Friday, April 18, 2014

Week of April 14-18, 2014 -- Preparing for the stretch run

It's hard to blog on a Friday about school after a long week of work.  This week for our 20 Percent Projects, I showed them a little Ted Talk on tying your shoes.  At this point in the year students are pretty autonomous in working on their projects.  Some students still are spinning their wheels going no where, and then there are the students that don't do anything, be it this project or anything at all, which could be a whole different blog of its own.

The reason I showed this video was to show that you don't need to have elaborate animations or fireworks to engage people and share something worth while.  It all comes down to storytelling.

When a 47-year-old man acknowledges that he has been tying his shoes the wrong way for all these years, it makes you want to hear more.  Why?  How?  Am I doing the same thing?

On days of presentations, when people aren't prepared and don't think about how they will present what they've done, then it becomes a tedious and boring day.

I'm going to continue to show students little videos like this leading up to their own presentations so that they can glean from good storytellers and presenters.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Week of March 10, 2014

So I've fallen behind a bit in my blogging with the 20 Percent Project and part of it has to do with how I've adapted when and how those days are run.  First off, I had to switch days from Wednesdays to Fridays due to the COW schedule, which isn't a big deal.  The nice part about Wednesdays was that as soon as my last class ended, I blogged about what happened on that day for the project, on Fridays after school, you just want to get out of town.

The COWs in our English quad are booked every day pretty much now until May and now that I can only get them once a week, I want to maximize my time when the students have them.  I don't have any assignments do on Friday, so that we won't waste precious minutes working on the computer.

One of my frustrations in running this project has been that many of the students, when they have the laptops, don't spend their time wisely.  I know that this project is supposed to allow students to learn and grow and fail and all that good stuff, but there is a whole lot of nothing going on and the control freak in me is not comfortable with that.

As I planned on doing some weeks ago, there is lesson that students have to do using technology.  Two weeks ago I had students create accounts and create interactive pictures to go along with their 1930s project.  It wasn't supposed to take the whole period and didn't need to, but many students enjoyed adding tags and explaining what was going on in the photos that they chose.  I had them use creative commons photos from flickr, which was another part of the lesson.  Here is the link to the form I had them fill out to collect their work as well as a short tutorial I created so that students knew how to navigate their way around Thinglink and flickr and

This past week, I created a problem based research project.  We have a ton of seagulls on our campus and I had students research what type of seagulls we had (web searching skills), research solutions in how to get rid of them, and then propose how we could go about warding them off of our campus.   Students seemed engaged with the assignment and found some interesting answers.  The following link takes you to the template I had students open and then copy so that they can work on their own

Students were allowed to work in pairs and they really could've worked collaboratively to do the work more quickly, but not all the students are comfortable or even recognize how they can work together.  I viewed the revision history of some of the groups and the ones that truly worked together had both partners filling in the template, while other groups had one person do all the work.  This week we have the computers, I'm going to present on what collaboration should really look like and give them a rubric as well.

As far as the 20 Percent Project goes, I've made a couple of big changes.  I'm not going to read over 100 student blogs a week, that's a little too much.  Instead I'm going to grade/review them at the end of the quarter.  I think that the ideal thing to do will be to grade/review them midway through each quarter.

Next year, I think I'm going to make the project two separate semester long projects, rather than a year-long as without any urgency, not a lot of work gets done.  Also, I'm going to have students really plan out what everyone's role will be, because some of the students have an idea and they don't have a plan to bring their idea to fruition.

Excited to share about this week's progress later.  If you made it this far, thanks for reading.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Week 17 -A sense of curiosity is nature’s original school of education. -Smiley Blanton, Pyschiatrist-

While we had the computers, I thought that it would be a good warm-up for my students to research something they're curious about to get their brains ready to work.  I made a quick and short Google Form where they had to input their name, period, question, answer and the URL of where they found their answer and made it on  What I thought would take 5 minutes ended up taking the whole period for some students.  They just delved deeper into whatever they were researching.

There were questions that ranged from, "Why do we have eye crust in the morning? to "How do they get cranes on top of skyscrapers?"  I learned a lot about what the students are interested in and when they found their answers, I learned a lot of new knowledge.

This was an excellent diversion for many students, especially to those that don't do a lot of work in class typically.  Some students couldn't think of something they wondered about so I began to just show things that make me curious on the Internet through some of the cool things I follow on Google+.

I showed them a street performer that was a Trasnformer that went from a Hummer to a robot.  I showed them a gif of Alaska when they have 24 hours of sunlight.  I showed them the Aurora Borealis in Iceland.  I googled, "Are there Spanish tongue twisters" and proceeded to try to say them.

All-in-all I think that this was a good exercise, because a lot of my students aren't curious about things and they don't wonder why something the way it is.  I'll need to do this more.

Meanwhile, on the project front, students are working and blogging away, although not all students are keeping up with this part.  I'm not sure if it's because they're not working on their projects, or they are finding it difficult to blog.  I'll have to look into that a bit more as well.

Until next time.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

20 Percent Project Continues -- Week 1 of the New Semester and Year

With the start of the new semester and with district benchmarks and finals, I got lost in the shuffle a bit and have not been able to blog until now.  Since I got some new students at the semester, I decided to review what the 20 Percent Project was again to all of my students.  I actually encouraged many students to change their project if they hadn't done much work on it, or they weren't that interested in their old project.

