Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fearing The Future

By Elenor, Flickr CC
   The coming year will be bringing lots of uncertainty and I'm getting a bit nervous.  The Texas legislature will be in session for it's bi-annual 140 days and will be looking at a budget deficit that is mind numbing.  The fact that they don't meet every year is astounding.  The way things change so rapidly can not be handled by such silliness and the people of this state will suffer in the end.
    Since nothing, this year, will be sacred, education will be feeling the sting of the surgical blade as the state budget gets cut.  Locally, the economy is not doing well enough to create needed revenue for school districts and now the state will be shutting off much of its money supply.  This one, two punch will leave many school districts staggering and my school district will certainly be feeling some pain.
    What does that mean for me?  Most people feel that my school is immune to losing personnel.  But I see the real possibility of one or two teachers leaving this year and no one being hired to take their place.  Since I am a certified math teacher who is teaching engineering I can see myself teaching math next year should any of the math teachers leave.  If none of the math teachers leave then I am concerned that the need for engineering classes will be reduced and I could see myself being told to go to another school - if I want to remain employed by the district.  Suddenly I become an extra "electives" teacher whose job can not be justified in the face of a huge budget shortfall.  The one thing I don't see happening is that I get let-go by the district and have to look elsewhere for employment.  Let's hope that I'm not updating this in June with a sad tale of looming unemployment.
     When I read about all of the craziness going on in California I am reminded that we will not be suffering like they are in that state.  Still, I hope my fellow Texas teachers are ready for a roller coaster of a ride over the next two (at least) school years.  My tray table is locked, my seat belt in secured, and I've got my head down in the crash position.  May we have a safe landing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

God Bless Elementary Teachers

     Today I was able to attend my son's elementary school, Union Hill Elementary.  I was a Watch Dog.  If you haven't heard of the Watch Dog program it's a way to get dads more involved with the schools.  So there I was, at 7:25(on my day off), greeting students with a "only 2 days this week" or "you look ready for school, give me five," and the day began.
     First stop, the Broadcast booth to be introduced to the school.  They have a really cool setup for the broadcast and there are 3 awesome teachers in there with,(what seemed like), 25 kids who are all over the place: running video, behind cameras, in front of cameras, helping with script boards, running teleprompters, and making sure Watch Dogs know where to sit and what to say.  We rehearsed once through and I said my lines perfectly: My Name is ____________ My Child's Name is _________from Mr./Mrs ________________class.  An additional cool factor was my son being the anchor today.  So when we did it for real he could say "Thanks Dad" instead of Thank you watch dog(s).
    After the broadcast I was able to spend about an hour with my son's class.  I even got to participate in a fire drill!  After being a high school teacher forever let's just say that 5th grade teachers are incredibly patient and I think, if left by myself, I might have killed a couple of them there youngsters.  I kept thinking, "how does he (the teacher) do this every day?"  So when it was my time to rotate to another class I asked where I needed to go and he looked at my schedule and he said,"Oh, Pre-K, I taught that level for 2 years."  Pre-K?  Are you kidding me?  There must be some kind of mistake.
     I arrived at the pre-K door and a very calm young lady was seated near the door helping 2 students spell a word.  Most of the other students were seated at tables gluing pictures of pumpkins.  The teacher told me that I should help the students, as needed, and make sure they put the pictures in the window to dry and that they clean up before going to "centers."  I've been in education long enough to know that centers are where kids work on different topics at various places in the room.  So, when do the other adults come in?
     It may only be 7 hours since I walked into that room but I learned that angels are, in fact, walking the face of this Earth.  And they are called Pre-school teachers.  Oh My God!!!  I would need 2 more blog posts to describe what went on during the next 20 minutes.  Suffice it to say this teacher never, not once, raised her voice (or fired off a 45).  And when I left her she was smiling and waving good bye to those "little darlings."  I was waving too and wondering, "do they come back?"
     Next stop - the lunch room.  I was able to experience little people eating, en masse, with little regard to hygiene or common sense.  I opened Gogurts, milk cartons, granola bars, and bags of chips.  I handed out ketchup packets and spoons.  And, I used a LOT of hand sanitizer.
     I did get my revenge a little in that I taught one table of first graders the game "Pig Poop On Your Head."  This was a game my son brought home in first grade from this very school.  The object of the game is to say, "wait a minute, don't move there's a pig on your head."  Then the person with the pig on his head reaches up slowly and says "what's it doing?" The other person says "it's pooping on your head."  You then wipe the back of your head, say "oooohhh..." and pretend to wipe it on the original person.  Now it's your turn to start it and you can pick any organism you want and it doesn't have to be pooping.  It could be a T-Rex about to bite you.  It could be a TV about to electrocute you.  Just roll with it.  Did I mention the teachers and lunchroom monitor at this school are awesome!
     After monitoring a quiet recess I was able to go to the quiet library and I put stickers on books.  After that I went to the Reading Lab and I helped cut up things that had been laminated.  Then it was off to a 2nd grade class where 3 students took turns reading me a book about penguins. 
     At every stop along the way I saw (mostly) happy nurturing teachers and other adults.  Sure there were teachers handling difficult discipline issues.  Yes, there were students doing things they shouldn't be doing.  But I was impressed by the professional atmosphere I witnessed today.  And, it was evident why this school has received the Texas rating of Exemplary Campus.  Thank you for a great day - now I need a nap.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform

Courtesy Scooter-Flix
"A grassroots effort to help create and support education reform."  That's what they said it would be - this day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform.  In this time of financial crisis we need to figure out how to do this reform while minimizing any additional costs to our public education system.
      We could start by creating a new Professional Development system in our school districts.  If we took the cost of training our teachers and administrators and supplied the necessary technology required to take advantage of webinars, education chats, or other free, or nearly free, online discussion sites, we would have tens of thousands of dollars left over to put back into the school system.
     A great example of this would be Tuesday night's #edchat or Thursday night's #lrnchat on twitter.  Where else do you get thousands of people, from first year kindergarten teachers to 30-year professors of education, all commenting and bringing fresh ideas about key issues in education.  Nowhere do you get professional development like that and it's free.
     Another example would be the various online groups such as ning groups.  Two good examples  would be The Educator's PLN Ning-group (http://edupln.ning.com) and The Classroom 2.0 Ning-group (http://www.classrooom20.com).  I belong to both and find incredibly important information from the members of each group.  And, if you are involved in #edchat or #lrnchat you will find some of the same great "brains of education" as I like to call them.
     Webinars are my next cost saver.  If you Google "education webinars" you will find PBS, Discovery Education, Education Week, and Google on the first page and there are a number of good options in the first 2 to 3 pages.  In addition several organizations(including Ning Groups mentioned above) will have webinars at various times of the year that could and should be taken advantage of by our teachers and administrators.
     A final cost saving possibility is what I call Ninja Conferencing.  This is where you arrange your days around a conference with twitter, facebook, and any webinars associated with the conference.  You immerse yourself in the conference from the friendly confines of your home or classroom.  No one has to know you aren't there but you can receive and send cogent comments on the events as they unfold.  You ARE there but are never seen by those who have paid to attend.
     How do we record the hours our teachers complete in these alternate training events?  Well we may just have to trust them to complete a statement of completion.  Or we could require them to be at their school while attending the sessions.  Either way we do not need to be paying instructional coaches or an outside source to conduct the training.  And from many years of experience doing both the traditional method of professional development and alternative methods, I would much rather learn directly from people who are in the classroom and are experiencing all of the things I am experiencing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Daily Planning Time - What's That?

