Friday, May 30, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 05/30/08

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!

EP Global Communications, Inc. – The Family & Professional Site for the Special Needs Community - links to great articles and resources for teachers about special needs

LD Online – The World’s Leading Website on LD and ADHD - great information about learning disabilities and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder

The Access Center: Improving Outcome for all Students K-8 – even though this project has ended, there were links to great resources.

Photo credit: tools by misterjt

Thursday, May 29, 2008

National Parks Employ People with Special Needs

As we traveled across the country visiting National Parks, I was glad to see the number of people with special needs employed at the national parks. I think this is such a great opportunity for them because of the safe environment for them to work and live in. Many of the employees live in dormitory type housing. On the site is also a place for them to do laundry, a store to get supplies, place to eat such as a deli or snack bar or restaurant. There is law enforcement that monitor the park and usually a clinic if it is a large national park or in a remote place. A couple of the parks even had a bank on the site. What a great place for someone to live an independent life but still be sheltered in a way. I looked at many of these parks and realized that there are also many people who come from other countries also working there. This would be a safe place for them also. In an environment like this, there is less of a chance that the disabled or naïve would be taken advantage of or harmed. It is structured enough so that once the initial uncertainty wears off; they would feel comfortable with the day to day responsibilities. Many of their duties seem repetitive and easy for them to learn so they can be successful in their jobs.

I talked to one man who was autistic and had a great conversation with him. He said he has been working there during the season for a few years and he likes it. When I asked him what he did on his day off he told me that he works on “life skills.” I asked him to explain that and he said that he cleans the place that he lives, goes to the store, and does his laundry. He said that he liked getting a paycheck all on his own and spending money without anyone telling him what he could spend it on. He doesn’t have to pay rent or utilities because it came with the job. The only thing he spends money on is his supplies, food, and laundry.

Another park had a person with special needs working the cash register in the store. He would not make any eye contact with me but he was very friendly and willing to answer my questions. His answers were much like the man mentioned above.

I’m so glad the government is employing people with special needs because it helps them be more independent and raises their self concept. We aren’t supporting people with disabilities by saying they can’t hold a job and putting them on some governmental aid because of their disabilities. This belief in them helps raise the expectation that they could do more than most people realize, it helps expose more children and adults to others with disabilities. Children become more tolerant of people with differences and learn to socially accept them. I think this program is a successful and worthwhile program!

Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park by elmada

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Computers are like cars

I have been reading some blogs where I find myself leaving comments comparing computers to cars so much that I’ve decided to write my own post about it. One blog, Je Pense wrote a post called Brick Wall that had me thinking about computers for children living in poverty.

Using computers is a lot like driving a car. We can teach students how to use a computer just like we can teach them to drive a car. But where they go once they learn how to drive is up to them unless you set limits on them. If students use computers in school, you give them direction and set limits just like driving a car in the parking lot that has speed limits and certain directions. Cars can go to inappropriate places just like computers can go to inappropriate website but as teachers, we need to teach students what is appropriate and what isn’t. Peer pressure can cause students to drive over the speed limit or even recklessly and it can also cause students to use the computer inappropriately.

The post Brick Wall says we need to make sure that we meet the student’s immediate physical needs before we teach them about technology. This made me think about how do we meet student’s needs when they do not have computers? Again, I compare this to cars. People who do have cars may have different kinds of cars just like people will have different kinds of computers. Some cars will be bigger or better and have different accessories which can also apply to computers. Not everyone has cars and governments accommodate this by offering alternative options for transportation like buses. Many cities even offer special buses for the disabled to use. Not everyone has computers but I think schools and cities make accommodations for this also. Many schools have computer labs or have computers that students could use. When I traveled before I had wifi or a laptop, I was able to go to the public libraries and use the computers there. In November when my father had his stroke, I had a laptop but no wifi connection so we were able to go to the public library to do research and check email when I had a break.

I’m agree that we should meet a student’s physical needs before technology needs but we also need to make sure we teach students about the alternatives out there if they do not have a computer. Just because they do not have money for a computer should not keep them away from one. We should also make sure that parents are aware of these alternatives and encourage them to make use of their public libraries so their children can be more successful in school and society in the future.

Photo credit: Belmont Library Regular Computer Lab by Librarian in Black

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Teaching About Insurance in the Classroom

Bethy writes about “I hate insurance companies” because after getting billed $1500 by the doctor, her insurance company only sent her a check for about $3. This brought to mind how many of my students do not really understand how insurance companies really work. I would love to have someone who works in an insurance company to come to the class and explain the real life scenario rather than the sales pitch.

“You are covered” does NOT mean you are covered. Most people think this means that the insurance company will pay this in full but it doesn’t. It means they will pay for part of the “allowable” charge. Of course this allowable charge is usually half of what the doctor actually bills you. For example, if the doctor charges you $200, and the allowable charge is only $100, and the insurance company pays 60%, then they will pay $60 and you pay out of your pocket $140. Many people think the insurance company will pay the entire $200 but they don’t. When my dad had his stroke, he qualified for in home physical therapy and they were told it was “covered” under medicare. Again, they thought this meant it was fully paid for. After checking into it, I found out that medicare only pays a certain amount of money and the patient is responsible for the rest.

