Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Comment Challenge. I'm up for it!

I just joined the 31 day comment challenge. It is just the kind of challenge I enjoy, and I appreciate Kim, Sue, Silvia and Michele for setting it up in order to help new bloggers break into the conversation.
The goal is to comment often and well, to showcase new blogs, to stir up the pot of learning that is happening on blogs all over the web. And I, new blogger that I am, want in.

When I started my blog, back in January, my goals were simple. I just had the feeling that it was something I needed to do. I have to say that I am amazed at the way that blogging has propelled me forward as a 21st century teacher/learner. I actually think I have learned to process information more quickly as I jump around the web --reading, thinking, learning, commenting, subscribing, twittering.
I remember when I first put a visitor map on my blog. For a long time, it had only two red dots. One represented me, and the other one represented my friend who lives in Charleston. I was intrigued and excited when a new dot appeared. Who found my blog? Was it an accident? Did they read it?
I was so thrilled when I got that first comment from someone I didn't know in "real life." I still get excited every time someone comments on my blog.
I've learned a lot, but I still have so much to learn.

So, I am up for the challenge of going deeper into this blogging experience. I know it will affect me in ways I can't conceive of at this point. I don't care about the prize, unless the prize is that more people will read my blog and comment on my posts.
See, I do want to be a better blog citizen, but I have to admit, I also want to be a better blogger. As in, I want my own blog to be better.

I've noticed that since my name was put up on the wiki, I've had more hits than usual on my blog, hits that came from the wiki. It feels like a lot of pressure to me. I want to make the most of having people visit my blog. It's a good kind of pressure, because hopefully, this challenge will help me get into a routine, one that includes writing good, short! posts, reading, commenting and moving on to do some of the many, many other things I have waiting for me to do. I've long wondered how these bloggers/teachers/parents,etc. seem to do it all. Maybe this will help me figure it out.

Or maybe I'll just go completely nuts!

This is what my kitchen looks like on the evenings I blog. Truthfully, it usually looks even worse than that. I can't seem to do it all. That's my confession.
But I'm in it for the long haul.

I see great value in being a part of the edublogger community.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tweet Cloud Poetry Meme

As usual, I am a few days/weeks/months....years??? behind the wave, but I am joining the fun of the found word poetry with my tweetcloud. Can you tell that I am completely burnt out? There are so many important thoughts being articulated and discussed in blog-land, and I desperately want to be part of it. I really do. 
Clay Burell calls it fluff. Well, maybe for him it is...

Tried blogging interesting, useful thoughts. Come comment. Thanks!

Teachers sure talk.

Enjoy everything. Use time better. Eat chocolate. Feel happy. Choose love.

Want free fun? Try Twitter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ramblings of My MInd

I am forgoing the usual attempt at a coherent post. My mind is a jumble of thoughts, and I am going to spill them. Isn't that my prerogative??
 (sung to the tune of It's My Party... -- It's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to...)
Good things about today ---
1. The BEST thing about today was that my 5th grade class skyped with Laura from 25 Days to Make a Difference. We have been working on our own blog for a difference, 17 Chances to Help. The kids love Laura's blog and they have been having a bit of a back and forth exchange with her via comments and posts. It was one of my students who asked if we could skype with her. I really haven't done much skypeing with my students at all. In fact today was only the second time I have used skype in the classroom and the first time I have used it in this way. Laura was so adorable and sweet. My students were so excited and kept asking her the same questions, like, "How did you get the idea for your blog?" over and over. All in all it was just cool.
2. A friend at work made me lunch. How nice was that?

Frustrations for today...
1. I got a not so nice, "anonymous" comment on the 17 chances to help blog. I think it was from a student in the class. I'm not sure of the motivation for the comment, if it was a passive-aggressive way of complaining about the project or just a misguided attempt at being funny. I don't know if he/she didn't realize the comments were moderated. I don't know. I have heard that a few of the students have complained about spending so much of our lab time working on the blog, but when I asked the whole group about it, I got a positive response, even asking if they can continue in next year. 
It really hits a nerve and illustrates, for me, a piece of the issue of digital citizenship that is being discussed so much lately, especially after the appalling videotaped beating of a teenager last week. Every little aspect of digital citizenship needs to be taught. Here I am, a teacher, used to students complaining about this and that, and a little comment (which was not even THAT bad) really felt like a slap in the face. There is something cowardly about posting anonymously. I would much rather hear students complain directly, and I told them that.
Now this same group will also be working on a collaborative writing project, using google docs to collaborate on a story using the pictures from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. I am really interested and even a bit worried to see how they handle the collaborative aspect of the work. 
2. I am a bit disappointed in the aforementioned group blog project. It was helpful "talking" a bit to Laura's mom, Angela, and reading her post about Laura's blog. I want to do so much more than I am able to do in my 45 minute per week sessions. I can't seem to get the kids to go as deep as I would like them to go. They have a "mitzvah club" as part of their Judaic Studies, but it seems to me that something is missing. They seem to be going through the motions, but not gaining a real understanding of what they are doing. Their writing, their thoughts, even their answers to some of Laura's questions, really make me wonder how our school could be doing a better job of teaching. I don't know if my expectations are out of line for 5th grade... I don't think so, I used to be a 5th grade classroom teacher, but maybe I've lost my sense of the age group? 

Final thoughts:
•I don't know how to address the 45 minutes a week dilemma. I like being the tech resource at the school, even with the limitations. The Judaic Studies teacher who does the Mitzvah Club with the students has no interest whatsoever in integrating tech. She didn't even want to see the blog. I hope to get a grant to continue and expand the project. If I am lucky enough to win a grant, it will give me more options. Maybe I will take it to the afterschool arena, as I did with my student blogging group, the Tech Explorers. I would like us to actually DO some things to help out in our community. I want the students to experience the power of helping and giving, as well as their own power to create, connect and make good things happen.
•As to the issue of teaching digital citizenship, there is a wave building. Talk about using the power of technology to harness the good...I have jumped on board and am expecting quite a ride. Only a few days old, it is called ad4dcss (advocates for digital citizenship, safety and success) and there is already a lot of action afoot.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Daring Dozen...Part 2

It was great writing the first half of my daring dozen list. It made me focus on people I have been lucky to encounter who have inspired my love and passion for teaching. I realize that my list could easily go on and on....Here are numbers 7-12 of my daring dozen, teachers who are doing amazing things in their own corner of the world. 

7) Silvia Tolisano AKA Langwitches: I met Silvia only a few months ago, but in a short time, she has made a large impact on me. She doesn't know it, but I have adopted her as my mentor. She and I have similar jobs at similar schools. I met her serendipitously at FETC. I had only recently started my blog. I don't think I would have connected with her had I not started blogging, as I don't know that I would have paid attention or known to leave a comment on her blog. 
Since starting my job as tech coordinator, almost 2 years ago, I have spent a lot of time teaching and tutoring other adults to use all types of technology applications. Of course, I've learned plenty myself in the process. But Silvia is the first person who has actually taught me. And I can not believe how much she has taught me in a short period of time. I've learned a great deal through her excellent blog, not only have I learned from reading it, going back again and again, but I've been amazed and grateful for her generosity in encouraging me as a new blogger and mentioning and linking to my blog. It was Silvia who told me to join twitter and encouraged her network to welcome me. I've learned so much there, and who knows if I would have discovered it otherwise. When I went to visit her at her school, Silvia generously sat and taught me, much in the way I teach the teachers at my school,  so many useful things: google reader, gmail, google docs, igoogle. She shared with me the idea for the afterschool blogging group she had started, which I immediately copied at my own school and which is now the highlight of my week. Having someone in a similar position, who goes through similar challenges, also makes me feel less alone. 
I find her to be quite brilliant, and hope she realizes what a difference she is making, not only at her own school, but at my school as well! I'm sure she has impacted many teachers and students through her blog and the work she is doing. 

8) Fredda Kaplan. I used to work with Fredda at Domincan University in San Rafael, CA. We taught a technology integration course for pre-service elementary and middle school teachers. Fredda is the tech coordinator at the Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael. It's funny, because when we worked together at Dominican, I used to jokingly say to her, "I want your job." (meaning her job at Brandeis Hillel) In one of those strange "be careful what you wish for" types of things that happen in life, I got almost her exact job when I moved to Jacksonville, even down to the detail of it being a Jewish Day School. Fredda is an artist who went into teaching, and she transfers that creative energy fully into her job. The work she brings forth from students is simply amazing, and I've used so many of her ideas and projects with my students. 

