Tuesday, June 15, 2010
The Machine is Us/ing Us is a little video that shows how much writing and reading are changing. It also highlights the need for educators to keep up.
A Vision of Students Today is another video. College students let us know a little about how much they use technology.
Blabberize allows the user to upload a picture and then record something to make it talk.
Bubbl.Us is an online way to create clusters/idea webs.
Classtools.net has different useful tools. I like to use the countdown clock.
Common Craft has a number of three minute videos that cleverly explain a variety of web2.0 tools, as well as a few other needed explanations (anyone see zombies?).
Dabble Board is an online white board.
Definr is the fastest definition finder on the Internet. It says so right on the page.
Delicious is a social bookmarking site. You can save websites you like, tag them, and share them with others. It is an online tool, so you can use it from any computer hooked up to the Internet.
Free Rice is a game site, but with a difference. For every correct answer to the different online quizzes, ten grains of rice are donated to alleviate world hunger. It allows players to start at their own level and then gets easier or harder based on the answers the player gives.
Gallery of Writing was set up by the NCTE to showcase writing from around the country. They have open submissions and encourage participation.
Glogster is a kind of poster that is fully designed by the user. Users can incorporate text, images, music and video into their work.
Live Binders is a way to collect and present webpages on related subjects.
Make Belief Comix is another comics creator.
Prezi is a new online presentation tool that is a step beyond PowerPoints. It incorporates motion and zooming to make presentations more dynamic.
Slide Boom allows you to upload PowerPoint presentations to the web. After that, you can embed them in blogs, wikkis, websites, etc.
ToonDoo is a comics creation website. Users can make a short comic strip.
Virtual Literary Worlds is a series of links to online virtual worlds based on famous literature.
Voice Thread is a multimedia collaboration tool.
Wall Wisher is a virtual classroom bulletin board.
Wordle allows you generate text clouds.
Zamzar is a file converter. You send one type of medium to Zamzar, like a YouTube video, and convert it to another, like a Quicktime file. This is one way to get around blocks to YouTube and show your students those interesting videos you find.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
where they hear music
all i can perceive is noise--
the saddest fact is
i just cannot reach them all--
but i have to try
greeting his friends while
moving from table to table--
lunchtime is busy
outside the classroom
flying free from branch to branch
the joyful bird sings
The end of the school year comes,
at times seeming glacial in its pace.
Other times it flashes forward. It seems
as though I am living my life
as part of a cosmic traffic jam.
Moving in fits and starts, but aching
to find open road and cruise away.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Sunday, May 2, 2010
on a Friday afternoon
the echoes of
the students’ voices
in my head
as i sit here
papers are getting graded
grades are being entered
(as i so often do)
that i am swimming
against the tide
being pulled away
from what i find important
being pulled under
by this rip tide current
of red tape
and record keeping
when all i want to do
is swim free
and play in the waves
and the creativity
of my students
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Well, I was looking at a post from the webcartoon xkcd. And after seeing it again, I made an education connection to it. Here's the cartoon.
Well, actually, I think there might be more than one connection. Let me go with the first one I thought of: my students. I try very hard to have much for them to do and think about. While I am the first to admit I am not always successful and class is sometimes (perish the thought) boring, I make an effort. So do most of the other teachers I know.
When students are not ready, not willing, and/or not able to go beneath the surface and immerse themselves in a lesson or a subject, they will be bored. They will see nothing but flat ocean all around them, never even guessing at the wonders that await them if they would simply give it a chance.
It is also a connection I have made with my students before about studying a book or poem. Most of what goes on is beneath the surface. Sure, sometimes all you wanna do is water-ski on top, but sometimes snorkeling or scuba diving is much more fun.
And now to a connection that has occurred to me regarding testing and the way the public at large has been encouraged to look at schools. Test scores are the surface. I hope that I teach my students much more richly than simply to prepare them for a test--and usually a multiple choice test at that. I don't know about you, but life rarely throws a multiple choice test at me. I am given live ammo exercises on a daily basis.
