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An End N-1: Making Way for New Beginnings

April 8, 2013

In 2010 @thenerdyteacher asked if I would be interested in starting a collaborative online magazine with him. Of course I said yes! Project PLN was born. The passion behind Project PLN was to reach out to the education network and give everyone a voice. Nick and I can be rather prolific and enjoy keeping a blog and keeping up a constant chatter on Twitter, but that isn’t for everyone. We knew that there was this whole section of our PLN that had incredible ideas, amazing insight into education, but it wasn’t being shared widely. Project PLN was our attempt to provide a place for all of those voices to be heard. We wanted to help bring our PLN together, to introduce new voices and to solidify relationships.

N-1 is a concept that I read about on Seth’s Blog. Seth says:

N-1. There are tons of things on your to do list, in your portfolio, on your desk. They clamor for attention and so perhaps you compromise things to get them all done. What would happen if you did one fewer thing? What if leaving that off the agenda allowed you to do a world-class job on the rest? What if you repeated N-1 thinking until you found a breakthrough?

I am a perfectionist with a pinch of OCD thrown in for good measure. When I do something I go at it full speed ahead 110%. The problem is lately, I can’t give 110% to everything that I would like to because I am always adding one more thing (N+1). These things are good things, they are worthy things, important things. I feel that way about each one of them or I wouldn’t have taken them on in the first place. But lately I am finding that I am giving each less than what they deserve and not feeling a sense of accomplishment in any of them as a result. I think this is a common feeling among teachers. We always tend to be functioning in the N+1 model. We give everything the best we’ve got and often feel stretched too thin.

After two years Nick and I are in new places. We have LOVED Project PLN, even when we were at our busiest. Over the last two years schools have been started, families expanded, new job titles added, speaking engagements, the list goes on and on. It is time for us to employ N-1. This is a difficult concept for us. We are project adders…not project eliminators. And yet, Project PLN’s time is coming to an end. It has accomplished the purpose that we set out for it. It connected our PLN when it needed to be connected. With the increased use of social media and blogs, we aren’t seeing the need for it that we once did. It is time for us to let go of one so that we have room for others. Both Nick and I are sad to see Project PLN end. It has kept us working together month after month. It has given us a reason to plan after school Skype sessions. It has been FUN. It is our hope that in letting Project PLN go, we will have room for the next BIG thing that we can work on together. (Stay tuned, we are always dreaming up crazy great ideas together!)

I suspect that this isn’t really an end, that it will be a beginning. Now we have ourselves freed up for the next dream.
Thank you to all of you who supported us in Project PLN. Thank you for contributing, for sharing yourself with us. We hope that this will be multiplied in new ways. Hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, our blogs. Keep sharing your good ideas because YOU are an inspiration and YOU matter!

Farewell #ProjectPLN

April 8, 2013

Farewell #ProjectPLN

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
As You Like It Act 2, scene 7, 139–142

When I think about the morning I decided to text Kelly and tell her about this awesome idea I had to bring together people from our PLN to share their thoughts and ideas, I always smile. It was a crazy idea that I had no idea where to even begin. So much time has passed since that first idea. My life has changed in so many ways. I have an amazing son who is turning 2 in a month, my website has been busier than ever and I speak at conferences around the country. All of this for a little guy from Detroit who used to be too short to ride the the roller-coasters.

It has been a painful decision to make, but Kelly and I have decided to let ProjectPLN close shop. Our goal was to give a voice to people who did not have a space to share their thoughts. After a few years, I feel there are so many people that have taken to their own blogs and have spoken their minds. Project PLN seems to have served its purpose and it’s time to say goodbye.

It was an absolute honor to work with Kelly on this project. She always managed to find the time to help me edit the magazine and tweak the layout while she was designing her own school. I couldn’t think of a better collaborator for this venture and I know we will be working on something equally awesome in the future.

I love this Shakespeare quote because I feel it represents a little of who I have been these past few years since I became a connected educator. My role in education has changed dramatically over the past three years and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me. I do know that no matter what I end up doing, I can count on my PLN to be there to offer guidance and support.

Thank you to everyone that helped make Project PLN a success and supported our crazy idea with your own posts. Project PLN started off as an idea between two passionate educators and it became real because educators cared. That is something very special that I will be able to hold on to long after Project PLN fades from the collective memory.

I look forward to the next great adventure.

Nick

Sharing Issue: November 2012

November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving is just around the corner here in the US.  You know what we are thankful for?  Our PLN!  You all are truly incredible.  We are so thankful for the ways that you share with us (and educators around the world).  A BIG thank you to all of our contributors for the November Sharing Issue. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you. That is the truth!

This issue is jam-packed full of great lesson ideas (grammar can be fun, Count of Monte Cristo on trial!), helpful techy tips (great Google Chrome extensions), inspiration to keep plugging ahead, and much more!  Take some time to relax and be inspired this week. Consider this issue a big THANK YOU for all that you do for education every day.

We are now accepting submissions for the March Issue. We have decided to label it the “Innovation Issue”. We want to dedicate this issue to creative/innovative ideas in education and in classrooms.  What are you doing in your school/classroom that others should be?  What needs to change?  What adjustments must be made to allow room for this innovation?

If you think you have something awesome to share, please send an email to ProjectPLN10@gmail.com and we will add it to the March Issue. Please follow the guidelines for submissions below so we can quickly and easily load your posts to the site.

Please email the article or link to the article to ProjectPLN10@gmail.com

Please include a small bio that includes your blog, Twitter handle and other information you would like to share. A picture is encouraged, but not required.

It may be a piece you have published on your blog already. A good idea is still a good idea even if you had it a few months ago.

Please submit posts by Monday March 4. We expect for the issue to go live on Tuesday March 12.

Thanks again for all of the support you have given Project PLN over the years.

Have an awesome school year,

Kelly  and Nick

Co-Editors – Project PLN

7 Best Chrome Extensions to Boost Creativity

November 20, 2012

Google Chrome has designed some fantastic extensions that are all the rage. Everyone’s productivity is a precious commodity. Over the years, work days have gotten longer, despite the many technological advancements available.

In fact, it seems as though more is expected as a result of all of these fancy gadgets and tools. This is why this collection of Chrome extensions will come in so handy for anyone wanting to save time and have a better user experience, while boosting up their productivity.

1. Mail Checker. Like it or not, we all have to check our email. Most everyone would rather be reading something interesting or watching an entertaining streaming video. Google has come to the rescue with its mail checker extension, which notifies you of every new email. Not only does it save precious time, but it ensures that you will never miss an important email. That way, you can watch more YouTube and other streaming videos.

2. Google Quick Scroll. You can feel like you’re doing the quick step by skipping along web pages with this handy application. It can save a lot of time by helping you locate the most relevant search results quickly. Quick Scroll actually views into the webpage to find your query. It is also quite polite, keeping out of your way as much as possible.

3. Readability Redux. Next to the Quick Scroll this is another great way to read quickly on the web. It makes reading much less tedious and far more enjoyable. By taking away the webpage clutter, your eyes get a break from the tiny font syndrome that no one likes. Or course, marketers may not appreciate that it helps readers focus on the most important aspects of the page, as opposed to (ahem) the other distractions.

4. YouTube Enhancer. Okay, we all know that everyone likes to sneak a peak at the amazing array of silly and often useful videos on the ever popular YouTube. Given that Google owns it, they had every reason to make it easier to use. There are now cinema mode, HD and volume controls. Auto hide will make it easier to make viewing more of a cinematic experience. This makes it possible to enjoy film’s vibrancy, sitting in the comfort of wherever you happen to be.

5. The iReader has got to be any book lover’s delight. Many websites have teeny tiny font sizes that makes reading tough. This application will be your new best friend when it comes to those situations. The iReader icon appears just in the nick of time to instantly access whatever text that grabs your fancy. Content will appear in readable form, without unnecessary ads for much more pleasant reading overall.

6. Google Dictionary is another great tool. Rather than having to find a suitable online dictionary, readers and writers alike will especially appreciate its accessibility. You can highlight words or phrases, double click and voila! Your answer appears. It just can’t get any easier than that to use a dictionary.

7. Dropbox. Last, but certainly not least, check out this extension that lets you view DropBox account files without leaving the browser. You can also download the files at any time and view recent uploads. And don’t worry – security is always maintained at the highest levels possible. The tool is designed to work in a very similar fashion to browsing on the DropBox site itself.

The above are just some of the Chrome extensions that are offered with the purpose of easing the web browsing experience to make it more productive and enjoyable. Google’s developers are hard at work designing even more ways to attract web surfers and business owners alike. So be on the lookout for many more extensions in the future!

By Eric Thompson http://www.officespaceforrent.org

10 Tips for Teaching Reading Comprehension

November 20, 2012 16 Comments

Written by: Neale Pitches

Here are my 10 tips for teaching reading comprehension:

1. See each of your students as capable young people, merely lacking in experience – this mindset will help you (and them) with the remaining nine tips!

2. Give feedback. Think of how you teach a skill, such as kicking a ball. Having modeled how to kick a ball you then ask the students to try, and you give them feedback on their efforts. Do the same in teaching comprehension! Research says feedback is hugely important in learning.

3. Build your students’ reading confidence by offering them many short, interesting texts from diverse places. Students will have wide interests regardless of how much they normally read. For this reason, you will find they can make many connections to the texts you show them, even – or especially – poetry.

4. Include texts from across the content areas. Students will have to read material in all content areas as they progress through school. Research says that as the content load grows, some students fall behind.

5. Model, by thinking aloud, how you read actively to understand and enjoy texts. Model also how you use comprehension strategies to build your own understanding of texts.

6. As you model, make it clear that comprehension is not an “all-or-nothing” process. Students often think comprehension is about answering questions with a “right” or “wrong” answer. Show them how even a teacher like you doesn’t always understand everything in a text, especially at a first read-through. Comprehension is as much about asking questions as answering them.

7. As you model, involve the students, perhaps through think-pair-share. This will stave off the boredom and disengagement that can come with “stand-and-deliver” teaching. Also have students place an acetate sheet onto a text and annotate it with a felt pen where they are having challenges or using strategies. This makes their thinking explicit to you.

8. As you model, discuss vocabulary with the students. Have them try to figure synonyms or short definitions for challenging vocabulary (encourage them to be “deTEXTives”). Building vocabulary is crucial to comprehension.

9. Display texts on a digital interface – whiteboard or data projector. Your students are digital natives and they will welcome your efforts to use “their” technologies in their learning.

10. Be a reader yourself and notice your own use of comprehension strategies as you read. Read different books as they challenge you to use different strategies (I find the author Haruki Murakami great for putting my strategies to the test!). Research also shows that the deeper our knowledge as teachers the better we may teach.

The Count of Monte Cristo Mock Trial

November 20, 2012

Four years ago I began teaching 10th grade World Literature.  When I received the book list for the course, I saw The Count of Monte Cristo.  My first thought was, “This sure is a long book (even abridged) to read during the school year.”  The abridged version on the list was 531 pages.  I did a quick calculation and to teach the book in the “traditional” way and to move through the book in the “normal” two week time frame, I would have to assign roughly 40 pages a night.  I knew that was not going to happen.  Assigning 40 pages a night would ensure that no one read the entire book.  Okay, well, almost no one.  Therefore, I immediately decided on a pace that I felt would ensure students read the book and landed at a four week unit.  My next question, of course, was “4 weeks!?  We aren’t reading Crime and Punishment here; it’s The Count of Monte Cristo.  How much can I talk about the themes of revenge, justice, God’s retribution, and love & alienation for four weeks!?  And you can only emphasize the romantic style of Dumas so many times before the kids are going to puke.”  I was stumped, but I knew that, for me, the best option was to teach the novel the first year and then figure out how I could improve the lesson for the future.

I admit; the first year I taught the novel, we had a lot of discussions about plot summary.  However, during our discussions, I noticed students who had never talked before were answering questions.  Students who earned B’s on tests, scored A’s.  The kids loved the book; there was no denying that.  I, however, did not love the way I taught it.  I, therefore, devoted myself to finding a better way to teach the novel.

Flash forward one year.  I was sitting in a legal seminar earning my Continuing Legal Education hours for the year and staring at my Count of Monte Cristo unit notes.  I started reading the summaries I had created from the previous year, and I heard the presenter say “intervening cause.”  At that moment it hit me.  Edmond Dantès seeks revenge on his enemies.  He sets events in motion that cause deaths, kidnappings, insanity, and financial ruin.  He claims that his enemies are destroyed because of God’s retribution for their sins; he is just an agent of God.  However, would he be legally liable, or would intervening causes allow him to escape liability for all of the destruction he caused?  Eureka!  I had an intriguing problem to solve!  I had an intriguing question for my students, and at that moment, the beginning of The Count of Monte CristoMock Trial Project was born.

Now, students read the novel first. I have them read the first 15 chapters of the abridged version before I give the students a role for the trial. After everyone has read the first 15 chapters, I assign each student a role – either lawyer or witness. (Before I assigned roles, I explained the duties of both witnesses and attorneys and then asked the students to tell me their preference of whether they would want to be a witness or an attorney in the trial. I honor those requests in my assignments. Sometimes I have too many students who request to be lawyers. When that happens I pick the defendant, the Count of Monte Cristo, from the students who have requested to be an attorney.) When the students receive their role, they are given the following directions:

Witnesses, to be well-prepared for your role in the trial, you will have to read and keep track of the important information related to your character. The Character Chart and Cause/Effect Chart on OneNote should help you keep track of your character and why he/she acts the way she does. As you read and analyze your character, you should evaluate whether your character would be more helpful for the prosecution or defense. We will discuss this concept often during our discussion of the novel.

Lawyers, to be well-prepared for your role in the trial, you will have to read and keep track of the important information related to the Count of Monte Cristo and the characters he meets. The Cause/Effect Chart on OneNote should help you keep track of different actions by the Count of Monte Cristo and the effect of those actions. As you read and analyze the different characters, you should determine which characters would be more helpful for the prosecution or defense. We will discuss this concept often during our discussion of the novel.

Therefore, as students read, they are reading with a purpose – either to become an expert on a specific character, or to prepare to defend or prosecute Dantès. Everyone is reading to develop the connections between Dantès’ actions and the destruction of his enemies. They are also reading with an eye toward answering the question – Is Edmond Dantès wholly responsible for the deaths, kidnappings, and loss of wealth, or did other intervening actions cause these events. (Dantès claims God sets all of the actions in motion and, therefore, he is not to blame; with every reading, the students are evaluating if Dantès is correct in his claims.) Students must monitor their own progress throughout the unit. At designated intervals, however, we, as a class, discuss the novel and analyze the latest facts in the case. We discuss at the following intervals: Chapters 1-15; Chapters 16-21; Chapters 22-40; Chapters 41-50; Chapters 51-62; Chapters 63-73

At every interval, students take a short reading quiz to assess whether they are keeping up with the reading. As a method of differentiated instruction, I also permit students to either (1) summarize the chapters from their character’s perspective, or (2) complete a cause and effect chart for the events that occurred in the assigned chapters. Although everyone takes the quiz, if a student demonstrates through his/her summary or cause and effect chart a deeper understanding of the assigned chapters than his/her quiz grade reflects, I replace the quiz grade with the proper grade reflected in his/her summary and/or chart. In this way, students are encouraged to keep track of their character throughout the reading rather than trying to remember everything at the end of the novel. When the students have read all of the chapters, they begin their formal analysis of the case and what role they will play in the trial. Witnesses are instructed to write a letter to the attorneys discussing (all that apply):

· How you know the Count of Monte Cristo

· What your thoughts of the Count of Monte Cristo are

· How the Count of Monte Cristo impacted your life

· How the Count of Monte Cristo used you and how you used him

· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the deaths of Caderousse, Marquis and Marquise Saint Méran, Barrois, Madame Villefort, and Edouard Villefort

· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the kidnappings of Albert de Morcerf and Baron Danglars

· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the bankruptcy of Danglars

· Whether your testimony will help or hurt the Count of Monte Cristo’s case

Witnesses are encouraged to “play the part” and to write from the character’s perspective. The witness letter, for many, is opportunity to use creativity in their writing. (Witness letters are posted on the shared OneNote notebook for everyone to view. Once posted, I review the letters and provide feedback within OneNote that the students can access at any time.) Lawyers are provided with an analysis chart and asked to complete the document, analyzing the role each witness will play in the trial. This document is a scaffolding technique that helps guide the attorneys in their thinking and leads them to begin strategizing for the best prosecution or defense. (The attorneys’ analyses are posted on the shared OneNote notebook under the password protected folder for either the prosecution or defense so their fellow lawyers can see their work. Once posted, I review the analyses of each attorney and provide feedback within OneNote that the lawyers can access at any time.)

Once we are finished reading the novel, I spend a day discussing the controlling law with the students. We use the Alabama Criminal Code as our controlling law, and we go through every statute that applies to the case and discuss the significance of the law.

Following the discussion of law, students break into prosecution and defense teams. (At this point, I create a witness list and put some of the witnesses on the prosecution team and some of the witnesses on the defense team.) In these teams, the students work together to determine how each witness either helps or hurts their team’s case. Attorneys work with witnesses, reviewing their letters and determining the importance of each witness.

Once the teams have begun to map out their theory of the case and how each witness will impact the trial, I spend some time instructing the students on how to draft questions for direct examination and cross examination. Students then draft questions that they believe the prosecution and the defense should ask them. (Questions are posted to the shared OneNote notebook so that everyone can see them. Once posted, I review and post comments to the questions within OneNote that the students and lawyers can access at any time.)

After the students have a working draft of their questions, I spend some more time discussing courtroom decorum and the rules of evidence for a trial. I help them understand how to object, what to object to, how to admit evidence, etc.

With all of the necessary information, students are given two more days to finalize their trial preparations and revise their line of questioning, etc. We then conduct the trial. Depending on the class size (i.e., how many witnesses we have) and the depth of the questioning, the detail of their objections, the length of jury deliberations, etc., the trial generally takes 4 ½ class days. (50 minutes per class) The jury is composed of teachers who volunteer and/or former students of mine who volunteer.

During the trial, witnesses who are not testifying, are attentively listening to the trial and taking notes based upon the other witnesses’ testimony. I provide them with a chart to keep track of each witnesses’ testimony and what facts presented by the witness prove that God controlled the downfall of Dantès’ enemies and what facts presented prove that Dantès is the sole cause of the deaths, kidnappings, and loss of wealth. This chart guides the students in their collection of evidence and helps them prepare for their out-of-class essay.

When the trial is over, students write an out-of-class essay answering the prompt: Were the punishments of Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand Mondego really God’s retribution or wholly the cause of Edmond Dantès?

(Note: The prompt is inspired by the novel. Dantès claims that his enemies are destroyed because God chooses to punish them for their evil; he believes he is only an agent of God rather than the cause of their downfall. In short, his belief is his main defense in the trial.)

If you are interested, you can find student directions, rubrics, portions of the OneNote notebook we share and some student samples at the following SkyDrive folder here.

Kelli Etheredge: I am a 10th grade World Literature Instructor and Teaching and Learning Resources Director for a private school in the Mobile, Alabama. I am in my 13th year of teaching and my 12th year of teaching in a 1:1 environment. For the last four years, as Teaching and Learning Resources Director, I have been working with teachers PK-12 to find meaningful ways to integrate technology into their curriculum. I am a trained peer coaching facilitator through the PeerEd group and I am a Microsoft Master Trainer for Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Program.

You can find me on twitter at @ketheredge & my current (but unfortunately slightly neglected) blog ishttp://firstclasslearning.wordpress.com/

Little Things Add Up and Other Life Lessons

November 20, 2012

I begin each week in the classroom with a Life Lesson. These lessons typically last five minutes, but my goal is to share with students some truth I hold dear. This week’s lesson: Little Things Add Up.

A few years ago Steve Bergen, while teaching at the Children’s Storefront School in Harlem, NY, started a Billion Penny Project. The idea began as a math lesson and quickly blossomed into a novel fundraising campaign. CBS picked up the story and ran this piece. I was part of the campaign and even made a brief appearance on national TV. Blink and you will miss me; I am in the red sweater:

Every year I collect pennies from my students and donate them to this worthy school. It’s a simple, charitable act with a larger purpose.

Steve’s closing comment resonates with me. I love his extension of the penny metaphor to a greater truth. In my humble opinion, it is the small, daily acts that shape us…not big, extraordinary moments.

If we aspire to be good students, teachers, friends, spouses, writers, jazz musicians, or dog trainers, what matters more than the rare monumental moments are the simple acts we complete almost without thought. Taking the time to compliment a colleague, standing up to a bully, or taking the time to use a semi-colon correctly carry epic weight when we total all of these gestures. The consistent attention we give to the small details matters.

I use this video to encourage my students to make many good choices every day, and I ask them to reflect on what the metaphor “Little Things Add Up” means each time they make a small donation.

If you don’t already carve out time to share a bit of yourself with your students, do. I have found that these quick moment…well…add up…in ways I can rarely predict. Students tell me these life lessons stick with them, and they often contribute lessons of their own. Working life lessons into your weekly routine is another concrete step you can take in creating a safe, inclusive classroom environment.

www.robinbneal.com
More Classroom Management tips from Robin Neal http://robinbneal.com/category/classroom-management/

Robin Neal teaches English at Beaver Country Day School, an innovative independent school in the Boston area. He has also taught in public and international schools and has experience at all levels from grades 6-12. He is particularly interested in technology in the classroom and how it can be used to create more dynamic, authentic educational experiences.

Flying to Grammarland!

November 20, 2012 3 Comments

FLYING TO GRAMMARLAND
A Crazy-Fun Method for Teaching Grammar to 4th-7thgraders
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION
“Do you have clearance from the tower for take-off?” the teacher, Mrs. Miller, asks Jason.
Somewhere in the classroom a muffled, nasal voice is heard, sounding strangely like a flight controller. “Gulf-alpha-niner-five, cleared for take off,” a voice intones. Students smile at each other.
“Okay, I guess we’ve got it,” Mrs. Miller continues. “Engine number one, 100% RPMS.” Jason turns an imaginary key and mimics an engine’s roar. “Engine number two, 100%. Feel that power vibrate the aircraft!” the teacher exclaims. All the students grin and giggle a little as they wiggle back and forth in their desks, pretending to feel the engines’ power. “Release the brakes, and here we go! Oops, Jason, remember to bring up the landing gear—three up and locked!”
As the class “takes off” in the imaginary C-12, they lean way back in their seats, grinning, pretending to feel the plane lift off as the C-12 gains altitude.
“Nice take-off, Jason,” Mrs. Miller compliments Jason, who smiles proudly. “Everyone look out your windows. Look, down there—do you see it? The Rapids in Grammarland.” “Oooooh!” the class says in unison, smiling as they pretend to look out their imaginary windows.
“How many of you brought your life vests today?” Mrs. Miller asks. All the kids raise their hands. “Waterproof covers for your books?” she asks.
“Oh, no,” Cindy moans, pretending. “I forgot mine.” “You’ll just have to hold your grammar book up out of the spray,” Mrs. Miller answers, smiling. “We’re just about ready to land at the Rapids.”
And so they land smoothly at the Rapids, eager and ready to begin a classroom session doing grammar exercises on punctuation, which is what they study when they are at the Rapids in Grammarland….
Flying to Grammarland was designed out of one teacher’s desperation at having to teach the ultimate drudgery of grammar day after day and her worrying that her students were not writing with enough creativity, enthusiasm, and personal voice. From this despair, “imaginative grammar”—an oxymoron—developed into the Flying to Grammarland program. Flying to Grammarland is a flexible framework method that can wrap around any existing textbook or language arts program and is used to teach grammar from second grade to upper middle school. The philosophy of Flying to Grammarland is that grammar can be more easily taught and more easily understood if it is taught in a concrete, visible, and active way, rather than if it is taught as abstract concepts on a page.
Imagine students begging to do grammar and eagerly participating in classroom grammar activities, even bringing “props” from home to add to the atmosphere of the grammar lesson. Imagine students liberated from the abstract drudgery of grammar exercises and set free into a world of imagination and creativity in grammar that carries through into their writing with personal voice and into all their other classroom activities with enthusiasm. Flying to Grammarland is a method of teaching grammar that accomplishes all of these objectives.
The basic framework of Grammarland is an imaginary landscape where each type of landform or destination represents a different concept in English grammar. Students “fly” to each imaginary destination, taking turns as pilots and bringing up the air stair, using authentic flight instructions for the light aircraft, the C-12. At each different destination or location in Grammarland, they learn a different grammar concept through hands-on, concrete analogies, including their own “props” they bring from home, or imaginary props, to add to the atmosphere. Because they pretend they are in a real geographic locale, all their classroom activities and language while doing the lessons and exercises will reflect that location. The location itself is clearly tied in analogical form to the concept being studied, adding to reinforcement and retention.
Flying to Grammarland is “teacher-friendly,” because teachers can use any component of the Flying to Grammarland concept that they feel is appropriate for the age group and level of their own students, from instructing the class in actual flight procedures to each destination and bringing appropriate props, to simply using the geographic locations as analogical, hands-on examples of the grammar concept under study. Teachers can modify, change, and add to Grammarland themselves; it becomes their own program.
For an example of how Grammarland actually works, look in on a class that has flown to “the Jungle,” which is complements (predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives). The students imagine they are in a real jungle. They bring in stuffed animals appropriate for a jungle: flashlights, imaginary mosquito netting and mosquito repellent, and anything else they imagine would add to the setting of the Jungle. A sixth grade boy once brought in baked bananas! The abstract idea of complements is compared to the concrete, vivid, imaginary location of the Jungle for the whole grammar unit on complements. When they are “in the Jungle,” they learn about the two paths in the Jungle: the action verb path and the linking verb path. They can never be on both paths at the same time, and the two paths never cross, so they don’t dare get off whichever path they’re on, because they’ll get lost in the dark, creepy jungle! (“Watch out for that boa constrictor! Yikes!” The kids giggle and pretend to unwrap giant snakes from around their necks.) On the action verb path, the only plants that students will find growing are direct and indirect objects. Conversely, they will find only predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives growing along the linking verb path. Students draw little maps of the paths in the jungle and they are ready to do the exercises in the grammar book in pairs.
To add to the atmosphere and to encourage creativity and imagination, when students need help, they ask the teacher, using terminology that would fit the geographic location. In the Jungle, they raise their hands, saying, “Help, we’re tangled in the vines!” or “Help, we’re being attacked by a boa constrictor,” accompanied by appropriate choking sounds and giggles. Creativity in thinking of imaginary little events that might “happen” while they are doing their exercises is encouraged. For example, students might say, “Hey! This little monkey is bothering me—get away! It’s trying to untie my shoelaces!” Students are also especially encouraged to make their own connections between the grammar concept and the geographic location. All their comments and contributions can be added to the “Flight Manual” for Grammarland for inclusion in the remainder of the unit and for next year’s format and class. This also validates their creativity and rewards them for trying to find ways that the grammar concept ties into the location, thus increasing their understanding of the concept..
Grammar exercises are completed and awarded a simple reward such as a rubber stamp (with a pun attached—for example, the cow stamp is “Moo—raculous”, or “I moo you cud do it,” and the students themselves vie with each other to guess what the meaning of each stamp is) or a gold star or a sticker on a recording page in their notebooks that sets up the desire in the students to earn as many of the rewards as possible.
Flying to Grammarland is a flexible framework that almost teaches itself, because the students become so involved in each location that they eagerly try to find connections between where they are and the grammar concept they are studying so they can share their ideas with the class. Grammarland also encourages students’ creativity, increasing their awareness of the power of their own imaginations and thus freeing them to write with a stronger sense of personal voice in their papers. In addition, teachers feel liberated, and the rewards they feel when the students enjoy and learn the grammar will energize them and free them to be even more creative in other areas in the classroom. When even the English grammar lesson can be a liberating, unique experience in the power of the imagination, students feel empowered in their other academic areas as well. It’s time to take off with Grammarland!
FLYING TO GRAMMARLAND: LANDSCAPE
THE GRASSY KNOLL—THE SENTENCE
Students learn about subjects and predicates and the different types of sentences while climbing up grassy knolls. Climbing up the grassy knoll is the predicate (always find the action first that gets you up the slope) and the subject is the other side of the knoll, the way you get down. Incomplete sentences are the ones that make you say “—and so?” or “—then what?” because you’re stuck on top of the grassy knoll with no way down. Watch out for those pesky little squirrels nibbling on their shoelaces—not to mention the gophers that keep wanting to grab the students’grammar books and papers and pull them down underground! A good thump on a gopher’s head usually does the trick.
THE WILD ANIMAL PARK—PARTS OF SPEECH: NOUN, PRONOUN, AND ADJECTIVE
Students visit the Wild Animal Park and meet the large furry critters—the Nouns—and the little snuggly ones—the Pronouns. Adjectives appear and disappear next to the other animals., the nouns and pronouns. Grab one when you see one! When students have a problem, they can growl for help, but they’d better be sure they don’t get grabbed and pulled inside a cage! Students have been known to do their grammar exercises with stuffed gorillas draped around their necks!
THE WATERFALL—PARTS OF SPEECH: VERB, ADVERB, PREPOSITION, CONJUNCTION, INTERJECTION
Students meet Mr. Trail Boss (Verb) at the Waterfall, who is the boss of the sentence, telling the other words what to do. His driver for his Jeep is the Adverb; his recreational tennis balls are Prepositions; ropes for tying everyone together while climbing are the Conjunctions, and everyone says Interjections when he or she gets splashed by the Waterfall, or begins to slip into the falls. Students must bring waterproof covers for their books and towels on this trip!
THE GLACIER—THE PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE
Students will enjoy scooping up the snow (all the words in a phrase) at the glacier and forming little snowballs with them, making either an Adjective or an Adverb phrase. Students can have a snowball fight and throw their snowballs at Nouns and Pronouns to make Adjective phrases, or they can throw their snowball phrases at Verbs, Adverbs, and Adjecives to make Adverb phrases. They can diagram their way out of a crevasse by going into Grammarland through “the back door.” Hot cocoa and marshmallows are a favorite of your mittened and capped students on this trip.
