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The majority of these groups are community-run and are not funded by the City or the State. Often, the people running them work full time along with the work they do for their neighborhoods and the larger Philadelphia community. There are a lot of hard working individuals trying to make Philadelphia the best city it can be.
So, I ask, why does the state still run our schools?
It is time for these concerned and involved citizens to say "enough is enough." We've seen the enraged parents, the protests and the shady actions by the School District.
Until we have an elected school board that truly represents the parents, families and stakeholders of our city, then we will continue to have change forced on us and we will continue to lose our voices.
I don't pretend to know where to start, but I wonder who is with me?
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As my 4th graders begin their research projects we have been discussing and experimenting with keywords. Today they put together a list of questions about their topic (a famous African American) to prepare for starting their research. I gave them a choice of how they listed the questions. I modeled the list method and the 'idea map' (graphic organizer) method while also telling them that they could organize their questions in whatever fashion made sense to them.
As I walked around I noticed a big drawing of Michael Jordan on one of my students' papers. This student had been asking lots of questions about the assignment, but I had been so sure that we had cleared everything up, so my hear sank when I saw the drawing. I double checked with the student as I approached to take a closer look and he looked at me and said, "You said we could do it however makes sense to us, right?" I looked closer.
He had been writing his questions inside the drawing! It made my day.
Let's rethink our practice of making everybody do it 'just like the teacher!'
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I recently tweeted out that I needed to be a software designer so I could develop a system that would allow me to report how my students were progressing on standards along with the ability to provide individualized comments.
Within minutes I received a tweet from Riley Lark, who stated that he himself had gone through the same challenge and had come up with a solution himself. His solution, ActiveGrade, provides a customizable gradebook that allows the teacher to enter standards, assessments and grades based on either a percentile scale or a rubric scale. Teachers can then print out or email customizable reports that automatically populate individual grade reports in the form of a letter for each student. Teachers can input personalized comments for each student to be included in the report.
I tested it by easily copy/pasting in one of my class lists and was quite satisfied with the report it created. I was also excited by the opportunity to show a list of standards rather than random-seeming tests/quizzes or other assessments that don't paint a complete picture of what a student knows or doesn't know. All assessments can be grouped by standard to paint a picture of a student's progress toward mastering a standard.
You can try it for free for 14 days or pay just $12 until September. If you want to start using it next year it will cost about $40 for the entire year.
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I have been thinking a lot recently about video gaming and what we can learn from it as educators. This is not a new concept or a new discussion. I've been seeing things happen in my classroom that really make me think there's something to this idea. My recent reflections and changes in classroom practice don't actually involve my students playing games to learn new skills or concepts (though there is research about the positive effects of this), but rather on the broader structure of games in relation to classroom practices.
For one, while watching my students play games I notice that they easily just click 'retry' or 'new game' or 'start over' and keep trying until they master whatever skill that game's level requires. They don't worry about making mistakes because they know they will get another chance. They learn more and more each time they have to do a level or game task over. We should be building these kinds of experiences into our classrooms.
In addition, games provide immediate feedback. Not just any feedback, but usually feedback that helps a student fix or improve on their previous performance. We should be giving students as many opportunities as possible for useful and timely feedback.
Games also have a purpose, an underlying goal. Sometimes there are mini-goals that help get you to the final goal, beating the game. Players can focus on the mini-goals rather than be overwhelmed by the ultimate goal of beating the game. There is usually something that indicates how far along they are toward their final goal, which makes them feel like they're getting somewhere. We should be setting manageable goals for our students that help them move toward mastery while providing timely feedback on their progress.
I have been giving my students chances to revise and revisit their work, and I find that they learn more from this experience than they do while creating the project the first time around. I have also been having them share their work with their peers to solicit feedback. From listening in on the sharing sessions, I also find that they have to explain their choices in their work, which means they are thinking about the choices they make. As for goals, I have been making a point of breaking projects down into manageable chunks and focusing on small goals for each class period so students are aware of what they are focusing on and so my assessments are focused on the mini-goals that will lead to mastery.
Don't think that things are as perfect as they sound. Adding these gaming-like aspects to my classroom is a new endeavor, which means I'm still figuring out the best way to implement the approach into my classroom. However, the immediate effects and results have been noticeable.
I am interested in reading more about the Quest to Learn school in New York City, which focuses on gaming concepts throughout their curriculum.
I would love to know your thoughts.
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I'll admit it.
I'm overwhelmed these days.
I feel that I am a Jane of all trades and a Master of none.
I work hard all day ensuring that I am the best teacher I can be, and then I come home to be the best girlfriend I can be while also maintaining blogs, an online professional life, working to start up a food co-op and maintaining priceless face to face friendships.
When I log onto Twitter and Facebook these days (it's been less and less recently) I notice the same names and handles scrolling by and I wish that I had time to be so connected, to devote so much time to sitting in front of the computer.
How'd I get here?
Part of it's my own fault--I can't say "no"--and part of it is because I crave dialogue and love learning new things.
However, is it worth barely talking to your loved one for hours at a time while sitting mere feet from each other?
Can it replace a drink with an old friend or a night hanging out with the ladies?
Is it more important than getting to know my community and becoming involved in local issues that directly affect me?
I'm starting to think not.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not giving up entirely, but I will need to make a list in the coming weeks and begin to pare down my responsibilities and my priorities.
I am invested in my professional community, many of whom I now consider close friends, and I am invested in the future of education as we know it. I can't detach myself from the world I dove into almost 2 years ago and I won't.
However, I know that I don't NEED to be online 24/7 and I know that those relationships will still be there as long as we are all dedicated to what we do day in and day out.
So for now I will focus on my relationships, my teaching and the co-op that myself and my colleagues have worked so hard to bring to this point. I will blog about my teaching, I will read my RSS feeds, I will travel to conferences and engage in dialogue, but you might not 'see' me around as much.
I'd rather get a hold on what's important than try to do a lot of things poorly.
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I have been fighting filtering battles ever since I first entered a computer lab as a technology teacher almost 4 years ago.
Today I got my vindication.
I am lucky that my new school does not block YouTube. My 6th graders are doing research projects that will culminate in them creating a Google Site about their topic. Today they began to (yes, it's old school) sketch out on paper a basic design for their site. As they thought about their homepage, many of them asked if they could use video. "Of course," I replied.
I quickly harkened back to last week when my friend Ann and I were embedding video into a Google Site for a presentation we did together this weekend.
"Go to YouTube," I said. See if you can find a video there. YouTube videos are easily embeddable into Google Sites with the click of a button.
As many of them searched the 'dreaded' YouTube for relevant videos, I had not ONE student searching for inappropriate content or looking up videos that were not 'kid-friendly.'
The task was authentic, and they had a purpose for searching the site.
Blocking these kinds of resources denies our students access to material that is relevant, interesting and informative.
One student, who is researching drums, bookmarked a video of Justin Beiber playing the drums in her Diigo library with a note: "Even famous people play the drums." Another student found a video of a lightning storm for his site about lighting and electricity.
If we design authentic and meaningful experiences and use good classroom management and common sense when using these tools, we can rest assured that little harm will be done.
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This weekend was a blur of ideas and passion, and I can't even begin to describe the feeling of being surrounded by such intelligent and energetic educators, many of whom I consider good friends and who push my thinking on a daily basis. Rather than go into depth about each and every session I attended, I decided to do a run-down of my takeaways from the weekend, broken down by topic. There are links to each session's Educon page and some sessions have a link to a website or wiki shared by the presenters.
Blended Learning Opportunities
Tony's blended learning charter school is doing amazing things by blending content with experiential learning. His students not only complete academic coursework, but complete experiential projects in a field of their choice.
Mike Ritzius and Kristen Swanson--session site
This is one of my recent obsessions (grading, assessment in general) and I was lucky enough to sit next to a technology teacher like myself who does a standards-based report card for her class. She shared a great site with me: SnapGrades. This site does have a fee, but it creates standards-based report cards and aligns perfectly with my current classroom practices.
Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, Gwyneth Jones--session site
What is Literacy Today?
David Jakes and Laura Deisley
This was possibly the most engaging and fascinating conversation I had all weekend. Neither David nor Laura provided concrete answers, but rather presented us with a continuum of probing questions. Me likey. I think we all need to bring it back to our schools.
Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?
Myself and Ann Leaness--session site
There was so much more to this conversation, but it was very face-to-face, so I did not take notes or tweet at all! One of the most exciting parts of the session was listening to Zac Chase's student talk about his own experiences with the Internet, distraction and his 'old brain.'
Zoe Pipe and Rodd Lucier
We used Livescribe pens to record our discussions. As certain topics were discussed, I made markings on the special Livescribe paper. This allowed us to easily find parts of the conversation by clicking on the marks I made. It was difficult, but very cool.
Creative Commons License
Philly Teacher by Mary Beth Hertz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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