Sometimes, the Crowd need help

I’m all for collaboration and bringing many brains together, and I love how technology makes collaboration so much easier. But some recent developments with a project made me realize that there is a limit to “many hands on deck” that I need to keep in mind in the future.

I am part of the Massachusetts New Literacy Teacher-Leader Initiative, which began last June with a week-long institute in Cambridge, and which is set to continue through the course of the year with three professional development sessions. There area about 100 teachers, administrators and technology coordinators involved, and I am one of the ten teacher-leaders who are trying to run and organize the initiative, which is sponsored by our state. (We had help last summer from the New Literacies Collaborative folks, but they have moved onward and left the project in our hands.) The other teacher-leaders are smart, interesting and are on top of things. It’s a good group to be part of.

Since mid-summer, we have been working on coming up with a plan for an October session. Since the ten of us leaders live and work across the state, it seemed to me to make sense to do the planning virtually.

First, I created a social networking space on Grouply, which wasn’t that popular, I guess, since very few of us used it for much at all.

Then, I started up a Google Doc for us to use, but soon realized that there just too many of us to keep track of the changes and ideas floating around.  To me, it became chaos. And even then, not all ten of us were even using the document.

Someone suggested Elluminate, but none of us followed up on it.

We were then left with a wall of silence for a bit, as I think we were all bit confused about where to go now. Plus, school was starting up.

We’ve now reverted to good ol’ email, with two of our team (not me) designated as “project leaders” setting the agenda options and allowing the rest of us room to add ideas (around showing new tools, and allowing the teams time to connect and share out, etc.) in email responses. I like that approach much better, even though I have to give up an amount of control, and tracking the emails can get nutty.

This experience had me wondering: where is that Golden Limit on number of people collaborating where collaborative flexibility transforms itself into chaos and too many voices make a muddle of things?

I think the number for me is about five people trying to plan a document together. After that, the best option is to designate some leaders and resign yourself to the role of a follower-collaborator. And this seems to be one of the ongoing weaknesses of the Crowdsourcing movement, right? Chaos reigns easily. Even Wikipedia has editors or gatekeepers.

Peace (in the organization),
Kevin

Daze in a Sentence

dayinsentenceiconThanks to everyone who contributed to the re-emergence of Days in a Sentence!! I appreciated all of the comments tumbling into my blog box this past week.

First of all, Tracy wrote me a very nice note about the value of Day in a Sentence as a reflective activity that is important to her. She wrote: “As reflection, boiling down my ‘take away’ from a day into a sentence helps me to focus in on what is important, what is prevalent in my mind, what I need to work on. It is also helpful to read other teachers concise reflections – learning and sharing in community is never bad.” — Thanks, Tracy. I could not agree more.

Her sentence:

Starting a new school year in 3 hours and 10 minutes as a wandering teaching with no classroom, homeless yet liberating in a way

I loved the way Illya phrased her sentence:

Am busy exploring volcanoes and preparing for eruptions with my lovely 6th graders.

It seems like Sheryl is waiting for you to invite her into your classroom. Do you have a sword in a stone anywhere?

I’m a knight errant looking to serve in a 21st century school environment.

my good friend (and former classroom pen pal partner),  sara, became a mom recently. it’s great great to hear from her and all of her lower case letters.

another school year started last week, and i’m not teaching 5th graders until after christmas – instead, i’m the dedicated teacher and mama to one gorgeous, silly, smiley student, my 7-week-old daughter.

Delaine has changed careers, I guess, and is doing something very interesting. Good luck, Delaine!

Having left the classroom in Fresno, I am attempting my third career in microfinance in San Francisco.

Paul writes poetry, even if he didn’t know it. The words here dance in my head at the start of the school year.

Each year I get to meet 100 new kids never knowing which ones I will have an impact on, or what will be their impact will be on me.

Amanda sent me her sentence via email. It’s more than a sentence but I am never, ever a stickler for rules.

As our first week of school we spent a great deal of time looking.  We looked ahead at what we’ll cover this year, we looked inside (our brains) to share about who we are as learners in our first writing assignment, and we looked back to remember and honor the lives lost and the bravery of those who continue to fight for our freedom.

The Teacher’s Pets mourns the loss of a dog. We’re glad to have you here in Day in  a Sentence and are sorry for the loss.

After hearing that a beloved Schnauzer client, Bo, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on Saturday night, I was unable to enjoy the holiday weekend as I originally planned.

Jim seems like he started on a high note (and for those of you starting a new year, I hope you did, too).

I had a fantastic first day today, I hope the rest of the year stays just as energetic.

Hear that sound? That’s Matt. He’s breathing easier than ever.

For the first time in a long time I am returning to school without a mound of obligations on my back.

Ben’s sentence sounds like he just ascended from the movie Inception. I bet it was a heck of a journey.

