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My goal for this year is to figure out how to integrate 20% time projects into my classroom. So far, the students have been at it for two weeks, and the momentum seems to be building, which is a good thing when working with students.

Up to this point, most of the work has been in the way of brainstorming topics for projects. Yesterday, the students did a Bad Idea Factory brainstorming session. It was a kick and the students came out of it with a bunch of good ideas. It worked much better than the regular run-of-the-mill brainstorming session that we did last week.

This must be due to the fact that students (and probably people in general) have a hard time thinking when there is pressure to have a good finished product, which is definitely the case when a person “brainstorms.” However, with the Bad Idea Factory, the pressure is gone. There is no wrong answer in trying to come up with bad ideas. They are all just bad.

I was amazed at the ideas that sprang from this activity. One group wrote “getting pregnant.” I told them that was definitely a bad idea! However, some of the ideas were brilliant. One student came up with the idea to go to another school for a few days. It might seem like a bad idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought about the potential there for an interesting project. Here are a few of the notes pages from the students.

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This is how I handled the Bad Idea Factory in my class. I talked a little about what I wanted the students to do. Then I showed them a short video of a student explaining how the Bad Idea Factory helped him to find a good project topic (click here for the video). After that, we went into the library where there are good tables to use for group work. I arranged students into groups of 4 or 5 to sit around the tables. On each table was a large piece of butcher paper and enough markers so everyone could write on the paper. Then, I turned them loose.

Like I said before, the results were amazing. I gave the students about 15 minutes to brainstorm, which is a good chunk of time for students to come up with ideas. Usually, after this much time in a normal brainstorming session, a good number of the students would just be sitting there. That was not the case with this. The students were engaged for the entire time, and I eventually had to shut them down. Students then had the opportunity to walk around for a few minutes and read what the other groups came up with. They really enjoyed this.

To end the session, we went back to the classroom and I gave them 5 minutes to write down any ideas for projects that they might have thought of during this exercise. Several of the students seemed to have a pretty good idea of what they wanted to do.

I don’t think the Bad Idea Factory is a tool that can only be used for 20% time projects. It should probably be used in most cases where students are fishing for ideas. However, it is a must when doing a 20% time project. I feel that this is where the best ideas are going to come from for our projects this year.

For an idea of what the Bad Idea Factory looks like, check out the video.

 

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This last week, I posted a poem for my students to read outside of class that went along with an assignment. The next morning when I arrived at school, there was a gaggle of anxious freshmen standing at my door (gaggle is the only word I could think of to describe them). While working in the school computer lab, they were unable to access the poem I had posted. I told them they must be doing something wrong because I added the poem to the blog at the school with my school computer. It works on the same system as those in the lab.

However, when I went into the the lab and looked at what was happening, the site was definitely blocked. I went to my computer and it was not. The school filter was obviously blocking the site for students and not for teachers.

I would like to say that this was the first time this has happened to me. Sure, I could cuss the web filter and maybe even cry and scream, but in the end, this will do me no good. I didn’t check to see if the site was unblocked. I just assumed that it was.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, here’s some advice for teachers using blogs: check to make sure that links on sites work under a student log in. It will save you, and especially the students, a bunch of headache in the future.

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Last week, I had an interesting conversation with several classes that I teach. My Juniors wrote an essay on a prompt that basically asked them if it was fair for admission offices at universities and colleges to weigh their applications based on content found in Myspace pages and Facebook profiles. I was surprised by the results.

Overwhelmingly, the majority of students felt that it was inappropriate for colleges to view their profiles or pages. Phrases like “invasion of privacy” and “they have no business” were found in almost every essay that I read. Many students wrote about how the theses pages are private places, only meant for friends and only meant for the eyes of those they want to see. Some students were downright angry that this kind of stuff was happening in schools. There were so many students who wrote along this vane, I was both surprised and a little scared. This was the mindset of the students when they posted information to their profile: whatever they posted was private.

