Eating the Elephant


I realized this morning I have been remiss in my blogging efforts. I have retreated into my first love…writing in journals. There is something about a slim Moleskin notebook and my favorite pen that just gets me. I am of that generation where computers were just emerging and everything was still done old school paper and pencil. I use technology when it is important and helps extend something I want to accomplish, but I am not a “tool for the tool’s sake” user. Hence most of my reflecting and ideating exists only in my journal collection. Recently though, I have been asked about some of the interesting happenings in my classes and when I was looking for one of my blog posts to send links to, I saw I had not posted any of those thoughts or resources.

One of the projects I am known for in my school district is the 20 Time Project (Innovation Hour). In the past two years, it has continually refined. Last year was my most successful group of projects yet. I learned the importance of showing students what resources are out there and helping them figure out how to get them. Project-Based Learning is the darling of school focus right now, but I don’t think the powers that be often think about how difficult PBL can be in a public school. Public schools have very little monetary resources for anything other than testing and remediation, are mired into a lockstep curriculum and often have staffs not quite as willing to go maverick when faced with punitive backlash if test scores drop. There is the added layer that many of the teachers in public schools have been there a long time and are used to weathering the storm of new vernacular and hot approaches. Not to say there are not great administrators (I have been particularly lucky) and forward-thinking educators out there, but it is the exception not the rule. I also think teachers can get overwhelmed because they try to eat the elephant all at once rather than little bites at a time. Beyond the resources and regulation, there is the basic structure of a public school with its desks in neat rows, white walls, strict bell system and industrialized view of education. All of this from environment to curriculum stack the odds against the success of PBL in public schools. It can work, but it takes a lot of patience, planning and willingness to adapt everything…sometimes on the fly. It works for me, but that is because those requirements are pretty integral to my character.

So, you are probably thinking blah, blah, blah, where are the resources? In thinking about the 20 time successes and failures over the past two years and what I have seen thus far this year, there are some definite must-dos and some still sort of gray, maybe this will work with this group of students, maybe not areas. I think one of the most important things you can do to get this project off the ground is communicate to parents clearly about every aspect of the project. I send a parent/guardian letter home the first day of school. Here is mine (adapted from Kevin Brookhouser’s original).


The very next thing that has to happen is immersion of students into the world of what 20 time can be. I do this through TED Talks, examples of entrepreneurship, volunteerism, passion-based projects…just everything you can get your hands on. Below is a link to my Youtube channel for 20 time inspiration. Feel free to subscribe; I update it when I find or create a new resource for 20 time. There is also a link to a previous post where I outline TED talks I use and how I use each one.

Honaker’s 20 Time Youtube Channel

Resources for Innovation Hour project

Something new this year I really liked was speed dating during brainstorming. Basically, after a couple of weeks of talking about the project, looking at inspirational ideas and viewing advice from last year’s students, we made a list of a few of our ideas and why they were important to us and then we moved around the room with stopwatches. Each student rotated through each other with only five minutes to introduce their ideas and respond to each other. This got the creative juices going and by the time we came back together as a large group, they were excited. This led into them starting to think about their pitch proposals. Pitches are an integral part of the process because it forces students to think about the viability of the project and to start doing some of the research necessary to any project’s success. They must pitch “Shark Tank” style and also provide a hard copy of the outline of their proposal. Each audience member fills out a praise and possibilities feedback form as exit tickets.

Pitch Requirements:

  • Outline of Project- what are you doing?
  • Who will you work with
  • Why is this project worthwhile- personally important to you, beneficial to society, passionate interest
  • Who is your audience/client base
  • Estimated budget (must show you have researched actual costs)
  • Timeline- how will you complete your project incrementally (think backward design, what is your end goal, move back from there)

Often after pitch proposals, students adapt and change their projects. The next class after proposals, I teach them how to set up their progress blogs and for their first post they must respond to all the feedback they received. This allows them to take a deep look at what their peers, community members and teachers thought about their idea. At their hearts, many students want to make the world better and sometimes when I introduce this project, they think they have to do something service-oriented. This year alone I had conversations with three students who pitched projects that were altruistic, but I could tell their passion was not in it and this type of project is never successful if the student does not love what they are doing. This is the moment when you have to step in as the guide and make them really question their purpose for choosing a particular direction to ensure they land on something they will not hate after two months of working on it. My students use WordPress blogs because I am familiar with the format, but you could use whatever you are comfortable with. The blogs are incredibly important so you can keep tabs on student progress, give them feedback and see the cool stuff they are doing. Blog requirements are outlined in the attached parent/guardian letter.

