Brief Bio

I love technology, but my day job of teaching composition leaves me very little room to indulge my passions. Because I am always on the lookout for new ideas, I joined the International Standards for Technology Education’s (ISTE) Project ReimaginED group last spring. ISTE pushes me to address best practices in my teaching, which is very helpful.

Well, I have been invited to participate in a ReimaginED webinar as a speaker, and they want me to write a brief bio. Since I’m a couple blogs behind, I thought it’d be a good idea to kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

I graduated from Kent State University with a dual concentration in English and Spanish in 1998 and began teaching almost immediately. My first nine years I taught primarily Spanish, with a little English on the side. Along the way, I earned my Masters of Education in Instructional Technology, also from Kent State (what can I say? I lived in Kent.)

After taking a year away from the classroom as a Technology Integration Support Specialist in Athens, Georgia, I returned to teaching in Ohio, this time, mostly English. I also teach New Media classes for Clark State, a local community college.

Because I teach in a tiny district in Southwest Ohio, I find my professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter and often reach out to others on WordPress. I work part time for Curriculet, an online e-book company for which I create Common Core aligned questions, quizzes, and annotations. I am also a Touchcast Ambassador, because I love to incorporate video wherever I can into the classroom. I hope I never stop learning.

Of Ambassadors and Blogs

This spring break I reached out to the world from the comfort of my own living room. How, you ask? Well, it’s thanks to my two favorite technology companies: Touchcast and Curriculet.

Touchcast

I’ve had some amazing opportunities with Touchcast. In 2013-14, my Advanced English class and I participated in an educational pilot with the company. I created a Common Core aligned lesson plan with Dr. Segal, Head of Education at Touchcast. In return, the company trained my students via Skype on using the app. They also gave us a green screen, microphone, lights, and costumes. It was a fun project, one my students will always remember.

Act 1, Scene 1, Julius Caesar

http://www.touchcast.com/e/41279

Well, in 2015 they contacted me again, this time offering me the chance to be an Ambassador. I see it as my chance to share this great platform with a wider audience. What’s so great about Touchcast? Well, first of all, it’s really intuitive to use. In 2013 during the first few weeks of school, I handed the iPad to a group of students and asked them to make a video demonstrating their mastery of literary devices from summer reading from their summer reading, to teach that device to a wider audience. They promptly put together screenshots, the whiteboard, and audio to create some great work.

Second of all, they have wonderful customer service. One time, I was struggling with the publication of a student video. We’d done everything right, but it just wouldn’t publish. No sooner had I sent an email then Touchcast got back to me, offering to help. In less than a day, my students’ hard work was online. They’ve always been responsive: I didn’t reach out to them to do a pilot, they saw me using their product and reached out to me.

Now they’ve featured me on their Ambassador channel.
http://www.touchcast.com/e/91984


Curriculet

This interactive eReading platform helps teachers keep track of Common Core standards while motivating students to read. I started working for them in May 2014, writing “curriculets,” which include summative and formative assessments as well as annotations for literary and informational text. I also use Curriculet in my classroom. A lot. This spring break, Curriculet blogged about how I used the platform to create an awesome poetry unit for my current 2014-15 regular 10th grade students.

What’s so great about Curriculet? Well, I love the possibility of tracking time on task and progress with Common Core standards. I love that so much of their content is free, and I can import my own material to the site. And Curriculet has book rentals of popular titles, something I plan to use at the end of this school year.

 

 

Decision RE: Teachers vs. Technology

This linked article deals directly with some of the issues with which I’m struggling. It’s a great read, very thought provoking. I wish it was “Teachers AND Technology,” instead of the rightly titled: Teachers vs. Technology by Doug Robertson (@TheWeirdTeacher)

As those who read my occasional posts know, I am facing a huge career change choice right now. Here’s a little back story, for those who don’t hang on my every word. Last summer, I tried to take a position outside the classroom, as a teacher leader and technology coach. Due to staffing constraints (my principal couldn’t find another ELA teacher, after already replacing 4 out of 9), I started the year in my current role as a high school English teacher instead.

