Archive for September, 2011

ClassConnect looks neat

I just came across ClassConnect through this list (in Wired Academic) of 10 startups that won seed money from Imagine K12. Wired Academic describes it as “DropBox for education, on steroids.”

Check out the video:

It looks like another exciting and utterly practical tool to me. Audrey Waters (Hack Education) did a great job articulating what’s especially exciting about it in the context of the other Learning Management Systems (LMS) out there. She points to the founder’s motivation – engagement – as the thing that might set this apart.

“The emphasis is instead on a course’s content, rather than on its administration.” Read her whole post here.

She pretty much covers it, and I won’t repeat what she said. But I do think that the feature allowing teacher and student to look at the “Live Lecture” together in real time is very exciting for anyone teaching in a 1:1 school.

For my part, I feel like I have to stick with Edmodo this year. Edmodo does let me upload documents to a library and share them with my class very easily, ClassConnect doesn’t feel like something I need on top of that. But it does get me excited for all the options that are making their way out there for teachers. As I’ve said before, when students see the same thing all the time, it just begins to look like school to them, and they lose that engagement. More importantly, different teachers have different needs…and different tastes. If I didn’t like the way Edmodo looked and felt I wouldn’t want to keep it updated. I’m sure some teachers will love the Dropbox-y feel of ClassConnect.


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Forgetting how good Google can be

I went through a phase – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – when I couldn’t help but try every new Ben & Jerry’s flavor as soon as I saw one. Graham cracker swirl and marshmallows? Gotta have that (so good). Peach cobbler? How could I not try it?

But those days are over. It was financial forces that killed that ongoing experiment, which could indeed be ongoing since they don’t seem to be slowing down with the new flavors (Schweddy Balls? Really?). The great thing about cutting those fancy pints out of my budget was that I was reintroduced to the  economical yet outstanding Breyer’s chocolate.

After tasting all those wacakdoo, cluster-filled flavors, regular chocolate ice cream still holds its own. It reminds me that I don’t really need anything else for dessert. Ever.

That’s what using plain ol’ Google was like for me today. I was reading Roald Dahl’s “Man From the South” to my 9th graders. I was guiding them through some note-taking on literary terms, so I had the projector hooked up to a Word document where I was modeling the notes. But that allowed for the quick researching of unknown words and references that may have given my students some invaluable, visual context.

Examples: The creepy old man who shows up at the hotel pool is “immaculately dressed in a white suit” and a “large creamy Panama hat.” Not one student knew what that looked like. So in 5 seconds, we were all able to see.

Since we were working on analyzing indirect characterization, this was incredibly helpful beyond the surface level of visualizing the character. When I prompted them for inferences we might make based on the description, one student offered that he seemed “suspicious’ because the wide brim of the had could be hiding his eyes.

We later learn that he is wearing “white buckskin shoes.” What are those? Here they are.

And his crocodile cigar case? That might have looked something like this:

And I think knowing what that looks like helps you realize just how utterly creepy of a character Dahl created here.

Pretty simple, but pretty powerful. Of course, I still feel like I have  to try that flavor with the fudge covered potato chip clusters, just like there are all kinds of things I’d love to do with iPads that I don’t have. But I’m about to serve myself a bowl of chocolate ice cream, and I have a feeling it’ll be pretty powerful, too.

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Staplers and pen knives

I saw these slides in this presentation (which looks like it came from an Australian Dept. of Ed.), which I found via this post on the Kinect in Education blog (which I found through a Johnny Kissco tweet).

It all kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Just the other day I was wondering if I’m doing a disservice to my students by not preparing them to take notes in a traditional outline format, but maybe that’s as absurd as lamenting their inability to make their own ink.

I ran into a similar dilemma the other day, on the fly. I’ll be collecting personal narrative essays from my seniors on Tuesday, and I was explaining to them how I’d like them to to turn in their final drafts. I said I’d prefer if they used Edmodo, but that they can bring a paper copy to class if they like. I was showing them the submission screen on the projector and had to decide if I wanted them to attach a Word document or simply paste the essay into the “reply” box.

