Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Today's Book List

As I lay in bed this morning wondering why I was awake at 5:00 a.m., I had to listen to this rather annoying battle. The battle was between my still-recovering body, wishing for a few more hours of sweet, non-cough-interrupting sleep, and my head that was looking forward to seeing my students at the most beautiful library in Northern California (one of them, anyway), anxious to get the day started!

Before you start making phone calls (“Hello, funny farm?”), keep in mind that I’ve been under the influence of cold medicine for several days. My thoughts are not always entirely my own.

No, seriously. Put the phone down.

Back to this morning…eventually my head won out and I got up and prepared for my day. Everything I needed was already in my backpack: laptop, iPod, notebook and pens, and, of course, my book. I was ready!

I just needed to wait for about four hours before I could leave. [sigh]

I share this description of my morning with you for one reason: So that you may better understand my dismay when I arrived at the library and, after paying my parking fee, discovered that the library was CLOSED! That’s right! CLOSED! “Due to budget cuts.” Budget cuts? Is that why they did NOT close the parking garage? Because they wanted some poor teacher to pay her $2 parking fee before discovering that the library was closed?! That was particularly irksome!

And then the disappointment set in. I was so looking forward to sitting on those lovely purple couches in the teen section with my kids, talking about our favorite books.

Alas, ’twas not to be.

Plan B was quickly put into action. And that’s “Plan B” for “Barnes and Noble.” My friend Karen and I walked with six seventh graders and one mom from the library into downtown Walnut Creek to take up residence in the cafe at Barnes and Noble.

As we walked into the store, Karen stopped us all and gave the kids their instructions. They were to go find a copy of their all-time favorite book and bring it to the cafe with them. “Just ONE, Taryn!”



She still showed up with two. Ok, I know how she felt. I was given the same instructions and didn’t know what to do! Just one? One in each genre? One for each decade of my life? I mean, seriously…one???

After we each picked our favorite book, we met in the cafe and sat there for almost two hours talking about nothing but books! What a wonderful way to spend a morning! Honestly, if you teach literature I highly recommend spending some time just listening to your students talk about what they’re reading; about what they love to read. Not only will you learn a lot about your students, you might also learn a good deal about what they need from you as their teacher. They don’t need someone to force-feed them the books that just happen to be in your classroom cupboard or that might be on somebody’s “Every Middle School Student Must Read These Books Before High School” list. That’s the quickest way to get them to stop reading! Or worse…hate reading!

Listen to them talk about the stories they love and then take a step back and let them share their books with each other. I watched in wonder one day as one student finished the book she was reading and then walked it over to another student who wanted to read the book. That student put down her own book, picked up the new book, and immediately started reading it. I watched as she carried the book with her around the classroom, reading as she went back and forth to her locker, packing her things at the end of the day. My students amaze me!

Back to today…

As we were talking about books, I started compiling a list of recommended books and thought I’d share them here. I know there may be a few that I missed, but this is definitely a good start to any reading list.

Student Recommendations

Teacher Recommendations

[Cross-posted from Miss McMillan's Blog]

Friday, November 26, 2010

The 2010 Edublog Awards

From the Edublog Awards website:
Welcome to the 2010 Edublog Awards.
Celebrating the achievements of edubloggers, twitterers, podcasters, video makers, online communities, wiki hosts and other web based users of educational technology.
Now into our 7th year!

  When I first decided to write this post, I had absolutely no idea how hard it would be to choose just one person, blog or wiki for each category. After struggling to make my decisions, I came to the realization that the fact that this was so difficult is a good thing. A very good thing. The difficulty reminds me that our PLN is so rich with amazing people who do amazing things and share everything with all of us. How lucky we are!

Here are my nominations:

Best individual blog:
The Principal's Page Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to laugh at ourselves. I can always count on Michael Smith's blog to remind me that we should never take ourselves or our jobs so seriously that we lose sight of why we got into education in the first place.

Best individual tweeter:
Kelly Tenkely Whether on her blog or on Twitter, Kelly is someone I can always count on to share fabulous links, great information, and wonderful advice. How lucky we are to have her in our PLN!

Best resource sharing blog:
 iLearnTechnology Without a doubt, Kelly Tenkely's blog has an amazing wealth of resources, including those of her own creation (check out the Bloomin' Peacock)

Most influential blog post:
"I'm Not Who You Think I Am," on A GeekyMomma's Blog
If we are defining "most influential blog post" by the amount of conversation it prompted, then this wonderful post by Lee Kolbert (@TeachaKidd on Twitter) should receive many, many votes!

Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion:
#speakloudly Think back a few years and ask yourself if you could have imagined protesting something as heinous as book banning with a simple hashtag (of course, you would also have to explain to your back-then-self what a hashtag is).

Best librarian / library blog:
The Daring Librarian I knew I was going to love Gwyneth Jones' blog when I saw the words "with sweet snarky freshness" in the blog header. That's my kind of librarian!