Even auto insurance has the same kind of language. When my daughter was in a car accident, which was not her fault, she was happy because she was “covered.” Even though her van was totaled, she thought she would get a replacement for it. Imagine her horror when she was told that the insurance company would only pay her face value of the van (after prorating it for the year etc.) and did not even get enough money to buy a new used vehicle. Even though she was “covered,” she had to get a loan to get a new car.

Now you wonder why we even have insurance but think about the costs if you didn’t have it. Is it worth having? It depends. I like to think so in case something catastrophic happens like the time our house caught on fire or when I had to have surgery. I still had to pay a lot but not like I would have if we didn’t have the insurance. Sometimes we know something is “covered” but if we file the claim it will make our insurance premiums go up which in turn would cost more than if we just paid for whatever we need ourselves.

The bottom line (or what I want my students to know): Before you agree to any medical procedures, find out how much it will actually cost you. I have had the dentist call the insurance company to find out what they will pay for what is charged and how much it will actually cost me in the end. This keeps me from being surprised when I get the bill. Before I file a claim on my homeowners or car insurance, I find out how this will affect my premiums. Remember: “covered” does NOT mean covered.

Photo credit: Russell Proctor’s insurance by olivander

Monday, May 26, 2008

Using Students as a Teaching Tool

In the blog post Students Teaching Students, Kim Cofino writes about how she plans to embed 21st century literacy skills into their units of study next year. She writes that:

“The grade 5 students will create a Students Teaching Students podcast focused on helping other students learn and use quality strategies for reading. This is an educational podcast teaching other students how to become good readers using RW strategies that they learn over the course of the year.”

The article “Folsom school club trains students to work with their autistic peers” talks about a social facilitation club where Students in the club sign a lifetime pledge that reads in part, "I promise to care about you, keep you from harm and help you with your troubles."

After reading both of these, it reminded me that we don’t use our students enough as a teaching tool. Many of my students learn better from their peers than from me. I remember one time when I got so frustrated along with a student when he couldn’t grasp a math concept and I tried to explain it about three different ways. Another student came over and asked if he could help and try to explain it differently so I let them go off to the side to work this out. I listened to the explanation given and saw how the first student suddenly grasped the idea. He was so excited he could solve the problem and was willing to finish his work on his own. The second student grinned ear to ear at me because he did something that I couldn’t and told me to call on him anytime. What a great feeling that was for a student who had difficulties himself and was always on the “getting” end instead of the “giving” end.

Many students learn how to play games through their peers so why not have them learn academics? It not only boosts self esteem for the “teacher” but I think it helps the student retain the material they have learned. I have had my high school special education students go to the elementary school to help those students and even read stories to them. The younger kids looked up to the older kids which made the older ones behave better because they wanted to set a good example.

We tend to underestimate the students and not realize that they can be sensitive enough to help others that are having difficulties. Isn’t this a great way to teach compassion and tolerance?

Photo credit: Counting at the Math Meeting by Old Shoe Woman

Friday, May 23, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 05/23/08

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!

RTI – great resources about “Response to Intervention.” It talks about understanding the model, using teams to problem solve, selecting the right intervention, monitoring student progress, and graphing data for visual analysis.

DLD : Current Practice Alerts – “The Alert series is for practitioners, administrators, and parents who seek an authoritative, informative, and user-friendly decision-making tool to untangle the thicket of academic and marketplace claims and controversies regarding practice effectiveness with individuals with learning disabilities. References will be provided for readers who want access to additional technical information.”

Intervention Central – “offers free tools and resources to help school staff and parents to promote positive classroom behaviors and foster effective learning for all children and youth.”

Rubistar – great tool to make your own rubrics

Scientifically-based Research: A Link from Research to Practice – interesting reading, math, and writing strategies to use in the classroom
photo credit: tools by misterjt

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Becoming Partners with Parents

In Connect the Dots, Chris Lehman recently wrote more about the sustainability of a teaching career. He states:
“The sooner we recognize that if we want teachers to treat our students with an ethic of care, we have to create school systems that treat teachers with an ethic of care. If people don't believe that for ethical reasons, they should realize it for practical reasons, because if we keep on with our current model, we are never going to get enough of the teachers our students deserve.”

This had me thinking about my own career and what kept me teaching all those years in special education. What happened to make me love it so much and keep me from giving up when times got rough? It made me realize that we have a powerful resource that schools and teachers do not use and have actually pushed away over the years. I know what I’m going to say will be controversial to many and have seen this when I mention this to groups of teachers and when I have talked about this in my university classes to other teachers. But I still believe in this with my whole heart and will probably go to my grave preaching this: Schools and Teachers have got to become partners with the Parents.

Over the years I have seen the school systems become School vs. Parents rather than Schools and Parents working together. I think that is why so many parents are dragging schools through the court system. It has been a gradual change and the attitude of the school system has trickled down to the teachers and now it has become a Teachers vs. Parents world.