In my first few years of teaching, I made a huge deal about formatting. I’m sure other teachers know why: essays typed in Comic Sans, printed in purple ink…things I never would have thought I’d have to say not to do when turning in a paper.

I still think it’s important to know how to present a physical, paper essay in way that looks professional. But it might not be for long. This particular essay is a personal narrative/college essay. It’s meant to force my students to get started on something they could use for their personal statement in the event they need to write one for their college applications. But all those college applications are done online, and I think they can just paste their essay into a text box on the screen, not so unlike that box on Edmodo. So when I thought about that, I couldn’t think of a good reason to require that they attach a Word document.

(Sidenote: I’m still a young person, but I used a typewriter to complete my college applications. That is just weird.)

A friend from college once told me, as he was stapling one of his essays to turn in, that he always remembers how adamant one of his high school teachers was about staples being vertical, in the very top right corner, not diagonal or (gasp) horizontal.

So I told them I’d make a big deal about formatting with a later essay. Because they still need to know how to turn in a paper essay, right? Wouldn’t it be a travesty if they had no idea how to use a stapler? Or how to print a document with proper margins? Or how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil?

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“It’s Around the World Day. So What?”

Note: This post has nothing to do with technology.

The Student Council at my school ran a video a few weeks ago announcing what the dress up days would be during Homecoming Week. When I saw that Wednesday would be “Around the World Day” (which was also to be the theme of the dance), I said (aloud to my Newspaper class), “Oh no. This is going to be bad.”

I’ve seen enough of what high schoolers do on days like this to expect the worst. I’ve seen/heard of kids dressing up as the most outrageous stereotypes of different “peoples of the world.” I’ve seen “Mexicans” wearing sombrero’s and drawn-on mustaches. I heard of one student who even carried around a janitorial bucket and squeegee as part of his Mexican costume. I’ve seen kids with towels on their heads pretending to be Arabs. And I’ve seen tons of kids with feathers in their hair.

I was speaking to my seniors the day before “Around the World Day.” We had just read a  a short story called “Attention Shoppers” by Michelle Serros, in which a young Latina woman (Martina) tries to get her friend to see the discrimination inherent in the packaging and marketing of frozen vegetables in the supermarket.

“And look, look at this, the Latino Style Vegetables are all spilling out of this wicker basket, all overflowing, messy like. Insinuating that we are overflowing, overcrowding what they think is their land. And what’s with this wicker basket? You know, we don’t use baskets to cart our food around. The Malibu Style Vegetables are all neat and in order, properly arranged in a nice WHITE porcelain crock. No problem-causing vegetables here. They’re orderly, dignified.”

Her friend, the speaker, is embarrassed and contends that Martina is “seeing something that just isn’t there.” In the end Martina incites a mini-riot in the aisle and inspires others to recognize the discrimination in the other bags of vegetables, from Asian style to Country style.

At first, the overwhelming response from seniors is that Martina is indeed seeing something that isn’t there, and that this is just a funny example of people being sensitive. When I pushed them to consider the other side, a few students admitted they could see her point, but that she exaggerates the problem. The more I pushed, the more a small group of students – almost exclusively students of color – began to argue Martina’s point. They were able to realize that “it’s not about vegetables,” and that when you see other people pretending to know what your culture is all about, and getting it wrong, it’s upsetting.

It got interesting after that. Several white students began to get upset as they complained about reverse racism, about hearing groups of black students mutter things about “that little white boy” when they would walk by, for example, and how it would not be okay for a group of white people to say the same thing about a black person. They complained about hearing black people call white people “crackers” while the n-word remains off limits to them.

At this point I tried to explain the difference. I tried to explain what it meant to have a culture of power in this country and what it mean to be part of a culture that historically has not had power. I tried to explain why the rules are different for the group that has historically had the power over other groups, even though we may not personally have owned slaves.

