Thursday, February 25, 2010

Star Trek

In my Music class, I wanted to devise an activity that would let the students practice using Audacity.

I decided to have them create their own audio track for a movie clip.

I soon discovered that 99% of the movie clips on the internet are in MOV format, which is for Apple Quicktime computers, and cannot be edited in Windows Movie Maker. This is odd, given that 90% of the computers in the world are PCs.

After searching, I found a website called "Trek Mania" that hosts some Star Trek video clips in AVI format.

Students downloaded one of the clips and used Movie Maker to edit it. Movie Maker is a free program for editing video that is part of Windows XP. I found out that Movie Maker is not included with Windows 7. This is odd.

Students used Audacity and a microphone to recreate the speeches in their video clips. They downloaded sound effects from Flashkit and background music from CCMixter, These sounds were imported into Audacity.

Their final Audacity project was exported as a WAV and then imported into Movie Maker. Movie Maker allows users to mute the original sound from the video.

Here a some results.

VoiceThread History

I asked students in my History class to produce three slideshows on VoiceThread.

Each show had to consist of five photographs. In order to give the students a sense of copyright, I instructed them to include a line of text on each photograph indicating the source. The students used Microsoft Paint to insert text onto the photos.

The students used microphones to narrate information on VoiceThread about their history topic. The narrations accompany the photographs.

Finally, they used Glogster to create a title page, with links to their three slideshows.

Here is one student's production:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Teaching Methods

At some point, every blog must contain a gap in entries, followed by a post apologizing for and explaining the gap.

After a flurry of activity, during which I described many classroom activities on this blog, the previous month or so has seen a dry spell.

I'm sorry. Let me explain.

My philosophy and methods of teaching have experienced two shifts over the course of this year. For one thing, I am employing routines more; for another thing, I am utilizing project based learning more.

Last fall, I was trying to engage and entertain my students by introducing new activities daily, mostly culled from the web. I spent much of my time scouring my Google Reader and Twitter accounts for suggestions. I was convinced that the best way to motivate my students was to keep them interest and entertained, and the best way to do this was to continually introduce new and fun activities. I yet aver this pedagogy has some merit.

However, I have shifted my teaching paradigm. Instead of introducing all new content and skills in each class; now, the students spend the majority of each period engaged in routines. For example, in English, the students can expect that they will have a daily journal entry, a daily grammar exercise, a daily spelling quiz, and a daily cloze exercise.

There are fewer surprises in my classes now. In contrast to before, the students now arrive to class with a general idea of what they are expected to do. That being said, I still supplement the core activities with dynamic "fun" activities. It could be argued that the routine-heavy style of teaching is boring; however, I believe that the students appreciate the security and reliability of routines.

This, then, is one of the reasons I have written fewer blog posts concerning new activities.

The second reason is that I have started utilizing project based learning more. For example, in my Geography class, the students are currently creating a multi-page, multi-media website about natural hazards. They have been working on this for almost a month now. The justifications for project based learning relate closely to the justifications for using routines. I believe that projects, such as websites, mirror more closely the tasks of "real life," and the students take pride (and motivation) from creating something grand, over the course of time.

Photo by Dalboz17.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I have been ruminating on the less appealing aspects of my job, in hopes of finding some way to alleviate these little workplace aggravations.

One item that bothers me is the issue of motivation. In every class, there is inevitably a percentage of students who are unmotivated to work. This causes me stress because I think that their poor academic performance will reflect badly on me. After all, it is my job to ensure that the students do well on the final exam. Their failing will be my failing. It it my job to motivate them. But how?

Wait. If a student chooses to not complete his work, and fails, then this not my failing. At least, I cannot shoulder all of the blame.

The family must take some of the responsibility. I have known kids with disastrous home lives. Situations of divorce, alcoholism and abuse severely debilitate a child's ability to succeed academically.

The students must accept at least some of the responsibility for their actions.

My role and responsibility is delimited. I'll not harass or threaten or berate my students. I'll not introduce negative tyrannical energy into my classroom nor into my ego.

At some point, I need to relinquish my grip on the students. I must let them stand or fall. As long as I know that I tried my best, then I can fail them and still sleep at night.

The language is deceptive. I am not failing them. I am assigning them a failing grade. They are failing themselves.

It is a fact of modern industrial life that some students will not graduate. Not every student will graduate from university, like I did. The students do not need to be like me. I am not the benchmark of success. I think many teachers (and parents) fall prey to this narcissistic habit of trying to shape kids to resemble who they are or who they wish they were. We shouldn't.

