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Friday, March 31, 2006

Sometimes a Teacher's Gotta Preach: Advice on Spring Break and Prom to Teenagers

It is 10:30 the day of Prom and I'm exhausted! You see, there are days "when a teacher's gotta preach" as I tell my students.

The day before Winter break. The day before Spring Break. The day of Prom. The last day of school. When difficulty hits a class. When there are struggles.

So, today, although we have classes until noon, I've had my three classes and three speeches. Here is a copy of some of what I told them.

1) Sometimes the only choice you can make in a night is to take the first drink or not.

When you get on a slide, once you're moving you're not stopping. When you drive on a muddy rode and start to skid, you just hope the car comes to a stop in a good place and not in the ditch.
When you choose to take that first sip, you do not know nor do you understand what you are saying yes too.

You may be saying "Yes, I'm going to kill my best friend tonight," or "Yes, I'm going to be raped tonight" or "Yes, I'm going to die tonight." You do not know what you are saying yes to.

I hear so many people complain about the war in Iraq. Many more teenagers die from drunk driving than died in Iraq last year. That is the waste.
You have one choice. One choice that you must make. One choice to decide.

The choice to stay away from alcohol and drugs will make sure that you can stay up till dawn and have fun with your friends and not be stuck in an emergency room on what is supposed to be one of the best nights of your life.
2) Sometimes your only choice may be to fix your own drink or not.

There are many people who never choose to drink but receive a spiked drink from "a friend" or "a date."

Since the beginning of time when cavemen whacked cavewomen on the head so they could drag them in the cave, people have tried to exert influence over other people to take advantage of them.

We laugh about the caveman but it is not funny when you lose your virginity through no choice of your own. This is the worst form of robbery and thievery that has ever existed.
Under no circumstances should anyone let another person fix them a drink. Period. End of story.

Choose to be wise and protect your decision to stay away from alcohol. There are people out there who are going to drink who think it would be funny to trick you in to drinking. Then, you'll drink to forget the embarrassment of your first night drinking and who knows where that road will lead.

Be wise.

3) There are some things you can't take back.

There was a guy I knew in college who chose to take that first drink. He was "elevator surfing" at his college spring break and bashed his head in. Now, he's thirty six and sits in a nursing home. He didn't graduate from college. He never got married. He didn't have children. He can't even feed himself. He stares blankly into space. He can't go back and refuse that first drink.

After a test is graded, sometimes a teacher may let you have a retest. But in life, there are things that you cannot get back. Your virginity. Your innocence. A life that is gone. It's not worth it.

If a person gambles, the rule is "never bet something you can't afford to lose." When you drink you are gambling. Don't bet your life. It is foolish.

You'd never dream of watching a poker game on TV where a person bets their life and if they lose, they are killed right there on TV. We'd never dream of that.

And yet, we encourage and watch people play drinking games and sit back and laugh. It is a poker game where every participant is betting their life. Stupid.

4) You become like your friends.
I love mud fights. There is no such thing as a spectator in a mud fight, however. Yesterday I was in the yard with the kids and they had one. After they finished, they were soaked in mud. I also had it on me. In my hair. On my clothes. On my face.

I never threw mud. No one ever threw it at me. But by being close to the mudfight I got muddy.

You may never drink. You may never do drugs. You may not have premarital sex. But when you are around those who do, it affects you. It affects your reputation. It affects how others view you. It affects what you think about those things and how likely you are to try them in the future.

If your friends start doing things you don't agree with, you can either get new friends or become like them. Get new friends.

5) Popularity isn't worth sacrificing "who you are"

Five years a go, Brittney Spears was every little girls object of worship. Brittney this and Brittney that. Now, well, the kids tell me she's a joke.

What did being the most popular girl in America get her? Nothing permanent. You can never have enough shoes. Enough clothes. Enough A's to fill the hole in your heart. These things are passing.

Many of those who were popular in my class in high school are now the joke. (Some aren't.) There is more to life than being popular.

6) Don't believe the lie that this is the greatest night of your life.

I've had many "greatest nights" and most of them happened by accident and didn't coincide with some great event. If you build it up to be something it is not, then when you wake up in the morning you have nothing to live for.

Yes, it is a great night! Yes, it is going to be fun! But Life goes on tomorrow. So have fun tonight but don't do things that you'll regret the rest of your life.

Prom night isn't the night to do something you'd never do any other night. Prom is perfect without sex, without drinking. Just being with your friends and laughing and having a good time.
Prom night can turn into the worst night of your life if you gamble with something you can't afford to lose...your life, your virginity, and that of your friends. It is not worth it.

7) When you have questions ask someone who cares about you.

This morning I read in Reader's Digest about kids who are struggling with things and go on the Internet to figure out what to do about them.

I thought of "Rhonetta Johnson."

"Rhonetta" was a girl that was on one of the tryout episodes of "American Idol." She talked a big talk. You would have thought she was an Aretha of Beyonce. But she got in the room and she choked. She whispered her song and giggled and couldn't hardly get a word out. When Paula Abdul asked her that she learn her song next time, she left in a huff.

When she left Rhonetta began talking "trash." Every other word was a "Bleep" and she was talking about how she would make Paula Abdul become a no name know nothing. It was embarrassing. She talked a big game but she didnt' know much.
The Internet is full of them. People who want to tell you that if you cut yourself or if you throw up or if you have sex or get a certain score on a video game or whatever that you'll feel better about yourself. These are lies.

I believe that nothing can fill the God sized hole in your heart but God and He shows us that there is a plan and a purpose for our lives.

If you have a question, I care about you and love you as do many other teachers here. Please ask us when you have struggles. You know who we are and that we care. When you go to a strange Internet website it would be like me going and asking Rhonetta to tell me how to sing!

None of these destructive behaviors are going to make you happy. That is why meth and drug addictions are so dangerous...the only answer is to do it again...and again...and again.

