Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Better late...

Today is a project day, and things are finally starting to get a little more concrete. Students have been enthusiastic all along, but it seems that their project has often taken a back seat to other homework and other things going on in their lives. As Christmas break nears (as well as the deadline right after) some things have gone by the wayside, including what I thought was an interesting idea to do a "whiteboard" video. But some conversations with staff in the building are beginning to happen, and the final product is starting to look more fleshed out for some groups.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Toward the CBL Solution

It was great talking to groups about their plans for the "solution" to their project challenge. I heard some great ideas! But when I looked at the docs afterward, there was a lack of concrete planning in some groups. "Who will do what, when?" I had asked each group to decide and document.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Progress on the Projects

Some of my groups have been at work, and when I put out the rubric, that was a little kickstart in some places. But not all. Today there was some consternation at the mention of a deadline tomorrow, with a couple of students acting as if they had no idea what was going on. This despite the fact that it's all been out there in writing and I've given reminders in class.

But tonight I went to my Google docs and saw every single document title bold, indicating work has been done. I'll wait until after the deadline to see what they've been up to.

Tomorrow they will have class time to plan for their solution.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cross-school challenge based learning

There's lots happening in our school regarding the implementation of challenge based learning projects. At a recent in-service day, eight challenges were presented by various teachers passionate about certain ideas, and anyone was free to latch onto any project. The result? Several cross-school (the term we seem to be favoring over "inter-departmental") challenges in the works, with teams that include even non-teaching staff. And so it is that math teachers are working with social studies teachers on a project about what makes a good leader, and an English teacher is leading the charge to challenge students to learn more in depth about the psychological effects of abortion.

Our department is still hanging together with our original idea about connecting the teachings of Jesus to the 21st century, but some of us will also have a piece of the action in some other groups. One group is inspired by a recently published book by John Gallagher, Reimagining Detroit. It seems to me that my Justice and Peace project could find a good focus there, and best of all, I'd benefit from the expertise of many colleagues in the development of something for my class.

Yep, the media center where we all met was abuzz with ideas and questions that day.

Dyknow again

Some students are not that thrilled with Dyknow, but some like it. At any rate, I decided to continue with notes for the current chapter so that students will have them in one place. I have experimented with writing notes for them as I talked, and writing notes that they could not see projected but not on their own screens, forcing them to copy as when I write on the board. I also had some slides with blanks that they could fill in on their own screens.

What I don't like: I am used to moving around a lot when I write on the board. I felt tied to my computer. Since I am still learning how to use it, some class time has been wasted.

What I do like: The feature where students can pick from red, yellow or green to show their understanding of what is being presented seemed useful (when I told them to use it as intended rather than picking their favorite color). The monitor is a good feature, too, when I remember to enable it. The next thing I learn should be how to send messages to students who stray from the task at hand.

Bottom line: After this chapter I will give it a break for a bit, but I would like to use it again (maybe in a different class) and try out some more features.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

First Dyknow

Okay, even though the first word that comes to mind is "disaster," it wasn't really that. I'm better with "tech" stuff when I can have things prepared ahead of time, and take my time. Using Dyknow in class requires me to keep a lot of stuff in my head to do on the spot, and I did not do so well my first time out, despite one-on-one tutoring with a colleague who uses the tool extensively.

My freshmen were helpful, offering suggestions about how to share a panel with them and so on. And it went better during the second class than in the first. That, I think, means that I am indeed teachable.

I don't see myself using it every day, but I do think that when I am more familiar with the software, it could be useful for some things. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I felt like the projects weren't going anywhere, and that more face time was needed. So today was a "project day," and groups for the most part were able to formulate challenges and give themselves a direction. I enjoyed our discussions as I consulted with each group and tried to guide. I'm not sure whether or not I should have encouraged "bigger" thinking. But they had some worthwhile goals, and the time frame is limited. Now to see what kind of research they do and what solutions they will devise.

And most of all, now to see if the process has been jumpstarted enough to take off. The groups need to start accomplishing some things outside of class, and I hope that now they will have enough to go on.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Private blogs

The question of the hour is how public to make classroom blogs and websites. Let's start with blogs. I've done just a little experimenting with them, only with my Justice and Peace classes. And only a few assignments have landed there; I have also been using Moodle and a wiki page. I know that some educators have said that students do better quality work when they are writing for more people than just the teacher. My students had only first name, last initial on the blog. Most entries showed thought and effort, though not all.

The blogs may as well have been private, because I didn't advertise them other than on Parent Night, but lately I got nervous about the whole thing and closed them off to students only. I was able to tell a concerned parent last night at conferences that her child's blog is open only to the class. She did not feel that "provisional thinking" should be on the internet for all to see. One could argue that putting that thinking out there (pretty much anonymously, by the way) gives a student a reason to think things through.

At least they still have their classmates as an audience.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Revised project

Justice and Peace students are at it again, working on projects to do some research, and hopefully to make a difference. I've revised the project to follow Apple's challenge based learning format, because it's the direction our school is heading in, and because I hope the results will be richer than last year's.

