Saturday, January 17, 2009

Podcasting: This Should Make You Smile

From Classroom 2.0 4/08

I have a great idea for podcasts. I have been stewing for weeks about learning how to do podcasts and teaching my kids how to do them. I've posted here and other places begging for the best instructions, videos or explanations. (You have been generous in helping--thanks)

Today a couple of my 6th grade girls had finished their research assignments and I was furiously helping others post assignments to our project website-- I turned and said to the girls -- "the computer guy downloaded Audacity, go figure out how to do podcasts---there is a new wireless mic in the blue box under the counter."

I went back to my work with other students--in less than 15 minutes I heard "We're done, Mrs. B. we've figured it out!!" I smiled at my co-teacher--and listened as the girls across the room were recording their first podcast and making plans our big project.

I would have spent hours stewing and fussing and making sure I knew every in and out before I plugged in the mic, they just went for it. What a joy!


We were working on a huge Titanic project and students podcast as if they were someone (passenger or crew) on the Titanic. Each kid did a biographical sketch on a person, couple, family, or group and podcast that person. You can see the biographical sketch and listen to the podcasts here.

The most memorable part of this experience had to do with a 6th grade student. He is a brilliant student but was very anxious, OCD etc. he barely spoke above a whisper the three years I knew him. When he did his podcast he sounded like Tom Browkaw, his voice was loud, clear and he was 100% articulate. I asked him about it later and he, in his tiny little voice said, "Since my speech was written down I didn't have to worry about making a mistake." Go figure.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Speaking of Rick Riordan

The popular author of the Lightning Thief endorses a summer camp based on his books. You can read about Camp Half Blood here. It usually fills up very fast but they have just opened a new session. If your child is a fan of the author and his characters he/she would love this camp. It is only a day camp--no overnights. Here's what Percy Jackson has to say about the camp:

Dear Campers,

If you’re reading this, I’m really sorry. It means you’ve found out you are half-bloods, and now you’re in for a world of trouble.

I’d like to tell you things will get better now that you’ve made your way to our new branch camp in Austin. But the truth is you’ve still got a lot of dangerous work ahead of you. Train hard. Watch your back. And learn to cooperate with your cabin mates. Your life now depends on it. Monsters are everywhere. The gods are watching, and some of them won’t be on your side!

I know Grover will take good care of you. He’s a pretty cool satyr. (Just keep your hands, feet, and soda cans away from his mouth).

A few other words of advice:
1)Do not try breathing underwater unless you are absolutely sure you are a child of Poseidon.
2)Watch your wallet when you’re hanging out with Hermes cabin.
3)Do not try arm-wrestling with the Ares cabin.
4)And finally, watch where you step. The pegasi are not housebroken.

Good luck! I hope you survive the camp. If you do, maybe I’ll see you around next summer.

Peace from Manhattan, Percy Jackson

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blogging Brainstorm

I had a brainstorm over winter break---many elementary kids NEVER do any authentic writing. OK, they write an occassional narrative or what ever it is they have to do for state assessment. BUT rarely do they write on a topic of their interest for other people to read. We've had a class blog, A Really Different Place, for three years and some of the posts are "extended analysis and synthesis over longer periods of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments" (Will Richardson), some are low level chats.

All of my 5th and 6th graders have to blog once a week (at home) but I've decided to raise the bar. I decided that many kids don't know how to write an entry that will evoke discussion or reflection. So just the week we had a long discussion on Bloom's Taxonomy, talked about and gave example of the six levels. Then I used Andrew Churches' Digital Taxonomy blogging rubric and exemplars to show how different posts fall into different levels. Their task over the next week is to write a thought-provoking post that will generation discussion and reflection--and so far I'm very pleased. (Prizes will be given!!) If you want to see the results start at Recent Posts to see who's blogging about what.

I do wonder if fourth grade is too young for high level posts and comments---I teach gifted kids and what I notice about the difference between the 4th graders and the older kids is the 4th graders are still young, immature (as far as social topics), and oblvious to what going on in the world. They are still really self-centered and their worlds can be pretty small.

Another thing I've put in place from the blog's beginnings is "formal" writing, no chat lingo, no text language, no personal "diary" type entries. Let me know if you need any more info.

Crosspost Classroom 2.0

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Going Back To School

For four or five years in the early 90's our district's gifted program participated in Odyssey of the Mind, a national problem solving competition. We would introduce the problems in November, divide up into teams and start preparing for the local and state competition. The actual work would begin in earnest the day we got back from holiday and that's when all hell would break lose. The introduction of the problem and the brainstorming sessions in the late fall were great fun and the kids loved brainstorming possible solutions. I spent those years dreading the day we got back from break because one of the major components of the competition was NO ADULT HELP!! The kids spent the next six weeks floundering, while we the teachers tried to keep our mouths shut and hoped the kids wouldn't make fools out of themselves and of us. Boy did we waste a lot of time!

One year, I think it was 1991, I had two teams win the state competition and we got invited to the World Finals!! Of all the places in the world we could go, in 1991 the World Finals were in AMES, IOWA!! We were from Kansas--whoop-ti-do!

Several years after we stopped competing there was a big scandal in the OM community, I can't remember the details.

Now as the winter break ends I smile to myself and say "at least we aren't doing OM!"

Friday, January 02, 2009

Thoughts on Gifted Math Kids

David Cox and I were having a discussion about gifted kids over at Classroom 2.0, he sent me a message and wanted my to elaborate--it turns out my response was WAY TOO LONG for CR 2.0 messaging system so I decided to post it here in case anyone else was interested.

At the elementary level we explore all kinds of things; you can see all we've done in the last few years here.

In the Center our kids with math goals focus on problem solving--we have probably have 50 different types of activities which include all kinds of logic--matrix, grid perplexors, Venn Diagrams, etc. We also have Sudoku, Karoku, Crossmatics, Pentominos, tangrams, etc and 3D stuff like like 3-D Pentominos, Shapes and Solids, Google Sketchup, etc. We also have problem solving software and simulations.

The only math "curriculum" we ever teach is Hands On Equations--we've done that with as young as second grade. I like it.

Our district provides PreAlgebra for our more precocious math students in 6th grade, but it comes at a price. It's at 7:00 AM!! Not the best time for many bright kids who stay up too late. If they take PA at 6th, they take Alg 1 at 7th and go to the high school for Honors Geometry in 8th and so on.

Here's my observation about gifted mathematicians--they just get it. No matter what it is, if it deals with numbers, they just intuit how to do it, there is no "thinking". Many gifted kids are not gifted mathematicians (and of course you would see them in a gifted magnet school), the pleasers will work hard and learn quickly but they just don't "get it" like a gifted mathematician does. I've had many gifted kids who IQ is really lopsided 145 Verbal, 120 performance--these kinds of kids look pretty normal in a math class but excel in writing, language, reading, vocab etc. Scoring at the 99% on achievement test doesn't necessarily show this, the hard-worker-bees can score high but not have the "gift".

My observation about gifted kids in general--their skills, work ethics, and personalities vary as widely as the general population. Example---I've had kids who have been grandfathered into my program with 120 IQ, they are in the same class as the kid with an IQ of 160. The range (and ability) between the two is wider than the lowest and highest kid in a regular classroom. Depending on the criteria for your school, you may not have to have an IQ in the gifted range (135+). I have kids who are very hard workers and some who don't work at all, I have kids who are leaders in their schools and communities and kids who couldn't lead their heads out of a paper bag. I have kids who play 4 sports and kids who play 4 instruments. I have kids who are "most popular" and kids who have no friends. The more you know about gifted kids they better teacher of them you will be. Read Tamara Fisher's blog, Unwrapping The Gift, she's written some very insightful articles about gifted kids.

My observation about highly gifted kids---many of them have concomitant problems related to being just TOO smart, TOO outlying, TOO different. They are a poor fit for the way we teach them today, underachievement is entrenched by 3rd grade.

Here is something to think about---the average kid spends 80% of the time thinking and working in the lower levels knowledge, comprehension, and application. You can see this when you teach them something---they learn it (with 17 repetitions), then they understand it and they can use it. A kid with an IQ of 130+ spends 80% of the time thinking in the higher levels synthesis, analysis, and evaluation. You teach them something (with 1-3 repetitions) and they are already thinking of every other thing they know about that topic and how what you taught them applies to what they already know. (It’s why they don’t seem to be paying attention—they have long passed you!) They just THINK DIFFERENTLY. The more you know about them the easier they are to teach.

Here's a challenge to you---maybe you need to teach differently. Like Dr Phil says, "the best predictor of future performance is past performance". Maybe you need to ask different questions to get different answers. Maybe you need to shake things up!! Go read Dan Meyer's blog , he's a young math teacher that is asking some hard questions. Read his latest entry (and all the other stuff) on "The Math Text Book I Would Buy". He's suggesting a whole different way to engage kids with a focus on thinking!! Read the comments and look at Problem Pictures and what Hot Chalk has done with using Motocross to teach Algebra (suggestions from commenter). Amazing stuff.

I remember hearing a presenter respond to the question "How do we keep kids from plagiarizing?" with "Give them assignments they can't plagiarize." There is some connection to your comments here---if the question your kids are asking is "Is this the right answer?" then maybe you need to change the question!! Whew, did any of that make sense!! Keep in touch, N.