Friday, September 29, 2006

Good 'ol fashioned fun

Sometimes, it just makes sense to enjoy our students: let them laugh, be silly, and create an atmosphere where they want to be there...simply because it's fun. This past week I have created a Survivor competition with my seniors. They are already in study groups, so these groups competed all week for accumulative points. The end result was that the winning team wouldn't have to write the Life of Pi paper. They will help with the reading of them! The incentive was excellent and still provides a learning opportunity for them. The students had to complete knowledge challenges (quizzes covering over 120 pages of reading in 1 week!, gathering of information), analysis challenges (looking at information from the book and analyzing it from a Maslow's hierarchy of needs philosopy), loyalty challenge (tribal "gear" was donned for class), physical challenges, and creativity challenges (using foil to create a thematic representation of Pi's journey). It was a week energized and one that encouraged seniors to read carefully, even though this part was long, seemingly tedious as Pi spent 227 days at sea, and all during Homecoming. The students were amazing and stepped up the challenges with enthusiasm and true enjoyment of the class and each other.

Next week, we are back to presentations, discussions, and paper writing/grading, but for one week, wow...what fun!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Take Five--Space Badges

No, I haven't flown into the 5th dimension with ID in hand...wikispace has the html ready to copy and paste onto your website, your blog, etc. so that you can have a dirct link to your wiki. They even give you options like the one I picked, that divides out the pages, so you can go directly to the one that interests you--or--you can just put a small badge for your wiki's name or even just for wikispaces. How convenient!

I am helping to put together a style guide for the English department and I am thinking about a wiki to create it. We all could add to it and then have a very easy link (or space badge) to put on the AHS homepage, our own pages, blogs, etc. Too cool!

Feedback fellow Language Arts folks regarding the wiki?

Karl, could you add a badge to the Fischbowl? I will invite you to our Life of Pi wiki and then you can click on the Manage link, then the Space Badge link.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Take Five--Can religion be a topic we discuss?

Surprisingly the answer is yes (should I run and hide...look for a new job now?). I really don't think so. Through our reading of Life of Pi, our main character searches out three religions: Hinduism (one he grew up with), Catholicism, and the Muslim faith. But, even before he starts his own religious searching, he meets with a biology teacher he loves, only to discover he is an atheist. I was nervous about these topics and wondered how students would handle the discussion.

And, before the novel even begins, the narrator, in the prologue, interviews a man in India that tells the narrator he needs to go meet a man named Piscene because his story will "make you believe in God." What a statement. Two chapters later, we hear Pi discussing his thesis study of the sloth and that they (this lazy, slow-moving, unobservant creature) remind him of God. Had I lost my mind to ask the students' interpretations? Should I only cover safe topics and move on quickly?

I realized to really understand this novel, we need to understand Pi and Martel's use of animals, religion, nature, etc. So, I asked the questions. And, the students responded with conviction to what they saw in the text and how they related it to their own life. They discussed God, atheism, religion, ethics of zoos...all with thoughtful observations, but ones that were not demoralizing to a certain faith. They continue to link the discussion to the text and information they brought to class about the Bible, mythical stories, biology, and other religions. I had hoped that seniors would be able to handle this conversation sincerely, honestly, and carefully. They have and I am seeing their critical thinking churning. What a fascinating journey!

Take Five--I've been 'wikified'!

Yes, I have entered the world of wikis. What an amazing journey of just a week. For my senior English Lit class, I created a wiki space that is divided into pages as they relate to student study groups. Lauren's and my classes are reading Yann Martel's Life of Pi and are giving students another lens to read the text. Students are broken into topic/thematic groups: animals, biology, Christianity, Hinduism, Muslim, nature, psychology, relationship, and contrasts. Students get together on Fridays to discuss the chapters, questions they have, vocabulary that is unfamiliar, and then decide what they would like to put on the wiki as important, noteworthy information related to their topic. They are then, assessed on the information they studied and the chapters assigned on the following Monday through quizzes, panel discussions, fishbowls, etc. This has been extremely effective with rich dialogue.

I am amazed an utterly amazed at my students. Please check out their site and join in the praises for their thought observations. Teenagers, when challenged, write thought-provokingly and create an environment where mediocrisy is abolished. If you're having trouble navigating to various pages, there are directions on the left side describing what links to click on to view the students' topic pages.

There also is a link on the home page to their blog. Comments are slowly being added, as this is optional. The discussion here again, is truly awesome.