Thursday, December 29, 2011

One Little Word: Reflection and Selection

Way back at the beginning of 2011, I took my inspiration from Ali Edwards's blog and picked a word for the year instead of making a New Year's resolution that I wouldn't keep anyway. The word I picked was opportunity, and what a year of tremendous opportunities it has been. The first opportunity was presented to us on January 2, and it just kept going from there. As I expected, not every opportunity was positive or happy, but each one taught me a lot about myself and helped me become, well, more "me".

So what did my opportunities look like this year?

- I had the opportunity to learn. I learned from some amazing people, I learned in a new setting, and I learned through class just because it was important and interesting to me. I'm starting to find my passion, and I recognized just how important and fulfilling learning is to me.

- I experienced tremendous loss this year and had the opportunity to grow closer to my husband. We're both still working through this and trying to become stronger because of it, but it is still quite painful for him. I imagine each holiday and landmark will get easier as time passes, but it won't happen quickly.

- I had the opportunity to make some marvelous connections! Oh the amazing people I have met and the things they have taught me about learning, thinking and connecting. I'm looking forward to making more connections and growing even more this year. Thank you to each of you for giving me the opportunity to connect with you!

- I had the opportunity to experience a tremendous change this year. I left the school where I worked for 13 years and moved to a brand new building, into a brand new grade level, with a brand new teaching structure, as part of a brand new faculty and a brand new team. It certainly hasn't happened without growing pains, but I am proud of how I have worked through the change and learned how to work with different people.

- I had the opportunity to travel and see some beautiful places and some beautiful people. Between our summer vacation and a Christmas trip, my husband and I covered the entire east coast of the United States from Acadia National Park in Maine to the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama.

- I had the opportunity to realize that sometimes the best things in life aren't things. The best things are the moments: those times when I was helping others, surprising the ones I love, and spending time with the people I care about. I have the memories and love that I will carry with me forever!

These certainly aren't all of my opportunities for the year, but you get the point. I wish I could keep the word opportunity for 2012, but in the true spirit of One Little Word, I've chosen a new one. The word I picked is GROW, and I think it's a great word that will build upon all that started with my opportunities in 2011. I'm looking forward to sharing how I grow during the upcoming year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's Your Challenge

As I was taking my daily, after work trip through my Facebook newsfeed I ran across a post from PLP that caught my eye. My wonderful Year 2 community leader, Lani Hall, shared the following TED talk:

Last year I followed Ali Edwards's suggestion and picked One Little Word, and I'm really looking forward to finishing my reflection on that next week. I love the idea of picking something and focusing on it for 30 days just to see what I can do - a year's worth of growing and changing in 12 manageable chunks.

I suppose the first step is to decide what I would most like to try or do that I haven't had the courage or willpower to try or do before. One thing that pops into my head is 30 days without potato chips. Like Matt's post 30 days of no sugar picture, I fear my day 31 may look like that, but it is definitely worth a shot. I need to think more about this and decide on some challenges for myself for the year.

What would YOU do for your 30 Day Challenge?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Sad Day, A Big Change, A New Beginning

Today my students and I said goodbye to my amazing student teacher, and there were lots of hugs (and autographs! HA!) being handed out as everybody left at the end of the day. Sara was a tremendously important part of our classroom, and while I hope she finds a job, I also hope that she continues to be part of our class through her space on our blog, subbing, and some visits and volunteering.

Things are going to change dramatically in my classroom. After three months of sharing responsibilities and splitting up the jobs everything will be back on my shoulders. I'll admit there is a bit of that "first day of school" excitement in my tummy to be in the classroom all by myself - it's a fresh start. At the same time I can't help being sad because not only have I been a mentor during this time, but I have also learned so much.

One of the biggest things I learned was how to really listen and ask good questions. I won't lie, this was a big part of my Connected Coaches course, but working with Sara allowed me to practice those skills in a real life relationship. She asked me fabulous questions which forced me to reflect upon why I did things in my classroom and why those things were the best for kids. She also asked me questions which helped me practice listening, paraphrasing and asking questions back. I really tried not to always give her the answer - I forced her to think about what she would do and then do it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it bombed, but in every situation we both learned from the experience and were able to improve what we were doing for the kids in our class.

And yes - it's be OUR class. She was an important part of our family and a wonderful teammate, and we will all miss her.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Too Much Technology?

I understand the value of technology, I really do. Being connected via Twitter, blogs, online courses and professional development opportunities has helped me grow more professionally and personally in the last year than I could have ever done on my own. But even with all the benefits I wonder if sometimes there's just too much technology. When is enough, enough... or too much even?

This isn't a new thought for me; it's something I've been wondering for a long time. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I spend so much time on my computer that when I'm out and about I simply want to be out and about. I don't want email notifications. I don't want to see who's updating their FB statuses. If I'm out shopping, then I need to get that done. If I'm having dinner and drinks, then I want to be focused on the people who are there with me in that moment. Why do people need to be checking their phones ALL THE TIME?

Besides being frustrated with people who can't step away from their phones, I also don't get the whole app phenomena. Even though I have an iPod touch that my hubby got me for my anniversary last year, I rarely use it for anything but music. My favorite app? Solitaire - it helps me fall asleep at night when I can't. I can't justify spending the money on most apps, and most of the free ones -- I just don't see the point.

There are two of us here, just me and my husband. There are four laptops, if you count my work issued computer, a DVR, an Xbox, a Wii, a PlayStation 3 (which is for sale if anybody wants it), a Droid, a BlueRay player, a Sirius radio that hubby can carry around because the headphones double as an antenna, an iPod touch and an iPad (another item that is school issued). That's a lot of technology for two people, isn't it? Or are we just like everybody else these days?

What really got me thinking about this today is that my hubby told me he would like a Nook Tablet for Christmas. I asked him, "How is that different than your phone? Do you really need both?" This was followed by a huff and a puff and the comment that he would find something else he'd like to have. It's not that I don't want to get the poor guy what he wants. He certainly works his tail off, he has had a crappy year, and he deserves any gift that he gets. I just don't see how it's any different from what we have now, and if I'm going to spend that much money I'd like to get something that's different from one of the tech tools that we already have lying around the house.

So, am I alone in these thoughts? Am I being a fuddy-duddy? Or is there a point where the technology is simply redundant and isn't adding any value?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Learning and Coaching

It's been a while since I've taken any sort of grad courses, but my PLP experience last year taught me that some of the best learning isn't always attached to graduate credits. Even though I joined my team in continuing with Year 2 of the PLP program, I decided to kick it up a notch and take one of the courses they offer. In all honesty, I could have taken just about any course offered by PLP, but without the attachment of grad credits I was paying out of pocket. I had to pick one.

I made the decision to take the Connected Coaches course that ran from mid-September through mid-November. I picked this course mostly because I would like to continue to be part of PLP after my part in Year 2 is over, and I thought applying to be a coach would be a great way to do that. I'm also hoping that my district will consider beginning to use coaches to assist teachers, and I thought this course would provide a fabulous foundation should I choose to pursue that track with my teaching career.

Still waiting to see what happens with the first part. I know I have the skills I need should the second part ever come to fruition. Could not believe all of the other benefits I got from this course.

First and foremost, I met an amazing group of people whom I am pleased to call friends and have as part of my PLN. It was very daunting to sit the first evening and listen to the credentials of this group: PLP community leaders, administrators, speakers, school founders... I could go on. They pushed me and my thinking, and I know I got so much more out of this course thanks to the discussions and conversations that I had. It just goes to show how vitally important relationships are, even in an online setting.

