Friday, October 2, 2015

Just Keep Learning

"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time." 

-Rabindranath Tagore

I am sure most of you have heard someone say, "...but that's the way I have always done it!" It's a classic refrain from people too stubborn to learn a new way. The problem with that mindset in education is that we are teaching kids to be prepared for a world that doesn't exist yet. Why not try something new?

Here is a resource that I would encourage you to try sometime this year. I offer a couple suggestions on how you might incorporate it into your routine but I would love to hear ideas on how you use it in your class.

Classroom by Google

Google Classroom is part of the Google Apps for Education package. This feature allows you to create virtual classrooms where you can post assignments, hand out "worksheets", and collect assignments. It is a great resource for teaching students to become more independent. I am using this in my class to achieve the blended learning approach I am aiming for. The app is really easy to set up and essentially creates an invite only webpage for your class.  You can access Classroom at or from the Classroom link on our start portal.

Idea for Kindergarten through Second Grade:
  • Set up a classroom as an easy to update webpage that students can go to for links to games, videos, and activities that you want them to do in class.

Idea for Third through Fifth Grade:
  • Create a classroom for literature circles or differentiated groups.  As a teacher you can post questions and students can have discussions within this class.
Please feel free to ask questions and send me feedback on what your experience with Classroom is.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A New Chapter...

A New Chapter...

There are many analogies to describe life and living.  Each one speaks to us and resonates within us in different ways.  We all have our favorite authors; Shakespeare, Lincoln, Confucius, Eminem.  They each weave with words a different take on the life we lead.  We all have our favorites...

To me, Forrest Gump's Mama said it best.  Everyday we encounter something new.  Sometimes it is hard to sink our teeth into.  Sometimes it is hard to swallow.  At times life can be bitter sweet, smooth and silky, or even a little nutty.  All we can do is make the best of today and enjoy the hope that overall, life will be pretty sweet.

The past couple of years teaching as a profession has been the chocolate covered maggot hidden in our box. We have each been challenged with finding ways to persevere and continue doing what is best for our students. For many teachers these years have been wrought with self-reflection about the direction of their life and career.  Some have changed grades, sought new schools, or left the profession altogether. This has been my existence these last several years.  I have struggled to find my place in this world. This year is no different but now I find myself with new hope.

In my new role as the technology teacher, I find myself with the exciting challenge of teaching our students how not only to use technology, but how it can enhance or lives, our learning, and how it can be used as a voice to the world. I want our students to know that they can use technology to make an impression on the world.  It is a tool that will allow anyone to see that they are the best and brightest. 

I also hope that I can use this year to help my colleagues learn new tools and how to make better use of the technology they have. This blog was an old tool of mine that I found a lot of satisfaction in creating. It is my hope that I can regularly update it again with new and useful tips, ideas, tools that can be easily incorporated into your daily teaching. Together we can raise the bar and achieve the excellence that we all know that we possess. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

...the beatings will continue until moral improves!

I know its been a long time, my apologies to those that care.  This blog is on my short list of things to get back on top of and hopefully I can make time for it in the near future.

I found a blog post on Edutopia that I think speaks to many of us that work in public schools.  My driving force for getting through this difficult year has been keeping my focus on the kids.  Attitude plays a huge role and as hard as it is sometimes, I always try to make people smile and bring some levity to situations.  Summer is almost here, breathe deep and focus on the kids. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Viral Bereavement

For years now parents and teachers have groaned at the thought of their children using social media sites like Twitter or Facebook.  It is often assumed that the kids are simply wasting time posting weird "duckface" pictures or writing about what they had for dinner.  Though businesses and politicians have embraced social media and used it in effective ways, the assumption has remained that teens are mostly using it in devious ways.

This past weekend there was an accident on I-87 near Clifton Park, New York.  Four teens, driving home from a Siena basketball game were hit by another driver who was reportedly under the influence of alcohol.  Unfortunately, two of the teens died and the other two were seriously injured.  A senseless tragedy that regrettably plays out every day across the nation.  What has struck me is how the students in the area have dealt with the grief they are feeling.  The full story here...

Using social media to express grief is nothing new.  Even my uncle who recently lost his wife to cancer has used Facebook as an outlet of his thoughts and feelings.  But area students went one step further.  They decided they needed an outlet; a ray of hope.  So they took to the web, Twitter to be specific, and started a campaign to brighten the day of the two survivors of the accident.  Using the hashtags, #tebowcallmatt and #missycallbailey, they reached out to the idols of the two injured students to ask them for help.  It worked astonishingly fast.  By nights end, mere hours after they started, they declared mission accomplished.

One of the first things people should do to deal with grief is to find support.  Social media makes it easy for teens to lean on each other and let out their emotions.  Parents should also help the child find other ways to deal with the emotions they are feeling.  In this case, the students found an outlet of their own by using Twitter and Facebook to rally behind their friends.

Sometimes as educators we forget to look beyond the seemingly obvious and see the possibilities.  While many of us would have recommended that they teens express themselves by organizing fundraisers or writing a journal, they took it upon themselves to do what they know and reach a goal.  They took one small step to ease their pain and allowed their friends a small moment of joy in their pain.  We should always be looking for ways to learn from them, they are our future after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why we teach...

