Archive for August, 2010

A New Job Idea

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about technology integration positions and curriculum positions. I did this thinking at J. Crew*. I can explain.

My brother and his oldest child were in town for some quality “cousin time” with my personal kids (as opposed to my school kids). We found ourselves at the local J. Crew, which might have been my suggestion. Since it was a random Thursday afternoon in August, we had the place to ourselves because everyone else was “down the shore.”

One of the things we talked about was my idea that at some point “technology integration” and “curriculum directors/deans” will merge into 1 position. In many ways I see them as two sides of the same coin—the teaching and learning coin. It’s very rare. And valuable. (BTW did you know that the first US mint was in Philadelphia and that David Rittenhouse was the first Director of the Mint? Learn more here.)

This teaching and learning coin will have 1 side for curriculum and 1 side for pedagogy which will include seamless integration of appropriate technology to support the curriculum. And, the thing is, you can’t get this coin until you trade in all your old coins. It’s like converting to the Euro. You have to give up all the “we’ve always done it this way . . .” and “I/we always cover this. . .” and, the hardest of all, “I’m not comfortable with. . .” You can add a little of this (some self-directed projects, less lecture) and a little of that (some cool tools), but, until it’s not adding and is total transformation, you can’t have the coin.

Did I mention how pretty it is? How rare? How valuable?

So how do you make this currency change happen? Well, since I am not an administrator, I don’t really make currency decisions; it’s above my pay grade. However, I do have some ideas on the topic. One of the first things that has to happen is that teachers and students have to be engaged in learning experiences that happen in the classroom and beyond. Also, they have to be consistently and thoughtfully using all available resources, again in the classroom and beyond. This means that they are probably in need of a 1-1 situation, in terms of computers. You’ll notice that I said they would need to move to a 1-1 situation because of the kind of teaching, learning, and content creation that is going on. I did not say they like technology and think it looks good in the building. Once the computers are not “fancy stuff” and are just another tool that is indispensable to teachers and students, like a pencil, then I think you would be able to convert your currency.

What I’m not sure about is how to bridge the gap between computers being “fancy stuff” and just another necessary school supply. How do you get to the tipping point where curriculum and technology integration are so related that they are the 2 sides of that rare and valuable coin? What mindset shifts have to happen, what teaching shifts have to happen, what learning shifts have to happen, what curriculum shifts have to happen? Because until the conversation moves beyond just technology and becomes one that includes all those other aspects of teaching and learning it’s not going to be a total transformation.

Hmm, wouldn’t it make sense to have a person whose job it is to think about and work this out? Currency Transfer Liaison? Cool Coin Converter? Transformation Team? I’m putting in my application now.

Perhaps I should head by to J. Crew** to do some more thinking. All those sparkles and cozy knits might have some answers.

*Educators get 15% off full-priced items all the time, FYI.

**No, I am neither an employee nor do I own stock in J. Crew.

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So, I’ve been thinking about another new school year idea. I know I already posted a list of new year ideas and plans. As I also mentioned just recently, my first thoughts aren’t always were I end up.

I’m definitely still on board with the digital portfolio business and the epals (I’ve made contact with a teacher on Crete), and I’m seriously making progress on how to work in some significant time for individual projects (maybe even blogging since I won a raffle for a ton of upgraded blogs with Edublogs-yet another reason to attend conferences).

My newest idea relates to this blog. I feel it is more part of a way I want to continue working and interacting than it was in the past. And, I know that once school starts, in a few short weeks, it’s more than likely that I will not have quite as much time as I do now. My thought is to have a “regular feature” as it were on the blog so that at least an idea for a post is ready on a regular basis. I’m thinking that a “things overheard in 5th grade” might be an interesting weekly-ish post.

For those of you who do not spend so many of your waking hours with 5th graders, it could be eye-opening, if not earth-shattering. For those more familiar with 5th graders, I’m sure you will recognize some of your students. For me, I think it will serve as an interesting way to think about who I am hearing, who I am listening to, and who is not being heard.

