Sunday, November 20, 2011

Headphone Dilemma

I'm getting ready to introduce the iTouches to the kids. The only thing holding me back now is having enough head phones for the kids to wear. Here are my thoughts on having individual sets or class sets:

The cheapest I can find headphones are 4.99 a pair. We can't use the ear buds because they are too large to fit into the firstie's ears. I would have to purchase 18 pairs. The kids could all use the same ones, as I've done for the Shuffles. Then I would only need 4 additional pairs.

Asking so much already:
I've already asked for class money to help pay for class parties, but then the small amount I got I used towards ball chairs (that I can no longer use). Should I ask for parents to pitch in for a pair if they don't want their kid to share with others, and then pick up the tab for those who don't? Gotta keep it equitable.

Parent Choice?:
Do I let the parents send in their own, or have a set price and purchase them so they are all the same?

Licing on the Cake:
Um, would you want to share headphones with the Class Lice? I think I would pass.

Just thinking out loud. Would love to hear ideas and suggestions.

Thinking ahead to the short week...I hope it is free of parasites and dog poo. I don't think I can take on much more. I can't imagine what could be next....well, I could, but I won't in case there is some suggestive power of thought.

National Dialogue about Working Class

It's difficult to explain how it feels to have your state government undermine your profession and passion. Those who teach in Ohio, and us in Wisconsin, can hardly put into words how unsupported, demoralized and attacked our Governors have made us feel. Ohio pulled together and overruled; our eyes are now turned to our state government here in Wisconsin.

I'm pretty sure that no one anticipated the 2010-11 school year evolving like it did. In Hudson, a border town that gets all it's news from the Twin Cities, Madison was barely on our radar. Shame on us for not paying closer attention to state and local politics. It took a nightmare to wake us up. Now our eyes are turned towards Madison, and we are fearful of turning our backs on what has become the worst predator of public education.

Governor Walker has been pummeled with name-calling; he's a moron, an idiot, imbecile. I have to disagree. Even though it is highly satisfying to think of him as a stupid man, I think his plan was smart marketing. He had an agenda he wanted to push through, and he needed an enemy. Polarize communities and get results. Bring the fight into homes and towns and you can sit back and watch the dominoes topple. Of course, you need to have a scapegoat - one that folks love to vilify.

Bring in the public workers.

Isn't it true that they have it better than everybody else? Unbeatable benefits, lengthy vacations, unbelievable retirements. They work half as much as everyone else, but get four times the perks. And those teachers...lazy, whiny, ungrateful.

I think Walker knew exactly what he was doing when he launched his insidious attack. He had the smarts to do something that Ohio didn't; he exempted our fire fighters, our police officers, and our emergency workers. You can't slant a congregation against our bravest in a post-9/11 nation. But leave them out of the fight, and you take away the greatest emotional outrage. What's left are the people that the people love to hate - state workers and the teachers.

My heart broke last year as I was told, in our papers, on blogs, and in the right media, that I was greedy, unbending, and self-serving. If I defend myself, I'm defending my lazy and egocentric livelihood.

Here's an invitation: come and spend a day with me and my students. Let me show you what it means to be a teacher. I can't say anything that won't be construed as hiding the truth of my cushy lifestyle. So let me show you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Licing on Top of the Cake

We have The Lice. That's what my daughter called it when she was in Kindergarten - "Mommy, we have The Lice in school."

The first graders couldn't understand why I was bagging up all of the pillows, and I explained that there was head lice in the school (trying to not say we had lice in our class). When another student walked in the from the bathroom and asked why the pillows were getting bagged a student stood up and yelled excitedly "We have high lighters! We have high lighters!". They may be a tough crowd, but they sure do make me smile.

We were having a fairly smooth day until the The Lice came. Then it was all about trips to the nurse to "have their hair fixed". Then we had a lock down drill. The rest of the afternoon spun out of control. It became very, very clear that this new practice of few transitions, little movement, and no distractions is working. Dare I hope that I may actually get to teach them after Thanksgiving when things settle down until Christmas?

Now, off to the shower (again) to get the crawly feeling out of my head.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Relief and Grief

For the first time this year, I was able to give DRA's while my students worked independently. I cannot believe how focused and quiet they were. I'm torn between being relieved that the adjustments seem to be working, and sad that my students have to learn in such a rigidly structure environment.

Yesterday the bunnies went on vacation to a 5th grade room. I cancelled all holiday activities that my team does with our firsties. No changing rooms, no rotating craft projects. I didn't realize how anxious I was thinking about these on the horizon. Once again, relief and grief at the same time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


This has been a tough week.

Things were going better. My students were beginning to work independently, I was able to meet with small groups for guided reading. I don't know what shifted, but something is different. It might be me; I don't even know anymore.

I spent yesterday afternoon sobbing in the guidance counselor's office. I think I just reached the end of my patience, the end of what felt like hope. I got worn out from the kids acting like I was an annoyance that got in the way of their fun.

A good cry can really help. After Maren and Chris, the counselor, told me what I really needed to hear (that I am a good teacher) and then got all that frustration out with the tears, I was able to look more clearly at my class than I have been able to. I was able to look at myself more honestly than I have been able to.

What I had to rethink, very deliberately, was:
  • placement
  • transitions
  • choice
  • distractions

I am desperate enough to move away from some of my fundamental beliefs. Here's what changed:
  • Seating was planned to be deliberately balanced at tables; students that can not work in a group setting were moved to quiet places within our working space.
  • Table supplies were streamlined and consolidated. Everything the students need are at hand, eliminating the need for helpers to fetch crayons or markers.
  • Water bottles were sent home - they were proving to be too distracting. Despite deliberate teaching and retraining often on bottles, spills were too frequent and upsetting. Less hydration means less bathroom breaks, a good thing when the kids can't use the restrooms unattended.
  • Decluttering; the cleaner the lines the less visual distractions. Things were put into cupboards or out of view.
  • The bunnies are getting fostered by a 5th grade classroom.
  • Daily 5 choice was removed. I will now instruct the students what they will be doing during this time, and most of it will be whole-group work. It kills me to take choice away from them; we just can't afford the time this demanded.

These were major restructures. Ideals I had worked hard to put into place over the last 4 years had to be dismissed so that I could teach my students. I feel like I have stripped down a complicated mechanism so that the bones are finally visible.

I am so weary, and so wary. Nothing about teaching feels right this year.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

iTouch, step 3 - songs for learning

For my graduate action research I am observing whether singing can produce better fluency than reading. I introduce a new poem or song every week. They kids glue the poem or lyrics into their poetry books to practice reading at home, and we practice reading it every day at school for that week. I do a running record every Monday and Friday, hoping the data I am collecting will show that kids can read more fluently after learning a song than a poem.

I have lots of poems that I've collected over the years; everything from Jack Prelunsky to Robert Frost. The songs presented more of a challenge. What songs should I use and how do I present them? I decided that I could kill two birds with one stone if I used learning songs, like the ones Dr. Jean has created. It's not that I wouldn't rather be using popular music, but I needed songs that were short, simple and to familiar tunes. It's a plus to match them to learning about money, verbs, vowel sounds, contractions, etc.

I came up with the idea to make PowerPoints with the songs embedded, and then turn them into videos. We watch these on the smart board. Here is a short clip of one:

It was a short mental hop to think about how these songs could be used with the iTouch in a way that I can't use them on the Shuffles. The video includes the music and the lyrics, so the kids will be listening and reading at the same time.

Idea management - What to do with all those good ideas?

I have folders, binders, storage containers, ziplocs, piles, papers, papers, papers. I couldn't seem to find a good way to organize good ideas...until now.

Pinterest is a digital idea-storage facility. There are no papers to lose, files to organize, or tubs to store. This is an excellent solution for me since 90% of what I find for my class is from the internet. Anyone who has seen my desk knows that the less printed papers I have, the better.

I'm still getting used to the interface, and am still moving around Pinterest like a blind newborn kitten. It's another thing to add to my plate, but I think the potential is huge and worth my time to become familiar with it.

Who knew that there was a digital way to store and organize ideas?

Friday, November 11, 2011

iTouch, step 3 - video

One of the aspects of the iTouch I was most excited about what the video capability. I love to take videos of my class; I do candids, interviews, and would love to get into student-created videos. I can upload the videos for the parents to see evidence of learning, and it makes a great addition to the students' portfolios.

I have been using the digital camera that the school gave me up to this point. It does so-so video, but fair enough quality for what I'm doing with it. The sound, however, is another issue. It doesn't do much good to have an ok picture if the mic doesn't do a good job of picking up voices.

Today was the first day I tried out the video capability on the iTouch. It was not only so easy it seemed a little silly, but I loved that I could quickly switch between photos and video with a flick of my finger. When I got home and uploaded the videos, I discovered that the sound is great. Way better than I expected, and wayyyyyy beyond my camera.

Now I have a slim digital video recorder that seconds as a camera to tote along in a pocket, to go wherever we find ourselves going.

You know you're a teacher when...

Your young student eyes your can of diet coke and asks, "Mrs. M, why are you drinking beer in the morning?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You know you're a teacher when...

you are sitting on the floor with your first graders at the 2nd-3rd grade singing concert, and the cherub sitting in front you picks something out of his shoe and tosses it over his shoulder. It lands in your hair, and when you shake your head because you think it's a bug stuck in your hair, a piece of dog poop falls out and lands in your lap.

