Thursday, June 3, 2010

Twitter in the Classroom: Writing in 140 Characters

The following resources are for my Longleaf Writing Project workshop on using Twitter in the classroom.

“…we are experiencing a vast transformation of the way we ‘read’ and ‘write’ and a broadening of the way we conceptualize ‘literacy.” (Kist, 2009)

“We tend to imagine a lonely writer holed up in an artist’s garret, lost in reverie…but increasingly writers are collaborating with other writers on texts – writers who may live thousands of miles away.” (Kist, 2009)

“We need to give students practice in working collaboratively to produce these kinds of texts.” (Kist, 2009)

“Helping writers develop fluency and competence in a variety of technologies is a key part of teaching writing in this century.” (Yancey, 2005)

Twitter Sign-Up Instructions, How to Shorten a URL, and Workshop Plan

Resources for Getting Started as a Twitter Teacher
Twitter in Plain English
Twitter in the Classroom
Twitter 4 teachers Wiki
"The 7 Step Quick-Start Guide for New Tweeters"
"Twitter 101 for Educators"
"Nine Great Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Twitter"
Edchat Wiki

Terms to Know
Tweet – A public message Twitter users send. Messages must be 140 characters or less.

@ - Use @ before a tweeter’s username when referring to them in a tweet. This makes their username clickable, and your tweet referencing them will show up in their Twitter stream:
@BryantHistoryT Come by my room to check out my new history resources!

Retweet – Forwarding another user’s message on to your followers. A retweet might look like this:
RT @theprofspage Just learned about a new French resource from @_clayr_!

Hashtag – A way that Twitter users indicate that their message relates to a specific topic. People can then search the hashtag to find all related tweets on that topic.
#lwp links our Longleaf Writing Project discussions.

Direct Message (DM) – You can send a direct message to anyone who follows you on Twitter. This message is private and will only be visible to you and the recipient.

URL Shorteners – Since Twitter only allows for 140 characters, you may want to shorten long URLs when posting links in your tweets. Tiny URL and work great for this, and there are a number of others.

Great Tweeters for Starting Your Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Twitter Uses in the Classroom
Post homework updates and reminders
Notify parents of upcoming class activities
Crowdsource questions connected to class content
Collaborate on stories
Use classmates as lifelines on writing assignments
Build resource lists for research
Summarize chunks of text or the day’s learning
Tweet as exit slip
Define vocabulary
Tweet as character/historical figure
Develop timelines

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Learn Tons from These Language Blogs!

Voting for the top language blogs is currently under way at Lexiophiles, and I was tickled to learn that Paperless English got a nomination in the Language Teaching category :)

There are many awesome blogs nominated, some I've been learning from for a while and some new ones I discovered from the list of nominees. Below you'll find some of my favorites from each category. Check them out, and be sure to vote for your favorites by May 24.

Language Technology
Blogging About The Web 2.0 Connected Classroom

Language Professionals
The Grammarphobia Blog
Ken Wilson's Blog

Language Teaching
Teacher Boot Camp
Grammar Girl

Language Learning
English Raven
Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Uses for Word Clouds

I love word clouds. This one, made at Wordle by simply pasting in a URL, collects words used in this blog and reflects the frequency of their use.

My purpose in creating this one was twofold:

1. To reflect a little on some of the things I've learned now that this school year is drawing to a close.

2. To check my word choice. I tend to overuse certain words and phrases and should keep tabs on them more closely.

Both of these could be great uses of word clouds for students. I've also used one for a pre-reading activity by pasting in a chunk of text and asking students to make predictions. For a post-reading activity, students could use a word cloud as a jumping-off point for a summary of text they've read.

