Wednesday, November 18, 2009

new principal coming to the newton school

well- i said that i was going to talk about some of the changes that are happening at our school and i guess one of the biggest ones is that we are going to have a new principal. we aren't really happy about the whole state of affairs but it's the way things have fallen. we are trying to make the best of it and are in the middle of a principal search right now. let me tell you the story of how this came about.
back in the summer, the state of nc (in all the infinite wisdom of government bureacracy) decided to end the practice of what has been deemed 'double dipping.' this practice describes hwo the state was letting retirees from schools come back and teach and earn both their retirement and a salary. the process came about because there was a teacher shortage in nc a few years back and the legislature figured that this would allow them to work their way around the shortage. many, many, people took advantage of the 'loophole' and continued to work in a job that they were passionate about. many, many, good educators stayed in schools and continued to teach children.
fast forward to this summer and the current economic meltdown. many teachers lost their jobs as districts looked for ways to cut money from their budgets. some bright soul in the state legislature thought that ending double dipping would cut back on money spent and enable young teachers to get their jobs back as the retirees retired again. i understand the logic, but in many cases it is flawed logic.
specifically, our case. our principal is an excellent teacher who has retired twice. he came back to our area and put his heart and soul into our school to get it up and running. now the state is telling him he can't continue to be principal because he will reach his salary cap for earnings pretty quickly. so he is having to cut back to 22 1/2 hours a week. this makes him an hourly employee. supposedly saving the district and the state money. but he was not only our principal he was a teacher. he was being paid on a teacher salary scale for 12 months. now he will just be a teacher and we are having to hire a new principal. the new principal will be paid on the principal scale. this will cost the district and the state more money. the state was also only having to pay into one retirement account for our principal, now they are going to have to pay into two. this shows what happens when you pass blanket legislation without giving local districts any leeway in interpreation.
so anyway, now we are looking for a new principal and our old principal is staying on to teach. our ex principal (i should have probably used this throughout-he might be mad that i am calling him old) and another teacher are part of the interview process for the new principal. as a staff we were able to submit questions and it is great that we are part of the process. the circumstances are not preferable but we are looking forward to working with someone else who shares our commitment to kids and our commitment to doing school the way that we do it. we are a consensus style group and almost nothing we do is driven from the top down. we look forward to working with someone else who shares our ideals and is excited to be a part of the great experiment that is our school.
and that's it in a nutshell.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

while i was away

ok- lots of things have happened here at our school while i was not blogging and i thought that maybe i could get back at this blogging thing a little more. i have lots of things to talk about but i should probably start with the events that are going on today and then work my way backwards. several posts about all the craziness happening around here are to follow but let's focus on today for now.
today my school is being visited by a team of people from other schools for our school wide peer observation. this is something that we do at least once a year and it is part of how we gauge how we are doing with regards to many of the things that we have stressed as part of our school improvement plan. it is based on the idea of rounds that doctors do. if you want to know how you are doing, you can't be afraid to ask others to come and look at you. that's what this is all about.
so today, there will be 14 or 15 people from other schools wandering around our rooms and our labs looking for answers to questions that we have given them. i will talk about the questions but first a few comments.
question 1
as part of our purposeful design, we created a time for students to work. we are attempting to simulate something of a 21st century work place where they are somewhat more free but still have to get work done.
1. to what degree is the free search lab philosophy of the school helping students develop college ready habits of mind?

question 2
as part of our original mission we were to establish rigor as one of the founding tenets of our school.
2. according to our definition, what evidence do you see of rigor in the classroom?

question 3
we have a fifth day schedule that is a different schedule than the rest of our days. the fifth day schedule is used for tutoring, enrichment, and to develop social and emotional intelligence.
3. does the 5th day schedule enhance the learning of those needing extra help? do kids feel supported both academically and emotionally? are enrichment courses meaningful?

so these are the things that we want to know and we hope that we get some good input back from our peer observation. we will have the observers here from around 11-3 today and then from 3-4 we will have a post rounds session for our school rounds.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is there a school here?

Some days it all just seems rather funny to me. The school that I teach at has been in existence now for going on five years but no one seems to know that we are around. Just today, I was finishing up 5th period lab time (which we have in our great hall/cafe)with the students when the room began filling up with Child Nutrition staff from across our county. As the students were leaving and I was cleaning up, one of the ladies motioned me over and asked me, "Is there a school here?" I told them "yes" and proceeded to tell the assembled ladies about our program. After I was finished they all said what a great idea we had and how neat our school was. I agreed.
I do think that we have a great school and other people "in the know" must think so also. We received the Innovator award from the New Schools Project of NC this summer. That means we were recognized out of all the New Schools Project schools in NC as the people exemplifying what the New Schools Project is all about. That's pretty cool.
On Thursday of this week MTV will be filming on our campus as part of our participation in the Youth Truth Survey last year. We were one of 20 schools in the country to participate in that Gates Foundation initiative last year. Thursday they will film a video about our school and the survey results and show it to other schools across the country this year as the Youth Truth Survey expands.
So, we are getting noticed for what we are doing. Just not by the people in our own community. We are a small school open to anyone in our county and I would like for the people of our area to know more about us. So spread the word my friends. Tell your peeps about the good things we are doing at The Newton School.

Here's a link to our school page:

The Newton School

and here's a link to the:
New Schools Project of NC

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

hit and miss

well, school has been back for a week now and it is time for some first week reflections. so in no particular order, here we go...

#1. our classroom doors now have locks. wow. a nice concept. we went all of last year with no locks on our doors. only a few things were stolen. this year might be even better. maybe nothing will be stolen and maybe we won't have to even use the locks.

#2. not content with just one classroom, i have now taken over another classroom and our cafeteria! the rest of the school and the surrounding city block are next.

#3. our garden is producing too much okra.

#4. it will take me at least a year to get used to the fact that one of my female colleagues got married. it's not that i don't believe her, it's just that i may never remember to call her by her new last name.

#5. hey, we still have jobs!

all snarkiness aside, it has been a great start to a new year at the school. things are running more smoothly than ever and we have another great group of kids. the fact of the matter is that most kids are pretty good. if i didn't believe that i wouldn't be doing what i am doing. the students want and expect us to teach them something about life. they trust that we will do it as best we can and that we won't harm them too much in the process. i don't think that is too much to ask. they are here so i am here. we battle the forces of evil together.

i expect that i will be posting a little bit more soon and that we will have all kinds of interesting things to talk about. until then...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ahh yes...

my first day back at school. the end of the endless summer. the workdays before the kids arrive. hmmm...
i really do love teaching. it is a part of me. i think back to a lot of the other decisions that i made when i was 17 and i shudder. but the decision to become a teacher worked out pretty well. here i am- a scant 22 years later. walking in to another year of school. and while i'm sorry to see summer go because i enjoy it so much, i like the beginning of school. not so much the work days, because i never seem to get a lot of work done. but i like school because of the kids. i like to challenge them and i want them to challenge me. i live for the moments when the light bulb comes on for them. i like to joke with them and i like to push them to think. i want them to examine their world and i want them to find out something about it and themselves. i want them to learn.
and that's why i do it. that's why many teachers do it. i could complain about the salary, i could complain about the district, i could complain about the state. but the bottom line is that i work with a lot of people who care. and because they care, and because i care, we push everyday for kids to become better people. and while i know that i don't reach them all, i hope i reach enough of them. 22 years ago i thought that i was invincible and could change the world. today i'm out here still trying. so bring on another year. bring me your problems. bring me your heartaches. bring me those days when we wonder what the heck it is that we are doing. i'll take them all. i'm still out here trying to make the world a better place-one kid at a time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

day 3 in williamsburg

I'm sitting here at my table in the ap world history training and we are looking at the dbq (the document based question) that is a part of the ap world history test. As we talk about it, I am struck with just how important it is that we, as teachers, teach thinking skills. Now that may seem like a no-brainer, but really thinking skills are often lost in the greater quest of content. We spend so much time worrying about content that we often don't take the time to teach kids how to think. We do this because of high stakes end of course testing. The majority of tests that our kids take are based on their ability to answer content specific multiple choice questions. So teachers worry and fret about getting content across to kids. This emphasis on content can be counter productive though. Kids may be able to regurgitate facts and figures for these tests but the current state of end of course tests doesn't really push students to develop thinking skills and that's sad. The ap test, however, often does test thinking skills. How do students think? How do we want them to think? We want them to analyze, to evaluate, to recognize bias. There are skills there. Skills that can be learned and taught. But we probably don't do enough of that.