THE JUNGLE—COMPLEMENTS
Students will need flashlights and mosquito netting for this location so they can see which path in the Jungle they are on—the Action Verb path or the Linking Verb path. Direct and Indirect Object plants grow along only the Action Verb path. On the Linking Verb path, students find Predicate Adjectives and Predicate Nominatives. “Manglish” (Math plus English) helps to find a linking verb by saying, “The fish = bad” instead of “The fish smelled bad”—then they’ll know it’s a linking verb, if the equals sign works as well as the verb for meaning. “The bell sounded loud,” “The bell = loud.” They’ll learn to look out for those boa constrictors!
THE SWAMP—AGREEMENT OF SUBJECT AND VERB
Just when students thought it was safe to go back to Grammarland again, they put on their hip boots for the Swamp. Students must be careful when picking out a the correct verb form for their subject—it may look like solid ground, but they may end up sinking down in quicksand. “Gurgle, gurgle,” they’ll choke out! You can throw them a rope to pull them out. They need to look out for the little red flag in the ground that says, “Prepositional Phrase,” because no subject is ever in one! Students will have to help clean the slime off the C-12 windshield after these trips.
THE FOREST—USING VERBS CORRECTLY
Students learn about the roots of the tree (Infinitive), the trunk (Present Participle), the branches (Past Tense), and the leaves (Past Participle) and study the trees, not the forest when it comes to lie-lay, sit-set, and raise-rise. They’d better watch out for those pine cones dropping on their heads! The ants have been known to march off with papers left on the forest floor, too.
THE INFAMOUS BODYSURFING BEACH, THE WEDGE—USING PRONOUNS CORRECTLY
Students learn which cooler to use for their Pronouns (him or he?) when they find out which wave it is that is rolling into the beach. Here comes a new set—is it a Predicate Nominative wave? An Indirect Object wave? A Direct Object wave? They’ll have their Nominative Pronoun coolers and their Objective Pronoun coolers for help. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and towels are a must; swimfins are optional for the Wedge! Wipe out!
THE DESERT—USING MODIFIERS CORRECTLY
Students quickly find out there are not enough “wells” in the desert when they discover how to modify words. They’ll learn the three degrees of comparison—how thirsty are they? Water bottles and stuffed desert animals are appropriate for this trip. Watch out for heatstroke!
THE CLIFFS—CAPITAL LETTERS
As they climb up higher and higher, students find out that the Cliff capital letters are always more important than the little, lower-case letters. They’ll use special climbing tricks to remember how important some Cliffs really are, so they’ll be sure to capitalize them. Students must shake the pebbles out of their shoes before getting back into the C-12! Be sure they coil up their climbing ropes neatly and stow them under their seats.
THE RAPIDS—PUNCTUATION
Students get into kayaks and whitewater rafts to paddle their way through the sentence streams, avoiding Comma rocks and Semicolons and seeing what is around the next bend in the river: is it a complete stream or an incomplete stream? Class V sentences are the worst and students will have to call out, “Help! I’m being windowshaded!” when they’re stuck. Be sure to remind them to shake the water droplets off their lifevests before re-boarding the C-12!
FLYING TO GRAMMARLANDÓ
“FLIGHT INSTRUCTIONS”
A basic, suggested flight “script” follows. First, choose two students: one will be the pilot and one will bring up the air stair (the hydraulic set of six steps with which everyone boards the aircraft.
Teacher: “Does everyone have his or her grammar books?
Spirals?” (or whatever you want them to do their exercises in) Students: “Yes!” They need to answer enthusiastically— encourage them to do so!
Teacher: Today, we are going to fly to Grammarland—and to a special place in Grammarland. I’d like you all to look at the C-12 (pretend to look out the window or at the back wall) Doesn’t it look shiny? The ground crew just washed it. Everyone say, ‘Oooooh!’” Your attitude here is key, because they need to know that you are having fun with something imaginary, and they will take the cue from your behavior.
Students: “Ooooh!”
Teacher: “Okay, pilot, here are the keys!” Toss an imaginary set of keys to the student chosen as pilot. The student should reach up in the air and grab them.
Teacher: “All right, everyone, duck under the wing, please.”
You duck your head.
Students: Duck heads!
Teacher: You could say, to help set the atmosphere, “Susie (pick a student with a good sense of humor) — good grief—I said duck! What will I tell your mother about the big bandaid on your forehead?”
By now, the students should begin grinning a little, wondering what in the world is going on.
Teacher; “Okay, pilot, open the fuselage, please, and bring down the air stair. Let’s hear a good hydraulic sound of the stairs descending.”
Student: mimics your hand motion of turning the keys, and he/she will pretend to bring down the air stair.
Teacher: “All right, everyone, let’s climb into the C-12. Up the steps, everyone. Hold on to the guy wires so you don’t slip.” You make stepping motions with your feet and pull yourself up with your hands as if you were holding on to guy wires strung on each side of the air stair for railings. Students: do the same, while they are still sitting at their desks.
Teacher: “Let me hear those seat belts click, please!”
Students: make a clicking noise or say “Click.”
Teacher: “Oops, Trevor (or the student who is bringing up the air stair), unfasten your seatbelt and please bring up the air stair. Here’s how you do it. Let’s hear a good hydraulic sound, here.” Pull up an imaginary stair and crank the large handle down. (It is similar to commercial aircraft). Student: (air-stair person ) mimics you.
Teacher: “It’s important to close it firmly—we don’t want to lose (say a student’s name) — during the flight, as we almost did last time.”
At this point, you will ask students if they brought the special equipment or props needed for the day’s lesson, depending on the location to which you are flying. Refer to the specific chapter on the concept you are teaching for ideas.
For example, when flying to the Waterfall (Verb, Adverb, Preposition, Conjunction, and Interjection), you would ask, “How many of you brought waterproof covers for your books today? Hold them up please, if you did. Okay, not bad. The rest of you will have to hold your books out of the spray and use your towels you brought to dry them off.” Pause here. “You did bring towels, didn’t you? Hold them up if you did.” By now most of the students will be in the groove and many will nod yes and hold up imaginary (or real—if you told them the day before to bring towels from home) towels. “Very good, class. This is going to be a great flight, I can tell.”
Teacher: “All right, pilot, have you done the pre-flight check?
Student: (pilot for the day) “Yes, pre-flight check, Roger.”
Teacher: “Okay, engine number one, 50%
Student: turns an imaginary key
Teacher: “Engine number two, 50%.”
Student: turns a second imaginary key.
Teacher: “Okay, pre-taxi clearance? Fine, release the brakes and let’s taxi over to the engine run-up area. Let’s taxi, everyone—bump up and down gently in your seats.” Students: all follow your lead here and bump up and down in their seats.
Teacher: “Put on the brakes, please, and we’ll wait for clearance for take-off.” (Sometimes you can have fun with this such as, “I said put on the brakes! We almost ran right through the terminal!” or “Good grief, gently, please, you almost gave Robby whiplash!” Sometimes you can run over a speedbump, and the whole class bumps up in their desks, much to their delight. The speedbump idea was contributed by my students—they love it! Teacher: “Do you have clearance for take off?” At this point, you can hold your nose and mimic a control tower, or ask a student to mimic unintelligible noises sounding like a flight controller—there will be many volunteers.
Student(s): (holding noses) “Flight four-niner (or your classroom number), you have clearance for take-off!” Teacher: (while turning the imaginary keys and encouraging the pilot to follow you,) “Okay, engine number one, 100% RPMS, engine two, 100%. Feel that vibration from those powerful engines! Vibrate, everyone.” Vibrate a little.
Students: follow your lead and wiggle back and forth in their desks.
Teacher: “Pilot, here we go—release the brakes—and don’t forget to bring up the landing gear—three in the green— heeeeere we go!” Then you lean way back.
Students: follow your lead, leaning back in their desks, mimicking the feeling of taking off in a plane.
During the flight, sometimes you and the class can experience some “turbulence,” and they can all jiggle around in their desks. Larger classes may want to include a few flight attendants who can distribute magazines or imaginary drinks to the “passengers.” Your only limitation is your and your students’ imagination!
While you’re flying, you may also include humorous or descriptive comments about the destination where you are about to land. This helps set the tone and the atmosphere and helps to break the pattern of the typical grammar lesson routine. Refer to the specific chapter you are using for ideas.
For example, when flying to The Waterfall, you would say, “Nice job, especially for an inexperienced pilot! We’re going to circle Grammarland today and look down at the places we’re going to visit. Everyone lean over and look out your window.” You lean and look out an imaginary window, and everyone else should do the same. “Look—look down there—there’s where we’re going—The Waterfall! Everyone say ‘Oooooh’! Look at the falls—that spray must be twenty feet high! Hope everyone brought ropes today in case someone slips in!”
Once you have landed, you need to make comments regarding the location where you have arrived. Refer to the specific chapter for ideas. For example, at The Waterfall, you could say, “Okay, what a great landing—here we are, everyone. Climb out of the C-12 and find a nice rock to sit on. Yikes, Jason, not so close to the Waterfall! What would I tell your parents if you never returned from Grammarland?”
Congratulate the pilot and the class on a great flight. You can probably already sense the excitement and surprise resonating in the classroom. Your students know they are about to embark on an adventure—and you will not disappoint them! They’re ready for anything!

