Friday, April 16, 2010

I Actually Did It!!

I decided to cross post from my personal blog to this one, kinda tying the two together. Read on and I'm sure you'll understand why.

When I started this process over 3 years ago there was a big part of me that never saw myself actually finishing. I remember sitting there with a stack of GRE words in my lap night after night thinking, well I’ll just keep at this but I won’t get into the program. And then I did, I got in.

And then I started my first class. I’ll never forget that day, September 24, 2007, because we were in Washington DC where A. was receiving an award. But all I could think about was my class starts today! And I poured everything I had into it. It was HARD and time consuming but I loved it. And I kept thinking, well this is great but how long will I be able to keep this up? Surely I’ll never actually finish. And that was a little scary to think about considering I’ve never quit anything in my life.

But I just kept on trucking… through a struggle with infertility, then getting pregnant and working late at night until I was practically passed out in front of my computer. Then there was the summer before Andrew was born where I did nothing but tutor and study, tutor and study, sometimes up to 14 hours a day with my big swollen feet propped up on pillows and a certain person in my giant belly kicking my books off my lap. Then through having a child and reading chapters in textbooks while I pumped or nursing while I typed. He was 5 weeks old when that particular course started. I don’t even remember what it was called much less what I learned in that one.

Then I went back to working full time, doing after school tutoring and singing in the church choir. Oh there was dance in there too (something that finally had to give). I started getting up early and going into work by 7:30 so I could work for 25 minutes in the morning. Then I’d stay an extra 15 minutes in the afternoon which gave me 30 minutes to work if I had all my other stuff in order. I have become exceptionally good at squeezing every second out of a break and reading textbooks at stoplights (don’t worry Oprah, I’ve stopped).

I’ve helped raise a family (and received a lot of help too) while having a husband who travels a large percentage of each month. I have had to step away from synchronous sessions to go assure my toddler that yes Elmo, AND Mickey Mouse, AND Blankie are all safely in bed with him. I have been asked dozens and dozens of times, “what time did you come to bed last night?” with a tone that suggests I might have lost my mind to stay up past midnight working on an assignment.

I trucked on through classes I loved and a class or two I hated. I have relished the insight, the ideas, the knowledge (as cheesy as that sounds) that I have gained from every single class I have taken.

I did not ever think this day would come but tonight, I submitted my final assignment. I have completed my 12th and final course to complete a Masters of Education Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Educational Technology. I have received a perfect score in 11 out of 12 classes and a 98% in the other course (yes, that pisses me off tremendously but hey, I had a 5 week old!) In two weeks I get to go back to Gainesville and walk across the stage one more time, one last time. And then this chapter of my life closes.

I’m finished!

What’s next?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Q & A

Some of the feedback from a classmate caused me to reflect and further explain some key points that I had originally made in this journal. I am going to post the questions and responses below.

I found several interesting findings in your report. I was struck by the differences in the results for the first essay and thereafter. You explain that the first essay is 5-6 sentences, and the rest were 5 paragraphs. It is not clear that the directions were different; what accounts for the very poor essay scores on the first assignment? If the assignments ARE different, why did you include it with the others?

The first essay is a baseline. The kids come back after summer and are told to write as much as they can about something they did over the summer. It's purely a baseline. Then after several months of instruction they were given directions and explicit instruction on writing a 5 paragraph essay. One thing I definitely need to add to my inquiry is to say that MANY if not MOST are still not 5 paragraphs but they are drastic improvements from the first essay and I think that is to be expected since they would have at that point received several months of teaching. I included the assignments that I did because that was what I had to work with. I wanted to do a comparison of data and ideally I'd have time to do another essay but it can take several weeks and I've got other curriculum I need to teach before I can do another essay.

Also, did your first group have 10 returning students, too? The students that I have known who flunked a course the first time were able to frequently get an A the second time because it just took them hearing and doing it twice to finally do the expected work and get it. Maybe that also contributed to your improvements in 2010?

I always have about 20 kids and always about half are returning but NOT because they failed. Please don't take this the wrong way, but I know I get confused when I read everyone's inquiry about their context so I'm just saying this to remind you that I work in an all special ed school. We are ungraded. In my department the kids usually stay for 2 years-- It's kind of like Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2. Now if a child stays for a 3rd year then we may consider that being held back but that's only happened once and it wasn't for either group of children in the inquiry. Since there are always about the same number returning I don't think it played a roll in the data differences. I'd have to look back and check I want to say that last year's group had 11 returning from the year before and 24 total so about the same ratio. I thought I'd mentioned this in part 1 but I can't remember now. I'll go back and check.

Finally, did you really mean that you "wrote large portions of their speeches for them", and was that factored into the final essay assessment score? With all due respect, if this is true, how can your comparisons be valid since you are grading yourself in the first group, but not in the second group?

