Category Archives: Featured

Crossroads of Freedom & Equality

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to my History/Social Studies department teachers concerning resources they might use in their courses connecting lessons, activities, discussions and more to African American History Month. I wanted to begin a discussion with my colleagues about:

  1. key topics we’d like to integrate into core and elective courses
  2. reasons why its important to do so
  3. what the most effective ways are to do so

DEOMI 2013 African American Black History Month Poster (1)Over the last few years, these questions have also been important ones asked by the #sschat team of educators as well. Some of the best are Current Events (1), Current Events (2), Teaching the World Today, Teaching Controversial Topics, Life Changing Lessons, Teaching the Middle East, and Covering Live Events. While its true that we all understand how important it is to develop thinking skills necessary for active citizenship, finding the most effective way to do that is not always easy or apparent. Continued collaboration is so vital for me, as an educator, to find my way through social and moral questions created by my lessons. As a department head, I also want to create a climate where that collaboration is welcomed and sustained.

This year’s official theme for African American History Month is “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on WashingtonSo here’s some resources and ideas:

 
 
Outstanding documentaries and their accompanying website:
Full lesson plans from Edsitement (National Endowment for the Humanities) regarding Black History Month: http://edsitement.neh.gov/feature/edsitements-guide-black-history-month-teaching-resources
  • Many of these lesson plans have interactive online components as well as a direct primary source reading. They also contain already made student handouts.
  • @Edsitement on Twitter is fully supportive. They respond to tweets almost instantly and are very interested in connecting with history teachers around the world. 
African American History Month (for teachers) websitehttp://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/teachers.html
  • Links are provided here from the National Archives, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, and National Endowment for the Humanities
An interesting article from Edutopia concerning 6 Teaching Tools for African American History Monthhttp://www.edutopia.org/blog/black-history-month-teaching-resources-matthew-davis. Included are…
  • Discussion concerning shifting the lens by the University of NC
  • Interactive resources from biography.com
  • Interactive resources from Scholastic
  • Lesson plans and articles from the NYT Learning Network
  • Lessons and resources from the NEA
  • Resources and collections from the Smithsonian
Teaching African American History Month with Primary Sources http://csmp.ucop.edu/files/resources/files/587_Black%20History%20Month.pdf
  • This is a 16 page PDF (for those teaching US2) with some great primary sources of images, documents, paintings, political cartoons, maps and more. 
Day by day facts, stories and lessons for each day in February focused on African American History from primarysource.orgat http://www.primarysource.org/program/inclusiveamerican.bhm.php 
 

Sunday Morning Scan


Browsing Twitter on Sunday mornings is a pleasure. Although the week’s Tweets are always useful, I enjoy taking the time to scan, check out websites, collect primary sources, catalogue different classroom strategies, read teacher’s blogs, and comment back to a great pool of educators, on Sunday morning. Here are a few ‘finds’ from recent tweets as well as old resources. Let me know if you find them useful!
  • EdCafes: I saw this demonstrated at last year’s EdcampBoston and thought it had potential for a history class. The creator is Katrina Kennett (Plymouth South) and the basic idea is that students become facilitaor/presenters on topics of their choice related to a theme covered in class. In their words, “An EdCafe is a way to structure class that promotes student choice and ownership over learning. The model was inspired by EdCamp conferences, where participants build the schedule and choose what sessions to attend. This bottom-up approach shifts energy, engagement, and opportunity for exploration to the students, and transforms the teacher into expert facilitator instead of gatekeeper/manager.” Usually, there are four presentations going on in one class, and presentations are scheduled up to a month ahead. There’s a heavy amount of preparation for each student presenter and responsibilities for the participants as well. Katrina teaches this model with an ELA class, but it can be applied to history easily enough. Her site offers an explanation of what an Edcafe is, ideas for scaffolding skills, standards and assessments, advice for students, and examples of Edcafes in action.
  • American History Madness: I’ve actually done this project on paper for a couple of years and many of you have probably heard of it. I originally got the idea from this article on applying the NCAA Final Four brackets to a history class. Other teachers have built many variations on this idea. Mine was usually a poster-board with groups of students defending different outcomes. The teacher sponsoring this American History Madness blog has incorporated Google Forms and student presentations and blogs into his version. Its much more interactive, and allows/encourages the public to vote as well. With the iPads in many classes, its easy for us to facilitate and publish student presentations online. Students are also expected to be able to debate their positions. 
  • PPT Palooza: If you’re like me, and have created 100’s of PPTs over the years, this site makes me sigh, but in a good way. Susan Pojer has created hundreds of PPTs for US and World History that are absolutely amazing. She’s also linked some from other teachers and students. Check them out. I use them all the time now, and they also make for great backgrounds to screencasts, which are teacher-made YouTube video lectures. Using sites like Screencastomatic and others, its really easy to record yourself on audio while walking your students through a PPT or website on your computer. If you have any questions about how to make these, I can show you. It’s really easy and allows you to give lectures for students to do at home, so you can focus more time in class on inquiry, debates, projects, and basically homework (applied learning). The new buzzword is ‘flipped class’, but it has its merits, especially when students have their own iPads and mobile devices. 
  • Zinn Education Project: Even though Howard Zinn’s speeches and politics were controversial, his application of critical thinking in studying history was not. I’ve used the People’s History of the US (annotated teachers edition) as well as Voices of a People’s History in my APUSH classes for years, asking students to support or oppose his non-neutral stance on US History with evidence. I didn’t really care which position students took, as long as they learned the tools of historiography in the process. This website has a huge amount of teaching material that is free. All of the lessons involve different levels of critical thinking and student engagement (many have role plays), which I have always found useful. The Facebook page for the Zinn Education Project has a new primary source document highlighted almost every day as well. There’s also a free downloadable full teacher guide to Voices of a People’s History available on their site as well. so is a useful feature. There are also videos of actors reading primary sources from Voices of a People’s History that you can play in class. 