But this is all pretty new to me, so I know there'll be some bumps in the road. Today the teams started Google Docs to record their brainstorming. In this way I can "listen in" even if I couldn't be with every group the whole class. I just finished writing some comments. They'll be recording their progress throughout, and will be able to communicate with each other while working from home.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's not always positive

Okay, so today I had a couple of freshmen ask why they couldn't just do a Word document instead of fooling around with Google Docs. The familiar vs. the unfamiliar. I talked about collaboration. In another class, a couple of upperclasswomen spoke of their distaste for our blog (though I have had positive feedback in a previous semester). I asked for reasons, expecting that perhaps they were worried about writing publicly. But they spoke entirely of things relating to the hassle or difficulty of it. Not that posting to the blog is hard, of course! The familiar vs. the unfamiliar.

All this makes me more determined to continue introducing these tools to students, so that the tools will become...familiar.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


"That's so cool " was the reaction of a freshman watching the words that her her project partner was typing appear on her computer screen on a newly-created and shared Google Doc. I agree. I think Docs is cool in how it allows for easy collaboration among students who do not always live near each other or have a lot of shared free time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jing fling

What is a bit of "homework" that I don't mind doing even on a Sunday night when I'm almost ready for sleep? A Jing video! I actually enjoy making little tutorials for students about tech things. This one was about how to search for photos that are licensed by Creative Commons. Some things I might be able to find online, but it seems quicker (when I don't do a hundred "takes") to just show students myself in a format that they can refer to as often as they wish.

Skype in the works

The thought of having a Skype session with someone who cannot physically be in the classroom but who could add to students' understanding of a subject has been tucked away in my brain for a couple of years now. It came forward in a moment of madness when I e-mailed someone to make the request.

I have since worried about technical difficulties, but I'm not even there yet. Right now there are scheduling difficulties, but I hope they can be ironed out. I am balancing a desire to provide my students with an experience that I think will be beneficial with feelings of being loathe to impose on someone that I don't really even know.

More on this in weeks to come...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

First chat

I had to make a decision quickly when the Mass ran long and a short third hour was pared to ten minutes to review for a test the next day. Reschedule the class? Postpone the test? I decided to go over the most essential material in that time and to offer a review session that evening through chat on Moodle.

It's not a decision made lightly, although a couple of other teachers in our school have done this. I already have been questioned about whether I need to be as available to my students as I am through e-mail. But it seemed like special circumstances. I only had about three or four students take me up on the offer, but it's a good thing we straightened out confusion about the "blinding of Isaac!"

Monday, October 4, 2010

I don't know everything

I remember when the first students starting coming to class with computers. It was not yet required, but some families were pioneers of sorts, opting to buy laptops for their daughters. A couple of times a question would come up and girls would jump onto the internet and proudly raise their hands eager to share newly-found information. I had a glimmer of the potential of a 1:1 program.

But sometimes I forget. Today we discussed abortion and capital punishment, and I could not answer all of the questions. I don't know all of the current laws and they vary by state.I admitted that I didn't know all the answers, but I spoke of what I knew. Then I remembered a blog post I'd read recently, and I looked at a circle of students, a circle of twenty-five or so laptops connected to the knowledge of the world. "See what you can find out," I said, and off they went, bringing forth answers within seconds.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My first Prezi

My husband teases me sometimes when we have company and I search out new recipes. Of course it would make sense to make things for guests that I had already tested. Does that mean I'm not afraid of failure? Or just that I don't like the recipes I've already tested?

I suppose I was following the same instinct when it came to a recent presentation to the staff, and ended up going with something entirely new to me. I had chosen my month to present specifically so that I could get it done while on a long break. I took most of the photos and gathered input from my department last year. I wrote the script and put together a PowerPoint over the summer.

Because I felt it needed more oomph, in the fall I went back to an idea rejected in June that had to do with Photostory (just because I like Photostory) and audio quotes from students. But I had  reservations about being able to make the PowerPoint and the Photostory work together with the resources I had gathered.

Then I got an e-mail from my husband, who knew I was pondering all these things, about a "cool presentation tool." I had seen Prezi quite a while ago, but it had seemed complicated, and it never even came to mind as a possible way to present for this. But the moment Paul told me about a Prezi given at work that somehow seemed "more interesting," I knew the PowerPoint was history. And pretty soon Paul knew that he had gotten himself into a commitment to help me learn the new software and put together my program. Once I saw the page-long instructions for converting audio files to video for use in Prezis, I knew that I would need assistance for that part. Apart from the added audio, however, I found the program fairly intuitive and easy to use.

This was approximately six days before the presentation. In that time I had to solicit comments from students (I e-mailed them over a weekend), narrow down the comments and get students to record the quotes I wanted, learn how to do a Prezi, build the Prezi with files I had used for the PowerPoint, and take a few more photos to plug in a couple of places.

Later a colleague asked why Prezi is better than PowerPoint. There are features I didn't fully make use of such as layering, framing, drawing, or moving around with ease to specific points in the presentation, that I think add to functionality. But mostly I had to admit that it's partly because it's new, and I just think it's cool.

The presentation was well-received, and some of my colleagues inquired about the software. But what worked perfectly on my home PC was a little clunky on the laptop at school, and couple of the pans were not very smooth. 

There are a lot of Prezis online, but a quick search showed me that one has to do a bit of sifting to find good ones on a particular topic. I searched for "sacraments" and found one with misspelled words, another that had so much panning across the space that it made one dizzy, and some that were just incomplete attempts.

I don't really use PowerPoint much , but if I wanted to do a visual presentation in class, or perhaps some resources to post on Moodle, I'd like to experiment more with Prezi.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I am in the midst of a "project" of my own, a presentation to be given to the staff, as part of a rotation of such presentations, about my department. I am thinking about motivation, and whether my own experience sheds any light on what my students do.

I have spent many hours over many months discussing content with my department, taking photos, and putting together the presentation (twice, because quite at the last minute I decided to dump PowerPoint in favor of Prezi, which, by the way, I have never used before). I want it to be a quality presentation, but at times I wonder about the whether the time expended has been appropriate, since the story could be told in a more straightforward, simpler way.

My motivation, besides a desire for a true representation of my department, has been that I do not want to bore my peers. Not sure if I will succeed there or not!

But I realized that there is something else going on in my head, too. I don't want it to appear -- in comparison to what all the other departments have done or are doing -- lame.


I thought of another reason that I am more comfortable with the data projector now. It's not to say that I use it every day, by the way, but that it's less cumbersome when I need it.

My classroom is part of what used to be a convent, and not a standard size and shape. My students' desks are only a few feet from the front wall, so the projector, in order to be far enough away from the screen, must be in the midst of the desks. Awkward for presenting. I have not complained about this to anyone, because I don't want anyone to tell me that I should use a different classroom, or heaven forbid, travel to various available ones throughout the day. I like my classroom for various reasons, not the least of which is the view.

Then along came the e-mail from one of our media center folks last year (thanks, Larry D.!) asking if we wanted a long cable to connect the computer to the projector. Yes! Now I can stand at the front and look at my students while I am projecting (and so can students), and it makes a very big difference.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Parent Night

This is the first time I have used the data projector for Parent Night. It's only ten minutes per class and in the past I have filled it with talking (sometimes a little too fast). And it seemed to me that even if I wanted to use the projector, fumbling with it would take up too much of the time.

So what was different this year? I'm more comfortable with these machines, even to a certain extent with the one I have now which is new and not what I'm used to. (This reminds me of how it took me a while to get the hang of setting up those 16mm films in the projector when I started teaching!)

The other different thing was that I had a couple of things I wanted parents to see and the projector was the best way. In Justice and Peace, instead of just talking about the wiki and the blog, why not show them? The downside was that it made it seem as though those two tools dominate the course more than they do. One parent at the end seemed to need reassurance that we actually use the textbook. It would perhaps dismay some who are on the cutting edge of educational trends, but... yes, we do.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tools for communication

A last-minute idea over the weekend. (Well, an idea I had in June but decided now to act upon.) A question to pose to some of my students, one that I wanted them to think about rather than answer spontaneously in class. A deadline. So I put the question on Moodle as an assignment, and e-mailed the classes about it. By this morning (Monday) I had received significant feedback, before I even set foot in the classroom.

Quite a difference from when we first started to incorporate "tecnology," and students balked at the idea of e-mailing an assignment to me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

JP tech notes

The Justice and Peace course was new for me last year, and it's also very much about current topics; those are maybe the reasons why it's the course in which I most used "technology." But it was a little overwhelming for some at times. I think that will ease up in the future as students come having had practice with blogs and wikis in other courses. But I'm seeing if I can't somehow simplify things. Once complaint was that the students had so many places to go online that they didn't know what was what.

I'm moving away from Moodle a bit in that course. Maybe I can drop it for the most part. I had to move the wiki group assignments to Wikispaces because I have two sections glommed into one Moodle course, and it would be too time-consuming to form the groups manually. Auto-creating groups would mean students from different sections would be together.

Last semester I posted assignments on Moodle that were for the blog. Today, I thought, why not post the directions right on the blog? Duh. Maybe this will help with some of that feeling of confusion.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm lost without you

Dear  laptop,

I have been without you since fourth hour today. I had to wait to get home to check e-mails from the afternoon. When you are sick and in need of the TLC of the tech guys, it is then that I realize how much I depend on you. E-mails, grading, blogging, reading blogs, attendance, my department presentation, Moodle assignments, meeting notes...  At lunch I had to find a paper copy of the NCR to read, and later I scanned my "to-do" list, searching for things I could accomplish without you.Not too much, it turns out, and though I managed to get through my last classes, there were a couple of times when it would have been handy to have you there.

I'm glad you are all re-imaged and will be ready to go tomorrow.

The wiki

Just spent a couple of minutes catching up on some discussions on our staff wiki. We've had wiki's before, but now the time seems ripe; a few staff members have started to connect. It will be a place to see reports of conversations that have taken place in departments, especially about our CBL challenge, in lieu of e-mailed minutes. We are going to be a little less isolated this year, it seems to me. And our department is continuing a discussion that started at our meeting today, so hopefully we will make more progress than we could just waiting for our next face-to-face meeting.

Bringing the research to you

Yesterday I introduced our class blog, Google Reader and Google News to my Justice and Peace classes. We're just testing the blog right now, but I'll post links when we get going.

The other two are ways that the girls can start to get updates on what's going on regarding issues we will be studying, and maybe blog posts with some of the current thinking. Soon to come: I'll be showing them places to get encyclicals and Catholic perspectives, and through the course we'll try to do some reflecting and pulling things together.

