Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Experiment with Alternative Assessments

As I reported in Experimenting with Assessments I wanted to attempt some alternate assessment options in my American Government Class this semester, so I launched an experiment during our first unit.

I hoped to place less emphasis on points earned through "objective" quizzes and tests.  So I created a plan where performance on the final test could be used to determine the unit grade if scores on the earlier quizzes demonstrated to me that studetnts were engaging with the material.  More significantly, students could opt out of the big test altogether and substitute performance on a project:

The results were pretty disappointing:

1) Only about 15% were inclined to do the projects and their numbers were halved as the deadline approached for the project.  They decided to take their chances with the test rather than invest energy in a project.

2) The two project alternatives attracted equal interest.  The slides tended to be better, but two of the students disregarded basic directions.  The surveys were consistently executed well, but only one student (who sought feed back ahead of time) actually got at the main concept ("legitimacy" that lay at the root of the assignment.

3) The grading scheme helped several students, however only in a handful of cases did the alternative grading systems make significant difference grade

I am pleased to know that a few kids really responded to the project options and got more out of the projects that simply going ahead and bombing another test.  But before I try something like this again, I need to retool.

A student's survey results pictured above.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Team Work

Our third professional cluster group focused on the theme of "Team Work".  After I put in a plug for Downplayer, we discussed the Creative Commons.  I pointed to two rich sources of media that are licensed to the Commons:

1) Magnatune - we are not evil, a generous source of CC music if it is used for educational purposes.  Our school now has a subscription and I am urging all teachers plumb its 10,000 songs.

2) Flickr CC photo searches.  The Yahoo Advanced Image search in order to find cool images for use with attribution.  It is my go-to source of content for images in s;ide presentations, photo/movies and blog art (like the photo featured on this post).

The "team work" portion of the PCG involved a discussion of classroom group activities.  My memories of "group work" as a student were pretty negative, so I prefer to have my students work in "teams." 

The discussions were interesting, because the five cluster groups took their conversations in very different directions.  Teachers were generally eager to share positive group experiences.  Also common concerns were raised about free-loaders, group chemistry, and fair assessment.  I tried to be a good listener , so that I could address some of the concerns, later.  After all, since we share the challenge of "design[ing] a challenge based learning project which develops [Tony Wagner's Seven] "Survival Skills" for at least 15% of [our] students we need to arrive at a sound comfort level with team work.

Coincidentally, for the "CBL Group Think" at Apple tomorrow, I've been asked to give a ten minute presentation on The importance of reflections and why we need to measure more than just the solution and implementation (learning is bigger than a grade).  I think that this is one area where both the Apple and Mercy High School educators share considerable common ground.

Here are the slides from PCG #3 (licensed to Creative Commons of course).

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Paul Williams

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Teacher as Curator

When I am feeling a little morbid, I sometimes check in on Newspaper Death Watch. A post on the evolving role of newspapers as online content curators grabbed my attention:

Content curation is about filtering the stuff that people really need from out of all the noise around it. In the same way that museum curators choose which items from a collection to put on display, content curators select and publish information that’s of interest to a particular audience. This function is becoming more and more critical as the volume of information on the Internet explodes. It’s projected that the amount of digital information that will be created in 2010 could fill 75 billion 16 GB Apple iPads.

"Curating" was a word that was banded about quite a bit at our 2010 ADE Summer Institute. In fact my project group has continued to "curate" Challenge Based Learning materials right up to the present. This is for good reason. We're all daunted by the amount of information out there regarding technology and education. Consequently my project team is pretty much bent on the task of identifying valuable resources for teachers interested in Challenge Based Learning. This really motivates me because I think we will be providing a potentially valuable, (and free) service.

I also think it is useful for teachers to think of themselves as curators. Personally, I enjoy this role, because I am interested in a range of subjects and I suppose I have some knowledge about a lot of things. I'm helpful with information searches and I am familiar with a range of resources.

I am interested in sharing this point of view with media specialists when I present at MAME 37, in October.  I'm guessing that I will be preaching to the choir.  Do you agree?

"Overload Information" Flickr Creative Commons photo by Maty

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dragon Dictation & Movie Making

I had the unusual experience recently of using my iPhone to help make a movie. No, I didn't use its movie camera. Instead I used the dictation app, called Dragon Dictation. I dictated my script over the phone and emailed myself the text. Now, granted, I might do something like this just for the geeky heck of it. But in this case it was pretty helpful. I was scripting a narration to accompany some movie screen captures , and I needed a rough idea of the timing, since the audio would have to be synched with the video (I used the iPhone as a stopwatch for this).

Below is the result. In addition to Dragon Dictation, I used GarageBand, iPhoto, Keynote, Voila, and iMovie. I worked much harder on this than my last module, but you'll see that I was not up to smoothing out all the rough patches.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Gonzo Election Project

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been collaborating with my fellow American Government teacher on an election project. We just launched this endeavor with our sophomores. It is both ambitious and unscripted. Indeed, we are placing a great deal of faith in our students' imaginations. If this faith is warranted the project could be really exciting.

