Tuesday, January 29, 2013


My students have spent 20% of the last semester's class time preparing for their so called "20% Projects."  They reflected on what they achieved and learned in that time, had some failures and/or had projects turn out not quite in the direction intended in October.

At close to the last minute, I surprised them by saying I had invited the whole district by sending an email to all the faculty in the district inviting them to bring their students if they were not taking an exam (our school has students come in for a full day during exams, so students such as those taking fitness that period are not responsible for an exam).  I also told them they would be presenting in our auditorium on the stage (our stage is small; it's meant for presentations rather than drama productions).  Not many took the call, but our building's supervisor did come for some of the presentations as well as a few other teachers.

From their presentations, they learned a lot.  The student who went first wrote a program.  His original intent was to write an app for Android devices, which didn't happen, so he said he failed.  This student also said he learned how important it is to do some research on a project before committing to it--had he know how much time and work went into writing code (his program had something like 1000 lines of code in it), he probably would have gone in a different direction, but he felt he learned a lot by taking on the process too.

Another student presented on her research on creating an animal sanctuary.  She spoke with folks at different levels of sanctuary (from small animals to big cats) and learned about how non-profits work and expressed that this is what she wants to do with her life and is very happy she started the process now because she realized how much money and work goes into it.

Other reflections focused mainly on the process of the project rather than on the learning from the project itself, which I found very interesting!  My goal was to have them learning about something that interested them and turning it into a TED talk, but they seem to have learned a lot about the process of a big, inquiry type project, which (I hope!) will serve them even better than learning about something that interests them.

As has happened so often with this group, the audience asked questions so presentations ran longer than our allotted time (100 minutes for 8 presentations SHOULD have been enough!!), so we are lucky that we have another hour of class time to finish up the remaining ones.

The grading rubric for the project can be viewed here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reflections from Educon 2.5 Day 1

When I attend these "big" education conferences in this new world of education, I feel like such an introvert.  I'm overwhelmed by all these people with grand ideas, doing awesome things for and with students, and usually feel like I'm not doing enough, just following behind the wave, etc.  I also feel like my 6th grade self had I ever met Joey McIntyre; totally star struck by the "Twitter rock stars," as I call them, with whom I come into contact and even have conversations (when I can work up the nerve) at a conference like this.  Even my husband commented on my wallflower-ness at places like this, knowing that I'm usually the social butterfly.  It's weird but it's also something I can't help.

I attended a number of sessions, some I stayed through and some I bounced out of.  I took a lot of notes and got some great resources; I sure hope I'm teaching media again next year so I can put to use what I learned from the Mozilla folks at Session 2.  In the first session, I went to a session called The Closer Citizen: Linking Close Reading to a Careful Analysis Of Media and Our Lives, the focus of which was using "close reading" of a text, be the text actual text or a media text, to determine meaning.  A man sitting next to me asked first our small group and then the presenter how this method is different from teaching reading comprehension; I didn't really get a clear answer from the presenter but I think it could be really effective for building analysis at the high school level and better help students dig beyond the literal meaning of a text.  Just another thing to keep in the back pocket... and this is definitely not a strong point of mine so I need tools in my back pocket to help me.

My second session was the previously mentioned session with Mozilla and The National Literacy Project.  This was a great session about building media literacy and also fluency.  We were supposed to do some group work, but my whole table left right as that piece began (I guess I smell!), so the session leader came over and engaged me in conversation; she asked what I'd come to the session to learn and I told her about my media class, how I'd like to move from media analysis to media creation, and she gave me a bunch of links to help me help my class do that:   

Even if I'm not teaching a media class next year, these tools and lessons are certainly ones I can use in my history classroom, so that's a definite good thing (though I really hope to be teaching media again next year!!)

By the time the third session rolled around, I was in full on what I call "A.D.D. mode."  I was having a really hard time sitting still and focusing.  There had been a lot of sitting and listening and talking and I was pretty fried.  The last session was about Formative Assessments, but I hadn't really figured out what I was supposed to be learning halfway through the session.  I definitely needed something more sequential at that point in the day, so I headed to another session.  Unfortunately, people were doing independent work there and no discussion was happening.  So, up I went again.  This time, I went into a conversation but, like I said, I was fried and having real trouble focusing.

We then went to dinner with some friends and had a lot of conversation, but instead of going out for all the partying some folks did, I fell asleep at the hotel room around 9:30.  Total rock star here.

I come out of a conference like this feeling both energized and feeling like there are others who think like I do and are pushing boundaries way further than I can ever imagine but also I feel a real big sense of dissonance.  A lot of the folks here are making really big changes in education--they are teacher leaders, they are administrators, they have the power to effect real change.  After a thing like this, I feel so powerless to make change beyond the walls of my classroom (and even then, I feel like I'm totally doing the wrong thing by making these changes within my classroom walls since I'm usually in trouble).  I have to learn/figure out how to make change the right way and not do it in a way that makes me feel like an island (Iceberg, right ahead!) AND in a way that doesn't get me into trouble!


