29 January 2011

STEM Cells: Seeds for Potential Problem-Based Learning

We're all over the news for our impending transition.  OK, we have an article in the Hickory Daily Record.  But the switch is drawing closer and closer, and we're feeling a little like beheaded poultry.  Recruitment for next year is already underway, and we don't have a lot of answers yet.

Me, I'm contemplating grad school vs. a trip to Guatemala (that I may or may not be offered) vs. the possibility of being on the team of 4 who will design our curriculum over the summer.  I'm afraid to be left out of the new plans and what that will mean for my ability to contribute anything ever again, if I'm not in on the ground floor.  I haven't taken a science or math class since high school, and I'm always the 4th or 5th person (out of 9) to catch on to technology trends.  I'm not yet sure how to make language learning relevant in a STEM program, or if it can truly can be, and you can be darn sure that no one else is any surer; if I don't defend it, who will?

So what do I do?

I ponder, plan, and begin to educate myself.

Chad makes a good point on classroots.org: we need to get out of the students' way.  That is a big part of what this STEM program is about: problem-based learning, learning out of necessity, learning by doing.  The Hickory Daily Record mentions possible problems we'd address, including "reverse-engineering the brain or engineering better medications."  (Yikes.) But I've also chatted with some of my companeros about the need for addressing sustainability, green technology, and environmental issues, and that is where I feel more confident in the ability of Spanish in particular to play a significant role.

The Guatemala trip would be the chance of a lifetime for connecting Spanish and health sciences, but should that fall through, here are some problems I could see myself helping with:

  • providing potable water for a (or all?) remote village in a central American country
  • balancing diets in a malnourished (Spanish-speaking) region
  • public awareness projects in the local Latino community (heart health? STDs? childhood obesity?)
  • rainforest preservation campaigns
  • endangered species preservation campaigns (me, I'm for manatees--they're Caribbean, so it's relevant!)
Also, for part of the educating myself, I've checked out Replenishing the Earth by Wangari Maathai, where, though it sounds strange, I hope to find MORE problems.

I'm certainly going to need help if I'm going to get a real-life international problems to solve, so I should probably contact one or all of these soon (if only I knew where I'd be this summer!):
If you have any other ideas on keeping language learning, especially Spanish, relevant in STEM schools, by all means, point me in the right direction!

28 January 2011

Experiments This Week

Bilingual "Plátiza"
Chalk talk = plática de tiza = plátiza

"Chalk talks" are a classic method of instruction at my school.  I don't know where they came from, and they are probably classic elsewhere too, but I believe I have taken it to a new level--a bilingual level.  Furthermore, it was the best essential question I have ever come up with and the most current and engaging topic I have dared address, if I do say so myself.  Plus, I think I was successful in lowering the affective filter for my more, shall we say, reticent charges.

  1. Question on the board ahead of time (and a lot of board cleaning as well): ¿Cuándo es aceptable censurar? (Note the simplicity, cognate usage, and general open-endedness)
  2. Establish rules: double points for Spanish responses, not necessarily complete sentences, sign your responses, and NO TALKING.
  3. Allot 10 minutes for students to post initial responses and respond to each other.
  4. Discuss common ground
The first class did well trying to stick to Spanish, and though the 2nd class had a lot of English, they were at least engaging with the essential question and responding to classmates' Spanish responses!

Glog-based literary cultural discussion with realia AND high interest interpersonal TL comunication
I'd already introduced the topic with the essential question in the plátiza and the realia with the YouTube video of "La Granja," (plus vocabulary), but it came together on the glog I made with the video, the lyrics, graphics, links to news sites, and response questions.  THEN, students commented with their responses to the questions--in SPANISH.  (To make it truly interpersonal, I will need to respond to their comments, but have not decided whether to respond with more comments or with personal messages through glogster.)

