Thursday, July 29, 2010

Older but still good

For a variety of reasons, I've been spending much of my 'summer vacation' home doing a variety of school related tasks. One of my aims was to read or re-read books that touch on middle school learning. and one I just finished was Rick Wormeli's Meet Me in the Middle.

Wormeli's enthusiasm for middle school students come across on every page. I especially appreciate his section in Chapter 3 on "Teaching Young Adolescents to Reason" and his chapter on "Games in the Classroom." This is one guy I would have loved to have as a teacher when I was in middle school, and I'd love to have him as a colleague, if only for the inspiration he gives to encourage those around him to do better.

[For those of you who have trouble getting into books, think of it as a long hard-copy blog that you can read during a power failure, such as we had in our county recently :-) I sometimes find it easier to read for 10 minutes a day...this gives me a chance to think about some of the information involved. ]

(Picture: "Reading table" by Bob Esty)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Flat Classroom Workshop virtually

I attended a great workshop in St. Louis on Tuesday and Wednesday without leaving Maryland. The workshop was the Flat Classroom Workshop given by Julie Lindsay. For us relative newbies to technology, it was an excellent introduction to the Flat Classroom universe and several commonly-used Web 2.0 tools, and it gave me a chance to work with other workshop participants, both virtual and real, in designing a Flat Classroom-style project to work with other classrooms across the web.

In the course of the workshop, I worked with two collaboration tools which I highly recommend. One was Dabbleboard, which was a whiteboard that many people could edit simultaneously, with a chat room box attached, and a similar program called Sync In. And I managed to create a spreadsheet in Google Docs and share it ...small potatoes for you skilled Web 2.0 folks, but a step forward for me.

Was being a virtual attendee the same as being there? No. it was a small workshop, and those who were there were able to interact much more easily and fully than I as a virtual participant. The audio at times was hard to follow, and the web cam struggled to resolve the display screen with any clarity. But, was being a virtual attendee worth it? Definitely yes! Julie and the other workshop organizers clearly put a lot of time and effort to make it possible to attend virtually, and I got a lot out of it. I think the point of virtual participation is to make it possible to take part, not to replace the experience of being there. And the choice for me was virtual participation, or no participation at all. I would definitely encourage others to attend conferences virtually when it is not possible to be there in person.

Taking was a big step forward for me, and, undoubtedly my personal development highlight of the summer! Thanks to all who organized the conference and allowed us to participate virtually!

Photo "virtual seat" by Bob Esty

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summing up the Year, Part 2

Last year, when I asked students to evaluate my class at the end of the year, I received a lot of good and some bad comments, but the one that stuck with me was "You talk too much." I found it interesting because, that year, I had made a real effort to talk less. However, it got me thinking, and I ran across an intriguing book called "Never Work Harder than Your Students" by Robyn Jackson. I also had started working with a class wiki.

So, I tried a system where I would give out questions, and the students would research the answers on their own for the factual portion of our history units. It worked out very well. Now, instead of bored faces listening when I lectured, my students did their own research, and posted the results on the class wiki. Each student answered a question, and added his or her own name and the page numbers in the relevant textbook. The wiki page became the study guide for the test. And I talked a lot less, and students got more practice in using the index and looking up information for themselves. That's probably the thing I'm most proud of this year.

And what about this year's evaluations? Largely positive, but the thing that stuck in my mind was "Can we act out more scenes from history." Now I have some ideas for next year....

Image: Pearson's Falls, near Tryon NC, Photo by Maureen Esty, my daughter