Doing drugs is like having that Alien that lived inside Sigourney Weaver in the last Alien movie. (Alien 3 I think) You may think you can coexist but one day that Alien is going to hideously burst out, take over your life, and make a bloody mess. That is what drugs do to you.


To conclude, I asked them to bow their heads and I prayed for them. I know that is something that cannot be done in most classrooms and it saddens me. I always preface my thoughts with "I believe." They need to know that a whole part of me is a spiritual side that cannot be divorced from my intellectual or physical. It is important for students to know that there are beliefs worth living for. I think those that tend to force it upon others have ruined it for a lot of good people. I focus on trying to live it but sometimes I need to say it.

I pray that all of my students make wise choices. Unfortunately I know that some will not. I pray that they will all make it back in one piece.

I also know that I will sleep better and be able to live with myself because I gave my "teacher speech."

So what if they roll their eyes. So what if they groan. So what if they make fun of me.

Don't think you have to pray or talk about God to give them "the speech" either. Kids know you love them whether you can talk about those things or not. Kids know what you believe by how you act.

What is important is that some adults in these kids lives have got to stand up and speak out for the truth and what's right amidst a generation of kids hearing lies on TV in magazines and from their peers.

Sometimes, the teacher's gotta preach.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Research Findings of Video Games in Academia

Gamasutra has an interesting article on the top ten findings of academia about the use of video games.

A few interesting points from the article and how I think they relate to my classroom.

1. Ability to succeed increased when game players picked their own music.

...when players picked their own soundtracks, their ability to succeed in the game increased and they become more emotionally responsive to the activity as well.
G. Cassidy et al., Glasgow Caledonia University
I have found this to be true in my classroom. I have music as a reward in my classroom. I never allow individual listening on headphones but during the last 10 minutes of some classes as a reward, I allow students to play music off of the front computer. I have this assigned on a rotating basis with teams.

I've found this to be very motivational and effective. Hmm.

2. Collaboration drives emotional attachment

“collaboration is an extremely powerful driver of emotional stickiness,” says McGonigal. The findings indicate (of gamers who played at least 12 hours per week) that players depersonalize their adversaries and do not feel a strong personal awareness of them. Player collaboration, on the other hand, resulted in the strongest sense of presence, meaning when gamers work together with other gamers, that's when they have the greatest sense of community awareness.
Number 7, C. Campanella Bracken et al. of Cleveland State University

I've found this to be very apparent as we've worked with blogs and wikis. Wikis, in particular, create a sense of community awareness that really drives up enthusiasm and excitement for a subject.

3. Perception is more important than reality

The study placed observers into a room where young students were administered an exam. When the observers were informed that particular students had a high probability of cheating, the observers reported that they saw the students cheat or saw potential for the student to cheat, even though the student was instructed by the researchers to not cheat...“Perceptions are often more important than realism for fairness in multiplayer games.”
D. Miller et al. of Stanford University 's department of Personality and Social Psychology
This can be applied in so many ways. However, as I'm a technology teacher I am passionate about "demystifying" technology. I had one student who started the year saying "computers don't like me." She is now hovering at the top of the class and finding that she loves computers (though she won't admit it.)

Dealing with student's false perceptions of technology is as important if not more important than teaching them the technology itself. Being unafraid of technology is vital to their future.

4. Failure isn't all bad
McGonigal calls their findings “counter-intuitive,” noting the participants felt more pleasure and excitement in active failure than in success. Passive failures, on the other hand, leave players feeling less engaged. So the ways in which developers make failure possible—either active or passive—will have a significant effect on how players receive the game. “It didn't matter that within the game [the players] were doing really terribly,” says McGonigal. “There's a certain satisfaction of sending a monkey into space.”
That's what Niklas Ravaj et al. from the Helsinki School of Economics
This point is stunning! Active failure? I'm going to have to think about this one!

Read the article, it is wonderful and will give you a lot to think about!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wiki News: Nominate yours, We need curriculum wikis!

It is very apparent from the reader stats that many of the readers of Cool Cat Teacher like the work we've done with Wikis. I must admit that they have transformed our classroom. The Wiki Wiki Teaching day 1 post (my first one) is still my most highly trafficked ever!

Here is an index of some of my Wiki posts:

And more...

Send in your nominations to 33 wikis!
But now, Marshall K has pointed out that eastwikkers has created their 33 wikis nominations.

A company called EastWikkers is highlighting 33 different wikis over the next 33 days and explaining what kinds of innovations and best practices can be learned from each one. A very, very cool project. Check out, for example, their profile of This Might Be a Wiki, a fan site for They Might Be Giants.
If you haven't put Marshall on your "A" list he should be! Read about the first five and learn about the best practices of some wikis that really work! (They include Davis Wiki (no relation), Flu Wiki, This Might Be a Wiki" , Austistic Spectrum Wiki, and Wikilaw)

Curriculum Wikis!
I'd really like for educators to take up Tom Hoffman's suggestion in EdTechInsider on Opening up the curriculum and put the College Board Pacesetter curriculum on a wiki to be shared and collaborated across the world. What a great vision!

Nominate your wiki because on the thirty fourth day they will be listing the nominations on their website. What a great resource. I've subscribed and have been learning more about this wiki model that has captivated my imagination!

Thaw the chicken: When do best practices become the worst?

Where are the failures of Web 2.0?

There are people on the Internet wondering where the failures of Web 2.0 are including Bud the Teacher when he ponders:
The only problem with best practice texts, too often at least, is that they turn classrooms into Mickey Mouse spaces where all goes well and there's never any trouble. Every student in these books finds success in the classroom. At least, that's how the texts present classrooms.

Again, this is not universal; many good texts share failures as well as successes, but not nearly enough.

I do not want this blog to become a text that misinforms as it informs. Nor do I want to read blogs that paint stories of success while ignoring the stories of students lost or unsuccessful along the way.

We aren’t going to learn anything by merely telling half of the story. And omission, intentional or otherwise, may blur the narrative.
Will Richardson sort of started the discussion in To Blog or Not to Blog? and his follow up post It's all about engagement.

So where is the downside of Web 2.0 in my classroom?

First of all, classroom is about struggle as it is a mirror of life. Teaching is about struggle as I work with kids of varying motivations and levels of interest in my subject.

But passion is about belief! Every student in my class doesn't "get" Web 2.0 in fact a few (not a lot) think "Why on earth doesn't everything just stay the same?" and they tell me so. Their views are valid and they have a right to those views but they will make them out of knowledge not ignorance!

Thaw the Chicken!
Best practices are great, but it doesn't take much to missapply them. Perhaps that is what Bud is discussing. Where are the missteps?

Being a metaphorical type person, I think of the "Thaw the Chicken" story I like to tell my kids.

Urban legend or myth. The NASA chicken story is in thousands of places on the Internet. (603 on the last Google) and originated in the late 1990's.

The Story

Here is how it is recounted in most every place:
Scientists at NASA have developed a gun for the purpose of launching dead chickens. It is used to shoot a dead chicken at the windshield of airline jet, military jet, or the space shuttle, at that vehicle's maximum traveling velocity. The idea being, that it would simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl, and therefore determine if the windshields are strong enough to endure high-speed bird strikes.

British engineers, upon hearing of the gun, were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high-speed trains. However, upon firing the gun, the engineers watched in shock as the chicken shattered the windshield, smashed through the control console, snapped the engineer's backrest in two, and embedded itself into the back wall of the cabin.

Horrified and puzzled, the engineers sent NASA the results of the experiment, along with the designs of the windshield, and asked the NASA scientists for any suggestions.

The NASA scientists sent back a brief response: "Thaw the chicken."
There is a small step from a best practice to a worst practice.

So, feasibly you could take something I've blogged that was incredible in my classroom and put it in yours and it could fail?

Of course! The most valuable, underrated part of a teacher is a good gut instinct. Teachers know when their class is out of control. Teachers know when their students have lost interest. Teachers know if they are prepared. That's what your gut is for.

If you are trying a lesson in your classroom that I or anyone else has used, follow your gut instinct. You are the one in the classroom!

Just Don't Lose the Lesson
George Lucas is quoted as saying in this month's Guideposts,

"You can fail, just don't lose the lesson."
Sometimes failures are as important as successes. We know what does not work when we fail.

That too is a valuable lesson.

In Conclusion: The Balancing!

Last night, the GRANDMOTHER of two of my students came to me and thanked me for the technology I've taught her grandchildren. She said, "I don't really understand what they are doing but I know they are excited and motivated about learning and school."

Her grandaughter, a student of mine, posted my sentiments on this on her personal blog yesterday:
Just because you’re talented or work hard at one thing or race doesn’t mean you can win them all. I really wish I could have explained that to that younger girl, because I believe it could save her much grief in the future. But for now all I can do is work hard and hope it pays off.
Well said, Kyli. Without blogging, it would have been a saying left in your private journal and never touched my life. Point made.

To Bud

Bud, I will do my best to present both sides. As an optimist, I am excited when I learn even if it is from a "failure."

One of the greatest challenges of my life is helping my child who is gifted but has a learning disability. I have been frustrated, in tears, and elated as we make progress.

To say that dealing with kids is always roses is a lie. But the progress I've seen with my own son and his laptop and other kids gets me excited! True elation is hard earned and hard fought!

To me, the greatest failure is to give up not to mess up so perhaps I will always have a positive spin in my blog. I mess up, learn something that I'm excited about and move on. That's just me.

Thank you for making me think, Bud.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Kids don't go in the trunk: Plan for good teaching by reducing class sizes!

Spring Break is upon us! We're planning how to fit 12 people and lots of luggage into the automobiles and the discussion of the trunk monkey came up. We all want to ride together, but I proclaimed,
"But the kids aren't trunk monkeys! They all need seatbelts."
What is a Trunk Monkey?

The hilarious Trunk Monkey videos were originally cut for the Superbowl in 2003 and 2004 for the Suburban auto group. (I love the Trunk monkey bridge video.)

So, the monkey sits in the trunk just waiting to protect the car from robbers and vandals!

But kids don't belong there!

Seatbelts limit the number of passengers in cars

Planning to put children in vehicles is easy. There are a set number of seatbelts and you cannot legally put any more in the car than that.

The old days of "stuff the VW bug" just don't apply any more, we can only fit a certain number of kids in a vehicle.

Classrooms don't have seatbelts...but they should

Then we have the classroom.

I have two computer science classes with practically the same content. Until December I had 20 in one class and 14 in the other.

The class average using the same tests and material was about 4 points higher in the class with less students
. The smaller class was learning the material better.

I also found myself looking forward to the smaller class but sometimes dreading the larger one. I chastized myself and got angry at myself, but that nagging feeling in the back of my mind was still there. I liked the smaller class better.

Then, I had several students drop out of the larger class as they moved to other towns and I now have 17 in one class and 14 in the other. The grades are now relatively even. That nagging feeling is gone. I look forward equally to both classes!

Classrooms should have "sanity" belts

Now, I can handle more kids and have taught 21 kids in my computer classroom with 21 computers (including mine and the demonstration computer.) I've taught adult classes with 50 adults and an aid. A good teacher can deal with larger classes, but don't think that something isn't sacrificed in the process!

I have friends who teach 30 kids per class day in and day out. Some teach more. They are much better paid than I, but struggle with the quality of their teaching and time in the classroom. They live with that nagging feeling of dread.

When the class is overfull, who gets put in the trunk?

I say all of this to state that when you fill a car to past capacity, some child is going to have to ride on the floorboard or even worse .. in the trunk. Some child will be unprotected and uncared for.

Some child in the overfull classroom, usually the one with a learning disability or the introvert, is going to be left out!