 

EXAMPLE: THE WATERFALL THE PARTS OF SPEECH
SECTION ONE: THE VERB
Creating the Grammarland Atmosphere:
You and your class have landed at The Waterfall after undertaking the basic flight. You are ready to begin a lesson on introduction of the verb. The day before, you may have encouraged your students to bring any or all of the following props from home, which you will store in your classroom as long as you are studying this concept. Students who don’t bring real props will, of course, have imaginary props, which work just as well! Make reference to the props during the flight and the lesson, as well as during the exercises for developing more atmosphere and creativity. You’ll find that your students catch on quickly, and their enthusiasm will help to fuel yours!
List of Real and Imaginary Props with Appropriate Phrases:
· ropes (be sure they are coiled correctly!)
· hiking boots (be sure students have them laced up securely)
· life vests (be sure students have them fastened!)
· waterproof covers for textbooks or workbooks
· canteens (keep those caps on tightly!)
· towels (to dry off books and themselves if they get wet)
Suggestions for Introducing and Teaching the Lesson:
1. Teacher: “Here we are at the waterfall—we’ll all have to speak a little louder to be heard over the spray and roar of the falls. First, let me introduce you to our Trail Boss—Mr.Verb. Look at those muscles, everyone. Say, ‘Oooooh!’ class. (Students love to “ham it up” during this part) Everyone flex your muscles, just like the Trail Boss.” (Students usually do this eagerly!)
“Mr. Verb is the Trail Boss for our hike up next to the waterfall and he’s the Boss of the sentence.Yes, the verb is the most important word in the whole sentence, because he tells the rest of the words what to do. He’ll tell you what to do, too. You don’t want to make him mad, Kevin! You’ll be doing wind sprints up the rocks! Mr.Verb, our Trail Boss, is usually full of action, like climb, run, hike, swim, throw, jog, and race. How can you tell if a word is a verb? If the Trail Boss can do the action at the waterfall or on the way to the waterfall, it is a verb. Here’s an example. ‘The Trail Boss studied his climbing manual.’ What is the verb? You can certainly say, ‘He studied at the waterfall or on the way to the waterfall,’ right?” Then you know that ‘studied’ is a verb.”
(NOTE: When teaching the linking verb lesson, you tell the students that it is a quiet verb—the Trail Boss just stands there and flexes his muscles; he doesn’t even have to do anything.)
2. Ask several students to come up and be the Trail Boss and mimic an action appropriate for The Waterfall (hike, climb, swim, etc.), asking the class to identify the action. Reinforce by having the students say that the action can be done at the waterfall or on the way to the waterfall. Using the verb form with different pronouns also reinforces the concept of the action verb. Then have students suggest other verbs, those not necessarily done at The Waterfall (such as study, sew, etc.) and use them by filling in the blanks in the sentence “He ________ at The Waterfall.”
Students Work Together on Grammar Exercises:
3. Tell students to get into small groups (pairs and apples) to do an introductory grammar exercise that makes them identify action verbs. Have them pick out a good rock to sit on, one not too close to the spray from The Waterfall. Use an exercise from your language arts textbook or use the exercise provided below.
4. Teacher: “When you’re in trouble and you have a question, say, ‘Help! Splash! Splash!’ and raise your hand and I’ll throw you a rope and come help you!” Students may spread their real towels, if they have brought them, on their seats, (or on the floor), and pull their desks into little clusters. When they do call for help, say, “Here’s a rope,” tossing them an imaginary rope and reel yourself into them. They’ll get the idea and tug on the other end of the rope to bring you closer! Reinforce the concept by answering questions using the Grammarland idea; for example, “Okay, Randy, which word is telling the other words in the sentence what to do? Which one is the Trail Boss? Which word can you do on the way to The Waterfall or at The Waterfall?”
5. While they are doing the exercises, remember to refer to their props as listed earlier. During the exercise, sprinkle students with water droplets from cups of water you have strategically placed about the room. Also, you can make comments to individual students such as:
“Watch out—you’re about to slip in!”
“You’d better get that one right, or Mr. Trail Boss will have you doing laps!”
“Feel the spray—doesn’t it feel refreshing?”
“Tighten your life vest—it looks as if it’s about to slip off, and we don’t want to lose you!”
“Oops! Your hiking boots have come untied—you don’t want to trip and fall in, do you?”
“You’re huffing and puffing! Are you out of shape for this hike?”
Kids will respond and grin—and come up with their own comments as well. Be sure to write them down in your manual so that you can use them the next time you fly to The Waterfall! Remember to write down your own inspirations, too!
ACTION VERB IDENTIFICATION EXERCISE EXAMPLE:
Write the numbers 1-20 on your paper. After each number, write the action verb from the sentence.
1. For a math project, Carol made a cube.
2. Mrs. Smith carefully explained the problem.
3. For her fall sport, Jill chose soccer.
4. This waterfall drops two hundred feet.
5. Ginny’s bicycle skidded on the street.
6. In Cedar City, you transfer to another bus.
7. Mix the cookies well.
8. Loren ran down the field
9. Gina smiled at her little brother.
10. The police chased two suspects.
11. The team scored two runs in the first inning.
12. The C-12 made a good landing.
13. Susie read a good book yesterday.
14. My mother listened to my report.
15. Clyde’s parrot screeches all day.
16. Donna kicked the soccer ball.
17. Robby lost his backpack.
18. Diana waited for Christmas.
19. All the students ran out to recess.
20. My uncle planted the trees
Concluding the Standard Lesson:
6. You have just successfully introduced the verb and can continue to do more grammar exercises from your textbook or workbook that will reinforce the concept for your students. You know your students’ needs best. You will correct each exercise, following the method you read in Chapter 3 on teaching the standard lesson. You can test the students, using the tests provided by your textbook publisher— and you will be surprised and pleased at the results! Your students are actually learning the grammar—and it’s relatively painless.

