Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the web does best...

I went to a workshop tonight about Web 2.0 tools. I picked up some great tips to leverage Facebook and smartphones, but the best part came from one of my students.

During the workshop she sent me a chat message in G-mail and asked for help with her paper. I opened it in Google Docs and then opened the chat window in the document so we could chat with her paper right there. She asked if she was on the right track. She missed class today, so I asked her to go look at the class blog to see the presentation from today's lesson that I had just posted there.

When she came back to Docs a few minutes later she used the chat window to explain exactly what she had learned about thesis statements from the blog. Her answer was perfect, but also totally in her own words. She confidently told me she would be fine now and thanked me for my help. All I did was make the lesson available and tell her where to find it.

You should know that this young lady is at risk. Her grades are poor, she often struggles to understand material, and the reason that she missed class today was because she was suspended for defiance when she ditched the VP as he was walking her to detention on Tuesday.

Tonight however, she was trying to do her work. She reached out to me and luckily I happened to be there.  She was able to use the blog to see what she missed in class and then use that to help her with her writing.

I went to a workshop to learn about more ways for using Web 2.0 tools, but it was my own student who showed me what the web really does best.

P.S. I actually wrote this post several months ago. I've waited to share it because it contains information about a specific student, but now I know she won't be recognized and I have her permission.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Interactive White Boards (IWB's) are coming

Last week I got to go check out the newly installed Promethean Boards at MBHS. I took pictures.  Generally I like this version better than what the IT department was putting in Math classrooms last year.

For one thing these are "portable". The stand can be moved several feet, but remains limited by the umbilical cord that connects it to the wall. This means you may be able to adjust the angle to the wall, helpful in our wedge shaped rooms in the 800.  
Another improvement is that the projector only extends about 15 inches out from the board. Much more compact and possible only because of a cool convex mirror system.

Also they look cooler. Note the nifty dark gray border with built in speakers, redundant to the sound system for the classroom, but still good backup speakers.

Note too the large platform at the bottom. I'm a little worried about tripping on that.
The silver lining of the bottom platform is (almost literally) the drawer built into it that you can use to stash secret teacher things like cables. It even has a lock.

The actual board is still going to be about 12 inches from the wall.  This creates "shadow" areas on either sides of the board that students can't see. For example students sitting on the right side of your room can't see the wall for several feet on the left of the board and vice versa. It's a problem.

The image at MBHS is still too small. Note the dark areas where the projection does not fill the board.  Supposedly that is a software problem with the projector that Promethean is coming back to fix for them. Hopefully that means we won't see it.

A big thanks to the English teachers at MBHS, and Doug McIntosh for letting me come visit with my camera. And also thanks to Dave Kootman from Promethean who showed us the basics of using the software for an English class.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Using Google Docs Chat Windows for Literary Analysis With Students

Last week my students read "The Story of and Hour" by Kate Chopin. They spent time on Wednesday reading and discussing the story with their group. They worked with the group to find the theme and the evidence for the theme. On Thursday I wanted them to write independently about the theme and evidence in their own English journal, but they needed to look back at the story of course and they ended up having discussions in the chat window of their shared document for the story. Those conversations were rich and one of them became the topic of my previous post below.

I decided to push them a bit further.  On Friday I gave them an new story, "Passing Days" as a shared document, but instead of sending them to their groups I left them in rows to read the story on their own. After some time to read it I told students to "chat" about the story using their document chat window. The room was silent, every group was discussing the story, pulling in quotes, asking each other questions, but it was all online. By having each group's document open I could see all of their conversations. Students liked it. Their conversations were focused and productive. One student said, "It was so quiet in here, so I could really concentrate on the conversation." Another added, "And we didn't get off topic the way we do when we are talking in  a group."

This week we have moved to Emerson. I wanted them to look closely at "Self Reliance", so I tried using the chat window again in combination with an audio track of the excerpts we were looking at. I played them a paragraph and let the groups "chat" to figure out the meaning of the text. It took us two class periods to listen to all four and a half minutes of the text because the student conversations were so rich. It was like running six simultaneous small Socratic seminars. At the beginning of the second day I showed the class the "transcript" of one of the groups from the day before. This was a good review of the material we read before and also became a teachable moment about how to chat online, support one another, ask questions, stay on topic and add ideas.

The chat window in Google Docs used to be an annoying distraction that I tried to keep my students away from while they were working in their writing groups.  Now I find using the chat window in Google Docs with my students has become an excellent educational tool.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Google Docs chat window is a window into student thinking

Today my students were working on their second day of trying to figure out the theme of "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin.  Yesterday they worked in groups of six to read the story and try to figure out the theme and find the evidence. Each group had a document shared in Google Docs with the story where they could highlight, make comments and write on the story itself as a group.

