May 18, 2010

Goodbye Van Meter!

May 6, 2010

Embrace it - or be left in the dust!

It was Matt Nathanson’s concert (oh, goodness, you have to see him live) on Sunday April 25th that made me realize HOW digital we have become. It started with your run-of-the-mill GPS search on the way there to find exactly where we were going on the U of I campus, and continued throughout the night…not ending until I sent my last tweet to @mattnathanson telling him that I enjoyed his show.

The obvious things were happening as I maneuvered my way around campus (let’s face it, it’s been awhile since I’ve been on college grounds, but they haven’t changed much).  There were students on a jog listening to music, and groups of kids typing on laptops on park benches.  Nothing so out of the ordinary.

It was as I was standing in line waiting for the show that I realized how different (completely tech-based) we have become…people downloading music, sharing information via Bluetooth, updating twitter statuses, using itouch apps to play games.  A group of students were even playing the different apps to create Matt's music - one on the piano, and one on the drums, while the people in line sang. The list goes on.

At the concert, people continued to amaze me. The opener (unknown until the time of the show), Megan McCormick, got on stage and played her first song, which had everyone listening intently…but her name didn’t get announced until someone from the audience yelled, “Who are you?”  The second Megan said her name everyone, maybe not exactly everyone, got out their devices and downloaded songs and albums from iTunes.  I was looking around in awe…the whole place was lit up with screens.

When Matt came on stage to sing (uh-may-zing, love him) I had to stop looking around and focus. : )  It was a slow song to start…the lighter with the real flame has long since been replaced with the lighter application on the iTouch. So during Little Victories (one of my favorites) the U of I Ballroom was dotted with little electronic flames.

When I walked out after the concert (#saditwasover), I sent @mattnathanson a message on Twitter from my iTouch, thanking him for the great show, and used Maps Buddy to find some local places to eat...

It's a new way of living, and we have to embrace it. Professionally, I feel we have to allow our students to thrive in this environment...if we close that out as an option, where will that leave our kids? In the dust.

April 15, 2010

231 Numbers

The 8th graders in my language arts class are doing a career unit.  They created resumes, cover letters, filled out applications and answered some interview questions.  A student was working on hers today and said, "I don't know what my accomplishments are."  I asked if she was proud of anything....and it led to the making of this video!

March 29, 2010

Nice comment sheets - not just for students!

Every year I have my 8th grade students write one nice comment about each other, and I include my name at the bottom (hey, it's necessary). I remind them that it is important to be able to say something nice about everyone - even if they have to DIG DEEP. :)  My cadet then compiles a document for each student (without the name of who wrote the comments).

I laminate each sheet and send them home for them to keep, love, and cherish forever (or to lose on the bus ride home).  I put mine inside my closet door so when I hang up my coat and bag, I start my day of with a smile (my students say it's the coffee that makes me smile - shhhhh....maybe it is...).

Anyway, it's been a ritual for 4 years, and my 7th graders can't wait to do their "nice sheets" when they are 8th graders.  Here is my sheet for this year...remember, they HAVE to write something nice...even if they have to "dig deep." :)

March 11, 2010

Some things should stay the same!

Everything is changing in education. Everything.  Am I excited about that?! Yes…and no.

Let’s talk about yes.
I love that classrooms are headed toward blended instruction, that grades are becoming less important, and the fact that children master benchmarks is what matters. I enjoy student-led instruction, and teaching for understanding. I am thrilled that technology is a huge part of my students’ lives and above all, it’s satisfying to know that I am finding passions in young people and encouraging them to pursue what they love. I could go on and on…

As for the no.
I feel like some “things” are foundations needed to build morally sound, quality people.  Things like respect, responsibility and dedication.  It seems like by breaking out of some traditions (that need broken out of) we let a few important things go with them.

I think it’s important that as we welcome in this new way of education we hold tight to things that matter.  Students seem to forget that adults are still adults. Yes, we value their opinion, their direction, and their passions.  We love their ideas and we understand the importance of their knowledge, but there will forever remain a general need for children to respect adults in positions of authority.  It will always be vital for students to take responsibility of their actions. Without these things, we lose any reason for classroom teachers, for parents, for adults or authoritative figures.

