Spontaneous Review

My Period 4 US History and Government has a test on Friday, it is based upon their presentations to the class and vocabulary on Civil Rights. Actually all four of my US II classes have a test this Friday.

A couple of students were in front of my room when I came in from hall duty. They were attempting to write on the Interactive WhiteBoard, (IWB),but were having difficulty. Other students attempted to explain what to do, but there was still some difficulty and disbelief in what to do on the part of the students at the IWB. I confirmed and re-explained the student directions on how to write on the board.

I was curious as to their intent, it just happened to be a game of Hangman on the IWB.  They started off and I just watched as the students became excited to play the game.  I made one suggestion after the second game; why not incorporate words from the class review into the game.  They seemed a bit surprised that I did not shut their game down.

They converted the game of Hangman into an animated class review.  Students continued to collaborate during the games, assisting with guessing letters and explaining what some of the words were.  Students used presentation topics, important people and terms for the game.

A few students did not play, but reviewed on their own.   That was fine, they have that freedom of choice to work in the way they are most comfortable with.

Overall the period flew by, most students engaged on the task They needed to focus on.  It was nice to be reminded that we can go off the beaten path and still reach our goal.

Initial History Vlog

This was originally created as a script for my History Class Vlog. I plan to use the Vlog as a resource for my classes. I will link to the Vlog later.

Welcome to the 1960’s.

We will be trying something new for this unit, information will be presented several different ways, you get to choose how you process it. More details will be forthcoming in the days ahead.

As was stated at the beginning, welcome to the 1960’s.

The decade Starts as a continuation of the 1950’s

We know there was the 1950’s we remember nostalgically and then there was the 1950’s for those not so fortunate.

We start with Camelot in DC and end with violence and protests throughout the US.

For those who loved the nostalgia, their country did not look the same. For those who wanted change so much hope was lost in the struggle.

We had three presidents, a slew of assassinations, a Cold War, a conflict, a War on Poverty, the splintering of music, including an English Invasion, along with many misc topics we will mention, not here, but in the course.

Hold on to your hats kiddies, the 1960’s were a chaotic time for many.

Anchor Podcasting App

Anchor, Dundee WaterfrontCreative Commons License dun_deagh via Compfight

A new and FREE podcasting app came across one of my networks and caught my attention, Anchor.  This FREE podcasting app is available for both Apple and Android devices.  I downloaded it right away, but had not tested it out until yesterday, when my daughter and I relaxed at National Grind, a coffee shop in Ellwood City, PA after school.

I was grading student work, essay tests and projects, while she played Cool Math Games, Snail Bob was the specific game.  After awhile we both needed a break and decided to enjoy our beverages, I had a mocha latte, she had a Smore Hot Chocolate.  During our respite from work, she jumoed back into her Edublogs account; she is participating in the Edublogs Student Challenge again this year.  She updated her About Me page, and created an avatar to place on her blog.

I thought this would be the perfect time to try out Anchor, it took seconds to set up the account on my phone, link it to my Twitter account and start recording.  After a couple of miscues with releasing the record button, we recorded the following podcast.

You can even invite others to join your podcast from remote locations, we will try that soon.  I will follow up with another post once we officially try that out.  We ran a quick test later last evening, it is super simple to do.

Want to Podcast, give Anchor a try.  This is an unpaid discussion of the app and in no way endorses the product…all said for legal reasons…

Student Choice

Lately, I have been researching student choice, differentiated learning, and hybrid learning. At the most basic levels they allow for students to claim some ownership over their learning by giving them a say in class tasks and assessments.

I have been expanding this concept in my classes, slowly but surely. My current goal is to build consistency into my classroom pedagogy, this will provide students with a comfort level necessary to adjust to the changes.

For this past assessment in my non-honors classes, we were prepping for an essay test, open notes, but essay. My students had posted some self-reflective answers in Edmodo and on paper, I was trying to gauge their comfort with the topic, “The Cold War” and the specifics cd that went with the general heading.

At first I received responses of: “I have all of my notes, I understand my notes, and I have no questions about the upcoming test.” Some students responded with, “How many questions on the test,” but all responses were fairly bland.

Students were given class time to form study groups and review and discuss their notes. I floated among the groups and pulled informal feedback by listening to their comments both on and off topic.

After reading their second reflections, I decided that it would not be fair to shift questions from period to period. Topics that were strengths for some students were weaknesses for others in the same class.; I wanted to avoid any appearance of favoritism or targeting students.

An option popped into my mind, make some questions mandatory and the rest offer students a choice to pull from. So the set up was as such: Fifteen total questions, two mandatory questions, all students had to answer, then a series of choices. There were seven ten point questions, from which students needed to answer two. Followed by four six point questions, students needed to answer one of these. And finally, two four point questions, one of which needed to be answered.