The 2nd class (that always gets short-changed at least an hour a week because of our schedule) has not gotten to this part yet, but watching the first class go was AWESOME.  There were students openly debating over whether the pigs had to be the government or if they more accurately represented northern NAFTA exploiting businesses.  There were jaws dropping and then dropping again over the extent of the drug trafficking problems in Mexico.  AND there was experimentation in the target language to respond and give reasons! (See for yourself on the glog link above!)  I'm apprehensive about the 2nd class, given their recalcitrant resistance to even looking at anything in Spanish, but I hope the topic will still grab them.

Kicking the Vocabulary Quiz
I'm trying @SECottrell's "regular vocabulary practice," starting today.  Spanish I went over their weather vocabulary out loud for 5 minutes, and I could hear them getting quicker with the associations!  There are a few whose pronunciation I'll have to address next time, but what an easy way to catch it.  I think I'm going to have them do it 3 times with this set of vocab and count that for a quiz grade (25 points), but also the kind of vocab quiz they're used to, just to see what happens. I also plan on trying the pop cloze listening quiz for 10 points, but that'll have to be next week.

27 January 2011

Drugs in the classroom

I have been rolling this idea around in my head since last year, but just now feel ready to take it on.  Below are my ideas for a unit on narcocorridos and the proposed ban on their production.  Think it'll work?  What can I do to make it work better?

We're just starting, and the "Plátiza" and video engagement have been awesome *knock on wood*, and I want to keep the momentup going

Essential question: 
Should narcocorridos be banned in Mexico?

  • Interpret lyrics from the song "La Granja" by Los Tigres del Norte
  • Analyze and discuss reasons "La Granja" has been censored
  • Analyze and discuss the effect of drug trafficking on Mexican culture
  • Interpret a designated narcocorrido in a small group
  • Present positive and negative qualities of the selected narcocorrido
  • Produce an advertisement for or against the banning of narcocorridos
 "La Granja" vocabulary:
ladrar, morder, romper, jaula, perra, ganancia, caerse, granjero, alimentarse, cerco, zorro, gavilán, cuerda, soltarse, perder, puerco, conejo, arrepentirse, espantar, deber

Grammar demonstration opportunities:
Irregular preterite forms, plural preterite, reflexives, impersonal "se"

Other selected corridos:
"La Reina del Sur," "Jefe de Jefes" - Los Tigres del Norte
"El Jefe de la Sierra" - Los Tucanes de Tijuana
"Corrido de Chito Cano" - Ramón Ayala
"Chuy y Mauricio" - El Potro de Sinaloa
"Los Dos Jefes" - Banda El Recodo

Week 1
Plátiza (chalk talk): ¿Cuándo es aceptable censurar?
Vocabspiration with music video and lyrics
Glog symbolism questions (comment responses in Spanish)
Plural preterite P.A.C.E. (supimos, ayudaron, comentaron, tumbaron, espantaron, pusieron)
Journal: Por qué censuraron "La Granja"
Irregular preterite P.A.C.E. (supimos, pusieron, vino + hizo, hicieron, dijo, dijeron, pudo, pudieron)
Class discussion: Review events of "La Granja" in Spanish (using preterite)
Small group discussions: last weekend
Journal: classmates' weekends
Chain story fables/allegories about U.S. (wiki?)

Week 2
Group assignments and narcocorrido "shopping" (play music, display lyrics)
Personalized group vocabspiration by song
Group character/setting breakdowns
Reflexive P.A.C.E.
Text song summaries to classmates (polleverywhere.com?)
Guided class interpretation:  Canciones vedadas en México
Journal: Pro/Con censurar tu narcocorrido
Jigsaw small group discussions: censurar o no?
RAFT assignment, planning

Weeks 3 & 4
RAFT planning
RAFT presentations

I'm not sure whether or not to include grammar quizzes and vocabulary quizzes to build from lower-order thinking skills to higher (and thus lower the affective filter?). I also wonder if I should do more to bring all the latest beheading and massacre news in.

23 January 2011

Teaching to the test

I have never taught a course with a state-designated end-of-course test before.  I have prepared students for a writing test at the beginning of March (months after their course was over, or only a quarter into it).  I have taught to county-designed tests, copies of which I had even before the course started.

I have never taught English I before, so, for the sake of my students and my school's reputation, I have to learn.

