Monday, June 30, 2008

Upstate Technology Conference Reflections

Last Wednesday and Thursday I attended the Upstate Technology Conference in Greenville, South Carolina. I thought it was wonderful that I met lots of friends that I’d talked to on Twitter. I met Ewan McIntosh, David Jakes, Cathy Nelson, Chris Craft, Mary Ann Sansonetti, Heather Loy, Julia Davis, Frieda Foxworth and probably some others that I can’t remember. I felt like I had known them for a long time and they weren’t strangers to me. You can see some of my pictures of my twitter friends and the conference on my Flickr pages. After thinking about this I realized that this networking was one of the most important aspects of the conference for me. I enjoyed the sessions but the connectedness of it was the most meaningful to me. Others have written about the conference and the keynotes so I won’t repeat them and I’ll just give you the links to their blog posts: The Global One Room Schoolhouse by Ewan McIntosh, F2F PLN = family-like reunions (UTC reflection) by Cathy Nelson and UTC…meeting and learning by Mary Ann Sansonetti

Here are the sessions that I attended:
1. E-mp3: I learned the differences between IPods and mp3 players
2. Publishing, Play, Purpose: Three Elements that must change our teaching and learning (Keynote – Ewan McIntosh)
3. 12 Personal Practices for Online Protection: this made me paranoid enough to upgrade my antivirus program and download some other free stuff
4. Create Video tutorials for students and colleagues: really seemed like an ad to sell Screencorder 5 that he spent about 5 minutes explaining.
5. Creating Virtual Field Trips with Google Earth: we actually played with Google Earth. I love the hands on experiences where we actually use the software. I guess I learn better by doing.
6. Making Your Podcast More Pro: I felt inspired and motivated to try to do some podcasts
7. Ipodabilities: I learned more ways to use IPods in the classroom.
8. Global One Room Schoolhouse (Keynote - David Jakes)
9. Don’t Read to Me – A Presentation on Presentations: We need to stop reading slides off PowerPoint and engage the learners.
10. 21st Century Cartography: Using Google Earth and Maps to Empower Student Learning: He used Google Earth and Google Maps which inspired me to put my travels on Google Earth with pictures.
11. Podcasting with Gcast: This was a simple way to do podcasts. I may do some using this.
12. Deter, Detect, Defend: I had more ideas on how to prevent identity theft.

I realized I gained more from sessions that showed the technology tools and how to apply them in the classroom. If I do any presentations about technology, that is the way I would do this in order to make it relevant to the people who are attending. By seeing the actual application, I could adapt it to my needs and how I would use it in my classroom. Is this not the way we should be teaching our students? I think it would be more motivating to show them how the tools you will teach them can be used, and then teach them how to use the tool to achieve their goals. Too many times we get bogged down in the teaching of the tool to where we either frustrate them or make them so bored, they have no desire to use the tool. I know this because I have felt this way in many conferences.

At the end of the last day, we all filed in the auditorium for the drawings for free prizes. I couldn’t believe it when I won a set of speakers. I really needed them!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 06/27/08

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!

Math Playground is an an action-packed site for elementary and middle school students. They practice math skills, play a logic game and have fun!

Interactives - "Interactives" provides educators and students with strategies, content, and activities that can enhance and improve students' skills in a variety of curricular areas.” There were interactive in Math, Science, Language and History for all different grade levels.

Photosynth: “Photosynth uses hundreds of standard digital camera images to construct a three-dimensional view of an environment or "synth". These synths can be explored much like a video game, allowing you to explore, zoom into tiny details, and see where the photographer was standing (or flying) when they took the pictures.”

Flash Card Maker – easy to make flash cards for math or words.

PestWorld for Kids – explore the world of pests; includes lesson plans, classroom resources, and learning games.

Photo credit: tools by misterjt

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are My Students Fender Benders?

This past week I had a little car accident that resulted in a smashed in front fender (almost like the one in the photo only my dents were much lower). This was our “new” car that has been our pride and joy for the past year. The accident was all my fault because I thought my little car could go up over an embankment of rocks and tree limbs but obviously I was wrong. After my husband took the car out for a drive he determined that there was no mechanical damage to the car and there was just cosmetic damage. Of course I have been feeling terrible about the whole thing and feel bad every time I get in the car. My car will never be perfect again and will always have the flaw of being wrecked forever. It will never have the value it did when it was considered “perfect.” I hope my feeling of guilt will go away because I feel pretty miserable every time I think about it.

