Monthly Archives: January 2011

>My Best Lesson Yet!

>I woke up this morning after sleeping for eight hours feeling just as tired as when I went to bed.  This was the first full week without delays, cancellations, or finals since before the new year, and it definitely felt like the longest week I’d had in a while.  I could have a called in for a sub and I think last semester I probably would have.  But I managed to talk myself out of the bad place, knowing that my students needed me and I was ready even though I didn’t feel like it.

It turned out to be one of my best lessons yet.  First I did a Move It! poll, where students moved to different sides of the room to signify their agreement or disagreement with a statement, about the way we’ve been using the new computers.  Almost all of them like using the laptops to take notes, research, and manage their assignments, though everyone is at different places on the learning curve.  Then we played a game of I am/Who is with cell organelles.  I gave each student the card for the organelle they had done for their Facebook page, on the back of which was a description of another organelle.  I started by saying “I am the cytoskeleton.  Who is…” and described another organelle.  The student with that organelle stood up, read their identity, and the next question.  With a little nudging, we did make it all the way around!

Then we went on our tour of the school as a cell.  I had taped descriptions of different cell organelles to places in the school that had analogous functions, and charged students with the task of finding the next one.  They ate it up, especially some of my kids who aren’t usually great with written work.  Two noted “frequent flyers” told me, “If we do stuff like this, I ain’t ever skippin your class, Miss Duann!”  And though I was initially nervous about taking 20-some kids traipsing throughout the school, appointing a line leader and a caboose (yes, just like kindergarten!) helped keep everyone together, and then the thrill of the chase took care of the rest.  They had a notes sheet to fill in as we went along with the descriptions and analogies.

The best part, though, came after class had ended.  During lunch duty, I stopped to talk with a student I had last semester and told him that we had done the school as a cell activity.  His eyes brightened.  “Oh!  I remember that.  Is that when the office was like, the…the…the nucleus or something?”  At which point I did a fist pump and a supremely undignified little happy dance.

Resources
Cell Organelles I AM/WHO IS cards
The School as a Cell (with teacher key, student handout, descriptions)

Advertisements

Swag and Cred

swag: (n.) the way one carries their self
cred: (n.) an ability to inspire belief in others

Apparently I have acquired a pretty positive reputation, and maybe not for all the wrong reasons as I initially suspected.  Before the start of the new semester, several students dropped in to announce that they were going to be in my class and seemed fairly excited about it.  I can’t pass through the halls during class changes without being greeted by at least five students, sometimes even by kids I don’t know!  According to my kids last semester, Miss Duann…

  • “brings good attitude to the classroom”
  • “easy to get along with”
  • “she don’t make things hard on me”
  • “she don’t yell alot”
  • having a “great playful personality as a teacher some teachers lack”
  • “helped me when I needed help, and always provided me with my needs”

That last one resonated particularly with me as both a ridiculously basic and infinitely difficult job description for a teacher.  Yesterday, one of the students on my roster showed up in class for the first time all semester and I was trying to get him caught up with his classmates.  I pointed him to a web site where he could find information for the assignment, and he said, “Oh, I’ll have to have JJ read that to me…I’m dyslexic.”  I asked if he would like me to read it to him.  He looked at me in surprise.  “You actually believe I’m dyslexic?  Wow, some other teachers would be like, ‘I have to check with the office’ or something.  Nah, I can read it, it’ll just take awhile.  You’re the coolest teacher I’ve had so far.”

I don’t think my jaw dropped but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had.  I’m fully aware that a lot of kids are well-versed in the manipulative arts, but in my opinion when a teacher starts assuming the worst in a child, it’s time to find a new profession.  (I mean really, if I were treated like that, I wouldn’t want to come to school either!)  One of the hardest things for me coming into the new semester was looking at my new roster and seeing names that I’d already heard batted around the teacher’s lounge or seen repeatedly on the ISIP list.  But like I said before, I try to see the people my kids could be and help bring that into being, and you know what?  The kids I’d been the most afraid of, based on their reputations, have turned out to be just fine, and many of them are doing really well.  A lot of my kids’ New Years’ resolutions revolved around staying out of trouble, so I know they’ve been down a bad ways before, but I’m always hopeful that the future has something good.

