Saturday, February 4, 2012

Baby Shower - Skype Style

My family is excitedly awaiting the arrival of our family's first baby! My younger brother and his wife are expecting their first son in exactly one month. While we are all thrilled, we are also a little bit sad because we are in Pennsylvania while Jer and Suzanne are in Alabama.

My brother's job as a helicopter pilot, first with the Army and now with the Coast Guard, has taken him all over the world but never back here to Pennsylvania. Luckily for us we've been able to visit some beautiful places and keep in touch with phone calls and emails. But with the baby on his way being apart has been somewhat bittersweet. We're still keeping in touch, but we'd REALLY like to be together.

Because this is my mom's first grandchild she was set on having a baby shower for Jer and Suzanne. When she first brought it up to me she suggested that we get together with my aunts, cousins, and some close family friends, wrap up the presents, and then send them to Alabama. That sounded nice, but what immediately what popped into my head was, "Skype!" I've used Skype in the classroom and to connect with a few people, but I knew there was potential so I suggested a Skype baby shower to my mom. We would all send our presents to Alabama, and on the picked day everybody would meet at my mom's house, we would connect using Skype, and use a projector so everybody could see them opening the presents.

My mom, along with everybody in attendance today, was a bit skeptical. Most had heard of Skype but never used it. Some had never ever heard of it at all, and the rumblings were, "How is this going to work? I bet we won't even see them!" and on and on. But it worked PERFECTLY!! We gathered in the living room, projected them on a sheet, and WAH-LAAAAA! Baby shower, Skype style:

I have learned so much over the last two years that have benefited my classroom, but now I'm helping others see the potential for improving our every day lives, too. Many of our friends and family have not seen Suzanne and Jeremy since last June so there were cheers for her belly, ooohs and ahhhhs for the presents, and tears of joy and love. It was great to have everybody "together" even with 1,100 miles between us.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Latest Projects

About two weeks ago we finished our latest attempt at PBL, our Regions of Pennsylvania project that we started right after Christmas break.

One of the biggest struggles I'm facing is how to get some of the kids' projects to my class blog for all of you to view and enjoy. I have a beautiful podcast and some fun google presentations on my desktop that I can't figure out how to embed on our website. Sadly, the google presentations are on our internal server so I can't share the link. :( I have a video on an iPad that is trapped there because of the way our iPads are set up. You can view three of the projects because those kids created pages on our class website! You can view them by going to our page and clicking on the AP, RV or ACP. I would love for you to share your comments, both positive and constructive, with the kids.

Since I last shared about the projects we definitely had some ups and downs. There were definitely group disagreements, and some of them required me to step in as a mediator. I was there mostly to give each person a fair chance to speak and be heard, but I did not make any judgments or decisions - that was left up to the students. There were groups that really struggled to get along and get the work done. But there were several groups that pulled it together and really made something special happen. On the day the projects were due I was talking to one student as she headed to her locker. She said to me, "I NEVER thought we were going to get finished! But we worked together, and in the end we did it!" Hearing that made my heart do a little flip because working together was one of our goals, and she was able to see it happen and see the positives of coming together.

There were some hard lessons learned in terms of time management and what happens if you don't meet the project requirements. There were also hard lessons learned about how teachers can use a browser history, even on an iPad, to confirm whether or not you were actually research your topic or searching for pictures of Justin Bieber. *cue discussion of Acceptable Use Policy here*

We presented the projects to the rest of the class because our other goal was to teach each other about the regions of PA. The students were able to ask questions, look at the rubric, and rate their projects on how well they met the rubric they were given at the beginning of the task. I'm was impressed with how honestly the students rated themselves, and as I said hard lessons were learned about making things that look pretty but don't include the information that was necessary.

One group in particular was crushed by what their grade would have been if I had made them turn in their project from their original presentation. It took me a long time to help them realize that if they were not happy with the results of their work they could take time I had built into the schedule and revise it. They didn't understand the whole concept of having a second chance. To be quite honest, that whole concept of second chances (and third and fourth) is new to me, too. I've been strongly planted in the 1 test / 1 project / 1 try camp for my whole life. It's been easier to change philosophically than in practice. I want to give the kids more time, but finding the time is the challenge. I was able to give the kids time over the course of some required testing days to make their revisions. The projects that you see / will see are the final versions.

The final pieces of this project were group and individual evaluations. Each students had a day to complete an evaluation about the other members of their group. Each evaluation included 6 questions where the kids had to respond with a smile, frown or neutral face and then had to explain why they circled the face they did. I asked them to be honest, but respectful, about the people in their group. While the written portions of the surveys were for my eyes only, I did compile the data from the faces. (Side note - I realized too late that this would have been a great opportunity to use Google forms. It would have saved me so much time! I will definitely change that up for our next project.) We took a look at the data as a class and analyzed it for our classes' strengths and weaknesses. From the weaknesses we created goals for our classes to work on over the upcoming weeks and during our next project. Our data and goals look like this:

More so than learning the facts about the regions of PA (because let's be honest - how important is that information, really???) I wanted my students to learn how to work together, how to take ownership of their own learing and how to use various technology tools. We definitely made progress in all three areas, but we definitely still have a long way to go. I'm excited to see what we can do during our next project.