Friday, October 31, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 10/31/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found 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!

Computer Lab Favorites – 50 activities 15-30 minutes each.

Comprehension Lesson in self monitoring – great video for teachers to watch as Angela Maiers as she models how to teach this lesson.

Money Fun – a collection of sites about Money Fun by Tech Thoughts by Jen

Enrich - Math Problems, Games, and Articles

Giant Soap Bubbles – recipe for making bubble solution and secret that no one mentions

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Do What I Say, Not Do What I Do?

How many times have you gone to a professional development session where they try to tell you the best way to teach but aren’t demonstrating it at that time? How many times have you heard a professor lecture for hours about how important it is to engage the students and not lecture all of the time? Why are we educating pre-service teachers in old ways but expecting them to teach in new ways? How can we expect people to know how to use technology if we don’t let them use it? How can we expect students to know digital citizenship if we block everything from them? These are just some of the perplexing questions that ramble through my brain.

Whenever I am giving a professional development workshop or teaching a course, I try to teach the adults the same way I would teach my students. I explain this procedure beforehand because I think modeling is so important. Do we think because people are adults that modeling is no longer important? If I am teaching my students, I try to explain the steps that I am doing so they can notice and use them when it is their turn. We can’t expect that people will automatically know what to do without telling them, showing them, and giving them time to try it.

I am so much more engaged when I see a speaker practicing what he/she preaches. I think our students need to see that too. It does no good to tell a student that lying is bad and then let them see you lie to another teacher or administrator. If I want my students to do presentations a certain way, then I have to model this in my lessons. I think of the golden rule my parents taught me about “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” I would like to adapt this to say “Teach unto others as you would like them to teach you.” I really think if a lot of people kept that in the back of their mind when planning and teaching lessons, the classroom would have a whole different atmosphere.

Now that I’ve stated all of the above, I thought it was important for me to write down what I think is important for my students to learn about presenting information and make sure I model these as I teach them. I thought about what I would like to see when I’m in the audience. I think if these steps are done, presentations would be more successful.
1. Be prepared and know your material.
2. Be prepared in case the technology does not work. Have a backup plan.
3. Know your audience.
4. Practice before presenting.
5. Know how long your presentation is.
6. Make eye contact.
7. Do not read your PowerPoint slides.
8. Move around the room.
9. Involve your audience.
10. Make sure you summarize at the end.

If you think of anything you would add if you were me, please leave a comment. I’m always open to new ideas or I might have missed something important that I take for granted. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog!

Carnival of Education 10/29/08

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Leading from the Heart. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. There is also a post from me included - Preparing for a Substitute. Lots of other great thought provoking articles there to entertain you! See you there.

Photo credit: Colour My World by carf

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Homecoming Queen

Christina Samuels shared a wonderful story in her post, Homecoming Queen with Down Syndrome 'Walking On Air'. She tells about a 17 year old girl with Down Syndrome who is chose Homecoming Queen. What a heartwarming story to hear about it. Many times the news only tells doom and gloom stories. We only hear of students who break the law or stories of horror in the classroom but finally a story where students do something caring for a peer. It is hard enough being a teenager who is different, but to have a disability as the item that makes you different can be pretty bad. Many teens pick on someone who is different, especially one with a disability. The students at this school rose above all the generalizations and prejudices in order to choose Anne Jennings as homecoming queen.

I’m not sure that the students realize what a difference they have made in their lives as well as Anne Jennings’ life. By thinking of someone other than themselves, students have learned to have compassion and understanding of others. This will help them be successful in life no matter what occupation they may choose. This selflessness is also a reflection on their parents because this behavior had to be learned from someone. In a teen’s life, peer pressure is strong in a teen’s decision making process but I think the qualities instilled by parents overcame this peer pressure.

It just warms my heart to hear stories like this and I think they should be shared as much as possible. This is the only way to overcome all the negative press that schools and students seem to get. If you have a heartwarming story to share, please let me know. I’d love to pass it on!

photo credit: Original image: 'LOVE EACH OTHER' Ari Moore

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Charter School Questions

Thomas writes about Just What Is a Charter School? and it brought up a lot of questions in my mind. This was perfect timing since I recently went to a reception hosted by charter schools in my county. I have heard about them but not really thought about all the ramifications of them until now. I met with charter school board members and discussed philosophies and ideas but not about the actual operations. I loved the idea of how small the school was and how involved the parents were. In fact, parents agree to spend so many hours at the school each year volunteering. I think they said there were 13 teachers at this school and the class sizes was smaller than in public schools. This was not a private school and students do not pay any tuition because they get public school money for this.

Thomas states, “…charter schools in those states where legislation has been created are free of virtually all other state and federal rules and regulations.” I was wondering where special education fits into this. Do they have to follow IDEA and NCLB? What does “virtually free” mean? Do they get to pick and choose which state and federal rules and regulations they want to follow? How do they know which ones to follow and which one they don’t have to?

He also states, “In addition, many educational and non-educational professionals insist that governmental regulations stifle the learning environment. By their very nature, charter schools are free to experiment with educational practices and curricula. For charter schools, creativity and innovation are not simply buzzwords: these concepts are expected to be the cornerstones of such entities.” If this is true, why are public schools stifled with these governmental regulations? Charter schools are funded with public money through taxpayers so how do they get out of following governmental regulations? I hear a lot of complaining in public schools about how much time is spent on testing and specific rules for teaching standards. In fact there is so much time doing this, that teachers complain they can’t be creative in their own lessons. If everyone knows that this stifles the learning environment, why do we insist that teachers teach this way?

I guess all my questions show my lack of understanding about Charter Schools. I would love to be teaching in a charter school where I wasn’t pressured by rules and regulations. I would love the chance to use project based learning and universal design for learning. What a great chance to use technology in the classroom! I would love smaller class sizes and the support of parents who are really involved in the school.

