Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Shake it Off, Shake it Off...

photo courtesy of morguefile.com
With a title like that, you should be picturing my 3 year old grandson dancing in the shower to Taylor Swift.  He loves that song, and has embodied much of the spirit of the lyrics in the way he deals with adversity.  When he was slightly more than two, I observed him becoming frustrated with a top heavy plastic sailboat in his new water table that would not stay upright.  As he became increasingly frustrated, I prepared for the inevitable screaming and tears.

They never came.

Instead, he stepped back from the water table and announced loudly, "Walk AWAAAAY, WALK awaaaay" and sequestered himself in the corner of the yard for a bit of a time out, as far away as he could from the offending sailboat.

I don't know how she accomplished it with a two year old, but my daughter in law had taught a skill that many, much older than Carter, need.


Shake it Off, Shake it Off.

This morning I awoke to this Facebook status, posted by one of my seniors:

"The death of Leelah Alcorn is absolutely tragic and if you're in a similar situation know that I'm here to talk and will do what I can even if you don't know me well."

As I have been the nurse on duty with my recently-discharged mother, I was out of the loop on the tragic death of this young person, and had to Google -- at first concerned that Leelah was a student at my high school.  At first, I have to admit that I was relieved to discover that was not the case, and then shamed myself for not realizing that there are similar stories in every town, where someone is feeling desperately bad about themselves for reasons contributed by others, choosing death as an escape.

Bullying is real, and it isn't new.  Certainly the many attempts by institutions, governments, and municipalities to create rules, policies or laws to reduce or eliminate everything from schoolyard bullying to hate crimes, has added more scrutiny to the poor behavior of the bullies.  Danish existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard, wrote about bullies in his diary in 1837, with insights that still apply today.

"There is a form of envy of which I frequently have seen examples, in which an individual tries to obtain something by bullying. If, for instance, I enter a place where many are gathered, it often happens that one or another right away takes up arms against me by beginning to laugh; presumably he feels that he is being a tool of public opinion. But lo and behold, if I then make a casual remark to him, that same person becomes infinitely pliable and obliging. "

Kierkegaard's application of reverse psychology may have been perceived by his critics as the brilliant manipulation he intended, but hindsight -- nee historical perspective, allows us to do so.

(If you've never read Brainpickings, I'd strongly encourage you to sign up for their weekly email, or visit their website.  There are hundreds of articles and literary references that offer historical perspective to contemporary issues that society feels are new.)

Bullying is, was, and will always be.  Social media makes it easier -- or at least that's what this generation thinks.  Rather than establishing rules and laws that are difficult to enforce, why are we not looking to change the perception?  As I reflected upon this, I realized that my post of yesterday regarding positive comments and psychology to increase student engagement and achievement is actually an attempt at reversing the perceptions of bullying.

Who do you think reminded me of this?  Why, Benjamin Franklin.  Yup, the bald guy with the saved pennies, bifocals, and a heck of a history in Philadelphia and beyond.

"Be wary of the roles you play and the acts you put on, because you tend to fulfill the labels you accept. Above all, remember the more harm you cause, the more hate you feel. The more kindness you express, the more you come to love those you help. "

Could the words of Kierkegaard, or Franklin, or Lloyd have saved Leelah Alcorn?  I'd like to think so.  At the very least, these three individuals have raised an awareness.  It's up to the rest of us to continue the conversation, stop talking, and change the world.
 




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...Then Don't Say Anything at All.


When I was a kid, my mother would say "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all."  Sage advice, even today.

As I reflected on my ride home this evening, I considered the hastily-written entry of yesterday.  (Which was written while caring for the aforementioned-mother, who has been released from the hospital after an encounter with a truck while serving as a pedestrian.  She's better than fine.  Really.)  2014 is nearly over.  What, if I even actually INTENDED to make a resolution, would or should I resolve to do?



...Then Don't Say Anything at All.

It was sobering, when I considered the things that bugged me the most in the past year. Certainly all teachers have been impacted by the new teacher evaluation system, whether they've been through the "formal observation process" in the last two years, or are dreading scheduled during the next two.  The overwhelming complaint about the observation process is that there seems to be no room, anywhere, on any of the forms, for praise.  

Administrators don't get to enjoy lessons any longer.  They don't get to walk into classrooms and celebrate learning, or experience the wonder of kids making connections.  Instead, they are counting beans, highlighting boxes, and making suggestions for improvement.  Don't get me wrong, all teachers want to do a better job, but up until Charlotte Danielson descended upon us, walk through and observation reports always had cute comments like "Awesome engagement!"  "Loved the excitement" and notations of smiley faces and exclamation points in the margins of the notes.  Teachers live for this sort of approval and accolade, and now it's gone.

As I mentioned previously this week, I've been grading on the Turn it In system during this break.  It's a nifty system that offers plagiarism screening, originality reports, and automatically does spelling and grammar checks, suggesting alternate punctuation and discouraging split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions.  It's really easy as a teacher to get caught up into the "click on all the highlighted suggestions" while grading.

Of course the dreaded RED PEN syndrome is gone when grading electronically.   And it's almost impossible to SHOUT (even if you do it in all caps, rather than bold red underlined sharpie) on an electronically-graded research paper.  I knew about Rutchick's study, (click on the RED PEN link above for the NPR interview), and intentionally seek out a green, blue, or purple pen when working on physical papers.

But today, while driving, I reflected upon how infrequently I now grade with praise instead of criticism.  Sure, a better word might be critique, rather than criticism, as I am hoping that my comments are viewed as a means to foster deeper understanding on both the topic and process of writing, but I'm not sure how often the comments are read and considered.  Most freshmen flip to the last page, look at the numerical grade at the bottom of the rubric, and toss the whole thing into the recycle bin before leaving my room.  (While gifted kids while scan the comments and attempt to negotiate and clarify for more points -- but that is a whole different topic for a different day.)

So why does it bug me so much to lose the exclamation points and smiley faces in the margins of my own performance review, when I have, inexplicably, adopted the same style of feedback for my students?

Get ready.  2015 is a new year.  And I'm shooting for a new resolution.  Let's seek out the work of Shawn Achor and Martin Seligman.  Let's smother these kids in positive psychology, and see what happens to the quality of their work.  I want to be that ONE ADULT that will never give up, understands the power of connection, and insists that my students become the best they can possibly be.  I don't know Rita Pierson, (see photo above), but in the words of Kid President, "She is awesome."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Counting Down?

There is a list of memes circulating on Facebook claiming to be the Top Ten New Year's Resolutions for teachers.  Given that I have been away from my classroom for almost a week, it's easy to look at this list and fall into the trap of snarkiness.  (Okay, so maybe that isn't a word, but it should be.  You know what I mean. ) Clearly memes are meant to be snarky, and if you are a teacher who loves teaching for all the RIGHT reasons,  (aka seeing kids' eyes light up, show pride, and genuinely engage), it's easy to become overcome by the frustrating crap  attempts at enlightenment like "quality professional development", midstream curricular changes, and teaching advice from anyone who hasn't been on the front lines in a classroom during the last three years.

 May I Present My 2015 Countdown?

#3  Webb's DOK

DOK, DOK.

Who's There?

Webb


Webb Who?

