Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Eve of a New Year

On the eve of another school year I wonder what feelings I will be left with at the end of the year.  What will be the memories that I share?  The ones that make me laugh?  Cry?  Get angry?  What will this year's class be known for?  What will they remember me by?

Last year's class is the one that dared.  The one that spoke out honestly and got stronger because of it.  The kids that loved school and loved me and I loved them back, in awe of their energy and enthusiasm.  I wonder what this year will bring, I wonder what will move me, what i will share with you.  I cannot wait to find out.

F in Exams Book Give Away - Because It Made Me Think

Driving home the other night my 2 year old daughter was saying goodnight to the animals we passed.  "Goodnight cows.  Goodnight horsey."  Just one of those moments.  Then she told me proudly, "Mommy, the chickens sleeping."  I, knowing that she loves making clucking sounds, asked her "What do the chickens say when they sleep, Thea?"  Her answer?  "HOOOOONK!"  And with that my daughter failed her first test ever.

In honor of my continued fight against inane tests that serve no purpose other than to seemingly torture students, I am excited to be giving away "F in Exams" by Richard Benson as part of their blog tour for the book.  This collection of funny and strange student answers on actual exams will at first make you laugh, and then hopefully make you think.  All you have to do to enter is to share your funny/sad story about tests or exams, or even your opinion and leave me some way to contact you.  The giveaway will run from today to Sunday the 4th, where a winner will be selected.

From the book:

I have to admit my favorite was the following exchange:
"Claire was well prepared for her interview.  Explain how Claire may have prepared herself for the interview."
Answer:  had a bath and put on her lucky pants.

Ahh yes, the lucky pants, who hasn't had those.

So I am happy to be part of the giveaway for this book. Laugh about it, cry about it, but read it and think about it.

Tomorrow the give away continues, so head over to It's Not All Flowers and Sausages to enter there as well.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Dear Administrators - Will You Write to Me Instead?

Dear Administrators and Administrators To Be,
I know that some of you out there read this blog and for that I am very grateful.  I don't often address you directly because I don't feel it is my place but I have a simple plea as some of you embark on a new year.  An idea to plant, to spread and hopefully that can grow into a movement.  Something so simple, yet powerful, that we all should have realized a long time ago.

Many of us are in the midst of the back to school hustle in North America.  As excitement builds, time grows sparse and meetings pile up.  The other day I read a post from Lyn Hilt, a principal you should connect with if you don't already know her, and something she stated rung so true to me that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  She writes in her post about her in-service day "It's Kind of Magical"

“Wait, Lyn, what about the laundry list of informational items you have to share with teachers on Day 1? Schedules, lunch and recess routines, important dates, blah, blah, blah?” I’m blessed with a faculty full of teachers who are capable of reading print.

See Lyn discovered something powerful.  We teachers can read, in fact, many of us are quite proficient readers and pay better attention to written information than to spoken words.  Many of us even tell our students' parents that we prefer to communicate via email because it gives us time to digest, to process, and to reflect, while also providing a paper trail for all of our communication.  So what Lyn did, when she placed all of that important information for her teachers into a Google document was a huge step in the right direction; cutting out the time to tell teachers things that they can just as easily read on their own.

You see, people in education seem to be talkers, not all, but many, and so what happens at some of these meetings is that they drown in stories or longwinded explanations where really an email could have sufficed.

So dear administrators, as you plan for a new year or continue the one you are in, ask yourself whether what you need to say can be communicated in writing?  Can it be shared in a blog post for your school?  Can it be sent in an email?  A newsletter?  Or a Google doc for continued collaboration?  Can you spare your words and leave us time to collaborate instead?  Will you give your staff the gift of time to solve problems, share learning or even just cut out staff meetings (it has been done successfully)?  Will you go away from being the sage on the stage at meetings and welcome in more time for learning opportunities instead?

Lyn did it and so can you.   I wish you good luck and remember to keep it brief.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Try It

I can't...But then...What if...I don't think....This won't....All words used by educators as we try new things.  What if we just gave it a shot?

What if, instead of coming up with reasons of how it might fail, get messy, not work - we just tried it?

Then our words would actually speak the truth and not just our assumption.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Passion for Fashion - My Secret Blog is Revealed

Recently, in a "More than 140" interview my friend Matt made me reveal a little secret, something that those who know me face to face could have told you but that I rarely discuss in an education sense because it seems to not relate; I am obsessed with fashion.  And by obsessed I do mean a little unhealthy, a little obsessive, and a little time consuming.  And yet, it is a huge part of me.  So I figured I would come out with my secret; I have a fashion blog with outfit inspiration based on my own wardrobe.  No, don't laugh at me here, it all is connected to being a teacher.

I think teachers have been placed in a box by the fashion industry of the world, or at least in America.  For some reason we don't get featured very often as being fashionable or even well dressed and yet many teachers are.  But there are days when I get in a slump, or when the alarm goes off late, or when I am just not in the mood to figure anything out, so I started a blog to remind me of what to wear.  Now some of these outfits are not suited for school, but some of them are.  I try to keep things cheap because let's face it I am on a very measly salary, and also fashion forward.  So here is my big reveal, my fashion blog, poor og rich.  Please don't laugh at me.


