Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Copyright Wonderings

Lately these days copyright issues have been occupying my mind quite a bit and this morning I got off onto a side track. When did copyright start up? Long, long ago (about the time I started school if you ask my students) an author would write a scroll and if you had a copy, purchased from or given by the author, you would commission a scribe to copy that scroll for you. Sometimes that commission's price would include letting the scribe make their own personal copy that they would then be able to make copies from. Unless you were buying from the original author none of that money ever made it back to the author. Author's were supported by a patron or their own personal finances.
It had to be sometime after the printing press was invented and the scribe evolved into the publisher. Now the author would take the book into the publisher and pay to have it published, the publisher would make multiple copies and either give them to the author to sell, or more commonly, sell them and send the author a share of the proceedings. Protecting this share must be the origin of copyright issues. How and why did this get turned around? What happened to build the 'system' we built today? I think this would be interesting to know. How did a bard's songs that were loved so much they were remembered and sung by the audience evolve to the mp3 copy of today? That would make an interesting show on the Discovery channel I would think.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Blog Comments Away

Well, my second group of students have all had their first taste of blogs. My seventh grade at G Wiz 7, my eighth grade at G Wiz 8. I wrote the post and they all wrote comments. Between district policies and the way Blogger2 works I haven't figured out a system where they can write the posts themselves. I'll work something out, but I wanted to get them started slowly. I'm hoping that as they read their comments and comments from others it will motivate them to get better at writing. I have had two students that have already rewritten what their comment contained after they looked at it online; now if I could just figure out how to delete a comment without deleting the blog post.
Its gone very well. I've tried to not censure them for their writing, but we have talked about do's and don'ts. Some of them don't really write a lot and it showed in what they wrote. Strangely enough some of the comments I'm happiest about are the worst ones; in grammar and length. Some of my students that never would write more than a one word answer to an essay question actually wrote sentences. The spelling may be wrong, but this is a big step in their performance. Writing for the Internet may have motivated them just enough to write, something they wouldn't do for me on paper.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hitting the Wall

I knew it would happen eventually and now it has. I've hit a wall, well actually two walls really. I've picked up all these new Web 2.0 tools and have been trying to use them in my technology class. Mainly this has been experimentation with my students being voluntary test subjects. But I've picked up so many tools I can't decide what to try next and I'm forgetting some of them before I get a chance to use them. So I'm hitting a wall of not enough time.
I'm also hitting another wall with trying to find a way to introduce these ideas to my students (who are stuck just understanding Web 1.0) They love the tools, especially after they've used them a couple of times, but they don't visualize the concepts on what this can do for them. They see it as a tool in class not in life. Part of this is only one in three of my students have Internet/computer access at home.
Normally hitting the wall just means I need some time to let the ideas simmer at the back of my brain, then after a while everything pops into place. But new ideas keep popping up and I don't have the time to simmer, ergo frustration city. I'm not happy with the fact that things are going past me that I want and I catch on to them, test them, figure out how to use them, and teach them without being overwhelmed by other choices. I've got twenty-five cents and I'm loose in the candy store with too many choices. Or to follow through with the simmering, I've got four burners on the stove and seven pots to cook in, what to do, what to do, what to do.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Well the new term has started and I've been using the PowerPoints and screencasts that I prepared to make sure my students had some prior knowledge before we started doing an assignment. I post them as I create them on the class website.Mixed results so far, I found out I need to slow down the speed of the PowerPoints so they can read them better. I guess I overestimated their reading ability. I didn't get all of the screencasts made that I want so I am still working on that. Sometimes I worry that I am doing overkill, but since my students last semester didn't have any prior knowledge to build upon I've tried to prepare for anything they need. I'm looking forward to the first video project that they do. Some of the kids take it seriously, some don't, but that's normal in any class. If they can get through the first project without a lot of problems then I'll feel successful.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Old dog learning new tricks

Isn't it amazing how sometimes when you try something new, something you expect to fail and blow up in your face, but you try it and are stunned by how well it works. Today I tried something I had never done before with my eighth graders. Instead of standing up and going orally over three "important" PowerPoints we needed to cover at the start of class I gave them the option of looking at them on their own. I know that sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially with a group that can be talkative and hyper at the drop of a hat. But it worked!! Of course I offered a big carrot, earphones, after a small discussion of responsiblity they could listen to music while they watched the PowerPoints on their own and give me a paragraph summary of each in Microsoft Word, (Same document). I had read some blogs about how a way to increase student learning was to enable students with choices and I thought I would try this with my 8th graders. Am I Suprised! Not only did they get busy and spend most of the time actually watching the PowerPoints and writing their summaries, but I had some students that I know are not the best readers actually ask me about some words (something they had never done in the past.)I kept an eye on the class everyone was staying on task working on the job and almost all of them got two of the three PowerPoints done in one day. If I had done it orally we would have completed one a day barely. Skimming some of the summaries that they wrote,the summaries are better than what I would get the old way too. All it took was linking the PowerPoints to my website and some 99 cent earphones, go figure. The more activities I pick up from reading the blogs online the more excited I get. My classroom is evolving and I l-i-k-e it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wisdom and Learning

After discovering the MIT OpenCourseWare website and trying to share my excitement about freely accessing all this college level knowledge, I came to a disappointing conclusion. Even though my peers are teachers, my passion for learning things for the sake of knowing them makes me weird. I really would have thought that they could get excited about the idea of taking college course for free, even though there would be no records aside from the knowledge you would learn. I was wrong. It seemed to me this would be learning in its purest form, just for the sake of knowing. I never stopped to think the others would not put it that high on their list of things they truly desired.
After the abrupt letdown of making this discovery, I was thinking about how I define learning, wisdom, and intelligence; and what is learning's most essential components. Wisdom, in my definition, is not just the accumulation of knowledge, but being able to apply that knowledge to a problem or circumstance in a positive way. You can know everything possible about a thing. However, if you can't do anything but rattle it off verbatim, it doesn't seem to be very wise, after all that's trivia, thus trivial.
My three essentials for Learning, in order of importance, are 1. Prior Knowledge 2. Desire to learn 3. Intelligence. I sure many would disagree with my order so let me explain.

Number 1: Prior Knowledge
In my years of teaching <26> I have had classes that were all advanced kids, remedial kids, and of course the normal heterogeneous mix. I have found no matter how smart I thought the group, if they didn't have any prior knowledge of what I was trying to teach, even if it was a somewhat simple task for me, they would struggle and I was in for a very long day. Last semester I actually had a group that had so little prior knowledge about making commercials it took me weeks to get them to where they could put together a video on their own. No vocabulary, no knowledge of the parts of a commercial, how to sell a product, or what a script was; in their minds, commercials were just short little movies for entertainment. Until you give them something they can relate to in their own life, that they can build on it makes no difference how much they want to do it or how smart they are, you are going to have problems getting them to learn.

Number 2: Desire to Learn
Any teacher that has had their own class has known a student who wasn't the brightest light, but would always produce the best work, but not the highest test scores on your exams. It wasn't because they were smart as much as the fact they worked their butts off to succeed. These students had a desire to learn that brought them to success in learning. The same teacher can also name a student who had all the potential in the world, but had no desire to learn in their class and so failed the course. Not because they were stupid, but they made no effort to learn because they didn't want to know.

Number 3: Intelligence
Long ago, when I was getting my first degree at KSU, there was a professor who impressed me so much I took every course he taught. His name was Tom Parish and he had a definition for Intelligence that is the best I have heard in any class, then or since. Intelligence is a measure of the speed you assimilate knowledge. Even after I finished school and started teaching this always has seemed to be a great definition. When multiple intelligence research came out it made even more sense to me. My brother who struggled to make B's in school, has always been able to look at a machine or device, take it apart, and put it back together correctly. While I, who glided through school with A's, have to have a manual with an exploded view or I can't figure out squat. You can have someone who has an extremely high IQ and they do things that are incredibly stupid. Normally this is because they didn't have the prior knowledge they needed and they just tried something only to have it blow up in their face.

Intelligent people with the desire to learn will pick up the knowledge they need for understanding quickly, and then pull even, or surpass the others with the head start of a large prior knowledge base, but they have to accumulate some prior knowledge first, or they don't succeed, no matter how hard they try. Thus I rank them in this order. I would be interested in finding out what others think.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Wow! I had read other bloggers when they talked about the thrill students got from other people writing comments on their blogs and thought to myself, "That'd be cool for my kids." But when I was reading Nancy White's Full Circle Online Interaction Blog and saw her quote from my blog, Whooosh! That was a major thrill, I was so pumped up I couldn't sit still long enough to type a response. Thank You Nancy. While I was walking the adrenaline off, I couldn't wait to set up class blogs for my students for this new semester. I wanted them to feel the rush and excitement. It was nothing like what I expected, it was better. As I was talking to some other teachers about my excitement, they got excited and wanted to create a school-wide blog so we sat down and came up with a topic and then got busy setting up that blog. What was really neat was the group I was with runs the gamut of kids for our school, normal classroom, AVID (college prep), and a special ed teacher (who actually was even more excited about the school blog idea than I was). It's interesting how a little spark at just the right time becomes a flame, let's just hope its perpetual, not a flash fire. More about the school blog later.