Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cool Storytelling Tool

Hi All,

It's been forever since I blogged but I simply had to share this slick storytelling tool I discovered while attempting to complete an assignment for class. It's called Vuvox and it seamlessly integrates photos, video and audio into a moving collage.  I immediately went into teacher-mode and began to think about the multitude of ways this tool could be used for storytelling purposes.  Take a look at my 1st creation & enjoy!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Thank You Facebook!

Internet connection
Originally uploaded by meletver
I haven't blogged in about a month. My doctoral program keeps me super busy and so does wearing a trillion hats at my middle school. Honestly, I haven't felt "inspired" to write in awhile. Well it finally happened- something to scream about.

When I was around 6 years old, my mother who was recently single and struggling to get back on her feet financially sent me to live with my grandmother and grandfather on my father's side. My father and I are not close since he left when I was 5, and has been popping inconsistently since that time. While staying with my grandparents, I became extremely close with my aunts and uncles, all who were around my age (give or take a few years).

Diana, was my favorite. We were about a year apart and I remember playing with her for hours endlessly. We played with dolls and dollhouses. We spent hours pretending to be princesses, playing school, and scouring the neighborhood for hidden treasure to play with.

After some months, my mom returned for my little brother and I. I only saw Diana a couple of more times after that. For whatever reason, the connection between my mother and grandparents dissipated and I Diana became a memory as a result. I never forgot her and about a year ago, she emailed my mother out of the blue. As it turns out, she had been looking for us!

I immediately emailed Diana. I tried to give her details about the last 30 years of my life. I sent her some pics and emailed once a week. Finally, I suggested she get a Facebook account. You see I didn't mention that Diana was born hearing impaired so I can't "talk" to her in the traditional way. She signs well and can read lips. I thought Facebook would be a great way for us to stay connected effortlessly since she can read my updates & pics the minute I post them.

When I suggested it at first her response was a simple " I don't have a Facebook account". I emailed her a few more times, explaining how easy it was to set up a page and that she should try it since pretty much everyone on Earth has a page. No response. Then yesterday I get a message on my phone, " HI Tracy, I'm on Facebook and I'm so happy to see you"! I'm pretty sure I screamed out loud, and shed a tear or two.

My grandparents have both passed on, and my family on my mother's side is pretty broken. I've always wanted to be one of those people with a large, loving family that gets together to celebrate holidays and takes cute family pics that end up as postcards. I suppose that wasn't my path. I cannot control other people but i can control what connections I make and maintain and Facebook helps me to do that. Thank you Facebook, for helping me to find Diana again! Now, time to take the sign language class.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who Really Wins the Race??

Originally uploaded by flightlessXbird

I have to admit I have spent a ridiculous amount of hours perusing the Dept of Education’s guidelines, press releases, and state applications, desperately trying to find some light at the end of the latest tunnel in the world of education reform.

The carrot is no-doubt tantalizing: 4 billion dollars for states willing to provide evidence of their strategies for addressing the 4 areas outlined by the ambitious plan including standards and assessments, teacher quality, and turning around failing schools

However, as an educator with over 10 years of experience teaching and coaching in primarily urban school districts I am left scratching my head. I wonder how and why is it that so many find the idea of a “race” a viable one for America’s students? Aren’t all students deserving of quality education or are we saying that it’s okay if some lose?

With all the information I was able to find about the requirements and specific areas designated for reform, I am struck by what is missing from the conversation considering what research tells us about best practices in education.

• Funding for preschool education. The majority of my “failing” students have been struggling since kindergarten. Children from impoverished backgrounds have less access to books before entering school and lag behind their more affluent peers in word knowledge. This is a formula for inequity that results in students entering school already at a disadvantage. States should have the funds to make preschool education a reality for every student.

• Equal per-pupil spending. I’ve worked in schools with 38 kids in one class, one outdated computer, and no classroom library to speak of for reading instruction. Believe me money isn’t the most important factor but it does make a difference! Most states use of property taxes results in more funds being spent to educate the nation’s most affluent students. As a result, students who need the most resources receive less. Why not evenly distribute the billions of dollars being offered through Race to the Top to the nation’s poorest school districts? At the very least some attempt could be made to correct the inequities created by current pupil funding models.

• Creating “real-world” partnerships. The disconnect between learning and the real world is pervasive in our schools. I’d love to see school districts being rewarded by thinking outside the box in their attempts to forge relationships with practitioners in various fields. This could include everything from finding mentors for students to long-term apprenticeships based on needs and interests.

