Monday, December 2, 2013

Note Taking, Moleskines, and Modeling

I am working with students on note taking skills. (I don't know why I waited so long, but better late than never.

Today we started with watching a couple videos on taking notes and I had some real, personal discoveries.

1) Note taking is a life skill. There is absolutely no reason we need to emphasize note taking in schools as a thing we do in schools. We need to be much more deliberate about teaching it as a positive lifestyle choice. Why should note taking only be done at school?

2) Note taking is an act of learning. Mind blown! While the implication that all things we do in school are directed toward learning, how often do we really think about what we have students do in class as an act of learning? This concept will change both how I teach note taking and how I personally take notes.

3) Note taking should help with big ideas or concepts, not emphasizing facts. I used the analogy of knowing when Columbus 'discovered' the West Indies instead of the cultural implications. The former is an answer on Jeopardy, the latter a way to understand our complicated society. If the students take notes to memorize facts they are doing it wrong. If you model note taking as a way to record facts you are doing it wrong.

4) Note taking is personal. What works well for the person sitting next to you may not (probably won't) work best for you. Of course if you insist on copying notes instead of making your own you probably aren't interested in learning the stuff anyway.

Have you heard the expression 'Do as I say, not as I do'? I may not have coined it, but I sure exemplify it. I need to model note taking keeping in mind the four things I outlined above. Instead of modeling learning, it is about time I model authentic learning.

Here are the two videos we watched today. 

TEDGlobal 2011: Tom Wujec on visual note-taking from TED Blog on Vimeo.

Friday, November 8, 2013

TigerCorp: An Attempt at Service Based Learning

I had read about on Karl Fisch's blog several times over the years. I don't know exactly what caused me to decide to get involved this week but I am jumping in with both feet. I received permission to start a Kiva 'club' (for want of a better word) that students could join by donating money to make micro-loans. 

I decided I wanted student input into the loans but I also wanted an efficient way to organize the students so I came up with the idea of creating a corporation, TigerCorp, and have students purchase 'shares of stock'. For a $1 donation the students get one share. Each share allows the student to have a vote for our corporate board. Each class (I have six) will elect one board member. These board members will meet and decide on which loaning opportunities to choose on

Fortunately Kiva has a low barrier for entry, it only takes $25 to get started. While this is a very large amount of money for my students, if each student brings just $1 we will have almost $150 to lend! Basically I am asking they give up one candy bar or pop to help change someone's life. 

The students will have lots of learning opportunities, we will be learning about the countries where we loan the money, about payment schedules, about how to be a good steward of money, how to make group decisions, and the board members will be presenting all of this information to their classes.

Hopefully within a couple weeks we will have something to show on this badge.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How About Teaching Our Families to Have Regular Parent/Child Conferences?

I just read a post by Dean Shareski and as I was commenting I had an epiphany of sorts. The hard facts about assessment isn't necessarily giving good ones or even getting good feedback from them. The hard part is sharing what we learn to a third party, think parents or admin. At some point it quits being a first person account and becomes a first person guesstimate.

We don't have ways to adequately find out what our students have learned. Students only allow us to know what they want us to know, even when it comes to what they have learned. An assessment won't show everything even with a cooperative student. The best way to 'assess' what a student has learned is to have a conversation with them.

Last week my school held the annual parent/teacher conferences. The junior high had students lead the conference, basically we facilitated a conversation between the student and their parent. The kind of conversation that should probably be happening regularly at home.

Why don't schools regularly encourage, model, bribe, or otherwise get parents and students to sit down and have these assessment conversations?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

This Week in History October 14: How Washington Held It All Together

We will be reading Washington's Crossing a couple days a week and spend the other days continuing with our timeline. This week while I am gone on Monday the students will be reading about the colonies fighting in the Revolutionary War. The students will choose between writing a short persuasive paper from the point of view of one of two women from the time period.
  • If they choose to write as Molly Pitcher their topic will be: Why Women Belong on the Battlefield 
  • If they choose to write as Abigail Adams their topic will be: Why Women Deserve Suffrage
I love the story of Mrs. Adams trying to influence her husband John to step up for the women:

I long to hear that you have declared an independancy-and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Tuesday and Wednesday we will be reading from Washington's Crossing. The focus on these two days will be on how General Washington had to change his leadership style to accommodate the different soldiers that came to the army. How difficult was it for him to take men with disparate ideas of leading and following and make them into a disciplined (enough) fighting force to survive the first year. 

