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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Head on down to wikiville

This is really a very exciting experience for students. Wikiville is still in its infancy. The stated purpose is:

21st Century students building a world-story of life in their home towns.

I think this is an exciting opportunity for students. If you are a wiki teacher, join wikiville. I did the setup tonight and plan to have some of my students work on it tomorrow during time they may have near the end of the class. (I always have extra wiki projects going for those who finish work and labs early.)

Alligators up to your neck! Preventing bozo explosions?

Right in the middle of a video on TCP/IP - Whack! Vinton Cerf (co-inventor of TCP/IP) said
"When you're up to your neck in alligators, you forget that your job is to clear the swamp."
So Vinton Cerf collects alligator heads! Alligators are "near and dear to my heart" in a way as my brother in law is the largest alligator farmer in this part of the country. Even when they are small, they will still "bite the tar out of you" as my grandmother says.

This is especially poingnant for many teachers today. How can a teacher see the big picture and teach when they are concerned for their job? When standards are evolving, or the case of technology -- you are still teaching floppy disks when you need to be teaching wikis, blogs, and XML.

Decentralization. Empowerment. Trust. These are the hallmarks of good businesses. As I was reading Guy Kawasaki's blog today about "How to prevent a Bozo explosion" I felt some of his comments apply to education:
  • Insist that managers hire better than themselves.
Often administrators and teachers on committees hire people who won't rock the boat rather than teachers who will "rock the world" of the students. Some of the best teachers I've ever known have come from the business world or untraditional backgrounds. (I am too, but I let my students and peers decide that!) Take a risk! Enthusiasm and intelligence go a long way in a teaching world that is 93% face, voice, and body language. Worksheets and textbooks are cheap compared to the pricelessness of a truly good teacher.
  • Eradicate arrogance.
Guy says:
Arrogance manifests itself in two principal areas: first, when your employees describe the competition using terms like “clueless,” “bozo” (ironically), or just plain “stupid.” Second, when your employees start believing in “manifest destiny”--that is, that your company deserves, and will achieve, total market domination. Your competition probably isn't stupid, and trees don't grow to the sky.
When teachers call students "clueless," "lazy," or just plain "stupid" that is arrogance of the worst kind. When teachers believe that their school deserves to be the "only game in town" they are forgetting that America is a land of diversity. We thrive on competition.

I believe we need public, private, and homeschoolers as we strive to nurture and grow our society to appreciate and understand the complex nature of our world. We should spend less time demeaning the competition and more time improving ourselves! We can learn from one another as we are all trying to educate our little corner of the world!
  • Understaff.
I'm a big believer in having low student to teacher ratios so I'm not in favor of "understaffing" per se in the classroom. However, in administration, understaffing forces decentralization and more empowerment at the school level! How do businesses force decentralization: cut headquarters middle management!

However, in the rush to fill all positions in education I agree with Guy on one point. It is wrong to have the attitude:
“Hire any intelligent body, or we'll lose business--we'll sort everything out later."
One bad apple rots the whole barrel!
  • Undergrow.
This is important. I know we have to accommodate population and have schools for the children in the area. I must agree with Guy when he says, "Staying small and fine is a perfectly acceptable management policy."

Why not have more schools that are smaller? Why not have mini schools within schools? Target schools? Magnet schools?

Having gone to and now teaching at a "small" school, here at Westwood we experience synergies and a family experience that cannot be gotten at "mega schools." Our seniors "adopt" a little brother and little sister in the K5 class. It is one of the most treasured memories those children have. Older children in my high school classes teach and mentor young children on how to use computers.

After I teach the module on dissassembling computers, I have my tenth grade "teach" the fourth and then fifth grades how to identify the internal components of a computer. I grade my students on how well they "teach" the fourth and fifth graders. Within twenty minutes those fourth and fifth graders could identify over 30 components of the inside of the computer. They understand RAM, processors, CMOS batteries and the inner workings of the computer. It is a rich, energetic, exciting learning experience. The fifth grade teacher and I sit back and marveled at the incredible classroom our students created for themselves. They praise one another, brag, encourage, and laugh! About as close to perfect as a classroom can get.

If you want to know something, teach it. The effort and energy it takes to teach something well requires a solid knowledge base. My students were pouring over their computer science book scrounging for more to "teach" "their kids." Wow! It is truly one of the high points. Our science department does the same thing after completing dissections. (I always test this chapter AFTER teaching the elementary. I rarely have less than a 95 on this test of over 50 questions!)
  • Look beyond the resume.
Guy says that "the goal of hiring is building a team of great employees." I have hired (and unfortunately fired) during my time in the business world.

It is worth it to take the extra effort to find the right fit. Attitude is everything! The right fit is vital to your team. All it takes is a little arsenic, a little lead, a little poison to kill somebody or cost you your job. Do not underestimate the importance of hiring positive, energetic, happy people. Don't make excuses!

Happy people are going to be happy, regardless of circumstances. Likewise with unhappy people. Look at why they are leaving others -- that is why they will leave you. (See the happiness research I've quoted before if you don't believe me!)
  • Diversify.
Like some companies, some schools "look like the corporate version of the Stepford Wives: people are too similar...It's a bunch of Me and Mini-Mes."

Different teaching styles, backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities, ages, and interests make it more likely that your students will find someone that relates to them. It also combats boredom. We need a wide variety of people to educate our leaders of tomorrow.
  • Merge and purge.
"You owe it to your employees to take corrective action, and if necessary, terminate people as soon as issues come to light."
There's a balance here. I always asked myself "is this a human flaw or a CHOICE." No human will ever be perfect. We have to learn to live with each other. A habitual liar is a danger to your school and your students!

