Gatsby Greatness

I’m not sure my students appreciate the unprecedented racial violence or complete government abdication of responsibility for business regulation, but they could probably work for a Mr. Jay Gatsby at one of his fabulous parties.

Learning Stations

I’m more interested in what the kids talk about with each other than what they tell me. To me, that’s the true measure of the stickiness of a lesson.

So, of course, I need to give them opportunities to talk to each other.

In an attempt to accomplish more learning, I’ve been trying to teach less for these two days. I gave them a list of projects/to-dos, a couple of computers and some additional scaffolding in the way of worksheets and let them go.

Sure, I could tell them all about the significance of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, but I’d rather they try to figure it out on their own. So, I’ve tasked them with creating a visual representation based on what they see when they read Fitzgeralds words. They talk to each other, re-read the passages in the book and generally debate “why are we doing this?” a.k.a. “what’s the significance of the billboard?”

I could also assign them committees to put together 1920′s appropriate music, decorations, food and games for the party we are having on Friday. But then they wouldn’t have the opportunity to self-regulate, create groups by ability and brainstorm resources. I’ve scaffolded them with a committee report, but the really interesting thing is how they’ve managed each other – who’s risen as a leader and how they’ve treated each other.

I could aslo give them reading quizzes to see if they’ve done their reading. But I’m not sure that “doing the reading” is always the most important thing.  Allowing students to search in the book and talk to each other about answers to reading questions creates a base level of understanding in the room. That level of understanding allows the cohort to rise to their next literary challenge together, even the one or two that either didn’t read, or didn’t understand (for whatever reason).

While not a paperless exercise, I have to say I fully endorse the learning station idea. Let the kids slow down a little, and let’s them learn a little about time management. They have visual, writing, group, individual tasks and are allowed to move around the room as they like. When the kids are in some control of their classroom experience, it is amazing what they will surprise you with.

I’m thinking about how to do it paperless in the future.

“Why don’t you just read it?”

Maybe I should change this blog to “overheard in my classroom”, since that’s often the most interesting part of my day.

Reading The Great Gatsby should be about the easiest thing my students have done since the start of the semester. Since we started back at school in January, we’ve been writing 6-8 page research papers (incidentally, my impetus for the paperless effort).

Gatsby is fun. Gatsby has all the interesting things we like to read about: romance, concealed identities, money, gossip, and of course, booze.

But, invariably, there will be some kids who don’t read it. I think they don’t read out of some effort to make a point that they can get by without reading.

And to be honest, they can. Particularly, perhaps, in a classroom like mine where social construction of knowledge is more valued than testing or even assessment performance.

Anyway, even that kid that doesn’t read the book will have an idea of what the book was about. Maybe even that kid will tuck away a card in the catlogue of his mind that reads “Gatsby = interesting” and when he’s stuck in an airport someday with nothing to do, maybe he’ll download it on an iPad and enjoy.


I’m still at a loss for how to efficiently grade these facebook projects. I was thinking I’d probably just copy/paste my grading criteria into an additional slide at the end of each pairs document.
Or I could send them an email in a similar way.
One challenge we face is the lack of school email use. Though we have the power of google apps, the kids haven’t been compelled to use their email for school. While a few do, it’s been hard to get them in and keep passwords current.
I’m afraid if I try to email them grades that they will not get them.
Of course, if I just put them in a shared document, there’s the chance that they will get edited.

Finishing Facebook

“Wow. That class went fast!”
I’m having a lot of fun watching other students walk past the computer lab and double take at the template that’s on every one of my students computers. From a few feet back, it really looks like they are all on Facebook.

The more I watch them in this project, the more I like it. The creative ones can mess with photos and make up details about the characters. The techie kids can help with digital snafus. The writers get to write. The distracted have something to focus on.

One thing I still have to think about – how do I handle grading?

Redux part II

Today went much more smoothly than I anticipated. The students were floored by the technology – they loved the real time editing. I loved seeing them truly collaborate: I didn’t see one instance of one partner doing and the other observing. The project itself met the student’s approval as well, except of course the students who really don’t have their own Facebook pages.

The set up was also less complicated than I anticipated. This is partly because of google apps ease of use, but it was also because the students were motivated to get in and get working on the project. Despite the instructions being in the email that they all recieved, there were students I needed to talk through each step.

I had a few kids miss today, and I think I might use the opportunity to learn a little Camtasia and create a tutorial to put on Schoology.

Facebook redux

“I don’t understand Facebook!”

An unanticipated problem, for sure. My first project to ease myself and my students into the idea of a paperless classroom is a dummy Facebook page for one of the characters from The Great Gatsby. The assignment is intended to teach online collaboration, get students working in our Google Apps suite and to examine what they know about the characters in the book.

The template we used was originally created in powerpoint. I’d love to tell you the origin of the template, but it looks like it’s been borrowed by lots of teachers and made available via course web sites. I uploaded it to google docs and checked the “Convert documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and drawings to the corresponding Google Docs formats” box. I then used the share function to share the template with all of my students.

The email that they received with the invitation to the shared document also included project instructions and a grading rubric. Their instructions were to make a copy of my template and then create a shared document between the partners.

I am not, by any means, the first teacher to have come up with this idea. A quick google search will return results for all kinds of templates. I picked up <ahref=””> this one </a> from another blog, TechToolsforSchools. Some are more and less current, and it wouldn’t take too much effort to create your own if you’re moderately fluent in an image editor. If I had planned better, maybe I’d have tried it in Aviary.