Friday, February 29, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 2/29/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

101 Web 2.0 Teaching Tools

17 Ways to Get Free Books

Ski for Green – teaching about the environment and the arctic

The Ultimate Student Resource List – links that help student productivity

Graphic Organizers – ready made graphic organizers right at your finger tips

World Maths Day– March 5, 2008, join students around the world trying to set a world record in answering mental arithmetic questions.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Using Voicethread in the Classroom

First of all, let me tell you that I was influenced by Vicki Davis (coolcatteacher) and her blog post about ”Be a human BEING rather than a human DOING: Making choices in Overchoice” which made me realize that I didn’t need to learn it all right now. So, I’m trying to learn one new thing each week so I don’t feel so overwhelmed. Just that I’m in the conversation makes me feel good. Here is such a great example of a voicethread where many people tell you "What Does the Network Mean to You?"

This week I tried voicethread but I had to join it first. Then I put my pictures in Flickr because I also have some family members who like to look at individual pictures. When I open the voicethread window, I clicked on create and I was walked through all the steps so it was pretty easy. There is also a tutorial you can watch which helped me know which options were best to pick. Then I loaded the pictures I wanted into Voicethread. Once I put them in the order I wanted, I could add my comments to the pictures that I liked to comment about.

I can see how this can be used on the personal level and on the educational level. Of course here is an example that I did on the personal level: Parsons Mountain 2/16/2008. This would be a great way to document trips or events with actual voice memories. Voices can capture emotion and feelings where the written word cannot.

In the same way, you could document field trips and let the students give their version of what is happening in the pictures. Events that happen at school could be done the same way. Teacher or student portfolios can be done in this way. When I taught in the Occupational Diploma Program, my purpose was to help students get a job and keep a job. Voicethread could be used to teach job skills where important job skills would be shown and the student could tell why it was important to have this skill on the job. In order to graduate with an occupational diploma, each student had to prepare a portfolio with material from all four years in the program including photos of their performance on the job. Students could show pictures of their performance on the job and explain what their job responsibilities were in each picture.

This also could be used as an alternate assessment to written tests. If the objective is for students to know and understand the material and they have difficulty with writing, this would be perfect to use. The teacher could upload photos on the topic and the student could explain what is happening. Or the teacher could ask a question pertaining to the photo and the student could respond with the correct answer. A rubric could be developed in order to grade this and document the information for grading purposes.

photo credit: voicethread_voices.PNG by margoc found on flickr creative commons.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Carnival of Education 2/27/08

The Carnival of Education #160 is up on the Midway at The Sam Jackson College Experience. Come by and check out the interesting articles (even one by me!).

Using Technology in the Classroom – Live Broadcast

Tonight will be my first live broadcast of our Council for Exceptional Children Chapter 877 meeting. As president of our local chapter, I am always looking for ways to reach members and have meaningful meetings. About a month ago I joined the Twitter community and social networked with others and learned about how to do live broadcasts. I attended live broadcasts of seminars and collaborations that were so interesting and exciting that I realized that this would be a great way to get our members to our meetings. Over the years I have heard that people were too busy to travel to the meetings or that our county is so large that it is too long a drive to attend meetings after a day of work. I am hoping that by doing this I can overcome those two obstacles and motivate people to join us. Of course since this is the first time, I’m a little anxious about how the video and audio will sound but it is worth a try.

We will be talking about the topics that I posted in I encouraged people to bring their own laptops with wifi connections because Panera Bread has free wifi. In fact Panera is even reserving the back comfortable “living room” area for our meeting. I am also anxious about whether anyone will show up, either in person or on line. We have sent out reminders to everyone we have email addresses for and anyone else I know that might be interested.

I don’t think I will discuss this over 30 minutes because I feel it will overwhelm them. I want to whet teachers’ appetites so they can see what is out there. The list of topics is not all that is out there and I’m finding out new things every day that I would not have known about if I hadn’t started to connect with others in education from around the world. I never realized that there are so many people out there who know so much and are willing to share this information. All you have to do is know where to look and who to ask. If these people don’t know the answers, they usually can direct you to someone who does know. I’m hoping that once they see some of these things, these teachers will realize that it is just the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty resources out there that we can use in our classrooms.

I know that this information can be intimidating but if I can convince them to try at least one thing at a time, it will be worth it. I know that teachers don’t really have the time to search and try out all the resources that may be out there and since I’ve retired from the classroom, I really do have the time. I guess I use others to filter a lot of this information for me and I look at links that other people recommend. As I look at the suggested resources, I can tell whether or not I like the same things this person likes so I will know whether to continue to look at links they recommend. If I see that they have different interests than I do or I don’t agree with them, I usually skip their links. Teachers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by going through all the gazillions of stuff that is out there. By using Twitter I have used a lot of the people out there as my “filter” for information.

My personal goals for this meeting:
• I am hoping that the teachers at this meeting will use me as a resource and learn of other resources out there.
• I hope that teachers will gain some new information out there that they can use in their classroom.
• I hope that teachers will be motivated to explore some of these new things and be motivated to want more.
• I hope that teachers will learn that technology is not something to be feared and instead see how it can improve the quality of their teaching.
• I hope teachers will share ways that technology can be used in the classroom to improve student performance and understanding of knowledge.

