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.