Category Archives: 20% Time Project

20% Where are we? Where do we go from here?

I tell you what, that 20% project was the project I was most excited about in my classroom all year long.  I was excited by the idea.  I was excited by finding other people doing it in their classrooms.  I was excited by the ideas my students were coming up with.  I was just excited but kept telling myself to be realistic in my expectations.

Once I heard a report that the Danes were the happiest people in the world.  Why?  Well, according to one source, they had low expectations.

Photo Credit: chuckp via Compfight cc

When we don’t expect much, we are happy with what we get.  Is this true for the Danes?  I don’t know.  I do think it is true for me.  I had limited my expectations on the results of this experiment.  I figured that if I got a few great projects out of this, I would be thrilled and that those would inspire next year’s students to even greater projects.  Perhaps I was fooling myself a little with thinking I had limited my expectations.  I was really excited 🙂

Below I am going to talk about/reflect upon what will be changed for next year.  If you are just interested in looking at some of the projects, scroll to the bottom and take a look.  This is kind of a wordy post so I understand.  I don’t blame you.

Wrapping up the 20% Project

I felt like I had to set a deadline so I did.

Then I had to modify that deadline.   Momentum seemed to have shifted.  Was that because of spring break or Malaysia Week (our week-without-walls) or preparation for Student-Led Conferences or other random holidays that got in the way of our regularly scheduled classes?  I think all of that played a part.

Whatever the reason, presentations were not pulled together by the magical deadline.  Okay, there were a few that were pulled together, but overall, there was still a great deal of work to be done.

So when that realization hit about a week before the deadline, I started asking the students to give some feedback both in a class discussion and a formal survey.  It was so interesting.

When asked what was great about the project, almost to a person, they said the freedom of choice.  Of course!  That was highly motivating.

Photo Credit: Lori Greig via Compfight cc

Great!  They were excited about learning science they were interested in.  That part of the mission was accomplished.

When asked what was challenging about the project, the topics mentioned the most were time management and finding reliable sources.  (Both areas of improvement for next year)

Here’s the one I found the most interesting:  When asked what should be changed about the project for next year, suggestions included that they wanted more time, they wanted less time, they wanted deadlines, and guidelines.

Here’s what I find most interesting about that particular bit of feedback.  I feel that it shows that this is a brand new kind of way of thinking for these students.  They are very used to being told exactly what to produce and how to produce it.  Those things are quite comforting to know.  It is uncomfortable to have so much freedom.

I also think that it shows that they are 12 years old and know themselves.  They know that deadlines keep them honest and on-track.  I can say the same for myself so perhaps age has nothing to do with it 🙂

I was really fascinated by how the two classes responded in different ways.  In the first class to give feedback, one boy summed it up by saying, “I thought it was going to be bigger than it turned out.”  This class had a lot of ideas and did a lot of research but it didn’t get much past that.  They weren’t sure about how to set up an experiment.  Their research didn’t lead to experiments.  Time ran short.  Overall, they still liked the project but wished it had gone further.  My sails were a little deflated.

In the second class when I asked for feedback and was expecting more of the same, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the first comment be:  “This was the most interesting project ever!  I feel bad for the other team of 7th graders that haven’t had a chance to do this project because it was fabulous!  I learned so much.” (The other team is having a chance at the project now and next year it will be something that both teams do.)  While the project supporter was saying this and more, I saw many heads nodding in agreement.  Wind in my sails again!
What was different about this class that they had a more positive response?

Photo Credit: *maya* via Compfight cc


Experimentation.  It’s the key.  More students in this group were able to and motivated to use experimentation and take the project beyond just research.

So some of the changes we talked about for next year include:

More deadlines 

For research:  I will limit time for research.  All research needs to be done by a certain date.  Part of me hates to do this because I don’t want someone to slow down because they have until a certain random date.  I will need to make sure that they are fully aware and pushed to go ahead to the next step if/when they are ready.

