Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Confronting Fear (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 30)

What would you do (as an educator) if you weren't afraid?

Courage by venspired, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  venspired 

In an earlier post, I mentioned that while I am an energetic and confident presenter when I'm teaching my own students, I often suffer from stage fright whenever I am being evaluated.  Giving interviews, or teaching "sample lessons" as part of an interview process, also fills me with anxiety.  Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, does a fantastic job explaining that while introverts like me may not immediately inspire confidence in others in these types of high-pressure situations, our aversion to public performances is not a fair indicator of the skills and talents that we have to offer. While I wish more interview committees were aware of this reality, I know that I need to continue to work on overcoming this fear.

Having said that, there are a couple of things that I would do as an educator if I weren't afraid.

1.  Stand up to share a Google tip during a demo-slam at VT Fest 2014.
2.  Submit a plan for, and then teach, a workshop on copyright/ Creative Commons through CVEDCVT.

It may not happen over night, but I am confident that I can overcome this.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

How I've Changed as an Educator (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 29)

How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

A hamster wheel on the curb and a door l by Tassava, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Tassava 

The complexity of this question is staggering, but I will attempt to answer the question as candidly and succinctly as possible.

The biggest way that I've changed as an educator is in the way that I've chosen to embrace my own imperfections in order to allow myself to evolve and grow.

Like most educators, I am a hard worker. Doing quality work and being regarded as competent matters to me.   Unfortunately, I have a track record of doing what Brene Brown refers to as "hustling for worthiness."  In other words, because I occasionally put too much stock in what others may think about me, I have made the mistake of equating my productivity with self-worth.  Because I recognize that this is not a healthy way to live, I have been making a concerted effort to live a more authentic and wholehearted life.  Additionally, having the courage to step away from the hamster wheel, and to be open to other opportunities that present themselves, has given me more room for optimism, hope, and joy.  This has allowed me to do a better job of balancing my personal and professional responsibilities, resulting in my becoming a more creative and resilient person.  I forgive myself easier, and find it easier to grapple with failure, which has resulted in my being a more compassionate and encouraging educator.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Technology is Only a Tool (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 28)

Respond:  Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

Technology is a tool.  Therefore, it should help to advance curriculum, not drive it.  The questions students answer and the concepts that they learn are more important than the tools that they use to do so.  However, students who have access to a variety of tools that they are adept at using are better equipped to address their conceptual understanding than those with more limited access and experience.

An artist working in a fully equipped studio, for example, has a variety of tools from which to choose to create beautiful works of art.  Access to tools such as paint and brushes, clay, paper, glitter, and glue, can allow more room for experimentation and creation than access to only a pencil.  While the pencil may be an adequate tool for self-expression, it may not be the best one for encouraging collaboration.

Dr. Wes Fryer's book, Mapping Media to the Common Core:  Vol. 1, does a thorough job of demonstrating a variety of mediums that students can use to communicate and demonstrate their learning using a host of technological tools.  This post on Edutyopia also does a thorough job of addressing this issue.

Make Time to Relax & Play (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 27)

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

Relax by tacker, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  tacker 

Over the course of my career, I've come to view weekends and holidays differently than when I first started teaching.  I used to set Sundays aside for long stretches of grading and lesson planning.  I used to spend a significant chunk of my holiday time doing the same.  While the result was that I often felt more prepared on Mondays, I gradually started to feel resentful about neglecting my family, friends, and hobbies that fueled and restored me.

When I first started teaching, I couldn't understand how it was possible for people to leave school at a reasonable hour or to give themselves weekends off.  It seemed to me that there was an unending stream of tasks to be completed, and that failing to capitalize on weekend and holiday time was irresponsible or lazy.  I mistakenly equated my physical and mental exhaustion as a symbol of how much I cared.

Over time, I've either learned to budget my time better, or else I've discovered that I am more productive and effective when I give myself permission to relax and reflect during weekends and over holiday vacations.  It's not as if I don't think about my students or work-related responsibilities.  I do. It's just that I find that I am more creative and energetic when I don't attempt to fill up all of my unscheduled time continuing to work.  I am absolutely more effective as an educator when I allow myself time for my hobbies, such as experimenting and playing with new art supplies or technological tools.

Now, I am far more likely to give myself the gift of a work-free weekend/ holiday, because doing so makes me a more compassionate and effective teacher.  When I permit myself to enjoy my family and my hobbies, I find that I have more to give to my students.

My Favorite Go-to-Sites (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 26)

What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

Although I routinely check my Twitter feed for juicy tips, my three favorite go-to sites, when I have something specific that I'm looking for, are Richard Byrne's Blog:  Free Tech 4 Teachers, Common Sense Media, and YouTube.

