Friday, November 11, 2005

CESC Projects--getting it right

2 weeks ago, students were using FLE knowledge building to develop their knowledge of Uneven heating. I felt they needed something to focus them on getting it right so I gave them a project in which they would need the knowledge. Well, I think that was a good idea.

So, it was wide open, what project? I thought of: "comparison" and "characteristics of", products. So then I figured that doing a web page would be a fine way to do these. Good choice. Well, then I made a template for each product and when I tried to put them on my plone site, important parts were 'stripped-off'. I couldn't do color, large fonts or most importantly, there were no visible borders on the tables in the view state. Oh boy. Things didn't look clear without the borders so then I tried to figure out how to get the lines visible. That was on Friday when I found out this problem.

I never thought it would be this hard to do something basic! As the days passed, I was unable to get the grid, visible. I tried 'meanwhile' lessons using appleworks documents and boy do I hate appleworks. crummy crummy crummy. It probably would have been OK with a full strength suite but their tables are weak.

So, there were issues with with the mechanics of the product. But that wasn't all... Now, how am I going to have a team of 3-4 students with 2 computers available between them make a single, challenging, appleworks document? I tried many arrangements. First, I tried to explain this multi-faceted project and how to do it. Not fun for students nor I, and it was not successful. I first gave student tables a choice of the 2 projects and that was too hard--used up too much time and most didn't get what they wanted.

The next class I assigned them their task and that was OK. But it was still too hard. The next day I started over, almost. And tried 'expert grouping' ie jigsaw puzzle style. That didn't work well because it was confusing how to group students because there were 2 different products with different ways to break up the roles and besides it wasn't clear what the roles should be. I dropped that idea after first period! As the classes/days progressed I slowly got things right. The next step was clearly assigning roles for the project but still that was too hard and besides how were they going to integrate their work into 1 document?

And, I couldn't seem to get them to collaborate on the project! So, the whole point was being lost. Also, at first I wanted them to find their own images, pages and links. By the end of the week I had them use photos from a shared folder on the network!

Well, by the last period of the week I finally got it right! At each table, 1 computer was responsible for getting the images and deciding where they should go on the grid. The other computer then would insert these images into the correct cells. When they finally got this, I started to get questions like, 'which picture shows this concept the best'! At that point they were ready to process the concepts. So, instead of parallel processing on this project, there was a kind of give-and-take serial process. Interesting... Will I find this true in general when I have teams of students collaborating on a single product? Is that what Jamming will be good for? I'll see...

Monday, October 03, 2005

5 minutes after first CE class of the year

AM 8:50 I'm pumped, shocked and busy. I can't believe that I so quickly got things going in the class this year considering new classrom, students, school and so many hardware issues. I got things working on Friday, and today is the first moment of class use.

I just used them in my reading class, ironically, and it went OK. Kids were excited to finally use those cool things in front of them under the glass ports.
Went well: New, "homebase position"-- (ran out of time--this is now being written 9 hours later and it aint so fresh) esp. the point about space for the heat to leave the computer area. Having students put things back into the homebase position at the end of class felt like them being stewards, not simply workers.

Their task got them onto wikitionary and I think it might have been a bit of too wide open seas for them. The cooperative aspect of discussing the definition and seeing which one works best in the context of the book was too authentic. I needed to start out with something a bit more contrived so I could focus on either the cooperative aspect of: sharing ideas, testing fits, working on win-win decisions; the conceptual aspect of: using the wikimedia interface--knowing the difference between the different kinds of word qualifiers--knowing how to hypothesize and test fits of concept to the actual context. OK etc etc so this wasn't my best activity. Anyway, students are introduced to the concept of the service as well as a couple of the challenges of using the site and that is good, and they got a chance to reflect on the class.

