Monday, February 23, 2015

#Flipclass Flashblog: Deeper Learning w The Odyssey

February is Odyssey time for my students.  I have been teaching Homer's Odyssey for every year of my career, even during student teaching.  If there is a text to dive into deeply, this is it.  There are so many topics I cover with this epic.

To name a few...

  • Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey-- students analyze how both Odysseus and Telemachus undergo a heroic transformation
  • Oral storytelling techniques-- Trojan War Stories, Odysseus' guest-gift of the story of his journey to the Phaiakians
  • Persuasive techniques-- compare and contrast Telemachus' speech at the Assembly (Book 2) with Athena's request to Zeus during the Council of the Gods (Book 1).  
  • Societal Norms-- how literature teaches readers to behave in society and what happens when one doesn't behave (oh, those haughty suitors!)
  • Poetry Explications-- analyze contemporary poems inspired by the epic and write poetry explications

How I get students to dive deep into the Odyssey has changed over the years as I've tried different pedagogical approaches and infused educational technology tools. Last year was the first attempt at gamifying my instruction and, boy, did I get in over my head. While the delivery of the content and the tasks for completion were effective, I got swamped with managing "the game".  I had too many moving pieces and I couldn't effectively "level up" individual students. The content was organized in one Edmodo group with subtopics divided into small groups.  Students had to be manually added to the small groups when they were ready to level up.

Problem solving this with my colleagues in my Master of Arts in Instructional Technology cohort, Mr. Astin recommended automating the leveling up by using Google Forms and Flubaroo.  Rather than keeping all the content in one Edmodo group, Mr. Astin recommended having an Edmodo group for each topic, students complete the tasks, then take a mastery test on a Google Form with Flubaroo set to automatically score the test.  If students scored proficiently, they would receive an email with join URL for the next group.  I would get a notification stating that a student wanted to join the group and I could quickly see if they completed the previous group's tasks.  If so, I approved access; if not, I sent a message to the student that he/she needed to make sure all tasks were completed proficiently.

So far, this tweaked "game" design has worked very well!  I front loaded the content in each group and let students begin their epic quest to become an #OdysseyExpert.  Students are engaged, taking responsibility for their learning, and diving in deep.

My students have done some really cool things during our study of The Odyssey from tracking down on social media the actor who played Telemachus in the made for TV movie (and decorating t-shirts to honor said actor) to creating found poems to writing screenplays based on Trojan War stories to creating personal epithet Vokis to publishing projects on the #OdysseyExperts blog. There are so many things!

And if this evident of having an impact, one of my students from last year tweeted me on Valentine's Day with Telemachus themed cards she made! My favorite is the one on the right.

In addition to all this awesome deeper learning, I'm surreptitiously preparing my students for the PARCC -- they are using the exact digital literacy skills needed to be successful on the PARCC without me teaching to the test.  By the way, we begin PARCC testing on Monday. And my opinions on the PARCC are reserved for another blog post...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Evolution of the Lecture: Trojan War Stories

My freshmen students have begun learning about the background information for our study of Homer's Odyssey.  In years past, I would give a two day lecture to the entire freshmen class on the Trojan War, repeating the stories during seven 43 minute periods per day.  It was an epic task-- I had to keep my pace and remembered the tales as I channeled the muses, but I enjoyed every minute of it, modeling age old oral storytelling techniques: pacing, repetition, voice variation, etc.

Years later due to scheduling constraints and other curricular demands, the other freshmen teachers and I decided not to continue with the live lecture. I still would tell the stories to my students in class. But when I started to give the tales last week, something changed.  My enthusiasm waned as it became an epic task to keep my freshmen students focused for the lecture.  I tried. I really did, but when they constantly wanted to interrupt and needed to be redirected back to listening, I realized I didn't have the strength of Hercules to continue.

Not wanting to face defeat, I decided to take a different approach.  Saturday morning, I wrote up a 10 page script to go with my Trojan War Stories slides and I recorded a screencast of the tales.  Using TechSmith's Camtasia to record and edit, my 90 minute lecture became a 54 minute video that still made students focus on listening skills.