• Celebrating Teacher Collaborations. I’m still not sure why anyone thinks teacher merit pay is a silver bullet for improving classroom instruction. Most of us didn’t choose this profession for the money-we wanted to make a difference. Any funds earmarked for teacher bonuses linked to test scores are a waste that will undoubtedly lead to hoarding information and cheating scandals. If the administration wants to pay teachers for anything, it should be for opening up their classrooms to others in the professions, and leading workshops around things that new teachers often struggle with like management and effective lesson planning.

• Lessons from Other Countries. Finland’s students are outperforming many in the world. Yet there is very little standardized testing, approximately 30 minutes of homework and they spend less on education than the United States, according to Wall Street Journal article, “Why are Finnish Kids So Smart”? More importantly “Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards” (Gamerman, 2008). Every citizen attends preschool at age 7 and has the right to attend college for free. Basically the Finland educational system is the polar opposite of what we do I America.

Examining What Truly Works. Although there is dismal evidence at best to support the mass firing of teachers as a viable strategy, there are plenty of examples of models that work right here in America. Geoffrey Canada's work in the Harlem Children's Zone though costly is proof that a multifaceted approach produces phenomenal results. Dr. Steve Perry is able to boast a 100% college acceptance rate among urban students. The list goes on. So why are we not taking a hard look at these models instead of repeating the missteps of NCLB?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dear Sierra- We Failed You

Dear Sierra,

I remember the 1st time we met.  I was teaching summer school and you were an incoming 6th grader who was slated as needing extra academic assistance before starting school in the fall. The class was small and there were only 13 of you.  I remember how much you laughed when I read aloud from Almost Starring Skinnybones-It's a delightful story about a student whose constantly picked on by his classmates and ends up making a cat food commercial that only serves to further humiliate him.

You used to lie on the rug and literally stretch out at my feet as I read aloud each day, almost bellowing with laughter- it was contagious and I remember your smile as if you were standing in front of me.  I remember the day the other girls began to point and snicker at you as you rolled around on the floor giggling at one of your favorite parts of the story because your stomach was poking out of your shirt.  They thought they were being subtle, nudging each other and snickering. I was livid as I reprimanded them for their behavior- reminding them that perfection is non-existent, and chiding them for their cruelty.

To me, you seemed almost oblivious to their taunts as your expression didn't change despite of their teasing. In reflection, I think you internalized it along with everything else.  I remember months later, a few months into school year.  It was bitterly cold and I was having trouble opening the door and had to call Ms. Taiit to let me in.  Here eyes were red- "Sierra committed suicide last night".

I don't think I processed it right away. I remember walking around in a fog for most of the day, not knowing what to say to my students.  How do you explain suicide to 7th graders?  I didn't even cry at 1st- not until the the next day when the crisis intervention team, along with the directors of our network came into the classroom and said aloud to the class, "Sierra has committed suicide".  I cried for weeks. How alone you must've felt.  How you must have believed there was no other option.

The guilt was even worse, as I couldn't remember speaking to you or even seeing you once the school year began.  How many times had I passed you in the hallway and not acknowledged you?  How many of us failed to see your pain and do something about it? 

I want you to know that you have forever changed me.  I speak to students I don't know and hug them just because they seem to need it.  I try my best to remember all their names and when I don't "sweetie" seems to do just fine.  I want you to know that I'm sorry.  We failed you.

The weeks after your death were filled with whispers, rumors, and finger-pointing.  It had to be someone's fault. Parents, teachers, classmates someone.  The reality is it's probably a mix of all these things. We have set up a system where students' scores and grades take precedence over their social and mental health. We failed you and we continue to fail others- it's really that simple.  We failed you and I'm sorry.  I dreamed about you the other night- maybe you are still trying to tell me something. I just hope that I hear you- I hope that we all do.

This blog post is dedicated to Sierra Brandon, who took her own life one year ago.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Digital Nation

Frontline's Digital Nation offered some interesting insights on the digital revolution.  The clip below is 1 of 9 in the series, that begins by focusing on youths' supposed ability to multitask.  Interestingly enough,  students' perception of their ability to attend to several tasks at once vastly differs than that of their professors at MIT.  Dr. Sherry Turkle and others speak at length about a new breed of student, that constantly attends to several things at once.  The remainder of clips offer fascinating looks at the fallout of the Korean Gaming craze, brain research and what this all means for educators.  Thought-provoking- take a look if you haven't done so already.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tests Don't Measure This

Unfortunately, I've been having what seems to be endless conversation about test scores lately. At work the meetings are countless- what our scores are, where we need to be, who to target, etc. etc. etc.

On Twitter the other day I engaged in a conversation around whether national standards are needed. In short, my answer was no since I fear that this will only lead to some inane national exam, which will undoubtedly measure one type of intelligence- good old paper and pencil.

