Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Maybe I Should Have Become a Flight Attendant?

Often I wonder if I should have been a flight attendant. It seems to be a pretty cool job. Flight attendants get to talk to friendly people while flying the friendly skies and travel the world too. (I laugh as I write this because I'm witnessing a rude passenger right now.)

I definitely enjoy participating in conversations with cool people and I love to travel; however, I don't think I could handle being forced to say,

"Please turn off and stow your electronic devices or we will not be able to take off."

I believe this to be a multifaceted inappropriate statement.

Do powered on electronic devices, with or without wifi connection, really interfere with air traffic controls? Why do electronic devices have to be put away? Can anyone really tell if they're on or not? Why are they throwing out an empty threat? Is this for real?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Hampshire's Halloween System is Broken

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rain or shine, I ALWAYS went Trick or Treating on the night of Halloween*. It was perfect:  I got to dress up, hang out with loved ones and eat candy. (Not having to complete meaningless homework was a total bonus.)

Today is the thirteenth Halloween I’ve lived in New England… As an adult, I have been to tons of great Halloween festivities, so I personally have been able to enjoy this cool holiday.  Though, I question if kids in New Hampshire are able to enjoy Halloween as much as I did?  I’m baffled that Trick or Treat days/times are dictated by individual towns in New Hampshire!

Is this really all about the kids?  Or is about every town needing control?

I’m thankful to be a citizen of the United States of America.  I appreciate that each town is given the right to celebrate Halloween whenever they want, however they want…I like choices.  In fact, I’m all about choices.

But is the way New Hampshire celebrates Halloween really best for our kids?

I wonder if changing Trick or Treat night due to inclement weather is the best decision? I have compassion for the town officials...and I believe that they have the best intentions... I also realize that we never had a blizzard or hurricane when I was a child in California**.

I wonder if it is more beneficial or harmful for kids to go Trick or Treating more than once a year due to the various town schedules?  I don’t think it is wrong…I love having fun...but I wonder if this may inhibit the magic of Halloween?

Today is October 31st.  Today is Halloween.  The weather is perfect. Tonight would have been an awesome night for kids to go Trick or Treating in New Hampshire.  (Those with or without electrical power.)

I have more questions than answers.  

Where’s the balance?

Just wonderin’.

*Please note that I value change.  I cringe when closed-minded people grasp onto tradition and resist change just because that’s the way things have always been done.

**BTW, I advocate for purposeful differentiated instruction in education.

Monday, July 30, 2012

As I Chill on the Beach, I'm Reminded That...

Writing in a tangible journal, with a nice pen, is amazing therapy...as well as talking with a good friend, working out, taking deep breaths, escaping into a captivating book and blogging...all of which are even better while indulging in good espresso or wine.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Google Teacher Academy Application Video Draft II

Okay...here is my next draft after utilizing many fabulous suggestions for which I really appreciate. 
I think I sound like I'm 10...but I have got to hit the beach right now...

Google Teacher Academy NY 2012 Application Video

After spending way too much time making this video (an essential component for my Google Teacher Academy Application), I decided to share my draft here to get some feedback.  What should I do to make it better?


Create an original one minute video on ONE of the following topics: "Motivation and Learning" OR "Classroom Innovation" OR “Positive Change in My Community.” This video is a very important part of your application. We're specifically looking for educators that creatively address one of the specific topics listed above. You do not need to be in the video, but the task is designed to demonstrate your resourcefulness, your commitment, and your unique personality and interests. Please do not submit videos produced for another project or videos created by others. Do not include any copyrighted images, footage, or music. (For more information visit the Copyright Education site on YouTube. - http://www.youtube.com/t/copyright_education ) We realize that you may not have produced a video before, but we are confident you can find a way to meet this requirement. Once you create the video, you must post it on YouTube for us to view or download, then paste the URL of the video into the field below. Please double check that your URL is valid before posting it here (and be sure your video is public - we will not be able to view or judge a video that is set to private). We will not accept videos by email, and we will not watch more than one minute. So, make it count!

