Sunday, January 31, 2010

Where Does the Time Go?

I took the weekend off from Twitter to spend some time lesson planning, hanging with the wife and blogging like a mad man. I spent parts of last week helping different teachers with different tech. I was sharing ideas and showing them websites they might want to use. I decided I was going to create another blog and gear it specifically for my school. We have a tech guy and he does a good job helping those in need, but nobody is out there looking for new sites for other teachers to use in their class. I figure I'm already doing that, so why not create a page with my teacher in mind.

There will be times where I will double dip in the posting. Some things are good for all teachers, while others are going to be more specific for my building. I'm excited to use the avenue to reach the other teachers I normally do not see throughout the day and maybe enhance the learning in their class with new technology. It will be a little more work, but the tools I have learned about from you great people will actually make it easier for me to do this.

I want to take this time to thanks the great people who have been supportive of this blog since it's birth 1 month ago. I wanted to just have a place to post some ideas that I thought others would like and it has become something a bit more. I love reading the comments left from people from all over the world. It makes me want to read others and comment on their blogs to spread the love. There have been a few people that have really led the charge on Twitter and my blog that, without them, I'm not sure I would have kept going.

Kelly Tenkley and her great blog iLearn Technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @ktenkely. She was one of the very first people to comment on my blog and follow me on twitter. She has shared wonderful ideas and websites that have helped myself and teacher in my building. She has also organized a Blogging Alliance. This is a group of educator bloggers who support the blogs of everyone involved to keep the flow of ideas open to all. It's a wonderful thing and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Steven W. Anderson and his non-stop tweeting. @web20classroom. This man has shared tons of great information over the course of the month I have been following him. I feel like I have really missed out on the tweets I may have missed when I was not following him. We have had some exchanges on Twitter and I always walk away feeling like I learned something.

Shelly Terrell @ShellTerrell - If you are not following her or reading her blog, you are nuts. She has been sharing amazing ideas since day one. Go back and read her older posts on 30 Goals. They have helped me focus and become a better blogger. Thanks to you.

Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1 His blog is filled with an almost innumerable amount of resources and links. He actually listed my blog on his website. I was beyond thrilled. Thanks to you for all of the hard work you do to spread the good word of educators all over the world. 

Tom Whitby @tomwhitby His comment during #edchat are great. They have really made conversations informative and interesting. Check out his blog.  

Here are a host of other great tweeters and bloggers I have had the pleasure of chatting with and reading their work. I suggest you follow them and read their blogs. 


These are just a few people I've shard thought and idea with. I cannot wait create a massive list of the wonderful people that stop by and comment on my blog and tweet back and forth with me. Thanks again to everyone and I look forward to sharing for a very long time.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Want My Teacher To Learn

Some people might think that this song might be a bit cheesy, but I think the message is important. Thanks to @xmath2007 for sharing this on Twitter.

Here is the link if you cannot watch the video above. 


"I Can't Find Any Information!"

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that from my students. Another one I love to hear is, "What do you mean I can't use Wikipedia as a source?" As an English Teacher, I have spent many long hours teaching students how to conduct proper searches on the internet.

Sometimes I just want my students to look at a few specific websites for a specific project. I have started using a great site I want to share with you great teachers. The site is called Diigo and it is a bookmarking site. By creating a free profile, you can add specific pages to your account and direct students or other teachers to look at them. That is not the only thing you can do with this great tool though.

Highlighting - You can highlight specific information before you bookmark the site. This can save people time when there is to much information to read through and all you want is a few lines.

Sticky Notes - You can places notes on the highlighted areas to remind you of their relevance. There have been too many times where I have bookmarked a site and I could not remember why I saved it a day or so later.

Groups - You can create specific groups and send pages you find to that group only. You can make the group a public group (anyone can join) or a private group (you select who can join). After some time, I will make the teacher's group a private group to keep nosy teenagers at bay.

Email - You can directly email any site yo find to yourself or other teachers. You can create an address book and send the site directly to students or to other teachers in your department.

Teacher Account - You can request to sign up for a Teacher Account from Diigo. This will allow you to sign up students to join your specific groups that you have created. I have a Teacher Account, but am not using it with my students yet. I'm just creating groups and keeping them open to the public. I put links to them on my website so they can view the groups without an account. It could come in handy if I want to email them sites to look at over the weekend.

Linking Accounts - Diigo allows you to link your blog and Twitter accounts to your Diigo account. This way, if you bookmark something, it can be posted to you blog and your Twitter. You can set up a your account to post all the bookmarks you have made to your blog. It can be set for a daily, twice daily or weekly. This is a great way to save you time. You can also link your iPhone to Diigo as well. Download the Diigo App and you will have access to anything that you have bookmarked. It migth be available for other phones, but you would have to check for that.

The best way to start bookmarking after you create your account is to download the toolbar. It will sit at the top of your browser and you just click the bookmark button when you want to share a website. There are many other great parts of Diigo that you can use. It's best to log on and play around a bit. Have fun!


Caring is Sharing

There have been times when another teacher asked if I could send them an assignment I used last year because they would love to use it for their class. I'm usually a pretty organized person, but sometimes things get moved from one place to another. Slideshare is a great website where you can upload your PowerPoint presentations, word documents and PDFs for other teachers to use when they want them. You can even put certain documents directly on your website if you want your students to have access to the document.

