Posts Tagged projector

3 *really* simple things I do with Word

That first few days back in the classroom  after a two-week break sure are a rust-fest. I feel like a rusty teacher, trying to work with rusty lesson plans. The students are completely encrusted with the rust of two weeks, which for teenagers translates to about three months, more or less.

Blogging feels rusty, too, so I’ll just write about something I do all the time in my classroom. It’s probably the last thing that comes to mind when we think of innovative ed-tech, but it’s everywhere. Word.

No, that’s what I’m writing about: Microsoft Word.

I gave my 9th graders a practice exam and then projected the document to go over the answers. In going over the answers, I manipulated the text of the study guide to show correct answers and added notes.

This really is so much of what I do every day in the classroom. And while it’s not particularly techy, I think it’s the kind of technology usage that really helps me teach. I basically use Word instead of writing on the board. Even if my handwriting didn’t happen to be indecipherable, I’d still think this was a good idea. I can post my notes for the day on Edmodo, and, while it does entail more sitting at my desk than I would like, it keeps me from having to turn my back on the students to write on the board. I think all teachers hate that.

Here are three simple things I do when projecting Word documents that I find easy for me and useful for students.

1. Increase text size:   command+shift+> (mac)  ctrl+shift+> (pc)    

and decrease…              command+shift+<                ctrl+shift+< 

I do this so much I forget that it’s anything until I see someone highlight text maneuver the cursor all the way up the toolbar to change the size of the text. It might seem silly to think these precious seconds being wasted are really so precious, but here’s why I think they are (aside from the obvious reason that every second we have with out students is precious).

When we’re doing something as potentially boring as taking notes, we need to keep our students engaged. And while watching some highlighted text quickly increase in size may not be the most riveting theater, it’s better than watching a teacher try to locate the size menu at the top of the screen and click on a different point sizes until it looks right. I got bored just writing that sentence.

It’s also a really easy way to add emphasis, of course, so it can help students realize what’s most important. If I’m writing a lot on the board, I might end up having to cram something important into a small space.

2. Highlight

(I always show my formatting toolbar.)

It’s a pretty obvious ways to add emphasis, but I think it can be really effective if you can do it quickly. Again, it can keep kids engaged and it can make the notes clearer.

I also like how dramatic highlighting the correct answer can be. I’ll ask the question, hear various answers and rationales for each answer from around the room, wait until more students are actually curious to find out if they are right, and then show them. It’s like a magician’s great reveal, just slightly less exciting.

3. Change text color

These antecedent questions require some complicated (and boring) explanations. But I think the concept clicked (or re-clicked) for a lot of kids when I did this, judging simply from their reactions and the questions they were asking (quantitative data to come). I used the formatting tools to illustrate my thinking process when reading a question like this. First I find the pronouns – and make them red – then I determine which one is the singular pronoun (and strikethrough it). Then I read the sentence again to find what word that pronoun is taking the place of.

I conducted an informal interview with my students on how this went. I asked how other teachers go over handouts. Apparently some teachers never do that.

There are also plenty who project the Word document directly onto the whiteboard and have students come up to the board with a marker to show the class the right answer. I like doing that, too, but with so many examples to go over on this review, I didn’t want to engage in the constant erasing and repositioning that method necessitates. When I asked for feedback on this overall process, though, several students spoke up about preferring to go over handouts that way. It’s not hard to see why – they get to stand up.

Many students spoke about being “visual” people, and needing to see the answers like this to get them. They complained about teachers who simply read the right answers aloud. They said they can’t absorb those, or even really listen.

To be sure, there are much more engaging and flashy ways to do these kinds of things, whether by using interactive whiteboards or some flashier gadget or application. But we don’t all have access to those things in our classrooms. And I assume we’re all pretty comfortable with Word already, which is no small thing.

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CTRL+F & “The Lottery”

This is a pretty simple point, but sometimes I’m surprised by how helpful CTRL+F (or Command+F on a Mac) can be when you’ve just got one computer and one projector in a classroom. My friend Joelle showed me this article, via EdTechSandyK, that says 90% of people don’t know about it.

I find it especially useful when discussing a short story, or any text that’s available online (like Shakespeare). When leading an activity that requires students to find textual support, it’s great to be able to instantly project that line on the screen so all the students can see it and copy it into their notes. I also enjoy showing off my mastery of a text when, within seconds, I can find the exact line a student is trying to paraphrase.

(Yes, I realize I just admitted feeling proud about something that most people would consider freakishly nerdy, but that’s okay.)

I was doing this the other day with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I love how many short stories are available online, by the way. And while I’m mentioning the lottery, I’d like to recommend the following (no tech) activity for anyone who might teach it.

[Don’t read this if you haven’t read the short story yet. And go read it! It’s so good.]

It happened spontaneously last year when a student asked, “Can we act out our own lottery?” They were joking, of course, but I thought about a “safe” version, using crumpled up paper as stones, and we went ahead and did it. This year, I was prepared for it, with tiny slips of paper all counted out and ready to go. I sat at a table at the front of the class, calling students up by their last names, just like in the story. They become wonderfully anxious during this, making nervous jokes, again, just as in the story. At the end, we all unfold our papers to see whose has the little black dot. That person stands in the center of the room and withstands a barrage of paper “stones.” Then I guide the students through a written reflection on the experience and how it may have generated a new understanding of Jackson’s purpose.

Here are some highlights from the reflections of one of my classes, which I typed into a 280Slides presentation to share with them tomorrow.

