Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Breakout EDU & the JCHS Library!

Thanks to Olivia Karr's courage and willingness to try something different in learning, we broke open the JCHS Breakout EDU Kit today and it was so much FUN!

A few weeks ago after reading the Tech Tips of the Week S'more that talked about capturing the excitement of the new Huntsville Escape Room our students were flocking to, Ms. Karr consulted with the JCHS Library about trying the Unlocking Shakespeare Breakout EDU game.  

We plotted and planned for two weeks, printing out and laminating clues, preparing the boxes and locks and found some medieval music for ambiance.  

The big day came today and Ms. Karr brought seven students to the Harvard Room where their Unlocking Shakespeare challenge began.  We read through the "setting the story" introduction, got the Google Form that went with the game pulled up on laptops for the students and set the game timer.  Ms. Kristi Combs, JCHS Instructional Partner and former AP English Teacher, joined in the adventure as well.

It was fun watching the students naturally merge into the various roles needed to solve the clues.  Ms. Karr, Ms. Combs, & I gave a few hints to help keep the momentum going, but really, we didn't need to provide much encouragement as the thrill of the challenge took over and the kids were off!

Even with one student being checked out before the game was over (she did not want to leave) the team still finished the 45 minute challenge with 6 minutes and 45 seconds to go!  The next "team" from Ms. Karr's class will come to the Harvard Room on Thursday to compete against the time set by today's students.

The great thing about Breakout EDU is that EVERYTHING is laid out in a very easy to follow and understand form, including a Flow Chart...so...NO WORRIES!

If you are still looking for reasons to try Breakout EDU take a look at Sylvia Duckworth's 10 Great Reasons To Play Breakout EDU

Here are a few pictures and videos from our first Breakout EDU!

Breakou EDU 4/26/16 Karr

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Essays & Research Papers Made Bearable

Lhs.loswego.k12.or.us. N. p., 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

Co-teaching with the talented teachers at James Clemens High School this year has been a big highlight of my 24 year career as an educator.  Yesterday I spent the day with Ms. McLaughlin's classes helping them out with their big research paper by showing them a few tips and tricks to making the research/essay writing process a little less tedious.  This co-teaching experience also gave me an opportunity to show Ms. McLaughlin a cool tool to make the grading processes less daunting.

Ms. McLaughlin's students are lucky to have her as their teacher. She is very organized and has really embraced using Google Classroom.  We started the lesson by having students access their Google Classroom and open the pre formatted MLA document provide by their teacher.  Google has a dizzying array of templates to make student and teacher lives a little easier.  Below are just a few templates that are available in Google Documents.

Although Ms. McLaughlin had already provided students with a pre-formatted MLA template I took time to show the students how to find the template on their own so they could use for other classes.

The next tidbit I shared was the relatively new Voice Typing feature in Google.  This is more of a "fun" feature that I like to show students but it actually really helped one student who had had quite a gruesome encounter with a chainsaw.  

Next, we moved on to the nitty gritty....research!  Google has a built in research feature right inside of Google Docs.  You can choose to search all of Google, Google, Scholar, Images, and more. Once you have put in your search term and websites have been pulled up you have three options: preview, insert, & cite.  Preview allows you to see a thumbnail of the website. Insert will insert the website link into your document wherever your cursor is located. Cite will add all related footnote features. The video below walks you through this great tool.

The one thing I wish this tool would do is add the Work Cited information. We circumvented this minor flaw with the Google Add On, EasyBib.  

From there we moved on to reviewing the best databases available through the Alabama Virtual Library (AVL).  Students and teachers are fortunate that our legislature has seen fit to fund the Alabama Virtual Library which is filled will a large number of databases for all age levels, including college and the general pubic.  Most of the databases inside the AVL also connect to Google Classroom, making the task of note taking, highlighting and accessing previously viewed resources later so easy!  Below is an AVL Tour Video. It is a bit dated so it does not show some of the awesome Google Classroom integration features.  AVL databases now also all have a "listening" button which is extremely helpful for students with dyslexia or other reading challenges.

The final tech tool, JoeZoo Express, will help make the grading process easier and more streamlined for Ms. McLaughlin.  JoeZoo Express analyses the student's paper and looks for the following errors: formatting, grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and structure.  Feedback included tips and hints that teach students how to correct their own mistakes. All of this is automated and teacher created. JoeZoo also contains a feature for seamless interactivity with Google Classroom.

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Not About YOU!

