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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Challenge Yourself: The Franklin Challenge

The study of literature is the study of the human experience. I love that what I teach has along with it this great opportunity, and responsibility, to talk about life. Sometimes I hear a students say that we've gotten off topic when addressing an issue in the classroom while reading, and while sometimes true, I would beg to differ that we have had an opportunity to make the reading relevant. In an English class, or at least my English class, learning doesn't always have an end product that can be submitted for points. For some students that can feel like "Well we didn't do anything today" but there is more to learning than a worksheet or test. To be frank, I give very few tests throughout the year- maybe 4 or 5.

As we started our "Rationalist" (aka the Enlightenment, aka the Revolutionary Period) unit we had an unique opportunity to take our literature and study of life to a new level. We read Ben Franklin's Autobiography - particularly looking at the 13 virtues which was a systematic approach to reaching moral perfection. After reading Franklin's rationale, we embarked on "The Franklin  Challenge". So here is what we did:

1. We looked at a sample log of Franklin's day:

Looking at how Franklin logged his day we made  plans to ask ourselves every morning "What Good Will I Do Today?" and follow up every night with "What Good Have I Done Today?"

Next we took on the task of documenting the virtues in our own life:
Students were to take few minutes at the end of each day to mark the virtues in which they had mastered for the day, and those in which they had struggled. 

The end product wasn't to turn these documents in, although I did check them by walking around the room for accountability purposes, but to write a reflection. "What did you learn about yourself this week?"

I was really impressed with the reflections submitted by students. To take a week to be reflective about how you spend your time, be conscious of the actions you take, and be mindful of setting your focus each morning to do something good had an impact. Now I am not naive enough to think that every student took this seriously and and filled in out every night, but I can tell from the reflections that some did. In my directions for the assignment I told them:

In order to become better we have to willing to be reflective. We have to be willing to  praise ourselves for our successes and be honest about our shortcomings. To be self aware can be a hard and uncomfortable- but it is imperative to becoming what we want to be. 

I decided to take this challenge as well. So what did I learn? I learned I struggle tremendously with Tranquility- be not disturbed by trifles or accidents common or unavoidable. I can have an exceptional day. Feel productive in my planning and teaching, make meaningful connections in class, find myself blessed by so much. I will quickly sacrifice all of those positives for a moment I have no control over. Maybe unkind words, or a struggle in the classroom, or anxiety over situations that I can not change. Having that question at the end of the day to refocus my attention had an impact on me 
"What Good Did You Do Today?" 

While I could easily end my day going back over all of the ways in which I fell short, I made myself look at something I did well. What a change that makes! It's all about perspective. Now, I will have to repeatedly remind myself of these things daily, but it had a huge impact for me! Hopefully it had an impact on at least a few of my students as well :)

Homework with a purpose! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Overstimulation: My struggle with virtual content

My goal was to reflect each week about what is happening in the classroom through blogging. While I am reflecting, I haven't followed through with writing about it. What better to write about then-time management?

Time management and organization has always been a struggle for me. I envy those who it comes natural to. Those who automatically color code and organize things. Without hesitation can envision how things will fit together and can be easily found later. Technology for me this year has added a new layer that I have to adjust to. For me unfortunately the saying is true: out of sight out of mind. That is what technology CAN become in my universe without planning ahead of time. If something is in the back of the fridge, I often forget it is there. If clothes are tucked in a back drawer, they may not get worn for a year. Because I know myself and I know I struggle with these things I find ways around it. Dedicate each shelf in the fridge to certain items as to not have them get lost. Organize my hanging by colors and label drawers. This is the same thing I will have to do in the classroom. Create a system. What that system looks like I haven't figured out yet. Emails, Twitter, Facebook, Moodle, Blogs, Edmodo, Collaborize. These are all things in my educational technological universe. How do I devote time to thoroughly reading, utilizing, and participating in all of these? It does for me create a bombardment of information that can very quickly make me feel overwhelmed and uneasy. Did I miss something?!!?? Each person is different and I don’t know the psychology behind all of it but visual content for me can be serious overstimulation. Bullet points, highlight, large font, tiny font, multiple color font, multiple fonts all together, underline, bold, italics, exclamation points!!!!!!!  It literally makes my brain scream. I need to hear things. It works it out in my head to talk something out and then write it down. Yes- write. Something about the physical act of making my hand create letters on a page makes it make sense for me. Online calendars I forget about. This is just how I operate. While I am trying to figure that out, I am thinking about my students as well.

Not only do they have all of the above things to juggle, but they also have multiple classes using multiple things. Luckily many of the technologies we use have built in organizational features. Calendars, alerts, etc. But again, I can see how it could feel like a huge mountain to climb. It is so very easy to overlook something and have no idea that you didn’t see it.

I think the best thing we can all do is to mainstream information for ourselves and for our students. Just because one thing has a cool new feature and we want to try it, we have to remember all of the other platforms our students are asked to check, read, respond, and work on. Some of the ideas I have had I have decided to forgo for the moment. Sometimes my students want to be able to physically turn in a piece of paper. Much like we give options for our students based on their personal learning needs, we as professionals have to remember that we haven’t outgrown those learning styles. They are still a part of who we are and how we best receive and decode information.

I would love to hear ideas others have for organizing and managing online content and staying organized and on top of everything asked of you!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Words with Friends!

I wanted to find a way to have the students take some ownership of different elements of the class this year. That might be making some selections of things we read, deciding on an assessment, or in this instance sharing words...with their friends!

I said before in a post that I noticed on my Kindle app that is allows you to share a word after you define it. I have already told my students as we have been discussing writing that the best way to improve their vocabulary and writing skills will be to read. Reading allows them to see words in context and to see what good writing looks like. I'll have to do another post on reading after the conversation we had in class yesterday about why people hate to read – very interesting. Giving them a list of words and having them to define them and use them in a sentence sticks...sometimes. Other times it does not. I wrote a previous post about making connections with their words, which seems to be the best way to make them meaningful.

So here is what we are going to “TRY”- let the kids share the words on Twitter using the hash tag #barnesvoc. I am going to go over it today in class and show them how to share. I will update how it goes in class! I hope it will push them to be thoughtful about what they are reading and words that they don't know. It is also nice for them to see something that they took the time to do appear in class for their peers. Maybe inadvertently they will also find something interesting to read from what their peers are reading (happy accidents are welcome)!

Words are powerful!

Here are the steps we are taking:
1. First find the word and select to define.

2. Select "full definition" and choose the optino to "share" - Select "Twitter" (they will have to first connect their Twitter account to Kindle)

3. Add the hashtag #barnesvoc

4. Add the link appears on Twitter!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here we go technology!

Today was the first day I incorporated technology into an assignment with my students. I've used a lot of these things before (QR codes, polls, etc.). But it's always interesting to see what things you have to fix the first time through and how your students respond.
Our assignment had to do with the discussion of "Dystopia" and The Hunger Games. Besides discussing the term and its connection to the novel I also wanted them to also read an article written about why teens are fascinated with the genre and  look at an info graphic about its connection to historical events. I created QR codes for this assignment to link the to the webpage for both. So here is how it went!

Assignment 1 - Class 1- One of my QR code wasn't working in my first class. Panic right!?! It's that sinking feeling when you've spent time putting something together and it doesn't work. Well thanks to the iPad I could instantly,while walking around the room, grab the link from Diigo and put it on my edmodo page! Problem solved! To be honest besides the novelty of scanning the code, it would have worked better to just have the assignment and links on edmodo from the beginning. I had my students get in groups, so in some groups everyone had a device and could use it while others adapted by reading the article aloud or passing the phone around for the info graphic.

On my iPad I also used Notability to jot some notes down about how each class handled their group assignment and what I would like to adjust for next time. Very handy when you feel overloaded at the end of the day and can't remember!

I finally used to ask my students a question about their ability to access and annotate the short story they had to read for homework from a device. The students were able to text in their response without disruption to the group discussion, and I could immediately see how many people would need copies for tonight. In my first class 100% are choosing to read on a device (we will see how that works tomorrow maybe an Assignment 1-Part II)

Assignment 1- Class 2 and 3- I noticed the closer it got to the middle of the day the more time it took for the students' devices to load the information. Good to know. There also became a larger discrepancy between the students who did and did not have devices.

Assignment 1 -Class 4 and 5- I wasn't sure how to adapt this activity for my regular classes. Yes they can handle the same questions, but sometimes need more guidance getting to the answer. For those classes we took each question one at a time. I let them work in groups and then we shared answers. I was really surprised by how well read (and primarily the boys) my 6th period is. We had great discussions about other books in the same category they had read and wanted to read. They really blew me away! However, by the time I got to my last class only a few students had a device to use. I let one group borrow my iPad and the other read the article from my computer. We looked at the infographic together. They really weren't as interested or engaged. That's to be expected by the end of the day, but I am going to have to work on figuring out what motivates them because impressing the teacher really isn't it!

