If anyone has ever watched the disturbing, but motivational and strangely moving video "Did You Know," then you may be like me at this tail end of the winter break: a bit scattered.

Two versions of Did You Know?
1. Version 1
2. Version 2

Mid-way through my fifth year of teaching, a lot of my practice has plateaued. I'm certainly not a master teacher yet, but I have excellent classroom management (despite class sizes averaging 35-37 sixth graders), I have adopted a fluid style that incorporates traditionally effective approaches (model, model, model ->guided practice -> independent practice -> extended learning), etc. and I am now facing down a new series of challenges.

Specifically, I am trying to move my English and History classes into a more cross-curricular direction on one front, while at the same time create overarching units of study that provide students the opportunity to self-select topics for study based on interest and pursue them deeply (my dream would be for students to create every writing product for their own topics: e.g. a student loves airplanes. They hit multiple English standards, all using airplanes as their filter: persuasive essay about airplanes, sonnet about airplanes, research paper about airplanes, biography of a famous aviator, compare and contrast essay about two airplanes, etc.).

Simultaneous to the new challenges, I am becoming more adept at using my SmartBoard and having students create iMovies and podcasts. But even these relatively straightforward uses of technology can be complicated with overcrowded classrooms. Our computer carts only have 20 laptops each. I only have one dedicated iMac in my classroom. Logistics confound.

So as next Monday looms, I sit at a big table full of ungraded essays and stare at a blank piece of paper. I sketch flow charts and idea webs for a unit I am planning: the students will be writing a research paper in English class in support of their Science Fair project, to be completed with my partner teacher. Next to my sloppy outlines and barely legible notes, I keep writing over and over, Independent Learning. I know what it feels like in my imagination. But I'm still trying to figure out what it will look like in the classroom. In my classroom. Perhaps, like much of teaching, it will only come from the doing. It will have to be messy and alive and get kicked around a bit. This is middle school, after all.

Views: 37

Comment by Antwon Lincoln on January 5, 2009 at 5:47pm
Wow...ok. Not only are you a great writer, you bring up some interesting issues. It is hard to do what we do with the limits that we have. Sometime I ask myself can education really expect to keep up with the world? Is it really possible for us to Leave No Child Behind? I wonder myself.

André Gide, the French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, once said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Technology is a new ocean that goes much deeper than the desire to have the latest and greatest technology stuff. The depth of what you do can’t be measured by what people see on the surface. It is deeper than that.

So jump in!

I wish you lots of success on Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, and so forth.

I leave you with my Monday morning video and my Friday afternoon moment of peace Do You Believe In Me?

Whatever you do believe in the students as they believe in you!

Confessions of a Technology Leader Podcast
Comment by Robert Barker on January 5, 2009 at 5:55pm
Thanks so much Antwon. I take comfort from the Gide quote. And I appreciate your collegiality. Onward!
Comment by Nancy Bosch on January 5, 2009 at 6:46pm
hmmmm---you sound like you are on to something and it sounds pretty darn exciting. Some ideas--start at the end and work backwards, what do you want to the kids to know, understand, or be able to do? Once that is decided what do you want the "deliverable" to be? A book? a wiki? podcasts? a website? a video? Devise a rotating schedule for your computers so some days one group is reading, one group writing, one group using computers (even though all of those can be done with computer, you'll have to make do)

One step I sometimes overlook is the skills component---there are lots of things kids DO NOT know how to do so you have to make sure they have the skills to do the task. Once you know where you want to end up, what you want them to "make" and you're sure they have the skills you are ready to go.

Here are several project examples we've done that have millions of components and are cross curricular--there is enough work for everybody. In Titanic in the Classroom we used the original documents to study the Titanic disaster and the passengers and crew. Each kid researched a person, wrote a biographical sketch and did a podcast as the person. We used the data to answer some big questions, studied the scientific components, and used an online timeline generator to do a comprehensive timeline. The year before we did CSI:Cemetery Scene Investigation---same type of involvement. One of my favorites was a cross curricular study we did on Leonardo DaVinci . Maybe that would give you an idea of the kind of project you could do.

PS I knew nothing (!) about these topics before I started writing the curriculum. Be brave!
Comment by Johnathan Chase on January 5, 2009 at 7:07pm
Songs are perfect for writing assignments combining English/History and character education...

"Heart of the Matter"


"Standing Outside the Fire"

"Yes We Can"
Comment by Robert Barker on January 5, 2009 at 7:15pm
Thanks for the ideas!
Re: working backwards: I am a big fan of UbD (Understanding by Design - Grant, Wiggins).
If anyone out there is using UbD, I would love to discuss.
Comment by Nancy Bosch on January 5, 2009 at 7:26pm
Do you read Dan Meyer's blog? He's a math guy but there have been some great discussions about curriculum (and design).
Comment by Nancy Bosch on January 5, 2009 at 7:29pm
You should have posted your blog post as a discussion, you'll get a lot more traffic.
Comment by Peter Lane on January 5, 2009 at 9:25pm
Robert, You ended with this sentence: "It will have to be messy and alive and get kicked around a bit. This is middle school, after all." Thank you for so eloquently reminding me of the beauty of middle school. I can't wait to get back into the classroom tomorrow to get "messy" with wikis and middle school students.
Comment by Robert Barker on January 5, 2009 at 10:59pm
Thanks for that, Peter. I checked out your blog and wiki. Inspiring. I will watch and learn as you grow those sites.


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