Running on Empty

I hadn't written for about two months when I wrote my first post a week ago. Sometimes life gets in the way. We get a lot of things going in life and things we want to do get pushed out of the way. It happens to everyone. We get a new project that takes longer or more involved than we planned. In the game of life we have these emotional times in our lives when we just get overloaded. Sometimes it's a family problem or just a feeling there is too much on our plates. We just need to buckle up and proceed with caution. A few things I have learned over the years in these situations have helped me keep me moving and in control.

1. Family needs to come before everything. No matter what happens and how involved we get into our work or whatever situation we are in, we need to remember that our family keeps us grounded. Spending more time talking and doing things with the family will help keep them close. The first response is to push others away, especially those we are with all the time. Bringing them closer helps not only us, but them. When we have a problem and we stay close to them they feel that family can help them when something crazy is going on in their lives.

2. Rely on those we work with. Having a great team around us will help in times when we need to pull back a little. They will feel it and will put in the extra time because we all have those times when we need to concentrate somewhere else. Having a great team also means that we have worked our plans in the beginning so it is easy to plan each week within the overall plan we put together. 

3. Remember to take a little time with ourselves. Take a few minutes here and there to rethink what is happening and clear up any thoughts. I usually take a few minutes in my classroom after school or a few minutes at night when the kids are in bed.  A few minutes with my guitar or some soothing music will do it also.

4. Be nice to those around us. This is the hardest thing to do when we are overloaded. The problem is that no one else thinks about us being overloaded. They have those same feeling and we can't expect them to pity us as we work things out. Life goes on. Kids still need to learn, we still need to teach, and we need to be nice.

5. Last but not least is talking to someone about what is happening. Letting our spouse or team or close confidant will help us keep in perspective. We don't always need a problem solver, we just need to talk. Writing a journal of feelings and thoughts helps also. 

I read about all the things we need to do to keep us going. There are so many things pressing on us these days that we feel overloaded once in a while. The key is to not let it run our lives. Let it pass through our lives And go on to something else. This too shall pass. It really will. 


Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News

I am heading into more school soon, hopefully. I have decided to work on my Doctorate in Education. A teacher once told me that I could teach 30 elementary students or 30 college students that will teach 30 elementary students each. I have thought about that for 12 years. The reason I did not do it earlier was the fun I had each day working with my students and my team. I still have fun teaching. I love what I do, but I can see that I am getting to the point where I want that next step, that next challenge, the next opportunity.

When I started teaching I decided that every ten years I would reevaluate what I was doing and make sure I was where I wanted to be. 10 years after I started teaching I was at a crossroads. Should I keep teaching or look into becoming a principal. I decided to keep teaching. I still wanted that wonderful opportunity to teach and to learn. To help children love learning. I sat with my principal and looked at all she did and what she had to work with. Politics is in everything, but the politics in teaching is as far as I wanted to go at that point. I know wherever I go and whatever I do there will be things I will not enjoy, but at that time I wanted to work with students. I am glad I did. The next few ideas that came to our district and school helped me tremendously. Professional Learning Communities changed the way I taught, planned, and learned. It also changed the way my students learned and planned. The whole team structure has changed my classroom culture. Now comes the time when I am getting closer to the next ten years. I still love teaching and I will for a long time. But I am now seeing the next teaching opportunity in college. The idea of teaching college students that will teach elementary students gives me an opportunity to share what I have learned with others. To help them have a passion for teaching as I have.

I do have to say that this is a bit scary for my family and I. Starting four more years of schooling is going to be interesting. Two classes a week with homework on the off days. Summers will be short while I head to the University for summer classes. Time with my family will be short, but meaningful. Spending more quality time with them doing activities will be great. Money will always be a factor with school, but we will work it out. I am excited about the learning. I love to learn. The single greatest thing I have enjoyed has been my google reader and twitter accounts. Reading about other teachers and their ideas. Finding ideas from around the world to use in my classroom has helped me be a better teacher and my students better learners. Getting back into school to meet with other teachers and learn more about my craft is exciting.

It will be an exciting and crazy ride. My family and I are looking forward to it and dreading it. But in the end we know that it will help us down the road when my time has come to move into the next stage of my career.


This Ain't Your Momma's Homework

I had a parent ask about homework this week. They asked what is the purpose and then told me horror stories of when they were a child. I understand and even lived through a few of those homework horror years. When I started teaching I vowed I would not give homework unless I had to. I hated homework when I was a child. Do all the odd problems 1-75. It was terrible. Busy work. Tradition? Everyone was doing it? I am not sure the reason.

My team has put together a homework plan for the students to follow each night. We have decided that it should not be frivolous or busy work. After reading "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, we decided to add a little practice each night to help students build their learning. the 10,000 hour rule Gladwell talks about in his book was very interesting. Read the book, get the information, understand our thinking.

So we ask that each student works on vocabulary words 10 minutes a night for two nights, spelling word sorts for 10 minutes for three nights, math practice for 15 minutes for four, possibly five, nights, and reading to fill up the rest of the hour.

• Vocabulary includes looking up word meanings and writing an example of how to use the work in a sentence. It also includes answering a question the teacher gives the students. We review these words weekly for five weeks and on the sixth week we review all five sets of words to see what they remember about the words.

• Spelling has always intrigued me. Giving a set of words on Monday to memorize and spell on Friday only to spell them incorrectly when using one of the words in a story. Where is the learning in that? So we use Words Thier Way spelling to work on patterns in words. Building spelling patterns can help students recognize the patterns they hear to help them spell better. We have students do word sorts each night. They sort words into patterns and write them. This helps them recognize and find spelling patterns. There are different sorts we have students do for different learning. We have a test on Thursday to see how they are doing on their weekly words. Every six weeks we test the students to see if they learned their patterns and what new patterns they need help with.