Thursday the 8th grade will be on a field trip. Friday they will be reading about the little known fighting that took place in the south and the west during the Revolution. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

This Week in History October 7 Declaration of Independence and Washington's Crossing

This is a big week, we are starting out with using our Kindles for the first time of the year. We will be using them with both the Declaration of Independence and the book Washington's Crossing. The Declaration is in the textbook, but I want them to get comfortable with the Kindles before we start reading the book.

First up is the Declaration. I am starting the lesson using my friend Eric Langhorst's great break up letter.

Declaration of Independence
Break Up Letter

I'm not sure how to start this letter but I feel we need to talk. I've been thinking about us a lot lately. Things used to be so great - it was like we were M.F.E.O. I mean everyone said it was perfect. I really thought we would be together forever but then things changed.
I feel like you started to take me for granted. You just started to do whatever you wanted and never even asked me about anything or how I felt.
I've been thinking about this for a while and I don't want to hurt you but I think it is time we broke up. I mean it's just not going to work. I need some time by myself to see what it is like on my own. I'm sorry things didn't work out but I do think YOU are the one to blame. Sorry but "US" is over.

The American Colonies

Here is the post that I found the the break up letter at.

Amazing Tour Guide Lecture at Independence Hall
This lecture is about 10 minutes long and really speaks to the history geek in me. Even if they students won't be excited about this, my excitement will definitely show.

We will be going through the Declaration looking specifically at the list of grievances and comparing them to the events that we examined over the past couple weeks. The students will identify a grievance they believe should have been included but wasn't. 

Washington's Crossing
Here is the picture we will be discussing, Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze.

Audiobook Beginning- 1:20 Intro and Background not in the book
This isn't found in the paper edition or the Kindle edition.

1:25-22:25 Introduction- The Painting Kindle page 1 location 117
This introduces the creation of the painting as well as some of the criticism of the painting. 

NPR Ina Jaffe radio show referenced in the introduction (7 minutes)

Parodies of the painting:
Far Side:
Lord Stanley:
My Little Pony:

After reading the introduction we will listen to the NPR radio show and view some of the parodies created of the painting. The students will be tasked with creating their own parody picture.

22:25 Chapter 1 The Rebels Page 7 location 225
We will begin reading the first chapter. I will display the picture of George Washington below that is referenced in the book. We will continue reading the chapter the following Tuesday.

George Washington by John Trumbull (1780)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hard Questions: How Many Days of School Is It Acceptable to Miss?

This question is partly born out of the jealousy I feel for my online tweeps that are talking about going to conferences I am not attending.

Last year I missed six days of school because I was attending or presenting at conferences. This year I plan to miss seven. Honestly that is a lot of days outside of the class. If I miss five or six more because of illness that will be two weeks of school missed!

How many days of school did you miss last year for conferences? How many do you plan to miss this year? How many missed days become too many? Are we attending too many conferences during the school year?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Examining Fame Using Longfellow's 'Paul Revere's Ride'

Why do some become famous while others do not?

This essential question is the guide for this lesson. The students will be examining the role of Paul Revere and Joseph Warren from Revere's famous ride to the Battle of Bunker Hill. We will look at what Paul Revere and Joseph Warren contributed to these famous events. 

Here are the links to the media we will use in class along with pages 134-135 in our textbook.

Andy Griffith Lexington and Concord
This link fits with our emphasis on storytelling in history. We will look at the events that Andy describes and his storytelling ability.

Lexington and Concord Map
This is used for a good anchoring visual of the lands through which this event took place. 

‘Real’ Story of Paul Revere
This is the facts that are given through the Paul Revere House website. This is used as a resource that isn't from Wikipedia.

Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
The poem is the basis for the discussion. 

We will look at why Longfellow wrote the poem. We will discuss if his goal to create a nationalistic feeling was appropriate for the time period.

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker
This is a painting of Joseph Warren's death. The purpose is to again emphasize how media is manipulated and also as a visual anchor for Dr. Warren.

Joseph Warren
We will look at Warren's roles specifically with Revere's ride and the battle of Bunker Hill. We will also discuss his last run in with Revere after his death (fascinating stuff!)

