(72 hours down, 48 hours to go)
My Brain is Full!
Today I had a district professional development day, with many of the MPS media specialists and building techs. Coincidentally the day was geared around research, which I've been dabbling with in all of my classes. The keynote speaker was Mary Childs, a media specialist from Bloomington Public Schools . She, along with a team, was part of reinventing what research looks like in their school system, essentially coming up with a k-12 model.
I never thought I'd say it but: I am excited to do research!
Seriously! I grew up hating research, because I didn't know how to do it and nobody ever taught me. It wasn't until college that I had to flounder my way through how to really get a handle on it (although today's technology and online databases definitely takes some guess work out of the process).
Then after that we all broke out into grade levels and came up with research projects to do at each level. Since I just finished a research project at the k/1st grade level I offered my project. It was great to get positive feedback from my group, many of them had never used some of the technology I used in the research, such as Comic Life and Voicethread (our finished product is shown highlighting what we would do as a class with kindergarten or first grade).
We also had a keynote speaker Mark Garrison who took us through his 50 Sites in 60 Minutes presentation which he shared with a standing-room-only crowd at the TIES conference in December. I seriously have a spinning brain with all the ideas he gave us, all the crazy-cool websites he shared. I can't begin to pick my favorites, but I'm thrilled that he is constantly updating his website with cool ideas.
And THEN (yes there is more), I attended a session on Scratch. which is a very cool free animation software developed by MIT. I've used scratch before, so I was a bit apathetic about going. I am so glad I did! I just wish I had some more older students (hmm. . . maybe middle school is in my future again?). I usually learn new software by experimenting, but I was a bit overwhelmed by all that was possible with Scratch. So most importantly I learned about LearnScratch.org which was created by a teacher who decided to share his lesson plans with the world (I LOVE being a global community; way easier to share ideas than constantly reinvent the wheel with every lesson). He has beginning to advanced lessons complete with tutorials. Love it.
I love days like this. I love that I'm in a district that has such an awesome media program. I am even more convinced that I made the right choice to work to get my media certification. I am definitely in my element (and I didn't even mention the great skit put on by our faithful leaders, or the awesome boxed lunch by Holy Land deli).
Yay for Librarians!
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
(64 hours down, 56 to go)
I've been worried about this day for 2 weeks now. And it was nearly flawless.
2nd Grade: Good
1st Grade: Good
lunch time/prep time: spent setting up the projector for our assembly, doing a few last-minute touch ups of the power point (we were projecting the song lyrics to be sung on the Big Screen), training a coworker on how to progress the power point, tracking down a tripod, setting up the video camera in a good location to tape, discovering the batteries were all dead, miraculously found the correct cord so that I could plug it in (and it was long enough to reach an outlet in the gym. Oh, I ate some cold pizza, too.
3rd Grade: Good
This afternoon we had a Pennies for Peace all-school assembly during 6th hour. I've been worried about it for nearly two weeks. I was very interested to see how I was going to monitor my 4th graders, tape the performance, and run a powerpoint at the same time.
Thankfully the music teacher got a coworker to run the power point, and another coworker stepped in to watch the 4th graders so that I could tape the performance. No doubt it is an award winner. I just hope it didn't pick up my whispered lecture to the renegade five year old stationed near my feet.
But really, it was very cool to see how many pennies have been raised by our students. We sang some songs (I have We Shall Overcome stuck in my head, which is a nice alternative to the school song which always gets stuck in my head after assemblies), the third graders sang some songs, and all the classes sent up a student with their container of pennies to empty into the big community bin. LOTS of pennies.
So two things came out of today. I brought it to the principal's attention that assemblies that require tech support should really take place on days that our building's part-time tech is here (she agreed), and it always works out in the end. Even if it doesn't all work out in the end, sometimes being a professional teacher means pretending that it was supposed to be that way in the first place.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
*I just realized how much I enjoy typing the year 2010. Maybe because I missed a few days in 11th grade when I took keyboarding, the week we did the number row, so numbers have always been harder for me to touch-type and 2010 is easy-peasy.
