Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reaching the Top

In The Continual Rush??? from Tech Thoughts By Jen by JenW, Jen talks about a conversation with a colleague.

“But as we talked, her continual conversation came back to — “but Jen, you know so much more” and I continue to remind her that I have been at this since 1995….but I still send a frustration in her voice that seems to say “will I ever catch up?””

This conversation made me think about my relationship with my students. I wondered if they felt the same way and were overwhelmed by me as a teacher. I usually inform them about my education and my years experience but does that really matter to them? I have been knitting for about a year now and can still only do basic stuff. Yet, when I go to my knitting group, they are doing lots of fancy stuff and making exciting things.Will I ever reach that point when I can do something like that? Some have told me that they have been doing this for years but others have not and are doing complicated stuff. I feel frustrated because I want to do this now, not in the future. I know exactly how my students feel.

Does our system constantly make our students feel as if they know nothing and will never get to the point where they feel knowledgeable? Do we constantly point out their insufficiencies? Do we focus more on what they can’t do rather than acknowledge their strengths? Or do we unconsciously send the message that all they need to do is graduate and that is the end of their education. It seems like we focus too much on telling these kids they don’t know enough and need to try harder to meet the standards that our state sets. Then when they passed the exit exam to graduate, my students felt like, “Okay, my learning is done. I’ve mastered what they said I needed to know.”

I want my students to know that learning will take place throughout their lives. I want to teach them how to go about learning something new that they want to learn. I want them to know where to look for information, where to go for help, and how to find the support they need. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to learn how to do something but not knowing how to go about doing so.

I also want my students to know that they do not have to know the same amount of “stuff” that someone else knows and know it all by the same time. I demonstrated this to my class when I was trying to learn how to juggle (I just thought it would be a neat thing to learn how to do) and had so much trouble learning. Finally a student had to show me over and over before I finally got the hang of it. Then I explained that here was someone younger than me that knew different things than I did and that was okay. This was a perfect time to talk about different strengths and interests that people have and that it was okay to cultivate them. That is why a car mechanic works on my car and not an eye doctor. Of course I don’t want a car mechanic to perform eye surgery on me either. Yet I don’t feel that one profession is “better “than another because both were extremely important to me.

I explain to my students that even with all my college degrees, it doesn’t make me “better” than them. I only have more book knowledge than them and I am there to help them find their way in the world. They need to find a career that will make them happy and independent. This was impressed on them when my car’s oil pan was leaking and needed to be welded back together and a former special education student fixed my car for me. All my college degrees would not have helped my car get fixed quickly enough for me to use it. Eventually I might have learned how to fix it myself but I would have had to do without transportation for a lot longer than I could afford.

Sometimes it is hard to see success when you are the one climbing up a mountain. But when you get to the top and look down, you can feel proud of your successes. I hope that I can help my students reach the top.

Original image: 'AgullesAmitges.jpg' by: Xavier Varela

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carnival of Education 4/29/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Jason’s Perspective. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Explain Your Answer is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wanting to Learn

In Waiting to be Taught versus Willing to Learn from Langwitches, she asks, “Is being a life long learner a characteristic of a “good teacher”? Can you still be a good teacher if you are not a learner yourself? “

I couldn’t resist answering this so here it is:

I think we all learn throughout our lives, whether we are a teacher or not. A good teacher recognizes that this learning is important and tries to use it to better his/her instruction. I also think by modeling that we learn throughout our lives, we are showing students how we can use this learning to better our lives.

Then this had me thinking about my students. I have heard so many teachers say that their students just don’t want to learn. I really have a hard time believing that. I think the students really do want to learn but have hit some road blocks that keep them from learning. By saying that they don’t want to learn, they are using this as a defense mechanism. When teachers say this about the students, we are giving them an excuse not to learn when the learning is difficult. In fact, I felt this was just a bad habit that my students had gotten into and I had to change this habit.

The first thing I did was to come up with a class motto that I used for over 20 years. I had every student write, “I am a born winner.” on any paper they turned in for a grade. This was very simple but the kids resisted it. When I stuck to my guns and refused to accept any paper without this, they relented and by the end of the year, it became a habit. Yet, this simple saying stuck in their minds and helped change their attitudes towards themselves.

Next, we had a frank discussion. I asked the students to brainstorm things that hindered their learning. What made learning new things difficult? I explained to them that even I had trouble learning certain things and had to find the key that made this learning easier. (This is why I tried to learn something new each year and demonstrate my learning in front of my students.) Sometimes we would do this as a group or I would have this discussion one on one with the student. Depending on the student, certain ways would be easier for them to be honest. Then I would post all the items and we would discuss how to overcome these barriers. Sometimes we would think of things the students could do or sometimes it would be things that I could change about my instruction. I didn’t take these suggestions personally and actually felt enlightened by them. The students of course felt empowered and thrilled that I would listen to them and actually try some of the changes.

Then we also talked about how the students could approach other teachers and advocate for themselves in an appropriate manner. Once students tasted this success in my class, they really wanted this change in other classes. Even parents said they noticed the change in their child. I also mentioned this to other teachers that I knew the students were having difficulties with as a way to pave the way for the student. Once the other teachers knew the students were trying to be successful, they were willing to give it a try because they really wanted the student to do well too.

Do you have any other suggestions that can help teachers and students overcome this learning barrier? If so, feel free to let me know!

