Friday, December 19, 2014

We Are Family

What fun to see all our little cheerleaders and their families tonight!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Authentic Learning and Making a Difference

Why, oh, why are we not doing more authentic learning projects like this in our schools? From USA Today:

There are so many ways our students can make the world a better place. Isn't it time we leverage this enormous pool of talent we have in our school age children? The value of both the knowledge gained from the creation of the new hand as well as the significant contribution to this young child's quality of life is, in my humble opinion, life altering for these students and our world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


May all of us in the Storm Lake Schools
be grateful for all that we have
and be willing to offer our help to those in need.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Sound of Music - A Must See!

Storm Lake High School is performing The Sound of Music, and you absolutely must go. I attended last night, and I was overwhelmed so many times during the performance. The casting is spot on. The music is spectacular. And, the emotions these young adults evoke are remarkable, especially considering how young they are. Congratulations to the directors - Joanne Tucker, Sara Carlson, and Jason Heeren. Kudos to the actors, the pit orchestra, and the production crew.

I can't get over the amount of talent we have in the Storm Lake Community School District. What a wonderful evening of entertainment. I will be humming the songs all day!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is Tech in Classrooms Optional?

Questions for the day:

How effective would you be on the job if you only had access to technology every once in awhile, and how well would you like your job under those circumstances?

Does your answer to that question influence your thinking when it comes to technology availability to students for learning in classrooms?

I'd love your input on this one.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Working as a Team

As I sat in our District School Improvement Team meeting today, I was so excited and proud to hear about all the new things we are doing this year to help our students learn and succeed. All of the data analysis and individual attention can't help but pay off for our students. The dedication of the people on this team to work together and try new things based on best practices and research is remarkable. This is not easy work. To change the way things have traditionally been done is hard. There will be push back.

Which leads me to my thoughts today: How do we get everyone who works for our school to first, feel like a valued member of the team, but also, to second, work as hard as possible to implement the new things we are doing in the district? This is not a question with a simple answer. The traditional master-of-one's-own-universe view of working in a school is hard to let go of. We all like our autonomy and our ability to make our own decisions. However, if we are going to improve the overall education for our students, we need to work very hard together, and we need to be willing to change.

I picture a staff of 350 people or so all wearing Tornado Green and all working together with the same goals, the same vision, and the same dedication. Just think of how great we would be!

This is not an impossible task. Are each of us willing to do our part?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

There's no place I'd rather be

This article in the Des Moines Register made my day. I came to Storm Lake seven and a half years ago, and I am extremely happy and proud to be a part of this vibrant community and our exciting schools.

Get to know your co-workers, classmates, and neighbors. We have far more in common than we have differences.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Conferences, Twitter, and PD

I attended the ITEC Conference in Des Moines earlier this week where teachers, administrators, some students, and experts in the field of educational technology came together to learn. It's always revitalizing to me to rub elbows with others who care so much about students and education that they are willing to learn more and to "imagine if."

Conference website

Conference session resources

My notes from Jamie Fath's Classrooms Gone Google Workshop

My conference session resources

Twitter as individualized, just in time PD Research Articles:

Not being able to attend a conference is not really an excuse anymore. There were sessions available remotely. Twitter was lit up with #itec14 posts, including lots of information and links. And, the above links keep much of the information available now. The question to me is:

"How do we motivate educators to continue to learn on their own, to continue to perfect their craft of teaching or administrating, and to be brave enough to try new things and learn from failing on occasion?"

We no longer live in an age when a finite amount of information learned in school will prepare us for our careers. Everything is in flux and changing, and the only way to keep up is to constantly learn. We owe it to our students to feed their creativity, their inquisitive natures, and their ability to continue to learn on their own. It's the only way to survive in our information-rich, ever changing world. Are we as adults modeling this kind of learning? And if not, why?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Warm Welcome to Josh

Just want to post a warm SLCSD welcome to the newest member of our Tech Team, Josh Hayden, who comes from Bode, IA. He's been here a week and unboxed, asset tagged, imaged and deployed almost 140 devices already. In addition, he's making himself at home in an office I'm ashamed to say needed some tender loving care and sorting. (This is what happens when the Tech Dept. gets behind!)

