Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Desert Island Question

I have always loved the desert island question. It goes something like....suppose you were going to be stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life, what is the one _insert noun__ you would want to have?
I really like this question because if the person in question truly considers their answer, they will most likely reveal some stuff about their inner character. (Kind of like the guy on This American Life show the other day that asked people to pick a super power: Flight or Invisibility?)
So I wanted to pose a question for my readers, it goes like this. Your classroom is stuck on a desert island, you only have one classroom computer (hey this sounds familiar!) that can only pick up two websites. What are the two vital websites you would want to have for your students to use?

Pic CC elvispayne

Thursday, August 26, 2010

$200 to Spend: PLN HELP!

So I just got word that I have $200 to spend outright on something for my classroom. I tried to crawl through my brain and remember things I had once wished for, but I drew a blank. Once I overcame my blankness I realized that putting this to my PLN will generate a lot more ideas. Can you help me? I would really like to add some kind of piece of tech., but realize that $200 doesn't go all that far (p.s. my class has: 1 TV, 3 ancient computers, and an overhead).

Please post a comment or use the hashtag on twitter: #200spend

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Research Based Mania: Education Perfection

I must keep reminding you that I am extremely new to the teaching world, therefore my view is very limited, take what I say with a grain of salt!
One thing that keeps coming back to me as striking is the amount of money and research that goes into education. When I load up my Tweetdeck, I get a whole load of articles that my great PLN have posted. The amount articles, blogs, podocasts, etc. focus on we should and should not be doing as teachers is a bit overwhelming. There such a push for education perfection that best practices have already change from what they told me in college three years ago (2010 is a major time of change). How does one keep their head on straight?
The obvious major check and balance is that this reform must be researched based, and not just an opinion (just like this post!). This makes me wonder who is keeping the researchers in check? The skewing of results is so easy!
Sidenote: I confess I manipulated a science fair project once in 7th grade. Does Gatorade effect mice? Control Group: A mouse running on a wheel that drank water is timed. Experimental Group: A mouse running on a wheel that drank Gatorade. How did I get the results I wanted? I let the mouse with water run a bit, then held the wheel and he got off. I let the mouse with Gatorade run his heart out. Sorry Mrs. Tumisto! I cheated.
Could the same manipulation be replicate for the educational researcher (kids on Gatorade, joke!)? What it funding and his job depend on his findings? What if he has already contracted to write a book about the findings he believes will come? I don't know anyone else, but being a man I have trouble with staying focused when there are so many directions to go. Anyone other new teachers feeling this too?
This post is not in anyway to say that I do not believe in searching for best practice and implementing it. I am the ambitious ready to try it guy at the in-service meetings (the vet's sometimes despise me!). My only reason for this rant is that I believe we can easily overwhelm teachers with so many things to focus on, that we have trouble focusing on anything. (Kind of like how we have a zillion PA Standards)
The #EDCHAT: What are the essential skills needed by today's educator was a nice THINKTANK. I would like to see the most common skills boiled down to a top 10, and then have some research done on them (with a close eye on the guy with the PHD sarcasm).
What is your main focus (or top two focuses) as a Teacher?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Countdown to Action

It is right about this time every year that I get a weird feeling. With the school year just about to start, I suddenly ask myself, "Do I remember how to teach?" (This same thing happens over the long Christmas break). My wife had the same feeling about returning to work after 6 weeks off. The funny thing is that we always reassure each other with, "As soon as you step in the door, it will all come back." That statement proves to be true again and again, and I can't wait for it to happen. I just love to teach.
As I think about this coming year, I feel recharged and equipped with a renewed focus. The two classes I took this summer have given me a boost to apply summarizing and a much needed crash course in technology. This will be my third year in, and in many ways it feels like a paradigm shift. I do not expect that "loss of how to do this" feeling to slip away, but it is time to move beyond just survival (that is what they told me to do the first year). I'm ready to unbolt the training wheels and get moving.
Can you reflect on your first years of teaching? What triggered your movement beyond survival? How many years in before you really took ownership and thrived? Please share!

