Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Grateful Heart in the Classroom

My colleague and friend, Sheila Monger and I talk a lot about gratitude. After a particularly rough couple of years teaching, she and I would daily remind each other of our mantra to Choose Gratitude. When teachers get caught up in the problems it is easy to become negative and grumpy. No one sets out to be 'that teacher' but we all know them, and at times, may have been them. There really is so much to be grateful for. And lest you think I am a Pollyanna, rest assured, I am not. I was laid off every year for my first 6 years of teaching. I have had great and not so great colleagues and administrators (I liken a principal to an appendix, you don't notice them until they are bad) My husband was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of year 8 of teaching and died the following winter. So I have had a lot of reason to be grumpy and not grateful, yet still, I choose gratitude.

So imagine my great joy to meet +Scott Meile. Scott is a 8th grade English teacher in New Jersey.  His district is in an area with one of the highest teen suicide rates in the country. He saw a need for connection in his classroom and community, and he created it with the Door of Thanks. With all the bad in the world, Mr. Meile encourages his students to stop, think and appreciate what they have.  Throughout the year, students place note of the wall that state what they are thankful for. Notice I said wall. The door of thanks became the wall of thanks, and that became a virtual wall of gratitude!

I met Scott when he traveled to San Mateo, California to participate in a panel discussion at Edmodocon16. I was honored to facilitate the discussion on Supporting the Whole Student with Edmodo. This panel included short presentations from speakers on how they use Edmodo to meet the unique needs of their students for more than just academics—building community, supporting a school Gay-Straight Alliance, reaching out to students who struggle to get to school, and encouraging gratitude.

Although I've begged Scott to blog about his gratitude journey, Being a busy dad, husband, teacher and coach hasn't allowed him much time to write. So I asked his permission to share his story. in his own words.
It’s our job in education to show them that our school, our community, our families aren’t just about what we’re teaching but the people that are involved and the relationships that are created and the people we meet. The issues in New Jersey aren’t uncommon everywhere else, There is that many young kids don’t know where to turn. There’s peer pressure, bullying, and self image awareness which often leads to students not knowing who to turn to or who they can trust. Peers are left with unanswered questions, they often don’t understand or realize that some kids need help and aren’t being taught compassion or understanding and the ability to find the right people to talk to. 
In our class we try to recognize the importance of our team and our goals, in addition we take time to recognize our lives outside of the classroom. We push ourselves to complete tasks, but more importantly we learn about each other. We take 6-10 minutes everyday and give thanks. Edmodo is the key because it unlocks a level of communication and acceptance that isn’t always easy for students to receive or acknowledge. We each and everyday make it a point to reach out to one another, and comment on some of the things that are going on in our lives outside of school (or within our school community) and that allows for interpersonal growth that sometimes is lacking in today’s students busy schedules and culture. Edmodo creates a connectedness that allows for something easy, reachable, and creative. It takes a snapshot of our class, the highs, the lows and everything in between and we document these moments and get to see the growth throughout the year.
Emotional intelligence is something we try to grow throughout the year, taking time to talk about gratitude leads to more interesting conversations regarding citizenship and compassion.  As I have become more and more experienced in the classroom I have found I have less and less to say to my students regarding their learning.  I often find them discovering new things and showing me more about their learning then I ever imagined was possible.  But, what I have found myself talking more and more with the kids is their responsibility to each other, how we as a class can make a difference, and more importantly, every person should act with respect, integrity, and empathy.  
Even more importantly it has made me a better teacher, dad, and coach because I have come to realize just how much of a struggle the kids go through on a daily basis.

I am grateful for teachers, and friends, like Scott.

Monday, December 19, 2016

When Mommy Can't Read

Let me start with a story - it will connect to the topic, I promise.

This fall, my niece was married in Jamaica. I was fortunate to join in the family festivities, and spent a few days relaxing in the south coast for a few days after the wedding. Like I do every time I am on an amazing vacation, I fantasize about living there. The place where we stayed (which I am not going to name, so it stays small!) supports Breds Foundation and one of their projects supports Sandy Bank Primary School. Well, this is fate! My nickname is Sandy and I am a credentialed school teacher! I could come here and teach! I was giving voice to this little fantasy while on a small fishing boat with a local captain. He asked what I taught, and I explained that, as a 5th grade teacher, I taught all subjects, reading, writing, math and all.  Captain Clive said, "Well, why don't you just teach me? I don't read very good."

