Sunday, August 30, 2009


This is another one of those blog posts that must begin with, "I haven't posted in a long time. I've been so busy." A combination of moving and starting a new job, coupled with a lack of internet access for a week prohibited my internet contributions.

One of courses that I will be teaching this year is History. It will be a split-level class, with the junior group starting at the sedentarization of humans some 12000 years ago. The senior group will pick-up which they should have left off last year, at the Renaissance.

As with every course I teach, my objective will be to have students complete their work online as much as possible. In each of the subjects, the students will be creating a blog to host their online portfolios.

The History students, I will make them create a timeline. They will use this timeline to input information throughout the school year.

On my Diigo site, I have four timeline sites bookmarked. As usual, I looked first at the most popular site, which is OurStory.

OurStory looks like it would be good for creating a personal biography (I’ll keep it in mind for my English class), but it does not seem to serve my purposes for History.

Next, I checked out TimeRime.  TimeRime is popular; it seems to have many feature; but, after trying it out, I felt that is was a bit too complex for middle school students.


So, I settled on TimeGlider.  TimeGlider offers a nice balance of simplicity and functionality.  Users can insert photos into events, and embed their timeline.  Also, TimeGlider allows you to insert photos from the web; whereas, TimeRime requires users to upload photos and store them in different folders.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

First Day

Guru Larry Ferlazzo has written a post suggesting activities for the first day of school and eliciting suggestions for the same.

Larry links to another site with more suggestions, Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classrooms.  There are many great ideas on this page.  For ideas that I liked, I simply copy-and-pasted them into events in Sunbird.  With the plethora of ideas available online, I am beginning to realize that it is not necessary for teachers to produce lessons.  (Why reinvent the wheel?)  My goodness, what did teachers did before the internet?  What did teachers do before Larry Ferlazzo?

Controlling Syllabus

Siobhan Curious, a Twitterer, pointed me to an article, entitled, “Death to the Syllabus!”  As you can guess from the title, the essay is a critique of excessive, oppressive planning by teachers.  The author, Mano Singham, writes:

There is a vast research literature on the topic of motivation to learn, and one finding screams out loud and clear: controlling environments have been shown consistently to reduce people’s interest in whatever they are doing, even when they are doing things that would be highly motivating in other contexts.

I am always sceptical when someone states that there is “vast research literature” supporting their assertion.  From personal experience, though, I can attest to this particular idea.  Nothing extinguishes my motivation to do something faster than when I am made to feel like I must do it, or else!  There is an anti-authoritarian component to my personality that I suspect many folks in this society, especially teenagers, share.

That being said, there is also a universal human need for authority, structure and safety.  As always, wisdom prescribes balance.

Singham writes:

To test this, I abandoned the controlling syllabus. I now go to the first class with only a tentative timeline of readings and writing assignments.

It is interesting that Singham refers to this strategy as a test.  For my part, my contemplations on planning, and my intensive efforts at planning over the last two months, have led me to the conclusion that I have very little choice but to approach my assignment at a new school with a “tentative timeline”.  Logic dictates that I must first meet the students, and ascertain their academic levels and personal interests before I can fully develop appropriate lessons.  I could prepare reading comprehension assignments now, but at what level are their reading abilities?  And how diverse are their abilities?  I anticipate that there will be students with differing abilities who will require differentiated instruction.  What about math?  Should I prepare lessons based on the provincial curriculum prescribed for their grade level?  I wonder, what’s the point?  If they already know how to do long division, then why should I waste our time teaching it?  I need to assess the students first before I specify the instructional material.

It would be much more reassuring, and probably easier, if I had a book telling me what to teach for each day of the year.   But I don’t.  And I shouldn’t.  That is not the nature of teaching.  Teaching needs to be student-centered; teaching needs to evolve during the course of the year in order to adjust to the developing needs, interests and abilities of the students.

Siobhan also directed me to this interesting blog post, which is a reaction to the “Death to the Syllabus!” article.

Photo by ganesh_rrv.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting Ready

I have not updated this blog recently.  I feel negligent.  In my defence, I have been busy, preparing for a new house, a new town and a new job.

Certainly, thoughts of planning for the upcoming school year occupy my mind these days.

