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!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ten Words to Cut from Your Writing

I don't usually even read Entrepreneur, and I contend that some of these words can be used occasionally, depending on need and poetic license.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I love my son's science teacher.

Actually, I love all my son's teachers.  And the administrators, counselors, and amazing after-school supervision folks.  Every last one of them.  So many folks in his new school environment have shared with me little passing stories of how much they enjoy having my son there.

But this vignette focuses on his science teacher.  It helps you to know, for what I am about to describe, that my son has an identified issue with visual motor coordination, as well as limited short term visual memory.  Long story short, copying stuff down, and any writing by hand really, is pretty much torture for him.

So when he gleefully reported, shortly after the school year began, that he was glad he got THIS particular science teacher because other kids had already taken "TEN PAGES OF NOTES" on the first day with the other teacher (which I highly doubt, since they're, y'know, nine years old), I already knew she had worked her way into his heart.  And I kept hearing about all these great hands-on things they've been doing to explore concepts in physical science.  "Great!" I thought, "My kid needs all the hands-on he can get!" (What kid doesn't?)

Yesterday was especially fun though.  They went on a field trip to see a play (this was not for science class), so he got to miss several classes.  Let me tell you that field trips, especially those that enable him to miss classes, are the best thing EVARRRR to my child.  So I asked, already knowing the answer would be swimming, what his favorite thing of the day was.  Without even stopping to think as he took another bite of his burrito, he blurted "swimming." (They're doing swimming in P.E. this week.)

So I returned to a question I asked every day when I picked him up from summer camp/school a few months ago: "Besides swimming, what was the best thing about today?"  Fully expecting him to tell me about the field trip to the theatre, I was surprised when he responded: "Science."

Not one to lose my composure in a Taco Bell, I replied, "Cool. Tell me what was going on in science."

"We played with wind-up toys to learn about speed."

Awesome.  Good on you, Ms. A.  This then led me to ask him if he knew the term velocity (he didn't) and some speculation about how we might say that word in Spanish.  I told him I knew the word for "speed" in French.  We then talked about some other stuff.  Much of it probably had nothing to do with science.  But that class activity made an impression on him.  Even more than being in full dress uniform, riding a bus to another city, and seeing a play did.

And that's why I love my son's science teacher.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Homework -- Where do you stand?

I've been thinking about homework a lot lately, and not just because it takes my own kid an inordinate amount of time to do what should take him less than an hour.

A couple of interesting articles, both in The Atlantic, have crossed my path recently, and I thought I'd share them.  If nothing else, maybe they'll get you thinking about how you feel about homework, and whether your ideal matches what you have found to be practical for the classes you teach.

The first one I read is My Daughter's Homework Is Killing Me.  A father shares about his experiencing doing all the same homework as his eighth grade daughter.  I have to say, I enjoyed the article a lot, and I could sympathize, but I worry that some people may find his open use of marijuana off-putting and use it as an argument to discredit the rest of what he has written.  Overlooking that, if you need to, I'd love to hear how much his experience resounds with you.  Teachers who are also parents, have you had similar experiences?

The second article, Should I Stop Assigning Homework?, has an English teacher questioning whether she should -- or even CAN -- give up this ages-old tradition of our profession.  She references some other materials on the subject, including her own previous writing on this topic, and provides links to what she and others have said, as well as some research findings on the case for and against homework.

I would absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE to get my colleagues to weigh in here with their thoughts.  This blog is also open to the entire Internet, and I would love to hear what my edtech peeps and others out there in the blogosphere have to say on the subject.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Capella Science

Even if you don't teach science, you need to watch this video.  It's a work of art on many levels, and I have no idea what they're talking about.  I know everything I know about string theory from watching The Big Bang Theory.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Weird Truth About Arabic Numerals is a MUST WATCH

I love the Green brothers, John and Hank.  They make tons of videos on YouTube and have a number of channels there dedicated to teaching us ALL THE THINGS in small doses.

Here's one from the "scishow" channel:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Excellent blog post on Learners as Producers

This post by Steve Wheeler in England really captures a lot of what I believe about the shifts happening in education, whether we want them to or not, and whether we're ready for them or not.

Gone are the days of students and teachers.  Now, we're all learners.  Teachers are lead learners, or learning leaders, functioning as coaches and advisors to help younger learners through their journeys.