Smaller Class Sizes are Important!

The easiest way to have an excellent education for kids is to have a smaller class size with a good teacher and a good curriculum. We've pinched pennies in the wrong places in many schools.

There are great teachers out there. Many of them are just hidden by the exhaustion and fatigue of classes that are too large.

There are real children behind the numbers!

There is a great quality and richness that emerges from a class where you can have quality time with each student.

With a history in business, I know that there are cost factors to consider and overhead and ....

However, as one writes financial models and looks at budgets and what will happen to the bottom line if class sizes go from "18.3 children per teacher" to "21.6" you must not forget that there are very real children and very real teachers behind those numbers. The secret to a good education also lies behind those numbers.

I believe that every child deserves a good education with engaged, excited teachers. If you want to zap the excitement out of somebody, put them in a classroom with too many kids!

In conclusion

Class size is so important and cannot be underestimated.
One reason I think the school where I work has had such phenomenal success with average every day kids is that we have a student to teacher ratio of 15:1. No class is more than 20 students at this time and that is the way we've determined it will stay.

We've played with numbers in the past and have learned that the best educations happen in smaller class sizes...

Likewise, my children will be snug and safe in their seatbelts this weekend. It would be wrong beyond measure to put them in the trunk!

Perhaps I've oversimplified. However, I feel very strongly about the importance of a smaller class size in education. I do not know the "magic number," I do know from experience that I am a better teacher when my circumstances help me be a better teacher. I am fortunate in that my current administration knows this.

Web 2.0 or Star Wars

Sometimes we need a laugh. This company pokes fun at the names emerging from the Web 2.0 phenomenon. So, you can take a test to see whether you know if a name is from Web 2.0 or Star Wars.

Spring break is Friday. Most of the kids minds went on spring break last Friday. I needed a laugh!

More later.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I digg it: Web 2.0 resources and educational papers

Web 2.0 Educational paper
I have found an excellent article by an educator and Web 2.0 researcher. If you'd like the history and underpinnings of the Web 2.0 as it relates to education (and you have about 10 minutes), Bryan Alexander has written a very nice paper for Educause.

How did I find his paper?
After reading some of the new "Web 2.0" hotlists:
I saw a common trend in that Digg was named on each list. So, I stopped fighting the urge to pick up another service and joined digg.

How do you get started on digg?

1 - Go to Digg and click Join.
2 - They will send you an e-mail after you register and you must confirm.
3 - After you confirm, go to digg and log in. Now you're ready

Features of Digg:
A - You can use the search box. I did a search on teaching and found my articles mentioned here. (You can do this without registering.)
B - When you find something you like, click "dig it" and the little box turns to Dug.
C - At any time you can go to your profile at the top of the page and get a list of the articles "you've dug." You can see mine at http://www.digg.com/users/coolcatteacher
You can also see the stories that you have submitted and the stories that you've commented on.
D - Perhaps the neatest feature is the ability to see articles with lots of "digs" by going to the homepage.
E - Finally, you can add "friends" and this is where I hope you'll come in. I wish there was a way to know the digg profiles of those I read and respect. I'd like to know what they are "digging" at the moment.
F- Digg will interface with your blog and you can blog articles directly from Digg. For those who do a lot of blogging, this would be very useful. (Particularly for those who scavenge the Internet for reading material to pass along to others!)
G - Submit articles that are meaningful! We need more articles with meaning representing education and less that "dig" at the negative aspects of teaching!

My evaluation of digg

I think digg is emerging. I do feel somewhat overwhelmed with all of the social choices and enjoy my del.icio.us account. I think digg is a little more than deli.cio.us in that you can see emerging trends and tag clouds. I like the user interface.

I liked the articles that I found as they are related to technology and that is what I live and breathe. I think my priority in reading will become: #1 Bloglines, #2 Digg, #3 Technorati, and #4 Del.icio.us.

If you love finding new reading material, it is worth a try. I'd like to know your digg username so that we can create some educators sharing information over digg, so feel free to post it below.

Some other cool stuff I "dug" up today:

When did forward thinking become a thing of the past?
A great article that is older but still relevant about the lag in effective use of the Internet in teaching second languages. (I just burned 10 CD's for the spanish department last week!)

ILM and Pixar create a cutting edge school for animators

Using completely online classes, Industrial Light and Magic (Star Wars) and Pixar have created an online school at animationmentor.com. I was stunned by this paragraph of the article!

The site offers online classes, buddy lists, instant messaging, training videos and journals. Web cameras are used to create video messages. But the most impressive tools are used by mentors to create video critiques for students to view at their leisure. Another is a proprietary tool built by AnimationMentor.com's software developers that allows mentors to draw on top of the student's drawings, frame-by-frame to critique the work.
Perhaps the greatest contributions of ILM and Pixar (Disney) will not be entertainment but edutainment that becomes relevant to the classroom. I want the proprietary editing tool for web pages!

Random Pick:

Threadless.com -- If you're looking for cool T-shirts or you like to design them, you can design T-shirts or vote on the ones you like and order them. The designs with the most votes get printed! This is really cool!

What if we could do this with textbooks? We vote on the items we think are vital for the textbooks and the items that are most voted upon are included! Collaborative Textbooks? Hmmm.

In Conclusion
There are many great resources but don't be overwhelmed. Read your bloglines somewhat consistently. If you need to find information on a topic, go to digg and technorati for pointers. Use delicious to mark things. But don't spend time using all of the "top 100" Web 2.0 web pages. You'll never get anything done!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why do you blog?

In the way blogging goes, Will Richardson wrote a great post yesterday "To Blog or Not to Blog" which then inspired Chris Sessums to ask a question six hours a go that I hope you'll answer.

So I ask you, what motivates you to blog? Would you do it if you knew no one would read it? And what happens when you become “popular”? Do you worry about what you will post next, whether it will be well received? What happens when you become a victim of your own success?
So, I posted my answer in the comments and it was this:

I love this quote by Jim Carrey taken out of Reader's Digest "I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer."

