Monday, 31 October 2011

The Google Docs Adventure

It's time to ratchet things up a bit.  So far I've been using a few generic tech tools in the class to help increase engagement.  I've found a deep love of prezi - something about the option to spin the words around and have things zoom in and out from various directions seems to be far more effective than power point.  Students can sit through 20 minutes of power point ... and it seems that 40 minutes are possible with prezi.  But for next week, I've decided to take the plunge.

Google Docs.  We've seen them used in the class so I convinced my associate that we could save a class by using them.  As part of the war of 1812, I'm having the students prepare short write-ups on various players in the war.  Originally, Tuesday was going to be a computer room day, they'd print off their report on a person and then on the next day our students would travel from desk to desk copying out notes on other peoples' people.  Also, I now see the full value of the class website.

Step one will be a short introduction to google docs - how to create one and set up the sharing so others can read it.  Along with that will be a master sheet of reports so students have ready access to others' reports in one place.  I was dreading the thought of passing along the a google docs link for the master sheet until I remembered my website is a far easier url to access.  So, my assignments page now has the link to the master sheet, the actual assignment and the list of people to pick from.  My previous uses of technology (videos, games) were great for engagement, but now I see the other value of technology - saving time by using it more effectively.

Also, the website is wonderful.  It's a great feeling knowing that students who are away on a day, or missed a couple points in a presentation, have complete access to anything that occurred the day before.  I've only received one minor complaint about my website - I was a day late posting one of the assignments for ancient civ and a student caught me.  And as much as I was kicking myself for getting caught, I had to smile ... they're actually using it.

Sorry for the lack of pictures and links here - I'm posting on borrowed time.  As much as I'm ecstatic that my associate was comfortable enough with my teaching to toss me a second class so quickly, setting up a new website and brushing up on American history has put me behind the 8-ball.  So, with hopes that I haven't posted this here before ... the history of English (part 1)

Oops - forgot to add that having the 12 workplace history students do their presentations using goanimate was an incredible success.  They were on task for the entire work period, continued collaborating through the weekend and produced some incredible cartoons.  And the most popular question with their next presentation assignment - can we use go animate again?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sound Nibbles

Just put together my first teacher binder.  Finally, I have a security blanket.

Note to self:  students obey instructions unless they're vague ... and then they create them

Note to self 2:  despite the best of intentions (great video on subject that students requested), don't try to free up a day by cramming 4 days into 3.

Sometimes, it's better to leave those 'interesting' asides for another year (see note to self 2)

Prezis Rock.  Especially when The Rock appears in a surprisingly historically accurate Ancient Egypt trailer

"Grade me, ... look at me ... evaluate and rank me!"  Lisa Simpson's reminder to student teachers on how to confirm when engagement is an issue.

Life is good in the teaching world.  Now, it's time to strive for arete

Maybe, just maybe, I can finally fit their king tut video into a presentation tomorrow.

If I can't fit in the history teachers asap into ancient civ, Monday is definitely Arrogant Worms day in US History.  'And it burned, burned, burned ... and we're the ones that did it.'

Last but not least:  PBS is currently ... like the best tv station in the world evah.  BBC is a very close second.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Nicest Send Off

Given that all of our teachers are aware of our coming weeks, and know more about what we'll be going through than we can imagine, it's no surprise that each of them had some quick thoughts for us prior to leaving for our practica.  Each of them had some version of a sincere good luck to share with us.  But, the nicest farewell came from our Education Psychology class.  Since it speaks for itself, this will be my shortest post.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Worth Noting

  Yesterday was a good day.  Make that an awesome, anchor me to the ground 'cause I'm gonna float away with elation, good day.  It's strange how things change in a moment.
Yup, that's me ... for now.

