What to do during New State Standardized Testing Window…Expand Project Week

Well, we in Pennsylvania we have new(er) standardized tests, the Keystone Exams.  It was my distinct pleasure to be permitted to proctor them this year, sarcasm is intended.  I hate standardized tests, but that is a rant for another post.  The state window for testing started after Thanksgiving break and ended a week or so after we got back, sorry, but I do not pay attention to such details, I just focus on when we HAVE to take them in our school.  Our district took the tests right out of the gate  following break; if you have to do it, just jump right in and start. With the majority of my students testing at least one of the three scheduled days I knew I would not be able to accomplish much.  My students would either be testing and out of my class, or coming into class after testing and have their brains fried to a mush-like substance.  All students who missed class would need filled in, and students who had their brains curdled would need remediated…what a world, what a world.

I chose to jump into collaborative project week and expand the assignment by a week.  Each of my subject classes had a different project focus of topic, but similar style projects to create.  Podcasts, websites, videos, to combinations of such things were highly encouraged.  Students were to use the new iPads or their own personal mobile devices to work on the projects.  With a week of near empty classes, or classes filled with zombified students I rolled out the projects.

We started slow, students used Google Docs to sign up for groups, topics of research/presentation, and methods of presenting.  We brainstormed ideas of research together as group, discussing why topics were of interest and should they be accepted.  As usual, Edmodo was used as the mothership platform for communication and organization of the classes.  This first week went well, students were able to accomplish work and decompress from the testing.  The opportunity to collaborate, socialize, and have others to lean on was a major benefit for the students.  Those students who did not have to test benefited from not having to do extra assignments, or busy work as they call it.  As you will see in my next post, students who missed for testing even started the projects while away from class.

While I still thoroughly despise such tests, I now have a worthwhile concept to get my students involved in while we grind out these mandatory requirements.

Lucky 2013 Class Expectations

Well, it is a new school year and time for a new set of class expectations for 2013/2014.  Every year my students begin blogging and I attempt to blog more; sometimes with success sometimes without.   I have several goals that I have been unofficially building towards the last several years.  They cover course content and classroom technology use.

My expectations for class content and topics is to cover as much of the 20th Century with my history class as possible.  I am also in the process of flipping all of my classes, so I must continue to build and revise the class resources.  These goals dovetail nicely together, creating a dynamic that should play out well into the future. As our department builds towards expanding 20th Century US History into a two year course, the resources we use need to grow and adapt.  No longer will we need to rely on textbooks, but rather primary sources for the students to interact with.  The focus also needs to be pushed for more higher level activities to be completed in class, while the more basic tasks can be done on the students’ own time.  This reversal of tasks will give students more support for actually understanding the concepts we will cover.  By refining and adding to my resource library there will be more options for students to pull from when comes to finding the right type of material to work with.  We need resources that fit every type of learners needs and ability.

When it comes to new technology and tools this year, I plan to learn and teach the tools we use more in depth.  I also hope you o get my students more involved with collaborative projects outside of my classroom.  I have been using many tools for many years with my classes.  It does sound trite, but it is what it is…true.  The students need to see these tools integrated with each other and see how powerful they can be when used together.  I can start the process through modeling, but my hope is that the students’ imaginations will run with the concepts.  My students collaborate well within the class and within the school.  They now need to collaborate and participate outside of that small sphere.  I am hoping to have a number of students voluntarily participate in either the Flat Classroom Project or the Edublogs Challenges.  I will offer full support, but the goal is for them to want to participate in this new realm.

I will keep blogging about the progress of these goals and expectations as the school year plays out.  Hopefully they will be success stories, or learning experiences at the minimum.

Better Late than Never: Student blogging ownership

Not being 1:1 in my classroom since October has really slowed down my plans for student projects this school year.  It may just be my own personal bias or train of thought that slowed things down, but things slowed down nonetheless. I felt it was too complex and cumbersome to require students to access and work regularly on projects without dedicated daily access to 1:1 technology.  The students still have completed group projects, but many of the mundane things I wanted them to do have fallen to the wayside.

