Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teaching: A Pi Poem!

My Original Pi Poem

Pi = 3.14159265

Love them dearly (3)

Students (1)

They drive me crazy!(4)


I learn from them, always (5)

But why would I dream of doing anything else?(9)

Sharing passions (2)

Striving to be the best ever! (6)

My kids, forever and always! (5)

"My Resume is Ready": Losing Good Teachers!

Not my words. 

I live and breathe teaching. I really can't imagine doing anything else, well, except writing.

These words were spoken by a teacher friend of mine.
He sounded so down when he said it.:(
He is overwhelmed, as are we all.

The kids.
The parents.
The kids.
And then all the crap from above.

He put in four years so far, and doesn't know how many more he will do.
He said his first year was great.
Second year, not too bad.
But now...this is not what he thought teaching would be.
I don't think any of us did.
And because of this, we are losing a lot of teachers, a lot of good teachers.

Teachers who are willing to go all out for the kids, but aren't willing to deal with all the "new things" being flung at us from every direction. 

We are suffocating under the weight of standardized testing, data collection, PLC's that are soon to be evaluated, (Who evaluates a PLC?), teacher evaluations tied to test scores, it's madness!

Some of us can bend and not break, and some of us can't. Some of us leave.
And it's sad.
Good teachers are leaving, young and old.

His resume is ready. I hope he doesn't have to use it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I'm a Poet, And I Know It! Celebrating National Poetry Month!

I love National Poetry Month! I used to write poetry, maybe I will again some day.  But in the meantime, I like to give my kids a chance to grow to love writing poetry as much as I do.

There was a time, pre-standardized testing, when we would gather up all our original poetry, pair it with two really funny pieces of poetry, and have Poetry Day. We would invite the parents, and each child would share  one of their poems. We would read the two poems we chose as a group, one in the beginning, one at the end. Afterwards, we would have snacks and juice, provided by the parents. Aaaah, good times. :)

But, even though Poetry Day has gone the way of a teacher being able to think for themselves, I still incorporate poetry into April. This year, I chose formats I thought the kids would enjoy, (and they did). We wrote a Pi poem, a Spring acrostic, a cinquain," I Made a Mistake" ,and "I Am Sorry" (they apologize to an inanimate object). Tomorrow I am letting them write an original poem, any topic, any way they choose.

After they wrote the poems, they posted them on Kidblog. If you have a sec, check out the ROOM 8 Page and comment.. (Have to get in that authentic audience). I also allowed them to create a Voki for the poem of their choice.(Still working on those). I am going to create a Poetry Symbaloo, (Voki provides you with a Symbaloo link), and post it on our Weebly.

Check out one of our Voki poets below. I love National Poetry Month, and now, so do my students! :)

photo credit: Enokson via photopin cc

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are School Field Trips Becoming Obsolete?

The 5th grade went to the Blue Rocks baseball game today and we had a blast! I loved interacting with my students outside of the classroom. It's rare that we get the chance to do that anymore. We sat in the stadium, talking, laughing, and cheering. It was as far from standardized testing as you can get!:)

What happened to field trips? How can anyone think three to four  field trips a year are going to make a difference in whether these kids pass those tests? What happened to exposing our students to the world around them, letting them experience life outside the classroom?  Using a trip to supplement that great story you’re reading, or enhance a SS or science unit? When I taught in New York, we would jump  on the subway with 25-30 kids in a NY minute!

The term “Keeping it real” is played out now, I know.  But field trips do just that.  They keep it real. They give kids the opportunity to experience life “for real.” Some of these kids do not have the chance to see outside their neighborhoods. There's nothing wrong with virtual field trips, I have taken my class on a  few.  But if I had a choice of the Franklin Institute online and piling my kids on a bus and traveling to the Franklin Institute, the bus trip, with all the noise, bumps, and mishaps, trumps a virtual field trip any day!

Our pen pals on Edmodo recently took a trip to Tybee Island in Georgia. My students ask me why we can’t go on trips like that. What do I tell them?

I am exhausted. But it was worth it.
Field trips are so cool!

Monday, April 15, 2013

GoAnimate4Schools GIVEAWAY!!!!!! Animated Digital Storytelling!

How would you like to be the lucky winner of a one year subscription to GoAnimate for Schools?
If you are not sure what GoAnimate is, and/or what it can do, check out the video created by one of my students!

I asked them to use their Vocabulary words to create a story. No one begged to skip this assignment!

You can't go wrong with GoAnimate for Schools! It is a safe environment. The videos can be shared. Teachers can moderate the videos. The ways you can use this resource are infinite!

Like it? Create your own at GoAnimate for Schools.
Just leave a comment below.(YOU MIGHT HAVE TO CLICK THE WORD COMMENT IN ORDER TO LEAVE A COMMENT)I will choose a winner using Random.org on April 22,2013! (Please make sure you leave your name)Your subscription will be valid for 100 students and up to 5 teachers.Good Luck!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Goodbye Creativity and Imagination, Hello Common Core Writing!

I was at a meeting this morning, (Yes, another one).  This one was about Common Core writing standards. I sat there, staring blankly at the PowerPoint presentation being READ to me. (That's another post topic).
The presenter showed screen after screen of what is expected of us next year when we implement the Common Core writing standards.

My mind wandered to the soldiers in North Korea, all marching to the same beat, the same cadence. Not a skip, hop, or jump, no one out of place. That's what the Core reminds me of.

The presenter continued, "And in 2nd grade they have to know, and in 5th grade they have to..."  I wanted to ask what if they don't get it in 2nd grade, then what happens in 5th grade? But I already know the answer to that question.

But what jolted me out of my state of emotional apathy was when the presenter began showing, and reading, to us the slide on what type of writing we are expected to cover in certain grades. Our presenter said, " If you notice, it's only 20% Narrative in the 5th grade. That's because in the real world, in a college and career ready world, students write using argumentative and informational essays."

SCREECH!...I woke up.  In the real world?

Does she mean the real world where there are authors who write fiction? The real world of playwrights, screenwriters, people who create commercials? The list is endless. The number of people who have careers that use narrative writing is endless.

And more importantly, I can only imagine the horror of being in a classroom where only 20% of the writing is Narrative. I have many students who thrive in the narrative format, and struggle horribly in others. What do I tell them, sorry we have reached our quota of narrative writing for the year? And how does one determine 20% Is there some rubric I will be forced to follow?

I love the activity in the picture above. Tons of creativity and imagination are required.  But I guess if I'm going to implement it next year, it better not be before I go over my 20%!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Ed Reformers" Are Bullies:They Know Who to Pick On!

bullying at school

As an educator, I have to deal with bullies every year. There's a pattern that I have noticed in every instance. They know who to pick on.
They find the weakest kids, the kids who won't tell, the kids who, most likely, won't fight back.

See the connection?

When I first read Diane Ravitch's post about Tennessee cutting 30% of welfare benefits if their children don't raise test scores. I thought it was a cruel April Fool's joke. I laughed it off, because I thought no way could that possibly happen,no way. I read today that it passed in the House, and I'm thinking, "Who would vote for that?"

A letter was written asking, If this is about holding parents accountable, why hasn’t this bill been piggy-backed with parental accountability for all income levels? To make any solution about money on all levels is also flawed because people with access to money may try to “buy” results or intimidate those reporting grades. The poor do not have the luxury of “buying” their way out of anything. What your bill proposes is segregating the population into haves and have-nots and then creating different rules for the have-nots. This solves nothing in the way of making positive changes in academic progress.

Yeah, what she said.  Bullies always understand the consequences of dealing with people who will not back down. They know the consequences of dealing with people who will fight back.

The closing of schools is happening in low income neighborhoods. Why? That's where you will get the least pushback. That's where you will meet the least amount of resistance. For whatever the reasons, we know this to be true. And so, this is where it happens.

You can put a bully in a suit or a dress, but they're still a bully. "Ed reformers" are bullies. But they're not taking your milk money. They are taking public funds, neighborhood schools, veteran teachers, safe learning environments, the right to learn, the right to teach.

The list is endless, what are we going to do to stop the bullying?

"The Tennessee legislation to cut welfare benefits for families if kids don’t raise their test scores was passed by the committee and now goes to the House Government Operations Committee. It is scheduled for a vote in the State Senate on April 4."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"The Cheating Scandal!" Isn't Cheating a Choice?

The original post was written in July 2011. Here we are in 2013, faced  with another cheating scandal, and people are going to jail. Is there another way?
I read an article by Jay Matthews of  The Washington Post the other day, "Easing Test Pressure Won't Save Kids", and it went along with something I had been thinking about ever since "The Cheating Scandals" broke. I don't agree with everything he had to say in his article, but there was one element that struck me. Is cheating acceptable because of the enormous pressure put on teachers, principals, and superintendents?  Is it alright to excuse, justify, or rationalize cheating, because of the intense pressure put on schools due to standardized testing?

Just as we all handle grief differently, I am sure we can apply that same thinking to pressure. I would not cheat, and I have not cheated on any of these inane tests I am forced to give my students.  I can say, with confidence, that if I was told to cheat, I would not. And yes, maybe the principal would try to "get me" or "put me on their list", but I still wouldn't budge on what I believe in.

In the Huffington Post article, "Atlanta Cheating Scandal Unveiled By Reporter", the reporter stated, "The report paints a vivid picture of a culture where teachers were publicly humiliated or fired for underperformance,... For example, a group of teachers at ... held a weekend "changing party" at a teacher's home, where they systematically altered test answers to boost results.  A post by Maureen Downey on her blog,  "Get Schooled" provides another example, " ... the principal forced a teacher to crawl under a table in a faculty meeting because that teacher’s students’ test scores were low.

Maybe I am naive, but how does this happen?  How does my supervisor coerce me into doing something I do not believe in, knowing that I will probably be the scapegoat when it blows up!  In situations like these,  no matter how much you try to hide it, it is going to blow up! Who could make me crawl under a table?  Were these untenured  teachers who feared for their jobs, and felt that the ends justified the means? Were they teachers who believed in "by any means necessary?"

All teachers did not choose to participate, they chose not to cheat.  As  a matter of fact, a lot of those teachers stood up to their supervisors and reported them.  A lot of them were ignored, and many lost their jobs, this was the choice they made.

I look at it this way. Let's say I catch one of my students cheating. I say to them, "Why were you cheating?" , and their response is, "If I fail this test, I can't play football." Do I say, "I understand the pressure you're under, so I will excuse you." No, it would never happen!  I have read so many tweets from educators who blame the system for creating these high pressure situations, and then ending with a "Well, what did you expect to happen?" kind of ideology. But should we look at it that way, that all who participated were somehow "forced" into it, and all other options were closed for them?

In the end, I feel sorry for those teachers, all over the country,who have lost their jobs because of the choice they made, for whatever reason. My heart goes out to those kids who were made to cheat, what lesson did they learn? Standardized testing is the worst way to assess our kids and hold teachers, schools, and districts accountable.  But until they change it, I don't think cheating is the solution we are looking for.

The Internet Access Gap in Education!

My district is piloting a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program. We work in a district with a high percentage of low income households. One of those worries was that our students would not have access to devices, and/or the Internet. They sent out a survey to each household, and out of the responses they received, most households did have either a device and/or Internet access.

Therefore, I found this infographic very interesting in terms of how important the Internet is in education, and who has access and who doesn't, and what it could mean for our students.

The Internet Access Gap in Education

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why I am Going to the Occupy DOE March on April 4 - 7, 2013!

I have to say, I am, pretty much, allowed to do what I want in my classroom.(Probably because my kids pass those tests)
My school is not an AYP school, or whatever they call "failing" schools these days.
I don't " teach to the test", and yet, my kids still manage to pass those idiotic, "waste of instructional time", "money down the drain", "accountability for teachers", so-called assessments.

So, why would I need to join the protest, "Occupy DOE 2.0: The Battle for Public Schools"?

  • I love innovative lesson plans, edtech, and inspirational quotes as much as the next teacher. But what good are these things to a teacher who is worried about losing their jobs? Worried about the closing of their school? Worried about their school going "under review"? 
  • If I don't, who will? Yes, I am a one person, one voice. (And my hubby, who will join me). But guess what, thousands of "me" will be marching on DOE April 4 - April 7. Thousands! We can each make a difference!
  • Our children are losing their public schools! And by our children, I mean children all over the country. They are all our children. Neighborhood schools are being decimated, (my Junior High School in Brooklyn, JHS 166)and turned into for-profit charters, led by young, inexperienced teachers. How is that fair?
  • Test scores rule! How can test scores be what determines the fate of a school? a teacher? our students? I looked at my test data from the previous year. Data that lets me know which of my students met the "target". A "target" designated by someone who knows nothing about education. My kids passed the tests, but some didn't meet their "target." You know what that means? This PLV Teacher of the Year 2012-2013 is a lousy teacher!!!
  • Why are Pearson, and other testing companies, making billions off of standardized testing, yet, there is not enough money in the budget for teachers and classroom supplies?
  • Music, art, sports, hell, even Recess, have been removed from the public school system and replaced by test prep. Check out the private schools, this is not happening. Michelle Rhee, (the great reformer), has a daughter that attends a private school which caters to the "whole child." Are our kids not worthy of the same?
  • 50% of my evaluation is determined by whether or not my students pass a standardized test in Reading, Math, SS, and Science, given 3 times  a year. Soon they will be testing kindergartners! Then there's the "data" coach, (no educational experience required), telling teachers how we need to "adapt", get more "bang for our buck", and that this is the "reality" of education. I refuse to accept this as my reality.
  • We have students who are going to be ignored because they were fortunate enough to get a "4" the first or second time they took the test. We have students who will be ignored because there is no way in hell, they will meet their target. The "fortunate" ones will be test-prepped to death, hoping that they can get those extra points, and meet the "target." Is this what teaching was meant to be?
  • We have to be heard. We have to be taken seriously. They have to know that this is not something we will stand for. We will not stick our heads in the sand, and hope and pray that  it will end. It will not, it will only get worse.
I am going to the Occupy DOE 2.0. Are you?
And for those of us who can't go, you can join the protest in many other ways. Check out people involved in the fight and get information on how your voice can be heard!