Moritz's Blog

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


We finally have something to celebrate. SUCCESS! Yippee!

After three weeks of discussing, analyzing, questioning, arguing, and bringing random ideas into our fishbowl/liveblog discussions on the senses mentioned in Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind, I feel like we have finally gotten beyond the surface level and broken through to a much deeper level of thinking.

Prior to today, I was frustrated and sometimes angry. Why couldn't they get it? Some students had diligently prepared to lead discussion, only to be met with dribble when it came to responses. Some of the discussion leaders had come ill prepared, which had lead to a (let's face it) bad discussion. We had made some very scary comparisons when it came to Story, and our discussion with the author on Design went technically well, but lacked depth.

But finally, today, both hours were impressive and delightful to be a part of. I have faith that my students are finally looking beyond the text and really starting to think of the implications of the ideas presented in the book. Hopefully we will continue down this road and dig deeper into what this all means.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Here's to Finals

Every so often, I come across a gem in my writing class. The assignment for their final exam was to write a tribute to anyone or anything. I found this one worth sharing.

Here’s to finals. Finals are the one time of the year when everyone is happy to be a high school student. The student body is sleep deprived, stressed out, and overwhelmed. There is nothing quite like the look on the students’ faces when they realize that they are immensely underprepared for their final. Here’s to finals, the late nights, the hours of endless studying, the hour long waits at Starbucks, and the pressure. Students tense up in anxiety for the moment. Teachers laughing, repeatedly saying, “It’s not that hard”. And then the final is handed out.

I personally love finals. Nothing excites me more than one single high stakes test at the end of a semester worth twenty percent of my grade. Finals’ week is my single favorite week of the entire semester. Sure, some people may complain about how hard or unfair a final is, but nope, I think they are the greatest and fairest thing around. My personal thoughts about a teacher and his/her assignments is that the teacher should put in as much effort grading a test as it takes to take it. Therefore, when a teacher gives one hundred twenty students a one hundred thirty five question Scantron test over the course of 80 minutes per test, it seems only fair that the teacher can put it through a grading machine that takes all of ten seconds per test. That’s pretty close in amount of work output, so it is only fair to assume that these finals are fair.

Another characteristic that I adore about finals and finals’ week is how much they are over-stressed. Teachers constantly overstress the importance of a final. All a student hears is, “It makes sure you learned the key information”, “I want this information reinforced in your brain”, and “This final is only twenty percent of your grade”. Sure, I understand the concept behind a final, which is to reinforce key concepts and drill on the essential learning. What I really like about the idea behind a final is that a student can prove that he/she is able to teach themselves an entire semester’s worth of information in one night. These finals are nothing to be stressed over. Twenty percent of one’s grade is not that much. Do the math, if I get an eighty five percent on my final, then my grade will go down to a, uh… oh that’s not good. Ok, so maybe twenty percent is a small part of one’s grade, or actually a significant chunk of one’s grade, but high school students are able to handle it, right?

Here’s to finals and the no stress period these tests offer students. Students never lose any sleep over finals. They are not constantly stressing over what a disastrous final could do their grades, which allows them to sleep easier. In fact, students get even more sleep during finals week than they do in the summer, and they sleep better. Take a look at Starbucks. All the students there are celebrating with coffee. No, they aren’t using the caffeine in the coffee to wake up as they will crash in three hours, so they all ordered decaffeinated coffee. These students weren’t so stressed out that they couldn’t fall asleep because they hadn’t finished studying, and now they aren’t drinking caffeinated coffee because they don’t need it. And when a teacher tries to make it up to them by offering them donuts, all they can manage is a yawn. No, we didn’t yawn because we were tired, we were just bored.

Here’s to finals: the stress, the sleep deprivation, the endless studying, Starbucks, and of course, the realization that I really don’t care how I do on my Thursday final. I salute you, final, for all the work you do for us. You’re like an iceberg in the ocean, massive, looming, and waiting to sink our ships, especially when we almost made it to the harbor. So, final, keep up the good work, and please, please be easy.

Matthew F.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


After reading The Trouble with Rubrics, by Alfie Kohn, at first I was a little defensive. I understand that there is "trouble with rubrics," and I know the flaws and the limitations it puts on students and teachers, but I also need to reflect on years of the past, as well as the present.

Years ago, when I would grade a paper, it was solely based on what I thought about it as a person trained to teach reading and writing (B.A. + teacher certification in English). I relied on students looking at the feedback given on their papers. Truly, then and now, students didn't care about the feedback. They would look for the grade and then, either smile with content or ball up their paper and throw it in the garbage.
Things really haven't changed.

Now, when I use rubrics, they still go immediately to the final grade. So what is a teacher to do?

We are expected to give grades. Not only from our administration, but from the students, parents and state. We have to assess learning in a formal, conventional way. It is our responsibility.

I do agree with the idea that giving the students the rubric ahead of time stifles their desire to learn. Kohn quotes another educator who says students seemed "unable to function unless every required its spelled out for them in a grid and assigned a point value. Worse than that...they do not have confidence in their thinking or writing skills and seem unwilling to really take risks" (email to Kohn). This infuriates me because it is so true.