Original image: 'Leadership' by: Pedro Simões

Monday, April 27, 2009

Frozen by Fear

In the article A Guide to Beating the Fears That Are Holding You Back from Zen Habits by Leo (and shared with me by Edventures), Leo states

“I think the last one — not being good enough — is actually at the root of all the others. We fear we’ll fail because we’re not good enough. We fear we’ll lose our relationships, that we’ll be abandoned, that we’ll be rejected … because we’re not good enough. We fear intimacy for the very same reason — we might get rejected because we’re not good enough. Even the fear of success is based on the worry that we’re not good enough.”

Leo goes on to give steps on how to fight this fear and they are great ones so if you get a chance to read the whole article, it would be worthwhile.

After reading this, I started to think about my students. Many of my students had failed so much already that they were so discouraged. I felt that many of them had given up and were either withdrawn or were behavior problems. I also felt that many of them feared failing again – one more time- and they just couldn’t deal with that again. They already felt they weren’t good enough, was told they didn’t study enough, was accused of being lazy etc.

I decided I needed to come up with a strategy to help them overcome this fear. Of course, not one of them would ever admit that they were afraid of anything so I had to make sure I kept the words “fear” and “afraid” out of any conversation. Here are some of the things that I would do.

1. Give them short assignments on their level that they could be successful doing.
2. Once they succeeded, ask them to help others who needed help. (great confidence booster)
3. Keep a close watch so as soon as I read any body language that there was a problem, I swooped in to prompt and encourage so they could get the right answers.
4. As they became successful and more confident, move to a more difficult level (but do it in small steps)
5. If they get the wrong answer, help them discover how to get the right answer. Then ask them to try again and give lots of praise when they arrive at the correct answer.
6. Don’t make such a big deal about making mistakes but make lots of fuss about getting it correct.
7. When they get stuck and refuse to go any further, stop and calmly discuss their feelings with them. Ask them – “What is the worse thing that can happen if you try? So you get the wrong answer. I’m here to help you get it right so don’t worry!” Now is the time to use the “afraid” word – “What are you afraid of?” Usually that will get them annoyed enough to try because they have to prove that they aren’t afraid of anything. Of course I need to stay close by so I can help them be successful.
8. As they achieve more and more success, I can back off and let them work more on their own. Once they feel confident, the mistakes just don’t seem as bad as they did and they will try harder and harder things.

When I mention that I need to help them be successful, I don’t mean that I give them the answers. I might steer them into using the right process or help them figure out how to arrive at the right answer. Many times if there is a process that needs to be followed, I post the steps up in the classroom so we can go over each one as they are completed. Once the students gets used to going through the process with my guidance, they usually can get it on their own.

Patience is the key to my student’s success. Students are very sensitive to any impatient tone of voice or body language that I use and they will shut down. I make it very clear to them that I am there to help them and they need to make me earn my money (I’m not talking about the kid who is too lazy to do their work. I’m talking about the ones who really want to succeed and are frozen with fear. You can usually tell the difference.) They usually appreciate when I say this and let me know they are asking for help, only because they feel they are “helping” me do my job.

Original image: '-17°' by: Camil Tulcan

Friday, April 24, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 4/24/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – The Science Game

Study Tag – thanks to Mr. Byrne who states “Study Tag is a good resource for students to study and develop academic skills independently or collaboratively. Study Tag has a fun, motivating aspect for students, a virtual trophy room. Study Tag is organized by lessons and courses. At the end of each lesson and course students can test their knowledge. High scores are rewarded with online trophies that students can display in their Study Tag "trophy room."

Forces of Nature – “Watch a preview of the giant-screen film, find out where to see it, get wallpapers, view lesson plans, contribute to our Forces of Nature grant fund, and more.”

Reach the World – geogames

Mind 360 – scientific brain training games

Original image: 'With this screwdriver bit set... I can take apart the universe' by: Chris Metcalf

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Traveling Across the US

Some of you know by now that we are on a cross country trip to enjoy the United States because we love to travel. I have found it challenging to keep up with my blog posts on a daily basis between two blogs but so far have not missed a day. Our goal is to see as much as we can before I start teaching grad courses in June. If you are interested (or bored or just feel like torturing yourself) feel free to read my personal blog: The Life of Loonyhiker or see the gazillion pictures on my Flickr account. We have met such interesting people and I have learned so many things on this trip which is more proof that learning is lifelong.

We started out in SC and headed to St. Louis so I could see the arch. Then we ended up in Hutchinson, Kansas so I could visit the Cosmosphere and my virtual friends face to face. We left there and went to Colorado Springs so we could go up to Pike’s Peak but scrapped that when a blizzard hit. We went toward Portland, Oregon along the Columbia River Gorge which was awesome and finally arrived at Seattle where my Council for Exceptional Children’s Conference was held. A week later we were on the road again.

We went to Olympic National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, Mt. Saint Helen’s National Monument while we were in Washington. We also visited an air museum and the Boeing factory near Seattle. When we left Washington, we headed down the coast of Oregon which we truly loved! I was able to meet a digital scrapbooking friend face to face for the first time and it was thrilling to search the tidepools with her and her children. We also found out that a friend of ours was working on his other house along the coast so we were able to stop and visit him. After Oregon we went a little down the coast of California and then headed east to Reno, Nevada. We were actually stalling and waiting for a bad storm to pass through Utah. We stopped in Wendover, UT to see the WWII airfield that was involved with the atomic bomb and then arrived at Great Basin National Park. While there a nice guy talked us into going to Zion National Park next and after that we have arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. We will go through Grand Staircase –Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park this week and hopefully spend a few days at Arches National Park. After that we aren’t sure where we will head to next. It all depends on the weather and our mood!

