Life with L

Thinking Out Loud!

Posts Tagged ‘Education

Learning Always

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Last week, I attended New Teacher Camp at the Boy’s Latin Charter School in Philadelphia. I attended a session called Creating a Great EdTech College Course run by MaryBeth Hertz and Alice Lesnick. There was a really interesting discussion with a bit of a debate about too much emphasis on tools. I was particularly interested in this discussion because I teach a Graduate Technology Course.  I am always looking for ways to improve my class, and often wonder if I am getting it right.

My class is very tool heavy. I get the whole pedagogy side, trust me. Here’s my thought. If I have about 35-40 hours total for a technology class, I am going for the tools. Why? If they don’t know about the tools, how can they use them? Many of my students have never used anything other than the Office Suite of products and email. They do not use social media, other than Facebook for personal use. They have never heard of wikis, blogs, Twitter, Google apps, and oh, so, many more. Many have digital cameras, but have never taken the photos from the camera to the computer. Uploading them to a site is a whole new adventure. So, yes, for me it’s really about the tools. I feel that when I immerse my students in an environment where they have to learn to navigate tools and get a bit messy, it helps them get over their fear of breaking the computer. My main goal is to enable them to feel confident enough to tinker on their own and investigate new tools when they are introduced. Of course, as I introduce the tools, they are required to develop lessons or we discuss how to use them to develop critical thinking and collaboration skills. They also read articles and reflect on blog posts on our class ning.

After the session at #ntcamp, I was really questioning if I was helping my students, or if I was doing it all wrong and doing them a disservice. I decided to ask them. We had a discussion about the session at ntcamp about building a great edtech course. Then, I asked them to write a reflection about our class. They had a choice to post it on the ning or hand in a hard copy. I wanted them to have the option, since the ning is more public. The last night of class, I came home with a few hard copies and knew that the others were waiting for me on the ning. I love getting feedback from my students about my classes because it helps me grow as an educator. That being said, I can honestly say I was not ready to read their reflections. I was feeling very anxious, so I decided to leave them for the next day. On my way to bed, I checked my email one last time, and got one of the nicest notes I have ever received from a student:

Thank you for satisfying my thirst for technology (you’ll understand if you read my blog);
Thank you for being one of the two greatest teachers I will ever remember;
Thank you for always believing in me and my potential;
Thank you for treating everyone the same but minding our individual strength, potentials and personalities;
I feel very sad you won’t be teaching us next year;
You are a great teacher and I hope you know that. I hope every student knew/knows how lucky they were/are to have you as a teacher.

Some comments from the reflections:

“Before I took this course….I was intimidated by the thought of just sitting behind a computer and avoided it as much as I could…  This technology course has given me the confidence to try things out on the computer…. Maybe someday I will be one of the teachers who will be urging my school to embrace the transformative power of technology!”

“Overall, learning a bunch of news tricks and tools was more beneficial for me. I now have time to go back and play on my own time with the new sites I learned about. So much about teaching involves figuring things out on your own because everybody’s teaching style is unique.”

“I was very scared to take this class. As I have said in previous blogs, I am not a very tech savvy person, and I get very intimidated by technology. This class has opened my eyes to a whole new world of technology. When I go to professional development meetings, they are always saying how we have to get students attention, and use technology in the classroom more often. I always found this a struggle because I didn’t know how to use technology, or understand how it worked in a classroom environment, besides just letting them use a computer to type on and to do research.”

Needless to say, I was happy that my students felt they learned to embrace technology and not be afraid. Through our discussion about #ntcamp, they also learned that it is not just about the tool, but about how the tool is used to enhance student learning. Many times as teachers, we question what we are doing and if we are doing it right, at least I do. And, when we do get it right it is like some secret that must be guarded closely, lest others think we are tooting our own horn. This does feel like that, but I am sharing this because there is so much negative press about teachers. We need to start celebrating our joy-filled moments so others can celebrate them too.

Now, I need your help. I realize there is always room for improvement and I am hoping to make my class better through my choice of articles.  This way, I will be able to expose my students to more theory. I am on a mission to find some really good articles about the theory behind using technology. Is it effective? Why do we use it? Maybe you can help me with that?


Written by Life With L

July 30, 2010 at 2:29 PM

I am one of “those” teachers.

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Last week, all the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island were fired. There has been all kinds of back and forth about the issue. Some, including President Obama, are applauding the bold move. I have to wonder just how the teachers feel. I wonder because I am one of “those” teachers. No, not from that “failing” school, but perhaps from one that is not much different. We struggle. We struggle everyday trying to increase our test scores so we will no longer be labeled as failing or under-performing, but more importantly we struggle to meet the many needs of our kids.  So, I wonder how the teachers feel.

Are they wondering what will happen to the girl whose mom is ill with cancer, a girl who worries how she and her mother will survive when there is no income during all those treatments?  Are they wondering what will happen to the young man who just lost his mother, only a short time after losing his father?  Are they wondering what will happen to the teenage girl who is doing her best to stay in school while taking care of her infant child?  Are they wondering about the five or six students who are living in shelters or working several jobs to support themselves? Are they wondering who will be there for “their” kids?

Is anyone wondering who will be there for these kids?  You see, I think many times the only thing these kids have is their relationship with a teacher, a teacher that cares about them, not as a test score, but as a person. When did we stop caring about caring? When did we start making test scores more important than kids?  When did test scores become the only measure of the success and talents of our students?

Don’t you wonder too?

Written by Life With L

March 1, 2010 at 8:21 PM

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We just began a new initiative during our Common Planning Time (CPT).  Every Friday we invite a group of students to come during their lunch period for extra help. The teachers and students gather in my classroom for pizza and conversation first, and then, the students work on Study Island. Yes, we started this initiative for test prep purposes, but I am not going to get too hung up on that because I think it really has become something more. It is a chance to connect with students in a relaxed setting. There is no pressure for the teachers or the students to perform. We are able to talk about things that really matter. We talk about family and friends, about things that are happening in school and out.  Let me give you an example of why I think it could be very powerful.  One of the students that came yesterday is in my class. She usually works hard in class, is not easily distracted, and is always friendly.  In the past two weeks, I have noticed some real changes in her work habits and in her behavior. I pulled her aside after class and told her I was concerned, that I had noticed these changes. I asked her if everything was okay and she told me she was fine.  During our mentoring session a little later that day, she shared some information about what was going on. Her mom is ill, and there are concerns about family income.  I might never have known what was going on if we were not able to connect in a more relaxed setting.  Would she have opened up or what I have to continue to wonder and worry about her?  I have been thinking about this a lot.

With just 45 minute class periods and all the pressure to teach the content, we often lose sight of the children sitting in front of us. I am not sure how many of them even make it to school everyday.  I would love to find a way to expand this once a week mentoring session, maybe build it into the schedule for next year. I just wonder if it is possible.  I think the kids would like it, and I think it would help build school morale. I am not sure how the teachers would feel about being mandated to mentor, or if mandating it is the way to go.  I would love your thoughts. Do you have mentoring sessions built into your school schedules? How do they work? Does it make a difference?

Written by Life With L

February 6, 2010 at 11:49 AM

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What a great day!  Today, our Internet was working.  After two days of struggling with getting the internet connection in our building fixed, we finally succeeded.  Just in the nick of time, since today was our district walk-through. Each month our district sends a team of educators to our school to conduct walk-through observations. The English 3 teachers and the Algebra 2 teachers are always on the visitation list. (Testing)  Our walk-through observations have been very successful, with very positive feedback from the team.The positive feedback today was great, but it could never compete with what happened in my classroom.


A few days ago, I wrote about starting a constructivist project with my students. The project was extremely open-ended with very little “must do” criteria.  The project relies heavily on the use of technology. Day one was almost my undoing since we couldn’t get connected. Day two was not much better, no internet in my classroom. I called a colleague on the other side of the building and she said her connection was fine. We packed up the computer cart and traveled to an empty classroom.  We lost some time but we were finally getting started.  Today was a dream come true. My students grabbed their laptops, signed onto the Internet, and began researching their topics. Some students used a graphic organizer I had created to help guide them.  It was eerily quiet in my room. The best part of my day was watching them dig right in. My students struggle with independent reading, no matter what the topic. They hate to read in class. Not today, they were reading and searching and asking all the right questions. I am not fooling myself, from here on out the project is going to get much more difficult. The projects they have chosen to create will require analysis and synthesis of the information they are gathering and further critical thinking. I know they will struggle, but I also know they will amaze me with their final products.