(56 hours down, 64 hours to go)
I realized something that made my day much, much easier. Skip ahead to hour 5 and 6. My 3rd graders (hour 5) really struggled last week. I was dealing with behavior pretty much the entire time. Ditto 4th graders. So today, they came in and I said something like:
I've been a teacher for 7 years. Last week was the hardest week I've ever had. I don't know why, but our whole school had a hard time with behavior, just like you did in my class. So, it wasn't just you. (and yes, I had their undivided attention by this point, they were totally zeroed in on my face). I'm going to work to make it easier for you to manage your behavior, and get a 4 (remember, this is the highest they can get for behavior) but you need to do something for me. When one or two or three kids are off task, you need to ignore them. I know its hard, but when you ignore them, I can put a check by their name, which may lead to a yellow slip. When you don't ignore them, it becomes a class issue and we lose points. I know ignoring is hard, but its what we need to do to get a 4. And if you get a 4 today, the 25 minutes of class we have tomorrow (there's an assembly cutting their hour short) will be entirely choice time.
Needless to say, both classes got a 4. This is only the third time this year I've given this group of third graders a 4. I will say this, though, both classes had a high number of absent students, which absolutely helped. And they were 100% on task with today's assigned activity (again easy, we did Dance Mat Typing which is really fun, and a part of my curriculum).
So my revelation: Its not a new revelation, but for some reason I forget, that some times I have to step back, ease up, and just make it easy for students to be successful, if only so that their morale increases enough for them to work. When the entire school is bonkers, it is not a good time for me to start a big research project. The end of winter is not a good time to start a big project. Kids are restless, pent-up, and just need a break (our Spring Break is still 5 weeks away).
As they left class, I asked if they could raise their hand if they tried to ignore someone today in class. Most of them raised their hand. I asked if it worked (holding up their star with the 4 on it). They emphatically asserted that it did.
And will we get to that big research project? Yep, we will. But I'm going to bide my time a bit, let them get familiar with what it feels like to be on task again.
Oh, and the rest of the day went pretty well, too.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
(48 hours down 72 hours to go)
Today was the most normal day I've had in about two weeks. . . which makes me realize I need to reassess what "normal" means.
The day started out fine, I got to work just in time to make it to our specialist team meeting. It is nice to make the time to connect, and talk about some of the issues that are unique to prep-providers. We've been working on using rubrics to make students aware of how their graded and make it easier for us to grade, too. Just recently we sent out a specialist letter to inform parents about the general grading rubric (we grade on a 0-4 point scale, which still confuses a lot of people. . . "but did I get an A?")
I had my post-observation meeting this morning, too, which went fine. I need to work on pacing. Which I knew (the lesson I taught was new to me, so I wasn't sure of how it was going to go). A sub had to cover my first hour (2nd & 3rd graders) for the first 10 minutes because of the post-observation meeting and when I got there, the kids were bonkers! I caught one kid crawling across the media center, several were skipping around, so we all went back to the beginning and practiced walking into the media center, sitting down quietly in the lab for directions, and listening quietly. I am pretty sure I never got them fully back, though.
With no time between classes it can be hard to not let the "mood" of one class affect the incoming class. My ENVoY training was put to good use today, I was really working on breathing deeply and watching my tone as the kindergarteners came in.
There was nothing remarkable about the rest of the day. All my classes were good, although I was incredibly tired by the end of the day today, which made it hard to keep my tone even. I had some frustrating behavior issues to deal with, so I really struggled to stay patient. I have to really commend one of my 4th grade colleagues, though. He always wants to know names of students who were disruptive, and then he will often not let them go to their specialist the next day. I was not 100% sure I agreed with this at first (a couple of days he held his whole class back) but they have shown tremendous improvements in behavior and their specialist time becomes more of a privilege than just a prep time.
Which is nice.
Monday, February 22, 2010
(40 hours down, 80 to go)
So all day Saturday I spent at ENVoY training (required for my tenure process) which was VERY good except for the fact that it was all day Saturday and I had to pay $225 for it (yes I had to pay for a required class). It focuses on non-verbal communication as a way to manage the classroom, and I got much more out of it than any other classroom management courses I've been to, mainly because it is applicable in all areas of teaching (and out of teaching*) whereas other management classes I've been through really only work when you see students all day, not in 55 minutes/week.
*I was trying ENVoY skills out on my 4 year old son this weekend, genuinely trying, and he finally said to me "Mama, why are you talking to me like that? Stop it!" So maybe I need to be more subtle.
Anyway, at one point the presenter (who was very good at presenting, no doubt due to all those subtle non-verbal skills) said something about how training yourself to act a certain way might seem awkward at first, as if you're not being true to yourself, but then your body can go into autopilot on those days that you really don't feel like yourself.
Like when your 20 month old daughter decides that 3 am is a GREAT time to wake up shrieking and continue for an hour. And when you also decide you need to kick the caffeine habit resulting in a blinding headache.