I'd rather have an honest, optimist than a dishonest pessamist any day regardless of ability! This is especially important in the academic world where students are subjected to one-on-one interactions with a teacher for extended periods of time. If you can't trust them to tell you the truth, shame on you if you put them in the classroom. Teachers should treat students with honesty, kindness, fairness, and love. They should model good behavior.

Dishonest teachers are trouble waiting to happen.
It makes me angry when I perceive that students are being treated unfairly. In your effort to avoid alligators, avoid this type of person!

On alligators and bozos.
I have restored my alligator head to a place of pride in my room. I cannot do much to handle the "administration of my school." (Which is excellent, at this time, by the way.) I can, however, help find people for job openings, encourage people who are down, and remain an advocate for my students. I can speak my convictions and hope it helps.

I can make my classroom a bastion of excellence, education, and energy. I can strive to reach higher, think bigger, and have more fun. I can refuse to "settle," "phone it in," or "fall into a rut."

I won't put up with mediocrity, shut up about the future, nor let up on my expectation of excellence!

In conclusion, alligators kept me from posting yesterday! If you want to see some of what we've been learning in Computer Science for the past two weeks, look at the review wiki created by my students during the last fifteen minutes of class today. Those of you who took the time, thank you for commenting on our new class blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Keep sight of your noble calling, Teacher!

During the cold, bleak, dark month of February it is easy to get in the dumps. We must remember our noble calling of teaching!

In an old book from England entitled The Wonderful Window, we see an incredible principle:

A London clerk worked in a drab office in the rundown part of the city in an office overlooking the slums. As he observed the surroundings, he determined he would not let his outlook on life be dictated by the dreariness and hopelessness that surrounded him.

This clerk bought a beautiful, colorful Oriental window that had been painted with an inspiring scene. This was a large white banner with a strong knight protecting his city from a dangerous, fierce dragon. There were castles, towers, green parks, and beautiful homes on wide streets.

The clerk installed this window on a high wall in his office.

When he became disheartened, he no longer looked at the dismal scene below but focused above on the knight on the banner. He felt he was working for that knight on the banner as he tediously tried to make everything balance. He had a noble purpose to keep the city strong, beautiful, and prosperous and safe from the dragons that wanted to besmirch the city's beauty.

He refused to allow his circumstances to determine his outlook on life!

Our world can be bleak, tough, and rough! We will never have all of the equipment, resources, time, or administrative support we need!

Civilization is always one generation from anarchy! We must teach well in spite of our circumstances!

It was some Irish Monks copying the great works of literature during the Dark Ages who became the "conservators of civilization."
This one act allowed the emergence of education from that dark time of burning books when stability returned to Europe. They didn't know they were doing great things, they just knew their work was worth doing. (See How the Irish Saved Civilization one of the Hinges of History books by Thomas Cayhill. They are great books!)

We have a work worth doing too.

Amidst the chaos of standardized testing, turmoil over standards and accountability, and the search for someone to blame for recession, inflation, and consumer depression we have work to do.

Keep a little of that idealism to light the flame of teaching in your heart again. Fan that flame into contagious enthusiasm that will shine forth to your students tomorrow! Remember 93% of communications is your face, voice, and body language.

"Example is the most powerful rhetoric." Thomas Benton Brooks

"Obstacles in the pathway of the weak become stepping-stones in the pathway of the strong." Thomas Carlyle
"As you go about your work today, remember that you could be someone else's hero. Have thy tools ready: God will find thee work." Charles Kingsley

Keep the faith!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wikis and Blogs at Westwood This Week

I love teaching! It is one of the great joys and delights of my life. Here is what has happened this week in our world of Wikis and blogging:

  • My ninth graders used wikis to review for their test on Microsoft Excel.
  • Ninth graders continue to update their study hall. (Homework for the week.)
  • Some of my kids continue to enjoy working on their riddles project.
    I love the optical illusions and the jokes are hilarious. These three boys have scoured the Internet and found some great riddles and mind benders. You may want to use some with your students.

This week I spent setting up my students on blogs at classroom blogmeister. Here are some things of note:
  • I posted a Class Blogmeister how to article here at cool cat teacher if you want to get started.
  • I mentioned to my students that basic HTML tags work and some of them have been using the IMG tag to add photographs to their posts.
  • My ninth grade is doing a joint project between my class and the English department. They are reading a "motivational" book that they have selected and had to post a synopsis on their blog. (If you take time to read, I hope you'll comment to encourage them.) Here are some great ones:
  • My computer science classes had to post their response to a question about cell phone spoofing on my blog.
    I am quite concerned about the services that are offering cell phone spoofing combined with voice changing. I believe this is going to be the next myspace scandal and have urged all of my students to have a "codeword" they can share with their parents to confirm the identity of the person they are talking to.
  • My eighth grade is beginning to keep their journals online. It is the next step in typing to move from typing from text to typing "off the top of your head." We use our textbook, but we also use journaling. I am moving these online with a question of the day. The first question was "What do you think the most enjoyable thing is to do on the Internet or computers?" They had interesting answers:
  • Also notice, that I taught my eighth graders the HTML to make hyperlinks. I always have introduced this during the eighth grade year. In Computer Science we actually write HTML in notepad, but prior to then, I teach basic tags. This is useful for many online things but builds a comfort level with programming!
I am not leaving wikis for blogs. I just think they are good at different things. It took me a bit of time to set up and integrate the blogs into the class. I always teach my objectives and these are things I teach on top of what I already do.

I am most excited because my eighth grade keyboarding class has reached 59 gwam. I had a student break 101 gwam. He is a big football player with big old hands! I've told the whole class that he has just broken the stereotype that guys with big hands can't type. It has become cool for the athletes to type quickly and they eagerly listen to my coaching. That is great because I've only had this class since January 4th! They are a great class!

Have a great weekend and enjoy teaching next week! Teaching brings youth and joy and excitement to my days. I've spent more time grading this week than I like but that's the nature of it.

My students and I are starting a new online newspaper next week using a collaborative blog model to feed our school web page. I'll let you know how it goes! I'd love to hear your questions and answer them! Give me an e-mail!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

How to set up a classroom blog using Class Blogmeister: Initial Setup

Now that my classes have mastered wikis, we are entering the blogosphere . After thoroughly researching several opportunities, I ended up at David Warlick's Class Blogmeister site. Sometimes I can be dense, so I wrote down the steps as I did them. (Don't worry, we are continuing to use wikis.)

How to set up your class blogs on Class Blogmeister - The Cool Cat Way

1) Register for a school code.

2) Register for a teacher account.

3) Configure your blog. Click on the Control Panel button. (See picture.)
a. Name your blog, give a brief description (it appears at the top of the page)
b. Type in the About You (it will appear at the bottom right hand corner of the page.)
c. Syndicate articles RSS (this is so people who use bloglines and even you can have these "delivered" to their RSS reading service. Turn it on, just trust me! Students will want to subscribe via bloglines so they can keep up with assignments and happenings. Other educators may want to see what is going on!)
**Click Submit Descriptions**

d. Check the grade levels at your school.
**Click Submit School Levels**

e. You can also upload your class image (I used our mascot the wildcat) and your image (a good old stock photo - some people just snap a photo of their eye or something pretty neutral if they don't want their photo on the net. Mine is plastered all over my website and has been for years so one more place isn't going to hurt anything for me!)
f. When done with this screen just click the X (just make sure you've submitted.) There is no "close window" button or submit button for the dialog box.

4) Add your students.
A. Click on Class Panel.
B. Click Add New Class.
Basics - In Basics you can set Student RSS feeds (I set mine to no until we start using bloglines.) and the class password. (Make it easy for the class to remember.)
Publish Security - Here you can decide if you want your student blogs to be private (password only) or public and what approval levels you want. At first I am approving everything!
Comments Security - I set mine to allow anyone to comment but for me to approve the comments.
Display Names - How do you want to list your students. I think it is irresponsible to list the names of children -- I like first and last names or you can use "Screen names" and keep up with them in yourgrade book instead of putting their real names in there to begin with in the next screen.
Class Roster - This is the hub of your work in blogmeister. On whole name you can use a "screen name" instead of their real name. Make sure they know it because they will be logging in with it on the homepage. You also give them a password and enter their e-mail. Then you click Add.

Once added, students show up and you will see students who have requested publication and comments that need to be approved as well.

I will type a blog entry on how I taught my students to use blogmeister this past Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, you can peruseour blog at Class Blogmeister. Until then, when they make a post just make sure they check Request publication before they save or the entry will not show up for you to approve on this roster list.

Things I like so far:
  • I have control! One of the things that makes teachers nervous is having things slip by them. I pull out a grade sheet and grade items as I approve them. I can put the grade in the comment to them so they can see it or I can record the grade. It gives immediate feedback and I love that.
  • I can approve comments and edit them.
  • It is a great add on to my keyboarding course and I'm using it instead of journaling.
  • Security - Kids have to log in and that keeps others from posting information on their blog.

Things I wish might be a little different:
  • My kids don't know what a "meister" is and have trouble spelling it! Write the URL on the board!
  • When kids comment, I wish it remembered and linked to their blog much like blogger.com does. This would build community and synergy I think.
  • Spell check! Some students have issues with spelling and have to type, spell check and then paste into the blog. Others don't and I end up being their spell checker/corrector. It could be more efficiently done other ways.
  • Notification - You do get e-mails and can approve from there, however, I go into the class roster and approve from there. I wish it showed how many articles are in process and also just showed all of theones for me to approve. There is a lot of hand movement between keyboard and mouse and it seems the process is a little slow. Small price to pay for a great blogging tool, however.

We are going to use blogs in addition to our collaborative wiki projects. When we go through a couple of weeks I'm going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in terms of classroom instruction and projects with my various students. I hope to have some thoughts for you then on what is best for different types of projects as well as insight for myself as I make decisions going forward.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fountain of Youth Vial #6 - Lower a Bucket!

I haven't seen M*A*S*H* in eons - this episode was written for me!

The members of MASH are celebrating "the Christmas they were supposed to be home by." They were so very depressed.

In the midst of it, Father Mulcahey has messed up and slugged a soldier. He is depressed at his screw up.

Hawkeye tells him its OK, that everyone messes up.

Father Mulcahey says, "I'm not just supposed to say all that stuff, I'm supposed to do it."

Hawkeye replies "Father, get off your back!"

Later on the Father is talking to himself and says "I hang around on the edge of effectiveness..." and wondered if he even made a difference.

He gets his answer when going to the mess tent. You see, the Father wanted to cheer up Major Winchester Burns and asked Radar to write home to Burn Winchester's mom and get something that would remind him of home. Burns Winchester opens a box under the tree and it is his Toboggan hat -- the one he wore as a child and every Christmas as they sleighed.

Burns Winchester runs up to Father Mulchahey and hands him all of the money out of his wallet and exclaims:

"You saved me father! You lowered a bucket into the well of my despair and you raised me up to the light of day!"

In the closing moments, we hear the Father say,

"It doesn't matter if you feel useful or not when you keep moving from one disaster to the next. The trick I guess is to just keep moving!"