I would like to head to Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park but we will have to check the roads. I had hoped to see Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands but not sure how the roads will be but I will check as we near the time to go there. If we can’t go there, maybe we will head for Texas.

I hope I haven’t bored you but if you live near any of these places and you are in my PLN, please let me know. I would love to get together for a cup of coffee, soda, drink, dessert etc. so we could meet face to face. It has been so much fun meeting my virtual friends in person!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Carnival of Education 4/22/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Bellringers. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Watch Your Words! is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Earth Day 2009

I recently received this email about an Earth Day event that sounds really interesting. I hope you get a chance to check it out!

"Green Wheels for the Future, Please!," is an online chat taking place next Wednesday, April 22, 2009 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. EST. GM Education has teamed up with Greenopolis to host Dr. Christopher Borroni-Bird, the driving force behind GM’s “Reinvention of the Automobile” program, which includes the Autonomy, Hy-wire, and Sequel concept vehicles, as well as the new P.U.M.A. prototype.Dr. Borroni-Bird will be on hand to answer questions submitted by audience members about the future of transportation.

For more information about the chat, to submit questions in advance or to learn about other alternative fuel resources offered at GM Education, visit:

PLEASE NOTE A CHANGE IN TIMING: The chat will be held on Wednesday, April 22 -- Earth Day -- so please disregard the reference to April 21 on the page.

All are welcome to attend!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Explain Your Answer

Picture drawing a straight line over another straight line. If your line is a little off course and you don’t correct it, it will never match the original line. You need to make your correction at the beginning or the distance between the two lines will only get larger.

I know it is important that our students get the right answer but sometimes it is just as important to know how they arrived at the wrong answer. I tell my students that they will get credit if they can show me how they arrived at the wrong answer. They might have read something in the textbook or their notes that they misunderstood. By explaining to me how they got their answer, I am able to find out their misdirection and correct it. I think too many teachers just mark an answer wrong, give a grade, and move on. If we don’t correct the student’s misunderstanding, this will set them up to go further off course later on down the road.

Sometimes I will find the textbook has some errors and I don’t catch it. Then when I give a test that comes with the textbook and the student gets the wrong answer, either the answer key is wrong or some part of the textbook is incorrect. That is why I ask the students to show me how they got their answer. If there is an error (no matter who’s error it is), it needs to be corrected.

I have always heard that we all learn from our mistakes. But I feel we only learn how not to keep making the same mistakes if we learn why we made them in the first place. Otherwise we will keep making the same ones over and over again.

Errors are not terrors but learning from our mistakes is important in order to be successful in life. I hope my students get this message from me.

Original image: 'Lines and Curves' by: Alfonso

Monday, April 20, 2009

Action Doesn’t Mean Production

I saw a great quote in the article Activity versus productivity in the use of technology in the classroom from Kobus van Wyk by kvanwyk. He used the quote,

“Never confuse activity with productivity. You can be busy without a purpose, but what’s the point? - Rick Warren”

This reminded me of a time when I rode a bicycle on a muddy patch. I was peddling really hard and my wheels were spinning but I was getting nowhere. It also brought back a memory of going to a Mexican restaurant with some friends. After waiting about 30 minutes for our food, we noticed that there were a lot of servers putting lots of chips and salsa on tables but no food was coming out of the kitchen. In both instances there was a lot of activity but very little productivity.

I think this quote applies to administrators, teachers, students, and parents and we need to really take this to heart. So, I decided to write a little note to each.

Dear Administrators –
*Please don’t ask me to fill out reports when you can get the information right off of the computer.
*Please don’t ask me to attend a meeting to get information that could have been shared in an email, a wiki, or a blogpost.
*Please don’t make me in charge of something just to make me feel good.
*Please don’t ask us to do something and then not follow through or provide support so that we just forget about it later.

Dear Teachers –
*Please don’t give worksheets to kids just to keep them busy so you can get other things done (they really know what you are doing).
*Please don’t give them assignments that don’t have any relevance to real life.
*Please don’t give them busy work to do with the substitute because the kids usually don’t do it and it causes behavior problems. (the subs hate this as much as the students.)
*Please don’t go to meetings without sharing ideas/giving input/ sharing the work load and expect to accomplish anything.

Dear Students –
*Please don’t think that cleaning out your book bag shows the teacher that you are really trying to pass the class.
*Please don’t think that by drawing, doodling, writing notes to friends constitutes “doing your work.”
*Please don’t talk about the latest TV shows/movies/gossip in small groups and think that the group work will get done all by itself.

Dear Parents-
*Please don’t write me notes and ask me to work with your child on something specific without checking that your child is also doing what is necessary to meet me halfway.
*Please don’t send a note asking me to contact you and then not give correct contact information or go out of town for 2 weeks.
*Please don’t ask to set up a meeting to discuss your child and then forget about showing up.
*Please don’t come to a meeting to discuss your child and then only speak about your hard day, your other children, your problems and anything else but your child.

