Sunday, August 19, 2007

16 Days Until Students and Counting

I hate internal struggle. I can be my own worst enemy. I have – once again – spent the last two days filled with self-doubt. I have engaged in conversation regarding blogs. I really listened to those participating and then sat back wondering if I have ANY clue as to what I am doing.

Starting two new curriculums is pretty nerve-wracking. I have taught English in summer school before and have been doing a lot of reading. The other 8th grade teacher uses Writer’s Workshop and I am learning as fast as I can. I am meeting with her tomorrow to go over a number of things I am still learning. I am also teaching Social Studies – US History. I have NEVER taught that before and had to take the Praxis in June to be certified. So, in my spare time, have been reading the textbook (which is SO boring!), as well as fun stuff like “Gone With The Wind.”

I passionately believe that I need to teach my students in the world they live in and the world they are heading to. For me, that means I need to integrate technology. I have truly listened to the conversation on blogs, but I really believe my students need to post some of their writing on class blogs. The writing process will take a while with each piece, so I don’t see us posting daily or even weekly, but I do want them to be thinking of a wider audience. I also want my students to read other students blogs. I am finding some that I am going to have them read and comment on. I want them to learn how to appropriately respond to others and how to engage in a conversation with the writer. They will also have the opportunity to respond to each other and all the students in our CORE. This will give me the opportunity to talk to my students about how they represent themselves on the Internet. I really can tie this all together and work to make them understand how they need to be responsible with what they put out there.

I have started setting up a wiki and will use that for English and Social Studies. I am adding resources that students can use and will continue to add as we find more sites to use. I want my Social Studies students to also work in groups and put together their own wiki pages for some research they will be doing. I am looking for interactive web sites to add to their learning experience. I have been told there is no way I can cover all my curriculum without using the textbook, but I just know if I put that boring book in my students’ hands, they will resort to HATING US History. I HAVE to make this interesting. I know this is 8th grade, but these kids will be adults in a few years – voting and some will be leading this city, county, state, or even country. Hating history does not bode well for that. I think we can do better.

Am I idealistic? Probably. Will I re-evaluate as we go? Absolutely. I see a lot of research and work in my future, but at least that part doesn’t bother me. I teach in what is considered one of the toughest middle schools in Rapid City. (Okay, it isn’t inner city Chicago, but we do have our own problems!) I love my kids. I never leave for the day without believing I have made a difference. Because of that, I take this very seriously and never mind what I have to put into it. I have nine days until we are officially at in-service and 16 days until we have students. I am nervous about the whole curriculum thing, but really excited to have my students back.

While the conversation about blogs caused me to re-think what I am doing, I don’t mind that. I am going to re-think everything I am doing anyway – that’s the kind of person I am. I still believe in myself and in what I am doing with my students. We’ll see where I am in a month or two!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Blog Skeptics

After having read and commented on David Warlick's new blog post, Some Good Conversations...,
I find myself thinking about the skeptics I know concerning blogging. My husband is one of them. He is a computer programmer and honestly is brilliant concerning many things. He just doesn't believe that people want to read other people's opinions. He said that not everyone is an expert. I tell him the value of having this kind of communication with other professionals and you can just about see his eyes roll to the back of his head. To be fair, he doesn't "get" teachers anyway. He constantly teases me about how "touchy feely" many of us are. He opts out of most teacher gatherings because he says we always talk shop. He loves what he does, but he leaves it at the end of the day and finds passion in riding his bike or lifting weights or spending time with me. He doesn't understand that teaching can be my passion.

I have given up trying to explain teaching or blogging to my husband. He is proud of me for getting in there everyday and making a difference. He supports me in my continuing education. He knows that passion is one of the reasons he married me. So I consider that enough.

But if I can't make him understand the benefits of blogging, how can I make other skeptics understand? I was sort of amused by David's skeptic. By voicing his opinions on David's blog, he was part of the very conversation that makes blogging so great.

