Spicing Up Note Taking….With Google Drive!

Yes, a computer can be used as a replacement of paper and pencil for taking notes, but I would love to see a regular piece of paper do what we did in class for the past couple of days (and as quickly)!

Yesterday my Constitutional and Criminal Law class started to delve into the 5th Amendment. As we “unpacked” the amendment (thank you for the help, Teaching Civics/Civically Speaking and the Minnesota Center for Community Legal Education – both have great civics resources), my students took notes on a Google doc. After we discussed “indictment,” they learned about the news search feature on Google and they found two news articles involving indictments, added the links into their notes, wrote a brief summary of each story and then shared their findings with a neighbor. We repeated the process with the term grand jury.

Today I wanted the students to further explore details about a grand jury. Using some of the content from long ago and a source that I can no longer find online, I created this Google Doc with fact sorting and photo identification activities for my students to complete. They added the content from this activity to their notes page from yesterday’s class. The categorizing of bullet points was impressively effective at generating thought and discussion (I will certainly use that strategy again in the future), and the photo exercise went so well I am trying to find other places the concept could be used.

A great day in the classroom. Cheers!

On Class Size

I’ve been following “Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…” for a while and his comments about Bill Gates and class size made me think back to my second year of teaching. As a result of a failed levy, my second year in the classroom was spent with a class of 38 and a class of  42. These 9th and 10th grade students were nice enough people, but I would contend that there was no way my students got as much out of that class as they would have if there had only been 24 of them. I have never utilized group work as much as I did that year, especially as if I had 42 copies of an assignment every time I turned around, those student still might be waiting for me to finish grading them!  (Granted, it was in 1994 so everything was on paper, none of their work was digital.)

When I interviewed at Totino-Grace, I was asked a hypothetical question focusing on classroom management that started with something like, “You have a classroom of 24 students and…”  I was recently reminded by one of the administrators who sat in on my interview that he will never forget how I started my answer, “Only 24 students? The first thing I would do is be glad there were only 24.” He said that it reinforced his commitment to small class size.

Getting to know our students is imperative to their sense of belonging and a critical factor in their comfort level when it comes to asking questions and approaching their teachers outside of the classroom for assistance, or just to talk. All of which are intangible but contribute to their successes. Increasing class size depersonalizes the classroom exponentially and that personalization is what makes the memorable moments to which I hope we can all think back. As a teacher in a LaSallian school, I am fortunate as a key part of the foundation of our school’s principles is to touch the hearts and minds of students. It is difficult to do that if there are so many in a room you don’t know their name.

What would your ideal class size be? I think mine is either 18 or 24. Both small enough to get to know all of the students, have great discussions (18 would be better for all to participate), and both are divisible by 2 and 3, 24 is great for teams of 4…

That’s a real place?

Late last week my government students were working on a group analysis activity and my computer’s screen saver kicked in. Photos of Hawaii and Kazakhstan were creating a collage on the projected screen. One of my students asked, “Ms Wolfe, where is that?” When I responded, one of my other students chimed in with, “Kazakhstan? That’s a real place?”  (A proud moment for Borat I am sure.) As I confirmed that Kazakhstan was, indeed, a real place, my other students laughed. I shuddered.

The past several weeks at our school have been the stage for many conversations: What does quality teaching look like? Learning?  What role does data-driven instruction play? Technology?  And, ultimately, what do students really need to know if they can grab their device and quickly look up just about anything?

Earlier this week one of my colleagues wrote “4 Americans killed on boat” on the board. She gave students five minutes to use any resources available to them to learn as much about that statement as possible. Some used Google on their phones, others headed to the halls and asked teachers to check the Internet for details. While they came up with an impressive amount of information in five minutes, and my colleague made the point to them that they have the tools to learn, they still needed someone to tell them the starting point of their search.

In my classroom, obviously my student had heard of Kazakhstan (yes, it was really because of Borat), assumed it was fictitious, never bothered to type it into the box of a favorite search engine, and never exchanged that false assumption for truth.

Does it matter that my student did not just know Kazakhstan was a place? Does it matter that only one of the 20+ students in my colleague’s classroom knew about the killing of the Americans by Somali pirates prior to their exercise? Some contend that it isn’t important that students know countries, capitals, news, etc because “Well, they can just look it up on the Internet,” but what base knowledge is needed? How do we instill that desire to question and want to learn?  What is needed to be known before one can have any idea of what to type in a search box? How do we help them to want to ask the questions?

I spent this week working on teaching our technology students effective searching skills. (I really tried to make it more interesting than the lectures we all remember about Boolean connectors.)  While some expressed a value gained from the lesson, this fact remains: even if they have the best searching skills in the world, if there is no basic knowledge from which to draw and no desire to learn, the search box will sit as empty as the mind.