• Math homework goes for fifteen minutes each night. Most nights we have students take 4-10 problems home to practice what we worked on that day. They are a review of the lesson and helps parents and teachers to know if the student is understanding the concept taught in class. We do not want parents teaching a concept at home. We ask for support from parents if the student needs it, but parents shouldn't have to teach the lessons. In the case of the student that does not understand something, instead of fighting and arguing with parents and causing grief at home we ask parents to sign the page and write that they tried. This keeps peace at home and let's us know the student needs a review of the information. There is no penalty for having a signature on the page. If a student does not complete homework assignment they will complete it at school. The ultimate goal of homework is to help us understand whether a students understands the concept they are taught. Having the student do a few problems themselves without a partner or teacher can give us that information.

• Reading for 25-30 minutes each night gives students information, helps comprehension, and speeds their reading fluency. Students can read anything they wish at home. We just want them to read. One thing we ask students to do is to read to someone each night for 5-10 minutes. Reading out loud helps with fluency. Fluency is speed, smooth, and expressive reading. Reading a pictures book to a sibling or a magazine or newspaper article to a parent helps give purpose to reading.

Homework should not be a time of arguing or fighting for parents or students. My team wants students to have a sense of motivation to want to do their homework. We want them to understand that a little extra work in fifth grade will go a long way to help them build their skills they learn to help them go far in their lives. Adults have homework each night. We just do not think of it as homework. We work on our homes and families. Bills and hobbies. Learning and understanding the world around us. We do not want students to think they are doing homework, we want them to think they are learning and helping themselves grow. This ain't the homework I remember. Thank goodness.

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Failure in the Classroom

Should we teach our students to embrace failure? Not that we want them to fail, but with every failure comes the chance to learn and grow. They can learn what not to do and to try something else. We want them to succeed at failure so they can use it to their benefit. If students get frustrated and shut down at each wrong answer they become failures and not learners. We can teach students that wrong answers are not bad but chances to learn that can help them improve. As we teach them to learn they can use that skill to help them in all situations. Reading "8 to be Great", Richard St. John tells example after example of successful people that have made that their catalyst. Michael Jordan talks about all the shots he's missed and the games he's lost to tell why he has been successful. Students need to not be afraid of getting answers wrong. Teachers need to not punish wrong answers. We need to embrace and teach. This gets them to the place they need, persistence.

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Building Teamwork with the Home

It is two weeks into school. The questions are burning in parents minds about why we do the things we do and I am sure there at a few that are ready to sit down and find out exactly what we expect. It is Student Education Plan time. One thing my team has bought into is transparency. We want the parents and students to know and see everything what we are doing. No hiding, no surprises, no tricks, just transparency.

Getting to meet parents and see what we can do as a team helps the students do the best they can. We try to give the parents some background on our philosophies to help them understand why we do the things we do. We also invite them into our classrooms to help or to just watch.

Parents are a big part of our year. We want them to be more than someone we send not to every once in a while. Invite them to everything we do. We try to set up days for them to see projects their child has worked on. We have grade level activities each Friday that parents are invited to watch.

By doing these things we hope to instill in our students and parents that everyone is a part of education. Students need to own their education and the information they a receiving. This will help them as they prepare for their journey into the workforce. As they own their education they can find that they can research what they want to do or build something to sell to others. They can take their lives into their hands and make it what they want. They will own their lives and not expect others to hand them homework to do, they will create their own homework by wanting to learn. By inviting parents into our classrooms and meeting with them every few months, we hope to invite them to be part of our plan. By having home and school work together, our students will take the world and make it their own.

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I Think I'm Ready

I spent part of today finishing up the last minute things to get ready fro the start of school on Monday. A few new students arrived on Friday so a few more name tags and sticks for the bucket needed to be made. I ran off the math pretest we have the students take to get a baseline of where they are with specific concepts. I picked up our spiral notebooks for the students to use during language. I think I am ready for Monday.

In years past, I was at my school the first day of August. I was moving tables, putting up posters, planning my lessons, sharpening pencils, deciding what I would do this year, and at times wandering around looking lost. Putting together a new year can be overwhelming at times. This all changed this year. We have been teaming in my grade level for about four years now. We had the honeymoon first year, then came out the ideas. It was the perfect storm. We three new we could do better with a little more work. So we started flexible grouping. Then came the third year with the introduction of Kagan Strategies. That blew it all open and we threw everything into high gear. We planned together. We had planned together in the past, but now we really planned together. Our lessons became one. The force was with us. Our students learned more and were excited about what they we doing, and we were excited about what we were doing.

Now we get to this year. I came to school a week late with the itch to scratch. There'd we things to do and they needed to get done. But there weren't. All three of us talked, set up, planned, and we all took responsibility for what needed to get done. So I came in two days early instead of two weeks early. I had time to relax and have some fun. I was able to simplify my classroom without taking too much time away from my kids. My children saw me more than they usually do when I prepare for school. We have our first week planned with activities that will help us know what they need and want. We will play and we will learn. And best of all, my stress level has gone down. I want to thank my team for giving me another week of fun with my family and the knowledge that everything will be fine. Trust is big in a team that works and we have it. We have set our goals and have set our plans out for the students and we know that each of us will pull our weight.

I am truly ready for this year. We are expecting great things with our new classes. As a team we will see them come to pass.