Personally, I know I am new at it. I know I used to be intimidated to write in my blog because I never feel like I have anything of real importance to say. But having gotten over that and started, I have connected with people all over the place. I am no longer afraid to leave comments on others blogs. I am feeling enriched by the many conversations around me. I am grateful for being part of this community.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I've Been Tagged - Eight Random Facts

David Robb tagged me for “Eight Random Facts” meme. I have seen these on a number of other blogs and wanted to play. Thanks, David!

1. Post these rules before you give your facts.

2. List 8 random facts about yourself.

3. At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them.

4. Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

My 8 Random Things:
1. I was first runner up for Miss Douglas High School my senior year.
2. I am the most insecure person I know.
3. I am married to my high school sweetheart - after we married and divorced other people.
4. I love Texas Hold 'Em.
5. I should have been born at a time when dinner parties were stylish.
6. I love to bake.
7. I would love to own a Ford Mustang.
8. Even though my husband would like to move to warmer climates, I would like to always live in South Dakota.

My Tags
If I tagged you, please don't feel obligated to participate.
1. Heather -
2. Geoff -

Okay, I guess I'm only tagging two. How bad is that? Seems everyone I know is tagged and I am still so new at this blogging business.

Maybe I Need to Relax ... A Little

Yesterday I spent the day really quite in a funk. I felt frustrated with the way some of my ideas were rained on by one of our technology coordinators. It made me start doubting myself. As usual, things in our district are in flux and that just wasn't sitting well either. I have spent much of the summer working on new curriculum and ways to integrate technology, only to find that I may have to switch those methods. And then there was that lovely Scholastic article that set me off. It was just too much.

I got an email from a friend who made it clear that I needed to relax about some things. He pointed out that it didn't seem that I had taken any time off this summer to just relax. Hmmm, I did take a week off to clean out some closets that I had been ignoring and I am sure there was a day or two when I spent just with the family. I guess he is right. I have been so worried about school that I haven't relaxed. I used to be more flexible and take changes in the district well.

Then today I got to read a blog entry by Clarence Fisher titled Getting Over Ourselves. For the most part, I do believe that I show my students I am a lifelong learner and I do learn with them. I think it is important to show them how to access information when needed. So why have I been freaking out about becoming an expert with the tools I want to use in my classroom this year? I am going to have my students blog this year and I have now blogged enough to be able to lead the way, but I don't have to know every little thing. We can learn it together. The same is true of the wikis I want to use. Do they really have to be complete before school starts? Isn't that the purpose of a wiki - collaboration? Wow! I really do need to get over myself. Thanks Clarence!

I have just under two weeks before we are back at inservice and three until I see students. I do have some work to do. My new classroom needs things put away and I do have a technology inservice to plan. But I bet there is time to take a day with some girlfriends and just laugh about life. I am sure my teenage sons need a little more "Mom time". (They might not admit to that though.)

Do I feel completely confident about teaching English and Social Studies this year? No. I want to know more. But I am fully prepared for the first few weeks. I know what and how we are going about it. And the rest I can learn as we go along. Ultimately, I am a good teacher. I know how to teach middle school students. I LOVE spending time with 8th graders! I really miss them. What more do I need to prepare? Taking a deep breath and getting over myself!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Waging war? Are you kidding?

Twitter just alerted me that ijohnpederson had a new blog post. Thought I would give it a read and now I am sitting here alternating between stunned and just plain angry. John read the cover of Scholastic Administrator Magazine and the cover story was "When Tech Attacks." The article can be found at:

Okay, the gist of the article is that technology is causing so many problems in school that some schools are banning faster than they know what they have. They talked about a teacher who was attacked and it was recorded on a cell phone. I am still trying to figure out how the cell phone is at fault. Even though I understand that we don't want students to think it is cool to beat up a teacher and that recording it is not some trophy, didn't the police have concrete evidence of the crime?

