Leave Taking

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“Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it, “your big new start.”” – Seth Godin
Well, it’s officially official. After 17+ years in the classroom I am putting the dry erase markers aside and couldn’t be more  excited for my new start. My title is Architectural Representative for Conners Sales Group. New decade in May required a new challenge. From my first no-internet-invented-yet classroom in Cincinnati OH to fantastic Providence Heights Alpha School to the challenge of helping to open a new middle school in Virginia to connecting classrooms globally, I have always tried to put student learning first. From co-authoring an article in Educational Leadership to being a local, state, national, and international conference presenter to the Steering Committee of the Virginia Geographic Alliance (becoming Nat Geo certified)and on the  Board of Virginia Council of Social Studies to being involved with The Carol Morgan School in the DR, my teaching career has been extremely fulfilling. (Sorry run ons my LA peeps). Thanks to so many who have collaborated, believed in me, and just became friends. I hope we can stay in touch and I will still lurk in #sschat and other chats. Thanks for indulging me on some memories.
Just breathe. 😊

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BYOD = BYOLearning

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My district has adopted BYOD and students can bring their own learning device. And even 8th graders brought their phones, Ipods, Ipads. I actually thought they would be too cool for school. The problem is that they do not understand how to use their devices for learning – they take pictures, videos, selfies, and play games. I get it. They have no idea the power they are holding in their hands. Ok, I am one one of a few teachers in my building who is excited about this new development and understands what a game changer it is for my classroom. And I plan on creating digital citizens in an environment that brings digital literacy. I plan on connecting them with twitter and class blogs, not to mention classrooms around the world.

Ok, first day my students had tasks ( their choices) of finding out how internal forces of change affect geography and ultimately, our lives – earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, plate tectonics, and Mariana Trench. Wow! I was blown away by the amount of reading these kids did about these subjects. They read more in one day than in all the years previous. And they understood what they were reading. I heard science terms, I saw writing, and heard “look at this” as they researched. Yes, it’s a start, yes, I will teach them how to research more effectively, but today I savored the thought that these “devices” will change my classroom in ways I can only imagine and my students can’t imagine.

I plan on blogging about this- the good, the bad, and the ugly as it happens. Reflection was an integral piece of my graduate degree and it changed the way I look at education. (Initiatives in Educational Tranformation, George Mason University), so who knows where this will lead? I don’t know, but I am excited to find out. Image

Thoughts in 250 Miles

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Thoughts on the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA) from June: 3,000 riders, 250 miles in 5 days of riding, 2 days of rest in small towns in Ohio, camping each night along the route. It was life changing! Anyone who knows me understands that I perceive everything with an educator’s world view. So here are my observations.

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1. This was a personal challenge for this not-before-physically-active girl. Oh, I am busy, passionate about teaching, stand all day, but not much exercise. Until training. Elle Woods (Legally Blonde movie) was right- endorphins do make you happy. To come back down the street in Urbana, Ohio, where I began after 250 miles of not quitting in the pouring rain was life changing empowering to me! How many times did my mind play tricks to quick, but I kept going! I burst into tears I was so happy and exhausted. Our students deserve to be challenged to do their personal best every day. Sitting at desks all day for 8 hours is not what our students need, they need challenging 21st Century learning. Our students deserve to choose their learning and go and be challenged by creating that learning.

2. It reinforced to me what I already knew – knowing unconditional love, support, and having fun with family is what I wish for every child born in the world to know. It is every parent’s responsibility to create this for their child and it is difficult. Long nights, early mornings, and a lot of structure and discipline. Our students deserve unconditional love from the education community. They know what they can’t do; we need to empower them to believe in what they CAN do! And it’s not passing a standardized test.

