Wow - I can't believe the first week of school is over already, and I'm really thrilled with everything my classes accomplished this week. On Monday, I had the students participate in a roundabout that answered 7-8 questions about the class using primary sources from previous years. It's a great lesson, and one I've used for about the last 5 years to start the year. I just can't stand talking "to" the kids all day the first day. I mean they come in so excited to be back at school, and what do we do? Stand at the front of the class and tell them the class rules, school rules, etc. By 7th period, they're dead, we're dead...and who wants to come back? No just kidding - about the coming back part anyway. So I created this roundabout/center lesson based on Harry Wong's First Day where they can discover the way the class works themselves - by seeing other students' work and suggestions. This year I added a laptop to one of the stations - well I usually have one that just rotates a PowerPoint presentation on the content of the class - but this year, I just had it open to my webpage with the instructions for the students to use their 7 minutes at this station to get familiar with the webpage and everything it offers students. I was amazed watching the kids hesitate - it's like they were actually scared to push links, to explore on their own - and I realized that they haven't ever really been given the freedom to explore the web or even a site on their own. When we use laptops in the classroom, most of us tell the students where exactly we want them to go and what exactly we want them to do. Watching this gave me a heads up...and i made a commitment to give students more choices especially when we're including technology in our lessons. Of course a few students went bananas with it and really picked up everything there was to offer, but for the most part, my new 8th graders - surely fluent on the Internet when home - seemed nearly shy when it came to being told simply, "Check it out." Closure was fantastic, and for the most part, the students seemed to gain a grasp on what to expect in my class.
Tuesday brought our negotiating our class contracts, and their requests weren't that outrageous. Only one class asked for candy and no homework - 6th period - I think they heard what we were doing and plotted at lunch what to demand lol. Seriously though, all classes wanted to be sure that I wouldn't "yell" at them; that I wouldn't punish the whole class for the actions of a few, that I wouldn't call them out individually when they made a mistake, and that I come to class prepared. Now thinking about what they said - about how they wanted to be treated by their teacher - you've got to wonder how they've been treated. They also seemed surprised when I said the best way to show respect for me - as their teacher - was to participate in and show an effort to complete the class activities and assignments. Of course, my negotiations with 6th period ended with my promise for rewards albeit not candy (against the law here in Texas) for following protocol and never to give them frivolous assignments for homework. I did stress however that they would need to study for tests for homework and work on assignments outside of class - but NO busy work, no test practice packets, etc.
I was able to start my unit on Wednesday - What Does It Mean to Be An American? I lectured a bit and had the students complete a chart while I talked and we listened to music about the different cultural contributions of Americans over the years - easy day.
We went to the library on Thursday so the students could take a version of the American Naturalization test as our pretest for the year. Again we were on the laptops - but besides groaning about how hard the test was and how unfair it was to ask immigrants to know this "stuff," almost all finished in time to add a reflective comment on a blog/post I created from my webpage. I heard one girl say, "this is like Facebook," and I had to laugh. It was the first time she had actually posted a comment educationally.
On Friday as I watched the students take their first vocabulary quiz, I felt proud of the small steps we had taken over the week. Students actually had their hands on laptops and were doing "stuff" two days out of five...of course two days were taken up testing but...
I'm hoping to keep the students using technology as much as possible. My principal last year - right before she quit - called me in her office and shared with me a study (I've been looking for ever since) that stated that students who used technology scored 10 points higher on tests (all of our goal right?) than kids who didn't. And kids who only got to use technology sporadically scored 10 points lower...they were so caught up in the hows and whys of the technological tool. I've vowed to put my students at the top of the curve, not the bottom.
So as far as the first week of school goes, I'm thinking I have a long way to go to get my students up to par using technology, but it was a fabulous start up. Let's hope I can keep up the pace!