First Day of School: Sixth Graders Speak

It was Day One of the school year, and so I demonstrated to my sixth graders all the steps necessary to creating and posting audiocast to our Weblog site by actually doing it together (in 30 minutes!!) and we ended up with this audiocast:

On the first day of school, my homeroom students created a podcast about their expectations for sixth grade and/or their concerns for the year ahead.

Listen to Their Voices

Oh, if you are wondering about what Quidditch is, here is a visual guide:

On the Radio

In the past two years, I have been on the local NPR affiliate (WFCR) two times — first, as a guest commentator speaking of the values of nurturing student leadership and community service at my school (Norris Elementary School), and, second, as a leader of the National Writing Project-funded Making Connections Weblog Project.

As I continue to explore ways to integrate audio into Weblogs, I figured this would be a time to link those two radio files to this site.


My Writing Curriculum Map

I have always shared information with my parents and students right from the first day of school because I believe it is important for everyone to know what is ahead in my sixth grade writing class. It should not be a mystery. This year, I decided to take it a step further and put together an overall curriculum map and distribute via our school website (which is being revamped) and my classroom Weblog site.

It was a valuable experience for me, as a teacher, to realize the scope of work being accomplished by my students over the course of a school year. I also realized that there are endless mini-lessons and activities that fall outside the scope of this generalized curriculum overview. But I guess it is a start.

Here is the curriculum map for parents and students


And so it begins …

I always start off the school year by sending home a letter to all of my incoming students (whom I have already met last year) that welcomes them to my classroom and provides a quick overview of what is ahead for the coming year (excitement! fun! adventure!).

I also give them access to our writing class weblog (The Electronic Pencil) and instructions on how to log in and post some writing. I start them off with the basic “what did you do this summer” query in the days before school starts and then closely monitor what happens.

In the first few days, four students have already posted some initial writing and begun commenting on each other’s writing (all good) and then today, I get a post in which a student describes in some detail their dating habits this summer and the ups and downs of being a sixth grader. It was a good piece of writing (as writing goes) but not within bounds of our Weblog. So I had to delete their writing and insert a comment from me about the parameters of acceptable expression. And that made me feel awkward and I realized how artificial a classroom weblog becomes when this happens, and yet, as a teacher, I really didn’t have much choice. The post was too specific on too many topics.

I know I will have to pull this student aside on the first day and have a discussion. That’s a good thing (the discussion) but I still feel a tingle of uneasiness between what I hope the site can be used for and how I have to act as gatekeeper.

This student promised to write again tomorrow, so I look forward to reading the next post … 🙂


Technology as a Tool for Learning

School is just around the bend and those frantic dreams have already begun for me (and for others, I notice, as I read some other Weblogs of teachers). So this is a perfect time to reflect a bit on last year and think about projects that were successful and projects that need a bit more thinking time. 🙂

For my sixth graders, learning how to use Powerpoint was an eye-opener. I know that PP is so overused in so many different ways, but it still a valuable tool for research dissemination for students. However, I wanted to use PP in another way in the writing classroom — as a template for creating picture books.

So, my sixth graders spent about six weeks (much longer than anticipated) writing stories for a younger audience with a theme of mathematics, and then using Powerpoint to create picture books. No clip art was allowed!

When they were finished, we invited younger grades to tour our classroom and watch the Powerpoint Picture Book Shows and ask questions about the stories, technology and production. I then arranged to have print copies made of the shows for both my students and for our school library. Finally, I uploaded all of the picture books to our Weblog site so that family members could also view the shows.

The results were wonderful — students very engaged in writing, integrating math into writing instruction, and the use of technology in a meaningful way.

You can view the Math Picture Books yourself, if you would like.

If you are a teacher, good luck at the start of the year!