Richard Byrne's Blog:  Free Tech 4 Teachers

I have subscribed to Richard Byrne's blog and his Facebook page, because he does such a thorough job of showcasing ways that a variety of tools are being used in classroom settings for different purposes.

Common Sense Media

I routinely refer to Common Sense Media, because there are a variety of teacher-created lesson plans that may be used to advance digital citizenship, and because the organization offers free online professional development opportunities.


If I am pressed for time, or if I am struggling to figure something out on my own through experimentation, I have found YouTube to be a treasure trove of resources for learning.  Since I am a visual learner, I appreciate the abundance of screen casts available on YouTube.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ideal Collaboration (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 25)

What would the ideal collaboration between students look like?

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept by lumaxart, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  lumaxart 

Ever mindful of the fact that well-designed collaborative activities have the potential to result in deep, authentic learning experiences for all participants, I believe that an ideal collaboration between students resembles a movie production crew.  When everyone in a group has a clear purpose, enough time to work, and an important role to play, collaborative magic can happen.  (I've written about my experience working on a video production crew in an earlier post).

When a group of students is tasked to create a video presentation, whether in the form of a documentary, parody, or public service announcement, quite a bit of coordination, planning, and revising has to take place. Among the roles required in this type of collaborative venture, there is a need for a director, script writers, actors, set decorators, audio techs, and video editors.  Since there are a variety of tasks requiring different talents, skills, and personality types in video production teams, participants may contribute in many different ways. 

If all goes well, and the students are given enough support, they will have created something that could not have been done by one person on their own.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Maker Movement (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 24)

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why?

This summer, I participated in a professional development opportunity at the Generator maker space in Burlington, Vermont.  The class, called Create Make Learn, brought together educators from across the state to experiment, play, and tinker in a celebration of the creative process.  We were introduced to a menu of options (a well-stocked buffet table) and invited to sample the offerings based upon our personal learning goals.  Among the things I learned during my dabbling was how to solder, create animations, and use a green screen.  I experimented with a 3D printer and e-Textiles, played Minecraft, and designed a jitterbot.

In addition to the fun that this level of play provided, we reflected on ways that our tinkering related to the Next Generation Science Standards and the book Invent to Learn (this link will take you to a previous blog post about this book).

I am drawn to the Maker Movement, because it mixes my love of art with my philosophical belief in the power of constructivism; the Maker Movement goes further by advocating "constructionsim."

(Click on the image to enlarge it).

Like many students with whom I've worked, I do my best learning when I tinker, experiment, and play in a collaborative environment focused on process over product.  It's liberating to create, fail, revise, and make a breakthrough, and then revise again.  The Maker Movement encourages failure and reflection in order to maximize learning.

On a personal level, I challenged myself to weave together my love for bookbinding with my desire to learn more about coding and electronics.  To learn more about my creative process, please visit my Bling the Book blog.

I am a strong advocate for bringing maker spaces into schools as a step toward redesigning education.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Community Connections (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 23)

Write about ways that you "meaningfully" involve the community in the learning in your classroom.  If you don't yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

Last year, while working as a Computer Apps instructor at a local middle school, I focused a lot of my attention on the global community in the context of teaching about digital citizenship.  I introduced students to the Creative Commons community and showed them how they could contribute their own work to that community, as well as borrowing and building upon the works of other contributors.  The impact that this had on students was an increased awareness of the issue of intellectual property rights and of their responsibilities as both creators and users of content.

A way that I involved the community on a more local level was by creating a website about my school's experience with the Week of Code.  Since we also wrote up an article for our local paper, I included a link of the article on the site, as well as photos and samples of student work.  In collaboration with other teachers in the building, we were also able to have a guest speaker come to the school to share ways that coding has impacted his career.  Students participating in this global event, with local community connections, and an authentic audience for their work, were very enthusiastic about the experience, and parents were eager to sign their children up for coding camps as a result.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My PLN (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 22)

What does your PLN look like, and what does it do for your teaching?

Since I'm not currently working under a contract, having access to a strong PLN is even more vital to my development as an educator.  Without the benefit of having daily discussions with colleagues at a brick and mortar school, I have been relying upon Twitter, Blogger, Scoop.it, Google+, and Diigo to keep connected to other educators.

Doing so allows me to seek feedback from others to keep up to date on issues that are impacting a variety of schools. Having a strong PLN alerted me to a variety of free online courses, such as Renee Hobb's Copyright Clarity MOOC (which begins next week), which also keep me in touch. I am a member of a Google + group that is interested in the Maker Movement in Vermont. As a result, I can see what other teachers are doing in their schools and can participate in activities such as the Champlain Maker Fair with other educators that share my interests.

