Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Final Report

Hi everyone. Rounding the corner and heading into the final straight away. I am up to my neck in projects, so it is going to be a race to the finish of this semester. To remind everyone, I chose to focus my final project on developing training materials and creating a help website for Tk20. Right now, my training materials are being put to the test as students and faculty need to fulfill their Tk20 requirements. A number of troubleshooting issues have arose, mostly revolving around Tk20 account activations. So the last several weeks have been spent developing protocols for how to address a variety of scenarios where people can't log in. First we need to identify whether or not they are in an applicable program that is required to participate in Tk20. In most instances, it is a quick fix and people just need to be walked through how the log in process. In a few cases, accounts were never activated. Since we are still in the implementation stage, Tk20 is handling all the account management themselves. The results of which means that our hands are a bit tied and we often can't find quick answers and need to send several emails back and forth before we can resolve an issue. Luckily, there seems to be very few issues so far. In addition to working on troubleshooting issues, I also developed several new help guides to be included in the FAQ section. These help guides are intended to head-off potential problems and walk students and faculty step-by-step through how do some basic troubleshooting in the case that things don't go as intended. The goal of the guides is so people can resolve any issue they are having on their own with ease. I am pretty pleased with how everything has unfolded thus far. I found that I actually rather enjoy providing training and helping people with solving any problems. Even though I am only assigned to work on Tk20 for 10 hrs a week, I find myself working on it throughout the week, including nights and weekends. Perhaps it is because I took the lead on developing most of the training materials and feel responsible for any problems that may arise. Hopefully, we will have a smooth ending to the semester, but I anticipate that it might get a little crazy during the next few weeks. I will do a follow up after the semester ends to let you have how we made out. I enjoyed reading about everyone else's projects and I hope you have a great rest of the term. Good luck!


Trouble Shooting

I posted yesterday but my samples were not accessible from off network machines w/o permission from the students. Keith suggested that I upload some static samples. There are still some glitches in the computer scripts (looks like cyrillic alphabet) but I think the integrity is there. I'm working on uploading it somehow. When I try to put it into google docs to link to this gets really funky. I'll see if I can send an email around. with the files direct.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Still Learning......

I began the year excited to try out some new technology tricks I learned at STI....from Weebly to Google Docs. My project was supposed to focus around a Current Events class. I thought that the class could develop our own Almanac. I was very much into student "choice and voice" following the new District Motto as we migrate to Student-Centered, Standards-Based education, with consultation provided by the ReInventing Schools Coalition (RISC), which some of you may have heard of. Needless to say, this evolution has consumed the school and class time has been greatly diminished. Maine Learning Results were "condensed" into Measurement Topics and Learning Targets, which I consider akin to units. Needless to say, I have about 20+ Learning Targets that I am responsible to teach for each class. Averaging 4 classes a unit. Of course I'm failing to meet this target as students are struggling to keep pace.

In any event, the Current Events class proved to be a mistake. Students had very different ideas of what a Current Events course is. Completing assignments has been a real struggle. Even deciding on a Web template was a struggle. I abandoned this as my project. All along however I've maintained a blog for my classes. A few I've done better at keeping up to date, others not so good. I did this to be transparent, however have been disenchanted with the notion as it is evident students, nor parents, refer to the blog outside of class. I have therefore shifted in my Psych and Civics course to drive classes through the blog...beginning every class there.

I have since shifted my project to include more Google Applications. I have found some frustrations with Google Documents. The formatting from Word Processor to Print Preview and then final Print are all different. Otherwise, I would do everything on there. I do however upload PDFs and will link to those PDFs through the blog. I also started teaching the students to make their own website for my Civics classes. I call this their "interactive" or "virtual" notebook. I'm still playing around with Google Forms. I've created a couple quizes and last week I had students "submit" their "virtual notebooks" using a Form. The "project" is still new and unrefined. I haven't yet commented on the notebooks, and most students didn't submit. As we progress and get more comfortable I would like to have a few students do the QuickTime video to demonstrate reverse teaching.

Overall, my struggles have centered around two things: 1) Motivating students to use Laptops for Education versus Entertainment. 2) Balancing my teaching (and self-learning goals) with district mandates and priorities.

Here are links to some of the student "virtual notebooks". The unit we were working on was Checks & Balances so you will have to navigate there once you click a link.


In light of those links not working, I'm posting some other links that I have permission control over:

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Project Fails

This has been the worst year of my teaching career so far. We moved into the new school and nothing was working or working well. My students have had their laptops for about a month and are the most challenging group I have ever worked with both academically and behaviorally. I usually enjoy teaching but not so much this year. That said, there are some really great kids and it is important to remember to appreciate them and not just focus on the problems.

I don't have a blog that I have used for them but they do have access to their grades and that makes a big difference to many students in that when something is missing I get it much sooner. I still want to have them have portfolios and I still intend to do so but something else always seems to come up. I gave my first math test from the new series and the average grade was probably around a 70. I don't find that acceptable. I do post their assignments on a board every Monday so they can know what is coming up for the week and while I have tried to do that many times, this year it is actually working. Also when the students have been absent and return, they should have the work done as they were assigned it ahead of time. Sometimes that works. I do still want to use the blog I started last year but haven't introduced it to my students yet. I went from 80 minute period to 35 min and am having a hard time with that as well.

What next
Over all I don't feel like I have done what I needed for the STI 2011 class but I have done what I needed to do for my new school and my classes there. I haven't given up on the portfolios, and won't, whether I get them done this year or next year. I will do them. I see the value of them too much to give up.

We are going to start working with Legos next week and I want to start some asynchronous groups. I don't know if that will work but I liked the idea. Students will be helping each other solve problems during this period and I will try to have some students create screenshot movies to help each other learn how to program the Lego robots. 

As soon as I can get a bit more settled, and I know it would seem like by the end of November I should be settled, I do still intend to try more of the reverse teaching and having the students save work for their portfolios. It's on my To Do list, I'm just not there yet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This is the end...

Unfortunately, I was only successful with the transparency part of my project. No matter how much I tried or offered, I didn't have any kids who wanted to take me up on the extra step 'challenge' activities. I have a really sweet group of kids, but they have an aversion to homework for the most part, and the ones that are diligent about getting their work done, only complete what's necessary and aren't interested in extra.

But I feel like I was so successful with the transparency piece that I refuse to feel too bad about it. I've kept up with my blog posts every Friday, and have posted picture albums as well. I also show a slideshow every Friday as the kids are waiting for the bus of that week's pictures (not transparent for parents, but the kids are mesmerized by it!). Also, I inspired my middle school team and all but one other teacher has a website up with pictures, homework calendars, standards, etc. I'm really proud of that. 

Thanks for the opportunity and motivation to try these things. I hope everyone has a great holiday season!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My students were each responsible for creating an informational website using Google Sites.  The site would exist to teach another student about one of the elements of fiction that we discussed in class.  Students could work with a partner, and since they all already use Google Docs in their computer class, I didn't have to do much in the way of direct instruction on how to use the program.  In fact, one of the first thing I said to the kids is, "There is no way I'll be able to answer absolutely every one of your questions about Google Sites.  I don't know everything there is to know about it.  Before you come to me with a question, do your best to play around with the site and figure it out."  Not only were the kids okay with this, they embraced it, and several of them took on the role of "Google Expert" in class.  I LOVED seeing this, because more often than not, it was the shyer kids who ended up being the most adept at helping their peers.

Overall, I'm pleased with the work that my students turned in.  However, every time I do any type of project, I take notes on how it can be improved.  The first time we do anything, I've got a laundry list of improvements, and this time is no different.

The thing I was the most disappointed about was the failure of the asynchronous pairing.  I'm hoping this will work in the future, but it's one of those unfortunate facts of life that you never know what your class sections are going to look like until you get them.  This year, my class sections are 11 and 20, which made the asynchronous pairing pretty much impossible.  Hopefully in the future, my classes will be a little more even, and I'll be able to work that into the project.

 The link to my blog:

The finish line

I'm glad to say that I've at least accomplished something for our STI 2011 strand. I am not however 100% proud of the outcome.

The blog through my process after I found out that it would take too long to have SketchUp loaded onto the student Netbook is as followed.  Morrell's Blog

Students were asked to research and create a Google Presentation of a specific plate boundary. The last post of my blog you'll be able to see a sampling of presentations.

Some problems I ran into during this project besides the SketchUp conundrum is the ability to actually flip the script and let the students learn on their own. It was both myself not wanting to see them try again and again to get something right but also their inability to actually want to work independent of the teacher. They really enjoyed taking some of the pictures and loading them to my computer (my Eye-Fi card and camera aren't seeing eye to eye right now) as well as getting their Google presentations ready for embedding into the project blog. Another problem was the infrastructure of the network in my building. Some days that I had designed as work days needed to pull a 180 turn as the network was down or connection to the internet wouldn't work.

Some things I really liked about this project was GoogleDocs and the ability to watch the kiddos work on their project in real time with another person. They were able to work together in my class as their partner was someone else in the room and then "together" during study halls or at home. I was also able to drop in every once in a while to see their progress and to make sure they were 50/50 on the project creation.

In the future I REALLY want this to become what I had envisioned with SketchUp AND the presentation piece that I was able to scavenge and retool to this project.

And yes, I was able to get some permission slips in! :-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Final Thoughts

From Garden 11-20-11
My classroom blog
My transparent blog

Overview of project
Students will observe, comment, model in sketch up, then build a raised bed with hoop house. The hoop house students built is a design from the University of Maine Ag Extension, but students are encouraged to suggest and implement improvements.

Why project is important and educationally significant
Currently, Brooksville Elementary has a garden including a 20’ X 20’ heated greenhouse and 8 raised beds. There is significant interest and support from the principal and several teachers are already integrating the garden into their curriculum. As teachers request more space and try to extend the planting season, we see the need to add more, insulated, raised beds. This project is important because it builds on the interest of the community and extends the season for students and teachers who are studying horticulture and it provides a model for future endeavors.
This project is educationally significant because students are working on an authentic activity. They will have the opportunity to speak to many greenhouse house owners and critique various designs. Students also learned to use hand tools, practiced measuring, and documented their work.

Measurable outcomes 
Authentic learning does not necessarily lend itself to assessment in terms that can be tied to academic standards. Instead, observations of tenacity, resilience and collaboration were more suitable to this endeavor.

Barriers and resources are addressed
Any new project presents lots of challenges. I found it similar to starting a fire. I had to gather up all the fuel and each time we went out to work on the project, supply the spark that ignited excitement.
Most of the tools I needed, I owned. One challenge was to make sure I brought what I knew I would need, anticipated the needs that might come up and, remembered to take everything home so that I had what I needed for chores at home.
Time is always a challenge. Our schedule for band and chorus creates two time slots each week that up until now were study halls for the students not participating. I re-purposed those time slots. I found that there was some push back from students, not so much because they valued the study time, but because they had become comfortable with the routine. I had different students each time and it was tricky to develop ownership of the project.
With limited tools and materials, I had to find other activities for students. Sometimes students harvested vegetables, moved fences or built compost piles. I did not have the supervision I needed and not all projects turned out quite the way I envisioned; more importantly, not all students worked safely or productively. I often found myself wondering which was more important, the supervision of many or the learning of a few. I got lucky and there were no mishaps. The picture you see is the project as it stands so far.

Next steps
As we move into winter, this project is halted. In the meanwhile, we can research plants that will thrive in the early spring, build light frames and prepare for the next planting season. Next year, I would like to move this activity into our after school programming. I believe I will have access to more supervision.
One of the things I did not accomplish was getting greenhouse owners out to speak with the students. This turned out to be partly a timing issue. Most people could not visit the school during the time frame I had. Moving this to an after school activity should make greenhouse visits easier.
I also need to consider the time involved in collaboration. On the one hand, I was somewhat successful at getting other teachers/classes involved, I did not account for the extra tasks their participation created. For instance, a class had some time to pick lettuce, but that meant that I had to use my greenhouse time slot to clean and bag the lettuce.
  Once I rethought my project, I think an organizer might have been helpful. In the future, I plan to create an organizer for materials, checklist for steps and safety considerations.

