Archive for May, 2010

This is a tough one. How does a person best assess what a student has learned over the course of a year. The standard procedure is to give a test that will take the full 95 minutes. If it is a good test, there will be a portion of the students still working when the bell rings. Of course, these tests will be based on current state standards. The multiple choice questions will be carefully crafted from a bank of questions or better yet, the test generator that comes with the textbook. After all, those  people are pros and know what a good test is all about. This is the way a final should be done, right?

I shudder to think that this is how countless students are being tested over the next few weeks as classes in many schools across the United States wind down.

Having said this, I better explain my thinking (if that is possible). I don’t know that a 100 question multiple choice test with a few essay questions tacked on for good measure is going to show what a student knows. Okay, I take that back. A student who does well on this type of test will know something, but this doesn’t mean that the student will be ready for the 21st Century workforce.

Over the past several years, I have given my fair share of lengthy final exams, and I have never been happy with them. This year, I decided to try something a little (or drastically) different and had a final project instead, and I am glad thatI did. The response was good from the students. I think some of them even had a good time doing the project, and I was able to see the fruits of the last 9 months of teaching.

The project was simple:

1. Choose a short story and have it approved by the teacher.

2. Write a press release for the story as if you were trying to sell it to the public.

3. Make a dustcover for the story (as if it were a book) that represents the story and is pleasing to the eye.

4. Do a project of your choice.

5. Present the 3 projects on the day of final exams in a digital format for the class.

These are the directions I gave the class. They wanted more direction at first helped them out a little, but I really wanted them to make some decisions and do some thinking on their own. For example, I did tell them that students who had realistic looking press releases would receive more points than those that did not. This required them to look for some examples and instructions on the web. As for the project of their choice, I didn’t help out a whole lot in this area. I told them to do something that they thought was worth 100 points. As a result, I have had some pretty good projects.

One of the best projects was by a student who approached me (with some trepidation) and asked me if she could write her own short story and do the projects with it. She wrote the story, then used Yudu to publish the story, complete with a dustcover that she designed.

After having done these projects in place of a final test, I feel that they are the way to go. Honestly, in doing these projects, the students covered almost all of the standards, and this was done with real applications rather than just answering questions on a test that might be applied to some hypothetical situation. I think that these final projects are the only way to go.  This is one of the ways that teachers can ensure that student are truly ready to work in the 21st Century.


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My students are currently working on a project where they are creating chapter 4 of Vimeo’s “Story beyond the still” contest. If you haven’t seen this contest, check it out. It is pretty cool, and there are some good videos in the competition. Anyway, I originally set out with the idea that the students would create actual videos that they would act in. Then, on a whim, I decided to have two of the four classes participating in the activity make a cartoon instead of an actual video. Actually, earlier this year I promisesda few students that we would work with the cartoons, and school gets out next week. We are running out of time, so I let them try the cartoons. I am glad that I did.

I was blown away by the quality of the videos that they were able to make using Goanimate. With the program, I gave them a two minute idea of what it could do and turned them loose. They picked it up quickly and were far into their videos the first day. What I like about it is that the students see action in their stories. They control what the characters do and what they say. While using this app, the class was dead silent as all of the students were working hard on producing a quality story.

I posted one student example, but it won’t make a whole lot of sense unless you watch the other three chapters on Vimeo. At the very least take a look at Goanimate and see what it might do in your classroom.

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This is a hard one. I know what the research says. Group work is the way to go. It will help students to be ready for the workforce. They will learn more. They will produce more. I also know how it usually goes. There always seems to be a bunch of messing around going on, and I often wonder if the students are getting anything out of the activity but social time.

There are two ways to go about group work:

1. Divide students into learning styles and systematically group them for a desired effect.

2. Let them choose their own groups in hopes that, because they like each other, they will get some work done.

As far as I can tell, both systems have their own challenges. Number 1 seems like it would work the best, but I have noticed that students are not generally happy about this arrangement. I can handle the students whining, but this is not the biggest problem. What usually happens in a group is that a few of the students know each other and either leave the other group members out of the loop or make them do all the work. I would have to say that I have had few successes under this system.

Number 2 is also fraught with pitfalls. Under this system, students often spend much more time socializing than working because they are grouped with all their friends. However, I often see more work done when I let them choose their partners.

I don’t know what the answer is. I think that most teachers give up after the first few tries and just start handing out worksheets. It is certainly easier. Students can sit quietly like robots and turn in the papers before they leave.

I think the big key with group work is to just keep plugging away. Don’t give up. Here are a few things to try when having students work in groups:

  • Be patient: The students are going to mess around a little, but don’t get too worked up. They are still learning, and the lesson learned in groups are much more important than the actual content they are learning.
  • Make sure there is enough work for an entire group. If students aren’t busy, they are going to mess around.
  • Monitor the class. Many teachers turn the groups loose and then proceed to work on the computer for the rest of the class period. A person can’t do this and expect things to get done. Student will want to show you what they are working on, so ask.
  • Have fun! Group work is where learning can truly be fun, but it won’t happen if the teacher can’t show some enthusiasm for the project.
  • Model good group work. Showing students how a group should work may be the most effective means of getting them to work successfully.

When it comes down to where students are going to learn, group work is almost always going to win. We just have to keep at it.

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I sure wish I was an expert on this topic. I don’t know if there are any great plans that could be set in place because every problem is going to require a slightly different approach. This week in my Senior class, we had an interesting problem arise. We are making videos and many of the students were using Jaycut to put their videos together. In an earlier post I wrote, “Jaycut works great for student videos.”

Well, I still like Jaycut, but only when it is working. Last Thursday, the class sat down to the computers to work and found that Jaycut was down. There was  message saying to check back in a few hours and the site would be up. The students flashed like a handful of gunpowder thrown at a match. They were mad at me for choosing a program that didn’t work. I looked at them and laughed. I told them that sites do this all the time and it would be working the next morning. It worked out because the students needed to work on audio and some had other things they could do.

Friday morning arrived with the same message, and so did Monday. This was not looking good. I explained that it was time to start the videos over with another program. The students were pretty upset. There was one girl in particular that I felt sorry for because she was almost finished with the video on Jaycut. Honestly, it was a good learning experience for all involved.

While technology is great, it is still not totally reliable, especially in the world of beta and free apps on the internet. A person just has to deal with it. Complaining doesn’t help and getting all worked up doesn’t help either.

Interestingly, Jaycut did start working again, yesterday afternoon. Everyone did get their projects done, and the seniors all passed with flying colors.

So, how does one handle a tech meltdown in the classroom? You just do it. I know this sounds simple, but it’s the truth. You can call someone, blame someone, yell at someone, or quit, but that is not going to get you anywhere. I really think this experience was one of the best lessons my seniors have had all year as they graduate and head off to college. There are are not many guarantees in this world, and those that are successful see “meltdowns” as blips in life that don’t mean much. They might be stressful at the moment, but a look back has lessons that are useful in the future.

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I am not sure where the fear comes from, but there is no doubt that it lurks in every corner of everything we do. It lurks there like bad breath on the elevator. You’re not sure whose it is, and no one is claiming it. However, it is definitely there, and it breaks you down until you get off the elevator five floors early just to breathe some fresh air. Fear is the same in the way that it wears us down until we succumb to its every whim.

When it comes to working with technology, there seems to be a great deal to fear: sexual predators, viruses, hackers, identity theft and a host more. We are constantly bombarded by warnings that hold these threats over our heads. Is it really that bad. In the schools it is worse because teachers are faces with trying to control a student’s behavior on a computer where that control cannot be exerted effectively.

Sure, these threats are very real. There are a bunch of weirdos and professional crooks out there who are going to try and hack into your system and get your personal information. Who knows? By tomorrow morning there might be another Mr. Kaiser using my credit card at the beach in Jamaica, and it is true that some bonehead student is going to post something stupid or maybe just flat crude and rude on my blog.  However, this is not going to stop me from using the computer as a tool. It is too valuable.

I think of all the other jobs that I have had over the years, most of which had nothing to do with education. Most of them were construction oriented. In some of these jobs, it was not my identity that was at stake, it was a finger, limb, or even my life that was on the line. Anyone that has worked any kind of construction job has numerous stories of close calls. You have probably heard them, like, “I was standing there when a hammer fell five stories and landed two inches from my left foot. Two inches! Another two to the right, and it would have hit me in the head and killed me.”

There is not much that we do that does no involve risk. The fact that I spend every day in a building with over 800 teenagers should be considered a risk to some extent, as well as driving to and from school every day. But, I still do it every single day. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

Ok, that’s enough of that. Watch this video. It’s old. It kind of relates to what I just wrote, and it makes a strong point.

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In my last post I talked about the project my seniors are undertaking at the moment. I thought it might be helpful to go into a little more detail about what they are doing. Basically, they are working on projects that involve digital storytelling. Basically, I wanted the students to create a video that would show something about themselves. With a little looking around, I came across these two sites that had good ideas and examples of what I wanted the students to do.

After spending a little time on these sites, I made a plan based loosely on the Jakes guide. First, students wrote a three page essay that could be use as a basis for the script. Then they put together a storyboard. These were rough storyboards, but they helped in planning out the script. Once all of this was done, the students started collecting the audio and visuals for their projects. They also recorded their scripts and compiled all of their audio using Audacity. If you haven’t ever used Audacity, it works great for audio. Its also free. (It is also worthy of its own blog post, but that will have to be done in the future.) After the students collected all of their materials and compiled the audio, they used Jaycut to put it all together.

Really, I can’t believe how quickly the students are putting everything together. I thought we were going to be crunched for time, but now I think we will have a little bit to spare.

The only snag that we have had was with Jaycut. Today, we got the horrible tech message that the site was down. Luckily, most of the students are still tinkering with their audio. Hopefully it will be up tomorrow.

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This past week has been a whirlwind at school. I guess that’s what happens this time of year. I have been spending quite a bit of time working on a project with my seniors this past week. Their assignment was to create a video that shows something about themselves. It could be on a passion, hobby, or just something they like.

I have been doing some video work using Animoto, but this project was going to require more technical video editing. I thought about using Movie Maker, but then I ran across Jaycut. I am not going to go into the particulars of how to use the app, but I will list the reasons that I like it.

1. Easy to use: Students had no problem just jumping into the program. Most of it is just upload, drag, and drop.

2. Everything is saved online: This saves the headache of a student losing their flash drive with all the work on it. This also makes it easy for students to work on a project at school and also work on it in the evenings at home.

3. Several different ways to download or upload: Videos can be downloaded to the computer or uploaded to Youtube.

4. Fairly quick: While not as fast as an editor that could be downloaded, it is not too bad for an online app. For some reason, it works much faster on my home connection than it does at school. However, I have not heard many complaints from the students.

I decided that I needed to make a video along the lines of what the students were doing so I could help them better should problems arise. Honestly, I was surprised at how fast it all came together when I got focused and worked on the project. I am guessing that from the beginning to end, I didn’t spend much more than 5 or 6 hours working on the project. This includes writing a script, forming a storyboard, and editing the video. I think that I could make it even better now that I know what I am doing, but I needed to get it done to show the students. Here it is:

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