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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lesson Failed: Do you have a Plan B?

For those of us starting school after Labor Day, August Anxiety is setting in.  Those nights where you are tossing and turning with new ideas, things you know you want to do differently and the anticipation of being “back to school.”  The week before school starts the idea pad next to my bed has all sorts of scribbles on it (some of which I cannot decipher!).    Planning is the key to a successful year.  Most people think that teachers’ time is split between classroom and grading papers.  The truth is, planning takes the most time. A good plan has a diversity of activities, movement, student interaction, hands-on, differentiation, accurate content, assessment, tech integration, etc.   Most people can’t even handle all the planning it takes to keep ten kids busy at a two hour birthday party.  What would they do with double the amount of children, a tight budget and grandiose learning objectives?
Getting Started
The first week of school is perhaps the most daunting as both yours and your students’ routines have to be established.  Not just school routines, but home routines as well, sleeping, dressing and eating changes drastically for everyone!  Throw in all those extra housekeeping tasks – class lists, gradebooks, sub plans, and for many of us real housekeeping tasks…. it can be overwhelming!
Step one:  Planning your room out
I know a lot of teachers who have gone back to the building to decorate their rooms.   I have to admit, that some of the rooms are a bit intimidating!  My advice is to keep it simple and let the student’s work be your d├ęcor.  My best bulletin board was a brick wall background and letters that said “Wall of Fame.” On day one, I described how you could get on the wall of fame (it was not easy) and when you achieved it, you could use whatever font you wanted, write your name, print it out and post it.  Kids loved getting on the wall!
Step Two:  Planning your lessons:  Expect the unexpected
There is no such thing as a perfect plan- there are just too many variables in schools – if you were working with widgets or robots, you might have a chance, but kids (adults too) and all the business (read busy-ness) of a school, always has the potential wrench to throw in the works.  Even if you teach the same lesson objectives 5 times in one day, you will see that what works with one class, student or time of day, will not work with another.  Be flexible.  All classes do not have to be in the exact same place at the exact same time.  And above all have a PLAN B.
Plan B
The most important lesson that I learned over the years was to always have a plan B.  I used a mini PBL that I introduced at the beginning of the year for students.  Each student had a folder with their challenge check list in it – they worked on this challenge when they had extra class time, when class was disrupted for assemblies, field trips, when a sub was in, etc.  They kept their work in the folder and the folder in the room.  My mini-challenge was all about inventions – I had computer games, links, patent info, Rube Goldberg activities, 20 ways to improve the pencil etc.  Much more than a folder full of worksheets.  Students could do the parts in any order.  All challenge activities led to them coming up with their own invention.  The grand finale was showing off their invention prototype and demonstrating it to the class.  We have had some great ones!

We all know the importance of a great plan A, but having a great plan B can insure that the learning continues no matter what the circumstances
What’s your favorite plan B?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rules of Engagement

Well, this was puppy sitting week for me.  Somehow, I ended up with a 9 week old puppy, which has to be taught EVERYTHING.  My husband could not stress enough how important it is to “train him right.”  Sort of like what my principal used to say at the beginning of the year, “your first week of school sets the tone for the year.”  People had all sorts of advice for beginning teachers – “don’t smile until October” was one I remembered.  Those are the teachers that are all smiles on back to school night and parents can’t figure out why their child says they are mean!  But I digress…
Starting off Right!
I know a number of teachers that are planning on using online discussion platforms this year to get their kids talking and writing.  There are lots of platforms available, from the very simple Todaysmeet, Edistorm, and Edmodo, to the platforms that lend themselves to higher order thinking like Collaborize Classroom and the SCAN tool at TregoED.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to “train them right.”  Good digital citizenship does not just happen!

Practice Makes Perfect
Do you want your students to start practicing right off the bat?  There are a number of great icebreaker topics found in the Collaborize Classroom library.  Simply register at Collaborize Classroom and search for icebreakers in the Topic Library.  There are lots to choose from, including some with an Olympic theme.  TregoED has also added two new icebreaker lessons to their library.  Just register and go to your dashboard to set up your private classroom discussion. 
Get them “trained right”
I like to start by telling my students that I am so excited that the school is trusting us (both me and them) to use this great technology.  I make it clear that I know they are ready for it and remind them that the discussion they are going to have is a classroom discussion.  Just like any other discussions we have in class, we stay on topic and take it seriously.  One major difference to keep in mind is that the discussion, like any online discussion, can become permanent and can often be shared.