For experimentation: Actually this would be broken into two sections: planning and experimentation.  And here is where again, I need to not put inappropriate time limits.  This is where I have maybe several different due dates depending on the experiment being done.

For presentations:  When is it finally time to wrap it up?  Again, this might vary student to student based on their experimentation deadlines.  2 weeks after experimentation is completed?  How does that sound?

More consultations 

Peer check-ins:  I strongly feel that I did not model well what I wanted to happen for peer consultations/check-ins.  I want this  to open up discussion amongst the students and inspire them to continue their work outside of class as well as allow them to be inspired by their classmates work and suggestions.

Teacher check-ins:  I found it hard to make it all the way around the room sometimes.  I need to take a hard look at how I can best manage that time that is available for consultations because they are so important.  Perhaps since I teach the same kids for math and science some of these can spill over to the math class time?  Maybe I need to become more flexible with keeping Math to Math Days and Science to Science Days.  Why not mix it up more?

More “how-to” days 

How to spot reliable sources:  I saw a need and had to throw in a lesson on how to spot pseudoscience.  Wow!  That was something I had thrown out all along but it hadn’t really sunk in for the students until we did a 30 minute lesson on it.  I showed them parts of a good video by Bill Nye I found on youtube.  (Sorry, Bill.  Probably a copyright violation but I needed something right away.  I’ll look to buy it this summer.)  We discussed how everything needs to be questioned.

How to set up an experiment/what equipment we have in our lab storeroom:  Some students felt limited by resources and intimidated by writing up a brand new experiment.  Clearly this is something that can and should be dealt with in a few dedicated classes early on in the year.  Students need to know what is available and how to use it as well as how to feel confident writing up an experiment.

How to build stuff:  How can I build a water collection/storage device inspired by a beetle if I don’t know how to use a hammer and a saw?  This is really what limited one of my students.  I was super excited about where he was going but he hit a wall and momentum dropped.  He made a nice podcast and I love the fact that he thinks his career choice could be influence by beetles but, man, I wish I had taught him how to build stuff (or had more time to do so).  I will add a link to his podcast once he changes his current share settings.

But enough of all this reflection.  Maybe I need to stop looking at what to improve and enjoy what has been produced.  I always tempered my vision of the results and really, there is much to be proud of.

Some 20% Project Examples

Malaria – Here is one that I thought was a well done research project.  The young man’s father said it was his favorite part of looking at his son’s portfolio for the year.  I felt he had put together a good presentation.  I would have loved to see this turn into a service project to raise money for mosquito nets, but maybe if we had more time.

Life on Mars – Another one that was a good research project.  The young man was clearly interested in his topic and put together something solid.  Ready for taking it to the next level.

Sickle Cell Anemia – Here’s one that gave me goosebumps through the whole of the project.  This average student who really cares more about football that science, took on this project full force and used it to really understand a disease that his mother has and that he is a carrier for.  He was the most motivated student by far.  He talked to his mother and her doctor.  He looked at pictures of her blood.  He learned how sickle cell anemia is passed down.  This project gave him an opportunity to really understand what was going on with his mom.  It gave him a better understanding of an issue that has a huge impact on his life.  While I wish he could have added more to his presentation, I know this is just a taste of what he got out of this project.

Guppy Training – This is still a work in progress.  The student needs to add his experimentation results.  One of the things I liked about this project, was that he was looking to see if he could get the same results as someone else – so important in scientific research!

We just aren’t done yet.  I look forward to posting more like the work of a student who gathered real data by filming himself sleeping, keeping a dream journal, and recording the day’s events to try to find connections.  I haven’t seen him put as much time and effort into any other project this year.  I look forward to posting the results of a girl who tested the effect of listening to music on learning.  This was a lesson in how to control experiments!

In the end, there are good things that resulted the most important of which is that students were motivated to learn about science.  I can’t wait for next year when we have more time and I have clearer direction as teacher/facilitator.


Deadlines – sometimes a necessary evil

I play around with art in my free time.  I do some spray painting.  I do some altered books and things like that.  I used to do some ceramic sculpture.  (A friend once told me I have arts-and-crafts ADD)  And I love it.  I enjoy doing it.  I want to learn to draw better.  I would love to learn to do water color painting.  What stops me from developing my art more?

