Thursday, October 28, 2010

We all got smart boards!

People think I'm tech savvy, but I'm not. I am baffled by things like connecting VCRs, or programming remote controls. Everything I learned about the Internet and websites I learned because I had to - my job switched from PR to Online PR overnight.

I went from writing press releases for news editors, to writing them to be found, or "indexed" by Google. And I taught myself the old fashioned way ... lots of time, banging my head against the computer, and using not so great language.

So I'm not sweating these smart boards. Here's my advice for people like me: In other words, non-techies who want to learn this thing in order to be at their best in the classroom.

1. No one said we have to learn this thing overnight. If we learn one new thing a week, and try putting it to use in a live classroom - that's awesome.

2. There's that whole Internet thing. I googled "smartboard tutorial" and got 50,000 results. Googling "smartboard lesson" produced 200,000 results.

I heard a teacher got a smart board for dummies book ... that's what I normally do - turn to the dummies series. But I figure the web is free.

3. Turn it on! Then click stuff. You can't break it. I set aside 5 minutes a day to make sure I'm playing with the board, outside of class. Some of these mini sessions are fruitless ... I click aimlessly and then turn off the board. Sometimes I find a cool trick - and yes I absolutely show it off the next day to the kids!

4. Ask our tech guy Jason M! He's awesome.

5. I'm finding once the ball gets rolling, it picks up momentum fast. If you learn one thing (Hey, I can pull up a website - and draw on it!) ... that quickly leads to other tricks and features to be uncovered.

My main point is I had to learn to tie my shoes by the bunny ear method ... the other way still confuses me. I do NOT have a logical, science / math-type mind. I can barely turn a screw driver, or set my car stereo.

So if I can do this, so can you. The one thing the smart board doesn't realize is I'm brutally persistent. Like a stubborn bulldog that won't stay down, or like Rocky - a little punchy but not willing to quit.

If you have any questions please come find me in room 205 and we can bang our heads against your machine together - until we figure it out. Here's a video I just found ... not awesome, at a glance kind of useful, and free!

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Observing master teachers

Yesterday I observed a master teacher in my field. I'm still not sure what a master teacher is, but that is a very cool title. It would look great on a business card. Anyway ...

I think the biggest difference I observed between the two of us was her content knowledge. We are both teaching Macbeth, and theme. She simply displayed a true, effortless mastery of this stuff ... I got the feeling she could float up to college and teach, or drop down to middle school ... without missing a beat.

I feel the same way when talking to my mentor, and especially when talking to the head of our mentorship program. These ladies know English content at an advanced level, and the kids pick up on the depth of their knowledge.

I can study theme and Shakespeare all I want: There appears no substitute for teaching a subject ten times to ten different classes. Lessons naturally become more sophisticated, layered, and nuanced.

This in itself is an argument for automatic pay increases every year, if I may return to one of my favorite themes (see what I did there?) ... teachers advocating for themselves.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Mr. Bank, what are we doing?"

I love this daily question.

"Are you referring to, dear student, the assignment I have projected on the board - the assignment I also just explained verbally ... clearly, loudly and slowly ... four times in a row?"

I asked a veteran teacher if she thinks our students are becoming progressively worse at listening to, and processing, instructions. She said she believes yes, they are; however, she offered me advice:

Don't enable them. Don't keep repeating myself. Push them to grasp the lesson's instructions the first time it's stated. Or to look up, read the board, and absorb the meaning of the words they see.

I do wonder if this information age, with rapid pieces of information flying at our kids all day long from all media angles, is affecting their ability to grasp instructions?

Oh, my second favorite question: Is this all we are doing in here today? (Typically asked 20 minutes into class). If I had a dollar ...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Meeting madness

I know good teachers can get frustrated by meeting overload; it's natural for teachers to want to spend their time either in class or preparing for class. I know I personally can feel a bit out of sorts when I rush from a before-school meeting to my first period class.

I wanted to share a series of emails / assignments between myself and an ad agency I help out a bit.

At four p.m. last Saturday, the firm CEO emailed me an assignment. I replied before dinner - then actually found time to do the assignment, and dash it off, at 10 p.m. Saturday evening.

By 6 a.m. Sunday, the firm's creative director had written me back, then the CEO wrote us again at 7 a.m. In the Blackberry, ever-connected, never shut off world, this is normal!

My point is I feel so grateful for being in this profession. Sure we have a lot of meetings - I sometimes feel being a new teacher is in large part an overall endurance test. But it sure beats the alternative ... teaching is a true joy and it beats the business world by miles and miles.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Schoolhouse still Rocks!

As I began reviewing the basics of adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. with my seniors, it felt like I literally ran into a wall of apathy about three feet thick.

Wham! (To use an interjection) ... I bounced off, regrouped, and thought twice about my initial approach: A lecture and worksheet - with a hint of smart board tossed in.

So after thinking it over, I went straight for the classics: The next day I had my class website loaded with four videos from the Schoolhouse Rocks! series.

These short, animated videos were produced between 1973 and 1999 - so I wondered if they'd seem dreadfully outdated to my seniors.

However ... both classes, even the very "energetic" third period, sat transfixed and silent as they absorbed these cartoon classics. Once the visual & mental stimulation pump was primed, my students became far more receptive to everything else we did, grammar-wise.

I'm continuing to find that kicking off topics of study (basically all topics) with visual, audio and graphic interaction lays the groundwork for deeper, lasting comprehension with this generation of kids.

For those of you who'd like to reminisce a bit, here's a favorite from the Schoolhouse series:

Conjunction Junction

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

History Channel dumbing down content?

Quick disclaimer - or maybe more like a confession? I love the History Channel. I love shows on conspiracies, and Bigfoot, and aliens, and the history behind how Twinkies are made!

But seriously, this graph is disturbing. I remember not long ago (just a few years?) the channel seemed to have actual historical content, not just shows on ghostly phenomena.

Where are our kids getting their serious topics of learning from, outside of the classroom? I think the answer appears to often be ... nowhere. But seriously, I love that channel!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The changing meaning of words

We read words ...

... Our kids click them.

I'm amazed when I project an assignment on the board, then step back and stay silent.

The students stare at the screen, many of them with blank looks on their faces. Finally someone will say, "So what do we do?" At that point, I remind them that words have meaning ... they must be absorbed, and mentally chewed over.

This might be a hint we've been spoon-feeding students directions, keeping them in a tight instructional box at the expense of critical thinking skills.

But I'm pretty sure it's deeper than that: The very definition of a word is becoming altered - from something read to gain understanding, to something clicked - in pursuit of more items to click / interact with.

I'm not judging this impact technology has had on our kids - it simply is. So I see my job as meeting these kids where they are at - by constantly jumping into their interactive world with them. It's fun, it keeps me on my toes, and it keeps me connected to the students.

Gotta go - I have to update Facebook before I tweet this blog post and then get on YouTube!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Banning banned books

With Banned Books Week coming to a close, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on why book bans are not only impractical, but potentially dangerous.

First, they are ineffective in terms of shielding our kids. With our Internet culture there's a landslide of obscene material just one click away - and our kids know it.

Also, teaching a book is hardly endorsing it (or the behaviors, themes etc. in it). I just taught Beowulf, and am pretty sure I didn't encourage the kids to actually go slaughter anything with clubs and broadswords.

My third reason is far more serious: Whenever free speech is attacked it makes me nervous. Whether it's our president dismissing Fox while he fields press conference questions from the Huffington Post ...

Let's keep the free exchange of ideas just that - free, open, flowing and vibrant.