Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"3 in 3"- Three Things

That would be 3 "memes" in 3 days. I saw this one at Vicki Davis's CoolCatTeacher blog. I wasn't "tagged" for this, but I love the question: "What 3 things do you believe about ALL students?"  I skimmed over what Vicki wrote but decided to write mine first, before reading what anyone else wrote. I don't want to be influenced as I ponder this important question:
What 3 things do you believe about ALL students?

1. I believe that all students want to feel successful. 
I believe that our students do want to learn, and they want to be good at it. They want their efforts to be recognized. I think that part of the problem with schools today is that with the honing in on academics and standardized testing, we have taken away some of the avenues our students have to succeed. Some students will be most successful at sports, some at academics, some at art, some at music. If we give everyone the opportunity to find their thing, to experience their success, I think that the other things, the things that don't come as easily, won't be so frustrating or daunting. In other words, I think that by taking away art and music and PE in favor of more and more academics, we are actually having the opposite effect we desire. 
2. I believe that all students have something to teach.
Everyone has something to teach and something to learn. I can (and must) learn from anyone- the youngest student, the most difficult personality.  Everyone contributes something unique to the group.
3. I believe that all students want to be treated with respect.
This isn't really that different from #1 and #2. If we keep in mind that students want to do well and have something special to contribute to the group, that goes a long way toward creating an environment of mutual respect. 

I hope you will answer the question on your own blog. What 3 things do you believe about all students?

Another Meme- Nearest Book

This one's fast. I saw it on Langwitches. It is called the Nearest Book Meme. I am the queen of both reading and random, so it appealed to me. 

The Rules:
•Get the book nearest to you. Right now.
•Go to page 56.
•Find the 5th sentence.
•Write this sentence - either here or on your blog.
•Copy these instructions as commentary of your sentence.
•Don't look for your favorite book or your coolest, but really the nearest book.

The closest book is the fiction I'm currently reading, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. I hope the 5th sentence of pg. 56 is appropriate for my blog. Let's see--ok, counting from the first complete sentence on the page, here is #5:

Approaching each other, him from the gym, me from the library---this was when I walked down the aisle and he was waiting, this was when we made love, it was every anniversary, every reunion in an airport or train station, every reconciliation after a quarrel.
That's it. Pretty random. Your turn.


Monday, December 1, 2008

The Wordle Meme

I've been double tagged for the wordle meme by Silvia Tolisano and Terry Shay
1. Create a wordle from your blog's RSS feed. 
2. Blog it and describe your reaction. Any surprises?
3. Tag others to do the same. 
4. Link back here and to where you were first tagged. 

I tried changing my settings, as described by Ann Oro in order to access more posts in my wordle, but the wordle was the same before and after changing settings. It draws from my most recent posts only.  According to Silvia, that is okay because you can do wordles over time and document your "Zeitgeist" or spirit of the times. In fact, she has added to the meme:
5. Create different Wordles of your blog's RSS over a period of time. Do it once a month for the next year. 
Without further ado, here is my blog's wordle, my Zeitgeist for Fall 2008-
What do I see? Students, front and center, loud and clear. Yup! 
I don't like the fact that SCHOOL figures more prominently than LEARNING. 
Think, teachers, kids, groups, technology, project, create- no surprises there. 
Election, survey, political, issues- these words help illustrate the spirit of the times this fall.

Silvia also adds a #6. Share other uses (at least one) you have found for wordle (for your students or personally) to your blog post. 
I've been working on an application, and I decided to wordle a few of my answers to the questions. I think it is interesting to see what words you might be overusing in written proposals, grants, etc. and to make sure that the words that figure most prominently are representative of the ideas you are trying to express. This could be used in the teaching of writing as well, as a fun, new way to "see" your writing.

The hardest part of the memes for me is the tagging. If I tag you, I hope you want to be tagged. If I don't tag you and you DO want to be tagged, please consider yourself tagged!
Tagging--

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Actions speak.

I know I've not been a very active participant in the edublogosphere of late. Life takes over sometimes. We edubloggers write a lot about how schools must change, shift, engage, integrate technology, project-based learning, 21st century literacy, authentic learning....
I don't think I've read too much, though, on the teacher blogs I frequent, about the other things that our schools are modeling.  I'm thinking about the way we live. 

Here's what's on my mind:
•We teach about Earth Day and "REDUCE*REUSE*RECYCLE" while we go through more copy paper than ever. My particular school is selling reusable bags as a fundraiser. We claim that we're "going green" but we don't even recycle at the school. The student council has vowed to take this on as their project this year, as we have to hire a private company in order to get our recyclables picked up. My fingers are crossed. It would be a step in the right direction.
•We just observed "Red Ribbon Day" where students are taught to SAY NO TO DRUGS, and yet the ranks of students on ritalin or adderall increase daily. I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here. We Americans do not like anyone questioning our pharmaceuticals. We had a doctor come speak to our faculty last year about how these ADHD drugs are saving children. It's all very compelling. What no one can answer for me is this- Why do so many children now seem to "need" drugs in order to succeed in school? I've been disturbed by this for quite a while now, and I feel alone in my concerns. I happen to work at a school that, as a private school, does not have to find ways to adapt to the needs of students. Either the students adapt (often through altering brain chemistry) or find another school. 
This has now gotten personal for me, as my 4 year old, pre-K son, is showing signs of impulsive behavior, inability to conform to the group. The pressure has been tremendous. For years now, I've been pushed to "take him to a doctor to be evaluated." I already know that he will be diagnosed with ADHD (I've seen the checklists they use, and he meets plenty of the criteria). The doctor who spoke to our faculty, when asked about alternatives to drugs, told us that she's seen all the alternatives tried and nothing works. Only drugs. Miracle drugs. 
Which brings me to my next point-
•We "teach" students about the human body and good nutrition. We reward them with sweet treats and junk food. Our school lunches are salty, cheesy, fatty, junky. Our school serves ice cream on Fridays, and it's not even real ice cream (that would be too expensive.) My son's preschool complains about his impulsive behavior, yet for snack they serve doughnuts, saltine crackers, graham crackers, junk. He often gets a piece of candy for cleaning up. Their "cooking projects" often involve sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, etc. They did start a weekly fruit basket where parents donate fruit for snack each week (as it is too expensive for the school to provide on a regular basis) and for this I am very grateful. 
What's gone wrong here?
I am not blaming. I think we are all at fault. It's really hard, as a parent, to take a stand. I'm guilty, too. Our society wants the quick fix.

I'm really concerned, not just with HOW we're teaching our children, but with WHAT we are teaching them by the way we live.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Facing the Challenges of Learning New Ways

I've been working on a very important speech. It's been keeping me up at night. I've been thinking about it in the car. And while running. Even in the shower. 
No, I'm not presenting at an EdTech conference. Nor am I addressing the PTA. 
The words for which I am searching are to be spoken to none other than a very small (12 students) but challenging 5th grade class. 

I have had challenging classes before, and I can only hope that I have continued to grow and learn as a teacher. Funny how that doesn't really make it any easier. 
This isn't even "my" class.  
Here's the situation: As I mentioned previously, I am working with the 5th grade class on the Meet the Candidates webquest. The kids are required to work together in small groups to create a political ad. There's a high level of interest in the project. They are motivated and excited. 
The problem? They are finding themselves unable to work together productively. There have been tears, arguments, and me having to intervene with small groups as well as sit and "process" with the larger group. Friday was the most difficult day so far.
I thought, based on MY experience as a teacher and the groups I have led in the past, that I could lead any groups to success. Did I say that there are ONLY 12 students in the class?

I am humbled. Challenged. Learning IS messy, isn't it?

What I see here is, I believe, the failure of years of schooling that was based on worksheets and workbooks, the individual pursuit of academic skill-building taking precedence over the skills of collaboration and community building. 
The 5th grade classroom teacher is great. She is open to all ideas, discussion, suggestion. I think, if nothing else, she and I are a model for the students as they watch the way we collaborate. 
We discussed the problems over emails this weekend. Should we allow only some students to work on the project? She says that this is what the kids want. They feel that the school should do something about the kids who misbehave. We (the adults) are all talk and no action. 

I thought about it.
 
I thought about the "misbehavior." It really isn't misbehavior. It is that they DON'T KNOW HOW TO WORK TOGETHER. THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN REQUIRED TO WORK IN GROUPS. THEY HAVE NOT BEEN TAUGHT. Because it's FLIPPIN' HARD! It would be so easy to let this project melt into dust, to "babysit" them in the computer lab, give easy assignments and let them play games. SO. MUCH. EASIER. 
But sometimes learning involves struggle. And what kind of message would I be giving them if I gave up on them just cause it's hard for me to watch them struggle?

I am going to talk to them tomorrow, and I am searching for the words to say. I think I will start by sharing this quote I read in David Warlick's "Open Letter to the Next President" in Tech&Learning Magazine: 
"The real problems of the world are not problems of science and math. They are problems of communication, people, communities and values."
If I had my way, and I mean this, I would throw out all the grades and the other stuff that school has become. I would focus all of my energy on the community, on teaching them to compromise, discuss, value one another, understand the other person's point of view, work together. 
I thought it somewhat ironic that Friday was such a difficult day. Our school is a Jewish Day School, and Thursday was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Of course, I don't really expect 5th graders to understand the idea of atonement. But I think they can comprehend the fact that none of us are perfect, that each of us can improve ourselves. 
That, as I see it, is the hardest part. I think that each one of them thinks that someone else is the problem. They aren't really willing or able to see their own role. So, as I was saying,  the teacher suggested that maybe a solution was to take certain kids off the project. That way the other kids, the ones who have an easier time getting along, don't have to lose out on the opportunity to create the video, the most motivating part of the lesson for them. 

And I thought about it. A lot. 

I have concluded that that is not the best solution. We are studying a presidential election. It is emotional and can be very divisive. But we will all have to live with the results of the election. If the candidate I am supporting does not win, I anticipate having to suffer based on what, in my opinion, are the poor choices made by others. This is part of life in a democracy.
And I guess that I believe that this is part of life in school. I am going to try my hardest to work with the kids, to express myself, to help them learn the difficult skills of navigating life on earth with so many other human beings. If we fail to make our videos, we will fail together. I think we will succeed. But the most important thing is that we learn something. 
Wish us luck.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Teacher Tech Club


Last year I started an after school tech club for students centered around blogging. The kids were amazing, and the tech club was the highlight of my week. I would throw out a tool or idea and watch them run with it. 
So this year I thought I would do something similar for teachers.  I envisioned giving teachers the time and space to explore, play and create while I was there to help. I imagined starting out by sharing a few things and then going to a hands-on workshop type of atmosphere. As usual, I learned a lot.

Although I know my teachers and their skill levels pretty well, my expectations for the workshop were WAY out of line with the reality of what was accomplished. Upon reflection, it wasn't just technical skill level that was the problem. It was a difference in.......learning style? learning ability? mental flexibility? I'm not sure what to call it, but, for the most part, the teachers were not willing to just let go and try things the way the students have learned to do.
If I imagine a representation of the two groups I would portray the teachers as a rock, the students as a lump of soft clay. How do I teach the teachers to become more clay-like?

I actually think that technology is both the problem and the solution. I believe that using technology, because of the nature of the multiple solutions to a problem and the need to learn through exploration, is a great way to become a better learner.

Now I've gone in a full circle. This is why I started the teacher tech club in the first place!

I started by surveying the teachers about their interest level in such a class as well as topics they would like to see covered. First of all, if anyone knows how to get teachers to respond to a survey could you share that with me? The surveys I did receive back indicated a very high interest in learning about digital photography, so I made that the topic for the first session. 
Now I realize that I should have started with file management (which will be session number 2). As I took the teachers' laptops to install skitch (which I thought I would share during the session) I noticed the extreme need for basic file management. 

Start with the basics!!!!!!!

I actually started to create a resource wiki for the class, with sites like animoto and rockyou, dumpr and flickr. The reality was that we spent much of the time learning to connect the camera to the computer, download and organize photos in iphoto. 

I guess what I am trying to say is if you decide to do something like this, start out slow and basic, unless, of course, you KNOW FOR SURE that your students can handle more. I really thought that most of mine could, but I was wrong. 

Follow-up. I don't yet have a good plan for how to follow-up with these teachers. I will continue to have the tech club sessions, with much more basic lessons in mind. It is hard to find the time to meet one-on-one with each teacher to see how they're progressing (if they're progressing?) but that would probably be most effective. 

I also feel concerned about the fact that out of 35 teachers at my school, only 8 responded (4 in each session-same session scheduled at two different times). I waver between being extremely happy about those eight and being worried/frustrated that more do not make their own learning a priority. This is where I would like to see my school's leadership step in and require teachers to attend at least some professional development. It is a fact that until teachers begin to use technology for personal productivity there is no way they are going to integrate it with their teaching. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is it 2008 Yet?

Yes, for those of us who've been waiting, 2008 is finally here -- and it's a totally teachable moment!

With 2nd grade I read the book Duck for President, a cute story which is a good lead-in to discussion about how the best campaigner is not necessarily the best qualified to actually do the job. Here are their thoughts about voting --

Our 5th grade students are learning about the election using a fabulous webquest, Meet the Candidates, designed by Karen Kliegman. We have been researching six major issues of the campaign: Iraq, Homeland Security, environment, economy, education and healthcare. After dividing the class and having them research the issues from both sides, we had presentations and discussion. The discussion was lively and involved. Some of the students are quite impressive in their background knowledge. 

Our next step is to create an online survey to find out which issues are most important to those in our school community. Then we will be learning about political ads, and the kids will be creating their own political ads. We will be posting our work, including results from our survey, student-created political ads and whatever else we do, on our Vote5thGrade Wiki. Check out the webquest for links and great teaching ideas.

Google for Educators is also holding a mock election in which your students can cast their votes. Check out their excellent ideas and resources for teaching about the election.

Finally, I wanted to share this video explaining the electoral college. I have always had a hard time understanding this, and this video, in my opinion, does an excellent job of explaining. 

Electing a US President in Plain English

Friday, September 12, 2008

Scratch that Itch

No, my classroom is not flea-ridden, just trying for a little wit.
I'm referring to the itch I've had to try out Scratch in the lab at school. I have wanted to explore Scratch for a while. Since I was asked to take the 8th graders for two hours this morning and do whatever I wanted with them, I thought I would give it a go.

Scratch is a free download from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT (image below skitched from their website). Ok, just the name "Lifelong Kindergarten" totally appeals to me. It evokes Seymour Papert, father of all that is good with technology in learning and education.
Cool, right?
I started by showing them this video intro. 


I got the video from the scratch website support page. The whole website is a treasure trove of info and projects.
As I was showing the video to the 8th graders, I heard murmurs of, "That's cool. Are we going to do this? Etc." I told them that I had not yet taken the time to try out Scratch. Anything they were going to learn, they were going to learn and figure out on their own, teach each other, and then, of course, teach me. It was a lot of fun to watch and listen as they explored and created, helped each other, laughed, questioned, tried different ways to make things happen. I think some of them were a bit surprised when I told them that there was actually a lot of math involved in what they were doing. 
Later in the day, I introduced Scratch to the 5th graders. I also showed them the 8th grader's Scratch projects. The 5th graders, interestingly, had a little bit harder time as a group, with the learning by exploring. They had a certain result in mind and some of them wanted me to tell them how to make it happen. I have been working on doing less of this and encouraging, especially with the upper grades, more exploration, problem solving, trial and error. With technology there are usually many ways to solve a problem, and often they find a great solution that works for them.

Miscellaneous Observations:
•Scratch can be a rorschach test of sorts. For one thing, if they start with a blank project and no structured assignment, it is interesting to watch the students project themselves into their project. 
•I really got a chance to  see which students are independent and comfortable with learning through exploration and which students are dependent on me showing them how to do each thing. There are a few with whom I need to make an effort to cut, or at least redirect, the cord.
It would be really interesting to do this type of learning with the teachers. A lot of them need to be exposed to more playful, trial and error learning to grow more independent and comfortable with their computers. I would be hesitant to use Scratch as professional development, though. I'm not sure we're ready yet. 
•I have signs around the lab with some of the NETS for students. As the 5th graders were leaving, I checked in with the students asking them which of the skills we had used. They recognized that they did a lot of creating and problem solving, and some collaboration, communication and innovation.
It was a lot of fun. 
If you'd like to see some of our projects, they are here

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Edublogosphere --Part of the Problem?

I don't really like to rant. I've tried to refrain from using my blog as a soap-box, but this has been building for a long time. The irony, and yes, I know it, is that not one of the people I'm talking to will read this. 

This post goes out to the educational leaders. Not all the leaders to be sure, but those who write and speak publicly at conferences, who travel around and make their living educating the educators, inspiring us, moving us forward in a new direction. I read your blogs. I bask in your brilliance, I've tried, as a teacher, to join the oft-referenced "conversation," to be one who, in the words of Will Richardson, is "reading and participating already. On some level, they get it."

I understand that you're frustrated, waiting for everyone to get it and schools to change already. But the criticism from on high, the putting-down of those you are supposed to be leading, how is that part of the solution? I'm finding a lot of the posts about bad schools to be pretty unproductive. It will be easy for you to dismiss me (I'm pretending that you read my blog). 
Actually, I am working pretty hard to bring real change to a real school and I've looked to you for answers, for ideas, help, a path to take, inspiration. To me, your job seems easy - you stand on the outside and offer your critique.

I've noticed that my reader has really changed over the eight months I've been part of the blogosphere. I used to read many of your blogs, you know, the blogs everyone reads. At first I was wowed by the writing and the ideas (you never responded to any of my comments, but you want me to participate). Over the months I've found these blogs, for the most part, more and more useless. Now my reader, full as ever, is filled with the blogs of those who actually teach and those leaders who I think "get it." 
I'm not making any lame excuses for my school or any others. But, as a teacher, I know and so should you, that you don't entice people to learn and grow and change by belittling their efforts. Criticism has its place, but I can't imagine trying to teach a child through constantly telling them how much they don't know, how far they have to go, how much they just don't get it.
Yes, it is frustrating that schools and teachers and administrators aren't getting it faster and change hasn't happened, like 10 years ago. 
But, what can we DO to make it happen NOW?




Sunday, August 31, 2008

21st Century Literacy: Getting Clear on the Concept

I spent quite a while today working on my edline page. Our school uses edline as our web space to communicate with parents. This year is our second year of using it, so hopefully more parents will become interested and use the tool. Last year we posted information on edline but also printed out every bit of info and sent home notices with students, often in triplicate. This year our school claims to be going green and part of this commitment is to stop sending home so many pieces of paper. 

Some of my goals for this year:
•to post student projects online, in one place. I still haven't figured out exactly how this will look or how I will do it, as one program that we use a LOT doesn't convert easily to a format for web. 
•to be clear and communicative with students, teachers and parents about technology and 21st century media literacy. I have always known that I do not teach computers, but I must do a better job of communicating that fact. The more I read, the more I participate in the ongoing, online conversations, the deeper my own understanding. Hopefully this will translate into a better ability to communicate. 

A large part of the problem is that until people realize that technology is so much more than "learning computers" they are not very interested in what the kids are doing with technology. So no one reads my edline page. Therein lies the dilemma: I am using my page to share info that might, hopefully, get them to want to read my page. Of course, I try to communicate my message in many other ways, too. 
Here is the page:


At (name of school), technology means much more than computer proficiency. 21st Century Media Literacy encompasses the skills that our students will need to succeed in a world transformed by technology. As our students work on creating, communicating, collaborating, innovating, researching, problem solving, and learning digital citizenship, they will develop proficiency with the computer. Please click on the link to review the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) to find out more about what our students are expected to know and be able to do with technology. 

One of my goals for this year is to put all student projects online in one place. If you are a parent who does not want your child's work online, please let me know. Please take a moment to look at the projects our students are doing. I think you will be quite amazed at the creativity and technological abilities our students are developing. 

I am looking forward to a great year!


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can you spell W-H-Y? (Please write it 5 times and use it in a sentence.)

This post is a little bit about teaching spelling. It is really about the ludicriousness of the way some things are taught, without looking at the whole -I think this is what Clay Burell calls "schooliness." Spelling just provides an easy example.

Skipping over the cute example of why spell check doesn't work for every situation- you've probably already seen it- how is spelling taught in your corner of the world?
You know the little vignette, so often dragged out to illustrate how schools are bastions of a time gone by, where the person wakes up after 100-year nap and doesn't recognize anything until he steps into a school? I'm sure the napper in the story walked in on a "spelling lesson."

When I first started teaching, I taught spelling the way I had been taught spelling in school. I devised lists of words I thought my students should know how to spell, gave assignments based on the words and then a Friday spelling test. My students generally did pretty well on the tests, but their spelling in their written work never reflected the fact that they had supposedly learned how to spell the words. It didn't take me too long to come to the conclusion that memorizing a list of words did not equal learning.

So, two questions.
1. What is the best way to teach spelling?
2. How come I learned how to spell? Remember, this is how I was taught spelling...I'm a pretty good speller. Did this approach work for me? If so, why?

I'll answer #2 first. I think that I became a good speller because I was (and still am) an avid reader. I was the kid who always had a book in front of my face. My favorite outing was the library (my idea of heaven on earth) or the bookstore (my parents would drop me off at the bookstore and go shopping, coming back an hour or so later to pick me up). I think that looking at so many words spelled correctly built my visual memory for correct spelling. I am the type who writes the word to look at it to see if it is spelled correctly. Of course, this was only one gift that being a reader gave me.

As for #1: There is a program I like called "Words Their Way" that approaches spelling from a developmental standpoint. It uses the term "word study" rather than spelling or phonics. This appeals to me because I think it is appropriate for students to spend some time deconstructing words to find patterns. It uses various centers and activities and is differentiated, based on stages of spelling development. Of course, it takes a lot of work, on the part of the teacher, to implement a program like this in the classroom. It is much easier to follow a spelling book or use a workbook, have students memorize and give weekly tests.

When I first did away with spelling tests, I found that parents were understanding once I explained my reasoning and approach. It was colleagues that were stunned. "You don't give spelling tests?" It was said with disbelief, even anger, as if I was depriving my students.

Ok? So what...I guess I should get to "the point." Now that I'm a parent, I find myself battling against the tide as my child comes home with homework to memorize a list of words and use them in sentences or occasionally in a story. My daughter is only 7 and yet she already claims to "hate school" and "doesn't like reading." This is extremely painful for me to hear, as you can imagine. My daughter spends 7.5 hours a day in school and often comes home with 30 minutes or more of homework consisting of math worksheets and the aforementioned spelling. I am a strong believer that children need down-time, time for playing and relaxing, time to play sports, time to eat dinner as a family, time to go to sleep early, TIME TO READ FOR PLEASURE. I really believe that the best homework, especially for the early elementary grades, is to read for 30 minutes a night. That's it. I could cite a bunch of research, too, to back me up, but this is just my opinion piece...so take it for that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Help if you are able

One of my favorite bloggers is Stephanie Nielson "NieNie." She is a young mother of 4 who chronicles her life with her children in the sweetest photographs. Where I would see a banana peel on the couch and yell at the perp who left it there, NieNie will photograph it, write "Ollie was here" on the photo and post it on her blog.  
I just found out that Stephanie and her husband, Christian were in a plane crash and have survived. They are in critical condition. Her sister has posted updates on her own blog and has requested prayers and, if anyone is so inclined, donations toward their recovery.  I thought I would post the info and button here.









Thursday, August 21, 2008

As Real as Gravity


When thinking of a name for my blog, I almost chose As Real as Gravity from a favorite quote about positive energy being as real as gravity. Positive energy spreads and builds and creates more positive energy. Nowhere is this truer than in schools (ok, well, maybe it is truer elsewhere, but how would I know?).

One of the special things about teaching is that we have the opportunity to create an environment where learning takes place. As I prepare for another year, I thought I'd share a few resources for positivity, some of them simply quotes, stories or memories. I have been so fortunate to have had some incredible mentors over the years, people who've taught me well. And these days I have an amazing network of "teacher-friends" online, in my PLN, people whose blogs I read. 

TJ Shay shared this great site where you can get free posters for your classroom. These posters are terrific, the illustrations are really adorable. I plan to print some out and place them around the room. But I also love the idea of having the kids create their own posters with positive reminders and such. 

I've spent a lot of time lately reading the various blogs from Chet's Creek Elementary School, a local public school with a great reputation. I can see why it has the reputation for being an excellent school. As you read the teacher's blogs (impressive in itself just how many teacher-bloggers there are at Chet's Creek), you can feel the excitement and passion for teaching. It is only natural for students to catch on that "Learning is FUN!" As one of my earliest mentors used to say, "They (students) are in school because they're ALIVE!" (His class, overcrowded by anyone's standards, was always a place of excitement and engagement.) One of the Chet's Creek blogs featured First Day of School Stories which had lots of fun ideas. Here is one of my favorites:

http://chetscreek.blogspot.com/

Around Chets Creek in 180 Days via kwout

Just reading that, I know that I would like to be one of Mr. Ruark's 5th grade students. 

Here was my own daughter's first day of 2nd grade homework: the students were each given a paper bag filled with a few, little items and the following instructions:

Opening, reading and sharing this bag of goodies with your parents is part of your first homework assignment.

1. The toothpick is to remind you to "pick out" the good qualities in your classmates and in yourself.

2. The gold thread is to remind you that friendship ties our hearts together. 

3. The chocolate kiss reminds you that you can always come to me if you need someone to talk to.

4. The star is to remind you to shine and always do your best. 

5. The penny is to remind you that you are valuable and special.

6. The band-aid is to remind you to heal hurt feelings in your friends and in yourself. 

7. The rubber band is to remind you to hug someone.

8. The eraser is to remind you that everyone makes mistakes and that is ok. 

9. The tissue is to remind you to help dry someone's tears. 

10. The sticker is to remind you that we all stick together and help each other. 

Now I would like for you to think of something that you could add to this bag. Write 3-4 sentences explaining why the item you chose would be useful and why it is important for us to remember to use all of the other items that are in the bag. 

My daughter's other teacher kept telling us, at back to school "Meet and Greet" that she does this or that because "the kid's love it, it makes them happy, it makes them feel good, that she just wants them to love learning, to love the subject she teaches." I can't tell you how happy that made me as a parent. If my child loves learning and feels positive about herself as a person, a friend and a learner...I know it will take her the distance and allow her to learn what she needs and wants to learn, to attack challenging problems with confidence, to make a contribution to the world.

For our pre-planning in-service this year, we participated in a workshop from Operation Respect. At the start of the workshop, the facilitator asked us this question, "If you had one last class to teach, and that day you were given magic powers that would guarantee that the students would truly, deeply learn one lesson from you, what would you teach?

Are you surprised to know that not one person answered with a concept from math or science, grammar or spelling? All of the answers had to do with self-awareness and awareness of others, being a good person. Those are the lessons that truly matter. 

Graphic from "The North Star" gallery, from the book "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds. 






Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A New School Year...

I'm back from a relaxing and rejuvenating summer break. Ready to jump right in...well, except for the fact that I just found out that our first two days of school have been cancelled due to the fact that we are right in the path of a hurricane!

My "theme" for the lab this year was inspired by the book I started reading this summer (and am still reading) The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I've posted the largest maps I could fit on the wall and plan to use them with students as we use our computers to connect, communicate and collaborate with others around the world. I've also taken heading words from the NETS for students and posted those around the room as well. 
I am so lucky to have a job that allows me to learn, grow and express creativity, as well as to hopefully touch the lives of others in a positive way. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dealing with Disappointment

In a recent post I mentioned that in order to learn and grow, we must be willing to risk. 
This is so important. It is hard, when working with children, to know what feels like a risk to them. We, the adults, must work hard to create a safe space, a place where their ideas and attempts will be encouraged and accepted. 

It is so hard, with so many kids in the room, to tune in to the inner life of each child. We are bound to miss sometimes. But if we really care and really invest ourselves in community building, it can go a long way toward creating a space for learning. 
Isn't that a huge part of the job of the teacher? 

I have had to cope with my share of disappointments this year. I applied for 2 grants and 1 teaching award. I was flatly rejected for all of them. I spent hours working on my applications only to receive a very brief, form letter stating, "thank you for applying BUT blah, blah, blah..."
Ok. I recovered. I'll probably try again. But it felt awful. And the worst part was trying to see myself through someone else's eyes and feeling that I was not good enough. 
I can only imagine that this is what our students feel at times. They are graded, tested, labeled, encouraged to compete...and often they have to face the feeling that they haven't measured up in some way or other. 

I have entered my students work in contests as well. I always give a big pep talk about how we probably won't win, we just enter for fun, it would be neat to win, and we might feel sad if we don't, but it's ok. This year we actually did win something. In fact, we won a total of 3 "first places" in tech4learning contests. It was truly an amazing feeling, for me and for the winning students. But what about all my other students who entered and did not win?
One sweet, sensitive boy burst into tears when he heard that his classmate won first place in the spring contest. 
"What about me?" he cried.

We are moving away from a competitive society and toward a more collaborative, "flat" world. Should we enter only contests or competitions that promote collaboration? I have wanted to join some of these like thinkquest, but because of my lab schedule I haven't been able to manage it yet. The contests we have entered have all had excellent projects or content, things I would have done with students anyway, regardless of entering the contest. However, I did not give students the option of entering their work. I think next time I will let them decide. Truthfully, with the spring contest, I didn't even tell the younger students (first and second grade) that we were doing the project for a contest. I just entered the projects afterwards. I never thought we would win!

On the positive side, some of the winning students were not the usual suspects. They were not the students who normally get recognized for excellence at school. This gave them a chance to shine, and everyone deserves to have that chance. 

I know that disappointment is part of life. It is ok to try something and fail. It really is. We feel bad. We move on. We try again. 



Friday, July 11, 2008

Summertime

and the livin' is easy...
I haven't been writing much lately. I've thought about it, but then I don't. It is hard for me to focus during the summer. I am all over the map. 
In case you're wondering what I've been up to...
•I've been reading and commenting on lots of blogs. I am fascinated by the ongoing conversations, and, since the Comment Challenge I've noticed that I am much quicker to jump in to the mix. 

•I have been working on an online course called Tackling Tough Text for Professional Learning Board. It has been an excellent learning experience for me on many different levels. I have spent much more time on it than I probably should have. It is hard for me to sit down and focus all at once. My mind is jumpy. 

•From the books around the world meme, I have read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain). It was one of my favorite books of recent times. I loved it so much that I basically took a day off from all responsibilities just to read. YUM-MY! If you like gothic, mysterious stories...or even if you don't but appreciate the evocative power of delicious prose, I give it my highest recommendation. 

•I am currently reading The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I recommend this one as well. I had heard him interviewed on NPR when the book was first published, and I had skimmed the book when I first got it, so I thought I pretty much had the gist. But the details are amazing! I am about halfway through it and have already learned so much. The recurring theme is COLLABORATE OR PERISH. Funny, I was reading the book on an airplane, and I wrote those words inside the front cover. Later I was looking at my shared reader widget in my blog and there was this blog post with the same title! I had shared it a while back. 

•I've been trying to make it to the gym more than I do during the school year.

•I visited my friend, Sam, in Cleveland, Ohio. We used to teach together. Love her!

•I didn't go to NECC. I haven't worked on my website. I haven't blogged. I haven't really done much for work.....
Sigh. 
I had such big plans for summer. HUGE plans. 
Next week I leave for some summer travels. I return home on August 6th. Pre-planning for teachers starts August 11th. 

Time flies.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Social Dynamics and Learning: Online and Off

The post Disconnecting, by Jennifer Jones (@injenuity) got me thinking....
Actually, social dynamics, both in and out of the classroom, is not a new topic of thought for me. I am almost constantly assessing and reassessing the social dynamics in the classroom and how I can best direct them. 

One thing I have learned is that people are extremely sensitive. Those who seem tough and uncaring are often the most sensitive of all. We all have our ways of protecting, pretending, rationalizing away the things that offend us. Some take on the role of the bully so as not to be bullied.  But I believe that just about everyone is deeply sensitive to the people around them and that feelings are easily bruised.

When I was a classroom teacher I spent the first month of school on team-building activities. Integrating with language arts (and even, at times, math) I consciously worked to build a community based on the TRIBES norms:
•Mutual Respect
•Attentive Listening
•No Put Downs/Give Appreciations
•The Right to Pass

Simple, and yet they cover virtually any problem that might arise. If we all followed them, the world would definitely be on the road to being a happier place, no? One thing I addressed with my classes very early on was how, in order to be able to grow and learn, we must be able to risk, and, thus, in order for any of us to learn, our classroom MUST be a safe place, a community where we can safely take risks.

Now I teach in the computer lab and I don't have the opportunity to build classroom community. The classes at my school are small, and there is only one class at each grade level so the dynamics can be quite intense.  
It is not only what we teach but how we manage the classroom that impacts the social dynamics. If I got down to it, this could be an extra-long post, citing example after example of times I think I've gotten it right and times I know I've missed the boat. 
Some examples of management decisions that affect dynamics in the lab:
• Do I let students choose their seats? do I let them choose their partners?
I don't have any hard and fast "rules" for how I do things. But during my many years in the classroom, I have picked up a few strategies that work:

For partners -- I have "partner cards" that I keep in my desk drawer. On each card is written one half of a pair. For example: one card says "peanut butter." If you get the peanut butter card, naturally you will look for the person with the jelly card, and that is your partner for the day. The fun of the activity, the randomness and mystery of who your partner will be, gets the partnerships off to a great start. However, I don't leave it to chance. Before I even pass out the cards, we all practice our biggest smiles. I remind them that we never show disappointment when we discover our partner because it might hurt someone's feelings. Kids NEED the reminder. I do believe that most times they don't want to hurt another's feelings - they just aren't thinking about the other person. 
 
Another Example:
In my afterschool blogging class this year, I left things very unstructured. I always gave an assignment, but left it up to the students to decide if they wanted to do that or something else related to their blog. One day's assignment was to leave comments, and some did, on a few blogs. Only one student left a comment on every blog in the group. And, of course, I commented on every blog, at least a few times during the class. Several students got comments from real life friends not in the class, parents and student bloggers from other places. I thought all was well.
But on the last day of class, with only a few minutes left, one girl came to me and said, with disappointment on her face, "I only got a comment from ______ (the student who had commented on every blog)." Thinking quickly I wrote all the students names on pieces of paper. I told them they had one final assignment - to pick a name and write a comment on that person's blog. Randomly, the disappointed girl's name was chosen by the one person who had already commented on all the blogs. It happens. But what surprised me was how excited all of the kids were about getting a new comment from someone in the class. It turned out to be a great ending activity for the class. Something about the randomness and the mystery of who picked who's name...

I know how good it feels to get comments on my blog, too. 
There is something about being recognized. Receiving a comment shows that someone has read your words or at least looked at your blog, your creation. There is a human need for attention, to be valued or validated, by others. 

The ISTE nets for students recognizes "communication and collaboration" as vital 21st century skills. We need to put our students into situations that push them out of their comfort zones, that give them opportunities to work with different people. We need to help them navigate the murky waters of interacting with others in polite and productive ways. This is difficult. 

My Thoughts about Twitter-
In the recent past, there was a spate of blog posts about twitter followers and the blogosphere being an elite cocktail party. I read those posts with great interest, although at the time I did not join in the discussion. What I recognized, through many of the posts and comments I read,  was this sensitivity, a need for recognition and validation. I know that I have given a lot of thought to the whole follow/following on twitter. If a real person (as opposed to a spam type follower) follows me, is it impolite not to follow back? I know there are no hard and fast answers to this, and everyone has to do whatever works best for them. Whatever guidelines we follow, we all know, rationally, that we can't become sensitive about twitter. But, nevertheless, people do. 

How can we teach our students the finer points of online interaction if we, teachers, are uncertain of them? How can we create classrooms where it is safe to take risks if, as adults, we do not model the values of respecting and appreciating people for who they are, of reaching out to include everyone? 
Communication and Collaboration. Why are these so fraught with possibilities for misunderstanding and hurt feelings? What are your best strategies for teaching and classroom management that foster inclusivity in a real way? Are you thinking about yourself or about the other person when you interact on blogs or twitter or wherever you interact online?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Professional Development Meme

http://clifmims.com/blog/

Clif's Notes via kwout

My 3 Professional Development Goals for Summer 08 (which starts in just a few short days --hooray!!):

1) I am developing and facilitating an online course for Professional Learning Board(PLB) using moodle. PLB is a great site for teachers who need professional development credits. This will be part-time work for me, but I also consider it professional development as I am learning new skills and dredging up some old ones that are starting to gather dust.

2) I will finish a webquest I started earlier this year to teach the skill of evaluating websites. I plan to also incorporate resources like snopes to teach students to evaluate emails that spread questionable information.

3)My "to-do" list is soooooooooooooooooooooo looooooooooooooooooong....I really want to be lazy and develop my professional self by lying on the beach. Can my plans to re-decorate the computer lab count as PD? Writing a few more blog posts? Reading twitter?

Ok....for number 3 I will read at least one of two books I have been meaning to read: The World is Flat and/or An Ethic of Excellence.

Eight tags???!!!!! That is a LOT of people to tag! I guess you really want to make sure we all develop professionally, Clif! Ok....I tag these lucky 8(and you all have my permission to include lying on the beach as part of your PD) --

1. Nedra Isenberg

2. Silvia Tolisano

3. Ken Allan   (I know it is not summer for you in Middle Earth, but you can share summer vicariously by doing summer things with us..like work!).

4. Britt Watwood

5. Chad Lehman

6. Kate Olson (don't think because you are resigning you are off the hook for PD!)

7. Barbara Cohen

8. Ann Oro

Happy Summer, Teaching Friends!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Top 5 Lessons from The Comment Challenge

Drumroll Please.....
Not wanting to miss the final wrap-up of the challenge I never really completed...
Here are my Top 5 Lessons Learned:
5. A 31-day challenge with tasks to be completed each day is just a bit too much for me to undertake, no matter how good my intentions.
4. It doesn't matter that I didn't do each and every activity. I think I have left more comments on blogs during the month of May 2008 than all of my previous blog comments combined. 
3. Soooo....it was definitely worth the effort. And look, here I am at the end, albeit a day late. 
2. I think I understand RSS feeds a bit better than before. 
1. Blogging is the same as everything else. You get out of it what you put into it. Not a huge surprise, but I feel that I have begun some real interaction with real people out there in the edu-blogosphere. I think that participating in the challenge jump-started my commenting. I find myself leaving comments whenever I feel like it now, rather than worrying over what I might say and how it might be perceived. 

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Be Happy


If you cringe at mushy, philosophical mumbo jumbo, you might want to skip this post. 
As I walked around my neighborhood tonight, following my 4 year old on his two-wheeler noticing the vibrant purple-pink of the bougainvillea and the sweet scent of the jasmine, appreciating the fact that it was still quite light out at 7:30 pm, savoring a Sunday night before a Monday holiday with less than two weeks left until summer vacation..the line that kept repeating in my head was this one:
Happiness is not having what you want; it's wanting what you have.
Wanting more, having goals, desiring...that is good and important. It is the place from which all creative energy flows. But taking time to really appreciate all that you have, that is heaven on earth. 
Another line I read years ago in a book really struck me. I've long forgotten the book (I do recall it was a Robert Anton Wilson book) but the line, I think it was the last line in the book, was "Positive energy is as real as gravity."
I love that. 
Now, what place does this have on EdTech Workshop? Have I lost my vision, my focus? Apparently I have, if only for a moment. I know there are those who hate this type of talk. How can you waste space writing about happiness and positive energy when there is so much suffering in the world?
How can you not?
For those of you who have taken the time to read this and any of my humble thoughts here on my blog, thank you. 

and thank you, Randy Son of Robert, for sharing your lovely image on creative commons

Books Around the World Meme

Silvia Tolisano is always one to challenge me in the best of ways! She devised a meme challenging readers to look at the books we are reading, see if we tend to favor certain locales and then expand our horizons. Since reading is a type of travel, it is the next best thing to being able to visit or live in different worlds. I have always been an avid reader, although I have a bit of a problem remembering details of the books I've read.
Here are the details of the meme. You can join by being tagged or you can tag yourself.
  • Create a Google Map and add a bookmark with the title and author of a book you have read with a setting in another country of the world.
  • Look through Book Around the World recommendations or on other Google Maps created by participants in this meme/challenge.
  • Pick at least three books for your summer reading list that have a setting in a country you have not read another book about.
  • Enjoy expanding your horizon!

Step 1: Create a google map. I decided to put a few recent reads on my google map. I noticed that my book settings seemed to favor North America and Asia lately. I tried to take a minute and think of books I have read from each continent. I can not think of a book I have read from Antarctica. The closest I could think of was Mr. Popper's Penguins. Other than that, I have "visited" the other six continents through reading. Countries, however, are a different story. Luckily, I already had a few books on my "plan to read" shelf that also fit the challenge.