Despite that, I had a very good vibe going into the day. A lot of it had to do with the fact that one of my friendly coworkers was back today after being out for a week and a half. I hardly got a chance to say hi to her, but it is really important to know that there is someone within the same building who is a genuine friend. It's just good for morale.
(I do have more than one friend, in case you were wondering)
And a good day it was!
I only had 3 classes today. My 2nd graders got into the meat-and-potatoes of their research project, using online encyclopedias and Comic Life. I had my observation during this time and I think it went really well, despite the fact that we barely got started on the actual project. Oh well, it will last us the next several class periods.
Kindergarten was just fine. All I wanted to do was hide in my dark office (tired w/ headache, remember) but I drew upon my newly discovered ENVoY skills and practiced bits and pieces of what I learned and that helped quite a lot.
I had several hours of administration time today, that passed very quickly. I went on a book search for a book one of my 2nd graders swears she turned in, but I swear it has vanished, and tracked down a pile of The Three LIttle Pig variations. Oh, and got my PDP (Professional Development Plan) completed. We have to do that three times a year as a part of our contract (and tenure again).
Fourth grade was fun. Our school actually hosted about 60 nursing students from Faribault (I think) who lead all the classes in lessons on germs and good hand washing skills. I have a jazzy "Stop, Protect Yourself, Wash Your Hands!" rap running through my less-achy head. It was a nice break, but weird to let go a bit and let the guests run the show.
At bus duty a dad who walks to pick up his son got into a discussion with me about some websites that might help his son, who is very bright, supplement what he is learning in school, as he is about 2 grade levels above his classmates. I'm thinking I'll call the kid in during my prep tomorrow and train him in on Study Island and maybe that will give him a boost for awhile.
Friday, February 19, 2010
(32 hours down, 88 left)
I needed today. It was a good day at the end of what might be the worst week I've ever had. Behavior was such a struggle this week, but today it just sort-of eased up. My kindergarten class that got a 1 a few days ago, got a 4 today. And they earned it. And the light on their faces when they found out they'd gotten a 4 was so exciting. Their teacher had a smile all day. It was a long time in coming. Of course a few kids were absent, which changed the atmosphere.
The day started out with a pre-conference with the area superintendent who is being trained in a new style of observing classrooms. We're a pilot school for the program, which was developed by the Cambridge Education Consultants. I didn't know I was part of this run until the last minute, so I wasn't at all prepared (I was supposed to have filled out a 3-page description of my lesson) and rather intimidated that it was the area superintendent who just so happened to be the one meeting/observing me. It went okay though, good thing I already knew what I'm doing with my class on Monday (when the observation is) and it was easy to explain what I was doing (plus I filled out the 3-page form during my prep later in the day). I really don't mind being observed. I am used to being in a fish bowl in the media center. My lab is pretty exposed, and my voice carries so anyone in the media center hears what I'm teaching. Plus, I like getting feedback.
I had to miss the first 10 minutes of my first hour (2nd grade) for the pre-conference and they were mad because they had just gotten settled into some choice time with the sub when I came back. Kind of hard to get them back into focus, but we got things done. I'm kind of excited about the research project we're doing using Encyclopedia Brittanica Online and Comic Life. I'll try to post pictures of my mock-up later; we'll be posting our final projects on Voicethread, but I'm having some issues getting it posted.
Actually it went so well I did a similar thing with my first graders. We read a meerkat story, then did some research together and completed a class project. It was small and only took about 20 minutes, but I think will lay a good foundation that research doesn't have to be a stuffy boring essay. I have never been good at writing formally myself, and I am not prepared to teach it to young kids. So we present our research in more visual ways.
3rd & 4th grade went well, too. I had to cut short our Olympic theme, with the realization that we don't have school next Friday (District Staff Development) so I won't see these classes for another 2 weeks and I don't want to drag on any particular theme for that long (and the Olympics will be over then).
And the sun was shining. There is just something really nice about going out to bus duty and have the sun shine on my face at the end of the day. I am one of the last staff members that kids see, as I'm right in front calling the busses.
Although it wasn't a true friday. I have to go to a required (for tenure) classroom management class all day tomorrow. I hate hate hate giving up my Saturday. Especially when it will cost me $225 (yep, I have to pay for a required class). Oh well, this week gave me a lot of fodder for discussion tomorrow.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
(24 hours down, 96 to go)
Last week I mentioned to a fourth grade class something about the Olympics. Lo and behold, they had no idea what I was talking about. Once I got over the shock of 10 year olds not knowing what Olympics were, I realized I had to do something.
Teachable moment, here I come.
So my third and fourth graders have been spending this week watching the Opening Ceremony and working on an Olympic Cyber Hunt, all resources I found by simply searching for Olympic Lesson Plans on Google. I had planned on doing a research unit this spring, but realized that we could do research on something much more current, the Olympics. Two of my classes today spent their third lesson on the Olympics. And they were still engaged the whole time, and excited about what they were learning. It helps that I could show the Opening Ceremony with that dramatic snowboarding entry, they were hooked! Not only that, but we talked about the Haitian earthquake a few weeks ago, and then worked on Free Rice so rather unintentionally I've been developing a unit on global citizenship. Not all of them get it, but a few do. And that is really what being a 21st Century Learner is about; using the resources we have to better ourselves and the world around us. I'll be the first to say that these nice computers are not here to play Super Marble Blast.
This year I've finally discovered the easiest way to direct students to websites. It is so difficult to get kids to type in the correct URL, and they don't remember them if they want to go to the same place at home. So, since I have the privilege of being the webmaster for my school, I created a special section entitled the All-Star Student Section, where I link all relevant websites, with one main seasonal page, and also divided into grade level sections for more grade-specific sites. It works especially well when I want students to go to several websites in a lesson, and focus on the content rather than the task of typing in the URL.
The rest of my classes went okay today, too. I spent quite a bit of time tracking down some pictures of our violin concert Tuesday night, but they were fuzzy (the gym does NOT have good lighting) so I had to get the String Teacher to come in to my class with some violins to take some impromptu shots of students who had signed their media release. They turned out okay, but I am no photographer.
*Taking a break from The Book Thief, and am instead watching Stargate Universe with my dear husband. I do love a good Sci-Fi show.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
(16 hours down, 104 to go)
"Life is hard, but you still have to play by the rules. When you play by the rules, you have more fun. Look at all your friends having fun, drawing on the computer, because they followed the rules." -Ms. McEathron to an off-task kindergarten student, who finally said he was sad because a little girl said she didn't like him. He then sat down, and did his work for the rest of class with a smile on his face.
This was a hard day. Hard. I'm feeling a little sad about it. Not, really that I could have done much to change the day. I think I maintained my cool, responded appropriately. But it was just a day that behavior got in the way of learning more than I would have liked. Classroom management can really get in the way of getting anything accomplished. Since I only see most of my classes once a week, it is difficult to establish my expectations. It is critical to be consistent.
One thing that I helped get going this school year within my specialist team was the Specialist All-STAR. We've had a great school-wide discipline plan framed around STAR. S represents Safety. T represents Task-Master. A represents Achiever. R represents Respectful and Responsible. Each class can earn 4 points during their specialist classes, one each for S.T.A.R. for a possible weekly total of 20 points. At the end of each month the classroom in each grade level with the most points gets a trophy, which floats from month to month to the winning classes. Elementary kids work for things like points and trophies.
The first time I saw my classes in September, we spent the hour constructing little books outlining what Safe, Task-Master, Achiever, and Respectful and Responsible looks like in the media center. At the end of every class, we decide whether they earned each point, and why. If a class drops down to a score of 1, then we re-do the first class exactly. I introduce myself again, we get a tour of the media center, we construct our book. I let students know during class how they're doing, if they've lost any points, and what they can do to earn points back (with the idea that if all the specialists are consistently doing something similar, it will be easier to manage behavior and keep expectations clear).
Problem is, today my kindergarten class got a 1. But we can't re-do the first day of class, we didn't make books.
So today, we spent time sitting quietly instead of doing a story. This was after we walked silently back to the media center door, lined up again, and walked silently back in (and repeat with four students who didn't manage it that time, either).
And when I see them again on Friday, we'll do the same thing.
I do have to say this. It really worked for some kids that typically have a hard time in that class. The score of 1 does not reflect how many of them were wonderful and sweet. And the fact that we actually did accomplish the day's lesson.
Hmm. Maybe a 2 would have been more appropriate.
The rest of the classes today were fair. One class had a sub so they came in wild, and one class had just come back after a field trip (whew!).
**Still reading The Book Thief.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
(8 hours down, 112 to go)
I'm trying to come up with some sort of Taylor Swift reference to describe how whirlwind-fast my day was, but nothing fits. Definite lows, no time to sit down, having to leave things undone, and my mind calling out what I need to remember for tomorrow.
(Oh, and the teacher appreciation 15 minute massage definitely made my list of today's positives.)
