I haven’t posted to this blog since February, for a lot of reasons. My school district has had a fairly tumultuous 2nd semester that left me feeling uncertain and off-center for a few months. That, in combination with more focus on sharing student work via our classroom blog and a busy home life being married to a high school principal and mothering a preschooler and a first grader resulted in an inadvertent 3-month professional blogging hiatus.
But that doesn’t mean my online professional learning neighborhood has forgotten me, nor I them! A couple of Twitter messages from my PLN friends (I’ve missed you Denise and Joy!!) inspired me to reconnect. As did an email message I received from a teacher in Virginia who had read my blog post about getting my Masters degree, and wrote to inquire about whether I would recommend the program. (I do!)
I realized that these are the reasons not to let my blog fade any further. The professional relationships (many of which develop into personal friendships) that I have built during the 2 years of writing this blog have made me a better teacher. A connected educator. And I’m not willing to let that go!
A few weeks ago I was asked by my principal to host an after school “how-to” session about blogging. I was excited and immediately sent out an email asking who might be interested and when I should hold the session.
A week later my principal and 5 teachers showed up in my room after school for a little moral support and blogging information. Everyone’s vision for what they wanted to do with a blog was a little different, but they all dug right in. It was a fun hour and I think everyone got something out of it.
One of the teachers who came, Tonya Sharp, has jumped right in to posting to her new blog: Sharp Science. She has written 3 posts and they are great! I would really be excited (and I bet she would too) if some of my great PLN members (that’s you!!) would click over to Sharp Science and leave her some friendly and encouraging comments. She is a wonderful teacher and would be a great member of anyone’s PLN.
Last year I identified a distinct need for a broader vocabulary in my 8th grade students. One of the strategies I had some success with in helping them build their vocabularies was Vocabulary Folders, but since that time my school has gone 1-1 with iPads, giving my students the opportunity to be much more creative in expressing their understanding of new vocabulary.
After choosing vocabulary words from the text we were reading, I had my students make guesses about the meanings based on context clues. After discussing their guesses, we used our iPads to look up the actual definitions. Then came the fun part!
Each student downloaded the free iPad app Phonto and was asked to choose 3 of the 7 vocabulary words, take a photo to represent the word, and label the picture with the word.
After the photos were submitted, I uploaded the successfull representations into sets in my Flickr account. The next day we viewed the successful images, and some of the unsucessful ones. My hope is that creating, viewing, and discussing these images has really cemented the meaning of these words for my students.
I was recently surprised and excited to be listed by Sheri Edwards as an educator who inspired her this week. What a compliment! Much of her post centers around #etmooc and building something even more meaningful than a professional or personal learning network – a professional learning NEIGHBORHOOD – an idea started by Ben Wilkoff.
Although I don’t feel like I can take on #etmooc this year, I was inspired to share a “map” of my learning neighborhood by updating my blogroll. When I first started blogging 20 months ago, I didn’t have much of a neighborhood, but it didn’t take long to find one. With not many contacts of my own, I depended on other people’s suggestions to find professionals to connect with. After reading Sheri’s post, I realized it was my responsibility to share with those who stumble upon my blog suggestions of other blogs that they might be able to learn from and enjoy.
Before this school year started I decided that I wanted to try to have an active class blog for my 8th grade reading and writing classroom. We got off to a pretty good start, but as first semester progressed I got bogged down in the “same ol’ same ol’” of the school year and didn’t make the blog a priority – therefore it slipped into the background.
Now that second semester has started, I am rejuvenated and re-inspired to get my classroom blog rolling again. We posted our newest post early this week, and I was reminded WHY my class should blog more.
When I tell my students that I will be choosing some of their work to be published on the blog, it creates an authentic audience and intensifies the thought that my students put into their writing.
They LOVE to look at our Clustrmap and see what other states and countries have visited the blog. It always makes for great questions that would never come up in my classroom without a blog. Some of my favorites this week were peering at the map and discussing whether we thought the dot in the Middle East was on Iraq (it was Jordan) and our lengthy discussion about why the continent of Antarctica isn’t pictured on the map… why no native people live there… why there aren’t many natural food sources there… why it’s so cold there… and ultimately to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s path around the sun, (Yes, this happened in my writing class).