Slideshare is a free website that is quick and easy to use. If you have some older handout that are not on your computer, it's still not a problem. Use one of the new copiers in the building, scan the document, email it to yourself, and then upload it to the site. After you upload a document, you can decide who can view the documents. As more teachers create profiles, we can create a network that will connect all of the teachers in the building across departments. Social Studies could be sharing with English, Science could share with Math and Art could share with...with... well, most department could share documents with each other.

I'm going to start slowly uploading many of my regular use documents and just send the link to all of my department members so they can pick and choose what they want for their class. It would be great if most departments would use this site because it could be a great resource for new teachers in the building. Give Slideshare a shot and see all of the different things you can do. Remember, Sharing is Caring.


Why I Tweet

Yes, I tweet. Feel free to make your twit joke now. I started to use Twitter at the start of the school year after an article I read about using it for schools. You might be surprised to know that Grosse Pointe North has a Twitter account. So does the school district. There is a very good reason they tweet. Information. Spreading information is key in our job and Twitter is just another way to do that.

Getting started is not as scary as you think. Here is a link to get the skinny on Twitter. It's on a blog by Kate Klingensmith and she always has something interesting to say on various topics. I also bookmarked it on my Diigo account as well. A simple Google search will bring up many articles and blogs telling you why tweeting as a teacher is a great thing. I will tell you why it is a good thing from my experience.

Reasons Why I Tweet as a Teacher:

1. It gives my students to be connected to the class at all times. If I have something I want my students to know about, I no longer have to wait until the next day. That information is there in an instant. I always seem to come across something on TV that I would love for my kids to watch, but I can't tell them in time. Now they could know.

2. It can keep me informed about the world around me when I'm out and about. You can follow many different news sites and receive information from around the world. In the information age, having access to the information is important.

3. There are smart teachers out there. There are many great teaches out there that tweet about great sites they use in class or practices that have worked well for them. It would be crazy to not want to be in contact with them. Sharing is a huge part of what teachers do all day. Why not reach out and share your ideas with other teachers and take the ideas they have if you want. Learning is global. It's important for you start thinking and sharing that way.

4. Sick Days! On the occasion that I'm not feeling well, I can send a tweet to my followers to let them know that I will not be in school and they have an extra day on their assignment. Kids love to hear about extra time on assignments. Now they can show up to your class knowing what to expect.

5. Parent contact. Not all parents are on Twitter, but the numbers are growing. This is another way for you to reach out to parents and share information. Let them know that the online gradebook has been updated. Let them know about the project that is due next week and that the information can be found on your website. Communication is very important in our job. This is just another tool for our box.

6. I talk too much! I  have had to learn to be concise with my information. With only 140 character, I have learned to put the focus on the important information. If I could only do that for my story telling.

There are many more uses for Twitter, but those are some of the big ones. Think of the many different things you could do with another from of communication. Give it a try!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Netbooks for Everyone?

I'm an Apple Freak and I'm excited by the iPad. I immedietly started thinking of all the different ways I could use it in class. I would love to have a set off laptops in my class for students to use. However, when I propose this idea, how do I answer the "why" question? Should a class be outfitted with laptops? Please leave a comment? Also, does anybody know of places were I could apply for grants to fund this idea? Thanks again!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Marking Period Without Testing

I read this article on cheating and assessments and it got me thinking. In it, the article says that cheating increases as students get older because learning becomes more and more about testing and less and less about the mastery of skills. As a high school teacher, I spend my time telling students they need to learn this format because it will be on the ACT or the State Test. The reason I tell that to students is because the Administration tells us that these students need to learn these facts because they will be tested on them during the State Test and we need to make AYP to receive an "A" or NCLB. Our tests need to be designed to look like the State Test so students can become familiar with the look of the exam. Test taking strategies, although helpful, have become the focus of too much class time. As teachers, what are we teaching? Are we teaching kids how to be a part of the system? Take information and fill in a bubble? Success is measured by one score on a test that you can take multiple times? Information is only valuable until the assessment then it can be deleted from the mental hard drive? As I sit here peering over midterm exam scores, I realized that things need to change and I'm going to start today.

For the next 10 weeks, I am not going to give a test. All assessments will be project based and created by the students. If I'm really after finding out if they have mastered the material, why not let them show me how they mastered it. They might want to make a PowerPoint. One student might create a movie and another might write a poem or some. Heck, one student might choose to write an essay to show me how they mastered the skills. As long as the students know what skills they are expected to master, this should not be a problem. Right?

Here is how I think the process will work.

1. Teach Lesson that includes Skill Set X

2. Give a detailed explanation of Skill Set X

3. Have students create a project in a specified time frame that will demonstrate Skill Set X (A few suggestions will help kids see where I want them to go)

4. Students need to create a rubric for me to use when I grade the project

5. Students submit or present projects.

6. Skills Mastered

7. Nobel Prize in Education awarded (I'm sure there are a few steps in between, but I just skipped ahead for brevity's sake) :)

As an English teacher, I'm not suggesting that I will never have students write an essay ever again, but I think the essays I have students write that is more for structure than content could be replaced with a student led project. Instead of multiple essays to teach students to use transitions in paragraphs or the correct order of a Persuasive Essay, why not a song or comic book?