Funny postscript: I was observed by an administrator during this lesson, and I asked him if he wanted to participate when counting the slips of paper for the mock lottery. He agreed. Guess who pulled the “winning” ticket?

(It was the administrator.)

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When the chalkboard disintegrates

But the chalkboard never did disintegrate, did it?

Today my projector wouldn’t turn on. It was actually the projector in a colleague’s room where I teach one class. I’d known this projector to be temperamental (which, I must admit, I was not able to spell without help). My colleague suggested using the gnome instead of the remote to turn it on. She keeps a ceramic gnome on a desk under the projector and uses its long pointed cap to hit the button that is about a foot above the highest point I can reach.

My students watched patiently as I reached toward the projector with the gnome’s cap, pressing the button that is supposed to simply go from orange to green, but either emitted a wailing beep instead, remained orange, turned green for a moment before resorting back to orange, or, finally, turned an angry red I had not seen before. This was when I finally realized it was time to proceed with a backup plan.

I was merely planning to share a document with my newspaper staff – a critique from the state high school press association that I had just received in my email without enough time to make copies. And then I was going to show them a powerpoint and collectively work on turning interview notes into a story. But I needed the projector for all of this.

When I worked in a school with a 1:1 program, I quickly became aware of the need for backup plans to account for a particularly slow server during that class period. So this idea of contingency when using technology is nothing new. But I have become so reliant on the projector that I was truly thrown for  a loop without it.

And that’s why I started thinking about a malfunctioning chalkboard. I guess teachers used to run out of chalk? I remember scrambling to find some in my first year of teaching. That’s easier, though, since, if we are able to get our hands on some chalk, we know how to solve that problem. A faulty projector? We’re done. No teacher knows how fix that aside from calling your IT department and getting a loaner. Which, I suppose, is the same as borrowing some chalk from a neighbor, though much more bulky.

So I was simply reminded again of the value of having another plan in my pocket. I suppose it’s the same for any lesson – we could realize it’s going poorly and change course. But today I was not so nimble. I stood there, poking that button with the tip of that gnome’s cap for maybe ten minutes, waiting for the machine to warm up, then trying not to cuss as it faltered. It was one of the moments when, as a teacher, I realized how much I was wasting everyone’s time.

Not a proud teaching moment, but a real moment nonetheless. My student journalists saw me struggle, get frustrated, and make light of the situation. Then I told them to get to work on their own stories, and off they went, without my direct instruction for that day.

Who needs a projector anyway? Who needs a teacher? Who needs a gnome?

Maybe no one did today, but by next class I’m going to need at least one of those three things to work better.

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Shifting Paradigms

A friend just showed me this video, an RSA Animation take on highlights from one of Sir Ken Robinson‘s talks (upon accepting the Royal Society of Art’s Benjamin Franklin Medal in London in 2009). Some of his main points, if you don’t have 12 minutes, seem to be:

  • our model of schools is supremely outdated, as it is emerged from Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution ideals
  • ADHD may not be so real, or at least it is causing too many kids to be over-medicated and “anesthetized” to school
  • we need to work on developing divergent thinking
  • we need to change the way we think of “academic” vs. “non-academic”
  • we need to change schools to make them more of a natural learning environment

I don’t know about his claim that ADHD may or not be a real thing – I thought it was – but I agree that the medications that work for some kids are tragic for so many others, and that they are prescribed to way too many.

The divergent thinking study is too depressing. Basically, kids start out as geniuses, and school makes them dumber, or forces them to forget how to think in that creative way.

He says, “We should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves” instead of putting them to sleep.” He says, “Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” I like both of these.

I watched this directly before my 9th graders came into my classroom. And things like this, while inspiring on one level, also often have the converse effect on me. How am I, one teacher in one classroom, supposed to successfully teach my students if the whole paradigm of our school system is dysfunctional? I can’t change the whole system. I can’t ignore the standardized tests (whose rise in popularity, he notes in the talk, has coincided with the explosion of ADHD diagnoses). I can’t reorganize all the students in the school so they are grouped by ability instead of by age (which, according to Robinson, is proof of the school system being “modeled on the interests of industralism, and on the image of it….It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture”). I can’t ignore the bells and the school’s tardy consequences (which he points to as another example of schools being “organized along factory lines”).

But still, with his argument fresh in my mind, as I embarked on some dreadfully boring but collaboratively-agreed-upon grammar exercises, I felt like I did have some significant power to change things up within my own classroom. I saw them sitting their in their ridiculous little desks, and it seemed all wrong. It seemed like one of the things that Robinson says “isn’t because teachers want it this way; it’s just because it happens that way. It’s because it’s in the gene pool of education.”

So it’s not like what I did was so brilliant, but it worked. To review the grammar exercise (identifying subjects and verbs…yay!), I projected the document on the white board and told the whole class to stand up (this was with my small class. For my large class I did this in groups of 10). Each student took a turn identifying the subject or verb with a dry-erase marker while the rest of the group, huddled around them at the front of the room, gave encouragement or advice like they were on “The Price is Right.” It was kinda fun. One student even said, “We should do every grammar exercise like that,” and several others agreed.

And my first instinct was, “No, we can’t do that every time, only once in a while.” And then I thought, why am I saying that? Is that the gene pool of education speaking? Is that a vestige of Industrial Revolution-era, assembly line values?

Here’s one of his TED talks from 2006. And here’s the follow-up.

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