Writing my way through the school year!

Archive for June, 2011

Collaborize Classroom! Creating Critical Thinkers!

We always strive for our students to be critical thinkers, we want them to think outside the box.  As a matter of fact, we want them to think beyond our classroom doors! We promote collaborative teaching among teachers, and we welcome it in our classrooms among our students.   As you know, I am a  fan of Edmodo, but I’ve recently learned about a new platform called Collaborize Classroom.  A FREE online learning platform, yes, I used the “F” word. 🙂

I signed up for it, set up my classroom, and wondered what I was going to do with it.  Then I saw an  online demo, and  I was hooked! I am really excited about implementing this when I return to school.  What I love about it is that it gives you the ability to do what it says, collaborate. Encourage collaboration with the students in your room, another class,  classes in another state, or around the world. You can embed any type of media on the site. You can assign work, projects,etc… and the students work together to produce results. Collaborize has also announced the addition of a Topic Library. They will have lessons already created by teachers, which makes our job a lot easier.

The coolest part for me was the discussion forum. You post questions, your students can vote and/or comment, they can even watch videos related to the topic, without leaving the site! You will get reports of the work each student is doing. Collaborize takes the results and creates a graph which is then shared with your students! And don’t worry about help, they have a wonderful support team who is willing to provide FREE professional development to teachers.

I won’t learn the full extent of what I can do with Collaborize Classroom until I return to work, but I’m looking forward to using it in my classroom!! ! Watch the video to get an understanding of exactly how it works!

WEB 2.0 Smackdown @Edubloggers Con/ ISTE11 LiveBinder and Jog the Web!

I attended my first Edubloggers Con at ISTE11 today.  One of my favorite moments was the smackdown. Teachers voluntarily chose to get up and share a tool in 3 minutes. If I hadn’t been such a chicken, I would have shared WatchKnow, but I wasn’t brave enough.:)
Thanks to all the presenters that got up there and shared! I took all the sites they shared and put it in this Livebinder. Enjoy!

“A Day at the Beach!”

On Wednesday I went to the beach with two teacher friends. What a beautiful day! We didn’t go in the water, we just lay in our chairs and talked, and talked, and talked. We talked about politics, entertainment, gossip, and of course, education. (What else would you expect from a 5th grade  teacher, an ESL teacher, and a librarian?) We would pause and  enjoy the view, but not for long.  I would peek at my Iphone, my friends would read their  paper,and every time something caught our eye, the conversation would start anew. Oh, we enjoyed the day and each other’s company!

However, a group of teenagers across from us caught our eye at different moments during our stay.  They never talked to each other, did not interact with each other, all they did was text.  They ventured into the water at one point, but when they came back, I am not exaggerating, they simultaneously picked up their phones, lay down, and began texting again.  No, my friends and I weren’t stalking them, we were just baffled by their behavior. Didn’t they  come out to the beach to enjoy each other’s company?  If they were with each other, who were they texting? Why didn’t they talk to each other?

It made me think about the number of students, in recent years, who do not know how to hold a conversation.  They all have phones(Yes, my 5th  graders), and they all have texting available on their phones. I understand that they are 21st century children, but they still need to know how to communicate with others.  This is why I make sure my students talk to each other, collaborate, and share ideas. Not just on the computer, but face to face. This is why I have “Lunch with the teacher” days, so that we can  talk to each other.  This is why I accepted Morning Meeting when it was thrust upon me, because I realized it gave my kids a chance to talk to each other.

Every year, I ask my students if they eat meals at the kitchen table, most of them don’t.  I have a day I call, “Eat at the table with Your Family Day.”  I enjoy the feedback I get from students who actually follow through on it.  Too many  of them eat in their rooms or the family room, television on, phone beside them, no shared conversation.  No one talks to them at  home,their parents, tired from working all day,  leave them to their own devices. It happens. (I have to admit, there have been days where my son had to force me to eat at the table, and no phones are allowed!)

I know it’s not my job to make families talk to each other,  but conversation leads to learning, collaborating, sharing ideas, and even debate.

 As we were leaving, a guy a couple of yards away from us laughed and said, “You ladies made my day, in a good way!”  We laughed, slightly embarrassed that our conversation had been overheard, but happy that we made him feel good.  I felt  sorry for those kids, I realize they might not have  cared.  But I thought, how much more fun would they have had, if they actually talked to each other?

Can You Hear Me Now? Blogs as Podcasts!

     This morning I got on the computer to sneak a peek at my blog before heading to the gym.  As usual though, I was distracted, and jumped from my blog to my email, which led  to an education newsletter, which led me to  an interesting article that was posted on The Innovative Educator blog,  “5th Grader’s Smart Advice About Standardized Testing.”  I was really interested in reading it because I teach 5th grade and I despise standardized testing.

However when I opened the post, I spotted a rectangle in the left hand corner of the post. It contained a speaker and the words “Listen Now”.  Of course, I was distracted because tech stuff trumps,well, just about anything with me.  I clicked the rectangle, and lo and behold, the blog was read to me! I had to investigate how this worked, I could always read the post later.

Introducing Odiogo, they  ” Turn readers into listeners, and transform your blog into a high quality, ad-supporting broadcast that can vastly expand your audience reach!”  In other words, people can now listen to your blog as a podcast, isn’t technology amazing?   Of course, I had to try it and I really like it. Imagine those who would love to read your blog, but are always on the go, or the visually impaired. It’s a win-win!  The great part is that it is free, but you do have to sign up. The “voice” leaves a lot to be desired, but they are working on it.  The voice also has trouble pronouncing links and some words, but I am sure all that will be fixed eventually.  Oh, and they promise a Odiogo app will be coming soon! And yes, I did eventually get back to reading that article and made it to the gym!:)

Diary of a Public School Teacher-podcast! – Subscribe!

How  To: Convert Your Blog into a Podcast for Free”

LiveBinder Contest! My “Cybraryman” LiveBinder Was Nominated! YES!

Yes, I am begging for votes. 

 However, I have to say that I believe my Cybraryman Livebinder is a worthy resource, so you won’t be selling yourself cheap if you vote for it. 🙂 My Livebinder is listed as:  lmims “Cybraryman”

Thanks, and there are some really good Livebinders on this list, so I am surrounded by excellent company.:)


How Do We Separate “Being Dumb” from “Being Cool?”

This morning I was sitting at the table, eating breakfast with my teenage son and his friend.  We were talking, (This is why I eat meals at the table any chance I get), and the topic  turned to the use of the “N” word, which led to who uses it and who doesn’t.  That discussion led to my son informing me that some students in his school call him “white.”  His refusal to lower himself academically  makes me proud because I have tried to instill in him a sense of dignity, pride, and most of all, knowledge that being intelligent is not a crime.

Growing up,  I too was subjected to the same ridicule,.  I will never forget using the word “prerogative” and being mocked for days.  Did I care?   No, I followed my path, earned my BS and my MS, their words , my  motivation, not  a hindrance. Fortunately, I had strong parents who cherished my education, and television only had 13 channels.

Nowadays, our kids are inundated with the message that “dumb is cool” at every avenue in their lives!  And believe me, this is not an issue about race, all of our children are receiving the same message.  “If you want to be cool, be dumb, or at least appear to be..” From the music they listen to, the television shows,  even  the news.  Why would  Snooki of  “New Jersey Shore” fame  get  paid $2,000  more to speak at Rutger’s University  than renowned author Toni Morrison?   What message was Rutger’s sending its students?  What  academic, or for that matter, life, wisdom could Snooki impart?

And although my son understands the importance of education, I am certain there are times when he has “dumbed” himself down to fit in.  I see it in my classrooms, year after year.  Who are the most popular students in my class, the ones who do not see education as a priority.  What do we call the intelligent students? “Nerds”!  How many students do you know like being addressed as nerds, no matter how many times we tell them what the future probably holds for them?

