Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Online Grades: A Beautiful Thing

Our school district has launched an online portal allowing parents (and students if they have the log in info) to check grades and attendance.

I was already used to this, from my student teaching experience, and now as a teacher I'm loving the potential implications for our district.

This transparency potentially eliminates uncertainty, while streamlining communication. It also bolsters accountability - parents and students with a Net connection are able to gauge the student's performance with a few mouse clicks.

No surprises, no excuses - it's all online.

Attitude of Gratitude

I was asked to reflect on what makes my days at school exceptional and energized, versus those days when we come home feeling tired and defeated.

To answer my fellow Pinnacle team members, it's really a simple formula. I begin the day with an attitude of appreciation, realizing how lucky I am to be in a position to change lives and make a difference.

I spend quiet time in the morning, in reflection and a state of calm, gathering strength for the day. Listening to one of my favorite songs, thinking, reflecting, praying, I seek that special peace that transcends all worldly things.

Then I teach as if no one is watching: No peers, no administration - just me and the students. I know if I've done well not through evaluation tools, but by the simple and ultimate test. I can stare at the man in the glass, and he lets me know.

Teaching is a gift, and realizing this seems to help unlock my own gifts. This is all easier said than done, but it's what I'm committed to do ... no matter how often I fall short of this goal. With failing comes humility and the chance to grow, but that's another post entirely.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Audacity: Bringing Lord of the Flies to Life

Lord of the Flies is a book students seem to dread reading, and teachers also complain about teaching (me included). The wording / language in this novel is sometimes as thick and dense as the book's jungle setting.

Using Audacity, the extremely simple audio program, I was able to breathe some life into this book - and actually get a group of seniors excited at 8 a.m. in the morning. Our assignment intro is below, along with a link to the entire lesson ... which culminated in a discussion about careers in marketing.

Students complain a lot about Lord of the Flies being boring. You've just been hired by Bank Marketing and Design to change all that.

A new Lord of the Flies movie is coming out, and you are writing the radio spot. Work alone or in groups - and make a 30 second spot to really pull in potential movie goers.

Time it out - this is tricky and challenging!

Next, go over to the recording studio and create your spot using Audacity.

You aren't done yet ... next get with your art department, and create a compelling movie poster to accompany your radio spot. Advertising works best when many pieces are working together, such as print and radio.

Before we get started, let's look at some tips for great radio commercials.

Remember we'll want to focus on sounds! adjectives! emotion!! Your voice is your tool here.

(Entire lesson here)

Student Work Examples:

note: MediaFire was used to host these files ... it's a free file hosting service. Audacity files cannot be opened by anything except Audacity (I discovered).

So, I exported them as MP3 files. These should open in Windows Media Player or your default media player. Just click "download" and click the file that downloaded in the corner of your screen.

This is a free service, and annoyingly - to share them publicly - MediaFire sometimes puts a commercial on top of the audio track. Just let it play and rewind. (You get what you pay for).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bring museums and art to your classroom

Google never ceases to amaze me, in its steady march to global conquest. Or so it seems at times.

My latest discovery is Google's Art Project, which allows you to take stunning virtual tours of famous museums and the works of art inside.

Interested in Van Gogh? Jump to that museum, and browse art ... or walk the halls through zooming features similar to Google's streetview technology.

I'll be using this in both my literature and history classes, for sure.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Legacy of the Friends Generation

For years I've had this theory: My generation is the "Friends" generation - sharing values with the popular sitcom where no one grew up until they passed the age of 30.

I have seen this manifest all around me ... for example a good friend of mine gave a public speech before a large crowd. He referred to himself as "a young man not ready to settle down," despite being 28. His statement was met with nods all throughout the crowd.

Several of us, of course, matured and settled down quickly ... but many of us have not (and still remain adrift). During a time of surplus and support from all angles (family, government, societal sentiment) we created a generation of kids willing to push off responsibility indefinitely.

The question is: How will this impact the generation of kids coming up now? It's amazing to look at a speech by Kennedy, telling America to sacrifice and give to government.

Now contrast that with virtually any speech given by any politician. Very few call for sacrifice; rather, most politicians seem in a contest to see who can promise the most "stuff" to us in one form or another.

