Thursday, November 19, 2009

It Is Time to Stop Looking at My Classroom and Start Looking at the School Community

I am very fortunate to have some of my work included in William' Kist's book, The Socially Networked Classroom. I have just started reading it and am enjoying it very much. Thinking about what I have read has made me start to think about my school.

I have spent a lot of time and effort on my classroom. I have invested countless hours in working through the how and why for many different technology tools. I have posted over 500 blog entries and commented hundreds of times on other blogs. I have learned and shared a vast amount of new information that has truly helped me look at education in a new way. I have transformed my classroom in the last five years.

As I walk down the halls I see the difference in the amount of technology the teachers and students have access to now. There are projectors in all classrooms and IWB's in almost all of them. Most teachers have laptops now and we have an open wireless network. Anyone can get online at anytime in our school. Teachers have access to digital cameras and webcams. The one minor problem we have right now is some cranky server software and not enough broadband access to the internet.

As I look back over the past five years I wonder where we will be in another five. Will students be carrying laptops and netbooks? Will we finally allow them to use smart phones in class? Will our textbooks be digital instead of paper? All of these questions will of course be answered in time.

The one question that is most important has nothing to do with hardware or software. It is the one thing I can control: How will my school change for the better because I am here?

I can no longer hide in my classroom and work between the encompassing four walls. I now have more responsibility to both the teachers and students in my building. I need to seriously consider what I need to emphasize. My view has to broaden and encompass a much larger mission.

This is a new focus for me. In the past I succeed or fail on my own merits. The impact is much smaller because of the fewer number of students I had access to. Now my decisions impact ten times that number.

I don't know what direction I am heading. I have already encouraged the increased use of class blogs with other teachers. I know we are progressing as a school, but the rate of speed with a large group is so much slower than with an individual. I really need to make sure that anything I bring to the school as a whole is very important for our school community. I don't have the luxury of experimenting with a small group anymore.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How to Get (and Keep) More Visitors

I received the above comment from a student in Mr. Miller's class. Mr. Miller told his class they would stop getting homework if they reached 2,500 hits on their class blog. Click here for an update. Make sure you stop by and add another hit to the map!

I left a comment on the blog with the below advice. I have expanded some of it. The original comment is in bold.

1) I have been blogging for three years and the hits add up. I have not changed my blog address in three years so it makes it easier for people to find me after a long period of time.

It is difficult to get attention from the education world for your blog because of the lack of teachers using technology and/or the lack of access to technology in the classrooms. There also seems to be a lot of ed tech "experts" that talk about how important it is for students to use tech tools, but they don't spend much time or attention visiting or promoting students' work.

2) I post regularly so that people have a reason to come back often. This is critical. I want to have a new post up at least every day or two. It seems like many times I will go days without posting and then I have two or three entries. With Blogger I can schedule posts to take place at a later time which I use often to help space out my posts. When I look at the blogs I follow on my site, I am much more likely to visit one that has newish content.

3) The title of my posts have words that people search for using search engines like Google. If your titles are not descriptive enough people won't find them in a search. I know for a fact that most of my hits come from Google. People search for specific things and if your titles are specific you will get more hits. I use Feedjit to see where my visitors come from and how they get there. For example, I have a post on the BBC website Dance Mat Typing. If you Google BBC typing I currently come in fifth on the list.

4) I comment on lots of others blogs. When I comment I make sure it is positive and relevant. Don't write something like, "Nice post", write instead, "I really like the way you used descriptive adjectives in your story." or "That is a great science project! When I teach that subject I will do this activity too. I also do __________ when I teach this." I started the comments4kids meme on twitter to encourage leaving comments on students' blogs, a by product of that is the ability to link back to our own blog. We receive a lot of hits and comments from blogs we leave comments on.

I am sure there are lots of other things that help. If you know of any please post it in a comment below.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teachers Need to Become Social Networking Experts

I tweeted the below message this morning after having a conversation with my junior high math teacher. She had been sick yesterday and looked pretty pale today. She had planned on students working in the lab today testing, but most had finished the day before. Since she was obviously not feeling good, I volunteered to put something on my blog that the students finished with the testing could do. After asking her what she was covering, probability, I did what any 2.0 teacher would do, I went to Twitter for help.

Within a few minutes I started receiving suggestions from my network.

Obviously, covering for another teacher is not an unusual occurrence, we have all done that. What makes this more unique is that the people that helped the math teacher out did not even know her. Several of the wonderful teachers that responded haven't even had a lengthy conversation with me. They just saw a need and filled it.

This is obviously a positive pln story, but it really is much more. This is really a small hint of what we will soon see in education. Teachers need to evolve to being social networking experts. Students will look to us for our ability to link them to what they want (need) to learn. We will no longer be expected to be experts in content or tools. We will need to be experts in creating paths from learners to knowledge.

I have a new job this year. I have three hours a day to help facilitate technology into our school. While I have been teaching teachers (and students) tools, I find that the best learning experiences come from connecting students and teachers to sources they can learn from.

We have had several experiences this year that have made for some great experiences for my students and for others. Dear Kia: Voicethread and Video helps recount a wonderful teachable moment that started with simple question by a student commenting on a child's blog (something I consider to be incredibly transformative for my students). Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Whittier Skype Meeting recounts two classes sharing culture using Skype. Mrs. Whittier's Spanish class wanted to know what school was like in Mexico and we have students that have attended school in Mexico. In How to Speak Chuukese Part 1 we took a problem, a small population of students that spoke only Chuukese, and decided to create some videos to help others that may have the same problem.

What made these experiences possible was the connections I have made through blogging, commenting on blogs, and Twitter. I created no content but simply connected my students to learning opportunities. You better start making connections too if you want your students to have these opportunities.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It Is Imperative We Help Our Students Create a Positive Digital Portfolio

I was sitting at the Donald W. Reynolds football stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas Saturday afternoon watching the jumbotron "Pig Screen". When I noticed it showing people in the stands. While this is a normal occurrence at the football games, and I have been to plenty to know, this time I was struck by the students and children that were being shown. I like to watch them show people in the crowd because many (especially students) do some funny and sometimes incredibly stupid things. That made me reflect on something I have been contemplating for a while.

What digital artifacts are our students creating? I see on television or the internet stories like the riot that took place in Chicago ending with the murder of Derrion Albert, with that being recorded on a cell phone. I see a bus video of a student in an altercation with a bus driver. I see kids video (cell phone again) the assault of a young lady by several other young ladies. These are artifacts that not only make us sick, but also relay a message that young people are violent, aggressive, and dangerous.

Not only are the students in these videos tainted by their actions (with good reason), but all students have to carry some of that burden as well. There are plenty of education sites that show students in a positive light such as At the Fireplace, Beyond the Rainbow, East Dragon Den, Little Voices, Little Scholars, Room 8 Melville, and Saigon South International School Blog. While these and many, many more showcase positive experiences students are having, they really don't help individual students create that digital portfolio that will follow them throught the next few years. My class blog reflects me much more than my students.

Facebook is a perfect example of how the digital trails students create can come back to haunt them. Here is an article about how roomates are perceived by the parents of college students. Here is an article about the perils of adding stupid content to your Facebook page. While I don't believe we can teach the stupid out of some actions our students will do, perhaps a strong digital portfolio will help others see them as more rounded individuals. Who wants the only information about them on line to be about how much they like to party and get drunk?

How can we help our students create personal spaces that can help them record not only their learning, but also pieces of themeselves on line? Obviously, the answer is we must encourage our students to create and save digital content whether it be audio, video, writing, or a mash up of the three at some centralized spot that can be found later by them, future employers, or even by colleges and universities. What are you doing to help your students create their own positivie on line identity?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Using Skype to Connect ESOL Students with Foreign Language Students

Last Tuesday I facilitated a Skype conference call between Mrs. Baker's ESOL class and Mrs. Whittier's Spanish class. Unfortunately, I had duty in the morning and had limited time to set up the equipment.

I used a logitech usb webcam for the video feed feed and a Blue Snowball usb microphone for audio. The laptop is a Dell Vostro 1500 with 2 gigabytes of ram. We used the screen on the laptop for the video. We also used the built in speakers on the laptop for sound.We were using our wireless access for the internet. I wanted Mrs. Baker's students to be in their room so Mrs. Whittier's class could see the class environment.

There are several things I plan to change for the next Skype call. The first is making sure I have powered audio. We had a difficult time hearing Mrs. Whittier's students through the excited chatting. The second would be to run the video through a projector. Although the video stream isn't exactly great, it would still make it easier for the students to watch. I would also change from our webcam to my digital camcorder with my macbook. Our video stream would improve greatly that way.

To record the Skype call next time I will use CamStudio (Thanks to the recommendation by Eric Langhorst!). I had planned on using Jing Pro, but realized too late that it would only record 5 minutes of video. Obviously, this meant I did not get any screen capture video of our meeting :<. If you are planning on doing a conference call, here are some things to think about. Make sure you have an alternate (non internet) means of contacting the people you are skyping. I would suggest a phone number. See this post for how I learned that lesson. Also, do a practice call so the bugs can be worked out. I was having problems with my Snowball microphone on our practice call and had time to find a solution before the actual call.

Here is the view the students had of the call.
Here you can see Mrs. Whittier on the screen.

Notice how the students were focused on the other class.Here is a screen capture of Mrs. Whittier's class waving goodbye at the end of the call. You can see our video feed in the bottom right corner.

Here is some video. Plese forgive the poor quality.

I was very pleased with content of the meeting. Mrs. Whittier's class wanted to learn about schools in Mexico. We have several students that have attended schools in Mexico so they were very valuable resources. Mrs. Whittier also wanted her students to have authentic experiences with the Spanish language. They had the opportunity through the call to talk to native Spanish speakers.

In return, Mrs. Baker's students had the opportunity to learn about school in Virginia. The school Mrs. Whittier teaches at the Fredericksburg Academy is a private school that is very different from our school. Our students learned about some of those differences, but also learned that both groups of students had many similarities.

Overall, I thought the meeting went extremely well and we plan to continue the conversation later in the year. If you would like your class to skype with one of our 3-8 classes, feel free to contact me and we will set it up!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Robert Burns Haunts Me

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley...
from Robert Burn's To a Mouse

Today was supposed to be a big day. The true beginning of my part time technology facilitation job. Today I was supposed to have a class from another state skype in to learn from students in our ESOL program. Mrs. Baker, the ESOL teacher, and I were really excited and ready for the experience. Her students had practiced speaking in front of an audience to prepare. Everything was ready to go, and then......

The electricity flickers once, twice, and then goes down for the eight count. Not a problem, there was still 50 minutes until the appointed time. I was sure it would be fixed pretty quickly. It is unusual for our power outages to be more than 5 or 10 minutes.

After 20 I start to think, "Mrs. Whittier doesn't know we have no electricity and I can't tweet or skype....." I try to call my wife but get the voicemail. Irritated I hang up and immediately get a message that that I have a voice message. Yup, I had called my own phone.... I called home again and found out electricity was out there too. No help there.

I go to my office to think. Walking in the dooor I have another idea, a friend and former colleague is now principal at another school in the district. I can have him log into my skype account and send a message. I quickly find the school's number and call but he is not in the office and they can't contact him.

Suddenly I realized I had the solution in my pocket....I can send a direct message from my cell phone using texting!

But Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain:

Robert Burn's To a Mouse

I immediately text D: @capohanka my schoolhas no electricity can't do skype today dm me back if u get this please

I follow that with D: @vwhittier we have no electricity at school and won't be able to skype in please dm me if u get this i will get it on my cell


I received these messages back on my phone. Thank goodness I have my dm's set to text me!

I was feeling pretty good about myself, I had solved the problem and could finally quit worrying about letting Mrs. Whittier know we wouldn't be able to skype in. Then I get this:

The purpose of my story is to point out that thinks don't always work out as we plan them. Had I not realized I could contact Mrs. Whittier she would have had her class ready to go and would not be able to explain why the call wasn't happening. I know that she would have been put in an awkward position through no fault of her own. In the future, I will make sure to get a phone number that I can call in case something comes up unexpectedly so that I won't leave anyone in that position.

By the way, our electricity came back up about 7 minutes before the call was scheduled. This might have been enough time to actually get things set up and make the call, but when we started up the server it wouldn't load properly due to an IP problem, but that is another story....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do Our Students Really Know the Purpose of Assessments in School?

Here are two students, Nick and Sarah, trying to explain why they took a formative reading and math assessment today. Unfortunately neither one can really answer the question.

Here is Dale giving a pretty good explanation of why we assess.

If we spend so much time assessing students, shouldn't they understand the purpose of the assessment? When I think about the years I spend assessing students without giving them a good reason for the assessment (either by explaining what I hoped to learn or by using that information to help make decisions in class) I feel bad. What is a teacher's responsibility in regards to the students and their assessments?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Whyt Did I Move Out of My Comfort Zone

After spending the last 15 years teaching science and reading/communication arts I changed positions that does not require teaching anything I am comfortable with. Yes, now I am a keyboarding teacher! As strange as it seems to me, I am having to teach a class I have not been prepared for. I didn't take any methods classes in keyboarding, in fact the only class I took was a basic keyboarding class in 1985 when I was in high school. Yes, I do keyboard every day and I have been known to write lots of content in a short period of time, but I have never taught it. Talk about being out of my comfort zone!

While I am finding it a real challenge, I also see this as an opportunity. Because this class seems to be pretty straight forward and I have the luxury of using a program purchased by my district to use I have more time to interact with my students. I can spend a few minutes talking with each one about not only what they are doing in class, but also what is going on in general. The opportunity to create relationships and gain trust will hopefully help me help them as the year progresses. After all, it really isn't about teaching content, it is about teaching students. Because of this, I see my new position as a huge opportunities to make a real difference in the junior high this year.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Always Evolving, Always Changing

One of the best reasons to become more technologically literate is because technology is always changing.That of course requires us to continue to learn, adapt, and evolve. An active mind is a sharp mind. With that in mind, welcome to the next generation of content collection for Noel Elementary,

The picture above shows a screen shot of the beginning of our eight grade group. The purpose of the group is two-fold. First, it is a place for students to display content they create using tech (and non-tech) tools. Second, it is a learning community where students can communicate with each other (and selected adults) so they can further their education. With this site, there are no barriers for learning other than computer/internet access, unless you consider moderation a barrier ;>.

I suggest you consider how you want your students to display their work and communicate with each other. Spend some time looking at the tools available (and check with your district to see what they block) and get started. It is never too late to begin learning anything, especially tech tools!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Making Connections With Your LSC (Local School Community)

My school had a lot of teacher turn-over this year. Our junior high alone lost four of seven of their teachers with three new teachers taking positions and me moving up from fifth grade to take over the media lab. As you may understand there is a lot of stress involved for us. I have spent a lot of time the last few days talking to the new teachers and trying to get them to feel more comfortable around the school. I also want them to be able to know they have someone they can contact in our hallway if they need help or have a problem.

Obviously many of us spend a lot of time working on developing our professional learning communities, but at this time of year it seems important to develop our LSC (local school community). Is this as important to you as developing your on-line communities?

In the past we have had beginning of year social events for the teachers to go to and meet each other. We had one that worked pretty well last year, but the turn-over was not as large as this year. What kinds of things do you have at your school to welcome new teachers (besides the state mandated stuff)? How do you personally meet and great new teachers that you will be working with?

By the way, with my change in position I will have more opportunities to facilitate interactions between students in my grade 3-8 building and other schools. If you are part of my PLC be prepared, I may be soon looking to collaborate!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Something That Matters

I found this written at a wall on the campus of Louisiana Tech. I suspect it was written by a student, not one of the professors (although I might be wrong). Why would someone feel the need to write this graffiti on the wall? What is holding them back?

On Saturday I was on Grand Lake in Grove, Oklahoma. I saw over one hundred houses that had a market value of a million dollars or more. Is the drive for money the reason that keeps students from doing something that matters? If so, how do we convince students to follow their hearts, not their checkbooks?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Students Making Decisions: The Biome Project

Here is a post I wrote for my class blog, Mr. C's Class Blog. I am also posting it here because I wanted to share what my class has become. In the past I spent lots of time teaching content. I had my students do questions in their textbooks and lots of worksheets. Through my connections online with great teachers I evolved. I am a better teacher because of these connections. My students have a better opportunity to succeed because of these connections. In a few short years I have become less of a teacher and more of a facilitator for learning. My students are taking a responsible role in their own education.

My students are working on their biome projects now. Throughout this project they had to make choices based on what works best for them. Here are some vids of my students talking about what choices they made.

Here is Seth explaining what strategy he used to gather his information for the project.

Here Rosa talks about what strategy she used to gather her information for the project.

Here is Megan explaining what biomes she chose and which project she will do.

Here is Nathan explaining what biomes he chose and which project he will do.

Here is Parker explaining why he likes to be given choices with his work.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Allow Students To Differentiate With Vocabulary Strategies

As I become a more professional teacher, I become a more directed learner. Having read Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works several years ago as part of a book study conducted in my building, I was particularly interested in the chapter on non-linguistic representations. Basically non-linguistic representations mean visual, but not verbal representations. For several years I have included doing as many of these in my classroom as I can. I even incorporated webbing into one of the note taking methods I teach my students.

Last year I was given A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works also by Marzano that our school used again for a book study. Last semester I was reading through parts of the book that hadn't been covered by the book study when I came upon a section on vocabulary. In that section there was a five step process that was recommended for teaching vocabulary. Basically, it asks the teacher to give an everyday definition of the word and then draw a graphic representation (picture aka non-linguistic representation) of what the word means to the teacher. The student is then directed to write the word's definition using their own words and draw their graphic representation. I required my students to not draw the same picture I drew.

A few months ago I noticed our reading class was getting stale. In fact, we were all bored. I decided I needed to do something different so I decided that I would add some extra work to the week. I gave my students an extra assignment tied to the story and added both skills and vocabulary options. Here is an example of a weekly reading cycle my students completed. Notice the vocabulary assignments.

Because I have been emphasizing students choosing what works best for them, I decided to allow them to choose two strategies they thought would be best for them. (We had extensive discussions about learning styles and what works well for the students before I implemented this.) Below are the choices I gave my students to use. I even allow them to use something not on the list if they ask me about it first. Every strategy here is used by at least one of my students!
  • Create graphic representations of each vocabulary word
  • Write definitions of each vocabulary word
  • Create a flash card with definitions for each vocabulary word
  • Use in graphic organizer as outlined in Skills section
  • Create a word web with synonyms of the vocabulary words
  • Create a word web with antonyms of the vocabulary words
Here is Gavin explaining what he does to learn the vocabulary words in reading.

Here is Megan explaining what she does to learn her vocabulary words for reading.

Here is Zac explaining what he does to learn his vocabulary words for reading.

Here is Slendy explaining how she learns her vocabulary words for reading.

This is an example of how students are becoming responsible for their learning. They are trying to choose the best strategies for them. Obviously, this is what we as educators should strive for, students that understand how they learn best using tools that best fit their learning.

I am sure you also noticed that two of the four students admitted they had not transferred these skills to other content areas. This is a big concern of mine, and I hope to address this very issue school wide next year. While the short term goal was to increase vocabulary in reading, the long term goal is to teach my students to become reflective learners.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blog Check: The Practical Principals

I recently discovered The Practical Principals podcast. The podcast is a conversation between two administrators: Melinda Miller, @mmiller7571, and Scott Elias, @ScottElias. Mrs. Miller is an elementary principale in Missouri and posts on The Principal Blog. Mr. Elias is an administrator in Colorado and posts on Scott J. Elias.

I found the podcast through Twitter and decided to listen to a few of the shows. As a teacher that never intends to become an administrator, I have listened with fascination about the role of the administrator. Just like students have no grasp of the job a teacher does, I realized I had no idea what an administrator does.

Two of my favorite podcasts are #10 Your Hired, which gave me great insight into hiring practices, and #12 Welcome Aboard, which deals with starting school with new teachers. Frankly, I am fascinated by both of these processes.

Both Mrs. Miller and Mr. Elias are fun to listen to. They have a rapport that makes listening enjoyable. They are both very knowledgeable and, more importantly, they work to better themselves as administrators. I would love to have either one (or both) in my building.

To sum up, if you would like to understand the principal's role in school, and enjoy listening to podcasts I recommend The Practical Principals. They have become part of my PLN.

Friday, April 17, 2009

#Comments4Kids Wednesday

This post was supposed to be a rant on my perceived lack of support by the twitter education community in regards to student blogging. Not that they are against student blogging, that isn't the problem. The problem is many don't want to take time to comment on students' blogs.

As an adult, I love to get comments on my posts. It is important to me to know that what I say matters to others. I covet comments! Students aren't any different. They want to know someone cares about what they have to say too. Yes, they do get feedback from their teachers, but is that enough?

I tell my students all the time that blogs give them an audience they don't have with writing on paper and pencil. They have an audience that is theoretically as large as the world population. Do you think they want to put their ideas out for everyone to see? That is such a scary idea! How do you think they feel when they finally do it, but no one notices?

The idea came during a Twitter conversation with Carey Pohanka, @capohanka, a middle school teacher from Fredericksburg, VA. I had tried twice to get some fellow tweeters to post comments on her blog (see above), and she let me know that a couple (wonderful) teachers left some comments. Then she wrote this:

Then I get a message from Derek Smith ,@lovinteachin, a fifth grade teacher from Colorado Springs that said:
That was how #Comments4Kids started. Each Wednesday we ask for those of you that twitter to identify and tweet one blog post by a student that deserves to be commented on. It could be a student that posts something really awesome, or a student in your class that needs encouragement. Simply tag it as #Comments4Kids. Don't forget to do your part as well. If you see a link with that tag, click on it and leave a quick comment. Your time and effort will have a huge impact on the student that wrote the post.

Here is the link to follow the #Comments4Kids blog recommendations.

@jlamshed started a wiki for us to add our links. It can be found at:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Technology is Making Me a Better Teacher

While reading David Title's blog Gravity and Levity I came to a startling revelation. I realized that what I am learning from teaching tech use in my classroom is bleeding over into my non-tech teaching.

Students come to me with many schooly skills. They can find answers and fill in the blanks on worksheets. They can (usually) answer questions using key words from those questions. They can copy notes off the board. These are lessons students learn early in schools.

Each year I have new students that need to learn how to post blog posts, create Power Points, and similar things using computers. I have begun to realize that these skills actually don't need to be taught, they can be learned by allowing the students time to explore and create. Instead of focusing on teaching them how to use the tools, I am teaching them when and how it is appropriate to use the tools. Then I ask them to reflect on their learning. I have come to realize I should be doing this all the time.

For years I have taught students to take notes by copying them off the board. Actually, I wasn't teaching them to do anything except how to copy words. This year I focused on teaching how to take notes. I am evaluating their note-taking skills when I observe what type of notes they are taking and if the notes are helping the students learn the material. After testing I ask the students about their note-taking and if their assessment scores were improved by the notes. I want them to learn the skill that allows them to be successful regardless of the content.

To sum up, students need little help to learn the tools, but they need our guidance and practice to use them in a way beneficial to their learning. Technology taught me this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seven Things You Don't Need to Know About Me

N2Teaching tagged me for the meme Seven Things You Don't Need to Know About Me. I suspect I have 70 times 7 things you don't need to know about me. Here are 7 random things, if you would like more just ask.

1. I have a very short attention span. I don't know if it is adult ADD, but I don't stay with things too long.

2. My lesson plans are subject to change minute by minute, class by class. I am always changing how I present things. It is also not unusual for me to change when I teach subjects. If you wonder why, see above.

3. I love all things Disney. I try to go to Disney World as often as possible. (Usually about once every year or two.)

4. I don't really hate my wife's dog. You would never know this if you heard me talk to him. I just figure that if I act like I don't like him I won't be asked to take him to the bathroom in the cold.