Art Influences My Teaching (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 21)

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching?  Explain?

I am not currently a classroom teacher, but I can't help but bring my passions into the classroom when I am working in that capacity.  I am profoundly influenced by the arts and interested in the creative process, for example.  I love music and experimenting with sounds and images.  Most recently, this influenced the way that I taught middle school students about Creative Commons and copyright.

Rather than simply teaching them about the terms, I taught students about these issues by inviting them to create their own derivative works using a variety of photo editing tools.  Students created collages with filtered images and vacation fantasy shots that allowed them to add pictures of themselves.  The catch was that students could only use images that they had permission to use, and they had to correctly attribute their derivative works.   Here is an example:  Photo Editing Website

Curating Student Work (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 20)

How do you curate student work-- or help them do it themselves?

Socially Engaged Instruction by jrhode, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  jrhode 

One of the ways that I curate student work (and help students do so) is through the creation of Google Sites. Whenever I start a new unit that involves a project, I create a Google Site for students that includes a KUD, letting them know what I want them to know, understand, and do.  I also include a rubric and links to standards, as well as screen casts and resources that students may access.  After students have completed their projects (and received feedback from their peers and myself), I post the students' work to the site to show off their work.  I have also taught students how to build their own Google Sites and blogs which they can also use to showcase their work.

Here is an example of a site that I created for students that features samples of student work.  

Encouraging Student Self-Reflection (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 19)

Name three powerful  ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.

There are a variety of ways that students can reflect on their learning, as long as enough time is provided and the expectation for thoughtful reflection is modeled and made explicit.  My favorite ways to encourage reflection are through:
  • discussion (peer conferencing, conversations)
  • writing (statements of intent or observations about what worked and what didn't)
  • self-assessment
The one that I use most often is asking students to self-assess their work.  When I ask a student to self-assess their work, I often ask them to evaluate projects based upon the criteria outlined on a rubric, and then take it a step further.  The meaty, meaningful part comes when students explain what their process was, what they are most proud of, and areas where they had the most difficulty, in order to help themselves determine how they might improve in the future.  Students who curate samples of their own work in the form of a digital portfolio (or some other type of evidence) can learn to be more reflective as they document their own growth.

(This derivative work was created under a Creative Commons license, courtesy of chrisotruro §catching up§ /Flickr/ CC BY NC SA)


Google Educator

I am officially a Google  Educator!

Update:   I completed the new Level 1 and Level 2 certifications!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Teachers are Gardeners (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 18)

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy.  

Gardener by one2c900d, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  one2c900d 

A good teacher is a constant gardener who plants seeds, celebrates new growth, and looks hopefully to the future for a bountiful harvest.    Like a gardener clearing away the weeds and providing fertile, nourishing soil for tender roots to unfurl, teachers labor to create a stimulating, safe environment where ideas, skills, and people can grow.   Teachers and gardeners know that while it's their job to cultivate and encourage new growth, they ultimately have to trust in the promise of the seed.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Challenge to Education (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 17)

What is the most challenging issue in education today?

This is a monumental question that could easily take hours, days, weeks, and years to reflect upon.  The answer that follows is my initial thought on the subject; it could change as I spend more time pondering the idea.

Schools often have a difficult time keeping pace with a rapidly changing society.  When it comes to change, schools sometimes operate at a snail's pace.  There are many reasons for this including social, economic, and political pressures that make rapid change nearly impossible.  There are also structural obstacles such as traditional schedules and age cohorts that group students together based upon their age rather than other attributes, such as skills or interests.  Sir Ken Robinson speaks elegantly upon this issue, going so far as to accuse schools of "killing creativity," because they are not innovating quickly enough.  

While there are great deal of expectations upon schools to provide students with the skills and habits of learning that they need, to allow them to be competitive in an increasingly globalized world, schools also struggle to keep pace with evolving technology.  It's not due to a lack of effort, however.  Administrators and teachers know what students need, and they are doing their best to design learning opportunities that address this issue.  While progress is being made, schools are increasingly working with limited resources and are being challenged by testing requirements, aging infrastructures, and increasing poverty.  

I've addressed the prompt for the day, and am now left to think about what the solution might be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Superpower (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 16)

What superpower would I want if I could have one, and how might it help me in the classroom?

If I could have a superpower to help me in the classroom, I would want the ability to be in more than one place at a time, while managing to keep track of all of my different activities.  If I could be in multiple places at once, I would have the ability to do all of the things that I want and need to do.