Students did not need to answer in order, they could break up their answers to give themselves a bit of a respite while working. Obviously, (channeling my inner Mike Tomlin here), the more points for the answer, the more details were needed.

One of the first comments I heard from my students, and actually ones who usually offer honest feedback even if it is critical of what I do was, “I really like this option.” They seemed to truly appreciate the ability to show what they understood from a menu of sorts. Through class discussions and reading their reflections I had an understanding of what most of them were comfortable with, so I was not worried about students only knowing one or two answers. I am certain there were some students who fit into this category, but the majority had an idea about the smorgasbord of topics, just not necessarily a strong sense of confidence in their knowledge.

This post is under construction from my iPhone.

Josh Gibson Reflection

Jackie WeaverCreative Commons License Thomas via Compfight

I created a sample project to model an assignment for my Honors classes this past week.  The topic for my project was Josh Gibson; the assignment was to research a person or event for Black History Month and then post the research on a web page.  Students are to follow up their project with a reflective blog post on what they learned from the project, what they liked about the project, and anything they would change about the project.  Here is my sample reflection…

I researched Josh Gibson, one of the best power hitters in the history of baseball, why do many people not know of him…he played in the Negro Leagues.  He has been called “The Black Babe Ruth” others have gone as far as as calling Babe Ruth, The White Josh Gibson,” that is how good he was.  He was finally voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, the second of the Negro League Players to make it there.

I learned many things during this project, some were about Josh Gibson.  I admit I knew of him before the project, I am 51 years old, a history teacher, and love to focus on the Mon Valley, a place that is still dear to me.  I did come across an interesting fact about Josh Gibson and several other Pittsburgh Crawford players; I am not sure of the veracity of the story, but it was found on several sites that attest to varying degrees of truthfulness to the events.  They played one season in the Dominican Republic for Ciudad Trujillo, the team of Dominican Dictator Raphael Trujillo.  Players were followed by gunmen the entire season, including while in stadiums, with gunmen lining the field during play.  You can find my sample project by clicking here.

I also learned some new skills and tools, some out of necessity.  My preferred platform, Wikispaces, is closing, our district’s Google domain is a walled and locked garden, and time is the ultimate scarcity, so I had to adjust quickly and bounce ideas off of my PLN on which platform I should host my students’ projects.   By the way, PLN refers to Personal Learning Network or Professional Learning Network, your choice.  I ended up going with Google Sites, the old version, because it still allowed me to share the student sites with the world.

I liked a good number of things about this project, but most importantly for me, I liked that what I believed about my students was true, even my students who shy away from technology can grasp its use and run with it in a creative fashion WHEN THEY CHOOSE!  (Yes, I just dropped all caps, but they deserve that.)  They handled the uncertainty of trying something new, along with the malleable nature of the project due to conditions mentioned above and rose to the occasion.  With a bit of prodding I got a number of them to open up with their concerns and questions towards the project and we were able to adjust due dates

There are plenty of things I will adapt as I move forward with my class and this project.  My students, or at least some of them may not be happy with this section, but they were very influential to my thoughts.  I believed, incorrectly so, that giving the students a brief introduction to the project and turning them loose on research would not cause stress. Students were charged with researching a topic and when I returned from the conference we would work on building their websites on the chosen platform.  I explained that I wanted to test a few websites before declaring a definitive project landing space. I was leaning towards using Wikispaces.com as the home for the project and when I discovered the site was closing down I was thankful for my hesitation.  Over the next several days at a conference, PETE and C, I polled my PLN on possible replacements, attempted a weak and unsuccessful Twitter campaign to change Wikispaces mind.

When I returned from PETE and C, I discovered how wrong  I was about student stress.  It took a bit of time upon my return from a conference to calm the frayed nerves, but things settled down with the extra effort.  Eventually students opened up with their concerns and questions and we worked through the process to clear any confusion, or at least I think we did.

This showed that I still need to work on lines of communication. I try to encourage student feedback and input, the attempt is there for them to feel comfortable offering their opinions.  That being said, a number of students were not very willing to open up about their concerns.  Even after I witnessed a number of eye rolls, heard some huffs of frustration, it still took a bit of cajoling to get some to share their thoughts.  I have no issues with giving students a voice and ownership in class activities, it is a good practice for all involved.  It is just an ongoing process we all have to adjust to and this project showed that I still have a ways to go to keep a comfortable setting for open communication.

The projects have not been turned in for yet review, but watching the students work and talking with them as they turn their research into online presentations has made me confident that the projects will be successful.  Students are purposefully trying out new tools such as Smore and Voki to add depth to the content of their presentations.  they seem to understand the concept of adding technology or new tools just for superficial reasons will not benefit their work.

