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.

Comments on this post

  1. Meanwhile, I keep dancing said on March 1, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I’m totally digging this, Tom.

  2. Jeff Pierce said on March 2, 2010 at 3:01 am

    hey – i am trying to stand on your shoulders here. how does the step mentioned in footnote one work? how does the data go from a google form into a word cloud? is that easy, or a copy and paste deal, or what…?

    • Tom said on December 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      I missed this somehow. Sorry about that.

      It was a copy paste or you can feed info in via RSS.

  3. John said on March 5, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Great post! I love reading about the nuts and bolts of a good lesson. The last sentence of your post is one of the truest things about teaching I have read.

  4. Shelly Terrell said on March 18, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing this lesson and the detailed steps. I have yet to integrate Google Docs with my students but it is definitely in things I hope to integrate in the future. This lesson appeals to many learning styles which is awesome!

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