P.S. I am on vacation. The beach has been part of the recharge!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Showing Hope

One of my goals in teaching has always been to give every child a sense that they are making a difference. This will be my third year that my students will donate to the following charities: Tom's Shoes, Central Asia Institute, Heifer, and BloodWaterMission. What I have discovered in my class is that all kids can learn to be giving, and not surprising is that the poorest students are often the most charitable. I believe it is those with little that can most relate with those that have even less. The way my students have been giving to the first three organizations is by earning money through spelling. Here is a brief layout of how it works (WARNING: This will cost you! It's worth it though!)
1. My class has a weekly spelling list of 15 words.
2. At the end of each week the students are tested on SpellingCity.
3. After all the tests are done and printed, I then give three oral bonus words.
4. These bonus words are usually connected to other things we are learning in class. The bonus words are used to replace any word they have wrong. (Example: -1 Spelling Word + 1 Correct Bonus Word= 100%). Anything correct bonus words over 100% are banked (I keep a list with a running record for each kid).
5. Anytime a student reaches 10 saved bonus words, they are given $5 to donate to one of the first three charities. We keep a graph in the room that shows the goals we are working towards. ($55 for Toms, $120 to buy a goat from Heifer, and CAI is an open goal).
6. When we reach a goal, we send the money out and usually get back a certificate. The kids love it, and it gives legs to their knowledge.

The other organization, BloodWaterMission is collected by keeping a big empty water jug in our room all year that the kids can toss money into. It usually collects about $140 dollars over the school year. ($1 = 1 year of water for 1 African. Astonishing Fact!) We also tried putting the jug in the hall this past year to get the rest of the school involved. This year we will be looking for new ways to get more school involvement.

I also found some Toms videos, read some books related to giving a goat (Beatrice's Goat, Give a Goat), and read Listen to the Wind to my students. The more ways you connect the kids to resources, people, and other classes, the more the kids will take ownership.

Feel free to adapt and improve. Find what works with your students and let them run with it. If you already are doing something that connects your students with giving, please share.

Keep Showing Hope!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pennsylvania Teacher Chat

I am starting a new hashtag chat in Twitter. I am looking for Pennsylvania teachers to join up.
1. You need a twitter account. (follow me: dalmatiasecond)
2. You should get Tweetdeck and add the column with your twitter account and one with the search: #PATeach

What will it be about? I am planning on running a weekly question that you can respond to.

This may also be a great opportunity to link up with other PA Teachers.

Tell your friends, #PATeach.

See you there!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tips for Starting the Year Right: Interactive!

Above the Noise: New Teacher to Teacher Guide

I am heading into my third year as a second grade teacher. The past two years have brought a lot of change in terms of staff. With a lot of people coming and going, it can be hard to build trust in colleagues. The truth is, you can't afford to be an outsider. What I have found is that sometimes it takes putting your neck out a bit to help others before they will trust you. The danger in doing this is worth it. If you think teaching is a solo effort, you are probably in the wrong field. You may work in school district that is full of gossip, and where things seem divided like the Hatfield and McCoys but you have to realize you are there for a reason. Here a few tips to start building some connections:
  1. Avoid building close relationships with those that talk about other people. They are most likely talking about you when you are not there.
  2. Find one or two people that love their job, and invest their best in their student. These people will always bring out the best in you.
  3. Never ever join sides in a battle against another group of teachers. Divisions never lead to a better work environment.
  4. Don't be afraid to spend some time with co-workers outside of work. People are easier to connect with outside of the work place.
  5. Keep your door open.
  6. Eat in the teacher's lounge. Even if it is full of gossip and cheap shots, be the one above the noise. People will notice and eventually you should find a person to connect with.
There are many other things you can do to build connections, but hopefully this will get you started. Got a great idea to add? Leave a comment.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Best Sites to Connect with Other Classes

If you are like me, you have big dreams of building an awesome connection with another classroom (maybe in your state or even around the world), and having it inspire your students. You dream of them collaborating on projects, emailing or writing letters, sharing their culture, and learning from each other. This stuff is all possible, but sometimes it is hard to find the place to build these connections. Here is a list (you might want to bookmark this post or each link) to get you started (this is not exhaustive in the least):
You should be able to connect with someone through one of these sites. I know last school year, my second grade students connected with the eIditarod, Trees Around the World, and Write On... all from connections I found on the above sites.

Have a great site to add? Leave a comment and I will add it to the list.