  Keeping An Eye On Time    Spent an hour or so today working with one of our master teachers.  We met at the closest Starbucks.  The weather was beautiful and the creative juices were flowing.  If I could only capture that moment in a bottle.  Then I would uncork it and let the elixir flow through my veins whenever it was needed.     Isn't it funny how we, in the world of education, never seem to get that quiet time for contemplation and creation.  Oh, we may get our 45/60/90(?) minutes of "required" planning time but how often is that time kept sacred?  How often are we interrupted by students, fellow teachers, administrators, or parents?  When we do, finally, get 5 minutes of quiet time and the creative juices are really flowing there is almost a guarantee that the phone will ring, the door will open, or there will be a disturbance in the hall requiring our presence.  And, just like that,  the moment is gone.
     So what do we do?   Most of us have figured out the beauty of having an active PLN that we can rely upon for bouncing ideas off of when we are in the comfort of our own home.  Sometimes we use our PLN to get ideas.  Then there are those really great days when we are the ones providing the great ideas.  But for most of us we just don't have quality time to work, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our fellow educators.  And that's a shame.
     Now is the time for all of us to tell our administrators that we want uninterrupted planning time.  That, no, we won't take a call from Mrs. Smith regarding her son.  The guidance counselor will have  to wait until later for an answer to that pressing question.  Even our family members will have to leave a voice mail.  It is just that important. 
     If we are to be professional educators then we must be allowed to prepare to bring our A-game to the classroom.  We shouldn't have to "wing it" because we had to limit our time to plan that activity.   Our students know when we aren't on top of our stuff.  They know when we are "faking it."  Give us the time we so desperately deserve.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oh My GOD! The School Year Started!

Courtesy Pfaff, Flickr CC
     Today I got a request from a fellow teacher who had gone through Project Lead the Way training with me this summer.  We are both teaching Introduction to Engineering Design (IED)and Digital Electronics (DE).  We are at schools that are about 20 miles apart but differ in so very many ways.
     Seems he needs some  basic items required in the first 2  to 3 weeks of DE.  And, as far as costs of things for this course, the items he needs are relatively inexpensive.  But his school district shifts fiscal years during the middle of the summer and doesn't address new purchases until after the shift.  So, his order went in about 2 weeks ago.  With a 6 to 8 week return from the supplier that means that supplies he needs now won't be to campus until the 2nd 6-weeks grading period.
     Now this is not a show stopper for my friend.  He's a "professional" and can handle the proverbial curve ball so often thrown at us as teachers.  But still, that school knew he was going to be teaching this course when they sent him to training (with last year's fiscal dollars).  Couldn't someone have thought - "I wonder what equipment he will need for this course?"   Followed by, "We should get some of that equipment now because he'll need to get started in August."  Except that's not a school administrator's forte.  Once the Summer starts there's hiring of new teachers, overseeing of building maintenance, personal vacation, and training/conferences to attend. 
    I feel fortunate in my situation.  As far as I can tell, an early August inventory of equipment revealed that I had just about any and everything required for both of my classes.    And, I have not heard an inordinate amount of complaining from the rest of the staff about not having all of their supplies. 
   This isn't the first time I have heard complaining (or been the one complaining) about having the supplies I need at the beginning of the school year.  Seems that whether I was in Virginia, Rhode Island, Florida, Texas, or with DoDDS overseas, there were times when the administration seemed surprised that school was starting. 
    I guess I was spoiled by incredible Supply Officers in the Navy.   The best of these would always anticipate expenditures and budget changes that might impact our operations.  Seems to me we should require our assistant supes for budget and finance to attend Naval Suppy Officer training so they would do a better job of ensuring our operations aren't impacted by the current fiscal situation.  After all the daily operations we teachers are conducting in our classrooms directly effects our overall mission of student readiness.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Link Post for Summer 2010

                                             Photo courtesy of DEZZ flickr cc
     Quite often I have seen posts that seem to just have links to good stuff.  And there are times I tell myself, "I never make time to write a new post."  My wife's usual response to this is to tell me to create a link post.  She does that periodically to one or more of her 3 blogs to keep them fresh and updated.  So, here are 10 links to things I have put into my Delicious account this summer.  Thank you to all who provided me these links via twitter.

   1.   Wallwisher.com is a fun way of creating a discussion board.  You just create the wall and post a thought and then have others come to the wall to leave comments, thoughts, or ideas.  Go there now and tell me how you might use this.  In the Project Based world I live in I see this as a good way to get Knows and Need to Knows after introducing a project.

   2. Discovery Education is not a new thing for me.  However, with the change from math to engineering I found a new love of the video collections like the indoor ski area built in Dubai.  By the way I skied indoors in the Netherlands and loved it.  If you get a chance to try it don't miss it.

   3.  Teachers First is a list of sites related to specific content areas.  If I was just starting out in teaching, was just trying out using the web as a source of information, or if I just wanted something in my back pocket to be able to access this would be the place to go.