I have said for years that we need to go back to the old neighborhood schools where schools are smaller and students attend a school right in their own neighborhood instead of being bussed miles away to another school. I understand about race ratios but I think in today’s time that we have reached a level where our children’s education is more important than race ratios. I think we need to have smaller schools where parents and teachers can interact more; where students know that their teachers will encounter their parents in the neighborhood. We need to be more of a “family” to the students where we are all working towards the same goal. I think that is what I see Charter Schools becoming. Maybe after all the years of consolidation and large schools, we have realized that smaller schools are the way to go. Maybe this is the start to moving in the other direction.

If you have any answers to my questions, I’d love to hear from you. Maybe my view is too simplistic and would love for someone to explain why my view is wrong.

Photo credit: Original image: 'Crayola Lincoln Logs' Chris Metcalf

Monday, October 27, 2008

Don’t Miss the K12 Online Conference!

I know many of my blogging friends have already blogged about this but this is for those of you that might have missed the buzz lately. I didn’t expect this conference to actually be so inspiring and awesome but it is. I guess I have heard so much talk about it before it happened that I wondered whether all of this was just hype and that I would be disappointed. Well, I have to say that it is not just mindless hype and is truly and event you don’t want to miss.

I’ve been attending presentations at the K12 Online Conference and if you haven’t checked it out, you are missing something fantastic! I’ve never been to anything like this but where else can you get some quality professional development, never spend a dime, and can do this whenever and wherever you choose to be? Some of the presentations are video or audio and one of them is a wiki presentation. You can go to the link and look at the schedule. The best part of this is that all of the presentations are online and you can download them to watch or listen to at your convenience. They even offer professional development certificates if you meet the expectations so you might be able to use this in your school district. I have learned so much by checking these out and I hope you don’t miss out on the opportunity. You can also go back to past years and listen to those presentations. The Seedlings at Bit by Bit Podcast interviews Darren Kuropatwa, Dean Shareski, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and Wes Fryer about the conference which really gives you some background as to the who, what, and why of getting something like this organized.

Coming up this week are:

Monday: Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay (Kicking It Up a Notch Keynote); Sylvia Martinez (Games in Education); Chris Lehmann (The Voices of School 2.0: School Reform as described by the words and images of the people of the Science Leadership Academy); Carlene Walter and Donna DesRoches (Beyond the Stacks: Using Emerging Technologies to Strengthen Teacher-librarian Leadership)

Tuesday: Lisa Parisi (Oh the Possibilities); Elizabeth Lloyd (Changing Disabilities); Scott McLeod (Current leadership models are inadequate for disruptive innovations); Louise Maine (Overcoming Entropy)

Wednesday: Scott Snyder (Back-channels in the Classroom); Kim Cofino and Jen Wagner (Connecting Classrooms Across Continents: Planning and Implementing Globally Collaborative Projects); Aimee Stoffel (Pushing the Limits: Web 2.0 and 21st Century Learning); Peggy Sheehy (Ramapo Islands)

Thursday: Michele Wong Kung Fong (Interactive tools for remote and synchronous mentoring); Ann Oro and Anna Baralt (Monsters Bloom in Our Wiki); Wendy Drexler (Teaching Web 2.0 – Everything you need in one place); David Warlick (Telling the New Story: Leverage Points for Inspiring Change Orientation)

Friday: Lorna Constantini and Matt Montagne (Parental Engagement in the 21st Century – Leveraging web 2.0 tools to engage parents in nontraditional ways); Mathew Needleman (Film School for Video Podcasters); Bud Hunt (The Lie of Community: The True Nature of the Network): Dennis Richards and Charlene Chausis (There’s Something Going on Here You Need to Know About…)

While you are at it, don’t forget to check out last week’s presentations too! I learned a lot of new things from them and hope you will too!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 10/24/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found 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!

JenuineTech Projects – Great list of projects to do with your class. I really like the pumpkin seed project coming up.

Space Junk – “It loads a database that will plot the position of every known bit of space debris and satellites, both active and inactive. You won’t believe how crowded our skies are.”

Purple Math – help with algebra

K5 Stars – “K5 Stars is an online learning center that helps every child become a star learner. We believe that mastering the basics such as Reading and Elementary Math is the foundation of success from elementary school through college and beyond. K5 Stars is intended for elementary school students - hence the name, which refers to K (kindergarten) to grade 5 students. The website is kid-friendly, doesn't display third-party advertisements and is supported by membership fees. Currently, there are over 200 activities available.”

Tribal Wars - Tribal Wars is a browser-based game set in the Middle Ages. Every player controls a small village, striving for power and glory.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Gratitude Campaign

I saw this video on someone’s blog the other day The Gratitude Campaign (video) and just had to write about it.

I think it doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are or who you agree with, the people in the military do not get thanked enough. They agree to serve our country in whatever way they are told to do so. They do not get to make the decisions of where to go and what to do. I have been told by some people that I shouldn’t make a big deal because it is their job and they get paid to do so. Yet these people can lose their life doing their job just like policemen and firemen. Do you really think they get paid enough to risk their lives? How much is your life worth? If they rushed in to save your life, could you ever pay them enough? I know I couldn’t. Yet these people are doing it every day they are on the job. What about the families who worry about them, and sacrifice their time together so they can serve their country? I know of many people who have been deployed and had to put their regular lives on hold. Sure they get paid, but would you be willing to do that? I would not ever want to go in the military and I’m thankful for the ones who do want to be and are willing to do whatever it takes to keep me safe and free. So when you see someone who has protected our country and our rights, whether you agree with the politicians or not, please take time to say thank you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Carnival of Education 10/22/08

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at The Infamous J's Live Journal. Stop by and read some thought provoking articles! My article on The Student Within is posted in the Carnival. Hope to see you there!

