Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ICDL and Kidblog

This week I came across the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) while looking for ebooks for our iPod Touches. We used it this week when we were working with some students on the different ways to read a book. You can, of course, read the words. But it is also important to remember that you can read the pictures. Using this site, each student told the story by only looking at the pictures (the text was in Farsi) and then we compared it to the English. It was a quick activity that helped the students with inferential thinking as well as developing strategies for reading books.

Other uses for ICDL could include having students actually write the story by only looking at the pictures. Students could also record their reading as well as their thinking using Audacity or any other recording application as they read one of the many online books. The site is also a good general resource for multicultural books for any level of classroom.
I am excited about Kid Blog for a lot of reasons. After just one week in school, I am most excited about the fact that I can moderate student comments and posts from an iPod touch while they are working. I am going to use some posts to simply have students record their learning from an activity or week at school by having them leave comments and then respond to each other. The fact that I can moderate their comments immediately - and before any other students see the comments - is what is so intriguing. It is also nice that students don't have to have email addresses and I can manage the private vs. public visibility of each blog. Also, as I was circulating from student to student, I was able to check in on the progress of every student by accessing their drafts. As they were typing their blogs, Kid Blog was automatically saving their drafts for moderation, this allowed me to keep up on the general progress of the class as well as the progress of the student across the room.

I also could have written about team teaching, iPod touches, Doodle Buddy or Brushes (iPod apps), the Daily 5 for literacy, or about my aching feet and back and my tired eyes. Maybe next time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Fades

I love summer. The opportunity to have two months to relax, play, and learn is priceless. When I leave school in May my brain and body are exhausted. After a summer of spending time with family, reading books, and playing disc golf I am completely refreshed.

Tuesday afternoon I made the trek down to school to spend some time working in my classroom. It turns out that the sixth grade student orientation was also taking place that afternoon. The opportunity afforded me the chance meet a handful of my students for the upcoming year and start to get to know them. The buzz of excited sixth graders filled the hallways. It was great to be back.

The beginning of a school year reminds me of walking into a bookstore. When I enter a bookstore I am overwhelmed by the potential all around me. Row after row of books filled with knowledge from a vast array of subjects just waiting for me to learn from them. It is overwhelming and awesome. As we embark on a new school year I have a similar feeling. Each student that walks through the door is a unique little human filled with untold potential. I am overwhelmed with the responsibility of leading them well and preparing them for the future. It is an awesome privilege to be entrusted with their well being and given a chance to build a relationship with them.

Summer was great but its time is winding down. I am eager for the school year to begin.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


It has reached the point in summer when I read my teacher friends' statuses on Facebook and wonder if I also should be waking up at midnight because I'm nervous about the coming school year. For me, things are less daunting, the school year is more exciting. This will be only my fourth year teaching, so maybe I'm naive. But I spent my first couple of summers treading in anxiety and I didn't find it helpful. That being said, the recurring dream about showing up to school on the first day and only having enough planned for the first hour or so has come back again.

Like I said, I am excited about this school year. I am excited about my growing professional network via twitter, various blogs, and facebook. I am excited about some added technologies in my classroom - which will make me even more dependent on this new network of educators. I feel like I started by teaching on an island and the bridge to the mainland is nearing completion. Here are the main things I am looking forward to this year, the things I will reflect on here and I will seek your feedback around here and on twitter:

.Developing proficient student bloggers. I have spent a significant amount of my summer personal development researching the available platforms, applications, and variations of student blogging. I hope this tool will help me toward my goal of growing reflective and collaborative learners.

..Team teaching. I am teaming up with another teacher and we're combining our classes for the entire year. 50 students, 2 teachers, so many possibilities. This one scares and excites me. The majority of my professional goals for this year are contingent on the success of this opportunity.

...Literacy block. The new administration at our school has set apart a 3 hour literacy block within our day. This means we're combining reading, writing, and social studies into one fluid block of time. This extra time will allow me to implement some built in choices as well as various structures that research says will help motivate my students. I hope this time will allow my classroom to develop intrinsically motivated learners.

....iPod Touches. A week ago I learned that I will have access to a 1:1 set of iPods. My research has shifted from student blogging to the uses of the Touches. Fortunately, those two tools overlap. This one does not make me anxious at all, but I do want to minimize the trial and error period that comes with new tools.

.....Connecting with other classes. I plan to use wikis, Google Documents, Edmodo, and student blogs, to facilitate collaboration with other classes. This goal will test my professional network and help me meet my goal of having global learners.


These are my main goals for the 2010-2011 school year. A lot of my reflections on this blog will be centered around my attempts to reach them. One more week until students are in front of me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I Am Reading - Drive by Dan Pink

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Why I Read It 

The ability to lead and encourage a classroom well is a daunting task. As I enter my fourth year in the classroom, I am struck by how much I still have to learn. I picked up this book with the mindset that it would provide ideas for motivating my students to become independent learners. Last school year I noticed that extrinsic rewards had some accompanying baggage and I wanted to learn more about the science behind motivation.

What He Says 

Daniel Pink's overarching idea is that the current method of motivating people (rewards and punishments) runs counter what research says works best. He says that extrinsic rewards can actually do the opposite of what we intend. Promised incentives for doing something well can stifle the creative process and sap the intrinsic desire to do well. Pink says that basic rewards do have a positive effect with basic systematic processes. But, when creativity and thinking are involved, the motivators cause the subject to narrow their focus and vision. Thus, Pink says that we must alter the current motivational landscape. Instead of using "if-then" rewards we must cultivate the natural intrinsic desire to do well. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the three elements that Pink proposes must be nurtured.

How I Plan To Use It
I have often used simple rewards (Jolly Ranchers, new pencils, or extra recess) in the classroom as motivators to improve student performance. Reading this book has caused me to reevaluate these methods. Not only am I potentially stiffling the creative process, I am also creating reward focused students. Instead of cultivating the natural drive we all have to learn and create these rewards discourage them. In the upcoming school year I plan to use fewer tangible rewards and instead look to empower my students through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

  • "Autonomy is the desire to be self directed," according to Pink. I plan to foster motivation in my students by giving them more control in the classroom. When choosing writing assignments, selecting books for projects, or making presentations to display their learning, I would like to let my students have a measure of control in what they do. I know that personally I enjoy learning tremendously more when my choices are the driving force behind the learning. Whenever possible I would like my students to take ownership of their learning and explore topics they are passionate about.
  • Pink says that mastery is, "the urge to get better at stuff." Throughout a school year there are countless opportunities to get better at stuff. My plan for fostering mastery is to make learning new concepts and honing important skills a positive experience. By encouraging learning as a fun and exciting adventure, I hope to nurture an environment where each of my students strives to "get better at stuff" each day.

  • This year I will encourage my students to challenge me on the purpose of the activities we do in the classroom. The question, "Why do we need to know this?" will be an essential focus of our classroom. I hope to nurture an environment where my students know why we are doing something and want to partner alongside me toward that goal.

Pink has compiled an assortment of resources to implement the ideas outlined in the book. Not only does he explain why cultivating intrinsically motivated students is better he equips his readers to do just that. While primarily a business book, this is a great read that is practical for educators wanting to learn how to better motivate their students.

Animated Summary of Drive

TED Talk - Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation