Thursday, November 20, 2014

Serial in School - Episode 1

Serial Bulletin Board - we will be adding much, much more here.
Class started with me asking students to remember where there were and what they were doing a week ago. A few people could give details, but not many. Then we went back six weeks. The details were even sketchier. Those who could describe their activities mirrored Sarah Koenig's observation that major events can help anchor the mundane.

Interest levels were high when I introduced the unit. None of the students were aware of the podcast, but they were drawn in by the accessible nature of the story. 

I paired students up in teams with a shared Google Doc to use as a Case Log. Students took notes while listening to the first episode.

My favorite moment in class was near the beginning of the podcast when the details of the case were plainly laid out. The closing statements of the prosecution included something to the fact that Adnan was obviously guilty because he was leading a duplicitous life - acting as a different person at home than at school. Several of my students raised both their hands in shock and yelled out, "By that logic, we'd all be guilty of murder!" They get it. 

My plan is to poll the students at the end of each class. Yesterday, one class believed entirely in Adnan's innocence. 

Is Adnan guilty?
Another class had a mixed reaction, with many of them in the "maybe" category. They found Asia Mcclain's story fishy. One student commented that he thought Asia redacted her initial statement because the real killer started threatening her. 

I've had some people ask how this unit fits into an academic setting. Last week, I was looking through the Common Core standards to see how well I was aligning (we are not required at my school). So many of the recommendations for 10th grade social studies will be covered in this unit - everything from analyzing non-fiction, building arguments with credible evidence, and unearthing bias. Slam dunk. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Serial Unit


Over the course of the next few weeks, my college prep History students will be listening to Serial, the podcast that has swept the nation. We will be analyzing documents, discussing bias, and honing debate skills. I plan for this unit to heavily feature discussion and writing as students learn to back up their opinions with hard evidence. Students will keep a case log as we listen to the story, adding their own thoughts as we unpack the crime drama. I plan to daily poll the students to see if they have changed their initial thoughts on Adnan Syed's guilt or innocence. 

If you're not familiar with Serial - stop. Go listen! Sarah Koenig has ignited the podcast world with brilliant storytelling that episodically investigates a murder mystery from 1999. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Techielit Updates

I have moved to Pittsfield, Maine where I will be teaching Humanities History at Maine Central Institute. Talk about a big change! Although I have taught English for the past 4+ years, my true love is History, and it's good to return to what I was originally trained to teach. We moved up to Maine for several reasons, the biggest of which is being closer to family. I couldn't be happier with my new teaching position. I'm always ready for a new challenge.

I will be teaching six sections in a block schedule - five sections of Humanities History and one section of Personal Finance. I plan to continue using 3DGameLab with one class, which as you know is something I feel passionate about using, particularly with students who need individualized instruction. We will be traveling through 20th century America, collecting clues and solving mysteries.

I am trying a holistic approach to my grading this year. Instead of grading each individual assignment, I am giving three grades to each student per week.

From my syllabus:

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Weekly Grades: Students will receive three weekly grades: effort, content mastery, and communication skills. 

Effort - Students are expected to participate in classes. iPads will be used in every class. Failure to bring an iPad to class will result in the loss of points. Students will earn points by taking part in class activities and completing assignments on time.  25 points

Content Mastery - Students will demonstrate content mastery in a myriad of ways. In any given class you might see students directing short films, crafting comic strips, creating eBooks, writing essays, or giving presentations. Grades are determined by students showing that they have correctly learned the objectives. Homework, when assigned, would also fall into this category. 50 points

Communication Skills - It is essential, particularly in the Humanities, that students work to improve their communication skills: writing and speaking. These grades reflect the success students have made in communicating their ideas and learning to others. 25 points

For example: Let’s say you spent a week researching the fashion of the 1920’s and presented your findings to the class in a creative video. If you goofed around during class and did not wisely use your time, you would lose effort points. However, if the content of your video was accurate and well-researched, you would receive full content mastery points. In addition, if your video communicated your topic well, you would receive full communication skills points. 




** It’s important to note that you will only receive 1 content mastery grade per week, no matter how many assignments are completed in-class or at home (aside from tests and large projects). The content mastery grade is an average of your weekly performance. However, you will receive feedback on each individual assignment. 
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Keeping track of the weekly grades will be a challenge, but my goal is to better reflect student learning in the way grades are reported. I am using ClassDojo again to track participation. 

I'm having a bit of an identity crisis with my website/twitter name: techielit. I no longer teach literature! Should I change the name, or keep it? What do you think? 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Changes to the Quest Based Program for Quarter 3

My students have one week left in the second quarter, and then they immersed in midterms. I've been thinking about what changes I want to make to the Quest program for the third quarter. For starters, I want to make it completely self-paced. Up to this point, students have had to meet certain requirements every two weeks. They could choose which quests to complete on different days, but they had to complete those quests by the end of the two weeks.

Now that my students are used to the structure of the class and the different types of quests I typically assign, I'm ready to set them loose. What might this mean? One student might fly through a year's worth of grammar in a month, and then focus on vocab. Another might dabble in literature for a couple of weeks, then address vocab and grammar together.

I think I will conference with every student to set up goals every few weeks. This will allow me to give them individualized feedback, which will translate in progress grades. I am looking for mastery of material, which is going to look different for different students.

