February 3, 2013

I'm Not As Senile As I Look

I had the most bizarre conversation with one of my high school students on Friday.

First a little background:

He's new to my class this semester, and all I know about him is that he is off to a bad start. On the first night, he had the audacity sit with another boy and talk while I was trying to lead them through a lesson. There are only 15 students in that class! Boy, this isn't one of those overloaded classes at a day high school where one kid whispering to another in a class of 45 is more easily overlooked. Duh!

In two weeks, he's turned in one assignment and missed three days of school. When he's there, he is still more inclined to goof off.

So, he came to class on Friday, after being gone for two days and greeted me by saying, "Miss! You're on time today!"

"Uhm, yeah. I have a class before this. I'm always on time. Do you mean that I'm in the hallway between classes today?"

"No, Miss!" He smiled at me, "Sometimes you're late. Last time we had to wait outside the class for like 10 minutes."

Clearly he was confused. "No, seriously, I have a class just before this one. I'm always one time." I did not mention that I'm on time to my previous class, too, because I'm paranoid about being caught in rush hour traffic, and so I leave early enough that I'm usually on campus 30 minutes before my class starts. And then, if I'm not in my classroom when the bell rings, it literally takes me 1 minute to get there from anywhere else on campus.

This kid was adamant that I am sometimes late to class, and that recently, I made them wait outside the class for 10 minutes until I arrived.  Was he just confused? The monitor stands outside my classroom between classes. She would cover my class if I were really late, but honestly if that were to truly happen, the principal would cover my class. We're a small school. He sees everything!

"You must have mistaken me for someone else," I finally told him, trying to end this strange debate with the student.

"No, Miss--"

"Dude! What have you been smoking?" That was the problem, wasn't it? The kid had to have been high. He didn't look particularly different, but what do I know about his regular expressions and behaviors?

"No, Miss. It was you."

"Yeah, okay. Whatever."

That conversation just made me dumber.

Seriously, though. He really believed his own story!

January 30, 2013

To Meet

It's kind of strange when we teachers are pulled from our classrooms to attend trainings, isn't it? In other industries, it makes sense to take from the contracted time to receive training, and as thankful as I am to not have to spend more of my personal time to receive more training, it is frustrating to be out of my classroom.

I drew the short straw among the 8th grade English teachers, and tomorrow I will be out of my classroom for a few hours for a meeting on how to have better meetings.



Indeed, this is exactly what I need. I need another meeting.  I will hold out for hope that it will indeed help in making meetings more productive. I would really like to get some wasted time back.

December 16, 2012


Stupid Christmas on a Tuesday this year! I still have another week of school. I'm going to be on survival mode for sure!

It just so happens that my students are working on a survival project. The other English teacher found it, and it's basically one of those lessons where students are given a scenario where only a few people can survive, so they have to try to figure out who it should be. Age-old, right? I remember doing something like it in high school with a moon colony theme, and I am pretty sure I did something like this in my early years of teaching. Maybe with an island theme? Well, she's found one with a zombie theme, and we've made it into full-blown interdisciplinary research project with the science department.

I heard some interesting thinking and conversation earlier last week, but by Friday the kids were so wound up, I was seriously doubting the quality of presentations we will have next week. I don't know if the rain had them wound up, and if it felt like we should be going to break already. (I say that because my body clock says it's time for a break!)

Oh please, please, please, dear students, work hard in the next two days to firm up your ideas and create a compelling presentations with your arguments of who should stay to build a new civilization and who should go and probably die from a zombie virus. Please do not make me regret having a collaborative project in the days before Winter Break. Seriously. This project sets the tone for next semester.

Oh, oh, oh! Did I mention that this project is also a type of survival challenge? It's true. We've struggled with wifi issues in trying to do research. In this pilot iPad program program, we are still finding ourselves woefully short on connectivity. My students and I are pretty used to this on-going challenge, but as if we were on some sick survival show, as the end of the day on Friday, I found out that students will need to surrender their iPads for a full day sometime this week for updating.