Some of their questions help to build their impression about places and people of the world they’ve never thought of before. Until our blog some my students thought that there was no Internet in Africa and that no one in India spoke English. They also didn’t know that many students in Australia are currently on summer break. (No Fair!! )
One of my favorite benefits of our class blog is that it builds the community in our school. When my students see blog comments from their other teachers and staff in our building they light up with pride. They also enjoy the comments from members of my PLN, and other middle school classrooms around the world.
Ultimately it boils down to this. Having a class blog makes my kids excited to be in my classroom. They enjoy it. It inspires them. It makes them want to be better writers.
I have some of the best coworkers in the world. My grandmother, who contributed her first day of school memory to my blog last year , is very ill. On two of the previous three days of school I have had to immediately and unexpectedly leave because of her illness. In both of those cases my secretary has handled finding me a middle-of-the-day sub, my academic coach has covered my class, and the teacher across the hall has written up lesson plans for my sub. Because of these fabulous people I was able to be out the door and headed to my family in 5 minutes.
Teachers know that being gone, especially unexpectedly, is a huge and time-consuming pain. Imagine swooping in, as my coworkers have now done twice, and doing all of that troublesome stuff for someone else, in addition to your regular day. I feel beyond blessed to work in a school with such amazing people.
When I think of school I tend to focus on the students, but these last few days have helped me to really appreciate the adults too. Take time in your school to appreciate the other adults around you. Maybe you have some of the best coworkers in the world! Tell them. Maybe you can even BE one of the best coworkers in the world. It really matters.
The last few months have been crazy busy for me, and one of the reason is that I was in my final semester of earning my Master’s degree. I am now finished, and officially a “Master of Information Science and Learning Technologies with an emphasis in Technology in Schools”. As if anyone could master such an amorphous and ever changing thing as technology is schools! As a part of the program I prepared a web portfolio, as well as a reflection statement. The rest of this post is my reflection on earning my Master’s degree.
Reflection on earning my Master’s Degree:
I became interested in including instructional technology as a major part of my teaching in the summer of 2011 after attending EdWeek SJSD, an instructional technology focused week of professional development put on by my school district. I had just completed my first year of teaching (a second career for me) and was thinking about beginning coursework toward my Master’s degree. I began researching programs and was particularly drawn to the Information Science and Learning Technologies degree with an emphasis in Technology in Schools at the University of Missouri.
Some people in my life thought I was crazy as a working mother of two small children to undertake what was essentially a double-time Masters degree program, but I have always been someone people describe as “intense” when it comes to school, so the intensive degree program and I got along just fine. When I entered the program, instructional technology was something I was interested in mostly because I personally found it entertaining, but what I discovered through my coursework is that while I was right about it being fun, instructional technology can also be a tremendously powerful tool for learning.
Before this program I had never considered what wonderful benefits instructional technology holds for those whose life situations make traditional schooling difficult. My coursework has opened my mind to consider not only the ideas of using technology more effectively in my brick and mortar classroom, but also to the fact that totally online education is out there, and for some students it is the best option. I was truly able to envision the possibilities of live online instruction for middle and high school students who have physical impairments that make traveling back and forth to school difficult, and also for those students who live in remote areas of the world where traveling to school daily is time and resource prohibitive.
I teach middle school communication arts, and the students I have in class are a new generation of learners. They are 12 – 14 year olds who exist in a world where internet access is just another household utility and Facebook has been around since kindergarten. They live online, and in my coursework I have learned that I can use technology to harness their desire to have a constant online presence. Using technology I can create assessments that give my students an instant relevant audience by giving their work a place to exist online. Students may choose many different tools to create, but what each student has in common is increased engagement with any activity where they know that when they are finished they will have a world-wide audience. This is a motivation only instructional technology can create.
The impact of my coursework on my educational career has been two-fold. Firstly, it has expanded my view of technology and the possibilities it holds for the future of education. While I began this program with a general interest in instructional technology, over the past 12 months of intensive study of the ideas and practices of this fast-expanding field what at first seemed like interesting ideas began to feel more like crucial skills for teaching the upcoming generation of learners who not only feel comfortable with current technology, but will grow to adulthood in a world where frequent adaptation to the constant evolution of technology will be a life skill – a life skill that I now feel I hold some obligation to teach them. Secondly, I have slowly become a technology leader in my school. I am enjoying this new niche, and can see the possibility that my future might include a role where I focus less on my own classroom and more on the classrooms of an entire building or district. Anything is possible, right?
When I started writing this blog a year and a half ago I sat down and tried to think about what unique perspective I brought to the world as an educator. Back then, as a 30-year-old former magazine editor turned 8th grade reading and writing teacher just finishing my first year in the classroom, I knew I shouldn’t try to speak from a place of classroom expertise. As I looked around I realized that what was a little different about me than some of the other teachers I knew was that I loved it. Truly loved it. And that is the perspective I try to write from – a teacher who stumbled into her true professional love and wants to share.
I haven’t been sharing that love here as much this year and I would like. I have been caught up in a whirlwind of life and have only in the last few weeks started to slow down again enough to return to normal. My school has gone one-to-one with iPads, and I keep feeling like I should write a post about that, but so far inspiration hasn’t struck on that topic. I’m sure it’s coming.
What inspired me today was a question asked by my minister at church. In the spirit of an upcoming week of thankfulness, he asked: “When you look around at all you have, do feel like you have it because you are good, lucky, or blessed?” I thought it was a great question.
I have an amazing family and wonderful friends. I love the job I do, the place I do it, and the people who do it with me. I definitely didn’t end up in this place because I’m just that good, and I don’t think it’s blind luck, although I feel lucky every day. I am blessed. Blessed and thankful.
I just wanted to share that although I haven’t been posting all that much, I still Love::Teaching. I hope you all have a week of blessings and giving thanks.
What do you want YOUR digital footprint to look like?
My middle school goes 1-1 with iPads tomorrow, and I can’t help but feel that I am on the edge of a new world. Everyone has done his or her best to get everyone else prepared. We’ve had PD for teachers, meetings for parents, and 2 solid days of iPadless iPad training for the kids, including teaching them about their digital footprint, cyberbullying, and creative commons. But here’s what I know: no one is ready.
I know I’m not ready to hit the ground running and seamlessly integrate the use of iPads into my classroom makeup, but I am ready to START.
I made some promises to my students on Friday. I promised that I will be patient if they are too. I promised that together we will try things that will fail as well as things that will succeed. I promised that we would be going on this new adventure together!
My middle school students are all getting iPads in 3 weeks – we’re going 1-1. They are very excited and curious about what it will be like (as am I).
We are starting persuasive writing next week, so I thought I would try having them make a T-chart over the possible pros and cons of arming every middle school student in our building with an iPad.
I wondered if they would be naive — if everything they wrote down would be a pro. It turns out, I underestimated them again! They had a very balanced view of both sides of the issue.
Just in case you can’t read middle school white board handwriting, here is a summary of what they came up with:
iPads for every middle school student
Teaches us responsibility Battery could die in class
Easier to access grades Get stolen
Not easy to lose Distractions
Students need fewer supplies Inappropriate videos
Not wasting as much paper Could break easily
Good behavior so you don’t lose it Forget them at home
Doing homework more
The next thing we did was to poll the class and see which of these pros/cons we had consensus on and which were controversial – remember, this is a lesson to teach persuasive writing skills.
The controversial issues on the list were these:
The final step was for each student to make their own T-chart listing both sides of the controversial issue of their choosing.
They seemed to really be able to see both sides of the issue. As excited as they are, I sensed an undercurrent of fear. Unlike the adults in our building, I don’t think their fear is fear of change. I think they truly sense the weight of responsibility being placed on them, and I believe they are up to the challenge.