Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dear First Year Middle School Teacher,

A colleague and I were recently talking about our start in education. She got hired on the first regular workday (after new teacher orientation was over). I was hired after school was well underway. My orientation consisted of a five minute tour of the building on a Friday afternoon before escorting me to my classroom where I would meet 120 middle school students a little more than 48 hours later. I learned *SO* much about myself, my students and teaching that year, but I wouldn't wish that "trial by fire" experience on anyone!

Teaching in middle school is tough, but I love it! For those teachers just starting out in middle school this year (and maybe for those with some years under their belt too), here are some tips and resources that I gleaned from Matt Davis' excellent post at Edutopia and combined with my own experience.

#1. You are not alone.
When the bell rings and the door closes, it is very lonely as a teacher in a classroom. However, in reality, there are many people in your school who can offer community and support if you just let them. Turnover in middle school is notoriously high. So your building colleagues are all cheering for you and want you to be successful.

You can also reach out to other middle school teachers online, New Teacher Chat on Twitter and Mrs. Phillips' blog, Caught in the Middle and Middle School Math Rules.

More tips on building a support network from LEARN NC

#2. Classroom management is key, but you need to develop your own style.
Study what the experts say, but adapt it to your own beliefs and situation. What the teacher next door does to get her students quiet may not work for you. I remember learning the hard way that I couldn't call students out the way in the hallway the way my mentor did because I hadn't established a relationship with them like she had.

Edutopia's classroom management resources for new teachers

#3. Take it one day at a time.
There is so much to learn, try to keep it in perspective and focus on what is important for today and this week. In middle school you often have the advantage of teammates to help you know what needs your attention. Rely on their wisdom and guidance. There will be many demands on your time during the school day and you can't do it all. Scholastic has a month by month guide that can help you with your challenge du jour.

#4. It's all about the kids.
Ask any veteran middle school teacher what they love about the job and they will tell you it's their students. {Check out Patti Grayson's reflections.} Don't get me wrong. Adolescents can be challenging! They are independent and strong-willed one moment and emotional and uncertain the next. They don't love you just because you are their teacher like elementary school kids, but if you earn their respect they will walk through fire for you. Treat them with respect and get to know them and you'll never want them to graduate!

Hope you have a great year!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Back to School Shopping for Internet Access
I love this time of year when summer's heat begins to wane and the lazy, hazy days give way to crisp mornings full of excitement. Well, honestly I will miss the opportunity to sleep past 5:30 am and since both my kids are in high school there isn't that much excitement about the first day of school, but I do LOVE back to school shopping.

I am fortunate to be able to stock my kids' backpacks with notebooks, pencils and highlighters. There are many families that can't provide these essential supplies to their children. In our community, great organizations like Crayons2Calculators help students who can't afford supplies, but what about the new essential homework tool - the Internet.

More than half of the poorest Americans don't have Internet at home (Broadband report). Here in the Triangle, that means about 1 in 4 students don't have Internet (Herald-Sun article).

Can you imagine doing research for a paper without the Internet? How would you check the homework assignment your teacher posted? So many routine tasks are now Web based. My daughter used a computer and Internet nearly every night for homework last year - Quia quizzes for physics, submitting papers online for English, practicing French on Quizlet, etc. Seven in ten teachers assign homework that requires some Internet usage. This mismatch of need and access is being called the homework gap (FCC Commisioner article).

I am working on an initiative in Durham Public Schools aimed at reducing the homework gap called Project Z. We are identifying students who lack Internet and/or a computing device and providing access. It is just a small pilot in one school now, but we are hopeful it can expand to help address the estimated 8,000 DPS students without access to Internet. In 2015-16 we will be partnering with the Durham Housing Authority and EveryoneOn to connect students in public housing to high speed Internet via Google Fiber. We are also partnering with Verizon to provide Chromebooks with embedded Internet hot spots to 45 middle school students.

We must address the homework gap or risk allowing 25% of our students to fall behind!

Monday, July 20, 2015

If your not failing, your aren't trying hard enough
I am a bit self-conscious - maybe you are too. I like to put my best foot forward. So I clean my house like a crazy person when someone is coming over. I cringe at the thought of other people seeing the usual disarray of shoes, half-opened mail, used cups, etc. that normally decorate our living space. I don't like to look unprepared or foolish, especially at work. So I spend time pondering new ideas, researching and calculating, turning them over and over and over in my own mind before I put them out in the world. Some might call this analysis paralysis, I call it being thorough. :)

Like most Americans, I buy into the culture of success. We are a culture of winners and over achievers who show off brilliant business plans on Shark Tank and well polished talent on American Idol, The Voice, etc. No one wants to be embarrassed by the "judges" in their life when they point out their lack of preparation or hard work.

I have been inspired recently to be more willing to screw up. In the spring my friends at North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network talked about failure as a good thing. To bring about innovation in education, we have to empower each other to take risks. I nodded my head yes, but thought to myself - that is for other people. I have been seeing this idea all around me ever since.  It really is the IN thing - Forbes article on failure7 TED talks about failure. Apparently if you are not failing, you are just not trying hard enough.

So I am ready to embrace failure. I am going to be brave enough to let go of my old ways and reach for the new opportunities. When I fail, I promise not to beat myself up (too much). I am going to break out of my analysis paralysis and try.

I am challenging myself to put my riskiest ideas out there. The ones with the most potential impact, but also the potential for failure. I am going to set a big stretch goal, so I can celebrate (and learn from) my failures.

My goal for 2015-16 school year - Help students throughout Durham connect to the Internet from home to access academic resources.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ten Stimulating Summer Activities for Teens

Source: Wikipedia
Parents of teens often struggle to get kids off the couch or out from behind the screen during long summer days. When my children were in elementary school it seemed so much easier to keep them active in the summer. Now they aren't so easily persuaded to go to the park, the library, . . . or anywhere that requires getting off their device or out of their pajamas. Here are some suggestions for activities you and your teen can agree on. (Shh! don't tell them the activities might be educational)

1. Go to your local bookstore for snacks
The draw of baked goods and frozen drinks is enough to entice them to get out of the house. Then the magic of the bookstore's marketing will likely convince them to pick up a book.

2. Invite a group of friends over for game night
You might not be able to get your child to play their childhood favorites with you anymore, but games have made a resurgence. There are new games that have a cool factor strong enough to overcome even adolescent angst. Games teach strategy, problem solving and interpersonal skills.
  • Apples to Apples
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Say Anything
  • Pandemic
3. Plan a family vacation or outing
Involve your teen in the planning phase to help ensure buy-in during the trip. Challenge them to find a good deal on a hotel, research a restaurant for dinner, or plan the itinerary for a day.

4. Extend a personal interest or fandom
If your teen has an interest in a sport, hobby or even a popular entertainment figure you might be able to extend that interest into another area. My daughter likes Anime and the local library offered an Anime related craft activity for teens. If your teen hesitates to try something new, offer to pick up a friend to join you. Teens often resist attending events where they don't know anyone.

5. Play an audio book with teen interest in the car
One of my daughters is reluctant to pick out a new print book, but she is 100% engaged when we listen to audio books. I have gotten her hooked on a couple book series this way and listening to the book together is a great shared experience which opens the door to many conversations. 

6. Become a maker
Crafts are cool again! The crayons and pony beads of their childhood may not grab your teen's attention, but try a project with a bit of a challenge and updated interest like these:

7. Connect a book to a movie
Many popular young adult novels have been adapted for the big screen. Use this as an opportunity to get your teen to read the book or another in the series. Watching the movie as a family for the first or second time can be a fun celebration after finishing the book. (Most of the movies are rated PG-13 and may contain some mature content.  So evaluate whether they are appropriate for your child first.)
  • Fault in Our Stars
  • Harry Potter
  • Hunger Games
  • The Lightning Thief
  • Maze Runner
Online Activities
I know parents are rolling their eyes at this section. You are fighting with your teen to try to get them AWAY from their screens day and night, but there are some online activities that are stimulating to young brains. Perhaps you can build some goodwill by suggesting these instead of insisting on powering down.

8. Learn how it's done - coding your own site or game
Even if you don't think your child has an interest in becoming a computer science major, learning some coding skills can be beneficial. They learn logic, problem-solving and an appreciation for how software works. These sites allow teens to practice basic programming skills independently.
9. Connect with the world
Have a teen who never looks up from their phone? Geocaching is a way for them to use their device to interact with the physical world. You might even have the thrill of discovering hidden items. This site can help get you started,

If your teen doesn't want to leave the house, but wants to explore the world this game is fun! Geoguessr selects a site from GoogleMaps and shows you the view. You can rotate 360 degrees, but you can't zoom out. You guess where in the world you are in GoogleMaps and get a score based on how close you were.

10. Open an online studio
These tools allow your teen to create a professional looking product with very little experience. Creating with the computer provides experience imagining, designing, and publishing ideas in an electronic format - valuable skills in the digital age.
  • Animoto - create cloud-based videos from your own images, clips and text
  • GoAnimate - create animated videos in a click and drag environment
  • ToonDo - create comic strips and cartoons
It can be hard work engaging teens in "productive" activities. Remember to value their interests and preferences. It is also hard work being a teen and trying to balance your own wants and fears with parental demands. Don't be afraid to push a little, but be flexible where you can and acknowledge their attempts to cooperate. Savor the summer, all too soon we will be back to the rushed schedule of the school year.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities - ISTE & School

 "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness . . ." - Charles Dickens

  This week I feel as if I have had my feet in two different worlds. I have been attending ISTE via Twitter and the Google+ NOT AT ETC community.  I've also been providing instructional technology support to reading remediation camps.
Remediation camp is for students who didn't score high enough on their end of grade tests or their end of year reading assessments. By state law the school district must provide the option for students to attend a camp with reading instruction. Unfortunately on some levels the camp feels like punishment. The lessons are tightly scripted and leave little room for student or teacher creativity. Students are assessed repeatedly during the short camp and then retake a paper and pencil test on the last day.
At ISTE, educators are talking about teacher collaboration, the maker movement and differentiated instruction. In camp, students are completing worksheets and receiving the same instruction regardless of their instructional needs. There was pressure to provide cookie cutter, sage-on-the-stage style instruction. Some of the teachers bucked the system and provided innovative, creative instruction that empowered and engaged students, but we need much more of that!
As Scott McCleod said, "the work of transforming school systems is slow work." I couldn't agree more, Scott. Education is a tale of two cities. We are at once in the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness. We have to keep pushing to get the foolishness out of our schools and implement best practices everywhere!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Designing Personalized Instruction for TEACHERS

I have read articles about personalized learning for teachers from Eudemic, Edsurge, and Edutopia. They tend to focus on Web based PD teachers seek out themselves. While I agree this is a powerful option, I want to offer school based PD that is also personalized. We expect teachers to differentiate in the classroom and I want to model that in the professional development I offer them. How can I design my PD plan to begin creating personalized quality professional development?
  • Design face-to-face large group sessions with multiple options or centers
  • Design half day trainings as Edcamps with teacher presenters and attendee choice
  • Provide optional training after school for teachers to self select
  • Enlist teachers to lead mini sessions and serve as mentors to their colleagues
  • Share general PLN resources via email with the staff as a whole and specialized PLN resources with individual teachers  
Some other educators are thinking about this too:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Google Wants Chicks

38% of Yahoo's employees are women
~30% of Google's employees are women   

There is a pervasive gender imbalance in the tech industry. When I was studying to be an engineer, guys outnumbered girls at least 3 to 1 in all my classes. Decades later, women are still lagging behind men in pursuing science and engineering (

Less than 1% of girls consider comp. sci. 

The number of females studying computer science has actually dropped since the 1980s. We need to encourage middle school age girls and high school girls to become more involved in computer science. Google is leading the charge with a new campaign, Made With Code. On their Web site they feature young women girls can identify with talking about their career using code.

Show female role models in tech.
Girls and young women want to make a difference in their world. They choose career pursuits that help people. I think if we can help girls see how computer science affects people and makes the world a better place they will consider becoming coders. 

Connect technology to a personal outcome.
Encourage a teenage girl you know to check out "Made With Code".
I'll be showing it to my CyberChicks when school is back in session.