PBL – Classical Lit Play Project Survey Discussion

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On Wednesday and Friday of this past week (we rotated out on Thursday), we discussed the survey results (available here). It was a pretty interesting discussion, and one in which students were eager to participate. I’ll summarize, in no particular order, some of the things that came up below.

  • Overall, a very positive response to the project. Based on the survey results, there is clearly one outlier who did not like the project. I did announce to the class that I would love to hear from that outlier (not in class but rather outside of class) and invited him/her to come see me. I doubt it will happen but I would be interested to hear (hopefully they will identify themselves in the open responses).
  • We spent most of the first day, when we took the survey, discussing the content vs. skills tension, i.e. the extent to which they ‘missed’ or felt like they missed out on the content of a traditional coach.
    • They said for the most part no, but also attributed that, to some extent, to it being an English course, i.e. they said they would be more concerned about missing out on content in a science or math course.
    • They also seemed very nervous about an entire course (much less an entire school) being project-based in this way (not surprising).
    • They did not view (pure) content as accessible via technology, i.e. they felt that certain things were not, or should not be, Google-able. Or at least that what they would find wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, take the place of a teacher.
  • They felt my role was for the most part appropriate, that my ‘staying out of their way’ (their words) was a good thing. The one area they said they perhaps would have like more intervention was in the writing.
  • By far the longest, and most engaged, discussion was about work load.
    • For the most part, the class agreed that, while the actors did do more work, that was endemic to the role rather than any sense of resentment or bitterness to those who did (or were perceived to do) less. It was also acknowledged, again without rancor, that the tech crew did less work (or at least was perceived to do less work). I actually think that the tech crew did more work than the writers / actors think they did, but I wasn’t going to try to convince them of that.
    • On the other hand, there was a lot of discussion about how the process could have provided more opportunities for more equal distribution of work.
      • Much of that discussion centered around the initial division between writers / actors, who worked on the script, and the tech crew / non-writers / actors, who worked on the set.
      • It was suggested that that division not take place initially, and that the whole class be involved in the writing process; only when the script is final should the division take place (if for no other reason than the tech crew needs certain information from the script before they can begin).
      • The notion of too many writers (if the whole class is involved) was acknowledged and addressed in some interesting ways.
      • Perhaps the most interesting suggestion was to divide the class in half and have each half put on a play (this was also suggested to mitigate the division that occurred between comedy and tragedy). Each play would be performed and the audience would choose which was better. This would also lend a bit more weight / importance to the process and, in theory, motivate them to do better work.
  • We also discussed assessment / grading.
    • Students did say that they would have been ok with / appreciated more input from me on the writing and/or a more structured approach to the writing, whether the scenes were edited and/or graded as they drafted them.
    • They also said that, especially from the tech crew side, they noticed the absence of writing in an English course, one of the things I was wondering about.
    • The suggestion above, about half the class each doing their own play and then having the audience vote on which they preferred, could tie in to grades.

That’s all I’m remembering right now. I’ll add anything that I remember but overall an interesting discussion that reflected their investment in and commitment to the project.


PBL – Classical Lit Play – Next Steps

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The groups are continuing to specialize and develop their assigned work. The Tech Crew has split into a Marketing group and a true Tech Crew, the former of whom are developing advertising posters and the latter of whom are today starting on making the masks for the show. The writing crew is finalizing the script (the English teacher especially enjoys me hearing them have discussions about scenes that work, how to develop ideas, etc.).

I’ve included some pictures below. The top one is the writing group (didn’t realized until I posted it that AG is shooting an amusing glare at me / the camera). The next is the marketing group (another glare from EZ; they were on me documenting). And then the bottom three are the Tech Crew working on the masks.

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I continue to be impressed and pleasantly surprised by the amount of work that is being done in class. It is by no means intense; I would not describe the atmosphere as tense or stressed (yet…?). But it is consistent with few to no deviations, i.e. once I get them focused (and I do wish that they would begin without me prompting them, but I am happy to accept that as a minor blip), they work straight through class and are / seem pretty much on task the entire time, and certainly more so than they would be in a more traditional setting / approach.

PBL – Classical Play Project – Table Read

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The script is done? Ok, so the script is on its way; we at least have a working draft of the script. And today, both because of the performance approaching and because I didn’t want the same groups working on the script for too long at a time, we’re doing a ‘table read’. The class is in a circle and the actors are reading the script through. The goal is to get a sense for portions of the script that are awkward, forced, loose, off-topic, etc. The class has access to the script via GoogleDocs and are editing / commenting as the actors read through.

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I had originally conceived this as a straight read through, saving comments until the end, for continuity’s sake. I have quickly found, however, that that is pretty much impossible, that students are invested enough in the script and its writing to not be able to resist commenting as the script is read through.

The read through itself is going, well, predictably. There is enough double entendre and implication in the original that my juniors have taken that and run with it, likely too much so, which we’ll talk about.

Otherwise, it’s interesting to hear the class as a whole interact over the writing. Much of the interaction has been digital, via the GoogleDoc, especially over the bigger picture points of discussion, but there has also been some interesting discussion. A lot of that discussion hasn’t actually been discussion but non-verbal reactions (laughs, one-way-comments, etc.) but it’s been interesting to hear students accept those reactions well / without defensiveness; there have really been no arguments, so to speak, which has been a pleasant surprise.

So we have to cut down on the (unnecessary) profanity (all of it? we’ll see) but otherwies an interesting beginning to the script. We’re on our way?

An iPad (Pro) Typing Question?

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A question out there for anyone listening. When I type expressions that involve a period (e.g. E.g.), as you can see in the parenthetical there, the letter after the g. Is (again) automatically capitalized. With an onscreen keyboard, I can unshift the keyboard to type a lowercase letter, but on the Apple Keyboard the shift key does not work in reverse that way, I.e. When I try to correct that uppercase E (or I or W), it automatically capitalizes; depressing the shift key only keeps it capital (rather than, in effect, reversing the process. I can, and have, used the copy – paste approach, I.e. Finding a corresponding lowercase letter elsewhere, copying it, and pasting it over the capital letter, but that is of course cumbersome, especially when needed more than once.

Any thoughts out there? Is there a workaround, either simple or complex that I could do? I suppose I could turn off autocorrect? Not sure I want to entirely disable it (depending on the day…).

I appreciate any help, I.e. Thanks. 

IPad Pro (Logitech) Keyboard (Redux)

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If you read my intro post to the iPad Pro, you read about my struggles with the Logitech keyboard that came with it (mostly having to do with lag time and capricious auto-correct). One of the Genius Bar kids at my school emailed me the following: “There is an update for your iPad Pro, which fixes compatibility with the Logitech CREATE Keyboard (the one with the back-light keyboard). There was an issues in 9.2 and 9.2.1 that caused the keyboard to be laggy and miss keypresses; however, in 9.3 this issues has been addressed. If you would like to try the keyboard out again after you update your iPad please let us know. If you need help updating your iPad Pro please let us know.”

I had already swapped out the Logitech keyboard for the Apple keyboard (which I’m using now; more on this below) before I got the email (and the update), so I can’t attest to the correctness of the email or the improved performance of the keyboard. But it was comforting to hear that I was not the only one having trouble with the keyboard. And I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the email / the suggestion. (I also found the lagginess inconsistent, almost as if it was app-to-app, such that with some apps the keyboard worked fine, while with others it barely functioned.)

So I’m now using the Apple keyboard and, to be frank, loving it. It took a few seconds to pair, that is for the first minute or two the on-screen keyboard kept appearing and the Apple keyboard didn’t work. It was such even that I Googled it to see how it pairs (not realizing the existence of the Smart Connector nor how it worked / what it did). But now that it’s in place, it’s great. The keys are responsive and intuitive; low profile, high performance. And, more important, the shortcuts are in place. I can highlight letter by letter (shift-arrow keys), which is one of my favorites. And there are arrows. One of the great mysteries of the iOS keyboard / the tyranny of Steve’s design standards, is the persistent absence of arrows from the iOS keyboard. I love tapping a screen five times just to get the cursor where I want it to be (really I do). Having arrows (which is not unique to the Apple keyboard, of course) makes life countless times easier.

At the risk of revealing too much about myself, I will say that I find the zigzaggy nature of the Apple keyboard somewhat labyrinthine to navigate. The first time I got it, it took me a good few tries to find the right combination of folds to transform from minimalist cover to functioning keyboard and stand. Likewise refolding it / putting it away. I was reading a bit (like here) about how the Smart Connector can be limiting in that it forces the iPad Pro to be oriented in only the landscape direction. On the one hand, I get this and don’t disagree; I found that frustrating about previous iPad keyboards. On the other hand, one of my complaints about the Pro is that it is so laptop-like and so screams out for a keyboard that I’ve not really used it like an iPad. I’d like to spend more time with it out of its keyboard so that it functions more like a tablet rather than an iOS version of a laptop. The Apple keyboard, however, perhaps allows the best compromise on this front. With its foldability, I can fold it relatively easily behind the iPad to use it as a straight iPad (with little added bulk) or go back to it being a performance machine with the keyboard back in place. I will add too that the keyboard with the Pro seems best suited to landscape. While I would like to use the Pro in portrait mode, I can’t see a lot of keyboard uses for portrait mode, which is why the flexibility (literally and figuratively) of the Apple keyboard works well.


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Saw this article in Slate about WriteLab, a, for lack of a better term, new generation robo-grader. As the article details, the founders were looking for an automated writing tool that focuses on the process rather than the grade. Looking quickly over the home page, I can attest that it seems like a tool with a lot of potential.

I experimented for a while with EssayGrader, an iPad app that had a bank of pre-written comments that could be inserted into essays. What I liked about EssayGrader was that the comments were as close as I’d seen to comments I’d actually make myself. The problem was, however, that EssayGrader’s interface was too clunky, and I didn’t have an efficient way to move between the iPad and my LMS. WriteLab might be the best of both worlds.

From a student standpoint, WriteLab analyzes and suggests, and students can either accept or reject those suggestions. Comments appear at left and are color-coded to their category / focus. From a teacher standpoint, WriteLab’s feedback is instantaneous and encourages drafting and editing, rather than moving quickly to the final product. And, as the article points out, students are perhaps (probably) more likely to consider carefully the suggestion of an inert machine that is not grading their essay rather than robotically¬†adhering¬†to the suggestions of the person grading their work.

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The pricing seems a touch opaque, i.e. teachers are free but students pay $15 / month. From a school’s standpoint, I’m not quite sure what that would look like, though I assume the school would pay the student fee and the students would create their own accounts? I will have to look into that further, but this seems like an exciting tool, and one that I’d like to learn more about (and have someone pay for my students to use).