Archive for December, 2010

So, I’ve been thinking about how my students learn things–things that I’ve been trying to teach them, repeatedly.

The other day we were doing some writing connected to our “This I Believe” study. (See here and here for more details.) As usual, we had talked about the assignment. Students had worked on a planning sheet. I had read and commented on each plan. And, I had made a few additional comments and specified my directions, again.

And so we began. People were writing. I was writing. (My essay is called “I Believe in Lists”, FYI) It was pretty quiet for a group of 10 and 11 year olds. At some point I mentioned that this was best set of planning sheet I had seen this year. Then all of a sudden, a student says, “You know this really easy to write. I feel like I can just write. It’s much easier when you have a good plan.”

And another says, “I have so much to write. I’m not even using all my ideas on my plan because I’m thinking of new ones.”

Agreement all around.

Now, I am fairly confident that I have said something to this effect at least 100 times so far this year. But, it wasn’t until my students “discovered” it for themselves that it registered.

Ok, I can accept that. In fact, I can celebrate that.

I Might be a Blogger

Posted: December 14, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I think I might be becoming a blogger.

I started a blog in January of 2010 after attending EduCon (if you’re a teacher you should go). I gave it a try for a while, but it just wasn’t happening for me. I felt like it was something I should do rather than something I wanted to do.

Then this summer, I started up again. I got a few posts under my belt before school started. And, even with school going full force, I’ve kept up somewhat. And, sometimes it calls to me-in a good way, not in a creepy Lord of the Rings kind of way.

Yesterday, I felt like I needed to write a post about something I was thinking about. That’s a switch for me. And, it’s not the first time that’s happened. I am not foolish enough to think that this blog is making a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it just might be that this blogging thing is becoming part of who I am and how I am as a teacher and person.

Why I Love Twitter

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about Twitter and how useful I find it. There are plenty of other educators who think this, and plenty who have no idea what to think of it. You can go read all sorts of other people’s thoughts on it, but let me give you a specific example of what I got out of it last night.

It was Sunday night, I had plenty of things I could do. This list is endless really, but highlights were: correct assessments, read blog posts, catch up on the news of the world, have a moment to talk to my husband since the kids were in bed, etc. I can’t remember where I started, but at some point I opened Tweetdeck, which I use to follow a number of hash tags on Twitter. I was scrolling backwards through “all friends” tweets. (I say friends but unlike my friends on Facebook, I have not met the vast majority of the folks I follow on Twitter, but I follow them and they follow me.). Within a minute, there were 2 tweets that caught my eye in particular. 1 from someone I have actually met in person once and one from someone I have never met.
Tweet 1- @jasonchri tweeted, “iPad app that I love for unit planning…iCardSort. It’s awesome…awesome I say”

I went to the app store, checked it out, read a few reviews. Replied to @jasonchri about what he was doing with it and asked a few questions. We went back and forth about 10 times. I downloaded the app, started using it, noticed something else, sent him another tweet. We both learned something.


I now have another app that I will certainly want to use personally and in my classroom. Searching for apps, or rather finding the right apps, is time consuming and awkward, so any help I can get there is great. Plus, I have another person I know is using this particular app with whom I can be in touch. And, I might have another reader for this blog.
Tweet 2- @nykat4 tweeted, “I’ve decided to go ahead & release my blog- nameless & with a poss temporary theme!

I went to her blog, skimmed over the post about EdCampNYC, which I also attended, but then saw her previous post about scheduling and work flow with a link to this TED talk by Jason Fried. Watched the TED video (I totally recommend it BTW), left Katy a comment on her blog, and got started thinking about timing in my own classroom in a different way.

Another win.

I often think my students are taking too long to get things done, or at least longer than I think it should take them. This post made me think about who much of that is about switching tasks or refocusing and how much is legitimately just lack of attention and chit-chat? Now I’m thinking about how to work within my fixed schedule to make it work better for my students. And, I’m thinking about what I would do if I were Queen of Scheduling, just incase. I can’t just complain without having an alternative idea. (Well, I can, but it’s just not productive.) It’s not like I have solved this problem, yet, but I got some more ideas and am mixing them up with mine. We’ll see what happens.

So, did I spend a lot of time online in front of a screen last night? Yes.

Was it a lot of fluffy street fashion and goofy family photos (both of which I also like)? No.

