Friday, October 30, 2009

Wikis & YouTube for Snowboarders!

My mission this year has been to integrate as much technology as possible in an effective way in my classroom. I have started class blogs, had freshmen create websites based on research, and encouraged sophomores to publish their work on wikis and VoiceThread. But I thought I might share how I have integrated some of my "techie" skills into my personal life, as well.

My husband, Jimmy, is an avid fisherman, surfer, and snowboarder. In the past few years he has gotten really good at the latter. He kind of had to get better to hang with me and my family. We have been pretty dedicated skiers our whole lives. So, in his quest to get better and learn more about the sport, Jimmy has become a certified snowboard pro and is now training other snowboard pros at our home mountain, Attitash.

In an effort to communicate with his snowboarding buddies in the off season, he asked me if there is a way they could network more efficiently than over email. Immediately, I thought "WIKI"!!! So, he ran the idea by some of the guys and one of them took the lead and set up their wiki.

Here is the result of their combined efforts:
Attitash Riders

They started conversation threads about all kinds of things: park features, training, connections to the America Association of Snowbard Instructors, etc. He logs on every single night after our daughter is in bed, while I'm checking our Ning, to check what others have posted and share with them.

A couple of nights ago he wanted to take it to the next level and start posting videos and pics. So I showed him how to make a YouTube account and then embed videos into his wiki. He has hopes that other wiki members will start doing this so they can deconstruct each others skills through a training method called "movement analysis." It's like PD for snowboarders!

Here's a video of me skiing a pretty steep and narrow chute at Steamboat, Colorado in February 2008. Jimmy uploaded it to his new YouTube account and then added it to his wiki:

Technology can even enhance outdoor sports! We live in an awesome time!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Teacher v. Technology

Anyone and everyone who has had a child or grandchild within the past decade knows what Baby Einstein is.

If you have watched or listened to any new within the past 24 hours, you also know about a refund that the Baby Einstein company has decided to offer in response to accusations that their products (mostly the videos) are not, in fact, educational. The experts seem to agree that no amount of time in front of any video will teach a baby as much about language, shapes, colors, animals, and human social skills as one-on-one time with parents and other caretakers.

After listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation do a 30 minute segment on this topic, I did some reflection:

How much does technology matter in my classroom?

How much to I matter?

If you are interested, listen to the NPR broadcast. It was an excellent segment and the guests got into a rather heated debate on the topic.

If you don't have time to listen, just check out the summary at

In light of a recent blog I posted about students creating websites and using the Internet databases available at our school library to complete a research project, I wonder if it is about the technology at all. Could my students have accomplished this project without having me, a human presence to answer questions and give directions, in the computer lab with them? Would a set of typed directions and instructional videos that provided the same information have done the same job?

With all of the emphasis on technology integration in education, how important is the human factor?

Monday, October 26, 2009

President Obama's Speech to America's Students... one month later

I'm sure you remember the controversy over President Obama's speech, which was broadcast nationwide, to America's primary and secondary school students. That day I did not have a class at the time the President was delivering his speech. But I had several students in my class that met soon after who seemed to think there wasn't anything political about his words at all. One student called it "an academic pep talk."

If you care to watch the 19 minute speech, here is the video.

You can go to for a transcript of the speech as well.

Now it has been one month... did his speech make a difference?
Are our students working harder because they have a better understanding of long term goals, a point President Obama tried to amplify?
Are our students seizing the opportunity to learn from their errors, or are they still arguing with their teachers to get a couple more points added to a test grade?
Are our students persevering because they feel a patriotic responsibility to do well in school?

I think I can predict the answers to those questions, and they aren't the answers I would have hoped for a month ago. Put aside the political debate over whether it was proper for our President to address our children directly. Even staunch Republicans who disagree with most of President Obama's decisions can't disagree with this quote:

"The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best."

My questions to you are these:
How do we make this message more lasting?
How do we get our students to understand the connection between trying hard in school and making a lasting contribution to our global society?
How do we inspire this generation to put in the time it takes to acquire the knowledge and skills we know they need when they have grown accustomed to "Googling" every little problem they encounter?

I have a few ideas, but I'm only one teacher in one classroom. What are your ideas?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trying to be a Renaissance (Wo)Man

It seems that we teachers do a heck of a lot more than teach. When I decided to become an educator I was thrilled with the idea teaching events and ideologies from history to students. In reality, this job is sooooooo much more than that!

Here's my list of roles that a teacher has to take on everyday. By no means should it be considered an exhaustive list:

expert in (insert subject area here)

The last category has been my latest endeavor. How can I learn more about how to use technology, social networking, file sharing, etc. in my classroom? I've really been stretching myself this year.

My latest effort seems to have paid off. There are a few links below to some websites that my freshman honors students created over the past few weeks. I decided to look at the Renaissance from a different angle. Once we discussed what a "Renaissance Man" is, I asked them to find a person from today or from a period in history besides the Renaissance that had those characteristics. Then they had to conduct research and come up with an annotated bibliography with at least 10 sources. Instead of writing a traditional research paper, they had to create a website with images, videos, and sometimes even polls.

Here were some of the results:

Jennifer Lopez

Thomas Jefferson

Paul Newman

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Ronald Reagan

While some are better than others, and I tried to provide a cross section, the kids really did a nice job reporting the information. In the mean time, they had a pretty good time typing paragraphs on a website rather than into a Word document. On his class blog, one student said "I liked how we did a website rather than a paper because it makes it so much more interesting and fun. Also now the world can see our research and use it." I swear I did NOT feed him that line. He typed it on his own in his blog! I have to admit, I enjoy grading websites more than grading research papers any way. That doesn't mean that I won't assign research papers throughout the year, but this was a great way to teach the freshman how to research using the tools at the RMHS library and integrate a little technology at the same time.

Not only that, but the project was easier to manage than one might expect. I hope you enjoy clicking through the websites. I know my students will be thrilled to see any comments you are willing to share. Thanks for helping me celebrate a little success as I try to embrace this new "techie" role.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"If you're a lawyer, why would you want to stay in teaching?"

As I was reading this article in the Washington Post, I literally welled up with tears. The author, Sarah Fine, is probably about two years younger than me, but she has faced similarly insensitive questions. You don't have to read the whole article. This excerpt says it all:

"Why teach?" they ask.

Do my lawyer and consultant friends find themselves having to explain why they chose their professions? I doubt it. Everyone seems to know why they do what they do. When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it's unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long. Teaching is an admirable and, well, necessary profession, they say, but it's not for the ambitious. "It's just so nice," was the most recent version I heard, from a businesswoman sitting next to me on a plane.

I used to think I was being oversensitive. Not so. One of my former colleagues, now a program director for Teach for America, has to defend her goal of becoming a principal: "When I tell people I want to do it, they're like, 'Really? You really still want to do that?' " Another friend describes her struggle to make peace with the fact that a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession. "I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them," she says. "In the world we live in, teaching doesn't cut it."

I often feel the same way. Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.

Since I graduated from law school in the top ten in my class and passed the Massachusetts Bar Exam, I have faced a lot of people with this attitude.

"Why teach?" Here is my answer.

I teach because I love history and the lessons it provides for all of us. If I can be a part of those lessons, I'm honored to do so.

I teach because I get to spend my time with teenagers. They are an amazing mix of serious and hilarious, complicated and simple, egocentric and global-minded.

I teach because I get to laugh (and I mean really hard) every single day at my job.

I teach because I'm pretty OK at it. I work hard on my lessons, units, and projects. The products my students come up with as a result are sometimes less than impressive, but sometimes they knock my socks off. For me, that is an amazing reward.

Over and over I have heard friends and family members say, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." It stings when people say this.

But I've also seen professionals try to quit their career to become teachers. They want a job with the summers off. They want to be able to get out of work at 3pm every day. A teacher with this attitude burns out quickly and soon someone else's name is posted on the wall outside his former classroom. It doesn't take long for these people to discover that it is hard work with no glamorous recognition. We teachers do a full 12 months worth of work in 9 and half, plus we often take graduate level classes at night and throughout the summer months.

I teach because I can.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Children Sing Obama Songs in School: Inspiration or Indoctrination?

I found an interesting opinion blog at The Griot. The author reflects on whether the video showing young grade-school age children singing about President Obama is a way to indoctrinate those young minds, or inspire them. The author, Charisse Carney-Nunes, was a guest at the New Jersey school when the students performed the song. She contends that the song was simply a form of "civic expression," something lacking in American schools. She argues, "It is a widely accepted notion that instruction related to democratic citizenship has declined in our schools in recent years. Educators pressured by such issues as budget woes, the requirements of No Child Left Behind and high stakes testing have understandably increased their instructional time in core subjects like math and reading. "Softer subjects" like civics, social studies and art have taken a back seat."

Her interview with Inside Edition provides some insight into her perspective.

Equally interesting were the comments at the bottom of the blog. Although some are outlandish and even racist, others are cogent. The second commenter, Chris, argues, "A citizenry that is fully informed does not allow its children to sing homage to a standing politician." Chris goes on the explain that politicians only deserve such praise after history has determined their long-term worth.

Glenn Beck, the controversial commentator from FoxNews, leads the charge claiming the performance of this song by small children is, in fact, indoctrination.

While I am willing to acknowledge that Glenn Beck may not be a likeable guy, he makes some interesting points.

As a social studies teacher, this situation has captured my attention. I feel obligated to inform my students about the political process, political controversy, and to let them make their own informed decisions. Perhaps as a result of my great efforts to remain unbiased as I present the information to my students, I often find myself agreeing with both sides and disagreeing with both sides. This is true for a lot of issues in the news recently: healthcare, Afghanistan, Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, etc.

I love that Charisse Carney-Nunes is championing more creativity, history, and civics education in our schools. This is truly a cause dear to my heart. However, I am also concerned that these young children may not have had the opportunity to form their own opinions of President Obama.

I'm curious about what you think about this Obama-song-situation. Especially those of you who work with a younger population.

Thanks in advance for your comments!