Schoology


Schoology has been one of the best additions to my teaching this year. It is a learning management system that integrates social media connections into classroom and flipped instruction. Let’s start with some of the basics. Schoology is free for teachers. Districts can sign up for paid services if they choose. You can create as many classes as you’d like. Students register with an access code and then log in as needed. There are iPhone, iPad and Android apps for students to connect on their mobile devices. Lessons can be designed in a number of ways. I’ve used graded online discussions for asymmetrical learning outside the normal classroom dialogue. I’ve also used discussions for students to collaboratively help one another with questions, comments and suggestions. There’s an online test/quiz feature that is very versatile. Teachers can also have students complete assignments using a dropbox feature, so that work can be done on multiple devices. Schoology allows teachers to take attendance as well as get analytics concerning student access, grades, and more. In essence, it has been a very useful tool, and even better, it looks just like Facebook, so students can intuitively grasp the format and functions.

 

The #sschat PLC

SSCHAT stands for the social studies chat channel located on Twitter. Since April 2011, I have had the great opportunity to connect with other social studies educators from around the nation on a wide range of issues. Just now, as I am trying this, the most recent tweets on #sschat point to 1) 5 powerful strategies to empower students, 2) primary sources from Harvard University on women working from 1800-1930, and 3) a tweet on how to use Livebinders in the history classroom. In a nutshell, its the most empowering professional learning I’ve had as an educator in over 15 years.

The program I most use to access it is Tweetdeck. It’s very easy to use and is great at browsing while communicating with colleagues.

It’s also made an impact on some of my former students. After I invited him to ‘tweet in’ on one of our weekly tweet sessions (Monday nights at 7PM EST) one of them wrote about #sschat on his blog. You can read the post here:

The #sschat site has thousands of members. All of them use Twitter to connect, share lessons, inspire each other, provide classroom advice, collaborate on lesson plan feedback, and more. There are also hundreds of principals and other administrators there as well. In addition to the Twitter channel, #sschat has its own wiki page at http://sschat.ning.com/.  Click on the image below to go to the site.

I’m happy to say that there is a real world component to all of this online collaboration too. Edcamp conferences are held periodically all over the country, where members of #sschat can get together and see each other face to face. So far, I have been to four of them. Each has been better than the last. I am very excited to be traveling to Philadelphia in a week to attend the #edcampss conference!!

The professional learning community is a very strong, empowering, collaborative way for me to grow and share as a teacher-leader. I am proud to be a part of it. Come and join!

The Year So Far…

Vision is essential. It’s important to know where you are headed and why you are headed there. Figuring out how to get there is a process, but as long as the vision is guided by values, the methods may change. The goals don’t. So this school year, I set some goals for myself. I determined that I would 1) be healthy, 2) grow professionally and 3) empower others.

So, how am I doing?

Students

With my students, I have worked hard to build relationships, demand rigor and make the learning relavent. I know these are catch words for the ‘buzz’ in education, but I really believe them. In my school, with so many institutional barriers and administrative failures to support this vision, it is not easy to do. Sometimes the punitive system that suspends students works against a  teacher who is trying to develop an academic relationship with an at-risk student. Sometimes the lack of enforced rules does the same. Its just not easy.

With my students, I have tried my best to be genuine. I don’t want to ‘cover my cake with frosting’ (if that makes any sense) in the classroom. If a student is struggling, I have done my best to let them know that I will always be there to help them. If someone is having a bad day, I have done my best to make sure the next day I do not judge them.

Again, it isn’t easy. Sometimes one or two students can make building this dynamic really hard. This year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve tried to view the classroom dynamic as reflective rather than reactive. The tone set in the classroom reflects my ability to manifest my energy and create my day rather than reacting to situations as they come up. Getting to this point took a lot of self-growth, but it is worth it, even if I am not perfect in its application.

The other day I found myself with a ‘head down’ situation that I was not proud of in the way I handled it. I also confronted a student about skipping my class without fully checking to see if she was in the ‘in school suspension’ room, which she claims. I jumped to my own conclusions and reacted to a situation from my own feelings rather than the situation in front of me. Clearly, I still have a way to go. Teachers learn everyday too.

Growing

Growing professionally was my second goal this year. In some ways, I think that I looked at this simplistically at first. I thought that I would make a point of attending more conferences and contact more individuals in my (Twitter) personal learning network, so that I could stay abreast of the current pedagogical thinking. While it is true that I did go out of my way to schedule and attend the New England Conference on Multicultural Education at the end of September, and it is true that I have been continuing to engage my network of educators on Twitter, I am beginning to understand that growing professionally is not simply a matter of contacts and research. It’s being able to confront my fears about my own limitations and inadequacies and also being able to create and sustain a vision of why and how I want to grow professionally in the first place.

On a day to day level, this means that I have to live the vision with smaller, quicker decisions about how I act out my profession. I believe I am self-reflective, but am I willing to make the changes necessary to confront my fears and improve my practice? This year I am not so sure of the evidence so far, but I am becoming more open to looking for it in the classroom and in face-to-face interactions with students.

Concerning administration, I have a harder time. I have lost a lot of trust in many of the people who supervise me (or don’t, for that matter). I do not have any evidence that they share the same vision or even understand how to implement , articulate, or understand its basic concepts. This is not true of all administrators, but my experience with school policy reform and restructuring has left me bitter and biased. In order to grow professionally, I now understand that I have to move beyond those feelings, or I have to move beyond this particular school. Stating those realizations is a first step, but I have to do more. I hope to report on more progress in this area with future reflections during the school year.

Health

On this front, I believe I have made a good deal of progress. Boundaries are good, and although I have had my challenges in holding myself to them, I believe I have become better at seeing them, if not reinforcing them when confronted with situations that put them into play. My toughest boundaries are not with students, but with administration. I am learning to set them, but following through has not been easy. On both occasions of professional development days (in September and November), I did not follow through on my own boundaries set in the morning before going to work. I found myself calling out incompetence when I saw them and asking deeper questions about the meaning and vision behind tasks, when I suspected they were not there. This isn’t my place. It’s not my job and it only makes professional relationships more difficult to maintain. It’s also snarky and immature, based on my previous failure to succeed in school redesign initiatives. Bottom line? It’s not healthy. I’m looking forward future posts that reflect growth on this issue.

On a more basic note, I have been dealing with stress, diet, and exercise in a somewhat consistent way. I’ve been making better choices about free time and better decisions about my  own priorities as a person before being a teacher. I wasn’t always this way. The situation used to be reversed, and I am grateful it has switched. I need to keep myself on the healthy path in order to keep myself a healthy person.

Empowering

Of all of my three goals, this is the one I am not as sure about concerning results or even progress. I know that my posts on Twitter have created in me a sense of ‘giving back’ to the education community, no matter how many people read or respond. With my colleagues, I have not sought to put myself in a training or sharing role, as I expected in the summer, and that is something that I want to reflect on. Because my PLN on Twitter and in the EdCamp conferences have inspired me with more professional growth than I’ve had in my previous 15 years of teaching, I expected that I would become a voice for those opportunities in my school. That hasn’t happened. I haven’t stepped out of the crowd in the way I had expected. Maybe this is a response to my ‘low profile’ mode, following the failure at school restructuring. Maybe I’ve tired of challenging the administration, by demonstrating what leadership opportunities they are not taking. Perhaps I’ve simply considered the mountain too big to climb. In any case, I am disappointed with myself for not living up to my own expectations concerning ‘being the change I want to see in the world’. This is something I want to think more deeply about and re-examine at another point. Maybe there’s other perspectives I haven’t considered, in my school and in myself.

Empowering students is a whole different context. I’d like to think that my ‘teaching style’ is one that encourages students to think deeper about the issues, events and individuals we’re studying. My unit and lesson goals are designed to do this, and my personal pedagogy reflect this basic philosophy: it is better to have more questions than answers. I have sought student feedback at different points in the semester, and will do so in the future. My teaching strategies and tactics have to be self-correcting. If I want my students, as I do, to be critical thinking participants in their world, I need to focus my classroom instruction on those goals, not simply covering content. Have I become the my own victim of bad teaching? Yes, there have been times this semester where I have put content over understanding. Looking back, I can see that I’ve slipped in my vision of empowering students from time to time. While each day, and each student (at times) is a new challenge, they are also new opportunities. I can do better.

Tomorrow

This is the first time I have posted reflectively my vision, goals, and reflections on how I’m doing actualizing them.  At first, it was a little scary putting my thoughts out there. Will the Superintendent read my post and think that I’m a threat because I still have boundary issues calling out administrators on perceived short-comings? Will my colleagues think I’m a circle-spinning wordy nutcase? Will my students think that their teacher doesn’t have it all together?

I know that through the process of writing I have answered those questions already. Reflection has given me the confidence to challenge myself. I truly do want to 1) be healthy, 2) grow professionally, and 3) empower others. There’s nothing wrong with that vision and the process of writing about them has only made me stronger. I look forward to my next reflections.

 

The Laptop Project

All of last year and most of this summer, I have been working with others (both inside and outside NBHS) to find a solution to the problem of having a laptop cart at the high school that has not been used at all in over 5 years. Their assistance has been invaluable and is truly appreciated. So, here’s the problems we faced:

This is not an image of the exact cart at NBHS, but it basically the same. The cart holds 30 laptops and can be locked. It serves as an access point for wireless internet connections, meaning you wheel it into a classroom and students take the laptops to their desks and connect to the Internet.
  • The cart had an electrical shortage, so that it would no longer charge the batteries of the laptops.
  • The laptops had been re-imaged, along with all school computers, which erased drivers needed to network and connect to the internet.
  • The password to the hub on the mobile internet laptop has been forgotten. Although the hub sends out a wireless signal, no wireless device can connect to it.

Our solutions:

  • Remove all of the laptops (and their power cords) from the cart. When plugged into an outlet, the laptops charge perfectly.
  • Replace Windows ME with Xubuntu (a free open source Linux operating system). Since the laptops are Dell Inspiron 4000’s, their memory and storage capacity is very low. They have 128MB RAM and about 5GB HD space. Using a couple of laptops for parts, we were able to determine that 256MB RAM is good enough to run a free web browser (Firefox or Google Chrome).
  • The IT department at NBPS stated that the hub can be reset to factory settings and then will be able to set up a network for the laptops to connect to the internet.

The Plan (and what’s needed)

  • Right now, there is a plan. As of Sunday, September 4th, we have one working model of Xubuntu with 256MB RAM. This will be the image from which the others will be copied.
  • The headmaster of NBHS has given permission to re-image the laptops with Xubuntu, so that the laptops will once again be operational. This will take manpower and time, but both are very doable.
  • With 30 laptops at 128MB RAM each, we can remove 15 of the 128MB RAM sticks to get 15 working laptops with 256MB RAM. These will be able to connect to the internet and run modern Javascript for Web 2.0 programs. As they are now, Windows ME does not have the capacity to do so (and is blocked from doing so by not having the right drivers).
  • To get all 30 laptops fully functional, the school needs to purchase 15 more sticks of 128MB RAM. There is a supplier in Marlborough MA who has them and is willing to sell them for $10 each. For $300, the school could have a fully functioning laptop cart.