With a project we did earlier this semester, I did not give the students any rubric. They insisted on one. Eventually, because of their lack of work-because they had no specific outcome laid out for them-I made a rubric.

How do we, as high school teachers, get students to de-program their brains to stop focusing on the outcome and just embrace the learning? I'd really love to know.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh, the games we Play

I have to say that Friday's Liveblog/Fishbowl was the best we've encountered so far in this little project. We were joined by Dan Maas, Sue Chandler, Jeff Whipple, Tim Stahmer, Kelly Dignan, Mike Porter, and Tim Stahmer to discuss the Play chapter from A Whole New Mind.

I'm not really sure what made the conversation better than the discussions in the past, but here are some of my reflections.

From the start I have struggled with some of the teaching practices that I was trying to incorporate into my classroom. They are very progressive and very student centered, which I value and think is good for kids. But I had been feeling a big disconnect from my students and after talking with them I got the feeling they were feeling the same. So, last week we spent one day talking. Imagine that. Talking with my students about what they're reading, what they think about the reading, what they agree and disagree with. We talked for an entire hour without interruption, and I think that we could have talked longer. The best part about it was that it was still progressive and still student centered, I just allowed them a different format in which to process the information they have been working with.

What a difference it made in Friday's discussion. Students felt safe to challenge other classmates. To really stood up for what they believed about the book and did not back down from the masses. I think that because we had a previous discussion before the fishbowl it allowed students to take more risks and have their true voices be heard. It was great.

I also think that for the first time, students really connected with the chapter. Because the chapter discussed gaming a majority of the time, students were able to hone in on what they already knew and had experienced. Kids were getting fired up defending what they thought about video games. And, I have to say, it was pretty split. Many students (mostly males) believe that video games are good. They believe that they help them develop skills that no other medium can. Many other students (mostly females) thought video games were pointless and sometimes detrimental. Now, of course, some male and female students took the other side, but not many. What does this say? Girls are overreacting. Boys don't care. I don't think either is true. But is sure made for great conversation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There's a Story, of a lovely,no...anyway

Once again, fishbowl was successful, but I can’t help but feel the discussion was a little flat. Maybe it is because Story is the chapter that I identify with so closely and the discussion didn’t goes as I had hoped. Luckily we had Miguel Guhlin:, Lucie Stanish:, Ben Wilkoff, Dan Maas:, and Lori Soifer: in on the liveblog discussion and that seemed to go well.

I am also starting to have trouble with the lack of control I am feeling in the classes. This unit is completely student driven. As teachers, Anne and I are facilitating and hoping that students are doing what we are asking them to do. Hoping that they are thinking and learning about how we can apply the ideas in AWNM to their lives.

Many of the students are going beyond my expectation, but most seem to be waiting for something…and I don’t know what that something is. Do they need more direction? Are they struggling and are afraid to ask for help? Is everything under control and I am just feeling paranoid?

Monday, January 21, 2008

How DESIGN Transpired and Inspired

What an amazing journey this project has been for my students and I. Friday's fishbowl discussion and liveblog went very, very well, and I cannot help but to feel quite humbled by everyone who is involved. First and foremost, I have been lucky enough to work with Anne Smith for the past ten years and she has truly become my right hand. We have team-taught since the beginning and it is so great that we can work so closely together and accomplish great things for our students. Of course, our fearless leader is Karl Fisch. With his vision and passion, he has helped turn this project into an incredible opportunity not only for our students, but for many people across the world. Finally, my students are awesome. They have been ready and willing to try whatever I seem to throw at them, and they do it with a great curiosity and sense of humor. They have seen me at my best and worst over the last few weeks and they continue to give me the benefit of the doubt, which I am truly grateful for.

Amazing things have been happening in our classroom. On Friday we had Darren Draper, Sharon Peters, Jeff Whipple, and James Folkestad join our fishbowl/liveblog discussion. We also had several teachers from AHS come and observe our discussion, and a few of them jumped into the live fishbowl, as well as the blogging. Students thought it was "cool" to see our guests up on a big screen, compliments of MeBeam. Discussion was quite good too.

I have to keep in mind that I have two very different sets of students in my 3rd and 4th hour classes. One class is generally very chatty, while the other is quite reserved. I hope to encourage both classes to over-prepare next time so that we are not constantly re-hashing what has already been said. But otherwise, I have been thrilled with the progress so far.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Looking at the world through rose (Pink) colored glasses

Our students are off and running with Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind and I have to say that so far, things are looking really good.

We did our first fishbowl/liveblog discussion on Friday and I feel like the students did a great job. After debriefing on what they thought of it, there was an sense of accomplishment and lots of suggestions for tweaking the process. I was amazed at the insight that I saw, not only in the live discussion, but looking at the blog discussion afterwards. I have some smart cookies in my classes.

As this unit continues, I am ever-optimistic that the students will learn more from this process of reading, reflecting and writing than the more traditional ways of the past. Granted, I am a little scared. I'm afraid that I won't give them the instruction that they need to be successful. The assignments that we are doing are somewhat obscure, probably because we have never done them before, and none of us really know what they will look like in the end. But hopefully, they will turn out just as I imagine in my Whole New Mind.