Once you get to this point, it is pretty much smooth for the next couple of months. My students get every other Friday to work on their projects and I spend those class periods helping them write grants, reading and responding to their blogs and floating around to check in on their work. These are very self-directed classes so they offer lots of freedom for the teacher to have individual contact with the students. Around November students are required to compile a status report. I implemented that last year to alleviate the problem of getting to the end and finding the project will not work out. It is a sanity check for myself and the students. It also makes them take a hard look at challenges they faced, how they overcame or didn’t and where they are on budget.


Last year, I realized that shortening the projects to one semester hindered some of my groups from finishing what they started for a number of reasons. My first year students complained a full year was too long so I went to a semester with presentation in the Spring. When it started becoming apparent some groups would not finish in December last year, I adapted. The groups that finished before break could have their 20 time Fridays throughout January and February to prepare presentations and tie up final project requirements. the groups that needed more time could continue actual project work , but would need to complete presentation and final requirements outside class. It worked beautifully. The kids that needed more time to finish their Frisbee Golf Course (funded through a student-written grant) construction had it, the young lady working on zoo murals with 4th graders (funded through a student-written grant) had it and the group that completed their Out of the Darkness walk and fundraiser had time to wrap up their presentation and final requirements. The extra, flexible time allowed students to finish up whatever way made most sense for them. Projects wrapped the week of April 14th. Students turned in all final requirements and participated in our school’s Titan 21 Exhibition night to present to the student body, as well as faculty and community members.

20 Time wrap-up

Requirements for the end of 20 Time projects:

  • Final video reflection describing outcomes and advice to next year’s 20 timers, 3-5 minutes
  • Final presentation at Titan 21 night April 14th, must be interactive
  • Final reflection on 20 Time model- blog that outlines what worked and did not work about the project, not yours personally but 20 time in general (timetables, pitch proposals, class time, blogs etc.)

In two years through these projects, our community has gained a set of murals on permanent display at Mill Mountain Zoo, a Frisbee Golf course, two novels published through Lulu, a suicide awareness club at HV, an Instagram channel about the beauty of Roanoke and myriad other amazing accomplishments. This project continually shows me what school could be. Below is a link to my collection on Digital Is, an incredible website from the National Writing Project that houses resources for teachers. NWP awarded me my first grant for this project that helped buy our first video camera to record all this great work. I will be forever grateful!

Digital Is 20 time collection


Sometimes Choice Frustrates

I had this great idea. I am going to let all my students choose everything they read and write- even the kids taking the AP Lit exam. It would be awesome! Students completely excited about reading and writing because they have ultimate autonomy. I. Was. So. Wrong.

At the heart of everything I do is choice and voice. I value freedom in what I do so, why wouldn’t my students? I think to an extent that is true, but for so long students have been mandated as to what to read and write that they don’t really know what to do when they are given utter freedom in school. I have learned this week there is a time for structure, a time for leading, and a process to giving over control. It cannot happen immediately. There is that first moment where students are celebrating, but then they flounder and don’t know what to do.

A little backstory. I embarked on this year determined to have my AP students choose what they wanted to read. A young man I met in Louisville at an independent bookstore told me about something called the Tournament of Books. An idea took root. The real-world tournament of books is kind of like March Madness, but for books. This year’s winner- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I picked it up at the bookstore, and it was a worthy champion. I decided to run my own TOB in the classroom. Students would choose one book they absolutely wanted to read in class this year, research it, compile a sales pitch, and fight for their title. I imagined this space where book love reigned. Unfortunately, as we got into it over the past couple weeks, I became increasingly disappointed with their book choices. We had a roundtable discussion about books we have loved over the years. I thought this would spark their imagination, but instead it reminded them of all those great books they read in middle school before high school squelched their love of reading. As they excitedly vetted their choices with me, I realized they were picking books my daughter had read in 5th and 6th grade, books that were serialized, and generally unacceptable for a college credit class to garner any kind of deep discussion and study. I wrestled with what to do to help them because it was not that they wanted an easy book. It was more they did not know how to choose a challenging book they would like because choice was not a concept they had dealt with before.

