Why I Am Glad That I Did Not Win the Lottery

Last June, I spent some time and some money buying lottery tickets.  I was in the mourning part of the teaching profession, giving away a marvelous group of students.  If one was going to retire, this would be the group to say adios to teaching.  So, I bought Scratch tickets and Mass Millions ticket in the hope of hitting it big and going out with these students. (Mind you, I entered teaching late, have two kids of my own in college and can retire no time soon).  By the end of June, the students had left, and the only other change was that my wallet was a little lighter from buying the tickets.  I was going to have to go back to teaching and this new class would have a hard act to follow..  I blogged about this both in June and in August before the new school year started.   The new school year started, and I, fresh with new ideas from BLC10, started teaching again.

And then, a funny thing happened.  A great new idea called CBL (Challenge Based Learning) caught on like wildfire with this new group of then 21 students.  I started seeing the spark in their eyes, the enthusiasm in their voices.  Our two Blanding’s turtle hatchlings, Bowser and Yertle, amazed us all.  In early November, we decided to enter a nation-wide contest, Disney Planet Challenge (DPC).  On a long November afternoon, as I listened to the children’s discussion on creating a goal for DPC and then developing guiding questions.  This afternoon was a turning point for me as I started to fall in love with another class.

DPC was a simply amazing experience for us all.  Students who didn’t like to write, were writing webpages.  Students who were naturally shy were standing up in front of town boards talking turtles.  A real deadline united us all with getting our portfolio done.  Students who wanted to be in a certain group were fine with being a team member and doing what needed to be done to meet our deadline.  This project gave learning a new purpose and these students rose to this challenge beautifully.

Along the way, other magical things were also happening.  Blogging.  The kids blogged all the time and responded to one another so naturally in such a respectful manner.  Writing.  Trips to the river made the students’ writing more and more descriptive.  As the seasons changed, so did their writing.  Confidence.  Watching the students blossom as they progressed throughout the year was extremely satisfying.

The year also had its share of trying moments for both me and the students.  Our turtle Bowser died during his laproscopy.   During the fall, a series of freak accidents left me with a severe nerve injury that later required surgery, and a concussion that left me rather dizzy for a bit.  This spring has been particularly trying for me after being asked to go to 5th grade, a change that I am very excited about.

So, today was day 179.   At 6:50 in the morning, my buddy and I both cried over this particular student’s blog

(http://kidblog.org/Room305b/Alexander230/1520/  At 7:45 a.m. was our robotics demonstration.  Wednesday’s dress rehearsal was as bad a dress rehearsal that I have ever witnessed.  Needless to say, both myself and Ms. Howard were very nervous.  However, in front of quite a panel, the students’ performance was flawless.  As I sat scrunched on the floor, I beamed across the auditorium at Ms. Howard as group after group

My beautiful gift

totally nailed their presentation.  After the last group, my room parents came up with a huge box.  They said it had really special meaning.  Tracey was right on with that assessment.  As I unwrapped the box, inside the bubble wrap, was an absolutely stunning ceramic platter that was personalized with 22 different turtles.  This platter was complete with the DPC logo as well as quotes that the kids said about DPC.  I was stunned beyond words.  It’s not very often that I am speechless.  But this did it.  Tears welled up in my eyes, and as my principal came over to see my gift, she noticed I was pretty emotional.  She hugged me and said, “isn’t this the best job in the world?”  It was pretty easy to agree with that statement.

At lunch, I went to walk one last time with my fifth grade student Justin.  His teacher asked me if he could hang out with his class, which was a pretty easy question.  I’ll be walking with him this summer.  So, I started back up the stairs, when four students from last year, Owen, Henry, Trevor, and Julian, asked me if they could have lunch with me.  I quickly said “sure”, and we headed upstairs.  I got to tell them that they were a special group for me and that they were going to do great at the middle school.  Trevor, who moved in during the school year last year, thanked me for doing what I did for him to welcome him into our class.  Jason joined us with his yearbook for me to sign.  It was a wonderful lunch and during it, I received a call from the office saying that

Gift from David and Sam

someone was coming up to see me.  I wondered who, and soon enough, Sam and David strolled into my room, carrying the canoe paddle that they had used in the Community Chest Challenge.  I had sponsored them, and at our reunion several weeks back, they thanked me for sponsoring them and said they had a paddle for me.  I forgot about it until just then.  It just seemed like the other day that I had these two boys as 5th graders, and here they were, both heading off to great colleges, back visiting their old 5th grade teacher.  Sam had written on the  paddle “Thanks for teaching and inspiring us from 5th Grade onwards;” and David had written “Thank you for everything.  Your mark on me is deeper than a pen on paper;”

So as this school year is coming to a close, I have to honestly say that I am glad that I did not win the lottery last June.  This year has been full of challenges, both good and bad, but as Kelly said, this is the ultimate job in the world.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  I overheard one of my students tell his father during our slide show, look how the turtles have changed since September.  I think its safe to say that both the students and myself have also changed throughout the year.  Their river writing on Wednesday, was extremely reflective.  http://riveredge.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/the-river-and-me-june-2011/#comment-265  Just as the river never stands still, my students past and present continue to inspire me to be a better teacher next year and to keep moving to find new ways to engage them as learners.

Have a great summer and I’ll be blogging about all the great classes and conferences that I will be attending this summer.


“I’m So Blogging About This!”

Dear  Mr. Utecht, Ms. Howard, and Yertle:

Blogs.  Blogging.  Blogger. Whether a noun or a verb, the b word is an essential part of my life, that has now also transformed my students as writers as well.  Last summer, when pondering whether to continue as a blogger or not, I was lucky to attend a transformative talk at BLC called “Building Student-Centered Blended Learning Environments”.  Quickly Mr. Utecht described blogs as a container, as a platform to reflect on learning, and that his students were writing constantly.  I left that workshop and vowed that in September, my students would also be blogging on their own blogs.

Next up, Ms. Howard, our “Superhero” Instructional Technology Specialist.  After attending the above talk, I of course went right to Sue and said that I wanted my kids to each have their own blogs.  Throughout the years of our work together, I am always the “we’ve got to do this now” part of the team, while Sue, being is more the voice of reason.  “You can’t use this platform because it requires each student to have a e-mail address and legally they need to be 13 to do this.” she explained to me, “but I will look at other platforms that may let you do this.”

Meanwhile, since I had already shot my mouth off to the kids, I set up the Room 305b Responds blog as a way for them to have a semi blog.  But this blog would still be controlled by me in that I selected the posts for them to respond to.  One night, when I opened up my e-mail account, there was a plethora of red flags, meaning I had a lot oaf e-mail to answer.  To my delight, it was a very different type of e-mail.  The students were naturally discussing about their responses, but on-line.  I blogged about Room 305B’s responding in a post entitled that in November.

In early January, the 4th and 5th grade teachers were introduced to a tool called e-Pals that had a blog tool.  However, DPC took over our learning lives and we didn’t get a lot of chances to explore.  Then, it was March and the day of our long composition test.  Looking at the hours of work put into this test, I thought that after this, the kids would hate to write and who could blame them.  I again went back to Sue and inquired about the blogs for the students.  She was already on it and looking at different formats.  My students have wonderful memories and asked me one day after the MCAS, what about those blogs you said we were each going to have?

So, Sue and I sat and explored.  Yes, e-Pals did have a blog function, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be for the students.  We thought we were onto something with another platform, but we were disappointed with several aspects of this platform as well.  We got a lucky break, when a colleague, who was collecting information for another project, gave us a sheet of resources.  On it, was just what we were looking for.  Sue excitedly set up accounts for each student.  She came up one morning and we unveiled their new blogs.  The students were very excited and we quickly came up with a list of topics that they could blog about.  Being the day of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton, there were several entries about the wedding and the unique hats.  There were some students who really took to blogging like a duck takes to water.  Soon, I started to find out information about my students that I did not know through the first 140 plus days of school.  One student was an incredible photographer, another girl wrote about her feelings being a new student; and yet another student wrote about her hobby of collecting proverbs.  Still there was some students who really weren’t utilizing their blogs.  Or until the past Friday that is…

This is where Yertle comes into play.  Mrs. Kablik, our Science Specialist, had brought in some aquatic creatures to try with our Blanding’s turtles.  Yertle had been fairly stubborn when it came to eating live prey, while Lynn-D loved eating her fresh worms.  Yertle was first put into the tank with two crayfish.  The battle ensued and within ten minutes, Yertle had ended his pickiness about eating wild food.  The students were gathered around the tank in the middle of the floor, writing about what they were witnessing.  While observing, one of my quieter students yells out, “I’m so blogging about this.”  So, instead of continuing with the social studies I had planned to do, the kids went and got out their laptops and did just that.  Blogged about what they had just witnessed.  All I heard was the tapping of laptops keys as the students eagerly wrote about Yertle meeting up with the crayfish.  As they finished up their own blog, the students would go on to each other’s blog and comment about their post.  “I like how you summarized how their eating habits have changed”, “I like how you acted like Yertle was a monster”, and “You definitely showed what Yertle and Lynn-D’s feelings were.”   The students were giving good feedback to their classmates about their posts.

“I’m so blogging about this…”  I came home after a very trying week and thought about this line.  I was so excited to have my students feel like how I do when it comes to blogging.  There are so many times that I have a new blog post stewing in my head for days, I just don’t have the time to get it down.  Maybe a lesson learned here for me is to allow myself that time to write when I feel like writing, just like I allowed the students time to blog on Friday.  So, about 52 hours later, I now am “so blogging about this” transformative experience.

New Year, New Tools, New Ideas, New Traditions

Snow day.  A day to sleep in, make cookies, watch a new show, read a book that I need to finish by the next ESC, work on DPC, and shovel.  Also, a day to catch up on a blog that I’ve had in my mind for about a week, but just haven’t had time to get the words down before today.  So, here goes….

Great Meadows, January 2nd, 2011

2011 — A New Year.  A New Beginning.  A time to make new resolutions for the year, a time to start a new hobby or change a bad habit.  This New Year’s came, and I didn’t have a New Year’s resolution.  There’s always my standard exercise more and eat less.  Try to make more time for myself and my family.  Try to not over extend myself with too many extra activities. (and yes of today, I have a three week on-line course, and two books to read for ESC and a math discussion group.  Clearly, I have already botched that one!)  Although all of these goals are important, none of them stuck in my mind as really inspiring.  On Sunday, January 2nd, the day before heading back to school, during a walk, I had an idea about a blog to do for my students.  However, I needed a picture from Great Meadows.   I asked my husband to drive me over, that way if the parking lot was busy, he could just circle around until I came back with my one picture.  This particular Sunday was pretty interesting weather wise.  It was more on the warm side, and the snow was sublimating away, creating a very low cloud cover.  Quickly, I walked down the path towards the spot that we had stood in October.  The scenery was absolutely stunning.  Then and there, I knew what my new New Year’s resolution would be — to get outside and take more pictures on a regular basis.  Since I was in college, I have enjoyed taking pictures.  I got away from it for many years, but when I started taking my class down to the river, I began taking more pictures again and that spark re-ignited in me.  Having a former principal who was a photographer also helped me in  rekindling my interest.  Through some of his suggestions, I learned to equate photography with writing.  What is it in your picture that you really want to capture?  How can you change it up by cropping, adding different color effects.  So, while the kids write at the river, I am “writing” in pictures.  So, my resolution is to get outside at least once a week and take pictures.  (and the one picture that I needed turned into 51 pictures!)

New Tools.  Tuesday January 4th was a “Tech Tuesday” for the fourth grade teachers.  We were going to learn a new tool

Great Meadows

called “ePals” that during the BLC10 conference last summer, my Tech Specialist buddy decided this would be a great tool for our students to be able to participate in an online learning environment.  During the vacation, I started to investigate what this opportunity could offer my students and I was excited about the possibilities.  Tuesday was our chance to “play” with ePals and learn even more about what it could do.  Not wanting to forget anything, Wednesday afternoon, I decided to roll it out with my students.  Luckily, Ms. Howard was already scheduled to be in our room, and since I don’t usually tend to wade into the water, we jumped on in.  Before long, all the students had accepted my invitation to join our Room305B Learning group.  We played with posting a question about the Mandate of Heaven and having them respond to it.  The next morning, I had the laptops all set up on their desks and they had to respond to a poll question in the forums section.  We followed this up by doing an assignment at night.  I just love introducing these new tools to my students.  This year, we’ve played with Voice Thread, Voki, Scratch, and now ePals.  These new tools continue to motivate my students and enhance student learning.

Great Meadows in black and white

New Ideas. Last Thursday afternoon, we started work on DPC.  I wanted to run a few thoughts by the students before setting in to their group work.  That didn’t happen.  What happened instead was mind-boggling.  My mind was about to explode by the end of the day.  One might think that the students were not good, that they weren’t well mannered.  However, this wasn’t the case.  We spent one hour and twenty minutes brainstorming new ideas and thoughts about our turtle project.  Quickly, I started typing down their ideas.  Creating a turtle refuge, designing a magazine and kids’ coloring book, holding a book night at Barefoot Books were only three of the ideas that are on the page and a half of new ideas.  I finally needed to stop as my hand was about the fall off and ask the students to write down any more thoughts on an index card.  Every student in the class contributed to this incredible discussion.  I know my head was about to explode, so I rewarded them with a recess at the end of this day filled with incredible new ideas.  Now only to execute them, which I think we will certainly do.


New Traditions At the end of this incredible day, I was off to dinner with good friends to share in one of my friend’s favorite traditions.  It was a holiday that we don’t usually celebrate, but hearing about the role that this holiday plays in my friend’s life, reminded me of the importance of learning about what inspires both our friends, family, and students.  What traditions are important to them?  How can I, as a teacher, wife, mother, daughter, and friend participate in old traditions?  How can I create new traditions?  As I tried new foods during this dinner, the sounds of laughter amongst us warmed the room, and I in my mind came up with this blog title.  While it has taken me  a bit of time to pull it together, may this new year continue to offer me new opportunities to grow and help my students thrive as students and citizens of the world.

Technology Infused Projects

July 15th 2010

On the second morning of BLC10, there were practionner’s sessions starting at 7:30 a.m.  I looked over the schedule, found the room, and went and sat down.  No presenter yet, but a lot of people in the room.  Finally, someone came in and said, “Did you see the sign saying this session was cancelled?”  Quickly, I looked over the schedule and found another session to attend.  I again found this room, and sat down, but after five minutes, I decided this wasn’t what I really wanted to hear.  Off to another room.  And this time, third time was the charm.  Although I arrived late, and missed the introduction, it was clear after about 10 seconds that these teachers from Watertown were doing some awesome things with their students.  Here’s a synopsis of their talks, how they infuse technology into class projects and resources:

Glogster:  This teacher used Glogster (on-line posters) for an author’s study and a virtual states poster. http://www.glogster.com/

Blogs:  A 5th grade discussed her class creating their own blogs, which can be used as a digital portfolio as well.  Her class’s site is:


She needs to establish rules of blogging with the students.  Each kid sets up own blog.  All accounts have same username and password.  She used blogspot (one of her complaints about this platform was that it didn’t allow students to use capital letters in the title) All blog names are student name-teacher name


In the tools, go to permissions where all the comments first go through the teacher.  All students log into a generic gmail – MrsS’sclass@gmail.com.  Used voki, extra normal, opinion paper.  Students needed to post one thing a month.

Some of the technology used on student blogs were:

At the end of year, this teacher sends home to parents a letter taking control of the blog.

Wikis:  Creating Student Wiki Spaces.  Students in this next 5th grade class each had their own Wiki Space based on the science theme of adaptations.  This was kept from January to June.  The teacher was able to measure mastery of content and ability to use the applications that they were being taught.  Some of the platforms used here were:

  • Voice thread:  students created themselves as “My Wild Self”  and used Voice Thread to describe: http://voicethread.com/
  • Issuu:  a way to publish your stories – this was used for a creative non-fiction piece: http://issuu.com/
  • Kidspiration was used to draw a food web
  • Xtranormal – an interview of what their biome was like.
  • Garage Band – what sounds would be used in their biome.

She suggested developing a rubric to formally assess what students have accomplished.

Voice Thread:  A second grade teacher described two projects that her class had done.  One combined art and weather poetry.  This site  has 11.000 hits and 300 comments.  You can also return comments as an audio, video, or text.  First, the students studied weather and selected one particularly interesting area.  Next, they created an art piece using crayon resist drawing techniques.  They wrote a poem to go with their picture, and then used Voice Thread.  They read their poem and why they chose that poem. 

Issuu:  the same class created a collage book on animals.  The teacher scanned in the student photos (make sure you have it in PDF file) and then imported it into Issuu.

The Watertown group meets to discuss Technology Infused Projects (TIP).  This is a forum where teachers can share information.  I was thinking perhaps having a district wide Wiki, where student work can be presented and other teachers could see what is going on with technology. By 8:25 a.m., my head was once again, overloaded with great ideas.

“Leadership from the Ground Up” BLC10 Keynote Address


Adora Svitak

BLC10 — Keynote Speaker July 14th

In the past, I have heard many conversations in my school that leadership needs to be built from the ground up, meaning that teachers need to be involved in conversations about the direction of learning.  However, after this keynote address, there is another voice missing from the discussion, according to Adora Svitak.  This missing group are the students themselves.  This was one unique keynote speaker, in that Adora Svitak is twelve years old.  She had the presence of someone well beyond her years.  She reminded the audience that leadership is the ability to guide, direct, or influence people, and that kids should also be thought of as leaders in the educational community.  Adora represented her peers so well!  “Kids can bring new, fresh ideas.  Learning between adults and kids should be reciprocal.  Kids shouldn’t be bored to death,  they should be actively participating.  Every student has the ability to learn!”   As teachers are getting their minds wrapped around this coming school year, watch Adora at TED 2010 http://blog.ted.com/2010/04/adora_svitak_on.php 
to make sure this important group is included in your thoughts on how to make learning meaningful for students.

Digital Media: Storytelling, Documentaries, Music, and So Much More! (with a lot of heart to boot!)


From Alas Media's page on blogs


“You’ve got to see this guy, Marco Torres,” my friend Sue pointed out as we poured over the program book for BLC10.  “He’s got a great heart.”  Great heart or not, I was looking for new tools to use on the 2010 – 2011 version of my Digital Farm. 

“But I’ve done documentaries,” I reminded Sue.

“Yes, but you’ve still got to see this guy,” she insisted.

So, it was 1:00 p.m. on the first day of BLC10, and I struggled to find “The Terrace Room” to hear a presentation called Photo Storytelling:  Images Tell Amazing Stories, which was being put on by Alas Media.  After discovering that this room was down stairs, I sat down next to a colleague, and started to listen to four relatively young people start the presentation.  They began to discuss how photojournalism is exploding today in the U.S.  “A couple of pictures can tell a powerful story.  The iPhone is the number one camera used by Flickr users today, so you don’t need a fancy camera to take pictures.” There are more and more photo stories, and groups like CNN are creating programs like CNN have a program called iReport, which according to their website  http://ireport.cnn.com/ “Welcome to iReport, where people take part in the news with CNN. Your voice, together with other iReporters, helps shape how and what CNN covers everyday.”

I found this really interesting and suddenly my brain began to perk once again as one of the presenters started to talk about how photos can be used in so many different ways by students.  One example that she discussed was a project that involved plants in students’ front yards.  You can open this up to the worldwide community and soon this student was receiving pictures of plants from people all over the world.  Another presenter talked about how he did some photos of his brother, who was a boxer, and who wanted a way to present his hobby to others.  I thought this idea might be a great beginning of the year project where kids could bring in pictures (rather e-mail them) and create little movies about My name is _______________ and I’m a __________________.  Another practical classroom application could be finding cool events in your community or school, take pictures and build a story, and create a Digital News Magazine.  At this point I turned to my colleague Karen and said, “This is like the newspaper you used to do.  Want to start this back up again?” This would also be a great project for CCHS English and Photography students to do a joint project. 

            Another part of the discussion was technical tips for using cameras and for iMovie, equipment, and websites to use. 

Photo-Taking Tip:

  1. Take wide shots – big buildings, cities.
  2. Medium shots – action shots – people doing work, sailing, celebrating
  3. Close up shots – breakfast, coffee


Veggies at Haymarket


I wish I had tried this when I was at Haymarket Square last Saturday.  I took a great close-up shot of the vegetables, but not a medium or wide shot of that area.  Something to keep in mind for next time that I am taking pictures 

iMovie tip:  You put the music in first, then you can add “markers” (by holding down the M key) which will mark where the pictures will drop in.  You have to make sure that you turn on the clip trimmer button before you do this.  This is a really cool tip and when one of the presenters showed us how easy and how effective the end product was, I was ready to do it then! 

Equipment Tip:    

  • Point and shoot digital camera
  • Hand recorder – about $200 from Zoom.  This is professional quality.
  • Tripod
  • Red Head Windscreen (http://www.redheadwindscreens.com/) — eliminates the wind noise when recording.


Royalty Free Digital Pictures:

  • http://compfight.com/   Great site to look for images with shared licenses.  You always want to remember to look for images over the 640 x 480 pixels.

This talk came to an end, and I was still so excited about the iMovie tip that I brought my notebook and Karen’s laptop up to the gentleman who explained it so that I would be sure I could share this tip with others who utilize iMovie at school.  He patiently drew it in my notebook and tried to show me on the lap-top (which didn’t work because I needed iMovie 9 on it.)  I thanked him and went to sit back down to await the next talk which featured Marco Torres, the guy that Sue really wanted to have me hear, which was luckily being held in the same room.  I found it slightly odd that this group of four people didn’t pack up and go, and that I didn’t see anyone new come in to set up for this 2:30 talk.    Finally, the nice guy that had showed me the iMovie tip stood up and said, “Hi, I’m Marco Torres and this is Don’t Just Write About It, Produce Documentaries In Your Class.”  Okay, I had heard him speak during the last session and didn’t make the connection.  But now that I had, Sue was certainly right about him. 

            Marco started by discussing that video can be the most powerful tool in our schools.  If you think about MythBusters, you are watching two guys learn.  With YouTube, it is getting 2 billion views a day, and people are using it to learn all kinds of things.   He went on to say that “kids can produce content and not just be the receivers.”  He feels that social networking and technology is the key to solving really big problems.  Social studies is really the science of decision making, and documentaries are a great way to document that decision-making.

            One interesting topic that Marco brought up was Challenge-Based Learning.  The advantage of tidying up your notes a week later is the opportunity to go and check out some of the great resources presented at BLC10.  So, this morning I googled “challenge-based learning” and came up with more head-exploding ideas!  So good that I showed the following video to my graduate class on what Challenge-Based Learning looks like in an elementary classroom:


This video really brought back memories of a challenge-based learning opportunity that had occurred in my classroom over the problem that the second graders thought that good trees were being cut down when in fact, they were invasive (exotic) plants being cut down.  My students needed to come up with a method to educate the second graders that these plants were not particularly good plants; hence the name “bully plants” was created.  I got so excited about learning more, I found out that Apple has developed a great website about Challenge-Based Learning http://ali.apple.com/cbl/ .   During his presentation, Marco discussed the key components of Challenge-Based Learning, which can also be viewed at http://ali.apple.com/cbl/components.html .  This is great stuff that can easily be adapted into any grade.  On the main website, Apple discusses that “The entertainment networks have capitalized on this formula with shows like The Amazing Race, Top Chef, Trading Spaces, and Project Runway in which participants creatively draw on their knowledge and resources to create appropriate solutions to challenges.”  Marco also discussed different challenge-based programs at Disney http://disney.go.com/planetchallenge/, Pepsi http://www.refresheverything.com/ and another site called What’s Your Issue? http://whatsyourissue.tv/ designed for the “next generation of  leaders and social entrepreneurs.”  So, clearly, challenge-based learning exists for students as well as reality TV shows.  It’s our responsibility to create this type of environment in our classroom.

            The talk then turned to the more technical aspects of creating a documentary.  Since I tend to just “do” and then think about what I just did, these were some very useful tips for me to think about in the future.

Product:  What is the movie about and why make it?

Process:  How am I going to make it?

Marco feels the best documentaries created by students are under five minutes in length.  Since my student movies tend to be quite long, I think this is a great goal.  I can equate it to the writing process, sometimes a long paper tends to ramble and not be succinct.  Remind me to use this thinking next school year!  He also talked about an A roll and a B roll.  The “A” roll would be of the person talking – this should be what drives the story.  The “B” roll is the supporting material – images to support your story line.  Again, a good writing analogy here that your colorful language that you use really supports your story thesis.  You don’t want your story to be all of one person just talking, so integrating supporting images while hearing the person’s story auditorially makes for a smoother movie.  Before you shoot, you should have an idea of where they should sit, what your questions are, and what other images you might like to do. During the interview, you should have another person taking notes.  Based on what is said, then they decide what should be on your “B” roll.  Another great tip is to have someone clap right before the interview starts.  When editing you can then see the spike in the audio and know that is where you want to clip the video and add some of your “B” roll shots.  These were all great tips that I will definitely try out next school year.

Since Sue was certainly oh so right on this one (as she usually is 🙂 on day 2 of BLC10, I decided to hear Marco talk about Music Production for Anyone Interested. Really!.  My new theory after day one was that I really liked a speaker, to go hear them whenever they spoke. So, I thought at the least, I could pick up some tips for our Music teacher.  Right away, several great ideas were presented that easily could be adapted to a classroom.  The first was doing a history of the United States through music.  While this may not be readily adaptable to my grade level, it would make for a cool high school course.  The next idea could definitely relate to my classroom – studying fractions through the different types of musical notes.  You also need to make sure your mood of the music fits the actual story. 

Some great musical tips are:

  1. For Garage Band – when composing, stay on black keys.  You can’t mess up the song this way!
  2. When you score a movie, first save the movie on the desktop, and then grab the film and drop it into GarageBand.
  3. Headphones – airline frequently will donate them to classes, another good thought by one of my colleagues is to have students each bring in their own pair.
  4. An on-line resource includes Indaba http://www.indabamusic.com/
  5. Lots of great iPad/iPod/iPhone apps include Zoozbeat http://www.zoozbeat.com/ and Thumb Jam http://thumbjam.com/


I have to say, if you are looking for some great multimedia ideas, Marco Torres and his team at Alas Media http://www.alasmedia.net/ provide lots of wonderful ideas.    You can also find lots of great tips on their site at http://www.alasmedia.net/learn/   And these ideas certainly did involve a lot of heart!

“Getting the Learning Ecology Right”

I’ve only seen Alan November speak once before, but in that hour’s time, he transformed what I did in my class last year, so I was looking forward to what he had to say at BLC10.  

Alan started off with discussing that education is the only segment that has not improved productivity per worker.  I wasn’t really sure where he was going with that statement.  He went on to describe that Information and Global Communication consists of two questions:

  1. What information do you want?
  2. What relationships do you want?


He then went on to say that most teachers do not collaborate at all day in and day out.  This seemed familiar to me.  But then, what he added was really interesting.  “With other teachers all over the world.”  Doctors at Mass General not only collaborate with other MGH doctors, but with doctors all over the country and the world.  In order to show improvement in scores, teachers need to break down the boundaries and build a network of teachers in the field to share and compare student work.  I thought of how a colleague and I share each other’s class’s long compositions pieces and how a fresh eye really helps.  But, he went further than sharing work with others in your building.  A project where students in Harlem shared their work with teachers in uptown New York City was one example of work.  November feels that having an authentic audience to correct student work creates an environment where the children work harder, where they more easily accept criticism, and where the work is being judged and not the person.  This gives the child a relationship with the world instead of only with their classroom teacher.  November feels that this is liberating to students and that it separates the personal aspect of looking and evaluating student work.  Students would be then be learning collaboration as a skill.

Another important aspect to consider in the classroom is the family involvement in student learning.  Many times when a teacher calls a student’s home, it is because the student is having some difficulty.  Replace these types of calls with positive calls.  I remember calling a student and parent at home last year on a Sunday to say that the student (who thought she didn’t do a good job in math), got a 100% on a test.  That call was really positively received.  Parents should receive DVDs of student presentations or be able to Skype in to attend a presentation.  Family involvement is the number one predictor of success in the classroom.

The last change that November felt should be implemented in the classroom is looking at homework in a different way.  He said with homework, if mistakes are made at home, the brain rewards the mistake unless you give it immediate feedback.  Homework should adhere to the policy “Do No Harm.”  Typical homework should become class work, and typical class work becomes homework.  Lectures or content areas can be available through podcasts or other social networks.  This theory tied in with what Dr. Michael Wesch would say one day later.  Students should be reading, thinking, and reflecting before the actual class.  Their homework would be to come up with questions to ask in class.   These would be posted on some sort of “container.”  The teacher would then look at the questions to direct what direction the class would be heading.  There would also be a component on the teacher would put up a problem every day and get instant feedback on individual student learning.  Feedback would then become more immediate.  I could envision using ActivVotes to get a quick read on the class. 

The number one strategy, according to November, is that children learn from one another.  You need to max out on this important skill.  He mentioned building an infrastructure like facebook and then students would then need to explain their logic to their post.  Classes then would become much more social. 

I thought Alan November raised a lot of good points.  Part of what happens in the lack of collaboration between teachers is simply a lack of time to do this.  It would be really exciting to collaborate with other teachers outside our school walls, but I am not really sure how to approach this.  The whole flipping around homework also is very interesting.  One of the criticisms of our math program is that there isn’t a lot of quantity.  As our Math Specialist explained at a math night, this is due to exactly what November explained about the brain rewarding mistakes.  I would like to tie in what November and Wesch had to say on this topic of flipping assignments.  Dr. Wesch said that instead of his requiring the students to buy a textbook, he has them research all the potential information out there on a particular topic.  I could try that approach easily this year with my students, except that it would probably have to be somewhat scaffolded so that they aren’t spending a lot of time looking at not appropriate sites.  More things to ponder……