The excitement around using Choose Your Own Ending novels in two of my classes continues (and some complaints from the other classes as to when they will get a chance to read them, too). Yesterday, many students began their second (or third) book, and I had them working in small groups to begin mapping out the storylines in one of their books. It was an interesting process, with lots of discussions and page-flipping. This lesson is to geared towards having them get a real sense of how the books were written, so that when they start writing their own next week, it will be easier to jump into.
How timely is this? The cover story to Time for Kids magazine this week is all about the shifts coming around Common Core testing (either PARCC or Smarter Balance.) We have our own Massachusetts state reading assessments next week (with Math in May). So, testing is on our minds, as much as I would not like it to be. I’ve talked to my students about the changes in our state’s expectations (ie, Common Core) and the changes that are coming down the pike with testing. The TFK cover story, however, provided a solid overview of what they can expect to see happening in the next two to three years.
The article sparked some great discussions and also generated some pertinent questions, such as:
Will students HAVE to use the computer or will they have a choice to use paper?
What if a school doesn’t have enough technology? How will students take the test?
How long will this test take to do?
What if you don’t have good typing skills?
How will the test be introduced? (ie, Will there be a practice year?)
Could someone cheat by using the computer to find information online?
For the tests that are “computer adaptive,” does that mean that students who answer incorrectly will have more questions to answer than those who answer correctly? (Computer adaptive tests move the student forward in different directions, depending on the previous answer).
Why is there more writing?
My mom/dad says this new test is coming because too many teachers are teaching to the (current test). Is that true?
I didn’t have the answers to all these queries, because so much of what is going to happen remains unclear and muddled.
As for that last question (which was asked by three different students in three different classrooms, by the way), I tried to explain that while that may be happening in some classrooms in some schools, and it may be a worthy complaint, I did not feel that we were doing that. However, I acknowledged that the kinds of teaching we are doing now, and the levels and kinds of expectations that we have for students now, has changed over the past three years (more evidence-based writing; more research activities; more non-fiction, argumentative, expository pieces) due to the shifts.
And then we started to talk about strategies for next week’s state reading test. So maybe the complaint about time spent teaching to the test is valid, after all. Sigh.
We are into Quidditch season right now and each sixth grade class gets to vote on a team name. We do it as open as possible, and the voting takes place over a few rounds (sort of like a Town Meeting election). First, we generate a list, and then we go through a series of votes to narrow things down, before finally ending up with a team name.
This year, they voted for …. The Sizzling Smurfs. (You should know that our class color is blue and the girls in my class as the leaders.)
I sort of like The Blue Eyed Peas, myself, but I don’t vote. They do.
I’ve written before about our Crazy Dictionary project, which is near the end of our Origins of Words unit. Students invent their own words, and then add them to a wiki dictionary that we have been building since 2005. There are, by my calculation, more than 700 invented words (and a few hundred podcasts) on the wiki site now. It’s a fun activity but what I like most about it is how my current students are collaborating with past students (including some siblings) to create a dictionary of invented words that each year, grows and grows.
The wiki is a perfect venue for this activity and there is quite a bit of excitement on day we set up stations around the room to add words and record podcasts. And the fun is in the name of learning about words and the flexibility of the English Language to weed out and add new words all the time.
We wrapped up our discussions about Digital Lives yesterday by moving our topic from issues like identity and privacy and behaviors in online spaces to something more concrete: the lifespan of electronics and the environment. It also gave me a chance to guide my sixth graders to be critical close readers of a video as text, which is difficult and which will require much more practice. The topic of the day was about what happens when companies build for “planned obsolescence” (ie, put out the newest model every six months to a year) and we buy new stuff, only to toss away the old stuff.
The video we used — The Story of Electronics — is an offshoot of the larger The Story of Stuff (worth watching, too) and it provides a great opportunity to talk not only about the issues of e-waste and production cycles, but also about point of view, use of “facts and data,” and visual persuasion. This video has it all. While it is a powerful indictment of the ways electronics are endangering the health of workers and others on production lines, it also mostly avoids bringing in a balanced view, uses data without much direct citation, utilizes powerful animated images to evoke an emotional response, and more.
I won’t lie and say we had as full a discussion as I would have liked. The video came near the end of the period on the day before February vacation, and after a vocabulary quiz. But even so, the video did spark lots of discussion about the ways my students and families view electronics, and that sharing gave me avenues for pointing out the techniques of the video. We’ll be revisiting this topic later in the year, for sure.
We had some interesting discussions in class yesterday about passwords. Stories about getting hacked by friends, about sharing passwords as a sign of friendship, of never even considering how easily a password could be cracked, of forgetting a password. And most of my sixth grade students admitted they think very little about the passwords they come up with, and most use the same password everywhere. (I suspect the same can be said for many adults.) The discussion was part of our Digital Life unit, and I shared an interesting tool that tests the hackability of a password. The kids were jazzed about testing the strength of passwords, and then were suitably shocked when the site would say that their passwords could be hacked “instantly.” The video from Common Craft hit all the right spots, too.
Again, I downplayed the fear factor in all this, and turned it around to a positive, and guided them to think about how we can use language and writing to create strong passwords. This includes reminding them of memory devices for creating passwords that might seem like nonsense to the outside world but will make perfect sense to them. We talked about how the use of symbols and numbers, and mixing upper and lower case letters, all help strengthen a password.
We’re nearing the end of our Digital Life unit, and yesterday, our topic was cyberbullying and bullying, in general. It was a deep conversation across my sixth grade classes, rich with questions and insights and, unfortunately, experience. One of the topics we discusses is the role of the bystander, and as luck would have it, I came across this activity/event in my National Writing Project network.
It has to do with thinking through and understand the role of the bystander who takes action. The term is a bit odd to say — upstander — but I had my students write down what they thought it meant before we talked about what it meant. Some of those notes have become part of this presentation that I will be sharing with my students and families, and also, submitted to the Upstanders, Not Bystanders event.
Last week, we were talking about online identity and avatars, and my students are now working on creating a visual representation of themselves for our Glogster space. Here is the list of avatar creation sites that I shared with them (the Lego one was the most popular).