Getting Around

Friday, July 29, 2011


I'm taking part in the Edutopia New Teacher Bootcamp this summer, and one of our activities was to use Wordle. I decided to use my blog as a source of words, and look what I made!

(Click to enlarge)

I think this is a neat tool to help students visualize poetry they're working on or see how they might be overusing words in a particular essay.  I know I hate it when I'm reading a book and the author chooses to use an unusual word multiple times in the same chapter; doing so lessens the impact of that word. I can also see this as part of a word, author, genre, or content area study.

What ideas do you have?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

StudyBlue: Flashcard Heaven

This summer, as I've been reviewing for the Praxis middle school science test, I've found a need to make flashcards. I'm a bit of a flashcard person, so studying one topic can run to a ton of cards. Figure in all the topics covered on the science exam, and I'd be lugging around a box of cards everywhere I go, making the flashcard concept worthless.

I found StudyBlue, and I'm hooked. Not only can I use it to create online flashcards, but I can access them from my phone. So, when I'm waiting in line somewhere or waiting for one of my kids to do something, I can study. While I'd love to use some of the paid features, the free features are really all I need.

Today I just played with their quiz generation feature. I didn't really write my cards well to take advantage of the quiz, but I will from now on. It's a great way to mentally reframe the cards you've been staring at for awhile.

If you've been using Evernote to study because you've got a fancy flip cover on your iPad (or because you're an Evernote junkie like myself) you can even link the two up. I didn't have anything in Evernote to start with for my flashcards, but it looks like it works pretty well. You can also use it to take notes in class, but I'm still using paper for that.

And no, I'm not getting paid by these people. But boy, and I happy I found them. I think one day I'll be sharing this site with my own students to help them study.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Khan Academy

If you've not heard of Khan Academy yet, where have you been? No, seriously, where? I've been using Khan Academy to review for the middle school science Praxis exam, and I have to say that I'm impressed. Sometimes I wish the pacing was a bit faster since I'm just reviewing instead of learning, but since it's geared toward learners I can't really complain. I also wish there were exercises and questions for topics other than math (though the math ones are great). There are some good tools for teachers available on the site, as well.

Khan Academy is a good way to try flipping for upper elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. That is, instead of lecturing at school and then assigning homework problems, have the kids watch the videos at home so you can be there to support them while they work through problems. I'm really interested in flipping, since my skills are much better put to use supporting students while they work through their understanding rather than lecturing. I've also seen teachers make their own videos for their flipped lessons, so I'm hoping someone starts to put together the best of the best from across the web so we have a whole library of lessons to choose from.

Remember my Livescribe Pulse smartpen (the new version's called the Echo)? You can use that to create what's called a pencast, which has some similarities to what's going on at Khan Academy and it means you have control over the content. It's not as fancy, but if you don't like relying on someone else's content (or your school won't allow you to do so), it's one way to make your own.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making an IMPACT

Recently, a report came out on the IMPACT teacher evaluation system used in Washington, D.C. schools the last two years. This was one of Michelle Rhee's big reforms, and there were many complaints about it. While from the report it's clear that IMPACT has some adjustments to make, I'm hoping the districts near me are watching.

My original career was in business. I did programming and workflow consulting. My evaluations were always related to the bottom line, and many of them included input from coworkers and clients as well as my boss. I got frequent, specific feedback throughout the year on my performance and how I could improve. If I needed training, I was sent to training. My job was only moderately stressful. I enjoyed the challenge, but I did have several colleagues who found the constant feedback depressing and quit because of it.

I find feedback in the education world a bit lacking, to be honest. Everyone tells you the first few years are hard. Teachers are messing with the learning of many, many children over their careers. Isn't some honest evaluation and support in the form of training (or even internships) worth it? Teachers who don't get support don't stick around, and since we're all supposed to believe it takes 10,000 hours to master something, that means a lot of people are leaving before they get good.

In my state there is a mentorship program, but your mentor doesn't even have to work in the same building as you do. Several teachers have told me they only communicated with their mentors over e-mail and that their mentors never got to see them teach because they were in a school across town. Mentors have their own classes to teach, after all, and apparently they don't get time to go see the person they're supposed to be mentoring. I want a mentor who can come see me and give me specific feedback on how to improve.

As for IMPACT, the biggest problem I see with it is that it doesn't account for teacher collaboration, another thing I find lacking in education. In the district I hope to teach in, students might see a different teacher for reading than they do for math. But value-added measures being used right now in other areas of the country assume that the teacher you start with in the morning is the one who teaches you everything, at least at the elementary level. That's got to be addressed, particularly if we want to encourage collaboration (and we do!). Right now it also means that the special education teachers aren't getting any credit for the hard work they do, which is not only unfair but unmotivating.

Yes, I do want my students' learning to show up on my evaluation, along with several other measures. I want many observations for as long a time as possible, and I want my development to be linked to those observations so I can target the areas where I need the most work. I'd also like my coworkers to have a chance to give me feedback, and I wouldn't mind the students getting a chance too provided that they are asked appropriate questions.

Once IMPACT is tweaked I hope other districts start looking at D.C.'s struggles and successes. I don't want my job to be based on whether my principal likes me but on whether or not I'm an effective teacher.