Here's to hoping our kids look back at Friends as what it is: A silly show reflecting skewed values of a society that straightened itself back out.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

High school in one year!

From a recent news article in a tech magazine:

"You read that headline correctly. Nolan Bushnell, who you may know as Atari's founder says he's been working on a project called "Speed to Learn" — a cloud computing game that he believes can be implemented to give students a complete high school education in under one year."

One positive I see here - cloud computing would indeed bring computer networks to a new level of efficiency. But other than that, it may be one of the worst ideas I've heard. I could probably write a book on why this is a horrible idea. One reason - exposure to dozens of gifted, dedicated teachers would be missed ...

Rather than rant, I'll just let the editors of this magazine sum up the idea:

"We're all for accelerated learning, but he's forgetting something else too, and that is, high school isn't just about learning as much information as possible. It's also about the experience, memories and friends that you pick up along the way. That's something that can't be sped up."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Introducing ... Common Core Standards

North Carolina is one of 44 states that have adopted Common Core standards - a state-led effort designed to "provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce."

Sounds good to me. But are we missing the mark? Are we really getting to the "core" issues at hand?

Walking out of a meeting today where we were introduced to this new process, I struck up a conversation with a very sharp, seasoned teacher at my school.

He mentioned that these standards probably won't apply to the courses he teaches, as they are specialized electives. "That must be wonderful - to have the freedom that comes with teaching such electives," I said.

He replied that yes, there is latitude to teach what he wants; however, he lamented that his students aren't at all interested or engaged. They just don't care about learning.

I thought for a minute and responded, "You know, these great new standards and the countless man hours that went into their creation don't really address the problem. We as a nation don't prioritize education."

We exchanged a few more thoughts: Teachers are constantly pushed this way and that, as curriculum constantly changes. The real problem runs far deeper than standards, or revisions to Bloom's Taxonomy.

As I've said before, we're collectively putting a polish on a bruised apple. Train, test, reteach, push kids, plan, prepare, collaborate, incorporate technology ...

At the end of the day we either celebrate education as a culture, or we don't. And currently, we don't.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

File Cabinets on Google Sites - My New Friend

As a student teacher and first-year teacher, I wrestled with where to store documents online. I'm talking about things like a course syllabus, parent forms, etc.

My solution was to host them on a free Microsoft site, and link to it from my Google site - a messy, multi-step process.

The entire time the answer was right in front of me - Google Pages' File Cabinets. I'm already using Google for blogging, calendars, feed reader, email, Google Alerts, and a lot more - so it makes sense to keep everything consolidated and accessible from one easy dashboard.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Your child's mind on Google

Recently a member of the professional talking class blogged about the downfall of our educational system, and she blamed Google and other technologies for contributing to our collective demise.

Her thesis is "we are a nation losing the ability to think," in part because we are outsourcing our memories and minds to Google, etc.

It was a bit ironic that she spread this blog post simultaneously on her Facebook page and Twitter account. I also wonder how many times she used Google to google data for her post.

But to the more important point, she's wrong.

I am teaching History for the first time this year, and just talked in-depth with the guy who taught the course last year. The level of critical thinking his 9th graders were engaging in was extremely impressive - awesome, actually. He's great with tech in the classroom: Actually our entire district is, and leading the charge is a group of tech facilitators greatly enhancing our learning community.

And about Google - it's called progress and it can't be undone. It is - we have to adapt and deal. I love Google - I use it dozens of times a week; heck, I've used it a few times just to write this short post.

Yes a lot is broken in our system. No, it's not Google's fault. A far too simplistic answer to a very real, complex problem.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Teaching Like a Poet

Reflecting on our two week, intensive Pinnacle training, it's time to step back from the technology tool trees ... and take a look at the entire forest.

I became a teacher as part of a personal search for meaning. For me, it's always been about the big picture - how to live a life of meaning and purpose. I've consistently put content second to addressing the first order of business: How should one live his or her life?

Our Pinnacle facilitators repeatedly brought up the concept of meaning these past two weeks, in one form or another. I see that they get this concept ... to them tech tools and wired classrooms are wonderful.

But they, too, seem to understand we are here for a greater purpose.