Another teacher is in trouble because of what come up in pop-ups, but that district didn't change anything significant. Excuse me?

We are living in a world where you can access just about everything on the Internet. Isn't it our jobs as educators to teach our students how to function appropriately in this environment? This article goes on to talk about teachers that don't have enough knowledge and therefore are bad role models. Well then, why aren't we doing something about that? (By the way, I know an awful lot of teachers that work long, hard hours of their own precious time teaching themselves the technology!)

We are dealing with NCLB and doing everything in our power to raise those test scores. We are encouraged to integrate technology, but at least in my district, there is limited training and support given to teachers to accomplish that. As a matter of fact, many of us are struggling with a five-year technology plan that pulls computers out that are five-years old, but are not replacing them until we reach the proper five year date. Every time I go online, I find more and more sites blocked. We have so much information right at our fingertips and those above us who panic at letting our kids have access to that.

I resent the attitude that is prevailing. And this article just makes it worse. I am already dealing with parents that are asking how they block their kids from the social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo. I jump on my soapbox and tell these parents that banning sites is not the answer. It makes it more appealing to their kids and they just go to someone else's house to gain access. I encourage parents to get their own MySpace or Bebo accounts and to learn to live in their kids' environment. I ask them if the are aware that the presidential candidates have MySpace accounts. I assure them that there is a lot of good stuff there, but it is just as important that they teach their children the safety of the Internet as it is to teach them to look both ways before they cross the street.

My son just got home from a summer internship and told me that all the drafters and engineers had FaceBook accounts. When I first talked to him about these sites, he thought they were pretty silly. Now he has used them in a workplace atmosphere and is networking with other professionals across the country. He is amazed by the usefulness of this application.

Articles like this cause panic and doesn't deal with the issues at hand. The Internet is a part of all of our lives. Our students are going to be in a workplace where these are the tools they will utilize. The last time I checked, it was our job to prepare them for becoming productive members of society. This brings me back to the quote from John Dewey I discussed in my last entry: "The world is moving at a tremendous rate. Going no one knows where. We must prepare our children, not for the world of the past. Not for our world. But for their world. The world of the future." We MUST prepare our children for THEIR world.

Let's find a way to train more of our teachers to be good role models. Let's teach our students how to use the Internet in a safe, appropriate, and effective way. Let' not panic. Let's take these tools - computers, iPods, cell phones, whatever - and find a way to use them to the fullest. Stop giving us the negatives and give us more time and access to the Will Richardsons and so many others we have leading the way. We are teachers and lifelong learners. We are capable of mastering technology and leading our students to their future.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Theorists and Teachers

"The world is moving at a tremendous rate. Going no one knows where. We must prepare our children, not for the world of the past. Not for our world. But for their world. The world of the future." This quote by John Dewey was brought to my attention this week by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach first at Twitter and more at her blog at 21st Century Collaborative. She made me think about all the theorists I learned during both of my degrees. I am a strong supporter of the constructivist theory of teaching. I believe that students need to take ownership in what they are learning in order to engage fully. I believe that teachers must be a "guide on the side" instead of a "sage on the stage." I believe we must prepare students for the world they are going to live and work in. I believe that particularly middle school students (because that is what I know the most about) are social creatures that learn best in cooperative learning situation. I believe it is my job to excite students about a topic and then turn them loose to discover whatever there is to know about it. I need to observe their process, nudging them back on track if they should stray, and, ideally, give them a wide variety of methods to gather and give back the information they retrieve.

