created than last year, but we still did not reach the level of collaboration I had hoped for (I tend to focus on the negative as I am always looking for improvement). Here is a link to the mostly completed games that you can try out yourself.

Learn more about this project

The biggest struggle with this project is the time zone difference of 12 hours and lack of time overall for the project. One of the goals we had this year was to try to have students build relationships with each other. Students made and shared videos with each other at the beginning of the project. Unfortunately we never had time to make more videos and one was not enough for them to get to know each other. I would love to use Skype if we were closer in time zones. Students also used email to share their games back and forth but often forgot to send messages or did not explain themselves fully. Designing games is complicated and requires better channels of communication. Some of the groups worked on different versions of the same game.

Learn more about this project

I still believe this project is worth the effort to do and that it can teach students many things about programming and problem-solving while exploring cultural similarities and differences from another part of the world. Improvements would be to encourage students to communicate at home through chat, Facebook, or Skype. We also would like to try some easier activities to build community between our classrooms before we start a challenging project like programming. We also need to stress to the students the importance of clear, daily communication. Perhaps we should use a Google Doc that they could constantly edit their ideas, progress, and struggles in.

Learn more about this project

If you are heading to MACUL I will be presenting on this project focusing on the importance of building relationships in a session called Relate, Collaborate, Create. Stop by and join the conversation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Online resume

We have a New Tech High School opening in our city next year and I am very interested in it. Of course I have a paper resume, but would like to create an on-line portfolio showing off student projects and my ideas on learning. Interested if others have created something similar and what platforms you used. Do you just use your blog and create a page on it about yourself? Perhaps someone has an example they would be willing to share? Appreciate any feedback.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Making Waves" Videos

This is a follow up post to my 7th grade Wave Video project. I want to put down my final thoughts evaluating it and how I can improve on it next time.

First of all it took much longer than I expected. We spent about three weeks on the project when I thought it would only take two. It also lacked a bit of focus in the beginning. I did not have any specific examples to show them and it was hard for them to visualize what they were supposed to do. I told them to think about a Bill Nye video how he jumps from talking to video back and forth to make it interesting. I also introduced too many new tools and options to them at once. I think they were overwhelmed by the openness of the project and needed less choices and more structure. That part is really hard for me because I want to challenge them to be as creative and give them as much choice as possible.

The original plan was for them to make a storyboard in PowerPoint as an outline of their presentation. This was not supposed to be their actual presentation. They had a hard time understanding this and did not want to make a second one. The science topic, waves, was also not a particular easy one for them and some of them picked sub-topics that were not really under the main topic such as microwaves and heat waves.

We also had multiple technological problems getting everything to work. I spent so much time on trouble-shooting software that I could not give enough feedback about their ideas and process as we went along.  Unfortunately many of them turned out as screencast slideshows of power point while they read facts from wikipedia that they did not even understand.

I will share two of the best ones, what I like about them, and how I will improve this project next time.

This group got the main purpose of using multiple tools to present the information in multiple ways to make it interesting. They used Powerpoint, Pivot, and a collaborative online whiteboard. They put everything into Camstasia Studio and edited it together in a smooth manner. I wished they would have recorded their narration in my closet so they did not have the back ground noise, but overall it is quality content and work.

brought to you by Livescribe

This group used my Pulse smartpen to create a video modeled after the work of RSA Animate such as seen here with Sir Ken Robinson. They wrote out their script and practiced the drawing ahead of time. Then they did it "live" in the hallway and recorded as they drew. On top of the presentation method they explained the topic well and used creative examples. They edited out mistakes in Camtasia for their final product.

One thing that stands out about both of these examples is the creativity of the presentations and using their own words. I plan to show these as examples the next time we do this project. I also am going to make my own storyboard for the first video in PowerPoint to show the students the difference between a storyboard and a finished product. A further thing that will save the students and myself alot of grief is that we will have google accounts and use Documents and Presentations to share work instead of email. Enough of the students did not have email accounts to make this a major pain.

We spent alot of time talking about plagiarism, especially of images. Next time we will also talk about plagiarizing of words and ideas also. I really believe that having student examples will help. I have worked out enough of the technological kinks that next time I should be able to spend more time helping students with ideas and design.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Teach Paperless

Just a quick note to let you know that I will also be blogging at the  Teach Paperless blog. Formerly this was Shelly Blake-Price's blog, but now he has opened it up to a group of people posting. My first post You don't know me was posted this morning. As of right now I do not plan on cross-posting directly from this blog so you should expect at least slightly different content from there. I am excited to share with a larger audience and I hope you will join us in the conversations there.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I was lied to today

I was lied to by a student today. She wanted to use the bathroom and did not have her planner. Our school policy is three passes per student per marking period by signing their planner. She did not have her planner so she gave me someone else's planner.  There was no name in this planner but I knew it was not hers. I asked her to tell me the truth and admit it was not hers. She lied again and said that it was. I signed and let her go.