We will look at this ode and try to decide why it did not become as popular as Longfellow's poem.

After learning the stories of Revere and Warren the students will write an ode to Dr. Warren using the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDECDE
The goal with this is to have the students experience writing a poem with a specific rhyme scheme. They will use the information they gather from our examining of Warren's life to help. 

If you talk about Revere, Warren, Longfellow's poem or the historical events what goals do you have for your students? 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Explanation of the Foam Cup Printing Project With Reflection

Here is a quick explanation of how Jose created his print.

What I learned from the project:

1) Fun projects can be a great way for students to decompress.

2) When the goal of the project is to explore instead of grade, the students enjoy it more.

3) Some students don't want to do 'that' fun project but it doesn't mean they won't want to do a different fun project later.

4) Students don't always see what they create as 'real' art. I am amazed by what they create, I wish they were too.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Do You Really Need to Sub-tweet? If So, Can You Do It Positively?

Ok, I get that the title to this post is in itself something like a sub-tweet. Mainly because I am not calling you out in public.

I have noticed a lot of sub-tweets and way too many of them seem to be negative and aimed at someone in particular. It seems to me that this is the digital equivalent of calling your friends up and 'discussing' someone with them. Not too productive, but it sure can be fun to back bite, right?

What if you saw someone sub-tweeting positive things. Today I pushed out some positive sub-tweets and got Twitter crickets in response. If you saw them did you think I was tweeting about you? I hope so.

I am by no means perfect and I am sure I have sub-tweeted negative things before. Funny thing is, whatever the problem was I was tweeting about didn't get solved through that tweet. Perhaps there is a bit of value in venting.

I just want to encourage you, if you sub-tweet something negative try to follow that with something positive. After all, we don't want our streams to be full of negativity. The least we can do is put some balance in, right?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Classroom Hack: Creating Prints Using Styrofoam Cups

I wanted my students to simulate making prints with engraving. Unfortunately I don't have the materials or the money to purchase them. After some experimentation I decided that we could make prints using styrofoam cups. Simply carve the scene into the cup and then add paint and roll!

Example of letters created with marker. I created this to show students how the letters need to be written backwards for them to print correctly.

This is my first attempt at making a print. I smeared paint on top of a desk and rolled the carved cup in it. This is the print created after rolling it on the paper. 

Mr. Layne, my student teacher, created this. We had been experimenting with different types of paint/markers and we liked this outcome. The paint is glass paint that is used to write on things like automobile windows. I am really pleased with the amount of detail that comes through and with the interesting texture created by this paint.

Writing Workshop Professional Development

 Today's inservice is on Writing Workshop. We received this book, but spent no time in it. Instead we have been writing just like we expect our students to do.

I brought a notebook and my pencil box (which I keep full of pens I really enjoy writing with as well as various other tools.)

The first writing activity was to write an informal biography. Basically it was just a stream of thought based around my life. It wasn't too hard for me because I wrote one for my blog. Then we identified three types of writing we could do from the information in the story. I chose narrative, persuasive, and technical.

Ironically the next activity was to write a narrative using something from the informal biography. I wrote a story about a boy's first day at a new school and how he came to realize that there were a lot of new students in that school before him and he finds some comfort in that fact.

This story really is personal. The hallway exists and I often stop and look at the people in the pictures and wonder about their stories. On that wall are pictures of my grandfather, my father, my uncle and myself as well.

Here my narrative shows a few things I have done to edit it. The red shows adjectives that were place after the noun instead of the usual before the noun format. The green shows where I took verbs and chose more descriptive verbs I can replace them with.

Next we created poetry using a series of prepositional phrases. This was a bit harder than I expected. It seemed that each phrase was a multiple harder than the one before.

Just before lunch we were introduced to interest journals. The interest journals have specific interests labeled on them. Students will write in these journals and use them as texts they can find and explore words and phrases.

I chose the interest journal over Starry Night by Van Gogh. When I saw it I new that I needed to share a story in it. How often do students 'have to' share a story in your class? How powerful would it be if they had that experience?

Here is the story I wrote. It is about how one of the bathrooms in my school has had Starry Night painted on its walls. The stories in the journal that were written by other teachers that had been in this same workshop were very interesting to read as well. There are a lot of emotional connections to art work. We should make sure our students have the opportunities to both connect emotionally with art and to share how they connected with it.

