Monday, December 29, 2008

Connor Goes to College

About eleven years ago I got a new student named Connor, he was a first grader with flaming red hair. He was (is) a brilliant kid with an IQ in the 99.9% range, but he was not highly motivated--even as a first grader. Since I teach in a gifted program the kids stay with me one day week through 6th grade and over the years I've kept in touch with Connor's mom as he moved through middle school (yuck) and high school (yuck, too). I knew that scholarly pursuits were not high on the list, even though he was a musician and a computer whiz, so always wondered how things would turn out for him. I got an email from his mom today with this news:

....I know that the only thing that made elementary school bearable for Connor was knowing he could escape it once a week and go to the EL (enhanced learning) center. That child hated school from the very first day he went - except for EL, and a few other classes - orchestra, economics (yes, he is STRANGE), environmental ed, and a web design class. That's about it I think.

With his "barely C" average we were a bit skeptical that Connor's first choice school would take him - but it did. He applied for early admission in early November. He was told he would be notified if he got accepted in mid-January but he got his acceptance letter the week before Christmas. He's going to DePaul University in Chicago - and will be enrolled in the College of Commerce at the Loop Campus - right off the EL in the heart of Chicago's financial district if you're not familiar with it.... He's currently planning a dual major in MIS and Economics. He got a 32 on the ACT (he only took it once and didn't even bother with the SAT)....

Remembering conversations we have had about our adult brains being wired differently from our computer-raised kids - and knowing you have a special interest in that, I am also attaching a picture of Connor that I took when he was 16 months old. Thought you might enjoy it - or heck - you might even like to use it when you give talks about these newly-wired brains - you are welcome to do so if you wish....

So, sometimes things do work out for our underachieving kids. I've changed my thinking over the years and now give different advice to kids and parents. I used to say that a kid had to decide the minute they walked into high school if they wanted to compete academically. I told them that 60 kids in our high schools had 4.0 GPAs and one bad semester will screw up your GPA for good. Now I tell parents and kids that they need to find something that differentiates them from every other smart, good test scores, good grades kid in the country! I suggest our district's Signature Programs including Law, BioTech, BioMed, Computers, International Studies, IB, Engineering, or mentoring, shadowing, community service, entrepreneurships, etc.

Being smart is not enough. Being a good student is not enough. What can your child do to set himself or herself apart?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crosspost on Classroom 2.0 and Giftededucation 2.0

After seventeen years of using technology in the classroom, I hate to admit it out loud but we finally did our first video conference. Our students and students from a school in New Jersey participated in The Pringle Project. Each student designed packaging to mail a single Pringle, there was weighing and measuring volume along the way. With help from the IT guys on both ends we got the video conference set up using Marratech software. (Skype is blocked by our district).

The looks on the kids' faces when they "faced" their partner were priceless, you would have thought they'd just landed on the moon. As each kiddo introduce him or her self then revealed the condition of their partner's chip to the webcam, hurrays were heard and fists were pumped in the air. One of our students decided to mail his chip in a hollowed out orange. When his partner appeared on screen he was wearing surgical gloves and holding a moldering, dripping, black box!! Hint: fruit does not make good packaging when sending a Pringles chip through the mail. Teaching is good, N.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bus Duty

For the last ten years I've done a duty at our school fondly called "bus duty". This job consists of herding cars around the circle drive and offloading kids. There are some things that really bother me and I am not basically a whiner. Here are my Top Five Irritations About Parents Dropping Off Their Kids:

#5 Tardy parents
#4 No seatbelts or child restraint seats
#3 Parents who comb hair, write checks, and sign planners while holding up traffic
#2 Parents who talk on the cellphone while they are dropping off or picking up their kids. These people are not brain surgeons or international stock dealers, can't they wait 5 minutes to chat while they say goodbye to their kids!
#1 Cars that are full of trash, backseats covered with fast food and fast food wrappers. I'd bet their is a direct corrolation between junky cars and disorganized kids!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Here is Skrbl. Be careful what you write on the whiteboard. It stays there until someone starts a new one.
skrbl now


We just finished a book publishing project (grades 2-4) using Tikatok. It is pretty intuative to use, you type the text, you scan in the illustrations. The books can be viewed online and the best part is you (or parents) can buy hardback or paperback books from the site. The quaility of the finished book (we've seen both hardback and paperback) is amazing. The books are expensive when you buy them off the site but you can get educational pricing ($7.00 and $12.00). The gal that owns the site is very helpful and will get right back to you if you have questions.

