Friday, October 31, 2014

TRICK or Treat.

I have to admit, I've never been a big "dress up" person, and Halloween's Fear Factor is more than I can usually bear.  (Read that as Fantasy Island gave me nightmares, so why would I EVER watch a slasher movie?)  I do enjoy the magical hours of 6 - 8 pm, however, on Ole Hallow's Eve.... 

Tonight I ran to the CVS, a full 90 minutes before Trick or Treat was scheduled to begin.  This has been my M.O. for years -- it keeps me from tasting "just one" peanut butter cup 36 times, and finally handing out nickels and dimes to the trick or treaters.  The line was insane -- and the shelves were nearly bare.  I grabbed the deluxe assortment of Skittles, Starbursts, Snickers and M and Ms -- the last bag that wasn't crap candy (like Maryjanes!  Who the HECK eats them?) -- and headed for home, after NOT paying $1.88 per bag, which was my anticipated sale price.  Oh well.  I guess telling half of my friends that I always wait to the last minute, go to the CVS, and score big was not a secret I should have shared.

As if on schedule, the first costume-clad brigade arrived at my door shortly after six.  Scoobydoo, Superwoman, and a cute little cowboy.  When I invited them to take 3 things each, you would have thought I'd handed them gold.  

Being on the giving end of the candy is the best part of this holiday.

Sometimes The Trick is Better Than the Treat....

A treasured possession handmade by Alex Pierce...
Picture me, sitting in a rocker, telling you about the old days.  Often when I tell stories like this, I start by saying, "You might think I'm older than dirt, but..." which my students know signals a "remember when" story from the yesteryear.

When I was a kid, Trick or Treat was an actual option.  I remember going to our neighbor's house, and Mr. Sherry would always say - "TRICK!"  "Go ahead and TRICK me!"  We'd look confused, shuffle our feet a bit, and he'd eventually laugh and give us each a FULL SIZED candy bar.  The year that I turned eight, and Halloween was closing in, I asked my father about this weird "TRICK" demand that came from Mr. Sherry each year. 

It was like my father had been waiting for this question for years. 

"Well, you get to play a trick on Mr. Sherry.  If you can really surprise him, he'll reward you. Let's get to work."

Down we went to the workbench, lined with dozens of babyfood jars filled with nuts and bolts and assorted screws and washers. My father helped me choose a few nuts of different sizes and weights, and then we hiked up three flights of steps to my mother's sewing room to survey her spools of thread.  This was the first time I'd ever seen my father messing with the sewing stuff.

"It has to be black, and STURDY", he told my mother.  She looked confused, but found some buttonhole twist that fit the bill.  We grabbed some clear scotch tape from the kitchen drawer and headed out to sit in the flowerbed in the front of the house -- after it got dark, to practice.

Mr. Sherry's house was identical to ours in layout -- a split level with a basement that had some visible windows in the front of the "Recreation Room" next to the garage.  The flowerbed was directly in front of those windows.  My father expertly instructed me in the fine art of the TRICK.  Tie a knot around a nut (say that three times fast...) and extend approximately 6 inches of thread.  Tie another BIG knot at the top and cut it free.    Tie the end of the spool of thread to the nut and roll the spool up against the nut to keep it from tangling.

Tape the BIG knot to the window, carefully keeping the nut from hitting the window. 

"It's best to put it along the side of the window behind the curtains,"  my father said. 

And then we unrolled the spool hiding several feet away behind a bush.  A gentle pull and release provided the perfect tap tap tap on the window to drive even the sanest neighbor a bit batty.

This was genius.  Pure genius.  I ran inside the house while my father demonstrated our physics project.  I'd hear the tapping, giggle uncontrollably like the maniacal child my father was creating here, and run back outside, as if I couldn't believe the cause/effect relationship we had created.

We disassembled the contraption and hid it on the workbench for the next night - OCTOBER 30th.


For some reason, the folks in Lancaster County, where I live now, have no clue about Mischief Night, but outside Philadelphia where I grew up, it was almost as big a deal as Halloween itself.  I suppose it's been downplayed significantly over the years as the mischief went from pranks like ours to truly destructive mischief, but for that night in 1969 it was all in good fun.

I actually think that my father may have clued in Mr. Sherry to not truly alarm him -- they were good friends with one of those relationships that allowed Mr. Sherry to serve as surrogate parent in the neighborhood to my dad with life questions, and my father to play Mr. Fixit to Mr. Sherry's woes around the house.  

We taped.  We crouched, we tapped.  We stopped.  We tapped some more.  We saw the curtains open and close a few times and contained our giggles.  The porchlight went on, but we were in the shadows.  We tapped some more.

The next night when we shouted "Trick or Treat" and Mr. Sherry asked for a TRICK, we fessed up.  He laughed his deep belly laugh that was sort of like a "bowl full of jelly" kind of laugh, And came home with TWO full-sized candybars for our efforts.

The whole escapade probably lasted less than ten minutes, including taping and tapping, and un-taping, but it's stayed with me as a memory that arises every year at this time.

It's amazing how powerful Project Based Learning and a good Mentor can be on learning retention.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Soup for You!


 I admit it.  I spend WAYYY too much time on social media.  And thanks to the fine folks at Te@chthought, in addition to being tethered to Facebook, I am now tied to Twitter.  I have an Instagram and a Pintrest, both of which I feel I need to apologize to my followers for my lack of interest or interaction on those platforms.  You see, it's all I can do to manage where I am, and still balance my life with human interactions.


The Te@chthought Thursday musing prompt:

Week 5: What is / are your favorite resource/s for connected educators that you would recommend? Why?

Favorite resources for connected educators in "doughnut" form:  (more on that later...) 
  • Facebook.  I have teacher friends on Facebook with whom I connect on a daily basis -- some of whom work in my building that I never see during an average school day, and friends across the country.  We connect and collaborate, sharing blogs, articles, and ideas.  My cohort from UCONN has a page dedicated to support and questions for the group where we celebrate all kinds of accomplishments.
  • Schoology -  The teacher-friendly version of facebook that allows for interactions with colleagues, with students, and with grad classes.  Oh, and it isn't blocked by the school IT filter.
  • Anything Googledocs - Teaching in multiple buildings has its challenges.  Having the ability to "go paperless" with students, share assignments WITH them or them WITH me, and the collaborative abilities (including the ability to view Revision History to see who did most of the work!) is priceless.  
  • Noodletools - Seriously - where was this when I was a kid?  A one stop location to store all those index card notes, bibliography entries, and multiple other resources for building the perfect research project.  No rubberbands, no highlighters, no color coding, and the ability to get real time feedback from collaborators, parents and teachers.
All of this brings me to the connected educator situation of the day.  (And a doughnut explanation.)  Education, as I am sure you are aware, has changed greatly in the last few years -- particularly with regard to safety and the protection of our students.  When I first started teaching, the in service trainer advised us that it was entirely inappropriate to use the words "bullet points" when describing a list of words preceded by a large black dot.  We were told that TALKING about anything weapon-related would heighten the talk and fascination in that realm, and that we should discourage that at all costs.