A Lesson from "Awakened"

Words.  Big, small, meaningful, meaningless, words.  Everywhere we go words bring power, attention, and direction and yet they are just words.  Words by themselves are powerless.  Words are just letters jumbled together in a recognizable pattern and yet words hurt, words incite, words sadden and uplift.  Words make us feel loved, respected, listened to.  Words make us doubt ourselves, as teachers, as human beings.  Words are power.

We give that power to words.  Angela Watson reminded me of that.  Words by themselves cannot hurt us, we allow them to.  We open up the possibility for anyone to criticize because of the strength we give their words.  If you remove the power from the words you will see that they are nothing without it.

Reclaim your words.

PS: If you want to experience this book for yourself, here's your chance!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Giveaway: "Awakened - Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching"

I am very excited to host my first ever giveaway!  Angela Watson, who's mindset is an inspiration to me, was kind enough to send me a copy of her new book "Awakened - Change Your mindset to Transform Your Teaching" to read.  I loved the book and its message of positivity and the choices we make in our minds so I knew I wanted to pass it on, so rather than just my local PLN benefitting, I thought "Why not pass it on to you guys?"

This book is a great read if you feel you have hit a slump in your mindset or even if you are on path to more positivity, Angela does a great job relating her own story and the realizations she made and then helping you transform your mindset as well.  I particularly enjoyed her small steps to overcoming negative self-doubt and how to take control of your feelings.  Another thing I enjoyed was how many of the situations I could relate to even though I am an optimist myself, there are still those moments where we get sucked in and carried down a path of doubt, low self-esteem and negativity.  Angela does not present her book as a surefire quick method but more of a journey with highs and lows along the way.  Her stories were relatable on so many level and the book was easy to read.  (One note: Angela does speak of her religious breakthrough and I am not religious but still believed in her message of taking control of oneself.  So you do not have to be religious to appreciate this book.)

The giveaway is easy; leave a comment (with your email or some way to contact you) giving me either your own mantra for positivity, a story, or a reason for why I should send the book to you.  I will end the giveaway on Sunday and then alert the lucky winner.   I am happy to share this fantastic book with other readers.

A Promise or Two for the New Year

Every year, I make promises to myself of what the year ahead will look like.  Every year I promise to take better care of myself as I get all consumed by the lives of my students.  I promise to get more sleep, eat healthier, stress less, worry less, and smile, smile smile.

What I do has a profound effect on the students I teach and this year I get to teach the lives of more than 70 students since my teammates and I will be switching the kids up for math and reading.  I know that what I choose to do with myself will be translated into action in the classroom.  So kids, I promise to be there.  I promise to smile and laugh because I just can't help it.  I promise to be fair.

I promise to take the time to listen to you and not jump to conclusions.  I promise to make you feel safe and welcome.  I promise to not punish and still reward you with time and togetherness when it fits.  To let you speak and not be the sage on the stage.  I promise to learn with you, from you, and not just to you.

I promise to change my mind when it makes sense and to admit when I am wrong.  To get my sleep so that I am not crabby and to feel good about myself.  I promise to care about you and your life outside of school, taking an interest and remembering what you tell me.  I promise to keep learning at school as much as possible because you deserve time off as well.

I promise to give you my time, fully and undivided, and I promise to treat you like my children, because that is what you are 8 hours of the day - mine.  I promise to treat you with respect and dignity and not dismiss you as just another id.  Your voice matters as does your opinion and every year you get wiser.

I make these promises today but know they may be changed, however, my devotion to my job and to my kids will not.  I have the best job in the world and no one can take that from me.  I promise to make this year the best one yet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why the Grade X 10 Minutes for HomeWork is a Fail

As I prepared for my first orientation day powerpoint as a new teacher, I knew I had to fill in homework expectations and how much parents could count on.  I was reminded to use the old formula 10 minutes times the grade of the child, excellent, 40 minutes of homework for a 4th grader.  Now this is what my brain should have thought;  "Wait a minute Pernille, 40 minutes of homework, a night?  Plus 20 minutes of expected reading with parent initials?  And a book report every 6 weeks?  And math tests every 3?  Not to mention science and social studies quizzes, which really are tests but just with a friendlier name.  What in the world am I saying?"  Except,  I didn't and the rest, as they say, is history. Those kids had homework coming out of both ears because that is what I thought teachers did; assign work.  40 minutes seemed fair and reasonable and why shouldn't it be?  Aren't we in the business of making students accountable and responsible?  Aren't we teaching them how to be effective workers, preparing them for the real world?

Except homework is really not thoughtful when you just spew the formula.  Homework then becomes the brainless act of repetition, not metacognition that we all should be striving for.  Homework becomes the incessant chore we all seem so hellbent on making it.  I know we are trying to raise responsible children, but is homework really the only way we can do this?  Can we not accomplish those same goals of responsibility, time management, and work habits without the insane amount of homework?  Can we, as educators, realize that perhaps we do not have the right to infringe on students' lives outside of class up to an hour or more every night?  Haven't students already given us 7 to 8 hours of work?

I, for one, limit my homework giving and not because I am a hippie that doesn't believe in hard work.  We do work hard in my classroom, in fact, my students relish how much we get done in a day because it means they are managing their time.  It means they are creating a work ethic that says give school your undivided attention for a whole day and you will be rewarded with free time.  Do your job here right and then you don't have to worry about it as much outside of school.  And a formula can never encompass that.