As I attend professional development sessions in person and/or online I keep noticing a common trend among teachers to either disregard or not even take into consideration whether the technology or innovative ideas being shared is what STUDENTS want or need.  The concern is about what the TEACHER thinks or feels is important or even worse.... what they have the time and/or interest to learn and apply.

One example of this came up in the #TLChat LIVE! Twitter Chat this evening as a librarian shared that her district supervisor would not allow her to genrefy the library collection.  The reasons given included, “No one else in the district is doing this”, “How would we address this in the computerized system”, and “This isn’t the way we do things”. My question to the administrator would be, "Have you asked the kids what they think?"

Jennifer Lagarde nearly caused an oxygen shortage when she addressed a room full of school librarians and stated, “The Dewey Decimal System is not a life skill”. Needless to say the shocked sucking in of air nearly depleted all the oxygen in the room.

When sharing how Google can automatically format papers in MLA format and the EasyBib Add On can format work cited information I am often meet with protests from teachers claiming students need to know how to do these tasks on their own. I summon my inner Jennifer Lagarde and ask, “Is MLA formatting a life skill”?  The answer is a firm NO.

Recently my heart broke as I sat in a PD session that featured a very real and poignant student panel. Instead of taking what the students said to heart and determining to make changes in the way we approach the educational process, many in attendance chose instead to fall back on the old adage of, "We can't do ____ because of time/technology/lack of training/testing/grading/pacing guide/common core/etc/etc/etc requirements".

Last week a student shared the video below with me.  Certainly not my taste in music but the words..the message...SPEAKS what our students are thinking.  Our students FEEL these words. Our students are BEGGING us for relevance in what they are being taught and are angry and offended when we don't pay heed to their voices. We have to let go of "traditional" teaching and start engaging students with real world authentic learning. Forget standardized tests because those monstrous wastes of time, money and student and teacher sanity will take care of themselves IF we throw fear aside, step out of our comfort zones and forge ahead with innovative techniques touted by the likes or Sir Ken Robinson, Eric Sheninger, Marc Prensky, and so many more!

In the end, the very least we can do is give credence to what our students are telling us in so many different ways and internalize that school is not about YOU...it is ALL about THEM.

I wasn’t taught how to get a job
but I can remember dissecting a frog
I wasn’t taught how to pay tax
but I know loads about Shakespeare's classics

I was never taught how to vote
they devoted that time to defining isotopes
I wasn’t taught how to look after my health
but mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell 

Never spent a lesson on current events 
instead I studied The Old American West
I was never taught what laws there are.
I was never taught what laws there are.

Let me repeat - I was not taught the laws for the country I live in,
but I know how Henry the VIII killed his women.
Divorced beheaded died, divorced beheaded survived
glad that’s in my head instead of financial advice

I was shown the wavelengths of different hues of light
but I was never taught my human rights
Apparently there’s 30, do you know them? I don’t
Why the hell can’t we both recite them by rote?!

I know igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks
Yet I don’t know squat about trading stocks
Or how money works at all - where does it come from?
Who controls it? How does the thing that motivates the world function?

not taught how to budget and disburse my earnings
I was too busy rehearsing cursive.
Didn’t learn how much it costs to raise a kid or what an affidavit is
but I spent days on what the quadratic equation is

negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared 
minus 4ac over 2a
That’s insane, that’s absolutely insane.
They made me learn that over basic first aid

How to recognise the most deadly Mental disorders // or 
diseases with preventable causes // How to buy a 
house with a mortgage // if I could afford it
‘cause abstract maths was deemed more important 

than advice that would literally save thousands of lives 
but it’s cool, ‘cause now I could tell you if the number of unnecessary deaths caused by that choice was prime.

Never taught present day practical medicines, 
but I was told what the ancient hippocratic method is
“I’ve got a headache, the pain is ceaseless
what should I take?” umm... maybe try some leeches?

“Could we discuss domestic abuse and get the facts
or how to help my depressed friend with their mental state?”
Ummm... no but learn mental maths
because “you won’t have a calculator with you every day!”

They say it’s not the kids, the parents are the problem
Then if you taught the kids to parent that’s the problem solved then!
All this advice about using a condom
but none for when you actually have a kid when you want one

I’m only fluent in this language, for serious?
The rest of the world speaks two, do you think I’m an idiot?
They chose the solar over the political system
So like a typical citizen now I don’t know what I’m voting on

which policies exist, or how to make them change
mais oui, je parle un peu de Francais
So at 18, I was expected to elect a representative 
For a system I had never ever ever ever been presented with

But I won’t take it
I’ll tell everyone my childhood was wasted
I’ll share it everywhere how I was “educated”
And insist these pointless things