Fortunately, there are still students out there who are like me when I was a little girl.  They ignore the ridicule, and follow their own path,  recognized by someone, somewhere.    What can we do to make “being smart” cool again?  What can we do to help our students and children avoid the pressure that surrounds them?   Here was Snooki’s advice to the students at Rutger’s, “Study hard, but party harder.”  Need I say more?

Will (Or Can) Computers Replace Teachers?

As I listened to my favorite radio station this morning, the hosts made reference to an article,  “Will teachers be replaced by computers?”  The hosts made jokes, but I took this question seriously. 

“As long as schools measure performance simply by rote memorization on multiple-choice tests, no teacher can compete with instant access to the world’s information. Unless schools change, more and more teachers will find themselves replaced by computers.”

But that’s the point, we should not measure performance based on rote memorization.  As a country, we are always pushing critical thinking.  In the classroom, we are all given copies of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and told to encourage higher level thinking.  In reality though, we know what we are asked to do, get our students to pass a test at the end of the school year.  The author of this article is correct, a computer can do this.

But, it raises a number of questions for me. 

 More than 50% of my students do not have access to the Internet.  They might have computers in their homes, but Internet access is not a necessity for most of them, not when the bills have to be paid. For the life of me, I can not see how computerized instruction can meet the needs of all students.  Will different programs be developed for each student?   And let’s say each student does have Internet access, it’s hard enough to get some students to work in the classroom under your nose.  What is their motivation at home?  At home, with food, friends, music, and the latest tech toys, who do you think will win that battle in most homes, school or fun? 

What about social issues?  Think about the child who comes to school and receives the only two meals of the day they will get. The child who has someone notice that they are being abused.  The child who has no friends outside of school, or lives in a home where the television is his/her only friend. Presently, our students are lacking in every day social skills due to texting, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. If you remove human interaction, how will they be able to function when they enter the work force or college?  I struggle to get parental involvement with students I see every day, how would I hold parents accountable? Sometimes, a child needs a hug, or a smile just to make it through the day, and not one they get through a monitor.

I am sick of hearing “We’re all about the kids.” Everything we do is “for the kids.”  It’s evident that this idea has nothing to do with our kids, it’s about money, and it always will be.

“Though teachers like Chris Kirchner of Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami have called Florida’s e-learning labs “nearly criminal” for removing the human component from instruction, schools teetering on bankruptcy will reasonably look for cheaper solutions to meet federal funding standards. Simply, interactive websites and textbooks can teach fractions and the stages of cell reproduction every bit as well as a lecturer.”

The Joy of Summer Reading!

I went to the library today!  I left,  struggling with an armload of books by some of my favorite authors, Kellerman, Sanford, Block. I lovingly placed the books in the back of my car, envisioning myself on the couch, deck, gazebo, curled up with one of my books, lost in the story.  I am also a Nook owner ,  but I love the feel of a book in my hand.   I would read it at lunchtime, with only the light from my desk lamp illuminating each page.  I relished those 20 minutes, lost in a book or my Nook.

As you might have guessed,  I am an avid reader. I’m one of those people who writes Reading as their hobby.  I was that kid, devouring a book, while the other kids played in the street. I’m the teacher, who reads in her dimly lit room, instead of eating in the Teacher’s Lounge. 

 I tried to pass my love of reading to my students.  I managed to snag a few of them when I read “Series of Unfortunate Events” aloud.  I also made a habit of giving them a little teaser of whatever I was reading at the time.  But too many of them  weren’t interested.  There are  too many obstacles that block  kids from experiencing the joy of a good book.  Video games, lack of books at home, television, video games. It’s difficult enough to get them to read during the school year, the summer is a killer!

Educators, along with others, have begun to fight back!   My son’s district started a “one book-one district” requirement last year. My son read, The Hunger Game” last year and really enjoyed it.  This year, they are required to read, “The Uglies” and ” The Things a Brother Knows”, he’s already started, and my son is not a fan of books.

