Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!


Expanding Narrative Writing With Beliefs and Memoirs

Before I really get into my writing tonight, I wanted to write down what I do in my grade book. My school uses a program called Powerschool for our attendance and our grades.  It is only our second year using it and it has had its challenges.  All complaining aside, this year I am doing something different that I have not done in the past, which I probably should have been.  When I am entering an assignment into the grade book portion, I add the standard being covered next to the name of the assignment. For instance,  the students just wrote a six word memoir.  In the grade book I wrote six word memoir (W.7.3).  I now can keep better track of what standards I have covered with the CCSS and if my administrator wants to see what I have been doing, it is all right there for him to see. Oh, and Powerschool does have a nice app for Ipad (when it works) to do your grades on the go.

With that being said, on to what the students did today in class.  First, on Friday, I handed out an opt out letter for the 7th/8th graders to take home to parents to explain to them we would be using 3 social media websites throughout the year (Schoology, Twitter, Celly).  The students were instructed to take them home to share with parents what each digital tool was and how they were being used in class.  A majority of the information in the letter was what each website provides in their help and question section of their sites.  If you want to see a copy of the letter just email me and I can send it to you.  I did receive 2 of the letters back today.  I must say I am very disappointed they were returned.  I feel parents are doing their children a dis-service if they are not allowing them access school appropriate social media websites.  One of the parents even told me it was my responsibility to teach their child to write down username and passwords for these sites.  I am not one to easily get upset, but I don’t feel I am out of line when I say by 7th or 8th grade, I hope a student can write down a username and password.  Needless to say, I will need to have alternate ways for those students to complete certain assignments.

My 7th and 8th graders did some really amazing journals today.  I didn’t bring home any student examples, but I will definitely need to include them in a future post.  The 7th graders did a sort of prequel today to their “This I Believe” essay by composing a list in their journals of 15-20 beliefs.  They are going to take that list and make a wordle on Wednesday and I will then display their wordles around the classroom. Wordle is a digital tool where students can create word clouds.  Students are then going to narrow those 15-20 beliefs down to their top 5.  From there, students will narrow it down to one belief to write their “This I believe Essay”.  Tomorrows class will be spent listening and reading NPR this I believe essays.  I started to do some scaffolding with my 8th graders today by having them expand from their 6 word memoirs.  In their journals I had them write a Twitter memoir.  The students could not exceed the 140 character mark set forth by Twitter.  I didn’t mind if students went under 140 characters, but I did challenge them to be longer than just one sentence. Otherwise, I would have wound up with more six word memoirs.  Students will need to type these on Wednesday when the mobile lab is in my room and their memoir tweet along with their 6 word memoir will be put into their digital portfolio. Standard W.8.3 and W.7.3 were discussed and partially used today.

  • (W.8.3) -3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
    1. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
    2. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    3. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.
    4. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
    5. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

W.7.3 standard is not that different from W.8.3.  See the CCSS website for details.

As always my classes will keep me busy this week and I will blog about my experiences as they happen. Tweet memoirs were discovered when I read Kelly Gallagher’s  Write Like This.

Cheers!


So Much to do, so Little Time

The first week of school is over and it has gone by extremely fast.  Friday was nothing but a blur.  I am very grateful we decided to change our homebase from 40 minutes each day to 18 minutes every other day.  This has allowed us to add approximately 3-4 minutes to our core classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  With three sections of 7th and 8th grade I still feel, however, I need more time in each of my hours.  I now have about 53 minutes for each class.

After our evacuation drill and pictures causing my 3rd hour 7th grade class to get behind and the unscheduled shutdown of the Schoology website causing my 5th hour 8th grade class to fall behind, Friday was a bit of a catch up day. To be honest, it allowed me to catch my breath.  Remember, as wonderful as it is to integrate mobile devices and digital tools into your classroom, it is important to stand back and observe what is happening with your students, good or bad, and to make sure the digital tool you are using is enhancing your lesson, unit, or classroom the way you want it.  Trying to do too much will not only overwhelm students, but it will overwhelm you. As of Friday, the only major set-back I dealt with were the 7th and 8th graders who could not log-in to a laptop because the server or the computer was not accepting their username and password.  The problem should be resolved next week.

On Friday, students finished up 6 word memoirs for both 7th and 8th grade. 8th graders moved forward and we had very good discussions about “The Osage Orange Tree” by William Stafford. The students were assigned to read the short story for homework and in addition, they were asked to do some very minor research about what an Osage Orange is and if the orange itself or the tree has any valuable use. Prior to the students leaving class Thursday with their homework we discussed the different ways they could quickly access the answers to my questions.  Besides accessing the internet, the students said they could find information from:

  • Ask teacher (besides me), parent, relative, etc.
  • Ask a neighbor
  • Go to the school library or local library really quick
  • Look in a school science book

Needless to say I was impressed with their responses and I was even more impressed with their answers when they came back on Friday.  They even taught me a few things that I didn’t know. Yes, my students did some research during a narrative unit.  When my 8th graders started class on Friday I wanted to do a quick check on whether they did their reading.  So, I had the students post 3 questions on Celly.  Students who did not have a cell phone wrote in their journals or could post to Schoology.  With the students having plenty of choices on how to complete the task, they went to work.  After they were finished composing their questions I asked them to try to respond to two of their classmates.  In some groups they had to respond to three students.  The students did an excellent job of responding to each other and we had a very vibrant discussion at the conclusion of class.  Students were then assigned vocabulary homework and I demonstrated to them the use of dictionary.com and showed them the app you can download on an Ipad or smart phone.  Overall, it was a very productive day.

