Archive for January, 2008

And You Don’t Stop (Part I)

Even if you don’t like rap and hip-hop, give this post a chance. I know Jose has quoted Jay-Z and met Rakim, Dan‘s spotlighted a homemade Jay-Z poster, and Taylor loves Eminem and Ice Cube; I’m counting on you (& similar-minded folks) to help me out here and in the next post. The rest of you might learn something new.

I was introduced to rap the same way as many other white suburban kids my age – when Run-DMC and Aerosmith collaborated on a cover of “Walk This Way.” I was 9 and in fourth grade, and I ate it right up – that was my gateway into hip-hop.

By the time I hit high school I was discovering the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Clapton, Hendrix, and focusing on rock music, but in that five-year span from 1986 to 1991 I’d absorbed a lot of rap (mostly via Yo! MTV Raps)*, including Eric B & Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions, EPMD, Digital Underground (featuring a pre-solo success Tupac), Ice-T, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A., and my personal favorite, Public Enemy.

My inability to musically multi-task as a teenager shut me off to a lot of great stuff of all genres, I’m sure, and I regret that. Even with my blinders on, though, I managed to pick up on Cube, Snoop, Dre, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, the evolution of the Beastie Boys, and later, Biggie, Busta Rhymes, and Wu-Tang Clan.

These days, in addition to the classics, I’m listening to Madvillain and Little Brother, both of whom I discovered through eMusic.

There’s a reason I’m posting this, to be revealed in Part II. For now, I’m just trying to stir the pot a bit. If you’re with me, drop me a comment – who are your picks for top rap artists?  Who’s out there right now that’s good that isn’t getting radio play?

*I’m showing my age – I’m so old I remember when MTV showed music videos. 🙁

TTP 5: The Twitteracy Project is Dead, Long Live the Twitteracy Project

The verdict is in: this past semester’s Twitteracy Project was a bust.

To put it succinctly, I think the two main roadblocks were 1) the technology at home and 2) student motivation. Many kids reported problems even being able to log in to Twitter from home, let alone send messages. I suggested they upgrade IE, I suggested they try Firefox if they were using IE (sorry, Bill), but all to no effect. Also, the students had to be motivated enough to log in and send messages, which very few of them were. In a class of 24, I think there were only 4 or 5 “regulars”, and when no one else was joining in, even they lost interest by about Thanksgiving or so.

Not one to learn lessons easily, I’m implementing the project again this semester, this time with my Honors Brit Lit juniors & seniors. While I can’t address their home technical issues, I hope that their intrinsic motivation will be a little higher than my sophomores’. Sure enough, just when I needed a little inspiration, The Chronicle of Higher Ed [via Twitter’s blog] runs a story about David Parry, a UT-Dallas professor who used Twitter with his students to great success. The big payoff, according to the prof?

The immediacy of the messages helped the students feel like more of a community, Mr. Parry said in an interview Monday. “It was the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching,” he said.

Now where have I heard that before?

Further reading: Twitter article on Dave Parry’s blog, academHack.

Edit: He’s @academicdave on Twitter, if you want to see what he’s doing with his students.


(*Not Safe For Work – seriously, wait ’til you get home to read this post/view the video)

Came across this story via the BBC today. After poking around the Internet, I’ve pieced together the following timeline:


  • Attractive young woman works as model/actress
  • Said woman stars in a short film/advertisement for Scruffs workwear (seems to be British equivalent of Carhartt or Dickies)
  • Film is highly sexually suggestive; includes several simulated sex acts, some of which involve this woman


  • Film sent to construction companies; wins multiple awards at advertising industry awards ceremony in Cannes



  • Video hits YouTube
  • Students and parents see their English teacher simulating sex on an office desk
  • Teacher is suspended pending “an investigation”

Here’s a link to the video on YouTube (you’ll have to sign in to verify your age, as YouTube has it flagged as inappropriate for minors). The teacher is the woman in the first section (“Action Jacket”). Last warning: DO NOT WATCH if you’re at work, or are offended by semi-graphic depictions of sex.

This is huge, people. Should this woman be penalized for a job she took years before she was a teacher? There was no crime committed. On the other hand, could your child take her seriously as a teacher after seeing this video? Is the headteacher within his legal right to take any action at all? How can we separate the moral judgments from the legal ones – or can we?

Even if you find the film to be grossly offensive (which I imagine many will), could you justify letting this woman lose her job? Pretty serious implications here for the rest of us, too – is it fair to hold YOU accountable in a professional context for things you did before you joined the profession?

So many questions coming to mind here, and I don’t know enough about private education in England to know what the legal ramifications are or could be. I’d love to hear from the British contingent on this one – what are teachers and admins saying about this across the pond?