If you have time, pop in and join us on Wednesday, February 27 at 6:30pm ET at

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Senator Thomas's View on Education

(Today our guest writer is SC State Senator David Thomas. He has served in the Senate since 1985.)

I grew up in the South Carolina public school system, from grades two through nine. Prior to and after those years our family lived in North Carolina. I remember most the wonderful teachers during that time and believe I received a good education given the easily diverted student my teachers had to work with.

Those teachers did something correctly. I ended up getting a number of graduate degrees and still love to study most everything for its own sake.

About sixty percent of the budget of South Carolina goes into education. We spend around $8,000 per pupil every year for publicly educated children. And even though I don’t serve on the Senate Education Committee, I do have an opinion about education in our state. I think it’s working fairly well. Young people are getting a good education in South Carolina.

Just recently, I appeared before a State Senate Education Committee sub-committee and presented two bills I’d introduced. One was at the request of a parent of twins who had been told the elementary school her children attended did not allow siblings to be in the same classroom; even close twins. She protested to the principal, to no avail. My legislation would have allowed, under certain conditions, those twins to be in the same class. The second bill was brought to my attention by a senior at a high school in Anderson County, Libby Berger. Libby is a most wonderful young lady who observed that “recess” times seem to be “at risk” in elementary schools, in her opinion. So, after researching the matter I introduced a bill mandating recess for at least twenty minutes every day in elementary school. Libby spoke at the sub-committee hearing. She was articulate and self assured in her presentation to six senior state senators. I was proud to be associated with her. She made ME look good. (See article: Teen to senators: Children need play time at school)

The real point of mentioning Libby is to demonstrate the quality of students the South Carolina School System is producing.

Could we do things better? Of course. And even in the business world every business owner would admit that his or her enterprise could be better run. My thrust is this: Much is being done correctly. There is a lot to be proud of and happy with in the training of our students.

To be even better, we legislators need to be in better touch with teachers as well as administrators. I’d personally welcome any teacher’s observations as to what I could do to help improve our school situation. Please be in touch with me. Write me at I’d love to hear from you. Send me some good success stories like Libby too.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Guest tomorrow: SC State Senator David Thomas

My guest writer tomorrow features SC State Senator David Thomas. He has taken time to share with us his view on education. I feel that Senator Thomas really cares about people and has shown this in many ways. When he was considering the autism bill, he asked for my input since I was a special education teacher. I felt the best way to explain autism and its impact on students and others was to invite him to my class to teach them about his job and responsibilities as a state senator. After spending time with special education students that day (my students were learning disabled, emotionally disabled, mentally disabled, and autistic), I think Senator Thomas got a better understanding about how these students have to deal with life. I am thrilled that the bill was passed (even though the Governor vetoed it but the House was able to override the veto!). This is just one example of Senator Thomas’s interest and concern about the people of South Carolina. He is very open to other’s opinions and honestly wants to hear your comments and concerns so please check my blog tomorrow for his post!

Utterz (not Udders) in the Classroom

Now you ask: What in the world is an Utterz? According to their web site “Utterz is the first way you can instantly blog your experiences, thoughts and ideas, anywhere, using all the capabilities of your mobile phone. Utterz mashes together the voice, video, pictures, and text you call or send in and creates an 'Utter' that can immediately update your existing web pages on sites like Blogger, WordPress, Facebook, LiveJournal, MySpace and more.”

I have been playing around with it and have found it so easy to use I think it could be used for almost any grade. I first used the microphone on my laptop without any problems but my wonderful hubby actually bought me a microphone from Office Depot for under $9. Either way, my voice was pretty clear when I played back my recording but without my microphone I felt like I was leaning into the computer instead of relaxing and concentrating on what I was saying. As I said, it was so easy because all you have to do is click on the red button for record, say what you want, and then stop the recording. It plays back what you said and then you post it if you like it.

I can see students enjoying this because many of my students loved to try something new especially if they could hear or see themselves and others. I also had many high school students who had difficulties with writing but really understood the content of the material. This is a great way to assess their understanding as well as improving their self concept. By doing this, they wouldn’t feel as frustrated as a writing assignment and could feel good about being able to show that they understood the material. I also think you could ask questions from a worksheet and have them respond to each question. They could work on this independently as you walk around the room and help those that need help. Usually students who had difficulty writing would get bored and disrupt the class because they couldn’t complete the assignments. Rather than “looking dumb”, they would act up so no one would see that they had difficulties.

I could also see where Utterz could be used for getting students to share their opinions and give details to back up their opinion. The teacher could give a statement and ask students if they agree or disagree. The students would take turns giving their opinions. As each student came to give their opinions, they could hear previous responses and add or refute what they said. Students who already responded could listen also and respond to anyone. At a certain point, the discussion could be ended and all responses played for the whole class for a class discussion. By having students do this, the shy students may feel more inclined to give their opinion. This would be a great way for students also to share their opinions without others interrupting or disagreeing so their whole thought could be formulated and shared.

If you think of other ways that Utterz could be used in the classroom, please leave it in the comment section so others could see it also. I really believe that by using Utterz in the classroom, the students would be more successful in the classroom.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 02/22/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting! is a simple and free web application that lets you brainstorm online.

The Fifty Tools - 50 web tools you can use to create a story.

Visible Body – 3D Human Anatomy

Planbook – Software for Teachers; digital planning book where you can attach files

Classroom Sims – teachers can practice with these simulations

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Were You Thinking?

