Sunday, May 14, 2017

Project based learning as a performance final

At my high school, we're required to give written and spoken performance finals in addition to our objective multiple-choice finals. I'm a huge advocate for authentic assessment and have never loved the idea of kids recording into a void on what they call 'mind-control devices' (the language lab). I think the lab absolutely has its place, but when it comes to spoken assessment, I want them to have interaction, encouragement, be able to ask questions, and show off to whatever extent they can. I also want it to be fluid, low-pressure, fun, and forgiving - and most of all, authentic.

Three of my awesome students created my first semester performance final for Latin II this year. They set up the plot of a murder mystery. We spent an afternoon on this, the four of us, and made enough character summaries - fifteen of whom were central to the plot, and the rest of whom were simply filler/effluvia - for everyone in each class, and made sure we repeated information across several characters. We included some contradictory information, some odd incriminating-sounding information, and (my favorite part) created a tape outline of a dead guy on my floor. We created props, like pictures and love letters and text messages.

Each student got a chart that they filled in - who said what about whom, what their thoughts were, what they believed - as they talked to each other person. They were required to ask for names, where the other person was, what they thought of Iosephus (the dead guy). Then, they had to use evidence provided by other characters to ask at least one other in-depth question (like: Anna said that you don't like Iosephus. Did you fight with him?) and record all of the above on their papers.

The next day, they took their 'case notes' and created a 'case file' - pictures, their proof, any evidence they were given (copies of the love letter Iosephus' girlfriend wrote him, a photograph, Iosephus' cell phone), what various people said, and what they believed.

This was their performance final. Can you ask and answer questions? Can you use the present and past tense in varying persons? Can you take in surprising information and respond to it?

We did a similar thing this semester. We spent time talking about values and bartering and worth and types of numbers (Latin has so many numbers) and price, comparisons of varying types, contrafactual clauses. So pairs set up a shopping center. They had two days to prep - create whatever they wanted to sell, create a sign with prices, make whatever it was they needed, rehearse conversation with each other, practice questions, practice with me, create their ledger that they used to keep track of sales, whatever they needed.

On the day of, for half the class period one partner sold while the other one shopped (I created and gave them money). Then, at the halfway point, they switched who was doing what. I went around to each shop and had an individual conversation with the shopkeep (as well as eavesdropped on conversations they were having with others, in case the conversation with me was less authentic due to the pressure of assessment), and graded them based on this, their ledger, and the other elements of their shops.

We did a plus/delta session, and the students made it clear that not only did they enjoy the assessment, but that they felt it represented well what they were able to do, since they weren't asked to speak on a particular topic. That is to say, rather than dictating what they had to talk about, it widened the playing field to what can you talk about?

On Fidget Tools

I have a small basket of fidget tools - a couple of cubes with various sides (one that clicks, one that rolls, etc), some tubes with marbles in, some metal interconnected rings, a plastic twisty thing, a silicon thing you can stick your fingers in, and a couple spinners. They were all pretty cheap (so's the quality, if we're going to be honest) - I got them for a dollar each at, which means it took thirty years for them to get here, but that's okay. I'm doing a dry run.

See, I think the fidget tools are actually really important. A few years ago, I let a kid borrow my kombaloi beads I got in Greece because he could. not. focus. unless he was playing with something, and when he had those, his attention span got longer, his participation level went up, and his grades went through the roof. He just had too much body to deal with, so once he chilled his body out, his mind could work. It was great.

And then the fidget toys happened. I say toys intentionally, because although they are tools, I have a lot of kids who just like playing with them (which I get - so do I), but they became a huge distraction in class. Kids passing them around, throwing them, getting up in the middle of class to show them to other people.

So I put my basket of fidget tools out last week, and my classes and I had a very serious conversation, and they seem to be respecting it so far. We'll see how it goes next year with the new crop of children coming in. But here is the gist of it, and why it is so important to me (it is important to note that focus issues/mental illness/etc and physical disabilities should not be equated, but in this circumstance, I think it's helpful for students who have trouble conceptualizing what a real focus issue might be to give them a disability they can immediately imagine):

I said, guys, imagine that one of your legs is much shorter than the other, and so every time you stand, your hip hurts and you cannot run and play, and you also cannot do things the same way other people do. You are at a real disadvantage, and that is not your fault. It's just that you're in pain, and you are unable to get around it to do the other things you have to.

But then someone hands you a cube, and you can put your foot on that cube, strap it right on, and then your hip doesn't hurt anymore. You can suddenly do things that you could not before.

But then everyone likes your cube, so then everyone has a cube, which is great until they start throwing them or playing with them or getting shiny ones with flashing lights. Teachers get fed up with this, and they start taking them away, because classroom distractions don't help. Eventually, there's a classroom-wide and maybe school-wide ban on them because they're so distracting. And this is fine - kids might be annoyed that they can't play with the thing, but they'll get over it. It isn't a big deal.

Except you. Because you needed that block to be able to do things like anyone else does, and now the only real tool that was helping you do that is something you can't have anymore, so you'll go back to being in pain and two steps behind.

There are students who actually need the fidget tools, people who have trouble focusing their minds or controlling their behavior without something to focus their physical energy into. When you disrespect the tools they use to help them with that and appropriate them as your toys, you put their very real coping tools at risk. If you are disrespecting those tools and using them such that they are a distraction, you are part of the possible outcome that they get taken away, and then that the people who need them lose a tool that's very important to them and their success. Please don't jeopardize someone else's success.

Anyone who wishes to use the fidgets may. Even people who don't need them can benefit from them, and I'm a fan of that. I am not going to restrict access to them. But if I catch you disrespecting them, you will personally lose access to them so that the people who need them don't. Thank you for contributing to the community of this classroom by making sure that everyone has access to all the tools they might need to succeed in their learning and in their lives.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Latin iPad

My colleague Natalie and I came into the windfall of an iPad when my grandmother decided to update hers. She was going to get rid of it, so we asked for it so we could have a dedicated Latin department iPad.

And we have made great and joyous use of it.

Some things so far this year that I highly recommend:

1. Explain Everything is an app that lets you draw, record, move pictures around, and create movies while you draw. I have given children the iPad while I tell stories, or set it up at a station, and let them create the story illustrated while narrating over it. You can stop and start it as you go, reverse, rewind and record over sections, and there's a timeline feature. You can change colors and paste in pictures from your iPad or the internet. It has been a phenomenal storytelling tool, and then you can export it so you can put it in dropbox, eClass, or whatever other method of file-sharing you use for your students.

2. Goosechase. I'm going to start with the negatives:
a. ir's a freemium app. if you're using the free version, you can only have five groups on it at once, so if you have large classes, you may have large groups. you'll also have to create one for each class period, but it takes twenty seconds to redo it because you can draw the tasks from your bank of already created missions.
b. once you've sent your kids out, you can't send a group message to them
c. videos can only be ten seconds or so long.

That said! I have so far used it to send them on a scavenger hunt to discover the various stages of the eruption of Vesuvius. (the fours want to use it at the zoo, so I'm pretty excited for that, too.)
You can set up a scavenger hunt with as many tasks as you want. Goosechase has suggested missions, or you can create a bank of your own (and you can draw from it again, which makes recreating scavenger hunts really easy).

You can set the number of points each task is worth, and they can choose which task they want to do first, meaning they won't all be going in the same direction at the same time, and it doesn't mean more work for you. You can set start and end times ahead of time, and you can create groups ahead of time (and password-protect them and/or your whole game!) if you want to.

The kids do have to create an account, but they really only need one person in the group to have the app, unless they want to make multiple submissions per task. They can have one person create the team and the other team members simply join.

For the Pompeii scavenger hunt, I hung short stories around the school with tasks on them, and they had to follow goosechase to find them and submit their tasks. At the zoo, they'll use goosechase to read some riddles, solve which animal they're looking for, and complete and submit a task at each animal's pen.

Since they're submitting evidence for every task, you can watch in real time how they're doing and (to a certain extent) send feedback. You can also give bonus points for particularly good submissions. It will keep the submissions, so if you have a great one (like a terrific haiku that was submitted about the eruption), it'll stick around in the app. DO BE AWARE - you have to create the game on the website. You can't create games in the app.

Before they left, I did give them an email address to send questions to that I monitored constantly in case they needed to ask something and couldn't spare the time to send a runner.

I also sent them with a pass. It said, "Hello! Our team name is __________. We are on a scavenger hunt to discover the stages of Vesuvius' eruption! If we are behaving well, draw us a smiley face. If we are not, send us back to (classroom)" so anyone encountering them would know they were supposed to be doing what they were doing.

3. Podcasts. Again with the stations - I can cue up a podcast on the iPad and have them listen to it, either individually or with splitters, and do an activity.

4. Voice Record Pro is free and lets them record music, songs, or speech.

5. I-nigma is a great QR reader app, and there's a world of things you can do with QR codes, including recording MP3s, having them scan the code, and listening to whatever is behind the code.

Recently, I hung up QRs around the room, each with half a sentence, and gave them individually the other half of the sentences. Based on a text we had recently read, they had to determine what the other half of the sentence was that went with the one recorded in the QR.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Uses for OWATs.

OWATs - or One Word at a Time stories - are the brainchild of Bob Patrick. Essentially, their purpose is to allow students to be creative and write their own stories within the confines of vocabulary that you want them to use. One vocab word is passed out to each group, and they have to write a sentence with that word. Bob then has them switch cards with another finished group so they can write their next sentence, continuing the story.

I found that if I waited for enough groups to be done for that, the chances that a group would be sitting around doing nothing - because either (a) no other group was done soon enough or (b) the group that was done had a word the other group had already gotten - was much higher.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Using language classes to teach other ideas

Every year for the last six years, I've sat down with my twos and threes and asked what they want to study curricularly the following year. Then I spend the summer putting together that curriculum. This year, for the first time, a student suggested the American Civil War. It didn't get voted for, so that won't be part of our curriculum next year, but it did spark a really interesting conversation about the things that are reasonable to learn in a Latin class.

The answer is: anything. It's a language, so we can talk about anything we want to. In the last year, we've done science experiments and hypotheses (Celsus proposes a lot of cures for a lot of things, so we hypothesized what they would actually do, and then we tried them all and kept notes on our experiments, comparisons, etc.), math (if we know how many people are in a contubernium and century, etc., can we figure out how many people are in a cohort?), history, reading, and art. I try very hard to touch on all the school subjects as often as I can.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Small update:

If you check the materials section, you'll see that the three existing gorgeous chapters of Hobbitus Ille, by Anthony Gibbins, are there. You should also go check out Legonium, also one of Anthony's masterpieces, with its sheltered vocab, great storylines, and beautiful pictures.

If you are NOT currently a member of the Teaching Latin for Acquisition facebook group, I highly recommend it. The beautiful Ellie Arnold (Helena) is administrating a database of an incredible number of readings and activities for CI Latin teachers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Duck Duck Goose

We started out with anas anas anser.
By the end of the game, in various classes, we had anus anus ananas, anas anas ananas, and my favorite: ananas ananas pudor.

We played duck duck goose much like you do, with one twist - the student defending their seat had to answer a question. The students chased each other around the circle, and the first student to sit down (or to tag the other student) had to answer a question, Latine, in order to keep the seat. If they got it WRONG, the other student got to answer the question and could steal the seat. If BOTH got it wrong, the original student sat in the middle, and the other student had to duck-duck-goose everyone. It was simple, low-prep, and hilarious. I highly recommend it.