Tuesday, May 29, 2012

India School Visit

Aaaahhhh, summer: time to relax and enjoy.  And if my husband's consulting business (Customer Centric Selling - Bosworth and Kenney) should take him to a distant country, I'm going too.  
Last July, I had the opportunity to travel along with him to New Delhi, India.  Because I teach my sixth-graders about ancient India, I was familiar with the country's history.  I could even sound somewhat knowledgeable about the Harappan civilization, but really my understanding was very superficial.  
July came, and I was finally going to see for myself what I had only read about in boring history books.  To add to the excitement, I had set up an appointment to visit an Indian school. Here is my journal entry of my visit.

July 6, 2011-

I have been told for the past several years that the Indian schools were light years ahead of the United States in science and math. Every time I heard this, I defended our educational system and made assurances that we taught critical thinking skills, as well as equally important subjects like writing, music, and art. I imagined the Indian children sitting properly at their desks, repeating the answers to algorithms.

It was with these expectations that I set off to visit Sachdeva Global School. I had chosen this school because of its flashy web page and commitment to technology-based learning. Prior to coming to India, I made a bold request via the Internet and asked them if I could drop by their school for a visit. To my surprise, after reviewing my resume, they agreed.

The school is located in a suburban area of Dehli. Sentinel high rise apartment buildings line the wide streets, which gives the neighborhood a sense of modernity coupled with orderliness. I entered Sachdeva Global School, located in a modern two-story brick building, and was checked in at the guard's station. Several people waited for me at the reception desk. They looked worried and whispered frantically to each other.

Finally, a woman came forth and asked me, "Didn't you get the director's email? She had to attend to a personal matter and is not able to be here. Is it possible for you to come back tomorrow?"

I assured her that I had checked my email before I left for the hour drive, and had not received any notices. I began to question whether I had overstepped my bounds. Who did I think I was? Did I think they would just except any stranger, willy-nilly?

I decided to be even bolder, and I asked the receptionist if it would still be possible to have a quick tour of the facilities. After more discussion between the staff, two women came out and said, but of course, they would show me the school. Thus, we set off, one math teacher, one preschool teacher, and myself, to walk through the pristine campus. I must have looked like the Cheshire cat; I was grinning from ear to ear with excitement.

The school services students from preschool to high school. Each classroom had twenty-five polite students. (I was told by another Indian that this private school had difficult entrance requirements and was quite expensive.) When I walked in to each class, the students all stood up and in greeted me in unison.

I was pleased to see that the children still had to be reminded to walk, just as our students do at my school. However, they were expected to walk with their hands clasped behind their backs and to greet the adults as they walked by, using the terms "Ma'am and Sir." They had impeccable manners.

In the classrooms, while they used green chalkboards, they also had Smart Boards. Several teachers gave me demonstrations of how they utilized this technology to instruct the students. The teacher would click on a learning topic, and the students would listen to the automated directions.

Although I did not see it presented, the math teacher told me that they also used a strategy called Vedic Math to help the students access the learning. It is somehow based on ancient Vedic schools of thought. She was shocked that I had never heard of it.

The school has two computer labs, but I did not see computers in the classrooms. One of the teachers told me that the students were not allowed to bring computers to school, nor cell phones. If they brought cell phones, they had to be checked in at the office.

During reading instruction, the students used textbooks. In fact, as I walked through the rooms, I noticed the teachers using textbooks for most subjects.

The teachers are required to post their monthly syllabus online. The parents can also access the homework worksheets, including the study guides, and any information about important events.

The teachers meet often, but not on a scheduled basis, to collaborate on instruction. They give many formative quizzes, in addition to summative tests (sorry for the teacher jargon.)

The school employs many ancillary staff members. They include two technology aides, one western dance instructor, a traditional Indian dance instructor, a piano and guitar teacher, an art teacher, a roller skating instructor, and a water play aide. I was awed by how the school encouraged the arts and creative expression. My initial assumptions were incorrect.

There is also a language component at the school. All of the students are instructed in English, although they may be given assistance in the early grades in Hindi. They also have an option of learning French, Hindi (written), or Sanskrit as a third language when they reach the secondary level. I saw children copying English sentences in journals in the primary grades. I was told that as they progress through the grades, they write answers to more open-ended questions in their journals.

The cafeteria looked like a deli. The children in the primary grades are expected to eat the school lunch, which is carefully crafted to include healthy foods. Signs are posted all over the school, reminding the students to avoid junk food.

