Making Connections: Midway Point, part two

In our big Making Connections project this year (we are in the second year, thanks to funding from the National Writing Project), we asked students to take an online survey before they started to do any blogging. We were looking to gather some data about perceptions of students as writers and users of technology. We have had about 250 students take the survey, which we believe gives us some reliability. Some teachers will be sharing the data with their students and with their administration.

Here are four questions that jumped out at me:

How do you use technology to communicate to others?

Do you think you write better on paper or on the computer?

Do you think schools should teach technology as a ways to communicate with others?

Which of these tools have you used in the past year?

Feel free to poke around:

Peace (with data points),
Kevin

 

Making Connections: Midway Point, part one

I am project leader for an initiative (funded by the National Writing Project) that seeks to use weblogs to connect students. We have 15 teachers from five school districts, and about 300 students using blogs to write and interact.


We just finished the first phase of our project, in which students introduce themselves and comment with each other. We have had almost 1,200 posts on the Manila-based Weblog that we are using (the poor server). This weekend, the teachers all met to talk about how things are going. For the most part, they are not technology-proficient, so this project is pushing them in new, and sometimes frustrating, directions.

Here are some of the teacher posts from this weekend:

Most students from Southampton have made their introductions and have had had a chance to go back on and make comments to introductions of students from other schools. This went very smoothly in Southampton. Many responses were made to students from other towns. We did tell all students to make at least 3 responses to students from OTHER schools first before responding to someone from our own school. We also reminded them to look for studentsto respond to who might not have any responses yet. One frustration some students had was that they did not know who had responded to their introduction. If there was more than one student with the name “Bob”, for instance, they did not know which one in order to respond back to him. Or, students were not signing their response.” — Lisa

The successes include seeing all of the connections that students are making as well as seeing the empathy being gained as they learn that other student are having shared experiences. Hinting about the upcoming experiement has also been a real postitive as students witness the nature of science as others repeat the Skittles experiment to gather more data. — Jack

Everything is going okay so far. The only problem we have had has been gremlins in the machine that won’t accept the kids’ passwords or even their existence as members when they try to log on. The weird thing is that on any given day some kids get on successfully while others do not. There seems to be no consistency in who the particular victims will be – someone may have no problem one day, but may have to try 2 or 3 times to get logged in the next day.” — Mary M.

I was a little disappointed in my students’ introductions, but I think that as soon as they see the traffic that has hit the blog, they will become more enthusiastic. Right now, like me, I think they are a little overwhelmed. — Denise

Our students created self-portraits by hand. We took digital pictures of them and then uploaded them to a photo storage website. The only pitfall was figuring out how to do all of this–trial by fire and LOTS of time. If anyone needs help with this, thanks to just-in-time learning, I am now a Master Jedi. LOL” — Michele

One problem I ran into was that some students would hop on the blog whenever they got a few extra minutes in the day. They were able to get their work finished quickly; posting their own and responding back and forth to several people. This was great, but the problem was that with the extra time, they just started to casually blog to one another. I had to have the “this is not myspace” talk with them and remind them that all of the other people and teachers on the blog can and would be reading what they write.” — Deb

I’m benefitting because I’m gaining some technological skills. My students are improving both their writing and technological skills, and they’re making meaningful connections with students from other communities. I think my students especially enjoyed posting their self-portraits – Michele, who is a technology wizard, helped a great deal with this. The drawings don’t really look like them, but they capture their personalities quite well! One thing I really like about this project is the security of the site and the control we have as teachers. ” — Paula

Many of the students are excited about the project and are looking forward to continuing. It is sometimes difficult to manage all the students as they are not very independent when starting a new endeavor. We are ironing out the wrinkles as far as logistics, scheduling, and other problems go. ” Ann

Things are going well, slow but sure. My fifth grade students are enjoying this ‘new’ way of talking, especially the relaxed writing style. It was refreshing to see some of my more reluctant participants jump on the tech train. I am wondering how I can keep this same enthusiaism as we try to find time and space in the computer lab. The chatter is great. Kidos want to get on and talk with each other. I have one student who got onto the site from home. I’m not sure about this…I wonder how I can control what happens outside my perview? I have a new layer of responsibility that I’m not yet sure about.” — Mary F.

I have a group of enthusiastic bloggers this year. Although they are not as advanced with technology as my group last year, they are tenacious.” — Eva

It has been difficult for us to “squeeze” the blogging into our curriculum, but the kids are enthusiastic and most want to do more. It’s interesting how these kids perceive the responses they have been getting – some were disappointed to find out that they were corresponding with “white kids”, and others were disappointed to have responses from younger students “Miss, why are you trying to “hook me up” with a 10 year old!” But, it’s good for them to see outside of their culture and very limited horizon. And once they began to understand everything, they were accepting and look forward to the experience.” — Wendy

Again, I’m having trouble when I really wasn’t expecting to. I planned to blog with a class that I had a support teacher with and that is usually a pretty enthusiastic bunch, the principal had been notified and seemed to be on board, etc., and Wendy said she would help if I needed her. Then- My support teacher and Wendy were assigned to new Lindamood Bell classes during that block, the principal got MCAS panic, and my class, for the most part,decided they are not that interested!” — Mary D.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of reflection going on with the project, and many hurdles to overcome. In the next day or two, I will share the data from a survey we had our students take around technology.