Here's the plan: Each of our four classes (total) will divide up into project teams.

1) An Election News Feed team which will provide up-to-date election news.

2) A Michigan Election Information Team which will research the candidates and issues.

3) A Fantasy Presidential Campaign Team which will launch an imaginary candidate's quest for the White House.

4) A Mock Election Team which will devise a school mock election from scratch.

Now, here's the wildest feature: The project teams will be linked to their counterparts in the other three classes and must collaborate online to construct one central project.

Believe it or not, Cindy and I have pretty clear ideas as to how the individuals can be assessed in terms of their contributions. But we have no idea as to how the four sets teams will operate on their wiki sites. More later!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Personal Technology

Excuse me as I indulge myself with a short reflection on how recent upgrades in personal technology have or have not affected my lifestyle.

In July we made a major switch in providers of our phone line, internet, and television programming. After a careful cost comparison, I decided to go with ATT U-verse. I did in fact achieve cost savings and the installation process was fairly smooth, but I have not really taken much advantage of the interesting DVR and mobile features. Barb and I did consider the "radical" change of dropping our land line altogether, but this consideration became rather complicated by our alarm service being linked to the phone. Based on a number of factors eliminating the phone line proved to yield more hassle and less cost savings then we liked. So we'll stay tethered to the land line for a while at least.

With a rebate that I received for switching services, I bought a Blu-ray player. I love to watch movies and listen to music with good equipment. I was rather amazed to find that my new player had a wi-fi connection and the ability to stream music directly from Netflix and other sources. But I haven't taken advantage of this feature. More surprisingly, I am only occasionally aware of images or sound that is sharper or more dynamic with the Blu-ray.

So far, all hat, no cowboy.

Such is not the case with my smartphone. I am really fairly shocked by how quickly it has become integrated into my day to day. And of course this has little to do with phone calls. In fact, I call my family members less as I have begun texting my kids pretty often. My calendars are now with me wherever I go (This was possible with my iPod Touch, but I had no other reason to keep it constantly on my person). I frequently use several personal utility apps on the phone. And of course I frequently use the browser to check for information like sports scores and the like. More significantly, I've gotten into the habit of snapping pictures of this and that, emailing them about, and posting them to Facebook.

None of this is particularly revealing, I suppose. It reaffirms what most of us already know: even really cool technology doesn't inherently improve our lives. But when applied to the right circumstances it can yield immediate and comprehensive improvements. When I advocate educational technology, I'll be sure to remember this summer of geekdom. Technology may provide a terrific solution to your teaching challenge. But depending on the person and the need, some of the technology is interesting but just sort of there.

Flickr Creative Commons photo courtesy of madmaxx

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A School Strives for Transparency with a "See Through Cycle"

At MHS, we don't have school weeks, we have "cycles" -- six days per cycle. I meet with Professional Cluster Groups (PCGs) once per cycle. As I mentioned in Collaborating in the Cloud, every staff member is scheduled into one of these groups. Consequently, when I launch an endeavor as I did this past cycle, I can truly say that it has the potential to go school-wide.

This cycle's theme was "Creating Transparency." We discussed the benefits of cracking open our lesson plans and work spaces for others to see. The object? Sharing, learning, collaborating.

* In order to promote culture change of this type, I laid out the following scheme:

* Our fourth school cycle (Sept. 27 - October 4) would be designated the See-through Cycle.

* Anyone interested in maintaining an open door policy for that period signs up on our staff wiki.

* In the spirit of the cycle, no conditional sign ups-- Just hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign for moments that do not lend themselves to guests.

* Those who did not sign-up could still visit others.

* Visits might be of any duration. They would not be prearranged.

* We will evaluate and discuss the experience the fifth cycle

Several individuals signed up immediately including the principal. I am anxious to see what happens. Whether it is popular or totally bombs, the resulting discussion will be interesting. IN either event, I will share the experience with my faithful readers. Here are the slides from this cycle's cluster groups:

P.S. You will note that much of the presentation was devoted to Evernote as well as Google Docs' interface with Moodle.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo on "Creating Transparency" slide by litopomuschiatio

Monday, September 13, 2010

Flickr Creative Commons Rocks!

This summer I put considerable effort and energy into creating some tools for teachers interested in trying Challenge Based Learning. For example, I created one called "CBL Media Management Do's". Recently, I completed a companion piece about the "don'ts" of media management. But there is a different twist,. On the first one I primarily used screen shots for my demonstration. But for this one, I relied heavily on Flickr Creative Commons photos. Though these pictures were not taken with CBL in mind, I still think that they help illustrate the points I tried to make in the narrative. Do you agree?

The movie was created with GarageBand, Yahoo Advanced Image Search, Photo to Movie, Voila, Keynote, and Preview

Friday, September 10, 2010

Collaborations Near and Far

I feel buoyed by two recent collaborations. For the first time, I will be working on a course project with a colleague in the building. She's a new teacher but she did a 30 hour classroom observation stint with me two years ago. Cindy will be teaching a couple of sections of American Government at Mercy this year. I'm thrilled-- She's sharp, creative and passionate about engaging students.

Using a Google Doc, we've been swapping ideas about a big Fall election project. We have the notion of putting the students on two project tracks, simultaneously. On the one hand they would research and share information about the actual upcoming November election. But each class would also sponsor the campaign of a fictional presidential candidate. What we would like to do ultimately is hold a mock election for the school that would include real candidates and issues, but would also include the pretend candidates. We are thinking of commercials, polling, debates-- the whole shebang. Perhaps we can't do all of this, but at least we don't lack for ideas.

My other collaboration was more distant, involving someone who I have never met personally. Rumsey Taylor is a graduate student in film. I found his essay on Terry Gilliam in the Australian online journal, Senses of Cinema. He gave me permission to use portions of his text in the narrative of a Photo to Movie piece for my Lit into Film class. Though this particular collaboration is a one time deal, I've created several other similar pieces with the help of generous authors like Rumsey. Here's the Baker/Taylor collaboration:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Collaborating on the Cloud

I have recently completed my first set of professional cluster group presentations. The "PCGs" consist of five inter-disciplinary groups of teachers and administrators from our school who meet with me once every six school days. All staff are included.

The PCGs are intended to foster Challenge Based Learning and technology integration. In order to familiarize themselves with the process the staff has undertaken a challenge of their own:

Collaborate departmentally to design a challenge based learning project which develops [Tony Wagner's Seven] "Survival Skills" for at least 15% of the students that your project team serves.

Recently, I termed this, "Challenging the Challengers".

I wanted to get off to a good start. My greatest concerns were

1) making tech novices feel as though the train had not already left the station.
2) boring tech savvy attendees by slowing down aforementioned train!
3) clarifying the confusion stirred up by the CBL launch.
4) roviding implicit reassurance that these PCG presentations would be purposeful and engaging.

I took a thematic approach for both CBL and tech-- beginning with collaboration and cloud computing. Here's the slide presentation:

Collaborating on the Cloud(PCG #1)

It starts with a cloud productivity tip. is an old favorite of mine. I find that it is a wonderful place to store files that I want access to across platforms. It's easy to link the files to different locations. The uploads are fast and sweet. 1GB of memory is offered for free.

After this warm up I gave an overview of cloud computing, suggesting that attendees complete a survey posted to our staff wiki, indicating their level of interest in some tools we might investigate at future sessions.

The most important piece was left for last: A review of the CBL model and a detailed discussion of the types of "guiding questions" that project groups should start generating. There was more discussion during this portion of the presentation (the five sessions varied greatly in terms of the quantity and tone!).

Regarding my initial concerns, I felt that I did a better job meeting the needs of attendees with beginner skills than advanced (It's hard to stay down the middle). I felt that I achieved a good level of engagement overall, though I think some of the teachers might be surprised how much their body language resembled that of our less enthusiastic students! While I'm satisfied that the presentation set a tone of purpose, the give-and-take will definitely be the best part of the PCGs. Even though they intrude into everyone's busy schedule, these sessions will offer an opportunity for us to leave our daily routines and discuss some significant educational topics. I'm looking forward to round #2.

As of today's blog post, Larry's Opinion Drive-thru returns to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fired Up or Burned Out?

I have a friend who often remarks that I should "write a book" about fighting burn out. She says she doesn't know other teachers of my vintage who are so dismissive of retirement. I always laugh this off, but secretly I take it as a high compliment.

Of course, from time to time my enthusiasm is sorely tested. This week , when the temperatures have stayed in the 90's F, I thought I might literally reach my boiling point in my unairconditioned class room-- talk about burn out!

But other more chronic matters test my endurance:

* The mundane several-times-daily chores of taking attendance and dealing with absence.
* The continual babysitting duties of homeroom or student assemblies.
*The too-frequent P.A. break-ins at the beginning of class for our fund-raisers yammering and the like.
* Burned out teachers who project the bitterness of their own lives onto students or administrators.
* Parents and students who only care about grades.
* Parents and students who don't care about anything related to school

But strangely, though I can whip off my share of gripes in a moment's notice, I've actually looked forward to each day of school as I begin my 36th year in the trade. That's because it doesn't have to be routine. Teaching is one of those rare professions that allows one to erase all old business and start fresh. Each year, I initiate at least one new project. I'm taking a new approach to assessment in American Government. Each course has new projects Soon after that, I will be throwing myself into M-Hub, a new extra-curricular interest.

I have a new professional development role at the school and I am engaged in an exciting Challenged Based learning project with Apple Education. Teaching in general and my school in particular allow for an infinite number of approaches and methods. I guess, depending on they look at it, that's something folks in my field shut out or embrace. I think the latter mind-set is the way to keep the burn out at arm's length.

"Red / Day 40 (themed)" Flickr CC photo by Aaron Gosselin

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