Book Study The Jungle: Let the Adventure Begin

Today I rolled out a new concept for my Honors US History and Government I class, a semi-independent book study.

The project has evolved from numerous ideas. After reading over my archived Tweets from PETE & C, a #KTIchat, and a #PAedchat on Twitter, I am intent on fostering a culture of learning in my class, not a system of work and grading. I want my students to be motivated to learn instead of just wanting to earn a score.

At first, I wanted them to become Muckrakers and find things about town and school that could be improved. However they will be my students again next year and I want them to have a meaningful Summer Reading Experience, this new project will be a test run for that adventure. On a side note, we may still do the Muckraker project later time permitting.

Anyway, I chose The Jungle by Upton Sinclair since we are studying the Progressive Era AND we have enough copies of the books for my class. (The Pennsylvania budget impasse has our district on a purchasing freeze.).  School finances are a major inhibitor of new things this year.

I borrowed a study guide from a colleague who used to teach the book in her class and adapted it towards student publishing.  Only the first 20 chapters are used in the book study, the last 10 can be completed for Accelerated Reader enrichment points.   The reading is grouped into four project sections, with each section needing some sort of published project to explain the discussion questions.  Students must create a blog post, a podcast, a video, and then have one project of their own design.  The project styles can be created in any order of their choosing.  The final aspect would be to create some sort of Book Trailer we would publish.  I created a very open-ended rubric of expectations, more to keep me somewhat objective in my grading than for restricting student creativity.  Students are not required to be on video in my class, they may have “Special Guest Actors” in their stead, but they must create on multiple medias.

When I explained the project to my students, they were not phased by the reading and the questions.  When explaining the project sections, some were nervous about the technology.  When I explained that the rubric leaves much room for THEIR creativity, I saw shear terror in some students eyes, and much trepidation in most eyes.

I asked the question, “Truthfully, how many of you are nervous or scared about this project?”  All students raised their hands, I joined in too.  I explained that it was okay to be nervous, we have not done something this open-ended yet this year.  I was even nervous because I was not sure how smoothly things would run.  But I tried to reassure them that we will adjust to any “bumps in the road” that we may encounter and we will work together for success.  This seemed to calm most of the students’ fears, some will take longer to calm down.

My goal is to get them to learn, create, and share as a second nature.  I want my students to be able to express themselves well and gain their voice on a public platform.  I want them to want to learn and be inquisitive, not just perform for a number or grade.  Hopefully this project in a step in that direction.  As we move forward I plan to record our progress, our missteps, our adventures, and my reflections on the journey here.

Hour of Code: March 2 2016

My students participated in another Hour of Code today after school. I had to cover Senior Interviews so I let my students in the volunteer Hour of Code group work independently with another teacher as a monitor. The started using the Ozobots while I covered the interviews. One of my students had worked with the Ozobots in our last session, so he was given the role of chief facilitator for the session; he seemed to enjoy the role.

After Interviews were over I crossed the hall to the library and saw four intrepid students working intently on creating their ow pathways for the Ozobots to follow.

We moved back to my room and continued working on various endeavors.  One of our computer teachers came in while the students were working.  They explained to her in detail and with a lot of enthusiasm as to how the Ozobots worked.

Our Hour of Code evolved into setting up our Class Internet Radio Station on BlogTalkRadio.com.  One of my students created a music file on JamStudio for the show’s intro, other students looked over the BlogTalkRadio dashboard and our class site.  We ran out of time before we could run a broadcast.  I am hoping next Monday will be our first broadcast.

Thinking Outside the Box

Today I had two seniors ask me a question about a project they are working on…I was blown away by their thinking.  The project is a video on one of Freud’s Defense Mechanisms.  They are to be acted out to either explain the mechanism or quiz students about the mechanism.

Long story short, these two students asked if they could act out their idea via text message, instead of shooting video of themselves.  They explained further by stating that they would carry on the conversation on their phones, all dialog and details, while recording the screens.

Considering texting or some form of texting via multiple apps is one of the main forms of communication between that age group, I believe it could be a phenomenal idea and a first in the time this project has been in my curriculum.  Just a focus on the message, if well written can be very powerful and true to their form of normal communications.  Even more importantly, it is an idea and initiative all their own.

I hope plan on updating everyone once the project is complete.

Timeline Reflection: Progressive Era

So, my students added to their timelines in Honors US History I, overall they turned out well, I am extremely happy with how the project is progressing.

There are a number of things about the project that are in the running for my favorite aspect of the project, but I think I must say that having the students pick their own specific topics of research was my favorite aspect.  Their ownership of topics seemed to give them more interest in their work.  A close second was their presentations to the class, all of my students did well, and I see potential moving forward as they become more comfortable with speaking in front of everyone.