By nature, we are spiritual and self-reflective creatures. I want to show my students the mystery in life. I want to dig deep into the good and bad, the beautiful, the wicked, and the sublime. I want to explore the depths of human nature with my students, and help mold them into self-aware, creative, reflective individuals.

Our world would be better off if we encouraged more poets. Forget "outside the box," let's leave the entire box behind.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Twitter Made Super Simple

Twitter can seem overwhelming for new users, as the stream of information appears never-ending in a firehose-like blast.

Here's a simple solution for more comfortable Twitter browsing: Just log into The Tweeted Times with your Twitter account.

The program will pull together a newspaper-looking page for you, so you can browse through your tweets in a comfortable, leisurely fashion. It's similar to Google Reader's Player, actually.

This application also shows off some Web 3.0 features - it pulls together the tweets most appropriate for you, to give you the most relevant reading experience.

Happy tweeting!

Manage Info Overload with Google Reader

Information overload can be very real for those of us attempting to find and digest the latest trends in our field.

Thankfully, in steps Google Reader to save the day.

By simply subscribing to website / blog RSS feeds (clicking the little icon below), we can view all of our favorite info sources in one spot - when it's convenient to us. Just click the icon, and choose the reader of your choice.

Reader even has a cool player feature, which makes viewing info an even more simple, pleasant experience.

Online Business Card ... Sort Of

With so many different social platforms, it's nice to have one place that captures and organizes everything.

With one simple link, I can share my social networks with the world.

Perfect for signature files, "about me" sections of blogs, etc. And it's free!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Google Sites 101

Need a free, simple class website?

Google Sites is probably worth a look. In a few minutes, you can build your site and have it live to the world.

Neat features include a file cabinet system, where you can upload, organize and store documents like parent permission forms, your class syllabus, etc.

There are several templates from which to choose, including this neat classroom template.

My only reservation is the long, awkward url Google will attach to your site. You can, however, direct your Google Site to a custom domain, if you want to put down the ten to twenty bucks a year.

Lots of plug-in gadgets, and even an ability to edit html, make Google Sites another great, free product from the search giant.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

GoAnimate brings Macbeth to life

I helped create this in a group project at Pinnacle, while searching for ways to bring literature to life.

GoAnimate is a cool tool - fun, easy to use, and free ... I plan on using it in the classroom next year.

(this project is a bit sarcastic; the characters are purely fictional!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why I'm rejoining Twitter

Who is Twitter good for?

In my opinion, anyone engaged in a specialized community (such as education) can benefit enormously from Twitter.

The average Joe with a Facebook account will probably find the experience redundant; however, people seeking specialized information related to specialized fields can strike gold with Twitter.

To get started, find some education bloggers you like, and follow them. It's really that easy.

Then it becomes like connect the dots ... you will notice other interesting education thought leaders, and soon, you'll enjoy a strong stream of engaging tweets every time you log on.

As for getting your own followers ...

This is a social network, so be social! Comment on other tweets, and provide thoughtful, relevant, engaging tweets of your own. Soon you'll develop your own network of followers.

Why I'm back

As an online PR guy a few years ago, it was my job to stay abreast of the very latest trends in Internet marketing and social media. When I left for education, this entire 2.0 world lost a great deal of relevance. I had no need to be hyper-connected to the latest 2.0 trends as I hit the books for 2.5 years.

Now, immersed again in technology - but this time through the education prism - it makes good sense to once again engage with thought leaders in my field. 

And that's Twitter 101 in a nutshell. Happy tweeting!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Popcorn Brain

A recent CNN article highlights a phenomenon researchers are calling popcorn brain: Intense brain stimulation from constant Internet engagement may be shortening attention spans and reducing our ability to focus.

The article mentions a woman who feels guilty because she can't take a brief walk with her husband without playing with her smart phone.

Yesterday, I went to an action-packed outdoor sporting event with my school's tech coordinator. He filmed every event in which I participated, and instantly uploaded the videos to Posterous. In all, we both probably spent over half of our time engaging with media - from directions to the event, to Net surfing on the ride home.

I will also admit that when I watch a movie with my wife, I typically have my laptop open next to me ... it's rare I completely shut down the machine and focus on a film.

So what does all of this mean?