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Here We Go, Rock 'n' Roll

It's time to put to work the things I have learned over the summer. I have gathered my ideas and articles to go back to school. My room has been cleaned by a hard working janitorial crew. A fresh coat of paint has covered all my small holes and blemishes on the walls. I am starting out with a blank canvas on which to paint a view of learning for my students. That being said, here goes the week of work to get my room ready.

I learned about simplicity this summer. I have gone through my papers, books, old district programs and stuff I have collected over the years. I recycled much of it. Other things I scanned into my computer or gave to other teachers that might use it. I have decided that teachers are hoarders. We have the need to keep everything because we just might be able to use it one day. No more for me. If I don't use it in a year, time to let it go. My room has gotten so much emptier. More room for student work.

I also decided to dump the desk. I have never been a fan of the teacher desk so 10 years ago I moved from. Sk to a table and I have not looked back. No drawers to pile high with stuff and no hidden compartments to lose things in. This year I will be moving my books to a shelf and using the student desks for me to work on. This will keep me closer to the students. It will also keep me from hiding behind my table while they are working. My computer is hooked up to the projector and that will be on the table with the document camera, but my iPad has the Mobile Mouse app to help control the computer.

We moved away from desks years ago to set up a team atmosphere. Students keep their supplies in a small pencil box on the desk and books and papers in a cubby. Students need to get up and move so having the get their supplies gives them a few minutes of free movement between activities. Making the computer a piece of everyday learning helps to free up desk space. No big books and less paper needed as they type their assignments. Simplify.

This week we will be getting our activities and lessons ready for the students. We have some new ideas that we need to plan out so we are comfortable with them. Instead of leading students to an answer, which we want to get away from, and getting students to think.

There is so much we want to do, but we need to understand the basic management of our ideas before handing them to the students. We have learned that the students pick up our plans, and run with them. Usually it is farther than we had expected, so we do not need to understand the program or process completely, we just need to be able to mange what're want to start with and how to work with the possibilities as the students start to branch out. It is another year full of possibilities. Summer is gone and school starts Monday. Exciting.

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I Want What Is Cool

I have been preparing for school this week by cleaning up my student computers. I started thinking about how computers have changed my classroom with my students. I also thought about how it has changed my prep at the beginning of the year.

At the end of the school year we asked our district Tech department to image one computer and copy it to all the student computers. It turned out to be a job they thought to time consuming. So here I am cleaning, installing, and updating my classroom computers. I learned that having 1:1 means doing most of my own work on my computers. This helps me with a few things though.
• I get to know the computers and what their limitations are.
• I find out what the students have been up to (pictures, bookmarks, file management or lack thereof)
• I see what needs to be done so I can train my students management of updates, files, and and basic computer usage.

This needs to be lesson to us and we wish for the latest and greatest. We need it if we are going to prepare young minds for the future. But with new technology comes new responsibility also. We need to learn to manage what we get. This is a big deterrent for teachers that do not want more on their plates. What are the trade-offs? To me the trade-off is the numbering of books and papers, putting together packets of papers and running off assignments. Using the computer eliminates most of these things and makes it easier to manage.

Just like learning the new reading or math program the district mandates for use every few years, we need to learn the tools of the trade. Computers have become one of those tools and it is not going away. We need to learn the basics of setting it up for our students. We can have the students set them up at the end of the previous year, but if one students does it wrong, we need to be able to make it right. With the learning and management of the computer comes the big trade-off for me. Less paperwork. More assignments online that do not get lost and can be done if the student is present or absent. That makes it worth the trouble.

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Let's Get This Started Already

It is time get ready for school to start. I need to get all my learning
summarized and focused for our first team meeting. I wrote in a previous post some oft the things I learned this summer.

One big thing I need to do is clean up and clean off our class computers. W will be updating and adding some new software while cleaning off some of the unused and unnecessary software on the computers. We use Open Office for writing. We have decided to go with Google Docs for more collaborative writing between the students. It will also provide a better way for teachers to observe writing as it happens and not after each piece is done. We can watch the writing happen and give suggestions and gear lessons to what we are seeing. We will still have students brainstorm on paper, but they will type everything after that. They will also be using Google Calendar for events and assignment due dates.

We found Scratch for students to play with programing. What a great program. It is great for helping students with sequence.

For idea mapping we will be using XMind. Google earth will help us with landforms and seeing the places we study about. We will also try out Google Chrome as our web browser. Using Google Apps could be easier, or not make a difference. We will see.

Then there is setting up my room. As a team we like to keep our rooms similar to help with the management of our classrooms. We have our personalities, but we like to be similar. It help the students see that we are consistent across the whole grade level.

I am getting antsy and I am ready for school to start. I want to get started on the new things I've learned. I want the students to learn what I have learned. Let's go already.

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What I've Learned?