Classroom Use

  • I have discussed using my classroom (4-112) as a laptop lab with the headmaster of NBHS. This would serve a number of functions, both collegial and formal:
    • A pilot literacy program integrating Web 2.0 tools with historical content. Over the summer, I have gathered over 750 different resources (in Evernote) from teachers, principals and superintendents that I have connected with via Twitter. I have attended 3 conferences of this PLN (personalized learning network), moderated online discussions, and received a great deal of help, feedback, and collaborative instruction from this growing educational resource.
      • Google Docs
      • Wordle
      • Evernote
      • Socrative
      • PollEverywhere
      • Schoology
      • Mind Map
      • Wolfram Alpha
      • Twistory
      • Edmodo
      • Tiki Toki
      • Producteev
      • Twitter
      • Livebinders
      • Google Lit Trips
      • Gapminder
      • and more…
    • Free instructional technology training (for teachers) after school on a weekly basis
    • Use of my classroom during my prep period for teachers interested in modeling lessons with a technology integrated focus.
    • Mobile access to surrounding classes on the 1st floor of Blue House (currently no access)
    • Online collaboration with teachers in Baltimore, MD and Birmingham AL on a common history unit (Defining America through Historic Study)
    • Skype access and online communication and support from almost 20 different history scholars, published authors and organizations dedicated to the teaching and learning of history.
  • Right now, I have 5 desktop computers in my classroom. None are fully functional. They are Dell computers new in 1998 and also have Windows ME on them. I currently have a blue line (ethernet cable) to my classroom. Currently, there is little to no online access for students in my classroom. The situation in other classrooms is similar.

Support and Reasons from the NBPS 2009-2012 Technology Plan:

  • Support: “The district will continue to provide access to portable electronic devices to support academic needs and expand portable wireless technology to allow computer access when needed.” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 20
  • Support: “Wireless technology will be utilized when necessary.” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 22
  • Reason for change: “The district does not currently have a computer replacement cycle of 5 years or less” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 21
  • Reason for change: “Presently NBPS does not have procurement policies for instructional and information technologies to ensure usability, equivalent access, and interoperability.” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 21

The potential for greater academic achievement with a focus on specific writing and literacy goals is clear. The plan to make these laptops operational and networked is also clear. All that is needed is the will to make this happen. We can demonstrate innovative solutions to old problems right now, and demonstrate that we are finding new ways to meet the individual learning needs of our students. Thanks.

Update (March 2012)

It’s been months since I have last posted here. There has been a significant problem getting the Xubuntu OS to allow the laptops to connect via a WEP/WPA2 network. I’ve had three networking and Linux experts working on the issue, but there’s been no breakthrough so far. I have the Xubuntu laptops, but there’s no internet access – rendering them severely limited in function. To make up for the lack of net access, I’ve brought in an old desktop, printer and laptop from home. That’s been keeping us going for a bit of months. Recently, an local non-profit donated 7 iPad2’s to the high school, and I just used one in the classroom last Friday (March 16th). It went great. I’m going to work on expanding wireless access through mobile devices in the classroom while I am still working on getting the laptops functional.

Scan-4112 (a proposed hand drawn sketch of 4-112)

 

Goals & Blogging

I’ve learned a lot this summer about reflective writing by reading very inspiring and thoughtful blogs by teachers, principals and superintendents. Since our high school’s literacy initiative this year is to focus on writing, I have decided to return to writing reflectively about my own professional thoughts and experiences. In my first few years of teaching, I used to write almost everyday. I would keep files on my Amiga, print them on my dot matrix printer, and then collect them in three ring binders. I believe they are still somewhere in the basement, packed away.

The inspiration to write again – as much as possible – comes from reading (and modeling) the blogs of some extraordinary educators. I’d like to share a few of them here first:

  • Outside the Cave – This is one of the most prolific, concrete, organized, and reflective blogs I have read by a teacher. I really enjoy reading the posts. There’s a personal style and flow to the writing that draws me in and also makes me think. It is a great inspiration.
  • The Principal’s Principles – Reading a blog from an administrator’s perspective is very interesting. I’ve always thought, because of my experience at my high school, that principal’s were so bogged down with the management of a school, that they don’t have a single second to share their thoughts and experiences (and commentary on research) with the world. This blog definitely proves it false.
  • Crazy Teaching – I have to admit that when I wake up in the morning and check my messages and emails, I also look on Twitter to see some of the latest posts from this very inspiring science teacher and instructional coach. Her finger is on the (research based) pulse of continually pushing the edge of teaching and learning. Her posts remind me of a doctor who once told me that he has always tried to lead his life being on the ‘edge of what is known’. He said that is where everything interesting happens. He was in his 80’s and still acting on that vision. Terry does the same.
  • The 21st Century Principal – When I first started following teachers, principals and superintendents on Twitter to build my personal learning network (PLN), I noticed that many profound and interesting tweets were coming from this person. When I explored his blog, I noticed something different, and not just in the title. He was a teacher, principal, IT director and superintendent that broke apart my expectations. His recent post is about returning to the classroom to teach, while still remaining an administrator. He also writes about modeling technology for instructional purposes. It is refreshing and empowering to read from the day to day reflections of a 21st century leader.

Now I’m beginning my 16th year of teaching at the same high school, and I want to clearly establish and articulate my goals for the school year. I intend on writing about these goals reflectively throughout the school year, trying to gauge whether I am able to maintain, sustain, and expand them as the day to day experiences of a 3000 student school play themselves out.

Goal #1: Be healthy.

For me, this goal means that I have to maintain my mental and physical well being. It seems easy, but to those who have taught in a sometimes challenging school environment, it is very easy to lose track. When I don’t take care of myself, I become weaker in my ability to care for others. There are many websites that offer advice in preventing teacher burnout as well as making healthy diet choices and keeping yourself on a sustained exercise schedule. For me, all three are important, and have been neglected at different levels over the years. I do not simply want to live, but live well. I don’t simply want to teach, but teach well. I want to be a better model for my students in making healthy life choices, and be open about that. By sticking to this goal throughout the year, and writing reflectively on it, I hope to be able to meet all three of those expectations.

Goal #2: Grow professionally.

I am at the mid point of my professional teaching career. Most teachers go for 30+ or sometimes even 40+ years in the field. When I began teaching, I told myself that I would evaluate my goals and vision at five year intervals. This would give me a somewhat random point to step back and see if I am still meeting my life goals in my professional job (that might be a different post).

After the first five years, I decided I loved teaching and wanted to continue. I was happy experimenting with different methods, specifically technology, to facilitate effective learning in the classroom (this was when my computers were new). After the second five years, I had reflected on my growing confidence in my content area. I felt that I had pushed myself to the point where new content opportunities would engage me and the students more. In other words, I wanted to keep learning and share that new learning with my students. I was able to do this with designing and teaching a course on Multicultural Studies. Technology use was fading in the classroom, because of the lack of adapting resources at the school, but I found myself expanding deeper into the area of online learning. I taught a virtual course in American foreign policy for a few years and also integrated an open discussion forum on my website, which was continually evolving to deliver content and (hopefully) engage students.

At the end of my third five year reflection, I had discovered my potential (in my opinion) as a leader outside the classroom. I had taken part in community leadership initiatives, two years of leadership training from a national program, led a school restructuring initiative of teachers trying to offer a pilot program to reform their school, and enrolled in a principal’s license program. All of these pointed me in the direction of professional growth. I found that spoke to a part of me I had not explored before. In spite of institutional inertia as well as political and economic challenges, that part of me is still strong. I want it to be nurtured.

Now, for my fourth five years (or wherever it will take me), I want to integrate all of these self-findings into my day to day experiences with students in the classroom. I have discovered an entire network of teachers and administrators around the country with similar goals. They all have a desire to share their practice and grow professionally. For me this means I want to share. I would like to collaborate with other teachers, get feedback on lessons and practice, and learn from others who are similar to me. I also want to try things that are new. I’ve learned that I am not comfortable in the center. I need to be on the edge of what is known. I’ve seen this modeled in others and want to nurture this in myself. It could mean more use of social media, or more development of 21st century skills, or more out-of-class learning experiences, but it must be new. I do not want to find  myself ever in a ‘rut’ in the classroom. I need to focus on this goal every day. Finally, I need to  reflect. This is why I am writing now, and its why I want to do so publicly. I am asking for support with each word typed. As a teacher, I cannot live on a metaphorical island and pretend I am growing. None of us can.

Goal #3: Empower others.

My last goal is one of the most important to me. As a teacher, I think its easy to fall into the habit of caring for others more than you care for yourself. That’s the part of us that seeks to serve the community, and the future (children). For me, I have learned the power of the network. Breast cancer survivors can extend their lives by talking in group therapy. Social media contacts have strengthened friendships and expanded the ability of people from around the world to share common interests and dreams. Unions have built their strength through history around the power of the whole, not the individual. This is a lesson I’ve known, but not fully practiced as much as I should. What good is a personal strength if not shared with the world? What good is there to experience growth in myself and not share it with my colleagues and students? What good is it to struggle against sometimes impossible odds (pushing that boulder up the hill) without seeking the support of others? I don’t want to presume that I alone have the ability to empower others, but I do have a role to play in making my world a better place. I can only do that by passing along lessons and failures with those close to me. This includes my students. We don’t grow unless we fail. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned recently, and I want to share it openly with my students. I want to also empower, to the extent possible, groups of people through shared discussion, a common vision, and mistakes that may be familiar to many. This means coaching the new use of Web 2.0 possibilities. It means strengthening the relationships with my students (working harder at that) so that I can  have the structure in my classes to teach my content. It also means being humble enough to let others empower me. This has to be a priority. I don’t have all of the answers or know all of the questions. I can’t grow if I’m insulated from change. I want to literally ‘be the change I want to see in the world’.

Those are my goals. I intend to measure my experiences through the school year against the ‘rubric’ I’ve laid out here. It should be fun!

eLearning by Doing

I’ve been an avid Twitter user in the last couple of weeks.  Through it, I have met and learned from some dedicated educators, authors, journalists, and others.  I have learned about the growing potential to focus on building 21st century skills in practice, not theory.

Once in my teaching career, around the end of the 1990’s, I felt as though I was on the edge of something new.  I was experimenting with technology integration and the internet.  Now I feel as though I am rediscovering it again.