For me in the classroom, it comes down to expectations and teaching style. We should expect short attention spans, and expect our kids to dread worksheets and tune out long lectures.

We should push ourselves to stay abreast of technology, and use it frequently in short, dynamic lessons.

I think most of all we should accept reality for what it is ... vs. pining for what was.

Fact: Our kids think and learn differently than many of us do. I'll keep popcorn brain in mind as I develop my lessons for the coming year. All I need to focus is a good legal pad and ballpoint pen.

... and two laptops running Google Chrome. And the TV on, streaming a movie. And my smart phone. And something cold to drink. That's it!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The difference between boys and girls

I'm studying for a Praxis test (fun!) and one of the flashcards deals with gender discrimination. Yes I'm using flashcards - don't judge me.

I stopped and reflected on each point from this densely worded card, to see if I'm guilty:

- teachers give boys more attention and approval than girls. not guilty

- boys are better at math; girls are the writers / creatives. not guilty, I seem to think the opposite is true, because ...

- girls are more docile and passive; boys are more assertive and active. guilty

I've witnessed several quiet, focused girls working away on their science and math problems. They seem better able to sit quietly and focus - so yes, I bought into the above stereotype that boys are naturally more rowdy.

But aren't they?

Without wading too deep, and over my head, into the waters of nature versus nurture - and gender as a social construct - I will just say that little boys generally seem to have a greater tendency to blow things up and cause chaos than do little girls.

I welcome thoughts on this topic, and again I point out the word "generally."


- boys are more often asked to assume leadership roles. not guilty

- boys are punished more harshly for breaking the rules. partially guilty

- in general, boys are reprimanded more frequently for behavior, whereas girls are criticized for skill deficiency. partially guilty

Were it not for this set of flashcards I'm suffering through, I'd have never reflected on this important issue. At least, I wouldn't have tackled it in time to raise awareness and make adjustments for next year.

Thank you, Praxis. I may just be a small fraction more enlightened than I was moments ago!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time to up the Rigor Factor

As I wrap up my first year teaching, I'm pretty clear on what I want (and need) to improve on next year. My classroom management is tightened up, and it's time to focus on rigor.

I just read an article stating what most of us already understand - college students are graduating without real skills. Their ability to think critically, and step right into a high-performance job, simply isn't there.

I know someone who graduated from a very fancy school in NYC; after a year long job search she just landed a job as a part-time assistant, helping the account execs and creatives. She wasn't ready to handle anything more taxing, despite four years at a very costly university.

Four year colleges should be creating account executives, not assistants. The article cited above states wryly, "Student undergraduate cultures will have to change, with students themselves recognizing that they need more from college than a paper diploma and an expanded roster of Facebook friends."

Anyone can critique culture and classrooms from the armchair: I hope the great mentors and staff here at my school hold my feet to the fire ... as I work to keep my pledge and forge a strong chain in this interconnected educational ladder.

Hat's off to the wonderful kids who made my first year so incredibly special. To their futures - I offer a virtual toast.

And, to rigor!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The great Osama web search (and what it means)

A colleague pointed out to me that searches for Osama Bin Laden spiked radically nationwide following his death; most interesting was the number of teenagers who were on Google and Yahoo, trying to figure out the significance of this man.

"Interesting," I replied - "How cool that our teenagers have this info at their fingertips!"

"No, you are missing the point," replied my friend, "It's really sad our kids don't know who Osama is."

At this point I smiled a forced smile, trying to sort out all of the thoughts running together in my head.

My reply to him was something like this: I'm not at all surprised our kids don't know who Osama is. Our national priorities and values have been radically skewed and dangerously misplaced for years now - and things are only getting worse.

Values dear to my heart - hard work, discipline, individual freedom, the value of personal achievement - all of these have been collectively pushed onto the back burner.

Speaking to my 88 year-old grandmother over spring break, she explained to me that of course she grew up believing America was the greatest nation in the world. How things have changed.

No, I'm not at all surprised our kids don't know who Osama is. Remember our solemn oath to each other: "9/11 - Never Forget" ... ?

Guess what, America? We forgot.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Four Week Game Plan

Coming back to school today, after spring break and with about a month of school left, I am wondering if my seniors will be refreshed ... or mentally checked out.

A veteran teacher told me to expect a bit of both, and he showed me his 4 week game plan he hands out to each student.

Nothing fancy - just a brief list of what they'll be working on during this final home stretch. One thing I've learned is students appreciate structure and spelled out expectations. So I'm kicking off each period today with a classroom huddle, and a review of our action plan.

A simple but smart concept. Thanks Mr. Craig!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Most Sensitive Generation?

I'm reading a book by Father Michael Scanlan, who's among other things the academic dean of the University of Steubenville.

In it he recounts a story from his childhood where he fell from first place in the class to fifth place or so ... see, their seating assignments were according to academic class rank. Scanlan just missed World War II, but shares the values, work ethic and philosophy of "The Greatest Generation."

Can you imagine that today? Visibly ranking students according to academic performance and effort?

The lines in our culture running between accomplishment and recognition have long ago been muddied and smeared; celebs and public figures have shown us a person can be famous for just about anything. Or virtually nothing.

The biggest violation a teacher can commit, in the eyes of his students, appears to be "calling a student out." Singling out a student for negative behavior in front of his or her peers.

My fear is while much of the world seeks a softer way, reality remains very real. The grades of all students are still posted on the walls in China; employers still want only the best and brightest - and hardest working - and they still fire employees at will in the quest for the best talent.

"Life is not a bowl of cherries, Vincent," my grandmother has said to me sternly, several dozen (hundred?) times over the years.

I've come to learn the fruit tastes so much sweeter when it's been picked from high places.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Create Digital Timelines with Dipity

Dipity is a neat, free online tool students and teachers can use in a lot of cool ways.

In just a few clicks, you can combine pics, text, links and map locations to really bring a timeline to life. Here's one I found on Shakespeare.

The free version has a few ads up top - nothing obtrusive. A cool tool for History or current events, for sure - here's one on the civil war in Libya.

Dipity would also be great for desktop publishing or a similar tech-oriented class; here's a timeline on Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Refining Google searches for file type

Navigating Google can be a bit overwhelming, at times like fishing for a minnow in the ocean.

You can refine your searches with this formula: (topic) then filetype:

Example: I searched for Shakespeare filetype: swf ... because I wanted an interactive flash video to show my students. I found this very cool animated, interactive site about the Globe Theater.

You can do the same thing for most file types.

Happy searching!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Endorsing Social Media: Fun w/ Fake Facebook

Ever since I dove deep into social media marketing, I've been struck by the thought that kids are writing more today than ever before - thanks to social media.

Critics argue this new platform has no depth; I prefer the glass half full, and say hey, let's encourage them. Some writing is better than no writing!

Here's a cool site students can sign up for quickly and on the fly (great for computer labs, etc.) - My Fake Wall. It's a neat creative outlet for the kids, in a language they understand and appreciate.

We're currently using this program for a lit unit on Macbeth. Thanks to my friendly neighborhood tech facilitator for the idea.

(Ps ... downside - program has a lot of ad clutter. You get what you pay for ...)

Monday, March 7, 2011

A technology utopia

What if every student, upon entering high school, were handed a lightweight, wireless-ready laptop and an e-reader? Heavy, boring textbooks instantly become a thing of the past ... and all lessons involve an interactive, tech-based component.

Everything instantly changes ... messy, tiring handwritten essays are typed with ease - as students surf the web, pulling in content and finding a world of resources at their fingertips. Skilled educators help these kids navigate the info superhighway safely and productively.

And classroom activities routinely center around smartboards and connected classrooms - as ideas are exchanged among classes, and even across countries and cultures.

So. What would the results of this digital revolution actually be?

I paint this dreamy scenario because so much of the education dialogue centers around tech, and the promise it brings. So back to my question: What would actually happen in this ultra-wired, digitally collaborative world?

My guess is very little, in terms of ultimate impact and short / mid-term academic progress.

Folks, we are polishing a bruised apple: Until we experience a societal shift in values, and education emerges as a true priority versus a political talking point, not much will change.

Discipline, hard work, ambition, accountability, morality.

Without these ideas being embraced by our larger culture, any tech utopia we construct will be built on a foundation of clouds.

Friday, February 18, 2011

You're a teacher? Lucky you!

