Saturday, December 18, 2010

December solutions

Formative assessments are good. Lots of feedback on who knows what when.

Issue: Students needing to take and re-take quizzes and assessments to show mastery as it happens-they get lots of feedback and want to DO something to improve!

Solution: Google docs form that lets students sign up for what they are ready to do and when. Can't take credit for the idea, it was K.C. who came up with it. We put a button on our blackboard page with "quiz/test scheduler" that takes them to the form. They fill it out, it notifies us in email and then we can get a list and get things done in an orderly fashion.
It has been pretty miraculous. When you have multiple preps and students at different checkpoints, this is the way to individualize and at the same time puts the student in the driver's seat. On the form, they must indicate what they've done to prepare for the evaluation and also the date and time that they will complete it. So I can have a file with the materials ready at the right place and time and then grade it while they are sitting right there so they get the immediate gratification. Also, they watch while I plug it in to the grade book and they see how the new score changes their grade (or not) and we can set new goals, too.

Sure beats the mayhem of before!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November hodge-podge

November is an interesting month. The end of a quarter, the beginning of another, you know your students, you are building on their strengths.

Event: The breaking of the Pompeii mug.

At the beginning of 7th period a student saw a spider and screamed, jumping to her desk chair, and several students followed. An intrepid scholar spilled extra pens and pencils from a mug that was serving as a reservoir in order to contain said arachnid. With it captured, the student then heeded fellow-students' urges to "free" the spider outside and in the process, dropped the mug on the slate, breaking the mug. (the spider was fine). Students return to tell me the mug is broken and I ask "which mug? the snow-man one?" "no, the one with the wall-painting" DUH DUH DUNNNN! It's the Pompeii mug. A simple 7 Euro mug, but a fave. So I suck it up, accidents happen, and let's move on-please collect the pieces, we don't want anyone to fall or be cut by the remnants.

Fast forward to Tuesday November 23rd, 2010. Students ask me to step out into the hall and hand me a note (glitter-lettered) and a bag. I asked, "Is this a Thanksgiving gift, how thoughtful!" "No, it's a we're sorry gift." The lovely children gave me a mug that they had hand painted with "semper ubi sub ubi"-a Latin joke meaning always wear underwear. Nearly brought to tears I embraced each one and they explained that they saw that the mug was important and they were moved that I had said "accidents happen" and moved on with class on that fateful day.

I've kept the pieces of that original, broken mug. I think that I will place them in a shadow box frame with the word "patientia". Only through patience do we take steps toward the goal-sapientia.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Has the format of teacher conferences become obsolete? I've just come off a 14 hour day followed by a half-day of conferences and I have to ask the question. Parents sign up for a 15 minute session with their child's teachers in which time they get to ask questions and hear an overview from each teacher. Since I am a world language teacher, I get to attend conferences with 4 different teams of teachers and hear each team's style and approach. More on that some other time. Right now I'm wondering if the concrete schedule is a dinosaur that needs to evolve.

Many parents are taking advantage of having access to their child's work and progress through technology and they can choose how and when to communicate with me about their child. Some parents involve the child as the spokesperson, helping them to set goals, communicate learning needs and take responsibility for transmitting information. Other parents shadow and allow the child the feel of independence while providing an invisible safety net by communicating with me and filtering the information themselves. Of course, there are some things that MUST be handled with a human voice-and face to face interaction needs to be maintained throughout the process.

So, with all that said, is it time to do away with the set "Teacher Conference Days"? An ongoing line of communication in all its forms is coming into play in my classroom. With blackboard, email announcements and the constant back and forth that is being maintained with a large number of students, would we be better off spreading out the conference times throughout the year or having open classroom meetings that parents can attend physically and virtually?

Is the set conference time artificial? It's a good check-in, but I see some parents bewildered by the experience, and attending because they know it's what a good parent does, but they're not sure what they are supposed to walk away with. We offer them talking points to get conversations flowing with their children, checklists of items to help them set goals, and remind them of the opportunities that their children have to meet with us and extend their learning. But I see a lot of dazed parents, and really, the parents are mostly the ones of A-A+ students who are keeping up the good work.

Real change doesn't happen in a 15 minute meeting. It's established and maintained over the entire time of the educational relationship. What should that look like now?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Homecoming in Texas

I'm heading out on Friday for Texas. I graduated from Baylor University in 1990 and haven't been back since, though I've wanted to. A yell-leader reunion that is including people about whom I really care and stay in touch with was the straw that sent me packing. Man, that squad has expanded-there were only 14 of us when I was there.

At Baylor I turned to a Latin major in the end of my sophomore year, after finding that biology/medicine wasn't where my heart was-it was with words. So with the help of several very good professors, Dr. S. Randy Todd, and Dr. Alan Robb, and the input of Anglo-Saxon specialists and linguistic anthropologists I found my way-thanks Dr. Strite, for forcing me to take those Old English classes, you were right. The honors college embraced the liberal arts and allowed me to complete a concentration in philosophy that cemented a permanent relationship with Hume and the Enlightenment. Thank goodness for Baylor. It's a place that allows a student to explore and find a niche.

And now I prepare to return! It will be a fun weekend catching up with fellow yell-leaders in Dallas, continuing to Waco, then back to Dallas. Many of my comrades remain in Texas (lucky ducks)-and I can see why.

But my place now is in Ohio dispersing ancient knowledge to the open minds of today-and I wouldn't change a thing. It's great to look back and look forward because it's all connected.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Light Bulb!

On Thursday the bulb went out. . . on my projector. It's ceiling mounted and the lamp light was flashing but it still was coming on at times before it finally died. Our wonderful Vartek technologist came and took it away (I'll fix it up there and bring it back here), but the bulbs are about $200, and we do not have the budget to keep them on hand in our building so we have to wait I don't know how many weeks for it. In the meantime I can use a cart with a projector, but it's not the same.

On Friday, with no projector, I called in the old-school methods that are tried and true-white boards!

Background: Level II teachers that I meet with (Hey, Ms. B) tell me that sight vocabulary continues to be a challenge for 9th grade students and I've used a variety of techniques to improve vocab recognition for the 8th graders. The students will recognize "ponit" he/she puts, but when they see "deponebat" he/she was putting down, they are not putting together the pieces that they know. Add a prefix, change the tense, use what you know to make the new word. Take it further, make it a noun, take it further, make it an adverb: things we do in English when we say "What is it? It's a message." "What are you doing? Messaging." "if you send it again, what are you doing? Remessaging."

I sent the children to the boards in teams, and they had 5 minutes to produce as many forms of a word as possible based off of a single root. We used words like "mitto" send, "verto" turn, "facio" make. Hundreds of forms flew out. Words they didn't know they knew flew out. Here is some video of an aha moment:

Winning teams received: puffy stickers. Yes, they work for puffy stickers because they know that it's worth their time.

During one class, a high school student delivered a jar of pickled peppers (not joking) from a high school teacher, and he was blown away by the hundreds of forms that these 8th graders were putting on the board. He sat down at first, then he rose and said "are you going to tell them that they are using comparatives?" I laughed, "yes, but I won't tell them it's a big deal." He high-fived me, and said, "I know how I got where I am." Before he left he added two words to a team's board-it produced 12 more that vaulted them into first place and I declared a tie.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Surge! Getting up-Vocabulary and more

Vocabulary. I teach a lot of vocabulary. Sometimes I get punchy about it, and that's never good, because then I don't give it the amount of repetition in class that is necessary. About a year ago in a punchy moment, I used Big Huge Lab's motivator to create class vocabulary reminders for my students-they were created with sarcasm but they came across as just silly, which struck a chord with them.

They were such a hit that the students started making them and sending them to me. It's always scary when kids are creating something with Latin and you didn't even ask them to. I've never made this an assignment, but they still love sending me pictures that are associated with the words that they are learning-and yes, I give them corrections and feedback. They always correct the work and resend it. Then I print it and hang it in my classroom, or post it in blackboard, or use it in a class lesson, and they point and say "that's mine!"

This particular motivator has the word "surgere" which means "to get up". My students love meerkats, so this is a winner, and the tagline is "it is time to get up and to play"-giving extra vocabulary bang with two complementary infinitives. Now hold on while I transition----

Whew, thanks for transitioning with me. I was in a meeting today in which the request was made of my building administrator to make a commandment from on high so that we, as department leaders, did not have to work an issue out with difficult colleagues-or challenge any of the status quo beliefs. It was the old," if the parent says we have to do it that way, blame them." I'm a fan of this technique at home. It gets my kids off the hook at such times as when a video chat goes too long and I hold up a note that says"tell them your MOM says you have to get off" and they are secretly relieved to have the out and someone to blame and not look like a nerd. At some point, we have to share the responsibility, right?

Anyway, the admin had the with-it-ness to say, (paraphrasing), Okay, I'll do that but you have to back me, too. You have to be willing to say that we talked about it and this is what we agreed to. Shoot. I thought "surge!" "get up", tempus est surgere et ludere, why do we have to ask someone to be the bad guy for something that is right in the first place?

If a colleague asks, "who ordered this", shouldn't I say, "Does it matter? It's just right."

No, it wasn't an assignment, and no one is making us do it. It's just good. So that's what I'm going to try out. Go, Meerkats!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Timetoast, and a 24 hour classroom

On Monday, I began a assignment with my students. Love Timetoast. In the assignment, they chose 10 Latin sentences from the current story that they are studying and placed them in chronological order. In the description of each event, they provided an English translation, and also had the option of adding a picture to illustrate the event. Then, they published their product and sent me the link in email. From the email I was able to give feedback on my tablet and send them an individualized response to their work. (I used Jing to take a snap of the work).

But eek, Tuesday morning,about 3 AM I was sick, and I was not able to be in the classroom on Tuesday when they were completing their work, so I had to put in for a substitute. Thank goodness for a great sub :) and my instructions already having been delivered on Monday, as well as in print in blackboard, made the difference. The students completed the work, and I received it (in the doctor's office, then home) and was able to write responses to them! We didn't lose a day. Today when I was back, with a little voice and a little shaky, they let me know how much they appreciated getting feedback asap. Yes, a few even asked if I was okay and gave me well wishes!

The image is of a student's work with my comments added, which I emailed back to the students so that they can correct and perfect. For some students I needed to add oral comments, which is no problem with Jing, since it has a movie-screencast recorder and I can walk them through corrections.

Technology saved the day on this occasion.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday with Tullus-Quia

Guest blogger, Tullus, is in the 6th grade and makes use of online Quia games to help him learn, here are his reflections:

Quia games is a fun, helping website for students to learn about subjects to help them prepare for quizzes and tests, rather than just reading out of the book. Things I like about it: it involves technology, which I like, it has a variety of things so that you don't have to do the same thing over and over again every time you log on. It definitely helped me for my Latin quiz (my father's class), and I've used it for language arts, social studies and science.

Things I don't like: Even though it gives a variety, there are only 4 things, and one doesn't really help me (the crossword), so I'd like different choices, I'm not sure what kinds of things that I would want. The teachers should be in charge of that.

It doesn't give you immediate results (in my opinion) it doesn't tell you at all-you don't see results until you take the quiz in the class. Can my teachers see what I study? Because I don't know.

I wish I got some results sooner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Clean up

The reteaching is almost complete, with the students having looked at errors, made corrections, set new goals, completed activities that fill the gaps, worked in small groups and created demonstrations of their improved understanding. Mr. K. and I have given short assessments at each step to make sure that what they are doing is hitting the mark, and everything is coming along.

Probably the best conversations were about test taking strategies, and those came out when students chunked a Latin reading and composed their own comprehension questions. 7th graders developed a completely different insight when they read a sentence "Apollo puellam petit.", then formed a simple question about it, "Quis petit puellam?". Even better was when they made the question multiple choice and decided what a hard wrong answer would look like, and what a stupid easy wrong answer would look like. One student said, "If somebody picked that one, I'd know that they hadn't even read the story!" Message received.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Analyzing a Common Assessment Non-Success

Well, it seems it was widespread. So let's look at what we found.
1. The students aced the straight vocabulary questions.
2. When the questions asked the students to apply material in an analytical way, they went
with a practiced, memorized answer from an activity rather than looking at the new
question and thinking through the question. (jump to a familiar answer, don't think)
3. We have some test-taking issues. How to cross-reference a test, and how to use context to
produce a higher level answer.
4. We have some GREAT test takers, who marked their thought processes on the tests in
ways that showed us what led to them the precise answer they needed.

Here is a resource that we have used for a few years to help us with common assessments that's based on Marzano's research. It also has a rubric that helps to analyze the questions that a teacher is asking.

Our responses:
1. We are going to break down the objectives and do the reteaching in varied ways so that
they practice analyzing. We'll give feedback on those smaller chunks.
2. We'll put it back together a piece at a time so that we can see when we lose students and
catch them before they fall.
3. Lots of personalization. The students did well when they had used the material in a
personal way (they were great with infinitives following timeo, which means "I fear",
because we had and activity where they shared what they feared to do, but when we
replaced timeo with volo "I want", they fell apart.

Other items:
Mr. K noted that I was flying through material, and I didn't listen. He was right. I should have recognized a red flag when I incorporated venn diagrams and the students could not use the vocabulary that they had mastered to describe the relationships in the diagram. Why? Because they were not at the analysis level, they still were just memorizing. That's the flag that should have stopped me, but didn't.

Lessons learned:
Slow down. Chunk more. Check for transfer, not just recall. Things I know, and thought that I was doing, but I needed more, and these students need more. Shifting gears. I hope the transmission can handle it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Common Assessment Meltdown

Was it me, the test, the students or can I please blame my "work husband" (the very wonderful Mr. K)?

Mr. K and I both teach 7th grade Latin at Indian Hill, and like every year, we're giving common assessments after co-planning activities, quizzes, drills, games, readings, all the same stuff. And the test was yesterday. My students took it first, on Wednesday, his took it today (a scheduling issue) and my results were dismal.

So, for 24 hours I have to wait to see if his students do better than mine (in which case it is all on me), or if it's something much more complicated. It's not often that we are caught by surprise on a test because we get a constant flow of input and give feedback daily to our students, so the fact that they did not hit the mark I was expecting (75-100% mastery), and actually fell off a cliff into a chasm (there were scores below 50%), is shocking. We started unpacking the data after school today, and will pinpoint the problem areas and reteach. But what if it's ME?

2nd period tomorrow we'll pore over the results. In the meantime, my students have received their results and completed corrections in class today, and gave me lots of feedback as we went over the questions and the answers. I have an inkling. . . but the facts will be reported tomorrow.

Round 2: Ding

The Toshiba's hard drive failed after one week. Exchanged it and the young person is back in business. He handled it with grace-much more than I show when one of my machines fails to even do a service boot. I also received my first comment from him on the blog. He knows what I write about him, and gives me lots of input, but now he's out there commenting.

I laughed out loud when I saw this comment from my own son under my blog post:

Tmister said...

My name is Tullus. I am the son of Andrea Weis. I am the one who got the AWESOME laptop for my birthday.

That all changed today.

I was trying to get onto my laptop. The first time I tried, it worked. When I tried the internet, it froze. It was connected to the wireless connection, and all was right in the world.

But, for some reason that I can't explain, when I tried to restart it, it wouldn't get past the standby phase on windows 7.

My mom fooled around with it, being the smartest one in the family dealing with technical issues. Well, she made a few calls, and somethings up with the hard drive or something.

So, tomorrow, I am sorry to report that she will be returning my laptop. It was a good laptop, and whatever went wrong with it....


September 15, 2010 6:49 PM

He was absolutely right-not his fault, it was the hard drive. So now he's reinstalling his favorite things on the laptop, like Skype and Picasa, and I realized something. I have my own little feedback person right in my own home. Hmmm. You'll be hearing more from him very soon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Going well, thank you for asking.

We are now at one week with the 12 year old having his own laptop. So far, so good. Parental controls enforced, and only one reminder necessary. All messages meeting expectations and time restraints honored.

Problem 1: I want to Skype my cousins at all hours. They are family.
Solution: Hours of conversation created.

Problem 2: I am going to volunteer to make a video project in one day for my
social studies group. It has 35 clips that need to be edited.
Solution: You will make a PowerPoint with a few flash clips. Do not volunteer
for a project that takes 20 hours to complete in a 3 hour window.

Problem 3: My sister clicked on a contaminated link that was given by (gasp) her teacher!
Solution: Run virus scan and email teacher so that others do not suffer.

These, I think, are opportunities for learning, not setbacks. But they cost me a few hours. Learn from my mistakes.

Positives: I (young person)can check my web portal with no assistance and get my homework checked off my to-do list!

I (young person)can create a set of online flash cards to study for my quiz!

I've (young person)learned how to use sticky-notes and followed through on what was on them!

So, it's been a good week. Way to go, young person!!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

1:1 in My House

I believe in 1:1 computer access in schools. My son, who is in 6th grade attends a school that has plenty of computers, but the school is not even investigating a 1:1 program, so my husband and I made the decision in the last week of how we want to handle this as parents. We've been talking about it for years, but the moment was upon us.

It just happens that we are both teachers too, and if I think that all students should have a computer at 6th grade, I'd like to see how that works in my own home.

The boy's birthday is September 8th, and he'll be turning 12. He's a first-born who is the model of responsibility and it's really a little gross how genuinely attuned he is to what his duties are to himself, family, and community. So here is what is going on. He's been saving for half of the money toward a laptop for three years and has about $1000 in his savings account. Also, he has cash on hand that he uses for his entertainment (church festivals, comic books, movies), and has proven that he knows the value of money. He took a babysitting certification class over the summer, paying half for it, and has begun working for other families.

As far as usage at home, we monitor all his e mail communications and texts, and have dealt with a few blips in appropriate language (two incidents a year ago) and have allowed him to Google chat (no video except family), and audio chat as long as he is in family common areas. We bristle at the word "suck", so we're really pretty conservative about what we approve of him saying aloud let alone in print. We're completely aware that in his tree house and playing basketball with friends the conversation will be what they deem appropriate, and that's part of his growing up, etc. But we like that he knows how to censor himself and change gears based upon the situation.

Therefore, with the great deals on laptops at the moment, (and pressure to walk the talk) we decided to go ahead and do it at the time of his birthday with grandparents and us (parents) covering our portion so that he can have a very nice laptop. It's a Toshiba Satellite, 15.6" display with 3 GB of memory (expandable to 8) and a 320 GB hard drive. $500.

We know that we are jumping off into a new world, but we want him to learn to handle information and manage the technology. Anyone else facing this great new leap?

Here is the agreement that he will have to sign on Wednesday. It will have drool on it by the time he signs it, I'm sure. I'll let you know the first time we have an infraction, and the first two weeks are sure to be ugly.

Agreement for Computer Usage

1. 11.Having access to a computer is not a right. I will remember that I may only use my computer for school or entertainment as my parents allow. I will provide all passwords that I use to my parents.

2. 22. Anything that is on my computer may be viewed at any time by my parents.

3. 33.I will use my laptop DOWNSTAIRS. If I want to take my laptop upstairs to my room, I will ask for special permission and explain why it is necessary.

4. I will ALWAYS tell a parent or another adult immediately, if something is confusing or seems scary or threatening, or just doesn’t seem right.

5. I will NEVER give out my full name, real address, telephone number, school name or location, schedule, password, or other identifying information when I'm online. I will check with an adult for any exceptions.

6. I will NEVER set up a face-to-face meeting with someone I've met online.

7. I will NEVER respond online to any messages that use bad words or words that are scary, threatening, or just feel weird. If I get that kind of message, I'll print it out and tell an adult immediately. The adult can then contact the online service or appropriate agency. If I'm uncomfortable in a live chat room, I will use the "ignore" button.

8. I will NEVER go into a new online area that is going to cost additional money without first asking permission from my parent or teacher.

9. I will NEVER send a picture over the Internet or via regular mail to anyone without my parent's permission.

10. I will NOT give out a credit card number online without a parent present.

By agreeing to these terms, I accept responsibility for my actions, and will remember to protect my online reputation just as I protect my reputation in face to face interactions.

Young Person___________________________ Date__________________

Parent/Guardian________________________ Date__________________

Parent/Guardian________________________ Date__________________

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where am I now?

When students come back to my class in August, I have the luxury of knowing where they left off in June. Either they were in my own classroom, or they were in the classroom of my evil twin working on coordinated assignments and assessments which let me know exactly what they know. It's fun to meet them on the first day with feedback of where they were and how to set goals for the first two weeks-hit the ground running.

So now we are entering week 3 (2nd full week) and it's time for the students to start setting their own goals. For several years I've been working toward having students evaluate their own performance toward mastery and set goals for how to achieve the next level, and we are making a dent. On Friday, the students took a self-test, evaluated it themselves and set goals with specific tasks that will help them get there. And my job, this week, is to help them get it in motion.

Let me be more specific. 8th grade Latin students must know noun endings in order to determine the use of a noun in order to put it in the right place in a sentence in order to determine the meaning of the sentence. (yes, this can work in the opposite direction too, which is the trick). Students figure out how much they know and where the gaps are. Then, I have to provide the practice, steer them to the right one, and help them measure their growth.

I've consulted "On Common Ground"'s section on Assessment for Learning, pp. 76-77, and was fortified by two statements: "Use. . . assessments in collaboration with students to track improvement over time." and "Assessment promotes growth and then verifies it." I'm convinced that students who develop the ability to assess their own performance in middle school will have a distinct advantage in the future. And I'm all about Latin providing all the advantages that it can.

So, after they evaluated their performance we had some basic-middle-advanced discussions and the goals are, certainly, mixed in how useful they are. How am I going to hone this skill? Okay, first, I'm going to send them to the right practice in wordchamp. Second, I'm going to have to use a simple hand-made chart in the classroom for awhile. Third, I'm delving into how blackboard can help me create groups that have a common goal and organize students into smaller learning communities.

I'm asking lots of questions of other teachers in my plc, including you all, and am looking forward to making a big dent!

On a lighter note, gaping void has become a daily destination for me! I urge you to check out the thoughtful cartoonist Hugh MacLeod!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to School 2010! Do your Homework!

Homework! What do I think of homework? Well, first, let's make a few provisions:
1. Homework should reinforce student learning with the necessary practice to master concepts.
2. Homework should offer students feedback on how they are progressing.
3. Homework should give the instructor information about how to help the student.
4. Homework should be timely and not a time-waster.
5. Homework should NEVER be a penalty.

I LOVE homework. This kind of homework is a wonderful tool for me as a teacher and in the last few years I've made some changes that completely altered how I and my students feel about it.

First, the homework that I assign is "outsourcing" and that means tasks that can be done outside of class to give the necessary repetition of items for a student to master a skill. After a few practices in class only a fraction need the drill and kill. The rest should not suffer.

Second, the homework is due within a window of time-meaning that the students have the assignment several days ahead and can fit the homework into their schedules. This is especially great for vocabulary that needs to be mastered within a certain time period. And the rate of completion goes up to close to 100% when the middle school student learns that she can choose to do it on Tuesday after soccer or Wednesday before watching TV. What a great skill for students to learn! In the real world adults have deadlines and set their timelines, and this is how children learn the skill of time management.

Third, the students can see exactly how having done the practice improves their performance. "Gee, because I had practiced and used the feedback to learn I helped my team in class win points on the challenge questions. Hmmmm. Maybe this is cause and effect?"

Thinking hard about good homework assignments isn't easy, but the payoff is HUGE. Students who are meeting expectations on time and are ready to learn at each step makes my job of planning much easier. When the student isn't succeeding, I can address it quickly, provide opportunities to catch up and they are then back with the class having a great experience. The stress level has gone down considerably for everyone involved (parents have noticed), and students are willing to take risks because they know if they fall down, they won't be left behind and trampled.

What set me off about homework anyway? The fantastic book, The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano. His discussion brings many studies into the question (Good and Brophy; Cooper; Bennet, Finn and Cribb; Epstein) but the bottom line is this: "Small amounts of well-structured homework. . . may produce the desired effect."

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Many years ago one of my favorite colleagues was giving what was then called the "citizenship" portion of the state test. It was the day of the test and she wrote on the board C-I-T-I-Z-E-N-S-H-I-* And turned around to give directions for the first portion of the test to her students. After a minute one of them pointed discretely to the board and indicated that there might be a need for revision. The image is emblazoned so perfectly in my mind that no one can say the word "Leadership" without me seeing it written on the board (with a "t" at the end). Yes, I teach middle school. I'd like to think that if I did that in one of my classes, the class "tablet editor"would walk up and correct my error-or at least highlight it.

Last week we teachers and administrators spent some time talking about what we need to do as leaders in our building to help those who lag or resist moving toward the next goal. We have an "i-team" made up of reps from different departments and grade levels who go back to smaller groups to interpret the message to the teachers who are doing the grass roots work, and then bring their experiences back to shape the goals. It was time well spent. We have a great team that is willing to nurture and kick, cajole and support as we move toward good use of common assessments and measuring valuable skill growth in our students.

Our team is reading Marzano's The Art and Science of Teaching first, and I'm enjoying how much toward the ART it leans in the opening-and yet it's supported by all the charts that are necessary to satisfy the science demand. As we read, we're sharing thoughts in segmented groups, but I'd like to be able to have the conversation as a group. Perhaps a wiki is the answer? Or maybe I should invite my team members to have the conversation here on the blog. Hmmm.

At the same time our technology committee made a 1:1 proposal to the board of education that was warmly met and bodes well for us moving to tablets in the next three years-what enlightenment! So with all this forward movement going on, who wants to sleep? Let's research right now! Or. . . go to the beach for a vacation. Or. . . do both? What an idea!

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Year

It was a year-was it a good year?

Children with whom I had conversations that involved their lives outside of school: 96 X 4
Children with whom I discussed how they learn: 93 X 4
Children with whom I discussed why they learn: 108 X 2

Incidental conversations about their situations: 93 X n


One child one connection that will last a lifetime.

These are only the ones that I can document. This is a good year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Animoto-and a Win

I like Animoto. It's easy to set up an all-access educator account and then create some engaging items for your classroom.

My last week with Animoto was really pretty good. I used it to make "senior salutes" for the students who stuck with us through 12th grade (Latin V) and began with us in the 6th grade. That's a lot of classroom hours to get to know them, not to mention still like them!

The only tricky thing was downloading the Animoto video, which is an Mp4, into a format that would go with the rest of our hour-long presentation during which four teachers distribute 200 Latin awards.

It needed to be smooth and foolproof, no using two programs clicking back and forth, that was NOT going to work. We switch off who is speaking/presenting, distributing the awards, taking pictures, and keeping the show moving, so it's a tightly mapped hour.

Here are we four, imagine us dancing around each other with awards and ushering groups of children in and out of pictures to the applause of parents and grandparents.

It has to go well.

Here's how I solved the problem:
1. Download and save Animoto to hard drive.
2. Try 8 different programs and formats over three days to get it into a format that will play in ppt. Fail.
3. Eat potato chips and think how the crunchy sound is not unappealing.
4. Upload Animoto videos to private status in YouTube and then watch as it still doesn't work when I try to convert it back because, well, they're private.
5. Upload Animoto videos publicly then use atube catcher to convert them to video files that DO WORK!
6. Delete videos from YouTube.
7. Test-view presentation 5 times the day of event, save it to thumb drive and a copy on school server. OCD much? (Don't even ask me about my cohort who created the color-coded filing system for the awards that was cross indexed by the students names and likelihood of where they would be sitting in the event-if I think they're in the back, it will take them longer to get to the dais, so I can put their award further back in the stack.
8. An hour before event, test sound and all connections in event space. In our case, High School with a movie-sized projection screen and my sweet little tablet giving the input.
9. Enjoy presentation with no glitches. Wow. What you thought something was going to go wrong? Nope. All is well in IH Latin-land.
10. Receive thank-you notes next day from parents for keeping things moving and keeping everyone involved!
Until next year. . . .

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wordchamp Wednesday

Another great success (that originated in failure) occurred over the last 7 days. My 7th grade students had been making great strides with neuter nouns, even to the point of writing their own stories. Matthew Webb once shared a terrific story about monsters and rocks (monstra et saxa, which are neuter nouns) and last year my classes wrote the second war of monsters and rocks with their own graphics. This year we continued the tradition with a third war in which the students could incorporate more characters of their choice. The grammar was coming along beautifully and I thought all was well. Well it was not.

The evaluation asked the students to examine sentences from the stories that they had written themselves and identify subjects (nominatives) and direct objects (accusatives). We had an epic fail. 3 A's, 2 B's, 18 C's, 21 D's, 2 F's.

Not what I anticipated. So, re-teaching was necessary. I designed three wordchamp exercises that isolated the problems separately: English knowledge of subject/direct object, Latin recognition of nominative/accusative, Correlating the term nominative with subject and accusative with direct object. Students completed the exercises until they were scoring in the 90's (it took some 11-12 tries). They recorded on paper their starting scores and final scores in the exercises and reflected upon what they now understood better about the concept. Then, we re-read stories in small groups to practice the skill in context, and I retested (and held breath).

Results? You bet. New scores: 28 A's, 14 B's, 3 C's and 1 D. Targeted reteaching works. What had gone wrong? The idea of English subject and direct object was not clear for a portion of the students, and this combined with a lack of understanding of the Latin terminology for cases compounded the problem. Students were writing the Latin correctly, but didn't know WHY it was correct. Now they have the concept with the terminology and will be able to transfer it to new situations-that's what I wanted, it just took a side alley to get there.

What will I do differently next year? After I pre-test with an English sample that is similar to the 6th grade English curriculum on subject and direct object, I'll have a follow up assignment with an unfamiliar topic to make sure I'm getting consistent results about what they know (in English), not just what they memorized. Also, I'll have activitites prepared for the students who need reinforcement of the basics, and extension ready for the ones who have it mastered. Yes, they had the skill at one point, but it didn't stick and it didn't transfer, so that's what I'm now prepared for.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wordchamp Wednesday

Wordchamp is all about WANTING to crunch the data that you get. It gives you so much to work with, it makes me ask the question, "what motivates a teacher to make changes based on this data?" Well, I was in a meeting Monday, and was screen-reading over the shoulder of an anonymous colleague who was multi-tasking /perusing this article,

Enthusiastic and Growing Teachers: Individual Dispositions, Critical Incidences, and Family Supports

about enthusiastic teachers and I was really interested. So, she sent it to me later and it really grabbed me. Here's the quote that turned the key:

"I don't want to be a veteran teacher who's not 'with it'. I want the students to keep learning until I walk out of here. I keep looking for new ideas. Times are changing, students are changing and I'm changing."

I'm lucky to be surrounded by like-minded colleagues, or at least often associate myself with them, so I feel inspired by their growth. Many thanks to my IH comrades who are grabbing everything offered!

So, maybe Wordchamp isn't for you. If you're happy with doing things as usual, and you really don't want to use a new tool to improve student learning, go ahead and ignore it. The rest of us will see you in the 21st century.