Anticipating that playing the video for the whole class would still result in me having to redirect student behavior, I pulled it into EDpuzzle today and spent about 30 minutes putting in questions in the video to check for student understanding.  I purposely chose where to insert the questions, chunking the material.

Tomorrow students will wear headphones, watch my lecture in EDpuzzle, complete the questions, and submit a reflective writing task in Edmodo on the process and comparing/contrast the live lecture to the recorded one. I am looking forward to the formative data and reading what the students write, and I anticipate that most will state that they enjoyed the video more than the live lecture.  I will share screenshots of the data and student feedback later.

For now, you can check out the Stories of the Trojan War as told by me, Mrs. Baker.....

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Manipulating Texts: Unmagnetic Poetry

Since reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, my 9th grade students have been focusing on the concept of the American Dream, analyzing companion texts such as Steve Jobs' 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford University, MLK's I Have a Dream, and Ashton Kutcher's  2013 Teen Choice Award Acceptance Speech. We close read them, answered comprehension questions, and made comparisons with how each text answers the question, "What is the American Dream, and how does one achieve it?" Wanting to provide them with a "fun" (ok English teacher's definition of fun) way to engage with the texts, I divided my students into groups and had them compose original poems from the words a la magnetic poetry. 

I'm sure we all remember the magnetic poetry kits.  I may still have a few hiding in a box somewhere from when we moved to our house four years ago.... Magnetic poetry kits are useful for sparking creativity, but there is no need to rush out to the store (or in my case, tear apart boxes in the attic).

Wordle: MLK I Have  Dream
To create the kits, I copy/pasted each speech into a Google Doc (Word works fine, too), played with the font and size of the text, and deleted common words, then cut the words out by hand and stashing them in their own envelope.  At first I tried creating word clouds of the speeches in Wordle, but the variation of font size and the way in which the words were laid out on the page made it difficult for cutting the words out. I was also running out of time and had to quickly devise a new method when I realized the word cloud wasn't working out as planned.  The Word doc worked fine and I varied the font per speech.

Students got into groups of 3 or 4, making a table top out of their desks. Each group received an unmarked envelope and got to work composing their poems and snapping pictures that were uploaded to our Edmodo class group. It was interesting to see how students initially maintained a linear structure for their unmagnetic poems, and it took prompting by me to try out other formations.

Towards the end of the period, I reconvened the class and we discussed their artistic choices and if they recognized the original text. Students easily figured out which speech was which, and we had a lively discussion about diction and theme.

Check out some of their poems below:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mentor Texts & Writing

Recently, during my English department meeting, we discussed ways to incorporate more nonfiction writing, especially writing that is research based, in our classrooms. Many of us agree that the 8 week research paper unit in which skills are taught in isolation to the rest of the curriculum is not an effective strategy, and while I've done well with integrating research skills into daily tasks, I know my students are still weak at pulling it all together into a cohesive writing piece.

In the beginning of the school year, I introduced my students to Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey concept and used the short stories read in class as mentor texts for fiction writing.  Rather than having my students write an original hero journey story (which would be a novel!), students drew a plot diagram for an original concept of a story and wrote one scene as if ripped from the pages of a book.  The students attempted to emulate the writing techniques of Richard Connell, Edgar Allan Poe, and Richard Peck in their original stories.  Using the short stories as mentor texts provided my students with models of effective writing techniques and the entire project was a success!  You can read some of their stories here, which we published on a website.

The mentor text strategy worked so well for fiction-based writing that I thought, "why not use this same strategy for nonfiction writing?" Students can read nonfiction pieces from acclaimed authors, identify the writing techniques used, and then write a nonfiction piece attempting to use the same techniques.  Sounds good, right?  Ok, well this is where I need YOUR HELP.

I think using mentor texts is a very viable strategy, but I don't know where to start!  There are so many texts to choose from!  I started this collaborative Google Doc in the hope that we can crowdsource some ideas for using mentor texts for nonfiction writing.  PLEASE, oh PLEASE, click on this link and add your resources, texts, and writing task ideas to this page. You can view the document below.