So, I was talking to this guy recently at the gym: He's a very cool fellow actually ... a martial arts instructor and an overall nice guy.

"Oh you're a teacher?" he asked. "Cool - great schedule and summers off!" As he popped off with this response, it was almost as if there were a hint of jealousy in his voice. He wasn't dismissive of my career - he just appeared to hold the opinion that it's not really all that hard.

How did the public's perception of our profession become so radically skewed?

"Oh, you're a karate instructor? What, you just threw a few punches ... broke a board or something, and now you strut around in a fancy uniform?"

Imagine if I'd have said that to him. I wouldn't be typing because my fingers would be broken - but you get the point.

I did speak up. I said that yes, I'm very lucky to be a teacher, and I added that this is the most challenging thing I've ever done.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Using Blogger safely in the classroom

Blogger is an awesome tool for a lot of classroom projects - the uses are almost endless.

However, Blogger does have a navigation bar at the top of the web page ... this built-in search bar can, unfortunately, lead students to inappropriate websites.

This Warrior Rookie page doesn't have the nav bar; nor does my classroom website.

I simply removed it: Here's how -

1- Log into blogger

2- On your Dashboard, select Layout. This will take you to the Template tab. Click Edit HTML.

3 - Now, copy this code below (highlight, control C)

#navbar-iframe {
display: none !important;
4. Find this code - near the top in the HTML view.
Blogger Template Style
Name: Rounders
Designer: Douglas Bowman
URL: www.stopdesign.com
Date: 27 Feb 2004
Updated by: Blogger Team
----------------------------------------------- */
5. Paste in the code right below this section. Hit preview - if the nav bar is gone, it worked!

Hit save.

Now your Blogger is a safe and effective tool for use in schools ... still, see your school acceptable use policy and talk with your tech facilitators to make sure you are adhering to appropriate guidelines!

Happy Blogging!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Driving with help from DASH

Our school uses a very cool data mining tool called DASH - powered by TetraData.

In a snap, we can drill down and see everything from student absences and discipline history, to standardized test scores, to district-wide data.

It really empowers teachers, and allows me to act solidly on those hunches and gut feelings we get. I can recognize patterns of student behavior that go back years ... or, ID right off the bat the struggling students in need of differentiated instruction.

I can also see who the troopers are - students here daily and giving their all - despite putting low test numbers on the board. I love those kids.

As Martha would surely say, "Mining student data ... it's a good thing."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pitching My Clients

I just spent 4.5 hours pitching 90 clients - that's exhausting.

Here's a typical marketing pitch: Show up and sit in the lobby, then be greeted by the client. Enjoy a beverage as you set up the projector, and unpack your briefcase.

Pleasantries are exchanged, and you put on a 20 minute slideshow. They ask a few questions, and then you pack up, exchange business cards, and make plans for next steps.

The whole thing lasts an hour tops - two on the rarest of occasions.

Pitching my kids today, in an attempt to build buy-in for me and my course, was far more intense than any business presentation I've ever given.

I know how important the first day of school is (as Mr. Wong and all of my mentors have taught me) ... and this second semester I put every last ounce of energy into setting procedure and expectations. My voice is actually hoarse.

The first semester, I did exactly what Wong says not to do - I glossed over procedure and dove into material. My kids respected me, but overall classroom management needed tightened.

So, I plan to drill procedure and expectations for the first few weeks. I also rarely sit down - but these first few weeks my desk and I will be complete strangers during class time.

This is my plan and I'm sticking to it ... I'll report back!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ugly fonts, messy handwriting = more learning?

Our school's tech guy (not his official title) loves the Smartboard feature that converts handwriting to a digital font. He reminds us repeatedly that kids hate reading our messy handwriting.

Well here's an article citing a study which claims simple, easy to read fonts actually inhibit learning.

The article states that e-readers like Kindle use such a casual font, that the brain absorbs the information too passively ... and so the info is often forgotten rather than absorbed.

But on the other hand, standout fonts and hard-to-read handwriting make the brain work to understand the information, and this extra effort facilitates learning.

Ha. I bet my second grade teacher who gave me all the Fs in handwriting feels silly now!