It seems like there should be a great punchline to add to this.  But my mind is numb, and I've been unsuccessful.  I really wanted to scoff at Webb two years ago when it was first presented as the greatest new thing for educators.  Really.  How stupid is this DOK wheel?  How many different educational "experts" can reinvent Bloom's Taxonomy?  Any teacher worth her salt knows about higher-level thinking, right?  It seemed like just another way to create another in-service training and another acronym to befuddle my acronym-befuddled mother.

Then I realized that I could use DOK as a means to prove growth in my students, and started highlighting Webb Wheels in different colors for each student's progress on their personal analysis responses.  Now I think of Webb like some kind of Spidey-sensed Superhero.  (Does whatever a spider can, right?)  I WILL be embracing the DOK.  Dare I say, Docking on the DOK?

#2 Blogging.

 The number of days when I've dragged myself to the computer to write something since September thinking I was burdened instead of blessed are surprisingly fewer than I anticipated.  I've grown as a teacher, had many meaningful conversations with colleagues, and found many new friends through this whole process.  I'm now routinely connecting with people from New Zealand, Finland, and Australia, talking about education!  How exciting is THAT?  (VERY!)  So why should I keep this blogging thing to myself?  I intend to pull the kids into this blogging thing.  (Fair warning, my friends!)

OBTW, (that's an acronym courtesy of my former principal, Jim Lawrence - Oh, by the way), why aren't YOU blogging?

#1 Conversing

My classes have spent the entire first semester focusing on metacognition.  Thinking about thinking.  Reflection.  Habits of Mind.  All kinds of mind stuff.  Next semester, it's all about TALKING.  While that may sound like heaven to some, and hell to others, the conversational skill focus will certainly shake things up.   Socratic discussion, opinion, disagreement -- it will be a blast.  My biggest resolution is to keep my big mouth shut in the classroom.

Because, really, I learn so much more when I listen to the kids than when I talk at them.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Forget Plastics, Invest in Sticky Notes

I was too young to have seen The Graduate when it was released at my tender age of six, but the miracle of television allowed me -- and many others -- the luxury of experiencing sheer movie genius. I, along with many others, nodded solemnly with the advice to invest in "Plastics," when given in the movie, hoping that there would be similar advice for me when I graduated from college that would offer riches beyond measure.

In researching today, I found out that within a year of the movie's release, plastic manufacturing companies became enormously successful. Many people attribute this to Walter Brooke's quote about "plastics". Brooke himself once told his nephew that he would have invested in plastics, if he had known that the remark would lead to such success.  

While I don't know what lead to the invention of plastics, it is well-documented that Post-It notes were invented entirely by accident, and rather than plastics, I wish someone had whispered POST ITS into my ear at graduation.  

It's no secret that most teachers actually exhibit physical highs in August when the new school supplies are trucked into the stores, with fabulous deals on brand new glue sticks and virginal packages of lined paper.  We caress the new binders, some sniff the new crayons, and invest in perfect collections of color-coordinated Sharpies and pens, vowing NEVER to harm the self-esteem of students by grading papers in RED, God forbid, choosing to find a nice green or purple to soften the blow of the spelling of EXCAPE.  (Yes, I'm still harping on that since yesterday!)

But the most enticing of all of the school supplies -- those amazing sticky notes.  Ahhhhhhhh!  The shapes, the neons, the lined, the unlined.  The supersticky, the easy peel, the cheap pale yellow ones that schools buy and we only give to the kids to use because, well, they're about as motivating as the substandard tissues also provided by the district.  There are very few teachers who would argue against the value of a quality assortment of Post It notes. 

 Forget Plastics, Invest in Sticky Notes

If you walk down the English wing on any given day, most of the doors contain those familiar square post its.  To the untrained eye, it may appear as if the teacher has a heck of a lot of shopping to do, or a bunch of reminders, but those in the know recognize a "Ticket Out the Door" when they see one.  (Or 28 clustered on one door.)  The habit of asking a summarizing question to prompt closure for the lesson that is recorded on a post it and turned in "on the way out" allows teachers the flexibility to revisit what worked and what didn't during the day's lesson, and to make adjustments about how to start the lesson the following day.  Should there be a bit of remediation?  Does everyone "get" what they learned today?  Should he/she go back to square one and reteach?  Those little squares offer a lot of insight into the mindset of the students on the way out the door.

I've used color post its on desks to color code and sort groups.  (And it's unpredictable!  One time it might be "Sort yourselves by color" and the next time it's "Get in a group with all different colors", etc.)  Of course, there are many reading strategies that use post its to assist with comprehension, 
and amazing ice breaker games that can aid in developing trust or relationships in groups.

Students can be given green, yellow, and red post its to serve as flags to post, to assist a circulating teacher trying to identify who needs help with a new concept and bypass those who MIGHT get it or need no help at all.  During my Espionage unit, post it notes provide wonderful clues to keep the spy activities interactive and on track. 

Certainly, there are some fabulous practical jokes that can be formed -- did you ever see an entire car covered in post it notes?  This one served as a marriage proposal.  Heck, I was in a hotel recently where there was a post it note left on the headboard telling me the duvet had been cleaned prior to my arrival.  (Gotta tell you, that wasn't all that reassuring -- especially when I found out that the same note appeared, in the same handwriting, on every headboard in the place.)

So, while you're bored during this break, google post it notes.  If you don't already value them for anything more than a reminder to GET MILK posted on your steering wheel, you really should consider the educational, psychological, practical, and entertaining value of the almighty Sticky Note.

Oh, and forward this post -- I'm hoping that the 21% increase in 3M stock this past year translates to something great for me in 2015. 





Saturday, December 27, 2014

Turn it In!

The amazing thing about school break is that the pressure is lessened.  I'm still getting up at the same time, and pretty much going to bed at the same time, as if I were on my school schedule.  But it's a whole lot easier to grade essays and then say "WALK AWAY" when you've read a word like "EXCAPE" in an allegedly-proofread research paper.  My only goal is to have all of the papers read and commented upon prior to January 5th -- so I'm pacing myself.  

Which is probably a good thing, because there are some essays that make me want to scream "HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING?"  It's a small dose sort of thing.  When the screaming in my head begins, I wander away and do something else.  Today's therapy included working on an Amish Block of the Month that has gone untouched since September, and some hardcore antiquing -- with no purchases!

Some of the essays are spectacular.  Today I learned a great deal about Constraint Induced Movement, through one exceptional paper, which was fascinating!  (Go ahead, google it.)  Regardless of the content, I'm pleased that students are hitting deadlines, and not stressing.  Because when we get back to school on the 5th, we'll be heading towards the end of semester, and final exams.

Turn it IN!

Our principal encouraged us to use a new program last year -- Turn it In.  The program is pretty amazing, although I'm not sure that students are considering the full benefits of the information it can provide to them.  (In addition to instantly scanning the internet for similar content and giving a "similarity index" to combat plagiarism, it also offers grammar check and spell check.  I'm fairly certain the last two have been overlooked by students.  At least I HOPE so!)

Being able to accept papers electronically, comment, and grade them makes for a lighter backpack, the demise of fewer trees, and boxes of toner.  It also introduces the students to online grading and feedback similar to what many colleges will require in a few short years.

Yes, the pacing of my life is quite fine right now.  I'm nibbling on cookies and candies provided by students as Christmas gifts, and will indulge in the bubble bath offerings as well.  It truly is a vacation of balance and breathing, and it's coming along quite well, thank you!

May you find the balance as well!

 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Smelly Christmas.


Come to your senses?  
One of the most important things to all of my offspring, while assessing new gifts, is smell.  I truly don't understand it, and suspect that all this sniffying, nay I say DEEP INHALING, followed by a satisfying "ahhhhh!" is actually an elaborate ploy to confuse their poor mother even further.  
 
I've smelled hockey.  (And if you never have had the experience, count yourself lucky.)  So I guess I might be able to accept the sniffing of NEW hockey skates, but a book?  I'm pretty sure even Tim Burton isn't writing scratch and sniff.

It does make one wonder, however, (okay, at least ME), about the association between the senses and memories.  This Christmas, the evergreen boughs cut off our tree at the tree lot never made it onto the front door -- they've been fragrantly enhancing the smell of the back of Kristin's car.  Christmas cookies were never baked, yet cookies miraculously appeared in time for the big day thanks to some wonderful friends.

Much of this week was spent in the hospital with my mother, as she recovered from surgery and injuries from her run-in with a pickup truck earlier this week.  I'm not sure I will ever be able to use the phrase "I feel like I've been hit by a truck" ever again -- having seen what damage even a SMALL truck can do to a pedestrian.  This is the same hospital where I volunteered in high school.  Despite multiple renovations and 35 years, it smells exactly the same as it did when I was a teenager.
  

Connections? 

Certainly the sense of smell is but one trigger for memories.  Most people have particular likes -- or aversions -- to certain smells.  (I love vanilla, cinnamon, and anything that smells like cupcakes or cookies while others love citrus, flowers, or (gag) artificial pine.)  Most people can be instantly taken back to a time gone by to remember based upon a smell.  Experts have actually studied the relationship between memory and smell, and concluded that there is a distinct relationship.

Research has shown that when areas of the brain connected to memory are damaged, the ability to identify smells is actually impaired. In order to identify a scent, you must remember when you have smelled it before and then connect it to something you saw while smelling the scent. According to some research, studying information in the presence of an odor actually increases the vividness and intensity of that remembered information when you smell that odor again.

Does this mean we should start piping scents into classrooms?  Or sending students and textbooks into hockey locker rooms?

Hmmmmm.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Always Teaching - even on Christmas?

I have to confess, it's Christmas, and even I was annoyed by the number of times I uttered the words "primary sources" in relation to gifts given today.  As I've mentioned before, our kids don't understand the most recent antiquing obsession embarked upon almost weekly.  Yesterday I had a crash course in the scarcity of 250 year old whistles as compared to the rarity of a blood-letting knife.  (Because, really, which one of those two gifts says "I love you" the most to your husband of 31 years?  Well, the answer is the whistle.  Put your lips together...)  Bruce found two fantastic additions to my anti-Hitler propaganda:  a skunk doorstop and a "save pennies to defeat Hitler" piggy bank.  (For those that don't know me, I was actually born on Hitler's birthday, April 20th, so there's a certain fascination....)  

I was able to locate a copy of the original A Christmas Carol manuscript for Kristin, and one other special Dickens fan in my life.

Always Teaching?

I can't shut it off!  Everyone arrived, opened gifts, ate more than their fill, and departed by 3, when I anticipated leaving to stay with the newly-sprung patient -- aka my mother.  As it turned out, they've decided to keep her one more night to make sure that all is well with various tests, so I now have time to settle and regroup.  We all rested briefly, did some picking up and organizing, and have the trash and recycling ready for the dudes in the morning. 

I've checked my email, graded 5 papers, and scolded myself for doing so on Christmas.  I promise that next on my list is learning to Zentangle.

As soon as I enter those grades!

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Flipping Christmas

No, your eyes are not deceiving you.  The picture is a mirror image.  It also has a wrinkle in it along the "I" in LIFE.  There's a good reason for that.

As part of our annual "dress in pajamas that match" tradition, Beanie (aka me) has an additional responsibility -- to reduce the guys' outfits down to the 3 year old size for Carter.  

So, a pair of mens' XL pajama pants was cut down and reassembled -- this time with a 13 1/2 inch inseam and a 22 inch waist, and the image to the right was printed and ironed on to a grey t shirt, so that Carter will match Daddy, Uncle Trent, Uncle Ben, Pops and Grand Dude.

Quite frankly, this Christmas is providing a lot of opportunity for flipping things.

Flipping Christmas.

A week ago, son #2, the recently-engaged Ben, called and asked if there was any chance he could convince me to serve the traditional Christmas spaghetti dinner at noon instead of five.  I had abandoned the full turkey dinner style Christmas dinner seven years ago when Jennie and Scott got married -- it was just easier to serve something that didn't require precise timing.  The sauce goes in the crockpot in the morning, and we boil water whenever it's time to eat, making enough pasta for whomever is hungry at the time.

But spaghetti at noon sounded like a recipe for a long afternoon nap to me.

A week ago, I was leaving options open, ready to roll with the punches.  (Similar strategies have existed in my classroom, as students attempted to meet final deadlines for finishing various presentations, projects, and papers before the break.  Recent interruptions to the high school schedule have included Keystone exams for sophomores, Rhythm Singers performances, illnesses, and a variety of other reasons for student absences, and the catching up was at full tilt Friday and Monday!)

So a week ago, it was gifts with Kristin and Bruce in the morning, gifts with Ben, Scott, Jennie, Carter and Bailey at noon, followed by gifts with my mother, and topped off with spaghetti, all covered with cheese -- hoping that no meatballs would be lost to the inevitable sneeze.

But that was all before the failed attempt to deliver Christmas cookies by my mother on Monday.  

At this point, it is unlikely that she will be home for Christmas -- she will probably be discharged on Friday.  She's learning to walk with a walker steered by the elbow of her broken arm, as she nurses the newly-strung patella that was put back together yesterday.  We'll be eating spaghetti at noon, and taking leftovers to Abington.  I might even break out my festive red wagon to carry her gifts!

Yes, Christmas will be different.  We don't have ten kinds of cookies -- at this point we don't even have a single cookie baked.  I still have gifts to wrap, and meatballs to make.  I'm awaiting the arrival of Madi, a former student, who texted me today to say she'd like to see me before she heads back to school, and we'll head to church later.  And whatever happens, happens.  I'm living in the moment, and handling things a minute at a time.

It's a different kind of Christmas,  but it's a very, very blessed Christmas, when I consider the many possible alternatives.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Substitutes and Substitutions - and UNICORNS. Yes.

“I found the hum of his computer rather soothing, but it was the complete lack of unicorn carcasses that really pulled the room together.” 
― Diana PeterfreundRampant




I have to admit, I was tempted to just post the quote and picture to the right, with no explanation.  After all, I'm sitting in the hospital for the second day, as my shattered mother is in surgery.  (I originally typed "broken", changed it to "smashed," and decided to forego the image of holiday excesses.)  They are adding hardware to join her previously mono-united patella back to its original form.  

One of the biggest disappointments about this event is that I had to forego participation in two separate dances:  The GLOW dance during the Talent Show today at the high school, and the Celebratory Unicorn-Arrival Dance at the junior high yesterday, as we opened door #24 of our countdown to winter break.   

Of course, anyone who knows me well knows that the latter was one that was most anticipated, yet easily forgotten with the circumstances of yesterday.

Substitutes and Substitutions

I dashed into school this morning to clean off my desk, leave substitute plans, and (most importantly) retrieve the coffee cakes, cookies, and candies from students and colleagues before heading to the hospital for the anticipated surgery.  It is times like these that age and experience put me at a distinct advantage.  I was able to retrieve the most recent sub plans written, update them completely, and leave everything in order in less than 20 minutes.   I have enough understanding about the "Turn it In" program that my students are using to submit their research papers, that they can already view comments, instead of waiting all break for feedback.  And my wonderful orthopedic history this year allowed me to decode most of the acronyms tossed about by the surgeon and anesthesiologists today, allaying concerns of my mother.

Several observations:
  • Nurses appreciate chocolate truffles, even if it's Christmas and they have more cookies than they ever dreamed of wanting.
  • Saying thank you to everyone goes a long way - especially when nobody really wants to be in the hospital, let alone on Christmas Eve eve.
  • Parking Garages are not necessarily close to the actual building, but it's still not worth hauling the umbrella through rooms, preop, reception, and postop.
  • Despite what the people on talk radio say about last minute holiday shopping, the hospital gift shop is a perfectly fine place to find something unique for someone you love.
It's going to be a different kind of Christmas.  We will travel, instead of visited.  We will dine at noon instead of five, and at least one of us will be sitting straight legged in a chair instead of cross-legged while opening gifts.  The Glow Dance happened, and my glow suit was fashioned into a bowtie for the famous Seth, who is usually bowtied while teaching chemistry.  (As an aside, he has virtually NO EXCUSE not to update his blog during the next ten days.)

And the Celebratory Unicorn Arrival Dance?  Well, I HOPE it did not happen without me.  Mostly for selfish reasons.  

And, because I finally have the appropriate attire for the festivities.  (See photo above)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Family Matters

Shortly after 10 am this morning, my mother's most favorite Christmas sweatshirt was destroyed.  It was cut off of her, along with her pants and other unmentionables by the dudes in the trauma bay, after she had a nasty run-in with a (truck, SUV, vehicle - take your pick) while walking her usual 6+ miles.

It's somewhat ironic, I know, that at the very moment that my mother was lying in the middle of a crosswalk on Easton Road in Glenside with what turned out to be a fractured kneecap, fractures in her back, and possibly her wrist as well, I was talking to a group of high school students about the importance of Corporalita. Corporalita, the foundation of  Leonardo da Vinci's metacognitive process, is the concept that being in tip top physical, mental, and physiological oneness allows for maximum creativity and insight.

In my corner of the world, the person who most clearly exemplifies the importance of physical and mental conditioning is my dear mother.  So while I was attempting to introduce the concept of reflection and zentangling to high school students, my mother was refusing any sort of pain medication, waiting patiently for a hospital bed.  Talk about ZEN.

Family Matters

After a day like today, one can only wax philosophically on the wonders of one's life.  I am blessed to work in a school district where I can pick up a phone, reach a principal, and have that principal not only answer the phone but be in my classroom within three minutes to cover my class, allowing me to drive to the hospital two hours away.  Before I even pulled up to the E.R., my phone was chirping with prayers and "thinking of yous" from friends and colleagues.  (I was left scratching my head, until I realized that one of the students in my room is also the son of one of my closest friends, and he immediately started a mini prayer chain for mom.)


My family is not large.  I have one sister.  My mother has one sister.  There are many, many, people who may as well be sisters or cousins, though, as we connect and support each other.  (As well as children and grandchildren who all rallied together today!)

When I came home this evening after a very, very, long and emotional day, I absentmindedly thought about this blog.  Last night I was 49 blog visits from reaching 10,000.  I was thinking about how on Day #100 of writing, Ben and Bailey became engaged.  And now, on Blog Visitor 10,000, I was once again focused on family instead of the latest Blog Milestone.   Here's hoping that I stay that grounded forever, for as much as I enjoy this blog, it's the PEOPLE that truly matter.

In less than two days, we'll all be back together, along with families all over the world, celebrating.
Because even if the Grinch's image has been slashed by the scissors of an EMT in a trauma bay, Christmas will come, and family will still be family.  No matter what.

I am grateful for the extended family at school, and elsewhere in my life, that made my heart grow three sizes today.  (And if you didn't get that Grinch reference, go watch the movie.  It's probably only playing a dozen or more times in the next 48 hours on TNT).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

If I Only Had a Brain.

Those who know me well should realize that my using any reference to the Wizard of Oz must mean that I have a pretty good reason.  I've been terrified of those darned flying monkeys since a babysitter sent me to bed before the end of the movie when I was six years old.

Ironically, I sat down to write this blog entry after a lengthy phone conversation with one of my UCONN firends about gifted education this morning and a subsequent discovery of Holly Korbey's article entitled Debunking the Genius Myth,  and had already chosen the graphic and theme when my daughter ran into the room and changed the television channel to the dreaded movie.  Once again, I'm thinking about thinking.

If I Only Had a Brain

There has been a lot of talk in the education world over the last decade or more about student engagement, student motivation, student success, and the reasons behind the perceived deficiencies in all of those areas.  If you ask students, they will often dismiss the opportunity to even attempt to focus and truly engage and learn, simply by claiming a lack of necessary genetic material and dismissing even the possibility of success.  As a teacher of the gifted, there is a certain stigma that comes along with that position.  As the very title of my blog suggests, I am NOT THE GIFTED TEACHER, and don't even claim to want to be held to the expectations of my colleagues as an Oz-like character with all of the answers.  (This is especially true when it comes to geography, but I digress...)

When non-identified friends of my caseload venture into my room, they often shift their weight, uncomfortably, and offer "excuses" for why they aren't identified.  "My mom said I missed qualifying by ONE point!"  (If I had a nickel for every time that was said...)  "I couldn't sit still long enough to pay attention during the test..."  (Probably true.  The system failed you by not recognizing that.)  "I just don't have a mind that learns the way gifted brains do.  It's genetic."  (Cough, Carol Dweck, Cough!) I don't ask any of these kids why, and, truth be told, I want to tell them that above-average/high ability is so much easier to live with than the perceived-bigger label of GIFTED.

The world is full of excuses for lack of success.  I'm not a size 6.  I'm not a millionaire.  I'm not a genius.  You get the idea.  What are schools doing to assist students in establishing what they want and then preparing them with the necessary metacognitive tools to succeed?

My students have technology in their pockets with similar capabilities to what is between their ears.  Given a task with technology, they can reason, try, error, and try again with the persistence of a dog with a new bone.  They've proven they have the capability of a mindset of growth, even if they don't use their powers across all domains.  (Or, for some, ANY domains that do not involve Angry Birds or Smash Brothers.) Somewhere along the way, we forgot to equip students to learn. 

We just tell them to do so, and wonder why they fail.  Hmmm.  Without waxing political, let's reconsider how we design Common Core, and realize that something major has been overlooked.

Thinking.

Amidst all of the "students will be able to...." statements, there is no standard for explicit instruction in metacognition.  The very foundation for all learning isn't at the core of the Common Core.

We may need to travel to Oz to make sense of all this.  Or travel back home.  But we certainly can't change the world standing still.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Auld Lang Syne

It's the weekend before Christmas.  I believe I have finished my shopping, after the last minute jaunt around Lancaster and Lititz today.  I've done some wrapping, and still have a couple of things to finish -- including making Carter's pjs to match his daddy's.  

My daughter in law, Jennie, brought the tradition of matching pajamas on Christmas day to our family when she joined us 6 years ago.  We shopped last night, and were able to find matching everything for everybody in the right size!  A Christmas miracle?  Probably going a bit too far with that assumption.