For this class, though, I just had them find blogs and news about things that interest them. These are ways you can get current information about your own passions, without having to dig. The information is delivered to you, to your Reader or your News. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The first PCG

Today was my first PCG (professional cluster group) meeting. It's a group of about 10-12 staff members from across departments. Larry gave more explanation about challenge based learning and about our own challenge, as well as an overview of some tools.

After the meeting was over a math teacher whom I have rarely spoken to asked me about Google Docs.

The challenge is on, but maybe more importantly, the conversations are beginning, beyond departments.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back at it

Oh. My. We discussed our summer reading, The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner during our staff days last week as the new school year was getting under way. Some of us remarked that we couldn't remember the last time we took staff meeting time to discuss education. It was refreshing indeed. In small groups I found out things that other teachers were doing that I had not known about, such as the cool projects in French IV. I have had a vague notion that there are pockets of innovation and experimentation going on around the school, but there has been no formal way to learn of it. Only Larry blogs, so I have known about him and my department and some other scattered stories.

That may change. Next week I will be meeting with my PCG, one of five "professional cluster groups" that will cross departments. So in time I will learn about what others are doing. Larry's taking on the groups to help us all move forward in implementing tools that will help us with our challenge: to design a challenged based project with our department to implement next year.

Exciting stuff happening at our school this year!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Some common reading

Everyone who works for our school, and the board of trustees as well, has been charged with some summer reading: The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner. I am not familiar with the book, but I think it's a good idea for all of us to latch on to something that can give us a common ground for conversation about education. I look forward to the discussions that the book will generate in the fall.

And I confess, as a religion teacher in a Catholic school, that I wish we could do the same with something about our mission or spirituality, too.

Review wiki

Yesterday and today we used Wikispaces for a review. I put the study guide, basically a list of topics or points, on a separate page for each chapter and for each essay topic, and let students sign up for pages to work on. The plan was to have a thorough document to study from, and also for them to engage with the material and ask me questions as they went.

It was partially successful. There was a problem when too many students tried to sign up for the same topic, so I have to have a better system for that. I had to go through the wiki to make sure the information was accurate, but it was not too time-consuming. I tried to send out invites to have all students join the wiki so that I could keep track of individual contributions. But many did not get the invite and I ended up just making it public so that we could get going on it.

Some girls had already worked on the guide, so they completed their information quickly today. Some had to be nudged to be productive. But most did their part.

We'll see how they do on the exam...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Digital texts

The current seniors were the guinea pig class toting around their laptops in our 1:1 program, and we've added a class ever since until we reached full strength this year. The computers have gotten a bit slimmer and lighter, thank goodness. And the bookbags are a little less stuffed and somewhat lighter as well, and thank goodness for that, too, because students refuse to use their basement lockers and just haul everything around with them.

From the beginning, parents were promised productivity tools such as OneNote, but also online texts to lighten the backpack load. Naturally, in text selection, departments have leaned that way. That has not been the case in Religious Studies, however. I think it was around 2006/07 that I was calling publishers, who had reasons for not offering digital versions (I think one had to do with copyright costs for photos, though we did not quite understand how that was different from print).

This is not to say that there are not problems with online texts. Some pioneers in a Spanish class I taught three years ago had some difficulties with speed and reliability, either on our end or the publisher's. More convenient, perhaps, would be versions that could be downloaded, entirely or chapter by chapter, onto a student's laptop. And, it's true that we still have students in the digital age who prefer to handle "real" books.

Nevertheless, we were ready to roll next year with a brand new text offered digitally at a much lower price than the paper version. But it turns out that text will not yet be available, and we have to make a late shift in our book order. A couple of publishers I've contacted did not have definitive answers about other texts for the course offered digitally, so we had to just go with the old paper one for now.

I have to admit that we are scratching our heads a bit over the fact that publishers in this field seem to be slow in getting on the bandwagon that other disciplines have been riding for a few years now.

A great presentation

Yesterday I witnessed one of the best presentations by students ever in my classes. Shannon and Hayley took on the topic of eschatology, researched it well, were enthusiastic about their topic, reflected on what they learned, and acted happy to share with their class. They used notecards, but had enough of what they learned in their head that they weren't overly dependent on them. Their classmates responded with full attention on a hot day (last period!) and with good questions that the pair fielded marvelously.

And, no "death by PowerPoint." As requested, mostly just images to add visual interest to their talk. It was a good day in Catholic Theology.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

About the Justice and Peace projects

I've nearly finished going over all the projects, and can see already things I want to change for next year. Some things I did like. One little piece of outside-the-box thinking (at least, outside the classroom, outside the state!) was the inclusion of a video chat with someone in Washington D.C. The video gives added interest to the students' wiki page.

Another student who with her partner researched world hunger, discussed (through e-mail?) poverty in Pakistan with her grandfather who is a lawyer there. It was wonderful to see how animated she was in telling the class about things she had learned about a country dear to her heart. Another wrote to Michael Nacht, an expert on national security, for his views on terrorism. That's what I'm talkin' about... learning can go beyond the textbook and beyond the classroom walls now.

I need to work more with students with how to go about crediting sources for specific information and for photos. They also need to do more analysis with the information they uncover. But it was a good start, I think.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ave Maria Press webinar

M-Hub meeting followed by webinar with Jared Dees of Ave Maria Press. Chock full of info, links, in just over half an hour. Although our school does not have smart boards, and most likely never will, much of what was presented in that section can probably be done with DyKnow, software that we do have. I've been meaning to start experimenting with DyKnow, and now I have a bit more incentive.

