Ending Well


The end of the year is always a difficult combination of looking forward to next school year, trying to end this school year well, and being exhausted from the school year.  This year I have tried so hard to use the end of the year to try things out to see how they will go in future years.  

A few of the teachers in my school (myself included) are going to be going to standards based grading next school year.  Monday of this week we spent some time touring another school that has an iPad in every student’s hands and talked with the teachers and staff about how they incorporate technology into their school day at all times.  It was the second time I had visited this school and I was so impressed by the way their students acted with technology as well as the culture of the school.  After meeting with the principal of the school it became evident that they have some unique advantages such as working at approximately 60% capacity, but none the less it was an eye opening experience.  When we met after lunch our group began to talk about standards based grading and how we could best implement it in our classes next year.  We met with various technology related staff as well as an assistant superintendent, so we felt a lot of pressure as well as excitement.  In the end, we all left with some action items and we able to begin the process of moving forward.  We were also let know that we will be using Blackboard for the online content in our classroom next year.  The last time I used Blackboard was in college and it was not a well thought out piece of software, but I’m going to try and keep an open mind as we go through training next week on it.

In the second half of the week I really tried to incorporate some of the ideas in Mark Barnes’ book Role Reversal.  I tried to use mini lessons and allow the kids to have choice and opinions.  I’m realizing that one of my weaknesses is letting my level of exhaustion determine the amount of time and feedback I give my kids during each class period.  In the future I need to know that this is a weakness of mine and push through.  My kids are also not used to this method of teaching, so there was some confusion and misunderstanding of how class was going to operate.  I think by setting expectations from the beginning of the school year next year I’ll better be able to mold my classroom into a place where kids are motivated to learn on their own and I can give them constant feedback about how their learning is going.  I’m really looking forward to planning this summer on my own and coming back together with my colleagues and collaborating on transforming our classrooms.

I’m also working on increasing my work related reading at the end of the school year.  Right now I’m working on Daniel Pink’s book Drive.  I would say that at the halfway point of this book I can see exactly how Mark Barnes used this text to drive his classroom.  I’ve really enjoyed seeing motivation through the eyes of science. I’m fascinated by different perspectives on everyday events (which is why I love the show Mythbusters) and this book has opened my eyes.  I’m looking forward to finishing this book and then moving on to a few other books this summer.


A Time for Reflection


As we wind down the 2012-2013 school year, I’m trying not to get bogged down by all the minutia of the end of a school year.  I’m trying to get things ordered in my classroom so that the beginning of next year isn’t so bad.  People are beginning to pull me to various training and meetings that are great, but tend to distract me from what is going on in my classroom.  On top of all that I just came back from my paternity leave and that has also thrown me for a loop.  All that being said, I really would like to use a couple of days at the end of the year to reflect on the year that was and what we have learned as a class.

It’s been a tradition of mine in the classroom to get feedback from the kids about what they liked and disliked about my classroom.  I try my best to both formally and informally collect data about things that have been successful as well as things that I for sure need to work on for next year.  I’ve done this in a number of ways in the past from simple conversations, to videos about “what to expect in Mr. Horner’s class,” and even Google forms that the kids can individually fill out for me.  This year I know for sure that I want to collect this data and I’m not sure which method I’m going to use.  I may incorporate Edmodo so that the kids can feel confident that I won’t be sharing any of their responses with their classmates (not like I ever do).

It’s also important for the kids to reflect on their year in social studies.  I want them to reflect on the things that they’ve learned and the concepts that they will carry with them forever.  I also want them to reflect on the way they best have learned material this year because in our district we ask the kids to self-diagnose themselves and the ways they best learn.  Some kids do really well with technology in their hands where others thrive with less technology.  I don’t want them to definitively paint themselves in a corner, but I would like them to start the process of understanding how they best learn.

Hopefully using all the data above I can help refine my content and my craft to be better next year than I was this year.  I also hope my kids better understand themselves and the world in which they live and are better prepared to interact with their world.  I guess that’s every teachers goal…right?

Reflecting on Paternity Leave


I head back to my classroom tomorrow.  It’ll be a bittersweet day in that I’ll have to leave my baby girl at home, but I will head back to my kids who I have missed.  As I look back on my plans for paternity leave, I wonder if I could have done better with my plans.

My plan for paternity leave was to have my kids produce an end of the year project where they created their own country.  It included all of the themes and skills that we have been building on throughout the year.  They had to place their newly formed country in a body of water that was not already occupied by land.  They needed to understand how their location would affect their climate and in turn how that would affect their economy.  They needed to choose a government for their country and understand how it would affect their people.  They had to invent a flag for their nation as well as an anthem for their country.  After they created all these elements they had to reflect on how all their decisions would shape their country and how their culture would form.  All in all, I think it’s a great concept for a project to wrap up the year and have the kids show off all the knowledge they have acquired over the course of a school year.