9) Melinda Kolk. Melinda is the Director of Professional Development at Tech4Learning. Tech4Learning is a company that makes, in my opinion, some of the best software available for education. They are a company that strikes me as having a true passion for education and, more importantly, understanding what education is all about. I was amazed when I met Melinda at FETC, and she told me that she wasn't a former teacher. Tech4Learning has really well-developed resources for teachers and is incredibly responsive to teacher needs. I feel that through the things she does in her position at T4L, Melinda is really paving the way for the changes that are happening in education. She presents at many of the edtech conferences around the country, and also impacts educators in that way. 

10) Nomy Szoychen. Nomy is a Judaic Studies teacher at my school. Nomy thinks so far "outside the box" that I don't think she could even find the box! She is an artist who truly approaches teaching as a craft. Every time I see her, she is overflowing with some new idea or project or some new "amazing" thing she has discovered online. I just love her enthusiasm for teaching.

11) Edith Horovitz. Yet another teacher at my school. As I'm writing this, I'm realizing how many great teachers I am blessed to be around. Edith couldn't be called a "tech reformer, " she is one who approaches tech as something that must be conquered, but I am sure it is not her great love. Here is why she makes my daring dozen: She LOVES her students with all her heart. That may not sound daring, most teachers love their students, right? But, Morah Eta is different. She seems to live for them, not in a pathetic way, like someone who doesn't have a life, but in the way of someone who was born to be doing what she is doing. She shares all of herself with them, all the time. She sings with them, dances with them, takes them to her house for breakfast...she has created the Mitzvah Program, a service learning project which our middle school students participate in throughout their middle school years. As for technology, Edith is so thrilled every time she learns or figures out something new, she truly delights in learning. She has been one of my best students, as well as someone from whom I have learned a great deal. 

Number 12....There are many more people to whom I could give this last spot. It's hard to choose, and I don't want to inadvertently leave anyone out (not that anyone reads this anyway...even the people I wrote about for the first daring dozen post and told I wrote about them,  didn't read it. ) But for the last space, I am going to award it to myself. I hope that doesn't come across the wrong way. But I do believe that I am a reformer in education, and that this is what I am meant to be doing. Let me tell you, it brings with it plenty of frustration and self-doubt. But I believe that meeting these other 11 people was no random accident, that it is not just luck, but that I am supposed to be where I am, doing what I am doing, at least for now. I like to believe that I, too, am making a difference. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Daring Dozen - the first 6

Read the Original Daring Dozen Post on Edutopia
We find evidence that the ranks of reformers are growing and their pleas for technology integration, project learning, integrated curriculum, collaborative learning, new methods of assessment are having more impact. The trenches are full of folks whose courage, imagination and inexhaustible spirit are bringing enlightenment to education, sometimes one school or classroom at a time. 

I can say for certain that I wouldn't still be in the field of education if not for the amazing teachers who've inspired me along the way. So, without further ado, my daring dozen:

1) Samantha Glickman - I was so fortunate to have worked with Sam early in my teaching career. She took me under her wing and taught me everything I know about classroom management. She puts every bit of her heart and soul into teaching. She looks at every challenge as an opportunity to try something new. I also credit Sam for getting me into teaching with technology. Back in the 90's, before tech in schools was the 'big thing,' Sam scraped together 4 mismatched computers and a old t.v. with an s-video adaptor to make a technology center in the classroom. If it will benefit her students, Sam will find a way to make it happen. Sam now teaches 4th grade at Noble School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and her class is pen pals with the 2nd grade class at my school. Yes, good old fashioned pen pals writing letters with the pen and paper and sending by snailmail. And they love it. Not everything has to be high-tech to motivate.

2) Susan Killebrew -I worked with Susan around the same time I started working with Sam. The three of us worked in an unbelievably challenging school with probably one of the worst, most ineffective principals of all time. There is no way I would have survived and remained in teaching without them to teach me, share with me, lead by example. Creative, resourceful, brilliant, and true to her ideals, Susan is the type of person who inspires you to want to be a better person. Currently Susan teaches Spanish at Peralta Elementary School in Oakland, CA. 

3) Loret Peterson - Another amazing teacher with whom I have been fortunate to work. Loret taught a 4th/5th grade class in San Francisco and may very well still be teaching there. We worked together for the California Reading and Literature Project. Loret is another educator who was integrating technology long before it was common.  As part of a project on immigration, Loret wrote a grant to buy several, digital cameras for her classroom. She sent the cameras home with students who interviewed family members. She then used the grant money to pay a consultant to come in and help the students use photoshop to create beautiful, artistic posters combining the photos they took and their written interviews. Done with one computer and a desire to do something different. Just one example of why Loret is in my dozen. 

4) Kathleen Ferenz - One of the teachers in my masters program, Kathleen Ferenz was one of the only teachers I had who actually modeled the type of teaching she advocated. Her class was one of the best classes I took. I learned a lot, and it definitely impacted the way I teach today. 

5) Kim Glasgal - Not an educator by trade, but making a difference nonetheless. Kim is my friend and my assistant at work. When I first took the job as a tech coordinator last year, I was completely and totally overwhelmed. To write about that would be a post (or several) in itself. Knowing that Kim was a tech-savvy type I asked her if she might be willing to come in and help me out a bit. (She is also a parent at the school.) She agreed. I had one project in mind that I just didn't have the time to deal with. I thought she could help get it going. She spent uncountable hours as an unpaid volunteer and took over many headaches, I mean projects, for me. She was so awesome that the school hired her as my assistant. This year she helps a lot with the students and teacher training as well, and she is wonderful. 

6) Deb Kuhr- Deb is the middle school English teacher at my school. I love the fact that she loves to learn and truly gets excited about teaching. On my very first day at the school she came up to me and said, "Ok, here is what I'm teaching this year. I'd love to integrate technology. What ideas do you have?" If only every teacher I worked with had her openness to trying new things, not only in the classroom, but for herself as well. When we had Kaleidoscope Day this year, a day fully devoted to the arts, all of the classes came through the computer lab to use pixie or image blender to create a self portrait. The teachers were required (for the one and only time all year) to come with their classes. Most of the teachers just sat and did other things while the students were working on the project, but not Deb. She wanted to do the same project that the students were doing so she, too, could learn to use the software. 

It's late, and I'm tired, but I like to publish what I write. So, I'm going to stop at a half dozen, and I will finish with the next half dozen real soon. This was a great exercise, really makes you feel good to focus on the good stuff. 
Thanks, Lucy, for the suggestion. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Earth Hour, Earth Day... What's your Commitment?

This past Saturday many people around the world observed Earth Hour 2008. It's a great idea, a way to make us wake up and notice our habits and the impact we have. It is so easy to get caught up in the consumer culture and to forget the all-important planet that supports our lives.

It's all too easy to feel completely overwhelmed when faced with environmental problems and to become cynical. However, it's not that hard to change your habits, one at a time. You start by making one commitment to do something differently in your life. That becomes a habit. Then you take on another one. You never know who is watching what you do and learning from you. Our children and students definitely learn more from what we DO than from what we say.
Here are two of my commitments. One is to carry reusable bags when I go grocery shopping. I have 3 canvas bags that I keep in my car. After I unload, they go back in the car. I always knew I SHOULD do this, but one day I was listening to an interview on NPR with an environmentalist and the person was asked the question, "What is the right answer in the store, paper or plastic?" to which he replied, "Neither." Somehow, that was the moment that I made the commitment to bring my own bags to the store every time. Yes, I still sometimes find myself without my bags, but for the most part, it is a habit. 

My second commitment has been to buy a reusable water bottle. It was costly at $20, but I've now been using it every day for 9 months, so I believe that it has been well worth the money.I used to buy several plastic bottles each week.  This was an incredibly simple habit to change. Not only is this so much healthier for the Earth, it is healthier for the human as well. Plastic from bottles leeches into the liquid and is believed to contribute to many types of disease including breast cancer. 

Please leave a comment and share your commitment.