29 March 2006
In Curriculum, we're wondering if we could use this same approach with whiny staff (or spouses). This has given us several opportunities to giggle in the last few days.
Two more days until Spring Break. I hope we make it in one piece.
27 March 2006
There are a lot of details to finalize, but basically, they're ready to roll for next year. In some ways, we feel like we have to get this in place by the fall because there are so many district initiatives that are slated to start the following year. We need to be ahead of the curve if we can.
The teachers like knowing that the curriculum will be the same program as what the junior highs are using for grades 7 and 8. They feel like this will help kids be able to better make the transition from elementary. There will be some grand needs for professional development and support in the coming year. It's all doable---we just need to keep it in mind.
The next step is to work with the publisher to get some details in writing---prices, dates for the delivery of materials, and so on. And then it'll be time to talk with principals, schedule trainings, and so on. Forward march.
26 March 2006
In the midst of doing some cleaning here in the real world, I've irritated my wart again. You see, I've had this wart on my thumb for nearly two years. I've tried everything---short of going to a dermatologist---to send it packing. I've even done the duct tape thing, which resulted in a nasty reaction. All of my skin in the area where the tape touched became inflamed and then peeled off. The wart? Bigger and badder than ever.
I have a colleague who froze off plantar's warts on his feet. However, I'm not brave (foolish?) enough to hold a funnel to my skin and pour liquid nitrogen into it. This guy said that after the pain subsided, he scooped out the wart with a spoon. Mmmm.
It's time to do my Spring Cleaning at work, too. Now that some major projects are winding down, I really need to get my file cabinet whipped back into shape. I haven't a clue what all is lurking in there, let alone how to find it.
One more week until the Break...
25 March 2006
The state is pouring money into support classes and remediation. This is helpful, but of course I wondered who would teach it? I'm fortunate to work in a larger district and we can probably find some way to entice a few more teachers to give up their summer in order to help tutor kids. I'm not sure what all of the small districts are supposed to do.
I've been asked to coordinate the summer program for my district, so I guess I know part of the answer to my question of last month. I won't have to teach the modules, just get things organized and help run the WASL retakes in August. Might be an interesting way to spend some time this summer.
23 March 2006
We've been asked to reinforce good flu hygeine with students tomorrow: cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands often, maintain your personal space around other people, and so on. It's probably a good thing that it will be Friday and kids won't be congregating in large numbers over the weekend. Maybe this will give us a bit of a break.
22 March 2006
When we started the process of scope and sequence in the district last year, we knew that the outcomes wouldn't be popular with everyone. Any increase in science would mean a decrease elsewhere. Teachers' jobs and various programs were on the line. We were not insensitive to that, but the reality is that we have to remain student-centered. As long as our decisions were based on what best serves the needs of kids, we knew we could make the right choices.
But now all of those recommendations are becoming a reality, and the World Languages teachers in our district are finally realizing that some students will no longer have room in their schedules to take those classes in 8th grade. Not only does that impact the program at that end, but also at the senior level. Kids who don't start the sequence at the right time will unlikely be able to take AP level.
I heard a lot today about the college bound kid and how these new requirements would "squeeze" them. That may well be true. But the bottom line is that 100% of the students have to meet the standards in science. At best, 25% of our students enter college and university. And you know what? It's highly unlikely that the 25% is going to be comprised of kids who have to take remedial math, English, and science courses and therefore have no room in their schedules for electives.
Meanwhile, adding a zero period or seventh hour option costs (on average) $12K per year because of the way schools are funded. The state provides money for 5 classes per day per kid. We already offer 6. If a kid takes 7, we really are at a budget loss. Or, what if you don't cut one elective program (like World Languages)? If you make it a requirement, too, then you've only shifted the problem of staffing over to another subject area.
What's the answer? What doesn't cost money, make issues for other content areas, and still provides what kids need in order to graduate? I don't know that we had any particular solutions today. I hope that the World Languages' teachers will think about things some more and see what creative ideas they have. I understand their frustration and also why their classes benefit students. But I also know the realities we have to deal with in terms of accountability issues. There just can't be a happy ending for everyone.