more to come later.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

more williamsburg

i'm sure that one of these days i will come up with a coherent thought about our experiences at ap camp. between now and then you can continue to read crosson's blog about the experience. it is here: crossonedu.wordpress.com

i will tell you guys that we went to jamestown today and it was pretty cool. pics and funny video to follow at some point.

i promise we are learning quite a bit. i just find it difficult to put it together when i am in the middle of it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

williamsburg ap world history training

so, i'm here in williamsburg, va being trained in ap world history. there are two of us from my school here. myself and our english teacher. he is getting training in english literature. i was going to post a lot about what we are doing but i decided to let him tell you about what was happening. he has a new blog and he typed out today's entry on his itouch. it took him a while. small keyboard and such. go here to check it out: crossonedu.wordpress.com

i'll post some more of our exploits tomorrow and i'll let you all know how things are going. until then, you are going to have to get the goods from him.

short and sweet but i'll be blogging more as we go.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

paperless classroom

as we wind down this school year, amid the testing and the retesting, our thoughts turn to next year. one of my coworkers, an awesome teacher, has begun to think about the idea of a paperless classroom. now before you get started, he isn't getting rid of the books. he teaches english and he wants the kids to hold books in their hands. he wants them to read. he just doesn't want to waste paper on handouts, quizzes, tests, worksheets, etc... so he asked me to try and brainstorm some ideas for him and for me to pass along any ideas that i might hear. i told him that i think it is a great idea and we have begun to discuss the ways he could pull this off.
he teaches in one of our computer labs so there are all sorts of web tools he could use to make his classroom mostly paperless. we have talked about wikis, skype, twitter, sasinschools, polleverywhere, and lots of other sites that we already use. our school webpages have the ability to post quizzes but i think he is going to need some more functionality in this area. what kinds of online quizzes and tests do other teachers use? inquiring minds want to know.
of course as luck would have it, while we have been having these discussion, our school network has become infected with a nasty little virus that we can't seem to get rid of. our IT guys have been having to shut the system down as they look for the culprit and try to eradicate it. this has exposed some of the problems with our plan. you really need to have a network that doesn't go down to have a paperless classroom. at least as we see it.
so my fearless readers- what do you think? can he make it happen? can we teach some students and save some trees in the process? we are waiting to hear your suggestions...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

boredom

it's about this time every year that i begin to get bored with the things that i have been doing all year long and i begin to think about ways to tear apart the classroom experience. it isn't that i haven't been trying new things and new innovations all year, i have. it's just that i have tried them and used them and now i want to try something completely new. the problem is that everything still seems too teacher centered. i really want my students to be responsible for their own learning. but what does that look like in a class of fifteen year olds? how do i tell them what they need to know without telling them what they need to know? i could come up with multiple approaches for each lesson and i could turn them loose. or i could ask them what they want to learn and we could learn some things together. maybe i could have them teach me something new about the world. i just don't know.
the point here is that i know that things need to change and i know that education will not change unless people are actively thinking about it. but who is actually doing something about it? what does it look like? what does it sound like? i've got questions and i want answers.
why do we keep talking about the classroom of the future? i want the best classroom that i can have now. and are we even sure that the best classroom is a classroom? someone tell me their dreams and we'll see if we can't make it happen.

background music

as my world history students are working on answering questions about the marshall plan, I have some nice and relaxing tunes playing in the background. I set up a pandora account a while back and i have managed to spend enough time tweaking my stations that i now have several stations that i can play in the classroom while my students are working. I have found that there seems to be less off task talking when there is music playing. I already let my students listen to their mp3 players when they are working on answering questions. Sometimes i play them some of my music, sometimes i let pandora play. The station that we are listening to today is a calexico station that i enjoy because it plays mostly instrumental. This keeps the kids from singing along but it gives them something to listen to in the background.
i know that i have blogged about music in the classroom before, but today it just seemed like the music was setting the mood. and that's all right.

Monday, May 18, 2009

national board assessment day

today is the day that i take my national board assessment. i'm getting ready to head out of here and make my way to charlotte for the day. four hours of testing in front of me. after this, it will all be over except for the long wait until november when i find out if i passed or not. if i didn't, i'll get to do it over again.
anyway, it has been quite a while since i have blogged and i just thought that i would check in. i haven't really decided the direction i want to go in with this blog. if i decide to keep doing it, i want to do a redesign. i want it to be a little more dynamic. a little more engaging.
anyway, just thought i would stop by blog land and say hello. time to go get some breakfast. anyone know any good brain food?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

working from home

i decided to take the day off today to work on my national boards. i have been slowly writing and trying to put some things together but now is the time to really get to work on it. the portfolio has to be postmarked by march 31st. i have been working on entry 4 and entry 1 today. for my area of certification, high school social studies (or as it is known in national board speak- adolescent and young adult social studies-history), these two entries are about professional accomplishments and writing to learn in the classroom.
professional accomplishments entails all the things that i do and have done to improve student learning in my classroom. am i learner, am i a leader, do i share and teach with my peers, etc? the answer to all of these should be, of course, YES. i think a lot of teachers do these kinds of things. national boards just makes you reflect on it and makes you think about the how and why parts of it.
the writing part is a little trickier. i am supposed to use 3 different writing assignments that i have assigned to my students and am supposed to show how i impact the writing of two students across these three assignments. again, not really that difficult. just hard to put it into words. especially hard right now because i forgot to bring home the writing assignments that i am going to talk about.
one thing about national boards. they aren't really that difficult. it is just time consuming. during it i often find myself thinking "what am i supposed to be doing again here?" because they don't really give you examples of any kind to look at. and, candidates aren't supposed to really look at anyone's portfolios that have been through it. all of this leaves you thinking at times, am i on the right track?
but you just keep writing and revising it and showing it to people who have been through the process. they give you some direction and try to help you out. when you are done with the writing you have to meticulously make sure that you have affixed all the correct labels and such and provided the correct cover sheets and all that jazz.
once i send in the portfolio i will have a month or so to prepare for the written assessment part of the process which will occur at a testing center in may. and then i get to wait until november to see if i pass. if all of that works out, i'll get a 12% pay increase once i am certified. that is assuming the current economic crisis doesn't eliminate that pay.
if i don't pass, i get to rework the things that i did poorly on and i get to try again. and wait again. until the following november.
whew, that sounds like a lot more work and a lot more waiting. i had better get back to writing something for national boards.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

raising money in the digital age

it turns out that raising money in the digital age is not so different than raising money in the not so digital age. several months ago i submitted a project to donorschoose.org. since then, my school has received a whopping $20 in donations. of that, i gave $10 just to get the ball rolling. i know, i know, times are tough. and the donorschoose site doesn't exactly make the donate button jump out at you. but it is especially frustrating given that the gates foundation is currently matching money donated to any project. i basically need 50 people to give $10 dollars to fund our project. we would like to buy some more digital video cameras so that our students can have better access to them and use them in their projects. this was a need designated and brought up by the students in one of our school senate sessions. you don't often hear students say that we need more books, but video cameras, now that's a different story.
so, if we don't get the money through donorschoose, i'll have to go back to raising money the old fashioned way. selling something through a school-wide sale. we are probably going to do a barbecue sale. times are tough but people still have to eat.
i know i have posted about this stuff before but it just goes back to the idea that schools will never have enough money given the current state of funding. the compromise stimulus package is a step in the right direction. the federal government helping out state governments when it comes to construction and some technology money. most reports i have read say that education will end up getting around 100 billion out of the stimulus package. that's less than what the house passed but more than what the senate had included.
but, before education advocates pat themselves on the back, consider this. the stimulus bill included $350 billion in tax cuts. for most americans that will mean about $8 a week less in taxes. i am of course, all for that, but i wonder if my $8 a week couldn't have been spent better by updating more schools, building some new ones, and funding some good education programs across the country. that's just what i wonder.
meanwhile, anyone want to buy a plate of barbecue?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