Summer has always been the time of year when I take time to learn. This is the time I find information that I can use to change my classroom for the better. Anything my team has learned will be discussed the first week are together, possibly sooner. So, what have I learned this year?
• I need to look at my room for my students' point of view. Would I be a student in my own classroom? I will be looking at this as I enter my classroom.
• Screen time for elementary school students needs to be limited. How do we do this in a paperless classroom? An elementary classroom can not be totally paperless. There needs to be writing and it needs to be on paper. we will be discussing this as the year starts also.
• Homework needs to be given for a reason and should be linked to the work done at school. It should be review work and should not take very long to do. Time after school should be given to families to use as they need. Our team has put together a homework schedule for each night and we feel it is not too much, but we need to look at what we require them to do each night to make sure it fits in our schedule.
• I need to work harder to make my lessons more interesting and interactive. Having students engaged keeps problems down and interest high. this will be more work for my team, but the dividends will be payed in the students we teach. Having a teacher talk about how they gave up punishment by doing this made me think that I need to make every lesson more interesting.
• Administrators are a big help to teachers. My principal is always helping and supporting what we do. When an administrator supports their teachers, the teachers flourish and work hard. I know this, but to read other teachers tell about how they a supported, they innovate and lead in the learning revolution. Complaining teachers cannot innovate and do not want to change.
• Failure is a way to find solutions. I need to rethink how failure is looked at in my classroom. W can learn from failure. We can grow from failure. We can succeed while using our failures to move us along.
• Having students worry about their learning and not their grades is the biggest lesson I have learned. I will be working this lesson for years to come. Helping students learn to love learning is the most important lesson I can teach them also.

There are many lessons I learned this year. Thank you to all the teachers, administrators, and bloggers for teaching me. We are all learners and when we take the time, we can find so much more. An do.

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Do You Hear What I'm Saying?

I have been reading blogs, tweets, and taking classes to get myself ready for the up coming year. The biggest lesson I am learning is the need to listen. I have a problem with that at home. I need to listen more to hear what my children and spouse are saying. My children like to talk constantly, so using my teacher experience I know I must have taught them this. Students are usually a mirror of the parents.

Knowing this is going to help me at school. Once in a while I find myself talking over students and not hearing what they are saying. I depend on my years of experience to know what I think they are saying. Mistake. This coming year I will be listening more to find put what the students are saying to help me understand their needs. This will help my class, my lessons, and build respect for them and me.

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Do I Want to Be A Kid In My Class?

I have been taking a class this summer and the teacher had my partner and I work out a problem that we got wrong. She pushed us and pushed us and I did not like it. I was not happy, but I fought through it. It reminded me about a blog post I read about how it be to be a student in my classroom. So how would it be? How would I like to learn? What would I like to do? How would I like the room set up so I can learn? What would I like my rules to be? How would I want to be treated in any given situation? Do I hear the answers my students are asking? These are important questions that I feel I need to answer this year.

Going back to the summer class I took, The feeling I had was one that I am not sure I want them to feel. I push my students to do well. I need to pay more attention to how I far I push. Where does the learning end and the frustration begin. I did not learn a that day and I was so much less attentive the rest of the class. I do not want that to happen to my fifth graders. I want them to push themselves without the frustration that drives them away, but with the drive to have them go further. This is going to require more attention and listening on my part.

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Controlling Our Kids

I saw a letter to the editor in my local newspaper that interested me. The writer told about how her family were eating in a local restaurant. Her kids started to get a little loud (they were not yet school age) and another customer turned and told her to control her kids or take them out and do not bring them back until they knew how to act in a restaurant. She was upset and could not believe that another adult would yell at them.

How do we teach children? We take them places to help them understand and learn how to act. We take them to restaurants to help them learn how to act. The will not be perfection while they grow, but they will learn.

This is what we do in school. We show them what they need to learn and help them to know what to they can do when they become a part of society as a worker and consumer. The roles have changed over the years so we need to find out what we need to do also. If students need to learn what is happening in society so they can be prepared, we should do the same. Society and jobs are changing and so should we. Teaching styles, lessons, how we use language, how we use math, how we prepare for the coming times in social studies. We, as teachers, need to learn how to teach this new generation with their tools. We are learning just as the students are. In some situations, the students will be helping us. I just hope they do not kick me out, because I do not know something. Being the teacher, doubt that would happen, but instead of kicking me out, they may not paying attention.

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Teamwork Equals Success

I sat down with an administrator this week to talk about a few things that are happening at my school and with my team. He caught me before school and my teammates were not at school yet, so I sat with him. We talked about some great things that were happening at our school and then talked to me about out team. He asked me if one of the members of my team were to leave, move to another grade, or retire, would our team stay the same so we can replicate our successes, or would it fall apart? Interesting question.

We were unfortunate to have one of our great teachers take a leave of absence for a medical reason and we watched that team succeed by replicating and moving forward with a new member. We talked about what would be different with what we do? There will be differences and new ideas with a new team member, but can we replicate the success? I think what we do as a team is much better than what did as individual teachers. What works will go on. We will improve and change as needed. But the success will go on. I think this is true with any team.

In each team there are strengths and weaknesses in each person and as a team. Once a team starts preparing and planning those things are apparent. Each person takes over what they are great at and we all look at what we need to work on and we work. If someone leaves, we start it at the beginning, but we put our strengths in and see what we need to work at and we work. The key to the team is not just the strengths each brings, but their attitude. If someone comes to the team that is not willing to put forth effort to learn or improve, that becomes a problem. That can be a bump in the road, but it will not stop a good team. They will persist, train, work, encourage, praise, and help.

We do not want to see someone leave the team, but if they do, we will keep on donning what we do. Helping students and learners succeed and prepare them for whatever future they will be seeing.
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Somebody Get Me A Doctor!

I love the yearly health assessment our insurance carrier has us do. They moved the date back this year and let us all know two months before the date, so we scrambled to get the appointments as soon as possible. That in itself is a nightmare. The doctors are all booked 4-6 weeks out. Then we have to wait for the results which take 10+ days and we are up to the deadline. The craziest thing about this is that the insurance let's us take the assessment once a year fro free, but since they moved the date back a couple months, no one can get it for free because we did it all last year when they warned us two months in advance. So the year has not come up and we are all in a pickle having to pay and trying to get it on before the deadline.