I love my students this year. Even though they are the lowest level of sophomore English, they are (mostly) enthusiastic, supportive, and fun to be around. And due to new regulations, there is a strong chance that I could teach the advanced juniors next year for college credit.

So what’s my decision? Well, I’ve reapplied for the technology position, for much the same reason as Doug says: I have the ability to make teachers feel heard and not talked down to when it comes to technology. But the district is facing huge budget shortfalls in the near future, and our superintendent has left us for greener pastures. There’s a good chance we’re facing RIFs after this next school year.

What should I do? Follow my passion and leave the safety of a sure thing? Or have a brand new prep, and teach college writing to the best of our students?

Swimming in a Sea of #GAFE

Two years ago, I dove into Google’s ocean without the support of a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) lifeboat. I asked all my students to create a Google account, and off we went. We struggled with all kinds of hazards. Did you know that Google will randomly ask for validation with a cell phone number to text, and if you put your phone number in too many times, Google will reject it? Did you know there are what feels like a thousand ways to mess up sharing files? We waded through those hazardous waters. As the school year ended, I breathed a sigh of relief when my school decided to join Google’s fleet and go GAFE.

Using Google’s tools opens up all kinds of doors for students. No longer did I have the problem of students bringing in versions of documents that could not be opened at school. Or students who nervously told me that the paper I had in my hand was not the most recent version of the paper they wanted to turn in. I stopped having “no ink/no paper” excuses. Students could more easily share with one another, and I could comment in real time on student papers.

But all those things were true when students were using their own Google accounts, so why was I so happy we went GAFE? For one thing, student email became uniform. I knew instantly who commented on who’s paper, who “accidentally” deleted all the work of their group (for this alone, I love Google: revision history!), and how to contact students. Before, even though I had asked for a uniform nomenclature for student emails,  some students used the email they’d had since they were eight. It could be quite difficult to tell which student was which. With a district admin of Google accounts, it was much easier to ask for a student password to be reset.

The best part of becoming a GAFE school started this fall, with Google Classroom. Although it’s not a complete Learning Management System, it helped tons with clarifying assignments. Students had a learning curve, as we figured out together how to create assignments, make copies of templates, and turn things in. Google Classroom made it possible for me to help my chronically absent students keep on top of what we were doing. We learned how to screenshot on a variety of devices, how to save images from the web, how to comment on each others work: it was transformative.

It must be said that I have a high tolerance for technology frustration. I can roll with the fact that Android insists on Internet Explorer, which won’t play nice with Curriculet (can’t wait for that browser to die), or that different devices screenshot differently. I can roll with the fact that some students will never click “turn in” and make it easy for me to see their work is done. When the internet inexplicably fails one period, I can find my paper copies and keep moving on.

To help with the tech headaches, I have tried this year to foster a culture of support among the students. The student who figures out how to insert a video into her Google Presentation or add a soundtrack to his WeVideo can teach two more students, who in turn can teach the others. There’s only one of me, so I want to spread the tech support around as much as possible.

To really use our GAFE status, most teachers will need at least a little support. They’ll want to know the power of the Google toolbox, from Google Classroom to Chrome extensions. They’ll want to know to look out for Google chat on documents, which can be helpful or can derail the most diligent of students. Some day, my school will offer GAFE training. Maybe it’ll even be me, teaching teachers what I’ve learned.

A meeting of the minds

Just before Thanksgiving, we had a meeting of the minds. All the sophomore teachers and the administration got together, to discuss “what to do with the sophomores.” By luck or by happenstance, a double handful of students in the sophomore class have been dominating the majority of our time. They throw things in class (remember playdough boy?), argue when caught misbehaving, and disrupt the learning of the people around them. As the Ohio Graduation Test looms larger in our minds, something had to change.

