Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My Favorite Poetry Project, 8th Grade-Style

A few years ago I stumbled onto the My Favorite Poem Project, who has produced about 50 or so videos of people reciting well known poems and talking about how that poem intersects with their life. This one was the first video of I saw, where a man named John Ulrich read and discussed We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Books.

I remember thinking about how I would bring this to my students.  There was no "if" because in these videos was something captured about poetry that my students, and everyone else, needs: an understanding that poetry isn't just about analyzing figurative language, word choice, and (ugh) answering multiple choice questions; reading poetry is about finding ways to articulate the complexity of the human experience. Finding a new lens to see the world or perhaps the words that capture what you've felt but never been able to say.

Anyone who teaches middle school knows about the strange and complex place students are working their way through, and, like these videos show, poetry, even written in a different time and place and circumstance, has the power to help one make sense of the world and feel a bit less alone.

For the last two years I just played around with this idea, having students pick out classic and contemporary poems, recite them to the class, and explain how that poem spoke to them. This year we took the leap to make the project multi-modal and digital, producing our own version of My Favorite Poem Project videos.

We spent plenty of time reading and discussing poetry, and students did quite a bit of exploring on their own to find just the right poems. They wrote and thought about how and why that poem worked for them, and did a little scripting/story-boarding. They used the Chromebooks' webcams and the video editing software WeVideo. And, after spending way more time than I initially planned (crazy how kids so used to selfies and Shapchat are terrified of recording their image or voice), the results were epic.

Today we viewed each others finished videos gallery crawl style (most didn't feel comfortable posting them to their blog), and in these videos my students had the chance to see one other, life, poetry, and all the connections in between in cool new ways. It was what teaching poetry should be about.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Launching 8th graders into the Twitterverse

Twitter has been invaluable for me for my own professional learning. It's enabled me to follow my interests and interact with like-minded teachers around the world. Much of what happens in my classroom in some way connects back to my own activity in the Twitterverse, for example through shared resources or discussions with other educators, but it wasn't until this year that I finally decided to make the leap and invite my students, just old enough to legally use social media, to join me.

What I envisioned was that we would use Twitter as a space to both connect with each other as learners and speak into existing conversations in the world, tweeting beyond the walls of the classroom. I wanted this experience to be one where students learned how to use social media responsibly by actually using social media, not just being lectured about it.  I wanted this experience to be a significant step for my students' digital footprint, creating an impression that reflects positively on them, showing them a engaged and saavy 21st century activists.

It's a lofty goal, and one that is worthwhile for schools. And while this isn't a new realization, it's taken me quite some time to get to the point of implementation because I knew that inviting students to use social media would invite scrutiny. Parents and administrators would have questions and concerns. How would I monitor what students did? How would I ensure that students are kept safe? How will academic content fit in with social media? Do I even know what I am doing on twitter?

Here is a letter that I wrote to parents where I both answered the above questions and guided parents in how to be connected and involved.  I sent this home one month ago, and in just that time twitter has had a transformative effect on the learning that my students are doing in class.  I in my next post, I'll share more about what's happened. But, in the meantime, you can keep up with my classes conversation on twitter at #kmseagles--like, reply, and/or retweet to join us!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Teaching kids to curate

Quite a bit of what I read online are pieces that have been remixed and re-purposed.  It’s content that has been taken from various places on the web, then collected and organized, or “curated,” by someone other than the original author of that content.  It’s a form of composition that is definitely real-world, but until this year, it wasn't a format I had given much thought to inviting my students to write.  

Asking student writers to curate, though, is a worthwhile venture.

In addition to being an authentic, curation also has value because it gives students a chance to engage with web stuff differently than the passive-reader role we often ask them to take on.  When we invite our students to curate, they can speak back to and narrate the importance of what others have posted.  We enable them to view web content as a conversation where they can participate and invite others to listen in.

In the case of my class, the content that I planned to ask students to curate was their classmates’ work posted in a g+ community, titled Making STEAM, that we and several other schools use to share our STEAM focused “makes.” I wanted students to “round-up” collections of pieces that were unique, important, or spoke to them in some way, thus giving greater depth to what was happening in this online space.  Through writing and sharing round-ups, students' words would narrate unique stories of learning taking place, and conversely, student makers would see new significance to the content they posted by seeing it reflected and discussed by their classmates.

