Sunday, December 30, 2012

ADE Class of 2013

Heard this morning that I have been chosen to attend Apple Distinguished Educator training in March. I can't thank my students enough!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Thank you, Kinokuniyia, for your excellent selection of books.

Practical and theoretical; real and virtual. I am excited to bring new ideas to my students on January 7.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reading online

In my last entry, I mentioned that I had just started reading a book called Why Boys Fail. The goal of the book is the investigation of and suggestions for fixing the gender-related problems that boys may experience in school. In this post I want to focus on the author's investigation into how we read text online, one small sub-point in the author's larger argument.

The results of web researcher Jakob Neilson’s investigation into how people read online may surprise you. Neilson spent years studying how people read online. He “used eye-tracking tools to map how vision moves and rests.” His studies concluded that instead of reading full blocks of text from left to right, top to bottom of a page, we generally read in the shape of a capital F when we read a page of text on a computer. We will read all the way across at the top of a page, but as we go down the page, we aren’t as careful. “Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. ‘F is for fast,’ Neilsen wrote…. ‘That’s how users read your precious content” (Bauerlein in Whitmire, 73).

The issue of how we read text online is not particularly an issue of boys; at least, it’s not at this point. The author offers no investigation of whether this reading pattern applies to males and females. However, if the pattern is true for either or both, we must keep this in mind as we move to digital textbooks or assign our students research online.

For me personally, it is difficult to read an entire article online. I still much prefer a book in my hand. I have a small collection of books on my ipad’s kindle app and other e-reading apps. I appreciate the ability to instantly download almost any books I am interested in and often for a price that is less than a hard copy of the book would be. I like that the library of books on my ipad really takes no space. When I move again, I won’t have to pack all those books in a box. Aside from the pure joy of holding a book, do hard copies of books have something that we don’t want to trade or loose over electronic copies, as they are right now?

Some years ago I read about a comparison between hard copies of books and e-readers. The author’s contention was that we recall what we read in hard-copies better because we can “see” the page in our mind. It is more difficult to “see” the page of an e-book in the same way. The text is not fixed on the page of an e-book. If we make the font larger or smaller, change the brightness or color of the background, the text can look quite different. We can put bookmarks and notes in e-books, but the pages will not have the coffee stains or dog-ears that hard copy books will have

Yet, who can argue with the access to databases or lightening of student backpages that electronic text offers? Is there a way to increase the care we take to read e-books? Can a careful teacher motivate students to read fully and completely? Does motivation matter in the way we read text online?

Some ten to twelve years ago, computers were being compared to “pencil labs.” This nickname was meant to point out that computers were being used primarily for word processing, or simply producing text, a task that could be done with a lot less expense by hand than by computer. With the growth of blogs and social networking, now the skills at the heart of our pencil labs have revolutionized the world. What was once derogatorily called a pencil lab can now foment revolution.

Actually, if e-readers are now to reading what “pencil labs” were to writing ten years ago, the future for the mesh of reading and teachnology is bright. 
Whitmire, Richard. Why Boys Fail. Tokyo: Amacon, 2010. Print.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Transforming learning for boys

The topic of boys' performance in school is one close to my heart because I have an exuberant son who loves to learn new things, explore, ask questions and wrestle with his dad. He does not like to sit still in school.

He seems to be taking to the IB program well this year and its units of inquiry, but as a parent I worry about his spelling and his math facts.

As a teacher, I struggle to understand my sixth and seventh grade male students. They are not much older than my son, so I try to keep that in mind, but I want to do all I can to encourage their learning. I am also working to understand their Korean culture while trying to understand the preteen male in the world today.

My students all have MacBooks. Many are engrossed in Minecraft in their spare (and not spare) time. My male high school students use technology as a social network and to watch sports. If these are the things my male students see as relevant in their own time, how can I use that to transform their learning?

