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...

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