Next I learned and practiced skills that I found extremely useful in my classroom. I came into the course with my focus on coaching adults, but as the weeks went on (and let me tell you, 8 weeks was too short!) it became clearer and clearer to me that the skills we were learning are skills that every teacher needs if they are trying to shift his or her classroom. This course really solidified for me that I don't want to be a teacher any more; I don't want to stand up in the front of the classroom and spew knowledge. My students should be the leaders in the classroom, and I should be coaching them and facilitating their attempts to take charge of their own learning. This flip is going to be a long process with 9 and 10 year olds, but the skills I developed to build relationships, listen and answer questions are going to help in this process.

Finally, and this is certainly not all I'm taking away from this course but what I'm focusing on here, I realized how much work I still needed to do on listening. In our fast-paced world I think few of us can really say that we are in the moment when somebody speaks to us. We distracted by many shiny things, including our own desire to have a voice, and often don't truly given attention to the people with whom we are speaking. During this course I learned to slow down and really listen to people, whether that listening be in person or reading posts carefully in online discussions. I got so much from our discussions because I read carefully and thought about what each person said rather than just jumping in to do my own posts. And now in real life I am trying to do the same thing. Each time I'm in a conversation, be it with an adult or a student, I try to focus on that one person, think about what they are saying, and respond as though they are the only thing that matters to me at that moment. Because they should be. Trying is the key word here. I'm not there yet, but I'm definitely getting better.

Having gotten my Master's, my principal's certification and taken 30 additional credits, I have certainly been through my fair share of graduate classes. Honestly, none taught me as much as what I learned during my Connected Coaches course. It just proves the power of learning that can happen when you're participating in something because it's your passion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Using iPads in the Classroom

Having a cart of 30 iPads for my classroom should be awesome, right? I know it should; however, I've been very overwhelmed being the teacher who was selected to roll out iPad use in the classrooms at my new school.

My first challenge has come in the form of technology management. In addition to being given the iPads I also have been given a majority of the responsibility for their upkeep: read that to mean I do all the charging, syncing and updates of the 30 iPads to the best that I can. I have an additional laptop that is specifically setup as the hub for our cart, but the initial set-up and subsequent sync attempts have not gone well. Even though I'm trying to use the same profile for each iPad, I have often having to restore the iPads from their original factory settings to successfully sync them, and things such as which apps sync and the pages on which those apps appear need to be reset for each individual iPad. I've checked here, but I'm wondering if anybody has found any other tricks that work to solve some of these issues.

Another challenge is sorting through the massive amount of information available to me. There are tremendous resources, like those that Cybraryman provides, blog posts from teachers who are doing the same thing I am, and list upon list (take another look at Cybraryman's page) of the best education apps for iPads. I feel a great responsibility to NOT waste the district's money on apps that will not be effective tools for our students, but most don't have a true preview available before purchase. Not that I don't trust everybody's thoughts and suggestions, but it would really be nice to try out these apps before purchasing them. Is there a resource that you have found that really helps you select effective apps?

A third challenge, and perhaps this is just me being too hard on myself, is how I want to use the iPads. I don't just want them to be a glorified worksheet. During my searches today I found this article that really speaks to how I'm feeling. If I'm going to use iPads with my students I want the use to be meaningful. But where I'm at in the roll out, are practice type apps meaningful? Until my students and I get used to using the iPads is trying to do more impractical? I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Our goal is to roll these wonderful tools out for the rest of the school in January, and I worry that if I feel overwhelmed other teachers will, too. Perhaps my struggles are more about me trying to roll out these iPads perfectly when that truly is impossible. Maybe I should just let everybody else have a shot at them and see what happens.

What do you think? What tips or suggestions do you have for me?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Central PA is Spinning

The only thing that people around here are able to talk about right now is the PSU sexual abuse scandal. I've remained fairly quiet about the whole situation, but because it's weighing pretty heavily on my mind I wanted to share just a few thoughts.

1. There are 8 children whose lives have been irrevocably altered. This media fiasco is making a mockery of the trauma they have suffered from and will make it that much harder for them to recover from what was allegedly done to them.

2. It will not matter the number of firings or the names of the people who were fired. These actions and names will not change the fact that it appears as though people knew this abuse was taking place and did nothing to stop it. It also appears as they did nothing to keep more children and young adults from being placed in dangerous situations.

3. I don't know what it says about the people in my little neck of the woods, but the exchanges I've been seeing on Facebook and on local news sites have absolutely saddened and disappointed me. While I understand that people are very passionate about this situation, I cannot believe the rude, disrespectful, and in some cases downright hateful comments and posts I have been seeing. What kind of people are we if we cannot read and respond to each other in anything other than a hurtful tone? As I sit and watch adults treat each other in such a way I begin to understand why our elementary kids have a difficult time being kind and respectful to each other.

As I shared in my Facebook post on the topic:

Perhaps because of all of this, one person, who might not have said anything before, will stand up for and report a child, a woman, a man, or an elder who is being abused. And that is when some good will come out of this awful situation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sharing is Learning

If you read this blog you probably already know that last year I had the opportunity to participate in a pretty meaningful professional development experience and become part of the PLP community.

As I was thinking back to how far I have come in the past year with my use of technology both personally and with my students, the development of my PLN through Twitter and reading blogs, and the transformation of my beliefs about the educational system, I realized that so much of this is dependent upon my participation. Never has, "You get out of it what you put into it," meant so much to me.

My learning and my transformations have taken place because I have had many opportunities to participate in communities and chats that all seemed to share a common set of norms or ground rules. While I could probably go on for quite a while with this list, the ones that stand out the most to me include:

- The contributions of every person are valuable.
- We should share openly and honestly.
- Be supportive of each other
- Believe that everybody has something to contribute.
- Be grateful for contributions and for participation.
- There are those you can help and those you can learn from.
- Encourage more sharing.

Last year when I started this journey, I was really nervous: nervous about tweeting, nervous about writing a blog post, nervous about commenting to others, and nervous about taking part in any discussions. I was nervous because, to be honest, I didn't think I was smart enough. I didn't think that what I had to say was important. Who am I, and why would anybody want to read anything I write? So I watched, but it didn't seem quite right.

I'm not sure what exactly made me finally do my first post, but I think I reread it about 15 times before I pushed the reply button. Even after all that rereading, I wasn't really sure that I had much to say or that anybody would want to read it.

What I ended up finding out was that somebody WAS interested in reading it, and I ended up participating more and more: in chats on Twitter, through my own tweets, by posting on my blog, by commenting to others, and by participating in community discussions. I haven't looked back since because I have learned so much this past year, and most of my learning has come from all of the sharing I do and the people I have met through these discussions.

Each of the norms that I listed above, in my mind, emphasizes how important it is to participate and be supportive of each other in this online community. We are beaten down and battered so much by people outside of education, we should never do it to each other. Yes, we can disagree; yes, we should push back. But it should always be done in a respectful and caring manner. We want to get everybody participating because our collective knowledge and insights are so powerful.

If you're just getting started with this online journey and you're nervous, that's okay. If you're worried you're not smart enough - you are. You can help others as much as you can learn from others. If you think you don't have much to say, it's not true: everybody's contributions are valuable. I hope that this post will encourage anybody who's been worried about being part of an online community to take at least one small step to joining a conversation. You will be glad that you did!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Checking In After a Busy Week

It has been a busy, busy week. It started last weekend with a ton of work at home and not much time to relax and rejuvenate. Even though I started out the week exhausted, it was totally worth it. My waterlogged basement is dry, recarpeted and livable once again! As much as I'm happy with how things are going at school I don't think I'll ever be truly caught up with that part of my life this year so I was very excited to have my house clean and organized. If everything else is crazy, at least I can come home to a place that is clean and calming.