21 March 2006
"We enjoyed ourselves and Chuck said your teachers really seemed to like each other. That’s a nice and often rare thing."
Are there really so many places where teachers don't get along? What a frightening and depressing idea.
Our materials' adoption process is complete (more or less). The teachers are more than generally satisfied and even made sure to complement me in front of my Boss Lady for how things are going in the district.
Hey, if the teachers ain't happy---ain't nobody gonna be happy.
20 March 2006
It isn't like any of these things have been a secret. You couldn't, even if you wanted to, in this sort of organization. But it only seems that now that people are taking notice.
Tonight, I've been asked to be available at one of two of the junior highs' registration nights. Parents are getting concerned about the impact on student schedules due to the full-year science requirement. So are the teachers of elective courses.
The Boss Lady and I are off to one of the high schools on Wednesday in order to meet with World (i.e. "foreign") Language teachers about the impact to their programs. That won't be a particularly pleasant sort of event, but I'm hoping that we can keep focused on student needs. The Boss Lady is always very eloquent and diplomatic---she's quite good at getting people to see things her way, all the while making them think it was their ideas they're spouting. It's quite the talent she has.
I'm not sure where everyone has been while we've been working through this process. Now that it's all very real to them, they seem to coming out of the woodwork...some armed with torches and pitchforks. Transitions are never as simple as we might like, especially those from the realm of possibility to reality.
19 March 2006
Last week, we started talking about pedigrees: charts of ancestry like the one shown below. Circles represent females; males are shown by using a square. Circles and squares that are coloured in are for whatever trait is being tracked by the chart. Older generations are at the top. Lines between two people represent parents. Lines connected above are for siblings.
Anyway, the kids were looking at a practice pedigree on Deaf-Mutism. They were supposed to write the genotypes (gene combinations) for each person on the chart. An uppercase "D" was for a normal gene and a lowercase "d" for the deaf-mute trait. For this particular trait, this means that every blackened circle and square meant that the gene combo was "dd." Anything blank had at least one uppercase D.
A few minutes after working through the pedigree and assigning D/d's to people, a girl looked up and asked, "How do you get big double D's?"
I gave her the first answer that came to mind: "implants."
Never a dull moment in the classroom, is there?
18 March 2006
|Cherry Blossoms by Zenobia Joy CC-BY-NC|
A glance out the window suggests that Spring is trying to give Old Man Winter the boot. And none too soon, as far as I'm concerned. I love seeing the cherry trees at this time of year. The daffodils in my yard are going strong, berry bushes are budding out, and those packages of veggie seeds at the grocery store are looking rather tempting. Perhaps this is the year to plant something fun...like grape tomatoes or pumpkins. Maybe both.
A tour of the edusphere finds that most schools are already having their Spring Break...but then, most of those schools will be out by the end of May. Our break happens in April, which I usually think is not late enough. Kids come back ready for summer and there's still a whole quarter of the school year left to navigate.
As for me, I am making plans for that first week in April. I'm looking forward to going someplace sunny and warm. A change of scenery is always good, even if Spring is trying to makeover what I see through the windows.
17 March 2006
It's one of those cases where the parent is rather needy and demands a lot of kid in terms of attention. I will miss this little gal, but I hope that she can escape to college next year. She'd probably like to just be able to focus on her studies as opposed to continually being pulled into mom's drama. It might also be nice to be able to attend class more than once a week.
We really only have two more weeks left of content and then we'll wind down and review. It seems a shame for anyone to have to quit now.
15 March 2006
My favourite section is always "The Secret Lives of Teachers," but there lots of fantastic posts to suit anyone's taste. It's yours for the feasting.
14 March 2006
The Chicago Tribune recently published a piece on the growth of blogs in the classroom. It highlights some of the positive results students and teachers are experiencing...and shows off some of the potential for using this as a classroom tool.
The article doesn't focus much on some of the potential dangers in using blogs with students, such as the possibility of on-line predators. I don't know that there will ever be a foolproof sort of system, which is what my district is after. I wish we could provide students and parents with guarantees that their kids will never be in any harm's way, but Life just doesn't work like that. We just have to do the best we can to protect students and then educate them about protecting themselves.
