Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Fall of Indiana

Yesterday, the State of Indiana School Board decided that they knew better than the voters of the State of Indiana.  They have overturned all procedural decisions by our elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz.  Now, Glenda (yes, we all call her Glenda, because she's one of us) is a former teacher, highly educated, and until this past year, a practicing teacher.  She knows what it is like to work as a teacher.  That means that she has been under appreciated and overworked for years.  She has spent the last year trying to make teachers more relevant and give them the chance to teach and care for their students.

Over the years, I have read a lot of dystopian stories.  These are stories, but behind them there is a lesson.  They teach us to watch our leaders.  They teach us that power is corrupting.  I am currently reading Animal Farm, by George Orwell.  In Animal Farm, Napoleon uses propaganda to convince the other animals on the farm that he is smarter than them, and therefore they should do what he wants them to.  He changes the rules to benefit him, but he does it slowly.  This allows him to make the animals comfortable with really awful ideas.  He educated the animals in the topics and in the way he wanted.  He told them what to think, and how to think.  That is exactly what our governor is doing through the legislature.  He has demonstrated that he feels that he is the only person who know what is best for education. I'm not going to lie, I don't know how long he spend in an education program, or what university he went to so he could learn how to be an educator.  He may know what he's doing.  He may know more than our elected education officials, but it feels more like Animal Farm to me.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I’ve spent my Christmas break playing computer games!

A little over a year ago, I started researching and planning the best way to bring coding into a
project. I have always felt that my experience with code has helped me to be a more thoughtful and
methodical person. Recently, studies have proven my opinions right. I am also confident that my
programming experience has opened a lot of doors for me in my career. While I don’t program well, and I don’t really want to program well, my knowledge allows me to communicate with people who can.

I am currently teaching in a project-based, duel-credit classroom combining English 10 and Digital Media.  My co-teacher, Val Hoover, and I discussed it, and decided the best project we had to
incorporate coding was our Mythology project. This project teaches about archetypes and the different stages of the Hero’s Journey. As a final activity, the students are put into groups of three and asked to write their own myth that includes common archetypes and all stages of the hero’s journey.

Historically, we have used a variety of digital media components to complement the myth using such programs as Vegas, Flash, and Adobe.  This year we thought it would be fun to have the students create a video game based on their myth.  In order for them to do this, they had to understand the basics of coding. There are a multitude of options when teaching tenth graders how to code. During my research, I found Code Academy,, and Udacity, as well as a multitude of other options for pure coding. These are wonderful organizations and tools, however, because I didn’t have an entire semester, they were not the tools I needed. I started remembering back to when I started using computers and was introduced to Logo. This program was very visual and allowed you to type simple commands and get instant results. You typed a command and the “turtle” would move across the screen. As it turns out, “there is an app for that”. It’s called Find the Turtle and can be installed on your iPad. We tested it out the last week of school last year, and found it to be very intuitive for the students. It is a great introduction to the world of visual programming. I kept looking, however, as I wanted a little more than just an introduction.

I found two FREE and well-made visual programming languages that were perfect for our needs. The first is; it was created by Carnegie Mellon University specifically for teaching young people the basics of coding. It tends to be reminiscent of its namesake, Alice in Wonderland. The other is, which was created by MIT University. Scratch tends to be a little more flexible graphically, and it is very easy to import or draw your own sprites, (characters) but that isn’t the main reason I decided to go with Scratch. The main reason is that I found a fantastic resource that helped me learn the program, which made teaching it possible.

Each group of three had to write a myth as a group which had at least three tasks. (If you’ve never written a creative story as a group, you should try it sometime. It‘s quite difficult) Once
the myth was written, we started with the Find the Turtle app, and then moved right into Scratch. Students went through a Scratch tutorial, written by Scratch, as well as creating a very detailed graphic organizer so they can start to think through the steps they need to take for their game. Most students had a great time. They worked together to think through solutions and we spent a full day playing games in class. It just so happened that all this took place during Computer Science Education week. Therefore we not only had our students participate in the “Hour of Code” they actually participated in at least 8 hours of code. Some students really enjoyed this, and came up with amazing, creative games. A couple students even borrowed my instruction book and developed an amazing game over the weekend.

I’m not going to lie, this was an incredibly stressful experience for me. I learned a lot about how to teach coding. I’ve already started creating my own tutorials, which should make it easier for students to solve some of the problems they ran into. I also am going to add more instruction to the graphic organizer we used. On the other hand, it was also an incredibly fun experience. It was so exciting to watch these students create amazing games. They determined what their problem was, and decided how to solve it. They created their code methodically, and came up with some solutions that I never would have thought of. It was awesome and I won’t hesitate to take this project on again.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Change of Plans

I have had an excellent day.  This really surprised me because I had made plans to work in my yard all day today.  As I was getting ready to go out, I got a call from my nephew asking me to watch his daughter for a few hours.  This sounds fine, just take the child outside with you right?  Not so much.  She is eleven months old, with blond hair and blue eyes.  You just can't take her outside to crawl around.  So, quick change of plans, we decided to stay inside and clean the house and play.  We did go outside and grill our lunch and eat it at the picnic table.  We didn't get a lot done, it was just a pleasant day. 
This kind of thing happens in the classroom too.  Your moving right along, and all of a sudden the student's can't do their research because the network is down, There is a fire drill and it takes 20 minutes to find the kid that went missing (from the room next door, not yours), your kids just aren't "getting it", it could be any number of things that make change necessary.  As a teacher, we always have to be ready to throw away the lesson plans and create a new plan on the fly.  This isn't always easy, but good planning makes it easier.  It is smart to always have a contingency plan for technology failures.  This can be especially difficult for me, as I am a digital media teacher, but I have been know to hold impromptu poetry slams, as well as creating vocab word books.  Sometimes backing up and reteaching is difficult to stomach.  No one likes to admit that they didn't do a perfect job, but we have to remember that the most important part of the job is to make sure our students learn, not to stand up and deliver the "perfect lesson".  So today I learned that its better to relax and go with the flow, rather than get angry about plans that were changed on the fly. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Always Be Prepared

So, our school is thinking about obtaining some new contact management software.  I am very involved in making sure that all of the teachers in our high school are comfortable with all our available technology, therefore I am training on that software today.  I am more than a little disappointed in the training.  They are using a beta version of the software to train, which is so frustrating. It has gone down at least four times, and we have been here for two hours.  There is also any number of links in the software that don't work.  I understand there is a need for beta software, however, new user training is not the time you use it.  You use your best, you are prepared.  This decision will cost the software company a lot of money, as our school decided to scrap it and use a different, stable solution. I'm guessing other schools that are here today have made that same decision.

While this is a real life example of the consequences of being unprepared, it happens all the time.  I see students do it, I see teachers do it, I see my children do it, and I'm ashamed to say that I am sometimes unprepared.  When I fail to be prepared, the consequences don't cost me thousands, but it does cost my students.  If I am unprepared, my students don't have the opportunity to learn what they need to learn.  If they don't have that opportunity, they may not pass that ever present high stakes test, but more importantly, they will not be as prepared for life.  As I teach digital media, what they learn in my class is directly applicable to real life, so if I decide to take the day off, they won't learn what they need to learn for life beyond high school. Don't worry though, they will learn something.  They will learn that it is OK to not be prepared.  They can take this lesson with them into life.  Short term, they can turn their work in late... Its OK, Haselby isn't prepared either.  Long term, they can use beta software to train their clients and lose thousands because it isn't ready to roll out.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Relevent Learning