The good in all this is the information we get. I have lost a few pounds over the last few years we have done this. My blood pressure has gone down, and my cholesterol levels have moved for the better. Life has treated me good and it looks like I am taking better care of myself. The pains and aches I get are age-related, says my doctor, so I am ok. My blood pre sure is still a little high, but it doesn't help that I come straight from school when there is controlled chaos as we film our last scenes to our history films. No stress. None whatsoever.

Our district has been on a health mission for a few years. They have started to see that we have gotten healthier as a district. Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, weight, and other medical things. They started a health contest a few years back and have teachers and staff log their minutes or miles, or whatever they do to exercise. The is a weigh in week week to see our progress. It has really become a school-wide competition. All in all we have gotten healthier and, hopefully, this will lower our insurance one day. I doubt it, but I sure feel better.

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We Sure Do Appreciate Ya

How should teachers be shown appreciation by their school district? Our district has a "Team of the Year"award where the team of teachers is an grade level or subject submit a binder of information telling and showing information about their team. We need to convince others we are doing great. There used to be the "Teacher of the Year" award where each principal would select a teacher and the district would somehow pick the winner. These are the ways I am familiar with.

I am wondering if there is a better way? Could there be a committee that reviews teacher by actually visiting their classroom? Not for a few minutes, but for a week or two? Be with them in their meetings and discussions, planning meetings and conferences. See how they work with their team. This would be hard for administrators because of the work they need to do, but it would really show how teachers work.

We love awards and recognition, but how about a day for collaboration between the teams? Sharing ideas and plans. What works and what doesn't. What problem need discussing and what solutions are there. This is the real PLC. When districts can bring schools together to discuss and plan, then we are a true Community of Professionals.

So how can we recognize teachers and teams fairly? Sounds like an end-of-year test for students. How can we truly assess either?


Maybe Next Year We'll Do It

Here is a list of things we thought about this year, but didn't quite get to. Included is also a list new ideas we came up with.

1. Identity Day-have each student teach something about themselves. A report about one thing that makes them, them.
2. Spelling Tests on Google Docs - in fact we can do most of our tests on google docs and that will save a lot of paper. We have been told to cut back on paper this year, so we are looking at out laptop mini's to step up to do most of our work.
3. Tech minutes for younger grades - each month our fifth grade students will teach the younger grade students something they can use on the computer, this gives them time to teach and the younger students time to learn something new. This helps the student, the teacher and next years teacher. Students become more literate on computers and teachers that are uncomfortable with using computers, can get better.
4. More back channel discussions - these are great for topics and questions. I have loved using them during reading time. I love using them during a lesson when they are supposed to be listening and not talking. The more the student can input questions and answers, the better and more comfortable they become with communication.
5. Innovation Day. Having students pick a subject, learn a out it, produce something, and present it the next day. Having them do this all on one day. They can work in pairs. But they should have a product to show or discuss the next day. How many full days could we do this? Every two units in Language? Making it a part of the lesson and gear it to the units?
6. More articles to read during PLC days. This is the best way to get information from around the country. Reading articles from our own personal learning network.
7. Research. What else is out there that we can use in our classroom?
8. Pecha Kucha presentations. Integrating this format of presenting in our classrooms. Interesting format. 20 slides, 20 seconds each slide, 6 minutes to present an idea. Love it.

There is always so much to do in our classroom. New things we can try.

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Tech Minute...or Longer

My principal came to me a few months ago and asked me to take 15 minutes each Friday to teach something techy. About half of our staff were given iPads and were only just starting to use them, and some of the teachers are a little unsure about some of the new computer-based Programs we are using for Language. So we have a 15 minute class every Friday right after school. This give the teachers time to learn a little and take it back to their planning to incorporate it into their lessons. After the 15 minutes is up, we have some teachers that want to learn more so we go further or answer questions about specific problems they are having in their rooms. Confidence has improved and each teacher is working on a class website. It has been fantastic.

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The Grandeur of Zion

Our classes had the opportunity to have a ranger for Zion Canyon visit our school. Barb Graves was our tour guide as we were taken back through the building up of the geology of the United States and more specifically, Zion Canyon. She knows her information and we all could tell that she loved what she taught about. That made all the difference. Everyone payed attention. All students learned something new. The passion showed through and it kept us all divided.

This passion is what I need to keep my students intested with what I teach. How do I get to the point that I am passionate about my subjects? First I need to know my subject. I can't just teach by the seat of my pants. I need to know my subject. Next I need to like what I am teaching. I need to find a way to make my least favorite subjects my friends. I need to embrace thsubject and have the attitude that I love it. Last, I need to be excited while I am teaching. Attitude is everything. Students will know when it is not my favorite and it will not be their favorite. They can feel it when I am not excited about a specific subject ad they will feel tht it is not that important.

Watching the passon of a ranger teach about their park is amazing. It is fantastic watch someone that has passion as they teach. I hope my teaching shows the passion that Barb showed my class today.

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Can I Have a Little PLN with My PLC?

One thing I have found is year has been blogs and twitter. I went from page to page of my favorite blogs finding information to use in my class. Then I found Google Reader. Great place to put my favorite blogs in one place. Then came twitter. Following some of my favorite educators from around the country, I have found some great information and ideas that have helped my class. When I got my iPad, I found Flipboard and that brought it all together. There needs to be a Flipboard for my computer.

These tools have become a major part in my personal professional development. I am building a personal learning network. I feel that as a teacher, I need to become a Master Learner. This is the way to do it. Learning from others in the field. Sharing information we have learned and tried. Hearing ideas we can try or modify. Learning.