The depth of knowledge that my teachers in grade school, high school, college, and grad school--let me not forget the lessons taught by my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents as well--have helped me to be prepared for them. If all I had been prepped for was multiple choice tests, my life would be a much duller and less successful place.
I like the idea that there is so much going on all around us that we rarely see. It gives me incentive to try to see more. It gives me incentive to try to teach my students and my daughter that there is more to see. And to try to give them some of the tools they will need in order to see it.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
as a teacher
i feel pride and shame
i am in the local B&N
wandering through the
new books section
just chilling out
when it happens
that former student
comes up to me and asks
"Didn't you used to teach 7th grade?"
i admit it
my name and
tell me theirs
that time i listened to them
when no one else would
the time i helped them find that book
that led them to love reading
the time i praised a poem or essay or story
that led them to love writing
they thank me
as i stammer and blush
their obvious enthusiasm
and they say
"I just wanted you to know."
and they walk away
i have no memory of them
who they are
even though i wish i did
and i feel the shame
Thursday, April 1, 2010
it gets batted away
but still i keep trying
gotta find a way
a way to reach them
so they will believe
i'm trying to help them
i'm not the enemy
but i keep getting cast
as the heavy--the villain
and i'm here to tell you
that part ain't so thrillin'
but when i ease up
try to give them a break
too many see weakness
& go insane till i take
control back real harshly
& then they get mad
"he's always yellin' and mean"
it's so sad
but my job is not
to make them my friends
my job is to teach them
and it just never ends
Thursday, March 25, 2010
While striving to teach 100% of the students to grade level or beyond is a cherished ideal, it is ludicrous to penalize and deem failing schools that do not reach that goal. But in my school, my wife’s school, at the schools of every teacher I know across the country, we are trying to meet it. We are working our butts off to get the impossible done.
I’ve been teaching since 1987. In that time I have heard teachers lauded over and over again in the press and by politicians as being members of a “noble profession.” That is, when the press and politicians weren’t busy using teachers as scapegoats for all of the educational problems on the country. But it does rest pretty squarely on our shoulders to be the ones to help make the goal. Without teachers, the goal is so far past impossible, the light from impossible would take thousands of years to reach it. And so, of course, all of us teachers are rewarded with respect and the acknowledgement of just how important it is for us to keep working hard.
But, if that is true, if teachers are so important to quality education, why are so many teachers being fired?
In California 23,000 teachers and other educational personnel got pink slips. That is on top of 16,000 teachers and 10,000 other education employees fired there last year. Let’s see, 16 + 23 = 39. So in two years almost 40, 000 teachers are fired in that one state. But the goal to improve the standardized test scores each year took no notice of that. The teachers left are expected to do better somehow.
It is not just California. In Illinois they are looking at a possible 17,000 teachers lost. In New York City (not state, city) they are looking at laying off 8,500 teachers. Almost 50,000 teachers gone this year from just those three places. And, again, NCLB does not take that into account.
And the hits just keep on coming. Googling teachers fired, teacher layoffs, teacher firings, yield far too many hits. We are decimating the teaching profession in this country. And we are expecting teachers left to reach Olympian heights.
Am I the only one here who sees the disconnect? How in the name of all that is sane and rational are we going to have the slightest chance of reaching that goal without the teachers to do the teaching? How can there be no provisions in the law to take this gigantic collapse of public funding into account? How many more teachers will be fired?
I tried to get mad about this. I tried to get all indignant and righteous. Instead the most I could manage was weariness and despondency. I guess all I can do is enjoy the descent in this glorified handbasket that American education has become.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
A fast car on an empty highway
traveling wherever it wants to go
flitting where it will
A loose balloon
floating untethered into the sky
I have collected up their publication drafts. As soon as I can get them posted, I will link to them. I think this idea worked out pretty well.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
When I was in high school I read many of her books. I started with The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, and went on to read most of her other young adult novels. I think my favorite may have been Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? As my own parents had divorced when I was in seventh grade, I felt a connection to this.