The seed of who I am today was planted about 23 years ago. On September 7, 1988 I was on top of the world, ready to start my life as a fifth grader with who I thought was going to be the best teacher in the world. I nearly pissed myself with excitement when I found out at the end of fourth grade that Mr. Lansing was going to be my teacher. I remember practically bribing my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Towne to put me in his class. My brothers and sisters all had him and I was sure it was my destiny to be in his class.
September 8th, 1988; the rug was pulled out from under me. Oh sure, he was funny and made things interesting but who wants a teacher that has expectations for you. He gave us homework and made us think. How dare he. September dragged into October, through November and then December. I remember my parents coming home from conferences in early December and expressing their disappointment that I was not doing my homework or, as Mr Lansing told them, living up to my potential. What potential? I sure didn't feel like I had any potential. I knew that I would just be a warehouse worker like my brother or work some other menial job like my parents. They told me that he expected great things from me. GREAT THINGS? Whatever, whats my punishment?
In January, Mr Lansing started keeping me after school for not doing my homework. I really didn't care much because I always walked home though the alleys to an empty house and just sat in front of the TV eating Doritos and drinking Coke. At least here there was other people around. While I was doing my work, he would talk to me about dreaming of possibilities and how smart I was. I knew I didn't feel smart but little by little he gave me confidence and the encouragement soaked in. He never gave up on me and taught me to never give up on myself.
It has been a long road to get where I am now. There are lots of people who helped shape who I am. I have many memories of my teachers, some good and some bad. I remember things that happened in class and consequences for my actions. I never did get any better about doing my homework but I did get better at how I feel about myself. Mr. Lansing helped me be a little bit better of a student but most of all he made me feel like a better person.
Most of you in education can relate to my story. There was probably a teacher at some point in your life that touched your life in some way. Many of us went into education because we wanted to pay it forward and be a positive influence in children's lives. As we go through the daily grind of teaching; testing, data, testing, data, behaviors, testing, data, etc....remember, you came to teaching because you felt a deeper purpose. To accomplish something as profound as changing a life, you need patience, understanding, and the understanding that you may never actually see the fruits of your labor. Take with you the small victories and keep your head high. All you can do is plant the seed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Virtual Book Clubs...part 2

On to part two of our discussion about changing the way we talk about books.  So you may wondering how you can easily start and maintain a virtual book club that will benefit students.  There are many ways that I can conceive to go about this and two that I have actually tested.

If you maintain a google site, adding a page of announcements creates what amounts to a blog.  You can post questions or opinions about the book you are sharing.  Your groups members can comment on those posts to add to the discussion.  The issue with this for me in the past was giving permission for those in your group to edit the page.  Recent changes in Sites now allows owners to give permission to individual pages and not an entire site.  I have yet to test this new format and therefore do not recommend going this route for most individuals.

Google groups however is a great way to maintain a secure location. Groups can be set up and users added and deleted very easily.  Any member of the group can post and comment.  The best part is that you can have notifications sent to your e-mail letting you know when anybody makes a post or comment.  Several staff members in my building used groups last year for reading response.  They all found it easy and a good way to make more connections with their students.  It does not take long to get  a group set up and students connect with it very easily.  If your students can check and respond to an e-mail, then they can use groups.  Within my district, an e-mail to the help desk is all that is needed to get a group started.  The IT team will set up the group and I can give you a brief over view in person how to do the moderation.  If enough interest is generated, we could even set up a short after school session to get going as a team.

I realize that we are all stressed and overwhelmed.  This is really a small thing that can make a big difference.  We as educators need to connect to our students in as many ways and as often as we can.  No longer can we afford to make excuses.  We became teachers to change and improve lives.  Can you spare five minutes in the evening to enrich the lives of a few kids?

In the words of the late, legendary Steve Jobs, "THINK DIFFERENT."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Virtual Book Clubs

So I guess I better start by making my basic opinions clear before moving on.  I firmly believe that the concept of guided reading is sound and beneficial to students as a whole.  It is very good at giving students the small group interaction and on point instruction that they need to become good at reading.  Also the opinions expressed are mostly directed to those teaching reading in upper levels and not those teaching beginning readers.  That being said, what I believe guided reading is not good at is making students good at thinking about books.  The point of guided reading is to meet students at their level and teach them the skills they need to move up to the next level.  What is lacking is meaningful discussion about books.  Some will disagree and say it depends on how you approach the discussions during your group time.  Lets be real, it is like pulling teeth trying to have a deep meaningful discussion about a book that is 8 pages long.  There simply is not enough meat in it to go much further than the prescribed skill for that particular lesson.  Reading groups, as a stand alone, kill the love of reading.  Those that love reading love it for the way it makes them feel and the invigorating discussions that can come from a shared experience.

"Okay LaBarge, get off that horse and show us what you are getting at!"

Another reality facing teachers is that there is not enough time in a school day to do all of the things that we would like to do.  A fun, relaxing literature circle is just not in the schedule.  How can we offer students the chance to interact about literature outside the regular schedule?  We need to meet them where they spend there lives...the internet.  A virtual book club can give students a chance to read real books that are at there level, and teachers a chance to pose real questions and have real discussions about how books tie into our lives and the world.  The beauty is that you don't even have to run the group.  Anybody who shares an interest in reading can share the experience of a good book.  Invite your administrator to run a group.  Get the nurse to join in.  Instead of running a group in your class, partner up with another grade or even another school.

Tomorrow I will lay out how to get this up and running.  It is actually easier than it sounds.  In the mean time, pick out some good books you want to share and think big.

We can change the world...