We're starting to work on our next PBL unit based on the Titanic so we will see how this one goes. The kids just asked their questions, and my student teacher and I are providing the instruction on the reading strategies and skills that are focused on for the next few assessments. I'm looking forward to getting to the student-lead part of the learning to see what they will do this time around. I was thinking about requiring a student or group created digital artifact for this project, but I'm not sure about that yet. Need to do a little more thinking.

Much of my time outside of school has been focused on my PLP e-course that I'm taking about being a connected coach. I'll be writing more about that this week; I have learned so much, and I think it would be great for all classroom teachers to learn more about being a coach. It would not only help teachers support their coworkers, but I am definitely learning how to work differently with my students!

The other important thing that I've done is I've gotten back to taking better care of myself again! After losing close to 60 pounds, I had gained about 25 back after our challenging spring and lazy summer. I've cooked every night except Friday the last two weeks (hmmm - I should probably post some of the yummy and easy things I'm cooking as I learn how to cook!), and I am feeling much better.

So that's been my last week. To sum it up - it's been a blur. But I'm learning a lot and having fun. I just need to remember to write it down and tell you all about it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Today Was a Great Day

I almost hate to say it because I don't want to jinx myself, but today was probably the best day since starting the school year. Funny thing is, I wasn't expecting it to turn out that way at all.

Our morning started with a pretty big meeting, and I was not at all happy about the information I got before the meeting. It's so hard. On one hand, we teachers know our students, and we just want to do what's best for them. On the other hand the reading supervisor and specialists have all of the data and know the goals that must be met, and they work extremely hard to create sessions that best meet everybody's needs.

We were definitely a few miles apart, but everybody was professional and came in willing to listen. When all was said and done, we had a plan that honors the data, recognizes what the students need to meet the specific goals required this year, and keeps students in their classrooms during all of their subjects so they can still participate in subjects they love and activities that allow them to do authentic reading and writing. It was an extremely positive experience, and I'm really glad I got to be a part of it.

Then this afternoon I had a really positive experience with my students. One child has been out sick for about a week and a half. Using an idea that I learned from Brian Crosby, (@bcrosby) we connected via Skype. He participated in all of our lessons, small groups and Daily 5 blocks, and he seemed to be really excited to be with us. I had two kids who had some difficulty with it and were constantly waving at the computer, but 2 out of 24 is not bad! The kids were very happy to have him back, and I was, too. We'll continue to Skype him in until he can come back to school. My only regret is not thinking of this sooner!

I talk about the stuff I do a lot here, but I'm not one to go around and tell the people I work with what's going on in my room. I don't want to seem like I'm bragging or try to set expectations for others. But I was really excited about this so I told my next door neighbor, and she came to check it out. I think karma didn't want my head to get too big about it, though, because as soon as she left I was on puke detail - walking somebody to the nurse's office with a trash can just in case. Nothing brings you back to Earth faster than thinking about the potential opportunity to catch puke in a trash can! ;)

So I'm going to ride this wave of positive into the weekend and see what we can do to take the next steps on Monday!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Results Are In!

My past few posts have documented my struggles with my first attempts at PBL in my classroom. We've been working on a project focused on the Iditarod. Our purpose was to answer the students' questions they created as we previewed the race and did a WQML chart (that's my own little take on Tony Stead's RAN strategy) at the beginning of the story. After we finished the story we found that many of our questions were left unanswered so I gave the students the opportunity to do some learning in a test-free, interest-based environment.

I won't lie. This was a LOT harder than I thought it would be.

I started with 6 questions that I hoped would get the kids in the right frame of mind for taking over as self-directed learners. My students answered the questions like this:

As we started working on the projects I took two separate approaches with my kids. One group was very guided, and the other group basically took control of their own learning. While each group went through the project differently and completed different tasks, both groups achieved the purpose of the project: to answer their own questions in a test-free environment. If you'd like to see some of our final projects you can visit our class blog.

After all the struggles I had, I am really pleased with how our first PBL experience went. We still have a long way to go, but I think that we are on the right track.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Plan

A few more days, a few more opportunities to explore the difficulties my one group of students is having. They are great kids, but working in teams is EXTREMELY challenging for them. I have been thinking long and hard about my plans for tomorrow and Friday. We were originally going to work in independent, student selected groups to find information about the Iditarod. But after a few more days of observing the group, I realize now is not quite the time.

I could plow ahead with the project to make a point, but I truly think that the difficulties they would encounter working in groups would negate any of the benefits this PBL opportunity would provide. I'm still going to allow the kids to select the group of questions they'd like to answer. I'm still going to allow the students to choose the resources they use to find the answer. But how they answer the questions and work together is going to be much or guided than I originally planned. I am keeping my original plan with my other group of students so I am very interested to see how both groups fair with this learning opportunity.

This decision didn't come easily. I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon what I would do and why I would do it that way. My goal for this project is that the kids will learn the information THEY wanted to learn about the Iditarod. Because these kids have never had experience with PBL or independent learning, I know that this baby step will allow them to begin to develop the skills they need to eventually get to full-on PBL.

I often wonder if the crazy start to our school year impacted the community I tried to create in my classroom. I wonder if the change from old school to new has impacted my students. Either way, those are things that I cannot change. What I can do is take a step back, look closely at the process, and think about the skills my students need to have in order to be successful working together to complete a task. And by guiding them through the process the first few times I feel like I will be able to help them become the independent learners I'd like them to be.

I guess we will see what happens tomorrow!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Timing is Everything

I'm currently taking a course to learn about being a Connected Coach. While the emphasis of the course is coaching adults, I'm finally realizing that part of what I'm trying to change in my classroom is my role. I am trying to go from the leader and dispenser of knowledge to a coach who helps my students develop their own learning. As you might have read yesterday, this is not going so well. Not. Well. At. All.

So this morning I was taking the time to respond to some assignments in our community, and I read this article about self-directed learners and their invisible assets. While I was reading the article I realized that these are the things my kids need to develop. But if we can't get adults to do or recognize these things, how in the world do I get 9 and 10 year old kids to? I guess we have to try and teach them.

Despite my feelings yesterday, I'm going to keep trying. This week, after we finish reading our story about the Iditarod, we are going to work in teams to answer the questions we wanted to know about but didn't learn about in our story. Before we get start, though, we're going to talk about these six questions that I developed from the 6 characteristics of self-directed learners:

1. What is our purpose? What are we trying to do or learn during this project?
2. If you could do or learn it in ANY way, what would you do?
3. What are you good at that could help your team?
4. Which part of the project do you want to be part of?
5. What do you think will be hard? What might our team mess up? Why is making mistakes a GOOD thing?
6. How can working with others help us complete this project?

I'm not sure if this is going to help my students begin to understand what taking control of their learning means, but it's worth a shot. I feel strongly about changing my classroom, and I'm not going to give up now.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Teaching Is Hard

Today was one of those days where I tend to forget all of the #whyIteach tweets and think, "What in the world am I doing here?" I know in my heart that teaching my kids web 2.0 tools so they can be more connected, letting them take charge of their learning, and helping them be more active leaders in the classroom are all the right things to do. But today? Today was ugly.

My kids are young, and I'm not sure how to teach them to be leaders when they've only ever been trained to be followers.

I'm giving them more freedom to take control of their learning, but they don't all use that freedom appropriately - even when given specific tasks to complete, they would rather play than learn. Is the playing valuable?

They hate doing worksheets and tasks that they don't care about so I give them choices, and I try to include topics that they want to learn about. Even when the topic is their choice some of them goof around. How do I help them see how valuable learning is?

Today at the end of the day, I just needed quiet. I'll admit, there were some tears. I know changing instruction is the right thing to, but I'm not sure I know how to do it. Last year the kids bought in, jumped on the bandwagon and rode the wave of excitement. These kids are excited, to a point. But then they kinda give up and do their own thing.

It will take time. They will get it. But right now I feel like a failure.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is It Me?

It's no secret if you read my blog that a lot of things are changing in my classroom this year. In case you haven't been able to keep track of them all, here's a quick summary:

1. Many coworkers and I left the schools / faculties we were part of for many years to become part of the faculty at a brand new school.
2. I switched from 5th grade to 4th grade.
3. I went from teaching all subjects to teaching Humanities (communication arts - reading & writing, and social students)
4. My day is divided into two parts - morning and afternoon, and there are two VERY different groups of students in my room during those times
5. We missed 2.5 days of school during our first week due to historic flooding.
6. We missed 1 day of school this week because an outside business overwhelmed the township sewer system and forced nasty, nasty gas into my school. We missed Monday while they aired out the place because the smell was overwhelming.

So, yeah. That's been my last month. Even with all of those crazy things going on, the year has gone relatively well. We've been working very hard to implement Daily 5 activities and CAFE learnings, and we (my student teacher and I) also spent a great deal of time developing a sense of community with both groups of students.

In addition to all of that, I have REALLY been trying to incorporate what I have learned as a PLPeep and what I learned from reading The Book Whisperer. I have been trying to flip my classroom, base the learning on student interests, connect our curriculum to real life experiences, and incorporate technology when it will enhance learning (and when I can get my hands on the tools).

Which brings us to this morning. It was awful. My poor student teacher confessed that she was near tears, and to be quite honest so was I. The kids were not ready for the start of the day (our routine is on a chart on the wall and we've been reviewing it every morning when they come in), they needed directions repeated multiple times, they were talking while we were teaching... it was just a bad, bad day.

I suppose my old way of thinking would have been, "Geez, these kids are AWFUL, how are we going to get through this whole year?" But this morning I was thinking, "What am I doing wrong? What can I do differently to help these kids?" We've had class meetings about all of these problems as we've worked to develop routines and build community. I've incorporated the students' suggestions as much as I could. Today they didn't even follow their own suggestions. When the first lesson bombed I thought, "Let's be more active," but the active just led to silly and unfocused. "Let's be more structured," led to blank stares and talking while I was trying to teach. I could go on, but I'm pretty sure that we've all been there before. Right? We have, haven't we??

The good news is that my afternoon group saved the day. I shared that I was very frustrated and hoped they would help me have a GREAT afternoon, and they did just that. It was nice to have the day end on a positive note. But being who I am, I keep thinking, "Is it me? What am I doing wrong? What else can I do to engage this morning group of kids?"

I suppose before I do anything drastic I could simply chalk it up to an off day for the whole group and see what happens tomorrow. But I can't help the kids feel successful when I am feeling so beat down myself. I hope I'm right - I hope tomorrow will be a better day. And if it's not, I'll be back asking you what I could do differently because I think I need a fresh set of ideas.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

THIS Is What Kids are Doing with Social Media

And my guess is that they probably learned none of these skills, and they probably made none of these connections while they were in school.

Say what you will about Lady Gaga and her music, but the positive impact that she has made for her fans transcends anything I ever remember seeing from a musician or musical group.

Check out this video that I originally found here (yes, a guilty pleasure) that was created by 150 fans from around the world. These kids are making a difference using social media. Let's hope our government, schools and families start listening and help kids understand what bullying can do to others and that if you are being bullied, things DO get better.

What are you doing with social media?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I'd Do Anything for a Good Cause

Let's be perfectly clear - I am not a runner. When presented with a life or death scenario where curling up in a little ball / playing dead and running away are the two options I will most likely pick choice A. But 3.5 years ago as I was in the middle of some pretty extensive lifestyle changes and weight loss I decided I wanted to try and be a runner.

I downloaded the Couch to 5K (C25K) podcasts, got myself fitted with some supportive running shoes, and I was off on my little adventure. And let me tell you, I hated just about every minute of it. Actually, I liked the first three weeks: you run a little, you walk a little; the intervals were just enough to keep me interested and make me feel like a runner, but not enough to make me feel like I was going to die. Weeks 4 - 9? Disliked. Disliked to the highest degree of disliking possible. I felt none of that runner's high people talk about experiencing while they are running. I experienced the "Thank God I'm Finished Running" high each time I finished one of my days. But I had a goal. My goal was to run in the Pittsburgh Race for the Cure on Mother's Day in 2008 with some friends so I stuck with it.

My goal for my first 5K was to run it in under 45 minutes and run the whole thing. I was successful with my first goal because I crossed the finish line in 44:40. It may have only been by 20 seconds, but I met that goal. Unfortunately, I didn't meet my second goal. The course for this race started going uphill, and continued (with a few dips down here and there) uphill for a good majority of the first 2.5 miles. I was disappointed that I didn't meet both goals so I signed up for another 5K after school was over to see what I could do running a more level course.

Unfortunately my body had other ideas. In true Becky-style I pounded things out so much that I gave myself not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR stress fractures. Two were serious enough that I was in a walking boot for several weeks and then went to PT.

So, what does this all have to do with this post? Well, in June a dear friend lost her two year old daughter to an accidental drowning. They are raising funds to build a playground in Leah's name, and today they held a 5K Run / Walk to raise money for the cause. Initially I signed up with the intention of walking, but over the last few weeks I've been jogging here and there with my dogs in an attempt to tire them out so I thought what the heck, let's give it a go.

I fired up the iPod to week 1 of C25K and headed out. I was pretty darn impressed with the fact that I finished the first two miles in about 25 minutes! I was pumped and thinking that I would TOTALLY finished under 40 minutes. And then I hit the $^#8 HILL!! What is it with me picking these events that have giant hills?!?!? Pretty much the last 1.2 miles of the course was uphill and it was ridiculous (equal to an 8% incline on the treadmill... maybe more???). There was no running to be had, but I pushed myself to just keep walking, and I did. It took me as long to finish that last 1.2 miles as it did to do the first two combined, but I did it. Didn't stop, didn't take a break, just kept moving.

I would still choose to curl up in a little ball and play dead if I needed to. But sometimes when the cause is important enough we will reach deep inside ourselves to find the heart to do something we don't love just because it's the right thing to do. And maybe I don't dislike it as much as I thought I did. I'm signed up for another charity 5K next weekend, and I'm already planning on run/walking like I did today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Looking Back at the First Week

These first 6.5 days of school have been pretty eventful for many reasons. First an foremost, our first week of school was 1.5 days long due to historic flooding. Many of us are still trying to recover from the rain last weekend, we are also moving on and trying to get into a routine for this new year. But it was eventful and educational for many other reasons, too.

1. It takes a LONG time for 22 buses to be dismissed from a school. We need to find something more constructive for the kids to do while they are waiting.

2. Having a great student teacher who asks some fantastic questions had really made me reflect much more upon what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I know that I am improving as a teacher thanks to her.

3. I've really taken our move to the new building, a new grade level, and a new structure (teaching just Comm Arts and Social Studies) to make a brand new start. It's been a lot of work and will continue to be, but it will be very worth it.

4. It seems as though I'm not the only one who is really taking this opportunity to make a fresh start. I am truly enjoying my new teams, and I'm thankful that somebody had the vision to move me to this grade. I don't think I would have been as happy anywhere else.

5. Those Two Sisters really do have something with their Daily 5. I love it, and I am loving making it my own even more. So happy I finally came to that realization.

6. Even though I've already been through one year as a PLPeep, I realize there is so much I do not know and can't wait to learn it!

7. Cement in the basement takes a REALLY long time to dry. Apparently it take about the same amount of time as it takes for my husband and I to pick new carpet to cover that formerly wet cement.

And finally, something I already knew but love to be reminded of:

When terrible things happen you truly, truly see how good people are. I continued to be warmed by all of the amazing gifts people here are giving to each other as we all recover from the floods. If only we could some how capture this and remember to share this good ALL the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Was I on September 11, 2001?

After reading this wonderful post by my dear Invisipeep, Nancy, I wanted to share my reflection on 9/11.

I was in my classroom with my multiage class: 4th and 5th graders. I didn't have an aide to share the news with me, but a fellow teacher with the first special came and told me about the first plane and then the second. We continued to update each other as the morning went on. Whoever had special would drop off their students and take on the role of news reporter for the school.

We had few TVs in our building and no cable connection, and that day our Internet connection was spotty at best so I really had no idea exactly how bad things really were. We were asked to close the windows, which automatically made my kids suspicious that something was going on because I ALWAYS had my windows open on nice days. I sat down with them in a class meeting (one of my clearest memories was of Tommy sitting on his knees looking at me) to tell the kids that something was happening that their parents would explain to them at home, but they were safe and we were going to continue with our day until our early dismissal.

Parents started arriving early to pick up their children. Many of my coworkers said it reminded them of the day when Three Mile Island had its incident, and our area was evacuated. A friend and I came to my place after our early dismissal, and I finally got to see the pictures and the footage of everything that had happened.

Because we were cut off from everything and so focused on the kids, my number one memory of that day is not my first tv footage or anything like that. My most vivid memory of that day is the brilliant BLUE sky.... the brilliant BLUE and EMPTY sky. We're on the flight path to our local airport with planes flying by all the time. That day, nothing... except brilliant blue sky and 25 kids to keep my mind off of things until we got home.

As a PS to this post, one of those kids is now a grown-up friend on FB. Today he posted to me that he will always remember that he was playing chess in my classroom that morning. How crazy is that??

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From Hopeless to Helpful

Over the course of the last 24 hours my neck of the woods has gotten anywhere between 12 - 15 inches of rain. If you've never lived through a flood (or a tornado, earthquake or hurricane I'm sure), it's hard to put into words the hopeless feeling you feel as you watch the devastation take place around you. Last night we watched our feeds on Facebook show us our friends' and families' struggles with flooded basements and loss of property all while we were stuck at our own house. As desperate as we were to get out and help we couldn't because all of the roads to the people who needed us were blocked.

School was cancelled due to damaged and flooded roads, and my husband made the decision not to open his store around 7AM so we were prepared to just ride things out, wish we could help, and worry about our own wet basement. Then, around 10AM we finally had the chance to help out.

Every Friday night we have dinner and spend the evening with friends at Shank's Tavern in Marietta, PA. If you check out the website you can see a short summary of its extensive history and all the fun we have there. When you think of Shank's you should think of the TV show Cheers. It's just that kind of bar, and we love our friends that we have met there. Shank's is located right on the banks of the Susquehanna River, and when the river reaches flood stages above 52 feet they begin to get water in the basement. After our tremendous rainfalls of the last 24 hours the river is forecasted to crest sometime over the weekend between 62 and 63 feet.

This morning as we were continuing to get updates on Facebook, I saw that the owner of Shank's posted that they needed help at the tavern. They have survived two severe floods (one in the 1830s and one due to Hurricane Agnes in 1972) and several minor floods by moving all of the items from the bar upstairs or out. The owner and his wife live next door to the bar so they needed help as well. FINALLY (thanks to social media if you didn't already catch that) my husband and I could help. The tavern is located in the one place that we could actually get to without getting detoured or blocked by flooded roads.

We headed to Shank's at about 10AM and joined a group of about 15-20 other people who helped moved things upstairs, into refrigerator trucks, into moving vans, into personal vehicles and into a moving truck (of the tractor trailer variety) to make sure that our friends would be safe and have as many belongings as possible to get back on track when the water level recedes. Just after we finished packing up the last items from the house water began flooding into the basements, and in less than 30 minutes the water was to the main floor of the house.
Front street at about 11:30 AM

An empty Shank's just doesn't seem quite right

Our friends' yard

And the basement is flooded

More water along the side of the building

Same shot of Front Street 2:30 PM.

It's a choice to live and work in a place like Front Street in Marietta, and I know that our friends have lived through this before and will do it again. But that doesn't make the power of Mother Nature less scary and the losses felt by those up and down the street less painful. I am thankful that our friends and their dog will be safe, I'm thankful that we could do a small part, and I am thankful that I will have the opportunity to help carry all that stuff back down the steps so that we can have some fun again in the near future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Blur

That's the only way I can describe today - it was even more of a blur than the first day usually is. As always there were lots of new things to learn and old lessons to be revisited:

1. You have NO idea what is already established at a building when you first start working there. I never truly appreciated what was already in place until we opened a brand new building today. Almost all of the things we THOUGHT we had figured out will require another look.

2. Teaching 9 and 10 year olds to open a combination lock requires levels of patience never before seen on the first day of school.

3. Putting on "real shoes" for the first time in about 2.5 months makes my feet VERY unhappy. Everybody buy stock in Band-Aid brands!

4. There is no tired that is quite like the first day of school tired.

5. There is no other day that offers as many possibilities as the first day of a new school year.

6. I will NOT judge my students by their actions today. We were all overwhelmed, tired, and trying to get to know each other. We all need some time to figure out our place in the "family" of room 18.

7. A basket of chocolate in the faculty room is a pretty fabulous sight.

8. Finding a basket of chocolate in the faculty room is only topped by finding somebody to massage your feet in the faculty room! (Nope - it didn't happen, but wouldn't that be amazing!)

9. No matter how much trouble you have sleeping the night before the first day of school, you sleep like a ROCK the night before the second day of school.

10. As crazy as things were today, they could have been worse. Everybody was safe, everybody was fed, and despite some minor locker frustrations, everybody seemed to be happy. You cannot ask for anything more than that.

I continue to realize how blessed I am to be part of this new opportunity, and I keep reminding myself that the obstacles we're faced with are only outnumbered by the possibilities that await us.

Monday, September 5, 2011


After weeks of preparing my new classroom and meeting my new teammates, tomorrow is the big day. We finally, FINALLY get to work with our kiddos.

Every teacher can probably think back to the opening day inservice speeches that we've heard about change and attitude, but how often do any of us really have the opportunity to get a fresh start and really, really CHANGE how we do things? This year, I have just that.

When I say I'm at a new building, it's not just the physical building that I am talking about. In addition to the beautiful new facilities, I am part of a new staff that is comprised of people from 6 other buildings, and we have students who are coming to us from 5 elementary schools. Our support staff come from the same number of buildings, and we are developing everything from scratch.

As I was enjoying my Sunday night bubble bath (okay, I'm all about change, but I am not giving up the Sunday night bubble bath!!) I was reflecting upon what this opportunity means to me, and it's overwhelming. I want to continue to be transparent, I want to give my students learning opportunities that will help them develop a life-long love of learning, and I want to give my students a place where they all feel cared for, safe, and successful enough to achieve anything.

There are so many thoughts swirling around in my head right now in regards to the possibilities and hopes; I can't even put them all down coherently. Seriously - you should have seen how many times I've retyped this! What I can tell you is that I am ridiculously thrilled and equally terrified by the opportunities awaiting me this year, and I cannot wait to see what happens.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Do You Know What Gold Means?

Everybody recognizes and understand the familiar pink ribbons and Susan G. Komen's "For the Cure" tag line. It is a recognizable and worthy cause, and my heart goes out to the thousands of women and their families who battle breast cancer on a daily basis. But, since my main audience is largely made up of people who work with children on a daily basis, I'm wondering how many of you know what a gold ribbon means? How many of you know what September is?

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the gold ribbon symbolizes the thousands and thousands of children who are currently battling the disease and the after-effects of treatment that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

If you don't know much about childhood cancer, here are some basic facts for you:

- Every school day, 46 young people, or two classrooms of students, are diagnosed with cancer in this country. More than 12,500 children are diagnosed with cancer each year and over 40,000 children and adolescents are currently being treated for childhood cancers.

- Cancer is the #1 cause of death by disease in children. Cancer claims the lives of more children annually than any other disease: more than asthma, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis & AIDS combined.

- 3 out of 5 children suffer from long-term or late onset side effects.

- 1 out of every 5 children diagnosed with cancer dies.

- 2,300 children and teenagers will die each year from cancer.

- Common cancer symptoms in children are often suspected to be common illnesses and thus treated as such, causing cancer to be found at later stages. Attempts to detect childhood cancers at an earlier stage when the disease would react more favorably to treatment have largely failed.

- Approximately 20% of adults with cancer show evidence that their disease has spread, while almost 80% of children show that their cancer has spread to distant sites.

- Nationally, childhood cancer is 20 times more prevalent than pediatric AIDS yet pediatric AIDS receives four times the funding that childhood cancer receives.

I found these facts on a variety of different websites including:
Gold: The New Pink
Savannah's Blog

There are many others. Do a search for childhood cancer, and not only will you find websites for organizations devoted to battling this awful disease, but you will also find the inspirational, honest, and heart-wrenching blogs of families who are battling one of the many types of childhood cancer.

As we all get back into the swing of things this school year, please remember that while it is a beautiful and important colors, there are many other colors besides pink. This month, and throughout the year, I choose gold to support the amazing kids who are battling cancer.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Now THAT is Professional Development!

Last year at the beginning of the year I was approached by my assistant superintendent and asked if I was interested in being part of a small group that would be learning a lot about technology. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, and I was joined by 8 other individuals representing our new faculty in this venture. Looking back at the end of the year, all 10 of us (our group and our assistant superintendent) said that we really had no idea what we were getting into when we said we wanted to be part of the PLP teams from our district. But what an opportunity it was.

I know technology and have been trying to use it in my classroom, but I really wasn't sure about how to take the next step. As part of a Year 1 PLP team I really began to understand the many Web 2.0 tools that were out there and how I needed to start using them to help my kids prepared for their futures. My PLP experience really changed my philosophy of education, and it gave me the confidence to Teach Dangerously!

After a few months of personal learning, we selected a topic for our project: to infuse our new building with 21st century learning. Our teams worked extremely hard on our idea, and we thought we had a great idea when we went into our Elluminate session to present it to Sheryl and the other Year 1 teams in our cohort. We left the session feeling like we were not on the right track; we got some amazing feedback, both in personal and through the backchannel chat, and had a lot to think about.

What we realized as we reflected upon the questions we were asked and suggestions we were given is that while the focus of our professional development was using Web 2.0 tools to enhance learning, what we REALLY wanted to do was help our new faculty develop professional learning communities (PLCs) where they viewed each other as teachers and learners. With this realization in mind, we developed a professional development day for the start of our new school year that involved introductions to tools geared towards learners' levels, the opportunity to join a PLC of one's choosing, time for hands-on work with the tool, and the opportunity to walk away with a plan in place for how they would use the tool in the upcoming days or weeks. Even better was that our plan included follow-up sessions throughout the year so it was not just the typical "once and done" professional development.

The glitches came over the summer: an Open House was scheduled the day of our professiona development, and teachers needed to be trained in the basics of how to hook up and use their SmartBoards. With a short meeting we were easily able to revise our initial plan to shorten or take out some parts while focusing on the most important idea: there is a group of people who are learning how to use this tool, and we can all help each other with this new learning.

Finally on Thursday we had the opportunity to put our plan into action. After a short introduction by our "least techie" teammate, who really doesn't give himself enough credit, teachers moved through four sessions to get introductions about Glogster, Blogging, Google Docs and iMovie and how each could be used throughout the curriculum. After the introduction sessions teachers returned to the library, reviewed what they heard, and selected the PLC group they would most like to be part of. We then broke into these groups, and the teachers had the opportunity to use the tools and begin creating lessons, blogs, glogs, movies and documents that they could use during the first weeks of school.

The response from the faculty was overwhelming: they liked the quick sessions about the tools so they weren't too overwhelmed with information, they liked being able to pick the tool they wanted to learn more about, and they really, really appreciated the opportunity to spend so much time working with the tools. The best part is that many of the staff asked if we would be having another chance to work together on the tools. Without even knowing it, they had requested the next part of our plan so we were happy to tell them that our principal is letting the PLCs meet during our faculty meetings each month!

As team we could not have been more pleased with how our plan became reality, and it was great to get so many positive responses from our fellow faculty members. I am extremely proud and honored to be part of such a hard-working group of people. We're all looking forward to not only moving through this year with our new faculty, but also being part of a Year 2 PLP team!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome to Bear Creek!

Nope, it's not GO! time yet, even though our first teacher day is tomorrow. GO! time is officially saved for next Tuesday when the kids arrive. So next Monday night you'll get my GO! post. Until then, I would like to officially welcome you to my #10pixtour of Bear Creek School.

This is the front entrance to our school. To the right of the doors is our beautiful Instructional Media Center, and to the left is where the main office is located.

A shot from inside the IMC - sorry it's kinda dark. I still haven't quite figured out where the lights are in there yet! You can also see our beautiful gym and just half of our amazing music room! Kids will be able to be part of Chorus, band and orchestra in addition to their music classes. I forgot to get pictures of the art and technology rooms. Guess I'll need to do another 10 pix!

This is just part of the cafeteria where the kids will come to lunch with their entire grade level. Our stage is also located in here, and the kids will go right out to recess from the cafeteria.

Our fourth grade hallway is the first classroom hallway on the right, and we are lucky enough to be this beautiful blue color. Sixth grade, a chocolate plum, is the next hallway and fifth grade, an amazing green, is the final classroom hallway across from the cafeteria. The steps under the 4 lead you to the lower level where my classroom is located.

And these are my classroom! It's not quite finished, but I am very happy that it is starting to feel like home. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a carpet may be in my future to make it feel a little more cozy, but I'm loving the way everything is coming together. I can see my kids and I learning a LOT here this year!!

I am looking forward to sharing many more pictures and experiences from this brand new building. It's an amazing opportunity to have the chance for a fresh start.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Different Perspective

I loved school when I was little, and learning came very easily to me whether I listened to my teacher, wrote my own notes or watched something being done. It's mornings like this morning that help me realize how different learning is for some of my students.

Being sick of the All Irene, All the Time broadcasting (which, as a side note, we're all good!) my hubby was flipping through the channels to find something he wanted to watch. He settled upon a car guy show, you know - the shows where they take a car apart and put it all back together to make it all awesome and cool looking.

After about two minutes of trying to watch this show with him, I found my mind wandering. I hear the words the man is saying, I'm watching what he's doing, but I have NO CLUE what is going on. Ask me to retell what he just did - HA!! I feel like I'm listening to him speak in a different language. My mind quickly started to wander to what I have to work on today, what's happening on Facebook, checking the roof to see if we lost any shingles... you get the idea.

This is exactly what school must be like for some of our students. They hear our words, but they have no idea what we are talking about. I need to take this TV experience I had this morning and keep it in mind as I work with my kids this year. It's my job to help them connect these new learnings to past experiences and prior knowledge to make it meaningful. And if they don't have the background knowledge then I need to make sure I develop enough of a foundation for them that they don't feel like I do when I was watching this show.

And who says you can't learn something by watching TV! ;)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Get Set.....

Things have been moving along quite nicely in my little room on the lower level. Books are all out on shelves, posters are up, my new magnetic word wall flanks the Smartboard, desks are arranged, folders are labeled, sticks for choosing Daily 5 are organized, and it's beginning to feel like home. I had a meeting with the other 3 members of my team yesterday, and it was great to share some laughs and goof around in addition to getting a lot of work done. I swear I had my camera for my #10pixtour yesterday, but I got so wrapped up in everything that I was doing that I forgot to take pictures! Don't worry - I promise it's coming.

The two things I'm most excited about, in terms of getting my kids more involved with presenting our class to the world, actually happened here at home. Last night I set up our brand new class website which the kids will be in charge of updating each day, and I also set up our class Twitter account so parents can follow us and get information that way. I know I can use these two tools to educate my students about being productive, respectful online citizens, and I'm hoping that I can also use these tools to educate the parents to be informed online citizens who understand all the positive aspects of social media and the web.

It's strange because I'm so used to beginning school the last Monday of August, I feel like it's time to get started. But with all of the construction and moving we'll only be having our inservice days this week. I'm looking forward to putting the finishing touches on my room and my plans, working with our staff to implement our PLP professional development plan, and seeing my kiddos when the come for open houses on Wednesday and Thursday.

I am SO excited!!!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Your Mark...

I am finally, legitimately excited about this school year. It took a while because of... well, because of several different things over which I have no control. I got sucked into the whirlpool of negativity, and it took me a little while to get my head on straight and escape.

Besides remembering to let go of the negative, there are a couple of other things that have me riding the WOOO HOOOO train right into the new year. First, I have finally finished unpacking everything. That doesn't mean that my room is all ready for the new year, but it does mean that there are no more boxes stacked everywhere and the clutter is controlled to the table currently in the front of my room. Now that everything is put away, I can get down to the nitty gritty of setting up my room so it will work best for me and my students. Once I get back to school I plan on getting a post with my #10pixtour so you all can see my beautiful new home away from home!

The next thing that has me pumped up is that I revisited my Daily 5 and CAFE books, and I'm starting to think about how I really want to change things up this year. Last year was a great start, but I knew that there are things I wanted to do differently. Because others were still using the more static guided reading groups with questions and assignments, I was trying to do the same. I was happy with how I allowed the students choices for what book we read and was also pleased that my groups were somewhat fluid, but I want to do away with the "busy work" I feel like kids were doing instead of the authentic reading and writing activities. I'm also looking forward to incorporating what I learned about Words Their Way into my Daily 5 work as well. After messing with my schedule I think I may have come up with a schedule that will work really well with all of my plans. I'll share more about the schedule if it gets the thumbs up from my 3 teammates. :)

The latest spark of excitement bubbled up the last two days as I was reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Three is my magic number so when two of my Super Twitter Peeps and one of my friends all mentioned this book within 48 hours of each other, I knew it was something I needed to check out. It confirmed my desire to do more with students' choices and their independent reading that I was pulling from Daily 5, and it gave me the idea for the schedule that I talked about above.

You'll probably think I'm going to say that the most important thing I learned from this book is that kids need to be reading, but that's not it. The most important thing I'm taking away is the reminder that while I can use other people's frameworks in my classroom, I need to make it my own, and THAT is what has me so excited. I've been so worried about squandering my opportunity to start fresh by "doing something wrong" that I totally missed the fact that that's impossible. I may do things that don't work quite as I'd hoped. But this is my classroom and I can't "do something wrong" as long as I'm doing right by the kids and teach what's in the curriculum.

So I'm on my mark. There's lot's to do to get ready for the new school year, but I'm ready for what lies ahead.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Frozen By.....???

I'm not sure interesting is the word that I want for today, but I can't quite figure out what would be better.

On one hand, my first blog post for Voices from the Learning Revolution was published, and I am still pinching myself. One the other hand I spent my day at our summer building inservice, and I feel like a lot of the information being discussed was exactly the opposite of what I wrote.

We have a pretty unique opportunity at our school. We have the chance to start from scratch: brand new building, brand new teaching assignments, brand new teams - even for people who did not switch grade levels, things are changing. But as I listened to people talk today, I heard so much of what has been done for the last 20 to 30 years.

I've changed a lot in the past year, and I disagreed with a lot of the things that were being discussed today. For some things I spoke up, for others I kept my thoughts to myself. This is not the way I choose to run my classroom any more, and I know that if we expect schools to change and better meet the future needs of our students we need to help other teachers change, too. But how?

How exactly do you express your beliefs and try to persuade others to do things differently when they seem frozen by fear of change, by the inability to see a new picture, or by their belief system? How do you speak up without being perceived as a pushy know-it-all or a loud mouth? I see myself trying to gently nudge others to change their direction and, when they just don't budge, giving up and going in that direction with the others who already see that it's what's best for kids. But that can't be good because that means many kids aren't getting what we think they need.

Am I frozen by fear? By insecurity? Who am I to say this is what's best for kids? Am I so worried that people won't like me that I'm not willing to speak out for what is right by our students?

I recognize that if we're going to really step up and make a change, now is the time to do it. I guess the big question is HOW?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On The Doorstep

My summer of fun, my summer of cramming two summer's worth of fun into one summer, is slowly coming to an end. After spending another amazing week at Camp Can Do and a few days cleaning up the aftermath from 2 dogs and a hubby left alone for 8 days, I finally ventured in to my new school to see my new room.

My first day back always follows the same pattern, and I liken it to the first day of class when I got my syllabus. I would stare blankly at the pages covered in assignments, feel slightly like I was going to throw up, and wonder what in the world I got myself into.

Thursday was pretty much the same. After signing for my new keys and swipe card, I headed through the main hallway, down the flight of steps, and padded down the 4th grade hallway to my classroom. I stepped inside, set my things down, and looked around. I walked over to the window and put up the blinds. I looked around.

A desk.
An American flag.
2 two-drawer filing cabinets.
1 long table.
25 desks.
6 two-self metal book cases.
A flag.
An electric pencil sharpener.
2 trash cans and a recycle bin.
Two and a half skids worth of boxes piled in the corner.

I sat down at my desk and tried to set-up my voicemail box. Didn't work. I walked over to the storage area and opened every drawer and cupboard. I propped myself up on the table and looked around. I went back to my car and got the personal stuff to set up my desk and brought it back to the room. I sat some more. I literally spun in circles a few times. I walked up and down the hallway peeking in classrooms and seeing what others have already done since I'm about a week behind. I went back to my room and thought, "What in the WORLD have I gotten myself into?"

Then I got changed, helped with an orientation tour for some of our 4th graders, grabbed my purse and went home feeling completely overwhelmed.

This happens every year, although with a new building, classroom and grade level, the fear, nervousness and pit in my stomach seem to have shown up on a much grander scale. The good news is that since it happens every year I know what to do. I go to school, I have my moment, and I go home. When I go back on Monday I will be ready to tackle those boxes and set up a classroom that will work best for me and my students.

I'm on the doorstep of a new school year, and I have no idea what will happen when I cross that threshold.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Vacation 2011

My husband and I just returned home from a nine day trip to New England. It was our second trip up north in the last three years, but after encountering monsoon like conditions the first time around Maine decided to treat us with some of her best, if a little bit hotter than normal, weather.

We started with a 10 hour trip to visit a dear friend and her family in south central Maine. They were kind enough to sell their used pop-up camper to us, and I think I may have left tent camping behind forever. Even though our camper is old enough to be considered an antique by auto standards, it was in good shape and we slept comfortably all week.

