Behaving Well Online, Middle School Edition

Seven tips for middle school students who will be reading and commenting on blogs.

1. Assume it’s public

Some blogs are private so that only the class can see them. Others are public and the world can read what you say. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell how the blog you’re commenting on is set up. That’s why I suggest you assume everything’s public.

2. Use the “2 Minute Rule”

In person, my rule is that you must be listening to a conversation at least 2 minutes before adding anything. This is kind to the people who in the conversation before you got there and it helps you make the best comments possible.

Online, you need to read the entire conversation before responding.  Same deal as in person.

3. Do unto others

Be kind, be constructive. You can use the sandwich method to leave a good comment: start with praise, go on to your constructive criticism, and close with praise.

4. Build on previous comments

Read not only the original blog post but also the comments. Then attempt to add to the conversation with statements like, “I agree with Peter when he said his favorite rule was the 2 Minute Rule.” Go on to explain why. The “why” is the more important part. No one learns from a “me, too!” response but we can all learn from additional explanations you can add.

5. Quote me on that

If you’re responding to one part of what was said, copy-paste the relevant text so we’ll know what you’re talking about.

6. Edit, edit, edit

I like to read all my online writing out loud to see if it sounds right. Then I’ll remove unnecessary words and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

7. Protect your identity

I suggest you use a screen name or your first name only. When leaving a blog comment, your email address is usually given only to the site owner so use a real one.

What tips would you add to the list?

Thanks, Cool Cat Teacher (Ten habits of bloggers) for inspiring this post!

Why is Keyboarding Working?

The 12 students I teach at the end of every day have just returned from PE, sweaty and ready to go home. I have the pleasure of teaching them touch typing at just those moments. In my 4 years of teaching, this is universally the students’ least favorite class.

Forget the bad timing, that’s not why they generally hate this class. It turns out that overcoming several years of hunt-and-peck technique is incredibly difficult.

The black keyboards were my first experiment. I had a bunch of spare keyboards that I painted black to permanently cover the letters. Every day, I plug in the blanked-out keyboards before the students arrive.

Usually, the students balked, then attempted their old ways, then started guessing at the letters. In the past, they’ve not gotten very far towards learning the positions of the keys without looking.

This class is different. I try not to jinx it by asking a bunch of questions, but here are my suspicions of why it’s working:

  • Don’t drag it out. My schedule covers the entire touch typing course in Typing Master in about 5 weeks. I’m fortunate to get a different batch of students every 6 weeks (we’ve implemented a mini-mester elective program where students rotate regularly).
  • Constantly roam the room to correct technique. If a student reaches for the “r” with the wrong finger more than a few times, it’ll become ingrained incorrectly. Correct those mistakes early!
  • Build in friendly competition to inject a little fun. The picture above is from a weekly head-to-head competition where students cheer each other on. However, I’ve discovered that, like in golf, I need to apply a handicapping system so that every student has a chance of winning.
  • Play techno music. The thumpa-thumpa beat adds a rhythm to the keying. My students now ask for the music! I use an iTunes radio station from either the Dance or Electronic category.

If you’re inclined to, keep your fingers crossed for me that I continue having success with the young keyboarders in my charge!

Head-to-head Typing Contest

Head-to-head Typing Contest

Originally uploaded by mgolding

Something interesting happened on Friday that I’m excited to share. I set up my middle school keyboarding class in a March Madness-like competition. The goal was to infuse class spirit and assess the kids’ typing speeds (we use Typing Master software). Students battled each other for the highest scores to move on to the next level of competition.

This photo shows the finals. Incidentally, the two finalists are two of the youngest students in the class!

The cheering was amazing — students were very supportive of their classmates during the competition.

I don’t normally host such directly competitive events in my classroom. This, however, was a rousing success. I am glad I waited until the students had learned to touch type all (or nearly all) of their letters before this competition. While some students reverted to their hunt-and-peck ways, the two finalists are proud touch typists.

My Class Lineup

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the classes I have this fall. The lineup is incredibly exciting. My only gripe is that I’ve been assigned first period planning. Several seasoned teachers have given me the upshots to the early planning period, so I’m going in with an open mind.

