It Seemed to Work

I had, at least from my point of view, a pretty satisfying class the other night.

I teach a 7:00PM – 9:40PM class for career switchers through the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Richmond. The focus on the class is technology integration and I end up with a really wide range of ages, experiences, and technology skills. So you can imagine how excited people are to work their normal jobs and then come into a nice 3 hour night class. Sometimes things go well, sometimes they go poorly.

Here’s something that seemed to work well last Wednesday.

Step One- I started off the class with some audio clips from student interviews. It was some good stuff (content wise- even if the audio quality was pretty poor). The students were saying things about how all they do is take notes and take tests. They complained of boredom etc. etc. I figured that would get their attention because no one wants to be thought of that way- especially if you haven’t started teaching yet.

Step Two-I had a Google form for them to use. The task was just to list the things you’d like students to say about your class if they were interviewed. This form was embedded in the post I use each class to organize the material we’ll be discussing and visiting.

Step Three-That data is thrown into a word cloud1. We talk about the main themes. This is a double bonus for me. I’m showing a quick and easy way to get data from a class and how to display it in a quick and easy way that facilitates conversation- all for free and on the fly with no tech-y knowledge needed.

Now the conversation shifts to what do you do in your class to make students say these things.

Step Four- Now we appear to leave this topic. The task is, as individuals, to find one video example of a lesson that integrates technology well. I give them a few places to look but they can get examples from wherever. You can see those places here.

Then at each table (5-6 people) they have to come to a consensus about which is the best example. Each group then posts a link to the best example in the comments to the post.

Step Five-Before we watch these three videos as a class,2 I give them a definite task. “As you watch these videos, your goal is to break them down into components and look for correlations between the lessons.” No one really got that initially so I went to an on-the-fly analogy. My attempt was “Sandwiches are very different, yet good sandwiches have similarities.” We then spoke of good bread, etc. etc. Not the best analogy but it did help clarify things.

So we finish watching the movies and start to break down the components as a class3. We get our lesson plan elements. The were things like student choice, multimedia, creativity etc. Then I brought back up the key elements we talked about at the beginning of the class. Things matched up pretty well. It was neat to see things work that cyclically.

So what do I think made this work?

There was the solid hook at the beginning. Emotionally hearing students say your class is boring bothers a lot of people. They weren’t trashing things, and I think that’s important, they were just saying the class consisted of 95% notes and 5% tests. I think the fact that it was audio added to the power. Multimedia is a good starter.

Secondly, the way students broke things down individually, as a group, and then as a class worked well. We’ve done a fair amount of table work so that helps as well. I think people are starting to become more comfortable.

I’ll have to think some more about how to do all of this better. It’s amazing how many times you can teach a class and still feel like a complete newcomer.

1 (RIP Wordle and possibly Many Eyes

2 They’re about 2-3 minutes each. You probably don’t want much more than that. More than 3 minutes can feel really long.

3 Thinking about it now, I should have done that breakdown at the table first and then brought it back out to the group.

Plague: Romeo & Juliet Poster

How do you make people want to know more before you start a topic1?

I liked this whole series done for Science World by Rethink Communications. Think of this idea as visual pre-reading. The posters get you curious. Curiosity is good.

I’d like to make a series before starting novels and post them around the room. It’d work nicely for history as well. The key, in both cases, is to focus on what would capture the interest of your students and make a strong connection to something they do like and understand2. It’s likely you and your English teacher friends are not like most people. You’re going to like oblique references to Kafka- your students, not so much. Remember to think about things normal people like. This is another reason it’s good to know your students and to pay attention to the many realms outside of education.

A quick mock up of a poster for Romeo and Juliet.

Rationale – Remember this isn’t meant to strictly portray what happens in the play but to get students curious and interested in what might happen. The line has been beaten to death but it seemed like portraying it more literally and with a dystopian-future twist would capture some attention.

It also has a chance to resonate because of all the terrorism and killer virus scares going on. The biohazard sign is shaped like an “A” so I left that out of the quote. Leaving out the “A” also increases the focus on the fear word – “plague.” “O both your houses” kind of reminds me of “all your base are belong to us.” I may be the only one to think that but it amuses me.

The students may or may not recognize the biohazard symbol for what it is but I think they’ll understand it enough to draw them in. I believe there’s a fine line between hitting their interests, being patronizing, and doing things that are played out.

I’ll probably get around to making a few of these for some other pieces of literature and maybe some historical figures as well.

—Advertisement found via Ads of the World which always has interesting stuff.

1 I’m going to pitch this from the teacher does the work POV but you could just as easily work the idea into student projects based around lines or facts.

2 Note to self- There’s a big difference between making something less sucky and actually making it interesting.

Modernist Posters

This is a bent paperclip on a green background. It is awesome.

This is a bent paperclip on a green background.  It is awesome.

When it rains, it pours snows people panic and Richmond shuts down.

Also when I find one good thing on the Internet, others often show up.

So here are minimalist TV show posters by Albert Exergian.