So, dear children, here's your own survival scenario! You're given a in-depth project, which requires research, peer collaboration, and a persuasive presentation. You know there will obstacles. Oh, you got this, aye? We'll see! Here's a roadblock--You watch the Amazing Race, right?--you will need to surrender your devices either on the last day of research or the first day of your presentation. What will you do? Your grade depends on it. Go!

See what I mean?


December 15, 2012


Last month I met up with some of my writing project colleagues at a special Friday session during the National Writing Project's Annual Meeting. I was sitting between two women whom I admire very much, one has survived cancer twice, and the other one was in the middle of surviving being a co-chair for our local NCTE, whose members worked so very hard to with the Annual Convention that was held her in Las Vegas. I cannot even begin to tell you how both of them inspiration both of them are as teachers as women.

The co-chair and I were commiserating over our lack of time, amount of preps, stacks of papers, number of inane correspondences we had to answer to from parents and administration, and the struggles of just taking care of our families. (Obviously, I had nothing on her this month!)

Of course, the other lady, who has some refreshing perspective on life after having faced critical illness twice--the last just a year ago--could absolutely relate, except her children are college-aged now. In the middle of our conversation, she pointed asked us, "But when do you have time to write?"

Ouch. When do I have time to write? That was like a dagger to my spleen.

I don't have time to write.

Sometimes I don't have time to read.

Sometimes I don't get enough sleep.

Two weeks ago, I was at an iPad trainer's training (like I needed to take on anything else this year), and we were talking about blogging in the classroom.

"Who blogs?" asked the trainer.

Ouch. A twist of dagger, reminding that it had been stuck there for a few weeks. I used to blog. I want to blog again.

Technically, I am not any busier than I ever have been. A few years ago, while I was getting 4 hours a sleep a day while working on my master's degree, I still found a moment or two to write. I fully realize that I am actually busier than I used to be, as the work load, which does not seem to be more really is. You know, it's that little trick, where each year just one more responsibility (or stupid paperwork) is added, or another  5 students are added to each class period, which ends up being another 35 students I didn't have to grade or document last year, and the next thing you know, I'm in deeper than ever.

But when do I have time to write?

Or read other bloggers? Yes, I really enjoy that!


September 30, 2012

Simple Apps Are Best

I did not have my students use their iPads a lot last week. It's not like I totally gave up...but I was gung-ho on teaching my research unit, which I always believe to be something that should be reviewed at the beginning of the year, but with connectivity issues, my colleague, Mrs. E. and I decided to go ahead with the novel we would normally do about this time of year. Research will be pushed back a bit.

We had school-based testing to complete this week, and I showed the students Discovery Education's The Clone Age to scaffold for The House of the Scorpion, so we just did not break iPads out much.

I did try to use Socrative to do the pre-reading anticipation guide. I thought it would be a fun way to start some discussion when we could see a chart of everyone's responses. Of course, we had wi-fi issues, and our district's Internet, in general, was sluggish for a few days, so it was not as much fun as I thought it would be. I tried to get students to discuss a bit despite the technology fail, but everyone really wanted to try to the program to work so they could answer the questions, so many were distracted. Yeah. I caused that distraction.  Oy!

On a happier note, Mrs. E. and thought that we might be able to incorporate more vocabulary this year with the vocabulary text we have. It tends to consume so much of our class, and we don't have enough books to send home (and have them come back so we can use them for year to year), so it's tough when it takes them a whole class period--and maybe more to copy down their words to they can study--that's not even the time to work with the exercises! With the shortage of paper, it wasn't like I was going to make copies either. PLUS, I always thought that it was best to have them create notecards so they could practice at home. So, anyway, we found that Quizlet  already had the vocabulary from out text loaded. Furthermore, Quizlet had a few other games/activities that student could play, including one where the definition is presented to them, and students have to type the word. Yeah! Spelling practice, too!

Okay, so seriously. It's not that big of deal, right? Well, we had a bunch of students saying how much it helped them--they would just come up to us out of the blue to tell us, too! The proof is in the pudding. I took a little poll where I asked who used it and who thought it helped them prepare for the quiz we took on Friday. Nearly all hands shot up. After the quiz, I asked a few students who had bombed the quiz if they used Quizlet, and NOT ONE OF THEM had. Except for those fools, the students did really well on the quiz, and they were quite proud of themselves.