This made me think of my special education students. I wondered if this is how their parents felt when they first noticed their child having difficulties in school. Of course they tried a lot of different things to motivate their child but if the child has a disability, it won’t magically disappear no matter what they do. Do the parents feel guilty every time they notice their child struggling or when the report card comes? Do parents wonder what they have done wrong to cause this? Do these parents feel that their child will never have full value anymore because the child has a “flaw?” How much of the guilt trip is encouraged by teachers? I have heard many teachers blame parents for not doing enough or supporting schools enough. Maybe some of them do but that won’t change their child’s disability.

This also made me think of things that I could do to help be more positive with students and parents. Just like my car, thinking positive thoughts will never get rid of the “dents” but maybe I need to move on and let the negative thoughts go. This won’t happen overnight and I will probably need to work on it. I need to make sure that I take care of the car better from now on and not put it in situations where I might make matters worse. This works the same way with my students. I need to be sensitive to their needs and make sure that I do not make their lives worse by doing something unconsciously or inadvertently. By making positive phone calls home to parents, I would be focusing on the students’ strengths and not weaknesses. Talking to the individual student about their disability may help them understand why they are having difficulties. I have had many students tell me that no one has ever talked to them about their disability so they thought it was something to be ashamed of. Working with parents to find solutions to problems enable parents to feel more in control when working with their child at home. Teaching my class to accept each other and their individual differences will go a long way to a student’s success in life.

Maybe we can all learn to accept the little “dents” in life.

Photo credit: why I’ve been especially sad since 6:45 yesterday evening by thomwatson

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Carnival of Education 6/25/08

The 177th edition of the Carnival of Education has hit the midway at Where's the Sun? ! Come check it out and read all the interesting information available. You don't want to miss out on anything so please go check them out. See you there!

Change Can Be Good

In My (Unfinished) Dissertation, Feijoo talks about the University of Salamanca which was one of Europe’s premier universities in the sixteenth century. Unfortunately over time, it lost its status and never regained its prominence. He states that “The University became irrelevant. Caught up in its own version of an old boy network, Salamanca ignored developments in science, philosophy, and math….The University was faced with an enormous revolution in human thought and it blinked.”

When I first read this I started to think of the teachers and the schools in my area that are resistant to change. They want to keep thinking and doing things the way they used to be done. Older teachers talk about the good old days and how the school system used to be. They are resistant to trying new things and learning about new technology tools that can be used in their classrooms. Their attitudes can infect a whole faculty in a negative way. Change is hard because when we try change, we risk failure. Yet without change, we become stagnant and stuck in a rut.

When I started teaching at a new school I knew that the current program was not meeting our students’ needs and met with administrators to ask them if I could change the program. Since we had been in school for 2 months already the administrators were not thrilled about changing my program and student’s schedules. My principal, who I will always think of as a wise man, decided to approve the change. He felt that the results could only be positive since we were already not finding success. He said that if it didn’t work, we would try something different. I was thrilled to be given this chance and it motivated me to work even harder to make the new program succeed. Seven years later, my special education program was one of the most successful in the district. Over the seven years we tried different things and I had to keep reminding myself not to be afraid to try new things because of the possible successes that could happen.

I do not know how to change the old attitudes other than to keep teaching new ones. I think the new teachers entering the field need to be taught and encouraged to look for ways to improve their teaching. By teaching new attitudes, these new teachers will replace older teachers when they retire. We have come a long way from the slate board and the one room school house but at the time, those things were the state of the art. Older teachers like I need to embrace the new and possibly better things in store for the educational system.

I hope to continue to look for new strategies and tools to try in classrooms and share them with others. I do not want to use excuses like not having time, or I’m too tired which keeps me in a rut. In fact, finding new strategies and tools may help me work more efficiently and motivate me with new energy. I need to keep reminding myself and others that “Change can be good!”

Photo credit: Stuck in a rut by broc7

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Real Life Simulations

In the article Former Justice Promotes Web-Based Civics Lessons, Sandra Day O’Connor “explained why she had embraced the Internet and interactive digital media as an essential tool for preserving American democracy. In cooperation with Georgetown University Law Center and Arizona State University, Justice O’Connor is helping develop a Web site and interactive civics curriculum for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students called Our Courts (” She also goes on to say “she had seen in her children and especially her grandchildren how involving interactive media can be and noted that interactive education can in some ways be more effective than traditional methods.”

I’m glad to see public officials who are retired, using their knowledge to help our students and using technology to do this. This woman is 78 years old and isn’t using excuses that she doesn’t use technology or doesn’t know how to do certain things to keep her from doing something to keep on making a difference. Who would better know the process of the court system than a United States Supreme Court Justice. I think this will be more meaningful to students because they will have knowledge of what a judge may be looking at.

My husband is a retired judge and I can’t tell you how many times I come home ranting and raving about a certain issue and he has to look at it from different perspectives. I know that he has done it for many years and it is second nature for him. I am the type that will fight for my student’s rights and only tend to see it from my perspective. Sometimes his attitude drives me crazy but it also helps me step back and see how other people may see an issue. This “take a breath” action helps me to think about the situation instead of reacting to a situation.