As I teacher almost all my student projects are digital but as a parent I always loved those "hard copy" projects.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bragging: Who's fault is it?

Comment on Ms Teacher's Blog

Yes, bragging/arrogance can be a problem with gifted kids---we discuss it our gifted ed class a couple of times a year. My experience has been that the bragging usually ends by 5th grade when it becomes socially unacceptable. BUT, I don't blame the kids I blame the parents and primary teachers and here's why---

There is nothing more fun than have gifted kids, I have three of them. When you have a two and a half year old who can read or a kindergartener who knows the stats of every major league baseball player you tend to drag them out to show-off at family gatherings. When a child enters school reading the teacher and other students put the kid is the academic spotlight, he's kind of a rock star! These students end up being teacher helpers, held up as examples of the "right way to do things" (both behavior and academic), tutors to slower kids and we wonder why they began to see themselves as what they do rather than who they are.

We put them on the pedestal and then wonder why they end up a bit arrogant. hmmmmm, what's wrong with this picture?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wonderful Art 2.0 Sites

There are some amazing art tools, from the Chicago Art Institute you can make your own art portfolio . You can also design your own medievel tapastry here.

Here are other neat art options:
Google Sketchup (download)
Mark Kistler’s Imagination Station
Flash Paint

Here are some neat digital imaging options:
PhotoStory (download)
Mix book
Making Panorama Pictures
Photoshop Express Online
Huge Labs

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gifted Kids Can't Research and Write

Here is my response to Not So Master Teacher John Spencer's blog "I Feel Like Giving Up".

Funny you should post about this. I know where you are coming from. I teach gifted kids (top 1%) and yesterday we started a curriculum on inventors. After an introduction 6th grade students were to pick an obscure inventor, research by reading three websites, writing two paragraphs and including 2 pictures. It took some of them over 2 and a half hours!! Remember these are the brightest kids in their schools! I couldn't believe it, my co-teacher and I brainstormed the problem and came up with some possible reasons.

1. Scripted reading and math programs (preparing for high stakes testing and state assessments) have turned kids brains to mush.
2. Kids cannot think for themselves because they have not been given opportunities in the classroom.
3. They can't think in higher levels synthesis, analysis and evaluation-- aren't given enough practice in earlier grades.
4. They can't type, keyboarding time has gone out of favor since so much reading and math is being taught. Many do not know how to save an image, and wrap text around it.
5. Student assignments are formulatic with everybody doing the exact same things.
6. They can't focus--this is part of our classes' problem. When given the freedom to explore on their own they have no skills to get down to work.

That's all we came up with but I'm sure you are seeing the same thing. I didn't mean to imply that this is the situation in your classroom but that you are feeling the past "mistakes".

Self contained at 5th and 6th is good, you'd like it. Read Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith. It will make you realize what is possible.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Google Lit Trips

Have you ever seen this site? I am very picky about websites these days, after 25 years of looking at the web it takes a lot to make me go "wow"! I like the idea of Google Lit Trips. The site is being developed as part of the Google Certifed Teachers Program. The activities take travel tales, stories, novels, etc and superimpose them on Google Earth. What a cool idea.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Amazing Books for Kids

Cross Posted from Fireside Learning

Here is a list of books I've used over the last few years with my gifted elementary students. Also, I will give you the titles of "upcoming" books, these I have either read and not used yet or not read but have read good reviews. All students have a copy of the book to follow along while I read aloud. I get the books from district ILL or the parents buy them, each kid having their own book keeps them totally engaged. We use Moodle for online book discussions for some of the books.

Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett (new one Calder Game) I wrote curriculum for the first two, you can see the curriculum here. The plots are a bit weak, but they lend themselves to great curriculum connections. I love books with clues!!

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (Skybreaker-sequel and the new Starclimber) I have read Airborn out loud five times and the kids have LOVED it. It is brilliantly written with meaty characters and plot.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick. This book has to be seen to be believed, it's a beauty. A kid favorite with historical connections.

City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau (prequel and sequel People of Sparks and Prophet of Yonwood). Great intro to science fiction. Movie coming out in October.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is the best full length science fiction we've ever read (we read a lot of sci fi short stories) but we needed parent permission for that one, 6th grade only.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (sequel Perilous Journey). I had a group of fourth graders that absolutely loved this book. Some reviewers say it's draggy, but we didn't find it so at all.

These I have not used but I have them stored on my secret book shelf and NO student is allowed to read them until we read them in class. (I have the kids for 3-5 years, so we have time.)

Endymoin Spring by Matthew Skelton has the history of books as its back plot. The end is a little weak, but I'm going to use it eventually. I haven't read Valley of Secrets by Charmain Hussey yet--but plan to. It is wrapped up in the rain forest fauna and flora. Another book I haven't read that seems to have some potential is Avi's Book Without Words. I read a review last night for a book that is on my must read list, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

You might enjoy some blog posts on books, online book discussions and historical connections at one of my two blogs, A Not So Different Place and A Very Old Place. There was a lengthy discussion on books for gifted readers at GiftedEducation.ning

There are some student favorites that we haven't read out loud that I haven't listed here, but I will if you want. Keep your nose in a book....N.

image from picasa: 1907Normal School Library 2nd floor of Old Main Arizona State University

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ramblings on Classroom Behavior

FrumTeacher posted a blog after having a rough day, she was looking for advice on dealing with miscreants in the classroom. I blathered on for several hundred words and decided to repost here.

I heard Carol Tomlinson Univ of Va say in a workshop--"with a perfect match between curriculum and ability you would have no discipline problems in your classroom." Whether or not it is true it really made me think, “what if?”

As a veteran teacher I'll give you some of my ideas, maybe it'll give you something to think about and who knows something might work!

Start with the givens:
You aren't going to win in a power struggle.
They need to master the material (but remember teaching the material and making sure they know it are two different things).
They are going to be disruptive unless you can figure out how to change their behavior. They not going to enter class someday and say to themselves “Today I’ve decided to act like a civilized kid and respect my teacher, contribute in class, and do my best.”
They are acting the way they are for a reason; could be attention getting but most likely it's because the work is either too hard, too easy, too disconnected from what they are interested in, a misfit of teaching style to learning style, or habit (they've acted bad for so long they don't even think about it)
They have to stay in your class.
Parents may or may not be able to effect change, so you are on your own. (Plus I guess the parents have heard that song and dance for years now and haven’t been able to affect change.)

Things to think about:
What is their currency? What can you trade them for a modicum of appropriate behavior?
What do they know? What do they not know?
How do they want to get and make sense of the material?
What do they want to do with the material once they get it?
What is reasonable behavior?

Things to Do:
Get to know them WELL, why the heck are they acting that way? Force them to talk to you about how they feel about school and your class; find out if they act badly in everyone’s class or just yours.

Find out what would make school (or your class) better. Examples:
--Don't want to read the material outloud, let him read it silently.
--Don't want to read a novel; let him listen to it on an mp3.
--Doesn't want step by step instruction in math? Let him work independently without instruction.
--Work too hard, help after school.

Back to the currency---make a trade (contract) "you do what I need you to do with appropriate behavior and you'll get to do this (currency)". Examples: Work hard 4 days, I'll give you the fifth day to choose own activity, book, writing, draw, computer, etc. (better than acting out all 5 days) Screw up deals off for the week.

I'll just tell you this, nothing will chance if you don't address the problem. Here's a Dr Phil for you---"spend 5% of your time thinking about the problem and 95% of the time thinking about the solution".

Don't give up on them---and don't fall into the trap that many teachers fall into--and that's giving up and counting the days til the kid is out of your class. Take the high road.

How's that for pontificating!! Let me know if you try anything that works.

OK, I'm on a roll and have thought of several other things--

Give them respect and give them important classroom respondsibilities. Treat them like you would expect to be treated, don't belittle them and "call them out". Always praise the smallest of good things. Acknowledge them as people.

Is the content too much of a disconnect for them? work hard to make the content relevant to their lives and interests. Find out how they produce their best work--could they create a graphic novel or video of "The Fall of Rome." Have them make trading cards of all the famous people you want them to learn about. I don't think this is pandering, I think it's just good teaching.

Think Michael Phelps--his teachers said "He can't sit still, he will never be able to focus." I think he proved us wrong with laser focus in the swimming pool. His mom said he used to sit perfectly still for 4 hours waiting to swim his 5 minute race. She said he knows all the statistics of every race he was ever competed in and held all that info in his head. We are all different so try to spot those differences and have them work in your favor.

Remember, you might be the person who changes a kid's life. Who knows?

TeacherMom then responded with:

I thought your suggestions were innovative and really interesting. While I don't necessarily agree that parents don't factor in, I see your point that dealing directly with the student using "their currency" can be extremely effective. I guess it depends on how much a particular student is concerned about parental reaction. Anyway, I have a question about this approach. How do you know when to draw the line; ie when is it pandering vs differentiating instruction? Have you ever experienced bitterness or comment from other students when these special accommodations are made or are the students generally relieved that the disruption went away?

So I took a breath and blathered on.....

n a perfect world the teacher would set up a differentiated classroom where "what's fair for one, is not fair for another." Many teachers teach a "one size fits all" model and they are generally missing at least 50% of the kids either by discounting ability, discounting student interest or discounting a students' learning preferences.

By focusing in on what is "fair" for each child, rather than teaching the same stuff, at the same speed, with the same frequency, in the same way to each kiddo--classroom behavior would have to improve.

It is important to look at everything you do in the classroom through the eyes of the kid. How can he learn this? Does he already know this? Why is he acting that way? What happened at home to set the tone of his day?

Now that I think of it maybe we'd be better of if we pandered to our students everyday. How would the classroom be different if the teacher asked the student(s) "How would you like to learn this material?" "How would you like to show me what you know?" "If the classroom seems too loud for you, do you think earplugs would help?" "Did you eat breakfast? Here's a granola bar".

Every student has the right to learn--but what if they learn differently? faster? slower? with no repetition? by reading it? by watching it? Each student, IMHO, would relish the option to be in a class where each child is treated as an individual and not as part of a herd. Moooooo!

Kids in the classroom should be able to speak up, and say "Hey this isn't working for me" or "M. FrumTeacher, can I do my project this way?"

All in all teachers have to give up some (percieved) power and replace that with learning. Teachers have to stop setting a tone of fear and humiliation in the classroom and replace it with trust and a philosophy (from B. Obama) that ALL children have the right to a good education.

Whoever said a teacher has to teach a curriculum? Isn't the point to make sure they know the curriculum? Does it really matter how they make the journey?

More stuff to think about! Whew--she's finally finished.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Web 2.0 for All Learners

Christina Laun has taken the time to sort some of the Web 2.0 tools into learning style categories. Thanks Christina.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Freedom Writers and the Ron Clark Story

I read two blog posts showing disdain for teacher movies, Freedom Writer and Ron Clark Story in particular. I agreed with the bloggers, these movies depict teachers who are super human and work unrealistically hard--forsaking family friends and even personal health. But I see things differently, I like teacher movies---I think the viewer should be encouraged at how well they themselves are doing without neglecting other parts of their lives. I look at Erin Gurwell and Ron Clark as examples of teachers who chose to spend 100% of their time for their students, but I do a heck of a good job with my students working 40-50 hours a week. I raised 3 sons to adulthood, maintained a 36 year marriage, and put a hot meal on the table each evening while my kids were home. I swim, walk, go to the gym and read. I have a good life and am a good teacher.

I am sad that Erin didn't stay in the classroon but Ron Clark still works with kids.....

It is what it is--we do the best we can.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Responses to a Twitter Discussion

I got involved in a discussion over at about Twitter. Since I don't twit, I knew I was the perfect person to jump right into a conversation on a topic I know nothing about (which is something I often do) Here are the discussions I was involved in with Darren, Wendy, Steve, and they contain some of my current thoughts--

Comment by Nancy
2008-07-17 20:17:28
I’m old, I’m getting ready to retire, and I am 100% tech savvy…that said this whole conversation (I read most of the 80 commentors) makes me sad. There were only rare mentions of thinking,learning,teaching,scholarship, students…you are talking (IMHO) about something that makes no difference to the students we are trying to teach and to most of the people in the known world. Talk about preaching to the choir—this conversation is only relevent to the people who are having it in 140 characters.
Someone mentioned all the “great ideas” they got while lurking on Twitter—does anybody beside me see a problem with this type of the thinking….it reminds me of the old days when presenters would hand you a list of 300 websites with no annotation. What are you going to do with all these tidbits of info? Compile them into a master’s thesis? Plan a year long curriculum for your student? Write a book?
Do any of you teach real students? Has anyone used a tool that has changed the life or learning of a real student?
I’m sad that so many people are in love with the tools and not with the teaching and learning.
Reply to this comment

Comment by Steve Ransom
2008-07-17 20:42:17
Wow… the echo just died here. Thanks so much for a much-needed perspective in this conversation, Nancy. However, for some, tools like Twitter DO provide useful and helpful bits of information that DO (hopefully) trickle down to students at some level. I don’t think one can be so quick to write off any tool. You are correct though, I think, in suggesting that the tools we choose to use professionally should be valuable at the student level for those that are teaching. There is no time to waste with tools that distract, annoy, or entertain for most teachers in the classroom.
Reply to this comment

Comment by Wendy Drexler
2008-07-17 20:53:19
It’s not about the tool, it’s about what you do with it. There is a lot of mindless fodder on Twitter. But, let me tell you a story about the real power of Twitter as a social networking tool. Last year, a fellow Tweeter posted a link to his 8th graders’ Darfur blog. I posted a tweet back that sent him to my third graders’ Darfur website. From that, a collaboration between two teachers grew into a major project that included 677 students from around the country.’t underestimate the power of Twitter as a launch pad for more important conversations. You just have to know when to move on to a more appropriate forum to make the most for your students. There are many thoughtful teachers here who care very much about student learning. I lurk on Twitter from time to time. Sometimes, I contribute to the mindless fodder. But, I also build lasting relationships with amazing educators that spill over into my teaching and impact my students’ learning. When I found out that I would be teaching AP Human Geography, I posted a tweet asking if anyone knew other APHG teachers would would be willing to share resources. Within one hour I had five contacts who provided various resources from which my students will benefit greatly. I use Twitter as a professional tool to connect with colleagues. When I need to have a deeper conversation, I move to the blogs or other avenues for deeper discussion.

Comment by Nancy
2008-07-17 21:30:03
Wendy, I do not Twitter but I read about the Darfur project on a blog…I’m sure there are miraculous collaborations made on Twitter. I’m in a different place than you are, career-wise. I’m looking back over my career while you might be looking forward to your future…many this is a time for reflection for me… but how many of us are attempting to make meaningful connections and collaborations with the teachers in our buildings and districts? how many of us are attempting to make meaningful connections and collaborations with neighbors, with old people in our communities? how many of us are attempting to make meaningful connections and collaborations with our students and their families? or for that matter how many of us are attempting to make meaningful connections and collaborations with our own children, spouses, and family members?
It’s not really twitter per se that is bothering me–it’s IMHO the whole focus on the Web 2.0 tools–I guess I want so much more for my students than knowing how to use the calculator on their cellphone or filming a fight in the girls bathroom.
As I mentioned I use tech tools in my classroom all the time but they are used doing real work, in a real work environment. We present rich and relevant content (like the Darfur project) to an authentic audience. The tools are not doing the teaching and the tools are not doing the learning.
But, this too will pass–within a couple of years 90% of the “new” gadget sites will be out of business and the other 10% will charge a fee!(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Wendy Drexler
2008-07-17 22:24:56
I certainly cannot argue with anything you’ve said about making valuable connections at home. All of these human connections are important to us and our students. Technology is not a prerequisite for authentic learning opportunities. As far as Web 2.0 tools go, a colleague at my school and I created a site to help teachers sift through some of these tools and determine which ones might have educational value, depending upon how they are creatively used in the classroom. I would be very sad if anyone thought that those tools were all I cared about from a teaching perspective. My students experience learning from many different perspectives. I reflect on all of them to determine what works well and what doesn’t.
I respect your thoughts and personal reflection. I am actually well into my teaching career, probably one of the older teachers here, and I believe that reflection is important throughout my career. My real point here is that you can not make assumptions about people based on their participation or lack of participation in social networking tools like Twitter. There is more to these teachers (at least the ones I know) than the 140 character post in Twitter. Bottom line, and I hope this is what you are saying, is that we all must have balance in our lives such that we can be good examples for our children and our students. We must also help guide them so they can do more with technology than use the calculator on their cell phone or film a fight in the girls bathroom.

Comment by Nancy
2008-07-17 22:40:28
I am one of those people who has opinions about everything and don’t feel like I am articulate (in writing) as many writers are–I certainly didn’t mean to offend. I just wonder if some people didn’t spend all their time chatting with like minded people (online or at conferences) they might have time to come up with the next Darfur Project or Flat World Project.
I heard Carol Tomlinson say, at a differentiation conference, “you can’t differentiate FOG.” So much of what people see as education-changing tools are in my opinion, FOG.

Comment by Wendy Drexler
2008-07-17 22:51:39
No offense taken at all. I think you offer some important points for all of us to consider. It’s been a refreshing conversation that inspired me to think a lot harder about what I’m doing and squint a bit more to see through the FOG. That is always a good thing. Now, I must get back to my face-to-face life. (smile)

Comment by Darren Draper
2008-07-17 21:44:56
I love you, Nancy, but I’m already married.

Comment by Nancy
2008-07-17 21:54:50
Sorry to be a wet blanket. hehe I’ve read several things you’ve written and agree with much of what you say, you are much more articulate than I. I’m the only person in the world that has 3 blogs and hates to write!
I don’t want to give the impression that I am a luddite or “old school”. I presented at NECC and around my state for 5 years–I’ve integrated technology into more projects than most people who have commented. You can see some of them here When I retire I will leave a legacy of thinking and learning.
I cannot marry you, I’ve been married to same guy for 36 years–too late for a change!!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Thought

I posted this rambling comment over at Learning is Messy. I don't write articulately enough to clearly make my point but here it is.

I spent ten years presenting (as a full time teacher) around my state and district. I also presented for 5 years at NECC and IMHO I was very good at it, bringing hundreds of examples and projects from the classroom to share with the participants. I then suffered from tech overload and frustration because, no matter how much they "oh-ed" and "ah-ed" at workshops, I saw little technology integration in the classrooms throughout my large district.

I did not go to NECC this year but from all I have read I get an idea of what it was like. I just had a ridiculous thought, after reading your blog and comments--a big part of these national conferences seems to be the people who are "in" get to see all the other people who are "in" and discuss stuff that has already been discussed in blogs, other conferences, Twittered, etc. Many of the presenters don't go to sessions, they just present. So who's in the audience? What if the audience was mostly tech trainers who are not able to reach kids and teachers who may or may not use the stuff they hear about.

Preaching to the choir? What if the choir hears but does nothing? Is the whole technology push much ado about nothing? Why don't we give the resources, money, time and equipment to the teachers who use it and just forget about the rest. If a teacher is interested he/she will seek out the knowledge or work with kids to use the technology in the classroom.

I use technology of all kinds all the time in my classroom and for the most part I've taught myself everything I know about webpages, blogs, wikis, online courses, Moodle, Blackboard, desktop publishing, robotics, graphics, copyright, digital cameras, whiteboards, and on and on. You can see some of our projects here.
Luckily I retire in a year or two---don't want to irritate too many more people. N.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Titanic in the Classroom

My students finally finished Titanic in the Classroom. Once you get to the website use the menu on the left to glance at all our hard work. We were able to integrate some new (to us) Web 2.0 tools including podcasts (which you will find on the Biographical Sketches page) and the interactive, collaborative timeline done with Mnemograph.

You can read more about the project at my other blog

Monday, April 21, 2008

Web Stats

Our webmaster sent us some great information about our classroom blog, A Really Different Place, you can see the information on the attached file over at the A Really Different Place. We had 3,570 visitors with over 17,000 page views. We also had visitors from 68 different countries. Amazing!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Differentiation Followup (mini-rant)

Matthew Needleman, Creating Lifelong Learners, is running a series of posts on Differentiation in the classroom. He's doing a fine job and will reach a lot more people than I will but of course I had to put in my 2 cents (and more) so I sent him my thoughts by email. See below:

Every once in a while I'll have a light bulb moment and I had one recently. We were getting ready to survey our gifted elementary students (@500) to gather information to share with curriculum upper ups in our district. I had my AH_HA as I was developing the questions for the kids.i.e "How often do you get to chose reading material on your level during reading class?" "How often do you do creative activities in the classroom, where each child choses what to do?" "How often do you collaborate or work with peers on projects?" "How often do you do things that are not teacher directed?" (BTW, many of the answers were sad!!) I realize that not only are we not letting students work to their ability but we are devaluing them as learners, and as people. I use this analogy when teaching teachers about gifted kids---

Pretend you go to Colorado to take ski lessons. You are thrilled when Swen comes out of the chalet and teaches you fundamentals in the beginner class. The next winter you eagerly sign up for intermediate lessons, buy the aerodynamic outfit (looks great!) and strap your new skis to the car top. You get out of the car at the chalet and out comes Swen--he says "Sorry intermediate has been canceled, you're going to have to take beginning again." As an adult you'd say "Hell, NO--I'm not taking beginning again." BUT we ask our gifted kids to take beginning again and again and again. What gives us the right to do this? Who is to blame?

I think parents share the blame. If you had a child with a learning disability and that child was asked to read a book five years off his reading level everyday you'd throw a fit---but parents of gifted and high ability kids allow their kiddos to read books every day that are five years off their reading level.

I think the kids share the blame. We have not given them a voice to speak up when injustices are being done to them.

I think administrators share the blame. They do not understand the needs of gifted kids. They do not support gifted students and services for gifted kids.

I think many teachers share the blame. They, too, do not understand the social, emotional or academic needs of gifted kids. Many look for what is easier than what is right.

I think the federal (state) government is to blame. They do not support gifted education and make no concession for them with NCLB legislation.

(Did not try to blame or John, Hillary, Barack, Pope Benedict, or any institute of higher learning--could have though!)

Managing a differentiated classroom well is hard, much harder than "every kid on the same page." But I think teachers may be surprised how many easy things they could do to value our brightest kids.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Evaluating Comic Strip Generators

We did something fun this morning. It was an old Web 1.0 activity in a new Web 2.0 way. I made a website evaluation rubric using rubistar with 4 categories—content, layout, navigation, graphics. I made a packet with 7 copies of the rubric for each student.

We used the comic generator websites listed here

Kids evaluated each site, we discussed which one we liked the most, analysed the rubric data and the student had the chance to explore and print their favorite cartoon. The kids loved it. N

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nancy's Annual Report

Dan Meyer has again come up with a design contest that I tried to ignore. I pleaded with Dan for more time since my big, fast Toshiba loaded with all my software is at the repair shop. It is dead and I need to pay the guy $40.00 to pick it up. I'm stuck with using my husband's little, slow Toshiba. All he uses it for is to monitor the stock market--doesn't need a whole lot of speed. Anyway--I've been thinking about my entry all week and decided (since I was missing Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro) that I'd go back to my old style. I have a love for primary sources and used an old photo in Dan's first contest, "Me In One Slide" I'm trying that again.

I am a wife and mother--children are grown so my "child rearing" days are over. I do have a lawyer-son and a teacher-son and a husband living in my house so I still cook.

I am a teacher, I teach gifted students in a special education pullout program.

Teachers attend a lot of meetings (ZZZZ). Special ed teachers attend a whole lot of meetings.

One of the best parts of my job is writing all the curriculum. There are some skills I've never included in my curriculum writing.

*Knitting image Slide #4, lower left, San Quentin Prison. I think prisons have changed more than classrooms.

Do you think the judges will notice that I have five slides in a four slide contest?

In my classroom students and teachers are technology literate.

All images: Library of Congress Print and Publications Division


Lucas Fox, over at Classroom 2.0, is doing some research which might convince his local school board to allow student blogging. I was suggesting he might use an online survey maker to spruce up his data and wanted to show him some research my students are doing using Wufoo. Here is our survey online.

Monday, January 07, 2008

As Close As I Came to Fame

Kathy Ishizuka, Technology Editor from the School Library Journal asked me to do some mockups of newsletters using Letter Pop. I threw together a couple and she chose one to feature in a little article in the magazine. You can see it here

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What's On Your Bookshelf?

Here is a widget that is probably useless, but it is fun. You can stock your own bookshelf at Shelfari