Friday, July 31, 2009

New Year, New Kids

We had our open house this afternoon so that kids and parents could come to meet their new teacher. It's the real kick off for the new year. I love meeting the kids for the first time (or seeing them again if I knew them in kindergarten) and seeing them with their families.

Last year was my first year in first grade and meeting the kids was a whole new experience. The two years before that I was teaching our gifted fifth grade class and I knew most of the class long before they arrived in my room. The year before that I had looped up to fifth grade with my class. So, it has been a long time since I have gotten a bunch of new kids just like the previous year.

I really enjoyed meeting them this afternoon, but as I watched them wander around checking out the room and each other, I felt a tinge of disappointment. I don't have an attachment to them (yet). For all the challenges of last year, I adored those kids. I want them back.

I know that in a few days I will love these little ones just as much. I know that I will be carrying their joys, successes, frustrations, and issues with me all day everyday. But right now they seem like outsiders in my classroom.

It's time to think about the best ways to make it our classroom and make it quick.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Pat on the Back

We started off this morning with a meeting (not what we all wanted because we desperately want to be working in our classrooms getting ready for all the little faces that will be dropping in to meet us tomorrow). The assistant superintendent for our cluster had asked to talk with us, however, so we gathered in the library first thing this morning. As it turns out, I'm really glad we did.

We did not make AYP last year or the year before. Fortunately two years ago we missed one subgroup in math and last year we missed one subgroup in reading. So we're not facing sanctions at this point.

Our assistant superintendent wanted to be sure that we started off the year recognizing the fabulous things we are doing as a school. She talked about what a model we are and what miracles occurred here last year. We grew by 150 students last year and we already have a 40% mobility rate. That's a lot of kids coming and going in one school year. In spite of that we don't have a noticeable achievement gap between subgroups and we met expectations in all but that one subgroup in reading.

I can't describe how much I appreciate the fact that she came out to share this message with us. It's easy to feel weighted down by not making AYP and forget all the amazing things going on. I am so lucky to work at such an astounding school and it's great to know that others (especially in positions of authority) recognize that as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gotta Get Going

As teachers we go back a week before the kids. We are now three days into that week. On my drive home today I realized that I've been so caught up in preparing my classroom for the year, I have forgotten to plan for the students for next week. This happens to me every year.

I don't mean to suggest that the time spent on my classroom is not worthwhile. It certainly is. Setting up my classroom involves thinking through all sorts of important issues for the year. It makes me think about the community we want to create, the different learning experiences we will have, and the possible personalities in our class. I get so excited about creating a space that will offer many possibilities and be as flexible as possible, that it becomes all consuming.

Tonight, tomorrow, over the next few days, it is time to think about the kids. What will we do on that first day? How will we get to know one another? How will we organize all our materials? What will we do to begin building a strong community?

Even more importantly, it is time to begin really fleshing out my vision for the year (some might fairly say I should have started sooner actually). I still don't have a big picture view of this year and without that I'm just throwing things together here.

I'd love to hear about the way you spend your first days with students. What's your vision for that time and how to work to reach it?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NECC Day 4 & 5

Day 4

This was the day I presented with a couple of friends and co-workers. That was the major focus of the day and I actually didn't manage to attend any other sessions. We presented on the work we've been doing with technology at our school. We shared the various types of things students have done from first through fifth grades. It was a well attended session and we had a good time. The information from the session can be found here. We also created a delicious page with all of the links.

Being a part of this presentation was surprisingly energizing for me. It helped me to recognize all of the fun stuff we did this year that was really great. As a result, I'm feeling more excited about this year and all the possibilities.

Day 5

I debated about whether or not to head into town for the final morning of NECC (I live outside of DC so I took the metro in most days. It made for a very different conference experience, I think.) I knew I couldn't stay for the full morning because I needed to get home to my daughters but I really wanted to hear Alan November speak. I'm really glad I went because I greatly enjoyed his talk and I'm looking forward to the tweets and posts from folks at his upcoming conference.

Lisa Parisi liveblogged this session. It was called Designing Rigorous and Globally Connected Assignments. In this session, as in many others, I felt like one of the main messages was that it's not about the tools, it's about the learning, the pedagogy, all the things it has always been about. The tools are simply that, tools. However, these tools open up possibilities that didn't exist or were too difficult in the past. We can bring families into the classroom through skype. We can learn from people around the world immediately. Another message that came through here and elsewhere was that teachers have to let go of control. We can't solely own the learning anymore. I find that exciting, but I'm not sure most folks do. Most at NECC, however, certainly seem to.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NECC Day 3

By the third day of NECC I was getting a little worn out. I had already done two days of fabulous professional development, networking, and learning. However, this was just the start of the official conference!

I quickly learned that I couldn't attend too many sessions. The sessions overlap and it took some carefully reading of the options and thinking about timing and location to plan out my day. And then I only ended up in two sessions!

I was looking specifically for sessions aimed at primary classrooms. Having taught fourth/fifth grades for many years I had many challenges switching to first last year. One great challenge was technology. I didn't have many ideas for how to help my students and how to use technology efficiently and effectively. So I was hoping to get some new ideas.

