A Trip to Korea... Without Leaving My Classroom

Our school has had the opportunity to have a few Korean interns spend a couple weeks at our school observing, learning, and teaching. It has been a great opportunity for the school. My class had two wonderful interns teach them culture lessons about Korea. They learned how similar and how diferent our countries are. Birthdays are very different in Korea compared to the US. The games the students play there and what we play are different. The school schedules are very different, and yet they are similar.

The one thought I had from this whole opportunity is how important parents are for their children to learn. School is longer in Korea, but as I spoke with the korean interns, I found that we were similar in curriculum and style of teaching. THe biggest difference is the after school time for the Korean children. Parents have their students study and work until late at night each night to be prepared for the next day in school. There are tutors and classes they go to. We tend to have a different idea about what happens after school. Children should have a little time to play and relax with minimal homework in elementary school. And yet I wonder how our students would improve if we had tutors or classes until late each night for the students? We do pretty well in America, but the legislature is looking for higher test scores and the schools are the ones facing the blame. I see it as not one situation is to blame, but how will society change so the change can come to society?

The other thing that was interesting is the technlogy comparison. The elementary schools do not have any more computers in them than a normal school does. My school has a 1:1 in the upper grades and the schools our interns were from had only a couple computers.

So should we compare ourselves with other countries that have more of an educational focus at home? What are we willing to do at home to help our students? Do we even want to put forth the idea that we as parents need to do more and give up more personal time to help our students? What do we want with educaional change?


Growing Pains

There is some serious growing pains when learning a new program. We had our first week of using the program. It has a "Smart Start" to prep the kids for the rest of the year. It includes much of the information we go over throughout the year, but the students get some notes on paper so they can refer back to them. We have them put an index in their language books so they can find the notes easier.
The hardest part of the program so far is that I am ready to get to the schedule, and I think the kids are also. I figure next year we will schedule ourselves a little better to get the schedule into play the first week. We can do the "Start Smart", but the schedule will start earlier.
Planning the first week of the daily schedule has been fun. Figuring out what exactly we are supposed to do has been very time consuming. The best thing about the hard work we have had to put in planning is that w are doing it together. One of us would figure out one part and the ideas would come on what were to do. We planned put each day, the time we will spend on each piece and we will see how it will be used. A team is the best way to plan. We each trust each other, we rely on each other, and we know that one of us will have the idea that will work the best. The group works because we believe that we will each bring our best to the table. We look out for each other. We also have fun. We all love our job and we have become "workafrolics" (a word coined by Robert St. John).
We are working through a program that has similarities with the programs we have used In the past, but putting it into play each day, everyday is not always the easiest for a new program. Marking the pages and the activities we will be doing would be miserable if I was to do it on my own. Working as a team has made my teaching better.


The Gate has Opened and We Can't Go Back

School has started and we are all tired. The kids are tired, I am tired. The first few weeks are rough. Rules, procedures, activities to get to know the kids, team building, not to mention a full day of teaching after a month of no school. Whew. In a couple weeks it will be all over, done in a whirlwind, not literally, but it will feel like a few weeks.

Before school started, i sat down to upgrade all the computers in my room for the start of the year. I laid them all out on the desks and went one by one updating windows, running the disk clean, defragging the drive, and in the middle of it all, I thought, what am I doing this for? I have a class full of computer users coming to me. I can show them how to update, clean, defrag, and manage their computers. This way, they can head home and manage their computer that has never been updated, cleaned, or defragged. It will be a monthly oil change for the computers. How nice it will be.

We dived right into the new reading program with gusto and, like any new program, we had a few glitches, but we will work them out and get after it. It will be another great year with new group of students that are full of ideas and wanting new experiences to help them learn. Let's Go!


Uh, Oh, He's Reading Again

I have been reading a couple different books about teams, collaboration, and community in the classroom. The Art of Collaboration by Jono Bacon is a good book about online collaboration and building teams. Reach by Jeff Utecht talks about building networks and the use of wiki's, blogs, and online communities to build a network. These books have taught me quite a bit about how to put teams together so they work well together.  This will be come a major part in my classroom. I have put together teams and they worked, but I am looking for more. I will go over what I intend to do in the next couple days as I get it all put down on paper. I will be taking all the books and synthesizing them into a manageable plan to use for fifth graders.