Hopefully this new site will help teenagers to see issues from a different perspective too. I am interested in seeing what issues will be available for students to “debate” and what the outcomes will be. This is a great way to see the court system in action by being involved in a safe situation. Maybe some adults need to try this out too!

I realized how these kinds of sites would be perfect for a special education student. This would be a safe environment that is open to teachable moments and is relevant to their daily lives. Now that a judge is doing this, can we also have a site created by a policeman and teacher.? Students could play the part of the policeman, teacher, or citizen. Maybe we could have simulations with banks where you go in and set up checking and saving accounts. (Maybe there are these sites and I just don’t know it). How about a simulation to get power, phone, and water turned on in a new home. There could even be simulations where students could practice customer service and play the part of the clerk or the customer. I have lots of ideas, no knowledge on how to make a site like this, and maybe I’m just living in a dream world. But, hey, you have to keep the dream alive!

Photo credit: Courtroom Drama by Erin Nealey

Monday, June 23, 2008

Need to Read: Legal Aspects in Special Education by Kurt Hulett

After reading the article Special Ed at TAC faulted it still amazes me how some professionals still fail to comply with the law concerning special education students. Some of the things mentioned were suspension without due process, nonexistent IEPs, and failure to meet time requirements. Many requirements were either modified or ignored and this comes from the top down, so why expect teachers to follow the rules? I wrote a previous post called Following Special Education Regulations – it’s not an option; it’s the law! and I stressed that complying with the law is just that, a law and we can’t ignore it or make it fit how we want it to fit. I have worked with too many people who call themselves “professionals” that think they can do what they want to just because they disagree with the law or they don’t understand it.

Recently I was fortunate to meet Kurt Hulett, the author of Legal Aspects in Special Education. He was the keynote speaker at a reception that I attended and he spoke about his interview with Joe Ballard, a pioneer in the IDEA movement. As I flipped through the book I knew that this was a book that I had to read. It seemed an easy to read book but chock full of wonderful information, not just for special education professionals but also for general education teachers and administrators. When I see articles that tell how special education laws are ignored, I want to tell them that they need to read this book! In fact, after reading this article, I don’t think these people can afford not to read this book.

Here is some information from the back cover of the book:
“Legal Aspects of Special Education was written by a practitioner to help teachers, administrators, and advocates understand special education law in everyday language– without excessive legalese or extraneous case law. …all of the elements of this text are intended to help its students obtain the most critical information about special education law and how it is applied in the real world. …Additionally, the book provides case studies and application questions, critical thinking questions, the most current information on the laws including No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, a discussion of Response-to-Intervention (RTI) and the implication of IDEA 2004 for school districts, and the major trends changing the laws including that of autism.”

Will someone please wake up those people and give them this book to read?!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Carnival of Education 06/18/08

The Carnival of Education is on the midway at Pass the Torch. Come on by and join the fun. There are lots of great articles to read (including one from me!). Grab some popcorn and a friend and enjoy yourself!

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 06/20/08

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!

Cybersmart – teaches about cyber safety with activities for all levels including lesson plans and activity sheets.

I Know That – for levels preK – 6th grade; does require registration but lots of neat interactive learning games

ARKive Education – “ARKive Education is a free-to-use, multi-media resource bank for teachers and other educators. Making use of the stunning imagery available at the award-winning ARKive website, ARKive Education provides downloadable, ready to use modules on a wide range of curriculum topics, suitable for geography, biology, environmental education and citizenship lessons. ARKive ( is the world's centralised library of films and photographs of the world's endangered species - freely accessible to all online for private research and internal educational purposes.”

Thinking Blocks – “Thinking Blocks is an engaging, interactive math tool developed by classroom teachers to help students learn how to solve multistep word problems.”

Superfactory – virtual factory tours (I love factory tours and this is the next best thing!)

Photo credit: tools by misterjt

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Off on a tangent

Sometimes when I’m in a discussion, I love when the conversation goes in all different directions. It is a lot of fun and a lot of interesting things can come up so sometimes I encourage going off on a tangent as I sit back and listen to the conversation. Sometimes I can get inspiration for a lot of lessons this way, which makes it more relevant to them than the original lesson that I planned. I feel if they can talk about an issue, it would be a great “teachable moment”. For example, let me give you a sample conversation that might take place in my high school special ed classroom.