Peace (with connections),
Kevin

Your Day in a Sentence

As promised, I jumped into the seat left warm by The Reflective Teacher to man his My Day in a Sentence feature. So here goes:

First, I have my own sentence.

“Emotions– from joy to sadness — came through in the voices of my students as they moved from written page to podcast on an assignment to write a narrative paragraph about an object that brings up strong memories for them.” — You can even listen to their voices, if you want.

Our regular host, The Reflective Teacher, may have been pressed for time and other commitments, but he still left us with his own sentence about how images can provide sparks for writing:

We one-upped each other with the stories behind famous photographs; who knew these kids could teach the teachers?” The Reflective Teacher

Nani, another friend from the National Writing Project, had a very busy week with both writing and literature.

Everyone was tired this week but my kids and I got a lot done…made a dent in Othello with my seniors, held my Juniors’ hands as they did a synthesis essay and finished a novel with my freshmen!” — Nani

Ms. Q just wants to stay home for a day and recuperate. Who can blame her, really? She probably deserves a nice quiet day for herself.

Monday-8:35 am-ready for the week, lesson plans set, bring em on! Monday 3:24 pm-Can I stay home tomorrow and not grade papers and not plan lessons and not read the novel we will be starting in a few weeks and play on the computer all day and watch all my Tivo’d shows and just be a kid again????? Huh, can I?”Ms. Q

Jody may not have meant to leave this as her sentence, but, well, here I go posting it anyway because, darn it, we all want to feel normal most days (but not every day).

“Oh the joy, day in a sentence is on … thank you … another week of reading others words, relating and feeling almost NORMAL!”Jody.

Happychyk (!) is finding the balance between home and school — between Mommy-time and Teacher-time — a bit precarious (sounds like me and Daddy-time) and so I am emailing off some friendly medication (strictly over the counter) and positive thoughts to get her through this rough patch and make her happy again:

“My day for the maximum dosage of Exedrin:

Trying to teach this quarter’s content while doing last minute test prep for the Big Important Test next week leaves me little time at my desk to give feedback on essays I collected 5 days ago, so you would think that I would dedicate time at home to catch up, but the remaining hours are required for mommy duties, including a visit to the health clinic so they can update their immunizations lest they be excluded from school starting Friday, so obviously I find no time to do anything well–and to top it off, an irate parent has the audacity to blame me and my colleagues because she trusted her teenage daughter and only RECENTLY started checking her grades online (our school considers that a direct line of communication between teachers and parents and has been using it for years), which we update weekly, only to discover that she was failing several classes, and although we did personally call and invite the mother to get involved in her daughter’s academics, she claims it wasn’t soon enough.” Happychyk

MrC is going through the March syndrome: the month lasts too long. (Not sure if he meant hyphy or hyper but I left it as it was).

It’s March: the kids are hyphy and I’m looking for a new job.” — MrC

And finally, my friend Bonnie, is contemplating the professional development work she does through her National Writing Project site.

Friday’s HVWP event ended this week and many others that have come before, and it was worth it all.” — Bonnie

So, you may be thinking — I should have left my sentence! OK, Ok, go ahead, and use the comment feature here and leave your own. And then make sure you hop over to The Reflective Teacher and participate in the feature each week that it is offered. Remember, this is a community we’re building here.

Thanks for reading and for submitting your words.

Peace (with partnerships),
Kevin

 

Ants Marching

My oldest son received a very cool Ant Farm during the holidays. It has blue gel and was designed by NASA for space experiments. The first delivery of ants were … not moving. The second delivery took a few weeks. But once they arrived, the ants were the hit of the house. I tried to capture their work with pictures and video.

Here are the ants:

[googlevideo]-2190103145846030654&hl=en[/googlevideo]

Peace (through tunnels),
Kevin

Your Day in A Sentence

My good friend, The Reflective Teacher, does a regular spotlight on teachers writing about one of their days of the week in a single sentence. I find it interesting to read and to participate in. Well, he has to take a week off and asked for a substitute blogger, and I agreed.

So here we go:

Boil down your week into one sentence and write it as a comment to this post. Then, I will collate those sentences and post them on Sunday night, with links to your blogs and/or sites.

Peace (with brevity),
Kevin

The Sofa Kings — Behind the Scenes

I took a small video camera into the recording studio with my band, The Sofa Kings, and cut this small movie for our band website. I wrote or co-wrote four of the five songs we recorded, although I am not in the video much until near the end.