Throughout my career, I have contacted parents every two weeks, saying mostly positive things but negative if I found it necessary. This close communication allowed me a working relationship with the parent that helped my students succeed. It was this extra time that I took to show students and parents that I really cared about their success so when I had to say something negative, the parents really showed their support. In 27 years of teaching, I may have had about 5 parents who did not support me which was pretty good odds, I think. Now, I have heard teachers gripe to me that they don’t have the time or I don’t have a family etc. During this time I had two small daughters, was a cheerleading coach, and was working on my Master’s Degree so I too was busy. But I made the time to do this and it paid off. During my regular communication with parents, I also found appreciation for what I do and also support when I needed encouragement. This really goes a long way to keeping good teachers. Let’s face it; teachers don’t go into teaching for the big amount of money they will make. They want to help students and make a difference in someone’s life. Without support and appreciation, teachers won’t feel they are doing either of these things.

By gaining the respect and support of the parents, I built a system of trust too. I gave them my home number at the beginning of the year and set up a time for them to call (“please do not call before 7am and not after 9pm). Only 2 parents abused this and I refused to talk to them outside of these hours. This really helped when I had a parent mad at me because I let a nail technician paint her son’s nails. We had told the boy that she wouldn’t, but he had Down’s Syndrome and I hated to see him cry so I let her do it, which was wrong. His mom called me up at home and let me know she was mad at me and we talked it out. I explained why I did it and now realized that I was wrong. I apologized and never let it happen again. The mom calmed down and accepted my apology. We have stayed in touch for years after this happened. She could have waited until the next day and contacted my administration and the whole thing could have blown up into a complicated situation but because we had a rapport and established communication early in the year, she felt comfortable dealing just with me. This strengthened my feelings that the key to a successful career was communication with the parents.

Schools need to be more transparent to the community. I feel the school system discourages this by their actions. They say they are open to the parents and encourage volunteers but I hear differently when I am in faculty meetings or closed doors. During testing, I have seen administrators encourage guidance counselors to use military recruiters, business people, or others who are not parents as monitors. We had a PTSA (parent, teacher, student Association) but instead of a two way communication system, it has become a fund raising organization. Teachers are not strongly encouraged to contact parents on a regular basis. We are told to call if the child is having problems or failing or if the parent requests a call. I strongly feel that teachers need to call the parents often on a regular basis as part of their job.

I have also encouraged parents to visit my classroom without an appointment. They do have to schedule it with the administration due to safety reasons but I don’t need to be notified. Many teachers do not like this because it makes them do their job. I never did anything any day that I didn’t want a parent to see. If so, then I wasn’t doing my job. There have been discussions about videotaping in the classrooms and I wouldn’t care about that either, because I don’t do anything in the classroom that I would be embarrassed about if it was seen on camera. Sure I may make mistakes but that is natural but if I am doing my job, I should have nothing to worry about. When cameras first came out on police cars, policemen were against this because it could be used against them too. I think the cameras have help improve the law enforcement system. Maybe that is why we need cameras in the classroom. In fact, if some of the parents saw how hard we work in the classroom, they might appreciate us even more.

I feel this is an important reason why our schools are failing our students and why we are losing good teachers. If parents are encouraged to be an active participant in the schools, schools will have to do their job. Schools are afraid of criticism by the parents but that may be what it takes to make our schools better. School systems do not want parents to see what is going on in the schools. School systems have to take the first step into rebuilding relationships with parents. Administrators will need to set the example by changing school attitude from a “vs. parents” to a “partner with parents” frame of mind.

Photo credit: Teamwork by dunechaser

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Carnival of Education 05/21/08

The Carnival in a Strange Land is on the midway hosted by Teacher in a Strange Land (Nancy Flanagan). I love to read all the interesting education blog posts listed in one place and hope you will join me. See you there!

Looking Back on the Year

As the end of the year approaches, I like to take this time to look back at the year and think about what worked and what didn’t. I tend to be a list maker so I like to jot down a list of all the projects or lessons that I have taught this year. Beside each one I write “W” for the ones that were successful. For the other ones, I decide which ones I will do again and which ones I want to scrap. For the ones I want to do again, I make a separate chart with columns for the lesson, the problem, and possible solutions. I also like to talk it over with my colleagues (usually during lunch) and bounce ideas off of them because they usually come up with great suggestions. I also run it by my husband (a non-educator) to get a different point of view. The end of the year is the best time to do this because I have all summer to think of other possibilities about these topics or other topics that might be better.

Since I have students for multiple years, I also like to take this time to survey my students. Sometimes I make it a part of the final exam so I have to prepare it before the exam day. I like to give a rating scale with the list of all the projects/lessons and they rate them on a scale of 1-5 (1 for dislike a lot and 5 for like a lot). I also ask the students to write short answers on what they liked the best, the least (they usually put homework), what they would like for me to do differently, and what topics they are interested in learning more about next year. My students take this survey very seriously because the students, who have had me before, know I use this information to plan a lot of my lessons. One time they complained about having to learn about a topic and when I showed them the survey that I used for planning, they got quiet. The student who wrote about that topic said that he was just joking and didn’t think I really read them. In fact, about the beginning of May, some of my students start discussing what they want to put down on the survey.

I know that I have to fill out evaluations on my college professors at the end of the course so I don’t understand why some teachers won’t do the same for their own students. My students always feel great that I respect them enough to not only want their opinion but to actually take a lot of it to heart and adjust some of my lessons. I know that growing up as a straight “A” student with very strict parents causes me to see lessons from a different perspective than my special education students who have faced tremendous challenges. They have taught me so much because they try to help me learn how to teach them effectively and if they don’t know how, we try to find the solution together. All students seem to learn differently and do not fit into the cookie cutter shape so with their input, I’m able to teach them concepts and skills but they help me learn strategies that I never needed when going through school myself. If students have some input to the “how” while I supply the “what” and “when”, they seem to be more successful in my classroom.