The platform for this project
I found the blog a challenge in several ways. The first, was a learning curve which we all seemed to have conquered. The many tips we received were helpful. The second issue I encountered was staying in touch with the blog. Setting up a RSS feed allowed me to monitor the blog, but eventually I started checking the blog with because I could see if there were new comments.
Despite the challenges of the blog,  I have embraced them. Blogs are wonderful ways to show pictures and communicate. The trick I think is to make sure all stakeholders can reach the blog and help them develop a habit of checking it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Calling All Students!

We are getting close to end..... I need to have grades in by Thanksgiving.

So please post of what you have/are doing with links to your blogs and websites.

I would really appreciate some feedback on the content, course, teaching style or anything else you want to say.

I am going to send next years class to this blog so give them a heads up of what the course was to you so they will have a better understanding on if they should pick it or not.

I would love feedback on things you would do differently.

* I will be adding to my course I just recently purchased a 3d Wood Carver.  That will be used next year to bring our virtual 3d world (Sketchup) to the real world.

* Please schedule the feed backs to post after end of this month.  That way any new post will go to class we are doing now.

Lastly,  I do need to hear from all of you... I want to hear about the issues as well.  This is part of being transparent and flipping the script.  

Change is Good

This year I changed schools. I am now a general elementary teacher and I teach a multi-age 5th and 6th grade. I live three minutes from school and have the teaching situation I have always wanted,  a self-contained class. There has been some adjustment.

In August, Google was completely blocked. This school does not do robotics, Scratch and Starlogo fell into the forbidden "edu-tainment" category, and teacher email was monitored for personal use.

In the short term, my original plan, to have students blog about a collaborative problem-solving task involving robotics, was not going to work. Over the past few months, I have made a lot of progress. Many teachers already had Gmail accounts. Now we are able to use the accounts at school. I have a school blog and "transparent class room" blog, both linked to the school webpage. The teachers share information on a private blog, after school robotics will be funded this spring and in the meanwhile, my students are working on a technical project (but it involves hammers, nails and drills). Students are not blogging about what they have done; they are writing informational papers about how to use various types of equipment. The project is still not complete, but all-in-all, I am very pleased with our progress.

While I have been able to start the conversation around Google Apps, I have little hope of seeing movement anytime soon.  Very recently I took a new tack. Since most of my students already had email accounts, I asked them to sign up for their own Google Apps accounts. I gained parental permission by announcing my intentions in two parent letters and when I got no negative response, actually I got no response what-so-ever, I proceeded. In the last two weeks, my students have begun to use Google Docs, Presentation and Forms for various collaborative learning activities.

My new project involves building. As the teacher in charge of the school greenhouse, I was able to get permission and funds to build some hoop houses and, later this winter, light frames for seedlings. My students have learned how to use the tools involved in this construction and they have written procedural papers for using different tools. The art teacher and I collaborated on a technical drawing activity, and during math class, I had students measure and mark the lumber.

I have been very successful in the transparent part of the classroom and modestly successful in the reverse teaching. My students are reluctant to stand before the class and demonstrate anything, but I am finding that they will share in smaller groups and impromptu settings. We have had demonstrations on everything from "how to group pictures and text" to "how to harvest potatoes". My winter project will be to complete a student-authored book titled "Green House Care Through The Seasons". Definitely reverse-teaching.

The most important aspect of this class,  however is my new knowledge. I am fluent with blogs. If you look at my Coast to Canyon blog, you can see that I have learned how to edit html and use widgets. I have also learned to use Picasa, and in tandem with a Eye-Fi connected camera I am able to update my bogs instantly and effortlessly. Setting the card up as its own network got me around our school filter. My laptop automatically finds the school network once the upload is complete. The most important thing I have learned is how to influence change without scaring or alienating people. Everyone in our school ultimately wants what is best for students, but getting them to make changes involves gentle arm twisting, creating visions and, in my case, lots of patience.

This is my classroom letter blog.
This is my transparent classroom blog.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I've been very successful with the Reverse Teaching part of my project, but not so much with the transparency part.  Despite the fact that I teach high school, my students' parents are not thrilled with the idea of their children's pictures being posted online in any way, shape, or form.  I tried at parent teacher conferences to remind them that this is why they all sign a media release form at the beginning of the school year, but to no avail.  I've got very, VERY few photos of my kids working that are usable, because of lack of parent buy-in.  They seem to have decided together that this is the issue over which they are going to dig in their heels and flat-out refuse to compromise.

That being said, the websites that I had my kids create are varying and incredibly cool.  Because they use Google Docs in their computer classes already, I didn't have to worry too much about teaching them the format of the website.  I did show them some tips and tricks, and we discussed how not to blind your teacher with yellow words on a lime green background, but other than that, I left it to them to figure out the different possibilities the site presented. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Not So Much...

Well, I have been REALLY successful with the transparency part of my project, but not with the reverse part. I have offered several challenges for the students, but none of them have taken the opportunity to do them. They are all overwhelmed, because this is apparently the first year they've ever been asked to do homework and they don't have a study hall so it's basically been like panic overload as they try to keep up with their day-to-day work. I have been seriously successful with my website though AND I am happy to report that our school sent our entire middle school team (8 teachers 6-8, tech, and Sped) to the MAMLE conference and I led the charge for EVERYONE to get a website up and start being more transparent. At the start of the conference, I was the only middle school teacher with a website. Now, three other teachers have theirs either finished, or almost ready and two more are feeling the pressure to get in the game! We've also got Google calendars attached so parents can see what the homework is. So, even though it wasn't what I planned on, I'm still considering it a success! Plus, I'm not going to stop until all of the middle school is on-line!