Application Deadline: 11:59 PM PDT (UTC/GMT -7), July 29, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012


This week, as I was basking in the sun on a perfect beach day, in and out of conversation with friends and family, I checked my phone and saw that I’d received a Direct Message on Twitter:
 Hey this user is saying nasty things about you…[shortlink]
Even though I was engaged in a fairly stimulating conversation, the message did intrigue me. It was from a friend I used to work with, and the auto-functioning part of my brain assumed it was a comment bashing our connected educator philosophy. Basically, the remnants of me as a girl in middle school took over and my curiosity won out over my adult caution. I wanted to know more – so I pressed the link.
The link directed me to a page that appeared to be the official Twitter site. I was using my iPhone. The screen isn’t big and the sun was glaring down, which could also be why I wasn’t cued in to the danger. And there wasthat interesting beach chat going on.
The “Twitter” site asked me to enter my password. (This didn’t surprise me because I typically use the Echofon app, so my password isn’t stored on my iPhone.) After I entered it, a broken link message came up and I realized that I was not on a legitimate Twitter page. I immediately messaged my friend on Facebook to let her know that her Twitter account had been compromised. I was completely oblivious that I had entered my password onto a fake Twitter page and would be hacked as well. That I’d been phished.
Had I been more present in the moment and focused on what had just happened inside my cellphone, I would have realized that if someone was talking about me on Twitter, then I would be able to see it in my TweetDeck “mentions” column. But that thought didn’t cross my mind until after I realized I had been hacked. (I try to blame it on the sun.)


A couple of blissful hours in the sun later, I checked my phone and saw that I had received some Twitter Direct Messages (DMs) from friends telling me that my account had been compromised. I panicked. While holding my breath, I immediately changed my password on the official Twitter site. Then I took some deep breaths and tried to prevent others from being hacked by following up on all of the DM’s sent out by the hacker under my name. But the DM’s wouldn’t go through. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to warn “my world” while sitting on the beach, so I ran to my car, dropped my friend off, and sped all the way home, checking my phone and nearly hitting a car.
Once I got onto my computer, I learned that users are limited in the number of Direct Messages they can send in any 24-hour period. That was a small relief, but the hacker had used up my DM allowance so I had to publicly tweet out messages, which felt humiliating. I was admitting to “my world” that I was a sucker and got my account hacked because I’d succumbed to petty middle school melodrama. After sending many Tweets, I found that Twitter also has a limit on the number of “actions” per hour. So I had to send my public warning Tweets out in two batches.
I soon discovered that one of my friends (a teacher looking for a job) fell for “my” message, so I called her and helped her solve her own hacking situation. It was, of course, all my fault. She wanted to cancel her Twitter account, but I persuaded her not to. I truly believe Twitter is one of the best vehicles for self-directed professional development, and both of us are certain to be much more cautious about any future tweets that smell like Tween spirit. We can’t let something like this deny us a huge daily learning opportunity.

The nightmare continues . . .

After a late night I went to bed knowing that I’d done everything I could think of to prevent my friends from getting hacked. And I hoped I’d saved some face in the process. Even though I wasn’t able to send Direct Messages, I had communicated via Facebook, texting, emails…even the phone.
This morning I woke up to two more Direct Messages from friends, letting me know they were hacked. Because of me. One friend never saw my warning tweet, but she did spot “my” gossipy Direct Message and fell for the trap.
I thought that it was only possible for me to send messages to those who both follow me and are followed by me. So I didn’t warn my followers who aren’t on my own Follow list. But I learned this morning that messages were sent to those people too, and one of them was hacked. It was the parent of one of my previous students, no less. SHOOT ME!
At this point, I still can’t get into the hacker’s mind and puzzle out his/her contacting formula. How does he/she decide who to send messages to? I had ended up warning some people who never received the baited message.

It couldn’t happen to me . . .

I’ve always had the “it will never be me” mentality when it comes to getting hacked. I’m too techy, too aware of the traps, etc. etc. But when the perfect moment came, with the sun, and the screen, and the friendly chatter, I snapped up the bait without much hesitation.
I was frustrated that I had to leave the beach and skip out on a family dinner to spend the rest of my night trying to fix this mistake. But mostly I was just infuriated with myself and embarrassed that by letting down my guard I was potentially causing my PLN to get infected too. I will never know how many people got (or will get) hacked as a result of my misadventure.
As a connected educator, I’m constantly trying to reassure the professional community in which I work every day that online learning is safe and beneficial. It’s a continuing battle to win hearts and minds, and I fear this experience may be detrimental to my cause. It is also my responsibility to teach students how to be safe while being connected learners. I need to be safe myself — and a good role model.
In the long term, being duped by a Twitter “phish” will make me a much better teacher of safe Internet use. I’ll have my own story to tell — and tell it I will! I’m just really sorry for the inconvenience and possible harm I might have caused due to my initial lack of caution.
Here are some tips that can help you avoid being phished via Twitter. And see this article.
This post originally appeared on Voices from the Learning Revolution.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Teaching Poetry the Connected Way

Poetry has always been my favorite genre to teach because afterwards, most of my students believe in themselves as poets.
So it’s telling that poetry was my least favorite genre during my entire academic career. I detested poetry because many poets and poems were forced upon me and my interpretations of the poems were dictated to me as right or wrong. As a teacher, I’ve come to LOVE teaching poetry because I refuse to assume that gatekeeper role.
I believe that in many cases, there is no right way and wrong way to interpret a poem. My students and I interpret poems together.  Now that my students and I are also connected through social media and the Internet, the study of poetry is even better. (I enjoyed throwing out my binder of transparencies!)
I believe that to effectively write in every genre, we need to read like we are writers. During my reading lessons, I guide my students to utilize the reading comprehension strategies of making inferences. I do this as I expose my students to a variety of poets. I read Sharon Creech’s books Love that Dog and Hate that Cat.  In Love that Dog, Jack learns to love poetry after writing about his own loss. The story helps foster an appreciation for poetry in my young readers and writers.
Sharon Creech effectively helps kids appreciate the work of poets like William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Valerie Worth, and Walter Dean Myers for their power to make us feel and think. My teachers made me read their poems and answer the anthology questions. The grade I got on the assignment depended on how closely my understanding aligned with that of the publisher (and/or my teacher).
Hate that Cat focuses on teaching poetical attributes that historically are not taught in a fun way, such as onomatopoeia, alliteration, consonance, assonance, metaphors, similes and personification. Creech masterfully teaches poetical attributes in a fun and interesting way through the use of mentor poets and poems.
I use Ralph Fletcher’s book Poetry Matters to teach the fundamental aspects of writing poetry while fully engaging my students. He hones in on the three “pillars” of poetry: music, images and emotion. Georgia Heard’s book, Awakening the Heart was an integral book to foster the passion of poetry into me, and then my students. It helps get my kids to write from their hearts.
Nancy Atwell’s book Lessons That Change Writers, has excellent mini-lessons that teach kids the revision concepts that real poets use. She provides great mentor poems to model the strategies and supplies provocative quotes from poets that help me guide my own classroom poets.

How the technology blends in

I decide which of Atwell’s lessons to teach by reading my students’ poems and gauging what strategies they need to improve on. I post every lesson I teach, with mentor poems and quotes, on Edmodo. This way, if a student was absent, or needed/wanted a review, he had constant access to it.
Throughout the entire poetry unit, kids are writing drafts of their poetry. I ask them to prepare to publish six poems following these guidelines:
1. A poem with musical attributes
2. A poem that evokes emotion
3. A poem that uses figurative language
4. a poem that offers multisensory mind pictures
5. A poem inspired by a mentor poet
6. A “free-write” poem of their own choosing.
Students use Google Docs to write their poems. They use the GDocs sharing function to share their poem documents with me and some of their classmates (if they choose). I read their poems (from anywhere at anytime), give them one specific comment, and offer one constructive suggestion to improve their poem that I hope also adds to their poetry writing repertoire.
This is the first year my students have had access to Google Docs. Prior to our utilization of it, I was only able to meet with each student about once or twice per poem due to time constraints. “Conferencing in the cloud” with Google Docs  makes it possible for me to confer with each student much more than twice. Yes, there were a couple of kids I needed to persuade to share their poems with me, and they did reluctantly. But isn’t that always the case?
Google Docs keeps track of the comments kids and I make for each other (and the versions/drafts). Even though previously I had recorded my notes from my conferences with each student, it was hard to organize them very effectively and make good use of them. This year, because of Google Docs, I was easily able to return to the student’s poem and view my previous comments when I needed to remember what I had already suggested. This ability helped me see whether the student failed to understand my suggestion or perhaps just ignored it (both happen).
At the end of the unit, I had students go back and review their revision history. They were amazed by all of the changes they’d made.