The challenge for me was figuring out how to teach curation as particular form of composition.  Like any other type of writing, it’s a form with a certain set of conventions.  I needed to familiarize my students with them and craft an assignment that contained enough parameters to guide but without the rigidity that could limit creativity and the myriad of exciting directions that this activity could take.

My plan went something like this:

Part 1: Inquiry into Round-Up (35 minutes)

I shared the following set of round-up posts with students, and assigned them each one to read. As they read, I asked them to think about what the writer is doing in this piece.

   Tuesday Round-Up: Marshawn Lynch calls into 'The Barbershop' on 710 ESPN Seattle

  The Weekly Round Up (from the Rhode Island Monthly Newsletter)

After reading, students met with others who read the same post and discuss:
  • What was the post about?
  • How was it organized?

Each group took a turn presenting their responses to these questions to the class, and students not in that group pulled up the post being discussed on their computers so that they could see the post the group was talking about.  Students could also share aspects that they noticed the group left out of their presentation.

After all groups presented and all students were exposed to all roundups, students got back into groups to discuss:
  • What did the round-ups have in common?
  • How were the round-ups different?
  • What sort of things happen in a round-up
  • What doesn’t happen in a round-up?

Share out and make a list on butcher paper of the last two bullets.  Below is a typed up version of what one of my classes came up with:

Round-ups do:
-explain what is being rounded up
-have a point, focus, or argument
-use stuff made by other people
-include text, images, tweets, videos
-have hyperlinks to sources used
Round-ups don’t:
-have random, disconnected stuff
-have long paragraphs
-use really formal language
-use really informal language
-contain spelling errors
-have outdated news

Part 2: Making STEAM Round-up Writing  (1-2 hours)

I explained to students that they would be creating their own round-ups, curating the content posted in our G+ community.  This assignment was about them telling the story of something important that they noticed happening in what people were doing and saying in the Making STEAM community. It was up to them to decide which posts they would select and what they would say about them.  

These were the requirements I gave them (the amount of artifacts and to include was something that we negotiated as a class):

Write a post that curates a collection of postings made in our G+community.
Should include:
  • 3-5 (5-7 if with a partner) posts from the Making STEAM community (screenshots and links)
  • Your commentary on those posts (what they have in common, what you find interesting about them, why they matter, etc)
Format: You decide--Google Slideshow, Google Doc, Prezi, Blog Post,  something else?
Publish your roundup on G+ Making STEAM community under the “Curation and Reflection” category.  Include a brief description of what your round-up is about and be sure to tag any students whose work you featured in it (type +their name).

I also shared this doc with them as a reference for the requirements of the assignment and a how-to of posting to g+


After two days of students mostly working by themselves, and sometimes with partners, most completed roundups and had them posted in our g+ space under the category of curation and reflection. As I had hoped, these round-ups took all sorts of directions (though most students chose to use the same tool (Google Slides) to create them.  
My next project is to round-up these round-ups, examining the sorts of things that students did through them.  Stay tuned….

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Google Classroom--From Tinkering to Committing, and Reflecting

For about the last five years I've been fully committed to using Google applications with my students.  From Sites, to Docs, to Chrome, to Blogger, I've found the the Google ecosystem can work pretty well to support all different aspects of learning.  So, of course, when I caught wind of Google Classroom, I enlisted the help of my students to help me figure out if and how it could work.

Like with any new web tool, at first, I'm a tinkerer...and while each tool is different, there's a certain process that I'll typically go through.  I'll try it out myself, signed in as a student.  Then, maybe I'll have a student who finishes an assignment early try it out and report back to me.  And, depending how that goes, I'll determine the next steps to take.

With Google Classroom, the initially tinkering I did went pretty smoothly, but I continued with this tinker-er mindset a bit longer because, well, Google Classroom was more than a web tool that I may have students use to compose a project.  Classroom could be THE web tool that would connect just about everything else digital that students did in my classroom. This is a quite a commitment, and, after a couple of months of feeling it out, it's one that I'm happy to make.

I'd like to devote this post to writing a bit about why I'm sold on Google Classroom, as well share a little of my thinking about what it enables and constrains.

Prior to this year, I had been playing with the idea of shared folders in Drive for class assignments.  Creating and sharing folders for each class and different assignments where students could "turn-in" work.  This wasn't ideal for a classroom environment (for a few reasons that I'm not going to go in here), but I did like how it created a shared digital space for students' work that also took advantage of the features of Drive.  Google Classroom takes this organization method a bit further, making everything more tightly integrated. Assignments are easily distributed, progress is easily tracked and feedback is simple to give, and everything is stored in Drive.