I am trying to be more reflective (one of my yearly goals- maybe I'll blog about that soon).You never know until you really get into it what you can and cannot do. I quickly realized that what some classes can handle and what they can thrive in won't be the same for another. Great lessons learned!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

First Day of School

I am getting ready to pack up and head home from working at school. I completely underestimated the amount of small things I had to do to just get it together for the students tomorrow. This is my eight start to a school year (so weird to say), and yet every year I feel a bit overwhelmed. I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be ready for the whole year tomorrow – just ready for tomorrow.  

As I started getting my first day agenda together, I am beginning to think of the first day of school as a free therapy session. Who are you? What's your favorite music, book, subject, sport, color, cereal? If you were a shoe which one would you be and why? Who do you want to be five years from now? What are your goals for the year? What are your strengths and weakness? Biggest fears? Pet Peeves?

Don’t get me wrong, all of this is much needed information along with their learning style color and astrological sign. However, to be quite truthful their biggest goal for the day, even the year, might just be to make it through the first day back to high school with no real catastrophes. No tripping down the stairs (or up for that matter). Finding someone to sit with at lunch. Hoping no one else has on the outfit you spent days putting together. Hoping you see at least one friendly face in one of your classes. Trying not to look lost, scared or vulnerable. No tears on the first day!

I say all of this to get to the point that we are all anxious on the first day. We all have a desire to start with our best foot forward. The motto my first year of teaching as I heard it from  new teacher orientation was "don't smile before Christmas" - but we all need a little compassion on the first day back. Someone to ask if we need help when that distant stare has overtaken our faces. Someone to give us a compliment or a smile.

 I am always waiting for that one student who finally says something that makes everyone laugh to break that "new class" tension that the teacher just can’t break.

Here is hoping we all have a wonderful first day back with no catastrophes and maybe a little more insight into who we are J


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

That time of year again?

I started this blog last year really intending to keep an updated log of my experiences in the classroom. However... life happened and the blog became like that cliché treadmill turned clothing rack. So here I am again making my new school year resolution to update my blog. I am setting a reminder in my new iPad (will share on that later) and making a commitment to have a time each week for meaningful reflection.

I also want the blog to be a reflection of what both I am doing as well as what progress I am seeing in the classroom. This can a be a place that parents can come to get a glimpse inside of their child's classroom and find that we are doing more than the "nothing" they heard at the dinner table discussion about how the day went. We don't send work home anymore that gets posted to the fridge. Blogging about projects or student work is a great way for me to highlight those students who are improving and excelling.

So what's new? First, the iPad. My first tweet last year was about me wanting an iPad, and what a difference a year makes! We are staring a new iPad initiative. Although my tenth graders will not have iPads, it has opened the door to using and utilizing more technology in the classroom. I am excited to see what options this will give the students and how I can really consolidate the multiple things I tend to use. I have stacks (seriously STACKS) of legal notepads in my closet where I jot ideas or do my planning. I can't stand the thought of tossing out the brilliance of what once was...but the idea of reading back over all those just isn't feasible. To know that I won't need to carry my planner, a book, my notes, my flash drive, and my cell phone in order to get everything accomplished is amazing. I am just a novice at this point, but look forward to the ways in which I can find to make life a little easier.

What's going on right now? I am again frantic with all of the things I want to do this year, and trying to figure out how to best fit them in and make sure they flow together. The hurdle I am looking to cross is how to give my students options for assignments that include technology, and how to manage having assignments turned in through various formats. I don't want to think that even if my students all had iPads that I wouldn't give them to option to complete something the way that they need to. I know that physically writing things out helps me to get a handle before I type it up.

Journals are one thing I am trying to wrap my mind around. I have always had my students write in composition journals. Although my husband and I often have had the discussion about paper becoming obsolete- there is still a place. However, if a student decides to use technology to keep their journals- what should they use and how do I then check it? How do I also avoid "I'll do it later on my computer" rather than an assignment in class? How do I know when they say they are typing their journal that they are really working on it?

I would also like to make vocabulary more relevant. In the past I have selected words from test prep lists or their readings. The idea came to me….what if they create the lists? The iPad allows you to “share” a word after you look up the definition. What if their vocabulary lists came from the students themselves? So I am thinking Twitter will be the best avenue. I don’t want to lose the time in between them reading and defining the word for them to share it with everyone else. Things like this will probably work themselves out as I learn the needs of my students, but at the moment they feel chaotic.

I'm looking forward to a wonderful school year with a lot of exciting opportunities. I feel ready to revitalize myself as teacher and challenge myself to learn more and do better. I have found now that I have Coley that my time away from her is precious, and because of that I have found more meaning in my work and my relationship with my students. So here's to an awesome school year! ....just  breathe...