Although I don't think this book I am about to read will specifically address the use of technology with boys, my hope is that it will give me some insights I can transfer to my classroom and share with colleagues.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What I like about google docs

At GSIS we are encouraged to use google docs with our students. I have found many things I like about google docs. Here are a few:
  • Google docs is quite easy to use. If you can use any word processing program, spreadsheet program, and presentation program, you can use google docs. I have also made a switch between Apple's Pages, Keynote and Numbers and the Microsoft Office package this year. I find switching between those products more difficult.
  • When my students are working on their documents, I can easily pop in and give them instant feedback.
  • Peer editing is simple.
  • Collaborative work for students or teachers is a snap. Numerous users can be in one document at the same time without conflicts.
  • It's free!
I'm looking forward to exploring other features of google docs as I use it more and more.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Apple distinguished educator application video

Here is my Apple Distinguished Educator Application video. I could not have made it without the great work of my students. It's about them, not me. I hope it speaks for itself.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Modern pedagogy goes low-tech

Sometimes teachers think they need to use all the bells and whistles to interest kids. There's a host of interconnected ideas that apply to today's learners. They need choice. They need project-based learning. They are knowledge-builders and content creators. They like to work collaboratively. These are just a few of the ideas about how to best engage young learners.

Even when we are doing low-tech tasks in our classroom, taking advantage of knowledge about what learners today are like can make things run smoother.

My sixth grade students recently picked books for book circles. They had six books to chose from. Some of the students were excited about individual books, but I wanted to make the process of choosing books more authentic. How do I chose a book at the bookstore? Usually I pick up more than one book and I spend some time reading it before buying it. How did this translate into my classroom?

Students were allowed to look at all of the book choices. They had to pick out their top two book choices and spend fifteen minutes reading each. They had a few questions about the books to answer and in the end, they wrote down which book they wanted to read.

Some of the students knew before the preview reading what they wanted to read and stayed with it. Others changed their mind after investigating two books. When we finished our book preview time, some students said, "Mrs. Montgomery, can't we spend the rest of the day reading? This book is so good, I just want to read it the rest of class."

Normally we have free reading time in almost every class. Usually I don't see this kind of enthusiasm, even though the students are allowed to pick their books for free reading. Somehow building up the idea that students had more choice in this selection than they normally would in a reading selection and the fact that they were reading the same book as friends increased the motivation to read.

Thus you have new pedagogy applied to old fashioned reading.

Things I love to hear

These are some of the magic words I've heard in my classroom lately. I love to hear words like these.
  1. I don't know which book to pick. Both are good.
  2. Can we read today? I really want to read my book.
  3. I am a human dictionary.
  4. Can we move the tables? (Related: Can we take down your posters?)
  5. These are not words, but I love it when students draw mustaches on their faces for projects.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2012 - time to teach anything

If I were a science teacher, I would use the movie 2012 to teach about physics. I would use the scene in which Jackson drives his half-blown off limo through the streets of LA to discuss speed, momentum, and velocity. We would also examine how airplanes fly and the effects of gravity on planes as they attempt to take-off in any of the scenes where the family tries to outrun natural disasters on a runway.

A geology unit could examine the statements the movie makes about the earth's crust and what it is capable of. Volcanoes and earthquakes could be examined in terms of what sets them off, what damage they can do, or how their damage might be minimized.

A government class could write a constitution for the people who manage to make it onto the arks. There could be a different constitution for anyone who possibly survived outside of the ark.

Psychology classes could examine human behavior in light of cataclysmic disaster.

Art students could examine what famous works the movie suggests are saved. Students could debate what works they would save. They could also create what type of art work they think such an catastrophic event would generate.

The opportunity for our students to learn is all around us in the things they are naturally interested in. We simply have to provide the means and encouragement for them to investigate.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Food photography and authentic assessment

Five or ten years ago, I might have said that authentic assessment was having students write a letter to an author or creating a dialogue between two business people.

