School Days: Assessing Student Writing with the Explain Everything App

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“So, Ms. Harper, will I be able to hear you, like, puking in the background when you read my terrible paper?”

This is what my students want to know as I begin experimenting with a recorded oral response to their essays.  I stumbled upon a “Learnist” board (a cool pinterest-like app with lots of education oriented boards) , that featured an article from a teacher trying to record responses to essays. I started wondering how I could do that with our one-to-one iPad program, and, more importantly, if that kind of response could save precious time when dealing with the paper load.

I chose to start with the Explain Everything app.  My students typed their papers using the Pages app on their iPads and emailed them to me as PDFs.  I opened the papers in Explain Everything, which reads PDFs, and there I could annotate the papers while recording my voice over them.

As I sat down to assess the first paper, question one arose–If this paper that I’m about to open is awful, will I be able to keep my tone moderate and non-condemning.  If the paper isn’t awful because of the student’s inability to write but rather because of apathy and disinterest, is it appropriate to keep my tone moderate and non-condemning?

Luckily, paper one analyzed the concept of “maturity” and was generally well-written and thoughtful.  Problem averted for the time being.

Question two–Exactly how do I use this app?  It took a bit of time to figure out how to type, how to place typed text where I wanted it, how to annotate with the pen, etc.  My biggest challenge was remembering to turn off the pen before I attempted to scroll further down the page.  I tended to accidentally draw lines down the middle of the page.

When papers are opened in PDF form in the app, each page is treated as a slide.  When I responded to the first paper, I attempted to add a slide and quickly type my grading criteria onto it.  I won’t try to do that again because it took way too much time.  I’ve either got to find a way to import my word document of the grade sheet into the slide show or address the issue some other way.  For the second paper, I chose to pull up the grade sheet on my desk computer and simply talk through it at the end of the paper.  I still added a slide and some simple annotations with the pen function to help the student visualize the categories and points they were receiving.

After playing back my commentary on the first two papers,  I was feeling pretty tickled with myself.  In order to hear the grade, the student was going to have to listen to all my feedback rather than being able to glance at a grade and then cram the paper with all my handwritten notes into the depths of a backpack.

Then, I prepared the file for export so that I could email it back to the student.  Ah, there’s the rub.  It takes about 10-15 minuets for the app to compress the file and prepare it for emailing.  I picked up a hint somewhere, though, that there might be a compressor app that will allow me to work on other things on the iPad while the file compresses.  For now, though, I’m sitting here typing this blog entry waiting on the file to be ready. I’m wondering if I’m careful about turning off the record button during reading time and pressing again only when I want to say something will reduce the amount of file that has to be dealt with?

Another minor (?) drawback.  I really wanted this method of response to be more beneficial to my students and to save me time.  When I am responding to printed essays with my own pen or pencil, I can do it anytime or anywhere almost.   I can grade papers while my kids play on the McDonald’s playplace.  If one group of students is taking a test, I can grade papers while they do it.But I can’t do that with this kind of oral, recorded response. I can’t sit over in the corner and talk to my iPad while students are trying to answer questions about The Odyssey.  When I go home and try to grade the essays, I run the risk of dogs barking and children hooting and hollering in the background.

Finally, I also have to think about the feedback I’m giving.  Is it better to record myself AS I read and give them a sort of “reader” response?  Or is it better to read all the way through and then record a more measured set of thoughts?  If I respond as I read, how do I make sure I’m not accidentally over-editing and under emphasizing higher order concerns?  A written response is just more measured and considered…and edited.

Basically, this is still an experiment, but at this point I’m still excited about the possibilities.  We’ll see how it goes and hopefully improves as I struggle with the learning curve.

 

School Days: Using iPads for Writing Assessment and Decreasing the Grading Load?

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Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Concept analysis papers, annotated bibliographies, rhetorical analysis papers…when I face the prospect of  weekend grading, the messy stack of student papers awaiting me looms as high as Kilimanjaro, looks as wide and daunting as the sea, spreads out vast and humongous like the skies.  Okay, I’ll admit that this weekend’s batch of essays is really not all that big, but, as much as I enjoy TEACHING students to write, I really don’t enjoy grading their papers.  I try to let them choose their own topics so they’ll have something real to say, at least, and I know they need effective feedback.  So, I’m contemplating new ways to respond to student writing equally well but in less time.

