Archive for October, 2011

This past week, I have had a classroom full of Barbie dolls, toy trolls, Transformers, and Bratz dolls. At first look, a passerby might think that I was teaching a pre-school class. You might be thinking that this sounds like something that would happen in a second or third grade class, or maybe even in a classroom full of giddy middle schoolers, but that is not the case. These are my Seniors, and for a while there, the classroom truly looked like someone had tipped over the toy box at a preschool. It was so awesome!

The assignment was for students to read several stories from the Decameron until they found one that they liked. Then they made storyboards and created the movies using stop animation. The whole purpose of the project was to take a work of art (the Decameron) and transfer it into their own work of art. One plus side of this project was that the students read several stories from the Decameron to find stories that would work well for a movie project. They actually read some literature from the late Middle Ages without acting like I was torturing them.

I have never done this with older students before. In the last two years, all of the stop motion projects I have been a part of have been with students in elementary classes. I wasn’t quite sure how these older students would do with it. I thought there was a chance that they would think it was childish or “beneath” their level of intelligence. After all, I am working with Seniors who often feel that they have school over and done with before the year gets started.

I was amazed at how well the students responded to the project. Like I said earlier, on the day for filming, we literally had a classroom full toys and props with students busily working to create their own piece of art. The students worked in groups to do the filming, and then worked individually to create their own version of the movie in Movie Maker.

The students are not done quite yet, but I am interested to see what they come have come up with. From what I have seen, we are going to have a great film festival party next week.

Now for the big question. How much time did this take out of your regular instruction in the classroom? It really didn’t take that long. By the end of the project, we will have spent 4 1/2 hours of class time making the actual video. Some might say that this is too much time, but I would argue that I have seen more hard thinking coming from this activity than most of what we have done in class this year. I am interested to see how this transfers to other work done in the classroom.

Actually, that sounds like a great topic for some research.



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Inevitably, working with a classroom full of students on computer projects is going to cause some headaches. Things rarely work smoothly. I can attest to this  after a week of projects and computer issues that tested my knowledge and patience to its limit.

However, the good thing is that I don’t have to rely on what is in my head and it’s a good thing. Once again, Google pulled me through.

I think the number one lesson that should be taught to all teachers ( and students as well) is how to use Google as an effective problem solving tool. The answers are there. The problem is in first: knowing how to search for the answers, and number two: taking the time to look for the answers. Now, having written this last line and looking over it, I see that maybe the know how is not as important as the patience part of the equation.

This week, I had an interesting problem with my personal Gmail. Saturday, I checked my inbox and found that I had 450 new emails. That was a lot more than the 4 or 5 I usually get! At first, I thought someone was spamming me, but then I found that the emails were failure notifications, which means someone was using my email. This was not good.

The search began. I had to find out what was going on with my Gmail. To make a long story short, I finally found an answer after about 2 hours of searching using a multitude of search terms. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I got frustrated. I even started to feel a little angry, but in the end, I think I found my answer.

I’m still getting the failure notifications in my email, but the good news is that I am pretty sure no one has hacked into my account. Instead, someone is using my email address as the address for a spamming campaign, which is still not the most ideal situation. At least they aren’t snooping around in my email.

Here’s the point of all this. The answers are somewhere out there for most of the problems one might come across, especially when computers are involved. They key is a little sweat, blood, and tears. Well, hopefully there’s not that much blood 🙂

The next time a student asks for help in doing something on the computer, have them Google it. When they want to know the command for  certain function, help them Google the solution. This may be one of the best skills you teach them the entire year.



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Earlier this week, I wrote about using Prezi Meeting with a middle school class. One of the challenges we faced was figuring out how to post the links, which were insanely long to try and type in, so that other students could access the links. Here’s what we did.