The intrinsic desire of teachers is to transform and help those they teach become a better person. So when a natural born teacher meets the blog, I find that my innate desire to help and teach others takes over. To teach not only my students but others.

When I learn something that does work or doesn't work I build my knowledge base. That's great. But when I die or move on to another career or time passes that knowledge base goes "Poof" and dissapears into knowledge oblivion. But when this knowledge is documented and passed along then the knowledge becomes part of a greater knowledge base and it helps others.

Blogging is a natural attractant for teachers who love to teach. However, if I wanted to be rich and famous, there are many more efficient ways to do that than to teach! Give me a break!

I'd like to add a few notes to my comments. It seems in the circle that both of these men run that there are many questioning the motivations of those who blog. "You're doing this for fame, recognition, etc."

The Numbers will Suck You In!
As a former numbers kind of person from my business days I had some trouble at first looking at these numbers. I have to temper looking at them.

I realized this several weeks a go. In bloglines I had over 40 subscribers and then when I went home I had 35. I didn't realize that bloglines caches things and there are differences in numbers between computers. So I got upset. I honestly did!

It was dumb and stupid and ridiculous but it bothered me. Then, I had to take a look at this blogging thing and why I do it. I came to a couple of conclusions.

1- I love to teach.

2 - I love to write.

When I was a kid of eleven I set several goals to accomplish in my life. I also, set my last goal: to write things that make people's lives better.

Sure, I'd love to write books. But blogging is even more unique than books. You see, books can be read in a day. Blogs could be read over a lifetime.

I love helping encourage my students to be better, reach more, be more, set goals, keep a positive attitude, be moral, and all of the things I think are vital to a good life. By blogging I can share with others the same things I research to teach my students.

I feel called to write just as definitively as I feel called to teach. They are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.

3 - I want to leave a legacy.

My nine year old daughter wants to be a teacher. What if something happens to me between now and then? I have my sister and mother who are both excellent teachers. They advise me, give me wisdom and encourage me when times are tough. I believe that by documenting my unguarded day in day out observations that I'm leaving behind encouragement and knowledge for those I love who may follow the trail.

4- I want to set an example.

I want to set an example and understand this new medium as I teach my children and students to blog. How can you teach a novel if you haven't read it? How can you teach a technology if you haven't used it?

5 - I want to be an excellent teacher of technology.

I saw the Internet thing coming in 1990 and sat back.

I see Web 2.0 emerging and hear the same objections and closemindedness of those who fell victim to wave 1 of an ever increasing storm surge of technological evolution.
I cannot allow students to leave my room opposed to change with closed minds towards technological evolution! They have got to be enlightened, equipped and educated!

I am a better educator since I have become an edublogger. Period.

In Conclusion
Yes, I was excited when my rankings moved up into five digits on Technorati. But, that is more now just an odd byproduct of something I just love to do. I will not allow it to drive my moods and emotions. I do not sit around and dwell on what others think about what I write. I know why I write and that is why I do it!

I write because I love it. There is so much more to life than the pursuit of fame, money, etc. There is work worth doing. That is teaching, and this new interesting conundrum of blogging.

So, question my motives or whatever. But it seems to me that those who spend their time questioning motives may not have any other things to say. We are all human beings with good and bad motivations in many things we do. If you're looking for perfect people or perfect bloggers then don't look in the blogosphere, you won't find them!

Edubloggers, do not let anyone sway you from your convictions and your work. Adding to the knowledge base of education is a worthwhile pursuit.

Blogging can be a noble calling as long as noble people are willing to blog!

Remember your noble calling, teacher, edublogger!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Do I Talkr or take the time to podcast?

Podcasting is so important and is a vital new medium for blogging. I've taken some time to podcast a little and enjoy it. The question is, do I have the time?

Automate podcasting your blog with Talkr

As my Saturday morning tradition dictates, I try something new first thing. This morning, I tried Talkr. This service takes blogs and converts them to talk format.

I tested it out on my Are you a bobblehead or bumblebee? post. You can hear the results here.

Listen to this article Listen to this article

Talkr will automatically generate a podcast for each of my blog posts. People have e-mailed me that they'd rather download it into their iPods and listen than have to check bloglines, so I may add it to my template today.

The Pros and Cons of Talkr
I have to think about it first:

  • The voice is a little mechanical on some words. The word "datastream" came out sounding more like "deetee stream" in one post I listened to.
  • I do not have the time to podcast each post. I'd love to, but as a teacher, the best I can do is to type my blog entries and then as I can record my podcast. Even with the Southern accent, I do think my voice is better than the Talkr voice. But I think the Talkr voice is better than nothing.
  • They do reserve the right to add advertising (though you can opt out) and one post got stuck at the end as it said "there is a graphic inserted here" several times at the end of one article."
  • I'm not sure how some of my Southern vernacular will come out (I'll be careful not to type "y'all" -- oops I just did!

However I think I will give it a try. Here is how you can get set up.

Add Talkr to your blog

Wordpress users, you're lucky because you have the Talkr Podcast Plugin should make it simple to add audio links to your blog.

Fellow Bloggerites- it may take a little longer for you, but here is how I made it work!

1. Sign up for a free account at Talkr.

2. If you use blogger, you will also need to use feedburner, so sign up for a free account there.
(To add your feed to feedburner, go into your blogger dashboard and click on Settings and Site Feed, you can then highlight the feed that includes the word "atom" in it and paste it into the box in Feedburner for burning your feed. If you have trouble with Feedburner, comment and I'll do a how to there.)

3. Copy and paste the feed URL from feedburner into the feed for talkr.
(In feedburner, go to My Feeds and then click on the grey XML button to the left of the name of your feed, mine has the format http://feeds.feedburner.com/CoolCatTeacherBlog)

4. In Talkr on the RSS feeds tab, click the button that says "Add an audio link for each entry".

5. Follow the intructions, for me in blogger I then copied the code at the bottom of the page and went into my blogger dashboard.

