Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Agents of Change

I absolutely love the quote by Ghandi, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I have seen it used in a many contexts, so I am using again here in a blog about being a teacher for change. I have to start off by saying that this blog is inspired by another great blog post from Jane Hart. You should probably go read her post, and then come back here.
Your back! Okay, so you saw that awesome graphic right? You read that poem?


There is no question that there is much that stands between teachers and the changes that need to happen. What happens when that "Big Frickin' Wall" is other teachers (I hear it from a few veterans who resist change because they think things change too often)? What if it is your administration? What if it's lack of resources or a school district that doesn't budget well and holds hands with the incremental?

The truth behind it all is that we can't afford to be teachers that can't jump, climb, or barrel through walls. Our kids and society are counting us to be the best. We must be reshaping, improving, and adapting to be the best in our field. How many great inventions can you think of that have not changed for the better? We are all tools, always being reformed in the fire.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


If I haven't told you yet, I think Will Richardson is the man. I just took a class that used his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. His book is what gave me the ultimate itch for technology. If you visit his page, you will see a tab for ED BLOGS at the top. It will lead you to this page. Get your Delicious and/or Diigo ready!

Again, go to here and bookmark away.

5 Sites For Frequent Class Use

I have stumbled across a lot of great sites in the past couple of years. Some of them are really good, but the kids are bored with them in a few days. The best sites are updated often, and have various facets to be discovered. These five sites are ones that I found most useful with my second graders:

  • Cool Math Games
  • Spelling City (I have to say this site is a must if you teach spelling. You can save your lists and there are sections for spelling and vocabulary with tons of games).
  • Read Write Think (student interactives) You will need to direct the kids to the activities you want them to work with.
  • I Know That (create an account all the kids can log in with)
  • Storyline (streaming popular kid lit read by famous folks)
I hope you find these sites helpful.
Got a great one to share? Leave a comment and share your gems.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

PLN BADGE: Grab and Share

There has been a lot of response to Build A PLN: A Newbie's Guide. Thanks everyone for your kind comments, your pledge to share the guide, and your willingness to give it a try. Below is a badge you can post on your site to direct your readers. You can save the image (right click and save image as) and you can link it to:

Thanks again for spreading the word. If there is anyway I can help, please let me know.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Build A PLN: A Newbie's Guide

Let me start by saying that I am not an expert in any way. The guide I am going to lay out is a simple way to start building a Personal Learning Network (PLN). I am very new at this (7-10-10 to be exact). I am going to give you my guide in doses, so only take as much as you can handle.

Day 1: Breakfast
Assignment: Create a gmail account.
Why?: You do not need to switch to this email account. We will use it later for some Open ID places and for Google Reader.

Day 1: Lunch
Assignment: Create the following accounts: Twitter and Facebook.
Link: Twitter and Facebook
Why?: These are two of the biggest social network sites right now. You are not doing anything with these accounts yet. You are just signing up.

Day 1: Dinner
Assignment: Create a blog and add the following: About Me, 2 Gadgets (sometimes called Widgets), and One Small Post
Link: Blogger (people use other sites, I prefer this one)
Why?: A blog is where you will direct readers to your posted thoughts and opinions, the links you enjoy, and connect with you a lots of other ways.
How?: To start the blog, pick a simple design (you can change it later). Focus on being clear in the "About Me" part (Job, Family, Hobbies). The two gadgets can be any you pick on the design page (you can also get widgets from other sites and add them in). My favorites: Wibiya (the toolbar you see at the bottom), Revolver Maps (shows where visitors are from) or add a simple gadget on the design page by clicking on "Add gadget". Now for your small post, this can be an introduction of yourself, a welcome to visitors, or you can jump right in and post your thoughts. Make sure you hit save, and then admire your work (rule of thumb: save often!).

Want more? Forgo sleep, and continue....

Day 2: Breakfast
Assignment: Join some Nings! (+Inter. Edu Bloggers)
Why?: Nings are a lot like Facebook, but they are often directed around a topic. Here are a few I am part of: Second Grade, Another Second Grade, Educator's PLN, or find your own. These sites will be places for you to join discussions, gather resources, network, and link back to your blog. You should also join the International Edubloggers Directory if you want to connect globally.

Day 2: Lunch
Assignment: Store sites and feeds with Diigo, Delicious, and Google Reader.
Why?: You do not need to sign up for all of these, and if you are going to pick just one, I like Diigo the best. They all have special features. Make sure you install the tool bar with Diigo, it will place some cool tools on your internet browser (I use Mozilla). If you are ambitious you can sign up for Delicious and Google Reader also. Now that you have one or all of these, spend some time and figure out how to bookmark a website with the tool you chose. The job now is to go back to all the sites you joined and bookmark them (facebook, twitter, your blog site, the Nings, etc.)