3. While riding 8 hours through the farmlands and small towns of Ohio, I realize I am living a narrow view of the world outside Washington DC. I live in a rural town but we are only 35 miles from the city and many parents live and work in Northern Virginia (NOVA). Seeing silos as tall as most buildings, I was in awe of the hard work and community this area brings. They couldn’t be farther from DC and yet, all the political decisions affect these hard-working people. Small businesses and farms are the back bone of America – a cliché, I know – yet, these communities welcomed us with open doors offering free water from their coolers on their lawns to opening schools to cool off in the heat. Our students deserve to be part of a community. Every school can take notes from New Bremen Public Schools. From the moment we rode in to stay on the school grounds I sensed community. Football players unloaded the trucks with our camping gear, cheerleaders served us Gatorade and snacks, the Boosters’ parents were cleaning up the bathrooms for us, and the Superintendent knew everyone and was at the High School 24/7 for two days. The SUPERINTENDENT! I haven’t seen a Central Office person in my classroom or even at my school in a very long time. Even the community center in town had the school cardinal on top of the roof. Our students deserve excellent schools where the entire community is involved.

I will take what I gained riding 250 miles this summer and go back to school refreshed, renewed, and with “New Bremen” community spirit.

What were your challenges, goals, and ah-ha moments this summer?

Hope you were able to stop and notice the scenery.IMG_0651

Living in 4 D

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I think that September is New Year’s as many of us in education do. I love the summer as a time for renewal and re-thinking. I always approach the new year with excitement. But this year it seems different. What is it about this new year? The year seems “fake” to me. While I am passionate about student learning and that will never change, I am not seeing education changing for our students. Think about how our students live. They live life in 4 D -not even in 3 D anymore. From the moment they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed, they are living the social media life – text, Facebook, gaming, tweeting, and everything on-line. Life for them is all about individuality. Growing up in the 70’s, I get this. That’s what my generation was about. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but my students have not lived without technology. They don’t have to think – gps takes them wherever they have to go. Social media connects them to whoever they need to be connected. I feel their lives are lived completely differently. How is this changing the way they learn? Imagine living in an individual world and having to come to school to do what everyone else does – take notes, standardized tests, and conform to the rules of school. I look forward to the day when schools are turned inside out and students are learning the way they live, in 4 D. I am actually thinking seriously of getting my PhD in brain research to research the impact of technology on our students’ learning and what education really needs to do to help the next generation reach their potential. Let’s get the conversation started to reform education! For real. 

The Dilemma

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My daughter was born to be a teacher. Just like I did when I was young, she would line her dolls up in rows and stand before them and “teach” the old fashioned way. They were quiet, she would talk. But they were taken to make-believe worlds through her books and they were given her diagrams and sketches of the world according to Allison. Fast forward and she walked across the stage at her University accepting her degree in Elementary Education.

Her world is different than mine as she enters the teaching field. I entered pre-test and I remember walking into my first classroom in urban Cincinnati, Ohio bursting with excitement. My students and I created our own lessons as we made our way through the curriculum. There was no “map”, no standardized test at the end of the course, there were no parents asking for grade sheets for me to justify their A or B. Oh, there was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and other national standardized tests and parents were concerned about their children. To be fair, I taught in an area where those kids, for the most part, would be first generation college. It was 1979.

Allison enters the teaching world with as much excitement as I had as she has worked extremely hard to get prepared to enter the profession. But the reality is that she is entering the post-test era and it is becoming increasingly clear that her “success” will be based on her students passing a standardized test (called SOL’s in Virginia, ironically, for Standard of Learning). She will be given a curriculum map, a pacing guide, and a fat set of facts for her students. She has had a taste of this as she substitutes around Northern Virginia in many of the premiere public school districts in the United States. She has embraced this profession and understands student learning, collaboration, and that she is the facilitator in the classroom. She is substitute teaching in several public districts and one small parochial school.

Here is the email I got from her Friday: I was offered a job in the parochial school for next year and I may be offered a job at the public school I am in now. What should I do? They are both excellent schools. The main difference in SOL’s. All I do now is have to practice and prepare for the tests in May/June. The parochial school doesn’t have that focus, it is about learning. There is a different vibe. They still have the curriculum, but I have more freedom. Help.

