Friday, January 7, 2011

The Power of Netflix in the Classroom

I spent the day watching documentaries for use in my classes.  Netflix makes life SOOO easy for teachers; I can get a documentary streaming in class in no time.  I watched 5 today, but really only thought two were worth using for class.

The two I liked most were National Geographic's China's Lost Girls and an independent documentary about a Columbian mother abandoned by her husband two weeks after arriving in the US, Entre Nos.

In CC English (college credit/dual enrollment), the students will be learning about what they can do to make this world a better place.  But, before they can make it a better place, they first have to see the issues. Living in the middle of nowhere doesn't really help; we aren't exposed to the national news or international landscape much.  The hope is to help students see that almost everything is connected, and that our choices impact the lives of others.

National Geographic's China's Lost Girls chronicles the journey of families as they go to China to adopt little girls abandoned because of the Chinese system of 1 child per household law.  Now there is a whole issue here that we won't discuss much in class, and that is China's policy.  While it is an important topic, the focus for our discussion will be why these families felt the need to adopt children living abroad instead of the hundreds of children stateside that need families.  There are reasons families choose international adoption over stateside adoption.  The students will have to figure out what those reasons are and try to brainstorm ideas about what needs to change in our adoption system to make stateside adoption more palatable (if that is possible).

Entre Nos illustrates the struggle of this young woman with two small children.  She is new to the country, and her husband just up and leaves her to go to Miami.  She is left alone in NYC with two children, 50 bucks, and very little English under her belt.  She can't go to public service because she probably didn't know it existed, and she has no friends or family to help her.  Her struggle is one of resilience, and students will examine the movie from the immigration point of view.  How do we treat immigrants?  We often hear about illegal immigrants, but what resources exist for legal immigrants?

The two movies are meant to spark discussion, and, combined with readings, students will be able to explore two topics that are likely foreign to them.  I can't wait to hear their ideas!

QR the Classroom????


I have fallen in love with QR codes.  If you point your QR reader on your smart phone to this image, you will get a link to the College English wiki.  Now, it seems silly to use a QR reader here in a blog,

BUT, what if...

- You went to the library at school, and inside the cover of Shakespeare's MacBeth, you could scan this (video summaries of MacBeth from 60secondrecap)?


- You were writing a research paper and presenting a poster of the teaching of feminism in high schools, and wanted visitors to find this awesome resource (FeministTeacher's Blog)?


- You wanted students to be able to download all of your lecture notes as a whole or as single entries like this (Jean-Claude Bradley's Orgo 1 videocast)?


QR codes are awesome tools to help people find good information quickly.  We are no longer bound by email, Facebook, or Twitter - we can print out QR codes and add them everywhere and anywhere.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lesson Planning 101

I love educational technology tools.  LOVE THEM.  Anything web 2.0 is my friend.  However, I can't use all of the tools, and, even if I could, when would I have time to correct comma splices?

I am trying to work out a system on preparing lessons.  There are tools that I love to use, and tools that I want students to use.

This is my system so far, but please feel free to offer advice!

Step 1: Check the Curriculum Map

We use pretty good Curriculum Mapping software at Oak Hill (Curriculum Mapper).  I am new to these sorts of tools because we don't really use them at the college level.  While there are course objectives that I always worked hard to meet, there is no real accountability.  Having one term under my belt, I realize that I need to look at that map more often.  While I was on track the whole time, I wasn't really thinking about archiving the materials there for use next year.

Lesson Plan Example:  In English 12, the students are on track to begin their unit on the British Enlightenment.

Step 2:  Break Up the Information

One of the disadvantages to being a professor first is that I have no idea what is a reasonable work load for a 10th grader.  I think it is totally reasonable to read a book in a week, but that, apparently, isn't very reasonable.  I am used to college students making stronger connections between characters and themes, but 10th graders really can't get there on their own.  It is my job to slow down and help them make these connections.  Breaking up information is a lot easier once you accept that it is OK to do it.  I don't need to cover every writer of the Enlightenment period (as I would in a British Literature I course at the college level).  I can pick one or two texts that truly exemplify the spirit of the age and help students invest themselves in learning every angle.

Lesson Plan Example:  In English 12, the students will read Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Pope's "Rape of the Lock."  

Step 3:  Focus, Focus, Focus

Once I decided which texts we would read, I needed to think about what I really want them to know at the end of the unit.  I am not much for dates, but it is important that the students recognize the difference between an African folk tale and an Indigenous American folk tale.  It is important that they can remember that literature surfaces in different genres and in different stylistic time periods.  They need to know the difference between fiction, non-fiction, and historical-fiction.  To meet this step, I need to do a few things.  First, I need to know what students already know about a time period.  For example, students usually know something about Shakespeare.  I use the free version of easytestmaker to create pre and post assessments.  Second, I need to make sure that their textbook actually has the full text of the literature we are covering (as I found out the hard way when doing the unit of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein).  Since most of what I cover is in the public domain, I usually head over to Project Gutenberg.  Third, I need to think about the assignments and assessments that will be expected while we are reading the work.  Finally, I need to know how the unit will close.

Lesson Plan Example:  In English 12, the students will take a pre-assessment on Satire.  Students will receive printed copies of both MP and ROTL since the textbook has short versions of both.  For MP, the students will complete a reading worksheet for homework and will work in teams of 2 to create their own "modern" modern proposals.  They will use Mixbook to illustrate and publish their stories.  For ROTL, students will complete 2 reading worksheets for homework and will work in teams of 4 to create satirical skits.  These will be broadcast over Ustream for parents to view.  At the end of the unit, students will write a 500-700 word compare/contrast essay on the use of satire in MP and ROTL.  They will also take a post-assessment exam.

