Archive for January 2007

Today is my Blogiversary!

January 31, 2007

My humble little blog is one year old today, so maybe it is really my Blog Birthday. 🙂

So, here is a look at my first year of blogging…

Hopefully I will be around for another year. Thank you for reading and for all of your input over the last year! It has been a great learning adventure for me!!

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An Abundance of Ideas

January 30, 2007

I received an e-mail today from one of my teachers who was feeling a little defeated.  She feels like what she is doing in the classroom is not working as well as it should – that the students aren’t learning as much as she would like them to. I think we have all felt this way before… like we are working harder than the students. 

I offered to help her brainstorm some instructional strategies and lesson ideas that might help engage the students more and make her life a little easier as well. These are some of the ideas I gave her: 

  • When you need to cover a broad concept or topic – Jigsaw it. I particularly like the idea of using the jigsaw strategy in conjunction with wikis. Expert groups can collaboratively create their entry on a class wiki page and then share it in their jigsaw groups, and since it is on a wiki, the information is accessible on-line for students to refer to, edit, and/or use to review for a test.

  • Choices, choices, choices… I think one of the easiest and most effective things to do is give students some choice in their assignments. For example, instead of telling students that they have to create a PowerPoint over the cause of WWII, give them some parameters and then allow them to choose their method of delivery (video, poster, skit, pamphlet, animation, web site, etc).

  • Teach students how to use a rubric and then have them “grade” each other’s work. Peer rubrics work well with whole class or in-group presentations, and you are the teacher so you can ultimately have the final “say” on students’ grades. There are many positives for using peer rubrics – students get to see the work of others so they can compare their own, they are in continual “contact” with the objectives they need to learn, they get to see the grading process in action (so they don’t think teachers arbitrarily assign random grades), and they get practice being precise and looking for the guidelines of a particular assignment.

  • Allow students to complete test corrections if they fail a test.  In Irving ISD we are required to give students the opportunity to remediate failing grades (major grades), so instead of giving them a re-test (which they probably won’t study for), assign them test corrections. I used to allow students to earn half of the value of their missed test question back if they got it right in their test corrections. I had students write out (or type) the question and the correct answer (sometimes with a justification). This process not only helped them pass the assignment, but it also made them re-visit the material so they could learn it – which is our goal, right?

Those are just a few of the ideas I shared with her. They are strategies that worked well for me. I would love for you to share some of the strategies that work for you… we can never have enough ideas!

The Changing Face of Politics

January 25, 2007

Anyone who has ever had me as a student in class or has sat next to me in a meeting knows that I have difficulty paying attention when someone is speaking for lengthy periods of time (and sometimes short periods of time too).  The State of the Union Address is an example of one of these times. 

I lasted about 5 minutes and that was all I could take (my husband, on the other hand had a bowl of popcorn and seemed to think he was watching a movie). I know the State of the Union is important.  I know they are historic moments and all, but I just can’t ever seem to make myself sit through them… and with the shift towards politics on the Internet, I don’t have to.  

I can read the State of the Union address, listen to it or view it – I chose to read it, but you might like one of the other options and that is the beauty of the Internet. 

I also have trouble following the Presidential election via television, so I am glad that candidates are beginning to realize the importance of advertising and campaigning on the web. Keep a watch out for political blogs, podcasts and video podcasts to increase in the coming months. 

I hope that government, history and speech teachers take the opportunity to integrate these new technologies in their classrooms as politicians become more familiar with the web. 

You might want to check out some of the following political sites: 

I am sure there are tons of other great political sites, so feel free to share your favorites as well as your ideas for integrating them in your curriculum.

Apparently We Are Doing Something Right!

January 23, 2007

As I worked in my office today, I kept seeing a man in a suit and a man with a video camera being escorted around our building by our Assistant Principal. We have visitors quite frequently, but they normally don’t walk around with video cameras so I knew something was up… yeah, I am pretty perceptive. 🙂

Apparently, KTVT Channel 11 News was on campus to profile us for being a model school. You can watch the video clip on-line here.

Good for us! And good for the media for running a positive story about education! I know there are many great schools around, and I wish we would see more of them on the news.

Congratulations Academy staff and students! Apparently you are doing an outstanding job! But we already new that. 😉

Something to Keep in Mind…

January 17, 2007

Today is the last day of the semester which means grades are due. One of my jobs is to check over the grades and make sure everyone has turned them in and to check for errors (missing grades, etc.) There are always a couple of teachers who are late completing their grades, and there are always teachers with errors. Sometimes teachers have a “valid” excuse as to why they are late and sometimes they just mismanaged their time or underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete their grades.

And, hey, let’s face it – we all make mistakes. We all mess up occasionally and sometimes we miss a deadline. We are human. None of us are perfect.

So, when someone makes a mistake in their grades, I ask them to correct it; and when someone is late with their grades, they get an extension or they face a consequence (i.e. students with no grades on their report cards). Yes, I get frustrated when teachers do not have their grades in on time, but we work around it and things always turn out fine in the end.

