Thursday, November 16, 2017

Go Big

One of my great passions in education is making GIANT connections to learning. Once a year I try to go big in some way, shape or form. Going big (in my opinion) shows students that learning can be fun, but also that you care enough to make a grand gesture.

Over the past 4 years, I have organized a "Court of Dreams" Thunder basketball day of math experience for my school. This includes all grade levels (PreK through 12th) separated into grade bands working on math on the Thunder basketball court. This is a fun-filled day and the Thunder Broadcast Team usually make a point to interview one or two students and make a huge deal out of it. The Thunder has grown accustomed to fulfilling Court of Dreams requests so that HS basketball teams can get the experience of playing on the court of their heros, but our school was the first to use the basketball court to do math lessons. All of the lessons are centered around basketball and every kid got to shoot baskets as well.

Then there was this time I create a once in a lifetime red carpet event for my 8th graders. I assigned each student their own standard with the expectation that they would have to teach the lesson. The students worked on these lessons for a month. Each of them becoming their own master of the knowledge. I asked another teacher to join in on this fun, because there were more standards to cover than I had students. It was a blessing that she was just as amazing at the over the top planning as I was...maybe more so.

While the students were researching, writing and planning their lessons, Jenn and I were busy making the event come to life. We grabbed students from the Tech center working their way through a cosmetology class to do hair and makeup for the students. We hired a limo to take the students to the location of the special event. The guy owed her a favor, so this was at no cost.

Sidebar - For what it's worth, most of the time when I ask a local company for something and let them know that A.) I am a teacher and B.) its for the kids...they say yes.  I always, always, always have every single student promptly write a thank you note so that they are willing to give again in the future.

  • First, we did buy a "red carpet" from party city at the cost of $11.99. We thought it would really set the tone.
  • Next, Jenn and I hired 5 photographers from Craigslist. All of them were up and coming photographers so they charged nothing. I take that of them wanted $25. I paid it because I averaged the cost of the 5 photographers into the $25 and I needed more paparazzi.
  • I purchased a drag and drop logo'ed banner with the school's logo on it. I had a student whose parent owned a banner making company so they did the job at cost. I paid $50 for the sign, but I have re-used that sucker over and over.
  • The venue we were able to get free.
  • We invited some VIP, like State reps, parents, principals and of course the founders of the school.
On the day of the event, after hair and makeup were done, the students hopped into the limos for a ride across town. Upon arrival, they were greeted by a man decked out in a suit opening the door to a crowd of paparazzi shouting the names of our "stars". They walked the red carpet inside where another group of paparazzi was shouting for pictures in front of the banner. We finally entered the room and there it was showtime. The students took turns presenting the standards in order, in their own multiple intelligences. We had game shows memorized and performed, art colorfully depicting all of the battle scenes with a story narrated by the artist, songs written and sung. We have presentation after presentation. This was a huge risk to take as the students put so much time into one standard (at the time it was a tested topic) would they have received (from the other students) enough to make it into their brains and stick?

As it turns out, between Jenn and I every single one of our kids scored a minimum of proficient on that test. 80% of them scoring advanced. But it wasn't about that test. Those students, to this day, can recite the songs and poems and remember all about the game shows they presented. The knowledge was created and curated, completely owned by the students.

I am thinking it's time to add a new event to the repertoire. I'm not sure what I am going to do exactly at this point, but I see it including movie making...maybe. I don’t know. Do you have any big ideas?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Teaching is messy

Teaching is messy.

I love trying new things. I want to work in new ways to present or receive (from students) the same old content. In order to do this, things do not always turn out the way I hoped. I also do my very best to personalize the education process. THIS TAKES A CRAP-TON OF WORK!!!

I make mistakes every single day. I am constantly revising, editing and polishing my craft. Every single year I think, "Ok, this year is going to be better." Every year I decide that I can do better and start from nearly scratch.

I am overwhelmed with this mess at times. Is it that I teach every subject and every grade level? Is it that I want every one of my students to be rounded and educated AND happy? I get to keep my students from year to year. As a matter of fact, a portion of my bonus depends on whether or not my students come back next year. The pressure of this is insane and it's sloppy and always has me on my toes to improve and keep it fun and relevant. Add to that mix the climate of teaching in Oklahoma.

I want to teach tech as well as content, life skills as well as how to find what you want via Google/Youtube. I don't have a Library Media Specialist to help out. I don't have a tech director to help out. It's just me and my husband...teachers. We are fundraisers, lunchroom duty persons, guidance counselors, the principal of the building, teachers, phys ed facilitators, the janitor, the LMS, the technology specialist.  We are trying to do it all, but holy cow is it tough...and messy, oh so messy.