6. I clicked on the Template Button.

7. I went just after the body section and just before comments (you'll have to scroll way down) and pasted the code.

8. Replace [template variable for permalink] with <$BlogItemPermalinkURL$> if you're using blogger. If you're using another account, use whatever your company uses for the Permanent link.

9. THIS IS IMPORTANT! Preview the template and test it. If it doesn't work or you've made a mess, click off the template button and abandon those changes. Otherwise, publish the template and there you go!

How to Subscribe to Cool Cat Teacher over your iPod or MP3 player
So, I'm using talkr and you can subscribe to my podcast using talkr and have it download into your iPod by clicking on the following "chicklet". I will also add this to my template. (To add it just select the button "add chicklet" to blog.)

Download my podcast into your iPod
Link to Podcast (RSS feed) for this blog

Tell me what you think. The jury is still out on this one!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

My students inspire me as they "get" Web 2.0

With a lot of preaching this Web 2.0, the students are getting it. I have a growing list of students who are blogging outside my classroom and a growing respect for their diversity of interests.

One of my students has created a beautiful blog in wordpress. Her comments about blogging are so wonderful, I'd like to share them with you.

When my computer teacher, Mrs. Vicki, first told my class about blogs, I have to admit I was the person in the back of the room not really paying attention going, “What’s a blog?”

Once she explained in simplistic terms what a blog was she required us to create wikis explaining Web 2.0 so we could learn about it and create our own bloglines account. Then (of all things) she had us post something on our class blogmeister account.

I was still the one going, “What am I supposed to write about?” I was seriously at a loss. I mean what could I say that would actually interest anyone else, but then I started reading other peoples blogs.

I finally realized that there are a myriad of different things to write about: politics, religion, technology, etc. If you have a hobby of any kind, somebody has written about it in a blog.

While watching the news this morning, I actually heard the President say the word "blog" when talking about how the American people can keep up a positve attitude in the War in Iraq.

Blogs are revolutionizing this country, and many people are completely oblivious to even what a blog is much less what it can.

So thank you Mrs. Vicki for convincing me what a viable resource a blog can be.

Thank you for not letting me be ignorant to something so revolutionary.
As I ponder her closing words I am taken aback. I didn't see the importance so very clearly until I read her words. They are forever burned into my psyche and will ooze into every moment I ever teach technology again.

How can we let children be ignorant of something so revolutionary?

Their world has changed. The world has changed. And no one knows it.

I tell this to my students all of the time. (Some have even blogged about it.)

Challenge to Teachers

Where are the teachers that are going to take the time to wake up and smell the perfume of a new datastream?

We are doing children a disservice if we do not teach them to blog! People are being hired and fired because of this new medium. What will be happening in five years! Start the learning curve now!

It has outgrown me now!

Now, I have students setting up their own radio stations on Odeo. (It fills me with excitement and fear at the same time! What will they say in their spare time and whose going to blame me!)

I've taught them HTML and Odeo and now they are pasting code for people to send them Odeo voice mails into their Myspace accounts. Some of them found code and copied it to change their HTML code they are programming in notepad. One started using a style sheet and I don't even teach that by hand!

You see, knowledge is an amazing and powerful thing. As students "get it" it becomes part of their lives. It becomes another way to communicate. It becomes another way to be human.
And because these tools are connected to humans they can be used for good or bad purposes. It doesn't make the medium intrinsicly evil or good...it just provides another place that they need supervision.

I was trying to keep a handle on things and all of the Web 2.0 accounts they are using and things they are doing, but they've outgrown my capacity to process and keep up with it. I even thought of suprglu and putting it all together to monitor it.

For now, I'm sticking to my policy. If it is "my classroom" it is "my business" and all school rules apply even if it is posted from home. However, if it is out of my classroom it is out of my "eagle eye" but they should be aware that if anything innapropriate is brought to my attention that they will, as always, get the private Mrs. Vicki character talk that they have grown to expect when they have done something wrong.

I love them dearly, but I am just going to have to trust them and hope that I have taught them enough about living their lives, privacy, and the Internet that they can be good Internet participants.

Meanwhile, I think I need to go pray...

In search of the best online gradebook software

The Dream
Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream of automating our gradebook system.

We do many cutting edge things here, but alas we currently do report cards in Shakespearian longhand. Several of us have trialed and used online gradebook systems in the last year and we are convinced that doing this by hand is a waste of time that we do not have.

I'm a big believer in efficiency. I'm also a believer that when you select software you base it on what it is easy for teachers to use or IT WILL NOT BE USED!

I don't need bloatware that has more features than we want. We also don't have unlimited resources.

I've been perusing the Internet, lots of software, not much information from teachers about what they think.

Call for Help
Here are the requirements of what we need:

  • Online access to grades for parents and students.
  • Gradebook software for teachers that allows averaging on a weighted as well as a straight basis.
  • Appropriate for grades 3 - 12
  • Hosted off site (I teach 5 classes and maintain all computers and the server, no more databases I have to write, please!)
  • Will easily print report cards with all grades for each student.
  • Preferably accessed through an Internet browser for teachers and students
  • Affordable
  • Easy for teacher to use
I'm just trying to come up with a short list.

Would you post what you use and if you like it?

An opinionated sidenote
I don't really care to do an SIS and online system. I'm amazed at what waste and redundancy there seems to be with these multiple systems. Many of the SIS (Student Information Systems) systems are still talking about their upgrade from DOS on their website. Come on!

Web 2.0 and the gradebook.

What I'd really like is a class portal with gradebook information, etc. but also the ability to do RSS feeds into the portal which would include such things as the school calendar, school news blog, and other items.

With the advent of XHTML it seems there should be a better way but no one has invented it yet.