View Larger Map
Here are my three books:
1. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Bosnia and Herzogovnia
2. Shadow of the Wind by Carols Ruiz Zafon, Spain
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Germany

Now I know I am favoring Europe here...what can I say? These are three books I have really wanted to read anyway (have Shadow of the Wind sitting on my night table) and all happen to be listed on the Book Around the World site.

Thanks, Silvia, for always keeping me on my toes! I am tagging: Kim Glasgal, Ken Allan (Ken, something tells me you are a reader-hope you are up for a new challenge since the comment challenge is almost over) and.....who else out there would like to participate?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Learn Globally, Teach Locally


Learn Globally, Teach Locally - for now, this is what I do. 
My learning sphere is becoming wider and more global. I am communicating about subjects of interest to me, with people who have shared interests, and I may never meet those people face to face. 
However, my work as a teacher (or instructional coach, mentor, whatever you like to call it) is decidedly local. I work in a building with people I see almost every day. I have a different vision than most of them, a vision that has been strengthened, challenged, deepened and in some sense formulated, based on my tech-enhanced, global access to other teachers. It is the network I turn to for help and ideas, for support and understanding. It is the network that keeps me going. 
When, on a day to day basis, very few people in your local environment understand you, what a blessing it is to be connected to people you admire, who have a similar outlook or vision. If not for this outlet things would certainly be different. 
1. I would be teaching in isolation. I would not have access to the ideas and projects that benefit my students on a daily basis. 
2. It would be harder to fight the good fight. I don't tend to be the strongest person. I question myself all the time. 
3. I might be writing my next blog post from a padded cell.
4. I don't think I would push myself as hard as I do. 

I like working locally and being part of a community. I still believe in the value of face to face time in education. I even like the building ;) But I love the opportunities available to me to connect outside of this place. I love to bring those opportunities to students. I think that, for now, I have the best of both worlds, or rather, the best of this world.

image credit: NASA, earth.jpg. Pics4Learning. 19 May 2008. http://pics.tech4learning.com

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Andrea's Not-so-Random Thoughts of the Week

• About the firefox/safari situation. Lo and behold, it's not just a habit to use safari. I actually prefer it to the point that I would rather use safari than have my comments picked up by cocomment. I hate the tabs in firefox and try as I might, I can not get them to go away. I am sure that I could figure it out with a little more searching, but it shouldn't be this difficult. I've restarted firefox, restarted my computer, chosen windows over tabs in my preferences, cleared my cache. I was reading the blogs in safari and then when I was ready to comment, switching over to firefox so that I could get my comments picked up by cocomment, but I've decided that it isn't worth the trouble. Guess who will not be winning any prizes in the comment challenge?!

• To "borrow" the name of a great blog: Learning IS Messy!!!!!!! Practice and theory are different, and this blog is written (by Brian Crosby) from a place of pure practice, which I highly appreciate. The phrase "learning is messy" has penetrated my soul and freed me in a way, from worrying when things seem to be getting a little out of control. It is amazing, the power of a single phrase, my new mantra. 
I am working with our 5th grade class on an absolutely amazing project. The project was started by Brian and Lisa Parisi (and possibly one more teacher? I apologize if I missed someone.) I had read about the project from following Lisa on twitter and when I saw her tweet that she wanted to include more classes in the project, I jumped on it. 
The project is a collaborative writing project using google docs and skype to write stories based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. We are working with a 4th grade class in New York. So many things are happening around this: kids are really communicating with their partners and learning the give and take that comes with collaboration, the kids are excited about writing, the classroom  teacher is excited about the way we are integrating the technology to give the project more depth and the kids more motivation than could be done otherwise, the kids are frustrated when their partners can't get online, we've had to deal with communication meltdowns (minor) and a fire drill in the middle of a session that didn't end up happening anyway. And through it all, I've sustained myself with these words: "Learning is Messy". When the students complain to me about some little thing that's not working I tell them "Learning is Messy." I've explained to them that we are forging new ground with this project, that this is new for me as well as for them, that based on what we learn this time we will do it differently next time. It is such an example of real learning for them, and I see it sinking in. It also helps me let things be what they are and not feel that I have to judge the process all the time. So, I really want to thank Brian for getting into my head with that mantra.

• An exciting thing that happened this week: My students won first prize in both categories (primary and secondary) in the Tech4Learning Spring Contest. I absolutely love tech4learning's software, and they have great contests where they spark students' imaginations with an open-ended, creative challenge. What a great feeling it was for me to see my students' faces when they found out they won. 

• Another very cool thing that happened: My teen angels chapter presented about Internet Safety to two 4th grade classes at a local public school. They have presented to our PTA, as well as our 4th and 5th grades, but this was their first time presenting at another school. They were truly awesome! The students in the audience seemed so genuinely interested and asked a lot of good questions. It was a very proud moment for me. 
It also helped me see how very well my school is doing with technology integration. Often I find myself feeling frustrated. Things aren't moving quickly enough for me; I always feel like we are behind the curve. So it was a bit of a wake-up to see what was happening or rather what was NOT happening with technology at the other school we visited. I asked the students if they used the Internet often at school, and they said all they use computers for at school is Accelerated Reader. Outside their classroom, on the wall, I saw that they, too, had written stories based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Their stories were very nice, but I couldn't help to think of my students using the google docs to write the stories collaboratively. My students will also publish their stories on a wiki where other students in the project have published their Harris Burdick stories. In my mind, there is just no comparison. The activity that integrates technology seems so much richer in its potential for learning and personal growth. 

•In case you should think I am bragging, I feel compelled to include some negatives from my week. I had some students violate the school's AUP in a pretty blatant way. I came into school to work on my day off because we had a session scheduled with our collaborative writing partners and got yelled at by an irate parent. She was upset because her child's consequence for his actions was to be denied use of the school's network. She didn't seem upset by what he did, only by the fact that he might miss out on something. The worst part was that I felt unsupported by my administration who had decided the consequence in the first place. 
Learning is messy, right?
Lesson learned for me is that when I write the AUP for next year, I need to be more specific in describing the consequences. 

•Another frustration was that my assistant and I worked hard to come up with a survey for the teachers about the SMARTboards - how are they being used, what they need in order to use them better, that type of thing. It was neat because we used google spreadsheet and forms, first time I have used it, and what a great tool. We sent it to 10 people and have received two back. I would blame it on total apathy from the staff, but I am not completely sure if it is that or a problem using email to send and complete the form. 

I hope everyone had a great week!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Going back to Day 14. Readers...I need you!

Today's comment challenge task is to catch up on a task (or tasks?) you've missed. One task really appealed to me: turn your blog over to your readers and let them post through comments. Sounded so easy....until I tried to think of the question I wanted to use to spark the comments. 

The first question that came to my mind was asked on this blog
Another question I thought about was asked on this blog. 

My question relates to yesterday's news regarding the issue of Internet Safety. Here's a kwout from CNN.

What do you think of this landmark case? Do you think that they will be able to get a conviction? Do you think the fact that the mother was indicted will make other people think twice before using the Internet to harass and bully others? Do you believe, as some say, that what Lori Drew did was within her first amendment right to freedom of speech and cannot be considered a crime? What are your thoughts? I am very interested to hear from you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And the award goes to...


Day 15 of comment08. Today's task is to give an award. I love it! Fantastic blogger, Scott McLeod made this nice badge, too.

I have to say, I love all my commenters. I am simply delighted that anyone reads my blog at all. As I said recently, comments are the icing on the cake.
So, if you've taken the time to comment on my blog, please know that I appreciate it. I hope that I've responded back to you either here or there or somewhere.

And now....the 2008 EdTechWorkshop Fantastic Commenter award goes to....Blogger in Middle Earth, Ken Allan! Ken, please grab the badge and display it proudly on your blog!

Since beginning the comment challenge Ken has stopped by my blog to comment on a regular basis. He has also said some nice things about me, like calling me positive and sensible. And he sprinkles his comments with Maori phrases. But none of these really explain why I've awarded Ken the commenter award, although they are all a part of it.
How do I explain?
I feel like through his comments, I've actually started an exchange of ideas with someone who lives in New Zealand- the other side of the world. Never before have I met anyone from New Zealand. I know that we are roughly 12 hours apart, and a few times now, I have felt a sort of time-rhythm as I write something at night, and in the morning when I wake up there is a comment from Ken. In fact, I am writing this at 9:30 pm. I bet that when I wake up in the morning, Ken will have visited, and I hope that this post brings a smile to his morning.
It is almost like sharing a cup of tea. Only through writing. Asynchronously. It is amazing to me. And, blogging has brought this forth.
An interesting note is that Ken started his comment08 journey as a commenter without a blog, and it was the comment challenge that inspired his blog.



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Comment Challenge - Catching Up

I've fallen a bit behind on completing the daily tasks for the comment challenge, so I'm going to attempt to play catch up.

Day 9: Should we be commenting on blogs?
I'm not just being lazy with this answer, but really, what comes to mind is "Whatever."
Maybe it's just my mood today, but sometimes I read the blogs that go back and forth over this and that, and I feel like I'm watching a ping pong match. It's ok; I like watching it. I enjoy following the different trains of thought. But I just can't muster all that much emotion for whether or not someone wants to enable comments on their blog. Isn't that the joy of blogging? It's YOUR blog. You get to decide where it's hosted, what it looks like, what you'll write about, how often you'll write, etc. etc. You get to decide if you want comments and once you get comments, if you want to respond within the comments, on the other person's blog, in another post, an email, or not at all. For me, this is one of the things I enjoy about this form of communication. It's very fluid and really, there are no rules.

Day 10: Do a Comment Audit on your own Blog
1. You sound like a press release.
I doubt this. I write in the first person. I reflect on my teaching practice, share lessons, occasionally share a cool site or resource that I've discovered. No press release here.
2. You sound like an infomercial.
What would I be selling?
3. You sound like a know-it-all.
I sure hope not. I don't feel like a know-it-all.
4. You haven't showed them how.
I don't feel that it is that difficult to leave a comment. ??
5. You haven't created the right atmosphere.
I don't know. The atmosphere....???
I started out just to write and share things I was doing/learning. The comments and interaction has been like icing on the cake. I have made some good work connections and at least one real life friend through my blogging experience. I'd love to have lots of readers like some blogs do and lots of comments, because, so far, it's all been pretty positive. But it is what it is. I don't have tons of time to devote to blogging, so I have to do the best I can. I do make a pretty conscious effort to respond to comments either here or by visiting the commenter's blog. Do I need to decorate nicer? Have a little party? Light some candles and play some mood music?
6. You just don't seem that into it.
I am into it! I am!!! I really hope my passion for what I do shows in my writing.

So, why aren't more people commenting on my blog?
All I can think of is that the things I post about are just not the kinds of posts that inspire much discussion. I've had the most comments on my posts about comment08. Usually I post about a lesson I want to share or some thoughts about something that's happening at work. I get the occasional "thanks for sharing this" type of comment. The blogs I read that get a lot of comments are usually deeper or more controversial or witty. I don't really post in order to inspire comments. I just post. But I do really appreciate the comments. I think the feedback can get kind of addicting, and at times, I've read great blogs and thought, "Why do I even try?" But, I have to remind myself not to compare my blog to others. There is space for all of us here on the web. We all have something to say.

Going to stop here. I know I still have a few more days of catch up...please feel free to comment!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Heart Teachers

This is a first for me -two blog posts in one day. Well, well. 
Ever since my recent post about lame excuses I've been feeling the need to clarify. One thing that never fails to rankle me is reading/hearing/otherwise being exposed to comments that generalize about teachers and, after throwing them into one big group, bash them. 
Teacher bashing is ubiquitous. I am overly sensitive to it, so maybe I notice it where someone else wouldn't, but trust me, it is almost considered acceptable, at least in the United States, to talk about teachers as if they are less than other professionals. 

So it bothered me to think that my post could add fuel to that fire. Often when I read or hear talk of how "schools are this" or "teachers are that" I am quick to jump in and point out the fact that one can't generalize about an entire profession made up of millions of people. Each school, each classroom, each teacher is different. I have long believed that part of the problem is that because most people have had personal experience with schools as students, they feel qualified to judge and think they know what it is to be an educator. Not so. And, of course, many people believe that "anyone can teach" or (and this one is the WORST) "those who can do, those who can't..." I invite whoever believes those things to go ahead and try it out.

Yesterday was National Teacher Appreciation Day or some such obscure holiday. Yesterday was also "contract signing for next year day" at the private school where I work. Ah, the irony. Yes, I got a raise...a raise infinitely smaller than the increase in gas prices. What % of nothing does it take to actually equal something?

But alas, this is not a post to whine and cry about how hard I work and how little I am paid. That's common knowledge, right? I must deserve to make so little money because I am__________ (choose as many as apply) noble, stupid, unable to get a real job, so lucky to have my summers off.

Why do I even care what people think of teachers? Why is it so important to me to elevate the status of the teaching profession? Maybe there are a lot of "lame excuse-making teachers" who just got into teaching to boss around smaller, younger people and take summer vacations. 
But that's not what I see. 
I guess I have been lucky to know teachers who are highly educated, deeply caring, well read, professional, resourceful and committed to a profession that allows them to make a difference in the world.

Yes, I would like to see more innovation and less excuses. But it goes both ways.  As teachers, we need to have high expectations for our students so that they will rise to meet them. As a society, we need to have high regard for teachers so that we teachers will hold ourselves and our profession in high regard. I'm not making excuses for the excuse-makers, but when people are exposed time and again to negative expectations and hearing how the best and brightest leave teaching because they can do better...well, what can we expect?

My questions: What can teachers do to elevate the teaching profession? What can other members of society do to elevate the teaching profession? Is this view of teachers unique to the United States?