Below are a few ways that Google Classroom has already changed things for me:

Type up an assignment on a Doc, and Classroom will make each
students a copy that gets stored in Drive and can be easily 
turned in when students are finished. 
  • Making the paperless workflow smoother. While I like the idea of using technology make much of the classroom paperless, most of what I've tried has felt disjointed for me (and for students as well, I'm sure).  I've struggled to find a simple and organized way to keep track of assignments, attach grades and meaningful feedback, and post resources.  Google Classroom has changed that, as it provided us a single space in  that allows for both posting and turning in multiple types of digital files. I can post assignment that contain resources from Drive, the web, or my computer.  I can make a handout in Docs, attach it to an assignment, and with one click have Classroom make a copy of that Doc for each individual student so they can type on it and turn it in when they are done (a cool turn in button appears on the top of the Doc!).  
    Classroom allows for multiple types of
    files to be attached and shared by the
    teacher, or turned
    in by students
  • Broadening students'  use of digital tools. What I especially like is that the work students' turn in is not limited to that created in Drive.  I can let students create a project using any digital tool they like, as Classroom also gives students' the option of turning in their work as a link. 
  • Increased flexibility.  A big part of the reason why I don't always have multiple assignments and projects going on in my room at once is that I just can't keep up.  Maybe it's because organization has never been my strong point, but it seems that whenever I let my learners lead me and have the tasks grow organically (something that I often do), I eventually find myself at a place where I'm not quite sure what's happening where, who is starting and who is finishing, which end is up, and which is down. Of course, I still put myself in this position from time to time anyway during the school year because this is when the best learning happens. But now, with Classroom, I can dive headfirst into the mix more often and let Google sort it all out. 

There is a lot more that Google could do to Classroom to make it function more like classroom network sites such as Schoology or Edmodo, but taking it too far in that direction would compromise it's greatest asset....simplicity.  Simplicity keeps the learning curve small for teachers and students, simplicity allows it to meet a wider array of teacher needs, and simplicity enables it to both stand on it's own or be integrated into a teachers existing digital hub.

I hope that Google decides to keep Classroom simple.  Of course, it will evolve in response to the needs of teachers and functionality of technology.  I've already sent them quite a few suggestions, a couple of which I've seen them quickly adopt. Below are a few others that I'd also like to see that I think could work while still maintaining the platform's simplicity.
  • Integration with forms.  I frequently use Google forms for class assignments (quizzes, surveys, exit tickets), but in classroom a form cannot be added from Drive as an assignment.  Rather, the form has to be added as a link.  This may not seem like a big deal (I didn't think that it was, at first), but it has caused quite a bit of confusion on the part of my students because when the open the form and complete it, the assignment is still marked as unfinished.  If I give an assignment as a Document, a button appears on the document that the student can press to turn it in, and when they do, the assignment is marked as turned-in on their Classroom dashboard.  It's a cool feature and it's what students are used to.  It would be even cooler if forms could be made to work this way too. 
  •  A customizable notification system. (connect to the idea of differentiation and flexibility discussed above).  I don't want my email inbox filled up with notifications of students turning in work.  That something that has annoyed the heck out of me with other teacher workflow tools.  But, in classroom, if a student turns in an assignment late, I have no way of knowing apart from the student telling me or going back and checking old assignments.  
  • Integration with add-ons and scripts.  I'm just now figuring out the beauty that is the world of add-ons and scripts in Docs.  For example, I use the Flubaroo script to instantly grade assignments that give through a Google Form, and currently I'm getting ready to try out Doctopus and Goobric to attach completed rubrics to students' work in Classroom (here is the tutorial that inspired me).  It's all really exciting technology, and it'd be even more exciting if Classroom were to integrate it within its ecosystem.
  •  An app  Before I could publish this post, this changed.  The Google Classroom apps are now available in iTunes and for Android.  Woot woot! I've got them both freshly downloaded and will be tinkering with them in class next week. 

As I've mentioned at the start of this post, I'm sold on Google Classroom.  They've got a winner with it, and I'm sure that teachers will realize it.  In a lot of ways, it's what I've been searching for since the first post I published on this blog in '08 (really...it is....read it).


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Chromebook learning curve

Initially, my students' response to the Chromebooks was mixed.  Some were excited about the opportunity to use new and unfamiliar technology.  Others wanted nothing more than to have their iPads back in their hands.