Some of the interesting facts that were shown by students were the fashions of the day.  Attire seemed much more formal, which still boggles my mind, even though I have taught this era for a number of years.  I wonder how I would have survived back in the day without Hawaiian shirts…

Looking back, I think we need to improve upon the turn in rate on Edmodo.  There are still students who turn in the wrong links to their projects or do not turn in their projects at all.  We are almost 3/4’s of the way through the school year, this should not be happening anymore.

Moving forward, I am implementing my students to reflect more on their projects.  It is a takeaway from what my review of all the PETE and C Tweets.  I used to have students reflect on their work, but it died out over time.  It is going to be reinstituted at all levels, including my own, starting with this project.  The reflections should help create better projects moving forward.

My Labor Day 2015

This Labor Day weekend was interesting.  My wife and I attended the wedding of a family friend’s daughter, then we took a family trip with our daughter to Sandusky, Ohio and the Great Wolf Lodge.  It was our first time to visit that water park, but we have been to Sandusky many times.

The forecast called for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 80’s, we decided to find a place with indoor and outdoor water areas.  I had checked Groupon to find a good rate, but after calling the Lodge 800 number, I found my AAA rate to be better.  We arrived early Sunday afternoon, actually before check in, so my wife did a quick social media search for local restaurants that we have not visited in the past.  We found the Dockside Cafe, a walk-up restaurant with bayside outdoor seating.

As we sat down and waited for our food to be ready, my wife found someone’s wallet that they dropped.  We returned it to the counter where the staff paged the gentleman over their PA system.  The grateful owner rewarded my daughter with $20 for our honesty, we attempted several times to respectfully decline the reward, but he was adamant.  Shortly thereafter our food was ready and we were paged to go pick it up at the side counter. The Perch Tacos were excellent!!!!!!  I would post pictures of them, but shortly after we left here, my trip took a precarious turn.

After our lunch we drove back to the Great Wolf Lodge and checked in to our room and the water park.  I planned on taking pictures and video of our stay for posterity.  I placed my iPhone in the waterproof case that I have used for two years.  The reliable case has kept my phone safe during water slides, pool adventures, rain storms, and other watery adventures.

Unfortunately, this time things would play out differently…in my haste to start having fun, I tucked my phone into the case with a few dollars for poolside snacks and rushed down to the water park.  My “Spidey-sense” of foreboding and onrushing doom, was triggered briefly, but I shrugged it off as a mild bout of OCD.

For the first few water slides and pool events, I kept checking the seal on my phone case.  All was good, so I let my guard down and further buried the sense of worry from my conscious mind.  Two water slides later I casually reached for my phone to snap a picture when I saw the water-tight seal was no longer water tight…the phone was in a small bit of water inside the pouch.

To make a long story less tedious, the iPhone could not be revived, and it would cost $200 for the replacement even though I have a protection plan on it.  That is cheap for a replacement, but not when I was due for an upgrade in two months.  My photo/video memories did not materialize, but the weekend was till fun.  Meeting new people, running into another family we are friends with, and enjoying the last “Summer Weekend” of the season made wiping out my phone less crushing.  I am now running an old flip phone, “two screens, two keyboards, and no Internet,” but that is fodder for another post.

 

Hour of Code 2014: Day Two

On Friday, December 12, 2014, four of my Honors Civics students stayed after school to participate in an Hour of Code.  I would have had more students, however many students had an early release for the Christmas Dance which was later that evening.

Two of my students came back from the previous day’s activity to continue their work.  This was the first time the two new participants were available to stay after.  All four worked on iPads and used one of the free Lightbot apps available for an Hour of Code.  We continued to use an Edmodo group dedicated to this endeavor as the platform for communication and organization.

I stood back after a brief overview and let the students discuss the events of the previous day.  The two students who participated Thursday opted to continue on with the Lightbot puzzles instead of creating code via PageStudio.  The new students joined in and they began working on individual tasks.  I mirrored one student iPad onto my Interactive Whiteboard, IWB, using Apple TV.

The students were very quiet as they worked on their tasks, which was not what I was hoping for.  The students were super-focused on what they were doing which was good, but I was hoping for more teamwork.  As I observed what each was doing on their iPad, the student who was mirroring her iPad onto the IWB hit a snag and was stuck on a puzzle.  I encouraged her to ask the others for help and reiterated that I was hoping for a group effort.  As she asked for help, the students realized that they were all around the same puzzle and having similar issues.

JACKPOT!!!!

The four students began to talk, collaborate, and test out possible solutions on their individual iPads, sharing their ideas with each other using the mirrored iPad.  This went on for the rest of the sessions, almost the full hour.  Their ability to work through the increasingly complex tasks increased in speed and the tasks were less tedious as they joked and talked out the solutions.

