Friday, September 30, 2011

I've always been a HUGE fan of technology at school. I love using it teaching, I love using it at home, I love how engaging it can be for students.

But with the onslaught of online distractions, I am becoming the ogre of netbook usage. I feel as if I spend more time monitoring what students are doing on their netbooks than I do teaching.

For some students, chatting online with another student can be engaging. For some students, chatting online with another student can be a great resource to get help with an assignment. For some student, multi-tasking comes naturally, even enhances their ability to accomplish the work they have in front of them.

For those students, I applaud the use of social networking. I applaud and encourage them to collaborate. Utilize these tools to their maximum potential!!

Unfortunately, for many students, putting a netbook in their hands is a straight line to disaster. They are unable to self-monitor their time and are constantly distracted by the overwhelming volume of games, chats, music videos and information available at the click of a finger. They simply are unable/unwilling to NOT do those things when they should be attentive to their school work, the teacher, or the assignment they need to be focusing on. They are inundated by Skype messages from friends, or enemies. They have to check Facebook to see what is going on.

Research shows that students who Facebook regularly score significantly lower. This article acknowledges that each generation has had its distractions, it calls Facebook a 'unique phenomenon'. The magnitude of the pull of knowing the every going on of other students seems irresistible for many students.

Couple all of those with the potential for cyber-bullying and the issue becomes even bigger. Students threatening students on Skype and Facebook is rampant. The conversation threads draw parents in as well. A small issue quickly accelerates out of control.

I've come a full turnaround. I always wanted, or thought I wanted, students to have unlimited access to the internet with all its joys. I thought it was our responsibility to teach students to use it appropriately, to help them self-monitor, to teach them social responsibility. However, I've come to realize that for most students, the temptations to stray are simply too irresistible.

We need to take back our schools. We need to gather back our students' attention to the learning.
Recently I was contacted by Lindsey Wright of Online School who requested to do a guest blog here. After much consideration, I have decided to share her post which has some interesting thoughts:

Students Must Remain the Focus in Wired Classrooms
There is no question that new technology has a place in the modern classroom. Children are growing up in a technology centered world where knowing how to use new technology will be necessary for more and more jobs as time goes on. As such, technology in the classroom has the potential to increase learning opportunities when used correctly. Conversely technology alone is not enough to allow students to excel. Thus, teachers must find an appropriate balance between keeping their classrooms current and meeting the needs of their students.

Changing the Focus in the Classroom

Recently there has been a lot of focus on getting technology like additional computers, laptops and interactive whiteboards into the classroom. In fact, some intuitions have even gone as far as letting students attend school online. However some would argue that there is too much. Individual students have different learning styles and needs, and amidst the excitement over new technology, the students must remain the priority.

One of the main benefits discussed in relation to using more technology in the classroom is that students can learn at their own pace. Yet this type of thinking has some flaws. Computers and the Internet allow students to explore topics that interest them and learn in their own way, but teachers must be careful to maintain standards and ensure students are still learning the basics required for that grade level.

The “do-it-yourself approach” also ignores those students who have trouble being independent and learning on their own. These students need the regular guidance of a teacher to keep them on task. There are many different ways to use technology in the classroom and schools and teachers must be careful to design the classroom so that the needs and learning styles of each individual student are being met. It is imperative the focus in the classroom remains on the students rather than on using new technology at all costs.

What Can be Done to Make Sure Students Needs are Being Met?

The Educational Technology Journal, emphasizes that computers by themselves are not going to appropriately teach students. School districts must recognize that in addition to providing new computers in each classroom, the computers must come equipped with high quality educational programs. More importantly, schools need to ensure that all teachers are trained to use the technology in their classrooms in an effective manner that will meet the needs of every student.

Evidence that technology alone will not change education for the better can be found in an Arizona school district.The district offers state of the art classrooms with laptops, huge projection screens and interactive whiteboards. Yet even with these innovative classrooms, the test scores in that district remain unchanged. Evidence like this suggests that something might be wrong with an approach that focuses too heavily on providing new technology and possibly neglects the needs of students.

Luckily there are several ways teachers can ensure the technology that is being incorporated into their classrooms works to the advantage of their students. For instance, teachers can arrange classrooms in away that ensures the focus remains on teaching and learning, rather than the technology in the classroom. If there is one computer available, the teacher might connect it to a projector and use it to supplement to a lesson. On the the other hand, there are many different ways to design the classroom if there are several computers available. The teacher might arrange small groups of computers together so students can work in small clusters at different computer stations or spread each computer to a different place in the classroom, using each one for a different purpose.

Technology is changing the world we live in, including education. However with the focus on getting as much new technology into the classroom as possible, educators must be careful not to neglect the needs of the students.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Parent meetings are always interesting. You just never know what to expect the first time you meet a parent. Some are mirror images of their children; others, you wonder how they possibly share the same DNA.

Some parents make every excuse possible for their child and their school issues. Others bend over backwards to make your life as a teacher easier.

Some parents make you realize the special little something you've missed seeing in the child. Others make you more determined than ever to FIND that special sparkle and enhance it.

Of the gazillion parent meetings I've had over the past nearly 20 years of teaching, most of them have been positive and productive. It is a rare conference that ends with the feeling we've missed the connection between parent and teacher that is so crucial to student success.

I wish I had the magic formula for making them all positive but I don't.... on those other days when the meetings end in a less than magic, I am left questioning what my purpose as an educator is.....

Monday, September 26, 2011

I can’t or I won’t… how do you know which category a student falls into?

As teachers, we make judgments, often split second on the fly judgments, about our students and their abilities. We know that often when they say, “I can’t…” it simply means I choose not to put forth the effort to even see if I can or not. Just saying I can’t is much easier, much less risky.

But how do we know when a student truly, honestly cannot complete the task we have presented to them?

Sometimes, our gut kicks into gear and our teacher sense red flags us loud and clear, "Bobby is lost."

Other times, the water is murkier and we really aren't sure whether to push harder, demand more effort, or back off and take a slower easier route to the destination.

Which is better?

  • Pushing students to excel independently but sometimes erring on the side of too high of expectations.

  • Leading them too closely down the learning path, never expecting more than we think they can achieve on their own.

How do we find that middle ground of balancing the expectations with the realities of teaching them independence, pushing them to reach beyond their comfort zone, and assuring they develop the indurance needed to face obstacles?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Test prep.......first 10 days of school.... test taking strategies..........reveiwing last year's concepts....

Is it worth the time and trouble for the average student to spend the first 2-3 weeks of school prepping for the big ole state test that is all so important?

It seems every classroom in my district, and probably across the state of Michigan, is dedicating these first days to reminding students of how to take tests, reteaching the content taught last year, and trying to convince those students they WILL do well on the upcoming MEAP tests. Does all this 'instruction' equate to higher test scores? Does it equate to increased student learning?

In reality, I think we are boring average Student X into doing much worse on the actual test than had we simply given that test the first day of school. We hound them repeatedly, in classroom after classroom, of how to take a multiple choice question, how to analyze what is being asked, until they are so fed up with hearing about the test, when it is actually in front of them, they are so tired of hearing about it, they just fill in the bubbles.

I know it all comes down to time, but wouldn't it better to dig right into the new content, the juicy exciting stuff, getting the kids fired up about learning? Couldn't we find ways to weave our 'test prep' into those exciting lessons we really WANT to teach, and kids really WANT to learn?

Of course.... that might make sense.... and too often what we do in education makes no sense at all...... But what do I know? I'm just a teacher....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sitting in for the principal today, I fielded many questions that were out of my league. One I was unable to give a definitive answer to got me to thinking...

If a student leaves our school to continue his/her education at the alternative school, is that students eligible to play sports?

My gut, knee-jerk reaction was NO. If you didn't cut it HERE, couldn't meet the eligibility requirements to play sports HERE, why would we let you jump ship to another school and still let you do the fun stuff we provide as extra-curricular enhancement for OUR students?

Of course, I don't have the final say, or for that matter, even any input on the final decision on the matter. Just the thought of it got me riled up....

My own daughters played sports, both of them. Sports provided them a physical outlet as well as an opportunity to be part of a team with all the benefits that affords player. They learned about being good, being not so good, being supportive of others, following rules, sacrificing sleep for something you want... all while keeping their grades to both the school's standards as well as ours at home.

I think sports are wonderful for all kinds of kids. I think sports need to be a integral part of the public school experience.

But are sports THE REASON for school? Absolutely not...

As a teacher, I've seen it happen repeatedly. A kid is a pain in the butt, disruptive, insubordinate, refuses to do anything.... until his sport season comes along. Then suddenly, Johnny becomes a model student, maintaining his grade average required to play, avoiding detentions that would interfere with practice. What a great motivator!! until the season is over.... then back to the same old same old...

Policies have changed, at least within my district, to hold students accountable for being a 'student' for more than just the actual sport season in which they play. For some kids, that works. But for others, it eliminates them from the program entirely. To them, I say, "so be it..."

Coaches try to bolster young athletes to grow and mature, trying to grab some of those borderline kids and hook them into the programs, hoping to see a carry over from the team to the classroom. It does work in rare instances.

The bottom line to me is... School is about academics. School is for learning. In today's educational arena where budgets are being slashed to the bare bones, teachers' salaries are being cut, educational programs are being eliminated.... we need to be careful about making sports a priority instead of academics. Sports are a privilege. Learning is a requirement.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I don't often promote a particular product on my blog, so be assured when I do, it is one I found particularly spectacular :) Recently, I received an email from the creator of Easy Notecards asking me to promo his product. Being busy with the begining of the school year, I read the email and just ignored it. Then, in a moment of desperation for something to distract me from the huge pile of paperwork on my desk, I revisited the email and clicked on the link for Easy Notecards. From the get-go, the site looked well made and easy to use, so I explored further. I even created some notecards. Cool beans! Later that day, I was subbing for another teacher who had an emergency and left with no lesson plans. There were some vocab words students needed to review with a short game but it only lasted about 20 minutes. Suddenly, I remembered the Easy Notecards site. We created accounts - super simple for 90% of the 7th graders - and then got down to making notecards. First, they groaned and moaned. But by the end of the hour, students wanted copies of the words/definitions to finish on their own at home. They had decided the site was cool, fun and engaging. SUCCESS :)

The site has uses beyond the obvious vocab practice. What a great tool for simply placing notes in question/answer form. Students can quiz themselves, study, practice. I'm sold so here I recommend the site to you, and thanks to Chris Deiter for creating and sharing such a great learning tool for students.

Now... for today's actual post.....

First week of school, done! Back to start week 2. It was a whirlwind 4 days with trying to sort schedules for students and teachers, trying to find where we were all supposed to be, and what we should be doing. It is always tough to get those 6th graders and 9th graders settled most of all. A new building means new teachers, new hallways, new lockers.... and an overwhelming sense of panic among many.

Today, the school year really starts, in my mind. The getting down to the nitty gritty of the routine, the settling in of the patterns of classes and assignments.

Being in special ed again means a scattered schedule for me. I start the day in high school for 2 hours. First hour is in English 2 with an interesting group of sophomores. Over half the class could easily be classified as at-risk for one reason or another. Trying to get them through challenging writing and reading assignments will be a struggle, I am certain.

Second hour has me scheduled two places - Geometry & World History. For many of the geometry students, this is their second math class on their schedule. Since they didn't pass Algebra 1, they are shoved into 2 hours of math, both of which will be a struggle for them. (Many of them are in both English 1 and English 2 as well.....)

Third hour, back to middle school for a 6th/8th grade Guided Study. This class will eventually be an easy one but the first week, when students have few assignments, keeping them busy is interesting.

Then... 4th hour, my 8th grade Algebra class. These boys will be my biggest challenge this year. Trying to take them from where they are, from not having been prepared for this level of math, through the curriculum seems a daunting task, but we're headed forward. I think if I can keep them believing they can, we might have a chance.

Lunch and my prep hour are next...followed by 8th grade language arts. This class is huge with a large percentage of students who need assistance for whatever reason. The end of the day timing makes this a particularly difficult task, keeping them on track. As a whole, they do not like to write, they are burnt out by last hour and they simply are ready to quit. Trying to juggle how to keep them all on task is overwhelming somedays.

But the school year is off and running... and we're looking to find our groove. I'm excited about the possibilities, overwhelmed by the realities of it all, and already needing a vacation :)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

We talk a good talk in education about meeting the needs of students, but in reality, too often, we do a really great job of setting the stage for our students to fail, or at the very least, struggle. It seems not only the politicians have forgotten the purpose of public education is to educate ALL students, but teachers and adminstrators have forgotten our higher purpose along the way as well.

We worry an awful lot about contracts and insurance, meeting federal/state regulations for course names, which textbook is the best, which classroom teachers will teach in, the shiny floor in the lobby to welcome folks, the latest and greatest technology, schedules, and filling out paperwork.

Maybe all those things ARE important... but none of them are as important as our number one priority: OUR STUDENTS. Schools(and the politicians driving educational reform) need to take a step back and look at what really matters: teaching kids. Not just teaching kids the 'curriculum' (insert heavy sarcasm here) but teaching kids that THEY matter, that they are our customers, and we are here for them, to serve them, to help them, guide them... to become productive members of our society as a whole.

There does need to be a 'common core' of knowledge imparted in public education. A high school diploma ought to mean the same something regardless of where you graduate and earn that piece of paper. But getting that core of knowledge shouldn't come at the expense of common sense and compassion for our students.

Until the adults in education grow up and step up, we, as a nation, are doomed... our educational system is broken, and instead of working to make it better, we are complacent, content, and lack the guts to step up and make a difference.

Shame... shame.. shame on everyone involved. ME, included.... As the 2011/2012 school year starts, let's take a stand for students. Let's make educating THEM our priority again.