   4.  First in Education has its list of Top 100 Tech Blogs for Teachers.  If you don't see it here but you find a different one somewhere else then book mark it and share it with us.

   5.  Makezine's Top 10 Kid-Friendly Projects is just what it says it is.  These are good projects to get your creative juices flowing.

   6.  The American Association of School Librarians has a great post listing the Top 25 websites for teaching and learning.  You could easily end up bookmarking each and every one.

   7.  The Educational Blogs bundle created in Google Reader by George Couros is a quck glance of some 45 blogs.  When I went there today I looked at the number and between his list and my list there had been over 350 blog posts by educators about education since the last day of school in June.  That explains why my brain hurts.

   8.  Tom Barrett compiled this list of 10 Google Forms for the classroom.  If you don't see one there that you like it might get you comfortable enough to create your own form.

   9.  This was posted in the School Library Journal in December but I didn't see it on twitter until last week.  What I liked about it was how we got to see twitter being used and the thought process behind Kate Messner's decision to include twitter in her classroom.

  10.  For my last link I chose Kelly Tenkely's post on Redefining Cheating.  As we become a world of more and more open sources and with the use of social collaboration with a host of others from around the world, we need to think about what it means to "cheat."  Kelly does a great job getting us to think.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A New Road Taken

Photo Courtesy mdmarkus66 flickr cc
   With the end of this school year I will not be teaching high school mathematics any more (at least for a few years).  That's a strange feeling.  It was my wife who said to me "well, you have always wanted to be a math teacher and a baseball coach."  That was around 1989.  I was on active duty in the Navy and was planning on getting out.  But what would I do?
    Since 1994 I have taught in Newport News Virginia; Sasebo, Japan; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Brunssum, The Netherlands; Gainesville, Florida; Round Rock, Texas and now Manor, Texas.  I have taught math at every level from 6th grade to college and every course in that range except Calculus (including college Statistics and 3 levels of college algebra).   This coming school year I will suddenly find myself teaching in the engineering world.  I have a couple of irons in the fire so I'm not sure exactly what I'll be teaching but it won't look like anything I have taught for the last 16 years.
    As I look back at my time teaching math to students (from age 10 to 60) there is a common thread.  Most students fear math and all students appreciate someone who will try and explain what is going on in as many ways as possible.  So how should math teachers approach these two, important, lessons learned?  First,  and most importantly, show students multiple ways to view a problem.  At the younger ages (through middle school) you might require a certain procedure for working problems, but show them other ways too.  Show them how it can be completed using technology.  Explain to them what is going on graphically.  Draw them pictures.  The more ways you can present the math to a student the better chance we have with them grasping what is going on behind the numbers and symbols.
   We will never totally rid the world of math anxiety.  However, we can (and should) give the students tools that help them become more successful in the math classroom, on a standardized test, and in their lives after they leave formal education.  As I venture forth in the engineering world I intend to ensure all of my students are comfortable with the mathematics that is sitting behind the drawings or is embedded in the CAD program.  Engineering should be fun and having a certain comfort level with mathematics can help that happen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That F-ing Word

Soap In Mouth by SSTASKIf you teach high school you hear it all day. Oh it may or may not be in your classroom but you hear it. They say it in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the bathrooms and in those classrooms with the "young teachers" or the "cool teachers."

Quite often it's heard in the gym, in the locker rooms, on the playing fields, and (unfortunately) in many health and PE classes where the coaches themselves feel free to use it.

Now, before you say, "You are such a prude," I want you to realize that I did 20 years in the Navy and sailors use that word as a Noun, Adjective, Adverb, and 4 or 5 other parts of grammar. But the day I walked into my first classroom that word left my vocabulary. And, there are a lot of places that people are employed where that word is just not accepted. Teachers get the added benefit of being suspended or even fired for using that word or any other word considered profanity.

Here's an example of what happened to me because of using profanity: I was teaching 6th graders in Newport News VA. The class had done poorly on a test and I was starting the day by handing the tests back. I made the remark, "sometimes I worry that there are some of you who don't give a damn about this class."

That was at about 8:15. At about 2:15, after the students had left, I was summoned to the principles office to explain what had happened in my first period class. I had to think back but I knew that my remark was the only thing that could have been bad. Sure enough he had been called by the superintendent. The superintendent had been called by 2 board members. The next morning, before school, I was apologizing to one of my students' grandmothers for my profanity. She responded with "the next time this happens I'll see that you are fired."

