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updates for 10.03.2011

13 new posts today

I'm exhausted but...

  • I planned my whole week--reading and math.
  • I made practice worksheets for both my regular math group and my quick-learner math group (yes, that's right, we're DIFFERENTIATING and all that fancy whatnot).
  • I found a powerpoint and graphic format to introduce the idea of drawing conclusions so it will make sense to my kiddos.
  • I documented this kid's behavior so when we have our emergency meeting on Tuesday to make a behavior plan I'll have a documented leg to stand on. And I didn't get (that) upset when my grade level chair (also head of Student Support and my biggest resource, most sympathetic sounding board, best person to go to for a laugh during the day, and overall favorite person) called his mom and was told by mom that the kid does not have any problems at home and it really shouldn't be mom's job to figure out what's going on in school. BTW, this is a 180 degree flip from everything mom, kid, stepdad, and past teachers have ever told me, as recently as my conversation with stepdad 4 days ago. Mom just doesn't want to deal with it, either because she's overwhelmed or because she's in denial. And did anyone else notice that the week Mom decides she doesn't care about kiddo's behavior in school is the week his behavior takes a nosedive from bad to godfreakingawful? But I digress.
  • I planned centers for the week.
  • I graded tests.
  • I tracked unit tests (70% mastery each in Unit 1 Reading and Math? We'll take it!).
  • I did laundry (at a new laundromat near my house which is seriously low rent but only cost $1.75 for 2 loads of laundry. It was full of extended families, from toddling 2-year-olds who thought my keys were lots of fun to wrinkly Navajo grandmothers with no teeth and handkerchiefs on their heads. I'm totally going there for all my future laundry needs).
  • I got a haircut.
  • I went for a hike along the mesa near my school and was treated to fascinating conversation from my hiking buddy as well as absolutely breathtaking views of New Mexico landscape.
  • I decided to throw our curriculum's useless vocabulary and unintelligible math textbook chapters out the window and feel much better that the stuff I will teach my kids will be useful, even if they can't name the properties of multiplication (associative? commutative? identity? I don't know what those are, and I'm a fully successful adult. It's enough to know how they work without spending a whole week memorizing and confusing names).
  • I cooked myself a proteinalicious dinner.
  • I'm going to bed.
Overall, even though I spent three quarters of it in my classroom or with a student's test in my hand, it was a pretty productive weekend.

First Nine Weeks

So the first nine weeks are almost in the books.  I have been all over the place emotionally but I can say with absolute certainty that last week was incredible.  After a rough management day on Monday I got my game face on and adjusted.  My students were incredible.  They rose to the occasion, talked group work effectively and their test scores on Friday were sky high compared to our first unit. I remember back to when I started college and it took me a while to hit my stride but last week I got that same tingling feeling on the back of my neck that I had when I won leadership elections in college, when a campaign I worked for claimed victory on election night, when I landed an incredible internship, when I graduated from college, and when I first found out I had been accepted into TFA.  It is so easy to lose sight of the you that existed just months before you enter the classroom doing this work.  While I am here I know that this experience is about the kids, MY KIDS here in Memphis and getting them prepared for an entirely different life path than they would otherwise have access to.  This is a massive challenge and it can definitely weigh on me at times and I am know realizing that if it wasn't then something would be wrong.  Namely that I wasn't treating this experience serious enough.  The impact on my students will be serious. Friday in addition my first class rocking their unit tests I found out that I was picked to be a chaperone on a trip of the East Coast with students from my school.  Being a native of New England and an alum of a D.C. University I couldn't be more excited for my kids to see my campus (our classroom theme is college bound and proud) but also for them to ride on a plane for the first time, to see a completely different section of our nation, and come face to face with things that have only ever populated the pages of their social studies text books.  I am also a little excited to try and fundraise the insane amount of money required to get my students to D.C., NYC, and Philadelphia.  Unlike tackling the achievement gap fundraising in beautifully simple: the rules are set and it will tap into a skill set I honed in college.  When we talk about transformational change I can't help but that thinks that takes a truly transformation experience to accomplish.  I know that this trip could be that for the students and if we do the selection process right then we can make it worthwhile even for the students who are not ultimately selected to attend. Friday I felt just like I did during those great moments of my life prior to teaching.  My key takeaway heading into week 9?  Those days don't come easy and they are the direct result of effective planning, setting clear expectations, and not lowering standards.  I will work my butt off in the next 9 weeks for even one day like last Friday because my kids improved dramatically and I loved every second of it.  Onward.