Friday, January 25, 2013

Second Semester Reflections

This year, I was presented with the challenge of teaching new classes.  Two of them, for a total of four different preps.  The joy in all this is that most of the four preps are elective courses that largely allow me to do my thing.

My biggest struggle this semester has actually been a course I've taught a few times before, Microeconomics.  It's the type of material that my brain doesn't do well; I can learn it but I'm literally refreshing myself from my notes before every single class.  And during.  It, for whatever reason, does not stick, and it occurs to me that it must have been by some miracle I passed it in college.  I try to put a creative spin on the course, but have trouble finding relevance to my students, particularly those who do not plan to major in finance or run a business in their futures.  So despite feeling pretty successful in my other courses, I leave on those days often feeling totally inadequate (and thankful it isn't my last class of the day).  The struggle comes from knowing I should be doing better than the traditional lecture, practice problems, test.  I even have a hard time finding resources so that I can do certain topics better.

My two new classes this year have been Communications Media, which is a full year course, and Humanities, which is a semester long one.  Comm Media has been a fun ride so far, largely thanks to a friend with whom I'm sharing a ton of ideas.  Unfortunately, I kind of kept pace with her, and she runs a semester long class.  Oops.  As a result, I could and should have spent more time on all the topics, and am trying to think about ways to make the other parts of the curriculum fun and interesting.  I ran the class mostly as a media literacy one; we analyzed television for stereotypes and gender roles being reinforced, discussed the ways all media is advertising of some kind or another, viewed an episode of Mad Men to see how they tried to spin cigarettes after the Surgeon General report that cigarettes are bad came out, and viewed Inception to analyze whether blockbusters can be smart.  On the agenda for next semester is analysis of the Super Bowl ads and we'll also be taking a look at the Academy Awards to determine how they reflect our society as well as make our culture. 

I'm really proud of the bigger projects they've done; they worked on a fairly large project of creating a 15 minute sitcom, which had to appeal to a particular target audience and reflect or challenge stereotype prevalent in today's media culture.  They are currently working on their midterms, which has them creating a trailer for a non existent blockbuster film based on a children's story AND creating an effective movie poster for the same film.  They'll need to demonstrate understanding of what makes a blockbuster film as well as advertising techniques.  The beginning work is looking really exciting!

The Humanities course has been exciting too.  The curriculum is pretty loose so we've done some really fun stuff...  the big project has been the 20% Project.  This is their final exam project, but they've been spending roughly 20% of our class time in support of their outside work on a project of their choice.  They're learning about things that are so varied, it's unbelievable.  I do worry about their process of reflection; it sometimes seems the project is being only worked on during our 20% of class-time and not at all outside of class and I'm not sure how to combat that with students who are overworked and prioritize based on what's due soonest.  A long term project is likely to be thing pushed off till another time.  Perhaps I need to be stricter about due dates for reflection journals.  I also feel I'm not communicating well what a reflection journal should be, even though I feel like a broken record (what's the 21st century version of a broken record?) telling the students it's a documentation of their learning and progress for the week, giving them examples of what to use and examples of other student reflections.  I'll have to present these points better the next time we do this (hopefully in the second semester....)

In addition to the 20% Project, the Humanities class has had some remarkable projects this semester.  Most notable was when they presented their ideas for improving our school to the building administration.  They even got dressed up, and spent more than an hour presenting their super well thought out ideas for how the school could serve students better.  Ideas included a separate space for guidance because they always feel everyone is staring at them when they come out of the counselor's office, re-design of classroom spaces to facilitate collaboration, and even a whole redesign of the sequence of courses for all five high schools in our district.  Some of their ideas went into the "can't happen" file box but most of them were well received.  Oh, and are still being talked about by the administration. 

These have been the biggest outside of the box activities they've done, but we've also viewed films and they've completed the Soundtrack to their Lives, we've viewed films to discuss philosophy and reality and utopia and free will, we've made and discussed art and discussed censorship and whether it's mostly positive or mostly negative as well as a more general discussion of artistic integrity--creating for creation's sake vs creating to get paid as well as artists who create music and then change lyrics so they don't get censored and do get radio play.

So, although I haven't been doing a whole lot of formal ongoing reflection, there has been some incredible stuff happening this year so far.  I hope to improve on all these things in the new semester--taking Comm Media to the next level as we discuss media and journalism, making Economics more interesting and relevant, and making Humanities have more focus and even better outcomes.