Friday, January 29, 2010

AP Government CBL Student Solution -- A Web Masterpiece

In my last post, when we visited The Ideal Voter, I did not mention that the group had been completely intimidated the day before revealing their beautiful site, because the Democracy of Tomorrow group had stunned us all with a finished product that surpassed our wildest dreams. I tweeted during their presentation that I was "being blown away" by what I was seeing.

You simply must visit the site to appreciate what this group has done. But as you click to their site, please note that most of the content you find there is original. They have created most of the videos posted to the site. And the site is divided into three sections in order to meet the needs of kids, new voters and active voters. Similar to the Ideal Voter Group, Democracy of Tomorrow seeks to teach citizens how to get involved in government and why their votes matter.

Other aspects of the site which impressed us and may interest you:

* The group purchased the domain name to their site

* The group drew so much traffic to their site that when they began their presentation they told us to google "Challenge of Democracy" and we were surprised to find that it was the top hit.

* Over 1150 visitors have been to the site. The students created links through Twitter posts, Facebook, and a Wikipedia page.

* Most of the students in this group learned the nuances of the technology they explored or emplyed in the project.

* As with the other groups, the only credit I can take for what these students accomplished was presenting a solid challenge, introducing them to the cbl process, and urging them to set the bar high. Their solution was purely student direced and created.

You might be wondering how I can top this with the last student presentation. I many ways I cannot. But my challenge to the class was to "create an authentic medium for improving our democracy." In the next post you will see the most authentic medium created by any group . . . on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AP Government CBL -- Solutions: A Vibrant Web Site

This is the 6th post in a series on the AP Gov cbl project. The last post investigated a web site that was launched as a demo. I was stunned to find that two groups had produced fully operational sites. This one is called The Ideal Voter. Be sure to go to the Guestbook page and note the comments of some of its many visitors.

Let me allow the Ideal Government group to explain the "mission" of their site in their own words:

The ultimate goal is to not only inform, but excite young (and soon-to-be) voters in America. . . . The ability to vote brings power: power to change the world around us, and power to make life in America better for the future. . . .

The assignment which inspired the creation of this website was to "Create an authentic medium for strengthening democracy." In America, we have the opportunity to take part in politics and truly make a difference. . . . . Thus, we are attempting to promote democracy in America by empowering young voters. Although we have focused on Southeast Michigan, people from across the country are welcome to join in the fun.

The future is ours, and it all starts now. Help us to build a generation of politically educated and opinionated men and women!

Before they even did their presentation for us, the group had attracted over 500 visitors with their information site. The site is exceedingly well designed and is an excellent source of news and facts. It also hosts a lively blog. One of the most impressive links was a portal for actually registering to vote-- something the group succeeded in accomplishing with a few newly-turned-eighteen visitors.

I found the solution to be virtually flawless. Furthermore, the group members had absolutely immersed themselves in their research and site construction. Their passion came through during another wonderful presentation. My only disappointment is to see that the site has now fallen more or less dormant. As you will soon learn, only one group truly built an authentic medium that continues to have a vibrant life beyond the assignment deadline.


Screen capture from The Ideal Voter "about us" page

Monday, January 25, 2010

AP Government CBL -- Student Solutions: A Demo

This is the 5th post in a series on my Challenge Based Learning Project with AP American Government. As you recall, the five student groups were challenged to "create an authentic medium for promoting our democracy."

The last post investigated the Gov Love Ning which was fully operational. Here we will take a peek at a web site I consider more in line with my expectations for this project. Unlike the ning group, operation ivote created a web site that had not already received lots of traffic. It was more or less a demo. Operation iVote built a web site for promoting demcracy.

As this group noted in its assessment, the "project dealt less with voter mobilization and more with an actual change in voting process." The group decided to promote online voting, putting together a site which demonstrated how online voting would work. In fact, the sample ballot was one of the strongest features of this attractive site. Also included were an online petitions and a template for contacting one's representative. The group considered their presentation to the class to be their "launch" and made a tremendous impression. The Q&A was very exciting. The class had lots of questions and this particular group had logical and well researched responses for each one.