So it is time we give up on the formula.  It is time we realize that homework is not something we have to give just to give the kids work, that there are other ways to teach students motivation, time management, and effective work habits  There are other ways to ensure all of the curriculum is covered and that knowledge is garnered.

This year, on the first day, I will tell the parents that there may be work outside of school and that it will differ from day to day.  I will tell the parents that my mission is to keep work inside of my classroom so that the students may breathe a little bit.  I will tell them there that will be projects, there will reading, sure, but there will also be time to be a kid, to live a little.  No homework doesn't mean no learning, it means school was kept at school and that is a good thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Get Started with Student-Centered Learning - A Beginner's How To Guide

Giving students a voice and creating a student-centered classroom sounds like the ultimate hippie fantasy, you can almost smell the patchouli drifting through my room as I give out hugs and high fives highlighting all of the awesome work my kids do.  Except that is not reality.

Reality is I have standards to meet, essential learner outcomes to follow, curriculum to cover and yes those darling standardized tests.  In fact, in Wisconsin we get to take them already in October, wahoo.   So no, my room isn't some test free haven, but a totally typical elementary classroom with about 25 students that are all on vastly different levels, all have different talents and challenges and just want to succeed,and have some fun in school.  And yet amidst all of the demands student-centered learning worked for me, and it can for you to, so here is a little help to get you started.

  1. Know your goals.  You cannot set students on a journey if you have no idea what the goal is.  I have said this before but it so important and your goal does not have to be a certain size either.  Some projects require more in depth learning because the goal encompasses more things and others are a quick mini-lesson meant to secure only one skill.  Know your goal, seriously, and know how they relate to the bigger picture.
  2. Then rewrite and break down your goal so it makes sense to students and to yourself.  I do this in my head because some of our essential learner outcomes are really lofty, I can only use them as a guide, but how is that going to actually look like in real life?  So "Using the writing process" becomes a break down of 5 different goals each with different outcomes.
  3. Brainstorm some ideas before you introduce.  I love coming up with ideas of what types of projects we can do to reach our goals and then tell my students about them particularly at the beginning of the year.  That way, if this is new to them they don't feel super overwhelmed.  Some kids will just fly with the whole "How are you going to reach the goal?" mentality, while others will look like they are about to cry.  Give them some scaffolding and point them in the right direction, they will take on more and more responsibility as they get used to this approach.
  4. Give the introduction enough time.  When you reveal the next big adventure you do not want to be in a hurry.  Firstly you want to get the kids excited but secondly you want them to understand what the purpose and the direction you are about to take is.  If you hurry you will regret it later.  Which leads to the next tip.
  5. Start small.  I didn't throw all of my super scripted lesson plans out at one time.  I opened it up in social studies first, which seems wonderfully suited for student-directed learning, we got our feet wet and figured out how to navigate through it and then we started to look at other areas.  Pick something manageable for you so you are not in a panic because panic is contagious.
  6. Let the kids...  Let the kids think of questions.  Let them pick partners, even if you are thinking you would never pair someone up like that, let them.  Let the kids try out a direction and let them struggle a little bit.  You can always jump in but don't do it right away.  You can re-direct sure or even advise but don't take over, often we teachers take over much too soon.  For this to work you have to trust your students.  
  7. Step aside.  For this to be truly student-centered this cannot be about the sage on the stage.  Remember these kids are here to experience school not just to have it done to them.  So set the stage and then get off.  
  8. Give them time to discuss.  The best ideas often come from students so let them have the time to figure them out.  I know I don't write the best lessons when I am rushed or don't have time to ponder, so give that same opportunity to your students.  Have them discuss with others, let them mull over it, they don't have to come up with a direction right away.  Sometimes projects occur naturally because their curiosity takes over, wahoo.
  9. Don't fret about the volume.  One thing I learned was that student-centered learning can get really noisy and that's ok.  Most of the time it is students discussing with each other or speaking to you about it, and sometimes they are just really excited.  I would rather have my classroom loud with excitement then silent.  Oh and that goes for the staying in your seat thing too.  Let them move out of their seats, get comfortable and get working.
  10. Expect failure.  And then learn from it.  Not all projects are going to be stellar, not all work will be immaculate and that is ok.  These kids are learning and it can lead to a wonderful discussion about what went wrong and where to go from there.  Everything is a learning process and there simply is no such a thing as failure (unless they do not show up), they may just not have learned as much as you were hoping for.
  11. Make room for it all.  Not all learning will be project based, sometimes there will be no end product but rather a discussion, an idea or a new direction taken.  This isn't a "teach the material - give the test type of approach," even though you can make it that, it is get to know the material, get invested and show me you know it somehow type of thing.  I had kids that wanted to take a test and that was fine with me.  I had kids that wanted to make a movie to show their learning, great!  And I had kids that just wanted to tell me all about it, wahoo!  Make room for all types of assessment, give a deadline, check on their progress and hold them accountable.  Student-centered does not mean it all has to be a project; it means to give them a voice in the learning!

There are so many more things I could add to this but I want to leave it a little bit open.  After all, my goal is to introduce and entice people into student-centered or student-directed learning, not to take the journey for them.  So what will be your direction?  How will you accomplish the goal of giving your students a voice?  How will you step aside and let them speak?