Here's the link to my site.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where is that 8-ball

None of my plans have worked out so far. We have a new technology integrator...great guy, but is new to the Google Apps world. Students have just gotten lap tops and the On-line Almanac that I was hoping to create is still a pipe dream. We had chosen to use Weebly as a platform, but not sure that will work. Students are having difficulty just doing assignments to get to the point of posting. I'm well behind the 8 ball.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Project Updates

Hi everyone, hope your school year is off to a great start. I have had an incredibly busy semester so far. Just to remind everyone, my final project is revolving around a new assessment system just implemented at UMaine's COEHD, called Tk20. Since I am working for the COEHD as a grad assistant assigned to Tk20, I thought revolving my final project around Tk20 would be a great way for me to really familiarize myself with the system. So for my project, I volunteered to develop a lot of the training materials and to create and maintain the help site. To give you a better idea about Tk20, it is essentially just a massive database being used to collect, store, analyze data, and generate comprehensive reports. The COEHD is going to use Tk20 for on-going program evaluation and to assist with the NCATE re-accredition process. For the first stage of the implementation process, every student in a NCATE program is going to be uploading key assessments into Tk20, where it will then be evaluated by faculty to demonstrate that the students are meeting NCATE standards. We have already undertaken a massive training effort and have provided training to over 70 classes. For the first part of my project, I developed the training guides for the students. Now all my time is being put into developing how-to guides and developing the help site. The training materials and how-to guides mostly consists of step-by-step trouble shooting tutorials in the form video screencasts and PDFs. The Tk20 help site is going to be the main source of information for both faculty and students. It is still in development, but here is the link so you can see where it is at: There is also a FAQ subpage with additional resources.


Our students finally got their laptops on Thursday and I managed to get them all connected to their email and their grades.  Progress reports went home Friday as I began giving my first test of the year.  It has been a crazy one so far!  I did have a students laptop plugged in to the short throw projector that I am learning to use.  It does have a laser pointer that I haven't figured out yet! I have all my students connected to the successnet site that comes with our new text and I think that will be helpful with reverse teaching.  There are tutorials, games and all the instruction in one place that students can access from home.

Now that they finally have their  machines, I can begin to have them set up portfolios.  I have such a sort time to teach that I may try having some create the portfolio in study hall and hope to have it spread like a virus.  I should probably check with our administration to make sure that's OK  but I do intend to have them set the privacy so it is only shared with certain addresses like mine and their parents.  First I will have to get through the effects if the progress reports on the parents who think their child is doing better than they are.  I do really like having an "open" grade book as I find it has a very beneficial effect on my missing assignment list!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another tip...

When doing "Reverse Teaching" were you have a student connect their laptop to the projector and you are in the back of the room.... a laser pointer is a must.    It will allow you to point to the area you want the kid to click on.  Also you will be able to remain in the back of the room to keep an eye on other students.

While being "Transparent" there are new eye-fi cards that will allow the students to take pictures and the wifi sd card will automatically upload pictures to a web album.  I use a Picasa Web Album that is NOT published to the public.  It allows you to check to make sure now one who can't be on is there or anything inappropriate gets by.  I find if you involve students they will self regulate and you only have to catch the kids in the background.  Picasa will also upload videos as well (I don't do them longer then 60 sec) and it now will tag pictures.  I will tag kids pictures with their Avatar names in a web album to start the year then it automates from this point on.    If you tag the kids who CAN'T be on web it will notify you when the album uploads.   Then just move pictures you want to another web album you then embed to your blog.

A good way to get parents to connect to your site is to have students do progress reports by having their parents comment on a blog post.  They need to use students Avatar names and you will have to approve the post, but it allows students to show their parents what they are doing.  *I make sure kids know NOT to make parents do this late at night or early in morning I give them weeks to finish.  Any student without internet access at home I print a picture of them from the site for their parents to sign.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mike's Project (Students are doing)

Well I've officially hit a huge snag in the road to completing this project. Google SketchUp is not on the students netbook image and there isn't either a.) time b.)time c.)time to load SketchUp onto the image of 83 student netbooks.

SO...what I think I'm going to do is have them do a research project on a specific plate boundary and either through my FirstClass website OR blog I'll load pictures, videos, and the actual Google presentations of their research (or at least a few of them for size constraints).

What I need to know is this something that is okay? If it is I should be good to execute the project.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Kids Will Be Doing

I thought it would be fun to share the actual performance task document that I've handed out to my kids.  Hopefully the pictures will show up!  This is what they'll be doing:

Elements of Fiction Project

Project Requirements:
1.     You may work with another person. 
2.     You must use Google Docs to create a website that will define and explain one of the elements of fiction we have discussed in class.
3.     You must include examples of this element of fiction from at least two of the stories we have read in class, as well as at least one real-life example.
4.     You must include a bare minimum of three pictures.  These pictures can be found online or they can be pictures that you take or create yourself.
5.     You must present this website as “educational materials” to the class.
6.     You will eventually share the site with our class, and possibly with the other section of this class.  Be prepared.  Public speaking IS involved.

Creating Your Site:
1.     Sign in to Google Docs.
2.     At the top of the page, click “Sites.”
3.     Click the button that says “Create New Site.”
4.     Name your site and choose a theme.
5.     For right now, these sites should remain private.  Click “More Options” and be sure to choose the button that says “Collaborate With: ONLY PEOPLE I SPECIFY.”  We do not want this to be a public site!
6.     DO NOT click the button that says “Let anyone in the world view.”

Editing Your Site:
You will be keeping this to a single page, so don’t click the “create page” button.  Click the button that says “Edit Page” and your site will turn into something that looks more like a document.  From here, you can add and edit text, add photos, and change your layout.

To Add a Photo:
1.     Save the photo on your computer first, and make sure to end the file name with .jpg so that it will be usable.  Some browsers can’t see certain photo types, but everyone should be able to see .jpg.  Make sure that you save it somewhere that is easy to find.
2.     At the top left-hand side, click “insert” then click “image.”
3.     Click the “browse” button and find your file, then click “OK.”
4.     Play around with the buttons that appear when you click on your image, and see what you can do with them!

Grading Rubric

(4) FTW!!
(3) Pwnage!
(2) Noob…
(1) Epic fail…
Elements of Fiction Explained

The element of fiction chosen by the group is:
explained in depth, accurately, in a way that makes sense, and in a way that is helpful to other students.

explained accurately, in a way that makes sense, and in a way that is helpful to other students.
explained accurately, but in a way that is somewhat unclear.  The explanation is not very helpful to other students.

explained inaccurately, or in a way that is difficult to understand.  The explanation is not helpful to other students.
Class Examples

There are:

clear, in-depth examples from two or more of the stories we read in class.
clear examples from two of the stories we read in class.
clear examples, but they only come from one of the stories we read in class.

examples that are unclear and that only come from one of the stories we read in class.
Real Life Examples

There is/are:

more than one clear, in-depth examples from real life.
one clear, in-depth example from real life.
no examples from real life included on the website.