Additional word cloud options include WordItOut, Tagul, and Tagxedo (which can be used to create awesome shapes). What are some other ways to use word clouds in the classroom?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Harry Noden's Image Grammar Gone Paperless

This summer I'll be participating in the Longleaf Writing Project, our local site for the National Writing Project. Orientation for the summer program was last weekend, and one of the teacher leaders modeled a workshop on improving sentence structure using the five brushstrokes discussed in Harry Noden's Image Grammar. The five brushstrokes are as follows:

Painting with participles
Painting with absolutes
Painting with appositives
Painting with adjectives shifted out of order
Painting with action verbs

My students, like many others, are highly visual learners, and a number of them are pretty talented artists, so I thought I'd try out a paperless version of this activity. Here's the plan (pdf) for the two-day lesson.

I did this with post-exam AP Language students, and the "all brushstrokes at once" strategy worked nicely as a review of many things they've discussed before. When I plan lessons to attack the same skills with my ninth or tenth grade English students in the fall, however, I'll break it down into much smaller chunks, focusing on one brushstroke at a time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Animoto for Education - Bringing your classroom to live

Animoto has been one of my favorite new tools to use this school year. It allows students to use photos, text, and music to make polished video presentations, and my kids have found it incredibly easy to use.

From a language teacher's point-of-view, the text students insert into presentations can be one of the most useful sources for a lesson. The main text boxes allow for only twenty-two characters, and the sub text boxes allow for thirty.

So when, for example, my students create videos depicting excerpts from 1984 or use Animoto to reflect on their oral history projects, they must choose their words very carefully. This lends itself nicely to discussions of strong verbs and economy of language, as well as other aspects of diction and syntax.

It's also an opportunity for vocabulary building:

Student 1: " I need to say Julia was 'a rebel from the waist down,' but I have only twelve characters left!"

Student 2: "Promiscuous!"

I'd love to hear other ideas for using Animoto in the classroom. Please post if you've got any suggestions. If Animoto is new to you, here's a bit more info from Free Technology for Teachers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Do We Work at the Same Place?"

Bad PD = redundant
Good PD = oxymoron

While doing my spring classroom cleaning, I found these words scribbled in the margins of an info packet I received at a workshop during the spring semester of my first year as a teacher. Less than a year into my teaching career, I'd already experienced numerous sessions that prompted me to write off most professional development as a waste of time and money.

Five years later, I know that what I experienced in that first year was not professional development at all. Instead, a district employee acknowledged a general need, got a brochure from an outside consultant or company, and sent us off to two days of...not much. Someone was paid thousands of dollars to read us a PowerPoint. While I appreciate any system's desire to provide support for teachers, it's pretty clear that it's often a big thing done badly.

This week, teachers at my school were asked to complete a climate survey. I think that my choices reflect a pretty positive outlook regarding many things going on where I work. I love my school. It's far from perfect, but there are a number of positives and many moves in the right direction. In a discussion about the survey, however, I heard, "Do we work at the same place?"

It then occurred to me that, because of my participation on a variety of committees and in real professional development, I get to discuss with my school's leaders the big problems and how to solve them. I get to see classroom teachers take on leadership roles that demonstrate their commitment to our school's improvement and our kids' success. And this makes me hopeful, boosts my morale, and increases my own commitment to do my job the best I can.

I can only imagine, however, that faculty members who aren't privy to those conversations and only receive "PD" like I got as a first-year could very easily feel like they work in a completely different place - one in which they have little to no voice and one in which lifelong learning sounds like a nice idea but an impossible reality.

This week's early #edchat (archive here) addressed the effect that professional development can have on education reform. My experience has taught me that true professional development - on-going, teacher-led, and specifically geared to personal interests and needs - empowers teachers and increases their job satisfaction. It's the way to get teacher buy-in for trying new things, and the more committed teachers we have who show up to play, the greater our chances for real change.

I'm left with questions, though. How much responsibility should be placed on teachers to seek out meaningful PD on their own? What can a school's professional development committee, department chairs, and other leaders do to change the perceptions regarding PD and to transform frustrated, burnt-out teachers into lifelong learners?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oral History Project Resources

A couple of folks have pointed me in the direction of some awesome oral history resources since my Oral History Project post, so here they are front and center for anyone who might like to try something like it with their students:

Theatre Archive Project - Teaching the Talk: Many thanks to Dr. Alec Patton for the heads-up on this resource. Interview and transcription guidelines are available for download here. He created these materials while working with students on a project on postwar British theatre, but the guidelines could be adapted for a variety of assignments.