I admit that I like to see action but only if it results in production of some sort. I am not a big fan of busy work just for the sake of doing something. This helps in making the classroom a successful environment.

What would you like to put in any of these letters? Feel free to add them in the comments below.

Original image: 'SPLASH!' by: Breno Peck

Friday, April 17, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 4/17/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

State-tris - Statetris is an interesting game mixing aspects of the popular game 'Tetris' and geography. Instead of positioning the typical Tetris blocks, you position states/countries at their proper location.

Learning to Be Healthy – online health science learning site with lesson plans, interactive games, activities, webquests and more

Ediscio – free online flashcard tool

Dr. Saul’s Biology in Motion – “Original, entertaining, interactive biology learning activities”

Celtx – software that you download that lets you “write scripts, storyboard scenes and sequences, develop characters, breakdown & tag elements, schedule production, and prepare detailed and informative production reports for cast and crew.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The View from Jason's Perspective

I came across Jason’s Perspective from reading someone else’s blog and I was intrigued. I found out that he was asking teachers to respond to a few questions so I did. Here is my response to his questions. If you get a chance, you might want to give it a try too. I really enjoyed reading other teacher’s responses and opinions. It is so nice to see someone interested in being a teacher and I feel that as teachers, we need to nurture students like him. If you get a chance, please stop by his blog and read my interview as well as some others who have answered his call for help.

Don’t Hide Behind Excuses!

In R.I.P. Digital Native/Immigrant Tags from TJ on a Journey, TJ states, “
“In the past, I have recommended to teachers that WE ALL are responsible for teaching kids good information and Internet skills. A response I have heard several times, ‘The kids know more that we do anyway.’ No, they don't. They are not afraid of technology and they USE technology, but oddly, we prohibit their familiar tools (like cell phones and social networks) when they get inside the school building.”

I feel, as teachers, it is important for us not to just show students the tools and how to use them, but to be responsible too. When we teach students to drive, we don’t just teach them the basics in order to get them to move a car forward and backwards. We teach them the laws and how to make decisions based on their knowledge. When I took a driver’s education course, we learned how to figure out gas mileage and how to read a map too. When students learn how to drive, do they know great places to go? Do they know about the public library and how to get there? Do they know where some museums are and how to find out about them (directions, hours, cost of admission, exhibit information)? Do they know where the state and national parks are that may be near them? There is so much more we can add to their basic knowledge once they learn how to use a tool.

TJ is right that many students are not afraid of trying new technology and using it the best that they know how. But we can show them how to use it better and more effectively if we take the time to learn it ourselves and share this information with them. We have the knowledge and background to figure this out easier than our students do because we have learned how to learn. We need to teach our students how to learn too.

Many of my students could only read cereal boxes and ads in the paper but I wanted to broaden their knowledge base. I got them to read newspaper articles and form opinions. Some even read super hero comic books and thought that was as good as reading a book. Then I had them read magazine articles that they might be interested in or about a hobby they had. Later we moved to comic book classics and they were amazed that there were other forms of literature out there besides thick and overwhelming books. We eventually moved to young adult novels and critical thinking with their reading. They learned to discuss these books and develop their critical thinking skills even further. I didn’t have the attitude that “the kids knew more than I did anyway so why bother.” I enjoyed watching them grow.

Many students will even try to tell me that they know how to do stuff but it is up to me to tell them they might now how, but I might be able to show them a better or easier way. Students love to find an easier way to do something. Then I also explain that I might learn a few things from them too but this exchange of ideas is as important as learning something.

TJ also states “We are educators...We must not hide behind cliches as excuses. We have studied pedagogy and we must use it to best instruct our students.”

I applaud TJ’s attitude and wholeheartedly agree! It is with this attitude that we will have a successful classroom and push successful students out into the real world!

Original image: 'no excuses' by: Colin

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Carnival of Education 4/15/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Joanne Jacobs. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on The “Assembly Line” Classroom is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Freedom of Speech or Libel?

In the article Appeals court refuses to unmask anonymous donut shop critics, a Dunkin Donuts store owner was suing Independent Newspapers who runs an online forum. Apparently three anonymous commenters made negative statements about Dunkin Donuts and the newspaper refuses to reveal their identities. The newspaper felt this infringed on the commenters First Amendment rights. In the first trial, the newspaper lost and was told to hand over the information so they appealed. Now that decision has been overturned.

I can understand why people would want to remain anonymous. I live in a very small community and if I want to make a comment about a news article, I would rather remain anonymous. I use a username that has nothing to do with my real name. People in my small community can be judgmental and I feel I should have a right to my opinion without worrying about repercussions. Of course I try not to make negative general statements and only make negative ones about a company by explaining exactly what has happened to me. I usually try to follow the rule of “If I don’t have anything nice to say, I don’t say anything at all.” But I believe if I had a bad experience, I would want others to know about it so they don’t have the same experience. That is why I like to read reviews about products, hotels, and other things. I want to know the opinions of people who actually had experience with something I may be interested in buying and the opinions of real people mean more to me than general articles about the product. I have the ability to read the reviews and form my own opinion from what I’ve read. If there are many people who have reviewed an item, I feel I can get a better idea about the product. If all of them say negative things about it, I will steer clear of it. If only one or two out of thirty have had a bad experience, I may feel that they just were unlucky enough to get a bad one. If everyone loved it, I may investigate further.

