Sunday, December 12, 2010

Project X - Behind the Pics

When the 8th graders agreed to do this project with me, I had no idea what we were getting into. I had some ideas as to how it would go, but I still needed help. The 8th graders talked through some of the particulars such as how to get the pictures, how to organize them, and how to break up the days among themselves. The 8th graders were excited from the get go.

Many people have asked how we do it. It is really quite simple. We first looked at our registration forms to see which students’ parents had not signed off to have their child’s picture on a website. Next, I talked with my principal to get her permission for the project, so there is one person who knew what Project X was from the beginning. The 8th graders then took over and starting taking pictures. We brought in as many digital cameras as possible and began by just taking students pictures in the direction we need. After a little while it dawned on us that we should get each child looking North, South, East, West, as well as the in-between positions. The 8th graders decided that they wanted to be all the days of the week.

From there we went to work creating the calendar pages. We used a publisher page with a 7X6 table in it. Each student was assigned 2 calendar days and 2 devotions to write. The students then inserted a child’s picture into each box, with the staff members being the actual date. Some numbers had to be altered, for example we needed Student A holding a 5 instead of a 9. So we created “number surgery.”

The website was next. I played around with and decided it would meet our needs. So each publisher page was created, then saved as a JPEG image and then inserted into the Weebly web page. That picture is linked to the devotion page. No magic tricks, nothing fancy or too technical, just a bunch of clicks.

This project has taught me some things. I have learned that students can take a spark of an idea and turn it into something amazing! The 8th graders had great ideas for this project. I planted a seed, they made it grow. I was shown again that you never know what is going to happen. The students wanted to track hits to the site, so using Google Analytics we are now tracking it and that led to our goal of reaching all 50 states and 50 countries. I’ve learned that projects like this never stop growing. Once people saw the first few days, I was given the idea of the past days link. I’ve also learned that as excited as they were, the8th graders have gotten tired of tweaking the calendar. They need encouragement too.

I’ve also RE-learned that teaching is the best job in the world! Now on to some other big project!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's your Star?

My family is Christmas crazy. As my wife and I put our Christmas decorations up this weekend I got to thinking about the stars on top of the tree. The Christmas tree topper is the part of the tree that is in a position of prominence, and many times gets noticed first. It automatically attracts your attention. In our house we have one star, an angel, a cross, a light-up moose head, Luke Skywalker, a name ornament, Drew Brees, a Veggies Tales ornament as tree toppers and one tree has nothing on top. (Yes, we have that many trees.)

Having lots of time to think while putting up all those trees, I got to thinking about my “teacher star.” What is the one thing I work hardest at and gets noticed first?  What is my attention grabber? What should it be? There are so many options. I do not believe there is one right answer. I want to explore some options and would love to hear from you what your star is.

Is it about me and becoming the best teacher I can? By working hard at becoming the best teacher I can be the students I serve get help in many areas. I network, I learn new techniques, and I attain more tricks in my bag. The ultimate goal of all of these is to help more students. One student may thrive in doing a project on Glogster, while another may still need the comfort of “the poster.” The more I know as a teacher the more opportunities for growth I can provide for my students. Becoming a better teacher involves so much growth in so many areas, that it can’t help but benefit the students.

Maybe I should focus on being the best lesson planner and have that be my star. Students need opportunities to thrive, but they also need to be engaged when it is learning time. If I have one presentation style I am probably not providing learning opportunities for more than half of the class. Teachers who vary lesson presentation, let students teach sometimes, bring in experts, and present in a wide variety of ways, help their students so much more and prepare them for the eclectic nature of LIFE.

Assessment! That’s it. I should become the best teacher at using assessment to help students. I will use every test, every assignment as a tool for personal growth for each student. They will reflect, they will re-learn, they will grow!

Is it classroom climate? Maybe I'll strive to be the teacher who is know for having the best run classroom.  Students who are happy learn better, I’ve heard that before. If I become the master of classroom management won’t that allow for all my students to learn at their own pace and in their own way?

So finally I think maybe my star should be I want to ‘produce’ the best students I can. This seemed like the obvious answer at first, but then when I tried to wrap my thoughts around what exactly it means, it was too big a concept. By helping students become the best they can be, I need to be incorporating the strategies listed above and so many more.

So in the end, I think of it this way – what do I want students to say about me when they are gone? (Having moved on to the next grade level or next stage of their life) “He helped me learn.” “He challenged me.” “He believed in me.” “He taught me to think to think for myself.” Those are the kind of statements I want on my “star.” (On a 5 point star I get one more too!)
What do you want your star to be? Comments welcome, appreciated and used to help me with my star.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


JUST THE FACTS - in the last two months or so many facts have been running around in my head.  Today I let them loose. 

The fact that all principals don’t require teachers to be on twitter surprises me. The list of reasons is endless:

• Amount of resources available

• Teachers helping teachers

• Teachers connecting classrooms around the world

• Teachers encouraging other teachers to be better

• Bringing the world into the class

• Showing the students how small the world can be

• Showing the students that there are other ways of doing things beside the one they have grown up with all their lives.

• FREE Professional development

Since joining Twitter in June of 2010 (BIG thanks to @kevcreutz) I have completely transformed my teaching. I never used to reflect. Reading other teacher’s reflections opens my mind to so many ideas to think about. I have never tried so many new things in my classroom. I have never been so challenged to make the learning experience each student has every day the best one possible. I have never viewed teaching as a gift more than I do now. (great quote from @gret)

The fact that I still use worksheets bums me out. I have a personal goal to do an entire unit paperless in SOMETHING this year. Difficulties are time in developing that unit, getting the lab time every time I have that class and parent reservation about not having “tangible” work during a unit. I will overcome them. I would love feedback/comments on how other teachers are doing making this work. Mobile devices, understanding staff, awesome students are factors that will help me make that happen.

The fact that I still have to fill out a professional development hours sheet puzzles me. After attending two online courses in the last 2 weeks that were far above any workshop I have attended in a while I got to thinking about this. Who do I need to talk to get ‘credit’ for attending these workshops? I get a feeling of what it must be like to be a student and having to do every assignment for a grade. After I attended those online presentations by @shellterrell and @davedodgson I walked away with ideas that were both thought provoking for long term change and applicable the next time I set foot in a classroom. (Shout out to both of them for great presentations!) These were done on my time, did not pull me out of the classroom and were great. (They did distract me from grading papers ) But now I will have to get a sub and find workshops that the state will count toward my professional development and prove to them that I am growing as a teacher.

The fact that the biggest project I am going to do with my 8th graders this will have no grade associated with it really makes me smile. Since October they have taken over 1400 pictures for this project, took an oath of secrecy, logged a ton of hours in the computer lab and done a great job! They are excited about “Project X” and they cannot wait to unveil it and NEVER have they asked “is this for a grade.” One small step of no grading, one giant leap toward educational change. PS – unveiling will happen December 1st! Only 13 short days away!

The fact that I have to now grade the science tests the 8th graders took while I wrote this bums me out too.

Thanks for reading - comments welcomed and appreciated!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reasons to Stay a Teacher

I have been at my new school 3 weeks today.  This was a switch in schools after 11 1/2 years at my previous school.  On the advice of a college professor I started a folder my first year of teaching titled "Reasons to stay a Teacher."  She said it is going to get hard, there are going to be "days."  However, she said to always remember why I wanted to be a teacher.  So I started this folder and had many entries from my first school and those students.   

For the past 3 years I have been serving as a principal/teacher.  During that time I forgot what it was like to truly be a "just" a teacher.  I lost what it meant to lesson plan for all day, to be in the classroom all day, to be with the students all day long.  I wanted to get back to that and through an awesome series of events I got to do that this school year.  As an added bonus I get to be the tech coordinator at this new school. 

Well in the first 3 weeks at my new school, I have already had 3 potential entries into my "Reasons to Stay a Teacher" folder.  (It is now digital :) First my new class of 7th graders gave me a great lesson that made the history teacher in me cry.  I had introduced them to wordle and they really seemed to enjoy it.  They asked me to wordle something like the Declaration of Independence, so I did.  It was an awesome history lesson in 1 min.  My whole lesson that I use on the D.o.I. was summed up and taught BETTER in that one minute as we explored the world creation.  They said, "Whoa, look at how big the word people is, that must be important."  We then looked at the words laws, government and how they stood out from the rest.  It was an awesome moment. 

