ITMA Project Finished!

Finish lineI am very pleased to announce that my ITMA project is finished. I have turned it in and am just awaiting the feedback.

If you would like to check out the finished product, visit the wiki.

The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning is that I didn’t have to work on the project today because it was finished. I am hoping to enjoy the last couple of weeks of my summer and not work on anything.
Creative Commons License photo credit: ThisIsIt2

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I’m Still in Salem

At least in my mind. The visit actually ended a week ago. The first thing I wanted to do when I came home was read my favorite books set in Salem. If your students read The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter (yes, I know that one’s set in Boston), and they’re looking for more books about Salem, you might try steering them toward these books.

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneKatherine Howe’s novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane begins on the cusp of the Salem witch trials. Deliverance Dane is a healer, a wise woman accused of witchcraft. The difference between Deliverance and others accused is that Deliverance actually is a witch. This novel follows the stories of several of Deliverance’s descendants, including  Connie Goodwin, the protagonist of the story. Connie is a history graduate student, and we first meet her during her oral examination. The novel is highly readable. Howe has clearly done her research, and she’s truly writing what she knows—she herself is a doctoral student in history and the descendant of two accused witches—Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

The Heretic's DaughterKathleen Kent’s novel The Heretic’s Daughter is billed as “a gripping and original first novel based on family history from a descendant of a condemned Salem witch.” Told from the point of view of Sarah Carrier, daughter of Martha Carrier, who was condemned and hanged during the witch trials, the novel vividly explores the events of the trials. Kent herself is a descendant of the Carriers. This novel is geared toward a young adult audience and might be perfect for literature circles about the Salem witch trials (and I think I just had a really good idea for American literature this year after typing that sentence).

The House of Seven GablesFewer people read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables than its more famous counterpart, The Scarlet Letter, but some readers, including poet James Russell Lowell, felt that Seven Gables was even better than The Scarlet Letter. The house that inspired the story is a tourist attraction in Salem. Hawthorne’s birthplace has been moved to the same grounds. After visiting the house, I feel there is little wonder why the home inspired Hawthorne. The novel tells the story of the Pyncheon family, cursed because of the role an ancestor played in the witch trials. Fun fact: the Pyncheon family actually existed and are the ancestors of writer Thomas Pynchon, so you get a two for one connection.

The Lace ReaderBrunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader is more of a modern novel of Salem, but readers are treated to descriptions of the kitschy embrace of its witchcraft history that can be found in modern Salem. The novel centers around Towner Whitney, who is returning to Salem upon the death of a beloved aunt. Towner shares her aunt’s ability to read the future through patterns in lace. Several Salem landmarks are depicted, including the statue of Roger Conant and Red’s Sandwiches. The novel explores Towner’s quest to save herself and figure out who she is. It might be more interesting to more mature female students as opposed to male students, but I enjoyed it when I read it some time ago.

The Map of True PlacesBrunonia Barry’s second novel The Map of True Places is also set in Salem, where the author lives. This novel explores the long-term effects of the suicide of protagonist Zee’s mother. Perhaps because Barry herself returned to Salem after an absence, her novels explore characters who also come back to Salem and the complex psychological associations we have with place and home. The title is drawn from a Melville quote: “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” Isn’t the cover gorgeous?

So, if you fancy a visit to Salem, give one of these books a try. If you’ve read them, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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Salem Visit

We returned home from Salem late Friday night. I had a great time, and I want to thank Destination Salem, William Morrow, and Brunonia Barry for the great trip!

We were waylaid for five-six hours in Pennsylvania when our car broke down. Our radiator cracked and we overheated. However, I have to hand it to Karl’s Towing in Saylorsburg: they fixed the problem and we were on our way. They charged us a fair price, too. I think given the circumstances, they worked as quickly as they could. It was a rotten situation to be in, but they made it bearable.

It was late at night when we arrived in Salem, so we didn’t get to look around as we had planned. The next day we started out with a ride on the Salem Trolley. We walked around town, looking at everything. We went to the kitschy Salem Witch Museum I took pictures of the Witch Trials Memorial at the Old Burying Ground. We visited the House of Seven Gables. We visited a wonderful old candy store near the House of Seven Gables called Ye Olde Pepper Companie. We had a wonderful dinner at Sixty 2 on Wharf.

The next day we started with a wonderful breakfast at the Hawthorne Hotel and went to the Peabody Essex Museum and rode the schooner Fame. We only had two nights in the hotel, so that evening we visited my friend Ha in Concord. We spent that night in her condo in Cambridge, then left the next day. All in all, we needed more time. I really think that six hours would have made a difference, but c’est la vie, and we had a great time anyway. I would love to go back and visit any time. We had a wonderful time. Everyone was so friendly, and it was amazing to be in the presence of so much history—literary and otherwise.

Here are some pictures from the trip. All of them are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, so if you want to use them for your unit on The Crucible, feel free to grab them.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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The Crucible

Salem Massachusetts 011-300As I prepare to visit Salem, Massachusetts for the first time early next week, I thought it would be fitting to share some of my lessons for The Crucible in case you haven’t seen them before.

In Witch Hunt: A Web Scavenger Hunt for The Crucible by Arthur Miller, your students will learn about the inspiration for Arthur Miller’s play, including the Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism, and possible scientific explanations for the hysteria.

In Crucible, Act Two, Scene Two assignment (RTF,  PDF) your students must consider whether Act Two, Scene Two, added by Miller later on, is materially necessary to the play. Some argue that it changes Abigail’s motives from desire for John Proctor to madness.

In “Half-Hanged Mary” by Margaret Atwood (RTF,  PDF—credit Jana Edwards) students read a poem based on the true story of Mary Webster, accused of witchcraft in the 1680’s. It would make a good introduction or companion to The Crucible.

I most likely will not be posting next week while I am on vacation.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Paul-W

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My Favorite Tools

Day 79/365: ToolboxIf you’re looking to try out some tools to make teaching, sharing, discussing ideas, and planning easier, you might want to check out some of these tools.

Twitter

I you want to ask a quick question or have a conversation, there’s nothing as efficient as Twitter. It’s also a quick way to get the word out about blog posts or other projects. Many people have it running in the background using a client such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Nambu, or Seesmic. I was skeptical about Twitter until I tried it. I think it’s one of those things you will have to try out for yourself in order to see its potential. It can be as useful as the people you follow. I have a great personal learning network on Twitter.

Diigo

I first started using Delicious a few years ago because Firefox kept losing my bookmarks. I became so aggravated by this bug that I decided at least with Delicious, I could have my bookmarks with added benefit that they are available on any computer. A couple of years ago, I switched to Diigo for two reasons: 1) it has the added capabilities of annotation, groups, and easy integration with my blog; and 2) I can integrate it with my Delicious account, so there’s no need to leave any of my Delicious subscribers high and dry.

Firefox

Though Firefox is perhaps not the fastest browser, its array of plugins enable me to customize my browsing.

WordPress

I use WordPress to manage the content on all of my blogs. Elegant theme designs and plugins add functionality. I’ve tried Blogger and Movable Type, and I found WordPress superior to both.

iPhone

As the commercials proclaim, if you can think of something you want to do, there’s an app for that. My iPhone helps me manage my to-do list, my Diigo bookmarks, and my Goodreads account. I also have the complete works of Shakespeare and a great many other books in my pocket. I can keep track of gas expenses and find the cheapest gas nearby. I can manage my grocery list or look up first aid information. I can check TV listings, listen to music, or take pictures. The two most recent apps I downloaded enable me to create packing lists and see what’s down the road at the next few exits.

Evernote

I haven’t used Evernote very long, but I recently planned my entire trip to Salem using it, and I found it incredibly handy. You can clip and save websites and take notes. I am only beginning to explore Evernote’s capabilities. Be sure to check out their blog post on the Evernote trunk and see how a former student of mine uses Evernote.

Google Reader

Google Reader helps me keep up with all the blogs I read. I would never be able to keep track of my favorite blogs without it.

Facebook

Despite some bad press from what I believe are some poor decisions about privacy on the part of Facebook, I still use it to stay connected to my family and friends. Most of my friends and family are not on Twitter, but they are all pretty much on Facebook. It’s an easy way to share news, photos, and videos.

Wikispaces

I haven’t found another wiki service that’s friendlier to educators or easier to use than Wikispaces. I use it for all the wikis I create now.

Ning

I won’t use Ning for my classes anymore because of the changes to their pricing scheme, but I very much enjoy the English Companion Ning and the Making Curriculum Pop Ning as tools to help me share and learn.

What are your favorite tools?

Creative Commons License photo credit: fran.pregernik

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ITMA Project Update and Vacation!

chillin done rightI feel like I’ve been lazy. I haven’t done much work on my project this week. I have been playing Guitar Hero, reading a little bit, and goofing around on my computer. I can’t seem to get motivated, so I decided maybe it was my brain telling me I needed to take a break from it. So I have been. I do need to get to work on it soon, or else I will be pressed to finish on time. I’m just glad I had worked on it so hard in June. I think I am about 70% finished with it.

We are going to Salem, Massachusetts next week: somewhere I have always wanted to visit for English teacher geek reasons. It will be so much fun teaching The Crucible this year after my visit! Plus we will swing by Concord and visit my friend Ha and see Walden. Last time I visited, it was frozen over. It will be interesting to see it in the summer. I can’t remember if I mentioned it on this blog or not, but I won this trip in a sweepstakes, if you can believe that. I’m not a particularly “lucky” person, or I don’t view myself that way anyway, but every once in a while I enter sweepstakes thinking it takes a minute or two, and the worst thing that happens is you don’t ever get that minute or two back and you don’t win a trip. It was online, so I wasn’t even out of a stamp. Well, I won. I know, right? No one wins those things. Here is my package:

It is the Map of True Places Sweepstakes for Brunonia Barry’s newest book, The Map of True Places.

Here is what’s included:

I’ve actually been using Evernote to plan the trip. Really handy! I haven’t used Evernote very much for myself before planning this trip. We are driving because airfare is just too expensive, and we are also taking two kids, so we will need to pay their way, but you really can’t beat it!

Creative Commons License photo credit: amber in norfolk

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Diigo Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Crowdsourcing Grades

5 November 2007Karen LaBonte tweeted a link to Cathy Davidson’s post How to Crowdsource Grading. It’s an interesting approach, and something I think could work well in college setting. My grad school program allows students to resubmit work based on feedback, and I have definitely taken advantage of this perk several times.

The trouble I have with it in high school or even younger is the idea of peers being responsible for evaluation. I do peer editing in my classes all the time, but students are not graded on it (aside from simply a check for doing it). I think students should have some choices and some say about their work, but I’m not sure they’re always the best judges (at least high school and younger) of what to assess and how to assess it, so I wouldn’t put the grades in the hands of my own students.

I hate grades. I would do away with them if I could, but my school has them, so the fairest thing I can do is give students various types of assessments that measure what they have learned against my goals for their learning. My feelings about grades are complicated because as a student, I stress out about them. I actually get nervous when I check my grades online. I would do all the work my instructors asked me to do even without grades, and I think I’d be happier just learning rather than stressing about my grades (which I do even though they are good). On the other hand, I know that I am definitely not normal. Would the students do the work if they weren’t graded on it? Depends. I think you can structure an learning experience for students that isn’t graded and still get most students to buy in. The ones that don’t are usually the ones that don’t even with grades.

We recently had a lot of discussions about summer reading with other members of our department and our media specialist. Students must read three (four for AP) books over the summer. One (two for AP) is required. One is chosen from a list. The last is selected from among books the faculty members have chosen to sponsor. Book sponsors lead a discussion about their choices with the students who signed up for their book. Essentially, a fear was expressed that should we not quiz or otherwise formally assess students’ faculty selections aside from the discussion, the students would not read the book. I liked my department chair’s unorthodox response: so they miss a great learning experience. Too bad for them. The person who expressed the fear about students not reading wasn’t satisfied with this response. I added in, “Can’t they just read a book for fun?” It was very clear that this person was worried students would not do anything if a grade was not tied to it.

With college students, you’re working with adults, and while I’m not sure I’d want my grades in the hands of my peers, I could see some type of agreement about what constitutes “A” work being made among students. In my Multimedia Authoring course, one of my peers gave me really poor marks on my project (a difference of at least 9 points out of 50 when compared to the other two evaluators). I think she did it out of spite because when I evaluated her project, I pointed out that nothing in her PowerPoint worked. Wouldn’t you want to know that before it was graded? Or would you be petty because it was pointed out? I digress, but the point is that my instructor evaluated us on our evaluations of others. He docked me a percentage of a point because I gave a criticism in my comments in one area of the rubric, but still gave full points. His reasoning—if there was a problem, it shouldn’t have received full points. Probably true, but he was also a tough (some would say nit-picky) grader. I wouldn’t say nit-picky because I learned a lot from his class, his feedback, and his tough grading. And yes, I have wondered what kind of feedback my peer received for her evaluation of me.

A side note: I am receiving no grades for the major project I’m creating this semester. I’ve worked harder on it than anything else I’ve done. The fact that it won’t be graded hasn’t lessened my motivation. It has freed it. I don’t have to fret about what I might earn on it, so I can just do my best and create a project that I’m proud of.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ccarlstead

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The Unquiet Library

The Unquiet Library, run by media specialist Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School in Canton, GA., has a wonderful writeup in American Libraries.

The students are skeptical when the librarian says, “I want everyone to take out their cell phones and check to see if you can get reception in the library.” The young scholars hesitantly pull out their mobile devices unsure of what to make of this request. “Your assignment is to charge up your phones for class on Friday.” This wasn’t like any librarian they had met before.

Here’s how much of a library nerd I am: I teared up as I read the last paragraph. Good for you, Buffy! And for Creekview and its students and teachers.

Buffy does some amazing things. I’m so jealous of Creekview. Check out her online presence and enjoy learning from her:

An April morning in the Unquiet Library

Creative Commons License photo credit:  theunquietlibrary

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