The tree has been up for almost a week, and the ornaments were added today.  Somehow, the song going through my head is Auld Lang Syne.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup! and surely I'll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine;
But we've wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.
And there's a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o' thine!
And we'll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

 Auld Lang Syne, my friend.

When I was in high school, my closest friends decided one year that we would make our gifts for each other, instead of buying them.  While I have no recollection of what I gifted to them, I fondly bring to mind (to keep those old acquaintances from being forgot...) my friends.   I treasure, in my sewing room, a colored pencil drawing of a purple castle and a brave knight.  (The artist is now serving her second year as president of Lafayette college!)   Pictured above is an ornament crafted by another.

 This is my first Christmas without Amy.  Every year, since 1976, I've hung this ornament on my tree.  Once we were in college and beyond, I'd make a phone call, snap a picture and facebook or text it, to let her know how much I treasure the gift of Christmas-ornament-me in my marching band uniform.  It seems weird, in a gut-wrenching, painful, sort of way, to have this emptiness.  I can't begin to imagine the canyon of emptiness in Amy's house this year.

I also couldn't imagine NOT putting the ornament on the tree.

I pray for my own high school students that they find friends as special and true as mine are, and make a gift or two, and treasure both the gifts and the friends for thirty or forty years.  High school will always be magical for me because of those friends, and paper castles and felt Christmas ornaments with tinfoil flagpoles will stand the test of time to serve as memories far into the future. 

There's no chance of "never brought to mind" in my world.  I am blessed by the friendships, and the memories.



Friday, December 19, 2014

Give Yourself a Hand - and a pencil.

How often does the average person think about thinking?  Seriously.  Aside from lying in bed at the end of the day mulling over the past events and how they might have played out differently, or standing, helplessly, at the top or bottom of the steps as you try to figure out why you went down, or up, the stairs, most of us spend very little time considering thinking, let alone considering the metacognitive process.  (Be honest, neither of those examples is about the "how and why" of thinking, it's more about retracing steps and words...)

Give Yourself a Hand.

My students have been studying the influence of right and/or left brain dominance -- because da Vinci said so.  Consideration has been given to the metacognitive process with regard to senses and thought, so it was only natural to consider the application of brain dominance in the way we think.  The students did some studying, took a survey (this isn't the one they took, but you'll get the idea), and then formed groups of like-minded individuals to create an experience for their classmates.

The projects, as usual, were varied and fun.  The profoundly-left-brained in the bunch had groups of students attempting to master Dutch Blitz (remember, this is Lancaster County, folks), while the right brained offered variations of Paul Torrance's tests of Creative Thinking, and a fascinating examination of the human hand combined with a challenge to the artistic process.

I challenge you to try it.  Position your non-dominant hand in a pose where you can view it well.  Using a pencil or black pen (no, I don't know why -- we scrambled to find black pens for everyone!), draw your hand in one continuous line, without lifting the pen point OR looking at the paper. 

Oh, and you have TWO minutes.

This concept is called Blind Contour Drawing and is often used as an observation exercise or warmup in art classes, we were told.

So why not think about how you think this weekend?  Take a break from plans and relax a bit. 

Oh, one more question.  (And we'll answer it in a later blog.)  Courtesy of Taylor's presentation:

WHAT IS RISKY?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Justifying Excitement

I made a phone call last week to a parent after working with a little guy on the Hour of Code.  This little first grader had never even considered how computers worked -- what five year old would actually have considered that? -- yet caught on to the concepts of beginner coding immediately, as he worked to have the Angry Bird catch the Green Pig.  He was engaged, he was excited, and he was starting to make the connections between simple coding strategies and the graphics on a computer.

So why did I make the phone call?  Well, of course it's always heart-warming to be able to tell a parent how incredibly awesome their child is, or how well they worked on a difficult project, but the reality was that I made the phone call to preempt the inevitable conversation:

"What did you do in school today?"
"I played Angry Birds with Mrs. Heydt."

Sure.  That's what I do all day.

Justifying Excitement

With the increased use of technology, teachers find themselves trying to justify exactly why they are implementing certain strategies or assigning specific online experiences.  Technology, even twenty years ago, seemed more fascinating to kids than their adults, who viewed the fascination of their young people with suspicion.  "All he does is stare at that screen..." became a common comment, with the adults examining the superficial interactions they viewed on the screen and dismissing them as trivial or time-wasting.

So the phone call to a dad at work in the middle of the afternoon was to explain the rationale behind the activity, before the car ride home.  The father was incredibly appreciative, and we had a great conversation -- which also helped me in planning for future lessons with the new computer coder.

The reason for the coding lesson in the first place was as an anticipatory introduction to simple coding concepts that will be used when our new robots - Dash and Dot - that will arrive this week.
So parents know to expect a lot of technology talk, and I now know that robot voices are scary to some five year olds.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paper Training...

Occasionally when I open the blogspot page there is a notification that someone has left a comment on a previous post.  It's always nice to receive a kudo from someone, and even better (in my humble opinion) when the comment makes me laugh.  Such was the case with the comment from my friend, Seth:

"He whizzed with his plans . . ." How I wish you had used "on" in that sentence. on Double Dose - It's All About Research?
 

 Paper Training.

 
 As mentioned earlier this week, there have been a lot of adjustments happening to deadlines, assignments, and motivational attempts.  The BIG research paper due date is looming.  T - 5 days.  Despite the fact that there is a deadline in my grade book, the reality is that I am less worried I am about the deadline than the quality of the work.  Our district encourages us to accept efforts to improve on already-graded assignments, saying that this shows initiative to more more more fully to mastery level of the assessed area.  
 
While this may be true for some students, others have begin to treat assessments as a preview; let's not bother to prepare for a test until AFTER they get a peak at it when it is first administered, and then play the "retest" game.  Let's get real, those of us who teach English do this already.  It's called a ROUGH DRAFT.  Kids get a stab at the project, we offer suggestions for improvement, and they are made.  

But how are we truly teaching kids to think about the comments we've offered?  In the most recent set of rough drafts that I graded, I made some comments two or three times.  (i.e.  "Don't write in first person in a research paper."  "Avoid the use of YOU", etc.)  It would stand to reason that if I circle the first person pronouns on the entire first page, that the same concept would apply to the remainder of the pages.

This is not, apparently, the same understanding of the students, for when the final copies of the papers were turned in, everyone made the changes to the first page - BECAUSE I TOLD THEM TO DO SO -- and never even considered applying the newly-learned concept to subsequent pages.

Yesterday, we sat and drafted the rubric for the rough draft as a class, and decided what was most important.  As a class, the decision was Thesis, Conclusion, MLA Format, Works Cited, and In-Text Citations would be evaluated, 8 points each, for a total of 40 points.  There will be no points deducted or awarded, on the rough draft, for content or grammar.  The comments will be there, and there will be some serious Paper Training.

Did you click on that link?  No, I have not lost my mind.  Between the rough draft and the final draft, we are going to talk about potty-training puppies.  There will be a beautiful powerpoint full of adorable puppies.  We will ohhh and ahhh over the little fuzzy puppies, and then talk about what a pain they are when they first live with a new family.  We will draw connections, we will compare and contrast human paper writing with puppy paper wetting.  I will tease them with a rolled up newspaper and a spray bottle.
 
Did you see what I did there?  I started with Seth's whizzing comment, and wound my way to the whizzing puppies.  Do I intend to saturate my lesson plans in a non-traditional way?  Absolutely.  And I'm not the only teacher considering ways to deprogram kids from "playing school" to actually working with content.  Even if it involves a rolled up newspaper.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  If it does, I've already reserved the domain for CleverPapers.com.


 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fa La La La La, La La La La.

By the time you hit the Wednesday before Christmas as a teacher at Donegal High School, you are focused on one of three things:  1.  How much you have to accomplish with students before the holiday, 2.  How much you have to accomplish at HOME before the holiday,  and 3.  What insane skit will you be doing in the annual Talent Show in the final hours before the break. Sure, I'm overwhelmed by the fact that I bought Christmas cards in October, fully intending to complete THAT event over Thanksgiving -- and then found out that Ben and Bailey would be getting engaged, so I waited for pictures to be included in the cards -- and not a single cookie has been baked, and there are presents to wrap, and a tree that isn't fully decorated yet, and the greens for the front door are still in the back of Kristin's car since we got them on Sunday.

Yes, it is true.  I can barely take a breath.  Yet I absolutely love every single minute of this time of year.

Breathing - and Flapping.

My Information Literacy students are in full research mode.  For freshmen, the culminating "big research paper" is paralyzing.  For others, I've been threatening detention if they don't get their outstanding work completed.  (And I really have NEVER done that before!)  There is a huge difference, in my mind, between the kids who work diligently during every class, yet don't quite hit the deadlines for one reason, or another, and the kid (s) who decide to chat, daydream, or be distracted doing "research" on the internet without visiting a single database.  (You know who you are!)  The internet is a dangerous place.  They should know that, because we already completed the unit on internet safety, yet they get sucked in by the shiny things, the funny things, and, well, anything that is more fun than research, which is pretty much anything else in the world.

The aforementioned previous group frequently contains a wide-eyed and panicking individual who is practically hyperventilating at the thought of the final projects, papers, and facing their very first final exams in January.  To those kids I've frequently been saying BREATHE.  For some of them, breathing hasn't been enough, and we've added wings -- to fly into break without taking the burden of backpacks and books and projects and papers.

I'm overwhelmed.  They're overwhelmed.  And it's not just the Info. Lit class.  My gifted kids are waiting for Early Decisions and Early Actions from prestigious colleges, or scrutinizing PSAT and SAT scores, or worrying about AP classes.  There is very little breathing happening, and even less sleep.  This semester, which I've mentioned before, we're Thinking Like da Vinci, and are headed into our unit on Corporalita.  da Vinci had it right -- there's a need to find balance and focus in life.

We need to find time for reflection, for daydreaming, and for down time.  Many of our kids don't know how to breathe and relax.  Many of the adults don't, either.  So watch out, my friends!  We're headed for strategies to make it through the holidays and finals.  And we'll share them with you.

Go daydream.  Just for 10 minutes.

Breathe, and Flap.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Double Dose - It's All About Research?

 
When it comes to mathematics, I am truly the teacher of the gifted and not the gifted teacher.  I am an excellent advocate for gifted kids when it comes to math, but if I had to solve a simple calculus equation to save my life, well, let's just say it would take my last breath and I'd still be dead.  I am definitely a right brain hemisphered individual, and I do my best to nod and look less than comatose when left-brained kids attempt to connect with me using mathematical logic.

Now that I've made that confession, and probably alienated more than a few of my mathy friends, I turn to my most discovery:  the research that talks about struggling math students and how often they should receive their daily doses of Algebra

Double Dosing?

In a society where "more is better," I know of no students who would intentionally seek out double doses of mathematics -- or many classes for that matter -- to increase their learning.  The district in which I teach has a Block Schedule at the high school, and it is frequently under attack by achievement critics who feel that what is essentially a double dose of instruction in an 82 minute block is too much for one challenged student to take in without application and practice.  (Let alone the stress of having a subject from September - January, and then not again for 8 more months or more, depending on the placement of that subject the following year.)  Yet this is exactly what is suggested in these studies.  (I yell a hardy YAY BLOCK! at this point...)

Putting on my gifted advocacy hat adds to the conundrum.  Double-dosing is a GREAT thing for most gifted kids -- as it allows for a lot of flexibility in scheduling, compacting, and challenging courses.  Teachers are using more project based or discovery learning strategies in block, because the time is there to experience AND debrief.  Fong's study (see links above) certainly places the argument for struggling learners' repetition needs squarely in the cross-hairs, allowing for continued support of block.  So should we double the already doubled block?  How much is too much?

The reality is that there are probably an equal number of studies contradicting exactly what Fong has discovered and reported in his research.  Because that's the nature of research.  Prove what you want, and ignore the rest.  It's interesting to me that when kids do this when writing research papers, we ask them for "balance" in their research, but when it applies to education we are quite selective in our application.  One thing that I know for sure is that in the apparent haste to "correct" the flaws in the current educational process, often the prescribed cure, or the newest study, is grabbed with gusto and a hardy har har, without consideration for the mid-stream horse switch impact.  When it doesn't work, we're on to something else.

I'm feeling like Dr. Seuss writing the end of The Grinch:

And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe learning," he thought, "doesn't come from research galore. "Maybe learning...perhaps...means a little bit more!" And what happened then...? Well...in Who-ville they say That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day! And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight, He whizzed with his plans through the bright morning light And he brought back the fun! And the discovery learning! And he... ...HE HIMSELF...! The Grinch discovered his educational yearning!

I know.  don't give up my day job.

I'm trying not to.  I just wish the targets didn't keep moving.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

High on the Hill There's a Lonely Goat...

I spent most of my Saturday at the high school, scoring the hopeful.  You see, it's musical season again.  This year's production will be The Sound of Music.  Donegal is a theater community -- so much so that when the call went out to the primary, intermediate and junior high, posting auditions for the children in the show, the response was overwhelming.

Four roles for tiny people.  SIXTY EIGHT competitors.

The enthusiasm for theater in this area is astounding to me.  Even more astounding was the focus, talent, and energy of these kids.  They sang, they danced, they acted with the big kids, on the big stage.  As someone scoring, it was exhausting.

And then it repeated itself again -- this time, with nearly 100 big kids.  And while there were a few more roles for them, there are still fewer than kids who are dreaming of spotlights.

We all thought we'd be done by 5.  We whittled down the cast list with the director, and finally left the school after 8:30.  And the show wasn't cast.  The director will make the ultimate decision, and is currently experiencing her "semi-annual sleepless night" as she tries to mesh the perfect cast from those who auditioned.  

I do not envy her chore this evening.  I'd suggest she count sheep, but even I can only see a lonely goat (Sound of Music reference - I couldn't resist!), and it's tough to go to sleep after counting to one.

Lonely Goats...

I knew a lot of the kids auditioning, and even more of the parents present.  It's really tough when you live in a small town, and know the back story of some of the kids.  We know who the shining stars are -- who has been having a great year and riding high on success, and, just like Santa, who has been on the other side of the luck or behavior tracks.  The thing about theater is that actors and actresses, even when they're as young as five years old, are emotional.

And so are the people who are casting the parts.

It's no secret in the performing arts community in a high school that certain roles are "dream roles"  - or should I say "DREAM ROLES" for some, more than others.  It's always a struggle to cast a show when there are multiple perfect candidates for a single role.

December is a tough time in high schools.  Next week, there will be a few posted lists.  Donegal will post its cast list on the director's website tomorrow sometime, and there will be more tears than there are cheers, due to the giant response to the audition call.

After that, the Early Decision and Early Action lists will be released by some really selective colleges.   And just like the musical, there are certain "DREAM COLLEGES" for the seniors.   I've read dozens of essays, and written dozens of letters of recommendation.  I've known most of these kids for more than a decade, and am as excited about their futures as their own parents.

If the "right" college for each of these kids, as perceived by me, doesn't have the good sense to choose them, then it is the institution's loss.  Because I've seen the heart and soul of these kids, nurtured in a community who cares.

Even if they feel like lonely goats on a hill yodeling for some recognition.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekend Blogging Musings

At the NAGC Conference in Baltimore a month ago today, Ian Byrd and Brian Housand spoke about the virtues and benefits of blogging.  I'd been blogging for about 10 weeks at that point, so I attended.  They gave a lot of good tips, some of which I've incorporated into this blog since then, and challenged us to use blogging in our classrooms with students.  (Which will happen next semester!)

One of them - I think it was Ian, indicated that the views on his blog had grown from 5,000 the first year, to nearly 30,000!



Weekend Blogging Musings



I started this blog on September 1st, 2014, after a Facebook "dare" from my college friend, Cindy.    The folks at Te@chthought.com had come up with thirty days of prompts to engage teachers in blogging.  It seemed like something worth trying -- thus the beginning of the obsession.  The first month, even though it coincided with the early weeks of the school year, was very easy.  Along the way, I was encouraged by other educators' responses, either offering suggestions, relating to my posts, and, in one case, blessing my efforts by telling me that my blog was inspiring her to both blog AND share my reflections as part of her own professional development.

I hadn't really considered the value of blogging in terms of the wonders of the required evaluation system , and suddenly had new purpose.  Added to that, my own mother confessed that she is a daily viewer, and looks forward to the daily pinhole look into my classroom to see what I am doing.  (Or perhaps make sense of the acronyms I over-use in her presence?)

One of the things that blog readers might not know is that blog writers are provided with statistics.  I totally understand the significant SPIKE in viewership when my son became engaged on Tuesday, as his facebook friends, presumably, stalked the post -- with a whopping 264 views.  The commentary on ALICE school security was also of rising interest, with viewers from Finland that day.  I can tell you that viewership is significantly down on weekend posts.  Certainly retweets and favorites of tweets by high -profile bloggers like Beth and Justine at Te@chthought, or the previously-mentioned Brian or Ian after posting at NAGC, contribute to increased viewership.

Ian mentioned that his first year of blogging, he was shocked by the fact that 5,000 people had viewed his writing.  This morning I actually checked my totals.  In less than four months, 9208 views from people in Finland, Alaska, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and (obviously), the US.  I'm thinking that -- unless you all let me down and stop reading over the Christmas break -- I'm on track for hitting 10,000 by the end of the calendar year. 

Oh, and the front-runner of all my posts?  The musings of the collaborative hijinks of my friends at A Lunch -- with a whopping FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN views. 

I really don't understand the extraordinary obsession with that post.  But it warms my heart to think that there are that many people who are as warped as my friends at A Lunch.

Have a great weekend!

#reflectiveteacher

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tripping....

Many of my fondest memories from school as a child are related to amazing field trips that were taken.  Some of these trips still live on as tangible memories -- like my membership card in the Junior Audobon Society after I correctly identified some specific number of birds at a local sanctuary which I still have, just in case I need to prove membership, I suppose.  Other field trips were special because of who was along on the trip.  (I suppose I could include marching with the marching band - in full wool uniforms - in the Bicentennial parade in Philadelphia in July, 1976 as one of those memorable bus trips, right?)  

Sometimes the field trips came to us - like the time that my biology teacher, Mr. Gribosh, witnessed a car hit a pregnant deer on the way to school and got permission to bring in the deer for dissection.  I'm sure his lesson plans didn't include that dissection that day, but I remember it as if it were yesterday!


 Field Tripping

 Somehow, somewhere, the value of field trips has been minimized to the point that districts no longer consider the importance or potential of such a learning experience.  While field trips are costly -- consider the cost of busing entire classes, paying the driver to sit with said bus while the tripping happens, and paying admission charges for entire busloads of students -- the larger excuse used by many districts is that they "can't afford the time."

Teachers recognize the need for authentic learning experiences.  So much so, that teachers are willing to PLAN a trip -- which is no easy feat -- in addition to all of their regular work.  Consider what is involved in a field trip these days:

1.  Identify the standard, show relevance of destination to identified standard.
2.  Complete proposal paperwork for administrator, school board, and whomever requires approval.
3.  Notify school nurses and determine who has travel restrictions, requires medical interventions during the day, and know the concerns relative to allergies, sun sensitivity, asthma, etc.  Request a nurse for an additional travel buddy if there is a specific concern.
4.  Write a memo and permission slip explaining field trip purpose, relevance, and details to parents.
5.  Try not to offend parents who volunteer to go as chaperones who are not on the "approved volunteer list," carefully explaining that they require $60 worth of clearances and school board approval to be on the bus.
6.  In elementary land, create groups, laminate nametags, punch holes, and label students. 
7.  Make sure everyone has a lunch, and that the peanut allergy kid is not in the same group as John Planter or Skippy or Jif.
8.  Collect permission slips, confirm with everyone that you will be out of the building, alert the cafeteria that their count will be down by 25 or 50 or whatever number of students..
9.  Go on the trip, assure that all students are supervised at all times, that everyone is safe and protected, and that all learning has an assigned standard to justify the trip at all.
10.  Arrive hours before school starts, return hours after it ends.
11.  Know that every single minute was worth it for the trip, that the kids will remember 40 years from now, hoping that the memory is from something related to the standard, and not that someone was left behind at the panda exhibit.

There are a lot of missed opportunities.  It almost seems as if there should be awards given for people willing to embark on a journey on a big yellow bus with entire classes of students. 

Are schools doing a disservice when it comes to the use of field trips?  I'm not the only one asking the question.





Thursday, December 11, 2014

Caroling Visitors - Rated PG 13 (or more?)

It's interesting to be in public schools between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There is a sort of unwritten rule that allows for the ramping up of creative use of the impending holidays as both inspiration and motivation.  The math people in the primary school work with paper chains as numberlines.  The Art Honor Society erected a "holiday" tree (because we can't be religion specific...) in the courtyard at the high school, and the entire school is invited to contribute ornaments.  Today, it was adorned with lights and garland.  Homerooms were visited to invite participation in the "Winter Wonderland Door Decoration Contest."  (Prizes?  I guess, bragging rights...).

The kids are squirrely, and the teachers are batty.  (Maybe that's the wrong holiday...)  With 7 1/2 school days between today and vacation, the engagement level is diminishing, and challenging teachers to a creative engagement level that is only rivaled by the time between Memorial Day and the last day of school.

Creative Engagement at its finest!

During first period today, a group of students entered.  Yes, a Wellness 10 class, currently studying Sexually Transmitted Diseases, came caroling, with their own original carols.  Imagine the infomercial for the CD featuring such hits as:

  • Looks Like You Have Gonorrhea
  • Here Comes Syphilis
  • Let it Grow! 
and many more.

All to the tune of holiday classics like Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, and Frosty.

 In the old high school, this teacher used to perform the carols with her class on the stage, under the lights.  Now that we're all under one roof, and not housed in modular units in the parking lot, it's much easier to spread the holiday cheer, and share the important lessons learned during the STD unit.    The faces of the freshmen each year are priceless, as this activity ensues.  


Sure, it's unconventional.  Does it make people squirm?  You bet.  Do the kids learn something while creating their shock-value songs?  Absolutely. 

And it puts us one day closer to vacation, warming up an otherwise chilly day.







Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Gift of Giving Good News.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  Bailey's sporting sparkle on her left hand, and a smile as bright as a shining star.  For the full preview, click here...

Anyway, it was back to work today, full of the Christmas spirit, and knowing that even though Bruce was bragging about having finished his Christmas shopping, he now has ONE more family gift to buy, now that Bailey made the list!

Every single minute of the next few weeks will be packed full of preparations, and tying up loose ends before vacation.  (Along with the annual talent show at the high school where the teachers are willing to prove that they are willing to humiliate themselves in the name of entertainment.)  

Good news abounds, and I've taken a page from that good news book and am working to turn frowns upside down wherever I can.

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines...

We all have deadlines, and we all hate them.  (Or, perhaps, they provide the needed sense of accomplishment and list-crossing-off for the left-brained among us.  You know who you are.)  Looming in the coming weeks are major deadlines for the "BIG PAPER" for my 9th grade Information Literacy students.  Five, count'em FIVE pages, with in text citations and a works cited page.  Sounds like nothing, unless you're a freshman, then it sounds like pure hell.  We've been plugging along all semester at a rate that seemed pretty reasonable, and now, suddenly, we can see vacation in our crosshairs.

And the rough drafts, which I had promised them they would have ample time to finish before Christmas break, leaving them empty arms and backpacks for the holiday break, aren't done.

Now, I firmly believe that a five page, double spaced, research paper, WITH QUOTES, I might add, to take up plenty of space,  to support the thesis, should NOT be that big a deal.  And in a couple of years, they'll shrug them off like a good upperclassman would do.  But that's not the case right now.  So, in my current benevolent dictator state, I announced to them that the actual requirement established for this project by the district is THREE to FIVE pages. 

And I'll accept three.

I may not have a sleigh.  I don't know the whereabouts of the missing eight reinDEER.  But I'm pretty high up on the list of at least 27 freshmen with that holiday gift.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Project Based Learning and ENGAGEMENT!!!

My son, Ben, has been involved in the biggest project of his life.  More than a month ago, he began the preparations for tonight, and navigated details that few would even consider -- especially, (cough cough) if you are a guy and don't pay close attention to those girly details.   He'd stalked her Pintrest board, he'd paid attention to the little things, right down to the lilies she loves so much, and he identified his own talent/passion for video as the means for the project.  (Is this sounding educational enough for you all?)

 Tonight, in a movie theater full of friends and family, his movie preview premiered, and ended with flowers, hugs, applause, and a sparkly-eyed Bailey agreeing to join our crazy family.

Project Based Learning and Engagement!!!

Since this is day ONE HUNDRED straight of blogging for me, and I'm a little preoccupied with the events of this evening, please indulge as I both outline the evening and attempt to demonstrate the virtues of Project Based Learning by evaluating the process:

1.  Ben made a decision, and a commitment.
2.  Ben set a timeline.
3.  Ben identified resources and gathered necessary materials.  (With the help of the folks at Koser Jewelers)
4.  Ben evaluated his personal skills, and chose a presentation method that played to his strengths and interests.
5.  Ben thought intrapersonally and considered the wishes of friends, family, and Bailey as he designed the experience.
6.  Ben involved others on many levels.
7.  Ben faced the difficult tasks of talking to administrators. (Err, parents.  Father, Stepfather, and Mother  along with a brother, to boot!)
8.  Ben negotiated with community businesses (Thank you, MoviEtown) to make the presentation/proposal really BIG (screened).
9.  Ben wove together the biggest back story.  (Did you know you could WIN a free movie-showing for a bunch of friends on a Tuesday afternoon?  Well you do now!)
10.  Ben successfully assembled close friends and family who could attend, at the appointed hour.
11.  Ben succeeded in becoming ENGAGED in his project, and....

ENGAGED TO BAILEY!

Bailey's family is darling, and the grandmothers bonded -- at a preview for an R rated movie, no less.  

In a previous blogpost, I told the story  of how my mother chooses to rearrange the photos of her grandchildren on the shelf to celebrate recent accomplishments.  I'm fairly certain Ben is center-shelf this evening.  She might even prop the iphone up to display a picture of the happy couple together!



Monday, December 8, 2014

Squirrel Chasers Unite.

I know I brought this on myself.  I saw the Unicorn Countdown Calendar, and couldn't resist its metaphorical connection to the population of students with whom I interact at the junior high.  (Okay, and the high school....).  I didn't really think through the competitive nature of the gifted kids, and how they would nearly wrestle each other to the ground for the opportunity to add to the emerging tableau.

One could assume -- okay, hope, that such an enthusiastic entrance into my classroom would result in some wonderful bonding time, followed by an intensive work session on independent study projects.  They've been working on these for months, and have a fairly good idea of direction and necessary research to move the projects along in the time necessary for the competitions, in some cases, or personal timelines established in collaboration with me or my co-partner in crime, Mrs. Lawrence.  

So today, a grey Monday, with Christmas break looming majestically on the horizon, I entered with great hope.

And found myself surrounded by Squirrel Chasers.

Squirrel Chasers Unite.


For anyone who has taught both high school and junior high school, it is fairly easy to get people to nod in agreement, along with generating a loud and bellowing "NO KIDDING!" or similarly intended, although probably more colorful expletive, when talking about the explicit differences between the two educational levels when it comes to focus, distraction, and on-task behavior.  Junior high level kids are finally free of the clutches of the structured land of elementary school, and encouraged to join student leadership teams, choruses and bands that meet during school time, as well as participate as library volunteers, or a myriad of other clubs and activities.  Gifted kids, in particular, aren't quite sure what to do with this new-found freedom, and usually have lists of activities longer than their arms.  All of which makes for a very difficult time when it comes to prioritizing their time.

For some kids, this prioritization is self-inflicted, for others it's probably genetic.  One of the joys of giftedness is the perpetual nature of teachers of the gifted trying to get those on their caseloads to find others with whom they share quirks, passions, and interests.  This is great if the topic is a particular, identifiable, thing.  It's not so good if the commonality is the ability to chase squirrels.

You know what I mean.  One kid is looking for a lost research binder, searching every shelf and cupboard in the classroom to no avail, and comes upon a business card.  She reads, aloud, the words "DERRY AREA", resulting in something that can only be described as royal fits of laughter from the other tables, previously focused and working well on the aforementioned projects.  Where this card came from, I don't know.  It clearly can go in the trash, for all I care.   But no.  Now it's a trophy.  Lord knows how long we'll be laughing about this poor district with the unfortunate posterior.  Err, name.

"Oh look!  A squirrel!"
" Oh wait!  The buses are arriving?  Why are they not in numerical order?  This bothers me tremendously!"

 Perhaps there is some OCD in the alphabet soup here?

Somehow, they make it through the period, and I feel as if I've been wrestling mythical creatures (unicorns, no doubt) away from their brains to keep them focused.  They congratulate each other on their abilities, sometimes celebrating with the creation of crowns proclaiming their abilities to remain focused.

And yes, I recognize that making crowns seems a bit off task.
But if wearing the crown during the next class keeps everyone travelling down the path towards project completion, then I will make one for every single one of them.

After all, they're royalty in my heart.