Did I get to all the things I had planned to do? Absolutely not.

What I got was in fact so much better. It started on Twitter with 2 tweets of 140 characters or less. That’s a lot of bang for your character.

So, I’ve been thinking about how impressive 5th graders are sometimes.

I wrote about my new unit plan the day before yesterday; I know 2 posts in 3 days?! You can read about the whole thing here. But, the point of this post is that yesterday my students were writing “This I Believe” type pieces, based on the NPR show, as if they were a book character. We have read a number of books so far this year and students could choose any main character.

Usually I make very specific planning sheets and graphic organizers and structure the writing quite a bit. And, I did make a planning sheet for students. We also listened to a couple of podcasts of “real” essays too. But, really because the topics that students were writing about varied, it was hard to be as specific as I like to be.

We shared ideas. We started writing. I picked a character no one else was using so I could start an example piece as well. I wrote a little and then read what I had. It was ok and probably helped some folks.

But then, a student brought me her writing to look over. WOW! To say that it was good does not even begin to do it justice. It was crazy, super-duper good. I read it out loud and everyone just got quiet and listened with their mouths open.

She was writing as Philip in The Cay by Theodore Taylor. Her piece is below. (Note: the summary in the beginning of the 2nd paragraph is what happens in the book, the rest is all her added ideas and inferences about what the character would say.)


I believe that war is not the answer. This is my story. I used to think that war was a game. I played it with my friends. It didn’t matter who won because everything would turn out okay in the end. No one really got hurt or anything. Sure there were scrapes on the knee but that could be fixed with a band-aid. But I found out war wasn’t play, but affects lives. One of those lives was mine. 

One day war came to my island where I live. I was really excited to see the game I’ve always played in real live action and I thought  it would be so cool.  My mother disagreed. She hardly liked that my friends and I played war. She decided that we would take boat to Virginia, where I was born, and we would be safe. My dad had to stay and help with repairing boats for the army. It was already mad that I had to leave my dad. It got worse though. On the way there, we were hit by an enemy torpedo. Everything went black. I was blind. I sailed to an island with a man I didn’t know, only to have him die. That left me alone. War isolates people,not only physically, but mentally too.  I didn’t see half the terrors that a soldier sees. It scars people forever, like it did to me. This kind of scar can’t be fixed with a band-aid. This is how my life changed.

Now this may make you think that there is no hope. But there is. All of the things I just described could vanish completely. It’s not just that war is bad, but that peace is good. If we all advocate peace, not war, then we could have a better world. War is not the only option you know. Even the generals in the army say they don’t fight just to win, but so that there can be peace. I think that if we all work together, war will stop. I don’t just think-I believe.


Anyone else impressed?

So, I’ve been thinking about our class climate. In the beginning of the year I had what I called “5E Day” with my class, which was loosely based on George Couros’ Identity day. (Read about it here and about its impact here.)

One of the comments to my description of the resulting class tone wondered if we would need “booster shots” or any sort of redo. So far, I have to say that I think my class this year is a very supportive and cohesive group. Yet, I felt like this idea of a periodic booster might be worth remembering. And now I think I have a booster activity.

We are switching the book we read before winter break this year and it turns out that my new plan is in many ways a 5E Day booster. So here’s the plan:

  • We have listened to, read, and discussed in some detail both Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and President Kennedy’s “Inaugural Address” (ask not what your country can do for you).
  • We have been reading and listening to a selection of “This I Believe” podcasts from NPR (chosen by me with a wide variety of themes that are not too heavy).
  • We have been collecting “I believe. . .” statements in a jar in the room.
  • We are about to write a “This I Believe” essay as a book character.
  • I will collect, write-up, and the put into wordle our 5E beliefs.
  • I will make a podcast or Animoto video of our beliefs before winter break, no promises on this one, but it would be super.
  • Everyone, me included, will write a “This I Believe” essay (or poem or song) and create a podcast.
  • We will all listen to or read each other’s essays.
  • And, we’ve also read some short pieces that are somewhat related and totally entertaining.

I have to say I did not set out to create a 5E Day booster unit. I set out to plan a new unit that had some good pieces of what I have done in the past (King and Kennedy’s speeches) and some things I have been meaning to do (“This I Believe” essays). But, oh happy day, I have a feeling it’s going to be both a decent unit and act as a 5E Day refresher.

How many days are there until break?