While she was gone I found the name page that she had torn out by her desk. When she returned I confronted her about it. I said the name and she realized I had found that page.

So what to do? I could write her up to the office for lying and she might get suspended. I could give her some punishment that I made up. I could get mad and yell at her.

Instead I talked to her. I shamed her. I find shame can be a powerful force with students. I told her she had broken my trust and that from now I could no longer believe her. I told her this was the consequence of her lie-broken trust between us. I would now have to doubt her words to me. She asked if she could gain it back and I said yes, but it would take time. She said she would never lie to me again and meant it. I did one of those what else should you say things and "forced" her to admit what she did and say sorry.

A few minutes later she wrote an apology note to me on the board saying she was truly sorry for the whole class to see. (they had seen and heard the whole exchange already). This was when I knew I had made the right choice. Punishment from the office is never as effective as using relationships. I believe she truly understands the real consequences of lying and will think twice before doing it again. I believe she will never lie to me again and my relationship is stronger with her than before. In my mind she has already re-gained my trust but I will not let her know that yet. I want her to still earn back that trust.

This won't be on any tests she takes, but in my mind she learned today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The real problem of U.S. public schools

I am tired of reading about edreform in the news focusing on failing schools, merit pay, test scores, school of choice, bad teachers, etc. It is time that politicians and "reformers" recognize the huge elephant in the room of education reform-poverty.
by Shavar Ross 

First go read Mel Riddile's excellent post about poverty's effects on PISA  Here is evidence that all of our schools are not failing, but the real problem in this country is poverty. Our best schools compare favorably with the top countries of the world. (By the way I personally could care less about these test scores, but since everyone else uses them to make points-here you go).

Next University of Texas psychologists release a study about poverty and genetic potential. Summarized they found that 50% of the progress of wealthy children can be attributed to genetics. No, they are not smarter than poor children, but they reach their genetic potential because of extra resources and opportunities. Children of poverty do not reach their potential.

Finally a New York Times piece by Charles Blow states that

      According to the National Center for Children in Poverty,
      42 percent of American children live in low-income homes 
      and about a fifth live in poverty. It gets worse.  The number
     of children living in poverty has risen 33 percent since 2000.
     For perspective, the child population of the country over all
     increased by only about 3 percent over that time. And, 
     according to a 2007 Unicef report on child povertythe U.S. 
     ranked last among 24 wealthy countries.

My thoughts are that this is not any new information. We know that socio-economic is the most important factor for school success. We know that our poor schools in rural and urban areas are the schools with the most students who struggle and drop out. Of course we need to take every means necessary to improve these schools.

But lets stop dogging public education non-stop in the media. Let's stop portraying teachers as lazy and worthless. Let's stop acting like the entire system is broken when we have thousands of successful schools and millions of successful students. Let's stop treating public education as both the cause and solution of our economic problems.

I for one am appalled that 1 in 5 children in this country live in poverty. 1 in 5! It is an embarrassment that we have the highest poverty rate of developed nations. I will not pretend to have all of the answers to end poverty, but let's acknowledge it as the real problem of inequity in this country.

Let's fix that problem and quit blaming public schools and teachers.

Hat tip to Bill Ferriter for the Charles Blow link.


Just a quick shout out about edcampDetroit. It will be May 11, 2011 at Wayne State University from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Like all edcamps the price is free. If you are unfamiliar with the edcamp format, they are unconferences where speakers and sessions are determined that day with an emphasis on audience conversations. So if you are located in the Midwest area sign up and join us for a day sharing and learning. Here is the link to the registration form.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Digital Natives

Young people grow up with technology and just naturally can manipulate it with out any instructions. FALSE! The only tools I have found that students naturally use are chat features. Chats are social and just a text message thread for them and they love to use them.
by Photo Extremist

To students email is a service that gives you an address so you can sign up for Facebook. If I have my students log into their email account they undoubtedly have hundreds of unread messages, mostly from Facebook. They do not know how to send something as an attachment or download one that  they receive.

Naming and saving files and actually remembering where they put them is like trying to find something in their locker. They know it's in there but have no idea where or how to find it. Never have them create their own passwords, unless you want to spend lots of time creating new accounts.

We tried using Camtasia Studio to record screencasts from multiple sources and combine into one interesting video. Students had to be shown individually how to do everything even after multiple class demonstrations.

It's not that there is anything wrong with the students. They are just middle schoolers who are often unorganized in real life and online. Before computers they lost papers and forgot things too.They just have not had a reason to use these tools or think in these ways before. But they are definitely NOT digital natives and I'm ok with that. I'm a teacher. Helping students learn is what I do.