Step 4:  Finalize Details

Getting the materials together for lessons is sometimes challenging for me.  At the college level,  I used Wikispaces to provide materials to students (tree hugger that I am), but we don't have internet access in our dorms, so I must use paper.  I must make sure everything is printed and ready to go.  Because I work on a Mac at home and have a PC at school, I use DropBox to share files.  I organize my files for each week in a folder, zip it, and then drop it into the Drop Box.  At school, I download and unpack the zip file, print masters, and run them off. 

Lesson Plan Example:  For English 12, I have already sent my zip file to the drop box.  I will print out copies of the texts, assessments, and worksheets on Sunday afternoon.

Step 5:  Revisit the Mapper

Once the lesson is complete, I will revisit the mapper and load all of the documents into it.  I will reflect in my journal about what went well and what needs improvement.

Image Credit: Brandy Shaul

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Camp BRG Force: Teaching, Learning, and Laughing

Since I don't have a budget to travel and go to the many conferences I once attended, I decided to use my week off before the students get back to have my own personal conference (or "un-conference," which is really still a conference, eh?).  The price is right - free, and I get to listen to what I want, review what I want, read what I want, and visit the vendor hall as often as I want (that would also be known as the Kindle Store or Ebay).

Today, I have been focusing on materials I can use in the classroom.  In English 10, we will be reading Taming of the Shrew for the next few weeks.  I am really excited, and have found many terrific resources on line.  In CC English 12, we will first be looking at Ursula LeGuin's "Those Who Walk Away from Omelas" and comparing the story to modern examples of dystopic behavior (specifically, child labor).  We will move from there to a study of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and then we will move on to Dante's Inferno.  In my other section of 12, we will begin with the love letters of Keats and move toward Austen.  In programming, we will kick off with programming some Android Apps and move from there to writing straight Java.  For the literary magazine, we will take on a whole new look and attitude this year (seeing as I am new).

So, how did today's conference go, you ask.  I spent a lot of time reading materials on blogs, pouring through excellent lists of resources, creating worksheets, handouts, and testing free programs for the lit magazine.  I listened to some inspiration TED talks, I ate an entire bowl of popcorn, and I pondered what I want my students to have in their heads at the end of May.

In the jacuzzi earlier, I decided that I want my students to love language.  I want them to use words that express what they want to say; I want them to be able to write a love note like John Keats to Fanny Brawne.  I want them to have, at their disposal, a language that can transform them from helpless children into expressive young adults.  I want them to love books and stories and characters and plots.  I want them to get angry, cry, laugh, and embrace the words that come to them on the page.  I want them to be inspired by a beautiful language.

At conferences, I am always inspired.  Today, the works of others, the musings of my Twitter PLN, and the memories of my own loves and losses have inspired me to want to inspire them.

Image Source: Firetongue8

Monday, January 3, 2011

Talking about a Resolution

I stopped making resolutions years ago; they often fill me with a panic and a shame spiral that is not necessary.  All resolutions should be permanent.  Year Round.

BUT...I do have some goals that are neatly tied to the upcoming term.  In addition to trying to get the weekly high score in Zuma Blitz on Facebook and creating the best-city-ever on Cityville, I have some really focused goals for the classroom.

The advantage to teaching for years at the college level is that I have a good sense of what professors want from students.  This knowledge is valuable as I approach the high school classroom.  I know where I want the students to BE at the end of the road.

The disadvantage, of course, is that I have never dealt with discipline issues.  Classroom management only ever meant "leave the room tidy for the next professor."  So, my first goal is to work on classroom management, and, to get there, I have adopted these strategies:

1.  I will continue to publish all of my weekly work on a Monday Assignment Sheet (MAS). I started doing this at the start of the year, and it really helps students to stay focused on what is expected during the week.

2.  I will publish all directions.  Students often forget what is expected, so I will give them exactly what I expect for every assignment.

3.  I will continue to provide rubrics for major assignments.

4.  I will check every little bit of work assigned.  I do this, mostly, but sometimes I forget, and I want to be better about it.

5.  I will provide a showcase of good and improved work.  Praising students blindly isn't helpful, but giving praise to accomplishments can be a great motivational tool.

So, this year I am focused on creating lifelong learners through appropriate classroom management.  Do you have any tips to share?

Wondersay Rocks!

Wondersay is an awesome tool; I plan to use it to get the students focused when they enter class.

Here is an example:

made on Wondersay - Animate text with style

A New Logo....Trying out Logomaker

logo design

I am trying out  logomaker, and it is super simple to use, but it gets you in the end when you have to actually buy it to use it anywhere except on the web. But, it is nice anyway, and it is fun to play with at 5:48 in the morning.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The First Post: Teaching with BRG

I have other blogs - Beth's Second Life is probably the most well travelled, but I don't use Second Life much in the classroom at the high school level, so I don't post there.

As part of my "Be a Better Teacher" resolution, I am starting a fresh new blog over here. We'll see how it goes. Moving from the comforts of the college classroom to the chaos of the high school classroom has been absolutely rewarding, awesome, and meaningful. There are days when it is frustrating, and I doubt my senses; there are other days when everything works, clicks, and I realize that I am really "part of the change I hope to see in this world."

Right now I am planning for the next term. I am also reviewing tools that have come along my Twitter or Diigo feeds. I love to try new products and test them out. Today, I tried and, truly, it is an awesome place to get some very cool fonts.

#engchat, #edchat, #EdTech