Day 2: Dinner
Assignment: Create an awesome blog post.
Why?: You have something to say right? Maybe it is about an article you read, or another blog you read (More Ideas Here). This is the time to really get your thoughts out. Be sure to include some links in your post, read through it once, and fill in a couple of labels at the end before you publish.

Day 3: Breakfast
Assignment: Connect with people using Twitter and TweepML.
Why?: If you are not following anyone on Twitter, most likely no one is following you. Time to change that.
How?: I am going to give you two lists that contain educators: and You need to do this procedure twice. Copy one of the lists (highlight and control+c). Go here. Paste the list in the section that says "Follow a Twitter List" and click submit. It should load up a bunch of people. At the bottom you want to click "Sign in on Twitter Account." A window will open and you must allow the program to access your Twitter. Repeat process with second list. You should now have a bunch of people you follow on Twitter.
(You will get a bunch of direct automatic messages from people. This is a welcome note. You can set up your own at Socialoomph)

Day 3: Lunch
Assignment: Tell people about your blog.
Why?: Know that you are a bit more connected, you should share you awesome blog. To start, create a Tweet that says what your blog post was about and includes a link (you can make a Tinyurl or add a tool later that allows direct tweets from your posts). Next you should revisit all the nings you joined and kindly ask the people in the forum to read your blog and comment. You can also post it on Facebook as a status update or you can join some education groups on there and share.
It may be slow and take a few tries to get people to visit your blog. Don't get discouraged. It may also take some time for people to follow your Twitter. The more you post on your blog and twitter that is relevant to what people are interested in the more followers you will get. (Frequency and Relevancy are key).

Day 3: Dinner
Assignment: Build a network of connections.
Why?: If your PLN is small you may not be getting the best info. Start following other blogs, reading their posts, and leaving a comments (your comment can ask them to read your posts too). Here are a few favorite blogs: Principal's Reflections, Around the Corner, and Moving at the Speed of Creativity. On each of these sites you should see other blogs to follow on the side columns. Feel free build from here. You can add them to your Diigo, Delicious, or Google Reader. You can also follow them at the top if they are on Blogger. There may be other ways to connect (RSS great guide from Will Richardson) so look around the sites. These people are experts and have great things to read.

Day 4: Breakfast
Assignment: Blog again and Get Twittering
Why?: If you want to keep people coming to your site and connecting with you, you need to say more stuff. Blog about a great teaching idea you thought of that others can use. Now get sharing it, share your blog site on Twitter, Facebook, Nings, and other groups you joined.

Day 4: Lunch
Assignment: Explore the Features of Your Tools
Why?: Mostly likely there are more ways you can use Diigo, Delicious, Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, etc. You would do some searches on some useful ways to use the tools. Will Richardson has a great blog to check out.

You are now pretty well connected. You may want to relax a bit (but keep blogging and sharing).
To keep from going stale and getting out of the loop, you should always respond to messages sent to you. You should do something to your blog at least once a week.

If you are hungry for more, here a few things to explore:
  • Get to know some html code. It is useful for adding widgets, and other tools to your blog. A lot of code is copy and paste now, but it is still useful to understand how it works.
  • Explore some other cools: TweetDeck, Plurk, Glogster, Skype, and Digsby are just a few tools you may want to look into.
  • Message people through a variety of tools. Direct Message on Twitter. Email people. Post comments on forums, and blogs.
  • Build a network of people to follow on Diigo and Delicious. Share bookmarks.
  • Read, Blog, and Comment often. Stay relevant and connected.
  • Look for ways you can collaborate with other educators (Wikis, and other projects).
Again this is only a guide of some things I did to start building my PLN.
What things did I miss? What are some other useful ways to help newbies?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

3 Useful Twitter Tools

Enough small talk, here are the tools:

1. Crowdeye (a twitter search engine) It is still in BETA.

2. TweepML (a quick way to connect with people on a Twitter List)

3. Flockoo (find Twitter followers by area) It is still in BETA also.

Enjoy. Got a great tool you use with Twitter? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing with Picture Prompts

I may have mentioned before that I teach in a very rural area. By rural, I mean that students have driven tractors to the high school (no joke). Because my school is rural, we can sometimes be a bit behind on technology. As of last year these are my classroom tools:
  • 3 Classroom Computers with one printer (no extra gadgets!)
  • 1 Overhead Projector
As the year went on I realized that maybe I should try to incorporate some of my own technology into the the class. The best tool I had was an Ipod Classic. I also had an A/V cord that connected my Ipod to the TV.

