A Weekend of Firsts

Family

Most weekends are the same for our family.  I take that back, after the fall our weekends are mostly the same.  I feel like in the fall we spend time in a lot of different places for different family events, but as the spring season comes around we settle into a groove.  This past weekend had a couple of things happen that were firsts for our little family:

Pumpkin

 

Picture from Kam Abbott

Caroline went to her first pumpkin patch ever.  I’m not a huge fan or opponent of Halloween.  I think it’s an average holiday and take it as an opportunity to meet neighbors I never would have otherwise.  Generally we sit on our driveway and talk with people when it’s light out and then retreat into our house once it gets dark.  It gives us an opportunity to interact with people as they walk by and talk with other young families in our neighborhood, mostly because they are the ones who are out before dark.  Part of any good Halloween is having a pumpkin.  Not a fake pumpkin, although we have one of those too, but going to an artificial pumpkin patch in a church parking lot and picking out a pumpkin.  We have two options in our neck of the woods a gigantic one with a carnival next to it or a small patch with only pumpkins.  We opted for the smaller one for Caroline’s first so we could get some good pictures without making her crazy with all the noise.

After the pumpkin patch, we loaded up and headed off to the nearest Trader Joe’s…which was 35 minutes away.  We have never shopped for groceries at one and had heard the magical claims of the Trader Joe’s faithful.  We bought so much stuff while we were there.  We bought stuff for lunches for this week, bottles of wine (which we don’t drink often), things that looked new and interesting, all kinds of stuff.  When we got to the register I was a little worried about what number might be waiting for us, but it was about the price of an average week at the grocery store for us.  We got home and tried some of our newly purchased food and it was all excellent.  I don’t know if we’ll head there too often (because of the commute), but it’s good to know that it lives up to the hype if one decides to sprout up closer to us.

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Stop and Ask Why

Education

I got the opportunity a couple of years ago to become the department head of the history department of my middle school.  I knew this was going to be a challenge from the day I took it over, but I always thought that it couldn’t be too challenging.  I guess I never stopped to think about how the people in my department could make me stop and ask why I’m doing things.

Very recently I’ve started to get challenged on some basic things that I took for granted.  For instance, this year we opted to not issue every student a history textbook.  We did this for a number of reasons, the main one being that we thought that we needed to use the textbook as a resource and not a crutch.  My principal and I both thought that history from a textbook is a boring way to be force fed history.  Some of my department disagreed, but went along with it.  For the most part this school year it hasn’t been an issue, but this week I feel like I’m starting to get more resistance.  I’ve gotten challenged in meetings and it has been referenced in our department meetings.  Usually, this wouldn’t have bothered me very much, but I was absolutely exhausted on Friday and it seemed to linger with me.

All of today I reflected on the situation and I had to ask myself why I’ve chosen some things that I have.  I think my assumption was that my department all thought the same as I did about these topics, but when they didn’t I had to go back to the drawing board.  What I settled on was that we’re doing the things we are in the history department because my principal and I think it is what’s best for the kids at my middle school.  Period.  All I want is for the kids that walk through this school to be taught by the best educators possible.  I think some people in my department get scared when they see test scores.  My focus is not the test scores, it’s making the teaching in my department to be the best it possibly can be.  I have to remind myself that often or I start to waffle on what needs to happen.

TAGT Annual Conference

Education

I found out this week that I’ll get the opportunity to go to the TAGT Annual Conference in Houston, TX.  I briefly looked over the session list for the conference and I got super excited because there are a number of wonderful presenters that will be there.  My short list of people I’ve seen before that I’d love the opportunity to see again are:

  • Dr. Brian Housand – I saw Dr. Housand present at Confratute this summer and really enjoyed his personality and way of presenting information.  He does a lot with technology and introduced me to some new things to try in the classroom.
  • Dr. Joyce Juntune – I saw Dr. Juntune at our district’s summer training conference.  She overwhelmed me with data at the time (it was the week after the end of last school year), but in a good way.
  • Dr. Bertie Kingore – I’ve seen Dr. Kingore at a number of conferences before and has left an impression on me as a gifted educator.
  • Kimberly Kindred and Melanie Ringman – These two find ladies work in my district and have done a great job teaching.  I’ve had the opportunity to hear Kim speak before and it’s worth it.  Great educators doing awesome things in the classroom.

I’m hoping to see some of these presenters at the conference, but also get the opportunity to find some new favorites.  I’ll be sure to share some thoughts after the conference is over in December.

