Monday, December 31, 2012

Five Favorite Posts of 2012! Happy New Year!



  

 This is my 2nd year of Diary of a Public School Teacher! Yeah!(First on Wordpress, now Blogger)
And to think,when I first started blogging I wondered whether I would have enough to write about. :)
Thank you for joining me on this journey.
I have shared a lot, learned a lot, and met a lot of great people!
Please follow me into 2013, and I gladly welcome any new travelers!



What year is not complete without the "Top of ..."?

So, here are the top 5 according to my pageviews:







And of course you are free to read any posts not on this list! Enjoy the new year!


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear Standardized Testing...

Standardized Testing
Dear Standardized Testing,
I hate you. Yes, I know I wasn't raised that way. My Mom told me that hate was a strong word, and that I shouldn't use it. But there is no other word strong enough for the way I feel about you.

Why, you ask? You are only doing your job, you say? You hold teachers accountable? Make sure that they are doing their jobs well? Not allowing us to slack off the way those powerful teachers' unions allow us to?

I am going to say something to you that I would never say to a child or a fellow human being. You are worthless.  There is no reason for you to exist. You do nothing to enhance the education of our children. In fact, all you do is damage the good we have done. You have sucked the life from teaching.

You have sucked teach out of teacher, learn out of learner, educate out of educator, and most of all joy out of joyful.  The joy of watching the light come on when something clicks.  The joy of hands on projects. The joy of reading for reading's sake! The joy of watching learning happen. No joy can come from filling in bubbles. Nor can it come from worksheet after worksheet of comprehension strategies. Have you ever watched students sit for hours as they struggle to complete you? Watch as they fidget, stretch, sleep, cry, vomit, from the stress you create? You have created the "teach to the test" teacher. You have driven thousands of experienced teachers out of education. You have ruined what it means to teach.

My principal wants to honor you with a pep rally. She said there's nothing we can do about the test taking, so let's get our students hyped about taking these tests. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think a pep rally is going to make students perform well. If I get them hyped, they are hyped about the pep rally, not about you. Once they sit down in front of those computers, even those who do well, do you think visions of the pep rally are floating through their minds, or how awful you are?

I know you chuckle as you read this because you have friends in high places.  Friends with billions of dollars who yield you like a sword, cutting down schools, demoralizing teachers, breaking up unions. You and your friends tear down public schools,build up charter schools, and destroy neighborhood schools without a thought to those you so vehemently vow to protect, our children.You chuckle because you feel that you are safe, because after all, we are just teachers.

But you and your buddy, Education Reform, better watch your backs! Teachers are waking up to your scam! Dedicated educators, parents, and non-educators know you are a farce and are fighting against you! Diane Ravitich, Sabrina Stevens, Chris Guerrieri, Teachers Laugh, Parents And Kids Against Standarized Testing, and so many others are coming after you! They will not be silenced! We write blogs, participate in letter-writing campaigns, post on Facebook, anything we can do to get others to wake up to this sham you are perpetrating!

Be afraid Standardized Testing, be very afraid. We are coming for you.
                                                                               An educator who cares

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The "Charlie Brown" Syndrome:Cure with Video Supplements!


In "Charlie Brown" cartoons, the teacher was non-existent. All you heard was "Wah, wah,wah.  I believe that's what our students hear at times. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else. Sometimes you just have to see it. I have three  sources I use as my go-to's.



Learnzillion:  I am a recent convert to Learnzillion, but I have used it religiously since I learned about it.  Learnzillion describes itself as high quality lessons you can use today, I agree. The lessons have become an integral part of reinforcing the concepts I teach. 
Their lessons are designed by a Dream Team  composed of teachers nationwide.I don't flip my classroom, but this is a great resource for those who do. 
You can find, and watch, narrated lessons, (by grade level, domain, and standard), assign lessons that are aligned with the Common Core (Math and ELA), track mastery, and make a home-school connection. You have the choice to give the students a login code or assign lessons/quizzes. Teachers can also download the lesson slides. 
Every time, I visit the site they have added new features(High School Math)! I used to assign videos via Edmodo and the Login code, but now I take advantage of their student logins. My students watch the videos, practice, and can also take quizzes. My parents have also taken advantage of the videos, using it to help their kids. Excellent resource!