Then I found myself warning them about Wednesday. “I’m going to be really upset when I see some of your costumes, I’ll tell you right now.” The entire class was listening. They could tell this was real and they had no idea what I was talking about. It’s just a fun dress up day. I told them the specific costumes I was expecting and dreading: Indians, Arabs, Mexicans. Groups that some people feel they can pigeonhole and whose mockery is for some reason acceptable.

Some students were responding to me as if I were Martina in the story, seeing things that weren’t there. But I could see others, students of color again, silently nodding from their seats as I explained what is so wrong about dressing up as your idea of someone else’s identity, especially when you come from a culture of power and you are pretending to be from a group with much less. The blackface example gets through to a lot of them. I ask them if they think it would be okay if I put blackface on and acted in a way that I though was typically black. Of course not. We talked about why white Americans have realized that this is wrong and why other minorities, ones with less power, have yet to persuade white Americans that we shouldn’t dress up like them either.

I found it interesting that when I talked about power in the context of the school, they understood. Black students are the largest minority here, so they saw how doing something to upset that community would cause black students to vocalize their anger. But when I asked if they though Asian or Native American students would necessarily speak up if they saw a costume they didn’t like, they said they didn’t think so. One Asian student even shared a story: that day someone had told her she was planning to dress up as an Asian on Wednesday. She was planning on wearing heavy eye-makeup to make her eyes look slanted. My student said she thought this was inappropriate, but she didn’t say anything to her friend.

Wednesday was two days later, and when this class – the one that got into the really good discussion – came into my class, it was the first thing they asked about. “Did you see any really bad costumes today, Mr. Fine?” It was the first time all year they had come in wanting to talk about something we had talked about previously (I suppose that makes sense. It would be strange if they came in asking if I had read any good show-not-tell details lately).

They told me about the costumes they saw that they considered (or that they thought I would consider) offensive. One girl raised her hand and said this, more or less:

“Ok Mr. Fine, tell me what you think about this. I saw this guy dressed like an Indian, like with feathers in his hair, and he was running around the hallway like an idiot and saying really terrible things about Indians with his friends. I heard it and went over and said, ‘What the hell?’ A teacher heard me and came out in the hall and told me to stop. I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘No cussing at school.’ I said, ‘But this kis is acting like an idiot and he’s dressed like an Indian.’ She goes, ‘It’s Around the World Day, so what?'”

This girl, who is black, then wondered aloud what would have happened if she had gotten angrier and gotten sent to the dean’s office, if that would be fair. I found myself in a funny position. I was so proud of her! She actually gave voice to a pretty voiceless population (at my school) in an effort to educate her peers (albeit by merely saying “What the hell.” but still, that’s a great start, and I’m not sure I would be able to say something much more eloquent in the moment). But I had to tell her that I thought she was right and that the teacher was wrong, and that it’s sad that so many adults don’t think about this. I told them I’m not trying to say that I’m the only smart person in the school, but I also may have implied, with tongue-in-cheek, that I might be. And we wondered aloud, as a class, why it seems so acceptable to co-opt and demean Native Americans in this country. I pointed their attention to the fact that the NFL team from our nation’s capital is called the Redskins. This blew their minds.

It was one of those moments, one of those connecting-the dots to see that they hadn’t seen the whole picture moments. And it didn’t really have anything to do with English (and it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with technology), but it sure does have a lot to do with teaching. I don’t think I handled it perfectly. I think I made several white students angry and I couldn’t get off of my soapbox for a while. But it felt like a good day of teaching.

I think it’s interesting how much more receptive my students were to my point about the problem with co-opting other cultures when it happened before they were dressed up. I’ve tried to have this same conversation with students while they were dressed up, but in those situations those students become too defensive to hear anything. I understand that; these are students with whom I had close relationships, and they were embarrassed that they had done something I perceived as insensitive. They had just never thought about it and did not seem willing to consider it. But this recent experience tells me I was wrong. They might be very willing to consider that argument, just not once they have already put the feathers in their hair.