Enter Shelfari. I was surfing around looking at book lists and happened upon somebody’s shelfari- a virtual bookshelf through Amazon. I was intrigued and started my own “bookshelf” as an experiment. As I was populating my bookshelf, an epiphany came to me- I could create a possibilities bookshelf for my students to shop as they were choosing their book for our tournament. I am not going to lie, it took me hours to set the shelf up, import information, and write pieces of the  book profiles. I am still not completely finished with the “ridiculously short summaries” section. Regardless, I introduced it to my classes on Thursday. And, they were impressed. I showed them how to go to the shelf, click on the covers and look at the book profiles which include summaries, character lists, themes, awards won, and reviews. A discussion sparked about why I chose certain books, which were my favorites, and how I found books that I had not read. I am hopeful for a really good title fight on Monday!

Lesson for the week- choice is important, but so is guidance on how to make informed choices. Sometimes we have to be the sage before we can be the guide.

Resources for Innovation Hour project

Sitting in my library looking out on the quiet street, my thoughts have turned to curriculum planning for next year, which is only a few short weeks away. I have thought a great deal about the 20% Time project for last year and started to develop some resources to help me stay more on track with this new crop of students I will meet shortly. As I implemented the 20 Time model last year, I found TED Talks, and Youtube videos to be particularly helpful along the way. Below are the links to the the resources I used, as well as a short description of how I used them.

“The Puzzle of Motivation” by Dan Pink

I used this TED Talk on the first day of class as an opener to talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as a segway into discussion of the Innovation Hour project. I followed this up with Chris Kesler’s Youtube video “What is Genius Hour?“.  I will also show our own Innovation Hour video this year since I now have student examples.

Another important step to getting this project off on the right foot, is to provide students some real-world examples of people following their bliss and finding success. Last year I showed Apple’s ipad commercial, “Slow Roll,” that features a Detroit entrepreneur working to revitalize his city with bike tours. I also showed them the Holstee Manifesto– another great resource for people running a company with passion. I plan to include the “Ben and Jerry” story this year as well after seeing it on the factory tour- two guys making ice cream in a gas station because they loved it, what better inspiration can you get? The point is to get students to see the value of doing something that you love and how the passion you have for an idea can drive success.

The next step once students decide on an idea for how they want to spend their 20% class time, is the pitch proposal. Shark Tank has become an increasingly popular TV show and Business Insider wrote an article outlining some of the most successful pitches. I plan to use this as a resource this year to help students prepare to pitch their ideas to peers and administration. Most students are readily familiar with the show though, and you could just talk them through a pitch. I also plan to use a clip from “Thirteen Going on Thirty” where Jennifer Garner pitches her magazine idea to the think tank. It is a fun clip and focused less on funding, and more on concepts. This will help some of my students who plan less business-like projects.

The next few months are spent with students doing the actual work of the project. In January, we turn to presentation planning. After experimenting with a number of TED Talks last year, I have whittled down my list to what I consider the most important ones and students plan presentations. Here they are in the order I think they should be shown and discussed:

“How to Live Before You Die”– Steve Jobs

“8 Secrets of Success”– Richard St. John

“What Fear Can Teach Us”– Karen Thompson Walker

“Teach Every Child About Food”– Jamie Oliver

“Start with Why”– Simon Sinek

“Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce”– Malcolm Gladwell

I also like the videos on Toastmasters. They have approachable tips for students about public speaking, AND they will come and speak to your students if you have a local chapter and ask far enough in advance. Unfortunately, I asked too late last year and was not able to schedule a speaker, but they have promised to come next year with enough advanced notice!

Each video has something to offer for presentations, from structure, to catchphrases, to opening and closing effectively. Students are used to giving presentations to a comfortable group of peers, but many have never spoken in front of a large audience. This is scary, but happens a lot in the “real world” which makes public speaking an important skill for them to leave high school having acquired. Preparation and practice are two things I can’t stress enough. They need dry runs, videos of themselves to critique and lots of feedback before the actual event. I fell down on this some last year, but plan to be ready next year!

My thoughts on 20 Time Projects

Finally a few minutes to view the Innovation Hour presentations and I was more impressed watching them after the fact than while I was there. So much great work by students came out of these projects, but viewing the montage video has helped me think more about what I want to do differently next year. The video below was produced by one of my fabulous students, Madeline Cobbler.

First, I want more time to prepare for the presentations and more time for reflection about the journey of the project. I will introduce this project again in the Fall, but with some changes. Student project work will finish at the end of the first semester. This will allow a more focused amount of time for the students to plan their timelines. There was definitely some dead time this year. Progress updates will be bi-weekly and I will give the option of keeping a notebook or blog so students that enjoy the act of writing rather than using technology have more freedom in how they express their learning to me. The Innovation Hour will happen in February next year to coincide with our school-wide Titan 21 night where all students showcase interesting work being done in various classes. This will give a wider audience for Innovation Hour presentations. I found throughout the year students were fueled by outside interest in their work. Whenever I brought people in to talk to them about their projects, they found renewed passion in what they were doing. I want to replicate that effect more next year. The goal of this project was always to allow students the freedom to pursue something they were passionate about and give them the tools and time to bring that passion to fruition. In many ways I consider this first year a success. Students found things they were interested in and some even found paths for their future.

For me, I started out trying to complete my own 20 Time project, a collection of blog posts chronicling my adventures with my daughter in the kitchen, but often I found myself overwhelmed trying to chart my classroom journey while maintaining my personal project. I realized I missed many moments on both fronts. Next year, my goal will be to give voice regularly to what I have going on in the classroom, and work on my food blog as worthy occasions arise.

Innovation Hour

The curtain has fallen. The stage has cleared. Our first year of 20 time projects has closed. This week marked our 20 time showcase event, Innovation Hour. Students have been viewing TED talks, discussing public speaking styles, and preparing their final presentations of their yearlong journey with their 20 time projects. It has been eye-opening for me to see how they feel about their project progress and what they want to say about it. I noticed that similar comments kept cropping up. The theme was “this was not what I originally planned, but I am happy with how it turned out.” No matter what the outcome, students learned something about themselves, collaboration and long-term planning along the way.

Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Make the time span for the actual project shorter and the presentation planning time span longer.

2. Practice more- in class, on stage and with technology.

3. Be more clear about the blog purpose early on.

4. Show the video feedback from this year about failure and end games.

5. Bring more community members in and facilitate more mentorship.

6. Require a research element.

7. Require more frequent status updates and opportunities for progress sharing with wider audiences.

8. Keep schedule of one full class period every other week for 20 time.

9. Enlist HELP with evening showcase event.

10. Set a 3-5 minute cap on all final presentations and schedule 3, rather than 2 hours.

11. Start year with Dan Pink TED talk about motivation to set stage for project purpose.

12. Schedule Toastmasters early!

13. Directly instruct about various presentation technologies.

I am sure there are more, and I am sure I will add to this list as I disseminate all the data and student video reflections over the next couple of weeks. I plan to create and post a video montage of our actual Innovation Hour, as well as snippets from the video reflections to help other teachers interested in trying out a project like this. I will also plan to post my own, more complete reflection as I round out my first experiment with a project of this magnitude. I am proud of what my students accomplished and what they taught me about implementing ultimate choice in the classroom!

Rorschach, Raskolnikov and Titan 21 visits


Section 2A Student Rorschach Ink Blots


Section 4A Student Rorschach Ink Blots

The drop cloth was spread. The paint was high-flowing, and the paper was ready for blotting. After getting into Crime and Punishment, and examining Raskolnikov in all his anti-hero glory, we looked at some psychology. Students explored the history of the famed ink blot test, its validity or lack thereof, and how the test can be interpreted. Students chose their paint colors and paper sizes and set about creating their own ink blots.

After they were finished with the art part, they had to look at their blots and write about what they saw. The interesting thing is that many of them saw things that revealed something about their frame of reference. One of my students stared intently at his and when I walked over and asked him what he saw, he replied “surgery, here are the lungs and the kidneys and you can see a shadow of the rib cage.” When he said that, I could see what he was talking about, but more importantly I thought it was interesting that this student aspires to be a doctor and has been shadowing a trauma physician to get a feel for the career. He saw something that was meaningful in his life. This was meant as a fun activity to break up some of the deepness of Dostoevsky’s novel, but it became a jumping off point to talk about Rask’s dreams in the novel and what they reveal about him. I think as teachers we need to develop activities that help students engage in chunky, older texts and psychology is a great avenue given our current obsession with criminal profiling.