Now, moving on to Science Class--I'll have to write this at a time more immediate to the actual teaching. Manana...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Starting to craft my class

Adding 1 components to a system, especially a major one, changes everything. So, with the addition of FLE3 how do I do labs? lectures? class discussions? Perhaps more importantly, how will I contextualize these old activities? I've tried to create a self-sustaining constructivist environment, but this aint no easy deal. Sure, some days or some lessons go great, but keeping the log burning is hard.

I have high hopes for what FLE3 can help me do. I want that to be the center of students program. It will create the context for everything else. Let me work through this... I show students some cool video/movie about the topic of study. I show them some dissonant event, they experience directly the topic of study. Somehow I must get them focused in the right direction with some data, story, or whatever. From there, they will write question as they come to their mind.

What do I do with this interest and this body of questions? Somehow I must get these questions organized around the cognitive goals of the course. In the "Interrogative Model of Inquiry" by Jaakko Hintikka and Matti Sintonen I need us--the class--to focus on the 'big questions' the explanation-seeking kind. Starting with this level of question will help bound the conceptual space (does this question help us understand the big question?). I like that. Perhaps I will create the big questions based on the cognitive goals, then students will write their questions on sentence-strips and then cluster them around the big question they lean towards. Questions that didn't seem to head towards any of the big questions could be in an, 'interesting other questions' or some such.

I wonder if putting the questions on a synchronously edited map using Cmap software might be a better ideas since I don't even have a bulletin board in my new room! I must be careful using correct names for the different 'bubble maps'. Anyway, this could be a cool way with me coming up with the big questions, based on the different parts of the curriculum, students clustering their lower level, more factual questions around them. Then, each one of the lower level questions could become a FLE3 thread-starter. This might lead to a way to integrate lessons into a FLE mediated Inquiry. I know these kids like leading their own inquiry and I know they like structure and predictability--maybe FLE3 on certain days and the whole panoply of lessons on certain other days... I don't know, I don't think I like it, but it would help me, too, to provide some structure to my activities...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Why this Blog?

This blog is for me. I need to think about how I'm going to create my, 'computer-enabled science classroom' this year. And unfortunately there is a dearth of people with whom to help me reflect on this to the depths to which I need. Additionally, this will serve as a journal of where I've been and what I've thought on this topic, certainly useful things to me irrespective of whether I get alzeimers soon or not. If wayward surfers happen upon this page, well, you're forwarned...

What is a 'Computer-Enabled Science Classroom' or CESC? It's something I dreamed up in the spring of 1994 when I visited Saturn School in St. Paul. There I saw these funny/sorta cool student desks with Mac SE 30's couched under them such that the screen was visible through a glass port in the desk top. I really loved the idea of the resources of a computer, un-restrictively available to the science learner. My change in the infrastructure idea was simply to put a computer not in a 1 person table, but to place 2 computers under a 4 person table. Of course the idea wasn't birthed, full-form at that point at all. It was in 1999 that I wrote a grant proposal for this CESC to Medtronic Foundation which they funded. I built the tables that summer and fall 1999 I had 12 computers slung under 6 tables.

To make a long story, short, over the last 5 years I've had lots of experience working with this system. And unfortunately for myself and many others, there has been little stability in programs here in Minneapolis, I've had to change schools twice, each time because my school was being closed! This year I'm at a new school, once again I chose a school with 90% + students who received free and reduced lunches. It is a program that is only 4 years old and so is still developing... I have high hopes for this program as I think it has a good administrator. I figure if I can get the CESC constructivistically working in a middle school such as this, I can get it to work anywhere...

The othere issue I've had is that my LAN server has been problematic for me, an overworked science teacher. After burn-out 100+ hours EACH year, I finally get the network running properly. Thus, I haven't been able to use the LAN as I've wanted until Jan. or Feb. of each year!!! That is so frustrating I can barely believe it. Again, I have hopes this year of getting it working before the students get there. I will NOT upgrade to Mac OS X 10.4 server this year... I hope the changeip script works and I won't have to re-load server software... Anyway, let's assume I'll have the computers up and running in 2 weeks on the first day of classes. How can computers enable science learning in my classroom, this year?