Quite frankly, students don't, in my opinion, really notice when adults use "bullet points" as a means to instruct the setup of a response paper, and are needlessly distracted by using words like "doughnuts" -- which would probably be banned now due to heightened concerns about student obesity.   

The most obvious thing about education today is that change is constant.  Remember the talk about the fabulous cafeteria at the high school?  This week I inquired when the "soup of the day" would return as an optional side to the "make your own sandwich" dish.  I was told that the government has decided that soup is not nutritious enough to serve for lunch.  (This from the same government that viewed ketchup as a vegetable not all that long ago...)

Whether it's bullet points, doughnuts, or, in this case, soup that is the hot topic  dish of the day, you can bet that like many of the resources listed above, these will likely be "yesterday" before I blink too many more times.  It's the connections with my students and colleagues that matter, and make life as a teacher worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Old Ball and Chain...

Several years ago, students were working on perspective pieces in my classroom.  They had their own choice of topics, but needed to view a situation from at least three other perspectives aside from their own.  The graphic to the right survived that assignment and is taped inside my closet door at school to remind me of why I do what I do...

"Some teachers" are labelled drinking coffee,  watching as kids struggle to reach the pinnacle of achievement, knowing that often the gifted kids are stretching, yet feeling like they are chained to under-motivated students looking for a free ride.    

It's a feeling shared by many high-ability students who don't truly feel as if they are achieving their full potential at the expense of some students who have no interest of even attempting to get "over the bar" established by standardized testing goals.

My job is to keep this feeling at bay for as many of our high-ability kids as possible.  I absolutely, undeniably, can say that the kids that I work with are amazing.  They are motivated, they are excited, they are searching for immersion opportunities.  They're looking for chances to experience MORE, all the time -- not MORE work, not MORE homework, not MORE beyond what teachers are expecting.  They're looking for MORE THINKING.  Opportunities to interact with people who can give them the why behind the information they're studying.  The chance to ask deeper questions, some of which aren't ever going to be on the test.

People who see that my students keep working if I walk out of my classroom are confused.  This is not normal.  In my world, it is entirely normal.

Because often my kids are more focused, engaged, and organized than anybody else in the building because of their interest in their personal passions.

Talent Development Opportunities - (TDO , because everything in education is an acronym)

Today I talked to kids about the following:
  • The Harrison Report to Harry S. Truman and the motivation of Polish Holocaust survivors to emigrate and establish businesses post WWII.
  • Civil War Era fathers, both Confederate and Union, and their diaries and letters demonstrating their commitment to a legacy for their kids.
  • The Culper Six - George Washington's Spy Ring -- and a road trip to Long Island to see some primary sources and a museum curator who has a passion for this topic.
  •  Cedar Shingles and architectural models.
  • Personal Libraries and zoning restrictions (for outside share-a-book projects)
  • The decay of organic apples, as documented by multiple artistic endeavors.
  • Understanding and learning German II content independently.
  • Acrylic landscapes
  • The motivation and determination/steadfastness necessary to write a novel.
This is a short list of the many independent study projects  underway in my classrooms this year.  There are more, these are just the ones that were actually under discussion with me.  Could I have imagined these and assigned them?  Absolutely not.  Would they have engaged in these topics with this level of passion and commitment if they had been assigned?  Unlikely.

Yesterday, some of the kids witnessed an adult with a similar level of passion who let his research and interest guide his project.  Mr. Drescher's presentation touched many -- and I'm happy to report that it will soon reach many more.  (I received a message that he is headed to at least two other classrooms -- one in New Jersey and one back here at Donegal, as a result of his "meeting" new teachers interested in his passion on facebook yesterday.)

This fact didn't surprise my learners at all -- they get it.  THEY understand that they can learn when they get the chance to explore.  They understand that the opportunity to set goals, establish deadlines, and search for material that isn't readily available or at the fingertips or tongue tips of their classroom teachers makes them better researchers.  It's not about ME telling them the answers -- it's about all of us discovering what is out there and exploring it until we're finished.  (See a related blog today from Mind/Shift.)

See what I mean about the best job in the world?  I teach kids to care about thinking.  Sometimes it hurts.

I'd rather it hurts because they're thinking too hard than because there's a ball and chain around their neck keeping them from an unknown destination.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teachers are teachers forever, if they're worth their salt.

Nicole, Hannah, Tim and Aiden listen, intently, to Mr. D. and his Stories from the Wall.
The first Vietnam death was recorded in 1959, and the last panel is labelled 1975.  Having lived through what I thought was the entire Vietnam War, these statistics surprised me.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (aka the Vietnam Memorial Wall) was designed by an Asian-American woman named Maya Lin, who met the criteria established in the contest for the memorial:

1. be reflective and contemplative in character;
2. harmonize with its surroundings;
3. contain the names of those who had died in the conflict or who were still missing;
4. make no political statement about the war.

Oh, did I mention that I learned all these things from my fifth grade teacher, 43 years after fifth grade?  It's true.  I learned all of this, along with much more, today -- in my own classroom -- in a lesson taught by Mr. Drescher.

 Never Stop Learning.

Mr. Drescher's Fifth Grade Class - 1970-71.
For true students, and true educators, learning never stops.  Life experiences grind through the gears of teachers' minds, constantly making connectionsA few weeks ago, I wrote in this blog about an experience I had using grave rubbings as primary sources.  Mr. Drescher read the blog and sent me a message via Facebook that he frequently assists individuals in a similar endeavor while serving as a volunteer at "the Wall."  Oh, and would I like for him to come to speak to my class?

Of course I jumped at the chance.  Art Drescher is a fabulous photographer, and he was offering to drive almost a hundred miles each way to talk to learners in my room about his experiences volunteering time for the National Park Service?  And bring SLIDES?  You betcha.

So today was the day.  I met Mr. D. at the door, where he rolled his cart containing slide projectors (yes, two!) a CD player, several books and other artifacts, and assorted other related electronic equipment to display the presentation.  We practiced, quickly, and determined that slide projectors and white boards are not good companions, and were able to locate an old portable screen to make the pictures more appealing.

He may be retired, but he hasn't lost his touch.  Clearly this guy was born to teach.  As my principal often encourages us, Mr. D. taught right up to "the echo of the bell" filling every moment with a full immersion experience into the lives of people touched by The Wall, its visitors, and the names and people engraved there.  For an hour and a half the kids were living the life of the yellow hat volunteers, learning about the significance of 1960s commonplace artifacts like the POW/MIA bracelet he wore on his right wrist, the effects of Napalm and Agent Orange, the impact of LIFE magazine and other photographs had both at home and abroad, and the much larger historical context of the war itself.

A significant amount of time was spent on the design, structure, placement, and reflection angles at the memorial, establishing much more significance than one would ever comprehend while visiting.  The vision of Maya Lin is, as Mr. D. suggested, part of the perfect circle that is the finished product of this memorial.

In a blog which was started to discuss teacher reflection and teacher connection, I feel it is important to stress a number of things.  I shared today that after I graduated from college, my very first substitute teaching experience was in a classroom at my old elementary school, Glenside Weldon.  You guessed it, my first "solo" teaching experience was substituting for Mr. D.   Here I am, 31 years later co-teaching with him, and still learning.  In addition to all the historical context and content shared, Mr. D. also arrived with a 3 ring binder containing class photos.  (See above)  On the page previous to my 5th grade picture was a typed and mimeographed list, which indicated that my mother was a "class mother" who would be called by Lou Terese, should the class phone chain be activated.  I am so old that my phone number began with TUrner 7.  (I hesitate to list the rest of it, as my mother would still answer that phone number today!)  Behind the picture was a bulletin from Valerie Lewis' funeral, and an obituary clipping honoring Mark Cristaldi.

Teachers are teachers forever, if they're worth their salt.  Clearly Mr. D. is one of the best.  I'm sure we'll continue to see each other on Facebook, and I suspect he may make the drive out to National History Day competition this spring, since I bent his ear quite a bit about that experience as well.

It was sort of surreal to be both the colleague and the student in the same conversation.

In a very, very, very nice way.

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's all about ART!

Social media has once again sent me a gift -- this time in the form of my fifth grade teacher, Art Drescher.  (aka, Mr. D.)  Now before you go jumping to the conclusion that this man has reached triple digits, realize that I was 10 turning 11 in fifth grade, and he was a second or third year teacher.  So while there seemed to be a HUGE age difference in 1971, the same logic does not apply today.  (This is not accounted for in Common Core, but I digress...)

Thanks to Mr. D's dedication as a teacher, he's kept in touch by attending high school reunions of his former students throughout the years, and is still a very present member of the Glenside community.  Recently, he assumed the gut-wrenching task of photographing the demolition of Glenside Weldon Elementary School, where he taught for decades.  He is an amazing photographer, and has the perfect name for his work.  (Works of Art, of course!)

A year or so ago we met for lunch.  He had the class picture in tow, and pointed to every student in the picture, identified them by name, and knew what had become of nearly all of us.  I left that lunch truly inspired by the "teacherness" of this guy, who had cared about his "kids" for forty something years!

A Blog-inspired Connection - Happening Tomorrow.

Several weeks ago I wrote about my experience doing headstone rubbings in a Connecticut cemetery.  Mr. D. reached out through a private message on facebook indicating that he had similar experiences with rubbings as a volunteer at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in DC.  Would I like for him to come and share his stories with my class?

I jumped at the suggestion.  I truly have no idea what the presentation will be like, but I know that his photography is amazing and he captivated me for an entire year in fifth grade -- and I only missed 1/2 day of school.  (See reportcard primary source evidenced here!) His stories were legendary then, and have only grown in number, I am sure.  He's bringing his slide projector, his slides, and many stories about his service.

So I will try not to rush, and try to to good work.  I still read a great deal, hang out with many librarians, and certainly campaign hard to keep libraries going strong.  Did Mr. D. inspire these traits?  Absolutely.  Who I was in fifth grade is pretty much who I am today.

And trusting one of the good guys to come into my classroom and share Stories from the Wall will, no doubt, contribute to my continued shaping as a learner and as an educator.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the insider update!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Locked School Doors - a New Normal (that really isn't.)

One day last week, one of my colleagues had misplaced her school keys.  For an entire day, she attempted to get her classroom unlocked and secured through the kindness of the people deemed secure enough to have a master key.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for security.  But the way things are today, the people who have master keys are custodians, office staff, and substitute teachers.  Yup - the day - to - day folks can get into any room, but the rest of us are relying on finding Jose and his crew to access a classroom due to an oversight of keys...

 A New Normal...???

Our district has recently completed building or renovation projects in every single building within the last eleven years.  With the renovated and new buildings came a giant increase in security.  Our badges get us in through the first door and second door, into the office, and other inner sanctums that are secured.  We've become adjusted to the ideas of locked doors -- even if sometimes they keep us from doing something, or anything, in the most efficient manner - all in the name of safer schools.

It's the weekend, and I am fully aware that the viewership of this blog drops significantly on Sundays, especially.  This seemed like the perfect time to tell one of my favorite stories about locked doors and collaboration.

Prior to the complete renovation, our district repurposed small farm buildings into storage spaces, classrooms and offices.  The marching band actually housed their trailers, pit equipment and tractors in a former chicken coup.  An additional building, which has a silo attached, but I'm from outside Philly and have no idea what the proper term for this building would be, was converted into the Alternative Education program site, the IT department, and the Special Education offices.

One evening, prior to a board meeting, I noticed the light on in my boss's office.  Given that she literally flew from one building to the other at a speed unheard of in a Prius, the fact that she was (potentially) accessible and available for 10 minutes forced me to stop.  I peered through her window and knocked.  She was on the phone, shoes off, unwinding and rewinding for a presentation to be given at the impending school board meeting, no doubt.  She motioned to me to meet her at the front door about 20 feet away.

Remember that this space was renovated for educational purposes.  The main door opened into a small vestibule approximately five feet wide and ten feet long.   There was a reception window with a ledge approximately 4 feet off the ground directly in front, with steel doors to either side that were controlled by a push button in the receptionist area.  My boss pushed open the locked door to let me in from the outside, while holding the steel door to her hallway open with her shoeless foot.

You guessed it.  One tiny hop, and the door slipped from her grasp, slamming behind her.  It was winter.  It was cold.  She was shoeless, and had a meeting starting in less than a half hour.  Her keys were in her office along with the phone call she had left on hold.

I turned to shield my phone screen from the fluorescent lights overhead to find the phone number of the maintenance guy on call for the district, scrolling through my contacts when I heard multiple thuds.  There she was, my boss, bench-pressing herself on the small ledge outside the receptionist window, which she had forced open.


I still laugh when I think about this.  She was convinced she could get in faster than waiting for someone with a key.  She tried again -- thud, thud, thud.

I offered her one of those "laced fingers" hoists up, which she accepted -- and became WEDGED in the window.  The buttons on her blouse were trapped in the sliding tracks for the window.  My head went to Winnie the Pooh.  Seriously.

Through laughter, and a lot of giggling on her part, we hatched a plan.  She would anchor her hands on something stable and straighten her legs, and I'd lift her up and let her "walk" wheelbarrow-race style into the receptionist's office along her counter.  I couldn't see where she was going, so I was just LIFTING, and following.

The next few seconds are a blur, ending with a memory that will be etched in my brain for a very long time.  I lifted her stiffened legs, and she went through the window much more quickly than I ever imagined.

You see, she had chosen the ROLLING OFFICE CHAIR as her stable resource.

She must have been a gymnast in a former life.  Somehow she flew across that small, tiled office in a rolling office chair while simultaneously flipping her body to the full and upright position required by the chair.  By the time the chair hit the filing cabinets on the opposite wall, her hands were in the air as if she were traveling down the last hill on the Great Bear rollercoaster at Hersheypark.

Sadly, this predated the district's use of security cameras.

If this blog were a FRIENDS episode, I'd have to caption it "The One Where I Pushed My Boss Through a Window."  Fortunately for me, we collaborated in an innovative way that allowed both of us a bonding moment that translates to probably the best retirement party story, ever.  I really hope that she remembers to add me to the guest list, since she's now a honcho in another district.

The new normal for school security continues to prey on the minds of parents, administrators, and teachers.  Especially when there continues to be lead stories on national news broadcasts about security breeches, threats, or actual shootings.  Thankfully, we are, as educators, able to rise above the inconveniences of locked doors to support each other.  (And create great memories along the way.)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cyclical Thinking.

You may remember last weekend when the chore was to finish up the rubric for the SLO.  Odd as it may seem, I am standing firm and insisting that if I have to design my own task to prove my worth as a teacher, oh, and the accompanying rubric to quantify the success of my teaching abilities, I want to have the focus of that SLO deal with my actual JOB, and not the side-job (also known as Information Literacy class) that is less than 20% of my day to day schedule.    While I am not sure if I have firmed up an exact formula for measuring the metacognitive process in my students, I'm feeling a bit more secure about using the process as my SLO at all.

Data shows that gifted and talented kids aren't "growing" at a rate commensurate with their less-abled counterparts.  While it can be argued that there aren't enough higher-level thinking opportunities embedded in the common core standards, let alone the standardized tests measuring achievement and growth, it stands to reason that public education does NOT spend a lot of time focusing on the strategies associated with thinking.

As teachers, we spend a lot of time TELLING kids to think.  We also suggest that they STUDY.  Neither of these skills are particularly taught as direct instruction -- they're more of an aside that is offered as they close their notebooks after that all-important summarizing activity to bookend the learning from the day's lesson.     The reality is THINKING and STUDYING are not skills that are inherent in most teenagers.

This weekend I am combing, again, over PM#2  (aka Performance Measure #2) from my Themes in Lit classes.  In addition to the metacognitive responses, I added a "P.S." to the assignment.  "Please add a line that says I LIKE, I WISH.... about the current state of this class."

For me, this was a chance to get some feedback about the methods used during class time.  Last year we did a lot of Socratic discussion, largely student-led.  I have two sections of Themes in Lit each semester, and it seems that there is a high-verbal energy and a "mute" class each year.  Of course I try to teach the same content to both classes, but the nature of the course is that while the general road map that exists is the same, where we stop to peruse intricacies differs based upon student interest.

So imagine my surprise when one of the quietest students said "I wish we had more discussions like we did last year..."

Seriously?  MORE discussions?  This kid almost NEVER spoke without a prompt from me.  It was difficult for me to assess the level of involvement or engagement, and I struggled with grading discussions.  Here I am a year later, and the kid who seemed to be the least engaged in Socratic discussion is wishing that we had more discussions like we did last year....  "I know I didn't contribute much, but I learned a lot from listening to others", was the conclusion of the statement.

I need to think about it.  Or study something.  Somehow there is a way to make sense of this quandary.

Te@chthought had an interesting post yesterday by Terry Heick entitled "Ask Them What They Think, Then Listen".  Food for thought, this weekend, as I process what they think, and attempt to adjust next week's learning as a result of that feedback.

Thinking about thinking, about thinking.  There's going to be a diagram for this on the wall of my padded room.  I guarantee.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gifted in the Trenches

I try to get to school sometime between 6 and 6:15 each morning.  There is a certain satisfaction to being the one who turns on the lights in the hallway prior to unlocking the door.  For that brief moment, I feel like I am in control of my day.  

After that, all bets are off.

At 7:03, the office called, to report that a visitor had arrived.  A former student, who graduated in 2013, took the day off from his Co-op today (he's an engineering student at Drexel), and chose to spend half of it at Donegal.  I'm willing to bet that there are more than a few students who would NEVER opt to return to high school, voluntarily, at 7 am, but Alex did so -- in dress pants, dress shirt, and hand-tied bow tie.  We had a great visit, and Alex contributed quite a bit to the discussion on       da Vinci's "Sensazione" principle in my Themes in Lit class.  All in all, a wonderful day!

Gifted is an Island Sometimes...

 Visits from former students is not uncommon for gifted teachers.  for the most part, kids who have been identified and been part of a program have a connection to other students, and a safe zone for their sometimes crazy ideas.  In my room, weird stuff happens.  Yes, WEIRD.  Sometimes it's explainable, sometimes we just know that nobody would ever understand.  It's sort of like an inside secret handshake, and if that's what it takes to give amazing minds a place to belong, then so be it.

Sometimes it's superficially wrong, (like the suggestion to test a nature vs. nurture theory by placing infants on an island -- oh, but they need someone to care for them, so how about we have them cared for by -- wait for it -- MUTE NUNS.)  Other times, it makes no sense, until the whole plan can be fleshed out and embraced.  There aren't a lot of classes that you have the freedom or time to allow these side-tracked discussions, but the ability to relate the abstract idea to the topic at hand always seems to happen.

  Gifted kids are amazing in their willingness to be supportive of others coming through the ranks behind them.  They stop by to consult on National History Day projects, they share stories from college, give advice about surviving senior year, and even skype or ooVoo in to participate in discussions in their old high schools.  The gifted are (usually) excited about what enrichment is all about.  I'm not sure that the same enthusiasm is shared by many colleagues.  They get suspicious that kids seek refuge in our gifted rooms, and I suspect there's a fair amount of judgment about the value of the time spent away from "regular" classrooms.

As I moved to the junior high after lunch today, (after Alex left), I discovered that one of the JH kids had decided on GIFTED as a new acronym and posted it on the whiteboard.
Delightful Students

Pretty much sums it up for the current crop of kids on our caseloads, and the ones who have graduated!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Friendship - the Perfect Blendship

I am so old that I went to college before computers were used by anybody but computer science majors.  Seriously.  I took a manual Olympia typewriter with me, and celebrated when I became an RA in the dorm because it meant that I had access to the selectric typewriter with the built in white correction tape.  

Colleges have changed, a lot, since then.  Most significantly in the technology department.  Fortunately for me, technology has given me the gift of connectedness to college teaching friends on a daily basis -- we laugh, we reminisce, we motivate, and share ideas.  Even though we're in different states, we search out the support of each other because of the commonalities of our careers.

Share a favorite story about connected teaching and learning.

Yesterday I knew this prompt from Te@chthought was coming.   Honestly, I often feel like there are a million stories in the naked city, in my classroom, and many of them are hysterically amusing.  For the life of me, nothing came to mind.   I posted on facebook, hoping that a former student would say "remember that time....".  The response that resonated with me was this one:

There were these two girls who met at college. Little did they know just how their lives would become threads of a braid that stretched from Joy to Jersey.....

So before you read this, open  This Link in another window to provide background music.

Cindy and I were both Elementary Education majors at West Chester State College.  (Yes, we're so old that the college has changed names and is now WCU).  We've been friends for more than 35 years, and are now even closer than we were in college, thanks to the almighty power of social media.  In fact, the reason that this blog exists, at all, is Cindy's fault.  motivation and suggestion.

As an education major, it's difficult to share a room with people who don't "get it."  My poor roommate was an accounting major.   I distinctly remember sitting with a bag full of yarn that I bought at Woolworth's, sniffing the fumes of rubber cement as I simultaneously painted the glue on a paper mache monkey wearing a bellhop costume, winding the brown yarn around the monkey appendages as my roommate worked to memorize and calculate.  It was finals week.  Ruth was overwhelmed with statistics, books, and spreadsheets.

