Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Directions


I have been asked to be the educational blogger for The Balancing Act. The Balancing Act is a show on the Lifetime network and they needed someone to write about some education for parents. Since I'm always up for something new, you will find me posting once a week on different topics that would concern parents, teachers and students. Sometimes I will focus on the great web based tools available for parents to use to support the work teachers do in the classroom and other times I will write about simple strategies teachers use to help student be successful that parents might not know about. I'm excited about the chance to bring a teacher's view of education to parents. I don't think the average teacher is heard and this is chance to speak. Not much is going to change from my end of the site. My posts will be doubled up here on TheNerdyTeacher and at my page on The Balancing Act. I think this officially fills my schedule, but I'm sure someone (Kelly, Shelly, Shannon, Kyle, Tim, etc...) will convince me to do something else awesome. :-) I hope I provide a good voice for teachers across the country. For all of my new readers, buckle up for a Nerdy ride.


Can You Hear Me Know?

“Hello world!” That’s how I started my very first blog post on a long forgotten blog years ago. I’m really excited to share my thoughts with everyone in The Balancing Act family and can’t wait to see what parents from around the country have to say on important educational issues. I hope to create an open dialogue with parents to discuss ways to increase student achievement. I’ll be answering your questions, sharing studying tips, showing you learning strategies and other great ways technology can be used to help students in school. Like all things, we need to start at the beginning. The teacher and parent relationship needs to be established to truly help students.
I am often asked by parents, “What can I do to help bring up my son’s grade?” It is such a great question, but only if it is asked at the right time. When I receive that question in mid-September, I can help the parent help the student and things tend to work out. When I receive that question three days before report cards are sent home, there’s not much I can do. Communication is the best way to save a student from falling too far behind in school.

Like any relationship, communication is key. As a parent, it’s important to start the school year asking teachers what they use for communication. Does the teacher have a class website? Do they respond quicker to email or phone calls? Do they use Twitter? Does the class have a blog that tracks assignments? Are grades posted on-line? These are important questions to ask a teacher early in the year. Sometimes “Back to School” night is a month into the school year and that might be too late for some students. Once a parent establishes contact with teachers, it is important to keep in regular contact and keep the teacher informed.

As a teacher, there have been too many times where I have tried to work with a struggling student and found out they were dealing with problems outside of school. One time, I found out a student was completely deaf in one ear 4 months into the school year and he sat in the back of the room! Keeping the teacher informed of life outside of school is very helpful. It allows teachers to keep an eye out for things or bad habits that could form. One parent emailed me to let me know their son was going through a bad break-up with a long-time girlfriend and he has been bummed out lately. I took that info and made sure to include him a little more in class conversation and pay extra attention to his behavior. Like all teens, it lasted for a week or so and he moved on. Keep the teacher informed and many problems can be prevented in the long run.
I’ve always said, “If my biggest problem is an over-involved parent, I’m doing ok as a teacher.” Don’t be afraid to make contact with teachers and create a healthy relationship. Parents and teachers want what is best for kids and communication is a sure fire way to see that students are successful.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"All right, then, I'll go to hell"

I was typing up a document to share with my kids on how to porperly embed a quote in a paragraph for an essay. I needed to create a paragraph off the top of my head centered on a different story so the students could see what it would look like in practice. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of my favorite books and that is what came to mind when I thought about writing a paragraph.

The one quote that came to mind was this one from Huck near the end of the book, "All right, then, I'll go to hell" (Twain 210). I love this quote because Huck has decided to help free Jim despite what society says about slavery. It's an act of independence. Huck says his moral compass is more important than that of others. I was struck by this and thought about the work I've been doing in class with my kids and realized that the quote has been my motto all year. I needed to post my thoughts now before school started.

As more and more people continue to pressure teachers to follow the standardized testing routine, I decided I'm going to be project based and have fun while I do it. If teachers want to shake the finger at me and suggest that I'm doing kids a disservice, let them. I'm going to do what I think is best for the students in my classroom. I feel that is my responsibility. I feel so much better that this quote came to mind. I've been worrying about my decisions to go this way, but Huck reminded me that society doesn't always know what is best.