One of my selves could be teaching a class or collaborating with a colleague, while other selves were off lesson planning, attending meetings, or taking classes.  Another self could be taking a walk down a country road with a friend, delighting in the beauty of the natural world, while another was at home cooking a nutritious meal for my family or creating ridiculous pieces of useless art. Yet another self could be taking a nap, traveling to an exotic country, or thoughtfully writing profound blog posts about women who manage to have it all.

If I had the power to multitask in this extraordinary way, I might never feel like I was letting anyone down, and I would always have enough energy to do my best work.

Three Strengths I Have (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 15)

Today's prompt is to name three strengths I have as an educator.


Creative Outlet by mark sebastian, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  mark sebastian 

I am creative. 

Not only do I love making things and designing curriculum, I thrive on the process of expansive thinking and am content to live with uncertainty.  I find this valuable as an educator, because life is full of unanswerable questions.

I am persistent.

I don't give up on my self, my dreams, or my students. Because of this, I am motivated by hope.

2012-171 Teacher is Chief Learner by mrsdkrebs, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  mrsdkrebs 

I am a life-long learner.

Nothing makes my toes tingle more than playing around and learning something new.  My curiosity about the world and desire to learn through exploration helps me to design activities that are engaging for students.

What is Feedback? (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 14)

Today's (belated) prompt is, "What is feedback for learning, and how often do you give it to students?"

When I worked as a humanities teacher, formative feedback often took the form of written comments on essays or written/spoken suggestions during peer and teacher conferencing.  Summative feedback more frequently looked like a score on a rubric or test/ quiz.   I routinely allowed students to make revisions to written work and to resubmit assignments, because I believe the process of revision is so important.

More recently, while I was teaching a Computer Apps class at BRMS, feedback took other forms. In addition to using rubrics to assess projects,  I more frequently used quick check-ins and assessments. These not only gave me feedback about my students, but they also provided my students with immediate feedback about areas they needed to spend more time focusing upon.  For example, when introducing students to copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons, I administered pre-assessments using either a Google Form that I quickly graded with Flubaroo or quizzes on Socrative. 

I was also fortunate to have a class set-up that allowed me to demonstrate an activity (sometimes via screen cast or a YouTube video) and then give students structured studio time in which to create, while I circulated around the room answering questions as they arose. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jamming Out with Garage Band and Do Ink (Again!)

I love making music in Garage Band!

I made another animated music video using  Garage Band and the Do Ink Drawing/Animation and Green Screen apps today.  I'd been wanting to test out the sampler feature on Garage Band, to create my own spooky ghost sound, so I did and then used it to build my spooky song around it.  I am convinced that many students would get a huge kick out of creating their own music and animations, too!  I would love to do this with a group of kids!

This time, I experimented with creating one of my own original animations, rather than simply using the props provided by the Do Ink Drawing/ Animation app.   More specifically, I created my own moving spider and added it as an overlay on my credits page!  It was intuitive enough that I plan to make more of my own animations in the future! 

Here is the YouTube link, in case you have difficulty viewing it above.

My Favorite EdTech Tools (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 13)

Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived effectiveness.

Although there are quite a few other tools that I also routinely use with students, these are my top five.

ThingLink is a tool that allows students and teachers to create interactive images.  I have used this tool for a variety of different projects, and have found that students really enjoy it.  Here is a link to some examples of ways that I've used it professionally.

Socrative is a great tool for formative assessment that invites students to use any smart device to answer questions provided by a teacher.  There is even a "space race" feature that can be used by student teams who compete to answer the most questions correctly.  My favorite thing about this tool is that students who may be quiet in class can easily participate.  I've used this tool to introduce classroom procedures, as a pre-assessment, and to quickly check the pulse on a class.  You can create your own quizzes or download quizzes created by others.

Google Drawings
Google Drawings is one of the most underrated tools in the GAFS toolkit.  Because Google Drawings can be downloaded as JPEG files, they are great for use in a variety of projects.  I've used Google Drawings to teach students about copyright and creative commons.    Students have used their drawings to create interactive images in ThingLink, illustrations in Animoto videos and Movenote presentations, Aurasma trigger images, and more.

This is an example of a Google Drawing assignment using ThingLink.

MoveNote is a wonderful tool for students and teachers to tell stories and showcase their learning. Movenotes feature images in the form of a scrolling presentation, but they also allow a story teller to record a video of themselves (or a talking avatar) to convey even more information.  I've found that students who've created MoveNote presentations increased their reading fluency while practicing their scripts.  Here is a link to a MoveNote that I made that includes a Tellegami talking avatar.