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A Testing We Will Go

It is that time again to see how well the students learned the lessons we tight them this year. It will also help us know how our new ideas worked and if they understood the concepts. This is an exciting time for me because of these reasons. Testing is a pain and does not always reflect what the students learned. I don't know if there is a surefire way to tell what the students have learned. I still find myself wondering where I learned some of the information I know.

As we did last year, we a having the students explain each answer as they take the test. We have the students fold a paper so there are 16 squares (eight on each side) and they explain why their answer is correct. After they have finished each page we look through it to see if they have explained their answer, no matter what they answer is, and then we collect the papers. Once the tests are completed, we shreds the papers. Last year the student scores went up quite a bit from the previous year. Every student went up. This has really given students an opportunity to show what they know and to explain why they chose that answer.

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I Found Life in Death Valley

Every year my little family takes a pilgrimage to Death Valley National Park. It is always sometime in March or early April. The tradition was started when my father-in-law lived in Death Valley Junction with his parents and took care of the Armagosa Hotel. After he was married, he and his wife lived at the hotel and had their first child there. It became a part of them and borax was in their blood. After moving out, the kids grew and the trips started. Each child got married and every year the trips became part of their tradition also. It became a family reunion, of sorts, each year.

When I joined the family it became part of my family tradition that started with learning and exploring and enjoying. We go to see the same sights every year: Bad Water, Devil's Golfcourse, Artist Palette. We visit the hotel and hear the stories about living there and what it used to look like. We learn from the ranger talks every night at the Visitor's Center. And we try to see something we have never been to, each year.

But it has become something more for me as a teacher. It has become a time to rejuvenate, learn, and prepare. After the first couple of years I started bringing a few things I could work on while in Death Valley. I started with the plays my class did at the end of the year. I would work on each Shakespeare play by bring the audition papers and deciding who would be each part. We were coming in the first part of March back then. When we decided to do movies as a grade level, I would work on finalizing movie parts. Then I started to bring a book to read that had to do wi what we were learning as a team and pull out my favorite parts.this year I have a grat book by Richard St. John, "8 to be Great". We are preparing for end of year testing and the kids have Spring Fever. I need a break and this is my time to reflect on what needs to be done and come back ready to focus the students, because I am focused.

We have quite a few breaks through the year, but we load them up with yard work and vacations that make us more tired. Each year we need to take a little focus time to recharge. No expectations, no agendas, just focus time. Read a book to get us back in the game. Ponder the happenings of the year so far. Far away from the things that will get us back into the ruts, yet close enough to keep us focused on the end result. Students.

Thank you, Death Valley. Thank you for getting me back into the groove. Thank you for allowing me the time to use your beauty, your hikes, your space to clear the cobwebs of repetition and see through a new lens at the time I need new focus. And thank you, sweetheart, for providing me with the opportunity to be in Death Valley each year.

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How Would We React?

Watching and listening about the tragedy in Japan has brought sadness and urgency. I worry about those that are missing and their families that do not know. But I saw a great story about how people waiting in line are not fighting, arguing, or stressing out about not getting food or water. They wait patiently for their turn in the store or to get their ration.

I am one that has a 72 hour kit for each member of my family. I also have a small food storage for emergencies. I have a friend that told me I need to purchase weapons of some kind in case there is an emergency and people wants my food. We need to protect what we have. As I watch Japan I wonder if we will we be helping those around us or fending them off in an emergency? I am hoping for charity to win out.

In this global world we live in we can see the need around us so much faster than we had in the past. We understand more about people near and far. We hear more about the love and hate around the world. Information about emergencies comes so much faster now. We are helping those that are far away, as in Haiti, Indonesia, and Japan. Even those in our own country, like New Orleans, we have helped. Will we help those that are next door? I think we will. When it comes down to a serious emergency, we will help. We need to help. We need to get to know those that are close to us. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have made us pay attention to things far away, but knowing our neighbors is important. Technology has brought the world closer and made it easier to help those in need. It has also made us a little more distant from those close to us.

We should be like those in Japan that are patiently waiting for help.

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Korea, We Love Thee

Having a Korean intern in my classroom is year has been an amazing experience for me and for my students. Having a different perspective in my classroom helped me be a better teacher. It made me think more about what I do and why I do it. Having a mo international perspective has been wonderful. Our education system is always compared to the Asian education system, it is great to hear about their system. I learn about the why's and the how's of their system. There a some great things and some not-so-great things. But I also think that is the same with our system, great and not-so-great.

I think all classrooms should have this opportunity. It is such a benefit for my students. Having an international connection in a global world. Students need to know about the global world. Having this little connection is wonderful for them to learn about the world outside our community, outside our country. What a great experience. Thank you Sun Woo, Lina*, Jenni*, Stephanie*,and all the other interns.

*some interns used American names to make it easier for the students to say their names.
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Do You Know My Child?

I read an article by Angela Maiers about Parent-Teacher conferences. She looked at these conferences from a parent view and came up with a couple questions she wanted to know about here child. After she had her conference she was disappointed that the questions she had were not answered.
Who is my child to you?
Who are they as readers, writers, community members?
What makes them unique?
What are they passionate about?
How do they add value to your class and the wider community?
What makes you proud?
As I read through these questions I though about my students and tried to answer these questions. Do I know my students well enough and do I pay attention to their actions to answer these questions? So this is my goal for the rest of this year is to pay attention to the little things in my students and make sure I can answer these questions to my parents.

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Really? We want this?