But if people only can comment if they give their personal information, would we be getting the true picture? We have had anonymous commenters from the Revolutionary War days. How many anonymous pamphlets were distributed to get the colonists ready for action? Where would we be today if they hadn’t done that? How about during the Civil War? Anonymous commenters have helped shaped the United States into what it is today.

When we use a username, the readers don’t know who we are but can read our comments. Usually the owners of the forum get the personal information in case there is something illegal about what you are saying or doing, so we really aren’t anonymous. When we use words like “in my opinion” or “it feels like to me,” how can that be libelous? We have a right to our opinion and our right to freedom of speech.

How do we teach our students this? Do we teach them to use critical thinking when reading opinions? I liked to use the editorial page a lot in my classroom and explain that these are someone’s opinions. I encouraged students to write a response to this opinion. This is a great lesson in persuasive writing and using facts to back up our opinions. Sometimes I would break students up into two groups and have one group write a response in favor of the editorial and the other group would write a response against the editorial.

We look at reviews on common products that they like to buy. Then they learn how to critically analyze the reviews and decide what makes some more valid than others. They also look at how they can use reviews to make a decision about buying certain products.

Next we learn about how to make appropriate comments on forums. What is appropriate language to use? How do we back up our statements? This is a great time to talk about the law and libel. This is a great opportunity to talk to students about leaving anonymous comments and the repercussions to doing this. Students need to learn this skill in order to be more successful in reading the newspaper and forming their own opinions. Do you have any suggestions for teaching critical thinking with editorials? If so, please share them!

Original image: 'Brown paper bag anon'

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Watch Your Words!

I recently read an article in the newspaper titled Proposed 'tofu' license plate deemed obscene which talks about how the highway department refused to give a lady this vanity plate because she loves tofu and wanted the plate to say ILVTOFU. Their excuse was "We don't allow 'FU' because some people could read that as street language for sex."

Are we beginning to censor things too much? I admit that when I hear young people around me using profanity as common language, it makes me cringe. Who determines what is profane and what isn’t? So much street language now can mean so many different things.

I remember when “bad” actually meant bad and not good, but only when it is used in certain situations. My students used to really have a hard time when we read books that said someone was happy by using the word “gay”. And if the word “breast” was in a story, the boys practically fell out of their chairs.

I attended Furman University to get my degree in teaching and at football games, the President of the university would get up in front of the stands and yell, “FU one time, FU two times, FU three times, FU alllllllllllllll the time!” Would he banned today from doing that?

What about words that people use for different body parts but are innocuous if used in other ways? I used to allow my students to use the word “butt” in my room rather than the other alternative but they would tell me that they got a detention from another teacher for using it in that classroom. I explained to them that some teachers had different feelings about words that offended them and this was a lesson in real life. When they got out into the real world, they needed to watch their language closely.

But when we start reading too much into this and trying to stop people from using words that might offend someone, aren’t we becoming too controlling? Are we overreacting? If we start banning words, what words will we have left? Will we have to describe something rather than using the actual word? And what if one of the words in the description is considered profane? My students had a hard enough time with expressing themselves appropriately but I hate to think of what will happen if we start trying to censor all of their words.

What do you think? Should this vanity plate be allowed? What message does this give to our students?

Original image: 'Cheesecake' John Abell

Monday, April 13, 2009

20 Blogs to Read When You Start Teaching (or Beyond)

Recently Joel added me to his list of “20 Blogs I Wish Were Around When I Started Teaching” on So You Want To Teach? Please stop by there and check out this post! I loved seeing some new blogs that I haven’t read yet and I was glad to see some of the ones that I do read already on his list. He also has lots of good stuff to read and it is easy and fun to read to so check out his blog! Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 4/10/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

Teach Green - where educators share their tips and inspirations for teaching lessons about the environment.

FlashcardDB - easy to create, study and share flashcards online. You can use two different methods to study the flashcards.

Learn to Be Healthy – online health site with lesson plans, games, activities, webquests for teachers

Ideas to Inspire – “is a collection of collaborative presentations, which offer a large number of ideas for engaging lesson activities.”

Science Fair Projects Resources - “free science fair project ideas, answers, and tools to teachers, parents, and students from all walks of life.”

Original image: 'Tools' by: Josep Mª Rosell

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The “Assembly Line” Classroom

Recently I took a tour of the Boeing Plant in Everett, WA and I highly recommend it if you are anywhere near there. It cost $15 per person and we actually saw them making the planes. I noticed things they did for different products. Some of the planes were put on moving machines and as they were ready for the next phase in production, the whole plane moved to the next stage. At each stage, certain parts were put on and then they moved to the next area where another group of people did their job. After seeing a movie about the history of building planes, it was funny to see that when they first started, people used to have to move the parts. It took a lot of men to move the wing in order to attach it to the plane.

Now I’m sure you are wondering why I’m mentioning all this but after seeing the assembly line that planes go through, I began to think of the assembly lines our students go through. In each grade, we put another little part on our students and move them on their way the next year. Each year we add more pieces until we think they are completely “built” at the end of 12th grade and expect them to be totally successful, just like sending a plane off the factory line. I don’t believe we can treat our students this way and expect them to be successful in the real world. We need to look at the whole student and their individual needs and interests in order to plan the appropriate instruction. The education system expects that all students are made the same way and need the same parts, which are all added the same way. Then it hopes to get the same exact product at the end of 12 years. It doesn’t work that way! Our classrooms should not just be assembly lines. We should be looking at the whole student and not just the parts.