Her young adult books deal with real issues. Her characters are realistic. And she almost always managed to inject some quirky humor into her writing.
She autographed one of her Amber Brown books to my daughter, Molly. And Molly is just now getting old enough to read the book on her own. I am very excited about this. I ran across the photo above in one of my thumb-nail drives, and it brought this rush of memories.
Thanks, Paula! You really helped me a lot when I was an adolescent.
Monday, March 8, 2010
If you are looking for a book to add to your classroom library, this is one to consider. It incorporates classical Greek mythology in ways that do not totally destroy and distort the myths themselves.
In this universe, Greek myths were not just stories to explain natural phenomena. Greek myths were real. Are real. And, as in the past, Greek gods still occasionally have affairs with mortals, resulting often in demigods.
Percy Jackson is a sixth grader with a troubled past. He has yet to attend the same school two years in a row due to the trouble he always finds--or that finds him. With dyslexia and ADHD, Percy is certain he is stupid and will never amount to anything.
Soon he is launched into an adventure that takes him from one side of America to the other. Percy must face challenges beyond anything he had ever imagined. With his best friends, Grover and Annabeth, he battle gods and monsters as he attempts to find the master bolt, prototype for all lightning and the most destructive weapon ever created, and return it to Zeus before the gods of Olympus go to war.
It is fast-paced and weaves the fantastic elements in well with the more believable aspects of the modern day. Percy and his friends are easy to identify with and their adventures are epic. Literally.
There are enough major differences between the book and the movie just released that it will be obvious whether your students have really read the book, or tried the inevitable shortcut. This book seems aimed at a middle school audience. It would be especially appropriate for those young men who grow bored easily with the books they read. With one action scene after another, there is little letup in the adventure.
I enjoyed the book a good deal and am looking forward to reading the sequels.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
soul crushing boredom
mixed with stark anxiety
*Alabama High School Graduation Exam
I am more
than just a score
this is what you
You do not see
the hours I work
to bring home money
to pay for food
to pay for rent
because my father ignores
his child support
You do not see
my infant son
up crying all night
no one to comfort him
You do not see
the empty stomach
which I could not fill
and was too late to fill
You do not see
me at home
speaking my native language
at home with my parents
who know no other
you see only my struggles and flaws
with this new one
I am learning
You do not see
weighing me down
tying my stomach in knots
flooding my brain with panic
I won't measure up
You do not see
because I hide them
bruises on my body
from last night's beating
You do not see
or maybe you do
and just don’t care
You keep your numbers
Don’t label me
for there is more to me
than all your tests
will ever be able
When I woke up for school today,
I just knew that I was sick.
My throat was full of coughing,
And my tummy full of ick.
I told mommy I had a fever,
She reached down and felt my head.
Then she looked real close at me,
and said, “Get out of bed.”
I think I know what’s caused this,
But you don’t need a day of rest.
You need to go to school today,
You have to take that test.”
And so I went to school today.
I took the test.
(I got an A!)
it is as if
that the answers
on this multiple choice test
will be the same as
the answers to life’s questions
about me and my future
if only it were so
Friday, February 26, 2010
They would work to create collages of visual metaphors for a word of their own choosing. It took a while to remind them of the idea that metaphors are comparisons between two completely different things. To help remind them I showed them Eve Merriam’s “Metaphor” and Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry.” I also showed them Merriam’s “Simile: Willow and Ginkgo” as a refresher on similes.
We talked about what the metaphors meant. With “Introduction to Poetry” we even got to the point where we decided getting complete understanding of every metaphor in the poem was not necessary to understand the poem as a whole. The initial images of fun and unexpected images contrasted with the torture image at the end were obvious enough to make an impression with even a partial understanding.
Then I took us into the idea by Pink. I had each of my students pick a word and then cut out images from magazines that were metaphors for the word they chose. I found out for myself that using an abstract word worked better than using a concrete word. When I tried to make one for coffee, I got stuck after about three images. When I switched to freedom it went much better.
