Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Going First

First let me wish everyone Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This week we continued to use Paperplane Notes to comment on a passage from the week's reading and the wiki space to continue the group project we have been working on for a few weeks now. It turns out that the iPad is something of a blessing because the browsers on the computers in the computer lab are obsolete and are no longer compatible with WikiSpaces, or so I was told. In any case students cannot edit the wikis on the computers in the computer lab, but they can edit the wikis on the iPads.


Today I asked my students to let me know what they thought of the iPad experiment. They could talk about apps they would like to see on the iPads as well. I asked students to use the A. P. Language and Composition thread on the Discussions area of my new web page. Only seven students responded to my request but I think their insights are worth considering. Most of their comments were very positive and there were no complaints, but there are a few things that students think would enrich the experience. Here are the observations, first the positive and then the negative:

The positives

  1. Can access Mr. Wilson's websites and those of others.
  2. Easier to do research.
  3. Access to the Internet.
  4. Can submit work.
  5. Provides a variety of activities.
  6. Gain skills working with the technology.
  7. Grow in in technical skill through experimentation.
  8. Can research what is not understood when responding to questions.
  9. Can finish work more quickly.
  10. Easier for groups to help each other.
  11. Slow getting started but can now use the iPad efficiently.
The negatives

  1. No word processing app.
  2. Can't take iPads home.
  3. Pen and paper easier for submitting work.
For my part I have found I have far less paper to handle, though the class still generates quite a bit. I also like responding to students digitally because I can make more legible comments and can comment more completely, not being restricted by the margins of the paper. I also like being able to add a multi-media component to some assignments where I can ask students to find images, video clips, and the like that Internet access makes available.

The video is about change and how change changes everything, in the sense that the human instinct is often to try to keep things as they are, but as with Wallace Stevens' blue guitar time changes things as they are whether we like it or not. So a goal in life, perhaps, ought to be to make change work for us. I mentioned to my students today that Daniel Boone made something of a living leading folks over the Cumberland Gap because he went over the Cumberland Gap before anyone else did (or at least anyone of European ancestry) and as a result he knew the way. Going somewhere before anyone else means we go before there are street signs. There are struggles and problems, but when we find the land on the other side, everyone will come to us for directions. Personally, i think it is more fun to make a road than to follow one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Picture That

I have been trying to get my students to help find solutions to some of the problems we are having getting work to me from their iPads so that I can access it. So far, though I have asked students to give this thought, I have gotten no suggestions. Today I asked the students to find a passage from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," the book we are currently reading and then find an image online that might illustrate the passage. They were also to tell me things about the passage, but inserting an image was the big challenge of the assignment. I asked them to post the assignment to the blog space in my classroom Ning. I did not know if this would work on the iPad, but I thought I would just see what happened and if it did not work ask students to find a way around the problem. When I use the blog on my Ning from a laptop or desktop computer there is a wysiwyg editor that allows me to insert an image. I did not know if this was true on the iPad or not and it turns out it is not. There is no editor in the blog on the iPad, just a text box. We tried copying and pasting the image into the blog space but that did not work either. Finally a student discovered that in Paperplane Notes that after the web address of the image was copied and pasted into the text box it became an active link. We found the same was true when the web address was copied and pasted into the blog space on the Ning and in the blog space on my new web page. This is not the same as being able to see the image and the text together, but without much effort I can see the image after reading the text.

A few weeks ago we looked at a synthesis question from the A. P. test that was given a few years ago. It asked students to identify the three or four things a school should consider before introducing technology into the classroom. The paper that had the best grade of those we looked at began by pointing how often the technology fails and what a waste of time it often is. I encouraged the students to consider their experience with what we did today. That though things did not go as expected everyone played a role in solving the problem, and that, too, is a valuable use of time. Things going as expected is not always the most effective use of time. If we are to encourage students to work through disappointments, through attempts at this that or the other thing that do initially succeed, they need to see how we work through things that do not go as expected; that appear to fail. If we want students to be unafraid of failure they need to see that we are unafraid of failure. This is not to say we should try to fail on purpose, only that we should let students see we are not afraid to try new things and that we work our way though the problems that come with most things done for the first time.

Here is a little musical celebration to accompany a trip down river. The song is "Blue Is a River" which may not describe the Mississippi, but it captures a bit of the poetic side of Huck.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Listening Between the Lines

This week I added another project to the class wiki, which eliminated a bit of paper and put another group assignment in a place where students can use their iPads in class to do the work and can access the assignment from home as well. It is a collection of speeches that students analyze paying especial attention to the rhetorical strategies used to lead their audiences to the desired conclusions. I use the assignment to introduce students to parallelism, antithesis, and anaphora (and other forms of repetition) among other things. I have also taken advantage of iPad's web searching capabilities to encourage students to seek out film or audio clips of the speeches. This is not too difficult for the modern speeches (well relatively modern) like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech or John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. Others, like John Donne's "Meditation 17" are bit more challenging. I ask students to consider not just the audience for an essay or speech, but The environment as well. By this I mean the historical and cultural context that shaped the oratory. The "I Have a Dream" speech, for example, is inspiring all by itself, but an additional dimension is added when it is placed in its physical setting at the Lincoln Memorial and the historical setting of the Civil Rights movement. I also think our appreciation of Donne's meditation is enhanced when we learn that Donne wrote this, and the collection in which it appears, while he was fighting an illness from which he was not expected to survive.

In the past students in my class have studied the speeches and essays used to familiarize them with rhetoric and how it works almost entirely on a printed page. To fully appreciate the power of language the language needs to be "heard", which is more than just hearing the words spoken aloud, they need to be spoken in a way that brings to life the passion living in the words. There are three kinds of argument a speech or essay can make, logical, ethical, or emotional. The classical handbooks on rhetoric, those of Aristotle to Cicero and beyond, taught that the emotional argument was the most effective, and therefore the best, argument. Though we may say that ethical and logical arguments have more validity as arguments, if we are honest with ourselves we will probably have to admit we are most influenced by emotional arguments, suggesting, perhaps, that we listen more to our emotions than we do to our heads or our consciences. Listening to a speech, like Henry V's speech to the troops before the Battle of Agincourt, illustrates the power of language more effectively than a discussion or written explanation ever could.

At this point in the iPad project what I am finding most frustrating is not having the apps necessary to do all that I would like to do. I especially feel the absence of a word processing app that lets students do more than "pass notes." on the other hand, though, this has forced me to explore other alternatives for completing and sharing the work we do. It was in part this problem with apps that led me to redesign my web page with a built in blogging space. This problem has also led me to rely more on the class wiki, an online space that enables students to create content. Though the wiki space is workable on the iPad, it does have some problems. The most annoying is that when editing a wiki page students have to negotiate some HTML code that should not be visible in a wysiwyg editor. But these problems are not insurmountable. I grew up in California and used to go camping with my father and brother in the Anza-Borrego Desert. It is is named after a Spanish conquistador who got lost looking for a route across this desert to the coast of California. He eventually found the route, but only after spending a good bit of time not knowing where he or his troops were. Today there are good roads and plenty of street signs getting everyone there and back again. But for those that first made the trip the only roads were those they made for themselves. That is how it always is for those who go first, whether the new world being explored is a real or a metaphorical one.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking It Slow Picture of ThoreauToday we used Paperplane Notes to send in our thoughts (or at least the students did) about Thoreau's essay "Life without Principle." some students forgot their books that contained the essay and they used an online edition of the essay to complete the assignment. The assignment was completed and graded without using a single sheet of paper. Students were also asked to comment on the blog posts their colleagues made to the new blog site attached to my new web page. As yet no one has commented on another student's blog. If the experiment goes as,I hope it will, students will be able write threaded blog posts to my web site, making the blogging and responding process a bit easier. I wonder what Thoreau would think. Would he find value in this technology or would he see it as another human enterprise that distances individuals from themselves and the natural world that surrounds them? I do not know, though It is my guess he would side more with the latter than with the former. Still Toreau invented an innovative bit of technology that is with us and distracting us to this day, the pencil. Would students be able to take an SAT or MCAS test if they did not have a number 2 pencil with which to fill in the bubbles. All technology, all human invention, is susceptible to misuse and abuse, it is not the fault of the tool that this is so but of the wielder of the tool. Still, it often seems people embrace a technology before they understand all the implications of that embrace. We often see the time that is saved, the enjoyment that is gotten before we appreciate what is lost and there is loss whenever the old makes way for the new.

This TED Talk is on slowness and the need to slow down. I think Thoreau would appreciate this. I have tried to get my students to slow down and look around them, to look closely at something they pass without thinking twice about it each day, to find in this something, some aspect of it that is interesting or unusual that has gone unnoticed for the months and years it has gone unnoticed. I also asked them to go to their, or a neighbor's, lawn and look between the blades of grass to see what is there. If the students had their iPads with them I would ask them to take pictures of what they observed and illustrate their observations.

There is I think a way to use the iPad and other technology to help us slow down. The image to the right is of a mind map. The iPad might be used to pursue and elaborate on an idea, in other words it might be used to follow an idea and the tangents it provokes; to go where the technology leads you. It has been pointed out that folks like Lewis and Clark had an easier time passing the time slowly because they were used to life lived at a slower pace. I wonder if those on the starship Enterprise, who spend a lifetime traveling amongst the stars have accommodated themselves to a life lived at a slower pace because like Lewis and Clark on their raft Captain Kirk and his cohorts have an incredible amount of time to fill. They do have access to technologies
that offer unique ways of filling that time with mindless entertainment, but do all crew members take the the opportunity to use the technology to kill time. There has and always will be a technology that will seduce us away from living thoughtfully and reflectively, but often that same technology can be put to work helping us to live more deeply and more fully.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Daily Post

Once upon a time when people talked of the post they were referring to the mail, the stuff left in one's mail box by the post office. Today it can mean a number of other things, most of which are different from what I thought of as the "post" when I was growing up. Over Thanksgiving I redesigned my web page using an app called "Sandvox". One of the features it enabled me to add to my web page (very easily I might add) is a blog space where students can post their own thoughts and ideas and respond to each others' thoughts and ideas. Today I asked my students to go to my new website and post a comment to the blog. We begin each rotation with a quote to which students are to respond using an example from history, literature, or culture to support their opinion of the quote's message. Today I asked the students to get out their iPads and blog their responses to my new web page and later in the week to return and comment on their classmate's posts. The sessions went pretty well. Out of fourteen students eleven posted a comment to the blog space on my web page. A twelfth student wrote out a response in the comment box on the blog space but the blog for reasons we have not figured out as yet would not post her comment. I let her use PaperPlane Notes to post her response. I will try to figure out in the meantime why the blog was picking on her and not letting her post.

Last week I asked students to research and comment on some aspect of a poster, painting, map, or quote that they found hanging on my wall. The most popular item that students responded to was this poster from the Marx Brothers' movie Duck Soup. Most students talked about the family the brothers came from and their film careers. They might have gone on to say something about how the characters the brothers played had their origins in Plautus and the comedy of the classical Roman stage. They might even have talked about Groucho's quiz show connections and You Bet Your Life. But would any of this really make the Marx Borthers as memorable to them as they are to me and many others of my generation. To really understand the Marx Brothers and what makes them iconic in the imaginations of people like me, they would have to see the Marx Brothers in action, to see one of their films or at least some clips from some of their films (or even a clip from one film). The only way one can understand Harpo's unique form of "loquaciousness" is by watching him in character in one of his films. The only television I ever saw in which not a single word was spoken was a pilot for a series that was to star Harpo. He and his side kick were robbers who pull off a unique heist. The show was a chain of sight gags and physical comedy that was quite effective. After all, I saw this show in the early 1960's and remember it to this day.

The video clip is of one of the brothers' more famous routines. Many who have never seen a Marx Brothers film have seen this scene from Duck Soup. I wish one of the students would have searched out a clip like this one from one of the films, because I think this would have made the brothers truly memorable. It is one of the virtues of the iPad as a classroom tool that it lets students learn about a topic in the language that topic speaks best, even if as with Harpo, it involves no language at all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now and When

When considering how technology changes the classroom it might be worth our while to consider how the classroom "looks" without the technology; create a kind of "before and after" picture in the mind to get a clearer sense of how the classroom is transformed. Cominius, a medieval Philosopher of education, believed it was important to know things but it was most important that we could put what we know to work.

The wall from classroom is filled with maps, pictures of writers and other important people, and artwork. If students just learn to recognize the maps and such without knowing about what is important about the maps and such and how to make use of that knowledge to enrich their daily lives these pictures on the wall are not worth much no matter how pleasing they are to the eye.

This is a value of the iPad (or any piece of technology that enables students to read, write, and research from their desks). Students can explore instantaneously what piques their curiosity and curiosity is the teacher's best friend. Students may think to lookup these things later, but, just like most of their teachers, when they leave the room and the images no longer exert their influence, students are likely to forget to check these things out.

Today I asked students to look at the quotes, pictures, maps, and posters and select one to investigate. They then used their iPads to investigate their selection. If, for example, they selected the travel poster for the South Seas they may want to investigate the South Seas. They are then to report back on what they found especially meaningful to them about that which they investigated. I am hoping students select something that truly captures their imaginations as curiosity and excitement improve retention. In the poster on my wall (the same as the poster to the right) I think the airplane, the geography, and the water, among other things, very attractive. Those with an interest in business might be curious about Pan Am Airlines and what has become of it. There might be a lesson there for future entrepreneurs. We have also been trying to figure out ways to send documents back and forth and experimented with apps called Catch and Move with a modicum of success. We are continuing to work on this problem, but have not as yet hit upon a satisfactory solution.

The video is about schools and creativity. Its contention is that schools discourage creativity, that they place the focus on certain kinds of intelligence to the exclusion of others. It is important to know things, but it is also important to imagine ways that what we know can be put to work to shape our world and our futures. Often school is about studying the past and understanding the present. But our students will be living in the future and it is important that they consider how the things they learn in school can shape that future. If all they learn is skills without developing the imagination to see how those skills can be used to shape a more meaningful existence, has their education served them well? Education should be concerned not just with developing skills and learning information; it should also be about developing wisdom, intelligences, and an active imagination.

Technology can take us in many directions. We can learn the nuts and bolts of it, how to fix it,how to use it, and how to improve it. This is all very useful and necessary. But we should also be considering how the technology shapes our lives, for the better and for the worse, and where the technology can take us. If the technology is to be used effectively to make our futures more meaningful and pleasant we need to think carefully about its potential use and misuse, but also about its power as a tool of creativity and the imagination.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sheepskins, Goose Quills, iPads, and Such

The picture is of medieval students using sheepskin and goose quills, the iPads of their day. This suggests the technology is always changing and each generation has something new to learn. The tool does not solve the problem of learning, skills and materials must still be mastered. The technology provides the tools each generation will use to gain the knowledge and master the skills of the age it occupies. Education is always about the student and learning. Many things do not change. As an English teacher I know it is the student, not the iPad that must do the writing; it is the student, and not iBooks or Kindle, that must do the reading.

The video is about doodling and how this "art form" is misundstood. Some of what my students do with their new iPads is really just doodling, but I think it is the doodling Sunni Brown is talking about. They are playing with ideas and using the fooling around that they do to discover things. They are also using the iPads to struggle with wikis and other online tools that have not fully caught up to what current changes in technology require of them if students are to use them effectively. Give the student a stylus and the iPad becomes more and more like vellum.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doing Stuff with iPads

Using an iPad in the classroom presents certain challenges. How do students submit work? How is the work graded and returned, especially if the the decision to use the iPad was made in part to reduce the amount of paper passing back and forth in the classroom?

There is an excitement for the students on first using the iPad and the enjoy fooling around with it, but they gravitate towards entertainment. The first apps my students downloaded were games. But they also enjoy exploring what they can do with it and how they put it to work accomplishing various tasks, academic and otherwise. The first things we did with the iPad in the classroom was comment on things we read using Paperplane Notes. The students sent me their comments and observations and I returned their notes to them with grades. The Paperplane Notes app lets students submit work to me confidentially and for me to return them with grades and comments with the same confidentiality. We also used the Safari app to work on assignments in the class Wiki. Students could edit Wiki documents and save them to the Wiki. I used the project feature in WikiSpaces to enable each group to have a space that was uniquely theirs so that other students in other groups could not inadvertantly interfere or damage the group's work.

There is much that can be done that enables students to communicate with more than just words that lets them demonstrate their understanding of a concept while working with less conventional materials.