My crisis was a lack of red felt to make the hat for the monkey.

Aside from some very lame Mary Tasha jokes about felt, Ruth offered little in terms of support.  Clearly, it was difficult to fathom that we were both winding up with Bachelor of Science degrees, given the obvious discrepancy in final projects.

Cindy to the rescue!  We shared classes, we shared lesson plans, we shared motivation.  We were fine with making puppets out of styrofoam and melted crayons.  We relished the assignments where we could plan field trips to places that the professor (who LITERALLY graded with smiley faces) had never visited.  (Did you know that Phillips Mushroom Place is both innovative and educationally significant?  He thought so -- double smiley-face.)  We got married, and met up a few times when our children were small for a playdate.

Amy, a high school friend and special education teacher,  and her husband bought a house in the same New Jersey town as Cindy.  I introduced the two of them, and our circle widened.  When Amy was diagnosed with appendix cancer four years ago, Cindy and I became closer than ever, and realized that there is still common ground in education -- even if she's still dwelling in elementary land and I'm with the big kids at the high school.

We sat together last spring at Amy's funeral -- with our red haired daughters flanking us -- in the largest funeral home full of teachers one could imagine.  Sometimes it takes losing someone -- one of the REALLY GOOD ones -- to make you realize how precious the bond is between teachers.  The family was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and those in attendance shared stories of education.  Educators who had never been connected before, were suddenly connected in the loss of someone very dear.

This year has been a time of tremendous reflection for me as I've experienced the loss of two close friends, both teachers,  within two weeks of each other.  I also accepted the dare encouragement of Cindy to blog as a means of reflection.

Cindy and I are entwined -- and that braid stretches from New Jersey to Mount Joy.  We're braided together as educators who share common passions and purpose.

And we can make a mean monkey out of paper mache, without fear of judgment.  Now that's a true friend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm just a Jester on the sidelines....

photo courtesy
Yesterday I was called a "Jester" by a former student.  It made me cry, in that ugly, sobbing, convulsing kind of way.   You know, the kind that isn't pretty, or ever seen on television.  The real sobbing-crying-convulsing crying. It sounds horrendous, but it is actually very cathartic.  
Because in this instance, I embrace the Jester, and am beyond honored to have been humbled to the point of tears. As a teacher, the tears come at a variety of times throughout the year-- exhaustion, frustration, graduation -- yet no tears flow so freely for me as when a voice from the past reaches into the present for a fleeting moment, with a big giant thumb in the air affirming the efforts of the past -- and impacting the future through the strength that kudos thumb provides.

It came in the form of an innocent post on Facebook.  The caption:  "Pitt Freshmen Engineering."    
I will be the first to admit that it is rare to receive YouTube video links that aren't actually to my daughter's channel for her semi-weekly "Meats and Sweets"  episodes, so I figured that I should take the time to view the link that had been deemed, by the sender, as something "Susan Heydt might enjoy."  

What I got was a glimpse into a very raw footage of a giant "Fish or Cut Bait" speech by an engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh, with a most unusual format to introduce and deliver his henchmen-like speech.    Jane and the Dragon provided the introduction for his lecture.

The professor had gone to the extended effort of scanning the entire children's book by Martin Baynton into a powerpoint presentation that was visible on both the large screen in the front of the room and on every computer in the classroom.  It's pretty easy to recognize that this guy is someone that is well-liked by the kids.  (Even if his language is much more peppered with street language than you'd ever hear in the K - 12 setting).  This professor used this innocent children's book to hit this class of freshmen with the harsh reality of the impending doom to their GPAs, and to their futures.

Being the Teacher of the Gifted, I have the amazing privilege to develop long-term relationships with kids.  At one point I was overseeing gifted in our district from 1st - 12th grade, and some of those students are graduating this year.  It's easy to become something akin to a crazy aunt to some of these families.  In fact, in the case of the aforementioned Pitt student, I was actually listed as the emergency contact on his medical records at school.  It's a unique job, with unique kids.

Many people feel these gifted kids can find their own way in the world -- and I'd like to vehemently argue against that philosophy.  Even after they've gone to college, as proven above, the intervention of a kind dragon (or professor) to encourage or face reality is necessary.  And sometimes it's easier coming from someone other than mom and dad.

My family often jokes about my references to "my kids."  You see, I have three biological children.  Oh, and another few hundred that I hold in my heart.  And few things make my heart sing than to find someone reaching back and accusing me of being his Jester.  I'll take that title over Teacher of the Gifted any single day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A New Kind of Freedom

You may or may not be aware, but somebody declared October "Connected Educator Month."  For me, the connected part started in September, when I accepted the challenge to blog for 30 days through the Te@chthought folks using their prompts.  Since then, the topics have been largely my own, although Thursdays have been "Collaboration Focused" thanks to Te@chthought, once again.

The weird thing about this journey is that, as I shared with my colleagues at A Lunch today, I feel more grounded and focused as an educator this year.  I'm now reflecting more on my own pedagogical practices, and reading much more from a variety of sites through connections on Twitter and Facebook.

Connection and Collaboration and Justice for All...

Mindshift - How We Will Learn, has an interesting article that dates back a little more than a year that resonates strongly with me.  Katrina Schwartz's premise is that "through connection and collaboration teachers can start down a learning path that parallels the one they try to create for students." 

Boy, this had me flashing back to recent in service training where we were instructed, for more than THREE HOURS, in an auditorium where we were not permitted to have anything -- not even water -- as the presenter droned on about the need for lively, interactive, and varied activities.  Oh, by the way, she DRONED on about the necessity for these lively, interactive, and varied activities.  FOR THREE HOURS.  (Did I mention that it was THREE HOURS of droning?) 

While we can all claim the "do as I say, not as I do" model for education occasionally, this was a half day of our lives that we will never get back.  Was it a productive use of our time?  (A resounding NO from the audience!)  Did we get the message?  Yes.  In the first 30 seconds.  (Thanks for the 3 hour reinforcement.)

If you've never witnessed the genius that is Sir Kenneth Robinson, the RSAnimate version of his TED Talk on changing paradigms in education is worth the 11:41 of your time to consider.  Further, David Price's book, Open, shakes up the focus even further, allowing everyone the option of considering why we need to consider the future method of the educational model and its delivery.  Price strongly suggests the value of authenticity, project-based learning, and collaborative projects with community mentors.  (All the sorts of things that are cut from curriculum due to lack of time.)

Today I had the chance to transport a student home from an off campus seminar.  His brother had been a student of mine, and is now a senior at a private boarding school.  I inquired about his college plans, and was surprised to learn that he had been offered a hefty-salaried opportunity and might choose to go right into the workforce.   This shouldn't surprise me, after all, many famous and successful people -- including Bill Gates -- walked away from pursuing a sheepskin to enter the workforce.

So where am I going with all this?  There are hundreds of people with hands on ideas that I come in contact with every single day.  Classroom teachers are challenged to prepare kids for life -- and perhaps that shift needs to be even more collaborative, more OPEN, and more paradigm-shifted than we ever imagined.  Everyone can agree that a three hour lecture is ineffective.  Trusting educators to collaborate in meaningful ways, to share their research and insights with each other, and have discussions that last longer than it takes to consume a quick sandwich in the faculty room each day will, ultimately, allow the networking necessary to collectively educate our learners in authentic, meaningful, and cooperative connections. 

Meanwhile, I keep reading the Twitter feed, take recommendations from friends (and Amazon) for new books, and network with new teachers every day. 

And every night I go home and realize how much less I know, and how much farther I must travel on this road called education.

Monday, October 20, 2014

FIVE paragraphs does not equal five pages...

As an English teacher writing lesson plans on a weekend and realizing that Monday is the logical time to visit the next required career essay from her freshmen Info. Literacy students, I was naturally more than excited filled with dread at the prospect of this latest goal for first period Monday morning.  Somebody, somewhere, decided that the "perfect" formula to teach writing is the Never-popular FIVE PARAGRAPH essay.    

It seems so simple:  Introductory paragraph, three strong supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.  What happens, instead, is that  kids count to five, and stop.  No matter what is in their heads, they are FINISHED at five paragraphs.  This year, I have encountered an even more perplexing phenomenon.  The question, "how many SENTENCES makes a paragraph?"  

"Seriously?  You are a freshman in high school and you want to know the numerical formula I will accept for a paragraph?  You write until you have given all the information you need to give, in a relevant and engaging manner,"  I responded.

"How do I know what is relevant?"  I should have seen that one coming, I guess.  There was no mention of engagement.  So back we went to the basics.  It was then that I realized that going back to the basics is what killed the notion of advanced writing. 

The conversation is even more frustrating for educators when there is a page limit established for a project.  "FIVE PAGES?  How the heck do I write a full page-long paragraph?" 

"Perhaps you write more than five paragraphs...."

"BUT HOW?????"

In the instant nature of twitter and texts, minimalist writing is now the norm.  Of course we are all struggling with the LOLs and CUL8trs, and most kids understand that being cute and writing in textspeak doesn't cut it for formal writing.  What they seem to have missed is the distinct connection between research, writing, and actual thinking, and started teaching a formula that takes the notes from a pre-constructed graphic organizer and translates them into sentences.

Several years ago, Ray Salazar wrote a blog entry entitled If You Teach or Write 5 Paragraph Essays, Stop It!  Truer words have never been written.  Ray's argument is sound, and his formula for success is worthy of consideration by every writer everywhere.  Encouraging kids to put their research into historical or scientific context, questioning cause-effect relationships, and reacting on a personal level, although NOT IN FIRST PERSON, should be a goal of every teacher requesting writing assignments from their learners.

I've mentioned before in this blog that Common Core seems to be lacking the goals or time (or standards) to explicitly teach thought and thinking skills as part of the current generation's education.  Sometimes the implicit needs to be more explicit.  Especially when it comes to written expression.  Somehow, we as educators are responsible (or must be responsible) for finding the time to overcome this oversight.

We can do it, yes we can!  It may mean that we need to ask students to find a meme to express what they truly feel about the topic they are researching, and sketch it on their graphic organizers, but the formula for success is all about thinking, formulating an opinion, and supporting that opinion with analysis and research....

and not using the words I or YOU in the process.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Facebook - the SparkNotes for the Perfect High School Reunion

On the night that my students were either dancing the night away at the annual Homecoming dance 
or winning the Tournament of Bands Chapter 6 Group 1 Championship (with a score of 92.15!), I was hanging out with a bunch of my own high school class celebrating our 35th year reunion at Miller's Ale House in Willow Grove.  As I woke up this morning, I realized that I share something with those students -- we're all sleep-deprived this morning, and probably just recovering our full hearing potential.

The SparkNotes for the Perfect High School Reunion

My graduating class was nearly a thousand students.  A stark contrast to the high school where I teach today which graduates approximately 200 - 220 each year.  When I headed to college, I remember seeing someone walking around campus wearing an Abington jacket with the Class of 79 on the breast logo.  I truly didn't recall ever having seen her before, and decided that she must have borrowed her roommate's jacket.  (Turned out I was wrong -- how embarrassing is it to not recognize someone from your own high school?)  

The informal nature of the "meet in the back room by the fireplace" model meant no crazy name tags or sign ins, although I'd estimate that there were close to 200 people who showed up over the course of the evening.  A 20% attendance at a party 35 years in the making seems pretty impressive to me, although I attribute a lot of that to the success of social media and the groups established on facebook for the collaboration and planning of the invasion in Willow Grove last evening.  This observation comes in stark contrast to the recent research suggesting that social media is making high school reunions obsolete.   When NPR weighs in on such a sincere topic, people usually listen

I was a band geek in high school; obviously, based on the statistics above, I still am!  I don't remember ever attending at homecoming dance, although I did do some mean disco moves at both the junior and senior proms.  Thirty-five years later, we did tend to cluster into the clicks of people with whom we spent the most time in high school, but this reunion was much different -- because of the unlikely friendships that have been forged online over the last decade.  In a strange way, facebook provided the SparkNotes for many of those attending. Many of us see each other, or have stalked profiles to know where people worked, what they did, and whether they are covering the gray hair of being a grandparent.  That background also provided for something more meaningful than the cursory conversation than reunions of fifteen or twenty years ago.  

Oh, and besides my bestie band-geek friends, who did I spend the most time talking to last night?  

Teachers.  Amazing teachers from all over the country, some of whom read this blog.  Want to guess where the conversation started?  Right here.  

And it continued face to face in a very noisy Ale House in Willow Grove PA.

Is the high school reunion dead?  Absolutely not.  Here's hoping that the skeptics show up for the 40th -- you missed a great time last night!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The weekend of SLOP.


My mother has often accused me of speaking a foreign language.  As an educator, my every day vocabulary is filled with SLOs, GIEPs, LDC, IEPs, SDIs, and countless other acronyms that are normal jargon to me.  She's a fairly good sport as I spout these with the fluency I never achieved learning to speak French in high school, leaving her scratching her head in frustration and wonder.

Perhaps it's our text saavy society that is contributing to our increased use of acronyms - LOL, BRB, TTYL are certainly commonplace in the texting world these days.  Education, however, has had the greatest handle on acronyms for years, confusing parents, teachers, and students a like for decades.  



Word Origin and History for acronym


word formed from the first letters of a series of words, 1943, American English coinage from acro- + -onym "name" (abstracted from homonym ; see name (n.)). But for cabalistic esoterica and acrostic poetry, the practice was practically non-existent before 20c.

It might be helpful to know that acronyms are now so popular that they are no longer identified solely as nouns.  The fine folks at recognized the past tense verb, acronymed, the adjectives acronymous and acrymonic, and, of course, the adverb, acronymically, although I suspect that the afore-mentioned mother will object to these words as non-qualifiers on her Scrabble board.

It seems that in education, people are so adjusted to the use of acronyms that they innately identify them, without regard for intention.  Take, for example, the administrator who asked that one in-service day be dedicated to curriculum review.  Innocent enough, until the reviewers were asked to complete a curriculum review action plan.

Yes, complete CRAP.  It was a directive.