Some of the links I was familiar with, but others are new to me, so I'll be doing some exploring, but probably not much until I get caught up on papers and prep. Which is to say, probably not much until June! 


This afternoon I attended a meeting about M-Hub (M for Mercy H.S.) This is not my brainchild, but that of one of my very techy colleagues. Nevertheless, worth mentioning in my notes here, because it's pretty exciting stuff, and I believe will affect my teaching in the future. M-Hub will be a database of alums, former teachers, and maybe other connections -- people with expertise in various fields that will be open to sharing their knowledge with students.

Right now my students working on their Justice and Peace projects are asked to find an "expert" in the area they are researching and conduct an interview in some form, even by e-mail. Some may have had connections, one or two asked me for help, and others did "cold calls" or perhaps e-mails to related organizations. In the future, they will be able to consult a database of people already primed to share their expertise.

Larry's got a group of sophomores already hard at work getting this off the ground. They will be the leaders of a student club next year that will continue the effort.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More about the project

Part of the problem with the final project seemed to be a lack of direction. "What are we supposed to do?" one of our school's straight-A students wanted to know. I had given some requirements regarding the research part, but not too much about what the wiki was to look like. I had suggested text, links, photos, video, but basically had told them to use their imagination about what to include to present their topic. "Think of the wiki as a canvas," I said. If this were the final project of an art class, I wouldn't tell them what to draw.

So, I tried to go back and add some guidelines about what I would be looking for. I still wouldn't tell them exactly what to put on their wiki. I have to admit, I am sort of muddling through this. More research needed, but that probably won't happen until the summer!

During a work day recently, I saw one pair sorting through a pile of papers that turned out to be a survey they had done in a sibling's middle school relating to their topic of violence in schools. A great idea! And totally their own.

More feedback

I did a Moodle survey about technology in my Justice and Peace class, where tech abounds, and I had a sense that at least some students were getting either frustrated or overwhelmed. And it's true, some were, although there were positive responses as well. The tipping point seemed to be when I assigned the final project to be done on Wikispaces. One more thing to learn! Diigo frustrated some also. In order to cut back on tech I announced that we could drop the blog we had been keeping. There was a bit of an uproar. "Not the blog!" It seems that some of the students liked that very much, writing what would have been assignments anyway in this medium where they could read what one another had written.

The blog has not entirely met expectations. I'm not sure how much they really read unless required. And I haven't pressed for a wider audience. But if some of my students see value in it, that will stay.

As for the final project, someone pleaded, "can't we just do PowerPoint?" I ended up making that concession, allowing for the alternative of PowerPoint plus a paper (because the PowerPoint, I have insisted, is not going to have a lot of text, so the information has to go somewhere for me to read it) instead of the wiki. Now, PowerPoint  -- that is something they are comfortable with.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Positive feedback

Some of my "digital natives" come to class with not much knowledge beyond the land of Facebook and texting. Some of them are as resistant, because they miss the "feel of paper" or they are not ready to expend energy to acquire new skills. But at least some seem to recognize that it's worth the effort to learn some new things on the Web. Here is some unsolicited feedback about use of tech tools for an assignment. Students were to reflect on what they had learned, but it never occurred to me to ask them to include the Web aspects. I had in mind only the content of the research.

I think Diigo will be a great resource to have available through the rest of high school and college At first, I thought it would be a bit of a hassle, but I grew to like it. Once I began to learn how to use Diigo, I realized it has many more pros than cons. Another thing I am grateful for is that I am now a more proficient user of Google Docs. Again, I am sure this will be helpful in the future.

I read this, of course, in a Google document!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Students and e-mail

Last night I returned from helping to chaperon a student retreat away from the school. Since we were gone for three days, I had to make arrangements ahead of time for classes I would miss. Our school schedule allowed me to make up some of the classes ahead of time, and co-workers who support the retreat program by subbing watched over some of the others.

I purposely left my laptop at home because I didn't want to be distracted by it and I knew I wouldn't really have time anyway. But at least once each day I checked my e-mail on a computer at the retreat center or on a colleague's laptop. Since it was not really my retreat, but the girls', I had no qualms about maintaining a connection with the world.

"Mrs. Lusch," a student wrote, "I missed the movie..." She had been absent during a subbed class and I suggested that she could either find a religion teacher to help her get the video to view on her "off time," or she could wait for my return next week. I responded immediately so that she could choose the option that best fit her schedule.

Later, a colleague complained because a student who "knows I'm on this retreat" had e-mailed her. In pondering later, I wondered what the harm was in the student's attempt to connect. The teacher still had the choice to open or not open the e-mail, and to respond or not respond. And though the teacher was on a retreat, she was in fact checking her e-mail.

The discussion moved on to whether a student should bother a teacher in the evening through e-mail, since of course, she would not think of phoning after the end of the school day. No teacher expects it to be an 8 to 3 job, but settling in for the evening with a stack of papers to grade is not the same as interacting with students.

