Inform CA!

Introduction

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in English 103. Kids have been making Google Sites to inform on issues, creating ads to bring traffic to those sites, and building surveys to collect information from peers on those issues. Yesterday, the project went live and public. Ads were posted in our school’s central atrium, for ease of access for the eighty-plus students in this class, and at the same time, opened these sites and surveys to the entire faculty and student body.


My motivation for this project

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Details About the Process

At the start, we told students that they had to create a web-site to inform peers about an important problem within the issues they were researching, that they would have to make an ad, and develop a survey to collect opinions of the peers on these issues. I’ve found in this project, those first days are the challenge as there are a lot of pieces for students to digest.

To keep things organized, all of the content and resource material are housed in Schoology. While we put these materials in as a series of steps, students jumped around between tasks and steps as they needed to. Little direction instruction was given. Instead, students watch videos, completed readings, and as teacher, I walked around to provide assistance and answer questions. If you look below, you’ll see the layout.

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This project was done by students over the course of 2 weeks. We originally aimed for a week and a half, but students needed time.

Outcome

Below are some pictures of ads that students created.

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Reflections and Future

 

George Couros at Marcus Whitman

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of listening to George Couros’ keynote address at this year’s Connecting for Kids conference held at Marcus Whitman. I’ve been a fan for several years, and it felt like I was checking-off an item from my educator bucket-list.

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Couros’ talk came at a great time. The mid-March doldrums are in full swing, and his words inspired me out of the blahs and reminded me to get to work.

Below are my notes coming out of his talk:

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What ‘Zombifies’ You?

This blog was inspired by Matt Miller’s (@mattmiller) #Ditchsummit first session. In this session, Miller explores with Holly Clark (@HollyClarkEdu) the foundations of pedagogy and technology infusion in the classroom.

Clark, co-author with Tanya Avrith (@TanyaAvrith) of The Google Infused Classroom, is another powerful advocate for student voice, student choice to drive technology use. In the summit, Clark says we should ask kids what ‘zombifies’ them. By this, I take her to mean, that in seeking student input for her classroom, she seeks to know what turns kids off, what makes them feel bored, and what disconnects them from feeling a sense of learning.

Certainly, the posing of this question, even the framing of the question around the popular undead cultural icon would appeal to kids immediately.

Still, I think we should ask this question of ourselves as teachers. What is it in our classrooms that makes us feel like zombies?

And, let’s make sure that we have a clear understand of the zombie–what is it make us feel lifeless, thoughtless creatures.

I’m not talking about what enrages us like Hulk, “You won’t like me when I’m angry,” or like Frankenstein’s monster, swinging our arms at the villager’s pitchforks and torches. What are the triggers in our schools and in our classroom that make us mindless. When I worked in day-treatment, students spitting at teachers used to really be a trigger to anger.

For me, zombies are lifeless and mindless. They don’t really make choices. They are just driven by their lust for brains and blood. Likewise, in instruction, we are often driven thoughtlessly by tradition, law, perceived expectation, and ego, to name a few.

My list is also driven by my own actions and decisions. It’s not about what I see students doing in class. For example, it bothers me when students don’t follow directions, or who don’t do their work. It makes me angry, but I’m not mindless in these situations. These are students who need help and perhaps creative assistance on my part to offer an influence to change.

Here are my own personal triggers for sucking the life out of me and that make me a zombie:

  1. Doing things as I’ve always done them.
  2. Test-driven instruction, curriculum planning, and schools.
  3. Controls and restrictions in classrooms and by classroom teachers that continue to perpetuate systems of social inequality of class, race, sex, geography. Today, I’m considering how the following do this:
    1. Restrictive rules around technology
    2. Failure to use technology
    3. Providing only teacher accepted resources, sources, while denying the use of student selected materials.
  4. Having “discussions” in which I (assume I) know the conclusion the students will reach.
  5. Any kind of grading that results in a number being given.
  6. Projects with a single outcome.
  7. Annual presentations in faculty meetings.
  8. Reminder or refresher or update presentations in faculty meetings. Really, any kind of presentation that is disguised as something that could have been read as a handout or memo.
  9. Wordsmith and line editing as a committee.
  10. ¬†Food-driven reward systems as motivations or as a behavior management systems with groups. It’s fine when training dogs and getting packs of animals to cooperate, but I like to think that I work with and for human beings.
  11. Proctoring.

Looking back up at these, I can see the negative vibe in them, and I certainly could revise and re-frame this list as the “practices I would like to embrace. But, it is a recognition of the stuff that turns me into a zombie–resulting in stress, anxiety, and stewing, brooding existential miffery.

It’s a great list for me of the stuff I need to avoid and steer away from. As an instructional leader, technology integrator, and self-proclaimed technology integration coach, it’s the list of stuff that I want to keep away from in my practice.

There are, of course, necessary evils in our schools and classrooms for which we must don the yellow Hazmat suits as the zombie-hordes creep across school fields and play grounds. I’m not going to be able to escape Regents exam grading; I’ve got two proctoring assignments in January so that some teachers can get valuable, formative feedback. But, I can force questions of the people I work with about the rules they establish, or to question existing practices. I can encourage my principal and work with him to create faculty meetings based on choice, and that provide opportunities for unheard teachers to have voice. I can give those who want to present their knowledge and passions to faculty opportunities that don’t involve the PowerPoint circle of the Inferno. I can look really hard at my own practice and demand that I’m better at what I do. And, I can model the kind of instruction that I want to be part of. And, if I do, then I might keep those brain sucking hungers at bay.

I encourage you. Make your own “Top 10 List of Zombie Practices.” Please share with me.

Writer’s note: For some reason, I had to resist putting everything into semi-ironic, air-quotes as I was writing.¬†

Combining Launch Cycle with the Writing Process

The writing process has always been one of the core elements of my classroom instruction. Whether teaching Regents-level classes or International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or other college-level courses, using the ideas of Peter Elbow, Lucy Calkins and the writers the the Bard Institute of Writing and Thinking.

In the past year I’ve read A.J. Juliani’s Launch and Empower. Both books have pushed me to consider the connections between the design-thinking cycle and the writing process.

Both have much in common. They each begin in generating ideas, then developing drafts or prototypes, and moving through revision, before ultimately sharing that work with the public.

As contemporary composition research suggests that we should spend more time with students working with real-world audiences, the design thinking process puts an important focus into its process. It asks us to consider what problems we’ll attempt to solve, who we’re solving them for, and how what is being created will address the needs of that group. It’s for this reason that looking at ways we can bring this into the writing process can ultimately benefit students.

Every year, I start my English 101 class with an introductory lesson on the Writing Process. This lesson will get some tweaks by incorporating design-thinking vocabulary that my students and I will use throughout the year.

Below is my preliminary thinking about where the two processes overlap and what writing activities might be part of each part of these processes.

What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? Part 2 #IMOOC week 3

Yesterday, our school played host to a first-ever regional workshop of 4 area schools.

About 800 educators came together to spend the day in workshops, presentations, discussions, sharings, connections all in the service of the theme of the day “Connecting for Kids.”

The premise was simple–we have a lot of education talent in the Finger Lakes region. Let’s put it together, share those resources and knowledge, and our kids can benefit.

Such things do not happen easily. A coordinated effort such as this takes time, and it takes resources. Superintendents trusted that it could come together. Such is the culture of innovation.

The vibe for the day was amazing. Everyone that I spoke with felt like they were learning, and felt like the connection between other teachers and educators inspired and re-filled those March-empty teacher tanks.

Such a day makes room for people to return to something fundamental. It allows us to become learners again. We connected for kids, but we also connected for ourselves and our passions.

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