I have been contemplating how best to adapt the traditional teacher’s day plan book into a digital format.  It is not as straightforward a task as one might think.  I was hoping there would be suitable software online or off that would satisfy my needs.  Until now, I have found nothing.  For now, my strategy is to keep individual lessons and units on RTF documents and organize these documents inside folders: ie, Writing, Grammar, Math, and so on.

I utilize Mozilla Sunbird, a calendar application, to schedule my lessons.  Each event on the calendar links to the corresponding RTF document that contains the detail of the lesson.  This will allow me to reschedule lessons if the need arises.

I also maintain separate documents for Daily Tasks, Weekly Tasks and Year Plans for each subject.

My method is not entirely satisfactory and it feels a bit unwieldy; but then, organizing the logistics of a curriculum is no simple task.

Friday, August 7, 2009


I wouldn’t call myself an introvert, but I am definitely a not-extrovert.

So begins an essay by Brad Bollenbach entitled “Social Skydiving: Where Do You Meet People?” on the website  Me, I’m an introvert.  I don’t consider it a personal flaw; on the contrary, I consider my quiet nature to be the core and strength of my personality.  That being said, I have long felt that there is something odd about an introverted teacher teaching speaking skills to students. 

Me, I sometimes feel guilty for not giving speaking its fair share of classroom time.

Does oral language instruction get the short straw in your langauge arts program?

When preparing your students for standardized tests, those little standards labeled Speaking And Listening can easily slip by the wayside. And yet, is there any skill more important in landing a job, surviving social engagements, or being a successful leader than confident oral language skills?

The above quote is from the website Byrdseed, authored by Ian Byrd. 

Ian writes an inspiring series of articles, “Analyzing Great Speeches,” concerning teaching speaking.  He begins by stating a learning outcome:

Verbal and non-verbal patterns converge to create a powerful public speaker.

He then proceeds to present a unit plan in which students analyze and practise the specific elements that constitute good public speaking.

Before reading Ian’s essay, I never considered teaching speaking much beyond this: student stands in front of the class and speaks.  Ian demonstrates that teaching speaking does not need to be undirected and haphazard.  There is an underlying structure to speaking that can be analyzed and learned.

The article I quoted at the beginning of this post complements Ian’s insomuch as the author analyzes the components of socializing and speaking.  It is science, not magic.

I am reasonably good at meeting new people, but only for the same reasons that I am reasonably good at building websites or playing chess: I’ve treated it as a problem that can be solved through directed thinking and deliberate effort.

There is hope even for geeky introverts like me.

Photo by fantomdesigns.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Poll Everywhere

As I peruse my Personal Learning Network, I often read about the possibility of using Twitter and cell phones in the classroom.  I was unable to think of a way either of these two technologies could be utilized.  I must admit that I am a cell phone newbie.  I have never owned a cell phone and I have never texted.  I do not know if the new school I will be going to allows cell phones in the classrooms.

I found a website, called Poll Everywhere, that uses Twitter and/or cell phones to allow users to vote in real time.  I voted on this particular poll by tweeting.  It was interesting to refresh the page and see that my vote had been counted.

This poll asks participants to vote on the internet tool they would most likely use.  The tools from which to choose are presented in a Prezi Slideshow called Top 10 Tech Tools, by Diana Dell and Vince Szewczyk.  I was directed to this slideshow by a post on the edublog, A Whole New Dianne.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I would assume everybody reading this knows about Skype.  However, my modest experience as a computer guy has taught me that I should never assume anybody has any technology experience.  I would aver that most people know less about computers than you think they do.  I am still surprised by how little fellow teachers know.  It’s like cars.  Most people just get in and drive; they don’t know or worry about how the engine functions.

When I am trying to assist people with their computer problems, I am very careful not to be arrogant or condescending.  I realize that it is frustrating when your computer doesn’t work and you don’t know how to fix it; and I realize that it isn’t always fun having to ask for assistance.  The fact is, everybody started off not knowing anything about computers.  I don’t want to be like Nick Burns:

Anyways, concerning Skype, I just wanted to point out that Skype lets you use your computer as a phone.  I signed up for Skype.  In Canada, it costs me $2.50/month to make unlimited long-distance calls to Canada and the United States.  The sound quality is good.

In many countries, you can purchase a Skype phone number, so that you can receive calls to your computer.  I think it would great to be able to receive phone calls while I am on the computer.  Unfortunately, this service in unavailable in Canada.