Tag Archives: technology

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Integrated Learning

In the old days, high school teachers would disappear into their rooms, close the door, and lecture, lecture, lecture.  Today, a few dinosaurs continue this practice, but soon, they, too, will be extinct.  Most of us old teachers have adapted to changes and the fresh-out-of-college younglings are creative, energetic, and inspiring.

So, aside from Mr. T-Rex, our teachers of today have been trying to get kids to think.  Our new national curriculum, or Core Curriculum as the federal government prefers it to be called, does a great job in promoting thinking and collaboration.  Although it is only a matter of time until Old Man Triceratops retires, there are a few Neanderthals who are far from retirement and in need of being dragged into the Twenty-first century.  Thus, we have been mandated a “new” curriculum.

I write “new” because it is not so new in Language Arts.  We do many of the lessons already – teaching reading and writing skills.  The curriculum does offer many ideas for lesson planning, most of which we already use.  Nonetheless, one focus in the new curriculum appears to be integrated learning and teaching to the multiple intelligences of the students.

I was involved in an integrated class in 1993-1995.  For the first year, our district allowed the science teacher, math teacher and myself a common planning period.  During the second year, the district added Spanish I to the integrated team and only the science and math teachers and myself shared a fifteen minute study hall with our students.  Needless to say, the integration of all four subjects for many lessons was either contrived or forced.  In English and Spanish we were able to compare and contrast mythologies and folk tales.  In English class, we could research some scientists or mathematicians.  Or, I would help students write lab reports.

The class was cancelled when our district changed school course offerings and science requirements at the junior and senior high school.  However, I was able to see how integration can work, and I began to develop ideas that would have students utilize multiple intelligences and promote creativity.  I found the projects to be successful when I gave points for creativity (with formats, media, and figurative language) and graded student’s effort,  yet I continued the focus on their writing skills.

This year, though, three of my classes had the opportunity to work with the choir director to create a visual and oral presentation for the 9/11 Remembrance and Veteran’s Day Concert.  I designed assignments to be used with the songs being performed.  I came up with four possibilities students could choose from:

1. Immigration and why people move here.

2. People’s reactions to the 9/11 attack.

3. Explain what happened at the battle of the La Drang Valley during the Vietnam War.

4. Use the novel we read, Sunrise Over Fallujah, to show the effects of the war in Iraq.

I was impressed with the quality of work produced by the kids.  It was difficult to choose four to be part of the choir concert.  The choir performed for the community on a Thursday evening and for the students on a Tuesday morning.

When I was in choir, we stood on the stage and tried to sing louder than the snores of our parents in the audience.  Some of the kids even tried to sing in tune.  Not me.  My philosophy has always been the louder the better.  However, this collaborative effort between my students, the choirs, and a multi-media class produced an entertaining and moving performance.  Several choirs moved around or danced.   Videos, accompanied with music and slide shows with narrations, were used as transitions when the various choirs entered and exited the stage.   The narratives and videos produced a few tears in the audience members as we thought of those who died on 9/11 or in military service.

What did the students learn?  They learned a little about the topics they researched.  They learned that freedom is not free.  They learned that our country is home to people from all over the world who came here to escape persecution or famine and to seize opportunities that seemed to abound in every city and every state.  They learned how words can paint a picture and pictures can stir emotions and songs can soothe the soul.  They learned that no subject is an island to itself.

Any ideas for our next integration project?

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School is like a Business?

At the start of this school year, I wrote about Jamie Vollmer who shared with our district personnel his great story about how schools are not a business.  I have always agreed with that idea; nonetheless, I do see similarities in the philosophies and methods of running schools and businesses.

Look at what is happening in the country.  The education system is perceived as bad.  The economy is bad.  Some teachers and business people might throw up their hands and give up.  However, most of the educators and business owners I know are not giving up.  I see the smartest ones looking for new ideas, finding ways to keep clients happy, and learning better ways to lead their schools and companies.

Recently, the teachers at our school took inventory of the strengths within our curriculum and the challenges we are facing as we implement the Nation’s Core Curriculum.  We are asking ourselves, “What areas are we weakest in?  Do we need a better understanding of the data we get from standardized tests and our own assessments?  Do our current teaching methods work?  How can we refine our current methods to challenge more students?  What problems might be encountered?  What resources are available to help us solve any problems, teach struggling students, or push students to new heights?”