So, I've been thinking about this further, especially since the word "enabling" entered into the conversation. Am I enabling students when I respond to e-mails they send me outside of school hours? I would not want to get phone calls from students at night, but I don't see e-mail in the same way, because, again, I have the choice. If I'm not home or I'm tired or I just don't have time, I don't have to open the e-mail or answer it. But much of the time I am happy to answer a question while I am at my computer.

I send e-mail to the students occasionally, too. During the Easter break I was a bit excited about the wiki I set up for a final project, so I e-mailed the class about it rather than wait until we were back in school. Once in a while I might send out a reminder to a class, or ask a question about a missing assignment to an individual student.

Not that students always check their e-mail. I've lost track of the number of times I have responded quickly to a student's e-mail only to have her come to class the next day to ask me, "Did you get my e-mail?"

Some teachers like to offer online chats for review the night before a test, while others wouldn't dream of engaging students in the evening hours. If any teachers happen to read this, I would be interested to know your thoughts and your practice. Is your teaching restricted to school hours, or in the age of the Internet and "anywhere, anytime" learning, are you open to being consulted outside the school day?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cool stuff

This isn't going to do much for me. I teach religion, and when I tried to put in "Jacob's sons," I got a lot of information about how many people are named Jacob, and their average age (12), and such. Maybe biblical maps. It does geography as well as math and other things. But I think it's cool, anyway. Try putting in your birthdate.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Justice and Peace students will be presenting information they gather for their final project on the pages of a wiki that I have just created. I've just done the explanatory home page, and though I had some trouble with the photo files, I got it done at last. I made an 18-second video just to show students that video can be included, and I made a sample link as well.

The video is made with my web cam and seems not too sharply focused. I've been reading the blog of a colleague who complains about poor production quality in some of his students' videos. I won't be expecting more of my students than I do of myself. Well, neither does my colleague, but he's much more practiced and perhaps uses better equipment.

It's a learning process for us all.


The Catholic Theology research papers have been in for a while, and I am finally starting with grading. They take a while, because I check out sources and such, and make a fair number of comments.

But at least all this is fairly painless with Google Docs. The pairs have worked together on their 5-page plus paper, and I can check the revisions to see what form the collaboration has taken. I have editing privileges, so I can insert my comments while reading online. Right now I am using a template in Word for the actual grading, and I mail it to them when I am finished. But it is occurring to me now that perhaps that could be a Doc, too, shared for viewing but not editing.

I required a proper Works Cited section ("page" doesn't seem to work for this), because students still need practice with such things. URL's were not needed (supposedly MLA doesn't  require them anymore), but I did make hyperlinks a requirement for each citation. I love the way I have immediate access to the sites if needed. Of course, this only works for electronic sources, but our subscription to a database of published articles provided some good sources outside the Web.

There are probably tutorials online for some of the things I want students to know, such as making hyperlinks, but I have enjoyed doing a couple of quick and very specific-to-my-needs videos with Jing to reinforce what I show the girls in class, and those are always available to them on Moodle.

Here is another advantage to Docs. The teacher who used to assign this project would offer students the opportunity to revise their work after the first grading. After one try I decided against that policy. But at the same time, I was able to allow for a learning curve. When the papers were first in I didn't read them for content but I did look over them for things like format and following directions of the assignment. I wrote an e-mail to the class suggesting specific areas they might need to pay attention to.With the papers on Docs, students could easily go and revise before I actually got to the grading. For some of them, I will need to take off fewer points in the end, and they also had to go back and pay attention to (and learn) things like how the Works Cited is formatted. Win-win.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mix It Up

The Justice and Peace class text starts the chapter on diversity and community with a story about a school having a Mix It Up Day. We used to do that at our school, but the committee that planned it became discouraged when students didn't really participate. That led to a good discussion and a "map" on my board showing which group sits where in the cafeteria.

So I came up with an idea for extra credit, and some students seemed interested, though I don't know if they'll follow through. All they have to do is introduce themselves to some freshmen and find out about them. Then they need proof to show me. Here's the cool thing: the frosh, unlike the rest of the students, have webcams. They can shoot a little video or a still shot to hand in with some text. Someone wanted to know if they could Skype! Sure, if I'm free. I'll see them, but they won't see me. Because I have a "sophomore" laptop.

The lovely podcasts

A second semester go-around with this assignment. A little smoother, with some ideas for making it even better next time. Just now I was reviewing earlier posts on this and saw a comment from TeacherLady about using Moodle wikis with groups. I'll ponder that. I do like Moodle wiki groups, at least so far for in-class activities.

At one point I was feeling ready to throw in the towel and go back to the written form of the assignment. But I do like the recordings; I think they bring the content to life.

Speaking of Moodle, I'm using the "feedback" feature to do a quick survey about the assignment with my students.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Another day, another thing learned.

I learned to reorganize a table in Word. I moved my columns around to an order more pleasing to me. After a lot of time. And consulting "help," which did not much help.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You learn something every day.

We've got this policy of only using students' last initial to protect privacy, but that has gone by the wayside when I've had students uploading files with Google accounts with their school e-mails. But today I noticed that a student's upload came through with just her first name, last initial. It was as simple as putting her name in the Google profile, which apparently most of the other students had not done. Yay!

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Trying to use Google Sites as a place for students to upload podcasts. I have done this before. I remember difficulties with students getting on because of Google accounts and permissions and all that. But this time I can't even get the e-mails inviting them to the site all delivered.

