Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All I Ever Wanted to Know about Dieting I Learned at Work

I have learned so much about Weight Watchers, dress sizes, plus sizes, counting carbs, fat grams, and points this year at work that I wont ever have to watch Oprah again.

Not that I'm opposed to learning, Im just not so sure dieting should be the number one topic on a high school campus. Not even moaning about administration overtakes diettalk for the #1 spot. Now what kind of school is this?

In addition to dieting I was lucky enough to listen to teachers booking travel plans over the phone, getting tickets to hear a political speech, and planning their party/outing tonight. What I didnt hear was one teacher calling students and discussing how they can do help them do better in their courses in the 2nd quarter. hmmm,

Yes, I know, Im whining. This is a HS after all.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Accessibility in Online Classes

There are some fundamental accessibility problems at our online school. High School students, and students of all ages for that matter, have trouble navigating online courses. So, if we know that, why don't we make it easier for them? Are we trying to trick them? Are we trying to exude power by playing guessing games? It's simple, they will learn more of the actual content if we take the time to include some fundamental basics when constructing our courses. Below are 5 tips for making your online coursework more accessible.

1. Lesson Introductions - Most of our online teachers do not include this basic part to a good lesson plan. The introduction, or what I call the hook, has to somehow connect what kids are about to learn to what they already know. Building your lesson to connect to their background knowledge is the first rung on a ladder to creating schema organization in long term memory. It also gives the lesson relevancy and motivates students by tying into what they already know or like.

2. Be Brief but Organized - We have all been to a website where you scroll down further and further, seemingly never coming to an end of the webpage. If you do that in an online lesson the kids are gone, done before they ever begin. Lessons have to be constructed in small, organized parts without including pages worth of material on one webpage.

3. Requirements - Tell the students what you want them to do. For example, if you are sending the student to a link outside of your webpage then tell them what to do once they get there. Be specific, tell them exactly what to read and sometimes what to ignore. Also, when the student is completing a project or written assignment, you should include the exact requirements of what they need to understand for that assessment.

4. Student Samples- Try to provide student samples. We do this in a regular class, why wouldn't we do it online? All of my courses utilize a wiki that my students have created and host to show off quality work.

5. Don't hide things from our kids- If you want HS kids to find what you want them to learn, put it right in front of them. Don't make them go to one page to find a password or another to find what you are going to assess them on. Don't get me wrong, it's okay to have links that shoot the kids off to content, but don't make accessing the content a labyrinth they have to navigate. Its difficult enough for kids to just complete the assignments in an online course, don't try to teach them how to be successful scavenger hunters to do that.

Many of us believe the way we have set up our courses is spot on. Are we paying attention to the signs that student's are giving us that tell us they aren't?

Educational Technology Carnival

I wanted to thank Global Citizenship in a Virtual World for featuring two of my blog posts in their recent Ed Tech Carnival. They are picking up steam over there and have some great postings in this collection.

2nd Edition of the Educational Technology Carnival

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Does Communication Equate to Attendance?

We have a very high at-promise population at my charter school. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that 90% of our kids are at serious risk for not completing HS. This is the time of the year when it really starts to get scary. It seems that the initial burst out of the gate wears off right around week 5 (we are in week 7 now) and student's start missing class. Early on attendance is up but then they hit a wall. They just stop showing up. So far this year that hasn't been true in my courses, but its still true in other classes on campus. It got me thinking. If I'm getting 80-100% attendance everyday but many teachers are only getting 40-80% attendance everyday, is there a relationship somehow. I've made some formal and casual observations through substituting and observing classes throughout the day and I see this pattern a lot. A theory has started to form..... The teachers that spend a lot of time tracking students academic achievement, which includes knowing almost every detail of their coursework, monitoring grades bi-weekly, and calling home on a regular basis, seem to have better attendance. The kids whose teachers are much more blase about tracking progress and calling home have lower attendance numbers. Well, thats my hypothesis anyway. I wonder if it could be true.

It would be really interesting to break down attendance numbers by teacher and compare that to the amount of time each teacher spends monitoring students to see if my hypothesis could become a theory (shout out to my 7th grade science teacher for teaching me the difference). Too bad I can't do that. Its pretty invasive and calls for a lot of formal judgment on my part and probably wouldn't lead to any change at our school anyway. So for now, I will just continue to watch most students fall through the cracks but hope that the work a few great teachers at my school are doing can save enough. Oh yeah, one of my goals for this year is to stay positive so I'm writing this entry with a smile on face to counter balance the negativity in the last paragraph.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Motivating Student Creativity Article

I've written an article that will be posted in the Techlearning E-Zine in the spring. It's a short piece with 2 central themes. The first theme is the idea of options. It's important that teachers provide students with options for completing assignments. Of course this isn't practical for all assignments since we are often trying to teach them something with the method of assessment. However, most assignments in secondary education are essays and traditional objective based assessments. Communication and information in the beloved 'real world' isn't based on those methods anymore. Essays certainly play a role but not the central role in communicating ideas in the Web 2.0 world that our kids occupy. Which is my segue to the 2nd theme, using Web 2.0 tools in my courses. In other words, allowing students to use project based tools that are valid to the world they live in will promote creativity, motivation, and 21st century literacy.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Playing with Money

I read a prompt on Brickfish the other day. It said "sum up a politician using visuals that represent parts of a mathematical formula." The final slide is at the bottom of the page, but first check out my SlideShare version.

Then I took 13 of the pics and told the same story in an Animoto Video:

Then I had to pick one slide and submit it to the contest. If you like it, please vote for me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Don't Despair

Don't despair even though the numbers aren't there. This is still going to be the best year ever. Okay, what do I mean? Well last Friday we submitted unsats for each of our classes. Any students with a 'd' or 'f' in any course would receive an unsatisfactory notice home. Our Assiss. Principal ran the numbers today and here is what we got. 726 students, 650 receiving at least one unsat, 76 with none. That means, hold on let me get out my trusty windows calculator, 89.5% are not passing at least one class 6 weeks into the school year. I like to think of it this way, 10% are passing every one of their courses, yayyyy!

Pretty disparaging. So why am I optimistic? Change takes time. We have implemented drastic changes to our school from the way we deliver our content to the methods we communicate with our kids. Its a HUGE change and we are only 6 weeks into the year. I know that I'm doing more than Ive ever done before, and I trust that is going to save more kids from dropping and failing out than Ive saved in previous years. There are a couple of us doing this, we will make a big difference to our students. Other teachers will begin to make the necessary changes, jump on the bandwagon so to speak, as we get into the school year further. They just need a little time, but not too much time because students drop like flies at our school. Also, they may need some not so gentle nudging from admin. I know some of us who are maxed out would like to see some swift kicks to those who waste sooooooooo much time. It's obvious to us admin, just ask.