Of course, I try to make sure everyone gets a turn to be heard. I believe I am very aware of making sure boys’ and girls’ voices are equitably represented. I try to keep in mind racial, religious, etc differences in the voices of the room as well. But, how well do I actually do this? And what does all this talk add up to anyway?

My plan is this:

  • I will keep notes on interesting things I hear in class during the week
  • Once a week, or so, I’ll post some highlights or lowlights as the case may be.
  • I will of course not use names or any identifying information (beyond boy or girl).
  • Over the course of the year I collect data so that it’s almost like an action research project.

My hopes and dreams for this little project are these:

  • I have totally interesting students who give me vast amounts of scintillating material.
  • I manage to write some of it down on a somewhat regular basis.
  • I am able to think more about my own reactions to and interactions with my students.
  • I am able to analyze the development of our classroom culture.
  • I can keep up with this and have at the end of the year a picture in words of the year (wordle might be interesting here).

I’m excited already. Anyone else interested?

Reflecting on Reflecting

Posted: August 23, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about my own thinking, reflecting on my reflecting as it were.

I am not a speedy reflector as it turns out. I read other bloggers’ reflections on conferences, articles, news. Sometimes it seems folks have finished reflecting and written about an event that is only moments old. In some ways I’m amazed at how quickly others seem to digest and form thoughts. In another way I often wonder if that first post is more a reaction than a reflection, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Both are valid of course. And, I wonder if it matters by what name we refer to them. Is it just semantics? I kind of think not.

So, I think I will try to call a spade a spade, a reaction a reaction, a reflection a reflection.

What does that mean? Well, it means that this is not going to be the place to find the fastest thinking on what I read, see, teach, think. Or, if it is quick, I’ll tell you it’s my first reaction. I can reflect just fine, but I prefer to throw ideas and new information in my head and let it all roll around a while. I think about it, talk about it a little, sneak up on some new ideas while I’m sleeping or in the shower. My first reaction is usually just a starting point and rarely where I end up. It also means I am going to have to believe what I just wrote, not get discouraged when I have not yet posted about something right away, finish my reflection process, and write when I get to the end.

I have already not written about a couple of unconferences/symposium because it seemed “after the fact” by the time I was ready to post. Maybe I’ll try to write a quick reaction right away, just to get going, and then a more complete reflection later.

What I am wondering is, how long does it take other people to reflect and digest?

So, I’ve been thinking about what I can and cannot say on this blog, not legally, but fairly.

I am not worried about writing about my classroom, even my faults in the classroom. I freely admit that I am a risk-taker as a teacher and a cook. I will try outrageous projects and recipes. (I personally believe the best time to try a new recipe is when other people are coming over. This is not how my husband feels.) I have tried all sorts of in-class activities or projects where the final products were spectacular-spectaculary good and bad. And, the students learned from all of them. Thankfully, my school does not expect perfection of me, and I return the favor. We are both working to be the best we can be.

However, I did not restart this blog to write exclusively about my classroom. While I thoroughly enjoy being a teacher (except when writing report cards and doing dismissal duty in the rain), the big picture is interesting to me, always has been. It not only interests me what the preK-12 social studies/history progression is at my school; I spend time thinking about it. I am interested in organizational structure, in curriculum development, technology integration, teacher evaluation, professional development, and how to get teachers working together across grades. These are issues I would like to write about in an effort to “solidify my thinking” on the topic (as @TeachPaperless said in his blog post).

The question now is, to what extent is it acceptable or appropriate for me to talk about those bigger issues when I teach in an independent school in an area with stiff competition for a shrinking student population? I am not looking in any way to blog as a way of complaining. I have no desire to discuss particular internal issues that are in any way private.

I do want to be able to talk about how my thinking is changing or developing around all those “big ideas” that I love. For example, say I have a big idea about how, if I were Queen of Everything, I would reorganize some roles to make a perfect job for myself. Could I write about that? Would anyone care? Would anyone read it anyway? I have already written something and then taken it down. I guess I will be making an appointment to meet with my division head.

