Sunday, March 23, 2008

Song of the Week: MGMT

Improv Everywhere

Improv is a group of people who put on spontaneuous events. Well, the events are well planned but to the unsuspecting participant it certainly seems spontaneous. If you ever watched the old TV show Fame, or Grease, or even HS Musical then you've seen the spontaneous musical moments when people just start singing and dancing. Improv Everywhere does a great one at the mall food court.

A food court worker spills lemonade and needs a few napkins to clean up the mess and bursts into song. Other performers "called Agents" start singing as well.

Fun stuff!

Google Custom Search

In my previous post I blathered on about how I feel children (at some age) need to learn how to search Google (or whatever is the predominant search tool) in all of its massiveness. Google has created a tool that may provide a nice bridge for instructors that are trying to do just that. A good teacher builds bridges for children from the content they know to the content they don't. Google allows us to do that. They allow users to build custom search engines. With the custom search engine a teacher could pre-search for children finding 10, 20, 30 or even more sites that they think are useful and/or safe for children. The teacher doesn't create a list of sites that they child may use like the old link page on our websites. Rather the student still uses Google to do their searching but the search is limited to the data contained on just those predefined websites. Pretty cool use of their technology and bravo for Google on making another tool available to its users for FREE.

Web Filters

Our school district connects to the Internet through a filter. I do not have a problem with some filtering of the web as long as an adult can override a block for themselves or child when it becomes necessary because although today's filters are pretty good they aren't fool proof. That means some sites that should be blocked will be accessible and other sites that are safe for children won't be blocked.

Some schools are starting to purchase products which are basically a much smaller subset of the internet....that means all the sites have been screened and approved by someone "responsible" for the safety of children. So instead of having the opportunity to search Google and learn about limiting searches to find effective information the children are required to do as much thinking during the search process. I totally understand that approach....but also believe that at some point the children need to learn this skill of finding the right information for themselves and effectively become their own filter....not just in terms of appropriate content but the also the most meaningful content. What age this is I am not sure. Certainly by the age of 9 or 10 children need to know how to search without the "training wheels". I would credit the author of the below post if I knew who it was but I don't. It sums up how I feel about searching with "training wheels".

Filter a website, and you protect a student for a day. Educate students about online safety in a real world environment, and you protect your child for a lifetime.

PLN: Time to start one!

I know what you think....the last think education needs is another acronym. Well, I can't help myself. Okay, you don't have to call it a PLN, you can call it a Personal Learning Network if you like. In its most basic sense a PLN is one's online learning group, tools, and connections. The whole idea is that new learning can happen in other places than a traditional classroom or PD session. One could argue that there is so much new information of value that one can no longer limit that learning to just traditional channels. My main PLN is made up my RSS feeds from blogs I follow. Although I have only tinkered with the technology others might include Twitter and Skype. Skye is online videoconferencing tool. Twitter is a bit harder to explain. It is more or less a microblog. People post by using 140 or fewer characters. So basically you post a line or two about what you are doing. People can follow your posts and you can follow their posts. It allows people to get very quick feedback or information about what might be of interest to them.

Miguel Guhlin posts about the process of building your PLN. But it so much more than just reading the information. It is also about interacting with the information....that means evaluation and synthesizing it, critiquing it and then writing up your own learning based on the new information. ie Blogging about what you learn or figuring out some other way to share it.

I am still tinkering around with the idea of another tech class this spring and if I do PLNs will be a major part of the class.

A Solution for Homework

Just what is the purpose of homework and what value does it have in our children's schooling?

The typical answer is that it teaches responsibility and initiative. Another answer is that homework provides important practice for children on new concepts outside of the classroom.

These are the assumptions teaching and parents have been applying to homework for generations. However, we don't have any data that backs up these assumptions so they just stay assumptions and not fact.

Some teachers ( are starting to adjust the way they do homework. There are basically three types of homework students. Those that will also do the homework and most likely do it correctly. Those who will do the homework but sometimes struggle with some of the questions and then finally those who won't be the homework at all. There are plenty of reasons they won't do it....they don't see it important, they don't have someone at home to encourage them, and a multitude of other reasons.

The teachers at the above site have changed their homework in an interesting way. They put 4 homework signs out at the beginning of the week. A student needs to turn in two of the assignments by the end of the week. Not only that they make the homework answers available for students so that students may check their answers as they work. However, they don't make the answers readily available...rather than only have them in the classroom and they only make 10 copies. They have seen their homework rates way up from where they were earlier.

I wondering if all schools should take a look at their homework policies. Perhaps something as posting some homework answers might make it possible for more students to complete their homework. Perhaps we even need to look at the amount and quality of the homework that we assign. If homework is truly practice doesn't the teacher have the obligation to review each student's homework assignments so they can determine whether or not the student has indeed learned the new concept. However, I don't think this happens very often. There simply isn't enough time in the day for a teacher to review each homework assignment with their class.

It has been a long time since we have evaluated our homework policies....but I think we need to do so. For anyone serving on that committee I would certainly recommend they research some of the changes other schools across the country have made with regards to homework.

A good start would be Alfie Kohn's book the Homework Myth.

YouTube for Memories

Although I don't necessarily agree with the decision YouTube is blocked at school for teachers. I understand blocking it for students but I question blocking it for teachers and yes, admin. too.

Yes, YouTube sure is waste of bandwidth and storage on those YouTube servers but there are some occasional Gems out there. Although it doesn't really fit with the 3-5 curriculum I could see a MS teacher using some of the videos posted by the user Nostalgic TV.

If I were teaching a unit on the depression I would be sure to show at little a few of the Little Rascals videos posted on YouTube. Not only do they bring back some childhood memories of my own they also give a student a peek into American culture from the 30s and 40s.

Here is a link to an education related one....called Bored of Education.

Enjoy as long as you are at home and while you are at YouTube see if you can find other videos that might fit your curriculum.

Popular Music in the Classroom

I'm not sure how often this happens in an elementary school classroom but I know that it happens in Middle and High School classrooms. The students have some work to do, perhaps a project, and so they ask if they can listen to music. The teacher doesn't mind, especially since she knows that kids sometimes work harder when they are more comfortable so she allows one of the students to hook their ipod up to the speaker system. The teacher is busy circulating the classrooom helping where she is needed and pushing those kids who need a bit of pushing. Some of the songs that play she has heard before and some are new to her.

Some of the songs are dance, pop, and even rap. She doesn't give it much though until she begins to listen a little more closely and catches a word here and there. She hears "ho" and "bitch" and realizes the students aren't aware of the words they are even listening to. She tells the students that the music is inappropriate for a school classroom and despite the groaning of the kids she turns the music off and replaces it with one of her own classical CDs. The students complain for a minute or two but with the new music they settle down and get back to their project work.

This teacher was it could have been much worse. This post
shares the story of a teacher who listened to Soulja Boy's Crank It and even let the students teach her a dance. She was so proud that she was learning something new and gaining a different connection with her middle school students until her 24 year old son found out what song she was dancing to. He points her to the website for her to look up some of the words in the song to see what the "common" meaning of the words are. The teacher is more than embarrassed.

I am a music lover and certainly have let kids play music in the classroom while working or have given the kids the chance to use their own music for their powerpoint projects that might benefit from music. However, before I do this I always type the name of the song in Google followed with the word lyrics. I'm not sure why, but there are thousands of websites that feature just lyrics. Skim through them to make sure you know what is being said and if you don't know what a word means then put that in Google as well. Or you could just say that you the teacher get to play full time DJ.