We look forward to offering students, teachers, and other staff members the very best support we possible can as they use technology for learning, creating, communicating, and just plain getting work done.

Welcome aboard, Josh. Justin, Kim and I are so excited to have you as a part of our team!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Go, Tornadoes!

It's Homecoming week here at the Storm Lake Community School District, and if that doesn't make you proud that you are a Tornado, I don't know what will. From a home Cross Country meet, to a home Volleyball game, to a super fired up crowd at Coronation last night, excitement is everywhere. Old and young alike are enjoying themed dress days. Students are building floats and preparing to ride in the parade. The band is rocking the house and the field every chance they get. Cheerleaders are jumping and cheering and visiting every school to fire the students up. Dancers are dancing, and teachers are singing.

I've always believed that the most important way to increase learning of both our students and our staff members is to build relationships of all kinds. Friendships between students. Mentor/student relationships between teachers and students. Coaching/athlete relationships. Staff member relationships with one another. Parent relationships with the school community. The Storm Lake community involved in and taking personal responsibility for the success of the schools.

It's a huge team effort that requires each and every one of us to invest our energies in being productive, caring members of the Storm Lake Community Schools family. I'm feeling that connection this week, and there's honestly nowhere I'd rather be. I hope our students can say the same thing, because that sense of belonging is so very important to the learning process.

Go, Tornadoes!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Are Our Priorities?

I've been re-reading the Harry Potter books this summer. (I feel like my children are peers of the Harry Potter characters - having grown up with the books!) Each time I read these books I have a different revelation. This time I am fixated on the words to the Hogwarts School Song:

"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald,
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling,
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we've forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot."

How many of us can boast of a school song that emphasizes learning? The learning of old and young together? Life-long learning?

How about our mission statements and goals? Do they emphasize learning?

And how do we measure that learning? Merely scores in a spreadsheet? Or should we temper that with other indicators of learning? Participation, community involvement, curiosity, relationships, interests? Do we all need to learn the same things?

I don't have the answers, but I do know we better be thinking about it. What are our priorities? What should they be?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Students Learning with Technology

Summers are always busy times in the technology department at the Storm Lake Schools. From expanding and replacing wireless, brand new copiers district-wide, hundreds of new Chromebooks, dozens of new laptops, relocating and adding classrooms and offices, a new firewall, updating the devices we already have, and so on, we get very caught up in the techie side of our jobs.

However, I must post a few things about our students and teachers before early summer gets away from me.

First, under the direction of Abbey Green, some of the High School ELL students created Storm Lake High School welcome videos. Abbey reports:

Students chose things in the school that they thought were important or especially useful to new students. They also chose things that they think make Storm Lake unique or awesome. They did some self-directed learning of how to use Movie Maker, and during their reflections, they said that this project was one of the most fun! They had to form their own groups; we made lists of filming locations as a class brainstorming activity; and they had to make storyboards of their plans before filming. Then, they worked as a group to create their own videos with editing, captions, music, voice overs, etc. I gave them the option to choose their language(s) in the video, and I was really impressed at how many chose to use English in their video. It shows a lot of confidence in the language on their part.

Here's the link to the page with the student videos. Just click the link on the webpage. The videos are truly remarkable!

Second, the Middle School piloted a form of Genius Hour for some of their students this spring. They called it Passion Projects, and when I heard teacher Erin Nguyen and two of her students report on their projects at the May School Board meeting I was so impressed by the . . . well, passion that all of them showed for their learning! Erin says:

Passion Projects is taught during WIN (What I Need) during 9th period at the Middle School. Passion Projects gives students the oppotunity to choose what they want to learn. It is based on Google's 20% Time where employees get to choose one day of the week to work on whatever they want. Rudy Wieck and I have piloted the program in which students get to choose their project. Student were taught how to develop essential questions, research their topic, and then present giving a TED Talk style presentation. Examples of the projects included an anti-bullying website, a website reviewing video games, learning to play guitar, written scripts for a film, and a research project on Tae Kwon Do, just to name a few.

Erin reports that the projects have been phenomenal!

Here is a link to Pang Xiong's Manga website where she drew Manga:!b-bio/cy2g

And, here is Beatriz Espino who studied graphic design and created her own t-shirt:

Finally, Abbey Green and Iris Hernandez are teaching summer school for ELL students. Their class is working on a class blog. Here is what Abbey says:

This year we decided to add a larger writing component to our ESL summer program. We also wanted the students to have an authentic audience for their writing, so we're having them write a daily blog about their different trips and activities.

Here is the link to the brand new blog:

I am just so impressed with the work these teachers and students are doing. Technology for technology's sake should not be the focus. Technology as a way to ignite passion, to learn, to collaborate, and to create - Now we're talking!

I can now put my techie hat back on for the summer. Our teachers and students need us!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Students Learning from Students

Our after school programs here at SLCSD are fantastic. Here is Lynn Redenbaugh, the director of the after school program at the elementary school, talking about a part of that program, math mentorship.

Just so happy to see so many of our students learning from each other!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cole Buchholz

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Cole Buchholz, a teacher and coach at Storm Lake High School, who passed away yesterday. The logo for the t-shirt to support his fight against his illness seems just as appropriate in his death, as his most generous life's example lives on inside all of us who came into contact with him.

I know I've used this quote when we've dealt with sad loss in our SLCSD family before, but it's always the first thing that comes to my mind:

“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together..

there is something you must always remember.

You are braver than you believe,

stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

But the most important thing is,

even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you.”

--Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What Are You Afraid Of?

What if you were suddenly told that you are banned from using your cell phone at work? No phone calls, no Internet, no notepad, no calendar, no calculator - nothing. Put the phone away and don't let it be seen - ever.

There are schools that are still treating students like this. A multifunction learning device in your pocket that you are not allowed to touch at your institution of learning - ever. I am speechless.

I think Google illustrates my point in their salute to teachers today:

What are you afraid of?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

World Book Night 2014

I received an email from our high school media person Donna Morgan today with the following information.

In honor of WORLD BOOK NIGHT 2014, which Susan Slagle-Boyd an instructional assistant here at SLCSD made me aware of, students were given the opportunity to sign up to win a free book. Many students took advantage of this opportunity! A drawing was held today during SSR and the following students were lucky winners of a free book:

Winners of the book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
  • Jocelyn Ibarra
  • Gelder Pineda
  • Naomi Marroquin
  • Oscar Rosales
  • Michael Mix
  • Manuel Gomez
  • Tina Soumetho
  • Ricky Stauffer
  • Izzi McCammant
  • Angel Xiong
  • Carmen Morales
  • Leslie Lopez
  • Cinthia Balandran
  • Aiyana Davila
  • Nohemi Zavala
Winners of the book “Same Difference”
  • Ivette Tapia
  • Janet Escobar
  • Katherine Lai
  • Bobby Morales
  • Diana Flores
  • Gabriela Garza
  • Jorge Salcido
  • Stephanie Teos

A huge THANK YOU goes out to Susan Slagle-Boyd for her generous donation of 15 copies of the book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and to her sister Peggy Slagle for donating 8 copies of the book “Same Difference”.

Thank you to all that participated – and to those that didn’t – be watching next year for another opportunity to win a free book in honor of World Book Night.