Digital Citizenship Rules of Engagement
Fortunately, you do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding online resources for digital conversations.  There are often good resources supplied by the online tool that you are using.   Catlin Tucker, an English Teacher in CA, has developed and shared a great document called the “Dos and Don’ts of Online Student Communication.”  As well as, a number of other student success resources to go with the Collaborize Classroom site.  Likewise, TregoED provides great resources to help teachers get started and student resources that include “Scan Discussion Guidelines,”  and a student “Jumpstart” page.
Now, back to that puppy…..

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lurk before you Leap

Lurking has taken on a whole new meaning.  Once meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, “to lie in wait in a place of concealment especially for an evil purpose or b: to move furtively or inconspicuously.” 
It has now come to mean, according to the Urban Dictionary: 

To read without commenting or contributing, therefore effectively invisible to the rest of the group or community. Generally recommended for joining any forum so that you can observe rules, attitudes and prominent personalities without jumping in and breaking a rule, making an ass of yourself, or asking a question about something obvious that you would have learned for yourself if you’d paid attention in the first place.
Online equivalent of attentive listening before speaking; potentially the solution to all Internet faux pas.”
While a little unorthodox and a bit gruff, it certainly makes a point. While lurking sounds like it has a negative connotation, it is in fact a good way to gauge what is going on before you jump in to any online discussion group, twitter feed, etc.    I picture a child that is going to “jump in” to jump rope, watching the rope hit the ground a few times before entering.  There were a few times that I wished I had lurked a little longer, but sooner or later, you have to jump in – sink or swim.
Expect More out of Educators
That being said, in the classroom, there are some students who would prefer to lurk for the entire school year.  A good teacher will help them feel comfortable enough to contribute to the conversation.  In the same way, good digital citizens will also make lurkers feel safe enough to contribute, without fear of being chastised.   Good digital citizens will gently guide newbies to understand any nuances of the tool or group without humiliation, just as a good teacher will do in the classroom. 

While you cannot count on regular Joe’s who use newspaper blogs (or even the Urban Dictionary) to anonymously rip each other apart, you can expect that any decent educational twitter chat, blog, or discussion group will welcome your input, respond with encouragement and overlook any faux pas!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Getting Connected: A Few of My Favorite Nings

If you are reading this, you are probably already somewhat connected. You may also have heard that August is Connected Educator’s month. So where do you go to connect? Who are you connecting with?

There are literally hundreds of ways for educators to connect with each other. Many educators have ventured onto the big networks – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. In addition to these, I love the networks that are more specialized. I am a regular contributing member on a number of Nings. These networks may focus on a subject area or level of education and then drill down deeper into special interest groups. You can even start your own group! Check out the blogs, post questions, share your experiences. Nings are a great way to become a more connected educator!
These are a few of my favorite nings (and yes, I have that Sound of Music song in my head)

"A place to ask questions and get help. A community dedicated to helping you enjoy your work. A cafe without walls or coffee: just friends."

Groups such as "Teach with Technology," Teaching Reading," "Teaching Writing," "Teaching Shakespeare," etc.

“This network is dedicated to connecting social studies educators everywhere.”

Groups: US History Educators, World History Educators, Middle School Social Studies, Social Studies Tools

A network of Mathematics Enthusiasts... Just talking about Mathematics... What do you say?”
Groups: Problem Based Curriculum, Introducing Math Concepts, Developemental math
“Facilitating the use of technology in the classroom.” This is for people interested in helping integrate technology into education in a seemless manner so that technology is a tool that enhances education and does not drive it.
Favorite groups: free for educators, collaborative projects, TIE
"A year round social network for ISTE members and affillitates and groups and Ed leaders"
Fostering new ways of learning using Web 2.0 and global collaborative practices and providing a resource for educators to connect globally”

A new kid-kid-on-the-block- described as “joint professional development better than a course.”

A network for educational leaders! Share your challenges, questions, and solutions with your colleagues.
Start your own group within your staff to increase collaboration!
Looking for more?
Cybraryman, Jerry Blumengarten has a list of other Nings as well as hundreds of other ways to connect!
Where are your favorite places to connect?