The One Piece of Advice I Wish I had Gotten

If I could change one thing it would be to believe in myself.  To trust in my gut when I looked at lesson plans meant for others and know that they needed to be tweaked, to be changed, perhaps even to be omitted so that I could teach.  To trust the sense I got that I was displaced, putting on someone else's clothes and pretending to be grandma.

If I could change one thing I would have listened to that voice within me repeating this isn't you, this isn't how you feel, this isn't what you believe whenever homework, grades, rewards and punishment were discussed and decided.  To stand up, even if done quietly, and to believe in respect, community, and conversation rather than stickers, sticks, and names on the board.

If I could change one thing I would have trusted myself.  Trusted the instinct we are all bestowed with.  Trusted that nagging doubt in my mind asking over and over, "Would you like to be a student in your own classroom?"No, no, no...

And then it happened, I changed.  I listened to myself, really listened, and out came all of those doubts, nagging words, fears, apprehensions and then finally relief.  This was my path, not someone else's.  This was my contribution, to believe in myself, to believe in my students, to give them a voice, to treat them fairly and with respect.  To follow my common sense that had been screaming all along; listen to your instinct, believe in yourself, and trust your own voice.

I wish I had listened long ago but all that matters is that I finally listened.  It is never too late to change how we teach.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Teachers Save Lives Too - We Just Don't Get Paid Like We Do

As the recession rolls on and the politicians gear up for another fight on this new super committee, I drive back and forth to school getting ready for a new school year.  One politician was discussing what could be cut save our country from the brink of bankruptcy and discussed Medicaid, a favorite target.  The radio host asked whether doctors' pay should be cut as well then.  The politician scoffed at this notion; "We should not cut the pay of doctors," he stated, "They save lives..."
Maybe it's the salary freeze my district has imposed on teachers.  Maybe it's the rumors that my administration gave themselves raises.  Maybe it is the political climate in Wisconsin that means I take a 12% pay cut this year; but I am mad.  And this happy teacher often does not raise her voice, just ask my students.  But when that politician scoffed at the notion of cutting doctors pay because they are lifesavers, I just about lost it.  Let me tell you something; teachers save lives too.
Teachers are among the first to notice when a child goes hungry.  They are also among the first to give that child their own lunch and to buy them food.  Teachers are among the first who see children freezing, or wearing the same pair of holey shoes every day, rain or shine.  Teachers are the ones who get clothing and proper winter gear for those who need it.  If a child shows up with bruises or scratches, teachers are the ones who take note.  Teachers are the ones who make those phone calls and follow up with government when nothing happens.  Teachers are the ones who lie awake at night wondering what they can do to help those children.
And those are the big things.  We save lives every day by taking an interest, by being passionate, and by believing in the kids.  Sometimes these kids have no direction and we help them figure one out.  Sometimes these kids come to us ready to take the wrong path and we help them go another way.  Sometimes all a kid needs is a little attention, a little guidance, a little firmness and some love and we give that no questions asked.  We don't just teach the curriculum, we teach life.
When a child enters our classrooms, we take them under our wings; they become our children.  When a child's mood changes and depression looms, teachers are the ones who help get the help and assistance needed to veer off disaster.  When home life crashes and that child tells you that they are living in a car, teachers do everything in their power to help.  I have heard of and seen teachers bring in bags of clothing, food, furniture and donate money just to help.  I have heard of teachers who invited families in to live with them until they could get back on their feet.  Teachers save lives.  And they are not the only ones; many people involved in education save lives.  And yet, our pay can be cut because we only work 9 months out of the year anyway.
It is true some doctors save lives.  But not all.  A podiatrist makes on average $181,000 a year.  That is more than 6 times what I make.  They don't save lives on a regular basis and yet they get the benefit of "being a doctor."  And that title alone means they command a better salary.  Being a teacher means you better do it for the kids and not complain about the money that comes your way.  If you complain about the money, well then, you are obviously in it for the wrong reason.  Nobody tells doctors that they should be doing it for the patients.  Sure most of them love what they do I'm sure, but I am also sure that some get the degree for that lucrative paycheck, and that's ok.  I wish everyone could get paid like a doctor.
So this isn't to rip doctors' of their pay or even of their status but rather ask why teachers can not be given that same respect  Why can someone not scoff a the notion of cutting teachers' pay to save the economy? Why can someone not claim as well that teachers save lives and do invaluable work and therefore should be rewarded and respected?  I don't ask for respect, I earn it.  I don't ask for status because I don't care.  I do ask for a decent salary, one to reflect the years of schooling that we go through and continue to pursue.  One that reflects the time that our job takes to do well.  One that reflects the work we do.  But I am not holding my breath.
So yeah teachers save lives; we just don't get paid like we do.

#WhyILoveTeaching is Born

Last night as Justin Bieber played through my speakers (my daughter and I were having a dance party), I tweeted this

And with that a new little hashtag was born.  I tweeted a couple of more reasons and then others started to join in.  These weren't the big reasons like we change lives or what we do matter every day.  We always talk about those things,.  These were all those extra little reasons that teaching is an incredible job.  That teaching matters.

So I challenge you, send out a tweet explaining why you love teaching - the goofy reasons why, the little things we forget to discuss and use the hashtag #WhyILoveTeaching.  To see the positivity in the little things, to hear how amazing our job is, now that is something to remember.

Here a couple of my favorites:


So if you have a moment, check the stream out and then add your own.  I can't wait to hear why you love teaching.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Discussion of Rules

Last night it happened again, another school nightmare.  The kids were running around screaming, not listening, not thinking they had to follow directions.  And there I stood, in the middle of it all, yelling louder and louder, hoping to capture their minds and hearts on that all important first day of school.  Except I didn't.  And I wouldn't that way either.  It appears that in my nightmares I betray my own teaching philosophy; not to yell, not to punish, not to stand up there and blabber on and on.  In my nightmares I am everything I used to be.

In this nightmare I kept kicking myself that I hadn't gone over the rules.  If I had only gone over the rules then they students would behave.  Except they wouldn't because kids are not stupid.  They know once they get to 5th grade what the rules of school are.  They know not to yell, run around, dismiss the teacher.  They know what is expected of them because those same rules apply in society as well.  Those same rules apply in all of their classrooms and are so fabulously taught by our kindergarten teachers, (I don't know how they do it).  And yet we cling to our rules.  We cling to our decision about classroom management making sure that it is one of the first things we discuss with the kids.  Not what to expect out of the year.  Or what they should be  excited about.  Not the amazing discoveries and failures that are bound to take place.  No, the rules, my rules, my classroom.

So this year, the rules will be discussed but it will be by the kids.  I am not sure when it will happen, probably within the first couple of days as we share our expectations. The kids will tell me how they want to learn, what type of learning environment they thrive in.  If it is one that is a little bit noisy then I am ok with that.  If it is one that requires lots of movement, I am ok with that.  If it is one that requires breaks and variety, I am also ok with that.  They will mold our classroom because mostly it is theirs, not mine to decide over.  And I am ok with that.  What are you ok with?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Letter to Say Hello

Most of us write introduction letters or do some sort of reach out to our new students.  I decided to share mine for any new teachers looking for inspiration.  (It uploaded funny but you can get the gist of it).  I mailed all 24 of them out today and I cannot wait to meet my students.

Mrs. Ripp's Hello Letter

It's All About Choices

At this weekend's Comic Con, I stumbled onto this print which captures my sense of humor very well.  I immediately knew it would have a place in my classroom amongst my new 5th graders because they too would get it.  And let's face it, every day in our classrooms, it is all about the choices we make; this is my quirky reminder.

Print created by the awesomely talented Paul Friedrich

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Year´s Welcome Video

Every year, I make an Animoto video to welcome my students.  Setting the tone for the rest of the year is very important to me.  Here is this year´s.


On Those First Couple of Days

Cross posted from my other blog 

I am in the countdown, getting butterflies, and starting to have those back to school nightmares about how much the kids will hate me.  Yes, school starts in 3 weeks.  So yesterday I sat down and brainstormed what I would do those first two days or week with my kids.  We start weird this year with orientation on Thursday and then full day Friday but then Labor Day weekend so I don't plan out the lessons.  But I do make a list of all the things we should do.  Care to see it?

So what does it say?
  • Flag pennant - a way for my kids to show their personality and decorate their cubbies - it's a 5th grade thing
  • Wordle about me - I have parents hand in 5 secret adjectives to describe their child and then we add 5 of our own and it make a really great Wordle about the kids which we hang up - the students get so surprised over the adjectives their parents use.
  • Intro to Blogging - we start to talk about blogging on the second day of school because it is a huge part of our classroom.  And then we start to discuss safety.
  • Paper blog lesson - this is a great lesson shared by @McTeach and one that I love to do with my kids.
  • Lunch magnets - sign in, sign out
  • Name sticks - I randomly pull sticks when we discuss and use them for group work.
  • Pencil cups - I have tables this year so no more name tags on desks.  Students will instead have a decorated pencil cup with their name on it.  They work on this while I read aloud.
  • Writing sample - I love seeing how they grow.  I think this year's topic might be "What color is 5th grade?"
  • Read Dear Future Mrs. Ripp Student letters aloud.  Every year my students write a letter to the new kids sharing information about this classroom and how to get the best out of it.  This year some of those students are still with me so I am going to share their letters with the whole class when they work on projects.
  • Time Capsule - we measure height and write down our favorites and dislikes.  The kids always crack up at the end of the year about what they wrote.
  • Make Animoto classroom vision - the kids figure out our vision for the room and put in into Animoto.  It really gets them thinking and helps them take ownership of the room, here is last year's.
  • Discuss classroom jobs - I have helpers every week and this year I added new jobs like Googler and Mapper.  The Goggler will google questions we have submitted on a list and the mapper will keep track of where we connect with.
  • Morning Routine - we discuss expectations; what type of morning do the kids want?  How do we get started for the day?  We come to an agreement on how it will run best.
  • Random Pictures of Mrs. Ripp - I will be sharing a slideshow of random pictures from my life to see if the kids can guess what they mean to me.  The following the kids will bring in their random pictures.
  • Connect the students - this is a great activity that only requires paper and sharpies.  The kids all write their name on the border of the paper and then one person makes a statement like "I play soccer."  Anyone else who plays soccer gets to connect their name to theirs and then the next person states something and so on.  In the end you have a huge spiderweb of how connected we are in the classroom which I display even though it is super messy but it kind of looks like art.
  • Rules discussion - I don't set the rules, the kids do.  So how do we want our room to function, how do we want it to sound, to look like?  What will we do to maintain it.  That conversation starts on the first day.
  • Be a tour guide - I have some of my students from last year so why not have them give tours of the classroom.  I have changed some stuff but not everything so then everyone can feel at home.
  • Name your table.  The students will come up with a table name and then create a banner for it.  This will happen monthly as the students change tables.