Business people I know reflect on similar ideas.  They examine their strengths to learn if they are strongest in customer service, customer satisfaction, quality of product, etc.  They ask themselves if they need a better understanding of their numbers or data?  They look at their sales techniques to see if they need some work.   Business owners search for available resources that will aid them in increasing productivity, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing sales, and increasing profits.

An example of the changes teachers and business people are making would be using Twitter.  I know Cold Stone Creamery in our home town tweets sales and coupon deals.  I, and several other teachers, tweet assignments.  Our clients use twitter, and teachers and businesses want to reach those clients in many ways.  We desire to make improvements to be successful.  The difference between the two is the definition of success.  As Jamie Vollmer tells it, teachers can’t throw out the less-than-perfect blueberries.

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ZAP!!! Electrifying Learning

Often, I am hit with ideas while teaching.  Although one of my students claims my latest idea is devoid of any intelligent thought, I can easily dismiss his opinion.  After all, he is only a teenager; what does he truly know about school, learning, and education in general?

The spark that ignited my idea was one of the vocabulary words of the day, interrogation.  Since it is Veterans Day, I required the students to create a sentence with a reference to the military.  As students shared their super sweet sentences with the class, one student mentioned torture while interrogating prisoners.

BAM!  My brain was on fire.

“Don’t teachers interrogate students everyday?”  I asked the class.

“Yes,” they responded with looks of curiosity and trepidation.

“Well, if I am interrogating, then I should be allowed to torture, too,” I hypothesized.  “Nothing too hurtful, just a little electric shock.”  I continued, “Imagine, what if I had a row of buttons that would give a little ZAP to a student who answered a question incorrectly?”   Of course, I might hit the wrong button and accidentally shock the wrong kid.  Oh well, feces occurs; the zapped kid probably didn’t know the correct answer either.

People never like great ideas.  For example, people told Walt Disney he was foolish to create a magical place for children.  Disney’s response: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  Students can be just like adults, and immediately I was met with negative comments.  The naysayers in the class told me the district did not have enough money to wire all of the desks, the desks were made of plastic and would melt, and one smart girl even said we weren’t allowed corporal punishment.

I use to see the negative side of everything, too.  However, I have been working hard to persevere through problems that arise.  I decided I would invest in the students education and would pay for the set up myself.  (We teachers are always paying for supplies, books, and additional resources for our students.)  Preventing the melting of a desk would merely require testing out the zappers.  I really do not think anything would melt; my dogs do not burst into flames when they get shocked from the wireless fence in our yard.  The last argument given by a student deals with laws.  I am not a lawyer, but Atticus Finch, the lawyer and father of Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird is my hero.  I believe he would be able to successfully counter that the definition for corporal punishment does not include small shocks.  And, if Atticus says it is ok, then I believe him.

This weekend I will spend some time researching this way to motivate my students to excel.  Yes, we teachers do not always get our job done during the school day.  A few of us even work to become better during the summer.

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Deep Learning for the 21st Century

At the beginning of the school year,  I spent part of a day in meetings with other freshmen teachers to discuss “Deep Learning”.  As anyone can guess, it is the opposite of shallow learning.  To quote one handout, “Deep learning promotes understanding and application for life.”  This reminds me of what John Dewey, a late 19th century-early 20th century educator and philosopher, said, ” Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”  Life is full of conflict or problems.  Dewey made a point to say, “We only think when confronted with a problem.”  This must explain why my brain hurt so much after math class.  It had to have been all of the problems.

In this way our schools have not changed much; we are still trying to get our students to solve problems.  At our meeting, I laughed because of this lack of change.  Someone wants to reinvent the wheel with new educational jargon.  The truth is “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Teachers today are doing a great job of challenging the students to think.

For example, one teacher showed us her website  http://HarrisEnglish.weebly.com/ she uses for her lesson plans and to communicate with parents.  And, we found out we can have students blog on it, which is Deep Learning.  Students will have to think about what they write, communicate effectively, collaborate with others, and analyze the topic to a point that they truly understand what they are writing about.  I have set up a blog using http://wallwishers.com for students in several of our English classes to discuss To Kill A Mockingbird.   

Only fear prevents some teachers from shifting the way they challenge students to learn deeply.   We must not forget another John Dewey philosophy: “The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made.  It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.”  By embracing the technology available to us, by listening to the younger generation, and by accepting change, we can succeed and learn.