What do you think? Want to join me in this new campaign to change assessments in America? The change needs to start somewhere and why not help start it in your classroom. I'll keep everyone posted on the ups and downs of this rollercoaster ride. As always, thanks for reading and please leave feedback.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tech in the Curriculum

Thanks to @tomwhitby. His blog is great and this post is an off-shoot of his latest post.

A couple of weeks ago, I met with teachers from my district to go over the English Curriculum. We wanted to make sure our curriculum matched up with the State Standards. We were also going to slim it down a bit and tweak here and there.

One big debate arose over Tech use. A small portion of the group (teachers teaching for 10 years or less) thought that including language in the curriculum that would require teachers to use Web2.0 tools in the clasroom. The rest of the group (teachers of over 10 years teaching experience) thought this was unfair for those teachers who can't use these tools. We argued that if these teachers do not get on board with tech, their students will be the ones hurt. By adding this language to the curriculum, this is the only way to ensure, and hold accountable, the teachers who refuse to look at the new educational tools out there. We ended up adding language that requires a multimedia/multi-genre web-based project for grade 9 and 10. It was a good day for tech teachers everywhere.

What are your thoughts? Should tech be written into Curriculums to force teachers into joinin the 21st Century, or should those teachers be left alone to explore tech on their own?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Beware Of The Soda Bottle and Other Cheating Techniques Used By Students

I wanted to share this video with all of the teachers out there. This is something I actually heard about a few years ago and made sure to never allow students to have any drinks on their desk during test time. Here are some other things to look out for as students take tests.

The iPod/MP3 Player - It seems like a nice thing to allow students to listen to music while they take a test, but it's not. I love to listen to music when I work , but they might not be listening to music at all. It is too easy for students to record their own voice and store it on their MP3. They could recite formulas or definitions. They might be saying certain important plot points over and over again. They can record anything and label it Justin Bieber and the teacher would not have a clue. No MP3's during test time.

Purses/Backpacks - The all go under the desk or in the front of the room. I caught a student going into their purse multiple times for breath mints. I was suspicious and asked if I could have one, but they would not share. After telling them I needed the tin, they confessed and I found a tiny cheat sheet inside the lid.

 All Notebooks and Textbooks - I caught a kid who wrote in red ink on the cover of their red notebook. I had to to a double take, but I busted her.

Cell Phones - Once texting and picture mail became huge, all cell phones were banned from my class. You cna keep them in your bag if you want, but if I see them, they are mine until the end of the day. This is really tough with iPhone because students can listen to music after a test, but not Iphone users. I have an iPhone and love it, but it's too easy to cheat with that amazing device. #Applebias

Misc. - The craziest thing I have ever caught was a cheating with a pen. This pen was a little different. Every time you clicked the top, a message from the Bible would change at the center of the pen. What a creative student did was replace the Bible messages with math formulas. It was very creative, but very wrong.

The biggest tool against cheaters in the classroom is your eyes. Students are a paranoid bunch. If you keep an eye on them, they are less likely to try something sneak in front of you. Then again, you always have those few that will try anyway...

Why Am I Checking This Essay?

 Why am I Checking This Essay?

Thanks to all of the wonderful people out there that have been passing my last post around. It came to me while I was driving home from school and it just sort of developed. I hope the rest of my posts are as well received as my last one.  Also, I want to give a shout out to a student of mine. Katie P. (AKA The Turtle) designed the new header for my blog. She did a great job and deserves a shout out.

I've been working on Persuasive Writing with my students and I could not figure out why they were making the exact same mistakes they made a month ago. I took an informal poll of my class. I wanted to know how many actually review their papers after I have checked them. Not surprisingly, the only students who did (a grand total of 2) were my best writers. I then asked the class, "How many just check Pinnacle (our online gradebook) to see the grade?" Again, not surprisingly, the remaining 28 students who struggle with writing raised their hand. The downside of submitting papers online and using an electronic gradebook is the fact that students are not forced to review their personal mistakes. It's easier to see a grade and be content that it was good enough. There had to be a way to fix this. So, I came up with a process to help these students see their mistakes firsthand.

The Guided Essay Correction Process

Day 1 - Go over the fine points of essay writing you want the students to know.

Day 2 - Give the students an impromptu essay in class.

Day 3 - Pass out red pens and have students check their essays based on the exact same criteria established on Day 1. Walk through each part of the essay and allow time for corrections. (Tech Integration Possibility - Use a document camera to show examples to students as they check their own paper.)

Results - Students will see their own mistakes first hand and have a better understanding of what they need to work on in the future.

I'm not suggesting all essays be checked this way, but guiding students through checking an essay can spare you some red ink later.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tech Integration is Like Cooking....

Before I start this post, I want to give a shout out to the Teacher Twitter Nation that responded to some of my tweets that led to this post being written. @ktenkely, @cpoole27, @mattpearson, @fejoknom, @BArcher001, @ShellTerrell, @Russsauntry, @SeanBanville, @Marissa_C, @msmithpds and anyone else that re-tweeted my comments. With educators like these, the world of education is heading in the right direction. :)

I love to cook. It's  right up there with gardening. People think I'm weird when I tell them I love to do those two things. I've always been a bit of a jock and videogamer, but I have a creative side I get to show in the classroom when I teach, but also when I garden and cook. I was thinking about cooking, mostly because I was hungry, but I realized that there is a link to how I learned to cook and how I have integrated technology as a teacher. I hope these comparisons help you or teachers you know start to bring new forms of technology to your students.