So I'm trying to prepare students to feel confident and competent by the time test day rolls around.  I'm trying to diagnose problems now, do mini-lessons to appease the grammarian gods and impress the upper echelons of literary luminaries.  I figured for a midterm test, I'd go ahead and use a model test, with my own modifications for higher order thinking, time constraints, and diagnosis purposes.

Let me say this, first: do not try to do all of the adaptations the day you are giving the test.  You'll muddle questions and have to throw them out.  Granted, to some extent, this worked well for me, in that it evened numbers out to make calculation easier.  Still, it's embarrassing and probably makes life harder for the kiddos while they're taking the test.

Something I did right, however, is give students (in the end) only 30 questions and ask them to explain their answers.  I think it worked well to have the answer sheet include the questions as well as the space for explanation (no matter how time consuming it was in the adaptation process), because not only could they mark up the questions, but I could also see their thought processes more easily.  Yet it was more confusing to copy the texts they were to analyze on a separate page, and it was but a vain effort to save paper (since I printed twice, and my saintly colleague who stepped in to copy for my copied both copies as one test).  And if I'm going to be doing all of this flipping to answer a few questions at a time, why not a little more?

As for grading this test, it is not as simple as a quick zip through the scantron, as the EOC itself will be.  Plus some creative pointage is in order to make this an even 100-point affair.  So I decided students will get 1 point for answering the question (30 points possible) PLUS 1 point for getting the right answer (30 points possible) .  Then they had to explain 10 of their answers.  They get another point for explaining (10 points), and 3 more points for answers that are accurate, thorough, and complete.  I'm finding it hard to distinguish between thorough and complete on some of these, but mainly it comes down to are they missing something for their explanation to make sense (complete)?  Or are they missing something to confirm their answer another way (thorough)?

At least it's still possible to get the answer wrong and get 5 points for the question, right?  In theory, it's possible to get all of the questions wrong, and still pass, but the likelihood is slim, and "thorough and complete" is killing more of them than "right or wrong" is.  And though they only had to explain 10, there was a reward in explaining more (not advertised), as a few students who struggled still got 100 or close to it.

In the end, though, I have 18 out of 20 passing the test, which, according to my observations, represents the ones who have a shot at passing the EOC this year. After all, as my erstwhile fearless leader said, there are some "even God can't get to pass."

Be it noted also: it has taken me approximately 3 hours to grade these 19 tests, but that is including time for entering grades, grading a whole set of quizzes in between for variety, a lengthy calculation process, and, of course, blogging.  All in all, I think this will help me prepare them for the EOC while incorporating higher order thinking.

21 January 2011

What's family for?

It has been said that a dysfunctional family is any family that has more than one person in it.  Though my school family this year has lost a couple of members due to fisticuffs (ironically, the sparring partners are happier than ever to be there--others didn't have the stomach for the potential for such conflagrations), we are still 13 strong on a good day.  We are nothing, if not dysfunctional.  But we are certainly a family.

What is a Newton School family?

It's a class that is not a class.  It's like homeroom, in that it's a group of kids each teacher keeps track of, in theory throughout their high school career (though the longest I've had one student is 2.3 years--one of the "weak stomach" ones).

It's group therapy without a qualified counselor or confidentiality.  Students get time to talk out things bothering them for almost an hour each week with a group of their peers plus one authority figure sworn to keep their confidence (as far as any oaths extend in teenage ethical systems).

It's character building...?  It was before my time, but I'm told that we received a scathing review because of the lack of predetermined structure to family time, so it was decided half our time should be spent on character building activities.  I've occasionally had a good "lesson" START with something I presented, but mostly their character education is a result of really good therapy-type sessions, where students take over and tell each other what's what and what's true.

Today, family's topic was a foregone conclusion, after the long arm of the law flexed for us today.  And it was also one of those character building, student takeover therapy sessions.  Granted, it was not the most revelatory and life-changing session ever held, but here's what came of what could have been one big pout fest with vows to stitch snitches:

  • They will not tolerate other students making their school look bad.
  • They owned their parts in the negative changes they have seen happening in our school (though they are at a loss for how to fix it)
  • They want the higher expectations and truly small classes they were promised before enrolling.
  • They miss having a leader that made them feel bad for not acting how they ought to.
  • They value having outlets like writing and dance that can keep them out of trouble.

