Thursday, August 16, 2012

Using Wordle to Brainstorm

Wordle: Brainstorming worlde Click on the image to see a larger view.

Recently I used Worldle to help a student brainstorm for a personal essay he was writing. This student is a rising 6th grader. He has a strong vocabulary and is very creative, but has trouble focusing his ideas to create a consistent theme in his essay. He's a very visual learner, so I thought the Wordle could help him see the patterns in his brainstorm, and thus show him some possible themes. The exercise worked out well; he noticed that the names of his friends ("Superman" and "Matthew") were very prominent. Also, action words like "scored" showed up large. My student decided to focus his essay on his friendships with his teammates, and how the action of the game brought them together. I think the visual approach gave him a much better way in to the assignment than just writing down words would have done.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Digital Story: "Parable of the Cave" Preview

I created this digital story as an intro to a unit on ancient Greek philosophy that I would teach in a 9th grade Honors English class. The first few lessons will focus on Socrates' "Parable of the Cave" story, which was written down by Plato, Socrates' pupil, in Plato's famous book of philosophy, The Republic.

The idea is to introduce young students to the concept of philosophy in a gradual way, with simple explanations and a bit of humor. This way they will (hopefully) be less intimidated by the subject matter.

I used Power Point to create the slides, then brought them into iMovie to make the video. I used Flickr Creative Commons for most of the images; the others were from other sites but also stated explicitly stated that they were available for public use. The background music is from a public domain music site.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Linking Gardner and Plato Through Poetry

After a pretty intense unit on ancient Greek philosophy with the 9th graders, presented via the novel, Sophie's World, I decided to try a review lesson that took a lighter approach.  I wrote this poem (if you can truly call it that) partly for humor and partly to give the kids a different way to remember some of the key concepts of Plato's Allegory of the CaveI had the students take turns reading stanzas aloud, and they got a kick out of it.  Plus, the poem format speaks to a number of Howard Gardner’s “intelligences” (musical and linguistic, for instance, and even visual-spatial).

Let me be clear that I was in no way teaching a lesson in verse structure here—my poetic skills are limited!

Parody of the Cave
(With Apologies to Socrates and Plato)
by Mrs. Miller

A ancient teacher told a story,
It was about a cave
With people chained and watching shadows
That a fire made.

They didn’t mind their shadow world
It was all they really knew,
But some were led into the light
And boy, their mind it blew!

Now, absorbing all that knowledge
Had them kind of dazzled,
And the thought of going back to shadows
Had them kind of frazzled.

But Teacher S. said, “Wait, Philos—
You must go back, and quickly,
To teach all that you know to them,
And create an Ideal City.”

“But the Cavies, they won’t understand,”
Said the Philos, “They’ll be shocked.”
And before you know it, Socrates,
They’ll make us drink Hemlock!”

Socrates said, “Must I remind you
They’re trapped in a shadow box,
It’s your duty to go down there,
Despite the paradox!”

So down they went, to educate—
That’s the moral of the story.
And the cave is a great visual,
A powerful allegory!   
--April 2011

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Flipping "Hamlet"

"Hamlet" in class--in full period costume!
When I taught Shakespeare's "Hamlet" to twelfth grade AP seniors this year, my number one goal was to bring the play to life for the students.  I've loved Shakespeare's plays since eighth grade, and it's because I was blessed with great teachers who used acting, hands-on projects, historical connections, and modern day relevance to show how the plays are tragic and comic and relate to human lives throughout every era.

I hoped to convey some small part of this energy to my 12th graders.  I had only six 90-minute classes to use for the "Hamlet" unit, and I didn't want to waste any of them on straight plot discussion.  Since these were AP students I could count on a certain amount of self-motivation, so I asked the students to read the play outside of class so we could work on what is really interesting and significant about "Hamlet" together, in group work, in whole class brainstorming, acting out scenes, and exploring cinematic interpretations of "Hamlet" throughout history.

The Ghost Scene with Finger Puppets
It wasn't exactly "flipping" the classroom, but my approach moved in that direction; I taught "Hamlet" backwards.  Instead of telling the students what were the main themes and why this was so, I used an inductive approach:  I wanted the students to discover these themes on their own.  For instance,
  • I used a "Hamlet Family Flow Chart" on the Smart Board to help the students sort out the complex court relationships in the play;
  • I had the students work in groups to discuss key themes and find quotes that demonstrated them;
  • I even "flipped" their final paper.  The topic was "Mirror Images in Hamlet" and the idea was for the students to explore the key theme of duality in the play.  Instead of assigning one essay,  I gave them a two-columned graphic organizer and asked them to write two short commentaries, one on each of two contrasting motifs (madness and sanity, revenge and loyalty, etc.) represented in "Hamlet." Then, in a long space at the bottom, they wrote a concluding paragraph connecting the two motifs, showing how they work together to reveal larger meaning. This inductive approach let the students come to their own conclusions about duality in "Hamlet," instead of just responding to a teacher's prompt. 

The Tragic(?) Death of Hamlet
This all lead to the culmination of the unit--acting out "Hamlet" in class.  The students self-selected five groups and chose scenes from a list I provided for them.  We had props, costumes (including a great "mad Ophelia" wig), even "Hamlet" finger puppets. The students had pretty much free rein to present the scenes as they wanted. They had some prep time beforehand, then ten minutes to perform their scene. The activity gave them a chance to experience "Hamlet" as it is meant to be great story acted onstage.  After the acting session, many students shared that they gained a new, more vivid perspective on the characters than they had from reading their lines on the page.

"Mad Ophelia"

Photo of My Excellent 9th Grade English Class

My Excellent 9th Grade Honors English Class, Herndon High, Herndon, VA