I'm used to having my 2 hours of administration time on Mondays to get a lot accomplished, like updating the school's entryway powerpoint with this week's lunch menu and the math Word of the Week (division), tallying the points classrooms received in their various specialist classes last week (and adjusting the 16 fish on the bulletin board to reflect the changes). I had to skip a staff meeting that I think I was supposed to attend to get things done, instead. I had to check in a Mount Olympus size pile of books left-over from Friday when the library EA was out sick, help a sub find books for his class, turn away a staff member looking for St. Patrick's day books in order to make it out to my hall duty, and then run out to cover bus duty for a friend. All within an hour of setting foot into school (1 hour down, 117 to go).
Then there is (as in right this minute) a 1st grade strings concert which I had to make sure had the big screen set up, the projector set up, the principal's powerpoint ready to go, and a digital camera in the hand of the principal as neither our tech nor I could make it. I almost went back after dinner, just to make sure it was all going fine, and maybe I should have, but there is a crazy knot behind my left shoulder blade asking for a heating pad, not a longer work day.
It is days like today, as busy as they are, that remind me:
1) If I fail to prepare, I'm preparing to fail (because, really, I could've done several of those things last Friday, but I didn't)
2) I have to work on setting boundaries. And speaking up for myself. And making it clear to staff that my priority is teaching classes (as you may have noticed, I mentioned not one word about the 5 classes I taught today). Note to self: future staff-development: training in on Destiny Online Catalog, and Atomic Learning technology tutorials
**Currently reading: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and I am Lavinia Cumming by Susan Lowell, both available for reading while taking a hot bath (which I stridently tell my students not to do -reading in the bathtub that is. I am such a hypocrite. I also dog-ear my books).
Monday, February 15, 2010
Part of my job (I think) is being aware of new technology, deciding if its worthwhile, and passing on that information. Within the last 10 minutes I have made two technology discoveries.
While attempting to read Book Thief on my Sony Reader while at the same time eating peanuts (after de-shelling them) during the commercials of a Project Runway rerun I observed that:
1) A designer on Project Runway was using a digital sketchpad, which just seems much more efficient than pencil/paper (think: designer can save, zoom, upload, and modify designs much more easily)
2) Digital readers allow for hands-free reading. If you are not a bookworm like me, you might wonder at the need for hands-free reading, and exhibit A would be the countless books on my bookshelf that have bright orange Cheeto fingerprints on the pages. Snacking and good books go hand in hands-free hand.
*if modern marketing can destroy the English language by allowing companies to be named Krispy Kreme, Qwest, and anything Korner, then I stand by my right to abuse capitalization protocol in the title of this post.
Elementary Internship Day 1 (sort-of):
Today is President's Day, so it is an unofficial beginning. However, as always happens when I check my school mail on the weekend, my mind is mindful of the upcoming week. Most importantly, my principal e-mailed out the 2010-2011 school year budget allocations she had received via e-mail from the district. I was very surprised to see the projected enrollment is up from this year, with our bumper crop of kindergarteners* this year moving up to first grade, making room for yet another bumper crop of kindergarteners*.
I was the proud recipient of the duty of "Prep Schedule Creator" at the beginning of the year, totally by default (and let me tell you, that in itself could be the inspiration of many darkly-colored PG-13 blog posts) so immediately after my being pleasantly surprised about the up in allocations is the realization that we may need more specialist allocation (as it is, we're almost all 0.8 FTE), and I know that within a few days I'll be asked to start rough-drafting what the schedule will look like for next year. Yeesh, I wonder if I can push that off until April.
*Confused as to the proper spelling of multiple kindergarten students, as seen in the above blog. Spell check suggested either kindergartners or kindergardeners. I may have to resort to "kindergarten students" but that is just so long.
I'm about a month in to my final quarter for completing my library media certification, as well as nearing the end of my 3rd year as a probationary teacher in Minneapolis (which means if all goes well I'll have tenure after this year. . . actually when I receive my contract for the 10-11 school year). A big part of that is journalling and reflecting on my experience, which will explain the sudden jump in blog posts starting now. My elementary internship will take place at my own school, under myself (which might seem weird but I do have a lot to learn from myself). I tend to have a running dialogue in my brain throughout the day, which, yes, often becomes outside of my brain in the form of talking to myself. So I am not much daunted by the idea of reflecting. I am more daunted about finding 3 solid weeks (120 hours) in which to complete my self-internship. If I were smart I'd wait until April, but it would be nice to be done sooner rather than later, as I'm already a bit shocked that March is only 2 weeks away.
So, in other words, I'm officially starting my elementary internship with this post. I should have started last week, there was a lot going on. But it was sort of a practice week, in a way, I upped that mental dialogue and discovered a lingering cynical aftertaste that bothers me.