1. Create a pirate pad (or equivalent). Go to

2. Click on the big frog

3. Once the pad is created, copy the URL for the pad

4. Paste the URL for the Pirate Pad to a blog or web page where all student will have access

5. Now, have one student in each group set up an active Prezi presentation and make sure you are in edit mode

6. Click on the “Meeting” tab at the top of the page

7. On the drop down menu, click “invite to edit”

8. A box will come up with a special URL for that Prezi. Copy the URL

9. Now, go to the Pirate Pad page and paste this URL along with a group name. This is important if several different groups are going to use the same Pirate Pad.

10. The rest of the group can now go to the Pirate Pad, copy the URL for their group Prezi, and past it in the address bar. The students will then be taken to the appropriate Prezi to work collaboratively as a group.

I think this will do it! My middle school students did this several times this week, and it worked great. The best thing about it was that they all got to participate in the construction of the project, which gave them much more buy in when it came time to present as a group.

If you try this and think of another step I may have missed, please let me know, and I will do some editing. Thanks!



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One of the struggles of group work, especially when computers generated projects are involved, is to get everyone in the group to participate in the work. Many times, the fact that all students do not participate is no fault of the students. Rather, when a teacher assigns a PowerPoint, or something similar, to come from a group, the fact that half of the group sits around and talks may be the fault of the teacher. Group projects like this often end up being a classroom management nightmare for the teacher.

I remember being put in a similar situation in a college class. A group of about 8 of us students was assigned to make a video. We did some of the planning together, but when it came down to making the actual video, one of the group members did all of the work while we all sat around and watched or talked. I went through my entire Educational Technology class without ever learning how to make a video!

One way to remedy this when assigning students group presentations is to have them make these presentations using Prezi Meeting. All this takes is for one student in the group to get a URL for the page and send it to the other students in the group. Then, all of the students can get on to the same Prezi page and create the presentation together.

I currently have a class of 7th Graders who are making these Prezi presentations in groups of two. The students really enjoy being able to get on the same page and work together. We have only been using the app for a few hours, but so far there have been no major problems. What is really cool about watching the students work on Prezi is that they all have the opportunity to be a part of creating the presentation. It’s not a one man show!

One of the hurdles we had when setting up the meetings was sharing the URL for the presentation. Normally, a person could cut and paste the URL into an email making it easy for others to just click on the link. The problem is that the students don’t have access to email at school. We tried to type in the URL’s, but they are huge, way too long to reasonably type. After a little thought, we figured that we could set up a Pirate Pad where all the students in the class could post and share their URL’s.

This worked great! The link for the Pirate Pad was posted on the classroom blog, so everyone knew where to find the link. Then one student would set up a Prezi, get the URL, and post it on the Pirate Pad.  Once the URL was posted, the other students in the group could copy and paste URL in their browser and go straight to the meeting.

If you are looking for a fun and, more importantly, effective way to have students collaborate, try Prezi Meeting.


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Last night, I spent several brutal hours grading papers. They were rough, not exactly what I was expecting. I am not placing blame on anyone but myself here. Something in the last few weeks just didn’t click with the students, and this definitely reflected in their writing.

So, today I decided to show a few Youtube videos to try and show what we needed to do. First, I used the following treadmill fail video and likened them to our current essays. The essays were a total wreck.

After watching the video, I explained to students that there were several similar characteristics between the guy on the treadmill and their essays. This was not all negative either. I really tried to keep the conversation light. We talked about how failure is not a bad thing. It is how we learn. If we all wrote great all the time, I wouldn’t have a job, and they wouldn’t have to suffer through my English class!

Then I showed them the following video and explained that this is how I wanted their writing to look.

Their essays needed extra time and planning to get better. The writing needed to flow well. Doing this successfully was going to take some practice. An essay, I explained, just doesn’t happen. Writing takes some serious thought and each word is placed on the page for a reason.

Overall, I think the lesson was success. The students received the message well. Now I am hoping that the message will have transferred to their writing.