Written by Life With L

February 4, 2010 at 9:11 PM

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In my graduate classes, we are reading about theories of development and discussing their implications for the classroom. We usually start each class with a round table discussion and then do an activity that is a practical application of that theory. Tonight’s topic was Piaget. While reviewing the reading, I felt that the information was a bit dense and that my students might be feeling overwhelmed with all the concepts. I took a poll in class and my students confirmed my suspicions.  To clear up some of the confusion about the terminology, I showed a few short video clips of Piaget’s methods  for determining  conservation, classification, object permanence, and ego-centrism. Then, I had the students work in groups to help them sort out the complicated concepts, through the creation of  MindMaps.

It was interesting to watch the groups work. Some students went right for the markers, while others pulled out the book to read and determine what they wanted to include in their MindMap.  Some groups had geometric shapes and others were more rounded and free-flowing. In some groups, one person did all the drawing and in others they took turns. They all discussed the theory in terms of representative visuals, something they found to be helpful in understanding the facets of the theory. Some comments I heard during the activity:

“We need more color.”

“What picture should we use to show…”

“This really does help me to sort all the information and understand it better.”

“I like that we get to do activities that we can use in our own classrooms that apply to the theories.”


I have done MindMaps in both my high school and graduate classes. I have used both computer mindmapping software and poster paper. I personally like the paper versions because I think my students take ownership of their original drawings. I highly recommend the use of MindMaps with all ages.

Written by Life With L

January 27, 2010 at 9:31 PM

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Wallwisher and Stupeflix in the Classroom

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As you all know, Martin Luther King Day is Monday.  Our school is named after King and each year on the holiday held in his honor our school hosts a King Day of Service.  Many of our students actively participate on this day. The Philadelphia Orchestra comes to our school and offers a free tribute concert for members of the community.  I wanted to do something in my classroom to help my students connect to his message and voice their own dreams.

My problem was how to accomplish this in two days.  I was watching my Twitter stream last week and stumbled onto Shell Terrell’s Blog post, What Did They Tweet, where she featured an MLK rap video and it jump-started my brain.  I decided to have my students watch the video and then write their own dream statements.  I also had them search for a picture to illustrate that statement. My ultimate goal was to create a video slideshow of all their dreams to share at our next assembly. I though it might be nice to have it playing in our auditorium as people were gathering and waiting for the orchestra to begin. I am not sure if that will happen, but there’s always hope.

Two days was not much time to pull this off, but we did it.  First, I showed my students the short rap video.

Student Wallwisher

Then, I gave the students some sentence starters to prompt their thinking about dream statements. I embedded a Wallwisher for each of my classes on our class wikispace. The Wallwisher was the perfect choice for gathering the student dream statements and pictures. Each sticky note had a place for their name, their dream statement, and a link to the picture.

The first day, I only had about four students get their sticky notes on the Wallwisher, and I was worried we wouldn’t finish before the deadline. Some students were not as interested as I thought they would be.  Dang, now what?  I went home and added the first four statements and pictures to a slideshow, hoping it would motivate the other students to participate.  I tried iphoto first, but the text was getting lost in the pictures. Animoto is blocked at school so that was out.

Stupeflix Studio

I decided to try Stupeflix, a free online video slideshow program I had heard about from the members of my PLN.  I showed the short slideshow the next day in class and it did the trick. My students couldn’t get their statements and pics on the Wallwishers fast enough.  Those that finished first hopped around the room helping the others that were having trouble.  By the end of the day, I had two full Wallwishers of dream statements and pictures.  Creating the slideshow video was easy. I just right-clicked on the pictures on the wallwisher, added the photos to my iphoto library and then uploaded them to Stupeflix.  Stupeflix allows you to add text that appears below the picture, perfect for my purposes.  I also realized you can add photos using the URL.  I clicked on export and my video was completed in a few minutes. I paid the $5 fee for the HD full-length version.  As I watched the video I noticed a few spelling errors and had to pay again to fix them. I contacted Stupeflix to tell them about my spelling errors and they responded quickly and offered me a refund since it was the same video. They even found me on twitter to tell me about the refund. Their customer service rocks!

Our Dreams

I have tweeted out links to our wallwisher, hoping to get people to join in and add their dreams. Several teachers have already added theirs. Would you like to join us?  How about having your students add theirs?  My students would love you to share your dreams!

Written by Life With L

January 17, 2010 at 1:06 PM

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