At long last, my Freshmen are finally personalizing their individual blogs.  I made it an assignment for them to personalize their blogs’ theme, add widgets, pages, and other such things.  There are restrictions to the personalization process, everything must be appropriate for school and relevant in some way.  I want them to begin using the blogs outside of the classroom…I will still award points for bog posts, but I want them to start CREATING THEIR OWN IDEAS….and then publishing those ideas on the Internet.  My Freshmen are in my civics class and what is more civic than contributing positively to the social discourse.

I will still have final approval before posts go public, it is one safeguard I am not comfortable relinquishing at this time.  I do not know if many, or any students will blog on their own outside of class, but I hope they do.

Smartphone growth spurs rethinking of marketing – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Smartphone growth spurs rethinking of marketing

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App on a phone
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Kim Leonard is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 412-380-5606 or via e-mail.

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More consumers who use their mobile phones to research and buy products are turning into moving targets.

That’s why businesses including several in Western Pennsylvania are creating applications, or “apps,” for Apple iPhones and Android-based mobile smartphones that point shoppers and service users to their products and offerings.

The article specifically discusses smartphone applications that are being made for Pittsburgh-based businesses. My question is, “Why aren’t schools, specifically K-12 entities capitalizing on this usage?”

Many of our students use some sort of smartphone, why don’t we allow them to use the phones in school. In my humble opinion, students should be allowed to use their technology from home in the classroom. Schools can then use their limited resources by allowing students without their own device to use a school machine. Not only would more students then have access to technology, but many would be using tools they are familiar with and have easy access to.

Teachers would have to monitor students better in class, to ensure they were on task, but why not make school more like reality…give the students access to information and technology at their fingertips. Eventually students will be using the same technology for work, the modern workplace demands it. We as educators need to teach them how to use it responsibly, not bury our heads in paper texts and claim there is no place for these devices in our classrooms.

Cell phones in class: A responsible story

This is a true classroom experience that happened to a friend of mine the other day.  I am leaving out all names of people and schools, because the incident that occurred is against school policy.  All comments in quotes are just paraphrases of the conversations, since I was not there to witness the incident.  A friend of mine teaches in a high school and had the class working in a computer lab for a project.  There were not enough computers for all of the students to research what they were working on, so the students were sharing computers.

My friend noticed a student facing away from the group and acting a bit “odd.”  My friend walked over and the student had a cell phone out zipping around on the touch screen.  As my friend was about to say something to the student, the student turned around and said preemptively, “I am not texting, I was looking up my topic.  I do not have a computer and it is too nice to have to wait and work from home.”  The student then held up the cell phone for my friend to see the screen.  My friend asked about phone fees, to which the student replied, “It is free, I am not stupid.”

Lo and behold, the student had Googled the topic and was reviewing sites to start gathering information.  My friend looked at the student, told the student, “Okay, keep working, but be careful, we could both get in trouble if you get caught.”  The student continued working, and eventually found a site with information and began taking notes.  Learning was occurring in a positive way, class went on as planned, the Earth did not stop rotating, other students did not pull out their phones and begin the wholesale acts of texting, sexting, and calling each other to the point of using up all of their minutes.  It was what should be considered a non-issue, but I am writing about it because kids are not allowed to use this type of technology in class, because some believe that cell phone use is a gateway act to anarchy in schools.  It isn’t, IF YOU TEACH STUDENTS HOW TO USE THESE TOOLS RESPONSIBLY!

Now, according to my friend’s school district’s policy, the phone should have been confiscated from the student, the student should have received some sort of detention, either after-school or Saturday morning.  The phone could have been liberated but only to parents/guardians at a time a few days later in the week.  If the student would have refused to give up the phone, the student could have been suspended from school, which also meant there would have been a large disruption to most of the students in class.

I know that my friend has told students in the past how to use technology for learning purposes.  My friend is well ahead of the curve, we often discuss the projects we have are having students create and share resources with each other.  After all that is what a PLN is supposed to do, and mine is super-fantastic, but I digress.  When asked if my friend had modeled cell phone use in class, the reply was, “Not to that extent, I do not have Internet on my phone.”