The problem I fear for this project is that I wasn’t there to help kids along.  The substitute teachers we employ are great people, but I’m not sure that they could help a struggling kid to recall certain things we’ve learned throughout the year.  I tried to leave hints and prompts for the sub to help remind my kids (who are GT level kids by the way) and I am hoping for the best.  I also wonder if it was the best thing for the students.  The best is for me to be in the classroom, but given the fact that I was going to be absent for two weeks was this the best I could have done?  I guess I’ll find out tomorrow as I return and see what they have produced.

If anyone has any advice for such long-term plans and how to continue to push kids while not directly being in the classroom I would love to hear from you.

Confratute Bound


Yesterday evening I got confirmation that I received a scholarship to go to the University of Connecticut’s Confratute.  Better yet I found out that one of my colleagues also got a scholarship to go as well so I’ll have some company.  I really can’t wait for this opportunity to network with people in the education field and to attend such a highly regarded professional learning event.

As I did the first time I heard the name, you might be thinking what is a ‘confratute?’  Taken straight from their website:

“Confratute is a combined CONFerence, and an instiTUTE with a lot of FRATernity in between. Confratute is geared toward providing educators with research-based practical strategies for engagement and enrichment learning for all students, as well as meeting the needs of gifted and talented students.”

Speaking from the perspective of a gifted and talented teacher, if this event can live up to what it claims it could be revolutionary to my growth as a teacher.  I don’t doubt that any of these claims are true based on the people that I’ve talked to that have been and rave about this program.  Oddly enough, I’m also really looking forward to the atmosphere of living on a college campus for a week and spending time getting to know others attending.

Speaking as an outsider looking in, there are some things about the confratute that I’m struggling to understand.  I’m trying to understand the schedule for the week, but it’s not the most user friendly thing to look over.  There are tons of classes, but there are also references to a strand that we’ll take so I’m not sure exactly what my schedule will look like for the week.  I’m also relatively uneasy about driving through the Connecticut countryside, but with my trusty iPhone I’m sure everything will go fine.

I’m not worried in the least and I’m anticipating what valuable resources I can learn from such an event.  Did I mention I’ve never been to the state of Connecticut?  This is going to be an awesome experience!

Spending to Save?


As I posted about a few days ago, Haley and I added to our family a little over a week ago.  Clearly, we knew our first child was on the way for quite some time and we planned on saving as much money as we could so that we could pay cash for her hospital stay.  We did achieve our goal, but as always we ran into old Murphy’s Law and were forced to spend on some things now that should help us save money in the future.

The first thing that happened was my garage door opener (we have a split garage, so we have two) went out and needed to get replaced.  It took shorter than I expected to get it replaced and since Haley was already on her maternity leave we didn’t have to take time off work.  This is the one repair that happened that doesn’t directly translate into savings in the future.  We don’t benefit much from the change, except it’s a lot quieter and it works a lot better than our last one.  My fear is that this is an indicator that our other opener is on its last legs and may need to get replaced soon.  That being said, I’m so happy to have a garage door opener that isn’t so loud that it wakes up the entire neighborhood when it opens.  That is the other benefit since two rooms in our house are located directly over our garage.

The second thing we’ve done in the past couple of weeks is to refinance our house.  In all honesty, this is a no-brainer for us and we started it about a month ago, but it all culminated this week.  We refinanced to a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage that was at a considerably lower interest rate.  This lowers our monthly rate be a few hundred dollars and gives our budget a little more flexibility in the coming months with a new baby.  We wrapped most of our closing costs into the new mortgage and only had to pay a few hundred dollars, but we will get some money back from escrow and our old mortgage company.  This is going to be huge for us down the road because we will probably never see interest rates this low for a long time and our local bank and title company has been wonderfully accommodating since we have a newborn to schedule around.

The last thing that we’ve had to spend money on is we had to buy a new dryer.  Since we’ve moved into our house about two years ago our dryer has been spotty at best.  We have days that it works perfectly and days that it won’t dry a thing.  We reached our breaking point this week with it and ordered a new one.  Before this I tried everything to give it a last burst of usefulness.  I cleared the vent on the indoor and outdoor side with a nifty little brush, changed the basic dryer hose with a semi-rigid hose to promote air flow, and even took a leaf blower to the vent to clear it all out.  When all of this didn’t work we decided to have it replaced with a newer model.  This model is going to be more efficient and will no doubt dry clothes faster than our current one.  On top of that, we cleaned out the fire hazard that was our clogged venting, so this was a no brainer.

All these things were stressful decisions to make because we were eating into savings, but in the end they will for sure make living with an infant much easier and cost efficient.  I think sometimes I get caught up in the short term without thinking about the long-term implications.  Either that or I’m rationalizing the spending of a lot of money.  I think that these were the best decisions for my family both now and in the future.

Bundle of Joy


On Wednesday May the 1st at 12:49 PM, the Horner household went from a two person house to a three person family!  Caroline Horner came into the world and it has changed our family so much.  Haley and I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from both of our families.  Both sets of aunts and uncles have been in town and both grandmothers are going to be taking turns helping us (and by us I mean Haley mostly) with the first few weeks with a new baby.  Haley and I have already learned so much in a few short days and are excited to be parents.  We are so blessed to have families willing to help out as much as ours are.  Stay tuned for pictures and updates!