Best educational wiki:
New Tools Workshop Seriously, if you can't find it here on Joyce Valenza's wiki, it doesn't exist!

Best educational webinar series
 Classroom 2.0 Live If you are looking for me on Saturday mornings, this is the first place you should look. Every weekend I learn something that I can use in my classroom the following Monday; every weekend I am inspired to keep trying new ideas in my classroom. 

Best educational use of a social network:
The Classroom 2.0 Ning. If you belong to only one ning, this should be the one! Educators from all over the world gather here to share knowledge, ask questions, and provide support. It exemplifies what a "social network" should be.

Best use of a PLN:
The ISTE Newbie Project A project developed by Beth Still, the ISTE Newbie Project puts our PLN to the task of raising enough funds to send one educator to ISTE each year.

Lifetime achievement:
Vicki Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher herself! How many of us have learned so much from Vicki! From her award-winning blog to projects like the Flat Classroom Project, she inspires educators around the world to bring 21st-Century learning into their classrooms and to find new and exciting ways to collaborate with other educators around the world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Little Low Tech

One of the ways I have my students get ready for a spelling test is by creating what we call Spelling Art. Using their twenty spelling words, they create any piece of art that they'd like. The only rules:

  • Use all of the words.
  • Use color.
  • Have fun.

Most students will use a pencil to outline the picture and then add the words along those lines, adding color as they go. I always love seeing what my students come up with. Sometimes they are personal statements:

Sometimes they come with a punchline: "I like minions."

Occasionally a student turns in an incredible work of art:

And then there are those that are just so amazingly cool that you want to share them with everyone you Taryn's spelling art...

of a spelling test!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Live From Pleasant Hill...It's McTeach

The Classroom 2.0 Live Featured Teacher? Me??? Alright, who messed up? Was no one else available? Did somebody lose a bet?

Ok, in all honesty, I was tremendously honored to be last week's Featured Teacher on the Classroom 2.0 Live show! Honored and incredibly nervous! I know I've grown, however, because in the past my anxiety would have gotten the better of me and I would have found some excuse to not participate. That never even entered my mind last week! That is growth, my friends!

I definitely owe a great big
to Peggy George and Kim Caise for helping me prep for and then get through the session. You ladies made it so much easier than I was afraid it would be! I can't thank you enough for the honor and your patience.

If you are interested in listening to the show, click here for the full recording. You can find the links shared during the show here.

So, let me ask one question: If I can be found in iTunes, does that mean I'm eligible for the Grammy's next year?!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Class Poll

Fall Blogging Challenge #2

Sometimes writing a blog post can be as simple as asking a question and getting everyone to give a simple answer.

Today was a long day. Very. Long. Day. It started with a migraine and ended with...wait a hasn't ended yet.  ~sigh~

After lunch it dawned on me that I hadn't yet polled my class for my second post in the Fall Blogging Challenge. Problem was I hadn't even come up with the question I was going to ask them. So, that's what I asked them.

What do y'all think I should ask you?

[FYI...if you are going to give a group of seventh graders free rein to come up with any kind of list, even a list of questions, you'd better brush up on your shorthand because they won't slow up until you cry "Uncle!"]

Here are their questions, in no particular order:

1. How are you a social butterfly?

Inside joke: Several weeks ago I was discussing the question "Why is it important to talk about books?" with my students. Patty's response: "To come out of your cocoon and become a social butterfly through books."  Yes, it's become a "thing."

2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Inside joke: Audi is obsessed with the point where the equator and prime meridian meet. She has decided that she would like to live there and so she asks everyone this question so that she can share her answer when they're done.

2a. Other "If...?" questions:
  • If you could live in any time period, what would it be?
  • If you could invent anything, what would it be?
  • If you won a million dollars, what would you do first?
  • If you could get rid of anything, what would you get rid of?

3. What would you do for a Klondike bar?

No inside joke there. They love talking about food!

4. Ask us something food related.

See what I mean.

5. What would you do for a leaf hat?

Ok, this one could take some explaining. We read a story last week that involved a chariot race, so I showed them the chariot race scene from Ben Hur. After Judah wins the race, he is presented with a crown of leaves. This led Audi to say, "That's it?!?! He did all that...for a leaf hat??!!!"

6. There were some thought-provoking questions:
  • What is your definition of a hero?
  • What do you want to do before you die?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? (I'm still working on the answer to that one!)
  • Would you rather be an elephant or a llama? (ok, not exactly thought-provoking except that it brings to mind another question: Where in the world do they come up with these things?!)

7. PC or Mac?

I love this kid!

8. The "like" questions:
  • Do you like to color?
  • Do you like to doodle?
  • Do you like stickers?
  • Do you think flying tigers are awesome? (Ok, not necessarily a "like" question, but where else would you put it???)