Photo credit: Evaluation by 36widgets

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What does my classroom look like?

In the article Turning on the Lights, Christine states

“This particular article talks about how the learning environment for students these days has moved beyond the classroom.”

Also she mentions:

"Life is changing so rapidly that the content we share with our students will only scratch the surface of what they might need to know. It is important for us to focus on the skills that will permeate all content areas and leave them with an ability to manage, process and synthesize information.
I do think it would be valuable for any educator to spend a day with a student. See what life is like for them during the academic day. Ask questions. I think some of us would be surprised and perhaps frustrated about what isn't happening in the classroom.
We do need to use the technology. How can we not be connecting globally and using every tool that we have to reach as many students as we can?
It really is about the kids. What do THEY want and in fact need, and how can we make it happen?

What does your classroom look like? Is the light on or off?"

I started thinking about my classroom and what I want it to look like when I teach my course this summer to teachers. I want to make sure the light is on but how do I manage to do this. I started to think about things I feel are important and what I want them to learn, so here is my list to make sure the light is on.

· Teach knowledge about material and model strategies that they will be able to use in their own classes.
· Teach them to think about what they are teaching and why they are teaching it.
· Teach them about technology, how important it is to use in the classroom, and model ways to use it.
· Teach them how technology can help with differentiated learning, how it can help students become more successful, and model ways that this can be done.
· Teach them that collaboration with others is important, how to go about collaborating, and actively model this behavior.
· Teach them how to look for professional development opportunities outside their schools and show them examples of some and show how they have helped me grow professionally .
· Teach them how to create their own support systems that will help them professionally and give real examples of these.

I hope by giving my students (teachers) this knowledge, it will help them be successful in their own classrooms.

Photo credit: classroom by Valley Library (Oregon State University)

(edited on 5/21/08 - thank you Karen for clarification!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Perceptions About Teaching

On a recent train ride in Virginia City, Nevada I met another couple who asked what I do for a living. When I told them I was a teacher, the response is the same that I get in many places. It usually is something like I am an angel, a glutton for punishment, crazy, or stupid. It is a shame that the general people see my profession in this way. I have even had people tell me that they hope their children never become one. One friend of mine came to me, upset and crying, because her daughter decided to become a special education teacher. People don’t respond that way when people say they are engineers, CEOs of companies, bank tellers, electricians, Air condition repairmen, clothing designers, artists, and I could go on and on. I think being a teacher is wonderful, amazing, satisfying, and rewarding but if most people are not thinking that, is it no wonder that we have a shortage of teachers? I want people to say, “Wow! A teacher! How wonderful! That is a great profession and I want to encourage my children to become one.” I want people to see that teaching is a profession that they could be proud of doing.

I began to wonder how we could change the perception of teachers for the general public. I know that teachers committing crimes is a newsworthy subject but we need to make the positive things apparent too. A lot of my suggestions are not something that teachers have a lot of control over but leaders in the government and community do have this power. Until the leaders make a step for change, the need for teachers will continue to grow. I think the media should show positive things going on in the local schools on a regular basis.

1. We need to show young people who are making a difference rather than just committing crimes.
2. We need to involve the community more in our schools. Open up the school building on weekends and after hours to the community.
3. Schools need to become more transparent to the community.
4. School districts should improve marketing strategies to show why teaching in their district is so wonderful and show these regularly to the general public. The army has done this with positive results (I mean, who would want to do “more before breakfast than most people do all day!” but the positive spin gets people motivated).

Do you have any other suggestions on how to change the general public’s perception about teaching? If so, I’d love to hear it and maybe somebody with some influence will read these and be willing to try to do one of these things.

Photo credit: proud as a peacock by Bachir

Friday, May 16, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 05/16/08

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!

The Really Big List of Classroom Management Resources – great list of classroom management resources. Lots of great ideas!

NCIP – National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education through Technology, Media and Materials; lots of great resources here to use

EnableMart – assistive technology products available

Chartdog – an application to create your own progress- monitoring time-series charts on the internet. You create the x and y axis (or use ones already made), then input data and chart is created. I made a sample one for you to look at:

Curriculum Based Measurement Warehouse – great list of Curriculum Based Measurement resources

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jelly Beans in the Classroom

During my travels, we recently toured the Jelly Belly factory tour in Fairfield, California and it was awesome. If you can’t get to the factory tour, the virtual tour is wonderful too. While we were there, there were loads of excited school groups on the tour too. What a wonderful field trip to bring a school group on, especially since it was a free tour and at the end you get a small sample of jelly beans to take home. There were so many lessons that could be taught from this tour and I hope I can list some of them. If you think of any others, feel free to list them in your comment.