 

 

Pittsburgh’s Bomber Mystery

This image was originally posted to Flickr by anyjazz65 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/49024304@N00/360485598

Dateline January 31, 1956

A B-25 Mitchell Bomber crash lands into the Monongahela River somewhere between the Homestead High Level Bridge and the Glenwood Bridge, these bridges are between Kennywood Park and Pittsburgh, PA for those not familiar with the Mon Valley Area.  There were a number of witnesses, thus many differing details to what happened that day.  There was no Internet at that time, social media as you know it did not exist, television was new, I do not believe we had helicopter breaking news stories, this limited access to first hand details for the populace.

The Backstory or How I Heard about the Event:

I have always been a History Buff, even as a child.  I love reading about history and I especially love hearing about history; add LOCAL HISTORY to the mix and I am hooked.  I first heard about this story as a kid in Leo Gigliotti’s barbershop in Duquesne, PA.  I knew him as “Mr. Leo” he was a great friend of my Grandpap.

I was in Mr. Leo’s shop getting a haircut around the anniversary of the bomber crash and several regulars were talking about it.  They mentioned one of their buddies who had assisted in the rescue efforts, he had just been driving by when he saw the bomber crash.  He helped pull crew members out of the river that day; when he showed up late to a family function his family accused him of being out at a bar, due to the peculiarity of his story.  The story hooked me immediately, I listened intently to the men discuss the actual crash details and how the crew was rescued.  Then the discussion turned to the conspiracy theories and my mind raced with images of the threads they weaved together.

I longed to find out more about this event, as I grew older I conducted research at the local library, but information was scarce.  From time to time information would be published in a newspaper, or there would be a brief but tantalizing segment on a local news station.

Stories such as this one piqued my interest with the conflicting details about the event and its aftermath.  I admit, I love to read these stories that are “off the beaten path” they give the mind a chance to wonder.  Due to meeting those gentlemen in Mr. Leo’s Barbershop all those years ago, I keep an open mind about the event.

The more traditional or “official” stories contain the same facts and some even mention the controversies surrounding the plane crash.  The most recent story published in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review can be found here.  The Heinz History Center has information posted on their History Blog, about the crash and the recovery efforts by Marion Hill Associates, a New Brighton based company.

Your assignment is to read the articles about the plane crash that are linked above, there are three articles.  After reading the articles, post a reply with your thoughts about the event, review the “Commenting Guidelines” that are posted on the Class Blog.  I will be posting a reply rubric here shortly.

You can check out the more information on Mr. Leo Gigliotti here.

 

 

Guided Focus Study Guide?

Teacher or researcher in library Library NaUKMA via Compfight

Let me start with this declarative statement, “I hate our US History Textbook.” Please don’t get me wrong, in its day it was very good, but it is outdated and set up in a fashion that does not suit my classes.  It breaks eras up so that they may be split over several chapters.  Students would read a chapter on the politics of an era, then then next chapter covers social culture, but we jump back 10 years to start the chapter.  This is rather cumbersome and extremely time consuming in my not so humble opinion.

Our department’s goal was to go without texts, replacing them with primary sources and other materials, sometimes we can achieve that goal.  My iPads are at the end of their useful life, my classes are not split evenly, some are overcrowded and some are sparse.  This combination makes it difficult to assist students when technology glitches in an overcrowded class, but that is for another post.

I have started using the textbooks again, but only sometimes; as an addition to other class information sources.  I have enough copies for a classroom set students can use on site.

Instead of having students complete questions at the end of the section after reading the text, I started giving them a “guided focus study guide.”  The goal is to bolster students’ notetaking ability while letting them pull information to suit their learning style.  I have noticed that when review questions are assigned students do not read the book, they search for answers.  They will skim over important information looking for key words searching for specific details to answer the few questions at the end of each section.  They overlook many important details they need to understand the issues we will be discussing.  

This tendency causes issues such as students not being able to explain why an event happened, in fact sometimes they will complain the topic was never covered in class, when it was in the book and discussed, but was not a section review question.  So…no more section review questions, I use…drumroll please… “Guided Focus Study Guides.”

I need a better name, I know, but it is what it is.  I read the section or the chapter, or whatever the resource is several times.  The first reading is to see if the resource is worth my classes’ time and effort, does it fulfill a purpose.  I also get a rough sketch in my head as to what I believe is necessary for the students to understand for class discussions and how the events affected society as we move forward.

The second reading becomes a bit more labor intensive, Google Docs and/or Evernote are open as I now take notes and ponder what these events led to in the world.  I begin typing out directions on which areas to focus on, and statements as to what to look for in each section of the resource.  I add the specific details I find in the resource to my notes, students will ask all sorts of questions, I need to answer them quickly, especially in my crowded classes.