common planning time

one of the things that is special about our school is our common planning time. now, i know what you're thinking, you're thinking that common planning time happens in lots of schools. the big high school that i taught at last year also had common planning time. all of the social studies teachers had planning time together. all of the math teachers had planning time together etc... you get it. but here's the kicker- at nchshs all the teachers have planning time together. all of us. in one room. at the same time. talk about common planning.
this works surprisingly well. we have all of our desks set up in a room that we call the "bullpen." we all sit in here together and plan at the same time, after lunch. we are able to do this because students are in p.e. or project time or an art class of some form. these classes aren't taught by our regular teachers. that way, all of us can be in CPT together.
we solve all kinds of problems in common planning time. we can plan cross-curricular units. we can do staff training. our curriculum coach also can use this time to work with us. this time is very valuable to us and it allows us to communicate, learn, and share with one another.
this kind of set up means that we are able to have all kinds of input into what goes on in our school. we also know what is happening in each others classes and we can talk about those things in our own classes to reinforce learning in other teacher's subjects.
it also allows us time to goof around with one another for a few minutes every now and then. with all of our desks shoved in here close together, we can throw stuff at each other pretty easily.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

skype

in the same vein as yesterday's post, i'm still working on ways to spice it up a little more in my classroom. so now i'm wondering about skype. i have played around with skype and have used it a few times to communicate with people but i'm wondering now about its use in the classroom.
i know that a lot of teachers use it in the classroom but where are we supposed to find people to skype into our classes? i have seen some lists of people who are willing to skype with a class but i prefer to set it up with people i know. unfortunately, i can't think of anyone i know that would be a useful and willing participant right now. i'm sure that i will eventually get together a group of people who are willing to skype with my classroom but as of now, i see it as this great possibility.
so who do i know that might be willing? lots of people. how many of them could be useful in a world history or us history class? i don't know. i've got to think on it a little more. i know lots of talented, interesting people. i just don't know what they know about history.
i'll have to work on this a little more...
any suggestions or volunteers, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

everything's zen (presentation zen)

i have recently been working on updating some of my powerpoint presentations for my us history classes. i haven't actually read presentation zen yet by garr reynolds but i have heard enough of the buzz and seen enough of the handouts to know that there is something of merit there. this has caused me to go back and look at my presentations and to begin the process of reworking them.
i don't think that my slides were horrible to begin with, but i have begun to use my slides as more of an aid. an aid that helps to tell the story, but doesn't tell the whole story. i had/have a fair amount of words on the slides but i was cognizant in the beginning of overwhelming my audience with too many words. best to keep it simple and let me tell the story than have them looking and trying to read too much while i am speaking.
anyway, i am adding more video, more pictures, and more questions. i am also attempting to make the presentations more interactive. so how do i do that? i don't know. right now i am trying to integrate polleverywhere.com into the slides every so often. the kids will then be able to use their cellphones to answer questions on the slides while we watch the results in real time. it's pretty cool and the kids seem to like it.
i don't lecture all the time and i use projects and group work and lots of other strategies in my classroom. but sometimes, i find the need to lecture. what i want from you, dear reader, is some more ideas to make presentations more interactive. with examples please. thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

interview

some students who are part of our "pub club" (publications...)here at school just interviewed me for an upcoming issue of our school newsletter. they did a good job and they had some interesting questions. one of the questions they asked was "what is one of the strangest things that has ever happened to you in a classroom?"
that's a good question. having been teaching now for a decade and a half, i've had a few weird things happen to me. but i'll tell you the story that i told them. one time i had a deer try and get into my classroom. i think he heard there was some real learning going on and he wanted to see what is was all about. ok, i made the second part up, but not the first.
one afternoon some students and i were having quizbowl practice when i heard something smack hard against my outside window. it sounded like a big bird had just flown into it. i looked over and saw a blood smear on the window and assumed that it was, in fact, a bird. but as i walked over to the window, i saw the deer get up. it must have tried to cross the road and have been spooked by a car and ran toward the light of my window. it rose up, still disoriented, and jumped over towards another teacher's classroom. my kids then freaked out. it was just weird.
i can only imagine what would have happened had a live, spooked deer made it through the window and into my classroom. pandemonium i'm sure. people could have been hurt.
but as it was, the deer gathered itself and took off towards the field that was beside the school. i assume from there it made it into the woods and i hope it is relaxing in the woods somewhere even now.
just another day in teacher land...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

how much of the $ 142 billion do i get?

according to usa today and other news outlets, education's part of the stimulus bill racks up @ 142 $ billion dollars. that is, according to some, the most money education has ever received from the federal government. i think it is about time. anyone who spends any time in the education world knows that american teachers and schools have been trying to get by on shoe string budgets and bake sales for far too long.
i read somewhere (i think in tom freidman's book, the world is flat)that ibm's research and development budget was bigger than the federal government's budget for education. one company. education has been getting the shaft for a long time because schools are normally funded by local taxes which are controlled by local county commissioners or school boards or state officials. these politicians rightly worry about being reelected if they raise taxes. therefore, schools often function on shoe strings. the school that i taught at last year could not have remained in operation if someone would have taken the drink machines out of the hallways. that's how far funding has fallen for schools.
while i am certainly happy to see education receiving some influx of funds from the stimulus package, it might be too little too late. american students keep falling further and further behind students in other countries when comparisons are made. no serious push has been made to invest in educational technology or infrastructure. no serious push has been made to attract the best and the brightest into the teaching profession and really, those few that do happen to enter the profession are usually gone within a few years. (you mean i'm successful so you put more of the struggling kids in my class? thanks but no thanks.)
i guess i'm being overly cynical today. the money is needed and has been needed and education still needs more. the flattening of the world and the increased competition for jobs and skills and lifelong learning demand more. our future demands more and our children demand more.
that is all. i will now step down (briefly) from the soap box.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

trying to make time

a crowded school day = little time to get some blogging done. trying to work on school website, teaching class, grading papers, dealing with tech issues, working on national boards, reading email and twitter, wondering if i'll be able to clean my desk off in the next few minutes.

just another typical day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

peer reviews, data, and bears Oh My!

today we have visitors @ our school from other places and they are part of a peer review process that is going on. we have invited administrators and teachers from other schools in and have asked them to look at our school with the eyes of outsiders. we want to know how we appear to other people and we want specific input on two of the goals from the school improvement plan.
some of the people today are looking at a teacher who is doing a lesson that involves the group rubric that we developed through a grant from the gates foundation this summer. a few of us gathered back in august to come up with a group project rubric that could be used across the curriculum in our school. the visitors are watching one of our teachers use this rubric in class and are giving feedback on its use.
secondly, they are looking at our use of data when it comes to individual students. we are in the process of coming up with ways to track individual student progress. in my class, this has ended up being a tracking device that specifically looks at how an individual student has done on unit tests. these unit tests are aligned with the goals and objectives of the course. when it comes time to review i can tell my students where they need to spend the majority of their individual review time. hopefully, this enables us to individualize instruction for each student based on the particular objectives that the student needs to work on.
so finally, where are we? on our way- according to the peer review. which is really all any of us can ask for...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

back to school

ok, so i know i have been slack in the posting department as of the last few days but it is because we haven't been in school. we had the martin luther king holiday off on monday and then tuesday and wednesday we were off because of the semester change. so today, we are back. in full force. ready to kick some butt.
we have spent the last two days grading and planning and trying to gauge where we are with regard to our school improvement plan. in other words, busy, very busy. now the students are back with us and all the gnashing of teeth (jw speak) and complaints and soul searching between the teachers have taken a back seat to the needs of the kids. this is one of the neat things about this school. i work with a staff that is full of hardworking, caring people. we look at our ourselves, self assess, judge where we are and how we are going to get where we want to go. there is a lot of self-doubt and passion and general craziness as we strive to be better teachers in a better school. it is hard. constant reminders of where we want to be and the fact that we aren't there yet. that's hard. it can beat people down. especially when people are passionate. some days you feel like you'll never be good enough.
but when the kids walk back in the door, it is all about them. teachers teaching students, working with students, staying afterschool, taking kids home, guiding projects, offering words of advice, words of assistance, sometimes a kick in the butt. sometimes a smile and a pat on the back. it is wonderful to be in a place where every teacher really, really cares. and while that should be the case in every school every where, unfortunately it isn't.
so you take the good with the bad. would you rather be in a place where it is easier to teach and more laid back and not as intense? a place where it doesn't matter if every child gets it everyday? a place where some of your colleagues are just collecting paychecks?
or would you rather be in a place where every day teachers are striving to be better and trying to drag the kids with them? we are in the pursuit of perfection, not just for the kids in our classrooms but for ourselves as teachers and as a school.
in the long run, does the fate of the free world really hang in the balance? it might, or it might not...

