my one word: discipline

Judging by the date of my last blog post, my One Word for 2012 (inspired by this initiative) is entirely appropriate:  discipline.

When I started to blog in the beginning of the school year, I did so prompted by the energy and excitement instilled in me when I began a year-long professional development program through the PLP Network.  I vowed to blog daily, to share my experiences, to cultivate my own digital footprint.

And then I stopped.

But, why?

My excuse was “no time.”  But the real reason?  Lack of discipline.

Though it took placing my large, new, pretty desk calendar beneath my plan book and having the giant number 2012 stare me in the face to refocus and begin my search for discipline, I can now say that I am ready to start again.

I received another nudge in the ribs this evening as I participated in a DiscoveryEd webinar on taking the fear out of blogging.  The group was small and the presenters endearing, straightforward, and encouraging in their segments.  I registered yesterday and was excited about what I would learn, but when 5:30 rolled around I had toyed with the idea of not attending.  Discipline tapped me on the shoulder and posed the question:  BUT WHY?

There was no good reason for me not to keep up my end of the bargain with myself.  So, I logged on, listened, chatted, tweeted, and LEARNED.  I signed out feeling exhilarated, feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I walked away with great ideas to take to my students and my colleagues, and I realized that I had just done some learning for learning’s sake.  I wasn’t required to attend this webinar, it wasn’t part of PLP, it wasn’t a grad class.  I registered simply because I found the topic to be interesting and I wanted to learn more.

Which brings me back to the reason I started this blog in the first place.  I am a learner first.  And tonight, I felt an overwhelming sense of something clicking, falling into place, a feeling uncannily similar to the one that washed over me when I went to the PLP Kickoff event that started this whole process in the first place.  I am coming to realize that I am at home when I am learning, which is most likely the reason why I enjoy teaching so much (and why–even though I JUST finished my master’s–I miss being a student.)  Because of that webinar, I was prompted to check my Twitter feed a bit more thoroughly, post to my classroom blog for my parents (which I haven’t done since the beginning of the school year…ahem, discipline…) and write this post as well.

I remembered that being consistent in my own learning, connecting to others who can teach me, and sharing my thoughts about teaching and learning in the digital age are the things that are going to send me in the direction of success.

So, discipline’s the word.

I am back to being a learner first and I could not be more excited about the possibilities that  opens up for myself and for my students in 2012.


writing across the curriculum

When we covered the practice of writing across the curriculum in my teacher ed courses, I was on board with the idea, but it was definitely one of those “nod your head and smile” moments when I understood the premise, but never really believed I could pull it off in a meaningful way.  Since then, I’ve tried writing in science, religion, and math, but it wasn’t until today that I fully saw it come alive and actually work for good in my classroom.

This year, I’ve decided to skip the fluff at the beginning of our math text and head straight for multiplication and long division to be sure my students have those skills down before we move on to fractions and algebraic concepts.  Last year, still in my rookie, “I’ve got to do everything by the book” mode, I spent way too much time following the textbook’s recommended scope and sequence and not enough time on the skills my students really needed to master.  This is one of the major differences I am noticing my second time around:  I feel much more in control of my pacing and am owning the choices I make to fulfill the standards of our curriculum.  I feel much more confident that I know what my students need and I am much more well-equipped to give it to them.

So, today, we began unpacking more difficult multiplication word problems:  separating essential information from the unimportant, locating what we need to solve the problem, identifying the question being asked of us.  Once I was confident the students were able to solve word problems already written for them, we switched gears and took on the task of writing our own.

I was nervous to let them try.  I thought it would be a disaster in that the word problems they wrote wouldn’t showcase multiplication or maybe even worse, that they would sit at their seats, staring blankly at their notebooks, wondering why in the world we were using words in math instead of numbers.  And here’s where I learned my first lesson of the day:  I rarely give my students enough credit.  In a few minutes, students’ hands were raised to get their work approved and I found myself pleasantly surprised at the caliber of word problem they were writing and the creativity they had employed in setting up the situations for their problems.  Some were even writing two-step problems without having been instructed to and probably without even knowing they were doing it.