Podcast Episode #4 What Makes a Good Teacher

Subscribe Free
Add to my Page

Show Notes:
Music by Danny O'Flaherty

Websites mentioned:
How To Build A Mummy – step by step interactive instructions on how mummies are made.
Classroom Game Templates and More – templates for The Price is Right, $100,000 Pyramid, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Family Feud and more.
Fantastic Contraption – fun physics game that involves problem solving

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Preparing for a Substitute

In Teaching tips to take to heart, Betty mentions how different substitute teaching is compared to being the actual teacher. This made me think of the things I tried to do to make the substitute’s job easier. I had a three ring binder with substitute information and I left this on my desk if I knew I would be absent. If I called in sick, I just notified someone where my substitute binder is kept. Here is what I kept in the binder:

· Seating chart with student’s names for each class. We actually had an attendance program that let you make seating charts with student pictures so I printed that out and put it in binder.
· Student roster for each class along with nicknames and pronunciations for names.
· Procedures that I followed for each class.
· Class rules and consequences.
· Any special responsibilities (lunch duty, detention)
· Notepaper for the sub to leave me notes.
· Detailed lesson plan for each class including approximate time it will take or when something should take place.
· Extra credit activities in case students say they have completed the work, already did it, or finish early.
· Office referrals and procedures.
· Location of Emergency Bag with procedures for fire drills and tornadoes. (This bag had rosters in it, pen, paper to write any missing students’ names, band aids, rubber gloves.)
· List of students with special considerations (speech, students who need to go to the nurse for medication and when they should go, any health problems like students with epilepsy or allergies, behavior plans)
· List of teachers (and their locations or phone numbers) who are available for help.

Having this well organized helped the sub and myself when I returned. Usually there were no major mishaps or problems because I also prepared the students on my expectations when I returned. If I had a chance, I would call in the morning to make sure the sub understand my instructions and could find all that was needed. I have had many compliments from subs on this book and was able to get subs to return to my class when I needed them.

Hopefully this will help may your absence successful for your students, the sub, the administration, and even yourself when you return.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Take Time to Listen

In Life Lesson 4: Choose Your Battles, Joel talks about asking three questions before you try to win a “battle”. He also talks about the consequences of losing and winning any battle. I think he brings up the most important point is that sometimes we just have to listen.

When I first started teaching, I was determined to show students, parents, and colleagues that I knew everything (or at least I thought I did). When students complained, a lot of the time I was thinking about what I wanted to say more than hearing what they were really saying. Then I started to really watch my colleagues and administrators as they dealt with problems. I was amazed at how many of them defused an angry situation and how others made it worse. When I saw this, I realized that I wanted to be the one who could defuse a situation. I had an administrator who could sell ice cream to an Eskimo because of the graceful way she handled things. Maybe they learned how to do this in administrator training but I think teachers need this training. I began to think of how much training have I had over 28 years in conflict resolution. I remember doing a little bit of this in a college course but maybe it should be required on a regular basis during a teacher career like first aid should be.

If I had to teach a course on conflict resolution, I tried to think of activities that teachers should practice.
· Let the other person have their say as long as they are not using profanity or are verbally abusive.
· Listen to what the person is saying and summarize what they have said when they are done (focusing on this keeps you from thinking of other things).
· Sometimes it is not appropriate to share your opinion with others and that is okay. That doesn’t mean that you agree with them.
· Sometimes you can share your opinion even if it means you don’t agree with the other person. Others need to know where you stand but it is okay to disagree. It doesn’t mean either of you are wrong.
· If there is need for a solution, ask for help in brainstorming solutions to the problem. Explain that all suggestions will be considered without judgment at first. List all possible solutions without discussing them. Look at each one and write down the positive and negative consequences. After looking at all of these, come to an agreement on the solution or at least offer to consider the list and promise to get back to them.
· Sometimes no solution is required and that is okay too.

By doing this both parties get to have their say. Sometimes that is all the other person really wants. They sometimes don’t want a solution or need any action to be taken. Students sometimes need to express their feelings and know that someone cares enough to listen. It is really hard for me not to interrupt and tell them what I think but at the time they really don’t care what I think. Yes, it’s all about them and they want you and everybody else to know it. So what does it hurt to let them think that? It might be the only time anyone has listened to them
Maybe we need to teach our students how to listen and the best way is to model this for them. If we take time to listen to them, they will be able to learn this just like I learned by watching others. Maybe we need to have a “Take time to listen to someone” Day. I believe if we take more time to listen to our students and our colleagues, we will be more successful in our careers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 10/17/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found 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!

Teachers in Space – “Teachers in Space journey is the selection of a small group of “Pathfinders” who will lead the way for the large numbers of astronaut teachers who come later. These Pathfinders will be the first astronaut teachers to fly in space and return to the classroom. The Pathfinder competitions will help us test our concepts for selecting astronaut teachers. The teachers who are selected to be Pathfinder astronauts will help us develop the preflight training course that all astronaut teachers will eventually receive.”

Counting Money – Teaching counting money worksheets, lesson plans, money exercises, counting change, free printable manipulatives, teacher tools activity.

I Know That- Money Workshop – Practice money skills.

Phun is a fantastic toy for children, where they can learn and appreciate physics, science and simulations in an open ended gameplay with rich creative and artistic freedom, including colorful freehand drawing.

Math Fair - A SNAP math fair is a non-competitive event that gives teachers an opportunity to have their students do problem solving with a particular goal in mind. The math fair can be adapted to almost any curriculum and set of standards, and it will motivate and inspire all of the students.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Seeing the Student Within

Vicki Davis writes about attending an ADHD seminar in Get Out of That Wheelchair and Run. She states, “…we have children who have disabilities just as real as Dr. Shephard's daughter, but these disabilities are hidden under their hair and skull -- they have learning disabilities and ADHD (which she reminded us is a MEDICAL disability.)

I was so glad to see this issue being discussed at seminars and blogs. I have fought this battle alongside of parents for many years in my classroom. My students have experienced this issue first hand and have had to find ways to cope with the emotions that occur because of situations like this. Many teachers think that a learning disability is something that a student has control over or is making it up. Since they can’t see any physical limitations, many teachers deny that it is a real disability. Some of my students may not have a reading disability but they have major difficulties with math and since they can read okay, teachers assume that their math difficulties are due to laziness. Of course my students did not help themselves many times because it is difficult to admit that you have problems when you are a teenager, so as a defense mechanism, they refuse to do classwork or homework.

I had a student who suffered a traumatic brain injury at the end of his 8th grade year when he was hit by a car. He had been in a gifted program for years and was considered extremely smart. Since his mom worked as a receptionist at our high school, he had been walking across the street from the middle school for 3 years to wait for his mom to get off work and many of the teachers had gotten to know him. After he got out of rehabilitation to learn basic self help skills, he returned to school as a resource student. Using the last known test scores, he was placed in all advanced classes which was totally absurd and only caused him to have major self esteem issues. He was already realizing that he wasn’t the same person and had lost many of the social skills that most teens knew by this time. More and more of his friends were drifting away and he was having lots of difficulties in classes. Finally his class schedule was changed and he was placed in much lower level classes. Of course, this was another blow to his self esteem because he was no longer with his friends that he had grown up with in the gifted classes. As I worked with him on assignments for other classes, there were times that we had to back up and relearn basic skills for things such as writing paragraphs and learning study skills. What had been easy for him in the past no longer applied to his life. Teachers who looked through his records, even though they knew he had been in an accident, kept expecting him to perform much higher than he could and felt he was lazy. Since he didn’t look any different, they forgot that he had a brain injury and came down pretty hard on him. They had known him before the accident and remembered that he was smart, so they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t trying hard enough. They thought that if he just put effort into it, the brain trauma would just disappear. I worked with him for many hours after school and on weekends to get him caught up. I was so relieved when he finally graduated in spite of what some teachers made him go through. My heart ached for his parents who had to help him fight these battles that they never had to fight before.

I am also concerned about how we label students so that they qualify for special education services. Now that the law requires a different way to determine if a student has learning disabilities, I think it has opened up the door for many different interpretations. I am so afraid that we will have many students falling through the cracks. This is why I think we need to look at differentiation for all students and not just special education students. Many students may have difficulties in learning at different stages of their life and we need to take in factors such as maturity, emotional issues, physical concerns, and social issues at that specific time. A student might need extra help or different strategies at different times in their lives. I know when my oldest sister died when I was in tenth grade, I was not performing to the best of my abilities for at least two years. I was not labeled anything except “smart” which also put a lot of pressure on me at the time. No one asked why my grades dropped or why I didn’t seem interested any more in school. Luckily I was able to move past the grief and get back on track by myself. What if I was a struggling student with the same issues? These students need us to be there for them.

I hope that when I look at students and notice that they are having difficulties, I look beyond the standard generalizations of “it must be laziness”, “it’s just teenage angst”, “they will get over that”, “peer pressure will take care of that”, or “there is just no hope for them”. I hope that I don’t expect them to run when they really can’t do it. I need to remember that all disabilities are not easily recognized. I need to look beyond the physical student and see the student within if I want to be successful in teaching.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Carnival of Education 10/15/08

Carnival of Education! The Debate Edition is up on the midway at Eduwonkette. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. There is also a post of mine included Win Win Situation. Lots of other great thought provoking articles there to entertain you! See you there.

Photo credit: Colour My World by carf

Student Whispers

In Do You Hear Whispers, Paul writes about how we need to do more than just hear our students but we need to listen to them. We need to listen to what they are saying through words and body language (which are like whispers). After a student suicide, he really became aware of this.

Teaching in a special education class has really taught me to listen to the whispers of my students. I learned this early in my career when my 5th grade student ran away from home and his mom called me up. I joined up with family members to hunt for him in the woods at night. We finally found him and I realized how lucky we were. From then on, I give my students my home number to call and ask them to call me before they do something drastic. I don’t promise anyone that I will be able to stop them but at least I can offer other alternatives for them to look at. This has been very effective over the years and I really think I helped some students. One girl was distraught because her boyfriend said she didn’t love him if she wouldn’t have sex with him. After spending an hour one evening talking to her, she agreed that if he loved her, he wouldn’t say that to her. I finally got her to agree to let me talk to her mom the next day about the situation which helped their relationship and made her stronger emotionally. Another high school student began running away and was missing for 2 weeks before he was returned home by the police. I actually gave him my cell phone number and he gave me his when he felt there were no other alternatives. Again, I think I was able to help him avoid a nasty situation a couple of times by being there for him. Luckily I have a wonderful husband who stood beside me during all these situations and helped support me in doing the right thing.

Many of my students did not get hot meals at home or lived in a volatile environment so they loved being in a safe environment they called school. I saw their anxiety increase as weekends approached. Many got withdrawn or became moody and argumentative on Fridays. Where a lot of teachers and students enjoyed Fridays, this was not usually the case in my class. I kept my Fridays kind of quiet and calm. I played a lot of soothing music and we used a lot of time for discussions. We played a game of “What If” where the students finished the questions and the others would give their suggestions for answers. Many times the questions pertained to what was going on in their homes or with friends. As much as I tried not to be physical with my students (with all the accusations in the papers against teachers), many of my students insisted on giving me a hug on Fridays as they left. If I was really worried about a student, I would call them on Saturday evenings. Our Mondays were like most people’s Fridays. It was a celebration that we had all made it through a weekend. I really looked forward to Mondays because I worried about my students over the weekend. If one of my students was missing on Mondays, it called for an immediate phone call home. This reassured the students who were present that they would be missed and I would be looking for them.

