Category Archives: Classroom Pilots

Honors Physics Wiki Update

My students have started constructing their Honors Physics Wiki. Right now the site is quite raw. We are almost exclusively creating content, mostly text-based. There are some errors on the site and it’s not polished yet. I’m itching to correct the errors, but I’m holding back because I think peer revision is an important part of the process.

Our first peer-comment was posted a few days ago! I’m hoping that as more and more of the obvious content appears on the site, students will begin to shift some of their attention to multimedia creation, revision, organization, and refinement. I’m excited to see where this site goes!

A couple example pages:  Relativity, Dimensional Analysis & Right Triangle Trigonometry.

Want to pass notes in class? Use Google Docs!

I took my Spanish class to the computer lab to use an awesome resource called Yabla.

Yabla is “online immersion television,” where kids can watch lessons or listen to authentic music, which has been organized by musical style, country of origin, and ease of understanding on a scale of 1-5.  As they watch the videos, a translator box appears at the bottom of the screen which shows them the spoken content  in both Spanish and English text.  Cool!

I have a few boys in my class who are great, but I do need to pay a little extra attention to make sure they are on-task.  About 10 minutes into the period, I heard two of them share a laugh.

“Uh-oh,” I thought, “surely they’re fooling around.”

I could see from a distance that they both had a Google doc open and the green and pink cursors told me they were sharing a conversation on each other’s screens.

“Well, that’s an ingenious way to pass notes,” I thought and crept up behind them for a closer view of exactly what they were sharing.  Gossip?  Intrigue?  Bad language?

Shock of all shocks, they were actually on-task!  They were using the shared document so they could compare notes on the video they both were watching.

I had not instructed them to do this, so I approached them to ask what they were up to. They pulled off their headphones and told me about the scene in the video and how it was just like something that had happened to them this morning.

Google docs allow multiple users to type simultaneously on the same, shared document.

I confessed I had doubted their intentions and that I was actually quite pleased to see how they were using a shared document to… well… share!

In fact, it gave me new ideas for collaborative assignments while they are using Yabla, like “compare and contrast pop music from Spain with pop music from Ecuador” and have them type it up while they are watching.

Many of my students are new to Google docs this year, and it is exciting to see them put it to use for their own purposes.

If media fluency involves using the right digital tool for the task, I would say these kids are doing just that: adapting the technology with which they are familiar to meet their needs.

I, for one, am excited to find more tools to add to their toolbox.

Absent… Present! (via Skype)

One of my students has not been feeling well, and a recent test confirmed he had a common illness that will likely result in him missing a lot of school.  Pobrecito.

His friend suggested he might be willing to have us “chat him in”, or digitally enable him to attend class, so I had him get in touch and get us connected.  Another student had brought her laptop from home (can’t wait for the 1-to-1 laptops next year!) and the sick student Skyped in.

We all said “hola” and wished him well, then we got down to business.  We had a quiz to take, after all.  We placed the laptop on a table facing the SmartBoard so he could see and hear what we were talking about.

After a brief, post-weekend refresher on the material, everyone felt ready to take on the dreaded reading comprehension assessment.

I asked the student, who had been able to prep right along with us, if he would like to take the quiz as well, since he was ready.  “Sure,” he said.

I hopped on my laptop, uploaded the quiz as a Google doc, and shared it with him.  “Got it,” we heard him say almost immediately.

As the students turned in their quizzes they all waved to him again on the screen and said hi, and we invited him to stay on while we watched a few videos for the last few minutes of class.  He did.

If he keeps it up, he won’t miss a thing!

Wi-Fi Graffiti!


Spanish 1 students weigh in whether our story's main character should take his dad's 1956 T-Bird without permission on Wiffiti.

Have you ever been to a concert or sports event where you were invited to text or Tweet messages to a public screen?

Wiffiti is a company out of Boston whose technology allows anyone, from corporate sponsors to teachers to the average Joe Internet User, to create a public wall for the purpose of gathering text and Tweet “graffiti”.

How is this useful in a classroom setting?

My level 1 Spanish students have been reading a book in which the main character has to make a choice between following his parents’ rules or doing what he wants while they are away.  I wanted the kids to discuss the pros and cons and take a side, in Spanish.

Without technology, this is just a discussion and some kids might tune it out, but when I instructed kids to take out their phones (which most of them had and were thrilled to be asked to use them in class) and had them text their advice to the character, they were on board immediately.  And on the board – literally – immediately!   In seconds, their messages started popping up on the SmartBoard for all to see.

It was fun to see what they wrote, and to see the auto-namer assign them all such funny names, like CinnamonToucan, and SteelSeahorse.

Most of them stuck to the assignment but a few did get carried away with the excitement of being able to communicate something and have everyone see it… without teacher clearance.

Which is EXACTLY why I welcome this type of activity, because it provides an opportunity for teachers to get involved with how students represent themselves online.  Their digital expression of themselves is often private, but when they do this in the classroom, the teacher can moderate the discussion.  Which I did.

“Perdón, who is MintParrot8?”  A boy grins smugly from the back of the room.  I use his post as a negative example, and he quickly sends a new message which follows the assignment.

We’ll continue to build on that success with other projects.  I’ll send an update next time we use it.  Check it out!

Laptop assignment

Recently, I had several students submitting entries to a haiku contest. They had to be submitted online, and you had to be 13 years old to enter the contest. All of my students completed the assignment for credit, and the students that were eligible needed to complete the process. We used the laptops. For the students that were not able to enter the contest, we had them log onto  This website provided an interactive vocabulary lesson that had several levels. The students were very involved in the site and actually did well on the college level words- much to their delight. It was very interesting to see what students knew about the laptops, and the last 10 minutes of class we took questions about our 1:1 program. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and the students said that they enjoyed the vocabulary drill.

Media Fluency: AP Physics Wiki!

Application: AP Physics Wiki

I must admit I that I probably wouldn’t have tried this Wiki project if I weren’t a member of this committee. Although I’m not convinced AP scores are the best way to measure progress, it’s undeniable that they have practical importance. I already expect a great deal from my AP students and was hesitant to add on an “extra.” Especially since I didn’t see an obvious connection between the Wiki and the AP test.

After some unsuccessful brainstorming/browsing I decided use the Wiki project despite my reservations. Since the AP physics curriculum is so broad, I thought it best to use the Wiki as a review tool where each student would write an article on one of our major topics in first semester. I “stole” this idea from one of my graduate classes over the summer where we wrote a Wiki (I created most of the pages on “State of Classical Science in 1900!”)

I was pleasantly surprised by the outcomes from the Wiki project. Where I had expected students would complain when I announced the assignment, several students actually said they liked the idea (in hindsight: I think it was a nice change of pace-we don’t do a lot of writing in AP physics). Since other people could read their work it felt more real to them. They also said that summarizing/explaining major ideas helped them solidify their understanding of the challenging material that we had moved through at whirlwind speed. What had started as an “extra” had become a sustentative activity that very well might help them on the AP test.

As you can see if you check out our Wiki (please do!), the site itself is nothing fancy. Based on this unexpected success though, it’s a work in progress.

The Big Picture

When I first learned of Wiki’s in my grad school class I was impressed by the technology. However, I was more impressed by my professor. He knew what the technology was capable of and had an idea for it’s use, but he didn’t have any clue of how to edit/create pages or accomplish other technical tasks in Wikispaces. It was up to us to figure out (it is surprisingly easy to learn). Talk about really jumping into something.

Wiki’s are great because they can be written for any subject or topic. A small Wiki like we created doesn’t require any big commitments. For those interested, there is potential to create a huge interconnected web of ideas through Wiki’s.

Second semester I’m going to add a Wiki component to my freshmen physics class too. I’m planning on leaving it wide open: students will be able to write articles and add pages & physics content relevant to anything we learn. Students will have the whole semester and I will make a general rubric for assessment (you can see which members edited which pages). Finally, I’m tossing around the idea of having new physics classes build/improve/revise one constantly evolving freshmen physics Wiki. I think it will either be really successful or a complete failure. Either way it should be interesting and I will let you know how it goes (:

Media Fluency Definition

According to the 21st century fluencies blog media fluency is:

“Firstly, the ability to look analytically at any communication media to interpret the real message, how the chosen media is being used to shape thinking, and evaluate the efficacy of the message. Secondly, to create and publish original digital products”

In my own words, I think of media fluency as the natural extension of rhetoric and composition into the digital age. We need to be able to communicate electronically just as clearly, efficiently, and elegantly as we do verbally or on paper. Just as important, we must be able to see beyond the surface to evaluate the purpose, strategy, and effectiveness of other digital communications.

Creative Fluency

from  “Creative Fluency is the process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art and storytelling. It regards form in addition to function, and the principles of innovative design combined with a quality functioning product.Creative Fluency extends beyond visual creative skills, to using the imagination to create stories, a practice which is in demand in many facets of today’s economy. It is widely regarded by many successful industries that creative minds come up with creative solutions.There is tremendous value in the artistic creation of items in order that they may transcend mere functionality.”

So today I introduced my students to their creative project for the semester: Build Your Own Utopia. I thought this would be something fun for them–a chance to flex their imagination muscles but still demonstrate an understanding of the ideas we’ve been discussing all semester long. Yet I heard over and over again from students: “This is HARD!” or “This requires me to think!” (insert shocked expression). The assumption on their part was that something creative should be easy and thoughtless. Maybe one way of understanding this is by looking at the difference between imagination and creativity.

Oklahoma‘s recent National Creativity World Forum 2011 (www., explains on their website that “ Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest. Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.” My students have imagination (they can come up quickly with some off the wall zany idea never heard of before), but when it comes to applying that imagination (creativity) they realize that its not enough to just come up with an idea, it has to be made meaningful and requires a lot of problem solving that they didn’t anticipate.

I’ll let you know how it goes.