Friday, October 29, 2010

I believe this, too.

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square hole. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

— Apple Inc.

If you really knew me...

Well, after a week of aphorisms, inferences and works cited, I am finally sitting down to do some thinking about this week's classes. On my way to pick up my always perky 5 year old from school, I picked up a folder of student writing.

We did a writing assignment in class akin to the MTV show - I do have to say that I have been using this particular writing assignment for several years, so maybe MTV owes me some money. :) The writing assignment is "If you really knew me..." and then students fill in the rest.

I required the students to write one page. They could use bullet points if they wanted, but they had to fill a page. I picked up the pile of papers expecting lots of "If you really knew me you would know I have a really cute boyfriend," and I actually got quite the opposite.

For the sake of privacy, I am not going to quote these papers, but let's just say many of the topics included suicide, loneliness, divorce, low self esteem, racism, missing lost parents, failed friendships/relationships...and the list goes on and on and on...

I tell my students (as I make a big circle with my arms) that I wish I could wrap my arms around the entire classroom like a lasso and take them all home.

In order to be a better teacher, I have to be willing to listen and learn from those I teach.

I'm learning, guys. And I'm listening.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Parent Teacher Conferences: A time to cry?

Last Tuesday and Wednesday were Parent Teacher Conferences. They are often very...unpredictable, uninspiring...but often a great time to chat it up with other teachers. :) I only wish more parents would come in and be curious about how their students are doing.

But I had a moment - an amazing moment - with one of my parents. It was unexpected. Her student was doing well but for one missing assignment, and that was neither here nor there (which I told her). All he had to do was complete the missing assignment and his grade would be fine.

I began talking off-handedly about the student's participation in class...the way he had been sharing about some personal experiences. His mother began to cry. When I questioned why, she said that he had never spoken in class before. Ever.

Those are the days I love teaching...even more than usual.

(I apologize for my unadulterated use of ellipses in my writing. I just love them.)

If students have interest...then education happens

I took the above quote from Sugata's an AMAZING thought, and I agree with it. Much of what I do in the classroom is engaging students and finding that when they are interested...when their questions and opinions are valued, then education happens. This video from the TED talks is mind blowing:

I continually want to be able to be curious as to what might make my students curious.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ben Franklin and the Virtuous Juniors

So, on to Ben Franklin and his Autobiography. I actually enjoy this because we talk about the 13 virtues he attempted to track and implement into his life.

The first day they partnered up to create modern day definitions of virtues. They really felt I was making them think too much (They actually used these words). The next day I presented them with the arduous task of picking their own virtue and tracking it. First we went over the virtues...I will say that Chastity presented quite the conversation...but a couple of my kids really opened up and shared some deep stuff with the class.

Besides the individual virtue tracking, I grouped the students and gave them a group virtue. For that particular virtue, each group will create a photograph and a skit dealing with that virute, accurately portraying what Ben Franklin was trying to accomplish, but with a modern twist.

Today one group brought dirt in a jar. Before I knew it, ALL OF THEM were dirty for their photograph. I guessed (incorrectly) that their group virtue was CLEANLINESS, but I guess I will  be surprised when I see the finished product. I'm still stuck on the dirt in a jar part (it was a large, restaurant sized salt shaker - I don't know if they salted themselves with the dirt or not).

The point was, they were engaged. I like that part.

I will be posting their virtue skits after they are due Oct. 26.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The final product

Today we made the videos. (See my video bar for finished products)


What an amazing feeling to see these kids so proud of the work they've done. I used a flip camera, which was AMAZING! Immediate editing, title screen and credits! I was able to edit, post and upload in 5 minutes!

Of course I had the kids all sign district video release forms, so I was legit with the legal-ness (I know that's not a word, but it's late, and even English teachers like to use horrible grammar every once in a while). Tomorrow I'll make a potpourri video of those who are turning in their release forms late. I don't want to leave anyone out. I only had a couple kids whose parents didn't want them to do the video - no problem. They still did the assignment.

Today I had them write the answer to two questions correlating with the project: "Why did you choose your sentence?" and "How do you plan on achieving your sentence?"

I told them all today that I learned a whole lot.

From them.

I am really fleshing out the whole idea that I have to learn from the students to be a better teacher.