This group embraced the cbl with terrific enthusiasm, but was very quick to jump to a solution. I'm not sure they did their best job trouble-shooting security issues. In addition, some of their online features-- such as a twitter site with one tweet-- seem to have been included somewhat gratuitously.

It was interesting to see a group take the project in a completely different direction from the others. The Operation iVote group delivered an exciting presentation which launched a viable web site for promoting online voting. They were the first group to present and set the bar high for the others with their terrific preparation.

Screen Capture from Operation iVote web site.

Friday, January 22, 2010

AP Government CBL -- Student Solutions: Nings & Things

This is the 4th post in a series on my Apple Challenge Based Learning Project with AP American Government.

In my last post I described the cbl group in-class presentations. But I have held off on the best part-- their solutions to the challenge of "developing an authentic medium for improving our democracy."

One group chose a Ning as their primary platform. This was an interesting choice, because I am certain that none of the group members had any notion of what a Ning was at the beginning of the semester. The subject came up in September and no one in the class had heard of this versatile social media tool.

The group's Ning is called Gov Love, and as you will see when you visit, it serves as a hub for their central activity to improve our democracy-- gathering petition signatures to lower Michigan's voting age to sixteen. A link to their online petition is posted to the Ning. The Ning was serviceable in another way as well: They could easily hold forum discussions here and post notes/news updates about their subjects. In addition all group members could easily contribute to the Ning.

Group members drove traffic to the Ning through Facebook and word of mouth. By the time of their presentation they had managed 200 signatures on their petition. Granted, they really hustled for signatures simply for the purpose of show and tell in November. And their efforts have been at a stand still since they presented. ( As I indicated to them, the biggest weakness of their project was that it did not have "legs)". Nevertheless, there is no question that their medium was authentic. And from a majoritarian's point of view, extending suffrage is unquestionably a means for "improving our democracy." They managed to research some strong arguments for including some sixteen and seventeen year olds among the electorate. They also encouraged lively debate on this issue on Facebook and at their forum.

I was delighted and impressed with this particular solution.

Screen capture of the "Gov Love" Ning home page.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AP Government CBL - Student Presentations

This is the 3rd post in a series on my Challenge Base Learning project with AP American Government. Their challenge: "Develop an authentic medium for improving our democracy."

As I expressed in my last post, as we grew closer to the project due date I became less and less assured about the progress the five cbl groups had made toward their solutions. Consequently, their presentations were wonderful revelations.

Two features of the presentations were remarkable. First, literally all members participated. There was 100% attendance by presenters and for each group members made informed, intelligent contributions. But the most exciting feature involved the unplanned portions of the presentations. Each group was given a full class period and time was allowed for Q & A. This turned out to be the best segment of the presentations. The depth of the students' understanding was revealed here and the process by which the students' arrived at their solutions came through answers to their classmates good questions. What's more, group members were candid about mistakes and adjustments they had made en route to their solutions. This only solidified my impression that they had truly engaged in their material.

Ironically, the visual presentations themselves by these 12th grade students were inferior to my tenth graders' "modified challenge" presentations. I attribute this to the fact that I spend a half a class period with the tenth graders illustrating how to avoid "death by PowerPoint." The younger students did not fill slides with bullet points, nor did they read from their slides (how refreshing). In fact, some of them have referenced my presentation after seeing teacher or student presentations in other classes ("Mr. Baker you would have hated the presentation we just saw in . . . .).

While the seniors did not read to us, many of their slides were busy with text. Their graphics were far less likely to be interesting. Certainly, I would be inclined to give some presentation tips to my seniors the next time around. As I've mentioned in this space before, they are exposed to some horrible modeling.

