Writing my way through the school year!

Archive for July, 2011

Matt Damon’s Speech to Teachers at SOS Rally

I love this speech! I wonder how many politicians heard or read it?

I  flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.

I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.

Happy Blogiversary To Me!

It’s been a year! It’s been a year since I sat down at my husband’s PC, (He eventually bought me a laptop), and decided to blog. I have never regretted it, ok, maybe once or twice, but that’s all! I don’t know why I decided to blog, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I love to write, love technology in the classroom, and I love, love , love teaching.

At first, I was going to name my blog, “Rants and Raves of a Public School Teacher.” After about a week, I changed the name because I felt that I wasn’t  going to spend all my time ranting and /or raving.

I remember when I started, I would  jump out of bed every morning, turn on the computer, and announce to my husband and son how many people had read my blog. “15 people read my blog today!” (They tired of that very quickly) I remember posting on FB that “35 people viewed my post!.”  What an accomplishment!  April Fool’s Day my statistics jokingly showed 499 views, I knew it was a joke! But imagine my delight when one of my posts, on my little blog, did hit 499 views! Whooo-hoo! I used to worry whether or not I would have enough to say, shouldn’t have.

 I have learned so much, connected with so many people, participated in global  projects and joined fantastic PLN’s! I have been a guest blogger, and have had my posts used on other sites. I attended my first ISTE, which was amazing and overwhelming!  I have embraced knowledge. Shared what I have learned from my experiences, and what I have learned from others. My thirst for tech has not only been quenched, it is overflowing! 

 I no longer jump up and check my stats every morning, I’m past that now. Ok, I still take a peek now and again. 🙂  Blogging is not a money-maker for me, by no means.  But it has given me a chance to do what I love, write, and talk about technology and teaching!  Happy Blogiversary to Me!

“The Cheating Scandal!” Isn’t Cheating a Choice?

I read an article by Jay Matthews of  The Washington Post the other day, “Easing Test Pressure Won’t Save Kids”, and it went along with something I had been thinking about ever since “The Cheating Scandals” (in a whisper) broke. I don’t agree with everything he had to say in his article, but there was one element that struck me. Is cheating acceptable because of the enormous pressure put on teachers, principals, and superintendents?  Is it alright to excuse, justify, or rationalize cheating, because of the intense pressure put on schools due to standardized testing?

Just as we all handle grief differently, I am sure we can apply that same thinking to pressure. I would not cheat, and I have not cheated on any of these inane tests I am forced to give my students.  I can say, with confidence, that if I was told to cheat, I would not. And yes, maybe the principal would try to “get me” or “put me on their list”, but I still wouldn’t budge on what I believe in.

In the Huffington Post article, “Atlanta Cheating Scandal Unveiled By Reporter”, the reporter stated, “The report paints a vivid picture of a culture where teachers were publicly humiliated or fired for underperformance,… For example, a group of teachers at … held a weekend “changing party” at a teacher’s home, where they systematically altered test answers to boost results.  A post by Maureen Downey on her blog,  “Get Schooled” provides another example, ” … the principal forced a teacher to crawl under a table in a faculty meeting because that teacher’s students’ test scores were low.

Maybe I am naive, but how does this happen?  How does my supervisor coerce me into doing something I do not believe in, knowing that I will probably be the scapegoat when it blows up!  In situations like these,  no matter how much you try to hide it, it is going to blow up! Who could make me crawl under a table?  Were these untenured  teachers who feared for their jobs, and felt that the ends justified the means? Were they teachers who believed in “by any means necessary?”

All teachers did not choose to participate, they chose not to cheat.  As  a matter of fact, a lot of those teachers stood up to their supervisors and reported them.  A lot of them were ignored, and many lost their jobs, this was the choice they made.

I look at it this way. Let’s say I catch one of my students cheating. I say to them, “Why were you cheating?” , and their response is, “If I fail this test, I can’t play football.” Do I say, “I understand the pressure you’re under, so I will excuse you.” No, it would never happen!  I have read so many tweets from educators who blame the system for creating these high pressure situations, and then ending with a “Well, what did you expect to happen?” kind of ideology. But should we look at it that way, that all who participated were somehow “forced” into it, and all other options were closed for them?

