Blended Book Interviews

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I had written before about how I was going to use this week’s blended time to conduct book interviews with students about their outside read books. Those interviews have been this week and they have been great (mostly). Students schedule themselves in for 8ish minute meetings with me. They talk about where they are in the book and what has happened so far; I ask some follow-up questions and we go from there. Grading is based on how well they know the book / how specifically they can talk about the book. (Some students even brought notes, which I hadn’t thought of, but is certainly a good / valid idea; I even had one student bring only her (outside read) book and her notebook, which I assumed had notes in it; as it lay there closed, I told her that, if there were notes in it, she was welcome to use them, at which point she revealed about a page per chapter.)

I am constantly struck during the blended week how different students are one-on-one vs. in a classroom setting. I of course know this intellectually, but to see it in action is quite striking. Students that are silent and reticent in class become articulate and insightful one-on-one, for me one of the greatest benefits of this (ongoing) experiment.

As I was going through my first interviews, it struck me that a rubric might be worthwhile, i.e. a checklist of items for both me and the student to look for / go for. On the other hand, though, such a project is exactly the reason I am wary of rubrics. I have so enjoyed the organic nature of the conversations, and I’d be afraid that using a rubric would make them much more mechanical, i.e. students would become too beholden to the rubric and the conversation would lose a lot of its spontaneity / natural progression.

It also occurred to me that such an approach would work well for books that we read in class as well, that to incorporate such meetings, likely shorter individual meetings to avoid taking so much time, would be an excellent way to check in with students, not only in terms of comprehension / keeping up but also allowing them a forum within which they could ask questions or get help with specific things, especially for some of the more difficult books that we read (I’m thinking especially here of the Iliad).

So definitely a successful experiment and one that I look forward to continuing.

Twitter, the Mets, St. Patrick’s Day, and Stereotyping

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I’m always taken aback but some people’s visceral reaction to Twitter (both adults and students). It should surprise me too much, though, because I have a similarly visceral reaction to Facebook. My surprise, however, stems from my assumption (valid or not) that people view Twitter as somehow a negative-Facebook: Twitter Darth Vader vs. Facebook Luke Skywalker.

I love Twitter. Don’t worry. I’m not tweeting out what I had for lunch (PB&J) or how my weekend was (great; went skiing with the family yesterday); in fact, I rarely, if ever, tweet. Rather, Twitter for me, as it has I think for many (especially adults) has become my primary source of news and information (beyond the Daily Show and the Colbert Report). All of the things I’m interested in come to me via my Twitter feed.

So it was more out of curiosity than any inherent interest in the implications that I clicked on ESPN’s post about the Mets’ St. Patrick’s Day hats. A good friend of mine is a Mets fan and I figured she might like to see it (and, in fact, have one), and so I ended up on the Mets’ original post:

Immediate reaction to the image was predictably shallow (ugly, awful, good luck, etc.). But what became very interesting was how the discussion quickly turned to a (implicit; I’m not sure half the participants realized what they were doing) discussion on stereotyping (in the first image below, note especially the last line on all heritages):

Especially toward the end there, the discussion seemed to take a bit of a turn for the negative in tone, but even still a pretty interesting view into (if not explicit discussion of) stereotypes ensued.

As for stereotypes themselves, well, whether we want to admit it or not, there are certain stereotypes that are more accepted than others, largely because the target of the stereotypes doesn’t do anything on a systemic level to dispel them, i.e. individuals may have a problem with them but the group as a whole doesn’t band together to condemn them with a unified voice. The Asian and Jewish stereotypical images in the thread above would be roundly criticized by Asian and Jewish groups (as opposed to individuals), while the Irish (on an individual level) seem to be divided on the stereotype propagated on the Mets hat. Similar, I suspect, is the Italian mafia stereotype, one which I (as an Italian American) am not thrilled about but whose origin and propagation I understand and wouldn’t go to great lengths to protest or dispel.

Nonetheless, a pretty interesting discussion out of what I would guess was deemed a very innocent initiative and an even more innocent post.

Long(ish) Term Success from the Blended Experiment?

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Was at senior show (kind of a senior skit show / comedy show whose humor varies year to year; not bad this year) tonight and saw an alum from last year when I piloted the blended class (albeit with a class that was very difficult to manage). This particular student was about average for the group: certainly not an angel in class but not a ringleader either with a solid work ethic and solid skills. We talked for a few minutes about school and he commented that our class was ‘just like a college class’. At first I thought he meant a college class as we at Wayland use the term, i.e. a lower level class, i.e. how funny it was that the class was so out of control. What he meant, though (thankfully), was that his classes in college function just like our class, i.e. what we did in his class, especially with the blended approach, prepared him for how his college courses would function. And that of course was exactly the point of the blended experiment, to introduce to students the time management skills they would need in college in a more controlled and overseen environment than college. I’m glad to hear it (might have) worked. Thanks, JD.

GoogleTranslate Feature

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As a language teacher, I am clearly hesitant to acknowledge GoogleTranslate’s presence much less promote it but we were just shown the audio capabilities of it (which apparently work best in Chrome and might not work in others). In GoogleTranslate if you click the microphone at the bottom left of the text box will detect your speech and translate it into any language (which can then be played back as well). The accents were passable to good; the language was so-so. Spanish seemed right (seemed, though the accent sounded pretty good, even for an electronic voice), arabic I had no idea, and Latin was wrong (he was demoing, not I, though I requested the Latin).

Google Art Project: Wow

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I’d heard of the Google Art Project but today was able to get a feel for it. We didn’t spend too much time on it but this is certainly something I should be using in class more.

The Google Art Project pulls in images from museums around the world and makes them available in incredibly high resolution images (using the same technology with which GoogleMaps are created). You can see, zoom, read descriptions, etc. I’ve included some screen shots below.

The Perseus Project filled this void in the past; it has had image collections of museums around the world since the late ’90s (albeit only of ancient images), but this seems more user friendly, more versatile, and with the tools that Perseus offers (zooming, info, etc.).

Our instructor said that you can make your own gallery, which I couldn’t find in our short time with it, but that would seem to elevate its functionality for class significantly. There is, however, a built in compare feature which puts two images side-by-side.

This is the search result for ‘Athens’. I chose the Museum of Cycladic Art (one of my favorites).

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This is the ‘home page’ of the Museum of Cycladic Art; you can scroll through the images with the arrows at right and left.

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This is the resolution / zoom which the Google Art Project projects.

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This is the description that’s included with the image.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 2.30.07 PM

Cool Trick to Animate / Enliven Images via GoogleDraw

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[update: So we might have to put a hold on this. I tried it and the link didn’t work. The shape worked but it didn’t preserve the live link. I’m going to see if I can figure it out but as of right now everything below works except for maintaining the live link in the embed (which was the point for me but might not be for you).]

We were discussing making collage images for a website with links embedded into the image. The example used was a librarian who took a panoramic picture of her library, and then linked the actual sections of the library to that particular catalog, i.e. you click on the actual reference section in the image of the library and you are linked to the reference section catalog. (For the ItsLearning fans out there, this is akin to the hotspot option in the test module.)

I of course envisioned this for maps, artwork, etc. but wondered 1. if it had to be done via GoogleDraw and 2. if it can be used outside of the Google universe (Googleverse?). (I’m not convinced yet that this is the easiest way to do this; I’m trying to figure out if doing it in, say, Acrobat or even Word could work but I’m not there yet.)

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Grab an image (from wherever) and put it into GoogleDrive.
  2. Open GoogleDraw and insert the image into GoogleDraw.
  3. Use the shape tool to highlight a linkable area (say, circle France on a map).
  4. Make sure that the fill and line on that shape is made transparent (so it’s invisible).
  5. Link that shape to wherever you want (website, etc.).
  6. This makes it available to your GoogleSite but not yet to something outside of Google.
  7. To make it available outside of Google, publish it.
  8. Publishing it will make available an embed code, which can then be used elsewhere.

Small (but interesting) Tip for GoogleSites Tab Icon

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The small square / shape next to the website title is usually a standard icon (in Google, the icon that identifies what it is: doc, site, etc.; in other sites, the logo of the site: the Twitter bird, etc.). In GoogleSites but also in other sites, follow these steps to change that icon to what you want it to be:

  1. Identify the image you want to use.
  2. Change its size to 16 x 16.
  3. Save it using this filename (exactly; there are no variables here): favicon.ico
  4. Upload it to your attachments.
  5. This should change that icon.

(This definitely works on GoogleSites and should work on others, as the favicon.ico protocol is recognized by browsers (as opposed to being used by a specific site design tool), though each site creation method I suspect will have its own location for storing this file.)

PD and Training Best Practices

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A quick link but an interesting resources on the seven standards for professional learning here.

Google for Education Training Center

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Here is the (I guess new) link for the Google for Education Training Center, where you can access open online GoogleApps courses as well as the tests to take to become a certified Google Educator. (As far as I know, the tests are available to anyone, independent of having taken a course, though you wouldn’t want to take them without a more-than-solid understanding of the GAFE suite.

And to go right to the test(ing center), click here. You do need to make a separate Google Testing account (you can of course use your same Google info, but it won’t work without creating an account; the testing account is not the same as your regular Google account).

Group-created GoogleForms Quiz


At the end of yesterday’s session, our ‘HW’ was to create a question in a GoogleForm about our work yesterday. Today we kicked off ‘class’ by taking the quiz that we made, with a question from each participant on a shared GoogleForm. The quiz was graded with Flubaroo and our results were emailed to us. It occurred to me that the group quiz model has some potential for class, i.e. an assignment culminating in, whether small groups or individual students, each group submitting a question (or however many you want) and then the class taking that quiz as a whole.

I can see this working especially well for student presentations. I’m always conflicted when students present about how to handle the rest of the students. I want them to pay attention and be invested in their classmate’s presentation but I also know that if I follow the quiz-on-the-presentation model, the class becomes very mercenary-like, hunting exclusively for the information. Having each presenter create five questions (or however many) on a shared GoogleForm might mitigate the mercenary-nature (an easy format always accessible, as opposed to the traditional handout model) but also allow some sort of accountability. My Medieval Lit Arthur research presentations are coming up; that might the perfect place to try this out (especially if they post their presentations online).

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