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Today, I was working with a group of students in my Math/Logic class. I gave them the problem of the missionaries and the cannibals. Basically, students have to figure out how to get all of the missionaries across the river without being eaten by the cannibals. Though the solution is quite easy once you know it, figuring it out for the first time takes some serious brain power. One of my students was struggling with the problem and finally asked me if I would give him the cheat-code. At first I laughed, but the more the situation replayed in my mind, the more concerned I became.

I guess I don’t know if all teens do this, but I can remember watching my nephews playing games on their X-box, and for every game they played, they had the cheat-codes so they could accomplish whatever task they were required to do faster and, generally, with more fire power. The cheat-codes took away much of the logic that is planned within the games. They made the games easier to play.

I started thinking of this and wondered how many times I had given my students the cheat-codes for assignments. How many times did I make an assignment so clear that no thinking was involved?

I have certainly set up rubrics that would fall into the category of a cheat-code. Many rubrics are so detailed that there is not much room for the students to think. They use the rubric as a formula to get a grade. Put this here, that there, and poof!, a good essay or project is ready to be turned in or rather, churned out.  The students know exactly what to do and how well they are going to do because it is all spelled out for them.

Now I am not saying that this is always bad. Sometimes students need some direct modeling and direction. Good educators give clear instructions. They make sure the students know what is expected, but then students need the opportunity to create on their own. They need to try thinking without the cheat-codes. This doesn’t always happen.

So, what does this mean? Teachers need to learn to be more ambiguous. Don’t give direct instructions (at least all the time). Cut down rubrics so they don’t contain 15 different points. Let students create. Let students think. Let students learn.


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The concept of a fish bowl or Socratic seminar is not new. Just Google it and see how many hits come up. This learning method has been used for years by numerous teachers. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone knows about it. I have known about it for a while now, probably two or three years, but today was the first time I have ever used it in the classroom, and now that I have, I don’t know why I waited so long.

Instead of using the typical Socratic seminar format, I decided to try the fish bowl technique that was posted several years ago on the Learning and Laptops blog. Basically, there are a group of four or five students sitting at the center of the room facing one another in a circle. Then, the rest of the students sit in a circle surrounding this inner circle. The students in middle have a verbal conversation, and the students on the peripheral have a digital conversation on the computers. The more I read about the Socratic seminar, the more I think that the fish bowl is a totally different experience, but it is still effective. For more on how to set up the fish bowl, click here and head over to Learning and Laptops.

What I want to talk about is my observations on how this worked with my classes. First of all, the students I did this with are Seniors. That may or may not mean that they are prepared for this higher level thinking activity. Though they tend to have a higher level of thinking, I think this could be done with 8th graders just as effectively. In some respects, it might be more effective.

One of the biggest challenges that we had today was hearing the conversation in the middle of the room. I know that there was a pretty good discussion among the students, but often times, I had no idea what they were saying. I think a microphone would help here greatly and add a great dimension to the activity.

The other problem with the inner circle was keeping the discussion going. Some of this might have been due to my questions. I now know that to get them started, I really need a discussion point with depth. Maybe I need to let the students come up with the discussion topics. That might also help.

Where the inner circle struggled with their discussion, the outer circle discussion flourished on the computers. There were some great insights gained in these chat sessions, and most of the students participated in the discussion. I think this is where the real learning took place in the classroom today. It makes me think that maybe next time, we all need to get on the computer for a chat and forget the inner circle thing altogether.

Thinking on this, though, I still think there were some mental gains from the inner circle. The students did talk, out loud, in front of the class. This is a big thing for most of these students. They had a real face to face discussion, something that doesn’t always happen for high school students.

Now I am heading into controversial territory. Is the verbal dialogue better than the digital dialogue? Which one will have the greater impact in the long run?

Regardless the answer, I will be doing the activity again in one form or another. The students seemed to enjoy themselves, and they told me that it helped them to better understand the topic of the discussion.


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