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.