Clean Slate

One of the best days of the year happened yesterday for me.  I saw my new class list for the first time.  Every year, it is like getting the biggest package under the christmas tree for me.  I go over and over the list, looking for names of siblings I have had in the past, wondering if I know any of the parents already, deciphering the notes from past teachers.  I look at those names, and start wondering just how I am going to pull all of this together again and create a loving, creative, self engaging group from this new batch of learners.  I always remind myself to wipe the slate clean, for myself and these kids.  Sure, I read what past teachers say, I consider things like scores and behaviors.  But I also remember that kids get to start over when they come to me, and they may be someone totally different in my classroom….or they may not….but they get that chance.  My slate also gets wiped clean, because I need to give these kids a chance to make their path, because they may not be able to follow the one left behind by past students.  It is always amazing to me how different each group is from the last.  How great is that, the feeling of wiping it all clean, and just seeing what happens?  How many people have jobs where they get to do that every year? 

I have been more nervous than usual about this year, for a lot of reasons.  My district is in transition, and we have all moved, been put in new teams.  We begin year 2 of PLC release time, and I feel the gloves coming off in terms of getting past the “lets all agree and be nice” stage.  We opened a huge can of worms last year by throwing out our referral process and starting RtI , and this year we really need to pick up the pieces and make that work.  My partner in crime, eMINTS, and collaboration has gone to another grade level.  I spent alot of time this summer convincing myself that none of this would affect me, but that was easy to say in May.  Can I protect my classroom from the chaos?  Will my principal still understand how important it is for me to teach the way I do, even if it means I am on a different page than the rest of the team?  His answer to the chaos is to implement more structure, but I don’t know how that will fit with my teaching style.  I don’t want to be a problem child…I respect him, and he does not need more stress.  How important is it to be true to my own beliefs about what students need?  Maybe I should just be a good soldier this year, and hope that things calm down next year.

So this is where my post stopped, and sat in draft for a week, until I read this inspiring post from Bud Hunt.  It made me realize some things. 

One-take risks for the sake of learning.  Teaching the way I do is a risk, and it’s not like I haven’t known that for years.  I have been lucky these past two years to have a bubble of support around me, and that is not totally gone…just a bit further away.  It does not mean that I back away from what I know is right for my students, I just have to be ready to live with the consequences.  I can do that!

Two-chill out! Maybe everything will be fine.  I may have to take smaller steps, walk a bit more softly, rattle a few less cages this year.  Perhaps this will be the year when I find a better balance between home and school, and let a few things go for the sake of sanity, personal relationships, and hallway harmony.  I can do that!

Three-I don’t need permission to do what I know is right for my students.  The classroom is the one place where my students and I create our own safe zone, get things done, take care of each other.  I need to protect the special place we create together.  I can do that!

“Model always what you want your students to do.”  I can’t stop doing what I am doing…because I would never want my students to do that.

“We so need you to do well.”  I can do that!

Thanks Bud, for the inspiration!  You helped me clean my slate…now I am ready 🙂

AHA…or Duh??

I love learning!  It energizes me, it makes me happy, it puts me in the shoes of my students, it keeps me humble.  I like knowing that there is always something bigger and better out there to be looking for as far as my teaching is concerned.  I think that if I ever felt like not learning, it would be time for me to hang up my recess whistle and step out of the game.  So this week, I was in HEAVEN!!

Those of you who follow me on twitter have probably heard that I have been at a week long Kagan conference.  One thing that makes it great is that I am attending with two of my best teacher buddies, who are also geeks.  We spend our days soaking up all the great Kagan structures, and our nights soaking up the free wi-fi at the hotel!  Doesn’t get much better…(especially when you have some perfect margarita’s within walking distance..yummy.)  But I digress….

If you are like me, you hear Kagan, and you think “oh yeah, that cooperative learning stuff, from the 70’s, I do that”  .  So my friends and I came into it expecting to gain more tools for our already fairly well stocked bag of tricks.  We are all eMINTS teachers, we all stray from direct instruction, and we all work to make our classroom a collaborative learning adventure for our kids.  We were ready to improve on a good thing.  Here is what we learned in a nutshell:

Day 1- if you do cooperative learning without structure, research says that your students will perform lower than a teacher who does direct instruction all day long.  WHAT!!!??  Yes, it’s true!  If we put kids in groups, give them a task, then don’t ensure that they all equally participate in the learning during that task, we are doing harm.  We left day one with a big AHA moment, that was more of a DUH..we should have realized that!

Day 2-  Now we know that our kind of classroom needs some specific tweaking to get the most out of the cooperative learning we are doing.  We realize that we are so engaged in learning that none of us has even thought about checking to see if the building has free wifi.  We haven’t even texted each other!  Wow! 

Day 3- Thinking that today will be the day we top out, overload, and start checking email.  Didn’t happen.  We are too busy taking every structure he dishes out, and plugging it into our own classroom situation.  We are staring to realize that we do have a bit of an advantage over others in the room, because we are used to having students in small groups, managing a classroom where kids are talking and moving.  We start thinking about how cool it would be if our whole district knew Kagan structures! 

Day 4- Still the amazing workshop leader manages to keep our attention, and the day flies by!  We start looking at how the lessons we already do can be tweaked to ensure that students are active participants in learning.  It’s not rocket science for sure.  In fact, it’s common sense. 

Example:  Many times to check for understanding during a mini-lesson or mentor text reading, I tell the students to pair and share the answer to question, or an idea that we have discussed.  Good idea, bad structure, because it does not ensure that every kid participates.  All I have to do is set a timer, tell each kid they have 30 seconds to share, then switch- suddenly it’s equal.  Well, DUH!! why didn’t I think of that myself???

Day 5- yet to come…

I guess my point in all this rambling is that as I start my 17th year of teaching, I am having an AHA moment…again!  You could say I am having a DUH moment I suppose.  I mean, wouldn’t you think that by now I would know what I am doing??  Lord, I sure didn’t think when I started this career that I would be re-inventing myself and my classroom on such a regular basis!! So I can look at it two ways- and I am choosing the AHA path.  AHA!! This is going to benefit my kids so much!  AHA! I don’t have to stop doing what I am already doing well!  AHA!  This is what my kids feel like when I ask them to remember things the first time I teach it!  AHA! My students will love this almost as much as they love blogging!  AHA!  This is why I became a teacher!  I love learning!

What Will I Do? NECC Reflection #2

The further away I get from NECC, the more I see.  The specific conversations that I had, from the time I sat down at the web 2.0 smackdown at Saturday’s Edubloggercon, to the last conversation I had in the elevator the night before I left are all starting to weave themselves into this tapestry of voices.  It’s all coming together for me, and I am realizing that every conversation I had leads me to one question in my own mind…what will I do?  The whole idea that teaching needs a good kick in the pants is really not up for debate, though I must say I heard a few.  What I did not hear, is a lot of solutions.  Who has the answer for that?  What exactly does the everyday, teach between the bells teacher do to impact the future of education?  Yes, we talked alot about what is wrong, and what we don’t have, and what we don’t do.  I just want to know, what should I do?  How can I help?  I suppose I wanted someone to come over to me at the bloggers cafe and just answer that question for me…lay it out and tell me to run with it.  But I realized about 2 days into the deal, that we were all just really in the same boat, rowing the same direction, not really knowing how to get where we need to go.  So, I started asking some people..”what should we do, what can we do?”  I had some great conversations about that- I talked to Bernie Dodge about my struggles with using webquests in a student-centered, constructivist classroom, and how I could balance those things.  I talked with Tina Steele, Kevin Honeycutt, and Wes Fryer about how we needed to take advantage of our geographic proximity and make something great happen in our little corner of the world.  I talked to Riptide Furse about my ideas for a new kind of technology training model for teachers.  Those, and many other conversations are all mashing up together in my head, and I am beginning to see what I will do.  I spent the last hour creating a model for change, and tomorrow, I will share those ideas with my tech person, and my principal.  Then, if they don’t fire me, I’ll share them with you….well…I’ll share them with you anyway:)  I was beginning to think that all of my social networking (fun as it was)  at NECC had not really produced anything tangible.  Now I see..the powerful force of my network.  Thanks to all of you!!  Also.. to Jeff, Will, Jakes, Shareski, Wagner, and the others in Utecht cafe that morning, who let me just listen for awhile- made an effort to say hello to a newbie, and let me toss a few ideas-thanks-it was empowering to me.

NECC reflections

I have started 3 posts about my experience at NECC, and none of them have made it out of the draft box.  Partially that is due to the fact that I was busy having so much fun that I had little time to just sit and write!  I also am having trouble wrapping my head around how to sum up such an event.  I think that as time goes by, things will slowly start to seep out, and I will share those things bit by bit as they come along.  Here is the first bit…NECC, for me, was all about putting myself out there and making the connections.  I did not go there to collect the most t-shirts on the vendor floor.  I did not go there to see the latest new tech gadgets.  I went to connect.  I spent most of my first day running from session to session, and then realized that I had not yet really spoken in depth to anyone.  Day two then became a specific effort to slow down, soak in some conversations, start some as well, and that was the turning point for me.  I realized that the powerful change that would come for me from this conference would happen the Second Life lounge, or the bloggers cafe, around the dinner table, or anywhere else we could find to sit face to face and start to sort out what we wanted and needed from each other as a connected network of educators.  What a great feeling it was to actually collaborate with people who were ready to do the work it takes to make change!   I have to say that the DEN folks are some of the most fun, interesting, and dedicated people I have ever met.  Thanks to Lor, Rip, and the others for taking me under their wing for my first NECC- it would have been a drag without you!  When I get home, and recover from my sleep deprived two weeks, I will be sure to fill in some more bits.

First and Last NECC…perhaps

I have spent the last hour mulling over all the posts and comments concerning the new ISTE policy that has magically appeared just days before the event.  I started to post a comment for Wes, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that I know nothing about the legal aspects of this issue, and I really am just reacting emotionally, yet I still feel the need to react.  So I’ll post over here where fewer people will notice my ignorance, and I can still vent freely before laying my head on the pillow tonight:) 

I must say that this is just another tick on the dog (as my grandpa would say).   I have had a wierd feeling about this conference for several reasons.  First, I do think that the cost went up this year because, according to a long time attendee friend of mine,  they added a mandatory ISTE membership into the cost of the conference… that seems a bit pushy to me, as I am not really a “joiner” by nature.  Second, although my BFF and I are co-presenting,  some of my other techie buds are not coming, and that makes this trip a bit less fun compared to our Winter trip to METC.  Third, several of my closest SL buds are not coming, and although I totally understand their reasons, it is also a sad thing.  Fourth, I had a bit of a meltdown over the unfathomable amount of information/opportunities surrounding NECC.   I resolved this anxiety in my own mind by reminding myself that I could spend the next year of my life listening to podcasts, or watching recorded ustreams and never run out of NECC 2008 sessions to absorb.  Well, I guess that is no longer the case! 

All that being said, I am starting to feel bad about the amount of money my school is spending to send me to this conference.  I am starting to feel bad about thinking that NECC was the conference to strive for.  I am starting to feel bad about how much this policy may set the precedent for other smaller conferences, opening the flood gates of restriction on this great vast pool of knowledge that I have only just discovered one year ago!!

I guess in some way I knew it would happen- I remember two years ago at METC I had a conversation with my BFF about how podcasting could really eliminate the bread and butter of some of the big conference circuit folks, but how cool was it that they were willing to share their ideas freely with all of us, for the sake of evolving education!  Those great people who fly all over, leave their families for days for the sake of sharing information, don’t seem worried about it!  For gosh sakes, I can go to David Warlick’s file drawers in Second Life and read everything he’s ever presented…who is ISTE to say that we can’t share knowledge!
OK, so here’s a couple questions that I had after reading posts and comments of others:

Sylvia Martinez said on Miguel’s post:

“This is not a new policy, so it’s a case of technology catching up and passing traditional ways of distributing information. Pretty ironic, eh?”

I know it’s not new to be thinking about this stuff, but it seems new for ISTE…This is my first NECC, but from what I read on the legal notice page of ISTE and the NECC2007 and NECC2008 sites, I see nothing like this policy.  In fact, on the media page there is no mention of it as far as I can see- would you not think that the media should know about this new policy?
Here is another comment from Sylvia:

“It also protects ISTE from copyright violations. People often present things that contain copyrighted material. Even if the presenter innocently gives broadcast permission, is ISTE still liable?”

That seems to be covered under the current ISTE legal notices, so I don’t think this has anything to do with why they added this policy.  I really think that the whole unplugged schedule of events has shaken them, and they realize that we can and will make our own decisions about the relevance of the content that is being shared, and how we choose to share it.  I think they have seen the potential of future unconferences, and they are showing their fear of the unknown by trying to control it.  All I can say is…yeah…good luck with that.

So I guess after hearing so much great stuff about the connections at NECC2007, and being so excited to come to NECC2008, all of these “ticks” have sucked the life right out of me.  I must admit that there is still a little newbie part of me that is really psyched, and can’t wait to see it all.  Then there’s the rebel blogger side of me that wants to be there just so I can SHARE SHARE SHARE and stick my tongue out at all of the ISTE people who tell me that I can’t do that! 

I am sure I will meet great people, and I will learn huge amounts, but it just doesn’t seem as great an adventure as it did a year ago.  Perhaps next year I’ll ask for a ticket to Philly instead.

Professional Development Meme

My friend Jen Wagner tagged me, and since I have really been taking a mental break since school ended, I thought my brain might need a wake up call, and this is just the ticket!

So — first, here are the rules:

1. Pick 3 professional development goals and commit to achieving them this summer.
2. For the purposes of this activity the end of summer will be Labor Day (09/01/08).
3. Post the above directions along with your 3 goals on your blog.
4. Title your post Professional Development Meme and link back/trackback to
5. Use the following tag/ keyword/ category on your post: pdmeme.
6. Tag 8 others to participate in the meme.
7. Achieve your goals and “develop professionally.”
8. Commit to sharing your results on your blog during early or mid-September.

I have a lot of things rolling around in my head this summer, which is not unusual for me.  I tend to bite off more than I can chew, and then never really get where I want to be by the end of the summer, so I am hoping this meme will also help me prioritize my ideas, decide what is reasonable, and accomplish those high priority items.  As you can see, I have managed to narrow it down to 5 things, so if you have any thoughts about priority…bring it! 

1. I want to totally re-invent my website because although it is very functional for my students, it is not “teacher friendly” as far as sharing resources is concerned.  I always struggle with making this a priority because I don’t think it will have any direct impact on my classroom.  I also tend to spend endless hours dinking around with graphics, the ultimate time sucking activity for me.  If you have a minute, go and look critically at my site, and let me know how it could be a better resource for you in terms of finding what you might be able to use.  Don’t pull any punches, I really want to know what other teachers think.

2. I want to take a critical look at how I use technology with my students.  I need to find a balance between “student centering” and “teacher planned. ”  I am torn between my own need to be ready for next year, and my evolution in thinking that I should be more reactive to my students, and how they react to the introduction of a topic.  I sometimes get these huge pangs of guilt, like I am using “student centered” as a reason to shoot from the hip perhaps more than I should.  I sometimes get this funny picture in my head of me sitting at my desk, with a tiny little Karl, Clay, David, (or whoever happens to have my head spinning today) on one shoulder, and a tiny little Madeline on the other.  I need to resolve this battle in my own mind, and strike some sort of balance between the many voices in my head!  I am not sure exactly how I am going to accomplish this one, so I welcome any suggestions or insight you all might have!  FYI- medication is not an option 🙂

3.  I want to make information literacy a priority next year.  My idea is to make some little commoncraft type videos for younger students, to introduce the basic building blocks of information literacy.  In order to do that, I need to better solidify my own understanding, read, research, play with my video camera, and have a plan for how I will integrate this project into my classroom.

4.  Decide what I want to do when I grow up:  I have 25 graduate hours in several areas, including gifted education, technology, and literacy.  I could have my masters in gifted by the end of next year, but have no desire to be a gifted teacher- I tried that, didn’t suit me.  I could have my masters in technology by the end of next year, but I dread the thought of drudging my way through outdated material and taking the fun out of what I do with technology right now!  BUT, I need to decide, and get on with it…why?..well, because I am getting old…and because my school would pay for it….and because I can’t move any further on the pay scale until I get my masters….and because I would like to do some teaching on the college level, and don’t think I can do that without a masters.  So, by Labor Day, I will decide what I want to do when I grow up!

5.  I want to submit to present at some conferences, on my own.  I have presented on my own before, but this past year I collaborated with some other teachers from my district.  I enjoyed that very much, and it was less stressful for sure to have another person standing up there with me, but I feel like it is time to step out on my own again and challenge myself. This goal will require me to give some serious thought to my topics, and get my submissions in before deadline.

OK- help me narrow it down to 3 folks!  🙂

Now to tag 8: (I don’t think any of you have been tagged already)
1.  DeAnna Sheets
2.  Kim Good
3.  Cindy Matzat
4.  James Larimore
5.  Marianne Malmstrom
6.  Julie Fessenden
7.  Rob Jacklin
8.  Christian Long

Do You Know What You Know?

I spent some time this morning running errands, and had time to reflect on a skype conversation I had last night with a few online friends.  We talked about several things, but one thing stuck in my head.  I must tell you that in this company of people, I always feel welcome, but can’t believe how much they know about tech compared to me! I always leave the conversation with a new idea, or a new understanding of something.  So it shocked me last night when someone said ” I don’t have anything to teach, but I have a lot to learn.”  Now, I am not going to mention names, but let me tell you, this person has already taught me so much!  How can she think she has nothing to teach?  Is she being humble, or does she truly not see how much we all learn from her?!  

Do you think that most of us feel we know less than the others?   I still mentally say to myself before every conference deadline,  ” I am sure everyone knows this already, so I don’t know why I think I have any business presenting it.”  Then I go to the conference, and most times there are some people who want to learn about what I am doing.  I just find it funny that people who I learn from all the time have that same thought of not having anything new to teach.  In a way, I like it, because when you enter into a converation online, you may not have a clue who it is you are really talking to, but you are sharing ideas, learning from each other.  It could be someone who has been doing ed tech for years, or it could be someone who is just beginning.  Either way, I learn.  If you have been in this for a long time, chances are I would be too chicken to walk up and have a conversation with you face to face, but I will sure chat with your avatar in SL!  Even if you have just begun to explore the world of ed tech, I can learn from you!  You see things with fresh eyes, ask questions that make me re-think how I do things.  Maybe you know what you know, or maybe you don’t.  I just think that the next time you hesitate to comment on a blog, or chat on a ustream, you should remember that no matter where you are in your ed tech journey, someone can learn from you!  Step up!  Speak! Be heard!

What I Want From NECC

Tanner, my son,  and I have similar personalities I think.  We are both outgoing and like to be around other people, most of the time.  Sometimes, though, he gets overwhelmed by the amount of chaos and chatter, and just disappears for awhile.  One year I remember we were opening Christmas presents, and there was alot of noise and people and stuff, and I looked around to see if he was soaking in this moment, and he was gone.  I found him in a back bedroom, hiding under a small table.  He was not sad or upset, he just needed a quiet place to escape.  There was just too much going on, and he took the time to step back and re-group.  Wise child, that son of mine.

So, why do I start a post about NECC with this story?  Well, I have had a surprising reaction to my upcoming trip to NECC, and I have been “hiding under the table” for a few weeks trying to re-group.  I am usually so excited in the weeks before a big conference.  I have been looking forward to meeting people face to face for the first time, hearing people present for the first time, continuing to make connections with people, learning new things that I can come back and share with my students.  I am usually driving people crazy by now because all I can talk about is my trip to (insert event here).    I don’t know why it is not that way for me right now. 

I am, perhaps, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and choices that are available.  I want to get online and finalize my schedule, but there are too many things that I want to see, and they all happen at the same time.  Then you factor in the unplugged events, leave a bit of time for bloggers cafe, and next thing you know I am headed back under the table again!  I have appreciated reading others thoughts about how to “do” NECC.  I have resisted signing up for some things like the twitter dinner, simply because I don’t want to schedule my entire time and feel obligated to be somewhere.  I almost feel like I have skipped a step in my evolution as a learner.  I wish I was going into NECC a bit less connected.  I wish I wasn’t aware of all of these events that I so want to attend.  I feel like perhaps I would enjoy NECC more if I knew less at this point.  I just want to wander around, soak it all in, and not wonder about who is at bloggers cafe, or what dinner I am missing.  Is that wrong?  I am sure by the time NECC rolls around, I will have this all settled in my own mind, and be totally excited and ready for whatever NECC has to offer- so look for me, say hello..but… if you can’t find me, start looking under the tables:)

Thinking about Twitter

I love to read about how people interpret and use tools.  This one from Jakes was another big conversation.  I commented early, not really getting into the defense or torching of twitter itself- I guess it hit me in a different way because I had just watched the debate.  So when I went back to it to read the flow of comments,  I had a different reaction.  I do enjoy reading what people have to say about things like twitter, but I don’t like the idea that people think they know why I personally use twitter.  I don’t like assumptions like I am announcing my posts because I want to be somebody in the world of twitter.  I don’t like feeling guilty when I reach out on my twitter network to ask a question, or send out an invitation to join a project that my class is doing.  Isn’t that what it’s for?  I want to learn from others, I like knowing that I have an army of experts on a variety of topics just waiting to be bothered with a question by me:)  Could I go find the answer myself?  Sure I could, and I often do that.  I know that as a learner it will benefit me to figure it out myself, but sometimes I just get plain stuck, and I need help.  I also realize that if I can get a quick answer on twitter to a problem that would take me an hour to figure out, then isn’t my time worth the quick twit?  I think for me personally, it’s silly NOT to use twitter!  Why wouldn’t I want to ask KarenJan an assistive tech. question about a student?  Why wouldn’t I want to ask ColleenK to help me solve a problem when creating a new math tech project for my kids?  Why wouldn’t I share what I know about differentiation if people ask?  Again, isn’t that what it’s all about?  If not for twitter and SL, how would I have ever found these people?  How would I find classrooms to connect with all over the world?  Why should I feel bad about using Twitter to benefit my kids, my classroom, and myself?  Truth be told, I don’t feel bad.  I will continue to participate, ask questions, announce posts, and squeeze all the use out of twitter that I possibly can.  I am certian the benefits will outweigh the consequences.