iPod Project: Student Self-Reflection

Did you ever forget old standards because of new information? You get so busy looking forward you lose sight of what is around you…In a previous post I discussed how I was using Examview Test Generator to make short quizzes to embed on the class wiki for my students. I continued to do this with short quizzes to see how my students were understanding our class discussions. I was also printing out a single class set of a paper quiz. Students still took the quiz online via the iPod Touches, but they had a paper copy to read off of. Many prefer to read of the paper copies

The quizzes allow me to break up information into small chunks to work with for the students. The only issue I had was that we are covering a lot of new information and continuous quizzes would wear down my students. If they were not grasping the information well, the quizzes would pull students grades down markedly.

I usually ask questions and try and get discussions going, but even seniors do not like admitting publicly that they do not always understand concepts. I came up with an idea that I forgot about for awhile…I have started using a Google Form to have the students reflect back on the day’s lesson.

The concept is so simple, I cannot believe that I was not doing it sooner…I make a simple Google Form, four or five questions long and embed it on a wiki page.  The link to the page is placed in Edmodo and on the left hand navigation column of my class wiki, so the students have easy access to the form.  The questions are: Name, Period, What did you understand best, What did you understand least, and what do you feel you need/want to learn more about.  They receive participation points for taking the exercise seriously.  All questions have room for the students to explain why they answered they way they did.

I get a nice little spreadsheet of information to work from.  I review the students responses and create a file in Easiteach to hit the areas that students feel they need help with or are interested in.  My review requires the students to participate, I prompt them to their notes from past lessons and try to add to those notes.  The students use their iPods to find answers to the new questions and we work on bridging the gaps in understanding.  So far, the process seems to be working.  Hopefully the success will continue into the future.

iPod Project: Moving into the 21st Century

I will be the first to admit, that I did not start out using my classroom set of iPods as 21st Century Learning devices. The learning curve was not steep, but getting everyone, including myself, to full speed took some time. To paraphrase the drill instructor-like driving instructor who had a one episode cameo in SpongeBob Squarepants, ” Before you can run, you must learn to walk. Before you can walk, you must learn to crawl.”  We started at a crawl, and quickly moved to a walk. I am now in the process of getting up to full speed with the iPods.  I am attempting to make my lessons more interactive and have a true conversation with the students while getting them to learn.

In the past, getting information out to them was a chore.  If I made a PowerPoint the way they are supposed to be, there was not enough information for them on the screen.  They did not listen to what I was saying, and they struggled.  If I put all the info on the slides, they wrote to there fingers bled, still didn’t listen, and thought you needed to embed a Word Doc to make a good PowerPoint.  Neither option was acceptable, I had to practice, “Do as I say, not as I do,” when I assigned PowerPoints as projects.

I have a Polyvision Interactive Whiteboard in my room now, with a working copy of RM Easiteach, which I did not have last year.  I now import my PowerPoints into RM Easiteach, either with “Glass Mode” or “Merge” .JPG files into each page of a file.  I then make a bare bones outline page in between each PowerPoint slide page.  The bare bones contain a few critical questions I want the students to know.

I then flip through the Easiteach presentation, I state the topic, and pose a few questions.  The students are encouraged to brainstorm ideas.  I still need to remind them, “each of you has a computer in front of you, (iPod Touch), use it.”  They are getting better.  They search for answers, some on the mark, some not, but that is okay, we are learning.  We put the brainstormed and “Googled” ideas up on the board and sift through the information.  The critical thinking process is modeled and worked through as a class.  We discuss the points and see which is correct and which may not be.  The reasoning as to why each is correct or not on topic is discussed.

Once we answer these questions and narrow the focus to the correct topic, questions usually pop up to further the conversation.  If this does not happen, I ask a few more questions and the process is repeated.  Students still need prompted and I still need to circulate through the room, but they are working, they are thinking, and they are active.

Once we have a good bit of information, I pull the board into “Split Screen” and we compare the facts the students found to what I had on my PowerPoint.  Sometimes, the information I have is a few years old and out of date, we correct the information and move on. At the end of the period, I “Save” the file for that class and reopen a scaled down mater file for the next period.

The following class repeats the process, but does not always find the same results.  This is another lesson unto itself and we do work through the divergent information to see if one is correct and one not, or they are both correct, just different.  Students learn from the process.  They learn how to find information, how to discriminate and choose the correct information, and they learn the curriculum.

I can copy and paste the slides into grouped information, then upload it into my Edmodo classroom.  The students can use the free Easiteach reader download to view the files from home.  I also create a podcast for each file, nothing spectacular, just an audio of the focus points of the file.  I push the podcasts out to my Podbean.com account and iTunes.  In an unabashed act of egocentricity, I subscribe to my own podcast on iTunes and push it out on the iPods.  Now my students have access to the material even if they are not in class, or if they need to review information.

I know I name dropped some specific brand names, but we are a Polyvision school. I am pretty sure I could do similar style lessons with other brands of Interactive Whiteboards.  The concept is what is important, getting the students to participate in learning and thinking, not just sitting there…passively.

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.

Music on the iPods: Moving Forward

I previously wrote about my attempt to use the free Pandora App to allow students to listen to music in class. It did not work, because unlike the iPhone, the iPod Touch does not allow you to run multiple apps at the same time. I decided to push out a variety of music to the students from my library. Using student supplied music would be too time consuming with the need to listen to all of the tracks before I uploaded them.

I chose to present what I considered an eclectic mix of music to the students. Here is the first batch of music I pushed pushed out: a Big Band CD of Desi Arnaz and Chico Marx Orchestras, Dave Brubeck’s “On Time,” Bo Diddley’s Greatest Hits, a Blues Compendium, “The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Blues,” War’s “The Best of War and More,” Donnie Iris’s “King Cool,” and the last selection from another local band, The Clarks “The Clarks Live.”

To set up the music, I pulled the music off of CDs into iTunes. I created a Playlist folder entitled, “Class iPods” and listed the individual playlists by genre.  I did have to initially set each iPod under music to “Sync Selected Music” and check off the “Class iPod” folder. This allows me to adjust the music within the class folder on my computer without resetting each individual iPod. I can now move playlists in and out of the folder as I choose, and the music will automatically sync onto the iPods.

At first, it created class discussion as to what was I thinking, the students had not heard fo many of the artists, except the two local groups. This was a nice little lesson unto itself, just getting the names out there was important in my eyes. Too often, we tend to ignore topics outside of the state standards, or standardized tests in public education.

The students are little by little sampling the music on the iPods. They run one earbud, volume on low, and take notes as we discuss the class curriculum. I keep tabs on their progress during the discussion, I am a natural pacer and usually move about the room throughout class. I will continue to monitor the progress of the effort and adjust accordingly.