But after two days of using Chromebooks, just about all of my students are team on Team Chromebook.  That's not so say that novelty or peer influence isn't a significant variable affecting students' present attitudes.  I'm sure that it is.  This transition, and pretty much universal shift in opinion, is significant though.  That's what this post is about.

The Chromebook is different than anything my students have seen before.  It's not a tablet or mobile device.  It's not a laptop or netbook.  There is no server or locally stored files and programs.   The touchpad and keyboard navigation isn't completely foreign, but it's different enough to be just a bit confusing and a little bit weird.

Initially, I thought that I would just allow students to figure out how to navigate their Cromebooks as they used them...sort of like I did when we started out with iPads. But, in a last minute decision, I decided against that approach.  Not all the features of the device are easily learned through tinkering and intuition, and students would also want to play around with this new technology.  I decided to postpone the lesson I had planned (which involved students using the devices for some web research), and have students do an activity that would give them the opportunity to learn how to use their Chromebooks.

That Chromebook 101 activity was a scavenger hunt that I modified from this one I found on the web.  I tweaked the original to better fit with how I envisioned using the device with my class.  I'd like to shake the hand of whoever made it because it's awesome.  It introduces students to the navigational features of the Chromebook, the capacities of Google Drive, and...importantly, it guides students in playing around with the one feature they are most interested in using: tweaking their profile picture and background.

When I completed the activity, it took me about 20 minutes.  I figured an hour for my students, since they were completely new to Chromebooks and they could work in groups.  It ended up taking two hours, but it was two hours very well spent because it enabled both the students and I to quickly work through the initial learning curve and gain a sense of control over these new devices as well as a sense of the cool stuff that can be accomplished through them.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Two years ago, when I learned that I would be receiving a set of iPads, my classroom use of and personal learning about technology underwent a paradigm shift.  It was a process that, from the beginning, I was exited about.  It led me down the pathway where I was able to learn about iStuff (before this, my experience was limited to the pc/andriod realm), teaching with mobile devices, and composition across platforms and apps.

Now, I'm finding myself an another (really, really, really exciting) spot where I'm going to be able to figure out how to make Chromebooks fit into teaching and learning, as I was recently told that my class was selected to pilot a class set of them for the district.

Before I begin writing about what is sure to be my next edtech paradigm shift, there is a secret that I need to share.  One that I have never before told anyone...

Back when I was told that I would be receiving a set of iPads, part of me was a little sad. I was at a place where I could have a set of netbooks in my room on most days.  I was excited about how well different Google apps were working in my teaching, and I was feeling like I had a great handle on making technology work really well in my classroom.  I felt like I found excellent balance of different Google apps,  a host of web tools, and a whole lot of writing.  I had also just began using the Chrome browser more purposefully in my class, teaching students how to make different Chrome extensions work for them.

With the iPads, the typing required for large scale writing assignments would become arduous, and since most the web tools I had been using didn't work (or at least not as well) on the mobile device, I would have to go out and find free apps that would sort of do the same thing.  The iPad was new and shiny, I definitely would have liked them in my students hands for some tasks, but I was worried that if they were the sole device my students could use then the pace and quality of students learning (and my teaching) with technology would slow way down.

Around the time when I found out that I was receiving iPads, I heard about these devices that had just hit the market called Chromebooks.  They cost way less then iPads, were purposed around the Chrome browser and Google apps, and would seamlessly fit into the system I had going in my class.  I secretly wished that it was these devices that my students would be receiving instead.  This is something  which I have never told a soul, because as any teacher knows: you just don't complain about getting a class set of iPads. You just don't.


Of course, as I learned about the capabilities of iPads, my attitude towards these mobile devices changed. There was plenty that they could do that a netbook couldn't (or just couldn't do as well), and I was really starting to like the way that these features were reshaping my class.

It was about the time that I was feeling pretty glad about not telling anyone about my initial doubts about iPads, that I got an email from my district's tech person that I would be receiving a class set of Chromebooks as part of a pilot, and that the iPads I had been using would be relocated to another classroom.

Part of me wants to keep in my initial feelings (a lesson I found valuable in the anecdote above). But a bigger part of me knows that I should write them down, because I think that it would have been really valuable of me do more of this the last time.