9. What's your favorite word?

We've had a discussion in seventh grade about words that we just love. Words that are fun to say, for the most part. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is always a favorite. (I love the fact that spellcheck is okay with that word!)

10. If the days of the week were people, what would they look like?

Two seconds after Claire asked this question, Anthony responded:

Monday would be ugly.

So, what do I do with all of these questions? Well, I ask my PLN, of course! I've created a Google Form with some of the questions that my students came up with. Would you please answer some or all of our questions? I'll have my students fill out the same form and then we'll compare their answers with all of yours.

We can't wait to hear your ideas!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Life As A Reader

Because I don't seem to have enough to do these days, I decided to participate in the Fall Blogging Challenge started by Melanie Holtsman. Those who are participating in the challenge must write one post a week based on the writing prompts Melanie has provided us. I liked the idea so much that I'm also having my students participate in a Blogging Challenge of our own. You can follow us here:

Seventh Grade Randomness

This week we are tasked with answering the question "What is your life as a reader like?"

Do you read for work, pleasure, instructions or emails? What is your favorite author and/or genre? What is your favorite reading spot? What did you like to read when you were the age of your students?

I love to read. Always have. But it is not something that is easy for me. I have learning issues that cause me to be a very slow reader. Painfully slow at times. And my reading comprehension has never been what I would like it to be. I can't always remember key parts in a novel, so please don't ask me. However, I don't let that keep me from something I so enjoy doing.

I read constantly: for work, for learning, for personal enjoyment. I read blogs, I read magazines (yes, the kind that are printed on paper), I read books. I'll even read the cereal box in the morning while I'm standing in the kitchen. I don't even think about it, really. If there are words in front of me, I'm reading them! Several years ago I had to have surgery to repair a detached retina. The doctor explained that after the procedure I would need to keep my head in an awkward position for five days. Ok, not fun, but I'll do it because I don't want to go blind. "Oh, and you can't read anything for the next two weeks." I'm sorry...what?!

Yes, those were the longest two weeks of my life!

Since I became a teacher I find that I do very little reading during the school year. I just don't have enough time in my days to get my job done, much less lay around and get lost in a great book. Over the summer I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and decided to incorporate her ideas into my literature curriculum with my seventh graders. Can I be honest with you? I think a large part of the reason I did this was because I'm supposed to read at the same time as my students. Their silent reading time is my silent reading time! How awesome is that! So I will at least have fifteen minutes per day of time for me. Thank you, Donalyn!!

There have been times in my life as a reader when it was very easy to answer the question "Who is your favorite author?" Favorite authors have included Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve, and, of course, J.K. Rowling. But lately, I've read a wider variety of authors, most likely because I'm trying to read a lot of the books that my students like. I'm currently reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, and I'm loving it. The main character is a seventh grade boy trying to figure out his seventh grade teacher...I think I can relate to that.

My favorite time of year for reading is almost here! On a cold, rainy day I love nothing better than lying on the couch covered with a blanket and with a fire going in the fireplace. And if the cat is feeling snuggly...even better!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flip Cameras in the Classroom

In a few days, I will be giving a Flip Video presentation to our teachers along with our tech coordinator. We will only have an hour to show them how to work with the cameras and the videos the create as well as discuss all the different ideas for how to use the cameras with students. What I would like to share with them is a resource that will have many different types of ideas. And I'm hoping my PLN will help me create that resource.

If you use Flip cameras with students or if you have ideas of how you would like to use Flip cameras with students, could you take a few moments and answer the following questions for me? We would all greatly appreciate it! And, of course, I'll make the spreadsheet available to everyone.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Learning to Blog Using Paper

That's heard me! And it's one of my favorite activities all year long. Paper Blogs. I use them to introduce my seventh graders to the idea of blogging and, more importantly, commenting.

Let me just be clear right from the beginning. This was not my original idea! I first heard about it at a session on blogging at our East Bay CUE Cool Tools mini-conference a couple of years ago. The presenter, Matt Callison, had each participant create their own "blog" on a piece of paper (cardstock, I believe). If I recall correctly, I believe our topic was food...or something food-related. I definitely remember writing about food. Perhaps I was just hungry at the time.

We also had to decorate our new blogs so they might reflect our own personality. I shudder to think what my "decorations" said about me that day. So instead of showing you the one I created that day (you don't think I actually kept it, do you?), here's an example that Cassidy created last year:

I didn't require that their paper blogs actually look like blogs (we use Google Sites, in case you were wondering), but several of my students chose to be tech-creative. Jack had a similar idea, even going so far as to make up a URL for his blog!

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Back to me.

After we were done writing and decorating our blogs in our blogging workshop, it was time to read some blogs. We exchanged blogs with other participants and practiced the art of commenting. First, of course, we had to read the blog post can't write a proper comment unless you totally understand the message. Then we wrote our comments on 3 x 3 Post-It notes and attached them to the blogs. Naturally, if you wrote a comment to a commenter, then you would attach your Post-It to that comment.

As you probably know, teachers are just great big kids at heart. At least the ones I was with that day were. We could not wait to get our blogs back and see what others had written in their comments! It was a fun way to introduce the idea of blogging to a room full of teachers. I knew middle schoolers would love it as well.

Before I continue with my take on the lesson, let me share with you the original lesson developed by Leonard Low and shared with us at our workshop:

In the comments on that post, you'll also want to take note of Sue Rockwood's reference to her lesson plan based on Leonard Low's activity:

The McTeach Version

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I use this activity to introduce the idea of blogging to my seventh graders as we start our year together. Not only does it help my students understand blogging and, more importantly, the art of commenting, it also helps me to learn a lot about my students.

Step One

Before I give them the writing assignment portion of the activity, we have a class discussion about blogging in general. I ask them what they know about blogging and whether or not they've read any blogs. There were only a couple of students in this year's class that have read any blogs.

We discuss why someone might want to blog and the kids come up with a lot of different ideas: sports, news, favorite activities, personal journaling, one student even said, "for school." Bonus points for that one! I explain that we'll be using our blogs throughout the year for educational purposes and I want all of my students to feel comfortable posting their work to their blog. And that means they need to feel safe. "Why might a student not feel safe blogging?" Not a tough question to answer in a class with only eight boys and twenty-six girls! "Somebody might be mean."

Thank you. I was hoping you would say that.

And that's when I pass out the 7th Grade Blogging Rules handout that we read through together. They then must take the form home and read it again with their parents. Both the student and the parent sign this form which is based on the Academy of Discovery - Discovery Blogging Rules.

Step Two

I explain to my students that we will be practicing several aspects of blogging on paper before we hit the computer lab. To begin, they need to create their Paper Blogs. The assignment:

Write one to two paragraphs about something you are passionate about; something that you could do all day, every day and not even realize time had passed. It could be your favorite sport or hobby, or a topic that is of particular importance to you, like the environment or ending poverty or increasing teacher salaries. (Hey, it could happen.)

I have my students write out a rough draft first which they bring with them the next day. I want them to have every opportunity to create a product they can be proud of; a Paper Blog without a thousand eraser smears is a good place to start.

Step Three

The next day we start creating! I provide each student with a heavy piece of cardstock, about 9" by 12", which they will use to write their "final" draft of their blog post. After they finish with their post, they need to decorate their blog, adding color and artwork that speaks to their own personality. Of course, the decorations also have to go with the topic of the blog, and I preface this portion of the activity with a discussion about what types of photos or artwork you might see on different types of blogs. "Do you think a blog about soccer would be decorated with pretty flowers?"

"Yes! It's the field before you trample everything in site."

"Yes! I like to wear a flower in my hair when I play soccer."

Note to self: Ask better questions.

I give the class plenty of time for this part of the activity. It's the beginning of the year, they have a lot to talk to each other about, and it gives me a lot of time to wander around and chat with my new students.

Step Four favorite part. Commenting! Before beginning this portion of our Paper Blogs activity, the students and I go over in great detail "The Art and Aspirations of a Commenter." While looking for lesson ideas to help me teach commenting, I was fortunate enough to happen upon A Pirouette: Commenting blog post where I found exactly what I needed! On the reverse of the handout, I added a list of possible comment starters for those who needed a little kick-start to get going.

When I'm fairly certain that they understand how seriously I take this portion of the activity, I point to the baskets I have placed around the classroom. Each one contains 3x3 Post-It notes for them to use for their comments. Before they start wandering around the room, I give them four more pieces of instruction:
  1. One person at a blog at a time. I don't want them to start talking about the blogs and finding out what someone else thinks about them. I want them to think about what they think about the blogs.
  2. Read the blog thoroughly. In order to write a proper comment, you must first give the blog post full consideration. No skimming!
  3. Quiet please! Let's provide everyone with the reading environment they might need. [This works quite nicely for the teacher too!]
  4. Enjoy! This is their first real blogging experience and I want them to see that they can have fun and be considerate of others at the same time.
And they were awesome! I didn't hear one peep out of these seventh graders for about 30 minutes. That's right...half an hour of peace and quiet for the teacher, but more importantly, my students spent thirty solid minutes reading and writing. And they didn't even realize it! Love that part!!

Afterwards, we spent some time reflecting on the activity. I asked them their initial thoughts as they got started, how they felt about writing comments - was it easy, challenging, fun? [Their responses were overwhelmingly positive!] We talked about the blogging process itself and whether or not they felt this activity would be similar to what they might experience with their "real" blogs (they didn't at first, but changed their mind afterwards). What did they learn in doing this activity?