ImageCodr is a useful tool for getting the attribution information for Creative Commons images available on Flickr.  If you'd like to learn more, you can watch my video tutorial here.

Teaching in the Future (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 12)

I have been asked to envision ways my teaching might evolve over the next five years.  This is difficult to answer, because technological changes are happening faster than the educational system can process them. Also, while I foresee my own practice evolving, particularly in the ways that I personally go about participating in professional development, I sometimes struggle to imagine how I might bring that type of flexible, self-directed, and personalized learning into the confines of a traditional school setting, increasingly driven by tight schedules and high-stakes testing.  I believe that it needs to happen, though.

While I see the need to teach in a way that is expansive, creative, and connected-- addressing the diverse needs and interests of students--I also know that schools need to fundamentally change.

Since I stopped working full-time as a content area teacher (social studies and language arts), I have been thinking more about how ineffectual traditional schooling can be.  Classes that don't do enough to seamlessly integrate technology and make global connections are not adequately serving the needs of students.  Classes that fail to give students white space to create and reflect are not doing enough to touch the hearts and souls of young people, let alone preparing them to be critical consumers of information with sophisticated problem-solving abilities.  Since I share this view with many other educators, who are equally interested in shifting their practice to better meet the needs of learners, I can't help but believe that schools will have to evolve in order to catch up.  I am, however, excited about the possibilities!

Friday, September 12, 2014

My First Garage Band Composition!


       Oh, How I Love the Fall!

Yesterday was a blustery, rainy day, which made it perfect for playing!  I used the gift of time to explore Garage Band on my iPad and ended up composing a song that made me think of our glorious autumns in Vermont.  Hence, "How I Love the Fall" became the musical soundtrack for a silly video animation that I made to accompany the song. Although students in a classroom setting don't always have the luxury of white space or creative incubation time during their school days, a project like this could be a rewarding creative activity for students in a variety of content areas. Over time, students could be invited to create a piece of music inspired by a historical document, photograph, poem, or a piece of art that they've created.  They could even work in small groups. Click the arrow above to view my music video on YouTube.  I used original photography for the backdrop and added the animations using the DoInk Animation and Drawing and Greenscreen apps.

This little shout-out certainly made my day!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Good Morning! (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 11)

Time for Valentine at Valentime’s by Squonk11, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Squonk11 

Today's prompt asks that I contemplate my favorite time of the school day, which for me is mornings.  I prefer mornings, because the day remains full of promise and the majority of students are happpy to see their friends (and hopefully their teachers).

While some people admittedly take a while to get into the groove (I count myself among those who require coffee to become fully human), I prefer mornings to the time just before and after lunch, because the students are fresher and have not yet had too many demands placed on their attentions.  Usually, they haven't yet been asked to sit too long in one place, and many of them are genuinely interested in seeing for themselves what's going on in the first class of the day, rather than hearing about an upcoming activity from their friends who may have already attended an earlier class. The temperature of many classrooms is often cooler in the mornings, too, before the sun has had a chance to heat everything up.

On the flip side, mornings can be a bit chaotic, especially if one has extra duties that lead right up to the bell or needs to wait in a long line to make last-minute copies, while an antiquated copy machine squeaks and repeatedly jams.  There are often technology quirks impacting networks in the mornings, while panicked teachers are scrambling to prepare for student arrivals.  Mornings can also a bit chaotic as students grab breakfast and substitute teachers try to figure out where to go and how to log in to the guest network.

In general, however, I still prefer mornings, and I am often most eager to try something new at the start of a new day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

5-4-3-2-1 (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 10)

Today's prompt feels a bit like something that I've seen on FaceBook, but I'll be the first to admit that I like it.

Share five random facts about yourself.

1.  I went to high school in Germany.
2.  I enjoy the art of binding books, and then giving them away as gifts.
3.  I detest artificial plants, especially in restaurants and funeral parlors.
4.  A student once caught me singing "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" at the top of my lungs, as I worked in my classroom after hours.
5.  I love bluebirds, even if they do eat my blueberries.

Share four things from your bucket list.

1.  I'd like to paddle board on Lake Champlain.
2.  I'd like to take a jewelry making class.
3.  I'd like to spend a week at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts learning something frivolous and fun.
4.  I'd like to take a cooking class in Italy.

Share three things that you hope for this year, as a "person" or an educator.

1.  I hope for happiness, health, and wholeness for myself and those that I love.
2.  I hope to become more adept at learning how to code.
3.  I hope to find the place where my greatest passions meet the world's greatest need (Buechner).

Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator.

