Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is it 2008 Yet?

Yes, for those of us who've been waiting, 2008 is finally here -- and it's a totally teachable moment!

With 2nd grade I read the book Duck for President, a cute story which is a good lead-in to discussion about how the best campaigner is not necessarily the best qualified to actually do the job. Here are their thoughts about voting --

Our 5th grade students are learning about the election using a fabulous webquest, Meet the Candidates, designed by Karen Kliegman. We have been researching six major issues of the campaign: Iraq, Homeland Security, environment, economy, education and healthcare. After dividing the class and having them research the issues from both sides, we had presentations and discussion. The discussion was lively and involved. Some of the students are quite impressive in their background knowledge. 

Our next step is to create an online survey to find out which issues are most important to those in our school community. Then we will be learning about political ads, and the kids will be creating their own political ads. We will be posting our work, including results from our survey, student-created political ads and whatever else we do, on our Vote5thGrade Wiki. Check out the webquest for links and great teaching ideas.

Google for Educators is also holding a mock election in which your students can cast their votes. Check out their excellent ideas and resources for teaching about the election.

Finally, I wanted to share this video explaining the electoral college. I have always had a hard time understanding this, and this video, in my opinion, does an excellent job of explaining. 

Electing a US President in Plain English

Friday, September 12, 2008

Scratch that Itch

No, my classroom is not flea-ridden, just trying for a little wit.
I'm referring to the itch I've had to try out Scratch in the lab at school. I have wanted to explore Scratch for a while. Since I was asked to take the 8th graders for two hours this morning and do whatever I wanted with them, I thought I would give it a go.

Scratch is a free download from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT (image below skitched from their website). Ok, just the name "Lifelong Kindergarten" totally appeals to me. It evokes Seymour Papert, father of all that is good with technology in learning and education.
Cool, right?
I started by showing them this video intro. 

I got the video from the scratch website support page. The whole website is a treasure trove of info and projects.
As I was showing the video to the 8th graders, I heard murmurs of, "That's cool. Are we going to do this? Etc." I told them that I had not yet taken the time to try out Scratch. Anything they were going to learn, they were going to learn and figure out on their own, teach each other, and then, of course, teach me. It was a lot of fun to watch and listen as they explored and created, helped each other, laughed, questioned, tried different ways to make things happen. I think some of them were a bit surprised when I told them that there was actually a lot of math involved in what they were doing. 
Later in the day, I introduced Scratch to the 5th graders. I also showed them the 8th grader's Scratch projects. The 5th graders, interestingly, had a little bit harder time as a group, with the learning by exploring. They had a certain result in mind and some of them wanted me to tell them how to make it happen. I have been working on doing less of this and encouraging, especially with the upper grades, more exploration, problem solving, trial and error. With technology there are usually many ways to solve a problem, and often they find a great solution that works for them.

Miscellaneous Observations:
•Scratch can be a rorschach test of sorts. For one thing, if they start with a blank project and no structured assignment, it is interesting to watch the students project themselves into their project. 
•I really got a chance to  see which students are independent and comfortable with learning through exploration and which students are dependent on me showing them how to do each thing. There are a few with whom I need to make an effort to cut, or at least redirect, the cord.
It would be really interesting to do this type of learning with the teachers. A lot of them need to be exposed to more playful, trial and error learning to grow more independent and comfortable with their computers. I would be hesitant to use Scratch as professional development, though. I'm not sure we're ready yet. 
•I have signs around the lab with some of the NETS for students. As the 5th graders were leaving, I checked in with the students asking them which of the skills we had used. They recognized that they did a lot of creating and problem solving, and some collaboration, communication and innovation.
It was a lot of fun. 
If you'd like to see some of our projects, they are here

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Edublogosphere --Part of the Problem?

I don't really like to rant. I've tried to refrain from using my blog as a soap-box, but this has been building for a long time. The irony, and yes, I know it, is that not one of the people I'm talking to will read this. 

This post goes out to the educational leaders. Not all the leaders to be sure, but those who write and speak publicly at conferences, who travel around and make their living educating the educators, inspiring us, moving us forward in a new direction. I read your blogs. I bask in your brilliance, I've tried, as a teacher, to join the oft-referenced "conversation," to be one who, in the words of Will Richardson, is "reading and participating already. On some level, they get it."

I understand that you're frustrated, waiting for everyone to get it and schools to change already. But the criticism from on high, the putting-down of those you are supposed to be leading, how is that part of the solution? I'm finding a lot of the posts about bad schools to be pretty unproductive. It will be easy for you to dismiss me (I'm pretending that you read my blog). 
Actually, I am working pretty hard to bring real change to a real school and I've looked to you for answers, for ideas, help, a path to take, inspiration. To me, your job seems easy - you stand on the outside and offer your critique.

I've noticed that my reader has really changed over the eight months I've been part of the blogosphere. I used to read many of your blogs, you know, the blogs everyone reads. At first I was wowed by the writing and the ideas (you never responded to any of my comments, but you want me to participate). Over the months I've found these blogs, for the most part, more and more useless. Now my reader, full as ever, is filled with the blogs of those who actually teach and those leaders who I think "get it." 
I'm not making any lame excuses for my school or any others. But, as a teacher, I know and so should you, that you don't entice people to learn and grow and change by belittling their efforts. Criticism has its place, but I can't imagine trying to teach a child through constantly telling them how much they don't know, how far they have to go, how much they just don't get it.
Yes, it is frustrating that schools and teachers and administrators aren't getting it faster and change hasn't happened, like 10 years ago. 
But, what can we DO to make it happen NOW?