Friday, July 20, 2012

Update after a long break!

I'm sorry about the long pause...  I've been very busy.

On the positive side, I'm an old married woman now!  Living with my husband in the country has been awesome!  I have a large vegetable garden and love watching it grow.  I can see the cows all the time.  I'm training our blue heeler mix to herd cows more effectively.

On the sad side, my best friend died in a car crash on the way to the rehearsal dinner.  I miss her terribly.  We had been friends since first grade so I don't have many memories that don't include Jess.

The most important lesson I've learned over these few weeks is that I can be happy and sad at the same time.  I can rejoice in my first tomatoes ripening and hurt when I can't share that with Jess.  Neither feeling minimizes the other.  I miss Irish dance with Jess and find myself laughing at the antics of the young steers in the pasture out front.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thing Three - Collaboration Tools

This is the most useful collaboration tool that I have created so far in my career.  At East Lee Campus, we have eight teachers, one computer lab and one cart of netbooks.  Scheduling was a nightmare when we tried it on a sheet of calendar paper hung on the computer lab door.  The paper did not allow us to make last minute changes or check availability from our classroom. Plus, it was kinda mean to make the teachers whose classrooms were in the portables to walk across the parking lot in all sorts of weather to schedule class uses.   I used a template I found on Google Docs for a basic calendar.  On each date, if you want to use the computers, you enter your name, the hour you want them and CL for computer lab or NB for netbooks.  We run on a first-come, first-serve model, but we have been known to negotiate trades when needed.  It also makes it much easier to mediate teacher time conflicts.  The person whose name is on the document gets the resources....although trades, swaps and time-shares have been known to happen.

Thing Two - Face of the Classroom

My classroom website is  I've been using a classroom webpage for three years now.  Due to a change in the district web platform, I changed over to my current website about 4 months ago.  Since many of my students have a high absence rate, I am working at designing my class website so that absent students can get all of the resources they need to catch up in class.

In my First Trimester Human Anatomy Page, students can get copies of my PowerPoint notes, lectures recorded by screencast and copies of the assignments.  I've also attached other online resources like lectures form Khan Academy or HippoCampus that cover similar material.  I'm adding interactive resources as I find them online.

The students have been very positive about my classroom website so far.  It simplifies getting caught up on work for both me and them.  It also allows students to stay up-to-date on school work if they are traveling, but have access to the internet.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Joys of Being Young!

You haven't lived until you've seen:

  • Really pregnant cows frolicking in an overgrown pasture
  • Canada goslings chasing each other around for a dandelion flower
  • Two actors fawning over a goat kid that is allegedly nursing but is really head-butting a goat that is not lactating.  (And that was one angry goat kid.)
  • Newborn calves trying to walk while being licked by their mothers.
  • A mother cat chasing her kittens back to the nest so that she can hunt successfully.

Thing One - Diigo

Diigo and I: A Love Story
Like many an educator, I love finding new resources on the web.  I use Google, Yahoo and Bing with random search word combinations looking for online resources that my students will love as much as I do.  I find a site and spend precious time playing...I mean...researching new classroom tools.  Alas, before Diigo, my sites were trapped on individual computers in an ever-growing list of bookmarks.  As a stop-gap internet accessible measure, I began emailing sites to myself.  This lead to an ever-growing set of folders in my email account and an increasing annoyed technology department at my school.

Diigo has freed me from the tyranny of out-of-control web page organization.  With Diigo, I can save webpages in a cloud-based platform that allows me to tag the sites freely.  I can access my precious sites from any internet ready device allowing me to prepare for school at any time and in any place.  During the crazily busy months of the year, I can use my tags to access my pertinent sites in seconds.  Since Diigo has entered my life, I no longer waste time trying to find that really cool website that had that evolution interactive that I found last summer.  Instead, I type "interactives" into my Diigo tags and a wealth of sites appear. Diigo, I love you!

Thing One - Keyboard Shortcuts

Five Things I Love about Keyboard Shortcuts:

1. Increased Processing Speed - It took me 5.8 seconds to highlight the title using the mouse and change the font style to bold using the icon on the drawing tool bar.   Typing CTRL -B followed by the same letters took 1.3 seconds.  4.5 seconds per change in font style adds up over the course of a school year.

2. Decreased Distractions -  As an ADD teacher, every time my eyes leave the screen increases the risk of jumping to another task.  By keeping my hands on the keys and eyes on the screen, I can complete tasks more rapidly.

3. Saving Documents as a Pavlovian Response - What do I do at the end of every paragraph?  Hit CTRL-S.  I've trained myself to do it without thinking about it.  I no longer live in fear of losing a mostly completed document when I kick a plug out under my desk.  Recreating a document takes 15-20 minutes that I would prefer to be using to create new materials.

4.  Formatting While Creating - Thanks to fun combinations like CTRL- C and CTRL - V, I can format checklists and tables while typing.  I love doing this because I create documents in 75% of the time when I format in-line rather than coming back to it later.

5.  The Simple Pleasures of an Easily Amused Teacher - Having a rough day?  Write a line.  Highlight the line.  Hit CTRL- F3 repeatedly. The increase in morale I get from watching "Go Rebels!" morph through all the capitalization possibilities is amazing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thing 0 - The blog experience

What makes a good blog?

  • A good blog brings factual information to a wider audience.  For example, I have learned many good experiments from middle-school teachers who blog.  My classroom does not have secondary level laboratory equipment so I adapt the 'kitchen chemistry' method used in earlier education levels to teach more advanced concepts.  
  • Blogs stimulate discussions.  Since blogs have interactive commentary sections, a wider audience can participate in discussions of events and ideas.  A good blog combines freedom of ideas within the discussion while minimizing rude or off-topic commentators. 
How could a blog enhance your classroom?
  • During the 2012-2013 school year, we are beginning 12 week double class periods based around project-based learning (PBL).  In conjunction with the math teacher on staff, our students will be completing a STEM project based around designing a LEED certified high school.  The students will be building scale models, site plans and a comprehensive building prospectus.  While the students are working on these pieces, they could be using a blog to update the community and other stakeholders on the choices they are making on the high school design.  The blog commentary section will allow other people within and outside of the school community to share ideas and suggestions on each of the design.  This will eliminate distance and time constraints as restrictions on participation from outside professionals.
Are blogs an easier way for people to self-publish?
  • The usefulness of blog for self-publishing is conditional on the purpose of the material published. 
  •  People who can gain recognition without risking ideas can blog easily.  For example, people who want to detail family stories can easily publish materials in a blog that reaches their friends and family.   Professionals can share ideas for methods of completing jobs like teachers sharing projects or farmers sharing methods of raising calves.  In these situations, two teachers using similar projects don't jeopardize each other's job.  Increasing the number of healthy calves will not alone drive farms out of business. 
  • Professionals who work with proprietary information cannot easily share information through blogging.   A research scientist at a major biological supply company cannot explain how they fixed a problem that led to a profitable supply line.  These professionals will need to use modified publishing results available through specialty journals.


The Worst Day for a Teacher

Oddly enough, this never came up in an education class even though it will happen to all of us at some time or another.

My dad is a teacher so I learned about the phone calls early on.  The phone rings late at night or very early in the morning.  A staff member is on the phone.  In a shaking voice, your friend tells you that a student died.  That we don't know all the details but we think______________ happened.  That the crisis team wants everyone in by _________ time in the morning so we can figure out what to tell the kids.  That we can't believe it happened to such a nice kid.

I hate those calls.  I spend the night alternating between crying and staring blankly at things.  The crisis meeting is oddly tense since some people are crying, others are trying to plan and others are in shock.  No one knows how to make this easier for the students.   How can we?  A kid is dead and nothing is okay about that.

I hate the minute between when I get into the classroom and when I start talking to the students about what happened.  The rest of the day is always blurry to me afterwards even though it feels like it will never end during the day.  Hugging crying students, sharing memories, trying to keep some semblance of normality when the abnormal has happened.  In many ways, I feel especially bad for the students who did not know the student who died.  They're in a transformed school without knowing/feeling the reason for the change.

I hate the intrusive thoughts.  The kid is always on your mind even if you haven't seen them in years.  I hate the exhaustion.  I hate seeing students suffer.  

The first day after a student dies is the worst day for me as a teacher.  

21 Things - Getting Started

In this class, I want to polish my technology skills.  I feel that I have a good basic understanding of many education technology tools and now I can build a more engaging and relevant curriculum for my students.
I've seen that my students are awash in technology, but have remarkably few skills in using that technology in creative ways.  I'd want to harness their interest in technology and hone it into a marketable skill for post-secondary life.