So, it's a week before my first teaching block.  I'm faced with drafting a lesson plan for my history class that will also be useful for my first practicum.  And I'm freaking out.  Mostly, it's my inside voice screaming "Egads, forsooth, and Zounds, what shall I do?" but my associate teacher has been privy to many of my concerns.  They depended on the day, but usually could be found on my list of aaaargh:
  1. I don't know how to plan a lesson yet
  2. I don't know what I need to cover
  3. I don't know how to time activities
  4. I don't know how much time to devote to which material
  5. I don't know how (feel free to add anything planning related, it probably fits)
In the back of my mind is Dave Lanovaz's post, "We're only students."  It's one of those posts that I had wanted to comment on but couldn't quite figure out the words.  There was something about the situation that Dave was describing that struck me as odd.  A student centered teacher faced with a group of students minimizing their abilities as students.  Couldn't quite put it together though.

And then Tuesday morning, Bob Mroz pops by to visit our cohort class and deliver a presentation on Note Taking.  He opens with a quick comment about our practica starting in about a week and asks us what we're afraid of right now.  Three guesses what I said (and the first two don't count).  Then he puts on this t-shirt and asks us what kind of fears we have.  Well, as my list above highlights, things look fairly pre-service teacher focused up there.

Between these two items hitting me within a couple days, I realize that I'm worried about an impossible task.  I'm trying to plan and create a student-centered lesson without having a feel for the students ... students who may not even realize what I'm trying to do.  And, I finally smile.  It's not the futile smile of someone who's given up, but that smile of acceptance.  I"m not going to create the perfect series of classes, but I'm gonna try to.  And even if I do create a masterpiece, it might be on the wrong day and I can't control that.  There's no way for me to develop withitness from without, so all I can do is keep trying and eventually I'll figure something out.  And for now, I'm ok with that.  Just please, don't ask me if I still am similarly calm Sunday night.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The confusion surrounding CC

Well, it's no wonder that people are confused by the little CC that appears from time to time. lists 427 possibilities plus another 250 in their archives.  When I was younger, CC was something that my father poured a couple of fingers of when he sat down to watch the Leafs game.  Since then, I've CC'd people when I e-mailed and have also seen two C's when I used to watch TV.  On Tuesday, our 8Y59 class was fortunate enough to have Rodd Lucier pop by via elluminate to discuss the meaning and implications of Creative Commons licensing.

He started off by discussing another pairs of C's - our culture of cheating.  In a world where most games have cheat codes and many people choose to download music and movies, we have found ways to make cheating more acceptable to ourselves.  We have the philosophical reasoning courtesy of Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica:  "If [a human law] conflicts with natural law in any way, then it is not a law but a corruption of law."  Then there's the slightly sophistic argument that in the real world, we'll have access to resources so why is it necessary to memorize things for a test.  With videos on Youtube teaching us how to cheat on tests, there are many incentives and arguments as to why cheating could be seen as not such a bad thing.

Traditionally, copyright was granted to the creator of something for 50 years beyond his or her death which afforded the artist 'all rights reserved' protection.  Once this copyright expired, the creation became public domain, which allows us all of those wonderful and free downloads of classic literature from Project Gutenberg.   Mmmm ... free classic books ... my Kobo loves this provision.  But, some artists may wish to offer people rights to use their work before it becomes public domain.  Some artists and musicians have recognized that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."  Others see the marketing  possibilities of allowing people to use their creations as a means to getting the word out.  And to fill the gap between all rights reserved and public domain, Creative Commons licensing was defined.

There are two basic permissions in Creative Commons licensing along with three conditions applied.  The artist can offer permission TO SHARE the material with another and / or the artist can give permission TO REMIX the material into another creation.  In other words, the artist may allow someone to keep the creation unchanged and give it to another person and / or may allow someone to change his or her creation to be incorporated into another person's piece of art.  The first possible condition is to ASK FOR ATTRIBUTION; so by note or link, the person who is using another person's creation gives credit to the original creator.  The second possible condition is allowing or disallowing COMMERCIAL USE; many artists will allow free use of pictures (on blogs, woo hoo) but will disallow use if you expect to profit from the use of their creation.  Finally, there is the condition to SHARE ALIKE; basically, the artist is saying that you got the original work of art for free so please extend the same courtesy to others.  These permissions aren't carved in stone - the creator always has the option of changing their permissions and conditions at any time.