Here are my class descriptions:

  • Technology and Civilization: A project-based course that follows the theories put forth in Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. We’ll examine the role farming, animal domestication, germs, and so on had in setting up civilization as we know it today.
  • Publishing Technology: We have just one job in this class — publish the school yearbook. And what a job that is! Along the way, students study printing procedures, page design, typography, writing, and photography.
  • Algebra 1: For mostly middle school students. We’re using a blog and a wiki to enhance the curriculum.
  • Systems Administration: These students are studying for Microsoft certification in Windows XP Professional.
  • Middle School Technology: A survey class for students in grades 4-8. In the past, we’ve learned touch typing, how to use email effectively, and studied engineering.

The really fun part of this planning? I wrote every syllabus in Google Docs; made all of my lesson plans in Google calendar; started one blog; outlined a wiki; and all of it has been tied together with RSS feeds.

This I Believe and Writing Authentically

While listening to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing podcast, I learned about the chance to submit essays to This I Believe. Selected essays are read by their authors on NPR.

I’ve heard the NPR program a few times and have been really moved by several of the essays. When I visited the NPR This I Believe site, I learned that the program is based on a 1950s radio show by Edward R. Murrow. Everyday Americans write about the principles that guide their daily lives. A good number of celebrities have written, as well.

This I Believe, Inc. is the organization that runs the essay program. I think it’s cool that they’re reaching out to teachers with This I Believe in the Classroom. I think this could be a really cool project for a high school writing class. Lots of our kids hold very strong opinions — TIB lets them express those opinions in a public way.

Robot Navigates Destroyed City!

A group of my students worked on robotics this semester. As their final project, they had to design an obstacle course, build it, and program the robot to navigate it. Their course was dubbed “City of Destruction” because of the resemblance.

The students are Ben in the 9th grade, Gavi in the 6th grade, and Jake in the 6th grade. Here’s the video I made of their last day in class:

I am incredibly proud of the work these students did. They had to work as a team because we had only one Boe-Bot robot and one obstacle course. For the final project, each student wrote one section of the programming and tested it independently. One student was in charge of assembling the code into one program that ran seamlessly.

The robotics kids were part of a general tech class I taught this spring. Students ranged from 6th to 11th grades and represented a wide range of interests. I decided to allow the kids to study a tech subject of their choosing. One kid chose JavaScript, two others chose music production, and so on. I was there to provide project management guidance and the equipment. The kids needed to be motivated and independent. My robotics group built the robot on their own and set about learning to program it.

The class was always hectic. I felt pulled by every group constantly. However, I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. The end result reflects the class really well: the music track in the robotics video was composed and played by another student in class, Patrick (who also plays in a band called Reminisce).

Travel Webquest

I wrote a cute little webquest about traveling to another place and writing home about sights seen. It started merely as a project to demonstrate that students can use email effectively. I think, though, that the webquest could also be used in a social studies classroom (maybe with some minor modifications) or even a language arts classroom.

A screenshot is below. All of the webquests I’ve ever seen are static web pages. I opted to write this one on the school wiki because I didn’t want to take the time to write a full set of web pages. I’m not certain that I like having a webquest published on a wiki — but am getting interested in having students write their webquest responses on a wiki. Something to think about.

Go to the Travel Webquest.

Teach Middle Schoolers Programming

Alice 2.0 is free software that allows users to manipulate 3D graphics via a programming language to create virtual worlds (either with a virtual reality, immersed experience or with a movie-like experience). I’ve been successfully using this software with my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students.

I’ve structured the lessons so that each day the students have an objective. Something like, “put a woman in the scene and make her wave at the camera,” or “move the camera in a circle around a character.”

So far, I’ve seen the kids learn to use step-by-step thinking use terms like method, event and object. I’m working up to teaching them if/then statements and while loops. By the time we’re done, these kids will know how simple programming works.

In a classroom setting, lessons that use Alice could last anywhere from a week to four. I plan on about 12 instruction days.

Check Alice out: Alice: Free, Easy, Interactive 3D Graphics