Well, I have spent a considerable amount of time, trying to “flip” my classroom this year. At first, my principal was supportive, allowing me to experiment, but as the year has progressed, we have both grown increasingly frustrated. For the last several weeks in my general English class, I have asked them to create meaning from our classroom novel. They have applied various reading strategies, such as making textual connections, inferring from context clues, and determining what is most important about the text, with support from me. Some days, we have practiced close reading techniques in a discussion forum, and we’ve used graphic organizers to examine indirect characterization. I haven’t been telling them what is important, but drawing from them key elements and supporting them as they explore the novel. Some students have blossomed and really enjoyed the novel, while others have been a disruption and a problem.

My principal has clearly expressed that he wants more teacher directed lessons from everyone, because he feels that teacher centered classrooms are more orderly with less discipline problems. Apparently, critical thinking and problem solving, with its messy, active space, are less attractive to him than orderly rows and quiet students. He told me that he feels the sophomores are not mature enough to handle the freedom of choice. When recording “on task” vs “off task” behavior, he observes more on task behavior when the teacher tells the students what to do.

This isn’t all bad news. The administration informed us that we should warn a student who breaks a rule, letting them know that the next infraction would result in a consequence. If a student protests either the warning or the consequence, we could tell them to report to the office and assign them a consequence. Whatever we assigned them, the office would double if they had to be removed from class. I for one breathed a sigh of relief. If every sophomore class is treated the same way, then maybe my double handful will finally start to grow up.

This Tuesday, he met with the entire sophomore class, and the outcome has been startling. I will blog tomorrow about what has happened.

Honest Leadership

I was all prepared to give the test. One week is enough to read 11 chapters, right? This is college prep English, after all. But then I realized Friday was HOBY presentation day, where we have guest speakers coming to get the students excited about a summer leadership conference. Still, I thought, this isn’t a problem. The other sophomore English teacher was in the same boat.

And then it happened. One of my students got red in the face and told me I was being unfair. She explained that she’d been trying all week, reading as fast as she could, and that she was nowhere near ready. I was annoyed. Really? I retorted that in an actual college class, they’d have to read much more.

Our guest speakers arrived, and rather than the 15 minutes I thought they’d spend, they stayed longer. Two girls, talking about the power of leadership. I started dwelling on what my student had shared with me. As someone who professes to be student-centered, how did insisting on a Friday test fit with my new philosophy?

It didn’t.  So as I shut the door behind our guests, I said, “We have someone in this room who took on a leadership roll this morning. She wasn’t afraid to tell me when she thought I was being unfair.” And when I asked how many other students were in the same situation, more than half the class raises their hands. I put off the test, after getting assurances from students that they would read over the Thanksgiving break.

So, fellow reader, did I do the right thing?

Hats Off

Image

Like so many others, throughout my week I wear many hats. Some moments, I’ve got my practical mommy bandana tied over my hair. I’m driving lunch money to my daughter, after I had chastised her for dragging her feet when she wanted me to dig it out of my purse before she got her shoes on to leave for school. Or when my son informs me, in the middle of the night, that he’s had an accident and now I have to change his sheets, again.

Other times, I have my teacher advocate baseball cap firmly fastened, brim tipped up so I won’t miss anything the Central OEA folks have to say about our illustrious governor. I’ve got my red pen in hand, just waiting to see what I need to do next.

Then there’s the moments I’ve got my bedazzled headband holding back my hair, as I smile fetchingly for my husband, who has always believed I can do whatever I set my mind to.

Let’s not forget the moments I have my wide brimmed gardener’s hat shading my face, as I pull the weeds in the jungle that is the traumatic life of some of my students.

Or when I have my fedora set rakishly atop my hair, and we read Supreme Court decisions for our Mock Trial team.

Maybe I’ve got my Geek Squad beret, riding to the rescue of the teacher who left her video at home and needs to stream Netflix in 1st period.

Or maybe I’m shining up my police hat, as I chastise playdough boy for disrupting not only his own learning, but that of an entire class.

Really, Fridays ought to be the moment when I can just take the hats off, and be myself.

Who is that, again?