Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Planting Seeds

Last week, I had another fruitful conversation with a colleague who is having kids blog.  While I was hoping to have a link to those blogs to share, alas, it was not to be.  Combined with my recent meet up with Doug Bundy, Alfie Kohn's research, and the Dave Mathys' 20% project at Lake Oswego High, there is a clear trend here.  Blogging allows kids to submit their work to a wider audience than just a teacher.  Kids take blogging seriously and are often far more reflective in their blogs than they are either in a conference or filling out "another" meta-critical survey.  Blogs receive visitors from all over the world.  Crafted properly, a student's blog could easily replace a report card.  Kids receive authentic feedback in a timely fashion.  Families can connect to their children's work, and the blog provides a longitudinal record of achievement and growth.  A student's blog would be much richer than either narrative reports or report cards.  Imagine schools with no report cards.  I am considering turning my midwinter project into a blogged one.  Students would include their writing, 3D projects, and teaching ideas.  Or, I might go for a project similar to the 20% project.  I am thankful for those who mentor me and show me the possibilities of what can be.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Intent vs. Impact

Teaching seventh graders about communications means teaching about the intent of a message versus the impact of a message.  On my way to today's post, I was thinking about who was reading my postings, was I reaching beyond my school, was all of this online content a reflective sounding board to help clarify my thinking?  I happened to check my clustrmap icon and was surprised to see dots on countries outside the United States!  Clicking through, I discovered that in the last year (actually three months, but who's really counting?) my classroom moodle page had been visited by folks from India, Australia, and Cambodia, among others.  Talk about a pick-me-up!  Just knowing I was part of a global community of content posters motivated me to head straight to the blog and post.  To all those who visited the Cultures web page, thank you.

Recently, one of my students was tested by an outside evaluator to determine what his learning strengths and weaknesses were.  One of the recommendations was he might benefit from a laptop.  After sharing this information with his teachers, the head of our learning center stopped by to ask me what type of hardware would be most beneficial.  He had significant reservations about recommending a laptop for a seventh grade boy who seemed easily distracted by everything, and who, our learning center head theorized, "would be even more distracted by a network connection.  An AlphaSmart would be perfect."
While I'm sure my friends at Alphasmart (now Neo) would be thrilled at a sale, I thought I would ask the question to a wider audience.  What would you recommend for our 7th grader?

I am leaning towards a MacBook Air, 11", 64GB SSD.  I think the young student needs a physical keyboard.  That rules out any iOS device.  Yes, I know bluetooth keyboards can connect to iPads, but then there are two pieces of equipment of which to keep track.  The MBA is light, quick, and connects to any network easily.  Teaching the student how to use DropBox will help keep him organized.  If all school files are in his DropBox folder, it won't matter where the laptop is.  The files will always be accessible.  DropBox requires a network connection.  A techniques some of our teachers use for kids who require a bit more time we refer to as "front-loading."  Having a networked computer will enable teachers to e-mail the child material to be covered later in class.  Giving him paper copies will only add to his already dysfunctional binder.  There are plenty of pro arguments to the laptop, but there is a huge negative, too.
The kid is already way too distracted.  If he has full access to the internet, he will be even more distracted, right?  Not necessarily.  Our job as teachers is to help this young man make wise choices.  Helping him learn when to access information on the internet is part of that cycle.  Wise parenting at home, including working on his laptop in a public place, not taking the laptop into the bedroom, bringing the laptop to class every day, accessing assignments electronically, etc, all will help him stay organized and keep him on the road to success.  In short, the MacBook Air will have greater impact.

Any thoughts, gentle readers?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Helping Kids Fail

At back-to-school night this week, a respected teacher asked if any parents had read the NY Times article, "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?" For those who need a quick refresher, the gist of the article is about building character. Character or grit, as it is referred to in the article comes about through failure, through trying, becoming discouraged, exhausted, even exasperated, but also continuing to persevere. “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure,” [the Times explained.] “And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” Returning home that night, I asked my sophomore daughter about learning by failure. She replied, "Dad, I can't fail. Teachers don't permit failure. They grade everything. If I fail a test, I have to work so hard to raise my grade that it is actually easier not to fail."