We all face discouragement. We all have problems. We all have struggles! Sometimes we need to get off our back! Sometimes we feel like we hang around on the edge of effectiveness.

The truly great teachers lower a bucket into the well of despair and raise students and coworkers up to the light of day.

Let me ask you a question -- How many compliments did you give today?

Let me ask you another question -- How much time does it take to give a compliment?

Now the final question -- What is your excuse?

It's not about receiving compliments. We are adults. We can handle it. We've had to "grow up." We need to compliment each other, sure. But children's wells of despair can run much deeper than we adults give them credit for. Sometimes they cannot breathe. Sometimes they cannot function. Sometimes they can just wonder why on earth they were brought into our existence.

This is not about giving fake flattery -- students can sense when you are insincere. This is about sincere, honest appreciation.

Get out your bucket and start encouraging! Get it out tomorrow! Count how many times you lower that bucket. Savor the youthful invigoration you feel as you see a child see the light of day through your encouragement and thoughtfulness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fountain of Youth Vial #5 - Pursue Excellence but Remain Fluid

I know some teachers so in pursuit of excellence in knowledge that they lose excellence in teaching!

What does excellence in teaching mean to me?

  • My students are able to solve problems not just memorize answers.

  • My teaching evolves to use new tools in meaningful, effective ways.

  • My students use their mind and creativity in class.
    I can force students to sit in my class, I cannot force them to engage themselves and harness their creativity and excitement. When this happens, I reflect on how to do it again for to me it means I have done something excellent!

  • I understand my subject is part of a total knowledge base not a universe unto itself. In this vein, I cooperate with teachers in other departments on meaningful projects.

  • I am in synch with my student's lives, emotions, and state of mind.

  • I value education and commit to daily reading, learning, and contemplation.

  • I will attend every class, seminar, and event that is relevant with a good attitude and ready to learn. I will model the behavior I value in my students as I attend!

  • I will not have not-invented-here egotism that prohibits me from learning from those who know more than me or do things differently.l

  • My enthusiasm for my subject will show in unguarded passion as I teach.

  • I will provide timely if not immediate feedback to improve and correct as I am teaching. My students will know their average and how their grades affect that average. My gradebook will not be a bottomless cauldron of mystery from which a grade bubbles forth randomly at the end of the semester.

  • I will give ways for students to win and feel like winners! They will understand that their grade is controlled by their decisions to participate, study, and learn.

  • I will be excellent! I will know I've given my all! I will not quit until I feel that I am teaching each child!

  • As I teach I will be fluid! Let me explain:
I'm not talking about being flexible. A rubber band is flexible and it can snap! Fluid molds itself to its container.

When working with teenagers you must read them, understand them, and engage them. You must be excited! You must take your expertise in your subject and tailor it to the class learning styles, motivations, and ability level.

This is why I love the Socratic method. When you teach by asking questions, you mold your classroom instruction to the current knowledge base of your students. This does not mean that you randomly talk about whatever they want to discuss. You KNOW what needs to be taught. It is your job to direct the discussion, ask appropriate questions, and encourage response. This fluid method of teaching requires a lot from you but you reap great rewards in test results.

The students who make the highest grades in my Computer Science are those who participate in class discussions and take notes. This engages their voice, their fingers, their ears, and ultimately their minds.

This all sounds well and good and "lovey dovey" but what about achieving objectives?

I am as goal oriented as they come. I have a business and sales background and can rarely think of a time I haven't met my "goal" or "numbers" in business.

I've also never had a time when I didn't teach more than was required of me. I am intense!

If you're reading this and blogging then I can just about guarantee that you are an intense perfectionist! Most bloggers and blog readers now are early adopter type-A people. It is this type of person that must temper their perfectionism with a fluidity.

Slackers are fluid but must pursue excellence! You MUST have both!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cool Cat Kid Blog: Can young kids blog?

I've used this weekend to welcome my children to the blogosphere.

I have been concerned that there are few blogs for kids by kids where I can be certain that the material will be clean, family oriented, and kid friendly. So, my children and I have created one of our own at coolcatkid.blogspot.com. I hope other families will begin to do this!

I have several reasons:

  • It is the future of my children. I was programming at age eight -- why can't they blog?
  • It will give them opportunity to write. I have them Save as Draft and I proof and coach them to help them.
  • I want to understand kid blogging issues.
  • I want to experience first hand their learning, frustrations, and joys with the experience.
  • I want to apply blogging to my classes but am grappling with how. I will probably use Dave Warlicks Classblogmeister tool.
I have a couple of constraints:
  • My children are not allowed to use their names.
  • All comments are moderated and go to my e-mail box.
  • No information resides in their profiles -- someone would have to contact me.
  • All entries in the blog are e-mailed directly to me just in case they post accidentally.
My kids are loving it. I have an eleven year old son and a nine year old daughter so I think that the full spectrum of kid interests will be represented. I look forward to their seeing that there is a larger world than our small town of Camilla, Georgia. I've told them that anything from the links to Amazon goes into their college fund.

Welcome to the blogosphere cool cat kids!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Guy Kawasaki: My new A list blogger

Guy Kawasaki is an A-list blogger I emulate and read because:

1. He is concise.
He uses the number of words appropriate for the topic. Abraham Lincoln once said:

"I would have written a shorter letter but I didn't have time."

Being concise takes time and rewriting. I'm working on this one.

2. He is relevant.
His audiences are businesspeople, bloggers, and visionaries.

He bases his posts on what they need. I love his 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint and have added it to my class instruction.
I secretly wish every administrator should read his blog entry on The Art of Recruiting. In that article, Guy says:
Classically, organizations look for the “right” educational and professional backgrounds. I would add a third quality: Is the candidate infected with a love of your product? Because all the education and work experience in the world doesn't matter if the candidate doesn't “get it” and love it.
You can't teach kids if you hate them!

