Summer Projects

Abandoned Old Rusty Car
Alex Proimos via Compfight

I accepted that something wasn’t right with me when I realized that what I was looking forward to this summer was… doing work. Specifically, getting my digital footprint up to snuff and taking care of work-related planning and organization. Here’s an excerpt from my lengthy to-do list (kept, of course, in Evernote):

  1. Update my personal website at
  2. Transition to a new cloud service
  3. Finish annual teaching reflection
  4. Complete planning maps for my world history courses

My work thus far has been steady but plodding. First off, I wanted to select a cloud service that I would use next year to keep my work and home computers in sync (Win7 and Mac-Lion, respectively) – not only with work files, but also my 50GB music collection. Furthermore, I needed a service that would allow me to easily share files and folders with my two co-planning teachers. After a feature and cost comparison between cloud services Spideroak, Skydrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox, I settled on Skydrive. It’s among the cheapast of the options, and it offers 7GB to free users – a better deal for my co-planning teachers who probably won’t shell out $50/year for extra storage. I quickly find this to be the wrong choice, though. Skydrive suffers from strict file name limitations (no symbols like ; ” , / etc), so I had to use a mass filename replacer to fix the hundreds of errors that Skydrive had. Then I had to trash the app’s preferences to get it to sync properly. I still haven’t completed a full sync since I’m on a limited data plan here in rural Canada. If I could do it over again, I’d choose Google Drive. It’s comparable in cost, offers similar sharing features, and I doubt it faces the same filename restrictions (or if it does, it deals with them more gracefully).

My personal website has also been a time sink. I signed up for 1and1’s unlimited web hosting package on the recommendation of a friend – it’s $3 or 4 a month for all-you-can-eat bandwidth and web storage. They also claimed to offer 1-click WordPress installs. But my 1-click install didn’t work, so I ended up having to install WordPress and set up the domain manually. Admittedly, it wasn’t complicated – the WordPress install takes five minutes. But still – more complicated than it should have been.

Then it was on to customizing my WordPress install. I chose a theme, imported content from my Coetail blog, and tinkered for hours. The results are alright for a first attempt – But I let the tail wag the dog, choosing a theme and tweaking the CSS styles before deciding what pages and content I wanted to have, instead of vice versa. I anticipated regular changes to what’s posted there now.

The past week has been all about the tools. Next step: using these tools to actually accomplish something.

Cold, Hard Numbers: Technology

Since joining COETAIL I have made a conscious effort to include technology in my classes. I’m partly doing it simply for the sake of using technology, but it has benefited both me and my students: I find them more engaged when working collaboratively, and I have pushed myself and created new assignments because of my use of technology.

Over the course of the year, I used several technologies on which I polled my students:

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Long story short, I’ve reached the following conclusions about my use of technology:

  • Students enjoy collaborating, and do it more effectively with online tools (kind of an obvious conclusion, I know)
  • Moodle is very useful for the students who choose to use it
  • Although Facebook and Twitter are popular outside of school, students want to keep a separation between academic and personal life.

Continue reading Cold, Hard Numbers: Technology

Cold, Hard Numbers: An Introduction to My Year-End Reflection


Whether we admit it or not, people love watching other people make fools of themselves. Our delight is compounded when the subject is unaware of their suffering.This is what makes American Idol auditions so sickeningly funny; the off-key notes, ecstatic expressions, and wild gesticulations of willing participants are wrapped in a warm blanket of obliviousness to how ridiculous they look. Some of these poor mules respond by getting in on the joke and rising above it – take William Hung, for example, who had his 15 minutes of fame and maybe a few more. But we teachers don’t have the luxury of lampooning our own incompetence. Our effectiveness depends on becoming aware of our shortcomings and fixing them.

In a bid to avoid such ignominy, then, I had all six of my classes fill out a year-end survey that I created using Google Docs. My goal: to assess the effectiveness of a) my technology use, b) instructional practices, and c) classroom environment. Over the next week or two I’ll be analyzing that data and sharing the results here.

A few caveats:

  1. I’m aware that this is not a statistically valid analysis. While I got most of my students (sample size = 84), I don’t have the background in stats nor the resources to control for variables that might help me make decisions as to causality. So I’ll be discussing a lot of correlation and making educated, though anecdotal, guesses to explain the results.
  2. This is the first year that I’ve given this particular survey, and I’m the only teacher at school who gave it (since I made it up myself). So I lack a quantitative measure of change over time, as well as a measure against the efficacy of other teachers. For example (and I’m giving away the big finale here), my students rated the overall efficacy of my class at 8.23 on a scale of 1-10. But that doesn’t mean I’m in the 82nd percentile; it doesn’t make me a B- teacher. Maybe most teachers would score a 9 or higher, and I’m sub-par. Or maybe other teachers would score in the 7-7.5 range, and I’m a rockstar. The point is that my survey doesn’t help me quantitatively define my develpment over time or give me a context in which to judge my overall efficacy compared to other teachers.
  3. The results represent the students’ perceptions about my instruction, so you should trust the results to the extent that you trust adolescents’ judgements about what education is and should be. I don’t mean to imply that this makes them invalid, but rather it should be part of other external assessments of a teacher’s efficacy.

External links:

Mr. Kelsey’s End of Year Evaluation

William Hung on Wikipedia

William Hung’s Official Website