That got me thinking about making an impact on the local economy through adult literacy. I'd need to learn how to teach adults.  And if there adults in Jamaica who can't read, there are certainly adults in my city who struggle with literacy. I researched online and signed up to become a tutor of adult learners here in my home town with the Santa Clara Library's  Read Santa Clara service.  I met with Shanti Bhaskaran, the program supervisor, who seemed thrilled to have someone interested who not only has a teaching background but also experience with educational technology.

During out meeting, she shared some rather startling statistics.  More than 30 million adults in the United States cannot read, write or do basic math above a third grade level.  Adult literacy impacts our workforce, family finances and heath. And now I come back to the topic of this post.  Children of parents who had not completed high school score lower in vocabulary assessments. A mother's level of reading skill is the greatest determinant of her child's academic success. I am not sure it ever occurred to me that some of the parents of my students could not read, write or speak fluently. I know I had some English Language learners, and for those families, I'd arrange translation.  But what about the parents who just can't read yet in any language? I was not making accommodations for them.

My first job in education was to help three recent immigrants to the US learn English. My thesis was titled "Effective Classroom Methods for Teaching English Language Learners." I often joked that mu classrooms were like a mini-United Nations, with all the languages spoken at home. Yet not once in my pre-service or in-service professional development was the literacy of parents ever addressed.

I haven't yet been matched with an adult learner, but I am passionate about spreading the word.  As teachers we need to be not so quick to judge that parent who doesn't respond to our emails, return permission slips or volunteer in the classroom.

What can we as educators of children do to make a difference? After all, we already differentiate and accommodate for our children, now you want us to do the same for parents? Yup. I do! I am not suggesting we all teach adult literacy classes, But there are things we can do. Be aware of the signs that someone might need help reading or writing. Find out about programs similar to Rad Santa Clara in your area. Get some of their literature and make in available to all families 'in case they know someone who might benefit'. Never call them out directly. But think of how hard it must be to have your child read and write for you. Show some compassion to that parent who might just be too embarrassed to participate in classroom activities or unable to read or reply to your notes home. If not for the parents' sake, for your students'. Remember, your students' literacy will improve along with their parents'.

Signs a person might need help reading and writing:

  • Uneasy body language, facial expressions or embarrassment when asked to read or write
  • Humor or other distraction is used to change the subject of reading or writing comes up
  • School experiences rarely mentions. If they are, it is in a negative light.
  • When expected to read or write, excuses might be, "I forgot my glasses,' 'I've hurt my hand,' 'I don't have time.'
  • Person appears unable to follow written instructions
  • Reluctance to fill in forms or asks to take forms home
  • paperwork is filled out incompletely or incorrectly.

NPR's All  Things Considered had a 4 part series on Adult Education, where they concluded:
Low literacy rates for adults can have wide-ranging effects on those around them. They may rely more heavily on government services; their children may not get that extra hand with schoolwork; their families may not get sufficient financial support. 
But for the millions of adults with low literacy, the ability to read, write and speak English might offer them the most important opportunity of all: a chance to emerge from the shadows and participate as equals in society.
I still may end up retiring in Jamaica, but for now, I will make a difference locally.

Read Santa Clara
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
NPR: all things considered

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The dinner party

A little while back, a Facebook (and real life) friend of mind made this observation. With their permission, I am sharing the thread. 

Teaching analogy: teaching is like putting on a dinner party for 30+ people everyday (90+ in middle school) mostly by yourself, with a wood stove, and only one pot. And sometimes there is no wood and the pot breaks, but you have to have the dinner party anyway. Seriously - it should not have to be this difficult!
Photo: Getty

  • Renee: Very good analogy! So true

  • Sandra: Yeah, but you know you love the dinner party!

  • Andrea: And if you're on various committees, it's like helping the neighbors, advocating for quality food with the market managers, and communicating with the non-food suppliers, too, while also trying to still create a perfect dinner for your guests. And then one of the guest's associates stops by to discuss the meal...

  • Joy: I loved this! It described my day to a "t"! Thanks!

  • Karyann:  And some of the guests will need different meals than the others, and 1 or 2 will not eat at all:)

  • Shannon:  FOOOOOD FIIIIIIIGHT! ...hehe, couldn't resist. But in all honesty you nailed it!

  • Andrea: Some guests need organic baby food, but it should be the same food the other guests are eating. Other guests need gourmet food and eat with chopsticks. The guests may have difficulties swallowing the food if you don't cut it up for them, especially if they order their own food off a menu of standard items. All food should be perfectly prepared, done at the same time, and consumed by guests on the same occasion, or at least before The Grand Meal.

  • Sandra: Yes, some guests just won't eat. You can't make them. They are not hungry. And some will ask for seconds and thirds, and still need more. Some will be grateful, but may not tell you until 20 years have gone by. And some will have bad manners. But you love to cook, and you love the dinner party. So you cook again another day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Schoedinger's President-Elect

I couldn't take it anymore last night. I went to bed. Around 1030 maybe it was 11.  I just didn't want to know. it wasn't going change anything and I needed to sleep. When I woke up this morning I wondered and I was afraid. As I reflected on the potential outcomes of this election I decided, much to my surprise that it would probably be better for our country if Donald Trump won. Now hear me out.

If Hillary Clinton won, then she would face indictments, a combative Congress and a populous at least half of which are Trump supporters.  And of those,  a small, perhaps, but vocal percentage are fanatics. He has previously urged his fanatics to create some not so civil unrest. My real fear is that if Clinton won, Trump supporters are going to create such havoc and unrest, the likes of which our country hasn't seen in decades. Now on the other hand if Trump wins... well,  we got a little taste last night as Clinton supporters were starting to read the writing on the walls or the tea leaves or whatever. Some of the posts to Twitter and Facebook were along the lines of,  you're not alone. we still will love. love wins. we're still going to get up and continue to fight for positive change. 

So I'm thinking that if Trump won, then Clinton supporters are going to fight even harder to make the world a better place. That said, I still was lying in bed this more morning in the fetal position with my blankets pulled up over my head.Tthe things that Donald Trump represented: arrogance, greed, self interest before others, bigotry, misogyny... all those horrible things that he said and did do not make him in my mind an ideal candidate for president. Regardless the people have spoken and Schoedinger's cat is going to have to come out of the box one way or the other

Monday, April 11, 2016

LOA Diaries: CUE Rock Star

I have been a member of CUE  since I started teaching. I found the conferences I've attended to be engaging and inspirational. I also attend EdCamp un-conferences and local events sponsored by my school district as well as several workshops at SCCOE, our county office of education. Considering the salary structure of most educators, I appreciate that many of these events are local (meaning no travel expenses) and free or very reasonably priced. In addition to the annual SVCUE event, I've also attended some amazing CUESF events just up the road.

After a two-year CUE Conference hiatus, I attended the annual conference in Palm Springs last month. This is kind of the big daddy of #edtech conferences in California, and I am willing to take the hit for the conference and travel, usually working out to about $1000. The conference fee itself is $250-ish for members of CUE. I have never questioned the cost of this 3+ day event. The keynote speakers are high profile folks, from Vinton Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet to The Brad Montague, the creator of Kid President.

I had heard about CUE Rock Star Camps and honestly didn't even look twice. I resented the implication that if those attending were Rock Stars, then the rest of us were not. CUE has at times felt very cliquish to me and I just did not want to be part of that. Three things changed my mind, sort of. Our school district is opening a new STEAM school this coming fall and I have been privileged to be part of the planning and implementation from very early on. While at the conference in Palm Springs, I learned about an upcoming Rock Star Camp which was a STEAM edition. I was intrigued. When I saw it was in Orcutt, CA, a week before I needed to be there for an iPad Academy workshop I was facilitating, and the home of a dear friend, I was almost sold. Finally, on the flight heading home from PS, I sat next to +Jason Borgen, currently on the CUE Board of Directors. Jason and I used to teach at the same district (at different times) and we met at the first CUE I attended in 2008! We have stayed in touch, connecting at various ed tech events over the years. As we sat on the plane, and I explained my reservations about Rock Star events, and even just the name, he encouraged me to give it a try. I have a great respect for Jason, and I have heard such great things about the camps, it all seemed to point to yes, so I bit the bullet and paid the $249 registration fee.