And that pretty much sums up my day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

iTouch, step 2 - Apps

Here's what I have so far:

Glow Draw! and Glow Draw!! ~
This is a free app for finger drawing. Glow Draw! is very very simple, which I like for the age of the kids I teach. But who am I kidding? They can already run my smartboard. Glow Draw!! is more complex, but way cooler with the FX's.

My thinking is that it would be an excellent app for writing sight words and word-family words

Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App ~
NOT free. But for Mo Willems I though I would spring the $6.99. Seriously a splurge, considering my intent was to outfit these suckers for free. It's pretty, graphics are great, and the story telling feature is repetitive but fun. I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of things you can do, but my 12 and 9 yr old have been at it for a half an hour. Great for creating audio stories with a video that is supplied.
VLC Streamer Free~
for playing WMA's. I also downloaded Good Player, which was 99 cents. Both do the same thing so you do the math on which is a better (free) buy.

And now the 12 year old is filling in the Pigeon story with inappropriate words. I would be disgusted if I wasn't trying so hard to stifle my giggles.

iTouch, a step-by-step adventure

As I wrote over the weekend, I came home with 5 shiny new iTouches last Friday. I had been waiting for them since the end of August, and when a fellow teacher walked in with the bag I did a little happy dance. I think I might have actually moon-walked.

They actually scare me a little, though. I ended up calling in the big guns, my friend Brian who is a bonafide Mac fiend. Now I know how to get apps, organize the apps, get videos I made onto the iTouches, and get them them all synced identically.

So far, I have Glow Draw and a MVA player on them.What's next? We'll see.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Being Mindful

So I'm taking a meditation class. Not mediation, meditation. Trying to see if I can slow that hamster down; he never stops running on the wheel in my head.

So while we are practicing being mindful while eating a grape, I had to keep telling my thoughts "grape. Grape!" when my mind would wander to teaching. We are an obsessed lot, us teachers. I realized how very un-mindful I am most of the time. I am hardly ever present, it feels.

Our conversation turned to being mindful at work or while doing a sport, and someone asked "isn't that like being 'in the zone'?" I thought about how my brain works while teaching, and I realized that I really am mindful while teaching. In fact, a lot of the world ceases to exist while I'm teaching.

As we were leaving the class, I was feeling rather happy and relaxed and a little wooshy. I told my friend that I was not going to get on the computer when I got home, I was just going to ride out the meditation all night long. But then I needed to check and Paul Huttner's weather blog and then facebook to inform everyone of the snow that's coming and that jumped to telling my students about the weather and how can I turn this into a teachable moment and then I jumped on my blog and then I realized that I was so NOT sitting in my body was but my head is miles away.

When is that next class?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

iTouch, birthday, friends

Here's a whole heap of blither-blather for today:

I received 5 iTouches for my classroom. I'm so excited to see what we can do with them, I can hardly stand it. Would love ideas or links to ideas! First I need to get the little buggars working; I couldn't get iTunes loaded on my work laptop - of course. Why should technology ever be easy?

It is Sunday and I went into work today. It took me 6 hours to prep for this week. I have come to the understanding that this year I need to be on my game every minute. There is no room for "flying" by the seat of my pants. It is also my birthday. Happy work-all-day-on-the-weekend birthday to me. The next person who tells me teachers have it easy gets a knuckle sandwich.

Lastly, I don't know if I have ever written about how much I love my team. The two teachers I work along side are the kindest, warmest, most fun people to work with . They make my heart happy, and I know a big part of my feel-good job is because of them. It's like working with sisters. Love ya, ladies.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ice Ice, baby

We got a big chunk of dry ice yesterday. I don't think that we are ever to old to be amazed by the fun things a person can do with it. My favorite part was creating giant bubbles with a bowl, water, dry ice and a soapy strip of towel. The bubble that formed over the rim of the bowl would grow and grow until it popped into a puff of mist. We made pennies sizzle and dance on the ice, and poured the mist into our hands like it was water. I even froze my glove to my hand at one point!

We made a video of the fun (which I can't upload do to a music infringement), and shared it with parents. I love that they were able to peek at this small slice of our day.

And then, after all the fun craziness, my principal popped in for an unannounced quick evaluation during reading. Nice timing!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coolest new idea I've seen lately

Here I am, sitting in the dark on a late Tuesday night. I've just had an argument with my husband over the time commitments and energy commitments of my job, and tomorrow I will be sitting in a surgical waiting room while my dad has heart surgery. I'm torn between stamping my foot like a petulant little girl and crying my eyes out. I've edited and posted video of our dry ice experiment today, canvassed the Twittersphere, and searched the blogs for something to think about that isn't scary or sad.

What I found what this, which I happen to think is the most exciting thing I have seen for a long time. Can you imagine the application???? Props go to WM Chamberlain.

At the Teacher's Desk: How to Create Your Own Interactive Art Display: Mrs. Smith (our Art teacher) and I have teamed up to create an interactive art "museum" for our students' work. This is how we are doing i...