Overall, Creative Commons licenses are becoming far more prevalent.  Youtube has become quite vigilant when it comes to copyright protection and adhering to peoples Creative Commons wishes.  Take a look at an image in Wikipedia and they will advise whether it's part of their wiki commons, or if some rights have been reserved and the image is being used by Wikipedia under certain permissions and provisions.  Flickr now prominently displays the Creative Commons licensing with all images posted to the site.

In response to Creative Commons licensing, many sites now offer services that echo creative commons permissions. has a playlist of music that is available for people to incorporate into their works of art.  The Prelinger Archives contains a series of movies that are in the public domain.  Sal Khan's Academy allows teachers to incorporate his lesson plans into their own presentations.

Rodd ended his presentation with a confirmation that Creative Commons licensing presents an important learning opportunity for our students.  Many of us learned a great deal through Rodd's presentation, and he reminded us that our students and teacher colleagues would likely benefit from greater familiarity with Creative Commons licensing.

Shifting Snapshots

I've developed a new philosophy ... I only dread one day at a time - Charlie Brown

So, in reading my blog, my wife asked me if I was sensationalizing my concerns on purpose.  She advised me that it seemed as if I was lying awake at night and worrying about the issues that I'm raising in my blog.

Nerves and butterflies are fine - they're a physical sign that you're mentally ready and eager.  You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that's the trick - Steve Bull

As I assured her, I'm not trying to overstate my concerns, nor am I trying to misrepresent how I'm anticipating my career in teaching.  There are some issues that I've raised (make the first two minutes go away) that are a concern for me, but a large part of my reason for raising these issues is anticipatory.

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you - Calvin Cooledge

Exactly Calvin.  I want to see those nine and also anticipate the tenth so that I can diffuse it as much as possible in advance.  Am I worried that a parent will ask me why his or her child needs to know Trigonometry ... not overly, but I'd sure like to get the thinking out of the way now - instead of when I'm under the gun, sitting across the table from them on a Parent Teacher night.

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me.  The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. - George Bernard Shaw

And along with getting some thinking out of the way ahead of time, I really want to have my own series of benchmarks.  I'm sure that there will be times in the future when I roll the clock back, look at my earlier concerns, and roar with laughter.  But, I hope to be able to look back and enjoy the feeling of 'wow, I've come a long way.'  I tend to be one of those people referenced by Shaw ... the old measurements type.  So, I want to be sure to have enough snapshots to ensure that I can actually measure growth and smile.

Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine - Robert C. Gallagher

But, I also realize that an endless list of concerns becomes tiresome - both for me and for the people that pop by to visit here.  So, while there will still be a number of times when I have to delve into these issues (psychology class reflections, teaching block reflections), I will be starting to move from worries to successes,  and from thoughts to tools.  Teaching block's coming, and I can't wait.

Oh, and if anyone wishes to enjoy my taste of irony for today ... I am planning to write a wee bit on Rodd Lucier's discussions on Creative Commons licensing, but figured that I'd deal with my benchmark post ahead of time.  Originally my post was going to be about finding the midpoint between Charlie Brown's quotation above and Alfred E Neuman's tagline 'what, me worry?'  Well, I quickly realized that I could not use these images from Wikipedia as both are still under copyright and only available for use through some specific assumptions and arguments.  So I quickly trashed that idea (after reading 15 minutes of legalese) and opted for The Quote Garden instead.

In closing, my new youtube addiction is:
These will definitely find a way into my history classes.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Who's my target

Dave Lanovaz's comment got me thinking about my target audience and my ingrained prejudices.  Ok, maybe my ingrained assumptions, hopes, expectations, dreams, etc.

I'm creating my history website and I started thinking about my target audience.  When I'm creating this website, what level of class am I aiming for?  Should I create this for the university level crowd (my inner scholar cries of course) and include enough resources that something will fulfill the needs of my college level class?

I'm considering questions on reward systems and I'm quite challenged.  Why, because my list of ingrained assumptions is based on the belief that these students want to be there and have a natural inclination towards engagement in whatever class I'm teaching.  Based on facing an engaged class, of course I start to question why I need to consider this.

I thought that I had removed this bias ... instead, I had just nudged it out of site.  I want to believe that each of my classes can be an academic class.  Not that I'm going to stand up and push the students beyond their capabilities, but that I'll be able to help them recognize the value of the material to such a degree that they'll have a university level of engagement.