There was some whingeing, but not really the kind I expected, and that made me proud of my usually rough, dysfunctional family.  They surprise me and restore my faith in teenagers now and then.

I guess that's what family's for.

17 January 2011

Cooking by numbers

1 oven, stove, microwave, refrigerator, table in the kitchen the district office let us use 3 bags/boxes of utensils lent for cooking show purposes
20 bags (give or take) of ingredients for both classes
2 days for students to cook and record themselves cooking for their cooking shows (180 minutes)
18 students in my first Spanish I class
9 different recipe groups in said Spanish I class
4 students out (presumably for MLK day) from 4 different groups
1.5 groups ready to cook today
8 students working on scripts and/or videos with me in the district office kitchen
6 students sent to Sr. V.'s computer lab to work on scripts
1 bowl left unwashed when I had to leave for...
2 after-school meetings
13 students in tomorrow's Spanish I class, who got...
75 extra minutes to prepare on Saturday (when we couldn't get the kitchen), wherein they watched...
5 example videos on YouTube before working on their scripts the remaining hour, so...
4 groups had better be ready tomorrow!!

13 January 2011

Spanish teachers are supposed to...

It's been five years since I posted these frustrations. I share it now to convey how absolutely lost and overwhelmed we can all feel with expectations that come at us from every direction--state requirements, local colleagues, national standards, parents, and students. I think I've come a long way in five years--a LONG way! Proficiency-based PBL is working WORLDS better for me and my students. But it was NOT a smooth transition! 
--LKS 1/14/16

...teach months and days of the week before getting halfway through Spanish 1

...introduce common object names for interpretive communication before the 1st semester mark

...give beginning students songs and poems they can sing or recite

...make a bigger deal out of Hispanic holidays

...work gustar and various activities in by now

...talk about the weather more the first year

...use ir and its sundry present tense conjugations as early and often as possible

...make students identify famous Hispanic people and animals from photos

...read stories to their students in Spanish, and have students read for themselves

...incorporate various forms and applications into lesson plans

...do more with sports in the classroom

...emphasize maps more

...get to food and cooking AFTER school and small talk stuff

...discuss students' weekends and vacations in Spanish

...address daily routine vocabulary

...play whole songs, movies, and newscasts in Spanish for students to interpret regularly

All this just to get the kids to "Intermediate Low" on Linguafolio.

To be an "accomplished teacher of world languages" according to the National Boards, I should also be...

...incorporating realia and authentic texts, literary and nonliterary, on a regular basis (a "mosaic of authentic materials," no less)

...making students learn about themselves and others at the same time

..."deepening the array of resources available" to my students beyond textbooks (which, at least, I don't use)

...make sure all lessons somehow convey "cultural appropriateness"

On top of that, I found a rubric, which I really like, that also suggests that I am falling down on the job by not...

...teaching and requiring the use of varied conjunctions and transitions

...actively encouraging compound, complex, and/or compound-complex sentence structures

I'm teaching things all out of order, thus making a big muddle of what it makes sense for students to know at their respective stages, and ultimately begging the question a parent asked me offhand as she was waiting for her son the other day: "Why can't he say more by now?"

And this, this is why I am probably a sucky Spanish teacher and may never get National Boards.

11 January 2011

The snow is spoiling my chicken

There are some things I would do differently about last Friday's field trip to El Caporal.  Right now, the first thing I would change is to have put the $30 worth of chicken in the freezer before the triple snow day hit.

Before the trip, days before, I should also have...
  • collected and checked off student money for purchases (receipts or no)
  • scouted out the market better to know ahead of time which items would not be available
  • assigned students to get the ingredients not available at the mercado
  • made a list that only included ingredients I was 100% sure they could find
  • assigned students to find actual prices--somewhere--for the items they needed for their recipes
  • arranged to borrow several flip cameras from other teachers so students could record too
  • finalized, printed, and copied grading rubrics
  • scouted out the kitchen so I knew where it was at least
  • arranged for back-up kitchens somehow
  • staged rehearsals?
  • kept possible questions simpler
On the trip, I should have...
  • made the students wear "no me hables en ingles, por favor" stickers, as I'd planned
  • designated a meeting place or at least a cart station for students to go when they found their items
  • established a time limit for collecting ingredients
  • allowed only those students who got their items to the carts under the time limit to purchase goodies of their own
  • designated at least 2 students from each class to try to record interactions on flip cameras (or their cell phones or personal cameras?)
  • taken my coat off so I would not feel so irritable
  • checked my (husband's) camera carefully to be sure it was still recording and not frozen
  • checked expiration dates!
After the trip, I should have...
  • had each student label their own items with the school name for placement in the refrigerator
  • had a designated spot in my classroom for the non-refrigerated items
  • had students sit by class in the Great Hall when we got back, so I could keep track of attendance
  • sent them to computers to start typing scripts
  • had grading rubrics ready to distribute
  • assigned a reflection journal, perhaps on questions they'd want to know how to ask for next time, what they actually said, heard, and/or observed
  • made sure I had a finalized list of the utensils they would need to begin ASAP
All in all, I would not say the trip was a failure, but it was definitely a trial run.

Now if we could just get back to school and start cooking before the semester!

10 January 2011

Which video will increase my salary?

Freaky Olivia doll at Rite Aid in Normal Heights on Twitpic
I have two decent lessons recorded for Entry 3, but decent for different reasons.  One involves students trying to give me directions on how to rescue a 42" Olivia Doll. The other involves Skyping my ex-mother-in-law in Mexico about health care.  No, I'm not sure which is freakier.  Nor am I sure which is liable to save me the trouble of going through National Boards yet again

So I offer a comparison based on what Entry 3 suggests that "accomplished teachers of world languages" do:

make decisions about instructional content and strategies based on their knowledge of the learning styles, backgrounds, experiences, and goals of their individual students.
Doll Rescue
I do know this is a hyperactive class that craves interaction, and that analytical lessons tend not to sink in as well as, say, practical lessons like this one.  I also know we've just started dealing with object pronouns and have been exposed to the Mexican first aid manual I found online last year for weeks now with little application. Many of the students are averse to learning Spanish at all, and mostly just want the grade...or I could say they want something they can finally use...
Suegra Skype
Students have been dealing with object pronouns and first aid words a great deal, but they know little about the context in which they might apply the words.  Most have not talked to people in other countries, but would like to be able to carry on a conversation.
+1 Doll Rescue

show their commitment to engage all students in learning about themselves and others through their choice of varied activities—whole class, group, or individual.
Doll Rescue
The kiddos are certainly active (read: engaged), and a couple of students did learn that they knew more than they thought.  I don't think I can really say they learn anything about others. It is a whole-class activity, which is mostly what we've done so far...perhaps if I follow up with
Suegra Skype
All students asked questions (except for one who was absent the day before who wasn't even on camera).  They learned about my ex-suegra and about how well they could make themselves understood.  The question-making was a group activity, questions were asked individually (and reactions were formed individually too).
+1 Suegra Skype 

draw upon their knowledge of how languages work to set attainable and worthwhile learning goals for their students.
Doll Rescue
I did have students turn a question into command, so they were practicing grammatical rules for a purpose. The activity was also contextual instead of isolated. Trying to save someoen would be worthwhile, and was attainable, even for some of the naysayers.
Suegra Skype
I had them form the questions ahead of time and discuss gambits to respond--not that they used any. The activity was contextual again, and authentic, certainly worthwhile. Attainable, though?
+1 Doll Rescue

recognize the demands put on learners by different types of interactions and contacts with the target language.
Doll Rescue
This was a good example of interpersonal, as I was able to respond to the students, use context clues, and adapt according to their revisions.
Suegra Skype
This came off more as a presentational type of interaction when it should have been interpersonal, but it was a rare opportunity to converse with a native speaker who knows little English.
+1 Doll Rescue

