still more classroom 20

Brian Benzinger at Solution Watch is back with the third installment of Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0, a series of posts related to online applications useful for both students and teachers.

This time around, Benzinger has pieced together how these applications are actually used by students and teachers, and provides a few examples for:

  • Educational Blogging
    • examples from both students and teachers
    • the best places to set up educational blogs
  • Using Flickr as a teaching tool.
    • Make sure to check out the examples Benzinger provides from teachers who use the photo annotation tool to point out necessary information in an image.
  • Edcational Podcasting
    • With examples from teachers and students
  • Wikis
  • Video Sharing as a teaching toolAnd finally
  • Web 2.0 courses
  • School 2.0
  • and more…

It’s a must read.


Time to start thinking about the future 1

Even though there’s still a month left in school, I feel myself getting giddy about what’s going to happen next year; I hear it from other teachers, as well — the excitement comes out in their voices when they talk about what they’ll do next year. Guess that’s one of the greatest things about teaching: each year is relatively the same, and each year you get to try out new things, and it’s in those last few months that you begin to see all those little parts, those smallish assignments, those daily tasks, building up to create the overall outcome.

For now, the outcome I’m seeing is pretty awful. I’m not happy with the students, and I’m not happy with myself. Yesterday I attended a meeting to cover the common writing assessment between the Language Arts department at my school, and I see there are enormous differences. Our common assessment was the research paper — I put my everything into this assignment, and we’re still yet to finish: that will come when we post our work to a website for Dana Huff and her students. The papers my students turned in were proper, well formatted, very straightforward, and businesslike. We wrote papers. And dammit if I don’t feel as though these kids turned from scrappy little buggers into professional writers. Their piles of work loom high, and the final product is polished. Their work isn’t polished, but it’s very different from the other papers I read from the other team of teachers.

The other team decided to work the research into a multigenre paper on the same topic my students wrote on earlier in the year: “Who am I?” And their papers were phenomenal. Not because they followed the rules of MLA (as a matter of fact, the MLA was barely there — few quotes, fewer citations, and the citations were pretty haphazard), but because of the content. Thse kids had the opportunity to talk about themselves and what interested them, and their writing showed off what’s in their hearts.

Not that my students’ papers weren’t good. They were damn perfect, and you can feel the kids empathy for their subjects. Nevertheless, they were very journalistic. But maybe that’s because I focused more on them retelling a story they’d read and supplying more information from other sources — there’s nowhere to go but journalism. It’s difficult to make real judgements when the paper topics are so different, but I just got more of an inside view to the students from the other team’s papers. So with that in mind, I’m very happy with the direction we took yesterday after reading the papers.

My imaginary classroom 2

My overall idea is to create an online classroom — this is done in college, and most colleges use the blackboard system, where the motto is to “Educate. Innovate. Everywhere.”

If college professors use an online classroom to accomplish those three things, then those three ides are valuable to a pubilc school as well — To “educate” is to inform others who, in turn, learn, understand, and practice. To “innovate” is to change the common practice to meet (if not exceed) current needs. To be “everywhere” means that this is an opportunity for students — that they can access information from any station and at any time.

I’d like to create an online classroom where I can hand out assignments to students, where they can practice the work in my class in addition to others, and where the work is always available to them. Oh, and I need to be able to do this for free.

I was going to share some of the resources that you can use in creating a similar classroom, but Dana Huff already went ahead and did that for me with some very useful and very informative posts about Wikis for Educators (for teachers who are interested in congregating their resources and their students into one place online), Blog Software for Educators (for those teachers interested in using blogs as a platform to access and exhibit student learning), and Blog Hosting for Educators (because you need a place to store that blog).

I’ve been throwing about some ideas here for a while about this imaginary classroom, and tried out several services to see what would fit my needs, and what services would be the simpest to use — simple not only in terms of my own use, but when it comes to the students and other teachers using the software. Keep in mind, I’m trying to find a way to connect all classes toegther through a Language Arts class in a technology-centered environment. After a bit of tinkering around, here’s what I chose to use:

  • I used an Edublogs blog
  • Threw into the pages an account at blogmarks — an online office where students can create and save (up to 1 gig!) word documents, excel-esque spreadhseets, and slideshows.
  • Added a calendar and linked the RSS feed into the sidebar.

Pretty simple, and only took a few hours to link all together: blog, composition software, assignment calendar. In addition, edublogs allows users to activate a  plugin. Talkr turns your blog posts into .mp3 versions read by a female voice — this was added to help students who learn better through adio (they can listen to my daily assignments while they surf the web).