Studyjams: This is a Scholastic site for Math and Science concepts. It's described as kids helping kids, teaching and helping one another. The videos are informative and engaging thanks to the Studyjam crew.Use the search bar to find the concepts you are teaching. My students not only enjoy them, but they learn from them. Depending on the video, they offer slide shows, guided practice, a chance for them to test their knowledge, key vocabulary, and related jams. You can even print some of the work. Add in "Did You Know?", "Hot Topic", and "Most Popular" you have an amazing, engaging, resource!




Brainpop: I am fortunate. For the past two years, I have had access to Brainpop due to the astuteness of my administrators who were willing to subscribe. What's not to like about Brainpop? Tim and Moby are so cool! The videos, in every subject, are short, but informative. There are related activities, quizzes, experiments, FYI sections, and Q & A's. I pick and choose what I use according to the topic.You are able to join the community of Brainpop Educators and take advantage of all they have to offer. And my favorite, Gameup! Games that are aligned with some of the concepts being taught in the videos.nI

F

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What About Me, Mrs. M?:He's Not the Child He Could Have Been!


After a trying morning with one of my students, I approached his desk. In a quiet voice, I let him know that I was disappointed in the behavior he had been exhibiting. At least I thought I was being quiet. I forgot that my students can hear everything I say when I am NOT talking to them.

One of the boys in my class leaned over to me and said, "What about me, Mrs.M? What about me?", I smiled inwardly. No, I grinned inwardly. You know why? Because this kid, this kid that leaned over, looking, asking, for my approval about his behavior, is that kid.

You know the one, The one at the beginning of the year, other teachers ask, "You have ___________?" They shake their heads, tell you horror stories, and/or sprinkle holy water on you. 

It's funny, because I seemed to get it from all sides about this one. People telling me how horrible he was or how horrible he could be. After the first two weeks his Mom approached me and asked how he was doing. I told her that I loved him. She looked at me as if I was insane. She shook her head, "You wait, she said, he is something else." 

He started acting out about the third week. I took him aside and he began to explain how he had not taken his medication. I told him his meds are his personal business, but with or without them, he is going to behave in an appropriate manner.

A former teacher approached me. "How's ____________________?". I responded, "I love him." She laughed. "But you know when he's not on his meds..." I stopped her. "I'm going to tell you what I told him, his meds are his business. His behavior will be appropriate with or without them." That ended that conversation.

I do love him, he is a joy to have in my classroom. When he started he was gruff. He didn't smile much, and he exuded the " Oh, my gosh, do I have to be here?" attitude every chance he got. But, I noticed he loved a challenge, he was curious, and he was a leader. I worked on him, not by yelling, not by asking him if he were on his meds every single morning, not by kicking him out of the classroom at the first sign of disruption, but by playing to his strengths.

Is he the perfect angel of a child now? By no means. But he isn't the child he could have been. We have signals we use when he begins to get out of control. He takes a 5 minute timeout, or gives me one, in a buddy teacher's room. He comes back after 5 minutes, ready to work, settled. Sometimes, I have to take a "woosah" before I address him. And yeah, some days, I call his name 20 -30 times, but it's all good. : ) He and I understand that, and we work together.

The other day, I had to pick up the snack in the cafeteria, while my class waited in the hallway outside the cafeteria door. Guess who I chose to "watch" my students? Fellow teachers who have experienced him said, "That's a good idea." I play to his strengths, not his weaknesses.

He is a joy. And this kid. This kid who could have been so many "not-so-good" things, is now a kid who cares about what I think of him. What a difference that makes. Wow!



Monday, December 17, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: Teacher's Edition!


This is sung to the tune of " The Twelve Days of Christmas."