Friday, January 16, 2009

it's an extra large friday

it's an extra large friday because we have a long weekend. the holiday and then two work days to try and get some things done. i've been working on updating the school website and i've been grading papers and i've been twittering and skype chatting and now i'm blogging. am i a web 2.0 teacher or what?
our students are working on reflection papers. they are reflecting on how they have changed so far this year based on a semester at our school. one of the questions that they have to answer for this reflection asks "what talents or skills have you discovered that you have?" one of my students wrote that she has discovered that she can take beautiful pictures. that's a nice thing to discover at school.
i think this is important. as schools evolve and change with the times, students are discovering more things. not only about themselves but they are discovering some of the ideas and learning that we need them to know. they are discovering new skills.
i think back to the days of the one room schoolhouse and rote learning and memorization and then i fast forward to today. the old paradigm was that we will tell you what you must remember and be able to recite. the new paradigm is something else. we still are telling them what they have to learn to a certain degree, state standards, objectives, etc. and we want them to know these things and we are going to test them on some multiple choice assessment. and of course, i'm not sure about that testing part.
but the how we are getting there is changing. i can literally hand my students the standard course of study now and tell them to prove to me that they know it. and they make brochures, and videos, and powerpoints and other things. they are beginning to get there on their own. i give them a destination and they figure out how best they want to get there.
that's exciting. where are we and how are we going to move forward? isn't that what we are all wondering?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

weirdness (or more so than normal)

so somedays are weirder than others. today has been one of those days. my day began this morning bright and early about 7:10 at school when one of our students walked in with a word issue. it seems she had been working at home on a project, saved it, and then brought it to school to print out. however, when she went to print it out here all of her words had changed to weird alien symbols. i thought "no problem, she has just switched the font accidentally to symbols." not so easy. i go to switch the font, and it changes everything to blank boxes. what in the world is going on here? i stare at it for another few minutes and decide i have no idea.
moving forward into the day. we began our youth truth surveys today. nothing really weird about the surveys today. it came off without a hitch. one thing that i thought was funny though was the fact when the students finished the survey they had the option of adding youthtruthsurvey as a friend on myspace or facebook. that is, if they could get there because we block those sites here at school.
speaking of blocking sites. we moved to a new set of access points for our wifi this past friday and now my mac on my desk won't log onto the internet.
we also began tours of the school today in preparation for the application process. prospective students and their parents walking around. cool.
after this i start to work on updating a picture on the school homepage. i wanted to put some new pictures on there and have them rotate while you are on the page. i kept swapping emails with our webpage person downstairs and it must be in the air but i just wasn't getting it. finally, i decided i needed a sundrop and while i was downstairs getting a drink i dropped by the guru's office and had her show me how to do it.
meanwhile, the student with the font problem walks into my room and opens a powerpoint on her flashdrive. guess what? the powerpoint has the weird alien writing. it's like someone somewhere is trying to tell us something. i keep having Charlemagne Pursuit flashbacks. then, the student just goes up to the font tab and switches the font and it comes back into english. but it wouldn't do it on the word documents. then she goes and looks at another paper on her flashdrive and it is in the alien writing as well. again, the word docs won't let her change it to anything.
did i mention that there is learning going on all over the place...
school is a fun place to be.

Friday, January 9, 2009

facebook (or the social web)

i read and hear a lot about social networking these days. you know, all the cool kids are doing it. the kids have myspaces, and facebooks, and nings and maybe even a few of them twitter and skype. but the majority of teachers out there don't do any of these things.

i understand the reluctance of teachers to get involved. there is so much of a demand on the time of teachers already. but i wonder how much of it is also just a flat-out refusal to learn something new on the part of some people. you would think that teachers would be the first in line when there is learning to be done. unfortunately this is not always the case.

i also wonder where the line should be drawn between students and teachers. many teachers have no problems letting students into their on-line world. i personally, do not add students as friends on facebook or whatever until they are no longer students. a class ning of course would be excepted from this but i can't have a class ning because we block ning access here at school.

the world is changing. and as it changes our sense of what it means to be teachers and how we are connected or not connected to our students is also changing. my students have my mobile number, they have my email, and i have theirs. they don't call or email me often, but when they do, i'm usually happy to help them. the barriers and walls between us are slowly eroding and the access to social networks and other web 2.0 tools are making it happen.

so, then does the reluctance from teachers come because they don't understand the new technology tools or does it come from the reluctance to lose another one of the barriers between themselves and the students? and really how many barriers should there be?

hmmm... hopefully some food for thought in today's lunchbyte...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

whoaoo, listen to the music...