Long ago, I stopped "grading" homework. I teach kids that homework is practice. When I tell them this early in the year, a few students always ask me to tell all the teachers homework is practice. My students need coaching, too. They need to know how to improve in certain areas. I adopt a philosophy I have observed excellent physical education and art teachers practice. I give kids feedback on their homework quality, critiques their efforts, focus on individual differences. For example, one student may need to work on word choice, another student might practice writing with more figurative language. PE teachers never tell students they have to re-do an effort, they focus on one skill they think will benefit the student the most. Great art teachers don't critique student work so harshly the students loses all motivation. Instead, they suggest a more color here, a little more rubbing stick there.

The question, it seems to me isn't how we, as teachers help students learn to succeed, it is how we help them learn to fail. For it is through failure that the most learning occurs. In our high-stakes testing and emphasis on grades, how are we allowing kids to learn through failure?

Before kissing my daughter good night, we had a great discussion that I hope armed her for a discussion with her teachers about how she could fail, learn, and receive a high grade in their classes. In this season of parent conferences ask teachers how they provide for failure in their courses.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Finally getting around to Google + .  Have a few invites....if you don't have it, and want is the time to contact me

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dale ready for the year

IMG_7015 by dadnoa
IMG_7015, a photo by dadnoa on Flickr.

This is a test post from Flickr to Blogger trying to navigate the Google World

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Long Hiatus

Hard to believe the last post was so long ago.  Well, as my colleague Jay Hurvitz says, "if you don't have something pertinent to add to the discussion...."  There is a long list of summer accomplishments including a huge remodel, two brand new units (I love creating logos,) a new head of the middle school, being added to the board of trustees as an ex-officio member, but the reason I picked up my keyboard again is....drum roll please....Calendars work!

Thanks to the terrific elves at Catlin Gabel and Google, I can now see ALL of the important events on ONE, yep, just ONE Google calendar.  I just added Noa's soccer schedule.  Thanks to iCal feeds and the ability to import to Google calendar,   I have been trying to achieve this for over a year.  Thanks to all who made it possible.  As Hannibal says, "I love it when a plan comes together."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Waiting nearly 30 years for Becca

I've been teaching medieval life to young folks for nearly 30 years.  Although I have worked hard to overcome prejudice, a stubborn stereotype has remained.  Boys made swords, shields, and armor.  Not any more.  Enter Becca, a talented, creative seventh grade girl.  Becca, clearly marching to the beat of her own drummer, used a jigsaw, power saw, hand tools, and a block sander to create the sword pictured here.  She pretty much used found items in her house, took over her family's workbench and garage.  Her attention to detail, understanding of sword construction, and craftsmanship are awe-inspiring.  Today, she taught her class about swords design, sword type, and how her sword fit into the project she was teaching.  She spoke confidently and with authority on swords.  It goes without saying she made her point.  OK, I guess one might say she cut the "girls don't make swords" stereotype down.  Here are a couple of pics.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going paperless=1329 emails

While contemplating curriculum in Israel last year, I began looking at how students were working and studying.  I decided to offer an electronic option during my annual foray into things medieval.  Students could email me assignments, I would comment on them, return them, and count them the same as if the assignment had been printed out and handed in.  I thought a few kids would take advantage of this pilot.  What began as a trickle on January 18th, was a full blown flood by March 2.  Kids learned how to take screenshots of websites (quiz results), turn on and use document reviewing in Word (and Pages and OpenOffice!), and attach both text and graphic files in email.  By the end of the project, I was looking at around 75 emails a day from a class of 62 students.  When the project finally ended, I checked my project folder to find 1329 emails.  As a class, students had saved over 2 reams of paper!  Early on I was uncomfortable commenting electronically on kids' assignments.  I developed a few techniques that enabled me to feel quite comfortable with the whole process.  Outlook's attachment preview feature allowed me to view documents to decide if I needed to edit them.  This was a great timesaver.  Instead of attaching new comments every time, I found I could edit by just typing in the assignment itself, again saving time, and making it easier for both students and me to see the changes.

I found I needed to adjust my email workflow, too.  Usually, I check email roughly every few hours.  During the medieval project, I needed to check far more frequently.  Students began sending assignments right after school and continued through the evening.  While I might be caught up before dinner, another 25+ emails would often arrive while I was eating.  Most nights, I would not reply to any email after 2130, but emails continued well into the night, often being sent after midnight.  Yes, I learned a lot about my students' work habits!  Nothing like real-time research to teach me a thing or too about seventh grade sleep patterns.

