Dead of Winter and Snow Days

Here it is the 31st of January and we are looking at yet another storm system here in the Northeast.  This has gotten me thinking about how we could continue to have school but not have to venture out on the dangerous roadways and put the students in peril.  In our area there are many back roads that simply cannot be plowed in a reasonable amount of time and the students are in danger when they are on the bus traveling on these windy, steep roads.  Is there a way to avoid this?  I know that some schools have started having cyber days – the teachers post assignments and they need to complete them online for the day they are snowbound.  How do I feel about this?  I have mixed feelings.  I, like everyone else, would like to have one set calendar schedule and not have snow days mess up the end of the year.  In addition, I love technology and I am intrigued by the thought of using it to continue my students’ education without interruption.  But I have reservations about cyber days.  If teachers are at home with their own families, is it feasible to think they could have the time to post assignments online and to moderate them?  In addition, is this sending a message that teachers, and the work we do in the classroom, are insignificant and a computer can do our job?  I don’t know.  I would like to think that the personal connections we make with our students are so much more important than the assignments we give them, but this is the era of high stakes testing.  Some politicians are looking for any excuse to say that teachers do not matter and that anyone can do what we do – and with the advent of cyber education, they make it seem that it is true.  As long as my students are safe and I am free to continue the work I love, it doesn’t really matter to me whether the school year is extended or if I need to complete some of my work online.   I just love to teach and connect with my students

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The End of Summer

In less than two short works, school starts for teachers in my school district.  The thought of a new school year fills me with both excitement and trepidation.  I love the start of a new school year and relish the challenge of a new group of students.  I am the geek who loves to buy new school supplies and who goes in to school early to get my room in to the best shape I can.  But I am also the teacher who dreads the new year because I know how busy my life will be between now and the last day of school.  

But this year I am trying to find a way to balance my school life and home life.  For the past 13 years, my personal life has come to a grinding halt once the school year has started.  I coach any sport they ask me to, I advise any group that needs an advisor, I take on any curricular challenge that is presented to me, and I do it all without worrying about my personal life.  

But this year I want things to be different.  When I come home at night, I want to have time to do my knitting and crafts, I want to spend more time with my friends and family, and I want to have time to finally have a social life, something I have not made time for in years.

I don’t want to feel that I am letting my students down if I don’t spend hours each evening planning and grading.  I want to feel like I have a normal job just as most people do.  When I go home I want my work to be done whether I have finished or not – those papers will still be there tomorrow and I need to stop beating myself up for not taking my personal time to finish them.  I need to realize that I am just as important as my students and I deserve my personal time.  If I take care of myself and enrich my home life, it can only make me a better teacher in my classroom when I am with my students.  I just have to repeat the following to myself for those 180 days of school:  If you are happy outside of school, you will be happier at school!

Election Thoughts

So, here it is.  The night before the presidential election and I still have no idea who I am voting for.  Am I lazy and just haven’t done my research?  Am I that ambivalent about the future of this country that I haven’t decided?  No.  I just haven’t found the candidate I am looking for.  Here is my wishlist for a president – let me know if you know who she is and I will gladly vote for her tomorrow.

I want a president who values education over testing.  Educators want to teach our students how to teach and how they can use that knowledge beyond the walls of our classes, but we are bogged down with test prep and we cannot do that.

I want a president who will do away with No Child Left Behind and will not create new initiatives (Race to the Top) to make it look like they are moving away from NCLB.  It all accomplishes the same thing – test companies get richer, students get more testing to prove how little their teachers have taught them (isn’t that the point of the testing?  to find fault with the teachers?  no?  really?).

I want a president who has spent time in a high school classroom with a bunch of apathetic teenagers, and has figured out how to trick said teenagers in to learning something.  No one should be able to mandate what teachers do in their classrooms unless they have lived through the nine circles of hell that is high school teaching (I do love my job, but it has been a trial by fire!).  Don’t mandate that I teach root words unless you have figured out how to successfully engage teenagers yourself.  Don’t mandate that all students learn the rhetorical strategies necessary to be persuasive, unless you have tried to teach farm kids the importance of knowing an ethical appeal from an emotional appeal from a logical appeal.

I want a president who values creative thinking in students and not the current model of teaching where there is only one answer (the one to be found on the state mandated test).  Who will be this next generation’s Stephen King, George Lucas, or J.K. Rowling if we never teach them how to tap in to their creative potential?