I am interested in what other bloggers or nonbloggers think about this. Please comment away.

ePortfolio Plans

Posted: August 12, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about eportfolios for a long time. All last school year I was looking around, talking to folks, listening to webinars/elluminate sessions, tweeting, etc. about it and trying to figure out exactly what to and what format to use.

What are my goals anyway? Well here is what I want the portfolio to be able to do:

  • Students each have a portfolio that they own, not me.
  • Students can take this portfolio with then into the future, because of course they will fall in love with the idea and will make this a habit even without me (I say dream big or don’t bother!)
  • Ability to add artifacts and comment on them
  • Ability to add video and screencasts
  • Ease of use: some 5th graders think they are 15, but they aren’t
  • Option for sections/pages by subject area or skill

Here’s how I imagine the portfolio working into my classroom:

  • We will begin with 1 subject-Language Arts then add Social Studies and Math
  • At the beginning of each unit, as usual, I’ll explain our skill goals and final projects/products to show new learning
  • Use anticipation guide of key skills and concepts before and then review after
  • Once unit is finished, work is returned with comments, and discussions have happened we will have a self-evaluation period in which students use 1-5 scale to rate habits and skills and write a little about their work on the unit
  • Students pick an artifact that represents their best understanding/work to add to the portfolio for this unit
  • Record and embed commentary on the artifact chosen (I imagine this being a video discussion with me at first and ultimately a camtasia screencast by the student.)
  • When we add math to the portfolio my plan is to have students make “how-to” videos/voicethreads/screencasts

Things that I haven’t figured out yet:

  • Where all this time will come from (I am considering some “creative” scheduling with Library and Computer time and am working on how to sell this to the teachers of those classes)
  • What I will cut from the curriculum to make this a reality
  • How to organize (by subject or skill–in some ways skill makes more sense, but might not be practical in school at this point)
  • Exactly what the template should start out looking like (again, I’m trying to think not just about what would work for me now, but what makes sense to begin as a potentially continuing project)

So, time is ticking away before the students arrive.

I am pretty sure that it makes the most sense for the portfolios to be wikis-no extra cost for video or storage, discussion options, multiple pages that can be organized and re-organized. I am also quite certain that this is the right thing to do, for all sorts of reasons. And, after a 2 day workshop with Dr. Judy Willis I am convinced that this makes the most sense in terms of the brain and learning (students needing to see incremental progress and the importance of prediction and feedback). I am also glad to have found another teacher who is thinking about the exact same things with her 5th graders. I am looking forward to keeping in touch with her during the year to compare notes.

Then, the other day I was participating in an #elemchat on twitter and Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) put in a link to a blog post she wrote about the topic: fantastic visuals and a great video of Dr. Helen  Barrett (who it turns out is known as the grandmother of interactive portfolios) at TEDxASB.

So, I’ve got back-up resources (why and how-to), a peer in the trenches, and the motivation. Now, I just need my class list so I can get started. That’s a lot of wikis to get set-up.

Classroom Set-up

Posted: August 9, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about classroom set-up.

I always rearrange depending on what we are doing etc, but I am feeling more and more that I want need to have a flexible arrangement that can be changed at a moment’s notice. We settled in to a big arc of desks last year. It was more than a semi-circle; it was more like 270 degrees. And, for discussions and independent working it was great or at least good. However, because it was more than a semi-circle, when I needed to do something on the board and have everyone be able to see; it wasn’t effective. It was too hard for some to see the board and be able to write at the same time.

What to do?

Seek out inspiration, that’s what.

I found all kinds of great information and ideas.

I found tweets and blog post from The Nerdy Teacher about his plans for a blogger cafe in his classroom.

I found TeachPaperless’s post showing his flexible classroom.

Since I have lower school students obviously not all that these two were talking about would apply, but still it gets the ideas flowing.

Then this summer I found this article on Edutopia about seating by Evantheia Schibsted.