So what did I learn from all of this?  What needs thought prior to next year?  Previously, my librarian had set up a reserve cart with approximately 100 books for kids to use during class research time.  This year, the cart was set up, but we kept it in the library instead of my classroom.  We used 4 books on a regular basis.  All other research was done online.  I found I could easily read/edit/correct assignments online.  Kids had no problems emailing them to me.  By the end of the project, some kids were bringing laptops, taking notes in class and sending them to me BEFORE class had ended!  Other kids were taking notes, editing assignments, and researching topics using their personal iPads.  Now, the medieval unit is document intensive.  I needed to access documents from wherever I was answering email.  Dropbox made it all possible.  Whether on the iPad, laptop, desktop, or friend's computer, Dropbox gave me access to all my medieval files.  Next year, I hope more kids choose the paperless route.

This year's medieval project by the numbers.....53 days, 62 students, 1329 emails, 3038 assignments turned in, 12 hours to assess projects and write comments.  Whew!  Time to get ready for the test.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Before I begin my story, a brief message to my Israeli friends:  if you are CellCom customers, I recommend you seriously consider switching carriers at the earliest opportunity.  Now, on with the tale.  Last year when I went to Israel as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher, the State Department offered suggestions on the necessities of daily life such as transportation, housing, cell phones, etc.  Basically, we were on our own, though our Israeli hosts at both the Israel Fulbright Commission and Mofet were unbelievably helpful.  Upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, our Israeli Bed & Breakfast owner took us to the local mall and helped us navigate purchase of Israeli SIM cards for our GSM phones, and helped us sign up for a plan.  He patiently explained everything in Hebrew to the CellCom sales people, and then translated for us.  We only wanted a basic phone package, no international dialing, no texting.  I needed a cell phone for Fulbright business.  Pam and Noa needed phones so we could keep in touch as we travelled the country.  The whole cell phone process took only two hours to complete, plans seemed reasonable, cancellation at the end of our stay was confirmed, billing was to be in US $$ to our US Bank issued debit cards.  We should have been suspicious.....

As our stay in Israel neared an end, we visited CellCom headquarters (conveniently located a 10 minute walk from our Jerusalem apartment,) explained that we wanted to cancel our account due to the fact we were leaving the country, were assisted by very friendly CellCom folks, and left thinking all was well.  We received a phone call from CellCom the next day telling us we would have to pay an astronomical fee to cancel our accounts.  We returned to CellCom to plead our case.  We found ourselves up against a stonewalling bureaucracy.  The CellCom rep who helped us was so sympathetic she suggested that if the company would not cancel our accounts that we might be best served by canceling our credit card when we returned home.  CellCom told us they would make a decision in three days.  We told them we were leaving in two.  Hearing nothing we returned home.

Now, it is important to note that we paid for all of the CellCom service we used while in Israel.  We had told the initial CellCom rep that we needed a plan for 110 days.  We were prepared to pay by the minute, whatever we needed to do in order to use mobile phones in Israel.  She assured us cancellation would be no problem.  In hindsight she was either a sleazy sales rep, a liar, or had no clue as to what lengths CellCom would go to collect on its accounts.

Upon returning to Oregon, we cancelled the credit card with the bank.  We verified the card was cancelled.  We also confirmed that CellCom had indeed withdrawn the funds to which they were entitled while we were using their service.  Life slowly returned to normal.  Last week, we received a notice from the bank that our account was overdrawn.  Since we only used that account in Israel, we were puzzled that it should suddenly be overdrawn.  Pam's visit to the bank revealed that CellCom waited until we had been home for nearly three months, then began "manually" withdrawing funds from the account.  The account was also being charged for the conversion to Israeli Shekels.  The loss manager at the bank was stunned.  Since there had been no authorization on our part for CellCom to access funds, they should not have been able to withdraw anything.  CellCom must have some pretty interesting computer wizards in their offices.  Over the past 10 months, they had drained the account.  The loss manager graciously replaced the funds, apologized profusely for the fraud, closed the account entirely, and filed the appropriate paperwork with Visa, CellCom, and the bank's Israeli partner.