1. Sugar and cavities
2. Following recipes
3. Safety in the workplace
4. Creativity in New Flavors
5. Weights and measurements
6. Economics
7. Following directions
8. Health regulations and the food industry
9. Marketing
10. Art (lots of artwork created using jelly beans)
11. Math: how much per minute can be made
12. Geography: what countries sell Jelly Belly jelly beans
13. Writing: what was your favorite part of the tour?
14. Quality control
15. Belly flops: what are they and how do they get them
16. Nutrition
17. Teamwork
18. History: look up the history of the Jelly Belly company

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teaching Shakespeare to Low Level Readers

Teaching special needs students made me realize how much learning that general education students take for granted. I ached for my students who wanted to be like the general education students and learn the same things they did so I was always trying to bring the general education curriculum in to my classroom. I felt that many of my students could in fact learn the same things and I just needed to adapt the materials, concepts, and activities in a way that my students could understand and learn them. One of the things that my students mentioned every year was that they wanted to learn Shakespeare. They heard their peers moan and groan about it at lunch and in the hallways so they wanted to know what was so awful about Shakespeare. My students wanted to be able to moan and groan with them but also wanted to join in the conversations. When my students studied a Shakespeare play, they would always love when their peers looked shocked if they made a comment about something specific from Shakespeare. Many of their peers had teased them about being in a “dummies” class. This begins to change the perception they have of my students and makes my students feel proud of themselves.

I always love to teach Romeo and Juliet because the teenage angst doesn’t change over time. I also can turn it into a history, science, and writing lesson as well as a English and reading lesson. I don’t like to see a single lesson taught in a single minded way when I can incorporate so much more together in one lesson. I think this makes the lessons more meaningful and relevant to the students.

First I introduce Shakespeare the author to the class. I feel it is important to know about the Elizabethan era, the fashions, and a little information about the author.

Next we talk about the language in the plays and why they are written like that. We talk about the language the students use today and how different it will be in the future, just like the sixties language was different than today’s language. This usually is a lively discussion as we list phrases in a brainstorming session.

I usually use a comic book version of Romeo and Juliet. My students loved to play different parts and we read it aloud. I also share important quotes from the play that may not be given in the comic book version as we read it. I always am amazed at the insightfulness of my students during our discussions once they get over the fear of reading Shakespeare. Once they can grasp the concepts and get into the story, they can’t seem to contain their excitement so I have students share their feelings and ideas in writing. I ask the students to share at least 2 of these each week so others can discuss what they have written. This can be done in partners or in small groups. After we are done reading the entire story, I usually show the movie Romeo and Juliet to see if the movie is anything like they imagined in their minds.

I also love to show the movie West Side Story after we are done with Romeo and Juliet and have them compare the two. Of course many of my boys roll their eyes when they hear we will watch a musical but then they really get into the movie. I usually have them write an essay comparing and contrasting the two. For lower level students, I may have them work in partners or draw pictures of scenes that relate from both stories.

This unit usually takes a month to complete but the students really get into this lesson and it is pretty successful.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Secret of Getting Ahead and Getting Started

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into smaller manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain

I found this in one of those free flyers you read in a fast food place and this quote jumped out at me. This applies to so much in my life now and when I was a student. I find the hardest thing to do is getting started. When I write blog posts, I have trouble deciding where to get started and have a bunch of ideas but not sure which one to build on. I have learned that I just need to pick one and get started. Sometimes this will lead me to a different idea that I can build on better but unless I get started, I never know where I will end up. I have a built in GPS system in my car where I can put in my destination and it will tell me how many miles and how much time to my destination. The only thing I have to do is get started in order for the calculations to take place. If I just sit still, nothing happens.

This also happens to me when I do crocheting. I have the hardest time starting a new project, but once I get started I hate to put it down. While I’m working on a project, I find my mind moving ahead to other projects I would like to do or ones I would like to learn. For some reason, the creative juices don’t flow if I’m just sitting still.

My husband and I feel this way when we start our walking regiment after a period of non walking. We used to walk 4 miles every day when we were at home but if we go on vacation, we have to start all over again. We start to break our routine into 1 mile segments and plan on walking one mile a day. Then if we feel up to it, we add another mile a day for a few days. As we continue, we get stronger and add more until we get up to 4 miles a day. Another thing that helps is that we encourage each other when one of us is ready to give up.

I have to remember that this happens with my students too. Sometimes it is hard for them to get started and I need to find a way to motivate them. I also need to show understanding when they have trouble getting started but nudge them to move in the right direction. If they realize that I too have been there, and will be there again in the future and that it is a normal part of life, students might not be stuck in one place. I hope by realizing this feeling, accepting that this feeling is normal, and moving in the right direction, my students can be more successful in my classroom.

Photo credit: one small step for penguin by foonus

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why is Reflecting on Teaching So Important?

In Score One for Mom, Meg tells about how her young son was doing really great in school and all of a sudden is having difficulties. She was deeply concerned and contacted the preschool director to find out what is happening. After much discussion, she found out the problem was that they stopped providing the necessary support system he needed to find success. She states “With kids like George, it's like they built a really cool playhouse on top of a bridge. A playhouse where he felt very comfortable and knew how to maneuver safely. Then they demolished the bridge.” Once they were back in place, George, his mom, and the teachers seem much happier.