A friend of mine who is an incredibly talented artist just finished up a show and is preparing for a larger exhibition of her work.  We were having a little chat and she said “Laurie, I’ve been thinking about your art and I think what you need is a deadline for a show.  Have you ever thought of that?”

Well, what I thought of that was that is sounded both amazing and frightening.  So I’ve gathered a small group of teachers who are artists and we are working on putting together a show in a couple of months.  As a result, I’ve been working on my art.  I spent most of Saturday “messing around” with some new techniques.  I’ve stopped putting it off and it has been great.  I have a goal and a deadline.  What I was missing was a sense of urgency.

And what does this have to do with anything in my classroom?  I think it has EVERYTHING  to do with my classroom.

My initial plan for this 20% project was to have no deadline except for the end of the year.  I’ve changed my mind.  We have Student Led Conferences coming on May 13-14 and I’ve set that as the deadline.  When I told the students today, many seemed to be relieved.  One said “Oh good!  It is better to have a deadline.”

Sometimes, the ultimate freedom might just be too much.  These are middle school students we are talking about here.  They like structure because they haven’t developed the skills to build their own structure yet.

I think that next year when we have more time to play with I will still set some deadlines.  Why not require a product by the end of the trimester, at least for the first trimester?  If they want to continue their same topic after the trimester ends, that could certainly be possible.

What do you think?  Am I stifling creativity or am I giving a structure to help it along?  I would appreciate any feedback.

Course 1 Final Project

Reflection of Course 1 and Project

My 20% project.  My Course 1 Final Project.  My favorite part of the last few weeks of teaching.  Sigh…  As I reread this line I can just see the hearts and glitter twirling around my head like a love sick schoolgirl.  I’m in love with this project.  My apologies if it gets sappy in here.

Taking this course has kind of given me permission to take the time to explore this idea of choice as a motivation to learn.  This is something I have been a big believer in for some time and this course gave me an excuse to put into action something that I’m really excited about doing and improving and expanding.

Giving students 20% of their science time to study what interests them has already shown more student engagement because there is a very personal reason for each topic being studied.  One of my students is studying sickle cell anemia because his mother has this disease.  I mean it doesn’t get much more personal or motivating than that, does it?  He told me yesterday that he finally understands how his mom got the disease after he did some research on heredity and recessive traits.  Today he told me that he got to see pictures of his mother’s blood cells as she had just been to the doctor.   He knows that this will be part of his life as he is a carrier of the trait for sickle cell anemia.  This is powerful stuff he is getting into.

This project has also put the spotlight on the parts of my lessons that aren’t as engaging to the students and makes me rethink how to better deal with those parts of the learning experience.  Prime example:  notetaking.  I really think it is important but is it important for me to stand in front of the class and walk them through the notes?  When I suggested to the class that I send them a pdf with the rest of the presentation so they could fill in their notes sheet, they were totally behind the idea.  As one student said, “That will make class less boring.”  For real, I agree!  I find it the most boring part of the lesson, too, even though it does lead to some interesting conversations.  But can’t we have those conversations and do some interesting activities after they have taken notes at home for homework?  Yes, we can!  Time to start flipping the science class!

But back to this final project, I am already thinking about how to develop this project further in the coming school year when there is more time to develop ideas and skills.  I want to learn more about Design Thinking so I can give that tool to the students (thanks, Adam Fox).  I want to set up regular tech tool sharing lessons that can be run by me, other teachers, and the students (thanks Katy Vance).  I can’t wait to see how this grows and changes.

