Archive for the 'Blended Learning' Category

Cleopatra’s Facebook

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Last night, PBS and the Folger Shakespeare Library hosted a Twitter party, a real-time online conversation about teaching Shakespeare with experts from the Folger and teachers from across the country. It was a great opportunity to connect with like-minded educators and share innovative practices, although, because it was on Twitter, the party was most definitely BYOB.

I had the opportunity to share a cool project I did two years ago, and I realized that I never actually posted the final product here. Long-time readers may remember my working with a class of sixth-grade students on Antony and Cleopatra back in the spring of 2011. The students were learning about ancient Egypt in social studies, and it was a good opportunity to make connections in ELA. We did in-class readings of selected scenes and discussed how they relate to our lives and world today.

One thing that made this project a little different was that we used an online Moodle classroom to manage our unit. This school happened to be part of two unrelated projects, one that gave the students laptops in school and another that gave them desktops at home, so it was a perfect environment to experiment with blended learning models for teaching Shakespeare. I uploaded links to the scenes and additional resources we could draw from to increase our understanding, as well as message boards for each lesson, so students could continue discussing the themes of the lesson beyond the school day.

Once we finished the play, we discussed our project. My thinking was that we would make a video. The kids thought the play was like a soap opera (and that Cleopatra was a “drama queen”!) and that seemed to be a promising thread for a while. But the more we talked about the project, the more the kids wanted to go another way. They decided that they wanted to retell the story of Antony and Cleopatra through social media, which later got refined into the idea of creating Cleopatra’s Facebook page during the events of the play. The students were too young to actually go on Facebook, so our project would be an offline mock-up.

I set up an area on the Moodle classroom where students could brainstorm ideas as well as post their favorite lines from the play. We broke up into five groups, and each was assigned a different act. Each group also designed a tableau to represent their act. Actors volunteered, and were chosen to select their preferred part by random lot. We found various locations around the school to take pictures of our tableaux and Facebook profile headshots. Our costume scheme was simple: “Romans are Red, Egyptians are Blue, Cleopatra wears White, and the snake does too.” The snake, by the way, was a real snake generously lent by the science teacher, though it made our Cleopatra skittish. The actor who played the clown had the idea that he would photobomb the earlier pictures, and then appear completely serious in the final image.

Meanwhile, other students were taking the ideas posted to the Moodle classroom by each of the groups and creating a Facebook-style narrative tracing the plot of the play. A particularly tech-savvy student volunteered to put it all together in the visual style of Facebook, which she did on her own. The final product can be seen below (click for a larger image).


Digital Shakespeare Update

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

I met with my middle-school classes on Thursday. They have finished reading the plays, and we were able put together plans for our Digital Shakespeare projects. Plans may change, and who knows what will happen as we head into test prep season, but here is where we have decided to go by the end of the year.

6th Grade The 6th grade class has decided to retell the story of Antony and Cleopatra via Cleopatra’s Facebook page. We are currently discussing what that will look like on our discussion forum, but some of the ideas discussed include status updates, wall posts, photos, and video snippets of students performing scenes from the original play that might have been “uploaded” by characters. We even have a student who knows how to create a mock-up Facebook page when all of the other work is done. This project has a lot of potential! “Marc Antony has changed his relationship status to Married. Dislike!”

7th Grade The 7th grade class is doing a stage production of Macbeth. The plan is to film each scene and create a website with embedded videos, along with student writing about the play and emendations linked from the text. Both teacher and students know this is a very ambitious project, but they have made a commitment to put the time in. If they do, this project will be phenomenal. If they don’t, or if circumstances intervene, it will be my job to make sure the end result does honor to the work they were able to put in. This is similar to a project I did with fifth-grade students years ago, but these students are a little older and the technology is so much better now. I really hope this happens.

8th Grade The 8th grade class will not be available to me much after testing season, since they typically get pulled out for various senior-related activities throughout June, but I think our idea is quite manageable in the time we have left. The students want to create a trailer for a non-existant movie version of As You Like It. Students are currently watching real movie trailers (which are easily accessible online) to notice what features they have in common. This will be one of those movie trailers you see in the theatre that tells you the whole story of the movie, so the final product will respect the play and demonstrate student comprehension as well.

I’ll continue to post updates about the projects here, and hope to share the final projects here as well. Needless to say, I’m very excited by the possibilities! Stay tuned…

Salad Days

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The sixth-graders I’m working with are studying figurative language now, so we looked at figurative language in a scene from Antony and Cleopatra. They enjoyed the “salad days” metaphor, and the exchange where Cleopatra asks her servant Mardian about what it’s like to be a eunuch.

Cleo. Hast thou affections?
Mar. Yes, gracious madam.
Cleo. Indeed!
Mar. Not in deed, madam; for I can do nothing.

In other Shakespeare teaching news, I met with the eighth-graders who are doing As You Like It, and it looks like I will be working with them after all. And I’ve also hooked up with an enthusiastic seventh-grade class that has already read Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet. It looks like I have a few online classrooms to set up.

More to come!


Friday, January 14th, 2011

I didn’t work with the kids this week on Antony and Cleopatra, so instead I offer some fun facts about the historical Cleopatra.

First of all, she wasn’t Egyptian, at least not by descent. Egypt was one of the lands that had been conquered by Alexander the Great. When Alexander died and the empire dissolved, Egypt fell into the hands of one of his generals, Ptolemy Soter.

For generations, his family ruled Egypt, with the kings carrying the name Ptolemy and the queens carrying the name Cleopatra. They remained Greek, though, and never assimilated with the Egyptian people. Isaac Asimov compares the relationship of the Egyptians to the ruling Greeks “as the natives of India once were to the ruling British.”

The last Cleopatra, our Cleopatra, was actually Cleopatra VII. She had a son with Julius Caesar, named Ptolemy Caesar (but called “Caesarion”), and several children with Marc Antony. She also married her two brothers (for political reasons) but had no children with them.

Shakespeare’s account of her death by a self-inflicted wound with a poisonous asp seems to be based in historical fact, but it was Shakespeare who changed the location of the bite to Cleopatra’s breast, rather than her arm. This added even more spectacle (and a bit of sexy) to an already epic death, and allowed the immortal line “Does thou not see the baby at my breast,/That sucks the nurse asleep?” Man, that guy could write.

Anyway, I think I’m back with the kids next week, and may even be starting the previously mentioned As You Like It project as well. Watch this space!

Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

Friday, January 7th, 2011

The Antony and Cleopatra project is going well. Yesterday, I used the play to help the sixth-grade students make connections to present-day world events.

Antony and Cleopatra takes place in the first century B.C., a time when there was one global superpower in the world. By the time of the play’s opening scene, the Romans had scooped up most of the Hellenistic nations; only Egypt remained independent. However, both Romans and Egyptians were well aware that Egypt was living in Rome’s shadow. Philo has the opening speech of the play, and his racism and entitlement are readily on display:

Nay, but this dotage of our general’s
O’erflows the measure; those his goodly eyes,
That o’er the files and musters of the war
Have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front; his captain’s heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy’s lust. Look! where they come.
Take but good note, and you shall see in him
The triple pillar of the world transform’d
Into a strumpet’s fool; behold and see.

For a rank and file Roman soldier to speak of the Egyptian queen as “tawny” and a “strumpet” sets the tone for a world where there is an unequal balance of power.

Today, there is once again a single global superpower in the world, but that has only been true for the past twenty years. In fact, there have only been a handful of unchallenged superpowers in world history. (The Macedonians and the Mongols are the other two that come to mind. Others?) Therefore, this play offers a unique opportunity to explore power dynamics in our present world community.

How does it affect the world when there is one dominant superpower? What opportunities does that country have? What are its responsibilities in the world? How did Rome handle its power? How does the United States handle its power?

We had a fantastic conversation, and I think the students have a new lens for viewing both the play and world affairs.

There is only one posting to the message board, but I’m patient. And it looks like I am going to be working with an eighth-grade class on As You Like It asynchronously. I’ll be meeting with them the week after next, but most of our interactions will be online. Watch this space for updates!

UPDATE (That was fast): I’ve just added an Antony and Cleopatra category, so you can follow along with the project.

Blended Learning

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

I’ve just added a new category called “Blended Learning” which is something I’ll likely be writing about in the next few months. Blended learning, for us, will refer to a learning model that consists of any combination of traditional face-to-face instruction with technology-enabled learning that takes place outside of the regularly structured school day.

The reason that I’ll be writing about this is that I’m currently working with a school that is part of the NYC Connected Learning program. All of the 6th grade students in the school have been given desktop computers to take home, as well as free broadband access to the Internet. The school is already using the Moodle online learning management system, so we have a real opportunity to leverage this powerful tool to extend learning beyond the school day.

I am currently setting up an online classroom for a 6th grade class on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The space is private for the students and other invited members of the school community. I can post documents, links, and message boards for the students. I will have limited opportunities to work with them in person, so this will truly be a blended learning model. I may also be setting up an online classroom for 8th grade students studying As You Like It who I may not even be working with in person at all. (This would still count as blended learning, as they would be studying the play in class.)

Do you have any suggestions about what I should include in the online classrooms?

Question of the Week

Monday, January 11th, 2010

The recent discussion about teaching information literacy skills on this post got me thinking about how our students would evaluate different sources of information. I’d like to do a version of this exercise, but with our students in mind.

I will list ten sources that a high school student might encounter, and I’d like you to consider their relative reliability on the topic of, let’s say, the American civil rights movement. That is, if a high school student received conflicting information from two of these sources, which source should be given the greater weight?

A. A 2010 high-school American history textbook.

B. A book on the American civil rights movement from the public library, published in 1991.

C. A high-school commencement speech, given by a well-known community activist.

D. A high-school English teacher who has been teaching American literature for twenty years.

E. A high-school social studies teacher who has been teaching American history for six years.

F. A television interview with a university history professor, who specializes in European history from 1700 to the present.

G. A website on American history maintained by a college junior majoring in American history, with a professional-looking design, well-organized information, and a straightforward writing style.

H. A website on American history maintained by a graduate student majoring in American history, with little in the way of graphic design or organization, but with well-written and insightful text.

I. A website on civil rights maintained by a well-known citizen activist organization.

J. A Wikipedia entry with no controversy alerts.

Once again, I have lettered them instead of numbering them because you may wish to rank some or all of these ten sources in order from most reliable to least reliable.

And I do realize that it may not even be possible to definitively rank these sources (especially since my sources are much vaguer than they were last time), but the exercise might help structure your thinking about what reliability means to a teenager, who may not always be encouraged to question what has been presented as authority. Whether you post your rankings or not, your contribution to the discussion is welcome.

And I’ll get the ball rolling by saying that I think Wikipedia gets a bad rap. Yes, you can certainly list incorrect information that has been found on the website, either through honest mistakes or the deliberate promoting of an agenda. But can you show me which of the other nine items on the list above doesn’t suffer from the same problem? With that said…

Where can high school students find reliable information?

The Google List

Monday, January 4th, 2010

I’m currently working on a project with eighth-graders who are learning about civil rights. The other day, we were talking about Rosa Parks. I told them that she wasn’t just some random bus passenger who was too tired to move, but rather (and more impressively) an experienced protester who allowed herself to get arrested on purpose. This surprised the students, who then wanted to know – if that was true – why all of their other teachers had told them otherwise. I said that their other teachers probably heard the story that way, as this is a well-circulated account of what happened.

As an example, I mentioned that it was a popular myth that Columbus proved the earth was round. This time, it was one of the other adults in the room who challenged me on this. I told the students that they didn’t have to believe anything was true, just because I said it was. They could put it on their Google List.

When I visit this class, the teachers asks me if the students should take notes. I encourage the students to keep a Google List. If we broach a topic we don’t have time to cover fully, you put it on the Google List. If there are questions I didn’t have time to answer, or didn’t know the answer, you put it on the Google List. If something I say doesn’t ring true, or contradicts what you already believe, you put it on the Google List. In the Information Age, there’s no reason that learning needs to be completely guided by the teacher, or that it needs to stop when the bell rings.

When I was in graduate school, I kept a “Library List” with me during my classes, so when a professor brought up a reference I didn’t know, I could go to the library and look it up. For me, that’s who these questions were addressed Before Google. What a difference the Internet has made! Today, I’m all over Google (and Wikipedia, actually), expanding my knowledge and filling in gaps on a daily basis. These are real 21st century skills. We should be encouraging our students to develop them.

Cognitive Surplus

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Clay Shirky has a posting well worth reading about the changing nature of how we spend our time. You should really read the whole thing, but I think his point is well summed up by his reaction to a television producer when he was explaining to her how Wikipedia works:

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

The producer still just thought it all a fad, but Shirky would soon have an experience that’s hard to dismiss.

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, “Looking for the mouse.”

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

The thing is that this change in our culture is more than just about our attitudes towards media or technology. Students are going to be coming to school expecting a more self-directed, interactive form of learning than we’ve been giving them. They won’t wait to be given permission to publish their writing or participate in their democracy. We need to make sure that school is a place where they can learn to acquire information more efficiently and express themselves more effectively, not a place where they are stifled in their attempts to do so.

I don’t think we’re quite there yet.


Sunday, December 16th, 2007

This blog just reached 10,000 hits. Huzzah! Huzzah! That’s 20,000 eyeballs! I guess it’s time to break out the cake and SiteMeter counter.

For the record, the 10,000th hit came in at 1:22pm today via a link from an English teacher’s webpage at Xavier High School, right here in New York City. The teacher is a former graduate student of mine. So here’s a big shout out to Mr. Cambras and his 9th and 10th grade students who I see are studying Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth. (…and some other good stuff, too.) Welcome to all.

If this blog teaches you nothing else, it’s that studying great works of literature will allow you to take the letters from passages in those great works of literature, mix them around, and form new pieces of writing that kind of relate back to the original passage. And if you do that, then eventually 10,000 people will come to see them.