Ah yes, this. I know. It's hard to explain and I need to word it better. Again, they are special ed so I did allow students to dictate the entire thing in some cases. I guide them all a little differently depending on their needs but in the end the guidance is usually the same from year to year. So for example, in the first group I may get a speech that is 5-10 lines written on a paper and not a lot of details. So I sit down with them one on one and I start with what they have and then I ask, "so tell me more about ___" and I make them elaborate. If they are lost for a word I might give them 4 choices or refer them to several tools I have provided for them. Is this me doing it for them or is this them telling me what to write? It's a fine line that becomes easily blurred. All I know (and what I tried to report but I see I didn't do a very good job) is that this year, when I got the essays/speeches there was much less of me helping them fill in the gaps. They took the effort to improve their own language, include research and details.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

So much I have forgotten to say

Well I didn't mean to ignore my blog here but so many things have happened, not the least of which me being sick... but I'll get back to that.

I've been analyzing my data for my inquiry assignment and I figured I'd make it easier on myself and give myself a stopping point so I could evaluate what I had. So I took a little blogging break.

But I've been keeping some notes on things I wanted to mention. The first and most exciting thing is that one of my students won first place in the speech contest! He was up against, get this, 3 former first place winners! And he beat them all! I could not be more thrilled. He had an amazing speech about what he'd do if he were president-- he earned my vote! I'm thinking of trying to find a way to send the finalist speeches to Mr. Obama himself!

I am trying to reflect on what made J's speech so awesome. He definitely had the drive to win. He was a finalist last year but didn't place so I know he really wanted it. He also is very into politics so this was a great topic for him. But if I could really point out one thing that made this one different from the last was the passion he showed. If you were wondering by the way, he was the one who, after watching the video clips from The West Wing, told me that he felt like he got it. So lots of things combined to help make that an incredible essay and speech but I'd like to attribute at least a small amount of that success to the SMART Board.

Another thing that happened was that speeches ended and we went back to regular instruction. Phew! I love speeches and all but I do think it gets to be a bit much after a while. I started on Adjectives which is always a review for everyone because lets face it, by the time you get to the 4th grade curriculum you've already had adjectives for the last few years. So how could I make it different? Well of course with the SB! There was this one activity I found that was kind of a cross between a cloze procedure and a mad libs. It was this story about a haunted house (they didn't seem to mind it was out of season) and they had to fill in the blanks with words that meant "scary". So I pulled up and showed them how to search for words which they thought was insanely cool (they seem to have forgotten that I showed them this at the beginning of the year). Then we filled in the blanks of their story. They came out incredibly well and the kids were once again very enthusiastic about participating.

I did notice that we are back to our old behavior problems with regard to the board. The first problem came with writing words in the blanks. It is just not easy for them to write. Some of them don't press hard enough, some put their hand down on the board and that messes up their writing and some write so poorly that the kids can't read it, I can't read it and the board can't interpret it to turn it into print. So I decided after about 15 minutes of letting them write that I would instead have them pick a word from the thesaurus page and I'd write it, turn it to print and then let them drag it into the blank that they wanted and that went much more smoothly.

So finally, we get back to this week. Well I have not been to work the last 2 days because I'm sick. Unfortunately for my students that means no SMART Board for them. You see, there are not many of us at work who are comfortable with the board and the people who graciously filled in for me in my absence were definitely not going to do anything using the board so my poor kiddos had to work in the textbooks which I know they hated and almost made me show up sick just to keep them from that. But I guess they will also appreciate the board that much more when I return. We need to solve this problem either by me training my potential subs on how to use the board or me providing alternative lessons that are more fun that the textbook. Or hopefully I can just not be sick anymore and then it won't be a problem :) So there you have it! Now you're all caught up!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fourth Participation Log

Lesson: Introduction to using adjectives to improve writing. Adjectives.notebook

First Count: 8/10

Second Count: 10/10

Third Count: 9/10 (Same student as one before)

Notes: This is my least engaged lesson so far. Could the effect of the board be wearing off? I am not ready to say that just yet. It has been an odd couple of days. The students are still enthusiastic about it but are also more misbehaved. The first student was messing with his pencils and the second student was not engaged because he was distracted by the first student.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


A few weeks ago, I interviewed one of my students. The student, M, is 11 years old. She has been attending my school for the last 2 years. She was very enthusiastic about talking to me. I selected her because she is very honest and somewhat opinionated. I felt she would tell me the truth and not just what I wanted to hear. She's also quite able to express herself despite having trouble using correct grammar. The questions I asked are in bold. Her answers are given verbatim. A few times, I clarified her answers. These clarifications are found in brackets.

Tell me your thoughts about the SB?

I like the SB because you can look at anything you want and the class can see everything and it’s so much better than my teacher bringing the computer around and showing everyone.

How has it helped your learning?

Now I’ve learned so much in Social Studies the first time we used it. We looked up Indian, I mean Native American stuff and we have been learning a lot and there’s actually a lot of people who have been learning so many things that I can’t imagine.

Has it helped in any other subjects besides Social Studies?

You can learn and have fun on the SB at the same time by playing the treasure game my teacher pulled up from the internet. It’s fun and you’re learning at the same time.

So you think it’s helped you learn grammar?

Yeah. It’s better because it describes more things than the textbooks. It uses words that we understand and we get better thoughts of things rather than just having a short sentence. The book goes too fast. There’s not enough examples to get it.

Oh and there was that game we played. The one from funbrain…

You mean Mad Libs?

YEAH! That’s the one. See that was really good because it used all these nouns and stuff and adjectives and the other ones. It gave us all these good words to put in sentences and we didn’t have to spell it or anything, just touch the word. Even though sometimes it was hard to touch it when it was bouncing all over the screen but that made it fun too.

I’m glad you enjoyed that game.

Um, let’s see… We could also take SRC tests when we all read a book together we can take the test together. And Google earth was the best. We can see things like the Eiffel tower and see where our friends live and you can put the address down and see the place. Remember how on the Grandparents breakfast day they [the parents and grandparents] all wanted to see the board. My two grandmas were so excited and they asked what it was and they said “we didn’t have that when we were little”. One of my grandmas said “man that would have helped us when I was little”. She was very excited to see the differences between when she was little and now how there are tvs and computers and smarboards in the classrooms.

Your mom got to see the board too, did she have anything to say about it?

Your parents get real excited when you come home and you say Mom look what I learned on the SB today and parents are happy that the board helps you so much and you look up things and get more information and put it up on the SB so you get more time to see everything.

I think that’s it, no wait, remember in social studies. You can look stuff up during social studies when you have a question and you can find the information right there.

What do you mean by that?

In the textbooks, you know how the sentences [paragraphs] are really short? Well on the Internet it’s more like a paragraph [whole web page] and that’s so much better than one little sentence. It helps you understand it.

You can go up and get a pen and you can write things and you can write it in cursive or however you want. It’s not boring like just sitting there listening cause you get to do stuff out of your seat.

How do you think the SB helped your writing?

It helped us by showing the class and how it was a big picture and seeing it clearly and seeing it better.

Can you explain that a little more?

You know, how you can show us everything, like, just put all the sentences up so we can see what it’s supposed to be like and if we get stuck we can look at that and it helps.

I’m going to list some things that we used the board for in writing class. I want you to tell me your thoughts about each thing. If you think it wasn’t helpful, it’s okay to tell me that, too.

Doing research?

That was the most fun things because you can just imagine so many things that you can look up on the computer and you can see so many things. The White House was pretty cool. I didn’t know that it had 135 rooms. It’s way easier to find stuff on the internet than in books because you don’t even know if the stuff you want to know is in that book and maybe the library doesn’t even have the book you need but the internet does.

So the SmartBoard helps with Internet searching? But can’t you just do that on a regular computer?

Yeah but it’s fun to see it all together and like, when you showed us the good websites and not the bad ones to use it was easier to do it myself.

Scholastic website?
That was also a fun thing to do. Half of the things I looked up there I didn’t know.

Personal research?
I didn’t know that people recycled 50% of the cans. I found this good website.

How did that help your writing?

I think it made my speech better to have more information in it and stuff.

Organizing paragraphs?
People can see what you’re talking about instead of just reading it and when you underline it, it’s better because you can see where the teacher was reading.

So underlining things helped?

Yeah and the colors too. Oh and saving stuff. That was the best part about the Smart Board that we got to study the same things for a couple weeks but we can still save it and go over it again if people forgot about it. And there was that one time I was absent and you printed what I missed so I didn’t get behind and all that.

YouTube Videos?

We got to watch the old cartoons [School House Rock] you learn stuff that you didn’t know and now you know it. It’s in your brain and when your teacher asks you the question it pops up in your mind and you already know it.

Do you think you could have gotten that from a book?

No. A book may give you a sentence and it would be good words but it wouldn’t give you the right words that you would need. Like a book would tell you a horse is a mammal that can run really fast but you need more to understand it. So by looking it up using the SB, people can learn more stuff and know how it helps so many people rather than just one person and it gives you information the book doesn’t.

Anything else you want to add?

You can put up a white blank board and you can write down the words that we’re having trouble on and you help us with it instead of having a regular white board. You can erase it better, there’s no marks on the board like pens do. You don’t have to clean it every single day.

