Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Screencast for Mac

So, I was inspired to create some tutorials, and needed to find a program to create screencasts. (What's a screencast? Check out articles in InfoWorld (2005), O'Reilly (2005), and see some fancy examples on the Apple site.)

A friend found me a very helpful blog post entitled Mac Options For Capturing A Video of Your Screen. "Brian" reviews a few options for screen capture, and I decided to give them a try myself, plus check out another program Screenography. All of these programs have free demos. They also all have similar customizable screen capture sizing and hot buttons.

Here is what I found:

App #1: Screen Mimic 2.2.1
Price: $64.95
Demo: 30 second movies only with a watermark on video recording

This was my favorite and by far the easiest to use, however, it is also fairly expensive. Screen Mimic allows you to save your project as Adobe Flash (SWF), Flash Video (FLV), or Quicktime (MOV) files. The encoding seems fairly quick and the quality of the video is excellent. I also like the idea, as "Brian" blogged, that you get a second chance to encode a selection if you change you mind.

Brian's issue with this program (in 2006) was the lack of audio recording. I can only imagine that the $24.95 version he reviewed lacked the audio options this more expensive version now has.

App #2: iShowU
Price: $20
Demo: Large green text on video recording

Somewhat more complex to use, but still fairly easy. There are a variety of presets, but at my level of experience, this is not a great help to me. I do like that you have the option to slow the capture rate when your mouse is not moving, which helps keep the file size down. The encoding is immediate, although you do not have a Flash option.

For $42, you can bundle iShowU with Stomp, a program which allows you to compress, crop and apply affects to your videos.

App #3: Screenography 1.013
Price: $39.95 / $9.95 (for the lite version - stills only)
Demo: Giant yellow watermark on final capture

Another easy to use program, with the option of exporting as a QuickTime (mov) or Flash Animation (swf).

App #4: Snapz Pro X 2.1.2
Price: $29 (still capture) / $69 (movie capture)
Demo: 30 days unlimited, with annoying pop-ups (I haven't confirmed this)

This one is easy to use, and has cute little sound effects like "Action", "Cut", and "That's a Wrap." But I am not convinced it is worth the significant price difference.

Brian's final opinion:

After trying them all, I think I’ll stick with iShowU. The developer offers a good product at a good price. Also, he is quick to offer support. The second option would be Screen Mimic, especially if you are intending to work with flash videos.

My final opinion:

It's a tough choice between iShowU ($20) and Screenography ($40). However, I want the Flash option. I am perhaps biased towards iShowU due to its partnership with Stomp (though, admittedly, iMovie 08 has some similar features to Stomp, but I am a little salty about that release). I think I will stick with Screenography.

Update 1.3.07: Unfortunately I found the demos don't really reflect the actual usage of the programs, so here's my opinion after using the full versions. Granted, my experience is shaped my my personal machine and internet speed, but here are my reflections.

I started with Screenography, and was happy with my short (less than 30 seconds) clips and very happy with their being published to a .swf file. However, as I used it for longer projects, I found the rendering time to be long. After 3 minutes of recording, when I hit the hot key combination, it seemed to take up to 30 seconds to register, and then a number of minutes after that to render the movie enough to give me a "save" screen. This did not include the additional time to save the file. It was an exercise in patience. Also, the program would frequently "unexpectedly shut down."

For the $20, I decided to purchase iShowU. This one hasn't crashed on me, even up to a 4.5 minute presentation, but as far as I can tell, my only output option is Quicktime. I love the very fast rendering time, but miss the versatility of the Flash output.

So now I find myself longingly reading again about Screen Mimic. Even though I originally deemed it too expensive, I am finding myself with $60 spent on programs that did not best fit my needs. I'll keep you posted on how Screen Mimic works out for me.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Music Genome Project & Pandora

This is pretty cool... no, make that AWESOME. A (new) student of mine told me about Pandora, since his father is involved with the project somehow. You can listen for free for about 5 - 10 minutes, and then you have to register to continue listening. You only have to pay the $36 annual subscription if you want it on your cell phone or to use the site ad-free. Otherwise it is FREE (ad-supported). You can navigate through the choices it makes, help "train" the station, and there is even a direct link to iTunes or Amazon to buy songs you like! In just 10 minutes, I was introduced to two more bands that interested me. (I started with a "Beastie Boys"
On January 6, 2000 a group of musicians and music-loving technologists came together with the idea of creating the most comprehensive analysis of music ever.
Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.
Since we started back in 2000, we've carefully listened to the songs of tens of thousands of different artists - ranging from popular to obscure - and analyzed the musical qualities of each song one attribute at a time. This work continues each and every day as we endeavor to include all the great new stuff coming out of studios, clubs and garages around the world.
This Music Genome Project is an effort ... to "capture the essence of music at the fundamental level" using over 400 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How do We Teach the to Future?

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has a lot to say about 21st century collaborative learning. I ran across a keynote she delivered as part of the Tuanz Educational Conference 2007 in New Zealand and was struck by some of the following questions:
  • Have you used the new WWW? The new WWW: Whatever, Wherever, Whenever.
  • What do you need to know, when most of recorded knowledge is a mouse click away?
  • In light of this, what do students still need to memorize?
  • How do we prepare our students for jobs that don't exist yet, using technologies that haven't yet been invented in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet?
It's sort of daunting to think that we are preparing students for a world that we cannot predict, or begin to understand. As a science teacher and technology teacher, I know that the "cutting edge" will be ancient history when these kids are grown.

This reminds me of a podcast I recently ran across. (You can find them on Twitter or check out the podcast on iTunes) The description states that "Teachers 2.0 is a loose group of educators who want to share ideas about using technology to help prepare students for the 21st century. We're tired of preparing them for the Industrial Age." They have a good point. I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ten Essential Qualities for a Happy, Healthy Life

The Chicago Tribune ran a blurb on a new book, Great Kids: Helping Your Baby and Child Develop the Ten Essential Qualities for a Happy, Healthy Life.

I haven't read the book yet, but check out this list of "Ten Essential Qualities":

1. Engagement (relating to others)
2. Empathy
3. Curiosity
4. Communication
5. Emotional Range
6. Genuine Self-Esteem
7. Internal Discipline
8. Creativity and Vision
9. Logical Thinking
10. Moral Integrity

Wouldn't the world be a better place if every person had these ten qualities? I can use this list to focus on what traits I am encouraging and rewarding in my middle school students.

I'm glad he wrote the book, but wouldn't it be great if we didn't need it? It seems childrearing used to be intuitive, but now requires explicit instructions to avoid raising a menace to society.

Two of the most powerful ideas I ran across in this article were:
1. Learning to empathize begins in infancy. Suggest helping him/her tunes into others' feelings by making your feelings clear, in facial expression and voice.
2. Your child will learn ethics from how you treat him/her, not by what you say.

Ain't THAT the truth?!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Finally Joined YouTube

OK, I did it. I joined YouTube. You'd think as a pseudo-geek, I would have jumped on this earlier, but I finally have my own channel, inspired by my kid blog.

YouTube is interesting. Yes, if you are not careful, you will find yourself surfing videos of laughing babies, dancers in banana suits, and the latest variation of Charlie the Unicorn. However, as I have said before, I have used it extensively for science and media literacy lessons in grades 1 through 8.

So I wonder why, when the first time a student asked me if he could use YouTube as a source for a class project, my gut reaction was, "no." When I thought about it for a minute, I changed my mind. YouTube is almost a philosophical extension of Wikipedia. And I decided to treat it as such. Sure, the student can use it as a source. But, like any article on Wikipedia, they must double-check their facts on another reputable source. However, how valuable was it for them to watch and interview with Barack Obama, or to hear a theremin played? Certainly more so than merely text and still images could provide.

One concern is that students may quickly fall off task, or be subjected to inappropriate language in the comments section. This just seems like a teachable moment (at least at the middle school level) regarding media literacy and responsible internet use.

Sadly enough, my old district banned both YouTube and Wikipedia in its schools. I wonder if this is a positive move or a disservice to the students. Social networking sites and wikis are not going away... shouldn't we embrace the opportunity to teach the kids to use these tools responsibly instead of taking them away?

Anyway, back to YouTube, someone should have warned me. Once I signed up, I got this message in the second box below. Wow. Harsh. :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review of iMovie '08 ... the Shock of My iLife!

I was so excited. I unwrapped my new Macbook Pro ceremoniously, reverently hit the power button and waited with anticipation. I had worked with iMovie for years, and was especially pleased with iMovie '06. Now, I would have my first look at the newest version of iMovie. When my dock appeared, I was pleasantly surprised by the slick new icon.

As I opened up the program, I was a little awed at the total transformation. My simple little program screen had turned into a completely different movie app.

However, as I navigated around the new program, I thought: Apple, what are you thinking?

I have used iMovie for years in the classroom. It is simple and offers many options for kids to create quite polished products. Some of the better features of iMovie 06 include:

  • Timeline view
  • Multiple audio track editing
  • Themes
  • Many editing options (transitions / titles / Video FX like reverse & slow)
  • Ability to open more than one project at a time, and copy & paste clips
  • Exporting selected clips only
I also liked:

  • DVD chapters and integration with iDVD
  • Option for third party plug-ins
However, guess what is missing from iMovie 08?

  • Timeline view
  • Multiple audio track editing
  • Themes
  • Many editing options (transitions / titles / Video FX like reverse & slow)
  • Ability to open more than one project at a time, and copy & paste clips
  • Exporting selected clips only
  • DVD chapters and integration with iDVD
  • Option for third party plug-ins
And the worst part? iMovie 08 CAN'T OPEN older iMovie projects. Apparently, iMovie 08 is a stripped-down version of 06, perfect for beginners, or people looking to throw together a 2 minute YouTube video. (Read this blogger's top 10 features missing from iMovie 08.) However, I almost wept as I thought of the years of video projects I have made with my students: V-show productions, Greek Myths, the Virtual Digestive System, not to mention all of the projects they did just for fun. Was my digital video life destined to fall prey to limited creativity in the name of efficiency?

To be fair, some people like the improvements. MacWorld calls it "the iPhoto for movies." There is more color-correction and cropping options, and no rendering time when you add effects. Also, it can input a wider variety of video formats. But, that's about it. Some people theorize that Apple wanted to prevent iMovie from competing with Final Cut Pro. Other people recognize the good along with the bad.

When I recovered enough to open up a new tab in Firefox, I read that many people are outraged. Thankfully, Apple offers a free download of iMovie 06. (CORRECTION 3/21/09: The download is no longer available as iMovie 09 is released.)

I can breathe again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Content Cake and Technology Frosting

My last post reminded me of one of my favorite teaching "rules." I love introducing technology to my classes. However, it is inevitable that the "bells and whistles" will draw kids' attention away from the content.

So, a few years ago, we came up with the "cake and frosting" analogy. The content is the "cake." Obviously, if the cake is terrible, I don't care how good the frosting is, people aren't going to eat it. And, if you are planning on handing me a plateful of frosting without any cake, I am going to be rather offended.

We go on to discuss that you can make some frosting ahead of time, but it needs to stay in the fridge until the cake is ready to be frosted. If you focus too much on making the frosting and don't pay attention to the cake, it can burn or collapse and you'll have to start over.

Once they have a good cake, they can decorate with "frosting" (the effects, comedic interludes, or (shudder) "bloopers".) However, we discuss how the best cakes have simple, well chosen frosting for dramatic effect. (In fact, when the class and I create a rubric together after viewing previous student work, they almost always add a requirement to "limit random distractions." However, once they actually begin a project, they see how tempting it is....)

With every technology project I have implemented, I have had open lab time and often I am shooing kids out of the room at 5 pm, 6 pm and even later. They put even more effort into their content, so that they can add the "fun stuff" later. In fact, my kids have (on average) put more creative effort into digital projects than anything they've turned in on paper.

Of course, the kids take the analogy as far as they can. For instance, one kid tells me, "my sister likes to scrape the frosting off the cake and eat it by itself." I tell them that after they finish the cake for me, they are welcome to scrape off the frosting and post it on YouTube...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teaching with Tech: Does it Work?

A recent article on asks, "Are students in the digital age getting dumber?" Tom Oppenheimer, author of The Flickering Mind: Saving Education From the False Promise of Technology, is quoted throughout the text and he believes technology is wasting our kids' time and energy. I agree that the article brings up some valid points, but I believe teachers have been dealing with similar issues in different formats for years. The article claims:

  • Technology, such as Powerpoint, results in kids creating weak and inaccurate content, while spending an inordinate amount of time on graphics that don't matter.
  • IM lingo is a problem in today's schools.
  • Laptops in the classroom actually interfere with student learning.
Weak, inaccurate and time-wasting? It certainly is easier to copy and paste information from the web, rather than laboriously copy text from an encyclopedia by hand, however, I can argue that my own classmates and I produced reports in which they "didn't absorb" the material either. Kids' learning is dependent on their investment, whether by hand or machine. If they don't care about the learning, they often won't care about the accuracy either. (The "let's just get this over with" mentality.) And, one only has to look as far as the file cabinets of saved class materials in college frats to realize that cheating existed well before the existence of term paper sites. These problems have been here for a while. Now that it is even more convenient for students to be lazy, educators need to be even more aware of student involvement and ownership.

Think back to all the reports you wrote as a kid. I was a good student, and I remember writing reports on the sun, medieval entertainment, leaves, and the state of Arizona (or was it Arkansas?). What do I remember from these reports? The posters I made, the pictures I colored, the poster I created. I don't remember a thing about Arizona or Arkansas. I don't believe it is only technology that tempts kids to "spent nearly twice the time working on the graphics than ... researching the report." I refer to this as the cake and the frosting. My kids know what I mean.

But, what I DO like about technology is that is levels the presentation playing field. I remember back to one of the first iMovie projects I incorporated into my science class in 2002. The day before the students were to share their work, one of my special education students said to me, "This is the first time I am proud to show off my work because it looks as good as everyone else's." Here was a kid with a written expression disability who spent years seeing his written work hung up next to all the rest. He volunteered to share his iMovie first.

IM is a problem? Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing, believes that when kids text habitually, they in effect train themselves in writing a form of shorthand. "They'd be tempted to use it on their homework and exams. They might even slip into using abbreviations unconsciously." Again, I think it is up to educators (and kids) to know the difference between formal and informal writing. It's all about communication.

A student recently emailed to me, ""...prolly you would yell at my grammer but then again u dont teach LA." This email was informal. He clearly communicated his point to me in his message. He has never "unconsciously slipped" in his formal writing (homework, lab reports) for me. Why? Because he is conscientious enough to differentiate between formal and informal language. He cares enough consider his audience and the situation for his writing. I have no problem with IM. I do struggle with student apathy. As adults, we know the difference between writing a grocery list and a legal document. We talk differently socializing with our peers than talking with our grandmother. Kids can be taught an appropriate audience and situation for their IM-speak. Oppenheimer says, "There’s no job in the real world that allows writing in IM lingo." Sure there's not... yet.

Laptops are distracting? The article quotes a study in which laptop-equipped students, "On average, the students spent 17 minutes out of a 75-minute class doing activities not related to class work." Umm... that's not a problem limited to laptops. Un-engaged students are distracted by passed notes, open windows, shiny objects, and their own thoughts.

None of these problems are new. I think it is easy to "blame" technology. Students will learn when they are engaged and invested. In my opinion, technology is a tool to increase student engagement. Educators and students must use it effectively. Just as I would never put in a 50 minute video and sit at my desk during a class period, neither would I set up situations in my classrooms where technology will be a crutch to facilitate sub-par learning. Technology isn't the enemy here. Apathy, on the part of students and teachers, is. C'mon ppl, old skool doesnt cut it if we want r kidz 2 learn in 2day's world. :)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

To Filter or Not to Filter?

Blogger Andy Carvin writes about his recent experience in which he invited to give a presentation to a group of "educators, historians and media professionals participating in their annual summer educational institute." (There's a link to the presentation in the post - interesting stuff!) He clicked to show a visual on YouTube and it was "flagged as inappropriate" and blocked!
The room went totally silent for a moment, then erupted in laughter. Here we were, a group of educators participating in a professional development seminar trying to discuss the role that Web 2.0 sites can play in civic education - at a presidential library, no less - and we were denied access to the information and tools we needed to have that discussion. My hosts at the library did their best to override the filters, but no one could figure out how to do it. I literally had to pantomime some of the video clips to give them a sense of what I was going to show them - and obviously, I couldn’t do any of them justice. One teacher then offered a tip to the group: if you ever get blocked, ask your students for help - they can show you a number of ways to get around the filter and access YouTube.

It's that teacher's comment that impacts me the most. S/he's right. By middle school, most kids can get around the filter. So, when no one is watching, they are accessing whatever content they want. And, all it takes is a "clear history" to outsmart the next most popular parent/teacher content-checking "trick." On the other hand, the kid who researching breast cancer or sex discrimination is blocked.

And, I've had it work the other way as well. While looking up an image of a medieval plant used for cosmetic purposes, our "filtered" Google Images pulled up a woman who no doubt had a botanically-inspired stage name. Oh yeah, and she was not even wearing a fig leaf to cover up.

In Carvin's case, a single video** was flagged for inappropriate content, but the story brings back my reoccuring fear that our district might soon chose to block YouTube. After all, they have already blocked a variety of social networking sites, including MySpace. There is certainly enough non-academic material on YouTube to warrant a filter, however, I've often used the site in the classroom to teach about topics including the theremin, cicadas, electric cars, and more. It helps bring in items that are too expensive and/or difficult to bring into the classroom. The multimedia is a nice (and free) addition to plain text resources. Another benefit is the ability to quickly assemble clips from opposing viewpoints to begin a discussion on media literacy. And, honestly, sometimes it's just plain fun.

Filtering cannot be the only answer. There is no substitute for pre-screening materials and supervision. I would never blindly search for clips in front of a classroom, nor would I allow my students to use the Internet without circulating and monitoring their usage. Another post discusses a recent U.S. Senate Hearing , in which the committee chair speaks against relying on technologies, like filters, to protect our kids.
Rather, our efforts must rely on a multi-layered strategy – one that teaches our children about safe and responsible online behavior; one that encourages industry action to develop tools that will aid parents in their efforts to restrict inappropriate material from their children’s access; and one that relies on swift and certain action by law enforcement officials in finding and punishing those who would use the Internet to harm children.

We cannot rely on filters alone. We need to teach kids responsible, ethical use of the Internet. As a middle school teacher, I know we cannot shelter them forever, so we might as well teach them how to navigate responsibility. And, if educators are committed to this goal, it needs to become part of the curriculum. (In my new position this fall, I am excited to have the opportunity to develop such a focus.) Additionally, everything we teach kids about responsible use, media literacy, and safety is applicable in also other areas of their lives. I think the senator has the right idea.

** CORRECTION 8/10: I misunderstood. It ends up ALL YouTube videos were blocked. That's exactly what I fear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why Teachers Should Travel

As I pulled up my Chicago roots and headed out west for new adventures, I learned why people say "getting there is half the fun." Granted, there is a whole lot of South Dakota that isn't much fun, but overall I had an amazing and satisfyingly geeky trip.

At one point during the long drive, a friend and I got to talking about teachers travelling. He mentioned that the government should subsidize travel for teachers. As continued on my trip, I couldn't agree more. I've taught earth science in 2001, 2002, and again in 2006, and I have read a lot of information on plate tectonics and watched a number Discovery Channel specials. However, this hardly compares to the opportunity to being there and experiencing things like lava tubes and thermophilic bacterial mats firsthand. It's the ultimate "hands-on" learning. This trip will make me a better science teacher. If only we could charter a plane for field trips....

I've posted some of the scientific highlights of my trip on my more kid-oriented blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Recycling & a Ginkgo Tree - 7-3 Team Project

Our school has run a successful paper recycling program for years, however that environmental spirit never quite made it to aluminum cans. Sure, we had a separate can recycling container in the cafeteria, but the aluminum ultimately ended up in the trash, and trash ended up in the recycling containers. Ultimately, the cans ended up in the dumpster along with the rest of the trash, even as we gave the "impression" we were recycling the cans. This sort of false representation really bothers me, so I unleashed the wrath of the best hypocrisy-identification team anywhere... 7th graders.

Additionally, I was looking for something to rally the kids around and provide more of a team identity. Plus, it would be nice to get the kids outside during our long afternoon blocks of academic classes. When I told them of the sham in the cafeteria, they were hooked.

Here is the story of our grand adventure:

STEP 1: Research & pitch - We researched about the ecological benefits of recycling. I think the kids' favorite statistic was that "when you recycle an aluminum can, you save enough energy to power your television or computer for three hours." (Our sources included, the Utah State University recycling site , and Novelis.)

The kids developed their pitch and met with the school principal and head custodian. I was proud of my group. They took this meeting very seriously. Our "committee" asked great questions, and gave thoughtful responses to the administrations' concerns. Finally, we were approved for a one month trial.

STEP 2 - Promotion - The students then made posters (made from paper we took from the paper recycling bin, of course) and hung them around the school. Small groups of kids from our team rotated through the lunch periods for a week, acting as "recycling cheerleaders" - encouraging and applauding for their peers who chose to recycle their cans in the appropriate canister, rather than in the trash. The students recognized that, in order for this to work, the other 700 kids in the school would have to develop habits that helped our cause.

STEP 3: Recycle! - This was the "fun part." (Well, unless you asked the kids in January when we were crushing cans in boots and gloves in sub-zero Chicagoland weather!) Twice a week, I unleashed the crew. In 15 minutes, we were usually able to process 200-300 cans, going from stinky cafeteria bags of aluminum mixed with various foodstuffs to bags of somewhat clean, crushed cans ready for the scrap metal facility. (We also pulled tabs to donate to the Ronald McDonald House.)

STEP 4: Manage profits - While the kids knew the environmental benefits of energy and resource conservation, there was an added bonus of generated funds from turning in the aluminum. In fact, we made over $200 during the year. In one of our many brainstorming sessions, after voting down reclining chairs and a team vending machine (sigh), one student piped up, "wouldn't it be cool if we planted a tree to help fight global warming?" Now, I recognize there is some debate as to the carbon sequestering benefits of planting trees, but I thought it was a great idea. We had learned about carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. We had learned about photosynthesis. And, we had learned about our soon-to- emerge periodical cicadas and their effect on newly planted trees (hence, the green netting). Great, let's plant a tree! We opted to plant a ginkgo tree. Because they are awesome. (Visit my other blog post to learn all about ginkgo trees!)

STEP 4A: The "plaque" - The kids weren't done yet. They wanted to install a plaque, to commemorate our ordeal. Since we had discussed Chicago's "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet" program this summer, a student suggested we make our own globe. Now, I can seldom resist an artistic challenge, however, we were out of funds. (The PTO had already graciously kicked in funds to pay for the planting of the tree.)

But, we were determined and a bit lucky. A generous eBay seller (with a little encouragement) donated an antique finial. (And I drove 6.5 hours to pick it up... unfortunately, in my CO2 emitting vehicle.) A moment of serendipity introduced us to a local artist who suggested pique assiette, rather than paint, for our final project. Plus, she was willing to work with the kids to teach them the technique.

This began a flurry of plate gathering - which the kids thoroughly enjoyed breaking into pieces.... The entire project was completed by the students themselves, from design submissions, to voting on the final design, to sketching, breaking and reassembling the pieces, and finally the grouting and polishing. My favorite part is the cicada the kids included at the base, near the "2007," to commemorate our 17-year visitors.

When it was all finished, we had a stupendous final product. I hope the kids are proud, keep recycling, and come back to visit our tree for many years to come.

UPDATE JULY 2011: I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but our tree is "featured" in the 2011 movie Bad Teacher. Check out the trailer at 0:21!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Skype Makes the Class Whole

While surfing the web, I came across the most amazing story. Brian Crosby was teaching his fourth grade class at Agnes Risley Elementary School near Reno, NV, when he learned he was getting a new student.

Now this is now unusual at his school, as he explains that mobility rate is high in his classes. But, what made this new student unusual is that she was not actually going to attend school at all. Celest McCaskey was had leukemia and, as a consequence, an immune system too weak to attend school.

Mr. Crosby decided to use Skype, a free voice- and video-conferencing software that was launched in 2003, to virtually bring Celest to class. This is even more impressive when you consider that Celeste does not even own a computer. Mr. Crosby and a school counselor found donors for a computer, the DSL line and monthly Internet service.

Crosby's school is designated as "at risk" by the Washoe County School District, with more than 80 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. This isn't a district where kids generally have computers at home. Yet, Crosby is doing amazing things with technology in his class. Through funds approved by the 2005 legislature, each student in Crosby's class has their own wireless laptop computer.

They aren't the latest models. The machines are seven years old. But they work.

This makes me think of my own suburban school where we have resources this school may never have. I can only imagine what we would be able to do if our teachers were similarly creative with technology. Clearly the innovation is paramount over the actual equipment.

You might want to watch the newscast of the story, but even better - Mr. Crosby's class created a movie describing their experience.

You can read more about what this teacher is doing on his blog, Learning is Messy. I am very, very impressed.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Monotillation of Traxoline

As I turn in my final trimester grades, I think about my students and can't help but think about traxoline. This bit of educational humor/realism is often attributed to Judy Lanier.

It is very important that you learn about traxoline. Traxoline is a new form of zionter. It is monotilled in Ceristanna. The Ceristannians gristerlate large amounts of fevon and then bracter it to quasel traxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our most lukised snezlaus in the future because of our zionter lescelidge.

1. What is traxoline?
2. Where is traxoline monotilled?
3. How is traxoline quaselled?
4. Why is traxoline important?

Every adult and student I have talked with scores 100% on the post-test. However, not one of them knows a thing about traxoline, or for that matter, cares. But had this been a real quiz, each person would have received an "A."

Now, this might seem like just a silly exercise, but one blogger illustrates this point using an example from his own specialty of paleoecology:

It is very important that you learn about arcellacean taphonomy. Arcellaceans are a major group of testaceous rhizopods. During preservation in any depositional environment, taphonomy produces different thanatocoenoses from extant biocoenoses. Thenatocoenoses are the result of differental preservation during burial, but differ between environments of deposition due to differences in original biocoenoses and soil biogeochemistry. Arcellaceans are one of our most useful paleoindicators for lacustrine environments.

1. What are arcellaceans?
2. How do thanatocoenoses form?
3. Why do thanatocoenoses differ?
4. Why are arcellaceans important?

I could write many similar examples from my own curriculum. This is one reason I never use the multiple-choice and vocabulary tests in the back of the science test supplementary resources. Public school is a game in many ways, and many kids have learned to play it without actually absorbing any knowledge.

Science isn't about memorization. Science is about being curious, asking questions, exploring data, asking more questions, researching, and making connections between what you learn and what you already know. These are hard things to measure on a 90 - 80 -70 - 60 grading scale.

I am not really even a fan of "hands-on" learning for "hands-on" sake. Kids can go through the motions without ever engaging in any real learning. That's why I think it is so important to work with predictions and make those connections between kids and their learning. This is more "hand-on, minds-on" learning. Such activities focus more on predicting, asking questions and thinking scientifically and actively rather than training passive learners to earn "A's" through the successful completion of tasks. Science shouldn't be about memorization.

Brad Hoge disscusses questioning in his post about "well-meaning examples of constructivism go[ne] awry,"
It's okay to say, "I don't know" to a student's question, if fact it is important to do so, so long as that response is followed by "let's find out". Science is about the finding out. The knowledge accumulated by centuries of science in practice is needed to solve new problems. No one has all of the answers, but everyone can learn to think scientifically. This includes the skills of knowledge acquisition and problem solving.

As written in a previous post, I couldn't agree more.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Banana Inspiration

The other day, a student approached me waving a piece of notebook paper.

"Wanna read my poem?"

The subject was bananas.

Curious, I took the paper, read it, and smiled. It was an assignment done for her language arts class, but she wanted to share it with me.

When asked the inspiration for her art, the student replied that she wrote it "because in health class, we had to pick a fruit or vegetable to do a poem on, and I picked a banana" and she showed me because she knew I was "amused by bananas." (She must have been tipped off by my post celebrating bananas, as well as the banana sock tacked to my bulletin board....) She agreed I could publish the poem to my next banana post.

Ode To Bananas

It must be hard to be picked off trees
every time you turn green.
Banana, how it would hurt to be blended
mashed and creamed.

Your taste so soft and creamy
your texture so soft and smooth
I am sorry kids mistake you for a moon.

Banana you must get an extra special feeling
when you save lives with your potassium.

Banana you are a celebrity
appearing on socks, commercials, and pyramids (food pyramid).

It must be awesome to make everything taste good,
banana may I ask,
how would we survive without you!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Inspiration: New Blog Title

My blog used to be called "Mytko Miscellany in Education." Then, when I wrote a previous post, something about its title stuck with me over the next few days. I realized that those two words, "Post-its" and "ponderings," pretty much summed up my teaching experiences! (OK, OK, to be truly comprehensive, I should add the words "adolescent angst" and "chaos" too, but they just don't offer the same type of alliteration....)

One day, I decided to document my inspiration. On any given day (in this case, April 20th) my desktop computer looks like this:

This image represents one week's worth of post-its. Each post-it note is handcrafted by a student needing something from me or, more likely, having a question we were not able to answer in class. I treat student questions very seriously, as I believe curiosity is essential for science.

If I don't know the answer to a question, it ends up on a post-it note.

From there, we use a variety of resources to unearth the answer (our favorites being HowStuffWorks and Ask a Scientist). All of the answers end up taped to my classroom door, and some make it to my other blog. Not only do I enjoy seeing students learn more about a subject, but I also think it is powerful to show that their questions are valued and worth pursuing.

This week's door features an article on Chicago's proposed 150-story twisted tower, questions about the hand boilers on my desk, a description of banana slug's odd mating rituals (slug link is PG13 for mild language and invertebrate sexual content), and lots of answers to questions about cnidarians (my favorite: Can jellyfish sting each other?).

Now, I realize "ponderings" is not a word that you will find in the dictionary. But since improvisation is a middle school survival skill, an invented word like "ponderings" should raise few brows. The definition of ponder (verb) is "to reflect or consider with thoroughness and care." I'd like to think that my teaching is full of thoroughness and care. By adding -ing to the end of the verb, one forms the present participle of a verb, concerned with actually doing the action in the present. A second definition of pondering (adjective) is "deeply or seriously thoughtful." So, it would not be unreasonable to assume the pondering (noun) would refer to "an act of thorough, deep, and careful reflection." And I know adding an "s" makes nouns plural. So, there it is. Teaching is all about being thorough and careful, reflecting and being thoughtful on your feet. And a bit of improv.

It appears the term is catching on, as evidenced by the 4378 blog posts tagged "Ponderings" on Technorati.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Post-Its and Ponderings

Today, a student asked me if invertebrates sleep. This is the type of question that reminds me how much I enjoy teaching and learning. I have sat through many university lectures, read hundreds of pages of science texts, and taken volumes of notes, but every so often a child makes me look at things from a fresh perspective. I know a lot about invertebrates, but never once wondered if they sleep.

I have gone through hundreds of post-its in my career, many with questions scribbled in a childish hand and then stuck to my computer screen for later investigation. After almost ten years of teaching, I am always impressed by the fresh questions they think to ask. I've learned some interesting things through investigating those post-its.

As you imagine, sometimes we cannot find an answer. In such a case, my favorite resource is the UCSB ScienceLine where "research scientists from UC Santa Barbara answer science questions from teachers and students in K-12 schools."

Some of my favorites asked by my students and answered by UCSB scientists over the years:

1. If a person in a machine travelling faster than the speed of sound cannot hear the noise of a sonic boom, what might a person "see" or not see if they could (hypothetically) pass the "light speed" barrier? What would we, on the ground, see?

2. We've learned that all arthropods have a tough outer covering called an exoskeleton. However, we have also learned that some arthropods, such as "honey-pot" ants and ticks actually expand as they collect honey or blood in their body. Is the exoskeleton able to expand? Do these organisms have a different type of exoskeleton that other arthropods?

PS - In case you too are wondering, it is unclear if invertebrates sleep. (source: Neuroscience for Kids)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Media Literacy - in the curriculum?

Andy Carvin (author of a recent post on relates a discussion he had with Dan Rather regarding media literacy. He concludes his post by commenting,
Countless kids today are producing media, and they rarely get any guidance from schools. We don’t invest the time needed for today’s students to learn how to think critically about digital media, either through analyzing content or creating new content to understand the techniques that go into it.

Everyone now has the power to influence everyone - and teaching students to these technologies responsibly requires a serious commitment from educators. Are we prepared to commit?

My curriculum is already full of topics I should teach. It is a constant exercise in prioritization to decide what I can cover in a relatively short time. However, I think media literacy is vital and I want to work to make it a priority in my classroom. It is no longer necessary for kids too memorize the lists scientific facts I recall being relentlessly quizzed over as a student. Students today can access any information they need in a fraction of a second on the Internet. The question is, do they know what to do with it?

Too often, I see teachers who assign "research projects," leaving the kids to their own devices on the Internet. Most teachers teach how to cite sources, but few spend time discussing image usage and web site evaluation. Alternately, many teachers limit student searches to a few reputable teacher-chosen sites. Many warn their kids against using Wikipedia. One of my co-workers even forbids students to search on Google.

However, this strict control does not prepare our students to use the Internet as a tool. As Andy Carvin states, "...every kid in America with a camera phone and access to YouTube" contributes to the massive amounts of media available to them. And they obviously are using this media when there are not teachers around to "control" them.

I've run across a few tools to teach responsible media usage. A Madison, WI site includes an evaluation checklist and example sites to investigate. UC Berkeley and Cornell University are just two of the colleges that have suggestions of how to evaluate websites. One interactive kid-friendly site, Jo Fool or J Cool, allows kids to visit mock-ups of web pages to determine whether they are legitimate sites or bad ideas. One of my goals for this year is to adapt these resources for use in my own classroom in order to improve the media literacy of my own students.

All this only addresses our students as consumers of media. As technology becomes more available and mainstream, I think schools will have a responsibility to guide students in the responsible production of media as well. Our kids' usage is far outpacing their expertise at this point. Schools can help close this gap.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Higher Standard

I just read an article (another article, blogpost) about a Florida teacher who was given an ultimatum by his school district: either cover up his brief nudity in his performance of the Full Monty, quit the community production, or resign from his job as a teacher of high school music and chorus.

He was told that "Because teachers are held to a higher standard than most people, you have to look at how that affects the community and his role as a classroom teacher," said Barbara Melanson, the school district's director of human resources.

This standard has recently been an issue at my school. What would be perceived as sarcastic humor with any other adult, is construed as inappropriate in a classroom setting. In a similar situation, if an educator so much as slips out a "shut up" in frustration, you'd better believe we will have to explain our actions to our administrators.

It's strange to be a constant pillar in today's society of crumbling morals. However, the more I think about it, the more important I think it is for kids to have at least a few adult role models in their lives. Unfortunately, parents do not always fulfill this role. And clearly, the media runs amok with inappropriate models. Teachers may well be the only ones left.

However, in the case of this Florida teacher, I think we run into dangerous territory when teachers have their right to be human stripped away. (OK, pun intended.) Context is important. This teacher is not on a street corner mooning cars. He is a sanctioned community production. I think the school district is being ridiculous. There are bigger battles to fight.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When Worlds Collide: Global Warming

Last week, my teammate stopped by and told me that he was going to be studying the Middle East and the politics of oil in his social studies class. Would I want to do anything about oil?

Well, we have already "covered" the environment in September, and we were currently studying plants, but I figured dead plants make up fossil fuels. Close enough.

So, my students and I looked into the science of fossil fuels and alternative fuels. (LiveScience has written its Top 10 ways to power the future.) We culminated our short study with selections from Who Killed the Electric Car? and The Inconvenient Truth. (LiveScience also updates us on current electric car technology.)

That night, at home, I was scrolling through the Chicago Tribune, when I came across Mayor Daley and Chicago's timely
response to recent reports (BBC, CNN) that humans are mainly responsible for global warming.

Similar to the fiberglass "Cows on Parade" from 1999, one hundred 5-foot-wide globes will be featured this summer in areas along the lakefront. Each globe will feature an artist's design to help "
bring awareness to the need for solutions to reduce global warming." (Chicago Tribune article)

Mayor Daley announced his plans on February 6 and plans to call the exhibit "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet."

"We all share responsibility for global warming," Daley said. "We can all be a part of the solution."

Now, here's the even cooler part. After the globes hang out at the lakefront for the summer, they will be auctioned off. The money raised from the auction will be used to expand environmental programs and conservation clubs in the Chicago public schools. Now, that is a great way to give back to schools and empower our kids.

Art teacher Turtel Onli sponsors such a program at Kenwood Academy High School. He says,

"We want to help children make the transition from consumers to committed, passionate citizens"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Character Does Count

I read an article recently about a Wisconsin Police Chief, Richard Knoebel, who wrote himself a ticket for accidently passing a school bus with its lights flashing. As he believed he should not be treated any differently than any other resident, he wrote himself a $235 ticket last September and paid the fine the next day. No one really knew about it, until a newspaper wrote about it after stumbling across the fine in public court records. Asked about the recent press coverage, Knoebel responds,

If it brings notice to people that they should be stopping for school buses, I don't mind the notoriety

Now this is a story that impresses me.

So often, I feel as though I am fighting a losing moral battle with my middle school students. While I strive to model emotional intelligence and remain a pillar of good character in my classroom, the kids are constantly bombarded with mixed messages outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, there are posters telling them that a measure of character is how they act when no one is watching. However, outside the classroom, it is often expressed (even by parents) that "it's OK as long as you don't get caught."

We've been talking a lot about commitment in my classroom lately. In the beginning of the year, we decided to recycle the aluminum cans at our school. After much research and negotiation with the principal, I stood in front of my kids and took a "heads-down, hands-up" vote of whether we should take on this responsibility. I strongly reinforced that this commitment would require going outside twice a week for about 20 minutes to sort through the garbage and crush the cans, for the entire year. This would include the midwest winter months, which are brutal at best. All but one of my students made a promise that they would commit to our goal.

Now, in February, the whining is at its peak. "Do we have to?" "But it's cold!" "This is stupid." I remind them that they made a commitment. I tell them to bring a hat and gloves. (Which, in middle school, is decidedly 'uncool.') We agreed that this was important, and that this mattered to the environment. And I will not let them back out of their agreement, as they are allowed to do so often in their lives. Some kids are starting to get it. When it is below freezing outside, I do give the kids a choice. (I'm not that crazy.) Lately, some kids have been saying "We made a commitment - I'm in!"

I read about pillars of character, and believe kids should be encouraged to embrace these ideals. But, there's part of me that wonders... how many adults do I know who embrace these characteristics? Sometimes, I get discouraged with society. But, once in a while, I am reminded by people such as Richard Knoebel that good character still exists. Nice work!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Failure in School: Whose Fault Is It?

I've got to admit, I really enjoy reading Dennis Fermoyle's blog, From the Trenches of Public Ed.. I find myself nodding in agreement to much of what he writes about. In one post, he pulls an except from his own book.
I think it's reasonable to say that when teachers are making a real effort to engage their students, the responsibility for trying to learn should lie with the students. But we have been brainwashed. We have been taught to blame ourselves when students refuse to try. It sounds so noble for a teacher to say, "If any of my students fail, then I have failed," but I'm convinced that this is actually harmful. An example I used in the book I wrote illustrates just where this "nobility" is getting us.

I attended a workshop in which the presenter, a teacher-turned- college-professor, told the story of a sixth grade girl with whom he had worked. The girl had refused to do a required assignment. The presenter said he tried everything he could to encourage her, but she wouldn't do it. Finally, he asked her why she wouldn't just give it a try. She told him, "Because if I try, it won't be very good,and I'll be a failure; but if I don't try, then you're the failure."

I think is is important to stress Fermoyle's first line, "I think it's reasonable to say that when teachers are making a real effort to engage their students, the responsibility for trying to learn should lie with the students." I agree that teachers have a responsibility to engage and inspire learners. I am in no way excusing bad teaching. But I recognize that, even when good teachers are trying their best, they all too often can relate to the selection above.

Why is it that good teachers beat themselves up over their student's shortcomings? Students spend roughly 45 minutes a day with a single teacher, which is a little over 3% of their entire day. In fact, kids only spend 6.5 hours (or 27%) of their day in school, and 73% at home. So why are individual teachers expected to be so responsible for students' academic motivation, social health, emotional well-being and character development?

I talk to my students about responsibility for their actions. In response to "Who is ultimately responsible for your own learning?" most will respond, "I am." However, do they really believe that? If they don't turn in an assignment, I am expected to keep track, make a list, recopy the sheets, and schedule a time for them to redo a lab or use the supplies. If they don't pay attention in class, I am expected to stay after school to re-teach the concepts missed. If a student misbehaves, I need to have them serve a detention with me after school. If they receive a failing grade, I am the one who has to go to the principal to explain myself to the administration and to the parent. What message does this send to the student? I agree with the sixth grader above. The message is: if students do not try, then it is the teacher who is labeled the failure and is responsible for fixing the situation.

I love my job, and I work far beyond my 6.5 "contract hours" per day. However, I want to give my time to creating engaging lessons, making meaningful assessments, giving thoughtful feedback, and helping those students who make an effort, but truly struggle. Most afternoons, I give my time to various extracurricular activities to help develop the "whole child." Every hour I spend on a single student, is an hour taken away from the other 99% of my team. I know that is all part of the deal of teaching, but less than 5% of my students take up over 90% of my efforts. I do believe all students can learn, and I want to make a difference, but I am struggling with finding the time to make it happen.

I'm saddened that report cards are no longer considered feedback on student progress. They have become some sort of permanent record of monumental importance, that teachers must remain in virtually constant contact with parents, as to carefully craft the single letter that will remain etched in ink. It is no longer enough to send a progress report every six weeks. Teachers are expected to immediately contact the parent with any drop in percentage and initiate interventions to reverse low performance, in the form of behavior contracts, modified assignments, alternate assessments, and additional help. I am to happy to oblige, but it all of this takes time away from meaningful pedagogical contributions to the rest of the class. As I watch some of my apathetic students, I wonder - what happened to the students' role in all of this?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Social Impact Games & Gaming in Education

I'll be the first to admit, I'm not much into video games, yet even I have heard kids excitedly discussing WarCraft and Halo. I think it safe to say that most kids are significantly more engaged with their video game console than their schoolwork. I, like many educators, have considered: what if we could somehow combine the two?

In reading Hungarian medical student,
Bertalan Meskó's, blog post on medical video games, I was reminded of a very interesting site which compiles "social impact games." One such linked game explains,
The Liemandt Foundation is dedicated to facilitating, testing, and promoting “stealth education” video games so that they can make learning fun for kids who might enjoy playing games more than listening to teachers.
There are specific learning games, such as Kinetic City's Nowhere to Hide demo on natural selection (birds, bugs, and pollution). The political and social games range from interesting, to disturbing, to downright offensive for some.

Check out some of these games at Social Impact Games and the Serious Games Initiative.

However, this brings me to an interesting dilemma. Where is the balance between our need to educate and our expectation (by today's kids) to entertain? Is there a satisfactory and possible compromise?

Magazine T.H.E. Journal believes education is Trending the the Right Direction. Also, considering the issue of using gaming and interactive software in education is the focus of an upcoming international symposium sponsored by The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), I think it is an important trend to watch.
There are salient differences between the design environment for those who design games and those who develop products for the K-12 market. One difference is that game developers are largely unconstrained by national or state mandated curriculum and can design their products for integrity and validity as a stand alone experience. Also, game designers must count on the nature of the experience to engage the student rather than relying on an adult authority to require kids to use it.
To date, there has been limited cross-over between the worlds of education and gaming/interactive software. This Symposium will explore if there are effective strategies for stimulating greater synergy between these sectors with the goal of providing more compelling and engaging learning environments for our children.
I plan on attending that March 27th symposium. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

School is Boring

Dennis Fermoyle's blog post describes how Marc Prensky's article, Engage Me or Enrage Me (2005), was placed in teacher's mailboxes, presumably to inspire and motivate the educators. However, it ended up enraging some of the teachers instead. Of course, I had to check it out myself, and had a similar reaction. From the article...
The big difference from today is this: the kids back then didn’t expect to be engaged by everything they did. There were no video games, no CDs, no MP3s—none of today’s special effects. Those kids’ lives were a lot less rich—and not just in money: less rich in media, less rich in communication, much less rich in creative opportunities for students outside of school. Many if not most of them never even knew what real engagement feels like.

I've heard this from veteran teachers. They talk about the frustration of "competing" with students' multimedia outside world.
Life for today’s kids may be a lot of things—including stressful—but it’s certainly not unengaging.

Except in school.

And there it is so boring that the kids, used to this other life, just can’t stand it.

In fact, kids often seem over-engaged. The only time they get to relax is in school, and many kids take this mental vacation to new heights during school hours.

Yesterday’s education for tomorrow’s kids. Where is the programming, the genomics, the bioethics, the nanotech—the stuff of their time? It’s not there. Not even once a week on Fridays.

That’s one more reason the kids are so enraged—they know their stuff is missing!

I might argue against that. Do they really know that their stuff is missing? Or do they only know they want something different?
The fact is that even if you are the most engaging old-style teacher in the world, you are not going to capture most of our students’ attention the old way. “Their short attention spans,” as one professor put it, “are [only] for the old ways of learning.” They certainly don’t have short attention spans for their games, movies, music, or Internet surfing. More and more, they just don’t tolerate the old ways—and they are enraged we are not doing better by them.

And if we educators don’t start coming up with some damned good curricular gameplay for our students—and soon—they’ll all come to school wearing (at least virtually in their minds) the T-shirt I recently saw a kid wearing in New York City: “It’s Not ADD—I’m Just Not Listening!”

Whew. It's tough just to pick out a few parts of that article to comment on. It is rather enraging. I frequently remind students that I am not "a paid entertainer" and part of the responsibility to make things interesting rests on their shoulders. I don't think it is acceptable for students to sit back and to send the message, "Engage me or Enrage me."

However, I do see some valid points to the article. The world IS changing, and education should be forced to change with it. However, as with any innovation, there needs to be time, money and support.

I use various technologies in my classroom. I have been using digital video, internet simulations and powerpoint lessons for years. I am currently looking into implementing blogs, wikis, and Flash into my curriculum. However, I struggle with the time. From the moment I wake up at 4 am, until I leave school at 6 pm or later, I am racing around. I can only imagine what I might be able to come up with given an uninterrupted chunk of time with similarly-minded professionals. We have a lot of good ideas inside of us, but not the time to flush them out.

Money is also an issue. Teachers need experts to train them. However, what would be the motivation for a technology expert to accept a position in a school district for $50,000 a year, when they can make that much in 6 or 7 weeks in a lucrative tech field? From limited personal experience, this is a growing problem, as science and technology trained professionals leave teaching to pursue more appropriate compensation for their talents. Schools also need money to upgrade their equipment. Prensky demands "some damned good curricular gameplay." We need the equipment and network to support it. To implement technology to the extent to which Prensky refers, we need more that a few computer carts for schools 500+ kids. And, as the technology gets more interactive, the strain on the limited systems will become more pronounced.

And, most importantly, there needs to be support. Prensky asks, "Where is the programming, the genomics, the bioethics, the nanotech—the stuff of their time? " It's out there, but teachers can't yet grasp it. When a technology start-up encounters an area of non-expertise, what do they do? They secure additional funding and hire a consultant. However, across the country, school district budgets are being slashed. Just as a start-up would not ask a non-expert to waste their time muddling through a problem they cannot solve, teachers should not be held responsible for being unable to integrate such technology into the current curriculum. Provide us with the expertise, the training and the time to learn, and I am sure we would see more invigorating results.

Prensky, while initially raising the hairs on the back of my neck, makes some very valid points. Education does have to change. But in order to do so, the current time and funding structures will have to change as well.
An African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, it's going to take a whole lot more than just teachers to change education. But with the necessary resources, we are up for the challenge!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Muscle Song in Prep for Frog Dissection

When studying comparative anatomy, my students sing the following song, to remember the function (lyrics) and location (motions) of some major muscles. They tease me for making up the song, but I've heard more than one student hum the tune while taking the muscle test!

(to the tune of "If You're Happy & You Know It." Instead of clapping twice, as in the original song, we do the indicated motions twice.)

The Pectoralis is a muscle in my chest, (cross arms over chest)
My Deltoids lift my arms the best, (lift arms as if flying)
If I wanna take a peek, (hand up as if shielding your eyes from the sun)
Then I'll have to use Oblique (turn and bend diagonally)
The Pectoralis is a muscle in my chest. (cross arms over chest)

Use my Rectus Abdominus in a crunch, (crunch forward)
My Triceps Brachii help throw a punch, (punch motion)
Now to lift my leg like this, (lift leg in 90 degree angle from hip)
I'll have to use my Femoris, (hold pose)
Use my Rectus Abdominus in a crunch. (crunch forward)

My Gastrocnemius is kinda neat, (stand up on tip toe)
It's the muscle that helps me point my feet, (lift foot and point toe)
Now you might think I'm a nut, (no particular motion here)
But my Gluteus is my butt, (turn and point to butt)
My Gastrocnemius is kinda neat. (stand up on tip toe)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Microbe Wanted Poster & Plagiarism

Every life science teacher in my building does some variation of the "Wanted Poster" during our study of microbes. (Feel free to modify my checklist.) Search Google, and you can find many teachers who are using a similar project. Not only does it allow for a little creativity, but a project like this helps dissuade the plagiarism beast.

Media literacy is as big of an issue to tackle as plagiarism, so for this assignment, instead of letting them loose on the Internet, I restrict their search to a list of trusted sites.

With all of these great resources available on diseases, a straight report would be an open invitation for plagiarism. We've all heard our students claim "but, the author wrote it exactly the way I would write it already!" In the old days, plagiarism meant painstakingly copying sentences from an encyclopedia. However, nowadays, "cut-and-paste plagiarism" is much more convenient and prevalent.

I used information from Indiana University and Lisa Hinchliffe to create a PowerPoint to use with my students at the start of this project. At each natural stopping point, I allowed my students to write and share their own paraphrasing of the selections. It was a good discussion and all of the kids said they learned something from the activity.

Does this mean I have never had instances of plagiarism again? Not quite. There will always be those students whose waited well beyond the last minute or who are looking for the "easy A". However, it did cut down tremendously on the amount of "uninformed plagiarists" - those kids who honestly didn't realize what they were doing was wrong.