Reflections of Blending English and Technology in the Classroom

Posts Tagged ‘BCLUW

#Iowaish – Connecting Iowa and Sweden

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What began as an off -the- cuff request on twitter has snowballed into a collaborative project connecting BCLUW AP Literature students with students from The International School of Helsingborg in Sweden. Each year I teach Albert Camus’s “The Stranger” and struggle through the lecture, questions, and discussions over Existentialism. At the beginning of the school year I met John Noonan a philosophy teacher in Sweden. I approached him for help and a possible guest lecture spot, but after many discussions we decided to connect our students for a collaborative lesson.

Starting in early October, students have connected through twitter(using the hashtag #iowaish), blogs, and Skype.  October 12, will be the first face to face meeting between the two schools. Throughout the next couple of weeks, students will identify characteristics of Existentialism, participate in a Skype video lecture on Existentialism given by Mr. Noonan, and apply their understanding of the philosophy to discussions, readings, and blogs. In November, students will be placed in small groups with members from both the BCLUW AP Literature class and ISH Philosophy class. Collaboratively, they will defend an argument based off of a question posed by myself and Mr. Noonan. A debate will conclude the project.

The 2009 -2010 school year was the first year of the BCLUW 1:1 laptop initiative. The ISH is also a 1:1 laptop school, making the collaboration and connection accessible outside of the walls of the school and hours of the typical school day. Having an opportunity to collaborate with students other than their normal peers, plus with a diverse group such as the one found in Mr. Noonan’s International School, cultivates an understanding of different countries, cultures and opinions. The collaboration increases the writing, speaking and debate skills of the students by constructing an audience other than the typical teacher they interact with daily. The project has already exceeded expectations and the students are looking forward to future connections and the final project.
I will update this blog periodically with our progress!

Written by sfarnsworth

October 12, 2010 at 3:26 am

Connecting Students through Video Project

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Every year I teach “The Lady or the Tiger” by Stockton. I use this piece as part of my short story unit; the ending leaves the final decision up to the reader. This ambiguity provides the perfect opportunity to teach narrator and voice. I have the students write their own endings blending their imagination with elevated vocabulary and a consistent voice that parallels the piece. Last year I took this lesson a step further with the new laptops our students now used in all classrooms. After the endings were written, they broke into small groups and selected one to create as a silent video. They could only use music, sound effects, and text. Their actions and minimal words had to convey the intent to the audience.

This year we did the same reading and project but with a slight twist. We partnered with a Van Meter freshman class who was also reading the same story. I still had the kids write their endings, form small groups and select one, but instead of creating a video from their own writing they exchanged with their counter group in Van Meter. They students were excited about the collaboration and it showed in their stellar projects. Finally, a Voice Thread was created to share final projects between the two schools. Voice Thread allows the students to leave comments in various forms and it was quite simple to upload multiple videos.

Students this year were more conscious about their writing knowing that it was going to be read by and performed by people outside of their own school. They also enjoyed the ideas that emerged from the other students, had fun collaborating and creating a final projects, and were anxious to see how the other students interpreted their writing.

Although it took a little extra time for Shawn Hyer and I to develop this lesson, the benefits were great, the students were excited and engaged, and this story will forever be something they remember because of the interaction they had with the piece.

Written by sfarnsworth

September 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Blogging Community

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This summer I started my own blog with the intent on having my senior Creative Writing class blog throughout the semester on a topic of their choice. What started off as a collaboration with one teacher and school, Shawn Hyer from Van Meter, has grown to include 2 other schools and interest from a couple more. Currently Erin Olson from Sioux Centeral,  Mike Richman from MNW, Shawn and I  have embarked on connecting our students to create an interest in writing. Providing a real audience containing more members than the teacher and modeling effective response has helped create a community of young writers. Although purpose and grading may differ amongst the 4 teachers, engaging students, inspiring writers, and connecting kids through writing are the emerging benefits witnessed so far.

What we did:

1. Established a purpose and shared vision for a blogging community,

2. Created a Google Doc that was shared with all students. Students linked their blogs, and wrote a phrase describing their focus. This allows all students access to all the blogs 24/7.

