Thursday, December 15, 2011

ASCD Gets it Right!

Educational Leadership, the journal for ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), always seems to have "on target" articles and information.  This month is no different.  The Dec. 2011/Jan. 2012 issue is packed with expertise.  I wonder who is listening.  This is one organization worth joining for the monthly information, the journal, and books sent out several times a year.  This issue ties several issues of budgets, public schools using the corporate reform movement, oportunities, thinking outside the box, parent opinions, and teacher quality.  It's like being back in grad school with bright minds pushing for answers and talking through the issues schools face.  Questions are raised and cases are presented of school success. There are many professional organizations.  This one keeps you tuned to the current issues and keeps the dialog up to date, while helping you to understand issues and stay in the fight for good public education.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Respect

Educational Leadership, the journal of ASCD (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) has a great article by Marie-Nathalie  Beaudoin about school respect in its September 2011 issue (pages 40-44).  This goes into school culture and shares how the staff needs and wants are passed on to students.  If the teachers "are stressed, unhappy, and unsupported by their peers" they "are more inclined to treat their students with disrespect."  The good news is there are many articles in this issue with starting points, ideas for improvement and pathways to respectful school climates and communities.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Web Tools for 2011-12

Last year, I introduced Google Apps for Education to my 2nd - 5th graders.  They enjoyed working on the cloud and especially loved making webpages.  Also last year I introduced Glogster.edu to our 4th graders (paid for that one).  I'm continuing with those two this year, but adding in voki classroom.  For just under $30 you can get 200 logins - voki uses an avatar that students create and then allows either voice  uploads or typed script (with a choice of voice accents).  Students create these on all curriculum topics and share or post online.  We're also using a new Edmodo our school system provides to offer another web tool for students to have input for a classroom.  The 3rd-5th graders login to the 3rd grade lab or the 4th-5th grade lab.  They had two assignments.  One is to learn to make a quick post in response to a teacher request and the other is to vote in a poll.  This webtool has the look of Facebook, but does not allow students to post to each other, only as a response to a teacher.  Then the post is reviewed by the teacher before it is seen.

I use a wiki for my lesson plans and posting student work or links to their work.  Here's to a great year using web tools with students!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July - New School Year

Thinking about the new school year that begins on Aug. 17.  I've spent a wonderful month off fostering two dogs, one that had foot surgery.  Also done a lot of house cleaning and removing and remodeling.  But thoughts of the new school year are creeping in!

Two ideas helped me a lot last year and one was having a class wiki.  It allowed me to post my plans online, post student work samples, with permission, and explore ideas while teaching over 650 students.  This easy to edit wiki (you can get a free one at http://pbworks.com ) allows editing anywhere.  You can choose to allow comments, keep a private wiki, or a public, interactive wiki, or a public, invite only interactive wiki.

Another great idea that helped me teach and was easy for students to access was using a school level Google Apps for Education.  We had some ethernet issues, and often had 8 computers that would not load the student home folder from the school server, so using Google Apps allowed these students to do genuine work and continue with everyone else in the class.  Students only have 40 minutes per week in my class, so our time is valuable.  We use the docs (presentations, spreadsheets, too), video, and the students absolutely love the webpages or "sites."  Who wouldn't rather create a webpage than write a report?

Two other good experiences last year were using Glogster (the edu version) with 4th graders and a Voicethread project with a school in Australia.

The wiki was free (but you can upgrade for a fee), Google Apps for Ed was free (only a charge for the online domain name), Glogster.edu offers reduced rates for classrooms, Voicethread also has a free version (but limited in the amount of threads) and a paid upgrade.  Many other web 2.0 tools are available with free versions and paid upgrades.  These tools are helpful in introducing ways to share information rather than writing the standard report.  These tools show students that many options are available and can be chosen to present information.  This goes hand in hand with information gathering and sharing in the classroom, adding to interest and thinking skills in figuring out how to use these applications.  Allowing students to collaborate with each others locally and at a distance, offers more opportunities to think, reason, and express themselves while working with others.  Our 3rd graders participated in a project through icollaboratory.org and enjoyed the experience.

Edtech offers many opportunities to our students and using them helps our students listen to others, hear other points of view, work in collaborative projects, share individual work, and many more.  Don't be afraid to try web tools.  Get a permission slip from the parents of each student; give the rules for use and misuse; be positive in sharing, and start with one tool at a time.  Use it with a small group, extend it to the whole class, share your success on a wiki, and try another new tool.  Ask for feedback from students and families about using the tools.  It is amazing!

Woohoo - another school year is coming!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What is a good principal?

Last week, Edutopia posted an article by Maurice Elias titled "The Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader."  It's a good article with links to other writers and their ideas of what makes a good leader, a good principal.  The seven characteristics given by Elias are attributed to Sargent Shriver.
  1. A sense of purpose
  2. Justice
  3. Temperance
  4. Respect
  5. Empowerment
  6. Courage
  7. Deep Commitment
There were two other good reads there - "How to Give Your School Leader a Grade" and "Ten Big Ideas of School Leadership" - Join and get email "heads-up" on many relevant topics. Worth reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Ideas

One of the best ideas for my classroom this school year is using a class wiki. As soon as I heard I was probably going back to the classroom, I created a pbwiki for my class. It is free and allows for so many different applications.  I use pbworks (formerly pbwiki).  It is easy to add a page for different topics and activities and easy to embed movies, and student projects.  It has also become my virtual plan book.  I post K-5 plans with state goals each week.  Parents and staff can see what the children are doing each week (and in advance).  My class site is named with my last name and the word "class," helping to make it unique in addressing and in remembering the page address.  There are links to projects, links for students to have easy access, and links to use with movies and web searches.