UPDATE: our school tech guy sent this link to the Scientific American, which basically states the opposite: Easy, clear, simple instructions (including clear fonts & handwriting), serve to enhance both motivation and success.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reflections on my first semester

When I walked into this classroom five months ago, it was a mess. It looked like a tornado had struck; so, I stripped it down and began the gradual process of making it my own.

I suppose the initial physical chaos was a perfect parallel for my spinning thoughts ...

Well, my room is still not the neatest classroom in the building, or best decorated, or something you'd see in a textbook.

But I love it. I love it, and I cherish every activity that's gone into shaping and decorating this humble little classroom where we try and tackle big ideas. And I suppose as the room's slowly come together, my thoughts have leveled out as well. Chaos has been replaced by an increasing sense of calm.

Kate Chopin said the beginning of things are necessarily vague, scary and uncertain. Becoming a first year teacher, and switching careers, felt like I had moved to another planet. (Not to mention moving from Ohio to North Carolina, and getting married, and buying a house - all in a period of weeks). Oh, and we got a puppy, too.

It feels as if all of my previous experiences have paved the way for a degree of initial success: The highs and lows of my life positioned me to enter the classroom with at least a little bit of poise.

But man, ultimately, was I clueless. Preparing now for the second semester, I feel like a wizened old veteran. But I know at the end of the year I'll look back to this moment, and smile at how naive I am, sitting here typing ... still largely having no clue.

Sure, there's fear inherently tied up in beginnings, and in the unknown. But there's a beauty in it too: I know can never have these moments back.

I don't know if I'll become hardened and jaded - I suspect everyone does, at least to some degree. But right now everything is still gold.

Better classroom management, tighter lessons, diving deeper into content knowledge ... of course these are my focuses.

But I have the gift of shaping a child's character, and impacting lives every day. That remains my real focus. Frost says nothing gold can stay ... but that's not entirely true.

Dawn goes down to day, and beauty is temporal - but the values I'm working to instill are in fact timeless. I offer up this little prayer: May the seed I plant this new semester be worthy, and true, and live on in my students. To be neither a sheep, nor a wolf - but a sheepdog, day in and day out.

Thank you to my mentors past, for your time and dedication; and thanks to my current mentors (there are several) who are helping me in the coolest profession there is - teaching.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Parenting styles and student performance

At a moment when China's president is on U.S. soil for official state business, and given the fact my school is part of a very cool cultural exchange program with China, it's worth looking at some East / West cultural differences in parenting styles.

From the Wall Street Journal article (actually, it's more an opinion piece):

"In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun."

By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way." (emphasis mine)

It's an interesting read, to be sure. Just one viewpoint - not mine, not my school's ... but still, interesting!

UPDATE: If you are as fascinated with culture as I am, you'll want to read this follow up in the New Yorker ... apparently the first article has caused quite a stir, and this second article offers some balance and perspective in its analysis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mini books and the downfall of society

Okay, so that headline's a bit dramatic.

But I do wonder if we are losing something, as technology advances ever forward ...

I'll explain. I was shopping over Christmas break, browsing in a Borders, when I noticed these little mini motivational books, like the one pictured above.

Change your life or master your finances in 3 easy steps! Joel Olsteen and Donald Trump were offering life-changing advice in under 10 minutes.

These cute little books, each smaller than a cell phone, struck me as deeply ironic: If you are setting out to change your life, shouldn't you have more ambition than what it takes to tackle these tiny books?

Later that week I was home playing with my new Nintendo Wii; I'm not much of a gamer, and Wii is just about my speed. I pulled out the instruction book for Super Mario Brothers, and realized I had several pages to read!

But I wanted to know how to do a jump-stomp-smash move NOW!

So I reached over and pulled up a website that had all the key instructions on one page - complete with colorful pictures. A few more clicks and now I didn't have to read anything ... as I was instead watching a YouTube video showing me how to play.

And I'm an English teacher.

I try not to judge technology's impact on education - it simply is, and it's my job to meet the kids where they are at. Wasting time pining away about how things should be is pointless.

But sometimes it does seem like technology is advancing along ceaselessly, while at the same time society is sliding backwards in some important aspects.

Well I have to go ... I'm reading Tony Dungy's "The Mentor Leader." Thank goodness the key points of each chapter are all highlighted and in bold.