In the end, I feel sorry for those teachers, all over the country,who have lost their jobs because of the choice they made, for whatever reason. My heart goes out to those kids who were made to cheat, what lesson did they learn? Standardized testing is the worst way to assess our kids and hold teachers, schools, and districts accountable.  But until they change it, I don’t think cheating is the solution we are looking for.

QR Treasure Hunt Generator! Using QR Codes To Engage!

I discovered QR codes a couple of months ago,  I read about them, downloaded a QR reader, and began to create my own codes.(I have one for my blog page on the right hand side of the blog). When I went to ISTE11, they were all over the place!  Silly me, I felt like one of the chosen when I had to demonstrate or explain what they were. 🙂  Well, eventually, the fun of it wore off, you can see them wherever you go, magazines, etc…, so now the question became, “How do I use QR codes in my classroom?” Or better yet, “Can I Use QR codes in My Classroom?”

The other day, I was perusing Free Technology for Teachers in my Google Reader, and lo and behold, what do I see? A very, cool, way to use QR codes. Now, just to be fair, prior to seeing Bryne’s article, I had already bookmarked Steve Anderson’s “QR Codes in Education” Livebinder, I just didn’t get around to looking through it. (But I will now). Richard posted the  QR Treasure Hunt Generator  created by  Classtools.net and it looked simple enough that I could check it out without having to hear my husband yell “Get off the computer!”.

It was very simple to use and the title says it all.  You create questions. The questions are turned into QR codes. Hang them around the room and let the students “read” the questions with their mobile devices and answer them. (That’s the treasure hunt part of the game). Being educators, I know you can take this concept, twist it, turn it, whip it, and come up with 600,00 different ways you can use it. The owner of the website does ask for feedback in comments and suggestions,or even problems, so feel free to share.

Upon seeing it, I immediately thought of the “Getting to Know Mrs.M’ exercise I use at the beginning of the year.  I place a summary about myself on the Smartboard, my students read it, and then answer questions about me. As boring as it sounds, they are engaged, but how much more spicy would it be with QR codes! I would only have to show them how to use it once( you know how kids are).

To test it out,  I made up 5 questions, that’s the minimum amount you can use, hit “Create QR Challenge”, and the work was done for me! First, it took me to the “Teacher Notes” page and from there you can access the  QR codes that the students will use for the “Who is Mrs M?” quiz.

I think using this tool as a team building exercise at the beginning of the year would be a great idea as well. We’ve done scavenger hunts in my building before, but how much more fun it would be with QR codes! Of course, you would just have to ignore the grumbling of the “anti-tech” teachers as you played.

My only dilemma is that cell phones are not allowed in school, principal’s orders. “If you see a cell phone in school, confiscate it immediately!” Hmmm, how do I get around this?  Do I let them sneak their phones out and hide it when administration enters the room?(Just kidding) Maybe for this exercise, I’ll let them use mine, but supervise them heavily. Any suggestions?

A question I sent to the owner was if they see this as a “just for teachers” tool.(Russel Tarr responded, “It’s designed for whoever uses it!”) I think it would be great if the students could create their own questions and QR codes.

QR codes, another tool to teach and engage our students!

“Watch Your Mouth!”

  In my last post, “Sit Your A** Down…” I used the expression, “Excuse My French“.  A reader took me to task for the use of this expression because she took offense to it.  After reading her comment, and looking up the origin of the term, I realized that it could be considered offensive  and changed the word “French” to “Language.”.   I also posted a reply to her comment.  I am aware that I am the author of this post, and can write what I like, but I also realize that I have a global audience, so I should be careful of the terms I use.

In the classroom, we also have to be aware of what we say, or allow to be said, to, and around, our students.  Our classrooms are populated with children from different backgrounds, religion, cultures, etc… What may be harmless or funny to us, may not be to a student or a colleague. How many students are willing to let a teacher know they have crossed the line?   I don’t know about middle school  or high school students, but I don’t know many elementary students who will let a teacher know when they are offended. It didn’t happen very often with my own children. As a matter of fact, my youngest only told me of one instance, and then he didn’t want me to contact the teacher! (I did).

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words….”,  you know the rest. Words do hurt and although people believe that we live in a world where political correctness has gone crazy, I believe as professionals, especially professionals dealing with children, we should be conscious of what we say, and how we say it.I had a Muslim girl in my class, and with the U.S at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am sure current event topics involving Muslims were difficult for her.  However, it was my job to make sure she wasn’t uncomfortable, especially when students brought in opinions from home.

