Monthly Archives: October 2012

Research and Presenting

We are doing research projects in Grade 10 English. Here is how 300% of students approach a research project:

– On the internet, google “google” to find google. (Not kidding. They do this. They google “gogle” too.)
– Type in research subject
– Go to first website, most likely wikipedia
– Open PowerPoint
– Start to copy and paste information into slides

I explained to students that I could probably train a monkey to transfer information from one place to another. It’s a lateral move that requires no thinking and no learning. So with this research project, the goal has been to try to break this pattern and insert some critical thinking and creativity into researching.

Step one: Let them know that (shocker!) not all websites are reliable. I co-teach period one English, and as my co-teacher put it, you don’t want to be getting the information for your research project off some sweat pant clad basement dweller’s blog. (I may or may not be wearing sweats in my basement….but that’s irrelevant). It’s fun to illustrate this point with a few unreliable websites that look pretty legit, such as:

Step two: Teach them some ways to determine if a website is reliable or not.
See: resource cred check

Step three: Get them to answer all the questions on the resource credibility check sheet with the websites they’ve found on their topic.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well they took to checking their websites! A few students even found that their websites were not credible – or as they put it, were “written by sweat pants guy.”

Another step to try to prevent too much brainless copying and pasting is to limit what presentation methods students can use.

Why You Can’t Use PowerPoint

Animoto is great because students really have to pick out their main ideas and say thing succinctly. Prezi is great because it’s similar enough to PowerPoint that students who are afraid of something new feel comfortable using it, but different enough that they can’t mindlessly copy and paste. That’s the hope anyway! I’ll let you know how it goes…..and hopefully we don’t end up with any presentations about dog island.


Time to Report

It’s that time of year again! Students frantically run to your desk and ask if there’s anything they can do to boost their mark (calm down, you have a 92%), or cooly saunter over and say “Hey. So is there like something I can do to get my mark up?” (um, hand your assignments in). It’s interim half-midterm mark reporting period time!

This time of year will inevitably lead to one (or more) students (or teachers, or parents) requesting an assignment from you. I don’t know about you, but this usually annoys me. When I photocopy an assignment, I make at least 5 extras that I leave in bins at the front of the room. Yet when someone asks for an extra copy, it seems like there are none in said bin. I either have to print another one off or dig through my binders and find one to photocopy*, which is a hassle because the student/teacher/parent request will usually fall at the most inconvenient time of the day, likely causing me to forget what I was doing, only to remember much later when my name is included in the scornful “you-forgot-to-do-your-attendance” list. I was in such a moment recently when I remembered that one of our consultants mentioned something about a way to link assignments in gradebook. So I tried it. And it worked. And here’s how you can do it too!

Side note: I’ll warn you now: this isn’t a five minutes and done deal off the start: it takes some time to set things up and convert files and whatnot. But once it’s all set up, it will be a five minutes and done deal to do each new assignment, and it will save you from ever having to go photocopy an assignment for sick kids or send work home or give a copy to a homeroom/tutorial teacher, and it puts responsibility for catching up where it belongs: on students. Win-win-win.

1. Upload your assignments: Our school has a website with the ability for teachers to have blogs and upload assignments.  It’s basically a place to house the assignments online. If your school has a website, get a login and upload away! You could also use a blog site, as long as the uploaded assignments will provide you with a URL to copy. I would suggest you create a few pages or bins for assignments, one for each grade you teach. It is a bit of time to invest uploading your assignments, but the nice thing is that you will only have to do it once, and you can use the assignment links in subsequent semesters. I would also suggest you convert your documents to a .pdf file so they can’t be changed. (I can see it now, “Johnny, are you sure your English teacher assigned a personal case study and research project on “The Hangover”?). In case you aren’t familiar with that process: the easiest way to convert files is to right click on a file and choose “convert to adobe PDF”. Allow a screen shot to illustrate. (Mostly because I feel fancy when I use screen shots. But it also feels a bit like someone looking in my junk drawer, so don’t judge).

2. Link in gradebook: Now that you’ve uploaded your assignments, each assignment will have a URL that you can copy and paste into gradebook. Go to wherever you’ve uploaded your assignments and click on one. Once it opens, copy the URL in the address bar. (If the files download rather then provide you a link, you’re going to have to find someone much more tech savvy then myself to help you with that part of the process……). Now, open gradebook and find the assignment you are wanting to link. Under “Description” there is a button that says “Link”. Click it. It will open a box that prompts you for a URL and “Link text”. Paste the URL into the first box, and put in whatever title you want the assignment to show as in the second box. Done and done. If you assigned it in more than one class, you could do that again in the other class, or you could just use the ‘ol “copy assignments” option. By right clicking on the assignment. Now, for some more tantalizing screen shots.

Copying the URL of the assignment:


Linking in gradebook:


As you can see, once you add an assignment link, it shows up as some wonky garble (yes, that’s the professional term for it). When you look at the assignment as a parent/student/teacher in powerteacher, it will show up as a link you can click on. You can also add more than one link for any one assignment, in case you have some sort of crazy assignment that requires more than one sheet of paper.

*Side note from way before all the screen shots: Do you ever give away your mater copy of an assignment or something you had in a binder and then have to go back to square one? With a yellow (and yellow only) highlighter, write “master” on such sheets. The word won’t show up on photocopies and you’ll never give your master copy away.

Another thing about reporting periods: comments. I never know if I should be writing a comment to a parent/guardian (such as, “John is doing really great in English”), or to the student (such as, “John, you are doing great work so far”). Perhaps it’s time to use the “poll” option wordpress has been advertising to me.

Of course, now that I’ve asked, I’ll probably get some email from a higher power telling me they instituted a “student friendly comment language” policy five years ago, and did I miss that memo? Evidently, yes. But look at my fancy screen shots! (To all of you who do screen shots for breakfast and are scoffing at me that I feel fancy because of it: don’t read my blog anymore.)

Giving Thanks

I am thankful every day that I’m not an elementary school teacher. Granted, if you closed your eyes and came into my classroom, some days it would sound like an Grade 2 class – with all the “he’s bugging me!” and “I don’t have a pencil” comments – but most of the time, students are able to get to class, do their work, and use a washroom on their own.

There is one area of elementary school I wish to bring to high school, and that is colouring. You have no idea what joy registers on students’ faces when you mention colouring. I think it’s because they invest years and years into making cards for every occasion and entering colouring contests, only to be cut short once they reach high school – they’re suddenly too old to colour! It’s hard to quit cold turkey. They try to cover their dissapointment by acting like they’re too cool to colour, when really their insides are screaming for a Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown and Atomic Tangerine to express themselves with. So when I suggested we do the following colouring activity in our homeroom class, the students were at first surprised. They lauged it off. They tried not to act excited. But every one of them sat silently, focused on the work at hand.

Go make your own hand turkey thank you card for someone special. I promise they will be thrilled, and you will enjoy making it.  Happy thanksgiving everyone.