Fifth graders like to keep moving!

I believe revision to be the most difficult part of the writing process for fifth graders. They truly believe that their first drafts are perfect with no need to make them better. The poetry unit (and Google Docs) offers a great way for kids to observe first-hand the benefits of revising because there are so few words and it’s easy to see how it changed. This is a fun unit to teach because my students love it and all they are all successful — even those who usually have a hard time adding details to their writing.
As a finale, students upload their poems to VoiceThread (unfortunately, it’s not compatible with Google Docs yet, so they have to copy and paste). As their poems are displayed (see Ella’s VT  and Dylan’s VT as examples), students read their poetry aloud so the entire world can follow along and hear their poetry. The audience can then leave comments via text, video and/or voice message. Students have an authentic audience. And we all know the power of that!

This was first published on Voices from the Learning Revolution on May 1, 2012 by
Powerful Learning Practice: Professional Development for 21st Century Educators 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Personal Trainer and Teacher Connection

Wendy, an amazing teacher, and I just trained with Dan, our exercise physiologist...well, he trained us.  I have noticed that Wendy and I are usually nursing various injuries which alter the exercises Dan has us complete (disclaimer: not due to training).  I have also noticed that he always has her do more “pushups” than me, regardless of the variation as they’re never typical push ups.  (I do get a little jealous.)  Nonetheless, I consistently lift more weight with my quadriceps than her. Over the past seven years, I have had several different workout partners while training with Dan; it just occurred to me today, that to be an effective personal trainer, one must treat each client differently.  Dan has to juggle all of our “issues” and I’m quite impressed with his differentiated method. I see that his clients have various:

  • goals
  • injuries
  • strength abilities
  • strength deficiencies
  • interests (exercises they love and/or detest)
  • workout partner preferences
    • many have favorite and least favorite workout partners
    • others want to workout with many partners (they think they won’t have to work as “hard," which they soon realize that is not the case)
    • some prefer to workout alone (they want a more "strenuous" workout and/or want a private therapy session-j/k)

I believe that the most effective exercise physiologists execute exercise plans that are unique, applicable and motivating for each client; while the most effective teachers create learning plans that are also unique, applicable and motivating for each student.  In addition, the most effective trainers believe in their clients' success, as the most effective teachers believe in their students' success. I’m wondering why it took me seven years to discover this connection as I see it so clearly now.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Learning is Changing; Let's Put Students First

I have been hitting the slopes in Whistler, British Columbia for the last seven consecutive days.  (My legs are killing me.)  During my time spent on ski lifts, as well as some other establishments, I've enjoyed the opportunity to to discuss education with some native Canadians.  It's been fun comparing and contrasting education in Canada to the United States.  It turns out both countries have similar problems although Canada doesn't seem to be so detrimentally reliant on standardized tests, for which I'm envious.

For the past week I have also heard many pro-education commercials made by the British Columbia Teachers' Federation who are enduring a difficult contract battle.  Teachers are actually going on strike next week; school is cancelled for three days...it's that bad.  A mantra they use, "Learning is changing; let's put students first" has struck me every time I have heard it.

I agree with both statements.  Unfortunately, I constantly see resistance to the changes in learning.  I know change is scary, but it is not always bad.  Actually, I believe these changes in learning (i.e. passion based learning while utilizing technology) are extremely positive....they give me hope and have revived my passion for education.

Students are not coming first and this frustrates me.  Tradition, building structures, administration, teachers, staff members, parents, taxpayers and politicians... all are coming before the students.  How infuriating!

How can we work together to achieve the common belief that in order to put students first, we must understand that learning IS changing, and THAT is a good thing?

*Big sigh*

Monday, February 13, 2012

Can Writing About our Reading be Authentic?

I believe it can be; however, it has not always been, nor is it typically. Given all that the New Hampshire (or fill in the blank) reading and writing curriculum frameworks mandate, it is difficult for me to constantly teach my students to read and write with true purpose.  When I force my students to "do" all that the curriculum commands, I stifle their enjoyment of literacy. I argue that improving as a reader and writer, and finding pleasure while doing so, run parallel to one another and that a lot must change in education for teaching and learning to be truly authentic.  

Authentic learning to me, in regard to literacy, is obtaining a passion for reading and writing, as well as learning how to implement the strategies that real readers and writers utilize for genuine purposes. Not only do I think students should choose the material they read at school and home, they should also read like writers and learn how to write self selected topics and genres well, in order to become be more successful in the world beyond school.  All pieces of writing should be written for an actual audience; this way, students will have a reason to write well because people beyond their teachers and parents will read their work.  With the massive and growing availability of Web 2.0 tools, students will always have access to an audience.  People across the world can view students creations and push their thinking forward through commenting.  This truly excites me and gives me hope that education can and will improve.

Since my students have been "allowed" to blog these past few years, they have been demonstrating deeper thinking than ever before through the art of writing and commenting on posts.  Before blogging came along, my students mostly read fiction and wrote about their thinking of their reading solely on fictional books, which did not seem very natural. (I have to take the blame since that is all I modeled; therefore, that is all they knew, so that was all they produced.)

I have been trying to figure out how make it meaningful for my students to write about their fictional reading.  I have "covered" most curriculum on writing about nonfiction reading via blogging; nonetheless, the state curriculum dictates that my students must do so with fiction too; I am bound because my students are tested on that "skill."

I think the current educational system is detrimental to student success because we, as teachers, are forced to expose students to a breadth of curriculum rather than to teach for depth.  I believe it would behoove us to force less curriculum upon our students and allow them to learn self selected (thus meaningful) concepts and teach them how to think more critically to help prepare them for their lives outside the confines of "school."  I don't think teachers should be expected to "cover" all of the curriculum because when one needs to know something, one can immediately find the answer from anyplace by properly utilizing the Internet.  I will elaborate on this in a later post.

This is my tenth year of teaching.  Every year (except for this one) my students have written a response to their reading about twice a month.  For my first eight years, my students were assessed with a rubric that was created by a team of teachers, whom I deeply respect.  My team and I revised the rubric every year in attempt to enhance our students' learning.  There came a point, for me, where even that was not good enough.

I started to question the validity of the reading response rubric after various encounters.  The first being that one high achieving student of mine mastered composing pieces that met all of the “A” requirements although he never came close to demonstrating the deep thinking of which I knew he was capable.  I believe the rubric prevented him from writing brilliant responses because had no reason to as he constantly received the highest grade possible.  I compassionately called him out on this and he laughed.  We laughed.  How could I blame him!?!

Alternatively, I had an uncomfortable parent/teacher conference with parents whom I love and respect.  They were concerned that the reading response assignments were consuming their daughter because the rubric made it too difficult for her to receive an "A."  They were right.  Torturing her with these reading responses was not making her a better reader and writer and thinker; in fact, they were harming her self confidence and making her detest literacy.  That was the opposite of my intention.

Last year I got rid of the rubric.  I had my students write blog posts on their thinking about their reading.  At the time, it seemed perfect!  Instead of assessing each reading response with a rubric, I gave one specific positive comment as well as a suggestion that was intended to push each student to improve on his/her next response.  Not only were my comments visible for all students and parents to read, my students now had access to great models to help them improve their own responses.  This was working fairly well, although I had a parent imply that her child was not working as "hard" as she should because she was not receiving a grade on each response.  I explained that I want my students to passionately grow as readers and writers rather than write a response solely to get a good grade. (I constantly fight this battle and it is becoming more difficult for me to stifle my voice...yet another post to write about.)   

At the end of the year, my students and I reflected on the reading response blog posts; the students did not enjoy writing them and I did not enjoy reading them...  The responses, even without the grades, remained meaningless.

I have thought a lot about this dilemma.  I am an avid reader and writer; however, I NEVER write a response about my reading of fictional books. I do talk about my deep thinking of fictional reading with my book club girlfriends (for about fifteen minutes a month).  I model my deep thinking of my reading to my students during lessons and conferences; nonetheless, I NEVER write about my thinking of my fictional reading just for the heck of it.  More importantly though, what do students learn from writing about their reading that they can not learn from talking about their comprehension?  Nothing!  I do not think writing about their reading makes them better readers or writers.