Google Docs

A few years ago, in the midst of teaching AP US History, one of my students introduced me to Google Docs.  I have to rewind a bit, though, and openly state that for years I had thought of myself as a teacher on the ‘cutting edge’ of technology in the classroom.  I was wrong.  By focusing on the content of teaching an AP course, as well as getting involved in school restructuring and teacher-leadership efforts, I had dropped the ball.  Now, I was being led back – and appropriately enough, by a student leader who was sharing her techniques for effective online learning strategies.  Now, after having attended the edcamp Boston conference in early May 2011, I have been filled with many ideas for using Google Docs as a collaborative writing tool for students, a powerful peer editing tool, an efective way to provide feedback on student work, and a way for students to share in the note-taking process in class by dividing roles among students.  I have been incredibly impressed by the lesson sharing power of Google Docs on Twitter as well.  Google Docs is also a presentation platform as well as a place to create and share spreadsheets.  The potential seems endless.  If only I had a classroom with 30 laptops for all students to have access.  The only drawback here is the equity issue in my urban high school.  I plan on surveying all of my students at the end of this year and spending a good deal of time getting formative assessments about effective use and equitable access to technology in the classroom.  Next year, I plan on hitting the ground running.  I can’t believe how many good ideas I have learned of lately, which brings me to my next great self discovery… Twitter.

Twitter

There are many articles on why Twitter is a great tool for a teacher, but for me, it has helped me connect to others who share the same thoughts and philosophy on teaching.  In the last month that I have been a regular user, I have found over two hundred authors, teachers, and others who have become a personal learning network (PLN) of incredible value.  I use Tweetdeck to monitor a couple of channels on Twitter regularly, but I have been able to ask for and give help in many different ways.  Twitter has allowed me to join moderated discussions (#sschat), share lesson plans, ask for best practices and ideas, and fill my Evernote page with hundreds of ideas that I can’t wait to implement.

Evernote

Evernote is my new best friend.  It completes the Twitter experience by allowing me to organize and sort all of the great resources, learning materials, infographics, Google Doc lessons, and other excellent links that I find there.  Evernote also integrates their delivery, storage and organization options with my Blackberry (and soon to come, iPhone).  This way, I can scan something on the phone and send it easily to Evernote.  I can sort information from webpages into folders and also place tags.  This vastly improves the process of bookmarking, which I rarely do anymore.  I’m also considering placing a shared folder for my students next year with information, notes, graphics, websites, and more.  Perhaps I can get students themselves to keep online notebooks this way, although LiveBinder might be a better option.  Still, I can easily imagine a summer filled with edcamp meetings, Twitter finds and lots and lots of Evernote files.

Polleverywhere

At the end of the school year, my ability to integrate effective online learning tools greatly expanded, but PollEverywhere was one of the most useful ones in the classroom.  Previously, I had placed four note cards in the corners of my classroom.  I had students move from strongly agree to somewhat agree to somewhat disagree and strongly disagree.  They had to shuffle out of the seats and stand (which not surprisingly got more and more students to talk).  Now, I have set up a free PollEverywhere account. It allows me to create multiple choice questions for formative assessments, ask  my ‘four corner’ ranged positions, and encourage students to share text answers.  One thing that I find interesting is that in my trial runs of web polls, I have noticed that my students do not have the same level of enthusiasm for using their cell phones instructively as they do for social networking.  It’s almost as though a certain tech-loving teacher has co-opted their fun and turned it into something new and different.  I plan on making this format pervasively spread through my strategies and lessons next year.  I can’t wait thinking of great polls in the summer!

Google Voice

Creatly

Jing

Posterous

Ted Talks

Google Earth

Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Good evening.  Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

These were the words spoken by President Obama on May 2nd 2011.  It was enormously important news, and something noted by historians everywhere as a major event.  Let’s learn more about this story from many different perspectives.

First, let’s learn as much on this event as possible:

You can also see how many newspapers around the world created their headlines for that important day:

Next, let’s examine some ideas on how this event can be taught in the classroom:

You can also explore how this is a teachable moment by looking at dozens of other events and issues brought to the classroom from current events.  There’s a huge list here:

Let’s also take a look at a classroom exercise concerning US policy in Afghanistan and the options for the US on the War on Terror following Bin Laden’s death:

Who are the people who fight for Osama Bin Laden?  Take a look at this PBS Frontline documentary that goes behind the scenes of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

What was it like to be in the war room in the White House watching the operation take place live?  Take a look here.

Think of what it is like for soldiers to kill.  There is a lot more here than action and adventure.  This documentary explores those in the military who choose non-violence.  It’s an interesting counterpoint to the excitement of the raid on Bin Laden.

What about the cost?  Since 9/11 there has been a huge amount of money spent on the war on terror.  How much?  Take a look here:

And also take a look at the cost of both wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) here.  It’s constantly going up according to how much money Congress appropriates.  Here’s a snapshot on Monday morning, May 9.

Finally, how did Twitter get this story out?  Take a look here at a graph:

As well as a story on NPR concerning Twitter breaking the news here.

If there are other ideas, suggestions, comments or questions, please let me know.  The last link I’d like to leave you with is from a former student who wrote about this on his blog, The Daily Voice of Reason.  Check it out.

 

 

Past, Present and Future…

Where Have We Come From?

History: The history of the New Bedford Leadership Academy is one of teacher-led initiatives intent on creating an autonomous small school within New Bedford High School.  Instead of creating a plan within a binder, the design team has worked thousands of hours voluntarily over a year and a half to create a demonstration model of effective teaching, learning, support, and more.  This model will serve as a transparent incubator of ideas and practices within the long term restructuring process of the high school.  It is within the Restructuring Committee that the foundation of the Leadership Academy was built.