I'm not going to get into all the particular details about what I'm thinking about doing with the Chromebooks. Those will have to go in their own post later.  My initial feelings, I think, are what I want to get down here. So yea,  I'm a little sad to no longer have the set of iPads in my classroom.  That my students won't be using all these cool creation apps and smashing them together to compose, and I won't be continuing to read and write into an educators' conversation that I feel like I'm just getting to know and find a place in.

So now that that's said, documented, and out of the way, I also need to say that the other 80 percent of my initial feelings are pure excitement.  I'm excited that my students get to pilot new technology for the school, That I can re-immerse myself in the thinking I was doing about the Chrome browser. My students can access the full version of Google Apps and type on a full keyboard (which, by the way, almost all of my students swear up and down that the prefer to type on a touch screen...having watched them do this for a couple of years, I'm really interested in seeing how they write with physical keys).

Lastly, and most importantly, I'm excited because I know that there is so much I don't know about Chromebooks in the middle school ELA classroom, and that is soon about to change.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From Blogger to Kidblog to G+ and now...back to Blogger

Blogging serves an important purpose in my class...it has for the last five years or so, and I've written quite a bit about it.  At first, I had my students use Blogger because I wanted them on a real, public blog. I wanted the to be able to feel the same sort of experience that I have with composing my ideas to the world.  But two years ago, this changed. I made the switch for my students over to Kidblog. Blogger was great, but Kidblog afforded me something that I couldn't get with blogger: a stream of student posts as they were published that all students were able to see, as well as the complete ability to moderate students posts, drafts, and comments.  I tried to make the shared visibility piece work with Blogger through teaching my students how to use Google Reader and to follow each other's blogs, but considering the death of Google Reader (and the limited success I had with teaching students to use it) I gave in, adopted the Kidblog platform, and haven't looked back.
In tinkering with Google+ in my classes this year, though, I've made a few discoveries that have got me contemplating the move for my students back over to Blogger.
Tinkering with Google +
At first this year, Google+ was an experiment. My students and I are involved in a collaboration with a couple other schools and this work would require the creation and sharing of all sorts of media...text, images, videos. A private G+ community was the space that we all planned on using to make that sharing and connecting possible.
Google + worked well for this purpose. Really well, actually. Here are a few of the high points I noted about using it:
  • Upload speeds were super quick, if not immediate.
  • Students were able to include text with the content they posted. So, for example , they could post an image of their project and type in commentary about image in their post.
  • The display of the content feed allowed students to quickly browse through and view the work of their classmates without having to open individual links.
  • Viewers can comment on posts as well as +1 them, giving authors two ways to receive feedback on their content posted.
  • Notifications. Love this feature because of how well it keeps users connected to related activity in our digital space.  Someone posts in the community, students receive a notification. Someone leaves a comment or +1, the poster gets a notification. Someone gets mentioned in another post or comment, the person mentioned receives a notification.  Notifications allow a tighter community to happen in a vast digital world.
Of course there are also some drawbacks. Even though we operate in closed communities that I have the ability to moderate, G+ is an open social network with all sorts of activities happening on it. Because of this I have to be real clear with students about my expectations for use and monitor them closely as they use it.  This makes for a little more work on my end.  I have had to have a few individual conversations already with students about appropriate use of the site in school, and I’ve had to be more active in teaching safe and responsible social media use. This is something schools should be teaching anyway, though, and what better teaching context for these skills is there than a real-world social network.  This is the same truth that drove me (initially) to use Blogger.  It is what causes me to feel a little bit bad about switching my students over to Kidblog, and it’s part of what’s causing me now to consider having them switch back.
Rethinking Blogger
In addition to the needs that G+ is already meeting for my class, I think it may also provide a solution to one of the main reasons I veered from Blogger in the first place. This being making student posts readily accessible to classmates as they get published.  Both Blogger and G+ are Google products, and Blogger makes it easy to share a post on Google+ as soon as the publish button is pressed.
If G+ works for other types of media sharing in my class, why not also integrate student blogs?  Students can publish their posts on Blogger, and select the option to share on G+ in the community I’ve created for my classes. Doing so puts their published writing in a place where it can easily be read by students in the class, and because of how the two sites are connected activity on the posts (+1, comments) on one platform is visible in the other.
This, I’m hoping, would give students real experience and skills with using real tools for composing, connecting, and learning in the types of social environments that people use in the real world...not just in a closed school community.  I’m looking forward to piloting this move to Blogger and G+ sharing with my first period class next week. 

The experience will surely give me plenty to reflect on in my next post here….