And I'm growing.





Monday, October 11, 2010

How will you be remembered?

I presented the "What's your Sentence?" lesson today. It exceeded my expectations! It was so much fun!

First, I showed the video of the Hoyt Team...the father son team who runs marathons, triathalons and ironmans together. Hoyt Team Video I asked the students to think about the two men, and how they would want to be remembered. It is such an inspirational piece, the students are speechless for the first bit after they've seen it.

We took a few minutes to talk about these men - and how they will be remembered. Then I presented Dan Pink's idea, "What's Your Sentence?" by showing this video from Dan Pink's website. We came up with a sentence for both Dick and Rick Hoyt and talked about why they would choose those sentences.

Then we talked about the students - and what their sentences would be. They each had one single piece of paper and started brainstorming. The kids came up with some pretty amazing sentences: "He told his story and thousands quit smoking." AND "He led a team to victory." AND "She changed the world - the world didn't change her."

Tomorrow I am cracking out the flip cam and we're going to make a video for each class. Of course, they are filling out release forms and I sent home parent letters - but I CANNOT wait to see the culmination of these projects. The kids (11th graders) are really excited about it, too.

I created a YouTube channel called teachlivelearn that I will start uploading these videos to, so I will post as soon as I's just exciting to see the students thinking about how they want their lives to go - how they want to be remembered. I told them it's just one step closer to actually reaching their goals. Many of them chose making others happy as their way to be remembered. I was REALLY PROUD.

Great day.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thinking about homework...

Tonight I watched the documentary,"Freakonomics", and it got me thinking about incentives and homework. Essentially, it got me thinking about homework, period.

I have never been a fan of homework. My husband brought up an interesting point: "Do 90% of the jobs in the work force give outside 'homework'?" My answer, of course, was no (although as teachers I think we give ourselves more homework than we should :)). Most of the time the work is "busy" and really doesn't serve to "engage" the student in learning what we want them to learn.

As I was browsing the Teach Paperless blog, I saw he also brought up some interesting thoughts about homework. I, too, saw Alan November this summer, and he talked about the fact that lecture should very well be on a podcast or video for students to view, and that classroom time should be spent collaborating on the work TOGETHER. Engaging as a class in learning, practicing and accomplishing - students even teaching one another (when we are willing to give up that power in the classroom).

I have been thinking a LOT lately about how much I allow the students, through inquiry, to help move the classroom through the learning process.

And I guess I really feel like homework doesn't accomplish any of this. It just gives students more work, more stress, and frankly, less time engaging in the world around them. If we're going to give them something to do at home, let's make it MEANINGFUL, REAL TO LIFE...something the students might want to do anyway outside of the school day. Let's teach them to practice learning in their everyday lives. Let's challenge them to use technology.

I can't wait for Monday.

What's your sentence?

On Monday, I'm going to introduce a new idea to my students, thanks to Daniel Pink! I'm going to use this video to introduce it:

I plan to play this video and talk with them about what they want their sentences to they want to be remembered, and what steps they'll be taking to achieve those sentences. I think I'm also going to use the question Steve Jobs talked about in his Standford Commencement address. He said when he gets up every morning he looks in the mirror and asks himself "If this were the last day of my life, would I be doing what I'm doing today?" He says if he tells himself no more than 3-5 days, then he knows there's something he should change.

After my students create their sentences, I'm going to use my flip camera to make videos of them holding up posterboard of their sentences written out. I'd like to make a video for each class. Should be a good culminating activity. It also moves toward what I've found to be the revelation of my teaching career:

I want to become a better teacher by continuing to learn from those I teach. Teaching is only made better by learning, and living is only made better by learning. In order to teach, I have to learn - and the only way to live is to continue to do both. I'm excited about this new adventure.

I'm also anxious to continue working on my goal to make my classroom entirely paperless. I am inspired by the writer of the blog Teach Paperless: I think with the way education is moving, this is a perfect way to move forward. I posted my project at, and we'll see what happens! I've already had one donor, and I'm hoping for more.

Well, so begins my blogging career. I've piddled around with it before, but I'd like to start blogging what I'm doing - and as I learn, I can share. This might just merely be for myself, but maybe it will go somewhere!