Restructuring Committee (September 2007 – December 2008): The Restructuring Committee was formed in the fall of 2008 by teachers, parents, students, community members and administration.  We were charged with assessing needs and creating restructuring recommendations for the incoming Superintendent in July of 2008.  Both of these tasks were accomplished by the end of the school year in June 2009.  We facilitated a survey of 2000 + students and almost 200 faculty in issues from classroom instructional practices, school culture, technology, family involvement, student development, leadership and professional development and post-secondary and extra-curricular activities. Our recommendations to the Superintendent included research and suggestions on smaller learning communities, scheduling implications, instruction and assessment, professional development, business and community engagement, contract issues and funding needs.  When we returned in the fall of 2008, we began working on a scheduling plan for an incremental move from block scheduling to larger issues implied in overall restructuring.

Restructuring Committee (December 2008 – June 2009): In December 2008, the Superintendent recommended a more comprehensive approach to our work, from addressing the schedule change to a exploring a complete restructuring of our high school.  We began simultaneously 1) exploring research on different large urban high school transformation efforts around the country, 2) conducting site-visits to the local models such as the Boston Pilot Schools and Lawrence High School (built on thematic academies), 3) examining the data from our surveys (described above) done in March 2008, 4) creating a vision statement for our long term objectives and 5) beginning the work necessary to draft a strategic plan before the end of this current school year, so we can begin the design phase of our efforts in 2009-2010.

Designing New Academies (Summer 2009): Towards the end of June 2009, members of the Restructuring Committee decided that the most effective way to push forward the institutional and attitudinal change (necessary for our school to build capacity for change in September 2009) was to demonstrate various models of autonomous academies.  Two groups emerged and took initiative.  The focus of the first group was to design and implement an autonomous Alternative Academy for our most severe at-risk students while the second group created a Technology Academy within the school’s existing facility and schedule.  Because of budget challenges, the district was not able to directly support either of these efforts for the summer of 2009.  At this time, the Massachusetts Governor’s Executive Office on Education made available a series of planning grants throughout the state for districts that built autonomous small schools.  They were called Readiness Schools.  The Readiness Schools planning grant awarded funds during the summer of 2009 to design autonomous small schools that met the state’s performance contract while using new autonomy over schedule, curriculum, budget, staffing and other district policies (see Appendix 1). We applied for the Advantage School option within the grant guidelines in the end of June and were among 16 districts in the state who were awarded $10K to plan these academies.

The Readiness School Proposal (September 2009):  While our initial focus was to create an Alternative Academy for students who had the greatest needs, we quickly began to see that our team’s vision was not simply to address the needs of one sub-group, but to demonstrate advanced teaching in an engaged community for all students.  In essence, we sought to create an institute for advanced study for all students (especially those at-risk), accelerating their learning and providing a model of innovative teaching strategies.  Our discussions developed naturally around the theme of leadership.  We decided to develop the curriculum, scheduling, staffing, budget, governance, partnerships, and more around this theme.  Leadership would not be simply a label.  It would become pervasive in all relationships, all decisions and all learning.  We would then broaden our population to the rest of the school in the following years, so that we could be a model for autonomous small school in the school’s broader transformation process.

Approval Process (September 2009 – April 2010): While design work for the Leadership Academy continued, most of the 2009-2010 school year was occupied by the approval process within the New Bedford school district.  In September, we presented our Readiness School proposal to the Superintendent, meeting with full approval.  In October, she and members of the design team attended a statewide conference for other schools also applying for the Innovation (then a recently changed title) Schools initiative.  The Superintendent directed us to complete a full prospectus according to the DESE guidelines by the end of November.  We did so, and the Superintendent made major modifications.  She did, however, direct us to continue to develop areas of autonomy, although there was much work still to be done clarifying those specifics.  In January 2010, the Massachusetts legislature passed an Act Relative to the Achievement Gap (S2247), including language for  Innovation Schools (Ch. 71, Sec 92) as part of Massachusetts Race to the Top application.  At the end of January, however, the Superintendent made clear that this was not a path New Bedford would follow.  By March, a new prospectus was published, and further modifications were made by the Superintendent.  She then directed the design team to present the academy at the April School Committee meeting.  Before that meeting, the Superintendent resigned.  When the design team did address the School Committee, they voted their approval to continue our work, moving towards implementation in September 2010.

Decisions Concerning Implementation (May 2010): Challenges with the budget, schedule and contract made full implementation of the prospectus (outside the Innovation School model) in the first year of the academy difficult, and it was decided by the new Superintendent, high school administration, and design team, to incrementally develop the academy in the first year.  This would be accomplished by teaching within one half of a House Freshman Academy team (plus Foreign Language), or five teachers.  We would offer a schedule within the existing structure, but modify the classes and rotations.  We would also introduce an Advisory Board – as experts and advocates, rather than a Governing Council, as well as a proactive, preventative  behavior policy.  Membership in the academy would be limited to a heterogeneous group of approximately 80 students.   A thematically based curriculum and additional supports for parents and students would provide many incentives for various stakeholders.  A fully integrated team approach to instruction and behavior would create and sustain positive and successful relationships between teachers, parents, and students.  In all, the vision of the Leadership Academy would be realized through incremental implementation.  In effect, the restructuring of the high school, through the NBLA as incubator, would begin.

Return to Innovation (September – December 2010):  A few days before the beginning of school year in September 2010, the headmaster of NBHS informed the Design Team that 1) the NBLA would not be able to change the schedule due to the limitations of the IPASS data-management system, 2) the NBLA would only be able to have one of its design team members teach in the Freshman Academy team, and that 3) due to staffing limitations, the NBLA would not be able to offer a foreign language teacher as an integrated member of the team.  The NBLA was also restricted from modifying the existing curriculum or curriculum map.  It was suggested that the NBLA integrate ‘leadership ideas’ into the existing Freshmen Academy seminar and use different strategies in lessons aligned with the approved curriculum.  In essence, the NBLA would be a Freshmen Academy team, and not differ from any other team in any structural way.  Two of the four teachers (Math and Science) were assigned to the FA team.  One teacher (English) was moved into the team at the request of the Design Team.  In the 2010-2011 school year, absent any structural change, the NBLA Design Team has agreed to achieve as many recognizable goals as possible, given the existing circumstances.