The first session I attended was Improving Reading Skills with Digital Media. This session was all about PBS kids' programs and corresponding websites. A lot of the focus was on how they develop the shows and sites. While I found it very interesting, I did not find it hugely helpful for me as a teacher. The basic message I heard was that my students should be using these sites. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do with that. We've gotten our five year old started on the PBS Kids' Island and I'm hoping to get a better sense of it through her. The Island requires a log in so that kids can move progressively through lessons. It is not obvious to kids that they are doing so as it offers them a lot of choice, but it controls what options they have to help them build reading skills. Parents can track their child's progress and there is a lot of information to help parents understand the various skills. The site was designed with low-income children and families in mind. It is possible that I will spend some time discussing it with parents on Back to School Night if it seems worthwhile. Again, it is something I'll be spending more time thinking about.

The only other session I attended was a panel discussion with Maria Knee, Kathy Cassidy, and Amanda Marrinan titled Global Connections in the Primary Classroom. I have followed all three of these women online for some time now and I have immense respect for the work they are doing with primary students. The room was full so it seems clear that there is demand for information and ideas in this area. I liveblogged this session. There were a couple of powerful take-aways for me. The issue of keeping kids safe online is always brought up when talking about elementary school. These teachers remarked that we think about ways to keep kids safe everywhere, on the playground, on field trips, in the cafeteria, etc. Keeping them safe online is our responsibility and something we are quite capable doing. The other big thing I remember is the idea that these classroom don't really look that different from any other kindergarten or first grade classroom. These students are learning to read, write, do math, and more. Various forms of technology are just some of the many tools they use for this learning.

NECC Day 2 - Constructivist Celebration

I spent most of the second day at NECC at Sidwell Friends School at the Constructivist Celebration. The Constructivist Consortium is a group of educational software companies who have a focus on creativity and student empowerment. The group was formed (to the best of my knowledge) by Gary Stager. I heard Gary speak at Educon back in January so when I learned about the Celebration I immediately signed up. I didn't really know what to expect, I just figured it would be worth my time.

It definitely was. I enjoy hearing Gary speak. He is passionate and does not suffer fools. He might drive me nuts if I disagreed with him, but I don't so it works for me. He had representatives there from the different software companies and they gave us their software to explore. For a good portion of the day that is what we did. It was wonderful to have the opportunity and the time with the products.

I fell in love with Peter H. Reynold's products, Stationary Studio and Animation-ish. I can't wait for the year to start so that I can put Animation-ish up on my smartboard and we can begin creating. (It goes quite well with the book I am reading, Talking, Drawing, Writing.) Peter also spoke that afternoon and he is inspirational. His love of children and his passion in the power of creativity are contagious.

The other software that held great potential, in my opinion, was the stuff from Tech4Learning. I used Pixie quite a bit this past year and now I'm very excited by the possibilities in Frames.

The Constructivist Celebration was an inspiring, energizing day. It also was an opportunity for me to meet a lot of fabulous educators from around the country.

(I expect to be posting more about how I've used these products in the next several weeks as the school year gets rolling.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Edubloggercon at NECC

It's been weeks now and I'm finally beginning to write my reflections from NECC. I greatly enjoyed the conference and had the chance to meet, chat with, and learn from some truly fabulous people.

Edubloggercon, the unconference type of day that happened before NECC officially began was a true highlight for me. It was a reasonably small number of people who took the opportunity to discuss the things that mattered to them. I had to leave early due to another commitment and I was very sad. As a result, I was only able to attend two of the sessions.

The first was Liz Davis's discussion of professional development. Alice Mercer liveblogged this one and has already written a great reflection. I don't have anything of significance to add to those two posts.

The second session I attended was Steve Haragadon's on social networking in education. This one I liveblogged. (Edubloggercon was my first real experience with liveblogging and it was wonderful. I think it helped me focus better and keep my mouth shut a bit more.) The first issue to discuss what how we wanted to define social networks for this session. After agreeing to include pretty much everything we moved on to whether or not they should be used in schools and what that means. Steve made the argument that we need to bring these tools into schools, not only because they are being used in the world but also because they are pedagogically sound. The discussion made its way through a whole host of interesting questions. One that really struck me was what are the implications of not using these tools in school. We also talked about closed social networks, limited just to a school or district. It was a fascinating conversation that gave me a lot to think about for a while.

Edubloggercon allowed us the freedom to focus on topics important to us. Even within the sessions we could be flexible and go where we wanted to go. In Steve's session we could take a moment to determine how we wanted to define social networks. In a more traditionally structured session we would have talked about social networking based on the presenters' definition. That made for sessions that had true meaning to us.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Our NECC Presentation

My first foray into NECC is over and I am exhausted. I have so many thoughts, ideas, and questions flying around in my brain and I need time to reflect before any real posts are ready. However, I presented with two others from my school, Mark Smith, our technology guy, and Jennifer Metcalfe, a fourth grade teacher, on Tuesday. We had a good turnout and a fabulous time. Mark generously posted a summary of the presentation and information about the three of us here. The powerpoint is posted here. Finally, we created a delicious page with a wide range of links showcasing our students' work from the past several years. We also managed to get some pictures during the presentation and I'm hoping to get them up on flickr soon.