Archive for January, 2010

Please check out Mike and Sean’s Podcast introducing our EduCon session – Subversive PD:  Creating a culture of collaboration to bring educators into the 21st Century.


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I can’t believe I’ll be heading to Philadelphia in only 3 days for EduCon 2.2! The past few weeks have flown by with the end of the semester at school and sick family members at home (nothing serious, just tiring). I’ve barely had time to anticipate the great conversations and amazing people I’ll be able to connect with this year at SLA. Last year I was fortunate to attend EduCon for the first time. It was by far the most inspiring and motivating conference I’ve ever attended.

On Friday I’ll be traveling with Liz B. Davis, who I met last year at EduCon 2.1. We co-presented a workshop on Twitter earlier this fall at MassCUE but haven’t had a chance to catch up since then. I’ll be attending the conference with 2 other teachers from my district, Michael Springer and Sean Musselman, who have committed to podcasting their EduCon experience to share with other teachers in our district who couldn’t join us in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, I will be co-presenting, along with Mike Springer and Beth Knittle, a conversation about Subversive Professional Development. We’ll be facilitating a discussion about strategies that really work to bring about meaningful professional learning among colleagues and within schools. We’ve been struck by these questions:  Why are there still so many educators sitting in the back of the faculty meeting rolling their eyes whenever 21st Century Skills are on the agenda? How can Professional Development be meaningful, effective and important for the uninterested? We’d love for those of you attending EduCon to join us during the first session. If you are attending virtually, please check in and send us questions and comments.

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'journalism students using macs apple' by Chris.Corwin via flickr

I first got a laptop for school use about 18 months ago. This computer has completely transformed the way I approach my teaching and my learning. I connect with more educators. I reflect more on my teaching and on the ideas that are driving my planning and assessment. I have built a global network of educators I learn from, seek help from, and offer support to.
So why are my kids not allowed to use a tool like this every day? I work in a progressive school district that allows me to try just about anything that will support and further student learning. But with so many of us working to integrate technology in all of our classes, we are rapidly becoming limited by access to the tools that we need. There just aren’t enough computers, not enough lab space for the integration our school is working toward. Let’s get the tools into the hands of our students – every day in every class.

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This has been exam week at our high school. At the end of the semester we (the teachers) are charged with creating an assessment that somehow measures mastery of 2 marking periods’ material. This week I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m assessing and why I test the way I do. For the most part, my exams were unchanged from last year, with vocabulary, declensions, conjugations, grammar and translations. Truthfully, the results haven’t been great. Translation and reading Latin is really the ultimate goal for my students. But I’m disappointed with my students’ ability to read an unfamiliar passage of Latin. They don’t seem to have much retention of vocabulary and their understanding of grammar rules seems shaky at best. Although we have a digital language lab that we can use regularly throughout the marking period, we don’t have sufficient technology available to every student to move toward paperless exams at this point. I need to revise the exam, but I don’t want to fall back on the same old model. I’m thinking, I’m planning. My goal is to create more meaningful assessments for my students. But for now, I’m stuck. My vision is clouded by the things that can’t be done and limited by what I have done (perhaps not very successfully) for so many years.

Whenever I need to think I try to go to the lake and just sit quietly. Being there helps me clear my head and start to look at things differently. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to go up to New Hampshire. When I can’t get there in person, I look to the Lake Winnipisaukee Weather Cam, located on Black Cat Island, NH, from time to time. Across the lake, behind the island near the base of Gunstock Mountain is our family’s lakehouse. At the end of the day, I need to look for some perspective on what is important, not only for me as “the teacher” but what is important for my students to demonstrate. If only finding that perspective were as easy as finding a beautiful photo of Lake Winnipisaukee.

Photo courtesy of Lake Winnipisaukee Weather Cam

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Recently I blogged about the Mid Year Exams for my introductory Latin classes.  One reason for my frustration with such a traditional pencil and paper exam was knowing that there are other ways to assess what students are learning, but not finding a way to do that with my classes. I continue to struggle with figuring out how to make meaningful, relevant, and valid Latin exams for students learning basic grammar elements – particularly when the technology that is accessible to my students every day is limited. One of my colleagues, Profe Springer, presented his Spanish 5 students with an exciting and new Mid Year Exam this past week. He and I had been talking about meaningful and interesting ways to assess what his students have been doing all semester – researching, presenting their learning using Web 2.0 tools, and using the Spanish language to communicate their ideas. Here is Profe Springer’s explanation of his Spanish 5 Mid Year Exam:

This is my second year of teaching Spanish in a public high school just north of Boston. I’m working on a Masters degree (in education) but I’m new to teaching. I work in a high school that has allowed me to create a curriculum that interests me as long as it meets the curricular goals of the course; I’m not required to do what has always been done. This semester I jumped into the Spanish 5 course with the goal of trying as many ideas for integrating technology into the class as I can. Since I was as new to many of the tools as the students, we developed an atmosphere of collaboration that is best exemplified by the Ning that my student and I use to assign/present work, ask questions, and share resources. When it came to write the required Mid Year Exam, I was frustrated that the traditional exams that had been given in the past really did not reflect the assignments and learning that had gone on with my students this past semester.

With my principal’s permission, I launched an experimental Mid Year Exam with my Spanish 5 students. Instead of having students do the traditional listening, short answer writing, long essay and multiple choice exam, I designed a project-based Mid Year Exam. Students arrived at the computer lab on Thursday at the beginning of their normal class period. The students didn’t know anything about the central question, or their topics, until they walked into the lab. Upon arrival each one selected a topic out of a sombrero. They then had until the end of class the following day to answer a central question that I proposed to all the students: “Why does Sr. Springer need your product in his house?” In the hat were slips of paper for 2 dozen infomercial products such as Snuggies, ShamWows, PottyPatches and Ped Eggs. Students had to think of arguments for why I should purchase their products and write about it in Spanish. Students needed to do research using the investigation tools that we have practiced throughout the semester. Their final product pitches were uploaded to our class Ning. They were required to include pictures, videos, and an original advertisement that would sell the product to me.

The students were excited to learn something new and found the topics entertaining. The final results were quite funny. The kids found great images and videos to support their products. They uploaded everything to the Ning and organized their sales pitches in a way that critically tied the images and videos to my needs. The original advertisements ranged from pictures of a student with a product, to photoshopped images of a student with a product, to creative Glogs including a variety of media, to personally recorded video advertisements, and to original songs in Spanish.

Overall, their effort was outstanding. Students showed proficiency using our Ning, finding information about a topic and critically relating this subject to a central question. One day a student was absent and another day a different student was traveling on a family vacation, but both were able to complete their exams from their respective locations. Students worked collaboratively to help solve tech issues that came up in class and also at home. I was able to use the chat feature on my class Ning to help clarify directions for some students Thursday night from home.

A Glog advertising the amazing Hawaii Chair!

[Edited to add: Profe Springer has posted another example of a Glog advertising the Ped Egg on his blog.]

The big goal for these high school seniors is to show them how they can use Spanish in different jobs in the future. Most, if not all, of my seniors will not go on to major in Spanish. I feel that if I can show them ways that they can use their Spanish, alongside the subjects they might major in, then perhaps they will have a better shot at getting a job in the future. I want to show them they can include Spanish in any subject that they’re interested in studying. My exam was designed to reflect the students’ ability to learn a new subject, think critically about that subject and then report on it in Spanish. I think that my exam succeeded in this goal and showed that the students are making good progress. How do other teachers feel about their exams in regards to 21st Century Skills?

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Angela Maiers in her blog recently wrote about Daniel Pink’s new book and a video “Two questions that can change your life.” I don’t always agree with those who think that Pink is substantively changing the way we look at the world.  Having said that, A Whole New Mind and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko certainly have impacted how I think about my teaching and the workforce that my students will be joining in only a few years. With that in mind, I plan to show this video to my students as we return to classes after our Mid Year Exams next week.

Two questions that can change your life from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

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A tale of two exams

Ready for exams?

Next week our students will be taking their Mid Year Exams, the culmination of two marking periods’ work. My beginning Latin students take a very traditional exam with vocabulary, declension charts, verb conjugations. There’s some multiple choice for grammar questions and a translation passage that they’ve never seen before.

For more than a year I’ve been incorporating tech tools into my classes as much as I can, but I’m finding myself stuck now that exams are here again. I  use Wikis for mythology projects, VoiceThread for Latin mottos, Google Docs for collaborative research on culture and translation and Google Earth Ancient Rome Layer for tours of the city we study. But when it comes to beginning and intermediate level foreign language grammar, I’m stumped as to how to “tech it up.”

And today, as I finished up making photocopies and sharpening number 2 pencils, my colleague was presenting a project based assessment to his Spanish 5 class. I’ll invite him to blog here, since my description won’t do it justice. His students have used Ning to collaborate and research, Prezi and Glogster for presentations. The guiding idea of this semester has been to design a business to market a product in Latin America. The essence of the assignment is an individual project based on researching an unusual product. The students started the exam today in class in the Language Lab and will finish tomorrow at the end of the class period. Students right now are working on the Ning, finding photos, writing blog posts to support their product. This project is a true culmination of the work that the students have been doing all semester. Oh, and did I mention, the work is being done in Spanish?

So I come back to my own Latin classes (and my paper exams) and wonder how I can integrate 21st century tools to create more meaningful assessments for introductory Latin classes. Foreign Language teachers: when faced with limited lab time and no student laptops, how do you “tech up” your language classes?

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