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Notes with top hats and tails are still notes

With about eight minutes left in class today, I asked my 9th graders to reopen their literary terms notes.

Student A: [Groan] “I hate notes.” 

Student B: [Sits there without moving while neighbors open binders and take out notebooks.]

Those are typical responses, and I don’t take them personally, but part of me revolts. It’s really not that big of a deal, part of me thinks. “Come on, we’re going to take notes for like 6 minutes, we can handle that,” part of me says out loud.

And the thing is I am trying so hard to make those six minutes of notes visually engaging and fresh. I’m not having them copy notes off of the board or off of a Word document. I’m not opening up a tired PowerPoint slide, terribly overstuffed with too many bullet points. I’m reopening a Prezi I made last week on plot, where I lovingly recreated this old, boring plot diagram

and placed it inside this giant “o” in plot for them.

Prezi zooms attractively into that “o” to reveal that diagram. In my prep period before today’s class, I added some notes on characterization to this same prezi.

I even took the time to use Prezi’s drawing tools to visually represent the terms I was introducing.


And all of this was after an activity in which I used Popplet to show the class the best examples from the previous night’s homework, as nominated by the students themselves and then immediately revised and refined by their teacher for their benefit.

And still, after all that helpful and fresh visualization, they’re going to whine and tell me they hate notes?

Of course they are. It’s still notes, at the end of the day. I can dress it up all I want and I’m still asking students to copy information down from the board, just as if I were lecturing with my back to them as I scribbled on a blackboard or on an overhead projector, as I might have done were I teaching ten years ago.

And here I am, pretending that I never lecture and using that as an argument against the Khan Academy model. My classroom isn’t flipped at all. I’m using these web 2.0 tools to disguise my lectures as something interactive, and I’m keeping them short to account for what I perceive to be the less-than-ten-minute-long attention span that all my students share.

So I lament my students’ lack of enthusiasm for these tasks after I work to make them more palatable, but I can’t really blame them. Or can I? Do these tools spoil them? Or is there any good reason they should be able to take notes in a more traditional format? Or is this all moot because kids will complain about whatever I ask them to do no matter what? That may be it. If, tomorrow, I ask them to hold out their hands for another delivery of freshly baked cookies to each and every one of them, will I hear:

Student A: [Groan] I hate cookies.

While that may be true, it’s not the point. Teachers rely on the “kids are so lazy these days” line a lot, and I’m certainly guilty of it, though I try to catch myself. And I do think that dressing up notes and lectures with snazzy visual tools is helpful, but if that’s all I ever do, I can’t blame my students for whining. And not having to hear teenagers whine is  pretty great motivation to craft good lesson plans.

On the other hand, I may just be catering to their wishes too much if I never present notes in any “traditional” format. Then they’ll tire of Prezi and Popplet and we teachers will be scrambling to find the next snazzy web tool. While that’s daunting, and while I suppose I am complaining about that, that also gives me an ongoing job that I like. I’m glad that (at this moment in time, anyway) there seems to be no shortage of startups developing interesting web tools for just this purpose.

Then again, I may have lost sight here of a pretty important goal for any high school teacher: to prepare kids for college. Maybe I should focus my energies on getting them used to what they’ll have to do there without whining so much so as to drive all good professors into early retirement.


How salt is like web 2.0 tools


Laura (my wife) and I like to have really good salt around. We have some fleur de sel and some great pink Himalayan sea salt (given as a gift) that we have been using with more and more frequency on more and more foods. We can’t have chocolate ice cream anymore without sprinkling some of that Himalayan salt on every bite.

We had tasted good salt at fancy restaurants before, but the realization that we could keep it in our home and use it all the time on whatever we wanted was one of those deceptively obvious epiphanies. Why are we still wasting our time with that Morton’s stuff? This other salt has been here all this time?