I know it’s trite, but kids really don’t care what you know until they know you care.  If my students learn nothing about science from me at all this quarter, I want them to leave knowing that I’m in their corner unconditionally.  Even if they do no work in class at all.  (Check.)  Even if they don’t show up for the final.  (Check.)  Even if they bring knives to school and get themselves expelled.  (Check.)  Even if they promise to make me cry with joy this semester, then run away from home.  (Check.  By the way, this was the student who told me I had “swag.”  I miss him terribly.)  Regardless of their actions, I want my words and deeds to show that I care.

This semester I’m having a much easier time with the whole “gentle but firm” thing.  It is precisely because I care about these little hooligans so much that I refuse to let them get away with idiocy, and I think it’s making an impression on a lot of my so-called “trouble” students.  Kill ’em with kindness, I say.

>21st Century Teaching and Learning

>Just in time for the new semester, my classroom-mate (aka our school’s tech guy) got a shiny new cart full of 35 shiny new Netbooks, which means I get them too!  It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that having the computers has completely changed the way I teach…after all, I still fall in sinks and throw things everywhere by accident, but I don’t really expect that to change any time soon.

1. I have exponentially reduced the amount of paper I use.  I printed syllabi and a few other things out of habit last week, but I’m finding that the only things I really want in hard copy are homework and test/project assignments.  It’s easy enough to administer introductions, quizzes, exit/entrance tickets, etc. online without all the fuss of piles of paper flying around.  It also means I’m not fighting for the copier at 8:00 in the morning nearly as often!

2. I’ve also reduced my grading load.  One, because Schoology (the classroom management site our school has adopted) can grade objective questions for me, and two–here’s my dirty little secret–I don’t actually grade a lot of what they submit as introductions, discussion posts, etc.  But having the electronic trail gives me an objective way to gauge student participation and engagement, which is one of the intangibles I keep in mind when it grade-rounding/mercy killings roll around.  Plus, if they think I’m grading it, they’re more likely to do it.  Muahaha.

3. I’m still training my kiddos in this, but with the majority of our in-class work aside from labs, tests, and homework being available online, I’m hoping that it will be easier for kids to keep up with work when they miss class.  Actually, that just gave me the idea of putting up a homework discussion page.

4.  It was actually my principal who helped me see this after she did an observation this morning, but I have noticed a significant reduction in cell phone activity during class.  Some of that may have to do with the particular batch of kids I have this semester compared to last, but I think the computers have something to do with it as well.  Many kids today are so used to being connected to something digital that just the physical presence of the computer may calm that itch enough that they don’t feel compelled to text every ten seconds…wonder of wonders!

Schoology is enough like Facebook that it gives the sort of social network feel, but it allows us to get our work done.  It’s a little clunky in places, and getting everyone signed in and remembering their password is a royal pain in the tush, but hopefully if there is wide enough adoption throughout the school (and there are 3 other teachers in 2 other content areas with the laptops), eventually that won’t be as big of a problem.

Tomorrow I’m going to introduce the magic of Google Docs for taking notes, and this week’s big assignment is to create an actual profile page for a cell organelle.  I am so proud of myself for wrangling up a student-editable site AND a working template.  And that is probably my technological achievement quota for the year, as evidenced by me blowing up my computer earlier this evening.

>Why I Never Do "Work" the First Week of the Semester

>Subtitle: Why I Sometimes Hate Snow Days


We ended up having a 2.75-day school week, which is not the best way to start out a new semester, in my opinion.  (To their credit, thought, my new kiddos actually did a pretty good job of staying focused…maybe there will be cookies for them!)  There’s a lack of continuity that bugs me because the kids and I haven’t had a chance to gel real well yet, but I know that will come in time.  I’m just impatient to get going, I guess!

