Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Google Docs Enhance Web-based Projects

Google Docs make mundane tasks easy, and even exciting.

In the past, recording student URLs for web-based projects was a hassle. Passing around a piece of paper and having them write down the link to their Prezi, for example, was bound to be a messy and error-laden process.

Now when we have lab days and do web-based projects, my students just click from our class website over to the Google Doc ... and paste in their link.

We are currently doing a class project where students are designing the perfect school. We are using Prezi, and in addition to using a Google Doc to house links, we're also using it as a brainstorming platform - and a place to showcase best ideas.

Students can collaborate, see peer work, get ideas, show off a bit, and offer constructive criticism - adding a very cool, impactful dimension to our projects.

I'll be honest. I'm not completely sure impactful is a word, but it really describes what Google brings to our web-based class projects.

Update: We had great success the first time our class did a Prezi / Google Docs for sharing combo - so we hit the lab again for a lesson tracing the origins of freedom and democracy. We used this document here ... and the entire lesson went more smoothly given the students were used to the basic ideas here (do a Prezi, share your link).

This lesson was almost entirely learner-centered: I give instructions and a few guidelines in the opening part of the assignment. Students had room to maneuver in terms of what areas they wanted to focus on: Some got philosophical and talked about freedom coming from God. Some did a great job tracing freedom's development through major time periods. And a few just copied some Wiki entries with no real understanding of what they were doing.

Offering the guidelines like I did ensured a tight relation to core content - a lesson I learned before, when students were having great fun using GoAnimate, but designing nonsensical cartoons.

I don't think tech was at all forced here - Google Docs is a secondary player - but an important one. Struggling students were all steered to see what "first period" did - the honors class that went first and put up some good examples.

I also think this lesson is a big boost to student achievement: We are doing papers on the exact same topic, and I planned for this to serve as a rough draft ... organizing their thoughts.

Reflecting on this assignment, my biggest victory was the collaboration / sharing aspect. Dozens of kids watched each others' work, to get inspired and grab at ideas before starting.

My biggest challenge remains, "What do we do?" Students stare at the screen and see words, but they do not absorb them. A few bright students realize they have all they need and then some, in terms of materials and instructions to get started.

But overall I see a huge, unfortunate pattern with our kids, where they cannot realize words have meaning ... and if they simply read what's in front of them, they will have their guideposts.

They want it spoon-fed, and even minimal lifting on their part is met with resistance. This is the question I am bringing to the group for help with!

Not to sound too provocative, but Review Me!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Punishing Experience

When I was in PR, one of the biggest complaints from clients was getting the swap: They'd get a pitch by a firm VP / senior counselor - and then have their account passed down to a fresh college grad for the actual campaign work. This was upsetting because, generally, experience is a good thing.

Only in the bizarro world of education, where so many things are so often backwards, is experience viewed as a bad thing.

No, that's not quite correct: Educators recognize the obvious advantages to experience; it's the arm chair experts and paid pundits who always seem to know better.
From an article I read today:

"It (the North Carolina system) rewards longevity and credentialing. While we like to think an experienced teacher is a better teacher, it is not necessarily so. There is no research that cites longevity as a component of effective teaching or student achievement."

I'm not aware of studies proving senior PR counselors are better than junior ones, either.

I tore my chest muscle from the bone two years ago, while working out. My first question for the surgeon was, "How many of these repairs have you done?"

He replied several, at which point I sat back and thought, "Wow - I don't trust him. Is there an intern or fresh college grad who can give this surgery a shot?"

There's a healthy dose of sarcasm in this post, because it's helping me cope with frankly what is such a ridiculous concept. To doubt experience defies both logic and common sense.

I'm not calling the author of the quote I cite above as misinformed, please don't misunderstand me. His credentials, and the conservative think tank at which he works, appear impressive. I would have felt a lot better about his article if it had been written by an intern, that's all.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Classroom Brought to You by Coke!

My school district was the first in our state of North Carolina to sell advertising space on school-owned buses.

Love it! We seem to have tight regs in place, such as a business keeping its message education-related. For example, a lawn care company's ad might mention the "seeds of education," etc.

Desperate times call for smart measures, and as a marketing guy I just love this concept. I started to wonder, "How far is too far?" Could Coke buy space in my classroom - in exchange for technology and supplies?

Discussing it with two peers at lunch, one said, "absolutely." Another said sure, if she could have a say in the brand. Maybe water versus soda. Or a backpack brand?

"Today's lecture on Rome is brought to you by Pizza Hut pizza. Celebrate our collective Roman roots with a slice of pie after class, kids!"

Okay maybe that's a bit far, but still ... cool idea with interesting potential.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where are the Parents?

We're having issues at my cash-strapped school. Teachers are getting repeated warnings to carefully watch our students in the computer labs ... because the students are destroying the equipment.

How is it high schoolers can't use a computer lab without leaving it trashed, and the equipment in it damaged?

More simply put: Why can't kids behave at school?

Being respectful is a learned behavior; however, respect is a foreign concept to so many of our kids. Can we take a moment of collective reflection, and figure out what the heck is going wrong with our culture?

Clint Eastwood just famously said it's halftime in America. Is he right, or have we already thrown in the towel?