That’s how I feel when I come across a web 2.0 tool that I suddenly realize I could be using. I’ve seen these things before, but only at a glance, or in a different context (a fancy restaurant), and it takes seeing them again, sometimes, to realize that I can use them myself.

Nik Peachy has a great post on his Learning Technology blog in which he describes 10 tools he uses in teacher training courses. Some of these tools I’ve seen before, some are new to me. But I got that feeling I tried to describe above over and over again as I read through his list and watched his video demos (made using Jing).

For example:

Why would I ever use PowerPoint when I can use 280 Slides? It’s all in the cloud, so I could just put the link to the presentation on my class’s web page and not have to worry about kids having PowerPoint at home or anything like that. And I can work on it from anywhere without transferring files. I have tried the Presentation tool in GoogleDocs for that reason, but found it slightly too ugly.

Also, why would I continue to assign vocabulary exercises and practice on paper when there is a veritable trove of sites devoted to vocabulary-building games. Nik Peachy arranged several in this SimplyBox, a tool I hadn’t heard of. I got stuck playing Gwap’s Verbosity game for a while last night, where you partner up with a random user and take turns writing clues for words, a la “$100,000 Pyramid.” And Knowords entranced me for a bit, too.

If I see a faded handout with a matching activity on it tomorrow, it’s going to feel like using those tiny salt packets that used to come with airline food. We have moved on since those dark days, but we still pretend we cannot keep the good stuff in our own pantries. And unlike the pink Himalayan sea salt, these tools are free.


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A comment on comments

I love giving my students feedback on their writing through Edmodo.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or surprising here, but the factors that make it seem more effective, while obvious, are still significant, I think.


1. My handwriting is very messy, so kids give up trying to read it.

2. I type much faster than I write, so I end up typing more feedback.

3. The comments on Edmodo look like replies on Facebook, so kids don’t seem to mind reading them.

I saw this today in the computer lab. I had written comments on each student’s draft (this didn’t take me too long since a small percentage actually submitted drafts through Edmodo by the deadline). I told them to check the comments as soon as they got on their computer. I watched them do it – they really did! They logged on to Edmodo, clicked on the notification they had for new assignment comments, read them, then opened up their drafts and began revising.

Like I said, nothing groundbreaking, but it was still exciting for me to see. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much of the past six years laboring over written feedback to students that I’ve never seen them read. Really, almost never. It’s one of those insidious truths about being an English teacher that makes it feel like the most futile exercise in the world. Like how Lucy (Drew Barrymore) in 50 First Dates repaints her dad’s garage every day only to have him whitewash it each night.

I had a professor at Mills College who attached a half page of typed, single-spaced comments to written assignments when returning them, and I loved reading those. It felt like so much. It felt like a treat, almost. But that was in a graduate education program, where the students were pretty into school and academic things, to say the least. Average high school students are pretty into Facebook, so I wonder if getting comments on their writing in a Facebookish way feels anything like a “treat” to them. It seems so simple, but also meaningful.

And as a general update on yesterday’s post, in which I wondered whether my plan to use the computer lab would be fruitful today, I’d say it was great for my 1st period class and less successful at the end of the day. Again, no surprises. In the morning, the kids were shockingly focused, though. The typing was furious. I was bouncing from student to student, helping them develop their narratives and giving my advice on really specific questions about how to begin or what direction to go. I didn’t get to sit with all 30, of course, but I had good interactions with maybe 10.

In the afternoon, it took them a little longer to get going, and some students never found their focus. I was still able to give serious help to about 10 students.

If no other teachers ever used the computer lab, I could see myself bringing my students down there every other day for half an hour or so. Their work down there strikes me as so much more focused than it was with my students who each had laptops in the 1:1 environment at my previous school.

So, my solution to all education problems is becoming clear: schools should build an entire floor of computer labs underneath each floor of classrooms. There will be one desktop computer for each student. It’s a perfect plan. Wouldn’t it be nice?