I also saw that office work stations were right there next to the plane. The tour guide told me that all of the people involved with that project worked right there instead of going back to far away offices. Then if there was a concern, it was easy to go up to that person and say, “hey, I need for us to look at this” and they both could walk right up to the plane and check it out.

Do we have all the people involved with our students available if there is a concern? I had a new student in my special ed class who was waiting to go through the hoops for testing and it took a year to officially state that he was wrongly placed. Of course we knew this within the first month but the red tape we had to follow was “more important” than the needs of the student. The appointments with a vision specialist and audiologist kept being put off because the parent had trouble getting a Medicaid card (which for some reason took months). Then the social worker had trouble arranging time to take the parent and student to the appropriate doctors. Then we had to wait to get appointments with an eye doctor and ear nose and throat doctor. Of course when we finally had time to do testing, and arrange a meeting to discuss the results, it was the end of the year. Meanwhile this student was extremely frustrated with school, had major behavior outbursts resulting in suspensions, had no peer relationships, and was just plain miserable the entire year!

On the tour, I then learned that these planes are tested by the Boeing pilots and then the customer sends their pilots for training and inspecting the planes. Both parties have to be satisfied with the performance of the plane before the sale is complete.

Do we do that with our students? Should we do that with our students? Do we make sure that our students will be able to perform the job an employer wants? Do we invite employers in to see our “product” and make adjustments, modifications, corrections if necessary? It’s a changing world out there and businesses are doing things differently. If we continue to teach in the same “assembly line” frame of mind, are we not doing our students an injustice? Are we really preparing them for being successful in today’s world?

Please let me know what you think and what suggestions you might have!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Carnival of Education 4/8/09

The Carnival of Education #214: The Day To End All Days is up on So You Want To Teach? . Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Teaching Students to Ask the Right Questions is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Photo credit: Payasos de colores - Guanajuato México 2008 5615 by Lucy Nieto

The Evil Monster Called Burn Out

In Burnout: Trickle or Flood? from Cruel Shoes by eplybon, Elaine gives three steps to avoid burnout. They are:
“Take a break… I mean a mental break. Give yourself a few minutes each day to have a rest from the job. During this time, focus on something that is not school-related.

Change your thinking...Anytime you find thoughts creeping into your head that are negative about the job and the kids, recognize it. Turn it around - try to focus on the positives. If you can’t find positives, try to figure out why you feel the way you do. What one thing made that thought come into your head? Is it something that can be fixed/changed?

Never stop. The teaching profession demands that reflection and renewal be continuous."

I thought these were great suggestions. During this time of year (testing, IEPs, last 9 weeks of school, term papers, possible student failures for the year, graduation, contract renewals, etc.) the stress is piled on. I wanted to add a few more suggestions to the ones mentioned.

Exercise. This is a great way to relieve stress. It gets those endorphins going to fight any negative healthy thingys attacking your body. When you are under stress, you will find yourself feeling sicker more often. I believe that is one way your body is saying, “Hey, I need a break from all this stress!” I don’t mean you have to join a gym, but maybe schedule a walk every other day. I had a friend that would walk during her lunch break. Sometimes a friend would join her and they would have a chance to visit and catch up on things.

Get energized by other teachers. Ask the students what teacher they like best and why (they will be brutally honest!). Pick one (or more) and ask them if you could observe them and tell them that they were recommended by the students. They will feel honored and it will make you feel good too. Then when you observe them, notice strategies they do that are effective in their class and that you might use in your class.

Take a 30 minute break in your lessons for a heart to heart talk with the students. I’ve stopped in the middle of the unit and told the students that we just needed some time to talk. I mentioned that I was feeling stressed out lately and asked them if they were feeling stress. Usually that got the ball rolling and it amazed me about some of the things they were going through. Or talk about any topic you want. The kids actually love the attention and if you really listen to them, they will respect you even more.

Do something positive for others. This really helps too. I started writing happy notes on post-it notes for different students. I would praise them for doing something right the day before and leave it on their desks when they arrived. The smiles on their faces were worth it and it made the others hopeful that they would get one soon. If you do this, make sure you don’t just do the same ones over and over. Surely you can find one thing about every student to praise. Make sure it is sincere (or they will see right through you and it won’t mean anything). I only did about 5 each week so it didn’t overwhelm me and make this a chore. By doing this, I felt I was doing something that could make a difference in someone’s day.

I really like the thought of reflecting. Keep a journal, write a blog, or even record an audio about your day. Tell about the things that went great or didn’t, how you felt about them and what you would do differently. This may help you put things in perspective or at least get it off your chest. I always worried that other people wouldn’t understand so by doing this, it didn’t involve others and I could learn so much from myself.

I hope you find something in these suggestions to help you ward off the evil monster called Burn Out. I guess I used them pretty often because I taught Special Ed for almost 30 years. I hope you will try some of these and that you are successful in managing your stress levels. If you have any other suggestions, please share it with me!

Original image: 'Ignition ...' by: David Tomic

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Using Your Imagination

In Is that a hat? from 21st C Literacy Ave Home by vanhookc, the author states: “This is how creative thinking works. When one looks at things freely and imaginatively, no telling what can be created. So seeing a brown hat, in many shades of brown, with a grey band makes a fun thought. Or could there be a hint of another hat within. What was an ugly rock in the road is now something much more beautiful and worth pondering…Creative classroom activities work in the same manner. Imagination within study and play is stimulating and brings forth success, new ideas, and perhaps even a hope for a better world.”