After a too-short overnight visit, we hitched up the camper and headed north east to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. If you have never had a chance to visit the beautiful area of Downeast Maine, you need to try and do so. We don't live far from the beaches of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and I love to go to the beach, but this is a whole different world. The rocky shore lines and the unique mountains of MDI make for unforgettable views:

There were so many things that we could do, but after the last view months we decided that coming back for a second visit would be better than trying to cram in so much that we couldn't relax and feel refreshed. We chose a variety of different activities on both the land and the sea. These included a trip around Park Loop Road, hiking up Gorham Mountain, going on a puffin and whale watch (yes! Puffins, several other types of sea birds and and between 10 - 15 whales!), sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, and Tide Pool School with a park ranger.

Me on top of Gorham Mountain


Finback Whales

If you look carefully you can see the humpback whale's white fins under the water

Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

Our "classroom" for Tide Pool School. I would LOVE to have a classroom like this!

We didn't get the chance to see a moose, ride bikes on the Carriage Roads, or go kayaking, but it was time to pack up and head to visit some relatives in Vermont. On our way we passed Mt. Washington - I'm too afraid of heights to drive up it, but the weather was incredible so at least I got a picture.

Finally, we arrived in Vermont. We visited with my husband's family and celebrated his uncle's mother's 101st birthday! How often do you have the chance to participate in that kind of celebration?? Not often, so we were honored that we were included in the party. Vermont was also kind with her beautiful scenery as well:

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to have such an incredible adventure for this summer. While we won't be going back to Acadia next year, I have a feeling it will not be long until we visit MDI again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Watching History

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school was gathering as a class (or two or four) around the small cart TV and watching the space shuttle launches. I remember cheering and clapping as the shuttles would spin off into the blue and walking away from the TV talking with my friends how cool it would be if we were astronauts. I remember the pit in my stomach and crying when Challenger exploded.

Today I was lucky enough to watch the space shuttle Atlantis launch into space for the final shuttle mission. I still felt just like the elementary school kid who was sitting on the classroom floor 25-30 years ago: butterflies in my stomach hoping all would go well and awe... what it must be like to launch into space.

I know there is a great debate going on about the fact that our shuttle program is ending and we have nothing prepared to immediately replace that. But I think the shuttle commander said it best when he said that this was not the end but rather the closing of a chapter as we get ready to move on to the next. It's just a shame we have to wait for a whole new book.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Did Anybody get the License Plate...

... of the truck that hit me and carried me away?

I don't need to tell any teacher that the end of the school year is a crazy, crazy time. Anybody outside education just assumes that we teachers are all excited for the end of school and the start of summer vacation, but there are so many more emotions than that. This was an especially bittersweet end to the school year. I handed in my key and left my home away from home for the last 13 years for the final time. It's hard to imagine that I will have a new home come August 1, and I will only be going back to Rheems as a visitor.

It was also difficult because I lost my grandmother the last day of school. This was not as difficult of a loss as my father-in-law. My grandmother had been taken from us long ago by Alzheimer's so this was more of a blessing that she could finally be at peace. But a loss is a loss, and it added to the emotions at the end of the year.

I have so much I want to say here, but just haven't had a chance to write about any of it yet. Here's what I'm thinking about and will post about soon:

- being part of a PLP cohort
- how I changed my teaching this year
- my kids' reflections about blogging
- the end of a teaching era
- starting a new journey

Now that things have calmed down, and I am getting into a bit of a routine I hope to be back and writing more often.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sad Times

I have been away for a while, and it actually has nothing to do with school. We enjoyed a short Easter break, and then jumped right back into the swing of things. We've been tremendously busy and there is still a lot of uncertainty, but it hasn't kept me from blogging. Some days, the teaching is the easy part.

Some days, life is the hard part.

My husband and I received news on Sunday that his father's melanoma had moved beyond the point where it is treatable and arrangements have been made for him to come home, with the support of hospice, to live out the rest of his days in peace and dignity. To try and put the overwhelming sadness that my husband is feeling into words is completely impossible. To try and explain how helpless I feel when I look at him and know there is nothing I can do is equally impossible.

I'm not sure many how many people read this little blog, but if you do, thank you. Please do me this favor. If you're outside enjoying the sun, as I love to do, please wear your sunscreen. Please check yourself. Please set up an appointment with your dermatologist for a routine skin check and go each year for a recheck. All of these things can lead to the early detection and treatment of melanoma. With those two things, less families may have to say goodbye to somebody they love much sooner than they should.

You can click here to find more information about melanoma, it's treatment and it's prevention. Or a google search will also get you a wealth of information on the topic.

There's also one more thing. Each and every day, take some time to remember that it's not all about teaching - it's about life. We need to make sure that we appreciate every single person in our lives and TELL them that... before it's too late.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who's Doing It?

As is usually the case when I'm not in school I've taken some time today to catch up on all of the interesting blog posts and Tweets since last weekend. And, in what seems to be sort of a natural move as I come to the end of any experience, I've been reflecting upon what I've learned this year and what I'm going to do next. Even though my future may seem a bit unsure there are two things that are definite (well, definite barring anything REALLY crazy that might happens):

1. I will be a teacher next year in the same school district.
2. I will still be facing the same curricular and testing requirements from my district and the state.

Here's what I've learned and either want to continue doing or do more of in my classroom:

1. I have learned the importance and value of a PLN and will continue to follow and learn from this group. One way I would like to improve this is to find people with differing opinions to follow so that my thinking is pushed.

2. My kids have shown me how important it is to have a genuine audience for one's writing, and their enthusiasm and excitement for blogging has reenergized my writing instruction. I will definitely continue this next year.

3. Blogging has also taught me how important connections are for kids, and we have made connections around the world to help develop the communication skills. Next year I would really like to move beyond blogging and do more with Skyping to help my kids developing their speaking and listening skills as well.

4. The blogging and little bit of Skyping has been cool, but just like Mrs. Ripp said here I would like to do more with my teammates (whomever and where ever we might be next year) to develop those face to face connections.

5. I've really revamped my reading instruction. While I still complete the required Core reading program, I've done a lot more to show my students how these reading skills are important to their real lives rather than focusing on the story for the test. I've seen results on the selection tests so I'll continue this practice next year... of course I'll want to change it up, but I'm sticking with this new method.

6. I've utilized a class wiki to get my kids away from worksheets and involved in more meaningful discussions about their reading skills. We're getting there, but I still need to learn more about teaching kids how to have those meaningful discussions.

7. I've dabbled in Daily 5 and adjusted it in a way that fits what the rest of my team is doing. Next year I'd really like to move completely away from the five day planned guided reading groups to completely flexible groups.

Finally, here's the biggest change I want to make:

I've dabbled with kids having more choice in the classroom and using a variety of technologies to showcase their learning. I've been trying to get them to be more active participants in their learning. But in the end I always come back to my "old ways of doing things" because I'm not sure how to manage the independent active learning in a way that will allow students to timely complete work and be prepared for the required assessments.

I'm trying - I really am. I'm just not always sure what I'm doing or what it should look like. We didn't learn about this kind of teaching back in the early 90s (sadly, I don't think the student teacher I just had at the beginning of this semester is learning it either), and I can tell you that the classes I'm looking at from a variety of sources aren't providing guidance in this area, either. I've found two thanks to my involvement in PLP, but despite what everybody in the general public thinks about teachers' salaries, I'm not sure that I'll be able to participate.

This is where I need your help! Who is teaching this way in a public school classroom with curricular and testing constraints? I have seen really cool examples from charter schools and private schools, and I have thought about proposing an out of the box idea for cyber-charter to my district. But that won't happen next year, and I don't want to wait.

I want to know how you put everything that we talk about on Twitter chats, on our blogs, at TED events into practice in your classroom. We're talking about what needs to happen to education, now I want to know who's actually DOING it. I would love to learn from you so I can become a more effective lead learner for my students.

Bring on your stories - successful and not so much because I'm really ready to take this next step.