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Rationalizing (a lot of) computer lab time

Audrey Waters wrote what she calls “an explainer” piece this summer on her Hack Education blog in which she pulls together some of the arguments against Khan Academy brewing in the education world. It’s very interesting, and right here.

Aside from the distrust of Bill Gates’s corporate involvement, the pedagogical argument identifies Khan’s videos as merely a different form of an old-fashioned lecture. And that’s not so innovative or interesting. That makes sense.

But the backlash against the entire idea of “flipping the classroom” seems like it might be creating a false dichotomy between Khan and Dianne Ravitch-esque progressive educators. I think we all agree that teachers shouldn’t be lecturing at the front of the classroom for an entire period. We decided on that a long time ago, didn’t we?

Here’s why I’m thinking about this tonight (besides the fact that I just read that post on Hack Education). After school today I checked my agenda for tomorrow’s senior classes and noticed that my plans were a little thin. I realized I only had about half a class period’s worth of activities (that’s 49.5 minutes at my school, by the way).

My seniors are working on a personal narrative essay, so I checked the computer lab calendar, noticed it was miraculously free during both 1st and 4th period, and signed up to take my kids down for the second half of each class.

On my drive home (stuck in traffic on the interstate that passes a noxious dog food factory) I thought, “Well that is some lazy lesson planning, Mr. Fine. You didn’t have enough instruction planned so you’re just going to plop them in front of computers?”

Now I do have somewhat of a point there, but I (the other me) may also be standing on some sound pedagogical footing. Math and science teachers, in Khan’s model – and, not so differently, in a Constructivist model – should be guiding students as they discover the content knowledge. In an English or writing class, that discovery happens through…writing, of course. So I need to let them write. And since I’m sick of seeing kids scribble on a sheet of binder paper and then shove it to the bottom of their backpacks never to be seen again, they should be typing.

My summer experience corroborates this.

I taught summer school this year, and I was blessed with a class of only seven wonderful kids. And there weren’t even any non-wonderful kids – there were only seven kids in the class.

This is obviously a complete Utopia for me, and it shouldn’t be surprising to any teacher (or former student) that we were able to get a lot of learning done and that we actually enjoyed each other’s company in the process (as much as possible, I would think, given that it was summer school).

In short, it ended up exactly like this:

I’m sorry. No, it didn’t. But what was interesting for me as an English teacher was how valuable my students found having large chunks of time in the computer lab to write their essays.

Again, maybe it’s not that surprising. Most of these students were quite bright but chose not to do homework (or not to go to class – more on that some other time…it was fascinating). So if I had sent them home to write an essay, as most English teachers are wont to do, they just wouldn’t do it. Ever.

The computer lab at the summer school site was not heavily used, so, on consecutive days, I was able to give my students 2-3 hour chunks of time to write. Since there were only seven of them (I’m sorry, I know), I was able to sit down with each of them for 15-20 mintes at a time and go over what they had written so far to steer them back on track when necessary. To me, it felt like the most effective writing instruction I’ve ever done as a teacher.

My students responded to it, too. There were days when I had reserved the lab for the morning (8-10 a.m.) so they could write, and they all practically begged to be allowed to come back for the second “period” (10:20-12:20) and continue writing. And they were working the whole time (trust me, I was there). They said things like, “I’ve never worked this hard on an essay before” and “This is the best essay I’ve ever written by far.” And it was on Oedipus Rex!

So was this the English class’s version of Sal Khan’s flipped classroom? Not exactly, since I was not assigning any homework in this case. But the huge blocks of class time allowed for some whole-class instruction followed by hours of valuable “guide on the side” time.

And, most importantly, this all makes me feel better about my brilliant lesson plan for tomorrow – which had absolutely nothing to do with my being underprepared.

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Brains, homework, more tests and marbles

Did you know there was an International Mind Brain and Education Society? And that its nifty acronym is IMBES? And that they have this nifty logo?

