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!