I did mine on a PowerPoint so I could project it on the screen at the front of the room. I pointed out how each picture was a metaphor for freedom. Then I set them loose.
Note to self: never set them loose without written instructions for how to proceed.
Additional note to self: Especially when it is the first time you are trying a lesson to see how well it works.
The students were into cutting pictures out of the magazines. Well, most of them. Some were busily looking in the magazines for words to cut out. Why were they trying to cut out words? I dunno. They must have somehow thought that was the assignment. Some of them were looking through the magazines to find a word to make metaphors from. Why? I dunno. I guess they thought that was the assignment. Some were just into chatting with their neighbors, doing nothing, and reducing their number of daily participation points. I corrected the misperceptions as I went around and checked on their progress.
Walking around the classroom is always an interesting experience. The way the bubble of hushed tones seems to follow me is always a little amusing. Then there are the young ladies who just have no volume control whatsoever. They aren’t trying to be loud; it just sort of happens. Ah, the joys of teaching.
The one large problem I noticed were the number of students who were not looking for metaphors, but rather for examples: the person who chose happy searching out nothing but smiling faces; the person who chose sadness and just cut out pictures of sad-looking people. I had to repeat over and over in each of my three blocks—almost to each individual—that they were not looking for examples, but for comparisons—for things their word could BE.
I kept going back to my own example on the board. I kept trying to point out how the pictures were not examples of freedom, but were instead metaphors for freedom. Sigh.
Last night I when I went home I decided I had to write up an instruction sheet that they could refer back to. I did it on Google Docs, so I could access it anywhere I might need it. You can check it out if you want: Metaphor Collage.
So today I give them a little something of a refresher page on similes and metaphors for a bell ringer. Then I went through my cards and gave out extra credit for answering the questions. Have I explained my card system yet? If not, ask about it and I will.
After that back to the collages. For the students who were here. I had students absent, in ISS, at the ALC, on field trips, playing in the state Final Four basketball tournament, excused from school to go to said tournament, were out driving with their driver’s ed instructor, and just plain skipping. That’s normal though. Except that the proportions were higher today. My third block class had literally half the students out. Fourteen out of twenty-eight. Geesh!
Next week we will be delving into the wonderful world of standardized testing. It is again time for the Graduation Exams. I will post a rant on that next week.
And then this afternoon I ran a Google search for metaphor collages and found this one, that is a much better way to do it than mine. Next time maybe I’ll check first and not reinvent the wheel.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Anyone want to share a rule you have for writing? It does not necessarily need to be about fiction.
With all due respect to Newton, here's mine:
A pencil at rest tends to stay at rest; a pencil in motion tends to stay in motion.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Tina is a new teacher. She has just started her first year. The principal or assistant principal comes to her and tells her that the cheerleading sponsor has had to drop that activity for personal reasons; s/he follows up by asking Tina if she would be willing to take that assignment. She’s new and untenured, doesn’t want to be seen as not cooperative, so she says yes. A few days later she is asked to help with the prom. She had fun doing that when she was in high school, so she agrees. After all, that’s way in the middle of the second semester. She should know what she is doing by then. Then she is asked to do a third activity and a fourth. Even though she is getting stretched very thin, she keeps agreeing. To paraphrase Ado Annie from Oklahoma!, she’s just a girl who cain’t say no.
Example the Second:
Joe is an experienced teacher. He has put together a remedial course to help students who have not yet passed the graduation exam. The first year these classes were kept to about twenty students each. That way there was a low enough student/teacher ratio that he could work individually with students. The program was very successful. About 90% of the students he taught in that course showed significant improvement on the exam. The administration is so thrilled with that increase, that they put 25 students in each of his remedial courses the next year. The year after that, 30. And so on...
Sound familiar? This is what I think of as the Overload Cycle. A fancy way of saying that if someone is doing something positive, they keep getting asked to do more and more until success is practically impossible.