I know that we are all getting the winter blues but I’m hearing stories in the news that surprise and alarm me. Every teacher has these thoughts of what they would like to do but those are just thoughts and not actions. Even as a parent, there were times that I just wanted to pull my hair out with my teenagers or slap them into next year but I didn’t do either one. The same goes for teaching. At this time of year the students got antsy and bored plus I felt the same way so that combination didn’t lead to a very nice day in the classroom.

At one high school where I taught years ago I had a colleague who just couldn’t take this student anymore. He constantly spent the year disrupting her class, being disrespectful, and baiting her so she would get upset. The teacher did all the right things by punishing the student, calling the parents, referring him to the administrators but nothing changed this student’s behavior. In fact, the longer it went on the more control he seemed to gain and the less she seemed to have. Finally, after taking all that she could take, she threw a stapler at him and beaned him right in the forehead! The story about what happened probably went around the school faster than a speeding bullet. The student was taken to the nurse because of the blood flowing everywhere so all the students in the hall saw it. Needless to say, administrators were called and the teacher was removed from the classroom, never to return again. The sad part was that up until this point, she was an excellent teacher. Most of the students liked her and did very well on standardized tests. All of her evaluations were wonderful over the 20 years she had taught.

A couple of years ago, a teacher was reported in the news as to writing on an elementary school child’s forehead, “I will bring my glasses to school” in permanent marker. Apparently the girl wouldn’t bring her glasses and classwork was nearly impossible for her. After repeated calls home and punishing the girl, nothing worked so the teacher took it upon herself to remedy the situation. She also was removed from the classroom. I don’t think she was in the classroom long, but until this moment, apparently she had no problems in the classroom.

Then I read this article last week: Special Ed Student Taped to A Chair and thought, there goes another one.

When I hear these stories, I always wonder, “What in the world were they thinking?” Somebody needs to say, “Don’t do it! Don’t do the things you are thinking about that could cause you to lose your job! You have too much time and money invested in your career to throw it all away because you cannot control a student!” Well, there, I said it. I hope some teacher who is at the end of his or her rope, hears me and takes a deep breath. The only way to be successful in teaching is to recognize the times that you have to take a deep breath and NOT do the things you are thinking about.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Carnival of Education 2/20/08

The Carnival of Education #159 is up on the midway at Sharp Brain. Stop in for some interesting insights into the world of education (including an article from me)!

Try Not to Look Astonished About How It Turns Out

“If, at first you DO succeed, try not to look astonished.” I heard this the other day on a crocheting podcast and I’m sorry that I don’t remember the girl’s name that said it. But then I started thinking about how it applied to my teaching career. I thought of some situations and the variations of this saying as it applied to them.

How many times have I planned a great lesson and it turned out great, just like I expected? Sometimes I would plan a lesson and really get into the planning and the excitement. I guess when I taught the lesson this excitement and enthusiasm really showed and infected the students, which made them get into the lesson. A lot of times, I, the teacher, was the one who set the tone for the lesson and the students picked up on it. When this happened, I felt like the greatest teacher in the world!

How many times have I planned a great lesson and it flopped, not like I expected? Sometimes I planned the lesson and thought I had it all spelled out. For some reason when I explained it to the class, they just didn’t get it. Of course, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t get it and feel the same excitement I was feeling. This in turn dampened my enthusiasm and I’m sure the tone of my voice and my body language conveyed the message of disappointment to my students. Like a snowball rolling downhill, the momentum of the disappointment just grew until the actual lesson was no longer the focus in the classroom. I would get frustrated and the kids, already frustrated would just sadly shake their heads and hope to survive until the bell rang.

How many times have I planned an okay lesson and it turned out just okay, like I expected? I have had those days were I just didn’t feel well or didn’t feel motivated and knew my lesson wasn’t spectacular but would be okay if an administrator happened to pop in to observe me. I always knew when I didn’t give it my all and didn’t expect very much from my students. Of course, like the self fulfilling prophesy, that is exactly what happened. The students did what was needed to get by, just in case I made them accountable for anything. I admit that I know this is not the sign of a good teacher and even though I wanted to be the best teacher in the world, on this day, I was shooting for not being the worst teacher in the world.

How many times have I planned an okay lesson and it turned out better than I expected? Sometimes I planned a lesson that I was required to teach because it was in the curriculum. I admit that I’m not always enthusiastic about certain topics as I am about others but I want to do the best that I could. I did not want to repeat situations like I mentioned in the previous two paragraphs, so I really tried to get into the lesson. I did all the things that I was supposed to, such as using different strategies, planning for differentiated instruction, and all the fun activities to engage the students but I just didn’t like the topic. I knew in my heart that the lesson still would only turn out okay so I was disappointed before I ever started the lesson. Imagine my surprise when the students seemed to really “get into” the lesson and participated by asking questions, entering the discussion, giving opinions and wanting to get started on the activities. Those were days that I thought, “Man, how did I do that?”

