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:

Monday, January 6, 2014

Teacher Training Wishlist

Many student teachers are starting their final placement this week. It's an exciting time - fresh perspectives, eager learners, new opportunities... but it's also a time for reflection from seasoned teachers. Here's what I wish my teacher preparation included:

1. Practical edtech training - I graduated with my M.Ed in 2009. I had not one single edtech course. I know things have changed for the better, but I still hear from current education students that the classes are not enough. Believe it or not, there are still professors out there in teacher education giving courses on setting up Powerpoint presentations. Is that not something we now expect third graders to be able to do on their own? Instead, edtech training should focus on practical things: troubleshooting technology problems, using an AppleTV or Chromecast, and managing a classroom set of devices.

2. An introduction to social networking -  Today's teachers cannot operate within a bubble. It's not me, myself, and my filing cabinet. Instead, we are expected to collaborate and learn from and with our peers. It's imperative that today's teachers can navigate Twitter, Google+, Facebook, blogs, and Hangouts. We are better together.

3. Independent projects focused on individual strengths and weaknesses - Wouldn't it be wonderful if before student teaching, education students had an opportunity to assess and improve their strengths and weaknesses? For example, one of my strengths is classroom design. I would have loved to develop a project researching classroom design and coming up with my own models. One of my weaknesses is time management. I am a habitual procrastinator. It would have been helpful for me to create a project where I broke down my planning process and created checklists to insure well-designed units.

What do you wish your teacher training had included?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Adding Students to Canvas without Email Addresses

If your students don't have email addresses, it can be a challenge to use certain web apps. I use Canvas as my LMS. Up to this point, I've always required my students to have an email address for logging into Canvas. There is an alternative though, and this will be the way I have my students sign up for courses in the future.

After you have signed up for Canvas and created your own course, you are ready to invite students to participate.

Start by clicking "Settings" in the left sidebar.

Then click "Edit Course Details" near the bottom of the screen.

Choose "More Options", again at the bottom of the screen. 

Select the first choice: "Let students self-enroll by sharing with them a secret URL or code".

Update your settings, and use should see new information appear at the bottom of your Course Details. Canvas provides you with a direct link for students to create their own username/password to login to the course. Alternatively, students can sign up at and use the code provided to join the class. 

This feature makes Canvas more appealing to teachers of upper elementary and middle school levels, where sometimes there are issues with creating student email accounts.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Brit Lit Curriculum Re-imagined

This year, I completely revamped my British Literature Honors curriculum. After years of wrestling with students to read books that were of no interest to them, I decided to take a step back and evaluate what is really important - what are the main objectives of my curriculum? How could those be met in a way that is more engaging to students? My curriculum was already project-based and tech-heavy. What more could I do?

I began by removing the unfirom required reading and expanding upon a popular past project. I chose fifteen authors from the British Literature genre, valued for their many contributions to the literary canon.

J.R.R Tolkien - The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Silmarilian
Charles Dickens - David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House
Jane Austen - Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park
Thomas Hardy - Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, The Woodlanders, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure
Bronte Sisters - Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, Villete, Tenant of Wildfell Hall
CS Lewis - Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces
George Eliot - The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner, Middlemarch, Adam Bede
Robert Louis Stevenson - Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
PG Wodehouse - Jeeves & Wooster series, Blandings Castle series
EM Forster - A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Passage to India, Howard’s End, The Longest Journey
C.S. Forester - Hornblower saga, The African Queen
Elizabeth Gaskell - Cranford, Wives & Daughters, North & South, Ruth, Mary Barton
HG Wells - The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Roald Dahl - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox
The first week of school, Brit Lit students researched and then took turns picking authors. No two students had the same author. Students were assigned to read 900+ pages of their author's works before the end of January. Then, we jumped into our schedule: 
Mondays - Journal
Tuesdays - Discussion
Wednesdays - Work Day
Thursdays - Work Day
Fridays - Discussion
Reading Logs - Report on 50+ pages of your reading. Give a rating (1-5) and en explanation for that rating. (due every Friday)
Vocab Logs - Find three challenging words from your reading. Give the definition, the sentence from your book where the word is used, and your own sentence. (due every Tuesday)

On Mondays, students journal roughly 200-300 words on various topics related to their books. Each journal entry starts with a one paragraph summary of the student's reading, and then ends with a one paragraph discussion of a literary topic, using examples from their books. Students have blogged on flat vs round characters, foils, and archetypes. All journaling takes place on student blogs. I've had my student's work quoted on other respected blogs - how's that for rigorous, authentic writing! 

Tuesdays and Fridays we have class discussions. On these days, I will propose a topic and students respond, giving examples from the books they are currently reading. Using this method, all of my students are exposed to a wide variety of books and authors. Students passionately defend their authors and become the classroom experts on their author's point of view. One of my favorite discussions involved the class attempting to rank the literary value of the books they were currently reading. Here's the diagram they finally settled upon by the end of the class. 

Wednesdays and Thursdays are class work days. Students use these days for on-going work projects, due at the end of most months.  
September: Author Biography Presentations: Students created and presented a four-minute Ignite-style presentation on the author.  
October: 10 page research papers: Students chose a critical lens and examined their author's work critically.
November/December: Author Skits: Students work in small groups, collaboratively writing a skit in Google Drive. Skits are memorized, presented, and filmed mid-December. Each student pretends to be their author.
January: 10 page short stories. Students write a short story, as if they are their chosen author. They mimic the author's style and point of view, writing a believable story that could pass as belonging to their author.
We are two months into the school year, and in my opinion this was the right move to make for the British Literature students. Students truly have become experts on their chosen author. The discussions are informed and it's obvious that students are reading (without any need for standard tests). 

Sample Student Work:

Author Biography Slides

Critical Lens Research Paper:

Student Blog Post
Author Skits (coming soon)

Short Stories (coming soon)