This really brought home how much teachers needed to be reminded just like students to stay with the program if a student is successful, to look for ways to help a student become successful, and to look for ways to help a student become more successful. We shouldn’t get complacent because things are going smoothly. We should constantly reflect on what is going on that is making things go smoothly. Sometimes we are happy that nothing “wrong” is going on that we fail to try to make things better or we forget the things we are doing that makes the situation so wonderful. Just like George needs to be challenged in a way that he is not bored, teachers need to be challenged so that they don’t become bored teaching or take what they are doing for granted. It also made me think of people with mental illness who tend to stop taking their medication because they feel better and once the medicine is stopped, they stop being better.

As professionals we need to monitor our own teaching behaviors to watch that this doesn’t happen. I feel one way to do this is to reflect regularly about our teaching practices whether it is through blogging, videotaping or whatever form that works best for the individual teacher. I think that is what I found most valuable about working for my National Board certification was learning how to reflect about my teaching. Everyone says to reflect, but no one really explains how to reflect on your teaching practices. Teachers need ask:
· why they are doing a certain lesson,
· what do they hope the students will gain from it,
· is there research that backs up what you are doing,
· what were the results,
· and what could you have done differently.
By asking these questions, I feel I have become a better teacher. I don’t take what I do for granted anymore and I am more conscious of my actions and how they affect my students.

We can learn a lot from George and his mom because communication is a major key. Once the doors for communication were opened, someone had to ask the right questions to find the solution to the problem. I didn’t hear a lot of finger pointing or blaming in Meg’s post so both sides didn’t get defensive. It was important to look objectively at what the problem was, what was going on each day, and realizing what the cause of the problem was. Once realizing the problem, the solution was discussed and put in place. Once again George is being successful!

As teachers we need to communicate closely with parents because they may know the key to something that works with their child. Some parents may feel intimidated by the teacher and be afraid of sharing this information unless they are asked. Some teachers are offended when a parent offers suggestions that they know has worked with their child in the past. I know in the ideal world this shouldn’t happen but I have seen it happen. In fact, I had a child have a seizure and when notified, the parent mentions that the child had epilepsy but was afraid to say anything to the school about it. I feel it is imperative to develop a rapport with the parents in order to work as a team in helping the student be successful.

My husband and I were discussing this in the car as we traveled and he thought it was good that George had this happen at a young age so his parents know how to handle this as he gets older and experiences situations like this. At least his parents will have this as a point of reference to use to begin dialogue with other teachers. My husband asked me if professionals didn’t hope to wean children off the support systems like this and I feel that we should, when it is a conscious decision and we are monitoring the results. This way if the support is not working, we can make adjustments and look at why this didn’t work. If the student no longer needs the support, we know under what circumstances this should happen in case the need ever arises again. Just like some people may need their medicine adjusted at different times in their lives, support systems need to be evaluated and adjusted as needed in order for students to be successful.
Photo credit: The Thinker by notanyron

Friday, May 9, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 05/09/08

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!

Finding Inspiration in Literature and Movies (F.I.L.M.) – “Its focus is the development and distribution of free curriculum for the youth-serving community to use socially uplifting stories from literature and Truly Moving Picture Award-winning films to channel positive messages and life-affirming themes into the minds and lives of youth. The curriculum is designed in conjunction with movie studios and youth educators to get youth reading and watching quality content, to provoke thought and exploration of pertinent themes and issues, and to inspire participation in theme-based activities and service learning.” Lesson plan and activites are available for free download.

Cyber guides – “CyberGuides are supplementary, standards-based, web-delivered units of instruction centered on core works of literature. Each CyberGuide contains a student and teacher edition, standards, a task and a process by which it may be completed, teacher-selected web sites and a rubric…”

Behavior Advisor – suggests intervention strategies for certain behavior problems.

ProTeacher – great ideas for classroom management.

CAST – Center for Applied Special Technology discusses Universal Design for Learning in the classroom. Their mission is to “To expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through the research and development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies.”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Professional Developments That Pop!

What kind of professional development is meaningful to me? In the post What is Professional Development?, Sylvia lists 6 kinds of professional development: academic coursework, workshop/sessions, formal research, informal, classroom embedded, and action research. I can’t tell you how many times I have been through some professional development where the whole time was wasted because none of it was meaningful to me. I’m not saying all of them were bad (though I’ve been to some that would be considered that), but it really seemed a waste of my time. After reading that post, I began to think about what makes professional development “good” in my view and here is my list:

1. It is relevant to my subject area. I have been to too many that had nothing to do with what I teach and was told that I had to attend because it was required by the district and there wasn’t anything in my subject area for me to attend at that particular time. Why not let me go at an alternate time and skip this?
2. It is not filled with “fluff” to meet some kind of time requirement. The presenter was told that it had to last 2 hours so we do meaningless “ice breakers” for awhile.
3. I leave with something that I can actually use in my classroom. I love when I learn something I can use and can’t wait to try it out.
4. It involves some active participation from me, rather than just sitting and listening. This is in reference to the bad presenter who just reads his PowerPoint slides. I can’t just sit and listen to someone drone on for 2 hours but that may just be me.
5. The presenter is knowledgeable about their topic and I can feel motivated after being around this person. I can’t stand when a presenter doesn’t know something and fakes it while I know that person is faking it because I do that particular something. I like the presenters that can say, “I don’t know but is there anyone here that can help me answer this question.” Isn’t this the way the students feel sometimes?
6. The presenter has real life experience with what they are presenting. Sometimes my eyes glaze over if they can’t show that this really works in a classroom because they have never tried this or they are just reciting what someone else has done in the classroom.
7. I learn something new that I didn’t know before. I love learning and if I haven’t learned anything new, then I feel like I have wasted my time. I’m not sure the presenter has any control over this because the audience will have different knowledge bases.
8. I am given a reason for why what I need or could do is worth doing. Have you ever wondered "why in the world would I do this? "

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Guest Writer: Teaching With Google Earth

My guest writer today is Heather Johnson who writes a great post about using Google Earth in the classroom. I hope you enjoy it!