I was not aware of this opportunity until today. If you go to:, you will find information about this chance to obtain free books to distribute to students. Please sign up for the newsletter, so you can apply to be a donor next year. What a great project. Thanks so much to Donna Morgan, Susan Slagle-Boyd, and Peggy Slagle. Enjoy the books, student winners!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Celebrating Diversity while Banding Together

The Storm Lake Community School District is one of the most diverse school districts in the state of Iowa. I love that about us! While it certainly creates educational challenges for us, it also creates wonderful opportunities for learning from one another. In our schools we celebrate our differences and respect, care about, and learn from each other. However, we must also celebrate all the things we have in common. Sesame Street taught us this lesson a very long time ago:

Let us never forget that our school needs each and every one of us in our uniqueness -- students, families, teachers, administrators, staff members, and community stakeholders -- on this learning journey that we are all taking together as Storm Lake Tornadoes.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Equipment Technology Plan 2014-2015

The equipment part of the SLCSD Technology Plan was approved at the School Board meeting last night. As always, I caution up front that the plan is the best educated guess of what technology we will purchase over the next year. Education and technology are both moving targets, and we plan the best we can, knowing changes may crop up along the way. In addition, as we formalize the larger projects and receive bids throughout the next year, they will be brought before the Board again. That being said, we are very excited about the future of student learning in our district! Here are the highlights.


This summer: Increase our Internet bandwidth from 120 mbps to 300 mbps to accommodate our huge increase in Internet usage for learning.

East Early Childhood

This summer: Put newer computers for student use in all the classrooms.

Elementary School

This summer:
  1. Replace computers in the standing computer lab.
  2. Replace one of the mobile laptop labs with two mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks (was in this year's tech plan for May/June).
  3. Put two Chromebooks for student use in each of the third and fourth grade classrooms. This will complete our project of getting at least two mobile devices in every classroom at the elementary.
  4. Replace all wireless in the elementary building with new more robust wireless.
Next summer: Replace another mobile lab of laptops with two mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks. This will bring us to seven mobile labs and two standing labs at the elementary for student use.

Middle School

This summer:
  1. Provide all teachers with laptops.
  2. Add two mobile Chromebook labs for student use, each with thirty Chromebooks.
  3. Add two mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks, for use by Social Studies students.
  4. In addition, we will be adding to the wireless at the Middle School to improve both connectivity as well as the density of that connectivity to accommodate the additional mobile devices. These purchases have yet to be finalized.
Next summer:
  1. Replace computers in all standing labs, i.e. media center, typing lab, computer lab, FACS lab, and ELL classroom lab.
  2. Replace one of the mobile laptop labs with two mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks. This will bring us to eleven mobile labs and five standing labs at the middle school for student use.
High School

This summer:
  1. Replace two of the mobile laptop labs with four mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks (was in this year's tech plan for May/June). Two of these are centered out of the Media Center and two of them out of the Social Studies department.
  2. Add three mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks. These added to two of the Chromebook labs listed in #1 above, puts a Chromebook lab in every Social Studies classroom at the high school. This is the next Tech Plan step after putting Chromebook labs in every English classroom at the high school last year.
  3. Add Chromebooks for SpEd English students.
Next summer:
  1. Replace the computers in the Graphics lab.
  2. Replace the computers in the Business lab.
  3. Replace one of the mobile laptop labs with two mobile Chromebook labs, each with thirty Chromebooks. These will be centered out of the Science department. This will bring us to nineteen mobile labs and five standing labs for high school student use.
  4. Replace the student checkout laptops with new ones.
  5. In addition, we will be adding wireless and whatever other technology we need to both the new and renovated portions of the high school building as they are completed. The purchases for this remain to be determined.
When it comes to technology, our focus must always be on learning. The devices are meaningless without great instructional strategies and curriculum. However, the power that connected learning brings to our classrooms can't be underestimated. Collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication are all enhanced geometrically with mobile Internet connected devices in the hands of our students and teachers. Every year I focus on this goal when I work with the administrators and teachers who come up with this plan:

A huge Internet pipe, robust wireless, and mobile Internet connected devices in as many students' hands as possible. A teacher who loves to learn, learns new things regularly, and models that love of learning to students. Student-centered classrooms.

We get closer every year!

    Monday, April 7, 2014

    We Must Work Together

    This is for all my fellow IT friends. If you've ever been asked to do something that doesn't make sense, or worse, isn't possible, you will enjoy this.

    Message? We have to work together. We all bring different expertise and strengths to the table, and we must quit letting "control" issues get in the way of reaching our goals. Otherwise, we are hopelessly doomed to poor solutions or worse, the status quo.

    Thursday, March 27, 2014

    Embracing and accommodating our differences

    I broke my leg last week. Innocently enough, I was walking down my stairs in darkness to go find my headphones, so I could listen to some music. Why? Because I kept having the song, "Hail, Knight of the Woeful Countenance..." from Man of La Mancha run through my head - over and over and over. I figured a little music in my ears might drown out my over active mind. Unfortunately, my foot met up with a hand weight that rolled out from under me, causing all my weight to come crashing down on a folded up leg. Yep, broken fibula.

    All of a sudden I'm a person with limited means to get around. I'm in pain; I can't drive; and I'm on crutches. I come to work when a family member can drop me off, and I go home when they can pick me up. A casual trip to another building in the district is out of the question. A trip to a place with stairs is practically impossible. Even a trip to a classroom in my own building is an onerous task, complicated if there are people in the hallways or doors to open along the way. (Unfortunately, I'm not a person of much upper body strength. Who knew?!)

    As I get around in my semi-disabled state, I'm full of empathy for our students and their differing needs. Have you ever thought about - I mean really thought about:
    • High School students without cars?
    • Families without cars?
    • Students with physical ailments you can't see?
    • Students with fears?
    • Students who have limited English skills?
    • Students who have limited reading skills?
    • Students who haven't attended school regularly?
    • Students whose cultures are completely different than yours?
    • Students who work all evening to help support their families and don't get their homework done?
    • Students who were up all night with fussy siblings and are now sleepy?
    • Students who are hungry?
    • Students who learn differently than the way they're being taught?
    • Homes with no heat?
    • Homes with no water?
    • Families who don't understand the value of co-curricular activities?
    My thoughts go on and on. Yes, I've thought of these things before, but can we really understand without having experienced them? We all judge our own worlds and the worlds of others through our own life lenses. It's easy to forget that we don't all have the same means, the same abilities, the same lifestyles, or the same backgrounds. We come together as diverse learners on personal journeys that we can only relate to if we build strong relationships and share who we really are with each other. Do students feel that comfortable with their teachers? Do teachers feel that comfortable with their students?

    I broke my leg. My differences are readily seen, and I will experience those differences for a very short period of time. The same can't be said for many of our students. They need our empathy and our caring for as long as it takes as they journey through their own lives of living and learning. Let's never forget that.

    Monday, March 17, 2014

    When Our Students Know They Didn't Measure Up

    I recently applied for a promotion, was interviewed through two rounds of interviews, and found out today I didn't measure up. How does that feel? It's disappointing. It's embarrassing. It hurts. It makes you think about where you are now and how that's all changed because of the process. It makes you wonder why you wasted the time preparing or how you could have prepared differently.

    My thoughts today, though, aren't so much about me. What I wonder is how do we provide our students, some of them barely past babyhood, to roll with the punches of growing and learning? How do we provide the tools for our students to prepare well for learning, to accomplish the learning, to alter the course when the learning comes slowly, and to keep on trying when it just feels like you just don't measure up?

    What does a test score or a bad grade feel like to a student? How does it feel to set goals, to work hard towards the goals, and then come up short? Some would call it grit--You must just keep trying and trying and trying. You must ignore your classmates who seem to learn so much easier, who get the good grades, and accomplish their goals. You must keep your eye on the ball and continue to do whatever it takes to get there, right?

    But what if you continue to fall short? What if your score on the data wall is always lower than what you want it to be? What if you work as hard as you know how on the assignments, and you still don't get the grades or results that you want? What if your test score indicates you probably won't be successful in college? What if you reach the point that you decide it's just not worth it, that there isn't any way you can do what they're asking you to do. What then?