I run through the resource one last time, adjusting the focus guide and my notes as needed.  I want to make sure the guide meshes with my goals for the resource:

  • is easy to understand for the students
  • do the focus areas guide students in the proper direction.
  • does it flow well with the order of information in the resource.

Students are allowed to fill in the guides however they choose, bullet points or full sentences, on paper, in their notebooks physical or digital, which is easy since the guide is shared through Google Docs and pushed out via Edmodo.

We review the guides after students have class time to work on them, this allows for students to make sure we are on the same page if you will.  I do not make the guides worth many assignment points, many students copy, will just write anything down for points, which is not the purpose.  The purpose is to allow the students to pull information from the resource to further their understanding of the topic.  I assess that through open note essay tests, but once again…that is a post for another day.

 

 

Better Blogging with Students 2018: Week 1

This post originally was a reply to the post you can find here in a course I am taking: Better Blogging with Students 2018.  This is our first week and we were asked to reply to a post about ourselves, our goals, how we would like to integrate our blog into our classrooms, and other such topics.  Below is my reply.

I have been blogging for a number of years, but my attempts are streaky at best- I write about educational technology, best practices, or tools and projects my classes are using or creating, then I drop off. Some posts are written as a model of what the current student project should look like. At worst I post sporadically, once every month or semester. As for my students’ blogs, they blog a couple of times a nine weeks at best, with replying to to other blogs only as an assignment. They are mainly one way avenues, not the vibrant exchange of ideas I hope to create.

My overall goal is to model consistently good blogging practices that I can show and discuss with my classes. This goal is to have a platform for them to use as a model. If I cannot meet my expectations, it is not fair to require them to meet the same expectations. The short term plan is to start small, just post regularly, even if it is just a review of what happened in class that week, maybe even just a cross post from a review pencast or podcast, but just get into the habit of producing a post on a regular basis by creating a set time for the exercise.

My audience is varied, I write mainly for other educators, showing off my students’ work and new tools I have begun to use with my students. Parents can also view the blog to get more of a feel for my class.

My Honors students have their own public blogs, where they post assignments from class, they are linked under my class blog. Students publish many writing assignments, mainly opinion pieces to Edublogs instead of writing to paper and recycling them in a week.

I am entertaining the idea of having a guest blogger on the main class blog as an enrichment assignment. Students can volunteer to write a bout a topic of their choice that fits into the course curriculum, History, and have an open forum to express opinions, interview people of that era, or some other task we agree upon.

The end result is to create a higher quality blog, class and student, where conversations occur naturally, not forced by class assignments. They would need to be integrated into class time so they become part of the class culture and not just an added task.

This has been an ongoing project and goal for awhile. I make small steps forward, I am hoping to make a bit more progress this time and not backslide when done.

January 4: Another New Skill

I have owned a Livescribe Pen for a number of years.  I earned, or was rewarded with my first Livescribe Pen for attending the Keystone Technology Integrator’s Summit at Bucknell University.  I cannot remember if it was as an attendee or a staff member that I received the pen.

My students use the Livescribe Pen to take notes in class, the Livescribe is referred to as “The Magic Pen.”  The notes are pushed over to an iPad and then uploaded to Evernote.  Once in Evernote, the .pdfs are embedded in the class wiki so other students can access the notes if need be.  A written copy is printed for the students who take the notes for the class.

In my quest to take existing skills and tools and apply them to more situations, I decided it was time to learn how to create pencasts with the Livescribe pen.  Needless to say, there was a learning curve for me.  The first couple attempts…or so did not work our so well.  I ended up with an audio file, but no corresponding video to see what was being discussed.

Long story short, I was “pushing” the wrong virtual button with the Livescribe Pen.  I was “pushing” the record button in the notebook, I was supposed to just “push” the little square button on the iPad.

New Year’s Podcast Resolution?

So, for some reason I am on a podcast kick, I have been listening to various podcasts in an attempt to find new content to listen to.  Part of it is based upon my Christmas gift, a Garmin Speak another goes with my goal to use tools I already implement on a deeper level.  Yet, one more reason is to get my daughter’s interest back into creating things instead of just consuming Internet information.

I have had a podcast channel for awhile, but it has fallen to the way side as of late, mainly because no one was going there to use the information and life became hectic for me.  Why invest time that is a major scarcity for me on something no one uses.  Here is the URL for my podcasts, which can also be found on iTunes and mrsalvucci.comhttp://mrsal.podbean.com/

Well, I am hoping to change the scenario and contribute more positive information to the Internet.  I plan on utilizing my podcast channel more this year, we shall see how it goes.  Here is my first podcast/minicast of the New Year: