Friday, February 5, 2016

We All Shout for Shout Outs!

After more than two years of silence, it is time to reawaken and reinvigorate this blog.  I got busy.  You know how that goes.

In addition to sharing cool tools I hear about, I thought this would be the perfect place to brag a little about the AMAZING educators I am privileged to work alongside and support.  Some of my posts to this blog will be "shout outs" to the teachers, librarians, administrators, coaches, aides, and other professionals who make my job as Director of Learning, Innovation and Design for Harker's upper school an absolute dream.

I am hoping that my colleagues will start to "turn each other in" to me as bragworthy, since I am not always able to know what is happening in every classroom and department.  Sometimes, teachers come to me for help with ideas they have.  Sometimes, I approach teachers to help me try something out.  Other times, I hear about cool stuff from students or colleagues.  If you're reading this, and you are at the upper school campus of The Harker School, please do let me know about the cool stuff you find out is happening around us.

The first "shout out" I want to share is near and dear to me for personal reasons.  Very few people know that when I was just starting high school, I had dreams of becoming a marine biologist.  High school chemistry pretty much crushed that dream for me, and I think things turned out all right in the end, but imagine my delight when Dr. Kate Schafer, teacher of biology, evolution, food science, and marine biology, approached me for ideas about some projects in her marine biology class.

Kate began by telling me that her students have five major projects over the course of the semester, and that she had absolutely had her fill of students with bullet-point-riddled slides mumbling what WE COULD ALREADY READ on those slides.  She declared an end to lame "death by PowerPoint" student projects.  So we met last spring with Librarian Extraordinaire Lauri Vaughan to brainstorm some solutions.  The outcome, after lots of laughter and fun/wacky possibilities, were three new projects that emerged from our process.

1. Currents projects using Google MyMaps: Dr. Schafer has a number of true scenarios from history and current events that involve the impact and "behavior" of currents.  For my example, I used the Lego spill off the coast of Cornwall, England.  We encouraged students to include pictures or videos, lines showing the paths of the currents involved in their "stories," and place markers to show important locations, with descriptions of how these places played a part in the assigned scenario.  Two student samples include Benjamin Franklin's Discovery of the effects of the gulf stream on translatlantic travel and the Nike Shoe Spill.

2. Top Ten Things You Didn't Know About a Little-Known Phylum: Each student is assigned a taxonomic phylum of organisms which people usually don't even know exist.  We still have them make slides, but we take the emphasis away from text on the slides and have the students create screencasts of their slides, with the narration taking the place of on-screen text.  Visuals are key to the effectiveness of this project.  But given that some of the organisms are tiny and uncommon, it can be hard to locate visuals to use.  So the research itself became somewhat of a scavenger hunt for both information and images.  My screencast on Gnathostomulida, or jaw worms, taught me a lot about the organism as well as the process.  Here's Helen's video about Pogonophora and Eliot's video about Radiolarians, just to give you a taste of some of the students' finished products.

3. Marine Mammal Song Parodies: Partly because I already love making song parodies, and partly because Dr. Schafer assigned me humpback whales, one of my absolute favorite creatures EVER, this was bound to be my favorite of the three projects.  But I think it's also because I saw the students really stretch and grow and enjoy themselves during this challenging assignment.  For me, using the song we performed in last year's HOscars (Love Shack) made it even more fun.  The students chose a variety of songs, many of which were unfamiliar to me, and had to do a lot of collaboration and decision making to get a successful outcome.  Many students parodied songs this blog's audience won't recognize, but here are two you'll definitely recognize and enjoy: I Am A Walrus and Enhydra Lutris (about sea otters!).

Not only did I get to work with these wonderful and creative students several times over the course of the semester, they delighted me, their teacher, their peers, and now YOU, dear reader, with their fantastic products that truly demonstrate how well they've learned the content of their class.  And best of all, no more boring slide presentations!