Replacing the yearly planner with an iGoogle Page

Every year, students receive a daily planner before the start of school. Depending on the grade level, some teachers will spend a day showing students how to effectively plan their week. For most, this is a practical tool that has worked for many years. However, it is also a tool that many students lose. What if it was impossible to lose your planner? What if it was always with you?

We can improve this method by spending the time it takes to show our students how to use a daily planner and show them how to set up their own iGoogle page. An iGoogle page is a personal space that anyone can manipulate to reflect his or her personality, lifestyle and schedule. It short, it is the one page you can turn to each day and find out everything you want to know for that particular day.

Last year (Spring Semester 2008) I piloted a new project that flattened my classroom and provided a consistent forum for information. I set up a blog page that I controlled and my students could access directly through an RSS feed on their iGoogle page. The results were great! Here is how I set it up.

On the first day of class I walked in and had all the students take out their daily planners that were handed to them by administration as they walked into the doors for their first day. I then did my best Robin Williams impersonation from Dead Poets Society, and asked them to hold them up and drop them on to the floor.

Then I turned on the projector and showed them the future of daily planning. Here is how my presentation began.

***For best viewing, increase video to full screen. Click on screen in lower right hand corner of video***

The students can add the blog to their iGoogle page and receive assignments, reminders and updates. Students can also comment on the blog if they have a question or concern. This forum is also used to organize. I am not one for papers and folders; I loose them! The blog and iGoogle page is especially helpful when a student is absent.

In one particular instance, I finally yielded the results I have been looking for since I started this “flat classroom” project. I received an e-mail from a student who had been home sick all week. He was in class on Monday (the first day of our new spring semester) when I had all of my classes set up their iGoogle page and link to the blog. Here is the e-mail:

Hey Mr. Marcinek, I have had a real bad cold over the last few days, but I saw the doctor today and I should be back tomorrow. I saw the assignment on the blog and wrote a rough draft, so I thought you might want that. The rough draft is attached.”

Eureka! It worked! My students and their parents always had access to the classroom. Assignments could no longer get lost! They were now a constant in the lives of my students! (insert sinister teacher laugh).

Positive Outcomes

1. Students, special education teachers and parents always had access to assignments.

2. Students could access assignments if they missed extended time in class and never fall behind.

3. Students could keep pace with class discussion threads on the blog page if they missed a class.

4. Parents could review assignments and even participate in the learning process.

5. A universal hub for students to access class information, news and anything they enjoy.

6. They could not lose it!

Recommendations

1. Use this as an icebreaker on the first day of class. Have students design and setup their own iGoogle page and present it to the class. Have them explain why they selected a specific theme and why they chose to read The Guardian news feed over the New York Times.

2. Create a rubric for the iGoogle page. Do not give students free reign on this idea. Make sure there are parameters for content they display.

a. Must have a news feed

b. Must have class blog feed

c. Must have a homework list (to do list widget)

3. Invite and consult with administration, technology directors and parents before going forward.

NOTE: I plan on mentioning this recommendation every time I blog because it is so important to protect yourself, your students and your content before venturing out into the dense forest of the internet.

Rethinking Current Events with Newsvine


If there is one thing students and teachers despise it’s clutter. One way teachers create clutter is asking students to print out a current event. Students print out weekly current events, read and summarize it, have it graded and then throw it out. I found more current events lying on my floor or in my trash than any other classroom document. Cringing already teachers? Fear not! I have a environmentally friendly solution that will surely net you Environmental Teacher of the Month.

The process will not only cleanup your classroom and tag you as the “Green” teacher, but you will enhance the discussion and debate in your classroom. Students will be interested in what they read because they are engaging and collaborating with their peers through a threaded discussion. I have found that students speak volumes via the web based forum as opposed to the prompt and answer method. Think of the amount of content students send and receive from each other on facebook daily! Imagine if you could take this enthusiasm and translate into the academic arena. Let’s get students discussing the economic stimulus like they debate the relationship of…of…(insert popular “it” couple here).

I found a way for Social Studies and Civics/Government teachers to replace the old printed paper current events with a practical web 2.0 solution! Here is a brief introduction to newsvine.com and how it can supplant paper current events.