So there you go, just a couple of my to do's for the first couple of days.  If you see something you like; borrow the idea.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

4 Steps to Teaching Others About Technology (And Getting Them to Use It)

I am fresh off of teaching a week-long class to teachers on how to integrate technology into their classrooms. This experience was a great one for me because it reminded me of how overwhelming technology that I take for granted can be to others starting out. And yet, these teachers got hooked. So how?

They all did a couple of things that took them from skeptics to believers (and comfortable!)
  1. They figured out their purpose.  Technology should never be used just for technology's sake because then it has no educational value.  These teachers narrowed in on which areas they thought could be enhanced by technology and then worked specifically with those.
  2. Pick a few.  I showed them more than 50 tools just to let them see what was out there but then we narrowed it down for each one of them.  There were things they immidiately gravitated toward; Google Docs, and others that took time; having a classroom blog.  Some they just thought were cool and got archived for later use - maybe, and I am ok with that.
  3. Work on it right away.  We have all been to classes where the instructor showed us a lot of cool things but we never had time to play with it, and guess what, most of the time we never go back to those tools.  We introduced tools then gave them time to mess around, set up their accounts, mess up and get help.  These teachers actually left the class with products they felt comfortable using and all had set up their own classroom blogs already.
  4. Give it time and purpose.  I shared why I use different tools, how it was meaningful to my students or parents, and also how mch time I spend on these tools.  When teachers can experience for themselves why a tool may be easily integrated and valuable, chances are they are going to actually use it after the class.  And that was the whole point.
So which tools were the most favored?  Prezi, Animoto, Google Docs, Blogger, and LiveBinders won this week.  Twitter, Edmodo, and StoryBird came in close second.  All the teachers left more confident and couldn't wait to go back and share what they had learned with others in their building.  So although I may have only taught 12 teachers this week, the impact that they could have on their buildings is bigger and that is the beauty of getting teachers comfortable with technology; it spreads like rings in the water.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Frog and Toad Make Me Think about Our School System

A List
By Arnold Lobel

One morning Toad sat in the bed. “I have many things to do,” he said. “I will have many things to do,” he said.  “I will write them all down on a   list  so that I can remember them.”  Toad wrote down on a piece of paper:
A List of things to do today

Then he wrote:
Wake up
“I have done that,” said Toad and he crossed out:
Wake Up
Then Toad wrote other things on the paper.

A list of things to do today
Wake Up
Eat Breakfast
Get dressed
Go to Frog’s house
Take walk with Frog
Eat lunch
Take nap
Play game with Frog
Eat supper
Go to sleep

 “There ,” said Toad. “Now my day is all written down.”  He got out of bed and had something to eat.  
Then Toad crossed out:  Eat Breakfast.
Toad took his clothes out of the closet and put them on. Then he crossed out: Get dressed.
Toad put the list in his pocket.  He opened the door and walked  out into the morning.  Soon Toad was at Frog’s  front door.   He took the list from his pocket and crossed out:
Go to Frog’s house

Toad knocked at the door. “Hello,” said Frog.  “Look at my list of things to do,” said Toad. “Oh,” said Frog, “that is very nice.”   Toad said, “My list tells me that we will go for a walk.” “All right,” said Frog.  “I am ready.” Frog and Toad went on a long walk. Then Toad took the list from his pocket again. He crossed out: Take walk with Frog.  Just then there was a strong wind.  It blew the list out of Toad’s hand.  The list blew high up into the air. “Help!” cried Toad.  “My list is blowing away.  What
will I do without my list?” “Hurry!” said Frog. “We will run and catch it.” “No!” shouted Toad. “I cannot do that.” “Why not?” asked Frog. “Because,” wailed Toad, “running after my list in not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!” Frog ran after the list.  He ran over hills and swamps, but the list blew on and on.  At last Frog came back to Toad. “I am sorry,” gasped Frog, “but I could not catch your list,” “Blah,” said Toad.”I cannot remember any of the things that were on my list of things to do.  I will just have to sit here and do nothing,” said Toad. Toad sat and did nothing.  Frog sat with him.  After a long time  Frog said, “Toad, it is getting dark.  We should be going to sleep now.” “Go to sleep!” shouted Toad.  “That was the last thing on my list!” Toad wrote on the ground with a stick:  Go to sleep. Then he crossed out:  Go to sleep. “There,” said Toad.  “Now my day is all crossed out!” “I am glad,” said Frog.  
Then Frog and Toad went right to sleep.

The End

How many times do we have to stick to our list and pass by those teachable moments?
How many times do we not get to explore because that particular direction has not been dictated to us?
How many times must we take a path that does not engage the students?
How many times do we lose our list and instead just bumble along until we get to the end of the day?

How many times do we give up teaching curriculum in a meaningful way and teach to the test instead, hurrying so we may cross things off our list?
How often do we tell others that they must comply because our list says so?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where I say Goodbye to an Old Friend; My Desk

Today I decided to get rid of my teacher desk.   Felling like a rebel, feeling a little brave, put the door it went to some other wanting teacher.  And yes, while this may seem spur of the moment it is something I have been pondering for about a year now pushing it away whenever the thought crossed me. You see, I love my desk. To me it signifies being a teacher; sitting behind the desk, grading papers, surveying the room, feeling powerful. All things I used to take such pride in, particularly the grading of papers, and now that doesn't seem to be me anymore.  Now I don't take pride in grades but rather in the conversations I have with my students surrounding their work.  Now I love being away from my desk, preferably on the floor or next to a student working. Now I don't feel powerful in an authoritarian way but rather in a "knowledge is power" type of way.

And yet that desk was my anchor. My teacher space, sacred to me and a no-no for the kids.  Whenever I needed to retreat I scurried behind it, setting up my barrier. Whenever I needed to signal to the kids that I needed some space, there I was sitting in my chair working. The wall was up, the kids knew it and I was safe.  The chair was too comfortable, the desk had too much space for piles, and the kids didn't like to approach me whenever I sat behind it. And yet it beckoned for me, drew me to it almost like a magnet; come sit, come relax, come work. And so I did, finding myself nestled in its power, in its comfort over and over, when I should have been on the floor next to those kids. When I should have been out in the room walking, working, learning. Now don't think I sat behind it teaching, just shouting out instructions, I never did, but I pulled kids behind it for one-on-one time. I had kids come there for help, for learning, and it didn't work. They immediately felt the power of the desk and were not able to relax. They knew they were in my space, not theirs, and so their guard was up when I needed it to be down. The desk had too much power.

So today I say goodbye to the beacon of my teacher strength. I cleaned out all the drawers, emptied the files and wiped it down one last time. The remarkable thing was all the stuff I found in it that I didn't even know I had; 13 white out's, reward certificates, and numerous empty files. Apparently my so essential piece had become rather nonessential in its true purpose. I was nervous sure, I still am, but at the same time I knew it was time to say goodbye. I don't want our classroom to be their space versus my space. I want it to be all of our space. I want the kids to feel they can approach me wherever I sit. I want them to have room to sprawl out on the floor, I want to sit with them as we learn together. I have said before that we were on this learning journey together; now we truly are.  So farewell dear friend, you have served me well but now we have grown apart.

For more inspiration to give up your desk, please read this posts - they inspired me.

Russ Goerend's Post on going desk less.

John T Spencer's Post on how he was wrong.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Do You Have Room For?

With the school year upon most of us in Northern America, now is the time I start to dream.  I know I cannot change the system in which I operate, although I can make waves, but I can continue to change our classroom, the journey we are on, and the road we take.

We all have such power; but do we remember it?  Do we remember that even though much of our day is dictated by outsiders, we still have a voice?  You do.  It may seem like test prep, rules, and "routines" day in and day out but really there is room for you as well.  There is room for you to give your students a voice and let them own the journey.  There is room for you to not punish and not reward, those are choices you make.  There is room for you to engage kids, to not be the center of attention, to let them speak, hope, dream, and inspire each other.   There is room for all of that.

So although it is easier to say education is being done to us as much as it is to our students, it is not entirely true.  We still have choices in our school, even if it is only how we speak to our students.  And even that holds power within itself.  So ask yourself; what do I control?  What can I change? What do I have room for?


Friday, August 5, 2011

The Reform Symposium Recordings are Live

I was lucky enough to present twice at the Reform Symposium 3, once with Matt Ray on our collaboration  and once on why you should blog with your students.

Both presentations are now live as a recording and you can watch them whenever it fits into your schedule.

Here is the link to WisconsiNewYork 

Here is the link to Ask the Children: Blogging with Your Students

I would love to hear your comments or help out with anything that I can.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why Educators Should Join Twitter

This is the video I made for my integrating tech class.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Recipe for My School Year

It is easy to create disaster, a horrendous start to the school year that haunts us the rest of year.  It is easy to make our students feel unappreciated and undervalued, in fact, we can often ensure this within the first day.  I wrote about this in my post "Recipe for an Awful School Year" and many asked what then would be my recipe for an amazing school year, and to this I say...I don't know.

It would be easy for me to give you a long list of the things that I must do to ensure a good start but the truth is, I think most teachers do these things already.  I think most great teachers do many things that I have no idea about and that I have yet to learn.  And then I realize too that for all of the planning that I can do to set up the year there is one ingredient I cannot control; the students.  Yet, for my own sanity and to get my own ideas flowing there are things I have to do for this to be my room, our room, the kind of room I would want my daughter in, the kind of room I would want to be a student in.  These things are simple and they do not cost any money.  So here is what I will do.

I will greet my students with a smile and a laugh, probably a joke even though all of my jokes tend to be corny and yet they make them laugh.  I will let them know that I am excited and nervous too and that we are on this journey together and if they fail then I fail and that is alright by me.  We will talk about our vision, how do we want this classroom to feel?  Do we like noise or do we work better quiet?  How can I get their attention and how can they get mine?  We always need to figure this out before misunderstandings and hurt feelings occur.

The classroom will be bare because it is not mine to decorate, it is theirs and they can take over as soon as they would like.  There will be no rules poster because we set those together and then we discuss and change them when needed.  There will be tables, finally, this year so that students can work together whenever they need to and always have someone to reach out to.  There are also pillows and comfy chairs, carpet squares and corners for retreat - we all need our quiet space.  There are boxes of books to be explored and pictures to take.  We need to document this journey together.  There will be things to teach each other as I have had some of these kids before and they seem to know me better than I do.  My daughter and husband will have made a welcome video because they become a huge part of our classroom since they are a huge part of me.  There will be sharing but there will also be work that first day because kids tend to want to get started.  After all, they are older now and wondering what this class is all about.  Their voices will do most of the talking because I should not be the center of attention.  And so goes my first day.

I cannot tell you how my first week will go because we haven't decided.  Of course there are plans to follow, lessons to be taught, school routines to conquer but how these will shape out I am not sure of yet.  I have to get to know my students before I can think that far.  I have to adapt my teaching style to them.  I have to meet them before I decide how the school year will unfold, hear their ideas, their hopes, their fears, and then together we will plan.  Together we will make this a journey we all want to be on.  Not just my journey or theirs, but ours.  It is always about the ours.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Recipe for An Awful School Year

To have an awful school year is actually quite easy - you can cement it already within the first week.  After that it is just maintenance, nothing to worry, it should take care of itself.

You want to start with the first meeting, lay down the law, make sure the kids know you are the boss and that they will follow you blindly because you are indeed the teacher and have the degree to prove it.   Make sure they know where their place is in the classroom.  Give them designated areas where they can spread out - their desk will be just fine and then mark off your own territory, labels and masking tape seem to work well.  Tell them that if they run out of school supplies it is their job to get more, you are after all not a store.  When they ask to go to the bathroom tell them no that they will have to wait until your designated bathroom time.  After all, adults have to learn how to hold it.  They may not have water because it tends to interfere with the bathroom time.  Snacks are for recess, you do not need crumbs on your floor.  Books will be selected by you and will only be a reflection of their reading level.  You do not have the time to  discuss interests with 20 some kids, after all, you are busy teaching.

Homework will be handed in before the first bell, no exceptions, and if not handed in, it will  be given a zero when it does.  There are no chances for re-dos.  After all, life doesn't give you second chances.  Don't even bother to ask for extra credit, opportunities for that will be decided by the teacher and will usually involve around an errand or task that the teacher needs done.  Parents should only come in when invited, which means the first day of school, conferences and the last day of school.  They really have no place in your room.  Speaking of conferences, this will be your chance to tell the parents about the awfulness of their child so make sure to tell the children that if they don't behave you will be telling their parents and hoping they get punished.  In fact, punishment and the discussion of all of your rules will take up a good portion of that first day.  After all we have to get our routines down, our limitations set.  So that means no talking in the halls, whispering at lunch, all eyes on the teacher after I shut off the lights.  You may not sharpen your pencil except for when it is on the schedule and there will absolutely never ever be any gum in the room.  Make no mistake, those kids are merely guests passing through.

You will get started that first day with a test, after all, you need to know where these children have deficits.  Then you can place them into your groups that will not change for the year because who has time to reevaluate.  In fact, that first test will be part of their grade so that it reflects their journey.  You have heard it is good to show growth, even if they had no idea there would be a test.  Surprise!  You like surprises so those pop quizzes you pull out is sure to keep them on their toes.  They have to be alert when they never know what is going to happen and creates an aura around you of mystery.  In fact, the less they know about you, the better.  We are not there to build relationships, we are there to teach, to get them ready for the test.  Think of stories and how longwinded students can be, why would you want to spend time on that?  The children will address you properly, they should not even know your first name if you do it right or any other identifying information; after all, you don't want them to be able to find you outside of school.

So there you go, the recipe for an awful school year.  I promise you if you do all or most of these things you will see immediate results.  The kids will fear you, hate your classroom and be terrified of school in general - mission accomplished.

Creating the Anxious Child

I never saw a multiple choice test until I decided to become a teacher in America.  Having gone through the Danish school system, of course, there were tests but they happened at the end of the year and were written and oral exams, not just fill in the bubble and the machine will take care of the rest.  The first time I took a multiple choice test was for placement exams for my education degree, at first I thought it was fun, after all, all you had to do was fill in a bubble?  I didn't have to explain or even comprehend, I could just guess?  Breeze through and forget about it all afterwards.  Throughout college I studied, after all, I am an overachiever and yet whenever I came across the multiple choice test my spirit instantly died.  I was glad that it didn't affect my  teacher, only myself and my grade, because I would doubt myself so much on some of the answers, meant to be tricky, that often I wouldn't even know what to put down even though I knew the material.

We forget to think about how it must feel for kids to be solely responsible for teacher's pay and jobs.  How must it feel for students that if they do poorly on a test it will directly affect the teacher that they love?  Kids are not stupid, they are aware of what is happening around us, how politicians and "reformers" are asking their test scores be part of something bigger.  For this text-anxious child that knowledge would have been the nail in the coffin.  People say that with this knowledge students will do even better because they will want to protect their teacher, to show off what they know.  No child goes into a test trying to deliberately fail, at least not most, and yet placing that pressure of someone else's livelihood and dream is just too much for children to bear.

What are we doing to the children of America?  What pressure are we placing them under?  How can we force them through more rigorous assessment to get them ready for the future when that could mean that their teachers no longer get to teach.  We worry that America is too anxious, too many kids are being diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks, depression, and other pill-needing maladies.  And then we wonder what happened?  Why are all these children feeling so pressured?  Why can they not cope with "kid stuff" - well look at our schools and what we do to them.   Education is no longer for the kids, it is for the politicians.  

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