3. He makes me a better blogger.

In his article How to Suck up to a Blogger, he verbalizes the emerging truths of the blogosphere in a non-technical way. On commenting:

In his article, Blog versus Book: How I write my blog entries, he talks about how those who have a book can take it and create blog entries. He never copies and pastes from his book or vice versa. He says:

If you read the blog and are thinking about buying the book, then I think that you should be thinking: “It's great that I can get all of Guy's writing in one place--fully indexed and illustrated.” Plus, if you buy the book, you can see the results of my book cover design contest which, all modesty aside, is one of the most clever ideas I ever had.
Good points for writers of books or those considering writing.

In Conclusion

If you are a serious blogger, businessperson, visionary, or administrator you should read this blog.

Some non-blogging teachers may not find the material relevant.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Wikis at Westwood this Week (and Podcasts too!)

I'm taking a break from my fountain of youth ponderings of how to interject energy and youth into your life through teaching for a couple of updates on what we've done this week in the wiki and podcast area.

Computer Science
We created a computer crimes wiki late last week to analyze the ethics of hacking after we completed our chapter test.

I am working with students on synthesizing and summarizing information. I am concerned that some of them tend to copy information from the Internet and call that original. I do not care to know if they have learned to copy and paste!

Here was the assignment:

Step 1

First of all we are going to find some examples of hacking of all kinds that has been in the news recently.

What you are to do:

Each person in the class will list one example not posted. You will summarize in 2-3 sentences the detail of the incident and include at least 3 hyperlinks.

Step 2

Secondly, we are going to create our opinion on the following question:
Are hackers dangerous cyberterrorists, harmless pranksters, or both?

What you are to do:

Each person will summarize their opinion in 2-3 sentences with at least 5 hyperlinks. Also include your username or initials after your post to identify yourself to the other members of the class.

After we completed the project, we recorded a podcast of the class discussion entitled "The Ethics of Hacking." I was very pleased with their understanding and conclusions. I particularly like how their many examples came together the prove the point much better than I could have in a lecture style discussion. I learned a lot and I hope you'll listen to them and post encouragement here.

Computer Fundamentals - 9th grade

We've just completed Microsoft Access where I first introduced the wiki system to them. They used a Microsoft Access wiki to review the material. They posted a review for the test. One of my weaker students said:
My problem is that I don't take very good notes. I don't like to always ask for them from others. I could study from home and it was cool.
I was out last Friday with a sick child and asked that my students create a wiki about Microsoft Excel. It was done before I came to school Monday.

This class loves wikis and has created several fascinating ones. I particularly like the riddles wiki that is full of puzzles, mind benders, and even some jokes.

They have also created a study hall page complete with study notes for a science test. This is modeled after the study hall that was created by my tenth graders in December that continues to be updated.

I continue to grade and respond to comments using my bloglines account. RSS is the best if not the only way to grade wikis! Any other way is laborious, time consuming, and unfair as you inevitably miss posts of some students.

In Conclusion

I am finding that wikis are great for:
  • Free exploration of a topic that is to be discussed
  • Creating review notes
  • Creating study guides and helps
  • Discussing opinions with relevant backup
  • Class collaboration such as homework and test reviews

Wikis are difficult to use for:

  • Topics the students cannot articulate (how will they search?) - They need to know enough to figure out keywords.
  • Obscure topics.
  • Some math subjects because of the difficulty of working with the symbols.
  • Large groups using one page where they write over each other. (I told the students to write up their summaries in word and then copy and paste into the wiki to help alleviate this problem.)
Podcasts are great for:
  • Summaries of a topic.
  • Recording class discussions where the students are sharing findings and have already researched a subject.
  • Recording test reviews.
  • Review "podcasts" for things such as the SAT and major tests.

Podcasts are difficult when:

  • You have too many students involved (you need a chief).
  • The podcast is too long or complex.
  • To many teams are involved, absences make it difficult to "finish" - (We ran into this with our SAT podcast. It was OK enough for students to download into their iPods but not for me to release on the Internet.)

I'm a relative newcomer to this and still am learning a lot. This weekend I will be reading RSS ideas for educators and my bloglines to see what else I should be doing.

It is not without its frustrations. You will get some students who complain profusely about not being able to copy information off the net. There will be some who complain because they feel like they "don't know how." Most, however, quickly catch the vision and get excited.

I am most pleased because I feel like I've not only improved my computer classroom but that students are doing better in all of their classes because we are using wikis.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Be Content and Positive - Fountain of Youth Vial #4

Be content.
Doug Johnson at the Blue Skunk Blog said this on Monday:

Play the hand you’re dealt. It doesn’t pay to waste a lot of energy bemoaning one’s fate, dwelling on what one doesn’t have. It makes more sense to spend one’s time figuring out how to leverage the assets available. Yeah, we could always use more computers, more bandwidth, a better book budget, and more personnel, (along with more time, more intelligence). And we should work for these things. But until Santa comes, a heck of a lot of fun can be had and good can be done in meeting challenges with the resources on hand. If you wait for the perfect conditions, you’ll spend your life waiting.

His whole entry on Monday has to do with this contentment. One of the greatest joys is doing work worth doing! Things will never be perfect. Yes, we should always push and strive for more. There is nothing worse than a whiner that can't do anything today because of wishing for tomorrow.

I'm excited that we just received a $40,000 for a new computer lab! I have five year old Pentium II's but I tell you what -- I've gotten a lot out of them. I've rebuilt them and all but one of the original 22 computers are still working and chugging along!

