Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spreading a Little Sunshine on my PLN

Here we go! Michael Mills (@aquiamigo) has pulled me into some Twitter fun and convinced me to share a little bit about my life outside of teaching.  Here's a link to his post as well as a link to the post that nominated him, written by Sandy Kendell (@edtechsandyk).  I only presently know Sandy through Twitter as a member of my PLN, but I'm really excited to be sitting on a panel with both Michael and Sandy at SXSWedu in March 2014!

From what I've read on several blogs, this challenge started out with the Sunshine Award and became a way for educators to share about themselves and learn about other members of their PLNs.

Here are the rules…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
1. Michael Mills nominated me for this, teaches me awesome ways to use technology in my classroom, and has presented and worked with me several times in the past few years.  As our mutual friend Donna Wake says, "He's the next big thing in education." (and I'm super fortunate to work with him!)

2. Random Facts: 
  1. When I was a toddler, I slept with books instead of stuffed animals.  My love for books has not died down since.
  2. I received my favorite birthday present ever in my whole life on my 8th birthday.  My dad rented a hot air balloon and surprised me with a ride around town.  It's one of my most vivid memories.  
  3. In college, I competed in the Miss Arkansas pageant twice.  I made the Top Ten both times and received enough scholarship money to pay for my senior year of college.  I never did capture the Miss Arkansas crown, though.  I quit competing the day I was offered my first teaching job.
  4. My perfect day would involve sleeping in, waking up to hot coffee and an excellent book, and literally doing nothing else all day. 
  5. I move at a frenetic pace, and I always have.  When I has a kid, I used to always get in trouble for walking ahead of my parents.  At work people make fun of me (in a nice way) for always "clacking" down the hall. 
  6. As a young educator with no children of my own, I still call my students "my kids."  I hope I always, always love my students enough to refer to them as "my kids," even when I really do have my own kids.
  7. My favorite food will forever and always be peanut butter. 
  8. I went to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth for my freshman year of college, but then I got homesick and transferred to the University of Central Arkansas to finish my degree.  UCA allowed me to build relationships with professors and educators in Arkansas that may never have otherwise developed, so I feel like it was definitely the right call in the end.
  9. I am a truly left-handed person.  Most left-handed people can do at least some tasks right-handed. I cannot do anything right-handed at all.
  10. I can only sneeze in twos.  Never just one sneeze, never three sneezes.  Just two. Every time.  
  11. It is a sad but true fact that I never truly learned how to ride a bike.  Maybe someday someone will teach me!
3. Answers to Michael's questions:
  1. If you could choose who would play you in a movie, who would it be? Tiny Fey.  I don't even have to think about it.  I adore her and we're both brunettes!
  2. If you had to work a minimum wage job, what would it be? I would probably work in women's retail.  That's what I did before I started teaching, and I loved getting to meet people and dress them up!
  3. What decade produced the best music and why? 90s.  Pop princesses. Indie rock. Boy bands. Grunge.  I could listen to 90s Pandora radio all day, everyday.
  4. What movie makes you cry every time you watch it? The Blindside.  So much kindness and generosity.  It's just beautiful to me that those kinds of stories can come from real life.
  5. What book took you the most amount of time to read? Gone with the Wind.  I read it for the first time in 6th grade. It took me a whole semester, but I was determined to finish it. As an adult, it takes me a lot longer to read anything nonfiction.  
  6. What television show not on now would you like to see return? 30 Rock.  See above comments about my love for Tina Fey.  I would also have loved it if The Office never ended, but all good things, eventually, must come to an end.
  7. If you could have a vacation home anywhere, where would it be? Fiji.  I want one of those little bungalows out in the middle of the ocean.  I've pinned about ten of them on Pinterest.  Unfortunately, they are all out of my teacher's salary price range on vacation homes :)
  8. If you could have dinner with anyone living today, who would it be? That's a really tough question.  I think Maya Angelou.  Her work is really inspiring to me, and I would want her to teach me how to teach my students to love poetry. It's probably cheating if I write down two, but I would also really like to sit down to coffee with J.K. Rowling and talk about Harry Potter for several hours. Could I maybe have dinner with Maya and after-dinner coffee and dessert with J.K.?
  9. Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars, and why? I pick Star Trek.  I don't have a good reason why.  I think it's just a matter of preference.
  10. If you could make one federal law by fiat, what would it be? This is a tough one.  I think I would make a law that requires adults to retake their driving test every 10 years.  However, I may only currently feel this way because holiday traffic has been awful and I live by the mall.
  11. What’s your favorite Schoolhouse Rock video? Conjunction Junction. Not even a contest.
4. Eleven people I'm glad I follow on Twitter: 
Note: This list is a combination of people I have never met but constantly find myself favoriting and retweeting on Twitter mixed with people I know and admire in "real life." Also, they are in no particular order.  I copied and pasted them from my "following" list on Twitter :)
  1. Christopher Lehman ‏ @iChrisLehman
  2. Dana Huff ‏ @danamhuff
  3. Justin Stortz ‏ @newfirewithin
  4. Kelly Gallagher ‏ @KellyGToGo
  5. Noel Gieringer ‏ @msgieringer
  6. Vicki Davis ‏ @coolcatteacher
  7. Sandy Kendell ‏ @EdTechSandyK
  8. Michael S. Mills ‏ @AquiAmigo
  9. Dixie Keyes ‏ @DixieKeyes
  10. Eric Sheninger ‏ @NMHS_Principal
  11. Ben Kuhlman ‏ @bkuhl2you
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.
  1. What is your favorite topic to teach in your classroom?
  2. What's the title and author of the last book you read just for fun?
  3. What's the title and author of the last book you Book Talked to your students?
  4. What is your favorite technology tool and how do you use it?
  5. What is your favorite childhood memory?
  6. Describe your perfect meal.
  7. If you could go back in time and be any age again, how old would you be? Why?
  8. What's your favorite weekend activity/hobby?
  9. What made you decide to become an educator?
  10. What's the funniest/most memorable thing a student has ever said to you?
  11. If you could institute any new policy in your school, what would it be and why?
Ok, done and done!  Thanks, Michael! Time to pass it on…

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Are You a Scrooge?

One of my favorite parts of my job is introducing my students to great works of literature that they might never pick up and read on their own.  During second quarter, we teach Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  I really love the seventh grade curriculum that our team of teachers has built over the past couple of years as we've implemented Common Core, but I have to say that teaching this particular work is one of the highlights of my school year.  What I love so much about A Christmas Carol is the fact that there is so much depth to Ebenezer Scrooge's character.  It seems like every year I'm fortunate to learn something new about this character from the understandings of each new group of students.  I love how they look at this work in a new way each year and focus in on different aspects of Scrooge's character.

This week as we read the play, class after class kept focusing on the same thing--Scrooge's childhood.  Poor Ebenezer Scrooge has a pretty crummy childhood. He has little to no relationship with his father, he is isolated and has few friends, and the only person he loves, his sister, dies as a young woman.  In almost every class, at least one student brought up the point that it's not hard to see how Ebenezer Scrooge became a mean, isolated old miser.  He was a product of his childhood experiences.  Instead of showing resilience and overcoming his childhood isolation and sadness, he let it define him.

To say the least, I was really impressed that my students got to this particular point on their own.  I ask guiding questions as we read, but this particular understanding of Scrooge's character came straight from my students.  It caused me to reflect on how this idea of being defined by our circumstances holds parallel to our own everyday lives as teachers. Many of our students struggle not to be defined by their circumstances.  I teach a very socioeconomically diverse group of students.  Some of them have incredibly supportive, involved families while some of my students are practically raising themselves.  It's not difficult to see the impact of their environment on their social and academic lives.

I also started to reflect on how this idea of being a product of our surroundings could connect to teachers.  Our school surroundings try to impact us all the time.  In the three years I've been teaching full-time, I've been part of completely overhauling a curriculum, implementing new policies, and learning a new teacher evaluation system.  I'd say those things could have a pretty large impact on my teaching.  Teachers, in general, seem to always be having new things heaped on them or thrown at them.  Instead of removing some tasks and replacing them with others, it seems to me that, many times, more and more things are added to our proverbial "plates" until we have so much on our plate that it can't all feasibly get accomplished.

Here's the thing, though.  We have to decide, collectively, if we will be a product of our environment or with we will choose, instead, to define our schools.  Now, obviously, I don't mean that we can decide what we want to do and don't want to do and just say "shove it" to everything else.  What I mean is that we can choose to let our struggles (i.e., teacher evaluation, high stakes testing, crazy parents, crazy students, mountains of paperwork, etc.) define our day-to-day, or we can face these things knowing that despite them, we will do what it takes to impact the lives of the children we teach and we will reflect on and appreciate the small, sweet moments when our students have a positive impact on us.

Personally, I don't want to be a Scrooge. However, I know there are days when I'm a Scrooge about the plethora of tasks involved in doing my job.  My Christmas resolution is to be less of a Scrooge and more of a Tiny Tim.  I want to appreciate the little positive things in my day instead of focusing on the big frustrating things.  I want to define my environment, not let it define me.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Update on My Goals for Better Teaching

Yesterday, I got to enjoy a lovely "ice day" off from school, thanks to our most recent Arkansas "winter weather event."  I don't think it's been nearly as bad as our trusty weathermen and weatherwomen predicted, but that could also be because they told me I would most likely lose power.  Instead, I've been warm and toasty in my yoga pants, drinking lots of coffee and reading books.  I could have blogged yesterday, but I decided it sounded much more attractive to sleep in and do a whole lot of nothing.

I did do a little bit of work yesterday, actually.  A couple posts ago, I reflected on my NCTE experience and gave myself three goals for how my work would change. My first goal was to Book Talk more often.  I made a strong start this past Monday by Book Talking two books that I read over Thanksgiving break/on my way to and from Boston.  I gave my stamp of approval to Ender's Game, and all six of my classroom copies were checked out that day, as well as Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachman, which I only had on my iPad.  I now have two copies on the way from Amazon after getting multiple requests to check it out.  I have always required my students to Book Talk, but this year I've really dropped the ball on sharing my own reading.  It was so fun to see kids excited about these two books, and I'm looking forward to sharing my Snow Day reading next week.

Another one of my goals was to implement Google Docs into my writing instruction.  That required more people than just me signing on. Since my students are under 13 years of age for most of the school year, I have to carefully consider CIPA and COPA laws when I make my Internet decisions.  However, I received the go-ahead from my principal and our technology director last week to pilot the use of Google Drive with two classes. Yesterday, I spent my morning setting up their classes and playing around with Doctopus and some other scripts, reading blogs, and watching videos about different uses of the Drive.  I'm really excited to get started!  I think it's going to be really interesting to see if moving writing instruction to the Drive has a significant impact on my students' work.  I'm really looking forward to comparing the length and quality of student writing in the Google Drive classes to the length and quality of writing produced in the traditional composition notebooks.  Yay for action research! :)  I'll keep you guys posted on how it goes, promise!