The title bears repeating. Today was the best day of my teaching career. Not only was it pajama day, and a Friday, but it was a day where all my students were engaged for the entire day at a level I’d not seen, producing work that showed the critical thinking I knew they were capable of. They were happy and excited. I don’t ever want to forget the feeling of today.
What made it so great? Planning, technology, an awesome colleague and students’ respect for each other. It had been a tough slog back to school. Two weeks off over Christmas for some of my students was too long, and getting them to focus at the level they’d left in December was frustrating me. I pulled out the good stuff – a read aloud about a cranky old (according to the main character, “over 40”) teacher who, to their delight, died. “Write a description about one of the characters you met today. You’re making it into a podcast on Friday.” The lure of a new twist was the ticket I needed. Peer-editing and oral practicing were completed without complaint.
I had tried podcasting last year, and it was a struggle. Students were stationed at computers in our school computer lab, which is divided into two rooms. This resulted in a teacher (me) running in and out of the rooms in order to help students. The two-room setup also limited the amount of sharing of ideas between students. This year however, our school is fortunate to have a class set of mini-computers, plus a Smartboard in my room. Heaven! However, the mini’s also came with their set of challenges. The night before the lesson, our French teacher, Mlle. R., sat with me as I made sure Audacity worked on one of the mini’s. No go. They still needed lame encoder downloaded on all twenty-four. Mlle. R. is a star! This morning, with tag-team military precision, she helped me download and test the required program onto each mini. Students entered class, logged onto their mini’s, and we were away. Smooth sailing. As I demonstrated the process on the Smartboard, (in my pj’s) students followed along. They were able to learn from each other as students called out suggested shortcuts they discovered along the way. In addition, Mlle. R. had agreed to come into my room and help the students, instead of teaching them in her French class. It made sense, since she would be moving my students onto French podcasts. Having two teachers in on the training session, even for a short period of time, helped immensely. The resulting first effort showed a side of some students I’d struggled to reach all year. So while these productions were small, students were off to a good start. They connected, predicted, summarized and articulated their thoughts in a way that pen and paper had not produced. Cloud nine! Listen to students’ podcasts. Their resulting comments on our wiki Wallwisher illustrate their engagement.
The afternoon brought similar success. The project: produce a Bitstripsforschools cartoon demonstrating the Particle Theory of Matter. Students had their previously created planning templates ready. Heady stuff for any day, but a Friday afternoon? What was I thinking? But picture twenty-four students, one hour before the weekend, hunched over, glued to their computers as they enthusiastically created a comic demonstrating a scientific theory. I stood back, admiring how they shared with each other, as they linked science and art.
I’m excited for the projects we’ll be moving into. Voicethread is the next introductory training program I’m planning. And yes, Mlle. R. and I will work together for part of that session so students learn the ropes.
Yes, today was the best day of my teaching career.