    I think we better be spending more time on the relational skills, learning skills, and coping skills of our students. It's not enough to work on standards, take tests, work on assignments, set goals, and prepare the journey to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Being a valuable person is so much more than that. It's what's in your heart. It's how you treat others. It's how you show pride in your school. It's continuing to learn, even though it's not your style of learning and the assessment doesn't really measure all the important variables of the learning.  It's knowing where to find the information you need and how to use the information to improve. It's loving the journey despite the fact that it rarely leads to where you initially wanted it to go.

    What I posit is this:

    We better be emphasizing the whole child and the development of the whole child, or we will continue to leave a whole lot of kids behind who need more than just the information we try to pour in their little minds.

    I'm an adult who's weathered many experiences. I shall survive coming up short. However, are we really making sure our students have the tools to do the same?

    Monday, March 10, 2014

    EdCamp Iowa Was Full of Passion and Enthusiasm for Learning

    On Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend EdCamp Iowa which was simultaneously held in five different locations in Iowa. Just like last year, it was a wonderful learning opportunity as well as a chance to re-ignite the passion we all as educators have for teaching and learning.

    I'm not sure words can do justice to the "unconference" scenario. You need to come and be a part of it to see the power of a group of adult learners directing their own learning and hashing out differences of opinion with caring and support for all involved.

    The day starts with all gathering in one room to build the schedule. The leader, Scott McLeod at my location at BVU, projects the schedule spreadsheet to all of the attendees, and then volunteers take turns saying what topics they would like to facilitate sessions on. Here's the schedule we built at our site:

    From standards-based grading, to recognizing the differences between students and supporting them, to imagining the perfect school, to looking at professional development in different ways, to teacher leadership compensation, to early literacy requirements; we chose what we wanted to focus on, and we hashed out both sides of many topics.

    The beauty of days like Saturday's EdCamp comes from many things. First, this is a group of dedicated educators who volunteer to give up their Saturday to learn more and become better at their jobs. From administrators, to teachers, to techs, and even a few students, we had a gathering of folks who really believe in our educational system and who care about making it the best it can be. Second, EdCamps model new ways of learning that can be replicated in professional development in districts as well as in classrooms with our students. Third, controversial topics are not brushed under the carpet but faced head on and evaluated from all sides. You even see some minds being changed. And fourth, we get to hear what's working and isn't working in other districts. We learn from others' experiences.

    As educators we must continue to look at the educational opportunities available for both ourselves and our students. We need to examine the best ways to implement the Iowa Core, to assess for understanding, to motivate our teachers to teach their best, and to ignite the passion in our students to learn what they need to know. A huge thank you to Abbey Green, Erin Nguyen, and Becky Brown for giving up their Saturday to attend. It's educators like you who are leading the charge to new ways of thinking and learning in our globally connected world.

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    World Read Aloud Day

    I got the most exciting Twitter direct message last evening. Erin Olson, who is a Technology Integrationist at Prairie Lakes AEA, had a last minute reading partner, NASA Goddard, looking for a class to Skype with. The chance for our students to Skype with NASA folks? Yes, please! While holding one phone with Erin's texts, I grabbed my other phone and started texting one of the teachers I knew I could probably still reach at school at 6:00 at night and who would be willing to go with the flow and change what was going on in her classroom even with such short notice, and Jacquie Drey said, "Yes, please!"

    What a wonderful opportunity for some of our 4th grade students, both Mrs. Drey's and Ms. Fisher's. Karen Fox, a physicist and heliophysics writer, and Aries Keck, the social media team lead, not only read from their own book, Einstein A to Z, but they also answered student questions. They shared what they were personally reading with the students and told them to keep reading all kinds of different books. They told them to not be afraid to contact people in different professions or authors of books they really like, because those people really like to hear from students who are interested in the same things they are. They emphasized the importance of the network of people you connect with. You never know how they might even influence your chances at a new job someday. Then they encouraged the students to go to, to see all the wonderful resources there, including rockets taking off!

    It was just a wonderful thirty minutes of sharing a love of science, reading, and learning.