I think sometimes, as teachers (the good ones – and you know who you are) tend to be overcritical of themselves. We need to accept that we are human (like we tell our students) and accept that we will make mistakes and sometimes not do the best that we should. We need to reflect on what we did and how it affected our students so we can try not to make the same mistakes again, but that is no guarantee that we won’t. Teachers are not robots and we have feelings, emotions, and sometimes rotten days just like everyone else and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over the fact that we might not have taught the best lesson. Good teachers tend to do this (and you know who you are!). I’m not saying that if you don’t feel this way you aren’t a good teacher but some of us do. People who think teachers are perfect and inhuman with no feelings or emotions and hold us to this high standard are unrealistic. I also don’t think it is bad if you think of yourself as a good teacher. It is not egotistical or self inflating as long as you know you gave it your best shot at the time because this train of thought builds our confidence. Teachers need to be their own cheerleaders because someone who doesn’t teach just doesn’t understand our feelings (like the jokes where “you just had to be there.”)

In order to be successful in teaching, we need do our best and know that as long as human feelings and emotions are involved (any time you are dealing with children, they are involved), things may turn out in ways we never thought they would. So, if you do succeed, try not to look astonished!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Using Wikis in the Classroom

I have to admit that I’m new to all of this wikispaces stuff but it is really wonderful stuff. In fact, I really didn’t even know how to do one until about a month ago when I realized it would be a great way to share some resources before a meeting that I am having at the end of the month. So, I took a big leap and decided I would try it and maybe just do a little sample but the more I did, the more I added. Every day I’m adding to this wikispace. In fact, I think it is alive and is constantly growing every day! Here is the page that I’m using for my Council for Exceptional Children Chapter 877 meeting: Using Technology in the Classroom.

Now you ask, what is a wikispace? According to Wikispaces, they are simple web pages that groups, friends, and families can edit together. There is also a Wikispaces for Educators Wikispaces for K-12 education use is completely free, and free of advertising. I didn’t know that when I first set up mine so I just used the regular wikispace but of course if I was going to use it with my class, I would use the one for educators.

Wetpaint also offers free wiki webpages. They have a page called Wetpaint Wikis for Education which is a place where educators come together to share tips about using wikis to enhance the learning experience. They also offer free wikipages that are ad-free. I haven’t used Wetpaint yet but I would to create another page with wetpaint so I can compare the two. I like the way wetpaint looks and for some reason it also looks easier to use.

For some reason the formatting in Wikispaces is driving me crazy and that is why you will see fonts of different sizes on my pages. Once I got the text on there and tried to format it, the size was all different and the spacing was awful between the lines. Of course I had so much information already on here, that I was too lazy to put it on wetpaint and decided I will use wetpaint at a later date. Vicki Davis (coolcatteacher) said she thinks wikispaces is more stable than wetpaint so now I don’t know what to do. If you have an opinion let me know please what you think about either one.

It is hard to tell someone how to start a wiki page and the best way to do it would be to join and then start one. There are lots of examples of how teachers use them in the classroom.
Professional Technical Education (using wetpaint)
Eduwikius looks like a collaboration project and they use wikispaces. I love how colorful it is.
Flat Classroom project is an international collaboration project between Bangladesh and Georgia

I think creating a wiki would be a wonderful year long project for a class because they would learn that learning is not a stagnant thing and our knowledge is constantly evolving as we gain new information just like a wiki. We have to be willing to accept and learn new knowledge in order to be successful in life.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What is and Why Should I Use It in My Classroom? is an online bookmarking sight that is easy to share with others. I like it because you can network their page to yours and see what kind of things they like to bookmark. Here is a link to my account: Pat's bookmarks.

I used to save everything in my Favorites on Internet Explorer. Then when the list got so long, I started to create folders and categorized everything so they fit in those cute little folders. Of course, when I wanted to go to something, I had to remember which folder that I put it in and usually ended up opening and closing many before I found what I was looking for. All this was fine until I started to use computers besides my laptop. Of course I could export and import my favorites folder but then I needed something to store it on and that also meant I needed to remember to carry that with me when I used a different computer. Needless to say, I’m a absentminded person, and never had whatever I stored it on with me. Then if I did remember it, I was paranoid that I would forget to clear it off whatever computer I was using and my list would be on there for everyone to see (not that it was anything bad but it was like leaving my purse behind for people to look through it).

I can access my account from any computer that I am on. I can also tag sites so they fit into more than one category. There is also a place to write a description or notes if I need to. Finding what I need is right out there in the open for me. I just like how easy and fast I can find something I need. Lizbdavis has a video about “Getting Started with” She gives directions that are clear and easy to follow.

Lifehacker states that you can use it for research, wishlist, podcast subscriptions, vacation planning, and managing movie rentals.
Langwitches wrote about uses for Teachers and the Classroom.

Since I have been on twitter I have connected with many other educators who have shared their bookmarks with me so I have added them to my network. They have found sites that they feel are useful or important so they are like a filtering system for me. There are so many sites out thee (some good and some not so good) that with this networking system, I might find sites that I would have missed if I hadn’t seen it in their bookmarks. This connection with other teachers is what makes me feel like I am a better prepared to teach students with current strategies and tools in order for them to be successful.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 2/15/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Brainology: Transforming Students’ Motivation to Learn

Buzzillions: Read product reviews. Great to teach students comparison shopping.

Flypaper - is a way to create, edit and share Flash-quality content that can be used for live presentations or over the web. I haven’t tried this but it looked interesting in case anyone wanted to give a try.

Cyberbullying – great intro to open discussion about cyberbullying

Build Your Wild Self - something fun to do plus learning about different wild animals. You can use parts of each animal to build a new you!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Blogging in the Classroom

I have blogging for almost two years now and I can honestly say that I love it. I have a personal blog, the Life of Loonyhiker, that I use to tell about personal subjects and do prompts from my Digital Scrapbooking friends. I also have a professional blog, called Successful Teaching, to share ideas and strategies with other teachers. I also read lots of other blogs written by all different kinds of people because I feel like I am connected with these people and their ideas through their blogs. I also read some blogs because they make me think and challenge me to understand why I think the way that I do. Once I started understanding this, I wondered why more and more teachers don’t use blogging in their classrooms so I started looking into teachers who did use it in the classroom and how they did this.

I want to share some general information from others about why blogging should be used in the classroom. Technology and Blogging as a Learning Method talks about a new way to get students writing. Top 10 Reasons to Use A Blog in the Classroom is a video that shows studenta who tells why they like blogging in the classroom. Blogging in the Classroom is a video where teachers tell different ways that blogging can be used in the classroom. Not only can blogging improve reading and writing on any grade level but it also enables students to connect with other people and cultures in order to exchange information and ideas. Some teachers are afraid of this open exchange but if we teach the students the appropriate way of communicating (what to say, what not to say, how to say it) then aren’t we teaching them a vital life skill?

Atomic Learning actually has a blogging workshop for people who would like lessons on how to set up a blog. I sure wish I had seen this a couple of years ago because I had to learn by trial and error but I didn’t give up because I really saw the value of blogging. There are so many websites out there that anyone can find to help with developing a blog. I use Blogger myself because it seemed easy to use.

There are many educator blogs out there and a couple that I like to read are: So You Want To Teach, Blogging on the Bay, and Christine Southard’s Blogspot. I actually read a lot more but those are just two examples. Examples of classroom blogs are Students 2.0, and the Kinderkids Classroom.

Blogging can also include collaborations with other classes in your school, district, state, country or even in other countries. 1001 Flat World Tales according to Blogging on the Bay "is a creative writing workshop made up of schools around the world, connected by one wiki. This blog will be the home to the award-winning stories from each group of schools that participate in the workshop, different topics, different grade-levels, different cultures, brought together by the power of stories." I can’t wait to keep up with this one. Here is a teacher doing a Guerilla Season Book Blog Project.

There are so many ways to use blogging in the classroom and this is only a taste of what a teacher can do. If you have other suggestions or links you want to share, please add it in the comment section. I really believe if blogging was used, you would have a successful teaching experience!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Thanks to Andrea Hernandez of Ed Tech Workshop for tagging me for this cool Passion Quilt meme.
Update 2/23/08: I was tagged again by Christine Southard of Christine Southard's Blogspot too.
Update 3/23/08: I was tagged again by Tink of Tink's Tribulations.
Update 3/26/08: I was tagged again by Clix of Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable.

Directions: Find or create an image that captures what you are most passionate for kids to learn about.
3 Simple Meme Rules:
• Post a picture from a source like Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what you are most passionate about for kids to learn…and give your picture a short title.
• Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
• Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.
Tag. Your turn—what are you passionate about sharing with the kids you teach.

The Branches of Knowledge are Ever Growing

I got this picture from Flickr and felt it showed that I'm passionate for kids to learn about things that they want to learn about in addition to what we have to teach them. There is so much out there to learn and like a tree, our knowledge branches out into different directions, which is okay. Our knowledge is not a tree that has one stalk that goes straight up. This picture also made me think that we need to need to nurture our students learning just like we would a tree or it will die. They need encouragement and care just like a tree needs sun and water.

I’m tagging:
Bill Gaskins of Blogging on the Bay
Vicki Davis of Cool Cat Teacher
EHT of History is Elementary
Betty of Betty’s Blog
Angela Maiers of Angela Maiers Educational Services

Using Twitter in the Classroom

Twitter is a way of communicating with other educators all around the world. I first heard of twitter by reading another teacher’s blog and when I saw that it was a way of collaborating with others, I got excited. It is always a little scary to try something new but it wasn’t as hard as I imagined. Remember when you were little and the thing you feared was always bigger in your mind than it actually is? That is the way I feel about Twitter. It is kind of like instant messaging but when I use AIM, I have to know the person’s screen name to communicate with them. This is not true in Twitter.

First I learned about Terraminds: Twitter Search where I typed in education and hit search. That shows me conversations of people that talked about education. I went back to Twitter and added their user name after the address for Twitter (mine is I then clicked on their name and chose to “follow” them. After I had a bunch of people to follow, I clicked back to home and I could follow the conversations of these people.

This is where I was introduced to wonderful links and even conferences that I could attend online for free. Those were really educational for me because I didn’t realize all this stuff is out there that I could use in the classroom. It doesn’t matter what level you teach on because you just apply the technology to your level. Plus you communicate with other teachers that teach on your level and can bounce ideas off of each other. I enjoy meeting educators from all around the world and I’m learning a lot of our daily frustrations are the same where ever you live.

Here are great ways to use Twitter in the Classroom: Twitter for Academia

Here is another professor’s tips for using Twitter in the Classroom

I also learned of projects that were open for collaboration between classes like the one done between a class in Scotland and a class in Georgia. It is amazing the new ideas and energy that abounds in Twitter. If I ever hit a roadblock, I just tell everyone in Twitter, and usually lots of people have great ideas on how to overcome the problem. It is almost like an online support system. Maybe this is one way to get support if you feel you don’t have any in your school.

Even if you decide not to use Twitter in the classroom, it is a valuable tool for teachers to use. This is one way to make your experience in the classroom more successful!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Candy Hearts is Not Just for Babies

(Here is a little break from my technology push in order to prepare for Valentine's Day.)

It is the week of Valentine’s Day and my classes always get excited about this day. It doesn’t matter if they are in elementary school or high school, everyone wants to be loved! Our school has this policy that no flowers, candy, or gifts may be delivered to anybody in the school. This is supposed to cut down on the disruption in classes. Instead, flowers and candy are delivered to the main office and at the end of the day, the students are called by name to come there after school is over. With the number of names to read, the announcer usually has to disrupt class the last ten minutes of class in order to read all of them. Many of the students expect their names to be called and if it isn’t, there is another type of disruption. But I’m getting off my main reason for writing this post.

Valentine’s Day is going to be here and we can’t ignore it. It is like a big elephant in the room and the more you try to ignore it, the worse things will get. So instead of ignoring the big elephant, I decided to put him to work.

I have done this activity in every class for Valentine’s Day on every level that I’ve taught and it always is a big hit. I introduce the lesson by reading about the origin of Valentine’s Day. I also have many examples of valentines over the years and how they have changed. We also discuss some sayings that look nice on a valentine and what is not appropriate to say on them.

I show them a big bag of candy hearts and tell my students that they will be making their own valentines with the candy. I instruct them that they cannot eat the ones I give them but I will give them some at the end of class. I give out construction paper (I have red, pink, and white for them to choose from) and sample hearts in cardstock that they can trace on their paper. They can cut the hearts out or make their own designs however they want to. The requirements are to do at least one valentine (and it can be for a boy/girlfriend, parent, relative, or teacher) and they must use at least 5 of the candy hearts in sentences. They could even write a poem if they wanted to. Instead of writing certain words, they would glue the candy heart in place of the written words. I would usually have an sample valentine to show them and they couldn’t wait to get started. Each student is given 5 candy hearts to use and they usually read them and end up trading them with someone else. If they really don’t like the one they have, I let them trade it for another one. There is always one student who just has a mind block on what to write and usually the class comes to the rescue with suggestions. After they are done, we clean up the room in order to let the glue dry. Then they are asked to show the class their valentine. It is so much fun to see how creative they are. The students had fun and feel they have had a successful learning experience!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Technology in the Classroom

As I explore the world of technology, I amazed at all the wonderful things there are for the classroom. These things weren’t available when I first started teaching so I really enjoy investigating all of this. I have started reading blogs and writing my own as well as joining the world of Twitter. Twitter is like an instant message program but it enables me to talk with people I don’t know about things that I’m interested in. Just having communication with other people in my field is inspiring and makes me excited about teaching. This is where I exposed to a lot of new technology that I never knew about and I am also learning how to use some of it.

After two weeks in Twitter and reading the blogs mentioned there, I amazed that more teachers in my area don’t use the technology that is out there. Just from my observations, it seems like teachers not in the United States and teachers in the northern part of the United States are the ones on top of the technology game. As President of the local Council for Exceptional Children chapter, I will be holding a program on using technology in the classroom. I am hoping to introduce some technology that is out there and tempt other teachers to use this technology. (See my wikispace for the meeting: Maybe if I can show them how other teachers are using it and what wonderful outcomes are coming from this, they will want to use it more in the classroom. I hope I can inspire and excite other teachers the same way that have been inspired. After seeing the results that other teachers are having in their classrooms, I see that teachers in my area need to get involved or we will be behind.

Maybe that is why my state is ranked almost last in the nation in education. It seems like the teachers I have taught with (in four different schools) are so reluctant to try anything new. Many are afraid of change and want to do it the “old way” because it always worked in the past. We can’t afford to take this position because I think it hurts us professionally and it hurts our students. For example, my district bought some new software (WYNN and Test Talker) and hardware (scanner) to help our special education students. They even trained us to use this but out of twelve teachers, I was the only one who used it for a year. The second year I insisted that a new teacher use it also and she did. The results were that a couple of our students who had been making straight Fs were now making Bs and Cs. I just know that it could have helped other students if the teachers would have taken the time and initiative to use it. There is also so much free technology that can be used in the classroom and our teachers need to be using it. I have heard so many times that “I don’t have the time” or “I don’t know how to do that stuff” but we can’t afford not to take the time or learn how to use these things.

I have learned that there is a lot of things out there that is available (many of it is free) and I know it will take time to learn some of it. I have also learned (through Twitter and blogging) that there are so many others out there willing to help me if I have questions or hit a road block. Just like anything else, it is easier to learn by doing, so I jumped in a tried some of this stuff and discovered most of it was pretty easy to learn. By talking to other teachers, I have found real life examples on how these things can work in the classroom. If students see there is a real life application to the things they are learning, they will be more excited about learning and retain more of the information. I have built relationships with people all around the world who have given me great ideas and hopefully I have given to them also. Students can also build relationships with students in other districts, states, and even countries. Some classes are collaborating even though they live in different countries. Talk about an opportunity for learning! To me, that is what teaching is all about. I have said it before but teaching should not be stagnant. As teachers, we need to be constantly learning new strategies and techniques in order to have a successful teaching experience.

