31 August 2011

Please don't waste my time

Originally, this was going to be a letter to administrators, but, after thinking about it, teachers are just as guilty.  Please....

  • don't hold an hour long meeting to explain something that could have been accomplished in an email.  My time is just as valuable as yours.
  • don't use up time explaining a new initiative that I am not going to a part of.  If something is only happening in K-3, then pull those teachers aside and talk to them specifically.
  • remember that I am an educated individual who does not need to have information from a PowerPoint read to me.  Especially when you handed out copies of the PowerPoint for me to read.
  • practice what you preach.  If you want me to use technology and differentiated instruction in the classroom, don't lecture to me about it.  Demonstrate it to me so I know what is expected of me later.
  • plan appropriately.  If you make an agenda, try to stick to it.  Otherwise, why did you even bother in the first place?
  • protect our planet.  If you are going to hand out 50 copies of a 3 page document, at least double side it. If you didn't put it through the photocopier, that means you printed it from the computer so not only did you kill more trees, but you used more expensive ink.  When budgets are constantly being cut, these little things add up.
Having been on both sides of the educational table (teacher and administrator) I know so many of us are guilty of this with colleagues and, worse, with students.  We need to be mindful that we give the respect as professionals that we expect be given to us.  Walk the Talk.
picture courtesy of successories.com

30 August 2011

The right stuff

I don't use my blog to push my personal agenda or try to sway anyone to use a particular product.  However, something happened today that I need to share.

I use a Tablet PC to teach, but my new room does not have a wireless projector.  I was faced with 2 options:  get a really long VGA cable so I can continue to be semi-mobile or find a program that will allow me to link my desktop to my laptop wirelessly.  Neither was a good option.  As I was searching the Internet I came across a device that allows you to link a laptop and VGA port wirelessly made by Warpia.  The reviews were good; the price was higher than I wanted to spend, but I ordered one anyway.

So the device comes last night, I hook it up to my TV and now I am looking at my computer on the TV.  Success!  My computer hibernates and when it comes back on, the device no longer works.  Failure.  I start contacting the company and I have to tell you that their customer service was terrible.  I called several times throughout the day and I received an error message every time.  Their FAQ were not helpful so I sent them an email describing my problems.  I told them that I was a teacher, that I was planning on using the device starting Tuesday and was extremely disappointed that this device failed so quickly.  I received back the following email:

Hi Marc,

We have the greatest respect for teachers and the service you provide.  We will be happy to process your return as an advanced replacement at no charge.  This will ensure you have your replacement device in time to use for your classes and allow us time to work out any other kinks should you need additional support.

Thank you for being a teacher!

While my initial experience with this company's products was very poor, they more than made up for it.  I wholeheartedly endorse Warpia and will be purchasing other items through them in the future.

25 August 2011

The ultimate question

I want to describe 2 things that happened today.

1.  My district is having a power struggle between the BOE and the administration (for once it is not with the teachers, but give it time since we didn't settle the contract yet).  The interim principal was not renewed and the board decided not to hire a new principal yet.  To make matters worse, today was the first day that students could change their schedules for the fall.  Not a big deal since the counselors were in, but board policy states that  all schedule changes must be signed by the principal.  No principal so all students are stuck with what they have for the foreseeable future.

2.  I have been given permission to use my personal laptop in the classroom.  I asked to have the printer drivers installed on the laptop so I could print during the school day (not that bizarre of a request).  I was told the school doesn't do that because I can't print through the wireless network.  I said I would just use the ethernet cable and was told I am not supposed to do that; I cannot (meaning I shouldn't have the physical ability) to unplug the cable from the desktop computer (apparently they get a lot of work requests for people who unplug it and can't get it back in).  So, in order to print, I am supposed to put my files onto a flash drive, plug that into the desktop and then I can print.  Now, if I do that, I am liable to spread a potential virus onto the network, but if I print from my laptop, no virus could be spread.

So, the questions I have (and I know there is no real answer) are:  why do we put ridiculous policies into place in schools that seem to benefit no one and many of which hurt kids in the end?  Why is everyone looking out for themselves and not thinking of the big picture?  When will we finally realize we are all in this together, working toward a common goal?

I want to hang a sign on the front door of the school that says "Politics free zone."

24 August 2011

Get Connected

If you have an aspirations for becoming an administrator, whether supervisor or principal, you must read Connected Principals.  The information and perspective that comes through the contributors are always fantastic and really makes you take a close look at what you are doing.  Recently Johnathan Martin wrote about Tom Peter's 17 E's of Excellence.  I have not read more of Peter's work other than what was in this post, but I want to share some comments that jumped off the screen for me. (Comments in parentheses are mine and were not on the original post)

Enthusiasm! Be an irresistible force of natureSee a student, teacher, administrator, or parent doing something that you haven’t seen before with a digital device? Respond with enthusiasm first, inquiry second, and scrutiny, only if necessary, last.  (I get frustrated when those around me scrutinize and question something new and different first and rarely find the enthusiasm for it)

Find something to be proud of in your practice, and find more things to work on, and then share your electronic education excellence journey so as to inspire others to emerge in their own, unique way.

Execution: Do it! Now! Get it done!  Barriers are baloney. Excuses are for wimps. Execute technology innovation today. (YES!)

Each year, find your edge and look to see what is beyond it and go there. (stop doing the same thing you have been doing for the past 10 years and do something different just to keep it fresh)

Error-prone! Ready! Fire! Aim! Try a lot of stuff and make a lot of boo-boos and then try some stuff and make some more booboos– all of it at the speed of light. (Dare to Fail!)

Eagerness! Don’t be too patient; dream the future and crave swift progress toward it.

Expectations! Michaelangelo“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”  ...become awesomely powerful thinkers and problem-solvers.

How can you not be inspired when reading this?

22 August 2011

New ideas for the new room

I wrote this long post about the challenges I am going to face by the new physical constraints of my odd shaped classroom.  Then I read it and realized that I was complaining too much and the goal of this blog is to flip my attitude to find the positive in all situations.  So, here is the modified, more positive approach to my new room.

Problem #1:  Too much empty wall space.  My new classroom is in part of the school called "the horseshoe" strictly because that's how it's shaped.  This means that 2 of my walls are not straight and are long sweeping curves.  Anyone who has tried to mount a cabinet on a curved wall knows that it's nearly impossible so I have A LOT of empty wall space.  My solution:  The Classroom Periodic Table.  This idea actually came from my wife, the social studies teacher.  I am going to sketch the outline of the Periodic Table on my wall and cut out squares of poster board for each student.  Their homework for the first week is to create an element for themselves; something with pictures and data that represents their life and interests.  Then when they come to school the following week, they are going to stick their element on the class' Periodic Table.  The extension to this will be when we do the Periodic Table project a month later, the square that they decided to put themselves into will be their element for the project.

Problem #2:  Dead space.  Having an odd shaped room means sections of the room where square desks and rectangular lab benches just won't fit.  My solution:  Alternative learning spaces.  I have fallen in love with the schools that are bringing in comfy chairs, small tables and other non-traditional classroom furniture to create a more relaxed learning environment.  When I do the flipped classroom again I think I want to try letting the students work in groups in those areas and compare that to how they do sitting in desks normally.

Problem #3:  No windows.  That's right, no natural light.  You can't even see the outside world when you look out the door due to 1) a small window in the door and 2) being in the dead center of the building with classrooms surrounding you.  My solution:  More creative student work.  Since the walls are white, what better way to cover up the bland with things that are colorful and creative?  This past year I took a previous year's ACS Mole Day Poster contest and turned it into a class project.  The students were to remake a movie poster into a mole poster.  The students submitted posters for Finding NeMOLE, The IncediMOLES, Avogadro and the MOLE Factory, MOLEbo III, Mean MOLES, and so many more.

Problem #4:  Obstructed view seating.  Believe it or not, I have 2 large, square columns in the middle of the desk area of the room creating places where the students may need to sit and won't be able to see the rest of the class or the lesson.  I've rearranged the desks to minimize this, but I am left with these awful looking columns.  My solution:  The reference section.  I only ask my students to memorize 3 things during the year: the first 36 elements of the PT, a list of polyatomic ions, and the strong acids and bases.  I don't believe in memorizing information that you can just look up.  Now, I know you are thinking that this is hypocritical because you can just look up that info too.  But, chemistry is so much easier when you have certain info in your brain already.  If I write "Na" in a reaction, knowing that it is Sodium allows you to focus on the task at hand which is probably predicting the products for the reaction.  On the columns, I want to mount fiberboard that has been painted with either chalkboard paint or whiteboard paint.  Then, as we encounter information/definitions/formulas they deem important, the students can write it on these columns.  They basically will create their own reference sheets for the tests.

When life hands you lemons...

17 August 2011

Stop hiding and teach!

I am currently reading Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (he wrote Angela's Ashes) which is a memoir of his 30 years of teaching in NYC schools.  To give you a little background, McCourt was raised in Ireland and started teaching in 1957 after graduating from NYU.  As he tells his story, he sends a number of messages about what it means to be a great teacher without coming out and saying it directly.  He doesn't preach, he just tells great stories about how he happened to make the right decision.

There was one comment that he makes about himself that really struck me.  In fact, since I was listening to the book on CD in my car, I actually was scrambling through my center console to find a pen and paper to scribble down his comment as I am driving.  He was having a particularly tough stretch and McCourt said to himself,
"Stop hiding and teach!"
I want to make a gigantic sign with this on it and post it in the facutly room of every school in every country.  As teachers and education continues to come under attack more and more teachers are falling back on what is safe, comfortable and what will allow them to keep themselves away from the firing squad.