Algebra tiles

To teach several different algebra concepts, my school uses manipulatives called algebra tiles. See: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=algebra+tiles&cid=9798463280773607865&sa=X&ei=6hOJTq6SBseXtwfjovku&ved=0CEYQ8wIwAQ Basically, there are 3 different shapes of tiles with side lengths set up so that the tiles each have areas of 1, x, or x^2. The back of each tile is colored red to indicate -1, -x, or -x^2.   This makes it very easy to see which terms are like terms. 3x+2x is obviously 5x, since if you have 3 x-pieces and 2 additional x-pieces, you obviously have 5 total x-pieces, so the answer is 5x.   Similarly, you can't add 2x + 3x^2, because the pieces are different shapes, so there is no way to simplify this. This works really well if you are adding two positive terms or two negative terms. However, if you are trying to add two terms with opposite signs (for example 3x + -5x), you have to do some canceling. A red (negative) tile plus a positive tile of the same size and shape together make zero, so you can get rid of those pieces as you try to simplify. For that example, there would be 3 such pairs (each of the three negative-x tiles would pair with a positive-x tile) and when you slide all of those away, you have two negative-x tiles left, so the answer is -2x. The problem is that this concept doesn't actually emerge in any physical way from the tiles.  For all of the other concepts, there is actually a clear physical reason for why the concept must be true--for example, if two tiles are different sizes, they aren't like terms and there is no simple way of combining them. However, when you put positive tiles and negative tiles together to make zero, you just have to explain why this is the case, there is no way to see this just by using the tiles without some outside explanation of that point. The point of using manipulatives is so that people can actual see and touch a particular concept. While these tiles do work pretty well for teaching many concepts, they really don't add anything to the discussion of zero-pairs (except that you can then physically slide them away when you find a pair). I'd rather have some sort of manipulative where it is obvious that when you put a positive piece and a negative piece together that they actually form zero (I don't think just having two different colors really suffices to convince anyone of this point). Can anyone think of a design for some manipulatives that actually have this property (without losing the ability to explain any of the other important concepts)? I haven't been able to come up with a design, but I bet someone can create a good one....


Update on first week with new classes.

I started with my new students last Monday. We went over classroom procedures the first day and then jumped into some new content the next day to keep on pace with the other math teachers. Now, instead of offering morning help sessions whenever anyone wanted, I am now specifically saying that help sessions are available on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and that people can arrange another time with me if they can't make it on those two days. I announced this in class on Monday (with my new students) and one person actually came on Tuesday morning!! In the past, in order to get people to come to these sessions, it usually took me calling parents to tell them that their kid wasn't doing well and needed to come to a help session--but a kid showed up anyway on Tuesday morning, without a phone call!  On Thursday morning, there were two!! There were a few good moments of actual learning this week, which was nice. However, those were few and far between mixed in with mostly moments where not much learning was happening. I still have trouble getting students to actually focus on what we are doing. Whenever there is the slightest transition in what we are doing, or someone asks a question, there is always a sudden, large increase in talking. There are suddenly so many people talking, it is impossible to fairly and consistently hand out consequences, which causes the problem to escalate. I'm working with my TFA manager person to set up a system where the class can get a certain number of class points each day there isn't uproar when we transition from one thing to the next. We'll see how that works. Last Friday was picture day.  All of the students get a little card with their name and a barcode. They hand these to the photographer as they get their pictures taken. These cards were distributed to homeroom teachers in the morning. This is fine except that individual teachers' classes were scheduled to go get pictures taken at particular times during the day, but students aren't in their homerooms at those times. For example, my name was on the list for 3rd period, but I don't actually teach anyone from my homeroom during that period. Luckily, most of them have language arts class next door at that time, so they weren't too far away, but there were a number of students who have classes in lots of other places that we had to find so they could get their pictures taken. By the end of all of that, 3rd period on Friday ended up being about half as long as it was supposed to have been, so we didn't get a chance to actually cover any new material, so now that class is a day behind. Which is fine, since all of my classes are about a week behind where we are supposed to be anyway (due to the class switching, and due to being behind already before that). This would all be fine, except Monday and Tuesday of next week are early release days for parent teacher conferences in the afternoons, so there will be a strange schedule, I'll only see each class once during those two days, and nothing will get done anyway because of the crazy schedule.....which would be fine, except that the district-wide 7th grade math first semester interim benchmark test is on Thursday. This test covers all of the material students were supposed to have learned in the first 9 weeks of school (except that we are a week behind). The scores on this are supposed to count for students' grades, but I have no idea how that will work, since we haven't actually covered all of the material that will be tested. Conferences should also be interesting tomorrow, since I have only known my new kids for a week. There are still lots of them for whom I haven't yet been able to match a face with a name with 100% accuracy, let alone actually know how they are doing in class. I got a printout of the previous teacher's grades, so I spent a while on Friday afternoon entering those into my gradebook. It should be another interesting week!    This is the 9th week of school, so the first quarter is over after this week. It is amazing that we are already 1/4 of the way through the school year! This also means that we have a furlough day the following Monday, so we get a 3-day weekend!  Unfortunately, I am about a month behind on my work for an online class I am taking as part of my certification, and the course ends in the middle of the following week, so I'll have to spend all of my 3-day weekend catching up on that work. Oh well....