While it is evident that the intent of that administrator was strong, the seriousness with which that assignment was received was less than enthusiastic.  And it is not isolated to a single district. There are great examples of poorly-considered acronyms on the A.S.S. site.  (I know you'll look -- just probably not on your work computer.)

Another favorite of mine came from the district of an acquaintance, who was working hard to assist struggling teachers with their Teacher Improvement Training System.  It was strongly suggested that that program might result in sexual harassment lawsuits from female employees.

As educators, we're expected to be above reproach when it comes to inadvertent stupidity.  It seems that there should be strong acronymic (see what I did there?) consideration given when titling anything, particularly anything related to assessment.  Sadly, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Department of Education has acronymically fallen victim to their own lack of acronymic awareness and are now requiring that all public school teachers in Pennsylvania complete Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) which will count, in my case, as 35% of my total evaluation profile for this school year.  Oh, and how do I design and present my SLO?  Why on the SLO Process Template.

Yes, this weekend I am revising my SLOP Template to present to my principal next week.  It's also a bit of a struggle to consider that the SLOP should really be valued so highly, given the apparent lack of consideration that went into the process.
 Meanwhile, I'll stay focused on what I can, I guess.  (Today I get to see my high school classmates at my 35th reunion - GREAT!)

I'll perfect that SLOP in the best way possible, creating MAGIC.

and do my best to find Peace.

"Serenity now!"  - George Costanza

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Spirit of Green and White

Sooo, 434 people (to date) viewed yesterday's blogpost -- an all-time high.  Michael Jan must have many friends out there in cyberland, even if he claims not to be there himself.  

Today was no different than any other day at Donegal, unless you count the Green and White, the feathers, and the horse playing the baritone in the pep band.

The senior class celebrates the awarding of the coveted "Spirit Stick."
A female Indian this year...
Today was Green and White Day, as our principal officially declares as "the best day of the year."  As I left the building, the assistant principal was pushing a five foot wide mop down the hallway, apologizing to the maintenance staff, as he gathered enough green and white feathers for flocks of birds.

As expected/predicted, the seniors won the coveted "Spirit Stick."  The homecoming court did their usual presentations, the cheerleaders cheered and flipped, oh, and a horse played the baritone.  All in all, a typical afternoon the day of the big homecoming game.  The annual pep rally tradition encompasses the best of what small town America has to offer.  Parents get out of work a bit early, cameras record this annual right of passage, and, as I suggested yesterday, the SENIORS won the spirit stick.  Pictured above, the senior section did what senior sections have done for decades at Donegal;  they tried to rule the volume and level of enthusiasm to earn the stick. 

This year's freshmen answered back with their own chant of "I don't think so!"

Well.  Imagine that?  Freshmen, lowly freshmen, speaking out, and defending themselves against the mighty seniors! They may have actually won on the decibel meter, but no one was actually checking.  It was a truly impressive attempt, I must say, even if their voices and foot stomps were drowned out by the tradition that reigns supreme. 

After all, it's THEIR senior year.  They have to win.  They don't get another chance.  To quote my friend, Leann, this is their LAST senior pep rally.  Every senior year is a series of lasts.  Tomorrow will be the last homecoming dance, soon to be followed by the last band championships, the last holiday concert, the last senior sports banquet, and so on and so on.

But today they are seniors, holding the Spirit Stick.  Shout a little louder.  They couldn't be prouder.

And those freshmen?  Oh, yes.  They'll be raising the stick in victory in October, 2018. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Can't wait until JANuary....

 Years ago, our district built a "low ropes course."  On one in service  day, we were divided into small groups and worked through the course with each other, supporting each other using our weaknesses and strengths.  Do I still smell Ryan's armpit when I see him in the hallway after that "arrange yourself by birthday while standing on a log without stepping off" activity all these years later?  Yup, kind of.    Do we wish we had pictures of that day?  Absolutely -- as long as they aren't of me hanging from a rope.  Did people grumble about spending a day in the woods doing this activity, sure.  Would we trade any of these bonding experiences.  Not on your life.

 Today's Te@chthought Blog Prompt for "Connected October" is:

"Why is it important to be connected as an educator?" 

You know that feeling that you get when you're overwhelmed all the time, the rules are constantly
changing, and everything seems high-stakes?  Have you ever played darts, and the target was moved repeatedly?  If so, you have a rough idea what it's like to be in education these days.  Chances are good that you also value the friends and colleagues with whom you dwell in the trenches.  I can't imagine a school which functions well without a faculty that relies on each other through thick and thin.

 It's pretty odd when I can honestly answer that my favorite time of the day is lunch.  Heck, I'm 53 years old, and I've loved school and learning my entire life, but "A Lunch" at Donegal is what gets me through the moving target, the high stakes, the confusion, and all the rest of the STUFF that mires me as an educator these days.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my job. I also know that for 26 minutes (figuring 2 minutes to the faculty room and 2 minutes back) every single day, there is laughter, commiseration, and levity that defines us as an unlikely group of friends.

Case in point:  Today was "Multiples Day" at Donegal for Spirit Week.  Last year, through the miracle of school portrait misfiling, one teacher was innocently the recipient of a sheet of wallet sized photos of one of our beloved Chemistry teachers, Michael, in her packet of photos.  (Pictured above in the blue striped sweater, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  For the entire 2013-14 school year, Michael was the recipient of significant good-natured ribbing through various "projects" that were created using his likeness.

Fast forward to this year.  When the pictures arrived in our mailboxes, Michael sprinted (and I mean SPRINTED) to retrieve his pictures.  Satisfied he had them all in his possession, he proclaimed that he was in control this year.

Little did he know that the photo company offered the option of various "gifts" that could be ordered with the school portrait likeness -- t shirts, puzzles, mugs, mousepads -- you get the idea.  No need for an actual picture, just the "photo code" that appeared on the photo pack.  (Conveniently retrieved by another spy -- err-- colleague.)  It didn't take long for the A Lunch gang, along with some folks in B and C lunches, to put together a t-shirt order, Fed Exed in time for Multiples Day.

This morning, Michael was paged to the library before school, to meet his likeness, several times over.  His reaction was priceless.  He's also one of the best sports around.

My point in all of this is that the connectedness of the people I work with, whether it be through collaboration on a serious project or something to lighten an otherwise intense day, makes all of us better teachers.  The silliness of today is the connectedness of many days to follow.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy S I I W E E !

Alternating school colors of green and white
creates a visually confusing poster that delights
the gifted students, offering an enrichment
language to speak during Spirit Week.
Happy S I I  W E E !

 Homecoming is Friday night, with the big dance scheduled for Saturday night. This week is Spirit Week at school. I am proud and pleased to be a part of a district that still sees an educational value in the social-ness that is Spirit Week.

The poster to the left has graced the hallways for a couple of weeks announcing the costume competitions hyped for each day of Spirit Week.  The gifted population has affectionately begun to refer to this week as SII-WEE, which sounds Native American.  Maybe that's appropriate...

  You see, Donegal's mascot is an Indian. Or should I say, we are the Donegal Indians.  Before you send me message about the political correctness of this, know that I am not responsible for the choice in the mascot, and Lancaster County is rich in history of our Native American friends.  