It’s a whole new discipline founded on cross-collaboration between biology, education and cognitive/developmental science. It looks like it takes a scientific, research-driven approach to finding out how kids learn. I first heard about in this piece in the New York Times Sunday Review by Annie Murphy Paul.

There’s a journal and a conference and Harvard even has a master’s program.

The easily-inspired and optimistic part of me looks at developments like this and sees a possible solutions to all problems in education. So much of neuroscience is so new, relatively, that it seems sensible and feasible to expect that we will be able to teach better as we learn more about how kids learn.

Don’t worry, I’ll get cynical in a bit. First, some highlights from the article.

Murphy Paul’s Times piece focuses on the application of MBE findings to homework, which is what I’ve been thinking about lately as I wrestle with my students over getting them to actually do any homework. That so few of them complete it has been leading me to think that I may not be assigning the right work (it’s easier to say they’re lazy, yes, and they are, but still).

There’s the idea of “spaced repetition,”which would have students “encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time.” We know that exposing ourselves to new information over and over again will cement it in our brains. But I often give homework based on that day’s lesson, then move on. If they learned anything at all, it’ll be gone by the next week. But I think my teacher-gut steers me away from giving students the same task over and over again. I may need to check that.

Then she talks about “retrieval practice,” and this one is really interesting. It calls for using tests as a way to reinforce learning, not  to assess it. So more tests? That throws me for a bit of a loop, given my general attitude toward tests (which is strongly influenced by the nature of our state tests and the weight they carry), but it makes sense. Murphy Paul: “Every time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting, so that testing doesn’t just measure, it changes learning.”

That also gets me excited about the explosion of online test and quiz generators. Sites like Veri (still in beta), Quizlet, QuizBreak, and all these sites that Larry Ferlazzo put together could help us cash in on the value of retrieval practice.

And then there’s the finding that when we work harder to understand information we can recall it better. Apparently, psychologists have even found that the following techniques help learning: “sprinkling a passage with punctuation mistakes, deliberately leaving out letters, shrinking font size until it’s tiny or wiggling a document while it’s being copied so that words come out blurry.”

That makes me feel really good about my budget-saving practice of reducing the size of my handouts to fit four pages of text on one sheet of paper.

I know I promised to get cynical, but now I don’t feel like it. I’m excited about this strategy of making myself harder to understand to my students. I might put marbles in my mouth tomorrow before a lecture. Is that cynical?

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“Go ahead and tear up, tear up the paper”

Even if you have a Xbox 360, it’s still fun to dust the cobwebs off the NES once in a while, right?

I did an old school task today with frosh, using good ol’ slips of paper. They had done homework on Edmodo, writing out the subject, main idea, author’s purpose and theme for an xkcd comic strip (sorry, I can’t find the actual strip I used). And when I say they “had done” the homework, I mean maybe a third of them did.

Anyway, since their sentences were on Edmodo I could easily cut and paste them into a Word doc, and I compiled examples of good, average, and needs-work work. I then ran off copies, making each element (subject, main idea, etc) a different color. I stupidly marked each sentence with an A, B or C, thinking that would make it easier to poll the groups to find out which ones they thought were best. That might not have been stupid if I hadn’t put them on the Word doc in order of best to worst.

So I had to spend some stupid time tearing off the sides of the little slips of paper that had the letters on them before starting the activity. It was at this point that I thought, “Have I forgotten how to use paper?” I think many teachers feel inadequate and overwhelmed when asked to incorporate technology into the curriculum. I was feeling the same way trying to incorporate paper. Paper. 

I hope all those hands-on, kinesthetic kids got something out of arranging the slips of paper. And it definitely seemed like good learning was happening when they were trying to convince each other – and then trying to convince me and the class – why one sentence was better than the other. And I’m not sure how something like this could be replicated digitally (unless I get that class set of iPads that I’m not working on getting).



And all this crazy paper talk puts this song in my head:

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