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 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


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 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


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...