A bit “drawn and quartered”

stretch armstrong enters the 21st century

So, over the last several weeks I’ve been relieved at how well I’ve assimilated my various online presences.  When I boot up, I check my email (West, Yahoo, and Gmail), cruise Google Reader, and see what’s up on the Dobbs wiki from time to time, then get going with whatever I need to do.  Shortly after enjoying the placid waters of stasis, I threw a big rock in the pond and I’m looking for advice.

I’m started private blogs with my Spanish 1 kids this week.  We will use this as a forum for out-of-class discussions pertaining to the material that we are studying.  Spanish 1 students focus on the creation of simple, meaningful sentences that model a particular structure introduced by the teacher.  Then the student, at his or her own comfort level, experiments with that structure by adding new vocabulary, or adding elements like phrases and clauses. All this to say, the kids will not be discussing the 20/20 Initiative.  They’ll be talking about what they like to eat and drink.  All of this is preparation for Spanish 2 when they make their blogs public and begin to dialogue with the outside world.

The JH uses WordPress for their student blogs.  So, I’ve added another step in my digital routine.  I have 28 kids with WordPress blogs, and I welcome your advice in making this an easier undertaking.

The blogs are private and can only be viewed by invitees.  I had students assign me the role of administrator on their blogs, and for the time being, their comments must be approved by me (after a while I’ll loosen the reins).

Here’s my question.  Is there an easier way to monitor their blogs?  I think that Edublogs is a WordPress product.  Is it possible to tie my Edublogs and WordPress accounts together, so my daily routine does not involve one more website, username, GUI, etc.?

Any advice appreciated.


My blog pal Matthew wrote last week about his encounters with Dan Meyer, a math teacher who commented about irresolution as a skill that today’s (and yesterday’s) students need to become ok with. The primary thesis was that students are conditioned to anticipate a finite answer at the end of each equation, and in the worst cases, they sit passively by waiting for the teacher to drop them off at that answer.  He admits that teachers often enable that tendency by clinging to the age-old techniques.  True statement.

During the first several minutes of the Meyer presentation, I got a bit restless, thinking “Wait a minute, what’s wrong with resolution?”  Great writers, scientists, thinkers, and dreamers seek resolution, and we SOAK UP their resolution, whether it’s the dramatic climax and resolution to a novel, the formula that explains how things work, the drug that gets them to work, or the product on the shelves that changes the way we live.  Could we be in this cohort if the makers of ENNIAC or UNIVAC decided to leave this whole “computing thing” open-ended?

Obviously, I’m speaking in hyperbole, but the fact is that the end product of learning is usually resolution of an essential question.  Hopefully what Meyer is saying is that students shouldn’t be disheartened when a swift resolution is not on the horizon.  Hopefully, Meyer is teaching his kids the relentless pursuit of resolution by, instead of waiting for the answer, learning what questions to ask.  I confess to only watching 20 minutes of his 52 minute presentation, so if he said exactly that, then I owe Meyer an apology.

My question since the beginning of the cohort has been “How relevant are 21st century skills in an intro-level Spanish class?”  After all, there are discrete skills that must be mastered in order to move on to metacognitive aims. I’m glad to hear Meyer say “Skill practice is part of a well-balanced diet.”  And this is my first data point in arriving at an answer to my question. Skill practice is necessary, but it is not the end-all, be-all.  Ultimately, the skill practice must be used for a purpose, and it will be my job to find purpose for my students.  Or better yet, it will be my job to guide the students to finding their own purpose.

I am struggling with one element of irresolution.  We just concluded the midterm marking period, and over the last several days (up until about 40 minutes ago, as a matter of fact), I have been writing a comment for each one of my students which will be sent home with midterm grades.  Each comment ranges from 100-250 words in length and covers academic, disciplinary, and social commentary about what that child is experiencing in class, homeroom, athletic teams, etc.  At this point in the year, under my old, stodgy, drill-and-kill methodology, I knew where almost each child was in use and knowledge of vocabulary, morphology, sentence structure, listening comprehension, and oral proficiency.  It was like a museum tour that I take so often, I know when an exhibit undergoes a slight change.

In my Spanish 1 classes, with which I’m only slightly modifying curricula for experimentation, I have a good bead on where they are.  I have dramatically altered the focus of my Spanish 2 Experienced class (sort an honors course, although we don’t call it that in the Junior High) toward co-created curricula.  And my grasp on their competencies is tenuous at best.  Am I doing a disservice by not having a firm grasp on where they are in the language acquisition process?

I’ve been quite good at ceding control of my class to the ebb and flow of project-based learning, but I’m not comfortable not knowing the needs of my students.  Advice?

…more than a feeling…

...I just know I know it...