We (educators, administration, parents, adults) are becoming lenient and almost careless in regards to the basic expectations we have for the children we encounter.  I feel like it is time to step up and demand what is important. I don’t care if “times are changing” - some things shouldn't be.

February 18, 2010

Daniel Pink didn't have to Drive! (clever, right?!) :)

My good friend (@ketelsen of TimberPine) is always sending me invitations to great events or area “happenings” so it wasn’t a surprise when I got an invitation to Daniel Pink’s book signing.  It was an event put on by @justbrady (Justin Brady, owner of Test of Time Design), and it was to be held via Skype – a virtual book signing. Obviously, I was interested in the idea of it being held online (love to see technology being used in new ways), and I enjoy Pink’s work, so I was quick to register for the event.

The “signing” was held in the HUGE metropolis of downtown Des Moines at the Des Moines Social Club.  We hustled downtown after work, trudged our way through the slush and muck of the ten thousand feet of snow (picture out of my classroom window) we’ve gotten this year, and arrived mostly starving, with wet feet.

I have to say, though, weather and hunger aside, I was excited to witness a virtual first (ok, maybe not a first, but a relatively fresh and innovative idea). 

The first hour was spent networking, mingling and chatting as the crowd gathered.  It wasn’t a huge crowd, but a very diverse one - business owners, educators, managers, authors, you name it. Among the gatherers were @mikesansone (owner of ConverStations), @admavericks (Josh Fleming of Lessing-Flynn), @johnccarver, @derondurflinger and I all represented Van Meter Schools, and @RendaInDSM was there taking pictures for the Des Moines Register.

When @danielpink came on, we all sat in chairs around a projection screen, and the second he started talking, I knew the event would work the way @justbrady was hoping.  Pink’s image was clear, his voice was loud and strong, and the message he gave was powerful.  He discussed his newest book, Drive, and the motivators within us.  His son was in the background, very well-behaved, causing some funny moments, and allowed Pink’s off-the-cuff style to shine.   It started out as a book talk, with plenty of Q&A time, and ended up as a book signing when @mikesansone “officially” placed the first signed sticker (that had been mailed prior to the event) inside his book cover.

It was Pink’s message that really stuck with me, though…and I am thinking about the connection it has to education.  Stay tuned – my next blog is developing rapidly. :)

February 12, 2010

When I'm 50 - AARP Contest...

This video is amazing. It's worth the 2 minutes of your time to watch it.

January 24, 2010

Snow days

Watch the video on KCCI to see what we are doing about snow days. Also, my classroom is videotaped for the news section as they learn social bookmarking.

Schools Face Growing Snow Day Dilemma - Education News Story - KCCI Des Moines

January 22, 2010

Pass or fail. It's that simple.

A-, B+, D, F...What does it all matter anyway?  Who determines if a B+ student is any different than an A- student?? I sure can't do it.  Yes, the "numbers" might tell you it's an 89% vs. a 92%, but that fine line, when considering ability and knowledge, really isn’t what matters.

First of all, grades are for the parents and bumper stickers, not for the child.  If grades were truly designed to help a child, they would be pass/fail (some med schools are considering this beneficial as well), or satisfactory/unsatisfactory - standards-based grading.

We need to determine if a child is really understanding and mastering a concept or skill, and that’s it.  When in the “real world” will you ever be graded with letters? And when will it ever be ok for you to do below average work and move up? Either the report you wrote for your boss is excellent or you fix it and you work on it until it’s satisfactory, and then you move on – why not use that model in education?

I say when students are proficient, they move on. There should be no time limit...and that might mean that we don't have grade levels, either. Hold on to your grade levels?! They could then take classes at various levels depending on which subjects they had “mastered” and they wouldn’t be held back by a grade level.  Again, if you go look at any job – you start at the bottom, and you work your way up.  It doesn’t always take 13 years (K-12) to get your promotion (graduation), everyone has their own speed.

Like I always say, its important to create an educational atmosphere that is most like what students will experience in their future.  It’s unfair for us to do what has always been done - just because.  It’s time to think about our system.  It’s time for a change.

January 18, 2010

Junior high classes offered online - brilliant!

So, after lengthy discussion about online learning platforms (@eabbey), I started pondering the idea of taking my 7th and 8th grade language arts classes to a predominantly online structure. I could see this working.  Not only working, but becoming a much more efficient and educationally sound way of teaching and learning.

Here are my thoughts.  So, students have your class material online. What material? Well, this would depend on what you wanted them to do.  It might be a video or podcast of you teaching, discussing, modeling, etc. It might be a link to a website, or a Keynote/PowerPoint type slideshow.  It might be an activity or a discussion topic. It would depend, but it would be appropriate and relevant to your topic.

The students would then work through your class while posting to forums, creating projects and utilizing the internet and various resources…and you could just sit back and relax, right?! HA, yeah right!  This is your opportunity to do what you love the most (at least if you are the type of educator I’d want for my child).

This is where you have a chance to post back to questions on the forum, or comment on your students’ posts.  This is also where you have your ONE-ON-ONE time with students!  That’s what we all want and need, right?  You’d have time to assist the students that need help, and challenge the students that excel.  This is our chance to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of students on different levels.

Would this be hard work for the instructor? Yes, more than just opening a book and assigning number 1-20.  At the same time, it wouldn’t be more work than what you are already doing if you are teaching at a rigorous and relevant level…

Online college classes have been around forever, but online instruction in the K-12 setting? That’s an idea that needs explored. 

Other schools/institutions have done this - check these sites out - Laurel Springs (school), Eagle Christian (school),  Online Classrooms (article).

January 14, 2010

Semester tests - as old school as it gets!

I'm going to skip the whole hey-it's-my-first-time-blogging speech, because it will probably be pretty obvious to everyone that it's my first time.  If it's not entertaining enough, just picture me writing this while jamming out to Britney Spears and trying to burn calories by keeping my abs tight the whole time (why did I eat that cookie for lunch?).

But really - I'm writing in honor of my students' semester tests. HOW EXCITING, right?! Not as much.  Don't get me wrong, it's a nice idea: teach all semester - test to see what they learned - check tests -  no feedback (usually) - move on.  Heck they probably enjoy testing. And I am SURE they love the multiple choice questions we gave them (they'll never know it was because we wanted to check 150 tests in 10 minutes).

That was my attempt at sarcasm, let me know how it went.

I just don't understand this innate NEED educators have for semester tests.  I don't have it.  In fact, I'm "subtly" trying to abolish these tests by dropping hints like,  "Hey, maybe we could do away with semester tests." :)

My teaching style just doesn't align with these types of assessments.  I like to teach, then "dipstick" along the way to see how they are comprehending, adjust, move on (or back up, according to the needs of the students), repeat.  Don't get me wrong, I do test. Just not usually in the traditional sense of the word.  I test through projects, application, verbal comprehension, individual discussion, and in some cases on paper - well, not PAPER - we have a 1:1 computer program at Van Meter...more about that later.

Tomorrow my 8th graders are creating a glog to upload to an educational wiki - Greetings from the World.  They will be posting the glogs under the Van Meter link.  The students are able to be as creative and advanced as their minds allow, while developing a virtual poster about Iowa, and at the same time utilizing the information covered from first semester (like poems and figurative writing).

Were they excited? More than if I handed them a four page multiple choice test and said, "good luck."  I've heard educators say a lot of things, but my recent favorite is  that it's not our job to excite students -  that baffles me.  I'd say finding a student's passion and getting them excited is a good portion of my job description.  Without that, I have 108 students learning material for a test and then forgetting it the next day - and be honest, we KNOW that's possible.  If they learned when I taught it (which I'd know from various assessments along the way), then semester tests are silly.