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What to Really Do for the First Day Of School: a List for the Practical Teacher

IMG_20161213_155131 - CopyEvery teacher I know is playing their first day out- whether with the experience of last year fresh in mind or the optimism of the very first year ahead.   I quite enjoy the anticipation; it forces me to reflect on last year’s good intentions, last year’s “what worked and what did not work” so to speak.  I’m also a goal-orientated educator; articulating objectives or reflecting on past practices helps set the tone for the year ahead.  And, since I have a captive audience, I’m adding my list to the millions of other posted lists about the first days of school.  Only this list is the real list; the list of things you most need to do.  After twelve years of teaching, this is the list that works for me.  

  1. Eat breakfast. Even a small one.  This may sound like practical advice more than teaching advice.  Eat breakfast.  I spent many a school year running out the door without something in my stomach.  I spent many a school year wondering why my mornings just didn’t run as smoothly as my afternoons.  The one thing I did last year that change everything: breakfast.  Even if it was on the go, I had something prepared in my stomach every day.  Soon, I was up early so I could eat breakfast which means I was in my room a little bit earlier and I was in a great mood to attack the day.  It’s the same for students as it is for teachers- a little breakfast goes a long way.  Before I knew it, I was a morning person.  This year, I was gifted a kerig machine for my classroom and I’m tempted.  Very skeptical, but tempted; after I do number 3, I may add it to my classroom tech arsenal.
  2. Have templates, will use.   My teacher mentor from years ago gave me one of the best gifts: a collection of templates.  Have a student who has been absent and needs a reminder to check in? I have a template for that email.  Need to contact a parent about a student update? I have a template for that email. Need to update class on snow day make up work? I even have a template for that email.  Figure out what you need for the year and create those before the first day.  Leave room to make them personal (I do not make templates for feedback or comments in a gradebook) but efficient. I have a template for the first email to all parents that I modify depending on the year.  I use my absent student one all the time. Keep these electronically; mine live in my OneNote Teacher notebook in word doc form.
  3. Clean your room.  I sound like my mother who insisted that you really couldn’t do anything in a messy environment.  She’s right; last year I opted to clean my room before leaving for the summer.  I really spent time thinking about how the space was used (turns out I don’t need an extra bookcase for supplies) and how I want it to be used (I moved the lending library near the door- students grab and go with ease).  I eliminated the need for a desk two years ago; it just seemed to be a collection of things I didn’t want anyway.  Now heading back, I’ve got some leftover supplies from my summer class that need a home.  I’m excited to clean the department supply cart (a solution we came up with after declaring that no one wanted to keep the same supplies in every room), and I’m using washi tape to re-organize my dry erase boards.  I’m also re-examining how to better situate technology in my very old classroom; the document camera needs a new space and I’m hoping to convince technology to re-wire my projector.  And I clean.  With Clorox. Everywhere.
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    Part of the Core: Teachers who Started the Same Year As Me

    Establish your core.  I’m not talking about exercise, at least not physical exercise.  I mean your support group, your colleague core.  If you are new to your school, reach out to the person you will most work with and establish some mutual grounds.  Email your librarian, your IT department, and your department head.  Ask questions, schedule a time to meet before the school year gets started.  I reach out to the librarians with my course syllabus; the IT department and I meet to discuss the new technology I’m implementing.  I usually lunch with a few teachers in my discipline and invite new ones.  It’s important to feel connected to a sense of community, whether that be big or small.  Teaching very much takes a village and realizing how each of us connect is a big part of student success.  Any teacher who feels like an island is never well placed for a good year; if you aren’t a fan of big groups in the lunchroom, invite others for a coffee break.  While it takes time to develop a professional learning community, it takes one coffee break to feel connected. And that’s a start, for both you and your students.

  5. Harpers_Ferry_Fall_Foliage_by_Terry_Tabb_(770px).jpgPlan your next break.  I know, school hasn’t even started and I’m suggesting planning your next break!  I learned this years ago, when teacher burnout really threatened to end my career.  Before school starts, I plan the first vacation break in the new school year.  It can be as big as a week long diving trip (oh March, you can’t come soon enough) or a small weekend get away.  Have one in mind; better yet have one planned.  You will not have time to do this during the first months of school.  It will motivate you, re-invigorate you, and absolutely sustain you.  My first trip involves Harper’s Ferry, a convenient hour away.  I have a cute bed and breakfast planned right in the middle of October when the leaves are at their best. I may bring grading along, but I will at least be resting as the first two months of school are marked down on the books.
  6. Get a haircut. Maybe a manicure.  Okay, this one is maybe not a hard fast rule, but a spirited one.  Make yourself physically ready to greet the first day.  Find a first day outfit, get a first day haircut, or treat yourself to a manicure.  When you feel your best, you will be at your best. Maybe rock that brand new purse handbag patagonia messenger.  Do something that signifies a new start.  After all, that’s exactly what a first day is, no matter how many years of teaching: a new start. This year I may do all three.
  7.  Start mapping your collaborations or projects now.  Most teachers spend a lot of their summer re-inventing their curriculum, excited about how to make it new.  I will be honest: I spend most my summer trying not to think about my curriculum.  It rarely works in entirety; by this time I have an idea about new things I’m willing to do or new projects I’d like to try.  My first project is relatively easy to start: I’m re-doing the vintage game Guess Who? for the literary classroom.  (More on that soon.)  I’m also re-thinking the science fiction elective and hoping for a buy in from the science department.  Newspaper will utilize Microsoft’s Teams this year and this week I’ve started to establish their group site.  (Remember that utilizing a new technology can sometimes be a project itself.)  I’m also re-doing a play I wrote because a student  asked to produce it this year and wondering how to package the script.  All of this really gets my brain thinking and excited for the first day!
  8. IMG_20170705_130536 - Copy.jpgBring your kitten to work.  I’m just kidding.  Probably not an advisable thing, even if your kitten is just as cute as mine.  Instead, bring a happy photo for your classroom.  Just one or two; your students don’t need your life story in pictures.  Have one photo that makes you smile on those days you may need one.  I rotate mine out- sometimes it is my mom, sometimes its a kitty picture, and sometimes it’s just pictures of cupcakes.  (I’m not kidding.)
  9. Invest in a good planner and then use it.  I’m a moleskine devotee; my planner is a red 5 by 7 moleskine notebook.  I fill it in well before the first day, even taking an hour to double check my school email for events I might have missed.  I also utilize Microsoft Outlook on my laptop as well as Google cal for my phone.  Even so, the red moleskin is my dedicated school planner.  And I love the size- I can fit it into a bag with ease, the color is quick to spot, and the binding doesn’t catch on fabric.  I take notes right next to the calendar grid which is essential in faculty staff meetings.  Trust me, if you are navigating both a calendar and a notebook during a quick meeting, you will miss things.  I highly suggest a planner that leaves you room for both.  I have my planner with me through everything but lunch.
  10. Leave room to have room.  There is such a thing as the overplanned, overscheduled teacher who has a spot for everything.  That is just not me, and I find that often times it leaves little room for collaboration or those wonderful spontaneous moments when a project just clicks with the class.  Prepare, but don’t over prepare so much that you leave no room for the grinds to grease.  Let your students help guide your curriculum; leave room for them to explore.  I’m teaching Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and intentionally leaving some room in the course schedule for discussion.  And in the event there is no discussion, it will be okay. I’m going to let them guide me that week.

Now I’m feeling like I need cupcakes, a kitten, and my course schedule completed.  Happy first day to all my teacher friends, and be sure to add to my list.  What did I miss?

 

 

 

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Notes from ISTE 2017 (or why an English Teacher Should go to a Tech Conference)

​​ISTE, or the International Society for Technology in Education is held every year nationally and this year was hosted in San Antonio, Texas. It is part conference, part massive share session, part exposition, and all teacher-student focused.  And while this is my second year in attending, every humanities teacher should attend at least one ISTE.  I was thinking about the “why” behind that statement very much during this year’s conference; how exactly does English (or humanities for that matter) fit into a growing STEM curriculum?

I’ve got five reasons in no particular order.

1. Sometimes a new idea is best found outside your comfort zone.  ​This was a good part of keynote speaker Jad Abumrad, co-creator of Radio Lab.  (And yes, I was completely fangirl about his speech!) He spoke of the need for teachers to re-think, re-know, and re-create.  And the more I think about it, some of my last year successes came from last year’s ISTE.  Some of this year’s new ideas came from this year’s ISTE.  Especially from….