Teaching With Google Earth

Traveling abroad can be a great learning tool for students. However, it can be very expensive. Thankfully, teachers now have the world at their fingertips with Google Earth. Google Earth is a free downloadable tool that allows people to "fly" anywhere in the world. This highly advanced version of Yahoo! Maps or Mapquest uses satellite imagery and aerial photography to zoom in on any place on the planet.

As you can imagine, this program can come in very handy for geography teachers. However, you can also work history, science and literature lessons into a trip on Google Earth. There is even a guide for educators on Google that explains how the program can be used with virtually any curriculum.

Want to see the Eiffel Tower? Google Earth offers a simple search tool that is identical to the one used by the Google search engine. Simply type in "Eiffel Tower" and you will be instantly transported to real-life imagery of the landmark on a 3D globe. Some popular locations even offer a street-level view, which is quite remarkable.

Educators are quickly catching on to how useful this program can be in the classroom. Sites like Google Lit Trips offer virtual tours of famous places from important literature. There is also a blog that is expressly dedicated to education through Google Earth, GELessons.

One of the newest features on Google Earth will also appeal to science teachers. Amazingly, you can now switch to a "sky view." That's right -- Google has taken detailed images from NASA and constructed a virtual planetarium. From the Earth's moon to the Andromeda Galaxy, you can now visit these celestial wonders with the click of a mouse.

Schools should be able to benefit greatly from this free tool. After a quick download, you can access all the features from the computer's desktop without connecting to the Internet. From grade school to graduate school, we could all learn a lot from Google Earth.


This article is contributed by Heather Johnson, who regularly writes on the topic of top online universities. She invites your questions and writing job opportunities at her personal email address:

Photo credit: Google Earth by moontan

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Another Meme

I was tagged by Clix for this meme and since I can’t resist some of these and like to read what is posted by others, here is mine:

The Rules…
1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player's blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.


1. What was I doing 10 years ago?

I was teaching at a school that I thought I would retire from.
I was driving 45 minutes to and from work.
I was eating out a lot.
I was gaining weight.
I was not blogging.

2. What are my 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

Wake my husband up
Eat breakfast
Go to Ghiradelli Square
Take lots of pictures
Catch a bus

3. Snacks I enjoy…

Sunflower Seeds
Good and Plenty candy
Salt and Pepper potato chips
Krispy Kreme Donuts

4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire

Set up a scholarship fund for students going into teaching.
Offer to financially support my friend to run for Governor because he would do what is right and not just politically correct.
Buy a jet with a pilot
Buy a yacht with a captain
Travel around the world
Hire a personal assistant
Hire gardeners for my house

5. Three of my bad habits (thank goodness I could stop at 3!):

Working on my computer and ignoring other things I should be doing
Forgetting where I put things

6. 5 places I have lived:

Queens, New York (where I was born)
Long Island, New York (where I grew up and graduated high school)
Furman University, South Carolina (where I went to college)
Greenville, South Carolina (where I was married and raised my children)
Fountain Inn, South Carolina (my current home which I love!)

7. 5 jobs I have had:

Camp Counselor
Complaint Department clerk at a newspaper
Clerk in a women’s clothing store
Motel desk clerk

8. 6 people I want to know more about, because I'm just that nosy. (but I could think of 4):

Bill Gaskins from Blogging on the Bay
Christine from Christine Southard’s Blogspot
Mthtchr2 from Technology Coach’s Journey
Teechkidz from Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs

Tweetclouds and Me

I noticed Sue wrote about Tweetclouds on her And Another Thing blog and it got my curiosity up. Then I heard more talk on my Twitter network about Tweetclouds and what it says about you so I just had to try it. The words are in alphabetical order and the words you use most are the largest letters. Here is a picture of my own tweetcloud and an explanation below it:
From this tweetcloud I found out some things about myself:

1. I like to laugh a lot. But then life should be happy most of the time, right? (lol)
2. I contact a former teacher friend a lot. I don’t want to lose touch with people I know, just because I retired. (@taylorteacher)
3. I contact a new teacher/twitter friend a lot. I love making new friends and this person has really helped me a lot! (@wcgaskins)
4. I use a lot of positive words. Positive words go a long way for me and help me keep a positive attitude. (great, love, cool, thanks, wow, wonderful, excited, happy)
5. I use the word “teach” in different forms. I love teaching so much that I never considered it a job. (teacher, teachers, teaching)
6. I don’t use any “q, x, or z” words. I am going to try to improve my vocabulary more by trying to slip in one of these words to see if it changes my tweetcloud next time.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Future of Special Education

In, What’s Your Story?, David Warlick asks the following questions:
· What does the future hold for education?
· What do schools and districts need to do to prepare for the future?
· What will this future require of me?

