Saturday, October 22, 2005

Interdisciplinary Thinking

As I indicated in a previous post, I’ve been inspired by an interdisciplinary project sponsored by the National Writing Project and the National Endowment for the Arts called "Keeping and Creating American Communities." After digesting two books produced by teachers involved in the project (Writing America and Writing Our Communities), I began discussing how we might adapt these practices in the classroom. My teaching partner Darrell seems excited as well, and last week we discussed it with our department supervisors. They helped us focus our activities and objectives and the most recent version of the project can be viewed here.

The original plan for the weblog research project will certainly change if we do this, but I want to be able to honor the topics of about half of our students who had very personal connections to their research projects. Both Darrell and I have concerns about how our students will react to this change in direction and whether they will be ready to volunteer for a project that features real and uncertain research as inquiry. I’m going to try and enlist as much support and collaboration from other teachers and students with experience, or a willingness to join us in this journey, or provide feedback along the way.

I've e-mailed the Directors of the "Keeping and Creating American Communities Project" and my e-mail was forwarded to other teachers involved in various aspects of the project. The responses have trickled in offering support and encouragement, some from teachers who were involved in working with the same (or similar) theme: Shifting Landscapes, Converging Peoples. One teacher who responded even lived in Hunterdon County (where our school is located) for a number of years.

Next week begins exams and the end of the first marking period, so we should get involved in this project the following week. I'll be posting updates.

Blogging for Research Papers

A while back, Will posed the question about what blogs you would have your students read. It was an excellent question, but I was disappointed in the responses.

Now I’m getting ready to begin a research paper with my juniors and seniors. The past few years we have done a research paper based on a problem that the students identify in society. This might be as local as there are no recreational opportunities for teens in town to more global concerns like the effects of globalization on third world nations. The best papers hinge on students finding a topic they really care about.

In the past we have begun this process with a look at letters to the editor in a variety of newspapers. But with the growth of the blogosphere, it seems to me that there should be much more engaging content out there for my students to read and respond to. Since each student has his or her own weblog, they can create a post that incorporates and responds to an article (or blog) that she feels passionate about (the very essence of good blogging). So I guess I’m looking to teach my students to become bloggers first and hope that the result will be better more passionate and interesting research paper writing. But where to begin? Are there indexes of blogs that contain provocative social problems? Are there particular blogs that would appeal to teens?

Podcasts, schmodcasts. I need help!

There’s been a lot written recently about podcasts and the use of iPods in the classroom. I must admit, however, that I just don’t get it. I do see the potential for using such a seemingly ubiquitous piece of technology for educational use, but I find podcasts to be impractical.

I admit this is just my personal preference speaking. I prefer to read. It gives me time to contemplate a passage I just read without re-winding. And of course with weblogs it gives me the opportunity to respond as well.
Now for some shocking admissions from someone who advocates technology in the classroom:
  1. I also don’t own an iPod and the idea of walking around with a device plugged into my ears is not appealing to me.

  2. I rarely use a cell phone. I don’t even know my own cell phone number, and in the rare incidences when I have it on and it rings, I go into a panic trying to remember how to take the call.

So I know this puts me into the minority and I don’t want my personal preferences and prejudices to limit me as a teacher. So I’m asking for someone to show me the light. Why should I go out and buy and iPod? What wonderful forms of content are out there via podcast that are not available in any other form? And what are the possibilities for education?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More on the Class Research Weblog Project

After interacting with my American Studies students through their weblogs, I began to rethink the year-long research project a little. While some students have passionate interests and are personally invested in their choice of topic, others seem no more excited than if they were choosing it off a list of research paper topics. Since the area I teach in, and the school itself, has changed so dramatically in the past ten years, I began to look at this more locally. In doing some research I stumbled across the book Writing America: Classroom Literacy and Public Engagement. With a name like that how could I go wrong? It was even better than I expected. This book describes the Keeping and Creating American Communities project that is supported by the National Writing Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It's an ambitious project, but one that might engage some of the students that don't seemed to be personally connected at this point. Rather than researching their connection to an outside interest or family background, they will be researching their connection and place in their community. They will also be active in analyzing the changes that have taken place and are happening. I'm hoping that the opportunity to work in groups or pairs might entice some of them as well. And the national project theme of Shifting Landscapes and Diverging Peoples seems tailor made for what our part of New Jersey is experiencing right now.

Is anyone familiar with this project and the resources we're going to need to pursue this?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Welcome Inquirer Readers!

This blog, along with all my weblog based school sites, was featured in an article by Joyce Valenza who writes the Tech.Life@School column for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  It’s titled “Blogging works best as an ongoing effort” and it provides a nice introduction to the varied possibilities of weblogs in schools: “When it works well as an educational tool, blogging involves students in content, critical reading, and thoughtful, reflective writing.”   My blogs are featured as an attempt to “expand the classroom beyond its traditional walls to involve parents, other teachers, and other schools.”  In a large part this is what I’m trying to accomplish this year through my weblogs, and I’m looking for others to join me.

If you’re visiting for the first time because of this article, welcome.  Take some time to read the posts, click on the links, become a member, and join the conversation.  If you would like to collaborate with any of my classes please leave a comment or e-mail me.  I would like to be able to offer my students choices for collaboration.  This could range from working with other schools in different part of the US or world, to interacting with a college class, an expert in a related field, or local community organizations.  I’m always open to ideas that create a richer learning environment for my students.  That’s the real power of weblogs!