My colleague introduced me to a free app called Learnist. It’s a bit like Pinterest in that you make boards of things that interest you, but the education resources seem better than what folks have posted over on Pinterest.  I did a search for writing assessment and discovered an article by someone attempting to record a verbal response to student writing.

I started thinking….how can this be done with our iPads?  I’m hoping the answer is the Explain Everything app.  Here’s what the designers at explaineverything.com have to say about their app:

“...a design tool that lets you annotate, animate, and narrate explanations and presentations. You can create dynamic interactive lessons, activities, assessments, and tutorials using Explain Everything’s flexible and integrated design. Use Explain Everything as an interactive whiteboard using the iPad2 video display. Explain Everything records on-screen drawing, annotation, object movement and captures audio via the iPad microphone.  Import Photos, PDF, PPT, and Keynote from Dropbox, Evernote, Email, iPad photo roll and iPad2 camera. Export MP4 movie files, PNG image files, and share the .XPL project file with others for collaboration. Explain Everything has been designed for use in educational, business, and entertainment settings.

Here’s my plan (and I have to admit that much of it probably came from that invaluable colleague down the hall…how would I teach without him?).  My students can type their papers on the Pages app and send them to me as PDFs.  I can open them in Explain Everything, annotate them as I wish, and record my verbal response to them.  Then, I’ll simply return the file to the sender.

I’m hoping I can talk about the paper faster than I can type or write about it.  I also hope that the novelty of the approach will lead students to actually listen to my feedback. Sometimes after I’ve spent thirty minutes writing notes, making suggestions, and asking questions on a written paper, the students shove it in a notebook never to be looked at again…or at least not until revision time.

What do you think?  Have you tried this kind of approach in your classrooms?  I’ll let you know how it goes.

On Holiday from Reality

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“A dreamer is one who can only find his way home by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn  before the rest of the world”              –Oscar Wilde

The words preface the opening of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  As the holidays end and I return to school, I feel like the dreamer who has been snatched from the comfort of bed and thrust into the glaring light of day.  Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and the daylight world I live in is really quite comfortable itself.

But, oh….the holidays.

Relaxation[Day40]*

Relaxation[Day40]* (Photo credit: Chapendra)

For ten days my family was protected from the demands of extracurricular activities, the alarm clock, homework, papers to be graded, and deadlines.  We wallowed in the luxury of midnight bedtimes and nine a.m. risings.  We sat on the couch under blankets and propped our feet up for awhile.  We visited the farm and fed baby goats with bottles. We jumped on the trampoline and played basketball (well, the kids did that anyway).

For me, the winter break means a time to escape further from reality by burying myself in the video games, books, movies, and television shows that I don’t have time to enjoy during the school year.  Christmas brought me Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and I drank in its dark mysteries and fantastical story.  I also got The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  While not in the same literary playing field as The Night Circus, this book tells a modest tale of three adult sisters  returning home to their mother who is stricken with breast cancer.  As an English teacher perhaps I should be more of a book snob, but I loved this book. It was just what I needed while on holiday–references to Shakespeare wrapped into the lives of three women who make mistakes and then successfully pick themselves up and start again.  I love a book like this from time to time–world falls apart, heroine relocates, opens small business, falls in love, finds community. Happy endings all around.  Not reality at all.  Just a good escape.

I watched The Hobbit and enjoyed the world of Tolkien via Peter Jackson.  Can I live in the Shire?  Forget the elves and their fancy waterfalls and airy spaces.  Give me the comforting closeness of the Shire with its nosy neighbors and mundane daily life.  Again, this movie is no masterpiece, but that doesn’t decrease the enjoyment of watching Bilbo adventure into dangerous territory, all the while knowing a happy ending awaits.

I played through two episodes of the Walking Dead game on the Xbox.  Okay…now that is a harsher (un)reality.  But if a zombie ate me, all I had to do was press “A” and start again.  The beauty of this particular game series is that it’s not really difficult and doesn’t offer a lot of challenge in terms of game play.  It’s just a good story…a way to lose myself to another world for a couple of hours at a time.

But now, here we are.  The alarm wakes us at 5:30 a.m. when it’s dark and 23 degrees outside.  We scramble for lunch boxes, backpacks, and basketball uniforms.  We make the commute to school with thousands of other sleepy drivers.  After our school day we have a practice and two games.  Homework must be done. Baths must be taken.  This is our real world for the time being, and I have to leave fantasy behind. How much longer until spring break?