She knows I teach in a public school (not where she is substitute teaching). She knows I have taught at a parochial school. I HATE the end of course standardized tests, as well as all the benchmark tests in between. My classroom is Project Based and I am passionate about student learning. But the reality is that I have a pacing guide, curriculum map, a textbook (they only use for reference). And most of the time I feel isolated because of it.

I know what I told her, curious as to what advice you would give?

Perspective Change With A Tweet

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It was @thelkowski that got me into twitter – she is always on the cutting edge of technology and I, of course, wanted to jump in after. So, I signed up in 2009 and it felt like being on the edge of a conversation. I had read how to get involved but it felt strange to me and I just didn’t quite see it yet. It was when @thelkowski called in June of 2010 with her exciting news of attending #gtauk that I began to “get” the power of being able to be involved. In July, 2010, I added the hashtag #gtauk and began what would become my go to resource, PD, and support that my own school could not provide. That day provided the confidence I needed to be able to add to the conversation of #edchat shortly after. I remember with excited nervousness when I got my first retweet and someone asked me a question. Wow! It was absolutely a shift in perpective from that point. I had found a global community who shared my passion for education, reform, student learning, and allowed me to collaborate.

Collaboration for me is like breathing – necessary for growth. I honestly do not remember when I found #sschat but when I did, I was home! I get support, resources, challenge, and friendship with a group of fantastic educators I admire and respect. They are the best of the best. Fast forward just over a year and I was asked moderate #sschat. What? Me?  Just as Elle Woods would say – “I did it!” It has confirmed everything I believe in – global collaboration and student centered learning.

A quick recap for those new tweeters:

  • Find a hashtag to start with – #sschat, #edchat, – for a complete list see @cybraryman1 ‘s website.
  • Tweet to add to the conversation – find one or two ideas to tweet. For my first retweet, I shut my eyes and hit send, that’s how nervous I was. But it worked, someone noticed.  It gets easier with every tweet.
  • Tweeting is like anything else, I was trying to keep up with everyone, but I realized that those who tweet me back and add to my PLN are the ones I care about now.
  • Remember that you are an amazing educator and you will be an asset to twitter. Tweet away! Don’t forget the hashtags! It really does add to the experience as it gets to more people. Some of my best follows now are from retweets.
My perspective changed with one tweet and now twitter has become my best PLN I’ve had in my career – I am excited to meet some of my #sschat PLN in December at the NCSS conference. I look forward to talking all things student learning and Social Studies!
Happy tweeting and see you all Monday nights at 7 pm EST for #sschat – I promise great resources, conversation, and support.

What’s Your Pulse?

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Just as a physician takes our pulse during an office visit to check our health, schools should be doing the same. What’s your school’s pulse? Here are some thoughts on a healthy school pulse.

When walking through the building do you see:

  • Students in groups, not just talking, but asking questions, using content vocabulary, creating learning together, excited about what they are doing?
  • The teacher is involved in student discussion and learning and not the center of learning?
  • Students can tell anyone who comes in to the classroom what they are researching, discussing, analyzing?
  • There is high expectation for learning, not just test scores? There are student projects showcased?
  • Learning is taking place all over, even in the hall with students are spread out using computers, textbooks, library books, other devices as allowed? My favorite pictures in my classroom are those of students putting together a presentation while the textbook, notebook, etc are on their laps and desks. I co-wrote and article for Educational Leadership in 2009 and it is still timely. Here is the link for those interested- http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/mar09/vol66/num06/Anywhere_Learning.aspx
  • Learning happening anytime, anywhere and are you, the teacher, a part of it during non school hours?  Are students sharing writing, projects, and anything else with you on Google Docs, Edmodo, etc.?
  • Active not passive learning?

As I walk through the halls of my own building, I think about our pulse. What does learning look/sound like to you?