Overall, the session seemed to be a success.  I posted an assignment in the Edmodo group to add to the enrichment assignment; write a reflection blog post on the Hour of Code, or record a short podcast reflection of their efforts.  I am looking forward to seeing their thoughts on the activities and hoping for honest opinions.  I would like to expand upon this event and getting their opinions on how to improve it is key.  I also offered to continue with activities like these throughout the year if they are interested in doing so.  Hopefully I will find out soon via blog post or podcast if they thought the effort was a success.

My major epic fail for the project was forgetting some Christmas cookies on my dining room table at home that I bought as a snack for the participants.  I did remember to bring juice pouches for them, and had some animal cracker/cookies for snacks, but forgetting the good treats bothered me.

Hour of Code 2014: Day One

Thursday, December 11, 2014, we made our first attempt at Hour of Code 2014.  Hour of Code is an optional enrichment assignment for my students.  To organize the efforts of my students I created a group for them in Edmodo; which I used to survey them via the quiz feature and poll feature.  Links to all resources were also posted there, though I just used Code.org‘s site as the main resource.

Due to scheduling conflicts we all agreed that the only two days this week that we could meet would be Thursday and Friday; with the majority of students only being able to attend one after school session.  For our first day, I had two students stay after school, both have had experience with coding.  They participated in CodeHS last year when they were in Middle School and this November they participated in a Hack Day, I was not the teacher of record for these activities.

The two students came in and jumped on the class iPads and off to Edmodo they went.  Once in Code.org’s site they chose to use Litebot as the tool to complete exercises.   The apps are/were free for Hour of Code.  Both students were gracious enough to answer all of my questions about their coding experience as we worked through Litebot.  They will actually be the main facilitators for this with other students, since they understand coding much better than I, you can see my previous post on this topic.

We were having technical issues with the school wireless that had crashed several times during the day and was currently running rather slowly.  I handed off my iPad to a student and they worked on tasks while I tried to get Litebot downloaded on other devices.  I was successful, but it took most of the time we had to get the iPads set up.  This will make tomorrow easier, although it limited what we could do today.

We projected my iPad screen over the Apple TV, practicing for the larger crowd expected on Friday.  Overall, they seemed pleased with the effort, they will be back for Friday’s session.  For Friday, they can use other code apps to actually work on creating code, while my other students can focus on levels that match their ability level.

I hope to have more to post soon.

Hour of Code 2014: I Hope I Have a Safety Net

This year I am stepping way out of my comfort zone and attempting to learn something new with the help of my students:  CODING.  I have been a technology coach in my district, starting with Pennsylvania’s Classrooms For the Future initiative, CFF, then through an EETT grant.  I would like to think that I am fairly knowledgeable with using technology in an educational setting.  I have had extensive formal training through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a second Master’s Degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning, a rockin’ global Professional Learning Network, PLN.  I have presented at numerous local, regional, and state conferences about ways to effectively use technology in the classroom, not to mention many, many, many Twitterchats, and global virtual discussions on using technology.

That being said, I am not well versed in fixing devices, my Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver aside, nor do I have much experience building apps and tools for educational use; that is what tech support and edupreneurs are for.  My app building experience stops with the what used to be Google App Inventor and my old Android Droid X phone.  I used the drag and drop technology to make several apps that would take me to predetermined websites using two clicks on the screen.  Oh yeah, I was cutting edge until App Inventor went away, though now it is with MIT I believe.  I also moved on to an iPhone, no App Inventor for that device.

I have been wanting to learn how to CREATE tools that I can use and to understand how the educational tools that I use actually work…no more man behind green curtain mystique.  I am also working with other educators on organizing maker-areas, gamification in the classroom, and planning how I need to adapt to the future of education.  I need to get my head wrapped around coding.  This year I happen to have a great group of Freshman who have been learning the concept of coding, I saw a fantastic opportunity…I need to learn what they either know or are cureently learning.  My plan is to try and learn the how to create code and discuss my progress with them; sharing what I am learning and asking questions about concepts that are difficult for me.  Basically I will be modeling learning, which I have done before, but never with a concept so foreign to me.  My starting point is this week with The Hour of Code.

I am am hoping my students are willing to provide a safety net for this old dog who is trying to learn new tricks.

 

Collaborative Assignments

So, my students are winding up their collaborative projects that I have posted about previously, click here to view.  The last couple of days students have made a a concerted effort to finish up the projects.  Students have been staying after school, using my open door policy by coming in during their study halls, lunch periods, or any other free time, and asking questions after hours via Edmodo.  While I admire their efforts, I believe that if they started out this focused on the project, there would be no need for as much effort now.  I do realize that the dreaded, state mandated, standardized tests were last week which created a different atmosphere for the start of the project.  Being entrenched in the holiday season and weekly threat of “SNOWMAGEDDON X” from the local weather forecasters has added to the ongoing list of distractions for this project.