Start Boiling Eggs Before You Make A Turkey

 I needed to start off simple so I wouldn't overwhelm myself on the first time out. Once I mastered the easy stuff for myself and then my friends and family, I could move on to more complicated dishes. You need to build confidence as a cook. You are not going to run your own kitchen on the first time out, but you can develop some very important skills while learning the ropes on easy dishes that will prepare you for more difficult ones later on.

Finding new technology for your classroom is the same. You need to find things that you feel will be easy to take on when starting out. It can be a blog, a discussion board or a class website. Whatever you feel you can tackle first, start there. It's important that you use something you feel comfortable with before you start to share it with students. If you are not comfortable, they will not be. Imagine a cook that does not look confident biting into their own burger, Yikes!

Don't Reinvent the Cookbook

When I started cooking, I relied on The Food Network, The Naked Chef Cookbook and various websites. These sources of information were helpful as I tried new and different things. Although one person might be an award winning chef, someone else might have an even better take on the same dish. I looked for sources of information that could help me become a better cook. You might be surprised to know that your friends have recipes that you would love. At this stage, I did not need to create a new recipe every time I cooked, I just needed to see what recipes worked for me.

With Technology, we are blessed with so many people out there that know more about tech that you or me. These teachers are dying to share their information with the world. The only thing you need to do is look around. If there is a teacher in your building using "Clickers" in their class, ask them how they use it and if you can watch. There are many blogs by teachers and for teachers that deal with technology. Your reading one right now.  Once you find something you like, try repeating what they did. Once you master that, try changing it to better fit your needs.

One Spice Does Not Fit All

In my early cooking stages, I would find a spice I loved and I would use it on everything. I did not care if the spice was for pork only or chicken only, I used it on everything. There were a few meals that were not great because of it. I had to learn that certain spices work for certain foods for a reason. Find the right spice for the right food and you will have a better meal in the long run.

It is very easy to assume that this new technology you have fallen in love with will apply to all areas of your curriculum. That is not always the case. Trial and error is the best way to explore, but be prepared for a bad lesson or two if you use it on everything. Use your tech sparingly on the outset. Look for ways that lessons can be connected using the tech and integrate them that way. Not all lesson might need a spice of technology.

All Of The Spices At Once Is Not A Good Idea

Spices are good things. They can enhance the flavor of any dish. They should be used to accent a flavor already found in the pasta, meat or veggie. Adding too much or too many spices will take away from the food itself and can even make the meal taste terrible.

Don't just use all of the technology at once because technology is good. Use only some of it here and there to add some flavor to your lesson plan. They should not take over the actual lesson, but just give it a little kick to appeal to a wider audience.

You Need A Few Bad Meals Before You Create A Masterpiece

I cannot even count the number of failed recipes I tried to put together when I started to explore my personal creative side of cooking. I would mix and match spices that seemed great separately, but were a total disaster. Learning cooking times for certain veggies and meats so that everything can be done at the same time is not an easy thing to learn on your own, but it was important that I do not get discouraged as I cooked. I was ok with making bad meals as long as I went back and noted what went wrong and tried to fix it or scrap it and start over.

We have all created lessons that have not worked out in the classroom. We go in with the best intentions and sometimes it is just a dud. At the end of the day, we sit back and try to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes it's something very simple and the lesson is a hit next year. Other times, the whole thing needs to be scrapped. Integrating technology needs to be treated the same way. You might plug it into a lesson and it works great or it fails. It's important not to give up and try to find what went wrong. If ti can be fixed, fix it. If it can't try to find another way to make it work with a different lesson. You can't give up after a few bad lessons. Most of us would be gone after the first year if that was the case.

When You Finally Get the Right Recipe, Write It Down!

There have been too many times where I finally found the right mix of spices, cooking length and other variables and then I realize I did not write any of it down. I got so into the process and the great thing that I was creating that I didn't take a second to jot some notes down. It's ok if you get used to cooking something that you no longer need a recipe, but it is always good to have in case you need it or your friend asks for that awesome Eggplant Parm you make.

Bookmark or save pages that are helpful to you. Write down and save lesson plans that you create. These are great sources of information when something works or doesn't work. You can go back and hopefully pinpoint the best or worst part. Also, when something works well, you should share it with the world. The only way you can share that awesome lesson on The Declaration of Independence is if you have it written down somewhere.

Know Who You Are Cooking For

I love Tomatoes. My Wife does not like Tomatoes. It's amazing we got married despite this terrible division. When I cook , I need to remember that she is not a fan of tomatoes and I need to make adjustments to my recipes. Some tomato use is unavoidable and she grins and bares it, but I try to make the accommodation because I do not want to eat alone.

Just because you love the Document Camera does not mean everybody is going to love the Document Camera. They should try it, but they don't have to love it. Your students might not like the different types of tech you bring to the class. That might change from year to year. Kids are picky. You need to be ready top adjust your lessons so everybody can enjoy the learning process. Like my wife though, some students will have to have some technology whether they like it or not because it's just part of the recipe, I mean lesson.

You Are Now Ready For Thanksgiving Dinner

After spending time working on the various recipes, I felt confident to invite the family over for Thanksgiving Dinner. I decided to use a combination of personal recipes and ones borrowed or tweaked from other people. I had others who helped me along the way, but I was in charge of the show. There were a few stumbles along the way, but the meal went very well. Drinking Wine along the way did not hurt. :)

After some time, you will feel comfortable to show everyone what you have learned. You can do this at a department meeting or in front of the entire staff. Know that you do not have to do this alone. Ask others to help you along the way and do some of the little things so you can focus on the big picture. It would be a shame if you learned all of these new tech tips and did not share them with the teachers in your building. Sharing is what teachers do. Teaching teachers is not an easy thing to do, but if you can teach one teacher, you are teaching hundreds of students.

Post a comment with your thoughts. I know I left some things out that I will add in at a later date, but I wanted to get a few of these ideas down while they were fresh in the noggin.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Guide for the Non-Techie Teacher Part I

I've been asked to do a presentation for my Department on Technology. I had some reservations because I had no idea where to start. Some of my fellow teachers still use over head projectors for all of their in class work. I decided that the best place to start would be from the beginning. So, here is Part 1 of a multi-part series, "A Guide for the Non-Techie Teacher".

Part I

Turning Your Computer On

What You Should Not Do:

Although romantic, this will not activate the computer or make it work. Keep reading.

What You Should Do:

First, Place your finger by the power button.

Next, press the power button with your finger.

Remove finger from the power button.

I hope this first step helps all of you Non-Techie Teachers. Feel free to offer any other areas of Tech use that you are struggling with. I would be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Have a great day!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teaching Teachers

Happy Friday everyone. I hope you had a great week. Here is a quick story with a suggestion afterwards.

A friend stopped by the computer lab today to watch me work with my class as they finished an essay and prepared to use to submit thei work. As I walked through the different aspects of the paper, my friend silently watched from the back of the room. After I walked the kids through all of the steps, I headed to the back to see what was going on.

She said she heard me say I was going to use the website today and wanted to see me use it with the students during her off hour. Her goal for the second semester is to learn and master a new technology. She said learned more by watching a teacher use the program, than she did sitting through a 2 hour training session with 30 other teachers. She then asked if I would be willing tobwqlk her through the process and show her the "bells and whistles" later on.

As teachers, we often talk about how obvious it is that students learn better in smaller class sizes and with one on one instruction. Why should we expect anything less for teachers? If you have time, please reach out and help a fellow teacher master new technology. Helping one teacher learn, could result in helping hundreds of students down the line.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just a note.

You are a teacher and that makes you B. A.! Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. That is all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why I Teach

I wanted to share this story with as many teachers as possible. This is not the only story I have like this, but it is the most recent (It happened Friday). Please feel free to share your own "Why I Teach" moments on the comment section. I think many of us need to hear these stories. I also think as many parents as possible to need to hear these stories as well.

I was feeling a bit under the gun the past week as I was trying to get multiple class sets of essays checked so I would not be slammed for the weekend. I was also trying to put the final touches on some curriculum stuff for my department for a meeting on Monday. So, it was a typical day for me. I decided to take a working lunch. (I'm generally against this concept because I think it's vital to socialize with your staff as much as possible. I'll write more about this later.) I had just settled down with my PBJ, water and stack of papers when I heard a knock at my door. I turned around and saw a student frantically waving a paper at me and the she dropped the paper and started to plead with me to open the door. It was a bit dramatic, but I had the student last year and didn't think much of it.

I let her in and she explained to me that her current English teacher was giving her a hard time on her Thesis and topic sentence writing. She wanted to know if I would refresh her memory a bit and help her with her paper. I tried to deflect her to after school when I would have more time, but she said, "I know you must be busy, but I just don't get it when she tries to explain it to me. If you help me know, I won't bother you again...until  I need a letter of recommendation."

I could not say no at this point. I sat her down at a desk and began to look over her work and started to walk her through the process of essay writing again. She had a hard time understanding me and I could see the frustration on her face. She looked up at me and said, "I'm sorry I'm having trouble getting this. Why would you ever want to be a teacher and deal with students like me?" I smiled and promised I would tell her in a few minutes.

I started from scratch and went through the essay writing process again. She started to get the idea of what her other teacher wanted and created a near perfect thesis statement. The hallways were getting crowded as the lunch period was drawing to a close and this student had written a much better thesis and 3 topic sentences for her supporting paragraphs. It wasn't a painful task. She had the skills, I just think that she was freaking out for no big reason. After writing her final topic sentence she smiled and said, " I got it now. This wasn't that big of a deal."

Not only do I love seeing a light bulb go off above a student, I love the energy it creates all over. I looked at her and proudly said, "That's why I teach." She left and I took a bite of my PBJ as the bell rang. I knew it was going to be another long day after school, but i wouldn't have traded my missed lunch for anything else....maybe less essays to check. :)

Like I said before, there are so many more stories like this out there. As teachers, I think it's our job to share them with as many people as possible. We are not the people who enjoy "summers off". We are the people that give up lunch hours, after school hours and summer hours to improve ourselves, our schools, our communities, and our students. That's why I teach, why do you?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Are Study Guides Extinct?