I left my 7th and 8th grade with a few nuggets of information before each of them left for their next class.  I told them we would be going at a very quick pace.  However, I was not going to neglect the fact they needed to know the curriculum presented and taught to them.  I asked them to come and talk to me if at anytime they felt they were drowning and couldn’t tread water anymore.  I think I may see a few students stopping in after school.

Next week we look grammar, This I believe essays, and twitter memoirs.

Below are the CCSS I used on Friday.  Mostly with my 8th graders.

  1. RL.8.2 –  Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
  2. RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
  3. W.8.8 – Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation (partially).

 

Cheers!


Not Enough Time: Digital Citizenship/Mobile Devices/Discussions

Day 2 of school had its bright spots and its challenges.  We are fortunate enough to have a mobile lab with 30 Dell Laptops for our students to use.  After finishing some typical house keeping items, I was ready to deploy the laptops to my students.  Before I assigned students to a computer, I began by asking students to help me make a list of examples of mobile devices.  The list the students compiled looked like this:

  1. laptops
  2. cell phones
  3. Kindles
  4. PSP
  5. Nintendo DS
  6. Ipad
  7. Ipod
  8. Itouch
  9. Nexus
  10. tablets

It was clear to me, whether it was 7th or 8th grade, the students had a clear grasp on the concept of what a mobile device is.  Upon completing our list on the whiteboard, I shifted their thinking to another topic that involved using mobile technologies; digital citizenship.  As an educator and an advocate for the use of mobile technology in the classroom, I was disappointed when I posed the question: “Who has heard of digital citizenship?” Out of all three of my 7th grade classes, not one student raised their hand.  This is a problem.  By 7th grade students need to be made well aware of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.  Needless to say, I felt it was necessary to discuss this topic with them.  During our conversation we discussed the characteristics of being a citizen. Students knew that a good citizen participated in community activities, was respectful, followed rules/laws, and needed to be helpful to others.  After students exhausted all the characteristics we talked about how they apply to being a digital citizen as well. Furthermore, I took the time to address cyber-bullying and sexting.  By the end of the week, I would like to develop a handout or sheet for the students to put inside of their planners stating their responsibilities as a digital citizen.  I also want to send the handout home to parents to help educate them as well.  The 8th graders were much  better when it came to digital citizenship and that is because I discussed it with them last year.  I did revisit cyber-bullying and sexting to pound home the importance behind what NOT to do when using a mobile device.

Even though I took more time discussing digital citizenship than what I wanted, it will be worth it in the long wrong.  Laptops were handed out to each student.  I called up 5 students at a time and assigned them a number.  The number they are assigned will be the same number laptop they will use in other classes.  This helps us as the teachers and our tech guy who to talk to if the computer has been used maliciously or it gets broken.  On the whiteboard the students were given written directions on what to do with the computer.

  1. Turn on the laptop
  2. Login to your school account
  3. Access Internet Explorer
  4. Go to www.schoology.com
  5. Watch the short video on the home page

After all of the students completed the tasks on the board, I walked them through the sign-up process for Schoology.  Students were given their individual course codes and then they had to fill in their names, usernames, and passwords.  I directed students to use their last name and first initial of their first name for their username.  For example, mine would by hylerj.  I asked them to make their passwords something easy to remember or use the same password they use for Facebook.  Schoology has an excellent feature available to teachers where they can reset a student’s password if they happen to forget it.  Now, I did run into a few glitches today with students not being able to log in to their school accounts meaning they couldn’t use the laptop that was in front of them.  Such is life when it comes to technology.  I had these students look on with other students who didn’t have difficulty logging in.

Despite the typical issues that came about today, I was able to get everyone signed into their courses I created.  We then walked through the files/links tab and the discussion tab.  We focused more of our attention on the discussion tab.  It is here where we will be collaborating as a class.  I will have the students post discussion questions for socratic discussions we will have in class.  It will be a place I may post reading questions after the students finish a reading homework assignment, and it is a space where students can ask me questions about homework or other assignments.  Today, I simply posted the question, what is your favorite music, music artist and why?  I instructed the students to post their reply and respond to 2 other members in the class.  Prior to releasing them to work on their own, I modeled for them what a quality response is to another member.  Responses like nice, wow, I agree, I like that, and great are not accessible.  I want my students to actually have a discussion, so I direct them to ask questions, be thoughtful and to put some time into their responses.  This conversation and modeling is worth it because students really start to have quality discussions.  Below is an example of what a discussion page looks like.

Once students got started, there weren’t any issues with them operating the site.  A lot of students were shocked how much it is like Facebook.  Even though it appears my students may not have done a lot in class today, they did complete at least one of the Common Core Standards.

  • Standards W.7.6 and W.8.6 – Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Students were able to identify technology (Schoology) and collaborated with peers and their teacher through technology to enhance their writing.

By the time the end of the day came, I felt like I had been holding my breath all day long.  It never seems like there is enough time to cover what needs to be done.  Tomorrow brings us to Narrative reading.

Cheers!