I’d do this for sure. It’s another in the line of restriction = creativity possibilities. The drawing skills are really low. It’s all about figuring out the essence of the novel/era/historical person and figuring out how to represent it as simply as possible. You’d have to stress what makes things modernist and really get students thinking about using color, shape etc. with as much thought as possible.

The example would be key, as would your explanation of it1.

I ended up with this from one of the few email newsletters I find worth subscribing to – Very Short List. If you like this type of thing, it’s worth checking out.


6 Frame Comic Summaries

We’re asking you to take your favourite film and re-imagine it for us in the form of a comic, within a six-frame panel (download template files). That’s the whole film, condensed into six frames.

This is another beautiful, reductionist way to analyze a book, historical figure, era, epoch or movement. I don’t see much use for math but I could also see some science possibilities.

You could pair up with an art teacher or just do it on your own. I’d have a stable of activities1 similar to these and allow students the option to choose between them at various points.

Keep in mind, they don’t have to be drawn. Let them use photographs. They could even take their own pictures. The concept/framework is simple but don’t let it box you in.

This is the stuff I really like in history and English. It’s low work on the teacher, high processing on the students. Deciding what elements are essential is a task that requires a lot of understanding and critical thinking, then representing those ideas graphically is another level of processing.

I’m working on a history example but it’s taking too much time (and thought) to do well immediately.

1 Of the condense and remix type. I’ve posted a few in the past.

Snow Days Don’t Stop Assessment

This wouldn’t be worth of mocking except for the fact that it was retweeted time and time again by the Blackboard Twitter fanboy crowd and when I finally read it I couldn’t get the taste of bile out of my mouth. This is the garbage they celebrate as a success.

So the following post is an attempt at purging my system.

Original article here. Italics and footnotes, as always, are mine.


The snow led to more than 300 local closings and delays today — but if a district uses too many snow days, there’s less time to test. No one wants that. One local school figured out a way to have the best of both worlds -students at home *and*1 a full day of testing. Joe Webb says it works through technology -insert dramatic music here.

The kids at Taft Elementary will lose a day of class because they’re at home. McAuley High School has figured out a way to reach out to its students and have them in class at home. At Beechwood Elementary, Miss Burns’ fourth grade class beat the elements and had a school not a snow day. But in 2010 this is truly old school.2

McAuley sophomore Sam Rack kicked it new school3 today at home but taking all her regular classes online. It counts as a school day. Sam Rack has done the math. “I actually like this a lot more because if we have a lot of snow days like last year, we had to take days off of our summer vacation. Please don’t make me go to school a day longer than I have to.

Sam had Blackboard to thank for her new found ability to add and subtract one digit numerals.

Blackboard CEO, Michael Chasen, crowed with excited when informed of this development. “Another 21st century skill down! Bb NG is transforming education!”

It’s part of McAuley’s high-tech teaching push4. The principal notified students and parents yesterday that today was an online day and all work had to be done. At his suggestion, we interviewed him online today via Skype5. He says McAuley uses the popular school software *Blackboard*6 to sort of “home school” on days like today.

“Don’t get carried away though” cautioned Webb, “You still need us. It’s not real home school. I used air quotes. Make sure you put the quotes in the article.”

“Students have to go on Blackboard and each teacher is going to post assignments and they’re doing all kinds of things. You know, like tests, quizzes, some timed quizzes and I bet you’ll see some timed tests. Others are probably reading stuff. It’s really amazing. Thank god for Technology.”

At 1:40 this afternoon, Sam logged in to take an AP European History quiz. She had 20 minutes to get it done. This wasn’t a full day on or off but she did get to sleep in and leave the uniform in the closet7. Plus not have her parents worry about her driving to and from school. “This was kind of a no-brainer for us. We thought this was a way to keep our kids safe and keep moving forward from an educational standpoint. We had to synergize our enterprise CMS to strategerize our learning outcomes towards our state standards. There is a race to the top to be won.

Half the students at McAuley have laptops they’ve purchased through the school. That makes this whole thing possible. The other half weren’t going to graduate anyway. It’s better that they remain laptop-less so that they’re happier with their eventual role in life.

Technology is a great thing…but not everyone has the access. Until that happens…. snowy days will mean no class for most schools.8

1 Apparently the * has become an accepted journalistic punctuation mark. It denotes sparkles or jazz hands- depending on the context.

2 I read this 3 times and it made less sense each time.

3 I did NOT add this. This is real. Other phrases that didn’t make the final edit included bodacious, funky fresh, col’ chilling and maxing n’ relaxing.

4 Several high-tech pulls went terribly wrong.

5 Skype audio failed due to bandwidth issues and the principal refused to accept our phone call because it wasn’t *technologified* enough so the interview was carried out via text chat.

6 I have no idea why BB is in bracketed by asterisks.

7 Imagine the freedom to both wear the clothes you want and get up when you want.

8 And that ladies and gentlemen is a closing line. It’s deep, poignant and leaves you wondering why it didn’t have asterisks sprinkled on it.