Thursday, June 16, 2011

School's out

Actually, we've been "out" for over almost two weeks, our earliest ending time in all the years I've taught at this school. But there's no being "done" for months anymore. On my list of things to do this summer: Re-do a course to incorporate material to relate to the CBL we will be doing. Work out some of the details of the project itself. Start to prep the course I will teach that will utilize a new textbook following the Bishops' curricular framework. See if there is a book to replace the text that I just found out will be discontinued for a third course I teach. And, whether the answer is yes or no to that, find more online resources for the course.

As well: read some blogs, and keep up with discussions on our staff wiki about refreshing the look of the building.

A teacher's work is never done!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Google Documents

First of all, here we are getting close to the end of the year and I asked my two frosh classes how many had experience with Google Docs, and probably one third to one half raised hands, which I think says something about what is going on in our school. Each of the seven groups ended up with at least one person who knew what to do. I think I had to help exactly one person get signed on to her group's document, because she was logged onto a Google account with a different e-mail address.

Secondly, even when I am not doing an official "CBL" I find myself thinking in that direction, and so I had my students who are exploring sacraments asking questions first and also documenting their thinking and research on a doc so that I can see the work in progress and get a glimpse into their collaboration.

Lastly: I love Docs. I can't be with every group all the time. In class I floated from group to group. But this morning I took a look at the documents and got a very good idea of what they've done and in what directions they are thinking.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Once in a while, not terribly often, we will have problems with our server or internet connection or some such thing on a school day, but generally only for a short period of time before the IT people figure out what's what and we get back on track.

This time was different. This time we lost our connection to the outside world for around twenty-four hours. Nor could we get into school systems from the outside. I had a pretty free evening last night because the things I needed to do required connecting to either Moodle, our school grading system or school e-mail, and none of that was possible. This morning we traded stories about the effects of the deprivation, much like people do after a power outage.

During the day we could not get to outside websites, but we were able to do all the things I mentioned above within the building. So I got somewhat caught up. In classes then, I used actual paper for a handout some students couldn't get to on Moodle for some reason. And instead of going online to research saints, we used more old-fashioned resources, which worked fine.

But we were all glad, I think, to get our connection back. Some of us have become more dependent on it, perhaps, than we had realized.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

More about Photostory

I like Photostory for Windows very much. Animoto is cool, and easier, but Photostory gives more control.

A couple of weeks ago I shot some photos of my two freshmen classes, and very quickly that evening put them together into a Photostory to show classes the next day, just to introduce them to the program.

They loved it, of course.

The frosh project

My second-semester freshman turned in their projects about Jesus yesterday. Well, most of them. Technical problems are being worked out in a couple of cases. It's sort of like a take-home essay test because I structure the content fairly rigidly. But they're free as birds in the case of format. I don't teach the tech. I tell them to choose something they are comfortable with (everyone can do Word), or something they want to explore.

There are many Word documents, but several in Publisher, too. I'm impressed at how easily ninth-graders who have never used Publisher can figure it out and turn out beautiful products.

I have at least one video, and I haven't watched it yet, but I look forward to it. It's supposedly about eight minutes long, partly because John the Baptist (a student's dad) took his part and ran with it. Or so I'm told.

Photostory is a little less intuitive than Publisher, I guess, but I have at least one of those to look forward to once the kinks are worked out. The variety of formats helps to make the grading process less tedious for me.

Detroit projects update

The "Detroit" group met yesterday to discuss current projects. Not everything is "CBL," but it's good stuff. Students in a short story class interviewed people who grew up in Detroit or live there now to hear their storied and, I think, to incorporate them into their own writing. A Spanish teacher plans a field trip to talk to people in the southwest part of the city where a largely hispanic population resides. Our group talked about how there is a fear of the unknown among some suburban families, and providing opportunities to connect with people they might not otherwise meet could make a difference in their attitudes about the city.

As for me, the course I'm planning for is not in my schedule again until next year, so I have only ideas swirling around in my head for now.

Not my CBL update

Last week I got an invitation to be part of a panel to listen to the presentation of previously mentioned AP Gov students of their project on health care. Other panelists will include folks in the fields of health and insurance. It's on a Sunday, and it's beyond my job description as a Monday-Friday teacher, but I am happy to go. I want to support what these students are doing and learning, yes. But I think I will learn some things myself!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Not my CBL

Today I sent a link to an article in today's local paper to some students, just in case they might find it useful for a project they are doing. I've done things like that before, but the difference is, the project is not for my class.

As our school moves forward trying to incorporate CBL into the curriculum, there have been some "hiccups" to be sure. But there has been growth, too. One area has to do with conversations and collaborations taking place among teachers of different departments and even staff members who do not teach. Because I have been very aware of the current AP Government CBL, I have asked some of my students about it when it became clear from their conversations that they are are part of the effort.

To be truthful, not every student is entirely filled with enthusiasm, as was the case in my own venture last semester. But when the spark of learning catches fire, it's a great thing to watch.