There are good tech experiences and bad ones. This is shaping up to be a bad one. Time for Wikispaces? I'm testing that with the JP projects.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Diigo indeed

Just got finished going over the second round of bookmarks. Much smoother this time. Everything seems to be showing up. I taught students how to find the "persistent URL" in Gale, and most got it.

It's just cool to have this view, in such an organized way, of how everyone is doing on her research so far. A few have gone way beyond requirements, finding and highlighting extra articles on her topic.

So far, so good. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The video

In JP, showed Dead Man Walking. For various reasons, had exactly three class periods to do it. 129 minute movie. Intense movie. I couldn't put it off until next week because the schedule is no better, with juniors taking a state exam and missing some classes. How am I going to show this movie and be able to process it with the girls?

With technology. I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea to do "backchannel" during the video, but I think it worked. Students who were unsure about things ("Doesn't she live in a convent?" "What happened to the other guy?"  "Why are they talking about slavery? When is this movie set?") could get answers on the spot. I didn't have to say much -- the students answered each other's questions.

They also began the discussion about the death penalty.

Then for the first two nights, I gave them discussion questions on Moodle. Some of the questions were inspired by questions or comments during the video.

So when, today, the last day, we finally had some time for face to face discussion, it did not feel like we were starting from scratch. We can get back to it next week, but much of the groundwork has already been laid. All in all, I call this a successful experiment, one I would repeat even when I am not so pressed for classroom time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More on the blog

I am having second thoughts about the blog. So far, is it really different than their handing in individual assignments? There is not much going on in the way of commenting, and I am even unsure of how much to write  publicly -- some of my comments regarding the assignment find their way to PowerSchool. Comments about content go on the blog. But there's not much in the way of actual discussion. While some of the posts are thoughtful, some are less so, and there is not always attention to spelling/typos and sentence structure that I would like for something so public (not to mention that it's an assignment.).

So, is there a point in this? Still questioning. However, it does appear that we've had some hits from California and Europe.

Doing Diigo again

I went over Diigo again for my current Catholic Theology class, because their first bookmarks are due Tuesday. "This is confusing," someone whined. A little effort, please. All they need to do is come to me for help. It's not that hard! In the meantime, one student was already well underway with her research when the assignment was on Moodle but I hadn't met with them to announce it. So, here we go again!

Monday, February 22, 2010


The writer of a blog called TeachPaperless is promoting a campaign to get teachers to sign up to not use paper on Earth Day. I haven't committed. But the fact is, I'm using much less paper than I did only a couple of years ago. Things I used to hand out I now put on Moodle as PDF's. With the Moodle version of Reader, students can't write on the page (we have tablets), but they can easily transfer to Word or OneNote and do so (as a freshman taught me). I also have the option of projecting things to a screen.

There are a couple of things that I have had students hand in on paper still, but most work goes through Moodle, or now, on a blog.

Tests are still on paper (though I've done some Moodle quizzes). But I am fairly close to... paperless. Well, time to go back to grading some online essays.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bloggety blog

So far, so good. Almost everyone on board, though there were a couple of glitches with labeling. A couple of students who did not do the required tag did not get credit at first. I need to be able to go to the tags to find who did what rather than relying on getting it all as I scroll and read.

Students commented on sections of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, and I was pleased with some of the posts, their understanding of what they read (written in 1891), their thoughtful reactions and connections they made with concepts covered in class.

A few took the easy way out, finding the shortest paragraph and ignoring the direction not to repeat in essence what other classmates had said.

I'm trying to figure out how, in the future, I'll be able to encourage them to read and comment on one another's thoughts. If I require it, it might be tricky keeping track, or maybe not.

At some point maybe I'll advertise the blog more and see if I can't get some outside comments on their thoughts, which I suppose is part of the idea. One thing at a time. But if you are reading this, feel free to check out Justice and Peace Spring 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning to persevere

Students appear to have gotten into my Diigo group, but still do not show up as "activated." Cannot upload toolbar, message denies access. Ugh. I didn't have trouble this soon last semester. One student wanted to drop Diigo. "It's too confusing. Can't we use Google or something?" She's not even there yet and it's too confusing!

Sent a helpdesk ticket about whether we might be blocking from here. I really don't have time for this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Diigo fiasco

Introduced the 2nd semester CT class to Diigo. Tried a different way to get them signed up, by e-mailing invitations. Many of the e-mails did not go through, because I had the wrong one, or because...? Did I miss typing some of them? Students who got the e-mail then had to sign on with an account. They could use Diigo account, but didn't know how to create one. Could use Google. Then there were students who tried to download the toolbar and got at least two error messages.

I'm going back to the way I did it 1st semester.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The document question

At our department meeting today we started to work with a 50+ page document from the U.S bishops, their curriculum framework. It didn't take long to decide that it was too clumsy for us to go through it at a meeting. We wanted a way to make the document accessible to all. But how? I tried to do some cutting and pasting of a couple of pages of the PDF in Google Docs, but the formatting was horrible, not very readable.

Diigo! I think that would have worked. The thing is online, and we could all have it in our libraries and share notations. But, as I had that brilliant idea, another thought was gaining momentum in the group: paper. Let's just pass around a paper copy, someone said. I had to acquiesce, though I have my doubts. Since we want to work on one copy, it is going to take some time for six busy teachers to get a look at it. With Diigo, it would have been accessible to everyone, all the time.