I teased brains, rang bells, bent minds.

Yes, Nancy, those were cows!

My hiatus from teaching is over, and instead of a view of the dirty, smelly Bruckner Expressway, I get cows walking past my classroom windows!

Uh oh. I sense some tension with Lynn. Maybe she needs a few cows walking past her window. Are there cows in Chico?

The process of calming the twelves is wearing me thinner than I like.

Not sure what to make of Penny‘s sentence. Maybe she was stuck in a staff meeting …

Death by meeting or inspiration crowd-sourcing?

Get thee to the Starbucks! Barbara needs a shot of something.

The amount of energy spent today interacting with students (in a very positive way) left me exhausted and anxious for my 4-shot caramel macchiato—mmmmmm—so satisfying!

Cynthia, retiring? in May? Oh my.

Mandalas, PhotoStories, sociograms, Anglo Saxon boasts, resumes, accusative case–oh, my: our days are full of new and exciting experiences; I wonder if I will miss them when I retire in May.

And Bonnie left this note for me (as did Tracy above), as I mentioned that I was not sure how to keep this feature a regular ongoing thing.

I just reread Kevin’s article about teacher as writer and I for one call to keep Boil Down Your Week regular. What Can I Do To Help? That’s my new mantra this year.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I appreciate your words this week. I’ll be enlisting hosting help for Day in a Sentence. Leave me a note here if you might be interested in hosting Day in a Sentence at your blog.

Peace (in the daze of our days),
Kevin

Talkin’ 9/11

Last year, I took some heat from an administrator at my school for showing a Brain Pop movie explaining what 9/11 was and its impact on our lives today. The video was well-done and informative, and a perfect fit for sixth graders. Or so I thought.  I was told I should have warned parents and that the images of planes crashing into buildings was not appropriate to show (even in cartoon). I don’t know. I teach sixth grade and they need to be ready for the world.

Yesterday, I just had to talk about 9/11, even if I didn’t show a single image or movie. And we had a great series of discussions around tolerance and current events, particularly around the uproar over the Mosque/community center project near Ground Zero  (most of my kids did not know what a mosque was) and that pastor in Florida who wants to burn the Quoran. When we made the connection between the Bible and the Quoran, most of the students were very offended (and one student from Turkey was already outraged). We talked about the ongoing war in Afghanistan and its roots in 9/11 (we live near a reserve air base, so many folks in our area have been to the Middle East in recent years).

As it turns out, two of our vocabulary words this week are immigrant and persecution, both of which also gave us an entry point into the diverse nature of our country and how many people have come here to avoid their governments, and the result is that there are many different people, with many different religions, and many different cultural heritages.

And then I told them that, in my family, September 11 is a day of celebration, too. My youngest son turns six years old today and I told my students that in this world, you need to find a balance between the good and bad, and while I will be remembering those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, I will also be cherishing the joy that my son brings to us.

Peace (in the love, not hate),
Kevin

The Great Rust-Eating Bunny Hoax

bunnies news
My classroom does not have a water fountain or a sink. It is without water. When my students ask why, I tell them the truth: my room is right at the point where an addition was put to our school many years ago and somehow, the pipes got crushed. By the time the school figured it out, it was too late and too expensive to fix (or so I am told).

This year, one class said that story was boring and couldn’t I come up with anything better. Well. That’s a challenge, right? I let a few days pass, and then yesterday, I shared out a “news clipping” I found about an invasive species in our area that eats rust and pipes. I showed them the, ahem,  newspaper article (which I created with the Fodey image generator site).

When I got the end of the article, there was some stunned silence. Rust-eating bunnies? Underground in our town? Most of them believed the article was true (it looks like an article, so it must be an article), which led to an interesting discussion about not everything you see on the Web is real.

Then, they really loved the story. And I got their attention.

Peace (in the burrowing bunnies of Crowtopia),
Kevin

Using Videos in Animoto


I’ve used Animoto many times in many ways over the last few years to showcase work of my students, but I had not yet tried the ability to upload videos into Animoto, and create moving project. Our recent name movies seemed a perfect fit, since Animoto only allows for small chunks of video (I think it is about 20 seconds) which you can edit down to smaller pieces at the site itself. The process was fairly intuitive.

I guess if you had a larger video, you could upload it and then duplicate it a bunch of times, editing different moments to create something a little different. Seems like a lot of work, but it could be done.

I like this new theme they have at Animoto. The folding boxes seemed a nice design fit for a movie of stickfigures.

Peace (on the small screen),
Kevin

My Son’s Teacher’s Blog

Finally … a teacher of one of my kids has a blog. I know not every teacher needs to blog nor desires to, but I was hoping that with three kids in the public school system, eventually someone would have a blog that I could follow.

