Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Follow Forever

Many of you saw and contributed to my google doc/spreadsheet with “Who To Follow” on twitter. I was blown away by the response and it truly shows the power of social media and crowd sourcing. With that in mind, I wanted to point out that this list is public and therefore editable by anyone. I do not have the time to go through and check every single name on the list for quality and appropriateness. I know there are some amazing educators on this list and can be a great place to start for newbies. However, I would urge you to make sure you are following people that fit your needs as an educator and feel free to unfollow those that do not.

Many twitter users know of #FF which is a hashtag that indicates #followfriday which is when people post lists of great people to follow or folks they have had worked with that week. Instead of a #followfriday, I am going to share my #followforever. These are people that I rely on within my PLN on twitter. They are in no particular order… :)

@L_Hilt – Lyn is a forward thinking elementary school principal that shares freely of her experiences with a thoughtful and compassionate voice. She is a kind person and you can tell she loves her job and her focus is always on her students.

@gcouros – George is another administrator with an eye for making things better. He regularly tweets and blogs about his experiences and those in his PLN. Again, his focus is always on the kids and how we as educators can make learning better for them.

@cybraryman1 – Jerry is an educator with many years of experience and seems to be the man with all the answers. You will often see him moderating and participating in chats and sharing his innumerable education web pages.

@Becky_Ellis_ - Becky is an instructional coach that moderates the #sschat and can also be seen on the #ecosys chat as well. She offers a fresh perspective and always seems to be asking questions that cause me to think and reflect.

@MZimmer557 – Michael is my go to guy with new resources and ideas. He regularly shares resources from all the major core subject areas and provides reviews and how they can play out in a classroom. I look forward to reading his weekly core subjects updates.

@ktenkely – Kelly is another great resource as she reviews tools and resources on her blog that she shares with teachers. She also participates in numerous discussions throughout twitter and various online conferences with a voice of reason and practicality. In addition, she is working on creating a new school based largely on the principals learned, discussed and shared on twitter.

@kylepace – Kyle is a great person to follow that is constantly sharing resources and challenging educators with reflective questions. You will see him active in #edchat discussions and is always challenging teachers to be better for kids.

@web20classroom - Steve is a great educator and sharer of all things education. He is a down to earth tweeter that is clearly well read and in tune to what is "in" and fresh in education and technology. I always like reading his tweets from conferences as you often feel as though you are there learning with him.

New Additions:
@rmbyrne - This guy blogs and posts regularly about free tech resources for teachers. I have yet to come across a post of his that I do not pass on to another teacher. Even if you don't follow Richard on twitter you need to add his blog to your reader.

Please use my spreadsheet to help yourself start a great PLN, but be sure you follow people that fit your needs. Don’t be afraid to unfollow if the person is not what you need or the quality you seek. With that, don’t be afraid to follow people you disagree with…it is often through those conversations we learn the most!

Class Update 2 - It's About the Learning...

“It’s about the learning, not about the grades.”

That was a statement that was shared with me by one of my students this past week. I was meeting with two girls in my class that had recently finished reading Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. They scheduled a “meeting” with me to discuss the novel and the various literature standards they had addressed in their reading and discussions.

Theme was our first topic of discussion and the girls freely shared details from the book but were unable to nail down a solid theme. I asked a few guiding questions, but wanted them to come to an answer on their own. This is largely due to the belief I have in students finding answers on their own and also because I had not even read the novel they were discussing…

As the girls were sharing the details of their book and dancing around the idea of a theme, there was a light bulb moment. You could physically see it on the one girl’s face as it hit her. She said, “The author is trying to tell us that life is about the journey, and not about the destination.” It was a proud moment for all of us because it finally clicked and she figured it out on her own. We then proceeded to converse more about the theme of life being a journey with a renewed interest.

Towards the end of our conversation the discussion shifted to a little more personal thread and then into discussions about the learning in our class. In the context of the theme of this novel the two students were able to make connection to what I was trying to do in the class with their learning. Finally, one of them says, “So, it’s about the learning, not about the grades?”

I could have stood up, walked out the room, and died a happy man…

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Class Update Number 1

A few weeks ago I wrote about my venture to hand over the learning decisions in my classroom to my students. I promised I would provide an update so here is my first update. At this point in time, students have determined their syllabus and learning activities based on the Language Arts standards required by our district. Here is a snap shot of what my room looked like today:


• I was sitting in front meeting with three young ladies who formed a book club. We were discussing how theme and mood were impacting their novel. They even shared their journals they created to keep track of their reading and discussions.

• Two students were working on a vocabulary workbook (I know, I know, not a fan of the workbook either!) that looked at word parts and how words are created.

• Five boys were sitting in the back working on a presentation about perspective in literature based on a novel study they are working on. Each group member was working a different novel in a series and how perspectives changed largely based on character development.

• Eight individual students were working on research for expository papers on topics of their choice. There is a wide range of topics from Al Capone’s impact on Chicago to the role of Octopus in marine environments.

• Another group of four students created a book club and were discussing author’s style and dialogue. They are still working on how they want to demonstrate their conversations in a presentation or small group discussion with me.

Another thing you would notice is the back wall of my room that has a large calendar on it. Students are signing up for meetings with me to discuss progress as well as address specific standards. At this point, it is going well and I am hopeful the motivation will stay up when we return from spring break!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Lego Classroom

My wife and sons are on spring break this week and spent their first day off traveling to Lego Land. While there, they met with a master builder, which sounds like an amazing job, and built various Lego “things”. I spent three hours that night building “Lego things” with my sons on the floor of our living room. It brought back many great memories of my own childhood and the hours spent with my brothers building all sorts of things with our 30 gallon Rubbermaid tubs full of Legos. Let me clarify that when I say Legos, I mean the blocks, not the prefab kits. There were no instructions and what we created was purely a product of our own creativity and imagination.


Not to sound like an old man…(I turn 30 in May)…but kids these days all have pre-made kits with instructions. They are simply following directions to make the predetermined vehicle, building, or other object. Yes, there is still value in building this way, as with building a model airplane and other fine-motor skill work. However, I feel as though the creativity and imagination is being lost. When I wanted to build the Millennium Falcon, I did it on my own without pre-made pieces and step by step directions.


I will attempt to compare this Lego evolution to a classroom since this is in fact a pseudo-educational blog. In most classrooms, we are seeing more pre-fab work being done in the form of worksheets, standardized testing, and rigid curriculum. Students are being taught to follow directions and if they do their work exactly like we tell them, they will succeed. If they deviate from our plan, they fail. Just like if I don’t build that Falcon as indicated in my ten page manual, it would fail to look perfect.

Should our classrooms be more like that 30 gallon bucket of random blocks, pieces, and the odd rubber tire that was great to chew on when you were seven? Or, should we give students rigid directions and create great instruction followers. I know there is some negative hype around standards, but I like some focus with what our end game should be. I wouldn’t be able to drive my car without a destination or at least a rest stop. Give students those standards, checkpoints and the tools to achieve them. Then step out of the way and let creativity, imagination, and natural curiosity to take control.

Are you giving your kids the Mellienium Falcon kit, or a 30 gallon bucket of Legos?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brain Breaks

For a few years now we have had a physical education teacher, Nadine Stanley, speaking to our staff about what she calls “Brain Breaks”. In her presentation she shared the following information about the positives of these short bursts of physical activity in a classroom:

  • Exercise leads to the release of:
    • Endorphins – mood regulator
    • Dopamine-similar to adrenaline (controls movt. emotional responses, experiencing pleasure
    • Norepinephrine- relays message

  • Positives in the Classroom:
    • Reduces stres
    • Helps with impulse contro
    • Combats depressio
    • Focuses attentio
    • Increase self-estee
    • Increase motivation
    • Helps mood and anxiety regulation

There are many activities that are used but many of them focus on “crossing” the body. While doing this, there is some heightened brain activity that happens. This crossing of the midline helps your brain communicate across the two hemispheres. What I can tell you is these get the kids up out of their seats and the slight movement helps break up a long period of time. This prezi is just a small sampling of Brain Breaks that have been shared by Nadine but are a great place to start.