Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where Are the Parents?

I'm sitting in my room enjoying the peace and quiet, but at the same time I'm disappointed I'm not inundated by parents wanting to talk to me. It's parent/teacher conference time, but you'd never know it by looking at the empty hallways. I know it is still early in the day, but over the course of my 23+ year teaching career, I've noticed my conference numbers are decreasing dramatically. It seems that the draw of attending conferences is dwindling with time.

Is it possible that giving parents online access to their student's grades is sending the message that attending conferences isn't necessary anymore? I love the idea that parents can get up-to-date information on their student's progress simply by going to a website, but that face-to-face time with teachers is still important. There are things that need to be discussed that don't appear in a letter grade or percentage. I love having parents sit down with me so that I can encourage and uplift them - after all, I only have angels for students. An added benefit to having that face-to-face conversation is that it builds a connection with parents. It gives them the opportunity to put a face with a name. After a parent leaves my room, I become less of the stereotypical teacher (we all have preconceived ideas about what a teacher is) and more of a human being.

Attending conferences sends a message to students. It says, "Hey, Son (or daughter), I care about how you're doing in school." When students know that their parents care and are checking up on them, they typically work harder and do better. When they know that someone is watching out for them, they want to do what they can to prove themselves worthy of that caring. So if that's the case, what message does NOT attending send? Therein lies my discouragement.

Come on parents...don't leave me AND YOUR CHILD hanging. Get involved. Show them that you care and that a good education is important.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mid-Term Already?

I cannot believe we are already midway through the first trimester of this school year. Things are going really well and the days seem to fly by. It is encouraging to see my students coming to class excited to learn new things.

Each day this past week has been a crazy and chaotic one. It was "Homecoming Week" and each day was assigned a special theme. A great number of students and staff participated, and I enjoyed seeing the creative ways they carried out each theme.  

This week my 8th grade students began working on their first big project - Dream Vacation - and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching them embrace the project full force. It is a collaboration project that requires them to break down a daunting assignment into small, manageable pieces. They were a little unsure of themselves at first, but once they found their groove, they soared! It was awesome to listen to their conversations and to see them work together. An added benefit of the project was seeing them make the connection between their "dream vacation" and an actual vacation. Once they started figuring the cost of food, gas, and lodging, I heard more than one student say, "Wow! This is really expensive! I feel sorry for my parents!"  They have worked really hard this week, and I can't wait to see their presentations on Monday!

Since I teach a second class - of 6th & 7th graders - I'd better be an equal opportunity blogger. These classes are looking at the more advanced features of PowerPoint. It was quite a challenge teaching classes with such a wide variety of skills knowledge, but we managed to get through it without drawing blood or tears (from me). Having such diversity in one class makes finding a good balance difficult. But I have awesome students who are quick to help those who struggle to keep up. It makes my job so much easier when a student says, "I can help him do that!" If everyone in the world shared that quality, we would have a much more fruitful society.

So, as I look back and reflect on this week, I find a lot to smile about. No wonder the weeks are flying by...time flies when you're having fun.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Overwhelmed But Content

I'm running a day behind! This post should have been completed on Friday, but things are a bit overwhelming right now. I'm hoping that once this trimester ends and a new one is started, things will settle down just a tad. For now, however, I'm doing good to keep myself one day ahead of my students. This "writing new curriculum every year" thing is starting to get a bit tiresome. I'm ready to teach the curriculum I write for more than one year before I have to change it again. I guess there is a plus to all this changing though; I don't have to worry about it becoming mundane.

I have discovered one other great advantage to teaching a new curriculum --- each day I'm learning something new. As I research project ideas or begin a new task, I'm finding at least one new thing I didn't know before. That fact excites me, yet scares me at the same time. Technology is changing so fast and at times can be pretty complex, so it comes as no surprise that I encounter something new quite often. That new knowledge is what keeps my brain functioning. If letting the brain become stagnant is a contributor to alzheimer's disease, it looks like I won't have to worry about getting it for a while. My brain is anything BUT stagnant at this point in time.

Writing this blog and reflecting on each week is a constant reminder to me how important my job is for my students. I can't let myself fall into a rut or keep teaching the same thing over and over because their future (and in essence, mine) is far too important. These are the adults of tomorrow, therefore it is important to see that they are educated well. After all, they will be the ones making the decisions when I'm old and gray. I love my job, and I love my students (even though there are days when I question "why"). Because of this, I want to make sure that I give them 100% of my absolute very best. Yes, I'm overwhelmed at times, but I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Moving Forward

Last week came and went before I was ready, and now I'm playing catch-up (not to be confused with ketchup - tee hee hee)! It was such a strange week because Monday was a holiday and Friday was an all-day-in-service day for teachers. That meant I only had students for three days! THREE days! Oh to be a kid again! I could easily get used to three-day-work weeks! So here it is, the end of another week, and I'm trying to reflect on two weeks instead of my usual one.

All in all the year is going quite smoothly so far. Almost too smoothly that it is somewhat scary.  Sure, we had some technology frustrations, but over all, things are going quite well. I think it helps that a good percentage of my students have had me before. Those kids know what I expect of them and that makes my job so much easier. It can't continue can it? Isn't that wishful thinking? I've taught long enough that I know a dream when I'm in one, so I keep waiting for the hammer to fall.

