Learning in Action: Interview #4 with Ruth Gleicher

The Dunes project with Niles West High School

For about a month now, I’ve been blogging about an ongoing project with Ruth Gleicher, a high school biology teacher at Niles West High School, just outside Chicago.  You can read the first two posts here and here. Bascially, I’ve been riding along while Ruth has re-invented an ecological succession project, that she normally does with her AP Biology students. She wanted to give the project some new juice, incorporate web 2.0 tools into, and weave some formative assessment into the plan. With each major step in the project, I’ve interviewed Ruth to find out how it went, what she’s learned, and how the students have responded.  Here are the recorded interviews:

And here are the documents she refers to in the interviews:

The storyboarding guide:  storyboardfordunesproject.

The project’s RAFT rubric:  DunesRAFTrubric.

The reading guide:  readingguideindianadunes.

Ruth’s Posterous space

Her students went on their field trip to the Indiana Dunes in September and have now completed their projects. The assignment was to tell the succession story of the Indiana Dunes to an audience of your choosing (making a connection between you, as the narrator, and your audience).  The students had multiple web 2.0 tools to choose from when creating their story – some created digital books, some shot video, some created comics, and still others did VoiceThreads.  You can find the students’ posted projects on their class blog site (pictured above). Without exception, they are creative and wonderful expressions of the students’ understanding of succession.  I was truly impressed by how much time and effort the students put into their work.

One of Ruth’s observations, now that the project is complete, is that she feels she has a much better handle on what her students know (and do not know) about succession.  In other words, their projects were deeper, authentic expressions of what they knew and understood.

Unfortunately, the formative assessment part of the plan didn’t go so well.  The students had two weeks between posting their project and the point at which Ruth would grade them. She encouraged them to comment on each other’s work and recruited a few other biology teachers to post comments.  Most of the students got 2 or 3 comments but, unfortunately, they didn’t respond to them nor did they opt to revise their project in light of the feedback (even though there were some specific issues to address). Ruth’s take is that this formative assessment loop is not a familiar path for her students – once an assignment is turned in, that’s the end of it. She’s eager for ideas to help encourage this important aspect of the project so if any of you have suggestions, please comment below – we’d love to hear them.

I also wanted to reflect on the way that Ruth and I have been working together. It’s interesting to tally up the many ways Ruth we productively used new media tools as we worked.

Skype:  Ruth and I used Skype for our planning conversations and for the interviews.  Since the voice were coming through my computer, I could easily record the conversation and then post the recordings online.

WireTap:  I use this regularly to record audio – it’s a wonderful, versatile, and fool-proof piece of recording software.

Google Docs:  Ruth posted all of her student worksheets and rubrics as Google Docs which made it easy for me to edit and add suggestions. It also made it easy for the students to access them – they could either save and then print them as PDFs or Word docs, or they could save a copy and create their own version of the original, also a Google Doc, so they could modify it, write in their answers, online.  Having the activity’s documents online will also make it easy for Ruth to share her work with other teachers.

VoiceThread:  A few of the students used VoiceThread for their projects.  They uploaded digital images taken on the field trip and added their own narration to the images to tell their succession story.

Issuu.  Quite few of the students used Issuu for their projects to make online books – Ruth’s speculation was that this was the easiest of the tools for the students to use and required much less work.

Pixton.  A few of the students created comic books, using Pixton, for their projects. This was the tool that Ruth was first drawn to.  She particularly liked the way you could add comic drawings to real photos to tell a story.

Posterous.  Ruth used this free application to create a publicly accessible blog site where her students could post their finished projects – all in one online spot – so that others could see them and comment. By posting the projects and specifically marking out time for peer review, Ruth is emphasizing important elements of the scientific process (as well as good writing) – multiple drafts, reshaping one’s ideas based on the meaningful input of peers and outside experts, editing, proofreading, and refinement. And since the projects are all online, and easily accessible, she’s erased the boundaries of the 50-minute class and the limits of getting feedback from those in attendance at Niles West HS.

Thanks, Ruth – it’s been a really good learning experience and great fun as well!

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6 Comments

Filed under Teaching with Technology

6 responses to “Learning in Action: Interview #4 with Ruth Gleicher

  1. Cheryl Hollinger

    Thanks for sharing this with us Robin. I especially like the list of media tools used in the project. I’m always looking for new ones.
    Cheryl Hollinger

    • rheyden

      You bet, Cheryl. It was great to see what the students came up with. I think I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a list of tools that you haven’t used 😉

  2. Robin, once again you bring such great ideas and resources to your blog. We are experimenting with Prezi with our students in Arizona. They love making “way more fun” presentatations.

  3. rheyden

    Hi Molly, so nice to “see” you here – and thanks for reading my blog. Prezi is a wonderful tool, isn’t it? The way I’ve found it helpful is to make a rather larger presentation on a subject that I am frequently asked to talk about and then I can choose a path through it that is customized to the people I’m meeting with. Allows for more flexibility than PPT, don’t you think? Does it take your students long to get the knack of it?

  4. Robin – You asked for ideas for Ruth on how to “close the loop” in the formative assessment. I’ve done this with a Wiki before – using the comment area to make suggestions. I have to constantly remind them to check the comments and make the requested changes (which I can verify using the History on the wiki). I actually won’t grade something (sometimes) UNTIL the work is “fixed.” I worked as an online teacher for several years, and this was a common thing since we didn’t meet with students – so sending emails/texts/edmodo messages (which they can subscribe to on their phones) to give them feedback.
    I’ve done this with other assignments that are written too – I put on “Revise and Resubmit” – especially if it’s something they worked on when I was absent 😛 This is analogous to an English teacher grading a research paper. Give them an “interim” grade – then have them revise and adjust in ORDER to receive the “final” grade – no revision, then just redo the interim grade (which should be lower – I do a point system – so I would assign an interim grade to be 20 points, then the final grade 100 points) as their final grade. Hope this makes sense! Sometimes, you just have to beat them over the head in the beginning, then they get the hang of things 🙂 Jennifer

    • rheyden

      Thanks so much for this suggestion, Jennifer. Great idea to use a wiki for that “work in progresss” method. I also like the idea of assigning points for the “interim” grade and a higher level of points for the final grade. That ought to motivate this kind of formative thinking! We’d all like them to work this way for the intrinsic value, but, as you say, sometimes you have to be more forceful and prescriptive. Thanks!

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