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When Does the Learning Stop?

When your students turn in the assignment? When you return it with your comments and the grade? It doesn’t have to stop there. The Internet provides not only an audience for your students, but it provides on-going feedback on their writing. They continue learning from the numerous comments they can get from an audience from around the world.

Take a look at student work posted on the Internet. (http://www.studentnewsaction.net/ and the http://theclem.org are just two examples. I am sure you can find many more. Posting on the Internet is more than just moving from paper to digital work. It changes the focus of why you are writing. You are now writing for the world.

The learning isn’t done when your teacher comments. Every time someone comments on your writing, students are brought back to thinking about what you wrote and the reaction from people. The learning continues.

I encourage you to involve your students in publishing their stories, essays and opinions to the web. It is well worth the time and effort. Where else can you gain on going learning for free?


Another New Adventure

When I started my first blog several years ago, I called the blog “A New Adventure.” I choose that name because I was starting to share my thoughts via the Internet with friends and strangers and that was new for me. I started my blog before there was Facebook, Twitter and all of the other social media we have today. I am glad I called it “A New Adventure”  because it has been an exciting part of my life. Since I started the blog, a lot of things have changed.

  • I have changed jobs twice.
  • Moved to a new house.
  • Visited forty or more states.
  • Learned a lot.
  • And most importantly made a lot of new and very good friends.
The name still fits. I am about to begin another new adventure. It is exciting to not know exactly what will happen in the next year, but I know it will be good. Next month, I’ll share with you my new adventure. Wish me luck.

TSA – Looking at the Wrong Thing?

In my current job, I travel  a bit. That means I frequently go through airport security check points. I think they are looking for the wrong thing. They are looking at what I and others carry on the plane. I think they should be looking at my identification. Usually, I buy my tickets about thirty days before my trip. means the airlines has a lot of time to check to see if I have anything in my past that looks odd. Also, when I board they can check my identification.

They really have little or no technology at the first stop where they look at my passport or drivers license. When I cross the border to go to Canada, customs scans my passport and knows some of my travel history. The TSA doesn’t do that. I don’t know why? I think we the TSA should upgrade the id check and cut back on full body scans and body searches.


Learning from Play

My grandson and I were playing on my new iPad the other day and we tried out the BrainPOP app for the iPad. I had looked at BrainPOP some time ago, but since it was for younger students I didn’t pay too much attention to it. As I played along with my nine-year-old grandson, I realized some of the featured movie potential.

Each day BrainPOP has a featured movie. The movies are available on the web at: http://www.brainpop.com/. You can even embed the movie in your blog, wiki, or website as I have done at: http://www.anewadventure.org/?page_id=366.

The movies of the day topics vary from the arts, science, history, economics and others. After you watch the movie you can take a ten-question quiz. I couldn’t help but think these would make great warm-up activities for upper elementary and middle schools. In Michigan we have our state test in October, and the movies would be a good way to review test-taking skills.

The questions usually contain the follow:

  • Defining a word by how it is used in the context of a sentence
  • Identifying if a sentence is fact or opinion
  • Facts on the topic of the day

I would use it with my class to look at all the multiple-choice answers and have students tell:

  • why some choices were wrong.
  • why some answers might be right.
  • what they think is the right answer

Not only would they review test-taking skills but the students would also have the opportunity to review the content areas. Try it and let me know what you think.


Student Blogs

Thanks to all the people who have left comments for students on blogs around the world. You are providing an authentic audience for students who are learning to express themselves. Getting people to know about your blog and provide feedback to students can be a struggle. This is especially true for new blogs. It takes time to develop an audience. Thank you for leaving comments on http://theclem.org and others.

I would encourage you to include where you live or work at the end of your comments. This lets students know that the readers come from different parts of the world and enforces the fact that this is truly a Word Wide Web.

Thanks again,

Fort Gratiot, MI

Why I Like My Mac

I have been an Apple/Mac person for a long time. I owned an Apple IIe, and several other Mac’s and Apple Computers over the years. I don’t want to start an argument about which is better, but I would like to share a recent experience that illustrates why I like my Mac.

I was working on my presentation for the MACUL 2010. I was using a Keynote for the presentation. Keynote is similar to PowerPoint. When I finished the presentation, I decided I wanted to put it on the web. I wanted PC and Mac people to be able to view it. Since  the Keynote presentation had a movie embedded in it I decided to post it as a movie. That way you could see the movie within a movie. Here is how I did it.

  • I exported the Keynote presentation as a movie.
  • I wanted to add audio. I opened the movie in iMovie and added two short recordings to the movie.
  • iMovie allows you to share your movies directly to YouTube. So I shared it to YouTube.

My presentation was on the web with the added audio in less than ten minutes. What I liked about doing it on a Mac was that all the programs worked together to make my job easier. I am sure you can do this on a PC, but I am not sure it would be as easy to do. You can view the movie at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSVzVW7AeTo

That’s way I like my Mac.


Firing Teachers is not the Answer

The firing of all of the teachers Central Falls High School in Rhode Island has really upset me. It bothers me a great deal because I think it is a sham. The stated reason for the firing was that the teachers wouldn’t spend more time with students without being compensated for the time.

Would more time doing the same thing the teachers are currently doing make a difference in student achievement? I don’t think it would. I agree some teachers should be fired. Perhaps the personnel director who hired the teachers and oversaw their evaluations should be fired. If the superintendent has been employed more than three or four years, perhaps he or she should be fired.

Firing the entire teaching staff is not an acceptable action. This problem has gone on for some time and no one has provided the leadership for the school staff to improve the school. The superintendent should be ashamed of himself for his lack of leadership. The community has to take a hard look at the system to see what has been done to provide training and support for the teachers to improve. What changes in scheduling, class size, discipline, curriculum and instructional strategies have been implemented? What leadership has the superintendent provided to help the students?

In my mind the firing is a ploy to force the teachers to comply with the administration’s wishes for a longer school day. However, as I said earlier, more time using the same instructional strategies will produce little or no improvement. It looks bold, makes the news, and accomplishes nothing.

I recently had the pleasure to visit a middle school with an 80% free and reduced lunch rate. 80% means that the student population is economically poor. Typically, students in a school with an 80% free and reduced lunch count would be underachievers.

When the new principal took over the school she realized that significant changes needed to be made to improve student achievement. The students were spending as much time in PE, art, and music and they were spending in mathematics, reading and English. She increased the class time for the academic areas by 50%. At the same time she knew that more instructional time alone would not solve the problem.

The principal decided that one third (30 minutes of a 90 minute period) would need to be spent in small group learning activities. The activities would be based on the needs of individual students and allow the teacher to work with small groups of students to improve learning. I had the opportunity to visit a math class to see the changes in action. This is what I observed:

  • A group of four or five students working independently on a set of problems. This might have been homework, but when they got stuck they could seek help from other students and/or the teacher.
  • The teacher working with a small group on a math concept.
  • A group of students working a computer based math instruction.
  • A student leading a group of students in a math challenge problem. The problem was one from a chapter they were going to study in a month. The group was working together to see if they could figure out how to do the problem.

The principal also knew that smaller class sizes were important. So she used her Title funds to hire additional teachers and reduce class size in the academic classes. Her students were achieving as well as the other students in the school and state. The principal encouraged teachers who didn’t want to work in this environment to transfer out of her building.

That principal demonstrated leadership and vision. What bothers me about Rhode Island is their lack of vision and leadership. The leaders in Central Falls made headlines. They did not improve education.  It is a sad day for education.

Choice – Drive: Time, Technique and Team

I am fascinated by Daniel Pink’s new book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates  Us. The book is about what motivates people to improve the quality and quantity of their work. I won’t do justice to the concepts and the big picture that Pink paints in his book, but  I would encourage you to read the book.

When we give students choices we will obtain better results. Daniel Pink gives several business examples where choice of time, technique and team has motivated employees to be more creative and to do better work. However, I would like to focus on how choice empowers and motivates students.  Choice in technique is the easiest of the three to implement in the classroom.

In very basic terms, technique is how students do their work or assignments. Technique is the action the student performs to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the objective or standard. The goal/standard remains the same but how you reach the goal may be very different. In a typical classroom the teacher defines the goal (objective), the time in which it will be done and assigns the task to be accomplished. For example, after reading a novel an English teacher might give their students the assignment of writing an essay (task) analyzing the two major characters in the book (goal/objective). The assignment might be due in a week from the day it was given (time).

The goal/objective is based on state or national standards. The time may fit within the grading cycle and the amount of time the teacher has to work on that objective or standard. The ultimate goal is for the student to show he/she can analyze how and why the characters act in a certain way and how that relates to the real world and real people.

One way of motivating students to be more creative and to meet the objective is to allow students a choice in how they demonstrate they know how to analyze characters. One choice might still be to write an essay. Some students love to write and are excellent at writing essays. However, other students may not be as proficient in writing or enjoy writing as much as the other student. This is where choice of technique comes into play. Remember the goal was character analysis, not writing proficiency.

Students might be able to analyze the characters in one of several ways:

  • Creating a skit that exaggerates the traits of the characters. (Satire)
  • Build a web site that the characters might create about themselves.
  • Write a resume the characters might submit to an employer.
  • Create a movie about the characters’ lives.
  • Using the Twitter format of a 140 character message, create Tweets covering the major events in the story.
  • Create a simulated Facebook page for the characters. What would be posted on their wall? Who would be their friends? What images would they post etc.
  • Use Prezi to develop a time line showing the major actions and decisions made by the characters.
  • Create a podcast with a classmate. One person would be the host and the other the characters. The host would interview the characters and bring out the traits and values of the characters.

These are a few random ideas of ways I think students might accomplish the goal. The motivation is that they can now choose how they wish to express themselves. The teacher’s task would be to evaluate how well they met that goal. Evaluation might be based on a rubric that would be applied to all of these assignments. Involving students in the development of the rubric may also help motivate their desire to do the assignment.

