Literacy Superhero…Away!!!!!

Photo by Dean Shareski

I love being on this side of teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my English and reading classes at the middle school, but now I get to work with all of the staff and students on every campus. Being able to see our brilliant teachers and their students expand their technology use and enjoy it makes it even better.

But I also get to network with some really great minds outside of White Oak. One of those great minds resides only a few hours west of us in Burleson ISD. Kim Estes has gone above and beyond what many people would do outside of their every day jobs in helping us. I will expand on her work with our ePortfolios after I finish the monument to her in my office, though. 😉

As I was reading through her newly redesigned blog, I found what every tech-loving, literacy teacher dreams about: a course outline complete with 6+1 Traits standards (our ISD uses New Jersey Writing, but they are basically the same) seamlessly meshed with technology integration where the curriculum is driving the technology. She created the outline, and then she found tools that supported the work.

Kim, you are a jewel to share this with everyone. I honor you by reposting it below with credit to you for the hard work it took. Thank you for being so generous in so many ways to us. Everyone who uses any part of this: I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment below to let Kim know what a valuable resource this truly is for us.

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Drowning in Rice and Other Deep Subjects From CMK 08

Thinking. It is the one thing all of us either don’t do, take too little time to do, don’t have the time to do, or just plain don’t know how to do. So how are we expected to put more time into an already tight school day schedule.

This and more is part of our quest for knowledge at the Constructing Modern Knowledge conference here in New Hampshire. Our first day was loaded with theory, shared wisdom, and even some practice.

Paul Wood and I visited the MIT Museum on Sunday with Gary Stager. Among the things we found were some truly awesome feats of engineering from Arthur Ganson. An incredible thinker and visionary himself, Ganson had multitudes of examples of his “tinkering” on display. When you look at these items of work, you might wonder why someone would spend so much time creating these little glorified table decorations. Some might say, “Why?” I say, “Why not?”

The physics, engineering, math, research, and above all, thinking involved in these pieces of work is astounding. One can look at each and decide it is a simple machine. True enough. But what is so simple about the entire process from vision to creation? Not a whole heck of a lot. Take a look at some of these things in the short videos I shot:

These babies are like throwback to what I did with Legos, but I didn’t have the motors and, oh yeah, Ganson’s worked. But, now I’m an adult who can think, and by golly I want to make one of my own. So, when it came time to “tinker” during the exploration appointment of the day, Paul and I decided we wanted to replicate the rice river piece utilizing the Lego robotics kits, some rice, and a handkerchief. This is what you get with a couple of southern folks get together and attempt to think really hard (pics and video):

Videos:

So there you have it. Three minds, a few cups of rice, a hanky, and some Legos. One simple machine. Maybe we made Ganson proud. Maybe not. But what I do know is that we thought our way through this entire process as a group, out loud, internally, through trial and error, with outside comments, and with pride.

We thought.
We designed.
We created.
We thought some more.
We redesigned and recreated.
And then we thought some more.

Yep. It was a wonderful day, and I’m pooped. Can’t wait until tomorrow. We promised Tally from Israel that we would do whatever project she has dreamed up tomorrow. We might need to rethink that decision. That girl is some kind of smart.

Stories Online for Elementary Teachers/Students

I have blogged about this before, I think, but there have been some enhancements to the site that makes it worth repeating. The Storyline Online site is one where stories are narrated by actors and actresses. It is an awesome addition to the classroom.

The addition I have seen is the activities to download that go with the books. Very nice. Wish I had these when I taught first grade. I counted twenty-one stories as of today.

The screen capture above is Amanda Bynes reading The Night I Followed The Dog. Very. Funny. Book. Take a look at the site and see what it can do for you.

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Here Comes Everybody, but is Everybody Else Prepared?


As I reviewed Will Richardson‘s archived interview of Clay Shirkey, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, there were a few things that jumped out at me that I noted and wanted to work through.

Clay started off discussing the typical learning/assessment style found in education today:
Individual assignments/individual grades – old school only known environment

He then goes on to discuss one literacy that he feels we are lacking in teaching our students:
“At least one literacy is collaborative literacy.”

These are some notes I made from his talk:

What does it mean to be a good collaborator? Two ways (essential literacies for the 21st century):

  1. When you are collaborating, how do you participate in a group that is valuable?
  2. How do you participate in a group where you are learning instead of just freewriting?

