Friday, October 29, 2010

Teacher as Learner

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I have already written a post with this title.  If so, I may consider adding "Again."  In the beginning of ERIC, the 7th grade ancient civilizations project (Egypt, Rome, India, China) students have blogged three topic choices to me (Family Life, Religion, History, etc.) and I have then assigned topics.  This year I decided that group leaders, students elected by their peers, should have a hand in topic assignments.  The methods the groups came up with were fascinating.  One group blogged their choices, but the leaders asked me to email my topic assignments to them for final approval (fortunately for me, they approved my suggestions!)  One group passed out slips of paper in class, had everybody write their choices on them, then asked me to assign topics, again pending their approval.  The last two groups took a different tack.  Their group recorders, also an elected position walked around to every student, asked what they wanted and wrote it down.  If a topic had been taken by a previous student, students simply self-selected another topic.  There was no arguing, nobody wanted to switch at the end.

The empowerment the group leaders and the classes felt was palpable.  Students clearly could not believe a teacher was letting them choose what area they wanted to study.  Two classes didn't want me involved in the process at all.  Did I mind?  Nope, not at all.  Allowing kids to choose what they will study is a huge part of my project-based curriculum.  Was it easy to let go and not try to "engineer" who studied which topic?  It was surprisingly easy.  Next week we will begin research, students have their topics, and I have learned an important lesson about teaching leadership.  Weiden + Kennedy, the Portland advertising agency were right, "Just do it!"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What I Learned in School Today

There is a quote in my classroom.  It reads
Creativity is not just for the artist or the gifted.  It is for people.  It is a way of working, a way of thinking, a way of living.

Today, Nikki showed me she lives that quote.  Nikki is in an eighth grade media production class currently involved in creating movies based poems.  The poems were written by students NOT in the class.  The students in the class chose a poem to bring to life.  Nikki, in the midst of setting up her shot, was drawing stick figures on a rainbow.  She was using a dry erase marker.  Ever aware of resource use, I suggested she use a Sharpie which is considerably less expensive than a white board marker.  She replied she had CHOSEN the dry erase marker because she was going to have to erase the stick figures as she filmed.  Puzzled, I asked how she was going to erase the stick figures off the rainbow she had colored.  She explained she wasn't actually drawing on the rainbow, she had placed Scotch Magic tape on the rainbow and then demonstrated how easily the dry erase marker could be erased!  Truly inspired creativity!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Purring along

Today in class was the culmination of a series of terrific events.  Students have been working on short presentations.  The only requirements have been that presentations must not use paper and must be no longer than three minutes.  Early presentations were almost exclusively Powerpoints.  After each presentation, the class gave the group feedback about one improvement they might make and one part that worked well.  Kids were then regrouped for the next presentation.  Something amazing began to happen midway through the second presentation.  Creativity began to take over.  Skits began to appear.  Some kids used interviews to convey information.  This week, things really took off.

Kids are given almost no class time to prepare presentations.  I invite them to collaborate at home via the tool of their choice such as Skype, texting , or e-mail.  Then, I give them ten minutes at the beginning of class to polish, edit, and practice.  Today, a couple of groups showed websites created using weebly.  Another couple of groups began using YouTube videos (one worked, one didn't.  Life in the seventh grade!)  A couple of groups used Keynote instead of Powerpoint.  One group used Google Docs.  One group used OpenOffice Impress. Hardware included a Samsung netbook, Lenovo ThinkPad, Apple MacBook Pro (new and old,) and an iPad.  Presentations became about content and presentation style, not hardware or software.  Tools were used interchangeably.  Kids had no problem switching between or using the tools.  Research and data presentation became more important than which tool a particular group was using.  It was cool!

One tool that I added that helped all of the presentations was a KVM box.  Having two projector connections sped up time between presentations because 2 groups could set up at once.  Then, with the push of a button, kids could switch between two sources.  Turns out my IT department had a bunch of KVM boxes and cables left over from a server upgrade.  Presentations have never been so much fun.  Kids improved their skills on so many levels in so many ways.  Very exciting!