My first thought is that all teachers SHOULD teach this way. And I do believe that. But then I remember some of my favorite teachers from high school. Back then (that was another life ago) teachers still routinely taught with the "suck and puke" method. They would lecture and assign textbook pages and we were expected to suck in the information and puke it out on worksheets and tests. Amazingly, I managed to learn a few things along the way. My government teacher was a pro with this method. I think she had been using the same overhead note sheets for years.
Even more, I had an English teacher that did what most of us would consider unthinkable now. She would assign a composition that would be due on a Friday. Monday we would come in and above someone's desk would be the "Golden Gong Award" for the student that had the most spelling errors in their paper. Both of these teachers use methods that are no longer acceptable, but they were a couple of my favorite teachers. I learned a great deal from these ladies. Why? Because these teachers exhibited a love of learning that I still remember. They cared about their students. We knew that they would go above and beyond for everyone of us.

My point? While I believe that we need to use the best methods for our students, being a concerned and caring teacher is every bit, if not more, important. We need teachers with the whole package. Our students deserve it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Am I Tech Savvy Yet?

I have been a computer teacher for 10 years and thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up. (I really wasn't.) Then I have spent the last two years working on my Master's in Technology as well as National Boards. I learned a lot during my Master's, but there was no time to really explore the things I was learning. I had the opportunity to go to NECC this year and get really charged up about the things I wanted to learn. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and applied for a different teaching position within my school. By teaching English and Social Studies, it is my goal to show the staff in my school that technology integration doesn't have to be hard and can enrich learning of our students. With that in mind, I set up classblogmeister so that my 8th grade can publish some of their writing. I feel that they need to learn how to write for that audience. I have planned my first assignment and I am going to have them write about the summer break using all the IM/text language. I think they will find that to be fun. That will give me the opportunity to talk to them about casual and formal language and we will re-write the same story in formal language. I am setting up a classroom wiki and we will add resources we find on the web that can help them in their writing. For my one Social Studies class, my mind is flying. The first unit is over geography. Google Earth is begging for this assignment. They will have to set up a tour showing me certain things like mountains and major waterways. Then for the next unit, I am planning to give them an outline and break them into groups. They will have an outline and a wiki and they will research their little hearts crazy. I will monitor their progress and make certain they are finding the things they need to learn. Our state has access to Colonial Williamsburg, so I see that going into the plan somewhere, too. I would like to use Tapped In and set up at least one of my classes to collaborate with a great teacher and her class in Texas. I think US History would work well with that. South Dakota could learn much about Texas through talking to other kids. Trying to be in the right frame of mind, I have been exploring many online tools. I am set in Technorati, Flickr, Bloglines, Delicious, and Twitter. I am trying to get Furl unblocked at school, but will work with it at home. I am working my way through blogging and setting up my classroom wiki. (Certainly can't have students doing what I don't!) But in my whirlwind of preparation, am I ready? Panic starts to set in and I feel like I just have scratched the surface. I don't mind learning with my students, but I also know I have a number of staff watching (some, I think, secretly hoping my technology integration will fail.) I can't let my fears win. I KNOW my students are going to enjoy this. It will be something knew. Whoever thought you could learn history without listening to lecture and watching movies. (Umm, I do have a couple of cool movies!) Students will be here in 25 days, so I need to push forward. I do have to teach a technology inservice to the staff before that, so I have some prep work to do there as well. My new classroom is starting to feel more like mine and less like the old teacher's. While still a bit nervous, I just can't wait to get students back in class. Several of them have found me online and messaged me. It makes me think summer is just a bit too long!


I find that the more I read and learn, the less I feel like I know. I spent the evening setting up my Technorati account and now it doesn't know me. Frustrating. Then it took me several tries to log into my new classroom wiki. Finally got that working and my new Yahoo mail was giving me trouble. Some nights I think cyberspace goes on strike!

In the meantime, I have started creating some new lesson plans for the coming year. I am feeling better about the new classes and about integrating technology into the curriculum. I have two weeks left to learn a lot of things, but I am up to the task. I really want my students to enjoy English and Social Studies and be interested enough to engage in learning. This may be my first year teaching English and Social Studies, but it is not my first time teaching 8th graders.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


I am finally getting Technorati savvy. There are so many web tools that I need to be current on before school starts! Time seems to be moving too fast.