Story Corps: During the project, we did listen to a few selections from Story Corps to give the students a bit of background regarding oral histories. What I just learned about, thanks to my husband, is the Story Corps app for the iPhone. The app allows you to listen to other people's stories and read tips for developing questions and recording your own. You can even use the app to create a list of interview questions, record the interview, and share the story using a variety of social media. Anyone interested in violating policy on cell phone use? If my kids learn something from it, I know I am ;)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Students and Privacy

Our school networks block things all the time to "protect" our students from big scaries in the online world, but how frequently are we teaching them to protect themselves? When I asked my kids that question last week, the general consensus was "We pretty much never talk about it, but I think we did a worksheet one time..."

I'm certain I'm not doing enough in my classroom, and that seems illogical, particularly considering my desire to move my classes in the direction of increased online activity.

So in the midst of this semester's study of 1984, I was excited to come across the following video in my Google Reader last week. It sparked a ton of great discussion among my students (especially the segment on Facebook) and a couple of writing assignments. The fact that it features Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman didn't hurt either, as a number of my kids are fans of Little Brother and The Graveyard Book :)

Choose Privacy Week Video from 20K Films on Vimeo.

How do you teach students in your classes to protect themselves online?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I run two Nings - one serves as my class website, and the other connects our school to our feeders for vertical teaming purposes. So when my intern, while reading her Twitter feed one afternoon, looked up from her laptop and said something along the lines of "Have you seen that they're going to start charging?" I... well, I kinda freaked out.

My first intro to this social networking tool was through the Educator's PLN. This site is now thousands of teachers strong and offers invaluable resources and support to its members. After perusing it a bit, Ning seemed like the perfect one-stop shop to bring more of a sense of community, student ownership, and interactivity to my classes' online world. So I got to work, and within moments my slick new class site was up and ready to go.

Signing my kids up for the site was cake. I could upload/embed videos for use in class - no more worrying about whether a video would be blocked by our network. Files could be uploaded, as well. Each class had its own group, which made organizing assignments and class specific information much more manageable, and there was shared space, too, so classes could collaborate on some activities.

Next came an email from our school's librarian pointing me in the direction of English Companion. Seriously, if you teach English, you must check this site out. It rocks!

I preached the goodness of Ning wherever I could and soon set up the second site for vertical teaming.

A few days ago, the company announced that a stripped down version of Ning (Ning Mini) will be available to educators for free. This is a small bit of good news, but some of the features missing from this option seem essential to me for making the classroom community site work. Groups, for example, will no longer be available, so there goes some of my organizational infrastructure. Video uploads won't be an option either, and many videos I could embed are blocked by my system's network to prevent them, I'm told, from eating up our limited bandwidth.

A recent #edchat discussed the changes to Ning, addressed what they mean for educators' use of the site, and touched on what we can learn from the company's changes with regard to future of social networking tools in schools. One of the most powerful but daunting suggestions was that we should find ways to eliminate the middle-man by developing our own social networking tools. That makes sense to me, but social networking is still a very scary thing for many people in leadership positions. In fact, my class site is not allowed to be officially linked to our school's website because students create and add content. The fear is that a student might post something inappropriate, which could potentially make the school look bad. But which looks worse? An interactive site that shows evidence of student learning and tons of activity and is monitored throughout the day by a teacher who's iPhone is buzzing every time something new is posted? Or a glorified Word document that hasn't been updated since last August?

I know my answer, but I also know that perceptions of social networking aren't going to change overnight, and teaching teaches patience.

So I'm looking for some guidance. Do I keep the sites I have running and deal with the changes? Should I piece together what I need from a variety of other free tools and forget the idea of one tool to meet all my needs? Please post any suggestions, ideas, or alternatives you may have. I'm bummed about the Ning changes, but I'm hoping this turns out to be an opportunity to learn a little more about what else is out there.

Oral History Project

Last semester, several teachers at my school were approached by an English professor at our local university to collaborate on a project with her and her students. Her class teaches students to write oral histories and contains a service learning component, so she proposed that we work in weekly sessions to teach our kids what oral histories are, how to research in preparation for them, how to develop sound interview questions, and how to write truthful and compelling pieces as a final product.

Here's how the project worked:

My class was reading Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, so it made sense to pair the reading of that book with the research and writing required for developing oral histories.

We began by researching the context of the war - looking at different aspects from causes of the war and the anti-war movement to the Vietnamese perspective and the lives of soldiers - to give the students a foundation for developing questions for interview subjects. They used Glogster to create online presentations to showcase the knowledge they gleaned from their research. As an assessment of their understanding of the context, they wrote short essays (with access to their classmates' glogs and Twitter for info sharing).

Next, we scheduled interviews. Our interview subjects included a veteran who now works as an English professor; two class dads who served in Vietnam; and my own dad, who gave insight into the homefront point of view as a college student during the 1960s and 70s.

Our collaborating professor and her students met with us weekly, providing sessions on developing interview questions, writing an oral history, and workshopping papers to develop polished final drafts. To reflect and prepare for the exhibition, the students also created Animoto video shorts focusing on the most important things they learned over the course of the project.

On Thursday, April 29, our kids got to show off their work at a community exhibition, and I am immensely proud of the work that they put into it and appreciative of the community members who helped make the project happen.

My students now look at history in a much more personal way, and it was awesome to see their reactions in the interviews when certain pieces of interview subjects' stories matched up.

I've posted below some of their reflections on the process:

"Through this project, I learned a side of the war that goes untaught in our schools. I learned to see past the propaganda to examine the true face of war. The truth is that all wars are ugly and the civilians are the ones who suffer for the mistakes of the government." - C.B.

"I learned that the Vietnam War is not faceless. What I mean by that is I've always been completely disconnected on a personal level from any past wars, including the ones we are in now. I did not see the soldiers as people, but as robots. They fought and won and that's it. Now that I have met real veterans, I see the damage that war has done to them. I now can relate to their suffering. I have serious respect towards the military and it's all thanks to this project." - L.P.

"From our project on pop culture and the Vietnam War I learned that I don't nearly pay enough attention to what our nation is involved in...I felt privileged to have [the interviewees'] time and to hear what they had to say. Hearing their personal stories was mind-opening. Their accounts not only retold history with immeasurable depth, but also presented untold stories that remain unpublished in newspapers and history books. From this, I hope that everything I learned will help me be a better American citizen, and that the knowledge that they shared will influence all of us to strive for better understanding in our global actions." - J.J.

"I learned that it's hard to take your own research on a subject and take an interview from a personal experience and make them mesh in a way that stays true to the interview subject's belief. It's hard to make someone else understand what your trying to say through an oral history and still have it be a story." - L. T.

"From this project I learned how to listen to someone else and learn from their wisdom and experiences. Talking to people with incredible pasts and just randomly asking questions doesn't produce much result. But well thought out questions and a ear geared towards what you want to learn really helps. It has been a challenge to properly represent these people and their opinions, but it is an experience that has better helped me think through the speaker's goal." - C.P.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Shakespeare? Project Update

My students have been working on the Why Shakespeare? project, so I thought I'd provide an update.

Last week, the kids worked in pairs to sort through the #whyshakespeare Twitter posts. The goal was to identify common threads and group the posts accordingly. Next, they selected one of those common threads as a potential answer to the question and began searching for evidence for support. This has also provided us with an opportunity to discuss fair use and citation of sources.

Graduation exam testing this week has interrupted our regularly scheduled programming, so we're having a Shakespeare film festival, watching selections including The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), Much Ado About Nothing, Ten Things I Hate About You, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and She's the Man.

The student pairs will present their research findings via Glogster next week. HUGE thanks to the folks who answered our Twitter question and re-tweeted!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Student BOE?

I recently posted a link on our class website to The New York Times' "A Diploma in the 10th Grade?".

This led to a discussion in our class on the direction education is headed - or perhaps I should say the many directions, since my students voiced the opinion that the adults and "experts" (those are their vocally-implied quotation marks) involved are running around with a million expensive fixes, many of which seem to have little bearing on what actually works for kids.

They asked why more people don't talk to the students, why no high school tenth graders were included in the Times commentary. This reminded me of Andrew B. Watt's response to Scott McLeod's question "What's wrong with the Edublogosphere?" Where are the kids' voices?

One of the points that many bring up when it comes to classroom tech integration is the power of turning over some of the authority to students. They're often more creative than we are, and quite frankly many of them are smarter than we are, so the end results have the potential to turn out better than we could have hoped with just adults running the show.

We have a student task force at our school that meets regularly with administrators to provide the student perspective on school issues, and their involvement has made a noticeable impact on the climate in the building. Are there any systems that have something similar to this at the district level? A sort of student board of education? My kids are interested to know.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Need of Vertical Teaming Advice

Tomorrow I'm leading an English / Language Arts vertical team meeting at our school. It's the second of these meetings this year, and I'm looking forward to it because it's always cool to get to find common ground among other teachers, share strategies, and work to line things up properly for our kids.

I'm worried, though. While I'm certain that the teachers both at my school and our feeder schools care a ton about our kids, and everyone seemed open and involved at the last meeting, I feel like we've made little progress in continuing our discussion since. Face-to-face meetings are tough to schedule and expensive, so I created a Ning to allow us to share resources and carry on the conversation, and there's been some great participation from within our building. However, the teaming has felt far more horizontal than vertical, and that's not going to get the job done.

What can I do to get all parties fully involved and make our vertical teaming successful? I would appreciate any advice or resource suggestions.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Evening with Neil Gaiman and a Reflection on Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Last Thursday evening, I - accompanied by several students, my husband and dad, @maporch, @theprofspage and her mom, and our school librarians - attended a reading and talk with Neil Gaiman sponsored by our local university. The author has been one of my favorites since my husband first introduced me to the Sandman series (my first comic books) when I was in college, so this was an exciting time, indeed :) It was also a HUGE experience for our kids. Their comments included the following:

"My adjective would have to be AWESOME!"
"I loved 'Orange'!"
"Can we make up a creative writing activity like that?"

And the adjective my husband picked was "charming." I'll try not to concern myself too much with the possibility that he's been bewitched by Mr. Gaiman.

The author mentioned that it was his first time in Alabama, and he touched on the notion that publishers don't really believe there's much of an audience here in the South. He discusses this further on his own blog.

Perhaps those publishers share a perception that literacy and love of language are somewhat spotty in this area of the map. And unfortunately that perception and the resulting lack of visiting authors, artists, etc. can lead to a dearth of cultural experiences for our kids. Thus, the potential for developing that love of language takes a bit of a hit.

So, nerd that I am, this self-fulfilling prophecy thing gets me thinking about my classroom.

I have a tendency to say to myself, "Let's try [insert cool new thing here] with the AP classes. They'll behave. Any other class probably wouldn't get it."

I am at times blocking my kids from things that could genuinely affect their love of language, appreciation for learning, ability to acquire new skills because of... what? Belief that the payoff won't be sufficient? My own laziness? Prejudice?

An experience from a few years back came to my mind Thursday evening. I planned to do a geocaching activity with my AP Lit class, so early that morning I enlisted a couple of my tenth graders to help me plant caches on our school grounds. These boys had very rarely expressed much interest at all in anything class-related, and the behavior in their class in general was such that I didn't want to venture outside of our room to try any different activities. When I handed them a couple of GPSs, however, they were immediately engaged, wanting to know how they worked and what they could do with them, asking questions, helping me... all the things we want from our kids.

Why did I forget about that morning? How did I so quickly fall back into practices that may guarantee lack of engagement and exposure to valuable tools for my lower level students?

Thanks, Mr. Gaiman, for helping me remember.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Goal #13: Give Students Reign

This goal presented itself somewhat unexpectedly.

We spent today in the library doing some study group reflections on the week, working on a couple of different research activities, making videos for the "Why Shakespeare?" project, and playing with my Kindle. Just before my AP Language students headed out for lunch, a few of the girls in the class called me over to their table. They looked... defeated.

The gist of the conversation was this:

1. They are frustrated with monotony in class after class.
2. Some of them are involved in an awesome program that gives them hands-on training in health-related fields, and they recently found out that to receive their one required health credit they must also sit through a semester's worth of a textbook-and-lecture type class. A semester of practical experiences, job shadowing, etc. alone won't count.
3. As part of a Sister Cities program, they traveled abroad last summer and were able to get a taste of student life outside of the U.S. Their assessment was that the practices they observed there made far more sense and seemed much more likely to prepare students for the real world than many of our current practices.

They said they didn't feel this frustration regarding my class, which was nice of them, but I know that I can improve in terms of providing them with what they need how they need it.

My response... First, I resisted the urge to make any preacher-choir comments. I told them that - while I can't become Queen of the Schools for a day and magically make things make sense in the world of public education (though I do wish for it with all my pennies, most of my stray eyelashes, and the occasional dandelion) - I might be able to give them a bit more say during the 98 minutes they're in my class each day.

I proposed a 3rd block student takeover, during which time they'll get to design a lesson that reflects what they want and need from an English / Language Arts class and how they think those things should be delivered. They shared the idea with some of their classmates, who seemed at least somewhat intrigued by the idea.

Next week, we'll be discussing the details of what they'll do for their block of time and when that time will be. I'm excited to hear about their ideas and to learn from my kids.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Shakespeare?

My kids have been required to read at least one of Shakespeare's works during three out of the four years they've been in high school. Many of them have no idea why.

Today they are starting a project to determine why it is that they should care about reading the works of the Bard. We'll be doing some research, interviewing students and teachers around the building, talking with people in the community, and sending the question "Why Shakespeare?" out into the world via Twitter and other means. Then they'll work together to develop a showcase of the responses.

We'd love to get as many perspectives as possible and see how far our social media tools can spread the word. If you'd like to offer your thoughts, please feel free to comment here or post on Twitter using the hashtag #whyshakespeare.

Thank you!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alfie Kohn Chat Food for Thought

Author Alfie Kohn recently participated in a live online chat and answered questions from educators regarding his views on education. Though I was not part of the chat, I’ve been able to read some of the comments thanks to Shelly Terrell’s blog Teacher Reboot Camp.

I’ve worked with a number of pre-service teachers over the past several years, but because this is my first semester with a full-time intern in my classroom the following question and Kohn’s response particularly caught my attention:

Noah Geisel asked, “Most agree that quality teaching impacts student achievement but what makes for quality teaching and how to best prepare great teachers are quite contentious. This especially seems to be the case in looking at traditional teacher prep programs and the ‘alternative’ routes to licensure. What is your ideal teacher prep program?”

Alfie Kohn quote:
The mentor-apprentice relationship as a way of helping people to acquire proficiency in any career is something that is underappreciated in teacher ed programs as is the failure to look at the goals we have. Most schools have Methods courses, but I haven’t seen very many that have Goals courses that invite teachers to look at what is it we are really looking to get here and what are long-term goals for our students. When you don’t address that explicitly and collectively, you end up by default with goals like doing well on a standardized test, which is the least ambitious educational goal I can think of.

So I find that I’m asking myself the following questions:

Do I spend enough time addressing the big picture with my intern? It’s dangerously easy to be carried away by the everyday minutiae: Are the correct graduation exam objectives on the board for the state department visit? Have we filled out the forms for this afternoon’s meeting? But these things are not the job we’re really here to do.

Have I adequately discussed with her the things I want for our students by the time they leave us at the end of the semester? As a high school English teacher, I want our kids to become more effective communicators, both in speaking and in writing. I want them to know how to go out there in the world, gather reliable information, and do something with it. Something of value to them and hopefully to others. I want them to love language, understand how some may use it to manipulate, and participate actively in a world in which the ways we communicate continue to change.

Do the daily lessons in room 176 reflect these things, so that my intern sees how to become a teacher that sets priorities that will serve her students in the long run, or are we fixated on those “least ambitious” goals?

Monday, February 15, 2010

From the NYT: "Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus Into Rolling Study Hall"

This article is for my dad, a special education teacher who drives a bus full of high school kids before and after classes each day. How awesome would this be?

Also a nice little reminder to us to stop and look up from our screens every now and then, lest we miss opportunities to "stare in wonder." :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lost Generation: A Palindrome

My dad sent me a link to this video this morning. It was posted on YouTube a couple of years ago, so it may be old news to some, but I thought it was awesome. And I'm a sucker for a good palindrome ;)

Thanks Papa Burger!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Goal #4: Support a New Blogger

I cannot begin to express how exciting it was to get my first blog follower and first comments! It is immensely satisfying to feel as though you're beginning to connect with others who care about doing this job and doing it well :)

So it's time to pass a bit of that on. I encourage anyone who may read this to check out the following new bloggers:

A New Teacher of English
My intern just began this blog yesterday to write about her last semester as a pre-service teacher and the beginning of her teaching career. She's also building her PLN at Twitter as @maporch.

The Prof's Page
She's Frenchie to me, and this is her first year teaching. I've seen this new blogger in action in the classroom, and she's good! She's also just started the 30 Goals Challenge. Check out her blog or follow @theprofspage on Twitter.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Massive hugs are due to my husband, who surprised me this afternoon with this!

My first Kindle book purchase is Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger (my AP Lit kids are currently reading The Book Thief), and I'm already loving the notes, highlights, and built-in dictionary. Can I find a grant for a class set of these?

A Rough Start, a Transition

On the second of our teacher work days before the start of this semester, I awoke to the sound of our home security system beeping to notify us that we had lost power. My husband and I felt our way half-blindly through our morning routine, sorted out how to raise the garage door manually, and headed off to work. A minor inconvenience caused by some downed trees. No big deal.

As I pulled into the driveway of my school, I could immediately tell that something was amiss - primarily because we don't often have a team of men in our lobby push-brooming water out the front doors. The water, by the time I arrived, had begun to freeze on the sidewalks around the main entrance, so I picked my way carefully and entered the building without breaking myself.

My principal, clad in boots, rolled up jeans, and a sheepish grin, greeted me with "So the good news is... it didn't start in your classroom. The bad news is... you don't want to see your room right now."

It - blown sprinkler system pipes and the resulting flood - started in this room across the hall from mine:

So we spent our morning rescuing textbooks, tossing anything that was clearly a lost cause, testing class materials for floatability, and finally searching for dry socks. It was such a ridiculous situation that it was nearly impossible to be genuinely upset. The whole day was feeling a bit silly and surreal.

Then we headed to the library (thankfully, a dry zone at the time) for a faculty meeting. At the meeting, our principal, still in her boots and rolled up jeans, thanked us for being such a great faculty and told us that she'd gotten a new job and would be leaving within a matter of weeks. So that was about all I could handle for one day.

This Monday was her last day, and I've had all manner of thoughts about the whole deal, from sadness (she was the only principal I've ever worked for), to anger (how do you leave your colleagues and your kids in the middle of the year?), to fear (how will things change now that she's gone?). And somewhere in there was a day or two of pondering Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium and the possibility that the flooding may well have been the building's reaction to our leader's departure.

The one thing that has tempered my fear is the fact that she was not the only leader in our building. We are lucky to have leaders all around that can keep us up and running and hold to the same spirit that's driven us all along.

And so, a bit of advice for any readers:

1. Develop leadership anywhere you may see potential.
2. Invest in a good pair of water wings, and stash 'em in your desk drawer.

You never know when you might need these things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Goal #3: Start an Adventure

First, a little back-story...

In the fall of 2005, I was a second-year teacher, and our school librarian, Shelley, came to my classroom one day and said, "Hey, I'm going to recommend you for membership in this technology group. It's called the Master Technology Teacher Program (MTT). They meet a few times a year and teach you to integrate technology into your lessons."

Still relatively fresh out of college and eager for good professional development, I was happy to join.

MTT was led by a faculty member at our local university and a Technology in Motion representative, who taught us about different tools and what they might mean for our instruction. We'd observe classrooms in which the tools were being implemented, discuss with both the teacher and the students, play with new goodies in the afternoons, and commit to using what we'd learned and sharing at our next meeting.

I'm now in my fifth year as a member of MTT, and I know my participation in it has transformed me as a teacher more than any other professional development experience I've had. I'm brave enough to speak up at faculty meetings because of it, I've gotten to present at conferences because of it, I'm trying to develop a paperless classroom because of it... hell, I'm writing this blog because of it.

And yesterday I submitted my application to graduate school because of it. I hope to be working toward a degree in Computers and Applied Technology in the College of Education and getting to explore even further the things I've done in MTT. Let the adventure begin :)

*Note: I'll be coming back around to Goal #2 on a day when I'm feeling just a bit more brave.

The Paperless Plan: A Recap and a Question for the Future

I began this blog as an effort to chronicle my move toward paperless teaching. This started out as a six-week experiment with one of my classes. We read 1984 and other short texts, students posted reflections and analyses on personal blogs and on the class wiki, they used Twitter to post links and questions as they completed related research, and for their final assessment groups created Animoto videos (one research-based on a theme related to the novel and one reenactment of an assigned excerpt).

The response from my students was positive pretty much across the board. They were more interested in completing assignments, were more willing to write, had a better understanding of the material, and were better able to discuss the issues inherent in the novel both with their classmates and with me. There's an interesting elegance in paperless lessons, as well... a flow that you have to work a little harder to achieve in a traditional classroom. Once the kids get a feel for the daily routine, the tools connect one to another, and activities feel more intuitive. It just makes more sense to do it this way.

The one kink in the paperless plan is our network. It has become increasingly unreliable, particularly our wireless. For my classes, I've used a set of thirty laptops checked out from our library. While last semester we were able to carry on with our work with a few hiccups here and there, this semester's attempts have been incredibly frustrating; at times, only two or three students have been able to log in successfully. Moreover, I've been told that getting our network running properly is "not a priority." The computer tech that is assigned to our school has been immensely helpful, but for anything beyond tending to the computers themselves his hands are often tied.

So the question is this: How do I try to improve this situation so that my kids have access to the tools they need?

In the meantime, we're being flexible. Last Friday we had access to six working computers in the library. So as some students held discussions of the week's material in their study groups, we rotated others through so that they could get a little work done online. We're setting deadlines far in advance to make sure students can arrange for computer time outside of class. And I'm re-working a number of my assignments, turning them into collaborative projects, so we can still use those working computers (in some ways this has made the lessons even better!).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The 30 Goals Challenge

It's been three months and three days since my last blog post. Clearly, I need a little discipline to get things up and running again. Enter the 30 Goals Challenge...

My plan is to use this challenge to get my head screwed back on straight after the holidays and a rocky start to the professional new year (more on that in another post). So here's "Goal #1: Post Your First Diary Entry of 2010", and with it comes a commitment to myself to see this project through. I may attack them out of order on occasion, and it may take me a bit longer than thirty days to accomplish the goals, but it's time to get back in gear :)