Category Archives: blogging

“Students 2.0″ website back up

students 2.0 screenshot, new url 2012Just a quick mea culpa and news of a resurrection: The mea culpa? I let Students 2.0 url lapse in the transition from Korea to Singapore. Then I fell into several fathoms of off-web seas — three years of graduate study (and a new Masters in Ed. Leadership last year), and three years of China voraciousness — and only recently surfaced to get the site back online.

So Students 2.0 — with help from “Arthus” and a nudge from Lindsea — is indeed back up, but with a twist: it has a new address: it was .org.)

Apologies to all for that lapse. Better late than never. And it’s nice to revisit that stretch of the path.

Back to Blogging Again–Elsewhere, and Elsewhat

But not here. I’m blogging with my History of China students here. Why?

Crazy, beautiful backstory: Several eons ago, I wrote a “Must-Reads Before Dying” post that the inimitable Stephen Downes challenged for its omission of Confucius. I met his challenge with a cheeky “Confucius? Really? Too stuffy for students” type response:

And Stephen, notice the sentence before this update? Of course there are omissions…. The Dao De Jing? A deep book, but too ponderous and opaque next to the joyous alternative of Zhuangzi. The Analects? Sure, though far from a literary masterpiece.

Fast forward to, oh, the last three years teaching the entire history of China six times over (it’s a semester course, so I get to watch that epic story twice a year). With each turn to the “100 Schools of Thought” of Classical China, during its very un-classical and downright barbarous Warring States Period, I’ve had the pleasure of re-visiting Master Kong’s Analects and, with each re-visit — and re-read, and reading of new translations (my god, the Ames and Rosemont philosophical translation is rich), and re-annotation — and I’ve had the pleasure of esteeming and enjoying him more and more. (Prof. Robert Eno of Indiana University has an excellent, free “teaching translation” here.)

So, Mr. Downes: a mega mea culpa. You were so very right — and your philosophical background, which you recently pointed to in a Stephen’s Web post defending the value of a philosophy major, showed that value in your challenge to that “Must-Reads” post. Do I still love Zhuangzi and Laozi and the Daoists? Absolutely. But Confucius has grown on me with each new read until now, he — and Mencius and Xunzi — are even more “must-read before dying.” The bloody Chinese hit the jackpot in terms of ancient wisdom. Crazy cool.

So anyway, yeah: not much calling to write about technology in education any more (obviously, as the silence shows). But to use it to write alongside, with, to, and for students? And anybody else interested in what the world’s oldest living civilization may have to offer the young upstarts like our own? Oh, yes.

Anyway, that’s how this blog started, years ago. It was for my students. I began because I was making my freshmen in Korea blog about history and literature, and pulled the old “practice what you preach” thing by blogging alongside them.

Now, though, it’s China and the West in the ultimate civilizational stand-off. Drop by and join the conversation if you’re interested (and here’s the class blog, chocablock with readings to catch you up if you want an education in Chinese history that has nothing to do with textbooks and everything to do with provocative reads and questions).

Consider that an invitation. Here’s the card:

Writing China screenshot

More on Homework-Free, Document-Based Lessons

(A follow-up to yesterday’s post.)

Hi, can you elaborate on a document based lesson? How much time do you spend working with a document?*

I’d love to hear others’ takes on this question. Me? I’m making my own DBQs, basically, to bring out the essential learnings and understandings key to the narrative frame that I’m building around the entire span of China’s recorded history. It’s a semester course, so much selection and rejection of textbook content is going on — and textbook coverage of those concepts is disappearing almost entirely. Other sources bring these things out so much better, and with so much more interest.

Since the Shang and Zhou dynasties are as seminal to China as the Hebrew and Christian traditions are to the West (Confucian ritual and ideology trace back to the Shang and Zhou), I’m spending a lot of time on those two dynasties in primary source work.

Long story short, rather than a paragraph from a textbook about the importance of Ancestor Rites, I lead students through a three-page essay from a secondary source about the role of music in Zhou ritual that (deliciously) includes two extended texts — one from the Zhou Classic of Odes (Shi Jing), another from a bronze bell inscription — that actually narrate the ritual performance from start to finish.

Since Confucian ethics revolve around ritual and music, not religion or rules, I spent about a half hour on these three pages in class. Procedure (and I myself wince at this too, but feel it’s justified since it’s so crucial to understanding the next 3,000 years of China’s history):

  1. I read aloud once, slowly, instructing students to annotate anything that strikes them (their choice), but also to double-underline any word or phrase that I pause to read twice. (Why? There are key repetitions and motifs that sleepy or inattentive students can gloss over and miss. My reading these key passages twice, I hope, forces the discussion afterward to address these key elements.)
  2. I occasionally pause with comprehension-checking questions (“Who is the ‘impersonator’?” “Who is the ‘revered guest’?” “Remember who King Wen and Wu are?”) along the way to keep everybody from getting lost.
  3. Once I finish reading aloud, students get the essential questions (E.g., “These rites, and the values in them, will be central to China for the next 3,000 years. When Christian Europe arrives 2,500 years later, how do you think Christian missionaries will react to the types of ritual worship we see here? What is ‘holy’ in China that might be ‘sin’ to Europeans?” “What do we learn about how the ancient Chinese saw the afterlife? Is it similar to Christianity, or different?” On and on.)
  4. We open it up and discuss from there.
  5. Homework is only to write on a team blog a minimum 14-sentence post about one of the essential questions of the day. They comment on each others’ posts as a way of peer teaching and, in the best cases, simply conversing about the interesting thoughts they’re having.

I’ve been timing how long it takes me to read the texts aloud before class, and planning the length of discussion based on how many texts are included in the day’s plan.

Here’s the packet with the readings I referenced for the session above (the Shang and Zhou Ritual text on the last two pages is incredibly interesting). The entire packet is a two-lesson mini-unit on the legacies of the Shang and Western Zhou. We’re on a block schedule, so that means about 2 hours in class.

*Copied from an H-NET history teachers list-serv for my own records.

Homework: To Flip? or to Toss?

Forays into Flipping

I’ve been edublog silent for a long time now, but buzz about the Flipped Classroom actually hit me human-to-human instead of via the interwebs. Teachers in my school are experimenting with it way out here in this Texan colony that is northern Singapore.

When it comes to social studies, though, I have a hard time seeing how assigning at-home readings for extension in class  –  a pretty traditional approach in history classrooms, in my experience  –  is not already “flipped.”

I did toy with the idea of flipping my classroom over the summer, though, was briefly active on the FC Ning, and played with podcasting and vodcasting content as homework during the first quarter of this school year. The experience left me with

  1. concerns that students read even less than many already do, possibly undercutting their readiness for college and adulthood generally, which expects advanced reading skills (but I could be wrong here; when I was in high school, I never read assigned hw because I wanted to read more interesting things like sci-fi and — if you laugh at the next one, you haven’t read the research — ’70s-era Marvel Comics);
  2. hard-won appreciation for how time-consuming the creation of quality podcasts or vodcasts is, and relatedly –
  3. ditto for how sadistic and morale-killing, good intentions aside, a poorly made teacher podcast or video can be.

I’ll add that students have overall volunteered their appreciation for image-enhanced podcasts. Last September, walking home from school after classes all day on Chinese philosophies, enjoying a thinker’s high about Confucius and the gonzo Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi (“Jesus doing stand-up comedy” is the best hook I can come up with),  I sat under a tree and tried to share that high with my students in a talk into my iPhone voice recorder — the first 12 minutes on Confucianism, the last 12 on Taoism. I went home, slapped some images on top of the audio in Garageband (and took a photo from my 16th floor apartment of the very tree under which those thoughts found voice), and that was that:

Another similar “walk and talk” into that machine about “what goodness means” to a Hindu, a Hebrew monotheist, and a traditional Chinese person for my ninth-graders:

These got good feedback (“It’s interesting” is a nice review of homework, as is “it helped things make sense”). Occasionally students have emailed me special requests on topics we’ve covered in units since those efforts. I’m pretty convinced I’m more interesting talking into my iPhone than trying to deliver the same ideas live in front of the class. I’m less distracted by the clowns and corpses, more focused on the ideas, and less inhibited in letting my own impassioned interest come out.

But man, editing images in in Garageband takes a lot of time, and that time is just not available. I keep thinking I should go minimalist and do audio-only podcasts, and gauge student response. If still good, that’s much easier to pull off. Another option I’ve considered is having students collaborate with me by finding images for the audio lectures, and making them edit them into AV podcasts. Yet another possibility is to assign a crowdsourced transcript of the lecture by having each student transcribe, say, one minute of the audio lecture. 30 students could do 30 minutes and slap it all together on a Google Doc or wiki. That would provide a text that could replace the boring textbook.

But this semester my interests have changed. I want my students to have time to sit under trees too.

(Next to) No Homework: The Sweet Spot?

My current experiment involves not so much flipping homework as (almost) ending it.  I’m using document-based lessons in which all reading and discussion is done in class, and the only homework is a reflective blog post about the day’s content on a team blog — which student team-members read and comment on with corrections, extensions, challenges, etc. I like this so far, for several reasons:

  1. it ensures all have actually done the reading and received the input (never a certainty with homework assignments)
  2. it ensures, moreover, that more students have actually understood the deeper implications of the readings, through the discussions clarifying the concepts and understandings following our read-alouds (we’re currently reading 3,000-year-old Western Zhou Dynasty passages from the  Confucian Five Classics that bring out the teachings of Confucianism more powerfully than any textbook summary can, but that require close reading and clarification. So we read, stop, ask, and discuss; read, stop, ask, and discuss)
  3. it eliminates the “I read it last night but forgot most of it after waking up” that is as true for many adults as it is for students. We read and annotate based on front-loaded questions/reading purposes, take a couple of minutes to gather our impressions, and launch into talks with it all fresh in memory
  4. it makes the student peer-teaching via comments on the team blog more reliable (they read it and discussed it with the teacher’s guidance in class, so odds are at least two in a five-person team comprehended the finer points of the lesson and can reinforce them in blog comments by catching and addressing misunderstandings in their peers’ posts)

The short version: we read homework in class, discuss it in class, clarify and debate it in class — then briefly write about it at home. Hopefully this leads to less homework and deeper learning at the same time — and above all, to less aversion to school because of all that homework.