What things could I do to make the board better?

Nothing that you can explain better. Nothing. If you explained it wrong someone would raise their hand and you can explain it better. We use it perfect. We use it for what we need it for. For everything! For speeches we looked up so many things on the SB. It’s fun how you use it. Not the other teachers but how you use it. You look up things and think “oh my class would love this one and you see how we love it just by our faces and you pick things how they look fun and it’s just exciting how we look up things that are fun and we’re learning.”

Thanks for talking with me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Changing Practices

I'm reviewing some notes for my class which is what this whole blog is for... I had written down a question that I was supposed to ask myself.

"How am I changing my practices with this technology?"

Well I've been thinking about this a lot. Because it's a multi-layered answer. Obviously the SmartBoard changes how I teach dramatically. From a physical standpoint, most of my regular white board is covered with the SmartBoard so I no longer teach using a regular white board. Beyond that basic change, I have changed how I teach lessons. Part of this change comes from how I prepare. After teaching the same thing for now 6 years, I don't need to put much direction in my lesson plans. "pg 16 verbs" would suffice (We mark benchmarks differently for anyone who reads this and wonders why my plans don't include benchmark notations). But now it takes a lot more than that. While the written plan might say "verbs.notebook lesson" instead, I also have to make sure that lesson exists and if it doesn't or I don't like the pre-made ones, I have to make it myself. And that takes more time and effort. At the same time, this time and effort is worth it because I know I'll be able to use it again and again. I feel like I'm dedicating more time to planning and preparing and that extra time reflects well in my presentation.

Another way the SB has changed my practice is by allowing me to integrate web based materials. In the past I had a couple of lessons where I would pull up a web page and then have the students gather around a computer 3-4 at a time. This severely limited my use of the internet and the valuable resources available there. Now I think nothing of pulling up a website and letting the kids go to town exploring and learning.

My classes are now more interactive. I used to spend 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class introducing the concept and reviewing the previous lessons. Then I would put the students in pairs and have them answer questions from the textbook. I knew that this was not the best approach. The kids liked my "lectures" (at least to a point) and I did my best to make them entertaining and memorable. But they were purely auditory and that in and of itself made the lessons less adapted to visual students. Now it's completely different. We've used the textbooks maybe 3 times since the board arrived last October and we used the books WITH the board, not instead of. The students work together using the board. My class is more unruly. They are more talkative and out of their seats. They communicate with each other. They think more. They reason more. They explore. We have broken out of the Catholic School mold of children sitting row by row with their hands folded neatly on their desks and I love it! I am happier with how I teach. I feel more effective as a teacher. I feel like no matter how boring my topic is (and let's face it, most people don't LOVE grammar) my kids will leave class with a smile because they got to answer their questions by dragging something with their finger or clicking on the right box and making it change colors or some other more enjoyable task than sitting and writing with pencil and paper.

And it's not just language arts that receives this benefit. I can show them everything. There hasn't been a time yet where I wanted to show the kids something that I couldn't find available on the Internet. In social studies, we still use textbooks but the kids have developed a sense that the book doesn't have everything in it. Last week we were studying the early Floridians. We were making a chart of the different tribes and one of the questions was about whether the tribes were mound builders or not. Well the book didn't say and that led me to think the answer was no. That answer wasn't good enough for my students who immediately directed me to Google, where they typed in their search terms and discovered that the book had not in fact included the information that the tribe were actually mound builders after all. I get the feeling every day that I use the board that the possibilities are endless. The learning is deeper and more lasting.

I can't really say enough good things about my SB. At one point this year I was getting very frustrated with school and working and being away from my toddler and it was hard and then this board arrived and it changed everything. Has the board changed my practices? It's changed my life :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I sat down and talked to my kids about the board again today. The results are in the posting below.

I've been digesting the things they said to me. Nothing they said was all that surprising. In fact most of it I'd already heard more informally. I could tell that a few of them were trying very hard to give thoughtful answers and those were the ones I appreciated the most.

One thing I hadn't really counted on was their inability to really put to words how the SB had helped them with their writing. In some respects, this doesn't make a huge difference for my project. They like the board and they perceive it to be helpful. Their writing scores and consistent class engagement provides support for the board but I do wish they had been able to give me some substantial feed back on why they felt the board was helpful. Maybe it's because we haven't done a board lesson for a few days but I had really hoped they could say something like, "I have a better understanding of how to structure my paragraphs." Ha even as I write that I realize it's not something any of my kids would have ever said. I guess what I have to keep in mind is that, even if they can't express the benefits, I am still seeing benefits. The focus group information was interesting but not as helpful as I had hoped it would be.