Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Geocaching with Kids

I love hiking, and my doctor says until my back heals, I have to stick to stuff like walking. Walking for the sake of walking strikes me as dull as a white bread, mayo, and processed cheese sandwich (Sorry Micki)!

But geocaching? I got my whole family out and about, fired up about finding treasure. I bought a GPS with a gift card I got to a big box electronics store, learned about it the night before, and went to geocaching.com, opting for the free account. Holy cow, I have been living on Treasure Island all along, and I didn't know it. There were 5 within 2 km of my house. We have found 2 so far. The first one contained patches, badges, bottlecaps, dice, and a booklet dating back 2+ years.

The website names the second cache we found as "watch your fingers" - Andrew (5 yr old son) said maybe it's an alligator! We scrambled around some ferns and boulders in some landscaping near my neighbourhood. We were looking for a typical rubbermaid container. Imagine my suprise when we found....an alligator! And in its jaws was a fake bloody finger! The kids howled with delight.

The next day we went looking for three more, but I think 1 was destroyed by recent logging activity. The second appears to be submerged IN a lake (don't think that is right, better re-check gps) and didn't find the third because it was too far for my daughter (7) and my son to make get there after a day of hiking.Who would have believed that my wife was going to be the most disappointed when we didn't find one!

But, we will be out again this weekend. And over spring break, we will be checking out Geocaches in other towns too. Who knew there was another world hidden all around us. I wonder how we go about hiding our own geocache? To be continued.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Accountability and ESL students

Big day - do or die day. All my students today needed to hand in their "School of the Future" assignment. As my school is being torn down and replaced with a new school in only 2 years time, I thought it would be a fun assignment to draw the new school in Sketchup, and to include a 1 page write up about it. I told them that they could have the weekend if I got both write up and sketch in by Monday at the start of class. They wanted to be treated as adults so I told them there would be a penalty for late work.

One student didn't take his deadline seriously. He didn't do a write up, though he was capable of doing so. He tried to laugh it off, but I insisted that this was a required element. When I said I needed to phone his parents, he gave me the number, but told me that this would not be worth my while as they don't speak english.

I was left with no choice. I showed him our school's "I" letter - a letter we send home to students in danger of failing a course for incomplete work. I filled it out in under 2 minutes for him. I then showed him Google Translate. I translated the letter into the language his parents spoke, had him sign it, I signed it, and circled the date. When I asked him to read what it said and describe it in English, his jaw dropped, and he said "ooooh this says I am not doing well in the course, and I am going to get a bad grade!" I wonder if he was so aghast because I found a way to contact his parents, or if for the first time he understood in his own language what was happening to his grades.

I expect the form back tomorrow, along with his missing assignment.

If I had to wait for a translator to be available, and for the parents to be available, it could take days, or perhaps a week for everyone's schedule to jive. In order for this student to feel the immediate effects of his poor choice, I needed a way to inform his parents immediately; this is necessary for the student to learn from his poor choices.

Accountability has Never Been Easier

I love the Internet. I love teaching my students the importance of being accountable. But using one to facilitate the other? That's like a bowl of "awesome" covered with "awesome sauce!"

I have been using my computer to email parents directly from class, and as so many parents are working with computers as part of their daily routine, they get the update on their child's progress, (or lack thereof) really quickly. I find parents are more likely to respond using email than they are by phone, or at the very least, respond the same day.

Taking it a step further, one of the teachers on my campus has installed skype. I have skype. When I was teaching his class, and I needed to discuss with him about students that had not completed work for my class, I skyped him. Good idea too, as we have six buildings on our campus, and he and I are about as far apart as you can get and still be on campus. It takes about 3-4 minutes to walk across campus.

Not every teacher wishes to be disturbed on their prep period, but we work quite closely together, and he addressed the class over my speakers. I was able to get work turned in to me the next day, instead of spending a week chasing stragglers.

I wonder if I can get other teachers on skype? I wonder if I could set up a conference call between teachers and parents over skype and cell phones? It would save time and effort, and have a much more immediate effect on the students who are....reluctant, to get their work in on time. I will propose it to other teachers, and see what they say.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beatrice Meets Stodgy Opposition

A student in my class, let's call her Beatrice had an idea during a discussion from our activity about schools of the future. Bea's father is a college professor, and he complains that students are on facebook in his class while he is giving his lecture. I asked if Beatrice thinks we should take computers out of the class, and she said no, but she didn't know what to tell her father. I suggested maybe the way lectures happen in a classroom need to change. She thought about this.

Bea came up with an idea of changing classes around; not at her fathers school, but at ours. She thought it would be good if her Social Studies teacher did his lesson on video, and had the kids watch it the night before. Then they would do their work in class, instead of doing their written work as homework. This would make homework less tedious, and you would get better support on your written work because you were doing it in class. I thought Bea was pretty smart.

When we had face to face discussions, no one seemed to think it was a very good idea. They thought that kids would skip the video and then just go to class. Bea responded that they wouldn't be able to participate without having watched the lesson as they wouldn't know what was going on in class.

I wonder what it was about the idea they didn't like? I don't think I got a clear answer.

The Social Studies teacher thought it was just like doing prescribed readings the night before. But, when I offered to help him film and post the videos, and suggested we not begin until these report cards are over, he said that he would give it a try. I could see the wheels turning already.

I think Bea's idea is visionary. I think a video is worth a lot, and if it was a short video to act as a companion to reading, highlighting and pre-teaching important concepts and vocabulary, kids would read and watch the videos on a regular basis making homework a regular part of their day.

Maybe that's the part of Beatrice's idea they didn't like? Going home to go to class, and going to class to do homework. I still think it's brilliant.

(apologies for any mistakes. Typing late in a prone position ...zzzzzz)