There are:
more than three pictures on the website.

three pictures on the website.
two pictures on the website.
two or fewer pictures on the website.

The materials are:
presented to the student’s section of the class and to the other section of the class.

presented to the student’s section of the class.
not presented to either section of the class.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

With School in full Swing....

Hopefully your projects are going well.   Don't forget to take pictures, videos and save students work  so you have it for your transparency.   Even if you have not done any thing with them it is better to collect them.  Remember you can have the kids responsible for this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Project Plans

Finally back into the swing of things!  Like Mike said, we had a few heavy personal issues happen in August, but we're back in action, and happy to be here.  

I've also hit a technology snag.  Many of my students have not been issued their school computers as of right now.  We've been having a server malfunction at my school recently, and the IT geniuses are using all their time trying to get it fixed.  Laptop distribution has been put on hold for now.  Until further notice, I've got about 40% of my kids without computers, which makes the idea of asynchronous pairing even more difficult.  Also, the balance of my classes is unusually skewed this year.  One section of the class I want to do this project in has 21 students, and the other section has 11.  For this reason, I have decided to allow students to work with a partner in the same class as them, with the added requirement that they must share their work with the other class in a "guest speaker" format.  As of right now, I am still working on the logistics of this plan, and I'm thinking it might even become a video that they create and share somehow.  I'm not sure, though.  It's still a work in progress.

Luckily for me, all freshmen at my school are required to take a class called "Tech and Career," in which each of them is already required to use Google Docs.  Thanks to this class, I won't be responsible for introducing the overall technology idea to them, only the specific pieces I need them to use.  I'm thinking it might be fun to coordinate with the Tech teacher and see if there is a way students can get credit for this project in both classes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cathy's Digital Portfolio Project

I have already hit one snag with my student's creation of digital portfolios and that is they won't get their laptops for a while as we continue to work on moving into the new school. We are looking at the end of September and probably sometime in October.   I do have a portfolio template set up that they can use when they get their computers and it has a link to a video I found to help them copy the template to their account and then make it their own. I have created a website that the 7th grade teachers will be using to post assignments so the students will have access to them from home. My team will be discussing having all the assignments on one page vs having a page for each teacher. I created it with a page per subject but not everyone likes that idea.

I still need to discuss with our computer tech the students being able to use their laptop cameras. I am not hopeful about that and won't be bringing it up right away as he says he is still very busy with all our new technology and I know that's true.

I do intend to get my students set up and going on their e-mail if I can even before they get their laptops as most of them do have internet access at home anyway. Getting that going will be one less thing to have to teach them before we can get going on the portfolios.

I haven't forgotten the reverse teaching and am planning on assigning some Khan Academy math at some point in the year so they can come to class with some knowledge ahead of time. We have done a Scavenger Hunt through our new math books to help them become acquainted with all that's available in their new books. I would love to claim that as my idea but I got it from our 8th grade teacher and then tweaked it to fit the 7th grade book.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Project Set-Up

I've been going all around the mulberry bush about my project. This is what I've finally landed on. I'm going to do a 'challenge activity' with my students that will tie into a novel we are reading. If it works out well, I would like to do more of them as the year goes along. The challenge will be available to students when they are finished with their traditional work and they will be expected to do the work independently. I will provide them with the challenge and give them a week of time to complete. It won't be required. Students will get credit for doing it or not. I won't give any assistance in the challenge. They have to figure out how to do it on their own. is the first challenge from the book Countdown by Deborah Wiles.

Franny mentions her old school in comparison to her new school. Find the names of both the schools in Chapter 1 and then follow these steps.

1. Find out if each school is a real school.
2. If the school is real, find it on a Google Map.
3. Take a screenshot of each school that you find and upload it here.


Include a document with any other facts you find about the schools and/or the school websites. 

One of the challenges that I've had in the past is having enough work for students who finish early. This 'challenge' idea would provide extra work that is also self-directed and technology focused. 

These challenges will be part of the Moodle that I've created for ELA. I also have my school website up. I've put a blog up that I will write in every Friday to update the parents about what we've been doing. On my website I've also added a Photos page to post pictures and videos of our activities. The reason my blog is an iWeb blog and not a Blogger is because we are prohibited from using Blogger at my school. This will be a real downfall because iWeb blogs don't allow for comments to be posted without uploading through Mobile Me - which I'm also prohibited from doing. So parents will have to email comments. 

So that's my progress on my project.

Morrell's Project

Sorry for my absence on the blog for the month of August. A lot of personal stuff went down but I think I'm back on track. Posts the the blogs will be incoming this weekend.  Anyways here is what I'm going to be doing to get myself ready for the project and the execution of the project.

Like stated earlier I want the students to create a known plate boundary for each of the three types of boundaries using Google SketchUp. To do this I feel that I need to be more of an "expert" at SketchUp than I am or previously was during the STI2011 week. I'm going through more of the tutorials, even more than once so I have an idea of the questions that might be asked of me. I will more than likely respond with "What have you tried?" and "Have you asked your partner?" before leading them down the right path. Near the beginning we will all learn Google SketchUp together much like we did at the conference.

I still haven't decided on whether or not to use my school site that is already up and running or create some sort of blog or other website to house this. Pictures and videos that I take of the students during this process could become unruly in FirstClass as I don't have much space on the server. However the website, regardless of where it is hosted, will include a run down of what's going on in the class as well as pictures and video to be used as examples of the written descriptions. Finally when everyone is done their final product will be screen captured so I can upload it as a picture instead of a document.

Grading will be group based as well as individual. They will have a group grade on how well they completed the requirements and an individual grade for how much they contributed to the final product. I think I'm going to have it be a 70/30 split between individual and group. Not sure about that part yet.