Next we were asked to look a photograph from history and decide:
What does it say?
What does it mean?
What does it matter?

I really enjoyed this workshop, there were a lot of usable take-aways. Now to adapt them to my social studies classes.

Using Pen and Ink

Students wrote a letter to King George explaining why they did not like how he and parliament were running the colonies. After they finished their letters they transposed them using pen and ink. They all expressed how hard it was to write their letters and many showed admiration for their forefathers who had to work daily in that medium.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Video of the Day: BatDad

I thought this was a really fun video that shows a dad having a good time with his family. This dad is creating shared experiences with his family!

 At 0:38 he uses the word 'asses' so if you show in class you will want to skip that part.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Road to Revolution 1763-1775 Presentation

I created this presentation for my students to follow. They will do several activities using it including creating a timeline, making a print, and writing an ode. 

The timeline's essential question is: What events led to the creation of the Declaration of Independence?

Here is a link to the presentation. I have comments open if you would like to give me a suggestion there or you can just put it in the comments here.

Video of the Day: The Best Worst Music Video Ever

Not exactly a parody, more like a loving homage to the original. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Video of the Day 9/23/13 Jellyfish

I am using silly/fun videos in class to give the junior high some shared experiences. This is today's video, an oldie but goodie.

Some More Thoughts on Edcamps

I have been attending edcamps for a couple years. When they started I thought it was a great way to meet a lot of my online friends face to face. I really didn't tend to think much about what was being presented or who was doing the presenting.

Lately I have been thinking more and more about what is being presented/how it is being presented and I have come to a few conclusions:

1) Edcamps are too tech-centric. When I scan the presentations a very large majority have a technology tool in the title. The sessions deal with hardware and software and how to use theme effectively (not that I have a problem with learning how to use them effectively.)

2) Successful sessions are conversations. The sessions I see people highly engaged in tend to be the ones that people really remember. Watching adults find their voice in a classroom and talk about what they think is pretty powerful stuff.

3) The old model of the teacher presenting is still in use. I have seen a lot of sessions that were led by one or two teachers where they disseminate information to the adults sitting in rows taking notes. I totally get that this works for some/many of us. This isn't why I come to edcamps though.

4) Not having to leave the site for lunch makes a difference. Staying on site for lunch allows for a much longer time to meet and mingle with others. It also keeps the day less stressful simply because there is no extra travel.

5) What happens when you facilitate a session and no one shows up? Seriously, I had this happen Saturday. Fortunately the assistant superintendent of the district the edcamp was taking place in happen to see me sitting alone and came in. We had a great one to one conversation. It was the highlight of the day for me.

What have you learned from the edcamps you have attended?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Student Commenting: A Letter to Students


I applaud the fact that you are creating and publishing your work online for the world to see. You are creative, intelligent, and fascinating people. The things you publish inspire and delight many people. I want to encourage you to continue to share, share more, and share for the rest of your lives.

I have been blogging with students for many years and I have been encouraging people to leave comments on student blog posts. I co-created the Twitter hash tag #comments4kids and started the blog. I am uniquely qualified when it comes to getting people to comment on student posts.

Young ladies and gentlemen, the world doesn't owe you a comment. Comments are hard won in the education blogoshpere. They should be coveted like a really soft blanket or a dog that is potty trained. When a person cares enough to write a good comment, you have received a very special gift. A gift of that person's time, thinking, and attempt to communicate. Do not take this lightly.

In fact, you should really consider how hard it is to write a good comment. Have you ever tried? I am not talking about a 'drive by comment' where someone writes "Good job!" or "I enjoyed your post." I am talking about a well thought comment that accepts your invitation to a conversation. (Did you know that publishing your work online is an invitation to a conversation?) No one owes you a comment, but when you receive one you do owe it to them to reply.

I encourage (beseech may be a better word here) you to go to other students' blogs and accept their invitation to the conversation. Surely you can find another student that writes about something you are interested in or knowledgeable about. Do you remember receiving your first comment? You have the unique opportunity to help another student feel that way. How powerful is that?!!!

If you are reading this letter and have never had a comment from outside of your local community, parent/teacher/classmates, then this is your opportunity to be your own advocate. When you leave a comment add your blog's url under your name. Make it easy for the others to find you and reciprocate in kind. Encourage them to continue the conversation and maybe, just maybe you might find a new friend.

Keep up the great work. I look forward to reading your posts soon!

Mr. C

Friday, September 6, 2013

Anybody Can Teach When Kids Want to Learn

My 8th grade class in large part is extremely jaded about school. I can see it in their eyes when I talk to them about anything related to content or learning. Yes, they come alive when we discuss things they see as non-schoolie. Unfortunately, their idea about what is best for themselves stops somewhere between what I enjoy and what I should do to succeed. Usually it is way too close to the former side.

This isn't a pity party though, this is a reminder to myself that anyone can teach kids that want to learn. It is easy to walk into a class of bright, smiling faces eager to discover new knowledge. What is hard is to walk into class every day knowing that I face a battle that will often be lost. The real teachers walk into the class anyway. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Creation Station: Changing the Climate of the Library

Mrs. Owens, our school librarian, has been doing some research on the Maker's movement. She has decided to create an area in the library where students can create things that they can take with them.

She has stocked shelves full of art supplies that she has to encourage more self expression for the students and to create a different feel for the library itself. It can be difficult to change the perceptions that have been in place for years and years.

While discussing the library with Mrs. Owens, I really got the feeling that she was wanting the library to be a gathering place for both students and teachers. I tend to spend a lot of my out of the classroom time in the library because I feel so comfortable sitting among all the books. I imagine that kids that don't like to read don't get that feeling.

While I don't have the space that the library does, I too try to create spaces of comfort (is that a phrase a thing?) where kids can feel like the room isn't all about content. Here is a picture of the area I created for #SaveComicSans, our ukulele club.

I let the students sit there as well when they are working or have a bit of free time to read or visit quietly. Unfortunately there isn't enough of that time already built in to the school day. It is really hard to build a community around content.

I have also brought in blankets for the kids to use when they want to. I have one class that beats feet to the room so they can get one. It is a pretty simple way to change their feelings of comfort in the room. 

I am really pleased that Mrs. Owens is looking at her library and trying to make decisions that will positively affect its climate. I am hopeful that other teachers will notice and start thinking about it too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Creating Art in the Social Studies Classroom

I am having my 8th grade students create art centered around what they learned about Columbus or the Americas before Columbus. I really want to encourage them to think of art as a viable way to show their learning and not just for self expression. Here are the instructions I recorded. I put them online so that parents would have the opportunity to see what I wanted.

I wanted to do something to show my students that could not only show them a possibility, but also to show them that I was willing to participate in what I am having them do. Here is the song:

Here are the lyrics:

Some Island That I Thought I Knew

I think of all the time I spent looking for you
I went to the kings of both Portugal and Spain
I even drew some maps
Read a bunch of Marco’s crap
But still I only thought I knew where I was going

I talked the Queen of Spain into giving me 3 ships
I hired some sailors to follow me to the end, all to the end
Even when things got really rough
I was sure we had the right stuff
We would stick it out until the voyage was over.

But you didn’t have to surprise me
You were really San Salvador and not the West Indies
and I never really did know
that the place I found was not what I was looking for
What about when I stooped so low
got on my knees and kissed your sand and made a fool of myself
I would never figure it out though
Now you’re just some island that I thought I knew

Am I crazy for putting myself out here like this? Probably, but I sure should not expect my students to try to do something I am not myself willing to do. There is an even more important reason for me though, this is another shared experience that I want my students to share. 

I am really hoping that my lack of talent coupled with my willingness to share will help my students be more willing to try something they may not be so sure about. I am hoping that a few students will be more willing to put themselves out in front of the class with no guarantee that what they do will be embraced. I am hoping for them to choose something that is not safe.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Powerful, Indelible, Perfect Memories from Music

Imagine two cars facing each other on a lonely road at night. They are separated by ten meters and two people, one boy and one girl. The headlights shine on the couple. The girl reaches up and takes the boys baseball hat, places it on her head and leans up for a kiss. In the background the radio is playing George Harrison's I Got My Mind (Set on You).

Every time I hear this song I am transported back to that time and place. I can still hear my friends yelling at me from the car to go. I still can feel the softness of her cheek on mine, the huge roundness of her eyes as she looked up at me. I wasn't in love with the girl then, but I am in love with the memory of that moment. Of all the memories I have made more powerful by the music playing in the background, this one is the most powerful, the most indelible, the most perfect.