3.  Set our own individual class blogging requirements.

4. Provided examples of blogs to students, links for consideration, guidance.

5. Explored WordPress and Blogger.

6. Modeled Response.

7. Gave them time to write.

Last week a few students and I google video chatted Mr. Richman’s freshmen class to answer questions and create excitement for the project. As I sat and listened to my students speak I beamed with pride. I had the typical ones who loved to write and have found enjoyment creating their blogs and connecting. The most satisfying comments came from my student Zach. He told me with certainty on the first day of class he hated writing and would hate this class – he is now singing a different tune. He has  multiple posts, written more than previous years, and has no problem admitting he was wrong -he enjoys the class. He loves the interaction with others, is constantly posting and responding to blogs and is going to present with me at an upcoming conference. The best part is, he is one of many students that have a similar story.

Blogging alone is a great place for students to write, reflect, and learn; but building a community of student bloggers who interact with each other regularly provides a purpose, audience and a connection that was lacking in my previous years.

Written by sfarnsworth

September 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Posted in 1:1 School, Students, Writing

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Pleasant Surprise

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Tuesday marked the beginning of my sprint, not literally, but metaphorically. Along with introducing high school to the freshmen, I now was in a race to catch them up with all of the essential skills needed to manipulate their new classroom tool – the laptop. I started off basic – photobooth, to ichat, to transferring documents. That is where I lost them. By the end of my first freshmen class, I was frazzled; half of the students had the rules I transferred, and half were still trying to figure out how to access their downloads. At the end of the day I was exhausted, even after the extra help that showed up in my other two freshmen classes (some of the seniors I recruited who had study hall). I smiled, the only thing I could do to keep from crying, and realized how little the freshmen actually knew about technology. Sure, they all used it everyday, but they used technology to listen to music, facebook their friends, or search the internet. I had a lot to teach them to maximize the learning for the rest of the year. Wednesday started, and in bounced the freshmen, excited to come to class, eagerly unpacking their laptops. Today we would move to organization and manipulating a Pages document. I was about to begin the lesson when a student raised his hand and asked to share an i-movie he created the night before. Shocked, because we hadn’t even touched upon that application yet, I agreed and sat back as he hooked up his computer to the projector.

Wednesday I left with a smile and a new inspiration for a post!

Written by sfarnsworth

August 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Posted in 1:1 School, Students

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Last week I started following and connecting with enpsteacher on Twitter. Reflection on an interaction we had has led to the post you are now reading. We were discussing how to assess student creativity on assignments/projects with thenerdyteacher when enpsteacher suggested a category on a student rubric labeled as “go all out” . This “go all out” category would be difficult to assess yes, but aren’t most of the things we grade subjective? #GOALLOUT began morphing into more than just a measure of creativity on a rubric and at the end of the exchange  we decided to adopt the slogan as our motto for the year. #GOALLOUT would be the focus for teachers, students, and administrators – producing the most effective year ever on record. Although it may have originally been amusing and unintentional, I have decided to adopt this for my focus. I promise to #goallout this year – for my students and myself. I am willing to put in the hard work because I know success and effective, engaging teaching will not fall into my lap. It is not easy to be an exceptional teacher, or else everyone would be one. I do not want to be remembered by my students as a mediocre teacher, I want to be remembered as someone who has influenced their lives and made them thirst for knowledge. It is with this thirst that I will make little differences and send them out into the world to make big ones. I will be prepared, I will challenge thinking, I will engage students, and I will demand greatness. I realize that this is the only 2010-2011 school year my students will have in their lives. I will not take the easy way out and slide by with poor lessons or useless assignments; nor will I allow my students to coast through the year and end up in the same place they began. This year I will #GOALLOUT – will you?

Written by sfarnsworth

August 23, 2010 at 2:52 am

IWP – Powerful PD for All Educators

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This past July I finished Level II of the IWP (Iowa Writing Project) a branch of the NWP (National Writing Project). I am currently working on my Master of Art in English through UNI and was required to take IWP as part of the graduate requirement. Although some of the courses I have taken in my program will have little impact on my current teaching assignment, I have been forever changed personally and pedagogically by my experience with the IWP.

IWP is a member of the NWP (National Writing Project). The NWP and IWP began in the 1970s to promote writing in all grade levels, across all curriculums to increase student learning. Both also promote the professional development and reflection in teachers through writing.

I have always found creative writing difficult to teach. How does one inspire creativity in students? How do you grade/assess creative writing? I have had no problems teaching Advanced Writing and Research – using MLA as my text and modeling how I tackled research papers, students easily learned the skills necessary to complete assigned papers. Creative writing, on the other hand, was a more difficult subject to teach. Every year, for one semester, I would assign students compare/contrast, persuasive, classification, etc. papers. They would complete them, sometimes share the writing, I would grade them with my trusty rubric, then they would be tossed into the recycle bin.

Last summer I took IWP Level I and was revived with a passion to write personally and teach writing to my students. I started the school year with a toolbox of ideas and enthusiasm to try a new way of writing in my classroom. I threw out my old lessons and began anew, inspiring students with models of stellar writing, poetry, objects, locations, etc. I organized my classroom into a  workshop -style model – “Inspiration” on Monday and Wednesday, writing on Tuesday and Thursday, sharing on Friday. I allowed my students to explore multiple genres of writing, choosing the best fit for each individual topic. I modeled response – a major area that was lacking in previous years. The students wrote, created, shared, laughed, and cried. A community of writers was born, and when our class suffered a tragic loss of a student during the semester, it was their writing, his writing, their responses, and their memories that helped them heal. In fact, they graduated with a meaningful class motto – part of a piece that he had written that year. This past year had been my most successful and satisfying as an educator and I attribute it to my IWP experience. The students also found value in their writing, wrote more, and enjoyed the class. And although my focus was on the Creative Writing class that I taught, the things I learned in the IWP trickled over into all of my classes.

This year BCLUW will focus on Project Based Learning, and writing will fit seamlessly into our goals for student learning. Using the IWP instructors, BCLUW will have professional development days focused on ways to incorporate writing into the classroom. Throughout the next couple years, part of our PD days will be spent filling our toolboxes with writing strategies to help our students learn, write, read, and reflect. Throughout the year I will update this blog on the impact the PD is having on staff and students.

The NWP and IWP offer opportunities for all educators, regardless of subject and grade. My experience included a myriad of educators, from a shop teacher to an elementary teacher, writing and researching how best to incorporate writing into their own classroom. IWP has been the most powerful PD I have ever taken. It has not only changed the way that I teach, it has changed the way my students view writing and themselves as writers!

Written by sfarnsworth

July 27, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Writing

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Reflections Year 1 of BCLUW’s 1:1 Initiative

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I am an English teacher at a 1:1 high school (all students grade 9-12 have laptops provided to them by the school), and although planned to blog the entire first year of implementation, life carried me away and the year ended as quickly as it started – with no blog. Now opportunity and a little time, plus nudging from my PLN (Personal Learning Network), has brought me back to my original goal of blogging.  So here it is, number one, a frightful consideration… how will I be perceived? Will anyone even read my thoughts? How will blogging transform me as a teacher?

I begin my maiden voyage with a reflection of the first year of 1:1 (Collaborative notes from an end of year staff meeting)


1.  Each staff member found personal success with implementation in their classroom and tools for their particular curriculum area.

2.  Staff agreed that the students were responsible and took excellent care of their laptops. ( we all chuckled at the memories of  the mobile lab issues that we  used to face – not charged, missing computers, check-out nightmares)

3.  Students were more organized! Opportunity to teach appropriate use of social networks.

4.  Leveled the playing field – everyone had the same opportunities and tools.

5.  Higher level of creativity in assignments and projects.

6.  Other student leaders emerged, not just the typical ones.

7.  Less paper use.

8.  Classrooms without walls, communication with students and staff increased.

9.  Student engagement outside of regular school hours increased, especially in areas of student selected interests such as Blender, Youtube channels, etc.

10.  Finally, students commented on how it was now “fun” and “engaging” to come to school.


1.  It was difficult and scary to give up control.

2. When is the best time to use in class – not just a novelty tool, but one to enhance the learning.

3.  Learning all of the new tools available. (this is where consistent PD helps)

4.  Must be specific with expectations.

5.  Getting the students up to speed. We were surprised how much they didn’t know. (folders, labeling, cameras, audio, etc.)

6.  Planning next year’s role-out.

7.  Continuing with the same vision without losing the excitement and drive, unity in faculty, and pushing students to evaluate their usage.


Finally, the staff reflected on advice they would give to other schools interested in implementing 1:1.

1.  Visit other 1:1 schools and bring a group including – teachers, administrators, board members, and STUDENTS!

2.  Must have the infrastructure in place to support the needs of all students in every classroom. (wi-fi, projectors, etc.)

3.  Enthusiasm is contagious, don’t let a small group of nay-sayers hold back what is best for the students.

4.  Must have sustained professional development. (We are bringing Apple back this year as well)

5.  Kids are kids, they will push limits, play games, get off task, etc. but you wouldn’t take away all the books in the school because someone was reading when they weren’t supposed to, would you? Sometimes they need a break!

6.  Finally, you are still in CONTROL of what happens in your classroom – classroom management!

Written by sfarnsworth

June 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm