Monday, May 30, 2011

Nerds versus zombies in the classroom

Stories can be powerful things. Right now I'm reading Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Miller's story recounts what he learned during the process of turning one of his books into a screenplay. Miller learned that his life was like a story. And if life is the story and the story has meaning, then life has meaning.

This is one reason why last year I often asked my students to create their own stories to illustrate ideas. Several students usually turned in movies. My movie-makers were not the students who typically got noticed. They were not the athletes or the academics. They were kids that seemed otherwise ordinary but who had an amazing ability to see meaning in stories and camera angles.

In the following film, my students addressed the issue of good verses evil and why there is evil in the world. Their answer is abstract and they did have to explain the video to bring it into the concrete, but focus on the idea that one man, Dr. Barislov, introduced the zombie virus into the world and you will see a somewhat Judeo-Christian idea of why there is evil in the world in their story.

And who doesn't like a good nerd versus zombie movie now and again.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shining as digital natives

This video is from my Intro to Philosophy class last fall. The assignment was to create a story containing a unique moral dilemma. Students then had to present three different philosophical perspectives on the moral dilemma. The story portion and the analysis portion were not required to be in the same format, so this group chose to present their story via video and their analysis in writing. What I loved about this group's work is how well they captured the feeling of a dilemma. They shined as digital natives capturing the emotional power of their story with music, lighting, action and acting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let them make cakes

Students analyzing cakes.
Inspired at the beginning of this year by Kevin Simpson's talk about differentiated instruction and my return to teaching World Religions, I wanted my students to communicate ideas in creative ways that would demonstrate their synthesis and analysis of information in the way best suited to their own skills rather than simply showing me that they know how to use google. To facilitate this, I encouraged students to work with stories or images they created and to analyze these products in terms of our content. As the year progressed, I became more relaxed about the type of projects students turned in so long as they demonstrated their own mastery of the topics. In a moment of pure genius (or insanity - you choose), I told one class that they could even bake a cake for their project.

It was a bit of a surprise one morning to have students deliver two cakes to my classroom. These were not ordinary cakes. These were Buddhism cakes!

In the picture on the left, the cake in the front represents Pureland Buddhism. Pureland focuses on calling on the name of the Amida Buddha for entrance to the "Pureland." Those who enter the Pureland can then travel between realms (symbolized by the ladder on the cake) to assist those left on earth.

Students demonstrate self-control not immediately
devouring their classmates' project.
In the picture on the right, the cake represents Theravada Buddhism. Buddha is represented by the orange figure meditating in the middle of the cake (though upside down in the image). Four brown candles standing up in the cake represent the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and the eight brown sticks (known here as Pocky - essentially a type of coated pretzel) represent the Noble Eighfold Path of Buddhism.

Class started by having the students come to the front of the room and examine the cakes. The class was able to tell our cake bakers what type of symbolism (more than mentioned above) they saw in the cakes. We then had our bakers tell us a bit more about the cakes (because we didn't really know what they would truly be like until we sliced into them where there was more content to analyze) and as a final reward for a job well done, we all shared in a great feast and consumed the student projects.

Microblogging won't make you seasick

From 1999 through 2003, I both taught computers and was the IT Coordinator at an international school in Bangkok. Those were early days for that particular school as far as technology and we were challenged by the range of issues small, young school in Southeast Asia would face - from non-standard hardware running pirated software to one dial-up connection shared by a computer lab of 25 computer. Those problems were eventually overcome through persistence in seeking resources and getting admin on board for changes.

But there was another probem. The dreaded problem that makes electronic learning tools both a blessing and a curse. "The WOW factor!" Back then, and unfortuantely still today, many students find the dazzling swishes, swirls and color schemes of powerpoint a more satisfying use of their time than really working on content. Now we have tools like and and can do powerpoint in a new and better way, easier to embed movies, non-linear content, more file types, etc... but learners are still learners and sometimes that prezi zooming can make you seasick.

This is why twitter, microblogging to be more formal, is so appealing. There is no worrying about "The WOW factor" with microblogging. What counts is the idea. Short, sweet, maybe even pithy if you have a great personality, but no enduring swirling, flashing or motion sickness.

Microblogging also has the power to open the conversation up among two or more people from even across the world. It's a great way to get students to sharpen their meaningful statement skills without realizing it.

So enjoy EDUCAUSE's "7 things you should know about microblogging" and think today about how you can use this powerful tool to enhance learning.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Putting offline presentations online

Many of my students did excellent movies, podcasts, and prezis or powerpoints during the year. This work is easily put online for a class website, but what about the posters, dolls, and cakes (yes, cakes) that students made as a part of their projects? I have the posters and I have pictures of the more edible projects. So this week, I am going to take the photos of the less electronic presentations and make them into a flipping book with flipsnack. Stay tuned for the results.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Changing the plans

There are some days when you are teaching a class and an event happens that affords you the privilege of changing your plans immediately in order to address a current event. It was announced today that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. We are just finishing up Islam in World Religions class and although we had addressed stereotypes, we had not specifically addressed stereotypes based on BinLaden, why they occur, and what AlQaeda is.

I started by putting a packet of information together. It contained information from Britannica on AlQaeda, an obituary from the BBC about Bin Laden and an article from the BBC about young suicide bombers. Students read these articles and we discussed them. The main questions we considered were, "Does Bin Laden represent mainstream Islam?" and "Why do many Americans consider all Muslims to be like Bin Laden." Students gave thoughtful answers that cited the text and drew upon the knowledge they had gained from our unit. Students who normally are reluctant to participate were interested, I suspect in part because of the timeliness of the news. You know those students who would never raise their hand to participate? Today their hands were raised.

After a short discussion, we watched an eight-minute clip from Ted called "Inside a School for Suicide Bombers." The speaker, Sharmeen Obaid, listed five reasons why these schools for suicide bombers are successful. Students were able to tell me those five reasons in significant detail. After the video was over, I counted the students out by sixs to make groups of threes. The students had to write down five ways to "solve the problem" of theses schools for suicide bombers. Students were engaged in lively discussion that produced authentic solutions not far from the policies of some governments. (Whether that's a good thing or not....)

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