What I particularly like about this setup is the ability for students to truly "win" the class before the end of the year. I have several students who are ready to be set loose to fly. They don't want to be reigned in! If they reach the end early, I can supplement with enrichment material, which will be particularly helpful for those students who wish to transfer out of the Quest program, back to the regular classroom.

I imagine the biggest challenge will be getting students to work through those quests which are necessary but not appealing. I will have to work twice as hard to create quests that engage students in essay writing for the SATs in a meaningful, authentic way.

Game on!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reading Bingo Challenge 2014

A coworker brought to my attention Random House's Reading Bingo Challenge this week. Immediately the wheels in my head started turning, and I put together a classroom edition. I printed out squares with all of the categories and taped them on to my board. I'm allowing all students to participate. As they complete their books, they can fill out a small sticky note with their name and the book title and then put it on the appropriate square. 

For each square that students complete, they earn points. I will keep an updated leaderboard to motivate students. I've only had the game up on the board for a few hours now, and students are already borrowing books from my classroom library to complete the challenge. Fun!

Here are the rules:

  • Each book must be a new read
  • All books must be read in 2014
  • Each book can only count for one category
  • Books must be of an appropriate length

1 point - each square
5 points - each completed row
20 points - completed square


I'm looking forward to completing this challenge myself - and seeing what books my students read. Ideally, I'd like to buy a book of his or her choice for each student who completes the full challenge, but I don't think I'll have the funds!

My Classroom Edition:


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Quest for Rivendell


My Basic Skills Quest 11th & 12th grade students just finished Book 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo makes it to Rivendell by the skin of his teeth (and some help from the elves!). To help my students understand how perilous this journey was, we jumped into Lord of the Rings Online for a class field trip.

We met together in Hobbiton to start the journey - I with my level 34 elf, Aelthren, and the rest of the class with their low level hobbits, men, and elves. The goal: reach Rivendell!

At first, the journey was much like a hobbit walking party. We followed the path the hobbits took through the back country, ending up at Farmer Maggot's. After a quick hello to Maggot's dogs, Grip and Fang, we were off again. I instructed the class to stay together, but regularly one would stray to take down a mosquito or a bobcat (and often required my assistance just to stay alive after their bravado proved insufficient to assist in some kills).

The problems really began when we hit the Old Forest through a gap in the hedge near Crick Hollow. Just as in the book, the Old Forest is disorienting and somewhat scary - especially for low level characters. I was constantly herding the class down safe avenues, one-shotting any enemies that popped up. You could see the difference in student heart rates between the journey through the Shire and the Old Forest. It was easy for my students to connect with the fear and frustration of the hobbits they read about.

After the Old Forest, we attempted a short jaunt through the Barrow Downs, but things quickly fell apart. A few students again thought that they could handle things themselves, but were proved wrong when they had to revive a fair distance away. Others were terrified when we dropped into a barrow and they saw the wights and severed hands. Yes!! Another connection with the terror Frodo felt.

We somehow emerged safely through the Barrow Downs into Bree. I took the students into the Prancing Pony where they met Strider for the first time. They were so excited to finally see a character from the book. Huzzah! We left the Prancing Pony through the back door, and took a cross-country jaunt through the Chetwood and the Midgewater Marshes.

Things again picked up at the Lone Lands. I instructed my students to stay close with me - we attempted a run for Weathertop. I told students to ignore all orcs and ravens... it was Weathertop or bust! Amazingly, we made it on the first try without losing too many students to foolish side adventures. However, my screen decided to freeze on the very top of Weathertop, and when it finally unfroze, I apparently had taken a fatal cliff dive which gave my students great joy.

After Weathertop, it was another sprint to the Last Bridge before the deadly Trollshaws. I lectured my students on staying with me - the Trollshaws are no place for a hobbit walking party. Unfortunately, I seem to have a pile of Pippins in my class. No sooner had we left the bridge then a few of them decided to test their metal against a forest creature. They... didn't make it three steps before they had to revive.

Flash forward to today: we are now attempting to regroup and make the final run for Rivendell. Instead of sticking together, I've turned over the strategizing to the students. Some of them want to make a solo attempt, others want me to continue acting as guide. We will see who is able to make it in the end. I know solo attempts are possible - I have made the chicken run myself from Michel Delving in the Shire to Rivendell as a Level 1 chicken.

I have loved this "field trip" so far, because it has helped my students understand the peril of the journey and the great distance Frodo and company had to travel. Later my students will transfer this learning into an essay where they compare Frodo's experiences as a literary hero with their own in-game and IRL (in real life) experiences. In the mean time, we will keep questing for Rivendell... and win the quest!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Educational RPG

Last night, I participated in the weekly #GBLchat on Twitter. The instructions were simple: choose a character, race, and a special power.


We were then told to add verbal irony to our story, and favorite any tweets which showed verbal irony.


And then... we were off! 



We bantered back and forth for around 40 minutes, inserting as much verbal irony as possible. It was hilarious, and didn't feel like work at all. When there was around 10 minutes of the chat left, we stepped back from the story to reflect on the learning.






This was such an excellent way to assess students on verbal irony. I'm full of ideas!

I plan to replicate this with my British Literature students next month when we study different literary elements in poetry. I think instead of Twitter, I will conduct the RPG on a Google Doc, assigning each student a different color (I only have 13 students in that class). Then, I will have students underline examples of the literary elements as they appear in the Doc, and have discussions in the comment section off to the side. Should be fun!

Full transcript of the chat: