Week in Reflection: March 24-28, 2008

The end of this week leaves me feeling somewhat exhausted. I was rear-ended last weekend, and I have been dealing with the problems that entails — reporting the accident, waiting for the police report so I can file a claim with the other guy’s insurance, getting an estimate for damage (nearly $1300), and worrying about the fact that no one knows I’m signaling with my left turn signal, thereby making changing lanes and turning left more awkward and stressful.

My tenth grade students handed in the final draft of their research papers. I know it felt strange to be handing that assignment in after working on it for so long. I can tell that my students learned a great deal from the process.

My freshman are learning all about phrases and working on The Catcher in the Rye. I am not 100% satisfied with how phrases are going because my students come from such disparate backgrounds, depending upon the teachers they have had before. Students who ordinarily catch on quickly and do well on other aspects of my class are feeling awkward about their knowledge and understanding through no fault of their own. I agreed to meet them for some review at lunch some day next week, so I hope that will help.

My seniors are engaged in an assignment I called “Flat World Willy.” After reading Death of a Salesman, students looked at the play’s continuing relevance to our own society through an examination of outsourcing and globalization. They read an excerpt from The World is Flat (the chapter entitled “The Untouchables”), viewed Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod’s “Did You Know?” (which they really enjoyed), viewed part of an episode of The Simpsons called “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore” (which examines outsourcing in a humorous way), and viewed a Discovery Times special “The Other Side of Outsourcing” (Thomas Friedman). They are creating handbooks for either high school graduates or college graduates that will help the grads navigate the job pool in the age of globalization and outsourcing, ensuring that a) the grads will always have a job, and b) the grads won’t end up like Willy Loman. I think they are having fun with it, and what I have seen so far of their planning looks really good.

I’m so tired. Lots of stuff going on right now, and it’s sapping my energy. This is the time of year when it’s easy for teachers to get burned out. The first rule is to take care of yourself. You can’t be an effective teacher if you don’t.

Update, 3:41 P.M.: I keep forgetting to mention my 9th graders’ Romeo and Juliet diaries have been appearing bit by bit at the Room 303 Blog. It helps to scroll down because the entries are posted chronologically.

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Week in Reflection: March 17-21

This was a crazy week.  Monday was a teacher workday; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, our schedules were different from “normal”; and Friday was Purim — we didn’t have classes and spent the day celebrating.  The students were pretty good considering all the schedule disruptions.  I had a really good discussion with my senior class about a piece I asked them to read from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat as well as two short videos we watched — Karl Fisch’s “Did You Know?” and an excerpt from The Simpsons — “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore.”  We are making connections between Death of a Salesman and the plight of Willy Loman to modern issues of globalization, outsourcing, and living in “exponential times.”

My tenth grade class will turn in the final draft of their research papers tomorrow.  One hard worker has written something like ten drafts!  I am proud of all their hard work and have a suitable celebration in mind.  This week is a much more normal week, thank goodness.

We have 12th grade and 10th grade trips coming up in the next couple of weeks.  Spring break isn’t far off, either.

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Week in Reflection: March 3-7, 2008

I think the Death of a Salesman unit I’m doing with my seniors is going well. At any rate, they seem engaged in the material and are making good connections. I am very excited about starting the part of the unit when we make connections to The World is Flat and globalization and outsourcing.

Speaking of The World is Flat, I finished it this week, and you can read my review at my book blog. The only thing I really want to add to what I said there is that I am really excited about the educational opportunities that will arise from “flat world” technologies like blogs and wikis. Even though I have already begun using these technologies, I still feel that in many ways I have just barely scratched the surface of what is possible, and I find that exciting.

My ninth graders in one class learned a few quick things about mechanics — quotation marks, italics/underlining, colons, and semicolons. The other ninth grade class has been writing an in-class essay. My tenth grade class is nearing the home stretch in their research paper.

Looking ahead, my ninth graders will be studying The Catcher in the Rye, which I always find enjoyable to teach, and which the students usually really like. One class will have the novel read by Tuesday. They are completing reflective journals as they read. I think the unit I am using came from the Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook. I know Jay McTighe mentioned it when he did professional development at our school, and later, when Grant allowed UbD Educators wiki members to enroll in his Moodle course, I downloaded the plan from the course documents. The only thing I tweaked was the essential questions. I liked the assessment, but I didn’t feel it really addressed the essential questions. I was curious about different questions, too. I would imagine the material is copyrighted in some way, so I can’t post it to explain what I mean, but I can point you toward the UbD Workbook (linked above).

And speaking of Grant Wiggins, I can’t pretend it was all fun to tangle with Alfie Kohn, but it was good for two reasons: 1) I really reflected about my homework policy and came to the conclusion that I am doing right by my students with regards to homework; 2) I received some clarification regarding Kohn’s ideas. Truth be told, he and I probably agree on a lot — I am not a fan of standardized testing or grades either, but I also don’t think they are going anywhere because schools and parents can’t figure out how else to measure learning. I am not someone who likes to make waves, and I did sort of wind up in the hot seat.

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Death of a Salesman

I have been struggling with writing a UbD plan for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. I think have have one sketched out, though I still need to create guiding questions for various pieces of the unit, including YouTube videos and a selection from Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat.

In looking at the plot and themes of the play, and perhaps because it is so much in my thoughts lately because of my professional development courses, I made a connection between the play and the modernization/globalization or flattening of the world that our students will need to contend with in their work lives. One chapter of The World is Flat in particular came to mind — “The Untouchables” — as I began thinking about connections. I opened my book only to see Friedman himself referred to Willy Loman in that chapter. It must have been there in my subconscious because I had recently read it, but I was grateful to have my connection thus solidified.

I struggled to come up with a performance task that is relevant and addresses my essential questions, but would also be engaging. I think I have one. I am fairly happy with the unit as it stands because I think it is a unit that connects a past Miller was familiar with to a present and future he probably could not have imagined, and I think it will have interest and relevance for my students. You can check out the unit at the UbD Educators wiki.

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Can Teaching Be Outsourced?

The World is FlatYou may recall I am reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat for an online PLU course. In chapter six, he describes the kinds of people who will be “untouchable,” that is their jobs will be safe in the flat world. I admit to thinking that teaching is one of those “untouchable” jobs. However, I am also taking this course online and specifically sought out an online masters program in Instructional Technology to apply to because I did not want to schlep downtown to classes two nights a week or go to a weekly professional development class at a school across town. I wanted the convenience of learning at my own pace, in my own home. And it’s not difficult anymore for adults to find an online program of study. What about K-12? Can teaching be outsourced? If it can, what do we as teachers need to be able to do in order to remain viable in the field of education. If it can’t be outsourced, why do you think that is the case? How will education change in view of the prospect of outsourcing?

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