Each day is bringing about a whole new set of challenges. The change we made from having student accounts on the district server to having student accounts stored on individual flash drives is certainly solving most of the log in issues, but it is definitely creating a whole new set of problems. If I hear "I forgot my flash drive" one more time, I cannot be held responsible for my actions. I have tried to equate not bringing a flash drive with not wearing pants, but even than analogy hasn't phased them. What part of "you HAVE to have it" do they not understand?

Along with having to face a few technology issues, writing curriculum on the fly is another great challenge. I'm the type of person who likes to know, well in advance, what is going on ahead of time. I don't like feeling unprepared. But at the of each day I find myself scrambling for something to do in class the next day. Just typing that sentence makes me shudder! That is so unlike me. But I'm managing. And so far I'm pretty pleased with what I've come up with. At least I haven't lost the ability to think creatively. I just take it one day at a time. I'll keep moving forward. And when I get to the end, I know I will have done the very best that I possibly could for my students and for myself.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Jack of all Trades and Master of None?

Is it possible to try too many new things at one time? I'm beginning to think the answer to this question may be a resounding "YES!" It could be tragic to try too many tech tools before getting a few good ones down well. One of the last things I want to do is to become a "Jack of all Trades and Master of None."

This year I'm not only writing curriculum for two...count them...TWO new computer classes, but I'm also implementing several new tools with those classes (Edmodo, TeacherBlogIt, Google Sites, etc). I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew. The kids seem to be picking up on the new tools nicely, however need a lot of prompting. But, "the night is still young." Hopefully they will come around. My concern is that the effectiveness of the tools will die out after the newness wears off (after all, creating a habit can be a difficult thing). I guess the outcome of that is up to me. It won't die out if I don't let it. One thing's for sure though, I definitely don't want to dive in head first and then hit the bottom. I want to dive in and SWIM for all I'm worth! I guess time will tell me whether my endeavors have been successful or hit bottom. And if, at the end of the trimester, I'm still unsure about my successes...all I'll have to do is ask my students. They are often painfully truthful about such matters. Sigh.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Week One Under Our Belt

Well, it has been a wild ride this week, but all in all it has been a hugely successful one. The first week of school is often times a rough one for both students and teachers. Readjusting our minds and bodies to the rigorous school schedule can sometimes be very challenging and tiring. But we made it through week one with very few problems. Oh, there were those times of frustration when technology didn't work the way we wanted or expected, but on a whole, things went really well. I don't know about my students, but I know I am ready for a relaxing weekend.

Looking to the future of my classes, I see great days ahead...

 My 8th graders are discovering that I mean business and am not kidding when I say we have a lot of "stuff" to squeeze into a 12 week course. We don't have time to dawdle, and we have to keep things moving if we hope to get everything covered before the trimester ends.

My 7th graders are quickly remembering the things I expect from them. (Most 7th graders had class with me last year so know what they need to do to survive.) What they ARE having to learn, however, is what it is like having a few 6th grade students mixed into the class. These 6th graders didn't have me last year so don't know all the "ins" and "outs" of my classes. As a result, my 7th graders are having to learn patience while I bring the 6th grades up to speed.

My 6th grade students are catching on quickly. I really appreciate the way they listen and strive to keep up. They are at a definite disadvantage because they have not had the experience of being in my classes yet, whereas some of their classmates (7th graders) have. However, they have figured out that they can rely on the other students in the class to help answer questions when I'm not able to get to them right away. They'll be fine and will soon be right up there with the 7th graders. One negative I do see occurring with them, however, is their lack of keyboarding training. This lack of skill is really going to slow them down if they don't find a way to increase their skills. A suggestion I have for them is to find some sort of keyboarding game on the Internet so that they can practice. Practice! Practice! I would like to enlist the help of parents in this area. If students don't learn the proper technique for keyboarding, they will suffer in the long run.

I am truly looking forward to the upcoming weeks. We are going to continue to work hard and refine our 21st Century technology skills.

Now....go enjoy the weekend!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Changing Once Again

Someone once said, "Change is good." And I believe in most cases that is true. But enough is enough already. After teaching language arts for 18 years, I was asked to change what I teach to encompass an entirely different curriculum - technology. That was 5 years ago. Since then, I've changed and/or rewritten my curriculum every year to accommodate the curriculum decisions made by my school district. And true to form, this year proved to be no different. Once again I found myself changing my curriculum to fit the needs of students in this ever-changing world of technology.

Allow me to introduce the two NEW technology courses I am now teaching...21st Century Skills and Technology Communications.

21st Century Skills is a required class for all 8th grade students. The purpose of this class is to prepare students for their upcoming experience at Oskaloosa High School where a 1:1 computer/student program is currently being implemented. After lengthy conversations with the high school instructors, I developed this course around the skills they said they want students to have when they arrive at the high school as 9th graders.

Technology Communicationsis an elective course open to 6th and 7th graders. The focus of this course will be to look at how we communicate ideas through the various technologies available today. We can't possibly look at all the methods available, but hopefully we can look at a variety of methods wide enough to give even the pickiest of communicators a selection of methods they can use to communicate their ideas.