If I Were the Coach, "Ed Reform" Would Not Make the Cut

As the hazy month of October rolls up, I’m starting to feel a bit of the wear and tear of teaching. Granted, my second year is going really well compared to last year, but this profession is still terribly tiring! I took my first day off on Monday because I was nursing a more-severe-than-usual ankle injury on top of an impending cold and I wanted to be on top of my game for basketball tryouts at the end of the week. I’m the assistant coach for our boys’ basketball team, which is a joy but also takes away a lot of the “spare” time I didn’t have in the first place, so it keeps me on my toes. Yesterday, we held a one-day tryout where we had nearly 80 boys trying out for fewer than 20 spots.  It was intense! It was structured in a clever way where we utilized community members to help run individual skill sessions that allowed the coaches to evaluate each player in a fair, thorough manner. The whole affair went really smoothly. It hasn’t gotten any easier to cut kids from the team, but I think they all felt like they had a rigorous tryout and a chance to show us what they are made of.  It was really cool to see the head coach bring in some guys who can serve as older mentors yet still hoop. As he messaged to the kids, you don’t have to choose between being a good athlete or being a good student. Heck, I wanted to be an NBA player when I was 13 too, but that doesn’t rule out getting to college the old-fashioned way! Having coached last year, I was excited to see how much the returning 7th graders (now in 8th) grew and developed during the off-season. Some of the boys even ran a few plays from last season of their own volition!  There is definitely something to be said about the value of building relationships with students especially in the awkward, transitional middle school years. No, they won’t act perfectly and, yes, they’ll still occasionally curse at each other, but seeing them respect you enough to correct themselves and to make an effort to act right means a lot. You see, these kids may make the team but if nothing changes, most won’t make the cut- and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout no ball game… That's not to say I do not have faith in their abilities; quite the opposite. However, I almost teared up after dropping off four students at their homes and I probably would have if I weren’t so p*ssed off. Hearing the boys talk about “the projects” and seeing even more of the "other side" of town than I have previously really drives it home for me. To see the odds these boys face daily is appalling. The fact that they can be bright, athletic, talented, and respectful and yet have such slim chances at realizing their potential ticks me off. I’m censoring my language because I know my mom and aunt read my blog, but they’re likely more angered then even I am- that’s why my mom adopted me! It makes no sense that in the year 2011, there are children in America who are treated as if they are worthless. This makes no sense at all. Now, I am an even-tempered person, but I get angry every time I read an article that touts a “miracle” school for making “poor black kids” proficient on a standardized test. What reformers can’t seem to comprehend is that you can care about children while believing poverty is a problem without using poverty as an excuse for the low achievement of minority students. Many people in power act as if holding this view is some sort of doublethink straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Let me say it again: POVERTY IS NOT AN EXCUSE, but POVERTY IS A PROBLEM! Currently, I’m led to believe that if education reformers could test prep kids enough to reach 80% proficiency or 100% proficiency (or whatever the go is this week), they would celebrate the feat as if poverty was no longer a relevant issue. NEWSFLASH: it still is! We forget that the point of making schools “better” is to improve lives of children and families, not to inflate the value of colleges and/or test prep companies. Yeah I said it. Am I so wrong on this point? Am I missing something? Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t make the cut? This year, I tell my students that if they try to fight another one of my students in my presence, it is as if they are trying to fight me, and I don’t lose fights. I’m thinking I should apply a similar policy to self-appointed reformers of education: “if you are not fighting for my students, then you are fighting against my students, which means you are fighting against me; I don’t lose fights." To be continued... ;-)