Another entry was a book review that a student in 7th grade, Allison wrote for a local library.  While I have only known Allison for a few weeks, I was so impressed by her review.  Her and her classmates love for reading has really been cool to see.  They have books on order, they ask for e-readers because they read so many books, just so neat to see.  As a teacher it is so refreshing to see kids excited to read! 

After introducing Glogster to the classes I teach, so many of them have made personal ones.  I have one student who has created over 15 personal glogs!  One was even about our school. 

It is so invigorating to have students excited to learn and eager to embrace the exciting technology available to them.  In 3 weeks time I have been reminded why I teach.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to teach.  It is the greatest "job" in the world.  What an awesome opportunity/responsibility we have!  I hope that any teachers that read this have a moment that reminds them why they became a teacher soon!  And thanks to my students for the moments you have already provided this year.  Can't wait to go to work tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taking Good Advice - From Students

For school night in miniature I asked the middle school students at school to give the teachers and parents advice on how to make this a great year for them.  I used wallwisher to have them post advice and then showed that website to the parents tonight.

Here's my 7th grade students's wall:

Some of the advice really got me thinking about policies and practices in our classroom.  Is homework meaningful? Am I giving the students enough time in class?  Do I vary the presentation style enough?

This activity really has me thinking.  Teachers do so much planning to try to make it a good year for the students.  The plans, the tests, the field trips, everything teachers do to try to make it a good year for the students.  Do we ever ask them?  What do they think we should do this year?  What ideas do they have for how the class should run?  This activity allowed them to tell me what would make a good year.  I shared this with the students, hoping to develop a sense of ownership in our classroom, which will lead to pride in the classroom.  This represents a little bit of me letting go of control of "my" classroom.  What a powerful idea to turn the room we work in everyday into OUR classroom instead of "my" classroom.  Letting go of control is happening more and more in our classroom and it has really led to a lot of great things happening.

Comments on this or anything else on the wall?  Thanks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Irony - Tech Style

On Thursday, in my new classroom, there will be a Smart Board installed over, wait for it, a CHALKBOARD.  As I planned out where the board would go and all the peripherals I couldn't help but chuckle at the irony.  It's like going from a unicycle to a Jaguar.

That technology along with all the technology now available online has empowered teachers like never before.  Gone are the "not in the budget" or "I don't have time" excuses.  We have great tools, great resources, great coaches and now we have great power, all within budget!

I am reminded of a great line from Spider Man - "With great power, comes great responsibility."  Our students today are growing up in a world unknown to me 11 years ago when I started teaching.  We as teachers today have the responsibility to the students we are blessed with each day to guide them in this digital world.  They will leave our classrooms needing more and a different kind of knowledge than we could have possibly imagined just a few years ago.

More irony surfaces when I think about the fact that all this power, and the responsibility that comes with it, is best used when we give up some control in the classroom.  Letting the students run the classroom in this manner can be frightening.  But showing them a new skill and empowering them to demonstrate and teach it will serve them best.

I am very excited to reinvent myself as a teacher, one 2.0 skill at a time.  What a great time to be a teacher!  In a time when things are down and out in many areas of the world, (oil spills, nuclear threats, and joblessness oh my!), it is an absolutely great time to be a teacher! hmmm, more irony!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NOW WHAT?!?!?!

Over the summer I have become enamored with Twitter. The ideas, the connections, the resources, the professional content, all GREAT. I have found so many new Web 2.0 tools, new ideas, new websites, new new new! But now what? How do I know how to integrate what where with who?

As I sat down with that blank lesson plan book,(silly content and standards), my mind tried to recapture ALL the great things that I had learned over the summer.   “OK science, now where was that one site? Oh wait, go to diigo, oh there it is. Now how can I integrate that . . . . ?” It is very overwhelming.
Take a step back and think. I don’t need to put it all in at once, I know that. BUT, what if I miss an opportunity? What is I forget to use it? There is SO much, how I do I keep it all straight? \

I have come up with a goal to integrate one new idea, tool, etc per unit per subject. I hope this is not as overwhelming. It would be nice to be able to totally revamp my lessons, integrate tech 100% (see @teachpaperless), but for me that is not going to happen in the school year 2010.

So I ask myself if being content with that goal is OK. I have come to the point where I think yes, because the alternative is to try to do too much and then get frustrated and go back to *GASP* textbook lesson plans.

Blessings on your school year preps!