Individual Accountability in Group Work; Feedback Requested (or, tl;dr)

My dilemma: I love collaborative group work – I think there’s potentially a great deal of value in group projects – but I can’t always trust my students to all contribute equally. I’ve tried assigning specific roles, I’ve tried having kids sign “Equal Distribution Agreements” in which they promise to share the workload equally, and I’ve tried having kids write me reflective letters outlining their contributions and how evenly they felt work was distributed. They were all effective to a degree, but I never felt they were quite quantitative enough to justify any grade I could come up with, especially when there are conflicting reports among group members (he said, she said, etc.). I finally tried something with my most recent group project that I think worked out very well: it’s data-driven, AND it is supported by my personal observations throughout the project. Upon completion of our most recent group project, I had students fill out the following information on a half-sheet of paper (download at end of post). Above the grid, they filled in their group topic and their name. In the grid, they put every OTHER group member’s name, one to a box.

Blank Scoresheet

I then told the students that they each had 10 points to distribute among their group members, based on their individual contributions to the overall project. In a four-person group (three being rated), a fairly equal distribution of points would look like this:


If one person contributed much more than others, or if one person did not contribute as much to the group, it might look like this:


In any event, all points should add up to ten (I told them to keep their ratings whole numbers; what do I look like, a mathemagician?). In a group of 4 where work was evenly shared, a student should score anywhere between 9-12 (let’s call it 8-12 for a group of 3 or 5). To me, that’s worth an A; drop a letter grade for every point below that minimum “equal participation threshold.” It’s with that in mind that I developed the following chart:

Grade Chart

I listed the kids in a spreadsheet along with the points they earned from their group members. Add the numbers up horizontally, refer to grade equivalency chart, and assign grade.

Dummy Data

Having multiple raters for each student reduces the chances that one will suffer due to one vindictive student. KenRodoff and JackieB in the above example were each given a 2 by one of their group members, but the other ratings counteracted the one low rating and brought them both into A range.

These data also support my personal observations throughout the project. Prior to administering the survey, it seemed to me that the workload was pretty equitable, with only a few students here or there not carrying their weight. The final grade distribution for this assessment was as follows:

A: 19
B: 2
C: 1
D: 1
F: 1

Yeah, that sounds about right. I’m not concerned about the lack of a bell curve because I would rather see 79% of my students truly working collaboratively than have a majority of the class do a so-so job.

It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the most objective, data-driven approach to grading participation I’ve ever taken. I can’t take full credit for this, as I distinctly remember getting the basis for this from someone in the Twitterverse (sorry, can’t remember who), but I did flesh it out to suit my needs.

I’ll definitely be trying this again soon. As much as I love the fact that most of the work was spread around equally, part of me would like to see if the data clearly supports my observations when multiple students don’t participate.

Assessing individual contributions to large group projects has always been difficult for me, but I think I’ve got something that works now. Please feel free to download any of my materials for use with your students, and leave a comment – how do you assess individual contributions to group work? Are there any significant drawbacks to this method I might have missed?

Peer Evaluation Sheet (2 to a page) (.xls)
Peer Participation Data Entry Sheet (.xls)

Believe It or Not, It’s Just Me

When it comes to wikis (my first real foray into the read/write Web, they hold a special place in my heart dontcha know), I’m usually thinking in terms of classroom models; however, I recently had the chance to create a wiki for special ed department members members of my school’s Special Education department. I sent a Bat-signal up into the blogosphere early last month, and then never followed up on it here until now.

Here, then, is the full text of the email I sent to my school’s Special Education department this afternoon:

For my grad school internship, I created a wiki website for the HC Special Services department: On it, you will find information on a variety of topics including behavior support, New Jersey classifications, and various online resources for special ed teachers. It’s just missing one thing: your input.

The reason this site is a wiki instead of a regular website is because I wanted the teachers of the department to have an ongoing say in its development. There is a very simple 3-step tutorial on how to add content to any part of the site linked off the main page, so I encourage you to visit the site and add your thoughts and experiences to any part of the site. There is a section specifically for general hints and tips (perhaps from the more experienced teachers to the newer ones?), but of course you can add to or modify any existing information.

The value of wikis is in group collaboration. I hope you will find time to make a contribution and help this tool grow. I am available to you if you have any questions.

I hope the tone and content of the email were sufficient to get people poking around and maybe even contributing, but there’s a part of me that’s pessimistic about how frequently it will be used – and that’s not a reflection on the faculty. I think there’s a missing component here that I am unable to offer, at least not within the confines of the contracted school day: training. I feel like I’m offering these folks a potentially very cool, very powerful utility, but withholding the instruction manual.

And if you don’t know why that’s a bad thing, just ask William Katt.