2. ​The Playground is more than swings in the 21st Century.  ​Our students are living in a world where the playground is virtual or at least a mix of both the virtual and the real.  ISTE acknowledges that the best learning is understanding how they work together; the best teaching involves lessons that give students both theory and application.  And instead of listening to some amazing educators, you can go to the ISTE Playground and interact with educators, students, and even “play” with some of the new technology and curriculum developed in different schools.  My favorite “playground” this year is a three way tie. Technically, one is in the exhibition hall, which I’ll get to in number 3.  The other two share a space: Microbit and Code Academy.  Microbit is a new toy​ obsession​ microprocessor from BBC that introduces both a way to code from your phone (via their app) and coding in general across multiple platforms.  It works with Python, Java, ​Scratch and others.  And if you are new to code and want to learn, Code Academy was right next door to demonstrate their free coding classes.  I’m on my fourth one.  I’m addicted.  Grab me and I’ll tell you all about how I re-ignited my love of html (oh my angst high school blog…how I miss you and your html) and started learning CSS.  I’ve started Java, and Python is on the docket.  (And if you like learning languages or graphing sentences #nerdhere, then you will love this.)

3. The Swag to Meet all Swags: The Exhibition hall at ISTE is a claustrophic nightmare, but a great way to really get your hands on something.  Literally- exhibitionists (I couldn’t stop myself…)bring their wares/technology/software/etc to the massive room and set up shop.  This year, I studied the map before entering so I knew what vendors or peeps I wanted to meet.  It’s also a great way to get some amazing swag: I came home with a free microbit from BBC, four cool tshirts, entry access to a couple new software programs, and a hot wheels car.  Which brings me to Microsoft, my third favorite “playground.”  This year, #hackMicrosoft used their exhibition space to create a hotwheels STEM playground.  Using the retro toy ( I was totally a hotwheels girl- my parents found it a bit unnerving), they set up a station where a hotwheels car, a paperclip, a micro processor, Microsoft excel, and a race track helped you understand and measure the velocity, speed, and friction of an object in motion.  I have pictures. I am happy to share.  It was amazing.  They even had a station set up where you wrote about your experience (more on this in #5).  If you could tear yourself away from the cars (it took me 45minutes), around the corner was the nextgen of OneNote and the premiere of Microsoft teams. I’m using both in my classroom next year.

4. Who run the world? Educators​.  Last year was a bit of hit or miss for me when it came to the sessions.  This year? I couldn’t find enough time or clone myself to attend all the ones I wanted.  Every one I went to was a great way to dialogue with other educators, a way to learn how to look at curriculum a bit differently, or just a really amazing idea I’d like to adopt.  I even met one of the authors of a book I purchased in the ISTE bookstore and had an incredible conversation about the changing nature of English education and the importance of preservation.  I met librarians, English teachers, theater directors, ESL teachers, and even a few high school students who presented their digital partnership with a school in Africa. If nothing else, ISTE is an invigorating reaffirmation in the power of education and the incredible resilence of teachers.

5. How does this relate to English? At the end of the day, it’s not technology that connects us to the world or each other.  It’s not even the experience itself; it’s how we communicate our experiences, how we express our solutions, our innovations, our passions.  And where can you find that curriculum in abundance? The humanities.  Every tech/science/math teacher I met at ISTE argued that the humanities have never been more needed.  Every Microsoft developer I spoke with (and there are surprising quite a few at ISTE) emphasized how important communication, critical thinking, divergent thinking, and even empathy were core values to their company.  I’m not just learning to code because it’s fun; I’m learning a different way to communicate albeit with a program.  And then, I’m writing about that experience to a very human audience.  Yet, our students have trouble transfering their very applicable English skills to the STEM classroom.  My theory? If we don’t see STEM/STEAM as an interdisciplanary collaboration with the humanities, if we don’t practice and work in tangent with other departments, then how can we expect them to do the same?  My own ruminations on this have motivated me to re-invent my science fiction course.  Even more so, I would love to see every school embrace a creative non-fiction class where students would learn how to respond, react, and even collaborate with a very interdisciplinary reality. And that is really the new reality.

So yea.  Go to ISTE.

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Life is Not a Solo Act. [Nor is teaching.]

My 11th grade English teacher had one motto and one motto only for nearly every inquiry or sought after advice: life is not a solo act.  A high school me understood that as the importance of friends but, while a true sentiment, not quite how I understand that motto now.  In fact, my previous understanding rings a bit false; we all need friends but that doesn’t always guarantee you are not a solo act.  Friends are often our most forgiving audience.  No- I think Mrs. Isenhour’s motto was about something slightly different than friendship, something the adult me recognizes immediately as a cornerstone of many successful relationships: collaboration.

Teachers are the stuff of collaboration.  The vocation almost demands it, whether collaborating with a student to master an objective, working with another teacher to develop interesting curriculum, or simply attending professional development with a team.  Collaboration might be my favorite thing about teaching, especially any collaboration that allows for interdisciplinary design. And if by chance lunch happens at a table with a diverse crowd, collaboration can be organic as it was the day Ms. Mattox introduced Dr. Ward and I to Kara Walker, a silhouette artist that focuses on the American South as a medium. We spent lunch discussing visual arts and the profound effect visuals have in moving others into action or reflection. And later, when meeting in the Madeira art studio to view Walker’s work, I could easily see the Southern Gothic influence in her art and I couldn’t help but recall the Gothic module in the American Literature curriculum.

It’s very tempting to write an entire diatribe about the Gothic tendencies in the Puritans and the arguably unavoidable connection to a Gothic inheritance in antebellum Southern society, exactly as we did that day.  I’ll spare the reader this in service of staying on topic.

Gothic3What happened next is, quite frankly, my favorite collaboration of this year.  Using Walker’s medium, Ms. Mattox, Dr. Ward and I crafted a project for the Gothic module in which I am affectionately calling “A Light in the Night.” We prompted students to remember their Slavery to Civil Rights module and connect the grotesque displays of racism during that era to Walker’s intent in some of her pieces; we then ask them to recall their current study of the Gothic grotesque.  In many ways, these two courses are the shifting notion of a very literal darkness for the Puritans trying to settle a nation in the wild woods and the very metaphorical darkness found in even the most democratic hearts and minds.  Students then channeled Walker, Gothic motifs, and their own “darkness” to create silhouette candles.  The results were sublimely fantastic, scary even: Mallie’s created a candle that reflected the electric chair and the horrors associated with the death penalty.  Katie’s candle reflected the damsel in distress motif and the fantastical dangers surrounding femaleness.  Ally’s candle watched you, quite literally, behind two demonic eyes. For all students, it was clear how art could channel the feeling of a time period, past and current, to move some into action and some in reflection.

Gothic1As for our own reflection, it’s a project that speaks to the testament of collaboration.  Perhaps Ms. Mattox coined it best, “[Collaboration] provides teachers a new opportunity to view their subject matter in a different light and lens, and share ideas for engaging students on multiple levels of learning.”  Essentially we become students too, waiting for that moment when the interdisciplinary design becomes alive in the mind of others.  While my favorite part was designing the project, there was some shared sentiment for Dr. Ward’s favorite moment: “seeing each little success: the right cut, the design that came out “just so,” the happy accident—each one a lively little moment of insight.”  I think that’s an elegant way of saying that collaboration is very much a reminder of how shared experiences are often the most insightful; that while individuality is indeed a solo act, life is not.

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Kindness Week!

I have much to post this week, but I thought I’d do a quick share: my favorite week at school was last week, or Kindness Week!  It runs in conjunction with National Kindness Week, and I’m happy to see that tradition grow.  At my school, we keep it simple. Sometimes, this is the best way- after all, kindness in its most simple form is a powerful thing.

Our guidance counselors invited the whole school to write notes- of encouragement, of gratitude, of greeting- to anyone in the school.  Teachers were encouraged to write colleagues, students, and staff; students the same.  The cafeteria dedicated a whole table to notecards of all sorts, makers, crayons, pens, and stickers so that anyone could write their note during the day. The notes were delivered via snail mail, which in our school means the student board or your faculty box.

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Our amazing guidance department posting notes!

 

I cannot tell you how incredible, how moving it is to watch a student squeal in delight (I teach all girls, so squeal is really the right word) when they get a card.  I cannot tell you how much it just makes my week to open up my own notes and find words that make my job so meaningful, even from the most unlikely sources.

And so, while I am behind in posting, know that I spent my time writing others.  If only we all did this year round!

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Harry Potter, Huck Finn, and HellaGoodProjects

Whew!  The school year FLEW by- before I could collect my thoughts, the juniors were now seniors and the seniors were, well, gone.  So was my time…

I have so much to reflect about the year- the OneNote introduction to the junior class, the changing curriculum to come, moving The Adventures of Huck Finn to AP English…and that’s just the beginning.  I have all summer to share the year, starting with some amazing project examples.  I started the year dedicated to open projects, meaning that no project had a list of “things” it had to be.  More like each project had a list of objectives and meanings it needed to express.  It was a bit scary at first- letting the students take the wheel on how and what their final products would be- and there were some failures.  But I’m a proponent of failure in the classroom as well as letting the student set their standard.  Most of them will set it higher than a teacher ever would.

I did this project with two different modules; the first round you can read about in my previous post. The second time around wasn’t much different save for this: it had to be a product. (No emojii comic books, please.)  Same rules- the chosen annotations/project had to be from either Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. For project completion, each student had to complete an “interview” about their project (click Project Annotation for the questions). This module did not disappoint- many of them developed projects so innovative and creative, I plan to use several as examples next year.  So, with much ado, here is the first of many showcases.

This is a Marauder’s Map of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: 

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The Map Sleeve

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Portaits of Huck and Jim frame the center; framed on each side by important quotes from each character. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The entire sleeve opens up to reveal a map of their journey; the top right and left wings of the title are explication of the quotes found below each one.  On the bottom and to the right of “Map” is prediction for next chapter and how this student feels Huck grew in the chapter.  In her interview, she explained that the night scene was a metaphor for Huck’s moral compass as evident in this chapter.  

Pretty amazing, yes?  I’m excited to see what this could look like when applied to Song of Solomon.  I’m pretty excited in general that Harry Potter found a way into my classroom…stay tuned and I’ll share the Tarot Cards next!

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Becoming an Active Reader

*Note to reader: the original published version is here.*

body_reading“Learning to love reading is easy; learning how to be an active reader is not,” I say often to my students. I hope they start believing me because this is precisely what Madeira English is about: active reading. From the moment they start ninth grade, we push students to articulate the why or significance of a text. By sophomore year, we ask them to expand their ability to express how a writer’s technique creates shades of meaning. In junior year, we inch toward research mode by asking how that significance might correlate to a movement, a historical time period, or even an abstract concept. It is a process and it begins with active reading. But what does that mean?

This is the question asked most often in my classroom usually in some form of “How should I read this?” or “Am I doing annotations the right way?” From a teacher’s perspective, there are many answers to those concerns. For some, annotating means a highlighted, scribbled-in-the-margins book. For others, it means a Cornell-style note page. Last year in my class, it meant a presentation of insights in a shared document. The teacher in me loved this; the reader in me started a rebellion. After all, isn’t part of the assignment how you enjoyed the novel? Why you may not like it? Aren’t annotations a little too forced? I am trying to read, after all.

I really began investing how to join those two things- how to move my students to both a personal response and an academic view of a novel.  I spent the summer like most English teachers, reading, only this time, I really tried to examine how or when my love of the book merged with my thinking about the book. And, while I may be closer to an answer, I do not have a perfect one. I did, however, emerge with new thinking about annotations. When we began Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon in the junior English Slavery to Civil Rights module, I asked students to do two kinds of annotations. The first is what I’m coining “commitment.” The assignment was simple: pick a chapter you liked, a chapter you felt connected the reader to a bigger idea, then organize your annotations for sharing. Not much different than last year; the significance here is “pick a chapter you like.” I’m coining the second collected annotations “invent.” I asked the students to do the same thing except, this time, they were to take the annotations and make something. Anything except notes. Make something that illustrates understanding and demonstrates why they liked the book.

The results were incredible.  See them here: https://vimeo.com/142632023

 

 

 

 

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OneNote is a sketchbook?

This week in my OneNote English adventures…

I’m still trying to convince my students, particularly my art afficionados, that OneNote is an amazing tool for graphic drawing. So when I said, “Your OneNote is a sketchbook- use it!” for one of the activities this week, my artists looked at me a bit skeptical.

Let me explain.

Some of my classroom activities involve creating a graphic organizer of sorts; this week it was to create a visual infographic that demonstates gothic elements in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  I started small- you can use any platform.  Paper, pen, marker, computer, performance- any and all modes were available to them.   Much to my dismay, most of them chose paper, pen, marker, crayon.

Now, while I don’t fault anyone for this (I love the feel of a gel pen on a moleskin myself), in the process of trying to convince the students that OneNote is much more viable and much more than a simple organizational tool, I was failing.  On one hand, I was getting good work:

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C.’s amazing “The Black Cat” graphic

On the other hand, they weren’t realizing they could transfer the same techinique to OneNote.  In fact, this is what happened when I told them to think about doing their graphic digitally:

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Admittedly, not a bad start, but not quite the same as the first attempt.

Part of this is that we are a bring-your-own-device school.  I was asking girls who didn’t have a surface to work with the draw function and a mouse.  I was also expecting girls who hardly ever touched a surface to fight at the opportunity to use mine-many remain unconvinced it could do the same thing.   I did have three takers though.  Here is the beginning of a different “The Black Cat”:

BlackCat

After watching and seeing P. create this, I turned over at least six.  Only time will see if those six establish a sketchbook via OneNote.  I’m at least happy they are fascinated by the Surface computer.

So, while I have convinced five of six in my department to switch to OneNote and two in the History department, I’ve still got some ways to go with my students.  Ultimately, I think a rotating set of Surfaces, a classroom set so to speak, might be the best route.  Now, I just have to find the money…..

Hang tight, my teacher friends.  I promised a OneNote present soon- it’s coming, and I still have yet to tell you about the Socratic Circle done in OneNote!

 

 

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Why OneNote makes my (snow)day

It’s day five of the snow apocalypse in Northern Virginia.  Snow days can be a teacher’s wish come true and their worst nightmare all in one.  A former me would be scrambling to piece together an email, maybe some way to scan something in pdf form, and then hoping my students had both a computer and a printer at home.

Not this year and never again.

Not only am I on schedule with my lesson plans but in our five days off, my students have completed a quiz, a timed essay, and three collaborative activities that correlate to the reading.  I’ve even sent a link to help a student who left her book at school, all via OneNote.

The beauty of OneNote is realtime- things move in OneNote immediately.  When my students take a quiz, they can take it at the same time as normal class.  When they take a timed essay, I use OneNote’s time stamp to track when completion happened and page history to tell me when they started.  I dropped my audio lecture and powerpoint in the class content library so I could introduce Poe and start reading him as soon as we return.

While this is all good, the one thing I really love about OneNote is the collaboration space.  For example, yesterday we did a group scavenger hunt for details about Edgar Allan Poe’s life.  A simple table grid helped organize the data.

Scavenger Hunt

Poe Scavenger Hunt

In another class, we used the collaboration space to generate a chat board, a way to post questions about their reading of George Orwell’s 1984.

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Chat Space for Reading Help! 

 

And today, I’ve been dropping in on each student’s outline page in their own personal notebooks to answer outlining questions.

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Outline and Rough Draft Help in OneNOte

Makes me think that you could almost do an entire class virtual in OneNote….

Lord, I might be turning to the dark side.

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The Gatsby Game and VSTE (finally)

I tried to write a post all about VSTE, and well, it just made me want to write about what I presented at VSTE (The Virginia Society of Technology in Education).  So, two birds, one stone.

Let me tell you about this game I started playing last year.

My school runs on the modular schedule which means our academic year is broken up into 5 week units.  I teach mostly juniors- so junior year of English looks a bit like this: each junior must take the required Slavery to Civil Rights module (junior year is American Literature) and the research paper module (I don’t want to discuss how this works for AP History students in this post).  For the remainder of the year, they select three of four options.  In the modernism module, I teach Hemingway’s In Our Time and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in five weeks. Gatsby_1925_jacket

Take that in for a minute.  Five weeks.

As you can imagine, that’s a small amount of time to condense a lot of context, both literary and historical.  When I first start with this venture last year, I spent the first four modules trying to bet on the right horse- how much is enough to read Hemingway? To read Gatsby? To teach about the Lost Generation? Where do I put poetry? Interwar period? THE WAR(s)?  At the same time, I was starting to really entrench (sorry, I wrote Hemingway and then he was in my head) myself in game-based learning.  (Now, what I do isn’t true to the current definition.  I’ve come to learn that I’m more of a “playbased learning.”  I’ll talk about that perhaps in a different post.)  To me, the module schedule timing felt right for that kind of environment- five weeks.  But I would have to create the elements first.  And, because Hemingway was already complicated enough for an all girls audience, I choose to start with Gatsby.  41C1amNRGhL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

The first play of this game was relatively easy, but in many ways not quite a success.  I created stock figures, stereotypes of the 1920s: the mob boss, the mobster, the dectective, the police, the socialite, the press, the bank.  Each figure had a particular perk- the mob could steal, the press could publish, the socialites could curry favor, and the bank did what banks do.  Each character also had a security deposit box where they could keep evidence, pass messages, keep money. The objective was simple: convince the public that Gatsby was either guilty or innocent (depending on your character) by collecting or fabricating evidence from the story.  We played for a week; the students even built alliances, something I hadn’t considered.  They robbed with delight and I recieved everything from the hotel receipt from Myrtle and Tom’s affair, a faux newspaper that connect them mob boss to Gatsby bank accounts, a printout of Gatsby’s bank accounts, a string of pearls, a crime scene report…they were true to the text while being creative.  It was incredible.

TeapartyRules

Tea Party Rules from OneNote

And yet, I still felt that the game was amiss.  My students spent a lot of time trying to create evidence (sometimes just to create it) rather than thinking about the objective.  Moreover, while they were alive in the world of Gatsby, I didn’t feel they were connected to the time period, let alone connecting Hemingway and Fitzgerald to a movement. And, to top it off, I’m a tech teacher.  I pride myself on integrating technology.  This game operated mostly with brown envelopes and paper money.

In the middle of all this, I took the game on the road with my work partner.  We present at VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools).  I kind of turned my talk into a “how to play a game in class” to “it’s not quite ready, what would you do” session.  The session was really invigorating- it was nice to see that other English teachers wanted to do the same thing- create worlds (whether virtual or digital) for their students to understand context. However, we didn’t really come up with a good way to modify the game.

So.  I finished last year learning OneNote, going completely paperless, and trying to figure out how to make Modernism different with a game that was going well for my students, but not for me.  Summer needed to be about work.  I’m going to flash forward a bit here- just imagine me at my desk, fast forward mode, bending furiously like a puppet on absurd amounts of caffeine, a furrowed brow while I pretend that I didn’t just cram everything for this year into the last week of summer.  You get the idea.

Facebook Capture

Facebook Page for one of the characters

This year, the game has changed and I am loving it. It started with Lauren (my work wife/partner):

“Well, if you don’t want them to create their own artifacts, you’ll have to reconsider your objective.”

(Cue my groaning)  “That would require taking the emphasis off Gatsby.”

“Yea.  Perhaps.  Or what if Gatsby was just an access point. What if, Fitzgerald, and not Gatsby was the point?”

And from there, the new edition was born.  The characters are chosen a bit the same- each student picks a historical figure to play as and they create a facebook page for that character.  This is still done in secrecy; we hold a Gatsby tea party to introduce the players to each other.  (I’m told I make a very good barkeep.) They come in costume, and ask questions (with some help on what kinds of questions to ask- no questions that can be answered with yes or no statements).  And then…then they get the rules.

acebook

The Gameplay Tab in OneNote

There are five ways to win, depending on the alliance you’ve created/chosen.  Each alliance has certain pieces of evidence and a certain amount of money they must collect to win.  In this version, I have already created the evidence and I have already printed the money.

What’s the difference, you might say.

In this version, you win evidence, skill cards, and money through challenges.  Now, these can be as Gatsby-related as I want or they can be time period related.  I even threw in a few writing challenges.  And, I DID IT ALL IN ONENOTE.  

Capture

Game Play Skill Cards (Can you tell I like cats?)

It. Was. Amazing.

Challenges

My Challenges Page in OneNote

I have everything from the Charleston set to modern day music,  a written piece on why Lucious Lyon in Empire is a modern day Gatsby,  a recreated Depression era advertisement and even an MLA citation for every Fitzgerald book our library owned.  This version allowed my students to get really entrenched in Modernism. What’s more, we played for FOUR WEEKS.  Alliances shifted, challenges became harder, and the competition was fierce.  Every single student was engaged.

The game still needs some tweeking- I’ve learned that evidence should move into circulation quickly (the last time we played, I was sure the mod would end before a winner declared) and that challenges were a great way to scaffold learning when applied correctly.  I am also considering taking the money bit out- it seems to complicate the game more than move the players.  I did love using OneNote, but the cards were challenging to keep up with; while my students didn’t know that they could easily copy cards into their notebook and I would be none-the-wiser, I should have a better system.  I experimented a bit with a twitter board in the collaboration space of OneNote with some degree of success, but I’d like to move away from having a tupperware container of “security deposit boxes” (aka brown mailing envelopes).