Putting the Fun in the Fundamentals of a Rounded Education

If you've never had the pleasure of celebrating Spirit Week -- and I'm surprised by how many of my colleagues admit to having no recollection of their own high school celebrations -- know that the focus is on competition, class pride, and bonding.  

Oh, and feathers.  LOTS of feathers.  Today was USA Day -- a day to show your Red White and Blue pride.  While adults would be inclined to pull out the $5 Old Navy shirt with the flag on it from last July, that is waaaaayyy too lame for high school kids.  To the left is the representative sampling of the molting that occurred in the hallway outside my classroom.  Today there was a spirit of unity throughout the population.  The same can not be said for yesterday -- Class Color Day -- where each class dressed in an assigned color.  There were YELLOW freshmen, some wearing Minion Shirts and socks, others with face paint and antennas, and MANY feathers.  There were RED sophomores, BLUE juniors and BLACK (nearly gothic!) seniors.  

Tomorrow is "Multiples Day."  I already am expecting to see a swarm of bumblebees, many twins and triplets, and be a part of the collective dressing of the faculty.  (See pictures on THAT surprise here tomorrow!)  

Due to the Columbus Day/In-Service day on Monday, this is a shortened week.  Our principal refers to Friday as "THE BEST DAY OF THE YEAR."  It's Green and White Day.  I really should say It's GREEN AND WHITE DAY, because it really is that big a deal.  Fourth period is cancelled, in favor of a deafening pep rally in the gym.  The band will play.  The various classes will compete for the "Spirit Stick", and no matter how hard they try, the freshmen will never win.  The hallway decorating competitions are in full force with posters, and streamers, and Christmas lights, with final judging on Friday.

All of this is what school is during Spirit Week.  A sense of community, a sense of pride, a sense of excitement and planning.  Long after the feathers have been swept up and the streamers are taken down, this week will be remembered as a time when kids came together for a common cause.

That cause is PRIDE. 

As amused as I am by Spirit Week, I get a bit teary-eyed by the small town innocence that exists within these walls.  I also pray that the rest of the kids in schools across the country get to put aside the preparation for the standardized tests and the common core standards and get to be kids some Friday in a gym with Spirit Sticks, deafening noise, and the incessant beat of the drums celebrating the community known as school.

"We are the Indians, the Mighty Mighty Indians.  Shout a little louder.  Couldn't be prouder."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Einstein Hair...

After weeks of reading this blog, you've no doubt noticed that I am the Teacher of the Gifted, and NOT the Gifted Teacher.  While those that I work with, or say that phrase to, understand my need for qualifying my title, the same can not be said for many in education who seem to want the student with the gifted label to sit, Matilda-esque, in their classrooms, hanging on their every word, with an answer (but only when they want to call on them) and submitting perfect assignments -- oh, and ON TIME, mind you.

The realities of the gifted population, as a whole, are as diverse as the number of students possessing the gifted label.

"How Can that Kid POSSIBLY be Gifted?"

I remember, distinctly, sitting in the back seat of a minivan with a friend of mine and her daughter.  The child was in fourth or fifth grade at the time, was identified as gifted, and interrupted the adult conversation happening in the van to stick her feet straight out in front of her and ask her mother, "Are my shoes on the right feet?"

Seriously?  You've been on this planet for a decade, you are allegedly gifted, and you don't know whether your shoes are on the right feet?  Several years later I became the Teacher of the Gifted (TOG) for that girl, and that same mother asked me to include "Turning off lights when she leaves a room" as a goal in her annual Gifted Individualized Education Plan  (GIEP).

It's easy, as mere mortals, to conceptualize the "perfect gifted child."  There also is the tendency to consider a child labelled as gifted as someone who has somehow been awarded the Heisman Trophy for intelligence.  The reality is BEING gifted and DEMONSTRATING giftedness are two entirely different things.  

There are parents who request districts to test, there are parents who PAY some expert in the community to test, and identify  their child as gifted.  And, there are far more people rooting for their child to BE gifted than are attempting to get a label for little Johnnie or Susie to receive Learning Support.

The reality is that there is absolutely no difference between qualifying for learning support and qualifying for gifted.  The reason that Johnny or Susie qualifies, is because he or she is on the flatter end of the almighty psychological bell-curve, indicating a need for some sort of alternative education or instruction.  Being gifted isn't a prize.  Often, it is anything but.

So how do we explain that less-than Matilda behavior in an allegedly-gifted student?  More importantly why does the world not question when a learning-support student says something incredibly bright?  

My answer to the first question is simple:  EINSTEIN HAIR.  Seriously.  Albert Einstein is universally accepted as one of the brightest people to have lived (and applied himself).  If you saw him on the street, you'd most likely cross to the other side to avoid eye contact.  All these years later, everybody chalks up his unique hairdo to his uniqueness.

Forget the mold.  There isn't one. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

A new kind of literacy.

Everybody has a second job, right?  In education, it's most likely true.  Many teachers are also coaches or advisers to various clubs or sports.  Still others are teaching a class that wasn't in their original job description, or used as a supervisor for a remediation clinic.  In my case, it's a required English course at the high school called Information Literacy.  The basis of the class is career research, embedded in a "learn to be safe on the internet, and oh, by the way, don't be an idiot there, and don't believe that an octopus lives in a tree."  

Media Literacy - a new kind of literacy...

It's a tough thing teaching Information Literacy -- partially because of the huge shift in technology, and the constant changes to the availability at the APP store on the phones and tablets of your young (and not so young) people.  The technology is changing so quickly, and the cost to develop apps is relatively inexpensive, that many young entrepreneurs see app development as the new get-rich-quick opportunity.  Free apps, and low cost apps offer convenience, or directions, or entertainment, at the stroke of a fingertip.

As an educator, it's really tough to get kids to consider the comprehensive benefits and dangers that lie within those strokes.  When I was a kid, it was the guy with the lost puppy in a Buick trolling the streets that was the danger.  (Or maybe the white unmarked van...?)  It's so much more difficult to teach "stranger danger" to kids -- and adults -- when the stranger has no face. 

Last week, during a discussion on cyberbullying, a student shyly informed the class that she had deleted an app called ASK FM.  I'd never heard of it, yet most of the class nodded in agreement that ASK FM was nothing to mess with.  Kids using ASK FM receive messages from unknown individuals, often asking for personal information.  Oh, and they have NO IDEA who is asking the question, which leads to cyberbullying.

I never thought I'd say "I HOPE you only get cyberbullied", yet given the multitude of bad scenario endings possible, the cyberbullying result appears to be the thing to hope for in the case of this app.

My point is, there is no way that society should expect schools and teachers to be able to educate every student on every potential online scenario.  Our kids need to learn to look out for much more than windowless white vans or Buicks driven by puppyless people.  The danger is real.  The danger is out there, and the danger is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU as you read this post.   (There's an excellent, and short, TED Talk on this topic, which also discusses the hidden messages and meanings and the discussions that can take place if we take the time to do so.)

The kids at my school, and many of the teachers, consider Information Literacy to be a perfunctory responsibility.    The real responsibility lies in all of us, collectively, to do the right thing, stop the insanity, and protect our young people (as well as our uneducated senior citizens) about the reality of the neighborhood known as ONLINE.