I've been working like crazy on my code academy work.  I've finished the first two sections of HTML.  This hasn't been terribly difficult, partially because I've been exposed to HTML before, and am semi-comfortable with it.  Also, the weather has been poor, so while the kids play indoors, I've been playing.  Playing is the key word here.  I love to learn... its fun!  I love feeling like I've learned something new.  I try to learn something every day.  I am very lucky, as I have control over what I am learning.  For the most part, if I don't want to learn something, I just walk away.  I sometimes feel sorry for my students because they are constantly being told what they have to learn, how to learn it, and when to learn it.  As a former high school student, I remember being very frustrated by this.  I remember thinking, "I will never forget how this feels"  and being very angry. 
As a teacher, I try to remember that feeling every time I have to issue a mandate in my classroom.  If I am instituting a rule, I have a very good reason, and I explain it to my students.  If I ask them to learn something, (which as a teacher, I tend to do) I try to make it relevant to their lives.  I can't always do this, mostly because of high stakes testing, but even though I am required to touch on certain standards, I still always try to make things interesting.  I think most teachers try to do this.  Where they run into problems is they (and me) don't always know what is interesting to their students.  This isn't always the teachers' fault, by their very nature teenagers don't like adults to know what they are thinking and what their interests are, unless they trust them very much.  Another reason teachers have trouble is that they truly enjoy their subject and can't understand why everyone else doesn't feel the same way about it.  It's almost heartbreaking for them to discover that not everyone loves their subject. 
I think that if we as teachers work to learn who our students are, we will learn what their interests are.  Once that happens, it is easy to discover what projects will appeal to them.  Then we just have to mold those projects to cover our standards.  Piece of Cake right?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Kill 'em With Kindness

OK, it is the 5th of July, and I'm the only one awake.  We went to the lake yesterday and visited with family and friends all day.  It was a ton of fun for everyone.  I felt like a teacher instead of a mom at one point though.  Someone told my daughter (who is 9) that there were going to be a lot of times when she felt like she was the smartest person in the room, and that she should  be patient and try to teach all those dummies out there. (The dummies out there was paraphrased, but the meaning was clear).  For some reason, as both a parent and a teacher, I felt the need to correct this person.  You see, I don't believe I am the smartest person in the room ( I might be right now, as I'm alone with the dog) I believe that there are millions and millions of people who are just as smart as me.  They are probably smart in different ways, but they are every bit as smart as I am.  I had to explain to my very sweet and sensitive daughter that this person is rather awesome and incredibly intelligent, but clearly isn't very smart in communication skills...OK, I didn't say that,  but I wanted to.  The point is, as we sit here on a holiday celebrating the greatest melting pot ever, (that would be USA) I am going to preach kindness.  There are so many opinions in this country, about so many different things.  There are laws being written mandating tolerance allowing to do anything they want.  I supposed if that is the only way we can get others to be nice, that is what we have to do. However, I feel like if we use our free speech we can not only  be kind to people who are different from us, we should go out of our way to LEARN from them.  I live in an area that is fairly sparsely populated.  Therefore, if you want friends, you may not be able to walk to the culd-a-sac next door and find someone with the same socioeconomic status as you.  In fact, it is pretty likely that you will have friends who have not graduated from high school, and you will have friends who have a masters degree.  We all share a common history, our "neighborhood", which has been settled by our ancestors for 200 years, and we share a common future, our children.  I think it is time to expand this neighborhood and share a common future with our entire country.  I think we should be nice to, not only the people next to us, but to the people we don't even know.  When we go to the city, be nice to the strangers in the museum and the shopping mall.  Be nice to the guy parking your car, and be nice to the people you see in restaurants. This is not a difficult thing, if you see that, there is something to learn from each of these people.  Perhaps if we do this, we will see that we don't need to legislate everything, especially kindness.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 1

For me, this is a big day.  I have been thinking for a couple of years that I needed to start a blog.  It just seems like the thing to do, among other things.  I still don't have a true purpose for this blog, but it will center around teaching and computers, which are my professional interests.  I have a lot of thoughts and ideas, so this will be yet another dumping ground for me to sort those thoughts through.  Hopefully the writing process will help me with the sorting. 
I have also started using Code Academy today.  I want to learn to code.  I can read code and understand it reasonably well.  That is much better than most people that I deal with, however, it is not really enough for me.  I have some game ideas, I have some program ideas, and last of all, it will increase my credibility with my techie students.  I don't have a lot of them, but I really want to be able to influence the few I have, and I need to have credibility.  I'm starting with HTML, mostly because I already have a basic understanding, but I'd really like to learn Python or Ruby, or both...  I'm going to try to post my progress here, so I'll have some accountability.