My school, like many others, have begun opening  the school library during the summer.  Our school will be open to the community every Wednesday, and our librarian will be there so the students can check out books.

There are websites that encourage reading over the summer, we used  the Scholastic Summer Challenge  last year. Good program, but unfortunately not many of our kids participated.  I recently found out about another one, Ivillage PBS Kids Summer Reading Community Challenge  from 5MinutesforBooks.com.

Local libraries usually have reading programs where incentives are offered.  TDBank offers a Summer Reading program as well, with an incentive of  $10 in a Savers Account. What a great idea!

I’ve read the about what happens to students who don’t read during the summer.  I’ve experienced, year after year, the difficulty of teaching students who have not picked up a single book during their break.

But all is not lost!  There were four librarians working  the desk at  my library, and I still had to wait in line!   Only one person in the line had DVDs in their hand, the rest, adults and children, had books. Reading is still alive and well!

“There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them” Joseph Brodsky

It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, No It’s Cybraryman!

One thing I have learned to do is to lean on others, and not try to do everything myself.  I love technology, and I could sit, literally, for hours in front of my computer, looking for techy things to do with my class.  However,  having  a husband and a child who would like some of my time, it is not possible. (Well, at least not until I’m off the school year.)     

Anyway, I have fallen in love with Cybraryman, educationally in love, of course.   I find what he does  absolutely amazing!  I know people probably wonder where he finds the time to do what he does. Personally, I don’t care, as long as he keeps doing it. 🙂  He chooses a subject, most tech related, but not just limited to tech stuff.  He then proceeds to develop a list, a very long list, of links that correlate with that subject.  I mean, can you ask for anything more? It’s a one-stop shopping list!

I conducted a workshop on wonderful websites. Unfortunately,  because I teach 5th grade,  I didn’t have too many Primary education sites.  I made sure I included the Cybraryman Primary Education site  on the  Jog the Web I shared with the staff.  The K -2 teachers did not visit any of the other sites I had listed, they stayed on his site  during the entire workshop. He’s that good!

At this point, you might be thinking, did he pay her to say all these things? Nah! I follow him on Twitter, and every time he posts a link, I am on it ! ( http://twitter.com/#!/cybraryman1). He has so many sites, I decided to create a Cybraryman Livebinder of his sites. All Cybraryman, in one place. As he creates them, I will add them.  With all that we have to do, it’s wonderful to know there is someone out there willing to make our job easier.   Thanks Cybraryman!

Reflections: Are You the Type of Teacher You Would Want for YOUR Child?

It’s the end of the school year, a time for reflection.  What worked?  What didn’t?  And what could I change?

I believe this is a question we should ask ourselves, “Am I the type of teacher I would want for my child?”  If you don’t have kids,  replace “your child”  with niece, nephew, little brother, you choose. But the question remains the same. Would you send a letter to the principal requesting that your child be in “your” class? Are you the type of teacher you would be happy to leave your child with 6 1/2 hours a day?

My colleagues and I thought of this question after attending the PLC summit in Arizona.  We felt it would be a great question for teachers to ask themselves. We need to be  honest with ourselves, and if  the answer is no, then I think we need to do some soul-searching.  We need to ask ourselves what we could do to make ourselves the kind of teacher we would want for our own  child.  It’s ironic that teachers who want only the best for their children, are willing to be mediocre for the children they teach.

How many teachers would want their kids in a class where the teacher refuses to integrate technology because it’s too much work?

Or, still teaches using worksheets with 100 of the same problems?

Uses yelling as a disciplinary tool? (Does not work, ever)

Discusses a child’s personal life with whoever is in the teacher’s lounge?

Confuses working collaboratively  with the theft of his/her ideas?

Does not communicate?

I know as my children traveled through the school system, I was one of those parents who made sure they had the “best” teachers. I would put in a “teacher request” every year until middle school.    I have always taught the way I want others to teach my kids.  As idealistic as it sounds, wouldn’t it be great, if we all taught as if our own child were in our classroom, every single day?

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