I have the pleasure of having a Korean intern in my fifth grade class. She has taught us about Korean culture and some of the most fascinating things about Korea. She was unsure about how the students were receiving her lessons because they did not ask questions or respond to her. I felt they loved the lessons. I did tell her they might respond to things they can compare to what they know. So I asked her to talk about elementary school in Korea. This was very interesting.

She discussed what schools look like, how the classes look, and what the playgrounds were like. the students were interested that they have sand playgrounds instead of grass. They were amazed at the five story elementary schools and six or more classes per grade in one school. The time schedule was also interesting. It changes from day to day. In our school we have a similar schedule each day with few changes throughout the week. Everyday in our intern's school was different. They also went to school every other Saturday. The time schedule was the same with school starting at 9:00 and ending at 3:00. One diffence was the time of the classes. There were 50 minute classes with 10 minute of play in-between all classes. Lunch was eaten in the classrooms with a 30 minute break after eating.

The school classes and curriculum are very similar to my school. They do have music and art as full classes a couple times a week. We fit it in where we can. That is a big difference. Hey have a moral class where they teach about being a good member of society. This class is similar to our health education (not PE). One class that is very interesting to me is the practical class. In this class they teach students how to cook, sew, clean, and other day to day practical activities. They learn to sew on buttons, make small toys, and end up making a pillow. They also cook foods and the principal comes in to try the foods. These are the extra classes that fit into their schedule that we do not have. If we had these kids of classes full time, we would need to come on Saturdays also.

I do not think this is why we are behind their scores in education. It is what happens after school that makes the difference. In Korea, about 75% of school children attend after school Academies. These are classes that run about an hour and a half to two hours. Each academy is specialized to one subject. Some students have two to three academies to go to after school. This means they are in school about four hours each day after school. After academies they do their homework for school and academies. Students do not have a lot to time to play or do extracurricular activities. The other 25% have music or sports academies to go to after school.

The pressure is immense. Test scores are very important. Expectations are high. Stress of achieving is great. Parents spend upwards of $500 a month for academies. Students do not always have a way to be kids. They play when all their homework is done. If they have two academies and school, they are going to school from 9am until about 8 pm. They they do their homework for all classes, which is about two hours. They will finish about 10:00 and take little time to play and head to bead about 11 to 12. They get up the next morning to be at school about 8am to be ready for school. Sleep is important, but for an elementary school child in Korea, it is about 6 hours. With all the pressure and emphasis on test scores, there is suicide. Even in elementary school there is the chance of suicide. It is not uncommon. If a test does not go as planned or the score is not high enough, the child feels the stress.

Do we want this? Really? Do we want to pressure out students to get 100% all the time? They are kids, and they will fail from time to time. We need to be careful what we do with our children.

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John Ford, Teaching Fractions

John Ford, Title One Mathematics Coordinator, West Virginia DOE
When dividing fractions we think of it as a multiplication problem instead of division. We need to have the students explain their answers so they can understand their thought process and make sense of the math. This also helps us see where their problems are.

There was an identification of the problem, but there was no solution or plan to find a solution. He suggested the PLC should find this information out.

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Alan Sitomer, Hookin' Boys

Alan Sitomer, English Teacher, Lynwood High School, Title One Conference, Tampa Bay
Our national graduation rate is about 68%. That means about 1 out of every 3 students does not graduate. Boys graduation rate is about 64% and girls about 72%. We are witnessing the girls taking over the education oef themselves and the boys are giving up. If we can get them to understand we are doing it for them, they will get it.

The recession has hit people hard and the one piece of education that has not been hit is assessment. Assessment keeps getting bigger. To grow an elephant you need to feed it, not perpetually weigh it.

If you are not educated you will not make it in the world. Studies show a bachelors degree will make approximately 1 million more than those without, over a lifetime. People with a masters degree will make approximately 1.3 million more than on without.

Drop outs self sabotage themselves. 84 % of prisoners do not have a high school diploma. We spend approximately $80,000 a year for incarcerated individuals and about $8,000 a year per child.about 1 out of 100 adults in the US have or are in jail. America is the 1 in incarnation.

State corrections are now using student literacy levels as penitentiary forecasters to allow them to project how many prison beds they will need over the course of the subsequent decade.

I can see the problems we are having in education. I agree that there is a problem and I like the idea of a moratorium of building assessments because the education has a need to assess everything, but as Alan has said, we don't grow an elephant by weighing it everyday. Alan had a lot of facts and data yet the information about motivation to get success is not new. We all have that problem and the solution is engagement, but there was not specifics, just facts and figures. Alan did remind me that our job is very important and I do need to do more.

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Manuel Scott talk

Manuel Scott spoke at the Distinguished Schools Luncheon. Talked about how he hated school. He had bad experiences in school with teachers. They did not keep track of him. He moved around more than 25 times during his education. He felt that he was meant to fail. Why should he try. A man told him, you can become the father you never had. Your future can be better than your past.
He is here to impress upon us to see those kids that come unto our schools that one kind word to a child can make all the difference. He speaks for the kids that have been left and lost and forgotten. Look for those that need our help. Look for the kids in the back of the classroom. Find those that are lost and forgotten. Make sure all students know they are cared about. Connect to the children.
If by Rudyard Kipling

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Out of the Ordinary

It is the things that we do that are out of the ordinary that make the difference. Not the ones at are the same day after day activities that teach the basics. The basics will be taught and learned, it is the lessons that we do that are not on the lesson plans that will touch and teach others to rise above.