My problem with the America's ongoing fascination with standardized tests is this- how do you measure:

* collaboration
* critical thinking
* problem- solving
* curiosity
* artistic/musical intelligence

The answer- you can't. It's really that simple. My 8th graders in this photo are engaged in a design project in which they are required to do all of the above things are more. They're designing a real project for a real- world reason. If their product is chosen by Mark Ecko, their t-shirt design has the possibility of being sold in stores across the world. The lessons they're learning about design, marketing, economics, branding, etc are invaluable and traditionally not addressed in classroom. Tell me, how do you measure this??

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reflections on Online Instruction From an Online Learner

First off, I am beyond pleased to have found this photo and even more thrilled when I found it was part of Wes Fryer's photo stream. I thought it was perfect given my current experiences with tech, both as a teacher and a learner.

I recently completed my 1st semester of doctoral work at Pepperdine University. I'm studying educational technology through a hybrid program which requires me to attend several face to face meetings throughout the next few years, as well as complete an online component.

My classmates and I chat regularly about our readings on social learning theory, leadership, school reform and a slew of other topics related to technology and education. We use a variety of forums to accomplish this including google groups, BlackBoard, and a few web-based collaboration tools like Etherpad

Still a relatively new phenomenon, online education has recently been the topic of numerous research studies, attempting to prove ( or disprove) its overall value and effectiveness for learners. Since this area of education is also a research interest of mine, I decided to weigh in citing my personal experiences thus far.

Here are my initial thoughts, reflecting, rantings etc:

1) Online instruction is not "easier" than attending a traditional graduate school program, in fact it can prove to be more challenging since you're not physically in contact with your instructors as much.

2) You must be disciplined to have success with online schooling. If not, you'll find yourself falling behind and there's no one there to push you, except yourself!

3) Research! Research! Research! I looked at several programs during my application process, both traditional and blended. Some required lots of face to face interaction, while others had relatively little. Find one that fits your needs and be honest with yourself.

4) ASK ABOUT ACCREDITATION! Surprisingly, not all programs with an online component are fully accredited. I actually know someone who earned an MBA from an online school, only to found out it meant nothing- what a waste of time and money!

5) If possible, find students who are or have attended the institution the schools you're interested in- I found some useful information simply by googling- student reviews and the institutions' names.

6) Dig up information on graduates of the programs you're looking at- Pepperdine readily provided this information on their website. I was, (and still am) impressed by the accomplishments of Pepperdine Alum, and it keeps me motivated when I feel frustrated.

7) Use common sense- if something sounds to good to be true it usually is.

8) Be patient but honest- most schools are still trying to "work out the kinks" in terms of what works when delivering content online. Speak up if something isn't working for you- remember your are making a valuable investment and deserve a top-notch education for the time and money you're putting in.

9) Remember that no man is an island- my programs is a cohort model and my classmates are awesome! Find a network to help you get you through the tough times.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kudos 2 Common Craft!!!

Okay, this will be a short one. But after viewing Common Craft's latest addition to its "in plain English" series, I simply had to acknowledge them. In short, "Protecting Reputation Online", is the most concise, kid-friendly explanation I've ever seen covering a touchy, yet important, topic.  Working with tech savvy middle school students, I have had more than my share of experiences with young people who fail to realize the implications of posting questionable images and comments on the web. 

I've actually had a conversation with an admissions counselor at one of the city's most selective high schools, who admits regularly searching for applicants' names of facebook and other social networking sites when attempting to make admissions decision.  I've also had to deal with numerous episodes of "sexting", young girls sending inappropriate images to boys they like, which inevitably end up in the hands of every student with hours.

It's available as always for immediate download for just $20.  I'd like to thank my twitter friends for this one- as always you are one of my best resources!

Interested in other videos in the series?  Try:

wikis in plain English

blogs in plain English

twitter in plain English

google docs in plain English

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Resolutions of an Educator on the Verge of ????

Again, I find myself reflecting on myself professionally and personally as this New Year takes off. So here's my list of things I resolve to do in 2010

1) I will not teach force every student in my charge to read the same book. This has been a huge "aha" for me as an educator. As an adult, I have certain interests that will keep me reading despite of being tired, overwhelmed, or downright frustrated. Besides, my kids will get plenty of opportunities to be told exactly what to read when they get to high school and college.

2) I will hold all my teachers to high standards even when they resist- no excuses.

3) I will honor my students' voices and choices even when the control freak that resides in inside me tries to take over.

4) I will stop complaining about what's wrong with education and focus on what's working.

5) I will not allow anyone to drown me with negative energy even if that mean walking away for awhile!