1.  Middle school humor often makes me laugh.
2.  Saying "goodbye" to students, colleagues, and schools makes me cry.

Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.

1.  I am an introvert.  I may seem outgoing, but I need some silence in my day to recharge.  I prefer to lead from the sidelines in a thoughtful way, with the benefit of having the time to make thoughtful decisions.  I do my best work in small groups.  I am most confident when I feel prepared.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One of My Biggest Accomplishments (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 9)

Slow Down by kewl, on FlickrToday's prompt asks that I reflect upon one of the greatest accomplishments of my teaching career that no one may know (or care) about.

The biggest accomplishment of my teaching career is that I have not let fear or convention keep me tethered to one place.  After my first five years of teaching, my inner voice was clamoring for me to take some time away from the classroom and spend it doing things that I had been neglecting in my personal life. After waking up to the discovery that my daughter had transformed from a first grader into a middle school student (almost without my noticing), I knew that I needed to redirect my attentions for a while. The decision to take time away was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, one that many people viewed with confusion. What on earth could possess a person to leave a secure position teaching high school social studies and humanities, at a great school like Colchester High School?  While leaving the comfort of the known could be viewed as a risk, taking the time to spend with my family and on other areas of interest helped me become a stronger, happier person, and a more skilled practitioner.

It was by taking time away from full-time responsibilities as a classroom teacher that I came to realize how important it is to live an undivided life.  It helped me recognize that my habit of overworking and constantly putting work before every other aspect of my life was not benefiting anyone.  It gave me the time and reflective space to take history and technology courses for the sheer joy of learning, and it allowed me to rethink the ways that I might approach a full time position should the opportunity again present itself.  It allowed me the time and mental space to re-imagine my goals, set priorities, and design instructional experiences for myself, as well as my students.  It gave me the space to think about things differently and more creatively.

Since making that decision, I have come to the conclusion that teaching plays a huge role in my identity and remains a vital part of what gives my life meaning, even if I do remain a free agent of sorts.

Although I was sad that I wasn't part of the whole "going back to school" routine this fall, since I didn't have a new position lined up, I have been grateful for opportunities to teach a variety of different courses and students in a variety of settings.  I am grateful that I've had the gift of time to dive deeply into professional development, tinker with my hobbies, and dote on my loved ones.

Image Credit
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  kewl

Monday, September 8, 2014

Artifacts in My Bag (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 8)

The Things That I've Carried

Today, I am supposed to be reflecting on the contents of my desk and what they might reveal about me. Rather than reflecting upon the contents of one of my former desks (which would have been amply stocked with Tic-Tacs, deodorant, junk food, and miscellaneous spare change) I am going to reflect on some of the contents of the bag that I unpacked when I arrived at my long-term subbing gig at Browns River Middle School at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.  Since I was only fortunate enough to spend one year there (under a one-year contract), I found myself repacking many of the same items on my last day in the building.  Since then, the objects have remained in the bag, and they continue to do so, until a new excuse to unpack them arises.

Aside from colorful markers and a pouch of custom made pencils inscribed with the quote, "You kick massive tail," the crown jewel of my bag is a battery operated push button (aka. the Boogie Button) that plays the old disco tune, "Shake Your Booty." The markers reveal my passion for color and my desire to be prepared.  The pencils and the Boogie Button are throw-backs to the first class of students that I taught at Colchester Middle School several years ago, a class that continues to hold a deep place in my heart.  These items symbolize the fun that I had with those students and my desire to build new relationships, in a supportive, inspiring, and fun environment.

In addition to random sticky notes, a deck of Scooby Doo cards, and a couple of thin three-ring binders, the bag also contains a large, purple felted ball and an inflatable globe (both good for tossing), a brass bell (occasionally good for getting a class' attention), a pencil box equipped with a few happy face stickers, and several plastic clipboards.

One thing that I noticed about myself while reflecting upon this prompt is that I've learned to live with less stuff in my desk, my bag, and my professional spaces over time.  Furthermore, reducing the clutter and identifying what is most vital to carry, could be viewed as a metaphor for my life as an educator over the past few years.

My Most Inspirational Former Colleague (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 7)

One of my most inspirational colleagues is also one of my best friends, with whom I collaborated during the first four years of my teaching career.  Although we are no longer teaching partners, we continue to bounce ideas off of one another and remain grateful for the synergy we continue to share.  A gifted writer and a creative old soul, this special person has been meeting me for coffee every Friday afternoon for the past four years, a ritual that has become a weekly institution.

