Web Design by Google

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For our course 5 final project, my partner, Lindsay and I decided to revamp our unit on the graphic novel, Persepolis. We updated the presentation of the content by switching from the old print media with images to the snazzy new Google Sites. Pretty pleased with the results, I decided to try out Google Sites with my 10th grade English classes. Stay tuned for those results…

21st Century Skills

In reflecting on this project, I think the best part about the revamp was Google Sites. I just had no idea that creating a website could be so easy, and at the same time, look so professional and polished. The judges, Alexis and Andrew, were both effusive in their praise of all of the Sites. Alexis noted that the project measured two very different skills: one, the ability to deliver content in a clear, concise and easily understandable way and two, the ability to organize and design the content with the aesthetic in mind. One of the students I interviewed added to this sentiment, saying that she felt this assessment felt more like something she would do at a real job, as opposed to, say, writing a 5-paragraph essay on a book. (Note: as an English teacher, I felt it was my duty to try and convince her of the life-long benefits that learning how to write an essay can provide. I think I was successful. 😉

Authentic Tasks

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My other favorite part about the revamp was the fact that we had two outside judges as the audience for the task. It seems simple (and it is, really), but the effect this knowledge had on my students was striking. It added an impetus to their work that I have not seen from many second semester seniors and appeared almost to give them a second wind. It would seem then, that adding that component of authenticity does in fact make a task more meaningful and therefore engaging. As soon as my students knew the votes were in, they were dying to know which class’s Google Site had been chosen by the judges. It was refreshing and fun to see the students so excited about something that seemed, at first, to be so insignificant.

Challenges

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One of the challenges that we faced and I mention in the video is that of source citation, specifically images and videos. For some reason, students of all ages and sizes have an aversion to citing images (maybe because it seems so convoluted?), so this was a great time to refine that skill. Luckily, here at AIS-R, we are blessed with the best librarian in the world. After creating a LibGuide for our students, Kelly hosted a workshop on how to properly cite images and videos.  With her help, students were able to produce complete and accurate lists of the sources they used, including those oh-so-challenging images and videos.

Final Thoughts

As I think back over the last two years, I am struck with how much I have learned to actually DO, and then transferred that new knowledge to my students and asked them to also DO. From blogging, to elements of design, to properly citing images, the skills I have learned are really invaluable in this new age of technology. The final task, using iMovie (gasp!), was one of my greatest feats and I am quite proud of what I was able to create. And so, without further adieu, my final project…

 

*All images are my own.

Community Engagement a la Twitter

“You should totally Tweet that!” one of my colleagues excitedly exclaimed. Daunted with the prospect and, to be honest, not even sure what that entailed, I asked, “Well, how would I go about doing that? And, more importantly, why?”

The “why” has always been my biggest question with Tweeting.I know that Twitter is the newest iteration of Facebook (for adults, at least) and that anyone who’s anyone is Tweeting (including our very own POTUS…several hundred times a day, in fact). I know that Twitter is one of the best ways to engage in edu-networking and that most of our strongest voices in education are all over this app. So, I knew it was important for me to get on board…or at least figure out how to make a Tweet. I kept going back to my initial question though: with a 140 character limit, how can anyone truly express or share anything of worth? According to one social media analyst:

Twitter has always been what it initially claimed to be – a microblogging platform. And far from holding it back, the 140 character limit has been the driving force that defined how users engage with the platform – with quick, short statements conducive to live, in the moment commentary. While Facebook is defined by its algorithm, Twitter is defined by being completely unfiltered.”

Take One

The idea for Twitter then, is to pack a punch with “quick, short statement” for “in the moment commentary”. So that was my mission. I began in December of 2016 with my first “attendance” to a NESA Twitter Chat session, #NESACHAT.

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Okay, so my first mission was more of a test-run. I felt so confined by the 140 character limit and the quick pace of the conversation that it was all I could do to follow the conversation, let alone add my own thoughtful contribution to the flow. So, first run was one Tweet. A Tweeter has to start somewhere!

Take Two

My second attempt at joining the conversation was three times as successful, meaning that instead of one Tweet, I managed three! I call that a success! This was during one of our AIS-R ThinkTank Sessions, where teachers get together to chat about issues in education. I felt more at ease during this session and thought about Tweets that I could come back to as a reminder of the key moments of the discussion.

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Take Three

And finally, my most recent and most successful session yet, the latest AIS-R ThinkTank, with a whopping 5 tweets! I seem to be getting the hang of it, as evidenced by some of my Tweets which have been “loved” or “shared”.

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As the old adage goes, practice really does make perfect, or at least makes it easier and more effective. I’m still not 100% convinced that I will stay on the Twitter bandwagon, but after participating in multiple online conversations, I have a better sense for the power of the Tweet. I can see that, especially during a live conversation, it’s a good way to sort of “take notes” on the learning. It’s also a good way to share with the wider community larger takeaways and “a-ha” moments. I also like that, unlike my Facebook feed, my Twitter community is stacked with like-minded educators who appreciate when I share educational links and resources. I finally have a place to post all the cool edu-articles that I find! 🙂

 

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Introduction to Final Project

via Superbond1
via Superbond1

For my COETAIL FINAL project, I’ve decided to redesign a culminating task for my senior IB Language and Literature course. Working alongside Lindsay Lyon, my colleague and fellow COETAIL’er, we’re asking our students to explore a tech tool that is new to them – Google Sites. What makes the site so great is that the technology is very intuitive and so it requires very little instructional time in terms of teaching students how to manipulate and create.  According to tech blogger, Daniel Nations, one of Google Sites’ best features is its design ease and the fact that you can be a web designer “without having to know how to code it yourself.” Google sites also “falls under the Collaborative category in Google’s Apps for Work,…which is what makes it so powerful and such a valuable tool for teams.” In other words, Google Sites fits our criteria for a presentation platform: digital, simple, collaborative and dynamic. And off we go!

The Plan

In revisiting our unit on the graphic novel, Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, we decided that the previous culimating project, where we asked students to create a simple “One-Pager” presentation of their background assignment was not inline with our own new tech-savvy, courtesy of COETAIL. Lindsay had the brilliant idea of using Google Sites to revamp the project and voila, we were ready to go!

All rights reserved via Bookaholic
All rights reserved via Bookaholic

The Goal

Our goal with this new and improved project is to move the content of the presentation away from the straight-forward presentation of facts in a linear fashion and more towards an integrative and dynamic platform of presentation. We are creating a Site for each of our classes and assigning them the position of curator and designer. Each pair of students will have their own tab (subtopic) where they are responsible for compiling graphic data, facts, images, videos and helpful information for their classmates as they build on their contextual knowledge of the novel, Persepolis. They will then embed a quiz (in the form of a Google Form) for students to demonstrate their learning from the site.

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via bulls eye DSC_3491 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Hopes and Dreams

As we move through this process, I hope to see students authentically and enthusiastically engaging with this task. Okay, enthusiasm might be asking too much of my second semester seniors at this point in time, but I am hoping that with the relative ease and aesthetic that Google Sites offers, students will show a genuine interest in the subject matter. I also dream that the knowledge my students gain from this assignment will be enough to propel them all to 6’s and 7’s on their IB Paper 2 Exam. A teacher can dream…

This I Believe

For this “free choice” blog post, I’ve decided to share my own personal “This I Believe” essay on what it means to be an ideal teacher. You might recall in a previous post, where I talked about how my 10th graders used this essay assignment as a basis for their multimedia presentations of what they “believe”. That project, as it turned out, was one of my students’ favorites of the year. As I move into that COETAIL-inspired project again this year with my students, I thought it fitting to write my own. And so…

“This I Believe”

I believe that an ideal teacher is an active learner, a person who takes initiative, cares to understand and is open to change.  An ideal teacher is a thinker, someone who reflects and sets goals regularly.  This person aims to strike a fine balance – to be both supportive and challenging of herself and of others.

My own personal choice to become an educator stemmed from a sincere, albeit cliche, desire to “make a difference” in the lives of others and with a little luck, the wider world. Before I made the jump to the classroom, a question kept popping into my mind: what will my life’s story be if and when my grandchildren ask?  Will my story be that I spent my life working a job that did not challenge or inspire me? Or, will my story be that I worked to affect positive change in young people, and in the process, explored the world in a way that most  only dream of?

To inspire and light the way

One of the influential figures in my life, especially in terms of my choice to become an educator and in my working philosophy that learning is a lifelong endeavour: Grandma Ruth. An elementary school teacher, Grandma Ruth grew up in small town America – Big Sandy, Montana, to be precise – as a wife and mother to 7 children. After her husband died and the last little one was off to college, she made the courageous decision to go back to college herself and get her teaching degree. Even more inspiring? Not only did she become a teacher in her 50’s, she became an international school teacher, landing her first job thousands of miles from her home. Her first post, much to the chagrin of her 7 grown children (and 22 grandchildren!), was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where she taught elementary school for 7 years. She moved on to Israel and finally to San Salvador, El Salvador. Although she taught for fewer than 20 years (a drop in the bucket for many educators), her legacy remains. For me, Grandma Ruth is one version of the ideal teacher.

It is with this legacy in mind that I approach my classroom – as a place to make discoveries, explore new perspectives and take risks in order to create new connections. The way I see it, the teaching profession is evolutionary and revolutionary. Evolutionary in the sense that, in order to fight the monster of obsoletion, we must adapt. We must do everything we can to insure that we are staying current in our own practice, both pedagogically and technologically. Revolutionary in that we must overthrow the “old ways” of the classroom and replace them with current, research-based strategies that bring meaning and relevancy to content.

One could argue that the teacher’s role has become even more crucial – we are now tasked with teaching students the skills and savvy to negotiate, interpret and analyze the information they access. Ultimately, I believe that the ideal teacher must offer a classroom experience that encourages students to take risks, to think independently and critically and to respond with an open mind to the world around them.

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Photo credit: Luke Elsasser via flickr All rights reserved