As a cap-off to a great week of student-centered activities, a team of visiting members of Titan 21 came to our class to check in on the students’ 20 Time projects. My school is part of an initiative to bring more project-based learning into classrooms. The visiting team consisted of administrators, teachers, and an educational consultant from Advanced learning Partnerships, Amos Fodchuk, who has been spear-heading professional development for our school system. The students rose to the challenge. It was a typical 20 Time day with groups gathered in their favorite spots around the room working on their final leg of these projects. The visiting team spread out around the room and asked the students questions about their projects, challenges and triumphs they had faced, and how they thought the project time was impacting preparing for the AP Lit exam in May. I caught little snippets of the conversations and was impressed. Students were poised and confident. They shared their work from Sketch-Up models of a baseball field redesign to a website for homework help to a first aid app to a journey with random acts of kindness. I could not have been more proud. I think in the future I need to provide more opportunities for the kids to showcase their work. It infused a renewed passion for their projects and showed them how excited other people are about what they are doing!

20 Time presentations and iSearch Papers

With all the snow, I have had some time to reflect on what we need to accomplish in my classes as we draw near to the end of 3rd nine weeks. It also gave me time to order a few things to support my students’ 20 Time projects. One of the great fears of most students is public speaking. Being able to communicate a message effectively to an audience is such an important skill to possess that I decided to spend some extra time on that aspect of the 20 Time projects. I am a huge fan of TED Talks and show them regularly in class as bounce points for discussion or journal writing. You can find a talk on pretty much any topic you might want to explore and there are new ones being added all the time. Preparing my students to deliver a TED-like talk will be a daunting task so I decided to order a couple books. I bought Talk Like TED and How to deliver a TED Talk to help me with my students’ public speaking skills. I deliver presentations to large audiences myself, so hopefully between what I learn from the books and what I already know, I can help my students craft great presentations.

I have come to realize that the model I set up with the 20 Time projects is too lengthy to keep students engaged. There was alot of excitement when we first embarked on these projects and some students have kept up with that drive to learn, but many are lagging at this point. When I changed the model to be just two blogs a month about progress and one day every other week devoted solely to the projects, I thought that would help students focus more on what they wanted to accomplish. I have come to realize now that this project should be more of a semester-long quest rather than a whole school year. The students that chose smaller ideas to pursue are starting to stall and the blogs reflect that stagnation. I think when I set this up next year, I will make it a semester pursuit, but will allow the option to continue on throughout the year for those it makes sense to. I will have to figure out how to incorporate it into second semester for those who want to continue, but that is something to think about over the summer.

I have also realized that two weeks of snow days really crunches trying to get these presentation in around Spring Break. My other impediment is the AP exam window in May. I know many of my students will be out those two weeks in May for various AP exams and it would not be prudent to try and plan presentations leading up to them or during the window since students will be spending all of their mental energy preparing for those exams. So, as much as I wanted to finish these in April, I am going to have to push them to the third week of May. The good news with that is two of my groups are doing school-wide activities as their culminating products, a “Keep Rec Sports Alive” football camp and a March Madness-style basketball tournament, “Gilbert’s Game,” in honor of a beloved faculty member with breast cancer to help pay bills and support her through her time of need. Both of these large-scale projects are happening in late April and early May so the students will actually be able to present on their full projects. I think next year I will also add a required research element to the projects, probably before the Pitch Proposals to add another layer to what we can explore with the projects and maybe give kids more ideas about what to pursue. The other thing I have been kicking around is a response element so students are actively looking at each other’s projects and maybe providing some feedback. They are always excited to hear about what others are doing when we talk about it in class, but few actively go out and read other’s blogs. I think a discussion/feedback element would aid in keeping the students excited about what they are doing.