I appreciate all of the feedback, suggestions, collaboration, and inspiration given to me by the members of this program in putting this together.  It is wonderful to be part of an online learning community that is so generous with ideas and resources.  I look forward to the next course, and the next course, and the course after that. 🙂

Slow and unsteady but still winning the race

I can’t tell you how much it thrills me to give my students their 20% time and watch them get so into it that each and every time, they totally miss the end of class.   It is my favorite part of the project so far.  I see the end of class approaching (It sneaks up on me, too) and I stop what I’m doing to just watch them.  I wait to see someone look at the clock and then tell the others that it is time to go.  I wait for them to pack up and ask to be dismissed.  It doesn’t happen.   They just have totally lost track of time because they are so engaged in what they are doing.

What are they doing?  Well, that’s where it gets slow and unsteady.  I have to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t expect amazing things to have happened after only a total of about 120 minutes of work.  I mean what could I have come up with in that amount of time?  I know we are just starting to scratch the surface.  (If only I could give ALL my class time to the project!)  The issue is that I like instant success and gratification – not that those things really exist.  And so I keep smiling at the small successes like the total lack of awareness of time passing or the boy who is often day dreaming and not much of a reader, telling me about what he read about the body clock.  And then there are the bigger moments where the young girl who has recently been placed in our learning support system and who last week told me about a pretty chart she found on the life cycle of a butterfly (Sigh.  Not exactly the stuff that thrills.), today told me how she learned today that every scale on a butterfly’s wing is different and the cells can actually change color.  She was so into it and spoke with a real understanding and excitement.  Now we are getting somewhere!

I need to keep these moments fresh in my mind and also remember that Jeff Utecht told me to celebrate failure and the writers at Psych Central told me that failure is an option.  So when the incredibly diligent and hardworking student came to me today to say that she was just bored with her topic and couldn’t think of anything to do on that topic had totally switched paths, I need to remember that maybe that’s okay!  Maybe I shouldn’t count the time that she has put in so far as a loss (although I have to say, that was my initial reaction).  Maybe I should remember that the spirit of the project is to be interested in what you are studying and therefore motivated to learn more.  Maybe she realized her initial idea was kind of lame – and you know what, it was – and she is better off starting fresh.  This girl will produce.  I’m not worried about that.  Do I really regret that she isn’t doing some lame project and is turning her attention to something more engaging?  No.  I’m totally cool with that.

And now enough.  I didn’t mean to write that much but I believe what this blog has become is a way for me to process the project.  I guess I needed to work all that out.  And now on to writing about being inspired by Dan Meyer.

And for those of you who have said you are looking forward to seeing some final projects – me, too!  But they tell me patience is a virtue and I will try to remember that as I’m waiting for the results of this experiment.


It gets so quiet during 20% time

Friday we had 20 minutes of 20% time and it was so satisfying.  We went from having a pretty lively class regarding seeds and seed dispersal (I understand that it doesn’t sound like such a lively topic but when one method of seed dispersal is a rhino pooping, it can get animated.) to jumping back into their individual projects.  Moments after they started you could have heard a pin drop.

Apparently when you are motivated, you are less likely to chat with your neighbor about off task topics.

Everyone in the room was deep into their project and had no time to talk to other people.  They were into it!  I normally like to hear the chatter of a lively classroom but this silence was music to my ears as well.

One of the things I loved the most was seeing so many of the students with both a book and a laptop open going back and forth between the two.  I know that I am the worst example when it comes to utilizing our library collection when I go to research the next unit of study.  Usually it is straight to the internet!  But thanks to the librarian who lent us this great stack of books, the students and I are looking into these great resources along with the online resources.

And once again….they didn’t notice when class was over!  I had to tell them to put their work away and move on to their next class.

So fun!


And we’re off!

Today I had to tell my classes that they needed to quit working because it was time to go.

Even the class at the end of the day.  They didn’t notice it was time to go home.

This was exciting for me.  To see all of those students engrossed in big science books or clicking away at websites and typing up their ideas while totally ignoring the clock and the bell and the sound of other students leaving classes, put a smile on my face.  It quietly excited me for the possibility for the success of this project.

I asked at the end of the period – so, what do you think?