Keep your positive attitude!
Try not to talk about the things that upset you today or got you angered. You're going to dig yourself into a hole that will ruin your weekend and your Magnificent Monday. Talk about what really got you excited! Focus on the positive!

Some educators need to play PacMan because that is what they do to everyone. They devour everyone and give them a good "chewing out." No one learns anything from a crabby teacher except what NOT to be in a teacher!

This may sound simplistic but its me -- I do not walk into my classroom unless I can honestly say that I love each one of my students. No, not like I love my own kids. But I have to love them as a fellow human being with just as much right to a good life as I have. They have their own dreams, emotions, skills, and purpose that they were called for.

Focus on the student who is turning around! Remember why you got into this business! Protect your positive attitude.

Do you know anyone that you never ask "How is your day?" You know that they'll say "I'm just barely making it." Then they'll launch into a plethora of ills and problems that plague their life and threaten their existence.

New "happiness" research shows that each of us pretty have a happiness "setpoint". Money, relationships, change of situation -- they don't make a person happier for long. Eventually, we all go back to our "set point."

That new computer lab isn't going to make me happy. I'm happy now with my wikispaces, Dreamweaver 4.0, Office XP, Photoshop that chokes when I try to print, and harddrive that fills up! I'll have a whole new set of issues then but I'll be happy then too!

In Conclusion

As a teacher, I think the fountain of youth is closer to us than to most. It goes in and out our door every day. It leaves paper on the floor. It forgets its textbook in its locker. It is late to class. If we can remember to add variety , be observant , be human , be positive and content we've gone a long way to being an excellent teacher and reinvigorating our own lives. Life is too short to go through it with a sour face wishing for a tomorrow that may never come. As classroom teachers, we must make the best of today to educate the kids that fill our seats now!

(Hold on I have two more "vials" to go.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fountain of Youth Vial #3: Be human - Brrreeeport

OK, as we've written how to find the fountain of youth as you teach others, let's recap. Vial #1 was Add Variety and Vial #2 was to be observant. Vial #3 is very important -- Be Human

Admit your mistakes

Richard J. Needham,
a Canadian humorist, said:

"Strong people make as many and as ghastly mistakes as weak people. The difference is that strong people admit them, laugh at them, learn from them. That is how they become strong."
It is OK for kids to know that you indeed are human.

I believe that when I am willing to admit my mistakes that I create an attitude of openness and honesty. The students are more likely to admit that they need my help. (Notice, I do not apologize and make excuses ALL the time -- not usually on a daily basis in every class.)

Admit it when they taught you something
I love it when students discover something new! The other day a student taught me how to do an anchor in wikispaces. I honestly didn't know how. I immediately went and had the student demonstrate to the class. It boosted his self esteem!

As my students researched hacking -- they taught me about some new incidents. (You can learn from them too at the wiki and listen to their podcast on the ethics of hacking.)

Admit you don't know the answer

When you ask a lot of questions -- expect to be asked difficult ones. Sometimes I don't know!

When this happens, I always admit it and handle it one of two ways:
  1. Allow kids who are motivated earn extra points on the days work if they can find and print out the answer. We discuss the answer at the beginning of class the next day. I allow ANY student who finds the answer to print it and turn it in.
  2. I tell them I will research and get back to them.

Forgive yourself when you make mistakes
Sometimes we are haunted by our past. The student we couldn't reach. The mistake we made in discipline when we read a student wrong. The time we failed. The promise we didn't keep. The loved one we hurt.

Rev. John Plummer had a mistake. He was haunted by the Vietnam-era Pulitzer Prize winning photo of nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, naked and horribly burned running from a napalm attack. You see, Plummer was responsible for setting up the air strike.

He was twice assured there were no civilians in the area -- he said "he knew he had done everything possible to makes ure the area was clear of civilians."

When Kim Phuc spoke at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, DC and Plummer arranged to meet her. Plummer told the Virginia Advocate.

"She saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow. She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was 'I'm sorry; I'm so sorry; I'm sorry' over and over again. At the same time, she was saying, 'It's all right; it's all right; I forgive; I forgive."
Plummer could have crawled in a corner and mourned -- he didn't! He became a well-loved minister and when he had the opportunity, he sought reconciliation!

Sometimes we cannot find the student or coworker to apologize. But we must learn to seek reconciliation and ultimately to forgive ourselves! We cannot carry such baggage around with us. We are only human! Forgive yourself!

Forgive others when they make mistakes!

A pivotal national moment of forgiveness happened between George C. Wallace and Vivian Malone Jones. In 1963, George Wallace, then governor of Alabama, literally stood in the door of the University of Alabama, preventing Vivian, a young African -American woman from enrolling as a student. Thirty three years later, Wallace awarded the first Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage to Vivian. (The award was named in Honor of Wallace's wife and is given to women who have made outstanding contributions to the state of Alabama.) At that time, Wallace publicly apologized to Jones for his actions. Jones publicly forgave Wallace.

One of the onlookers was Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He said "This event is really a moment of reconciliation and redemption."
There is a time for discipline and having consequences for one's action. There is also a time for forgiveness and grace -- not getting what you deserve! Sometimes, I have student and they know that I "have caught them." They admit they are wrong and I know that they are crushed. That is when I forgive and give grace. As one who is forgiven myself, I feel compelled to forgive others even when they do not deserve it! In a school where I can share my faith, it often opens an opportunity for me to explain WHY I forgive.

This does not mean lax discipline! It does not mean unfairness to other students who have done the same thing. It does mean to help another when it is your power to do so and you know they are sincerely sorry. Sometimes the wisest thing is to not give someone what they deserve!