[googlevideo]89177096634365723&hl=en[/googlevideo]

Peace (with microphones, electric guitars and drums),
Kevin

OnPoEvMo: Standing Inside this Strange Loop — March 2007

Bear with me on this one: I was reading an article about the author Douglas Hofstadter (who wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach that I used to like to look at but never really could understand it all) and he now has a new book out called I Am A Strange Loop, and the concept of the paradox took hold in my mind.

Thus, another installment of my One Poem Every Month for a Year project.

 

Standing Inside this Strange Loop
(March 2007)

Listen to the Poem

 

I am standing here inside this strange loop
of sentences — no, wait —
I am lying.
That can’t be true. I am not standing inside of this loop
but I am on the outside, looking in, on top of this tangled hierarchy,
and wondering where the path will take me if I were to surf
the contours of this geometry and skate along the horizon.

I am inside of Bach’s canon, scattershot with no way out,
as the melody folds in on itself —
can you hearhearhearhear me
or is that just another harmonic echo
embedded in the air, shaking the molecules as tremors in the drum?
Creating something that becomes itself is the gift of the magician
and with music, it’s not even there —
only your ears can see the notes landing like snowflakes,
melting, and moving through the cyclical journey
to become ice once again sometime in the distant future,
drawing you back to this memory of the music
in Bach’s own mind.

Up the down staircase, indeed,
as MC Escher — not of some rap-busting rhymes in time
but the artist of the brush and the pen —
visually sends me downstairs while my eyes go up
and my mind is sent spinning in exhausting circles
aroundroundroundround
until one hand writes the other hand’s words
as I, me, the artist, the composer, completely disappears into myself.
Isn’t that just like the poet, too, tossing images into the world
and sounds flutterflutterflutter that coalesce into a theme
only when you stop looking for it?

Or maybe what I am saying here is completely untrue
because, really, I always speak the truth.
Like then, and then, and thenthenthenthenthen.
Logic is missing in this mayhem
and my world is precariously balanced
on the paradoxical threads of yet another
strange loop.

Peace (peacepeacepeacepeace),
Kevin

Tech Skills for Students

I just came across an article by Jakob Nielson that discusses the skills that young people should be learning. The one-sentence summary of the article is instructive: “Schools should teach deep, strategic computer insights that can’t be learned from reading a manual.” What he means is that schools should not teach to a certain platform or software program, but they should instruct along the lines of critical thinking and problem-solving that will come in handy no matter how technology changes (and it will change — we all know that).

Here is a list of the skills that Jakob says are vital:

  1. Search Strategies
  2. Information Credibility
  3. Battling Information Overload
  4. Presentation Skills
  5. Ergonomics
  6. Basic Debugging Techniques
  7. Understanding Usability Guidelines

You can read more at his site but I think this is a nice basic list to think about.

Peace (with the basics),
Kevin

EPencil chosen as Techlearning Site of the Week

My classroom weblog site — The Electronic Pencil — was just chosen as the Site of the Week by TechLearning. Cool.

Name: The Electronic Pencil:

Here is what they said:

“This is an excellent example of teachers working together to communicate with students and parents by incorporating the use of technology. In addition to reviewing class work and projects, site visitors can find homework assignments, get an overview of projects for the year, and access the school’s Website. Hodgson reports that the blog has quickly become a place where students engage in authentic publication and learn lessons about digital literacy. Most importantly, these students are developing the sense of being members of a learning community.” — TechLearning

Peace (with pencils),
Kevin

Sofa Kings in the Studio

My rock band, The Sofa Kings, is heading into the recording studio this weekend and it is very exciting because I intend to record the experience on video, too. We have five songs that we intend to put down with the engineer, Paul, who has worked as an engineer extensively throughout our region and who plays with a bunch of, well, hard-hard rock bands. Our goal is record about 12 original songs by the end of 2007, so this is just the first batch for us.


Listen to The Sofa Kings

Four of the five songs are ones that I have written or co-written.

Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Gravitational Pull — an older song that I wrote with John, the guitar player, about my wife and how everything seems centered on her (in a wonderful way). I sing on this one.
  • Katrina Blows In — I wrote this one in the aftermath of the hurricane season and premiered it at my school where I teach during a benefit concert with an offshoot band I am in called The Millenium Bugs.
  • Beacon in the Night — I wrote this one with John, with a sort of gospel feel to it. Don sings it.
  • Stubborn Fool — I wrote this one with both Johns and although I do very little on it (just some back-up vocals), I think it is one of the strongest songs lyrically and pop-rock-wise (not a word but it fit).
  • No More Mister Fun — I didn’t write any of this one. It is by John, the pianist, and Bob, the drummer. I am just BongoMon on this song.

(What is strange is that I don’t play sax on any of these songs. It just worked out that way. I will be blowing some horn on the next round of songs.) 

Peace (with pop songs),
Kevin