They had taken my simple instructions–create a two to three sentence multiplication word problem (using problems we had created together and from our book as examples) on any topic you’d like–and really run with it.  We had word problems about lemonade stands, football games, iTunes and iPad app downloads, snow cone sales, shopping trips, and pizza-eating.  After writing, each student traded with a partner who illustrated the problem and then solved it.  Suffice it to say, they got it.  And next time, I won’t be afraid to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If I set the expectation high, they rise to the occasion.  We’re in store for some great things this year.

A few things this “math write,” as I’m calling it brought to the classroom:

First, it allowed my students to experience math, which they usually see in numerals, in a different way.  For those who we sometimes say aren’t “math-minded” (like me!) it allowed them to approach math and multiplication in a more familiar and comfortable format.  They were writing, but they were multiplying, too, and it didn’t seem as “scary” to some of them, as was reported to me when we finished and I got a rousing “I love doing math this way!” from many of my language arts-liking students.

Secondly, it allowed me to work in writing in yet another format, especially when I’m trying so hard to get my students to write as often and in as many ways as possible.  So, for those who’d rather see numbers and only numbers, it pushed them to use their writing skills in a subject they enjoy.  Choosing their own topic to write about didn’t hurt either.

This activity brought creativity to a discipline that is usually black and white.  My students were able to showcase a favorite hobby, food, activity, or sport, and create a situation around it that displayed something as simple as a multiplication problem.  Seeing the topics my students chose on their own also allowed me to learn a bit about them in an indirect way, which is always a plus.

Lastly, and most importantly, my students were able to learn something from this task.  Even if they used multiplication facts they knew off the top of their heads, the process had meaning in that it enabled them to view the theory of multiplication from another angle.  A common error was writing a problem that exhibited addition instead of multiplication.  In a mini-conference, I was able to adjust the way the students were viewing the problems and showcase the theory of multiplication, the emphasis on having so many groups of a certain number, rather than just “x amount of this” and “x amount of that” adding up to something.  Seeing them revamp these problems and shift them to multiplication really showed me that this is where true learning about multiplication was taking place.  Not in the hours of drilling facts and the pages of pages of timed tests, but in digging in and really storytelling with the numbers to see what a multiplication problems really says to us.

My goal is to continue to find ways for my students to write in math.  I find that even though the subject isn’t my forte, if I bring in an element that I do feel comfortable with and am proficient in (writing) I am able to teach my students better.  A little writing never hurts.

Today, I taught my students, but they also taught me.

They reminded me that I am always a learner first.




iPads for the classroom

@flohrmatt22, this post’s for you!

Now that I have my own iPad, I am completely convinced that it is a great tool to use in the classroom.  For many of you, iPads may be provided by grants or through your IT department.  Let me just say:  I am jealous.  I received my own iPad this summer, but am so thrilled at the variety of apps that are out there for students to use that I am most definitely going to start utilizing it in class.

This presents a problem or two:  one, I only have a single iPad, so the way in which I use it is going to be limited to a few students at a time and is undoubtedly going to cause consternation among the others, who will constantly wonder, “when’s it my turn?” and two, the cost (all from my own pocket) could get a bit steep.  At first, I will most likely use my iPad to help my students who require extra reading or math support.  I know that the reading, spelling, vocab, and math tools available will be a great asset in their success, whether in the classroom or whether they decide to go and use them at home.

I have found that is important to be sleuth-saavy and search out free apps that are useful and instrumental in assisting with student learning.  This site has a great list of free apps to use in the classroom.  I had to invest some time to wade through all of these and sort out the ones that are worthwhile versus ones that are just “fluff” or won’t work for my students.

In addition to the apps on this list, I have explored Motuto, a free tutoring app that focuses on math and science concepts and does eventually cost money after a certain amount of time in a tutoring session; Whiteboard Lite, which is similar to other drawing board apps, but includes a collaborative tool that allows you to connect to another iPad in range and draw on one board from two separate devices (I see myself using this for students to practice spelling words, play a Pictionary-type game with vocabulary words, practice math facts, etc.); and Draw, which is another tool that is very similar that features a connect option as well.

Derek Keenan on his blog Developing Education, has an excellent post that lists the apps he has loaded on student iPads.  He offers insightful descriptions of and commentaries on each.  It’s worth a click over there to check it out.

As far as paid apps, there are a few I’ve found worth mentioning.  I am leaning toward springing for them because I know of several students who would benefit from using them in my classroom.  One:  SpellBoard–($4.99) allows you to create spelling quizzes in any language, has a share function to connect with others using the same lists, and a speak function so students can hear, see, and write the word; also has a drawing section so students can write the word with their finger or a stylus.  Spelling for iPad–($0.99) looks to offer the same features and comes in at a much more palatable price.  MathBoard–($4.99) offers practice for numbers and operations with a “problem solver” blackboard feature on which students can actually write the problems to practice regrouping/borrowing or write the answer to a multiple choice question.  This one’s been featured on some iPad commercials, so you’ve probably seen some screen shots of it being used.  Just as with the spelling apps, I’m sure there is one comparable for a much lower price or maybe even for free.  This is where the digging (and some time to invest in that digging) comes in.

By no means have I even scratched the surface here.  Visit the iPad Education App Store and start looking around.  Be sure to let me know if you find something good!

I am no expert on using these apps.  But, there is something to be said about how far a positive attitude and a willing spirit will get you, a spirit that I–and many of the colleagues I’ve met and connected with through Twitter and PD days–certainly display.

Do you use any iPad apps that have become invaluable in your classroom or for students to use at home?  How do you use your iPads in the classroom? Please share.

Remember, be a learner first.


jumping off the deep end

My second year as a teacher looks drastically different than my first.  And we’ve only been in school for 10 days (thanks, epic flooding of 2011.)

I expected that there would be some changes–hopefully all for the better–this year in that I would know my way around my classroom and my curriculum, my room would not be ab-so-lute-ly bare as it was at the beginning of last year, and I would be more familiar and comfortable with the way things run at my school.

But…I never expected to have such clarity, such confidence, in teaching as my vocation.  And I never expected to be catapulted into a journey that I believe is ultimately leading me to a more meaningful method of learning, discovering, and exploring the way education is shifting toward how we (and our students) learn, and the act of learning in general as opposed to just a focus on the what.

This push, nudge, bump in the direction of becoming a better learner myself and then translating that knowledge to my students through what I do with them in the classroom initially had me choking on the dust in which I was left by technology and its crazy, going-so-fast-all-you-see-is-a-perfect-circle-RoadRunner-esque feet.  Luckily, I was saved when I was invited to join a technology team and participate in the year-long action research professional development program run by the PLP Network.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into…

This morning at 8:30, just as the kickoff event was about to begin, I was standing on a diving board, toes curled over the edge, peering down into a dark, daunting, endless pool of water.  I couldn’t see the bottom.  But, the minute we started, the instant I began to participate in this new learning community, I was poised on that diving board, ready to jump….

And then I did.

Of all the things I learned today–from shifting our thinking away from the notion that teachers in the classroom have all the answers to being comfortable with and aware of the fact that most of our students’ teachers are out in the world waiting for our students to find them–to social media tools that can help facilitate learning in the classroom–to dispelling the notion that strangers (read:  educated, connected, intelligent, thoughtful people who can add to your knowledge base and help you learn and network) are not all that bad–what resonated with me most was this:

I am a learner first.  We, teachers, are learners first.  Learners always.

Yes, I am a teacher.  I take that role seriously–it is part of my life force, the reason I wake up in the morning, the vocation that makes me miss being with my students and makes me feel anxious to get back to the classroom the next morning even when I’ve been at school until 9:30 on Back to School Night.

But if we do not commit ourselves to being learners, to continuing our own education, how can we expect to give our students our best and how can we expect them to do the same?

As a teacher, my focus is on my learners, first.  Guiding them, teaching them, keeping the delicate balance between sharing what I know, my expertise, and allowing them to demonstrate theirs.

I am role model.  I am tour guide. I am storyteller.  I am teacher.

But, I am learner first.

I’ve already jumped off the deep end.

Come on in, the water’s fine.