After they wrote the essay, we had a class discussion about the topic. I was hoping to turn this into a positive teaching opportunity. I told students that whether they liked it or not, colleges were going to do this. These places where students spend numerous hours posting, chatting, liking and commenting are not private spaces at all, not even close. Instead, they are very public by nature. Most students didn’t realize that by signing up for a Facebook account and accepting the terms and condition, they pretty much sign over the rights of everything they post, or even say, to Facebook to whatever with however they want.

The most interesting thing about this whole conversation was that the students still felt like the whole thing was wrong. I don’t think they totally bought into what I was telling them. They still argued up and down that it was wrong for schools to use Facebook and Myspace as a determiner for college admittance.

They just don’t get it. This scares me a little. In their minds, whatever they do on the web is their business. The problem with this kind of thinking is that, to use a classic cliche, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Prezi

I didn’t quite know what to name this blog post. I wanted to write something like I love prezi or students love prezi or prezi is just plain cool, fantastic, awesome, but all of these titles seemed a little cheesy. So, instead of coming up with a dramatic title, I though I would just write a little about how great the web app is.

I just finished a unit with Freshmen who gave a presentation as the culminating assignment after having read a novel. None of the students had ever heard of Prezi before, so they had the option to use either PowerPoint or Prezi for the presentations. After watching students create the presentations and having sat through 50+ speech/presentations, I noticed a difference in the two tools. Fundamentally, I don’t think that there is much difference. They both are basic slideshow tools that are relatively easy to use. However, there are a few areas where Prezi h0lds the upper hand.

1. The PowerPoint presentations tend to have quite a bit of clip art in them. Prezis are generally comprised of vibrant pictures from the web.

2. Prezi presentations make the audience want to say “wow” or “cool” at times. As slides flip from one to another, there are definite oohs and aahs. I never did hear this during a PowerPoints in my classroom, and thinking back, I don’t think I have ever heard that at anytime when a PowerPoint was being given.

3. Prezi allows the creator to be truly creative. It is easy to get a picture and then build a presentation on it, in it, or around it with Prezi. PowerPoint does not allow quite the same creative flare.

4. No two Prezis look the same, even when the templates are used. I would have to say that most of the PowerPoints I observed were pretty canned.

5. It may be because Prezi is relatively new, but Prezi is just cool. PowerPoint has been around awhile, and it shows. Most of have sat through too many boring PowerPoint presentations, and hence, they are not that cool.

Just my two bits! If you haven’t tried Prezi, go there now and sign up. If you have a school email, you can get a free Pro Educators account. Make sure to look for that option.

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In the last few weeks, I have been thinking a bunch about Youtube and how it can be used as an educational tool. I ran across this video today, and it confirmed all that I have been thinking about!

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Today, I wanted to upload one page of a PDF to Google Docs. PDF documents are great, but they are not all that user friendly. I have split documents before using different programs that are downloaded to the computer. However, many of these only look free. They watermark your copies and then want payment in order to get them removed. Then you have to remove the program from your computer.
SPLIT PDF is a handy online app that makes pulling a page out of a PDF painless. No downloading is required. Just upload the file, choose the page or pages you want removed from the PDF and click SPLIT. The job is done. You can then save the new page to your computer.

This is one of those really simple apps that can save a person from getting a big headache!

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Several of my classes are in the process of writing research papers. One of my rules is that students have to use sources that have an author. To put it plainly, this makes the research hard to do. I have encouraged students to use Ebscohost, as the resources found here will always have an author.

This works well for many students, but when someone wants to write a paper on snowmobiles, this using Ebscohost becomes problematic. There are not a whole lot of good journal articles explaining how a snowmobile runs or which brand is the best. In this case, Ebsco just doesn’t work.

Students are going to have to look elsewhere on the web. The best means I have found to find good resources from the web is to type in a search term (whatever that might be) and then put “mag” or “magazine” behind it. This has brought great results for the students in my class. There are a bunch of online magazines out there on almost any topic imaginable. Many of these list the authors with the articles giving students an at least half decent source.

At the moment, if my students can find anything on the web with an author, I am satisfied. At least is shows that they did some work in trying to find good information before copying down their notes. Including “magazine” in the search term has helped out tremendously.

Doing this has kind of been my “Aha!” moment for the week and maybe the month!

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