Me: Today’s lesson is focusing on an article that I found on the computer.
E: What’s it about?
Me: It’s about the flooding in the Midwest.
T: We have a computer at home.
K: My sister was using the computers and got caught on some place she shouldn’t have been.
E: My brother got an email from a friend who said he was going to beat him up for talking to his girlfriend.
T: He shouldn’t have talked to that girl. That’s not right.
K: I like to email girls that I meet. It’s easier than talking to them.
J: Go to Myspace. You can meet lots of girls there.
T: I’m not allowed to go there. I wouldn’t be able to use the computer anymore.
E: My mom keeps looking at the computer when I’m on it. I hate that.
J: My parents better not do that to me. I have my computer in my room and they can’t get on it.
From this conversation I could teach the following lessons:
· Digital Citizenship
· Cyberbullying
· Social networking
· Internet safety
· Appropriate Social Interactions

I also make sure this possibility is listed in my lesson plans to cover “social skills.” I don’t do this too often because the students would take advantage of it as a way to get out of work but every couple of weeks or so, if it happens, I give them the freedom to go off on a tangent. It sometimes helps them focus better on assignments because they may have some issues bottled up inside that just has to be let out. I do make it a stipulation at the beginning of the year that we will not talk about sex, drugs, or illegal activities but all other topics are open. It is also fun to come home and share the turn of the conversation with my husband, as his head spins around. I guess only a teacher can keep up with this!

Photo credit: Off on a tangent as graph by stevegarfield

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I have Joined the Wordle Bandwagon

I have joined the bandwagon and tried Wordle using my bookmarks. I bookmark sites that are interesting to me and I think I will refer back to them again or refer other people to them. These may be sites that I think will be useful for me later on when I’m doing some research. Here is what came out:

I never realized how many technology sites that I bookmarked. I keep finding new technology tools every day that I think would be so useful in the classroom and I’m afraid I won’t be able to find the site again. I also feel that social networking is important because that is where I have learned about professional development opportunities that are available. I have also grown professionally because of all the conversations going around about different educational topics. These conversations made me think about what I believe in and where I think our educational system should be headed. Reference sites are also important to me because I can use them to find out more information about other things that I find interesting. Twitter shows up pretty big and I really enjoy twitter. I feel that I’m always connected with others whether we talk about education or other things. As I traveled around the country I have found twitter to be a great resource. Since we had no destination in mind, all I would have to do is announce on twitter where we were. Somebody was always good enough to mention some place we needed to see close by. This was a wonderful adventure for us.

I know that wordle is just a new “toy” but I think it opened my mind to reflect where I’ve been as I wander the internet and connect with others.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Woodrow Wilson had learning difficulties!

Last week I got a chance to visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia. We even got to see the 1919 Pierce Arrow limousine that he rode in while he was president. The museum is housed right next door to his birthplace. In the museum I was able to learn about Woodrow Wilson’s life as a child, young man, his rise into politics, and his life as our 28th president during World War I.

The fact that really caught my attention was when the tour guide stated that Woodrow Wilson never learned to read until he was around ten years old. Teachers felt he was slow and had major learning problems and felt that he should be removed from school in order to learn a trade. I’m sure I can imagine the frustration of the teachers while I can also feel the parents’ pain when they are told this information. Yet, Woodrow Wilson’s father, who was a Presbyterian minister, never gave up on him. His father believed in him and helped him learn to read. I wonder why he had these difficulties. Did he have a learning disability, dyslexia or ADHD? Did he have a learning style that just didn’t match his teacher’s teaching style?

No matter what the reason, he eventually did learn to read and even went to law school. In fact, Woodrow Wilson is the only US president to ever get a doctoral degree. Eventually he would become President of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey. He also went on to write books as well.

I wonder what would have happened if his dad had listened to the teacher. What would have happened if his dad had not kept on believing in him? I hope this teaches me really listen to parents during a conference. I hope I can look for solutions instead of just giving up on a child. When I feel frustrated and want to give up, I hope I think of this man and the strength it took to go against the beliefs of teachers, the professionals who think they know best. I hope this story encourages me to look for different ways to motivate my slow learners.

Photo credit: Woodrow Wilson by mharrsch

Monday, June 16, 2008

Disturbing Videotape Prank

In the article Judge orders teens to post apology on YouTube, “A judge here is using YouTube to punish two boys who used the video-sharing website for a prank that ended with battery and criminal mischief charges against them.” At the end of the article it also stated that “The teens wrote, filmed and edited the apology video. They also were sentenced to 100 hours each of community service. In addition, they each have to pay a $30 cleaning fee to the restaurant and write letters of apology. The charges will be dropped when the terms of the sentences are met.”

I wondered if this is the direction that our students are heading to and how can I address this in a classroom. I remember the old shows that people videotaped their funniest moments and how some of them were so forced or manipulated that they weren’t even funny. People were just trying to win some money so they acted out these “funny” moments. Apparently these teens were interested in getting attention and the attention that they got was negative but they still achieved their goal.

I think this was an interesting punishment but I just don’t think the charges should be dropped at the end. It seems like they are only doing the apology, doing community service, and paying the cleaning fee as a means to do away with the charges. I think they should have to do all of that in addition to having the charges on their records. I just don’t understand how teens can be so mean and malicious (and of course it brings me back to saying this is coming from steroids in our foods). If I had done something like this as a teenager, I wouldn’t be alive to have to go before a judge and if I was alive to go to court, I probably would have to stand up the whole time. (I guess this is just showing my age!)

Here are some things I thought I would do in the classroom to teach students that this is not the way they should be getting attention and how to get it in more appropriate ways.
1. Discuss the responsibilities of sharing videos with others and the reactions they hope to get.
2. Discuss appropriate behaviors while videotaping.
3. Brainstorm topics that others might be interested in seeing on videotape.
4. Discuss ways not to give negative attention.
5. Discuss this article.

Can you think of other things I could do in the classroom to combat this type of behavior? Please leave a comment because I would love to know what you think.

Photo credit: Videotaping by Steve Rhodes

Friday, June 13, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 06/13/08

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!

Teacher Vision – database of lesson plans

Litebrite – remember the old litebrite toy? Now you can do it online. This can be used as a reward for students.

What2Learn – make your own games and no downloads needed.

Build Your Own Jeopardy - A jeopardy-like board creator that you download. I love to use this in the classroom and the students love to play it. Great way for them to study for exams.

Graphix – children can make their own comic books. There is also a teacher guide on how to use graphic novels in the classroom.

Photo credit: tools by misterjt

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We Didn't Start the Fire

I read this article “We Didn’t Start the Fire” which reminded me that I never taught this lesson that I wanted to do for years. I have loved this song since it came out and knew that it could be a great teaching tool. Unfortunately when life gets in the way of my job, I put this on the back burner and didn’t come back up for air until I saw this post. I think the lyrics of this song can be used in so many ways.

I also found a great video about using this in the classroom and a page with links to information on the various events and people mentioned in the song. :

Another great part of this is linking music to learning. Anyone who sang their ABCs knows that music helps with learning. I think this also opens the door to so many interesting things that our students have no clue about but it helps to introduce the lesson.

Each student can do an individual project by studying one event or person mentioned in the song and then presents this information to the class. Or you could look at each one as a class lesson.
Lessons can turn into English, Geography, History, Science, Art, or Music lesson. I love how this can be used across the curriculum. This also would be appropriate for students of different abilities and strengths.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What I Learned About Teaching but...

This was pretty funny and worth watching. In fact I started to think of other things not mentioned. If you have others you would like to add, please leave a comment.

1. Staying up past midnight to finish paperwork.
2. Required attendance at extracurricular activities like athletic games and the prom.
3. You will need to wipe noses, clean vomit, and/or hear the grossest stories you have ever heard.
4. You need to know where the janitor’s storage is for toilet paper and paper towels.
5. Keep your own broom and dustpan in your room.
6. You will have the sickest sense of humor about education.
7. If your house catches on fire, you will grab your gradebook and laptop as the most important items in your life.
8. You will get emotionally involved in your students’ lives no matter how much you try not to.
9. Students cannot use one tissue at a time. They will grab a handful because they don’t want to touch their own nose.
10. Be specific with students. If you say they can use the restroom, give them a time limit or they will be gone forever and you think they used the restroom in another state!

What have you learned about teaching that they didn't teach you in college?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Take a Different Route

I recently found this article Grandfather builds web browser for autistic boy

“The boy has autism, and the whirlwind of options presented by PCs so confounded him that he threw the mouse in frustration.

LeSieur's quest is a reminder that while the Web has created important communication and educational opportunities for some people with cognitive impairments, computers can also introduce new headaches for families trying to navigate the contours of disability.

It essentially takes over the computer and reduces the controls available for children like Zackary, who finds too many choices overwhelming.”

I thought this was interesting because rather than give up and say that the computer upset this boy too much, this man decided to take action and go a different route. By seeing what this boy needed, this man was able to tailor the web browser to meet the boy’s needs. The article says that this might not work for all autistic people but it might help for some.

This is also true of many teaching techniques that we use. Sometimes something works for some students and not for others. Sometimes we use a technique one year that is wonderful and well received but the next year it is a flop. We need to keep our eyes on the final results and try to work a different way to get there. We need to take whatever steps necessary to try to get there which may involve looking at different ways to teach this concept, asking others for different ideas, consider a different approach such as collaboration with another class, or use a variety of technology tools to achieve success.

To help with this, when I write my lesson plans, I try to include a few alternate teaching strategies so that I’m prepared if something is not working. After I do a lesson, I try to evaluate what worked or didn’t work and immediately amend my lesson plan so that it will be ready the next time I use this. I also like to make these changes while it is fresh in my mind. I have found this really works to help my students be more successful in the classroom.

Photo credit: Other side of the detour sign by Old Shoe Woman

Monday, June 9, 2008

Am I a Useless Bystander...or not?

In this article Bystanders, drivers ignore a 78 year old hit and run victim

“A 78-year-old man is tossed like a rag doll by a hit-and-run driver and lies motionless on a busy city street as car after car goes by. Pedestrians gawk but do nothing. One driver stops briefly but then pulls back into traffic. A man on a scooter slowly circles the victim before zipping away.”

I am just horrified as I read this article especially after my previous post of Just Doing What Is Right. I am having trouble comprehending how anyone could do this to anyone else. Reading this article has made me full of questions that I can’t seem to stop running through my head like a runaway train.

What if it was my family member? What if it was me? How have we become so disconnected from each other that we don’t even notice that others are alive, or in this case hurt or even dead?

This had me thinking about schools, classrooms, and students. Have there been “hit and runs” at my school that I’ve missed? Have students been “tossed like a rag doll” and I’ve just walked on by? As a teacher, I have tried to be sensitive and aware of what is going around me but have I been aware enough? I hear of teenage depression and even suicide and then I wonder if this is how they felt like, abandoned and left to die on the highway of learning.

Have there been other teachers who have needed my support but I’ve been too busy to stop and help them? Have they needed my help or just needed to talk but I always had something to do? Was whatever I had to do more important than stopping to help someone in need? Wasn’t I just like a bystander who watched but did nothing?

How can I teach my students to care and show compassion? How can I teach myself to make sure that I haven’t become a robot of noncaring? How do I make sure that I don’t miss anyone who may be a “hit and run” victim because I’m too busy with my life and things that I have to do?

I’m not sure I have any answers but I feel this article was a wake up call to me. I plan to do a better job of being there for others. I will do the best I can and not stop trying because one day, that could be me on the side of the road.

Photo credit: my shame by bruckerrib

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Council for Exceptional Children Child and Adolescent Network (CAN) meeting

This morning we met with the new CAN coordinators and learned about CAN responsibilities and government 101. It is always good to refresh my memory how a bill becomes a law. During this time, we tend to have informational overload and the first year is always the hardest. It was great to learn how to set up a network and grassroots advocacy group. By the afternoon, the room was full of about 50 new and veteran CAN coordinators.

In the afternoon we got into groups to share techniques for developing a strong network. We talked about increasing participation and visibility of CEC’s grassroots network, strategies for building effective internal and external relations, and utilizing technology to implement a successful grassroots network.

Tonight we will all go see Capitol Steps, which began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them. I have seen them before and really enjoyed this so I expect to have a fun night tonight.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 06/06/08

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!

Reading Rockets – has a virtual beach bag of activities for teachers and parents to prepare for the summer so students can have wonderful summer experiences

Brain Rules – 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. There is a product you can buy that includes a book, DVD, and tutorials but I thought the principles were interesting to read even if you didn’t buy the product.

ProTeacher Community – a lot of links to great resources for teachers.

Special Education Resources on the Internet - a collection of Internet accessible information resources of interest to those involved in the fields related to Special Education.

TeAchnology ($) – links to lesson plans, rubrics, tips, games, webquests and more.

Photo credit: tools by misterjt

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Recharge your batteries

As the end of the school year approaches and summer vacation arrives, I have read and listened to teachers talk about what their plans are. I hear how they plan to do some of the following:
· Take summer courses.
· Attend professional development events.
· Get a summer job to pay for bills.
· Teach summer school.
· Work on curriculum committees.

All of these sound great but I hope that you think about spending this time to recharge your batteries. This will help you keep from getting burned out and help you feel motivated when the new school year starts. Overstressing your mind and body will not make you a better teacher.

About 25 years ago, I lost all of my hair due to stress (which I didn’t know at the time was from stress so I thought I was dying). Finally after the doctors decided that it had to be from stress, I was told that my hair would never grow back. I decided to change my way of thinking/living and lead a healthier life. I began to exercise, take vitamins, eat healthier choices, and luckily my hair grew back. I hope you never face the trauma that I did during this time of my life but instead can learn from the lessons that I did. I have some suggestions which might inspire you.

1. Exercise – Exercising on a regular basis will make you feel better about yourself. It releases endorphins that help your immune system and improves your outlook on life. You don’t have to become a runner or weight lifter. Simply walking for a certain amount of time regularly will do the trick.

2. Read a book for fun – During the school year we come up with excuses why we have no time to do this. Now we have the time to do this and should make the effort. Sometimes it is good to escape the real world and let our mind rest from always thinking about work.

3. Do something fun that you have been putting off – sometimes it is just good to do something for ourselves and not feel guilty about it. You could go to a movie or travel somewhere, or visit someone.

4. Learn something new to do or make – it is fun and exciting to do this and when you tell your students what you learned, they will be inspired and you are a great role model. In fact, I start thinking during the school year what one thing I want to learn during the summer. For example, during summers I have learned how to:
a. Macramé
b. roller blade (which was a dismal failure but at least I tried)
c. Set up a worm compost system.
d. Mat and frame pictures
e. Crochet
f. Knit

5. Catch up with old friends – we keep putting off our friends until eventually they just fade into the background. Time is too short to lose track of our friends.

6. Write letters of gratitude – writing short notes to friends and sending it to them will make their day, make you feel good, and help you appreciate what you have. It is a major mood booster.

Photo credit: batteries by tomblois

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Carnival of Education 06/04/08

The Carnival of Education Week 174 is on the midway at The Education Wonks. Come join us for lots of fun! You never know what interesting stuff you will find!

Teaching Self Advocacy in the Special Education Classroom

Many times I had students enter my classroom that had no idea what their disability was or what it meant. They felt that it meant they were stupid and couldn’t do anything. In order for my students to be self advocates for themselves, I felt this was so important for them to know so at the beginning of each year, I would explain the different disabilities. I would never single out a person and explain that person’s specific disability in class. I would name the disabilities and explain the legal definitions and I also talk about how this influences funding for the school and then tell the students they are labels.

From there we brainstorm about how a disability could affect their academic work. The students are amazed at how they are not alone with the problems and how similar these are among their classmates. Many of the students don’t like to verbalize the problems because they feel like they are the only one who has this but when we brainstorm about what problems could a student have, this takes the focus off of them personally and they are willing to participate. One time I filled up a whole whiteboard with the difficulties they faced in mainstreamed classes and even other special education classes. After looking at these, I have the students see that sometimes we accommodate for these difficulties in different ways for different students. Just like we go to the grocery store and buy different foods because we have different needs, a teacher teaches some students by giving them different assignments. This doesn’t mean one student is better than another.

Once they understand their differences, we begin to brainstorm appropriate ways to compensate and overcome the difficulties. Again I make the list impersonal so students are more willing to offer suggestions. Students suggest ways that have worked for them which helps others who had not thought of these solutions. I usually make a copy of these suggestions and post them in my room so students can review them when needed.

But just knowing ways does not mean the students and teachers act upon this so we discuss how to ask for these accommodations in the mainstream class. Many students don’t feel comfortable asking the general education teacher for this, so again we brainstorm ways to do this. They usually mention the IEP meeting, asking parents to contact the teacher, having the special education teacher contact the general education teacher but my main goal is to teach the students to advocate for themselves.

We begin by listing what the student could say to the general education teacher and then really work on how to say it. This is very important because my students don’t perceive their tone of voice or body language as a possible problem. I usually have my students role play this and we videotape it so we can review and analyze. This really shows the students how they look which usually involves a strained or aggressive voice, hunched shoulders, no eye contact, and folded arms which the teacher could perceive as indifference or defiance. So we work on these behaviors and retape the scene. It is amazing what a difference it makes to change the tone of voice and body language.

Here is a big step: I ask the students to list one teacher they would like to try this with the next day and what accommodation they may ask for. They are usually reluctant to try and I explain to them that there is a possibility they won’t be successful but it is important not to get angry and to act appropriate. If they are not successful, we will rethink this and try another strategy. After I get the names of teachers, I usually try to give them a heads up and ask them to please listen to the student and give me feedback about how the conversation went. This helps me when I review the situation with the student on how the teacher perceived the conversation. By talking to the teacher ahead of time, they don’t feel threatened that I am teaming up with the student against them and helps smooth the way especially when I explain that I’m teaching the student to be a self advocate.

I love the spring annual IEP meetings that we have because I have my high school students conduct the meetings. We start preparing for this about 2 months in advance and talk about each section of the IEP and what it means. Then I have the students come up with a script so they can talk about the sections that are most important to them such as present levels of performance, transition plan, goals and objectives and the behavior plan if there is one. Then we come up with a PowerPoint presentation to help them when they can’t remember what to say and they include pictures from some of the job sites that they were at. Since the students do this for every year they have me, after the first year of stage fright, they usually enjoy this time also. After they introduce all the members of the IEP team and begin the PowerPoint, they usually get over their fears because they know I’m right there to help them.

These lessons have been very successful and helped the students throughout the year. I can see a big difference in their confidence level and self esteem by the end of the year because they feel like they have some control over their lives.

Photo credit: Art on the walls of the Wi’am lobby by delayed gratification

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Just Doing What is Right...