We want students to have a set of absolute basic skills (the three R’s), beyond that we want them to be able to figure out of all the thinking tools we give them, which ones are best for which kinds of challenges. Big challenge in school system in US is a move to a much more cut and dry measurement system (NCLB driven Testing) which changes the system away from more flexibility towards measurement. However, what we get out of that is the challenge. “A lot of what we want the schools to do can’t be measured in the way we measure them. There is a mismatch between the goals and the measurement.” The assessment is determinant of how we think about the rest of the curriculum. Consider goals and then consider measurement system. Industrial system of measurement is for widgets and creates an industrial style system of curriculum and measurement.

He also shared this: Internet provides basic support for collaborative work.

Funny he mentions that the Internet is the basic support considering all of the posts going on concerning one of the presidential candidates. But, I digress.

What Shirkey said struck a chord with those of us involved in helping educators utilize more technology in the classroom. Many of the so called Web 2.0 tools are built around this collaborative environment. White Oak ISD switched to Google Apps for email and the entire suite of collaborative tools that come with it. Some campuses have taken the lead in that area and utilize Google Docs to schedule student tutoring, detentions, testing windows, and more and share the document campus-wide. This is a great start for them to see the power of these collabroative tools.

The Official Google Blog - Insights from Googlers into our products, technology and the Google culture

The down-side is that schools in general are slow to adopt these tools, meaning that students are not getting the collaborative environment practice they so sorely need for today’s workforce. Take this recent post on the Official Google Blog for instance. Jonathon Rosenberg, Senior VP of Product Management, guest posts giving advice to students. He tells them to “major in learning.”

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.

So what does that have to do with collaboration? Well, take a look at the primary factors Google looks for in hiring and evaluations:

… analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

… communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

… a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don’t like it.

… team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

… passion and leadership. This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

Pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. Everyone knows about the great things at Google: unlimited sick days, in-house dining, truly personal spaces for offices, and the one that I like the most – 20% of the work week on job related personal interest research/development.

So the question is begged, can your students operate in that environment? Are they self-directed and self-motivated enough to handle this setting?

These characteristics are not just important in our business, but in every business, as well as in government, philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming generation is how to acquire them. It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change…

Rosenberg signs off his letter with perhaps one of the most profound statements we should be drilling into our students (something not tested on the state standardized test, by the way):

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Now, get to thinking about how it affects you as a teacher and lifelong learner. Consider change. Consider sharing your learning processes/struggles/successes with your students to model what being a lifelong learner is all about. Consider what your students and perhaps your own children are heading into once they leave the hallowed walls of your academic setting. What are you going to do about it?

Enough said. Let the conversation begin.

(photo credit: #1 – Me; #2 – Dean Shareski; #3 – Google Blog)

If I taught ESL….

I was perusing some links posted to Del.icio.us by Wes Fryer, who is in my network. He posted some really cool children’s literature links where one can read the books online without paying. I like this method because it gives ESL students plenty of practice with literature they might not have already come across, that have diverse themes, come in both fiction and non-fiction, and are available with any internet connection without having to go to the children’s section in the public or school library.

Now, I don’t teach ESL, but I really think this would make good practice for the students. It can be self-paced and allows students to use personal choice in their own learning. That has to be a good thing for students working hard to adjust into a country that probably already scares them.

The book above is from Lookybook. The link below is from Big Universe. Big Universe also lets you create your own book.

Clue for Writers… and then some

“a zoo at night” “a thief” “no one wants to help your character”

Those are the three story components given to me by the Interactive Plot Creator found at Writing Fix just in case I could not think of a story to write on my own. Winner of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers 2008 award, this is a wonderful little tool that offers your students a way to get out of the “I don’t know what to write about” slump they always seem to be in. Give it a whirl. Seems to me a neat use of just this feature would be daily/weekly writing time where you put the site up on the VGA and the kids all learn at the same time what will test their creative writing juices. It could even be turned into a circle story where everyone starts their own and passes it to the right after a set amount of time. It would be an interesting twist seeing as everyone has the same three components (setting, character, and plot) yet end up with entirely different stories.

By the way, you will also find plenty of other pertinent tools that will help in your writing classroom:

11) Author Studies Homepage

This site is created by the Northern Nevada Writing Project which is a part of the National Writing Project. I had a chance to meet these folks a few years back at the NCTE conference in Tennessee. They are extremely dedicated and are focused on improving the way writing is taught and viewed in the classroom. Their tools work write along your NWP, New Jersey Writing, or 6 Traits training. Trust me when I say, this site will change the way your students view writing in the classroom and how you create lessons for your students.