Challenge1

The Photography Challenge

I took this to VSTE (Virginia Society of Technology in Education) in December.  Despite my nerves, I managed to explain this to a group of educators (I won’t claim I did it well).  Point is, I’m learning that there are other teachers craving the same immersed environment.  They keep me alive.  (Shameless plug: go to VSTE.  If you are a technology oriented teacher, GO TO VSTE.  You will find your people.  I did.) I connected with one teacher who plans to do something similar with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and another who might take this to his history class.  Please do- take and adopt.  Maybe we can be friends, and I’ll tell you all about the Edgar Allan Poe/Forensics mashup I built with a fellow science teacher (next post spoiler alert).  I posted the pdf of the rules (thank you Lauren for being much more skilled in InDesign than me).  By all means, email or comment below, and let’s start having fun in the classroom!

PS: I have consent and permission to share student content on this post.

Gatsby Game Rules

 

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Dear Labyrinth, I love you.

Newly returned from the VSTE (Virginia Society of Technology in Education) conference, I know I need to post about the amazing sessions I attended or about the two topics I nervously bumbled through in front of other educators. I know I need to email other teachers some things I mean to share.

And I will, I promise.

But right now, I want to use this space to promote one of my favorite places and some of my favorite things.

This past month, my work wife Lauren (@iteacherFlorida) and I have been just swamped.  The modular schedule is still a bit challenging and this year we are co teaching journalism.  We’ve spent the past four weeks pushing 16 girls of varying abilities and grades into journalistic writing and the software program InDesign.  It hasn’t been easy.  It’s a good day if I’m driving away from campus by five o’clock.

Lauren took off for Budapest this weekend.  I am a little jealous.  (I have e86a6dce542670b98be757d1a11777c9my own vacation around the corner, so no hard feelings.)  Luckily, I knew just the place to lift my tired spirits.  Lauren and I have a few favorite places that we are religiously devoted to and Labyrinth is at the top of that list. I think I’ve professed my love of games to any one who knows me, but if not: I LOVE GAMES.  Tabletop games in particular; I grew up with “family game night,” a night dedicated to Scrabble, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, and the like.  My family visits toy stores not for toys, but for the games. (They want me to share that they have since found a local store to buy their new games- I even took my mom to Labyrinth her first visit to DC and now its a staple on her return list to DC.)

Labyrinth isn’t a toy store.  Well, not in the way we think of toy stores.  Instead, it is a carefully organized and crafted collection of some popular games, a lot of new games, and games you never knew you will love.  What’s more, they partner with local schools to build communities of play.  It’s not uncommon to visit the store and find a member of their staff hosting a school, running a birthday party, or (and this is my favorite reason to come) teaching literally ANYONE how to play a new game.  Labyrinth has a store copy of almost every item, allowing customers to play the game before taking home their own copy.

I usually do just that- open the store copy up and examine how the mechanics works.  This really helps me think about how game mechanics are so drastically different (I talked about this a bit at VSTE).  I am, however, spoiled by Kathleen, the most knowledgeable tabletop gamer I know.  And, she’s really nice!

When I popped in this Saturday, she had the two games for me- both 1213151319agames she recommended based on my previous purchases and what she knows about the types of games I and my students play (I cannot begin to tell you how on the mark she is about this or how incredible it is that she remembers her returning customers, both young and old).  Today I picked up Spyfall and Codenames, and couldn’t help but add Batman Fluxx and Holiday Fluxx (thank you Looney Labs!).

And then, just when things couldn’t get any better, Kathleen whips up  a creeper and a keeper for both editions of Fluxx and hands me a reject pack for Cards Against Humanity.

See? She gets me. Labyrinth gets me.

I love that place.

You should too.  They’re right off the Eastern Market Metro- walk past the CVS and you can’t miss it. And if you don’t live anywhere near DC, I’m sure there is a local game store in most areas.  Indy shop owners are very dedicated people and the customer service will be unbeatable.

I can’t wait to play Spyfall and Codenames.  I’ll post reviews, but I’ve got to first post about VSTE and then I’ve promised a Fluxx Basics tutorial for the classroom.

PS.  I taught my other half how to play Fluxx, and now he insists this be the way we settle any disagreement. Ever. (I might have created a Fluxx monster.)

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Filed under Casual sunday, Game review, My Places, Uncategorized