Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kudos Ain't Just a Cereal Bar

Today was a very enlightening day.

First of all, I have to give a big shout out and mega props to my girl N.J. (not the state, the person) for getting Flash on all the computers in my lab between Tuesday (when we discovered our Flash-less situation) and today (when we got over 150 kids to take the online Microsoft Word quiz on Quia). She did this on top of putting out a humongous "fire" caused by what may have been a complete failure of the school's web and mail server(s). (I never did quite catch exactly what happened.) She is my hero of the week.

Now, about that quiz . . . . .

Okay, so SOME of the kids could not remember their usernames for Quia. (You know, the ones they set up themselves amidst warnings that I would not know their usernames?) EVEN THOUGH I told them on Tuesday to come to class today knowing them. And I could tell some of the kids did not STUDY, as I had politely requested they do.

But overall, they were amazing, considering that bandwidth issues meant that only a dozen or so kids could be taking the quiz at once, and the quiz kept acting freaky under even those circumstances. (They had 25 minutes, and the period is just under 50 minutes in duration, so a bit of juggling and rescheduling during study hall was required.) And, being the sweet creature that I am, I am giving them another chance to re-take from home if they make a request in writing and fill in a simple form so I know their parents know what's up. I like to make sure I cover myself, ya know?

Speaking of parents, during this somewhat stressful, action-packed day, my superintendent IMed me (we go full-on geek at our school) with two compliments (from parents) that were gleaned from a recent parent satisfaction survey. I don't remember the exact wording, but they both mentioned me by name, and one said they liked how I was challenging the students while the other one said they liked what I was teaching the kids in our classes.

I don't know if these parents have children in middle school or elementary (or perhaps both), but this was a clear affirmation in a time of considerable self-doubt.

Kids being kids, they do goofy stuff and DON'T do what I ask . . . regularly. It's easy to become discouraged, especially in this period of major change from how we've always done things. (Well, not ALWAYS, but recent memory for current students, at least.) The O.G. admits that she feels down from time to time.

But this news, gleefully interjected into a day when my co-teacher and I glared at one another with that "I could just . . . . . . argh! that kid!!!" look FAR too many times, came as a welcome surprise and a little reward. So often, in teaching, we don't find out the true rewards until much later, if ever. And, of course, they don't show up in that envelope on the 15th and the 30th. So I take what I can get.

Hey, today was payday too. Cha-ching. Double bonus.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Five Days have passed

I'm up to 29 geocaches found.

But that's not the purpose of this blog.

This week, I need to finalize my Google Certified Teacher Action Plan of Professional Development activities I will be doing the remainder of this school year. Middle schoolers are finishing up (I hope) their Charts & Graphs assignments using Excel and Word. They also have an online (Quia) quiz on MS Word this week. First and second graders have finished up their PowerPoint slides (for their class ABC books) and I just need to make the remaining slides, consolidate them, post them online, and give them to the teachers on CD-ROMs. With instructions. Meanwhile, the 3rd-5th graders are working away at their PowerPoint presentations based on social studies related research.


But I have reached that weird feeling already. Maybe you know what I am talking about. It's that "okay, when does summer get here?" itch. It's not that I am not enjoying my job this year . . . I am, immensely in fact. But I feel something else calling to me. Maybe it's because I have a trip back East coming up with my son, and that has had me thinking a lot about how to handle his new-found Terrible Twos (at just under age three!) on the plane and so forth. Or maybe it's my new geocaching hobby. Or maybe it's the Google Teacher Academy stuff. Or maybe it's my busy family life. Or maybe it's the lure of my summer job for 2007. (I so LOVED my 2006 summer gig.)

I guess this is what my colleagues mean when they tell me I'm ADD. I always want to be discovering, creating, imagining. But never grading. Or looking back. Or sitting still. (Unless I am chained to my laptop.)

But I do like sleeping in. Especially when I stay up late as I have been a lot lately.

This is when I start to feel more like a digital native than an immigrant. My family doesn't get it. Most of my colleagues don't get it. They can't even believe I answer IMs from kids when I am not at work. (It saves me time in the long run, believe me.)

Am I a good teacher, though? Does all this hyperactivity and ability to relate to my students count for much? I like to think it does, but I think I am biased.

Ah well, I suppose I need to sleep on it and think about it some more. But I sometimes wonder about a slight career change . . . . . .

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The things that keep me up at night!

So, last night I was working on the handout of a project for my technology students. This is sort of a reward project for how hard they've been working on their big spreadsheet and graphing project. I did the project myself, using a 14 oz. bag of M&Ms, and then started making the Word document (which I will later post as a PDF for the kids to view).

Problem is, the image files from my digital camera are so big that it was taking FOREVER to get them to behave in Word the way I wanted them to.

Enter iMovie. I love iMovie. Have I mentioned how much I love iMovie?

I decided, at some time after midnight, that it would just be faster to make a video. So here it is.

I hope you like it. You'll need QuickTime installed, preferably the most recent version.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A rather reflective O.G.

Okay, so, I suppose I come off as a bit caustic and sarcastic in my writing. Two different people whose opinions I respect commented on that.


In other news, my son (now GeoTykeCSM) and I did some geocaching today. He doesn't really get it, since he's only turning three in a couple of months, but he DOES get that we found (and played on) some new swingparks today. Is "swingpark" a word used here in the States? Living with foreigners, I sometimes lose track of terminology.

I am now up to sixteen finds, but I did a lot of snooping of caches I could not get to with Cammy. I will have to go back for those, some under cover of darkness or if it rains soon on a day when I have time, that would be even better.

As for how I feel about the state of education and technology and all that stuff . . . I am still ripe with fervor, but feeling a little subdued just now. The O.G. is getting O.L.D.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Show some LOVE!

Oh. I forgot to mention this.

If you read my blog, and you think that I'm not talking complete and utter drivel, show me some love by leaving a comment to let me know you were here.

But if you don't, it's okay. I'm getting used to talking to myself.

"To Infinity and BEYOND . . . . . "

I'm up to twelve geocaches found, and I have hooked my co-worker, henceforth known as "Hot2Spot," into my little geeky world.

But in other news . . . .

I have been thinking lately about how things are going at my school. We have done this massive overhaul of the computer technology curriculum. Our projects are real-world type tasks, and they really challenge the kids to rise to new heights in their knowledge and skills. We integrate academic content from their "regular" classrooms into the projects. (Maybe someday, the teachers can trust this program enough to "hand over" some of their standards to us completely, thus freeing themselves up some time to cover the rest of it even better . . . or, dare I think it? . . . try something new?!?!)

Okay, my use of the ellipse is getting out of hand now.

The elementary kids (grades one through five) and their teachers are really loving how we've kicked it up a notch. The middle school students . . . (another ellipse, I know) . . . (ooh!) well, they're not so happy. We're making them think. We're forcing them to stretch. We're demanding that they learn. And learn they DO. But they do it grudgingly. In true middle schooler fashion.

And, you know, I can handle that. I have spent the past six years saying "read . . . AND FOLLOW . . . ALL the directions!!!" so often that I should trademark it and start collecting royalties from everyone else who ever says it. I know that we can only lead them to water. Even if we dunk their heads and hold them in there, those little ponies ain't drinkin'.

[sigh] -- really. I DID sigh.

Today I demonstrated for the third time how to do certain tricky steps. One of the kids who came away from the first trimester with a D on his report card in my class is reading his e-mail while I teach, right in front of me. Another, who failed the major assessment for the first trimester, is staring at his (blank) screen instead of even glancing in the direction of me and the demo projection screen. This was also within a stone's throw. (Don't ask me how I know.)

It's as if they're staging a silent protest: "You can't MAKE me become 21st Century Information Literate." Not their exact words, of course, but you get the idea. At least the protest has become mostly silent. Before it was more along the lines of, "How come we have REAL WORK to do in this class this year?" and "I liked it better when we only had a few easy projects!"

Most of the parents I have spoken to are on my side. Of course, there are the seething minority who still want me dead. (And this in a Christian school!) But the kids listen to their parents even less than they listen to me.

I think it may be that my students are spoiled. A majority of them are rather over-privileged. Quite a few of them have bedroom furniture and accessories worth more than my car. (Which isn't saying much, I guess, considering it's a 1997 Corolla.)