Please help me!

I'm trying to get the short list to our technology committee. I've been working on this for three weeks and resorting to my blog as a last resort. (I hope you will prove that it should have been my first resort!)

Some I'm considering putting on the short list:

Would you post what you use and if you like it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Are you a bobblehead or a bumblebee?

As I look around life, I see two types of people: bobbleheads and bumblebees.

Bobbleheads say "yes" with their heads but their feet don't move.

Bobbleheads are like those little men on the dash whose heads nod up and down based on the movement of the vehicle they are in.

The bobbleheads in life are often called "yes men" but this is more than that. These are the echoes.

If everyone is complaining about test scores, that is what they complain about. If people are saying students are sorry these days, that's the bandwagon they ride on. If collaborative learning is the "new thing" that is the "thing" they are doing prolifically in their classroom. He has no opinion. No thoughts. He just follows the tide and echoes the sentiment. He makes a few pundits' voices turn into a roar.

There is one characteristic of a bobble head -- his head moves. His feet don't.

He agrees in voice but he doesn't change a thing. A bobblehead's feet are stuck. Ask him about a class he took last week and he'll tell you a thousand things he liked, but he's still using lesson plans from ten years a go. His students write everything by hand. There is no automation.

A bobblehead may nod in a direction but he never moves in any direction. A bobblehead does the same thing day in and day out. He doesn't really change what he does. He doesn't seek variety. He just sticks like adhesive glue to wherever he was stuck years a go when he became a bobblehead. And, he nods gratutiously whichever direction the automobile swerves at the moment.

He is a fixture. He doesn't contribute in any way but rather, takes up space. He makes us think we have his support because he's always nodding at us.

But, he's a bobblehead, that is what he does.

The world is full of them. Teachers and educators who realize that the only people who are ever in danger in education are the really poor teacher or the really exceptional. People who agree pliantly with everything from the top but do their own thing are usually safe.

We need less bobbleheads. We need more people who pry them up and challenge them that there is a better way.

We need more people afraid of what bobbleheads do...make more bobbleheads.

Then there's the bumblebee, freak of nature.

Then, there are the bumblebees. You see, bumblebees are a feat (or shall I say freak) of nature. Years a go a mathematician conjectured that according to aerodynamics and the ratio of wingspan to body weight that a Bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly. Nobody told the bumblebee.

Because it is "ignorant" of its limitations, it flies every day. Not only that, it gleans nectar from many sources and makes honey too.

Bumblebees are busy. I photographed some busy in my pink azaleas this past Saturday. They worked efficiently and visited many blooms before buzzing off to their far off hive. They processed the nectar. They did their assigned job in the hive and then flew out again in search of more nectar. They didn't bother me as I photographed, they were too busy to turn their barb my way.

Bumblebees make things happen that aren't supposed to happen. They bring classrooms to the cutting edge that are underfunded and understaffed. They excite students who are forgotten and unloved (except by the bumblebee.) They reach past what the students aren't supposed to be able to do into the hive of excellence. When they find an exceptionally large supply of nectar, they lead other bees to the source. They follow orders and do their job, but they do things that just can't happen.

But, bumblebees are scary. They can sting if they are made angry. They can swarm and really hurt somebody, even kill a person who is allergic or the swarm is big enough. Interestingly, the pain of the bee is more severe and often life threatening to the bumblebee. Really, the bumblebee doesn't want to get mad. It wants to be left alone to work. It doesn't want to be interfered with. It wants a good supply of flowers and time. To be busy. To make honey.

I feel like I am gleaning nectar from many sources in my bloglines account. I travel many miles every day to Sweden, Denmark, Australia, North Carolina, Tennessee, California, and Atlanta GA and make the return trip to my classroom to make honey.

Lesson plans are sweeter, learning is more fun, the classroom is more enriching because of my trips to gather nectar from around the world. I want to tell other bumblebees. People who aren't afraid to change. People who want to get the job done. People who want to make life a little sweeter for everyone who comes in their classroom.

I want to be given a good supply of technology, textbooks, and time. Time to be busy. Time to teach.

But I'm a bumblebee, I overcome the odds and use older computers and make no excuses as I strive to produce excellence in my classrooms. It is the sweetest profession in the world. Nothing compares.

We need more bees. We need more beekeepers. We need less people afraid of beehives.

Listen to the Podcast of this post made on Odeo

I've been teaching my classes how to use Odeo so I used it to record this. I've also created a Cool Cat Teacher podcast channel for recordings of my favorite posts, so you can subscribe to that if you like to hear audio. There were a few skips, but I think it happened when my Norton Antivirus kicked in as I was recording! I'm sure I'll get better! (Learn to use Odeo.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Group Goals, Blogging, My Amazing semester in keyboarding

This semester's anomaly
I have been perplexed with a question: after teaching keyboarding for a while, I have found that most of my classes average around 45 gwam and I have set as a goal for all of my students to break 30 gwam. That is until this semester.

This semester, after 10 weeks of teaching my class average is over 70 gwam (gross words per minute) and every student is already over 50 gwam. Why?

This is particularly interesting in the fact that last semester I had one of a pair of identical twins and this semester I have the other one. Needless to say, they are very similar but one typed 13 gwam (last semester) and this semester the other twin is over 50 gwam. Something has changed!

Coming from an engineering background, I like to understand the factors that compose this equation. I've been making notes of how I have taught differently, but I asked them today,

"What motivates you to hit such high typing speeds?"

Here is what they said:

"We love the timed writings. They make us faster and you can see yourself get better."

"We like setting group goals, it gives us an incentive to do better."

"We 'egg each other on' to improve because we want to reach the higher goals. We encourage each other to go faster."

"The individual goals don't get me excited. I like the group incentive that makes me want to improve."

"It's because we have a great, enthusiastic teacher." (I just had to include that one, ha ha!)