Authentic assessment is far broader today. With over half-a-million photos of food on a flick photo group called "I Ate This," how can we say photos of food are not an authentic assessment? I might not be sure precisely what can be assessed with photos of food, but surely something can. The New York Times carried a story two-years ago (that's a long time ago information-wise) about the abundance of food photography.

What can we assess with pinterest? Would Marzano say we can do some sort of assessment on classification on pinterest?

In the fall of 2010, I had the great pleasure of teaching my first (five sections of) Introduction to Philosophy. One topic we covered was freewill verses determinism. We asked questions about how free people are in a variety of different ways. We researched about freewill and determinism in a variety of ways, including some in-class experiments, and researching the Standford Prison Experiment. We learned about the people involved in the experiment and their circumstances. Our culminating project was a visit by Oprah to our classroom. I moved a sofa and some chairs to my room to mimic Oprah's set. Students took on roles of different characters in the Stanford Prison Experiment and we "played" Oprah.

It wasn't exactly a dialogue between two business people. It was spontaneous, not scripted. It did involve students taking on roles.  Is it possible my students might one day be on Oprah? Was this assessment authentic in that regard? Maybe they will be, maybe they will not be, but they will need to be able to converse with people from a variety of backgrounds and take on the perspective of others.

I just hope they aren't on Jerry Springer. Ever.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Prezi.... Moving in the Right Direction

It's been some time since I've been on Prezi. I didn't use it all summer and since I arrived in Korea, I've been learning Keynote. We are an Apple school, so I've made the switch from PowerPoint to Keynote. I'm just now getting back to Prezi for a professional development presentation that I am a part of later in the week.

I'm so impressed with the changes at Prezi. It's now possible to animate text and images! While it doesn't yet provide the functionality that Keynote or PowerPoint do with animation, it's moving in the right direction. And with the path and panning features unique to Prezi, I'm quite pleased that the developers are not resting on their laurels, but continuing to improve their product.

Here is how to animate text or images in Prezi.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Way Out There

This is going to be one of those way out there posts. I had some free time today, if you count walking back in the cold at night from the grocery store as free time. It was free time, though, in the sense that my mind was free to go where it wanted.

I was musing on words. As an English teacher, I think about words a lot. I am also a person who actually thinks in words a lot. My husband thinks in images. When he describes something, he can see it. I have to make a little movie in my head, very deliberately, and even then, if it's not something I've seen before, I can have trouble "seeing" things in my head.

I can see words, though. I have even typed out my dreams at times. In my dreams, I was typing and I read the content. I am convinced that Typing I and Typing II were two of the most useful classes I had in high school. I had amazing English teachers as well, and a few others, but Typing was incredibly practical. It has allowed me to do work much faster than I would do if I was either a poor typist or if I had to write.

So, I was thinking about my son and how he's not very good at typing. He's ten years old. Ten years back when I taught K-12 computers, I would have said that young kids don't need to know how to type. I would have found all sorts of statistics on motor skills; I would have schlepped out a whole bunch of arguments about how much PE or art time they were missing to learn the home row keys, etc... Today my mind is different.

When we put pencils in our children's hands, they might not be ready for them. My son at ten and so many of my students at 12+ have such bad handwriting, but unless they practice, they won't get better. Some won't get better anyhow, but they need to try.

The computer is here to stay. (Hooray!) So I ask myself, "What about the keyboard?" I haven't thought much about alternate keyboards until tonight, but here are my thoughts on the mouse, and they aren't too positive.

I've been dreaming of a mouse glove for years, a little device that would attach to my index finger and would work without me moving my hand down to a touchpad or over to a mouse. So far it seems like this is the best I can get - Not the device I have been imagining, but hopefully a step in the right direction.(Although the foot mouse is kind of a cool idea)

Back to the keyboard. We do have the ability to talk to our computers. My friend Ellen loves Siri on her phone and my college professor with Parkinsons would not be able to blog prolifically without his Dragon Naturally Speaking. I dabbled with Rosetta Stone learning Korean and was fairly impressed on how well it understood my Korean. That's funny, isn't it? The computer understood my Korean when real people don't?