When I get this crazy feeling. When I start to think is it worth it? I recite a poem I learned in the 5th grade. It's still a favorite of mine.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
And I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
In the fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day blind stars
Waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free

Teaching is messy. Life is messy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Student Blogging, Student Voice

The following is a response to a challenge from the totally amazing Noah Geisel, after he wrote a post about finding that authentic audience for student publishing. I shared his post via a tweet touting success in this arena... and then he blasted me and asked me to share a blog post about this success. So here we go...

I have been a blogger, inconsistently, for about 3 years. In this time I have had several thousand readers take time to read my thoughts as I butcher my way through the mechanics of the writing process. I write like I speak. It's hard to follow sometimes, but alas, my readers keep coming back for more.

I really started having fun watching my analytics rise each week. Two years ago, I decided to answer a bloggers challenge. The blog was to answer the 5 things we should stop pretending in education. I asked 4 of my students to write an answer and I wrote one of them as well. This post received over 1000 clicks in a month. I was elated. The students were over the moon giddy with the power of a Twitter share. That is when I got the idea that the very next school year I would have my students do their weekly essays/daily writing assignments in Blogger.

It was a rough beginning. It took far more time to teach the blogging process than I thought it would. I literally thought my 4th and 5th graders would pick it up after one lesson and then we would blog our way to happiness for the rest of the year. Boy, was I wrong. I would say that for the first month it was touch and go. Things like bolding, underlining, linking and font styles were not things I had worried about before in writing but now were very important to cover in the blogosphere.

Once we were on a roll and well into our second month of posts...I only required one post per week per student...we started looking at the analytics of their posts. Most had about 5 to 6 reads per week. This alone was very fun for them. Their parents were sharing the posts with family and family members were taking an interest. How many writing assignments that get sent home are probably shared amongst the family? I would venture to say 1%...maybe.

In our second month of this adventure, I decided I would share a post per week out on my Twitter. We would vote as a class - picking a student to highlight. It wasn't always the best mechanically written posts that were voted on. We had a few very poorly written posts that were impressively creative and they were chosen based on the fun or creative content. The students followed their analytics like crazy after that because posts that were getting 5-6 views were now in the 20's and 30's. And guess what, something amazing started to happen. I had kids that hated writing... I mean loathed to write...I mean would rather get throw-up sick than think and write on paper...they started to look forward to it. They began asking what they were going to write about next week. I even had a kiddo call me on the weekend and ask if I minded him writing and posting without a writing prompt.
"Ummmm, sure kiddo. You go for it!"
The kids were hooked. Their passion for writing might have originally been motivated by going digital, which for these grade levels is anti-state testing. I have been questioned about the practices here by teachers worried that I am setting myself up for failure because these kids need to write on paper to be successful on the written portion of the Reading exam. To that, I stick my fingers to my nose and wave them back and forth. Who cares about that test when I have students excited about writing? Who cares. We are about to dive back into the adventure again this school year. Due to restrictions placed on our school Google domain, we haven't got access to Blogger yet. As soon as our status changes, you can bet I will share away on the Twittersphere again. And you, my readers and Edufriends, you should read what they have to say too.

Here are links to several students blog sites...they might resemble your old pal Erin's site just a bit. They are not all perfect, but to my students, they are a voice out in the world now. Go. Read their work. Make comments. Subscribe to their material. 

The challenge: Try this with your students, kids, youth group, an afterschool program. Student voice shouldn't be - just another buzz word.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Omen of the Owl?

I am not a superstitious person. I love being a dreamer and an idealist when it comes to education, but in all other matters, I am relatively pragmatic. Maybe, my husband tips his eyebrows as I say it. I am NOT superstitious.

Yesterday an owl shows up on the back porch. Wow! How lucky to see one so close up. We were extremely cautious because this bird had very long talons and it kept snapping its beak at me like he meant business if I got too close. Upon close inspection, I could tell this owl was hurt, so before doing anything else I called the Tulsa Zoo to find out proper protocol on handling and fixing up this poor thing.

The Zoo's Ornithologist warned me to be careful, but that they would take it in if we could get it to them. I threw a towel over the owl's head and body and carefully pick up the animal. We stuffed it into a box and rush to the zoo. Once inside we had to fill out some paperwork then the man rushed off with the owl. The girls got 1,000 knowledge and helping points each in the Nature Exchange Center at the zoo. We decided to go ahead and hang at the zoo for a bit seeing as how we were already there.

Upon leaving the zoo, we decided to stop into QuikTrip for some drinks for the ride home. As we were leaving, some gal who thought she should have had the right away began cussing out my husband and I (and our kids by proxy). I was insensitive and began laughing that someone who was so wrong in the matter could also be so anger...and the fact that she couldn't see over my vehicle to make her right turn, did NOT make the situation less hilarious to me. She started to get out of her car to yell at me. In doing so she dropped her cell phone. We tried to get her attention that she dropped her cell phone which again my mouth was sarcastically offering her a "Your Welcome" didn't help either as I drove off.
We were off, and now just trying to make it home. 15 mins into my drive COMPLETELY OBEYING ALL TRAFFIC LAWS, I am taking the fork to the left where the highway splits and becomes turnpike or New Sapulpa Road going toward my home. The gal on my left decides late in the game that she wants to go to OKC and not Sapulpa, and whilst not looking starts to come over. I mean I was right next to her. I am looking into her passenger window as all of this is happening. So I miss my exit to avoid being sideswiped and then have to backtrack once I hit the next exit to make it home. We just need to make it home at this point.

Sidebar here - Did I forget to mention that on the way to the zoo Travis looked up owl myths because his family had several foster kids over the years and thought he remembered several of them talking about owls. They are a bad omen, death, destruction, or generally something bad...well, we don't believe in this type of stuff...until...

Today is a new day. The events of yesterday are over. Fresh start. I drop my youngest at gymnastics at 9am today for a make-up practice. I stop for gas on my way home and lock my keys in the car. after waiting on the locksmith for an hour and paying $65 to get my car open, I grab my phone and call the hubs (who was on his way to OKC to ride mountain bikes) and he told me that he left his riding shoes at home. His petals and shoes go together, no shoes make for a tough ride.

Ok, so is this Oman of the Owl a real thing? Or are these coincidences just perfectly timed to make one think? Should I start believing? Did I have it all coming for being sarcastic to the first lady? I am a pretty lucky and happy gal. I am typically quick on my feet and roll with the punches, but man, I think I am staying home for a while.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Another Certification Test

Ok, long story, but I think this is one that absolutely needs to be told. There are a couple of things we need to look at here, educationally speaking.

First Issue:
On Tuesday this week, I realized a student that I suggested start with Epic and specifically be in my class because i had his brother too, could actually NOT be placed under me because he had an IEP. Due to intense bullying and medical issues that kept him from attending, therefore making him truant two years in a row, he needed a break from the world of traditional schooling. Most of you, my friends in the brick and mortar world, do not understand why this would be an issue at all. A student within the special education system who are on IEPs are placed in Reg Ed classes all the time. It is considered the least restrictive environment.  However, in the virtual world, which are the laws I must abide by, this is not allowed. I was informed it was a logistics thing. That if there is "Direct Instruction" it MUST come from a special ed certified teacher. Long and short, if I wanted to get paid to teach this student, I needed to take a SPED certification test. So I signed up and took it yesterday...Saturday.

That was the first issue I wanted to bring up - Sheesh - I am willing to see this student 4 days per week, but in our model that is a difficult feat. The wordplay, like semantics versus pragmatics, keeps this one kiddo and me from being within compliance according to the state and the way virtual laws play out here. I get it, but it seems ridiculous in this instance.

Second Issue:
Taking a certification test is a little on the overkill side these days. I had to be there at 7:45 AM, but I had a full day planned. I mean my schedule was packed. So when I got dressed, I got dressed for the day.

Sidebar - Dressed for the day vs dressed to take a 2-hour test and return home. Dress for a two-hour test looks like jeans, t-shirt, ball cap, maybe mascara. Dressed for the day, means if jeans then maybe a blouse, jewelry, def some mascara, and NOT a hat. Those are my rules.

Ok, so I am dressed for the day. I read the instructions and already knew that no food or beverages would be allowed in the testing room and no electronics devices. No worries, I had already put my cell and Apple watch in my purse and then threw them in the lockers provided by the venue. My number was called and the old lady (who I swear was the same exact old lady from when I did this 8 years ago) kindly informed me that I also needed to take off my bracelets...oh and my necklaces..."Oh, and you're wearing earrings too? Those have to go in the basket as well". I wasn't sure I heard her correctly. My stud earrings? Do you think I've written some answers on my lobes that I might be able to share with others? I cannot see my lobes without looking in the mirror, so it must be because I want to help out the stranger sitting next to me who may be taking the same test as me, but likely not because they were offering something like 15 different versions of tests that day.

Nope, I heard her correctly. I needed to take those earrings off as well. That was the first round of search. She moved me on to a separate waiting area where a man explained all of the rules of surveillance and I totally believed him because there were 15 monitors where he was sitting as well as a giant glass window where he could look in and see us. After his thorough explanation that I totally heard him give to the gal he sat before me, he asked I pull out my pockets. I then needed to push my finger around my leg cuffs as well as my arm cuffs. I needed to pull up the sleeves my half-sleeved shirt, run my fingers through my hair, get my palm scanned a second time because from where the lady did it the first time to where I was led behind her desk to wait for this round of search I might have changed identities? And then I was led back to the testing room. I was not to look around the room. I was not to talk and I was to raise my hand so that I could be escorted out of the room with all of the cameras.

Again I say SHEESH. Listen I am very grateful that the integrity of the tests is held up. I am proud that our well-trained teachers must take a proctored/monitored test to ensure that they are competent to speak to and lead the next generation of citizens, but is this overkill? I told the guy that I wasn't trying to knock all the things he was asked to do in his job description, but what did he think I was going to do?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on Teamwork

Teamwork leave you thinking bad thoughts?

I found a Twitter post the other day where a guy was talking about teamwork being work but worth it. I thought that his tweet was adept, but I couldn't help but have a bad taste in my mouth when I think about teams, teamwork, or group work. In college, I was always the one pushing my team through and making sure everyone pulled their weight and ultimately finishing up the slackers work and making it look consistent. People that know me, KNOW that I am a procrastinator, so it was a big deal for someone to push it out further than me.  
In grade school we were placed in pods and had group work...again, I would tend to back off of my ideas for the greater good of just moving with the team and getting the job done. As I read through his first post and then the next on teamwork, I kept thinking I don't agree, but then into the thirst post, I started thinking about the only team I ever fully felt worked and worked well together. It was my team.

I have said in the past, but I will restate for the newbie readers...I want what I want when I want it. I have no patience. I am a bit fussy when I don't get what I need right now. No, NOW.

A few years ago, My first real year in admin for Epic Charter School, a new department was created around me. I had no idea what a blessing it would be to interview and pick a team from scratch. I knew my strengths and I knew my weaknesses. I was able to hire 4 individuals who would be able to overcome my weaknesses and were eager to grow and learn as much as me. We spent two and a half years working to be the most efficient group (at the time) in the school. We were so versatile that we could to move to other departments when help was needed. We were a well-oiled machine. I had never been in a role of leadership like that before and I was really able to lead that group. It was the first time I had ever been in a group where we all worked equally as hard on tasks some the same some different. When someone felt like they were pulling more weight than others, we discussed it and usually came to the conclusion that everyone was still pulling their own weight. The personal growth that came from this experience was huge.

I guess what I am saying here, is that teamwork often gets a bad stigma when teams are put together haphazardly. I hated teamwork and even going into writing this post I have a bad taste in my mouth. But teamwork can be great. Teachers, when building your pods or groups during the year, for the love, be thoughtful. I know some of you probably are very thoughtful. Know that best friends don't always make for the best teams and students don't know how to pick teams without best friends.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Advice to a Friend

I was texting with a friend last night and this morning. It felt like it could easily belong here on the blog as a reflection piece. So here is MY side...

I always ask even without words that you unload on me. You gotta get that stuff out. 

Babe, I moved schools a lot too. There are times that it sucks, but the new start was helpful many times too.
None of it matters if you are trying to make a better life for your family. 

I had to take a serious look at my life and job a couple years ago. I was climbing a ladder and loving it. I love being busy. I love being the most knowledgeable person in the room about something. I loved teaching adults. But my own kids were suffering. I worked at home WITH them but was completely unavailable. 

I was worried about it looking like I was demoting. I was worried that I wouldn’t be a part of the “in crowd” anymore. I was worried I would be on an island. Guess what…all of those things are in a little way true and happened, but my family life has taken a major upswing. My kids are doing better in school. My husband and I didn’t even realize how burdened I was until I quit that admin role.

Do I miss it…YES! I miss having a seat at the table so much. I, however, just spent 2 weeks in Colorado. I have gone to so many pools with my kids this summer, I am back in charge of their learning and most of all I am happy.

You have to figure out the price of what you REALLY want, and then pay it.