And so, I packed up my car and my dog and headed south for a week in Orcutt. I was impressed with the sessions I attended. I left feeling inspired to try new things such as YouTube (creating, not consuming), some really exciting resources for integrating Science and Engineering activities and maybe even Minecraft. That said, I do think the $250 price tag is a little high for this format. I asked CUE Rock Star's 'baby daddy', Jon Corippo (actual title, CUE Dir. of Academic Innovation) about the price and he explained the costs involved and how they calculated their price from that. I get it, but think there is room for corporate sponsorships to help reduce the hit to already cash-strapped educators. There were no "big name" speakers, of course, it was more structured than the free EdCamps but I feel the price simply adds to the "us vs them" impression I first had about Rock Star camps. But the cliquishness I had experienced at my local affiliate was not apparent here and even though I was not local, I felt welcomed and appreciated. That was a nice surprise. There were inside jokes about ice cream and pickles and such that made no sense to me, but in general, it was a very inclusive experience. The faculty was incredibly generous with their time and resources, sharing lesson plans, links and even physical items such as books and maker supplies. Ed Campos, Jr. was a perfect Master of Ceremonies and the Orcutt team was flawless. Their superintendent, Dr. Deborah Blow, attended sessions right alongside us each day!

Cambrian Represents!

So here are some of my key takeaways from the weekend:

What is a Maker Space? The maker session was facilitated by Henry Danielson, director of Technology, Coast Unified School District in Cambria, and his middle schooler son, Max. While Henry was great, Max stole the show. I love hearing from kids how they work, think and learn. Max was articulate, thoughtful and enthusiastic. The two of them plus the rocket guy were definitely guides on the side, letting us explore and fail forward. Henry provided a google doc with so many resources that my head spins just looking at the doc, but I am thrilled to have it!

Minecraft. Get Crafting: Led by Chris Scott,who runs Minecraft camps and presents at conferences, this session really forced me out of my comfort zone. While I appreciate the value of games in learning, and I totally get how much kids embrace Minecraft, I've felt it has been a little overhyped and overdone. Plus I have never enjoyed playing video games myself. I was happy to finally get into a Minecraft world and see what it was all about. However, I was totally frustrated. Chris kept telling us to find a turtle and nothing at all looked like a turtle to me! Chris reminded us "the moment we forget the struggles of a learner, we stop being an effective educator."

I am still not sure the hype is worth it, but I am less daunted and willing to learn more. In a later session, Scott Spector shared several resources for using Minecraft across the curriculum so I have a lot of learning yet to do!

NGSS, STEAM, STEM What's it all about? Scott Spector, Coordinator of Innovation and Academic Events at the Santa Barbara County Ed Office, blew my mind with the plethora of resources he shared. He talked about the difference between the importance of performance expectations over rote learning as well as the integration of content across all subjects, something we elementary educators have been doing forever, but now have so many more resources and tools at our disposal.

YouTube on Your Side: Another session with Chris, we started out by watching 10 minutes of a daily vlogger's video. Ty next to me asked, 'why?' I think you either enjoy watching the mundane daily lives of others or you live your own. We moved on from that to talk about the power of such a potentially large audience to give ourselves and our students a voice with an authentic audience. I don't want to be a daily blogger or a daily vlogger, but I do know I have a unique voice and if I don't tell my story, someone else will. I have made many movies with my students and as a teacher, but this was my first foray into becoming a youtuber. It's not pretty, but here it is. I appreciate the push!

And finally, a few tidbits overheard at Cue Rock Star: STEAM

From Ed. Campos, Jr.'s 360 Math session - "Why buy an interactive whiteboard when you can get all this for less?"

In the youtube session, we watched a short video of building a pyramid of pennies. A math teacher in the room recognized it as part of the Dan Meyer Three Acts of a Mathematical story. I'd never heard of his work so I will do some research. It is an interesting approach.

"Are you going to learn more looking at a piece of paper or making it yourself & explaining it?'~ S. Spector

Granted there were about 5500 fewer people at this event than the Big CUE but there were zero tech issues, the wifi worked great, the site custodian was cheery and helpful and the IT group, Kirby and Janet, were available and on their feet the whole two days. So, I guess I am on the bus, and I need to start saving up for my next CUE Rock Star Camp!

For more, see my storify summary.

Friday, March 25, 2016

LOA Diaries: #CUE16

It has been a long, strange road to get me back to CUE. I really appreciate +Edmodo making good on the contest prize I won (but was unable to use) two years ago. I find the CUE conference to be inspiring and invigorating and this year was no different.  The opening keynote was none other than THE Brad Montague, the co-creator of +Kid President. Not a dry eye was in the house after his motivational pep talk.