Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bringing Basics Back

I was intrigued by an article in today's post about how Bill Gates, the Microsoft mogul, wants to reform American education because it was NOT focused on technology. It was the total antithesis of what I thought he was all about. He is a strong proponent of standardized tests and wants to see them become more challenging and more uniform. Why does each state have a different test? He believes there must be a national standard. His plan to fix schools:
He argues for using phonics to teach reading. 'When we gave up on phonics, ' he says, 'we destroyed the reading ability of those kids.'
He also wants to reward quality teachers and believes in creating small high schools so that students will not be pulled into cliques. Presumably ones where it is "cool" to fail. The article ended with this question:
Do you agree with Bill Gates and his solutions - or do you have your own?
My solutions:
1. Smaller class sizes.
2. Year round school (with many two week vacation breaks instead of a full summer off).
3. New class offerings such as robotics, Chinese, Japanese, Global Etiquette, Nanotechnology, etc.
4. Lap top for every teacher and student.
5. Strong school partnerships with corporations and businesses with more internship opportunities at middle and high school levels.
What are yours?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Best Back to School Night Ever

Even though the chorus room was sweltering, it was definitely the best back to school night I have ever experienced. My whole team really pitched in and we wowed the parents. We really need to thank Patrick Higgings for showing us the tools and Mr. Brad Davis for the tech support and emergency Airport Rental. Having the movie poster up while parents entered set the tone of the evening. Our math teacher took the edge off by making everyone laugh with "New Math" from YouTube. Next, my Language Arts partner and I showed an Animoto tour of our classrooms, some parents were dancing to the video's music! We followed it up with a Power Point and our wiki, as well as our ideas for digital storytelling and Deep Web Research. Next, the science teacher used to do a sample lesson with some audience participation. Finally, our Ancient Civilizations teacher ended the night with a pretty nifty Power Point. The difference between this back to school night and back to school nights of the past was definitely the focus on technology. Parents saw that we were on the cutting edge and that we are going to reach their child, no matter what. More importantly they saw we had a sense of humor.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ready,Set, BLOG!

Before blogging can begin, students and parents need to be aware of the procedures and agreements. provides a Blogger Agreement that each teacher can make his or her own:

This week we my 6th grade Langauge Arts class is starting the novel, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet. Spurred by the success of our Tangerine Wikispace, my co-teacher and I are going to start a blog for our last period language arts blocks. We decided this cohort would be the best because it is the smallest group of students so the computer to student ration will be low. If this blog works out, we will expand to all of our classes for the next novel. We decided to use 21 Classes because it is free and the students do not have to have an email address to join. It is fairly easy to set up accounts for your students and to protect who views and edits the blog. All postings can be sent to the teacher first before they are posted. We decided to give the students two discussion questions to answer a week, one question must be blogged and the other can be done in their journals.
Edutopia recently had a digital discussion about taking your class to the Internet: How to set up blog in your classroom. It discussed different approaches to setting up a classroom blog. The approach that connected with me was to stress how important personal expression and ownership is in a blog even if it will be used as a traditional homework assessment. One of the first things I will let the students do is personalize their blog and perhaps create an animoto that expresses who they are without using any words.
One of the most important blog lessons is teaching how to comment on a blog. Even on the wiki we had some comments such as "I agree" and "Yeah." But it was no fault of the students; they were never taught how to comment on someone else's post.
Vicki A. Davis, author of the Cool Cat Teacher blog gives teachers some suggestions on how to teach effective blog commenting:
  • Write a meaningful comment
  • If you have written about it, hyperlink it to your post
  • Share something about yourself if you have a blog
  • Use a comment tracking service
  • Don't be afraid to comment
  • Teach commenting
  • Remember the power of words
Davis also lists 10 Habits of bloggers that win!

If anyone has any suggestions on blog start up we would be more than happy to hear them!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

My First Foray into Animoto

I'm planning a virtual animoto tour of my classroom for back to school night but wanted to test it out first.
Any other suggestions for using animoto in the classroom?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Day of School- A Gift with Challenges

I have to admit that I was a little taken aback by the lack of technology in my room to start off the year with. Back to a one computer classroom and a printer that does not work! I had so many technology aspirations stemming from summer inservice classes, but I am going to stay positive and hope these issues will be resolved soon.
I will have to say that I thought today's speaker, Jonathan Mooney, was excellent even if it had nothing to do with technology. I added his two books, The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal and Learning Outside the Lines to the top of my must read list. It definitely made me think about past mistakes and a new way to think about learning differences. To think of ADD, ADHD etc. as a "gift with challenges" really opened my eyes. As a parent, it hit even harder. So many friends ask me how they can deal with their kids who learn differently because I am a teacher and now I can point them in a new direction/philosophy.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Throw out your red pens

Why the blog beats the essay in writing class

This article caught my eye this morning.
Duke University's professor Bradley A. Hammer states:

In contrast, "standards-driven" high school writing is hindering student interest. Without opportunities for students to publish their writing, they will assess that they write not for meaning, intellectual discovery, communication or understanding but rather in obligatory, outdated, punitive and proce dural ways to obtain grades. Consequently, as students spend their years of education consumed with standardized tests, they learn to write -- and think -- in ways that fail to offer rich and critical contexts for learning.

Teachers seek opportunities for writing to engage and challenge students to think critically throughout the processes of intellectual debate. Writing courses that remain wedded to the genre and methods of the past merely limit students' ability to imagine their work as real. The traditional argumentative essay does not force students to engage critically with complex reasoning "about" an issue but rather merely instructs them on how to argue "for" or "against" it.

Eventhough this article pertains to college writing, I am thinking about how it relates to grades 6-8, especially the mind numbing preparations we do for the GEPA, I'm sorry the ASK8.
Seems to me this is more evidence that each student should create and maitain their own blog.


I came across this great resource when I was searching for some Cinderella songs for my daughter on iTunes. Contrary to popular belief, I was not looking for Britney Spear's new single, "Gimme More."

Lit2Go is a great resource for teachers who are using iPods in their classroom or even if you don't!
With Lit2GO you can
* Download the files to your Mp3 player and listen on the go,
* Listen to the Mp3 files on your computer,
* View the text on a webpage and read along as you listen,
* Print out the stories and poems to make your own book.
We do not have an anthology in 6th grade, so this is a great resource and its free!