I went to Boston to attend the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) conference and thought that I needed to think about these questions as they pertain to our organization. Since CEC “is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities, students with disabilities, and/or the gifted,” how do these questions pertain to the field of special education? My views are from a classroom teacher’s point of view and you might have a different one from another perspective, so feel free to share it with me.

What does the future hold for special education?

I feel that Special Education is changing drastically. Due to NCLB, many of our students are mainstreamed back into regular classes with support from resource teachers. I think this is great if the students can be successful and this is the least restrictive environment. In order for this to take place though, there needs to be a lot of collaboration between the general education teacher and the special education teacher. I feel that there needs to be more training to help both teachers learn how to collaborate, a better definition of both roles and shared expectations from both. I believe there will always be a need for self contained classes for our students with more severe disabilities and needs but I’m not sure I see them in the regular schools. Many of these self contained students need more functional living skills than are taught in a general education classroom. I feel the new legislation is pushing special education back into the dark ages where special needs students are segregated.

Unfortunately, my self contained students needed to be mainstreamed with general education students at least two periods out of seven each day and the courses available were pretty limited. Many schools no longer have home economics classes and the shop class with tools could be dangerous for them. This left them to take PE and music many times in four years and sometimes it was the same class over and over but they couldn’t receive credit for taking the same class more than once. This caused some of my students to take classes like psychology, law educations, sports marketing, broadcast journalism and film criticism. As you can imagine, many general education teachers were not happy about this turn of events and had a lot of trouble making accommodations for my students.

I have a really big concern about what is going to happen to special education. What has been happening over the past few years due to NCLB has really been detrimental to our students. It doesn’t seem like the people in leadership positions are looking out for what is in the best interest of the students but instead, what is best for the school so the leadership doesn’t lose their jobs. I don’t know what the answers are but this slow decline in taking care of our special needs students will come to a point where no one can ignore this problem or just think by including them in with the general education population will suddenly cure them.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 05/02/08

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!

Discus – a collection of library resources purchased by the South Carolina State Library for use by South Carolina citizens. If you don't live in SC, your state may purchase similar resources for its residents. The website includes an FAQ page with information about accessing the databases provided by DISCUS. It also has a neat "Kids" page that my students have used.

Kuder – “provides Internet-based tools and resources that help students and adults achieve their educational and career planning goals.”

Filamentality “is a fill-in-the-blank tool that guides you through picking a topic, searching the Internet, gathering good Internet links, and turning them into online learning activities. In the end, you'll create a web-based activity you can share with others even if you don't know anything about HTML or serving web pages.”

Make Worksheets – free sample worksheets available.

The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education “sponsors and designs interdisciplinary projects that teachers throughout the world can use to enhance their curriculum through compelling use of the Internet. We focus on projects that utilize real time data available from the Internet, and collaborative projects that utilize the Internet's potential to reach peers and experts around the world. Below is a catalog of projects that are currently being or have been sponsored by CIESE . Each project has a brief description and links to the National Science Standards and NCTM math standards it supports.”

photo credit: Tools by mrjt

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Carnival of Education 04/30/08

The 169th edition of the Carnival of Education is on the Midway hosted by What It's Like on the Inside. Come join us for a great road trip!

2008 South Carolina Technology Grades

Thanks to Angela Maier’s post on Did Your State Make the Grade so that I could see how my state rated on technology compared to the rest of the nation. On Education Week’s 2008 State Technology Grades page, I clicked on South Carolina to see how my state was doing. (You can click on your individual state too).

South Carolina received an overall grade of B- which was higher than the average state.

I was pleased to see that 97% of our 4th graders had access to computers but was concerned when only 90% of our 8th graders had access. It seems like the older they get, the less access to computers the students have. It also mentioned that South Carolina doesn’t have computer based assessments. I’m sure this means overall because I believe in my district that we did computer based assessments but not all districts have the money or the capabilities or the leadership to incorporate this into their systems. Students per instructional computer was 3.8 and high speed internet-connected computers were only 3.6.

After reading this report, I began to think that now that we have this report, what are the districts going to do about it? Will they just look at it and shove it under a pile of papers or will they take positive action? Ignoring this won’t make it go away. Here are some ideas that could happen from this:
Parents: I hope some parents will see this report and bring it to their principal’s attention or maybe bring it to a School Improvement Council (SIC) meeting or to the Parent/Teacher/Student Association (PTSA). Start discussion on how improving technology can improve the school, and the community. If you have a technology background, offer to help the school discuss changes and ways to go about making these changes.

Teachers: Bring it to their principal’s attention or the IT person in their district. Start discussion on how to improve this score. Talk about how use of technology in the classroom can improve student performance, and differentiate instruction. See what changes you can make in your own classroom and actually follow through with these changes. Seek support and help if necessary.

Principals: Bring it to the Superintendent’s attention. Start discussion on how to improve score. If technology is better, wouldn’t that bring up test scores in schools? Discuss what changes need to be made on the individual school level and how to go about making these changes. Then actually follow through with these changes.

District: Technology people meet with Superintendent to see how score can be improved. Discuss how technology can improve the schools, the students, the test scores etc. Discuss what changes need to be made and come up with a plan for doing it. Then actually commit to making these changes.

Do you have any other suggestions?