Professionally, she is a role model for all who see her in action.  Like many teachers, she works ridiculous hours.  Nonetheless, she manages to take on one leadership challenge after another, while remaining passionate about her students and teaching.  Although she is incredibly busy, she somehow makes time for the people and hobbies that are important to her.  She seems adept at balancing her private and professional responsibilities and interests.

Although she occasionally runs late, she is a woman of her word.  She is reliable, creative, and driven.  She works hard, because she loves what she does.  She is never content with "good enough."  She remembers peoples' names with seemingly little effort, and her students love her.

On a personal level, she is inspiring because she has also successfully changed the trajectory of her life.  By taking her health into her own hands, increasing her physical activity, and changing her diet,  she has managed to shed close to half of her body size.

I admire this colleague for her generous heart, her warmth, and her fierce loyalty.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Things a Good Mentor Does (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 6)

What are some things that a good mentor does?

Dream Journal - Mentors & Coaching by AlisonQuine, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  AlisonQuine 
(Photo Credit)

I have been lucky to have several strong mentors during my life.   A mentor back in college encouraged me to run a half marathon (without my knowing I was doing it), by taking me on a well-planned jog, with water bottles placed along the way.  More recently, a mentor has encouraged me to "share my work" with others, suggesting that to do otherwise is a waste of talent and resources.

A good mentor helps you to become your best self by complimenting the areas where you shine and highlighting the areas where you are holding yourself back.  They don't offer unjustified praise, and they may ask some hard questions, but they are often reflective people who encourage you to be your most authentic and best self.

A good mentor shares their ideas and encourages you to do the same.  They encourage you to show your work, even when you think that it's not quite good enough to share with the world.  They encourage you to take risks and to step outside of your comfort zone.  Recently, a mentor encouraged me to teach a workshop about copyright for other educators.  I haven't done it yet, but I'm seriously considering it.

Good mentors listen well and ask open and honest questions.  They tell stories about their successes and their failures.  Informative tales of failure and uncomfortable struggle are not stories that just anyone will share, so having a mentor open up about the difficult times as well as the good times is incredibly valuable, humanizing, and rare.  If you've found one of these people, do your best to keep them in your life.

A good mentor is real.  They laugh and cry freely.  They aren't trying to show off or show you up.  They are happy to see you succeed, and they are not threatened by your successes.  They seem to have enough time to share with a large circle of people, even though they are usually quite busy.

A good mentor has a great deal of life experience.  They are not one-trick-ponies, but people who have had varied experiences to draw upon, making them experts at giving advice if you ask for it.

Classroom Comfort? (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 5)

Today's prompt is to post a picture of my classroom and to reflect upon what I see and what I'd like to see.

Since I do not currently have my own classroom to reflect upon, I would like to reflect upon some random thoughts and observations that I've had about classrooms in general.

On Friday of last week, I subbed at a local high school.  The room was set up in several straight rows, and there was a roll of tattered maps bolted above a chalk board.  The temperature in the room was in the upper eighties for most of the day, even though four fans were intermittently blowing papers off of student desks.

(iphone) It’s my fan club!!! by ~Twon~, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  ~Twon~ 

At one point during the day, I had to project my voice over the rumbling engine of a riding lawn mower. Although I was doing my best to remain energetic, I was consciously aware of the sweat beading up on my nose, and I felt terrible for the students who were sticking to their hard, plastic seats.

I wish that classrooms were more comfortable for students and teachers.  I know that air conditioning is expensive and not environmentally friendly, but it is difficult to learn when one is uncomfortable.

I have also been thinking about the fact that for some students, it's difficult to find any solitude or silence during the school day.  Over the years, I have learned that a little bit of silence and stillness each day is vital for my mental well-being, and would probably benefit students as well.

The challenge of doing ones best learning in an environment that is noisy, crowded, and often stifling is one that I hope can be overcome by more flexible modes of instruction.  Online courses, community based learning, and personalized learning beyond classroom walls is looking more and more enticing to me.

What I Love Most About Teaching (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 4)

The prompt for day four is to reflect upon what I love most about teaching.  Since I have spent a great deal of time reflecting upon this question, over the past three years in particular, I appreciate this opportunity.

While working at Browns River Middle School last year, I found a home.   The drive in each morning was beautiful; the building is flanked by Camel's Hump and an abundance of open space and lush woods.  The students and the faculty are warm and welcoming.  Each day spent there was different from the one that proceeded it, yet each one was filled with meaning.  The relationships that I forged with my students were incredibly strong, and I felt like a valued part of something bigger.

In a nutshell, the thing that I love most about teaching is feeling like I'm making a difference.  It means a lot when a student expresses excitement about some new way of thinking that they might not have previously experienced.  It means a great deal when a student who is having a bad day can be made to smile through the exchange of a few kind words of encouragement.