I know I'm hardly tapping into any higher thinking skills here, but you know, the iPad is a tool, and we found some use with it last week. Maybe it's going to be baby steps for me.

September 22, 2012

iPads Transform Learning, right?

This was the longest week ever!

My school was chosen for a 1:1 iPad program. This was the first week that students had them, and was it a crazy week! I was disappointed to see that the students did not receive the Gumdrop cases that they are suppose to get (lost in a typhoon somewhere?) and the lightweight silicone covers on the back offer little protection. I've been freaked out watching how some handle their iPads. Okay, just trying to ignore...

When we teachers initially received our training, the district trainers, one of whom piloted a program in him classroom last year, suggested that we try for 2 days a week of usage in our classrooms. Most teachers at my school jumped right in and have been using them everyday. Some are more innovative than others, and I can honestly say that I have not used mine in much of an innovative manner. I haven't been using QR codes to send my students on an exciting adventure, and I haven't had them record movies of their vocabulary words. I'm just no fun at all.

I was particularly excited on the day we were reviewing how to create interesting leads, and instead of having them copy down a day's lecture of notes, I sent them PDF files that they imported into Notability. I went over a few of the common lead types and warned them of pitfall--like how asking stupid questions as a lead is not an effective approach--but for most of the class period students were working on answering the question, "What are the qualities of a good lead." I should preface that they also brought in interesting first lines from novels, so they could steal ideas from writers, as often the same techniques can be used in fiction and expository writing.

It worked out so well that I could give them materials, without maxing out my 1500-copy-a-month limit and time to do inquiry.  The students nailed in on the head with describing what makes great leads. Unfortunately 25% of them were not able to create interesting leads for their own essays, so that was a bummer that it did not sink in...I guess iPads cannot solve everything.

As cool as that one day lesson was, it failed on so many levels because not all of my students were able to connect to the wi-fi to grab the materials I sent to them. EPIC FAIL. In my 2nd period class, students are typically never able to connect. In my 3rd period class, about halfway through the class students are able to connect. That was the pattern for most of the week, except on Friday when my 3rd period class, which is my biggest and rowdiest, could never connect.

The wi-fi issue has concerned to us since the first day we heard that we were getting this program. We had a 1:1 laptop program with the magnet students a few years back (we've since put those on laptop carts that all teachers take turns using), so technology is not a new thing in our school. We are all too well aware of the PITA it is to use technology that will not connect to the Internet. We were assured that things would be beefed up.

Well, I'd like to know, where's the beef? Although I can think on my feet when technology fails, I'm finding it so much more challenging with the iPads. With the laptops, when the wi-fi won't work with random students, I've learned to hard connect students to Ethernet ports, of which I created stations with cords for all 8 of my extra ports. I could send materials with a simple USB drive if needed. With iPads having no connectors and converters that work with these two methods, I can't even begin to troubleshoot my own problems like I have in the past.

We need the stupid wi-fi to work.

Honestly, I'm ready to leave the Mac Cult after this week, but I'm obviously so entrenched, there's no way out.

It's only week one. Maybe things will get better. I was ready to jump into my research unit next week. I recorded some of my lectures so I could flip my classroom, and I had great activities planned to get kids researching on topics they would choose as we learned the ins and outs of effective research online. (Actually getting to practice it in class is something we typically never have time for.)  Instead, I'll be starting the novel that I had pushed back until closer to Christmas.

I am as disappoint as the students will be, but my hands are tied. I can't waste class time trying to get kids connected to the Internet.

As of Wednesday, I'm thinking about a nice cushy job in the rural Pakistan. Pencils and chalk, baby!

August 23, 2012

Am I Ready?

Most years, I am in a panic to get everything ready for school. I have one more work day, which will be half-filled with meetings, and I could feasibly work over the weekend if needed, but honestly, I'm pretty ready to go. I have everything I need to start the first week. I even have copies made.

That's right, at this moment, I'm pretty relaxed. Am I such a pro, or am I totally deluded?

I'm pretty sure I'm deluded.