Looking at stories like, Freedom Writers, Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, Stand by Me, and Teachers, it is the out of ordinary teachers that make the diffence. The ones that teach what they are supposed to, yet add in something a little different to help students.

We do need to be a little different to bring our kids what they need.

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Title One Conference, Adora Svitak

Adora Svitak, 13, the Keynote speaker for the Title One Conference taught us about students and how to help students learn and not just talk at them. "Students can make a difference no matter how young." encouraged blogging and online work for students. 92% of 2 year olds have a digital footprint. There are pictures on them somewhere on the Internet. "Why should children be restricted to an hour of classroom subject time?" Teachers that make a personal connection are the best teaching. "We can learn from our students in our class." "We can learn about hope and being naive is not a bad thing." "Decisions for children are made without the input of the children." "Teaching and learning is a two way street, but unlike driving, there is no age requirement."

Aware, enable, empower students in learning. Teach them about the topic, making them aware of the situation by making them a part of the lesson. Enable students to learn from the experience on the lesson, and enable them to come up with ideas to solve the problems. This empowers students to learn pand teach others about their problem.

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When learning we want everything handed to us on a plate and we want others to give us everything so we become note a learner, but learned-helpless. Are we learn we need to do. We need to get ourselves of the learning couch and do. Instead of having someone show us everything, we should study, practice, experiment, learn.

When we expect others to give us all knowledge, we become helpless to learn. We need to have students do the same: Research, study, experiment, practice, learn. As teachers we need to stop handing out education and start making the students work for it. This will help our students come up wi the answers that will solve the world problems, not handing them ideas that are not solving them.

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Learning about Education in Korea

I was talking to a Korean intern this week about the differences between elementary school in Korea and elementary school here in my school. It was very interesting and informative. The schools in Korea are very similar to here. They have the same basic subjects; language, reading, spelling, math, science, social studies. We are similar in teaching styles. They have lessons that are similar and discipline plans that a similar.

But there are a few things that are different. They do go to school Monday-Saturday, but Wednesday is a half day and Saturdays are every other week. We go Monday-Friday with Friday being a half day. So they do go to school for more hours than we do. Korean schools also break their school day up a little different. They have 45 minute classes and a 10 minute break for bathroom, drinks, and making sure they are ready for the next subject. They whole day is broken up this way. Korean students also have after school study at home for a few hours in elementary school, most of the evening in middle schools, and all night in high school and college. These practices are not school related, but home-driven. Parents set these times or programs up. Parents drive the learning and study after school. The schools benefit from what parents do.

One big difference is art. There is an art class that is taken as seriously as we take language and math. Art is an important part of school, but making sure that we take 3 hours in the morning for language, an hour and a half for math and an hour for science or social studies only leaves most classes with a half hour for PE, art, music, or other activities. This is a big difference in our education systems. Music is also taught. an instrument is taught in elementary school to each child.

Another difference is moral studies. There is a class for moral studies in Korea. We have a healthy lifestyles classes and it is included with the PE classes. One more class that is taught is a basic home economics class. Students learn to basics in cooking, being respectful, and basic economics. There are a few subjects we have legislated out of our schools. Our art programs suffer. More time is taken from the arts and given to the three "R's". I look at this and I can see why we have a difference in our education.

Some of these differences are societal and not educational. When we have legislators that write bills about mandatory after school programs for children and not having them participate in extracurricular activities that we love in America, then we will be able to compete in the education race with the Asian countries. As for right now, teachers are doing what they are asked to do from lawmakers.Socially we are different countries. Educationally we have different methods and ideas. We are trying to keep up with countries that voluntarily study for hours after school has ended, from elementary school to college. Unless we are willing to do this, we are going to have a hard time legislating these ideals. We can say change is needed, but until we are willing to give extra after school, we will always need change. We can and are change more. New ideas are always coming we are finding them and using them. Some good, some not. We are moving and so are the children. They expect more, they want more, they need more. We tell them not to com pre themselves to others and dinky compete with themselves, but here they are comparing us to the world. We need a global view on everything and we need to compete globally.

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I Resolve... to Collaborate...

Tis the time of year to resolve to do better in our lives. I have a few resolutions I want to put down so I have to look at them through the year to remind me that I need to do better. So here I go.
—I will have my students do more collaborative work in class. They are doing lots of cooperative projects, but the collaborative projects have eluded me. I need to teach them how to collaborate and listen to each other to get the best answers and take a piece to make the project better. I also need to read more about collaborating. Which brings me to my next resolution.
—I will read more articles about collaboration and cooperating for my students. I will also research better ways to use technology to help my students learn. I want to get better with these strategies in my class.
—I will not jump on the bandwagon of every new tech idea that comes out. I am getting tired of all the new programs that are out there that everyone tells me I need to use. I will take time to evaluate every new idea to see if it will make the learning better or easier than what I am already doing, or see if the program will take the place of something I am using. It does need to make a big difference to get me to change. There are so many fun apps out there, but they all do the same basic thing. Revolutionary. That is what I am looking for.
—I will work better as a team member in my grade level team. I take over sometimes and I need to learn the collaborative idea to get the best ideas for the students. When we collaborate, we have the best plans and best actinides for our students.
I don't want to go more than a few resolutions. I want to concentrate more on a few items that are similar rather than many different items that may get bogged down while I am teaching. It gets hard to do so many things through the year, but if I focus on one idea and look at some of the aspects of that idea, I can work on and build upon that idea.
I think I will be putting together new years resolutions at the beginning of the school year in August as well as mid-year in January. This give me two times a year to put goals together and check how I am doing on the ones I have set.
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