    Across the street at the Middle School, Caitlin Buchholtz's students Skyped with Denise Krebs, an American teacher who is now teaching kindergartener's in Bahrain. With a 14 hour time difference, Mrs. Krebs read two books to some of our 5th grade students.

    Caitlin writes:

    We discussed the characters' feelings & actions in the first book and talked about the lesson we could learn from the 2nd. The 2nd book was about a child's actions in Bahrain. A few students shared connections they made with the stories & also with Denise. Denise began by answering some questions we had for her. Some of them were: What languages do your students speak? What languages does she teach? What does school look like and how long is school where they are? Bahrain is a small island country by the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, & Iran. The students were able to make great connections to her moving, language barriers, learning languages, and also the characters' situations in the story.

    Thanks so much to the readers from NASA and Bahrain, to Erin Olson who made arrangements, to the teachers who participated, and especially to the students who asked such great questions. What a great experience! What a great way to show our students how much learning there is to be shared not only within the school walls but also without! Twitter was lit up with all the players involved live feeding the two events, and there were many more tweeps who passed on the good news.











    Saturday, March 1, 2014

    We Must Engage Our Students

    I just finished re-reading Dave Burgess' book, Teach Like a PIRATE. It was published a couple of years ago, and it is one of my favorite books about teaching. Rather than a focus on generalized standards or district-wide instructional strategies (which are also important), Dave's focus is on what each teacher and student individually brings to the classroom. He emphasizes the importance of the relationships we build with our students.

    His premise is that we as teachers need to create an environment that our students want to be a part of. We do this by using our creativity to create lessons that actively engage our students in learning. We make our classrooms so appealing that our students wouldn't think of being absent, and since they are there and engaged, we are teaching them what they need to know. How do we do that? To get the full picture you need to read the book!

    However, I can give you a taste to entice you.

    First, we must let our passion show - our passion for our subject matter and our passion for teaching, as well as using the passions we have in our personal lives as ways to relate to and hook our students. Second, we must immerse ourselves in our teaching. Dave's example is the difference between the swimming coach who coaches with words from the side of the pool and the coach who gets in the water and demonstrates and actually helps with the students' strokes. Third, we must develop positive relationships with each of our students. We must really get to know them as people, not just as subordinate students. Fourth, we must ask ourselves the right questions to determine the very best ways to teach what it is we're teaching. Fifth, we must transform our content. We must show how what our students are learning will be valuable and relevant to their lives. We must make connections between the learning and the real world. Finally, we must be enthusiastic in our classrooms. There is no place for any less than our very best for every class, every day.

    Dave had my attention immediately because of two things.
    1. He began his theories about teaching with passion and ended with enthusiasm. I agree with Dave: Give me teachers with those two traits, and I can help them become better teachers.
    2. He groused at people who said that unlike themselves, it was easy for him, because he was a creative person. ARGH! How many times have people said to me that integrating technology was easy for me, because I am a techie person? ARGH! First, that belittles the years of work and learning that each of us have invested to get to the place that what we do looks inborn and easy. Second, what a convenient excuse to not do the work that it takes to become a better teacher.
    I'm not going to say anymore, because I want you to read the book. I want you to go see Dave's sessions if you ever happen to be at a conference where he is presenting. You'll know by the pirate costume. I've seen it!

    Dave Burgess validates my belief that we must do whatever it takes to increase student learning. It's our job. Yes, you will find his methods over the top. However, by seeing teaching through the eyes of someone who is willing to go over the top, we are able to honestly examine our own techniques in the classroom. Only then can we determine how we can bring our A-Game to school every day and help our students do the same.

    Thursday, February 20, 2014

    Relationship is Everything

    I have long believed that relationship is everything, and Rita Pierson agrees with me. She says,

    "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."

    Take a look at her TED Talk:

    Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs a Champion

    Sadly, Rita Pierson passed away a few months after delivering this TED Talk. Here are some words of remembrance:

    Remembering Educator Rita F. Pierson

    What do you think? Do you still believe in the old adage that you don't dare smile until Christmas?

    Friday, February 14, 2014

    It's Not the Technology

    I just got an email from our Middle School Media Specialist/Teacher Librarian, Jen Cole, about Comic Master where you can create short graphic novels:

    Here's what she said:

    "Thanks for this website, Sarah. It was just the hook I needed. I started with rough drafts for students to create before they could get computer access; once I approved those that was their ticket to the website. I told them stories needed one to four characters, a problem, a solution, or if they wanted to write a part 2 they could have a "to be continued" ending.

    I am going to use this to scaffold my writing expectations, I have 5-8 grade so some need more of a challenge than others in terms of detailed plots and amount of text.

    Here are the pictures, I'm so excited about their engagement, a few of the more pessimistic ones were really self motivated and pretty creative."

    This is such a great example of focusing on what we want students to be learning and then using a tool to do that. Writing effectively is one of the most important skills I use in my job. I can think of few jobs where writing isn't important. And, we already know how writing and reading are inextricably connected. If we can take an online tool that motivates students to practice their writing skills, then we've succeeded.

    Once again what we see is that curriculum and technology can't be separated. We wouldn't be talking about paper and pencil off on one side and curriculum on the other. The same is true for technology. There should be no separation. Curriculum is curriculum. However, technology takes us so much further than we could go in the past. The students plan, write, edit, and share their graphic novels. They can peer review each other's. They can share their writing with the world. They could even collaborate on a graphic novel. The possibilities are endless. What's important isn't the software or the website or the computer skills. What's important is the planning, the writing, the creating, the editing, the sharing, and the collaborating.

    Thanks so much, Jen Cole and students, for sharing!

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    Libraries are Spaces of Learning

    I got my first library card practically the day I started to learn to read.

    My parents are well educated, extremely well read people, and I can still conjure up the way I felt as my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rovere, unwrapped the magic of reading to me. My folks had read to me, probably since the time I was born, but to be able to read things myself . . . I was seriously delirious with the new skill!

    The library was a vast storehouse of information, adventure, and learning. From picture books with just a few words to my first chapter books to books that were well within my reading ability but probably beyond my maturity level, they were all there for the taking, and I literally absorbed the freedom and the learning.

    Today in education we debate about the best way to bring information to our students. We debate about the merits of traditional books versus digital books. We debate about the appropriate uses of the Internet for learning. We debate about the best devices for accessing the Internet. We debate about whether we should put restrictions on what students can access on the Internet. We debate about the role of teachers in classrooms, and we debate about the role students need to take when it comes to learning. All of these things are worthy topics of conversation and deserve careful consideration.

    What should not be open for debate, though, is the school library. Libraries, whether full of books on shelves or electronic information through technology, should be the heart of the school. I reach back to my childhood and my young adulthood and think about the special times I spent in libraries. I think of the learning that took place there and the relationships forged there, and I think of how important the public spaces for learning are. I remember:

    • Storytime as both a child and a young parent
    • Picking out storybooks for reading aloud
    • Finding just the right book for the mood I was in as I started to read myself
    • Checking out copies of books my teacher was reading to us
    • Finding books my parents had read as children
    • Finding the book about the topic we were studying in the classroom
    • Digging through periodical catalogs and card catalogs for resources for the papers I wrote
    • Craft time
    • Studying for final exams
    • Collaborating with my classmates on classroom projects
    • Writing debate card after debate card in hopes of winning that next tournament
    • Being awarded the trophy right there in that library when my teammates and I were successful
    • Accessing the Internet before I had it from home
    • Class meetings
    • After school activities
    • Guest lectures
    • Meet and greets

    As an adult I still find libraries of all kinds extremely important. I don't care if there are books on the shelves or eReaders for checkout or computers or mobile devices. The library is the space people of all different ages with all different interests and all different motivations come together to learn and to celebrate learning. I love the history. I love the smell. I love the people who choose to work in libraries. And, I can't imagine a school without that heart.

    Stay curious. Keep learning. Read.

    Photo by Martin Gonzalez

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014