After my tour, my gracious hosts directed me back to the reception area, where I was led into the headmistress's office. They brought me a lovely finger sandwich, along with some cold juice. I was stunned by their kindness and told them that they must let me reciprocate in the future.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mentor Text and Blogging

If you walked into my classroom today, you would have seen students grouped around iPads, discussing their blog designs, creating mathematical graphs, conducting surveys, and collaborating on texts.  Although to an outsider it might have seemed a little noisy, the students were all focused on the creation of their multinational blogs.  There was no need to manage behavior because the students were fully engaged in creating authentic text for a real audience.
We spent the beginning of this week looking at mentor text of blogs.  I knew that many students would not know what a blog was.  And if they were familiar with blogs, they would need to become familiar with the craft of writing a blog.
First, we looked at student award-winning blogs at http://edublogawards.com/.  The students not only read the blogs, but they were invited to notice the writing craft within the blog. I asked the students to look at the topics.  What kinds of topics were selected?
After analyzing topics, we looked at the format of a blog.  What kinds of graphics and text did the authors use?  The  students noticed that most of the blogs used video and pictures. We also looked at the links.  Why would someone choose to link something to a blogs?
After our exploration of student blogs, we analyzed a different kind of text at wonderopolis.org.  I asked the students to think about the purpose of the blog.  They could recognize that while some blogs were written to inform or entertain, others were written to persuade. We agreed that this blog was definitely meant to both inform and entertain.
They began to see that not only would the writers of the blogs need to engage the reader through interesting facts, but that they had to link to the interests of their audience.
We looked at the language within the blogs as well. For example, we noticed that the authors of the blog directly addressed the readers with questions. Since we had analyzed mentor text throughout the year, we already had a term for this type of writer's craft: direct address.  We began to see that the craft of writing crossed over to the genre of blogs.
Next, the students paired up and discussed the focus of their blogs.  They discussed their audience and its needs.  What would interest an Australian sixth-grader? (See previous blogs.)  How could they best describe the American culture, particularly the culture of Southern California?  
Through group discussions and teacher conferencing, the students began to develop the focus of their blogs.  For example, although several groups wanted to write about American food, they all took different tactics.  While some students decided to challenge the notion of American eating habits and describe the smorgasbord of choices that are seen on American tables, others wanted to write about just the American desserts.  
The students also began to develop ways to illustrate their beliefs. On their own, using statistics from the Internet, they began to create representational graphs.  They developed surveys and began to include their peers' responses in their writing.  They made authentic connections to mathematical reasoning.
At the end of the week, our first obstacle became apparent when the students wanted to embed their videos.  Some of the students had created video using iMovie.  Because they are not the administrators of the blog, how will they include media?  I have decided to go to the experts for answers.
To see our results, go to http://sites.berwickfieldsps.vic.edu.au/globalone/

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cross-Cultural Blogging

We are on a journey.  We are crossing the great Pacific Ocean to make new friends and learn about another culture.  We are going to examine our preconceived notions about Australian everyday life and help our new friends understand us.  Our Southern California students are also going to provide  insights about local food, school life, and after school activities. And we're doing it all from our classroom in San Diego.
Thanks to the expertise of Dale Mills from Berwick Fields Primary School in Australia, our classroom blog has recently launched and is ready to sail.  As a class, we decided on our first discussion topics, and the students have paired up in writing teams.  We decided to focus on daily life, but within this category, the students are focusing on subtopics and narrowing their focus. Some of the students are eager to dispel the myth that all Americans eat junk food, while acknowledging that too many of us do make poor eating choices. Other students want to give a school tour and send pictures of our learning lab garden.  Still others are eager to show how they spend their time after the last school bell has rung.  They're eager to write because they know that someone will be reading their writing and responding.
Today we will review blogging safety rules and maybe add to the list.  The students will visit Microsoft's blogging safety tips site at http://www.microsoft.com/security/family-safety/blogging.aspx.  Because we want the students to practice good digital citizenship, we'll look at http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/middlehigh_poster#.T60YbBgPCik.twitter
After reviewing these sites, the students will look for good examples of student blogging.  We'll use it as mentor text to help us examine the craft of blogging.  Just as we look at professional texts for craft, I will invite the students to notice examples of good digital text.  We'll share our observations in classroom discussions, and we'll begin to organize our thoughts by creating prewriting webs.
Tomorrow we'll continue our international adventure.  No passports required.

Monday, May 14, 2012

San Diego Writing Project - Writing With Technology For Change

If you're interested in becoming a more proficient writing teacher who incorporates technology, sign up for the San Diego Area Writing Project's Writing With Technology.  We'll be diving into blogs, Twitter, Google Documents, mobile applications and digital media.  You may know about them, but are you using them effectively in the classroom?  Wouldn't you like the time to explore these technology opportunities? Summertime in San Diego, California - what could be better!
Go to the following link for more information:

Don't I Know

How many times have I struggled with a technology issue, only to have my students come to my rescue?
As an example, the other day my class was creating silhouettes of themselves for an art lesson.  And I, rushing as always, resigned myself to the fact that I didn't have enough mirrors for them to use for the project.  Once again, my students came to my rescue.  "Ms. Bosworth, we can use our iPads!" Of course we could.  It was a simple solution that I had overlooked.
Technology sources beg for new approaches. And as my students become more technologically proficient,  I have to let them become the teachers and problem solvers. Whereas at the beginning of the year I had a few students volunteer as "iPad specialists," I now can rely on a cadre of students for answers to technology problems.  My own resources have grown.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blogging or Bust