What I need to do right away considering it's the beginning of school (finally! Two days closed because of Irene) is to send home a photo permission slip to parents. Other than that I think it'll be a trial by fire as the project progresses.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How Computer Games Help Children Learn: Chapter 6

Image retrieved from:

Chapter 6 The future: Urban Science

    In chapter 6, Shaffer highlights a game called Urban Science, where players take on the role of urban planners. In some ways, it is similar to SimCity. Many elements of designing a city are the same. However, Shaffer refers to SimCity as a “God” game because players can basically do whatever they want within the game. They can build or tear down at their pleasure. There is no real accountability for their actions nor any collaboration required as part of the game structure. As a result, SimCity does not provide any opportunity for an authentic learning experience or explore what it means to really be an urban planner. Urban Science on the other hand, is designed to replicate as much as possible an urban planning training practicum. Players are asked to view the virtual world through the epistemic frame of an urban planer. Just as in the previous chapters, Shaffer examines how this game allows players to develop skills, knowledge, identities, values, and epistemology that urban planner use to think in innovative ways in order to create a comprehensive plan for the virtual community. The hope of course, is that if players can learn to think like an innovative professional and solve problems in the virtual game world, that they will learn to be able to think like an innovative professional and solve problems in the real world.

    The rest of the chapter, Shaffer talks about his hopes for the future and the role that epistemic games will play in education. For the immediate future, he sees them being utilized in “third” spaces, such as summer camps, learning resource centers or after school programs- basically a place outside of a formal instruction, but also not just “free play”. The focus should be just on learning and not selling games or trying to get students to meet standards. Shaffer feels that as more of these epistemic games are developed, they will demonstrate what happens when you “think outside of the box” and will put pressure on schools to make needed changes to how they approach teaching.

    My final thoughts on this chapter is that Shaffer makes a very compelling case for looking to games as a way to help students prepare to become innovative professionals in the future. My only concern is that all the games that he discusses in the book still don’t seem to be widely available yet, which raises some questions since the first addition of the book was written in 2006. He does talk about commercial games that are available, but then points out all they are not really epistemic games. In all the case studies, he talks about the dramatic and measurable improvement that the participants seem to have after playing the games. So if the games are proven to be this effective, why are they not available yet?  My guess is that the games weren’t ready for market yet. They probably had a ton of bugs and didn’t have the look or feel of commercial games. In order to get the games ready for market, Epistemic Games probably needed to raise a boat load of capital. Now the investors probably want a return on investment, so when the games do become available, they will probably become commercial games. It seems the best way to test the games is to have a huge number of people play the games. If it were me, I would put then up on the internet and make them free for everyone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How Computer Games Help Children Learn: Chapter 5

    A good majority of this chapter focuses on professional identity and how thinking and working like a innovative professional can help youngsters prepare for being successful as adults. To explore this topic, Shaffer discusses his experience of teaching a journalism practicum to a group of undergrads and grad students and goes into quite a lot of detail about what it means to be a professional journalist. He breaks down several key aspects of journalistic professionalism in regards to areas such as identity, skills, knowledge, epistemology and values. The big question raised in the chapter is how does a journalist become a “smart” journalist? Shaffer first discusses a schema-based view where developing a particular set of skills, values, and knowledge are used to solve problems. As he says, “learn the right facts and rules and belief, and then apply them in the right place” (p 140).  Another aspect he discusses is situated cognition, where “newcomers learn a community’s common ways of solving doing things that members of the community do”(p. 141). Basically, he is saying that another way journalists learn to be journalists is by acting like journalists and from learning from more experienced journalists. Becoming a member of a professional community helps to develop a strong sense of professional identity. New journalists can learn to solve problems by seeing how more experienced journalists solve them. While these aspects are important, they alone won’t make a “smart” journalist. The final aspect that Shaffer raises is needing an epistemic frame to tie everything together. As he explains, “epistemic frames are about setting the terms by which actions, decisions, and claims are judged and justified”(p. 163). The final step is learning to think like a professional is  being able to make smart decisions and justify actions. It is about applying knowledge in order to solve problems, essentially thinking like a professional. is a game based on the successes of this journalism practicum. It is an epistemic game aimed at middle school students, where players are asked to take on the role of a journalist and create a series of science related news stories for an online newsmagazine. The game revolves around developing the same key elements as the journalism practicum: identity, skills, knowledge, epistemology and values. So much of journalism is about following a set of rules- both stylistic and formulaic. The game uses these rules as a framework. The game also explores how to be a journalist in the following ways: how to follow a lead, writing to formula, writing as a watchdog, writing for story, reflecting on action through war stories, news meeting, and copy editing. It also focuses on values important to journalism ethics, such as verifying sources and being objective in the writing. By the end of each of the case studies, both the journalism and middle school students developed a strong identity of being a journalist, which continued long after the case studies. Shaffer makes the point that when they act and feel like journalists, they end up thinking like journalist. As he concludes, “the point is not to train young people to be professionals, but to train them to be the kind of people  who can think like professionals when they want and need to be” (p. 165).
    My thoughts on this game is that it is probably the one game mentioned in the book that I probably wouldn’t be excited to play. Namely because a large amount of it focuses on writing. I hated writing more than anything else when I was in middle school.  Like the debate game, I think can be done without actually having the software. When I was in eighth grade, we did a month long journalism project where as a class we made a newspaper. I am sure it was not nearly as in depth as in, but we did all the same things as in the game. We developed a variety of stories and did copy editing, worked on layout and printing. My teacher used to be a journalist for many years and was known for her journalism unit. She also was the advisor for the school paper. The point I am making is that the concept of thinking and working like a professional that Shaffer makes in this chapter doesn’t seem to be as tied to the technology as in other chapters. Since he doesn’t go into much detail about the actual game interface, it is hard to know for sure, but I feel any student who works on the school paper would get the same experience as playing this game.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Computer Games Chapter 4

The Pandora Project

There are more and more subjects that students need to learn each year.  Whether or not the education system is responsible for teaching values has been debated for years but the bottom line is that students learn values in school from teachers whether intentional or not.  Having students participate in a game that helps them see more than one side of a situation is a definite life skill.  They learn what professionals think of as "important, interesting and meaningful"(105)

This game is based on a medical controversy where there are five different view points all vying to get everything their way.  The game players have to think globally and be aware of the risks and benefits of complex science based public health issues.  As I see it, the main objective of this "game" is for students to realize that in the real world you have to give a little to get what you want.  They learn to negotiate to achieve each groups "best alternative to a negotiate agreement".  They have to learn to research to see what each viewpoint's needs will be and, as in debating, they need to come up with alternatives to what other groups want as well as to what they are willing to accept as compromises.  This game was only  played for nine hours in the classroom but was motivating enough that group members spent outside time researching and debating talking points.  They learned to prioritize issues and debrief afterwards to discuss and reflect on the results.