I think of it every time I hear that song.

I got the hat back the next night but the moment had already passed. It was a perfect moment, not a perfect match. 

What Does Their Passion Look Like?

I have to admit, I have a slightly addictive personality and I also have a tendency to get stuck on something for an inappropriate amount of time. My latest addiction (since yesterday) is a series of videos created by a young man known as Krispy Kreme or Froggy Fresh. (The story behind the name change is documented on his Youtube channel.)

Watch this video first:

The raps on this early outing are pretty juvenile: 

Talk crap and I'll give you a scar
Talk crap I'll throw eggs at your car
I'll cut holes in your tires
I'll put poop on your porch and I'll light it on fire...

The camera is shaky, but surprisingly well framed. The beats are sick and the mixing is spot on. 

One of his latest videos has much better raps:

Notice the camera work is still amazingly good. The rap has an amazing hook:

Why's James cryin'
Cause he just got dunked on!
I ain't even lyin'
Yo he just got dunked on!

He has some hilarious rhymes in this video, it seems that whoever writes the raps has an interesting but hilarious sense of humor.

Froggy Fresh doesn't just swag and clown, he also has a series of incredibly poignant videos that revolve around a recurring villain from his videos, James. In Mike's Mom we see his best friend and constant video companion Money Maker Mike getting a call. Mike's mom has been killed by James and Mike vows revenge.

The beats drive the action, they fit the song perfectly and drive the anxiety Mike is feeling. The rap is engaging and impart the emotion of the storyline. 

I can see it in his face
I can see it in his eyes
Mike be strong
Mike don't cry
Mike hold on 
Mike don't do it
Mike was gonna kill him
and everybody new it

The follow up video continues the story.

At first I watched the early videos enjoying the ridiculousness of the words, the incredibly well done beats, and awesomely weird scenes each video had. The more I watched though, the more I realized how well done the audio, video, and editing was for these videos. I don't know if there is an professional adult involved in this production or if one of these kids is the next Steven Spielberg/Joss Whedon. 

Imagine having these kids in your class this year. What could you possibly teach them that is better or even more important than what they have already accomplished? How could we leverage their passion for creating videos and creating a huge online cult following into our rooms? How do you know that you don't already have kids just like this watching the clock and waiting to get home to do what is important to them?

Storytelling: Don't Be That Guy!

These are stories I tell when I think a student may be about to do something stupid that could be remembered for a long time by his or her classmates.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Storytelling: I Peed My Pants

I have decided to share some stories here I share in class with my students. I shared this story to help my students see me as human. I am trying to create a community with them and by making myself vulnerable by sharing stories like this.  

The A Word

Authentic: : not false or imitation : real, actual via Merriam-Webster

Have you noticed the number of times people have thrown around the word authentic, especially when relating to student work? I have been guilty of that myself, I have talked for years about authentic student blogging. But, I don't think that word means what we think it means.

Can we really have authentic student work in the classroom? Since we require the work, doesn't that make it not authentic? Or, by definition is all work students do real? 

I have given assignments to my students where I thought they were doing authentic work. For example, I have had students write fiction which they shared on the internet through their blogs. Of course I was looking for an authentic audience to read their authentic writing. But, on considering what I had them do, I wonder if there was anything authentic about it. 

I know that some of my students really enjoyed writing fiction. Not only did they thrive with the assignments they were given, they spent their time writing new fiction or reworking older assignments to make them better. I believe that was authentic. It was true to them.

Many of my students did not want to write fiction. Some wrote some amazing stuff anyway, but it wasn't their choice. They did great work but had no choice about having to do it. Was being able to decide on what the story was about enough to make the assignment authentic? Did it become authentic when they took ownership? Is the fact that it was assigned enough to make it false?

At this point you are probably wondering why I care. I worry that we are lying to ourselves about the work we have our students doing. I worry that we placate our assignment 
decisions through words like authentic when they really aren't. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hard Questions Part 2

1) Why is quitting considered to be bad? Is it better to waste your limited amount of time doing something you really don’t want to do? Should we give our students the right to quit?

2) Is ‘professional’ in PLN enough or do we need to make the p ‘personal’?