Here is the part that I found most significant for me:

Robert J. Wankmuller, science chairperson for the Hauppauge School District, on New York’s Long Island, knows this firsthand. When he taught chemistry in another school district, Wankmuller had two classrooms with different seating arrangements. One had tables and lab stations in the middle of the classroom, where students faced each other the entire period; the other combined rows of desks in the front of the room with a lab-activity and cooperative-learning area in the back.

“I saw a big difference in student behavior,” says Wankmuller, explaining that kids in the classroom with two distinct areas behaved better and performed better on exams. “It wasn’t because they were any brighter. It was the seating.”

Wankmuller says seating arrangements should reflect the type of activity going on. “Students need to know that different things are expected of them based upon where they are sitting. They should have a different mind-set [for each area].”

So, he explains, in the lab and cooperative area, they should be talking together and figuring things out. When they’re arrayed in more traditional rows of front-facing desks or chairs, they should raise their hands when they want to ask or answer questions.

“Students need to see some direct connection between what they hear in lecture and what they do as a hands-on activity,” Wankmuller says. The transition from one classroom layout to another can be used to segue between one approach to learning and another. “When they regroup, they need to talk about what they discovered [in the other setup] and link that to the next topic. It’s not easy to do, but the variety helps them focus.”

I also saw this post from David Ginsburg’s blog which sums it neatly in this statement:

“. . . different teaching strategies call for different seating orientations. . .”

So then I went in to school to take a long hard look at my classroom and think about how I too could have seating that reflected the type of activity we were involved in, without spending entire class periods rearranging. As it turned out, there was some extra furniture in another hallway (not for long) that got me thinking. It was clearly an IKEA table: good height, narrow, lightweight, easy to move, and probably inexpensive. Back to my room, table in tow.

Lots of dragging, pushing, shoving, and some more scavenging later, I have a plan:

  • First, I put all the desks towards the back of the room in a circle (almost) with room left for another chair or two to join in (me).
  • I put 2 trapezoid tables in the middle (now it’s a hexagon) for another place to work, put papers, etc. This was the basic plan at the end of last year only at the front of the room.
  • Next, I pushed my desk back a little so that I can get it 2 rows of narrow tables facing the board. (I’m still considering which tables to get these or these, both from Ikea. I’m leaning toward the first because it will slide across the carpet easily.)
  • My thought is that tables can get pushed to the side when not in use (I have checked and am pretty sure I can make it work). Students will have to move chairs, but that’s it.
  • We will now also have the ability to make working group table easily as well.
  • I figure I’ll have to spend some time at the beginning of the year on expectations for transitioning to different work areas, but I think it will pay off big time after that.

Now I just have to get all the other furniture I scavenged out of my room, go to Ikea with a big enough car (which I don’t have–Umm, Mom can I borrow your car?), put it all together, and get other teachers who come into my room to agree that I am on to something here. Well, if that’s all, no problem.

I can’t wait!

So I’ve been thinking about the new school year, from the pool.

I love this time of year when it’s close enough to school starting to get thinking about all my big plans and yet far enough away that I don’t have to do anything but imagine yet. Then it gets a little later in the summer, and I love that too because it’s really the beginning of the year but there aren’t any students or meetings yet. An entire blank plan book-fantastic. The endless possibilities-thrilling. All my crazy, huge, risky ideas-attainable.

Here’s a quick run-down of some of my goals for the year. I’ll write about them each individually later.

  • ePortfolio project-individual eportfolio for each student for self-assessment and progress monitoring
  • connect with other classroom(s) on ePals
  • have some sort of “identity day” a la George Couros– his session at the Reform Symposium gave me the idea
  • a mid-year individualized math unit to support/enrich/shore up each student
  • a new, flexible room arrangement system (this is the one on my mind at the moment)
  • time for some individual student research and content creation around a topic of interest to student (maybe this will connect with identity day and get shared with ePals-now that’s a great big idea!)

That seems like quite enough for now.

Larry Ferlazzo wrote about his resolutions here.

What are others thinking about as August marches on?