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Lemons to Lemonade

Recently, I was able to use our new class set of laptops to allow students time to create visuals for a Veteran’s Day concert with our school’s choirs.  I realize that a few of the students’ shows will probably be disappointing; nevertheless, I have already seen some amazing movie trailers and power point presentations from many.

I know how to create a power point, and our students have been creating them for classes since grade school.  One newer website that seems like a Power Point on steroids is Prezi.com.  I have not taken the time to play around with it, but I have watched students work with it.  Sometimes they run into a problem and ask for help.  Too bad I can’t give them much help; however, I can let a few of them work together to solve the problem.  Apparently, this is the higher level thinking skills our new CORE standards (national curriculum) is advocating.

Of course, we run into network problems that prevent some students from accessing their work, Powerpoint, or Microsoft Word.  The only help any of us can give is to fill a help desk ticket and wait for one of the three IT gurus to fix it.  Our IT people are good, but I think having three people for two high schools, three junior highs, three middle schools, six elementary schools, and a district office are overworked.  I hear that we may outsource a few positions to India.

Where does this leave the students?  They get the opportunity to learn time management skills.  Some did other homework because they knew they would have to work on the project at home.  In addition, they learn how to adapt.  The world is not perfect.  Trials and tribulations are thrown at us each day.  It is cliche but when life gave these kids lemons, they made lemonade.

I look forward to seeing their final products tomorrow.

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Write Right

“”Why do we have to write this essay?”

“How long does it have to be?”

“When is it due?”

Teaching writing to ninth graders takes patience and perseverance because kids come to class with a range of abilities. Most of the students arrive already knowing how to write a five paragraph essay complete with an attention grabbing introduction, thesis statement, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Meanwhile, some students show up not sure what a thesis statement is or how to begin in a manner that grabs the attention of the reader.  A few students still do not understand what a paragraph is.  And one or two still have not figured out how to bring a pen or pencil to class.

Nevertheless, I begin the writing process, which is a lot more complicated than when I was a freshman.  I remember using the most amazing gadget ever invented to write my essays – the erasable ink pen!  I could wake up at 5 a.m. and ink out a “B” paper in an hour and a half.  Now, I show examples of essays to the students, help them brainstorm ideas, give them time to write rough drafts, and then take them to a computer lab to type the essays.  Of course, the kids today run into the problems of not being able to log on to the school’s server, the keyboards having the letters in a different order because of someone’s idea of a joke, or even having the entire school’s server down.

This week we suffered through the problems in the computer lab with some students having to improvise and write in ink on notebook paper.  It felt so “old school,” without the erasable ink, though.  I wonder whatever happened to those kind of pens?  

Needless to say, most of the kids did a great job of adapting to the problems and coming up with solutions.  Some figured out how to log on using the generic “student” account.  Those who were able to log on emailed their work to themselves.  I was proud of the kids for their patience and perseverance.

As any manager or boss knows, some workers will show up knowing how to do the job, some will have an idea, and some will be clueless.  Some employees will have a problem and fix it themselves, some will seek your help, and one or two will not even notice there is a problem.

We encourage and compliment those who arrive prepared with knowledge and show initiative; we guide and lead those who need it; and we begin the firing (or flunking) process with the guy with the pencil up his nose.

This morning, I saw all of this.  Well, not the pencil up the nose, but one young man was trying to watch YouTube instead of writing.  Since I cannot fire him, he gets extra special time after school with me to make up his lost work time.  (See my earlier post “Detention Again.”)

According to statistics from the federal government, so they must be accurate, 85% of jobs require writing.  However, a more important lesson was how to deal with adversity and to be able to adapt, improvise, and overcome the obstacles thrown before them.



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Technology Guru

When I first came to Pickerington, I was amazed that it had a computer lab that was open to students during their study halls and lunches.  I was thrilled when I learned that English teachers monitored the lab as a duty, instead of monitoring study hall or lunch.   I guess we were chosen because the computers were only being used for writing back then.  There was no Internet connection.

Our technology department did not trust us to do anything with the computers.  If one printer broke down we were not supposed to switch the computer preferences to the other printer.  They even went so far as to try to password protect it.  It is not a good idea to choose a password from Greek mythology and then assign a mythology nerd to monitor the lab.  I figured out the password twice and was then told to stop.  We were even micro managed to the point that if a printer ran out of paper, we were not to load it because we might break it.  The technology department lost the focus on the computer labs purpose.  It became something to control and make us all look with wonder and awe at the great job they were doing.

Besides cracking codes and passwords, I had fun in the lab.  I enjoyed the duty because I was able to grade essays, help kids with writing assignments, and get to know students in a different way.  Some students came to the lab to avoid study hall.  Some students only came to type an essay.  And some students lived in the lab and came during study halls and lunch.  One young man was Pat.

Pat was a great kid.  He was not a trouble maker, but he did enjoy trying to fix printers and computers with the technology departments knowledge.  I encouraged him to take things apart and try.  I was taught if something is broken then try to fix it.  If you are not successful there is nothing lost; so it is still broken.    I also looked at it as an educational experience for Pat.  This was his passion.  Why not let him learn in school about something he loved?   Lastly, I knew it might make the micromanager mad.  (We all have a little rebel in us.)  Well, Pat fixed many computer and printer problems.  Teachers would ask him for help before they went to the technology department.

When we do not allow people to think for themselves, they do not grow.  By encouraging Pat to fix problems even though it may have been against the wishes of someone else, I was allowing him to learn through his own experiences.  Micromanaging only creates blind followers, not innovators or thinkers or risk-takers.  No successful business can last with only one person thinking for everyone.  It takes the creativity and diversity of many.

What happened to Pat?  The last I heard was he was on the West Coast working for Apple.  I wonder what Igadget he is working on…


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21st Century Skills and Twitter

Freshmen can come up with the silliest ideas.  A few days ago I had a student suggest I tweet the homework.  Of course, I was thinking of Tweety and Sylvester and dismissed her as being a few words shy of a complete sentence.  Nonetheless, I listened and learned a lot.  (Read my post from Sept. 28 on Socratic Seminars.)  Apparently, tweets have nothing to do with a cartoon.  I can text or email a message of 140 characters or less and my followers or minions can read them.  Some of the students tweet or read tweets hundreds of times a day.

Consequently, I set up a twitter account to send out homework assignments because using a daily planner is obsolete.  Using tweets and Google calendar is 21st century.  I can also tweet a person to let them know I wrote a new blog.

I promised students that I would not tweet my everyday activities like I am going to a kid’s soccer practice or I am mowing the yard, or I am duct taping the kids to the ceiling fan again.  No one wants to read about the mundane, banal life of a gray-haired nerd.  And, I promised not to follow the students’ tweets.  I cannot imagine taking the time to read hundreds or thousands of tweets with abbreviations that I don’t understand about topics teenagers find interesting:  “Like, OMG, like, no way!”

When I announced my Twitter account to my students, several immediately began to follow it.  Kids even asked me to tweet the Words of the Day.  I gave the con that that was too much because I already post them on my lesson plans and on the board each day.  Then, one young man started to tell me that I could put our Words of the Day on if I … and he proceeded to speak Klingon, or some other foreign language.  My eyes got real big, and I became that deer who stands in the highway staring at the headlights of a Mack truck rushing toward it.  The humorous part was the fact that all of the students except our resident Tweet expert noticed my blank stare.  I did ask him to see me one day after school when he did not have cross-country practice to teach me more.

I am not sure how Tweeting will work out, but it is worth the effort.  By listening to the freshman, I am learning new ways to teach.  I have come to realize that I do not need to know how to utilize all of the technology or websites.  I need to give the kids the ideas, the time to explore and create, and stand back and watch.  It is the best way anyone learns.  Plus, I can not keep up with the students.  They are too intelligent and creative.

As leaders, we need to allow our people to try and even fail.  Then, learn from the mistake and try again.  The end result will be a greater success than any we could imagine.

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Creating Slideshows

When I first began teaching, I can remember the creative idea of having kids create posters about novels they had read.  They would cut out pictures of celebrities they thought could play the characters, and they would also have pictures representing the setting.  On the back of the poster board was a hand-written or typed paragraph explaining the theme.

Another project I have assigned had students create a hamburger with each ingredient containing a paragraph covering the plot, characters, setting, conflict, and theme.  All of these ideas were designed to have students write, analyze literature, and be creative.

Today there are many websites out there students can use to do the same thing.  One example is photopeach.com .   This website allows users to create slide shows with their own pictures and captions.  When I showed my daughter the site, she begged me to take a break, so she could use my laptop to create a slide show of herself.  Now, with one email, I can send her slide show to all of her teachers.  You can see it first, here: http://photopeach.com/album/x790ju

Now, I use technology to recycle an old idea, and I can have students express themselves, demonstrate knowledge of literary devices and technology, and based on my daughter’s reaction and enthusiasm – a fun project.


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