"I Want To Be Good"

The title of this post comes straight from the mouth of one of my most troubled and troublesome kindergarteners. "What's that, you say, loyal reader?" (I know there's only about one of you!) "Weren't you just switched to third grade, Miss O?" Why yes. And now I've switched again. As I take a break from prepping for my 8th day of kindergarten, in the seventh week of school, in my third classroom and with my third set of kids this year, I can only sympathize with P-. I, too, want to be good. And right now, I'm not. It's frustrating, maddening, to feel like my best is still a disservice to my kids. My 22 five- and six-year-olds, including the sibling of one of my former 5th graders, have already kidnapped my heart. They're cute and energetic and curious and playful, they're easily excited about what we're learning, they're loving and give me hugs randomly in the middle of the day. But they're also so far behind. I have a handful who barely communicate, and about a third can write their names in a recognizable way. It's week 7 and they've had a substitute for most of their schooling so far. While kids in some neighborhoods come in to kindergarten knowing how to read, I'm pretty sure that some of mine have come in never having held a book or been read to. I'm trying to stay focused and positive, trying to read up on early elementary strategies and familiarize myself with the curriculum. I'm trying to decorate the classroom the way a kindergarten classroom should be and put into place the structures and procedures that we need to get through the day. All of this should have happened before the school year even started, but, here I am, playing catch up... again. I could go on and on about the kids, the crazy days... but I'll save that for the next post. Who knows what I'll be teaching by then!


Books to Trade?

When I do get into my own classroom, I want my class to have the best library a 3/4-year-old has every seen! I’ve been rummaging around and gathering all of my old books, but I’m still looking for more! I have a lot of books that would be good for elementary and middle school classrooms if anyone (preferably in the New York area) would like to trade? Otherwise, donations are definitely accepted!


A Little Bit of Background

This week I finally got into a classroom, YAY! Of course, because these things can never be easy, there is trouble brewing. I haven't been writing much (practically at all) because there's been very little to say. I got hired, and then things sort of fell out of place. I've been hired by a network of schools that is not based in New York. New York is their newest region, and they are trying to expand rapidly. All of this sounded wonderful to me during the interview process, because they prefer to hire school administrators up from within the ranks of their teachers, rather than from the outside. To me this meant that after my official commitment I would probably stay on in the hopes of becoming an AP and potentially a Principal, in in order to better understand how a school is run, and how a school system works together, so that I can pursue my long-term plans with a lot more experience and knowledge. There is nothing to say that this will not happen, however, at the moment I would be hard pressed to say that I still see it that way. I was originally hired as a lead teacher for a specific school site, however it quickly became apparent that they did not have an open position for me. On Monday, when my orientation began, I still had not been told what school site I was moving to, although I was finally able to get the information by the end of the day. On Tuesday, I arrived at my new site to observe and to be introduced to the procedures of the school, my assistant teacher, and my classroom, only to discover that this new site also did not have a place for me. In the middle of the day, the HR manager came to the school to tell me that on Thursday I would begin teaching at yet another site. On Thursday, having been given no information about what time I should arrive, or really anything else, I got to my new school to be greeted with confusion. No one had been told I was coming, that I was supposed to be teaching there, or any other pertinent information. I was placed in a classroom for the time being, and told that everything would be addressed soon... At the moment, I do not have a permanent position, or my own classroom, but I am in a classroom, and (I keep telling myself) that's the most important thing. Hopefully everything will work itself out over the next few days as I meet with the HR coordinator and TFA talks things over with the school.



That's the best way to describe last week.  It was really intense. It started off pretty normal.  Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were the usual routine. My roommate and I started training for our half-marathon this week, so waking up at 4:45 and dragging ourselves to the gym wasn't fun.  But it's nice to exercise and take care of myself for once! Wednesday afternoon I had a dentist appointment, which naturally I looked forward to all week.  Unfortunately it was only a half-hour long, so I only got to lay in a comfy chair and watch Giada at Home for a half hour.  After my dentist appointment, I went the Walmart; the usual.  Then I got a text from my roommate saying that one of her students had died in a car accident. Wednesday night, all we could do was watch Bridesmaids...we couldn't even make any pretense of being productive.  Thursday was pretty good -- my classes on odd days are fine.  I've been feeling anxious off and on during the day, and when I feel anxious I can't eat -- this is not good. On Thursday, as I was leaving school, the mom of one of my most difficult students called me and asked if we could meet.  I said "sure".  She said that one of the other moms wanted to speak with me too, and said "I'm with her right now -- do you mind coming over?".  It was a little risky, but I said yes.  So I followed her directions to one of my student's houses, where the moms and I sat down in the front yard to have a nice little chat.  I was absolutely terrified, and at first it was really painful. This mom said that she had talked to some of the other parents and students (classy), and the people she talked to had said that I basically played favorites -- that I had a group of students that I liked, and that any others couldn't do any right in my class.  She was very non-confrontational about it, and I appreciated that, I guess.  The whole thing was very emotionally overwhelming, and it was really hard at first not to break down and cry in front of two of my students' moms.  Her son felt like I didn't like him and wanted to switch classes, basically.  I wanted to say 2 things to her: 1) that her son had behaved atrociously in class so of course I was strict with him, and 2) if she thought I was mean, then good luck with the other 7th grade math teacher!  Of course, I didn't say either of these things.  I basically just sat there and listened and nodded. One thing she said that bothered me was "You're a passive teacher...you need to be more aggressive with the kids."  There were so many snarky remarks I could've made, but I didn't.  I held my tongue and just kept nodding. Eventually I was able to say my piece and state my concerns and assure this student that I didn't dislike him, and our talk turned to other topics.  I ended up staying for 2 hours, which included throwing a football around with the 2 students, and the student I had had trouble with showing me how he could do a backflip and teaching me a game called ninja. The results of my impromptu home-visit were good, I think. This mom loves me now and suggested that we go to dinner sometime.  The student was WAY better in class on Friday, and said in the middle of class, "Ms. S, I have an announcement to make."  I said "Go ahead".  He said "Everyone, Ms. S catches better than half of our defensive line...She can't throw, though".  I think a small victory has been won with him. That mom's comment that I was a passive teacher really bugged me, though, and I had to actively un-do that comment in my mind by reminding myself what a decent job I'm doing so far in terms of treating my kids with dignity and respect.  And this mom and her 2 sons are infamous at my school, so I'm trying not to be too concerned with what she thinks of me.  But at least she likes me -- for now. One discipline problem dormant, 15 to go.  Fortunately, I have a lot of really well-behaved, adoring students that make up for the ones who aren't so well-behaved. So anyway, back to my story.  Thursday night I got home at 7:45 and didn't really do anything productive for the rest of the night.  I was so emotionally spent that it was all I could do to go to bed at 9. Friday, I had to drag myself to school and I was super anxious about how my hard class would go.  It was fine, and I stopped feeling anxious and nauseous about halfway through it.  The rest of the day was fine.  I stayed home from the football game and ate junk food and watched Friends for hours and hours, and it was glorious. Yesterday I had tutoring at the library, which some of my least favorite students came to, so that kind of tainted my day.  I might really stop doing that tutoring, because it's a lot of time out of my Saturday, and it never really benefits me or the students very much.  I was productive later that afternoon, and my roommate and I relaxed last night and watched Braveheart. Perfect. We stayed up way too late, however, and I woke up in a lousy mood.  Sundays have become my least favorite days of the week, with Fridays being my most favorite.  I just think about the upcoming week and how very much I have to do that day.  Starting the day with a run at the GORGEOUS park really helped, though, but now it's 2 o'clock and I have yet to crack open my planner.  In my defense, writing a blog post WAS on my to-do list for the day :). The weeks really just fly by, and teaching is still really hard and really stressful.  I'm starting, ever so slowly, to have a life outside of teaching, though, which is really nice.  And I have to remind myself that what I'm doing right now isn't teaching.  It's First Year Teaching...much different (I hope) from Teaching.  The negatives are all there, and the fulfillment (the positive) has only just begun to kick in.  Hopefully, after awhile, the negatives will fade into the background and the positives will become more prominent. I'm going to continue to have fun and take care of myself and remember to enjoy my students' company -- they really are hilarious, and SO sweet.  I have a few really shy students who are starting to become more confident and secure, and it's really great to watch. September is over!  My mantra for October is going to be It will get better. It will get better it will get better it will get better. I'm still not miserable though.  I thought that my first semester of teaching would be miserable, like I would be living in a fog and crying every day and all of that.  I've had periods of my life like that before, and this is NOT that bad. I don't want all of you reading this to think that my life is like that right now.  I have hard days (and weeks), but it always turns around, and I always have enough grace to get through each day.  Also, weekends. I observed one of the other teachers on Friday, and it was discouraging at first, because she is just SO much better than me.  But I took encouragement from it, because she's been teaching for 16 years, and I have been teaching for 7 weeks.  I'll get there -- eventually.