This week I will be looking at different programs that are available to use in the classroom and hope to show you examples of how it is being used.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 2/8/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Study Guides and Strategies: Learning to Learn

Reading Strategies: Great suggestions on building interest for reading before and during the reading (Scroll down to "Be the Molotov Cocktail, Before Strategies Jan. 13; Be the Molotov Cocktail, During Strategies Jan. 16; and Be the Molotov Cocktail, After Strategies Jan. 19)

Websites for Writing Instruction

FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency for Kids  (link no longer works. Sorry!)

Teacher Tools: free forms for teachers

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is Smelling a Crime?

I am having to rant but I couldn’t believe this when I read this article about DA: Lewisville teen's hand sanitizer gel sniff not a crime. It made me wonder if we are just looking for a reason to disrupt the classroom lesson just one more way. I remember when I was young (back in the old days), we used to get things called ditto sheet that was made with this blue ink on a mimeograph machine. I used to love to get them right after they were made and smell the paper because they smelled so good. I don’t think it caused me any brain damage (not that I know of anyway) but I guess if that happened today, I would have been expelled from school. There comes a time when we need to say stop to all this foolishness! There are more important things in school to worry about than whether some student smells my hand sanitizer. I have hand lotion in my desk drawer and I know students carry hand lotion and hand sanitizer in their backpacks. What about the nail polish that I smell in other classrooms? I know we worry about students doing drugs and drinking, but are we not becoming a tyrant when we have to worry about students smelling hand sanitizer?

If I see a student smelling something and I might think it is inappropriate, I would ask them to put it away or not touch it again (if it is mine). Then they are given advanced warning that if they continue they will pay the consequences for not following directions, not for smelling something. This would be a good lesson to teach about ingredients in some things that could be harmful to a person’s health which could lead into a lesson about laws against “inhaling” inappropriate things. Isn’t it our job to teach them these thing? What lesson will being suspended for smelling hand sanitizer teach? I think it will teach that you shouldn’t smell hand sanitizer and not the big picture. I think things like this hurts educators’ reputations in the eyes of the community and shouldn’t we be building relationships and not cutting them down?

Sorry this was just a rant but it amazes me at what lengths schools will go to show they have the power. Have a nice day!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Following Special Education Regulations – it’s not an option; it’s the law!

As head of the special education department head, many general education teachers would use me as a resource. Many times I was asked about strategies, but a lot of times teachers would vent to me about how they thought it unfair that special education students received extra stuff that the others didn’t. That is why they are “special”! Accommodations are not something to give them an edge above other students, but are things that level the playing field for these disabled students. For over twenty years I have felt this resentment and resistance by general education teachers and I truly understand their feelings but they need to understand that the law requires them to give these students the accommodations written in their IEPs. I don’t always agree with the law but I am required to follow it. I don’t always agree with traffic laws but if I don’t follow them I could get a ticket. If there is a problem with the accommodations, I always suggest to the general education teacher that they meet with the special education teacher to set up an IEP meeting. That is to decide whether the accommodations are appropriate or not. If the team decides that certain accommodations are appropriate, even if one teacher doesn’t agree, the IEP must be followed.

I have also been approached by general education teachers that many feel the special education teachers are helping the students cheat. I have heard this also for over twenty years and I know this is not true (most of the time!). For example, if I had to help a student with Algebra, it was difficult because I did not have absolute knowledge about every subject that my students might take. Usually I would sit down with the student and the textbook in order to work out the problems together. Many times I would have the student teach it to me as their teacher taught it to them. During this time, I would be able to clarify steps or explain steps that are not understood. If during this time, the general education teacher came in, it would look like I was doing the work for the student and the teacher would leave my room very upset and report this to an administrator. Simple communication between the two of us could have avoided this situation which leads me to my next point. There needs to be a basic level of trust between the two teachers and a common goal which should be to help the student be successful. Unless this happens, the students will play the two teachers until the goal becomes more of a power struggle and no one wins.

Whenever a teacher has a special education student enter in their classroom, the first thing they should ask for is a copy of the IEP and look over the accommodations. If there is any difficulty following this, a meeting should be set up to amend the IEP and the teacher should be able to show why the accommodations cannot be followed as written. If there isn’t any problem following them, the teacher should keep documentation of when or how they are being done so at meetings, they can be reviewed. It might be determined at a later date that these accommodations are no longer appropriate if they are not working or if they are not needed. This documentation will also help in seeing what other accommodations would be helpful.

I have had teachers come to me and tell me that they absolutely refuse to follow the accommodations in the IEP, which always amazes me. Following the IEP is not an option; it is the law! Teachers do not have to like it but they do have to follow it. Teachers do not want to be part of a state department complaint or involved in a due process hearing unless they can prove (document) that they have been following the law completely. As a professional, this was part of my job and expected of me when I was hired.

If you are interested in learning more about Special Education Law, here are some links that might help you.
Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004

Wright’s Law gives information about the statute and regulations, commentary to the regulations, What You Need to Know about IDEA 2004 articles, and other publications.

The FAPE Page - This is Sanford Hausler's blog on special education law.