I have emailed both the US State Department and the US-Israel Fulbright Commission.  The United States sends Fulbright scholars of all ages to Israel every year.  They will now all be warned about the fraudulent practices CellCom uses.  If you travel to Israel, please avoid Cellcom.....or pay cash!  Oh, thanks to Noa for the image work.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Great Discussion Today

7th graders have been discussing "Did Charlemagne's ends justify his means."  This is a tough topic for most kids because they are a pretty non-violent group so they usually start from the standpoint that the ends do not justify the means.  Killing is wrong, killing in the name of Christianity is difficult for most kids to get past.  A few brave souls realize that perhaps the ends do justify the means.  They are brave because they are able to stand up to their friends and classmates to argue the other side in a discussion.  Midway through the discussion, though, kids are no longer talking about Charlemagne and medieval times.  They are talking about dropping the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, most importantly, they are talking to each other.  Oh, I still have to paraphrase, prod reluctant participants, and recognize kids who contradict themselves as they move from one side to another; but the kids are conducting their own discussion about historical events, great changes in the world, and the fact that so many anonymous people are forgotten in the name of "progress."  Truly an inspiring day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Critical Friends Group formed

For the next few weeks, in addition to "regular" Edge posts, I will be posting reactions and thoughts from my new Critical Friends Group.  We are reading Adolescent Literacy, Turning Promise into Practice by Beers, Probst, and Rief.  The book is a compilation by noted literacy experts such as Jim Burke, Yvette Jackson, Chris Crutcher, et al.  Those of you working in the field of literacy are welcome to share experiences, post comments, or contact me offline.  We will be writing about, reading, and discussing how students learn to read & write, the role of the teacher in the process, different types of literacy such as visual literacy, for example.  My first essay to read is "The Need to Write, the Need to Listen by Ruth Shagoury.  Stay tuned...

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Whack to the Side of the Head

I have been trying to figure out how to turn paper-intensive projects into paperless ones for a while now.  Most recently, I have been tweaking my seventh grade medieval project.  There are so many web-based resources I want students to examine.  Yet seventh graders need the quick turn around of papers turned in and handed back....or so I thought.  We recently began the 2011 Medieval Project.  I told kids I would be happy to work with them electronically or in paper.  It was their choice.  Right now, I have 6 kids who bring iPads to class and roughly 5 more who regularly bring laptops.  We are nearing 20% of kids who bring their own tools to school.  A small number of students missed a video on Vikings shown on Friday.  One student in her email asked if she could simply watch the video online.  "That's it," I thought and sat down to see if I could devise an electronic alternative for kids who miss class videos.  It took about 2 hours to find the appropriate videos on YouTube, create the note taking organizer, post everything to my YouTube playlist, and email the kids that they could complete the assignment on their terms at home.

Today in class, kids set their own homework assignments for the next two weeks.  Within thirty minutes of the end of school, I began receiving electronic versions of assignments.  Kids clearly have the skill to go paperless.  The assignments have been coming in all night.  Tomorrow's class will review a couple of skills I haven't ever taught seventh graders.  They need to know how to accept changes in a word-processing document, create a pdf file, include attachments, etc.  This is going to be a very exciting project!  Yes, we will also talk about filing more lost papers!

Nothing like a group of energetic seventh graders to get me off my duff and moving in a direction I have wanted to go for a long time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just Another Day

Ever wondered what teachers do all day?  Today, I began by checking my classroom electronics for the guest speaker who would speak this afternoon.  Packing up two laptops for transport came next.  After that, we had an assembly.  Then, it was off to drive a 12 ton bus to a local elementary school.  After checking in with the office, I headed for the library.  Using Elluminate software, I participated in a webinar sponsored by Mofet, an educational research group in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Yes, the time difference was 10 hours.  Next, I conferred with two students who were using the laptops to complete a make-up test.  More bus driving.  Took students to lunch at a local shopping center.  Back at school, we had another assembly.  The afternoon was spent with artists such as Bill Oakley, head writer for the Simpsons.  The day ended with a faculty meeting presentation about the proposed new Arts Building.  After dinner, I finished up planning for the medieval unit which begins Tuesday.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?