This has been endemic in my experience teaching. I hate seeing good teachers with the inability to say no walked all over. I hate it more when, if it ever does happen that the person finally does say no to something, they get extra guilt trips. “Well, then, I guess we will just have to do without a literary magazine this year since you can’t do it.” It is a shame when a successful program is run into the ground, a victim of its own success. But it happens all the time.
Why? Why do so many teachers let themselves get put in this position? Could it be the same impulse to public service that leads so many to becoming teachers in the first place? The vast majority of teachers I have worked with over the past 22 years have been dedicated professionals. For that matter, I am a dedicated professional; yet, I am not willing to say yes to everything I’m asked to do, or to volunteer for everything. Does that mean I am not being the best educator I can be? Maybe. But, if I gave 110% to teaching, what would I have left over for my family? I have a wife and a child that need me and my time.
And who says that being a good teacher means that kind of self sacrifice?
Glenn Holland. Charlie Moore. Gabe Kotter. Okay, they are all imaginary. But, to a degree, so is the portrayal of real life teachers such as LouAnne Johnson, Jaime Escalante, and Erin Gruwell. I admire them all (fictional and nonfictional alike) a great deal, but it is not as easy as it looks in a movie or a TV show. And they (the nonfictional ones) say as much. Unfortunately, that is not something most of the public hears. They just see the selfless and dedicated teacher getting miraculous results, and wonder why the teachers in their children’s school are not like that.
One way to fix the problem is to adequately fund education. Not just in the rich or upper middle class neighborhoods, but all schools in all neighborhoods. Hire enough teachers to keep student/teacher ratios manageable. But that would necessitate building new schools for all these teachers and students. Then add in more principals, more custodians, more utility cost, more school buses, more school bus drivers, more lunchroom personnel, so on and so forth, ad nauseum. Congress can’t even get together the funds necessary to correct infrastructure problems at existing schools.
As long as schools are not funded adequately there will be teachers, inspired by memories of the selflessness of certain teachers before them and the popular cultural myth of single-mindedly dedicated educators who put their one class of students above EVERYTHING else in their lives, who will let themselves get burned out and used up. And that is a real waste of a precious natural resource.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
This book is an anomaly: a grammar book this is fast-paced, fun to read, and chock full of information. The humorous tone of the book is at odds with the overly serious and somber tone of most grammar books. Casagrande goes out of her way to make her examples relevant and attention catching.
She tries to put her readers, those who have been abused by Grammar Snobs, at ease. She asserts the best reason to learn these rules is to put those Grammar Snobs in their place when they try to spring those picky little rules on you. And, to turn the tables on them by correcting them when they try to put you down with a rule that really isn’t grammatical.
For English teachers and for students who hate grammar, this is a book to take a look at. I am considering trying to get several copies to put into my classroom.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
I recently finished a book by Daniel H. Pink titled A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. It was a terrific read. He makes the point, cogently, that both halves of the brain are required to get through life. He talks about how for the last hundred and fifty years or so, the left-brain dominant functions of the brain have been the ones to accentuate and develop in order to succeed. The right-brain functions were there and used, but in a subordinate position.
Because of the factors he calls the Three A’s--Abundance, Asia, and Automation--the left-brain dominant skills that have been the keys to success in the recent past will take a back seat to right-brain skills. We will need to focus on creating new things and in combining information in new and innovative ways. These are the keys to success in the near future.
Pink discusses six skill sets that will be essential in the future: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. In the detailed discussion of each, replete with examples and quotes, he lays out the necessity of each one. He shows how the skills are already being used and ways to strengthen each skill set. In fact, I think the end of each section, where he gives ideas how to strengthen your own skills within each set, are of particular value to teachers.
As a right-brainer myself, I especially enjoyed this book. I recommend this book to all educators. It is easy to read and full of interesting and helpful ideas.