For all of the teachers out there doing something different, know that you will have a nice seat in hell next to me and Huck Finn. Have a great Tuesday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Calling all Admins to #ProjectPLN

Are you an Administrator? Have you always wanted to share one good piece of advice to other Administrators? Do you want to give one special little tip to teachers that could help them with the administration in their building? Then you have come to the right place! Project PLN is looking for articles from administrators that give advice to other admins or suggestions to teachers. There are many great admins out there and we would love for you to share your thoughts and ideas with a wider audience. These articles do not need to be very long or even new. If you have an old post that you would like us to post in the November issue of Project PLN, please send it to ProjectPLN10@gmail.com

If you would like to write a brand new post just for us, that would be great too! The new posts do not need to be very long, just long enough to impart some of your wisdom. Please pass this along to other admins you know so they can share their wisdom with teachers and admins from around the world.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you will consider sharing your thoughts with the rest of the PLN. Please send all submissions by Sunday November 7th.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Social Media, Technology and Education

I was thinking about posting this on my blog that goes out to my district. Does this sound too harsh? Thoughts would be appreciated.
I was honored to be asked to speak at the 140 Character Conference in Detroit on Wednesday. I was asked to talk briefly about the impact Social Media is having on education. The interesting thing about this conference was that it was not an education conference. I was not surrounded by like-minded teachers preaching to the choir. I was surrounded by business men and women from all walks of life. These were people that were coming into this conference expecting to hear about best business practices they could incorporate into their work. I realized that I was going to speak to an audience that had already formed some opinion on education. If recent news is any indication, the opinion might not be a good.
The talk went really well and my ideas and lessons were well received. I was actually a trending topic on Twitter in Detroit. MLive.com even wrote about what I said here. I was shocked by all of the positive feedback because it was so quick through Twitter. People let me know how they felt as I talked. Imagine if our classrooms ran that way. Think about the possibilities of instant feedback from students as we lectured. Questions could be asked by anyone and everyone. Conversations could be had without speaking up while we talked. These things are possible through social media.
One thing that really struck me at the conference was how positive everyone was. I have found that too many teachers are negative when new ideas are presented. I know I have been guilty of this from time to time and need to work hard to stop. However, maybe it is time to start looking at how things could work and how we can try to make them work instead of all of the reasons things are going to fail. As a certain Science teacher said at a recent staff meeting, we learn as much from failing as we do from our success, if not more. Not every new idea is going to apply to every teacher in every content area. However, that does not mean that all new ideas should be blocked out. Education is getting a bad reputation because there are bad teaches out there in the world. These are teachers that refuse to grow and change. Education is a constantly evolving world. I'm not doing the same thing I did 10 years ago because the kids are not the same and I'm not the same. Yes, it will take hard work and some long hours. If you became a teacher expecting it to be easy, you are in the wrong job.

Lastly, I really think I started to understand why people have such an issue with education. We (The entire educational system) are usually the last adopters. We are the last ones to look at new ideas or technology and incorporate them into the schools. There is a struggle to get everyone on board. By the time it finally happens, the idea is old and something new is already here. As teachers, it is our job to accept some change and see how we can connect with our students. I'm not suggesting everyone throws out all of their amazing lessons and replace them with new ones centered on gadgets. Technology, ideas, innovation are not “all or nothing” concepts. Everyone needs to look at what works for them and take baby steps in the right direction. The problem as I see it is that too many people have their heels dug in.
Challenge

I challenge all teachers to pick one new tool out there and work with it. Play with it. Find out how it works and how you can use it in your class. By the 4th marking period (April or May) incorporate that tool into a lesson in your class. It doesn't have to be something super complicated. Everyone should choose a tool for their own skill level, but commit to mastering something and using it in class. No matter what content area you are in, there is a tool out there that can make class a little more exciting for your students. There is a tool out there that can inspire students to think differently about a project or idea. If every teacher picked one tool every year and shared that tool with others, we would all be masters of technology and students would be better for it. Who's willing to take the challenge?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My First Thoughts on Attending #140Conf

I wanted to jot down my first thoughts on attending and speaking at the 140 Character Conference in Detroit. These are just some quick thoughts for now and I will write a larger post in a few days. I wanted to focus on the first few words that came to my mind as I drove home.

Comfortable

It was really nice to be surrounded by people that feel the same way about the power of Social Media. From a local point of view, it was also nice to be surrounded by people that love the city of Detroit as much as I do. I couldn't help but feel that I was just surrounded by good people with the same goal. As the one of three or four teachers that Tweet on a regular basis, it was nice to be surrounded by people who were all on the same page. Even though I had not communicated with these people over Twitter before, I felt like we had a common bond over a shared experience. Social Media is cool that way. It reminded me a bit of ISTE in Denver and that made me feel very comfortable.

 Humbled

As teachers, we are all very supportive of what each other do. It's nice to share our lessons with other teachers and get feedback. At #140Conf, I shared my class blogging and the Romeo and Juliet joint project with Van Meter and the response was amazing. I received a ridiculous amount of @ mentions from people who not only loved the idea, but wished their kids could have me for a teachers. Some even said they wish they could have me as a teacher. It was a very weird feeling because I think it was the first time I received real feedback from non-educators, parents of students or the students themselves. It was a very nice feeling. Some of the tweets I received are up their in the realm of letters from students. I saved some of those tweets as a reminder of why I work hard on my lessons.

Respected

I felt respected as an "expert" in my field. I use quotes because I think it is so weird to use that term for me because I still see myself as just another English teacher trying new things in the classroom and their are many of us out there that do the same thing. Too often, teachers are not afforded the same respect other professionals receive for some unknown reason. It is a little sad that I should get so excited for receiving respect, but as a profession, we do not get enough of it in the professional realm. Hopefully speaking at #140Conf and similar events not dedicated solely to education will help change that.

Energized

This is funny to write at the moment because I'm so fried. My brain has been in overdrive since I woke up at 5 this morning. The reason I'm exhausted is because I've been spending my day thinking about all of the amazing ideas I've heard about. I wonder how I can get my students involved in these amazing movements in the city I love dearly. I felt the same way after ISTE and when I come back from my Leadership Camp where I work with Student Council kids from all over the state. The one thing these events have in common is passion. Everyone involved with those three events are passionate about what they do and that is why they are involved. With a country filled with passionate people, I find it hard to believe that public education is failing everyone everywhere.

Lucky

#140Conf is a game changer for so many people and the projects they are passionate about. I feel very lucky to have been able to go and listen to other people talk about the city they love and the different ways they want to give back. I also feel very lucky that I had a brief moment to speak up at the end and defend the amazing public school teachers out their that are having a tough time right now.  It was a rare opportunity to speak to non-teachers and let them know that there are teachers out there working hard to change education. Too many times we spend most of our time "preaching to the choir" on Twitter. I was lucky to steal a moment and let everyone know that public education is not perfect, but teachers are working hard to make it better every day.

These are just some of my initial thoughts on the #140Conf. It was an amazing event and I'm excited that @jeffpulver has promised to bring it back next year. If he comes close to your town, please make a note to go and see the amazing ideas in your community. It will change your view of Real Time Communication and the way it impacts you.

Ok, I need to unplug for the night. More to come later this week. Thanks again to each and every person that RT or @ Mentioned me today. I couldn't do anything without the support of my PLN and all of my followers.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mentoring and #Edreform: Together At Last

Education reform should always be a topic of discussion. The main reason is that nobody is perfect. No country has a perfect educational system. It is important to strive to make tings better all of the time. There are many different ways to change the current system, but I think there is one that can have a positive impact on teachers and students.
Mentoring is something that is in place in some school systems, but not all. I've heard of mentoring programs in certain school districts that match up teachers with new hires for the first 3-4 years of teaching. After those 3-4 years, the mentoring programs ends for the new teacher. Why? Are we to believe that a teacher knows everything they need to know after 3 or 4 years? Mentoring programs should last until retirement. Professional development should revolve around the mentoring relationships created. I propose a more rigorous mentoring system that provides help for all teachers regardless of age or experience.

Teachers should be paired up with another teacher in their department for the first 3 years of teaching. Teaching within the content area is tough for a new teacher and they can use all of the help the can get. After the first 3 years, teachers would be then be paired up with another teacher from a different discipline. Math teachers and English teachers or Art teachers and Science teachers. These teachers would participate in Professional Development offered by the district together. They would work as a team as the explore new and interesting way to instruct students. They will be there to support one another as they try new things. Pairs of teachers could be matched with other sets of teachers to form larger groups to explore larger ideas. The main purpose is to connect teachers in a school with other departments and see teaching from other points of view. Every couple of years, pairs should be switched to all teachers to experience different points of view.

