Saturday, February 26, 2011

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Turning 10th Graders Into Readers

This email came through on our listserv today and I wanted to share it. I asked Kathy Fiedler, the author of this post, if I could share it with you. She's my first guest blogger! She's the Instructional Technology Specialist at Northwestern Lehigh School District in PA.

I'll let this speak for itself. Personally, I think it's pretty darned cool!
I have been thinking a lot about an experience I had this past week with one HS librarian, a 10th grade English teacher, and some run-of-the-mill 10th grade students.

For the most part, they are not very motivated readers.  The librarian was trying to convince the teacher that bringing the students to the library on a regular basis would be a good experience for her students.  While the teacher agreed in principle, she was worried that the kids would not take it seriously and wouldn't make good use of the class time.

The two came to me for ideas.  (I am currently mentoring the librarian because it is her first year as a librarian, and I was one for 27 years prior to becoming a coach.)  Together, we discussed what the teacher would like to see her students learn as a result of regular library visits.  She promptly answered, "a love of reading."  The librarian agreed that this would be the ultimate goal.  As we talked about what we could do that might engage the students, the teacher mentioned that she has tried literature circles, but that the book discussions never developed into the rich conversations she'd envisioned; students didn't seem to care about sharing their thoughts with others.  Book reports were dreaded by the students and were CLEARLY not desired, thank goodness.

I left this meeting with edmodo
 in mind.   I have used this tool successfully with other teachers and students to get everyone engaged in a discussion topic.  It is the facebook-like interface that allows this tool to transcend other web 2.0 tools.  The teacher must structure the conversation for the students, but little time is wasted in teaching students how to sign up or use the tool.  This works great when the students are all on one topic or are reading the same book (either whole-class, or in lit circle groups).

What continued to stump me was what to do to engage the students as a community of readers who might all be reading different books.  Furthermore, I wanted the experience to be one that students might learn a skill that could continue beyond the requirements of their 10th grade English class.

I went home and googled around a bit.  The answer came to me in a nifty social book sharing site called Shelfari
.  At our next meeting, the three of us signed up for accounts (you need to create an
 account, but no personal information is required for shelfari) and played around a bit with the interface to see if it would suit the teacher's and the librarian's requirements.  The signup is a bit tricky, so I made a step-by-step cheat sheet with screen shots for the students to follow.  We set some parameters on what the students would be required to do: 1. Sign up for an account using first name and last initial only.  2.  Create and post an avatar as the profile photo.  Set their location as Our Town, PA (Trying to protect identity here.)  3.  Start by adding five books they've already read to their shelf.  Also, they would add three books they wanted to read, and any books they are currently reading.  4.  "Friend" all of the other members of the class, their teacher, and the librarian.

Talk about transformation!  The signup was a breeze.  The avatar creation was simple (we used MyAvatarEditor<
>).  Then the fun began.  Instead of wandering around aimlessly finding a book (or not) which might be read (or not), the students began discussing (quite animatedly) books they'd already read, recommending books to their neighbors, searching the library's catalog to see whether the library had the latest book of interest, writing reviews and rating books they'd read, etc. etc. etc.  Two boys who I know to be reluctant readers (they were my students in middle school) excitedly discussed the Pendragon series as they tried to convince their English teacher to read it.

Poof!  Instant community of readers!

The librarian required the students to "friend" her on Shelfari.  As she explained to them, she'd be looking at their "Books I Plan to Read" shelves for ideas of books to purchase for the HS library collection.  Because this site is directly linked to, she can quickly access professional reviews, bindings, and prices.

We had a difficult time getting the kids to return the laptops and leave at the end of the period.  I was just on my Shelfari account a few moments ago and many of the students have friend requested me.  Once I approve them, they will be able to see what I am reading and will receive a news feed about all of the latest updates I and their friends have made to our accounts.  There's even a feature that suggests books you might like based on your reading history, which becomes more refined as you add more books to your shelves.

The teacher has a rubric that she will use to rate the students' use of Shelfari.  She is currently teaching them how to write an informative book review, and she will evaluate their reviews by looking at what they've written on Shelfari.  Talk about an authentic learning experience...with an authentic audience for their work.

I bet they're even on this site today...on their day off!!!

Just had to share.  This is an example of 21st teaching and learning at its finest.  I hope you can find a way to try it with your teachers.

Kathy Fiedler

Technology Integration Specialist, K-12
Northwestern Lehigh School District

P.S.  I liked this so much, I decided to try it out on my 183 teachers.  I asked them if they wanted to read The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner as a book discussion group.  I told them there would be no deadlines, no meetings, etc.  The group "meets" asynchronously on Shelfari.  I had SEVEN takers, which I think is pretty good at PSSA time.  Sneaky way to get a PLC started, don't you think?  :0)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I'm asking the wrong question about Prezi

I STILL can't tolerate a Prezi presentation. Recently, I had to endure two of them. I've already mentioned why I don't like Prezi, but perhaps I'm going about it all wrong. Perhaps I should be asking a different question. So here it is:

"Why do you like Prezi?"

"If you mentioned that you liked the animations, then I'll ask this: How do those animations enhance the point you're trying to make?"

"How are those animations different from the typical animations in PowerPoint?" (No, I don't mean that these twist and zoom, I mean, a gratuitous animation in Prezi is no better than a gratuitous animation in PowerPoint, yes? Or am I wrong. Just because you can animate something doesn't mean that it SHOULD be animated, right? Or am I wrong?

I don't mean to beat this dead horse, (ok, maybe I do) but I HAVE to know what YOU see in it that I'm missing. When we think about the best presentations we've seen, do the animations come to mind? When we think of the most annoying presentations we've seen, do the animations come to mind? Which is better, do you (REALLY) think: creating a Prezi presentation, or creating a Pecha-Kucha style presentation?

If your only response is that the kids like it better, then I submit to you that you're chasing an illusion. Kids will tire of Prezi animations just as quickly (if not faster) than they tire from a PowerPoint animation. THEN what?

But, I went too far. I just want to know the reasons why you like it. Maybe I'm missing something.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's not that they don't want to do the work, necessarily

During my session at PETE&C this year, we were talking about Forums and how great they are as a tool for teachers. I told of how students respond to forums. I mentioned that teachers often find that students are posting to the forum discussions in the wee hours of the morning. When you ask them why they were up at 3:00 in the morning, they will often say something like, "Someone texted me." WHA..??? Why are THEY up at 3:00 in the AM?

But, the point is that I really believe that for many students it's not that they don't want to do your work. It's that they don't want to do your work when YOU want them to. Not all, certainly, but for some I believe that to be the case. They must get done with their own social life which is a much higher priority, isn't it? At 14 you're still exploring your world. When you're done with that THEN maybe you'll do this school work stuff.

If you're in a discipline where you encourage a lot of discussion then I strongly suggest that you establish a discussion forum in Moodle or Blackboard of in any of the free forum sites. Consider assigning fake login names so that they can post anonymously (except to you) so that they are free to really express their thoughts. Moodle has a great feature that lets you split a discussion post into its own thread. Perfect for when a student's response is provocative or insightful enough to warrant its own discussion.

When I heard it said again at PETE&C that  study found that some students will go for DAYS without being asked a question in school, that made me (again) ill. At least a discussion forum will get that student expressing his/her thoughts.

Try it; you'll like it. (Name THAT slogan!)

Building a safe, caring, fun School

At this week's PETE&C conference we were treated with Mr Bill Strickland as the keynote speaker on our last day. If you don't know who he is, check out this video (start at about the 5 minute mark) of his talk. It's pretty darned close to what he said to us, as well.

One point, among many, that he made was that when you build (schools that look like) prisons the students will act like prisoners. I hadn't thought about that much in those terms, but someone at lunch pointed out that a local tech school must have heard that phrase and kept it to heart when they built their tech school. It's open, modern, and comfortable, and I really see that the students appreciate that.

But thats not the reason I write this. I just read this post by Karl Fisch in which he embedded a youtube video of their yearly faculty dance. I HAVE to believe that the students must feel safe, cared about, and respected when the faculty will hang themselves out like this. It's certainly fun to watch, and it sounds like the students were honestly cheering them on.

LOVE it!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Want that list!!

I just talked to a district administrator who had just gone through a tech audit. They passed, but one site "on their list" wasn't blocked. The tech person blocked it and life went on. I said, "What else was on that list?""Oh, she wouldn't let us see it."

THAT'S when you heard me scream!

I've asked this before, but seriously, WHY IS THAT LIST A SECRET??? Think about how many sites are blocked now that might not have to be if we only knew what was on that list!

Businesses, I've read, will create an offshoot company whose sole purpose is to, as it was described, "Sink the mother ship." Tell us where our weaknesses are. Where are we vulnerable? What are we doing that is keeping us from being the best we can be? If we did that in education they would have NO shortage of areas to point to as things we're doing wrong. Not necessarily in the classroom, but in our policies.

They're going to hold us accountable to match a list that we've never seen? NOBODY can say that this makes ANY sense whatsoever!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

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  • Could these numbers be accurate for Google's electricity use? Kinda makes me feel guilty doing a search.

    This is a good science lesson and even a math lesson, don't you think?

  • Turn your students into historians with primary-source based activities that develop historical thinking skills. Activities are ready to use in your classroom. Or alter an existing activity to fit your unique needs. Exchange primary source documents and modify activity instructions. Log in to borrow from an even larger selection from fellow educators.

    tags: history primary sources

  • The slides from the Advanced Google Forms webinar

    tags: google

  • Ten ideas for using the forms with a class. Pointed to in tonight's webinar. Already shared to this group, but if you've not yet seen it do heck it out.

  • A great discussion starter article for your teachers.

    tags: STEM

    • What we are missing in the 21st century is the view that technology is not the gadgets and the hardware and the software. It is not the atoms or the photons or the electrons pulsing through the Internet or our home appliances. Rather, the technology is us. According to Dr. Kane, “Technology is human creativity and artistic expression… it is knowledge in action… knowledge with a purpose… it is the art in science and engineering…” According to this view, “technology is the space between our minds and our hands.” It is our imagination, our ability to tell stories, our drive to exist and make the world a better place. For Dr. Kane, “…this space is where the speed of light generation operates.”
  • The Futures Channel was founded in 1999 with the goal of using new media technologies to create a channel between the scientists, engineers, explorers and visionaries who are shaping the future, and today’s learners who will one day succeed them.

    The Futures Channel partners with schools around the country as well as a wide range of publishers, science centers, professional development service providers, public television stations, websites and more to provide high quality real world digital content to enhance their education offerings and objectives.

    tags: STEM

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.