I see the benefits of this game being the group members learning to see more than one side, to weigh the options and think about the repercussions of political actions.  The chapter pointed out how some students opinions on decisions changed after playing the game and seeing how others might view the situations.  One player said, "In order to do it right, you had to look at everything from everybody's point of view."(123)  You couldn't just have your own opinion,  you had to understand all the other opinions in order to get what was best for your group.  This educational experience wanted students to develop and understand values as well as learn the skills and knowledge to communicate and understand others values.

This was about more than just values, it was about getting learners involved in the learning and motivated to learn.  There is a big difference between this and having students pick a view point, research and then write a paper on a controversial issue.  When you can get students involved in a discussion about a topic they are interested in, they will spend more time researching and thinking and less time writing.  It isn't about the knowledge, it's about the process.  This is a more motivating process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chapter 3 - ZPD and Frustration

I just finished reading chapter 3. Again I, I don't really deny that games can help students learn. The research that has been presented so far are in fixed environments with controlled settings - perhaps even "special" that lends itself to different behaviors. Is this feasible in the general school setting? Would Natalie have been successful with the presence of the boys she usually flirts with? My point is not to downplay the effectiveness of these techniques as much as to say that isolated solutions don' t help the general problem that Shaffer acknowledges, "Most schools [and a lot of teachers] in the United States today celebrate declarative knowledge over procedural knowledge." Addressing this problem does not require isolating students from each other or special programs. ' Schaffer left out a component of ZPD, which is frustration. When people are presented with tasks that are too hard, or beyond their ZPD, they experience frustration and potentially give up.

In the first chapter I was really glad to see mention of the game Civilization, which was one of my favorites going through high school and college. I skimmed ahead to find something I could apply to Civics and found Chapter 6 which discusses SimCity and Urban Science. I'm now disappointed because while the chapter goes into detail about the deficits of SimCity and touts Urban Science, the latter is not available. I wound up on the Epistemic Games website to find that these monument games "were designed to be tested not distributed." So, fantastic...there is isolated research on the effectiveness of video games that only exist for the purpose of that isolated research.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Computer Games Chapter Three: Escher's World

Chapter three focuses on how kids can use game situations to participate in complex tasks that adults accomplish after years of study and practice.  The author looked at Escher’s World, a game that he created in which middle school students who had not had geometry instruction used a program called Geometer’s Sketchpad to create images based on mathematical principals far beyond their classroom knowledge.  The kids went through a four week course where they were treated like young architecture students, and were expected to be as independent as possible, with minimal adult interference. 

One of the interesting things about this chapter was the math problem example at the beginning.  It was a basic geometry problem followed by an in-depth explanation of how to find the answer.  The explanation was dry, difficult to follow, and it was supposed to be.  This was followed by a story of a girl who participated in Escher’s World, and came to the answer of the problem via a completely different route, yet still understanding the basic principles that make it true.   We found this whole example somewhat ironic, considering the author does this to us to a small degree when he goes off on his long-winded descriptions of the Oxford Studio, an architecture studio course at MIT after which parts of Escher’s World were modeled.  We both had the same reaction: confusion as to which program we were discussing here and there, followed by an “aha” when we figured out we were experiencing some of what “Melanie” from the chapter had.

Escher’s World shows how you can definitely take certain games and use their structure to teach a separate instructional concept in a real-world situation.  There are other examples that discuss some of the other Escher’s World participants, but they mainly get the same points across: a.  You do not need to directly instruct about a concept to teach it.  Using games to teach concepts is just (if not more) effective, like using Roller Coaster Tycoon to teach business concepts or using Bridge Builder to teach Physics.  b.  Teaching this way helps kids internalize their skills so that they will be able to use them again in separate situations.  c.  Innovation can not and should not be standardized.  If you want a kid to be creative, you can not tell him or her how to do it.  

Mike and Erin

Kennedy Project Proposal

I apologize for this being late, but I've just had the last of my house guests leave and then my computer died and I had to buy a new one. I am loving my new Mac Mini though!

I've gone back and forth several times for my project, and I'm still not clear on the expectations at my new job and what my schedule will be like so it has been hard to really get into something, but I think I have at least the start of something that I will see through.

I would like to have the students do current events on their own. I don't think we will have time to really go in depth about them during regular class time so I will have them create their own current events virtual notebook. They can create it in Google, iWeb, Noteshare, etc. We will determine the requirements and the grading together as a class. They will have to find the required articles on their own and comment on them based on the requirements we set up. They will be on their own to determine how to present the information and will have to troubleshoot their own issues within whichever platform they choose. I will have periodic check-ins as the trimester goes and then the entire product will be due at the end of the trimester. If it works well, I will do it again for the next trimester.

For the transparency part of the project I plan on keeping a class blog and website so that parents can see what we are doing in both social studies and ELA classes.

So that's that!

Task Rabbit

You can't judge something if you aren't on the same wavelength. Using the internet with innovation requires redefinition of how we interact.

Task Rabbit Got something you want done? Put it on Task Rabbit.

I read this article on Wired and wondered, can we do this in our class room?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Computer Games Chapter 2

I am combining ideas from Jesse and myself in this post as he is away on vacation with spotty internet access.

Chapter 2 discussed using a computer game, digital zoo, to help students put their problem solving skills to use. The study discussed analyzed what the students learned through this game and how they learned it. I found it most interesting that the retention of the information was increased. It seemed that because the students were using their own discovery processes the information was more personal to them. I really liked how the process encouraged them to make mistakes and to learn and grown from those experiences. It was interesting how the point was made that in a simulation environment all students bring their own ideas and experiences to the environment and the game provides the, "framework in which we make sense of what happens when we interact with the simulation." (69) I think this is why these experiences are so powerful. We have the framework that helps us connect and build our understanding.