Students that are changing their project from the first semester are going to fill out a reflective form  (Change of Project Form)  to explain why they are switching projects, because even in their failure or not completing their project, I'd like them to reflect on why the project didn't take off.

One of the things that I've found about the project is that students truly need to choose something they are interested in actually doing and not something they think will be something they will want to do.

Some students thought it would be great to volunteer with different organizations and write about their experiences.  Although their altruism was to be commended, they went to a couple of things on the weekends and found that this is too time consuming and not really their passion.  The two girls that started with this project, changed their project to making a YouTube channel about how to apply makeup.

Although the project is not as philanthropic as volunteering, this new project allows them to pursue they are passionate in.  I also encouraged new students to choose a project that is already somewhat part of their lives.

I re-showed this video below that captures a second of each day of the film-maker's life for a year.  Many of the students have changed their projects to something related to photography or videos.  This video inspired a lot of students

I'm wondering if this 20 Percent Project should really be two separate semester long projects rather than one year long project.  We'll see how they turn out as we get closer to the presentation dates, which will be May 29-30.

Thanks for reading.  Would appreciate any feedback or suggestions that have worked for you.


Resources: Change of Project Form

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Week 16 - Blowing the conch

I've been getting the sense that not all the students during our 20 percent time have been spending their time wisely.  Some students have been diligent bloggers and working on their projects, but some need a bit more structure.  I decided to blow the conch to gather the civil and savage alike.  I introduced a mini-lesson on creating Powerpoints/Presentations that engage the audience.

Each week students will learn a skill that they'll be needing in order to complete the project, such as creating presentations, speaking in public, and the use of technology.  I showed the students the slide I made below to get us started.

I took about 5 minutes to show students how to add an image as a background, insert text boxes, change the fill and text color.  One thing the students utilized was the rotating of the text boxes.  I also quickly shared how graphic design usually takes advantage of 2-3 colors.  Once students created their presentations, named their document Period X-First Last, Presentation Slides and then shared, I peeked into each student's slide.  If anyone is using Google Docs to create and share items, I'd highly recommend using a naming convention like I have.  You can just hit the period and the name of the assignment and you'll have a list of all the students that shared.

I thought that students would take a few minutes and finish quickly so they can move onto their 20 Percent Projects, but many students used the whole class period to perfect their slides.

Most of the pointers that I was giving them were based on my preferences for design, but I was inspired by Slideshare.  I get a weekly digest of the best slides of the week and when I have time I'll peruse them to get ideas for class.

The thing that I was emphasizing was having an engaging image with minimal text.  I was really pleased with the work that the students did.  Some students finished their slides and wrote on their blogs about their slide.

My intent wasn't for this mini-lesson to take the whole period, but the students were very zealous about creating good slides.  I even had students that normally don't do anything turn in some very nice work.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Week 15 - An absolute rose?

After a week off from blogging, I had students return to their projects and blog about what they have been working on.  I've been going through a series of quick little lessons on what smart people do.  So far I've said that smart people reflect, read, and think flexibly.

As I was reading some of my students' older blog posts, I read a student's that had great potential.  She is a part of the Peer Assistance Leadership team at our school and she blogged about going to a workshop at a nearby community college.  Perhaps to her, her blog is like when Daisy Buchanan says Nick reminds her of "an absolute rose."

This is untrue.  I think she is bit off in adding real purpose and valuable content to her blog.

At the workshop she attended three sessions: one dealing with gun violence, another highlighting how everyone is valuable, and lastly a session on seeing signs of abusive relationships.  She merely summarized the topics of those sessions a instead of reflecting on what she took away from them.  They seemed like pretty powerful presentations, but merely summary.

The purpose of my blogs has been to use it as a reflective tool as well as sharing with others.  I think that even in my blogging, that my writing has leaned more towards what I have done rather than what I've been thinking.

I think I'll need to address this idea of some deeper self-reflection as they continue to work on their projects and blogging.  This is sort of new genre of writing for myself and my students.

Next week I'll present on how to add a bit more reflection to their blogs and why that matters.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Week 14 - We search with research

This week I gave students a break from blogging to focus on research.  I wanted the students to learn more about whatever it is that they are working on.  In my last class of the day, a student asked, "I don't need to do any research for my project."  Questions like this, where students don't really think about what they are asking make a bit upset, especially at the end of the day.

When I found out that she was doing her project on movie reviews,  she totally opened up the gates for a teachable moment.  I suggested that she read professional reviews of movies that she has reviewed.  I suggested she look up how other reviewers leave their stamps on their reviews, be it a thumbs up, stars, rotten tomatoes, etc.  I said, are you including the names of the actors, directors, producers, what movies the actors have been in previously.  She began to see that she needed to do a little digging before moving on with her reviews.

It had never occurred to the student that she could learn from looking at other people's work.  This is precisely why I had students spend today's class period doing that.  Of course I want to keep kids accountable for the time spent in class, so I made a Google Form where they had to reflect on what their goal was and whether or not they accomplished their research goal.

Knowing a few of the projects and how they needed some more information, I also posited that they could search how to take better pictures and videos, find recipes, how to get more traffic on their blogs and websites.  Ultimately, it was open ended and they just needed to research something related to their project that will improve the work they are doing.  Below area couple of students' summary of what they found from the research.

I hope that today was time well spent.  What they did today will hopefully make for good blogging material for the students as well.  I hope that they will periodically do some research on their own and make it a process they internalize so they can apply it to other situations.  I guess that is the whole point of a project like this right?