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.