Last, I want a president who knows that cutting funding to education, while mandating more and more to the states is a recipe for disaster.  I need a president who is willing to put their money where their mouth is and stop mandating more asinine programs that do not teach our students how to learn.  This world is full of all beautiful shades of gray, so why am I teaching that it is just black and white?  My choice for president needs to see that smaller class sizes, more creative learning, more electives, and all of the arts and sciences are equally important.  As an English teacher, I am considered one of the “core” subjects in Education.  Guess what?  When I was a student, music was my core subject.  High school would have been hell for me if I hadn’t had band and choir.  This is what politicians fail to see:  the world needs all kinds of people, not just those who can perform on a math or reading test.  We need artists and musicians to make our day more beautiful.  We need scientists to make our lives healthier.  We need farmers to grow the best food possible.  We need mechanics and builders to keep us moving forward.  We need chefs and bakers to help us savor the wonderful flavors of this world.  We need all aspects of life to make America better, and students need to experience all of it, in high school, to figure out where they belong.  So a presidential pick for me would put money in to all of these programs to help students be the best version of themselves.  This can’t be accomplished by dumping all of the educational funding into math and science (no offense my math and science peeps – you know I love you, even when I don’t understand you!).

So, when I find a candidate who fills the above wish list, then I will know who to vote for.  Until then, I guess I will write in Gary Johnson’s name and vote Libertarian because Democrat and Republican just aren’t cutting it for me! (That could be a total lie – I am still torn and still have no idea who to vote for!)

2020 Vision

Recently, I started thinking about what the world of education could look like in the year 2020.  What would my classroom be like in 8 years?  How would my students best interact with the material I present?  What technologies would I use in the classroom?  Would I even have a classroom – or would I sit at home in PJs and have only virtual classes?  To answer these questions, I looked back at how education has changed in just my first 12 years in the classroom.

In my first six years, technology exploded and was able to have 4 computers in my classroom for my students to use, I had my own laptop, projector, and speakers for multimedia presentations.  After that technology leveled out and didn’t change a whole lot.  The schools had computer labs for the students to use and I continued to have the materials I needed at hand, but no new technologies were added.  In the last couple of years, my school has seemed to slide backwards with the in-class technology, but is trying to jump ahead with virtual technology.  Computers for student use are not being maintained, printers were removed from classrooms and photocopying became more difficult to do.  With this in my mind, I have begun to envision what my class will be like in 8 years.

First, I  think textbooks will be optional and students will carry iPads or other tablets instead.  Instead of endless trips to their lockers for the books they need for the specific classes, they would just need their tablet.  All reading could be done from the tablets and students could create their documents, multimedia presentations, etc from their tablets.  Students would not need to carry notebooks with them either, since they can type their work in something like google docs and have their materials at the ready when they need it.  In addition, work they type could be submitted to a group page for review and for students to keep a record of their learning.  By the year 2020 all of the students’ tablets could effortlessly project their information as soon as they, or I, wanted them to. As students write, and hopefully create a great example of whatever assignment they are working on, they could easily share it with the class to enhance everyone’s learning.

In addition, discussions will not stop at the end of the class period.  Blogs and wikis will be commonplace applications that all students will be required to use to enhance their learning experience.  Students will discuss what they think about the reading in class and how it can relate to their lives.  Instead of trying to find the one “right” answer, students will try to find the answer for their world.  This technology and the discussions will help them to see that there isn’t one answer in class or in life.

Last, I do not think that all learning will be virtual as some people in education seem to be pushing for.  Students and teachers need interaction and I totally believe that even in the year 2020, brick and mortar classrooms will still exist and they will still thrive.  Yes there will be some virtual learning taking place, but it will enhance what is going on in the classroom, not instead of having a classroom experience.  I absolutely believe in the personal interactions that take place between a student and teacher and that they will still be important in the year 2020.  Students will use all of the applications and technology, but the student/teacher interaction will be just as important.

And since this is my projection of what the year 2020 will look like in the everyday classroom, we will have cycled out of the endless testing and using technology, we will be once again teaching students how to think and not what to think!  With the use of blogs, wikis, and applications such as moodle, administrators will be able to access what they students are learning at all times so the need for endless testing will be unnecessary.  We already see this some today with the use of ProgressBook for student monitoring.  With class blogs, wikis and moodles, student work and teacher edits would be available to all anytime they wanted them.  This openness would allow parents to see student progress, administrators to see teacher work and student work, as well as the progress made by each student over the course of their school career.   This would allow for teachers to teach students how to think again, instead of force feeding them the answer that test makers deem correct.  I believe these technologies can open up classroom discussion again.  Students can talk about poetry and short stories and how it is relevant to their lives instead of just finding something like examples of literary elements.  Discussions about how these elements enhance the poems and short stories could become the most important part of the classroom again.  Students can use their tablets to enhance their learning by creating visuals for what they see when they read the material, using something like Flickr.  They could then share this visual representation with their classmates and enhance everyone’s learning experience.

The year 2020 seems quite bright in my version of what education will look like in 8 years.  They say if you stay a teacher long enough, everything becomes new again.  Everything cycles through and teachers get to move past some things they don’t like and lose some things they do like.  I choose to think that they year 2020 will see some great things.  Teachers using Web 2.0 technology to enhance learning, students interact with the material in a variety of ways that create the most meaning for them.  Classrooms being environments accepting of this generations’ electronic lifestyle.  The year 2020 will be the best year to be a teacher as all of the quirks will be worked out of the applications students will use most, teachers will have had time to be sufficiently trained in the use of these technological advancements, and school districts will have drafted guidelines for usage that support both the teachers and students so that everyone will work together to create the best group of graduates in a very long time.

Zoho Notebook

I can see many possibilities for using Zoho Notebook in the classroom.  It could serve as a storage for all of my students’ work and as a means for my students to create reviews for each unit.  For vocab, I have my students create a review of the words, synonyms and antonyms.  At this time, they have to come to my room to create these reviews in order for them to use the SmartBoard.  With Zoho Notebook, they could create a review that simulates a whiteboard environment, allowing students to create these on their own.  With Zoho Notebook, students can use the notebook to add documents, import video, picture, etc.  In addition, students can create whiteboard presentations to enhance other students’ learning, as well as their own.

Big Shifts are Coming!

As I read in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms this week, I started to think about my teaching practice and the way teaching was described using Web 2.0 technologies.  I got my first full time teaching job in 2000 and I have never felt comfortable being a lecturer.  I guess I don’t like the sound of my own voice or I don’t see the merit in my standing in front of a room full of children giving them information they could read for themselves.  For me, reading and writing have always been how I learn, so I want my students to do the same.  Any topic I throw at them, today’s students can find on the internet in the space of a few seconds.  How do I stay relevent in the classroom?

So far this shift to student centered learning has not effected my teaching practice.  I have always tried to make my classroom an environment where I point the students in the right direction, but they must find the knowledge themselves.  I think this would stay the same even as Web 2.0 technologies become more prevalent.

In the future, I see my role shifting even further into the realm of coach/facilitator and less as the head of the classroom.  Once my students have access to the necessary technology, I can see my role changing even more.  For now, though, I don’t see it changing much because of the lack of technology access.

My views have not changed much since I started my online collaboration course, but it has strengthened my resolve to be the type of teacher I am.  Many older teachers think nothing is happening in my room when they walk in and the students are in groups and I am at my desk answering any questions that may come up.  They don’t see the work the students are doing and how they are the masters of their own learning.  Luckily, I have a principal who gets what I am doing and is very supportive of my teaching style.  With the big shifts coming in education, more and more teachers are going to have to learn how to be facilitators and not lecturers.

One use of technology I can see in my students’ futures is the use of a Blog to store learning.  Once I convince our tech department to open up student access it would be a great resource for compiling research material, etc.

Paperless Class

Recently, I read an article about a completely paperless classroom:  no books, no papers distributed or collected.  This got me thinking, is this possible?  Would I want to do something like that?  In the past, I have tried to have students turn in their essays electronically, but I have found the editing process to be somewhat cumbersome.  I can’t mark an essay very quickly when I have to click three times on the document to make one succinct comment.  With that past experience, pondering the following questions seemed like a chore.

How would a paperless class change your role as a teacher?  As it is, I view my role as the teacher as more of a facilitator in their journey to knowledge.  I am not a lecturer and I try to force my students to be responsible for their own learning and I supplement their knowledge and make sure they are heading in a direction that is beneficial to them.  Going paperless would not affect this type of teaching.  Instead of printing articles for students to read that relate to the topic, I could post it online and have students read it on their own.  I could also post my guiding questions for them to have in front of them as we work through material.  The only downfall I see is that students would have to have a tablet or some electronic device to use during class in order for me to be truly paperless.

How would paperless classes change learning?  I don’t know that paperless classes would change learning.  Students still need to interact with the material in order to understand it.  It might enhance learning for some students who need visuals to truly remember learning – they could add this to their assignment where before they couldn’t.

How would you measure learning in a paperless class?  Measuring learning would be my biggest challenge.  I like a pen in my hand and paper in front of me to grade and paperless grading would present some problems for me.  Maybe once you work with it long enough, it will seem as simple as paper grading, but I don’t feel that most editing programs offer enough ease of use for English teachers to grade essays very efficiently.

Would a paperless space make it easier or harder to build a learning network? Why?  In some ways paperless space would make for a better learning network.  It would allow all students to fully interact, even if they are shy in class, but it might also lead to issues of not knowing how to sensor what you say.  I can see both sides and I am not sure which is correct.

At this point in my career, I cannot see going paperless as an advantage for myself or my students.  I have too many hangups about being paperless and my students do not have enough access to the technology necessary to go truly paperless.