Why don’t you have a look around the imaginary classroom I’ve tentatively named think:room.

more futuristic stuff

In thinking about the future I forgot to mention that the summer session will begin in about a month-and-a-half. We’ve already ammassed a team of teachers and students who’ll attend this summer program, which will funciton more like an educational camp than regular school, and we’re working to create curriculum for this program.

The coolest thing is that we’ve decided to align our classes so that students will always be working on one common goal across the curriculum. Science will bleed into World History will bleed into Math will bleed into Language arts, and we’l all be focuse on on unifying topic: Frontiers.

The Frontiers topic will allow us to work with students to discover what frontiers are, study specific frontiers that confront society, and how people surpass frontiers. One major segment of this will focus on space (as that will help align history, science, and math), and I’ll be working to help with anything that happens in those classes.

While it’s not science, but science fiction, I’ll try to get myself a classroom set of the book The City of Ember, and address frontiers as it’ll be addressed in other classes: The unknown and how we deal with it.

The overalll theme of the book deals with kids conquering hte unknown by eschewing the comfortable “facts” that have confined their society. It’s a “big ideas” book, and from my past experiences, I’ll assume the kids will love it. My major focus for this summer semester, beyond working with other classes on this topic is to get students to write a script based on the book, film themselves acting out the parts they’ve created, cutting it up into a product they agree with, and publishing it (I’m thinking DVD or YouTube). it’s a gigantic effort, but I think we might just be ableto pull it off, and if we do…then those kids will have crossed a frontier themselves.


Revision, also known as review – my colleagues across the Big Pond in England use the term, “revision” – is tricky in a foreign language class. While the students are in constant need of regular review and practice of previously-learned vocabulary and grammar structures, it can get pretty boring.

Therefore, I am always on the lookout for ways of making the old seem new.

Today included an additional wrinkle: The day before a two-week vacation.

So, following review of the homework, we did some review of previously-learned material. One of the activities we did, in fact, was collected from a website based in the UK called, Teachers TV. The activity is called, “Pass the Envelope.” It is something along the order of musical chairs. Students pass an envelope containing whatever it is the teacher wants to review, while music plays in the background. To infuse some culture into the activity, I used a song by a group based in Puerto Rico. Today, we reviewed the preterite tense. The envelope contained sentences, in English, which the students had to translate into Spanish, using the correct form of the correct verb in the preterite. The students pass the envelope until the music stops. Whoever is holding the envelope when the music stops opens the envelope, pulls out a sentence strip, reads the sentence, and then translates it into Spanish.

The students seemed to enjoy it, and gained valuable review in the process. Additionally, it was the first time I used “Pass the Envelope”, even though I created the activity about a year ago, but never used it.

the imaginary classroom

My idea is to create and build an online classroom that can be accessed from the school as well as at home — this classroom would ideally function as a language arts class, but I also envision that students could use this class to bring up their performance in other classes. There are several measures in place:

  • Students will practice and learn Language Arts skills as outlined by the state’s standards.
  • Students will practice and learn material from other core classes (such as Mathematics, Science, and World History) through their participation in this project.
  • Students will practice real-world behaviors such as communication (writing, planning, reflection, research, production, and publication).
  • Studuents will adhere to a calendar.
  • Students will complete work in this class in an effort to complete work in other classes.

When I brought this idea to one of the administrators, she said the class would function better as an “Intervention,” rather than as a full-time Language Arts class. Labeling the class “intervention” gets rid of following the Language Arts standards and also refuses to step on the toes of the Technology courses offered by other teachers.

And then there are standards related to FTE (Full Time Enrollment)

  • This project will help bring students back into the classroom, by…
  • making the classroom available outside the school.
  • Students can participate in assignments even when they are not available to attend school.
  • Students “in seats” will complete assignments.
  • Students not in seats will complete assignments outside of class.
  • Students have the opportunity to turn in work outside of class.

Scenario-Based Learning

Description: eLearning is often designed to hold a learner in front of a screen for set periods of time: 5 minutes, 20 minutes or, in the worst cases, longer !

During those periods, learners usually only interact with the screen. Imagine if, instead, eLearning was designed to push learners into their work environments: to interact, research and problem solve. Furthermore, what if eLearning was designed for groups rather than individuals ?

Together, we’ll explore the largely untapped and interactive possibilities of eLearning !

  • Choosing appropriate topics
  • Gathering the right content
  • Creating a challenging interface