Readers may think this sounds good, but would it work in a real classroom? My answer is yes it will. First, I have given assignments like those described above to my students when I was teaching. Second, I just finished a visit to one of the most highly rated private schools in Canada. The students had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. The teacher had given them some typical writing assignments, and then concluded the section on character analysis by allowing her students to make choices as to how they could show their understanding and analysis of the characters. I wasn’t able to stay for all of the presentations, but I was able to see three groups present..

Group One: created a “Coke” commercial with the characters being analyzed as the featured characters in the commercial.

Group Two: created a “Jeopardy” game that engaged the entire class in determining which character was the answer to each question. They learned as did the entire class!

Group Three: made a movie of the “Ellen Degenerus” show with Ellen interviewing the characters in the story. I had to leave before I saw if she had them get up and dance.

The amazing thing about this example is that the teacher didn’t know how to use any of the technologies that the students used to create their projects. Her role was to set the goal and objectives and to evaluate the results. I’d like to also note that this was a teacher with numerous years of experience in teaching. She was still willing to both challenge, trust, and allow her students to use technology to demonstrate their learning. Bravo!

To me, this is an excellent illustration of what Daniel Pink means when he writes about motivation based on choice of technique.

Top Ten Reasons Daniel Pink Should Follow Jimwenz on Twitter!

This is a shameless attempt to get Daniel Pink to follow me on Twitter. This effort started because my good friend, Tom Daccord (@thomasDacord), said that Mr. Pink is following him on Twitter. I am a huge fan of Mr. Pink’s books and have posted about them my blog and on Twitter. As a fan, I would like to share my thoughts and ideas with Mr. Pink. (And I thought this might get a few laughs from my friends. Also, I will take Tom’s bragging rights away from him!)
Please retweet this message.

10. He talks so much about A Whole New Mind that co-workers drove from Michigan to Pennsylvania to hear Dan speak.

9. He is helping Dan Pink send his children to college by buying his books and telling his friends and co-workers to buy them.

8. Jim loves to tell “stories.” ( A Whole New Mind).

7. He focuses on “Strengths Not Weaknesses” (Johnny Bunko).
6. Jim has been a subscriber to Wired since the first year it was published. (Dan has contributed numerous articles to Wired and is a contributing editor).

5. Today Jim is better than he was yesterday! (Drive – http://www.danpink.com/archives/2010/01/2questionsvideo)

4. Jim thinks that Al Gore’s speeches as Vice President were outstanding. )See Dan’s bio http://www.danpink.com.

3. Jim started his fourth career when he was 62 years old because there is “No Plan” (Johnny Bunko).

2. He thinks Dan is the greatest artist ever. See page 129 A Whole New Mind.
And the number one reason is:

1. He has “Drive”!

All kidding aside, if you haven’t read A Whole New Mind, Johnny Bunko, or Drive, you should add them to your reading list.

So I am asking all of my friends to re-tweet or link to this post. I know it is a shameless promotion but I had to do it. I’ll let you know what happens.

Jim (Twitter- jimwenz)


Last summer, I had the opportunity to work with a lovely group of educators from the Montcalm School District. They invited me to lead a two-day teacher workshop on using technology in the classroom. Recently I had a chance to visit their schools and talk to a few of the teachers that participated in the summer training. I’m glad I did. I was pleased to learn that the teachers were using some of the ideas and tools we had discussed in the workshop. It felt good to know that I had a small part in bringing about changes in their teaching strategies.

Mrs. Ruggles is an example of a teacher willing to change and take a risk. She had the self-confidence to tell her students she didn’t know everything! She took a risk and let her students use technology even though she didn’t know everything about the tools. She was willing to let her students independently learn how to use the technology. She is a great example of how to develop independent, life-long learners.

Mrs. Ruggles is a middle school and high school teacher. One of the assignments that she gave to her art students was to create a poster of an artist of their choice. She had different elements that needed to be included in the assignment: history, favorite work, impact and other information about the artist. She changed her assignment by allowing students to choose how they would present their artist. Imagine, giving the power of choice to students! She pointed them to some online tools and provided some ideas of what they might produce. The students could do the traditional poster if that was their choice.

I was amazed at some of the projects the students produced. Also, some students chose technologies that the teacher hadn’t suggested. The samples she showed me included:

· A presentation created in Prezi (prezi.com)

· A traditional poster board that the student took a picture of and posted it on the web.

· A mock website” for an artist

· A Glogster poster (glogster.com)

· A PowerPoint Presentation posted on Scribd.com

Choice is important to all of us. We want to have a say in our destiny. These projects illustrate the power of giving students a choice. They did excellent work and should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Teachers are often threatened by technology and change. They sometimes feel that they are being forced to change what and how they teach. This project illustrates how technology can be used in meaningful ways and is a small step in a much larger picture. I look forward to seeing more great projects from Mrs. Ruggles’ class.

Small steps lead to long journeys.