One book I read was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This book is about success and what helped successful people become successful. The one thing I came out learning, as a teacher, is that I need to provide opportunity for my students.  Do this already for my kids. We take vacations and go to places most of the kids in my classes have never been. We do not go to lavish places, but we do things and see things to give our kids experience in many different areas. This is what I want to do with my class. This is one reason I want a one:one computers in my classroom. Each child will use and become fluent with using and managing the computer. They will be able to research a topic and cross reference to see f it is true or not. I want to give them a chance the creative with their writing and ideas so they can make our world better. They are the future. They will be using technologies that have not been thought. Up. I want my students to be the pens that will think up these technologies and ideas for the world. I want them to make our world q better palace this is my mission. This is my teams mission. This is my schools mission. To build a better opportunity for our children.


Who Has Need of a New Program?

We have a new program for Language Arts. It is an all encompassing program with Spelling, Reading, Writing, Vocabulary, and Grammar. There is always much to learn with a new program. It seems as though we have had a new program each year since I have been teaching. There are a few things about this program that I am liking and that are closer to what I am personally looking for.

I like the fact that it is using the same basic principles and lessons we have used in the programs we have used over the past few years. We have found success with some of these programs and to see them in the McMillan-Hill Treasures Program we will be using will make it easier and more familiar to the teachers and students. We will be using the same spelling ideas and the same grammar ideas. We will be using the writing traits program that we have trained the students on. They will still hear the same vocabulary with the programs we are using as we have given them with the other programs. The biggest difference is that this is a program with more scope and sequence, more schedule, and more spiraling.

The technology part of it is the most exciting to me. It has some parts that are still developing, but the beginnings are exciting to me. There is an online student book for students to use, to mark, to make notes, to have read to them. They will learn to identify Main Ideas in a story and mark them, in the online book. They can access the book and information from home so they can reread the information and complete assignments at home. Assessments can be done online for easier assessing for the teacher. We use our Utips program for testing in Math and Science. We have practice tests for Language, Math, and Science. We take our end of year tests on the computer, so it is wonderful that we can take most of our tests online.

My team has been working on getting computers in the hands of our students for years. Our ideas were hard to grasp and harder to finance, but we worked and gathered ideas for what we are doing now. We still have many ideas we want to put into practice. We are getting there, one computer program at a time. This program helps us get another step closer to our goal.


The Learning Starts....for Me!

I have taken my summer to learn a little more about education and what is out there in education in the world. I want to get better at teaching. I want to see what else I can do to help me teach the students. What ideas are out there that I have not heard of or that can refine what I have been doing? So spent time with Ted. Ted.com is a website about ideas. Great ideas. The cutting edge ideas... about everything. Ted is a collection of presentations from Ted Conferences over the years. This has become my personal professional development.

I spent time with Sugata Mitra teaching me about how kids can teach themselves. I found that I need to stop pushing the information to the students and I need to present and let them learn or give them time to teach themselves. As we use technology in our school I have heard teachers say that we need to know how to use the computer completely before we teach the students. We can't let them go on their own because we don't k now what they are doing. We are not going to know everything so we need to let the students go (with some guidance) and have them show us what they are doing. We can have them teach the class if they find something new. We want the students to stretch themselves and yet we prevent them from stretching by holding them back from teaching themselves. I need to let go.

Another I learned from was Ken Robinson. I had heard about him on a few other blogs so I listened to his ideas about creativity. I will be looking at my class to see where I can increase creativity in my class. I learned that I need to let kids come up with ideas. I want them to feel comfortable to come up with crazy ideas. In another presentation about Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age, Randy Nelson talks about improvisation and how improve is going with any idea. Go with every idea. When an idea is stopped, it goes dead. I want kids to have the opportunity to present their ideas without having to have these ideas getting squashed. Building creativity will mean I need to hold back on toning the kids down. I will try providing a place on our wiki that the students can type in their ideas so we can all remember what it was. Using a back channel will also give the students a place to ask questions and write ideas.

Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford University in June 2005. It is one of the greatest speeches about how to "connect the dots" in our lives. It is not just because I am an Apple guy, but it is a great speech. Steve shares a few stories from his life that might have gone a couple ways, but he made the best of what he had and moved forward. The dots were put n the page and now he can connect them to see where he was and what helped him get to where he is.

A few other presentations I enjoyed were...
David Logan on Tribal Leadership
Tim Brown on Creativity and Play
Elif Shafak on the Politics of Fiction