The students assured me that this was cool.  They were interested in what they were finding.  One student said “Finally, something interesting!”  She quickly amended that statement to assure me that she was excited for something that was “personally interesting.”  And you know what?  The thing is that it doesn’t matter how cool, fun, and wild I think it is to study parasites or animal adaptations, there is nothing more motivating to students than personal choice.  I am much more interested in something I choose as opposed to a topic that is forced upon me.  I get it.

So here is what we did:

I started them off by setting up a Google Reader as a tool they could use to collect blogs they might find as they explored.  My librarian, Jason Sikora, had sent me a link to this science blog which I forwarded to my students so they could practice subscribing to a blog and see how the Reader worked.

Then librarian took the stage with a cart full of books and highlighted some of them.

Of particular interest was the book called Poop by Nicola Davies that led to a few of us discussing how guano is used for fertilizer and explosives.  He also showed some of the cool articles on the website Neatorama to inspire the students.  And then he went above and beyond and talked about the possibilities of involving the community resources!  Wow!  Go to the Butterfly Park, he said.  Talk to local people about the caves in the area, he suggested.  I was so happy he came.  Thank you, Katy Jean Vance for suggesting that I contact the librarian!  He has become an inspiring resource for this project to me and the kids.

And then they just messed around.  They flipped through books, looked up websites, talked to each other about ideas.  It was great.  My principal came in while they were doing this and helped them focus their ideas and questions.  I am grateful to have an administrator who wants to be hands-on with this project.  I hope that he will be a regular visitor for our project work times.

Their homework was to finish brainstorming – another big thank you to Adam Fox for the document – and set up their blog pages to write up their project idea.  I am excited to see what they decided on.  We have ideas ranging from dreams (which led to a discussion on what kind of websites to trust for real scientific information) to genetics.

And here is what I see happening next:

  • A lot of talk about reliable resources
  • A lot of talk about focusing their topics
  • A lot of guiding
  • A lot of individual conferencing

I also see this moving slower in some ways than I was expecting.  It might take a week for some of the students to just get their topic together.  I’m going to be okay with that.  I’m also going to be okay with the simplicity of some of their ideas.  Hopefully, these simple ideas will lead to other questions of greater complexity.

We got the party started and it makes me want to dance quietly with a big smile. (Kind of like this song makes me feel)
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20% time….Here we go!

I’ve given so much time and thought to this 20% science time project. I’ve read the comments and other people’s blogs.  I’ve considered and started building a model/example of what a project might look like.  I’ve written up the project to give to the students.  Then I found myself at a standstill and felt like it was not ready and there was more I needed to prepare for but was not sure what or how.

So do I just start and see what happens?


I talked to my principal today.  He totally supports it as it fits right into what we have been talking recently in regards to project based learning.

And I spent what turned out to be a long time pulling together S & Bs, Essential Questions – the whole UbD package.  I sat down to get started and was so into it that 2 hours passed in what felt like 30 minutes.  A perfect example of exactly what I hope happens for the students:  they get so into the project they don’t even realize how much time is passing!

So here is where I am:

The model/example:  I decided against it as I felt it might serve as a limitation to some of the students.  The idea being if they see something I did and they think that is all they can do or should do or that is exactly how their exploration should look, that is all they will do – copy me.  So I decided to trash that plan.  Instead, I’m going to explore my own interests along with them.  Well, it will probably be on my own time as I assume I will need to be there to conference with, guide, and encourage them during class time (or perhaps I can convince my administrator to give ME 20% time….perhaps).

The write up:  Please check out this link and give me some feedback.  I plan on making this available to the students at the end of this Trimester – just a few days away! While I’d like it to be as good as I can make it, I have come to the conclusion that it just is not going to be perfect.  Perhaps perfection should not even be in my vocabulary when discussing this.  I expect it to go well but know that there will be bumps and failures along the way.  That’s okay.

The rubric:  Take a look at that here.  I borrowed a heavily from my Humanities teacher’s 6 traits rubric (I can hear him now, “About time you used that!”).  I can tell you that as I put it together, it was the most painful part of the procedure so far.  LImiting?  Probably.  Necessary.  I believe so.

