From the Pew Report….

When writing itself appeared, philosophers feared that it would weaken memory and degrade intelligence. But it allowed for a great, albeit externalized memory and an enlarged, albeit shared intelligence. […] The Internet will have similar effects, with some losses but, on balance, more gains.” – Mark U. Edwards,senior advisor to the Dean, Harvard University Divinity School

Mountains to climb

Teaching academic (as opposed to personal) writing is often tedious for both me and the students. I much prefer talking about voice and style in their personal narratives.

So this time around, I tried a new process, and I am pleased with the results. I knew the students had varying degrees of understanding about Shakespeare and the Renaissance Period. Knowing they also have interests in specific areas such as music and art, I felt comfortable in letting them choose a direction for their research that might tie with those personal interests. As we read Romeo and Juliet aloud during the class time, I asked them to begin learning about the time period for homework.

They spent their evenings compiling information on a variety of topics: culture, religion, food, science. At the end of the week, I asked them to create a wiki to showcase what they had found. I asked them to paraphrase, use bullets, and include images, diagrams, or videos to help the rest of the class understand what they had discovered.

Next, we spent a couple of days reading each other’s work on the wiki. I gave them a list of questions so they would have to visit a random number of pages to answer the right number of questions. We shared our thoughts and examples of interesting facts over the next few days.

Finally, each student had to choose either his own topic or someone else’s to write a mini-research paper. All information and resources were freely shared among the students.

As they began to work on drafts, we talked about how to draw a conclusion about what they had read and researched. I posed questions such as: What did you discover as you read about women during the Renaissance? What conclusions can you draw about women’s roles during that time period? How were you feeling as you read? What were their lives like then compared to current times? Ancient times?

The answers to the questions became the basis for the thesis statement. I was pleased with how easily they were able to think beyond the facts and actually state a position based on the research. And because the research was readily available on the wiki, they knew who the experts were, who to go to for help. Each other.

As they began to edit their final drafts, they shared their work in Google Docs with each other. Then, during our snowstorm, they shared the final version with me!

I am pleased with their work, and I believe they have a better understanding, too, of what it means to gather information, cite sources, and draw conclusions.

And for those who didn’t quite master the writing? They get to do it again:)

Those darn bullets

I was reading through some of our seniors’ blog posts tonight. They post updates on their Senior Exhibit progress, sharing their ups and downs. Recently some of them have been doing “practice presentations.”

This student’s post caught my eye because I remember when she picked her topic, and we had several lengthy conversations about it. After her practice, teachers in the room offered suggestions for the “real” presentation….and this is what she wrote:

The teachers also suggested that I add bullet points to my powerpoint slides…

Now I don’t know what she had on the slides…perhaps they were messy, too filled with text….I don’t know. But the answer surely isn’t bullet points.

I wish we had time to work with students in meaningful ways about creating solid presentations. I know many of the teachers in the Upper School know how to do this, but not all. And for any given presentation, random teachers make suggestions based on what they “think” best. So this student will now go and create the standard business slides, each filled with the bulleted notes she will probably repeat in her presentation.

I know everyone means well, and I’m sure there were other truly helpful comments. But let’s drop the bullet points and use slides as powerful backdrops to the ideas we are presenting.

Uploaded on March 12, 2008
by mac steve

So what did I miss?

After watching Frontline’s Digital Nation, I felt such ambivalence. The discussion about laptops in the classroom seemed negative and unbalanced.  Henry Jenkins’ response made sense to me, and it helped validate much of what I believe about how  the way we teach and learn needs to change.

However, I felt no ambivalence about the reports on multitasking. I am absolutely certain I do not concentrate as well when I am doing several things at one time.

I thought for years that I was doing it. Certain I was handling all the information that was coming at me, I frequently checked my email while researching something online for class, while I tweeted and retweeted links to my PLN.

It wasn’t until last year when research surfaced, I began to realize how much I was missing.

Just this week, I:

  • misread the directions for a writing contest and had to tell two students that I would have to choose between them instead of sending in both entries (based on class enrollment NOT school enrollment)
  • skipped an important section in an email and had to throw together a response quickly
  • didn’t write a date on my calendar and will now need to get a substitute
  • frustrated my husband who was trying to talk to me while I was reading an article online
  • got a teasing comment from a friend when I checked my iPhone during dinner (I swore I would never do that)

Sigh. I need to slow down.