I’ve always been a person who has chosen my words carefully, especially around my students. I just have to, need to, be a little more careful when I write.

“Sit Your A** Down!” (Excuse my Language!)

It’s Sunday, so this really shouldn’t be the title of my post, but it fits so well. I thought of the title as I sat, in all places, in a church in Boston. I recently read an article about that children’s book, “Go the  F*** to Sleep”, and I think it left an impression on me. 🙂

What would make me think of “Sit your a** down!”, in the middle of the service?  A little girl.  The priest asked the children to sit in the front while he preached.  Her mom allowed her go to the front of the church with her brother.  The first time I saw her,  she was running a lap around the church.   “Thump, thump, thump!” Running, not skipping,  jogging,  a light trot, running around the church!  Her mother sat in the pew, watching, along with the other distracted parishioners.  Her mother grabbed her the first time around and attempted to keep her in the pew. The girl resisted and her mom gave her an incentive (bribe?) to encourage her to sit down.

After thirty seconds of kicking and screaming, the child was off again, this time with goldfish crackers in hand. Thump,thump, thump!, another lap until she reached the front of the church, where she plopped her body down in front of the priest.  She didn’t sit long, and did another lap until she reached her mother.   The mom tried again, this time, giving her a bottle, and then she took off to complete another lap around the church.  For the next 15 minutes,  the little girl ran around,  only to stop at her mother’s pew, deceiving her into believing that this time she would sit down.

I was able to tune them out eventually, but this scene resonated in my head as I left the church.  What is going to happen to this little girl when it is time for her to attend school?  Is this why the education system has become a “If you do this, I will give you…?” The sad part is that even with the bribes, the little girl did not sit down. She kicked, and screamed, and went on her merry way, the mother making no effort to stop her once she left the pew.

Is it a wonder that our students come to school with little respect for authority? What a huge shock to the system when a child enters a school, and they have no choice but to follow the rules.  I’m sure we have all encountered students like this.  And yes, I know from experience, how difficult it is to keep a child still, or to get them to do what we want, whether it’s in the church or in the classroom.   But we have to do it, we have to prepare our children to go outside of the home, or the classroom,  and follow the rules.  Teachers can’t compound the problem by throwing candy, or the latest incentive or bribe,  at them to get the response we want.

Of course, I would not use those words at any child, there are certainly alternatives. But if someone wrote a satirical children’s book about children who run around when they’re not supposed to, , I think “Sit Your A** Down!” would be an excellent title!:)

Creating Global Learners! Projects and ResourcesThat Knock Down Classroom Walls!

With the technology we have today, a one-room classroom should no longer exist! All of our students are capable of being or becoming global learners.  We have the ability, using any, or all, of the Web 2.0 tools available, to knock down our classroom walls, and allow our students the chance to collaborate with students in their state, or the world.  During the 2010 school year,  I took advantage of many resources, SKYPE, Epals, Kidblog, (in conjunction with comments4kids), and the various Edmodo communities.  All of  these resources allowed me the chance to reach out to teachers all over the world, and have their students interact with my students. This year I am going to add  Collaborize Classroom as another tool to extend my classroom.

Here are two projects that I have already joined, and one I have created.  I’m excited!  Please feel free to add your class to any of these projects!

1.   Mystery State Skype project – This project is run by a teacher I met on Edmodo.  Our classes were pen pals, and she and I had a chance to meet F2F at the ISTE convention in Philly. Teachers set up a Skype conference and use information they have researched, to guess what state the other class is from.  This can be done with all the teachers who have signed up. When your call is done, you can continue your collaboration with any of the teachers throughout the school year!

2.    Global Read Aloud project 2011 – This is my first time being involved with this project, although it is not the first time it has been done.   The Global Read Aloud  project is exactly what it says. A book is chosen, and students from all over the world interact to discuss this book. The project is divided into a K-3 book, and 4th and up(“Tuck, Everlasting”)The teachers choose the media they wish to guide discussions, Skype, online learning platforms, email, glogs, the sky is the limit! I believe this will be a wonderful learning experience for my class!

3.    ” Penpals Who Write” project – Teachers who are interested in having their class WRITE another class, please sign up and connect! Web 2.0 is acceptable, but you must write letters, that’s part of the experience.  I had two pen pal classes last year and it was a wonderful experience.  Not only did we interact using Web 2.0 tools, but we actually wrote letters and mailed them to each other.  Have you ever witnessed the excitement of a student when they receive their  letter?  How about the anticipation of waiting for the next one? Priceless! This was definitely a project that opened their world and helped improve their writing skills. You can also join the group I have created on EduPLN.

If you know of a project for the upcoming school year, please add it! Let’s move those walls!

“Share Global Classroom Projects” on Lino

“The Teacher and the Politician” – NCLB and RTT

This “conversation” takes place over a period of  years. The politician represents all politicians(any party) and the teacher represents all teachers (those who are affected by these ridiculous ideas our politicians and CEOs’ come up with.)

Politician: (Talking to a teacher) I have this great idea. It’s called NCLB, No Child Left Behind, sounds good right? No Child Left Behind, every child can and will learn. Like it?

Teacher: Hmmm, it sounds like a good idea, what does it mean?

Politician: Well, (stroking chin), it means no child will be left behind. It means we’re going to test the hell, I mean, heck out of those kids, and by golly, they will become really, really, smart!

Teacher: I don’t think testing them is going to make them really smart, as a matter of fact, all it will do is create a nation of test takers.

Politician: Hmmm, I never thought of that. (Waves hand) We’ll look into that. But (pointing finger), in the meantime, here are the consequences if a measurable amount of students in your school don’t pass these tests.

Teacher: Consequences?  I thought you said you would look into it.

Politician:  We will, we will. If your school does not show measurable growth, we will notify the public that your school sucks. Did I say sucks? I meant that your school is horrible.

Teacher: Are you serious?  If our students don’t pass one test, our school, no matter how well we have been doing, will be judged according to those test scores?                                                                                                                                                                                   

Politician: Yes, how else will the public know what schools are crappy?  We’ll post your school scores in the paper, to make sure you are properly humiliated, and, just to make sure we’re helping the students, we will fire all the teachers and administrators. And here’s the plus, the parents can move their kids out of the crappy schools and put them in Save Our Schools March & National Call to Actionthe better schools.

Teacher:  Better, as in test score better? (shakes head) Let me say if I got this right. You are going to humiliate a school, fire staff, and have parents move their students to another school,  based on one test score?

Politician: Yes, we are going to hold you teachers accountable! You have gotten away with doing nothing for our children for far too long!

Teacher:     What about Special Education students? Or non-English speaking students? Will they take the same test?

Politician:   And why not?  Why should they be left behind? 

Teacher: You do realize there are far too many factors that affect a students’ ability to learn and function in a classroom that would enable us to say “No Child Left Behind?” And what do you think is going to happen to critical thinking? differentiated instruction? gifted and talented programs?  special education? the arts? Recess? Field trips? Do you realize that schools will only focus on testing?

Politician: Hmmmm, never thought of that. Oh well, we’ll work on it. How about if I give you more money than other teachers in your school if your kids do better? It’s called Merit pay. No? (Years go by) Hey, I have a new idea, it’s called, you ready? Race to the Top! Like it?

Teacher:    What does it mean? Who’s racing to the top?

Politician:   It;s a competition among states, vying for millions of  federal money to throw at any education problems you have. The states with the most points out of 500, will win the money!

Teacher:      And we can do whatever we need to do with the money?

Politician:   Of course you can! As long as you follow the federal governments rules AND you keep testing your students. It’s a win-win situation!

Teacher:    But it’s been proven, again and again, standardized testing doesn’t work! Throwing money at schools doesn’t work! Education reform designed by non-educators doesn’t work! Aaargh! (Tearing at hair)

Politician:    Oh by the way, we’ve decided you teachers have too much power. We’re taking away your collective bargaining power.

Teacher:     @#$^&*!

Politician:    And, the economy is really bad now, so we all have to make sacrifices. We’re increasing class sizes.

Teacher:     *&^%$!

Politician:    I don’t think that language is necessary,ok listen, we have another solution.  If you go along with Arne Duncan’s vision, we will waive some of the rigorous requirements of NCLB. How’s that sound?

Teacher:        Jump from the frying pan into the fire? How is that better?  Why aren’t you listening to us?

Politician:    We are listening. (starts to walk away)

Teacher:       Good luck to your kids who are in public school!

Politician: (Chuckles)  Are you kidding me?  My kids don’t go to public school!

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