Eventually, there will come a point when they realize that the truly important things in life are the ones that Mommy and Daddy cannot buy for them. Independence. Responsibility. Pride in one's work. Humility. Thirst for knowledge. Respect for self and others. Self-reliance.

When that day comes, I shall be vindicated. Let's hope I'm still around to see it. At the rate they're going, it'll happen when they retire. And since I'll never be able to afford to retire, I will have long since perished, either perched over my keyboard or propped up in front of the whiteboard/projection screen, colorful dry-erase marker tightly gripped in my cold, geriatric claws. Of course, if it's far into the future, maybe the technology will have changed in schools by then. Or it could be next week at the rate these kids are taking years off my life with their whining.

Okay, enough about that. Whenever I get on this particular soapbox, I feel my bit about how little I get paid coming on. THAT's never good. Hint: Don't ever ask me why I am not pursuing my Master's degree. It's not a pretty sight.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Appeal of Geek-oh-caching

And, of course, you know I mean that in an honorable way, being the O.G. myself.

I am beginning to get an idea for why geocaching appeals to me. (Five finds under my belt, and I don't even have a GPS receiver yet, by the way . . . but I'm not bragging.)

It's been a while since I have made a top ten list . . . you'd have to catch my old blog on LiveJournal to see a few of those . . . so maybe I'll give it a try and see how it goes.

Top Ten Reasons Geocaching Appeals To Me:

10. There's the obvious geek factor. Gadgets, Internet, and figuring stuff out. Need I say more?

9. Getting outdoors. I want more of that in my life. Even if it means going out in the rain.

8. Exercise. Ever since I had my son, I have not been able to afford that special time and finance combination that Curves required of me. (The ONLY thing that has ever helped me get in shape and lose weight.)

7. Along the lines of exercise and fitness, I have not really told a lot of people about my cholesterol. Maybe that's because I want the medication to do the work for me, and I am overdue for a follow-up visit and the requisite blood tests. Geocaching's got to be good for my cholesterol (darn those low HDLs), as long as I don't eat TOO much pizza. I hear there's a lot of that where ever geocachers gather.

6. Ever since those days of playing "Indiana Jones and the Nature Trail" on the hillside at Wallington Park (NJ), I have always had a secret side of me that longed to don the fedora and whip. I'll go with my normal clothes, but I'll be wearing the Indy gear in my heart.

5. As I traipsed about in the rain the other day, in these lonely San Jose streets, I could not help but feel like a secret agent or master of espionage as I lurked about, watching cache spots, waiting for the muggles to move on so I could move in for the kill. I also kind of looked homeless. Negative appeal points for that. Forget I mentioned it.

4. It kind of bugs my husband.

3. It's something I can do with the kids. In fact, Alison has already accompanied me twice and Cameron once. A was with me when I logged my first find. She has since discovered that a kid she knows at school does it. So does the lady she helps out down the street. Apparently, these people are everywhere, posing as normal.

2. It's like this counter-culture . . . or would that be subculture . . . that you don't have to hurt anyone or break the law to join. I might even make a few friends, virtual or otherwise.

1. Okay, this would not be an education blog if I didn't tie it all in somehow. I can REALLY see doing this with kids from school. Middle schoolers, of course. And parent volunteers. What a great excuse . . . I mean REASON . . . to apply for technology funds. I think we would go with an after-school club at first, then maybe see about making it the 8th grade technology class curriculum, maybe at least for one trimester? Well, if we still have mixed classes of 7th and 8th graders in the future, that won't work. But we can think of something. Maybe a tie-in with P.E., since that is what the kids have the other three days of the week during the same period they have tech class. Anyway, it's math, science, history, and geography . . . plus P.E. of course, all rolled in to one fun sport. So I guess even the O.G. will be learning plenty.

And that's gotta be a good thing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Feeling the need to expand my Geekulosity . . .

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading about geocaching. I really want to try it. But before I shell out for a GPS unit, I think I will hunt down a few of the caches in my area just based on what is listed on the site.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, just one weekend day's worth of research on oughta be enough to get you caught up. There are already so many other geocachers around here.

Of course, I have to get past my husband's instant reaction that these people must be weirdos with no lives. It may not help that he was somewhat anonymously mentioned ("a soccer coach was setting up for some afternoon drills practice" or something like that) in a log about a cache at a park where he frequently works near here. He said to me, "I think I saw those two women that day. I thought they looked odd."

Well, I would love to get my family involved. It could get us outdoors more, doing things as a family. Almaden Quicksilver Park, where my husband and step-daughter go hiking from time to time, has LOTS of caches just waiting for me.

And I want to see if I can get my students (and parent volunteers) involved in this too. Wouldn't it make a nice change for them to spend a few minutes online, then a few hours outdoors, hunting down the stuff they learned about online? And learning longitude and latitude in a practical sense, using GPS, would be a side benefit. All those years of teaching it in fifth grade only to have them lose their grasp of it within a few weeks . . . . . .

So I am off, in a few minutes, with my toddler in tow, to hunt down a cache hidden right here in our own neighborhood. Wish me luck!

Anyone reading this already into geocaching? Would love to talk to you!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Road Not Taken

Two blogs in one day?!?! (Don't get used to it.)

I was just checking out NextVista, which is a website set up by a new friend of mine, a fellow Google Certified Teacher (NorCal 2006 in da house!). Of course, I found the video relating to my favorite poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.

My first year of teaching (1992-1993), I wrote out the ending line of this poem on a bright pink sliver of construction paper. I laminated it. When you look at the back, you can almost imagine how bright pink it once was. It has hung in every classroom I have occupied since. When I did not have my own classroom, I stuck it to my cart I used as a traveling teacher. It hangs today in my computer lab at school. I always tell my students about it.

Maybe they'll figure out why I teach for peanuts instead of making beaucoup bucks somewhere else.

And I didn't even know I was a total HOTTIE!

(or could be, with a little work)

From the step-by-step retouching of a magazine cover photo to Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, especially this video spotlighting how the media deceives us, it seems like it's a curse to just be normal-looking in our world today.

I have a 16 year-old step-daughter. She is amazing looking. But yes, she gets "spots" (how the Brits refer to pimples), worries about her weight (she has lost a bunch since moving here and does not need to lose anymore), and dyes her hair a lighter blond far too often.

My ex-husband, who was more overweight than I was, used to tell me I had gained too much weight during our five or so years together. I was 5' 7" and 120 pounds when we married. In the first year after graduating from college, which was also the first year of our marriage, I gained 18 pounds! What I would give to be ONLY 138 pounds now. (currently staring down almost 200, and I have not gotten any taller)

I need to lose weight for my health, but I would be happy to drop about 20 pounds and be done with it. I don't care about not being model-thin. My son loves me the way I am. (I never did lose some of that pregnancy weight after having him just under three years ago.) My husband, who is in much better shape than I, and truly a looker, would like me to be healthier, but he still loves me.

Why all this dwelling on my appearance? Well, isn't that what we DO here in America these days? Sorry, I was just trying to fit in.

So, how does this belong in the O.G.'s blog? Educational tie-in, please?

When I look at the girls at my school, and bear in mind that this is a private Christian K-8 where only 8th grade girls may wear modest make-up, I worry for their collective self-image.

Sure, we all went through this stage of being concerned about your appearance and how others perceive you, but these girls don't have any realistic images in the media to look to for guidance. No one on TV or the movies really looks anything like they do on the screen. Add to that the popular music that objectifies women and advocates their mistreatment. Kids affectionately refer to each other as beezies (I'll let you fogeys guess which b-word that is used in place of) and hoes. There is an all-around attitude of disrespect and of one person owning another. It sickens me.

And then go look on MySpace. Girls as young as eleven and twelve are posting pictures of themselves, often edited with photo-editing software, looking all grown-up, puckering for the camera, arm in arm with boys or girls. That's all the perverts need. When I think that some predator might be out there ogling a kid in my third period class, I feel the need to retch.

How do we make it uncool to flaunt whatcha got (or don't got but can edit in)? All the Internet Safety lectures and scary recountings of one teen's dramatic real-life story don't seem to be getting through. "It can't happen to me" as the mantra of the bullet-proof teen is not fading away any time soon.

My step-daughter just went out, dolled up and made up, to go see a movie with her friend at the mall. They are going to sit in a dark room. Who needs a gallon of lip gloss for that? Maybe I am the wrong person to ask, as I have chosen to take a personal stand against make-up myself. Am I just becoming an old fogey on this issue, or are my concerns valid?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Helicopter parents: let the damage begin

A parent and I were chatting tonight. He sent me this link to an article about "helicopter parents." I could not help but wonder if I had met some of these people before.

In fact, I think many of their kids go to my school.

When he asked me what I thought of the article, I had to confess that I was not as surprised as I should be by the behavior of these parents. Too many parents define their own worth based on their children's achievements. Add to that a culture within our country that makes a very big deal about saving "face."

But that isn't specifically what this blog is about. I believe so earnestly in the direction we need to take education. But in a phenomenon similar to "NIMBY" (not in my backyard), I see a lot of "NWMK" (not with my kid). Take the parent who told me we are expecting our students to work too hard by using Office applications. And then a moment later asked why we don't offer programming classes to our middle school students. It's a big case of "I want more more MORE, but don't expect my kid to DO more."

Most of the parents are behind me so far . . . well, once I talked them down after they saw the report cards. But I still think the change is going to come gradually, as I win over small pockets and convert them to the Resistance. Once a majority are in the Resistance, it won't be a Revolution anymore. It will just be how things ARE.

I have a dream today.

Well, now it's tomorrow already.

No one ever said the Revolution would be easy.

So, for YEARS at my school we've gotten complaints from parents and students that our computers classes were too easy. "We're not learning anything new!" they would moan. "This is boring!" they would whine. "They treat us like babies and do everything step-by-step!" they would cry. (like babies)

And my all-time favorite: "We already know how to do all of this stuff!"

Okay then. Fine. We stopped outsourcing our computer technology instruction and turned it over to . . . . ME.

That's right. The O.G.

We bought a new curriculum, but we adapt that and cut and change it a lot. I had to create some projects that I felt were better suited to address the NETS*S. I implemented . . . paid accounts . . . and even got grant money and donations to pay for it.

Can I get a "woot woot"?

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

I warned the kids. This is a REAL class now. But you know middle schoolers. Sure, sure. Did you say something there, Mrs. Main? I was busy changing the background on my desktop for the seventh time this period.

I use the eBoard. I made The Vault for all my files. I had the kids bookmark these sites. I've got Quia. We use every class period. The kids are taking work home and bringing it back via their digital lockers. They WILL become 21st Century Information Literate if it KILLS us.

This week was parent-teacher conferences. Already, my fellow teachers out there are saying, "oh boy." You know where I am going with this.

Two and a half days of parents coming to me to find out why computers is the lowest grade on the report card. Why aren't they all just getting As for showing up to class like they used to? I can recite the speech, or one of its many variations, in my sleep now.

First of all, contrary to popular belief, not having straight As on your report card does not cause UC Berkeley or Stanford to rule you out for admission when you are only in the seventh grade.

Second of all, have you tried to tell a teenager to listen to an adult AND read and follow directions lately? You might as well ask them to let you pierce their tongues. Okay, bad example . . . that's something they WOULD let you do. You might as well ground them from MySpace or confiscate their cell phones and iPods. You'll get the same protest.

I have concrete proof that I did everything short of moving in to the family's spare bedroom and sitting on the kid's lap at the computer to get the work done. I cannot MAKE your child read the directions (which can be accessed in two different places online, by the way). I cannot MAKE your kid raise his or her hand and ask for help. I cannot MAKE your kid do the extra credit that was posted on the eBoard for over a month.

I can just grade their products, sigh heavily and often, and enter the grades. PowerGrade does the math, and your kid blew it. Simple as that.

If anyone is interested in the torture I inflict on these poor, defenseless teens and pre-teens, please feel free to visit The Vault:

I have no secrets. I like to share. I think these projects are moving them in the direction of becoming literate, competent thinkers and learners.

Shame on me.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Confessions of an OG (Original Geek)

I've had a blog before.

But this is different. I know that if I am going to be serious about my commitment to moving my students and colleagues toward 21st Century Information Literacy, I need to have a special place to focus on just that. I'm no Richardson, Warlick, or Thornburg. I'm just an underpaid teacher who has seen the light after years of geeking it up under cover of darkness.

Tonight, my alter ego prevails. May it be so forevermore.