3) Should our lessons allow for students to dig as deep as they choose? Do we limit their curiosity by giving them too much guidance, by modeling too much?

4) What would we do if our students decided to not learn what we asked them too, but instead learned what they wanted to? What if we decided to teach what we wanted to and ignored the required curriculum? Is one more ok than the other?

5) Should competitive sports programs be taken out of public schools? Does every student benefit from those programs or is the benefit limited to the athletes? Are they a bigger distraction than they are worth?

The last Hard Questions post generated a lot of great conversations. This is something I am afraid we have gotten away from over the last few years. I decided I wanted to 'tag' a couple people to write their own Hard Questions post. Deven Black and John Spencer have accepted my request.

In the past these types of blog posts had rules, I prefer to give suggestions:

1) Share the link back with the person that originally tagged you so they can both comment and promote the conversation. The original tagger should post a link to the new posts on their original Hard Questions post.

2) Wait three or four days after post your questions before you tag your tweeps. This will allow more time for the conversation to take place before it moves on. (Yes I am breaking this 'rule'. I reserve the right to not do what I say should be done :P )

3) Get permission from the tweeps you tag before you tag them. This type of post isn't the easiest to write and there is the possibility that a question may cause less than professional commenting.

Creating a Classroom Community with Shared Experiences

You may be familiar with this video. If you Google 'the worst music video ever' it is number one on the list. I showed it to my junior high classes today. Yesterday I sang to them Dumb Ways to Die with an ukulele accompaniment. 

My goal is to create shared community experiences for us. The diversity of our community is huge and getting more so all the time. We don't have the luxury of any real shared history through the usual tv shows, music, or even being together in the same school.  As the social studies teacher I am taking on the responsibility of creating shared experiences for us. Do you think it is possible to create a community without some shared experiences?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Begin the Beguine

"A Beguine was originally a Christian lay woman of the 13th or 14th century living in a religious community without formal vows, but in the creole of the Caribbean, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the term came to mean "white woman", and then to be applied to a style of music and dance, and in particular a slow, close couples' dance." Wikipedia 

How appropriate to begin a year than to look at what kind of relationship we want to have with our classes. In the above video Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dance to Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine. It is easy to notice that Fred Astaire leads the dance, but without Eleanor's accompanying the dance would fall flat. 

I like to think that I am the Fred Astaire to the class's Eleanor Powell. I will lead the learning dance, but if my students can't match my lead the whole experience falls apart. We will have to work closely together, creating a community of learning that will hopefully make the group stronger collectively than the parts. As we dance together we Begin the Beguine.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What Not to Do on the First Day of School

It is that time of year again. I am not writing of back to school sales, clothes shopping, or even the great first day of school. It is the 'What I am doing on the first day of school' post time.

What I am going to do is so much more important. I am going to write things you should absolutely, positively, definitely not do on the first day of school. Heed my warning or be prepared to pay the consequences.

1) Do not play the Sex Pistols Anarchy in the UK

I am not suggesting that the Sex Pistols aren't worth listening to, they are. I am not suggesting that playing this song will result in anarchy in your classroom because it won't. The reason you absolutely should not play this song on the first day is that some student will ask you where the UK is. When you try to explain it is England you will soon be down a rabbit hole. Of course you will never get the student handbook read if you go there. 

2) Do not try to get the students to sing along to the incredibly cute Jimmy Fallon show's version of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines

Unless you are a music class you really have no business wasting time on today's popular music. Instead I suggest this video of Brian Williams rapping to Good Vibrations

Let's face it Marky Mark is history and Brian Williams is a well respected journalist. This video has you covered with at least 3 different learning objectives!

3) Do not show The Goonies

Yes, The Goonies is a wonderful film from the incredible 80's. Yes, Goonies never say die! Unfortunately The Goonies are practically impossible to follow. Don't shoot off your best fireworks at the beginning of the show, save it for the end! If you absolutely must share your love of The Goonies, might I suggest Cyndi Lauper's opus music video?

This advice also applies to The Princess Bride.

4)  Don't wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Even Tom Selleck can't pull this off. (Especially with the Detroit Tigers hat. I mean, seriously?) 

5) Do not reference Saved by the Bell

Every boy that ever saw an episode knows exactly how John feels: