Tuesday, September 18, 2007

When technology knowledge finally creates a little autonomy

Ok...so I had emailed Karl Fisch, like we all do, in need of a response: help me with this, how do I do this, what happens when, etc. . . .

But today, I figured out something...on my own (gasp*)! I asked Karl how I could create a screenshot to put on Blogger. I made my Word document a PDF and placed it on my web page. That seemed easy enough, but I couldn't get the link off the PDF. So...I tried saving it as a JPEG or TIFF, but didn't have this option in Word (at least that I could find).

So...somewhere in the depths of my memory, I recalled that in PowerPoint you could save an image on a page and then save the whole page as an image. It worked and I was able to use that as an image that Blogger would accept.

Yeah me!

Finding Microsoft Word's Worth

I have the wonderful opportunity of not only teaching my writing classes in our new language arts laptop classroom, but I also have one of my 9th grade classes there as well. What I have found so incredibly useful is the comment feature. Students are annotating, commenting, questioning, and really connecting with the text.

With Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," I felt the text was too challenging to turn them completely loose with annotations, so we annotated the story together in class. I had students find vocabulary they wanted to know and we used our iGoogle page that has several dictionary options. The kids also made inferences from statements and descriptions. Through all of this, they learned how to use the Reviewing Toolbar (highlighting, adding comments) and the Drawing Toolbar (they drew Fortunato's carnival hat and used the text box to write additional notes).

Today, then, students are using the annotated notes to assist them in this next task. They are to read "The Story Behind 'The Cask of Amontillado'" and then decide which story (the carnival setting that is fictionalized or the army/card-playing setting of the real story) is more effective. Students will use their notes to compare and contrast the fictionalized story to the real story arguing which one they like better and proving it with textual evidence.

Now, I know that students could have used sticky notes, but Word allows them to very easily send it home to review and to even make changes or additions to their observations. Plus, they will be able to save the document, instead of losing the sticky notes or throwing them away, the students can reuse them for papers and future critical thinking.
Summation: Yah for Microsoft Word reviewing toolbars!
Request: I would love to hear how others have used Word to advocate critical thinking.
P.S. I have placed the documents for review on my web page here. Click on "The Cask of Amontillado" annotated and Poe assessment.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

iGoogle, reading strategies, and silent reading

As always, I jump into using technology fearlessly. Karl Fisch talked to us about having our kids create their own personal learning network where they choose what information they need, what they want to read, and what will possibly affect their world. I have decided to see where this could go.

First of all, I had my students check out a fiction book to read outside of class. They begged me to give them time in class each week. So a certain Tuesday came and I gave them time to read--20 minutes worth. When I called time, they whined and pleaded to be able to read all hour. Surprising! I had the whole class vote to see if they really did want to dedicate time to reading. Yes, unanimously. So, every Friday, my students will be reading.

This lead nicely into my iGoogle questions: where would I fit this into my week? How could I assess their information-gathering quickly? And, how could they share what they learned? I decided Friday's would be the day.

We went the computer lab to set up their iGoogle accounts. The kids were so excited. I had them add a quote feed I had, a vocabulary grapher thesaurus I added, and a local news feed, a national news feed, and a world news feed. I have not had them add Google Reader, yet. I told them that on Thursday nights, they will practice the reading strategies they've been learning with short stories and apply them to non-fiction by choosing a news story that interests them. They will print the article, annotate it, summarize it, and then bring it in. Taping it into their writer's notebook, I will use these articles to practice paraphrasing, in-text documentation, summarizing, etc. Threee students each week will stand up to share what they learned, what was fascinating about the article and how it relates to our world.

Last Friday was the first day and it went wonderfully. The students who shared gave great summation of the news and got other students interested in the articles. I asked questions and soon other students raised their hands to contribute to the conversation. It lasted about 12 minutes or so and then the rest of the hour was spent reading. At the end of class, I asked for 4 minutes of feedback: what worked, what did they like, what was tiring, what should we do differently. Both classes agreed that it was hard to read silently for that long, but that it did force them to read and to focus on their novel for longer than 5 minutes at time. The students also said they liked the iGoogle...choosing their own story to read helped them be motivated with the homework.

Sidenote: I gave up a whole class period for the class that doesn't have laptops, simply to have every student come up and check their iGoogle accounts. Many kids had to activate their account by signing onto their email and most, if not all, were so confused on how to do that. I was glad I took the time since I didn't hear from any students about issues using iGoogle.
I did ask my students to give me feedback. Visit my site here to read their comments on their first week with iGoogle.

More to come...for now, my jumping in has paid off well.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Adding images

Showing 9th graders how to add images.

Testing, testing...123

I am showing my 9th graders how to post and how to add an image.

"The Coming Death Shortage" -- certainly not a shortage

The last paragraph seems to negate the 12 previous pages of this interesting article by Charles C. Mann in The Atlantic.com by saying that "nobody precisely knows how to engineer major increases in the human lifespan" (Mann 13). Funny because I swear he stated throughout many scientists who are offering pills to increase lifespan by 10 years to stem cell freezing useful when your heart decides to fail...years later. But Mann followed this statement the mantra that I heard clearly: we all will live longer, the research is ready to use, and many are willing to pay the big tickets to extend our lives. Mann said it metaphorically, "...lifespans will stretch like taffy" (13). Being so visual I picture the watermelon pink candy stretching slowly, with its candied sinews glistening, yet soon, I picture the middle. I see it thin and break as if arms unable to hold on any longer. I wonder if it's a larger metaphor for the end of life, rather than how our age will continue to lengthen. Will it seem smooth at first? Effortless and attractive, but right at the end, break with hardly a fight?

I also think of Huxley's 1930 novel Brave New World, and remember their world that lacked aging; one could not tell the difference between a 50 year old or a 20 year old. Very attractive for many, if not most today. But in Huxley's dystopia, age stopped at 60. People became useless; they could impact the appearance of life longevity, but their bodies still would not comply to the effectiveness of a younger Alpha or Beta. Will we be useless at 90? I think of my mother-in-law, who sadly died at 49 from a severe case of MS. Visiting her weekly, sometimes daily, I was struck at her over-medicated state. Zombies wheeled from one "event" to another. Only a few residents were talking and smiling. Some were muttering, but conversations were not happening between residents. We moved to 4 different homes, offended at her trancelike state. Surprisingly, at one home, after many heated meetings, we were able to have her only taking her MS medicines. She was lively, had a bird in her room, put on make-up and wore her favorite jewelry. She even met a man she married a year later, moving out of the home; we continued to see her fluid state, until her health really failed. My point of all this is: this was in the 90's. She was young and hardly a nuisance. What would happen in the 2030's with overstuffed nursing homes with understaffed workers; will the sedation be overwhelmingly used? Is this our aging future?

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