Now I wanted to get my kids writing, and I was almost as bored as they were of cheesy sentence prompts. I wanted to give them something visual. I did a search for picture prompts, and the best thing I could find was a selection of mystery pictures by Chris Van Allsburg from his book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

I used the pictures and the kids loved it. (Here is a slideshow of pictures)

As I looked around a bit more, I realized there wasn't a whole lot that was labeled for pictures prompts (at least that would come up in a google search). Then by some luck, I stumbled upon MNBC's Week in Pictures. This is a great site, because they give you some amazing pictures every week. Here are a few I used with my students:

The site will give you captions and a little context, but you can also just have the kids make up what they think is happening or is going to happen.

All you have to do is save the pictures, and project them (I used my Ipod). The kids will have a blast. It is open ended so the creativity can explode.

Enjoy. Let me know your results.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Inspiring Movies for Teachers

Last night my wife was watching one of my favorite movies, Pay it Forward. One of the most important dialogues takes place when 11 year old Trevor goes for his first day of school. He meets his new teacher, Mr. Simonet, who gives all the kids a challenge to change the world. The line I love is when Trevor shoots back a quick, "What have you ever done to change the world?" Mr. Simonet is taken aback and replies with mumbling reply about showing up. This is an all around great movie to inspire teachers because it shows how the words we speak can make a difference.
I love teacher movies, and I decided to give you a list of ones that inspire me. These are not listed in order of value, they are just numbered for my sense of order.

1. Dead Poets Society (great scene below)

2. Pay it Forward
3. Freedom Writers
4. Antwone Fisher (this is not directly a teacher, but a counselor role. ALWAYS CHOKES ME UP!)
5. Half Nelson
6. Good Will Hunting (also kind of a counselor role)
7. Finding Forrester
8. The Hurricane
9. The Man Without a Face
10. The Great Debaters

These are my favorites? Got something to add to the list, leave a comment below.

Those Who Can't Read, Write.

I found this article and video quite interesting.

In my classroom it works out that those who read, stand out also as strong writers. The case shown above goes against this pattern of thought. It is amazing how the mind can adapt for deficiencies.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blasted Maslow!

"Why aren't you paying attention? This stuff is important, and you are going to need to know it!" This is the same speech I seem to give my students. The list of excuses is always growing, but two of the most common are:
  • "I'm hungry. How long until lunch?" (If we covered elapsed time already, I make them figure it out)
  • "I'm just too tired. ___x_____ kept me up last night. (x=little sister or brother, dog or cat, thunderstorm, or the popular belly ache)
As I was thinking about it, I realized that the kids are the living and breathing example of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Their excuses for not paying attention fall into the Physiological category, which is the first tier of needs. No wonder they aren't excited about the shortcut to find the area of a rectangle. Who cares about a topic sentence when your belly is growling and your eyelids are heavy!As I started to look over the whole pyramid I started to think maybe some of the categories are not so cut and dry anymore. With the rise of divorce, there is a blatant war against family stability. For many kids they have no framework for what family life looks like. They know every other weekends, ever other holidays, and birthday cards from far away parents with peace offering money. As this tier breaks down, it is only natural for everything else above to fall. Now more then ever kids are looking for love and belonging, and they desire connections. Look at the rise of social networking, along with the masses of text messages being sent. Kids want to be liked and known by others, and these two needs are becoming more and more prevalent. These are just a few changes I am seeing when I teach kids. I am sure there is more insight out there, and I would love to hear your thoughts.

What shifts or blurred lines of division do you see with kids today?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Perfect Reflection...

I was caught over guard this year by an amazing book. "32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny" by Phillip Done.

When our school librarian recommended it, I thought I should at least give it a shot. Little did I know that the book would send me into a weekend of page turning frenzy. I laughed in bed as my wife asked, "What did he say now?" I found myself crying as Mr. Done made connections with kids on the deepest of levels. As my year was coming to an end, I found myself connecting with his own end of the year thoughts. The book is so real, and jam packed with funny stories and reflections.

You will enjoy stories about "Miss America", "Rabbit Teeth" and his labeling of classroom styles. You can pick it up online for a few dollars. If you have read the book, please comment on your favorite part. If you have not read it, get off my blog and go get it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Before We Got Lost.....

I am a greenhorn.
I have only written about 80 weeks of lesson plans.
I have only written up two kids so far.
I am still shocked to be called, "Mom" or "Dad" by a student.
I am a novice.
I get sad when the last day of school is over.
I can get choked up teaching something I love.
I didn't know how much I was getting paid my first year.
I am such a beginner.
My time estimation for a lesson is still sub par.
My desk is sometime covered in kid art I feel bad about chucking.
I still think it would be pretty cool to teach year round.
I forget a kid is getting picked up and send him to the bus.
I check my mailbox and then spend half my planning talking to a colleague.
I am an infant in teacher years.

As I reflect on all the stuff that makes me so inexperienced, I realize that many of those things can and probably will change in a few years. Some of these things I hate to think about them changing. I fear I will lose some of my passion and become that robot teacher (regurgitating the same lessons and jokes year after year). I am afraid I will let it just become a job.

A Song is A Song is A Song....

If you're like me, you love music. I jam on the way to school and I play music in the background when the kids are working. Rarely does my music taste connect with their music taste. I wanted to change that, so I ventured to explore out some radio friendly (all they listen to) music and evaluate it for teaching content. I was surprise at what I found. Their music was full of similes, analogies, figurative language, adjectives, idioms, and so on. Then it hit me that I could using their music to reinforce the topics I needed to teach.

Here is an example of what I did:

Artist: Owl City
Song: Rugs from Me to You

We talked about similes for two days (read the book "Crazy Like a Fox") and did some partner work with filling in the blanks of a story.

Next we listened to the song twice (it is short).
Then the kids worked with a partner to underline any line that had to do with hair.
They also put a star by any simile.
Here are the lyrics:
Toupee or not toupee
That is the question
It refused to stay as it all turned grey;
William Shakespeare's receding hair
Please excuse the pun,
'It's hair today, gone tomorrow'
So be thankful
For what precious locks you have

Toupee or not toupee
That is the question
And by the way
I just gotta say
Thank the Lord I'm not going bald
And if I may quip
My curls and I
Are just like heaven
'Cause rest assured
There'll be no parting there

But should my head get bare like Friar Tuck
(Our chase to swallow)
It makes me smile
'Cause I know just what I'd do

Yeah if I had more wigs than I knew what to do with
I'd open a secondhand store
And if you ever went bald
You'd recall it
'Cause I'd cleverly call it
'Rugs From Me To You

Then we discussed as a whole group their findings. The kids loved the song because it was catchy and Owl City is on the radio. They found similes and worked with figurative language without realizing it.

Has anyone else had success teaching with a song? Post your ideas!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Can't! (Will Richardson Video)

I love and agree with what Will Richardson has to say in this video. I fully believe that this new paradigm shift in connectedness and networking is here to stay. I think it is changing the classroom whether we accept it or not. Here is where you respond. You are passionate and ready to roll out a plan of action using blogs, twitter, social bookmarking, and online video. When you get to school with your outline for the year, you realize everything you want to use is blocked. You have to make a request for approval. What do you say to the principal whose technology baths have only included email?

Glogster (edu) amazing!

Glogster (edu version)

I am extremely excited about the possibility of using this tool in my second grade class this year. I say possibly, because there is a high chance this amazing tool is blocked.

What do I love about it?

Kids can:
  • Create an amazing looking page with completely customizable backgrounds. Here is an example of one I created to introduce myself to my students.
  • Link almost anything you place on the page, including pictures, text, and graphics.
  • Easily embed their project on just about any page.
  • Place tags with their project to connect them with other similar glogs.
  • Easily incorporate animated graphics because they are include with the tool without using any code.
  • Do there project online (it's web-based) so there is nothing to download.
  • Access all their glogs through an easy to use dashboard (which include messaging, connections to classmates, comments, and simple data tracking).
Teachers can:
  • Create an entire class through their dashboard,
  • Subscribe to RSS feeds to track changes and updates.
  • Try the premium features free for a month and sign up to get loads of extra features.
  • Hit on Multiple Intelligences, Key in on Differentiated Instruction, Give freedom to Learning Styles, and Let Assessment lead the way.
Try it out and let me know what you think. I think you will be amazed at how much you can do.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Super Brain Yoga

Can you really believe this stuff?

Super Brain Yoga

This lady at the Autism camp I work at swears that it is helpful for the kids. So far she has gotten 1 kid out of 10 to do it correctly.

It seems like a bunch of rituals and craziness to me!

What are your thoughts?

A New Way of Motivating

I have only two years under my belt in this teaching world, so my opinion is warped and narrow (remember that!), but what if our whole system of motivation of wacky?! Check out Daniel Pink's video.

This is certainly not the perfect prescription of what needs to change, but it does point out thoughts for change. The first major change, and it is audacious for many to conceive, is that more money does not create better results. Think about how this works inside the teaching career. We get pay raises based on time and a few bumps for masters and doctors degree (that we have to get anyhow). Does that mean all the old experienced (greatly paid) and highly qualified teachers are not doing their best? Not at all, in fact many of them are doing amazing jobs because they work well in this style of work. The problem I see, and as the video shows, is that we could get even more results from our teachers if we would allow them to make creative decisions and products that benefit the whole. This leads me to the second major change. In our current model, there much space for a teacher to be creative in their class, but little space given to those teachers for making decisions that could effect and benefit the whole staff. We have too long depended on a top down leadership that selects the tools and modalities to be used and there is little input from the little man (like me). Are we getting a mere fraction from our teaching staff because we only motivate with dollars? What can be changed about the current system that would make this new motivation work?