School Days: Student Writing and Research

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pen and paper

pen and paper (Photo credit: LucasTheExperience)

Recently two of last year’s graduates returned to school and gave me an update about how the big, wide world of college is treating them.  We discussed their freshman composition classes, and one said, “Ms. H, you should have had us write responses to articles.  We’ve done a ton of those.”

 

And I thought to myself, “Well, I did. Didn’t I?”  Then it occurred to me that these students were in my general English class, and we did several essays specifically to get them ready for college…we completed an I-search heroism paper that required them to synthesize information from and cite several sources. We wrote a rhetorical analysis of a speech or an advertisement to exercise critical thinking and analysis skills.  We wrote a literary analysis, not because they’d necessarily have to write one but because that type of essay teaches us to read a text closely.  Then I realized–in my dual enrollment English class (that doubles as a college composition class), we’d written numerous responses to other texts, articles, and blogs.  If I was teaching that kind of writing to my upper level students, why not to my “general” students?  Since I teach at a private school, most of my students plan to go to college.

 

All of this led me to contemplate the gap between high school and college.  Are high school teachers providing the types of writing assignments that prepare students for college writing?  I teach my dual enrollment students that writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Whatever you wonder about and want to explore is part of an on-going conversation already.  Accordingly, I turned to Google to discover what else is being said about high school writers as they move into college.  My search led me to the contentious issue of research papers.  Based on the articles I read, the research paper has all but died out in American high schools, except in International Baccalaureate programs. No longer are students making bibliography cards and taking notes from sources on carefully numbered cards and then arranging that information into an outline prior to writing ten pages about teen pregnancy or abortion or [insert controversial issue here].  William Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review, bemoans the loss of the research paper because he says students no longer learn how to read a great deal about a given subject and learn about it on their own.  They don’t know how to share what they’ve learned with others.  And to those of us who suggest that the research paper is an outmoded dinosaur and encourage our students to write digitally, Fitzhugh claims that we are pandering to the desires of our students instead of making them do the hard work necessary to be educated.

 

As one of those panderers who asks my students to blog and write in a variety of modes, Mr. Fitzhugh ruffled my feathers a bit.

 

I decided to further conduct my  impromptu research and surveyed some college faculty  in my area of Middle Tennessee.  I asked them to comment on whether students needed to be writing lengthy (10 page plus) papers in high school and what skills incoming freshmen writers lacked.  Here are some of their responses:

 

  •  I do not require papers of this length in classes below the 3000-level. Most pieces are 3-9 pages in length at the f/s level; 10-12 pages at the j/s level.
  • Only upperclassmen and graduate students seem to work with the longer length papers in the Writing Studio, although some undergrads (f/s) may have these assignments in history classes.
  • Only my upper division students are required to write 8-10 page papers. And I do scaffold that some: they will have written a shorter paper so that they get practice doing the close analysis that one needs to perform to make a feasible argument in literary criticism. I do think that stepping up the length of the project/paper stretches the students. I don’t know that 10 pages is a good step for high school students …the first month or so my instruction is fairly intensively about library research and reading and processing information. They generally don’t write their first paper until the 4th or 5th week.

As for types of writing:

 

  • I never assign the “traditional” research paper. It’s quite burdensome and out-of-date for most of the assignments that students need to complete at the university level. It’s not a “real-world” activity for most careers. Most essays require research, but that might be ethnographic (interview or observation) or cultural research (TV, film, blogs) that is carefully mixed with narrative. For example, even the most academic journal articles tend to work from a New Historicist narrative perspective now.
  • They’ve been too well-schooled in the five-paragraph-essay and timed writing. They have no ability to make writing decisions for themselves or to manage a project by themselves over weeks of time. They’ve been taught to use Easy Bib. They haven’t heard/processed an explanation of why people read/write. They don’t understand the purpose of the essay format in the Western world or the academic world either. They think an essay is something that only happens in school. They haven’t learned that people write to learn, write to teach, write to express, write to convince, etc… They think writing is torture. Their writing is not reflected in their readings and real-world activities.

How interesting.  So, students lack the ability to read and process information.  They need to understand the purpose of writing beyond regurgitating researched facts.  And they don’t necessarily have to write 10 page papers…not even until they are juniors in college.  This is good news for a teacher who must grade 150 papers at a time if he or she teaches five classes of 30 students.

 

I’m lucky enough to have a smaller paper load; but, nonetheless, my response to this has been to expose my general senior class to some of the same types of writing and reading I have my upper level students complete.  I’ve ripped off many an idea from the fabulous Kelly Gallagher, including his suggestion that students read an “article of the week” and respond to it critically in some way.  I’ve had students make concept maps related to various essays to see if they could really locate the thesis and see how the ideas relate.  Then, they’ve written a summary of and response to the article. (You might be surprised how difficult this is for many students).  My students have written a ten page paper, but I’ve chunked it into three smaller papers with heavy scaffolding along the way.  My next endeavor is to have them blog (yes blog) about modern texts (including lyrics and film) with an eye for literary criticism.  We read the Canterbury Tales and apply feminist or Marxist or historicist views to it and make all sorts of assumptions. What will critics in two hundred years say about our treatment of women, class, and current events  based on representations in our texts?  What does music have to say about women in our society?  What do Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty have to say about class?  Can we make connections between our society and texts and medieval/Renaissance society and texts?  Who knows what we’ll find, but we’ll be thinking.

 

I cringe when a former student return and tells me a story of struggle in his or her college classes.  I know college is supposed to beharder than high school.  I know that students can’t learn everything while they are here.  But I want to make sure I’m sending students who are more than standardized test-takers into the world, and that my students have the basic tools they need to succeed as college writers.

 

 

 

 

The Spiritual Walk–“The Work” of a Christian

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Eustache Le Sueur, Christ Healing the Blind Ma...

Eustache Le Sueur, Christ Healing the Blind Man, – Oil on panel, 49 x 65 cm Schloss Sanssouci, Berlin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday morning, my friend Terah and I hustled from the choir room to a new Sunday school class.  We dodged people right and left and finally arrived on the other side of the campus somewhat breathlessly.  I attend what some might call a mega-church.  On any Sunday, attendance can vary from 3000 to 5000, depending on whether or not the Titans play on Sunday afternoon.  Some critics of the mega-church movement here in Nashville even call our campus Six Flags over Jesus. But, I love my church and the genuine worshipful atmosphere and personal challenge I encounter each week.

Although I went to this Sunday school class mostly to accompany my friend, I ended up being glad I did.  In a megachurch, connections with other believers develop from smaller group activities, and it was in this classroom that I received my personal challenge this week.

We studied John 9 where Jesus heals the blind man and the Pharisees rebuke him for working on the Sabbath, the day of rest.  Our teacher emphasized two verses.  First, in verse 5, Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This implies two things, one that just occurred to me and one pointed out by our teacher. I am currently leading my freshmen in a study of the Holocaust, and we are reading Elie Wiesel’s Night.  Elie loses his faith in the face of the evil he encounters in a concentration camp, and I ask my students how they would address the problem of evil.  Non-believers often ask, “If your God is good, then how can he let such evil take place?” We discuss various ways to answer this question, and I was reminded of our classroom conversation by this verse.  If a world needs light, it is a dark world.  Imperfection and human frailty fill this world we inhabit, and evil like the Holocaust can take root and flourish.  And, as we were instructed Sunday morning, while Jesus was among us, he could be the light fighting all the darkness.  But now that he’s gone, he has passed the torch to us, his followers.  We envisioned a candle burning in the middle of the room and how its light falls on everything around us. Am I really being a light in the world? Do those around me feel genuine warmth and goodwill? Am I carrying out good for those around me? Sure I am, but only if it’s convenient.

With that in mind, we returned to verse three. In keeping with the idea of retributive justice that we hear about in the Old Testament (children being punished for the sins of their fathers and all that), the disciples assume the blind man must have sinned, and Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the works of God may be revealed through what happens to him.”  Jesus carried out every action with the purpose of glorifying God, and even this man’s sickness served that purpose.  Our teacher asked us to reconsider the verse and what was meant by “the works” of God. If we are to carry on being the light, what are the  works of God that we are supposed to accomplish to further His glory?

When asked to volunteer what they thought the works of the church are today, class members volunteered

–taking care of the poor

–spreading the gospel through mission work

–ministering to children

–ministering within the church
One word echoed in my mind over and over: healing.  Jesus is telling us to do the works of God and be light in a dark world in the context of HEALING a blind man.  To me, it sums up our job in this world. Where there is pain, we should be a healing force to reduce it.  Where there is anger, physical healing might not be in order, but emotional healing is.  Where there is hatred and evil, the spiritual wounds they inflict can only begin to heal through love.

Healing is soothing, repairing, assuaging, rebuilding, refreshing, renewing.  It’s one of the new lenses through which I view my work as a Christian.

It’s Easy…Like Riding a Bicycle

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Shaft-driven bicycle Photo © by Jeff Dean

Shaft-driven bicycle Photo © by Jeff Dean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It’s like riding a bicycle…you never forget.”

So the saying goes. Apparently anything we do physically and repetitively becomes a part of our brain’s hardware, and we never completely lose it.

I wasn’t so sure when I climbed back on my bicycle for the first time  in years, in spite of a good deal of fear and anxiety.  A recent trip to Disney World with the senior class  resulted in three days of constant walking on concrete…from eight a.m. until park closing time.  The long hours of walking resulted in a right foot that just hasn’t been quite normal since.  The tender right foot has resulted in a more sedentary lifestyle because walking hurts.  (And forget any notions of that Couch to 5K program I’ve been “about to start” for nine months now.)

As spring ripened into summer, it also became harder to resist the cobblers made with the season’s fresh fruits and harder to button my pants. I knew I needed to find some new form of exercise.  Serendipitously, my mother called to offer me her old bicycle. I agreed to take it, but not without reservation.

Many of my friends fondly reminisce about biking with a gaggle of buddies or siblings from home to the corner store. Or about jumping homemade ramps with daredevil companions.  Or simply about relishing the wind in their hair as they zoomed around the cul-de-sac.

I don’t share any of those memories. I do remember a little red and white tricycle.  Then I remember a bicycle that someone picked up for me at a yard sale.  Eventually, I learned to ride without training wheels through the thick grass and weeds of our massive yard, and I learned to brake by pushing the pedals backwards. My bicycle was no fancy five speed nor did it have handle bar brakes (these were a mystery to me when I encountered them for the first time as an adult).  Some days, I straddled my bike and looked longingly at the winding country road in front of our house. It promised a smoother ride than the yard–and greater speed. My mother squelched those ideas with a firm “No,” forcing me to look beyond the asphalt to the visibility reducing curves and the cars that whizzed by at 50 miles an hour.  My bicycle and I were effectively trapped in the expanse of yard between our house and Granny’s house.  No great speed or adventures down the  road awaited us.

Living out in the country thirty years ago, we didn’t lock our house or car doors at night, nor did I carefully deposit my bicycle inside the safety of a garage.  I simply left it propped up against a tree in the yard or against the side of the porch. If I were in a real hurry to get into the house, I might just drop it where I dismounted.  On one such occasion, it lay in the tall grass that my father couldn’t be bothered to cut.  The next day, he pulled his truck across the yard (parking in or driving across the grass was a common occurrence), and he ran over my poor old bicycle.

The only other bike memories I have involved visits to my grandmother’s house.  A gravel lane threaded past the homes of my aunts and ended under the shade trees at my grandmother’s.  On our Sunday visits, I watched with envy as my cousins flew down that lane on their bicycles while I stood in the shade and waited on them to make the ride back.  Someone would occasionally offer to let me take a turn on his or her bicycle, but usually I was uncertain enough of my ability to handle the shifting gravel and declined.

These childhood circumstances did not yield a confident biker. Now here I am, a woman of nearly forty, attempting to conquer my bicycling doubts and fears. Riding the bicycle has almost become a metaphor for me–one that says, “You are afraid of too much. Just go out there try it.”

My rides are brief.  Yes, the neighborhood has some gentle hills that push my thigh muscles to the limits, but the brevity of the ride has more to do with anxiety than fatigue. I only ride in the middle of the day when the streets are emptier, and most drivers are at work.  I wobble.  After about five rides, I still can’t  take my hands off the handle bars to signal a turn. Stop signs terrify me, as does the loud squawk one of the brakes makes when I squeeze it.  Cars parked along the street and the industrial sized trash cans everyone drags out to the curb become fearsome obstacles, and as I glide a little further into the street, I worry about approaching cars that might have snuck up on me. If a neighbor happens to be in his or her yard, I avoid eye contact and social niceties. What if that moment of taking my eyes of the road results in collision and a head-first plunge into one of those garbage cans?

I ride to one end of the street and turn around. I ride back past my house and to the stop sign. I turn right down the wide, welcoming street that marks the entrance to our subdivision. Then I turn around and drive home.  The first time it took fifteen minutes.  Now it takes ten.  I realize that I’m going to have to lengthen my rides if I hope to gain any physical benefit. But for now…for now, it’s about confidence and facing doubts and fears. If I can conquer the bicycle, even if I wreck, even if I scrape my knees, even if I end up in a trash can and the neighbors laugh, what else might I do?

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
Helen Keller

School Days: Summer School Blues Without the iPad

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Covalently bonded hydrogen and carbon in a mol...

Covalently bonded hydrogen and carbon in a molecule of methane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last bell rang. I graded the last final exam. I submitted the last report card grade. I packed up the few personal items I wanted to protect from the maintenance army who would invade our classrooms wielding floor buffers, gum scrapers, trash cans, and screwdrivers.  I unplugged the refrigerator for defrosting. And then it hit me…after only a very brief week off, I’d be returning to the classroom to teach summer school.

It wasn’t a death sentence by any means–only a half day of work and a little extra money that will help when it’s time to buy my own children’s school supplies and uniforms in the fall. And I’d decided to dust off that old biology degree and teach a summer school biology course.  A little thrill of excitement ran through me as I flipped through the textbook and remembered sodium-potassium channels, eukaryotes/prokaryotes, and the Krebs cycle. Maybe this would be fun.

It has been an enjoyable few weeks, but the first thing I discovered was how dependent I’ve become on technology in the past year.  I still had my school-issued iPad, but my five students had to turn theirs back in for the summer. Would it be a blessing or a curse to return to teaching without the iPad? I didnt’ realize at first that my students wouldn’t have their iPads. So,when I concocted my syllabus, I built homework assignments involving vocabulary flashcards, followed by built-in class time quizzing with the cards before tests.  “We’ll use the Flashcardlet app on the iPads,” I thought. Wrong–no iPads.  So, I dug out the index cards, cut them in half so they’d go farther, and we made flashcards the old-fashioned way. It worked, but then we had to punch holes in the corners of the cards so they could be clipped into binders, instead of them being all neatly stored on our electronic devices.

In my early musings, I imagined we would google images of cells and biomes. We’d look at images taken with various types of microscopes, since our access to a lab was limited. Well, no we wouldn’t. No iPads.  We’d only be doing that kind of work if we trooped through the dark halls of the school, picked our way around the piles of desks and chairs pulled out into the corridors, and hunted down a human with a key to the computer lab. I miss the iPads!

I’ve also returned many times to the iTunes McGraw Hill electronic textbook.  We are using the Prentice Hall textbook in class–and there is nothing wrong with it. It covers what it needs to cover, clearly.  In fact, in many ways, the content in the two books is the same. For example, both the hard copy Prentice Hall book and the electronic McGraw Hill book compare eukaryotic cells (plant/animal cells) to factories.  But the images and videos in the iTunes book–I’ve returned to them over and over.  When we discussed the difference between a single, double, and triple covalent bond, the vivid pictures  in the iTunes books were the ones that made the students say, “Oh, okay…I’ve got’ it.”  The video of ions moving through protein channels in the cell membrane made facilitated diffusion and active transport so much easier to understand.  Instead of answering the section questions  in the Prentice Hall Book, students preferred to do the touchscreen section assessment in my electronic textbook that gave them immediate feedback about whether they were right or wrong.

Another technological joy I’d heard about but not tried was videos from Kahn Academy.  This website offers a few humanities related videos, but not much that I’ve needed in my English classroom.  However, for math and science, the site is a gold mine.  I’ve heard that some schools have teachers assigning Kahn Academy videos for homework. The video explains the concept, and the teacher just guides the class through practice in class.  I found that a bit insulting–I’m a professional.  I’ve been well-educated in pedagogy and in my particular field.  I possess the expertise needed to communicate the content to the students, not some video.  I still believe that, but I’m awfully impressed with the videos.  For students who take biology before chemistry, that whole ionic and covalent bonding business is complicated.  We’d discussed it, read about it, used students’ bodies in circles of chairs to model electron transfer, but I thought watching the Kahn video would reinforce the difficult concept one more time.  The explanations were clear, and the use of various colors and symbols enhances the sensibility of the whole presentation.  Several of these students who’d found biology incomprehensible the first time around nodded their heads in understanding as they watched–though one who still hasn’t caught on to the urgency of paying attention did admit to falling asleep three times.  I, personally, was fascinated! Where were Kahn videos when I struggled through Organic Chemistry???

One and a half weeks of summer school remain.  Part of me is relieved that without the iPads,  I don’t have to fight to keep students from playing games every time I turn my back.  A big part of me.  But another fairly substantial part of me misses those iPads and wonders at the things made easier in our classrooms by technology.

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