I wish that I had had different results this year. Maybe I just need to focus on the bigger picture instead. By starting this in my district, I've opened the door to possibility for others. The future may hold lots of blogs for students and teachers. I am looking forward to that.
13 March 2006
There was an interesting article about WASL in today's Seattle Times. Regardless of what you think of The Test, there's no denying that it is having a positive impact on instruction. When I am out and about in my district, I do see good things happening in schools. Do I see evidence of "drill and kill"? Rarely to never. Do I see "teaching to the test"? Perhaps. But I think of it more as "teaching to the standards." The "test" part comes in when we used released items with students in order to familiarize them with the format...not the material itself. I see lots of teachers who want to do the best they can. I think that can only help every child, not just those from middle-class anglo families.
To Mr. M and Hedge---best wishes to your kiddos. Keep your fingers crossed for mine.
12 March 2006
Follow the link if you want the full 150. I've just posted the Top 25.
- Charlotte's Web, E. B. White; illustrated by Garth Williams (1974)
- The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton (1968)
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume (1976)
- Love You Forever, Robert Munsch; illustrated by Sheila McGraw (1986)
- Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls (1973)
- Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O'Dell (1971)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J. K. Rowling (1999)
- Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume (1972)
- Shane, Jack Schaeffer (1972)
- The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks (1982)
- A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle (1974)
- Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrated by Garth Williams (1971)
- Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder; illustrated by Garth Williams (1971)
- The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford (1984)
- The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1968)
- Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes (1969)
- Just Me and My Dad, Mercer Mayer (1977)
- Go Ask Alice, Anonymous (1976)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. J. K. Rowling (2000)
- Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Judy Blume (1976)
- Blubber, Judy Blume (1976)
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare (1972)
- Superfudge, Judy Blume (1981)
- Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson (1987)
- Freckle Juice, Judy Blume (1978)
11 March 2006
At the end of the year was a sort of non-student day. The kids would come in the morning to pick up their final report card, but that only occupied an hour or so. We had to hang out the whole day, even though there was really nothing left to do. For whatever reason, water guns had been very popular with the kids that spring. There were a few boxes full of confiscated toys in the office. It's probably not hard to imagine what you get when you combine a summer day, a school full of bored staff, and lots of water guns. I'm sure that this was not how taxpayers imagined their dollars being spent, but we had a great time.
10 March 2006
I started off at an elementary in order to give my Inquiry spiel. I hadn't been asked to do this until Wednesday. (Nothing like planning ahead, right?) The department chair from my school joined me as he had several connections with the elementary. It was nice to have some company for my road show.
Afterwards, I headed over to one of our junior high schools. The principal there is concerned about the lack of direction her science department has...and with good reason. The teachers there are competent. They like kids and they like science; however they are not particularly intellectually curious or innovative when it comes to instruction. I brought some data to share with them today, thinking that it wouldn't be anything new, but it might give us a starting point for discussions. Sadly, they'd never seen the information. How could you know there was data on your students and not even ask for it? Why would you go nearly a whole school year with students without some clue about what their needs were at the beginning? Anyway, I think I successfully hid my shock...and we moved onto some discussions about identifying student needs and what we could do about that. I left them buzzing with ideas. I'm hoping that they'll move forward.
My last stop of the day was a return to Curriculum and a meeting with the Boss Lady. She is back from a month of medical leave and anxious to catch up on what has happened in the interim. She shared a voicemail from a junior high principal who just yesterday called to say that they need an additional classroom for science. Hello? Does she think that this will happen for next year (or in the near future)? The principal said that she knew that she'd originally said that they wouldn't need another science room, which is why that building was excluded from all of the current plans being made. The Boss Lady asked me why this was coming up now. I hadn't a clue---it was the first I'd heard of this. All I can think of is that they are anticipating some increased enrollment for next year. Perhaps we'll know more next week.
Lots of other small things came up as I circulated today. Being in education is just messy. There are rarely neat and tidy start and finish points. The questions and jobs keep growing. It looks like I'll be wandering a lot more in the future.
09 March 2006
- 1st period meets from 7:50 - 8:10 each day
- There is a "study hall" from 8:10 - 9:50; some AP classes will have practice tests (not ours); some students may work on their senior projects or other items
- On Monday and Wednesday, our class will meet from 10:00 - 11:20. I will take roll for the first time at 10:00.
My question to them was, what time do you need to show up for school? One of them timidly volunteered, "Ten o'clock?"
What a bright young thing.
I pointed out that I was not telling them to skip school. However, if they had things they needed to do at home...and parents who understood their need to be there...then they could make what they wanted of next week's schedule. And if they had to come to school, they were welcome to hang out in my class.
Any guesses how many kids I'll see before 10 on Monday?
08 March 2006
When I was in high school, I had a friend with several younger siblings. The youngest, Sarah, was at the 5-year old know-it-all stage and was great fun to be with. No matter what the question was, she could tell you the answer.
Sarah and I sat on the front porch one sunny afternoon in order to discuss more about Life, the Universe, and Everything. She told me that if someone was bad, they'd go "down there." Sarah pointed her hands toward the steps in order to emphasize her point. "You mean, under the house?" I asked.
"No." she said emphatically. "You go to H-A-I-L."
Keep in mind that this was west Texas, so her spelling reflected how people pronounced the word.
I smile everytime I remember this story. Never mind how old I feel when I remember that Sarah is all grown up, been teaching biology for a few years, and is getting married in June. I wonder what stories her own children will tell.
07 March 2006
There are only two more school days this week (Friday is an staff inservice day.) and we teachers have yet to see a final schedule of events. Does this not seem a bit late to you? What am I supposed to tell my students who come from another school to take my class? And my Boss Lady at Curriculum?
Really, I just have to go with the flow on this. It's just a bit irritating that no one bothered to work on these issues until this week...and they're still working on them.
06 March 2006
Here is the opening sentence: Across the landscape of America, high-stakes testing continues to leave in its cyclonic path defeated hopes and broken lives.
This was obviously not going to be the regular dry how-to book. This was going to be a book with voice.
Indeed, farther down on the page was...This temptation to engage in drill and kill exercises is nearly overwhelming and drowns out even common sense. (so far, so good) When that impulse becomes dominant, we have the lobotomization of instruction. (the authors liked the lobotomy idea...they used it again later in the book)
Things calmed down until the end of the following page. And then...Although we recognize that school systems have been and continue to exercise forms of domination that are culturally oppressive, alignment demonstrates that all children can learn and be successful. Alignment plants doubts in the minds of those who have believed the racist and sexist explanations for poor test scores. It does it right inside the system itself so that it can't be explained away as some utopian scheme advanced by fuzzy-headed liberals working in the ivory towers of academe.
I will say that the book certainly had my rapt attention. I entertained the other specialists in the office with these and other items from the book. After this beginning, the authors did settle down into a more traditional "voice" for their writing. I did find some useful information for my research...that is, after I got over the imagery of cyclones, lobotomies, and fuzzy-headed liberals.
I can hardly wait to see what other resources have to offer.
05 March 2006
From their website:
Qwizdom's Remote Audience Response System lets you communicate with every individual and each one of them with you! Everyone in the room is given a remote, which sends a response to the instructor immediately. Instructors can then take the electronically gathered information and make informed decisions as to where to guide the discussion or meeting. Polls can be taken, tests can be graded and reports can be generated - all with the press of a button. Using Qwizdom’s versatile software, you can easily create dynamic presentations, quizzes, and games. If you want to add interactivity to your existing materials, Qwizdom now integrates with Microsoft PowerPoint® and ExamView® files.
Now with the press of a button, instructors can privately view response graphs, view the names of students who requested help, and clearly see if some students need more time. With the innovative Qwizdom Q5 Instructor Remote, student responses are shown in many forms. Rating scale responses can be seen showing the average and most frequent response types. True/false, yes/no and multiple choice answers are displayed on a private bar graph. Other question types show various graphs, as well.