This ability to hear the “whispers” did not come naturally when I was a new teacher. I think I learned from experience just like Paul did. I hope new teachers can learn from our experiences to help them listen to the whispers. It is as important, if not more, as teaching the curriculum. If you show the students you really care and are listening to them, I truly believe that you and your students will be more successful in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Growing My Own Professional Learning Network

I remember a line in an old nursery rhyme – “Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” What if we took out garden and put “professional learning network”?

Liz Davis talks about Ten Tips for Growing Your Learning Network in her blog post and it made me think about whether I do these things and if I had any others to add. I think the main point I got from her tips are that in order to grow a learning network, you have to be actively engaged in doing so. You can’t sit around hoping that it will come to you. Here are things I did to grow my learning network and if you have some you would like to add, please add them in your comments. I love learning new things to build up my network.

I read blogs about education by other people. I tried to pay attention to what I liked or didn’t like about the blog. I try to see any similarities in the blogs that I read. What made me keep coming back?

I signed up for a Google Alert for education topics that is sent to my email each day. I then read articles that were thought provoking. This saves time so I don’t have to search individual articles myself.

I began my own blog to clarify my thoughts, discuss the articles and blog posts that I read, and to share my ideas with other. Blogging takes time and energy but it is well worth it. I have met new people through blogging and I have enjoyed ideas that other people have shared with me about the topic. It is a lot of fun to get comments too. Not all people will agree with what I’ve written but it is nice to hear encouragement from the ones who do agree.

I joined Twitter and Plurk. I met other educators that I could interact with. The discussions really help me to stay on top of current issues. I also learn so many new things from my friends. Links to useful resources abound in the conversations and I love exploring these new territories. Any problems I have are usually easily solved by my network because someone out there has encountered the same problem at one time. If you do join, I suggest you stick with it for at least 2 weeks before you decide if you like it or not.

I attend some conferences. It can be online or face to face but this is very important. I attend the state and national Council for Exceptional Children conferences each year. I also attended my district’s Technology Conference. After joining Twitter and Plurk, I have been able to attend many free professional development sessions/conferences. You have to experience it yourself in order to really see how the power of your network can help you and actually experience it as it grows.

I use delicious and diigo to bookmark many useful resources. I also add others to my network on these pages so I can see what other people are bookmarking. It really saves a lot of time and when people add tags to their bookmarks, it is easier to find resources that you might need.

I use Google Reader in order to aggregate all the blogs I read. Then I don’t miss any updates of my favorite bloggers. I look forward each day to seeing what has been written. Sometimes if the topic doesn’t interest me, I can skim right over it. By aggregating my blogs into one place, I’m able to save time instead of constantly going to individual blogs to see if they have updated.
I listen to education podcasts. The discussion helps me see different sides to different issues. It helps me decide on what I think is important to me. People recommend podcasts that they listen and I like to check them out. I love to hear about projects that people are involved with, the process they are going through and how to get involved if I want to.

I join in the conversation. For a long while I just lurked in the background. I realized that to get the most out of my network, I had to add to the conversation. I had to be able to share my thoughts and opinions because what I put into this is what I would get out of it. If I just sat around waiting for everything to come to me, I would be sadly disappointed. I think that is why some people have trouble with networking. They are willing to put time and energy into its development and then wonder why it isn’t happening.

I feel these things have helped me develop a successful network and I hope that some of these things will help you. I think the most important thing to remember is to get out there and join in the conversations! See you there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fun with Autumn Leaves

I like to do activities with my class that celebrate the season. Changing seasons is an exciting time and it is good to do activities that explain the changing events. It is also good for students to learn that not all places have different seasons and some have longer seasons than other. When I moved to South Carolina after growing up in New York, I was amazed at the differences in seasons. I also find it interesting to talk to classes in the southern hemisphere because they are experiencing the opposite seasons that we are having.

I actually like having a bunch of different activities for my students to choose from. Some students like the more artsy types of activities while others like using the computer or do writing activities. Giving students a choice of activities helps them feel in control and usually the lessons are more successful.

Reading – Read together Why Leaves Change Color in the Fall by Science Made Simple. There is a vocabulary puzzle and some fun activities to do.

Candles – Find colorful leaves and glue them to candles using melted wax

Leaf rubbings – Use crayons or pencils to take rubbings of leafs. You can make notecards as presents

Bulletin Boards – let students collect colorful leaves and staple them as a border around the bulletin board.

Writing – Give each student a colorful leaf and have them write a story about the life of this leaf. Where did it grow up? What kind of things did it see from its place on the tree? What lessons did it learn? What message would it want to tell other leaves?

Science – Find out what causes leaves to change color. Take a photo of a leaf and upload it to Voicethread. Tell about the life cycle of this leaf.

Photos – take photos of leaves that are colorful. Upload photos into Flickr. Make a photo collage. Big Huge Lab has Flickr toys to use with your photos.

Poetry – have students write poems about autumn leaves and post on a wiki or a blog. Add photos of leaves to the page.

Collaborative Project – Develop a wiki using pbwiki or wikispaces. Make a chart and invite other classes from around the world to add information to the chart about the following information:
When does fall start in your location?
Leaves of what trees turn red?
Leaves of what trees turn yellow?
Leaves of what trees turn orange?
Add a picture of trees with changing leaves and post the date of when the photo was taken.

If you have any fun activities to share, please leave a comment. I love having new activities in my bag of tricks. My lessons are more successful if I have a variety of activities for students to choose from so please tell me your favorites.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found 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!

3rd World Farmer - 3rd World Farmer is a new kind of game. An experiment in the genre of Serious Games, it aims at simulating the real-world mechanisms that cause and sustain poverty in 3rd World countries. In the game, the player gets to manage an African farm, and is soon confronted with the often difficult choices that poverty and conflict necessitate. We find this kind of experience efficient at making the issues relevant to people, because players tend to invest their hopes in a game character whose fate depends on him. We aim at making the player "experience" the injustices, rather than being told about them, so as to stimulate a deeper and more personal reflection on the topics.

Fantastic Contraption – fun physics game that involves problem solving

Bitesize Games – Give your brain a boost. I played a couple of these games and they were a lot of fun.

Math Playground – “an action-packed site for elementary and middle school students. Practice your math skills, play a logic game and have some fun!”

How To Build A Mummy – step by step interactive instructions on how mummies are made.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tank Museum

On our travels, we like to travel back roads instead of major interstates if we have time. Yesterday we saw a billboard that advertised about a Tank Museum in Danville, VA which holds 114 tanks and my husband couldn’t believe it. We have never seen that many tanks in one place before so we just had to go check this museum out and we are really glad that we did.

It cost $10 per person admission but it was well worth the money. You are not allowed to take any flash photography but I could still take photos. First we went through rooms and rooms of uniforms from all different levels of personnel and wars. It was fascinating to see all the different styles. They were in excellent condition and consisted of a wide variety too. As a teacher, I was impressed with the in depth research that was done either about the uniform or the person who actually wore it. They weren’t long summaries but enough to get my interest.

Then there were huge rooms full of tanks. The best thing about this was that these tanks weren’t just sitting there with a placard telling the name of it. Many of them were put in a scene as if they were in action. Others had a mural behind them. These settings made it easier to imagine them in use and what the soldiers had to go through while in them. There was also a huge area designated for remote controlled tanks. The whole museum had probably the most impressive collection of tanks I had ever seen.

As we roamed through the museum, we met the curator who was extremely fascinating to talk to. Of course, I’m sure I asked him way too many questions but he didn’t seem to mind answering them. He rode around the museum on a bicycle because it was so huge and you could tell that he really enjoyed his museum. Originally this museum was in Mattituck, NY and moved to VA about 6 years ago. How lucky people are that he is willing to share this with the public!

If you are close to Danville, VA, this is one of the museums you don’t want to miss. It’s educational and interesting too!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Carnival of Ed 10/8/08

The 192nd edition of the Carnival of Education is on the midway at! Come by and read some thought provoking articles about education. There is even one from me about What Do I Do With These Kids? Drop and by and see what will peak your interest! See you there!

Win Win Situations

In Funnyback, Cell Phones & Beat the Teacher Night, Carol writes about a situation where a young girl tries to get her cell phone back after having it taken away when punished. The student’s rationale is valid (to a point) and the parent found a way to be responsive to her child’s needs. Both got their way so it was a win-win situation (kind of!).

I love the way this parent responded and wondered if I could find creative ways to problem solve situations in my classroom this way. Here are some things that I have done in order to try but you may have other situations and answers so please share them with me.

Student: Is there any day we don’t have homework in this class?
Teacher: Yes, I’m not a total meanie. If you are dead or I am dead, there is no homework.

Student: This is boring. Why do we have to read this stuff?
Teacher: We will do it my way this time, but I’d be glad to show you the next unit and you can help me figure out interesting ways to teach it. (By the way, I’ve had students who really loved helping me with this and it worked!)

Student: I hate taking tests. I can’t memorize all this stuff.
Teacher: Okay, help me figure out a way that you can show me that you know this material. (Sometimes they actually come up with creative fun ways that really assess their knowledge)

Student: (is being disruptive and won’t stay in his seat during instruction)
Teacher: It seems like you have a lot of energy today. I want to see how long you can run in place while I teach this lesson. If you can run quietly on the side until I finish the lesson, then you won’t have to answer some questions on the worksheet.

Student: I know how to do all this stuff already. Why do I have to learn it again?
Teacher: Then you should be able to pass the test. If you get 90% right on the test, you can move to the next level (sometimes, they really can pass it, so I let them move ahead. Why should they be bored learning things they already know? This only causes them to be disruptive?)

My students felt like they had very little control over their lives so many times, their behavior was a result of trying to gain this control. I really feel that if we give them choices, they will feel like they have more control and be ready to learn. Of course, the choices given are ones that I can live with so in the end, we all win. It is when students feel backed in a corner that they come out belligerent and argumentative. If we help our students feel successful, maybe it will become ingrained and they will be successful.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Does Truancy Court Work?

In the article, 'Truancy Court' Program Focuses On Intervention, Not Prosecution, officials hope to reduce truancy and drop out rates. “’I can't remember the last violent crime case I prosecuted where the person graduated high school,’ 7th Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy...When a student misses multiple days, truancy officers will investigate and create a plan of intervention rather than sending the student or parents directly to a judge. ‘We're not going to suggest changes, we're going to require them,’ Owings said. ‘If they don't do what truancy courts ask them to do, they will be referred for prosecution.’”

I think this is a great idea but I hope they are involving school personnel in this process. Too many times there are great ideas and great hopes, but all of the people who need to be involved are not considered. I know from experience because my husband is a retired judge and has strongly encouraged people to return to school for an education. I told him that there needs to be accountability involved and just returning is not enough. Someone needs to tell these people that they need to be on good behavior, not be disruptive, complete assigned tasks in addition to just showing up. I guess many people assume that if the student returns to school, all of this will just fall in line.