But you can't do that!

Teaching is not safe.  Teaching is a contact sport.  There are going to be mistakes, there are going to be mishaps, there is going to be turmoil.  Put yourself out there.  Try something that you have never done before--not just a new activity but a new teaching style.  Who cares if you are in your 1st year or your 30th year.  Schools need educators who are going to go the extra mile and put themselves out on a limb.  


15 August 2011

That's the way we've always done it

I hope you cringe at this phrase as much as I do.  The problem is, I think I am starting to become that person.  I have procedures, activities, labs, assignments that I love to do and believe they are meaningful for my students.  However, as the last year of teaching has taught me, sometimes you need to just change, to reinvent what you are doing.  

So, I have decided to make massive changes this year starting with my classroom rules.  For the past 5 years my rules have been:
1.  Be Respectful
2.  Be On Time
3.  Be Prepared
4.  Be Safe

While this is a pretty concise list, I realized that I circumvent most of them.  I allow my students to be slightly late for class because if I send them back to their previous teacher for a pass they are going to miss valuable parts of instruction.  I also keep my room stocked with pens, pencils, paper, etc. just in case they happen to forget their supplies.  After all, they are kids and there is no way I should punish them for forgetting a simple writing utensil.  The biggest problem is that these rules are no longer meaningful to me.  I rarely refer to them and they just collect dust on my bulletin board.

I wanted to make a list that was better aligned to my new goals and philosophy of education; a list that was less about procedural rules and more about being a better person.  Below is my tentative list:
1.  Be Respectful
2.  Take Initiative
3.  Be a Critical Thinker
4.  Dare to Fail

When I look at this list I don't see rules that incur punishments when disobeyed.  These are more about common sense and making sure you are the best person you can be.


10 August 2011

In an effort to go paperless

Unfortunately, I am nowhere near ready to go paperless.  While my notes, handouts, labs and even quizzes and tests are online, I still have those pesky lab reports that are needed to do in-class labs.  But I was reading about someone who was using Google Forms to have their students complete surveys and writing samples in class and it dawned on me that I should be using them to.  At the beginning of the year, I have my students complete the traditional index card with all of the pertinent info on it and then store that in a box in the room just in case I need to get to the info later.  So many times I have needed an email or phone number while at home and sure enough that card is sitting in my desk at school.

So I thought, "What if I took the info from the index card and turned it into a Google Form?"  Below is what I came up with.  Now, this is my first attempt at using Google Forms so please be kind in your comments.

As I was putting in my usual questions, I realized that the index card really limited how much information I could draw from the students on the first day so I added 4 more questions to my usual list (the last 4 on the form).  The only thing I need help with is testing it to make sure that 1) it works properly and 2) the spreadsheet that's created is able to be sorted.  So, if you are reading this, PLEASE enter in some random information into the fields so I can play with this.

THANKS! Comments are encouraged.

08 August 2011

Everyone should buy a Sactional

When we decided to buy new living room furniture, we needed something that looked good, was durable for our growing children and could be a sleeper sofa.  We had heard of the LoveSac company years ago and luckily a store appeared in our local mall so we went in.  For those not familiar with LoveSac, they are basically bean bag chairs, but not made from beans and WAY more comfortable.  It turns out they also make sectional sofas, which are called Sactionals, and are completely customizable to whatever shape your room needs.  Sometimes we have a long couch, a chair and ottoman; sometimes an L-shaped couch and chair; sometimes a king sized bed.

I am not here to sell sofas, but to talk about something that happened recently in my living room.  We have 2 boys (4 and 1 years old) and they have decided that running on the couches and throwing the pillows on the ground is now the greatest game ever.  Makes it difficult for my wife and I to rest so I rearranged the Sactionals to give my sons their own couch so they could do whatever they want with it.  Well, here is what happened:
So my 4 year old is reading a book and the 1 year old is pushing his physical limits and trying to escape out the window.  Given their own, unique space and my boys chose how to use the space to fit their individual needs.  Sometimes they play together and jump around on the couch, sometimes they just sit and play individually.  But, when we were all forced to share the same space, there was always someone who was bumped out and was unhappy.

Well, seeing this picture I started thinking about my classroom.  In a traditional setting, we force every student to work in the same space, in the same style which means that someone is always unhappy.  But, if we think outside the box, allow students to use computers during a lesson so they can research answers to their questions, and let them move around the room to a place they are the most comfortable when learning and even studying a topic they are more interested in will give them a greater sense of enjoyment out of the class.

Can I fill my room with Sactionals?  Of course not (a little to my dismay).  But, can I give my students a proper learning environment that allows for the growth of their individual needs?  Absolutely!