Heading to a New Beach

This site has housed my ramblings for quite some time, but I am swimming on over to a new location after this post.  There are a couple reasons for this move.

For one, when Edublogs chose to move their auto blog post tool from the various social bookmarking sites to their Pro version, I was very disappointed.  I had used this great tool to keep links in the running record of my class activities, and also to share with my readers.  In addition, lately the spamming issue has become a major distraction in my blogging activities.

Sometimes (as a matter of fact, many times!), change is a good thing.  I hope you will continue to read about our adventures in a 1:1 netbook initiative as my students and I enter our second year together.  I’m still calling it “Swimming in the River” because the ripples and splashes will continue as I journey through this lifelong learning extravaganza called teaching!  Join me over at http://kcollazo.wordpress.com

via Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/biggolf/2192225356/

via Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/biggolf/2192225356/

Points of Interest While Reading Kohn

The second book I devoured this summer was Alfie Kohn’s The Schools Our Children Deserve. It really challenged my thinking.  Although I had always thought of myself as a moderate constructivist, this book gave me pause to think about a lot of the things I still do with my students!

Here are my “sticky-note” sections:

  • A preoccupation with achievement is not only different from, but often detrimental to, a focus on learning. (21)
  • Meaningful learning does not proceed along a single dimension in such a way that we can nail down the extent of improvement.  Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning. (75)
  • At best, high test scores for a given school or district are probably meaningless; at worst, they’re actually bad news because of the kind of teaching that was done to produce those scores. (91)
  • A serious disservice is done to students when they are led to become so preoccupied with how well they’re doing that they end up becoming less engaged with what they’re doing. (123)
  • The evidence suggests that, all things being equal, students in a school that uses no letters or numbers to rate them will be more likely to think deeply, love learning, and tackle more challenging tasks. (189)
  • The best way to judge schools is by visiting them and looking for evidence of learning and interest in learning.
  • A relatively short period of introducing students to the content and format of the tests may be sufficient to produce scores equivalent to those obtained by students who have spent the entire year in a test-prep curriculum.

I love the way Alfie Kohn gives permission for readers to copy and hand out chapter 4 “Getting Evaluation Wrong: The Case Against Standardized Testing”.

Wonder if I’d still have my job in August?

Photo via http://jackiegerstein.wikispaces.com

Photo via http://jackiegerstein.wikispaces.com

Favorite Parts of Disrupting Class

The first summer read I picked up was Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen.

Disrupting Class by Christensen

Disrupting Class by Christensen

Here are some of my favorite “sticky note” ideas from the book (pages I just had to put a sticky note on – a strategy my students use to share their favorite parts of books during the school year):

  • “Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation.  The same is true for learning.” p. 7
  • “The students who succeed in schools do so largely because their intelligence happens to match the dominant paradigm in use in a particular classroom – or somehow they have found ways to adapt to it.” p. 35
  • How might schools start down the path toward “student-centric classrooms?  Computer-based learning! “Student-centric learning opens the door for students to learn in ways that match their intelligence types in the places and at the paces the prefer by combining content in customized sequences.” p. 38
  • “Larry Cuban…reports that in early-grade elementary school classrooms, computers serve to sustain the traditional early childhood school model.  Computers have become just another activity center for children that they can opt to use in the course of the day.”  He then goes on to talk about the popular drill and practice games that are often played during this computer time commenting that, “As such, computers add cost while failing to revolutionize the classroom experience.” pgs. 81/82
  • Interesting view, although I’m not sure I agree: “Because student-centric technology allows for far more personalized attention from a teacher, we can do something counterintuitive in education – increase the number of students per live teacher.  Facilitatating this disruption of instruction has the potential to break the expensive trade-offs in which  school districts have been trapped so that individual teachers can do a better job and give individual attention to more students.  As a result, there potentially will be more funds to pay teachers better.” p. 107
  • In discussing how the age of high-stakes assessment (like the evolution of inspection in industry) has changed a teacher’s job, Christensen states that “…at least 80% of the typical teacher’s time is now spent in monolithic activity – preparing to teach, actually teaching, and testing an entire class.  Far less than 20% is available to help students individually.” However when we teach through student-centric online technology, whole group, end of unit exams are not necessary.  “…assessment and individualized assistance can be interactively and interdependently woven into the content-delivery stage, rather than tacked on as a test at then end of the process.” p. 111
  • After mentioning how powerful teachers unions and textbook companies often squash school reform efforts, Christensen states, “…when disruptive innovators begin forming user networks through which professionals and amateurs – students, parents, and teachers – circumvent the existing value chain and instead market their products directly to each other… the balance of power in education will shift.” p. 142

Great read, energizing and vindicating!

Summer Recharge

My husband calls it a teaching addiction. I refer to it as a learning addiction! Why is it, after looking forward to summer break for two (sometimes more!) straight months, we can’t stop thinking about our classrooms and our students!

My friends and family think I’m nuts, but I (as well as many other educators) get recharged over the summer by attending workshops, conferences, and reading those most-talked-about books that we just didn’t get to read during the school year. I’m not talking about the newest Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks. I ran straight to the public library and checked out Christensen’s Disrupting Class, Kohn’s The Schools Our Children Deserve, and Covey’s The Leader in Me. Yes, I am feeling the recharge coming on!

Kohn's book about moving beyond traditional classrooms

Kohn's book about moving beyond traditional classrooms

Put the Experts in Charge

The evening of June 7th 2010 was wonderful! The Cove Kids and I had decided to put on our 1st Annual Technology Showcase in the school’s media center. Weeks earlier we sent out invitations to parents, school board members, central office staff, community business leaders, the newspaper, and other people with a stake in our 1:1 pilot project.

Technology Showcase Invitation

The kids were so excited! They had each chosen a web 2.0 tool they had used throughout the year to enhance their learning. We decided to set up the showcase so visitors could sit down a few minutes with each of the Cove Kids and watch a quick demo of their favorite app. The kids practiced what they would say while we were in the classroom that week, including making sure the visitors knew how “other teachers” could use this in their classrooms. My kids are all about spreading the project to other classrooms and have really become great advocates!

We had a practice run through the morning of the 7th. Another 4th grade class took time out of their day to visit our “dress rehearsal” in the media center. Everything went great and we had many requests for a listing of the sites we were sharing. That group, coincidentally, had computer lab time that afternoon and spent it trying out some of our shared sites!

The evening came, and the kids looked great! They all wore their nicest clothes and sat down at their laptops to proudly present their work. Wow, it was energizing! We had many guests including parents, grandparents, friends, teachers from various grade levels around the district, our Superintendent and Director of Technology, and the local paper sent a reporter and photographer (the next day we made the front page!).

The kids were fantastic! They shared, demonstrated, answered questions, provided opportunities for the guests to “give it a try”, and impressed the heck out of all of us! I was so proud. I think the thing that caught my attention the most was the fact that my kids were so confident in themselves. Many guests mentioned this as well. They knew that they knew what they knew!

Definitely have to take them on the road next year and turn them loose at a conference or two! Check out this video which documents the joy of sharing that occurred that night!

1st Annual Cove Technology Showcase

“I can’t wait ’till the EOG’s!”

Something happened today that has never happened to me in the 19 years I’ve been teaching. And, after organizing our classroom into what we’ve called, “The Six Week Scramble”, I think that is the very reason! On three different occasions today, without hearing each other, three of my students made a statement about how ready he/she feels for the End of Grade tests. For those of you not from North Carolina, these are the holy grail assessments of our state. Kids, teachers, and administrators live and die by these assessments every May.

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and thrilled! Much of the research I’ve read supports the idea that half the battle in getting kids to be successful is in helping them feel positive about their academic abilities. Well, if nothing else, our “Six Week Scramble” has helped with this. Today I heard, “Mrs. C. I can’t wait to take the EOG’s!”, “Mrs. C., I’m so smart I think the EOG’s will be easy!”, and “Mrs. C. I wish the EOG was tomorrow!” I’m serious!

As I wrote in an earlier post, in an effort to continue using our netbooks as a tool to accomplish what we need to in our learning, I restructured our schedule and routine into 20 minute reefs (centers). Not only has this made our review activities less monotonous and boring, it supports current brain research. Our language arts reefs have included many things! One constant is our literature circle reef. We have had such fun reading books in small groups! We start the reef every day with the kids taking a 5 question quick quiz using Quia on their netbooks, which they LOVE! I also love it because it only takes me a few minutes to throw a quiz together and then Quia grades it for me! Hooray! If you haven’t tried Quia, you need to!! The other reefs include activities out of various EOG review booklets (but hey, 20 minutes at a time is manageable). We also use Classscape, Pearsonsuccessnet, Spellingcity, and other great sites to learn and review many reading, grammar, and spelling concepts. The kids have also used Wordle, our Blog, and PowerPoint to create projects associated with our review. It’s been very fun to plan, and the kids LOVE the change every 20 minutes. Math has been very similar! You can check out what our days have looked like by visiting the “Today’s Jobs” section of our website!

I was worried at first that the kids would rush to finish things in the 20 minutes just to get done. So I made a laminated poster for each of them with their name on it. Every time they score a 100 on any of our activities (and there are 8 opportunities each day in reading and math combined), they get to put a sticker on their poster. We dole out stickers every 3 days or so. Those kids with 30 or more stickers at the end of the scramble will be invited to a pizza party. Yes, I know, there are mixed feelings about this type of “extrinsic reward”, but practicing for a high stakes, multiple choice test is not fun, and if it motivates them to work hard, I’ll do it. Think of the things we do for the scanty bonuses (or in our world “stipends”) offered! Since adding this component to our scramble, the kids have worked harder, are understanding more, and scores are continually rising! Hence, the unbelievable amount of self-confidence I’ve seen this week, our 4th week of the scramble!

Each day our daily schedule also includes 1/2 hour of whole group time in reading and math. During these times we go over “most missed” problems on yesterday’s “jobs” and have great discussions about the vocabulary of the tests. This has been a vital part of our review, and the amount of questions from missed problems is decreasing. Now, whether this will translate into higher test scores I don’t know, but it has been worth all of the evening grading just to have my kids feel smart and on top of the material!

Never thought I’d say this but, I can’t wait ’till the EOG’s!

Comfort in Learning!

Comfort in Learning!

Day 91 Trying Out Reading Plus

Our literacy coach sent out an email recently asking for volunteers to try out a new web based silent reading program designed to help students develop better fluency and comprehension skills. Several of my kids immediately came to mind, and since we have the netbooks, I saw this as a great opportunity for the Cove! I submitted 5 names for the trial study, and Mrs. Evans quickly got them set up and registered.

The program is called Reading Plus, and is the only subscription based program we have used this year. We are part of the pilot, as our county is considering a purchase for next year. At first my kids were a bit hesitant. However by day 3 of using it, they are hooked! The program is very engaging. After logging in with a unique password, the kids “warm up” by participating in some tracking activities in which they must count digits and letters which flash on the screen in a left to right sequence. Another activity involves having them read a story which appears line by line in a rectangular box across the middle of the screen. A blue bar slides automatically from left to right covering the words as they go. The kids are then given comprehension questions pertaining to the story. The better they do, the faster the blue bar slides on the next story. The program lets them know how quickly (wpm) they are reading and how accurately they are comprehending the material. They LOVE it! It is fast paced with short stories and motivational feedback. They are often given the message, “You’re doing great! Keep up the good work!” There are also audio components to the program which is always motivating to my kids. Since we are able to take our netbooks home now, the kids can have fun learning to be better readers at home as well! These five dedicated kids will be working with this program for 20-30 minutes a day, and we are hoping to see great improvement in their reading abilities. I’ll let you know the results!

Reading Plus Program

Reading Plus Program

Day 92 Heading for the Reefs to Help the Rubber Meet the Road

A couple months ago I met with my Principal to talk about how the 1:1 program was going. I shared many of the really cool Web 2.0 things my kids had been doing, their wiki, their animated comic books, their blog posts, and lots of others that are linked on our site. He was very pleased and complimentary. But, as always happens in the offices of educators in North Carolina, the topic of the End of Grade tests came up. Now, my Principal is extremely supportive of all we are doing, but is wise enough to know that funding for expanding and continuing this wonderful world of 1:1 relies on the revered test scores. There are many blog posts which accurately describe the hatred teachers have for standardized testing and the negative impact it is having on education today, but as my Principal so accurately shared with me, it continues to be “where the rubber meets the road”; like it or not.

So, in an effort to “prepare” my kids as well as possible without boring them to death, I’ve decided to go full force with our Reefs. Basically this is Cove talk for centers. At each reef the kids will spend 20 minutes engaged in an activity which will help them review the content we have studied this year, practice the testing vocabulary, and get them ready for the big days in May. Each of our tables will function as a reef. As every good teacher knows, half the battle of using centers in the classroom lies in the transitions! So today we practiced moving from reef to reef. This can be a little trickier when you are taking your netbook with you safely! But as Ron Clark shares in his books, practicing the routines for anything you want to go smoothly with kids is essential. So we spent 15 minutes at the end of our day today hearing the timer ding, picking up our materials, and moving to the next reef without noise. Practice went well, we’ll see if reality follows.

We also had a wonderful PBS (Positive Behavior Support) speaker come in and talk to our staff this week. He stressed the importance of including visual cues in your classroom to assist students in knowing what to do throughout the day. I have created lots of posters which describe the reefs, and also included lots of opportunities for good behavior support which will hopefully encourage on task behavior. We’ll see how it all works out starting Monday!

Heading to the Reefs

Heading to the Reefs

Picture Credit – http://www.ecologic.com.au/images/Img7.jpg