More about the blog

We're doing a practice run; everyone is supposed to post one fact about herself. I'm still waiting for a couple to get on board, though it's been a couple of days. I've invited them to comment, but no one has (except me). I'm not sure, but I think that I am the person most excited about this.

I'm looking forward to a real assignment later this week.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cart before the horse?

Started first student blog. We'll do a test first, just to see if everyone can post successfully. Next week we'll take off with a real assignment. But now I'm reading some blogs about blogs, with some good guidelines/rules for students. I haven't really given my students guidelines, though I did tell them that what they write will be public, and that comments on the current posts, if they choose to add them, should be positive. I'm not too concerned about inappropriateness. But I will think about whether I should put some guidelines in writing.

Another thing: a rubric for grading posts? Might be a good idea. I have an example of one for biology that might give me some ideas.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Books on computer

Since our school has been phasing in our 1:1 program, there's been a push to utilize online texts to lighten the backpacks of the girls. I remember making calls to religion text publishers a couple of years ago asking about online texts or versions on CD-rom. Not much going on then. Resources available on publishers' websites but not actual texts in our discipline.

That's changed now. I know of two publishers who are either making books available in an electronic format or are at least thinking about it. Today I filled out a survey for one company about just that topic. Another sent me an e-mail offering a review copy of a text that could be delivered either through UPS or electronically.

The times they are a changin'.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Second Semester

Second semester: I plan to keep the same basic process for Catholic Theology, though I may change it for next year.

In Justice and Peace, I want to get students connected to what is happening outside the classroom. I think I would like to introduce them to RSS, and help them find relevant blogs or other feeds.

They will blog. One class blog, or individual? More research to be done.

Their final project will be done in pairs or groups, and will be presented through a wiki. Google Sites? Wikispaces? I have to explore more there to decide.

Oh, and I have to read the text and figure out how we will go about learning the content of the course, too.

I will be busy.

Some feedback

Today our discussion in Catholic Theology got a little off track, but I thought it to be important stuff. Since I have not delved into DyKnow much, I got some of their impressions of its use, and the discussion turned to the area of privacy. The fact that with the software teachers could be viewing students screens even when they are at home is bothersome to some students. But even in the classroom, some students feel that it is their business what they are doing during the class. "It's our grade" is what they had to say.

There were complaints about not being able to use OneNote, where they would prefer to take their notes, when a teacher blocks everything but DyKnow, and about how each day's work is a separate file when they would like to organize their notes differently. Another problem is when a teacher forgets to "release" students from their class, and applications they need for homework are blocked well beyond the school day.

A complaint that I heard before was that the method of presenting, at least as used by some teachers, allows for too much passivity on the part of students. If the notes are there and they don't have to write them, they are not as engaged with the material. I do know that some teachers don't put all the material on the slides, which encourages students to add their own notes.

It was a natural jump from there to the tools we have actually used in the classroom. There was Diigo, and some students had major problems with it. The main problem seemed to have to do with the way it interacted with the databases we have access to at school. I solved that problem (I think), but too late for these students, who could not get back to articles they had marked. And I think that next semester I just have to take more time to familiarize students with the tool, as some this semester just found it confusing.

I need to do the same with Google Docs. Some pairs did not really take advantage of the collaborative aspects, but put their paper together and then pasted to Docs. In some cases they just found it confusing. One girl said that those who had used it for another teacher previously found it easy.

Some students just wished they could have done stuff on paper. They don't like reading on screens; they like to flip through the assignments they get back to read comments, not scroll. So much for the idea that all young people are digital natives who take to computer applications like a duck to water.

Even with so many complaints, I wasn't totally discouraged. One girl actually said that she liked Diigo. My basic conclusion for improving next semester: teach more of the tech.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow days

For the record, today is not a snow day, though hopes were high at the end of the school day yesterday. The roads were bad in the thick of it yesterday, but deemed clear enough today for us to all make the trek to school.

But here we are, and learning continues. If we were at home, classes would have been interrupted until Monday. But it doesn't have to be that way when your school has access to Moodle, and some teachers use DyKnow as well. The DyKnow teachers could be conducting classes in real time. Moodle can be a simple access point for assignments, but also offers chat and discussion options. We could really maintain the same schedule, just doing all that learning in our pajamas.

Here's a blog post about a school where "snow day" does not equal "no school day." I think it would be something worth exploring in my building. We generally do not have to make up our lost days as a private school. But is our goal to follow state laws, or is it to offer the fullest education opportunities possible to our students?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The department pln plan.

Had a discussion today about the PLN, and ways to connect with other teachers through Twitter, etc. I mentioned how I was in the process of trying to find more people who teach what I teach -- that is, some high school religion teachers. Finding ones who do tech would be nice, but connecting is not all about how to teach tech.

Someone came up with the idea of trying to start a Ning for religion teachers in our archdiocese. We could connect with people doing what we are doing in our own locale, and with them we could share resources and ideas.

I like!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Class evaluations

In three of my five classes, I am doing the class evaluation online with Google Forms. Nice! Two classes did theirs today, and it's cool to see the results at a glance. Just not sure if there's a way to repeat the deal starting from scratch next semester without having to redo the whole thing. Or, to just clear the results to start again.