The other thing that has made this week seem a bit like Groundhog Day is the constant fluctuation in my enrollments.  On Tuesday I started out with 24 and 22 officially enrolled in my two classes.  By Friday, I had 26 and 17.  Did I mention that my room currently only has seating for 24?  Fortunately, 2 of the kids on my official roster for that class are on home instruction or the alternative program, so we are at exact capacity for the time being.  The ones who were pulled out of my last period class failed physical science last semester and are repeating the course.  I’ve only had one of my failures from last semester show up again, and I’m hoping that if he’s with us the whole semester (he spent the first two months in JDC) he’ll do better.

Then there are absences from illness or the weather, and all in all, it’s just been one crazy little week trying to get everyone off the ground with our shiny new Netbooks (more to come on those hopefully tomorrow) and just sort of plugged in to our emerging class culture.  On Monday I want to go over the idea of CRED again and appoint the first class officers.  I’ve held off on printing attendance rosters because, oh yeah, I’m still not entirely sure who’s in which class!

>Happy New Year?

>Even though there were only three days between the end of first semester and the start of second, it almost felt like a brand new school year.  The orderliness of my desk has reached its semester high and will rapidly deteriorate from here…

More significantly, I have a brand new batch of students.  Admittedly, I was a little nervous about starting from scratch building relationships with new kids, but it was much less scary than the beginning of the year because several students had already said hi to me last week, and lots of my kiddos from last semester popped in yesterday too.  It was so much nicer to be surrounded by friendly and familiar faces!

Mugging with 3/4 on the last day of regular class

One of the teachers at my student teaching placement advised me to stay away from teacher’s lounge gossip concerning students, and I definitely heard a lot of negative things about many of my new students before the semester started.  But I really wanted to give each one a clean slate because I believe that students–like all people–grow into your expectation of them, at least in part.  So I stuck with my plans for a student-developed code of classroom conduct, and intend to try my class officer system.  Ran out of time to introduce it with my 3/4 class, but my 8/9 students seemed interested in the idea and even suggested that it be for extra credit, which I’m okay with doing since it is extra work.  The irony is that if they fulfill all the requirements for being class officer in the first place, chances are they won’t need extra credit.  But if it makes them feel better…

Class Officer Responsibilities

  • Community: Take attendance every day and collect any tardy slips.
  • Respect: Mark those who are not in their seats when the tardy bell rings and choose from the list of appropriate penalties.
  • Effort: Keep track of who leaves the room using the hall pass or a nurse’s pass.
  • Discipline: Update the assignment sheet with the day’s assignments.

Class Officer Qualifications

  • Attendance: To qualify for class officer, a student must have been present in class for the past 5 consecutive days.
  • Tardies: To qualify for class officer, a student must have no more than 1 class tardy in the past 10 days.
  • Detentions/Referrals: To qualify for class officer, a student must have no more than 1 detention during the current quarter and no office referrals from this class.
  • Missing Assignments: To qualify for class officer, a student must have turned in all assignments due the previous week.

I also had a much better idea of how to start the semester with a bang than I did at the beginning of the year.  Instead of running through the syllabus first thing, I cut out instructions for building Legos and glued each step on a different index card, which I distributed as students came in the door.  When the bell rang, I dumped Legos on the desks and told them they had five minutes to take their first quiz–go!  Everyone scrambled to build their individual step first, then they gradually figured out that they had pieces of the same puzzles.  This gave me a chance to quickly scope out group dynamics: who are the class clowns, the chatterboxes, the cheerleaders (not in the stereotypical sense but those who lift the class’s spirits), the omniscient observers, etc.  I also had them write their names on popsicle sticks which I want to use during discussions this semester since the class sizes are bigger.  We talked about how the Lego activity modeled the scientific process and the kids came up with a pretty decent list after some prompting: observation, inference, prediction, testing, collaboration, and tentativeness.  Then we went over class expectations and I had the kids start working on their own definition of CRED.

Here’s hoping for a happy new semester!

P.S. Shouldn’t we get double the experience for teaching two “yearlong” courses in one year??

>Great Expectations

>As I look back on the mayhem and marvels of my first semester as a teacher, the theme of expectations is significant.  These four and a half months have been full of expectations exceeded, disappointed, and completely blown out of the water.

The relationships I’ve built with my students have far exceeded what I anticipated, though I’ve always wanted a high level of trust and even love with my little people.  I started the year much like I started our time in Taiwan three years ago: controlling, condemning, and completely closed off to my students.  And just as in Taiwan, this broke me rather quickly because I am just not made to operate that way (even though it would probably be easier if I were!).  During one of our new teacher meetings at the beginning of the year, someone mentioned that the way you (the teacher) feel around and about the students mirrors the way they feel in your classroom.  I felt scared and threatened, so they probably did too.  How, then, could I reduce my own tension level and pass that peace to my kids?  Therapy and medication helped a lot, but I also had to make the very conscious decision to meet them where they were and help them grow into a better version of themselves that we envisioned together, rather than stand back and dangle some unattainable goal before them and write them off when they failed.  Did I lower my expectations in terms of behavior and achievement?  Admittedly so, but I think in doing so I was able to express that I accepted who they were even as I wanted to see who they could be and help them get there.

On the other hand, even these changed expectations often led to disappointment in one way or another.  The quality of work submitted was on average mildly atrocious.  More painfully, students got suspended, expelled, sent to juvie, and because I let myself care, a part of me got lost with them every time.  The students at my school come from a completely different culture from mine, with different expectations for progress and punishment.  Ruby Payne discusses these differences in A Framework for Understanding Poverty and I struggled a lot internally with how much about our students I really believed we as middle-class majority teachers ought to change.  But as much as I love them, as much as I want to honor their way of life because I think all lifestyles have value, not just the “right” ones…I know they won’t make it in the world with their present levels of irresponsibility, apathy, disrespect, and learned helpfulness.  That they have other redeeming qualities like blunt honesty and fearless loyalty does not negate the flaws.  As a teacher, my goal is to develop the strengths in a way that compensates for the weaknesses.  I’m trying something next semester that I hope will mitigate behavior problems before they start: class officers who, by demonstrating their own CRED, earn the privilege of monitoring their classmates.  Plenty of my kids have had way too much experience with the criminal justice system, but I wonder if this might now empower them to make better choices.

And then there were the absolutely unexpected:
a student’s violent death in the second week of school, the sheer noise and chaos of the halls, 17-year-olds with 3-year-old babies, children who get free lunches but buy Xboxes with money earned Lord-knows-how;

the devotion of B and M to their jailbird boyfriends, the raw honesty of personal notes and journal entries, the marriage proposals (3 by my last count), the growth of N and the transformation of my 6/7 class from squabbling cellmates to family, the dancing, the laughter, the teacher falling in the sink

I suppose that they will never stop disappointing me, but that is only because I cannot stop caring, and for now that is a trade that I am willing to make–no matter who or where I am teaching.

>Rock Star

>

I would like to nominate MM for MI Rockstar because of the maturity and empathy she demonstrated while mediating a conflict between peers.  She has grown tremendously since the beginning of the school year in her ability to see others’ points of view and look for the best in those around her.  This maturity can also be seen in her improved punctuality and participation in class. M is a very caring young lady and I feel lucky to have had her in my class this semester.

MM was actually one of my least favorite students at the beginning of the year: loud, blunt, obnoxious, and utterly unpredictable.  If I was lucky, she ignored me completely; if I was unlucky, she’d come in looking and acting like someone peed in her Cheerios.  I never knew who was going to walk in the door.  But somehow over the course over the quarter our class gelled as a group, and I think when she realized that I wasn’t letting her go she felt more secure.

I remember one time she and her counterpart asked if I would send them to ISIP because they didn’t feel like working and wanted to sleep.  That day I’d actually scheduled some mental downtime for the kids after a few grueling weeks, so their request seemed a little weird to me.  I told them no, because I didn’t want to put another in-school suspension on their records for such a trivial reason.  MM threatened to walk out, and I knew she was perfectly capable of doing so, but I quietly told her that she was free to go but that I wanted her to stay.  Some more blustering followed, but both girls ended up staying.

Around Christmas time, MM saw some of the cards I’d made with my SEMINAR students and asked if I would make one for her boyfriend, who is currently incarcerated.  By now I’ve drawn at least half a dozen cards and posters for this kid, and each one has elicited [admittedly-less-than-endearing] screeches of delight from my darling M (and a boatload of similar requests from her comrades-in-Uggs).  But I did it because she revealed her softer side by asking, and I wanted to see more of that.

On Tuesday this week, MW, who is usually very quiet, confronted MM at the beginning of class and stepped out into the hall to talk with her.  The gist of the conflict was that MW frequently wore a “look” when she saw the antics of MM & Co., which MW explained as a look of pity for the way the other girls acted sillier than they really were.  Not the best way to phrase it, but I jumped in before MM could explode and explained that MW was actually upset because she cared about them (which might have been stretching the truth, but forgive me).  MM bristled a little but said she understood.  I asked her to help me mediate the conversation between MW and the other girls.  Apparently there had been words exchanged when I was out on Friday, again over the perception that MW thought herself superior, but MM actually did a great job keeping the peace.  She mostly repeated what I had said, but it seemed like she really bought it.  I complimented her for her maturity later and told her I would be nominating her for our school’s monthly Rock Star award.

I admit that it’s very, very, labor-intensive to cultivate this kind of relationship with a student.  And even if she follows through on various vows to visit my class and have me as her bridesmaid, eventually she will be gone. Is it naive to hope that if I have taught her nothing about science (which is altogether possible), but I have taught her something lasting about being a better person, that that is enough?  If so, let me have my naivete, and hang your OGT scores.

>Happy New Year?

>Even though there were only three days between the end of first semester and the start of second, it almost felt like a brand new school year.  The orderliness of my desk has reached its semester high and will rapidly deteriorate from here…

More significantly, I have a brand new batch of students.  Admittedly, I was a little nervous about starting from scratch building relationships with new kids, but it was much less scary than the beginning of the year because several students had already said hi to me last week, and lots of my kiddos from last semester popped in yesterday too.  It was so much nicer to be surrounded by friendly and familiar faces!

Mugging with 3/4 on the last day of regular class

One of the teachers at my student teaching placement advised me to stay away from teacher’s lounge gossip concerning students, and I definitely heard a lot of negative things about many of my new students before the semester started.  But I really wanted to give each one a clean slate because I believe that students–like all people–grow into your expectation of them, at least in part.  So I stuck with my plans for a student-developed code of classroom conduct, and intend to try my class officer system.  Ran out of time to introduce it with my 3/4 class, but my 8/9 students seemed interested in the idea and even suggested that it be for extra credit, which I’m okay with doing since it is extra work.  The irony is that if they fulfill all the requirements for being class officer in the first place, chances are they won’t need extra credit.  But if it makes them feel better…

Class Officer Responsibilities

  • Community: Take attendance every day and collect any tardy slips.
  • Respect: Mark those who are not in their seats when the tardy bell rings and choose from the list of appropriate penalties.
  • Effort: Keep track of who leaves the room using the hall pass or a nurse’s pass.
  • Discipline: Update the assignment sheet with the day’s assignments.

Class Officer Qualifications

  • Attendance: To qualify for class officer, a student must have been present in class for the past 5 consecutive days.
  • Tardies: To qualify for class officer, a student must have no more than 1 class tardy in the past 10 days.
  • Detentions/Referrals: To qualify for class officer, a student must have no more than 1 detention during the current quarter and no office referrals from this class.
  • Missing Assignments: To qualify for class officer, a student must have turned in all assignments due the previous week.

I also had a much better idea of how to start the semester with a bang than I did at the beginning of the year.  Instead of running through the syllabus first thing, I cut out instructions for building Legos and glued each step on a different index card, which I distributed as students came in the door.  When the bell rang, I dumped Legos on the desks and told them they had five minutes to take their first quiz–go!  Everyone scrambled to build their individual step first, then they gradually figured out that they had pieces of the same puzzles.  This gave me a chance to quickly scope out group dynamics: who are the class clowns, the chatterboxes, the cheerleaders (not in the stereotypical sense but those who lift the class’s spirits), the omniscient observers, etc.  I also had them write their names on popsicle sticks which I want to use during discussions this semester since the class sizes are bigger.  We talked about how the Lego activity modeled the scientific process and the kids came up with a pretty decent list after some prompting: observation, inference, prediction, testing, collaboration, and tentativeness.  Then we went over class expectations and I had the kids start working on their own definition of CRED.

Here’s hoping for a happy new semester!

P.S. Shouldn’t we get double the experience for teaching two “yearlong” courses in one year??

>Does physical activity improve student focus? | Edutopia

>Does physical activity improve student focus? | Edutopia

Just a little blurb that caught my eye. We were in the computer lab today working on final projects, and several students complained about feeling unfocused and antsy. So I had them run laps around the room, with high-knees, butt-kicks, side-skips, one-legged hops and whatever other physical education torture methods I could devise. After about five minutes, I asked, “Feel better?” And they did, and were considerably more focused. There’s a thought: start each class with calisthenics…muahahaha.

>Should I Stay or Should I Go?

>Stream of consciousness from 1/10/11:
Last week was very difficult emotionally since they told us Tuesday that there would likely be staff cuts.  My initial gut reaction, though, was that I wished I could be laid off and I think there is some truth in my desire to leave.  It’s hard being away from my friends and family, which I think does not motivate me to lead a very balanced life.  On the other hand, it is only my first year here and I don’t want to jump ship too soon.  I like my co-workers and the academic freedom I have here.  I like the kids but not the students most of the time, if that makes any sense, and if I could focus on the mentoring, counseling, and advocacy part of my job that I enjoy so much without so much policing and babysitting, I think I’d be a lot happier.  So I can either find a slightly different role in which to work with the same kids, or else find (or make?) a classroom situation that requires less management.  I know that I would like to be closer to home, and I am fortunate that I can literally afford to be choosy about my job.  I’m just not sure I have the right to be, and I think there’s a sense of obligation to my students that gives me pause.  There is so little consistency in their lives and I don’t want to be yet another person who abandons them.  They need someone to show them love and kindness, a place to find freedom and safety, and God has given me His authority to do that in the classroom by giving of myself.  But if I’m not being fed and nourished myself, I have nothing to give.  There are children everywhere who need the same things, so it’s not necessarily wrong of me to go somewhere my needs can be better met.  Is that Columbus?  Is that Winchester?  Elsewhere?  That remains to be seen.

Discussion:
I am about 95% certain that I want to move back to Columbus, and that 5% is really just fear of change rather than any strong desire to stay.  It’s telling that I can’t really imagine what the district could say or offer that would change my mind, though I am certainly not ruling it out.  I think that if a good opportunity in Columbus presents itself, that is where I will be headed.  And I do not feel like a failure or that this year will have been wasted.  I have grown immensely professionally and personally, and I believe that God is present in every situation, though my emotions may often tell me otherwise.  I’m currently looking into all sorts of options in Columbus: part-time informal teaching, adjunct faculty at community colleges, charter/STEM schools, traditional classroom teaching, educational program development, it’s all on the table right now. Decision-making is always a terrifying prospect for me, but I guess it’s better to have choices than not.