Applications Galore

Education

Applications are one thing in this world that I never really feel good about once they are submitted.  Sometimes I feel like I over think things and people don’t really care about all the little details that I have spent hours agonizing and word-smithing.  Other times I wonder if the people I submit them to think I’m the biggest idiot that has ever walked this planet.  I wish I could master the art of applying for something and feel good about the results.  This week I got to apply for two different education related things that I’ve long wanted to be a part of.

I first heard about the Google Teacher Academy when I began looking at Twitter as more than another form of Facebook statuses.  When I heard that they were offering one in London I figured that it wasn’t in the US, but it would be a fun place to travel to and a world-class experience of learning from both Google and other educators.  After sitting down with my wife and talking about the expenses we decided I could apply, so I did.  The actual application wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.  I did like their limits on the characters you can use, which really forced me to think through everything I put in the application.  The only difficult thing about the application is the creative 1 minute video about one of three topics.  I searched up some examples that had been used in the past and really wanted to make a video that was as creative as I could make it in one minute.  My video is not the best quality (due to the lack of a super nice camera and microphone), but I think the end result was well done and more creative than I thought I could pull off in a short amount of time.  Now that everything is submitted I have to wait a couple of weeks to hear back.  I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I’m really excited about the opportunity to participate.

Every year our district’s education foundation offers educator grants to innovate in the classroom.  I’ve never participated because I’ve been a coach and haven’t really had the down time to fill out everything in the time allotted.  This year I wrote a grant based on the ROLE classroom that I’m running this year as well as an idea I heard about this summer.  The idea is to let students decide how they would like to learn and cater that learning specifically to them.  The idea is to have some students learning through a completely online unit design, some students learning through a blended unit design, and some students learning through a more traditional teaching method at the same time in the same classroom.  To help facilitate this, I wrote my grant for some iPads for my classroom to help with the online unit.  I’m really excited about this grant and if I am able to get the funding for it I will have my hands full during the winter months rewriting my units in three different ways.  Of my two applications, this is the one that I’m least sure about because the application was written from a business point of view, but I’m not in the business world.  I tried my best to decipher the application, but I hope they get the heart of my application.

At the end of the day, I did everything I could to make both of these a reality for me.  I’m really hoping I get accepted for both.  Big things could be happening in my classroom later this year!

Student Conferences – Round 1

Education

This week was the end of our first marking period.  Most of the time this would mean that I was frantically uploading all the last minute grades for the students and ensuring that there were comments and citizenship grades.  This time, however, was marked by me sitting down with every student in all my classes and talking about their grades and setting goals for the second marking period.

The first thing I learned while I was meeting with students is that it takes a lot longer than I predicted.  I left room for the last three days of the marking period figuring that I would take two days to get it done, but giving myself some room just in case.  What I found was that it took me approximately 5 minutes per child for my sixth graders and between 5 and 10 minutes per seventh graders.  I think this has to do with the fact that I know my seventh graders better because they were in my class last year and we have more goals to set and things to discuss.  When you multiply that out, that is a lot of time being taken up conferencing with students, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the change in students this next marking period and the conversations that happen at the end of it.

The second thing I learned was that most students were pretty honest with their level of work and effort over the course of the marking period.  I would say that the students that did the best this marking period were often the hardest on themselves.  It was a great opportunity for me to remind them of all the awesome, creative things I’ve seen from them this marking period.  I only had one or two students that were way outside the range I would have given them as a grade.  For those students I reminded them of their effort and level of work and they revamped the score they gave themselves on their own.  I was shocked at how honest my sixth and seventh graders were.

My next iteration of student conferences will include some sort of google form or written assignment that has my kids think through the process of negotiating a grade and advocating for themselves.  I think my kids have the ability to think through their growth as a student and reflect on their output for a marking period.  If I can combine this while developing their ability to argue a position about their grade for a marking period I think it is time well spent.  I also would like to have a spreadsheet with all the feedback I’ve given to the student over the course of the marking period.  Our online grade book has some great features, but one that I still would like to see is the ability to print out the comments I’ve given the students over the course of the first few weeks of school.

These are minor inconveniences when compared to the potential revolution in the teacher/student relationship.  I’m so excited by the conversations I’ll be able to have with every one of my students in a few short weeks and I’ll continue to post my thoughts and reactions to this ROLE Reversal process.