5. I have an incredible amount of trivial knowledge. No one in my family will play Trivial Pursuit with me because I always win. I think it is funny because I can say about anything random I want and people actually believe me because they think I know what I am talking about.

6. I love art, music, video games, movies, and books.My attention rotates between them randomly for differing periods of time. I may listen to one style of music for six months and then switch to something completely different. I do the same with everything I have an interest in. See number 1.

7. My favorite period in American History is the late colonial period through the American Revolution. The last few years have been awesome with the attention being spent on our founding fathers. I spent a week at the teacher's institute at Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago and had a blast. I highly recommend this program to any teacher, not just history teachers.

8. I seem to have an ingrained dislike for following rules.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Creating an Erosion Model

The model I created for class this year was born of simple desperation. Last year when we ordered new supplies to replenish our STC kits, I forgot to order replacements for this kit. The erosion lessons have been inspired by the STC Land and Water Kit
If I would have had the materials the students would have created their own erosion models, but I didn't so they didn't.

The recipe for creating the soil is as follows:
1 part clay
2 parts gravel
2 parts humus
6 parts sand

You can use these ratios to help come up with a reasonably good soil for testing. You may want to experiment with it to see if it is the right mixture for your needs. I placed the mixture in a large critter cage that I had left over from various animals. Make sure your container is water proof before you start. Remember, when you add water to this mixture, it is going to become incredibly heavy. Think about where you put it before you add water, you may not be able to move it later. Also, make sure that the stand you put it on can handle the weight.

Now there are some things for you to consider. If you only teach one science class, you are ready to go, if you teach two or more classes you may want to think about how you will proceed.

Things to consider if you have more than one science class:
1. Is it absolutely necessary to show the experiment live?
2. Do you have access to a camera and tv/projector that is large enough to be used to view the experiment?
3. Do you know how to record video for playback?

I think there are only two options for doing this experiment with multiple classes: make a model for each class or record the experiment for playback. I have found from past experience the model will be too wet to do back to back experiments. The results for the second (third, etc...) experiment will not be as good as the first.

I used a webcam to stream the experiment using Ustream. I then recorded it using Ustream and put it on my class blog. This allowed me to revisit the assignment almost four weeks later when we actually got to the lesson.

Here is the Scientific Method document my students followed for our first experiment on erosion:

1) Identify the Problem- What will happen to the soil when water runs over it?
2) Background Knowledge- The students identify 3-5 things they know about water and erosion.
3.) Hypothesis- The students write what they think will happen.
4.) Research- We don't usually research our experiments, but we do talk about using research for the science fair projects they will do next year. I leave this here as a place holder.
5.) Experiment- I break this up into two subsections
A. Materials- soil, tank, bucket, water, scraper to level soil, coffee filter
B. Method- This is where I put the step by step instructions.
1. Prepare the soil by pushing it until it covers about 3/4's of the tank bottom. Leave room
for the water to have a place to run to.
2. Pour water onto soil
3. Collect a sample of the runoff.
4. Filter the runoff water and examine what is left in the filter.
6.) Conclusion
1. Identify if your hypothesis is correct.
2. Come up with two extensions to experiment.

An extension you can do with this experiment is to map out the path the water took. You can have your students hand draw the path or you can take a picture and allow the students to open it with paint and they can "paint" the path.

If you have any extensions or ideas, please leave them in the comments below and I will add them (and give you credit).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Experiences and Time

Here are some of my students looking at our erosion model. They are discussing what they see. Here is the link to the post they are working on.

This is my educational philosophy: Students need new experiences to learn from, and they need time to explore the experiences.

What is your philosphy?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reading for Content

Here is an example of one way we read in class. We also listen to pre-recorded audio, read silently, or I read as they follow along. We always read the material twice when we are having reading class, but almost never when we are in science.

Why do I expect my students to learn content from reading material once when I don't expect them to learn reading content unless we read it multiple times?

Should we be giving our students more opportunities to read the content in content area classes, or am I crazy?