The park. Glorious, eh?

Reverse Classrooms and a College Teaching Gap

As I've mentioned, this semester I'm a graduate teaching assistant for an introductory biology course for biology majors. The structure of the introductory classes that biology majors take at my University is "revolutionary" and have made some great advances to how you can teach hundreds of students in a semester, while giving them a genuine research experience (more like what I imagine smaller school biology majors experience). When I was an undergrad, my first (and required) biology class was a 700 person lecture twice a week, and one 2 hour lab every week. The lectures were prepackaged and the labs were "cookie cutter". This class catered to science majors, liberal arts, nursing, etc. majors. For those pursuing a biology degree, the next required "introductory" course (that you had to complete before you embarked on the upper level courses) was slightly better. While still lecture based (now with only ~200 students in a lecture hall, the lab component tried much harder to give a "genuine research experience". This idea of a science lab course offering undergraduates an experience like this (so that all science majors get at least 1 during their coursework) is one of the resounding "revolutionary" goals of undergraduate science teaching. A few years back, the ideas and plans for how these new "revolutionary" classes would be delivered started revolving around the "Smart Classroom" or "Classroom of the Future". The University (and many Universities around the country) have invested a ton of money into such initiatives. I've had the opportunity to observe some great professors utilize these classrooms for undergrad science classes and am intrigued about how they can be best used (and how I can learn to use them in my own practice). Getting back to the new biology major track--students now take a "active learning/lecture" based course their first semester, which is housed in one of these large active learning classrooms. From what I've seen, there's been a decent development of mixing the necessary facts (that used to be only delivered via lecture format) and teaching students how to find credible information for themselves and work in groups to solve problems. Once students have passed this course, they take another semester of this "active learning/lecture" along with an intensive lab experience (which is the lab course I'm TA'ing now). This new format has instigated a deeper development of critical thinking skills and scientific independence (which is great). However, students are still lacking the skills to mine the primary literature for necessary information, coupled with the fact most of the time spent in "lecture" is group work, I'm finding my students need an easy way to access and review information, as well as learn necessary lab skills (of note-data interpretation). This observation leads me to think we need to come full circle with the idea of a "reverse classroom". High schools are doing it-even in Minnesota. In the "lecture" components of the introductory biology classes, we've shifted to the group work component, but are currently lacking in the "lecture" (aka-information delivery) component. From what I can see, we're mostly expecting students to learn this information by reading it in the course textbook. From the perspective of multiple learning styles-this misses the boat on some many levels. By now only presenting information in text form (instead of text AND verbally during lecture), we're further limiting the percentage of student learning styles we're catering to. A potential solution to this problem is much like what the Stillwater MN high school teachers have done with their math classes, but requires a bit more work on the front end. I suspect this extra work will translate to a disproportional increase in student achievement and understanding. By creating small, easily digestable, video/multimedia lessons that can be posted online that students can easily access and review anytime, I think we can help close this teaching tool gap.  As a part of the practicum class I'm taking this semester, I intend to design and create (at least) one such lesson that I can deploy. There are multiple other examples of people creating these kinds of lesson, with Khan Academy being one of the most prominent. To create these lessons, I hope to use a combination of a few different technologies. I've already used Camtasia for Mac to demonstrate how a simple screencasting / powerpoint recording with voice and captions can address multiple learning styles (and Universal instructional design) concepts. I believe that utilizing the tablet based applications (iPad, for example) that create a similar screencasting/whiteboarding experience can push these video lessons further, but allowing easier creation (Camtasia is somewhat difficult to learn and takes a bit of time to actually create videos) along with the added bonus of the "whiteboarding" (aka-being able to write on the screen). I've been actively looking for funding sources to get an iPad (or even someone I know to lend me theirs) so that I can test out some of the applications that will make this process easier. ShowMe, Doceri, and Whiteboard HD are potential apps I hope to use. As for my next steps, I'm still looking for an iPad. In the mean time, Camtasia (the full version-I previously only used the trial version) is on sale, so I'll probably buy this to start creating my first prototype that I can debute this semester. I'll post what I come up with and would welcome any advice. If any of you know of any funding opportunities or connections that might help me in this endeavor, please do reach out. Until next time, keep on trucking. -Kevin


Never thought I'd miss AZ standards

My charter network decided that they were going to develop their own 6-12 academic standards for all subjects. This is a nice idea in theory, since state standards are often confusing and reasonable people can disagree over them. But states have been working really hard for a long time on their standards, and most have even adopted or adapted the national standards (which were developed by a serious team of experts with plenty of public input. Even I got to tell the Common Core people my thoughts before they finalized things).  Let's just say it was very brave of this tiny charter network to think they could take a couple of people and a very brief amount of time and do a better job. Not only was it brave, but honestly it was also very nice of them. They were trying to give teachers input into what they teach and make sure that they had a set of standards that worked for them. There's a list of Very Important Standards, and after you cover those, you're allowed to teach whatever makes you happy. Take time for projects. Delve deeper into conceptual understanding. Follow the interests of your kids. I know, this sounds really amazing. But what about the fact that creating 6-12 standards in all subjects is a HUGE project that maybe we aren't equipped for? In math, at least, the standards document is such a mess that they had to cut large, vitally important pieces of it and tell teachers to figure it out on their own. It's riddled with objectives that are mathematically incorrect or imprecise. The district tests we're supposed to take don't even align to the explicit list of topics they're supposed to cover, much less to the list of things we should be teaching at that grade level. When we go to plan the "whatever we want" piece of our curriculum, we're given no sense of what should be covered at each grade level. Is it just me, or is much of mathematics a sequence built on prior learning? If I were just to follow my passion, I'd be teaching 9th grade algebra (MY FAVORITE), which would be wildly inappropriate with 11-year-olds. Or I might choose to focus on something relevant to 6th grade, but unknowingly leave out something that the 7th grade teacher depends on me teaching. And we get scolded for wasting time "reinventing the wheel" instead of using resources created by teachers in past years, but absolutely everything has changed dramatically every year. That means the resources we're supposed to be using have actually little to do with the way we're supposed to be doing things now. Oh, and the resources I was using to plan my year at the end of the summer have actually changed since then, so all that hard work was stupid. I'm frustrated almost to the point of tears trying to plan my next couple of units. I'm really obsessed with alignment to standards, which was actually a valuable quality in my old school. But careful analysis of standards now just leads to me tripping over errors and contradictions, and I don't know how to skim standards as lightly as I should to keep from getting bogged down in this mess. I also don't want to be told to teach whatever I want, because I'm not confident that I'll teach what my kids need most. I just want to teach what 6th graders are supposed to know. I tried to talk to the People In Charge when I was blindingly lost, and they just clearly thought I was a moron until they exasperatedly opened the document I was talking about and realized there was a giant error that I had every right to be confused by. They fixed it and apologized, but now that I have the necessary basic information from them I don't feel like I can open my mouth about anything else. I'm guessing I'm the only one who cares about all the things I'm going crazy over, and I don't want to go be anal at someone who has a million other things to care about. Plus, these people have been doing this for longer than I have and probably know something I don't know about the logic behind all of this. I know what it sounds like when you complain about something that works fine for everyone but you, and I don't want to be that person. So I'm venting here and then going to shut up, promise. (But I reserve the right to slam my head against the wall every time I'm planning by myself.)