provide a mosaic of authentic materials and resources dealing with target cultures that includes literary as well as nonliterary sources such as artifacts and guest speakers. Where possible, they bring into the classroom products, practices, and perspectives of the target cultures.
Doll Rescue The manual is the authentic material, but has little to do with culture. It is not literary, but is an artifact, a product. However, the practices and perspectives do not appear to be unique to the target culture (though I could spin that as a similarity, perhaps).
Suegra Skype
A guest speaker IN Mexico--how much more authentic does it get? This activity meant more delving into practices and perspectives of the culture, though.
+1 Suegra Skype

understand that second-language acquisition is a constructive and interactive process; they therefore create situations in which students learn to negotiate meaning with the teacher, with one another, and with texts.
Doll Rescue Interaction is definitely evident, and they negotiated meaning with me as they struggled to get me to do the right thing. They built on each other's suggestions and used the manual.
Suegra SkypeThere was construction, but the interaction was not so...interactive. I stepped in to help Suegra too much instead of making students make themselves understood. If need be, I could explain how next time we'd spend more time on gambits and clarification, rephrasing--perhaps a rehearsal with me a day beforehand.
+1 Doll Rescue

actively and effectively engage their students in language learning and cultural studies; they use a variety of teaching strategies to help develop students’ proficiency, increase their knowledge, strengthen their understanding, and foster their critical and creative thinking.
Doll Rescue
Certainly language learning, but cultural studies? More interdisciplinary. There were a variety of activities: pop music powerpoints with love and object pronouns, interactive whiteboard sentence rearranging, PACE notes (also strengthened understanding). Critical and creative thinking would perhaps be how to address the injuries.
Suegra Skype
Not so active, certainly culture. There are a lot of things that looking back I COULD have been doing as students and suegra got confused instead of jumping in, but I think there was critical thinking as they wrote about what they didn't understand, what they learned, and what they found interesting, but maybe not a whole lot.
+1 Doll Rescue

know that language learning is not a passive process; students have to participate actively in every aspect of instruction. In the classrooms of accomplished teachers, students are engaged in using the target language in a variety of interactive tasks.
Doll Rescue Definitely not passive! Participate actively, every aspect, check. Variety of interactive tasks? Well, different injuries addressed.
Suegra Skype
Kind of passive. All participate, asking, listening. They're speaking and they're listening, and they're writing...supposedly.
+1 Doll Rescue

 enrich and deepen the array of resources available to them by looking beyond textbooks to consider how they might employ a wide variety of source materials to benefit students.
Doll Rescue
Manual is beyond textbook.
Suegra Skype
Skyping real live (former) nurses in Mexico? WAY beyond textbook.
+1 Suegra Skype

continually analyze and evaluate the quality of their teaching in order to strengthen its effectiveness and enhance student learning.
Check and check.

Total: Doll Rescue—6, Suegra Skype—3

Sad, because I got the National Board liaison from central office to come record the Suegra Skype, and she showed up with 2 different cameras and tripods! I can allude to the Suegra Skype as a follow-up activity, at least, I suppose.

08 January 2011

What AM I?

lckillian...MrsH_English...Huerter0...SraH_Espanol...Sra. Spanglish

I graduated with a BS and thought I was an English teacher.

I got Spanish certification and became a Spanglish teacher.

I moved and quit teaching English (job availability, you know).

I got my first English I class on top of 2 Spanish I classes and 2 Spanish II classes.

Also, my last name has changed 3 times since I started teaching English.

And now?  Now, I don't know what I am.  Our school has recently decided to become a STEM school, focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Where does Spanish fit in? I ask.  We have no idea, they reply.  But English, you know, everyone still has to write and all that.

As a matter of fact, we might not even have courses (at least in the traditional sense), starting with next year's 9th graders.  We're getting end-of-course test, standard course of study, and even seat time waivers (we think).  We will make up our own curriculum around STEM-related, health and life science problems.  Actually, 4 of the 8 of us will.  I would dearly like to be one of those 4.

Then I might finally be able to decide what I am.