I teach at a Catholic school. Most of these kids have been together since kindergarten; they think they know everything there is to know about each other. They're always so surprised after this activity that there is still something they can learn about their classmates. I love that! It's my cue to remind them that people can change and we need to allow them the space to change and not hold them in our own definition of who they might be. It's also a great lead-in to a conversation about being open to everyone they meet; if they pre-judge someone before they get to know that person, they may miss an amazing opportunity to make an important friend.

After the activity is over, I am left with a bright and colorful stack of Paper Blogs, and a room full of seventh graders ready to become full-fledged bloggers!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Can You Help Me Get Organized?

As a teacher with learning issues, I struggle constantly with keeping on top of all of the tasks and paperwork that comes with my job. I'm approaching my fifth year as a teacher and I still haven't figured out a system that will work for me. So I thought I should ask my PLN - the wonderful educators from around the world who make me feel smarter.

Can you help me? Do you have any favorite tools (Web 2.0 or otherwise) that you just can't imagine getting through your day without? More importantly, how exactly do you use that tool? What is the feature that you just can't live without?

If you have any suggestions, would you be willing to fill out this Google Form:

All of the responses will appear here:

I greatly appreciate any help you can offer. I am determined to find some ways to make my job easier this year!

Thank you!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Reading List

As I shared in my previous post, I have decided to join in on the 48-Hour Read-A-Thon in order to get myself back into reading. I wanted to share with you the books I will be reading this weekend. I've already started the first two, The Book Whisperer and The Magician, both of which I highly recommend. When I finish with those two, I'll move on to The Book Thief and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

In case you're wondering about my fancy bookends, those are the "just in case" books for this weekend (as in, "just in case I finish all four books I'll have more reasons to continue lounging around enjoying my read-a-thon!") Those books are:

Time to get back to the couch. That's where my books are!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

48-Hour Read-A-Thon

I am a teacher. I pride myself on getting middle school students to love reading. The best compliment a parent ever paid me was almost a complaint: "We could never get him to read before; now, we can't get him to put down the books!" I love reading! There's nothing better than curling up with a good book and staying there until I've finished it.

And yet, I have not done nearly enough reading in the last year or so. I let school get in the way of my biggest joy in life. How can I expect to remain happy in my career if it keeps me, or if I let it keep me, from something that gives me joy?

Time to make some changes...starting this weekend! Enter the 48-Hour Read-A-Thon. It's quite simple. Just take time away from other activities like television-watching or internet-surfing and devote that time to reading. I can do this! Will you join me?

Here are the guidelines from the Unputdownables blog:

If You’re In:
  1. Choose a few books that you will attempt to finish this weekend (Friday evening through Sunday night).
  2. Post your TBR Read-a-Thon books on your blog so your readers can see what you are attempting for the weekend.
  3. Challenge your readers to read along with you! (It’s OK if they don’t, but might be fun if they want to choose at least one book to participate with).
  4. Join the discussion all weekend long at #bookblogchat on Twitter.
  5. Post updates on your blog about what you are reading and what you have finished (full reviews can come later, but this will let your readers know what you are reading so they can either read along or look forward to your reviews!)
  6. Visit other blogs that are doing the read-a-long. Post comments and follow your fellow bloggers.
  7. Make sure you sign up here with Mr. Linky with a link to your first post so we can follow your progress!
  8. *If you don’t have a blog but want to participate: Sign up with Mr. Linky, just don’t add a website (or you can link to your Twitter or GoodReads page).*

If You’re Not In, but Want to Support:
  1. Check out the blogs that are participating below in the Mr. Linky list.
  2. Visit those blogs and leave comments and encouragement
  3. Add to your own TBRs as you see what others are reading!

And here is my reading challenge for this weekend:
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (I've started it, but plan to finish it)
  • The Magician by Michael Scott (I'm surprised I put it down to write this post!)
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It's tempting to add another twenty books to this list, but I need to keep the list manageable for this slow reader! Now, I wonder what would make the best snacks...

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Thoughts on ISTE

It's an interesting experience meeting for the first time people you have considered friends for several years. And it's an experience that can be hard to explain if you haven't been through it yourself. Let me put it to you this way: You know that feeling when you're meeting someone for the first time, when you feel like you've known them forever, and you know instantly that you'll be friends for a very long time? Multiply that feeling by about one hundred and you'll understand what it was like for me in Denver last month.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when meeting the members of my PLN (personal learning network) for the first time. I definitely did not expect to feel like I was amongst family from the moment I stepped off the plane in Denver. But, I guess when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. These are people from all over the world, from all walks of life, that share something very important: a passion for education and the use of technology in education. In other words, if you ignore the differences in height or weight, hair color, eye color, or skin color, rock star status or starry-eyed groupie, those of us gathered at ISTE for a few short days were really all the same. Educators dedicated to our students.

There is a phrase that keeps bouncing around in my brain ever since ISTE, and it's something that Vicki Davis said in one of her sessions. We always talk about our "three takeaways" when it comes to conferences or professional development of any kind, the three new ideas or tools you take with you back to your classroom. But Vicki put it in a way I had never heard before:
If you don't do something with the information you get from a conference right after you get home, you won't be changed.
I won't be changed. When I really started to think about it, I think that was the reason I went to ISTE. I wanted to be changed. I wanted to be different afterward. I wanted for something deep down inside me to wake up and say, "This is it! This is what you are meant to do! Now, go do it!!"

I probably should have asked for specifics.

Three Takeaways

Let's start here. Just what were my three takeaways from ISTE? They can be summed up thus: Connections. Creativity. Collaboration.


By far, the best part of ISTE for me was being able to connect to the amazing people who make up my PLN. Being around people who think like I do when it comes to student learning was invigorating, but it was also incredibly validating...I wasn't the only one in the room who knew what was going on with technology! What a novel concept!

My Connections Takeaway. During the school year, I get so involved in all the things that make up my job that I always seem to be working. All day. Every day. I can't keep that up. I need to make sure to include time in my year to connect with my friends. There are so many different ways to connect with people in the 21st century; I know that. Any type of connection, virtual or otherwise, will be so much better than none. I made so many amazing connections while I was in Denver, and I'm bound to make even more connections at Google next week. These are connections that don't end when the school year begins, at least not if I nurture those connections instead of ignore them. Or myself.


Most of what I learned in sessions at ISTE, at the Denver Zoo with all those amazing Discovery Educators, and in plenty of moments in the Bloggers' Cafe, could fall under the category "creativity." If you want to engage your students, bring creativity back into the classroom. We know we have standards to worry about and tests to work toward, but what about the learning? Shouldn't learning be fun? I love learning something new; I find learning to be incredibly exciting and full of hope and promise. Do you? Do your students?

My Creativity Takeaway. There are so many ways to allow our students to be creative in showing what they know. We just need to be open to letting them. Let the students decide how they will be assessed. Not only will they have a more vested interest in the process, but they will go above and beyond what you think they are capable of. I saw that very clearly last year. One of my goals for the last school year was to take a step or two outside of my comfort zone and let my students have more control over their learning. It led to some pretty amazing experiences for all of us. As it turns out, part of the reason the kids loved it so much was that they felt like someone was finally listening to them and honoring their ideas and opinions.

In case you're wondering about the picture above, I took it during one of Rushton Hurley's sessions. He is an incredibly dynamic speaker, not to mention truly inspiring. It's hard to capture the essence of a presentation in a photograph, but I think the energy with which Rushton shares his passion came through fairly well in this picture.


Before leaving for Denver, I asked myself what my goals were for ISTE. One of my main goals was to learn more about collaboration, but I especially wanted to know more specifics about how I can get my students working with students from other schools, other states, even other countries.

My Collaboration Takeaway. My biggest concern about collaborating with other schools has always been that I wouldn't be able to manage the project and that I might let someone down. My learning issues make doing my job challenging enough. Would I be able to handle what I imagine would be a fairly large undertaking?

For all those who know me, I'm sure this will be a tremendous shock: I believe I may have been overthinking things a bit. I'll give you a moment to recover from that incredible insight. ISTE I was able to attend Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay's session 7 Steps to Flatten Your Classroom. It was probably the best thing I could have done while at ISTE in terms of my own growth as a teacher. Vicki and Julie make it sound easy enough that even I could handle it. I know that I'll have many moments of doubt in any project of this nature, but being at ISTE reminded me that I have people all over the world that I can lean on for support. That alone gives me the confidence to step a little further outside of my comfort zone.

And Finally...

To be honest, I think my biggest takeaways from ISTE had nothing whatsoever to do with technology or even education. I learned a lot about myself while I was in Denver, and I was able to see the changes that I've made as a teacher and as a person in the last five years or so. I'm not the person I once was, and that's a good thing. Talking with teachers from all over the globe made me realize that maybe I don't need to be in a classroom to make changes in education, but I'm there now and it seems like I may just have some pretty good ideas. Stay tuned...

Miscellaneous Takeaways.

True "Rock Stars" are those who don't believe they are.

Learning happens anywhere...

...and is more fun with a few thousand of your closest friends.

Life comes with musical accompaniment, and you get to choose the soundtrack.

There are so many ways to communicate; never miss an opportunity to reach out.

And, most importantly...

Great friends...

...are great friends...

 matter where...

...or how...

 find each other.

My deepest gratitude to all of those who have helped me along on my journey. The journey is never smooth...but that's what makes it interesting!

Photos: Most are mine and can be found here: Flickr

Photo from EduBloggercon is from Peggy George

Photo of Lee Kolbert and Me is from Lee Kolbert, taken by Teryl Magee

Photo of Teryl Magee and Me in Bloggers' Cafe is from Melanie Holtsman

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Notes From McTeach...And YOU!

I'm sure everyone is breathless with anticipation for my first blog post about ISTE 2010. Unfortunately, I was left rather breathless from the entire ISTE experience. I have several blog posts rolling around my brain (or one really, really LONG post), but for the moment I just need to rest and let my brain recuperate from such an amazing experience.

In the meantime, I'd like to ask for your help. I attended two of Vicki Davis's sessions yesterday at ISTE, and would love to have some help with my notes. If you took notes at either of these sessions, would you be willing to add them to these Google Docs? I really appreciate the help with my own learning, but I also want to show my students and other teachers how powerful a PLN can be in helping me learn and grow.

I truly appreciate any help I can get with my notes! My PLN has been an amazing source of knowledge and, more importantly, support. I just hope I can return the favor sometime.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Get Your Edubloggers Here!

It goes without saying (for me, anyway) that I have learned so much from the amazing educators that I follow on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Plurk. Of course, it wasn't easy to learn everything I wanted or needed to know via 140 characters or less. So I started reading blogs. Lots of blogs. Perhaps too many blogs. (My Google Reader can attest to that fact.) It can definitely be a bit overwhelming considering the number of educators who are now blogging.

Eventually I was able to get down to less than ten favorites that I read regularly, and check in with the rest as they posted updates on Twitter. It took me some time to figure out which blogs I wanted to follow and recommend to others, but it was definitely worth the effort. I have learned more from these ten bloggers in the last couple of years than I ever could have in a teaching credential program!

If you are currently looking for blogs to follow, you're in luck! There are several great lists of edubloggers out there, but the one that just came out yesterday is by far the best one I've found yet. The Top 100 Technology Blogs for Teachers has some incredible blogs written by incredible educators, including seven of my top ten:
A few blogs that I thought should have been included in such an awesome list:
Well, I had to force myself to stop adding blogs to my list; there are just so many brilliant edubloggers out there! The key, if you're new to reading educator blogs, is to find a blog that you feel a connection with. Perhaps the author teaches the same grade level you do, or works in the same district as you. You might find a blogger whose writing style your particularly enjoy or who happens to be writing about a topic of special interest to you.

Once you find a couple of blogs that you enjoy, check out the blogs that those bloggers read (most bloggers list their favorite blogs in the sidebar or somewhere else on their blog). And don't be afraid to leave a comment. We LOVE comments! I tell my students that the comments tend to be the most important part of any blog because that is where the conversation happens. And it is in having that conversation that insight can happen, that changes can begin, that we can learn from one another. How very powerful! So if you have something to say...say it!

Join the conversation!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our Next Field Trip

My seventh graders and I went to "The Big City" yesterday on a field trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). A side note: have you ever tried explaining modern art to a group of middle schoolers? Not an easy task, let me tell you! Of course, it doesn't help that I often have trouble understanding modern art myself. Ah well. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day in the city for any kind of field trip!

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

So, it's time to start planning our next field trip. Since my credential is for social studies, I think our next trip should be to someplace historical. Somewhere that my students can hopefully gain an appreciation for the difficulties faced by their ancestors. I was thinking about this while out running errands this afternoon when I had what can only be described as a lightning bolt to my brain! Of course! The perfect place for my students to experience history is right in our own backyard:

But many of our students have actually used one of these?!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Will You Save the Earth This Week?

Tonight (Monday, April 19th), the PBS series American Experience will premiere the Robert Stone film Earth Days: The Seeds of a Revolution. This Thursday, April 22nd, marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and this film provides an excellent starting point for a discussion about Earth Day and the history of the environmental movement around the world. The following is a brief trailer for tonight's film:

Teachers may find the Earth Days Teacher's Guides particularly useful, along with:

Earthcast 2010

Earthcast is a 24-hour global webcast held on Earth Day that hopes to foster a global conversation on the issues that face all of us. To find out more about the webcast and how you can get involved, visit the Earthbridges wiki. Other information and ways to get involved can be found here:

Earth Day Resources

Here are some other Earth Day resources I've been collecting:

[I'll be adding more links to this list, so check back! If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What A Lovely Shade of Red

[cross-posted from Just A Thought blog]

I'm just sitting here in my nice quiet classroom trying to do a little reflecting on my day, and I'm really not sure what to make of it. Today had moments that made me want to pull my hair out (which I'm really trying to avoid as I'm letting my hair grow out right now), moments of joy and laughter, and moments of total embarrassment for the teacher. Well, just one embarrassing moment, really, but it was a good one!

Where to begin...

I began my day by introducing the seventh graders to a new website that I think is pretty slick for research, and showing them a quick video that explains some of the new changes in Google Docs. I'm not sure which one we were more excited about! Google has finally added a chat feature for Docs, so now my students can chat while working on a document. You know middle schoolers will love anything that includes the word "chat"!