AS much as I'd like to take all the credit the fact is the teacher is the same between the semesters.

Setting Group Goals
Some things have changed, this is the first time I have used a group goal setting technique that I've been pondering for a while. Group goal setting is a fine balance. You want everyone to know that they contribute. You do not want people who are at the "low end of the totem pole" to feel any less important or validated. You want to motivate not demotivate!

Here is why I think they are so successful:
  • Consistency
Timed writings happen very day 5-6 minutes a day. Five days a week. Even if we're doing something "fun" or different we still do our timed writing!
  • Group Goals.
This group goal makes it so the upper end really appreciate the lower end. It is difficult to keep up a high pace. Sometimes the boy who types 110 gwam+ has an "off" day and only types 90. When the lower student bumped from 25 gwam to 40 gwam that same day, he received a big high five and "thank you" from the faster typist. They see their interdependence and how they win as they all improve!
  • A visual depiction of group results.
I have a spreadsheet that I use to average the gwams. I also have a chart that graphs the group scores. They see how they drop on Mondays (after they haven't had practice) and how they steadily rise within the week. This motivates them to type on the weekends and to make up their work when they miss.
They understand what causes them to increase. When they go up significantly, I have them share why they think it happened. At the beginning, I also talk about how the brain makes connections when they repeat correct behaviors. They can see this happening and understand how new skills are learned! What a great lifetime lesson.

  • Incentives and rewards.
I do rewards like a "fun" day of Typershark. Typershark is a free popcap game that encourages fast typing. They love it. It is fun to them but works on the skills from my perspective. Everything must have an objective and go towards the goals I have set for my classes.

  • They type with their monitors off and my eyes on them.
I like typing with their monitors off because otherwise students are constantly double checking with their eyes and often cut their time in half. I also watch their eyes to make sure that they are keeping their eyes on their books. They feel whether they are on homerow by the "nobs" on the j and f.

  • Public "bragging" via the blog.
All of my students hinge upon the same teacher blog, mine. So when I blog about their results, they receive notice from other students who, quite honestly, are a little jealous of their fast typing.

  • This class is blogging.
The move from typing text in a book to typing "from top of mind" is an important one because much of composition happens actually while on the keyboard. We had been keeping journals in previous semesters to do this, however, we have switched to blogs.

The class enjoys it! It is cool! Journals were very uncool!

The fact that they must enter information daily to have the current date is an incentive for consistent posting. The bane of teachers who grade journals is the fact that students write all of their journal entries in a rush, backdating them, and missing the point. Blogs neutralize this habit! This is not as directly related but has worked to make keyboarding one of the exciting classes the eighth graders take.

  • I am blogging
I am more excited. I am reading about the work of other teachers. I am bringing new things into the classroom that work. I am a more motivated, more educated teacher. I have learned more from my bloglines since November than I've learned in the more than 60 hours of PLU training I've had in the past two years!

Keyboarding is the next progression of writing.

After a student colors, prints in Denilian, and then writes in cursive, a student should learn to keyboard.
Yes, voice recognition is around the corner, but its not here yet. Students should learn to type at a young age, when their hands are of the right size but AFTER they know cursive. (Otherwise they don't correctly and completely learn handwriting, in my opinion.)

We're looking at keywriter systems for teaching typing and I'm excited about the opportunity. However, I am cautious.

When students are "self taught" there is an intrinsic risk of poor technique. With poor technique, students will go slower and give up lifetime productivity gains. There is a big difference over a lifetime in 30-40 gross words per minute. Try at least 30 extra minutes for a 400 word paper!

It is doing a disservice to students to have them blogging when they cannot even type. I know from experience, that once they learn to type visually, it is almost impossible to teach them to touch type. For this reason, I taught my own children as they exited the third grade over the summer. I used Mavis Beacon but also used Speed Skins to cover the keys and monitored them for technique as I watched them type.

Now my kids blog.

I have students who transfer into my high school classes from other schools who have never had typing. They cannot keep up. It is unfair. We now screen students that enter and ensure that they can type at least 30 gwam, otherwise, they go back to 8th grade keyboarding.

It is hard for me to understand such an oversight at any school!

Just as a teenager doesn't learn to drive "by osmosis" (God forbid!) likewise students don't just "learn to type" by sitting at a computer!

We aren't educating mindless robots who are sitting at an assembly line. We are educating professionals who will not have a secretary and need to be able to communicate efficiently via electronic media. They need to be creative and self motivated.

To sap creativity, have a person struggling to find the keys. They won't be inclined to write and rewrite!

Typing shouldn't be relegated to the vocational track. College preparatory students need this vital skill also! At our school, we do not require typed papers UNTIL a student has learned to type. To do so is harmful! Either someone else will write the paper or the child will hunt and peck into bad habits.

One of the reasons I was first in my class at Georgia Tech was I could type more, faster. I could keep up with the thousand lines of code and prolific paper writing. My mother was a typing teacher and taught me after fifth grade to type. I type 128 words a minute. I know what it means to type quickly. (Of course no education and fast typing is a waste too -- I said ONE of the factors!)

In conclusion: the Peer Success Equation

So in conclusion, I think that group goal setting is a phenomenal success in my classroom. Of course, setting something like gross words per minute is very easily measurable and other things aren't so measurable. I'm going to think through my other classes and see how I can give group goals and group rewards in such a way.

I also think that the more you use student blogs
, the more you foster such a "peer success" equation in the classroom.
I like that students of all grades can see each other's work.
It is also vital that I am connected with other teachers and excited. This community of edubloggers does a lot to keep me motivated and on track when I have the days that are a little tough!

Interesting that our book in keyboarding is about 10 years old. We just used new tools and techniques.
There are no excuses when it comes to teaching. There is always a way to improve. There are so many free tools at your fingertips. They will revolutionize and change your classroom in ways you cannot imagine. They will make you a better teacher. They will help your students learn more.

The facts show me that these tools work.
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