The still missing:  I feel like I’m still missing so much.  For starters, I need some starters for those students who need a little push.  I also feel like I need to build up an online toolbox of links and a collection of good science sites and such.  Perhaps what I’m missing is a little faith in the students to help build some of this up.  It will all come together eventually I’m sure.  If you have any suggestions, please send them my way.

So on Thursday I give it to the students and put it in their hands.  They will have a 3-day weekend to consider it all before we sit down for our first real session next week.  It is exciting and makes me smile.

I like the smiling.

Giving up 20% of the control

So there I was flipping around the [New] Bloom’s Taxonomy Digitally by Andrew Churches and thinking about some of the tools linked there when I happened upon Ron Starker’s blog discribing the Connections program at his school.  He mentioned a little about how Google (and come to find out Apple and Linkedin) give their employees 20% of their work time to devote to projects of interest not necessarily part of their regular job description.

And that got me thinking:  What would my students do if I gave them 20% of their science time to pursue their own interests within the realm of Life Science – I can’t give up all that control 🙂

They are such curious creatures!  We have these great discussions where they are bringing up something they read or saw on Monsters Inside Me or something an older sibling or parent told them about.  Honestly, I think that I could spend every day facilitating interesting group discussions on science in the news, but that wouldn’t allow me to cover the curriculum.

But what is the curriculum in middle school science?  Isn’t the most important thing that we cultivate curiousity and exploration using scientific inquiry?  Is it more important that I teach them about the function of a Golgi Body or that I teach them to be curious about the world around them?  What if I shortened my group discussions and learning activities and gave them time and space to pursue some of the ideas they are interested in.  I think I can still cover enough of the curriculum that they are getting a good base of knowledge to build their understanding to then climb up Bloom’s Taxonomy to those glorious higher orders but doing so based on what they are interested in, not necessarily whatever topic we are covering.

I’m a big believer in choice as a motivator. (We’ve all seen the Pink Tedtalk, haven’t we?)  For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on building choice in my math class when it comes to guided practice.  Students are often given choice of levels of practice problems based on difficulty.  They eat that stuff up because they get to choose what to do.  It is powerful.  (This is where I need to thank the amazing Dave Suarez for letting me come observe and be inspired by this tiered math program at JIS.)

So I just can’t stop thinking of what students would do if I gave them the time to pursue their own Life Science interests.  Of course there would need to be some structure.  Structure is a good thing particularly for middle school students.  Here’s what I’m thinking.  You tell me what you think.  I’m looking for suggestions here.

Where do we start:

We start with a question.  What do you want to know about?

Example:  How do parasites enter a human body?

What happens in the middle:

And then the blogging begins (this is where I convince the Humanities teacher that this could be an amazing point of integration).  The student would be required to write blog posts updating us on his/her progress and resources.  If I were to give 20% of the class time of an 8 day cycle, the student would be responsible for using some of that time to be responsible for sharing what they were working on.

I also see Mind Maps (saw this in the Bloom’s Digital mentioned above) being developed and added to over time.  Perhaps a Google Reader folder with all of the blogs they are following.  I see them having peer check-ins where they have to share their progress with the people sitting at their table and give and take suggestions.

How do you end:

Maybe this question is wrapped up in a week.  Maybe it takes a month.  Perhaps the rest of the year.  In any case, the student will be expected to produce a stand-alone presentation online.  One that people can take the time to look at and learn from without the creator in the room next to them.  I want to see Prezis and Wikis and Movies and Podcasts and Comics and any number of other presentation vehicles that would get the point across about what they learned.

Where do I go from here?

In researching this I found what I figured I would find – someone is already doing this!  I can’t tell you how happy this made me.  I love not having to reinvent the wheel but be able to find something out there and tweak it to what will work for my students.  So check out this blog post by Kevin Brookhouser.

And how about all you brilliant minds out there?  Any suggestions?


SpectacuLarsen – What’s that all about?