The student had actually listened to past conversations with my friend and explored learning on their own.  A marvelous concept…taking initiative and using tools that they already know well to complete work appropriately.  My friend’s next goal will be to show the student some free note-taking apps for the student’s phone.  We do not know if Evernote or Documents 2 will work on that type of phone, it was not a Blackberry or iPhone, just a basic touchscreen version with Internet capabilities. There is some research for us to do so we can help this student prep for college in a couple of years.

Hopefully some day soon this can be a common occurrence and not a topic to write about…

Jury Duty: A Teachable Moment

Okay, I explained in the last two posts about my jury duty experience. It probably sounded a lot like complaining, because I did complain a lot. I do not like to complain without offering a way to remedy my grievances; here is my attempt.

Now, here is what I can teach my classes about my experience. First and foremost, every employee I encountered at the Lawrence County Courthouse was helpful and seemed like a truly nice person. The were polite and professional, and they did their best with the situation at hand. I do not have anything but compliments for them.

My issue is with the process jury selection process itself. There have to be more eligible prospective jurors in the county than what they call. Please do not say it is a “Civic Duty” when it is not required that everyone show up in a cycle. That also goes with my premise that it is truly not a random selection process. There may be a bit of randomness to the procedures, but in today’s world, it should not be that complicated to expand the list of people to draw from.  It was also not a very diverse panel of potential jurors. The male to female ratio may have been close to being even, but ethnically there was no diversity whatsoever.  Use the county computer records to expand the juror pool to ALL eligible jurors. Cycle us through with everyone having to possibly show up before you go back through the list. People may still not have to go to the courthouse, but at least they are on the list.

The next issue is the selection process.  Prospective jurors are sent a questionnaire to fill out and send back. They then go into the courtroom, if on the list of possible jurors. They are then asked the questions again, and respond by standing up if their answer to a question is yes. Then the jurors can be called up the the sidebar to explain their answers to the Judge and attorneys.  We are already required to explain in writing why we answered the way we did. It may be petty, but why do it twice, especially if the first response does not count.  It reminds me of busy work, which I despise. Do it once, when we are called into the courtroom. Make people stand up for their convictions, if they truly are convictions, they will not mind standing up in front of others.

By the end of today, I do not believe a defendant would have had a fair trial.  The jurors all seemed like nice and rational people, but they had had enough. They did their duty yesterday, were told they did not make the cut, then were told the rules changed, we were not done with our “Civic Duty.” We had one more case then we would be done. Well, that case was settled on a plea bargain, yet we were not done, we had one more case. That is not right, even if they hold all the cards.  If I were to be called for duty, then do as I pleased, I could and probably would be charged with contempt of court.  Those with the authority must not abuse that authority if they want to be respected.  They played patriotic music in the movie we watched on Day One, quoted Thomas Jefferson, stated how important jurors are to a free society, then blew it all up with changing the rules as they went along. This goes back to including more jurors in the prospective pool, the more jurors, the less recycling jurors who did were pushed off of an earlier case.

I guess my main point of information for my students is, DO NOT choose a jury trial if you ever go to court.  You have no idea what the jurors have been though, or their frame of mind due to their experience.  A trial under the supervision of a judge takes out the variable of a group that may not be in a very objective mood through no fault of their own.

Once again, the court employees were very kind and very professional, they worked with a system I feel is inadequate in the 21st Century.  Adjust the system and the jury becomes what it was meant to be, an impartial panel of peers to view the facts and pass judgment on a situation based on the rules of a society.

On a personal note, I have only reinforced the fact that due to my family, friends, and working with “At-Risk” students for a number of years, I am not a good fit for a criminal trial. The court knows this by now, and if they do not, they can read my responses.  If that is not of any help, I stand up to respond yes to the questions, again, then I explain my answers on the sidebar. If I am turned away, why in the world would I be made to go through the process again.

Judge Piccione made a very good point and made me rethink my answers during the sidebar on Day One. He asked if I could put my biases aside due to my life experiences. I answered that I was reasonably sure that I could. He reminded me that it was a yes or no answer, not a matter of degree, which is true. I honestly cannot say that I could keep my personal experience out of my judgment of a case.  There is no rubric to use like I have for my class projects.

