Using Pecha Kucha to Help Students Review

Many of you may have heard of the Pecha Kucha presentation technique.  The general premise is this:  A presenter can have twenty slides and twenty seconds a slide in which to convey his or her point.  The slides advance automatically whether or not the speaker is ready.  There is more to it than that, and it has an interesting history; Those are the basics, though.  You can learn more about the concept in general here.

I want to share with you how it made a big splash in my 7th grade English class this week.  The class before a test, in middle school at least, is always interesting.  The students know it is coming, of course, but the realization that a few weeks of hard work is coming to a culminating assessment the next day can be overwhelming.  Middle school students are not always prepared to understand the reasons teachers have for assessing their understanding  or for understanding the ways we might go about it.

That is where the Pecha Kucha adaptation comes in.  We had been reading a novel, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, but the activity could be adapted to anything.  I divided my class into thirds.  One group was assigned literary devices, one was assigned plot points, and the other characters.  Each student developed one slide based on their assigned category and according to the instructions below:

For Review Activity

I had a number of goals for adapting and presenting the idea this way.  Mainly, it would help the students learn to think critically about what we had discussed, prioritized information, and present ideas in a manner other than simply regurgitating the way we originally learned it.  The following is an example that I showed my students.  I had them time me as I explained it in under 30 seconds.  It may only make sense to you if you read the book!

Regarding the book DRUMS, GIRLS, and DANGEROUS PIE by Jordan Sonnenblick

The kids loved the concept and how we adapted it.  They got creative with how they portrayed their thoughts, as well.  A number of students did some interesting work with the wordle-like website Tagxedo.  I pulled all of their slides into one presentation and they could come by to get at the end of the day if they wanted to use it for review at home.

What other ways could you use Pecha Kucha to help kids?  I think it could be a valuable tool for growing their critical thinking skills.

Updates and A Year in Poetry

And I’m back! Some of you may remember that back in the summer I mentioned that I was changing schools and transitioning to a teaching environment much different than the one to which I had become accustomed. I am happy to report that I love my new job and feel like have found my rhythm and place in this new setting. I did not know, though, just how much last semester would seem to swallow me whole. I made a few remarks on technology in the classroom, but otherwise took a brief hiatus from the blog to get my feet back underneath me.

In truth, things have not really calmed down, and they are unlikely to do so in the near future. However, I am learning that I still need to carve out time for the things that help make me the individual that I am and, in turn, the teacher that I am. And thus, begin my efforts to return to blogging more regularly. One thing that I love about the blog and its consistency is the accountability it provides. That accountability comes largely from that looming, blue “publish” button and you! Thank you for all of the encouragement you provide.

How do you plan to carve out time for yourself this year? If you explore this site further, you may stumble upon the fact that I love poetry, reading it and writing it. Reading poetry is the perfect way for me to set aside a manageable, bite-sized piece of time for an activity that is meaningful to me and helps me to gain new perspectives on myself and my day. I am setting a goal to read one new poem every day. To keep me accountable, I decided to try a tumblr. If you want, you can keep up with my project here: YearInPoetry

Practically Paperless

The idea of going paperless, or even practically paperless, in the classroom makes a lot of teachers – and parents, too – nervous. In my own attempts to use less paper this year, I have discovered that the students do not seem bothered by it at all. In fact, they appreciate it, especially the more disorganized among them.

From a student perspective, there is always an extra-copy of hand-outs available, it is nearly impossible to lose things, and if you do misplace something, you have a handy search box to help you find it.

I find myself both wary and excited about the potential for a near-paperless classroom. My fears simply stem from a residual distrust of technology that I find gradually diminishing the more I work towards my goal. I love using technology, view myself as reasonably adept at it, and like to experiment with new uses in the classroom. However, a fear that my computer will spontaneously lose all of my hard work nags me from time to time.  However, be smart, back-up your work, teach your students to back up theirs, have a contingency plan, and those pesky fears should gradually be abated.

There are a number of reasons to pursue a practically paperless classroom.

1.  The benefits for helping students with their organization we have already discussed.

2.  Students are receiving training in communicating and managing resources in a technology-rich environment.  They will encounter similar environments in college and the workforce, except that they will most likely be expected to already have an understanding of how to be productive within them.

3.  As a teacher, you can take more of your resources and grading piles with you to more places.

4.  Students find technology rich lessons engaging.

5.  With such a wide variety of presentation and assessment options out there on the web, differentiating instruction becomes more manageable.

Now, I understand that different levels of “going paperless” are going to be reasonable for different school environments.  Schools that are limited in their access to technology will not be able to implement everything I have outline.  However, I’ve tried to come up with some modifications help such school better use the resources they do have.  If you have ideas for increasing technology use in a technology-limited environment, I am sure your comments would be greatly appreciated by both myself and other readers!

In the meantime, here are some ideas to try if you are setting your own “practically paperless” goal.

1.  The Flipped Classroom:  Especially for student bodies who may not have easy access to computers or the internet at home, try a modified version of classroom flipping so that non-technology based lessons might become more home-based to allow maximized computer time at school.

2.  Use web-based services to manage the “paper” load so that documents can be accessed both at school and at home.  I like using Drop Box for keeping track of student work.  I pair it with the DropItToMe service, and now I can access work that students have submitted from any computer.  By having my students save their submitted work based on a period-name-title (ex: 2_Smith_Mythology Essay) formula, submitted work is automatically organized for me, first by period and then by last name.  Easy access to my files and automatic organization leads me to prefer this method to email submission of work.

2.  I have my students organize their work using the Microsoft OneNote program (Software Website).  If you are unfamiliar with it, this program works just like a binder.  Each notebook can be customized with tabs and document-like tabs are stored within each tab.  I use share a notebook with students over our school server as a means of passing out handouts, sharing links, etc.  Students keep their own notebooks for my class to house their personal notes and work.

3.  Blogs!  Writer and Reader Journals have morphed into blogs in my classroom.  The theory and practice remains the same, except now they have an authentic audience of peers sharing with them and providing motivation.  Student blogs also provide a nice window into our classroom for the parents.  I plan on writing a post detailing my students’ use of blogs in the classroom next week.

Below I’ve linked to other websites an blog posts that can help you go paperless.

Scholastic Classroom Solutions: Going Paperless

The “Teach Paperless” Blog

The Free Technology for Teachers Blog

Thoughts on a paperless classroom (and OneNote) from the Cool Cat Teacher blog

Another Cool Cat Teacher blog post (She’s on a roll!)

From the education blog of my grad school Alma Mater – USC! “Visions of the Future Classroom”

If you have any questions, please let me know!  You can leave a comment or use the “Contact Me” page.

If you have any great paperless comments or ideas, please share!  Collaboration is wonderful.

Happy Teaching!

A Quick Note on E-Books

Independent reading looks very different in my classroom this year, and quite suddenly, too. Last year, I had one student bring in an e-reader one time, and the occurrence was an event and a novelty. This is the first year I have seen a semi-regular appearance of e-readers in the classroom. Each period has seen at least one kindle or nook appear. One had an ipad being used as an e-reader. These devices seem to be family editions rather than individual possessions. Beyond the physical presence of e-readers, there are also students reading e-books on the school laptops. I’m not really sure what this trend means for the book market and the future of reading habits, but if it means that middle school students are engaged in a practice of reading self-selected books independently, how can it be a bad thing?

Have you seen e-books appearing in your school? Are you taking any extra steps to even use them more officially/intentionally?

All About Transitions – Middle Schoolers and Me

When I was getting my education degree, I was pretty sure I would end up teaching High School English.  I loved student teaching in a 10th grade classroom and assumed that something similar would follow.  Surprisingly, the job I ended up taking was in a middle school classroom teaching one section each of 6th through 8th grade English, among other subjects, as well.  Like a meet-cute in a movie, I remember meeting my first homeroom of 7th grade students as a first year teacher and realizing that I love middle school.  Before, when I was still in college, I would tell people that I planned on teaching high school English, and they would say, “High School? But, you look like you’re in high school yourself!”  Now, when I explain that I am a middle school teacher, I get funny facial expressions, comments on what a “unique” age group that is, “well some one’s gotta do it” sentiments, and (because I’m in the south) that slightly condescending endearment, “Well, bless your heart!”

Image from Flikr User AwesomeJoolie

Middle school students are a unique group, for sure, but my heart also does feel blessed to be working with them.  What I’ve learned most about working with this age is that, to put it as simply as possible, it seems to be all about transitions on the part of the students and all about flexibility on the part of the teachers.  For middle school students so much, even the familiar things, are new.  Having a locker and a class schedule without spending the whole day with the same twenty-five kids is enough to send some sixth grade students straight to the floor in the middle of the hallway surrounded by a confusing shower of papers.  Then there’s the fact that your friends, especially those of the opposite sex, are suddenly different and so your friendship now has to be different, even if you were perfectly happy riding your bikes all over the neighborhood and running through sprinklers two summers ago. To add to the chaos, there’s also this strange phenomenon where all of a sudden friends have broken themselves up into little groups and each group seems to have its own social expectations and code.  Whew! I get kind of dizzy just thinking about it, and then I remember that all of those things are being towed behind my students when they enter my classroom each day.  I smile, though, because they are bringing these things into my English classroom, and, among other very important things, English is all about communicating about my world and your world and the worlds that have come before us and those that will follow.  It is using this great gift of language to deconstruct our ideas, philosophies, understandings, and questions.

This past school year, I came to the decision that it was time to make a transition of my own and decided to seek employment at a different school.  When I began the process of applying and interviewing, I knew without a doubt that, no matter what other changes I made, I wanted to keep teaching middle school.  I may have stumbled into middle level education, but I have no desire to leave. This sentiment is viewed as crazy-talk by some (even some within the field of education) but that also means that the majority of teachers you have on a middle school faculty really want to be there.  Others may have stumbled into it, like I did, but I’ve also found that those who find it is not for them don’t seem to hang around for long, which means you are left with a faculty who is largely happy that they are working in a middle school – at least in my experience.

This coming July, I will begin the move to my new school where I will teach 7th and 8th grade English.  It is an independent k-12 school just outside of Atlanta, and also just happens to be where I attended high school.  A lot has changed since I was in attendance, and I am excited for this next stage in my career.  Looking ahead, though, I am also finding a few more ways to relate to my transition-laden students.  I will be learning to work within the new codes and expectations of a new faculty and a new curriculum.  Additionally, the school has a couple of innovative programs and ideas in place.  For one, in the 6th-8th grades, Math and English classes are gender divided.  I am eager to see how this new dynamic will affect my classroom, but also want to make sure I am preparing myself for this new class element as much as possible, so that creating the right environment for my students is not too trial and error based.  In the upcoming school year, the school is also launching a one-to-one tablet program.  I am glad that this is a transition that all faculty members will encounter and not just the new additions.  I’ve brought my tablet home and am excited to begin playing around with it.

For my students, middle school is all about transitions.  As for me, I am in full transition mode, too.  It can seem a little overwhelming at times, but overwhelming in a way that fills me with energetic enthusiasm for the year to come.  So now, dear PLN, I am calling on you to help me in this transition, and hopefully we can all learn a little be from each other in the process.  Do you have any great resources on teaching to different genders? One-to-one tablet programs? Entering a new faculty and curriculum?  I appreciate all the ways you help guide me and will be sure to share what I learn along the way, as well!

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