Besides giving students a bit of coaching for their slide presentations, I would make one other adjustment. In order to encourage peers to be attentive to (or not duck out of) their classmates' presentations, I told them that they would be quizzed on highlights after all five groups had presented. The quiz itself was a good idea, but I found myself mildly distracted by the task of creating a quiz when the groups were presenting. I assigned this task to myself because I find that student generated questions have a tendency to be far too difficult or easy. I will attempt something like this next time, but surely welcome suggestions from readers!

Other than the adjustments above, I would change nothing about the presentation formats. They were a highlight of 2009.

My next post starts the really good stuff-- The groups' solutions to their challenge.

Screen capture is taken from a web page of group #4.

Monday, January 18, 2010

AP Government CBL - The Research

This is the 2nd post in a series on my cbl project with AP American Government. Their challenge: Develop and Authentic Medium for Improving Our Democracy.

As I indicated in "Questions and Challenges", after witnessing several bursts of creative thinking on the part of my AP cbl groups, I more or less lost track of their progress. After listening to their presentations and examining their self-assessments, I have drawn the following conclusions about their research:

Each of the five groups made genuine efforts to "think outside of the box" (as they were urged to do) in seeking meaningful research for their projects. Here is such an example from each group:

1. An interview with the campaign manager of Michigan's Attorney General, who is now running furiously for Governor.

2. An interview with the campaign manager of Georgia's current governor.

3. Original survey research of students at neighboring schools.

4. An interview with a local judge.

5. An interview with A graduate student from the U. of Michigan's Gerald Ford School of Public Policy.

I saw very little evidence of research on the technologies that might advance their goals of improving our democracy. The research in other words seemed a bit scatter shot. Furthermore, as I noted in two groups' evaluations, the development of their solutions seemed only negligibly connected to the results of their research.

I am somewhat ambivalent about the research component of projects. While this was certainly not the most impressive aspect of these student-centered projects, poor research did not impede the development of some really impressive solutions. The next time around, I will require a more complete documentation of group research (including completion deadlines?). But I also must accept that research for these kinds of authentic projects will not follow conventional-- research for its own sake-- forms. My next post will be on group presentations to the class. And as you will learn, each group reported and demonstrated that they had learned a great deal through the process of developing their projects.

Screen Capture from AP cbl web site.

Friday, January 15, 2010

AP Government CBL - The Project Challenge

For the next few posts I will be reflecting on my Challenge Based Learning Project in AP American Government. The challenge:

Create an authentic medium for improving our democracy

As I reported in Leaving the Comfort Zone, my seniors greeted the project with genuine excitement. The first group meetings buzzed with conversation that was remarkably creative an purposeful. But before long, I began to suspect that the students were short-circuiting the challenge process. They were inclined to jump right to solutions, devoting too little attention to guiding questions and research.

Furthermore, after enthusiastically initiating Google Docs to log their progress, some groups were neglecting to record activity. Consequently I started losing confidence that meaningful progress was being made. A day of reckoning occurred when I decided to aggressively question the groups about their assumptions and progress. Later, members of one group told me that this helped "kick-start" them in the right direction.

I have three conclusions from this part of the cbl experience

1) Surprisingly, my first challenge topic was inspired and inspiring. I am already a little worried about coming up with another as good.

2) In the future, I need to set requirements for logging progress on the google docs. Additionally, I should ask groups to highlight text that is for my eyes. (In some cases I had trouble finding key milestones because there was so much text on the google doc).

3) I think it would be helpful to set up formal midpoint meetings with the groups. They were not aggressive about seeking input from me. While the groups need to be student-centered, without greater accountability, a certain amount of drift set in for a couple of groups.

The next post will discuss the kinds of out of the box research that students tried.
Democracy screen capture from cbl project instructions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Super Soph Simulation

As I mentioned in Embracing Failure, I continue to tinker with my American Government tour de force -- The Congressional Simulation.

Last semester, finding myself overwhelmed by my effort to take "The Game" online, I instituted changes in the evaluation process. All were helpful this time around.

But I also encouraged some creative changes. Like last time, each student was required to design a web site for her fictional game persona. But I encouraged the following additions:

1) A podcast welcome to the site performed in character.