Because of this, I am toxic to a criminal defendant.  My grandparents were in a car accident caused by someone who was driving while impaired. I have many friends and family who are in law enforcement. I am a throw away juror, no competent defense attorney would choose me unless they were gunning for a mistrial.  By keeping me around, there is one less possible juror who could be unbiased to a defendant. That seems a bit unfair to the defendant. By pulling in all of the rejected jurors to another trial, you seriously cut the chances of an unbiased jury for a defendant. That just does not seem right. That seems to be against the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and the United States Constitution.

Jury Duty: Day Two

I returned to jury duty at the Lawrence County Court house this morning at 9:15 AM. On my way in I was able to apologize to the lady I was kind of short with yesterday. She was very kind and said no apology was necessary, but I thought I owed her one anyway. She explained that once you are summoned to jury duty, there is no limit to how often they can call you, unless you sit on a jury. In my humble opinion that is nonsense, my family situation is what it is, and cannot change.

I went in with laptop in bag hoping to get some work done. I still could not get on the Internet.  The courthouse system blocked me and wanted to download some sort of anti-virus software. Yeah…right Sporto, “That ain’t happenin'” For goodness sakes, I have a Macbook…but I digress yet again.

I was able to type a good bit of my Literature Review for grad school and work on an Easiteach file for Econ. I used the Google Form feedback from my students to find areas that needed addressed. So my day was not a total waste.

About 10:30ish the gentleman in charge of telling the prospective jurors what was going on came in. He let us know that the case we were to possibly sit on had reach a plea agreement. Sounded good, however the county changed the rules and did not release us as they had originally planned.  They were trying to organize another case and would need us to stay longer. Very dirty pool in my book.

Around 11 AM we were told that we could leave for lunch. No pizza today, the roads were passable. I was going to stay and continue working on my grad work, until I realized that we were getting TWO HOURS for lunch! What a waste of our time.  On the way out, we ran into the jurors from the case we were not chosen for. The defendant accepted a plea agreement right before the trial was to start. They were done.  I drove home and shoveled my driveway yet again. I was able to get some work accomplished because I have Internet access there.

Upon my return to the courthouse at 1:15 PM, I sat and talked with a number of jurors, none were too pleased with the rule change by the county.  Most of us had been thrown off the previous case jury because of knowing family members who were either victims or law enforcement officials. All were in agreement that we were not a very fair jury pool for a defendant.

About 2:15 we were summoned to the jury waiting room and were told we could leave, the last case had reached a plea agreement. The District Attorney, Josh Lamancusa, came in and thanked us for our service. Once again, we had no choice, so no thanks were necessary. I commented that is was a good thing because, “Only a moron of a defendant would want to pick a jury on a Thursday Afternoon and tie everyone up for another week. Like they would even get a fair trial.”

The District Attorney laughed, he must have thought I was joking.  In all seriousness, I do not believe there was a fair trial to be had, there were few people who were happy to be there and most were unhappy with the change in rules by the county. Many of us were repeat potential jurors and knew of many who never were summoned.

Overall, they showed us a video on jury duty, which played patriotic music, quoted Thomas Jefferson, then held us longer than necessary.  So much for my civic duty, but I did gain a teachable moment from the entire ordeal, but that is another post.

Jury Duty: A Lesson in Citizenship

I must preface this post with the the fact that I am not happy with being called to jury duty, every three years since moving to Lawrence County in 1997. I know people who have never been called for jury duty and they have lived here all of their lives. My wife never had jury duty until we were married 5 1/2 years ago, she has had it twice since then. I teach social studies and thought I was fairly well versed in Civics, but I am being reminded that book knowledge and practical knowledge are not equal.

I was summoned again to serve on a jury about a month or so ago.  When I received the summons, I called and talked with the county officials in charge of jury duty. I asked why I was being called every three years and others never get called. The answer from the older gentleman on the other end of the line was, “Names are picked randomly.” I explained my situation and was told, “If you aren’t actually picked for a jury, you could be called more often.” So much for my argument. In my defense, if random is every three years at this time, I should have hit the Powerball Lottery a couple of times by now.

