Saturday, October 31, 2015

Struggling to Reach the Surface

Not to be a downer (or drowner, as the case may be), but I'm struggling.  I'm sure I'm not the only one, especially if you teach English like I do.  I'm (hopefully not vainly) trying to break the surface of that which is grading.  

I'm SO far behind.  With my own school, where I often spend the weekends, or at least Sunday, getting most of my work done, and trying out the passion project, and planning, and making sure I'm not sitting at my desk when I'm being a "guide on the side", and getting my 10,000 steps in Monday-Friday (20 pounds lost, woot), I'm never really making any significant progress in filling my lungs with the oxygen that is being completely caught up.

Only in teaching do you contemplate taking a day off in order to do more work.  I'm not going to do it because I already know I'll be pulled from the classroom two days in a row in November, and at least one in December.

Speaking of that, as a teacher that uses tech in the classroom, planning for subs is that much harder.  And, planning for subs is a major pain without the added issue of tech.  I don't feel comfortable putting the Chromebooks in the hands of a sub, so I often have to figure out how to do something the "old-fashioned" way, or do a one off lesson.  Any other techy teachers want to talk subs with me?

I had an epiphany moment with the Passion Project this week.  We started the presentations of our proposals.  It took a lot longer than I thought, but we also had a shorter class period than normal, so we'll continue this Friday.  I had borrowed the template from Kevin Brookhouser after reading his book on 20 Time in the classroom, but my students (many of them) were confused by it.  So, I simplified it a bit and changed it for next year (again, that must mean I'm planning to try this crazy ride again) by changing it to have a more clear objective that has an impact on at least one other person.  I've also decided (damn, that 20/20 hindsight) to create a screencast explaining the proposal for next year.

The proposals presentations were enlightening.  I learned, that of course, there is a group of 5, despite the fact I told them both verbally and in writing that they could only have 4 people per group (*sigh*), and that some kids are unbelievably selfish (but only some kids).  I'm quite impressed with the ideas some of my students have.  Here are a  few ideas that stood out to me:

  • two students are going to work together to inspire people with their passion for music, which will hopefully culminate in a performance of an original song.
  • three students want to give turtles to children in hospitals for companions.
  • numerous students want to do something to help the homeless
  • one student wants to educate people on the culture and languages of the indigenous Mexican tribes so they don't become lost
  • one girl wants to do henna tattoos for people who have lost their hair

With the Passion Project just about every Friday, I'm "behind" where I should be according to the curriculum map.  I guess it's a good thing I only use that as a guide and have decided to take the time my students and I need (or try to at least, that's another struggle) to work through the content regardless of time.  

I am still on To Kill a Mockingbird with my 10th-grade honors students.  We've finished reading the book, but there is so much I can still do with it.  I feel the push to get done and started on the Poe unit, but I'm not going to.  I'm going to give it a few more weeks (especially since it looks like testing will get in the way one week) and take Poe to the end of the semester.

My 11th grade PLC wants to have The Crucible done before Winter Break.  Yeah, doubt that is going to happen for me.  We haven't even started it yet.  We finish Romanticism next week, and that is with taking out Transcendentalism.

I wonder how much time I would get back if all the testing went away?

Speaking of my 11th grade.  I had them go through "The Raven" and mark all the words and phrases that contributed to the mood, then had them type the words into a wordle (which doesn't work on Chrome by the way, had to switch to Firefox).  Check out their wordles below.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Passion Project Roller Coaster of Emotions

The ups and downs of The Passion Project are not as enjoyable as the loops and drops of a roller coaster.  The loop-de-loops on a rollercoaster can be exhilarating.  The loop-de-loops of trying out a Passion Project can be draining.

Some students have ideas that are really exciting.  Their ideas have me strapped in my seat and inching towards the first drop.

Other students are struggling, and I'm struggling to help them.  I've already decided to simplify the proposal for next year, that should help them understand with less confusion...  I guess that means I plan on doing it next year.