Special Education Law Blog - A special education legal resource discussing case law, news, practical advocacy advice, and developments in state and federal laws, statutes and regulations. Postings include insight and sometimes humor from Charles P. Fox, a Chicago, Illinois attorney who is also a parent of child with special needs, and other guest authors.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What to Say and Do at an Interview

It is about that time of year when I had to decide if I was renewing my contracting or asking for a transfer. Some people may be looking at graduation too so I thought this would be a good time to talk about interviews and how I handled them. As head of the department, I was asked to hold many interviews (there are always vacancies in special ed!) and I was amazed at how unprepared some applicants were. Here is a list of what I think are important:

1. Dress your best. You wouldn’t believe the guys that came in wearing a white dress shirt over a printed or colored tshirt! Women would come in wearing low cut, very sexy clothes which might work if they were working somewhere they needed to appeal to the opposite sex but a high school is definitely not the place!
2. Bring a copy of your resume and/or portfolio for the interviewer. Usually a resume would be sent to my principal but that doesn’t always mean the person holding the interview has one.
3. If you are asked to tell about yourself, give a few minutes of highlights not your whole biography from birth to present. One person spent 30 minutes telling me her life history including illnesses and physical problems. This was way too much information!
4. Know your philosophy and beliefs. What do you feel is important in education? Why do you feel this way?
5. Know your strengths. Tell what you do good and why it would benefit the school to hire you. You are your best sales person and you need to make the school feel like they would really miss out if they didn’t hire you.
6. Know your weaknesses. No one is perfect and the school doesn’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, I was always suspicious of someone who felt they were perfect.
7. Give examples of projects you have done with the students. If you don’t have any examples for the level of students you hope to be teaching, offer suggestions that are appropriate for that grade level. This will give the interviewer an idea of your skills.
8. Give examples of how you have worked with colleagues. Being a team player is very important because collaboration and communication with others are the keys to successful teaching at any school. As head of the department, I didn’t want anyone who wouldn’t be willing to work with me or the other teachers.
9. Give examples of how you handled discipline. Let’s face it, discipline is a big issue and schools want to know that you can handle whatever you are given without them having to bail you out every minute.
10. Give examples of parental contact. I always felt this was important and didn’t usually lean towards the ones who were against contacting parents (for good or bad news). I have been told that by the time the students reach high school, teachers shouldn’t have to call parents anymore. I can’t tell you how many times my parent contacts have saved my own behind because I was able to clear up misunderstandings before they reached the administration.
11. Be prepared to ask questions. When an applicant asks me questions I feel like they are really interested in the position and want to know more about the school. It also gives me time to learn more about the applicant through body language. Ask about the mission and vision of the school. Ask about the population (Do all the students live in the community near the school? What percentage are on free lunch?) What kind of extracurricular activities are there? What kind of duties are required of teachers outside of teaching? How many teachers and administrators are there in the school? When will a decision about this position be made?
12. Watch for the signal that the interview is over. I usually end it with thanking the applicant for coming in and letting them know that someone would be in touch with them. I had one person continue to talk and talk with information about her personal life and some jokes but after an hour of this interview, I had to return to class and mentioned this. An administrator and I were holding the interview and thanked her for coming. When we all stood up and walked to the door of the room, she continued to talk. The two of us even walked in the hallway away from her and she was still talking in the empty room and I knew we were rude but there was nothing else we could do. I finally left the administrator to handle this person and needless to say, we didn’t hire her.

If I have left anything important out or you think other things should be added, please leave it as a comment so others could read it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Suffering from the Winter Blues

Christmas vacation has come and gone and kids are pretty much settled in without any big holiday in sight other than an occasional three day holiday. By this time my students are always climbing the walls, having the winter blues, and just basically getting on each other’s nerves (as well as mine). I noticed that they acted like they had never heard of the class rules and this was a whole new class to them. When I would review the rules, they would have this blank look on their face, like they had never seen them before.

After whining to other teachers, and feeling just plain miserable, I knew that I had to take action. I knew that I shouldn’t have to do this but I have learned over the years that this is inevitable. It happens every year. So, instead of wallowing in self pity, I came up with a plan of action.

During this time each year, I had to take a step back and “re-train” them. I would focus on one major rule at a time. If most of them were out of their seats without permission, that is the one I focused on and I announced this to the class. I told them that they were still expected to follow all of the rules but I was “showcasing” a major rule each week. Students were given one reminder (warning) when their initials went on the board. The next time, I would put a check by their name which would mean a detention. The next check meant a phone call home. The third check meant a referral to the administration. Before I started this, I would talk to my administrator about my problems and what I planned to do about it because I felt that one of the students would push the limits and need to be used as an example. Usually when the students saw that I was consistent and would follow through, they would usually become compliant. The next week I would tackle another rule. This didn’t take too long to get them back under control and once I did, I found them almost back the way they were before the holidays.

I would also praise the students who followed the rules because I didn’t want them to start acting bad in order to get my attention. I would also call their parents to brag about them which helped them continue the appropriate behavior during class. In fact, they would brag about my phone call home to the ones who didn’t get it which made the others start to follow the rules just so I would call home about them. This was great especially if the students wanted to do something special on the weekend because sometimes this call would help them get what they wanted.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 02/01/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Make Your Own Comic Strip – great for students to use. Maybe it can be used to assess understanding of literature.

TeachersFirst Edge – new web 2.0 tools and information about each

Shift happens: an interesting video that makes you think.

Broken escalator video: could this be used to teach problem solving? How many of us in education sometimes feel like we are on the broken escalator?

Census data about your zip code: Interesting information for students to look at

iEARN (International Education and Resource Network)is the world's largest non-profit global network that enables teachers and youth to use the Internet and other technologies to collaborate on projects that enhance learning and make a difference in the world.