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Monday, August 20, 2007

This week at Westwood: What we're doing and talking about



This is the second full week of school and I'm almost through what I call my "orientation time."

  • My keyboarding class (8th grade) has to learn that they come in quickly, get to work, and get to business. No goofing off, get to work. I always give out bonus notes (+5 points) the first week of school to the first student (s) who begin typing their lesson first. They save it and add it on to the grade of their choice before report cards go out. It means that the kids often run to class to be first (and I have to watch for that), however, it also means that they get to business. I think teachers who waste time at the beginning of class don't take their job seriously. (I say start quickly, get it done, and then enjoy the teachable moments at the end of class. But if you're stressing about getting your objectives done at the end of the class, you miss the valuable time at the end when you really have breakthroughs with your students.)

  • My Computer Fundamentals class (9th grade) has the routine down but has to learn some independence. I give all classes a copy of the lesson plan, but most students are so oriented to the teacher at the front talking, some literally don't start until the teacher says -- "Now, class, do this." The lesson plan approach allows students who work more quickly to move ahead and then get to "dessert" (fun end of class activities) faster. It also means that the students become more independent. They also have to learn how to use the private ning (sorry it is private), the meaning of an effective blog post, how to hyperlink, and of course -- how to wiki. The first two weeks are so tough and my feet are killing me -- but once I get through these fundamental hurdles of building their skillset, it does get easier.

  • My computer science class (10th) has already got the routines and basic technologies down -- now I have to teach them how to think and move past the textbook.

    We had presentations today on our Security and Privacy module. I also have the students editing the wikis of the students last year -- I have two classes so they have to work on the same wiki together and leave messages on the discussion tab.

    I do this because last year they learned to create from scratch, now I have to prepare them for Flat Classroom in October and they need to learn how to work with others, use the discussion tabs, and edit work to make it better. They also have to learn how to research and answer questions and get past the book. I do not like regurgitation and detest plagiarism. Setting expectations and teaching how to improve is vital.

    During the presentations today, the students presented to the class using the visual of their choice, handed out notes to the class, AND had to turn in the four most important questions from their section with answers for potential inclusion on the test -- and they'll tell you that sometimes creating the question is much tougher than anything else they do. I know that this activity often teaches them more than anything I do.

    I always look for something in their presentation that they are saying "because the book says it" but they don't understand it. I do not want them to go to college and think that they can do that -- at a good school (or in business) - there is nothing worse than being "called on the carpet." I will always "call them" on it and use it as a teachable moment.

    There is a kind way to do this but sometimes it is embarrassing. That is the nice thing about doing these presentations in two or three person teams -- it minimizes some of that. I'll tell you though, that by the end of this year, they'll be good enough to go head to head with a tough prof or businessman. And that is what I'm getting them ready for. I'm being tough now so they'll thank me later.

  • Current Events (12th) -- I begged to teach this class -- some others have asked me why I wanted to teach this class but I believe it is one of the most important classes I could teach. The curriculum as we have structured it is the application of history to today's current events.

    But my primary objective is teaching students to look at multiple sides of an issue.

    The thing that bothers me most about the political scene in the US is that it seems that both sides of the aisle are stuffing their hands over their ears and yelling "Na na na, I can't hear you" on so many issues.

    Having worked for Senator Nunn, one of the all time greats in our US Senate, I came out of his office knowing that the truly great men and women, listen to both sides and make up their own mind -- (and do their best to represent their constituents if they are in office.)

    This trait of one sided ignorance is so very dangerous. We must understand both sides of an issue so that we can make an intelligent decision. That is why in college I actually signed up to take a class that studied the works of Neitzsche, Darwin, and Marx along with others who shaped Eastern European thought of the mid 1900's. I enjoyed it and learned a lot. It did not usurp my viewpoints and core beliefs but rather helped me understand a different point of view.

    I think it comes down to respecting others and their viewpoints. And it is this ability to understand that all issues have multiple sides and not to blindly accept what others tell you, but rather, make an educated decision for yourself is a core value -- the ability to chose -- but to choose from a standpoint of knowledge and not because somebody told you to! We are learning a lot and having an exciting time.
My student's proposal for politicians about privacy

We are also discussing a lot about digital citizenship, privacy, and the fact that one should never publish on the Internet anything you wouldn't share in public, because it may end up there!

We had a marvelous discussion about the Intelius post I shared with you (see it's my privacy or is it.) We talked about public records and what they are, but that this company (and others) are combining public records with information that they type on website profiles in a lethal combination. This is what my students proposed:

They believe that we should advocate that although the records are public, if anyone purchases records on individual -- the individual who was "searched" deserves to know who requested the information. That puts the power back on the individual and can protect victimization.


I think this proposal makes a lot of sense and am personally going to look into information about privacy bills and what is happening in this area. $7.99 seems like a small price to pay to get someone's private address and information -- and how can they buy our social security numbers?

Yes, this information is public and searchable, but you can tell a great society by how it takes care of the weak and defenseless. In this case, I believe that the popularization of such services is something that will create victims, like my class said -- unless the individuals being searched are notified. This allows those who are still not cognizant of the Internet and what it means to be protected and I believe something that Congress should consider.

Other exciting areas:
  • We're ramping up to provide parent access to our online gradebook system. We set up a "dummy" student and I'm going to create some tutorials for our website about how to use the system. It is exciting! Although it makes some nervous, I found that when my grades were online, I had less communication issues with parents and could focus on grading and getting things in the system.
  • I'm excited about the Special Olympics Bocce Ball tournament that we'll be hosting here in September! It is always a highlight of our fall and the 60+ students that come out to work with the special olympians leave just as happy and transformed as the olympians themselves. I believe that such a Saturday event is as important as anything that I teach in the classroom.

  • Been playing with Camtasia this week -- they have a 30 day free trial on their website and I must say I ADORE IT! I'm going to have to find the money to buy this super gem. I believe that every department responsible for professional development should know how to screencast and this is a vital tool for them. Such a great way to share information! I'm going to start doing little short tutorials for my teachers on the software of the month!

    I'm also excited about edubloggerworld -- more in the next post!
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