Today they were working on their own to write a paragraph in their English Journal in GD about the theme using the evidence their group found yesterday.  They still needed to use their shared document with the story and that shared document comes with a chat window, so that the group members could still communicate with each other even though they were no longer in a group. I was monitoring the chat windows of the six documents in play and students knew they were allowed to use this for communication and even to ask questions. Talking was prohibited.

Until this point I had not seen the chat window used this much or this richly. Student dialog within the chat window gave me great information about their thinking about the task at hand. At times I commented on their questions or reminded them to focus, but mostly I just watched their thinking evolve. It was messy, but fascinating. I captured one group's chat by copying and pasting their comments into a new doc every few minutes. I changed their names and edited just a bit for clarity, but this is mostly their raw discussion.

Notice how they answer each others questions as they navigate the task. They express confusion, frustration, provide support and answers and Don even shares his final product.

Don has opened the document.
Andee has opened the document.
Don: you guys /: you guys took like ALL the evidence & I can't find any . Help meeee pls .
Sandy has opened the document.
Mrs. R: What do you mean they took it?  You can use the same quote
Don: ohhh ok nevermind (:
Arthur: There in the middle of the paper Don
Charlene has opened the document.
Sandy: hey me ayudan?
Arthur: Mrs. Roberts what are we supposed to be doing?
Charlene: no le entiendo
Sandy: your are suppose to be writing in your english journal
Andee: yea we are
Arthur: what are we suppose to write in our English journal?
Andee has opened the document.
Don: yeah but what do we write about?  :O
Sandy: something about theme
Charlene: about the theme
Sandy: yeee
Don: of the story ?
Charlene: yeaahh
Andee: yea
Don: or on what we commented on the paper
Sandy: yeee   loook this is what i wrote   I think that the theme is that they character rather be dead than not have their independence.
Don: that's what you wrote on your english journal ?
Sandy: do you guys kind of get it now?    yeee kinda
Don: yeah somewhat . how long does our entry have to be ?
Arthur: so we just write about what the theme is?
Sandy: yeah the message of the story
Arthur: oh ok i get it now... thanks kid
Don: oh , okay . It makes sense now (: lol
Sandy: member yesterday ms roberts was talking to you Arthur and you were talking just write what you said down
Arthur: oh ok get it now
Don: I N D E P E N D E N C E (:
Charlene: how much do we write ?
Sandy: AMEN Don
Don: idknow ? -_-    @Sandy , Lmfao . alrighty .
Sandy: enough like 5 sent.
Charlene: grrrrrrrr :/   im confusedd
Sandy: hhhhaaaaaaaa  how?
Don: Tiger , lol .
Arthur: so like a paragraph?
Sandy: umm yeahh
Don: (:   yessssssssssssssssssss
Charlene: whatever floats your boat :]
Sandy: Don do your work     haha stephy nd i say that
Arthur: all of you do yur work!
Sandy: HA;)
Don: stephy ? whose that ? hahaaa    & im halfway done [;
Sandy: STEPHANIE menso
Don: :O I know no such person
Sandy: Charlene helpp mee!!!
Don: hahaha
Charlene: it shows she wants to be independent ?
Sandy: thanks.
Charlene: welcom :]
Sandy: HA...
Don: ha ha ha ha ha   i laugh lol
Arthur: hahaha
Charlene: time is almost up.
Don: :O stop scaring me >___<
Sandy: hahhaa  heyy how longg??
Charlene: how long what?
Arthur: like 3 mins... i think
Charlene: not even like 1   :O
Sandy: the writing   TIMES UP
Charlene: told you
Sandy: you didnt tell me anything
Arthur: do we get more time or what?
Sandy: Don what does malluga mean?
Don: okay guys this is what I wrote, hold on BRACE YOURSELVES
In the story, “Story of an Hour” has a rare theme. The theme is Independence. The lady from the story was dependent on her husband since the day they got married. But when he died she realized that she had to be strong about things and make herself become independent. She felt free at last now that she had realized she could have been independent a long time ago, but never could be because of her husband. The author also stated that the character would rather be dead than to not be independent. I used this quote tho support my evidence, “She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.”
woah lol
Charlene: sounds like an A+ to me
Sandy: its good
Don: : :D do you like it Ms. Roberts ? (:
Arthur: no she doesn't
Sandy: hahaha she put you on hold
Don: yeah she does , DAM you guys are haters .  haha .
Charlene: haha :D
Arthur: hahahahaha
Sandy has left.
Don: bye .
Don has left.
Arthur has left.
Charlene has left.
Andee has left.

Of course this is just a beginning. They have a long way to come with their discussion skills, but the interaction is authentic, academic and supportive. It's been a good day. I would be interested in your thoughts.