So just now I was looking to start writing my first blog post for this course and thought about my blog name.  People who know me would know the story behind the name and understand that I’m not a complete self-promoting egomaniac.  However, after my required glass of red wine (By the way, Jeff, I assume you are okay with differentiation because my glass didn’t exactly have red wine in it.), I had a thought that strangers might find it a touch egotistical to call oneself SpectacuLarsen.  So let me tell you where the  name came from as way of introducing myself and sharing what has proved to be a successful teaching moment.

Before moving to ISKL in Malaysia, I was living in Monterrey, Mexico teaching 6th and  7th  grade math.  There was a young man named Marcelo in my 6th grade class who loved wrestling more than anything!  John Cena, Rey Mysterio, and a bunch of other wrestlers whose names I can’t remember were all Marcelo wanted to talk about.  I promised him that one day I would make a lesson centered entirely on wrestlers.

And so one day I was inspired….

The cover of the comic book

Using a program called Comic Life, I created a comic book that taught/reviewed the steps to solving one, two and multi-step equations.  I gave it to my students and they really were enjoying digging in and doing the math.  I also shared it with the other 6th grade math teacher and she gave it to her students as well.  I decided to pop in on her class as they were working on it to see how things were going.  One of her students, Juan Carlos, stopped me and said, “Miss!  Did you make this?  This is SpectacuLarsen!”  He then proceeded to explain to me:  “That’s spectacular with your name on it.”

That made my day!  Juan Carlos was a very bright boy but not the world’s most dedicated student.  To have produced something that engaged Juan Carlos, Marcelo, and other students who didn’t have “learning algebra” at the top of their priority list, was really satisfying.

From there the idea took on a little life of it’s own.  The following year while traveling through Oaxaca, I came across a shop that was selling a Lucha Libre mask with numbers all over it.  Well, it had to be mine.  I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it but it had to be mine.  By this time, I had become a fan of spending the odd night at the local Lucha Libre arena, where I think the matches might have been staged (wink).  It was the most amazingly ridiculous event that could be attended and I loved every minute of the crazy that went on there.  So that got me thinking….now I have a mask of my own….what can I do with that….

I did a little research and found there was once a luchador (wrestler) named El Matematico.  I made myself a cape and became Matematica, the nemesis of SpectacuLarsen (As that had now become my wrestler name from my former days as a wrestler), who would come in once or twice a year to have an Equation Smackdown with SpectacuLarsen’s students.  Now there is quite a bit of smack talk that goes on between me and Matematica.  I can’t even be in

One student showed up to Smackdown with his own mask!

the same room as she is because we can’t control ourselves around each other.  So once or twice a year, I leave the class and Matematica takes over.  There are teams of students who battle her in solving equations (points for showing the work – not just getting the answer first) and work together to beat her.  She did good work in my Mexican classrooms and has been pretty well received in Malaysia as well considering the lack of masked wrestlers in the country.  This year, I’m sure she had more equations being solved on the last day of school before the winter break than normally would have happened.

So what’s the point?  Reading the article Living and Learning with New Media, the thing I respond to the most is that it is important to engage with the students where they are – their interests and their media.  I read the article and kept thinking that this is the way it has been since the dawn of civilization – the younger generation are working with technology that the older generation has a hard time understanding.  In order to reach out to that younger generation, we should jump into that media and technology and see how it can enhance our teaching.

One of the things I have jumped into this year with the start of our 1 to 1 laptop program, is an electronic textbook for my science class.  Students are happy to download the pdf I send them that has 100% relavent material (as I edit every chapter), great images, and links to websites, interactives, and videos.  They use Adobe Acrobat Pro to take notes, highlight text, and write sticky notes on their own copy of the textbook.  This is a textbook that they can engage with in ways that weren’t possible with the traditional text.  By the way, I did a parent survey about the e-texts and they were fully behind the idea with only one parent requesting a hard copy for her son.  I happily print off one hard copy for that child every time I email out a new chapter.

Hit ’em where they live is my take away from this.  I look forward to engaging in these discussions and finding more ways to engage students.