Back to my walk. I was thinking about words and computers. It seems like we cannot separate the two. While my students have done some amazing work using images to tell stories and communicate ideas, there is a depth and specificity available in the written word that is not available in images. Images serve a different function. For me to think about getting this very point across solely in images is difficult. What would I show? I would need to show words. I suppose I could use two very different images, one of which is very specific and another which is not, but as long as we talk in words, we will continue to be text-based, even for computers.

Yes, multimedia is here to stay. Content that is not based upon the written word will continue to grow, but the written word will be with us for quite some time. 

Why Our Phones Matter
There have been a number of changes at our school this year which have made getting cell phones for our new staff a bit tricky. Complicating the problem is that many of the new staff thought they were waiting for the iphone 5, which has yet to make its appearance in Korea.

If you are wondering what the school's role in getting phones for teachers is, please understand that Korean is a very difficult language and Koreans are not often extraordinarily willing to try out their English skills. Getting a phone in a foreign country can be a complicated process, so the school has office staff that help the new teachers with this (and other tasks) each year.

Last  Friday was the deadline for choosing a phone. I had heard little about the situation, but I was aware that an iphone was not in the offering. (I didn't mind too much as I had my unlocked iphone from Thailand. It took my six trips to SK Telecom, but I was able to get unlimited data and the service I wanted.) On Friday, though, I heard from a colleague who was not pleased she was being forced into a Samsung product. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was far more than a phone we were talking about. This was a serious educational technology issue that had ramifications beyond the pocket and into the classroom.

Our school is an Apple campus. Every teacher has their own MacBook Pro. Every student in grades six through twelve has a MacBook that they are expected to bring to school every day. Our elementary students have a number of computers and ipads available in their classroom. We are piloting apple tvs for use with our digital projectors. Teachers can get ipads and ipad minis with their professional development money. So why no iphones, especially if we are using our own money to purchase them?

I've used my iphone many times at school, and to do far more than check my email and facebook. I have made movies of students. I have recorded audio during PD sessions. I have taken attendance. I feel like I'm just beginning to explore all the iphone can do for me in class.

It made no sense that teachers would not have iphones as an option. The iphone is not just a tool of personal communication in our community, it is an integrated part of our educational technology. It can do so much more than make phone calls and access the internet.

And so, I stuck my big nose in where it wasn't invited. I asked our Tech Director/Apple Distinguished Educator to go to bat for the teachers having iphones as an option and presto! He worked magic and hopefully early next week, our teachers will have iphones in their hands. Thank you, JF.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tension between IB prescriptives and the modern learner

This is my first year in an IB program. I teach MYP Language A to sixth and seventh graders. I have an awesome collaborating teacher and a school that values PD tremendously. I could not ask for a more supportive environment.

One thing that I am trying to get my mind around as I teach in the IB program for the first time is how friendly (or not friendly) the IB program is to modern learners.

With its focus on external moderation, how can a teacher engage in student-centered, collaborative, project-based learning? How can I allow my students to choose what product they create or even convince them that the process itself matters, when the IB at times looks like standardized testing, minus the bubbles?

Sure, the IB is not all about what facts students know, at least as far as Language A goes, but it is about producing a very particular piece of work in a very particular way. And it is about producing a prescribed number of these pieces of work on the IB timetable. So while it's not high-stakes standardized testing, it comes across as something a bit analogous. High-stakes standardized prescribed essays or speeches perhaps?

This is something my husband (who is also a Language A teacher, though in the DP program) is trying to figure out as well. He's not as concerned with the pedagogy as I am. His interest is in the writing and how formal it has to be. He has always encouraged his students to have strong voice in their work. The students in our IB program seem to think all writing must be very formal. It seems lifeless and stunted. It does not seem to encourage creativity or risk-taking in any way.