I just watched the most amazing story of compassion and kindness that I want to share: Amazing Softball Story. It is about a girl who hits her first and last homerun of her college career and gets injured before she can run the bases when opposing team members pick her up and carry her around the bases. This causes the opposing team to lose the game and conference. They did it because it was the right thing to do. I just hope that I do the right thing when a situation where I have to make the tough decision presents itself to me.

I remember growing up and having classroom discussions about moral dilemmas. What would I do if I found a wallet full of money? What would I do if…? These were great discussions and my teacher gently guided us into thinking about what is the right thing to do.

In today’s society, I feel it is important to have more of these kinds of discussions in the classroom. Maybe it is called character education or some official name but whatever we call it, it is time to start these conversations. I think it would make a great Voicethread where a picture could be shown of the dilemma, and have each student respond about what the right thing to do would be. Students could write a skit and role play how they would do the right thing. At first, students will shout out or say what they would do which could be inappropriate so it would be important that you only want to discuss what the right thing to do would be. In order to do this, have them imagine them as the person with the problem. How would they want someone to act then? This puts a different light onto if they are the one who lost the wallet or needs help. My parents would always say that I would see things differently if I walked in someone else’s shoes and I try to do that when I’m faced with a difficult situation.

We practice fire drills and tornado drills so why not practice this kind of behavior? If we don’t model the behavior or practice it, how will students know how to do the right thing? I don’t think the softball players learned this behavior suddenly at that moment. I believe that someone modeled this behavior over the years. It took guts to do the right thing even if it meant that they would lose the game. They didn’t have to do this and could have let the umpire and coach resolve the situation but they saw a solution and acted on it. It doesn’t seem like they went to their own coach to ask his permission or discussed it as a team and it wasn’t debated because they knew this was the right thing to do.

As I see all these movies and TV shows that influence young people about violence, profanity, and disrespect, I feel we should use examples like this to influence them in a positive way. I see these softball players as true heroes. I wonder how many other heroes do we have in our classrooms.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Do We Write Off Slow Students?

In the post Are You Slow?, Andrea states, “When we mistake speed for ability — or rather, lack of speed for lack of ability — we misinterpret a person’s intelligence and their ability to learn.”

This really hit home for me when I think about how many of my special education students have been written off by other teachers. My students were slower the students in general education classes because their disability caused them to process information in a different way. In my school, my self contained students were mainstreamed for two general education elective classes in addition to the five classes with me for academic subjects. Even though I had a student who had extreme difficulty reading words, he could take apart a car engine and put it back together again. I had another student who went through a traumatic emotional experience but she was so artistic, the art teacher wanted her to take upper level art courses. These are just a couple of examples of what my students could do and even though I would focus on their strengths in order to work on their weaknesses, other teachers wrote them off as “slow.”

One teacher stands out though because she was willing to work with me and students to get around their learning difficulties. Keep in mind though that when she first found out that two of my students would be in her broadcast journalism class, I thought she would blow a gasket. She was quite concerned about teaching them because she was responsible for the newspaper and the daily TV news program made by the students. J. had Down Syndrome and D. was Mentally Disabled/Autistic. We worked closely together to decide what skills they could do and what accommodations would be made. In fact, we probably touched base at least once a week. By the end of the year, D. was the weatherman on our daily news channel and J. helped with the equipment. The other students loved them and were pretty protective towards them but I really feel this attitude came from the teacher and how she treated my students. In fact, the teacher’s attitude changed so much over the year that she requested that they take second year of her course the following year. This teacher was amazing because she overcame her doubts and was so willing to try to work with my students. She could have said they were too “slow” and found reasons why they shouldn’t be in her class, but she didn’t.
My husband was a terrible student when he was in high school and from the stories he tells me, I’m sure that his teachers would have considered him slow. He ended up going in the navy and getting his GED. I have to say (don’t think I’m prejudiced just because he is my husband) but I think he is the most intelligent man I have ever known. As a student he didn’t fit into the mold that other students did and teachers seemed to write him off. I’m proud to say that he recently retired from being a judge and I can’t tell you how many law books he has read. What might have been considered “slowness” in school, tends to be seen as “deliberateness” as an adult and comes in handy when making a decision that could alter a person’s life. Former teachers are shocked when they hear he married a teacher and became a judge. He loves to read textbooks, manuals, and anything that teaches him something new because there is noone pressuring him on how he should be learning.

Maybe that is why many students are not successful and drop out of school. Are we worrying too much on how they are learning something instead of being concerned that they are actually learning the concepts and skills we want them to learn? When I taught my students how to do a certain math skill, there was usually more than one way to come up with the solution. Is doing it the exact way the teacher demands more important than coming up with the correct answer as a result of what works best for the student?