Some students will not attend college. Some students will work at warehouses and they will still enjoy happy and self-fulfilled lives. That's okay.

Photo by ratterrell.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Inferiority Complex

I remember when I was in university, I read about different teaching profiles. There was a list. For example, there are some teachers who act like businessmen, some who act like mothers, some who act like drill sergeants, and so on.

I have this vision in my head of the ideal teacher in the ideal situation. It is a woman. She speaks standing in front of the students with animated enthusiasm. As the students work diligently and quietly, seated in rows of desks, the teacher moves from student to student, hovering over each child momentarily, inspecting their progress, commenting, encouraging and assisting as she touches their worksheets with an extended finger. This is my fantasy. This is the perfect teacher.

I constantly measure myself against this ideal and fall short. I do not deliver lively lectures; I do not have mute students; I do not step from desk to desk, monitoring student progress.

I feel inferior. I am not the perfect teacher.

This psychological paradigm is not unusual for me and it is not limited to my professional life. Speaking psycho-analytically, my super-ego habitually measures my ego against unattainable ideals. The super-ego then punishes the ego with painful guilt for its inevitable inferiority. Freud 101.

As for teaching, it would be beneficial for me to remind myself that there is not a single correct method. Each teacher must find a style that suits their personality. For me, the businessman model feels comfortable: professional, industrious, reserved. I need to allow myself to be the teacher I am, and accept that my style is good. It does not require improvement.

As a final thought, I would mention that no metaphor is perfect. A teacher is not a businessman. In some ways I am like a parent, I am like a coach, I am like a counselor, I am like a friend. But I am not entirely any one of these things.

Photo by poeticaldistractions.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spelling Connections

Previously, I alluded to a promising new website that I will be utilizing in my English class. The website is called, "Spelling Connections." Larry Ferlazzo introduced me to it.

Spelling Connections allows teachers to set-up classroom accounts, so student scores are automatically recorded. The quiz results are not saved on the student accounts; therefore, the possibility of cheating is reduced.

There are four categories of activities. Each category has activities in 8 different grade levels. Each grade level contains approximately 30 quizzes. So, there is a lot of stuff.

The activities are challenging, but the site allows students to try repeatedly until they achieve a score with which they are satisfied. My preferred activity, and the one which I have started my class using, is the cloze sentences.

The spelling activity is also good. A word is spoken, and the student must attempt to spell it.

All in all, it is a great website!

VoiceThread Rant

A few weeks ago, I wrote a favorable review of a website called "VoiceThread."

I learned today that this site is not as great as my first impression led me to believe. In fact, I will no longer be using VoiceThread.

I had prepared a lesson in which the students were instructed to create an account at VoiceThread, and then to create four slideshows. As the quickest student attempted to create his fourth slideshow, he alerted me to the fact that free accounts only allow users to create three slideshows. So, I had to modify the assignment. Having exhausted their three slideshow quota, my students will not be able to create any more slideshows in the future.

I don't begrudge the owners of VoiceThread for wanting to make a buck. I don't want to go on a rant against dishonest advertising; however, I think that it was particularly devious of VoiceThread to engage in the old bait and switch ruse. When I was creating my free account, I was never alerted to the fact that it would only allow for three slideshows. I wasted my time signing up (I'm certain my personal information will be sold) and creating slideshows for an account that is now frozen.

By the way, an educator's account is available for the fee of $60/year + $1/user. (But you would have to follow the "Pricing" link in fine print at the bottom of the page to find this out.)

Photo by AdamCohn.

Monday, February 8, 2010


For a few weeks now, I have been passively seeking a new site for my English class to practice their reading comprehension skills. I am a busy teacher; we all are. I want a site with prefabricated exercises that will allow the students to complete their work online and feed me the results.

I had been using MyTestBook. This is a great site, to be sure. It satisfies all of the requirements iterated in the preceding paragraph. But MyTestBook has an Achilles' Heel. I became aware that at least one of my students was cheating. He was logging into a classmate's account and viewing the other's completed, corrected quiz in order to glean the answers. So, I stopped using MyTestBook.

I suppose cheating is as old as schools. I could have continued to utilize MyTestBook, and to monitor the students as they did the assignments, but this was not how I want the internet to serve my class. I want a site that will allow the students to complete their assignments independently, at their own pace, and at home, if necessary. I do not want to have to hover over the students as they travail. A teacher must don many caps, but the role of policeman is not one I relish.

So I waited. Patiently. And then, finally, Providence arrived. But that, Dear Readers, is a story for another post.

Photo by Jim B L.