As the grade levels approach activities, and web searches, I can simply add a great link to a project page and it makes it easier for all of the students to locate. I believe it has improved the students' tech vocabulary, too, as they work and share their final products.  I have learned as much as the students this year and am enjoying this total collaboration with student learners.  The 3rd-5th graders enjoyed learning about web 2.0 tools and shared some tools that they use or that they see their parents using (wikis, blogs, flickr, delicious, twitter, skype, and google apps).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Challenge: Why do you teach?

For me, this is a choice. Something I do and give back to my community.  Every year is different, new students, new challenges, new problems to solve, new students to engage, and the yearly cycle begins again.  This had been an extremely difficult year.  Many sweeping changes - having programs I started that evolved over 13 years, winning state and national awards - dropped.  OK, move on.  Then some segments of the political arena decided to blame teachers for the economic problems of our country. What?

This year of change brought me back to the continuing cycle of why do I teach and why connecting to students is so important.  I've been told by administrators that I'm a "natural" teacher.  It's my own quiet way to speak out to the world of children.  For 28 years I jumped out of bed, continued with home duties (in the past included raising two sons), and raced off to school - where I felt at home, too.  Welcoming children into my class, hosting a friendly environment of surprise, challenge, and imagination, helping students make progress in their learning, all of this was so much fun I couldn't believe I was getting paid for it, but like so many teachers, spending such a large amount of my paycheck - more than a tithe - seemed like the "right thing to do."  That is part of why this is so important - having a positive outlook, sharing the good parts of learning, schooling, community, and country with students was always such a pleasure.  Encouraging, pushing to work harder, making choices, so many ways to engage a student and bring them into success.  (And, yes, God; but when those questions come up, I ask my students to talk to their parents or their Sunday school teacher or someone at their church.)  I believe in the constitution and the separation of church and state - this is definitely the parent's job.

This year I teach about 650 students in the computer lab.  In elementary school, the "specialists" are teachers who give planning time to regular classroom teachers. So all students have the same, equal time, attention spans or content are not at issue.  Technology is fun to teach, and it is always different.  But, like any good teaching, you have to bring yourself to it - teaching doesn't happen just because you are in the room.  Students have so many reasons, and many good ones, to tune out a teacher.  What happened at home, on the bus, was there a fight with a sibling, was there time for breakfast, did mom or dad loose a job, is someone ill, is the family intact?  These problems and more enter classrooms every day.  Teachers deal with these problems, too, at home,  then off to work like many other parents, trusting their most precious to a classroom teacher and specialist.  For me, teaching in a classroom was easy - 24-28 students (teaching grades 1, 2, or 3).  With one set of students all day long, you knew them and they knew you.  With 150 different students every day, it is tough knowing their names, much less the meanings of their faces, eyes, and personalities.  The subject is easy, knowing the students is not.  I think the most important ingredient in the teacher is the personal contact, the engagement of a person in another person's success.  Knowledge of the curriculum is second.  The good teacher is a cheerleader for each and every student and likes every single one of them.

I've had after school (volunteer) Math Club for my students, sponsored Odyssey of the Mind, Computer Club, and Quest Atlantis (great software) Club.  Now towards the end of my career, I find that teachers are not respected, not appreciated, and blamed for the economy - that is, according to news media and political pundits.  I just don't believe it.  Like the email that goes around and around, I'm a teacher!  I make children work hard, teach them ways to solve problems, think for themselves, get along with others, share, demonstrate examples of good character, and have high expectations for all of my students.  So, for the finger pointers, media talking heads, and anyone else - I help children experience learning in positive ways (the good things in life) and deal with the tough parts of life at the same time.  I love each child that comes in the door and help them to explore their talents while learning good character and I love my job.  These days, I have the children of students I taught in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade, and even some from teaching the K-5 computer lab - it is interesting to see the faces appear; I ask, "Is you ___ (insert mom or dad) named ___ (insert name from former student).  This brings evidence to the nature nurture debate - behaviors, looks, characteristics, amazingly the same, and different, too!

So, this year, number 29 for me, is different, too.  I'm a grandma now; started teaching in my 30's instead of my 20's; 3 degrees and a certificate later, I still love teaching, students, and the cycles of learning.  Amazing technology to share with students, good, positive tasks to build and master; many students to greet and help grow; choosing ways to engage students in curriculum activities that include sharing with others (we can all help others learn).

To answer my question - Why are you a teacher? - Because it is part of who I am; I'm curious, love to learn new things, love to see things from a different angle, love the excitement of learning something new and sharing it with someone, and love to make that positive connection to a child.

Why are you a teacher?

 -- Please respond with your reasons for teaching and tweet the website or reply to this post.