2) Instead of a journal, students posted press releases, memos to staff, and letters to constituents.

3) This semester, a presidential aide character was created. Part of her responsibility was to produce a multi-media White House site.

Of course, new innovations mean new complications. Down the road I will no doubt blog about further adjustments. In the mean time I wish to share some of the best work produced by my current tenth grade students. If you visit Super Sophs you will find some of the best web designs, podcasts and documents. A very creative White House site is included in the mix. Hope your get a chance to check it out.

Super Sophs: Annie, Susan, Laura, and Audrey. Great job, ladies!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Connecting A School Community with Social Media

After conducting an all staff in-service on personal learning networks, I invited some folks across the building to guest blog. I thank Tom Sklut, Director of Institutional Advancement for his contribution, below:

Tevye sits down heavily next to his wife Golde, sighs and ruefully shakes his head saying, “It’s a new world, Golde.” In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the villagers of Anatevka are faced with earth-shaking and earth-shattering realities touching every facet of every life, not unlike our experience here in the little “village” of Mercy High School.

We have chosen to acknowledge that, if we undertake to graduate young women who make a difference in the world, they must be prepared to make the most of modern computers and internet web access. The ramifications of this decision are truly earth-shaking and potentially earth-shattering for everyone involved: students, parents, administrators and teachers.

We are wirelessly connected throughout our school building. Teachers and students utilize common tablet pc’s and interactive, educational software. Homework assignments, grades and home communications are all largely computer and internet-based.

Tevye and Golde, as well as every member of their village, were challenged to adapt to the forces of the world within the context of their own societal identity and personal philosophies. Likewise Mercy.

As a teaching/learning community, we focus on what needs to be taught/learned if our students are to become successful in the world of tomorrow. Computers, software, wireless networks are tools, not ends in themselves. It is not the “what” that has changed for the most part, it’s the “how.”

The Advancement corner of the Mercy village, where I “live” is not untouched by this revolution. Technology allows us to maintain closer contact with our constituents – regular e-memos keep our alumnae, friends and parents updated on the latest news, views and achievements. Interested in reading a back issue of the Mosaic, Mercy Memo or Alumnae E-newsletter? Go to our website (

Contacting prospective students and their families is much more interactive and, many times, families have done a great deal of “comparison shopping” and know a lot about MHS prior to even stepping through the door of the school itself, often starting with a visit to our website and a web search.

One of the interesting characteristics of this new world is that, quite frequently, it is a two-way means of communication. Become a fan on Mercy High School Farmington Hills Facebook page and alumnae, join the Mercy High School Alumnae Network . We are also able to utilize Twitter ( and other features of the blogosphere to add special depth and immediacy to MHS news. And when people decide to support the work of Mercy High School with a gift of cash or appreciated securities, they are able to do so with the push of a button or two via our website.

It is a new world, Golde. No facet of Mercy High School is untouched or unchanged by this technological revolution . . . except for the urgency and the importance of the work we achieve with and for young women. This work was crucial when Catherine McAuley began it in 1824 and is just as vibrantly necessary today – but that’s another blog altogether.

Screen shot of Mercy High School's Facebook page.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Weekend Take Out from the Opinion Drive-thru

Here are three excellent reads which came my way via Twitter:

* We're Connected to Writing in New Ways
What has changed is our sense of text as fixed, not fluid, as something solid to which we can return again and again. That's the influence of the Web, of course, where story has no end and no beginning, and readers are not passive but play a determining role. This is scary to a certain way of thinking, but I want to look in the opposite direction, to suggest that what is more compelling is how this opens up the possibilities.

*Forwarding Is the New Networking
High performers we interviewed specifically mentioned that they did large amounts of selective forwarding. That is, when they saw an online item that they knew would be interesting or useful to a member of their network, they forwarded it. It's a way of saying, "I know what you're interested in, and I'm thinking about you.