This year I stopped assigning the reading responses altogether.  It no longer felt right and it is extremely difficult for me to do something in which I do not believe.  I have been respectfully questioned again, whether I am preparing my current students as well as my previous students.  Some parents truly miss my reading responses.  I clarify that my current students are more prepared than before because they truly comprehend what they are reading through asking questions, making connections, creating multi-sensory mind pictures, making inferences, and finding the author's message.  My students are successfully able to write any message clearly, and with great voice, regardless of the topic and genre.  My students love to read and write because they choose their own topics and they read and write often.  They are constantly reflecting on their literacy goals and creating new ones, thus becoming excellent readers and writers as well as passionate ones who trust the learning process.  All of this is so much more meaningful than making them write about their reading which creates resentment.  (Read a little more about this idea here.)

All of these thoughts had me torn because much of the state curriculum dictates that my students write about both their fictional and nonfictional reading.  I would be neglecting my job if I didn't encourage my kids to write about their fictional reading; still, I could no longer make my kids do it until I found a way to create a genuine purpose.  

Recently Amy Cantone, a fellow PLPeep and good friend of mine, solved part of this problem for me.  She asked me to combine our fifth grade classes for virtual book clubs.  Our students selected a book they wanted to read, Amy and I created various groups based upon student choices and each group selected the pace at which they were going to read their book.  We are both modeling this process to our class during reading lessons.  Currently our students are posting their thinking about their fictional reading on Edmodo, a secure social network made for education.  Book club members read and push each other's thinking deeper through their replies as well as during Skype sessions.  Such powerful documentation!

This is what I think learning should be all about.  I do not want to ask my kids to do anything that would not truly benefit them in their "real" world.  It is only fair.  It is the only way I can help foster passionate life long learners who think deeply through collaboration (myself included).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mid Year Reflection

Dear Parents,
It's really hard to believe that half of the school year is already over.  During the past few weeks my students and I have been doing a lot of reflecting.  Students have been thinking deeply about what they've learned during the first half of the year; and more importantly, what more they will learn, and how, during the second half of the year.  Report cards will be sent home next Friday; my thoughts and reflections will be included, in addition to their performance levels and skills assessments.  I have written these reflections with your child as I believe it is just as important (actually more) that the student knows where he/she is as a learner than you and I.  We can work together to assist your child/my student to grow as a reader, writer, mathematician, historian, and scientist.  If any of my assessments and/or reflections concern you, please let me know and I would love to meet with you and your child to discuss strategies to enhance his/her learning.  

After revisiting my original goal for this school year, I have done a lot of reflecting as well.   My goal for this year is:  "for all fifth graders to become passionate, independent, lifelong learners who think critically through collaboration."

Wow.  That was a lofty goal and I feel as though we are doing really well with it.  Student blogging, Innovation Day, and student setting goal setting and self assessing have been essential elements towards achieving this goal, for which I'm very proud.  To improve (this is the hard part), I would like to teach students to take their own initiative to read their just right books and blog posts independently at home more often, rather than you or me persuading them to do so.  I'd like all students to want to write blog posts and comments more than they do now; I want them to do this without me assigning it for homework.  I want my kids to push their own thinking and others' thinking using Kidblog, Glogster, Edmodo, Voice Thread and Khan Academy...or any vehicle that works for them (and is safe).  I want my kids to research and  learn about topics that go beyond our fifth grade curriculum.  I want them to ask more questions leaving fifth grade than upon entering.  

How, you ask?  That is even more difficult than thinking about what to improve on.  I am going to model more often, to my students, the great joy (and learning) I achieve from reading novels, various blog posts I subscribe to and other pieces of writing (I'm in LOVE with Craig Wilson's "Final Word" section from USA Today).  I'm going to model more, to my students, how I push my thinking and the thinking of others' even further by commenting on blog posts.  I  am going to take more time to reflect on my own learning and teaching and give my students even more time to reflect on their learning as well.

I love my job.  I love your children.  I appreciate all of you for supporting me as I try to mold your children into passionate life long learners, who are thinking deeper than ever before and will continue to delve even deeper.  Thank you.