Jesse noticed the following in chapter 2:

I don't think that, most teachers, are the problem.  I believe that most teacher's are aware of the "factory" style education that is continuously employed but are pitted against mandates for standardized achievement indicators, and cost cutting administrators/school boards.  Socialization is still a major component of education.  Teacher's would love to employ strategies such as presented in sodaconstruction, however are faced with parameters that make this a challenge.  I also question some of the research that was presented.  The sample size seemed very small, and though the group was composed of "disadvantaged" students, there seemed to be degree of motivation.  Lev Vygotsky, referenced in the book also developed the concept of Zone of Proximal Development, where students learn when new concepts are neither too simple, resulting in boredom, nor to difficult, resulting in frustration.  Non of the students reported reached a frustration point, which I find to be unrealistic.  Surely, there are plenty of students who would be disengaged by the projects because of the difficulty involved.  While I see lots of merit in the programs that were discussed, I can also see how these computer simulations have replaced labs and experiments that demonstrate the same concepts.  In short, I don't think its the technology that will advance teaching, I think it is the ingenuity of the teacher.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cool Tools

This a great blog with tons of tools.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cathy Atwood Project Proposal

Digital Portfolios
I want to implement digital portfolios for the students of the Brewer Community School. I think that reflecting on the work they do will help them see what they are learning and apply it differently.  I am planning on having them use google sites and it will be contained within our google apps so that I won’t have concerns about safety. It can be seen by their teachers and should be able to be shared with parents. I want to have them link the work they have in their portfolios to the Common Core standard it applies to as well as to the reflection they write on their work.
I intend to use many different kinds of media for them to showcase their work including videos as well as photos.
There will be new skills they will need to learn especially as 7th graders new to laptops. I intend to have them make video casts to show other students, from this year or future years, how to do things.
I have talked to several other teachers on my team and they are willing and excited to work on digital portfolios as well.

 This will be an ongoing project and I will consider it done when students graduating from Brewer High School have a digital portfolio that showcases their learning for their school years.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Erin Morrell - Project Proposal

Project Description
At the beginning of the school year, the freshman classes that I teach do a unit on short stories and elements of fiction.  My plan thus far is to assign one element of fiction to a pair of students, one partner from each of the two sections of the class.  The students will prepare an informative web page using a template that I will create for them in Google Docs, and each one will present the page to his or her individual class.  This requires both students to be involved in every step of the production of the project, and it also presents an element of the unknown to the kids.  Their work will be presented to a class of which they are not a member.  They will have very little knowledge of the chemistry of the class and of the other students’ reactions to their work.  Hopefully this will help to motivate these students to deliver their very best work.  This asynchronous pairing will foster a dependence on technology for the completion of the project, and will help students realize the potential for using Google Docs in a way that they might not have previously thought of.

Throughout the unit, I will consistently update my blog to display some of the students’ work, photos of them working, and examples of what they have done so far.  Because the Google domain in which the students are required to work is already set up to display the students’ full names, I am not able to require students to publish their web pages for public viewing.  However, I do plan to require them to share their pages with their other teachers, and will require them to log in from home to show their work to their parents and guardians.  I will be sending emails (and where necessary, letters) home to parents and guardians to ensure that they have been given consistent access to their students’ work.  If necessary, I will make printouts of the web pages available for parents without Internet access.  My hope is to have the parents give me feedback on the students’ projects and progress in my class.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Project Proposal

My course load isn't exact yet so my project has to be something I can adapt to different areas. Since current events is applicable, in my opinion, to all social studies, I'm thinking of have the students create their own web-based almanac for the year in reviews. I had done some looking at the official world almanac and I believe the project can be broken down into different categories so that students can follow something they are interested in. At this point I'm more familiar with Blogging though I have toyed around with Weebly and Prezi as well. Its possible I suppose to incorporate either or both and get the students doing it.

Computer Games Ch.1

Stupid publishing feature on Blogger...this was meant to post yesterday...

The Debating Game

The introduction of How Computer Games Help Children Learn talks about how computers let us work with simulations of the world which we wouldn't necessarily be able to do otherwise. It also defines epistemology as the study of what it means to know something and therefore epistemic games as ones that are about learning to think in innovative ways. Our world values innovation, not standardization so therefore epistemic games are part of the educational solution. 


Shaffer defines 'game' as collaborative, ongoing and not necessarily connected to winning. He said they should also be personally and socially meaningful and have a set of rules to follow. 

He also says that games allow kids to live in worlds that they are curious about, or afraid of, or want to try out in order to understand the rules, roles and consequences therein.  

The Debating Game 

The Debating Game is a role playing game where students learned to think, analyze and act in a way that is authentic to the 'real-world'. This activity took place before students read about an event in class. A small group of students took on both the pro and con side of a debate on American involvement during the Spanish American war. Other students in the class watched the debate. The teacher served as the mediator and the other students provided detailed, written feedback to the debaters, which made the process authentic. Debaters were expected to use sources to back up their arguments and to follow the guidelines set up by the teacher. This game taught the students to think like historians - not 'if' a source is biased, but 'how' it is and to use that information to shape their arguments. 

My Thoughts

I agree with the assertion that it should be our job as educators to teach children to think. That is my number one goal. Shaffer laid out a solid argument for how 'The Debating Game' does just that. I was very intrigued by the idea as a social studies teacher myself. I've had numerous current events debates, and even some historical debates but they have always taken place after studying a topic in-depth. I am intrigued by the idea of using it as a pre-teaching activity and am anxious to try it myself and see how it goes. 

What I particularly liked about this activity was that it had students analyzing multiple sources of information, reading, writing, speaking, and reflecting all in one activity. What I failed to see was the tie in to computers here. You could use the computer to research or to write the evaluations, but the computer isn't doing anything other than substituting what a pad of paper and a library could do. Did anyone else find that weird? (or maybe I'm just missing something)