In some of my senior classes (non-AP), my students have started an iSearch project. I read about iSearch papers a couple of years ago in Ken Macrorie’s book, The I-Search Paper: Revised Edition of Searching and Writing. I like the iSearch format because it gives room for a more personal approach to research. The paper becomes not just a regurgitation of what is already out there, but an avenue to add your own voice to that body of research. I find too, the narrative approach to research makes the inquiry more meaningful and relatable to the student’s life. So,I asked students to think about something they are interested in doing the year after graduation- career or personally- to spend some time researching and writing about. I widened the parameters more than I usually do and told them to think about ideally what they would want to do if given any option. Last year, I held it to just researching a career or college program they planned to enter. I realized as I was talking to them about their projects, that some had followed on to what they are doing with their 20 Time projects. I have students writing novels that want to be professional writers after high school and students working with animal care agencies that want to pursue Wildlife Biology and Veterinary Science after graduation. It was pretty cool to see this tie-in to what they have been pursuing all year. One thing I always require with research is a personal interview. I think it is important to talk to somebody who has walked in the shoes you aspire to wear.  It gives you a better idea of what it takes to be successful and the pitfalls you might face. I also realize that sometimes students don’t know where to start with finding an interview subject, so I always offer my resources to find an interview. I was able to hook up one of my students with a Wildlife Biologist for the State of Virginia and two of my writers with published poets. There is no substitute for interacting with people practicing in the field you want to be a part of. It is interesting to see how curriculum can become so interconnected when you make it driven by student choice and voice. It is not always easy as a teacher to let the control go, but the reward with the students is worth it.

Teaching Research with PSAs

Research is always that dreaded word with high school students. I get them as seniors and they seem to have been inoculated against enjoying all the doors you can unlock as you explore sources and search for answers to questions. We do little bits of research throughout the year as a primer for a larger quest. We embarked on one of our mini-research projects a couple of weeks ago and presented the culminating projects this week, PSAs. Students chose a heroic cause, organization or person to look into and create a public service announcement to share with the class. Their subjects ranged from a local shelter for battered women and children- The Turning Point Shelter, to the SPCA, to warnings against drunk driving and on and on. They all took unique approaches to their final products as well. Some visited locations and conducted interviews, others created role play scenes and still others used photography intermixed with statistics to get their messages across.

Once students identified a subject for the project, we went into the nuts and bolts of effective research, what constitutes research and how to properly create an annotated MLA bibliography. I have found over the years that direct instruction is necessary when teaching students citation style. I have tried everything under the sun to make it fun, but nothing embeds the knowledge more than lecture, teacher modeling and student practice so that is what we did. I heavily use the Owl at Purdue website. They have thorough, up-to-date materials on MLA style and often examples for students to follow. The quick guide I give students based on the Owl at Purdue materials is below. Once we have gone through the notes and I have done some modeling, I asked students to pick a topic, any topic, find 5 sources and then we practice creating MLA citations for those sources. I like to do this in class so I can circle around and help them find the sometimes elusive information such as author, publication date, and publisher on websites. After they have successfully cited their sources and proven to me they know where to look for information, I allow them to use This may be scandalous in the English teacher world, but I know they will fall back on sites like this when they get to college or even other classes. We do go through easybib so they can see that it does not always pull all the information for a complete citation and now because of our practice work, they know where to find it.

Next up is evaluation of sources. This is such an important step in today’s world of instant information. Students often will just Google something and go to the first site as their source. We need to teach them how to be smart consumers of information. I start with an oldie, but goodie- the Tree Octopus site. A former librarian turned me onto this and I have used it every year to introduce evaluation of sources. I give them the handout my librarian made for me. It is attached below. We use that handout as we look through the Tree Octopus website. Once we have evaluated and determined this website to be not credible, the students went out on their own to find a website, evaluate it and then present it to the class. I play the devil’s advocate and ask them lots of questions about their websites to get them thinking about the questions they need to be asking as they are looking for sources. I have found this to be very effective in teaching reliability and credibility of sources over the years.

The last thing we go over before I let them go is copyright. Especially with the creation of student videos, they need to understand the laws regarding web content and music. Most students today are savvy with pirating videos, music and images and they don’t think about the ramifications of their actions. They have grown up in an age where everything is at their fingertips. Communal property has become and aspect to their thinking. Everything is owned and shared by everybody. Music is what most interests my students so that is how I approach copyright and it is especially relevant with the Sam Smith case being waged currently in the music world. We start with one of the most famous copyright in music cases in my lifetime, Vanilla Ice vs. Queen. This video shows a mashup of the two artists. The students immediately see the similarities and that opens the conversation for other famous copyright infringement cases. This video is a compilation of possible copyright issues. I let the students check it out and vote. Most of these are not considered infringement but there are a couple thrown in there like the Huey Lewis and Ray Parker case. We also look cases of famous authors reprimanded for plagiarism. Christian Science Monitor has a great article detailing five of the most famous ones. After we looked at all of this, I let the loose on their research.

The process of the PSA project included a five source annotated bibliography, a full script and storyboard and then the final video, cleanly edited with appropriate special effects and music. I ran most of these classes leading up to the presentations as workshops so I could walk around and help students troubleshoot or give them the opportunity to go outside the classroom to film scenes. If you are just starting this project and want to show students examples of PSAs, some good ones can be found on the MY Hero website. The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter is one of my favorites! I also like the Smokey the Bear commercials. This is the link to one I showed in class. The students really enjoyed this project and did not even complain about the research element. In fact, they requested more video projects. I plan to incorporate a video element into our in-depth career research project coming next week. I was really impressed by what they produced and the enthusiasm they came to class with each day. They continually show me that if I give them choice and get out of their way, they do great things!


2009 MLA Packet

21st Century Curriculum in Industrial Era Schools: Challenges and Triumphs

We have now officially had our full 20 Time work days in both my “A” and “B” day classes. I observed much more real work going on with the projects. Most teams charted out their timelines for the duration of the project, allocated responsibilities for blog posts, as well as other project elements.

By and large the change in model has been successful. I did have a couple of interesting conversations with my writer groups though. The students that have committed themselves to writing a novel, collection of short stories or poetry anthology actually espoused a dislike for the new model and I can understand why. One student lamented that the weekly writing requirement forced him to create a writing routine for himself. He has found without the class requirement of weekly writing, it is difficult to make himself write, especially when writer’s block sets in. I completely understand this dilemma. I explained to him that I schedule some time each week that I must sit down and write, even if I don’t want to, even if I have nothing to say. I sometimes write the same word over and over until something comes, but I make myself do it no matter what I have going on in my everyday life because I know how hard it is to get back into a habit once you have deviated. For this particular student, I offered to have a “dummy” requirement of a chapter a week due to me on Fridays. He was a little hesitant this would work, but agreed. I am thinking of setting up some system where all my writers could do this since many of them talked about the issue of not having a routine to follow.

On the other hand, my mentor text project with another student has really taken off. In fact, a student from a different project has, of her own volition, jumped in. She also struggles sometimes with the density of “novels of literary merit,” but wants to increase her reading acumen. It was heartening to see the two of them discussing what they liked and what they were looking for in books. With my guidance, they both found books to try out. It helps they have similar interests- historical fiction and romance. In an effort to help with this mentor/ladder text issue in secondary classrooms, I investigated the availability of a program that would help find books similar in lexile level and prose style. I want something similar to Pandora for music, but most of what is out there (Amazon, Goodreads) is more if you liked one genre, you would like these books. That is not really what I want. I want students to be able to reach to other areas for books with similar prose style, not necessarily genre. I did stumble across an interesting idea, the Book Genome Project.

How BookLamp ingests a book

It is called BookLamp, but it has apparently been bought by Apple and is no longer available. It is hypothesized Apple will use it to battle Amazon, but I would just like to check it out and see if it does what I am looking for. So far, it is the only program of its ilk that looks like it might satisfy my requirements. I did have the idea that I might propose to some of my app teams to try their hand at creating an app for novels based on the programming behind Pandora.

Some of the obstacles we have encountered thus far have to do with the general philosophy and current model of public school. I find it interesting that many systems have jumped on the STEM and Project-Based Learning train, but do not take the steps to encourage success for the classes that embrace it. I just sent an email to our Central IT department asking for some programs to be unblocked and others to be added to our school computers so students working on app creation projects and projects involving the 3D printer can be completed. Unfortunately, I have heard from my ITRT that he has been fighting this battle for over a year and the school system is unwilling to allow programs to be installed on school computers. Basically, the students who have their own resources to purchase home computers and software can participate in this type of learning, but those that cannot are at a standstill. Again, economics becomes a factor in public education. I have students excited about what they are doing, but are stymied in the Industrial Era model of schooling. I also find it interesting that we spend money purchasing new technology but then lock it down so much, it becomes useless. They want collaborative work, but provide spaces and equipment that are mired in a traditional school philosophy. Personally, my students will find some alleviation of these issues because of a mini-grant I was awarded through the National Writing Project, but that does not help other teachers who will face similar problems in trying out my project. I am not sure what the answer is, but you can’t have both a traditional school and an innovative curriculum. There has to be flexibility for this type of learning- flexibility in classroom environment, time allocation, curriculum and rules.