On the first day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
A classroom and my very own key

On the second day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the third day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the fourth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the fifth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the sixth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the seventh day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
7 days of PD
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the eighth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
8 days of testing
7 days of PD
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the ninth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
9 Teacher’s Editions
8 books on Common Core
7 days of PD
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the tenth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
10 Common Core websites
9 Teacher’s Editions
8 days of testing
7 days of PD
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
11 pats on the back
10 Common Core websites
9 Teacher’s Editions
8 days of testing
7 days of PD
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My principal gave to me
12(x2) rowdy students
11 pats on the back
10 Common Core websites
9 Teacher’s Editions
8 days of testing
7 days of PD
6 versions of Bloom’s
5 desktop PC’s
4 desks to choose from
3 dry erasers
2 lesson planners
And a classroom with my very own key




photo credit: HikingArtist.com via photopin cc

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I Cried for Connecticut


I wanted to cry. When the teacher across the hall told me, I wanted to cry.  I couldn't. I had 23 kids in my room, immersed in trying to build a container that would keep an ice cube frozen. They were working. Full of life, joy, and curiosity. Something a crazed gunman had just taken from 20 children. Something he had taken from 7 adults.

When someone says, "How are your kids?" I tend to say, "Which ones?" Meaning my kids I gave birth to or my kids in my class. I am sure I am not the only teacher who feels this way. They are our kids. And no matter what they take us through, just like our kids, we want to keep them safe. We want them in an environment where they, and their loved ones, know they are loved and cared for. But he took that away from them yesterday. Just as others have done before.

It's obvious from reading the articles each time this happens, that teachers are Mama and Papa bears when it comes to protecting their students.  The school took the proper precautions to keep the school safe, no one can blame the school. I hope no one does. How do we protect our students from a gun? How do we protect our students from a crazy with a thirst for his or her perceived vengeance? How do we stop the senselessness of it all?

I continued through the day with a heavy heart. I did not discuss what had happened with my students, I know Morning Meeting will be filled with questions. I know my students will wonder if I can keep them safe.  They will wonder if it can happen here, at our school. What do I tell them?

I cried for Connecticut. For the children and adults who had their lives stolen. For the parents and loved ones who have lost their child. For the survivors, who will be traumatized for a very long time. My prayers and my thoughts are with them. We have to find a way to keep our kids safe. To make school a place they can go, and you know they will come back.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's the Point of Being "Smarter" Than a 5th Grader?


I used to play the game, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?", on my Iphone. But than I realized that I really didn't have enough hours in the day, and quickly gave it up.

However, I do know how it works. And if you provide me with any device that can grant me access to the Internet, than I can defiantly state that, "Yes, I am smarter than a 5th grader!"

And therein lies my point.  If to be smarter means that I have the ability to regurgitate information that a 5th grader is supposed to know, then that doesn't make me smart. If the premise is that a 5th grader is smarter than me, because he or she can upchuck information at any given moment, than it's a ridiculous premise! 

What is smart? Who decides who is "smart", and who isn't? 

Every Tuesday, I drive across the street to the daycare , and read to 4 and 5 year olds. I had a new student the other day. Before she could sit down, she began to inform me about how smart she was. She knew everything.(Her words, not mine)

 I don't blame her for this perception of herself.   I am sure there are a number of people in her life who tell her this. What makes her smart? Judging from our conversation as we read the book, I am sure this little girl has been exposed to more experiences than most of her peers. Does that make them dumb?

I always tell my students that none of them is smarter than the other. I tell them that none of them are dumb, slow, or stupid. Those words are thrown around so carelessly. I tell my students, "You have to put the work in."

I reiterate this concept repeatedly to all my students, and it has amazing results. I let them know that some things come easy to some, and to others it doesn't. But, if it doesn't, than you have to work at reaching your goal, whether it's solving a multi step problem, answering questions on a comprehension test, or writing legibly. And just because it takes you longer, it doesn't make you dumb.

I have a student who struggles with math. I know she thinks of herself as dumb when it comes to math. It does not come easy to her. I told her that she had to put the work in. And she did. She takes notes, she watches videos, and her mom helps at home. Her mom and I have both noticed how her level of confidence has risen, which has allowed her to shed the "I am dumb in math" image of herself.

During parent-teacher conferences, I was showing a parent her child's grades. A slip of my hand, allowed a parent to catch a glimpse of another child's grades. She asked me why her son didn't have grades like that. I explained to her that we couldn't compare her child to another child, (politely of course), and that the only person I wanted to focus on was her child. Unfortunately, she  felt that her child wasn't smart, because he didn't have the same grades as the other student. What an unfair misconception!