I saw this cartoon in the back of Sky Magazine on a Delta flight–thought it might make for good blog fodder.  As we approach conversations about banishing traditional assessment (hopefully in favor of rubrics rather than in favor of nothing), I’m sure we all agree that it will or should never reach this degree of absurdity.  However, with phrases like “soft skills” and “high touch” entering the collective lexicon, it is not an illegitimate concern that “high touch” will come to mean “subjective intelligence,” and that subjective intelligence will come to mean “my uninformed but equally valid opinion.”

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the potential “softening” of expectations, and if Pink’s right-directed emphasis could be a catalyst for that.

Really, I’m just trying to start a food fight in the blogeteria…

Experimenting with Google Maps

I’ve been an avid backpacker since middle school.  Between the ages of 14 and 25 I hiked with pretty much the same group of guys.  We used to use the term “growth opportunity” to mean an unpleasant experience that you just can’t do anything about.  For example, contract a water-born intestinal virus on day two of a 14 day outing?  Growth opportunity.  Experimenting with the latest in non-free standing tents, but you forgot to pack tent stakes?  That too is a growth opportunity.

So, when I dipped my feet in the 21st century pond two weeks ago, I was ready for a growth opportunity or two, and I even steeled myself for the possibility that the entire project was deserving of a “Golden Plunger” award.  First, the back story.

My Spanish 2 class is learning environmental vocabulary right now (deforestation, acid rain, etc.) and the grammar for the chapter is the subjunctive mood, which is used when the speaker expresses doubt, disbelief, emotion, or improbability.  For example, in the sentence I doubt that we can reverse the effects of global warming the verb “reverse” would be expressed using the subjunctive mood.  So, essentially, this chapter students should be able to describe environmental concerns and express their feelings and doubts about them.


  1. I set up dummy Google accounts for student use.
  2. Students research environmental concerns in the Spanish-speaking world.
  3. Students, working in pairs, create a bookmark in a shared map in which they describe the issues facing a particular country or region.
  4. Students proofread one another’s submissions and make corrections.
  5. Once the body of text is correct, students may embellish with all the goofy stuff they like putting on web pages.

During this process, I had realized that I was no expert on Google Maps, so when some kids couldn’t edit their bookmarks, GROWTH OPPORTUNITY.  One kid couldn’t find our map at all…GROWTH OPPORTUNITY.  Within a few days of kids seeing me during Office Hours, these glitches got fixed and in the meantime, I learned a lot about the way cool features of Google Maps.  But rather than being the expert in the room, I was learning right along with them.

Step two of this activity was to share how we feel about the many issues facing Latin America’s various ecosystems.  For this we used VoiceThread.  After a brief orientation (I’m a VoiceThread junkie, so this stuff I know), students essentially recreated their Google Map reflection orally, rather than in a written format.


  1. Upload pics of your area of concern.
  2. Record your reflection to the voicethread.
  3. Share your voicethread with your classmates.
  4. Add comments on three classmates’ voicethreads using the subjunctive with verbs of emotion, doubt, or disbelief.

Some kids had already had VT accounts, so I had to figure out how to migrate their account over to Westminster’s ed.voicethread account.  Some kids couldn’t share materials with others while others weren’t allowed to search for others’ voicethreads.  Some couldn’t record comments no matter how many computers they tried it on.  You name it, at least one kid had an issue with it.  One GROWTH OPPORTUNITY at a time.

Once all voicethreads were created, shared, and commented on, students went back to their placemark on the shared Google Map and posted a link to their VoiceThread.  The end product is an interactive map that shows the combined work of 15 students elaborating on environmental concerns in the Spanish-speaking world, and allows the viewer to see images and listen to students’ reflections, and allows viewers to make comments of their own.  The map is embedded below.  If you’re having trouble viewing it, just click here to view the map.

The “real” growth opportunity

I learned something tremendous with this activity.  I learned that having control is not necessarily a must for delivering effective instruction.  While I wouldn’t call the use of our time “efficient” by any definition, learning was achieved.  However, the many glitches that happened over the last two weeks did not affect me like I thought they would.  I was quite comfortable not knowing the answer, and I think that the kids seeing me not being the “master of the domain” was a pleasant change for them.  To an extent, I consider this a successful application of Daniel Pink’s Story, Design, Play and Meaning.  Symphony might be a stretch.  But most importantly, my lack of expertise caused students to make some executive decisions of their own, and they love arriving at an answer before I do!

While I’m proud of how this project turned out, I am still a neophyte at assessing this kind of work.  How do I know if the students learned something meaningful?  Quizzing them on the ails of Latin America would be a slap in the face to the right-directed work they’ve been doing all this time.  Then again, a wishy-washy reflection on what they learned will elicit pearls from one student and pocket lint from another.  I believe that in getting good information, the prompt is everything.  What would be a meaning prompt that would help me assess student learning for this activity.

Think quickly, I’m testing on Friday 🙂