So, what I don’t understand is why this same consideration is often times not given to students. We are adults, professionals, and we make these mistakes, but quite often I hear teachers complain about students not turning in their work on time. “He had two weeks to complete that project, and he still didn’t get it in on time. I told him that I do not accept late work and that he will just have to take a zero.”

I get it. Part of our job is to teach students responsibility, but leniency and consideration should go both ways. Students make mistakes. Sometimes they are late. Sometimes they mismanage their time. Sometimes they get overwhelmed. And sometimes they make poor choices. And as teachers, we get frustrated with them. We don’t understand why they didn’t have their assignment in on time or why they were late to class. We lecture them about how to be responsible.

And don’t get me wrong, I am not saying to accept all late work without question. I am not saying to allow your students to enter your class tardy every day. I am merely suggesting that you turn the mirror around on yourself every once in awhile and check the reflection. We make mistakes. It is part of who we are.

Next time you face a situation where a student needs to turn an assignment in late, take a minute to talk to him. Ask him why it is late. Talk to him about the importance of responsibility and then think about that time you were late and give him break.  

$100 Laptop Could Sell to the Public

January 11, 2007

One of my teachers sent me a link to this article yesterday, and I skimmed it, but did not get a chance to really read though it and reflect upon it until today.I have written before about the prospect of the $100 laptop and was interested to read up on some of the new developments of the project.I was particularly interested in this…

“The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project are looking at the possibility of selling the machine to the public. One idea would be for customers to have to buy two laptops at once – with the second going to the developing world.”

According to the BBC’s article, the OLPC laptops, which have been dubbed the $100 laptops, are running closer to $150 each.  So, if everything works out, someone could purchase two laptops for around $300, get one for themselves and send one to a child in a developing country.  I think this is an outstanding idea.

According to Mr. Bletsas, the chief connectivity officer of the project, “The aim is to connect the buyer of the laptop with the child in the developing world who receives the machine.’They will get the e-mail address of the kid in the developing world that they have, in effect, sponsored.'”

This sounds like a daunting task, but if OLPC can pull it off, I think it sounds like an amazing way to get laptops into the hands of children and get them connected to the world at large. I was also impressed at the role Google is taking in the project.

“The OLPC project is working with Google who will act as ‘the glue to bind all these kids together.’ Google will also help the children publish their work on the internet so that the world can observe the ‘fruits of their labour,’ said Mr Bletsas. He said that the hope was to put the machine on sale to the general public ‘sometime next year.'”

It even sounds like Ebay is planning to offer assistance by helping to minimize supply chain costs.I hope all of the organizations can work together and see this project through. OLPC has lofty goals and maybe with some help from their new team members all of their plans will come to fruition.I can’t wait to see what happens!

Digital Writing vs. Hand Writing

January 11, 2007

The ELA TAKS test is on the horizon.  Students will be taking it on February 18th.  As the test draws near I am reminded of a debate that often takes place between English teachers. 

Can students learn how to write digitally?  Can students write using a word processor and then turn around and take a test on paper and be successful? Can you teach literacy skills on a computer?

I think so, but many English teachers (and teachers in general) disagree.  In my opinion, it is the process that matters and not so much the logistics.  Regardless of whether a student is using a laptop or paper, there are certain skills that must be taught in order for one to learn how to write well.  I think this can be done digitally and/or on paper.  In fact, I kind of like a mix of the two.

I learned how to write logistically (my letters and such) on paper when I was in elementary school, but by the time I was in middle school and needed to actually compose papers, we had a computer at home and this is where I did most of my writing. I would write a draft, read through it and make corrections, and when I got it the way I wanted, I would print my final copy. Then I would go back and make errors in the paper and print it for my rough draft, and then I did my pre-writing.  Backwards, I know, but my planning and organization happens in my head, and I usually don’t start writing until I have it all organized and ready to go.  This process has always seemed to work well for me.

In fact, I have a really hard time composing things on paper. I can’t seem to get the flow of writing going until I have a keyboard in front of me.  Maybe many of our students feel this way too and this is why some teachers insist that they write on paper so they can get prepared to write on paper for the TAKS test.  I don’t know…

When I taught English, I liked to give the students the choice to either write digitally or on paper.  Most times they chose their laptop, but sometimes students preferred to write their essays out on notebook paper. Either option was fine with me.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I feel like we are doing students a disservice if we don’t allow them the choice to learn how to compose digitally.  I understand they need to pass the TAKS test, and they may need to practice the actual logistics of handwriting and using a “real” dictionary and thesaurus.  I understand this reasoning, but I hope that teachers are also giving students a chance to learn how to compose in a format that can be easily edited and altered so they can experience the fluidity of writing.

Writing should be fun and creative.  It should be a process of expression and reflection. It shouldn’t always follow a direct prescriptive path, but I am afraid that most students view writing as a chore.  It is a formulaic method of textual evidence, research, citations – all of which are important skills to know – I just hope that through the preparation for standardized tests we don’t extinguish students’ joy for writing.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the digital vs. hand written debate…