So I filled out the questionnaire and returned it to the county. I was truthful, the threat of perjury for lying on the form has a tendency to do that to people. The two big questions that will usually disqualify me are, “Are you related to any law enforcement officials?” and “Were you are any family members ever the victim of a crime?” The answer to both is yes. I have several family members in various jobs within law enforcement, I have many friends in law enforcement, and my grandparents were almost killed by a driver who was impaired by some substance. There was another question asking to describe my answers, I filled up the space and used part of another section to be thorough.

I lucked out days 1 and 2, not having to go to the courthouse. Last night, in the middle of the snow storm, I called the courthouse and the recorded message said I had to report. I called back twice to make sure I typed my juror ID number in correctly, but the answer was always the same. Soon after I received the call from the school that we were closed. Yay.

I got up, dug out my truck and hoped for court to be canceled. No such luck. I dug out again, and forty-five minutes later I completed the normally fifteen minute drive. The courthouse employees were all very friendly, they even had donuts for us. We waited around and finally I was called for a criminal trial. The judge had us all sit in the court room and reviewed the details of a criminal case.On the way in, one of the court officers thanked us for showing up. Not to be a funny, or sarcastic, I mentioned that there was no need for thanks, “we didn’t have a choice, but to show up. Opting out is called contempt.” Another prospective juror chimed in, “If I don’t show up today, you’ll have me here in cuffs next week.” The court officer laughed and said we were still appreciated.

In the court room, we were asked if we were related or on friendly terms with any of the people in the court. Then they read the witness list and ask the same question. Then they started asking the questions from the questionnaire we had to fill out and send back. We were to stand if our answer to the question was “Yes.” Once again, I stood for the two questions I answered yes to on the questionnaire.We broke for lunch, the court house ordered pizza for everyone since it was still snowing outside.

After lunch, we returned to the court room and one by one, prospective jurors were called to the side barand asked the details to why we stood up during previous questioning. I had gotten this far three years ago and once again I was called up to the side bar. I was asked about the details of why I stood up. It was a lengthy answer. After each answer I was asked if I could still be impartial. I think I could be, but who knows for certain and I said as much. During the questioning I discovered that the Assistant District Attorney on this case and my wife are distantly related through marriage. The Assistant D.A.’s aunt is married to my wife’s uncle, who was a police officer. Needless to say, I was not picked to be on the jury for this criminal trial.

We were sent back to the jury holding room and were told that we had to report the next day at 9:15 AM. They still had one criminal case that possibly needed jurors. I asked why I needed to show up, I was just disqualified from a criminal case. I was told, that they needed prospective jurors so it didn’t matter that I would probably be dismissed. The message was simple, we need people and you have to show up.

Nice…the only way I make a criminal jury is if the defense attorney is totally incompetent, or they want a shot at a mistrial. I made the fifteen minute trip home in about thirty minutes, the roads were getting clearer. Once again, I received a call, school was canceled. Tomorrow I head back to court, to be someone they can send home after wasting a day sitting around doing nothing.

In Lawrence County, Pennsylvania we receive a whopping nine dollars a day for showing to the mandatory jury duty. I guess I just resent the fact that they try and make it sound that we are picked randomly. There were several people in the court who are picked every couple of years, so it is not just me who thinks the randomness is skewered. I also disliked the fact that I have to go back again, for another criminal trial tomorrow, when I was not picked for a jury today. My family situation isn’t going to change overnight, they know it, they just need bodies in a room, even if it is just to take up space. Whoever the defendant is, they will have a pool of rejected jurors to choose from, how fair is that?

I do owe one lady an apology. On my way out to my truck, in the snow and wind,  one of the court employees asked if I was in the jury room and knew I had to report back the next day. I said, “yes,” and I guess she could tell I was not happy about it at all. She tried to apologize for the inconvenience, but I brushed her off. I should not have done that, she may have been sincere.

I am just tired of the insincerity, “we randomly pick jurors,” “we need impartial jurors,” “we are sorry for your inconvenience.” If I am to take them at their word, I am sure they could sell me some oceanfront property in Nebraska. No wonder people hate being summoned.