Category Archives: writing

“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.

Colorful Student Writing Award

Mao swimming the Yangtze

Mao swimming the Yangtze at 72, in 1966

I asked for voice in the “Was Mao Really a Monster?” editorial assignment, and boy did I get it in this student’s opening:

The cool waves splashed against his chest, his glimmering green teeth glistened in the beautiful sun, his body moved majestically in the cool waters. This is not the image of a great brute, but of an excellent ruler. After seeing Mao’s adorable face, there is no way you can classify him as a monster.

I’m not making fun of the writer, by the way–the kid’s bright, and the sentences above, though obviously written in what David Sedaris might call a “kicky” (and academically heretical) mood, are pretty elegant for teen prose. (A webcam reflection he did this week made me recommend, in all sincerity, that he consider aiming to become the next-generation Pee Wee Herman.) And since he couldn’t resist going for the laugh–and succeeding in giving it to me, out loud, just now–I pass it on for your enjoyment.

(More on Mao’s historic swim below:)

And speaking of Pee Wee, here’s a blast from his amazing 1980s wonderland. It’s one of few children’s shows I watched religiously as an adult:

In Which the Teacher is Sacrificial Poet at His First Poetry Slam

In which this teacher sacrifices himself as “Sacrificial Poet” to warm up and launch the First Annual IASAS Forensics and Debate Poetry Slam. SAS, March 2012. (The “Sacrificial Poet,” I was told, is the teacher who is willing to submit himself to audience’s and judges’ knives before the students take the stage.)

You’ll note I stress “at 3.45″ to justify any lameness in the poem. I did write it in the two hours preceding the performance. Later, the Chinese History teacher-lover in me reflected that this comfort with writing-on-demand is very close to China’s traditional attitude toward poetry. Any educated Chinese wrote poetry, I gather, as frequently and nonchalantly as we tweet or post on Facebook today. One Song Dynasty poet produced over 10,000 poems, while the Qing emperor Qianlong has, I believe, several hundred poems, if not thousands, to his credit. (All Chinese emperors and politicians wrote poetry. You weren’t educated if you didn’t, and nor were you civilized.) That’s so worth thinking about.

Anyway, sharpen your knives and watch the performance below. Warts and all, I enjoyed the slam. I got to deliver a message I’ve wanted to send students for ages.

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.