So how do we get students to stop? Calling parents helps in about 1 in 10 cases (maybe less). A discipline report, detention, or other disciplinary action stops it for today. A talk to the student body from the principal helps. But, the most effective way is to get EVERY adult in your school on board with the importance of eliminating it from your school. If you are reading this and saying anything other than "that's what we need to do," then getting rid of profanity won't succeed at your school. Heck, it might not even be a big deal to you. Even with my total disgust with the F-word I fail to get my students to stop saying it.

Bottom line? I will continue to make remarks whenever any of my students say any of the following: Suck(or any variation of the word), Bitch, Bastard, Ass(or any variation of that word), Damn, Gay, Retarded, Shit, The C-words, The F-word, Dick, and probably another 5 to 10 words that escape me right now. I would appreciate you doing the same. Together we - oh heck who am I kidding. We'll never get rid of these words. But, we can educate our students on the importance of using appropriate words. Isn't educating students what we are supposed to be doing?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hurting Your Fellow Teacher's Brains

Whenever I am on twitter I try to find interesting articles, cool websites, or people who have great blogs to add to my rss feed. Then there's the blogs I already have filling my rss. They routinely provide bits of information, applications worth checking, or other people to read and/or follow on twitter.

Then there are the things I have added to my Delicious account that I want to read. Of course it doesn't stop there, on Tuesday night, when I get the time, there's Edchat on twitter to participate in. Periodically there are education related conferences with live streams to watch or audio to listen to. Oh, and lest I forget, podcasts that I subscribe to.

What this all means is that I am surrounded by lots of information related to my profession. And, since we should never stop learning new things (right?), I end up going through these things 7 days a week, 365 days a year. What that means for my fellow teachers is that if I find something interesting and it's Saturday afternoon, I'm going to send it out. If it's Sunday morning at 7AM, I'm going to send it out. And, if it's Christmas Eve, I'm going to ...well, you get the picture.

The reaction to my sharing isn't always "gee, thanks I can't wait to read/try/upload this." And, I used to be offended that there weren't more positive; even effusive, comments about my generosity. Finally someone pointed out to me that not all teachers have the time to check out these things I send. In fact, some teachers get a bit overwhelmed by adding things to their list of things to do on their weekends or days off. It's not that they are angry with me; it's more like their brains hurt from all of the extra information.

So when you see something new and cool that you want to share with your coworkers, remember to pause for a moment. What is the current state of affairs at your school? What kind of stressful things might be going on in your friends' lives? Is that person you are adding to the address line even interested in what you are sending? Your brain will be less stressed if you take the time to make sure you are not over stressing their brains. Now, let me share this one thing with you...

PHOTO FROM UCUMARI Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crowd Sourcing a Project

After participating in Ben Hazzard and Rodd Lucier's session during Educon 2.2. I realized that this might be an interesting way to create a math "reference book" at our school. The premise of their presentation was to allow the audience (both physically and virtually) attending to have a part in creating an e-book. So, how would that look in my classroom, or yours?

First, you will want to have an outline of what you want from the perfect book. This will most certainly contain some images, page descriptions, or prompts. The amount of items and depth of information will depend upon the students you are working with, but I would lean towards less information so that they discover what works best for them as they explore the topic(s).

My first attempt at this would be to create a reference book to prepare 9th and 10th graders for our state standardized math tests. I would make sure that I list the topics that are most missed by our students and by students throughout the state. I would have suggested headings for each topic such as how our state words the required knowledge to be deomonstrated on the test. Other essential headings, for me, might include example problems from released tests, problems solutions (with steps to solve), and comments about why this is missed by most students.

With that much guidance and a little Google Apps I would send them off to be fruitful and multiply. But, as with all projects being completed by 9th graders, there will be much to monitor. Are they including images or text from online that need attribution? Are they, in fact, solving problems correctly or will they need to have a workshop (our school's term for direct instruction) so that they fully understand how to do this? Are they filling space with nonsense or improper words and ideas?

If you decide to take this on before I get around to it I'd love to hear how it went. Leave me a comment.