On a subject material basis, I gained this understanding ... my own understanding.  I saw the workplace 12 math material, and I was able to recognize its critical importance to those students' lives.  These students need to learn how to budget money, measure a wall, make change ... ie learn the math that will help them live better lives and cope with day to day math.  It took me a while to get there, but I got past some of my academic snobbery regarding material.  For some reason, it's far easier for me to deal with subject matter issues than it is to bring myself to believe that not every student will share my joy of learning.

Well, I've identified what I consider to be a problem area - where is the balancing point?  How do I select appropriate resources for an applied level class without selling them short?  How do I ensure that I don't dive too quickly into a reward / punishment scheme to increase engagement without having fully explored my attempts at engagement through my lesson presentation.  My guess is that this is one of those questions that you can only answer through experience.  But, I really wish that I could know ahead of time.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Skinning Machiavelli

I'm still amazed by the power of a throw-away comment from a quarter-century ago.  We're sitting in Grade 11 history class and Mr. Sparks tosses out 'if Nixon had read Machiavelli more closely, Watergate wouldn't have happened.'  It's a shame that he retired in 2002, since I would dearly love to write him a quick thank you note.  In retrospect, I see that his introduction of this kind of thought experiment planted the seed for my eventual interest in Brock's Liberal Arts program.

Yo history dudes, stop hating on me

So we're sitting in psychology class yesterday, and I'm cringing.  We're discussing punishment and reinforcement, and I don't like what I'm hearing.  Condition responses using Pavlov, keep Thorndike's law of effect in mind, and condition students based on Skinner.  I hate the thought of having to manipulate my students in this manner.  I want to hold classes that are so engaging that I don't have to rely on underhanded manipulations as a means to keep students focused.  I want to believe that they're going to enjoy my classes enough that discipline won't be an issue.

'Nevertheless, the new prince teacher should not be too ready of belief, nor too easily set in motion; nor should he himself be the first to raise alarms; but should so temper prudence with kindliness that too great confidence in others shall not throw him off his guard, nor groundless distrust render him insupportable.'

Thanks Nicolo.  I recognize that I'm a little idealistic, but I still don't like the idea that I'll have to manipulate students using rewards and punishments.  Why should I bribe them with praise and treats?  Isn't it my fault if the students aren't behaving ... shouldn't I just keep trying different methods of engagement until I can capture their interest?  I worry that I'm going to resort to these tactics too quickly, and not as a last resort.

'A prince teacher should therefore disregard the reproach of being thought cruel unfair where it enables him to keep his subjects class united and obedient.  For he who quells disorder by a very few signal examples will in the end be more merciful than he who through great leniency permits things to take their course and so result in rapine and bloodshed; for those hurt the entire state class, whereas the severities of the prince teacher injure individuals only.'

Yes, whether I like it or not, I am going to have to use some kind of reward scheme in my classes.  I'm really not sure what it will be, and I'm probably going to be fighting myself while I'm enforcing it.  There will be students that I can't motivate, and it's only fair to the balance of the class that I find the means to keep them under control.  Part of my difficulty is that I would have no problems offering sincere praises to my students, but knowing that praising my students is part of a larger reward management scheme feels like I'm moving praise from being an honest expression, to being a tool.  Also, as mentioned above, I worry that I'm going to reach for the candy bag too quickly and avoid exhausting my other options first.

'For the friendships which we buy with a price, and do not gain by greatness and nobility of character, though they be fairly earned are not made good, but fail us when we have occasion to use them.'

And I think that's my greatest issue with reward / punishment schemes.  I want the students to show up on time because they want to be there, not because Mr. Dallmann is going to offer them pizza every quarter if the quota target is met.  I want praise to be legitimate and not a price paid in return for engagement.  Finally, I hate the thought of hurting anyone or anything ... and reward / punishment schemes have at their root the fact that people will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure.  Yes, my ideal world would include me getting to ignore this part of classroom management, and that's where my cringing comes from.  

'Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends on his subjects, while his being feared depends on himself, a wise prince teacher should build on what is his own, and not what rests with others.  Only, as I have said, he must do his utmost to escape hatred.'

Yes, I may not like it, but I'm going to have to deal with it and not hide my head in the sand.  I just hope that I do it right and don't choose the easy way out.

(quotations from Chapter XVII:  'Of Cruelty and Clemency', The Prince.)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Not taking advantage of euphemisms

So it finally happened.  Tuesday morning, 8:00, and we had a group of visitors from Laura Secord Secondary School.  And they issue that they were dealing with was crowd control.  Well, I heaved a huge sigh of relief and thoroughly loved the presentation.  In general, they advised to clear up the rules early, apply them evenly, give your students some measure of control over what gets included, and most importantly, base them on respect.  Between the principal, one of the more established teachers, and a newer teacher, our class finally got an opportunity to get some practical advice and start to consider these issues ahead of time.

And among the situations that were raised, was one that a few of have asked about among ourselves.  What do you do when a student tells you to ... um ... well ... you know.  Well, this thought experiment remained unanswered until a presentation today on classroom management.  Within the presentation, the presenters put at the top of their list of rules, "no profanity."  As usual, my mind started churning through possibilities and came up with a few conditions that got me thinking a bit about an absolute ban.

Of course, if my school's policy was no swearing, then I would enforce it.  Were the swearing directed at me or another student, well, that's an issue of respect and therefore I would deal with it.  But with the amount of swearing that occurs in pop culture, the 'f' word has become so commonplace in today's world I'm not sure it's worth more than a partial dose of the teacher stare.  If the student uses them a wee bit too much in conversation, then they would receive an end of class reminder of the 'in-law / favourite grandmother' speech.

(oh, my favourite grandmother / in-law rule is either:  try to speak in class as you would speak to your favourite grandmother or pretend that you've got a new girlfriend / boyfriend with strict parents and you're meeting them for the first time)

But, when it comes to the occasional, 'it just slipped out' utterance, I have bigger fish to fry.  And my main reason for this is, stuff happens.  Given the state of my knees, if I bang my right knee on a desk, I would like to state my disapproval like Jeeves does...
Or perhaps, string together my standard slate of expletives using my inside voice.  If I did say something out loud, I'd really like to think that I'd remember my euphemisms; but if I didn't, I wouldn't want to be caught breaking one of my own class rules.

I'm hoping that I'm not being unrealistic, and that by not clamping down immediately I'm not inviting a problem later on in the year.  Perhaps time will cure me of my optimism, but for now, I'd rather rely on the students to police themselves than to open myself up to a 'do as I say, not as I do' situation.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Why blogs and websites frustrate me beyond belief

For the most part, this weekend was a website weekend.  Oh, there were a few extra assignments added in along the way, but for the most part, this was play time.  Or so I thought.  For, as you may have noticed, finding something to say is rarely a problem for me.  All you need to do is nudge me in the direction of a topic and I'll wind myself up like a gyroscope and start to spin the topic ad nauseum.
And yes, I'll admit that at times it's as difficult to move me from a discussion angle as it is to turn one of these.

So when I'm facing the design of a new website or blog, I have wonderful visions of what I want the site to do, and what I want the site to say, and even an inkling of what could be done.  So after a little while, I figured out how to structure my website to allow course additions, resource additions, and a tiny bit of organization.  Although it took me a while to get there, I consider this part fun.

The part that frustrates me beyond belief is the decorating.  Add about 2 hours to find the right parchment backgrounds, 1.5 hours to flip through the various templates to find one that didn't leave a white box around everything and didn't highlight links in a reverse white block, and of course the inevitable couple hours to find images that represented me.  I'm a perfectionist ... and I still don't like the front page image.  My wife's reaction to my thoughts of changing the images for the 5th time was a reminder that I could always change the pictures later, and perhaps there were better ways to spend my time.

So for now, here it is.  Raphael's picture of Plato and Aristotle will travel with me wherever I go.  And the quotation was one of my dad's favorites so it will always remain.  The rest will wait for a while until I just can't take it anymore.  And the lure of changing it again is a little strong right now, so I'll end this, close down the website and ... um ... bye.