So while there is much to like about the IB (perhaps that's another post, to check my attitude), some questions remain in my mind.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A New School

It is with a bit of shame that I sit here after not posting for so long on this blog.

In between the last post and now, so much has happened. My family moved from an international school in Bangkok, Thailand, to an IB international school in Suwon, Korea. We are getting our feet under us finally after quite a bit of adjustment. This is our first time for teaching IB. There's a lot I really appreciate about the IB program, my new school, and my new students.

One thing in particular that I find a real advantage in our new school, Gyeonggi Suwon International School, is that it is a one-to-one program from grades six through twelve. This means that all students in grades six through twelve have computers. These students do not simply have computers, they all have MacBooks.

While my school in Bangkok spent a lot of time trying to figure out how (and if) to make a switch from a Windows platform to Mac, GSIS has already taken the leap to a one-to-one program. The benefits are enormous. On a very basic level, there is an incredible convenience to be able to tell students to get out their MacBooks and look something up online, to have them follow along, to have them complete a task online, to have them create something or to respond to a prompt.

I'm still in the "figuring out what my students can do" mode a bit. In Bangkok I was teaching upper secondary students. My students at GSIS are primarily sixth and seventh graders. They seem to have the basics of the computer down, but I'm not sure about the depth of their knowledge. They are still very much in the "introduction to information literacy" phase of study. There are issues such as a bit of bullying on Edmodo, but overall, I've been very impressed with the reliability of the MacBooks. There have been times when student machines have been down, but when that happens, our students are able to get loaners from the IT office quickly. The IT office takes care of the student's issue quickly. My biggest obstacles was one overzealous parent's use of parental controls that locked his son out of all websites that the father did not approve.

I've had the opportunity to attend two @pple meetups and hope to attend more. I leave these meetings with plenty to consider and apply in my classroom.

In the next few weeks, I hope to be a more frequent blogger, primarily to promote my own self-reflection, but perhaps it will also provide some morself on information for a colleague somewhere in the world.

읽어주셔서 감사합니다

Friday, January 13, 2012

Back to school

On Thursday I returned to school after a long Christmas holiday. My students returned on Monday, but I was delayed due to a job fair, so they started their Hinduism project without me.

I began by creating a page on my blog with a video about project-based-learning and explaining our project on the blog. Students had to do some reflecting on what PBL means as they filled out a google form that asked for their thoughts on PBL. They also had to answer some general factual questions on PBL so that I know they understand the concept.

The project we are working on right now is to create a set of postage stamps that represent Hinduism. Serendipitously, I came across a video on youtube about the history of American women as represented in postage stamps. It conveyed the idea that postage stamps can represent ideas.

I then explained to the students how I was going to form the teams. They completed their google form job applications. As a teacher, it was fascinating for me to see how self-aware some of my students are and how some students who are very strong students seem to not know how they are perceived at all.

After I received the job applications in google forms, I downloaded the data into excel and created a mail merge document that resulted in each student's application printing out. Here is a copy of what the job application forms looked like when complete, although this copy has my notes on it in red to let you know why I asked the questions that I asked.

Once team leaders were chosen, I kept the team leaders in the room and sent the others to the hallway. Leaders then had five to ten minutes to look over job applications. All job applications were as anonymous as possible with all names whited-out. The team leaders then went through a typical schoolyard pick during which they alternated turns choosing numbers. They quickly realized their "dream teams" were not going to be formed and that they had to accept others into the group.

When the teams were picked, I encouraged the team leaders to go into the hallway and welcome their group members. Their first task? Chose a group name.

Aside from a small incident in which one group chose to be the potheads (a decision I discouraged and eventually thwarted), everything went very smoothly.

The next step will be to, quite frankly, figure out the next step. How am I going to merge the content, how am I going to encourage the students to ingest the content - all of them - while working on this project? Looks like I have something to figure out this weekend. Ideally it would have been prepared long ago, but I'm adjusting as I go along.

Add This