 

Integrating Grammarland Lessons with Writing in Follow-Up:
7. When your students turn to writing their next writing assignment, you will discover that the idea of Mr. Trail Boss’s being the most important word in the sentence has a powerful effect on the strength of their verbs in their writing. It is much easier to reinforce the idea of the importance of the verb in their writing using the “Trail Boss” from Grammarland. They will begin to write with stronger, more concrete detail, more “showing not telling,” and more personal voice. Students can be reminded to choose strong action verbs for more voice and vividness in their writing. They “need Mr. Trail Boss” in their sentences, not a weak little puny verb, you can tell them. After all, the verb is not just a colorless part of speech any more— he is the all-powerful Trail Boss at The Waterfall. You and your students are ready to learn another grammar concept!
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Margo Sorenson is the author of twenty-eight books for young readers and has won recognition and awards for her work, including being honored by ALA nominations and being named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. A National Her latest tween/middle grade mystery is ISLAND DANGER, MuseItUp Publishing, 2012. Visit her website at www.margosorenson.com and follow her on Twitter as @ipapaverison.

Alternatives to Book Reports

November 20, 2012 2 Comments

Being able to consume, critique, and create media is so important for our 21st century students. While I love to write about books in my book reviews, lots of children don’t share my enthusiasm. If your kids or students groan at the mere mention of writing a book report, consider some alternative ideas.

Instead of a book report, have your kids make a book trailer! If you’re not sure where to start, check out this article by Kim Chatel, Making a Digital Story with Kids. Book trailers are a great way to have children focus on summarising plot while also attempting to convey something of the mood or tone of a novel.

You can find many examples of downloadable book trailers suitable for children at Book Trailers – Movies for Literacy. Publishers’ sites and Youtube will bring you even more.Creating Trailers with Students also has lots of helpful information.

Making a book trailer or any short video with your kids/students is a perfect time to discuss copyright with them. Check out the Copyright and Copyleft Wiki for some clear explanations and useful Creative Commons resources.

Instead of a book report, have your kids design a poster. Websites like Notaland and Glogster encourage the creation of interactive posters too. To explore poster creation further, you might like to read Book Chook Favourites – Making Posters.

Instead of a book report, have your kids design an advertisement for the book. The ad could take the form of:
* text
* text and an image suitable for inclusion in a magazine
* text read aloud as audio
* text for video if you have access to a camera
* text and images for inclusion in a slideshow
* improvised advertisements that can be performed after a little practise for an audience
* any combination of the above

Instead of a book report, have your kids design a cartoon or comic. To explore this further, you might like to read Book Chook Favourites – Cartoon Creation. Software likeComic Life is great for adding speech bubbles and dialogue to photos or art work. The online comic editors like ToonDoo offer a range of backgrounds, characters and props to help kids tell a story.

Instead of a book report, kids can turn their family, pets and friends into stars. They can dress and pose them for photos, then capture scenes from the story the way they see them. Use those photos as the basis for a movie-style poster (Big Huge Labs), an advertisement explaining why people should read the book, or a comic (Comic Life). Make a slideshow of your photos and add captions and music.

Instead of a book report, sum up a book (or movie or song) in four icons. This is perfect for high school kids when time is short. Read more about it at The Tech Savvy Educator.

Instead of a book report, use animated movie people to speak about the book for you. At websites like Xtranormal, you can animate characters and have them speak. Kids could have one character interview another, and report about a book that way.

Instead of a brief book report, use Blabberize to record yourself behind a photo.

The crucial factors involved in communicating to others about a book, I believe, are:
1. Read the book.
2. Reflect about what you’ve read. Ask yourself questions about the plot, the characters, the theme, the problems the characters face etc.
3. Choose a format to communicate your understanding that best suits you and the book.

Find more ideas at The Daring Librarian – Ban Book Reports, and Cybraryman’s collection of articles at Book Reports.

And to the purists who insist that writing a textual book report is the only way to go, I say : “Ever since cavemen sat around a fire and told yarns, humans have been preoccupied with story. Aren’t sculpture, dance, comics, poetry, photography, and book trailers all ways of transmitting some kind of story? Involving your kids in something like this allows them to experience the creative process as apprentices, and may very well lead to a deep and abiding love for all types of story later in their lives.” (The Book Chook, November 2009)

Bio: Teachers, librarians and parents from all over the world visit The Book Chook (www.thebookchook.com) to find tips on encouraging kids to read, write and create; articles about using technology to motivate kids’ learning; and links to games, learning activities and online fun. Susan Stephenson is the face behind The Book Chook, where she shares her passion for children’s literacy, literature and learning. Twitter: @BookChook

Susan Stephenson
www.thebookchook.com

Authentic Assessment: Graphing Functions

November 20, 2012

As “21st Century Skills” has entered the education sphere, we have been exploring ways to make students content creators. Such opportunities give students the chance to teach their peers and a digital record gives them content which to use in their portfolios.

The following is a project based authentic assessment which takes place of a traditional assessment but does measure and include all learning benchmarks:

  1. Which best represents the graph of y = 2x − 5? Standard 3.3
  2. Students solve simple linear equations and inequalities over the rational numbers Standard 4.2
  3. Graph linear functions, noting that the vertical change (change in y-value) per unit of horizontal change (change in x-value) is always the same and know that the ratio (“rise over run”) is called the slope of a graph. Standard 3.3
  4. Plot the values of quantities whose ratios are always the same (e.g., cost to the number of an item, feet to inches, circumference to diameter of a circle). Fit a line to the plot and understand that the slope of the line equals the ratio of the quantities. Standard 3.4
  5. Solve two-step linear equations and inequalities in one variable over the rational numbers, interpret the solution or solutions in the context from which they arose, and verify the reasonableness of the results. Standard 4.1
  6. Graph functions of the form y = nx 2 and y = nx 3 and use in solving problems. Standard 3.1
  7. Graph linear functions, noting that the vertical change (change in y-value) per unit of horizontal change (change in x-value) is always the same and know that the ratio (“rise over run”) is called the slope of a graph. Standard 3.3

What I did was turn the solving of a function into the final assessment as I felt that the project targeted them well, and I could debrief some of the minor points of slope afterwards. (Some project only hit a minor swath of standards so this is why I still favor traditional tests in some regards)

In this case though, students recorded themselves using the document camera while solving a function. The project rubric was at their side for reference which included some target vocabulary and some of the things I wanted them to do while working with functions. The document was in a quiet section of the room where students could “rotate through” over a period of two weeks. Here is an example of a student recording:

After the recording, I met with the student to discuss how well they met the objectives, and if they wanted to, could resubmit their work. The video was great content for their digital portfolios which they worked on at the end of the year.

Graphing Linear Functions Rubric

I’m tinkering with the rubric a bit before we start this year’s projects, but the students said that they quite liked the experience. I don’t always use projects as summative assessment, but through good design principles, an authentic summative assessment can bring applications to life.

Gary Johnston
Middle School Math and Science Teacher
Saigon South International School
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Classroom website: http://blog.ssis.edu.vn/gjohnston/

 

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