To spice things up, administrators should be thrown into the mix so they can see first hand what learning and teaching is from the perspective of teachers from all age and experience levels. This new mentoring program will not be easy to install overnight and some veteran teachers might need to double up to make sure everyone has someone to work with, but this mentoring program can change the culture of learning in a school. No longer will teachers feel like they are alone in tackling problems. Departments will get to share ideas with one another on how to improve student performance in different areas. Younger teachers will be able to share new strategies with veteran teachers and veteran teachers will be able to share tried and true practices with the new teachers. Mentoring is a way that allows teachers from all over the building to work together to help all of the children in the school, not just the ones sitting in front of them.

I keep reading about districts that are trying to create new evaluation systems to "encourage" teachers to "work harder". Teachers already work hard. For those teachers that need help and encouragement, a new evaluation system is not going to help them. It will only drive them to do the minimum and fear asking for help. Districts should focus on the wonderful resources available to them. The biggest and best resource available are teachers. We want to help everyone, that's why we are teachers.

For those of you out there do not have a mentoring program, start one yourselves. Find a teacher, any teacher, and spend some time with them. Ask them how tings are going and offer support in any way that you can. You might be surprised at the positive impact a few kind words have on a colleague.

Mentoring can improve education if it is set up the right way. We have good mentoring programs, but should we be ok with good?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

#140Conf Detroit and The Nerdy Teacher

I have been asked to sit on a panel at the 140 Character Conference in Detroit on October 20th. I'll be sitting on stage with some amazing educators. Linda Clinton (@Linda704) will be the moderator of our group, LaRon Carter (@laroncarter) and David Britten  (@colonelb) are also on the panel. We are going to be discussing Real Time Communication (RTC) and Education. One question I will be addressing will be "What is the typical user perception of RTC in terms of what it can be used for, versus potential visionary uses for this new 'canvas'?" I would love to hear from my PLN on what they think about RTC in education.

Below are two Wallwishers I humbly ask you to look at. In the first one, I ask that you write down some common misconceptions of using RTC in the educational field. For the second Wallwisher, I ask that you write down some innovative uses of RTC in the educational field.





Thanks for taking the time to respond to these Wallwishers. Even though I was asked to be on the panel, I really want to share the thoughts of everyone in my PLN. I wouldn't be where I am today if it were not for you. Thanks again for being awesome.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Response to "Superman must beat Super Union to succeed" article

My Response to ‘Superman’ must beat Super Union to succeed by Nolan Finley of the Detroit News

I wanted to wait and write a post about “Waiting for Superman” until after I saw the film. There has been plenty said in the educational community, but I wanted to try and keep an open mind until I saw it. This post is not about the movie I have not seen, but about the article in today’s Detroit News by Nolan Finely. The article, “ ‘Superman’ must beat Super Union to succeed” just rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to respond to some of his comments from a teacher’s point a view. I know listening to an actual public school teacher on education reform is an unheard of practice, but please bear with me.

Mr. Nolan says that educations reform’s “primary villains are the teacher unions that use archaic contracts to block change”. He does a nice job of painting an entire group of professionals as the guys with the black hats and curly mustaches. He also says, “Nobody wins when schools can’t fire teachers who can’t teach.” On this fact, I couldn’t agree with him more. If a school wants to fire a teacher who is not during their job, they actually can. There is a process in place that allows teachers to be removed for being terrible teachers. It is the job of the administrators to identify these teachers through observations and remove them after they have shown no improvement over time. If administration chooses not to go through the motions of removing bad teachers, they should lose their jobs. They get paid the extra money to deal with these issues. Tenure does not protect bad teachers; it actually protects good teachers from bad administrators. Sadly, I’ve heard of stories were good teachers have fallen on the bad side of administrators because they did not agree with school improvement ideas or other admin led plans. Tenure also protects the teachers from school boards that would prefer to save money from cutting good, but expensive teachers, and replacing them with new and cheaper ones. It is really bothersome that people think there are tons of bad teachers and nobody wants to get rid of them. That should not be a knock on the unions, it should be a knock on admins for hiring bad teachers and letting them hang around.

“At the same time, outstanding teachers should be richly compensated. Merit pay would reward the very best teachers and motivate average teachers to excel. It would also bring teacher compensation in line with other professions.” This just really ticks me off. I hate the notion that I would work harder if you waved a twenty dollar bill in my face. I bust my butt because I’m a professional and I love my job. Merit pay suggests that there are teachers everywhere that could be great and only need incentives to work harder. If someone went into to teaching in the hopes of higher pay, they were crazy. Nobody became a teacher because of the pay. Would I like more money? Yes, I would love to get paid more for my job. Who wouldn’t? The sad thing with merit pay is that it would hurt kids and the overall profession. What teacher would volunteer to teach the remedial students? Who lucks out and gets the honors and AP kids? Why would teaches share lessons if their lesson would ensure they get paid more than their peers? Merit pay insults teachers that work hard every day and deal with the hand they have been dealt.

“Finally, we have to stop blaming parents for the failure of their children. Yes, bad parenting is a root cause of the learning crisis in America. But waiting for parenting to improve is wasting time.” Wow, Nolan has given up on parents doing their job. Well done. I have a student in my class for a total of 250 minutes a week. Now, those 250 minutes need to be divided amongst the other 30 students in my class. That division is not equal because of the special needs students and those that just need an extra minute or two to understand the lesson. That leaves me a few minutes of one on one time with a student in my class. I’m not a parent. I hope to be damn good parent when I have kids. Nolan admits that “bad parenting is a root of the learning crisis” but says trying to fix that is a waste of time? I don’t care how much support a school offers, if education is not important in the home, it will not be very important to the students. I’m not suggesting that programs that help students dealing with broken homes are not valuable. They are very valuable, by why do parents get a pass but teachers get thrown under the bus. I have 150 kids a day that I need to look after and teach and it is too much to ask parents on 1 or 2 kids to support them at home? Maybe the problem is that people have given up on trying offer support to entire families. Parents are needed and they need to be part of the discussion. Saying that waiting for parenting to improve is a waste time is a very defeatist attitude and will not solve the real problem.

“We also must free the creativity of teachers. The obsession with standardized testing as a measure of learning has forced teachers to teach the test and provided little room for creative techniques. Memorization is not education. Student achievement must be tracked, but a better formula must be found than layers of tests that encourage rote learning.” This is the smartest thing he said. I couldn’t agree with him more. Standardized testing is a terrible thing that doesn’t test knowledge, it tests memorization. Creative teachers are the best teachers. Teachers need that freedom to show kids how to think critically and solve large problems. Memorization is nice, but not applicable in most situations. Application is what students need to understand. What Nolan doesn’t understand is that you can’t ask for Merit Pay and also suggest getting rid of the standardized testing. How does he think that teachers are going to be evaluated? If he thinks that tests are not going to be part of the process of assessing teachers, it shows that he has no idea of how the government thinks when it comes to assessment.

I love that education is a hot topic right now. It is important and should be discussed. However, why is it that everyone thinks they are an expert when it comes to education just because they went to school? I drive a car, but I do not consider myself an expert mechanic. The Secretary of Education has never taught a day in his life. Does that mean he cannot be a good Secretary? No, but when someone is suggesting to me how I can be better at my job, I would like to know that person has done my job. The Surgeon General is a doctor right?

I’m also not a fan of how all public schools are lumped into the same category. There are many great public school systems that work just fine and send kids to college each and every year. Yes there are bad teachers. I’m not afraid to say that. There are also bad lawyers, doctors and even downright criminal politicians. There are means to remove these people from their jobs if they are found to be terrible. It’s not always an easy process, but it can be done. Bad teachers are removed. It happens. What about criminal school boards or administrators? They seem to stick around for as long as they want. What has happened in Detroit is criminal and it has nothing to do with the Teachers. Corrupt public officials have brought the city and school system to its knees. Blaming teachers is easy when removing the people you voted for turn out to be crooked.

I wish there were more average Joe/Joan teachers that were asked about the state of education. Grab these teachers and sit them down and ask them questions. I think the reason you can’t find any is because we are too busy teaching the kids of the people that are claiming to be “experts” in education.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blogger's Cafe Update - October

The first month of student blogging has come to close and I have learned a few things that I thought I would share with my favorite people in the world. Going into students blogging, I really had no idea what to expect. I wasn't sure if the kids were going to like it or hate it. Was it going to be a waste of time and a classroom management system? What would the parents think of having their kids on the computers every day? These things were running in my mind most of the summer as I was setting up the Blogger's Cafe. Only time was going to tell me how it is going to play out.

The first problem I encountered was the blogging system my school used. I was not a fan after the first day and wrote a post about it. After a quick change to KidBlog.org, things from a posting format point of view have been much better. The interface is 1,000 times better and it just looks better across the board.

My worry about student opinion was quickly put to rest as many of the students said, "That was fun." after their turn at student blogging. They sit up on the stage and take notes on the class discussion and post them to a class blog. I'm not really sure what is really "fun" about taking notes, but by changing the perception of note-taking, the kids seem to enjoy it. They like the responsibility of taking the notes for students that are not in school. They also know that parents can check the class blog, so that adds a little pressure to them.Instead of feeling like notes are a chore, students are excited about their chance to sit on stage and take notes for the class. They have to listen carefully and work with their blogging partner to make sure that every important note is documented. Students are anxiously awaiting their turn to blog. Every start of class, "Is it my turn to blog yet?" or "Can I go again?". Wanting to take notes in a class is a first for me in my 10 years of education.

Parents have sent me positive feedback regard the class blog as well. They like being able to see what was covered in class from a student's point of view. The homework is always listed and all handouts are mentioned. Parents now have a chance to see what is actually happening in the classroom without "bugging" their students. It is a nice way for them to keep an eye on the class without being too intrusive. High School students want their space and the class blog is a great way to let parents in without crowding teens.

The Lit Circles have been moving smoothly. Kids are always excited to see what others are doing and they can't wait to share the comments made by others in their group to the class.One question we posted was on "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. Here are some comments by our students,


The students have really enjoyed getting to know their new partners in learning. As a teacher, it has been exciting to see the students excited about short stories and talking about them outside of school. It is great to see the students find the entire process exciting from the start. There are still some students who are not jumping in with both feet, but they will in time. Their classmates are having too much fun and they will not want to be left out.

It is so great to see students take an interest in the material outside of the classroom. As a teacher, it is one of the major goals of education is to have kids thinking about the skills and ideas outside of the classroom. Student blogging has helped make this happen for my students. I have some students taking notes and reviewing their work more than they have in previous years. They are studying and collaborating without really realizing it. It is still early, but I'm starting to see the positive impact the Blogger's Cafe is having on students and I think it should be spread throughout the building and the district.

I'm really excited about the next few projects we have planned and will keep everyone in the loop as the details are finalized. Van Meter and Grosse Pointe have some good ideas in the works and I promise to share them as soon as they are ready.

Do you blog with your students? If so, how is it going for you? Leave a comment and we can chat.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Project PLN Issue Two

I want to send a special thank you to Kelly for working hard to get this issue out while I was swamped with other school things. She is one of the best educators I have ever know and I'm lucky to have her as a friend and a member of my PLN.

Here is the next issue of Project PLN and it focuses on Best Practices for the start of the school year. We have some great submission from some wonderful members of the PLN. Please take a look and pass it around.





projectpln10 - Project PLN Issue 2



Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Tower Pulse


Many people have wondered where I have been the past few weeks. I've been slacking when it comes to obscure pop-culture references and overall tomfoolery. Besides school starting, I've been working on creating an online companion piece to our school's award winning student newspaper The Tower. My friend, who is the adviser for the student paper, asked me if I would be interested in setting up something for an online edition. That was pretty much the outline I was given last May. A Senior student was really excited about the idea and we communicated over the summer about our wants and needs to do something very different. The Tower Pulse is what we created.

We decided to use WordPress to host The Pulse because it was very simple for us to use, but it would also be very simple to teach other students who wanted to work for The Pulse. We purchased a theme that would focus on a visual on the cover page and link to feature stories. We really like the front picture and the scroll. Once we had settled on a template, all we needed to do was decide on content.

The Tower is a weekly student newspaper that has won many state and national awards. It is rare to find weekly school publications because of the amount of effort it takes to produce a top notch paper four times a month. One of the things The Pulse was going to focus on was content that is not in the hard copy of the paper. The Pulse needed to be something different and more relevant to the student body and the community as a whole. With a weekly newspaper, there is only so much space that can be given to sports, clubs and entertainment. The kids felt these were the areas that the Pulse should focus. The kids knew right away that The Pulse should focus on those areas, but use different media to tell the story. Needless to say, it was music to my ears. We settled on Entertainment, Sports, Clubs and Features. We were finally heading in the right direction.

The school was very lucky to have hired a new English teacher this year that has a background in journalism and yearbook. By school, I mean me. Kelli has been amazing since she came on board and has really helped make the content easier to handle. I'm very lucky to split the workload with her. She takes care of the Entertainment and Features and I handle the Sports and Clubs. After we selected the editors for each section, we established a chain of command.
  • Editors assign the story to the writer. 
  • Writer writes the story and gives it to the section editor for a first overview and gets it back.
  • After making corrections, the writer turns it back into the editor who reviews and uploads to the web. 
  • The editor notifies their section's adviser for one last review. 
  • Once the adviser makes any last corrections, the editor can upload the content so it is ready for launch date.
We decided that the New Features would be uploaded once a week on Wednesdays when the hard copy comes out. The kids want to link the paper's editorial to our site and have a poll where information can be gathered and shard in the paper the next week. We want to create a cycle of information where the paper can send readers to The Pulse for more information on a topic. The Pulse can tease stories online for the paper edition. Our goal is not to compete for readers, but share readers and send them to the information.

Sports, Clubs and Entertainment will be uploaded on Mondays and Fridays. If a big sporting event happens on Wednesday, the paper will not have the information until the following week. The Pulse will allow up to date information on school events to be published the next day or two for the readers to see and comment. The kids are really excited about doing movie, song, TV and video game reviews. There just was no room in the paper for these things in the past, so The Pulse is offering something to kids who are really excited writing abut things that interest them.

Another big focus of The Pulse is going to be video and pictures. We want the students to take camera everywhere they go and document the events as they unfold. That is what is going to truly seperate The Pulse from The Tower. I've let the kids use the Flip Cam I won at ISTE from @SimpleK12 for filming short interviews and they have loved it. We need to work on camera angles and avoiding the site of people's pores, but I know it will get better over time.

One thing we told our first time editors was that they could do anything they wanted. They have the freedom to share The Pulse into anything they want because it is a clean slate. Every idea is worth a try. Every attempt might become a new tradition. They are creating a reputation. It sounds scary, but it is very exciting. One student has an idea for archiving photos of class events and saving them for their four years in high school. By the time they are Seniors, they will have a huge page dedicated to their four years at Grosse Pointe South High School. Not only would that be cool for the students, but the parents will love it. We have binder full of ideas that the kids are excited to try and I can't wait to see.

I've been contacted by the Art Department because they were wondering if we had an art editor for The Pulse. Currently, we do not, but that is something we are thinking about once we lock down what we have so far. The Video Club has expressed interest in working with us in the future as well. We have a Twitter feed linked to the site that will allow updates to sporting events and other important school events. Soon, we will have the site set up so students can post articles to Facebook and Tweet them to their friends. This would be a big first step for social media in our school district and I couldn't be happier.

One last thing about the site I wanted to mention was advertising. In a month or so, we will be selling ad space to local businesses. We will charge based on the traffic the site receives during the course of the month. The exciting part about the ad space is that it will not cost us money to edit and upload images for ads. The ad revenue will be a big money maker for the newspaper and we will be able to use that to update or very old computers and software systems. The editors think that iPads would be very helpful as the go around and do their work in the school. I think they might be on to something.

The Pulse is something that took a ton of work to get off the ground, but with the right kids, it should run itself. Journalism is shifting into the online realm and I think journalism teachers or paper advisers should think about over the next few years. I'm not saying that paper editions of newspapers should be abandoned. The Tower has been going strong for 81 years and it is not near retirement. The Pulse is going to be an exciting new option for students in the years to come.

Take a look and let me know what you think. www.TheTowerPulse.net

- @TheNerdyTeacher