*Educational Transformation: The Death Valley Bloom
When we work towards transforming our schools, it sometimes feels as if they will never change. We look out at the landscape of reform and see a vast desert. Things look hopeless. We don't know where to begin. We get discouraged. The Death Valley Bloom should give us hope.

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Great Journalism Wiki

One of the key members of my PLN, Lynn Waldsmith, has been doing all kinds of cool social media things in her English and Journalism classes. You may recall that in December, she wrote a guest post (Teaching without a Safety Net) which described a Web 2.0 Canterbury Tales activity. She also described her Journalism class blog -- Waldsmith's Dispatch -- which is one of the best uses of a stuent blog that I have ever seen.

Once again, I think she has hit one out of the park. Waldsmith's Dispatch-- Student Online Edition is a simple use of social media technology that accomplishes an important function: it provides a wider audience for these aspiring writers. Lynn's students are sophomores, the majority of whom will seek to write and edit for the student newspaper as juniors and seniors. The Student Online Edition gives them an audience beyond the teacher. In my experience, this has consistently produced higher standards of communication.

Incidentally, I think the wiki also provides a neat slice of life of our school, issues on the minds of teens, and even contemporary American life. Take a look!

Congratulations, Lynn, and thanks for sharing!

Screen capture of Waldsmith's Dispatch-- Student Online Edition (included is a magazine cover photo by student, Megan B.).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hail to the Chief!

Since Howard Dean's campaign for president in 2004, I have been fascinated with netroots politics. After dazzling onlookers with his ability to raise funds and organize volunteers online, Dean wiped out. But Barack Obama’s took online campaigning to a new level, and his election has installed the first new media administration the Executive Branch. Consequently, the White House web site has now become a valuable resource to me.

My American Government Students learn that the presidency is several different authorities, responsibilities and symbolic functions wrapped into one. I am using the online resources of the Obama administration to illustrate these roles. First, I downloaded pdfs, podcasts, and videos for this purpose. I have used Apple tools (Preview, GarageBand, iMovie) to create screen captures and clips and then placed them into a multimedia slide presentation. The slide show vividly portrays the president playing out his various functions.

I think the White House site also serves as a perfect example of how social media has become a conduit for vital information. It is clear that organizations large and small are assuming that global consumers/citizens will want to be informed and updated through Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and iTunes. Showing this as a key priority of the 21st Century presidency helps to make my case to educators that they are obligated to help students access and evaluate new media.

I’ve created a short QuickTime movie to demonstrate how I will be using the digital presidency as a classroom resource and to enhance my professional development presentations. Please check it out!

"Hail to the Chief" Multimedia Demo

Demo created with Apple Keynote

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolved-- to share some music recs!

Don't know what to do with those Amazon or iTunes gift cards you received over the holidays. Rather than begin the New Year with a list of resolutions, I've made a list of suggested albums to add to your collection. I have provided music for most tests.

The first list of ten draws from a variety of popular styles. I have tried to stay a couple of steps off the beaten path. All ten are winners!

The Byrds -- Younger than Yesterday
Just as they were breaking up they hit perfection

Jorma Kaukonen -- The Land of Heroes
Absolute terrific folk/blues

Deep Purple -- Machine Head

My favorite work-out music by far

Del Amitri -- Some Other Sucker's Parade
Not a bad track on the album

Bob Dylan -- Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue
Wow! Dylan exploded back onto the scene with this tour. Outstanding performances

Grizzly Bear -- Veckatimest
The best indie band around. Highly intelligent and inventively musical.

Widespread Panic -- 'Til the Medicine Takes
Awesome Southern rock-- I rank 'em ahead of the Allman Brothers.

Aimee Mann -- I'm with Stupid

Terrific song-writing tinged with punk, pop, folk.

Blind Boys of Alabama -- Spirit of the Century
Mesmerizing gospel sound.

Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois

So multi-layered you'll hear something new each time you listen.

Since jazz is already off the beaten path for many listeners, I've been less concerned about avoiding "popular" artists. Just about anything by Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Miles Davis (especially 50's, 60's) is worth acquiring, so I left them off. I tried to add suggestions that would work for either discerning jazz collectors or someone who would like to take a spin with the genre.

Bill Mays -- Mays in Manhattan
I play this when I'm happy because it always makes me happy to hear those opening bars.

David Holland Big Band -- What Goes Around
To quote from one reviewer, "Highlights? The whole album is a highlight. . . . richly creative"

Kenny Burrell -- Lotus Blossom
This native Detroiter produces a lovely, understated sound on his guitar

Chick Corea & Gary Burton -- Native Sense
A duet which has produced my very favorite jazz album

Stan Getz & Kenny Barron -- People Time
This one came to me through jazz aficionado, Tome Schusterbauer. Highly melodious and emotional.

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau -- Metheny/Mehldau
One more pairing made in jazz heaven.

Wynton Marsalis-- Mr.Jelly Roll
An impeccable tribute to Jelly Roll Morton

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra -- Big Train
Tracie, Tom, you like trains? Put this album on and take a glorious ride through your imagination.

Wayne Shorter -- Footprints live!
Tremendous writer with an incredible quartet.

McCoy Tyner -- Soliloquy
The best jazz solo piano album in the universe.

I did not avoid major artists or composers with my classical recommendations. You will also note that I am partial to Baroque and Classical keyboard and chamber music.

Mozart Sonatas for Piano and Violin-- Mitsuko Uchida & Mark Steinberg
Astonishing performances

Bartok Concerto for Orchestra-- Fritz Reiner, Chicago symphony
The clarity of this Living Stereo recording is remarkable.

Bach Brandenburg Contertos-- Martin Perlman, Boston Baroque
My favorite performances of my favorite pieces of music.

"Kronos Released (1985-1995)"-- Kronos Quartet
A terrifically interesting program of music

Chopin 4 Ballades-- Murray Perahia
A perfect pianist plays perfect pieces.

Bach: Partita No. 4 Ballades-- Maria Joa Pires

My Bach keyboard collection mainly consists of performances by Perahia nad Hewitt, but this one is my very favorite

Ravel Gaspard de la nuit-- Boris Berezovsky
The best piano cd I have ever heard.

Schubert & Schumann Symphonies No. 4-- Nicholas Harnoncourt, Berlin Philharmonic.
Majestic sound.

Henryk Gorecki Symphony No. 3-- Dawn Upshaw & London Sinfonietta
The second movement is utterly sublime.

Tchaikovsky Quartets 1-3 -- Borodin Quartet.
A perfectly blended sound for these under.

I also
am recommending some performance dvds. The first seven feature surround sound. I have deliberately not included documentaries (Woodstock, Moterrey Pop, Festival Express, etc).

Cream-- Royal Albert Hall '05
Finally a chance to hear this power trio in great digital sound.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse-- Rust Never Sleeps
Lousy picture, but ragged, bone-shaking garage band sound. Wake your neighbors!

From the Basement
Several artists play a song or two. The Radiohead and White Stripes sets are worth the cost alone.

An All Star Tribute to Brian Wilson
Uneven tributes, but I listen to the Aimee Mann/Michael Penn, David Crosby, Vince gill sets again and again. Transcendent.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live in NYC
Disc one is among my favorite rock music recorded any time, anywhere.

Concert for George -- Royal Albert Hall 2002
George Harrison's music performed by his highly accomplished friends like Clapton, Petty, McCarthy.

Alison Krauss & Union Station: Live
I've seen her live and this is the next best thing. Sweet 5.1 dts sound.

John Fogerty-- The Long Road Home
Not much showmanship but all the Fogerty classics are here and he is backed by terrific musicians.

Crossroads 2007
Tremendous blues music by one Hall of Fame performer after another. Tune for tune your best purchase of my top ten.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live from Austin, Texas (1995)
Two short sets from Austin City Limits, but both are terrific. Rock, jazz (and of course) blues influences are on display. What a great talent Vaughan was!
"John Paul Jones & Uncle Earl" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by RussellReno

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