When we classify our students as smart we tend to give them access to many more opportunities than we do our "not smart" kids. I wonder why that new Chinese immersion program for kindergartners was not offered to our school? I wonder if our school was not considered because our "population" doesn't come to mind as being "smart" enough. How many times have I, and I'm sure you've heard it too, teachers decide beforehand, what their students can or can not do, because they feel their kids are not "smart" enough.

If you place those children who are not considered smart in challenging situations, you would be surprised at how well they excel. Maybe they aren't the top reader in the class, maybe they struggle to solve math problems that others can do in less than a minute, does this make them dumb? Do they always have to be unsuccessful?

We need to give our students a chance to feel successful. Let's get away from handing out worksheets. Move away from multiple choice, and the filling in of bubbles. Create opportunities for our students to learn, not regurgitate information that could easily be accessed on Google or Bing.

My job is not to make my students smarter than a 5th grader. My job is to teach my students that, if they put the work in,  they can be successful as well, even if it does take a little longer.


photo credit: TZA via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mystery Skype!:Connecting Our Classrooms One Skype at a Time!


My students and I had our first Mystery Skype with Ms.Young's, (@flourishingkids), class from the state of ____________________. I can't tell you, that's the mystery. :)

The Mystery Skype project is when each class tries to determine where the other class is located. The benefits of this activity are endless, global connections, geography, integrating tech, communicating effectively, the list is endless!

I participated in Mystery Skype last year, but this one was different.  I decided to take advantage of the links Ms.Young emailed, and let my students choose Skype jobs. What a difference in the quality of the Skype! My students worked so hard, and I was extremely proud of them.

I incorporated the following jobs. The Inquirers, who came up with the questions in advance. A photgrapher, a videographer, a Tweeter, and a couple of students on Today's Meet (backchanneling).  The researchers, who took their job very seriously, on Google Earth, and using actual atlases. They did an excellent job of passing on information to the Answerers. 

Did everything go smoothly? Of course not! :) My class decided to answer altogether, instead of letting the Answerers answer. They got some of the geographical information wrong, but quickly corrected themselves.My photgrapher took about a million pictures, some of them of the same thing. And two of my more "outspoken" students attempted to argue with each other in the middle of the Skype. (A 5 minute time out in a buddy teacher's room took care of that situation). At one point we asked questions when it wasn't our turn. But you know what, it was all good! We had a great time and learned a lot.

When we had guessed each others state, which by the way is an amazing feeling for our kids, Ms.Young suggested our kids ask questions about each other(i.e. What do you like to do for fun?) I readily agreed, and the kids enjoyed this part of our interaction as well.

After viewing a tutorial on Google Maps, I set up a Mystery Skype map that we will use whenever we Skype with another class.I then embedded the map on a page of our Class Weebly page.

There are many ways to participate in a Mystery Skype:

We are preparing for our 2nd Mystery Skype on Thursday with Mr. Yetter's class (@coachyetter), and my students are hyped! Try it and you will see, there's no mystery as to why this is a wonderful learning experience for all!


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Who Doesn't Love Shopping? Adding and Subtracting Large Numbers!



Adding and Subtracting Large Numbers
Hmmmm...How can I make adding and subtracting large numbers fun? What do I love almost as much as new technology? Shopping of course! And my students loved it as well!

A Document, Computer, and a Calculator
I told my students I was giving them $10,000 to spend on the students in our school.  They could buy them anything they wanted.  I gave them a blank shopping list, and let them go! I let them use a calculator because they are proficient in adding and subtracting large numbers. I only asked that they find the difference between $10,000, and their remaining money, without a calculator.

The Conversation
It was interesting to listen to my students as they worked. Many different concepts came into play. The first was about what they should purchase, and which websites to go to to get it. They also discussed how many of each item to buy, sales, discounts, and whether the item was something kids would want. They discussed shipping costs, not only the amount it would cost, but also which method they should use. They played with the numbers, figuring out what to do if they went over $10,000. One team went over and looked over the sheet and made a decision on which item to eliminate.

This lesson was  a lot of fun, it fit right in with the spirit of giving, and gave my students the opportunity to learn more than how to add and subtract large numbers.