I wonder if anyone is looking at the cause of truancy because if the factors don’t change, then the behaviors won’t in the long run. Fear of jail time might get a student to be in attendance but what about the disruptions that can occur. What about the students that want to be there and learn but the teacher is having to devote time to deal with the disruptive student who is required to be there. I had a 14 year old student with autism who was very large and strong physically. On days he didn’t want to come to school, the parents were at a loss as to how to get him to school. They would take turns staying at home with him. Should the parents be penalized when they are already traumatized by having a disabled child? Would putting this student in jail solve anything?

This article doesn’t go into depth about the full program or how it is implemented but it made me have a lot of questions. It scares me that we have policy makers making decisions when the only time they were in a school was as a student. I wish we could get more of these policy makers in our classrooms so they get a picture of what life is really like in a classroom. I feel that a connection between policy makers, officials, school personnel and even parents needs to be made in order for any program to be successful.

What do you think? Do you think this will have a positive effect on the students? Will it solve our truancy problem? How will it affect schools? Maybe you have this in your area and it works. I ‘d love to hear from you!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Etiquette – It’s a No-Brainer

Forgive me for ranting but I have to get this out. I know it is not the first post I have had about manners but I needed to share this in case any of you inadvertently do this and I hope that I haven’t (but I may have at one time or another).

As many of you know, my husband and I love to travel. In fact, when we plan a destination, we try to plan the scenic route if possible. Since my meetings were in Arlington, VA right near Washington DC, we decided to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. As we traveled, we liked to stop at the pull-offs to look at the views. Usually there is a big parking area so everyone can enjoy the view, even from their cars. At one point, we pulled in a space away from any other cars so that we wouldn’t bother their enjoyment and looked out our car windows in awe of the view. A few minutes later, a car pulls in beside us and a family of 3 gets out of the car and immediately stands in front of our car, blocking the view. I promise you, this was the same exact view they could have seen from the front of their car. I am flabbergasted but do not want to be rude to them even though they were rude so we drive on. We stop at the next pullover to admire the view and again, it is a large parking lot. We left many open spaces in case they came to the same place. You can only imagine how stunned I was when they parked 3 spaces away and proceeded to get out of the car to…you guessed it!...stand in front of my car and blocked our view. We drive off to the next pull off and I confess to doing something very childish. We parked and I emptied the water in the grass right in front of my car so there was a huge puddle. Again the family arrives and walks in front of our car. As they stepped in all the water, we drove off smiling. I’m sorry I resorted to childishness but I have no idea why they wanted to do that to us. It was a mother, father, and a young teenage girl who were nicely dressed and driving a nice car. All I can think of was that they had no idea how rude they were.

Another time we hiked to a beautiful waterfall and when we arrived, this man had a camera on a tripod in order to get a good picture of the waterfall. Another man and child walked around the tripod and immediately blocked the picture. Why they thought the photographer wanted them in the picture is beyond me. Not only did they make no effort to get out of the way, but they plopped down on some rocks so they would be in the picture of anyone taking a photo of the falls. I just shook my head and hiked on.

Now the next day we went to Mt. Vernon, which was a wonderful place to visit. If you are near there and have never been, it is worth the $13 per person to go there but plan on spending all day. We didn’t expect to spend that long there but we did. As we took a tour of the mansion, 20 of us were grouped together so we could hear the guide. As we were herded into one room, this tall man and woman were in front of me and I knew it would be hard for me to see, but at least I could hear. As soon as they stopped in the space directed, they looked at me, and urged me to step in front of them so they could get behind me. I thought about how kind and thoughtful they were! No one asked them to do that and I never said anything either. It seemed like they were used to being thoughtful so it was probably a no-brainer for them.

I hope I am that way to others too. I know I have accidentally walked in front of people when they are taken pictures and feel bad. I apologize and sometimes even offer to take a family photo of them so they have a picture all together.

I know that this seems like a no-brainer, but we need to constantly make our students aware of these small acts of kindness/etiquette/manners or whatever you call it. I have had my students actually practice letting people exit an elevator before they attempt to get on. In many business areas, people stay on the right of the escalator unless they are moving up the left side. This is an unsaid practice, but everyone knows it. Holding the door open for the elderly or letting them have a seat on a bus if all are taken. The little things count! I love to start this conversation and actually let my students start adding other ways to be courteous, kind and thoughtful. I know this takes away from of the standards that may schools require but I think it is well worth the time and goes a long way to helping a student be more successful in life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 10/3/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found 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 NSTA Learning Center – access to journal articles, science objects and web seminars that are free

Classroom Game Templates and More – templates for The Price is Right, $100,000 Pyramid, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Family Feud and more.

Annenberg Media - Teacher resources and teacher professional development programming across the curriculum

Club Penguin – “Club Penguin is a snow-covered, virtual world where children play games and interact with friends in the guise of colourful penguin avatars. Players create a penguin, then waddle around the island of Club Penguin, engaging in a variety of fun and imaginative activities. Players can chat, send greeting cards, use emotes (emotion icons) or choose from a set of pre-defined actions such as waving or dancing. Users can also play games to earn virtual coins which can be used to buy clothing and accessories or furniture for their igloo. New content, such as games and theme parties, is added every week. Club Penguin is designed for 6-14-year-olds but is open to all ages. Club Penguin is free to play, although additional features such as buying clothing or decorating an igloo, require a membership.”

Visualize Science – “Welcome to the first shocked science lab on the WWW (growing since December 1995). This site will let both students and teachers interact with material on the web, rather than just reading text. “

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Carnival of Education 10/1/08

Come to the midway and see the Carnival of Education which is hosted by Mathew Needleman at his Creating Lifelong Learners blog. There is even my article on No Longer on the Outside Looking In! Come join me and let's see the carnival together by reading some thought provoking articles and leaving some comments. See y'all there!

Am I a Good Colleague?

Terry Shay asked, “What are the characteristics of a great colleague?” on Plurk and Twitter and then listed the responses in his blog, TJ on a Journey. I thought it was a great list and thought about some encounters I had with colleagues and what caused us to either have a great relationship or not. I hope I learned from others what I didn’t want to be like.

One teacher was very clingy and depressed. I tried to support her by listening and giving suggestions but I guess that wasn’t what she wanted. I refused to do work through lunch because I needed that distress time and she perceived me as being irresponsible. Yet, I got all my work done and enjoyed life while she spent afternoons crying in her classroom. Finally she told me that I was not a good friend because when I left school, I focused on my husband and had fun instead of calling her up to spend time with her. I guess from her viewpoint, I was not a good colleague and I didn’t feel she was either because she was too needy. My family is important to me and will always come first. I later found out that her family didn’t spend much time with her and she was lonely but I still didn’t know how to help that and tended to distance myself from her. So, I need to make sure that I’m not to clingy or smothering.

There was another teacher that I really worked well with because we were honest with each other. We didn’t talk behind each other’s backs and discussed things if we didn’t agree on something. If I annoyed her by doing something she didn’t like, she came straight to me and told me so we could discuss it. She actually was the first teacher friend I had when I first started teaching and I learned a lot from her. Right from the start she taught me that honesty between colleagues was important. I knew exactly where I stood with her and there was no guess work (I was too tired at the end of the day to play guessing games.) I didn’t always agree with her but that was okay. We are still friends after almost 30 years.

I have worked with other colleagues who lied about me behind my back in order to gain favor with others. This usually backfired because when I heard about it, I immediately confronted them, because I don’t go behind someone’s back. I always feel hurt when I find out about this because I will never trust that person again and it is really hard to work with someone you don’t trust. I tend to automatically trust people until they hurt me and then I feel devastated but I refuse to let these people make me mistrust the whole world.

If I realize I make a mistake, I immediately tell the person that it affected and try to fix whatever I did. I think this is so important so that other people will trust me. My colleagues need to know if I mess up because what I do could affect them. Usually they will be right there to help me fix whatever I did and I try to do the same to them. I think this helps us respect each other.

Another thing I really appreciate is the colleagues that willingly offer to help and actually do help when I know they need to be doing other things. My first year as department head, I had a report that had to be turned in the next day. I asked for my teachers to turn in the information I needed that morning but of course some didn’t and I had to chase them down. That afternoon I got the information and thought I could fill out the report easily but it wouldn’t come out right and I was going crazy. Another colleague stayed with me until late that evening to help me and after four hours, we finally got it done. Unfortunately some of the info given to me by the others was incorrect which caused the report not balance out. This colleague didn’t have to do this but she did and I will be forever grateful. I always felt like I could count on her and I hope she knew I’d do anything for her too.

I hope you see yourself in some of the good situations I mentioned. Maybe you will realize that it is you that I’m talking about. If you do, know that you touched my heart and I thank you for being a great colleague to work with. I appreciate you and hope that I have let you know this because working with good colleagues is important to making my career more successful. If I’m happy with the people I work with, it spills over to my students and a ripple effect occurs. I hope I can cause a good ripple in the pond of education too.

photo credit: handshake I by oooh.oooh

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reviewing Our Own Performance

Do we ask the impossible? I thought this article, Dyslexia and High School, was an awesome article that I just had to share. The author was able to observe a student with dyslexia in a literature class. She wrote down all the tasks that this student was expected to do and went on to explain what processes were needed in order to complete that task. By looking at the breakdown of processes, you could see why a student might have difficulty with the task. The best part is that she suggests some alternatives that the student could do but still achieve the same goal as the other students. I really like how technology played a big part in the alternatives. I know these alternatives would be great for a student labeled with a learning disability but I bet it could help some of the other students who have fallen in the cracks. They haven’t been labeled with a learning disability but for some reason or another are not performing as well as they should be.

This also made me think whether I have looked at my instruction and actually noted what tasks I am asking my students to do. I need to look outside the box and see if I am asking some of my students to do the impossible. If they are inattentive and not completing tasks, is there another way that I could ask them to get an assignment done. This is why I liked to videotape my lessons. I kept a video camera up most of the time with black electric tape over the record light so my class never knew when it was on. By the second week, they totally ignored the camera and acted normal. I told my students that I was taping my teaching so that I could see how I could make things better for them (of course they didn’t believe me and were on their best behavior so how could I lose!) I would record a lesson every couple of weeks and review it. Then I would jot down what instructions I gave the class, and watched how the class responded. Sometimes it is hard to do this when I’m actually teaching and might miss something but watching it on tape had me seeing things I didn’t notice before. This reminds me of the way a football team reviews a game they just played. They do this so they can better their performance and that is what I was trying to do too.

I have had teachers ask me about parent permission for this. First of all, I went to the administration and explained to them what I wanted to do. I was told as long as it was for my own personal use and not to be shared with anyone, I could do it but if it was shared, I needed parental permission. I also put information about this in my class newsletter at the beginning of the school year that I send home to all of the parents. I also taught a program where I take pictures and videotape activities to share with parents so they sign a permission slip anyway. When I call parents, I tell parents that I want to share pictures of what we are doing in class so they can see actual learning going on. I also tell them I want to videotape my lessons so that I can be a better teacher. What parent doesn’t want to see a teacher improve their own instruction? The kids whine and object about this at first but I stand firm. It even helps behavior management as a side effect so I’m always thrilled with that. Once they get over the fear of being taped, they go back to being themselves as usual.

It is hard to review your own performance when you first start. You start thinking you look like a dork and you sound awful. Once you get past that, you can start to review your actions. I first tried this when I was going through the National Board process which requires you to videotape lessons and then reflect on them. I really think this is a great way to help you be more successful in class. I know that it worked for me. Reviewing and reflecting about our actions can only make us better. Not only will we be more successful but our students will benefit also.