Another student is not currently in my own classes, but asked to interview me because of my own experiences with her issue. When I saw her again later, she was excited to tell me some of what she had planned in the way of research. She was positively effervescent about the learning experience she and her group had taken charge of. Her enthusiasm fanned the flames of my own curiosity, and I've already told her I would like to see her group's presentation down the road, since the class is during my prep period. I already know that the teacher will welcome me into the class.

Department lines are getting blurred just a bit, as our faculty and staff begin to see we can encourage our students' learning even beyond our own areas.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More about CBL

In professional development sessions with groups of about fifteen faculty and staff members once every six school days, we are wordsmithing challenges that we hope to integrate into the curriculum next year if not before. The groups for each specific challenge were formed in November, so in some ways it seems like we haven't made much progress yet in over two months.

To me it highlights the importance of getting the challenge right.

In the project I did last semester, the challenge I gave the girls was "too amorphous," borrowing words from our CBL guru Larry Baker. In effect, I was really giving each group the responsibility of forming their own challenge. I don't think it's a bad idea if time is not a factor. But considering the importance of a well-formulated challenge and the difficulty of crafting one (at least by those not steeped in CBL), I can see that next time I need to bring the students in a little farther down the road.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reflection on the Justice and Peace project

The mantra in my head during the last weeks of the project process was inspired by a colleague at a meeting a few weeks ago: "I am not afraid of failure." Not that I was worried or anything...

The projects were complete and presented earlier in the new year, and I don't think they failed. One goal was for a "richer" experience for my students than what last year's final project in the class provided. Goal achieved. I hoped to understand better how the CBL process works. Mission accomplished. And along the way I witnessed good thinking, enthusiasm about topics such as community, environment and abortion, and good learning -- about those content areas, technology, and about, well, learning.

But there was room for improvement. The quality of the "solutions" was uneven, though as the presentations were carried out, I saw some good research, some good design, some creativity. At times directions were not followed. Some creative ideas were left by the wayside due to procrastination or for other reasons. Some groups did not take their efforts as far as they could've, would've, should've.

I feel that I discussed the project well enough in class, nudged and prodded, offered feedback and clear directions and guidelines. But those guidelines were not always met. So, based on my own reflection and feedback solicited from students, what will I do differently next time?

1. Maybe I won't present it all at once. Students seemed confused at first by what the "solution" would entail. Maybe I will just have them ask the questions and seek the information and then ask, "What are you going to do with this?" I'm not sure about this yet.

2. Be even more of a cheerleader. And be more insistent about thinking "outside the box" (cliche, I know). Make clearer that "variety of sources" does not mean "different websites."

3. Verify that my written feedback is getting through. I wrote comments on Google docs, but I'm not really certain, now that I think of it, that they were read. I assumed too much.

4. Be more insistent about students documenting roles, responsibilities and deadlines. I feel that our students are used to getting things done by hook or by crook, and all that matters to them is having a final product by a final deadline. It wasn't clear to them that for me, the process was important, too (though it should have been clear, and more so for the 25% or so who actually accessed the rubric provided well in advance on Moodle). For some, collaboration skills are lacking. You can't complain that your classmate let you down if you and your classmate did not reach an agreement about what she would be responsible for.

5. Have another look at the timeline. Too much time? Too little? Most students seemed comfortable with the time given, but I saw them working toward the end of deadlines. One group wished they had learned about the project early in the semester.

Surprisingly, the technology aspect was not too troublesome. I had, I think, two students come to me with issues regarding uploading material. But I also had students editing video and creating websites, in some cases without previous experience.

I don't teach this course in the current semester, so I'll have a while before I go at this particular assignment again, and it's going to have a different flavor. I am in an interdisciplinary collaboration of my own with colleagues who will focus in various classes on "re-imagining Detroit." I'm excited to see where that may lead... next year.

Calendars galore

Even as a teacher interested in ways that technology can help the classroom experience, there is one area that I had been avoiding: calendars. Some teachers make homework assignments available online. I resisted at first, just as I resisted when our school tried to implement a homework hotline that made the information available during after-school hours. My reasoning was that if I tell students verbally and write it on the board, that should be enough. Having the information available at all times gave students an excuse not to pay attention in class.

Which seems a bit silly now, of course.

What changed my mind was that there are always a number of absent students. And now instead of students coming to class and asking, "what did I miss?" I more often have e-mails. After responding to plenty of those over time, I decided there must be a better way. So, for a while I tried to remember to post assignments in a particular spot on Moodle. (Moodle has a calendar feature, but since I don't have different sections separated out, it won't do the job for me). That didn't last too long.

Now, after trying out a couple of personal calendars on Google, I am doing a full-fledged experiment with Google calendars for homework. One for each class. We'll see if I can get into the groove and remember to post, once a week, as I do my plans. I hope it will save time overall, with fewer e-mails to respond to.