Storybird – Press *Here* to Self-Destruct

Storybird – Press *Here* to Self-Destruct.

Here’s a little story I created (my first on Storybird!) as a way to parody the dreaded “Mayan Apocalypse” that was supposed to have happened.  Even though it’s well into the past at this point I wonder if people have really ever stopped to think just *how* it came to be known as a doomsday. Did it really signify death and destruction?  Why would a Meso-American civilization predict such gloom and doom?  If we can just think outside of our physical realm, calm our ego, and still our mind we would see it has nothing to do with an incineration of Earth; rather, it’s our invitation to step through the portal of consciousness and take hold of the self-actualization that needs to take place.

Should’ve Been an Epic Fail…

My classroom observation, during which I was encouraged to use available technology resources, did not go as planned.  Oddly enough, when my professor was discussing the objectives a few weeks back I vaguely remember her chiding, “…don’t worry if your Internet is out.”  Maybe it was I who said that?  At any rate, of course it would really happen to me!!  The last five weeks have been a nightmare as volunteer IT workers have been perplexed by our Frankenstein of a network, servers that are functioning at partial capacity, and a mysterious router that no one could find but was blocking all network signals on the third floor.  The network went down almost two weeks before my observation and with as many good luck dances that I did while chanting my own invented language, nothing brought my Internet back.

Fast forward to the day of the lesson.  There were only two things about that day which provided me some relief: I would only have four students in my class, and I could always connect my iPad to a VGA cable to project onto my screen.  When the boys came in the classroom I was told one was absent, so that meant we were down to three.  Thankfully my professor was able to connect with me on Skype and watched the lesson from home.

My classroom is a fairly casual environment but is still structured.  When the students sat down I gave them each an iPad (student three was in the restroom) and I began reviewing the food vocabulary we had been studying.  I started out the chapter with the Spanish way to say common food we eat. Soon I will introduce authentic Hispanic cuisine, many items of which are quite different from what we’ve ever eaten or presumed to be.  I laid out the objective to the students, that they would draw on the iPad an aerial view of food as if they were sitting at the table.  The students certainly don’t have access to iPads outside of school (or in any other class!) nor can they always count on their cell phone provider’s connection to be consistent.  Therefore, handing over my babies is a risk I take to see the curiosity and excitement on their face.

The activity started out with me naming a food at a time.  I quickly moved into the part where they had to draw everything on a plate.  They both became so immersed and wanted to make their food art look delectable, and I was told, “hang on a sec” many times as they tweaked their color and shadings.  For the most part the students (even when we were a group of four again) made minimal errors.  There may have been some confusion on a beverage, but other than that, the activity was an enjoyable one and sparked their interest at the beginning of class.  Luckily I had been using my iPad in class and letting students play with them at the end if there’s time to address any learning curve there might be.  Plus, I think that they hold themselves more responsible knowing that I’m taking a big risk to just hand out my personal equipment to a class of all boys who at times like to be rough and tumble.  I try to encourage them to explore technology so they’re not confronted with an inimitable task once they get to college.

The next phase of the lesson was to watch a short, 7-minute video dealing with a family in Costa Rica.  I broke out the old and trusted TV/VCR combo and popped in the VHS tape.  Still works like a charm!  I prefaced the video by writing a few statements on the board in Spanish about stereotypes other countries hold against us regarding our diet and eating habits.  Each student read one out loud but I didn’t discuss meaning and then they placed a check next to the ones with which they agreed.  It sparked a discussion that led naturally into the video as it dealt with the same situation.

Once the video was over I asked a few quick comprehension questions and together we did two activities on a worksheet.  It really wasn’t anything fancy or technologically superior, but instead acted as a portal to a part of the world of whose name is the only thing they knew.  Aside from all the technological gadgets I may try to bring into the classroom it’s really the content and the developmental appropriateness that makes a lesson succeed or fall short.  Because my students and I have genuine conversations with mutual interest and respect I can trust their answers to be true and not something they think I want to hear.

Doing the lesson over I would have liked to have more students in the room.  I couldn’t have used my iPads because that would incite a tug-of-war over who gets to use them.  Had I more resources it would’ve been great to bring in an authentic food or beverage that’s unique to Costa Rica, even if it’s a drink I have to make from a packet of powder.

Given the anomaly of a circumstance I was in the lesson went pretty well.  That class period itself is pretty bright once they settle down and realize we can get much further without any classroom management issues, but that doesn’t happen too often.  It was enjoyable, I’m glad I didn’t crack under pressure, and I was so proud of my students when they were told they were being observed along with me because they were the caring, honest students they always are.

WebQuests…Antiquated and Outdated?

I am not a fan of WebQuests.  They were something that had a grandiose allure during my first few years of teaching but that’s when I grappled for lessons and thought, ‘might as well stick them in front of a computer so they don’t have to face me!’  I created one for Día de los muertos a while back but the links are dead and I haven’t updated it.  At all.  It was actually sitting below a pile of papers in my file cabinet.  That’s right, I didn’t have that drawer organized with little nifty hanging folders; everything has been haphazardly tossed in and the drawer quickly slammed shut.

