Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Device-less unit begins

The first day went well!

Each student was given a one inch three-ring binder, a stack of lined paper (hole punched) and four plain pieces of paper (hole punched) to serve as dividers.

Students were given an instruction sheet for assembling the notebook into four sections (In this order: class notes, class handouts, homework assignments, returned work, ) that also contains tips on note-taking. The instruction sheet was the first addition to the handouts section.

We gave the students time to assemble and personalize the notebooks.  They were not at all upset to put their devices away, and several (3-4 students) said they were glad to be doing this.

We then walked them through how they should format their notes (using an outline method), start a new page for each new day, with the date on the top right corner of each page.

Lastly, we handed back their most recent test (which was not good), and walked them through how to structure their answers to identification questions.  This was their first written note for the notebook.

We are having them keep their notebooks in the classroom at first, and after a few days of use, we will allow them to take them home so that they may review notes, make corrections, identify questions, and prepare for assessments.

Snow Day Make up--the rough cut

Two things off the top:

First, our charge was to come up with something that could be done in the equivalent of two-three class periods if we were in school, but that could also be scaled up or down in the future depending upon the number of days that were missed.

Second, I made the executive decision that each teacher was not going to do his or her own thing.  It seemed to me to be easier for us to all collaborate on one project for each grade level (so all 9th graders will do the same thing in all classes) rather than each teacher try to come up with an acceptable activity on his or her own.  I also wanted to avoid the inevitable comparisons that parents would do between what one teacher assigned and what another assigned.  Invariably, someone would complain that so and so's assignment was easier/harder than another teacher's. If they all do the same thing, this concern is a non-factor.

What follows is the first draft of the project description:

9th grade: Are to research how a person registers to vote, where voting happens, and how voting is done in the town of Burlington and the state of MA. They can interview, research and read about this. They must then make an infogram and a physical poster explaining this information that would help to guide a person with the process of voting, from registration to casting the ballot. We provide them with copies of the MA Constitution with commentary/annotations/presentations to guide their reading in this process, and perhaps also give a guided reading about voting rights in the US. Posters are placed in the hallways of the school and town buildings. Infograms are shared via Honors student possible extension: look at how voting rights have evolved in MA from colonial times until now.

10th grade: Are to learn about how town government works--what happens at all levels of local decision making--Selectmen, Town Meeting, School Committee, Ways and Means, etc.--They can interview, research, read about this. They are then to create a digital presentation that shows the way that all aspects of town government are a flow chart in Explain Everything/Showme, or a series of slides, or a diagram of who does what, how it happens and how a person gets involved/elected. Presentations are posted to a YouTube channel and/or given to BCAT as infomercials to run and shared with the town government.  We provide students with copies of the MA Constitution with commentary/annotations/presentations to guide their reading, and perhaps a guided reading about the history behind NE town government as a structure different from the rest of the nation's structures.

11th grade: Are to learn about how state government works.  Who are their state representatives, how long have they served, what do they do.  What are the parts of state government and how do they connect?How does the state government function? They can interview, research, read about this. Students are to produce a video that explains state government (think, I’m Just A Bill-esque, or a Welcome to Your State Government, or a TED talk).  Videos are posted to a YouTube channel and/or given to BCAT for broadcast and shared with Burlington’s State Reps and Senator. We provide students with copies of the MA Constitution with commentary/annotations/presentations to guide their reading, and perhaps a guided reading about the differences between state and federal government.

All we have to do ahead of time is annotate the MA Constitution for the relevant information for each grade level, and find a reading and make some questions, all of which can be done in Google Docs for rapid and easy distribution on a snow day. I can create the common submission points for their digital work, which would make it easier to pass along to others, and to check off compliance/completion. Because they are publishing their work publicly it can be largely done pass/fail, I think, or we can create scoring guides if we want to, and scale the expectations for AP/Honors, CP I and CPII, with a layer of expectations depending on future number of days they have to spend doing the work. In the event of lots of days off, we could also extend it by asking them to submit a written reflection, or a critique, or suggestions for improvement to the political process they are researching.

return to writing

I'm returning to the blog to post on two topics as they unfold in the coming weeks.

Topic #1: The state has asked that my high school be one of two to pilot a program to allow the school to "make up" snow days through the development of teacher-directed student work that students may complete at home on their own time.  This is being referred to as "Blizzard Bags," after the program that many other states have who are routinely stricken by snowy conditions that prevents students from attending classes. (Apparently my state, which is also routinely dealing with weather-related closings, is just now discovering this fact?) In those states, elementary students are presented with a literal bag that has numbered assignments in it.  On a day when there is no school, students reach into the bag and withdraw an assignment, and they hand it in when they return.  I'll be sharing what I and my department develops in the hopes that what we do might be useful for others as the program rolls out.

Topic #2: I and my co-teacher are conducting an experiment with our 9th grade inclusion-level US History class.  We are removing all devices from the classroom for a unit, and doing everything as though we were in the 20th Century--handouts, written notes, three-ring binders (sorry, no TrapperKeepers!) and assessments done on paper (quizzes, tests, essays, etc.).  We expect this unit (on the Civil War) to last between 3 and 4 weeks.  We will be showing videos, and using Google Presentation/ExplainEverything as our platform for lecturing, but we will not be sharing those items with the students.  We will then re-introduce devices for the next unit (Reconstruction and Westward Expansion). We will set up their digital notebooks explicitly and teach students the use of Notability, and how to structure their Google Drive Folders and use Google Classroom to distribute handouts.  Assessments will be run through Socrative, and all materials we create will be shared with the class.  We will use exactly the same assessments in both units to determine student learning, and to generate a comparison between the two styles of classroom. I'll be sharing our findings as we go along, and trying to provide an account of the various joys and frustrations of each unit as they unfold.

So if that doesn't get your pulse pounding, well...