Hopefully these eloquently narrated videos will help you set up your class newsvine group.
Positive Outcomes of this Lesson
  1. Students have an archive of current events to look back on throughout the semester.
  2. Teachers can design a rubric for the discussion forum and then quiz students on current events.
  3. Invite parents and administration to participate in the discussion. A great way of allowing parents to participate in the learning process.
  4. Creates a fourum to facilitate classroom discussion
  • Students can lead the class in discussion and answer questions gleaned from the discussion thread.
  • Create a debate session based off current event discussion.
Recommendations
  1. Become familiar with the newsvine site before you start using it in your classroom.
  2. Take time to instruct students on how to properly utilize this site and provide a handout on your class wiki or moodle for reference.
  3. Make sure you set your classroom group to private before going forward.
  4. Create a teacher made rubric that covers all of the content you want to assess on the site. Many times students get online and forget about spelling, grammar and providing acceptable academic content.
  5. Consult Administration, Technology director and parents before creating this forum.
  6. Invite all the members of #5 to join in and even participate in the online group discussion forum.
  7. Enjoy the idea of saving trees and limiting the use of paper (CLUTTER) in your classroom!


My Goodness, My Wiki

Since it is a holiday weekend for most, I thought I would take a break from eating chocolate and jelly beans…mmmmmm jelly beans and make two videos on how I utilized my wikispace in the classroom. 

In my classroom, I found my wikispaces to be a great source of collaboration and student engagement beyond the classroom. Students were always connected to the classroom – which they hated – and rarely had and excuse for not knowing about an assignments. Plus, as a teacher, it helped with my organization. Gone were the days of file cabinets and manilla folders!!! 
Classroom wikis are free and easy to set up even for those who don’t describe themselves as “tech savvy”. It also works as a forum in which parents can look in on the classroom and keep up to date with student progress. I made sure to set up my wiki as private and allowed access through teacher invite only. Before I started this wiki, I consulted with my administration, technology director and parents. Anytime you venture into the “Interweb” (as my parents like to call it) it is good to cover your bases with the higher powers. I also invited all of my parents to join the wiki. This was partially done through back to school night. Parents would sign in with their name, student name and e-mail. I then explained to them what a wiki is and how we would be using it in the classroom. Parents were very receptive to this idea and loved having a consistent stream of classroom updates. 
For my students and parents I first showed them a common craft video that simply explained a wiki. 
After the video I prompted students with several questions:
HOW CAN WE USE THIS IN A CLASSROOM?
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A WIKI?
WHAT ARE THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF A WIKI? AND HOW COULD WE IMPROVE THEM?
HOW COULD YOU USE A WIKI OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM?
Students provided great responses that generated a lengthy class discussion. I then modeled the basic elements of a wiki and provided a screenshot hand out that I made for them to reference in the early stages of accessing, using and posting on the wiki. Overall it was a success!
Positive Outcomes
  • Provided a central hub for all class updates, projects and handouts
  • Great for student and teacher organization
  • Collaboration!
  • Allowed parents to keep current with class assignments 
Recommendations 
  • Be patient! 
  • Set aside at least one or two class periods for initial wiki introduction and set up. It may seem like you are distracting from teaching, but will benefit in the long run.
  • Consult administration, technology director and parents before using web based forums for classroom communication
  • Include Parents in the wiki!! 
Here are two videos that I made through the use of JING and screencast.com. These are two great free resources – that allow upgrades to pro accounts – for any classroom. 


Hamlet in Plain English

I thought for my first official post on this site I would entertain my readers and fellow teachers with a new way to look at William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Last spring I decided to turn Shakespeare’s world upside down by utilizing the “common craft” technique to storytelling. If you have not visited Lee LeFever’s website, please do now! Pass GO, collect your $200 and get to Common Craft!!!! Ken Rodoff, our technology coach at Springfield, introduced me to this site and we were both impressed by the simplicity and ability to glean difficult concepts via Mr. LeFever’s videos. We pondered….”How can we bring this concept into language arts?” Then we came up with this…

Hamlet in Plain English

If you are reading this, you…

A) …are alive.

B) …passed reading class a long, long time ago.

C) …just watched a witty Common Craft video.Yay!

OBJECTIVE:

Take a theme from Hamlet and create a Common Craft-esque video that represents your theme.

We will use class time to create this project, and we’ll have many special guest appearances by Ken Rodoff, aka the Lord of the Wiki! In class, we’ll break down each day into a different task. And at the end, we’ll screen our films.

PROCESS:

1. Select a theme. We have discussed many themes threaded throughout Hamlet. Your job is to select one and propose your initial idea to me.

2. Once you have your theme, you will gather at least five textual examples that represent this theme. I want to see the act, scene, and line numbers.

3. Once you have gathered the textual evidence, you will organize it into an outline that you will eventually translate into a storyboard.

4. Create a storyboard. The storyboard will serve as the blueprint for the film. You must provide pictures along with the script for each storyboard scene. I must approve the storyboard before you begin filming.

5. After you have created your storyboard, you will begin to gather and create elements to use for the film. Keep in mind that you are using the blueprint of a Common Craft video to convey your theme simply. You may use a variety of options here.

6. Once you have completed all of the aforementioned tasks, you will begin filming.

Filming should take one class block. I suggest filming in sequential order to expedite the editing process.

7. The final stage of this project will consist of editing the film and doing the voice-over recording. This will be the longest stage of the project and will require a lot of input from all group members.

8. After you’ve finished your films, we will screen them all in class. We will show the films not only to our class but to other classes as well.

Tools

  • Hamlet Text
  • commoncraft.com
  • White board and storyboard
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • Video Camera and Tape
  • Microsoft Movie Maker
  • Microphone and Audacity Sound Editor
  • CD-R

Grading Criteria:

  • The following are criteria for grading this project:
  • There is evidence of collaboration during research, storyboarding, filming, and editing.
  • The storyboard is clear and has extremely specific scenes and quotes. It identifies your theme and shows that your scenes reinforce and demonstrate that theme.
  • You do all your work within the allotted time. This includes your storyboarding, filming, and editing.
  • The film’s scenes sync up with the storyboard.
  • The storyboard is well written and free of grammatical and mechanical errors.
  • The film is at least one minute long, but not longer than two minutes.
  • Group members show that they had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed this “super happy-rific” project!

The entire project will be worth seventy points per group. Each group member will also anonymously grade the other members on their individual performance in the group. I will provide a rubric for this procedure.

© 2008 Andrew Marcinek, Springfield Township High School, and Ken Rodoff,

Classrooms for the Future.

Eureka! Shakespeare is fun, cool, collaborative, visual and engaging to senior, honors English students!!!

This lesson was introduced after we completed the reading and viewing of Hamlet. In class we would read and analyze the play. Each night students would read a section of the play and bring in their interpretations of what they felt were critical passages in the play. At the end of each Act students were quizzed on specific passages in which they had to identify the players, context, literary techniques used in the passage and a thorough analysis of the passage. Also, at the end of each act students were shown the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet.

Once we finished the play I started the Hamlet in Plain English lesson by showing my students one of Mr. LeFever’s Common Craft videos. I then asked, “Describe this video in one word.”

Some of the responses I received….

SIMPLE

CLEAN

CLEAR

EFFICIENT

CLEVER

BASIC

PAINLESS

Then I asked them, “Why did I show you this video? Taking into consideration the current unit we were discussing.”

IT IS EVERYTHING SHAKESPEARE IS NOT

This was my inciting incident! With that student response the lesson was underway!

I want you to make a common craft video that focuses on a theme in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and make it CLEAN, SIMPLE, CLEAR, EFFICIENT, CLEVER, BASIC, PAINLESS!

I then handed them the aforementioned criteria and we were off. Here is an example of one of the videos and also the winner of Best Picture and Best use of Humor. Enjoy!

When we finished the lesson we had a screening day where I showed the films from all three of my English classes. We also held a mini-Oscar Award show in which students voted on categories such as, Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Use of Humor, etc. This day was a great conclusion to my Shakespeare/Hamlet unit.

Positive Outcomes of the Lesson

  • Student collaboration and engagement with the play
  • Understanding a complex text and its literary merit
  • Finished product students could share with friends and a teacher could model to other students.
  • Several videos that a teacher could show to Special Education students for a language arts lesson on Shakespeare.

Lesson Recommendations

  • This can be time consuming so make sure you provide your students with a time schedule. Creative productions can drag on if not properly time stamped.
  • If you have a tech coach in your building, make sure you sign up for his or her assistance!
  • Understand your video equipment, sound equipment and editing software on your computers! It is best to present a mini lesson on all of these tools before going forward. It is best to have the tech coach present with you if this option is available.

Any questions or comments on the lesson you can leave below or if you would like a PDF of any of my handouts from this lesson please feel free to e-mail me at imagine1980@me.com.

iTeach EduBlog Coming soon!

iTeach will be a forum for educators who are interested in synthesizing their content and curriculum with web 2.0 applications. There will be a variety of lesson plans from various disciplines and grade levels. It is my hope, that this site will generate creativity and progress in the classroom of the future as well as stimulating collaboration between educators all over the world.