We're also very excited about now having real-time collaboration abilities in Docs. My students will be able to see the changes their group-mates are making on a document as they're making them. We've had too many issues with students writing over one another in Docs because they can't tell where another person is writing at any given time. That has been changed! This is the video I showed my seventh graders this morning that explains these changes as well as the addition of Google Drawings:

I'm not sure what it says about me, but the fact that Google is adding rulers and tab stops to its documents made me happier than the new chat feature made my students. [It is NOT necessary for any students of mine who may happen upon this blog to offer their opinions of what this says about their teacher! Thank you.]

What I showed the kids next is a website I can't wait to start using with them! I'd heard about this new search engine when it came out, but the best I could do at the time was to bookmark it for checking into later. Late last night I watched one of the videos posted on the WolframAlpha site that explains how teachers can use this new tool. I found my way there after clicking on the link that Shannon Smith shared on Plurk. Turns out, Shannon and her mom, Nancy Brachbill, are two of the teachers in the video which I just thought was too cool for words! You can find the videos at WolframAlpha for Educators.

After watching one of the videos last night, I decided to play with the site a little bit [it was almost midnight...I really should have been asleep by then, but you know what they say about us edtech geeks and our new "toys"!] One of the first things I searched for was my date of birth. I know, I's all about me, isn't it! So, I typed in this:

And the first thing I saw:

Oh, come know it's the first thing you're going to do when you check out the site, aren't you!

Well, one of the first things that Shannon mentioned in her video was using WolframAlpha to search for vocabulary words. What a great idea! So, this morning when I was demonstrating the site for my seventh graders, I asked one of them to give me one of their words; you can see the results here:

As someone who enjoys writing poetry, I was especially excited to see, and show my students, that the search results include a list of words that rhyme with the search term. [Stick with me...this will come back to bite me later in the morning.] Of course, mentioning to my seventh graders that it provided rhyming words led at least one boy to call out, "Type in 'orange'!!"

Oh brother.

My seventh graders are currently finishing up giving their presentations about Africa. Each student researched a different African country and created a powerpoint to share what they'd learned in their research. I'm so proud of my students; they have done an amazing job with their presentations! But it took me all of about 30 seconds using WolframAlpha to realize that their research time probably could have been cut in half if we would have been using this wonderful tool. Here, try this and see what information just one search can provide you:

I'm sure you'll have roughly the same reaction that my seventh graders and I had this morning. Whoa! "Dude, that's totally awesome!!" Yeah, thanks Devin.

I tried to avoid the gazes of those students who were shooting me death glares. "You couldn't have found out about this before we spent 50 gazillion hours on this project???"


Fast forward about two hours...time for eighth graders. They are currently working on a research project about the Civil War, so I wanted to share with them this same website. I shared with them the birth date search...middle schoolers just love hearing how old and decrepit their teacher is. Then I asked for someone to give me a name to search for. "Bob."


I think I need a little more than that.


No, seriously. I swear I live in a cartoon. I'm just waiting for that darn anvil to drop. [It's coming, by the way.]

I decided to show them how to search for their vocabulary words. I asked an eighth grader to give me one of their words, and the first one that came to mind was "vex." [Don't get ahead of me, here.]

Now, picture me standing there in front of my ActivBoard, sharing this wonderful new website, thinking it's just the coolest thing since the invention of the modem; I haven't a clue. No, it doesn't even enter my mind that I am about to show a list of words that rhyme with "vex" to 34 soon-to-be giggling eighth graders. No, no...I proceed with "so if you're writing some fabulous poetry and you need to find a word that rhymes with 'vex'..."

That's when I saw it. The word that shall not be named. At least not in my blog that would eventually be spammed by who-knows-how-many who-knows-what-kinds of websites. I kept my face turned toward the board for a moment or two, but I'm sure the bright red glow from my face bounced right off that board toward all of my now-giggling students.

I tried to make like I had planned that all along by quickly adding, "Of course, I'm not really sure any of us wants to see what kinds of poems you can create with these words." But my brain was already composing a limerick or two while they continued to giggle.

Ok, one last search...somebody give me the name of a battle. [Quick!!]


God love ya, George and Zane!

Joy and Laughter

There were at least a few moments of joy and laughter today. One of my favorites occurred during lunch recess. No, I wasn't shooting hoops, although I really wanted to. I had my camera in hand, and didn't feel like risking dropping it. I was taking some pictures when Kate ran by me, chasing after another student and yelling in a "we're just regular kids having some good old-fashioned 'tag you're it' kind of fun." Well, she nearly took out the teacher as she ran by, so I yelled out "Kate!!" That's when this quietest of quiet, reserved to the point of being almost hidden, students stopped, turned, ran back to me, threw her arms around me, and yelled "I love you, McTeach!!"

Oh, geez. "I love you, too. Now, get off!"

Laughter ensued.

"Oh, McTeachy!!"


Just another typical day in middle school.