Peter Marshall, Sr
., once chaplain of the US Senate, said:

"Lord, when we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with."

You are human.
Do not expect yourself to be perfect. I have seen people aged far beyond their years because:
  • they cannot forgive themselves,
  • they cannot forgive others,
  • they hold themselves to a standard far beyond what is possible
  • they want students to think they are infallible

You are not perfect. You are a human being doing the very best you can do. Give yourself a break! Admit you're human and get over it!

I struggled with forgiving some people in my late 20's from a business deal. I started getting gray hair. It was a wake up call. I dealt with the process to forgive them and honestly forgave them. My gray hair literally went away and 10 years later isn't back yet. I firmly believe that forgiveness is an essential key to the fountain of youth. (I wrote about this in my daily devotional blog today -- its on my mind)

Speaking of being human!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention a very humorous and amusing tag on Technorati right now -- brrreeeport. It is an imaginary tag created by Robert Scoble to instruct bloggers on how to increase traffic to their blog (and join the A list). It is worth a read and a tag. It is vital to tag your blogs. I told you how a couple of days a go.

If you're not tagging, you're wasting your time! (Scoble has a good blog about this!)

Here are mine today!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fountain of Youth Vial #2 - Be observant

Greg Asimakoupoulos tells this story:

In 1992, a Lost Angeles County parking control officer came upon a brown El Dorado Cadillac illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day.

The officer wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated at the driver's wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard.

The driver of the car made no excuses. No argument ensued - and with good reason. The driver of the car had been shot in the head ten to twelve hourse before but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward with blood on his face. He was dead.

The officer, preoccupied with ticket-writing, was unaware of anything out of the ordinary. He got back in his car and drove away.

Sometimes we are so intent on the "ticket writing" of our daily routines that we never look into the eyes of our students and coworkers! We miss out!

Make eye contact.
As students enter the room, I try to look each child in the eye and speak. It is then that I can pick up on the fact that something may be wrong. I can also comment and compliment.

Through the book, The One Minute Manager we were taught to conduct "management by walking around" and spend time walking through the sales floor. We were to look for "one minute" opportunities to compliment and coach employees.

I like to apply this as I teach. It is through eye contact that I build relationships with my students. They feel important and validated. I am able to intervene and help when there is a problem.

Expect eye contact.

In Edventures, Trish Ruben says:

"Train students who are gathered for a lesson to look you in the eye. Keep searching your group to engage eye contact in a way that reaches all eyes. Comment and praise those who make eye contact! I usually send a lot of Eye Messages in a lesson , and often remind students that I see their eyes, but am judging their ears!"

Pick up on the out of ordinary.
Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, an expert jury selector, says in her book Reading People:

"... to read people effectively you must gather enough information about them to establish a consistent pattern."

Once you know the pattern of a student, pay attention. If they are never a discipline problem and come in belligerent -- something is wrong.

What could have been some of the worst discipline issues of my career turned into some of the most meaningful exchanges with students as I took them aside privately and ask them what is wrong. Parents divorcing, close family dying, a friend changing schools -- these are all things that can send kids over the edge!

I look them in the eye and ask them if they are OK. If I am the one who picks up on it, it is my job to express that I care and listen. I am here for a purpose. I don't just teach my subject, I teach life. Life is tough. The greatest joys of life are to have people who care for you when you're down. I want to be that teacher! This creates greater loyalty in my students and a willingness to go the extra mile when they are 100%.

Poor teachers push a wounded child over the edge as they "act out" their hurt and anger. Good teachers use this as an opportunity to reach a student and show them that they care about them as a person, not just as a mind to be taught.

Pick up on body language.
Unless I know that a child is sick or on pain medication, I NEVER tolerate sleeping. Interestingly enough, there are sometimes only slight differences in attentiveness and boredom as Dimitrius teaches in her book.

She relates attentiveness to a lion stalking her prey with her body motionless and eyes fixated on the prey. Conversely, people who are bored "usually distract themselves with physical activity." (Dimitrius 66) Twiddling, doodling, stretching, and attempting to do another task!

Moving towards the person who is "tuning out" usually helps. Asking them a question is effective also. Do I have students who get bored -- of course! Do I have to accept their "tuning out" -- NO! I can modulate my voice, vary my movements, have the class move around, vary the pace, and of course -- add variety! (Yesterday's blog!)

In Conclusion

So, wake up from your "ticket writing" and look your students in the eye. Be attentive. You will be truly alive as you engage your students as learners and as human beings!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Fountain of Youth - Vial #1 is Variety!

The Fountain of Youth!

I feel younger than I've ever felt. There's no reason to. I have three kids, three cats, one husband, and almost 100 students. I should be tired, bone tired! I do get weary but I feel young.

Douglas MacArthur said it well:

"People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. Worry, self-doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair; these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust."

Are you interested in your students? Are you looking for the precious child who needs you? Is there something about your subject that gets you excited?

I'm going to spend the next several days talking about how to find the fountain of youth in your teaching!

Fountain of Youth Vial #1:
Add variety

Vary your pace of teaching, tools, and methods.
Boredom is the enemy of education! Add things from current events and the Net! Get excited!

Learn from the groans of your students!
If it is a reproducible -- do it in a new way. Here are some tricks I've learned:
  • Move the desks around.
  • Use teams.
  • Swap teams.
  • Make it a game! (I like the DEC Software games)
  • Can you wiki or blog it?
  • Can THEY make a game out of it?
  • Can THEY teach it?
  • Is it good for a podcast?
  • Can they perform? infomercial? skit? rap? poem?
  • If you're in a lab, use Google as you teach. Have them race to answer questions!
  • Teach socratically!

Use exploration to introduce a topic (with a wiki!)
In Computer Science we are discussing hacking. To start, students wiki'd current examples of hacking incidents and began a discussion we'll conclude on Monday.

Learn something new!
I learned how to SuprGlu and Skype. Bloglines reading is invigorating. Try something new! Bo Bennett , a businessman, says

"Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity."

Vary your routine!
Eat lunch at a different time. Talk to someone new! Ask new questions! Routine is another word for rut!

Be excited!
Remember that 93% of your teaching is your face, voice, and body language!

Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users just wrote this the other day!!

"too many of us (me included) tend to let that early enthusiasm slide... we forget why this thing we do used to matter to us, and we might start wondering why we ever got into it the first place. We start phoning it in."
We're not getting any younger! We can feel younger if we stop phoning it in and put all of the passion we feel into our topic. Don't give up! Don't quit! Don't just wait until retirement! There is more to life than putting one foot in front of the other! I'm going to skip, walk, hop, run, and dance my way through life! Add variety!

What we do is vitally important. It is the highest calling! Teaching fuels the hope of tomorrow on the distillation of the lessons of the past. Keep the faith!

Friday, February 10, 2006

How do I easily add tags to my blog?

If you want to be "found" these days you need to be "tagged."

Growing up on a farm, we used to tag the cows with a little tag on their ear. It told us where the cow was from and ultimately that the cow belonged to us. You see, cows can be pretty dumb and they like to get out and mix in with other cows. Then you can't tell them apart!

To put it simply, the tags let us find the cows we were interested in -- ours!

Likewise, when you tag your post, people can easily find your blog information and you become a part of the "global web page" on your topic of interest.

For example, if you wanted to see Technorati's "global web page" on wiki education. (That's just one of my favorite tags.) So, you find the tags that are pertinent to your topic and you add them to your post.

The code is somewhat confusing, so here is how I simply add it to my blogger account. (I think there are other such plugins for wordpress and the other programs out there.)

1 - Use the firefox browser.

You can download it at http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/.
I personally use it because it is faster, easier, less prone to viruses and pop ups. I've been gradually installing it on my computers a school.

2 - Download the Greasemonkey plug in.

This is a little "helper program" that lets you install features that change the way Firefox works.
You can download it at https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=748&application=firefox.

Close all firefox windows and restart. You'll see a cute little monkey in the bottom right corner.

3 - Install the Script

Read this first!
Go to http://userscripts.org/scripts/source/2182.user.js
At the top of the screen I see the words:
"Greetings fellow traveler. This is a GreaseMonkey user script. Click install to start using it."

If that doesn't appear, you are may also go to Tools and click Install this script.

4. Start tagging!
Now, when you go into blogger, you'll see a new box called "Tags." That is where you use your tags. Just be consistent so people know where to go to find your stuff!

Also, don't use a million tags and make sure they are related to your topic or you will be making that awful canned lunchmeat -- SPAM out of your tags. That is a big no no and a good way to fall into blog oblivion!

5. Remember to ping!
Finally, remember that you still need to ping the appropriate sites. What is a ping? This is a signal you send to the blog search engines that you have updated your blog and have a new post for them to look at. Once they've looked at you, people can find you. THat is how technorati can show this post minutes after I do it!

There is a way for the script we just downloaded to do this! OK! When you click post you'll be taken to your post screen. You'll see a ping-o-matic button! Just click it and you've pinged!

I have been going to technorati and have an account and ping it manually. I've also tried ping-o-matic out today but am not sure how fast it will go. There are some other services that will also work.

The following hyperlinks will help you troubleshoot any problems.
I know there are a million ways to do this! I'm such a newbie! I thought it would be helpful to blog about it while I'm a newbie and before I forget how hard it is to figure some of this stuff out!

Please experts out there! If I made a mistake or there's something better to do please post it here! (Just don't make me look too much like a newbie!)

It's like my first podcast! It took me four hours to figure it out and set it up! After that it takes me less that 10 minutes!

Keep going edubloggers! It is a good thing we do! Find ways like this to automate! Don't be afraid of it, do it! I want to see more folks showing up in technorati and in the searches so that we can share the "how to" and best practices!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ninth Grade Wikis - Week 2

Ninth Grade Wikis - Week 2
Let me tell you what I'm excited about right now!

I'm very excited about my ninth graders and how they've taken to wikispaces. They have a test on Microsoft Access XP tomorrow and have not only outlined the lessons (a class assignment) but have posted their study notes and created a homework page. The latter two were done through their initiative.

A great new tip for those who are worried about students creating all of these wikis that you don't know about. These instructions are for the wikispaces service I use.

1 - Go to Manage Space

2- Click on the username of your student.

I'm going to let you look at one of my students. You can see that he is a member of the westwood wikispace and a new one called riddles.

3 - To see the space he's joined called riddles -- I just click on the hyperlink for riddles.

This is a site that he's created for the logic puzzles he loves to collect. I'm going to have to ask him how he's going to post the answers. The ship logic question has me wondering.

Now, what if I'm concerned about a space or a student?

I can subscribe to their wikispace via bloglines and monitor it. I also keep all parent e-mails on file. I believe it is important for parents to know what their students are doing. If I have concerns, an e-mail usually handles it. If it is their private space but linked from their username to use the school wikispace then I've told them I consider that my business. If they want me out of "their business" they need a private username that they don't use for schoolwork.

Wikis are great but remember, variety is the spice of life. They are best for exploratory projects. If you use them the same way for everything they just become an electronic worksheet! They are another tool but one that students love and is very tailored to the plethora of ADHD kids that sit in the classroom now!

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