I remember when I first started teaching; I used a lot more imaginative strategies back then than I do now. For awhile there was a giant push to get away from encouraging students to use their imagination. I work in a very conservative state where many believed that using the imagination was wrong.

When I was growing up we used our imagination a lot with huge refrigerator or washing machine boxes. We made buildings and created towns so we used our imagination tremendously without spending any money. I had a basic Lego set that I created my own things and there were no directions or pictures to build something specific. One day I could create cars with special powers or furniture for a miniature house. Things could be whatever I wanted it to be. An old discarded rug could be a magic carpet that could take you anywhere your mind wanted to go. We used to dress up and pretend to be lots of different characters and really developed social skills.

Now it seems like children watch a lot of TV and lots of toys are marketed on these TV shows that children watch. Lego now come in sets that build something specific. I don’t see a lot of teachers encouraging students to use their imaginations because they are so concerned with increasing test scores. Students are taught to make certain things or expected to arrive at certain outcomes.

I feel that developing a child’s imagination will help problem solving as well as critical thinking skills. Successful students are the ones who know how to think outside the box. I think this will also build collaborative skills among the students. Here are some suggestions to encourage students to use their imagination. Students could write, draw pictures, or make a video of any of their answers.

1. If you had a magic carpet, tell where you would go and why.
2. If you could be any occupation (fireman, teacher, astronaut, etc.), what would you be and why?
3. Give students a group of objects and tell them to create something new. Then present it to the class and tell what its function is.
4. If students could have any super power, what would it be? What could they do?
5. If you had a billion dollars, what would you do with it?
6. If you were President of the US (or head of whatever country you live in), what would you want to do to help the country?
7. If you were stranded on an island with no electric power, what 10 things would you want to have stranded with you and why?
8. If you could be any animal, what would you want to be and why?

Do you feel that imagination is important in the classroom? If so, what kinds of things do you do in the classroom to stimulate a student’s imagination?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yes I Can Awards 2009

Every year at the Council for Exceptional Children conference, we have the Yes I Can Awards. It is one of my favorite events of the conference because it is a chance to honor the students who, despite their challenges, have made a difference in their lives and others. They are awarded in the categories of Academics, Arts, Athletics, Community Service, Employment, Extracurricular Activities, Independent Living Skills, Self Advocacy, and Technology. What a thrill it was to see these students on stage being recognized for good things in their lives! Their parents/guardians were also there to share in this fantastic moment of their lives and many of them probably didn’t ever expect of this to happen for their child. The audience was packed with people who wanted to share this celebration with the students and every year I bring along the tissues because I know I’m going to cry. Danny O'Flaherty, the Celtic Balladeer was there to sing for us again and he is one of my favorite singers. He sang the Yes I Can song that really says it all for not just these students but I think it applies to all students. One young lady with autism was given the award but the applause was too much for her so she threw her hands over her ears. Immediately the crowd stopped and put their hands over their heads and wiggled their fingers instead. Her hands came down from her ears and her face broadened with a huge smile as she walked back to her seat. What an awesome day for these amazing young people! You can go to the website to see the names of the winners.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 4/3/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

World of Teaching – a collection of PowerPoints on all different subjects already made that you can use in the classroom.

50 Online Reference Sites for Teachers - great assortment of reference sites

Ideas to Inspire – “is a collection of Google Docs presentations, which offer a large number of ideas for engaging lesson activities in a range of curriculum areas.The presentations are a collaboration between lots of fantastic teachers around the world.”

Pixton – “create your own comics; no drawing necessary”

Dear Daddy: the farm letters – “In her 80s, Martha Linsley bought a small typewriter from Montgomery Ward, taught herself to type, and began to transcribe the hundreds of letters she, her children, and her husband James wrote to one another from June, 1932 to August, 1934. Their correspondence may very well comprise the most extensive written insight into the day-to-day lives of a family dealing with the challenges of the Great Depression. “

Original image: 'Tooled Flatty'

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Carnival of Education 04/01/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Rayray’s Writing. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Do It Or Else! is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Original image: 'Paradise Pier at Sunset, Disney's California Adventure Park' by: Michael Huey

Teaching Students to Ask the Right Questions

After reading Classroom Habitudes Lesson: Curiosity - The Right Question from Angela Maiers Educational Services by Angela Maiers, I started to think about how we teach our students to ask questions. Angela states,

“The ability to ask the right kind of question, at the right time is the hallmark of a truly efficient and successful learner. Like drivers in a car, the right question can plow the road ahead or leave us stuck in a ditch along the side of the highway…I want students to see that each type of question is a tool in their thinking toolbox. A variety of “tools” may be needed to complete a project, and those tools must be chosen carefully.”

She is so right when she talks about teaching our students how to question. I remember growing up and in my home, I was taught that it was wrong to question and that a good student does what she is told, when she is told to do it. I’ve been teased as I grew up that I talked too much (and maybe I still do but no one teases me about it any more). This teasing made me stop asking questions so much.

As a teacher, I wonder if I discouraged my students from asking questions in this way. A lot of times, I would tell my students to be quiet or hate getting interrupted in a great lesson because of all of the questions. Sometimes I felt like the students weren’t paying attention and would ask questions that I just finished explaining. Or I would ask them to wait until I was finished, and then they would forget the question. Sometimes my attitude (unconsciously) would discourage the students from asking because they are afraid it would make me mad. This is one more example where I needed to change my behavior in order to teach the students a new skill.

I would start the lesson by telling the students I would explain it and then take questions when I finished. By reassuring the students that I will answer questions later, they can focus more on the explanation. If they had a question, they needed to write it down so they would remember it. I also tell them that they need to listen closely in case I answer that question later in my explanation. When I’m done explaining what I want them to do, I review the steps. Then I tell the students to raise their hands whenever I get to a step they don’t understand. I also teach them how to phrase a question for clarification so it doesn’t come out like they weren’t listening to me at all. When they ask a question that seems like they weren’t paying attention, sometimes other students make mean remarks or their body language show their negative attitudes, and this discourages some students from asking questions. I explain to the class how I perceive this and that we will not do that when someone asks a question because we want to help each other understand and be successful.

When I have a speaker coming to my class, I prepare the class before the speaker comes. We actually talk about the questions that we will ask. First I let the students brainstorm about what information they would like to learn from the speaker. We write a list on the board with this information. Then beside each one, we write the question that we would ask in order to find out this information. I also explain that we need to listen to the speaker in case he answers some of these questions before we ask them. Then, we wouldn’t want to ask the question because it would show we weren’t paying attention. If we aren’t sure that we heard the answer right, we could phrase the question a different way in order to clarify what we heard.

I also encourage my students to write questions down when they think of it as the speaker is talking. Sometimes you don’t want to interrupt the speaker or another question is being answered so by the time the speaker gets to you, you forget what you wanted to ask. This also helps you focus on the discussion rather than trying to remember what you want to ask.

When focusing on the right questions, it enables the speaker to give the information the students need or want. By not asking the right questions, I think it leaves the students feeling like they missed something. I feel that by preparing the students ahead of time, and giving them lots of practice, they will eventually know how to come up with the right questions on their own. Once they learn how to question, they will be more successful in gaining information and gathering knowledge.

Do you teach questioning skills and if so, what do you do?

Original image: 'Questions' by: Tim O'Brien

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Is it alright to be a technologically illiterate teacher?

I recently read Learning from the Met: Teachers as Digital Learners from The Tempered Radical by Bam Bam Bigelow. Here are some things that stood out to me (but you can get more if you read the original article). My thoughts are in italics below each item.

1. "Every year, MetLife churns out an impressive report titled Survey of the American Teacher. Based on one-to-one interviews with 1,000 classroom teachers, 1,000 students and 500 principals, this year's survey---released yesterday and available online here---"documents current attitudes, examines trends and considers future implications" influencing teaching and learning in the American classroom… "

This was a very interesting survey so if you get a chance to read it, please do and notice the trends that are noticeable.

2." The results of the survey, however, were not terribly surprising: Teachers just plain haven't embraced digital forums for personal growth. "

I think teachers are cautious and have seen too many fad programs out there. I think sometimes many feel this digital world is just another fad that will disappear over time. Unfortunately I think they are wrong because I don’t feel this is going to go away. And the longer we stick out heads in the sand and ignore this new world, the further disconnected we will get.

3. "While I can understand the conflict that American teachers feel about these tools----we talk about how important it is to find ways to learn with technology while districts ban any kind of communication between teachers and students in social networking forums and suspend teachers for poor judgment in their personal communication----these kinds of trends should concern everyone who cares about education. "

Teachers should be encouraged to explore these tools and figure out ways to teach our students digital citizenship. By learning how to use the tools and ways it can improve our lives, we can help the students use them responsibly too. I believe that when the automobile first came out, that society frowned on the use of them when young people used them irresponsibly. Then eventually we started to teach our young people how to drive responsibly (Driver’s Education classes came about). The automobile wasn’t going to go away and neither is technology.

4. "Here's why: Because our students have embraced digital forums: I've always been taught that responsible educators try to tailor learning experiences that align with the interests and motivations of their audiences simply because increased levels of motivation most often result in increased levels of learning. If that's true, then digital forums for communication and growth simply must begin to find a home in the American classroom."

When educators refuse to learn digital forums for communication and growth, it is like showing up at school today with a horse and buggy because you refuse to learn how to drive. The world is constantly changing and educators need to be able to look at the big picture and see the changes that are coming. We need to be the “go to” people for our students and not the “left behind” people.

5. He then goes on to ask, “Is it alright to be a technologically illiterate teacher?”

Absolutely not. I think that teachers need to take the initiative in learning more about technology. I know teachers have heard about blogs and things like Twitter since it is all in the news. If they don’t know what these are, they need to find out about them and see how they can use them. I read blogs daily in order to stay current on education topics and learn about other tools that are out there for the classroom. By reading blogs, I get inspired and motivated to try new things. By joining Twitter, and Plurk, I have developed a Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN) that offers support and encouragement when I need it. I have been able to bounce ideas off of others immediately and get feedback on these ideas. I have grown so much professionally by being around other educators and learning from them. As an educator, we need to constantly grow professionally so we don’t become stagnant. It is not acceptable to be technologically illiterate anymore. I feel it is also impossible to be this way and still be a successful teacher.

Original image: 'Students working on class assignment in computer lab' by: Michael Surran