Monday, December 31, 2012

What Are You Reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It is a chance for book lovers to share their reading accomplishments as well as what is on the proverbial nightstand. She even does a giveaway. Subsequently Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts added an opportunity for those reading kidlit to join the fun. Since I read both I will post to both. Check them out, join the conversations, and discover more great books.

Must haves for my classroom library are marked with *.

The Mystery of the Fool and The Vanisher by David & Ruth Elwand

*Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
This was the first of her books I read and I could not put it down. I now can’t keep any of them in my room as the kids are lined up to read them, girls and boys alike. She writes these historical fiction books with a balance of action, history, and relationships – something for everyone.

Bunnicula by Deborah & James Howe
Somehow I had managed to go all these years without reading this book. Now I have, and will check the color of my vegetables if we ever have a bunny in the house.

*Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
See Fever 1793 above.

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein
I expected a heartwarming look at life through a dog’s eyes. I was not ready for the intensity of life experiences the human characters were to experience. Some people can be so evil!

Infinity Ring Book One: Mutiny in Time by James Dashner
I think the adventure of these books will draw kids in and could help to reinforce their understanding of history (or totally confuse them – one or the other!)

*Sabriel by Garth Nix
I had a student in mind as I was reading this and he loved it, even with a female protagonist. Great fantasy / adventure for strong readers. Now I need to see if I can get the rest of the trilogy through my library for my Kindle.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Good Girls by Laura Ruby
Our librarian recommended this one. Not one either of use would keep on our shelves, but perhaps for the right student. Excellent reminder that choices you make can come back to haunt you.

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard
I was not impressed and won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I have an idea what they are about.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Big Time

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 My time with CoETaIL has lead to this, Course 5. While I have another month to ponder what I will do for my final project, my initial considerations all get me hung up at the idea of it having to reach the "Redefinition" level of technology.

I have been looking at how to change what and how I teach, in order to utilize technology, for the past year and a half. I keep lists of ideas, jotting things down as I think of them. Perhaps I have done something one way and in the midst of it thought of another option. Maybe I was inspired by a blog post I read or someone's tweet. It may be that a particular lesson is not engaging my students and I want to think about ways to hook them. Whatever the reason may be, I add my thoughts to my list.

Now that I need to start to narrow down what I will focus on for Course 5 I am pouring over my list. I feel like every 'great' idea I have down is actually doing something old in a new way. (I wrote about this idea here.) Good thing there is still loads of time for fine tuning!

My two most compelling ideas are:

"How To" Books
This would be another step in our Informational Text unit. Right now students are in the middle of writing an Informational Text picture book that we will share with the appropriate elementary grade level. Even though they are using technology to research, and are learning about Creative Commons in order to determine if they want to create the own or legally use someone else's illustration, the book will ultimately be a printed book for the shelves of the elementary school.
This addition would be to write a "How To" 'book'. They could choose any digital platform they they think would be the best tool to deliver their content.

Reflection of Literary Analysis
My final unit will be about Literary Analysis. What if I added a digital processing/reflection piece? They would be able to choose the tool(s) they thought best showed their process and thinking along the way. I like that it would not be just their reflection at the end, but a journey with them through the unit. This digital piece could then be shared with their parents during their student-led conference.

So, I will proceed with caution. It is not just me on this journey, but the 86 students in sixth grade as well. I am sure it will be an exciting ride!

Friday, December 14, 2012


Education will continue to change because of technology. I have no idea where, or how, I will be teaching 5, 10, or 15 years from now. I do know that as I look back over the years that I was in school the standards of those days have been completely replaced.

Every movie I saw was on one of these…

Some rights reserved by Carbon Arc


 I learned how to type, and wrote many papers, on one of these…

Some rights reserved by cog_sinister


And even when I started teaching this was the best tech tool I had available for the classroom…

Some rights reserved by DennisSylvesterHurd

None of those tech tools exist in my current middle school. Every day I use a data projector, document camera, laptop, and iPad. With Apple TV my students can teach each other by taking over with their iPad. The classroom looks very different today than when I was their age.

With a vastly different landscape in the classroom and students no longer needing me to access information the 'how' we teach must change as well. I must teach students how to access information. Once they have accessed the information they need to know how to consider the validity of the information before they can evaluate the content. After that students need to be able to analyze and apply the information they have encountered. Finally students need the tools to be able to synthesize all they have learned.

I am no longer teaching students what they need to know, but teaching them how to use tools to be able to learn on their own. Again the how is the key. Students can choose which tools they want to use, rather than every student having to utilize the same tools.

Some rights reserved by skistz

My job is to guide students. To give them opportunities to practice their learning skills. Chances to try and improve and not always succeed. A safe environment to discuss their thoughts and findings. Access to others to help when they get stuck (and I don't have to be their only option).

I would guess that the teaching environment of tomorrow will be more like today than that of 20 years ago. Student access to information is not going to go away. The teacher will never again be the sole access point. As the tools advance teaching practices will need to morph as well.

A MOOC is one possibility as a technological future for learning. If we change our focus from what is learned to how learning takes place more and more people could choose this type of learning environment.

How has your teaching changed with the shift in access to information and the advancement of technology?

Monday, December 10, 2012


Some rights reserved by Ffîon

I currently teach Language Arts, the original flipped classroom. Every single one of us received reverse instruction growing up…
"Read this and we'll discuss it next class."

Many people believe that a 'flipped classroom' must involve videos. This is not true. Reverse instruction is any means of delivering content at home so higher level tasks can happen during class time.

Having the opportunity to familiarize yourself with content, at your own pace, is helpful for all types of learners. Some students will use the opportunity for interacting with the material (once or many times, their choice). Some will appreciate the chance to ponder the deeper meanings and make all kinds of connections. Others will be given time to discover what it is they don't understand about the content. When we deliver content in class, once, there is not the occasion for each student to have the opportunity for these types of explorations.

Some rights reserved by cybertoad

As I plan for a lesson I ask myself, "What is the best use of face-to-face time?" This is the driving question. I can then work backwards to determine what my students need to know or have been exposed to prior to being face-to-face in class and therefore be able to make the best use of all of our time.

Reverse instruction can flip your normal routine on its head, but it doesn't have to involve videos. How do you flip?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The days are flying by. How did it get to be Tuesday again? And, once again, I am sitting at the computer instead of being under the covers and nearly asleep.

Today I have no idea what to write about. I am too tired to even pull out my writing notebook to see what I might have written in there.

Instead, do I focus on the drama of our 3.5 year old? Do I share the frustrations about current situations? Do I simply tell you how tired I am and head to bed?

Those are all options. Bad options.

There is a post I have been meaning to write for about six weeks. Tonight I don't have the mental energy to tell you that story tonight, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Right?

So, in 1,000 words, give or take a few…


On the right - that was our truck.

One day I will tell you the story, but now I am turning off the Christmas tree lights, taking the granola out of the oven, and heading upstairs to bed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

She Beamed!

In pre-school, birthdays are a HUGE deal. Not only does the person whose birthday it is get to be older, but people give that person extra attention. Around here, that person is called 'Birthday Boy' or 'Birthday Girl' all day (and G will often carry it on until someone new takes up the title).

"Happy Birthday" is sung in our house nearly everyday, at least once. (Once through involves a minimum of two verses - English and Arabic, but can be up to four when you add in 'How Old Are You Now?' and French.)

The singing could be celebrating a doll's birthday, an imaginary friend's, a friend or relative somewhere else in the world (today, Uncle Scott), a pretend birthday for one of us, or recreating a birthday from class.

Knowing how momentous birthdays are, I worked to make yesterday, G's half birthday, extraordinary. I had a birthday hat - complete with a "1/2" inserted between "Happy" and "Birthday", ready for her when she got up.


She beamed.

I started to sing "Happy Birthday", but she stopped me, saying she wanted her friends to sing to her at school and I could sing later, when we had ice cream.

"We're having ice cream tonight," I thought.
"Pink ice cream!" she inserts.
"With a candle," I added.

More beaming.

I also had been saving a khaki tutu for her. (School uniform bottoms must be black, navy, or khaki.) To my amazement, she turned up her nose at it.

"Fine, you don't have to wear it."

Once she was completely dressed she changed her mind, so she wore it over her black leggings.

The beaming continued as she hurried downstairs to tell Daddy.

"I'm three and a half!" donned in hat and tutu.


This proclamation continued with each new person we saw for the next 45 minutes (probably longer, but that is when she went into the ECE playground and I headed to my classroom).

Everyone on the van.
Everyone coming into school.
Teachers, kids, parents were heralded with…

"Today I'm 3 and a 1/2!"

Her beaming announcement was met with a mixture of reactions as people tried to put meaning to the exuberance, looking at me questioningly. "A birthday hat when I know it isn't her birthday" the look said, over and over. But, once the weightiness of the moment was ascertained, once the realization of a half birthday in our midst as realized, everyone beamed back granting half birthday wishes.

In the end, she did have friends sing to her at school. She did have ice cream, though she changed her mind to chocolate (without any prompting! - That's my girl.) And she was still beaming as she was measured to see how much she had grown in the past month.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Are You Reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It is a chance for book lovers to share their reading accomplishments as well as what is on the proverbial nightstand. She even does a giveaway. Subsequently Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts added an opportunity for those reading kidlit to join the fun. Since I read both I will post to both. Check them out, join the conversations, and discover more great books.

Must haves for my classroom library are marked with *.

Dead Sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab
The author is a personal friend with many published books, with this being her first novel. I enjoyed revisiting places I have lived and visited as well as being caught up in the suspense of 'who dun it'. (Kindle Edition, only)

The All of It by Jeannette Haien

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar
Great for high school boys who are reluctant to read. The lists are hilarious.

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch
Set in Olympia, Washington, this book will make you want to walk the beach a low tide.

Jimmy by Robert Whitlow

Why The Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

*The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
I have been saving this book for a special time and Thanksgiving weekend was it. So many people had recommended it, but I had managed to know nothing about it. (That's the way I like it.) I was not disappointed.

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

*Middle School: Get Me Out Of Here! By James Patterson
Middle grade boys who are reluctant to read will be pulled into this story (with fun doodles to illustrate the point along the way).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Grumpy! That would summarize yesterday afternoon. She is three and tired, which equals grumpy. From the moment I picked her up from class tears were sprouting at the drop of a hat. A couple of full-blown, raging screams came out. Lots of whimpering and whining.

I moved up the evening timeline. Instead of playing for half an hour before dinner we went straight from; shoes off, wash hands, and a cup of juice to dinner.


I had left over spaghetti in the fridge and she loves spaghetti. Easy. We could then skip after dinner playing and the trampoline and head upstairs for a bath. Perhaps read an 'bonus' book or two. Bedtime would be early, that part was for sure. (We ended up even skipping the bath.)

We sit down at the table, light the Christ candle, say 'blessing', and start dinner.

"Unpleasant!" she says as she tries her first bite and turns up her nose.

I can't even be concerned with what she thinks about dinner, (which she does finish without any coaxing) as I am taken aback by her vocabulary. Where does she come up with this stuff?

(I am also pleased to see her true self peak out, at least for a few seconds before the grumpies return.)

She proceeds to explain that "unpleasant" means you don't like something and "pleasant" means you do.

Yup, she understands her new word and is putting it into context.

Daddy was still at school as all of this was happening. I was telling him about it later in the evening. He shook his head as he rolled his eyes.

Today after school she was still taking her shoes off as we had gone into the bathroom to wash our hands.

"Unpleasant!" she says again.

I poke Daddy. "Did you hear her?" He looks at me puzzled as she repeats herself, coming around the corner sniffing the sock she just removed from her sweaty, little foot.


Yup, she knows what it means!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Whose Job?

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Before we can discuss whose job it is, we need to know what the job is. One of our school's AFG goals is, "By 2016, all students will demonstrate an awareness and application of 21st century skills."

Hmm - seems pretty vague to me.

There are no standards or benchmarks in place for what those 21st century skills should be, let alone exactly what should be taught and when. So, the discussion of whose job it is to teach these skills is either completely irrelevant or the only thing we have to discuss.

As a teacher who wants my students to be productive members of our increasingly digital world I take on the teaching of some of these skills myself. In my ideal world I would keep this aspect of my job, but have the time to do it (and standards giving guidance).

Right now I am 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' with the time I give to 21st century skills rather than more fully addressing some of the AERO L.A. Standards because I believe strongly that 21st century skills need to be taught somewhere.

On top of a time crunch, without delineated standards I know my students have gaps. When I encounter a large gap I stop to help fill it in, but this is not the best way to acquire an entire set of skills.

This is where I am thankful for ISTE and the NETS. They give me some guidance in what to aim for.


Some of the overarching ideas can easily be incorporated into any subject area. Some need more time (yes, this is a theme) to be fully developed, or addressed at all.

So, my two wishes…

  1. Give me NETS. Adopting the NETS will provide guidance, uniformity, and accountability.

    This wiki is a place to start. I can't do it alone. I am comforted to know there are others, around the world, taking on the same challenges. It is always nice to not be reinventing the wheel and to have support in our ventures.
  2. Give me time. I would love to incorporate more 21st century skills, but I don't have enough time to teach my content area standards. (Another post, but I can sum it up by saying I have 1/4 the time to focus on language arts in our middle school schedule as I had in the elementary schedule.)

I realize that adopting NETS is not something I can tackle this year. Perhaps finding avenues for my students to begin discussing what they are doing and what they wish they were doing is something I can tackle.

If you are in a situation like mine this resource could be helpful. I am contemplating making it available to my students and having them start some online discussions around one or two points.

Whose job is it? It comes down to meeting the needs of students. I want to see my students be successful, therefore it is my job.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Passing Notes and Other Distractions

I am reading The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm to all the sixth graders. Two of the characters end up in detention and are passing notes. This was the perfect opening for a conversation I have been thinking about, so I took it.

"How many of you have ever passed notes in class?"

Nearly all the hands shot up. They know me well enough to not think it is a trick question or that I am trying to get them in trouble. I put my hand up as well.

"How many of you have ever sent a text during class?"

Less hands, but still a strong representation. I remind them that it was not an option available to me when I was in school.

"Now, what is going to happen when you all have an iPad in class?"

Some rights reserved by waferbaby

The reaction varied from huge grins to silent contemplation.

I continued the discussion letting them know that there are some teachers who are leery because they are concerned that students might mess around or be distracted, if they have an iPad in class.

"What would you say to those teachers?"

Students' responses basically fell into two camps:

  • They should trust us and give us a chance. If we mess up, there should be consequences.
  • There are so many advantages to having an iPad that outweigh the one disadvantage (possible distraction).

"Can anyone make you pay attention in class?"

They were divided.

After several minuets of discussion I gazed intently at a student and asked if I am paying attention to what they were saying. "How can you tell?"

"Have any of you had a sibling, aunt or uncle, or grandparent who tells stories that go on and on and you only look like you are listening?"

Nearly every hand goes up as smiles spread across their faces.

"So, what could you be doing instead?"

Some rights reserved by another story

"Daydreaming!" someone shouts out.

"Exactly," I responded. "No one can make you pay attention."

I wrapped-up the discussion by telling them that a teacher's job is not to make you pay attention, since we can't. There are two things we can do.

One, we can eliminate distractions. If we see that the iPad is distracting you we can simply say, "black your screen". With one press of a button your screen goes blank, but you don't lose anything you have open or are working on. The distraction is gone. Same goes for the rubber band you might be playing with or when you are sitting next to someone you can't keep from talking to, they need to be taken care of. A good teacher will help eliminate your distractions.

Two, we can try to keep class engaging. When do you pass notes? When you are bored. If what is happening in class is something you want to be a part of you won't be tempted to mess around on your iPad. You will want to be engrossed in what is happening in class.

Finally, how can iPads be used wisely during class, even if it is not for a specific task the teacher is asking you to do?

At least in my class, you don't have to wait for me to 'allow' you to utilize your iPad. If you need to access a resource that you have on your iPad, go for it! This is how things are in the 'real world'.

"When you wonder about something what do you do?"

My first block all said that they Google it. My subsequent blocks primarily ask their parents if they wonder about something, often pestering (students' perspective) their parents until they get answers.

(As a result, the following was sent from our class account, with mixed emotions from the students.)

tweet - look it up

So, it is good practice to look things up. If something is mentioned in class and you either don't know what it is, want to know more about it, or are making a connection to something else - search away! If I wonder what you are doing on your iPad and you are legitimately looking up something related to class, simply tilt your screen toward me so I can see and be sure to share our your findings at an appropriate time.

Perhaps I should introduce the 'distraction' of a back channel…

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Congregation of Shoes


pencil shoes

Finding a pile of shoes in my classroom is a common occurrence, though this is an unusually large gathering. Why do shoes find their way into a clump with no feet attached?

No, we are not experimenting with air freshener,

No, they aren't needing to dry out from the rain.

If you come to my class unprepared I have a cart with pencils, erasers, sharpeners, pens, scissors, glue sticks, etc. You may take what you need, but must leave a shoe in exchange.

A shoe?

Yes, a shoe.

Some teachers swap for books, planners, IDs, etc. At the end of the day I don't want any of those items left in my room.

The swap allows for accountability. A shoe guarantees I will get my things back at the end of the period and not have extra student belongings. They may not notice that their ID is not around their neck, but they notice that they are in stocking feet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ah, Jordan (Three Vignettes)


We direct the taxi through the directions we have been given and successfully arrive at our destination. As we enter the building our host is headed the opposite direction. "Out of water. I'll be right back" he says.

Some rights reserved by Krikit ♥

We don't bat an eye lash.

Water is delivered once a week in Amman. The city controls the pipes and rotates which day the water flows to different neighborhoods throughout the city. When the water is on everyone in that neighborhood gets their water tanks filled up. That is your water for the next week.

There are many reasons you could appear to be out of water. You might actually be out, but it could also be an issue with the pump or the tank or… Our host was surprised to be out of water, being new to the country. We weren't in the least bit phased. Part of dinner was spent discussing all the reasons possible for the current situation.


My phone beeps to indicate an incoming text. "Did you hear we aren't changing the clocks tonight?" Huh, I think. Perhaps they (the government) have changed the day.

This was the night that was scheduled for Jordan to leave Daylight Savings Time to return to Standard Time. We had planned our day around it, having G skip her nap and intending to keep her up way past bedtime in an attempt to have her sleep in the following morning.

Some rights reserved by bdebaca

Now it could all be for naught.

The change of plans is not surprising in Jordan. It was only seven years ago that the King set out the holiday dates for the following five years. Prior to this holidays would be announced suddenly, the day or two prior and everything would shut down - schools included. It was challenging to plan things, but you learn to roll with it.

The 'progress' of having a set calendar brought some stability. Even though dates were set for a few years into the future they weren't set in stone. On occasion, dates would still be shifted at the last minute.

We had become very used to this so the idea of a change was no surprise. We did laugh and shake our heads when we read this article stating that the date wasn't being changed, it was simply being cancelled.

(This is not the place for the discussion on Daylight vs. Standard Time, but it is interesting to note that of the locations that do not change from one to the other they keep Standard Time all year. Jordan, on the other hand, is now keeping Daylight Savings Time all year.)


As we headed out one night there were a couple of guys out in the street working. A huge pile of brown stuff was heaped nearby and a jack hammer was rattling the neighborhood.

I was curious to see how torn up the street would be when we got back and what they were going to do with the big pile of dirt.

Oh, was I wrong!

They were using the jack hammer to break up the asphalt in order to put stakes into the ground.


It was not a pile of dirt, but a Beduin tent. Yes, the tent was erected in the middle of the street, taking up nearly 2/3 of the road.


Seeing a Beduin tent sprout up is not at all unusual in Amman. They are used for funeral visits, weddings, and election campaigning. Usually the are put up in an empty field, popping up for a few hours and then disappearing. This one was used for a wedding. The men would gather in the tent and the women behind the house.


Having a tent in the middle of the street was completely new, but not he shock. Destroying chunks of the road (and knowing no one would fix it) was not the astounding part either. The only part of this vignette is that the tent was up and ready to go nearly 24 hours before it was needed. Now that, never happens!

Ah, Jordan.