Old Tools, New Uses Part I

Over this holiday break I have been working on cleaning up my “Digital Clutter” and attempting to learn new concepts.  My daughter is sick, the weather is miserably cold, so we are homebound which gives me time to sit and learn when not entertaining my daughter.

I have been doing double duty, setting up study resources for my students while learning new concepts, the whole “two birds with one stone” adage.  To learn a concept in a vacuum is silly, especially with other work I could be doing.

I let my classes know that they will have a test the Friday we return from break, with two study/prep days to start the post-break classes.  There would be resources posted for students who want to use the holiday break to do some pre-prep work.

I glanced over my TES-Blendspace site that I use to host my students’ projects.  Many teachers use it to host lessons for their students, it could make a great resource for my students.  Upon downloading the app on my iPad I reviewed lessons from other teachers.  They posted various forms of information, media, text, webpages, and allowed for students to respond to the information.

This format was used for my students’ review, the original Prezis were linked via the Blendspace along with webpages that contain both video and text information.  Each block of information was followed by a block of teacher created text that explained what to focus on in the students’ notes or asked questions on the material previously presented.  Once completed, they were posted in the Edmodo classrooms and parents and students were notified via Cel.ly that the resources were posted.

There were three of these that were created for the review, it will be interesting to gain student feedback to see how these work for them.  There is a good chance that these can be used throughout lessons as a self-paced review tool moving forward, or even as a way to push out supplementary information to classes.

Time will tell…but for now it feels good to expand my repertoire and use some of the tools I already implement closer to their full potential.


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.