Teaching can be difficult, because human beings have complex needs and desires.  We all desperately want to connect with other people and to be seen for who we truly are.  The best teachers that I have ever had were very good at taking the time to get to know me as a person and making an effort to reach me on a personal level.  It was that gesture of kindness that allowed me to take risks and try harder than I otherwise might have.   As a teacher, I recognize that I also wield this incredible power to impact lives.  That is a huge responsibility, but it is also a gift.

Teaching becomes most meaningful through the creation of relationships with other people, and that is what I love most about teaching.

Focus for Future Observations (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 3)

The third prompt asked me to reflect upon an area where I would like to improve upon in future teacher observations.  While I am consciously aware of the fact that there are always areas for improvement in my teaching, I believe that the area that I'd most like to focus upon is feeling more comfortable while having formal observations done. Although most people would characterize me as an energetic speaker, I sometimes suffer from stage fright.

I routinely create engaging lessons for students, and I expend a great deal of effort building relationships with students.  Nonetheless, I still feel intensely nervous during observations and interviews.  I wish that I could switch off the part of my brain that sends the fight or flight message that high-stakes situations signal for me. It's not that I don't value constructive criticism, because I have learned a great deal from the open and honest feedback that I've received from mentors seeking to help me improve my practice.  I just feel more aware of my shortcomings whenever I'm trying my best to perform for a live audience that is different from the one that I might normally perform for.  This RSA short on the "Power of Introverts" speaks to the issue I've addressed.

I'm not exactly sure how to go about making the mental shift, though.   Also, I wonder whether other teachers feel the same way I do, or if I am truly in the minority.

Update:  Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, shared this link on FaceBook.  It seems to offer some good advice for people like me.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New Technology: Lily Pad Arduino (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 2)

Yesterday's prompt was to reflect upon a new piece of technology that I want to try and to explain how I might use it.  Although this post is a day late, I spent the afternoon teaching myself how to program a musical composition, using my LilyPad Arduino.

This summer, when I started playing around with an Arduino Uno, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoy the LilyPad Arduino. Perhaps it's because I like the idea that I can sew the components into art projects!  I'd like to learn more about programming with the LilyPad, because I want to integrate blinking lights into art projects that I'm working on.  I'd like to learn how to easily move between my Arduino Uno and my LilyPad Arduino to solve problems and increase my understanding of how to write my own code.

Today, I sat down with the book, Sew Electric, and I used it to get started on programming music. As was suggested by the book, I created variables for my music notes, because they were easier to work with than the numbers assigned to different frequencies.  Since I didn't want to be limited by the frequencies printed in the book, I found a lovely cheat sheet of Arduino frequencies and their corresponding notes online that helped make this easier.

Then,  I played around with the tones to compose my version of Sarah McLaughlin's song, "Ice Cream," which reminds me of my daughter.

Although this is not a visually engrossing video, you can hear the song if you want to.   In the near future, I will try to revise my code to match blinking lights with the song.

Goals for the Year (30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 1)

Even though I am not working under a contract right now (I worked under a one-year contract last year), and I don't currently have my own classroom, I have decided to embrace the 30-Day Blogging Challenge for Teachers.  Although I was hesitant at first, feeling a bit like an outsider without a school to call my own, I want and need to feel connected to other educators.

Furthermore, I remain passionate about teaching and hopeful that a position matching my qualifications will open up in the near future. So, while I continue subbing and working on my Educational Technology Endorsement, away from the frenetic pace that most of my friends are currently operating within, I think that it's fitting that I make the most of this gift of time by taking on this blogging challenge.

The prompt for September 1,  2014 asks that I write my goals for the school year, inviting me to be as specific or abstract as I want to be,

My Goals for This Year (I need to articulate my action steps).

1.  Take steps outside of my comfort zone to increase my confidence in presenting to large groups of colleagues and other adults.  I get very nervous when all eyes are on me.  One way that I may tackle this is by organizing and teaching a workshop for educators about copyright and Creative Commons.  Update:  I did it!

2.  Learn how to program my LilyPad Arduino in order to integrate programmed LEDs into my art projects. One way I plan to address this is by taking a workshop on Arduino at Vermont Fest 2014.  Update:  I did it!

3.  Become a Google Certified Educator.  Without distraction or procrastination, I need to commit to a few days of review and just do it.  Update:  I did it!

4.  Learn more about IVECA, perhaps by participating in a training session.

5.  Find ways to remain connected to other educators.  I plan to do this by participating in Twitter chats and volunteering at the Generator, in Burlington.