Back to the Quests.  Even the name sounds so…pirate.  “I bequeath you to explore the ravages of the Web in my QUEST.”  How lame!  I’m not discrediting Bernie Dodge’s life work on this stuff, but I just don’t think they are worthwhile activities, not when the advent of technology is proclaiming that we do so much more in many different ways.

An issue I often find in even sitting a child down in front of a computer to do a search (whether WebQuest-related or not) is that they always, always, ALWAYS type the URL in a search box.  They hardly never actually click in the address bar to begin the assignment.  It drives me up the wall and I wonder who ever taught them their introductory lessons on using the Web.  It’s almost as if there has been this culture of helpless spellers that’s evolved from middle school and the results are what I see in high school.  They don’t care to ensure accuracy of the letters they type so they’ll click through the links from the results of a Google search until they see the same visual site as the teacher (me) showed them before going to the lab.  I saw this with Dropbox.  DROP.BOX.  It’s not hard.  Yet I saw every single screen with the glaring Google search results and they clicked through everything from YouTube tutorials to the actual signup page.  Infuriated is not the word to explain how I felt on the inside but I am a master of composure and held it together.

Last time I tried doing a WebQuest with any students was at least four years ago.  I watched as they aimlessly Googled the title of the Web page as I had it typed out and would raise their hand to tell me they couldn’t find the page.  This is even when I had a simple URL available right next to the title.  I think I ended up doing that WebQuest twice and have stored it carelessly in my file cabinet ever since.

For reasons unbeknownst to myself I decided to register on the official page for such activities, QuestGarden.  It was there that I actually found a minute amount of Quests that I quickly put into a .zip file to store for later evaluation.  While scrolling through the myriad of titles and examining those that seemed remotely interesting, I couldn’t help but notice just how verbose these activities were!  I mean, the layout itself seems simple: Intro, Task, Process, blah blah blah.  It was clicking through the Task and Process part that I really felt like a student drowning in the Comic Sans (I HATE that) font, with an obliteration of details and instructions in paragraph form.  If I were lucky there was a picture or two somewhere in the whole thing to spice it up a bit, but not really.

Who are these WebQuests for?  What are they teaching?  It’s almost an exercise in reading comprehension for the instructions, let alone doing the actual research for the content.  The assumption is that the students know how to wade through the pages they are visiting, especially those being brought to Wikipedia, so that precious class time is not wasted with kids squinting trying to find a few site words or the “right answer.”

In my experience there is SO MUCH more to the digital classroom than to do a WebQuest.  It will be something I use only if I cannot articulate or present the information well enough to meet my own objectives.  If that’s the case, God help me that I have the patience to tolerate myself during WebQuest instructions, processes, and evaluations.

Gooooooooo(g)l(e)!!!

Sorry if you cannot interpret the wordplay of my title. In the Hispanic culture one common interjection is the ever-quoted, “gooooooooool!” The broadcasters are usually shouting in excitement when the favored soccer team scores. Even in the regular season soccer games are revered with as much fervor and good-natured rivalry as in the playoffs for the World Cup. The tie-in here (no pun intended) is that after taking a more in-depth look at the Google suite of apps and tools I feel they’ve created a brand that will be uncontested for a long time to come.

The synchronization offered not only between its own native applications but also across devices is a major draw from the average consumer to the well-rounded businessman. Google’s Gmail is the most popular email client on the market, only recently being rivaled by Microsoft’s Outlook. The personal customization and ties to Google Tasks and Google Calendar make it easy to commit as to avoid checking multiple sources for one’s daily to-dos. Aside from the quotidian uses of mail and calendar Google offers something much more for educators, specifically, which can be found on its Google for Educators page. It was on this page that I was suddenly struck with a sense of urgency; an additional purpose to this path on which I’m seeking to expand my proficiency with technology and applications as a fundamental resource for our day-to-day.

What drew me in and piqued my interest was the idea of becoming a Google educator. At first glance it sounded like any other quick watch-this-webinar certification that I would’ve quickly passed by. I’m glad I took the time to read further because — man! — there are some serious qualifications involved to even become a considered candidate. There is an exam involved that can only be passed after either extensive use and experience in the Google suite (and studying helps, too) along with a video submission utilizing technology in a way that proves initiative and motivation are evident and will propel education in the right direction.  There was actually a webinar I was planning on attending that was led by someone being touted as a Google Educator.  In any other circumstance that wouldn’t have made me bat an eye, but now that I know it’s a prestigious select few with that title I find myself suddenly interested in what this guy has to say.

Seven years ago when I started my position at my school I toyed with the idea of using Google Earth in one of my lessons.  Wouldn’t it be cool if they could see the Alhambra?  Well, it got only as far as that thought but now that I’ve become more astute with my technological tinkerings it seems now is no better time to mobilize that idea again.  I could literally go on an on about the Google suite (strike me down, too, as I’m an avid Apple user), but let me get my feet soaked – instead of just wet – with these new toys so I can really give you the lay of the land.

Stay tuned!