Are Study Guides extinct? Has it gone the way of the Triceratops? Will the next generation of teachers look at old handouts and think, "Are these the 'Dittos' we learned about in our Educational History Class?" Do kids actually use them to study, or are they just filling in blanks to receive a few points. Here's my journey that ended up with the burial of Study Guide use in class. 

As a bright eyed teacher ready to change the world, I needed a way to ensure that students would read the assigned material and note important facts along the way. A set of questions designed to lead students to answers that will help them later on for the test. Now, I did not invent this concept. My teachers gave us study guides from time to time and I did what many students did, copy what my friends did or grab the answers from the Cliff Notes. As an English teacher now, it's a tad bit embarrassing. Like many English teachers, I was not counting down the days until I could teach To Kill a Mockingbird while cruising through high school. I thought I would outsmart some of my students by creating questions that had answers that could not be found in Cliff Notes or Spark Notes. I was trying so hard to make kids learn, that I was creating an environment in which no learning was happening. A game of Cat and Mouse would be played between students who do not want to read and a teacher that is trying to find ways to get kids to read. What to do?

My next step was to use more analysis based questions. Create longer study guides by having students discuss important aspects of the story and use literary terms they have learned to dissect the story. Well, it seemed like a great idea until I received the first batch of completed questions. Many students were completing the assignment, but they were all spitting out the exact same answers that we were discussing in class. It was nice to know they were paying attention in class, but they needed to start creating their own answers from the material read and the discussion we were having. Again, I was at a loss. I would try to create a balance with some fact based questions and more analysis based questions to split the difference. Last year, the game was about to change.

As time passed, I was still looking at ways for students to demonstrate knowledge of the text and analysis of ideas discovered in the text. Creative projects were used from time to time. I love having students create comics for stories they read because they have to place emphasis on the aspects of the story they decide to keep in and explain why they edited some parts out. It goes over well, but many of my students are not artistically inclined. Other forms of expression were attempted, but nothing seemed to be attractive to all of the students in my class. Two school years back, my school started to use to check for Plagiarism. We already had a nice policy in place for Plagiarism (Read my last post for more info.), but technology had opened up a world of information to students that were starting to use in school, but not cite appropriately. The Plagiarism check is a wonderful program that I suggest to all schools to look into and I will talk about it in a later post, but they also a discussion board. This is what I was looking for.

I have used discussion boards for a few years in my college classes and on various web sites. I never really considered using it with high school students. The main reason was that I did not have the means to set up a Discussion Board for 150 students. However, now that I had the means, all I needed was the will, and I had plenty of that.

I started off slow and started to use the Discussion Board with my Honors students only. I placed a few questions for the students to answer and allowed them a week to answer. One of the requirements for each question I posted was that they answer my question in 5-6 sentences and that they respond to a fellow student in 3-4 sentences. The biggest problem I encountered was that many students waited to the last minute to respond to the question and forced the most proactive students to wait until other responded. To remedy this, I offered extra points to those first two students that would answer the question to encourage those to start early. That solved the problem quickly. The improvement in recall has been amazing. Students are taking the question I post and answering it fully, but the comments they are making on other students' remarks are incredible. The act of synthesis is a tough one for many students. DB's offer students a chance to create their own answers based on the answers of others. No longer to they feel compelled to spit out the same thing I talked about in class. Here is a great example,

Here is a comment from one student on another student's answer to the initial question. Below is a comment on the above comment. The discussion was growing before my eyes!

Not only were kids demonstrating that they were doing the reading, but they were creating their own questions for others to answer or forcing students who might not agree with them to support their counter argument. What more could a teacher want in a discussion. The exchange of ideas was happening outside of the classroom. One of the biggest surprises was still to come.

The thing that I noticed most after implementing DB's was the voice of the quiet student. The kids in class that normally have nothing to say and avoid eye contact when you ask a question were some of the most prolific DB participants. They seemed excited to offer their voice to the discussion. Perhaps the fear of ridicule was preventing them from answering. On the DB, they are free to answer and know they can do it safely from their computer. The middle of the road kids might be hesitant to challenge the "A" student in class, but have no problem taking aim over the computer. Not only that, the positive feedback they receive on their comments has started to translate in the classroom. The feel more confident that their peers will respect their answers. They no longer avoid eye contact, but strive to be in my line of sight. DB's have changed my class culture in a positive way.

One last positive about the use of DB's is the amount of paper that I have saved my school. An average Study Guide would be at least 3-5 pages long depending on the size of the novel. If I had 3 sections of a class reading the same book and an average of 30 students per class (No joke), then I'm looking at over 200 pages per study guide. Times that by the 5-6 novels we read in year and that's 1,200 pages per year for only 3 classes! That doesn't seem like very much, but you add the rest of my department that uses SG's and the other teachers in the school that use them as well, and the number of pages is astronomical. The Green aspect of DB's is another great reason to use them. 

I asked if Study Guides are extinct. Perhaps they are not extinct, but maybe they have evolved. They were great for a time when students needed to rely on the book and the book alone for all of the answers. With a world of information and short cuts available to them, it is important to use this new world to teach and be innovative.  DB's have brought a more complete learning to my students. They are creating new ideas and sharing them with each other outside of the classroom. As a teacher, these are the things you dream about. I have taken many lessons away from the road to the Discussion Board. It was a long journey, but it is not over. I hope the future educators will learn from these relics and create better tools for their students.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Academic Integrity

Before I start this post, I want to give a shout out to @ktenkely for giving me the idea to write this post. We were exchanging tweets about a silly parent encounter and this topic came up as one I should post. So, thanks to her and all of her hard work organizing Ed bloggers from around the world. (Side Note: A typed in bloggers in the text box and I'm being told it's not a word. Don't you think Blogging software should recognize Bloggers as a word. Hmmmmm.) Anyway, thanks to her and the other Tweeters out there that are fueling the Edu blogging fires!

As an English teacher, one of the biggest topics I cover at the start of the year is the concept of plagiarism. In my youth, copying information out of an encyclopedia was where the biggest offenders would go for their information. Today, the information is all over the world and accessed with a few clicks of the mouse. I'll spend some time in later posts about great software and programs that can be used to check work for un-cited materials. For now, I have a document our district uses that ensures that all students, and parents, know what Plagiarism is and what the consequences are if they are caught.

Student Pledge of Academic Integrity

Below you will find the text of the sheet I hand out to the students on the first day of school. It is the first assignment they receive and I will not accept any other work from them until they take this sheet home and sign it with their parents. They bring it back and I make a copy. I keep the original and give them the copy. Now everybody has a copy of the form. (This part is really important later on!)The threat of not accepting any work for the rest of the year seems to work with my students. The pledge can be used for an entire school year (Like I do.), it can be used once per marking period, it can be used once per semester, or it can be used for every essay a student submits. I prefer to use it once at the start of the year and file it away and hopefully never have to look at it until the end of the year when I shred and recycle. Feel free to edit the text and share with other teachers. After looking at the form, I will share a fun little story that started this post.

Student Pledge of Academic Integrity

Students in (Place your Class, School or District name here.) sign a pledge of academic integrity confirming that the assignments they submit are their own creation. The Pledge certifies that if research is included in a student's submitted assignment, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, verses, charts, tables, graphics, etc that are taken from another writer or another source, whether quoted or paraphrased, are properly credited to the creator following documentation rules found in (Name the source of your documentation rules. We use MLA Citation.).


  • to use and attempt to pass off as one's own, the ideas or writings of another
  • to appropriate for the use of one's own, passages or ideas from another
  • to plagiarize the ideas or words of another
Plagiarism is inappropriate, never acceptable, and always a very serious academic offense. If you ever have any doubt about the integrity of your completes assignment or the correctness of your documentation of sources, ask your teacher before submitting the work. 

IMPORTANT: Plagiarizing another student's work is just as unacceptable as plagiarizing a professional writer's work. Likewise, having someone else write your assignment, in full or in part, for a fee or at no charge, is also defines as plagiarism and is subjected to the same serious penalties.

According to the (Place your Class, School or District Code of Conduct here. Your penalties are your decision, but this is what we have.) Code of Conduct, the penalty for plagiarism is loss of credit for the assignment, possible temporary separation from school (Currently, the student receives a 1 day in school suspension.) and, depending upon the seriousness of the case, an additional academic penalty up and including potential loss of credit for the marking period. (Currently, if a student has a 2nd offense at any point during the rest of their time at school, it results in a longer suspension and loss of credit for the marking period. We have never had to deal with a 3rd strike victim, but it is supposed to be loss of credit for the semester.) The penalty will be determined by school administration in consultation with the student and the teacher. Community service may also be required. (I have never seen this put into action, but it seems to scare the kids when I discuss in in class.)

(Below is the part the students read and sign with their parents.)

I understand the concept of academic integrity and the penalties I will suffer if I violate the (Place your Code of Conduct here.) Code of Conduct. I hereby pledge that the written work I submit is my own creation and that all inclusions in it from other writer or sources is properly documented.

___________________     _______________      __________
Student's Printed Name       Course Title                Date

___________________________          ____________________
Student Signature                                   Parent Signature

Again, some teachers like to have students submit the last signed part fr every assignment they turn in. I use (I will sing the praises of this site at a later date.), so every essay is submitted electronically. Having a student turn in a signed paper for assignment seems a bit tedious, but feel free to reinforce the concepts as much as you need to.

The Story

No matter how many times you tell students that you will not catch everyone that tries to teach, you will catch some of them. Even when I tell students that they will be submitting their work to a website designed to catch students that cut and paste from other websites without proper citations, they will still try and beat the system.

I had given students an assignment for To Kill a Mockingbird. They were to write an opinion piece on Dill and submit it to It is a very simple assignment that required the kids to discuss the character and how they fit into the story. Well, on student thought that it would be easier to get their opinion from Wikipedia. The website detected the similarities and showed the plagiarism. I printed up the report, attached it to a write up from and handed it to the administrator. I have to do this about once or twice a year and didn't think much about it until the administrator emailed me a day later to say the parents wanted to have a meeting regarding the "alleged" plagiarism. Great, a parent and administrator meeting at the same time. Those are always fun. I wasn't worried though, I had the plagiarism report and it could not be I thought.

During my prep hour (Because that's a teacher's "free time".), I met with the parents and the administrator to discuss the problem and showed them the report that said over 30% of his paper was taken from other sources that were not cited. Not only was this plagiarism, but he didn't need to use other sources because it was supposed to be his personal opinion. (Warning! This part may cause you to spit whatever it is you are drinking out because of the ridiculous factor. If you like your computer screen and keyboard, please swallow now!) The parent looked at the report and their student's work and asked if I could just grade him on the 70% of the work they completed! (Please do not do what I did if this happens to you.) I actually chuckled because I thought she was kidding. Sadly, she was not amused that I was amused.

After assuring the parent I was not trying to ruin their student's academic life, they told me that they were unaware of the consequences for plagiarism and that they were to harsh for such a minor offense. 30% of an assignment should not receive 100% of the punishment. Yup, that was said. I wanted to smile, but I didn't and took out the pledge the student and parent had signed and passed it across the table. The period was about to be over, so I told the administrator that I had to get back to my classroom and that I would be happy to discuss this matter more at a later date.

There was no later date.

This is the only time this has become an issue for me, but it was nice to have the sheet. I joked with other teachers that the parent had no choice to admit to signing the form because if they hadn't, their kid would be busted for forging a parent signature on an official school document. It's win win.

If you would like an electronic copy of our Pledge, drop me a line and I'll send one your way.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Let's Go Paperless

One of the things I decided to do this year was try and become as paperless as possible. Now, I understand "Going Green" is something many people are striving to do. I also think that saving the environment is something all people should do. However, the main reason for trying to go as paperless as possible is because I hate our copy machines. They are either broken or are occupied. I seem to have the exact same schedule as a few other teachers that need to copy their entire textbook all at once. Also, as many other teachers can agree, there is nothing more frustrating than having a student come to your desk asking for a handout from last week so they can complete the assignment due the next day. I stumbled upon a great website that allows people to upload webpages, photos, videos and pdfs. Welcome to

Livebinders is a great site for a few reasons. First, it is a great way to keep any or all of the documents you have for a unit or an entire class. I have created a binder for my Graphic Novel Class. It's labeled as Pictorial Literature and it was a way from me to keep an organized binder of all of my new materials I wanted students to have access to. (Side Note: I will have more posts as time goes on about using Graphic Novels in class to teach core Language Arts concepts.) I was able to create individual units on each tab of the virtual binder and cut and paste my documents. Each assignment was clearly labeled and easily accessible for my students. As the Semester went on, I uploaded and linked more work to the binder. Each Binder has a 100MB capacity. I find it hard to believe that people are going to cross the 100MB mark, but you can always create another Binder. The Binders do not have to be teachers only though.

Students can use binders for projects. I hate having to carry around a bunch of different projects that students have created. They were frustrating in paper form and are a different type of frustrating if they are sent to my email or are burned to a disc. I use a Mac (Love it!) and might not be able to check the assignment at home if they used some weird program I don't have. Also, I just don't trust what kids put on their flash drives or email to open it at home. Livebinders allows anyone to create the binder and store on their website. With the ability to upload PDFs, Pictures, videos, etc, the students will be able to create a full presentation that a teacher can check from the comfort of home. For Social Studies teachers, I know you like to use binders for current events and other projects. A virtual binder would be a great way for students to link to current events and other important Social Studies materials that you can check at your leisure. Also, this is a free service, so it will not cost your students, or you, a dime.

Did you read that last sentence, it's freakin' free! That is another great part of Livebinders. Anything that can make a teacher's life easier and it's free is amazing. Now, it might take some time to upload all of the information you want, but once it's there, it's there. Send the link to students and they can access the information when they need it. Also, the Binder is available to the general public if you want to share the information with other teachers. You can protect your binder from general searches if you want, but that is up to each user.

Lastly, the biggest plus I can give Livebinders is their support services. I was using my binder and uploading a semesters worth of information 3 times and kept vanishing. I couldn't figure it out. I normally just assume it's a bad site and move on, but I saw the potential of this website and thought I would send the people an email to see what was going on. I sent them an email a couple of days before Thanksgiving and they hit me back in a day. The said I had stumbled upon one of their bugs that they are trying to fix. If you cut and paste too much information, the Binder you created would shut down. They apologized for the error and told me that they would work to retrieve my lost information and have it up and running after the Thanksgiving weekend. I thought that is really nice of them and I appreciated their quick response and I look forward to using the system. I received and email the weekend after Thanksgiving apologizing for the time it was taken to fix the bug in the system and offered to create the binder for me if I sent them my documents! They were going to do all of the work for me! I thanked them, but declined because I still wasn't sure about what I wanted to put in the binder. It is the best customer service I have ever received. Ever!

Livebinders is a great site that is still in the Beta phase, but it's a nice place for a teacher to start storing their handouts for students to access them when they need them. I actually had a student tell me it was nice to have access to the handouts because he is often to embarrassed to ask for a lost handout. That was reason enough for me to start storing more of my handouts on Livebinders.

Leave me a comment with your thoughts or experiences with this great site.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Nerdy Teacher

I've decided to create a blog. I'm a 30 year old English teacher that is currently working on my Masters Degree in educational technology. I spend tons of time helping other teachers in my building incorporating technology into their teaching and thought it would be nice to share these new concepts with the world out there. Also, I'm sure this blog can help me with my Masters Program.

If you have any thoughts or ideas you would like to share, please feel free to email me or post a comment. Let's see where this thing takes us.