Saturday, September 17, 2011

Penultimate Week in High School

Just came across something I wrote at the end of school last year, and thought I'd post it in honor of the weather turning this weekend:

Going up the stairs in the morning we ascend into a damp cloud of still air, still stinking faintly of the hundreds of teenaged bodies that passed through the stairwell the day before.  Nothing on Junior Hallway has cooled off or aired out from yesterday.  The June heat wave left all of us wilted, the students whining and sweating in their polyester uniforms, the teachers cranky as we tried to force out the last lessons on the last Wednesday before finals.  I trudge up behind a great beast of a boy who sighs and moans as he feel the air press down, suffocating.  The hallway when we reach it is no better, and teenagers in flipflops and uniforms grumble as they change into their uniform shoes and stow bags and books in lockers, complaining about the heat. 

In class I lay the ground rules.  “No whining about the you-know-what,” I say, gesturing toward the blazing light outside the window.  “Also, no touching the fan.  They are scientifically positioned for maximum air circulation."  

This gets their attention, and a couple of boys and girls look around at the fans, checking to see if this might be true.   
"I don’t want to hear anyone talking about the heat."  A couple of kids look defiant, but they're too hot to pursue it.   I continue: "The only thing I want to hear you talk about is ice cream, ice cubes, ice skating, ice hockey, or ice pops.  Cold mountain streams.  Baby pools.  Got it?”   
They all groan. 
“Why baby pools?” asks the nearest boy, sweating over his notebook.   
“It just popped into my mind,” I answer.  I take attendence, and we try to finish up the Cold War and Korean War.  Nobody wants to, but we do it anyway.  It's June.  
[June 9, 2011]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First day of class with Polleverywhere: What is Art?

The first day of class is often a rut:  go-over-the-syllabus, fill-out-the-index-card, how-many-are-freshmen first day activities, blah, blah, blah.  This time, I decided to learn about my class demographic and share the results  live with the class using Polleverywhere, a free web tool that uses cellphones like classroom clickers.

Ahead of time, I went on the Polleverywhere site and created a few polls asking questions like, "What is your year in college," whether they'd ever taken an art history class or written a research paper before, what their majors are, and so on.  I had some of that info on my course list online, but I thought it would help build rapport if the students could learn about each other in a novel way.

Now here's the cool part.  I embedded a link to Polleverywhere in my pedestrian first-day-of-class powerpoint, and then in class, when we got to that slide, I clicked and went to the Polleverywhere site.  "How many people have cell phones?" I asked.  I think they thought I was going to ask them to turn off the ringers.  Nope. "Use your cell phones to text messages to this number up on the screen, answering the questions.  You 'vote' for your answer, just like American Idol. "
I totally had their attention.  Everyone whipped out their cell phone and got going with the first question, their year at college.  They texted or used smartphone web access to the numbers onscreen.   As their answers reached the screen, we could see the bars on the graph change right before our eyes.
Here are the results of the first question:

 The students were fascinated.  I asked if any of them had ever done this before, and none of them had.  I heard a few people remark that it was "cool."

We did a few more basic questions about who they are.  Here's one:

At the very bottom right of the screenshot above you can see "total results" in which Polleverywhere updates live the number of responses it has received.  There were about 33 people in the classroom, and 30 answered this question.  I use the old-fashioned classroom teacher pencil rule to decide when to continue - when 3/4 of the pencils stop moving, you start talking.  So for Polleverywhere, I wait until about 3/4 of the class has posted its answer.

After we got to know each other a bit, I started a poll question that dealt with the content of the course.  We'd been talking about art and art history all through the class, so  I asked:  "So, what is art, anyway?"  Poll everywhere lets texted or web-input answers float up onto the screen in real time, so everyone could see them. Here are some of the responses:

After we had a good number of answers,  I elicited patterns in them - e.g. many definitions had "expression" or "self-expression" in them; an important subset said art is difficult or impossible to define; and we questioned whether art bore any relationship to "life" or "reality" based on the responses, questions of intention and reception, and so on  I also pointed out that no one had mentioned "skill" in any of their definitions.  We then compared our definitions to some dictionary definitions of art that I had brought along.

Recognizing art and art worlds as historically situated is one of the course goals, so I plan to raise this question "What is art?" every so often as we progress from the Renaissance to the present, so students can revise and develop their definitions, and we can think about how the definition of art has changed over time.

We also got to practice using the web tool, so now the students are familiar with it for whenever I want to use it in a lesson.

Issues:  Poll everywhere didn't display on the screen the same way it had at home on my computer, so bits of some of my questions were not visible.  To be fair, they do warn you in the instructions to practice the poll on the computer and display system you will be using.  I didn't.  Live and learn.  It still worked out great!

Other issue - I had too many intro questions. It does take a little while to text in all those numbers.  If I upgrade, I think I can make it a little more seamless, but at the moment it's a bit expensive for an adjunct.