I was determined to figure out why everyone was so excited about blogging, so throughout the year I occasionally would get a day off and set up a blog. Consequently, before I knew it,  I had dabbled in way too many blogs.
I had to get them under control.  I have, therefore, set up a "master control board" and cleaned out the clutter.
I have arranged all of my blogs on my Wordpress Site, and narrowed them down to a book blog, a poetry blog, my reflection blog and a cultural exchange blog.  
My student poetry blog was designed as simple way for my students to publish their work.  This blog encourages self-expression and promotes a love of poetry.  The students see themselves as poets.
The book blogs gives the students the opportunity to share their favorite books.  If they are stumped for a next book choice, they can look through their peers' recommendations. ( I know that I always look through the clerks' recommended books at Barnes and Noble or Powell's when I am in need of a new book.) 
At first I simply asked that the students write about their favorite book. I left the details very open-ended.  Their responses were fairly minimal. I realized that just as with any assignment, the students needed direct instruction with technology writing.  Furthermore, while blogging with another school, I gathered some ideas for better responses. Of course, mentor text is as important in technology applications as it is in any kind of writing. 
I  include this blog on my Wordpress site.  It's important for my students to see that I am writer and blogger.  I also have realized the "ins and outs" of writing on a blog.  I needed to be a writer to truly understand all that blog writing entailed.
Lastly, we have established a cross-cultural blog exchange with a school in Australia.  This was surprisingly easy to set up through the Skype Educators website.  The goal is to exchange cultural ideas and customs.  
Both schools will post three to four topics each week, and the students will work in partners to write articles.  This will be an incredible way to end the year with my class.  As they prepare to venture out to a bigger world, they will have the opportunity to explore the world through discussions on this blog. 

Doing the Edmodo Shuffle

Doing the Edmodo Shuffle
Edmodo has been a wonderfully easy teacher tool.  You simply create your group and share the code with  your students.  You can then create an assignment or quiz by naming the assignment, describing it, establishing a due date, and assigning it to a group. 
My groups have included sixth-grade reading, text organization, and vocabulary.  I have used it for everything from blogging, written assignments, and quick vocabulary quizzes. Not only do I love how easily I can check to see who has turned in the work, but I appreciate how it calculates the scores of their work.  Also, the students can quickly see how well they did on their assignments.

Living in the Rabbit Hole

Maybe it's because my iPad has been loaded with over one hundred applications. Maybe it's the fact that I keep collecting professional texts on digital learning and now could open up an online bookstore on this topic. Or maybe it's simply because of the unlimited resources available to teachers on the Internet. Whatever the reason, I have sometimes felt overwhelmed with an educational technology malady: digital-itis. The symptoms of this illness include, but are not limited to, clicking on random technology emails; cruising educational Twitter feeds related to technology; playing random learning games through iPad applications; reading every New York Times article related to education and computers; and wasting hours of time with free technology sites for teachers. If unattended, this illness can lead to random computer activity, with limited connections to my teaching objectives. As a result, at the beginning of the year I decided to concentrate my efforts in three areas: Google Documents, blogging, and digital media.
Google Documents 
A good first step for anyone jumping into technology is Google Documents. Although my district provides Google Document accounts, previous to this year, my students had only used it as a document cloud where they could easily access their assignments from home and school.  In addition, they used Google Documents as a collaborative tool, working on projects simultaneously in groups in our Mac computer lab, using the share function.
Although my grand design was to use Google documents as paperless site, my students and I came upon a major glitch: iPads and Google Documents are not fully compatible.  For example, while the students could write on Office HD using their iPads and there was a direct link with Google documents, there was no share function.  Thus, my students were not able to create a document and share it with me on Google Documents without copying it, going through the Internet, and opening Google Documents.
In addition, the document formatting was compromised when the students composed on Office HD and sent it to Google Documents.  Essays would not stay aligned and poems could be scrambled.   Only using this strategy, could they enable the share function.
I had to resign myself to the fact that Google might best be used as a document storage site. I did, however, find another way to incorporate Google technology into my twenty-first century classroom.
Google Sites
This year we used Google Sites for creating group projects. In order to accomplish this, I had to first set up the student accounts as though I was the administrator. This meant that I could ultimately keep control of the contents of each group's site.  
At the beginning of the project, I identified technology leaders and set up groups of four around these students.  I let the groups choose a hominid species and create a wiki about their topics.  

Examples of these are the following:

Even though our word processing journey was filled with trial and errors, the students have been able to use Google Documents as a cyber storage space and access it from multiple locations. In addition, they have collaborated on wikis and published their learning on Google Sites. The emphasis has been on publishing and sharing - two important skills on the new Common Core Standards.
My search for greater ease in recording keeping led me to Edmodo.

Bosworth Traveler

Bosworth Traveler
The Taj Mahal