My oldest son — now in seventh grade — came back home with a slew of forms and papers from his first day, and in there, there was a nice welcome letter from his history teacher, who included the web address of a blog that she uses called A Place in the World. It seems more like a place of news than a place of student work, but it’s a start.

I posted a comment for her, wishing her a good year, and then put her RSS feed into my reader. I feel like the parents of my own students, hopeful that I will get some information to spark discussions other than “nothing” when we ask what is going in school.

:)

Peace (in the blogging),
Kevin

Reflect, Connect with Day in a Sentence

dayinsentenceiconGreetings.

It’s been quite some time since I have launched Day in a Sentence, the collaborative venture where I ask you, dear reader, to boil down your entire week or a day in the week (your choice) into a single reflective sentence. Then, you post your sentence as a comment to this blog post. My job is to collect all of your sentences and then publish them together over the weekend.

So, what do you say? Do you have  a pocket of reflective energy? How can you capture your week or a day in your week in a single sentence? Add your sentence to the comments here, and spread the word.

Day in a Sentence is back! (albeit on a somewhat irregular basis).

My podcasted sentence:

I can barely express how different the climate of my new class of students is from my old class, where “walking on eggshells” was my daily mantra and I was as much traffic cop as teacher.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

PS — What is the value in teachers becoming writers in places like Day in a Sentence? I tried to address this earlier in the year with this article over at LEARN NC.

Starting the Year with Names in Motion

Names in Motion 2010 (1) from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

I like to start the first day of school with some fun technology and last year, I had my sixth graders jump headfirst into Pivot Stickfigure to make a movie that included letters in their name. I love that when parents ask “what did you do today,” they can answer, “we made a movie.”

Their only instructions from me are that I want them to include the letters of their name in their short stopmotion movie. What am I looking for? Time to chat with my new students and a sense of who is pretty comfortable with the computers and with trying something new (only one of my students had used Pivot before). I smiled when I heard a boy shout out from the back of the room, “I’m the expert. I can help.”

That’s what I want to hear!

I then grabbed finished movies (a few are still in process) and put them together into longer collections.

Here is one such collection:

Peace (in the names),
Kevin

Do we need an “E”?

Last year, our school district moved to a standards-based reporting system. Well, that’s not quite right. The middle and high school in our district apparently had the choice to opt out and they did. That’s another story altogether, really. But we in the elementary schools are in the second year of standards-based reporting, which is sure to change again next year with the Common Core standards coming into play in Massachusetts.

One area of contention has been the “E” designation for student achievement, where students are assessed based on how they progressing or meeting the individual curriculum framework standard. The “E” stands for “exceeding the grade level standard.” My sixth teaching team has had many discussions about the E and when it might be warranted. We were very stingy with it and I think I may have given out two or three E’s all of last year. Total. And even there, it felt like I was rewarding students for their overall work and not that they were exceeding the sixth grade expectations. It didn’t feel right to me.

During district-wide meetings last spring about thestandards-based report system and how it was going in year one, a clear message emerged from the upper grades: let’s get rid of the “E” since none of us are teaching curriculum that goes beyond the grade we teach, and figuring out how to justify an “E” makes it trickier than it is worth. Plus, parents of students who traditionally received straight A’s in the old system expect to see straight E’s now.

But the “E” remains in place this year again, as one grade level in particular apparently argued for it to remain (and the designation of achievement levels is standard across all grades). I’m not sure why that one grade has more sway than the rest of us, but I guess it does.

I’m curious to know what others are doing on this issue. Do you have a designation that shows student achievement beyond the standards that are being taught in a grade? How is that determined? Please share your thoughts.

Peace (in the mulling it over),
Kevin

Dipping our toes into the Gulf

oil spill question
I started out Day One of the school year with a discussion around what my sixth graders know about the oil spill in the Gulf and what has been happening in the recovery and recapping efforts over the summer months (later that same day, I found out about the explosion of another platform). I shared with one of the interactive maps online that shows the spread of the oil from May to August.

I explained to them that throughout the course of the year, we will be doing inquiry projects and environmental-themed writing that centers around these issues as part of the Voices on the Gulf endeavor. My hope is to touch a wide range of issues as we move forward. I explained this to my principal the other day, and he was very excited about it, wondering how we could use Skype or videoconferencing to connect with other students, particularly those who are involved who live along the Gulf Coast region. I’m going to work on that, I told him.

But first, I asked my homeroom class: What questions do you have about the oil spill? I took their answers and created a Wordle of the responses, which is now posted up at the Voices on the Gulf.

You, and your students, are also invited to join us on this collaborative project. You can read more information about what is required (it all depends on you) and how to get started.

Peace (in the starting),
Kevin

PS — I’ll leave you with a song that I wrote during late August about my feelings around the Gulf’s recovery. I shared it at Voices on the Gulf, but I was on my blogging vacation back then.

Listen to Ocean Dreams