Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Easy is Easy Enough?

I remember hearing something about the company Palm. Back when palm pilots were all the rage (yep, I had one) I read that there was a real concern at about how many clicks it would take to do a task. Any more than 3 clicks, and the company considered it a problem. I think this kind of thinking needs to be employed in schools as they incorporate technology. In this particular instance I am thinking about parents.

It's for the We use SharePoint websites for our classroom websites in our district. They are incredibly powerful and incredibly useful. Our district is always working at making them look better, and more user friendly. I think one of the ways we could start using our homework site is to set up our publicly viewable homework sites so that parents can rss them to their smartphones. This would mean that whenever a teacher posted their homework to their class website, parents would get it in their inbox on their iPhone, blackberry, or HTC. Any smartphone could do this. So can an iPod touch. I checked.

You don't need to have a smart phone or iPod to subscribe to a website by rss. You can do it on your computer. However I think of the power of a parent who can just pull their phone out of their pocket and say "Hey don't you have math homework today, page 197 #1-15?" Middle school students mean well, but there is a lot going on, and I want to make it easier to support them.

Yes, a parent could find my homework site. They just go to my district site, click on school sites, click on my middle school, click on staff directory, click on staff, and then click on my homework site link, and then click on Homework Calendar. That's a lot of clicks. If they are savvy computer users, they would bookmark the site. Too many clicks to do on a regular basis.
Parents might not make regular use of my homework site then.

Better just to send all my parents the rss feed link at the start of the year at parent orientation night, and walk them through putting it on their phone. I see parents using their phones all the time. They have them on their person and they are comfortable using them.

Let's make it easier for the parents to support their kids' learning at home. It might mean I don't have to chase down so many missing and late assignments.

Making Authentic Assignments

My marks are in, my students feel like they are done. Problem - they keep showing up to class. The year isn't done, and while I am not likely at this point to change a lot of student marks, I feel as though teachers must still hold the possibility of low marks over kids like some sword of damocles . Instead I have said at the beginning of the class that this final assignment is not for marks. At least once a class someone asks me "is this for marks?" I reply that not everything is for marks, but everything in this class is worth learning.

Some students are making animations using new software that I am unfamiliar with. I know just enough to get started with Flip Boom animatior classic, but not enough to really teach it well. So I decided to crowd-source it , and have kids teach me how it works and how it doesn't.

One of my students is teaching class. She is 13 and has done a lot of research on her own about advertising. She taught my class a lesson about what ads are, what goes into an ad, the layout of an ad, a rubric on how to judge if you have made a successful ad, and then prepared some examples. She walks around the class, helping others, and I come in when needed. Otherwise I sit at my desk, and keep out of the way on this one.

I am contemplating taking this a step further. I wonder if some of these kids sent their ads in to the brands they have chosen as spec ads, would any of them respond? Would they encourage my students? Would any of them pay my students for their project? What kinds of copyright would I have to sort out to make that happen? I guess I will have to keep thinking about this.

What I can say is with the year winding down, my students for the most part are still learning even though the kids are nuts for the summer weather. And that is not too bad, I say.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Changing My Marking For Better of Worse

When I began my position at Moody Middle I had kids printing out their first assignment. When I looked at the pile of paper from the first 4 of 6 blocks on the first assignment, I saw several problems.

1.) Wow, this is a lot of paper. They aren't going to keep it.

2.) Once they printed the paper off, it was not going to be easy to make changes and make corrections.

3.) Once I wrote my comments on the paper, they would only read the comments if they were negatively surprised at the mark.

So then I started using the online "hand-in bin" on my classroom sharepoint site. I would write in the comment box on the student's hand in form, which only they can read. This reduced the paper. But, there were still some problems:

1.) Students didn't read the comments unless they were negatively surprised by their marks.

2.) Students didn't make changes or corrections to their work after handing in their work, even if they knew what they needed to improve upon or correct.

Now, I mark in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I record my voice into their MS Word document as an embedded object, and the kids listen to my comments. I don't say the mark until the end. Mostly, I have just do a lot of loops around the room, and mark students with inconsistent performance first, lower achievers second, and high performers third. But, I call up my high performers to my desk for a ten second "whatchagonnado" chat at the start of the assignment, and periodically I ask them to share ideas mid assignment. Then I have other students weigh in on those ideas, so we are all on the same page.

In the first days of teaching, I have to repeat the instructions and criteria daily. I never show really good examples of completed work, or else I get 30 copies of the same example - mine. I teach the kids about how to self-assess, and stress the importance of being able to justify the mark they give themselves based on the goals of the assignment.

Marking now takes a couple days for some major assignments. Sometimes 3 days. I have just finished one of those weeks. It's tiring, but I think the fact that marking major projects has become a conversation has paid off with improved learning. And, I feel I have connected better with my students this way as I only get to know them 8 weeks at a time.

Worth it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My ESL Strategy Worked!

Two days ago in my classroom I saw a girl in my class using the Google Translate button to translate a lesson I was teaching. She selected her home language - Korean - and then began to hover the mouse so that she could see the English translation of the Korean sentences she was reading. So not only was she learning my lesson, she was learning English as well.

I didn't know that her level of understanding of English meant that she was having difficulty understanding my lessons; she just sat there very quietly doing her best all along. So, this idea helped one student. I wonder if it will help more. But, being able to plug google translate in so easily makes it worth the small effort to add it to my lesson pages. I wonder if there are more kids using it that I don't see?