What teacher wouldn't want a set of these? Our district now has two classroom sets...for 800 teachers. I suppose the "cheaper" route to go would be to require students (i.e. families) to purchase a remote ($50 each) and then use them in all of their classes. But I think we already stretch families' budgets for a supposedly "free and public education." Each classroom would need a remote for the teacher, rf receiver, and software ($525 each). Oh---and batteries. So, if the district wanted to outfit classrooms, they're looking at $2200 each. Ouch.
The terrible thing about these systems, along with document cameras, LCD projectors, and other technological innovations is that they're expensive. Everytime I go to one of these product demos, I feel like I'm just being teased. Here's this engaging tool to use with students...something that gives teachers instant feedback (and will even grade exams and record them in the gradebook)...and it's just going to be out of reach.
Some districts in the area are starting to float "technology levies" for voters as a means to get a large pool of money specifically for buying smartboards, response systems, projectors, and more. I wonder if that might be a good idea for us, too.
04 March 2006
- The Saddest Music in the World---a film where a Depression Era beer baroness (who has glass legs filled with beer) holds a contest in Winnepeg in order to determine which country has the saddest music. Throw in a nymphomaniac with amnesia and a family of men with their own problems, and you have quite the musical.
- Kung Fu Hustle---Okay, so martial arts movies aren't really my thing. But this one, with its pop culture references, comedy, and stylized look captured my attention at the beginning and didn't let go. It's a great way to escape for awhile.
- Holmes on the Range---What happens when two cowboys in the late 19th-century become involved in a mystery at the ranch they're working? They have to solve it a la Sherlock Holmes, of course. This is a wonderful read. I'm hoping it is the first of a series.
- The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca---(from Publishers' Weekly) "When Tahir Shah, his pregnant wife, and their small daughter move from England to Morocco, they enter a realm of "invisible spirits and their parallel world." Shah buys the Caliph's House, once a palatial compound, now heavy with algae, cobwebs and termites. As Shah remodels the haunted house, he encounters a cast of entertaining, sometimes bizarre characters. Three retainers, whose lives are governed by the jinni, have attached themselves to the property. Confounding craftsmen plague but eventually beautify the house. Intriguing servants come and go, notably Zohra, whose imaginary friend, a 100-foot tall jinni, lives on her shoulder. A 'gangster neighbor and his trophy wife' conspire to acquire the Caliph's House, and a countess remembers Shah's grandfather and his secrets." A true story which has to be read to be believed...and even then, I'm not sure I do.
Now, back to work.
03 March 2006
Probably a good thing, too. We will have the new materials adoption at four grade levels. We're starting up a district run science kit center. And I'll actually have specific meeting times with every elementary teacher in the district. I'm gonna be a busy gal, let alone trying to fit in teaching a class each day.
Will the Boss Lady have money to fund me full time? We don't know yet. It looks like she'll try.
02 March 2006
I never mind guests in the classroom, but I do think that my class is very atypical. It's small. It's comprised of highly motivated kids with a strong interest in science. They can read and have relatively good study and homework habits. Also, AP is not a typical curriculum and I certainly approach things differently in there.
I don't think she'll be bored. Tomorrow, we kick off the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and all the goodies that go along with that. In following weeks while she's there, we'll work through some genetics and evolution. I hope she'll be more than an observer. It would be good to have a bit of real world input for the kids.
01 March 2006
The literacy content specialist isn't particularly happy with the way things are going. Right now, she has five full-time coaches under her direction that work out in various elementaries. Math has one. Science has none (we don't even have a full-time specialist). If things keep moving in the direction that we've been talking about, then the coaches will just be "general" and a certain percentage of their time will be devoted to working with teachers on math and science needs. The math person and I are thrilled at the prospect (I might now actually get one whole day per grade level each year to work with teachers), the literacy person isn't thrilled about having less people in her department.
Teachers do have to teach more than one topic. And as nice as it would be for buildings to say that they just want to focus on one thing (like reading) for a school year, that's really not possible anymore. But if we're going to ask them to expand what they do, we need to be ready to support them.
Tomorrow will involve some "nuts and bolts" planning. I'll be interested to see what we come up with as communication tools and professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators.