Monthly Archives: September 2011

Life in the 21st century

I like to think that when my kids leave my classroom, the are prepared to face whatever life may throw at them. Each and every day I do my utmost to help them become better readers, writers, communicators, thinkers and human beings. I’m not always sure I succeed. Some days I definitely shut my door and drop my head on my desk in frustration. I think some days they go home and do the same.

Education has changed. It is not the same profession I got into 14 years ago, and there are days I want to climb to the roof of the building and yell, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED ON FOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!” But, I know it would do no good. I tried life in the corporate world. I tried life in the retail world. Both nearly sucked a vital part of my soul out. I’m not cut out for cubicles, customer service or the same routine day in and day out. It stifles my creativity and my mind. Let’s face it, I’m a teacher. And every summer, when the school supplies start filling the shelf, I find my mind begin to wander back toward novels and 6 + 1 writing traits.

I think one of the reasons I love teaching is that it is never the same. I am constantly adapting what I did in the past to help meet the needs of my students. When I started, I was fairly pen and paper. That just doesn’t work anymore. I mean, I never want to see pen and paper go the way of the dodo, but technology is here to stay, and I’m ok with that.

I was kind of slow to jump on board. I’ve been using the internet for research since the moment I stepped into my first classroom, but that was really where it ended. Sure, I helped my kids design newspapers during my student teaching, but since my first real teaching gig didn’t include journalism, I kind of let those skills fall to the wayside. When I got hired at my latest school, I had to polish those skills and get back in the tech game. I think that was crucial for me to really embrace tech as more than a research tool. Once I did, I couldn’t stop.

I feel really comfy using tech in my classroom. I’m always on the look out for new and fun ways to use the computers in my classroom. Last year I got a bunch of Flip cameras as part of a grant and I’ve been working on incorporating those as well. My kids have used them for some pretty fun video projects. This year they used them to make propaganda commercials for Big Brother (after reading 1984), and I’m hoping to use them tomorrow as part of a lesson another lesson on propaganda (for a different class, in relation to All Quiet on the Western Front). I have a fun idea for video diaries and possibly using the cameras to do video blogs as well. I would love to have them use the cameras to take on the persona of a character from lit and do a Real World style confessional scene. My kids are so in love with reality TV, I think they’d find this fun.

My strength with technology definitely is in the way I’ve embraced it and try to find creative ways for my kids to use it. I am constantly asking for their feedback on ways to utilize it which have real meaning to them. They’ve done mock Facebook pages, transformed famous works of art, created digital poetry and one group even made a DML page (darn my life, based on a much more risqué internet site they love). I love letting them have a stake in their projects and having them come up with new and interesting ways to use it in my classroom. I am flexible and often adapt project ideas students have come up with and use them in other classes. I’m not afraid of having kids do collaborative work (wikis, forums, chats) and also realize the benefit of making all my resources available to them 24/7.

What I really struggle with in relation to technology is finding the time for it. I have no problem using it in my classroom every day. Where I fall down is actually find the time to go out and read up on what other people are doing successfully. I find it next to impossible to make time to put new activities on Moodle. I would love to use the Mobi my school gave me, but we had training on it before we had computers to use with it and I have honestly forgotten how to use it. I don’t have time to train myself, so it sits in a box, just gather dust. My prep is taken up with lesson planning, grading, babysitting study hall and emailing parents. My evenings are spent with family (which I refuse to give up). So, really, I have about two hours between my kids’ bedtime and mine to finish grading, do work for my masters classes and spend time with my husband. There is simply no time to investigate new technology.

But I want to. And that should count for something.

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Chocolate and higher education

Ok, so I know this blog has been seriously schizophrenic since I started it some 4 years ago. At first it was all about being a new mom and a teacher, with large stretches of time where I focussed kind of exclusively on one or the other. Then, I became a rather die-hard chocolate reviewer who still hit on educational and family issues when I could find the time, since having my second child though, this blog as become, well….neglected. And that’s probably being kind.

However, much like the glorious South, it will rise again. Oh wait, that didn’t really happen, I mean, not the way the quote intended it to (and to be honest, that’s probably for the best). This ol’ blog is getting a bit of new life breathed into her though. Even if it’s by force.

See, the reason I haven’t been writing very much lately is because I’m crazy busy. And yes, I do mean the crazy part. At the start of the school year, my principal joked that this might be the year I go crazy. We both had a nice little laugh at that before classes started. It’s been five weeks and judging by the pile of grading staring at my from the corner of the kitchen counter, it’s suddenly not really funny anymore. See, this year I am not only teaching two AP English courses (in addition to being one of only two teachers in my school who teaches an overload), wrangling two children under the age of 5, and helping a father and a step-mother with nearly fatal medical conditions… I am also getting my masters’ degree in education. Yeah, this is probably the year I go crazy.

On the plus side though, this masters’ thing is going to require me to frequent this site a bit more and once again jump on the education train. In fact, if you are still reading this, you are about to get your first taste of my foray back into the world of higher education. I’m in an educational technology class which requires me to spend some time each week reflecting on educational issues. So, without further ado (and my poor professor has probably figured out already that English teachers are really darn verbose, especially ones like me who have these lofty ideas that we are clever and really have a sense of our own personal writer’s voice)…here goes:

I’ve kind of been a tech demi-goddess at my school over the past three years. Now, I am not claiming to know it all. Not by any stretch of the imagination, but I am one of a core group of teachers at my school who jumped on the tech bandwagon early on and decided to leave behind the old chalk and blackboard and trade up to second-hand computers and Moodle. It’s kind of ironic that I was the first one to agree to teach all of my classes as Moodle classes considering that only the year before when they told us they’d be replacing our desks with computer tables, I balked at the idea of letting mammoth computer tables devour my tidy rows of desks. Honestly, I signed on because I didn’t want to have to fight for the computer lab and thought that it might really help my newspaper staff. Turns out, it put some real life into my classroom.

When I first started using Moodle, I’ll admit, I took a lot of pen and paper activities and just turned them into worksheets they could type on instead of write on. I’m not saying the kids didn’t like that better, but it wasn’t really that forward thinking. A lot has changed in three years though. Now my kids create blogs (although not as cool as this one since they are only visible on our server and to the other kids in school). We read newspapers from around the world. They play review games at their own pace. They participate in chats and forum discussions. They find information and graphics and share them during presentations (via the projector and the white board). I show YouTube videos, use music from my iPod (which always sparks giggling), do webquests and can demonstrate step by step instructions to the entire class at once so they can all see and then follow along. All assignments in my class are uploaded so they cannot be lost (or turned in late, or not completed due to a malfunctioning printer). All handouts and project requirements are on Moodle so kids never have to worry about forgetting materials at school. All homework is listed so kids never have to worry about missing a day or forgetting if they have anything to do. Even our textbook is online so they don’t have to risk a lifetime of back pain from lugging that monster around.

This all sounds great, right? It is. Until a night like tonight happens…Moodle is down. I’ve already gotten one panicky email from an AP kids who can’t finish her homework. And the thing is, she really can’t finish her homework. The questions to answer are all on Moodle. I can’t email her a copy of them, because, well, they are on Moodle and I can’t access it either. Even if I had the questions, I don’t have the emails of every student in my class sitting on my desk here at home, so I can’t get that info to her classmates. This means that tomorrow instead of having a great jumping off point for our debate, the kids are going to have to finish the questions first. As a result, everything else for this class is going to get pushed back. This is true for my other classes as well. When you build your classroom around a piece of technology and that technology fails in any way, it becomes hard to recover. I wish I could say this is the first time it’s happened. Our server gets overloaded and shuts down in the middle of class. Kids forget to save periodically and lose entire portions of their work because Moodle times them out. I’ve had kids in near hysterics because after working on an essay question for over 30 minutes, they’ve gone to save it only to find they are timed out and that click they made erased everything.

This is where the fear starts to set in. Or at least it used to. It’s now happened enough times that I’ve kind of learned to roll with it. I postpone work and rework my lesson plans. I always have a simple paper and pen backup activity just in case. Kids are fairly adaptable and I’ve learned how to be too. I think my background in theater has probably helped me quite a bit. I’m decent at improv and can roll with it when needed.

Although I am a pretty intrepid tech user, I’m still hoping this class will help me figure out some new uses for tech in my class. I’d love to learn more about podcasting, for instance. I’d know it may sound simple, but I’d love to learn how to make my own Jeopardy game that I could adapt to any piece of literature we are studying (kids LOVE literary Jeopardy). I’m very open to new ideas and replan my curriculum every year, so I’m hoping this class will give me new avenues to explore. And, maybe, just maybe, it’ll help me get back to blogging a little more. After all, I have some killer German chocolate cake ice cream from Baskin Robbins in my freezer just waiting to be reviewed.

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