when i was a surly teenager, back in the mid eighties, my parents used to bust into my room and yell at me to "turn that music down." i would sit in my yellow bean bag, which sat on my yellow and orange shag carpet, and listen to loud rock and roll while i was doing my homework. they would say "you can't possibly be able to think while that music is roaring in your ears."

but i could. at least, i could do most of the kinds of work that my teachers were assigning to me. look this up in the book, fill out this worksheet, yada, yada.

now fast forward some twenty odd years later (and they were odd), and i am a teacher and i sometimes play music in the background of my class while students are working on things independently. i also allow them to listen to their own mp3 players or ipods while they are doing independent work at their seat. it doesn't bother me. my rules are that that i shouldn't be able to hear it and when i or someone else is talking the ipods are put away. it works for me.

our school rule about music players is that it is up to the teacher to make that decision in class. i'm ok with that rule. but we don't allow them to listen to them during their project time. the time when they can independently work on the projects that they have to present to teachers and peers every 6 weeks. they also aren't supposed to listen to them in the hallway. this is what i wonder about.

sometimes when i am trying to get work done here at school i put on my headphones still. it helps me shut the rest of the world out when i need to get things done. i don't have to participate in the discussions and i can focus on what i need to happen.

all kinds of research says that using music in the classroom helps students learn. where do we draw the line? that's what i want to know. i have no problems with the way things function in my class. if i'm talking or someone else is talking, you are listening to the speaker. if it is time for you to think on your own and work on your own, you can listen to your own little speakers.

i'm interested in what you people out there in the etherverse think.

so what do you think?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

national board certification

i am currently in the middle of working on my national board certification. it is a good thing and it is always helpful to spend some time reflecting on our practices as teachers. what works, what doesn't and why?

everyone who has tried to become a board certified teacher has their own stories of what was happening in their lives while they were going through the national board process. it's not something that is overly hard, just time consuming. having recently gotten my master's degree, i can tell you, for me so far the master's degree was harder. but i am starting to feel the crunch of time.

new school. new classes. new paradigm. = little time.

(did i mention i thought this would be a good time to start a blog?)

breathe, exhale, the sun is shining, smile.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

youth truth survey

one of my colleagues just received a fedex box with our youth truth survey materials in it. the good people at the gates foundation have picked us (ok, maybe we volunteered) to do a survey of all of our students.

one of the things that we are trying to do is to use data to inform many of our decisions. this is another form of data that we are going to be able to use.

we are constantly trying to figure out how we are doing and how we are going to improve. this is a question that businesses ask themselves all the time. but how often does it happen in schools? i've always thought that if you want to know how teachers are doing, you should ask the kids. the kids see us everyday. instead, we rely on adminstrators to tell us how we are doing. principals, superintendents, people like that. people who aren't in our classrooms very often.

maybe we'll find out some good information...

Monday, January 5, 2009

lunch is good


just as an aside, i thought that i would say thank you to some people who may never read this blog. some parents bought us lunch today. it was good and from olive garden.

obviously we are a small school and it doesn't take a lot to feed us but this kind of stuff really does make your day.

ok- who are we?

well- if i'm going to blog, i figure that i should let my readers know who, what, when and where. in other words, who are we and why am i blogging?

i am a high school social studies teacher that enjoys using technology in the classroom. i teach @ a new schools project school in nc. the link is above-click on the title of this post.

we are trying to redesign the high school by using innovative teaching methods, technology, collaborative planning, and data driven instruction.

basically, we are trying "to build an airplane while we are flying it."

How are we doing?

We think we are doing ok so far...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

new beginning?

so i have been trying to figure out where to put my educational musings. i mean, i have a bunch of blogs that i use for different things, but none really for my thoughts on education and where we are heading. so, i said to myself, "self- you really need to begin to have this conversation about education and schools and such OUT THERE. you know, out of your head where others can see it and comment on it."
and here we are. i've had this blog that i used to do tech training on @ my last school and this thing has been languishing around useless in the ether-verse for a long time. all the archived links before this one will just take you to a trial run of my students and myself playing with a blog and their cell phones. unless you are really bored, i'd ignore the previous posts. i was going to delete them all but then thought differently.
in any regard, i have decided to begin to use it again.
the purpose will be for me to write down random thoughts on education and things that are happening @ my school. basically though, we are just going to see where the wind takes us.