What a lot of them are having a hard time with are the blogs.  They use Passion Project days on this instead of using them to do research.  They are also waiting until the last minute, so I'm having a hard time seeing where they need help until it's nearly too late.

It is all very overwhelming.  Part of it is probably trying to finish up my last year of graduate school while trying this all out.  I may have gotten on a coaster that is too big for my britches.  But, it is too late to get off.

I think I've decided that if I can get the students to produce blogs with ease and somewhat well, I'm going to consider that a success.  They will have a skill that not many other students on campus have.

Now, I think I need to see if I can find a coaster with a smoother ride.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Read Report for September 2015 Part 2

Here are the posts I found interesting that were written up at the end of September.

The EdTechTeam talked about student tech talks under their #ONENEWTHING hashtag.  I really liked the idea.  I don't think I could do it that often, but maybe once a grading period.  I like the idea of students presenting tech ideas.  I especially like the idea about having them sumit, via Google Form, what they want to talk about (they don't need to know about incognito mode).

Another one from EdTechTeam, is about designing a Google MyMaps lesson.  I'm sure this would be really great for social studies teachers.  I could see possibly using it myself with students for historical backgrounds on novels and stories, or to map out the journey of the characters in a novel or in a story the students create themselves.

Over at te@chthought, they made a top 10 post about knowing you are doing it right.  I found it interesting, particularly numbers 5 and 9.  My mother can attest that I have a penchant for not doing what I am told, and I think I have brought that into my adulthood.  I also have issues with some of the higher higher ups not thinking about the individual student and only looking at them as data points.

I came across this post from Connected Principals about why educators should blog.  I think the first point stood out to me more than any of the others.  Blogging requires reflection.  It's so true.  I often find that I have something in my head that I could blog about, but then I never seem to find the time, or I have to make time and something else (grading, planning) suffers.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Passion Project Blog Example

My students are currently struggling with the concept of blogging about their Passion Project and how to create one.  So, I thought I would post and use this as a way to exemplify what it is I want from them and how to do it.

Over the past 6 weeks, since school started, I have introduced the idea of the Passion Project and what Genius Hour/20% Time is.  I had them watch videos and answer some reflective questions.  We tried out the Bad Idea Factory, which didn't go as well as I had hoped.  Last week, I introduced them to the blog portion of the project, and that has created a lot of confusion.  I think it's because they are outside of their comfort zones academically.

I'm currently working to help the students move past their confusion about the blogs, and the project itself, by creating a screencast video of how to do a blog post for the project.

For the next week, I'm going to focus on helping students constructively leave comments on their classmates blogs.  I'm hoping that will be a little less confusing than the blogs themselves, which I've told the students to think of like a journal for the project.  I may create another how to video for commenting as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Read Report for September 2015 Part 1

I've been so busy, sometimes doing my headless chicken impression, that I haven't found the time to do a Read Report since August.  I don't really have the time now, but I'm doing it anyways.

First up is a post by Catlin Tucker about a redesign of her gradebook.  Instead of the traditional grading categories, she moved to a skills-based category system.  I think the idea is interesting, and if I didn't have a department policy about grade categories, I might give something similar a try.

So, I discovered the Cult of Pedagogy.  This particular post is about ineffective teaching strategies.  It talks about moving beyond and away from teaching the way were were taught and the rationale behind why you should get ride of each strategy and what you can do instead.  The first strategy mentioned is popcorn reading, which I sometimes am still guilty of using.

Andi McNair talked about failure.  This one caught my eye because so many students seem to be terrified of failure.  Trying to get them to take risks is often very difficult to do.  There is a really great "poster" in this post that I don't want to infringe on its copyright, so I didn't post it here.

Jacqui, over at Ask a Tech Teacher, did a post about writing a novel on Twitter.  Using a 140 character limit is a good way of helping the students become more concise writers.

That's it for what I read in September.  I still have to go back and read some stuff from the beginning of September.  I'll try and do that quickly and get some interesting posts from my feedly to you.