Progress has been made, however, in returning to the Innovation Schools model.  With the support of the Mayor, some members of the School Committee, and Secretary of Education Paul Reville, the district is beginning to explore moving towards an Innovation School at New Bedford High School, and using the Leadership Academy potentially as a pilot model for overall high school restructuring.  With Massachusetts’ successful Race to the Top program, Innovation Schools have now received extra support in terms of funding (design and implementation grants) and program development.  The Superintendent asked for, and the Design Team provided, a revision of the prospectus by December 2010.  That prospectus would then be reviewed by a Screening Committee in January 2011.

Where are we now?

At NBHS (September to February 2011): It is important to note that the prospectus is not being implemented now, due to some of the constraints and decisions from administration stated above.  Within the constraints of the current Freshman Academy model, two teachers on the team have put to work numerous strategies and lessons/activities geared toward developing collaborative based leadership experiences for our students.  They are being assisted by the other two teachers on the team.  Currently, one of the teachers is no longer offering Academic Seminar as a simple “work period” but rather a detailed and planned series of activities that encourage students to be creative, work in groups, discuss and brainstorm as a class, analyze topics or issues and reflect on their work.  Seminar has been used to also teacher life skills that leaders must master.  Monthly Summits have been designed and implemented, geared toward problem solving, literacy skills, and generating collaboration.  For example, students must follow precise directions while accomplishing a task that relies on group efforts and a general leader to direct and guide the group. Most importantly, we have designed ways to develop community.  In homeroom, Perfect Attendance Charts track which homeroom has the most successful daily attendance; Monthly Birthday Cake celebrations are provided by the teachers; A field trip was attended and debriefed in seminar; and a Thanksgiving Meal at two long tables was enjoyed by all students.  Teachers, working with the housemaster, have also volunteered one day a week after school to conduct their own detention periods in their classrooms – seeking to effectively deter and decrease the number of conduct card offenses.

Path to an Innovation School Begins (January – February 2011): The Design Team has decided to apply for a planning grant from the state to form an Innovation Plan Committee.  This Innovation Plan Committee has specific duties and responsibilities, according to the statute (Chapter 71, Section 92), but its purpose is to articulate the autonomies written into the prospectus.  This prospectus was approved by a Screening Committee (Superintendent, School Committee designee, and local union president) by a 2/3 vote on January 11th 2011.  The district has 30 days to form an Innovation Plan Committee and begin planning the implementation of the prospectus that was approved.

Where are we going?

Innovation Plan (March 2011): The next step in the approval process is to form an Innovation Plan Committee.  This committee will build a comprehensive plan from the prospectus, actualizing for implementation the autonomies specified in the design work.  More specifically, it will:

An Innovation School will operate according to an “innovation plan” which describes the areas of autonomy and flexibility and specific strategies that will be implemented in the school.  An innovation plan must include, but is not limited to, the following elements:

  • A curriculum plan that includes detailed information about how the proposed curriculum will improve student achievement and school performance;
  • A budget plan that includes detailed information about how funds will be used differently in the proposed school;
  • A school calendar and schedule plan;
  • A staffing plan that includes detailed information about how the principal, teachers, and other staff members will be recruited, employed, evaluated, and compensated in the proposed school and if applicable, a detailed description of any proposed waivers from or modifications to collective bargaining agreements;
  • A plan that includes information about the unique instructional focus and operational policies and procedures that will be implemented in the school, and how they will support student achievement and school performance; and
  • A professional development plan that describes how the proposed school will provide ongoing and high-quality professional development opportunities to administrators, teachers, and other staff members.

The innovation plan must also include measurable, annual goals that assess factors such as student achievement and school performance.  In exchange for authority to operate the school with increased autonomy, Innovation School operators will be held responsible, under a contract with the local school committee, for advancing student learning and meeting these annual benchmarks.

Once the Innovation Plan is completed, it goes to the local union to determine if any changes to the collective bargaining agreement need to be negotiated.  Then it heads to the School Committee for a vote.  The Superintendent would be able to annually measure and evaluate the school to determine its progress and level of success.  The Innovation Plan Committee should finish its work in order to apply for an implementation grant on June 30th 2011.  These funds will be used to assist funding for the school’s first year of operations and instruction.

Behind the whole approval process, this teacher-led initiative holds strongly to the vision which brought us here in the first place.  It is to help students be more successful, provide supports for teachers, and lead by creating and implementing an autonomous small school model that can pilot innovative lessons, strategies and policies for our community as it moves boldly into the 21st century.

The End…

Withdrawal of Participation (March 20th 2011 – ): The Design Team held its first, and only, meeting with the Innovation Plan Committee on March 16th 2011.  The agenda for that meeting is available online here.  According to the guidelines of the Innovation Schools statute, dates and deadlines were established to begin work to create an implementation plan – but that did not occur.  Instead, it was not possible to reach consensus on a number of vital issues with the stakeholders present for many various reasons.  Realizing this, the Design Team withdrew its participation from the Innovation School process and dissolved.  Over two years of voluntary work to reinvent the idea of education in New Bedford is not in vain, however, and the plan to model effective instruction around small autonomous schools continues.  As teachers, we know the need has not vanished.  We still care deeply about our school and community.  Our vision remains.  Solutions will come when the conditions, capacity, and culture shift to support them.