As teachers we have heard that October is ALWAYS the worst.  No break, testy kids, weather changing, terrible, terrible month.  It probably doesn't help that I have this attitude too.  Everyone says that you HAVE to take a day in October to not be completely burnt out and hate your life come Thanksgiving, but, I just can't.  I have already been out of the classroom 9 days and this is the start of the 9th week.  8 of those days were professional development and 1 day I had to drive back home for family reasons.  No more professional development for awhile, thank God! I'm not sure if the professional development that my district is offering is just the best place for me to be, especially this past week.  I taught all day on Monday, out Tuesday for PD, Wednesday was a 60% day, out Thursday for PD, and then there was me teaching all day on Friday.  Its no wonder that my students listen to what my aid says more than what I do, or when I'm telling them something/reprimanding them they turn and look at her to see 'do I have to'.. which she always then says "don't look at me, what she says I say, and what I say she says." They know this, but I'm sure that in their 5 year old minds that it is a hard concept to realize when I am out of the classroom so much. Enough pity party. I am sitting out our back porch drinking coffee with PUMPKIN SPICE creamer and the weather is beautiful!  This has become the place that I dearly love to sit and plan/write letters and catch up with family and friends.  Yesterday we took a girls day in Memphis and it was wonderful.. hair, Starbucks, shopping AND I purchased the items for the new classroom pet that we are getting tomorrow (or Tuesday) a guinea pig!  I am going to let the students vote on some names, so we will see what they come up with.. I'll keep you posted. We also have 9 weeks testing this week.  Its already week 9.. we are 1/4 of the way there, tomorrow is day 42 of school!  This week my babies will show what they have learned (hopefully something) on their tests in reading, math, social studies and science.  I did their reading assessments last week and I have kids who can't read, through a few who are just about to a 1st grade level, and another on a 2-3 grade level.  It is a good balance heading into the second 9 weeks.  This quarters focus is going to be blends and more sight words! I went to the football game with one of my roommates and ran into some students.  I feel bad when they know my  name, but I'm not sure who they are.. I just don't know the other kids in my school if they aren't related to the students in my classroom -- I mean they are probably related some how, I am getting down the sisters, brothers and some of the cousins though and have a pretty steady flow of some 4th and 5th graders that come by my room to borrow books for their younger siblings that are in my class, and some that just want to say hello.  It makes me miss teaching the older students so much!  I am learning to love Kindergarten, but I think that so far 4th grade takes the cake -- I think about my 4th graders a lot from last year, and I hope that they are all doing well in 5th grade!  Reminds me, I should get into contact with them... Either way, I sat with one of my kinder babies for half of the game.. some great investment with a bag of popcorn bought for the concession stand and she LOVED counting to 100 in Spanish for my roommate! They have learned something -- I have proof! A lot of planning is (hopefully) going to take place today.. I need to finalize items for this week.. which will be easy because we are taking the 9 weeks test and I want to get a great start on next week too!  The next 3 weekends are going to be very busy!  My parents are going to be here next weekend, then we have ProSat (hello FREE iPAD!) and the weekend after my grandparents are coming through on their way to Texas!  I am meeting with a veteran K teacher today in hopes to make my life slightly more simple :) Until next time.. heres to hoping that October is wonderful and not as dreaded as everyone has said!


Red October

In NJ, "Red October" refers to an annual gang initiation season, when prospective Bloods kill to earn their gang stripes. It's supposedly a hoax, but nevertheless I think the theme is relevant to the classroom as well.  October is supposed to be one of  the roughest months for teaching.  The honeymoon period is over, students are back in the groove of school, and ready to test the waters with their new teachers and see who is serious and who is not.  Sounds like gang initiation to me.  Lol. So far my students have been on board with me and willing to learn and listen.  Hopefully this will last because things are about to get tougher for them.  We just finished our first unit, which was super easy material.  I'm glad that many of them got a confidence boost from it, but the next unit is a bit more challenging.  And I don't want them to be fooled and think the entire course is going to be a breeze.  I had to contain my laughter the past couple of weeks when I repeatedly heard comments like "this class is so easy."   Haaa.  Get back to me on that when we start molar conversions, sweetie. Other updates: Back to School Night was awesome.  Had to stay pretty late, but the turnout of parents was great.  All of them were passionate about ensuring that their children started off the year on the path to success.  I exchanged a lot of contact info and need to hold myself accountable for keeping communication up.  (Oh, I also got to practice my Spanish with one set of parents.  To me, it was a hot mess, but they understood what I was trying to say and were impressed.  yayyy!) We took a test last week, and Pauly D, (myspecial project from last blog post)  emailed me all weekend trying to find out if he passed.  I told him to wait until Monday to be pleasantly surprised. Lol.  He got a B! So happy for him. Goodbye for now.  I think my next post will be a collection of quotes I've gathered so far this year.   Should be entertaining.  Latersss. "The Lord is my strength."


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