Saturday, November 30, 2013

Today is the last day of November and I have been remiss in posting why I am thankful. My friends seemed to have it covered with family, children, friends, sunshine, peace and the likes. I certainly hope I convey my love and thanks to the people in my life on a regular basis so that I don’t need November as a prompt for making a declaration. But here are some things I am extremely grateful for and take for granted on a daily basis. I think I could name one for each day of the month, but that would be terribly long and I think you’ll get the idea. 
Here goes: 
   After long weeks at work I look forward to my Saturday shower. Last week I stood, just stood, under the spray of hot water and let myself bask in its warmth and felt myself relax. I realized I was a little thirsty so I turned my face to the spray and let some of the water fill my mouth and relieved my thirst. That’s when it hit me what a luxury we have and take for granted. Water - you never think about it, but we bathe in it, wash with it, cook with it, drink it, swim in it, water our grass and sometimes just let the water run and play in it. I have been known to use my hose in the summer to wash my driveway on a hot day rather than sweep. We never really think about where it comes from or how it gets to us, and we only rarely have to worry about if it is safe. But over 780 million people in the world DO NOT have access to clean water. I am thankful for water. 

  It’s holiday shopping time and the stores are crowded, which means full parking lots. I have never been one to sit and wait for someone to pull out of a parking spot, or circle the lot looking for an up-close spot. Except that is, when I used to take my mother out. Bless her, my mother was blind and had a leg amputated due to diabetes. Her remaining ankle had been shattered when someone ran a red light and hit her in a cross walk. Her foot was attached to her leg with a steel plate and pins. This gave her very limited mobility. But my legs work. They work even when they are tired. They work even when they are bruised. My knees bend, my feet flex and even when my shoes are too tight, I can walk and climb stairs. I remind myself regularly that God has blessed me with legs that work and don’t sweat parking in the outskirts of the parking lot. I am thankful for legs that work properly

  I am thankful that I have never had to go hungry. Sure, there are many times I felt hungry. But I’ve never had to go hungry. I have never had to worry if I would get to eat tomorrow. I have never had to beg for food or scavenge through other people’s scraps. Many times I’ve stood in front of the open refrigerator or cupboard door and thought “we don’t have anything to eat.” But of course, that is never true. There is always something that could be eaten. Just not something that suits my craving at the moment. What a difference. Open a can of green beans for breakfast? Peanut butter on a spoon for dinner? A bowl of white rice or plain pasta as a meal? How ridiculous that we throw away left-overs because we are sick of eating the same thing for more than a couple meals. My friend calls these “first world problems”. I don’t know what it’s like to be truly hungry and I hope I never learn. I am thankful for having food to eat and to feed my family. 

   I am an information junkie. I wonder. I ask questions. I like to know things. I may forget them quickly, but when a question occurs to me, I like to get an answer right away. I like that instant gratification. So I am grateful for the internet and Wi-Fi connections. Social media aside, I absolutely love having the world at my fingertips. I have a hard time disconnecting, not because of the social aspects but because there is so much information out there. Yes, I am aware that much of it is false. Occasionally I am taken in by a false story. But I think I’m a pretty level headed and analytical person and can cut through most of the bull. I can’t imagine not being able to get the answer to my questions instantly any more. I remember when you had to go to the library and search for the answers to your questions. Each question was a lengthy search and sometimes you just never found what you were looking for. Remember when you would change the topic of your research report to fit the information you could find? I have to admit I did that more than a few times. I am in awe of the people who create internet search programs that make it possible to find the right information with just a few key words. I am thankful for the internet. 

  These are just a few of the things for which I am thankful. They are things that I don’t often give much thought. I could certainly list others such as electricity, books, pets, and more. But I think you get the idea. What do you take for granted?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Virtual Education....Can I Make the Grade?

As I have been preparing for the possibility of teaching some online courses I have had to take a hard look at my practices as both a teacher in a traditional brick and mortar school as well as my habits as an online student.  I can see that there are many area I need to work on improving.  In fact, for many reasons, I would say that I am not prepared to be a virtual instructor at this time.I felt this question is a good place for me to begin my reflection. 
"Consider the areas you struggle with in the traditional classroom. How can you better prepare yourself so you will struggle less with this in the online environment?"
When reflecting on my classroom practice, I would say that the area I struggle with the most is in planning the appropriate amount of content. I suffer from the affliction of wanting to do it all and wanting students to experience it all. So, instead of choosing one or two significant activities or lessons per topic, I over-plan and over prepare, Frequently we do not have enough time to finish an activity before it is either time to clean up for the day, or move on to the next topic. This leaves me feeling frustrated. At times it has even led to short changing different subject areas because our lesson will run over into another subject period and, not wanting to abandon our project it will take up that period as well.
In an online course, if I was to over-plan, it could cause extreme frustration in students who will most definitely struggle to complete the course. It could lead to students dropping from the course or receiving an incomplete grade.  Students may leave the course disillusioned about online education and reluctant to take another online course even when it is in their best interest to do so.
I think the best way to prepare myself for this would be to decide up front how much time per week I expect my students to devote to coursework. Then I need to set realistic expectations for the number of assignments that can be completed in that time. Because online courses utilize the internet, it would be wise for me to exaggerate the amount of time needed, even if just slightly. The reason is because as students are working online, attention can be drawn off topic as one explores all the resources available. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Allowing students more time to explore internet content may allow them the time needed to put a topic into a personal context that makes it more understandable. I will also need to closely monitor student’s completion rates and make adjustments when necessary.

However, all of my professional habits are not negative and in fact some are very relevant to the experience of online work. In the article "WhatMakes a Successful Online Facilitator" there are seven criteria of successful online instruction listed. The one that resonates the most with my teaching style is:
#5. The person should be able to subscribe to the value of introducing critical thinking into the learning process.
For me, the internet is a wonderful laboratory of learning tools that encompass every learning style. Information is constantly updated and it seems new web tools are being developed every day. Students can dig deeper into a subject than easier than they ever have before using libraries with magazine articles and books.
I find this to be terribly exciting. With a few clicks of a mouse, students can access information in textual, auditory or visual formats on just about every topic imaginable. Just about every learning style can be accomodated. 
Then with a few more clicks, students can experience wonderful real life applications of this knowledge in a way that can bring about more meaning and understanding than any lecture could ever. Students can launch new ideas in a public forum and get immediate and varied feedback from countless sources. In fact, students are free from limitations. 
How wonderful to be a student in the 21st Century!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. That tells you what this school year has been like for me. We started with 41 students in my first grade class. Then we were assigned 3 additional teachers around Halloween so I went down to 18. That was heaven! But Christmas break brought the reduction of a second grade teacher and I went up to 25. That's ok, we were still cruisin' along. In January our teaching staff was reduced by two more teachers and my number went up to 35! I'm now sitting at 33.  Start, stop, start, stop....reorganize the desks, redo the schedule, learn new students' habits, reorganize materials, reteach routines.... It seems we have been in September mode the entire school year. Not to mention only two 45 minute prep periods per week, 1 - 2 hour meetings several days a week after school and the ever present testing,testing, testing. Don't even get me started on Core Curiculum State Standards. Imagine the stress level in my room. It is off the charts!
Sometimes you just have to yell:

This week we did just that. With our 4th grade friends in the next room, we went to the library, kicked up the jams and had a little fun. No connection to the Common Core. (Although if pressed, I could come up with some.) No pre or post test. No anecdotal records. Just pure FUN. 'Cuz sometimes, school should be just that: FUN! 

Judge for yourself.

on Youtube:  P3A Harlem Shake