Here is a video of Oprah Winfrey discussing the book with Pink. When she gave the commencement speech at Stanford, she bought a copy for each member of the graduating class.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
For over twenty years I have referred to whatever desk I am using as "the landfill." As an inverate piler, I have often driven my wife to distraction with the mess of my home office area. I just seem to work well in this kind of environment.
Also for over twenty years I have had this sign somewhere near my classroom desk:
Dr. Michio Kaku recently posted some pictures of Einstein's desk as it looked shortly after he died.
Seems like I was right. Einstein and I have at least our "landfills" in common.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Now, here I am. The second semester is getting started and if I don't get back to writing here, I may as well just quit. I'd rather not just quit.
There have been some interesting changes going on this year. My high school is now pretty much for grades 10-12. The freshmen have their own, brand-spanking-new building that is adjoined to ours via a walkway. In the high school that means the halls are less crowded, lunches are less crowded, and it is possible to get up and down the stairs with much less risk to life and limb.
Originally the new building was going to be part of the high school. But, after examining the way schools get funded around here, it was discovered more bucks could come to us if it was indeed a separate school. The superintendant and the school board decided to make it so. But, while the whole "it's part of the high school" phase was going on, all the classrooms in the main building were renumbered. That is why the title of the blog had to change. I am no longer in Room 125. Well, actually I am, but the number outside my door is now different.
The computers in my classroom were slowly but surely going the way of disintegration. They were older models, at least ten years or more. The best they could run was Windows 98. And getting replacement parts for normal wear and tear became increasingly difficult. I had been told before that I was on the list to get noew computers in my room. It never happened. I was told again at the beginning of the year that I was still on that list and it should be done sometime during the first semester. I did not hold my breath.
You see, Alabama, like all the rest of the states, is having money problems. Since we can't (legally) just print up more money and have to actually balance our budget, that meant cuts. We took a good hit from statewide proration. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means that the budget is written to give each part of the government enough to run on. In Alabama there is a separate education budget. Proration is when the governor says that there is not enough money and we have to do without whatever percent of the amount written into the budget it takes to make ends meet. I think it was five percent. Then we got hit with additional seven percent. So, we are hurting. Then again, so is everyone else.
That being the case, I was resigned to not getting the computers and making do with what I had. It's sort of like that quote from Mother Theresa. Imagine my surprise when, in the latter part of November, the new computers arrived and were installed over one weekend. It was awesome.
Nothing worth having, is without troubles though. A bunch of the computers were not able to get on the Internet, and none of them had the Deep Freeze program installed. That program locks out any changes to the hard drive, keeping viruses and other such vexations out of the system. Every time the computer is turned off, the memory is totally wiped. With a room full of intelligent and rambunctious tenth graders, that program is sort of necessary.
The students were very rambunctious. It took all I had to keep up with them, and I fell asleep exhausted every night. While I was able to keep up with the poetry blog, this one sort of fell by the wayside. I was a little encouraged that me last post kept getting responses. Then I really looked at thema nd found they were, for the most part, spam leading to essay paper sites and other such nonsense. I went back and deleted all those. Took my comments for that from 14 to 2. Oh well, easy come--easy go.
I am sort of back on track at the moment. I have been wanting to write here, but after a while I got more and more nervous about it. Does anyone still read it? Will there be any responses? Am I writing anything here that is actually worth others reading? What if I forgot how to spell or use sytax correctly?
You know, the normal worries.
But today I decided the heck with it. I make no promises about the frequency of my posting in the future, but I will almost definitely do better than I did first semester. There are some issues and changes still going on that I want to write about. Some new resources and ideas to put out on the Interwebs. Some books I have read and am reading to share. Poems on teaching and education I've written and want an audience for. So, here's crossing my fingers (hrd 2 tyep thsi wya). Okay, uncrossing the fingers so I can finish up.
If you made it this far, thank you. If you were wondering what the heck happened, I hope I answered those questions. If you have any questions, anything you want to hear me blather on about, feel free to suggest something in the comments section.